There Is No Friday Fiction – My Excuse Is…

You might have noticed a lag, longer than usual, between posts. I have a very good reason. Honest.

Last Thursday, it became necessary for me to make the acquaintance of my local EMT’s and ambulance crew. From there, I was introduced to the local hospital, various doctors and surgeons, and in the journey, I lost a body organ along the way. Not the heart, lungs, or other necessary hardware, but the Evil Gall Bladder was ousted from its cozy nest and banished to the Underworld where it totally belongs. May it rot there for all eternity.

It was not as nearly as smooth as that. There were Complications, Torturous Tests Requiring the Consumption of Noxious Potions, False Alarms of Nefarious and Unfriendly Growths, and one doctor almost lost his balls (possibly a tooth; the punch went askew, I actually have no idea where it ultimately landed; I blame the drugs) during an Endoscopy Gone Wild, which led to Really Putting The Bitch Down With Major Pharmaceuticals and the second attempt was, at last and to the relief of all involved, deemed a success. A Mysterious and Agonizing Pain put discharge out of the question for yet another day, necessitating more Torturous Tests and Noxious Potions (note to all: do not puke up the Noxious Potions. They will only make you drink them again) to ascertain that my body was just becoming acclimated to the addition of a Foreign Object meant to make life easier. We did not get off on the right foot, this Foreign Object and I, but we have since come to a truce so all is well. I know I won’t be breaking the treaty.

This is the first writing of a public nature I have done in eight days, other than a thank-you limerick to a sonneteer with no peer.

This all happened in the middle of starting Chapter 16, which has really pissed me off.

****

The body is a dictator. Any control I though I had was illusion. I get it. Now.

I’m in recovery mode, and plan on taking it really easy (probably much harder than it sounds) but if the Universe thinks by peeing in my wheaties it’s gonna stop me, it’s got another think coming. I’m going to make my goal of a finished novel by September 30th, oh yes I am. One fucking word at a time, if that’s how it’s gotta go.

****

IF I am lucky enough to sell this book, I know where the money’s going. Uninsured, the proceeds will all go to the nice people who rid me of the Organ From Hell, and I’ll consider it money well spent. Although, I did have it earmarked for a nice yacht, a working body needs to be the priority. If you aren’t on the universal health care bandwagon, jump on. I have no complaints about my care (other than the Endoscopy thing, and I think I got my pound of flesh on that one, heh) and I was grateful I even received care with no money and no insurance. I consider myself very, very lucky. And I’m sure I’ll add to that tab when I get the bills and find out I’ll have to sell my soul to Lucifer just to break even.

Gah. Not thinking about that now.

****

One last thing and then I have to take a nap (I see a lot of naps in my future, so I do):

Nursing is THE most underpaid, undervalued, and underrated profession on the motherfucking planet. Seriously. My nurses were absolutely fabulous (except for one aide, who has no business in the business, but that’s just one person and there were many) and I never would have gotten through this without them. They were tireless, empathetic, sympathetic, supportive, and just amazing people. There is a special place in Valhalla for each and every one of them — they have my undying respect, admiration, and affection forever. All good blessings to you, my lovelies. I might not remember all of you (there were some mighty fine drugs) but I’ll never forget your care, and I appreciate it more than I can ever express.

Onward.

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Friday Fiction – An Interview With Susan Helene Gottfried

I’m a little irritated with WordPress, because it won’t allow me to upload images. I’ve run through my entire repertoire of swear words, so we’ll just carry on, shall we?

I stumbled across Susan Helene Gottfried’s blog close to a year ago (or more — it’s hazy, time is, especially with everything that’s happened this year) through Entrecard. While I’m not a big fan of the traffic that comes via Entrecared (high bounce rate) I have come across many wonderful blogs through “dropping”. Susan’s was one of them that went on the Keeper List. I’ve reviewed The Demo Tapes, and today I’ll introduce you to Susan, which will explain why I’m such a fan.

Indies work their asses off. Not that authors who go the traditional route don’t, but I think because what an indie does is more transparent it’s easier to get an appreciation of the process of publishing and how much work goes into it. Susan’s been at it for a while, so I figured I’d pick her brain.

1. As an indie publisher, what do you wish you had known before you started? What would you have done differently?

Well, I went into it with my eyes as wide-open as possible, so I’m not sure there are any lessons learned or anything I’d have changed. It’s all been what I expected, including being shunned by various people in the writing community for having self-published.

However, let me stress that I spent a LONG time learning the book business. Both the self-publishing angle AND the traditional angle. I had a very good idea of the pros and cons of each method of publishing. Read on and you’ll see how that impacted my final decision to take my material to Lulu.

Any publishing is not for the faint of heart, as any of us in the writing industry knows. I’m always curious as to why a writer chooses the paths they do, because I’m nosy like that. Heh.

2. Why did you choose the indie route over the traditional publishing route?

Oh, a million reasons. It’s a bit of a convoluted story. I began my blog, the Meet and Greet, in April of 2006, when I began marketing my novel, Trevor’s Song. I figured I’d do something I hadn’t seen anyone else doing: using short fiction snippets that provided the background to my characters to help build my audience.

It worked. Sort of. No one wanted the novel — they said that no one wants to read about a man (Trevor), that books about rock stars historically don’t sell.

But I had these readers who’d been following along with Trevor’s adventures. I’d been posting the snippets, or outtakes (as I call them) in no particular order. My long-time readers wanted them in order. My new readers wanted an entry point, also in order.

The funny thing is that I created my own demand, and then had to fill it myself. The outtakes suffered from two more problems, which the publishers cite as lacking commercial viability: they’re short (no one reads short stories) and they’re available for free on my blog (no one will pay for something they can get for free).

But… I’m making a profit. I’m at work on The Demo Tapes: Year 2. And I’m considering my options with both Trevor’s Song and another novel I’m working on.

I hate it when people ask me a question like this, and I just had to share the torture. I’m evil like that.

3. What are your top five favorite books of all time, and why?

What? Limit it to FIVE?? Are you nuts????

Seriously, this is something that changes with my mood, with the song on the radio, with each breath. My bookshelves at GoodReads, LibraryThing, and Shelfari are made up of the books I loved enough to want to share with people. Go check ’em out; I’m West of Mars, or Susan, or some combination of the two, at all three sites.

Every writer has their own way of working it, and women with children at home have a lot to juggle without the writing thing going on. I wondered how this Superwoman pulls it all together.

4. How is your day structured, work-wise?

It’s not, especially now that the kids are out of school. Generally, we get up. I work out. I don’t sit down here at my desk until around 11 most days. And then I work until I have to stop to be with the kids. After they’re in bed, or after dinner, I’ll sit and work some more. But for me, working means writing AND marketing AND making sure I’ve got an eye on publishing industry news and trends and all that. It’s no longer the simple act of creating fiction.

I do miss that.

One thing I can say about Susan; when she has an opinion, she’s not afraid to share it. In this case, I’m in 100% agreement.

5. I know you’ve wanted to be a writer since you were a tiny girl. Is it everything you thought it would be? What did you NOT expect?

No way is it what I thought it would be, and that’s because of the way the industry has changed. Now, a writer has to handle a big chunk of his/her marketing by him/herself. Even if I hire a publicist, I still have to write guest blog posts myself.

It’s no longer a profession where you sit in a room and create. It’s way more social, and that’s both good and bad. For obvious reasons — not so isolated, a distraction, blah blah.

Yet this is how the industry has changed. I’d love to see the major publishers change their business models and stop giving multi-million-dollar advances to celebrities even though they know they won’t recoup that expense. I’d love to see a large chunk of that money being given to smaller, less-well-known authors instead, so that the reading public is aware of the many, many choices out there. That’s one of the reasons I started my publicity blog, Win a Book. I’m trying to be the change I want to see, by getting readers aware of authors they may not otherwise hear of.

As writers, we love all our “children”. Still, one character may hold more of us than another, which may tell us more about the author.

6. Which character from ShapeShifter do you most relate to, and why?

Ooh, hard to say. I’m a good combination of the famous Kerri-Mitchell-Trevor triangle. Kerri’s cool, Mitchell likes to pretend he’s a buffoon and not as smart as he really is, and Trevor’s the part of me that cuts loose and says what’s on his mind. But I’m not as wounded as Trevor, nor as coddled as Mitchell. Or, possibly, as strong as Kerri. In Demo Tapes: Year 2, you’ll get to see her decide to pick up and jump a bus clear across the country for the fictional city of Riverview. (If you haven’t already seen that outtake on The Meet and Greet.) That takes the sort of guts I don’t have.

Oooh, she’s a slippery one, isn’t she?

7. Who are your biggest literary influences, and why?

You know, I couldn’t tell you. I earned both my BA and MFA in creative writing, from The University of Pittsburgh and from Bowling Green State University, respectively. Both are top schools in the creative writing world. But no one ever made me study this or that author, and break them down and use those elements in my own writing.

Hopefully, my writing is the best of all the authors I’ve read in my lifetime. That’s a lot of writers.

I found this to be a very interesting answer to this question.

8. If you could meet and hang out with just one band, ShapeShifter excluded, who would it be and give us a reason.

Wow. I’ve hung with a lot of bands in real life, and it’s always disappointing. No matter how into them you are, to them, you’re just a fan, intruding on their space. You never truly see behind the veils, so to speak.

So I’d rather hang with a bunch of friends and be part of their world. If those friends are in bands, great. If not, great, too. I don’t need to hang with a band to be inspired. Heck, I just wrote a Roadie Poet piece inspired by thumbprint cookies that we brought to a Stanley Cup Final party.

We all have watershed moments in our lives, and yes, it can be this simple.

9. Name one event in your life that was a watershed moment and changed everything for you.

Easy. I was pregnant with my first kid. I’d just broken up with my first literary agent, not sure what to do with myself — my husband’s company had been bought out and I’d retired from freelance copy editing to focus on my fiction — and watching Metallica’s S&M on VH1. I’d been watching their Behind the Music a lot lately, too (see that bit about being bored) and in it, frontman James Hetfield made a comment about how Metallica is always honest, always true to themselves.

I gave myself permission to stop trying to please the world, and to please myself. Just like that, just that easily.

Mitchell and Kerri followed, and Trevor stole the show pretty quickly afterward.

I can’t tell you how much this tickled me.

10. Have you ever been arrested, and if so, what were the charges? (Heh.)

Now, that’s not a fair question. No matter what I say, people will be disappointed. Maybe we should leave it with me admitting I’ve seen my fair share of the world, and it’s better where I am right now. Not to mention hard for my kids to pull one over on me.

I told you she’s fabulous, didn’t I? Do yourself a favor, and hop over to the Meet and Greet and introduce yourself. Get your copy of The Demo Tapes – Year 1 and hang with the band. For a lot of us, it’s like revisiting our youthful, wild years and it’s a blast. Thanks to Susan for her patience and for participating in my Friday Fiction Fest!

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I'm With The Band — A Review of "ShapeShifter — The Demo Tapes, Year 1"

You’ve heard me say many times on this blog that the face of the publishing industry seems to be changing on an almost daily basis. New models are popping up all the time, and it’s fascinating to me, as a writer and as a reader, to track these changes. More material now is available than ever before, to a much bigger audience, thanks to the interwebz.

“The Demo Tapes — Year 1” is one of the most unique collections of shorts I’ve run across. Written by Susan Helene Gottfried between April 2006 and April 2007, this volume is a collection of stories about a fictional band, ShapeShifter. What makes it unusual is the stories are from her blog, and is meant as a companion to Susan’s debut novel, Trevor’s Song. This volume is much like a demo tape, introducing readers to Susan’s characters and fictional world as a real demo tape introduces listeners to a band’s music. I find this to be a very clever publishing model.

Although the stories do not appear in chronological order on the blog, in this collection they are arranged as such, making it much easier to track the life of Trevor Wolff and the formation of ShapeShifter. The book is meant to satisfy the “groupies”, or fans of Susan’s work, as well as whet the appetite for her upcoming release. In that, “The Demo Tapes” succeeds very well.

Each story is prefaced by a note from the author with details of the character’s lives and sometimes the inspiration for the post, or story. There are twenty stories included, along with an introduction and conclusion interspersed with “Thursday Thirteen” lists that are both interesting and hysterical. I consider the stories to be true flash, in that they don’t always have a beginning, middle, and end — that’s not their function. This might be disconcerting to new readers, but for me, I love it. It’s an ongoing tale and that makes it feel “alive”.

Susan’s characters are distinct and quite memorable, as are the stories about them. We’re introduced to Trevor and his best friend, Mitchell Voss. We are invited to witness the evolution of a troubled teen as he finds his way to making his dreams come true — making it to the big time and winning fame and fortune with his band. Like any band, as with a family, there are good times and bad times, but one thing I can say — they’re interesting times.

My favorite excerpt from Trevor’s life is not about Trevor — it’s about Mitchell, and how his hair turned green after spending time in a swimming pool. I laughed until I cried, and the Thirteen List that follows is so funny, I had to change my pants. I think “Backstage Party” really packs an emotional wallop, at least for me, it did. Every vignette is by turns haunting, funny, poignant — but I’ll let you find out for yourself.

This volume may be difficult to digest if you’re not familiar with Susan’s work. It has to be taken in context, because the stories in the book don’t hang together in a cohesive whole, but again, that’s not their function. Their mission is to fill in some blanks, give you a taste of hanging with the band, and establishing Susan Helene Gottfried as a born storyteller with a romping, evocative, insider’s look at what it’s like to say, “I’m with the band.”

You can find Susan at the Meet and Greet, where you can also hang out with Trevor and the band. She’s very fan-friendly, and the website is gorgeous. While you’re there, pick up a copy of “The Demo Tapes” — it’s fun reading, you’ll be supporting the arts, and you’ll fall in love with Trevor. Who doesn’t love to fall in love with a fictional character? Tune in tomorrow for an interview with the colorful and fabulous Ms. Susan.

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Killing My Darlings

There are some really funky things going on with the website right now, ever since I upgraded to the latest version of WordPress. I’m hoping to get those straightened out, but in the meantime I’m going to talk about some of the stuff going on in Nettaland.

If I’ve been scarce lately, one of the reasons has been I have no eggs in my basket. This is entirely my own fault — as many times as I have admonished you, Dear Readers, about the capricious nature of freelancing and how important it is to have several eggs incubating, I took the opportunity to frolic joyfully in Fiction Land. Meaning, I have finally gotten my head out of my ass and started writing the novel I’ve been thinking of for the last couple of years.

How’s it going?

Well, it might not be putting bread on the table, but I’ve written approximately 32,000 words in about ten days.

Yes, you read that correctly.

On fire. I started off with a modest goal of 500 words a day, figuring I could maintain that easily and still cast my net far and wide in the hopes of scoring paying gigs. From the moment I started writing Chapter 1, the damned thing took off on me like a runaway horse with a pitchfork up its nether regions. What a ride! What a rush! What a blast!!

The downside is I’m now struggling to get my two ends to meet, but I honestly think I’m on to something bigger that could have a huge payoff. I’m excited. I’m stoked. I’m on a mission.

I plan on having a first draft done by the end of fall. Then, I shall let it marinate in its own petard for a bit while I start on book two. Then, I will dig in to the rewrites and have a finished product by spring, ready to shop for an agent and publisher.

That’s the plan, anyway. We’ll see if the Universe has other ideas.

****

One piece of writing advice from Stephen King, Peter V. Brett, and other illustrious authors is, when writing your book, you need to be prepared to kill your darlings.

I’m up to Chapter 11, where a Very Bad Thing happens. I knew this scene would be coming from Chapter 1, actually. I tried to talk myself out of it, but I can’t. The story demands it. That doesn’t make it any easier to write.

I’ve put it off for a couple of days. That’s not making it any easier, either.

They’re not real people, I tell myself. It’s only words on a page, I argue. It makes for a better story, and better characters, is the rationale. All true, but in a way, these are real people to me. There’s a lot of “me”, can you dig it, in each and every character, especially the one who will be hurt the most by the Very Bad Thing. So, it kinda feels like I’m mutilating myself.

I know how silly that sounds.

****

Still, I’ll do it. I know I have to.

****

If all goes well with the Website Gods, I’ll have a review up tomorrow. Then, for Friday Fiction fans, an interview with Susan Helene Gottfried. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it as much as I did conducting it — she’s a fabulous person I can’t wait for you to meet. And greet. Heh.

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Writing What You Know, Even If You Don't Know Anything

What does it mean, to “write what you know”? Does it mean you can’t write about, say, werewolves, because you’ve never met any? Or does it mean you can’t construct a fictional world because you’ve never been there? Does it mean you cannot write non-fiction about dog breeds, vaginal dryness, or how to change a kitchen faucet because you’ve never done/suffered through that particular experience? Of course not.

Don’t Be a Chump – Look it Up!

For non-fiction, research goes a long way toward bridging the gap between experience and writing a good article. Find reputable sources, though, don’t just pick the first thing that shows up on the search engine. Choose sources that are recognized as expert in their field; for instance, if researching dog breeds, one of the best places to start would be the American Kennel Club. Please, do not use Wiki as a primary source of information, although it’s a great jumping off point to find other resources. Wiki is a great endeavor, don’t get me wrong, but anyone can access or change information, and it’s just not reliable enough to make me comfortable. However, there are fabulous resource links that can get you headed in the right direction when researching, and enough info on the page to get you started.

Talk to Live, Breathing Humans

In researching your subject, if you don’t feel like you’re getting the right “flavor” you’re going for from reading a bunch of articles, books, or dusty reference tomes, think about calling a local expert and inviting them to take part in an interview, either via phone, email, or over coffee. Yes, that’s right, it might mean getting out of the house or office and actually talking to a PERSON in PERSON. Take a dog breeder to lunch, for example, and ask questions. People love to talk about what they do, so go ahead and pick their brains. Listen and take notes, even utilize a digital recorder if possible and with permission.

For instance, I don’t have a dog and I’m not really a dog person. However, I did raise a puppy and house-trained him for a friend of mine, and between that experience and reading about the breed, not to mention catching a couple of dog shows on TV, I was able to write a half-dozen articles on dog breeding. Between research, talking to other people about dogs, and my own experience, they were well-written and believable.

Of course, you take your notebook wherever you go, right? You know, the notebook I told you months ago to carry with you? Strike up conversations with your seatmate on the bus, the cashier checking your purchases, the mailman. You never know when these conversations will someday help you out when you’re covering a subject such as Transportation Options in a Green City, How Department Stores Track Your Buying Habits, or The History of the Pony Express.

Making It Up As You Go Along

Fiction is a different animal. In fiction, you have the freedom fake it as you make it, but if you don’t have a strong foundation in experience, your story or novel can fall flat. Even in a work of fiction, you need to have a logical sense, or a believable suspension of disbelief.

Basing a story (or novel) on one of your life’s experiences is the easiest way I know of to accomplish this. Have you ever worked in a restaurant? Spent time in a library, jail cell, fat camp? You can draw on any one (or all) of these experiences to flavor your fictional composition and lend a layer of “realness” the reader will definitely feel. Childhood memories, being married or being single, owning a pet — these are all life experiences you can twist and craft into a fictional story. Don’t be afraid to use anything that pops into your mind — draw from life, your life, to add honesty and believability to your work.

You Know More Than You Know You Know

“Writing what you know” doesn’t mean you have to be an expert in a particular subject or genre in order to write in it. It means to write what you feel in your gut — it means to utilize what you already know, what you’ve already experienced, and use that to help you craft your world or write that article. Tap into emotions as well as practical applications, and your work will take on a depth and feeling that will stand out from the crowd.

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Next week I hope to resume my “Friday Fiction” with an interview with Susan Helene Gottfried, author of “Shapeshifter – The Demo Tapes”. Look for a review of said book on Wednesday. Between website issues, a Most Uncomfortable Anniversary, and being neck-deep in my own wrestle with the Fiction Monster, I have shamefully neglected my blog posting schedule. In true redhead fashion, I won’t apologize, but I will try to do better.

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