Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Procrastinating or Percolating?

It's a fine line and I like to walk up and down it a lot. The line between procrastinating and percolating. See, I believe in BIC (Butt in Chair) and I also believe you need to write to be a writer. But I don't write every day. I think every day, despite the amount of laundry and heinie I clean. I get into my WIP's world and walk around. I'm at the stage right now where I can't approach it head on. I can't sit down and write, not yet. I need to think about it.

For example, yesterday I finally cleaned out the tech junk drawer. That hideous repository that all offices have of cables, broken cameras, headphones nobody likes to wear, and old technology. I unwound the tangle of cables and sorted them into piles. Busy hands means a whirring mind for me, so in that time I 'wrote' my opening scene. I discovered the MC's voice (yes, I heard it in my head, you got a problem with that?)

But I haven't run to the computer, not yet. It's a delicate thing with me. I need to 'think' back into that scene and replay it, like a video, in my head. Then I can write it.

If this was three years ago, I'd be berating myself for procrastinating. I'd have good reason to do it, I spent almost ten years 'thinking' about my first book without writing a word. But now that I'm embarking on writing my third book and am querying my second, I think I can trust my process. I know I can do it and I know I won't be afraid. For me, that's what procrastination was, fear of failure.

So, what's your process and how did you come to trust it?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Unusual Words

Bifurcated. Solipsism

Without running to the dictionary, I'm not exactly sure what these two words mean. Bifurcated, I think, has something to do with cutting. Solipsism (again, hedging) is a quality that's negative, but I don't know how.

These two words popped into my head as I thought about the work that words do. Some words are so work-a-day that they slip by you easily, almost silently, delivering their meaning and passing by quickly, so you don't even notice. That last sentence had a ton of those words. Bifurcated and solipsism are 'handle with care' words, words with a lot of stopping power. They're the heavy metals of the periodic word table.

I bring this up because of something that happened during our Bucks County Writers Group's last meeting. Greg has a great story he's working on that is full of playful words. They dance, they stick out their tongues at us and they make rude jokes. Usually, it's delightful and fun. But one word stuck out in his latest submission. Singulated. In my word doc, it's got a red squiggly line under it, telling me it's a misspelling. Greg assures me that it's not. It's a technical term for how specific machine parts are manufactured. Without knowing that, I kind of got the gist of the word, from the context of his story. But it made me stop. In the middle of an action scene, I stopped to think about pulling out my dictionary. That's not what should happen. Greg is (for now) standing by singulated. I have the feeling that he'll kill that particular darling in coming revisions.

What words make you stop? Are heavy-metal words worth the risk?


  [sol-ip-siz-uhm]  Show IPA
Philosophy the theory that only the self exists, or can beproved to exist.
extreme preoccupation with and indulgence of one'sfeelings, desires, etc.; egoistic self-absorption.


  [v., adj. bahy-fer-keyt, bahy-fur-keyt; adj. also bahy-fer-kit, bahy-fur-]  Show IPA verb, -cat·ed, -cat·ing, adjective
verb (used with object), verb (used without object)
to divide or fork  into two branches.
divided into two branches.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

3 Unrelated Things I'll Try to Relate

It's surely a sign of a disorganized mind - and one that is sorely lacking in sleep - but I've got three disparate things buzzing in my head. I can't fix on one, so even though they don't go together, I'm going to smash them together anyway. I might have to use Gorilla Glue.

Downton Abbey
I'm officially obsessed. I can remember back in September when Tivo took the initiative and recommended an episode of DA. I watched 2 minutes and deleted it. Then, in December I saw

Michelle Dockery in this fabulous dress:

and thought, "Hmm. I can use some Edwardian fashion eye candy, maybe I'll get season one from the library." Two weeks ago husband and I began watching season one, first with relief that we liked it, then with growing interest. I think husband fell to obsession after he found out that Patton Oswalt is a fan and puts out some of the most hilarious tweets about DA. I felt myself fall into obsession this Monday morning. I woke up from a dream where Lady Grantham (Cora) and I opened up a tattoo parlor in a Brooklyn brownstone. Just imagine Elizabeth McGovern in a gorgeous beaded gown, but instead of opera length gloves, she's got an intricate tattoo sleeve gracing each arm. If You Were The Only Girl in the World played on the phonograph in the background. I swoon.

Making Myself Miserable
Littlest broke her finger a few days ago. She was dancing. On the dining room chair. She's fine, in fact, I don't think she remembers her splinted finger until it gets in her way. But at night, she's up two, three or more times. No one has been sleeping. And since I have preternatural hearing, I sleep even less. So this morning, even though husband let me sleep in a little, I was in a miserable mood. After eldest made her way to school and littlest had her breakfast, I opened up email and saw an email from Caryn Wiseman from Andrea Brown Agency. To recap briefly, I posted the first 5 pages of BookEnd during last summers writeoncon. Caryn requested the first three chapters. I sent them in September then heard nothing. In January, I screwed my courage to the sticking point and nudged her. Nothing until today. Now, I've had seven rejections in the last three weeks. I knew without opening it that this was going to be a rejection too. I just felt like someone punched me in the gut, yet still expected me to get out of my PJs and brush my teeth. I cried. Then I figured I might as well open the damn rejection up, stick it in my folder with the others and get on querytracker to collect my latest orange frownie face.

But it wasn't a rejection. Caryn said she hadn't received my email in September, but wanted to read my full now. And that's how you ruin your own morning, all by yourself.

Part of what Caryn Wiseman wants me to send is a synopsis. My existing synopsis is a five page hot mess. Luckily, my awesome beta reader pal, Sharon Bayliss, sent me a link to a great post on how to write a one page synopsis. I'm already half way through rewriting my synopsis. Couldn't have done it without this tip. Thanks Sharon!

So, what's been rattling around your brain this week?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Literary Rambles 2000th Milestone

Usually on Wednesday, I go on RTW at YA Highway - but RTW is dark today in solidarity with many other internet presences, in protest of SOPA. I can't think of a time when censorship of an adult in compos mentis makes sense - I wrote about it a while back when a 'white washed' edition of Huckleberry Finn popped up about a year ago. I absolutely believe in self-censorship, and the rights of parents to censor material for their kids. But SOPA can infringe on rights you take for granted right now. There have to be other ways to protect artists'/corporations' rights.

But do you agree? Is censorship an acceptable side effect of stopping piracy?

On another much more fun note, Literary Rambles is having a contest to celebrate their 2000 followers. If I ever have that many followers I will likely keel over. Casey and Natalie have a very smart, resource-rich site over there - whenever I am researching an agent, I make sure I head over there and 'vet' the agent I'm about to query. Their site is indispensable! Their book giveaway is just a sweet cherry on top.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Let The Right One In

I'm slowly, almost preternaturally slowly, climbing back on the bicycle. It's been a month since a finished BOOKEND and started querying. I know I have to start writing again, everyone's said so.

But I had a problem. I've got a digital drawer full of ideas to work on and none of them were doing it for me. One seemed a little forced - did those mermaids really belong there, or was I just (pun intended) fishing? Another idea was fine, just completely uninspiring. If the author is uninspired, how in blazes can anyone else be into it? That idea also went back into the file. Revise the first book I wrote? Meh. Start on the second book in the BOOKEND universe? That was much more exciting a prospect, but I didn't feel ready to go back into that world yet.

I puzzled and poured over these ideas as the weeks passed. I got rejections and the only antidote to those poison pills is sending more queries and WORKING. So I was pressuring myself to come up with something I wanted to write.

And like all good things, it came to me in the night. I'm not a great sleeper at the best of times, and I often lie in bed thinking diaphanous thoughts, just letting them drift through and not bothering much about if them make sense. I swear on a stack of Elements of Style, that's how Mop entered my head. I could see her, easily, in my mind's eye. And I knew where she lived. I'm talking, I could walk with her down the halls of her apartment building, see the view out her window. I knew her mother and her mother's demons. And I knew what Mop could do. She can find things. Anything. She's a finder. She makes money for her and her mom by finding lost things for her neighbors, anything from engagement rings to lost kittens. But there are dangerous lost things that should stay lost. And Mop can't help what she is, she finds things, no matter if they want to be found.

I got my arse out of bed and wrote pages and pages of back story - just trying to flesh out who Mop is and what her situation is. I haven't been as excited about a story since I started writing BookEnd. That's when I knew I had the right one.

Now I'm almost ready to start writing Chapter 1. I just need to figure out the spark - the inciting incident.

How do you know when you've found the right idea to work on?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

RTW - Who Shall I Say is Calling?

Each week, YA Highway hosts Road Trip Wednesdays. 

Today's prompt:
If you couldn't use your own name, what would your pen name or pseudonym be?

Bank tellers, school admins and older ladies behind registers love my name. I know this because they often comment, "Oh, what a lovely name." I smile and say thank you secretly thinking, are you kidding?

It's not that I don't like my name, I do. My first name can be girly or masculine and I love that suppleness. My last name is foreign, but it has enough vowels in it so that most americans can pronounce it. I like my name so much that I kept it when I got married, not able to picture myself with my husband's wholly other (to me) last name.

But as a writer I have two problems with my name. The first is that I cannot imagine anyone buying a book with my name on it. When husband had my book printed on as an xmas present, the only thing on the lovely cover he designed that looked wrong was my name. The second problem I have with my name is that it's my identity. I have a career that doesn't involve writing at all. And I don't expect to become a household name any time soon, which means that writing and working will happen at the same time. Would it be strange to have the two worlds collide?

Even building a presence online for me started with a pseudonym, magpie. And while I wouldn't publish with that name, I am comfortable being known in this little community with that moniker.

OK but that wasn't the prompt. So what would I choose as a pen name? Alex O'Donnell. And will I eventually do that? I don't know. Maybe.

Do you plan on using a pen name? If so, what is it?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Hope - Despair - Repeat

Not long ago, eldest daughter came to me with two Barbie coloring books. Unfortunately, she can read. I say unfortunately, because it makes it awkward for me to lie to her when she can read things for herself. I'm just saying, it was easier to say the bakery was closed before she could read that the sign says OPEN.

But I digress. Eldest read the sticker on the barbie coloring books. They said WIN and HOLLYWOOD! and CHANCE! and she begged me to get on the internet and enter her into their contest. The grand prize was a trip to Hollywood, a visit to Barbie's compound (or wherever the heck she dwells) and a one of a kind Barbie that you design. Eldest almost swooned and she wanted to go upstairs right away and figure out what she should wear to Hollywood. I sat her down, looked her in the eyes and explained to her why she doesn't have a snowball's chance in Hades of winning. I rattled off a mega-ton of zeros. I may have even said the word probability. I also told her that the fun part was entering and it wasn't about the winning. I basically told her a bunch of crap to try to get her to not be too excited. In my professional life, it's known as 'managing expectations.' I guess in the real world I guess it's called killing dreams softly. It's what parents sometimes do, because we can't bear the idea of our kids being hurt.

Wouldn't it be a great story if now I told you that, against all the odds, eldest won the Barbie prize? That the naysaying mommy was wrong and should have had faith, dust & pixie dust (sorry, wrong corporation)? It would have been awesome, but it didn't happen. Instead, when she found out she didn't win, she cried, loud and long, alarmingly and heartbreakingly - the way only kids seem to be able to do. I comforted and consoled her and soon she'd spent out her tears.

Now, a couple of months after, I wonder if she remembers the Barbie contest. I know that she still wants to enter every contest she hears about (LaLaLoopsy, anyone?) I also know that she still glazes over when I tell her the odds of her winning are not ever in her favor (heh, channeled a little Effie there.) She just continues to believe she can win. I wonder how long she can keep that belief up.

I've decided not to tell her about probability anymore. Mostly because I'm currently engaging in some magical thinking myself. I'm not even talking about the occasional Megamillions dollar I drop at the WaWa. Yes, I'm querying.

So far I've sent out eight. I've got two partials out and I've gotten four rejections. I know that's not much yet, and I know I don't have any choice but to keep trying or give up. The trick now is to figure out how eldest does it. How she cries bitter tears (I reserve the right to eat chocolate instead) then shakes it off and keeps going, her spirit undiminished. It's probably mostly up to the fact that she's seven.
I'm going to go find my inner seven year old.

How do you survive the query process?

Friday, January 6, 2012

My Christmas* Present Was Better Than Yours - Part 2

*Insert Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice, etc. holiday here.

I'm a full time writer just like I'm a full time mom and a full time event planner - in other words, not full time at all. I just cram stuff into my day as and when possible. Because of this and other issues, money in the magpie household is tight.

That's why two catalogues that come to our house make me laugh: Restoration Hardware and Anthropologie. It's like peeking into an alien race to see how they spend their coin. Ha! I say, On Mars, someone can spend $4000 on a footstool! Isn't alien foreign culture amazing?

But a while back I saw something that I wanted. Really wanted and knew I couldn't have:

from Anthropologie catalogue

Some girls get this warm, heart-stopping, nearly orgasmic feeling when looking at shoes. I am the girl that gets that feeling when looking at an ipod phonograph. I was just born this way.

These darling creatures will set you back $900.

I don't have $90 to spare, never mind $900.

I showed my husband this object of desire and we agreed it was awesome and unattainable.

Then on Christmas morning, after already getting the best present ever, he presented me with this:

It's stunning isn't it? Guess what? It doesn't plug in. It works because of an ingenious acoustic doo-hickey built into the base. You slot your ipod into the hole and amazing sound comes out of the 'horn.'

Unbelievable, right. But wait, there's more. HUSBAND MADE THIS.

I'm going to let that sink in for a minute.


Yup. My presents rocked.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Road Trip Wednesday - Dream Writing Retreat

Going to try adding Wednesday to my blogging schedule. I doubt I have enough brain power to come up with something stunningly creative for Wednesdays on my own, so I'm going to hop on the YA Highway's Road Trip Wednesday

Today's RTW prompt is: 
Describe your dream writing retreat. Where would you go? Who and what would you bring?

If I were to craft the perfect writing retreat it would be a week (or more, what the hell, it's a fantasy) in a quiet hotel in Bloomsbury, in easy walking distance to the British Library, the Strand and the river. I'd write in the morning, walk in the afternoon and meet with friends for dinner and drinks in the evening. I might even take a few day trips out of King's Cross.
British Library
In any season London is a walker's paradise. And I write best in my head while walking. I used to work in the City (a lowly tea-lady, not a high powered venture capitalist, in case you were wondering) and sometimes, instead of hoping on the tube, I'd walk down High Holborn, into the West End, down to Victoria Embankment, across Hungerford Bridge and once, I walked all the way home to Balham. 
Victoria Embankment

Stories are buried in every nook and cranny of the city. For me, it's a layered, never ending source of ideas. Sometimes, I walk through London in my dreams. 

I actually wouldn't take anyone with me. I'm surrounded by people who need me all the time right now and the optimal writing experience would be mostly silent. I know there will be other times in my life when I'll want/need others to spark my creativity, but that's not now.

As for what I would take with me, laptop, of course. And I would probably take Writing the BreakOut Novel by Donald Maass in case I get stuck. Ipod and lots of music is also not negotiable - I know this goes against my previous request for silence, but I don't consider music noise, I consider it writing impetus.

What about you, what's your idea of a perfect writing retreat?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

My Christmas* Present Was Better Than Yours, Pt 1

*Insert Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice, etc. holiday here.

Since we started dating when I was 19, my husband and I have had 21 Christmases together. Most of the gifts he gave me, I don't remember. I'm pretty sure he doesn't remember most of the ones I gave him, either. Gifts between us are truly about gesture and not object.

But this year, husband did the unthinkable. He gave me a present that was so amazing, so utterly perfect yet awe inspiring, that I will never top it. I'm either not going to try to top it, or spend the rest of my life trying to top it. Haven't decided which one yet.

This is what he gave me:

He gave me my own book back. When I finished with the last round of edits on December 18, I emailed it to him with a 'ta-da!' Unbeknownst to me he laid out all of the text (he's a Creative Director, so he knows how to do the fancy stuff), designed the cover and sent it out to

When I opened the little package on Christmas Eve, I burst into tears. I've only done that once before, when my eldest daughter was born and I found out she was a girl. One minute I'm going "What the...?" the next I've got my head buried in my pillow, just bawling my eyes out. It was intense.

There was also an unforeseen benefit to having my words in print. Reading the book that I thought was done in book format let me find lots of edits. Not huge, oh my gothness edits, but ones that I'm happy I made. I cut nearly 1000 words from this I Swear It's Really Final version. And I send it to BP tomorrow.

But wait. There is more. The next day, Christmas Day, husband gave me a present that was equal in awesomeness to the book, but in a completely different way...Stay tuned.

What's the best present you ever got?

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