Monday, November 30, 2009

Today, In Class... Of War and Translations

Today, the kids read a short story by Tolstoy called "How Much Land Does a Man Need." As they read, I walked around, helping them.

Kid: Where is this story from?

Me: Russia.

Kid: It doesn't sound Russian.

Me & All the Other Kids: *blink*blink*

Kid: *blink*

Me: It's...a translation. That's English. You're reading English.

Kid: Oooooooooooh. I didn't think it sounded Russian.

Music Monday

Between my notes on Michael Franti how he expresses mood through song and WriterGirl's suggestion of Still Alive as the theme for my current on-submission work, I'm starting to think I need to start a music video meme. Whatcha think? Something of interest to y'all?

Anyway, here's my latest musical find. The singer's name is Mads Langer (YES. His name is MADS. Aren't you already thinking how much cooler he is than you?). I first heard this song at the end of the latest episode of Castle, and I loved it so much that I sought it out.

I'm glad I did. When I first heard the lyrics, I thought that I might find the perfect song for my current WIP, about berserkers and golems and lots of killing and such. It's a comedy. (kidding) I could do without the wailing bit he does towards the end--I've never been a fan of the look-how-much-I-can-do-with-my-voice wail, but the actual song itself is beautiful, even moreso with the words.

And here's the lyrics here, for those of you who can't/won't open the video. It's the lyrics I love, although I must admit that Mads has a haunting voice to go along with them.

[deleted lyrics to avoid copyright infringement]

What I love about this song is that it portrays a story--but in such a vague way that the singer is Everyman, that you can fit it in any genre. This could be the beginning of a romantic comedy, the end of a tragedy. It could be the theme of a fantasy, or could just be a passing thought in a character's mind.

Either way, I like it.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

What are you doing here? Go eat some turkey!

Blogging to resume next week. Enjoy feasting!

Yesterday in Class: Rats Ate My Homework

Every year, the Life Skills teacher has her students carry around bags of flour with heads made of pantyhose. This is supposed to teach the kids the responsibility of having babies. They had to dress the bags of flour, name them, keep a blanket on them, and carry them from class to class. If they're caught not treating the bag of flour baby right, then us teachers are supposed to snitch on them.

I have two girls who are in the class. I noticed yesterday that they didn't have their babies with them, and they both looked sad.

Me: Where's your babies?

Kid 1: We don't have them any more.

Me: Oh, the project's over? Did you make a good grade?

Kid 1: No. The teacher had to cancel the project.

Kid 2: Yeah. Our babies got eaten.

Me: WHAT?!

Kid 1: We kept the babies in the pantry over the weekend. When we came in this morning to get them, rats had gotten in and eaten them.

Me: RATS ate your BABIES?!

Kid 2: Yeah, we're terrible parents.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Kick-start Your Writing

Between work and stress and work and a little more work, I've not been able to dedicate much time to my writing lately. And that's OK. Like I said before, I know that my writing life must necessarily be different from those who can make writing their first and only job.

But the point is, I've been a bit...lax about writing lately. When I get a little behind, I let myself get further behind.

So, this weekend, while I was sitting at the coffee shop with my husband, I really started getting back in the grove. But, like always, time started slipping away. It didn't help that the coffee shop had good wi fi. Besides, we couldn't spend all day sipping coffee, and soon enough I'd have to pack up, go home, and get to work on other projects (including dishes that hadn't been washed in a week).

I looked up at the husband. "Husband," I said, "I wish I could take my laptop and my newly found writing groove and go to the Biltmore House and sit in the lawn and write."

The husband looked at me. "Dude. We have season passes. We could totally do that."

So we did.

Oh, wait. You can't see the view? Lemme zoom that in for you.


Nice, isn't it? And the best part-- no distractions. Sure, it was a bit cold sitting outside in the mountains as the sun was setting, but there was no wi fi, no friends, no cell phone reception...and I was able to write two chapters.

And keep hold of that writing groove.

Not to mention that, when I finally packed up and went home, this was my parting site of the Biltmore House:

Totally. Worth. It.

So, where do go or what do you do to get back in the writing groove?

Monday, November 23, 2009

I Steal All My Best Stuff from Janet Reid

...and this is no exception.

It is Decided

I have long had plans on what to do if I ever sell my book for millions.

This weekend, I found a new plan.

I will take my husband to New York.


Where Ninja serve you. NINJA. They drop from the ceiling and give you food. WHAT COULD BE BETTER?

So, what's your plan? Let's say you sell your book for a million bucks--where are you going to celebrate?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Change: Updated

Change. It's here!

Whatcha think?

Known Problems
  • Can't make the embedded comment function work, so I've changed to the new page comment box. What do you guys think of that? Any preference?
  • Please let me know if you find any other problems--if you can't comment, email me at bethrevis (at)


Change. It's coming.

Blog redesign is happening now. If stuff doesn't work, yanno, sorry and all. Should be fixed by Monday.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Find the Mood

One of the things I've learned in revisions and through writing and rewriting is that it is essential to find the ultimate mood of a character. Mood defines a person. By this, I mean that underlying attitude about the world, the filters the character sees the world through. This is different for us all. Consider the way people react differently to being late, being lost, or when given an unexpected twist. I despise being late so much that I have actually set the clocks in my house twenty minutes fast so I always show up early to wherever I'm going. But I actually like being lost--whenever I move somewhere new, I drive around for hours until I get thoroughly lost, then try to find my way home by the most random routes I can find. This is totally different from my husband: he likes precise time, and likes showing up at the right time, not early. He wants to know the shortest distance, not the most convoluted one.

For characters, it's often much easier to present this simpler. What is one core attitude the character has? For my most recent work, I'd say that Amy's core is based on family; for my other character Elder, his core is based on responsibility. So, Amy's actions are based on a desire to protect or be with her family; Elder's is based on a desire to be a responsible leader.

In the new project I'm working on, it's even baser than that. Both main character's fundamental desire is simply to exist within their society. They are working up to shout their barbaric yawp to the world.

And since I mentioned the barbaric yawp, I can't help but include this:

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Injecting More Emotion into Writing

So, today I led a Creative Writing Club meeting at my school.

I think it went pretty well.

The topic of injecting emotion into your work, and I gave them a poem and two short video clips as an example. This is one of them.

I was going to go on and on about how awesome it was, and explain what I said about emotion in it, but yanno? I think I'm going to just show the video and let that be it.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Today in Class... The Ghost of Christmas Past

So, today in class, I was introducing the story of Dante's Inferno, and I started by giving some background information on Dante and Beatrice, his muse for the story. I'm all about some audio-visuals, so I had graphs and paintings and samples of terza rima up.

I got to this picture, and started telling them all about Dante's deep love for Beatrice, and how he wrong the Divine Comedy in part to have his wish to be with her again fulfilled, albeit in heaven. It was touching.

I was getting all into it, explaining the sources of the painting, going into the background and how it showed Florence but kept the focus on the main characters. I was even pointing out how Dante was paying attention to Beatrice, but she ignored him, despite how her friends were focused on Dante as well. Heck, I went into discussing the birds in the background, and how they could be symbolic.

Then I turn back to the class and ask if they have any questions.

Kid: Yeah, I got a question.

Me: About Dante, or The Inferno?

Kid: About that picture.

Me: [turning back to the picture] What about it?

Kid: Why is that old dude wearing a Santa Claus hat?

(So I was going to save this for tomorrow, but y'all were so sweet with the bff hugs 
and support and such that I thought I'd give you a little TiC love early :)

Where's Beth?

Here's something I didn't expect: querying takes up more of my time than writing.

Here's why. When I get an extra ten minutes or so while I'm writing, I use that time to blog, check out other's blogs, read, write something else, brainstorm, etc. Now that I'm querying, I use those ten minutes to research agents or prepare queries.

Which explains the relative blog silence lately.

Now, I've always had the attitude that blogging comes last in the list of priorities in my writing life--it has to. Working on the actual profession, be it writing or querying, always comes first. So I'm not going to apologize for blog silence (even though i really missed you guys and i'm sorry). 

 So, to be honest, what with queries and critiques and working on a new project (albeit not for NaNo) and the holidays and the approaching final exams and my day job and playing with my puppy and life in general, blogs may be a bit scant. 

 But faithful readers, never fear! I still have all my notes from Cynthea Liu's workshop the Saturday before last which I will be sharing, and I've been doing a lot of thinking lately about critiqueing and revising (again) and I've been reading some awesome books lately *cough*meganwhalenturner*cough* to be reviewed.

We're still bff, right? If I bribe you with exciting shiny new posts, you'll still come to my party, right? Right?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Hero's Luck

(shamelessly stolen from The Writer's Almanac)

The Hero's Luck

by Lawrence Raab
When something bad happens
we play it back in our minds,
looking for a place to step in
and change things. We should go outside
right now, you might have said. Or:
Let's not drive anywhere today.

The sea rises, the mountain collapses.
A car swerves toward the crowd
you've just led your family into.
We all look for reasons. Luck
isn't the word you want to hear.
What happened had to,

or it didn't. Maybe
the exceptional man can change direction
in midair, thread the needle's eye,
and come out whole. But even the hero
who stands up to chance has to feel
how far the world will bend

until it breaks him. He can see
that day: the unappeasable ocean,
the cascades of stone. A crowd
gathers around his body. He sees that too.
someone is saying: His luck just ran out.
It happens to us all.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Friday, November 6, 2009

Revision 911!

Tomorrow, I'm jet-setting to nearby Charlotte for the SCBWI-Carolinas workshop Revision 911, led by the awesomely amazing Cynthea Liu!

Here's the workshop description:
   In this intensive 4-hour workshop, author and writing coach Cynthea Liu shows you how to revise your ailing work into submission-shape! You will learn how to quickly identify issues with voice, setting, plot, and character through real-life examples, and Cynthea will share smart revision techniques to heal manuscripts as painlessly as possible. She'll also point out symptoms most people casually push aside that shouldn't be ignored.

My question for you:
Do you have any questions you'd like me to ask at the workshop? Ask here, and I'll try to ask tomorrow!!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Different Kinds of Manuscripts

As I sip on my Skinny Snowman Latte (with an extra shot of espresso), wondering whether I should get started on my new manuscript or play on the interwebs and fritter away my day, I find myself thinking of how there are different kinds of manuscripts out there.

  • The One You Love: This is the manuscript that you love, and maybe your mother loves, but that's about it. You can't sell it, it has a stack of rejections, and even when you try to workshop it, people's eyes glaze over and they nod politely and say things like, "Oh, it's, creative." And although you love it, you can't bear (or can't see how) to change it. "Revisions" mean adding a scene or changing a few words, or fixing grammar--never deleting, rearranging, or doing significant changes. When you submit it--and you will, and you'll submit it to early--it will be rejected, and you will be shocked--shocked!--that anyone could possibly put it down.
  • The One You Hate: For whatever reason, this one isn't good enough. Maybe it's a drawer novel that you've recognized as drawer novel and can't stand it, maybe a critiquer wrote nasty things about it, maybe the rejections beat you down, maybe you just edited it to death. Whatever the reason, you hate it. You probably will never get to the point where you edit it again, and it will probably never see the light again...if you haven't already deleted it.
  • The One You Love to Hate: This one is written with blood, sweat, and tears. As you wrote it, it was the one you you revised it, it was the one you hated. Now that you've both written and revised it, it's the one you love to hate--you love what it is, but you hate what it isn't. You know it's not perfect--nothing ever can be--but it's as perfect as you can make This is the one you submit with professionalism, by which I mean, you select specific agents you think will like it, consider their comments if they reject it, and submit again without cycling into rage/depression. You know if--when--it gets accepted, you'll have to edit it again, and you don't dread the kinda sorta look forward to it.
As I start submitting one manuscript and begin working on another, I realize that, for the first time ever, I've got a manuscript that I love to hate. It makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside--my reaction to it somehow makes me think it's a worthier manuscript than others I've done before.

So, where are you with your manuscripts? Do you think there's another category out there I'm skipping?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Hump-Day Linkspam!

Holy crap, guys. I've got a *ton* of links in my feed reader and Twitter for you all...but these are the most pressing ones, the ones that have me keeping tabs open in Firefox for you.

First, Stephen King. This gets a big shiny gold star from me for how he says teaching can be like a brain suck. Also: he threw away Carrie. I'm sure you've heard the story before, but it's still cool.

I found these questions that you should ask a copy editor before hiring him quite intriguing. It also confirmed that, although I am a self-professed grammar queen, I am perhaps not suitable to be employed as a copy editor. I certainly don't have a favorite dictionary.

Book sales. They suck. Except for, yanno, kid lit. Which kinda rocks for me and everyone else writing kid lit. But I liked this article because it filled me with spiteful glee (as, personally, I think it would be better for publishers to invest more cash in debut authors than slapping down too many bills for a sophomore novel):

Other big titles showed mixed results. “Her Fearful Symmetry,” the second novel by Ms. Niffenegger, author of the best-selling “Time Traveler’s Wife,” sold just 23,000 copies in its first week, according to BookScan. Publishing insiders suggested that was a disappointment given that Scribner, the unit of Simon & Schuster that published the book, paid Ms. Niffenegger close to $5 million for it.

Lastly: I won this in a Twitter contest. How cool is that? Will update you all on it's usefulness, if you'd like.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Art as Inspiration, part 2

Part 1 is here, where I talked about my favorite painting.

Art has a profound influence on my life...occasionally. By that, I mean that I don't think about art all the time, and I certainly don't know enough nor have the talent to even attempt (visual) art. But I do appreciate it, and I do seek it out.

And sometimes, seeing visual art inspires my own literary art.

Recently, I was indulging in my lately online guilty pleasure: Historical Tweets. On the site, they make fake tweets from people in history. For example, here's Marie Antoinette, tweeting about cake:

HAHAHAHA!!!! Oh, Marie Antionette, you and your shenanigans.
(Side note: Don't know why the image is appearing skewed...sorry, Marie.)

OK, so when I saw this, first I laughed, then I hungered for cake, then I noticed the picture in the background. I mean, it's pretty intense. Marie's scowl could harm small children, or at least make them cry...and check out the brunette she's staring at.

There's a story there.

I searched for the pic online, but actually had quite a difficult time placing it. Eventually, I found this:

Looking at this image, I can almost see a story. Who is the brunette? What connection does she have with Marie? They are sharing a moment so deeply personal that even the bedraggled beggars fade into the background...and, speaking of, why is that one woman, so clearly on the side of the beggars, also so clearly not a beggar? She's clean, well dressed, and beautiful.

A story spun from my mind when I saw this image. Of Marie Antionette as a young girl, befriending another young girl. Of innocence...and innocence lost as, eventually, the girls stood on opposite sides.

In my search for more info, I also came across this image:

It's titled, Arrest of Louis XVI and His Family. And eye goes immediately to the brunette and Marie Antionette.

These seem to be different brunettes, but my imagination can cast them as the same woman. It makes me even more curious about their story, their connection. As an amateur art historian, I'm curious about the history here, and about how two separate artists were motivated to create images were the focus in this disparate time was on a locked gaze between two very different women.

But as I writer, I sort of love the mystery here, and itch to write their story myself.

So, has any art work inspired your own writing? Do you "fill in the blanks" with your own stories?

Monday, November 2, 2009

On Time

Last week, I came across this blog article by Miss Snark's First Victim, Authoress. And while I love the MSFV and Authoress herself, I have to admit that I had some immediate, gut-wrenching feelings of bitterness when I read this:

Suffice it to say that the main thing that keeps my writing going is an almost religious adherence to my Daily Writing Time.

1:30 to 4:00. That's my weekly time-of-day during which nothing else is demanded of me. I have no commitments or obligations, no pre-scheduled poop. And I refuse to make appointments or have meetings during this time.

Monday through Friday, 1:30 to 4:00, you'll find me with Beatrice [her computer]. Don't bother me.

Now don't think I don't still love MSFV (I do!), but my first reaction to reading this was a combination of bitterness and jealousy.

I don't have a Daily Writing Time.

I would *love* to have a Daily Writing Time, but I'm more likely to grow a third arm.

And I admit that I, like Authoress, sometimes feel less of a writer when I don't write daily.

But...let me show you my schedule last week (the week where, ironically, the only blog post I could post was a short one on how I had no time):
  • Monday: 
    • 5:30-6:10am: Wake up, get dressed, etc., etc.
    • 6:10-7:00am: Drive to school, while eating breakfast in the car and thinking of lesson plans 
    • 7:00-8:00am: Arrive at school, finish lesson plans, copy work, prepare for class
    • 8:00-3:30: School, which included:
      • Comforting a student who broke up with her boyfriend and the world has now ended omfg
      • Doing three complete lesson plans, made from scratch, comparing the poetry of the Chinese T'ang Dynasty and Japanese Heian period, complete with graphics, power-points, interactive features, and student work
      • Lead the yearbook class in developing the school's yearbook
      • Conferenced with another teacher on method of essay writing
      • ET CETERA
    • Around 4:30-5:00: Arrive home
    • 5:00-6:30: Cook, wash dishes, talk with husband, try to be human
    • 6:30-8:00: Various sundry activities, including calling my mother who thinks I'm dead if I don't call once a week, washing the dog who thinks life isn't complete unless he rolls in mud, changing the sheets (again) after the muddy dog decides he can clean himself (on the bed), keeping up with friends who I love but live all across the country
  • Tuesday:
    • All the same activities as Monday, but add to that a 1 hour Creative Writing Club meeting with a group of students across the school--which includes reading their work, counseling them on writing, and preparing questions to ask the author who was visiting that week via Skype 
  • Wednesday:
    • Repeat Monday, but add in:
      • Yes, you read that right: six hours. From about 6:30-12:30, I sat in my chair and graded.
  • Thursday:
    • Repeat Monday, but add in a husband who was late from his own college class, and me, who was so exhausted from Wednesday that I just collapsed into bed
  • Friday:
    • Do you sense a pattern yet?
So, it's Saturday now (I'm scheduling this to post on Monday).

Now, take a glance at my schedule. Can you tell how jealous I am of *anyone* who has a Daily Writing Time?

And it's all nice and good to say, "If you really wanted it, you'd do it."'s. Not. That. Easy.

What am I supposed to sacrifice? The day job? That pays the bills. Dinner with my husband, who I already neglect? A clean house?

Well, in truth, I do already sacrifice those things. The husband bought dinner one of those nights, and I let the dishes go a few days. And in that, I gained myself about 3 hours of writing this week.

Three hours.

Authoress does that a day.

Hell yes, I'm jealous.

But then, when I see things like this, I'm no longer jealous--I'm also mad.   Do you know the number one thing, according to that list, that's a "nasty" habit of writers?

1. Not Keeping A Regular Schedule

Somewhere along the line, you’ve either fallen out of your previous writing schedule, or you never had one to begin with. Very bad, indeed.

If you have a 9-5 job, schedule an hour of writing (or more) each day, either early in the morning or later at night. For those of you under few time constraints, use that to your advantage. Try to schedule several hours of writing at the most convenient time for you.
Most of all, once you have a routine, stick to it as much as possible.

*bangs head on wall*

So...I should wake up at 4:30am? Or I should stay up until 2 (and then wake up 3 1/2 hours later) to get that writing in...?

Very early on, I had to come to terms with the fact that I didn't have a regular writing schedule...and I never would. And here's the kicker:
That is OK.

Really. It's fine that I don't have a writing schedule. I might not be able to write every single flipping day, but that doesn't make me less of a writer. Because when I do get a break--a holiday, or a long weekend, or the ever-longed-for summer break...well, then I can write for hours and hours and hours at a time. It doesn't matter that I write every day. In all honesty, if I wrote every day, I'd write crap. During the workweek, I'm too focused on teaching in the morning and too burnt-out in the evening. I know. I've tried. I actually have done the wake up at 4:30am, or stay up until 2am before. And what I wrote was drivel.

Here's the thing:
We all write differently.

I write best when I write in huge chunks. I think it's because time *is* so precious to me--when I can set aside a day for writing, I really write--I focus 100%, and can crank out 5,000+ words in one sitting...and they're better than if I had done them a thousand words a day. 

A four hour block works for Authoress. A strict schedule works for the author of the list of "8 Nasty Habits You Should Quit to Fuel Your Writing." And writing in flurries whenever I can snatch some time works for me. Whatever way *you* write, don't ever think it's wrong--as long as you're writing, you're a writer. A block of time in your day planner doesn't make you a writer--it's the words you can put on the page, whenever you do actually get them there.

(And, PS, the same goes for NaNo, whether you're participating or not. Which, for the record, I'm not.)