So, So, So Close

I’m having a lousy day. I don’t know why. In the grand scheme of things, this day won’t even register as a blip. I hope. I cannot convey to you how much I want to get to Arizona and how afraid I am something will screw it up. Even now, when we’re only Arizona minus five days.

To give you an idea of how neurotic I am, Glenn made a map to get to Arizona. He wanted to save it as “Arizona or Bust,” and I went beserk. Tears were shed. Voices were shrill. Because if you knew me, knew my life, it would be just my luck if it were bust. I told him to call it “Arizona: Mission Accomplished.”

Today, though, the Jeep went to get fixed, and the guy brought it back saying he can’t do it: it’s too rusted. It’s been rattling but chugging along for months and months, so Glenn thinks it will be fine.

The mechanic says it could be fine. At some point, it will break, and we will be dead in the road. That could happen a week from now or even six months from now.

As you know, I have been neurotic about the Jeep for months. I don’t know why. I just have this fear that it’s going to break down and we’re not going to get to Arizona.

Since I’m being so confessional about my neuroticism, may I point out how nerve-wracking it is to drive with your HOUSE down the highway? I mean, one slip of attention, one slip of anything, and you have no house.

I can’t wait to be in Arizona. It feels so far away…

Is this what cold feet is like? Or is this craziness?

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: My Adventures | Tags: ,

Quantity and Learning

How do you learn? I think this an important question if you’re a writer, because a writing career is really just an endless path of learning. At least, that’s what it feels like to me.

There are many types of learners, but one of the spectrums is quantity vs. focus. (I was going to say quantity vs. quality, but that implies that quantity learners don’t reach quality, and that just isn’t true.)

Focused Learning

Let’s take music. :-) When teaching Sonatina form, there are two approaches (three if you count the more common in-between approach). One approach is to teach one Sonatina, work on it for a year, and dig into every corner and really understand it. The theory is that if you learn one Sonatina really well, you’ll be able to apply it to all Sonatinas.

This is great for some students. They flourish under this kind of work. They extract everything that can be learned about Sonatinas from a single Sonatina. (Not that they only one in their lifetime. Just an example.)

Quantity Learning

For other students, they will continue to play the same way they first learned the piece. They’ll reach a point, some more quickly than others, where they will learn nothing more with that piece, and all the months of work they continue to do on it will offer up little progress. And, in fact, continuing work on it will reinforce everything they’re doing wrong, making it more likely for them to get worse.

With those learners, it is best to learn five or seven or ten Sonatinas a year. The first ones will be sloppy and horrid. By the time they get to their tenth Sonatina, though, what they learn for you during the first week is pretty near performance ready.

Aren’t these sub-headings pretty?

In music, I’d say both types of learners make the same progress by the end of the year, although it seems that the quantity learners have a better foundation for a real career. That may be piano-specific.

It doesn’t matter how long it takes you to do something, as long as you do it. It doesn’t matter if you’re a quantity or single-focused learner, as long as you learn.

What kind of writer are you? Where on the quantity spectrum do you work best? Have you tried both ways? In between?

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: Writing Craft | Tags:

There’s No Magic Indicator

Is it worth it? It’s a question we see over and over in the writing world. And not just introspectively, but, as was discussed in the comments of Nathan Bransford’s blog today, when we should and shouldn’t encourage writing.

To that question, Sex Scenes at Starbucks said it best:

I wholeheartedly agree that no one should discourage a writer to write. Who are we to make that call? But moreover, I liken this very conversation (sorry Nathan) to when my kids tattle.

I always ask them, "Who are you in charge of?"

"Just myself," they say.

Through the comments section, I kept reading the likes of, “But I hope a professional would tell me if I should throw in the towel and stop writing.”

To that I say there’s no magic indicator. No one can know such a thing. And that’s a question typically asked at the beginning of their journey, which makes it one thousand times more difficult to answer.

First, writing is a skill like any other and it takes, at the very, very least, 10,000 hours to get to mastery. There is no telling, by how much your first efforts suck or don’t suck, where you’ll be in twenty years. Even ten years down the road, there is no telling how much you’ll grow in another ten years.

Worse, even when you’re great, you’ll still write a clunker now and then. (Sometimes they’ll even be published!)

There’s no way for someone else to ever say, “You won’t ever make it.” Worst of all, in this business, there’s no way for someone to say, “You rock. There’s no way you won’t be published.” (I’ve thought and said that about so many people who haven’t been, which sucks.)

We are such a success-focused society. It’s crazy. It’s like some people think someone’s choice to write is only wise if they get published one day. Getting published is not a big deal. It’s an ego rush for five minutes (hopefully only five minutes, but sometimes they can get out of hand), you get a check (and getting a check may feel great, but in the long run, doing something for money is far less fun than doing something for fun), and the IRS says you’re a writer and asks you to hand over half your income (which sucks).

Of course, when the going gets tough, we ALL wish a fairy godmother would come from the future and say, “Someday, this will all be worth it.” But we are grown-ups, and we have to make our journey worth it, no matter what the whole world may think or judge, because somedays may or may not come.

What think you?

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: Writing Biz | Tags: , ,

Pushing at the Walls

Growing is uncomfortable. Although I’ve written nearly every genre as a sub-genre of what I write, I’ve never actually written something I didn’t have the compulsion to be a prude about.

Until this weekend. I wrote the first non-erotic story in my life, LOL. Silly, that. A bit of an experiment. My story is up at Lurker Monkey’s, whose monthly prompts for flash fiction are fun. From the comments, I’m suddenly curious to discover what people think it’s about.

G keeps asking what the point of NaNo is. :-) There’s tons of reasons to enjoy NaNo, but one of my reasons, this year, is to use the word count and community to push me through all the insecurities and second-guesses I’ll face as I write something outside my normal genre.

I was just reading how Stephen King writes his first draft as fast as he can, trying to outrace his doubts. I get that, LOL.

Anyway, I’m going to try to write a couple more pieces of flash fiction before NaNo. My short story muscle is weak. I used to write 4 short stories a month like clockwork, but I don’t think I’ve written one in three or so years. (They got to feel a little formulaic, after awhile.)

(No, I don’t know what I’m writing for NaNo yet. I am trying not to panic. There have been ideas swirling up there. I’m still deciding.)

*UPDATE: I just found out that Travis Erwin WON Nathan Bransford’s first paragraph contest! I’m so happy for Travis, for so many reasons!

So what’re you doing to stretch your wings, push at your walls, and break yourself out of your current level of writing to get to the next level?

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: Writing Craft | Tags: , ,

So it IS Maine!

image Three of my top five favorite writers live in Maine New England. Below the top five, Maine litters the list so frequently, I started thinking I should move to Maine, if I wanted to be the writer I hope to be.

R.J. Keller suggested it was the Moxie. (The soda indigenous to Maine, not the wonderful word the pop inspired that means vigor, verve, pep, courage and aggressiveness.)

I was going to order a case, but Alexander Chee provided an interesting explanation in his essay, Annie Dillard and the Writing Life:

From the things Annie circled in my drafts, it was clear one answer to my problem really was, in a sense, Maine. From my mom’s family, I’d gotten the gift for the telling detail—Your Uncle Charles is so cheap he wouldn’t buy himself two hamburgers if he was hungry—but also a voice cluttered by the passive voice in common use in that of that part of the world—I was writing to ask if you were interested—a way of speaking that blunted all aggression, all direct inquiry, and certainly, all description. The degraded syntax of the Scottish settlers forced to Maine by their British lords, using indirect speech as they went and then after they stayed.

My favorite Maine writers write differently from all my other favorite writers—very differently. They are exceptional at telling details. They all tend to tell a story that will later be the detail for something else. They are all verbose. And while they don’t clutter their writing with passive voice, they do tend to flit back and forth in time when describing something or someone. They tend to put a thing in context of its history.

Those are generalizations, of course, so they are not true of every Maine writer. I’ve never been to Maine, so I couldn’t even begin to guess why Maine writers seem to be a particular set as opposed to American writers. (Maybe they just describe things by a story and in context of time in their everyday storytelling and conversation?) I don’t know.

I sometimes think of the U.S. as one culture, but it’s not. It’s not even the same culture in Southern Ohio as it is in Northern Ohio. I know generalizations are dangerous when they become stereotypes, but I miss Social Studies. I loved learning about and understanding other cultures, and there really is no other way to do that than to generalize. I hope that the understanding generalizations provide can help overcome the prejudice that stereotypes inspire, but who knows? I suppose people smarter than I have done studies on it, which is why you don’t see as many Social Studies classes anymore.

On a more useful-to-you note, Chee goes on to quote this explanation of telling vs. showing from Annie Dillard:

“If you’re doing your job, the reader feels what you felt. You don’t have to tell the reader how to feel. No one likes to be told how to feel about something. And if you doubt that, just go ahead. Try and tell someone how to feel.”

The essay has lots of gems in it, and well worth a read.

On a related note, John Irving’s latest novel, Last Night in Twisted River, will be released on October 27. I can’t wait!

Have you found a region/culture/state whose writers particularly appeal to you?

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: Writing Craft | Tags: , ,

The Destruction of Wonder

imageI’m still reading a book a day. I’m a bit behind, but I’ll catch up. I’ve re-read most of the Narnia series and am about halfway through the Oz series.

I also finished The Magician’s Book: A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia. I was enraptured by this critical book at first; Laura Miller felt and understood and expressed all the love I’d had for Narnia, as a child.

…I’m wishing, with every bit of my self, for two things. First, I want a place I’ve read about in a book to really exist, and second, I want to be able to go there. I want this so much I’m pretty sure the misery of not getting it will kill me. For the rest of my life, I will never want anything quite so much again.

She also describes the betrayal I felt when someone suggested they had Christian symbolism and messages. I got over that, but upon reading the Narnia books in my thirties, I was stunned at his attitudes toward females and offended by his racism.

Laura Miller managed to keep her love for Narnia intact. My love for Narnia is still there, but it’s damaged. I see C.S. Lewis mucking in his world, and frankly, he should’ve stayed out of it.

The Oz books fared no better. The writing in the first was unbearable; in the second, annoying. By the fourth or fifth, it improved dramatically, so I can forgive that.

What I can’t forgive is the endless, unrelenting political satire and commentary in the Oz books. It ruined all the fun!

What is hilarious to me is that there has been some debate as to whether or not Baum did this purposely or at all. In fact, some even get quite aggressive in their idea that any politics in the Oz books are in the eye of the beholder.

Um, no. Uh, sorry, but you’re Just. Plain. Wrong.

image There is no question at all that these books are riddled with political satire and commentary. Take The Marvelous Land of Oz. First he parodies the fears of those against the suffrage movement by having an army of girls march on Oz. They quickly win, because the men are so afraid of girls. Then they order the men to cook and watch the kids all the time. He redeems himself by making the next ruler of Oz a girl, but even that was just plain weird; he’d grown up as a boy, magically done so he would be safe.

Guess what? Baum was the secretary for the South Dakota suffrage organization. 

No politics? Really? I could give example after example. Rarely does even a page go by without some satire or commentary. And Baum was… an interesting man. He was known to give a speech at a Republican rally, and the next day, deliver the same speech at a Democratic one.

As an adult reading these, the political satire might have been interesting if I felt like doing a bit of research on the political landscape of his day, but I didn’t. It was irritating and intrusive.

I suppose the Oz series was written like some children’s movies, where they have inside jokes intended for only the adults to understand. (I hate that, also; inside jokes strike me as rude to those you know won’t understand them.)

For both series, I wanted to recapture the love and wonder I had felt for these worlds when I was young; instead, reading them was the destruction of it.

Part of why I’m reading so much this year is that I want books to be gateway into another world, again. I read too analytically. I want to love reading every bit as much as I did when I was young. I suppose that’s why I’ve chosen so many children’s books to start out my challenge.

I’m still searching for the feeling of wonder.

Any suggestions? Have you read any books lately that have swept you off your feet with a feeling of wonder and magic? Swept you into a whole new world?

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: Book-A-Day Reading Challenge | Tags: , ,

One Word After Another

It’s that time of year again: NaNoWriMo! 1,667 words a day for 30 days straight. And it’s not just the writing… the group energy dynamic really helps one keep going when the going gets tough.

And this year, I really need your help. For the first time, my schedule is clear of pseudonym’s obligations. I’ve been behind for ages, but come November 1? I actually have time to write a novel targeted for New York!

Yikes. No pressure or anything.

Boy, I am really hoping that some of you will be doing NaNoWriMo this year, because I know the going is going to get tough for me. I am praying for your camaraderie!

Pretty please? Think about it?

I want to do my part, too. Melanie mentioned feeling alone and abandoned by her NaNoWriMo friends by the end. I promise to check in here every day of November, up until the ugly end. (Except the first three days, when I’ll be travelling, but I’ll try to pre-schedule posts.)

What can we do to make this more fun? Chat party once a week? How about writing races? (I can do buddy writing from 7:30am-10:30pm… I’m so there! Name the time!) How about mini-NaNoWriMos for those who want to write every day but don’t have the time for 1,667 words a day?

Let’s get motivated with one of my favorite writer’s NaNoWriMo pep talk. Here’s Neil Gaiman talking about that awful three-quarter point of writing a novel:

You don’t know why you started your novel, you no longer remember why you imagined that anyone would want to read it, and you’re pretty sure that even if you finish it it won’t have been worth the time or energy and every time you stop long enough to compare it to the thing that you had in your head when you began—a glittering, brilliant, wonderful novel, in which every word spits fire and burns, a book as good or better than the best book you ever read—it falls so painfully short that you’re pretty sure that it would be a mercy simply to delete the whole thing.

Welcome to the club.

That’s how novels get written.

I am stopping short of quoting the whole thing, but just short. I am pretty sure I am breaking the rules of how much you’re allowed to quote, but here’s the bit I read every time I’m at the part of my book where I happen to be at now:

"Oh, you’re at that part of the book, are you?"

I was shocked. "You mean I’ve done this before?"

"You don’t remember?"

"Not really."

"Oh yes," she said. "You do this every time you write a novel. But so do all my other clients."

I didn’t even get to feel unique in my despair.

So I put down the phone and drove down to the coffee house in which I was writing the book, filled my pen and carried on writing.

One word after another.

You can read Neil Gaiman’s whole pep talk here. And I’m “spyscribbler,” if you want to buddy me on NaNoWriMo!

How can we make November a big old writing party for you, NaNoWriMo or not?

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: NaNoWriMo | Tags: ,

It’s a Sunny, Windy, Coldy Day

100_0229 Looks like a sunny, warm, summer day, doesn’t it? Yes. But no. It is cold! We’re talking high-40s cold, mid-30s-at-night cold. We wake up in the middle of the night and four cats are all huddled between Glenn and I. We stay warm. It’s cozy. It’s nice.

Until, that is, we have to go to the bathroom. Because while I never had to wake up and go to the bathroom in the middle of the night when I lived in a house, when I camp, I have to go two or three times before the sun rises.

So on go the sandals, over my shoulders goes a sweatshirt, and off I go running to the showerhouse, freezing my toes and legs and ass off. (Although, come to think of it, if it could freeze my ass off a little quicker, I wouldn’t mind.)

 100_0230 But it’s such a beautiful day, I hate to spend it inside.

The campfire is cooking our lunch beside me, but because the sun is so bright, I can only see my screen if I stretch a black nightgown over my head and my laptop. I wanted Glenn to take a picture of this setup so I could prove my ingenuity, but he said, “You look ridiculous!”

So here is ridiculous me, happy as a clam, layered in two sweatshirts and a turtleneck. (Translation: My arms aren’t that fat!)


Yes, I could have cropped that better, but I didn’t want to cut out my Jeep. Isn’t she pretty? Yes. I am way too crazy about my Jeep. I dream of three weeks from now, when the top will be off, and we’ll be driving around the 80+ degree desert, the hot sun beating on our skin. Woo-hoo!

How was your weekend? Isn’t fall grand? What plans do you have for this season?

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: My Adventures | Tags: , ,

Life Creeps In

It happens under my radar. Take this spring: I suddenly noticed, while reading through my WIP, that I had checked in on my character’s state of breathing in every scene, sometimes more than once.

Never before have I done this. I’ve written whole books without a single use of the word “breathe” or any of its derivations. Not until this spring, when breathing often became a manual rather than automatic activity, when I was struggling (still am) to control this beast called asthma without health insurance.

Same with emotions. I once read that some of the most uplifting novels were written by authors in the throes of depression: one could say they were writing their hope.

When I read old stories of mine, I can often see bits of my life that I accidentally and unknowingly dropped in them, hopefully hidden so that only I recognize their subconscious relation to my life.

What about you? Do you find hidden tidbits? Odd corollaries to your life? To your emotions? Your struggles?

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: Writing Craft | Tags: ,

Rolling Ideas Around

imageMy imagination is working on the story after next. The idea is rolling around my head, sort of like one of those pocket mazes where you have to get all the little silver balls in all the tiny holes.

Which hole to put the idea in is the problem. An idea takes a different shape if you write it for middle-grade, or YA, or Mystery, or Commercial.

Where to put the idea? I don’t mind if someone else changes my genre after the fact, but I don’t know how to write a story unless I understand what genre conventions and reader expectations I’m playing with. That’s part of the fun of writing.

How do you decide where to put your idea? Or does the genre come first? Ever wish you could make two versions of one idea?

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: Writing Craft | Tags: ,

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