Tag Archives: first

Haiku Contest – a followup……

Some time ago, many of you voted for me – thank you again – and I won Rachelle Gardner’s Haiku contest which earned me a free 30-minute consult and review of my first five pages with a real-live literary agent at Books & Such.

The only thing was, uhm, I didn’t really have five whole pages written. Yet, that is. Ooopps.

image from clipart.com

When I won the contest, I shot off an email explaining the “project” that I had in my mind to Rachelle. I had planned to share my blog about living in India with her with the hope of eventually turning that blog into a memoir about personal growth and gratitude.

Her response?

“Remember, you get 5 pages and 30 minutes. Be very careful with what you send me.”

Fair enough.

The truth is/was that, while I have a boat load of material written about India and I believe that a lot of it is pretty good, writing about India isn’t that appealing to me right now.

I was fortunate enough to have one of my stories about India published on Robert Lee Brewer’s blog in the Life Changing Moments Series. The story was longish, so he split it into two parts. I was thrilled. I was going to appear twice on his blog. Yeah!

Part I got positive feedback and quite a few people clicked over to my blog after reading the first entry. That was really great.

Part II – not so much.

Part II got zero comments.

Part I was all about the adventure – fun with girlfriends, pretty jewelry, temples, and laughter. Part II was about how I saw myself as an indulgent tourist in a world where so many suffered.

It was heavy on the heavy.

And, after Rachelle’s caution, I thought, “yea, maybe people just don’t want to hear it.”

After that revelation, along with some encouragement from my writers group, I decided it might be time to actually take on writing a novel.

I asked Rachelle for some extra time and began writing The Alligator Purse.

Last week, I met with Rachelle on Skype. It was an exciting experience. And, I was nervous as hell.

But I learned A LOT.

I had never met with an agent before – a fact that I am sure was crystal clear to her. And I am so glad that first agent meeting is behind me.It was like going to the principal’s office.Only worse, really. It was like being called to the principal and being asked to explain how the world began and why it mattered. All while wearing your grandmother’s underwear on your head.

A large part of the problem was that my manuscript is not finished. Heck, it’s barely started – I am in the middle of Chapter 4. So, when she asked me the plot, I stammered.

I know how I want the story to go  and I actually have most of it plotted out – however, I have never really articulated or defended it.

No time like the present, huh?

The truth of the matter is that if you are going to ask an agent to represent your story – you better be able to articulate and defend/explain it. You should also probably have a good handle on the storyline.

Yes, that probably would have been fabulous to realize before hand.

You also need to really understand these terms:

Theme – the impact of the story or what the message of the book is. Some examples of theme are: racism, family secrets, unrequited love, etc. The theme is what people will talk about when the book is back on the shelf. It is why the reader will care.

Plot – the major events in the story. It is how you tell the readers why they should care. It’s what happens to whom.

I wasn’t sure that I should tell the whole story to Rachelle.Maybe she should be surprised along the way.

Rookie Mistake.

She wanted to know the details. She said you keep secrets on a book jacket but not in a query.

As you have very likely gathered, I made a lot of mistakes in that meeting. But all to my benefit. I learned so much.

And eventually, quite accidentally, I explained my plot and defined my theme.

Rachelle was quite generous and spent nearly a full hour with me. At the end of our conversation, she answered a slew of questions – including some on the synopsis I am writing for another agent.

I don’t feel like I was a total failure. Rachelle had a lot of nice things to say about my writing and my voice and she has no doubt that I will write a novel and that it will be good. Realistically, it was highly unlikely that Rachelle was going to ask to be my agent – at least not in the light of day, when I wasn’t dreaming it  – so I really had nothing to lose in our interaction. It was a teachable moment for me.

So, learn from my mistakes, dear blog reader. Wait until you are ready to query. My best advice would be to at least have a synopsis written before you contact anyone. That way you will have articulated the plot on paper and will have thought it out thoroughly. And do not wear your grandmother’s underwear on your head.

Oh yea, and practice answering your skype call at least 6 times. Because apparently 5 practice tries might not be enough. And you might leave an agent, who is willing to donate an hour of her time to your unfinished manuscript, waiting.  For at least 10 minutes. Of course, I would never do that – I just want to caution you against the possibility of it all.

And none of this is to say at all that I regret entering that contest. It was an amazing experience.

First of all I won. So there. (and if you voted for me – thank you again)

Second of all, it got me moving on writing an actual novel and I am thrilled about that!

And, finally, when I am ready, I will start querying but I will have done (all of ) my homework first. 😎

PS. I just found another great website – Novel Writing Help.

Arse in seat………..

Apparently, that is the way to get a book written.

Plant your arse in a seat and click away at the keyboard.

Arse in Seat

Just in case  you don’t remember every detail of the life that I chronicle here, I’ll take a sec to remind you that I am  writing a novel called The Alligator Purse. You can read chapter 1 here, if you like.

For the past three years, I have focused on non-fiction (aka this blog). And, then. Well, then I joined a writing group that encouraged me to try my hand at fiction. Now I am drinking the Kool-aid and have taken on a full-fledged novel.

That was brave, right? I know.

What was I thinking, right?

I know. Believe me, I know.

But now I am thinking, maybe some of you want the Kool-aid, too. Maybe some of you are writing a novel for the first time. Or maybe just an article or a short story – because maybe you are smarter than I am and maybe you don’t want to overwhelm yourself all at once – right before school gets out and the kids are home a.l.l. d.a.y.

I know, what was I thinking?

But maybe it would be fun not to write this novel all by my lonesome. I mean, sure, I will write the book with my own ideas and story ideas. But maybe, just maybe, we can skip down the yellow brick road together.

So, I will tell you what I am doing along the way and what works and what wasn’t so great.

Here are my first thoughts…

Arse in Seat Modus Operandi

The first thing I can tell you is that you must put your arse in a seat. And type. A lot. And then. A lot more.

That woman in the picture is not me – but she makes me want to highlight my hair again. Not all blond on the top like hers, but you know soft-subtle highlights.It’s summer after all…

Erghhhhh. See how easy it is for me to get distracted. Arse in Seat. Arse in Seat. Not Distracted. Arse in Seat.

Anyseat, I am starting my fourth chapter – I am at about 6,000 words. A typical novel runs about 75,000 words. Yes, I have a l.o.n.g. way to go.

My entire story is not completely plotted out, although I am pretty sure I know 5 or 6 major story events that must happen and how I would like the book to end. But the only way I am going to find out the details in between is to write them. (That, and drink more Kool-aid, possibly spiked with Vodka.)

Writers Groups

I will continue to go to my writers group mostly because I love them dearly and they serve yummy snacks. But also because they encourage me to write. And they tell me when I am not doing a great job – in a kind, loving way – but they let me know when something isn’t working. Plus, I am accountable to them. They expect me to submit chapters on a regular basis.

We meet once a week during the day when my kids are at school. That works well for me.

Take notes here – you want to be sure to find a writers group that has most of its members submitting work on a regular basis. You want to surround yourself with serious writers, who are writing.

If you are wondering how to find a writers group – try this:

1. Meetup – this site is great for all sorts of meetups (groups of people who like doing the same thing with other people) and there are tons of writing groups listed.

2. If your town has a university – call the English Department and see if have any writing groups.

3. Try your local library. They usually coordinate book clubs and might be willing to coordinate a writing group as well.

4. Take a writing class – many writing groups come from students who took a class together.

5. Simply ask around – I am amazed out how many aspiring authors are out in the world putting pen to paper. You might be surprised at who is interested in starting a group with you.

Beta Readers

My writing group is awesomesauce and it’s amazing that they are all writers. But that means they read a story differently than someone who is primarily a reader. Writers are more technical. They know the jargon and they will spew it out at you when necessary.

Beta readers are just people who like to read. They can tell you if your story is marketable because they will tell you if they would pass your book on to a friend when they are done with it.

The only thing you have to be careful of with beta readers is that they will tell you what they want to happen next. You have to remember that you are driving the story line. You determine the plot. They tell you if what you have already written works.

I asked my beta readers two things…

1. To promise not to share my chapters with anyone else. I told them if they know of someone who would like to be a beta reader, I would happily add her name to the distribution list. But I need to know who is getting what and when.

2. To be perfectly honest. I absolutely want to hear what works and what they like. But, more importantly, I want to hear where they get stuck – what doesn’t make sense. I want to know what piques their interest and makes them want to read more. And I absolutely want to know what questions they have – so I make sure to answer them all.

Writing Classes

I have signed up for two classes – both through Writers Digest.

The first one is this one that starts tomorrow. It’s called the Agent One-on-One Pitch Slam. During the course, I will work directly with Paula Munier on the first ten pages of The Alligator Purse.

The second class begins mid-June and is taught by Mark Spencer. It is an Advanced Novel Writing Course. You have to have 10,000 words written at the beginning of the course and the plan is to get you to 50,000 by the end of the 8-week session. Gulp.

My arse will need to be in a seat quite a bit.

Other Resources

Next week, I will also meet with Rachelle Gardner. She hosted this contest and, holy koolaid, I won. The prize is half an hour with her. Reviewing my work.

I won this contest because I took a chance and entered. There were tons of great entries and I just got lucky that my friends love me enough to vote for me.

Web Presence – aka Platform

This is a word that sends most novice writers right back under the blankets. I don’t know a lot about all of this but I do have a blog, another blog, a twitter, a facebook, and a pinterest account. I also reserved www.TheAlligatorPurse.com so that no one can take it before I become wildly successful and try to snag it too late. I also reserved my full name as a url so that I can start working on my name as my brand.

Luckily for us newbiews, there are lots of folks who know a lot about building a platform. You can read this post from Jeff Goins blog sharing information from platform guru Michael Hyatt.

Notebook

For Shakespeare’s sake, keep a notebook with you or at least something you can write down your ideas on. Trust me on this one. You are going to have a moment of sheer brilliance at the most unexpected time and you are going to be so confident that you couldn’t possibly forget it. Then you are going to start noticing other people’s hair color and “poof”, your idea will be gone. Lost 4-evah. So write it down the minute you have it.

I wrote about this in an article called Believing We Have a Story To Tell on Writer Unboxed because I have learned it the hard way. Too. Many. Times.

Own It

This is the most important thing – so it probably should have gone at the top – pretend it’s there okay?

You must own the fact that you are a writer. When you are at a cocktail party and someone asks you what you do, you must answer confidently, “I am a writer.” Do not explain that you are not published. Do not explain that your mother loves your work. Dear heavens, please do not explain that. Do not explain that it’s really more of a hobby.

YOU. ARE. A. WRITER. period. You Write. Therefore. YOU. ARE. A. WRITER. If you are not actually writing, remember the Arse in Seat axiom.

That is all for now. Because in a moment of extreme weakness, I signed up for a class and have 10,000 (quality) words due to a published author who will critique my work in two weeks.

I am going to keep my arse in this seat until I no longer feel like this…..

Disclaimer #1: It is important to note that the Arse in Seat Model does not work for all disciplines. For example, if you are hoping to compete in a marathon of more than mere words, you must get your arse out of the seat.

Disclaimer #2: This picture is also not me. I do not wear heels and I do not dress in all white – not even after Easter. And my floor is very honestly not that clean. Never will be.

The Alligator Purse……………

When I was in 3rd grade, I used to sit on the sidewalk and write (really bad) poetry.

In high school, I was on the newspaper staff – assigned to horoscopes, if that tells you anything – and was the editor for the school’s literary magazine. I continued to write really bad poetry and a few other things.

I majored in English in college and pretended that I would like to someday write the “great American novel”.

What that really meant was that I would like to have already written the great American novel. All the work behind me and the Pulitzer prizes rolling in.

After college, I wrote federal law enforcement policy and forgot I had any creative ambitions.

Then I moved to India and started this blog. It has been 99% non-fiction and I thought I finally found my writing niche.

That is, until I joined my latest writing group and one of the members told the group about a fiction contest. The maximum word count for submissions was 1,000 words. I thought, “I can do that”.

So I wrote my first fiction piece in nearly two decades. Not only did I lose the contest but I also lost my inhibition for writing fiction.

I don’t know where this will lead, but I have actually started a novel and I would love to hear what you think of its first few pages. Please be honest. But if you hate it, don’t just say you hate it. Please tell me why.

Mostly I want to know if you would throw the book against the wall or if you would keep reading it. And if you love it, by all means, share!

What say you…………..

The Alligator Purse
Ellen Weeren

May 2, 2012
“My daughter Savannah just doesn’t understand why seeing her is so difficult for me. She was there again today…”

In the café’s dark bathroom, Savannah pulled out a pink and white box from a crumpled brown bag. She chewed on the end of the packaging to tear through the plastic wrap. The looped letters of the name on the label offered so much hope and promise, but she could only muster up hesitation. In her solitary world, the implications of a baby were tremendous.

She entered the stall and locked the door. Even with no intention of using the seat, Savannah found it important to wipe down the stool. Then she lifted up the tattered edges of her skirt and squatted to take the test. With one shaky hand on the metal wall and the other holding the plastic wand, Savannah followed instructions for the first time in years. The brownish tint of her urine and its pungent odor surprised her. But the stream was steady and it didn’t take long to soak the stick.

Reading the pamphlet that came with the test while she waited for an answer proved unhelpful. There was nothing in it about what to do next. Savannah focused on the explanation, “if two lines appear, you are pregnant.” She believed she shouldn’t hope to bring a child into her situation, but she couldn’t help but wonder if a granddaughter would bring her mother back into her life.

When the results appeared, Savannah collapsed back onto the toilet seat. Momentarily, she weighed the many decisions before her but her head began to hurt. Savannah looked at the stick once more, wrapped it in toilet paper, and through it in the trash can hanging on the wall. She steadied herself and unlocked the door. As she digested the news and its impact, she walked toward the marble sink.

Savannah held her trembling hands under the tepid running water while she looked at herself in the mirror hanging over the sink. A ghost of her former self stared back. She blinked her eyes to scare away the vision, then reached for a towel. As she wiped her face with the warmed cloth, she leaned in closer to the mirror and pulled at the thinning skin around her dark eyes. Her cracked fingernails trapped dirt and grime that might not ever escape.

Her wavy blond hair now hung in matted strands around her sunken face and no longer resembled her mother’s. Her tailored clothes were stained and hung loosely on her diminished frame. As she lowered her arms, she caught sight of the red tract marks that had replaced the sparkly bracelets she once wore. She wiped them with the towel and wished they could disappear.

It was the first time she had really seen herself up close in months and she didn’t recognize the figure reflected in the silver glass. It shouldn’t surprise me that my own mother won’t speak to me, Savannah thought to herself. Maybe it was a mistake to come here.

She rushed out of the bathroom and headed toward the front door. Just as she was leaving the café, Elizabeth rounded the corner at the end of the block. Savannah froze when she saw her mother headed her way.

She knew it was most likely that her mother would once again dismiss her as merely a memory. Savannah wondered if Elizabeth even admitted to having a daughter any more. She watched her mother navigate the crooked sidewalk while trying to balance her shopping bags, as if they were the only things requiring her immediate attention.

Her mother wore a dark red suit and matching shoes with a slight heel. The long sleeved jacket she wore was buttoned to the top and her fitted skirt stopped right above her knees. Her blond curls were piled into a loose twist and wavy strands hung comfortably around her face. Even her makeup looked freshly applied – her cherry-colored lipstick still glimmered.

Savannah knew that Elizabeth was on her way to the café to meet her fiancé Brad for their regular Tuesday lunch date. Feeling pressure to be the first one at the table, she’d want to arrive a little early. Savannah stood in front of the café’s large picture window hoping that something could change. As Elizabeth looked around her daughter, presumably trying to find Brad, the chilled May mist settled on Savannah’s face and a quiver snaked down her spine.

Brad had warned Savannah to stay away but she didn’t fear him noticing her there. She felt sure he’d be too busy on his Blackberry to give credence to anyone not in business attire. Her worn raincoat was ragged enough to never fully draw in his eyes. Just to be sure, however, she kept her back to the café’s entrance and moved a little further from the entrance. The rain droplets from the large green and white striped awning gently washed her mousy hair as she tugged on one of the matted clumps.

When Savannah saw Elizabeth drawing closer, she turned toward her and uncrossed her shivering arms. She wanted to be noticed without seeming confrontational. But, as Savannah expected, her mother hustled right by into the warmth of the café. Their shadows barely even whispered to each other.

Through the sizable front window, Savannah watched her mother plaster on that familiar smile, crinkle up her nose, and give a puppet wave to the hostess by slightly tapping together her fingers against her thumb. Then she pointed to her favorite table in the corner of the restaurant and started walking toward it in front of the hostess.

The hostess followed her back to the secluded table. As the hostess scraped the wooden chair across the rustic floor, Elizabeth shooed away the menu.

Savannah closed her eyes and remembered her mother’s order. The menu hadn’t changed in thirty years and neither had Elizabeth’s selection. Savannah could almost hear her mother say it, “I’ll have the cup of tomato soup and a half sandwich on whole grain bread with lettuce and tomato. Please do hold the may-oh-nnaise.”

Savannah opened her eyes and saw Brad sauntering by, predictably late by five minutes, guaranteeing he would not be the one left waiting for someone else to arrive. He tapped away at his Blackberry with his left thumb as he opened the door with his other hand. Savannah’s eyes followed him as he entered the restaurant. She hated to admit how handsome he really was but, in moments like this, it was hard to deny. He appeared so focused and determined. The rain shining in his thick black hair gave him a just showered look. Savannah understood why Elizabeth was drawn to him. It was why she stayed that remained such a mystery.

 

Brad entered the café and sat down at the familiar table without looking up at Elizabeth. She simply waited for him to be done with his email or text or whatever it was that had captured his attention at the moment. She fumbled with her engagement ring and the over-sized stone at its center as she patiently anticipated the inevitable question.

“What’s she doing outside?”

“Who?” Elizabeth pretended to wonder.

“Nice try,” he answered, finally putting his phone down next to his fork on the table. “You know it’s not fabulous that people might see her here.”

“She is my daughter,” Elizabeth reminded him.

“You must remember she represents everything I am not.”

“Things weren’t supposed to be this way. She should’ve graduated from college this month. This isn’t easy.”

“Let me say that differently. She represents everything we are not.”

“I know,” Elizabeth said now fiddling with her napkin.

“Why don’t they ever bring over menus?” Brad asked and raised his hand to call over the waitress.

 

In front of the café, Savannah’s stomach filled with bubbles that erupted in her abdomen and rose to her throat. Instinctively, she lowered her right hand to her belly and rubbed it softly side to side. Rather than linger abou, she walked around to the back of the restaurant and spied the dumpster.

The cobblestone alley was wet with rain and slime. Savannah carefully side-stepped the overstuffed bags lining the narrow corridor of trash. She ignored the stench, knowing that the discarded scraps would be delicious and plentiful. The dainty women inside the café most often left their meals half-eaten, pretending to be full. The reality of it was they feared gaining even an ounce of additional weight, especially in a restaurant staffed by beautifully young and too-thin college students who flirted effortlessly with the male guests dining there.

As Savannah tipped her waist gracefully over the edge of the moss green dumpster, she looked for the freshest fare. She easily found a chicken salad sandwich in a clear plastic take-away container that had hardly been touched. The lettuce under the croissant was not yet wilting and the tomato still sweated with moisture. She stumbled when she picked up the container and saw the familiar alligator purse.

Forgetting her hunger, she tilted her head and dropped the sandwich. It had to be the purse she remembered. She knew it was. Her father had special-ordered it for her mother on their last trip together to Paris. The swirled “E” on the front and the bag’s taffy orange tint were undeniable. It was Savannah’s go-to purse when she played dress up as a little girl.

She wondered why the purse was there. Her mother loved that purse and so did she. From Savannah’s way of thinking, it simply did not belong in the trash.

Carefully, Savannah slid her hand in between the dumpster’s edge and her stomach to buffer it from the jagged ridge along the top. She leaned further in and grabbed her mother’s old purse. As Savannah turned away from the trash container and its rotting contents, she sunk to the ground. Purposefully, she pulled her knees to her chest and the purse up to her delicate nose. The putrid smell of the garbage could not mask Elizabeth’s beloved lavender perfume. She drew in the scent, leaned back her head, and became seven years old once again.

 

What the hell are we doing………..

Verizon to spend $69 million

I just read this article on by Axl Logan on the Talk Android website. According to Mr. Logan, Verizon is going “above and beyond” for its customers this year and is spending $69 m.i.l.l.i.o.n. to provide mobile access at the superbowl for the 85,000 people who will be in attendance. They started the work the day after the superbowl last year so that they would be sure to be ready.

So let me break this down –

they will spend three hundred and sixty-five days

and

sixty-nine million dollars

so that 85,000 people won’t be without mobile coverage for a mere 4ish hours. “They can tweet away”. Well, I will certainly sleep better tonight knowing that. Argh.

Yes, America has real first world problems. Seriously.

I read not too long ago that a person in India is considered to being living in poverty if they make less than something ridiculous like fifty cents a day. I am no math whiz but I think fifty cents goes into $69  million a whole bunch of times. If Verizon teamed up with Heifer.org, a charitable group that provides livestock to villagers to promote their ability to survive, they could donate 138,000 cows to needy villages. (Each cow is $500.)

The only benefit I can see from this entire project is that there were probably a few jobs created, but our priorities are way out of whack. Way out. There are people starving in the world, children who are abused, sick people who have horrible diseases, entire villages that live without water, masses who are uneducated and we think it is necessary and appropriate to dedicate this volume of resources on providing mobile coverage for a flippin’ football game. Honestly.

What I am missing…………

Living in India had huge highs and lows.

Meeting the President would have been a big fat tick on the upside. He’s in Delhi right now. And guess who is not. 🙁

Yep, b.u.m.m.e.r.

 

P.S. Thanks Kushal for the photo – that’s her with her eyes closed. 😉