Open the File

IMG_8013“Just open the file,” I tell myself. It’s been so long since I touched the manuscript, I barely remember it. It’s pretty likely to be a confusing mess. I don’t write clean plots the first time through. Or the second. Maybe not ever. I’m not sure I’ll be able to fix it. I’m not sure I want to know if I can’t.

“Just open the file.”

Confession: I haven’t touched my manuscript since Colorado Gold last September. There were too many head shakes at the conference. Too many “tough sell” comments. Too many frightening statistics.

And I came back to an email. That well-known author who’d told me my book was ready to shop? Who’d sent me an encouraging list of agents? She’d read the pages again, having completely forgotten she’d already edited them once. She had completely different things to say. The same pages that, months ago, had no major issues were now riddled with flaws. Never mind that I’d just (with her permission) name-dropped her when I pitched her agent. Never mind that I’d been about to send off my requested pages and synopsis. It wasn’t ready, after all. I closed the file.

“Just open the file.”

All I have to do is open it. Read through what I’ve written. See if it’s worth it. It seems so simple.

But it’s not.

Things I Read in 2014

I read 63 books in 2014, which seems like hardly anything. 2014 was the year I discovered Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, the year I attempted to appreciate Anita Blake, and the year I treated myself to binge reads from Seanan Macguire and Jennifer Estep. It was a year for expanding my knowledge of urban fantasy, and keeping up with new releases. It was the year I decided to stop rating books and just to love them. I’m feeling pretty good about that decision.

The list (check Goodreads to see the covers and link to summaries):

Stolen (Women of the Otherworld #2)
Armstrong, Kelley

The Laughing Corpse (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter, #2)
Hamilton, Laurell K.

Claimed By Shadow (Cassandra Palmer, #2)
Chance, Karen

Embrace the Night (Cassandra Palmer, #3)
Chance, Karen

Firestorm (Weather Warden, #5)
Caine, Rachel

Thin Air (Weather Warden, #6)
Caine, Rachel

Gale Force (Weather Warden, #7)
Caine, Rachel

The Heist (Fox and O’Hare #1)
Evanovich, Janet

Red-Headed Stepchild (Sabina Kane, #1)
Wells, Jaye

Blackbirds (Miriam Black, #1)
Wendig, Chuck

Cape Storm (Weather Warden, #8)
Caine, Rachel

Wild Things (Chicagoland Vampires, #9)
Neill, Chloe

Night Broken (Mercy Thompson, #8)
Briggs, Patricia

Up From the Grave (Night Huntress #7)
Frost, Jeaniene

The Undead Pool (The Hollows, #12)
Harrison, Kim

Black Arts (Jane Yellowrock, #7)
Hunter, Faith

Shattered (The Iron Druid Chronicles, #7)
Hearne, Kevin

Undone (Outcast Season, #1)
Caine, Rachel

Unknown (Outcast Season, #2)
Caine, Rachel

Total Eclipse (Weather Warden, #9)
Caine, Rachel

Unseen (Outcast Season, #3)
Caine, Rachel

Dirty Magic (The Prospero’s War, #1)
Wells, Jaye

Unbroken (Outcast Season, #4)
Caine, Rachel

On the Edge (The Edge, #1)
Andrews, Ilona

Divergent (Divergent, #1)
Roth, Veronica

Angels’ Blood (Guild Hunter, #1)
Singh, Nalini

Web of Lies (Elemental Assassin, #2)
Estep, Jennifer

Discount Armageddon (InCryptid, #1)
McGuire, Seanan

Midnight Blue-Light Special (InCryptid, #2)
McGuire, Seanan

Vamped (Vamped, #1)
Diver, Lucienne

ReVamped (Vamped, #2)
Diver, Lucienne

Nightlife (Cal Leandros #1)
Thurman, Rob

An Untamed State
Gay, Roxane

Bayou Moon (The Edge, #2)
Andrews, Ilona

Midnight Crossroad (Midnight, Texas, #1)
Harris, Charlaine

Nightshifted (Edie Spence, #1)
Alexander, Cassie

Venom (Elemental Assassin, #3)
Estep, Jennifer

Between (The Between, #1)
Schafer, Kerry

Fate’s Edge (The Edge, #3)
Andrews, Ilona

Steel’s Edge (The Edge, #4)
Andrews, Ilona

Charming (Pax Arcana, #1)
James, Elliott

Blood Games (Chicagoland Vampires, #10)
Neill, Chloe

Skin Game (The Dresden Files, #15)
Butcher, Jim

Magic Breaks (Kate Daniels, #7)
Andrews, Ilona

Half-Off Ragnarok (InCryptid, #3)
McGuire, Seanan

Tangled Threads (Elemental Assassin, #4)
Estep, Jennifer

Notorious Nineteen (Stephanie Plum, #19)
Evanovich, Janet

Spider’s Revenge (Elemental Assassin, #5)
Estep, Jennifer

By a Thread (Elemental Assassin, #6)
Estep, Jennifer

Widow’s Web (Elemental Assassin, #7)
Estep, Jennifer

Deadly Sting (Elemental Assassin, #8)
Estep, Jennifer

Cursed Moon (The Prospero’s War, #2)
Wells, Jaye

The Winter Long (October Daye, #8)
McGuire, Seanan

Takedown Twenty (Stephanie Plum #20)
Evanovich, Janet

Outlander (Outlander, #1)
Gabaldon, Diana

Heart of Venom (Elemental Assassin, #9)
Estep, Jennifer

The Spider (Elemental Assassin, #10)
Estep, Jennifer

Dragonfly in Amber (Outlander, #2)
Gabaldon, Diana

The Witch With No Name (The Hollows, #13)
Harrison, Kim

Voyager (Outlander, #3)
Gabaldon, Diana

Etiquette & Espionage (Finishing School, #1)
Carriger, Gail

Shifting Shadows: Stories from the World of Mercy Thompson
Briggs, Patricia

Wakeworld (The Between, #2)
Schafer, Kerry

5 Reasons You Should Do NaNoWriMo Next Month (And 1 Reason Why I Won’t)

1. You’ve never been able to finish a novel. Let’s be clear. You’re not going to leave NaNoWriMo with a ready-to-publish masterpiece. You will, however, make it all the way from “Once upon a time…” to “…happily ever after,” and that’s an amazing feeling.

2. You don’t have a writing support network. Or, at least, you don’t have support network like the NaNo network. Literally, thousands of people will cheer you through NaNoWriMo. They’ll join you in the teeth-gnashing and the triumphs, the weepy worries of week two, and the wonder of week four. You ain’t never had a friend like 300,000 writers working towards a common goal.

3. You say “but” a lot. There are no buts allowed when you’re writing 50,000 words in a single month. So just stop. Hundreds of thousands of other people have managed to do this. You can too. This is your chance to prove it to yourself.

4. You’re really hard on yourself. The best thing about a tight deadline is that you don’t have time to second-guess yourself. That can be a huge blessing for a writer prone to self-sabotage. And, let’s face it, we all are.

5. You haven’t tried it yet. There’s a crazy energy in the air during NaNoWriMo, and if you haven’t done it before, it’s worth doing just for the experience. Who knew tapping away at a keyboard could provide an adrenaline rush?

After all that, you’re probably wondering why I’m not doing NaNo this year. I have a lot of reasons, but it comes down to: been there, done that. After nine successful novel-writing Novembers, I’ve managed to nail down a process that allows me to write year-round… except in November, when my business takes center-stage. Rest assured, I’ll be cheering hard from the sidelines. And even better, Palimpsestic donates a percentage of revenue to NaNoWriMo’s parent organization, The Office of Letters and Light, every month! I may not do NaNo myself anymore, but I believe in the magic of it, and that will never change.

How Not To Cook In November

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For at least the last decade, Novembers in my house have been crazy-time. Between NaNoWriMo, holiday prep, and running my shop, there’s no time to think, no time to clean, and, certainly, no time to cook.

Luckily, I’ve developed some coping strategies to keep the family fed, with at least a modicum of nutrition.

  1. Cook in October. Start now. Double every meal you make this month and put half of it in the freezer. Not every recipe freezes well (potatoes are notoriously bad), but a surprising number taste even better when they’re defrosted and warmed up for a second go. I have a Pinterest board full of recipes that work, if you’re stumped for ideas. A well-stocked freezer is the number one weapon in war on cooking in November.
  2. Supplement with ready-made sides. Prepared foods are generally full of sodium and preservatives, but if you can pull a homemade meatloaf out of the freezer, the potatoes from the refrigerated section at the grocery store should do just fine as a side dish. Deli salads are good, too, and I’m not above picking up some biscuits and corn from KFC.
  3. Two words: rotisserie chicken. Need I say more?
  4. Crockpot meals. Okay, so cooking in the slow cooker is still cooking, but it doesn’t feel like it. Somehow, it’s easier to throw a bunch of ingredients together in the morning than it is to face fixing a meal at six o’clock when you’ve been working all day and still have a million things left to do. Pull together a few easy crockpot recipes in October, so you’ll have them ready when you need them.

To get you started, here’s one of my favorite November recipes. Not only can it be prepared in the slow cooker, it also makes a huge amount and freezes like a dream.

Freezable Slow Cooker Sloppy Joes

Freezable Slow Cooker Sloppy Joes

  • Cooking spray
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 large red bell pepper, chopped
  • 3 lbs. lean ground beef, browned
  • 3 cloves garlic, diced
  • 1 can sweet corn, drained
  • 1 ¼ cups ketchup (I like the balsamic vinegar kind, but plain will do)
  • 5 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 4 tablespoons firmly packed brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons white-wine vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons prepared yellow mustard
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • Hamburger buns

Spray crockpot bowl with cooking spray. Layer in all ingredients (except buns) in the order listed. Cover and cook on LOW for 6 to 8 hours. Stir, spoon beef mixture onto hamburger buns, and serve.

To freeze, divide mixture into meal-sized plastic containers, leaving an inch open below lid. Remove from freezer the night before eating, and microwave to reheat.

October’s Gonna Be Fun

IMG_4247The first time I won NaNoWriMo, my now-teenage son was only eight months old, and we were in the midst of a month-long stint in Cincinnati for a project my husband was working on. In a way, it was the perfect set-up for a month of intense writing. We spent that November in a residence hotel. I only had one small room to keep picked up, the galley kitchen wasn’t going to be supporting any gourmet meals, my son still took two naps a day, and I didn’t know anyone in the city to act as a distraction. There was nothing to do but sit in my tiny, dark hotel room, and write.

The last time I won NaNoWriMo, my son was eight years old. I’d just opened my Etsy shop, and I didn’t have enough of a presence yet to have the sort of frenetic, crazy, wonderful holiday season I’ve come to expect in more recent years. We lived in Washington then, and I spent countless hours in the Starbucks next to the Tukwila Barnes and Noble, writing away with the fabulous northern Seattle wrimo crew. It was a completely different experience from that first, quiet NaNo, but just as wonderful in its own way.

Those nine years of writing dangerously, and the subsequent years, when Palimpsestic began to explode for the holiday season, taught me a lot about how to survive and thrive through a hectic November. Over the next month, I’ll be sharing the strategies I’ve learned over the course of my nine NaNoWriMo wins, and my four holiday seasons spent running an online shop. I may not be able to keep November from being stressful, but maybe I can help nudge it slightly more towards amazing. Because whether you’re spending your November writing a novel, working retail, or just planning for holiday celebrations, it really can be the most amazing month of the year.

Here’s what you can look forward to on {Manuscript} in October:

  • How Not To Cook in November
  • Why I Don’t NaNo No Mo (and Why Maybe You Should)

Cleaning the Office (and Other Excuses for Not Writing)

Normally, when someone asks for a photo of my office or studio space, I go with this lovely view of my desk:

Keeping the Office Clean

Isn’t it a beautiful, serene workspace? Don’t I live a perfectly perfect life? Don’t you just wish you could be me, typing away in your banker’s chair with the filtered sun warming the succulents on your desk, back cradled by a fluffy, design-magazine pillow?

Let’s step back:

The Truth

There’s the truth; I work in chaos.

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of attending Robin D. Owens’ “Don’t Panic! Don’t Panic!” workshop at Colorado Gold. She spoke about eliminating the negative in our writing environments: adjusting the light, sound, smell, and yes, tidiness of our workspaces. One writer raised her hand and asked, “What if I have to clean my office?”

“You don’t have to clean it. It just has to be comfortable for you.”

“But what if I have to clean my office? What if I can’t possibly write until my office is clean?”

Ah. That’s a different story, isn’t it? Sometimes, nothing seems more important than cleaning the office. Or doing the dishes. Mopping the floor. Scrubbing the toilet.

Owens’ advice? “Use a timer”

I love the timer. It’s easily accessible on the iPhone (just swipe up from the bottom…you don’t even need to unlock the screen), and it’s useful for everything. Uncontrollable urge to clean the office during writing time? Set the timer for 15 minutes. So don’t feel like washing the dinner dishes? You can do anything for 10 minutes. Need to buckle down and get some major work done? 25-minute sprints, with 5-minute breaks in-between. For me, the timer is better than just about any other incentive I can offer myself. Better than Haribo frogs. Though I hate to admit it, it’s more effective than shoes.

Looking at that second photo, I’m feeling the pull to clean my office. The need to clean my office, despite the fact that I have a synopsis that needs writing and 15 chapters that need polishing. This afternoon, I think I’ll set that timer. The office gets 20 minutes. Then, I swear, it’s all about the manuscript.

New in the Shop: The Book Tree

Book TreeIf books grew on trees, I’d happily spend my life’s savings to buy a little house by an orchard. Since they don’t, I content myself making these little trees by hand, covering them with book pages, and pretending they’re the real thing. I have a weird life.

Each book tree stands between 12″ and 18″ high and 8-10″ wide at the top. They’re made of floral wire, covered with book paper. You can choose a tree made from Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, Van Nostrand’s Scientific Encyclopedia, or The Complete Works of William Shakespeare.

Some people like to hang decorations on these. They can also hold lightweight jewelry. You can get one here.

Writer’s Idol

Ellen Smith, Cassiel Knight, and Peter Senftleben. Photo by Mark Stevens for RMFW. Used with permission.
J. Ellen Smith, Cassiel Knight, and Peter Senftleben.
Photo by Mark Stevens for RMFW. Used with permission.

My husband loves horror movies. I’m not sure why, but if I had to guess, I’d say it has something to do with the anticipation and the adrenaline, that delicious feeling of knowing something is about to happen, but having no idea exactly when it will come or how.

I don’t like horror movies, but I do understand the allure of that state of heightened awareness and tingly uncertainty. Maybe that’s why I submitted my pages to Writer’s Idol at the Colorado Gold conference.

Here’s how it works. You sit down in a conference room, nervously clutching two sweaty, printed pages from your manuscript. As three editors take their seats at the head table, the moderator (Angie Hodapp, in this case) works the room, accepting pages from the brave and foolhardy. She takes her stack back to the podium, where she shuffles them as she introduces the panel. She says she’ll read each excerpt aloud, and the editors will raise their hands when they reach a point where they would stop reading. She won’t stop until she hits the end of the two pages or all three hands are raised.

Your heart races. You think you might be sick.

The moderator clears her throat and begins reading:

The basement of Quigg Street brewery was haunted by a two-bit con artist named Nat Riley—at least, so claimed the Denver Ghost Walk pamphlet I’d stuffed in my bag at the start of the tour.

 

Gulp. That would be the first line of my manuscript, folks. I was first. First! At least it was over quickly. Although…not that quickly.

Our panel consisted of:

  • J. Ellen Smith, publisher at Champagne Book Group
  • Cassiel Knight, senior editor at Champagne Book Group
  • Peter Senftleben, associate editor at Kensington Books

I watched them like a hawk while my excerpt was being read. Who needs horror movies when you can sit in a room and watch an editor’s face as they listen to your manuscript being read aloud? I’m not gonna lie. It was terrifying. Also? Editors have really great poker faces.

In the end, they all made it through my two pages, and the feedback wasn’t as painful as I thought it would be. Okay, so they did use the word “overwritten,” but I took comfort that it was preceded by “maybe a little.” And yes, they did say that my protagonist wasn’t apparent enough in the excerpt, but they tempered by adding that they liked the voice. But even when the comments stung, they were incredibly useful. I left the panel knowing exactly how to improve my opening scene and, better, excited about doing so.

Here’s the thing about Writer’s Idol: it wasn’t just about hearing the comments on my pages. I stayed all the way through to the bitter end, listening to every excerpt and internalizing all the feedback. Maybe I didn’t make a certain mistake in this novel, or on those particular pages, but that’s no guarantee I wouldn’t make it in the next one or I didn’t already make it in chapter three or chapter eighteen.

In the end, the advice came down to one basic thing: write the story. The story is the good bits. It’s not the sitting-around part, or the describing-the-characters part, or the gawking-at-the-scenery part. If you want to keep a reader’s attention, skip the boring throat-clearing small talk. Write the story.

New in the Shop: Hamlet Wreath

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Class up your Halloween decor with a wreath made from Shakespeare’s Hamlet… at least, as classy as you can get with a prominently-placed black glitter skull. Alas, poor Yorick!

This is a handmade 18″ wreath on a 12″ wire base. You probably want to keep it someplace dry, but it’s all ready to hang with a wire loop and a felt back. You can get it here.

Colorado Gold Nuggets, Writing Workshop Insights, Part II

Jessica Renheim, Margaret Bail, Elizabeth Copps, and Susan Brower. Photo by Mark Stevens for RMFW. Used with permission.
Jessica Renheim, Margaret Bail, Elizabeth Copps, and Susan Brower.
Photo by Mark Stevens for RMFW. Used with permission.

I’m back with a few more gems from the RMFW Colorado Gold conference. You can read Part I, with brief notes from the craft workshops I attended, here. Today is all about the publishing industry.

  • From “Everything You Wanted to Know About Publishing (Now’s Your Time to Ask),” with Peter Senftleben: Self-published authors looking to break into traditional publishing really need to have sold around 20,000 copies. That being said, platform isn’t all that important for fiction writers just starting out. That can be built after a book is under contract. Also, even large publishers are looking to digital-only releases, especially with new authors, to build an audience before moving to print.
  • From “Editor/Agent Panel,” with Lucienne Diver, Kerri Buckley, Shannon Hassan, and Raelene Gorlinsky: Writing momentum expectations vary a lot by genre. Romance readers often expect three or more books per year from their authors. Fantasy and science fiction readers might be content with one book a year. From a career-management perspective, if you can’t write more than one book a year, you shouldn’t be writing in more than one genre.
  • From “Editor/Agent Panel,” with Margaret Bail, Elizabeth Copps, Susan Brower, and Jessica Renheim: Jessica Renheim, the only editor on this panel, said, “I work for a lot of great authors.” I wrote it down, because I thought that “for” was telling, as a lot of authors, especially early on, feel like they’re working for agents and editors. The agents pointed that they aren’t just there to negotiate contracts, either. Their job is to help authors with general career management.

I have two more sessions that I haven’t covered in these brief notes, but I think both of those are worthy of their own dedicated posts, so stay tuned!