"The notion that such persons are gay of heart and carefree is curiously untrue. They lead, as a matter of fact, an existence of jumpiness and apprehension. They sit on the edge of the chair of Literature. In the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken off their overcoats."
- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times

Sunday, December 28, 2008

70% Cool

Wanna see something cool? Go to: http://www.echelonpress.com/direct/buy-gc-fb.htm

Yes! It's my book, almost on sale now! The ad says "Coming in 2009", which totally excites and scares me at the same exact time. It's like a big old rollercoaster; I'm sitting at the top of the ride, and all I can think of is, "Oh, well, can't get off the bloody thing now." I don't know how long I'll teeter at the brink here, but sooner or later, you'll hear me screaming.

So why is this 70% cool? Well, it would be nice to know WHEN in 2009 the book will be coming out, but that's okay. I trust my publisher to let me know when it's time to start doing stuff, like scheduling booking signings, creating publicity/marketing materials, spinning wildly out of control. But beyond that, there's one thing that would move the coolness factor up at least 20%. May I direct your attention to the part of the Freezer Burn page that says: Reviews?

There are none. I'd love to have some people review my book - and say nice things about it. Saying mean, hateful things about it would kind of defeat the purpose, yes? So, now I begin the agonizing process of approaching people I know who might be willing to review my book and provide a sentence or two ("I laughed. I cried. It became a part of me.") to add to the jacket.

Why is it agonizing? Because asking people for something is my Achilles' heel. I hate asking for favors, even though I love to do them for other people. But, in the interest of my book, I shall overcome my fear and ask away! After all, I'd love to become one of those people that new authors ask for a review.

So, if you are a reviewer reading this post and are willing to review Freezer Burn, could you please follow the instructions on the page and contact Karen Syed at PUBLICITY@echelonpress.com? Thank you!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Seasoned Greetings!

For those of you who are wondering, I found a good book for my dad for Christmas. I couldn't find one about World War II - frankly, I can't remember which ones I've given him, so that war may be history for gift-giving. So I settled on the Depression, somehow fitting for his personality. It's The Forgotten Man, in large print. We'll see if he likes it.

In the meantime, I have boxes of decorations cramming my living room, all screaming for me to get them out and put them on display. We got the tree on Sunday - I've discovered I'm extremely allergic to it, but I've got to trim it anyway. But what am I doing instead?

The annual Christmas letter.

This is how I began my foray into writing. About 9 years ago, I told Dale I wanted to write books, so he got me a laptop for Christmas. I piddled about with it for a few months, writing a snippet here and a paragraph there, but mostly using it for engineer-type work. Then, when Christmas rolled around and I thought of the sameness of all the notes I wrote in each card, I decided to try my hand at a Christmas letter. Not the kind where boasts are made about everyone's achievements, but not a parody, where the house burns down and the kids flunk out of school. Just something light and airy, with a little humor and a lot of gratitude that our house didn't burn down and our son is still learning. Most important, it needed to be one-page.

I was completely shocked at the response. Everyone who received a letter thought it was the best one they'd ever read. It began a holiday tradition - what would be in Gayle's letter this year? Family squabbles ensued, when spouses would bait their letter-writing mates with, "Why can't you write a letter like Gayle's?" One year, one of Dale's cousins told me, "I hope you're writing more than just this letter. You should write a book."

What a great idea!

I've posted this year's letter and photo on my website: http://www.gaylecarline.com/gcxmas08.html. Between you and me, I've read better and funnier letters, but this one's okay.

As for the photo, we managed to get the picture taken in only 1/2 hour and 16 shots. You see, Frostie (the red horse) kept trying to bite Mikey (the dog) on the toes, which made him try to jump from the table. So we swapped him and Katy (the cat), whom Frostie immediately tried to vacuum with her nose. My husband, Dale, is pushing her head away from the cat, who would like to kill us all for putting her through this indignity. The only one behaving is the black horse (Snoopy), who is usually the nippy one. For those of you who know horses, the chain across his nose explains his good behavior. We do this every year!

Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Christmas shopping and other stuff

I have a couple of topics to discuss here, and both need input. Yes, I suppose I could stretch this into two blogs, or talk about one here and another at one of my other blogs (http://gaylesbookshelf.wordpress.com/ and http://www.myspace.com/gaylesoo), but I've got other stuff to do today and I'm not a patient woman.

On publishing my memoir of columns: Now that I'm considering self-publishing my book of columns, I get an email from Publishers Weekly (yes, I'm one of their close, personal, mass mailing friends) about a deal being offered by BookSurge. Has anybody published with them? I need stories, anecdotes - give me the good, the bad, and the OMG ugly, please!

On Christmas shopping: Yes, I want to give books for Christmas. In particular, I usually give my dad a book for Christmas. He lives 2008 miles away, is approaching 80, and we have a strained relationship, so every year I find a book on Amazon about WWII, have it wrapped by the Amazon elves and shipped to him, and my conscience is clear. Dad's in very ill health. I think he'd like to die if he could just figure out how to stop breathing. I'm wondering if he's too ill and blind to even read anymore, but I can't think of anything else to buy him. Last year, we made a DVD of my son singing and playing guitar (my dad played), but he never indicated whether he liked it or not, so I'm back to the book idea. The question is: anybody know any good WWII books IN LARGE PRINT for a Christmas gift for Dad?

Friday, November 21, 2008

What should I write about?

Everyone knows about my book that's with Echelon Press and will be published whenever it's ready, whatever that means. All I know is that I've been through the editing rounds. Perhaps we're on to the swimsuit competition next. And if you've read even one of these blogs, you know about the accidental romance locked up in a folder on my laptop (yes, and on my backup drive).

But what you don't know is that there is a third book out there, and I don't mean the one I'm currently writing.

Every week, I write an essay for my very local newspaper, the Placentia News-Times. It's a mostly humorous look at my life in and around Orange County, and what my husband and son do to frustrate me. I've been doing this for almost four years now, and I enjoy it, which is why I still do it. I have a small, devoted following, some of whom ask why I don't put out a book of my columns.

Well, why don't I?

I haven't (yet) for a few reasons. The first is because I don't want a book of columns that looks like every other book of columns. The second reason is that there are lots of books of columns out there and I'm not certain I could be competitive enough. The third is that the traditional publishers I have approached with my idea of a book of columns have all said, "Um, no. No, thanks."

That being said, the idea still festers in my mind, so here is how I've been mitigating all of these obstacles:

1. Instead of tossing a bunch of columns together and calling it a book, I've written a sort of memoir that takes the reader through my journey as a columnist. It begins with why I wanted to do it in the first place, goes through how I landed the gig, and ends somewhere around my third editor. It's a chronological look at how I come up with ideas, how I deal with hate letters, etc. I've tentatively named it, "What Would Erma Do?" (Subtitle: Adventures of a First-time Humor Columnist)

2. I've considered self-publishing this book. Several experts, including Gordon Kirkland (humor essayist and author) and Michael Steven Gregory (director of Southern California Writers Conference) have encouraged me to look into this option, instead of trying to find a traditional publisher. The problem with this genre is that most publishers don't know how to market it, unless you are a FAMOUS essayist. So, Dave Barry shouldn't have any problem. I know that makes him feel better.

3. How do I make it competitive enough? Here's the really hard brick wall I've got to find a way around. I suppose I've got as strong a platform as someone like me can have, trying to claw my way out of the millions (billions?) of bloggers/websites/twitterers and make my voice heard. But a traditional publisher supplies that extra "oomph" that self-publishing does not. It's not just Gayle walking the aisles of the bookstore and handing out bookmarks. It's Gayle's publisher telling everyone, "Hey, read this! You'll like it!" Granted, I don't believe that it's the publisher's job to do all the publicity, but I do see it as being able to stand up to the neighborhood bully because your big brother is behind the door.

Lately, I've been throwing everything I've got into my novel, which is probably driving Karen Syed, my publisher, crazy (from 3,000 miles away, I can hear her thinking, "Gayle, relax, will ya?") but in February I'll go to the SCWC conference in San Diego. There will be some agents there who are looking for nonfiction works, so naturally, I'm tempted to submit my book of columns to them. Because at the end of the day, I'd like to get it published traditionally, by a reputable press.

Who thinks I'm insane? Can I see a show of hands?

Friday, November 14, 2008

What a character

Before I tried writing an entire novel, I used to listen to authors talk about their characters as if they were real people, and I admit, I wanted to smile and nod while I slowly backed out of the room. I mean, at the very least they sounded a little too precious to hold a serious conversation. And some of them sounded plain old-fashioned nuts.

And then I wrote a novel. I began with good intentions and a basic plotline: a young, shy girl hits the road, grows up, and finds her spunkiness. It could be fun, or literary, or even literary fun.

I created a girl, Beth, who has a domineering mother, a libertine for a boyfriend, and an unsatisfying job. I thought these elements would naturally force her to leave town and allow her to blossom on the road. Except that Beth proved to be too passive. I had to practically burn down her house to get her out of town. I tried to get her anger up, to give her some righteous indignation over being micro-managed by her mother, ignored by her father, and casually cheated on by her boyfriend, but every time I tried to put words in her mouth, they sounded false. The only way her voice was true was when it was passive, denying that things were as bad as all that.

Once she hit the road, her car broke down in Amarillo (she was traveling from Illinois). My plan was for her to stop in a town I knew. I don't know Amarillo. I've visited there exactly once - my family drove into town at 10 p.m., got up the next day and visited the American Quarter Horse Museum, ate breakfast at Cracker Barrel and hit the road. I thought perhaps she could wrangle a different car and continue on the road. But Beth is no wrangler. She accepts whatever is offered, and what is offered is a waitressing job. So now I'm stuck in a strange city.

I kept trying to force Beth to grow a backbone, and leave Amarillo. But the words were forced, false, wasted. Instead of leaving for Taos at the end of the book, she falls in love with a cowboy, a character I hadn't even created when the book began.

It took me 90,000 words, but I finally learned my lesson. Your characters are real people, in that, once you set up their personality and their history and their basic parameters, there are physical laws you must obey in their actions and dialogue. Beth could not change as completely as I wanted her to, because she was shy and passive and damaged by her upbringing. A couple of weeks in Amarillo would not bring out her spunk.

This was a good lesson to learn when I started writing Freezer Burn. Benny Needles began life as a seedy, slimy, little man with no redemptive qualities. He hires Peri (my protagonist) to find his Dean Martin-autographed ice cube tray. I even toyed with making him a serial killer. But once he started interacting with Peri and the police, he took on a more human form. He became an OCD personality who is a rabid Dino fan. He was suddenly misunderstood, a social outcast who was basically a sweet guy. He may or may not have killed someone (not to spoil the plot), but he's not the sleazebag I envisioned. Seeing him evolve that way meant I had to re-visit the first part of the book to soften my description of him, and Peri's early responses to his requests.

But it was okay now. I was able to accept these characters as real people and adjust the story to their true natures.

For any of you who are writers - is this a common occurrence, or have you already slowly backed out of the room, nodding and smiling at me?

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A slight detour to these posts

I wanted to use this blog to talk about the writing process in general, but today I need to cross-pollinate a bit and talk about my book specifically.

My editor told me that the tentative release date for my book is April 2009. Eek! Six months away! One of the things I have to figure out is my launch party - mostly, a place and a theme. As far as a place, I’ve got some ideas, but a theme? I may need some suggestions in that department.

Here are some of the main elements of the story:

1. Peri (my P.I.) used to clean houses for a living.
2. Her favorite drink is a dirty martini with four olives.
3. Her client is a Dean Martin fanatic.
4. The case revolves around a severed hand and a famous piece of jewelry, called ‘The Forever Roses’ ring, because the biggest diamond has been cut so its facets look like rose petals.

Now, what do I do with these ingredients?

Monday, October 27, 2008

I'm a bad girl (and I'm okay with that)

One of my personal demons (in a long list) is that I am a pleaser. I like to make people happy, which is such a double-edged sword. If I make people happy by doing something I don't like, I'm unhappy, but if I make people unhappy by doing something I like, I'm still unhappy. Is that clear?

I think this demon makes me good at story telling; I've learned to read my audience and adjust my tale or delivery until I see the result I want on their faces. Of course, I have no control over my readership and can't adjust my writing to make them happy. This is where my demon tortures me.

In my magazine (Western Side Story) column and my newspaper (What a Day) column, I try to entertain, enlighten and interest people. Note that I didn't use any verbs like "challenge", "bait", or "offend". There are enough columnists and bloggers who want their readers to snarl and snap at their musings. I want people to be happy. And still, I manage to offend.

Last year, a reader wrote to my newspaper editor that he hated my column. He considers me selfish, self-centered, egomaniacal, etc, because my humor column always talks about what's happening in my life. He's absolutely correct; this is because that's what my column is about. It's a slice-of-life humor column, like that self-centered Erma Bombeck. He obviously didn't get it, perhaps because he's a curmudgeon and possibly needs to get laid (sorry, cheap shot). But my first reaction to his letter was, "Oh, he's right, I need to talk more about the community. I'm so selfish." Thank goodness, I had an email that same day from a women who said she loves the fact that she can identify with me as I write about daily life.

My magazine column is about horses in general, and western riding specifically. I cover horse shows, give information about where to get a saddle that fits, and review trail rides that I've taken. One such trail ride was on a trip to Alaska. I wrote about the beautiful scenery, discussed the differences between this ride and the ones I take in Pebble Beach, and I sang the praises of the trail horses, who must walk the trail quietly while putting up with many inexperienced riders.

I had used a specific rider as an example of what these horses have to put up with - she was on the ride, despite having recently had knee replacement surgery. As much as I love to ride, this would have stopped me cold. All the horse would have to do is spook; if she came off, what would have happened to her knee? I described the 5 people who had to help her mount and dismount. I also wrote about the way she kept leaning left, right, left, right, like a human gyroscope. A horse's natural instinct is to keep the rider centered on his back, so I applauded the horse's ability to ignore her. Sounds fairly benign, yes?

Not so much. A man called my editor to complain that I had made fun of this woman, and said I was crass. Okay, I did refer to her as a Weeble, but I don't think comparison to a children's toy is that rude. He wanted the magazine to print a retraction.

My editor took it in stride. She told him they only print retractions if an article isn't true, but they'd be happy to print a letter to the editor if he'd care to send one. She also told me that, after re-reading my column, she still didn't agree with him. In her opinion, my column was about the ride, the scenery and the horses. The 25 words I used for this woman were not the point of the column, nor were they mean-spirited.

I was again vindicated, but I still felt like I should be extra nice next time, or write an apology to that man.

But I won't. Instead, I'll do what I did the last time I "offended" anyone. For the next week, when I get up in the morning, I'll look myself in the mirror and say, "I'm a bad girl, and I'm okay with that."

This exercise will come in handy when my book comes out and the first bad review comes in. I'd almost be grateful for no reviews, but I know you need publicity. My publisher, Karen, will like the fact that I'll work my butt off to make her happy, but will she like holding my hand when I'm weeping about someone who doesn't like my book? After all, if my book is bad, it's because I'm a bad person, right?

Oh, wait, I'm okay with that.

Monday, September 29, 2008

I Came, I Saw, I Conferred

I just returned from a weekend writer's conference in Irvine, and I am exhausted yet energized. Granted, I have only been to two "types" of conferences, but I cannot recommend this one enough. It's the Southern California Writer's Conference, and they usually do two a year. The one in San Diego is their biggest event, occurring over President's Day weekend in February. These are real, working conferences. The workshops engage you, challenge you to think and to write. The read & critiques are structured and well-run, so that as many people get feedback as possible. Everyone is insanely friendly - you can pull your chair up to any table and be welcomed. Seriously, I urge everyone to check them out - http://www.writersconference.com/. They're a fun group.

Just so you know - the other conference I've attended is the Erma Bombeck Writer's Workshop. Please don't misunderstand - I loved being there. It was a fun experience. But there wasn't much "work" in the workshops. For the most part, they consisted of classrooms, where we all faced the teacher and were taught. There were no read & critiques, no late night sessions revelling in everyone's words, and very few chances to meet editors, agents, or publishers. There were a lot of fun folks in the bar every night, though, and I took an extra day to visit the James Thurber museum in Columbus.

One of the workshop leaders that I particularly enjoyed at SCWC this year was Trai Cartwright. She was funny and energetic, plus had a ton of information to supply and challenge us. After her first class, Intuitive Structure, I wanted to call Karen Syed and say, "Wait! My manuscript isn't really ready - I don't have a theme!" Thankfully, I came to my senses before I could turn my cell phone back on, and realized that I do have a theme. I just never thought about it - it was intuitive.

As far as my interview, I admit to being a little depressed (okay, a lot depressed - is anyone reading this blog? Tap-tap-Is this thing on?), but I did come up with three questions to be asked and answered. Whether they are three good questions, relevant questions, interesting questions, IDK. It's done, it's over, and I can only hope I looked unscary for the video. At my age, looking great is a dream. My face is okay, except it's very round and my chin sometimes disappears when I talk, as well as my eyes when I smile. And don't get me started on my teeth - they're a little big and tend to leap out toward the camera when I talk, kind of like that thing in Alien. I know, picky, picky, picky. At least I'm being interviewed, because I'm being published.

(Insert happy dance here!)

Monday, September 22, 2008

Got any ideas?

I'm going to the Southern California Writer's Conference next weekend. The director, Michael Steven Gregory, would like to interview me while I'm at the conference, and asked me to come up with three questions I'd like to answer as a writer with a first novel being published.

Naturally, when he said "three questions" I immediately thought of Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
"What is your name?"
"What is your quest?"
"What is the air speed velocity of the unladen sparrow?"

Readers and other writers probably don't want those questions answered - not by me.

I'm looking for suggestions. I should probably give people serious information, but I go for the funny every time. I don't want to appear too flippant, but I don't want to sound too precious.

What would three GOOD questions be?

Monday, September 8, 2008

Students! Pay Attention!

So Karen Syed mentioned Yahoo!Answers in her blog one day and I thought, hey, it's my dream job calling - sitting in a big comfy chair while I give everyone my opinion. I went to the Books & Authors section and started answering questions. This is what I found:

1. Most of the questions seem to revolve around the Twilight series and whether you, like, really really like it, um, and, like, how much do you love Edward, and aren't you just so bummed that Stephanie Meyer isn't going to finish Midnight Sun...? Yeah, in mostly those words, only not as well written.

2. Some of the questions are of the "I was supposed to read the book and do a report but could you just tell me the plot and help me answer the questions" variety. I want to answer these, but the reply box doesn't have a good, animated laugh.

3. The questions I like to answer have to do with: how do you publish a book, how do you cure writer's block, how do you find an agent, how do you think of a story to write about, etc. Some of the writers appear to need help on their spelling and grammar, but these are the questions I like to answer.

The only thing I don't understand about all these questions is, why do people ask them over and over if they've already been asked and answered? I mean, the questions on this website never stop, and there are at least 2-3 a day asking "how do I get published?" Can't anyone do a search?

Some of the answers are frightening. My favorite is always, "Find a list of publishers and send your whole manuscript to each one." Yeah, there's a good way to make friends and influence people.

I offer the same advice that's been pounded into me, via writer's conferences, author/editor/publisher websites, blogs, etc. "Write a good query letter. There are books and websites that show you how to do this. Then go to the library and check out Writer's Market. They list agents and publishers, along with the types of books they represent, and whether they're accepting new clients. Find agents and publishers who take your genre and send them the query letter, plus any materials they request in their submission guidelines. Do not send them anything else. If you get a lot of rejections, consider joining a writer's group or attending a writer's conference, where you can share your work with other writers and get their feedback.

I wish I could just store this answer and push a button.

What I really wish is that I could tell SurferDude what he needs to do when he asks if someone will write his essay on Catcher in the Rye that's due tomorrow. READ THE DAMN BOOK, JOCK-O!

Yahoo!Answers hates that language.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Case of the Persnickety Pen

I was over at Joe's place recently (www.jakonrath.com/phpBB3/), and another writer was asking about how you plot a story, whether you outline, or just free-form it, etc. Joe said (paraphrasing here) he sets up the main character and their goal, then throws obstacles at them to keep them from reaching it. My answer was that I tried free range writing and it didn't work, so I outlined.

I suspect Joe thinks I'm a wuss.

I'm not going to tell anyone to do anything my way - except maybe fold towels. But here's what worked and didn't work for me.

My first novel is a 90,000 word story of a girl who runs away from home and discovers true love, which is not what I wanted her to do, but that's another post. The real problem with this book was that I didn't have a clear sense of where it was going or what it was going to do when it got there. I had some vague notions of things I wanted her to do, vignettes that I wanted to include. So I focused on those, and strung them together with verbal baling wire. And it shows. Thin, sparse, unbelievable deus ex machina events to get her to meet X, then Y.

Don't get me wrong, it was well-written. I can put a verb with a noun, and my adjectives are things of beauty. But it was crap. I'm using it for parts these days.

When I started writing my murder mystery, I was afraid of having any holes in the plot. I didn't want any mismatched clues. No Jessica Fletcher moments. You know, "Ms. Carline, you said in Chapter 37 that X couldn't have known Y because of Z, but in Chapter 3, X and Y are having a conversation." Ack.

So I outlined the plot - in an Excel spreadsheet, like a true former engineer. I described each chapter in as much detail as I needed, listed the clue revealed in the chapter, the characters appearing, and the day. I found, in my first novel, that I sometimes have a problem with time. My characters would do something a week earlier, then talk about having done it yesterday. The spreadsheet kept my corpses from rotting too long, and kept my characters from having full-proof alibis.

Now, I didn't always adhere strictly to the outline. Sometimes I'd stray, but I always knew where I needed to come back to. The important thing, for me, was that I felt I had a cohesive novel at the end, at least from the mystery point of view.

I'm currently working on the next book in the series and I'm outlining it. It may not be what works for everyone, and it may not work for me in the future, but it's what works for me now.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Bend me, shape me, as long as you read me

Some people may be wondering how I manage to keep my columns to their required lengths. My California Riding column can be anywhere from 500 to 1000 words, but my newspaper column must stay within a 650-word radius.

Well, now that I've been writing the newspaper column for almost 4 years, I've gotten pretty good at knowing "how much to write" and can usually come to the point around word 590, leaving me 60 words for the summation and punchline. But after the initial write, there's the rewrite...

Editing is a difficult part of a writer's job, but it is one of the most essential pieces. I learned to edit by attending Jean Jenkins' workshop at the Southern California Writers Conference (http://www.writersconference.com/). She taught a lot about the things you don't want in your work (use of passive voice, nobody "walks" anywhere, too many exclamation points!!!, etc.) but she emphasized two important steps to editing:

1. Do not go back and edit what you have just written. Let your work alone for awhile (she suggested a minimum of 6 weeks), then re-read it with fresh eyes.
2. Read your work aloud.

I can't let my columns lie about for 6 weeks; they have deadlines that must be met. But I do walk away from them and let them sit overnight. I have discovered that, in the light of morning, I suddenly have a clearer idea of how to tie my ideas together.

Reading my work aloud has enhanced the quality of my writing, oh, I don't know, by a bazillion percent. Don't get me wrong, I know how to write. I can pair nouns and verbs, spell correctly, and put a clever tale together. But until I read my stuff aloud, I wasn't aware of words I overused, sentence structures that might confuse the reader, and ideas I didn't follow through with.

I'm going to give an example, by showing you a snippet of next week's column, which is all about sending kids back to school. Here's my first pass at the first two paragraphs:

" By the time you read this, school will have started and our houses will all be settling in to this year’s schedule. Even if your children are in the same school as last year, the schedule is always slightly different.
Maybe school is going to start earlier this year, or later. Or maybe it’s the before and after activities that are different. Soccer is on Mondays instead of Thursdays, or your kids have decided that cafeteria food will kill them and they want you to get up an hour early to fix them haute cuisine in a paper bag. After all, the more things stay the same, the more they change

It's not bad, but it could be better. For example, in the first sentence, "houses" seems less personal and inviting than "families." And as I read aloud, I read the word "schedule" twice within a dozen or so words. In the second paragraph, I had already used the word school twice in the previous paragraph, and I'm talking about it starting in the future, instead of now. The last sentence is a punchline. It is one of those common phrases that I've turned upside down for fun.

Here's my edited version:
" By the time you read this, school will have started and our families will all be settling in to this year’s schedule. Even if your children are in the same school as last year, the timetable is always slightly different.
Maybe classes start earlier this year, or later. Or maybe it’s the before and after activities that are different. Soccer is on Mondays instead of Thursdays, or your kids have decided that cafeteria food will kill them and they want you to get up an hour early to fix them haute cuisine in a paper bag."

I made the punchline the last sentence in the column and gave it its own paragraph to call attention to it. And I tightened the rest down, made it less repetitive, and shaved off 3 words.

All because I read it aloud.

Monday, August 25, 2008

'Nuff said.

So how does a writer who has been raised in a box of 500 words pen a 60,000 word novel?
I actually read, in a writer's online group, a writer who said she had the main points of her novel written, and then she was going to go back and fill in the rest with fluff.
No. No. No. Words are not packing material. Every chapter has to go somewhere, has to mean something. If you are reading this and thinking, why, yes, I'll just put some verbal peanuts around my main points and voila - put down the pen, step away from the Word document, and take up some other hobby.
The smarty pants answer is that I wrote 500 words 120 times. Seriously, for my first novel, I had some scenes in my head, and I wrote aimless words to get me from one vignette to the next. It's not a technique that I'd recommend. As a matter of fact, it reminds me of the Beatles' movie, Magical Mystery Tour. They thought they'd put a bunch of odd characters on a bus and film it - naturally, hilarity would ensue.
Hilarity did not ensue. It may have threatened to sue, I don't know.
For my next novel, I put an outline together. I've read interviews with lots of famous authors who scoff at outlining and still produce works of art. Good for them. I was writing my very first murder mystery and I wanted to make sure I had all of my clues in a row. My outline was not particularly detailed, but I described each chapter and what I wanted to happen.
This doesn't mean that I followed each chapter to the letter. I do have a few "Soupy Sales" moments in my book. For those of you who weren't raised in the Jurassic Era, Soupy Sales was a guy with a kid's show. Every show, there'd be a knock on Soupy's door and you never knew who was on the other side. Sometimes it was a famous person, sometimes it was a film clip of an old cowboy and indian movie, once it was a naked lady (we didn't see her, but you shoulda seen the look on Soupy's face).
So I never planned for Peri to meet the apish man who works for the collection agency, or the mother of the number one suspect in Marnie's murder. But I had started the chapter with Peri in her office, and there's a knock at the door... who's there?
They actually worked in the book, but I would never rely on Soupy moments.
Mostly, I was able to stretch my writing to novel length because I was able to linger on descriptions more than I am able to do in my columns. I could fill the readers' senses with the sights and smells and noises. I could add dialogue and observances that, while not absolutely necessary, fleshed the scene out. Peri and her cohorts could, hopefully, become real people to my readers.
And no, I didn't write it in 500-word chunks.

Sunday, August 24, 2008


It's possible that I'm a blog-aholic. I have a blog on my website (www.gaylecarline.com/geeblog.html) to discuss my very first book deal and how it came about. I have a blog on MySpace (www.myspace.com/gaylesoo) to discuss random events in my personal and professional life. So why do I need yet a third?

To discuss the process of writing. My blog title comes from James Thurber's Preface to a Life (My Life and Hard Times), where he talks about how everyone thinks of writers, particularly humor writers, as being light-hearted souls with nary a worry. According to him, they "sit on the edge of the chair of Literature."

That description suits me to a T. I have read many of the great literary works and admire them. In my heart of hearts, I would love to write one of those tomes, and be remembered for all eternity as the author of the "21st century War and Peace" or some such title.

But fear holds me back. What if my efforts to be inspiring are seen as insipid? What if I attempt deep symbolism and I'm accused of presumption? Worse yet, what if I do write this mighty work of art and I start taking myself too seriously?

Which is probably why I started my delayed writing career as a columnist. It's hard to be precious at 1,000 words. My first gig was to report on horse shows, and interview horse people, which left no room for fiction, and no way to get too big for my britches. When I started writing for the Placentia News-Times, I was writing humor essays about my daily life, a la Erma Bombeck and James Thurber. Although I wouldn't call my tales fiction (they do contain moments of exaggeration), the essays had to be light and short (500 words), so I could not go Tolstoy on anyone.

But I always wanted to write a novel. In 2006, I started writing one. It was a literary masterpiece that took me over a year to write, about a young girl's struggle to define herself. Well, that's what I intended it to be. What I ended up with was a well-written piece of crap. Part of it was because I broke many of the rules that make a novel readable. The thing about successful authors who break the rules is, they know the rules well, so they know how to break them. I didn't. The other part of the problem was that I was in a writing group of two: me and my friend, Pam. I adore her, we make each other laugh, but a writing group of two is a mistake. Pam loves romances. I don't. And yet, by the time we had finished critiquing my work, I found I had written a romance.

Enter the Southern California Writer's Conferences. I had been attending these since 2006 and had been dutifully listening to all of the experts, without doing a thing they said. After my literary-romance-fiasco, I finally started paying attention. In 2007, I was able to start my second book, a murder mystery, with all of the tools I needed to make a good, light-hearted novel. Which I did. And that was the book I sold.

So I still sit at the edge of that chair, wanting to rest my back against it and write Literature with a capital "L", but I have made piece with the fact that I'd rather write light and lively works than not write at all.

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