Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border

Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border
photo by Gene Tunick of Eureka, Montana

Monday, January 28, 2013

Tip O'Day #419 - Baking a Book Brownie

Guest blogger Mary Fan on reading to escape.

I frequent the New York Times book section, mostly looking for industry news, and to pick up tips on how to write a good review. (I run a review blog, Zigzag Timeline). However, I don’t think I’ve ever picked up one of the books reviewed. Partially it’s because I have an extensive reading list and don’t really have time for their recommendations, but mostly because they like to review literary fiction, in which case, the reader in my head says, “No thanks, sounds too good.”

I don’t read to delve into the depths of real life drama, to examine or question moral principles, or to ruminate on the meaning of life. I read to escape. That’s why the majority of my reading list consists of speculative fiction. I want a book to take me away to a far-off land, where the impossible comes to life and the improbable is shrugged at. Who cares that there’s no possible way a light saber could work? If they’re part of the fabric of the story, they’re real enough for me.

I see enough real world problems just reading the news. When I read, I don’t want a mirror of what’s actually going on out there. I don’t want someone to “tell it like it is.” In fact, unless it’s dramatized historical fiction, I avoid stories “based on a true story” like my cat avoids a bath. Most of the stuff I read is, from a literary standpoint, transient. It will never be taught in classrooms, picked apart by teachers with microscopes and crammed down the throats of yawning school children. It will never be tied to an academic’s desk and tortured into confessing its underlying meanings. That’s precisely why I read it. It’s my literary candy, empty word calories that taste delicious.

Now, every so often, I’ll come across a piece of candy that has nutritional value, and those are the best. They’re like those gummy bear vitamins — you receive your nutrients in a tasty package. You get your far-off adventures, your wild escapes, your truer-than-life loves, and you get to feel a little smarter after reading.

When I wrote my sci-fi space adventure, Artificial Absolutes, I was basically baking brownies. A star-filled batter mixed with robots and sprinkled with virtual reality. It was, for me, a fun thought experiment: what would happen if you took an ordinary young woman, who could have stepped out of a contemporary romance or something, and put her in a space opera universe akin to Star Wars?

Then I began thinking a lot — perhaps too much — about the theme of man versus machine, the eggs that hold the batter together. I approached the great nutritious carrot that is the philosophical debate about the nature of free will, and I shaved off a few pieces to throw into my sci-fi brownie. Whether the nutrients survived the oven remains to be seen, and will likely be received differently by different readers.

Ultimately, whether they get their veggie bits or not, I hope to do for my readers what dozens of authors have done for me – take them away on a fun journey.

Mary Fan’s sci-fi novel Artificial Absolutes will be released in late February and the book’s website is http://www.artificialabsolutes.com

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Saying for Writers #145 - Hemingway

A Quote which Might (or Might Not) Inspire You to Write:

“It’s none of their business that you have to learn to write. Let them think you were born that way.” — Ernest Hemingway

Another Montana photo by my Kalispell friend Sue Haugan - a snowy day in November.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Saying for Writers #144 - F. Scott Fitzgerald

A Quote which Might (or Might Not) Inspire You to Write:

"Cut out all those exclamation marks. An exclamation mark is like laughing at your own joke." – F. Scott Fitzgerald

Kalispell friend Sue Haugan took this photo of a frozen waterfall earlier in January, somewhere in NW Montana.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Tip O'Day #418 - Just Look in Her Eyes

Guest blogger Anjali Enjeti opines on the subject, “Ask Me About My Writing."
But first, a note about what Dixon has been up to. I had shoulder surgery two months ago (my rotator cuff wouldn't rotate) and the creativity elves stopped visiting me for awhile. Either I was in too much pain, or I was fuzzy-headed from the pain meds. No more drugs now, and I'm doing well in physical therapy. It's nice to be back. Did you miss me? - Dixon.

I’ve been writing for eleven years now. While I’ve had some success, it’s safe to say that 99% of what I’ve written hasn’t gotten published. Okay, maybe 99% is a little high. Let’s settle on 95%.

My fifth book and first novel will be going on submission with my agent in the near future. (My first book was a memoir, the second an anthology, the third and fourth were picture books.) Going on submission is a scary process, made only scarier by the fact that one of my books, which I would have bet my life on would sell -- didn’t sell.

It’s a lot of hard work — not getting published. When you’re buried in rejection letters, there’s the added stress of wondering whether you’ll ever succeed -- whether your blood, sweat and tears will ever amount to anything.

I know many published writers whose books take up an entire shelf at the local bookstore. At book signings and speaking engagements, they complain about upcoming deadlines from their editors, their worldly travels to promote their published books, their rapidly declining advances. They bemoan their lack of sleep, interrupted and shortened because of their busy writing careers.

Successfully published writers seem to forget that we unpublished writers are also exhausted and overworked with our writing. No, we don’t have the advance or marked-up editorial letter to show for it. Hell, we still can’t find an agent, but we also make enormous sacrifices in order to write. Because we unpublished writers are working just as hard to get published as published writers.

We, too, struggle with self-esteem, depression and anxiety. We also have to wait until the kids are asleep before we can get a significant amount of writing done. We come home cranky and spent (from our other jobs, which actually pay the bills), and somehow muster whatever creativity reserves we have left to write engaging prose and scintillating poetry.

Recently, I went out to lunch with a wildly successful, best-selling author. Over grilled cheese and lemonade, she peppered me with questions about my own writing, my agent search, and my publishing history. She nodded when I confessed that I didn’t know whether it was worth it anymore — this writing life.

Here she was, living the dream: a big-time author, traveling the country to speak to reading and writing groups, researching her next novel in Europe, and selling foreign rights to countries I’ve never even heard of — and she couldn’t have acted more interested in my own, humble, and fledgling publishing career.

I left the lunch feeling validated. Reborn, almost, for she had taken the time to listen not only to my (numerous) tales of woe, but also to reveal her own, very discouraging start in publishing. By doing so, she pulled me from the pit of rejection-despair, and restored the fire in my belly for writing and submitting that had nearly gone out.

So if you are a published author and you find me standing in line, waiting for you to sign my copy of your book, do me a favor: Remember what it was like to be on this side of the process. Take a moment to look me in my discouraged, weary eyes. And ask me about my writing.

Anjali recently completed her first novel, Secrets of the Sari Chest, and is working on her second novel, Finding Om. She is represented by Robert Guinsler of Sterling Lord Literistic, Inc., and blogs at anjalienjeti.com