Monday, June 28, 2010

I Simply Remember My Favorite Lines

In lieu of a longer excerpt from SHADOW POINT, I thought today I would share a few of my favorite lines from the book.

Quick recap of the plot: When her brother dies, Madison McPeake faces instant motherhood, unexpected romance, a menacing Church and a malevolent phantom. Not necessarily in that order.

So, my favorite lines... actually, pretty much EVERY line is my favorite line, but that's just me. For this blog post, let me pick a theme and narrow it down to lines regarding a child's poem, a child's toy and a child's game. Perhaps in future posts, I can pick some Scary Lines - this is a ghost story, after all! Or Lines About Some Of My Favorite Minor Characters - they need love, too. Or how about Lines About Bulldogs? Those are always good.

Anyhow... #1 comes from a scene wherein Madison - who's worried about her newfound parenting responsibilities - is checking out her dead brother's kitchen, which is seriously lacking in food and beverages: "Surely, the only parent who’d be supportive of this would be Ole Mother Hubbard."

From Madison's first description of the living room of her brother's isolated beach cabin: "A small grubby stuffed elephant sprawled across one arm of the couch, looking like Babar after a 3-day binge."

Madison describes her five-year old niece playing tea party at the beach cabin: "Finally, she was set and pouring “tea” for her pachyderm pal into an abalone cup while daintily proffering a scrumptious selection of petit fours. Also known as dirt clods. (I sincerely hope they were dirt clods.)"

I hope you enjoyed these few lines from the book. Hey, only 80,058 more words to go and you'll have read the whole thing! Which is a nice segue into my next blog post "Words Vs. Pages." Look for that here soon, Reader Friends!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Writers' Conferences

A writer who aspires to be published (or an aspiring writer) may wonder if attending a writers' conference is a good idea. My vote is YES, based on having attended just one of those conferences.

Writers' conferences come in all shapes, sizes, locations, you name it. Some are customized to particular audiences and/or genres. Some are focused on the craft of writing, some are more about the business of publishing. It can cost a little or a lot of money to attend one, so doing your research ahead of time to find the one that suits you best is a good idea. In 2009, I chose the San Diego State University (SDSU) Writers' Conference. I wanted a medium to large-sized conference that would attract good quality (so to speak) agents and editors. I wanted a general conference, not one specific to a certain genre. I could have chosen a conference closer to home, but any excuse to travel to my home town of San Diego is always welcome. Also, this was my first trip back to San Diego since I finished SHADOW POINT, so I was curious to return to many of the locations described in the book and see them again through that filter.

The conference was held in a large hotel and I elected to stay there. This turned out to be a good idea -
  • Early morning session? No problem, I was already in the building.
  • Parking? No problem, as I was a guest.
  • Too much Coca-Cola, if you know what I mean? No problem, I could just whiz up to my room (pun intended) and not have to stand in line with 40 other women for the restroom near the conference rooms. Not to mention having a stash of Co-Cola in the little refrigerator in my room! (I know, I know, the first step is admitting I have a problem...)
  • Need a moment of privacy when the 600+ other attendees started getting on my nerves? No problem.
  • Having a room in the hotel was also great after that late night Saturday session ran until 1:30 a.m.!

Meeting other unpublished writers was interesting. Well, semi-interesting. I'm not much of a people person, to tell the truth. I was amazed at the number of people there who were hoping to get their memoirs published. Most people - like me - lead Really Boring Lives. Nevertheless, those earnest autobiographers were undaunted. In general, if you're looking to meet large numbers of Truly Dreadful Writers of both fiction and non-fiction, a writers' conference is the place for you. Not trying to be mean - just keepin' it real, people.

I didn't go there to meet writers, however. I went there to meet editors, agents, and writing teachers who were invited there by the conference. There were panel discussions where one would hear them speak on publishing industry topics. There were breakout sessions where query letters, opening paragraphs, and the first three pages of manuscripts were read and (usually) (and justifiably) eviscerated. There were an awful lot of oysters and only an occasional pearl, but it was all very educational.

There was also the opportunity (for a modest additional fee) to meet one-on-one with an agent or an editor. The former would evaluate your query letter or answer questions, while the latter would review your first ten pages (submitted ahead of time) and offer constructive criticism.

There was also a luncheon for all the attendees where they attempted to group people - writers, agents, editors, everybody - at tables by genre. Would you believe there was NOT a lesbian ghost story table? I know, I was bummed. I was really glad I didn't ask to be seated at the horror table, because that was a bunch of creepy-looking older dudes with a lot of facial hair. (I'm sure they were fine folks, just not my group, you know what I mean?) Unfortunately, I did, however, make the tactical error of checking the "chick lit" box on the lunch card. Oops! Apparently, I do not know what "chick lit" means. I ended up sitting with a bunch of (hetero) romance editors and agents. (again, fine folks - again, not my group!) Live and learn.

Was it a worthwhile experience for me? Absolutely! I learned a lot that weekend. I highly recommend attending a writers' conference if you are an author who aspires to be published. You need a thick skin to be a writer, but getting that feedback is invaluable. And the chance to talk with industry insiders - priceless! Do read the books and surf the net, but actually talking with someone who does the work every day - and talking about YOUR manuscript - is fabulous.

Do I need to attend another writers' conference? Uh, no. Now that I've come out the other side (so to speak) and have had my novel accepted for publication, the information I gained from the conference continues to serve me well, but I don't feel the need to attend another one. Unless, of course, maybe someday they want to invite me to be the keynote speaker! Preferably the speaker during the luncheon, so I avoid the whole table debacle. I'll even bring my own Coca-Cola.

Seriously. I will.

Saturday Quote-O-Rama!

"Humanity must perforce prey on itself, like monsters of the deep."

Shakespeare

(full disclosure: I came across this quote while reading Lemony Snicket, not King Lear)

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Saturday Quote-O-Rama!

“I've been absolutely terrified every moment of my life - and I've never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.”

Georgia O'Keeffe

Thursday, June 17, 2010

There Are Only 3 Stories In The World

I once read or heard that there are only three stories in the world, and every novel uses at least one of them. Those three stories are:
  • Road Trip
  • Stranger In Town
  • Boy Meets Girl (obviously, whoever came up with that one was WAY off and it's actually Girl Meets Girl)
Clearly.

Well, let's think about that. I shall once again refer to my handy-dandy list o' Top 10 Favorite Books (see previous post below):
  • Jane Eyre? Definitely a road trip, Jane herself is the Stranger In Town and she does meet a boy. (Has anyone ever referred to Mr. Rochester as a "boy"? Probably not even his own fictional mother.)
  • To Kill A Mockingbird? No road trip - pretty much all the action takes place in Maycomb... I'm not sure Dill counts as Scout meeting a boy... much less Boo Radley! No stranger in town, either. I won't try to get all esoteric and say that RACISM is the Stranger In Town, because obviously it's no stranger to that town - it's just that Scout hasn't realized it before the trial. This one appears to be the exception to the rule and with a Pulitzer to boot! Go, Harper Lee.
  • How about Fingersmith? Road trip - check. Stranger in town - check. Girl meets girl - check. Incredibly awesome plot twists that make me LOVE this book - check. If you haven't read it, please do.

So let me apply this Only 3 Stories test to SHADOW POINT. (you knew I'd get there sooner or later) Road trip? Most definitely, from Boston to San Diego to Shadow Point. Stranger in town? You betcha and her name is Madison McPeake! Girl meets girl - absolutely.

I'm not sure if the Only 3 Stories theory holds water, but it's intriguing. Try it out on the next book you read and see if it applies.

In Praise Of Shopping In The Men's Department At Target

Oh, wait - is this supposed to be a blog about writing, reading and my novel?

Yes, it is.

Okay. I really wanted to talk about buying cheap guy's pants, but I will resist. 'Til we meet again, Wrangler...

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Name That... Name

I put a lot of time into finding Just The Right Name for my characters. I keep a running list of "good" ones. There are some names I just don't like - you know what I mean? I keep those for my villains or for characters I don't care that much about except for the purpose they serve in the story. They might be names of real people I've known and disliked. (did that come out bad?) Or maybe I just don't like the sound of the name. It doesn't resonate with me.

Actually, maybe I don't always use the "bad" names for the villains, come to think of it. Conrad Bly is the ghost of SHADOW POINT. His last name is a tip o' the word processor to Henry James, whose Turn of the Screw provided me with some inspiration. The house in that story is called Bly. Conrad sounded appropriate to the ghost's time period, I thought. Plus, it sounded solid to me. Weighty. And threatening somehow. And although a ghost, by nature, is the opposite of solid and weighty, this specter makes his presence known in no uncertain terms. And he's definitely threatening.

Of course, you may have an entirely different view of the name Conrad. Maybe that name conjures up rainbows, sunsets and butterflies for you.

For the protagonist, I chose McPeake because there's a Whole Hill Thing going on in the subtext of the story and the "peak" in her name reflects that. The Madison part I just liked and it had some personal good vibes for me. Plus, who does not love alliteration? Amy absolutely adores alliteration!

Names I strive to avoid are the first, middle and last names of my family and close friends. Which is not that large a circle, but still, that's a lot of names that are unavailable! Criminy. Sometimes, I'll think I've found the perfect name for a character when I suddenly remember, dang! That's Whosit's middle name. It's entirely possible Whosit wouldn't even notice or care or draw any parallels (!) between the character and him or herself, but I'm trying to abide by my rule nevertheless.

When I run out of ideas, I check my list. I've heard of writers randomly picking a name out of the phone book, but that never seems to work out for me. One of my favorite ways to "shop" for names is by watching the credits at the end of movies and television shows. There are, of course, various baby name websites out there, but oddly enough, Uncle Sam is one of the best sources for first names. Check out http://www.ssa.gov/OACT/babynames/
to find lists of names broken down by popularity, year, and state.

The best thing about choosing a name for a character is - it's fun! So much fun to create a little world, populate it with characters and have total control over everything from their names to their destinies. The fact that there's a story behind each and every name makes it even more fun.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Two Years Before The Mast

I recently read TWO YEARS BEFORE THE MAST by Richard Henry Dana Jr. Having attended a school named after Mr. Dana, I always felt vaguely guilty for not having read his book. Well, now I can move on to feeling guilty about other things! Although he spent some time in Point Loma before California was a state, I still don't understand why they named the school after him - he wasn't that complimentary about the experience. ("...Californians are an idle, thriftless people, and can make nothing for themselves.") His book, however, was quite popular and educated folks as to the beautiful California climate. (along with the seafaring stuff)

The publisher offered the young author either (a) $250 & several copies or (b) a 10% share of the royalties after the first thousand copies sold. He went for the $250 in cash. Oops! The publisher made $50,000 during the 18 years they held the copyright. Don't worry, though - Mr. Dana went on to lead a long, successful & celebrated life.

I tend to dog ear pages in books I like. Dog ears for this book included -
  • a reference to Dana finding a good book to read on board ship (Bulwer-Lytton's PAUL CLIFFORD, which starts with the famous words "It was a dark and stormy night...")
  • a line I particularly liked: "His is one of those cases which are more numerous than those suppose, who have never lived anywhere but in their own homes, and never walked but in one line from their cradles to their graves." Being a bit of a nomad myself, I'm always confounded by those folks who never walk but in one line from their cradles to their graves. Great line!
  • a reference to Point Loma (aka the real Shadow Point): "As we made the high point off San Diego, Point Loma, we were greeted by the cheering presence of a light-house." (hmmm, that must have been the OLD old lighthouse, because the current old lighthouse was built in 1855, about 20 years after Dana's visits)

So, thumbs up for TWO YEARS BEFORE THE MAST. And thank goodness none of the other schools I've attended have literary obligations attached to them. I'm back to writing now, instead of reading, and working on my third novel. It's set in a small (and imaginary) Midwestern town called Romeo Falls. The working title is ROMEO FAILS. Perhaps an excerpt will make its way into the blogosphere some day soon!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Amy Interviews Amy (#1)

In the absence of other people asking to interview me - wait! was that a knock on the door? Oh. Nope, just another pinecone bouncing off the roof. So, as I was saying, in the absence of other folks wanting to interview me (so far, at least!), I thought I'd go ahead and interview myself. The following is the first in a series of 3-question interviews, starring me. And me.

Amy: SHADOW POINT is a ghost story. Are you a fan of ghost stories and horror in general?

Amy: Nope! They scare me too much. I have read some horror over the years, but I am much more of a mystery fan. I am such a scaredy cat, in fact, that I had nightmares while writing the frightening bits in SHADOW POINT. Remember that "Friends" episode where Joey revealed he kept "The Shining" in the freezer? I can relate!

Amy: How hard is it to come up with story ideas?

Amy: Well, it took me a long time to come up with my first workable novel idea. I knew I wanted to write a novel long before I knew what novel I wanted to write, if that makes any sense.

But to answer your question - coming up with story ideas these days is easy for me. My brain bombards me with them all the time! It's my fingers that can't keep up. I sometimes feel I have to actively STOP my brain from coming up with new ideas, since I have so many on the list for future projects already. I should probably cut back on the caffeine.

Amy: How much of your writing is autobiographical?

Amy: A lot. But not so much. (laughs) I'm a novelist - I make stuff up. But let me leave you with that Fellini quote: "All art is autobiographical; the pearl is the oyster's autobiography."

Amy: Hmmm. Deep. Well, thanks so much for your time! It's been a great interview.

Amy: You're welcome - my time is your time.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Importance of the First Line

You can't call me Ishmael, but I do believe in a story having a great first line. Some can knock your socks off, some can grab you by the throat, some are almost shocking in their stark simplicity, and some just work. Certainly some of my top 10 favorite books listed below have those great first lines:
  • "There was no possibility of taking a walk that day." (Jane Eyre)
  • "When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow." (To Kill A Mockingbird)
Neither one of those is exactly "It was a dark and stormy night", but both quietly, calmly, conversationally draw the reader in and make her want to read some more.

SHADOW POINT opens with the line "They found my brother's body by the tide pools." Which I hope will be intriguing to fans of murder mysteries and/or shellfish. After rereading that sentence, I should clarify that I meant "fans of shellfish", but I suppose if any actual crustaceans want to buy the book, that will be all right, too. It will cost about 15 clams...