Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

Click to Mix and Solve

Good Feeling's Gone (Part 2)

Lying awake in the wee hours, thinking about yesterday. So embarrassing when I let myself get worked up on a forum that doesn't allow one to delete one's comments.

Flogging does hurt. This time more than I expected, because I really thought I had something good. Not great, but good enough to keep the readers interested. Obviously, I was wrong. My response was to cry literary. "Well, maybe this is just a literary fantasy."

That's cowardice. If something doesn't work, it doesn't work, no matter what you call it.

The honest evaluation of the reviewer (who was kind enough to donate his time to do this in the first place) is that nothing happens in the first chapter.

"But it's literary!"

Just kidding.

I thought that rather a lot had happened, actually. My protagonist has a bad day at work that represents a major shift in how he's going to have to approach his job in the future and nearly gets killed. Then he goes to a party, tries to relax, and finds himself making out with the last girl in the world with whom he wants to get involved. That's what I thought I wrote. But obviously, the gap between what I intended and what I wrote was rather huge. Eight months of tinkering has made no difference.

The reviewer said that he suspected that there was a story on the verge of being told. Unfortunately, there isn't. The rest is 75,000 words of more of the same. Literary, or just bad writing?

Strip away the window-dressing (like, uh, killer lions) and I've got nothing. I think all the good stuff happened at Come In Character.

I stopped writing in my twenties because I realized that I was creating interesting settings in which absolutely nothing happened. Nothing really has changed since then. Interesting setting, nothing happening. Killer lions notwithstanding.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Good Feeling's Gone

I submitted my first page to Flogging the Quill. I had a feeling the reviewer wouldn't care for it, and he didn't. I told myself I wouldn't look until Friday, when a new post would be up and mine would be moved down, but the reviewer sent me an email so I looked.

(groan) Bad idea. I'd been feeling pretty good about things, but, to quote Finding Nemo, "Good feeling's gone."

I've spent eight months rewriting the first scene. I like it the way it is, if it's going to be there at all. The reviewer suggested jumping ahead to the action a few pages ahead, but I'm extremely uncomfortable with that idea. (The later scene involves a Ranger being attacked by a lion.)

The thing is, I find myself in the excruciatingly uncomfortable position of trying to reconcile my own personal taste with what I'm told the publishing world wants. No doubt agents and editors would be more likely roused from their cynical fog by a guy in mortal peril from a ferocious, man-eating beast.

But, personally, if I opened a book and that was the first scene, I'd toss it aside as too graphic. I'd rather build slowly. That whole section seems a little gratuitous anyway, essentially a concession to readers who like more immediate action in their narratives.

I'm thinking now of doing away with the whole first chapter altogether. I'm thinking of eliminating the male POV and just focusing on the heroine. I'm thinking of redecorating my dollhouses, or taking up cross-stitch again.

I'm thinking maybe I should just write the book the way I want to, and stop trying to please everyone. But that's how writers don't get published. At least, I think so. I can't really say, since their books aren't available to read.

I have a literary reader who's offered to look at it. I haven't given it to him yet because, frankly, I'm a little embarrassed. I have a feeling he'll hate it. I've come so far from my original concept. Perhaps I've come too far.

Or not far enough.

Who the heck knows?

I mean, the feedback was good. I'm not questioning the responses. It's just that I really don't have a clue how to make this story fit what everyone else is looking for. For one thing, if I do cut the first chapter, where does all that character development go? So then I have to ask, is this story publishable? Maybe not. Can I live with that? I think so. I'd rather be done - finally - than just keep cycling back to the beginning like a hamster on a wheel.

Yes, I'd like it to just be done. Then maybe we can all (including you, my patient friends) move on with our lives.

I do think a big part of the problem is my fear of over-writing, which has possibly resulted in under-writing. I was told I was melodramatic a long time ago, and have tried very hard to avoid such a charge since.

I think I've succeeded.


I just finished rewriting an important section of my first chapter. I decided to add a scene from the female protag's point of view, since the current version doesn't have her POV until Chapter Three. I was in serious doubt whether I could make it work, as the section flows so well as written. But I think my characters, once again, have risen to the occasion and surpassed my expectations.

I am also amazed at how suddenly she has taken on a whole new dimension. Jeannie Campbell (The Character Therapist) talks about our characters having layers like onions. Wow, have I got some onions!

Anyway, I can't resist posting a passage I really like from this morning's work. My female protag is falling asleep, but trying desperately not to, during a Midwinter feast that is supposed to last all night. I love it when character's minds do funny things.

Guests drifted here and there, settling down in little flocks to smoke or talk or doze. Marenya leaned back against the wall and closed her eyes, then jerked them open, then felt them slide shut again. She mustn’t fall asleep. She must stay awake to see the sun rise. She must stay awake to see the surprise. The sun’s eyes. The birds had settled all around her with a great murmuring, waiting for the morning.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Some Holiday Fun

Click to Mix and Solve

This is a cool puzzle. Can you beat my time of 2:13?

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Keeping It Small

Each year we say "We'll keep it small.
We shouldn't buy so many gifts.
Christ didn't come to earth for this."

Then the shopping starts
And our hearts

But surely God, if anyone, knows
Love overflows.

(c) Christine Hardy 2009

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas, everyone.  Have a blessed holiday, and a peaceful, prosperous and prose-filled New Year!

Monday, December 21, 2009

C is for Christine, That's Good Enough For Me

Is this an awesome photo, or what?  Christine Havers at 1,000 Words A Day posted this photo over the weekend and I immediately asked if I could borrow it.  It's a frozen puddle with a letter C in the middle.  Not only that, it's so artistic.  How does this stuff happen randomly, anyway?  I'm a statistician, I know that randomness is a part of life, but really, how cool is that?

If you haven't stopped by Christine's blog, you've got to check it out.  She lives in Scotland and has just the most gorgeous photos.  A picture is worth a thousand words.  So I guess I'd better get writing to catch up with you, Christine!

Thanks for the photo, and have a wonderful Christmas over there with your castles and glens and moors and... *sigh*.  From one Christine H to another. ;o)

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Going Omniscient

(Deep breath.)  I have decided to take the plunge and re-write my first few chapters from a third-person omniscient point of view.  Fantasy is just too darn hard to write in third-person limited, because you can't describe anything that the point-of-view character wouldn't consider out of the ordinary.  I have some wonderful things in my world that I can't describe, and I feel that a lot of the magic is being lost for the reader.

I know, I know - third person limited is the darling of popular fiction.  (Thank you, J.K. Rowling.)  But The Lord of the Rings was written in third omniscient and is my absolute favorite work of fantasy ever.  Jane Austen also wrote in third omniscient.  I love those narrator-ly voices, the voice of God that tells us things the characters don't know yet and then shows us how they react to them.  You can compare and contrast characters in interesting ways that third limited doesn't easily allow.

I may change my mind later, but right now I feel as I'm stuffing my story into a girdle that is too small for it. I've decided to let myself breathe a bit and see what happens.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

To prologue or not to prologue?

I have heard that prologues are out of vogue these days.  Apparently they have been used so much that agents and editors are shying away from books that contain them.

I have read some rather scathing comments by authors on writing blogs about the laziness of readers who dislike prologues.  Authors seem to feel that if they think the prologue is necessary, then the reader should dutifully agree.

As a reader, I dislike prologues.  As a writer, I dislike them as well, although I can understand why they are sometimes desirable.  They can be used to frame the story and provide background that is often difficult to include in a fast-paced, third-person limited point-of-view which is practically a requirement for publication nowadays.  A well-written prologue can draw readers in.

However, in general, I think prologues are a tease.  It's like the author is saying "Here's my story.  No, wait!  Here it is."  As a reader I tend to skim them quickly in order to get to the "real" story.  Most of the time, you can read the whole story without the prologue and fill in the one or two missing pieces of info by yourself, or just flip back later and find out (if it's really bugging you) whom the Queen's mother's uncle's sister was having the affair with.

What also bugs me is that the main character in the prologue is rarely the main character in the story.  You start to care for someone, and then find out that they were introduced just for the purpose of exposition.  I think that as authors we have to make some tough decisions about what and who our story is about.

This is something with which I'm currently struggling.  I have two point-of-view characters, one of whom starts the book and one of whom is the focus of much of the main conflict.  While I do go back and forth beween the two, they tend to dominate in different sections.  So I'm really telling two stories.  And my question is:  Should it be just one?  If so, which?  And if not, how do I effectively balance them both?    And then there is the ultimate, persistent dilemma:  Do I want to go omniscient?

This brings me back to the prologue question.  My first chapter was initially a prologue.  It explains some history between the two main characters that is essential to understanding their relationship.  Originally that history was just hinted at, but my readers were confused, so I decided to "show, not tell" by writing the prologue.  I mean, first chapter.  "Showing" has effectively ratcheted up the interest and tension at the start of the book, but it has also introduced a whole other dynamic with the additional POV character, as well as a time gap of a few months between chapters.  I decided to leave it as is, and just let the story flow from what I now realize is the natural starting point.

So my question for you, particularly if your book opens with a prologue, is: 

Where does your story really start? 

If you want to fully engage your readers from the first page, do you truly want to have a prologue? Can you include the essential details somewhere else in the story?  Does the prologue flow well with the rest of the book, or feel detached from it?

If you were a reader... would you read your own prologue? Or would you skip to the "real" beginning?  Or even worse, put the book down?  Be tough.  You can bet your readers will be.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


On Saturday, our Cub Scout pack visited a Revolutionary War home in our area.  I love old houses, especially colonial ones.  I get inspired by the faith, perseverence and courage of our founding fathers and mothers.

Here are some of the photos I took of the Whitall House, decorated for Christmas.

The Whitall House, built in 1748 by James and Ann Whitall, on the shore of the Delaware River

The pineapple is a colonial symbol of hospitality.  I'm guessing this is because exotic fruits were something special to serve guests.

The house was used as a hospital for captured Hessian troops in 1777.

The kitchen wing, with the large wood box on the porch for kindling.  Kitchens were usually built in a separate wing, to keep food smells and smoke from entering the main part of the house.  Bedrooms above the kitchen were warm because of the fireplace.  You can see through the windows to the trees on the riverbank.

The main parlor, with a feast of pastries and desserts, decorated for a Twelfth Night celebration.  Christmas was celebrated for twelve days, from Dec. 25th until Jan. 6th, the Feast of the Three Kings (aka the Epiphany)
The pier glass in the hall, beautifully painted on top, reflecting the feast on the table and some of the poinsettias in the fireplace.


The parlor, and a bit of the staircase leading to the upstairs rooms.

Needless to say, I was inspired to work on my dollhouse some more.  I haven't had time to do it, but perhaps I can get at least the parlor and dining room decorated for Christmas.  The front of my house looks a lot like the Whitall House. Only it has a Deerfield door, which was a popular style in Massachusetts, not down here.  I like the style, though, with its elaborate scrolls.  It will look more like the Whitall House when I get the red shutters put on.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

If You Chase Enough Dreams, You Just Might Catch One

I'm watching "Treasure Planet" with my son this afternoon. There's a great bit of dialogue between the young hero and his mentor.

John Silver: "You give up a few things, chasin' a dream."
Jim Hawkins: "Was it worth it?"
John Silver: "I'm hopin' it is, Jimbo. I most surely am."

I'll bet Myra McEntire is thinking it was worth it. Congratulations, Myra! You have certainly earned your young adult BOOK CONTRACT!!!! For not just one, but two books. I can't wait to read Hourglass.

What a wonderful Christmas present for you and your family. Here's to you, Myra!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

I've Been Tagged

Thank you, Bane, for tagging me on yet another useless, time-consuming survey! Seriously, though, I'm honored. In return I tag Michelle Gregory, whose chaos is beautiful; Pam Halter, who has fairies, fantasy and faith; Jeannie Campbell, aka The Character Therapist; and Myra McEntire, who is Writing Finally. I also tag my cousin Rob Dubas, who is constantly working Toward Better Writing. I know more about total strangers' work than I do about his, so I hope he'll play along. Time to open up that oyster Rob. Enquiring minds want to know!

Note: Jeannie's survey is on her writing blog, Where Romance Meets Therapy.

1. What's the last thing you wrote? What's the first thing you wrote that you still have?

Last thing? The poem I posted yesterday.  First thing? A little story about some flowers being attacked by weeds that I did when I was five.  I illustrated it in crayon.  My mom has it somewhere.

2. Write poetry?


3. Angsty poetry?


4. Favorite genre of writing?

Fantasy and contemporary fiction.

5. Most annoying character you've ever created?

Piffla, the owl sprite.

6. Best Plot you've ever created?

The current one for The Golden Gryphon.  Previously, I couldn't plot to save my life.  But this one has all kinds of twists and turns.

7. Coolest Plot twist you've ever created?

If I told you that, I'd have to kill you.

8. How often do you get writer's block?

I don't think I've ever had it.  I don't write often enough to get blocked.  Basically, I write when I have the time and feel like it.  The rest of the time I'm too busy doing mom and teacher stuff.

9. Write fan fiction?

No.  It feels too much like cheating.

10. Do you type or write by hand?

I mostly type.  I am a very fast touch-typer.  I only write by hand when I'm first getting ideas, or waiting somewhere for something.  Bane said "Usually it's a cross between cursive and print, which is supposed to be indicative of psychosis -- go figure."  I also use a cross between cursive and print, but that's mainly because I'm too lazy to add all those curly things on the capital letters.

11. Do you save everything you write?


12. Do you ever go back to an idea after you've abandoned it?

Yes.  I never abandon ideas, I just lay them aside for later. (I have so few of them to start with.)

13. What's your favorite thing you've ever written?

So far, The Golden Gryphon, my current novel.  But I really want to go back to the children's story I started a couple of years ago, about some field mice living in an abandoned dollhouse.

14. What's everyone else's favorite story that you've written?

I have friends still waiting for me to finish my romance novel about Ginger and Ray.  They want to know what happens.  It's a romance novel... what do you think happens?

15. Ever written romance or angsty teen drama?

Yes to the first, no to the second.

16. What's your favorite setting for your characters?

The insides of trees.

17. How many writing projects are you working on right now?

Just one.

18. Have you ever won an award for your writing?


19. What are your five favorite words?

Omniscient. Pearlescent. Prescient. Somnolent. Redolant. Seriously, I have no idea. But those sounded good.

20. What character have you created that is most like yourself?

Marenya. She is supposed to be me, but as the heroine of a fantastic adventure.

21. Where do you get ideas for your characters?

I have no idea. They just live in my head like parasites.

22. Do you ever write based on your dreams?

No, I don't write horror.

23. Do you favor happy endings?

I see no point in a story that doesn't end well for the good guys.

24. Are you concerned with spelling and grammar as you write?


25. Does music help you write?

Yes.  If I have Enya on in the background, it's much easier to get into a relaxed, creative mood.

26. Quote something you've written. Whatever pops into your head.

The gryphon raised its head and uttered a single, musical cry that seemed to shatter him like glass, and at the same time make him whole.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

I Shall Go Quietly to Sleep

I shall go quietly to sleep
And lay my dreams aside
Bury them in prudence deep
And clip the wings of pride

More stalwart souls than mine will prove
Determination's right
I will applaud with genuine love
And hope I have done right

But a rock and a hard place sorely press
Ambition frail as mine
And in my captive desperateness
My doggerel tales repine

Seems better now to let them sleep
Beneath the mothering earth
Perhaps in quietness they'll steep
Unto a greater worth

Or else they'll just disintegrate.
The tragedy: I stopped too late.

(c) Christine Hardy 2009

I'm deep in the hole tonight.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Another Snowy Easter

We were visiting my parents for Easter a couple of years ago and were hit by an April blizzard.  In fact, this phenomenon has occurred every year that I have taken my son to their house during break.  The child actually thinks that the only proper way to hunt for Easter eggs is in the snow.  He says to me every March, "Mom, are we going to have another snowy Easter?"

That year the snow was unusually heavy.  We got about a foot and a half.  My son had an absolute blast!  I took him and my nephew on a trek in the woods, where we had a picnic under the branches of a huge pine tree that was so weighed down with snow that it completely concealed us. 

That day inspired one of the most important scenes in my novel.  I don't want to spoil it by telling, but the secret space beneath that huge pine's branches was the perfect setting for that particular scene.  I was reminded of it today, because I'm listening to Enya's "And Winter Came" CD while doing housework.

So, what odd things inspired brilliant ideas for your book?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

We Now Return to Your Regularly Scheduled Life

After three weeks of blissful novelling, I have to get back to Real Life.  *Sigh.*
I'm sure all my friends doing NaNoWriMo feel the same way.  Too many things have piled up - laundry, mail, paperwork.  Plus Christmas is coming, with its requisite shopping and cleaning.  Fortunately, we're all on diets so I no longer feel obliged to bake pies or cookies, although I'm sure that DS and I will still make gingerbread men.  He loves decorating them.  Actually, I found those train cookie cutters in the back of the drawer.  We should make gingerbread trains!!!

Finals are approaching.  Egads!  Finals, when students approach me with fear and trembling, begging for extra help which I, the benevolent Mistress of Mathematical Light and Knowledge, generously bestow.  As well, I'll have one more bunch of tests and homework papers to grade.  Oh, the joy of late-night movies!!!

I envy those who have the discipline to stick to a regular writing routine.  I tend to write in bursts.  I find that novelling requires such intense concentration, that I can't just do a little here and there.  For the past three weeks, I have been eating, sleeping and breathing my story.  I wake up in the middle of the night, unable to go back to sleep.  After an hour or so of lying in bed I'll get up, work for a couple of hours, then crash on the couch until my alarm goes off and try to get through my day.  Yesterday I was so exhausted, I went back to bed at 8:30 a.m. and slept until 10:30.  Ten-thirty!!!  (the only reason I can do this is that my Tuesday class is done for the semester.)

So, what about you?  How do you manage (or not) your creativity?  Does your book take over your life, or are you one of those people who is really good at organizing your mind and your time?  If so, please excuse me if I throw a candy cane at you.