Living the Fictional Dream

Erin M. Kinch’s musings upon the writing profession

Archive for the 'Writing group' Category

Check Your Details — Continuity, People!

I stayed up way too late last night reading the newest installment in the Heather Wells Mystery series by Meg Cabot (Size 12 and Ready to Rock). It’s been a long time since there was a new book in this series, so I was excited to read it. Hence the being up until almost 2 a.m. on a work night (bad, Erin!).

In preparation to read the new one, since it had been a while, I reread the previous three books in the series, which is always fun. Heather is a great heroine and amateur sleuth. She was a teenage popstar, back in the day, but when she decided she wanted to sing her own songs, her record label dumped her. Then she found her long-time boy-band boyfriend cheating on her, just after her mother ran off with her manager, and all her money. Oh, and her dad has long been in jail for tax evasion. Now Heather works as the assistant director for a college dorm (excuse me, residence hall) by day, and does the billing of her private investigator friend/crush, Cooper, by night for free rent in his brownstone. When people turn up murdered in the residence hall, Heather also turns out to have a knack for getting college students to talk and solving the crime.

It was great fun rereading all of Heather’s old adventures. She has a great voice in true Meg Cabot style: pop culture references, jokes, wandering stream of consciousness, acerbic commentary. (Aside: I saw Meg Cabot speak once. During the Q&A I was going to ask her how she got such great voice for her narrators, but I didn’t have to. She actually talks that way herself!) 

The nice thing about Heather as a character, aside from her colorful background, is that she’s so realistic and down to earth. She’s a normal person; someone you can relate to. That is so different from the Gossip Girls and Carrie Bradshaw’s of the world. Heather deals with family issues, unrequited love, and body image while she solves crimes. And she genuinely cares about people.

The new book fit right in with the rest of the series. Heather was in top form. She seemed a bit more confident than in the last book, but that was most likely due to her new romantic relationship (which I will not spoil for you if you have not read this series). I also loved that this book helped Heather come to terms with one of the big things in her past — the woman her ex-boyfriend cheated on her with. Heather was able to get past simply hating the woman (which is more character growth than I might be able to achieve) and see the real person, and also help that person with a terrible problem from her past. Heather was able to put that past hurt behind her, and now she can move on in her new relationship, the cheating ex and his new wife behind her.

The previous book in the series gave Heather the chance to work out her issues with her father. I was excited to read that there will be another book in the series, and it’s going to reunite Heather with the mother who stole all her money and abandoned her. That is a show-d0wn I have been waiting for since book one!

My only complaint about the new installment to the series is that Cabot does not seem to have a good memory for the over-arching details. Several things in this book did not fit with the continuity established over the rest of the series.

 The original books say that Cooper’s grandfather, in addition to leaving him the brownstone, also left him a hefty sum of money. In this book, they can’t afford the housekeeper she wants on his and her salary combined. What happened to the hefty bank account? Did he lose it all during the recession?

In the first book, the president of the university and his wife live in the penthouse of the residence hall where Heather works; however, after the conclusion of the mystery, they move to a neighboring building where they don’t have to live with students anymore. This neighboring building is mentioned numerious times in the subsequent two books — and the conclusion of the third mystery even takes place in the same building, just a few floors down from the Allingtons. But in the new book, the Allingtons are living in the penthouse of Heather’s dorm (er… residence hall) again, as if they’d never moved.

Another thing that really bugged my copy editor nature was that Heather’s love interest in book three, Tad, had a name spelling change. When mentioned in book 4, it was consistently spelled Tadd. And, another small error was Heather thinking about Tom being the only boss she’d ever liked, and how it didn’t count because she’d never officially worked for him. But that was not true, either. Tom was officially Heather’s boss for all of book 2. He was unofficially her boss again in book 3 after her current boss was murdered.

None of these things are huge on their own, but every time I notice a continuity error, it throws me out of the groove of the story (i.e., the fictional dream, a la Gardner). As a reader, I really hate that. It made book 4 in the series less satisfying than all the other installments. And, as a writer, continuity errors are something I strive against.

Maybe, these errors cropped up because it’s been so long since she wrote the last Heather Wells novel. Forgetting a few small details is natural. And the details stood out more to me since I read all four books in a row.

But… if it were me and I wanted to get back into that world, the first thing I would do would be to re-read all the old books to get back into Heather’s head and her world. I recently wrote a prequel to a story that I’d written a few years ago, and rereading that first story was my very first step.

And, even if Cabot didn’t have time to devote to re-reading (due to her busy life as a best selling novelist — I’m sure she has tons of signings to do and many other books to write, as well), couldn’t an editor or a copy editor do so? I remember reading how J.K. Rowling had a copy editor whose sole job was continuity of the world. But, I guess Cabot did not have anyone to do that, so several continuity erros existed, I’m sad to say.

Overall, this is a great series and I highly recommend reading it if you enjoy mystery novels and fun, female narrators. But, when you get to book 4, just try to turn a blind eye to those continuity errors. I’m hopeful that Cabot will do better with continuity in book 5!

Oh, and P.S., if you’re looking for some flash to read today, head on over to Every Day Fiction. Writing group mate Alex has a story up today, and it’s a good once. Science fiction and everything!

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Story Every Day Is Back

Poor, little neglected blog. I really mean to give you more attention, I do. Maybe one of these days, when my two toddlers are out of this all-engrossing toddler phase…

And because of said toddlers, it’s still really difficult to find time to write anything that isn’t the technical writing I do for my job. But, I have been succeeding a little more this year than in the past couple of years.

My best writing outlet is still my writing group. We only meet twice a month these days (assuming we have enough people not to have to cancel), but we have a lot of writing time at the meetings (and it’s child free writing time!).

Also, the group does try to do things to inspire us to write every now and again. Most recently, we were looking at Camp NaNoWriMo — who knew they had so many different offerings other than the November blast?

Right now, though, we are doing our third annual Story Every Day (SED) contest. The goal is to write a story every day between one meeting in the next. If anyone actually succeeded in that, it would be 17 stories (usually more in the flash variety). I doubt any of us will go that far, but I’ve already written two stories this time, which is more than I wrote last year (I think last year I wrote a big 1, if I remember correctly). My personal goal is to write 5 stories.

The two I wrote already are scenes from a longer piece that has randomly formed out of several different prompts and contests over several years. After this is over, I might put them together and see if I can get a workable short story out of it.

I’m also hoping to write a few SED stories that flesh out my solo novel in progress that I’m poking about at again. I’ve been brainstorming lately with my sister (who is the worst best and most critical brainstorming partner — she doesn’t let me get away with anything, which will make the end product so much the better), and I’ve got a ton of new ideas for both the novel and the series. I re-read everything I had from before, and there really is some good stuff there.

I’ve also been working on a novel project with my sister. However, she is a little less proficient at actually writing her scenes than she is at brainstorming and editing. I really love the project, though. I think it has great potential, if we could ever get it finished.

So, all in all, this year has been much better for writing than any year since my oldest (now almost 3!) daughter was born. Of course, there was nowhere to go but up!

If I get the chance, I need to write up some book reviews. I have read some really great Y/A lately. I swear, that genre just gets better and better!

If there is anyone out there who still checks in here from time to time, I’d like to say Hi and Thanks! Maybe you’ll see a little more activity here for a while. Or, perhaps I will vanish again for another 8 months. We shall see. Either way, I do hope at least there will be some writing going on!

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The First Germ

When you are “with story,” what is the first thing that comes to you? That germ of an idea. The one that seems much too small to spawn anything like a story or a novel. That little whisper in your ear, begging you to sit down at the keyboard. That first inspiration of a story to come. Is it a character? A setting? A line of dialog? I even read a quote from one author that the germ that spawned her best-selling series was a scene that she dreamed.

For me, it varies (probably true of most writers). For “Bridge Club,” it was the idea of superheroes wives working behind the scenes. “The Widow and the Stranger” came from me thinking about Atlantis. “Honor Bound” came from a writing prompt provided by one of my writing group mates that challenged me to write a compelling action sequence. “A Castle in the Clouds” was inspired by a chapter title in the novel Little Women (even though, in Little Women, the castle in the clouds was not literal).

Usually, though, my first inspiration is an idea — something not grand enough to call a plot, but that little idea the plot evolves from. Occasionally it’s a character or something else, but usually, it’s an idea or situation.

Recently, my muse has been whispering a title in my ear. Normally, titles are one of my worst things. I feel that it’s really difficult capture the essence of a story in a few words that are exciting enough to draw a reader in. Very seldom to I write a title that I’m actually excited about, though I have come up with a few. I was particularly partial to the title “Zero to Clean in Ten Minutes or Less.” I also really liked the title, “The Widow and the Stranger.” But a title is very rarely my starting point.

There was one story that came title first, but that was because the writing exercise my writing group was doing was to pick a title from a provided list (spawned from the automatic title generator) and write the story inspired by the title. That story became “The Care and Feeding of your Sleeping Knight,” which was in the top 10 stories at Every Day Fiction for quite a while.

Currently, my muse is whispering a fully formed title in my ear. It’s very strange. I have a title, but no story. I’ve bee poking at the title, noodling it around to see if the story will begin to work it’s way free. Tonight I got a small glimmer of a possible plot that would match the title. Nothing solid yet.

It’s definitely a different way of thinking about writing. It’s like building from the top down instead of from the ground up.

Happy writing, all!

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Happy 4th of July

How did I spend the holiday this year? Well, I spent time with my family and went shopping. Then, though, while the girls were down for their naps and my husband went out with his mother, I polished up a flash piece that I wrote during the writing group’s Story Every Day contest this year and **gasp** submitted it. It’s a funny little horror piece that I revised with the help of my writing group. I wish I’d had the chance to send the revised version out to see if they liked it better, but there was a bit of a deadline. Hopefully, the new action sequences work.

We have a meeting next week, and after they give me comments on another little flash bunny that’s been tweaking my muse of late, we’ll see if there’s anything there. I have a market in mind for that one, too.

I feel so productive, LOL.

Uh oh… just heard someone stirring. I think nap time is over!

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Publishing Updates

A lovely, thick envelope came for me in the mail the other day. I received it on my birthday, and what a great birthday treat it was. Inside the envelope was my contributor’s copy of ResAliens #5, complete with eye-catching cover art and printed pages full of good stories. The second story in this issue was a reprint of my vampire hunter story, “Not Your Kind of Heathen.”

I’ve always been fond of this story. Rachel is a vampire hunter, and her biggest weapon in the fight against the undead is her faith. However, just because she believes in God, that doesn’t mean she isn’t pissed as hell at Him. If you’d like to read a little more about the backstory of this tale, here’s the link to the blog entry I wrote about it when it was first published.

I have to say, though, that while the first e-publication was cool (even though now that e-zine is long gone), I’m much more excited about NYKoH’s appearance in ResAliens. I’ve enjoyed ResAliens since it was solely an e-zine, but the new print version is really awesome. You should definitely check it out! (And I have a story in issue #2, as well.)

In other news, I just heard that my story, “The Vote,” was selected for inclusion in Every Day Fiction’s third annual anthology. I’m very excited to be included. The previous two EDF anthologies were very well done and included lots of great stories by  excellent writers. I’m sure this one will be the same. At least one other writing group mate will be in the anthology, as well — Go, Writer’s Ink!

In rejection news, a weird little story that I sent out to a relatively big podcast market was rejected a couple of months ago. However, my thrill from that rejection was that instead of the standard form rejection (which I’d received several times), I actually got a personal rejection note from the editor. Not only did he say he liked the story (though it wasn’t exactly what they were looking for), but he told me to keep submitting. It felt like I finally got noticed by that market. Maybe, if I found something more up their alley, it would be a good time to try them again…

And now, to wind things up, here are a few links to other stories from the last few months that you might want to check out:

Now, if I could just find a little time amongst changing diapers, running after a toddler on the go, and taking care of a six-month-old, maybe 2011 will be a better year for me writing and submitting-wise. We’ll call it a goal!

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Catching Up

Hello out there in blog-land.

Sorry to have been so absent of late. The summer was even crazier than my usual life. I was in the hospital for several weeks with complications for baby #2. After our new daughter arrived, that brought a whole new level of hectic. How does anyone have time to write or blog with a 13-month-old and a newborn in the house? And now, my maternity leave is over (boo-hoo!), and I’m headed back to work.

After missing most of the writing group meetings this summer, I finally got back into it at the September meeting. We’re trying an experiment, a challenge, as it were. Write 250 words every day in the month of October. I’m not doing stellar — I’ve only managed to write 600 or so words and it’s already the 6th. However, this challenge was about inspiration, not pressure, and I’m hopeful that perhaps I’ll get a few more written over the course of the month.

The writing I did is some twiddling of the new novel idea that’s been bouncing around in my head for the past year or so. It came from a dream I had while pregnant with my first darling daughter. We’ll see if anything comes of it.

I have some other posts in mind about some reading that I’ve done lately; so, here’s hoping that I find the time to put fingers to keyboard.

I hope all is going well for my blogging and writing friends out there, and that you all have big word counts!

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How Much Detail Is Too Much?

Last night, at my writing group’s monthly write-in, I worked on revising a story that the group critiqued at the meeting in June. One of the main characters gives birth during this story. Now, as anyone who knows me or who has spent much time on this blog knows, I have given birth myself (and I will be doing so again later this year).

My familiarity with this subject matter led me to an interesting conundrum. How much detail on a subject like child birth is too much?

Juggling the amount of detail to include in a story is a balancing act sometimes. As a writer, you have to know more about your world than anyone else. This is especially true if you’re creating a fictional world from scratch (like a sprawling fantasy realm or a high tech sci-fi world), but I’ve found it true in literary and mainstream writing, as well.

You have to know your characters inside and out. You have to know much more of them and the world they live in that needs to show up on the page. In fact, if writers routinely put all the information they have on world building checklists and character descriptoin forms into their stories, readers would run away screaming at the minutia of it all.

So, all that to say, I know that I need to limit the baby birthing details in this story. However, I found while writing it that this particular subject was really hard to reign in. And then, when my writing group read it, I found out that details I thought were important and fairly universal, were actually too technical and apt to be misunderstood.

I had no idea no one else had heard of APGAR tests. Amniotic fluid was another stumbling block. Hard to talk about a woman’s water breaking without mentioning amniotic fluid!

And then there is the consideration of how much detail is too much on the ick-factor scale. Let’s face it — child birth is pretty gross. You’ve got fluid and cords and a placenta to deal with. Not to mention that, despite what you see on television, that baby does not pop out all clean and pretty — it’s actually kind of gray until it gets to breathing and that cottage cheese looking stuff that covers it… even I’m squicked out by that! I wouldn’t want to write a story where the readers stopped reading because the details were too disgusting. (And this particular story is actually in a genre which is traditionally read more by men than women, so the tolerance level for child birth ick might be even lower.)

On the other hand, though, I got many comments from the crit saying that they liked having the details because it helped ground them in the story. So, for all the bad things about including too much, you also want to make sure you include enough that your readers can fully imagine that fictional dream and be fully committed to it.

Last night at the write-in, I took another pass through the story with a critical eye for detail. I’m not sure I’m done tweaking it yet. There is actually another plot element that I’m toying with adding, which would make a new draft a definite. But, hopefully, detail-wise at least, I’ve sorted out some of the problems.

If you made it through this whole entry, feel free to let me know what you think on the subject. How much information about birthing babies is too much for you?

Happy writing (and reading), everyone!

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The Vote

Happy 4th of July, everyone! To celebrate this auspicious day, head on over to Every Day Fiction and read the story of the day, which is my story, “The Vote.”

It’s not actually a patriotic story. It doesn’t have anything to do with the holiday, at all. “The Vote” is my flash piece about the zombie apocalypse. The rest of this entry describes my inspiration and writing process. Unless you’re into spoilers, I would head on over to EDF now and read it, then come back and finish the blog entry.

I wrote the first draft of this story after I randomly watched the new version of Dawn of the Dead on TV. I stumbled upon it and got sucked in before I knew what was going on. In retrospect, that movie was not one I should have been watching. I’m OK with horror movies. I’ve never watched a lot of zombie movies, but I’m not against them per se. The things about Dawn of the Dead that affected me were the horrible things that humans will do to each other when circumstances are bad and the sheer hopelessness of the situation. (Spoiler for the movie: If it had ended after they sailed away instead of having the unhappy tag about the boat dying and the island being zombie-infested, too, I might have not been quite as disturbed afterwards.)

Anyway, Dawn of the Dead haunted me for days. Strangely enough, one of the prompts for my writing group’s prompts contest that month was to “write about something horrible.” And, thus, “The Vote” was born. Writing it helped me get the yuck of that movie out of my brain and lay DotD to rest.

The story has been through several drafts since then. The first draft was all character development, and the action an after-thought at the end. The second draft cut out a lot of the character development and focused more on Jill’s great escape (the second draft also allowed Jill to get away, when she and everyone on the semi died in the first draft). Thanks to two rounds of critiques from my intrepid writing group, I found a good balance between the two, and I’m pretty happy with the final product.

In case you’re wondering, I don’t really think Jill survives for a long and happy life. It is possible. Though it was cut from the final version, her uncle has a provisioned survival bunker. Maybe she makes it there on her rattle-trap forklift, finds other survivors, and is able to wait out the zombie apocalypse with them until the zombies run out of prey and become inanimate again. But, sadly, chances are, Jill will find another pack of zombies when she’s almost out of gas and weak from lack of food and they’ll take her down.

However, I think it’s better to leave her ultimate fate to the minds of the reader. The glimmer of hope at the end is enough to help those of us who prefer things not to be totally dismal and depressing. And readers who do prefer the “realistic” depressing ending can easily fill that in for themselves. That’s what flash fiction is all about, right? Giving just enough that the story takes on a life of its own.

If you read “The Vote” and enjoyed it, please vote on its star rating on the EDF site. The more star votes a story has, the better shot is has of making it into the top stories classification. And I always love to hear from people who liked my stories — a comment on the story at EDF or a comment here on the blog would be great.

Happy 4th of July, everyone. And don’t let the zombies put the bite on you!

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Catching up on the News

Hello to anyone who’s still out there! Sorry for the long delay between posts. Times have been crazy of late, but more on that later.

I have a few tidbits of news to share. First of all, Every Day Fiction has released the table of contents for July 2010, and guess who’s on it? Yours truly! I’ve had reprints published this year, but this will be my first official new story published in 2010. I’m excited! And the TOC mentioned me specifically as a “returning favorite.” That was nice to read.

Tune into EDF on the 4th of July and read my story, “The Vote.” I’m not going to say too much about the story until the 4th, but I will warn you ahead of time that it’s not a 4th of July story. In fact, its more apocalyptic than patriotic. But I had an interesting voyage writing and revising it, so I’m thrilled that it’s going to be joining my other stories published by EDF.

In other news, I received a contributor’s copy the other day. It was print issue #2 of Residential Aliens, which includes a reprint of my story, “The Sorcerer’s Wife.” The story originally appeared in the ResAliens webzine, and has now graced their print ‘zine, as well. If you’d like a copy for your very own, click here. It’s a great little ‘zine. I’m really happy with it. And if you want to read TSW online, it’s still available in the ResAliens archives.

My writing group had its annual Story Every Day (SED) contest in June. Sadly, I was the winner. The goal of the story is to write a new story of at least 500 words every day for two weeks. The winner is the person with the most stories, and if there is a tie, the winner is the person with the most stories and the highest word count. I say sadly I was the winner because I was able to write a whopping… wait for it… three stories. **sigh** Not a banner year for the SED contest. But, on the bright side, every story written is a good thing, so three (or two, or one, as others in the group wrote) is something to be proud of. I was hoping for more, but my muse just was not cooperating.

Why wasn’t my muse cooperating, do you ask? Well, I guess it is time to tell y’all. On the personal front, there has been stuff going on, contributing to the “crazy” in my life that I mentioned earlier.

For those readers who haven’t heard, I am pregnant. Again! Less than a year after my darling little girl was born, Hubby and I find ourselves expecting number 2. It was definitely sooner than we had planned (if this little one carries to term, as sister did not, they will be 14 months apart), but we are very excited. The new baby is due in September.

For some reason, though, when I’m pregnant, my muse clams up on me. Hence not much activity around the old blog, or on my writing in general.

Add that to working full-time, chasing around after a little girl who is crawling like the wind and working on that walking thing, and planning a first birthday party for next week, and life has been hectic to the max. I’m loving every minute, though (OK… maybe not the actual work, but even that is not so bad, LOL).

I hope all of you out there in blog land are doing well. I miss reading everyone’s blogs and commenting. If I ever have a bit of spare time, I really want to get back to that. I hope you’re all doing well, and that everyone is having a truly fantastic summer (as well as super-high word counts!).

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A Nice Surprise

Some might say the surprise is me posting. **sighs** I will spare you all tales about how insane work has been of late. Technical writing really can suck the urge to write anything else (even the fun stuff) right out of you!

This afternoon, I was taking a break from my latest work project for a long-overdue spin around EDF. After reading a few of the recent offerings (The Orangery was quite good!), I hopped over, as usual, to the top stories page. And, what did I see? A Castle in the Clouds  made a reappearance on the top stories of all time list.

What a nice surprise in the middle of a random, boring Thursday! And it’s not (I don’t think) even an April Fool’s joke.

In other news, I had a really good critique at my writing group meeting on Tuesday. We had nearly a full house, and it was a fun meeting. Now if we all just weren’t so busy right now. I fear that writing is not anyone’s number 1 priority at the moment. But, as with all things, I’m sure priorities will shift.

Now I just need to find the time between work and my darling little girl to do something with all the great crit comments that I received on that story!

Oh, and my recent bad news is that my story that got short listed… the one that I’d been so iffy about sending… after just a few days on the short list, it got rejected. Bummer. But, hey, at least they liked it well enough to consider it. And since they didn’t want reprints in the first place, I think that means that the quality of the story must have impressed them (or so I will tell myself).

I hope everyone else out there is doing well, and that all you writers are finding the time to put pen to page (or fingers to keyboard).

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