Monday, January 28, 2013

The Opportunity Cost of a Rusty Nail

Rusty Nail
 That rusty nail may look useless, but it's a helpful reminder of opportunity cost - also known to many writers as the Stephen King method of rejection management.

Every once in a while, I check on my virtual stack of rejections. It makes me want to hurl. But there's reason to conquer the fear. My stories need readers or they're dead on the page.

Then I take the next step and submit my work.
It's hard. So hard, I think I'll go through the process in second person. This way anyone can feel the sting, and I'll create some distance for the sake of (less painful) objectivity.

1. Research. Fall for an uber agent (who shall remain anonymous) because her bio looks sooo perfect online. Her blog? Genius. And she reps stories like yours.

2. Imagine a couple of top shelf editors who might fight over your story. (Martha Mihalik? Mallory Kass?) The phrases good deal and sold at auction haunt you.

3. Dream in deckle-edged pages, create a luscious cover. (Who are we kidding? You did that when you came up with the title.) Even go so far as to think up who might star in the screenplay. (Blame the blogger friends for THAT idea.)

4. Cry. Everything comes crashing down with a trite rejection letter. Heck. Even helpful rejections are painful to read. The rejection on a full? Bad. The rejection on a revision? Prefer not to go there.

5. Begin to understand Stephen King and his attic collection of rejections. (Too bad you can't tack yours up with a rusty nail. Email is slippery that way.)

6. Come to the concept of utility. Remember the pain? Ask an author if it ever ends. Learn: when you get numb to the pain, you've stopped growing. (see also - a thousand other cliches about pain.)

7. Dig deeper. With every rejection, challenge yourself to do better. Find a good workshop, interview a character, tweak some pages. Maybe even start a whole new story.

8. Return to step number one.

The process is so painful, I often stop doing it altogether and hide myself away in revisions instead. Yet each time I go through the motions of submission, my writing becomes a little bit stronger.

I'm finally at the stage where an author (who critiqued a recent first chapter) admired my sentences.  I'm ecstatic because- after the plot looks good, and the characters are coming together -the sentences are what makes my writing mine. It's my voice. (Someone likes my VOICE!)

I just have to get up enough confidence to submit the stuff. And find an agent who likes my voice too. It might take me two more years, or ten, but this year I'm getting out of my own way. Here I go.

Stubbed my toe. ;)

The 2013 Plan:
BURNT AMBER: Five submissions out at a time, until I run out of agents/publishers.
MIST OF KAVALA: Two chapter revisions per week. Completion date: May

Don't know this method? Read Stephen King's memoir, On Writing,  for some great perspective on a writer's life, and more on how to manage rejections with a nail in the attic.

Monday, January 21, 2013

When pudding isn't what it seems...

Here's a trick a lot of Turks play on visitors:

What's in that pudding on the right?

Answer: Milk, cinnamon, sugar, rice. Maybe some vanilla.



Bet you'd NEVER guess chicken.

Chicken? Huh.

Yup. Chicken breast, pounded into filaments, and added to the pudding, appropriately named tavuk göğsü (chicken breast). The result is something like the blancmange you might know from medieval historicals.

While chicken is an odd addition to pudding, I actually like this dessert, as long as they don't add any other oddities. Cooks in the east tend to flavor their puddings a bit differently. Makes sense, since vanilla and chocolate are new world flavors.

So. Old world flavors:

Mastica  - sap from the pistacia lentiscus tree - bleh. I pretty much hate this one. Reminds me of eating the resin for my violin's bowstrings. Or maybe Pine Sol. Some people love it, and my husband is one of them.

Rose water- basically, perfumey water- bleh. Take grandma's eau de toilet, remove the alcohol. Now add it to your pudding. Even my husband stays away from this one. Rose petal jam? That I'll eat.

Orange blossom water - the same thing as rose water, but orange blossom flavored. This is a little bit better than the other two flavors. With enough sugar, I can MAYBE pretend it's orange blossom honey. Sometimes cooks will toss a couple leaves of an orange or lemon tree to flavor a pudding .

Then there are spices like cinnamon, allspice, cloves, cardamon (one of my faves). Even saffron (flower stamens- is it an herb or a spice?) can be used in pudding and turn out tasty. Coffee is another good one, but usually found in more western style desserts.

Chocolate? Vanilla? Many Turks make chocolate rice pudding, add vanilla to their tavuk göğsü, etc. I can even handle a tiny touch of the mastic, if I add some vanilla too. 

Monday, January 14, 2013



I've found these three important manuscript components, once broken, can never be fully restored. But I'm a gardener, and I always try to fix broken. I know three ways, in fact.

1) Grafting

If a plant takes a long time to grow from seed, graft a branch onto more established, ordinary rootstock. Lots of fruit growers use this method, and every Japanese maple I own is a graft.

Applied to writing, a graft might be a chapter which didn't work in one place, repositioned in another. I find this a messy solution. There's usually a big ole knot where the graft is, and it can't be smoothed out. Plus, if my chapter can move, it must not be a strong part of the story arc. Best to cut it and move on, I say. A graft CAN work for a smaller section like a particular bit of exposition.

2) Pruning

If a plant is withering or blighted, cut the whole thing back to the root. Severe, but sometimes necessary. New growth is always stronger, and the established root means it will fill out quicker. Note: Works best on perennials and some shrubs.

In my writing, I only have the heart to apply this method to an early draft of a manuscript. I'll go back to the query, adjust, and then draft again.

3) Cuttings

Horticulturists use this method to make more of something they value, without diluting the genes through pollination. A tag reading "asexual reproduction prohibited" probably means the plant you're buying was grown from a cutting. Things like boxwood and hydrangeas do well with this method. I also use this method when voles get at the roots of something I love.

An example of cuttings used in writing: companion novels. Take a character from one story, plant her on a blank page, and spin a whole new story. I haven't had the chance to try this yet, but I've got an idea floating around for a secondary character, involving Hittite castles and terror birds. It works in my head anyway.

The literary equivalent of a vole?


Monday, January 7, 2013

New Year, New Favorite

For the past year, I got my historical fiction fix with Muhteşem Yüzyıl every Wednesday night, as soon as the newest episode hit the internet. I have Otttomania (Ottoman mania), like the people in 26+ countries who get it via satellite.

But it's a new year, so I went looking for a new distraction.

Scratch that - Kıvanç Tatlıtuğ (top right) was an ongoing distraction obsession - for many, many ladies in the world. I went looking for his latest series, Kuzey Guney. Unfortunately, that series was scheduled for Wednesday nights too, so I'd misssed a whole season. :(

No problem. Every episode was up on YouTube.

Since most people don't speak Turkish, I'll give you the set up from Episode 1:

Kıvanç plays Kuzey (translation=north). He is just getting out of prison, but we don't know why. He's impulsive and reckless, so we assume he did something bad, but we immediately start to question that assumption. Kuzey wants to join the military to become an officer. He loves Cemre (translation=ember), a girl from the neighborhood.

Guney (translation=south) is Kuzey's older brother. Studious and steadfast, he's always cleaning up Kuzey's messes. Guney also loves Cemre.

It all comes together in the flashback:
Kuzey was devastated when he found Cemre kissing his brother.
Kuzey decided to go out for the night, but his father stopped him. Domestic violence ensued, in which his father struck his mother. Kuzey - a tall, strong young man (190, or 6'2"+)- decked his father, and then ran off to get wasted.

Guney fetched Kuzey, and responsibly took possession of the the keys to drive them home. BUT on the way, Guney and Kuzey argued. Guney hit and killed a pedestrian.
They fled the scene.
The parents were distraught. They believed Guney - their golden son- was ruined. They blamed Kuzey.

When the police arrived, Kuzey stepped forward and accepted responsibility for the accident, and went to prison for four years.

One more layer -

In prison, Kuzey was stabbed, and subsequently had an operation which disqualified him from military service.

He lost Cemre. He lost his dream. He lost everything. And he blames Guney.

So there you have it. The double talk, the harsh family drama, the gorgeous Istanbul sites, and of course, Kıvanç - all come together and make it irrestistable. I do have one note, however insignificant: If Kıvanç kept his shirt on, I might be able to concentrate on the scene a little better. But, well, I guess those scenes are OK the way they are... Sigh.


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