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I Sent All My Clean Underwear to Texas

This week, Story and I are heading down South, to visit with the family while my globe-trotting sister, Kate, is briefly in the country. We have been able to travel quite a bit since Story’s birth, and it is all due to my aunt, who works at American Airlines and lets us use her “non-rev” passes.

Non-rev stands for non-revenue, and, as the name suggests, it’s a very affordable way to fly. It’s also very flexible; I can get up in the morning and decide I want to fly out to Las Vegas, and I don’t pay any exorbitant last-minute fees. The downside is that I have to be a little flexible too; I fly stand-by, and while my aunt can get a pretty good idea of my chances of catching a particular flight, there’s always a chance I won’t get on.

If there’s one truly unpleasant thing about non-revving, it’s the fact that you have to get up so early in the morning. The early flights tend to be the most open, and showing up for them gets you a higher spot on the standby list than if you just strolled in around noon.

The earliest flight this morning from Seattle to DFW was 6:05. Which, if you want to check bags, means you need to show up by 5:05. If you live 45 minutes from the airport and want to allow, say 15 minutes for incidentals, that means you’re leaving the house at 4:00, and getting up at 3:30. And if you’ve got a teething baby who didn’t really go down, and stay down, until 12:45… you do the math. I was tired.

Well, the 6:05 flight left without us. I went to Starbucks, got a water, a piece of lemon pound cake, and a rather weary-looking fruit salad, and settled in to wait for the 7:30 flight. And the 7:50. And the 8:50.

When the 8:50 left without us, I was sort of relieved. Because at least I knew the effort to non-rev was well and truly blown, and I could just accept it and, more importantly, get out of the airport.

I called Mark, who had had even less sleep than I, and was trying to catch up on it. He drove back out to pick us up. Then I talked to my parents, arranged a paid ticket for tomorrow, and sent my dad to the airport to pick up my luggage, which had already flown out on the 6:05. (It had my laptop in it, so I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of just letting it hang around at the airport until I found a way to get there.) I armed him with a detailed description of the contents, lest he encounter any resistance, and indeed one of the airport officials was loathe to let him leave with the bag—he had described it as purple, and she felt it was more of a burgundy. However, his foreknowledge of the brown polka-dotted onesie in the outer pocket sealed the deal.

So, Story and I are back at home now, for a day like any other. Except it’s a day without my computer, my knitting projects, and most of the baby’s toys.

Thank God I’ve still got my iPad.

Knitting Ain’t What it Used to Be

I’ve been doing a lot of knitting lately. Right now I’m working on socks for Story, a blanket for me, mittens for my aunt, and a laceweight cardigan that I’m just going to go ahead and tell you right now will never, never be done.

For those of you who don’t knit, you might be thinking this is a practical sort of hobby. That is where you’d be wrong. There is no way I can make a sweater for the same cost at which I can just go to the store and buy a sweater. On the contrary, the hand-knit sweater will probably cost me twice as much, or more. And if you factor in the cost of my time, which is enormous—one month for a pair of socks!—you realize that this is the least practical hobby a person could possibly have.

It’s just sort of funny, because knitting used to be not only a practical skill, but a necessary one. People used to do it, because, you know, they needed socks and sweaters. Not because they had some spare time to fill. I don’t have a total sock history breakdown for you, but I’m guessing that era ended around 1900-1920. Then there was a period where you could buy these things, but you could get them cheaper by making them yourselves. And finally we have the modern era, where mechanization produces knitted items far more cheaply than any human could. In this world, knitting has become a high-end, luxury hobby.

I kid you not. Yarns, in particular, have become luxury products, with those produced by major manufacturers looked down upon slightly compared with “hand-painted” or “indie” varieties. (It goes without saying, of course, that all those yarns available at Michael’s or Jo-Ann’s are not even worthy of consideration.) Small dyers compete to draw buyers in with sexy photographs, exclusive yarn-of-the-month clubs, and evocative colorway names like Honey Fig, Sea Glass, or Turtle Rodeo. One popular tactic used by a number of smaller dyers is to name their colorways after characters from popular novels. That way, you see the colorway and think, “Molly Weasley? I love Molly Weasley!” Every dyer—every one—has a colorway named Lagoon.

A lot of skills have followed this same migration from practical to luxury. Way back when, the Japanese invented the aesthetic concept of wabi-sabi, which appreciates the beauty of that which is imperfect. They weren’t doing it out of a desire for a high-end lifestyle; they were doing it to make themselves content with their own products, which were cheaper but also less brightly-colored and perfectly-made than those imported from China. Today, wabi-sabi is a word you’ll here toted out in relation to things like concrete countertops, Amish furniture, and hand-pieced quilts—things that are anything but cheap. Today, an economical aesthetic concept would be something along the lines of, “Just go to Target.”

I suppose I could decry this mechanized era as robbing our lives of the individuality and charm that come with handmade goods. But that would require me to ignore the fact that mechanization allows poor people to live a life that is vastly more comfortable than they could have in earlier times. And me, too, for that matter. I’m siting here writing this post at a $130 IKEA table ($130 with 4 chairs!), which certainly couldn’t have been produced without the homogenizing evils of mechanization.

All of which is a rather long-winded way of saying that the value of knitting isn’t, and never again will be, financial. For me, the value is in having a custom-fitted item made in the exact color and style I choose, and in being able to make gifts for the people I love.

Of course, I suppose if using my time economically was a big consideration for me, I never would have chosen to be a writer.

Mother’s Day Thoughts

Today is my first Mother’s Day as an official, bonafide mom.  Naturally enough, I’ve spent a lot of the last year thinking about the kind of mom I want to be.  And there’s really only one answer:  one like my own.

Of course, I didn’t always know how good I had it.  Case in point: when I was twelve, I wasn’t allowed to see PG-13 movies.  My mom was all like, “Are you thirteen?  No.”  It was either G or PG for me, and nothing else (Hello, seven viewings of The Little Mermaid!).

Naturally, this left out a lot of the stuff my friends wanted to see.  It didn’t make me a pariah or anything, but I gather that it was something of a burden to attend the theater with me around this time. On one particular occasion, I wound up at a friend’s slumber party, where the evening’s entertainment was a video her mom had rented.  A PG-13 video.

Reader, I did not know what to do.  I didn’t want to spoil the party for host and guests alike.  So I just sat there and guiltily watched the movie.  Later, I told my mom about it, and she said that I should have just told the host’s mom that I wasn’t allowed to watch it.

This seemed wildly unreasonable to me at the time.  I’ll be honest:  it kinda still does.

But now that I’m an adult, I find it impossible to separate this sort of  strict adherence to rules—which I found so irritating—from the strongly moral upbringing my mother gave me—something I value more and more the older I get.  I had no clue, as a kid, of exactly what I had in my mom.  I didn’t get how much value she was giving me, or the fact that the kind of person she was would make me the kind of person I can honestly say I’m happy to be.

And now that I have a daughter of my own, I have some idea of how hard she worked at it.  Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!  I love you.

Paradigm Shift

It’s been a crazy few weeks for the Kalmes clan.  First, we moved to Seattle, real quick-like, a subject I hope to address in greater length in a future post.  Then, almost as soon as we were settled in a new apartment, Story and I took off again—this time to Texas for a dear friend’s baby shower.

It was the first time I had traveled with Story alone, and it was somewhat of a revelation.  The first moment that I knew that something had truly changed was when I was walking through the SeaTac airport, humping thirty pounds of baby and carseat to our departure gate, and we passed a magazine store.  I know that just a few months ago, I would have thought, “Ah, if only I could go in there and browse for magazines without having to lug the kid around.  That would be… so… sweet.

This time?  It didn’t phase me.  Yes, I kind of wanted to look at mags, and yes, I knew I’d have an easier time of it if I didn’t have Story along.  But it just didn’t bother me.  Nor did it trouble me unduly when she yakked up on my shoulder before boarding, or when she made her morning Monster Diaper immediately before takeoff.

Sure, I recognized these things as inconveniences.  But they had become inconveniences that were knit into the fabric of my life, like television commercials or waiting through red lights.  I just couldn’t get too fussed about them.

And then I got to Texas, had a lovely time with friends and family, and something else happened—something scary.

I didn’t miss Mark.

I mean, I missed him.  I was looking forward to seeing him again, and would have been delighted if that event could have been hastened by even so much as an hour.  But I am used to feeling Mark’s absence, whenever I’m away from him, as a sort of perpetual drag on my happiness.  Like, “Gosh, I’m having fun.  If only Mark were here…”  This time, that just didn’t happen.

Which surprised me.  Being with Story is not remotely fulfilling in the same way that being with Mark is.  Story doesn’t pay attention to my needs.  She doesn’t share my sense of humor or provide a sounding board for my concerns.  She isn’t the person I can turn to at the end of the day and share those innermost thoughts I can speak to no one else.

In fact, most of what she gives me right now is work.  And worry.  And the weight of responsibility.  But being with her fills me up, in a way I hadn’t really anticipated.  When I’m with her, I just can’t be lonely.

So, where is my Mom Badge?  I think I’m really in the club.

Point, Counterpoint

When I first began The Indie Book Podcast, I thought of self-publishing was, you know, a neat thing.  An interesting alternative path writers could take.  I was excited that it was starting to be viable, but I wasn’t 100% sure it was something I was going to pursue.  After all, I figured traditional publishing had a lot to recommend it, too.

Fast forward three months, and the self-publishing revolution has become less of an interesting novelty for me, and more of a moral crusade.  As I surf around the web, combing forums and blog posts for info that might enhance the podcast, I’m just starting to realize how much I’ve switched over, in my heart, from traditional writer to indie writer.  This worm has turned.

Which doesn’t mean I don’t occasionally enjoy reading the opposite point of view.  I particularly enjoyed this post from  writer Edan Lepucki.  It’s a well-written, well-reasoned recounting of Lepucki’s reasons for sticking with the traditional path.  So, naturally, I’m going to tear it to shreds.

Ok, not really.  But I am going to address his arguments, point by point, and see how my own hold up to them.

1. I Guess I’m Not a Hater

…I trust publishers. They don’t always get it right, but more often than not, they do. As I said in the piece that started me off on this whole investigation: “I want a reputable publishing house standing behind my book; I want them to tell you it’s good so that I don’t have to.”…

I wouldn’t call myself a hater, either.  I do think publishers put out good products, and that the publishing companies are responsible for some of the value of those products (AKA, books).  I don’t think the traditional houses are valueless by any means.

And yet, I do think there is something wrong with the current royalty structures publishers offer their authors.  I’m not talking mathematically wrong, here, I’m talking morally Wrong.  There’s just no reason for a publisher to rake in 85% of the cover price of e-books—not when they’re assuming so little risk, and incurring no per-unit costs.  Signing a deal that grants you 15% of net receipts (a pretty standard e-book royalty rate) is like saying that the work of writing a book only accounts for one seventh of its value.  That seems weird to me.  No, not just weird.  Crazy.

So, no, I don’t hate the big houses.  I respect what they have to offer.  But I’d like a little more evidence that they respect what I have to offer before I throw my lot in with them.

2. I Write Literary Fiction

…Many of the writers who have found success in self-publishing are writers of straightforward genre fiction. Amanda Hocking writes young adult fantasy, dwarfs and all. ... Aside from Anthropology of An American Girl by Hilary Thayer Hamann, I can’t think of another literary novel that enjoyed critical praise and healthy sales when self-published. That’s not to say that it can’t — and shouldn’t — happen, it’s only to point out that it’s a tougher road for writers of certain sorts of stories…

Well, that’s a fair point.  Actually, it’s the one I find most persuasive.  Like it or not, everything is not equal among the genres, and literary authors may have a harder road ahead of them if they choose to self-publish.

The taste makers for literary books are all still very much the old guard—the New York Times Book Review, Michiko Kakutani, et al.  If they aren’t looking at self-pubbed books—and I believe at present they’re trying their best not to—it’s going to be a long time before the readers of those books discover self-published authors.

Secondly—and I say this with love—the literary genre is the genre most invested in the idea of the writer as a special, elite artist.  Out here in genre-fiction-land, we’re frequently ok with being considered working stiffs, but the same is not necessarily true of our literary brethren.  I suspect that a lot of the value of being published, for a literary writer, comes from the cachet of being accepted into The Club.  This is particularly true for those literary writers who have secondary careers in academia, another industry invested in the ideas of prestige and the elite nature of the artist.

I don’t mean to suggest that literary writers are snobs, or that they things they want aren’t worth wanting.  The fact is, every writer wants respect, and there’s no reason literary writers shouldn’t make it a priority.  But as long as the communities they belong to grant that respect only to the traditionally published, literary writers will have a long row to hoe when it comes to self-publishing.

3. I’d Prefer a Small Press to a Vanity Press

…The conversation about self-publishing too often ignores the role of independent publishing houses in this shifting reading landscape. … These presses are run and curated by well-read, talented people, and they provide readers with the same services that a large press provides: namely, a vote of confidence in a writer the public might have never heard of…

So, ok, I sort of object to the term “vanity press—” from my point of view, I’m not vain.  I’m entrepreneurial!

But, nit-picking aside, Lepucki makes an interesting point here.  The self-publishing conversation is often framed as an either/or—throw in with the Big Six, or go it alone.

To be honest, I don’t know enough about small publishers—what terms they offer to authors, how able they are to land their books on the bookstore shelves, etc., etc.  I’ll admit, straight up, that I could stand to learn more about this before I express an opinion of small press vs. self-pubbing.

I will say, though, that I am interested in the evolution of hybrid models of publishing.  No matter what, writers are going to continue to need services—especially editing—from people other than themselves.  I’m looking forward to seeing what kinds of business models grow to fill this need, and it could be that small presses have an important role to play.

4. Self-Publishing is Better for the Already-Published

Perhaps the smarter, and far more seductive, path is the one where the writer begins his career with a traditional publisher, and then, once he’s built a base of loyal readers, sets off on his own. The man who loves to talk smack about the publishing industry, J.A. Konrath, already had an audience from his traditionally-published books by the time he decided to take matters into his own hands. It’s much harder to create a readership out of nothing…

Well, I don’t disagree with the overall point:  it is easier to self-publish if you’ve already built an audience.  But here’s the thing:  getting traditionally published does not buy you out of the work of creating that audience.  Whichever way you go, you are going to have to blog, or tweet, or set up reviews and interviews for yourself—you’re going to have to be your own marketer.  If you’re expecting your publishing company to do this for you, well, maybe you’ll be lucky.  But very likely you won’t.

Getting traditionally published does provide some extra exposure, in terms of bookstore placement, but for many authors it comes with limited—or nonexistent—marketing.  That’s the world we’re looking at today, kids.  You can go through Door A or Door B, but you’ll still have to pimp your own book.

5. I Value the Publishing Community

… Even though my first novel was rejected by traditional publishers, one assistant editor’s notes on it — notes that were thorough, thoughtful, challenging, and compassionate — were enough to show me that these professionals are valuable to the process of book-making. I know you can hire experienced editors and copy-editors, but how is that role affected when the person paying is the writer himself? What if the hired editor told you not to publish? Would that even happen?

I’ll agree that a good editor is worth his weight in gold.  I’ll even agree that this is a real, thorny problem facing self-published authors.  Finding a good editor isn’t just a matter of scanning ads on the web.  You want someone who gets your genre, gets your audience, and, ideally, gets you as a writer.  That’s not something you find around every corner.

The thing I dispute is that signing on with a traditional publisher is a guaranteed way of finding yourself such a gem.  I’ve heard authors say they love their editor, and I’ve heard authors say they hate their editor.  It is very unclear, at present, what level of editing services any particular new author can expect.

At least if you pay for it yourself, you can exercise some control over what you get.  And if you don’t like the results, you’re free to move on to another provider.

6. The E-Reading Conundrum; or, I don’t want to be Amazon’s Bitch

… The thought of Amazon being the only place to purchase my novel shivers my timbers. I don’t mind if someone else chooses to read my work electronically, just as I don’t mind if Amazon is one of the places to purchase my work; I’m simply wary of Amazon monopolizing the reading landscape. Self-publishing has certainly offered an alternative path for writers, but it’s naive to believe that a self-published author is “fighting the system” if that self-published book is produced and made available by a single monolithic corporation. In effect, they’ve rejected “The Big 6″ for “The Big 1.”

I get where Lepucki’s coming from here.  Amazon is gaining power by leaps and bounds, and it is a hair chilling to contemplate what they might do with it in the future.  And yet, as Barry Eisler pointed out on A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing last week, it’s not as though the Big 6 operate competitively.  They are all offering the same crappy royalty rates to authors.

I am in favor of authors having power over their work, and that means we need competition—competition for Amazon, competition for the Big 6.  I really hope we continue to see such competition in the marketplace.  But at present, I don’t think I can do much to affect the future landscape of publishing.  So there’s little reason not to throw my lot in with the people offering me the best terms today.

7. Is it Best for Readers?

Our conversation reminded me of Laura Miller’s humorous and perspicacious essay, “When Anyone Can be a Published Author,” in which she reminds us that the people who celebrate self-publishing often overlook what it means for book buyers and readers. She writes:

Readers themselves rarely complain that there isn’t enough of a selection on Amazon or in their local superstore; they’re more likely to ask for help in narrowing down their choices. So for anyone who has, however briefly, played that reviled gatekeeper role, a darker question arises: What happens once the self-publishing revolution really gets going, when all of those previously rejected manuscripts hit the marketplace, en masse, in print and e-book form, swelling the ranks of 99-cent Kindle and iBook offerings by the millions? Is the public prepared to meet the slush pile?

No, I suspect they’re not. This is a legitimate problem for self-published authors, and it’s one I truly hope my podcast can address.  We need taste makers in the self-publishing world helping people cut through the chaff—and, yes, it would be disingenuous if I didn’t admit that there is plenty of chaff to cut through.  Because you’re right:  no reader wants to read four crappy books on his way to finding a good one.

But happily, there are enormous resources available to help him.  There are Amazon reviews, review blogs, and, yeah, my little podcast.

I’d never claim that the vetting traditional publishers do isn’t a valuable service to readers.  But I’m hopeful that they aren’t the only ones who can provide it.

8. I’m Busy. Writing.

Self-publishing takes a little time and energy, but it’s not as much as you might think.  In fact, if you cast aside the idea that being traditionally published will get you out of marketing your own book, it’s really very little time at all.  You’re just communicating with artists and editors, and spending a few hours of research figuring out how to format your work for publication.

Is that really so much more time consuming than the communication a traditionally pubbed author has to do with his agent and editor?  Somehow I doubt it.

Now, I better get busy.  Writing.

To Hire or Not To Hire… An Editor

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m beginning to shepherd my completed mystery novel toward self-publication.  I have amazing friends who are helping me out with this:  one who’s doing the art, another who’s doing the proofreading, and yet more who have given me wonderful feedback while the book was in production.  But one of the things I keep asking myself is: should I hire a professional editor?

Basically, I think the work of an editor breaks down into four categories:

Proofreading: The catching of typos, grammatical errors, dropped punctuation, and times when you said “canvas” but you really meant “canvass.”

Line Editing: A whole host of polishing efforts at the sentence level, all of which can be prefaced with “Wouldn’t it sound better if…?”

Macro Content Editing: The big issues, such as a character arc not working, a setting feeling blah, or the plot seeming unbelievable.

And, lastly, but certainly not leastly…

Micro Content Editing

This is perhaps the most varied and finicky of the four, and encompasses such issues as:

  • Your protagonist said she’d meet her lover in two days, but it has actually been three.
  • Your protagonist leaped to an unfounded assumption in this paragraph.  We need at least one sentence explaining how he got there.
  • You have two characters in this scene called “the captain” and “the colonel.”  We need names to be able to distinguish them easily.
  • On page 200, you are counting on your readers remembering a fact about a minor character introduced on page 60.  Most of them won’t.

In short, it involves a lot of small polishing efforts that have nothing to do with prose, but have to do with the consistency and comprehensibility of the whole product.

While proofreading, line editing, and macro content editing are the sorts of things I can do very easily with the help of my near and dear friends and writing group, micro content editing is just a touch different.  It requires a fairly book-y person: “avid reader” or “English major” are probably not adequate qualifications for this job.  It helps if your micro content editor can read the entire manuscript over a day or two, so they can catch inconsistencies.  It also doesn’t hurt if they know your genre intimately.

Companies that offer editorial services don’t really advertise their skill at micro content editing.  They advertise their proofreading abilities, or else their macro content editing.  Occasionally they advertise line editing.  But micro content editing is, to me, at least as important to putting out a professional product.

In the course of my work on the podcast, I’ve seen a number of novels that clearly had someone performing the first three services… but sort of missed out on this fourth one.  So I’m left thinking, can I even hire someone to do this?  How will I know that they’re able to until they actually do it?  Will I ever know, given that any micro content editing issues in my manuscript are issues I already missed?

Anyone got some answers for me?

In this episode, we review River Panj, a thriller that took us on an insightful tour of Tajikistan. We also talk with author Nick Cole, about his book The Old Man and The Wasteland, and about the many choices writers have when evtering the modern marketplace.

Learning How The Other Half Lives

One of the unexpected results of doing The Indie Book Podcast is that I’ve started to get an inkling, however dim, of what it’s like to be an agent.  I’m trying to find really good material to review on the podcast, which means I’m reading an awful lot of samples.  This has been somewhat exacerbated by the fact that I put out a call for submissions a couple of weeks back, and a lot of authors are throwing their hat in the ring.  I currently have nine submissions on my Big Excel Spreadsheet of Things To Do.

Nine is obviously not a lot, compared to the volume agents regularly report.  And yet it’s enough that I have already had to retire my previous method of selecting books, which was to read the entire Kindle sample and really give the author a chance to hook me.  Now, I read until you give me a reason to stop reading.  If I get two chapters in and I’m still hanging in there, I’ll put the book on the list of things to review.

I’ve also had to get used to another staple of agenthood:  sending rejection letters.  Not every book is going to be reviewed on the podcast, and if yours isn’t, I’d honestly prefer to let you know straight up, rather than let you hope and wonder for weeks.  Back in the not-so-distant past when I was pursuing traditional publishing, I truly did not appreciate the agents who didn’t bother to send rejection letters.  How hard is it, I wondered, to copy and paste a form rejection into your e-mail client?  If I’m not worth fifteen seconds of your time, why am I supposed to think you’re worth fifteen percent of my income?

So, yeah, I come from a history of wanting people to Answer Their Dang Mail.  Which means now that I am in a position where people are sending their work to me, I can scarcely do less.

So, rejection letters.  Sending them hurts, a little.  I know, I know–rejection is part of the job, you have to have a thick skin, whatever, whatever.  It doesn’t mean I don’t remember what it feels like to have your heart seize up when you see a particular From: address in your email client. Or what it’s like to let out a deep breath and talk yourself down, to steel yourself for rejection before you even move your mouse toward that mail.

Now, I am not an agent, just a reviewer.  I doubt anyone attaches as much importance to my acceptance or rejection as they would to, say, Janet Reid’s.  Still, rejection sucks.  From both ends.

Blog Resurrection

A little over a year ago, I retired this blog.  It wasn’t exactly a conscious decision.  For a couple of months, I kept thinking.  “Oh, crap.  I have got to get something up on that blog.”  But it just never happened.  Why?  To make a long story short (and, I’m sure, annoyingly cryptic), that was a fairly crappy time for me.  There were things I couldn’t stop thinking about, but couldn’t bear to write about.  After a while, it just seemed easier to let the whole thing go.

Happily, in the intervening year, life has gotten a whole lot better.  And thusly, more bloggable.

And more exciting.  Over the past year, my outlook on writing and publishing has changed a lot.  Over the next several months, I’m planning to work toward the self-publication of my novel, currently titled The Big Life– and soon to be titled something much better.

I’ve also started a podcast, called The Indie Book Podcast. It’s about reviewing self-published books, and discussing the future of publishing.

Frankly, the experience of doing this podcast is the very thing that gives me faith I can make self-publishing work.  I mean, just two months ago I decided to be a podcaster.  Now I am one.  And while I don’t have a lot of listeners yet, the numbers are moving in the right direction.

That’s the world we’re moving into:  where you can just do stuff, and no one can say you nay.  Maybe you succeed at it, maybe you don’t.  But the audience–and, hopefully, the quality of your work–is what makes that determination.

The podcast is doing other things for me, too.  It’s weaving me in closer with the community of writers.  It’s giving me more confidence in my public speaking skills.  And it’s teaching me tons about marketing, through the simple expedient of forcing me to do it.  Even though it takes time away from my writing, it seems like the best thing I could be doing for my career right now.

I’m nowhere close to perfect at it, and I hope I will improve.  But anyway, it’s exciting.  It’s published.  And it’s beginning to feel very real.

Story Days

Sorry I haven’t posted for a while.  I’ve been busy writing other things.

I’ve been so busy, in fact, that it’s been over a week since the event I wanted to talk about here: my first monthy Story Days.

Story Days were my idea for carrying forward the optimism and go-hung attitude I acquired at Boot Camp.  Basically, the idea was that I’d give myself two days to reprise the two principle assignments from Boot Camp: coming up with five story seeds, and one full-length story.  Well, a couple of weekends ago, Mark and I decided to go for it.  I would do my two assignments, and he would get into the spirit of things by completing half a online course about iPhone development.

We got started bright and early on Saturday morning.  By about 4 P.M, I had my ideas, and I was happy with them.  Then began the process of choosing which one.  The first idea to hit the cutting floor was low-hanging fruit:  it was a cute enough idea, but it just wasn’t compelling enough.  The second had an ending that didn’t completely satisfy me.  The third idea I cut felt like it would be hard to deal with at short story length.  And then I was left with two ideas I really liked:  one a literary idea, and the other a mystery.  I decided it would be more useful to me to have something I could sell to a mystery magazine, so that’s what I went with.

And then I got started.  The first three pages went down easy, so easy.  That’s where I left it when I went to bed Saturday night.  On Sunday I got up again and got another five pages or so before things got difficult.  Real difficult.  But the story got done, at at 10:30 P.M. I was able to relax and bask in my victory.

I have to confess:  it wasn’t easy to attain the same level of pressure I had at Boot Camp.  There weren’t going to be fifteen people I respected reading this story immediately, so it just didn’t matter as much, you know?  I think the last scene or two suffered somewhat for this.  But, the story is done.

I think I’ll do this again around the 15th of September.  I would like to make it a monthly thing.  The next time around, though, I may work on revisions instead.  Because I am building up a backlog of things that need to get revised and sent out.

Too Many Ideas

This past weekend my sister was visiting here.  I was deeply engrossed in The Hunger Games, and I remarked that one of the wonderful things about YA is that the writers have so much freedom with their premises.  There is not a lot of justifying in YA, there are just wild ideas, thrilling stories, and an audience that is willing to suspend almost any amount of disbelief.  I don’t mean this as a jab in the slightest; there should be one genre as freeing as this.

There also are not a ton of restrictions on acceptable subjects for YA.  Sex and violence are indeed up for grabs.  I was thinking at first that this was a relatively new development reflecting changing attitudes toward innocence — until I remembered the stuff I used to read as a teen, such as The Grounding of Group 6, a surprisingly delightful book about teens who survive a murder attempt by their own parents.

I wondered what it would be like to work on a YA novel myself.  “Ok,” said Kate, “let’s think of a super wild premise for you.”

“Well, if we were going to do this in a disciplined, Boot Camp sort of way, we would come up with five premises,” I said.  “And then pick the best one.”

And that is what we spent the rest of the day doing.  Idea #1 was ok.  Idea #2 was great.  Idea #3 was freakin’ awesome.  Idea #4 was back to ok again.  And Idea #5… ah, Idea #5.  It was completely epic, and it quickly spawned ideas for an entire series.

So now, I am a bit confused.  I have been working on a sequel to the novel I’m currently shopping, but in the wake of Boot Camp I’m more excited about the idea of turning out something new, something I can use whether or not The Big Life sells.  I have several good YA ideas, enough that I don’t know which I like best.  I also have two pretty great mystery ideas.

I am not quite sure how to tackle this decision.  Practically, by sticking with mystery, the genre I love best?  Cynically, by jumping to YA, a hugely marketable genre that I believe I could love?  Or emotionally, by laying out these stories and trying to figure out which one pulls most at my heart?

I don’t know.  I do know this is a wonderful problem to have.