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The (Mis)Adventures Of An Aspiring Novelist
by:  Missye K. Clarke, Team Harmonic-Power & "The Antioxidants Explainer"
"There is no imagination without knowledge." --Albert Einstein
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?


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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"Iyanla, Fix My Life, Too...(Please)"
originally posted: May 15, 2013

As of this post, the first of my McGuinness / Pedregon series JERSEY DOGS is done with my round of edits, and awaiting the scrutiny of another author who wrote an e-book about the scourge the American school system has become. I'm excited; I've never had a beta reader before, and an editing one at that apart from a critique group (Considering my checkered history with critique groups, this might be a good thing. I don't know, I just might be too much a maverick to work that well with others. :)).

Life did its thing with me. Illnesses, finding time to get primal with sex, pay bills, raise kids and nurture pets, sleep, schedule in workouts. And fit in music practice. Yep, bringing back clarinetting--if it's not a word, it is now, LOL!--and working on better vocals. Both might help when I tour book clubs and need to speak before my audiences. Still plan on learning acoustic; I'm a lefty and I won't pay outrageous prices for the privilege of owning a left-handed sunburst. Plus I'm intrigued at Casper's joy and love of acoustic as much as I have for writing, music and singing.

It's interesting, this writing life. We get to play God, but sometimes not know our characters' reasons and motives why they do what they do. While channel surfing, I happened on Oprah's network show, "Iyanla, Fix My Life," hosted by Iyanla Vanzant. This broadcast featured a group of women bloggers from Chicago, dubbed "The Six Black Chicks," and in a nutshell, helps broken souls understand in layman's terms how to work through emotional minefields. She resonates with me as does the Bible; like Jesus came to the masses and had a following he loved, believed in, and broke down facts as they were regarding God's standards, she breaks down things in smart, (yes, emotional; this is Oprah, remember?!), resonating facts. No, there's no revival or come to Jesus moments in this series, but if it gets people open to other avenues to forgiveness . . . hey, well, God can use anybody.

This got me thinking: like Iyanla's fixed me in some spots I'm emotionally cracked in--and you are, too, don't front--so I do for my cast. I'm my characters' version of "Iyanla, fix my life, too . . . please."

Sounds hokey doesn't it? Maybe not. Part of writing is releasing something inside you the world might otherwise ridicule, misconstrue, misunderstand and turn against you. And unfortunately, they will, as insecurity and fear does that. But through your characters and my characters, we all have something to say and heal from. In this case, when one releases their imaginations in their otherwise voided minds, something beautiful might transform. It's a blast knowing I get to help a reader or another somebody move into the positive--or conversely, I'll feel heartbreak if something in my reads prompt a life to do something tragic. I know it's not personal, but the downside of playing a fictional God.

We all have stories, real and fictionalized. And whether or not you know it, you're your own "Iyanla." I think I just made my characters smile a little bit more broadly at this, in the Hell I'll out them through in the series.

Because the Creator of the Cosmos knows I can handle certain types of Hell, too.

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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 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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