Monday, January 31, 2011

Dear St. Valentine: Shut Up.

February Challenge: Eh. The title speaks for itself.

Dear St. Valentine,

I'm writing this letter with a Valentine's Day-themed TV movie playing in the background. The only three-dimensional character is Jennifer Love Hewitt's freakishly long false eyelashes. (Don't get too close to the screen - those things'll put your eye out.)(Okay, maybe not the only three-dimensional character. Betty White is always adorable.) This has only solidified my opinion of you, St. Valentine.

You're super lame.

I could go on about my theory that your holiday is really a nefarious conspiracy between the candy, flower, greeting card and jewelry industries to rip off the American public . . . But I wouldn't want anyone to think me bitter. Instead, I'll talk about your less-warm-and-fuzzy counterpart, St. Dwynwen. If you've read this blog before, Valentine, you may have guessed that I'm a tiny bit obsessed with all things Welsh. Dydd Santes Dwynwen, or St. Dwynwen's Day, is all about the patron saint of Welsh lovers. Side note: she's also the patron saint of sick animals, which is just fine with me.

Dwynwen was one of King Brychan Brycheiniog's (say that five times fast) twenty-four daughters. She fell hard for a guy called Maelon Dafrodil, but for some reason (the stories differ) it didn't work out. Personally, I think she realized she could never respect a man with a name that sounded like "daffodil." After they broke up, she fled to the woods, where she prayed to forget her daffodil prince. An angel appeared to her with a magic potion that - get ready, ladies - turned Maelon into ice when Dwynwen drank it. Poetic, no?

Know what else I like about love in Wales? The spoons.

Behold, my meager stash of Welsh love spoons. The one on the right is carved from lime wood. I bought it at the National Eisteddfod last summer. (Ooh, I bet you'd like to know just what in the world eisteddfod means, right? That's another post for another day, but if you can't possibly contain yourself until then, try googling it.)

Sooooo, I think we've established that I'm not much for your standard tokens of affection, i.e. flowers, etc. But if anyone happens to be curious about how to win me over, I'd like to build up my love spoon collection. Just sayin.' Or, you know, chocolate is always good.
*Clears throat*

To show you there's no hard feelings, I'm including one sappy love song that I actually like:

Yours in reluctant tolerance,

Maegan, Gnome Slayer Extraordinaire

Friday, January 28, 2011


That anorexic-looking stick thing on the right is my arm--shadowed on both sides so it looks like an anorexic-looking stick thing. Be ye not alarmed. It is an illusion.

Yep. I believe I shall do very well dealing with everything that goes along with publishing an international best-seller--which is naturally what my book will be. If I can get my neighbors to buy it. And then get them to get their friends to buy it, and their friends to buy it, and so on. But yeah. International. 

You want proof I can deal? Let's look at the Orson-Scott-Card's-brother-kiss-which-I-did-not-even-pass-out-from-and-hence-figure-I-can-totally-handle-fame-because-OSC's-brother-is-next-to-famous-thing. We were in a play together. "Finnian's Rainbow." I was twenty-three, he was older than that and had a wife and six daughters. Not. Awkward. At. All. I kissed him. And he kissed me. We kissed each other. As characters in the play. And I did not faint. (Of course his wife was in the audience. Every night. As was my new little husband. And my sister-in-law who was sixteen at the time and who, when OSC's bro and I locked lips stared at my completely self-confident and not bothered in the least by it husband, and said--loudly--BRUCE!) (Yeah. I heard it on stage.) But I'm serious. I did not faint. And OSC's brother has probably never forgotten my composure. 

So, having to kiss the leading man when the movie of my book comes out and I am cast in it? I've got that.

And then there was the Stalking-Marie-Osmond incident, in which I was applying for a job as an aerobics instructor (Yes, it was the '80's. And yes I wore leg warmers. Problem?) I was in the crowd doing aerobics and awaiting my turn to go up and lead everyone. The little chicklet who was auditioning before me was up there feeling the burn and doing step ball-changes like nobody's business. But I could barely hear her. So I started sort of creeping forward without realizing it. Then I noticed I was almost trampling this name-brand-appareled, perfect-haired girl in front of me and I moved back. Annnnd pretty soon it happened again. So it was pretty much: jumpingjacksjumpingjacksjump--oops--movebackmovebackmoveback, over and over again. Name-brand-girl kept eying me in a worried sort of way and I had no idea what was going on.

Then it was my turn and I totally blew it because I was too nervous to breathe and couldn't project over the blasting music. Basically it was like Closed Captioned Aerobics. Except without the subtitles. 

So I left. And as I drove off I looked inside the building and saw the little aerobicized, perfectly coiffed girl I'd crept up on turn and look at me. And, oh yeah, it was totally Marie Osmond. I saw fear flicker in her eyes as she stared. Clearly worried that I was overwhelmed by her. So, to show her that I wasn't the LEAST bit disturbed by my proximity to her fame, and there was therefore nothing for her to fear, I stared back. Without blinking. The whole way around the building. Whenever I ran into her after that--which I did a LOT of, oddly--I could always see that admiration in her eyes.

Dealing with the adoration of other celebrities? Yeah. I've got that too.

And this is how I know I can make it as a famous author and do just fine. Not only do I have memories with these people, but they would totally back me up if I needed them to. It's like that between us. As for Michael Chiklis and the time I nearly ran him down in a Vancouver hotel hallway when I was 89 months pregnant, psh. I'm sure he's forgotten that by now.

Oh yeah. I got this fame thing in the bag.

My back-of-the-book photo. Note the deep humility.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Thomas Mann is the Man. And So Is The Egypt Sissie.

"A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people." --Thomas Mann

Dear Thomas Mann: Thank you for that. And now could you please explain why?
I spend a lot of time worrying about writing - especially while I'm in the process. I'd like to cut it out, because I think it is not only slowing me down, but messing me up. Interfering with what I could be getting down on paper without that fear. Plus, it makes me really exhausting to live with (can you say "needy"?)

I'm not exactly sure how Maegan's pal Fangxiety got into my mix, but he's been there a lot since I became an adult; telling me that what I'm doing isn't good enough. Maybe no one will like it, blah, blah. Oddly, I never worried about that as a kid. It was all about drawing feelings and experiences out of my soul and creating a common meeting ground for other souls. (Translated into Kidspeak: It rocked.) Creating shouldn't be constraining. It should be freeing.

When I was ten years old I moved to Germany, leaving my best friend in Maryland. Her dad was also in the Air Force so it wasn't very long before they'd moved to Iceland. We kept in touch, faithfully, through the mail. And that was saying something, because back then it took anywhere from two weeks to a month and a half to receive a letter.

My friend loved writing too, and had a great talent for it. One of the things she got us doing was writing episodic adventures together. We'd send each other the next chapter until the adventure ended. It started with a comic strip series (illustrated rather goofily by me and beautifully by her--but hey, it was fun) called "The Team." Our main characters were Ropegirl and Flashgirl, and their arch-nemesis was the Egypt Sissy.

Arch-nemesis, in disguise and inexplicably without a nose.
Un-masked . . . AND HIDING A ROPE! (Someone please tell him who he is.)
This was followed in short order by an epic science fiction adventure entitled "Phoebus". Our main characters? Princess Janilene, Captain Capricia, and Capricia's twin, Captain Starbuck, of the Phoebus Protection Force. And there was a boatload of plot rip-off from the old Battlestar Galactica series and Star Wars. But it was a blast! Both of these writing ventures were. Neither of us was worried about what the world thought or what we were writing. We just did it, excited to see where the story went, and where we could take it next.

Our Heros, with hands and feet cleverly hidden by sinister mist.
Four years later hands and feet come out of hiding. Captain Capricia's face is sliding off her fat head, and Janilene is Queen of the Mer-People, but there is improvement!
I'd like to get back to that kind of unfettered enjoyment. And not just in writing; in everything. The world is not going to end if we try something and it fails. Or we try something and it isn't quite as gorgeously gilded as we imagined. Or if we try something and we're the only person who cares about it. Just rack it up to experience, enjoy the moment, and try the next thing.

So that's my goal: Smack Fangxiety over the head with the Who-Cares-This-Is-A-Blast-And-I-Want-To-Share-It-With-You stick, and move on ahead. If nothing else I'll have added positive energy to the world, and heaven knows we need some of that.

Here's to dumping the drama and embracing the fun in the new year. And also to going back and watching the old science-fiction shows that inspired my pal and me. Harrison Ford and Dirk Benedict were hot.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Stargirl, Molasses, and Faceplants

I'm afraid I don't have the brain power at the moment to write a cohesive blog post on a single subject. Instead, I thought I'd cover a few totally random and unrelated things that have been on my mind of late.

1. Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, everybody! Let's all do our best to be excellent to each other, okay?

2. How fabulous was our guest post on Friday? If you haven't already, go check out Sara B. Larson's thoughts on staying the course, even when it's tough.

3. I finally saw The Sorcerer's Apprentice this weekend. I'm not gonna lie, there were some hokey story elements. But it's always fun to watch Nicolas Cage do what he does best: the quirky, cryptic hero, from the wild, pseudo-dreds all the way down to his pointy, old man-shoes. The apprentice of the film's title was a physics whiz. I would make a lousy sorcerer by that standard - I hated physics in college.

4. One of my Facebook friends brought this to my attention. Apparently, Saturday was the 92nd anniversary of the Great Boston Molasses Tragedy. Seriously. You couldn't make this stuff up.

5. I just finished a great book by Jerry Spinelli called Stargirl. The cover got my attention initially. I'm a sucker for interesting book covers. Inside, I found a sweet little story about love and the tug of war between holding onto one's uniqueness and wanting to fit the "norm." The man can write. Check it out.

6. Last Tuesday, my mom was walking down 9th Street in Washington, D.C. when she slipped and faceplanted on the ice. She fractured a tooth, bit her lip, and cut her chin, ultimately needing seven stitches and a brand new incisor. After picking herself up, she ducked into the nearest warm building, the Washington Renaissance Hotel. The doorman and the security guards whipped out the first aid kit, sat her down, and stayed with her for twenty minutes until the bleeding stopped.

So to that doorman and those security guards at the Washington Renaissance Hotel, if you're out there, know that we're most grateful for your awesomeness. (She's healing up fine, by the way.)

That's all for now. Have a great week, Gnome Slayers!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Guest Blogger Sara B. Larson: A Journey Of A Thousand Miles . . .

Begins with a single step.

So often I hear people say, "I've always wanted to write a book, but I just don't have time." Or "I don't know how." Or (insert excuse/reason here). Or maybe they’ve written a book, and say, “I want to get an agent, but I just don’t think I’m ready.”

My advice? Take that first step. And then another. And another. Make your goals a priority. Devote just thirty minutes before bed to it, instead of watching that sitcom. Read books like the one you want to write, so you understand what's out there, why yours is different and what you have to offer. Find a class or a critique group to help you and motivate you. Sit down, and start typing. Sure, taking steps into the unknown is scary and oftentimes hard. You might land in a mud puddle, or twist your ankle, or get stung by a scorpion or something (hey, I'm trying to be philosophical), but don't give up. Don't quit moving forward, because you never know which step is going to be the one that will propel you to your goal. Even the painful steps have meaning. When you do reach your goal, it will feel that much sweeter.

I first started writing books when I was in second grade (or at least those are the first ones I can remember writing), so I've been writing for a while. I still have my Little Mermaid notebook that I wrote them in. Not too many of my "early works" were fairy tales though, despite the cover of my notebook. I was a... precocious child. I'm sure my parents would agree. I wrote a story about a girl whose mom had a premature baby. There may have even been a "to scale" drawing of how big the baby would be. Also, it may have been written when my mom was six months pregnant with one of my sisters. I'm sure my story was very comforting to her.

Anyway, the point is, I started early. However, that doesn't really matter. Whether you are eight, or eighteen, thirty, fifty, or eighty--if you have a story you've been wanting to write--I say start now.

None of us can change our pasts, but we have absolute power to influence the course of our future.

On the hardest days of my journey to getting an agent, I would tell my hubby, "I wish I didn't care so much. I wish that I could quit, and have it not matter." That might not make much sense, so let me try to explain. Even in my darkest moments of self-doubt and frustration, I knew I didn't have it in me to quit. I wanted it too much. Even if I felt like it right then, I knew that within a few hours, or maybe a few days, I would be back at the computer revising my book, or reworking my query, maybe just sending more out, or deciding it was time to work on a new project to give me hope for the future. I couldn't quit, because I didn't want to be fifty, or eighty, and think "What if?"

"What if I hadn't quit?"

"What if I would have sent out another round of queries?"

"What if I would have written just one more book, and that would have been the one?"

“What if, what if, what if?”

persevered and I finally reached the first major milestone of this business after two years. I got an agent in 2010.

But guess what? The journey doesn’t stop there. You have to continue to believe, to persevere, to keep taking those steps forward. Revising with your agent. Being on submission to editors. Revising with your editor. There is always more work to be done. But I have to say, every milestone I reach sure makes me glad I never gave up.

Take that first step, and see where it leads you. 


Thursday, January 13, 2011

Sara B Larson, Guest Blogger

We're pleased to announce that Sara B. Larson is going to guest post for us tomorrow. She's a writer who's represented by Hannah Brown Gordon at Foundry Literary + Media.

Sara's incredibly gifted and kind. Not to mention a fantastic writer. Check out her blog, she'll inspire you. http://sarablarson.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A Lesson in Manners

Question of the day.

Is it polite for someone to ask if you are a part of a harem? I ask because that's what happened to me a month ago.

At first, I thought, this topic has nothing to do with chasing your dream but then I realized-it sort of does. You know, working toward your dream can be consuming. You give all your efforts to an idea that is going to impact people's lives. So when the time comes for super-silliness, treasure those moments.

Okay, so back to the harem bit. First off, I was stoned out of my mind from dental surgeries. I was so bored, I went shopping at a wholesale warehouse with my mom and step dad. Which could be a yawn-fest but not with me involved.

For exactly one hour, I made a mega store fearful of me. I knocked over two displays, broke an indestructible kitchen knife and got mistaken for a modern day polygamist.

First off, what polygamist wears leather leggings and Uggs? And I don't blame the super slow cashier for thinking I grooved on something different. Because honestly, I look nothing like my mom and step dad. I am carbon copy of my father, minus the eccentric.
So, when the cashier, who reeked of bacon, asked if my step dad was one of those men who had 50 women, I nearly choked on my gum.
And then, she proceeded to embrace my step-dad and say, "Hugs and ladybugs!"
Seriously, where has decorum gone in this world?
Oh well, at least I had a good laugh before throwing myself back in my dream.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

*BEEEP!* Sara B. Larson To Guest Post On Our Blog! *BEEEP!*

Right. Be sure to stop by on Friday when agented and soon-to-be-published author Sara B. Larson will be guest-posting on Challenging the Gnome. She is delightful, insightful, and witty, and will sure to have some great nuggets of wisdom for us all. See y'all on Friday!

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Plan

Now that I've had time to ruminate on my big declaration, I'm thinking I need a solid game plan if I'm going to succeed. Really Big Goals, and I think this qualifies, are more palatable when broken down into smaller bites.

I could go by word count: 44K so far, about 100K projected for a contemporary fantasy novel, meaning I'd have to produce 5500 words/month to reach my goal. I'm not crazy about this benchmark method. I could write 400 words in a good day (please stop laughing), and then realize the next day those 400 words sucked and have to start over. Or, I could be faithful to 5500 words/month for the whole year and hit 100K on December 31st without reaching the end of my story, i.e. Epic Fail on my non-resolution (because I don't believe in New Year's Resolutions) to finish the draft of my book.

(Keep in mind this is a first draft, so if it comes out with a slightly bloated word count, that's okay. Once it's finished, I can fix that along with the host of other problems I'm sure it will have. I just need something to work with first.) (Not to mention that 5500 words/month sounds deceptively, disgustingly simple and easy when paired with my average 400 words/good day. And I know it can't be that easy. Never has been, never will be.)

Instead, I'm going to track my progress based on my outline. Oh yes, I have an outline. I know the beginning and the end and most of the stuff that happens in between and the people it happens to. Based on said outline, I'm about a quarter of the way through the story in my written manuscript at this point. To make myself more accountable, I'll be checking in regularly with an update on my progress. Monthly updates might get annoying, but I think quarterly reports are doable. So, three quarters of story to go and a year to get them done. That leaves one quarter per, um, quarter, with ample wiggle room for catching up and/or freaking out.

And that's The Plan - detailed enough to give me some semblance of control over the next year and keep Fangxiety at bay without crossing over into crazy-making micromanagement territory. I'll see you back here on March 28th with my first report. We now return to your regularly scheduled Gnome Slaying.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Magical Writing Spaces, Plus Goals and . . . Stuff

January Challenge: Where the Magic Happens. Also the Writing.

My office is beautiful and spacious, and is dedicated completely to writing. It is wood-paneled, lined with floor to ceiling bookshelves (filled with leather-bound books, of course), and contains a spacious, many-drawered and cubby-holed Nigerian ebony desk. With a drop-down keyboard and a screen that rises up from the writing surface whenever I enter the room. And a See's Chocolate dispenser. The desk is facing a wall of windows, which in turn face the Atlantic ocean. Because my office is at the top of the Cliffs of Mohr. In Ireland.

My name is JK Miller. And I am a compulsive liar.

This is where the magic actually attempts to happen, and it's in my basement:

When I can't get my brain past a certain point in my book or blog post I turn to the drawers of beads and stones on the back side of my table and create something sparkly. Like this:

If that doesn't do it there are always the dvd's of British comedies on the right, or the book of Welsh Fairy Tales further down. Or the exercise sheets, recipes, letters, magazines, and school fundraiser notices beneath that.

Sometimes the magic happens here:

(Or in the little room in the background, if I can't get a moment to myself)

And a LOT of times it happens here:

(Writing is a great way to wait out a play practice, soccer practice, dentist appointment, or looooong drive out of town.)

The most important thing for making the magic happen, however, is actually doing it. Everyday. A little or a lot. But at least some. I don't always make that goal, but I do try.

And so this year one of my main goals is to get organized, so that I get some writing in every day. Sharpen my sword, as it were. Another, to finish my first draft, which is going to require that I stop micromanaging it and just write. Then I'd like to send out queries.

And finally, I have a goal to write what I feel best about--even if it ends up being garbage--and not what I think everyone else thinks I should write. Keep my door shut and get it done. With integrity. Then open the door and get the advice of those much wiser than myself--of which there are many. I've tripped myself up with this one over and over again--rewriting and rewriting and not progressing. I think I have to be done with that.

Those are my goals. And I'm sticking to them.
And then I'm going to Ireland.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Magical Writing Spaces, Plus Goals and . . . Stuff

January Challenge: Goals for the New Year and Where We Write Them Down

I'd never had a designated writing space of my very own until recently. Before that, I wrote in my kitchen or a cubicle in the library. Neither of those places worked spectacularly well. I love my local library, or any library for that manner. But it's fifteen minutes away, and it's hard enough as it is to get myself motivated (You mean I actually have to get dressed and drive all the way down there . . . ?) I like my kitchen too, but then the TV and the fridge are like right there. So that wasn't very conducive to maintaining the groove either.

When I went to Wales last summer, my bedroom in the house where I stayed came equipped with a desk. It was like a revelation. I decided I'd get me a desk once I got back. And here it is, my very own writing desk.

You'll notice all the essentials: laptop, lamp, thesaurus, Coke Zero (not Diet, this is very important), iPod (which has been playing a lot of this lately while I write), spiral notebook for manic idea-scribbling, and reference materials (three different folkore books - the novel's about fairies. Awesome, manipulative, butt-kicking fairies. In case you hadn't guessed). And look! I even managed to snap a pic on a day when the Muse decided to visit.

Sooooooo. Goals. (Graceful segue, that.) I'm not a huge fan of goals. I don't believe in New Year's resolutions because I never keep them. Much like one of our friends over at Smashing Stories, I prefer to meander my way through life. It's not like I never get anything done. But there's something about saddling myself with a solid, set-in-stone goal that gives me the heebie-jeebies because A) I could teach seminars on creating unnecessary anxiety for oneself and B) I feel like a complete loser if I don't meet my goal, for whatever reason.

That said, this month marks two years since I started writing my novel. I have 44,000 some-odd words so far. Over two years. Everybody writes at their own pace, but this is getting ridiculous. It's time to move on. Time to get this story out of me and onto paper so I can send it into the world. Time for these characters to get out of my head so I can make room for the next batch of voices. So here's my goal, y'all are my witnesses: I'm going to finish my draft this year. Yup, I said it. I'll have to kick it up a notch. Or five. But that's okay. It'll be good for me. 362 days and counting. Are you listening, 2011? Because I'm about to make you mine.

What are some of your goals for this year?

Saturday, January 1, 2011

From The Desk of Angus Darkspume: Destructive New Year's Resolutions of Destruction

1. Righ'. Keep tha' whole eBook-thing goin'. It's brilliant, BRILLIANT I tell you.

2. Invest in paper. HAGGIS-LOADS O' THE STUFF.

3. Destroy all eReaders.

4. Corner the paper market and become a multi-gazillionaire!  AND control the dreams o' every writer ou' there.

5. Look into toilet paper. eToilets?