Wednesday, January 30, 2008

My bags are packed. . .



And I'm ready to go.

I'll be at "A Night of Literary Feasts," in beautiful (but chilly) Lexington, Ky. until Sunday. Y'all be good while I'm gone, and if you can't be good, be interesting. (Never a challenge for this crowd!) The coffee shop will remain open, so make yourselves at home.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Meaningful intersections?

Sometimes, you just have to wonder.

When my son played soccer, there was one set of team parents that he and I both particularly liked, but we never socialized outside of the games. My son stopped playing after high school. More than five years have passed since then. The next time I saw that mom was last spring at the funeral of a young man who'd played on that team. At the reception, she and I made noises about getting together, and then quite a few months later, she sent me an email, suggesting that we meet for a chat.

It took me another couple of months to get back to her.

Two weekends ago we met for coffee. She talked at some length about her dad who seemed to be descending with devastating suddenness into dementia. I confided that my dad had died in a nursing home for Alzheimer's patients, and so we talked at length about the whole sad and challenging process.

Two days later, early on a Monday morning, she called me, saying, "Could you call me back as soon as possible? We just got an official diagnosis on my dad, and we need to get him into a nursing home as soon as we can." She wanted to verify the name of the nursing home where my dad had been. When I called her back, and she answered on her cell phone, she was at that moment walking into that very nursing home.

I think that's kind of remarkable. I hadn't talked to her for five years. We had never met socially before. We knew nothing about each other's personal lives. My dad had died years before I met her. But when we finally did get together again, I was able to reassure her about putting her dad into a nursing home, and I could recommend to her a home--two days before she would find out that she needed one immediately for her own father. I'm tempted to write, "But when we did finally get together again, it was so I could reassure her and tell her about the nursing home."

I believe she had an intuition that prompted us to get together at just the right time, so she could have a conversation with another daughter--me-- who had been through the same thing with her father.

I haven't heard from her since. I'll send her an email soon, and ask how things are going. But it may be that we have already transacted our "business," on the day we were drawn together at the coffee shop.

I'll see you inside at OUR coffee and tea shop, which is ALWAYS a meaningful intersection!

Monday, January 28, 2008

Name This Photograph

Quick! Somebody give me a good headline or caption for this lovely photo by Andif. Aren't the colors subtle and beautiful? The instant I saw it I thought it "looked like" a poem, though I haven't stopped to figure out why it strikes me thus. Am I grateful for her photos on these days when I have absolutely nothing to say? Why, yes I am, thank you for asking. I'm guessing you guys will have fascinating, hilarious, friendly, or creative things to say, so I'll see you in the comments.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Monday. . . It's a new baby week


Speaking of new babys, here's a photo of Charlie, the coyote that an amazing young woman in Wyoming adopted when he was orphaned. It was either take him home with her, or see him drowned in a water tank. She records his exploits at her blog, The Daily Coyote. I know I've mentioned them before, but I just have to keep coming back in case you'd like to check their progress.

Here's a more recent picture of Charlie:


What a handsome fellow. He's finally growing into his ears.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Bluuue skies, smilin' at you. . .


Nothin' but blue skies, doobedoo.

Photo by a photographer who stands tall: Andif.

Friday, January 25, 2008

You can't see me, right?



Photo by Andif from her very own window.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

For Maryb from Stlouey



Buon journo.
The other day when you guys flew to Paris for coffee and croissants, Maryb said the only thing that would be better would be if the cafe were in Italy. Voila! (Or however you say, here you go! in Italian.) We're in Florence on a sunny day. That bald guy in the blue shirt needs sunblock. I need a cappuchino. I have a feeling we'll be here all day, long past the point at which they start bringing out the platters of fish, the pasta, the bottles of Pinot Grigio and Chianti . . .

Also for your delectation, here's a bit more of Billy Collins to start off la dolce vita Friday--three stanzas from his poem, "Care and Feeding". . .

Because tomorrow
I will turn 420 in dog years,
I have decided to take myself
for a long walk on the path around the lake
( )

Then I will make three circles
and lie down on the wood floor at my feet
and close my eyes
as I type all morning and into the afternoon,

checking every once in a while
to make sure I am still there,
reaching down with one hand
to stroke my furry, esteemed, venerable head.

Salut!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Invisible partners

Farfetched got me hooked on the animal photos and captions at I Can Has Cheezburger. (They invite readers to use their photos.) This funny one got me thinking about our invisible writing partner--the reader. Some writers never think about their readers, others tailor their books completely to what they hope their readers will want. I used to claim I was in the first camp, but I think that was probably never true. At this stage in my career, I feel pretty confident that whatever pleases me will also please certain readers. That means I am free to consider their preferences without feeling as if I am sacrificing my integrity.

The former U.S. poet laureate, Billy Collins, sometimes talks to his invisible partners in his poems, as in this one, A Portrait of the Reader With a Bowl of Cereal, where he refutes Yeats' dictum that "A poet. . .never speaks directly, as to someone at the breakfast table." I'll quote just the first and last stanzas. . .

Every morning I sit across from you
at the same small table,
the sun all over the breakfast things--
curve of a blue-and-white pitcher,
a dish of berries--
me in a sweatshirt or robe,
you invisible.

( )

But some days I may notice
a little door swinging open
in the morning air,
and maybe the tea leaves
of some dream will be stuck
to the china slope of the hour--
then I will lean forward,
elbows on the table,
with something to tell you,
and you will look up, as always,
your spoon dripping milk, ready to listen.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Warrior Rising?


I see a science-fiction figure seated on a throne, arms at sides, multi-layer helmet on head.

What do you see in this pond ice photo by Andif?

Monday, January 21, 2008

For rewriters

Today's post is for anybody who is rewriting a work of fiction. I'll see the rest of you in the Comments, with or without Miss Scarlett, Colonel Mustard and the revolver.

Rewriting. . .

This may be tough for beginners. If you find it so, please don't let it intimidate you. If it seems too advanced, put it aside for now. Maybe you'll find it useful at another time, once you've built up a bit more experience and confidence. You can still do very good work without knowing or doing any of this.

If you're proceeding, please read this carefully.

This is by no means a complete look at rewriting. This is just one part of the process, but it's a technique that covers a lot of ground. It is not intended for use in first drafts. Use this technique when you have a full draft, or a good-sized chunk of story to work with. You can also use it when you have a nagging feeling that something's missing from your manuscript, but you're having a hard time figuring out what that might be.

Let's get started.

Let's take your manuscript in hand and see what we find. . .

Start with your first scene. Look at the beginning of that scene, at the moment when your point-of-view character enters that scene. What emotion is she feeling? Identify it, and write it down. Use simple words, like happy, sad, mad, scared, sentimental, nostalgic, depressed, excited, etc.

Now skip to the end of the scene. What emotion is she or he feeling now?

Is there any difference between the emotions at the start and at the end? That's what you're looking for--a shift in "feeling" during the scene. If no such shift occurs--if your character seems to be feeling exactly the same at the end as at the beginning, then you can be pretty sure that nothing meaningful has actually happened in that scene. Either that, or something has happened, but for some reason your character didn't react to it.

When nothing happens in a scene that is meaningful enough to cause a shift of emotion,, it is very likely because the scene lacks one or more of the following elements: action, conflict, and/or surprise.

Check your scenes to see if they lack any of those elements.

If they do, make a note of it, so you can go back and rewrite those scenes to add those missing elements. When you do that, you'll also create the missing emotional shift.

And that's it. There are many other aspects of rewriting, but this is one way to help you bring your book to more vigorous life.

Here are some questions you may still have:

How big a shift in emotions does there need to be?

Depends. Big surprises, action, or conflict will probably result in big shifts in emotion. But not every scene will play at that fever pitch, nor should it. Emotions can shift anywhere up and down the scale from None to Melodrama. The important thing is that they do shift, either to some degree of "more positive," or to some degree of "more negative," or to a different emotion entirely.

Does every single scene have to do this?

Depends, but I'd err more on the side of doing it in every scene than in not doing it. Remember that the emotional shifts can be subtle. You're not planting an earthquake in every scene.


What will happen to your manuscript if you doctor your scenes in these ways?

It will turn into a more lively, more entertaining, more real story.

Try this with a few of your scenes. Try it with some published novels, by checking their scenes for the elements of conflict, action, surprise, and emotional shift. If you still have questions after that, ask me.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Mentor Monday

Today's my day to be "mentor" on a Sisters In Crime Yahoo listserve, so I'll be taking questions over there until late this evening. But I haven't forgotten you! You all get 'round trip tickets to France for the day, so you can have your cafe or tea at a sidewalk cafe in Paris. Gee, I hope you can get off work. And don't worry, it's on a supersonic aircraft so you will arrive before the croissants get cold, with plenty of time left over for strolling along a boulevard, visiting a museum, doing a little shopping, and then you'll still be home for dinner. Non, non, don't thank me. C'est nothing, vraiment!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Therefore, Go Ye Forth, and Be Faineant

Brothers and Sisters,

Our commandment for this Sunday is taken from the scripture of Dictionary.com:

Faineant \fay-nay-AWN\, adjective:1. Doing nothing or given to doing nothing; idle; lazy. Noun:1. A do-nothing; an idle fellow; a sluggard.

Photo credit.

Friday, January 18, 2008

In honor of Ed Hoch



Evergreen. That's how some people's creativity seems to me. They're the ones who can't seem to help themselves from producing painting after painting, or song after song, or story after story. It just keeps pouring out of them. If they go through the dead times of creative winters, it is not visible. They truly seem born to do what they do, whether that's sculpt clay or write poems. Mr. Edward D. Hoch, who died suddenly this week at the age of 77, was one of those extraordinarily-gifted people. How extraordinary was he? He had a short story in every issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine for almost thirty-five years. In his legendary career he wrote close to 1,000 short stories. Among the many tributes being penned to him now, I read of one novelist who said that Ed may have been "the only real writer I ever met." I understand that to mean that Ed was "real" in the way that trees are real, and rivers, and stones. All of those things can only be exactly what they are, and Ed Hoch could only be a writer. A great and tireless pen has finally come to rest.



Photo by Andif

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

A Tribute to Frogs


Yesterday there was a lot of nostalgia goin' on, and it was sweet. So I thought it was time to pay an affectionate tribute to the pond where many of us first met each other. That would be The Froggy Bottom Cafe at the Booman Tribune. Political wars flared in the diaries outside of the cafe, but within its virtual doors good humor ruled. There was banter, respect, snark, sharing, comforting, cheering, a whole lot of laughter, and a lot of affection.

That old gang has, to some extent, dispersed, though several of our regulars still check in with the cafe from time to time. As for me, that's where I first learned to "host" a post, and to do a lot of computer thingees that come in handy now. (Andif and Katiebird were verrry patient.) There would never be this place if there hadn't been that place.

So here's a fond tribute to Martin, who *is* Booman, and to Diane101 who founded the cafe, and to all the friends we made there. And now we have, not just one cafe, but a virtual village with treasured new friends, as well.

Life is good in the blog lane. : )

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Where's Sniff?

Andif reports that Sniff has just about had it with political over-analysis. If he has to listen to much more of it he will just howl. Sniffy, there are maanny people who would like to crawl under that blanket with you and hide their ears. But is it possible to be both sick of it AND still addicted to it? I think that's me. If I could read political blogs all day, I probably would. Don't tell Sniff. :)

Monday, January 14, 2008

The girls are back in print!!

I've published 17 novels, but for years only three of those books have been available anywhere outside of used book stores or libraries. Well, guess what?! I'm serving champagne today! For the first time in many years, all ten of my Jenny Cain books and all three of my Marie Lightfoot books are back in print! They are ALL now available on-line from most independent stores, the big box stores, and retailers such as Amazon.

This happened in a funny kind of way.
A few months ago, I asked my agent to see if we could get back the publishing rights to all of my books that were out of print. Instead of returning those rights to us, however, the publisher chose to turn them into "print on demand," thereby keeping to the letter of my contracts. This allows them to hold onto me, in a way that's the cheapest possible for them. But you know what? That is just fine with me, because I get what I want, too--all of those books IN PRINT and AVAILABLE to my readers. That's all I've ever wanted. Well, and royalties. :)

To say I'm delighted and grateful is an understatement.

I also have to say, however, that I have writer friends who don't approve of this kind of thing. They refuse to allow their backlists to be published as print on demand (for reasons I outline below). I don't feel that way. For years I've had to tell my readers who wanted to buy my other books that the only place to find them was in the used-book aisles or in libraries. While I was happy they could still be found at all, I thought it might be nice (snark) if I could also earn royalties from them. Now we're all happy. Readers can now get NEW books. I get paid. They're happy. I'm happy.

The downside, and the reason some writers don't like POD, is that most brick-and-mortar bookstores won't stock print-on-demand books, because publishers won't let those books be returned if they don't sell, as other books can be returned. Also, publishers give a much smaller wholesale discount on POD books. (That doesn't affect the retail price or my royalties.) But bookstores will order them for anybody who requests them. As for buying them on-line, that will be just like ordering any other book from an on-line bookstore.

These new editions are trade paperback, using the original hardcover or paperback covers. I haven't held one in my own little hands yet, but copies are being sent to me. I'll let you know what I think of the quality. I suspect I'm going to feel satisfied with it. It's still a major publisher, after all--Pocket Books (Simon & Schuster)--and their original art for my covers was first-rate.

On her blog the other day, our pal Conda reminded writers to celebrate the triumphs. Sometimes, as my friends know, I'm not as good at that as I might be. But not this time. This time, I'm openly, happily making the announcement and popping the cork on the champagne!

Thanks for celebrating with me. :D And tell your friends the Girls Are Back in Print!

Note: There are a lot of old copies of my books, which makes for a crowd of titles--most of them no longer useful--on line. The new ones are very easy to find, however, if you will enter the title of the book you want, along with my last name, e.g., No Body, Pickard. The new edition will pop right up, first in line.




Sunday, January 13, 2008

Dive in


I have to disappear today, so you guys are on your own with the espresso machine and the tea cozies. Just put your dirty cups in the sink, and I'll wash them later. I heard a rumor that Farfetched might bring Cinnamon rolls. Enjoy!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

First drafts and finished pieces


Above, you see Boran2's "first draft" of a recent painting. Remind you of any of your own first writing drafts, which sometimes are little more than sketches, and which tempt you to think they'll never amount to much? Or which other people have told you will never amount to anything?



And here is his finished painting, framed, just as your finished writing may someday be "framed" by magazine or book covers. How'd he get from there to here? The same way writers do: week by week he added detail, "edited" and "rewrote," until finally after a lot of work and thought and practice, he reached this final, gorgeous point.

I have rarely, if ever, been privileged to witness such a dramatic illustration--literally--of the creative process from first to last. I don't know about you other writers in the crowd, but I will forever keep this in mind by way of reminder and inspiration.

Thanks, boran2. It's beautiful, and so has been your progress from when you started painting a few years ago, to now. . .and beyond. (You should see the one he's attempting now!

Friday, January 11, 2008

Frost flowers



Just 'cause it's pretty. Photo byAndif.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Downhill Thursday


Slalom among the trees!
Crash, bang, oof.
"Ow!"
Drags herself up off the ground.
Leans on skis.
Catches breath.
Smiles, and says, "Photo by Andif."

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Suggestive photo


by Andif. (You had to be there yesterday.) What it suggests to me is that there must be ghosts in them thar hills. She walks these hills in a long black veil. . .She visits my grave when the night winds wail. . .Nobody knows, nobody sees. . .Nobody knows but me.

You Tube: Dave Matthews and Emmylou Harris

Monday, January 7, 2008

Short Stories, 2

We received some terrific tips in the comments yesterday. I have compiled them here for one anyone who'd like to print them out. And as always, and especially for the non-short story scribes in the crowd, there's coffee, tea, and lounge chairs in the Comments. . .


From paul lamb: I've found a lot of engines that will cough up markets. Duotrope's Digest is a good one. Neatly and sensibly organized. Updated regularly.


From farfetched: Asimov's takes new author submissions as well for sci-fi. He also says: there's always the online route — it's a way to get your stuff out in front of an audience, and it has worked for several people (example: Scott Sigler).


From conda: Ralan.com is an excellent listing of short story markets. And for mysteries, the yahoo group Short Mystery Fiction Society is good. She adds: a newsletter called The Gila Queen's Guide to markets. You have to pay for this one, but it's dirt cheap for everything you get, pages and pages of market and publishing info, including occasionally an anthology that is open to newbies.

From usiku: writers could get together and use their individual and collective networks to publish and market their own book of The Best Neglected Short Stories or magazine of the same.


Guy Hogan has a blog with flash fiction tips.

Updated: I removed one of the original recommendations. I'll investigate a bit more. If it checks out, I'll put it back up.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Publishing short stories

Happy Monday! The following will probably be of interest only to unpublished short story writers. If you want to skip it and go straight to the comments for hot coffee and conversation, I'll understand! :)

For some time, I've wanted to raise a particular curtain to give unpublished writers a glimpse behind the publishing curtain. They may be agonizing over not getting their short stories published, when in fact, it is harder to do than they even know.

If you're a short story writer and you've done any market research at all, you already know there aren't many paying, reputable markets for printed short stories. (I'm not talking about "flash fiction," or any web-based publishing. Just traditional print.) What you don't know, however, is that some of those markets aren't open to you and never will be until you cross the Catch 22 threshold of being published.

Printed short stories are generally published in just two venues: magazines or anthologies.

New writers have a chance at some of the magazines. Some, such as Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, actively encourage and look for new writers. (That's where I got my start, in their "Department of First Stories.")

Anthologies (and some other magazines) are a different story, pardon the pun. Most of the writers--if not all of the writers--in a short story anthology have been invited into it. For instance, a few times a year I'll get an email telling me that such and such publisher is going to publish a collection of short stories, and that some well-known author is going to be the big name on the front of it, and would I like to submit a story to it? Who decides whom to invite? Sometimes the publisher picks the invitees, but often it's the author who "fronts" the collection. Why do they invite me? Because they know me. How do they know me? Because I have a publishing history, and sometimes because we're friends or acquaintances. Just as you always suspected, sometimes it really is who you know.

New writers have few chances to get into those anthologies, because anthologies don't sell many copies, and so the publishers need all the "names" they can get. (The "names" often aren't actually very big, but they are at least known professionals.) Now and then an opportunity arises for newbies to compete on an even competitive field with oldies, but not all that often. For instance, the Mystery Writers of America (MWA) publishes an anthology a year. Half of the stories are by invitation only, but the other half are open submissions. I judged one of those competitions this year, so I can tell you they're truly blind submissions. I had no idea who wrote the stories.

What good is this information to you? Am I telling you this just to depress you even more? No, I'm telling you for a couple of reasons. One is so that you won't be so hard on yourself if you're having a hard time figuring out how to break in. You literally can't break into some publications because they're by invitation only. It's not your fault. It's also not a case of unfairness, because, as I said, it's about the economies of publishing anthologies. The other reason I'm telling you is so you will know that once you DO get short stories published, that may open up to you an anthology market that you may not have known about, or didn't know how to get into. Once you're published, if you do want to get into anthologies, it will be very helpful if you get to know people in your particular genres. Go to conventions, and get active in the organizations, so that you will make friends with people who create anthologies, so that you'll hear about them in advance, and so you'll qualify for anthologies that may sometimes be open only to the members.

In the past couple of months, I've written several stories. Here's where and why they're being published: I sent two of them to Ellery Queen, because I have a history and relationship there. I can email the editor and query directly. Two other stories will go into hardcover anthologies. One invitation came from a best-selling author I don't know, and the other one from an author I do know. I don't know for sure why the first author invited me, but I assume it's because I have a reputation as a short-story writer. The second author invited me because I practically got on my knees and begged my way into it, because I love the theme of it so much. I first heard about the anthology over lunch, at a convention. I also have an invitation from another magazine, but I haven't written anything I think is right for them.

So that's how it's done, from the inside.

Any questions? If any of you published authors who are reading this have had different experiences with this kind of thing, let us know.

Friday, January 4, 2008

UFO



A strange object has been predicted to appear in our sky today. They say it will be bright, shiny, glowing. It will suddenly be visible, but only for a little while. There's fear and trembling as we wait. Will we have the courage to draw back our curtains, and peek out. . .

OMG! what is that THING up there??

A girl can dream

Summer. Slacking. Sunshine. Swinging. Snoozing. Saturday.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Friday

Wow, lots of things happened last night! It took me forever to sweep the confetti off the floor this time. But now the place is sparkling, the coffee's hot, and I'm hoping farfetched will bake some fresh rolls for us. See you in the comments.

The Big Games


Here's some caucus and/or football thread for anybody who wants it tonight!

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Caucus Thursday


Four years ago, a friend and I were in Des Moines, working as caucus volunteers for a presidential candidate. It was freezing. Icy cold. We knocked on doors. We hung campaign literature on doorknobs already thick with paper. We talked to voters. We drove one of them who needed a ride to his caucus.

Our candidate lost, and that was crushing, but it was fascinating to watch the nutty process up close.

Please vote wisely, Iowa. The rest of us are counting on you, whether we want to, or not.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Thinking ahead

So it's a brand new year and I find myself pondering what I want to post here in the months ahead. When I started this blog--on July 4--I assumed I'd be writing a lot about writing, and for a while, I did. But honestly, what I have personally enjoyed the most has been the social aspect of this. I even feel that writing too much about writing doesn't make much sense, because it doesn't have that much to do with the lives of maybe half of the people who come here. I think we come here for each other. I suspect all I really have to do is put out a welcome sign. :)


The thing I like second best to the social part is when we talk about things--often weird--that provoke stories from you guys. I love that, hearing about ghosts you've known, or strange, amazing, exciting, scary, or touching things that have happened to you. Partly, I like it because I learn more about everybody here, but I also like it because it stretches my mind and imagination, always a good thing for a writer.


So I guess what I'm saying is that I'm not sure what I'm going to say in my posts from here on out. Now and then I'm sure I'll say something about the writing life, just because it's so much of my life, and also because I hope it's helpful to any beginners who might tune in. Sometimes I'm tempted to post about current events or politics, but then I back off, thinking there are so many better places to do that, and I don't want to risk disturbing the equilibrium here. There are many, many places to argue on the intertubes, but there are precious few places where actual friends can talk in an expansive kind of way with the assurance that they'll be treated with affection, openness, and respect. I like to think this is one of those places, and--speaking just for me--I want that and seem to need it, too. I really value people behaving decently to one another, and that's what happens here.


I'd like to say thank you for a few things. To katiebird who inspired and provided my website, and who kept gently nudging me to blog. To andif for her photos. To all of you who make the now-and-then newcomers feel welcome, so this place doesn't feel like an impenetrable clique to strangers. I thank you for the simple fact that you keep showing up. That's what makes it work, and I do think it works. I thank you for your honesty, openness, and flexibility. I thank you for your sense of humor!!!! I like you guys. That's an understatement. :) My life is better for knowing you, and my blog would be nothin' without you. I also thank you for your own blogs, where we also go to get informed and refreshed, encouraged and supported. Without your blogs, this place would get to feeling awfully self-absorbed to me; I'm grateful that I can visit the neighbors where other people's lives are going on.


If my posts seem a little scattered for awhile, you'll know why, which is just that I'm feeling my way from here on. But I know by now that on days when I can't think of a thing to say, I don't have to force it. I can just keep the lights on and the coffee going, make sure there's also hot water for tea, move the cats off of Family Man's lounge chair, and then sit back and enjoy whatever it is you come up with in the comments.


If you have any thoughts about all this, or requests or suggestions, I'd be delighted to hear them, but it's also okay if you don't. I'm not at ALL worried that you'll find other things to talk about today. :)

2008 Comes In Like a Tiger



Missouri wins Cotton Bowl. Grrrryay!