Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 goals in review

This year, I actually made some resolutions. Before moving into 2012, I wanted to review how well I've done with them.

A quick recap
1. Save money.
2. Advance my WIP every month.
3. Take a novel through the full pre-query process.
4. Read one book a week.
5. Vary my reading
6. Review every book I read.
7. Give away a book every week.

1. Er, yeah. Pro: I've saved more money this year than in 2010.  Con: It's still not that much.

2. While I did write a lot more, I did not advance a WIP every month. On the other hand, I did complete a few shorts this year, and had one non-fiction piece appear in an anthology. My fiction will be out in an upcoming Japan YA anthology in March.

3. Lol. Still have not completed an edit, or had a full critique or anything. Maybe this year.

4. Finally, a category I dominated. Not only did I read a book per week, I finished the year on 116 books!

5.  I made a real effort to vary what I read
-   76 books were Young Adult
-   10 books were Middle Grade
-   11 books had MCs of colour
-   8 books were Chick Lit
-   5 books were classics
-   1 book was a picture book
 and some randoms.

6. I did a fairly good job of reviewing most of the books I read. There were a few I didn't review, because I felt pretty middle of the road about them.

7. I did not give away a book every week. But I did, considering the October Insanity, manage to give away 52 books. 1 PER week. I hope that the winners all enjoyed their books.

Here's looking forward to another fantastic year. I'll be back soon with my 2012 goals.

Happy New Year folks!

PS, It's already the New Year in Japan. I've been up to the temple and rung the gong. And also I've already fell off the road into a snow-covered ditch, because who can tell where the road ends and where the ditch begins under all that snow. Off and running :)



Sunday, December 25, 2011

We wish you a Merry Christmas

(KFC uses that song to advertise here, and when I teach the kiddles, they're all like, "Ooooo, the Kentucky song!")

Merry Christmas honeybunches, and a rip-roaring New Year from Claire-dolf and Risu, my taxidermied squirrel. (No, I did not do that to him. He was in the office when I got to Japan. Do to my former neighbour's April Fool's antics, he now lives in my house. And no, I didn't off my neighbour for sneaking him into my shower through the window.)

For those who don't celebrate Christmas, enjoy your holiday season. And be safe. We all know how crazy this time of year can be.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

When's the last time you wrote?

Some writers swear by writing every day. The venerable Stephen King, for example.Other writers, countless others, worry about how long it's been since they last wrote a word. I think, before considering either of these cases, we need to look at what exactly writing is, and what our writing processes are like.

Writing is, at it's most obvious, stringing words together, and recording them somehow - pen and paper; keyboard and hard drive, etc. But I don't think that's all writing is.

Plan
Some people are true pantsers. They have an idea and sit down and start telling that story, just like that. For the majority of us, that's not the case. Many writers are plotters. They produce plot arcs and character arcs before they start to write the story. They write down all the characters' motivations and conflicts and setbacks. They know the high point of the action, and all the complications that will pop up.

Some of us lean towards pantsing, but we still have to do a bit of development before the words start to flow. Maybe a character sheet, a general idea of the plot. Me, I'm most comfortable thinking it through. I get to know my characters in my head, and have a vague idea of the story line. I think a story through for months, or even years. Sometimes I write other stories while I'm thinking. But even if I'm not physically getting words out on paper, planning is writing, whatever route you take.

Research
 If your book stars a chef at an Italian restaurant, and you go out once a week, and try a different dish, that's research. If you take a class in Italian cooking, that's research. If you read Italian cookbooks or look up recipes online, that's research.

Reading books by others in and outside of your genre, can also serve to get the creative juices flowing, as well as keep a writer au fait with what's out there. It's all research.

Edit
After you've planned what you're doing to some extent, you'll probably write the book. To the non-industry ear, the word 'write' sounds like it's all about adding new words. But according to E.B. White, "The best writing is rewriting." The editing stage also counts, despite the fact that it may not push your word tally forward.

Once again, process comes into play. Most authors let a book rest a bit, so they come at it with fresh eyes. After that, the paths diverge again. Some authors, sit down with a printed copy of the manuscript, and use a complicated set of hieroglyphics to show where the plot drags and what should be switched around. Some did a lot of mini-edits while they wrote, so at this point they check for consistency and dive into smaller edits. So far, my editing process seems to consist of re-reading, and then doing nothing while the book re-arranges itself in my head. (NB, I still have not completed an edit. )

It's all writing
I personally, can't write every day, in any form. Heck the only thing I'm sure I've done every day of my life, or even of the last year, is breathe. I know that we can be hard on ourselves when we haven't written in a while. But, if thinking it through and character charts and re-reading all count as writing, then you're probably not doing too bad.

Don't stress yourself if you find that you haven't put words on paper for a whole week, or month, or a few months. Writing is comprised of many different stages. If one isn't working for you write now, dive into another. Having trouble drafting? Then daydream. Not feeling very creative? Edit. None of the productive side going your way? Read. The only thing you need to be careful of is not to get stuck in the same stage, or avoid any one stage. (Having four complete 1st drafts and no complete 2nd drafts, I know a thing or two about this.)

If you can, write - in any form- every day. If you can't, just don't stay away too long.

When's the last time you wrote?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Building Character: Fat Chicks

In this series, I hope to look at giving depth to your characters. No character trait exists in a vacuum. Today I'm looking at the implications of writing a "fat chick."

Locale

What is fat? It very much depends on where you are. Scientifically speaking, I'm obese. At home, in Barbados, I'm thick, which is a good thing. In the US, I'm fat. And in Japan, I'm Godzilla. Where is your character located? Is she fatter than the average person there?

Race

Black girls tend to be a little bit bigger than white girls. Asians can acheive a miniscule-ness undreamed of by the rest of us. Is your character big for her race? Or just big in general? Is she the only black girl in a school full of Asians? Is your character used to being fine by Western ideals, but when she moves to Japan finds herself suddenly humongous? (ORCHARDS)

Reality vs. Perception

Is your character actually fat, or is she just convinced she is? (The DUFF)

Attitude

How does your character feel about her size? Does it hold her back in everything? Does she go out and conquer the world anyhow? (WILL GRAYSON, WILL GRAYSON) Is she perfectly happy with her size? (THIS BOOK ISN'T FAT IT'S FABULOUS.)

Clothes

Clothes can be the bane of a fat person's life. Nothing fits right. Lots of fat people hate shopping because you always have to dig around and find the 5 styles that are available in your size. That is, if you can even shop in a regular store.

How big is your character? Decide her exact weight and height. If you're not modelling her off someone you know, find a picture online or in a magazine if you can of her size and shape. Does she need to shop in specialty stores? What's her relationship with clothes? Does she wear whatever, because nothing looks good? Is she always deluding herself and stuffing herself into clothes that are a little (or a lot) too small? Has she given up on her frame in favour of accentuating something else? Eyes, hair, feet? (IN HER SHOES) Is she a fashionista who knows exactly what colours and styles to wear to be the sexiest she can be?

Sophie's got style. (ANASTASIA)

Health

In women's fiction, and in extreme cases in YA and MG fiction, the character's size might cause health problems. These can range from smaller issues like sore feet and being out of breath after climbing two flights of stairs. Or they can be more serious. Like having diabetes, or being at risk for it, etc.

Boys to Men

How does your character's  size affect her relationship with guys? Do men overlook her? Is she one of the boys? Do guys go for her crazy confidence? Does she love 'em and leave 'em? Is she afraid to have sex because it involves baring all? If she's an adult, how have the years of her relationships with guys affected her?

Every day life

When your character gets past a certain size, that trickles into every day life. Maybe she can't fit in airplane seat/seatbelt. Maybe she prefers to stand in buses because some of her will trickle into the neighbouring seats. Maybe she doesn't go with her friends to the beach, because she'll have to wear a swimwuit. And she doesn't hang when they're being active, because she's afraid her fitness level will embarrass her.

Universal things may also embarrass her. Like if there's a squeaky chair, a skinny chick sits in it, and thinks, "ha! the chair made a funny noise!" Our fat chick sits in it and thinks, "Oh my God, I'm so fat now that even the chairs are protesting." Some fat chicks take care about how much they're seen eating in public. They may develop issues with skinny friends who can eat everything.

What it doesn't affect

Unless your fat chick is so tangled up about her weight that she's given herself a complex, or she is so large as to not fit through some doorways, it doesn't affect everything. When she's hanging out with her girls or her boys, having a laugh, she's not a fat chick. She's just a girl, like any other. If she's a no-nonsense CEO, nobody cares that she's fat, they're just trying not to screw up and get they're heads chewed off.

It's important not to try to bring in character size, or any other trait for that matter, where they have no implications.

I hope that if you're writing a fat chick now or at some point in the future, this post will help.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Technotronic -TTT

I haven't done a Time Travel Tuesday in forever, but while I was poking about youtube looking up tunes for last week's "child of" series, I came across these two, and I couldn't resist. 90's forevaaaaaaaaaahhhhhh! :)


Technically, Pump up the Jam is a 1989 song. It's the song which made House popular, being the first House song to acheive mainstream success in the US.


Move This (1992) was Technotronic's next big worldwide hit. Not bad for a little band from Belgium.

Don't you just want to shake/move/pump something?

Monday, December 19, 2011

My Next Thirty Years

I spent the last week celebrating my 30th birthday by exploring the essence of me. It was an interesting experience. I think in writing it down on paper (or typing it out on the keyboard) I came to understand a little better who I am. I highly recommend you try some day to think about the word and concepts that make up YOU.

Feel free to go back and check out the posts if you missed them. But here's a quick summary.

I am a:

Child of God
Child of Fate
Child of Regret
Child of Dreams
Child of Love
Child of the World
Child of Extremes

I'd like to thank everybody who stopped by and read, commented, and/or left warm wishes. You guys make an important contribution to who I am.

I may the only woman on the planet in this boat. But I'm loving 30. I may have made a mess of lots of things, but I've accomplished some some crazy sherbet. And so I'll leave you with my theme song for the next year (maybe the next decade).



Thanks again for indulging me.
Merci!
Gracias!
Grazie!
ありがとう!
Obrigada!
Wandanamaru!
谢谢!
Danke!
Dank u!

(Random side note: when I search Wandanamaru, half the results that come up are on my blog. Funny that. Also, it's Telugu, a South Indian dialect, in case you wondered.)

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Child of Extremes

For the entire week, I've been celebrating my 30th birthday with posts about the essence of me. Today, I'm sharing the extremes of Claire Dawn.

I am a child of extremes.

I used to say I have two speeds. On and off. That's still true, but I think it doesn't illustrate the situation well. I can be all the way to the left - to the left, or I can be all the way to the right. Or I can just stay in the middle. Love. Hate. Indifference.


Miley- 7 things

I know that does not seem different at first glance.  But it really is. There are some things I love- can't get enough of, won't pass up if I get the chance. There are some things I hate - won't go near even if you threatened my Specialty Kit Kat collection. And if it's not in one of those two categories, I don't care about it at all.


I just wanna feel something.

Living like this is flipping exhausting. Think about in terms of the original on and off example. Love and hate are both "on", full power. It's like not being able to walk. Just running or standing still. And it makes it impossible to live like anyone else. I obsess about things or I don't care. A sad example is how I "turn into" my boyfiends. Like, when my boyfriend was a fireman, I knew all the fire trucks (some by the sounds of their sirens) and which ones were stationed where. I always knew which watch was on duty. And I passed by the stations so often, dropping off food for my ex- and his workmates, that the Fire Chief saw me empty-handed once and joked, " I didn't know you came without food attached".


Bad Day

This should make me very certain of everything I feel. No such luck. Just because something is loved today, doesn't mean I won't be completely indifferent tomorrow. Because I hate it now, doesn't mean I will care at all tomorrow. Movement from extreme to the other is rare, but it can still happen. And it's not just love and hate either. It's who I am. I'm either an angel or the devil incarnate or noone at all. I'm an artist or a scientist.


Bitch- Meredith

I wonder if my fickleness has to do with being bipolar. It's hard to tell. Maybe bipolar affects all of me, every day, but I'm not keen on using it as a Get Out of Jail Free card. So I wonder where my bipolarity ends and my wonky personality begins.



Just the Way it Is - Bruce Hornsby
I spent the first hour of my birthday explaining bipolar disease to one of my best friends. Again. It's hard to explain because it's not about logic, it's about emotion. People who "understand" either feel it or accept that it can be felt. And people who want to define it through logic, don't.


Hot an Cold

Another of my best friends will often ask, "But why do you feel sad?" Most people have moods dependent on their surroundings and experiences. They don't just wake up wanting to die. That's the thing about this disease, there is no why. Well, maybe a chemical imbalance in the brain, but that doesn't seem to satisfy people as a reason.


It Happens

- What's the matter?
- I'm miserable.
- Why? Nothing happened.
- Nothing has to happen, my brain works differently than yours.
- But you have all this great stuff going on?  I don't get why you're sad. *

* conversation goes into infinite loop
* paraphrased from a million actual conversations I've had


Paint it Black

Somewhere along the line, depression got tied to sadness. It would be so much easier if that was all it were. Depression is less sadness and more "low everything". Being convinced that there's no good left in the world. That all the colours are gone. That there's no good left in you. That everything you touch turns to mush.


Erika Jo- I break things

The flip, and "perk", of the drowning sensation of depression is mania. Just like depression isn't really sadness, mania isn't really happiness. The easiest way that I can think of to describe it is the mad scientist laugh. You know that laugh that all the bad guys have in cartoons. It's not really happiness. It's 1 part mirth, 2 parts high, 7 parts thrill-seeking and  10 parts being convinced you're invincible.




It's wild exhiliration. It's like jumping out of a plane. But the trouble with freefall is that if you don't pull the parachute cord in time, you hit the ground hard. Plus, in the invincibility of mania, you can do a lot of things that have consequences after you land (back to normal) or crash (back to depression). Maybe you've maxed out all your credit cards. Or cheated on your partner. Or quit your job. Mania is fun, but it's not true happiness, and the aftermath sucks.



Apart from doing stupid things, mania also involves  not doing sensible things. Maybe you didn't quit your job, you just didn't go for a while. Maybe you stopped calling your boyfriend. Or you ignored your responsibilites. Or you haven't paid any bills. Or you haven't slept for more than an hour straight since last week.



Are the extremities of my life a result of my manic-depression? Or of my personality? Are they the same thing? Should I just accept it? Should I fight it? How much slack should I cut myself? I don't have many of the answers, but I do have a few. I know I don't want to hurt for no reason. And I don't want to hurt the people that matter for no reason. And I don't want to feel delirious. Or miserable. Or numb.  Just regular happy. And regular sad. Maybe some day I'll have that. 




For now, I'm a child of extremes.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Child of the World

All week long, I've been talking about the pieces that make up the flawed character you know as Claire Dawn. Today, I'm talking about my multiculturalism.

I'm a child of the world.


Rude Boy - Rihanna (Barbados, also went to school with my little brother) 

I was born and raised in Barbados. That's where I lived for the first 18 years of my life. Maybe I don't act like that now, traipsing around the galaxy, but like anything in the formative years, Barbados is a big part of who I am.


Can't Let My Love Go - Allison Hinds (Barbados) and Shaggy (US/Jamaica)

I think the way I do because I am. Even though I'm theoretically a minority, I'd never really felt it, growing up in a majority-black country. I lean towards the kinds of things Bajans tend to lean towards. My diet, the things I say, the music and movies I like, the way I think, all influenced by being Bajan. And I'm proud to be from the itty-bitty rock that's had more than it's share of influence on the world. (Rihanna, rum, grapefruit - the world would be a much different place without us.)


Sak Pasé - Krosfyah


Even though I love my fab-tastic country and wouldn't give it up if you paid me in Twizzlers, I started travelling at a young age. I think I went somewhere at 6 months, but I can't remember where. As a toddler I did New York and Venezuela. And I spent half my childhood in Puerto Rico- Barbados is expensive, Puerto is not. Back when airfare was cheap, Bajans would go over and do their Christmas shopping.I've been to Puerto Rico 5 times. I love going new places and things being different. Also, the fact that I was obsessed with planes didn't hurt. I think I've been to 17 countries.


Où Est la Vraie Vie - Raiponce (Tangled. In English, it's When Will My Life Begin, but I like the French version which asks, Where is the True Life.)

I studied French and Spanish in secondary school. But that's not where the fascination started. I dropped Spanish like a maggot-filled cereal box, after only 2 years. In 3rd form (8th grade), I was failing French. I decided to go with Alliance Francaise to Martinique in an attempt to get a passing grade. I fell in love with Martinique.


Joe le taxi - Vanessa Paradis (I loved Johnny Depp's partner before he did. She was 14 in this vid. Also I heard this on my first trip to Martinique and it stuck in my head, becoming one of the things that made me love France.)

It suddenly occured to me that French was more than a thing that my drony old teacher went on about. It was a life and a culture. It had people and music.I've never failed a French or Spanish language test since. (French and Spanish Lit classes are another ballgame.) I've been to Martinique 3 times, and it's firmly cemented as "my French heart".


Gitana- Shakira

I regretted dropping Spanish almost immediately. What's done is done. You can't change it. But you can change the future. After I returned from my two years in the US, I wanted to enter university at the University of the West Indies (UWI). I'd been studying Management in the U.S. Three of my close friends were in the Management programme at UWI, and I'd heard them complain about group projects. Invariably, every group always had one person who never got it, or one person who argued with everybody, or that one chick who could never come to group meetings because she was having her hair/nails/armpits did.


Ven Conmigo - Christina Aguilera.

So I decided I didn't want to do Management. The other two subjects I did at A Levels (think Harry Potter's NEWTs) were Computing and French. I'd barely made it out of Computing with my life the first time around. There was no way I was going near it again. French then. But nobody in the Caribbean does a first degree in just one language. To increase the possibilty of finding a job they combine it with a minor in Management (not happening) or double major with Spanish. Problem was, I didn't have a Spanish qual. Easily fixed. I applied to do CXC Spanish (think Harry Potter's OWLs) got a 1 (highest grade) and went to UWI as a French and Spanish student.


Juanes - Mala Gente

Best. Decision. Ever. Spanish at UWI took me to another of my favourite countries, Colombia. It's an awesome country, but it gets a bad wrap. By this time, I realised that I loved traipsing around, jumping over international borders like they were cracks in the pavement. And it was also apparent that languages come to me fairly easy. I learned Spanish basics in school, but for the next 7 years, I learned all my Spanish on TNT.


E Raffaella È Mia - Tiziano Ferro (Italy)

I wanted someone to pay me to go somewhere, because I couldn`t afford to just faff off to another country for as long as they`d let me stay. I made this comment one day and discovered the JET programme, a way to teach in Japan. And that is how I started learning Italian. Confused? Me, too. It was one of my crazier moments. I attempted to sign up for a Japanese course and when there was none, I randomly signed up for Italian. Some day, I will get to Italy. Even if I have to swim there.


Tonari no Totori (from the Ghibli movie)

Japan was a fluke for me. I want to travel, I said, and an application to come here fell into my hands. Thank God it did. I love this place. I love my town. I had the best day at school- the 6th grade sang me Happy Birthday, and I had Birthday Lunch with the 3rd grade and then the whole staff ate cake in our honour (another teacher's bday is today).


Hanamizuki - Hitoto Yo (This song was written for September 11. A couple was in a tower and when the guy figured out he wouldn't live, he said to the woman go on and live and love. Don't mourn forever.)

If countries were men, I'd be Elizabeth Taylor. My heart is torn in so many different directions. I love so many places in so many different ways. I can't even imagine staying in one country for the rest of my life. Maybe at 40 it will seem more feasible.


Somos el mundo.

Right now, I'm a child of the world.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Child of Love

Holy puddle-jumping barnacles, Batman! I am 30!!! Happy dance! Well I would, if I weren't so stuffed. I had dinner like a hobbit.  First Dinner was compliments the chicken place, and at Second Dinner the pizza guy made me steak- which is clearly not on the menu. :) 
Also, Facebook.
お誕生日おめでとうございます。クレアの毎日がたくさんのしあわせと元気であふれますように!!!! 
Translation: Happy Birthday! I wish your every day is filled with happiness and health.
And this:
Claire...u are just so wonderfully weird...and u know i truly wish u the best...u are a person that really deserves it as u are so naturally kind hearted. Happy happy birthday....joy and success will be urs x
Apparently today was also "try your damnedest to make Claire cry". Oh well. 

Also, 2 really cool things. Japan is 13 hours ahead of Barbados, so with a little time zone fandangling, I have a 37 hour birthday :) And, with my traipsing up and down the world, I've been responding to wellwishes in 4 languages. You know that just made my day! (Apparently, I don't have enough French-speaking friends, so my 2nd language was dormant today.)

--
This whole week, I'm looking at the essence of me. Today is the perfect day to look at love. 

Remember in yesterday's post about dreams, that society isn't very forgiving of adults who dream? Well, it's the same with some views of love.





I believe in Prince Charming. I don't think he's perfect. Heck, I don't even know what perfect is. But I think he's fantastic, and so amazing that even when you hate him, you still love him. And I think that Prince Charming is personal. It's not that a guy has to be Prince Charming for the whole world, he just has to be Prince Charming for you.



A lot of people will think that's childish. But those people that got lucky enough to meet their soulmates and make a life with them, probably can't imagine it any other way. For them, Prince Charming is real. That's not to say that you don't have to work hard at making a relationship work though.




Apart from Prince Charming, there's another issue with being a woman who believes in love. For thousands and thousands of years, women were oppressed. In lots of places, we still are, and sometimes even in "the civilised world," we're discriminated against. (I don't think that's as true in Barbados, but that's a post for a future Caribbean Context.) Anyway, somewhere in there, women decided enough was sufficient, as they say at home.



So women fought. They fought for the right to vote. And later, they fought for the right to get out of the kitchen. Wanting a "Vivimos felices y comimos perdices" (living happily, eating partidges or the Spanish equivalent of Happily Ever After) seems like a betrayal. It feels like there's pressure from the society at large, but I think a  lot of women put pressure on themselves as well. How can I dream of being married, and staying at home and raising kids in the face of all the bras burned?



Truth is, it's hard to find a balance between home and work. It's not easy being mother, wife, worker bee. But it can be done. Wanting to love and be loved is a normal human desire. And a lot of women don't stop to think that men want this too. Wanting love is not a betrayal of the fairer sex.


 I believe in the power of love. I can't say that it triumphs over everything. But it triumphs over a lot. I can't say that everything in the world is because two people fell in love. But a lot of it is. Love dulls pain. It lends strength. It makes people better, bigger than they are. Love is greater than the sum of its parts.




How can I say all this as a single woman? Maybe you think I'm just saying it because I am single. Maybe you think I've forgotten how difficult it is to have a relationship. How much compromising is involved. All the things you don't have to deal with when it's just you? Maybe you think I'm idealising it, because I'm not there.



But I'm not. I have a realistic view of relationships. And yes, my views on love are influenced by the fact that I'm not hanging off a man's arm. But in a good way, I think. I can't help thinking that Cinderella had her step sisters, and Snow White had the Evil Queen. After the struggles, there has to be something  great coming.


Haven't Met You Yet

Having a man/husband doesn't define me. That doesn't stop me from dreaming about it. I want to wake up next to someone. I want a shoulder to cry on, and someone who's brave enough to cry on mine. I want someone to share the laughter, because a lot of my life is spent laughing. My face hurts many a day from over-laughing. I'm sorry if that goes against what some women believe, but I want to share that bond.



Maybe that's silly. Or crazy. But I'm a silly crazy person.

And I'm a child of love.

(Not to be confused with a love child - where did that term come from anyway? Are children born in marriage not born of love?)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Child of Dreams

I'm turning 30 tomorrow and I'm celebrating with a week of posts about the essence of Claire Dawn. Also, lots of Disney in today's post. Guess when Walt Disney's birthday was. Yup, December-borns rock!
(Aso thanks to all who wished me a happy birthday yesterday when I miscalculated the date. Just because I'm happy about being 30, doesn't mean I'm not senile.)

I'm a child of dreams.




I suppose if you stop to think about it, all writers are. I mean where would all those intricately crafted worlds and plots and characters come from, if not dreams? And apart from that, we have to dream hard to get those stories out there. I mean, writers get shot down more than short guys with crossed eyes and bad breath. (No offense to short guys with crossed eyes and bad breath - I'm just saying.) Still we push on, because we're dreamers.




Society doesn't like dreamers. Sure, Western society claims they do. One of the latest Disney productions, even goes as far as to say it outright. 'Go, live your dream.' But we all know the reality. How every waitress in Hollywood is a wannabe actress. And every guy at the open mic couldn't land a record deal. And every aspiring writer is just 'another one of those people who think someone is interested in what they have to say'.





True, there are rewards out there for dreamers. Just look at the A-listers' paychecks. Society loves A-listers. They drool at the tidbits falling off Will Smith's and Charlie Sheen's and Kim Kardashian's tables. Yet, they conveniently ignore that you don't start on a list. Before you make it, you have to dream. Even if it's just a little. Even Eminem says that's where he started.



So this weird dichotomy arises where people love those who dared to dream. And love to hear how many millions they made last month. But when your dream is sill just a cloud floating by-y-y, they laugh and call you crazy. Or smile and nod and don't say the 'c' word out loud, even though they think it.

Silly rabbit! Trix (and dreams) are for kids. Little girls can swoon all over the place singing about Prince Charmings and wearing tiaras. Little boys can want to grow up and be astronauts and cowboys and superheroes. You're supposed to outgrow dreams the same time you outgrow the tiara and the cape. 



Adults are business people. They do what is necessary and don't have time for frivolous things like feeling like this is their place in life. They're too busy paying bills for that.

And you, as an adult, should be the same. Flitting about the place thinking about something that may or may not make you money, now or ever? That's childish. Doing a job you feel lukewarm about, making money, investing and saving, marrying a decent person and having 2.5 kids- that's the adult thing to do.

Dreamers don't work like that.



Dreamers have these pictures in their minds. Things the way they could be. That's not to say that every adult doesn't have dreams of the way the wished things were. But they will write it off, as a secret something they can only enjoy in their head. Dreamers feel like they have to follow the call.





Personally, I don't seem to really do long-term dreams. I wanted to be a scientist when I was little. Poking around, figuring out why things are the way they are sounded ideal for the ever-curious baby Claire Dawn. Then I came to understand how much of science was really boring and repetitive and that went right out the window.





For years I've tried to stay at the intersection of Imagination Boulevard and Practicality Way. I've gotten into fields (the military, tourism, teaching) which society respects, and which pay decently and where I can do something a little off the beaten path. But  the repetitive part gets me and I don't last long. I never last long.

I don't know if I ever will. Maybe I'm meant to spend my whole life running behind whatever scent my nose picks up on the wind. Maybe I'll drag myself back to psych some time, and it will kill the part of me that loses interest in life. Who knows?




I want to be a writer. I can not promise that's forever. I've never really been good at forever. Loving something today has never meant I won't feel indifferent to it tomorrow. But I feel that if I'm going to anything for the rest of my life, writing is definitely my best shot. I've already been doing this with a semi-professional mindset for 3 years - which is like 15 in Claire-years. I think it's because I can be completely different in every book. Hopefully that will be enough.




I don't know if I can make it as a writer. Or how long I'll want to. For me, the only important part is that it's what I want right now. So despite everything, I hope I make. If nothing else, a rabbit can dream, can't he?




If I dream, I might make it. If I don't, I'm definitely going nowhere. It starts with a dream.

I am a child of dreams.



Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Child of Regret

I turn 30 on Tuesday (edit: Thursday- because I apparently can't count), and in my own honour, I'm exploring the many facets of me. Have fun! Also Happy Belated Birthday to Elana Johnson, who wrote my fave book of the year, POSSESSION, and who's just all-around awesome. And now you know why. (Cause December-borns ROCK!!!)

I don't do regret.


(Happy Birthday Taylor! December-borns ROCK!)

That sounds heartless, and probably confusing, given the title, but there's a reason. The concept is that if you live right in the first place, then you have no reason for regret. But that's more concept than reality. I live wrong pretty often. And I problem spend more time living in the middle of the road than on either side of the fence.



The other major reason I try hard not to do regret is because I'm manic-depressive. I can get into a depressive funk without any reason at all. And worrying about the past does not help matters.



But there is a lot that I regret if I stop to think about it for a minute. And I carry my regrets deep in my soul. I dropped Spanish in 2nd form. I was 13. And I regretted it at least once a week until I was 21 and decided to do a Spanish O'Level and take Spanish at university. I regretted dropping a subject for 8 years! I mean, it makes sense looking back - languages and cultures are my life now - but 8 years???



There are a lot of split second decisions that I carry with me as well. An unfortunate side effect of the manic half of being bipolar is poor decision-making. The frequency with which I do stupid stuff, you'd think I was getting paid for it. My poor decisions have led to my questionable sexual past, and to a few life-threatening situations.



I hate a lot of what I've done. I can't believe I've been that person. I can't believe that I sometimes still am. But I try not to hide from my past. Because I did those things and I take responsibility for what I've done. I hope that the things I've done, and the pain I've cause to my loved ones and myself will be worth something some day.



And I try not to push away what I've been through, because it's made me the person I am today. And most days, I think that's a good person. But if we're being honest - and we always are here on PoC- sometimes I live in the past. I carry most of the bad things with me. And I wish I didn't feel like I am just the sum of my mistakes. But sometimes I do.



I am a child of regret.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Child of Fate

In honour of me turning 30 on Thursday, I'm exploring the very essence of me. So for the next week or so, I'll be writing (and musicking) about the things that make Claire Dawn.



I had to do a Career Day-esque presentation at my tiny school. It was basically me telling the kids all the jobs I've done. I figured they asked me because Japanese people tend to stay in a job for all their lives, so I've worked more places than the average Japanese person. But then, who was I kidding, I've worked more places than the average Westerner. 9 jobs in 6 fields and 3 countries? Blew the average outta the water.




I've been:

a caterer/waitress with the family catering business
a sales clerk in a department store
an officer cadet in the military
a supervisor/interpreter in a call centre
a tour guide/co-pilot/translator in a submarine tour company
a teacher in 3 schools in Barbados and 4 schools in Japan



One of the kiddles asked how I came to work on the sub. I told them it was a fluke. I'm claustrophobic. I wasn't trying to work on a submarine. I'd applied to a bus tour they operated and when the boss saw I'd been in the Coast Guard, she thought I'd be perfect for the sub. And so I got a job I hadn't applied for. A job I hadn't even thought about doing before the minute it fell into my lap.



About 2 minutes later another kiddle asked how I decided to come to Japan. Er, another fluke? I'd been on campus after graduation hanging out in Student Affairs, wishing aloud that someone pay me to travel, and one of the staff handed me an application to the JET program.

"You're a child of fate!"



I can't remember if it was a kiddle or a teacher that said it. But it struck me that I didn't look or apply for most of the jobs I've done. I obviously didn't apply to work in the family business. My Dad worked at the department store so that just happened. Ditto for the military. I was sitting at my university when a teacher friend called and told me to get to her school NOW with my resume. The only job I can say that I really went looking for was the call centre one, and that's because I needed money to buy stuff for coming to Japan.



That's not to say I'm completely passive - sitting around waiting for stuff to happen either. My mother was grumbling at me the other day about the way I do random courses in randomness and never have cause to use them. I'm a certified event planner, for example. And I did a year of Italian because I couldn't find a Japanese course. I never decided to be an event planner. But the way I live, I can't say that I won't be in a job where I need those skills.



Lots of people will think that, at 30, I should have a plan. I should know if and when I'm leaving Japan. I should know what job I'm moving into next. I should be preparing for it. I'm about to start an TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) course. I figure I might as weel get qualified alongside the 3 1/2 years experience- just in case I want to stay here, or move into this field in another country. And I wirte, because some day I want people to read my work. Other than that, who knows?



Like I said, I'm not passive. It's just - how to put it?- I open the door and the universe comes sweeping in. All I can do is be prepared for it. Make myself the best me I can be. Yes, the submarine job fell right into my lap, but I got it because I'd been in the military before. I had to be qualified to take the opportunities. Apart from the first 2 jobs of course. It's hard to be underqualified as an 8-year old sandwich crust cutter/ carrot-peeler.



So that's a part of my essence too. Seize every chance I can to learn something new. Maybe some awesome position will open up in Italy with 2 weeks notice. And, oh whaddyaknow, I randomly speak Italian. It's hard work being lucky, but someone's gotta do it.

I'm a child of fate.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Child of God

I'm turning 30 this week! YAY! I don't know why I'm so excited about that, but I am. In honour of me (tooting my own horn all over the place this week), I'm thinking about the very essence of me. So for the next week or so, I'll be writing (and musicking) about the things that make Claire Dawn.



I don't mention God or religion a lot on my blog. Part of it is about not making people uncomfortable. Part of it is that I don't really want to attract the random people who troll the web ready to jump into religious, political, or some other argument about their beliefs.



It's weird to me. Years ago, a lot of freedoms that have come about, even to the point of being taken forgranted, weren't in place. Things have advanced leaps and bounds for women and Black people and gays.



But they've taken a u-turn in some areas. Somehow, religion, which was once a given- diverse or otherwise- has become a topic people are afraid to broach.



But no matter how often I mention it here, or how bad I am at it, I'm a Christian.



I'm not saying that you have to believe what I believe. One of the things that seperates Christianity from it's ancestor, Judaism, is the concept of being chosen versus choosing. But I believe. And that's a big part of me.



I am a Child of God.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Caribbean Context: Homosexuality

Disclaimer: Someone somewhere will read this and get up in arms, and want to argue with me. I'd just like to say these are not my views, just the situation as is in Barbados and some of the other Caribbean islands.

This is my second time living outside Barbados. When I was in Connecticut, I was in the military, so clearly, "no homosexuals" there. So this is my first time living in a community (the foreigner community, not the Japanese one) where being homosexual is often considered a right. It's not considered one in Barbados.

Barbados is a Christian nation. Sure, we've supposedly got 120 denominations of different religions represented on the island. And we're the home of the oldest synagogue in the Western Hemisphere, but we are still very Christian. There isn't really any seperation of Church and State. They've recently started having multi-denominational celebrations, but chances are if there's any sort of blessing of national significance it will be done by an Anglican or Catholic priest.

We're also an island that's 95% Black, ie, our ancestors were slaves. Christianity was beat into us over hundreds of years. Literally. At the same time a lot of the often more liberal African culture was killed. As a result, we uphold the Christian ideal - one man + one woman = family. Or at least, we uphold it on the surface.

On the other hand, we are somehow accepting. Most people wouldn't be cool with a couple of guys walking down the street "pulling tongue", but if they did it in the privacy of their homes, the feeling would be something like, "Well, as long as he don't come to me with that." It's still a country that being gay can make a scandal when the news breaks. And being gay still defines gay people. They're gay first and anything else after. People still very much stereotype gays. "Look at he! So girly. I know he was like that, ever since." And it's still a pity when someone "turns" gay. "She's such a pretty girl. What a pity."

But, I must also point out that while we don't actively acknowledge people's right to be gay, we don't denounce it in the ways that many of our neighbours do. There are a few slurs that we use, but we're not all screaming "bun out a chi-chi" (burn all gay people) like the Jamaicans. In fact, among the other islands of Caricom, Barbados is known as a gay man's paradise. Things that people would get beat up for in the other islands, Bajans will just roll their eyes, mutter under their breath and move on.

It goes without saying that gays don't get any special rights under Barbados law. In fact, the act of "buggery" - man on man sex - is illegal in the law books. Although, England's ultimatum to the entire commonwealth (no financial aid unless you legalise- which pisses me off because how are you going to just pee on a country's autonomy like that?) may change that soon.

So there's the situation as it stands with regards to homosexuality in Barbados and the Caribbean.


Thursday, December 8, 2011

Character Building: Body Issues

I was sick last week, and 2 weeks before I had the government medical exam. Both of these got me to thinking about physical issues. We all have them. Here are some that you can use with your characters.

Esteem Issues

If you're writing YA like me, or Women's/Chick Lit (as I hope to some day), then body issues can be a big deal. For females, breast size and butt size are probably the biggest issues. I see breast size issues a fair deal in YA. For guys, I'm not sure what the biggest physical issue would be. I imagine that it's anything that makes a guy feel "uncool" - gangly limbs, stick-y out-y ears, etc. Remember, people can get obsessed about the weirdest things too. We all know people who freak about something we consider tiny.

Here are a few issues, you might give your characters:

Breast size - like I said, a common issue.
Butt size - especially among Blacks and Latinos, who like a big butt, and among Asians, who may like a small one.
Other sizes - noses, mouths, eyes, ears, hands, fingers, toes, etc - too big, too small, too long, my thighs are too big
Shapes - a body part that is shaped funny, like my little toenails stick straight up in the air
Unevenness - one foot/breast/ear/eye/etc is bigger/longer than the other

When you've decided on your character's insecurity, be sure to follow all the threads. For example, my thighs are to big, so I hardly wear shorts. Now, if you're writing a character who hates her thighs, you don't need to say she doesn't wear shorts, but you probably won't write a whole bunch of scenes parading her around in Daisy Dukes.

Also, be sure to sprinkle in the insecurities. You don't want your character to sound to whiny. And if you have a lot f characters with a lot of far-fetched issues, it may seem contrived.

Physical Issues

In addition to body issues, there are also issues which are purely physical. For example I have bad veins, so anything involving needles takes an inordinate amount of time, and I end up like a pin cushion.

Obviously, there are huge physical issues you can inflict upon your characters- disabilies, diseases, etc. But there are smaller problems that people face. Here are a few physical issues that your characters might have to deal with:

Bad veins
Heightened/lowered sense of sight/hearing/taste/smell/touch
Sensitivity to... -I'm sensitive to electricity. When we did the medical exam EKG, I could feel the current. I get shocked by walls and doors in winter. People can be sensitive to all sorts of things.
Migraines/headaches
Various aches and pains
Colour Blindness
Tone deafness
Proneness to colds/ gastro/ throat infections
Allergies

Some physical issues will affect a character every day - like colour blindness, others -like my bad veins- only matter in a specific set of circumstances.

The physical is a huge part of your character. Make sure that you don't overlook or underpaint it when building characters.


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Following the threads

As a result of my illness I missed the chance to shake my butt at the boss.

See, there was a kindergarden presentation I was supposed to be at on Saturday. I was busy being sick, sore and sleepy, so I couldn't go. And the kids, along with my colleagues, did the hokey pokey. They put their bottoms in, they put their bottoms out, they put their bottoms in and they shook them all about. Including at the Superintendant. I can't believe I missed the chance. I mean, how often can you shake your butt at your boss without consequence?

While I was sick, I totally did not remember anything about the hokey pokey. I didn't remember until my colleague reminded me. Then I was kind of pissed because my stupid stomach had affected all of these things. My hands still hurt from the drip. My joints were sore for some reason unbeknownst to me. And now, I'd missed shaking my butt. None of these things were a given seeing as the problem started with my stomach.

Lots of things in life are like this. Threads are woven and connect to other points in unexpected ways. When we write, we have to think about these threads. Let's say you write a hearing-impaired teen MC. How does that connect to other points?

On the most obvious level, she has trouble hearing. She has to ask her friends to repeat things. What happens when we get a little less obvious? Maybe she likes concerts, because the music is way up loud and easy to hear, and all her friends have just as much difficulty deciphering one anothers words over the din as she normally does.

What happens when we follow this thread all the way out to the least obvious ends? Well, this is a teen, right? So she may be self-conscious. Maybe she doesn't like people to see her hearing aid and so she always wears her hair down. Maybe she hates the beach, because she either has to take out her hearing aid to swim, or keep the ability to hear and just sit on the sand.

Of course, there are cautions. Take care not to follow this thread out to ends which don't connect. In other words, there are some things that are not affected at all. There's no reason a hearing impairment would affect a love of art. To extend this point further, it's a mistake to think that your big important concept HAS to affect everything in the main character's life.

Also, be careful of assuming that some ends are mandatory when they're not. We've all seen the "flaming gay." I know he exists. I've met him. Does that mean that every gay is a flaming gay? Certainly not. There are uber-manly gays. And gays who are feminine in a more-girly-less-faaaaabulous sort of way.

Finally, remember that you are the God of the universe in your book. You need to know how the threads connect and all the places those threads weave into. Your readers don't need to know. In fact, not knowing some of the threads can make it feel more real. After all, we can only partially explain the actions of people we know in real life, selves included.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Theory of Relativity

I am sick. This time it's gastroenteritis - some of you might call it stomach flu. I had to get a drip on Thursday. Loads of fun when you consider my freaky veins. I ended up like a pin cushion. Anyhow, two things happened which got me to thinking.

The first was on Friday night, when I went outside in 2 degrees Celsius (34-ish Farenheit) and rain to buy a drink. When I opened the door and saw the rain, I thought "What if I catch the cold?" Then I almost laughed. A cold? What's a little sneezing when you haven't consumed anything more singificant than apples and bread in 2 days?

Then there was Saturday morning. I woke up hungry. So I boiled 1 egg. It took like 5 minutes to eat the whole thing, but I did. And I almost danced for joy. The only reason I didn't was because I thought it might upset my stomach. A single boiled egg, but in that moment it could have been the Jack Daniel's steak at TGI Fridays.

Everything's so relative. Any other day a cold would have derailed me, but right then, it was nothing. Sometimes the bad things aren't really that bad.On the flip, every day there are so many little things that we do that we don't stop to appreciate. There's just no way we could live like that.We can't stop to smell every single flower any more than we can blow off the bad things every day.

But I can do it for one day. Today.

Today, I'm blowing off my sucky/non-existent plotting, my dislike of description, my editing inability, and the fact that it's taken me this long to take a couple baby steps in the writing world.

Today, I'm happy to have a nice, loud VOICE, characters that jump off the page, 4 complete MSs in various stages of revision, the awesome guys and gals in my critique group and SCBWI Tokyo, and you amazy-wazy lovey-dovies that read this blog.


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Agents are people too - A la Mary Kole

Today is the final day of the lessons I learned / remembered at the SCBWI Tokyo Mary Kole event.

5. Agents are real people too.

Tokyo is not the smallest branch of SCBWI. It's probably not far from though. And it's got to be one of the most functional for it's size. I think the Mary Kole event might be the biggest SCBWI Tokyo event that I've been to. There were about 40 of us.

I say that to say this: going to an event with us is a very personal endeavour. I wasn't one of hundreds or thousands. I was one of 40. At lunch and dinner, I was one of 8 and 12. It meant I got a lot of opportunity to interact with Miss Kole.

At meals, we didn't talk about publishing at all. We talked like an old friend had come to visit. We talked about food. And travel. And growing up. And things to see and do in Japan and Hong Kong. More than ever before an agent become something more than a voice on a podcast, a name on a website, or a face in a 2 x 4 pixellated square.

Realistically, we all know that agents have lives outside publishing. They have things they love and hate. Families. Hobbies other than reading. But we're writers. What does realism have to do with anything? So often we forget the people side, and we think of agents as just another cog in the publishing wheel. As the evil step-mother who's just looking for a reason to lock our manuscript away in a tower somewhere.

Thing is, if agents are real people, (and they are) then they've got some things in common with us. This industry we're in is a tough one. It's always been, but it's getting tougher. And if they're in it, that probably means they love it as much as we do. If they're reading queries, that's not because writing rejection letters makes them giggle like Pee Wee Herman. It's because they want to find a gem, fall in love, laugh, cry, have an adventure, discover a new world. It's because they want to give those same things to the rest of the world.

Thanks to Mary Kole for reminding me.

And thanks to all the fantastic people who keep this industry running like a well-oiled machine. To the agents *raises imaginary champagne * Thanks for keeping it real.


Monday, November 28, 2011

Weird and random

My computer decided that the back of the monitor will have a magnetic spot now. My brother says some computers have this, and I'll be bugging the computer manufacturer to see if that's normal for my model as soon as the West wakes up. 

(EDIT: Both my bro and the computer types think it's normal, but it still gives me a cool toy that freaks people out. Also, if it explodes, I've documented it and put it on the internet. Proof in the internet pudding, and all that jazz.)

Anyhow, I showed my colleagues at work, we spent half the afternoon playing with it.  

A Barbados dollar stands on its edge.


Even with the laptop open...


It can even hold up my keys. 

And play with magnets we did.

 Monfret (the lappy) decided I had a few screws loose.

 Don't run with scissors!
 Sorry I'm out!
 Que Chan (the dog) wonders at the magic of the floating can.

Apparently Monfret has the same musical tastes as my neighbour. 


Then Monfret started playing with the utility knife. It's all fun and games until someone loses an eye. 


 Que Chan to the rescue!

Oh, and the magnetism isn't the weirdest thing. This is:


 

(Look at me bing all scientificky. :) Also, I apparently have a stronger accent when I film. Oh, and ignore the screaming children - we're next to a day care.)

That's right, my computer turns my camera on! Freaky!!!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Oeuvre

Weird how yesterday's title was in Japanese, and today we're in French.

Oeuvre in French means work, like a work of art. In English it can be used to describe the entire life work of any creative person.

A long, long, long time ago I complained (possibly on this blog, but maybe even before I'd started blogging here) about a certain NYT best-selling artist whose characters all felt the same. I didn't mind them all having the same religion and the same body type. But I hated that they all had the same 2 or 3 hobbies, and the same fairly rare familial relationships. I felt like all the books were clearly the author inserted into different plots.

Recently, for the first time since I was in secondary school, I started reading multiple standalone books by the same author. And as I read, I realised that there were things that linked the books. Sometimes, it as a type of character, or a type of premise, or even a setting. Sometimes it was a theme. Sometimes it was so intangible that I couldn't even figure out what it was, even after 3 of 4 books by an author. And I realised that I loved it.

I realise now that it depends on how you look at it. If you LOVE photography, you may be thrilled to bittles everytime a character's hobby is snapping candids. But if you hate it, or even if you're lukewarm about it, it may grate on your nerves.

Things that are important to authors make their way into stories. Obviously, just look at the number of main characters who are writers themselves, or love books or poetry. But everything that you include in more than one story is a risk. A risk you take of alienating some readers. And endearing others.

It's important enough that it's worth some consideration as writers.

What common thread(s) do you want your stories to have?
What issues are important to you and how can you highlight them? (Ex. featuring more "other" characters.)
If you've completed more than one novel, even in first draft, re-read and see what keeps popping up.

For me, it's settings outside those well-known by Westerners. Barbados, Japan, and one dystopian setting based on India. Death is also a theme for me. So far noone's died in this year's nano. I'm shocked! Foreign languages surprise me by making an appearance in every book. In all but one novel, there have been multiple cultures featured.

I try hard to change the type of character every book. But I'm liking the type I'm writing this nano, and on the last inter-nano effort, so I may stick close to that in the future. I'm pretty good about changing jobs, and since I write YA, what my characters want to be when they grow up. I avoid characters who are writers, except in one book where it's a plot point. I think everyone's hobbies are different. And I've never checked it, but I think the characters of different books don't even share the same story-telling quirks. (I write mostly first person.)

I think the essential question to ask yourself when there are similarities in your oeuvre (planned or otherwise) is this:

If 75% of the people that read my last book were going to be pissed aout me including this again, would it still be important to include it?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Juunin Toiro

Here in Japan, there's a saying 十人十色 (juunin, toiro) - ten men, ten colours. Ten people will act in ten different ways.

But there are a few- as there always are- in the writer community who believe that their way is the only way. Not just for them but for everybody. You absolute HAVE to plot your novel. You CAN'T plot your novel or it will be stilted. You MUST write every day, no matter what. You SHOULDN'T write if you really don't feel up to it.

For me, there are few rules that can be applied universally in writing. But recently, I've been thinking about one...

I've  done and won Nanowrimo every year since 2008. I owe a lot to Nano. I completed my 1st first draft in Nano. And my 2nd. And my 3rd. And I'm hoping to complete my 4th by the middle of next week. In addition to which, I "became a writer" because of Nano. I've always written, and I've always had the "I may write a novel some day" spirit. But only after Nano, did I make the decision that I was going to produce books.

Also, I kind of owe this blog to nano. It was during Nano that someone pointed me to Nathan Bransford's blog. That lead me to Natalie and Marsha. And as I ran around the blogosphere commenting and interacting, I felt like I needed a space of my own. At the time, I had a Japan blog, a philosophy blog and a weight loss blog, but I needed a space where my writer friends would want to come. And so Points of Claire-ification happened.

Even though I love Nano, some time after last Nano, I realised that if I was to be a serious writer, I couldn't very well turn out first drafts only in November. So I made a couple (unsuccessful) attempts at novelling early this year. I'm working on it. Add to that the fact that Nano is only for first drafts. I mean there is an Edit month as well, but I believe that's in December, when I'm out of energy from Nano, and trying to sew back together my shambles of a social life. Plus editing productivity is a lot harder to measure.

And every year, Nano gets worse for me. My first year, I wrote pretty consistently clocking the required 1667 words almost every day. The second year, I took a week hiatus, and had to play catchup. Last year I wrote 30,000 words in the final week. This year's Nano has been painful. I started the book I planned to write, an tsunami-earthquake YA, and I just couldn't get it to stick. Then I started another novel, about a girl hell-bent on losing her virginity, and that wasn't working either. Finally, I started the novel I'm working on now- possibly around a week late. Once again, it's the final week, and I've got 30,000 words to go.

Thinking about how much Nano has done for me, and how well it used to work, I wonder how some writers can swear one path is the best for everyone. I'm just one writer, and the path that used to be perfect for me, is now barely semi-okay.

There are very few universal rules in writing, but one of them is this:

Take the path that works for you.

And, if that path stops working, find a new one.

十人十色

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

You Pick the Agent- A la Mary Kole

There's something aspiring authors often forget in the agent search. You're the client, and technically the agent works for you. I'm not saying that to go on some kind of a power trip. It's just that because of the huge imbalance between the number of aspiring writers and the number of literary agents and because of the fact that you have to go through an audition, the agent-author relationship often looks skewed towards the agent. At least from the outside looking in.

Any colour - so long as it's black (Henry Ford)

Skewing the author-agent relationship can result in an "any agent will do" mentality. The truth is any agent will not do. An agent who reps only crime and horror will not work for your YA romance.And being happy with any agent is how people get tricked by disreputable people posing as agents.

The Mary Kole connection

In her presentation, "Slushpile Secrets," Ms Kole touched on the process of choosing an agent. But even before I arrived, the Agent Day reminded me that it's not just "any agent". Meeting Ms Kole was an amazing experience for me, but I know I will probably never query her. Why? Because I think I may write novels for adults at some point. And Ms. Kole doesn't reps adult.

If my query list was made up of "agents of awesome" as opposed to agents who are a good fit, then it would have all the agents who have amazing blog and twitter presences: Mary Kole, Janet Reid, Nathan Bransford (even though he's no longer an agent- he's that awesome). None of these are actually a fit.

Eenie meenie

So what should you consider when thinking about who to query?

1. Look inside yourself.

What genre do you write? What tone do you write with? Who's your audience? Do you have any desire to write something different at any point? The key to making a match is knowing who you are as a writer.


2. What do you need?

Would you appreciate someone who's very editorial? Should your agent call you for a birthday? Do you prefer all online correspondance, or would you like a phone call once in a while? What help do you need, if any building your career? Big agency? New York (/London)?


3. Keep your eyes open


Think of this as a passive sort of research. It's simple. Make notes every time a potential agent crosses your path. If you're hanging out at WriteOnCon, and there's an agent on a panel that reps what you write, but you've never heard of him/her, make a note. If you read a book, and it's absolutely awesome, and you think "when my book grows up, it's going to be just like this one," make a note.

4. Research and compare

It's relatively easy -especially in the case of US agents- to find lists of exactly what agents are looking for. But huge genres are not the only things to consider. Just because an agent reps paranormal doesn't mean your paranormal is right for them. Just because your book fits with that agent, doesn't mean your styles will mesh.

You should match agents up to all the things you considered in sections 1 and 2. It's okay if an agent misses on a few - compromise is a part of life- but you may want to rethink querying someone who only lands in the same place for a single category. Finding out a lot of these things will take some effort. Connecting with agents and/or their clients on social media, attending conferences or workshops they give, using agent-finding resources on websites and in books,  reading their clients' work, etc.

It's a long process looking at all this information, so I recommend that you start before you're ready to query. Keep a book or computer file with agent names. Record if they're a "perfect match", what things don't gel with you, what agencies they work with, and anything else that jumps out at you. At this stage you really don't need to think about submission requirements unless they are going to be restrictive, like mailing a printed manuscript across the world, might be problematic.


5. We're all in this together
(Any day I get to quote HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL is a good day. Just sayin. )

At the end of the day, remember this is a partnership. You do have to "work for" your agent. You will submit things to her. He may push you so hard you think you'll break. She may give you back editorial notes with so much red ink you'll feed like you've bled all over them.

BUT

They will (or should) do it for your sake.  All those things and many more.

Pick an agent that works for you.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The trouble with alarm clocks

When I was little, my parents woke me up. It was a bad thing and a good thing. A bad thing because if I didn't when called it would often devolve into getting poked and prodded. But a very fortunate thing because I always woke up.

As an adult, I beacame responsible for waking myself up and starting using alarms. This was when I discovered a weird fact about myself. An alarm will only work for so long. When I hear a sound long enough, I stop noticing it. After a while of the same alarm, I stop waking up.

There were 2 solutions I could think of. I could find a sound so annoying or startling that it would continue to wake me up. I tried that for a while. I woke up. But I'd be in a bad mood half the morning. The second solution was to keep changing alarm tone. These days I use my cellphone, and I change the song the alarm plays every few months.

My whole life is like this. I can stick with something for a while, although it drives me crazy. But in time, I need to reach for a new something.  Nothing is forever in my world. That's why I switch jobs the way I do. Why I love travelling and living in other countries. Why my dream changes with the wind direction.

Sometimes I love the way that this allows me to live outside the box. Other days, I despise the way it means being a "Jack of all trades, master of none." That, I guess, is the trouble with alarm clocks.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Caribbean Context - What is it?

Talking about the differences between the US and the rest of the world got me to thinking about own little neck of the woods. The Caribbean.

What exactly is the Caribbean?

If you're not from the Caribbean, I'm sure you have a relatively defined answer. One that probably involves lots of islands and sparkling blue sea and maybe a coconut tree or two. But for Caribbean people the answer is a lot more complicated than that.

Islands in the Caribbean
Not all of the Caribbean is islands, and not all of it is in the Caribbean Sea. (Yay for misnomers!) For example, the Caribbean coasts of Colombia and Venezuela consider themselves a part of the Caribbean. And Barbados, my island, is not actually in the Caribbean Sea. The island chain seperates the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. That island way out to the right (east) that looks like it's too cool for school? That would be Barbados, entirely surrounded Atlantic Ocean. Of course this gives us the random distinction of being the first "major" port after you sail west from Africa. Doesn't matter now, but it mattered a heck of a lot in slave days.


The most interesting has got to be Guyana, which is neither an island or in the Caribbean Sea. I think it only identifies with us because it's the only English-speaking country in South America. That brings us to another important factor...

Language
There really aren't words to describe how language seperates the Caribbean. The only other place where so many "major world laguages" are spoken by different countries is Europe, and while Europe may have it's seperatist moments, they are nothing compared to the Caribbean. They are islands which flat out DISAPPEAR from maps. San Andres is a Colombian island southeast of Jamaica. It doesn't exist on this map. I'll give Jack his jacket and admit that San Andres is only 26 km square, but St Barts is only 21 km sq and is pictured. (Caveat: St. Barts is also not an English speaking island, but Dutch. I'm guessing it's pictured because it's actually in the chain.)

Additionally, it's a pain in the butt to get to islands which speak a different language. Barbados is a hub. I can fly direct to any of the English-speaking islands, but heaven forbid I want to get to get to Martinique- it's a puddle-jumping nightmare. Let's not even get started on those Colombian islands. Barbados - Venezuela/Miami - Bogota - San Andres/Providencia/Santa Cantalina. Even if we knew they existed, there's no way in hell we were going.

This language barrier apparently also works in reverse. When I was in Colombia, I always had to show people where Barbados was on a map. Then they'd be shocked and exclaim, "It's so close!" Seems Colombian maps don't picture some of the islands either.

Mother country
This also ties in with language. If a person in mainland France says they're going ot the Caribbean, they mean Martinique, Guadeloupe, or Saint Martin. If a Dutch person says it, they mean Sint Maarten, Saba, St Barts, St Eustacius, or the ABC islands.

Caricom

Caricom stands for "CARibbean COMmunity". It started back in 1973,  which wasn't that long after the founding nations gained independence. It (along with CSME- Caribbean Single Market and Economy) work mostly like the European Union. The major theory behind it, is that we are itty-bitty teeny-weeny yellow polkadot islands, and we're not going to get very far on our own. I don't know how sucessful we are at acheiving the goals of Caricom. There is a lot of time spent grumbling over who's in charge and which territory is getting the short end of the stick.Anyhow...

Most of the time when I say Caribbean, I mean the member states of Caricom.

Antigua and Barbuda
Bahamas [Sometimes not. Bahamas acts more American than Caribbean most days.]
Barbados
Belize [Sometimes not. Being in Central America, there isn't that much actual interaction with Belizeans.]
Dominica
Grenada
Guyana
Haiti
Jamaica
Montseratt [Sometimes not. Still a British colony]
Saint Kitts and Nevis
Saint Lucia
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
Suriname
Trinidad and Tobago

Apart from Caricom, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Martinique,  and Sint Maarten/Saint Martin are often included when I talk about the Caribbean.

And now a random video from "TODAY" where they visit Barbados. He only makes one mistake (the bit about carnival - Crop Over IS our carnival). The hotel he's at is the highest-end hotel you can stay at. As in Tiger Woods got married there - trust me you can not afford it. (If you can, feel free to donate to a starving writer - me!) But the hospitality is lengendary everywhere.



Thursday, November 17, 2011

Reading by Design

Correction: In last week's post about writing foreign settings, I said the presenter Ann Slater was part Nepalese, she's actually part Tibetan. Sorry Ann!

A couple weeks ago, the YA highway's Field Trip Friday pointed me to a post from a writer who writes LGBTQ characters. She admitted looking back over the books she's read recently and and noticing that not many of them had a LGBTQ MC. A similar thing happened to me at the beginning of the year, when I discovered The Colorful Chick Lit  challenge. The basic requirements were to read between 4 and 12 chick lit books with MCs who were person of colour, ie not white. I'm not a big chick litter, but when I found the group, I realised that even though I had read at least 50 books last year, I could count the number of non-white MCs on one hand. That wouldn't really do, especially since I've never written a white MC.

How it happens

It's really easy as an avid reader surrounded by avid reader friends to just read the recommendations you get from them. And when your as active in the writers' online network as I am, it's almost a full time job just reading the books your friends wrote. It's quite possible to fill your days with fantastic books, but never touch on topics that are important to you.

We fight together
(That's the name of a recent theme song from one of my fave anime.)

So how do we combat this issue. It's simple really. Decide what kind of books you need to read, and how often you can commit to them. So far this year, I've read 11 books with non-white MC's. Two years ago I discovered TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, and I decided to embark on a mission to read the classics that I've never read. I've only read 3 this year, and I'm currently reading Wizard of Oz in between everything else.

12 books is not a lot in the grand scheme of things. But it's still 12 that I would not have read if I had not made a conscious decision to do so.

What to look for

I'm reading :minority MC's and classics, but there are lots of other things you might want to choose from. Like Robin Talley, the author I mentioned earlier, you might want to read more characters like your MC. You may want to read more books in the genre you write, or in genres that make brief appearances in your narrative. You may want to read authors that are really strong in elements of writing where you are weak. The plotting in Inheritance, the final instalment of Eragon, taught me so much (and makes me want to hide myself from every keyboard and pencil so that I might never again be tempted to put down a story).

While reading

It's fine to read passively, and just enjoy the book. But you might want to read a book every once in a while like you would a text book. Think about what works well, and what doesn't. Look at the plot, characters, setting, theme, quotable quotes, anything you can think of. You can make notes, or just soak up the lessons.


There's nothing that says you HAVE TO read by design, but as an author, you've got so much to gain from it.

Finally, to Asiamorela, an apology.

For a "wordsmith," I'm really awful at conveying what I mean. In Tuesday's post, I was not saying that places outside the US have monocultures. I can't believe that I wrote in a way that that meaning could be construed, after all I'm from a little island that's often stereotyped. And I've been all over the world, so I know the diversity. And I live in Japan, which has got to one of the most stereotyped countries by Western people.

Rather, my point was three-fold. Firstly, despite the rich, developed cultures, there seem to be more unifying threads in many other countries than in the US. You'd be hard-pressed to find many similarities between a New Yorker and a wannabe starlet in LA. But in the sprawling Caribbean, made up of so many nationalities, the Barbadians in the southeast have a crap ton in common with the Jamaicans in the northwest.

Secondly, people outside the countries do often point to certain things and say, that is French, that is Spanish. Whether or not everyone in France eats croissants, they're considered a French thing. I don't know if there's an American equivalent. For example, you might say that the hamburger is American, but most people don't think of America when they eat it. People almost invariably think of Japan when they eat sushi.

Also, America's a baby compared to Asia and Europe. Living together for thousands of years is immensely different from a few hundred.

Sorry for not conveying my meaning better. .

PS, Dianne, I was trying to be nice. I see the same thing in Japan. Everyone here is convinced Hawaii is it's own country. But at least they have the excuse that noone else in the world speaks their language.