Thursday, December 29, 2011

Oh yes.

I had a wonderous afternoon of editing today thanks to a quiet corner in my neighbourhood library and an encouraging card from New York. (See my setup above.) And yes, I placed the card in a highly visible spot on my desk to make everyone in the "Quiet Study Area" jealous. The scene reminded me of this classic episode of Mr. Bean. The card, the self-importance, even the hidden meat. Oh yeah, totally. Have you been to the Deer Park branch of the Toronto Public Library lately? There's raw beef everywhere.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Octopuses and Kinko's and sharks, oh my!


Now that our water is clear enough to bathe in, my troubled laptop replaced, and all Christmas-related giving/receiving (remote control, air-swimming shark included) has come to a close, I'm finally able to dive back into my book. That's right, people: there's still work to be done. You're shocked, aren't you? You're all like, "Wha? But she plays with punctuation like a DJ spins records! How can SHE need to revise anything?" Firstly, that example was weak. Do better next time. And secondly, you have to be realistic. Most writers, even semi-colon mavericks like me, have to do revisions before their agents can do their thang.

So tonight, I, like hundreds of writers before me, shlepped my butt to Kinko's to pay an exorbitant amount of money for some ink, paper and slightly sweaty customer service. And here's the awesome part! While I was waiting in line and fumbling with my fogged-up glasses (it was snowing like a bi#$% out there), I noticed that the woman in front of me was printing off her own manuscript! AND! we got to talking and it turned out that she was putting together a portfolio for an Ontario Arts Council grant! The same grant I've whined about here! AND!! AND!! the book she's applying with is a romance about octopuses!

I love octopuses!

Manuscripts, grants, time, place, a passion for cephalopods -- they all seemed like impressive enough coincidences on their own, until...

... I noticed that she was wearing the same Roots hoodie that I was wearing!

I mean, come on! This has to mean something, right? Something about the fate of my book and hers. (But mostly mine.) That just as I found this writer, this kindred spirit, at Kinko's, my book will find an editor, a publisher and thousands of devoted readers! Doesn't it?

It doesn't?

Really?

You sure?

Shut up.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Bathtub blech

Yesterday my pre-husband and I returned home from a Christmas-related trip to my birthplace (Ottawa) only to find that our water (tap, toilet, tub) had turned from the non colour of clear to the nasty colour of this:


I used to dream of travelling back in time to the 1920s, brewing hooch in my bathtub and smuggling it through the tunnels of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan.

Yeah, I'm over that now.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

It's a Christmas (sweater) miracle!

I got an agent!

Stop laughing. I'm being serious. I actually got an agent. No, not a cleaning agent. Very funny. And no, not a special agent. That doesn't even make sense! Pardon? A riot control agent? What the? Okay, it's obvious that you're looking up the word "agent" on Wikipedia. Stop doing that.

I got a literary agent.

Whoa. You look woozy, like you might pass out. You're in shock, right? You came to my blog looking for stories of rejection only to be hit with what? With good news? It's unsettling, I know; it's thrown you off your axis. But you need to settle down. I mean, look at you: you're shaking like a leaf. I promise, it's going to be fi... NOoooo! You spilled Cup-a-Soup all over your keyboard! Oh great. And now your dog is licking the keyboard. He's gnawing on the command key! Put the dog outside. I'll wait here. Go, go. It's fine. I'll keep myself busy by gluing rhinestones onto my Christmas sweater.


You back yet? No?


There you are. Hi. Anyways, like I was saying, I got an agent! I came across her information on Guide to Literary Agents and I knew she'd be the perfect fit for my book. I guess she thought so, too, because we had a really nice phone conversation on Monday. (I'm glad it wasn't via Web cam because I was pinching myself the whole time.) She wrote some amazing stuff about my book here and I'm still in shock. It's a Christmas (sweater) miracle!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Christmas sweaters and Brunch!

I'm down in the dumps about writing today. I got two more rejection letters from the Writers' Reserve granting program via Taddle Creek and some other literary journal that I can't remember the name of because that's how fast I threw out the letter. Blech. That's exactly how I feel. Blech. And then THEN I hauled my butt all the way to the worst mall in Toronto (Lawrence Square) to look for ugly Christmas sweaters and I found nothing. What? The shittiest shopping centre in the city suddenly got standards? What a crappy day.

I always feel like burying my work in a time capsule after I get rejected. I also like to eat candy. But because I forced myself to be all about the promotion of mental and colonic health today, I ate a salad for lunch and decided to post some writing here.

This sample is from a new short story called Brunch! that I'm working on. It's still really rough. Like the stubble on my legs rough. I could go on, because all asshole writers can go on about how bad something is before they share it. It's a sad, sorry sickness.

Brunch!

Emma sleeps light. She wakes at the slightest noise or movement, she always has. She’s never needed an alarm clock to wake her for work. The cars zooming by on the street, the refrigerator humming, the downstairs neighbour’s bulldog fartingthat’s always been enough. But that’s not all. Emma’s never told anyone this before, not even Ken, but Emma (and her mother and her mother’s mother) can hear the sun rise. What it sounds like is a balloon being blown up—picture it—as though the sun is stretching the horizon to its limits. Emma hates that sound so she’s programmed her brain to wake up very early. Before the sun struggles and then pops.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Grant getting: how fair is it?

On September 1, I applied for a Writers' Reserve grant from the Ontario Arts Council. Well, in actuality, I applied for seven grants from seven small presses via the Writers' Reserve. The grant is extra special, in my eyes, because of the involvement of small presses. I mean, wow. If you apply for this grant (and choose wisely) you have a 100% chance of having your work read by the editors at the House of Anansi -- one of the best publishers in Canada! It doesn't get much better than that.

Here's what's less wow about the Writers' Reserve: the application process is not anonymous. I thought twice about this when I applied (I even joked about it), but I've been thinking about it much more lately.

I got my first rejection from one of the recommenders, Quattro Books, a few weeks ago. The rejection itself is not the issue -- you all know I'm used to those. Rather, it's the timing that has left me troubled. The deadline for this grant is January 31, 2012, which means that Quattro Books had several more months to make the decision and more importantly, probably 100 more incoming applications to weigh against mine.

Several explanations for Quattro's rejection are possible: 1) My application sucked; 2) Quattro's editors are psychic and knew that all future applicants would outshine mine; 3) My application didn't suck, but just wasn't up Quattro's alley or 4) Something else is going on.

Before I get into #4, I have to say that I am a fan of the OAC and all it does to support authors. I've even been lucky enough to receive one of their grants in the past. But I do, however, have an issue with the lack of anonymity in the Writers' Reserve and the fact that the grant seems to have been designed so that small presses can award their own authors grant money. From the FAQs:

"Do I have to have a publishing contract with a recommender I am applying to?
No. Each recommender must use at least 30% of its allocation for writers it does not intend to publish; generally over 70% of the funding is awarded to writers who do not have publishing contracts with their recommenders."

Again, I harbor no hurt feelings towards Quattro Books or the OAC. But the timing of the rejection and the statement above do leave me wondering a few things: 1) Does the OAC hold the small presses accountable for this 30% rule? and 2) Why isn't the Writers' Reserve anonymous when the OAC's other literature grant, the Writers' Works in Progress, is?

Just my thoughts. Now talk amongst yourselves.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Monday, November 7, 2011

The new stuff I like right this second

NEW MUSIC
I'm listening to the new album from Coeur de Pirate, an insanely melodic/romantic Francophone singer-songwriter from Montreal. That's her picture up there. Isn't she cool? She's so cool, right? I want to be a skinny French-Canadian artist with tattoos so bad! Anyways, I'm obsessed with her song "Place de la Republique" at the moment. It's smooth like butter, and I'm vegan so I don't just banty about dairy analogies willy nilly. Her music is especially wonderful to write to for some reason. (Probably because I don't understand a lot of her lyrics.) Gorg, I say. GORG.

NEW WRITERS
If you have 15 minutes, read this excerpt. It's by Elly Zupko, a writer I've cooed about before on this blog. I don't know this person at all. I stumbled upon her stuff through Twitter one day and had the pleasure of reading one of her brilliant short stories. She's good. Like, good good. Like, I-hate-her-so-much good. Normally, I'm not a fan of the genre her novel would be boxed into, but the writing is fab enough that genre doesn't matter. She defies genre, people! The characters, the setting, everything. I can't believe she has to publish this book herself. I mean, WTF?

In other "new writer" news, I went to a reading this weekend at the Toronto Women's Bookstore and it was excellent. I heard works by three talented and very different writers: Lisa de Nikolits (West of Wawa), Dawn Promislow (Jewels and Other Stories) and Danila Botha (Got No Secrets). Some serious skillz here -- and all of it imported from South Africa. I love it when Canada steals awesome people away from their homelands. It's so bad-ass of us.

NEW TV SHOWS
I'm really feeling the horror genre these days. Especially when the horror at hand has some real depth to it. I have American Horror Story to thank for this new interest of mine. The show is wildly scary and weird, and it lights up parts of my brain that don't get out to play much anymore. I love falling in love with a new genre -- I find it really inspiring for my own writing.

The New Girl is also awesome. "Adorkable" is how the show describes itself and I have to agree. It's very silly and pee-your-pants funny, so basically it's the opposite of American Horror Story. I like to watch it after AHS, actually. It helps me forget about the monsters under my bed and the jars of haunted fetuses in my basement.

What stuff do you like this second? Does any of it inspire your own writing?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

My Kardashian-Humphries Story (Get it? It's SHORT!)

I'm a bit sleepy today after spending all night crying over the Kardashian-Humphries divorce. Oh, and also because I was finishing a new short story. (As short as Kim's marriage? You betcha!) The CBC's Canada Writes: Short Story Contest deadline was 11:59pm last night and I just made it, hitting the submit button at around 11:30pm. I wasn't planning on entering since the word count is so low (max of 1500) and since I loathe paying to enter contests -- it just reeks of that distinguished poetry anthology I was SO stoked about getting into in grade six. But, since I'm basically still in grade six (see title of blog post), the prospect of being published sucked me in again and I found myself forking over some cash and throwing my story into the ring.

And, of course, since I was rushing to finish last night, I found a typo this morning. Derg! Basically, I have a couple days to make a "bathing bikini" an actual thing. Dear fashion writer friends: if you could spread the word about how "summer 2012 is going to be all about the bathing bikini," you'd really be doing me a solid.

As for the other short story I recently blogged about, I finally found a journal that could be a good fit: PRISM. They run a few contests every year, including a short fiction contest, so I think I'll give it a go. Thanks to Trena for pointing me in PRISM's direction.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The trouble with shorts

Since my novel is still going nowhere fast, I've been giving short story writing another go. I know I blogged on this genre before and lamented about how damn hard it is, but I had an idea kicking around and some free time so I just dove back in. I've managed to write a short story that actually works. And I have no idea how it happened.

Now herein lies the rub: what literary journals should I submit to? So many journals have very specific requirements. Descant, for instance, assigns themes for each issue and Brick doesn't accept any unsolicited works of short fiction. Many other Canadian literary journals have loooong waiting lists, often up to one year. And here's my other concern: I want to be published in a journal that agents and editors actually read (or at least skim). I'm not that familiar with the literary journal world and while I've done some online research, I have no idea what journals are tops. The only one I subscribe to is Glimmer Train, which is beautifully produced and awesome, but is it an influential journal? I have no idea.

Writing contests are super, I've been told. The CBC short story contest, Canada Writes, is always kicking around, but the word count is far too short for me at 1500. (My story is twice that.) The option that I'm seriously considering is the Vanderbilt-Exile Short Fiction Competition. I'm not sure why Anderson Cooper's denim-designing mother co-sponsors this contest but it sounds like the most appropriate place for my story. (Perhaps her deceased son was a writer? Anyone?) I am a bit concerned, however, that my story could be viewed as a tad bit anti-American and therefore booted out of consideration. (It's satire, but still...)

If anyone out there has any recommendations for high-quality literary journals that I can submit to, they would be much appreciated. I'd love to turn this short story into a novel, so a journal that agents/editors read would be amazing.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Ego Boost

Because I have nothing better to do today, I decided to make my own Kindle screensaver image. You know those images, right? The creepy black and white photos of famous, dead authors that pop up on the e-reader when it's not in use? Yeah, they really weird me out. Here's mine:

I know it's a bit risky to be reading someone else's book in a photo that's meant to promote my own. But I credit this book for making me feel like an entitled bitch who deserves her own Kindle screensaver photo. So I think it's merited.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Kenneth and me is scared

Since I last blogged, I've been incredibly busy working on revisions for my first novel A Happy Armageddon. I've also been applying for the Writers' Reserve grants from the Ontario Arts Council. One thing about this granting program: it isn't anonymous. I find this strange and a bit unfair. But if I get a grant I'll delete this complaint and take the money and run. Like really fast.

My revisions have been going very well. I added a few new scenes, got rid of another character, tightened where I needed to and expanded where I wanted to. I loved every second of it and I've never felt more creatively satisfied. Writing novels full-time would be the greatest job in the world. Having the freedom to make up stuff all day? I mean, wow. This is what I've wanted to do since I was in Grade 6. Any writer who can pay the bills this way is the luckiest person alive. Which is why I was so sad when I reached the last page of my manuscript. Because I know I need to put it out into the world again. And that means opening myself up to more rejection.

The manuscript is wholly unrecognizable from what is was two years ago. The state it's at now makes me really embarrassed to think that I put it out into the world so soon. It's amazing how completely unworthy it was back then when this blog was inspired and yet how desperate I was to submit it. I see now how completely chaotic I was back then and it's kind of humiliating. I wish now that I could take it all back, but I've been busy writing so my time machine work has all but stalled.

Oh well. I'll have to chalk it all up to an important lesson in patience and a reminder that writing is revising and revising and revising...

Soon I'll have to start querying agents again and I'm totally terrified. This feels like my last chance with this book and if it doesn't work out, I know I'll be pretty sad about it. I know that I'll never self-publish it -- that wasn't part of my dream. So if it dies this time, it's really gonna be dead.

Speaking of dreams and self-publishing, since we're in the second week of September, I'm 100% confident that I didn't get into any of the TV writing programs I applied to (NBC's Writers on the Verge or the WB's). I'm still very proud of the 30 Rock spec I wrote. It made me laugh this morning when I re-read it, and usually I hate my writing the day after I write it. I don't think it's right that this script goes unread, so rather than bury it on my hard drive, here's an except. It won't really make sense without context, so if you don't laugh that's totally why.

INT. STUDIO BACKSTAGE – DAY

TRACY barrels through the hallway, his head buried in a book. He runs into a GROUP OF SENIORS on a tour.

TRACY
(to all)
Hey! Watch where I’m going, he yelled inappropriately!

KENNETH
What’s that you’re reading, Mr. Jordan? It must be better than Glenn Beck’s The Christmas Sweater.

TRACY
These sexy vampire books are amazing, Kenneth. The intra-species love, the negative role-modeling for young women, the thesaurus-driven narration, he conjectured. I can't stop reading them!

KENNETH
Vampire books? But those are the devil’s candy!

TRACY
I thought that was Skittles.

KENNETH
Mr. Jordan, you have to burn that book!

TRACY
No way. I hate fire. I do not trust anything I cannot touch or at least lick.

KENNETH
Give it to me, Mr. Jordan.

TRACY
It’s just a book, Kenneth. Just words. And, normally, pictures.

KENNETH
Books are not innocent, Mr. Jordan. Books are ideas. And ideas turn people into terrible things like scientists and Charlie Rose.

TRACY
And bats?

KENNETH
Even worse. If you keep reading these books, you’ll unlock the gates of hell. And once they’re open, you have to go all the way to San Francisco to close them up again.

Tracy considers Kenneth’s argument.

KENNETH
Give me that book!

They struggle. Tracy pulls the book away from Kenneth and runs down the hall flapping his arms.

TRACY
Bat me, sexy vampire book! Bat me!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Shagadelic revisions

Now that I'm, ugh, in my thirties, I swore I would never buy anything from Ikea again. So far, I've been successful. See that new rug up there? It's from Costco, bitches! Oh yeah. I think we can all agree that I am now, officially, a classy lady.

Sitting on the classy carpet is my freshly-revised manuscript. And before I give my pre-husband a heart attack, the splotch you see above on page one is not the remnants of a sopped-up stain on the brand new rug -- I swear, muffin! It's actually an artful addition to my story.

After one more read-through and one final edit, it will be go-time. I have a specific agent in mind so it has to be perfect.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Imma be done this book real soon.

You know what's nice? When you intend to pull up your Aimee Mann collection on iTunes because you're trying to set the mood for a depressing eulogy scene that you've been struggling to write for the 100th iteration of your novel and instead "Imma Be" by the Black Eyed Peas comes on and you're all "What the?? This isn't Aimee Ma--oh!" And suddenly, thanks to the magic of Will.i.am's lyrics and Fergie's hooks and whatever the f%$# it is that Taboo does, your writer's block clears and you figure out how you're going to write a eulogy that's not depressing at all but actually kind of funny and weird and it saves your writing life?

That's what just happened to me. And I'm almost done this revision because of it. Oh yeah, imma be the flyest chick on the bookshelf at Indigo come 2025. You just wait and see, shorties.

Friday, July 22, 2011

America's Next Top Auth-hole

No one gets in without being asked. And with her untamable hair, large forehead, and gawky body, Tookie De La Crème isn’t expecting an invitation. Modelland—the exclusive, mysterious place on top of the mountain—never dares to make an appearance in her dreams. But someone has plans for Tookie. Before she can blink her mismatched eyes, Tookie finds herself in the very place every girl in the world obsesses about. And three unlikely girls have joined her. Only seven extraordinary young women become Intoxibellas each year. Famous. Worshipped. Magical. What happens to those who don’t make it? Well, no one really speaks of that. Some things are better left unsaid. Thrown into a world where she doesn’t seem to belong, Tookie glimpses a future that could be hers—if she survives the beastly Catwalk Corridor and terrifying Thigh-High Boot Camp. Or could it? Dark rumors like silken threads swirl around the question of why Tookie and her new friends were selected . . . and the shadows around Modelland hide sinister secrets. Are you ready? Modelland is waiting for you. . . .

What you have just read is the official "Product Description" copy as found on Amazon.com for Tyra Banks' first novel Modelland. That's right, a novel. By Tyra Banks. And get this: she's decided to rip off Harry Potter, apparently... only with MODELS.

Looks like we've been Duffed again, my fellow fiction writers. Lizzie McGuire? Snooki? And now Tyra? We must come together to put an end to this madness! We must Tweet it, people! And Tweet it loud! Writers Without Publicists or Sex Tapes unite against celebrity-written crap fiction! #WWPST

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Is this trend dead yet? Because my character is.

Because I found it so therapeutic to post one of my edited-out characters on this blog last week, I thought I'd do it again. The character who I'm ridding my book of this time is a crude young man with a penchant for swearing and racism named Anton. He, much like Lily, was nothing more than a fun character to write. He said stupid things in a stupid way, and I got some laughs at his expense. But he did nothing to help progress my plot. And so, Anton, you're out of the book. Take your bow now, you beefy ingrate... if you can bend over in that tight t-shirt:

The chair surrendered to his body as he shifted his weight into it, the plastic creaking under his heft. He wore an Ed Hardy shirt because he was expected to and a leather jacket I felt sorry for. The poor thing tried its best to stretch out over its owner’s beastly muscles, but it was too tired so it just gave up--gathering in maxed-out creases and folds where his biceps erupted south of his shoulders.

“I fell for this hot Witness chick," he said. "She was hot, like really hot, and she told me that Armageddon was coming. And this was right around 9/11, you know? I mean, there were bodies falling out of buildings falling out planes falling out of... Shit, what was that phrase she used? Hegemonic world order. The skies had opened up and reigned down, she said, the final sign before the end. And I bought it. She got me all riled up saying that was the final straw and did I know what team I was playing for because God was coming. She even knew I was into sports and she used it, you know? How’d she know that? Anyways, I’m still here, the world is still here, the girl is gone and so is all my stuff. She said she gave it to some fucking pioneers in the Middle East. Pakis maybe, or Indians. All I know is I got screwed and I gave her permission. What kind of pussy does that make me?"

Goodbye, Anton. I won't miss you one bit.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Too bad. She was hott.

Thanks in great part to the encouragement of cool strangers I've met through the Internet, I'm working on the novel again. I've decided to start by cutting some non-essential scenes. You know, the kind that don't move the story forward but were just fun to write? In fact, I'm getting rid of a character altogether. Her name was Lily. She was a hard-drinking, upstanding member of society and I'll miss her. Here's one of the Lily bits that's getting the axe:

Lily was on fire that night. She was at least 65 but she worked the drunks like a 19-year-old, flirting and winking and raking in tips. She wasn’t much for flare, but she made up for it with perfect pours and a hairdo so teased you could see right through it. Her breasts were so low and heavy that they buffed the bar. They took up half her body, those massive tits. It was the first miracle that she could stand up straight and the second if you could look her in the eye. She was the original fertility goddess, Lily, proof that the Mayans could time travel. When she emerged from behind the bar to take our orders, her ass so equally gigantic, I was finally able to understand the physics of Lily. Yin and yang, ass and tits. The universe was all about balance.

Sorry, Lily. It was nice to know you.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Do I have to?

I've finally finished draft 1 of my new TV pilot and, to quote Ed Grimley, I couldn't be more excited I must say. I need some time away from it before I edit it and send it off to my TV-minded friend whose opinion means a lot. So what to do now? Back to the book, perhaps? It is tempting, but it's also nauseating.

Every time I think about opening my manuscript I want to cry and then run away. Literally run away -- to a grande frappucino spiked with vodka and a gluten-free vegan brownie waiting for me on a patio overlooking mating whales off the coast of a mystical isle where writing a book is a crime punishable by death. "So don't even start, you hear me!" *guns blazing* And don't even think about finishing!"

The thought of returning to the book that I've been struggling with for so long is incredibly unappealing because my TV writing still feels so full of possibility. But I can't just let this book die without giving it one more try, can I? What to do? What to do? I've tried a few things: time away, staying busy with other projects, talks with my fellow writers, reading tons of other excellent books... but none of these strategies have driven me back to A Happy Armageddon. Most recently, I bought and read a self-help book hoping that would give me the kick in the pants I needed, but I found it unhelpful given the stage I'm at: book completed but in need of one more revision. It's a psychological issue more than an inspirational, technical or voice problem.

Oh how I miss those problems. They were so easy to solve: just keep writing, dummy. It's the "finish writing it again, dummy" that's proving to be my greatest struggle. Because I know that this is the end. Either this last revision works or it doesn't. And, if I'm being honest with myself, that's a really crushing reality check. I thought I was ready to let go of the five years I've spent with this story because I had moved on. I thought that was why I couldn't face it again -- because I didn't need it anymore, because I was too busy with my other ideas, because I didn't care. But I know now that that's not true. That I can't finish it because I'm worried that it will finish me.

I've been thinking about writing a new short story in the meantime. I have a plot in mind and a Moose Jaw setting all picked out. Even some research completed. Maybe I'll give it a try. F-ck, I don't know.

Ugh. I should have been a plumber.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The HAECOF Method

It's been a good week for TV writing. I'm happy to report that the words for my new pilot are flowing -- over 30 pages worth. I even have a title for the episode: "Twouble." I have big plans for this pilot. I'm going to produce a trailer for it and submit it to the 2012 New York Television Festival. This is a big deal for me. It will force me to stop hiding behind my computer and really make something, add an actual thing to the creative cosmos.

If I had to sum up my show by way of comparison, (picture me in a short skirt pitching 15 HBO execs) I'd say it's The Office meets Gossip Girl meets Sex and the City. While I normally dislike these kinds of comparisons, thinking about my own show this way has served one important purpose: it reminds me when I'm getting too close to what's already been done.

I don't know about you, but when I'm writing -- a novel, a movie, a tv show, anything -- I normally steer clear of its "peers," meaning any book, movie or tv show that resembles my own even in the slightest. It's a method borne out of fear, mostly; my fear of being compared to someone else and falling short, not my fear of ghosts.

When I'm in between projects, I fuel up on as much of my "peers'" work as I can. But during my own creation phase? No way. I was reminded of the importance of adhering to this method of mine -- the "How to Avoid Eating the Contents Of Fridge" method (HAECOF) -- when I did something really stupid yesterday and watched the pilot for the maddeningly amazing BBC series Pulling. And now, because I did not follow HAECOF as my protégés pictured above have been doing, I am in need of a larger HBO pitching skirt.

What about you? When you write, do you look to the works of other "similar" writers for inspiration and creative, um, lubrication? Or do you feel dragged down by their amazingness?

Speaking of inspiration, I read a very good short story this week by Elly Zupko called "Fixed." Check it out here. It contains swears and sexy bits so if you want something to read to your kids or puppy, click here instead.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Writers/Plumbers

There are a few "successes" that we, when we were young, celebrated that our parents did not. For example: “Yay! I got into film school!” And “Yay! I got into art school!” And “Yay! I’m going to be on 16 and Pregnant!” And when I had mine – “Yay! I got a $24,000 a year writing job!” – I knew that mom and dad were not about to take me to Red Lobster.

In fact, although I’m 30 years old and I’ve managed to make a living as a writer, to this day it is my mother’s greatest wish for me that I “go back to school and learn a trade.” Yes, my mom wants me to be a plumber. Please understand, I am not dismissing this trade or any other. It is highly skilled and well-paying work. But a plumber I am not.

This being the case, every six months or so, when she throws plumbing into the conversation, I feel the need to remind my mom that writing is a real job, too. And that, as a matter of fact, the two careers have much in common. So, when my mom figures out how to use the web cam on her computer, here is the poster I will show her the next time trade school comes up.

(For those of you who check it out, I have no idea why some of the letters near the Atwood photo have disappeared. Guess I should have gone to design school, too.)

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Adorable indifference

From today's National Post: "Sherlock Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle’s debut novel is to be published for the first time in September, nearly 130 years after it was written."

The way my book is going right now, 130 years sounds about right... if it ever gets finished (let alone published) at all. Why you ask? Because I'm just not that into it any more.

Why you ask? (Jesus, you're nosy.) Because I've developed a serious case of indifference made worse by my new TV pilot idea and a deflated interest in literature for which I blame on summertime, various magazine subscriptions and a vitamin B12 deficiency.

Anyhoo, if my passion for my book ever does return, here's the timeline I'm looking at:

August 1, 2011: Emily opens manuscript to tackle latest round of revisions.
August 2, 2011: Emily gives up because writing is hard.
August 3, 2011: New crop of track marks appear on Emily's left arm.
August 4, 2011: Emily disappears without a trace. (Her Kelly Clarkson collection also goes missing.)
July 7, 2012: Emily returns to Toronto, 15 pounds heavier, with blue hair and an Angolan accent.
July 10, 2012: Emboldened after watching old Susan Powter laser discs, Emily shaves blue head and throws herself into revisions once more.
November 3, 2012: Emily finishes revisions. Eats soy ice cream (strawberry) + cone (gluten-free) in celebration.
November 6, 2012: Emily lands new dream job, rocks a size two, feels fabulous and finds perfect happiness. (Thank you, Susan!)
January 5, 2013: Emily re-reads latest revision.
January 6, 2013: Emily admitted into psych ward at Toronto General.
June 8, 2141: Emily's novel gets published (posthumously) by Mars-Made-Editions, a new imprint of intergalactic publisher, Books by Dead Earthlings.

What about you, dear reader? Have you ever lost interest in your own writing project? How did you handle it?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Nacho average reader

I’ve been so hot and heavy with TV writing lately, that I completely forgot to blog about the freelancer! You know, the editor I hired to look at my manuscript? Well, we met up over a month ago and here’s what went down.

She liked it, mostly. Although she didn’t get it, mostly. At least until the end. She said I need to drop more hints throughout about what’s to come, about what’s the point. She said I need to make the fantastical realism a little more fantastical so the reader doesn’t confuse it with what’s actually real. She said I need to change up the way I write certain elements of dialogue because an “experiment” I was toying with just didn’t succeed. She compared the whole thing to Edible Woman. She said it was “brilliant.” (Okay, that last one sounds amazing, but don't get excited: she’s British and they throw that word around a lot.)

All in all, having a non-friend, seriously-credible pro edit my book was very useful and well worth the $400 bill. She was very honest and brutal and generous at the same time. She answered all the questions I had been posing only to my overly agreeable Nacho Libre bobblehead for the last two years. And even though she thought I was wrong sometimes, she made me feel right. Because, turns out, I knew what was wrong all along.

I left our meeting with far fewer wounds than I anticipated. Today, I feel only empowered by her feedback, fully aware of how I’m going to address certain areas that need work, and more confident about the ones I stood up for. In the end, of course, my opinion matters most. But after five years of toiling away, someone else’s is nice, too.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Vampire Fish!

My 30 Rock spec script, "Vampire Fish," is almost wrapped up. I counted a total of 135 jokes so far, which is well below the 30 Rock average of 180, but they're all solid. I'll be doing a table read in the next couple of weeks with some friends and then off shall go my application to NBC's Writers on the Verge. I still have to answer the darn essay question though:

What from your background do you bring to the table as a writer that provides a fresh perspective in your storytelling? (not to exceed 250 words)

I know what NBC is looking for: "I'm a brain surgeon philanderer who bullfights and writes on the side." "I was a troubled youth and now I'm a district attorney who writes on the side." "I'm a stripper and a cop who writes on the side." You know, John Grisham and Diablo Cody types; writers whose real world experience can be mined for your entertainment.

But there's nothing about my background that's remotely interesting. I'm a writer who writes on the side. And not even a successful writer -- a struggling one who farts press releases to pay rent, who grew up in a normal family, who loved consuming TV and movies and books so much that creating them too was inevitable. Add hard work into that mix, an inspiring teacher here and there, a wacky imagination, a bit of talent and... and that's it, NBC. That's all I got.

In other news, I stumbled across some AMAZING writing contests today that I had never heard of before. They're in the US, of course (because Canada stinks at supporting its artists) but Canadians can apply for them, too. Good luck to all!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Citrus helmut cat = 1 joke. Only 179 to go!

It's May so you know what that means... it's TV spec script submission time! NBC's Writer's on the Verge and the WB Writer's Workshop submission deadlines are looming and I'm back where I started exactly one year ago: still not a visible minority but still trying really hard to be talented enough so it doesn't matter. It's funny because a few years ago, being a female would have qualified me as a minority in a writer's room, but no more. (Thanks a lot, feminism!) I can't blame my rejection from these programs entirely on their diversity focus (two white women did get in last year), nor am I slamming diversity programs (they are essential in a business that mostly produces shows about white people for white people), but it is a really convenient excuse, don't you think?

For this year's submission, I'm writing a spec script for 30 Rock. I don't know why I thought I'd be able to pull this off. 30 Rock is ridiculously smart. Waaaay smarter than I am. Here's the math: There are roughly 30-35 fast-talking pages in any given 30 Rock script and roughly 6-10 jokes on every page. That means in order to write a 30 Rock script I must come up with -- at minimum -- 180 jokes. 180 jokes! Easy to take that for granted when you're lying on your couch with nothing better to do. Not so easy to take for granted when you're the one writing the show.

The title of the episode I'm currently writing is "Vampire Fish." So far, the script is rough but promising. I'm too terrified to count my jokes at this point, but I'll keep you posted on my progress.

Monday, April 25, 2011

You're welcome

After years spent dishing out loads of money for advice from various sources—writing schools, freelance editors, magazines, exorcists, how-to books—I’ve come to the conclusion that the most efficient and economical way to learn how to write a proper novel is to read book reviews. To save you the effort and the New York Times’ blistering online subscription fees (how dare they?!), I’ve assembled my favourite book-review ripped-off writing tips (click on the links for references if you question their veracity) and presented them as they were never intended to be in…

The NYT’s Unofficial, Vaguely Elitist, Often Baffling, Yet Maddeningly Invaluable Guide to Writing a Best Seller*

1. To be a successful novelist, you must have an investigatory gene; you must know that every man has his reasons.

2. Write in the first-person plural and compose a collective narrator—an exotic trick play of a device done so successfully as to make the narrative of Jeffrey Eugenides’s “Virgin Suicides” feel anesthetized and distanced.

3. Everyone in your book should feel real, sometimes more real than they might feel to themselves.

4. Your book must be about the facades of the chattering class — with its loves, ambitions and petty betrayals — but it also, more profoundly, must be about a wholesale collision of values

5. Through dialogue and smartly crafted hints of eavesdropping, be sure to fill the reader in on your character’s world without heavy hands or clunky exposition.

6. Your book must be very long but very fast, a great whirly ride that starts out sad and gets sadder and sadder, loops unpredictably out and around, and then lurches down so suddenly at the very end that it will make your stomach flop.

7. Your book must not heave with poetic angst.

8. When writing from multiple POVs, hand off the narrative from one protagonist to another in a wild relay race that will end with the same characters with which it begins while dispensing with them for years at a time.

9. More than the main characters must come to life. If you excel at miniatures, you must also be fantastic at micro-miniatures.

10. Your book must be long, crude, manic and have cheap vodka on its breath. It also needs to be smart, funny and, in the end, extraordinarily rich and moving.

11. Write about a cokehead music producer who demands oral sex from his teenage girlfriend during her friends’ band’s performance. Then narrate another chapter from the perspective of the above girlfriend’s best friend, standing at the same performance on the other side of said producer.

12. Strive to deploy the quotidian fripperies of our laptop culture to devastating fictional effect.

13. Fill your novel with moments like this: closely observed, emotionally racking, un-self-consciously in touch with how we live now.

14. Your prose must float and run as if by instinct, unpremeditated and unerring.

15. To plumb deep, your book must be anchored deep, in a system of natural imagery as tightly organized as that in a cycle of poems like Ted Hughes’s “Crow.”

16. Your main character may talk to cats, yes, but their conversations should always begin with polite chitchat about the weather.

17. Your writing must further lighten the load by exulting in the multicultural stew of your milieu without turning it into course work in Multiculturalism.

18. Write in the urgency of poverty and failing health.

19. When you tell us that a character drinks Diet Pepsi or wears a New Balance cap it must not to be in order to sketch a withering little portrait of this person's social class and taste, but to describe exactly what he or she drinks and wears, creating a small tether to a shared reality.

20. You must never lose your own serious moral compass or forsake your pursuit of the transcendent.

*Hey! Freeloaders! Click on the referencing links with caution. The New York Times gives you 20 free pageviews per month and that's it.