Monday, February 15, 2010

Yeah? So what do YOU think about while writing?

As I've mentioned in previous posts, I'm in the middle of my vomit draft (pre-first-rough-draft draft) of my next novel. Amazing what elbows its way into my mind when I should be thinking only of the storyline I'm wrangling with. (Or is it "with which I am wrangling"? And does that question mark go inside the quotation marks? Must add these questions to the list.) To wit:
  • That screen looks better blank than with what I've just written.
  • I need to update my to-do list. 
  • I need a better format for my to-do list.
  • Is to-do hyphenated?
  • This story stinks and everyone already knows it.
  • I wonder if I've gotten an email since the last time I checked three minutes ago.
  • Maybe I should Google "quick and easy ways to complete a first draft."
  • Hmmm. Missed a spot on my chin while shaving this morning.
  • I wonder what's going on in Facebook land.
  • I wonder if a goatee would make me look more writerly.
  •  Better check email again. Probably just missed one last time I checked.
  • Is this character even remotely believable? Likable? I think not.
  • The dog needs walking. It would be cruel to let her continue sleeping contentedly at my feet.
  • "First of all, I'd like to thank all the members of the Nobel Prize committee..."
  • That spot on my chin is driving me crazy. 
  • Should I make one of the characters a vampire? 
  • Pitchers and catchers report to training camp soon. Must find out the exact date. Right now.
And you?

Friday, February 12, 2010

Love That Grammar Girl

Where was she when I was diagramming sentences (incorrectly), splitting infinitives, and dangling participles?

Worth visiting frequently.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Farewell to a Teacher

I found out on Friday that my college writing teacher, Elizabeth Christman, passed away in her home town of St. Louis at the age of 95.

Miss Christman (after I graduated she invited me to call her Liz, but I could never quite get used to it) was the first person to assure me that someday I would have a novel published. Her encouragement was no small ego-booster: She had been a literary agent with Harold Ober Associates in New York for 20 years. At the age of 55, she went back to school for her doctorate and eventually became a professor at the University of Notre Dame. For the next 20 years, she inspired students to keep writing, keep sending out manuscripts, keep collecting rejection slips, keep dreaming... but most of all keep writing!

Generous with her time with both current and former students, Miss Christman was my writing coach during my first attempts at a novel more than 30 year ago. She even sent the manuscript off to some of her old contacts in New York. That novel didn't sell, but she wouldn't let me pout over the rejections. "Get used to it," she said. "And keep writing."

I did. And when I found out last May that, at long last, one of my novels was going to be published, Liz was one of the first persons I thought of. I looked forward to the day that I would be able to hand her a copy. Sadly, we're going to miss that day by a few months. But I can almost see the smile and hear her saying, "Told you so. Enjoy it. And keep writing."

Another of her many grateful students, renowned journalist Melinda Henneberger, has written a tribute that captures her life story beautifully. It's a story you should read, whether or not you're a writer. To read it, click here.

Thank you, Miss Christman. Your life's work lives on.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Finding Love in All the Wrong Characters

Interesting review of Amy Bloom's latest book, "Where the God of Love Hangs Out," exploring how to make unappealing characters appealing -- one of the most difficult challenges a fiction writer faces. Favorite sentence from the review: "It's a mysterious thing, the fact that a reader can fall in love with a nonexistent person."

On this topic, I recently had an extensive email debate with a friend who read an advance copy of my novel. She wanted to pick a bone about a sentence of dialogue involving the least likable character in the book. We went back and forth on this for quite awhile. And it dawned on me: She was fighting for a non-existent, unappealing character. That's when I knew there was no way I was going to rewrite that sentence.

What do you think? How do you make unappealing characters appealing?