Friday, November 27, 2009

In Praise of Big Noses

Like many people who watched Project Runway this season (SPOILER ALERT), I was not a fan of Irina, and not just because she was “Meana Irina,” constantly tearing down other people in order to make herself feel superior.

It was her nose. Or rather, her lack-of-nose.

All three finalists have been touted as pretty, and I guess they all are (I’m a Carol Hannah girl myself), but from the first moment I looked at Ms. Shabayeva, I realized I didn’t like looking at her. Everything about her face screams, “Pair me with a big, beautiful honker!” (like the right purse for a dress) but, alas, she has a straight, flat nose that looks oddly, well, truncated.

Two things convinced me that I was probably right in assuming that somewhere along the line Irina's had a bout with rhinoplasty – One, unlike the other contestants, the only childhood picture they showed of her was a baby portrait – no tweener or teenage years. (Hiding some dark, big, hooked, bumpy secret, maybe?) Two, when Tim Gunn visited her family, all of the Shabayeva women, to a one, sisters and mother, had big, glorious, Republic-of-Georgia beaks. I fully admit that I could be wrong about Irina: she could have been born with that shaved-off nose, and more’s the pity.

You see: If you haven’t already guessed, I love me a big nose, on a woman or a man. In fact, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t adore a healthy schnozzle.

I blame it on Barry Manilow. Sure, he’s a fright now (speaking of ill-advised plastic surgery), but back when I was a kid, maybe 6 years old, before I even understood what a crush was, I used to love his music, and I used to stare at his album cover, enraptured. Ah, his big, hooded, blue-green eyes, his sun-limned feathered coif, his orange-yellow tan, and most of all, his freaking enormous sniffer.

So, the King of the Copacabana imprinted his big snoot on my young, impressionable psyche, and I have been a slave to the outsized blower ever since. (And yes, I’m starting to run out of euphemisms for noses.)

The list of my celebrity crushes ever since reads like a parade of Cyranos. Owen Wilson. Jackie Chan. Jeremy Northam. David Tennant. Even my girly crushes: Paget Brewster. Claudia Black. Granted, all these folks are darned talented as well. Correlation? You be the judge.

I especially adore and admire female celebrities who haven’t opted to shorten, straighten, smooth, or narrow their lovely noses. It’s a bold choice, considering Hollywood’s preoccupation with pert proboscises. Some of them I’m sure had little choice, having been in the public eye since they were children: and thank goodness. Sarah Jessica Parker leaps to mind. Otherwise, they would be forced to let the world in on their nips-n-tucks, like Jennifer Grey, Ashley Simpson or Kathy Griffin (better noses before, all of 'em).

I, alas, do not have a big nose. My friends who do will no doubt roll their eyes at this posting, and exclaim that I don’t know what it’s like, and they’d be right. Although many of us as children suffered some perceived irregularity that garnered unwanted attention from our peers; I never had to endure nose-related playground monologues from tiny, ersatz Jose Ferrers.

But I’m envious. Those in possession of grand snoots precede themselves into a room. A large nose is lovely; it gives a face strength and character.

I even married a man with a big nose. Granted, his Bunyanesque (his word) head somewhat mitigates the fact, but still, it is unquestionably considerable. His nickname as a child was, in fact, “Nose.” Not particularly original, but to the point.

So to speak.

Monday, November 23, 2009


So I got in a car accident today.  My first one in over 15 years.  I couldn’t possibly have been going over 5 MPH at the time so, obviously, it was a pretty minor thing in the grand scheme of life. And everyone’s ok, so happy ending and all that.

Even so, it was a bizzaro experience. 

I was at the Subway near my work, parked, and backing out of my stall.  Now, I spend a lot of time in and around the strip mall where this Subway is so I’m well aware that this place is like the Bermuda Triangle of Traffic. Strange Things always happen to me there and I know to take it easy. So, I’m backing out. I’m looking right. I’m looking left. Right. Left – and I got a funny feeling – so left again.


On the right, of course.

I’m not entirely sure what happened. Did I just miss him? Was he going too fast? I don’t know.  Anyway…



I pull back into the stall and get out of my car. The car that hit me/I hit/whatever pulls in front of Subway. The Kid gets out. I mean, he can’t be more than 20, if that. His eyes are like saucers.

I say to him, “Are you OK?”

He nods.

[Enter stage left: The Woman]

“I saw it!” The Woman yells.  The Kid and I both turn to look at her.  “I saw the whole thing.” The Woman points at me.  “He wasn’t even looking and he backed right into you. It’s his fault!”

To which I reply, “How the hell would you know that?”

“Cuz I was standing right there you Sonofabitch!  I’m 57 years old you Goddamn Asshole!  Don’t you tell me-”

And I proceeded to zone out The Woman, thinking: 1) This woman is crazy, and 2) DO NOT ENGAGE!

So I look at The Kid and say, “Do you have insurance?” The kid nods and we proceed to ignore The Woman and exchange insurance information the way any normal, reasonable, responsible, 21st century aware person would: by taking pictures of our insurance cards with our cell phones.

But let me tell you, we were an island of calm in a sea of crazy.  The Woman did not stop talking.  It was filthy.  Crazy. Unhinged.  I mean, The Woman was probably the age of me and The Kid combined and she’s carrying on about what a [REDACTED] I am while The Kid and I are doing our best to ignore her.


So what (as my dad would say) ‘in the Sam Hell’ does any of this have to do with writing?

Looking back on it, I can see that the whole experience was a fascinating study in character.

When I put my characters in various situations, I naturally find myself thinking about how they would react to that situation. I base those reactions on their who they are, past experience, environment, etc. Typically, and maybe this is just because I'm still a noob, I tend to make those reactions rational.

A + B = C. 


Apparently not.

What is it that causes a person to react to a relatively benign situation in such a bizarre way? Maybe it's still A + B = C.  I mean, maybe there is a perfectly valid reason, a particular experience in a person's life that causes them to react in a manner that doesn't make sense to the rest of us.

Then again, maybe not. Maybe it’s just random chaos injecting itself into the situation.

A + B = G, where G = Good Lord what is this all about and how did it just happen?

Maybe, as a writer, I should try to get out of my head every once in a while and let chaos inject itself into my writing. Clearly, I need to be careful with that sort of thing. I mean, I can't let a meteor fall out of the sky and kill one of my main characters, but at the same time, unexpected events can be the breath of life, whether that's in my novel, or in our everyday drama.

And there's one other thing about unexpected events that I should tell you.  They make good blog posts.

Friday, November 20, 2009

What’s Your Book About?

I get this question a lot lately, and I see it as a good sign: people (at least those I know) are interested. I think people ask mostly because I’ve been working on BLACKHEART for years and secondly because I make no effort to keep it a secret that I spend a lot of my free time writing. It gives me great pleasure when I go to a party and someone comes up to me and identifies me not by my techie day job (which is a fine thing in itself) but by my love and passion, “Oh, you’re the WRITER.” Why, yes, yes I am.

But answering, “What’s your book about?” Is still a tough one for me. In the early stages, before they are fully formed, to me rough drafts are a bit like unborn children. They are meant to be handled gently, not shaken, tossed around and certainly are not meant to be subjected to close public scrutiny before they’ve had a chance to form into the complete book they are meant to be.

But, my book is now long past that point….

The other reason that I, the author, hesitate to answer this question is that I know every intimate detail of every known plot element and twist in my book. I also know all the back story of all my characters—even the tons of stuff that will never, ever, ever make it into the book—but I needed to put down somewhere to figure it all out. So when asked the question, “What’s your book about?” I worry: Am I telling you too much? Not enough? Am I giving the ending away? Am I telling the best bits and leaving you with no reason to read it? It seems a delicate balance to achieve, especially if the person asking is a prospective agent or editor (and I have had the opportunity to sit down at the table with a couple–and hope to do so again now that my manuscript is 3 full revisions down the path to being a real, whole book).

But I’m stalling…

So what’s my book about? Thank you for asking! Here is my 25-word answer:


Sent by an angel a suicidal private investigator tries to stop Blackheart—a vengeful immortal warring with demons—from finding an extraordinary child in Minneapolis.

There you have it. Hope you'll stay tuned to find out more.

So why in only 25 words?

It’s a technique I’m trying to perfect. I had the pleasure of hearing John Saul ( speak at the 2007 Maui Writer’s conference. (Like writing, like Hawaii? Have money to spare? Go! Go! Go!) There he talked about how he develops his story ideas into novels using short “What if….” concept statements. The goal using this method is to explain your book as completely as possible reflecting the inner and outer story (and your “hook”) in 25 words or less. Ideally, if you can do this before you begin your book you can use it as a guide for getting things started and keeping it on track. Once your book is done and you are trying to “pitch” it, you can use this short sentence as an “elevator speech” to help sell your book. I like the idea. Guess I’ll find out how well it works for me.

What’s my NEXT book about??

Well, I have over 100 pages of a first draft for book 2, most of which was written in 2008 during November, yes, during “write a novel in a month-month.” I’ve decided I really need to wrap up my first book, BLACKHEART, before I will go full bore at this project. In the meantime I write down snippets and ideas and relevant character scenes as they occur to me. But per my explanation above, this baby is way, way, way too underdeveloped, just a little fetus of a bookling for me to tell you anymore about it right now.

I’m still finding out myself.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Gratuitous Blog/Gratuitous Hero Worship Post

OK. So my blog at the end of this week will be about my writing. But—I’ve been a fan of Stephen King for years and years and tonight I finally got a chance to see and hear him in person at the Fitzgerald Theatre in St. Paul, MN along with Audrey Niffenegger (author of The Time Traveler’s Wife). If this isn’t a perfect excuse for a gratuitous hero-worship blog post I don’t know what is. Here goes—

Twenty Stephen King Observations 11/18/09

20. His first computer was a Mac (hey, mine too)

19. He uses Google, although it distracts him from his writing at times

18. He knows how to make funny faces while being interviewed. He’s not afraid to say when he’s goofed something up.

17. He is incredibly well read. He’s got a great vocabulary. He knows his poetry and music lyrics. (All things us writer types should aspire to.)

16. He likes to listen to AC/DC, Metallica and the like while doing his revisions (me, too, sometimes.)

15. He talks fondly of his wife “Tabby” and his kids and wasn’t afraid to share some personal details of his life.

14. His least favorite of his books is Rose Madder

13. His favorite movie adaptation of one of his stories/books is Shawshank Redemption. He also likes the film adaptation of Cujo.

12. His favorite book? Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.

11. He thinks of writing as a kind of telepathy, although it is imperfect. The writer’s thoughts get picked up by the reader across time and distance. He noted that even though Dickens is dead you can still pick up one of his books and have a connection to that author.

10. He was never frightened by clowns, but he noticed other good little kids were. He never thought of himself as a good kid.

9. While answering audience questions he noted that if the upper balcony collapsed many, many people in the 99-year-old theatre would die. He said he would never sit up there.

8. He came out on stage in jeans and comfy looking Velcro tennies. His manner was pleasant—he seems like the type of guy you’d like to sit down and have a beer with. The audience loved him—and he knows how to make people laugh.

7. His idea for his latest book, Under the Dome started 30+ years ago. This gives me hope that the lengthy duration of time I’m spending on my book may not be in vain. (I also lucked out and got an autographed copy of the same—can’t wait to start it. May take me a while, at over 1,000 pages.)

6. His toughest character to write? “It” (Pennywise the clown) from It.

5. He writes every day. He writes from beginning to end of his stories, but it doesn't sound like he necessarily knows how they will end when he begins.

4. He has an appreciation for the old black and white movie Frankenstein.

3. He does not bother to keep a notebook of ideas. Good ideas stick with you, bad ideas (if you are lucky) go away and self-destruct on their own.

2. He believes writing is about language, and it’s a writer’s duty to be as specific as possible so that the reader sees exactly what you (the writer) intend them to see.

1. He has now written 51 books, including many of my favorites: The Stand, ‘Salem’s Lot, It, The Dead Zone, The Dark Half, Firestarter (and the list goes on and on.)

Sidenote: Now don’t get me wrong, I liked hearing Audrey Niffenegger tonight, and I enjoyed her first book (she writes beautifully), and I plan to read her next, but—I couldn’t bring myself to comment much on seeing her this evening. Even she noted during their onstage interview that appearing with King was a bit like the writing equivalent of “opening for the Stones.”

Friday, November 13, 2009

Back in the saddle again

As many of you will most likely recall from my last post, I am currently in the middle of the Query process for my manuscript Gunslingers of the Apocalypse, and while it is going pretty well for me at the moment (fingers crossed), it is a process that, once started, pretty much runs on its own. So that means that my day to day involvement is: Not-a-whole-lotta. This is an upside, for the most part, as it allows me ample free time... The downside, of course, is that allows me AMPLE free time.

With nothing to do, it’s important to try to keep busy.

In effort to do so, I’ve been working on Book numero dous, dig? Bastard out of Minnesota, it’s called, and it is the second in what will hopefully some day be a wildly successful four book series. Unfortunately, currently, by “working” I actually mean only getting two things done: Jack and Shit.

And apparently Jack has left town.

“So, what’s the problem, my man?” you’re probably asking, you jive-turkey.

Well, the main difficulty I’ve encountered is that after what has to have been at least a year, if not more, of pretty much only doing edits and rewrites, re-igniting the spark of everyday, nose to the grindstone type writing is somewhat difficult. I mean, I can still do it when I sit down, and the pages I’ve ended up hammering out recently (around 70-ish so far with a total count of about 20,000 some odd words) are ones that I’m generally pretty happy with, but that old consistent dedication?


Yes, work and life can get in the way occasionally, but whatever, that’s normal, a truism for everyone. I can deal with that. In fact, I still live a lifestyle where I can make time for writing, if I have to, but honestly, it’s not really too big of a problem. Even with the daily demands on my time that the cubicle-prison imposes upon me, regular writing time is still available pretty much on a regular basis, and without much effort on my part either.

But getting started again? After a day or two of inactivity? Getting back into the chair, and even more so, getting back into that frame of mind? Then slogging it out through the roughest, swampiest first drafts of linking scenes set midway through an introductory chapter? That is hard, hard work, peeps. Pounding it out at the keyboard, rain or shine, day in and day out… it is not such an easy thing to fall back into.

I used to have that discipline, you know.

In fact, I had it in spades, I remember it and the late night writing sessions very well. I was a monster then, a page pounding machine hell-bent on decimating my manuscript’s incomplete status… but after wandering a bit far afield for awhile, I have now returned home to begin the process anew and… where has it gone?

Maybe it’s just a case similar to when you return to a work-out schedule after a long time off. Certain muscles won’t be as tight they used to be, or as used to being utilized at all, for that matter, and it takes a little bit of time and dedication to get them pumping at a good pace again, right?

Or maybe, this is just a reflection of the first book and the inherent differences in their creation process…

Gunslingers of the Apocalypse was created in a vacuum, you see. In a time when I was ultra-poor and therefore home-bound, it was just me, a kitchen table, a possibly stolen laptop, and a writing exercise for David Housewright’s Loft class that was tackled the night before it was due, after a particularly depressing late-winter bus ride. The book grew out of that four page blurt of writing. The ending formed once I started to think about the beginning, and the middle just kind of appeared like a natural bridge between the two. But the project itself wasn’t even a real project, not until 3 or 4 chapters in, at the earliest, and it certainly wasn’t seen by any eyes other than mine until the completion of the First Act, some 200 pages into it and several months later, give or take.

But Bastard out of Minnesota? That has been BOOK TWO in one form or another since somewhere around halfway through Book One’s initial draft. Its story pieces had begun to coalesce in the back of my head well before the first draft of Gunslingers was even close to being completed. In fact, Book Three and Book Four have done a similar thing, currently they’re just a couple of paragraphs moldering on dusty Word Documents in the back of my hard-drive, after finally and officially being pulled from my head, tossed together, and then left to fester in the dark sometime around the middle of Gunslinger’s third draft. The point is… They’re all INTENDED, get it?

This story has long been A BOOK, you know? Which is a really weird feeling while I tackle it. The pressure of completion, the awareness of WHERE IS THIS GOING has been there from the very first word. There was no secret maturation process this time. There was no: “Hey, surprise! You made a Novel!” moment. It was all just there, half formed and always, readily on display, the bits and pieces crying out for attention instead of just quietly simmering away on the back burner until fully cooked, or at least, until I was within a few chapters of their plot twists and was forced to start paying attention. My fellow Scribblerati Agents have already seen Bastard’s Prologue and Chapter One on multiple occasions (Slightly different versions, of course, and their responses were extremely helpful, as always) and they will be reading (hopefully) Chapter Two for the first time this weekend. So not only is it a different book, but it’s been a completely different process right from the start.

It’s like starting all over again, with a slightly similar puzzle, but in a different language, and that is an intimidating realization.

But the good news? The good news is that last night, I had to sit down and wrap some stuff up. I had to, because I needed to submit it to the group in time for them to read it for Monday, and work and life and the long white of those waiting spaces… they were stubborn, conspiring to keep me from finishing on time.

But I didn’t have an option, so in the end, I just did it. No whining, no distractions, just tip-tap, tip-tap, tip-tap, and then… done. And it turned out not half bad too. So that’s good news. I can still do it, now I just need to make myself do it regularly again. My hope is: Now that Gunslingers is completely “done,” meaning: I am no longer making any edits or changes until someone new, i.e. an Agent or Editor (ever hopeful), suggests them, that I will now be freed up to focus on Bastard. I intend to do so regularly, even if it means forcing myself to return to a strict adherence to that old writer's saw:

“A writer writes everyday.”

Sometimes discipline and consistency can only come through intensive, oppressive scheduling.

At least… here’s hoping.

(Fun fact: The scene originally written for Housewright’s Loft class? The one that eventually grew into Gunslingers of the Apocalypse? It doesn’t actually appear in Gunslingers, at all, ultimately, the evolution of the book cut it loose. However, an altered version does appear in Bastard out of Minnesota.)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

In Praise of Alter Egos

We've been yukking it up--yuking? yuk-ing? yucking? forget it...

We've been busting a gut in our last couple critique session over alter egos. Actually, my fantabulous writing companions have been turned into quivering puddles of giggly silliness when I *occasionally* give feedback that they find out of character coming from a middle-aged, greying, vegetarian, queer mother of a smallish, wee one. Like, say, when I suggest that, oh, perhaps, readers might want more description concerning the nether regions of an eighty-some year-old pants-less zombie. (Whoa, three hyphenations in a row.) That's the G-rated version, by the way. What I really said approached PG-13.

Ah, Alter Egos. I sing your praises. Don't you think that one of the grooviest things about writing is that you get to inhabit a bunch of them? Mayhaps not, but I sure do: I'm a bear who's been turned into a girl! I'm the teenaged reincarnation of a French existentialist philosopher! I'm a sentient potato! (And yes, these are indeed main characters in my novel.) How fun is that?

I also sing praises to Halloween, that orgy of alter egos. This year I was Robin-the-Recycler. The Smallish, Wee One (aka Smunch) decided to be Superman this year. And it was also decreed that I would be Robin. So Robin I was. In our family, because we like to sing praises to Halloween, we have an annual scary foods dinner. Highlights from past years include such themes as Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, Sarah Palin, Poop & Pee (when Smunch was still very much not potty trained,) and severed thumb (in honor of a dear friend who had a bit of a run-in with a paper cutter.) For LOTR, I created Barad-dur out of stuffed grape leaves with the Dead Marshes for dessert: a sheet cake with channels cut out of it, channels then filled with jello and submerged, marzipan dead people. This year's theme: Global Warming. Hence, Robin the Recycler.

Here's this years menu:

Holy Heat Up, Batman!
It's a Global Warming Feast!
Brought to you by the
Environmental Justice League of America
Super (Energy Saving) Man
Robin (the Recycler)

We're really in a Pickle Plate
Methane Burp Cheese Plate with Cracks in the Greenland Icesheet Crackers
Hole(-in-the-Ozone-Layer) Wheat Rolls

Main Course
The Once Enchanted Broccoli Forest
Melting Sour Cream glaciers and clear-cut Broccoli stands lead to denuded desert hillsides of Polenta, Black Bean mudslides, and Yam erosion.

"Buy Fresh! Buy Local!" Tropical Fruit Upside Down Cake
And you thought our weather was topsy-turvy? Featuring Minnesota-grown pineapple, papaya, mango and sugar cane.

Glacial Melt Floats
Shrinking Ice (cream) Sheets in a hot ocean of Cider

Ka-Pow! Whammo! Splorch! Smash!
Holy Extreme Weather, Batman!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Minnesota Writers

Those of you who know me well know that I have been a regular user of Twitter for over two years now. Call me an early adopter, or maybe just a geek, but I like to think that I saw potential in Twitter long before CNN made it a regular practice of trolling Twitter feeds for news.

Twitter is an amazing communication tool. With it, you can broadcast every thought, from the profound to the banal, to just about anyone and everyone. In the early days there weren't that many people on Twitter and it was really easy to find unique and interesting people to follow just by watching the public Twitter feed. Nowadays, Twitter has been overrun by the masses and it can be difficult to find people of interest.

Apparently I'm not the only one who noticed that.

A wonderful solution to this problem was launched just last week. It’s a new Twitter feature called Lists. A Twitter list is exactly like it sounds, a list of Twitter users. There's a website out there called Listorious that lets you list your list and it's really astonishing how many lists have popped up there over the course of the last week.

Not wanting to be left out (remember the geek part) I created a list of my own. I call it Minnesota Writers. My goal is to find Minnesota based Twitter using writers and add them to this list. I think a list like this could be a really interesting way for the Minnesota Twitter community to keep in touch and stay abreast of issues that affect us.

And now for the sales pitch: if you are a Minnesota writer, and a Twitter user, leave a comment on the blog and I'll add you to the list.  I have already added all Twitter using members of The Scribblerati, plus a couple of others, so log on and follow Minnesota Writers!