About Writing X-tra Credit: Soapbox and Such

Alle Enjoying the Grub

My heart, am I reveling in the current on-line class I am taking through Boston’s famed GrubStreet creative writing center–a spiritual sister to my beloved Richard Hugo House, in Seattle.

I’m taking the six-week Novel Revision Intensive w/Kate Racculia, author of Bellweather Rhapsody and, most recently, Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts. Naturally, I am ironsmithing my Crappy Second Draft of Crazy Medicine. Here’s a rundown of what we’ve done thus far:

Our first step was to review each other’s opening pages. Next–this was a killer–we each re-read our book and wrote a letter to ourselves describing what worked and what didn’t. Apparently, it’s a Stephen King Thing. We weren’t suppose to edit; although, of course I did. You won’t tell anyone, will you?

Ella, the leggy Texan coke whore

Another part of the letter was to “To Do” list of what needed to be done with the subsequent draft. I came up with: splitting in half two chapters; and adding three chapters, one of which is from the point of view of Lena’s love-nemesis, Ella.

We haven’t discussed Ella, you and I. I need her to be more of a presence, but I’m not sure who she is, except that she comes from Donna, Texas, population 9,ooo, and she would be played in the movie by a young Charlize Theron. Oh, and she’s a leggy coke whore who becomes a meth addict. Character arch!

Next, we wrote a synopsis of our novel, up to 3500 words. This as a fantastic exercise for a novel-in-progress. I saw many places where I had to address transitions, character motivation, oh! All sorts of fun stuff. (And some not-so-fun realizations that I’ll get to, in a different post.) Finally, we had to read each other’s synopses and give feedback.

This week, our assignment is to write a query letter for an agent. During all this, we are continuing with our To Do list.

Next week is our final assignment. What will it be, what will it be?

About Writing Appropos of Nothing How I Got That Story

How to travel as a writer.

Someone on Facebook asked for information about maximizing time when on a research trip for a novel. What ho!

  1. Set a time every day to FaceTime or Skype with your children.
  2. Have something else going on. For example, I practice Tai Chi. I knew that there would be a lot of parks where the Chinese community practiced in the early mornings. I made a point to be in the neighborhood park by 6am. I met so many caring locals. They told me great places to eat and insider tips about the city that your characters need to know. One also helped me figure out which neighborhood in Bangkok my main character would live in.
  3. Spend more time on your book than seeing the sights. Limit sight seeing to elements that appear in the book.
  4. Write or edit on the plane. You write; food arrives. Tea arrives. Life doesn’t get better–until your kids arrive!
  5. Use your computer rather than a notebook. On days I used my notebook, I was too exhausted to transfer my notes. Still haven’t.
  6. Go to a library. My novel is set in the mid-90s. In the 90s, no newspaper in Cambodia published on-line. I went to the library at the Hun Sen University and read bound, back issues of newspapers.

Bon Voyage!

About Publishing How I Got That Story

How I Got That Story: Kij Johsnson, science fiction

Our subject; not shy.

Kij Johnson is a sci-fi rockstar: 2010 Nebula Award winner, 2010 Hugo Award Nominee, and 2010 Locus Award Finalist. She doesn’t know me from Eve; my God, she started publishing while I was still in high school. (Only ten years ago?)  Nevertheless, she graciously agreed to be interviewed.

Can you talk a little about the transition from short story writer to novelist?

Initially I had no idea I would ever write a novel. I wrote short stories because that was about all the attention-span I had, and I had always heard that short stories were an easier sell than novels because there were more tiers you could get in at: unpaid, semi-pro, pro, and then the elevated heights of The Big Ones, Playboy and the like.

The first novel, THE FOX WOMAN, was really an enormous short story: very tightly crafted without a lot of events, which is both its strength and its weakness. Since then I have gotten a lot more comfortable with novels, which have breathing room for subplots and even loose ends.

How does your poetry factor in?

I wrote poetry before I wrote fiction which, combined with a linguistics-heavy undergrad degree, made me obsessive about language. I haven’t written poetry for many years and am coming back to it now, after some decades. We’ll see how returning to poetry changes things!

What did you learn most, in the process of building toward then publishing your first book?

100,000 words is a lot of words, and 125,000 is more. Story arcs need to be bigger in novels.

Given your current success, what would you say was your tipping point?

It’s always a series of tipping points, each of which feeds into the next. Going to Clarion West? Working in publishing? The Sturgeon Award, or the Crawford Award? Attending and then assisting at Jim Gunn’s workshops? The first Year’s Best reprint? Being nominated for one of the big awards? Winning? Maybe for other people there’s a big Tadaa! but it’s been incremental for me. My first story was published in 1987; my first pro sale was 1988.

When you were more focused on short stories, how many pieces do you have out for consideration at any given time?

I’m very focused on short stories at the moment! Right now I have one that’s recently been bought; three more out there somewhere or other; a couple that are teetering on done but have never gelled, and one I promised to an anthology that I haven’t finished.

When you started writing, what were your top three DREAM PUBLICATIONS? How has the list changed?

Playboy, Asimov’s, Omni. I’ve been in Asimov’s several times, but Playboy’s a tougher nut than I will ever crack; and Omni is gone, alas. I love breaking into new magazines. Right now I have something out to The New Yorker on the “Hey, why not?” principle.

So say we all. Thank you, Kij.

Tune in Monday for another “How I Got That Story,” featuring NY Times best-selling author Laura Fraser. Oooooo!

Fraser's second travel/food/love memoir