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The (Mis)Adventures Of An Aspiring Novelist
by:  Missye K. Clarke, Team Harmonic-Power & "The Antioxidants Explainer"
web:  http://www.facebook.com/MissyeKClarke
twitter:  http://www.twitter.com/MKClarkeWrites
"There is no imagination without knowledge." --Albert Einstein
October 10, 2014

In Tune With 'Toons

Hi, Readers.

Much has happened: I got sick with the summertime upper respiratory crud my sweet husband generously brought home, then he and my son took ill with said vicious crud, too. So while I nursed us back to health, I goofed around on social media, read a lot, watched TV (yes, Jerry Springer made the channel-surfing roster; I needed a good laugh) and worked out when I could. Plus I've been taking my workouts über-seriously, trying to stave off the doubts-like-kudzu of should I keep this writing life madness alive out of my head (an emphatic NO after attending a wonder day-long "Murder As You Like It" workshop this past September.). After said workshop, I'm drafting a synopsis for JERSEY DOGS, which means I'm re-reading the book for the 170th time and counting. Can you tell, much as I adore Casper, Logan, and Jay Vincent and they, me, we're as sick as can be of re-visiting this adventure? But it's a necessary evil. And a great lesson in penning a novel-in-a-page: it's Twitter for your book. Cast, high points, ending. Done.

God, if it were only that easy.

But it kinda is (though the explanations are far more complicated than need be, IMO). You see, in finding the high points for said one page summary, I'm scything more fat from this book than I thought I could ever do and thought I'd already done. Sentences are more condensed to clear redundancy; scenes trimmed to tighten pace; canned, expired beats swapped out for higher-hanging fruit beat ones, for, well . . . freshness (nothing stays fresh long in a can, after all.). And readying my sample chapters for potential indie publishers, could you honestly believe I discovered twenty-one misspelled words there? *gasp!*Twenty-one! No, I'm not above misspelling words, but whoa, the pros are spot-on: Edit your stuff. Or pay someone to do it for you. Then edit it again. And read the paragraphs out loud. Or backwards. What you'll catch will amaze you, even after you'd paid for it. I paid for mine. She, to put it plain, stunk worse than black-bagged, NYC trash in a noonday sun. But I don't list names; it's to protect the innocent and the moron. "The Female With the Green Pen" is the latter.

Now what's this gotta do with cartoons? Plenty . . . other than being a fan of them since I was old enough to start reading. And singing. When I was three and four, respectively.

I'm a devoted, hardcore fan of Regular Show. They have an eleven-minute window from start to finish to get the thrust of an episode's humor and story to the audience. Shorter time: Looney Tunes (the old-school ones, not the Cartoon Network's re-tooled, politically-correct vomited pig slop, post-Seinfeld alleged humor no kid will understand and Upper East Side adults think humorous.). I'm referencing the "That's All Folks!" 'toons where Yosemite Sam was always outsmarted by the smart-aleck, sarcastic "How's the weather out there, John L.?" Bugs. The Daffy who couldn't spin a quarter-staff on a bet or got crickets when performing with Bugs--until he lit a match after swallowing nitro and swallowed that, too.). Elmer was the animator who gave Bugs his come-uppance for once (as did the Dog did Foghorn and Bugs did Daffy. Gotta love Chuck Jones, who often broke the fourth wall in cartoons.). Pepe Le Pew, a deluded-but-loveable playboy, forgetting he's a skunk and thinking he'd slick over a female just because he was a suave, French bachelor misplaced as a skunk (aren't most bachelors skunks? Hmmm . . . there's a thought.). And c'mon, how can you not love Rocky & Bullwinkle, Underdog, Spawn, Popeye, Tom & Jerry, Tennessee Tuxedo, The Flinstones, Mighty Mouse, Casper, Heckle & Jeckyl, Mickey Mouse, Felix the Cat, Quik Draw McGraw, Top Cat, Thundercats, Josie & The Pussycats, and three current ones: Animaniacs, Pinky & the Brain and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? (Sorry, folks, I deliberately left out Scooby-Doo. Just wasn't my thing, but I'll grant this much: Fred was a hottie, though. For somebody drawn that way *grin*.).

Die-hard novelists, snooty among their writing salon friends with multi-syllabic words to sound more important than they are, argue TV writing doesn't belong in novels. Wrong. We're visual creatures and need that nugget to spur the imagination. Imagery brings this scene to life in our thoughts, in dreams and the mind's eye, but so what if a nod, a grin, an eyebrow hitch or a shrug makes the page? So what if a writer watches cartoons? Isn't it a great tool to write tight? Don't you do those body movements in life, chuckle at somebody else's slight misfortune, or try to one-up your fellow man while driving or at work? Or outsmart your kids? So why not put it in a book? 'Toons do said movements, too. (Yeah, they do that, too. Don't blame me, blame Drawn Together, South Park and Fritz the Cat. The only things I know 'toons don't do: obey our laws of physics. They never seem to need to use the bathroom, no matter how often they eat or drink.).

Some of the best writing has come from cartoons. The ending of PIXAR's Toy Story 3 was talked about for months. The ten minutes of no-dialog in Up where Ellie and Carl were kids, grew into adults, then he was alone, was the most expressive to show love words couldn't ever do. And the humor going over the head of kids spoofed in Rocky & Bullwinkle and Peabody's Improbable History is timeless. But before you dismiss this, consider E.M. Barrie (PETER PAN), A.A. Milne (WINNE THE POOH); L. Frank Baum (THE WIZARD OF OZ); Lewis Carroll (ALICE IN WONDERLAND); Dr. Seuss (CAT IN THE HAT); Roald Dahl (CHARLIE & THE GREAT GLASS ELEVATOR) and Maurice Sendak (WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE). Would we not have a Tim Burton, a Walt Disney, a Hanna-Barbera, a Chuck Jones, a Fritz Freleng, a Rankin / Bass, or a Mel Blanc were it not for the aforementioned?

I say no.

I'll never give up 'toons. In fact, I'm planning something pretty neat for my three protagonists that'll make then drop their jaws in fright and excitement simultaneously that might set the mystery genre on its ear. Yes, I'm going there. The aforementioned did it for me. I need to do it for those writers coming up after me. It's my dream to one day be animated as a 'toon. And if ever I give up writing, that's when the kudzu of doubt in my writer's mind has won.

I think I have just the cure to kill off that kudzu of writer-doubt once and for all. Time for a 55-gallon drum of turpentine, acetone and benzine. Commonly known as DIP to immerse it in. Survive that, you weed! *grin*

Been fun to visit. I'll work at it updating this space more often.

~ Missye

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June 1, 2014

...And Back To My Writing Adventures, Already In Progress

I know. It's been forever since I've updated this. But I've a good reason, apart from my dog not being big enough to eat my homework.

Life kicked me in the balls. Hard. And a few more times for good measure. They're well galvanized, but taking the hits and asking for another is still not fun.

My last post came from a hotel room while my family and I waited for an apartment to come around; three days after that post, we moved in. Right in the middle of a chaotic pigsty. The homelessness adventures dominoed from my husband's health problems earlier that year, and right after tax time when all our bills were paid. Money's helpful, sure, but as you know, health is priceless. You can't even rent that shit out for extra bread, either.

Then cold, otherwise known as winter in December and beyond, thundered in on epic levels, the roommates moved out, and 2/3rds of my place were otherworldly frigid (Just as well; I think they'd've skipped out on the electric bill after keeping their cheapskate hind ends warm.). Transmission sputtered at the start of January, but recovered, and my record run of not having the flu or its shots for nearly three decades came to a vomit-projectiling halt closed out the month. A new job awaits my guy and my returning, albeit budding, journalism career stretches its reach to the sun just last week.

Why this update now? Other than for building my resume, you readers needed a fresh-coat-of-paint post, I needed to put one here, and you might've wondered what's doing in my writing life (when I'm not reading, or poking around on social media--guilty as charged.). So without further ado, here we go. Buckle in, kids, you're in for a ride.

• Book 1 of the McGuinness/Pedregon Chronicles, JERSEY DOGS, is being edited by a fantastic freelance editor, Taryn Albright, and whom I might keep even if I get a book deal. I haven't received her JD notes back yet, but when I do, I'll be in heavy edits on it and have it finally put to bed by August. Of course I'll update this page with details as soon as I have them. In the interim, I'm working hard on the final 1/3rd of the second book of the series, called KINGS OF CASPIAN COUNTY. During NaNo 2013, I began ONE ASTORIA FOX, Book 3 of the series. I didn't win that marathon--came in 42K-something-words--but considering my previous circumstances, not a bad showing.

• Between this August and next March, I'll either indie publish JERSEY DOGS or have an agent by then, whichever comes first (But if I don't agent JD, I'll certainly hunt for one or have one for the other books.). As such, I've had to quell many dead followers on my Twitter handle (@MKClarkeWrites) to make room for more followers and follows in the pub industry.

• In updating my laptop, which I'm typing from now, I found a 2010 MG urban fantasy WIP in my e-mails while downloading my other projects. Thrilled, elated, exhilarated and just damn stoked wasn't enough to cover my happy dance that night. That's open on the new laptop and worked on daily, and tentatively called THE DREAMSCAPE SERIES: BREATHE: A Zak Newton Novel. Gotta love recurring dreams.

• Been sick as a dog and engaging in a battle of staying healthy and while recovering from setbacks. This time around I'm taking exercising seriously, and have been consistently doing so since the end of March. Nothing huge to report. Will do so when the time comes. But on an encouraging note: no way will I be in this Stay-Puft shape when I'm the Big 5-O.

• And I'm taking the writing plunge of something I've always wanted to do, but was too scared to for fear of someone calling me crazy for it. I'm putting myself, the author, as a character in my characters' worlds in a totally different setting. It's akin to putting myself in another author's character's world. I think Twain did that once with Sawyer and Finn. Hell if I were him I'd've done it without a 2nd thought; Tom and Huck are too much fun NOT to hang with. And if Einstein admitted to seeing himself ride a light wave next to a speeding train, this, too, can be done. The project's erotica with one character, a novella-length vignettes for the other. The third is in my urban fantasy series (which I'm not part of, I just write the stuff *grin.*). Feel free to guess which assignments Casper, Logan, and Jay Vincent were tasked. Hint: They all adore their Missions: Not Impossible.

When life happens, do something about it after the shell-shock wears off. Like with revisions, there's no point complaining about it; it's going to happen, regardless. And complaining only makes you a pain in the ass to those around you. So suck life up and get back in whatever saddle your creative outlet happens to be. Characters have to grow. Authors aren't immune.

Thanks for hangin' with me. And now I take my leave to return you to your writing life, also already in progress. Besides it's almost 4am ET and I need to catch my sleep. A sweatfest awaits me later today.

Glad to be back.

~ Missye

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September 4, 2013

The Softer Side of Hell

I unapologetically defend my previous blog entry. And it'll eventually be archived for store in this vast place we call cyberspace, never to be deleted from its annuls. I do so not because this is my portal on Publishers' Marketplace's fantastic Website, or I'm marketing myself as an author, or even on the basis of liberty via the 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution's Bill of Rights. Albeit colorfully--quite, sone would say--I shared my ick factor of drafting a novel synopsis (more on that in a bit). While one may perceive that entry like a tantrum-throwing four-year-old in Times Square on Saturday told no to a Toys R Us visit, another might read between the lines to glean a deeper point, elusive to tether a word to.

There's a third side this post will explore regarding the previous one, a softer side of the writing life sometimes mercilessly is. And through it, I hope my softer side avails itself.

Between the Internet, books, podcasts, conferences, classes, programs, etc., there's probably enough writing resources to cover every square mile of Alaska high to an elephant's eye, with references left over to dump into the Pacific. One such title, A YEAR OF WRITING DANGEROUSLY, Abercrombie's "Getting Permission" chapter highlight's ON WRITING WELL author William Zinsser making a crucial, brilliant point. People wanting to write are told what to write about, rather than go there and write what their instincts wanted them to put words to. A teacher may tell Student X he should write one way, when Student X's inner voice says--"him" and "he" used generically to encompass "she" and "her" for the sake of readability--to write another, unique, road-less-traveled way or topic. And the student doesn't write, or refuses to when the teacher is inflexible . . . which, unintentionally, begins a downward spiral.

It's hard to let yourself be okay with writing dangerously; I was scared to post something that explicit in the face of blunt honesty (this medium won't ever get that degrading, crass or blue; after seeing Miley Cyrus's "performance" on MTV's 2013 VMAs, I'm reformed. *grin*). Cost me a gig, too, but it's okay. The lesson buried in the bleep-machine post was about giving yourself permission to gripe about aspects of the writing life that really are God-awful, and it's okay to get that raw, if need be, about it. And it's also okay to accept your strengths and weaknesses as a writer, and to not devote time to those weaknesses that won't strengthen. For me, writing a synopsis ceilings at a 3 or 4 from a 1 to 2; I'd rather weather root canal without Novocain. On the upshot, drafting a 30-second pitch for JERSEY DOGS took 2 hours, was turned down twenty-two times and counting, the MS twice, and both are ever-tighter on each revision (kudos to Twitter pushing my brevity to its limits). Best to shore weaknesses within the strengths. As for what I want to write about, I do it, the previous entry reflective of this, come what may, I write for me and one more willing to read it. The rest is gravy. Life's too short. For that, I'm unapologetic.

The writing life--and life in general--is unapologetic. So, too, shouldn't the author always be, and leave it be when none will listen (my Granny, who would've been 98 last week, always said, "Child, sometimes being right has to be enough."). Permit yourself to be dangerous in what you create, and stand courageously in it. Ironically, that's where the softer side of Hell resides.

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August 29, 2013

Entering A New & Improved Fresh Hell: That Damn Novel Synopsis

Well, life sure sent sliders, curveballs and Hail Mary passes of lemons by the bushel my way, so I'm sharing my lemonade in the sweet and sticky way I know how: politically incorrect truth. Some might perceive this as a sourgrapes-fest. No, boo, it's a good, old-fashioned bitchfest, and I'll gladly refund your money. But those sticking around . . . when you don't like doing something, no mater how grown-up and responsible and "adult" you have to be to do it, you still bitch, right? Fuck yeah, you do.

Kids, I mean this in fun. Don't take me (too) seriously. But let's be flat-out real: who likes a root canal? Who likes chitlins? Who likes a colonoscopy? Who likes being overdrawn in a bank account or up to your eyeballs in massive credit card debt for the Bowflex machine you swore you needed and would use from New Years' Day, 2006. You used the damn thing once.

For the few of you who said you like any of those things, I'll be sure to find you on a public bus or train just to NOT sit next to you.

So here's my very major, huge sigh, blowing-a-gasket, howling at the moon dislike: I need to draft a synopsis for JERSEY DOGS (and the book's done. Completed. Edited. Finito. Just needs a professional editor for perusal for finer polish I can't give it, being too close to it, etc., etc.). No, I haven't done it. Yet. Yeah, I'm like that kid who crams for a worth-40%-of-the-total-gtade midterm 17 hours before the test, praying for the best, but knowing I'll have my ass handed to me for putting off the inevitable. And though I have enough lead-time to get it done for a writers' conference in Philadelphia this September, I do this under protest. Yes, it's a needed evil, like editors reading slush manuscripts to find the gold they always clamor for. And they can tough that out, uh-huh, so can I. But this part of the craft I have to work though, and push through, and bitch through . . . and get through. I'll be fine. Howling at that not-giving-a-shit moon, but I'll be fine.

I'm not whining, this is what I signed on for. But parts of it I don't have to like, and I don't give a rat's ass if it's not politically correct to declare it as such in the publishing industry. It's like pushups, deeper writing: you can't do them in the beginning because they're so damn hard, so you don't do them. But you need to do them to get stronger in every aspect, physically. So, too, this synopsis counts. And like those fuckin' pushups I still hate, I do them, because I can do them. Can pop out 12 standards in a row. Getting up to 15. Thanks for going along with the digression.

The point: complaining about something is what our characters do, but they gotta get off their asses to get over it. And they do, sometimes. Nothing is different here. For some reason, people in this world say we shouldn't bitch about this; why? You gripe about commutes, other people's kids' pictures all over Facebook, people reaching a ready player one new high-score of stupid . . . but you deal. So, too, will this synopses do for me, this fresh hell right up there with parking tickets, paying the state of Pennsylvania damn near a grand in fines--and less than $200 to go, thank Zeus. Yeah, I wanted to reach another place with my writing, but this shit hurts. Like the pushups and HIIT workouts. And I actually thought to myself this weekend past, "Hey, Missye, you'll need to dip your toe in a hotter hell to take your writing to another level." Guess what the universe slaps me upside the head with?

Me and my big damn mouth. Life's plot-twist, my ass.

Did I declare how much I hate this? Yeah, I did. So I guess this is the part now where I put on the badass britches and start writing.

I know it gets easier. Don't talk to me in the middle of this, or I will find you on that bus or train, sit next to you, and tell you stories that make you have nightmares for a month during our lovely 2 hour commute together. *grin*

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A R C H I V E / H I G H L I G H T S

Independence From Word-Count Conformity
originally posted: July 4, 2013

I'm a little bit of a nut (nah, what was your first guess? *grin*), so it's not completely surprising I question the conformity of word counts in novels writing guidelines.

I won't blatantly flout them in the word-clutter, mechanics, can't-kill-my-darlings sense. But within them, I'll do as I please. That's why the reader picked up my book(s): they want an escape, regardless of a "set length" that escape takes place in. If the story's damn engaging, they won't know how long it is. They want to be told a story to experience, be moved to act, do something amazing, bold, driving, daring . . . crazy. Does a word count matter then if they were left remembering the characters and / or the plot?

No.

They crave, yearn, ache for writing and storytelling out of the box, because I do. Daring, bold, coloring out the lines -- or in them with crazy Day-Glo hues.

Sendak, Bradbury, Lewis, and Serling didn't conform; they took a risk. Sometimes it paid, sometimes not, but they never stopped to conform. I won't, either.

There, I said it.

My McGuiness / Pedregon Chronicles series starter, JERSEY DOGS, is a touch over 140K words. For a first-time novelist, it's a lengthy, deep read (as is Mark Levin's AMERITOPIA and Betty Smith's A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN in content as well as length), and bold of me to declare. But who am I, you ask, to compare myself with these authors? No one. I only do on word counts alone. Some readers prefer meaty reads; others don't. I hadn't realized I'd been a meaty, deep writer to start with (but if you ask me to read or write in the style of WAR & PEACE or MOBY DICK, pass. Even Superman had his limits. *grin*). I also found out there's nothing wrong with that!

"But, but, but, first-time authors should keep to certain words limits for this genre or that to be published. They can bust this rule when established."

I trust this on a purely statistical point. Printing books these days pays a huge economical and conservational cost. It culls trees for paper pulp for book pages, jacket covers for hardbacks, back and front covers for paperbacks, flower and sap dyes in ink costs, man-hours in production, etc. Also trees don't mature fast enough to keep making such lovely things, and each hardcover and paperback returned equals reduced profits for publisher and author. Another reason for limits: some writers practically and almost always filibuster in their works via their characters or think every word that had been deleted should return to the story . . . so the guideline is justified. A solid example would be Stephen King -- established, well-known, household name, TV & film optioned King -- wrote a 45-page essay about guns, and a 1,100 page tome / doorstop titled IT. People complained about both. Established or not, an excellent editor knows how to cut and shape filibustering and / or blustering writing.

But if the draft is scrubbed of word-clutter, the filibustering slashed -- and the story's still longer than a set word count -- what to do?

Go to e-book format and, if anyone wants hard copies with or without a traditional publisher, the writer and consumer pays for POD (print-on-demand) copies. Leave the word count be, especially if it sacrifices the story or takes its theme and meaning out of context. If it worked for some first-time authors way back when, it can work now. I'm writing the story I want and need to tell, based on every writing advice around. So what if my firstborn "book-baby" is 13 pounds, 3 ounces / 23 inches long, the 2nd, 11 pounds, 7 ounces / 22 inches? It'll take the reader a bit to nurse these meaty guys, is all. It's not like I can go back to God and tell Him I want a smaller "Shaquille O'Neil," this size is wrong, take it back. I'll be known as a meaty novelist, is all, as the world has minimalist ones.

"But, but, but . . . you're not established. You can only do that when you have a following/decent sales/an agent/an editor/good reviews."

Newton didn't wait until he knew someone to discover gravity. Einstein took fifteen years to win his Nobel for his General Relativity Theory thesis, but he never let go of its purpose. It's in my nature to be rebellious -- albeit strategically, unlike the teens/YAs/NAs I write for -- and there's nothing wrong with being bold from the jump, because somebody, somewhere will like it. I question why do it in the middle of establishing yourself and jolting your readers. Isn't the idea to craft something so creative in the confines of plot, character, story, setting, etc., they don't notice the book's length? Liken it to a New Year's Day Polar Bear Dip (I plan on doing that, incidentally; what say you?), or train to hike Kilimanjaro (also on my bucket list) as a huge fitness goal. You can train and train, but in the end, even when you haven't done some things, time to kick yourself from the nest and pull from the dive to fly (The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper album), or learn what not to do after the crash and burn (The Fab Four's "Revolution No. 9" tune of the White album).

And did I not mention Stephen King?

Yes, truly, The Beatles didn't do theirWhite or Sgt. Pepper albums until a couple of years after their '64 splash in America . . . but they were categorically and musically different from the onset, and the recording business is notoriously finicky and ever-shifting to start with.

Lighting a reader's inner fuse of fireworks is tantamount to developing a lifelong literate, minimalist writers or meaty ones, so words count shouldn't matter. I know this is a business, but the bottom line shouldn't and cannot always be the driving force. Liberty and imagination are boundless within the confines of freedom, and a stellar editor will know how to shape a writer's meatier or minimalist's read in a way it isn't perceived as one. And spoken strictly from a creativity standpoint, ultimately to keep a lifelong literate and reader, that's the best form of independence there is.

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R E A D E R   C O M M E N T S

I love feedback and read every comment. Please post your thoughts on this / other topics; I will reply in kind. If you prefer anonymity, that's fine, too. Be tasteful, however, as professionalism carries farther than ill-mannerism does. Thank you for understanding.

A B O U T   T H E   A U T H O R

Ms. Clarke is a fulltime writer building her mystery series, The McGuinness / Pedregon Casebook Chronicles. When not homeschooling her son or involved with writing-related projects, she helps helps and engages people to embrace a healthier, enriched life through nutrition and exercise. Ms. Clarke is a blog poster to her portal on Publisher's Marketplace and future sites, spends too much on Facebook and a contributor to help colleagues shape and polish their works-in-progress.


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