Thursday, December 16, 2010

Small Potatoes

So, I have now had one person read through the entire book. It's the aforementioned RR and she had some amusing theories about Alex being undead, Julie being an enemy and such. And some very good suggestions.

With respect, there's one thing that I very much disagree with her on. She loved Alex as a villain and favorably compared him to Dolores Umbridge. If you know me in real life or at least am familiar with my Palpatine and Voldemort fetishes, you know a little bit about why that makes me cock my head to the side and grimace a little.

If you're not so familiar with that, I am a villain junkie. It's sometimes exasperating to my friends who like the nice boys. But give me Voldemort, Palpatine, Vader, Bellatrix Lestrange, etc. any day. They are so wonderfully complex. I aspire to have someone like that in my books.

So, where does Alex stand as a villain, really? I find it hard to believe that a lying boyfriend is comparable to the sociopathic cotton candy demon from the Ministry of Magic. Not that I'm unflattered by the comparison, but Alex is intentionally small potatoes. Yes, he breaks the main character's heart and later on in the book, he does something much more villainous than that, but while this is the generation of Gossip Girl, this is also the generation of Harry Potter and Twilight. The books that I am going to be writing about these characters will have relationship issues included in them, but pinning the ex as a great villain would be sort of like saying that Cho Chang outranks Voldemort because she dumped Harry in book 5. It just doesn't make as much sense.

Like I said, he's intentionally small potatoes. I'm reminded of a Buffy episode in which Angel has just announced that he's leaving town after graduation. Buffy and Willow are talking about this major development and the thing that makes Buffy cry is not that heartache of being abandoned, but the fact that she's a girl who's just trying not to die. It also reminds me of a scene in Harry Potter 7, where "good old JK" comments that Harry, Ron and Hermione are feeling like three teenagers whose only accomplishment is that they haven't yet been killed.

So, I'm glad that the main relationship struck a chord. I wanted people to feel strongly about Alex and Ella and their relationship. I just want to warn my friend that there are much bigger fish to fry!

Saturday, December 4, 2010


So, remember in my acknowledgments where I mentioned RR? The one who was my publicist pretty much? Well, she's been reading my book all the way through and giving me a little feedback. Tips on pacing, comments on dialogue, etc.

Well, the most fun I've had in months has been another thing that she's doing. She'll message me on Facebook with theories. It's incredibly helpful to see that someone as intelligent as her is still finding mystery in the whole thing. When I wasn't very far into writing, I asked H. of the cute kids and Philadelphia trip to make sure I wasn't giving too much away, but that was over the course of 17 pages of excerpts.

I cannot wait to see what she (RR) thinks of how the rest of the story because last night, I got a message from her with another theory and she's finally on to something! Though what I love is how I have never thought of how certain things could have played out. It's like Trey Stokes when he said that he never thought whether Han and Stacey (in Pink 5) went all the way until people started asking about it. She pointed out something in the prologue that strongly suggests one insidious thing that I didn't actually mean to be insidious and would make a lot of sense if her theory were correct!

In other news, I broke down and, for fun, wrote the first scene of book 2: placeholder-named Turncoat. I'm really lousy at titles. But I wrote the introduction to my incredibly fantastic future character Carp Milligan. In my head, the second book was going to originally start with the words "I awoke on my first morning in New York to find that a fish had moved in overnight." But no, this is Ella's Columbia freshman-year roommate, Carpathia Seward Milligan. First time I've had a name pre-date a character by a whole book. And when I got done with that scene, I sat back and realized that she is written to strongly resemble H.'s cousin who was, incidentally, a college roommate of mine.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Na____Mo: A Chronicle of WADD

So, I had hoped to spend November doing revisions and writing a draft of another novel idea. After all, November is NationalNovelWritingMonth or NaNoWriMo. 50,000 words in 30 days. And I got some good writing done.

Then my muse went on strike. Well, not exactly strike. She was more like a child who, when expected to do the dishes will instead repaint the living room. Let me tell you a little bit about my muse.

Instead of writing about politics and fairy godmothers and a prince named William who is NOT marrying a girl named Kate, I found myself compelled to look into quite different matters. The most side-tracked I got was actually because a friend, after being hit by a car, needed 300 stitches. Because someone referred to her injuries with a particular term, I looked up a Glasgow smile, which linked me to a Japanese urban legend, which linked me to black widows, which linked me to Celtic mythology, which linked me to banshees, which made me think about another plot bunny that's been bothering me. Basically my theory was that if there were a Narnia-type situation, a Daughter of Eve or a Son of Adam under different circumstances might just give rise to ghost stories or odd mythology.

Then that plot bunny kept gnawing on my brain and I had an epiphany on that plot. Because the epiphany happened at work, I spent four hours at home looking up vintage postcards. I even found one from 1906 that depicts the Golden Ball Tavern in my hometown of Weston, MA. That was fun.

In the meantime, the aforementioned stitched-up friend is actually the sister of one of my beta-readers, so I am definitely giving her a break in terms of proofreading. I have another friend who has many of the same opinions about pacing and she will be taking up the slack for a while. My best wishes go to that family. It was an unfortunate Sunday when that beta landed for Thanksgiving break in Salt Lake City only to find out that she should fly home the same day because her sister was in Intensive Care. We are so relieved that her sister is doing very well.

So, writing on my completed novel? Not so much this month. I have the entire first conversation between two main characters of the next book stuck in my head. I even know the religion of Ella's college roommate, as well as her name, her parents' literary hobbies and the color of her bedspread.

On the other hand, I still haven't gotten responses back other than those first two. I'm anxiously looking forward to any comments and am meanwhile looking for more people to submit to and looking forward to getting a new edition of Writer's Market.

And last Friday, I turned 30! When I turned 20, I didn't have a job, I spoke only one language and I didn't know most of the people who show up in my acknowledgments posts. So I think this will be a good decade.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Lull

So, no new rejections. I haven't had the energy to do revisions in weeks because of the new job. It'll be my 30th birthday on Friday of this week. There's not much going on right now!

Saturday, November 6, 2010


Aaaah, Saturdays. They are now my one day a week in which I can get anything done, since I finally got a new job and that's 8-4:30. I have to wake up early to get to work on time and my revisions have suffered.

But I do have three chapters of revisions to get through, thanks to my sister-in-law's betaing efforts. I have to figure out things like how to take smaller steps in the Ella/Alex relationship without stalemating it and how to make Mr. Mack NOT look like a pedophile, apparently! :)

Saturday, October 23, 2010


I love writing, in spite of some of things I occasionally express here. I hate revisions when a document is finished to my satisfaction, but I really love the process of getting the document constructed.

A friend of mine who was also a writer at the time once got annoyed with me for the fact that I seem to "whip off" writing. The fact is that before anyone sees a chapter, it goes through a lot of permutations.

Case in point #1: In Lest Ye Be Judged, the central storyline is a war crimes trial. When it came time to write the verdict, I couldn't tell whose perspective to tell it from. I tried from the defense attorney's perspective, the defendant's, the judge's or the defendant's wife. In the end, I did something that really worked for me but I wouldn't have thought of it at first. I wrote the entire scene leading up to the verdict from the defense attorney's husband's perspective, then halted it, wrote the judge's perspective and closed the scene on the actual verdict.

Case in point #2: One of the weirder projects I've ever undertaken is what is called the PU. A few years ago, I wrote 100 vignettes in 100 days. Vignette #64 (counting down, not up) was a farcical Jedi Spaghetti Western. For #63, I was still in a silly mood, so I turned my muse loose on my favorite fanfilm: Pink 5. I wrote the main character applying for a job in Rogue Squadron. It was utter crack but in the midst of the reviews were two comments from the co-writer and the director. Eventually, the director offered me a 'job' as the first official backstory writer of the series. I've written several stories in that universe, all with his editorial help and extreme kindness, but one that I remember most clearly writing is Stacey convincing Han Solo to go to the awards ceremony. It took me four different complete drafts that I hated before I tried to write the whole thing from Chewbacca's point of view. That was the one I needed.

I love finding the exact approach to a scene that I have been blind to up to that point. In a way, I'm reminded of a project I had to do for my 12th-grade European Civilization class. For whatever reason, my teacher Mr. Watts assigned all of us to draw a complete map of the world. It had to have all countries, oceans, major topographical features such as rivers and mountain ranges. And it had to be done by memory. We had several weeks to complete the project, but it had to be done in the classroom. The only "studying" we could do was when we got home and could see our atlases. Then we would get back to class the next day and try to remember if we had mismatched anything. At one point, I discovered that I'd gotten my latitude lines mixed up and had to redraw the entire Western half of Europe and most of Africa. Over that minor detail, I walked into choir rehearsal, got through three songs for an upcoming tour and then started sobbing uncontrollably at my inability to do anything right on that project. The reason the project makes me laugh when I think about it is that I came up with a very clever mnemonic device to remember the names of the African countries in counter-clockwise inward spiral order. Well, I got done with Chad, sat back to review my work and discovered that I had a small section of the continent that had no name and I had no countries left to assign to a space. I was so frustrated by that stupid project that I colored it in blue and left it unlabeled and my teacher still gave me a B+ on the project.

So, at the end of that long story, the thing that reminds me of writing is that trying to get the story from my head to the Microsoft Word document feels a lot like trying to draw that map. I know exactly how it's supposed to turn out overall, but I'm inadequate to the task of getting it right the first few times I have to put it down. No matter what, I'm always going to have to figuratively redraw Western Europe. I might have a blue spot that's not assigned to any country. No matter how many permutations it goes through, it really will never turn out as picture-perfect as it did in my head.

But I can still try. I can still find ways to let the Wookiee be the narrator and I can leave that one blank space in Africa. I can get it as perfect as possible and the fun part is getting to that point.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

"Declining with my regrets"

My first actual rejection arrived in the email box, very nicely worded from KT Literary Agency. I feel like a real author now. And if people wonder where I was when I first got dissed, I can say "sitting on the floor of the TV lounge in the Wilkinson Center, checking my mail on Katey's laptop."

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Revision neuroticism

So, I'm taking this one chapter at a time. Making notes to myself about what things need to be expanded. Surprisingly, most times I think of something I need to write in, I realize that I've already done it.

The only stuff that's really giving me hang-ups right now has to do with characterization. By and large, I've been staying away from some of the more emotionally volatile thoughts in the stream-of-consciousness narrative. Problem is, without them, it seems less than realistic. I don't want to put too much in and make a character an emotional cripple, but I don't want to skimp and make that character apathetic.

I have the bad habit that I take inability to write emotions personally. I don't deal very well with emotions, which is part of why I have a therapist, and I'm especially gunshy about exposing myself, even in fiction.

I have to wonder, when JK Rowling was creating the dementors based on her experience with depression, if she had this kind of problem.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Update on schedule

So, I promised myself that I would start revising on Saturday. Here's how my week went:

Tuesday/Wednesday: Received and appreciated congrats from a lot of friends who knew I was trying to get this done around this time of year.

Wednesday night: Burned said novel onto a CD, put it in a CD sleeve, marked it "To: Megan, Love: Kaki, Copy #1" and autographed the back. So when my brother showed up to visit from California, I had a present for his absent wife.

Thursday: I decided to take this day to catch up on some reading. While reading some actually not-spectacular fanfic on, I heard a crack and the monitor started falling sideways. I caught it, figuring my table leg had given out and then noticed that the tower was on the floor. 1/4 of the glass had cracked off. I set the computer very carefully on the ground and reached around the table to unplug the tower, get it out of the way, etc. I then stood up and noticed that my arm was hurting. Upon further inspection, I discovered that my noble act of saving my beloved monitor had resulted in a gash in my arm. I knocked on my roommate's door since I lacked bandaids and alarmed her a bit with the gruesome scene. She kept pointing out that blood was running down my arm. But between her and the apartment's first aid kit, I got patched up. Very lightheaded, nauseated, etc. afterwards. While I was out getting hamburger for the purposes of not fainting, I called my brother and verified that he had, in fact, delivered my CD to his wife.

Friday: I slept a lot, still felt nauseated and lightheaded and had a really bad headache. Kept up the efforts of making myself feel better, then went for a hair trim where my friend cut herself with her shears and needed to go to the ER. Went home once she was safely with her parents and found that I couldn't use my computer because my roommate had people over. Went to bed at 11.

Saturday: Too tired and cranky from two days of pain and insomnia to do anything. Nearly finished the rest of Lost, Season 5 and posted a lot on Facebook.

Now it's Sunday and I'm going to write on the fanfictions that I've been neglecting. So it'll be Monday before I get to revision.

Did I mention that Monday I'm seeing a new therapist? "So, Kathryn, what brings you in here today?" "Well, um, clinical depression and problems with revising my novel."

Thursday, September 23, 2010

My first...somethingorother

Well, I have a tally to the left saying how many queries I've submitted, how many rejections, how many acceptances. Today, one day after I sent a query to a nice person at Kaas, I got a nice email saying that they hadn't updated their information recently and no longer accept my genre. So it's not a rejection so much as a "Oh, sorry, you need to be in THAT line." H. suggests that I categorize it as "the lights are on but no one's home.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

At laaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaast

So, this afternoon, I finished tying up loose ends and making sure I didn't have any unfinished scenes and saved the completed manuscript. It tallies in at 130,111 words, 325 single-spaced pages and I wish it were longer so I could put more personality into certain minor characters, but ding-dong, the witch is dead and all that!

Now comes the official nightmare of looking for an agent/publisher/someone to not laugh their guts out at my expense. I'm told I'll probably have to cut 1/4 of it, but that's for later. For now, I'm leaving it alone for 3 days. On the fourth day, I will open that file again and read it all the way through to see if I still like it.

In the meantime, first draft of acknowledgments. For the sake of privacy, I'll go by initials, but you should be able to figure out who you are if you're in here:

The dedication goes to my first acknowledgee, H. who is not only the aunt of the "original" Ella Mack, but who is the gorgeous blonde in those pictures from Philadelphia. She let me haul her around a perfectly good tourist city in hunt of things like a course selection guide and pictures of random street corners on 16th Street. She also was the first person who gushed about my story to someone else, which was a huge thing for me.

She goes hand-in-hand with K. K. is the first one I told about my pneumonia-induced nightmare about the Crossmen. She kept track of what I'd mentioned in passing, corrected my continuity and fed me too often to be ignored, whether it was discussing our plot bunnies over spaghetti with peanut sauce or inviting me out to Demae. She even let me borrow her second laptop for a night when I desperately needed to escape my apartment. And she introduced me to the addictive parkour videos.

L-A., A.F. and D. are the unholy trinity of muses. D. was the person I based Julie off of originally when I wrote my very first draft of the opening scene that is now three chapters into the book. By the time I got through chapter 13, I figured out that she more resembled L-A. But Julie still has D.'s taste in music, crafty abilities and natural sense of friendship. A.F. was unexpected, since I started writing his namesake well before I met him and was contemplating changing that character's name when I decided to base him off of A.F.

R.H. gets a nod for coming up with a really cool name for a character--Kendra Tenbura--and harassing me a lot to keep me on my toes about other character names.

R.R. gets the cheerleader award for introducing me to everyone as "Ish--do you know she's written ___________ words on a fantastically interesting novel?"

I can't forget M., my sister-in-law, of course. She was always the one who called me for word wars and only occasionally complained that I was writing too fast. She is getting to read it before everyone else, if her husband successfully delivers the file to her when he gets back from a business trip.

Thanks go to the unnamed helpful people at Central High School and Our Mother of Consolation who put up with more than the usual amount of questions and gave darn good answers.

And finally, thanks go to Google, Wikipedia and for their often-instructive search results. Thanks go to a former customer who cemented my choice in names for the main character.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Closer

So, last night, I wrote what is chronologically the last scene of the book. That means that I have a few touch-ups and scene-inserts to do, but just over 123,000 words, I wrote the sentence that will be the last thing (editor-willing) that people read before they start pestering me for a sequel.

It felt very satisfying. Not just because of the whole last-sentence thing, but because I have had doubts about the title pretty much since I figured out the title. There are only three titles of mine that I've really liked--"To Cast Away Stones," "Time of Confessions and Concessions" and "Lest Ye Be Judged." To be fair, "FANFICTION! the Musical" comes close. But there's an ambiguity for the entire book about whom the title refers to. I didn't really believe my own argument until that last sentence, when it actually made perfect sense to me.

And that sentence came after 8 single-spaced pages of pretty darn intense stuff. I'm very happy with what came out of my head over the last few days. I'll post again when I'm done with the draft.

Monday, September 6, 2010


I am in the process of writing the (chronologically) last scene in the book. There are a few things that need to be put in throughout, but I decided to take a break.

I am an IMDb (Internet Movie Database) junkie. I love looking up odd ways that movies and shows are connected. I stink at "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon," but love trying to figure out why one character reminds me of another.

But the thing that I love best about IMDb listings is the "trivia" section. I was reading the "Trivia" on JAWS today and never knew that Steven Spielberg laughed at John Williams when he first heard the theme or that Spielberg played first clarinet for the music played during the beach scenes. I didn't know that Roy Scheider's appendectomy scar in the USS Indianapolis scene was his own scar, not a makeup trick. I'm amused when I read about things like the boat accidentally sinking during one scene and the Coast Guard going for the actors first, which prompted one tech to stand holding his sound gear over his head and yell "**** the actors, save the sound department!" The "trivia" section is the first section I hit unless I'm trying to figure out whether or not a movie won an Oscar for something.

So, with the ending closing in FAST and my mind being restless, I've decided to make up my own "trivia" section. Some of it you may know, some of it you may not. So here goes.

*Kathryn came up with the idea of this book while watching The Matrix Reloaded. The conversation between The Oracle and Neo about whether or not he can be sure that she's on his side inspired her to think about a situation where the wise old mentor is a sinister figure. Eventually, that adapted itself into the situation of not being able to trust the intentions of the person you love.

*The Crossmen came to Kathryn in a dream while she was on medication for pneumonia.

*Michael and Ella came into being as characters with their first names already decided. Their last names came later.

*Michael's last name is Anthony, after the patron saint of missing persons.

*Ella's last name was borrowed from the maiden name of Kathryn's good friend. A few months after she decided on the last name, that friend was blessed with a niece. That niece shares her name with the main character and the dedication of the book will be to "The aunt of the original."

*A coworker/friend of Kathryn's was the reason for questioning Michael's name and while she did not get to have her way with Michael's name, she was given the choice of the name for a minor character who will be appearing throughout the series.

*There were many factors in the choice to keep Michael's name the same, but the final nail in the coffin came from work as well: Kathryn processed a lot of customer orders at the time she was writing this book and while the poll was being conducted, she ran across a Michael Anthony who lived two blocks from Our Mother of Consolation in Philadelphia. Since OMC is the setting of a number of scenes, she decided it was kismet.

*Many people have asked why Kathryn set the novel in Philadelphia instead of her much-beloved hometown of Boston. The main reason for this was that Philadelphia was synonymous with the quest for freedom, a central theme in the book.

*Kathryn balked at the amount of time the characters spent eating in the book. She had to consciously rewrite some scenes to exclude french fries.

*The first scene written included a dialogue about whether Ella was the Harry or Hermione Granger. The placeholder explanation of the book's plot has always been "What if Harry Potter disappeared and Hermione, the only person who knows where he is, doesn't remember?"

*The book "Half Magic" is important to the plot. This was Kathryn's favorite book as a child and the first one for which she had to pay an overdue fine.

*While most of the characters don't bear resemblance to actual people, some are intentionally real. Ella is based off of a former roommate. Julie started out as based on one friend and ended up with the sense of humor of someone else. She also turned out to look just like Kathryn's former roommate and current best friend, but still has a different sense of humor. Leticia reminds Kathryn very strongly of a girl she worked with as a missionary, which is why she's from El Salvador. Her daughter Carolina is named for the missionary. Andrew Farragut was named independently, but was about to undergo a name change when Kathryn met another Andrew F. who was cool enough to merit being a namesake. Anna is based off of Chantel, a girl from Kathryn's 4th-grade math class. Alex, despite being an evil boyfriend, bears no resemblance to Kathryn's infamous ex (Nicknamed Senor Psychopath for his role in breaking her right wrist and one of her ribs) who ended up in a mental hospital.

*Lynn is bisexual and Kathryn has still not figured out how to "out" her. Her current other half is a character named Alicia, seen twice in the novel.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Final word of the day...

Well, in some time zones. I'm not going to post for a little while, but I wanted to write this down so I remember my goal and have people holding me to it.

So, my younger brother, the one who is married to the sister-in-law who is also writing a novel, just moved to California. He's at his dream job, working for Apple. Well, they're sending him on a recruiting trip as someone who did a summer internship and then got a job offer afterwards. The recruiting trip happens to be back here.

So, that happens September 21-3. In December, his wife gave me a copy of her manuscript to mark up and read to my heart's content and I told her she would have a copy of mine. I just hoped to have it finished before now since they moved a couple of weeks ago. Well, I'm going to make sure that my brother doesn't get on his return flight without a copy of my manuscript.

So that's the drop-dead date. September 23, I have to have this done. I don't think it's impossible. :)

Never-ending story

(Cue the aaaahs. If I had the ability to post the techno remix that I have on a different computer, I would.)

Anyway, so it's now official. My longer than Twilight. I swore to myself that I would stop by now, but it's all about the chowdah that I was talking about before.

Case in point: I was finishing writing up the scene in which Ella and Anna make up. Then I remembered that I'd started writing the argument and never really finished it. So I had to go back and 2,000 words later, the later scene made sense.

In terms of actual book plot, I just finished the scene that's three scenes away from the ending. On the other hand, I have to back through and make sure I didn't leave anything from my synopsis out and make sure that I don't have sudden leaps in logic like "YES! THE KILLER IS THE BUTLER!" "Um, Ish, they don't have a butler." "Yes, they do! It's mentioned in...oh, I cut that scene, didn't I?"

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


So, at 80,000 words, I promised myself that I could start writing the fight scene. As it turned out, it took me until after 100,000 words to get around to it.

Well, after 3548 words, I'm finally done with the fight scene. The word count is now at 108,949. I had 300 fewer words, but then realized that I had done a lot of research for pretty much nothing and while the suspense at the end was great, it wasn't what I needed.

Some things I learned:

1) Remember cause and effect. I had this very cool part with a collapsing ceiling, but didn't remember that if you fall ten feet onto your left shoulder, you're going to do some damage. I had to go back in and dislocate a shoulder.

2) Speeches aren't necessary. There are three lines of smack talk in there and for the rest of the time, the fight for their lives is really a fight for their lives. Unless you're Buffy, Luke or Mal Reynolds, you don't stand around talking about how much you want to kill your opponent.

3) When all else fails, ask wikihow. Sure, I didn't learn how to smash through a bay window, but I did check my facts on breaking down a door.

4) Don't be afraid to tinker. The original draft of this stunk.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


I'm now in the throes of the ending. I could put it in a much vulgar way, but I'm not going to. :)

Since I last posted, I've mostly been doing job-hunting and feeling depressed. The aforementioned friend who was in bad condition during my last post did pass away and we'll all miss her dearly.

I went hiking for two days in Wyoming. Love that state and it was good to clear my head and release some endorphins. Dancing a lot for the Broadway revue I'm in has helped as well.

I'm now past 105k on the word count. H. of the fantabulous Philadelphia trip was the first person to read the scene that started the whole final battle.

And on a final, even more random note, I need to stop watching TV. Not only has my friend Dana gotten me into LOST, but I'm trying to watch the rest of the animated Avatar series and then I took a look at Make It or Break It and got enthralled. But on the up side, I was introduced to the acting of Ayla Kell, who is just awesome. She is now the face that I put to what I think of as Ella.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Virtues of Humble Beginnings

As I'm writing this, I'm waiting to hear news about someone's condition. I logged onto Facebook after a job interview today and found that a writing friend of mine had posted that her friend had just had a massive stroke. I expressed sympathy and she immediately IMed me to tell me who this friend of hers is. Turns out that it's someone I've known for years through Jedi Council Forums at I'm immensely worried about her and praying on her behalf.

To take my mind off of that, I'm now thinking about the friendships I've formed with people I might never meet. This friend from Tf.n is someone who has showed up at almost every story I've written since 2003. She didn't always leave long reviews, but she was kind enough to tell me what I was doing well or badly. I always looked forward to her input on a new chapter.

Having been a fanfic writer for years, I know all of my readers by screenname if not by real name. I've met a few of them in person, know some of them from more than one website... One reader, I first contacted her in 2000 to ask permission to borrow a character.

Much as I really hope to be a successful author, much as I want to have my hand cramp at the end of a long booksigning, I anticipate missing the days when I know my readers by name. When I wrote Lest Ye Be Judged (one of the stories that the friend in crisis read all the way through, bless her), I knew professions, religious beliefs, who would get into a rousing argument over strategy, which of my readers were lawyers... I really don't want to lose that.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Aerosol Nights--a thought on community

Today, I had an interesting combination of circumstances. I was reading Leon Wieseltier's Kaddish before a rehearsal for "Sing for Something." For those of you who don't follow that page on Facebook/flyers around town, "Sing for Something" is a Broadway revue fundraiser for cancer research. My good friend Rebecca convinced me to audition for it and once or twice a week, I have rehearsals for it. It's doing wonders for my endorphins, it's improving my mood and it's starting to help a little with my weight.

As I was walking back from the rehearsal to my apartment, I reflected on the last times I was involved in community theater as an actress rather than a pit orchestra member. Thanks to my mom's encouragement, I grew up in quite a few productions, whether it was one of the three Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat productions we did in Portland or whether it was the year that I had to juggle performances as a Siamese Princess in The King and I and the North Wind in The Selfish Giant. She loved performing and the companies would save us money in babysitters if her kids could sing in harmony and dance well. I remember one or all of us being a River City, Iowa child to her Widow Paroo, an orphan to her Miss Hannigan or just an angel choir to her Potiphar's Wife. All in all, I had a really happy time in community show business.

The operating word in the phrase "community theater" has to be community. There were people in the Weston Friendly Society that we knew from various productions. We knew a lot of the local directors. One girl refused to talk to me at school, but was in both The King and I and Bye, Bye Birdie.

Where the title of this post comes in is a memory of both those productions. The same friend who convinced me to audition for Sing for Something asked me today if I was going to dye my hair blue for my role as the Genie from Aladdin. That brought to mind the suffocating black hair dye that we had to spray on for The King and I as well as the silver hair tint that I also had to use when I was the North Wind. That led to me remembering the first time I sprayed myself in the eye with hairspray, ten minutes before I had to have the opening solo of "The Telephone Hour" in Bye, Bye Birdie. There was a shared hysteria as well as community misery in how many layers of makeup we had to put on to go from central Massachusetts WASPs to royal princesses of Siam. We all suffered through the stiff hairstyles and uncomfortable poodle skirts while in love with Conrad Birdie when I was in 7th grade.

All of those memories came back to me shortly after I had read the acknowledgments section of Kaddish. Mr. Wieseltier goes on for two pages without a single paragraph break or explanation. It's just a list of names and all of them probably know why they were included there.

I look forward to having a community that runs my writing theater. I hope it will involve an agent, editor, publishing house, publicist, maybe someone to help me with my correspondence... I'm not a leader or delegator, but I kind of like the idea of having a few people to help me keep my head on straight.

This also led me to think about my current "community." There's friends who have hashed out plotlines with me or asked appropriate questions when I was brainstorming madly. There's the friend who gave me a thumb drive for Christmas, but who also lets me get out and have fun once in a while. Then there's the beginning of my fanbase. Jenn, my friend from high school, who wrote me my very first piece of fan mail ten years ago because she figured I should get used to it. H., who not only let me drag her around Philadelphia for four days while she chauffeured and worked out schedules but who is practically my own lexicon. She's a coauthor on my Botosphere and one of the most touching moments of this whole process was the night before we flew to Pennsylvania. My mom doesn't have the best memory and so she couldn't remember the basic details of the book I was writing. (Though, to her credit, Mom did remember that I'm still working on research for a work of Holocaust literature.) I started giving brief summaries of each of each character and H. jumped in when I got to Leticia, recounting the circumstances under which we meet her and a few things that I didn't even remember telling her. Katey was the first person I told about that crazy dream I had while afflicted with pneumonia that defined the rest of the book. She's also the person who, when I told her another friend's request for a power, sent me articles and videos of parkour so I could develop a writing style. Rebecca, who insists on mentioning my word count every time she introduces me to someone new: "Matt, this is Kathryn. She's an author who has written 98,000 words so far. Can you believe how awesome that is?" She even introduced me to a 9-year-old that way last week and it practically made me blush. There's L. and D. who are very different in temperaments but who are now forever linked because I started writing Julie as based on D. and have now realized that Julie has L.'s sense of humor. Plus, L. is dating the guy that a major character is based on, though that character didn't start out that way.

Some of the best things are the really small contributions, like the roommate who listened to my whiny wanderlust in December and convinced me that I really should take a vacation to my main characters' hometown. The lady at CHS' administration office who slipped me more information on the curriculum and policies than she really should have. The sister-in-law and brother who keep tabs on my writing just because they're good family who understand just how neurotic I am.

So, even though I'm not sitting in a rehearsal room with half a bottle of hairspray keeping me coiffed while waiting for scene 3 of act 1 to be over, I feel the same kind of mellow happiness that I do when I'm in community theater. It's a wonderful experience of mutual insanity.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Closing in on 6 digits

So, I remember very vividly my escalating definitions of a long story. When I was 18, I wrote an 82-page story and was so proud that I got that far. Before, I'd limited myself to 30 pages.

When I was 20, I set out to write a 30-page short story and ended up writing a 200-page first installment of a trilogy. When I hit 100,000 for the entire project, I felt out of control.

A couple of years ago, I rewrote a 100,000-word story called "Lest Ye Be Judged" and THAT got out of control. I realized partway through that in order to make it realistic characterization, I had to add in several relationships, a political dynamic and problems with PR for the main characters. It ended up at over 365k. I swore I would never get that far again.

My novel-writing attempt part 1 struggled to get to the 50,000-word mark. Now I am staring at a wordcount on my Microsoft Word page that says I'm at 94,125 words and I can't believe I'm not done yet. I'm starting to feel like I did back when I was 20.

Twilight is just over 118,000 words and that is my benchmark for a long first novel. If I get to 118,000 words and don't have an ending, I'm going to question my pacing even more than I usually do. Hopefully, that questioning won't end in me writing 30,000 more words because I realize that I've rushed things.

And in the meantime, why do I have all of this time to write and worry about word-counts? Because I lost my job on Friday. If you're out there and do that sort of thing, please pray for me.

Monday, June 28, 2010

That's what's in a name.

Sorry to anyone who opposed this, but I have made a final decision on the name in question all those posts ago. Let me tell you the story.

I work with a lot of paperwork on a daily basis and sometimes run across names that are familiar to me. Aaron Hyde, Ron Hatchett and Cameron Romero have all shown up and those are names that H. and I have come up for Autobots’ holoforms.

Well, today, Michael Anthony from Philadelphia passed across my desk. I laughed a lot, then looked up the address of Mr. Anthony. It is in the same neighborhood as Our Mother of Consolation church, a major location in the book. It can’t be coincidence.

So, to all of you who voted, THANKS! But I’ve been waiting for the character to assert his name and it just happened. Michael Anthony remains.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Character Notes, Part 1: The guardians

I was reading a friend's story this morning before church and found that occasionally she would excerpt her character notes when discussing her stuff. Just for fun, I decided to do some of that here. It also helps that I haven't had my USB drive since Friday, when I left it plugged into my computer at work. So this is the extent of my writing for the weekend.

So, I'm starting with the guardian group. This includes the authority figures of the book for the most part, but I'm going to focus on my own fantastic five--David and Sarah Mack, Lynn Barrett, Leticia Serrano and Andrew Farragut.

David and Sarah, obviously, are Ella's parents. I approached her relationship with them from a slightly unconventional (or conventional, depending on how you look at it) standpoint. I think one of the things that exemplifies this is a conversation with Katey that I had. I was telling her about a part of the book where Ella has to commit an act of faith by leaving her parents for a time. I was talking about how they know where she is going, but not what the end result is. Katey stopped me and said "She TOLD them about all of this? I like that!" Ella has a very open relationship with her parents; she wants to maintain trust with them because they have given her a lot of leeway in her upbringing. Some people might have exploited that, but she appreciated the amount of trust that they were showing her. Of course, David is a teacher at her school, so she can't get away with much anyway, but the point still stands.

Their relationship in the book also hinges on irony because the entire plot is woven out of certain deceptions on both parts, whether intentional or unintentional. Ella wants to keep her parents informed of what she intends to do, but hesitates to tell them the fundamental facts about her activities. They demonstrate a great deal of trust in her, but we find out midway through that they have been withholding critical information about what happened the previous summer. They all are lying to the people they trust and who trust them for the sake of protecting each other.

I also see David and Sarah in a slightly idealized way. They remind me collectively of the father in the parable of the prodigal son. It's not that Ella is wayward or misbehaving, but her friendship with Michael leads her to do things that they do not approve of at times. They don't turn a blind eye to her activities and priorities, but they are very forgiving of unforeseen consequences. One of my favorite conversations of the whole book takes place on Christmas Eve, when Ella is about to leave and her mother makes sure that she does so with the knowledge that she can always come back. It is important to all three of the Macks that she knows where her home lies.

Lynn and Leticia are a set of opposites. Lynn, like Alex, seems to be perfectly genuine and has Ella's best interests at heart. Like Ella's parents, her entire relationship with the main character is marred by crimes of omission. In Ella's parents' case, it's a crime of leaving out their knowledge of her magical abilities. In Lynn's case, she is the most honest of the enemies. She only claims to be a friend and to have been on Ella's side, but the rest of their relationship is a healthy friendship. She is critical in helping Ella. A major theme of this book is that there is too often something profoundly screwed up in the best of relationships.

The entire book stemmed from this conversation in The Matrix Reloaded:

Neo: I suppose the most obvious question is, how can I trust you?
The Oracle: Bingo. It is a pickle. No doubt about it. The bad news is there's no way if you can really know whether I'm here to help you or not, so it's really up to you. You just have to make up you on damned mind to either accept what I'm going to tell you, or reject it.

Lynn's mentoring is a great thing with sinister origins. On that level, it is comparable to Ella's relationship with Alex.

Leticia, on the other hand, is the most honest of the allies. She started out life as Lindsey Morgan, a friend of Lynn's from New York. But when I got to the scene where Ella was to meet her, an El Salvadorenan spitfire who reminded me of Hermana Portillo emerged. In her opening scene, she reminds me of Hermione Granger, which makes her a good counterpart to Ella, the Hermione Granger of the entire series. She is committed and loyal, but unimpressed by fame or legacy. She does have strong fighting tendencies, but her priorities are defensive rather than offensive.

Andrew is still on the same page, taking a strong role as a guardian. He is, if anything, a more stalwart hero type than any of the other guardians. In fact, I look forward to writing more of him the most because his role in the book changes rather drastically from Book 1 to Book 2. Leticia will evolve as well, but I think that Andrew accepts a duty that is not his and which is not pleasant by any stretch of the imagination.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Writing Romance in the Shadow of Stephenie and Smith

As you all know, I am a Twilight enthusiast. I have a ticket to see Eclipse as soon as it opens (even if it took some convincing for me to go to a midnight showing with 8 a.m. work the next morning), I write on the Twilight juried archive at and I've read all of the books several times. I even have a t-shirt that I made myself for "Tanya's Denali Bed and Breakfast: We do Bachelor(ette) parties."

My sister-in-law talked to me last year about not wanting to continue reading Twilight until she finished her book because she didn't want to be influenced. In thinking about some things recently, I can understand that.

Between Twilight and Vampire Diaries, I feel as if the YA genre is inundated with slightly ridiculous gem metaphors. Edward has topaz eyes. Elena has lapis lazuli eyes. It gets worse when you think about Bella swooning over her personal Greek god and how she's always kissing his marble lips. Her favorite books are from a time of very flowery language and it shows.

On the other hand, my book is narrated by a person who thinks in very straight-forward terms. She knows all of the Twilit adjectives, but that's probably because she had them on a vocabulary list for homework, not because she looks at Alex and thinks that he has emerald orbs or something.

The subject of this blog post came up because, two nights ago, I got around to writing a specific romantic scene. Since I've been writing in a non-linear fashion, one of my first completed scenes included a quick kiss between boyfriend and girlfriend. Alex gives Ella mistletoe for her locker as a joke. Obviously, they occasionally get to engage in some PDA. But I have been working sort of backwards on their relationship because I know the end result and I need to know where the starting point is.

So, two nights ago, I wrote the first kiss and compared to the marble-snogging bliss from the meadow scene in Twilight, it was pathetically tame. But it was realistic. I rarely channel myself into Ella because she's not much like me, but this time I made an exception. I remember being a sixteen-year-old and experiencing my first kiss. I didn't think like Bella Swan. I felt giddy and light-headed and wanted to do it again and again. When I fell in love, I found a man who made me feel the same way.

So, did Ella hear a symphony while kissing petal-soft lips and gazing afterwards into emerald (more like peridot) orbs and gripping his curly, onyx-colored hair? HECK NO! She thought like a normal teenager who is too busy worrying about SAT prep to think about how she unconditionally loves her personal Greek god.

Maybe it would help if I 'shipped her with someone, but personally, I don't know if she's even met the person she'll eventually live happily-ever-after with. She's in a high school relationship that's not very healthy, she's best friends with Michael but doesn't feel that way about him... For all I know, she'll get married to Harker (character from Book 2 that I'll talk about someday).

The point of the story is not the romance of it. It's a contemporary urban fantasy thriller and I want people to relate to the romance rather than idealizing it. I probably will never have something like Twilight Moms, but I hope that there will be adults who still want to read this kind of affection.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Done With Dignity

So, here's one thing I never thought I'd put on my writing blog: WARNING: GLEE SPOILERS AHEAD! And Mistborn...

I'm a big Glee fan and have watched all of the episodes and the season finale related to something I was thinking about over the weekend. So if you haven't seen the season finale and it matters to you, don't read any further until you've seen it.








There, that should be enough, I think.

So, over the weekend, I was doing a beta job for someone's novel. It was the last 20 or so pages of their manuscript and in the middle of this segment, one sixteen-year-old character professed their love for another. I immediately wrote in my comments that while this was pretty much expected of the YA genre and high schoolers these days, it was not set up very well and was unnecessary in my opinion. One of the things I liked best about this section was that the other character did not reciprocate it.

Compare this to the season finale of Glee. All season long, they've been leading up to the Regional championships against their much-more-acrobatic-and-daring rivals, Vocal Adrenaline. Since "New Directions" creamed the competition in spite of cheating at Sectionals, we were all on tenterhooks to see if they'd go to Nationals. The last three episodes of the season established them as the moral victors and impossible to beat. And...they didn't win. They didn't even place. I admired the show for that. I cried unpredictably at the scene where they sing "To Sir With Love" after talking about what that experience has taught them this last year. It was great.

So, finally, look at Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson. At the end of the first book, the classic hero dies, leaving the evil overlord still in power and his allies to eventually mop things up. Gutsy, Brandon. It was fantastic. So was the rest of the trilogy, but I remember rereading that just to make sure I didn't get that wrong.

I have to wonder how many people have thought of defying convention in such ways before. After all, George Lucas explained the stormtroopers' ineptness as "Only good guys shoot straight." Everyone knows that good wins out in the end. Everyone from Luke Skywalker to Harry Potter, Achilles to Aragorn would agree. Aristotle would argue that the good guys are the ones who escape with their integrity intact and few heroes actually do fit that criteria, but no matter what, truth will out, love overcomes all, etc. etc. Even in Breaking Dawn, yes, there's a huge threat, but it all works out in the end. That kind of disappointed me, to be frank.

So, I have really no qualms about conventionality, but the thing is, it now requires a lot for me to think that it's being done with dignity and without the ever-present triteness.

Friday, June 4, 2010

What I did on my writing vacation

What happens when you take two intrepid/crazy/adventurous friends and unleash them and their to-do list on Philadelphia for a weekend?

Let's see... (Warning, you may have to tilt your head on a couple of these pictures)

We left in high spirits...

Some of us were more high than others...

But the other was not to be outdone.

We had a lot of ground to cover...

So, most of the time, we ate...

And ate...

And ate...

We didn't eat here, but who has a fancy McDonald's? Apparently, the Germantown district!

And these guys are EVERYWHERE--Provo, Philadelphia...

We also found a few amazing things out. For example, did you know that...

Or that Betsy Ross is Asian?

I loved the architecture. You never knew what you were going to get.

We saw the old meet the new on more than one occasion.

But we always took time to smell the roses.

We saw Leticia's and Ella's houses.

Paid a visit to school and parish...

And we visited another place of worship...

We visited some places known to many...

And found a few treasures with fewer tourists, such as a mezuzzah on the oldest continuously-inhabited street in America...

or a church with a fallout shelter.

Mostly, we found places where I could vent my frustration at writer's block.

So, we had fun and came home to friends and family.

Any questions?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Unhealthy Habits

There are two things that I have been doing for as long as I can remember: music and writing. Just as my parents have pictures of me at my first-grade talent show, they have my stories from elementary school. The other day, I was talking to a friend about teaching children music and how it's the best and worst thing a child can go through at times. That really reminded me of writing, so I decided to write about that tonight.

Anyone who knows me well is aware of my two fetishes. I'm the daughter of a woman in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and a businessman who used to be in a band but now just jams on weekends with his acoustic guitar. I started violin when I was 3, joined a singing group called Showbiz Kids not much later, did community musicals as soon as I could learn how to sing harmony at the age of 6. My parents were extremely supportive of how much I loved music. As soon as I moved to a new place, we would find me a new teacher and find a new orchestra for me to participate in. We'd also usually get involved in whatever theater group was around there. When I won a year of free piano lessons in a raffle at the age of 7, my parents let me continue taking lessons until I was almost 13 and we couldn't afford both sets of lessons. They let me join everything from Glee Club to Mixed Chorus, String Orchestra to Full Orchestra. The hands-down most incredible summer of my life was when I was accepted to the Interlochen Arts Camp and spent the entire vacation rehearsing several hours a day, performing once a week and making immense progress in my musicianship. In that summer, I played everything from Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty Waltz to the Prokofiev Romeo and Juliet Suite, from Holst's Jupiter to the Tchaikovsky 6th Symphony's final movement. I developed a vibrato and pushed myself harder than I had ever thought possible.

On the other hand, I have some utterly miserable memories of music. It's a masochist's art, really. Not just the working for years before you can even sound halfway-decent. Not just the 7 a.m. Saturday rehearsals I had downtown when in the New England Conservatory Youth Strings. I look back at my life and I wonder what kind of sick freak I was. When I was 9, I accepted an invitation to tour with my old orchestra in Taiwan and had to have 21 pieces memorized and performance-ready in three weeks. The following summer, I was taught at Bay State String Camp by a man who struck me whenever I did something wrong. For the last half of that week, I kept myself going by crying whenever I got home from rehearsals, but I kept going. I have done countless auditions for orchestras. At Interlochen, once you were in the orchestra, you had to compete for your seat each week. As a singer, I was part of groups that sometimes did several concerts in a day. My favorite audition experience has to be when I was trying out a new instrument and was scheduled for my two New England Conservatory Youth Division placement auditions on the same night. I finished playing the Bach Double Violin Concerto for the camcorder and microphone, then walked out and swapped my violin for a viola so I could go back in and do the Telemann G Major Concerto. As an instrumentalist, I have done all of this to myself when it wasn't expected of me. That's because my mom thoughtfully never told me until I was 13 that I had bilateral vestibular syndrome and wasn't expected to be able to ever play a musical instrument because my brain doesn't get impulses to my muscles very well. By the time I was aware that there was a reason that I had to work harder than everyone else to sound good, I was used to it.

So, comparatively, writing is a piece of cake. Nothing physical holds me back from typing. I love writing and it comes easily to me at times. In high school, I remember reading a story I'd written and finding that I'd taken Greek class notes in the margins of that story instead of the other way around. My English teacher from 9th grade wrote me the letter of recommendation that got me into college and said that I was the best writer she'd ever taught. BYU looked at that recommendation from the person who was by then the head of the Harvard English Department and decided I was good enough for them, 3.2 GPA and all. On the other hand, that teacher is also the one who made me cry in public by telling me in a class discussion that I would never have the grasp of literature to understand "A Raisin in the Sun." Last summer, I was in a very paralyzing depression because writing made me depressed and that was one of the few things that could keep me from severe depression. I have been immensely frustrated and cried and cursed at my computer and people at times while writing this book.

So I suppose that everything, to a certain extent, can be a wonderful thing that makes us miserable or an unhealthy habit that makes all the difference.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

What's in a Name, part...oh, who cares?

Just a quick note: I've narrowed the options to Michael Anthony, Michael Arden and Anthony Llwellyn. I have decided to keep it as Michael Anthony until the manuscript is finished. At that point, I will go back, read the whole thing and consider what name fits him best. Thanks to everyone who voted.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Things Learned On the Road

I'm back from four great days in Philadelphia. It was a great trip and my friend was VERY kind to come with me. Otherwise, I would have spent most of the weekend on one SEPTA or PATCO train and would have never gotten around to the fun things between research stops.

Ten amusing things about traveling in Philadelphia that can't be found on Google or Wikipedia:

1. The corner of Walnut and 3rd is evil
2. There can be two contradictory one-way signs on a single corner and they still expect you to abide by the rules
3. You have to pay careful attention to what is a street and what is an access road. Sometimes, it's not marked.
4. Philadelphia Phillies fans are adamantly proud of the fact that even if the Boston Red Sox went 86 years without a World Series win, they have over 10,000 losses. This makes them more diehard and more faithful than any Red Sox fans.
5. No matter where you go in Philly, you're bound to be a racial minority of some kind.
6. You can find the racial demographics of an area on the internet, but it still won't prepare you to find an Ethiopian restaurant next to a Chinese takeout, a Mexican market next to a Jamaican bakery or the million fried chicken restaurants.
7. It's a thriving metropolis, but you can't find anything downtown to eat after 9 p.m. Not even at a Starbucks. It's all closed.
8. These are some of the crazy-narrowest streets that I've ever seen, even in Italy.
9. In Germantown, even the McDonald's is fancy.
10. CHS is an awesome school with a great, diverse population made up of students who were above the 88th percentile in standardized testing.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

I Walked Today...

Okay, so I'm posting from a Microtel Inn near the Philadelphia Airport. In the top pocket of my backpack is my digital camera and I have over 200 pictures on that memory card. My feet are killing me, I have a few more freckles and I'm pretty sure that I'm going to pass out very effectively tonight.

That said, I am back from a lot of *squee* moments. Today involved a lot of driving. After going to services at both Christ Church (Episcopal) and the Philadelphia 4th Ward (Mormon), we got into our rented Hyundai Accent, revved up a very ineffectual GPS unit and set off on a "book tour."

I now have pictures of the benches where Ella sits when she first finds out that she's not your average teenager. I took pictures of the intersection where the book opens. On 16th St., we pulled up to a corner and I squealed "Hedgrow apartments! THAT'S LETICIA'S APARTMENT RIGHT THERE ON THE FOURTH FLOOR!" before jumping out of the car to take a picture of a very ordinary blond-brick building. On 53rd St., I seemed to confuse three people who were on the other side of the street when I photographed a house, the neighborhood, the alleyway next door and even the rooftops of the surrounding buildings. I now know that Ella can look out of her living room window and see...another window, surrounded by eye-hurting yellow siding. I know that she's down the street from Maria's Super Market and if Alex is picking her up, he can probably hang a right on Parrish Street and find better parking there. I've also gotten the lay of the land at her high school, though more information will have to wait until tomorrow.

This is day three. On days one and two, we hopped subways, played location scouts for certain scenes of the book... We found the bad guys' headquarters after wandering off in search of the DAR rose garden. Not only did my friend practically keel over, but when I took pictures of a specific corner, there was a huge difference in the quality of the photo. I've decided it's an anti-Muggle charm.

So, more later, but *SQUEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!* And my next book series, I'm going to cheat and write something in Boston.

Thursday, May 6, 2010


So, I keep thinking that I'm in the home stretch of this novel. It's coming along really well, I've got one major chunk to write and a lot of little details to expand. To that end, I'm actually going on a much-anticipated trip to Philadelphia this weekend. (To be honest, I'm taking a break from packing to write up this post.) A good friend was saintly enough to suggest that when I give into my wanderlust and finally get back to the East Coast as I've been yearning to do since December, she come along. I'm so excited! And I'll have a lot of pictures to share when I get back.

Anyway, back to the home stretch. If you're puzzled by the title of this post, let me explain now. When I was growing up, we tended to move a lot. Sure we stayed in the same state and even in the same town, but we were serial renters. I chalk it up to the fact that my Dad has always wanted us to live in California, while we obstinately stuck it out in Massachusetts, cold weather, crazy drivers, brilliant educational opportunities and all. We got so good at moving that a local news show once did a feature on our family, highlighting how we effectively move four kids from house to house.

Well, what "chowdah" (or chowder) translates as is what would "come out of the woodwork" as my Mom said. YES! We got all of Kaki's books packed! Oh, wait, we just moved the bed and found that she accidentally dropped another half-box of books down there over the last year...oh, so THAT'S where that library book went... Or my sister's art supplies. You get the idea. No matter when you think you're done, you're not. There's always the chowdah. Now that I'm nearly 30, chowdah means that when I've moved out of an apartment, I'll tote an extra bag of things like jewelry or stray pens that I thought I'd packed.

So yesterday, I was sitting in the break room at work with K. This is the same K who has known about this book since I was still working out the plotline, who refers to it by its villain rather than its working title and who has heard most of my crazy ideas. When I had pneumonia and my drugs made me have a dream about this book, she was one of the first people I told. She's invaluable, really. Even more so because I'll occasionally have a flash of inspiration and she'll say "Yeah, you told me about that several weeks ago." If you read my Dr. Who blog, she's also the friend who got me hooked on that and with whom I analyze just about everything on a weekly basis.

I'm really off on tangents tonight. Anyway, so I had just had a realization that I was stuck with some literary chowdah. I have been working up to a reveal of a certain alliance for a while now and I wrote that scene last night. It was a part that made me smirk at my own cleverness, but I then realized that, oh my gosh, I hadn't set it up well enough. In other words, the gasps of my readers would be less "OH! I get it now!" and more "Are you kidding me? I thought he stopped being important six chapters ago!" Imagine if it turned out that Dedalus Diggle from the Leaky Cauldron in HP1 turned out to be the key to bringing down Voldemort and "good old JK" hadn't mentioned him since book 4. I sighed and lamented to K that this book is going to be longer than I anticipated. In a very good McGonagall impression, she arched her eyebrows over her glasses at me and observed that this is the second time that I've said just that about the book.

It's true. I'd originally planned for 65,000 or so words. Now I'm at 58,000 and have at least 20,000 words left to go before it's sufficiently written. It's never going to be Lest Ye Be Judged, which outstripped the longest Harry Potter book by 88,000 words, but it's going to be closer to 100,000 words than I originally anticipated. Frankly, I'm a bit embarrassed because when I overstep my wordcount bounds, I feel like I'm being too presumptuous in thinking that anyone will want to read something that long. And then I feel a bit panicked that I still have that far to go.

Like I said, chowdah.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

What's in a name? Part 2

So, I’m going to start out this post with an analogy borrowed from Arthur C. Clarke. In his great essay on dialogue, Clarke illustrates the importance of character-consistent dialogue with the two following examples:

In the early 20th Century, several MLB players were accused of tampering with the World Series. “Shoeless Joe” Jackson was one of the players accused of intentionally throwing the Series. “Legend has it that as Jackson was leaving the courthouse during the trial, a young boy begged of him, "Say it ain't so, Joe," and that Joe did not respond.”

In Charles Dickens’ Nicholas Nickleby, one character (I can’t remember who, having never read it) exclaims in the face of an accusation, “Refute these calumnies, Nicholas!”

Clarke points out that it would be as inappropriate for the young boy to say “Refute these calumnies, Nicholas” as the Dickens character to shout “Say it ain’t so, Nick!” It is of tantamount importance to maintain consistency in all aspects of characterization.

So, that brings me to my gentle ramble/rant on naming conventions. I was born in Texas, lived in Oregon and was raised for the most part in the Boston area. It was not until I started college in Utah that I really came into contact with peculiar naming dialects. After having grown up surrounded by saints’ names, African-American naming conventions and historical names, I was introduced to girls named Ryan, white girls named LaTisha and boys who were named everything from Ammon to Zoram. If you remember that friend who started this whole thing about naming in the last post, she is a Utahn who named her daughter Asya. (For more on the weirdness of Utah names, see this awesome site, There’s no doubt that there are lovely names that come out of Utah and Mormonism in general (with the exception of Renesmee. *shudder*), but they are unheard-of on the East Coast.

I personally hold the conviction that names for characters should be as consistent with their backgrounds and upbringings as their dialogue. I also believe that unless it’s terribly important for the reader to know the origin of the parents, there should not be a character name that is clearly foreign to their area of residence. Yes, I could write about the love triangle between LaVell, Ammon and LaWayne, set in Philadelphia, but it would be all-too-clear that the parents were born and raised in Utah and had been inhaling too much Jell-O powder over the years. It also reminds me of Miss Congeniality and Sandra Bullock’s horror at being stuffed into the identity of Gracie Lou Freebush. In “Twenty Pageants Later” by Carolyn Keene, Dane comments that in order to win Miss America, there are only two imperatives: You have to be Texan and therefore have a two-part name. She laments having been stuck with a horrible name like Dane McKane while her sister, who couldn’t care less about pageants, gets the great name of Scottie-Anne.

So, therefore, how do I go about naming my characters? Step 1 is to listen to them as I’m writing them. That’s how Lindsey Morgan from Philadelphia turned into Leticia Serrano from San Salvador, El Salvador. Lynn Barrett appeared in my head as a redhead named Lynn and I found Barrett through a surname search.

Step 2 is to look at the respective birthdates of the characters and common names in that year. Census reports are invaluable for this task. Yes, my friend has a friend whose daughter was named Asia on the East Coast in 2004, but in 1991, Michael was #1 most popular name and Anthony was #15. Giving Michael a geographically inconsistent name would mean that his parents are imports.

Step 3, consider religious or political affiliations that could have an impact. I must admit to being bad in this sense. I came upon the name Ella by researching possible names for a queen in another story. I wanted her name to be Helene and another variation on that was Ella. The problem was that I had to look up rules of christenings in Catholicism, since Ella is a lapsed Catholic, but her parents were more religious. Luckily, I found that it was perfectly normal for her to have a saint’s name for her middle name. So Ella Theresa Mack stayed where she was. Also, would die-hard Republicans in the ’80’s name a kid Ronald after Reagan? That sort of thing.

Step 4, if there’s ethnicity involved, look at the degree of separation from the motherland. For example, someone who just immigrated might have a Maria Dolores name and their kid might still have the name of Guadalupe after la Virgen. Skip a couple of generations and you might get a Jeff Martinez, as with a friend of mine. It was very common for immigrants with children who were born in the States to mix the two and name them Yonni or Yessica. I also have friends from Korea who were named things like Soo-Kyong Pak or friends who went by Grace Park. You get the idea.

Step 5, make sure that you have a good balance of ethnically realistic characters. This is like trying to write a story set in Boston and needing to take into consideration that the city is half-Italian and half-Irish, but has a large percentage of Armenians, the suburbs are heavy on Jewish families and there are other racial boundaries to consider. In looking for an apartment for Leticia, Josue and their daughters Carolina and Sarah, I found that Philadelphia has the second-highest concentration of Latinos in the Northeast, so it was appropriate to add in a set of characters from Central America.

Step 6, when all else fails, go with gut instinct. If you need a character named Lavinia, go for it. Just make sure that there’s a reason for it.

Friday, April 23, 2010

What's in a name?

So, why the poll? Here’s some information on the options you have to the left:

I’ve got a good friend that we shall call R. for now. She’s an avid fan of many things, a great artist and a fun coworker as well. So, when she told me that Michael Anthony was too commonplace a name, I was hesitant to roll my eyes at her. I politely said that it would take an act of God to get me to change the name.

Well, today, she came over with a lovely post-it note full of suggestions based on the search term “of god” in a baby names site. I had considered making a compromise in making Anthony the first name because I am immovable on having that as part of the name.

Meanwhile, here are the meanings of the names:

Gabrian--God’s able-bodied one
Mitchell—variation on Michael
Nahtaniel—God has given
Oswald—Power of God
Tobin—Goodness of God

I added in Anthony, who is the patron saint of missing persons. Anthony’s last name would be Llwellyn, Welsh for “leader.”

So, vote if you even look at this blog once in a while. I’ll seriously consider whatever wins.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


So, I'm a big believer in rewarding milestones. In 2000, I got published for the first time and was paid $20 for that. To celebrate, I bought my brother a copy of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Since then, I've celebrated that sort of thing with various methods.

When I hit 40,000 words, I went to my favorite Mexican restaurant. When I finish my manuscript, I will be taking my sister-in-law to PF Chang's for dinner because that's what we did when she finished hers. When I get an agent, I'm going to treat myself to a night in a hotel.

When I find a publisher for my book, I've decided to reward myself significantly. If you go to, you will see a gorgeous necklace. I've lusted after it for a while and figure that, even though it's $275, I can save up a little at a time through the process of getting a contract.

So, that's my random contribution for the week. Sorry I've been ignoring this, but the new Doctor Who season started and I started a blog just to deal with my thoughts on it. It can be found, if you're interested, at

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Hometown Blues

I occasionally get very, very homesick for Boston. No, I wasn't born there, but I moved there early enough that I don't really have much of an identity that doesn't stem somehow from the Bay State. I watch the Red Sox. I have the T maps memorized by experience. I occasionally have a good, strong accent that is mostly the fault of my best friends in high school. I've sung a concert at Faneuil Hall (and know how to spell it). I spent my weekends at New England Conservatory and a lot of my weekdays near Storrow Drive. I still use wicked as a noun, adjective AND adverb. I pronounce properly places like Worcester (Woostah), Gloucester (Glostah), Medford (Mefah) and Leominster (Lehmister).

So, when I decided to write a contemporary urban fantasy, it was a strong temptation to set it in Boston. I could have easily had Ella wander the Park Street district or hang out at my favorite store, Commonwealth Books on Tremont Street. She could have had pizza at Pizzeria Uno at Kenmore Square, picked up a gift for her dad from Sox Appeal and gotten romantic flowers from Fleurtacious. Special occasions could have been at the Rainbow Cafe in Copley Plaza and if she didn't mind the puddles of grease in the middle of the pizza, she could have eaten at The Garage in Harvard Square.

But no, I felt instinctively that I wanted this story to have its roots in Philadelphia, a city that I've visited a few times, but have never lived in. I bought a guidebook that taught me things like what you call a cheesesteak if you're from Philadelphia. I obsessively looked for real estate listings in certain areas of the city and then figured out, based on the mortgage calculator and salary information, if Mr. Mack could afford to live in those houses as a high school math teacher. I discovered that I created a fictional teacher who shares a name and discipline with a real teacher at that high school. I figured out the weather based on newspapers and personal experience. I am indebted to photo galleries on blogs for pictures of places that I wanted to be important to the story. Heck, I even learned how to pronounce Schuykill.

Somewhere after the middle of the book, Ella and Michael find it necessary to create a diversion by going to Boston. I got to write that scene two days ago. It was a tremendous relief to know exactly what she would see in Logan Airport, what types of seats she'd be using on the Blue Line and what the bookstore she goes to in South Station looks like. I restrained myself by having her stop at the Au Bon Pain that I used to frequent or get lunch in the Burger King near Copley that plays opera over the loudspeakers. But it was so nice to spend a whole chapter in familiar territory.

Except now, between that and opening day at Fenway yesterday, I'm homesick again.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Love/hate relationships

So, a while ago, I amused and frustrated myself. Ella is a very strong-willed character. She has been from the start. And a while ago, I realized that I really didn't like her. Not hate dislike her, but she bugged the crap out of me. Really, truly. There are about three chapters so far where I want to smack her upside the head for her stubbornness.

On the other hand, I recently made myself proud because I have a very interesting antagonist that you're not SUPPOSED to dislike until a very specific point. I finally wrote the scene where I give myself permission to think of him as an official scumbag from this point forward. Which only makes me like him more, because I really love a good villain.

So, in the first case, I was reminded of my feelings about Harry in Order of the Phoenix. For much of that book, I really wanted to call him a git and side against him because he was very irrational in a lot of situations. I think every character, realistically, has to pass through that phase or they're not worth reading. Odysseus is a git when he taunts the Cyclops. Bella's a git through a lot of New Moon for being a codependent idiot who needs to get a life. The Count of Monte Cristo is DEFINITELY a vengeful git. Heck, even Peter is a git in the New Testament for denying the Christ. But the point is, they come out as better figures of humanity for that.

So there's my theory. Every great character must pass through the valley of the shadow of git in order to be someone we can relate to.

As for liking villains, I'm just weird that way.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Star-crossed: The traits of my characters

So, last night, I realized that Julie, the best friend of my main character, has her birthday on July 16. Don't ask me how this happened. I'm just letting my characters talk to me again and it so happened that Ella started talking to me about a memory of Julie's birthday party on July 16. So, out of curiosity, I went to a website to find out about her astrology. If you're curious, it's

So, here's what I found out about Cancers:

Emotional and loving
Intuitive and imaginative
Shrewd and cautious
Protective and sympathetic
Changeable and moody
Overemotional and touchy
Clinging and unable to let go

Much to my surprise, this is very Julie. Julie is very intuitive, shrewd, cautious, protective, sympathetic, but very overemotional at times and changeable. So I went to see the traits of some other characters.

Ella was born on September 2 and is therefore a Virgo. This means...

Modest and shy
Meticulous and reliable
Practical and diligent
Intelligent and analytical
Fussy and a worrier
Overcritical and harsh
Perfectionist and conservative

It's fun to see a description and be able to remember specific scenes that make her fit this description. Especially, the practical and diligent, intelligent and analytical and conservative.

So, next we come to Michael, the February 9 Aquarius:

Friendly and humanitarian
Honest and loyal
Original and inventive
Independent and intellectual
Intractable and contrary
Perverse and unpredictable
Unemotional and detached

Well, I don't know about perverse or unemotional, but loyal, original and inventive, independent and DEFINITELY contrary.

And finally, of the tetrarchy of main characters, we have Alex, May 17, the Taurus:

Patient and reliable
Warmhearted and loving
Persistent and determined
Placid and security loving
Jealous and possessive
Resentful and inflexible
Self-indulgent and greedy

Jealous/possessive/inflexible/patient/persistent? Not him at all! :P

So, all of these dates were picked without considering the astrology. I like them!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Method to the madness

So, back in high school, my Ancient History teacher said that all brilliance had something to do with madness--the gods would give someone great talent and a little craziness to go along with it. I think I agree with this.

See, I'm a musician and a writer. Both require a kind of masochism. See, I ws listening to Murry Peraiha's recording of the Mozart Piano Concerto No. 21 and I was reflecting on all of the fantastic things about music and making music. There's this one part right before the cadenza that's the pianist doing passagework in parallel 10ths leading to scales, and then this beautiful, insane trill. I call that part of the piece my pipe dream. But really, the whole appeal for me in music is making something that's never been heard before. Really, musicianship is deeply personal because it reflects so much of your own personality. It's why I never get tired of hearing things played in concerts.

Writing is the same way. No matter the familiarity of a plotline or a type of character, it is something that has never been read before, experienced before. And, like music, the difficulty is in making it WORTH experiencing. That's where the craziness comes in.

I remember vividly my seating audition for my last year at the NEC orchestras. I walked in with my viola and Melba Sandberg, my conductor, turned to the other conductor holding the audition and said "This is Kathryn Olsen, one of our violists. You'll never know if you can expect something wonderful or ridiculous from her." Twice I've auditioned for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and gotten rejected. I've flubbed orchestra auditions. In my sophomore recital, I was 90% of the way through the Bach Double Concerto when I lost my place and almost botched the ending of the third movement. I've had great peer reviews, but I also have broken down in tears when told how bad my writing used to be.

So many things in life are only rewarding after a lot of humiliation. I'm sure that some time, I will have a reader or a friend or an agent or whatever tell someone else, "This is Kathryn Olsen, one of our writers. You'll never know if you can expect something wonderful or ridiculous from her." In music and in writing, my two greatest passions, a lot of humility and vulnerability is required. And you never know if it'll be personally worth it.

Like I said, genius requires a little bit of madness, so I must be Einstein.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Me and my babies

I'm something of a Renaissance Woman. I have a lot of hobbies, a lot of skills. I play musical instruments, have a flair for foreign languages. I can steal a base and ballroom dance passably. My parents raised me in a suburb of culture-rich Boston and I say that I'm from Boston because when even when I wasn't at school, I was in rehearsals at New England Conservatory's youth orchestras. I have traveled the world and can both admire myself for being the unofficial tour guide when we visited places I'd only read about in Greece and laugh at myself for not having learned how to use chopsticks until four years after I went to Taiwan with VIP Strings. I draw well and appreciate fine fashion. I'd like to think that Jane Austen wouldn't always turn her nose up at me.

In spite of all this, I am a complete disaster when it comes to communication devices, yea, even normal electronics. No matter that I type 75 wpm and handwrite 15 wpm. I invariably kill everything from my cell phone to my laptop. The only exceptions are the following: the typewriter that I used for the last half of my time as a missionary because my handwriting was too small for President Bennett to read and my iPods.

Case in point. This morning, I saved the latest version of my novel onto the 4 GB flash drive that my friend gave me for Christmas. I have made this a habit because of my propensity for wrecking things. I then put my flash drive in the adorable little carrying case and put it in my backpack for safe keeping. I later packed up my laptop to bring to a friend's house. I never got around to using it while there, but left it out of the way on the couch where neither her mixed-lab nor her children nor her husband nor my friends could trample it underfoot.

So then I got home, ran choir practice, did the dishes and then decided to do some more writing. I pulled out the carrying case for my flash drive and promptly discovered that somehow, while out of the way of harm, it had been snapped. It is in a couple of pieces because part of the motherboard so to speak snapped off and then it broke in two as well.

Then I went to my computer and decided to turn it on. It would not respond to the power button. At all. It was clearly charging according to indicator lights, but I could not get it to work. I nearly cried because usually I'm not THIS disastrous! Yes, I have had a VCR that only worked when a fork was stuck into it and a laptop that turned off in protest every time the Indians scored in the 2007 ALCS vs. the Red Sox.

So, I left it to its own devices, but came back to nurse it (the laptop) back to health. It took a pencil eraser, removing the battery and re-placing it and several repositionings of the screen, but then the CD drive started clicking and flashing a happy little green light and then it just turned on.

So I am back in command of my semi-faithful laptop. Thank goodness!

In other notes, I thought I was done learning about dysfunctional boyfriends, but just found a new variety. I've decided that I've got a knack for dating Darwinian men--who are, as William Schwenk Gilbert put it, "though best [are] only a monkey shaved."