Monday, February 27, 2006

What the HELL is The Hedgehog of Depression?


A few years back when I worked for a vibrant and friendly tech firm, we were bombarded with treats during various holidays - secular, pagan - hell, sometimes for no reason at all. I'm not sure on which holiday the Hedgehog made its way into my life, but it arrived via Kinder Surprise. You know, the children's toy that comes inside an edible chocolate egg? The vast majority of the toys are small plastic dodads that you assemble yourself; sometimes they're puzzles, sometimes they're cars or trucks, and the like. Never, are they made out of wood. Never, are they morose-yet-adorable hedgehog type toys.

I must confess, the Hedgehog was originally given to a friend of mine, who then generously gave it to me since I was so smitten; coming up with the name was a group effort. I put it on my monitor where it sat for many years, watching me like some sort of deranged mascot.

For reasons that are still not all that clear to me, I have become very attached to the Hedgehog over the years. I think the appeal was that no matter how bad things got at work, at least I had a cheerless child's toy on my side. That, and trying to answer the eternal questions: who the hell makes depressed children's' toys, and why? Is it a German thing?

In any case, the Hedgehog made its way into my first novel and has now ended up as an icon on my website. I suspect that most people will wonder: What the HELL is that thing? There's the answer.


Cheers,
Maia

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Monday, February 20, 2006

A Sense of Place

So I had an interesting revelation on Friday - an epiphany, one might say. BHJ and I watched the De Niro flick "Hide and Seek", which I was actually kind of looking forward to. I ended up not particularly liking the film, although I'm not much of a movie person. (I prefer to watch my movies in book form).

In any case, it's supposed to be a thriller/suspense piece, and even though there was a lot of something-terrible-is-gonna-happen music, there was no real suspense for me. Well, until a brief scene with Dakota Fanning in the decrepit basement of the country home that she and De Niro had just moved to. Nothing particularly frightening happens in the basement (scary music notwithstanding) but it completely freaked me out. It also brought two interesting tidbits to my attention: (a) apparently I've never gotten over my weird aversion to basements, and (b) I had really strong feelings about the 3 major settings that were featured in my first book; the main character's apartment, which was inspired by an apartment I saw about ten years ago, the parent's home, and the office that she works in. And it occurred to me that I wrote about them pretty vividly without thinking about it all that much. I really struggled in a number of places with plot and character development, but setting? Not so much.

As I've been working through ideas for my next book, I realized that I don't have a strong sense of place for my new main character. I have some idea about what who I'm going to write about and some of the conflict that's going to happen, but I don't know exactly where it all takes place. So far, all I have is a sneaking suspicion that the main character lives in a condo. I know that setting - particularly a character's home - has a huge impact on characters; it shapes who they become and is also a reflection of who they are, so I'd like to get this figured out.

Unfortunately - and no offence to any condo dwellers out there - I'm really not a condo enthusiast. BHJ and I live in a very small house, with the tiniest of gardens. So I guess I'm going to have to do some research. Luckily Toronto is chock full of shiny new condos so going to some open houses likely won't be too difficult.

Author Elizabeth George, in "Write Away" included an interesting section on locations; she takes pictures of some of the places that feature in her work, places that bodies are found and the like. I don't really care for all the dead bodies, but I think that this is a great way to keep the atmosphere and feeling of a particular place vivid for a writer. I'll pack my handy digital camera and bring it with me on my travels, and let you know how it goes.

Cheers,
Maia

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Curious about Queries?

So this week I've been working on my website and roughing together some ideas for queries. My copy of the "Canadian Writer's Market" showed up last week and I plowed through it. It doesn't quite have all the information that I want so I'm trying to find a few books on writing queries and outlines and all that good stuff. I don't think that all of the answers can be found in how-to books, but my personal opinion has always been that if I get one useful piece of information out of a book, it was a good buy. (Of course, this might just be a way for me to justify buying so many books. Not that I have a problem or anything).

I've been researching Canadian lit agents, and - holy bleep - we don't have very many. There are some online listings at: http://www.writersunion.ca/cla.html and http://www.publishers.ca/publishing-literary-agents.htm. There are probably 20 agencies in total, so that doesn't bode all that well for me as an "emerging" (aka unpub'd/unknown/nobody) writer.

Hand in hand with my research on agents, I've been taking a peek on how to write queries, and I've come accross some interesting links in my travels:

Writer Max Barry has a fairly sparse section on queries, but some good links on his site. His description of queries highlights two key factors; (1) queries are damn important, and (2) keep your sense of humour at the ready: "(t)he idea of a query letter is to take this book you've written, this incomparable masterpiece that took five years and destroyed your marriage, and summarize it on a single piece of paper while still leaving enough room in the margins for a publisher or agent to scribble, 'Sorry, not for us.'" http://www.maxbarry.com/writing/help.html#query.

Writer Holly Lisle has some interesting writerly-type info on her site, including a section on queries: http://www.hollylisle.com/fm/Articles/agent2.html.

Nicholas Sparks (author of "The Notebook") also chimes in at http://www.nicholassparks.com/WritersCorner/Query.html. I have to confess I haven't read the book, but I did catch the movie. It's not for me, but you can't argue with his success.

So basically, I'm going to spend the next while coming up with a hook like: “Sarah...has never had a steady boyfriend, a good hair day, or three dead bodies to explain." My character has never had a steady boyfriend, or a good hair day. The three bodies will be a little harder to write in, though.

And, finally, my personal favourite link of the week - seeing as how I'm a complete and total nobody - "The Complete Nobody's Guide to Query Letters".

I'll be putting some more links up on my website when I get it up and running.

On another note, I'm still feeling farily optimistic about everything, so either I'm a total idjit or I really enjoy this stuff. (And no, you don't get to vote on that).

Cheers,
Maia

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Trying Not to Get Freyed

I am seriously almost thinking about considering feeling sorry for James Frey. Seems like one of the writers who he's blurbed (fancypants way of saying "said something nice about the book that is then slapped on the cover") is now pulling the blurb from future printings:

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/02/13/business/media/13frey.html?_r=2&oref=slogin&oref=slogin

One can only wonder what tomorrow will bring the beleaguered (but still selling like goddamn hotcakes) Frey.

Cheers,
M

Monday, February 13, 2006

Literary Empty Nest Syndrome

I've got it, got it bad. I sent off my second draft to all interested parties and now all I can do is wait. I know there are things I could have done to make it better, but it's out of my hands now. I'd like to ramble and entertain everyone today, but I'm recovering from a particularly vicious paper cut. Plus, I'm beat, ya'll.

In the absence of anything intelligent and/or coherent from me, I'd like to share some of the lit blogs I read;
If anyone knows of any other good lit blogs, please pop into the comments section and drop me a line.

Cheers,
Maia

Thursday, February 09, 2006

I'm Putting out a Hit on my Inner Editor

Well, there you have it. I knew I'd eventually have some sort of psychotic break and try to kill off one of my less attractive personalities (of which I have a few).

So here's my problem: I'm just doing the final run through before I pass it off, and my inner editor has me in a frenzy. I keep thinking of ways to make the book better and to improve and refine some of my characters. I could easily spend another six months working on it. I've also reformatted in a standard font (I like writing in one of those annoying fonts you're never supposed to submit in) and lost forty pages. I miss them, in an irrational-yet-stubborn way, and I suddenly feel like I need two more chapters to make up for the missing pages. I don't, of course.

This week has been a very interesting experience, as has writing this blog. The fact is, I'm not used to writing to deadline and it's making me a tad...well. Peckish. I had originally planned on finishing the second draft of the book by Christmas, but I got terribly ill with a not-very- interesting illness that won't even net me any sympathy. After spending so long writing the book you'd think I would have at least come down with leprosy or something, but no dice, it was just a bad cold. The deadline that I set for the final run-through is this Sunday, and I'm going to hit it if it kills me.

As I do so often when I come across a literary challenge I haven't faced before, I consult the experts. The consensus on rewriting? Don't overdo it. Awesome advice, except I'm not quite sure when that point is. Anne Lamott, in "Bird by Bird" says that you come to a moment where you just know that you're done. She adds, "of course, there will always be more you could do, but you have to remind yourself that perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor." I am trying to keep this in mind, but I think that there are just some things about writing that can't be taught and we all need to come to on our own terms, and I think this is one of them. Dammit.

So, I have done a full read-through and outlined about five major spots where there a theme gets dropped, or a character needs to be refined more, or an image doesn't work. I'm going to fix those and then force my inner editor to put down the red pen. By Sunday.

I hope.

Peckishly yours,
Maia

Monday, February 06, 2006

It's Second Draft-tastic!

I am very, VERY pleased to say that I've finally finished the second draft of the book, which I've been working on for about a year and a half now. I'm going to take a few passes at it this week and then send it off to a freelance editor to take a wee look at it. Then I'll polish it up and all that jazz. I'm hoping this will only take a month or two and I'd love to take some time off to do this, but it's unlikely I'll be able to do so.

After all this is done I'll start looking for an agent. That's a whole other facet of writing that I've really not done a lot of research on yet. I have never even written a query, so after my manuscript goes out next week that's what I'll start working on. Since I love to read and do research, geek girl that I am, I'm actually looking forward to figuring some of this stuff out. I know enough to know that I should do a focused search for an agent and there are some online agent listings, but a lot don't have web pages, unfortunately. I find that a little strange. Of course, some people think I'm strange, so I guess it all evens out.

The Canadian Author's Association has a bunch of links about writing and getting published in Canada. The Writer's Union of Canada also has some useful information. I've also ordered a copy of the Canadian Writer's Market, but my trusty postman has yet to deliver it into my grubby little hands.

I guess that I should get emotionally prepared for all the rejection that's headed my way, but I just can't get that worried about it (and worrying is like breathing for me). I've read enough blogs and assorted rantings of published and aspiring writers to know that it's par for the course. My relationship with rejection is, thus far, pretty brief; I've only submitted two pieces of fiction, a short story, for which I received a very nice rejection note, and a postcard contest, where they just popped my entry into my *SASE and sent it on back to me. (I later read the winners, and they didn't do much for me, but the truth of it is that I'm not really a short fiction kind of a gal - although I have been making an effort to read it lately. In my younger years I wrote a lot of terrible short stories and some ferociously bad poetry, but at the end of the day I'm a bookworm; that's what I love to read, and it turns out that's what I love to write).

A quick Google search will reveal loads of musings about how hard it is to get published in Canada. Perhaps I'm more addled than usual these days, but reading articles like these just doesn't get me down either. I used to have delusions about making a living off of my writing, but I was tag teamed over cocktails one night by a published writing teacher and a writer friend of mine who let me know that the average Canadian writer makes $11,000 a year, knocking these ideas right out of my head (thanks a lot, Elaine!). Now I just want to get my work into print, and we'll see how it goes.

Cheers,
Maia

*SASE: Self addressed, stamped envelope.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

All I want for Christmas is...

Well. I realize it's a little early to be talking about Christmas, but would you believe that we only took our tree down a little over a week ago? You should. BHJ takes Christmas very seriously. Unnaturally seriously, if you ask me, but I guess that's a discussion better suited to couples counselling.

So the point is - in a little tidbit we can file under "no big surprise to those who know me", I have some issues with...um...clumsiness. Issues so severe that we buy our glasses by the crate and thank one of the great Swedish Gods (Ikea) for carrying a lovely white wine glass collection. But I don't just stop at breaking glass; my butterfingers and I have ruined two laptops over the course of writing the book, in both cases because I spilled water on the keyboard. The last time was right before Christmas, when, after having a close call with my laptop six months previously, I drenched it AGAIN. There was no hope of revival, despite much hairdryer-ing, praying and wringing of hands. And I am not much for the wringing of the hands. BHJ saved the day by buying me a new laptop as an impromptu Christmas gift, so I guess his Christmas obsession is not such a bad thing after all.

Obviously, all of this destruction can get expensive, soI was thrilled to find out that MIT, technogeek paradise extraordinare, is currently working on a $100 laptop. Unfortunately, they're only going to be available for students, but if I have to go back to school to get my hands on one, I just might. Since it's not in production yet (and, really, just meant for kids), I have to buy second-hand, twelve pound, terrible laptops that can basically only be used as a typewriter or dumb terminal that connects to a server (server = big ass computer). Luckily, there is a used computer store a half a block away where they now know us by name. So I guess I can live without the $100 laptop. (That's US dollars, anyway).

My laptops are not the only devices I use that are in danger. When I'm not busy annihilating my computers, I'm likely out and about with one of those funky Blackberry devices, which I use to email ideas, images, snippets of dialogue, visual cues, etc. to my home email address, which I file and go through later. The downside is that people think that you're rude when you're constantly - what appears to be - carrying on a text conversation with someone. But hey, it's better than calling my home number and pretending to carry on a real conversation with someone; my sanity is tenuous enough as it is. On one hand, I try to keep my friends all liquored up anyway, so people barely notice my texting. On the other hand, I'm not so good with the Blackberry devices either - seeing as how the last one also met an untimely death by water when it fell off my belt and got flushed down the... Okay, you get my point.

The sad truth is, I'm clumsy. I was a clumsy kid and I've grown into a clumsy adult, which is not so good for an avid skier (all those trees!). Or, really, a writer. I've been thinking quite seriously about getting an adult sized sippy cup lately, because I just can't afford any more laptop disasters. Christmas will be here in another eleven months, so if anyone sees a Maia-proof sippy cup, please consider picking one up for me. Or at least let me know where I can get one.

Cheers,
Maia