A Different Point of View

I’m sure you can write from different points of view. Can you read your work from different points of view? Can you put yourself in a place where your work is a stranger, and you’re seeing it through a specific person’s eyes?

And I need to say upfront that when I use the word “read” below, I actually mean a combination of reading, writing, and editing, all put together.

First, I read it as me, as a woman. I imagine my lonelier moments, particularly when I was sick and lonely in my twenties, because I always hope my characters can be friends to those who are having a rough time of things.

Then I try to read it as someone who has zero attention span. This is also easy for me, as I have the shortest attention span in the universe. Okay, not the shortest. But it’s pretty bad. And anytime my attention wanders or I start skimming, I cut and edit and re-write.

Somewhere in there, I try to read it as a copyeditor. I think copyeditors are the coolest, so I invariably end up reading half of the Chicago Manual just for fun, just to double check nit-picky things. Even though I tend not to use the serial comma that it suggests.

I read as both my target readers and my fringe readers. Pseudonym gets mostly middle-aged women, but also quite a few in their twenties, with a sprinkling of men. I think of what they want to get out of my story, and I read to see if I’m giving them that. For my NaNo novel, I’m imagining teenagers to college-aged reading it.

And then I imagine someone who reads my first sentence and hates my voice. Passionately. In fact, even before they get to the first sentence, they are prejudiced against me. They don’t want to like my story. In fact, they can’t wait to hate it and point out all of its flaws. They approach my story with reluctance; my world-building with skepticism.

For them, it’s personal. They don’t like me. If I’m writing in first person, they hate first person on principle. In fact, for them, it’s a pet peeve.

That’s when I make sure hooks are planted, questions are unanswered, and suspense is willing the reader forward. I trim every sentence. I try to make it so that reader can’t help but keep reading.

When my imaginary readers fail me, I beg for real readers, LOL.

Lately, I’ve also been visualizing my story as a graphic novel. I don’t know why. But when I do that, it’s very clear when the pacing falls flat, when I’m thinking aloud too much.

So how do you read your story? Which “skins” do you put on when reading your story? Whose eyes do you read with? How do you edit? How do you decide what goes and what stays?

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

Write. Or Die.

My NaNo novel is kicking my butt. I’m not saying pseudonym’s stories are formulaic, but they sort of are. They follow a familiar pattern and have familiar elements and, while I do try to bring something fresh to the formula, they have a structure that feels easy to me, because I’ve done it many times. And while pseudonym’s stories have explored every genre under the sun within the confines of her genre, a YA/New Adult novel is completely kicking my ass.

But I’m kicking back. I’m shoving it out. I got busy this month, so I wrote about 20K on a project I was finishing later than I wanted to, plus I wrote about 5K on a novel I want to write sometime soon, plus I lost a lot of days being sick.

So I have five more days to hit 50K. I’ve calculated that if I write 500-750 words an hour for the next five days, about 12 hours a day, then I should be good.

Write or Die is a lifesaver at helping me push the words out past my fears. NaNo has inspired some genius inventions, that’s for sure.

And it’s not just NaNo that’s pressing on me. There are two more novels targeted for New York that I want to write in the next few months, as well as pseudonym has about 60K worth of projects for the first few weeks of 2010, plus a 60K erotic novel I want to test out self-publishing with.

I love my life right now, and I’m definitely feeling the pressure to hustle for fear I’ll lose it. I do need to up my income in the next year… or find another career. And that is NOT an option.

So it’s write or die for me.

How do you push the words out when you’re flailing, but a deadline is looming? How do you hustle?

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: Full-Time Writing | Tags: , ,

What do you promise…

…when you’re bargaining for your life? We’ve all been there, right? Some life-threatening medical attack, an accident, a huge scare, or—god forbid—a medical disaster in your immediate family? Maybe intense pain?

Whatever the cause, out come the plea bargains with the Universe, God, or whoever you worship.

Last night, I had a killer asthma attack. Nothing much new, and it’s not a big deal except when you’re in the middle of it. Drowning is sure not the way I want to go, that’s for sure. There were a few moments when no air would go in or out, and I mentally told the universe, “I promise I will be a better writer tomorrow.”

And then, when I managed to cough up some of the mucus, I wondered what my friends would promise.

But first, there are two great things happening today. First, Susan Helene Gottfried has started a Women on Wednesday Meme in order to celebrate women authors. (I’ll be joining in after November is over!) Second, for the first time, a charity for sexual abuse survivors has made the finals of L’Oreal’s Women of Worth contest. Please consider giving Shannon Lambert your vote: the prize is $25,000 to the winner’s most charitable cause, and sexual violence is too common and too prevalent to be swept under the carpet as often as it is.

So what are your plea bargains, your promises under duress? What would your characters’ promises be?

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: Beautiful People,Musings | Tags: , ,

Triggering the Zone

Slipping into the zone is not easy. It takes practice. When I was practicing piano, playing now and then, performing now and then, speaking in front of an audience now and then, and practicing Tae Kwon Do, slipping into the zone was second nature.

Flip a switch and there.

Or, as Michael Jordan said, “I know the Zone. I can put it on like an overcoat.”

But the further I get away from piano and Tae Kwon Do, the more difficult this becomes. The snap-boom-on doesn’t happen at command anymore.

I never thought I’d lose that.

Getting into the zone takes triggers. Sit at the piano, there. Bow, there. That’s the problem with computers: they are multi-purpose machines. Sitting at the computer can’t be an instant there, because sometimes you’re watching Hulu, sometimes you’re playing Facebook, sometimes you’re chatting with friends, sometimes you’re writing emails, and sometimes you’re writing.

Add into the fact that when you’re writing for hours a day, you need a little mental break every hour. So even if you were to snap into the zone at your desk, you need to snap in and out of it every  hour.

image So how to trigger it? That’s the question. Opening the document seems obvious, but doesn’t quite work. Sometimes going into a full-screen editor helps, like Q10, where all you can see is the words you write. (Sorry about the colors in the preview picture; the colors are customizable.) Other than that?

I’m looking for ideas: What snaps you into the zone? Or, should we brainstorm? What triggers could we use to snap ourselves into the zone?

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: Full-Time Writing | Tags: , ,

The Things We Remember

Art created by men is better: That’s what I was taught by the fiction I read when I grew up. I remember one book was about a girl whose father, on his deathbed, said that she would be an artist. She was a fabulous pianist, and ended up realizing that was an art, too, but before that, she tried to be a visual artist.

She was talented. We readers knew this because a famous artist came to her school and judged their exhibition. Her work was the only work he—in a blind viewing—could not tell was done by a woman. Her drawings looked like they were done by a man, and thus, she was good.

I am certain that is not the only time I got that message. Sadly, I am still getting that message.

Oprah’s choices have been suspect. Since 2005, 100% of the 13 books she’s chosen for her book club have been written by men. Since 2003, 17 of the 19 authors whose work she’s chosen have been men.

Publisher’s Weekly’s choice for top 10 books of 2009 were all written by men. Every week, Wendy calculates the percentage of women authors on the NYT Bestseller list as opposed to the percentage of women authors reviewed in the NYT Boo Review. Not pretty.

It’s a well-known fact that, in general, women will read both female and male leads, while men will mostly only read books with male leads. This starts at a young age: even J.K. Rowling was asked to use her initials instead of Joanne, in the hopes that more boys would read her story. I’ve heard tell of several middle-grade authors who were encouraged to make their MC a boy. The PW list, as She Writes points out, was dominated by male heroines.

Moonrat has a great post up, with some kick-ass recommendations I can’t wait to get my hands on. Why have I not seen or heard of these books?

Here’s another question: Are women encouraged by the publishing business to write to genre? Before the front tables became dominated by not-new fiction this year, I rarely saw a female author who wasn’t writing a particular genre, if you include women’s fiction. Is that label a problem?

Women will write what will sell, just as much as men will write what will sell. It’s the nature of art: no one has time to be great unless they can be supported by their art.

So what gives? How can we fix this? Were you given the same messages as a child as I was?

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: Books,Musings | Tags: ,

It’s Complicated.

“Pets: Please don’t feed stray cats, dogs, or illegal humans.” My new campground rocks. I can’t say enough good things about it. Good people, too. It seems to be the theme of my life that a large percentage of good people have some belief I find indigestible.

But it’s a different culture here. I’m pretty close to the border, and I’d guess that there must be a big border crossing nearby, because I have seen one policeman in a week, and about fifty border patrol cars. I see a border patrol helicopter every day.

image In fact, there is a border patrol car parked somewhere along my street 24/7. There are signs all over the clubhouse saying, “Illegal’s, call 1-800-USBP-HELP.” (Yes, illegal’s, not illegals.) There are billboards everywhere.

Immigration is complicated. I don’t believe in closed borders, but I do need to do some open-minded research before I start making public judgments about it. I’d be happy for you to help educate me.

In the meantime, I love this campground rule, not because it gives me indigestion, but because it’s so indicative of how humans can be so cruel and insensitive to each other: they dehumanize them.

I hate this sentence, because seriously? If a fellow human being shows up on my doorstep, dying of thirst and hunger, I’m supposed to show them no more respect or mercy than a stray cat? (And it would be incredibly difficult for me to not feed a stray cat, too.)

I am grateful I live in a gated campground, because I will never have to wrestle with breaking or not breaking the rules. I will obey the laws of my country, of course, but I will pray I am never in a position to have to test that obedience.

If everyone loved someone who was gay, saw them in love with someone else firsthand, I’d bet the votes for same-sex marriage would be closer to 95% to 5%, rather than hovering around 48% to 52%. I’ve talked with people who think gay love is disgusting. I’ve watched their lips curl as they mentally made homosexuals less than human. I’ve said before that all love is beautiful. It is, if only you look.

Likewise, if everyone loved someone who wanted to immigrate to the United States, we’d have open borders. It’s easy to vote against immigration, but how easy is it to vote against Karin Bachmeier, your cousin? Or Juan Garcia, the love of your sister’s life? Geeze, we’re only 200 years old. We’re all immigrants, save many Mexicans and Native Americans.

image Did you know that they’ve done studies? Remember Gladiator? Do you know why there was a dog in the opening battle? Because we humans react more emotionally to dogs dying than to humans dying.

We make dogs more than human and humans less than dogs.

Why is it that when it comes to fellow humans, a large majority of us close ourselves off to others? We judge them instead of walk in their shoes. We think of them as no better than strays, rather than drum up some compassion and empathy.

Because, at the end of the day, it’s not that complicated. That person is your brother, your sister, your mother, your lover. Every human is someone with hopes, dreams, and fears. Every human laughs; every human cries. Every human is worthy of respect and love and dignity. Certainly of compassion and understanding.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

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

Hopes and Dreams

Not yours. Not your career’s. What are the hopes and dreams for your novel, for the world inside your novel, for your characters?

You all know how badly I want to (finally!) write a story targeted for New York for NaNo. This is taking a whole new process, because usually I start with the romantic tension between two characters, their problems, and go from there.

I’m flying clueless and scared, here.

Worse, I’m also catching up on projects that I’d meant to be completed before NaNo began. I’ve also been writing past planned: the last novella was meant to be 52K, but it ended well over 60K. This one was supposed to end at 48K, but it’s still going steady at 52K. (I’ll probably have to split it in two parts to fit guidelines.) Plus I meant to squeeze in a 20K novella last week.


Anyway, I’m still determined to write a non-erotic novel targeted for New York. This month. But I still don’t “know” it. It’s not “ripe” yet.

One of the tips NaNo gives is, if you’re stuck, to write your hopes for the scene, or your hopes for the book. Not your hopes for getting an agent or getting published or getting a certain advance, but what emotions you hope your scene inspires in the reader, where you hope the scene will take the characters emotionally, how you hope the climax will play out.

What do you want your scene or your story to say? What kind of effect do you want it to have on the reader?

It loosens things up, for sure, especially if I haven’t done enough pre-writing imagining in my head, but I don’t have time to indulge in just waiting longer. I’m getting little glimmers of my story, but not yet enough to know where it begins.

So how do you knock things loose when you’re stalled? What are your hopes and dreams for your current story?

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

It’s Not Normal.

There is a photo that haunts me. I can’t find it. I scoured the internet. Even days after it was posted, I lost it, and now it’s been a year. I remember it vividly. I can’t get it out of my mind.

It is a room full of people, and all the people are looking at a TV screen. The photographer captured the very moment when they received the good news: the whole room is caught mid-cheer, mid-jump. One woman, on the left side of the picture, has a fist raised high over her head, and her expression is ecstatic.

There are many people celebrating in this picture but the woman is the one who haunts me. She is so happy. In my whole life, I have never seen a woman this happy before. Ever. She is overjoyed, ecstatic, beyond thrilled. Even beyond the joy of a mother when she first holds her newborn baby.

Not even a thousand words can evoke the happiness on her face. 

Her face is even more joyous than this one:


Or this one:


imageOr even the child laughing in this one:

I have listened to many people this past year. I am trying to understand that woman, because the photograph captures the precise moment when the results were in for Prop 8.

I have listened, and what it always comes down to for those who are against same-sex marriage is “it’s not normal.”

That’s when I realized that two women walking hand-in-hand is normal to me. Two men kissing is sweet to me. When I see a same-sex couple publicly expressing love for each other, I am touched; I don’t feel the need to look away.

Love is always beautiful. Even “ugly” people are transformed when they are in love. It is why brides always look beautiful.

I guess this is because I know and have known gay people. In my world, it is just as normal to be gay as it is to be straight. I am surprised that this is not the case for the majority of Americans. I am surprised at how many people have not seen same-sex couples interact normally, on a day-to-day basis.

That’s when I think the only hope is for people to see same-sex couples loving each other. Again and again. That’s when I realize the power of television, or the power of movies. That’s when it also makes me sad that more brave men and women will have to risk their jobs and even their lives before the majority of Americans will see same-sex marriage as “normal.”

And about the children: The evidence is overwhelming that children of same-sex couples fare just as well as children of heterosexual couples.

I keep going back to the woman’s joy in the picture. I keep giving her a backstory. I imagine she is on the brink of divorce and she thinks her fight to “save” marriage will save her marriage. I give her kids. I sometimes give one of them cancer, whose survival is dependent on this woman remaining married to her husband who provides health insurance. I make her life worse and worse, because only then can I understand the sort of transference and scapegoating and delusion that has led her to be so joyous at depriving others of a very normal and a very it-harms-none happiness.

I close my eyes and see the woman in the photo and she looks like a hundred other mothers. She is probably a great mother. Probably she’s pleasant to be around. Probably she’s enthusiastic and charming. Probably she is energetic and charismatic. Probably I would like her if I didn’t know.

The worst of it is that certainly she believes she is making the world a better place. Certainly she feels safer. Certainly she is proud of what she has done, considers it one of the achievements of her life, her contribution to making the world a better place.

Most pictures of Prop 8 and similar supporters are serious. They pretend, at least, to be slightly regretful, as if they are doing this for the good of all. Those are schooled expressions, the expressions of people who have taught themselves to appear proper.

But this one woman, this one photograph, captured the raw truth.

That scares me. I have no idea how to explain to her that voting against same-sex marriage will not make her life better, will not make the world a safer place for her or her children, will not protect her from the evils in this world. I am sorry she is afraid, but this is not the cure.

image I wish this picture would haunt her. I wish she would study it as deeply as I’ve studied hers. I wish she would try to relate with the people in these pictures as much as I’ve tried to relate with her.

Because when I recall the expression on her face, the only thing I can think is that the kind of joy she feels is just not normal. The pleasure she derives from preventing the sacred and holy union of others is just not normal.

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: Beautiful People,Musings | Tags:

The Sky is Falling

image I can’t get over the sky. Maybe you have to live your whole life in Ohio to understand. Where I come from, the land of hills and trees is bigger than the sky, and there are maybe only three or four completely cloudless days all year long. Even then, when you look up, you see only snatches of blue in between the trees and the next hill or the next building.

Yesterday, I was stunned by the sky in Oklahoma.

Probably someone from Oklahoma thinks nothing of the breadth of the sky. Probably someone who’d lived in Oklahoma all their life would come to Ohio and think the sky small. They’d think it tiny. Microscopic. A two-inch patch in a six-foot painting.

Paul Greci just wrote about perspective in Through Whose Eyes Do We See?

But today I am convinced that Chicken Little was from Texas. The sky is so huge, it’s oppressive. The sky is low to the ground. It makes me claustrophobic. I thought the sky went on forever yesterday, but that was nothing.

In Texas, you can reach up and touch the sky. You have to duck. The horizon is every where you look. You can stand and turn a full circle, and in every direction, the horizon never ends.

Also, there are Taco Buenos. I bit into a Cheesecake Chimichanga and almost died. (No, seriously, I had a big asthma attack from the dairy.) But I bit into it and all this cinnamon-y caramel gushed out next to this hot melted cheesecake and I orgasmed and it was so worth the almost-dying bit.

You think I’m kidding about the orgasm.

The American West is a beautiful place.

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

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