Tuesday, April 28, 2009

May 1 - Buy Indie Day

My brother Scott has the tendency to make me laugh. Not little giggles. Big, curl your head down toward your toes, hold your stomach, hope you don't pee your pants laughter.

He's younger than me, and we are a bit different. I loved school. He hated it. I've read a few books this month; he's read a few in the last decade. So, this one time (not at band camp) my brother told me a story about something that really troubled him.

He went to the mall with a friend, and the only place to park was outside of a Border's. It was a Saturday night. He entered through the automatic doors and passed by the cafe. According to him, this is what he saw:

"Tam, there were people in there..." he looks both ways as if the FBI is about to pounce, "and they were...reading."

So naturally, I waited for the punchline. What had offended him so?

"And...?" I asked him.

"What do you mean, 'And'? They were just sitting there. Lots of people. Just sitting there...READING! On a Saturday night!"

I said, "This past Saturday? I was there."

We always laugh about the fact that my brother went more than 20 years without knowing what actually goes on inside of a bookstore. And of course he laughs at his geeky older sister who likes to spend her free time there.

My career path might have something to do with that.

Now that I've shared my story, I want to encourage all of you to cause my brother curious frustration by going to your local independent bookstores Friday to buy a book.

No catch.

It's quite simple. May 1st has been declared Buy Indie Day. I'm not really sure who made the declaration, but I'll go along with it. Jason Pinter, who writes a series of thrillers centered around the exploits of reporter Henry Parker, blogged about Buy Indie Day, and ironically, Jason will be in Pittsburgh this week as well.

I should mention my Indie of choice is Mystery Lover's Bookshop in Oakmont. The store's 14th annual Festival of Mystery is on for Monday, May 4th. More than 40 authors will attend (personal favorites are Jason, Nancy Martin, and Wendy Corsi Staub). It's a great event. If you're interested, tickets are available in advance at the store on Allegheny River Boulevard or at the door. Early birds get a free bag of books, and there's usually a line. The event's from 4 to 9 p.m. at the Greek Orthodox Social Hall, 12 Washington Avenue in Oakmont. Don't miss it!

And don't forget to Buy Indie this Friday. To find a independent bookstore near you, click here.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Enjoying every age

The movie 17 Again has people questioning what they would do if they could go back to some point in their lives and do things over.

When I was in high school, I remember teachers saying, "You're going to want to come back here. This is the best time of your life." Then in college, the same sentiments were replayed. Then I watched television shows where characters in their 30s miss their 20s, characters in their 40s miss their 30s, and so on.

Admidst all of this, I worked a summer job with a woman in her 60s. She was chatty, and I remember her saying she wouldn't go back to any one point in her life. She loved every age, and she's enjoying where she is now.

I was so impressed with her optimism, and the decision seemed logical. If you're in your 20s missing college and high school, you're not really enjoying your 20s.

In regards to my life, I follow her sentiments. I enjoyed high school while I was there, but I'm not interested in going back. College was great, but the same applies. Instead, I want to enjoy where I am now, which means enjoying finishing my first book, writing my second and hoping they get published.

Friends and family ask about the publishing process, and I tell them this is the hardest part (although as I learn more about publishing, I'm not sure I still agree with this). My primary goal is getting an agent to take a chance on me. Then that agent has to get a publisher to take a chance on me. I'm a nobody. All I can hope is that I've written something good enough to encourage an agent and publisher to jump aboard.

It's stressful and scary, and to be honest, I kind of love it. Compare me to my ghost-hunting character who doesn't mind feeling chills up and down her arms alerting her a spirit is near her, but I'm really enjoying the fear of whether an agent will like my work.

Maybe "enjoying" is a strong word, but this is all part of the process, a big part, actually. It's exciting and scary, and I do want it to be over soon. I'm hoping the first response from the first agent is an enthusiastic "YES!!!" (If you're struck by this optimism, note I'm not delusional. Read this and this).

I'd love to get to the next step of sending the book out to publishers, but I'll enjoy (and stress about) that part when I get there. For now, I suppose I'm in the teenage years of publishing. I have to prove myself and sway an "adult" in the industry to trust me and take a chance on me.

While it's not easy, I've been talking with other writers who are on their second and third and ninth books, and they have stress, too. This job of writing will never get easy, but I'll enjoy every age.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

NHL Playoffs, Round 1

Just a quick note to congratulate the Pens on a first round victory of the Philadelphia Flyers...Go Pens!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Trash and Treasure

I've been quiet for a while, but I have good reason. I've been catching up on some things, mainly cleaning. Hold your applause.

There are several things that can reveal a person's character. Sorting through that person's closet is one of them.

During my cleanup, I've had the opportunity to look in my own closet, not the one in the house my husband and I have owned for nearly two years (good luck finding anything but rumpled clothes and old purses in there!). My sister recently moved into my grandparents' house, where I lived throughout high school.

So, I had to clean out my old room. Here are a few of the things I found:

  1. Kid Rock's first CD. Not sure what I'm talking about? Does Bawitdaba da bang a bang diggy diggy diggy said the boogy said up jump da boogy sound familiar? Yes, this says a lot about me. It also reminds me of the time I went crowd surfing at XFest at the Pittsburgh Post Gazette Pavilion. The Mighty Mighty Bosstones were on stage. It was awesome. The bad news about the CD - it was only the case. No disc inside. Designation: Trash.
  2. Miss Piggy Pen. Okay, so sometimes kids do silly things. When I was a preschooler, I was a bit rotund. My family, who loved me, thought it was fun to call me Miss Piggy. Eventually, I began to think I was a realistic version of the muppet (although I hated the show). In the pharmacy, I picked out a Miss Piggy toothbrush and while handing it to the cashier, I told her, "I get a Miss Piggy toothbrush because I'm a pig." I think some oinking was involved, and I'm certain there was laughter. Although it's not a toothbrush, it reminds me of the good times. Designation: Treasure.
  3. School pictures. You know the kind. The day after kids get them back, they're chopped up into tiny squares and passed around to the coolest kids first, then the okay kids, until the pile runs out. You write fun stuff on the back such as: "Tammy, Sorry it took so long for the pic. Don't forget the fun night we had at the movies." Uh, looks like I forgot. Sorry. In my defense, nine years have passed. Because I'm a sentimental idiot...Designation: Treasure.
  4. Taebo bootcamp. Taebo is a good workout. I did Taebo all through high school and college. Good stuff. The problem is this box of taebo bootcamp DVDs has been in my old closet for about five years. Hopefully, that doesn't mean we're revisiting the rotund issue. In hopes of shedding a few pounds (right after I eat those chocolate chip cookies in the kitchen)...Designation: Treasure.

One last treasure - my name. As a point of information, I was named after my Aunt Tammy and a contestant on the 25,000 Pyramid named Tamara.

At Jacksonville University Fin-Fest in 2003, one of the vendors was printing name cards for the students. The cards list the root, origin and meaning of the names. You can be the judge on whether this exercise is a true indication of character.

Tamara - Hebrew name meaning "a palm tree." The owner of this name provides sound advice to others, is cool under pressure, often has the last laugh, is not bothered by worry, dares to excel, is a great innovator, is a person who is tactful and obliging, and her strength supports many.

P.S. Go Pens!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Stanley Cup Playoffs

The Pittsburgh Penguins' goalie, Marc Andre Fleury, was incredible in the Pens 3-2 overtime victory against the Philadelphia Flyers. He had 38 saves (and one of those was made by his pinky toe!). The pinky toe save was #2 on ESPN's Top 10 plays. The team played great, but Fleury definitely deserves a shout-out.

Let's go Pens!

Career Day at Valley Middle School

I just have to post about the great day I had at Valley Middle School, where I was a student once upon a time. It was Career Day, and I was honored to be invited by Math teacher Melissa Frame. It was my first experience going into a classroom and talking about my writing.

I was paired up with Jon Burnett, a weather anchor for KDKA TV in Pittsburgh. Jon gave a great talk and although I'm not the kind of girl who watches TV in real time, I'll be recording his broadcasts in the future.

During the day, I had five groups of students that rotated through the classroom, and I was pleasantly surprised by how many of them want to be writers.

I told the groups the great things about my job: working from home (I'm writing this blog in the hammock under the gorgeous afternoon sun), a dress code of pajamas, my only co-worker being my dog (who's a few yards away right now barking at the neighbors), freedom to make my own schedule, the ability to be creative, and the chance to do what I love.

But I also told the kids about the downside of writing. I've just finished my first book, and there's no guarantee it will ever be published. I believe it will be. You have to have faith, but realism is an important quality as well. I also talked about freelance writing as basically hunting for your own food. If you're not up for the hunt, you better not be looking to eat anytime soon.

That led to the main focus of the discussion - the ambition and motivation writers must have, especially in the beginning. If I don't finish my latest book, there isn't an agent or publisher in the world who will care. A published writer (sometimes) has a contract to fulfill, so the pressure of a deadline is a motivator. But right now, the only person hurt by laziness is me (and the readers out there who will love my books, but just don't know it yet ;-).

At the end of our discussion, I challenged the students to write a "What if..." question for a book they would like to write. The idea is that a book starts from that specific question. What if....happened?

Of those students willing to share their questions, there were some pretty good ones. Students, if you're out there, feel free to post your questions here, anonymously if you wish.

Since I write young adult stories, I'm hoping to come back to Valley Middle School to talk to the eighth graders in the fall. Until then...thanks for the invitation and best wishes to all of you.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Querying from the other side of the desk

Parents often tell their children to put themselves in someone else's shoes before judging.

After the Query Fail and Agent Fail debates of the last few weeks, one agent is giving writers a watered down opportunity to do just that by becoming literary agents for a day.

I've mentioned Nathan Bransford's blog before because it's an incredible resource for writers, but this week, he's running a contest in which simply participating is enough of a reward. The Curtis Brown agent said he gets 50 query letters each day (for the non-writers who read this blog, queries are the letters writers send en masse to agents in hopes one will say, "Ooh, I love this idea. Send me some pages.").

Yesterday, Nathan posted 50 queries randomly throughout the day, and his blog readers then had the opportunity to be an Agent for a Day (although it's called Agent for a Day, Nathan's giving participants until Saturday to read and critique all queries). Upon reading the queries, the "agents" have the option to: reject the letter outright, reject the letter with a personal note, or ask the writer to send pages for further consideration.

The catch is participants can only request pages from five writers.

It might sound silly, but I haven't had so much fun pretending since I was a kid.

The experience has been incredibly enlightening. My respect for agents has grown exponentially, which I anticipate may have been Nathan's secret plan (I envision him behind his desk cackling lik Dr. Evil with his pinky to the corner of his mouth). The fact is, it's painful to read query after query after query after...you get the idea, especially when you have no interest in the project. What's harder is trying to let the writers down lightly, a task some "agents" had no interest in attempting.

If you take a peek into the comments section for any of the queries, you'll see what I'm talking about. It can be brutal.

In any case, if you're a writer (or even if you're not), I urge you to go to the blog and at the very least take a look around. It takes time to read and respond to 50 queries, but choose a couple and give it a go. I suspect it will be kind of like opening a tube of pickle-flavored Pringles - once you pop, you can't stop.

April Marathon Update: I've been losing steam the last few days. I took a break from the marathon to finish revisions on The Diner on Third, but I have a plan to get back into the race. Word count: 15,500

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Defending my Delusions of Grandeur

Drunk Writer Talk is one of the blogs I check out regularly. Yesterday, writer and co-blogger of the site Maureen McGowan commented on the QueryFail/AgentFail explosion that has yet to be doused.

The issue began when an agent began a Twitter discussion about the silliest things writers have written in query letters to agents. Writers were then infuriated and took the opportunity to discuss (or rant) about agents' shortcomings.

Point of information: I participated in this writerly discussion, but my comments bordered advice and requests, not blatant disgust.

In any case, Maureen linked her blog to this essay, Five Reasons Good Writers Fail in the hope of enlightening said ranting writers.

Eager for good advice (and wondering if I was doomed to failure), I clicked the link and cyber traveled to an essay that made me laugh out loud. I wasn't cackling at the points writer Jennie Nash made, though.

According to the essay, the first reason good writers fail is: Delusions of Grandeur.

Jennie writes: "A lot of first-time writers believe that they’re going to sell their book for several million dollars, lure Julia Roberts into taking an option on film rights, and land a spot on Oprah — all within a few hours of finishing their manuscript."

Ha hemm. Sound familiar?

No? Let me refresh your memory. On March 23, I wrote on this blog:

"I've been dreaming of seeing my name on the New York Times bestsellers list for the better part of a decade. I've imagined my fabulous stories turned into Hollywood blockbusters with A-list celebrities telling me how much they like my work. It takes a pompous person to think people I've admired for my whole life would be moved by my presence. Either that, or I've really bought into this idea of dreaming big...

"Why not imagine that agents are going to swoon over my book? That they'll fight to represent me. That I'll score a huge advance on royalties despite the current economic climate (allowing me to spend summers writing in a French chateau, an Italian villa, or an English cottage). That my book will open the gates with huge sales. That hesitant teen readers will pick up my book and discover the love for reading I've had my entire life."

My delusions of grandeur are actually worse than the ones Jennie mentions in her essay. And I'm okay with that. If you're going to delude yourself, might as well go all out.

For the record, a Nicholas Sparks-like advance would be great. (He earned a $1,000,000 advance for his first book, The Notebook). However, I do believe I have a grasp on reality.

That said, I kind of enjoy my delusions. They're fun. And it's all possible, right? Nicholas Sparks wasn't always a writer. A decade ago, Stephenie Meyer wasn't an international phenomenon. Stephen King began his career in a closet (literally, that was his office), and now his web site features his virtual office, which dwarfs a closet, obviously.

I'm not writing this to compare my writing to the works of those writers listed above - that would be delusional. But I do defend my desire to dream big, and I would encourage other writers and artists to do the same. The key is knowing the difference between the dream and the reality.

"I have learned, that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours." - Henry David Thoreau

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Writing is a Marathon, Not a Sprint

Speaking of marathon, the Backspace April Marathon is going well so far. Although it's a thirty-day challenge, I've been participating in smaller 500-word sprints with a few other writers (mostly J.E. Taylor and A.S. King).

These races have been incredibly helpful.

Basically, this is how it works. In the Backspace forum, everyone meets at the starting line, and someone types "GO!" From there, writers around the country (and one writer from Germany) clickety clack their keyboards until they hit 500. When they do, they post a victorious "Yay," and we have a winner.

The good news is by the time I hit 500 words, I'm deep enough into the writing that I'm able to keep going for another thousand words or so. And my win-loss record is strong, by the way, or maybe it just seems that way because hitting 500 words in less than 20 minutes is a win for everyone.

Word Count: 12,100

Saturday, April 4, 2009

The brilliance of writing bird by bird

On Agent Nathan Bransford's blog earlier this week, he opened a discussion about the best books on writing. I found it fascinating, and two books that were named again and again were On Writing by Stephen King and Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.

I have to say I've read both and would agree they're must-reads for writers.

Taking a second look at Lamott's book this week, I've picked out a couple excerpts that I found particularly interesting.

First of all, to explain the title..."Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he'd had three months to write. [It] was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother's shoulder, and said, 'Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.'"

Lamott suggests to write a bad first draft "bird by bird" or short assignment by short assignment, not allowing perfectionist ideals to cramp your creativity. But there's a downfall with that theory of a bad first draft.

"The whole thing would be so long and incoherent and hideous that for the rest of the day I'd obsess about getting creamed by a car before I could write a decent second draft. I'd worry that people would read what I'd written and believe that the accident had really been a suicide, that I had panicked because my talent was waning and my mind was shot."

Presently, I'm working on that bad first draft as part of Backspace's April Marathon, as you know. By way of an update, I'm at 5,000 words (and will be on target if I get another 1,700 by midnight).

I should be writing at the moment, but it's time to make dinner, and I write better late at night anyway. So, on to another Anne Lamott excerpt on procrastination. When she should be writing, here are some hilarious thoughts that steal her focus:

"After a moment I may notice that I'm trying to decide whether or not I am too old for orthodontia and whether right now would be a good time to make a few calls, and then I start to think about learning to use makeup and how maybe I could find some boyfriend who is not a total and complete fixer-upper and then my life would be totally great and I'd be happy all the time, and then I think about all the people I should have called back before I sat down to work, and how I should probably at least check in with my agent and tell him this great idea I have and see if he thinks it's a good idea, and see if he thinks I need orthodontia - if that is what he is actually thinking whenever we have lunch together.

"Then I think about someone I'm really annoyed with, or some financial problem that is driving me crazy, and decide that I must resolve this before I get down to today's work. So I become a dog with a chew toy, worrying it for a while, wrestling it to the ground, flinging it over my shoulder, chasing it, licking it, chewing it, flinging it back over my shoulder. I stop just short of actually barking. But all of this only takes somewhere between one and two minutes, so I haven't actually wasted that much time. Still, it leaves me winded."

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Project Book Babe: Support a great cause

Part I - April Marathon Update

So now I realize what other writers are talking about when they say they don’t blog, or Twitter, or Facebook, or MySpace because it just takes too much time away from, ahem, writing.

I’ve bookmarked about 25 blogs that I hit daily. I try to blog here at least three times a week. I check Facebook several times a day, and don’t get me started on email. Last night at eight o'clock, I sat down to write the beginning of my second book – on Day One of the April Marathon. At 8:55 I was still surfing the web.

As a reporter, I often wondered what news writers did before the Internet. How did they research correct spellings and definitions of words (um, an actual hand-held dictionary maybe)? How did they double check the contact information and other details for companies, schools, and nonprofits featured? How did they survive!?

I can tell you one thing of which I’m fairly certain. They probably spent more time doing their jobs.

Okay, let me be honest. I’m not writing this today, April 2. I’m writing it April 1 at 8:56 p.m. That’s right. More procrastination.

After writing a 64,000-word book and working for weeks on editing and revising it, it’s painfully daunting to open an empty, blank, zero-word Microsoft document and essentially start over. But I have to...forcing myself to write.

Stay tuned.

(Time passes).

When my fingers finally started tapping the keys last night, the opening scene of my book, the one I'd been visualizing for weeks poured out of me - 2,000 words in about 80 minutes. Not bad.

April Marathon Word Count, Day One: 2,056

Part II - Coveted books for a great cause

Interested in an autographed copy of Twilight? It might be difficult finding a teenager who answers no to that question, and the organizers of a fund raiser in Arizona probably realize this.

I heard about Project Book Babe Auction on author Ally Carter's blog. I'm a huge fan of Ally's and check her blog often, and I was excited to see that this Saturday she and several of the other authors I have "crushes" on are auctioning off their manuscripts, character naming rights, signed book copies, and their time to raise money for breast cancer patient and Book Babe Faith Hochhalter.

The event includes a live auction as well an eBay auction, for those of us who cannot attend. The online auction is in full swing, so if you have a few minutes, check it out.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Kissing books goodbye - for now

Last night I was able to finish A.S. King's The Dust of 100 Dogs, and the timing couldn't have been better (the ending was fabulous, by the way). The author and I have been chatty over private messages in the Backspace forum. I have to admit I've been interacting with authors often in the past year. I've emailed with them, rubbed elbows with them at conferences, and followed their blogs like a lost puppy. And I get this sort of excited 12-year-old girl inside of me screaming when I get emails/messages/etc. from authors I admire.

Such as A.S. King.

She might check back to see this blog, which would be great. But I guess this kind of puts me out there like a seventh grader who has a crush on a classmate, athough this crush is purely professional.

In any case, her book might be the last one I read for a while as I've signed up to challenge myself with a writing marathon this month - 50,000 words of my next book. April 1 to April 30.

Deep breath.

A.S. King herself is joining in on the fun as the marathon is sponsored by the fantastic writing group we're both members of, Backspace.

I succeeded at a similar marathon in November, which is National Novel Writing Month. Nanowrimo is an international phenomenon in which writers spend thirty days writing 50,000 words. I met that goal and haven't opened the Microsoft file containing my 50K since. I'm not sure I'll be able to do much with it. Nanowrimo 2008 taught me a few things.

1. I can write every day, producing lots of words.

2. Without preparation (for me a detailed outline) before I begin, the result is nearly useless.

So this time around, I'm hitting the keyboard with an outline beside me. I've already written about my characters before, in The Diner on Third, and I'm hoping that's a bonus. In any case, I'm going to be spending more time this month writing than reading.

If you're up for a challenge, another contest to consider this month is ScriptFrenzy. This is a Nanowrimo-ish contest for scriptwriters. This isn't an April Fool's Day joke. The good thing about writing is if you want to write, you can write. It's up to you to do it. Maybe I should turn that finger around and feed myself that advice.

It's Day One of the marathon. Time to get writing.