Reading the Classics

This post is sparked by something I recently posted on Facebook.

My daughter, who is a sophomore in high school, has been reading the classics and various assigned reading material. Last year it was “Romeo and Juliet,” “Of Mice and Men,” and “The Outsiders” (not sure I’d call that one a classic) among others. As this year starts, she’s reading “Lord of the Flies” by William Golding.

It made me think back to high school (I had to think really hard) to some of the books we were assigned to read. I still keep in touch with some of my high school friends (we just had our 30th reunion – not sure how that happened), so I asked them what they remember reading. It’s been one of the best responses I’ve ever had to anything I’ve posted before, so, just for fun, I thought I’d bring it to my blogging community.

The list is varied, considering some were in honors classes (now called Advanced Placement), but my classmates clearly have a much better memory than I do. I don’t remember reading half of these!

I thought it would be interesting to see what some of my followers from around the country (and world) remember reading in high school (as assigned reading).

Here’s the list my classmates came up with so far. Please feel free to comment which were your favorites and add to the list in the comments below. I think it would be really interesting to compile an International List (unless there’s one already) and I’ll share it with my high school classmates, who are now scattered all over the world.

1984                                                                                             Animal Farm

Grapes of Wrath                                                                       Moby Dick

Don Quixote                                                                              Handmaid’s Tale

Of Mice and Men                                                                     A Tale of Two Cities

The Great Gatsby                                                                     Les Miserables

The Scarlet Letter                                                                    Catch 22

Hamlet                                                                                       Julius Caesar

Death of a Salesmen                                                               Cather in the Rye

Wuthering Heights                                                                  Sound and the Fury

Huckleberry Finn                                                                    Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man

Canterbury Tales                                                                     Brave New World

Secret Life of Walter Mitty                                                   Black Like Me

Cannery Row                                                                           Siddhartha

 

Also, are there any that you loved and you could read over and over. My favorite was probably “Cannery Row.”

This is just for fun. Hope this brings back some fond memories. By the way, I have to admit that Cliff Notes were my friend during the Shakespeare unit! LOL

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Here we go again…novel finished…and waiting…

Here we go again…

Novel #3 is finished and ready to find a literary agent!

Now I know, it’s never really “finished” until you actually FIND the agent or publisher and it’s sitting on a retail shelf complete with bar code. But that could take some time, if ever.

So, in the meantime, what to do, what to do?

I don’t know about you, but I immediately start brainstorming on the next book. Since I write women’s fiction, I usually start with a character or characters and then build from there.

I had a “Character Journal” until my last laptop was stricken with the “Black Screen of Death.”

It was a sad day, or a liberating one, depending on how you look at it. Nah, who am I kidding…it was sad…tragic even. All those ideas lost. They’re still on the computer, I just have to get to them.

I already have a name for my next main character. Besides starting a new “Character Journal,” I’ve started a “Name List.” Names are just as important as character development. You know how sometimes a name can conjure an entire character? That’s the sort of name I have in mind. Now I just have to figure out her story.

Tragedy? Comedy? A little bit of both? Hmmmmm…..maybe it’s time to head to the coffee shop and soak in some color. Am I the only one who does that? Hijack someone’s conversation? Think about that the next time you’re at the coffee shop and there’s someone sitting there all alone on their computer.

Or maybe the woman in the grocery store will wander into my next novel…or the sales woman at the department store…or the clumsy waitress that served me dinner last night.

Thank goodness we don’t have to pay royalties to the strangers that inspire us. But thank you to all the strangers that let us writers into your lives, if only for a moment, or even from afar. Stories are inspired and you are our inspiration.

Where do you go to find your best inspiration? Do you keep a Character Journal or a Notebook of phrases and ideas?

Entering a Local Short Story Contest

 

Every year, our local library holds a Short Story Contest. I’ve entered for the last three years, and have yet to place.

I’m considering entering again this year, just for the practice.

But I don’t write short stories. I never have.

I write novels, so writing a short story, for me, is a bit of a challenge. I’m also a “panster” which makes it even more challenging. Without an “outline,” it makes it much harder to wrap up a story in 2500 words or less.

I write women’s fiction, and women’s fiction differs from most other genres. Without completely sounding like I have no idea what I’m doing, I’ll try to explain what I mean: women’s fiction isn’t necessarily trying to “solve a problem,” as in conquering the neighboring tribe, or saving the planet from the comet headed straight for it. Women’s fiction tends to be about “relationships.” It isn’t as cut and dry as some other genres, and I don’t mean any disrespect by that at all. I just don’t can’t write those other genres without sounding like a 4th grader wrote it (no offense to the 4th graders out there).

Women’s fiction is different in that it’s character-driven. There’s still a problem to solve, sometimes many, but it’s painted with a much broader brush, at least the way I write. My characters are flawed and their flaws are what drive the plot.

So, back to the short story.

First, condensing a story to 2500 words is daunting for me. That means that I need to come up with a premise that can basically be solved in one and a half chapters! What?! That’s when things usually just get going in a women’s fiction novel, not resolved!

Thinking of something that fits into that box is really, really hard for me.

I’ve tried using writing prompts, but have yet to find one that inspires me. I’ve tried different genres, but I really can’t write fantasy or SciFi…I just can’t.

But, like most writers, I like to bang my head against the wall, otherwise I wouldn’t be a writer. (Writers will understand that). I’ll keep trying. I’ve started 3 short stories so far that have fallen flat. I still have until July 31st to submit my entry. It isn’t impossible, just improbable, and I can work with those odds.

What about you? Have you ever tried to write something different than you’re used to? What got you over the hump?

Head-Hopping is Making My Head Spin!

 

There are hundreds of rules when writing a novel that a writer has to follow to get through the slush pile. Rules that I would venture to say most readers have never heard of (unless they are writers themselves).

Head-hopping seems to be the LATEST ‘NO-NO’ on a really long list of Taboos that writers MUST follow. But even a lot of editor’s CAN’T AGREE on when it occurs, especially in Third Person Omniscient POV, which is the POV I generally use. So how am I supposed to avoid it when I can’t even get a straight answer?

Head-hopping is my biggest pet-peeve and is probably why I will never be published. Head-hopping is when the writer suddenly changes the character point of view. There are obvious instances, but it’s the subtle changes that trip me up. I just don’t see it.

As a reader, it doesn’t bother me, or at least it didn’t until I heard about it.

I read a book and if I like it, then fabulous! And chances are, I have probably run across lots of head-hopping and never even noticed.

Take apart any work of fiction and you’re going to find it: Stephen King, Hemingway, Nora Roberts…the list goes on. They’ve all been guilty of head-hopping and survived the critics. The caveat I’ve heard is “that they’ve done it well, and the reader doesn’t even notice.” Huh?

But it’s supposed to be a cardinal rule! A giant mistake! It will get your manuscript tossed in the trash can at the first instance (or so I’ve read).

Here’s the way I look at it (and I’m probably wrong, so don’t listen to me – I’m not published):

Head-hopping is a guideline…A GUIDELINE. There are lots of editors and bloggers that will tell you that it’s a cardinal sin and will ruin your career before it’s even started. And they may be right. I mean, they’re the gatekeepers, right? They make the rules and as writers we have to follow them. But like I said before, even THEY can’t completely agree on it!

I understand that they are just doing their job, following their protocol. I’ve just gotten so frustrated with the publishing process lately. As soon as I think, “okay, I’ve got this,” I find out something else that I’m totally missing. Getting published seems further and further away every time I go deeper into that rabbit hole.

Back to the drawing board.

Head-Hopping…Ugh!

What’s your two cents on head-hopping? And if you aren’t a writer, have you ever noticed it when reading?

Writing Without Fear

 

My latest WIP has been a bit of a challenge. I’m a panster, not an outliner which can be both freeing and completely stifling.

I usually start with an idea for a character, or characters, and then build a story and plot around them. I know, it’s backwards, but it’s the way my brain works.

I’ve started my current WIP three different times.

First, the plot wasn’t strong enough, so I set it aside. But the characters kept talking to me, and telling me they had a story to tell.

So I picked it up again. I tried changing the plot and making it more appealing, and it seemed to be working for a while. But it was still missing something and I couldn’t put my finger on it, so I set it down again.

The third time I picked it up I realized that the story was focused around the wrong character. I was trying to make a supporting character the protagonist. One of the side characters had a much better story to tell and made a much better protagonist: the kind you want to root for even when you know they’re going to fail miserably.

So I started over…again.

I also decided to write with a different approach. No editing. No rereading. Just keep writing. I know that means there will be a LOT more editing at the end, but it’s been kind of fun writing without fear.

I’m also writing completely prepared to cut out scenes, even chapters if necessary. Many times, as writers (or at least it’s this way with me), we’re reluctant to take out scenes, especially the ones that we really love. We don’t want to let go of them. But this time I KNOW there is going to be changes, and I’m good with that. Sometimes as I’m writing a particular scene, I may have an idea that it may not make it to the final cut. I’ve even found myself thinking “that doesn’t fit there” or “that chapter really sucked.” But I just keep writing.

This WIP has turned into a sort of writing exercise in free writing. Who knows if it will work? I’m not sure what I’m going to gain from it, but I’m not afraid even if the whole thing needs to be scrapped. As long as I finish it, then I will have reached my first goal.

Writing without fear may turn into editing without fear.

What do you do when a WIP isn’t working? Do you scrap it or do you try to re-work it? Are you a panster or an outliner?

Wanted: Literary Agent

I received another rejection for my manuscript today. I’ve heard that’s supposed to be a good thing, that you should file your rejections away somewhere so that you can learn from them. But it still stings, and is very frustrating. Sometimes I wish there was a sort of “dating” website for literary agents.

I wish I could place an ad, send it out to the literary universe, and then wait for the agents to find me.

Wanted: Literary Agent for dedicated writer. Women’s fiction writer seeking agent for long and profitable relationship. If you represent character-driven, female-centric stories, please contact me. No sparkly vampires, no over-the-top supernatural plot lines. If you like flawed characters that fight with their inner demons, or females who join forces to make their lives better, then let’s talk.

But, sadly, that’s not the way it works. It’s not that I haven’t done the research, because I have, and will continue to do so. But the odds of finding the RIGHT agent that represents what I write AND that is accepting new clients AT THE VERY MOMENT that I query, seems more and more to be a real luck of the draw.

I appreciate all of the “How I Found My Agent” posts that I read, but they really aren’t very helpful, because finding an agent is such a unique and individual experience. Sure I can learn from someone else’s experience, or their mistakes, but the odds that their unique situation will be remotely similar to mine are rare. Not to mention that most of those posts or articles are written by people that got an agent within their FIRST FEW queries. Rarely do I read one that says, “After 175 (or more) queries, I finally got an agent.” THAT’S the story I want to hear.

I know this is just a fantasy, because, let’s face it: most agents aren’t looking through the want ads for new authors to represent. They don’t have to. They have more than enough authors seeking them. They’re like the hot guy on Tinder who gets swiped more times than he swipes. It’s just a fact. The “slush pile” is real.

But it’s sort of fun to pretend that a literary agent would actually be seeking me. A girl can dream, can’t she? I’ll keep reaching for the brass ring until I find my perfect match.

Jane & Maria – 2nd Installment of the Coffee Shop Vignettes

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Maria wrapped her hands around her coffee cup to warm them.

“So, tell me…how did it go?” Jane asked Maria, as she handed her son a coloring book and some crayons, and moved her coffee out of his reach.

“I’m not sure,” Maria said.

“Well, was it a good interview? Do you think you gave the answers they wanted?”

“I’m not sure,” Maria said and slumped back in her chair.

“Oh, come on. It couldn’t have been that bad,” Jane tried to be encouraging. She turned to her son, “No, no…only in the book…not on the table.”

Maria smiled.

“It’s just that it’s been so long since I’ve been out of the workforce, you know?” Maria said.

“Oh, I’m sure that won’t matter that much. You have the experience they’re looking for.”

“Yeah, but from 200 years ago!” Maria said and laughed.

Jane laughed at Maria’s exaggeration.

Maria sighed. “I don’t know. Part of me is excited to go back to work now that the kids are in school full time, but the other part of me wants to be home for them. I hate the idea of sending them to daycare. I should be helping them with their homework, not some stranger.”

“I’m sure there will be plenty of homework for you to help with. Besides, don’t a lot of their friends go to the same afterschool care?” Jane asked.

Maria nodded.

“What about the job? You’re scared, aren’t you,” Jane said.

“I hate to admit it, but yes, I am. I haven’t had to work for anyone in a long time. I’ve been the one telling people, well, little people that is, what to do for the past ten years. I don’t even know if I remember how to take orders from someone else,” Maria said.

“Sure you do. I’ve seen you take orders from Sarah all the time!” Jane teased.

“Oh, please! I don’t take orders from my 14 year old.”

Jane raised her eyebrow.

“Okay, okay, maybe sometimes I do. But don’t you dare tell her that!” Maria admitted.

“Mama…other book, other book,” Jane’s son insisted.

“I see you have your own dictator,” Maria teased.

Jane frowned at her as she got out another coloring book for her son.

Maria’s phone rang, and she looked at the number. She put her finger to her lips, and Jane told her son to be quiet.

“This is Maria,” she answered, and listened.

Jane kept her son occupied and watched Maria’s face for any indication.

“Yes, I’d be happy to. Okay. Okay. Thank you. I’ll talk to you then. Bye,” Maria said.

“Well?” Jane asked.

“I got a second interview!” Maria exclaimed.

“I knew you could! See, I told you! When do they want to see you again?” Jane asked.

“Tomorrow morning,” Maria said. She let it sink in.

“How does going back to work sound now?” Jane asked.

“It sounds pretty good, actually. Look, I better go. I have to find something different to wear tomorrow. I haven’t had to wear a skirt for two days in a row in a long time! I’ll call you tomorrow, okay?” Maria said as she got up. She waved to Jane’s son on her way out.

“Bye!” Jane called after her, but she was already out the door.

“Bye bye,” Jane’s son imitated.

Jane smiled at her son, grateful that she had a few more years before she’d have to go back to work, but excited for her friend. She picked up a crayon and helped her son color his picture.