Monday, May 31, 2010

I have the best intentions...

...yet somehow I never manage to update my blog. Sorry 'bout that.

Well, here we are in the midst of the good ol' Memorial Day weekend. True to my word, I finished revisions on the synopsis for Egypt 2.0 (working title only, don't worry) and sent it back to Natalie "before the weekend." Alas, "before the weekend" ended up being 7:40 p.m., after she'd already left the office. Waah-waah-waaahhhhh.

Here's hoping NAL enjoys it. I am not expecting to make a sale from a partial novel and a 1900-word synopsis -- if it did happen, I'd take four poops and die -- but I am hoping for another encouraging rejection.

In the meantime, I am having a little bit of fun being dirt poor. Life is different, that's for sure. Before the recession, between my husband and myself we were making an extremely comfortable living. Now we have about sixteen dollars between the two of us (don't ask -- it's a very sore spot) and are fighting for unemployment insurance from the government. It's tiring, but it is making me resourceful. And it's making me feel awfully proud that I'm able to survive such tough times, too.

Part of my plan to survive is to put my vast collection of art supplies, amassed during my richer times, to work for me. I've begun practicing portraits and will soon be offering them on commission. Hopefully Craigslist will provide me with some cash for my art. At the same time, I'll be putting together an impromptu illustration portfolio and will begin pimping myself out to small presses to do cover art. Between portrait work and what I imagine will be an occasional job doing the odd book cover here and there, it should be enough to keep myself afloat until I can get a job at a book store again.

I'm working only about 8 hours per week at the zoo, on average, and while it's a great job, it's obviously not enough to keep me going. Unemployment insurance makes up for the rest, but just barely -- and it won't hold out forever. I've had to go without some things, too, such as health insurance. Yikes! Happily, the book store where I worked as a temp this past Christmas season has a couple of openings. It will be a week or two before I hear more about it, but it looks hopeful. Even if the openings never materialize after all, because of the way this particular company does business, openings at other store locations should form within a month or less.

So with a little luck, art will keep my head above water until I'm back at a book store. Then I'll be in the odd position of working two jobs at once again, but the zoo job is short, easy, and fun, so it doesn't really feel like work. ;)

Art won't feel like work, either. I come from a long line of artists, after all. It's in my blood.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

...and back to Egypt we go!

Well, well! The past 24 hours have been a buzz of memorable activity in Libbieland.

Item 1: A bird pooped in my eye for the first time ever; I had to clean out my eye with potent alcohol wipes. This is not an experience I recommend at all, my friends. Not only is it patently gross for an animal to defecate directly into one's eye, but swabbing your eyeball with alcohol hurts like the dickens. However, I know enough of my profession to know that bird feces + mucous membrane = zoonotic disease. I'm not sure WHAT kinds of zoonosis might be contracted via eyeball, but I wasn't about to find out. Being around birds is generally safe for healthy people, but coming into such intimate contact with bird poop is generally not. I was quick to stick a disinfectant wipe in my eye, though, so I am not worried.

To those of you who think zoo keeping is all snuggling baby animals and frolicking in khaki, I am really not kidding when I say it's about 90% dealing with feces. The other 10% is wiping your eyeballs out with alcohol.

Normally, such an experience would be enough to ruin my day. However, just minutes before having my eye rudely bombed, I received an interesting email from Natalie, the Most Awesome Agent Ever, which brings me to

Item 2: Several days back, we received a very encouraging, very complimentary rejection of my historical novel from NAL. They said they liked my writing and liked certain aspects of the book, but didn't love the middle part, which was enough to cause them to pass on it. They did, however, invite Natalie to send along anything else I'd written. Wow! Very complimentary indeed! I was quick to let Natalie know that I don't have any other novels completed, but I do have a literary novel partially written (needs a lot of work, though) as well as the synopses for two more Egyptian historicals, plus about 20,000 words of Book 2 (which I have given the working title Egypt 2.0).

I sure as heck didn't expect they'd be interested in reading any of that. They were, though. The editor requested the synopsis and completed pages for Egypt 2.0. And I basically floated around on a Natalie Fisher-shaped cloud of joy for the rest of the day. Even the eyebomb couldn't sour my mood.

Now, I am not expecting that NAL will want to buy my unfinished historical novel just based on a synopsis and a bit of preliminary writing. That kind of thing really only happens with established authors who've already proven readers are willing to shell out cashola for their stories. I am taking this for exactly what it is: a wonderful compliment and a very fun and memorable feather in my cap. It is extremely encouraging that an editor at a major house is willing to look at my unfinished book, and all I'm expecting to get out of this is encouragement and a little much-needed revving of my motor.

That being said, I am going to spend the day polishing the hell out of those 20,000 words and the synopsis. Then I'm going to write up a cover letter that my agent can choose to send or not, as she sees fit, describing recent discoveries in Egyptology that bear on Hatshepsut's life, and pointing out the reissuing of Pauline Gedge's Child of the Morning. Now is, I believe (though I do have limited knowledge of the industry) a good time to be marketing a novel about Hatshepsut. So even though I don't expect NAL to buy Egypt 2.0, I am still going to use everything in my skill arsenal to convince them!

This is a good time to reiterate my feelings about agents. If I were another person observing the early development of the career of Libbie Hawker, this incident alone would be enough to convince me to put the time and effort into obtaining a really good agent. Natalie is serious, driven, intelligent, and working for a major agency, which is an indicator that she's the real deal. She has a personality that clicks with my own; we work together well. She has taste in writing that is similar to mine. This door to NAL is one that would never have opened for me if not for Natalie's influence. Whether the book sells to NAL or not, this is an opportunity I couldn't have had without an agent. And this is only one of the many wonderful things my agent has made happen for me.

I hang out enough on Absolute Write to know that fiction writers are split by two camps. Some think agents are the only way to go. Others seem to be rebelling against the current "trend" (I believe it's not a trend but a sea change) of needing an agent to break into fiction. They want to do it without an agent. Or they've received a few rejections from agents and have decided they're done with searching. That's well and good -- they can take any path that feels right to them. But I know my tent is staked out very firmly in Camp Agent. This experience with the partial request has only firmed my belief that agents are the best way to a serious career for any fiction author who isn't already established.

So it looks like I'm back in 18th-Dynasty Egypt once more! I went to work on Baptism for the Dead because I needed to air out my brain, which was feeling stuffed with natron and linen. Now I'm pretty jazzed up to get back into the book, though, and give it a little spit-shine. I'll try to update more frequently in the coming weeks to let you know, O Blog Followers, how it goes.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Oh, wow, an update!

Obviously by now you realize that I suck at updating my blog. My life is turmoilful at the moment, and it keeps me distracted when I'm not writing. I haven't been writing near enough lately, either.

Work on Baptism for the Dead is clipping along well enough. It's a hard book to write, without an outline. But I am getting there. Still enjoying it, still feeling good about it.

I'm feeling awfully tired and stressed, and that's all I really have the energy to say right now. I need to shower and get over to the library so I can get my writing in for the day. Tonight, I am going to a meetup with the Seattle Skeptics, and really looking forward to both getting out and meeting some new people. Writers can isolate themselves, you know, physically and emotionally. I am feeling of late a very strong need for physical affection and emotional connection, and the lack of that makes me cranky and pained. Which is generally a good mood to be in while I write, at any rate, so let's get this show on the road and wallop 2500 words or so.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Library love

I love doing my writing at the Edmonds library. It's inspiring to watch the day's weather come in over the Olympics and across the Sound.

Monday, May 3, 2010

A tale of woe, and not-so-woe.

Hi! A bit overdue for a blog post, I am.

I've had a bit of a struggle with my personal life for the past week. Stuff is rocky and I am not feeling particularly confident or secure about my social and emotional future. Additionally, I have been feeling rather sad and rejected with some aspects of my life and frustrated and angry with others. So clearly I haven't been in much of a mood for cheery blogging. I'm working on feeling better about things, though. It is an uphill hike.

I came up with a really brilliant idea for a literary novel but try as I might, I was unable to outline it or even write a synopsis. I knew my characters, I knew their initial circumstance, I knew how the book would end, and I knew the theme of the story. I absolutely could not figure out anything else. The entire middle of the book was and still is a mystery to me. I decided to wing it and write without an outline. I've never done this before.

Now, I am not one of those writers who rigidly adheres to her outlines. Not at all. Outlines can and do change dramatically as I go. But somehow, having the outline on hand keeps me focused and confident. Whenever I start to feel unsure of what I'm doing, I can tell myself, "Relax...if you need to, you can refer to the outline to refresh your memory." With historical fiction and my short sci-fi that has worked very well. But I've never made a serious attempt to write a literary novel (I don't count my teen-age flailings at literary fiction as "serious") and literary novels are all about internal conflict. That is somewhat hard to outline, I suppose. So even though my outlines are always flexible, at least I've always had them. When I tried to outline this new novel, it was so hard I was making myself cry so I decided to just stop.

Yeah, I made myself cry. Oh, that's not the worst of it, Dear Reader. Over the past two weeks I've discovered that I am a very sensitive artistic type. I didn't know this about myself previously. I'm rather embarrassed to be such a cliche, actually, but I'm trying to accept myself for what I am, here.

So I decided to proceed without an outline. The story crept forward at a disgusting and alarming pace, something between continental drift and languid snail. I was writing perhaps three hundred words every two hours. It was absolutely distressing.

I do not believe in "writer's block" -- I think it's a term people apply to themselves in order to excuse inactivity. "I CAN'T write; I have writer's block." Fie! Libbie does not suffer from some external and uncontrollable force which robs her of her abilities. When Libbie has a hard time writing, it's because of Libbie.

So in an attempt to increase my productivity, I tried various tricks -- changing up the time of day when I write, writing free-hand on note cards at a lovely park, etc. -- and while I was able to work out some kinks in my story this way, no significant progress was made. After a good two weeks of rusty occlusion, combined with my dual-faceted personal issues (longing/rejection on the sinister and frustration/anger on the dexter), I was fairly constipated with emotion and was in a fragile and embarrassing emotional state.

I went to my weekly writers' group like usual and made an ass of myself by CRYING in the middle of the bar once my friend started to prod at me to find out why I seemed so down. Then I went home and sent ridiculous emails of apology to everybody in my group re: the crying incident. Then the next morning I sent more emails (slightly less ridiculous) apologizing for the ridiculousness of my previous emails. THEN I sat down to write, and oh god, it was like flogging myself. I was so upset over what a dope I'd made of myself in front of some of my best friends for the past twenty-four hours, and I was so upset that what I KNEW was a really great story -- a seriously fantastic and important work -- was stuck inside me and refused to dislodge. All this upset plus shame over the previous day's ridiculousness plus the negative emotions I was feeling from my long-standing personal difficulties plus WORDS WOULD NOT COME OUT OF ME equaled a colossal digestive upset on a truly impressive scale. I was so sick, I thought maybe I'd contracted food poisoning at the bar, but nobody else in my writers' group was sick, and everybody had nibbled off my hummus plate.

Between searing intestinal cramps and sprints to the bathroom, I figured I must be having an anxiety attack. This was pretty interesting -- I used to be under medical treatment for severe anxiety, years ago, but wound up discontinuing that treatment once I found some ways to cope with it. Apparently it came back to visit me.

As you may imagine, the realization that I was having an anxiety attack made me go OH NO NOT ANXIETY, THIS MAKES ME FEEL ANXIOUS and exacerbated the problem. (I hope by now you are laughing -- I am.) In an attempt to relieve my anxiety by expressing it, I made what I thought was a rational post on Facebook explaining what was going on with me. Then I kept working on my book, as I had been doing all along (albeit without much success.)

The next morning, all the anxiety was gone. I don't know where it went, but I was relieved to see it had vanished. I read the Facebook post, laughed about it, and promptly deleted it -- it was something along the lines of BLA BLOO BLOOOOO, WHY CAN'T I WRITE, BLAA BLOO BLOOOOOOO, I FEEL SICK AND NOBODY LOVES ME, BLAA BLAAA BLOOOOO. Oh, boy.

Conclusion: I am a precious snowflake, apparently, who is way emotionally involved in her writing and is fully capable of a public freakout (or two) when things aren't going well in her life. Who knew? At least now I am aware, so I can avoid such scenes in the future. I hope.

But this story has a happy ending. Maybe I just needed to have a couple of meltdowns and really and truly vent my emotions. I've been keeping them wrapped up pretty tight for -- oh, eight years or so. After waking up anxiety-free, I was also blockage-free. Suddenly everything was clear to me. More than clear! I was really FEELING my characters and their story. I still had no idea about the middle of the novel, but I woke with an absolute trust in my characters as real people, in the truth of their story, and in my ability to tell it. Not only to tell it, but to ROCK IT.

I ran to the library, where the quiet and the view of Puget Sound always stimulate my brain, and ripped out about 5000 words in record time.

And I'll tell you something: it's the best writing I've ever done.

The working title is Baptism for the Dead. And it's going to blow a lot of minds. I can't wait to get it finished and sent off to my agent. I have never felt more confident about my future as a writer than I do right now.