Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Just call me Conference Girl from now on

Apparently I can't get enough of conferences. Just as the Southampton Writers Conference was wrapping up, I decided to go ahead and apply for the NYC Pitch and Shop conference in September. While SWC was a craft workshop, and very beneficial, this one is for pitch sessions. With editors. Like, face to face. Yikes. 

So I received the email today that my synopsis was accepted and I can go ahead and send them my 500 bucks. I have no clue if that's a great thing or if they take every schmo who bothers to apply, but I DO know I have to get my ass in gear and finish this sucker now. 

It's okay. I work better under pressure.

I think.

Anybody wanna babysit my kids for the next two months?

Sunday, July 27, 2008

SWC--*sniff* It's over.

I did my reading yesterday (the flash fiction piece "Watching Harlem" on the left column if you are interested) and I was less nervous than I thought I would be. It was kind of a rush, actually. I think I was okay.

The readings went all day --9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.--and I was surprised at the overall quality of the work. Some people there were so talented. The day ended with the musical theatre people putting on a very funny performance about the conference set to the theme of "West Side Story" -- Poets vs. Playwrites. There was a quip about Billy Collins that had everyone laughing...I'll just leave it at that. 

We went out to dinner last night with about half of my novelist group and a poet. And my husband who works in finance. I've been to so many Wall Street dinners with him, now it was his chance to smile and nod and have no clue what we were talking about. I'm sad to see my new writer friends go.

Now I need to actually get back to writing.

Friday, July 25, 2008

SWC Nearing the End

I'm so sad my conference is nearly over. Another week would kill me since I can't possibly keep up with this pace, but I would die happy. Today was our last workshop with Meg Wolitzer and we had a goodbye lunch (complete with booze and a sing-along) on a classmate's bayfront deck. And it was a perfect day for it.

Tomorrow we are all reading our work in front of everyone at the conference--including Pulitzer Prize winners, National Book Award winners, and a Nobel laureate. No pressure.

So today I attended a lecture called Presenting Your Work. Here are some tips:

Advice Mom Might Give
--Drink plenty of water before you go on. Makes a huge difference.
--Rest (I'm hoping I can do that tonight with help from my little friend Cabernet.)

About that Tricky Microphone
It's awful when someone doesn't know how to speak into a mic. DON'T SPEAK DIRECTLY INTO IT. Point it at your adam's apple and speak OVER the mic. Much better. And if you have to adjust it, hold on to the mic holder, not the mic itself. 

What Is It I'm Reading Again?
--Know your material.
--Use at least 14 pt. type.

When You Get Up There
--Square off your stance
--Take a clear breath away from the mic. It settles yourself and your audience.
--Pause and make eye contact before you start your piece. 
--Play to your ideal audience. Don't doubt yourself before you go on. Think about those who support you and love your work. 
--Pacing: speak slowly. Give them time to absorb the words. 

And Finally...
--Receive their applause. Don't rush off the stage.

That last one will come in handy. I'm sure I'll have to hang out on stage for many, many shouts of Encore! More, please!

Yeah right.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

SWC Day...oh, I don't even know anymore

My brain has swollen to three times its normal size with all the information on writing that has been shoved in it for the last few days. It's Thursday, right? I've lost track.

I've been too busy to update regularly, so here are some highlights:

Amy Hempel gave a craft lecture on Lunging at Vacancy, or, How to Recognize What's Right in Front of You. If you haven't read her short stories, do so. She has a very interesting approach. Instead of starting with a character or idea, she usually starts with language and evoking emotions with the sounds of words--the acoustically incorrect sentence is dead. Read aloud, people! Think about pairing off words that might otherwise never meet, or turn around the meaning of a mundane thing. Your take just might provide insight and clarity. 

Frank McCourt, Meg Wolitzer, Roger Rosenblatt, and Melissa Bank sat for a Q&A on novel writing today, urging us to write what is important. I know that the question "Why are you telling me this?" has caused me to rethink a few scenes in my WIP. The deeper truth is there, I think, but I just need to find a better way to bring it forward. (Hence the swelling of my brain.)

Oh, and I'm doing a reading on Saturday! Like in front of people and everything! Ack! 

Monday, July 21, 2008

SWC Day 6--Research

Yes, I know I skipped days 4 and 5, but in summary my piece was workshopped (well-received, might I add, and I got some very helpful feedback too) and I bagged some lectures to go to the beach. Not much has changed about me since high school in that regard. 

Today was another workshop with Meg Wolitzer to go over other people's work, but I do find that I learn something about my own writing even when discussing specifics of someone else's.

We also had a great lecture about research (one that I very nearly skipped!) from Catherine Creedon*, a research librarian at the Sag Harbor Library. Thank goodness I was a serious student today, because this lecture will directly impact my upcoming WIP. She spoke about the limitations of Google and provided us with a nifty little handout of other sources for research. I'll give you the Cliff Notes:

Regular Search Engine Stuff besides Google:
Clusty--this organizes the returns in clusters to refine your search
Dogpile--searches several search engines at once
SPUTTR--another good source

Reference Sites:
Bartleby--this one was very cool. It has just about every reference book you can think of online, plus lots of fiction.
Gutenberg Collection--another very cool site with thousands of whole books available to download. I'll use this a ton.
Jstor--search academic articles from scholarly journals

Specialized Sites:
PodScope--search videos and podcasts
CyberCemetery--archive dead government web pages
Wayback Machine--archive dead non-governmental web pages

And, of course there is Wiki, but you all know that it should only be used as a starting point, right? 

Go forth and research!

*Let's make a librarian happy and cite sources here. Thanks Catherine Creedon. 

Friday, July 18, 2008

SWC Day 3--Dark Comical Sex

I'm going to regret posting that title. Some pervert is going Google "sex" and stumble upon my blog, only to find a bunch of stuff about writing. How very disappointing. Sorry. 

So. Today's morning lecture was on the topic of writing sex, and much nervous giggling and tittering ensued the first few minutes. Elizabeth Benedict lectured (author of The Joy of Writing Sex) on what makes for a really interesting sex scene that's not just full of heaving bosoms and panting. She says that a good sex scene is always about sex and something else--it's the conflict of what they want and how that motivates their behavior that makes for good reading. The relationship between the two people (or three, or...whatever) is key to originality. She also said we need to turn off the sensors about what other people will think (I know that's an issue for me. My mother might read it! Ack!) and just write the scene. She also said a bunch of other useful stuff, ss here's her website:

After lunch, the cartoonist Gahan Wilson spoke about dark humor and how being playful with the grotesque can help people cope with tragedy and turn it into something that can be handled. As someone who is prone to bursts of inappropriate laughter, I agree. 

Then literary agent Chris Calhoun answered questions about the agent/author relationship. Some of the stuff you might already know, like how to write a query letter, and if you don't, please see the list at the left and click on Nathan Bransford. He's a lit agent who blogs and he has some very useful information on this topic. (And here's a tip about Chris Calhoun: he strongly prefers snail mail.)

Homework time again. 

Thursday, July 17, 2008

SWC Day 2

Today started with a workshop with Meg Wolitzer and a room full of 12 writers and wannabe writers sizing each other up. Seems like a fairly diverse group of people--some published, some not. Feigning braveness, I volunteered to have my piece put up for workshop first. I've been in a couple of workshops before, so while I know my submission needs a lot of work, I'm not too nervous about having people comment. Meg seems like a very giving teacher, and she reminded me of one my former Gotham teachers (and fellow AWer.)

Next was a lecture on dramatic action by Alan Alda. I have to confess that I haven't read any of his books, but wow, what an intelligent guy. I picked up his book to add it to my stack. He spoke about forward motion in writing, and how every line has to earn its keep to propel the story along. Not so much of a lover of narrative exposition (but really, who is? Still, it did get me thinking about some parts of my WIP that might drag.)

Tonight's reading was from Meg Wolitzer from The Ten Year Nap and Amy Hempel from The Collected Stories. Both women have very different styles of writing, but they couldn't have been more entertaining. 

Off to do my homework....

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Southampton Writer's Conference -- Day 1

So after much fretting about my writer's conference ("What if I'm the oldest one there?" "Who will I sit by at dinner?"  "What should I wear?") I went to the first day. Well, first evening. And it was fine. Answers: I wasn't, some other nice writers, and a cute little sundress. Tonight was orientation and a cookout.

It's a full (12 day!) schedule, starting with tonight's reading by nobel prize winning poet Derek Walcott. He writes about his native St. Lucia and his words were so vivid and beautiful--like brushstrokes across a canvas. 

My workshop starts tomorrow at 10 am with Meg Wolitzer. I've already met some of the people in my group and it seems like a diverse and interesting crowd.  

Wish me luck.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Hypothetical: To Sell Out or Not to Sell Out

So I was reading this article in the New York Times this morning, which talks primarily about brand names in teenage fiction, but it did bring up the question as to whether or not companies paid to have their products placed in the books. (Turns out no.) 

As a former advertising chick, my first thought was how smart (for the advertisers) and that competed with my second, writer-chick thought of no way would I do that in one of my books. 

It's certainly not the first time brands have been featured in books. I remember a litany of luxury brands in American Psycho which I found very annoying. I suppose that was the point. And I suppose if it fits the character, brand names can be useful in description. But what do you think about authors getting paid for it? Let's say Pepsi offered you a fat sum of cash if you would just write your MC as having an affinity for their soda? She cracked open a cool, refreshing Diet Pepsi before turning to him and saying...  

Would you do it? What the sum were REALLY fat? Obese, even.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Help Me Name My Baby

I've never been good at titles. Never. Each of my two daughters were born without a name and we had to come to a decision before they were each christened Baby Girl Cebula for life. (Zoe? Eleanor? Naomi? Doctor, what do you think she looks like?)

So, big shocker, I'm struggling with a title for my WIP, and it's nearly time to send this puppy out. It's been called, in order of appearance: Working Title, Pinnacle, Wendy's Novel Rev. 1, The Albatross Around My Neck, Whispered and Revealed,  and now it's Up From Drowning. 

Meh. None of these are really resonating with me. I read this helpful article on choosing a title, but Still. Can't. Decide. 

What's your baby's name?  

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Editing. What's Your Strategy?

I'm thigh-deep in the muck of editing my WIP at the moment, after getting some valuable feedback from a beta reader. I have quite a few changes to make.

Being ever the organized, spreadsheet-and-list-oriented person, I have an Excel document entitled Edits To Make and I tick them off as the days go by. Fix dialogue on page 72? Check! Tie in detail in Chapter 4 to the end? Check! Making the checkmarks is gratifying and all, especially with a sparkly blue pen, but I'm wondering if there is a better way. 

This is the first time I've written anything this long, and editing this way feels piecemeal to me. Of course I'll give it another read-through (or 10), but I'm interested in how others tackle their edits.

So? Lay it on me.