Autumnal Equinox: Day=Night

THE FIRST DAY OF AUTUMN–SEPTEMBER 20th to 23rd, and all times in between

Depending on which website/info source you trust, the Autumnal Equinox is either at sunset today, or Sept. 22nd at 9:03 pm, or Sept. 23 at 12:03 AM EDT, or on the 23rd at 4:03 PM. Anyway, we’ll have gone through it by the end of the weekend.

So we have the Equinox *and* we have Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) beginning tomorrow at sunset. There must be some power in rituals or undertakings begun/completed on this day. If only I could think of one that I really need/want to do–one that isn’t completely self-centered and selfish, anyway. I don’t mean a “pagan ritual,” necessarily, or an OCD-type ritual, but just some kind of acknowledgement to mark the day.

I’ll probably just lie around on the other couch coughing, as the Cold From Hell has gone downstairs into my ample chest. *hack* Maybe the doctor will have a moment to see me and figure out whether there might be a bacterial infection going on. . . .

According to one site, “the Fall Equinox is also known as Alban Elfed, Cornucopia, Feast of Avilon, Festival of Dionysus, Harvest Home, Harvest Tide, Mabon, Night of the Hunter, Second Harvest Festival, Wine Harvest, and Witches’ Thanksgiving.” Well . . . seeing as how I got middle-named for Dionysus, perhaps that’s the festival I’m supposed to be celebrating, but I just haven’t felt much kinship for that mindset lately. Have you, Dennis?

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CRAFT: Musings and peeves

A couple of things that just bug the heck out of me when I encounter them in published novels:

1. Thoughts that “swirl around inside” a character’s mind or head. Or thoughts that fight, argue, whirl, or battle for a character’s attention. I don’t even like “pushed the thought out of her mind” any more, though that didn’t usedta bug me so much. It’s a convention and a type of shorthand, but it isn’t working for me any more.

My thoughts do not swirl, twirl, or curl. They’re typically linear, or sometimes I’ll have thoughts that are almost simultaneous and branch off like a decision tree’s paths, but they don’t compete inside my mind. They are sometimes nonverbal and certainly aren’t the logical complete sentences that so many authors portray them as, in fact. I’m turning against “he thought/she thought,” as well, because most readers are trained so thoroughly to expect a close, intimate third person with a very close psychic distance, and that usually means that the narrative can carry the character’s thoughts. This wasn’t always the case; omniscient POVs used to be all the rage. Not now, though.

I was *almost* charmed and won over when I ran across a line in a mystery that said something like, “Her thoughts lined up on either side of the Mason-Dixon line–the corpus callosum–and started taking potshots in preparation for a civil war,” and then it followed up with a neat metaphor for the thoughts that the main character was having. But ultimately I wanted the thoughts just to show up as part of the vivid, continuous dream. Just state the thoughts and show that the character is working something out. That’s all you need.

2. Characters who can do everything after a short period of reading about it or watching somebody. Too many of these get-up-and-go characters never fail at any skill they try to learn or have any things they just can’t do. For example, they can cook and sew and put a new roof on the house and fly a plane and dance the tango and . . . whatever comes up. I *always* hit my thumb with the hammer. I get tired, have to take bathroom breaks, need to take a class to learn certain skills. Real people always have their failings and foibles.

Related to this is the narrowing of the “cast” in so many novels. Everyone in novels now seems to be a love interest or the devil. I never see the eccentric comic-relief foil. Maybe this is following the lead of films, where you never see an actual older person playing the elder statesman or grandparent . . . everyone’s young and beautiful. Real life just isn’t that way, folks, and isn’t designed to be.

I suppose all fiction is fantasy, though.
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It’s becoming ever more obvious that my problem is that agents (at least) don’t like my STORIES. And this is a far deeper problem than their not liking my writing, character names, etc. It’s probably not fixable, in fact. It goes way down into the reasons that an author will spend so much time with a tale trying to get it down for others to experience.

My stories come from the Girls in the Basement [TM] who send up a bubble now and then (or maybe a trial balloon) to spark some narrative about some premise that means something to me philosophically, an idea that I would like to explore and spend time with as the characters who fit that story grow and change. That’s why they’re my stories. And that is the only kind of story I can manage to write. I’ve said before that it’s quite possible that I can’t write the kinds of stories that will sell nowadays. If I could steal somebody ELSE’S story and rewrite it in my voice, that might work . . . but I can’t find any stories that appeal to me to that extent. An author spends a helluva lot of time with the characters and events in his or her book, and that means she’d better be pretty enchanted with them from the get-go. I write the kinds of books I like to read. There is a relationship (probably an equation) explaining why I don’t find much out there that I want to read and why I don’t write stuff that’s sufficiently like it. This relationship should end in divorce.

It’s late. And y’all don’t need to hear all this again.

*cough* Why do I keep beating my head against the wall?

Hey, we were talking about openings last time . . . here’s a great article by a pro about The Art of the Start, or the beginning of your novel.

Today I have been sidelined by the Cold From Hell. And an allergy attack is going on, as well, I think, because my eyes are watering. Anyway, I missed our critique group at noon. I spent the afternoon on the couch with the dog, covered with squashed Kleenex and rejected mail-order catalogs, and imagined that I’d be okay by nightfall. But then, even though I thought I could make the organizational meeting of the Writers’ League of Texas, as I had promised the other organizers, it was not to be. When hubby got home and I asked him to drive me over to the meeting, he refused and made me get back on the sofa and drink more hot tea.

Be that as it may, and I don’t believe it ever is . . . I’m still beating my head against this brick wall (“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall”). God does not intend for me to be publicated by NYC, apparently, but He doesn’t have any other windows propped open nearby for me to jump out of, so what am I to do aside from cleaning up this terror of a house, which I can’t possibly do? (“With these hands?”)

So. Tonight I opened Eudora so I could e-mail my comments to my critique partners, and there was the rejection from Mr. Nice Guy Agent. Aaagghh . . . I’d had such hopes (as usual). Well, at least he remembered not to phone me, because I get too excited and am in danger of tinkling on the new carpet like the dog. He said my writing was good, as always, but he didn’t LOVE the book.

I probably should have taken the hint and gone back to bed, but instead I looked at his website again, where it lists the genres he’s now handling, and found “mystery” among them. So I punished him (grin) by sending an e-mail query for _Nice Work_. I gave him an out by saying that if he doesn’t want to see more new stuff from me, just let me know. Otherwise, I suggested that if he’d tell me the book he would love, I’ll write it. *grin*

[UPDATE: Already got the rejection. One thing you can say for this agent is, he’s really prompt and doesn’t leave you hanging. He points out that because he has now seen three of my novels and liked the writing but didn’t care for the story, there’s really no point in sending more stuff. That saves us both some time, I suppose. However, it tells me that people believe that if they don’t like one of your stories, they probably won’t like any of them. Just another daily punishment from the Universe, that’s all. Lesson: You only get a couple of chances with each agent or editor, if that many, so this isn’t an endless pursuit. There are only about twenty or so agents who keep coming up again and again when I look around for agents who carry what I write (and who have actually sold work, and who are recommended, etc.), so I’ll be out of them pretty soon, unless some new ones start up before the end of the year. The end of the tunnel is in sight, and that light indeed was a train all along.]

I also sent an e-mail query for Camille to Brent Hartinger’s agent and sent a follow-up to another agent who has had a partial of Miranda for a while.

I’m still typing away on the Fast Draft project. I asked my “group” (seven of us who are sending encouraging messages and page counts to each other daily) how long it takes each of them to type those twenty pages, and everyone hemmed and hawed. Most people are working on it in segments throughout the day. That works pretty well when you have other things to take care of every day.

Although what the hell am I doing, wasting more disk space? It’s hard to understand why nothing’s ever enough, especially when I just don’t see the appeal of most of the books I pull out of the bookstore’s stock at random. I am definitely out of synch. But then I always HAVE been.

“If a (wo)man does not keep pace with her/his companions, perhaps it is because (s)he hears a different drummer. Let him/her step to the music which he/she hears, however measured or far away.”– Henry David Thoreau, _Walden_ (popularized when it was alluded to in the classic 1960s rock song recorded by Linda Ronstadt, “Different Drum”)

Steppin’ to the beat of that different, offbeat drum. Admirable? Innovative? Individual? Perhaps. Perhaps it’s our destiny.

But that don’t mean it gon’ be easy.
! ! !
THIS is hilarious. About a mosquito going after someone in the shower, from the mosquito’s POV.

CRAFT: Waking-up opening scenes (ack)

Literary agent Rachel Vater is doing a query/first pages workshop on her LJ, . I submitted my query for _Camille’s Travels_, but I don’t know whether she’ll choose it to workshop or not. (I had already sent it through her webpage for consideration, as well.) She’ll be posting sample queries all week with her reactions, I think.

I’ve gotten a number of good responses from that query, but I suspect that when I don’t get a request for a partial, it’s not so much the query itself as the content of the book that they’re not interested in. I do SO wish that I hadn’t blown it with the original agent who said she loved the book and saw a future for it at some particular YA house (and we never actually discussed which one that might’ve been), as there probably never will be anyone else who even “gets” the book at all, let alone wants to represent me for it. Although I suppose I shouldn’t write off the fellow I’ve talked to before . . . he might be busy with preparations for the New Year 5767* coming up this weekend, though, as are some of my friends, so let’s not count the days until he responds.

Ahem. Craft. As I was saying, some agents and editors have a rule about never requesting manuscripts with opening scenes in which the protagonist (or ANYone) is dreaming or waking up.

writes:
3. PLEASE no wake up in the morning beginnings.

Now, I don’t believe that she means ANY old wake-up beginning, although she might. They’re always looking for the first possible reason to reject, I have been told. However, it’s a little different if your protagonist wakes up because the building is on fire and she has to grab her dog and laptop and crawl out the window and down a fire escape, kicking off the book . . . or if your heroine awakes to discover that her best friend is putting a spell on her as a thirtieth birthday gift. At least *I* think those are fine openings.

What I think she probably means is the typical, throat-clearing, “the start of the book is the start of the day” opening. Yours is probably nothing like that, if it starts with a terrible noise that jolts you awake and you run to find that it’s your autistic son, picking up the fish tank to bring it upstairs.

Here’s what she doesn’t want:

Herbie felt the warm rays of the sun streaming through the window and stirred under the covers–though he wasn’t “stirred” in the sexual sense. Stretching his arms wide, he opened his eyes and beheld the glory of the new day. Today would be the first day of the rest of his life.

His knees creaked and his toes crackled as he stretched his legs against the blanket. As he sat up, he thought about how his girlfriend was going to cheer and scream when he got down on bended knee and proposed to her. That would be fun!

His cat meowed from the end of the bed. “Good morning, Mr. Whiskers,” Herbie said, throwing back the covers and putting his feet on the cold hardwood floor. He needed to get the housekeeper to dust. Or maybe his girlfriend would do that, once she had moved in. Which he was sure she would.

The cat jumped off the bed and ran for the kitchen. Herbie walked to the mirror. Looking at himself, he couldn’t help thinking what a prize he was. . .

[[URK]] **crash** STOP STOP STOP we get the idea. Blargh!!

I know that you have read beginner stuff that reads just like that, and I believe that is what she is talking about. This author knows no better and will chronicle Herbie’s shower, shaving, admiring himself again so we can know his eye and hair and skin colors, his putting on his clothes and selecting from among three different shirts, all described in loving detail. Great Eye of Argon! Aaarghh!

On the other hand, who knows? Maybe there are a bunch of unwritten Rules that I’m going against. Nobody tells me anything.
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In what I (at least) consider reverse order of crappiness (in other words, the first one’s the goodest o’ the crew), here are three of my openings for comparison, novel beginnings that do include, um, waking up. (I don’t think we should entirely rule out this event in an opening, for people do have that wake/sleep cycle daily/nightly. Also, you can have people waking up after being knocked out or not remembering how they got there, and not necessarily in the morning.) ICOCBW, as usual.

On the morning of her thirtieth birthday, Miranda Callahan came awake with the certain knowledge that her best friend was casting a spell on her.

“The moon enters the house of the dragon, and Hecate works her magick on me.” Miranda groaned, raising her head off the sketches for her latest cartoon panel. She’d fallen asleep at her drawing table again. The entire page was smudged like yesterday’s mascara. In the gentle morning light, the new cartoon seemed particularly uninspired. Her fingers flew to her temples, where they automatically started massaging in circles.

What could be worse than waking to unfamiliar magick–except, of course, waking up in a cold bed without Alex. Which she’d cleverly avoided by conking out at her desk around three in the morning.

This spell was benevolent, though, she’d swear. She felt optimistic, for a change, and a little buzzed, as if she’d been affected by the margaritas she vaguely remembered drinking in her dreams. Her stomach guggled. She hadn’t been spelled unexpectedly like this since her mother had semi-retired from the Craft.

(_Miranda’s Rights_, Shalanna Collins)

“Ariadne, pick up. I know you’re awake.”

My ex’s reedy tenor blared from my answering machine.
“Talk to me. You’re never asleep this early. Ari, babe, I know you’re there.” Eddie’s tone was pleading. “Are you all right, or has something happened to you, too?”

_What?_ I muted the television and groped for the portable phone on the coffee table, under the cable guide and yesterday’s newspaper. My arm tingled, half asleep from being propped against the ratty throw pillows that formed a makeshift nest on my sofa.

At last I located the handset and pressed the talk button. “It’s two in the morning. What’s wrong, Eddie?”

I didn’t bother to conceal my irritation. I still hadn’t forgiven him for the way he’d breezed into–and out of–my life. And kept doing so with regularity.

Then the “has something happened to you, too,” registered. I softened. “Ed? Are you there? What’s going on?”

“Buzz me in, Ari. I’ll explain.” He hung up without saying goodbye. It’s one of his most irritating habits.

(_Ariadne’s Web_, Shalanna Collins)

On her first day of freedom, Alyncia woke to the sound of footsteps overhead.

Not soft tiptoes, but the pounding of tens of little feet racing to class. Abruptly she sat up and bumped her temple on the sloped ceiling. Rubbing her head, she realized she wasn’t in her own bed. She was under the school’s main stairwell, in the linen closet, bedded down on a massive stack of clean sheets and towels.

(_Paladin Spellbound_, trunk novel #1 by Shalanna Collins)

(That last one owes a debt to “Lessa woke, cold,” the opening of Anne McCaffrey’s first Dragon novel.)

I dunno. People don’t like ’em, they don’t like me, and there’s no hope. However, we might have a fruitful (or fruitless, or fruity) discussion of these types of openings, so it will not all have been in vain. It will have been in self-centeredness, but not in vain.

* [Rosh Hashanah, New Year 5767, from sunset on September 22, 2006, to nightfall on September 24, 2006, according to http://www.jewfaq.org/holiday2.htm. The Jewish New Year is celebrated during the first 10 days of Tishri (Tish-ree), the seventh month of the Jewish calendar. The Bible refers to the holiday as Yom Ha-Zikkaron (the day of remembrance) or Yom Teruah (the day of the sounding of the shofar). The holiday is instituted in Leviticus 23:24-25. It’s followed by ten days of introspection and self-searching in preparation for Yom Kippur, the holiest of High Holy Days. Rosh Hashanah, celebrated over the first and second days of Tishri, marks the time when, according to tradition, God created the world. (That is so cool.) Just so you know.]

FastDraft progress-Day One

This was the first official day of FastDraft. I did about twenty-two pages (Courier New 12 pt, double-spaced, yadda yadda) in three sessions. Did twenty minutes early this morning, went back to bed for an hour (grin), got back up at 9:45 and typed until almost noon (when I was lured in by the TV and the promise of rabbit food), and then typed for a little while this afternoon. I don’t know if I’ll KEEP all those pages, and some of them are definitely going to get reworked, but there they are.

Hmm. It does take a while to type twenty pages. I know I’m a fast typist, and hubby has always bragged to people about that, but still.

I knew where I was going, though. I already had the first three chapters of this Ranch Romance. I had done research about the kid falling into the “pit” (a shallow gully) and twisting her ankle, and I needed to rescue her. I made the scene funny, and she isn’t seriously hurt, and everyone turns against everyone else. It might fly. What the hey.

You could try FastDraft next time. The class is free! But there’s a lot of typing involved. Not to mention thinkin’. Too much thinking can wear out your brain, so be warned.

On Wednesday I have not only my noontime Pook’s Peeps Critique Group meeting, but also the organizational meeting of the Dallas chapter of the Writers’ League of Texas at 7. That’ll mean I’d better space out my “meals” (protein shakes/oatmeal, basically, as I’ve found that if I eat one of the meal bars a day as they say nondiabetics can, I don’t lose any weight that week) so I can make it all day. The family is already lobbying for me to skip one or both, as they don’t want me to be overcommitted. But I’m going to go, even if I don’t make my twenty pages that day. I think I need to get out more.

If you don’t already have a copy, take a look at the Turkey City Lexicon for writers of SF/Fantasy. The terms may be useful to those writing fiction of any stripe.

Blogger SAT Challenge: Great Idea, Poor Implementation

I’m peeved. I just spent almost 20 minutes taking the Blogger SAT challenge (in which you answer an open-ended question by writing an essay within that time limit), but when I clicked on “Next,” their JavaScript sent me to “The page cannot be displayed.” I tried re-sending and going back and clicking again, to no avail. It wouldn’t speak to me again.

Fortunately I had taken a moment to copy/paste my essay into a Notepad file before clicking “Next,” as I’ve had experience with this kind of online s#@t before. I never did get the form to take my essay. And of course I’m locked out of taking the challenge again, as they have you put in your blog URL and your name and so forth so that people can’t go in, get the question, cancel out, and come back to paste in a prewritten essay (which makes sense). So pfffft.

They say not to reveal the question, so I won’t post my entire essay yet (because that WOULD reveal the question). But I was kind of proud of some of the crap that flowed out of my typer off the cuff for this. I had been thinking about courage today, and so my essay tied into that. I’d been thinking about the question, “What is courage,” in fact, which is a question that one commenter on the Blogger SAT Challenge creator’s blog said was “nebulous and unfair.” I disagree. I think that’s a fantastic open-ended question.

I had been thinking in these terms partly because of watching what I watched today at noon. When I entered the Public Spaces of the Household (i.e., emerged from my computer room), Mama had all the TVs tuned in to former Texas governor Ann Richards’ funeral. (For you non-Texans, she served from 1990 to 1994 or thereabouts. She was a real firebrand and a character, and a friend of the family of my aunt-by-marriage.) I typically don’t watch funerals on TV. I saw Harold Taft’s, and Ronald Reagan’s, and probably a couple of others . . . but I don’t make a point of watching them. Been to too many in real life within the past few years.

But anyhow, I got sucked in because I walked into the breakfast room just as it was beginning, and I paused to listen to the choir. (It didn’t help that I had to get something to eat–that’s when I have my tiny tiny green salad for the day.) I ended up watching the entire service, of course, and came away both depressed and uplifted. Tends to do that to me.

So that’s why I started thinking about courage, and iconoclasts, and “standing for something,” and so forth.

Here’s part of what my essay for the challenge contained (although this is not even part of the challenge question, really, but just my digression.)
# # #
Courage is the soldier who shoulders a weapon and walks into battle . . . but that isn’t all it is. Courage is the scientist who, when told that he mustn’t say the truth but should repeat whatever version of the truth the government or ruling entity wants him to back, won’t recant . . . and the person who, when it’s time to climb down the ladder from the helicopter or run into the burning building to rescue a child, doesn’t back down. But that’s not all it is.

Courage is the kid who, despite knowing that she’s fat, or disabled, or has a different color of skin, or a funny accent, and despite knowing that the other kids are going to make her their whipping girl and target of mockery, walks into that classroom, holds her head high, and takes her seat (with luck, avoiding the banana peel that they’ve thrown under her foot.)

Courage is the man who walks into the first day of chemotherapy and says he’s ready to fight the good fight, and that if he doesn’t win, he still wins.

Courage is the young girl who stands up to speak a eulogy at the memorial service of her beloved grandmother, or her daddy, fighting back the tears because Nana or Dad would want her to be strong.

Courage is the person who goes outside wearing the burqa or veil of being a Muslim, even when the Muslims are perceived where she lives as possibly the “bad guys.” Courage is the person who walks down the street wearing the Mogen David when he knows the Jews have been targeted once again for extinction or attack. Courage is the person who wears a cross around her neck when it’s out of fashion, and isn’t afraid (even when a school-shooter points a gun into her face and asks, “Do you believe in God?” obviously hoping to bully her into saying whatever he wants so he doesn’t pull the trigger) to confess, “Yes, I do.”

Courage is journalist Keith Olbermann speaking out against what he perceives as injustices, despite the very real dangers that he might lose his television show, or be branded a traitor or worse by this administration (where dissent is not only not encouraged but seen as sedition at best), or that his very life could be threatened by extremists whose causes he opposes.

Most of all, courage is going out to do something and failing in public, but saying, “Okay, you beat me once, but at least I tried . . . and now I’ve learned . . . and I’m coming at you again.” Courage is making a mistake and then admitting to it and saying you’re going to put things right and that you’ve learned and will carry on. Courage is saying, “I was wrong,” and “I’m sorry,” and “I love you,” even when people might overhear.
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To hell with online challenges. To hell with being well-known as a blogger. To hell with all of it. *grump*

And furthermore, some Famous Bloggers Of Important Stature have recently posted about how “some bloggers’ entries are all negativity and whining and complaining, so I never would want to read one of that person’s books,” and further that “some bloggers should think about what an agent or editor would think upon reading that public blog.” (I still think that if an agent isn’t too busy to go around reading everyone’s blogs–not current clients’, but everyone’s–while he/she ought to be spending that time making deals and reading material, that agent can’t be doing very well in the business, but that’s another issue.)

Well, thanks for your concern, but I’ve stated in the past that I’m not much for a false front. I can’t help who I am, and there’s no point having some kind of publicity/promotional bullcrap here in place of an honest chronicle of what I’ve been thinking about. Once you meet me, you’re going to find out the horrible truth anyway, so why should I try to be someone I’m not and use someone else’s voice in my journal just for fear Someone Important Might Not Like What I Said? (sigh)

Perhaps if I ever become (in worldly terms) a success, I’ll have to take this thing private and put up one of those suck-up, we-are-plastic, “rahrahrah” journals in its place, for promotion’s sake. But until then, I feel strongly about taking the reader on the journey with me. If I fail, and they can see how I have failed and made mistakes, then perhaps one of them out there may be able to learn from that mistake and not make it herself/himself. That makes it worthwhile. I also think that many LJs that come across as whiny and complain-y are done that way for comic effect, and I usually enjoy them just as much as the happy peppy bouncy ones (or even more). You know, the way you can’t take your eyes off a trainwreck. . . .