Thursday, August 25, 2011

I Hate Chemistry

Yeah, you, Chemistry. You suck.

I like to think of myself as a science person: I like biology, I dig physics, I have a degree in Electrical Engineering, I enjoy sci fi stories, but I have this thing with chemistry.

I blame the clueless teacher who introduced me to the subject in high school. Blaming the teacher is cliche, I know, but I'm not sure where else to put the blame (I mean, it certainly can't be me, right?). The mental block carried on to college where I dropped out of what my friend called "the real Chemistry" that most engineering students took to enroll in the most remedial Chemistry I could get away with. Even then I barely made it.

And now in Water Hazard, one of the many problems Cal must deal with is Chemistry. I guess that goes along with the "write what you know" philosophy.

Instead of trying to make up a Chemistry textbook for his class, I went out and purchased a (very used) one. A secondary reason for buying the book was that a writing teacher once had us bring physical objects to class that inspired us or represented parts of our stories. I liked that exercise as it anchored at least one part of our stories in our realities. This story needed its anchor.

I have to say, it's pretty cool to have Cal's Chemistry text book in my hand, even though it hurts to touch it. It's evil. The perfect prop for the horrors ahead for Cal.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

PNWA Summer Conference 2011

I have to say I wasn't all that excited about the PNWA conference as it loomed on my calendar this year. I was way behind where I wanted to be with my WIP, Water Hazard. Last year I pitched my former WIP when it was (and unfortunately still is) an incomplete wreck. I had put all of my great ideas into the cuisinart of revisions, but forgot to put the lid on. There are still dried chunks of genius stuck to the ceiling. The pitch I was using had more complete concepts in it than the actual WIP. It's like those summer movies where everything interesting is in the trailer and the movie is just an additional ninety minutes of nonsensical filler to bloat the awesome ninety second trailer into something people will pay $12 for. All I have is trailer!

Anyways, that was my first writer's conference ever, so I cut myself some slack. This year would be different! Thanks to NaNoWriMo, I had a crappy, but complete, first draft of Water Hazard in late November, which was my first first draft ever. Yay NaNo! At 64k words (kilowords?) it was even in the right ballpark for a YA novel. And there was plenty of time to get a second, maybe a third draft done by August, right? But no. December was supposed to be National Novel Editing Month, NaNoEdMo, but instead December through June became National WTF Happened to the Calendar Month(s), or as I call it NaWTFHattCaMoFo (careful - don't choke on your own tonsil trying to say that out loud). It's all excuses though, some valid, some silly, and some still in diapers. The point is, I didn't have much to pitch. So, again, triage mode: get that pitch polished up. And hey, whaddya know, I actually solved a few problems I was having by focusing on my pitch and central theme. Y'know, like how your story should have a central theme.

Well, I'm glad I went. It was great to be around a bunch of other hungry writers; it was fun to volunteer and work with Anne and Justin at PNWA again; and I got just the right balance of negative to positive feedback to keep my feet on the ground but be totally inspired to keep going. And the really crazy thing? I actually networked and met some real people out there. At a writer's conference. Crazy, I know.

I'm going to get this WIP revised and polished up and in the hands of the agents I met, goddammit, because the one thing I heard repeated everywhere is that tenacity is the key. Do not give up.

Some of my highlights:

C.C. Humphreys sending us out into the conference the first morning with a rousing performance of St Crispen's Day Speech.

Paraphrase from Robert Dugoni: Get the errors out of your writing so that you're measured by your writing, not your errors.

Chuck Sambuchino smacking down inane audience questions: "I already answered that; next question." and "Really? That's really your question?" After Robert Dugoni getting mired down in silly and repetitive audience questions the previous afternoon, Chuck's "suffer no fools" East Coast attitude was especially refreshing.

Cherry Weiner scaring the shit out of everybody at the Agent's Forum (Epic Black Car's 10 Facts about Cherry Weiner).

Pitching to nice people who don't represent your genre (or sub genre) isn't going to go very well and you're going to feel like crap afterwards. For the rest of the night. (okay, more of a lesson-learned, not really a highlight)

Everett Maroon kindly turning social media criticism around on itself like a Tai Chi master.

Deb Caletti: "If you don't follow your dreams, your dreams will [haunt] you."

Thursday, January 13, 2011

January writing group

Another 30 minute writing session with the writing group. This month had a llama-themed prompt.

* * *

My van smelled like llama. It's an odd observation, I know, but my dad raised llamas, and I grew up around them. They're ill-tempered, ugly, and, worst of all, smelly. It's a smell that stays with you and now my van had it. I took it to be a bad omen for the day and, in this, I unfortunately proved to be far more prescient than I could have imagined.
I couldn't sleep the night before. I kept waking to odd sounds and bumps, but, when I checked, the flat was quiet. In the morning I asked my roommate, Phil, about the sounds. He was up much earlier than me, a miracle in itself, and looked like he hadn't slept much the night before either. Choking on his coffee, he sputtered something dismissive and shuffled back to his room. Phil is an odd bird, and unaccustomed to mornings, so I thought little of his behavior.
When I got to my van, I discovered that some little bastard had siphoned my gas tank during the night sometime. The extra errand to fill up the tank meant I was late to work. My boss, a righteous asshole at the best of times, had little empathy and apparently even less mouthwash. His breath was atrocious, not unlike a llama's.
I'd forgotten my lunch, and was reduced to foraging in the vending machine. I worked my way through an undated bag of generic trail mix and decided a call to Susie would brighten things up. We'd been through a rough patch, but things were good now. Better than they had been before.
She picked up after a few rings and answered my vague, open-ended questions with terse, conversation-ending blips of sentences. When pressed, she explained that her mom was on the other line and she wanted to get back to her. I convinced her to call her mom back, claiming that I only had a few minutes of lunch left.
The problem was she wasn't talking to her mom. It was her ex, Mike.
I'd like to say I picked up on sublet clues in her words or attitude. I'd like to say that I received some revelation from the universe that something was amiss. I'd like to say it wasn't Mike, but her mother, but the truth of the matter was that Suzy was a barely-functioning member of our technological world. She was technologically challenged. She does not know how to change back to the other line on her phone.
So I listened to her spill out, in great detail, her side of our conversation. How whiny and dependent I had become, what a bore I was, etc. I, at first, tried to cut in, to explain that I was not, indeed, Mike, but as the details unfolded I found the opportunity to reveal myself getting smaller and smaller as my embarrassment for both of us grew greater and greater. When she dove into explicit details of my failing to fulfill her more carnal needs, I hoped my horrified silence would indicate a lack of interest on Mike's part and thus the end of the conversation. It did not. Her pause, followed by a long string of "Ohmygod" repeated over and over like a mantra of suffering led me to believe that she had figured out her rather large gaffe.
I hung up and turned off my phone, unsure of what else to do.
I told my boss I was going home. His anger was impressive, but ultimately wasted on my numbed state.
Getting back into my llama-mobile, I drove home on auto-pilot, just wanting the day to end. Perhaps I could wake up tomorrow and start over.
Reaching the flat, I noticed the llama smell was growing stronger. I put my key in the lock, which started a banging and shuffling ruckus on the other side of the door, accompanied by Phil shouting "Just a moment" repeatedly.
That's when my day really went to shit.