Fins and Whales…wait. That’s not right.

I don’t believe there will be any ocean-dwellers in this post, but there could be! What I meant to say is Wins and Fails, but I don’t like the word Fail. It pisses me off. So there.

*makes note to have a blog post about sea life sometime in the new year*

What happened this  year?

For me? Well here’s the good and the bad all in one random list. I know…randomness is a bit annoying.  But I couldn’t figure out how to sort them, and even if I could didn’t know which order they should be in. So…randomness wins.

  • I never figured out the bait caster.  I’ll have to try that again in the spring. I want to be good at fishing, but I don’t want my impatient husband to teach me…so each spring I torment myself with learning new fishing skills.
  • I tried to get my 7 year old to teach me all the Presidents of the US. I never learned that in school. He tried. I totally whaled at….eerrrr…failed at retaining them.
  • But I can still recite all the States in alphabetical order. (FIN!)
  • Most of my kitchen “creations” turned out well this year! (My children might disagree – but who asked ’em?)
  • Total writing breakthrough #1! Taking Lessons From Ernest is in the hands of a couple of Agents.
  • QueryHell – I’m revising the query because it’s just not a very high request rate. I’m so not good at Queries. *drinks tequila* *pours tequila in the whale’s blow hole* Take that!
  • Total writing breakthrough #2! Yet It Will Come is on track to start subbing in the early spring. It was the most challenging thing I’ve ever written and the edits, thanks to awesome beta (Hi Pete!), are taking the book to a new level. It’s a big story, and for a while it was bigger than my ability. I’ve grown as a writer for having tackled it.
  • I still can’t whistle.  My children can. They whistle often.  They tell me to try. They tell me what I’m doing wrong. Mostly I think they love that I can’t whistle and they can. That’s why they like to see me not-whistle.
  • I’ve never been good at riding a bike and I won’t even attempt it as an adult. This is something that will never be mentioned again on Experimental Stew – it is something I will not attempt. My clumsy ass plus balance, speed and gravity equal injury. We just don’t mix, K? I pulled enough Hooey’s this year. (possibly more than Hooey!Ssshhh…)
  • However, I went rollerskating this year and didn’t bust my ass or sprain an ankle. Go figure!
  • Fin! – My chapter titles make me Smile every time I see them. 🙂 *smiles more* *plays Jimmy Buffet song*
  • Big photo shoot success for the year – it was a pane, but somebody had to do it!
  • Project Whale: my garden! UGH! You’ve never seen such a disaster. If I’d been blogging at the time I would have taken pictures of it, just so you could laugh at me. Fer’real Fail. It was pathetic. I’m ashamed of myself for that.
  • I joined Twitter and I started a blog! WTF? 😮  Fin or Whale? I don’t know.
  • I traveled a lot this year! I hope I get to do that again in the new year. *waves to my favorite far away travel buddies*
  • I turned 40! Hey, it might not sound like an accomplishment, but considering that speed and gravity issue I have, I’d say that’s one hell of an accomplishment.
  • I still haven’t gotten the wet nap! ggrrr… (everything good ends in a wet nap!)
  • I watched friends get published this year and I did my best to pimp them! 🙂 (Yay! FINS! for published friends!!)
  • Whale – I didn’t join their ranks. Let’s just say we’ve saved that for next year, yeah? (What? where would we be without wishful thinking? – *nods to Jeff Tweedy*)
  • not so good: My TBR (to be read) pile is growing and I’m not getting anywhere near the bottom of it!
  • flip side: it’s never bad to have too many books but I think I may need to put myself on book-buying probation in January. Just sayin’.

And on that note, I suppose I should end this year’s Blogging with one of these!

It’s been a good year and everything good ends in a wet-nap! 🙂

How was your year? Did you earn a wet nap?

Happy Holidays! 🙂

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Trick My Nightmare – an Experiment with Horror

I have bad dreams. I always have. I remember waking up terrified at a  young age because of the things my brain tortured me with while I slept.  I’m sure my parents thought I would eventually stop waking up in the night screaming, but I didn’t grow out of it. I still wake up screaming on occasion. And those wicked images become memories that I have to keep. I still get shivers about dreams I had two decades ago.  Months can go by between them or only days, but they always return.

People often commented that maybe I should consider writing them. They’d say, “Why don’t you use the nightmares in your fiction?”

I always responded that I don’t write horror, that I don’t want to keep and re-read the nasty things, and that they usually don’t make sense in any context outside of “nightmare”.

I think I was wrong though.

About a year ago I had a really horrible dream, and I passed the details of it to a writer friend of mine. He’s the moderator of the Horror Forum on absolutewrite.com. We decided his Horror Hounds could use it as a prompt (and deep down I really wanted to believe that if I gave them my nightmares it would stop tormenting me). So the Hounds used the bare bones description of the dream for a contest. We called it “Trick Trish’s Nightmare”.

Some time later I had another nightmare and gave that one to him as well.  Hey, why  not? I certainly wasn’t going to use them, I thought. The stories these people generated from the dream details were amazing! They could use part or all of the dream, they could take just one element of it and go a whole new direction if it suited them. The variations spun from different styles and imaginations was impressive.

Turns out sharing the gruesome details of a bad dream does help! Giving them away felt like a real physical act, rather than just the mental exercise of typing up and passing along scary stories. It’s cathartic. Typing out the details and giving other writers something to work from, well, that feels good –  a good thing out of a bad one.

But the Horror Hounds convinced me that I should also “Trick My Nightmare”. I was hesitant. I didn’t want to use those elements in fiction. “I don’t write horror”, I said.  But I did.  Taking the basics of the dream, I created a main character, gave her a past, gave her a motive, and let the horror begin. Woah, that was fun!

Who said I didn’t write horror? I did? Turns out I was wrong about that.  It was fun, and it felt sort of natural. I took control of the bad dream and made it work for me. I liked that; they’ve had control of me for long enough!

Following that, I wrote other Horror  short stories from the Hounds’ monthly prompts. One of which ended up becoming part of my most recent novel.  More and more the flavor of what I write leans to darker fiction.  I’m still not steeped in Horror as a genre, but the elements are fun to work with.

The nightmares still come and go. I think they always will.  That’s just the way my brain works. Two nights ago I had what was truly (and I’m an expert on this) the worst dream I’ve ever had. I immediately passed the ‘mare to Haggis. Maybe we’ll just have to Trick It.

It’s called Trick Trish’s “Nightmare Before Christmas”. I feel compelled to dip my toes back into the horror forum and to make the nasty little thing work for me again.

You should join us.  You can find the Horror Hounds here.

I’m gonna need a bigger boat!

Query: Take 20

Ask any yet-to-be-repped-novelist. Query writing sucks.  Simply by their very nasty nature, they suck.  But if we want to get published, we write them.  And agents on the look-out for new talent with good books read them.

“Okay”, we say to ourselves, “We”ll play that game. We can do this. If we can write a book or 3 or 4 we can certainly write a compelling 250 word letter.”

uh…riiiiight.

And I even write business correspondence in my day job! I strategize and persuade and I’ve been told I’m good at it. I’ve taken Business Writing classes. I have a COMMUNICATIONS DEGREE fercrissakes! *headsmack* I’ve read the blogs by the agent-y types and studied and practiced and practiced…

And yet, my query letters are simply not living up to the task. For what’s  been sent out, I’ve gotten a somewhat low request rate.   The last version got me three full requests and a partial request, though, so it seemed to be working. I was very proud. Then those numbers trailed off to Form Rejections and Flat-out Ignores.

So in the middle of the night two nights ago, I thought of a bit of a different hook for the letter, which, when applied, lead to a whole new attitude for the letter. (Which, when applied, added a whole new paragraph to the letter. )

Ahem.

So what did I accomplish? I think I finally got the right tone; I got the right voice. I also got about 100 too many words.

*Recalls Her Sharkness saying “ENTICE ME to want to read it” with a sharp, toothy grin.*

“Hmmm” I thought, “I’m going to need a bigger, yet less wordy and better-equipped, boat.”

So today, I imagined her gnashing teeth at my backside as I listened to a writer friend tell me that I’m giving away too much story, that I’ve gone too far in and too many details and names, and, and, and… *head spins* The words “entice me, entice me” drift hauntingly through my head as I see exactly what he means.  Somewhere in the distance I hear the Jaws Theme. Then I say, “Ah, crap!”

So MS Word and I had a bout with the backspace and delete keys and I replaced the too-telly paragraph with *wait for it* one really craptastic sentence.

But that’s OK!! I know it’s not a good sentence, but it is serving the purpose for now. It is an important sentence, and currently it is also a placeholder for the perfect sentence. It’s a placeholder for the sentence that  says, “look at me! Look how enticing I am!”

So sometime in the next few days, the perfect bait, (aka the “look at me! See me enticing you?” sentence) will surface.  Probably sometime around Query: Take 30.

In the meantime,  here’s the new opening of the query:

Everyone who knows Eric Bastien also knows that he can’t get his shit together. His best friend describes him most accurately; “he’s like a guy who pokes a beehive with a stick and can’t figure out why he’s getting stung”.  Eric is sent on an errand for his recently deceased father and goes from “beehive poker” to something worse. He’s seeing and talking to a ghost. If everyone thought he was off his nut before, they ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Because it’s not just any ghost; it’s Ernest Hemingway. And he’s a ghost on a mission; not least of which is getting Eric to put down the stick.

Eric comes by the crazies quite naturally from his mother, who’s a few too many drinks in at the moment and headed for trouble. But Hemingway and Eric’s dead father have a plan.

Now, onto Take 21.

Editing…or my MC needs a Valium

How do you edit?

I’m editing “Yet It Will Come”. I did a read through and fixed grammatical stuff, the simple line-editing bits. I rewrote awkward sentences. Then I considered the plot, the feel of the story and made a list. These are the real edits that need to happen.

  • Pacing – slow it down. There’s no rush and it borders on confusing
  • because Charlie is so frantic, the writing is too.
  • Janice – she needs her story to come out sooner, so in Chapter 29 she makes sense.
  • Elliott and Jill – set up that relationship sooner so Chapter 23 makes sense.
  • Reconsider Lola’s disclosures to Charlie – the explanation she gives is wonky. It feels inflated and senseless.
  • rewrite Megan’s visit to Charlie – Lola is (again) too weird.
  • Chapter 3 is too much tell. Figure out a new scene to show those things.
  • Charlie needs to narrate more and emote/navel-gaze less.
  • Rewrite Charlie’s meltdown after Lola’s absence.
  • Tighten the voice. Charlie’s intensity makes the narration jumpy.

So, see, editing is not just red ink marks on a page, or strike-throughs and margin notes. These are major bits of reworking this story.

Mostly, Charlie is so intense that the whole story feels like that. He needs to have more lucidity. He needs to tell the story. (and perhaps that is the fault of being in Present Tense – either 3rd person or past tense may need to come into play to settle that MC down.)

I love Charlie’s passion and the dude has got some amazing moments of losing his grip. I love that he is so unhinged and he lets me be unhinged as a writer. I’ve gotten to go where I don’t normally go with writing because of him. He’s a blast to write. He just needs to settle down and tell the story. My MC needs a Valium.

When I get done editing this I might need one too.

HOT SOUP!

One of the easiest things to make is soup. You need a broth, and stuff to put in it. How it tastes is all about the combination of things you put in it, and the ratios of those ingredients to each other.

I had chicken broth,  cream, sausage, and red potatoes.

I don’t use recipes very often so sometimes they are difficult to recreate. Luckily with soup, you put in as much or as little as you want and it’s all about ratios.

So here’s how I did it, minus measurements. I’ll do my best to guess.

Brown some sausage (I used about 10 oz. of hot pork sausage). Take the sausage out and set it aside to drain off the fat.

In the same skillet drop in some butter. (about 3/4 of a stick).

Throw in diced celery (one or two stalks – about half a cup diced), diced carrots (one big carrot  – enough for about half a cup of diced carrots), diced onion (one small onion) and some minced garlic (a tablespoon maybe?),  salt and pepper. Saute’  them until they are tender.  Pour 3 cups of chicken broth over it.  It will deglaze the skillet before you transfer it to the stock pot.

Ok, now transfer it.

Add the crumbled sausage back into the mixture. Season with more salt, pepper, and add pinches of parsley, basil and thyme. (keep your seasonings out on the counter, you’ll taste as you go and will need to add more in a bit.) Let it cook for a bit, there are lots of flavors that need to get acquainted and mingle.

Get it up to a nice boil.

Thinly slice red potatoes. I used 6 medium sized red potatoes, skin on.  Drop them in. I reduced the heat to medium and a bit more by adding another few ounces of chicken broth.  I reduced the heat so I could add the half and half cream. I added a pint, and about another half cup of 2% milk. After it warms, taste it again because the cream and milk and potatoes have considerably changed the flavor and zapped your seasoning. I added more of everything; particularly it seemed low on salt and pepper.

After letting it simmer for about 20 minutes I cleaned and coarsely chopped some kale. It didn’t take a whole bunch, I just used the leafy tops.

I dropped them in.

Taste it again. What does it need? Don’t be afraid to re-season at the end, but understand that when it all cooks in, it will be stronger than if you taste it after it’s just been added. Give it some time, taste it again.

I kept thinking it was missing one more thing, and chose to add the tiniest pinch of nutmeg. It makes a nice base flavor. You don’t taste the nutmeg, it just makes the other flavors “sit up and look pretty”.

It tastes fantastic with garlic breadsticks.

Definitely and experimental WIN. I’ll make this soup again for sure.

And here’s a not so great picture of it.

 

 

I have never been good at naming the dishes I create. Your job is to give this soup recipe a clever title! Leave your suggestions in the comments. 🙂

Crossing the Online Divide

Some people don’t get it, so I want to try to explain the “writing friends” thing.

I write. So do a lot of people I know online. We belong to writing forums, we friend each other on Facebook, I even follow a few of them on Twitter. We know the big name Agents and follow their blogs together. We know each other’s haunts and read each other’s blogs. We cheer each other on with querying, editing, and writing. We beta each other’s novels and short stories. We have friends that have been published, and some who’ve got brand new shiny debut book deals.

I met a group of these writers when they came to St. Louis for a writing conference a few years back. We got together for a couple of drinks and dinner.

A small group of us hang out in a comedy forum. When real life gets crazy, a battery, a twisted bunny, a zebra, a monkey, a bug, an undead chihuahua, and a drunk fairy make me feel normal.

I’ve “Known” some people on line for years. I’ve met somewhere around 20 of these people face-to-face, in real life. I know…it’s like worlds colliding and stuff. Even the ones I didn’t meet in person have become personal friends I cherish.

I know last December some people questioned my sanity as I set off to Chicago for a long weekend to meet a group of writing people I know online. Prior to the trip, we all spoke on the phone, and had very regular contact, this was no random grouping of writers. They were already very-loved friends. After the trip, I missed them like crazy and we planned our next meeting.

 

In March, a  couple of those same people came to visit me for a weekend. They mixed with my local friends and now some of them are Facebook friends.

In June, a larger group, families included, went on a week long camping trip in Kentucky, forever to be known as Camp Runamuck. This brought another online friend into the fold.

In August, I met up with her and a couple more writing peeps at a writer’s conference called Killer Nashville.

The first weekend of November, two friends came to see me for my 40th Birthday. It wouldn’t have been the same without them. When we arrived at Tiny’s Pub, several people greeted Bug with a a very Cheers Norm welcome, “BUG!!” It’s a second home for her now.

Another trip is in the works for the beginning of next year, another go at Killer Nashville in August next year is slated as well. And my husband wants to take the whole family up to Minnesota to see our Bug.

These people aren’t just acquaintances. Online friendships can be as real as or more real than “real life” ones. In fact, I no longer add the disclaimer “online” to the word friend with them. Some people can cross the online divide and become friends for life.

There are very few ways I can blend all of the categories of my life. There’s work life, home life, family life, writing life, social life…the intersect and collide and sometimes get in the way of each other. But somehow, there are people who can cross those lines with you quite easily.  I have friends that aren’t online friends who cross with me to my writing madness, and my family life quite well. These two awesome ladies, got me my favorite birthday presents ever – and totally gave into my word-geek-ness! (they are also two of the best cheerleaders a girl could ask for on the trek to getting published).

When you hear me talk about Runamuckers, or writer friends, or see me talking writing on Facebook with a group of lunatics you don’t quite understand, that’s them. If you’re not sure you get why I’m taking a picture with a crochet monkey or a stuffed zebra, or why I have to buy things with LadyBugs on them…well, now you know.

I have several others on my list of “must meet” and more plans to blend my local friends with my far-away writer ones.

If I take off for a long weekend and reference animals in my plans, you’ll know, I’m off to get my fix! You should consider joining us. 🙂

Cool Hand Stew?

Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is called what?

Insanity? Maybe.

In the movie Cool Hand Luke, Luke (Paul Newman) is boxing in the prison yard with a big bruiser of a guy, Dragline (George Kennedy) and is getting his butt kicked.

Dragline says, “Stay down. You’re beat.”   He wants him to stay down so he can stop pummeling him.

Luke replies,  “You’re gonna hafta kill me.”

Every time he gets knocked down, he gets back up again. Luke stands up and stands up and stands up.

So what’s it called if you do the same thing over and over again? Tenacity? Persistence? (in Luke’s case,  it might be pride and a death wish).

But if you’re a writer like me it’s called, “how to get published.”

Write, edit, polish. *repeat*

Query, query, query. *repeat*

Rewrite query, query, query. *repeat*

Agents and published authors alike tell us “wannabes” that the way to get published is to be persistent. To query widely. To re-evaluate and do it some more. Keep going and if it’s good, someone will want to represent it. Someone will want to publish it.

I have kept “doing it some more” for a long time. “…Ernest” has been queried to nearly 100 agents. The letter was all wrong for the first 40 or so agents. I got no nibbles at all.  I re-wrote it. I tried various letters for another 30 or so agents. I put it aside for a while. Something wasn’t clicking.

Then I figured the book needed something, so I did another re-write (my betas loved the rewrite).

Then I rewrote the letter to match the shiny new manuscript, and finally, bites. *Yay*

Three agents requested full reads and one requested a partial.

One of the three agents with the full sent me a rejection yesterday. It was a very pleasant rejection, but a rejection nevertheless.

I’ve not stopped querying, but you can only send a query to them for the same book once.  No do-overs. No mulligans in querying.  I sent 60 of them too soon.

So, my options are to

  • continue querying more agents with the letter that seemed to work,
  • start querying small publishers directly, or
  • put dear Ernest aside as “unpublishable” and finished the polish and query for “Yet It Will Come”.
  • hhmmm…or I guess I could query both books.

Yesterday I decided to start sending “… Ernest” to small publishers. I still have the tenacity and persistence, but maybe it’s time to lose the insanity. Maybe it’s just not a “big house” kind of book. That’s okay, though. I can live with that.

Yep. Just like Luke, I just keep standing up. A voice inside my head says, “stay down, Stew”. But I can’t.

Unlike Luke, I can’t win the game of publishing on a bluff.

Dragline: Nothin’. A handful of nothin’. You stupid mullet head. He beat you with nothin’. Just like today when he kept comin’ back at me – with nothin’.
Luke: Yeah, well, sometimes nothin’ can be a real cool hand.

But maybe, I’ll make a 50 egg bet and win.