Showing posts with label winter. Show all posts
Showing posts with label winter. Show all posts

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Winter Seeds in Querying Season

On Writing - dolce memole

 As you know this is a query season for me.  It happens to have coincided with the gloom of winter and the post-Christmas blues, a homecoming from a wonderful trip to England and moving my life from a house I shared with roommates to a small downtown apartment.  As you can see, I had plenty of excuses to hold it off until now... but the biggest excuse, and probably the most reasonable, was the condition of my query letter.  It sucked.  I could not stomach looking at it.  It was pretty but a rambling mess of words, an imitation book jacket not a query.  

(Wait.  Isn't a query supposed to be like a book jacket?  Not exactly.  Shorter than a book jacket.  Very short.  Three paragraphs tops, people, and no more than 300 words to demonstrate your ability to work with Less.  Not three paragraphs for the book and two for an intro and a wrap-up.  One paragraph to tell an agent why you're querying them.  One hook paragraph for the novel.  Third paragraph to give "credentials" or writing credits.  That's all she wrote.  Literally.)

It took about a month of chiseling away at the query and the even uglier synopsis.  With Michelle's coaching, something promising emerged.  I researched a handful of agents and sent out the first three last week.  I braced myself for a round of form-rejections like before saying, "Thanks but no thanks," or "your novel is just not right for us" etc. The same day I got what I'd been praying for over the last year: just one personalized response from an agent.  

It was not a yes, mind, but a paragraph or two of some really helpful insights into the story I am building.  I was not necessarily looking for a "yes", anyway, but some sort of confirmation that my novel isn't crap, that it has a future apart from a query slush pile.  And here it was.  It was not "yes" but it was helpful, friendly, and encouraging. 

What the agent said was (paraphrased), "Awesome idea - but... here's what I was hoping to see..."  In other words, here's how I could possibly make it better. I know it could be better.

First of all, she saw the story (despite its flaws) from a query, a synopsis and 25 pages.  She was convinced the novel could be More.  I still need to work on "showing" rather than "telling", particularly when it comes to setting and how it shapes the world in which my characters' lives unfold.  (Honestly, that's something I know I'll always be working on.) The problem isn't the space I'm trying to build, but my tendency to reveal details and nuances in dialogue.  Third, my characters should be allowed to flourish (her word) even more.  I was beyond excited when she recognized their connection... I thought, "someone who understands..."  

This response was an indication that, at least for now, I am headed in the right direction.  Not only have I crafted a stronger, more professional query letter and synopsis (Thank you again, Michelle!) but I have a plan to make the writing itself - the meat of my novel - stronger, too.  I know Waterwill will be a fluid thing for years until its published. (Okay, if it's published.  But I like optimism.)  The next draft will be about vivifying the setting and the characters' personalities and relationships, as well as paying very close attention to the balance of dialogue and exposition.  

I know she is not my agent, and I won't presume that she'll leap on it if I send her materials a second time.  Yet this experience has given me hope that someone will find and connect with Waterwill further down the line.  I have hope that my novel, while still not quite "there," is closer than ever to where it needs to be.

That said, I've been marking up my drafts with vivifying and show-don't-tell ideas.  For now, I'll hold off querying other agents on my list because, frankly, I want to give out my very best.  I'm excited to be able to strive for it, to have a direction.  Excited.  Encouraged.  Increasing momentum.  I might have a different perspective on that in a month or two, but for now everything feels right - even if I'm still in the same place, between queries, agentless.  

It may still be winter, but remember that seeds are sewn in the wintertime.  Roots dig deeper.  On the surface it may appear that the world is resting, but life is flourishing beneath the snow of Querying Season.

snow days by madeline gibson

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Silver Thaw (j)

Day 106

silver thaw

A silver thaw is a glassy coating of ice formed on the ground or an exposed surface by freezing rain or the freezing of thawed ice.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Iceblink (j)

Day 104

iceblink


Iceblink is the bright appearance of the sky caused by reflection from a distant ice sheet.  This puts me in mind of a Tori Amos phrase, snowblind, from her song of the same name, "SnowBlind":

Some get snowblind
with the daylight
but then with the night
for once see clearly...

We're experiencing a particular iceblink, snowblind day.  Despite the darkness that surrounds the solstice, and the unavoidable fact that our hemisphere is turned farther away from the sun, sun light is actually much brighter now on clear days like this when it reflects off the sun.  Winter can be brighter (though colder) than summer.  There is poetry here.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

AIL Day 77: verglas

Today's adventure in logophilia is

verglas

Verglas is a thin coating of ice or frozen rain on an exposed surface, from the French verre (glass) and glas/glace (ice).  Did you find any of this mysterious stuff on your car this frigid morning?  I know I did! 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Wending to Winter

We had flurries for the first time this season!  Granted, the snow managed to stick to only a few surfaces before melting away, but winter definitely gave us a taste of its power today.  I enjoyed the blustery winds (even though my ears were seriously too cold) and the crisp smell in the air.  I don't enjoy it because of the inevitable Christmas tones that are blaring from every radio in every store right now - Advent does not begin until Sunday, after all.  In fact, I find myself looking forward to winter with a wild enthusiasm: the mercy of a warm, cozy place to return to after a walk in the cold; projects to keep me busy; queries to send.  For some reason, I'm finding creative energy in the cold and musing on unexpected things.  And that, my friends, is a good sign.  I'm not saying that winter will be perfect this year (when is it ever?) but it is more than bearable.  Here are just a few reasons:

Snowflakes on autumn-purple leaves.

Snowflakes on autumn-crimson leaves.

Berries and limestone.

Cherries in macro.

Another snow-kissed plant.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Adventures in Logophilia Day 16: Stymie

Today's word is:
stymie

Stymie is a verb of unknown origins which means to present an obstacle to or stand in the way of a goal.  According to Oxford Dictionaries, it was used in golf in the 19th century to describe a scenario on the turf where a ball obstructs the shot of another player.

I'm taking a break from calligraphy today.  My heart is not into dribbling ink haphazardly on parchment and pretending it looks pretty.  I'm thinking more about the word itself today rather than how it looks.  Just now I thought of a possible explanation for its origins.  Someone was playing golf, a ball went astray and the golfer whose brilliant shot was ruined shouted, "Sty me!" in lieu of stronger language.  Plausible?  Maybe just a little?

It's simple logistics.  A tree falls across the road, and there is no choice but to throw the car into reverse and go back, try for a different route.  The angles no longer line up the way they should.  There is an obstruction.  The path that we would have ordinarily taken is now inaccessible, even though by all means it was the right path, the main path, the one everybody else seems to be on.

My own obstacle isn't one tree branch in the road or a stray golf ball in my shot.  It's an amalgam of things that basically comes down to a truth that I've been trying to ignore for the last several years.  You may recall that I applied to MFA programs some years ago with no success.  A winter of rejections from eight schools plunged me into a non-creative funk - not quite a depression but unproductive nonetheless.  A few months later I somehow gathered myself and embarked on a novel, determined that this Thing was not going to stop me from writing, that I'd apply to a graduate program when I had the strength to do so. 

There is a cold fact about graduate programs these days.  Particularly humanities graduate programs.  I was told by a former professor and friend who did a little research and discovered (to paraphrase) that it is easier to get into the medical school at Johns Hopkins than it is to get into an MFA program.  If you look at university websites, most of them will be honest: they'd only accept 6-8 students per year, sometimes a few more depending on the program and how much money is available.  And in this economy, humanities and liberal arts programs have tight and tightening budgets.  So that's it.  Six students means three poets and three fiction writers.  Period.  Out of thousands of applicants.  Naturally, they choose the ones that stand out, who've shown ambition by getting stories published, who work in a field that uses their writing skills.  I am, decidedly, not a person who stands out, and being introverted and socially anxious, my only great ambition was/is to get my novel done.  Really, it was no wonder that I got eight of those "sorry but no" letters.  It's no one's fault.  Not even mine.  Definitely not their's.

The new plan was to apply this fall to an MA program at my alma mater.  Just the one program because I figured my status as an alum might improve my chances for admission.  I wanted an MFA, but an MA (Master of Arts as opposed to a more intense, more concentrated Master of Fine Arts) would at get me into fresh contact with instructors and other writers and open doors to teaching creative writing elsewhere.  I liked the idea of one day being able to help other writers develop and embrace their burgeoning skills.

But... I'm stymied.  I was told by an advisor this week that getting into this particular program is extremely difficult, perhaps more so than an MFA, and that the number of graduates accepted is very, very small.  In other words, he was warning me what I'd be getting into.  I am, basically, facing the same obstacle: my smallness, my place in life.  If I go ahead and apply, it would be the same story and the same gloomy winter all over again.

But... you say.  It could happen!  I'd like to believe that, friend.  But these things are standing in my way.  I can see them quite clearly.  Believe me, I'd love to get accepted into an MFA program. I'd love to meet new people and work feverishly on my writing in a collegiate setting.  And, of course, the idea of having a second degree to my name "Jillian, Bachelor and Master of Arts".  Who wouldn't?  Masters degrees catch people's attention, and somehow seem to imply that you take yourself serious.  But I am starting to see that I might have to be one of those writers who doesn't/can't teach or interact with writers in what I've percieved to be the "normal" way.  J.K. Rowling doesn't have an MFA.  (Does she?)  Stephen King might not either.  But look at their success.  Both of them write stories from their souls.  Mr. King could have "retired" decades ago, but he writes because he loves to, because it's a part of him.  One simply does not need an MFA or an MA to be successful.  An MFA helps, I've read.  Believe me I know it helps.  Unfortunately, the MFA store is closed to me, and I must make do with what I have.  So, then... am I a failure?  Or is taking the alternative (though by no means easier) route actually a way of letting go and moving on? 

What is clearer to me, as I turn away and look at my options, the alternate forks in the road, is that I am still writing.  I began and finished a novel since that devestating winter - in a period of fifteen months while working full time.  I am closer to getting it published than I ever would be to an MFA program... even though publishing in itself isn't very close.  If it doesn't get published, it prepares me nonetheless for the next time - to improve my writing, to learn to navigate a competitive market, to find a niche and start little projects that could lead to free-lance writing (scary and nebulous a prospect as it is), and publications in lit magazines.  Yes, I'd still have to be a receptionist by day earning less than I care to say, but at least I'd have a little money and health insurance. 

So will be a "master" on my own time, self-taught.  I am following Mr. King's advice - read a lot, write a lot.  In his book On Writing, he said something along the lines of learning how to write by marianting in language.  Since the summer began I've been devouring books right and left.  I am also doing what I would have thought impossible several years ago: dabbling in social media.  By this I don't just mean posting notifications about the blog on Facebook or pinning pretty pictures on Pinterest.  I'm perusing other blogs, reading articles, commenting on them, and trying to join conversations.  That's what I hope to do eventually with Twitter, although right now I feel like a very small person shouting things in a room full of very loud, very talkative people.  The more I delve into the online world, the more I learn about the industry and the trends and other people's struggles.  That is learning to me.  

Again, I'd love to have the privilege of sitting in a classroom and getting my work critiqued and shaped by more experienced writers, but that luxury is only open to a few, and I am, apparently, not one of them.  Instead of standing outside in the cold whimpering because I'm not with the other kids, I'm going to stay where I am and go back to what has been most healthy, joyful, educational and life-changing for me: writing and learning as I go.  That, my friends, is not failure.  It is not a surrender to lazy impulses or stubborn quirks. It's not the most obvious path.  It's not the prettiest or the easiest.  But I am calm, and ready, and more at peace about it than I have been in a long time.

By chance I was thinking about the theme song to Firefly.  I'll be a nerd and put a bit of it here:

Take my love, take my land,
Take me where I cannot stand
I don't care, I'm still free,
You can't take the sky from me

Take me out to the black,
Tell 'em I ain't comin' back
Burn the land and boil the seed,
You can't take the sky from me...

So there it is.  The perfect plan is gone (for now), or at least out of reach, but there is still writing.  I won't have a snazzy degree any time soon to put on resumes and query letters.  But I have what I need.  I am blessed with advisors and friends and a love of language.  Not all is lost.  So much has been found.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Lo, How a Rose E're Blooming and other tales (Jillian)


Once upon an advent, I "discover" a "new" carol. "New" because it is new to me, or it had never interested me before. Carols are rich in history and echoes of medieval legend, so naturally, I never tire of them. They represent more than just the story of Christ coming to earth, but of how that story was told again and again in song and folklore across every culture.

As a child at Christmas, I would take the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Christmas Carol book off the piano and gaze at the beautiful nativity scenes, the woodcuts, the many paintings and tryptics of the Madonna and Child. I remember coming across odd carols I'd never heard before - "The Sussex Carol", "Joseph Dear, Oh Joseph Mine," and a Czech carol called "Rocking, Rocking." Then there was the compelling mystery of the Burgundian carol "Patapan" - where was Burgundy? Why had I never heard of that country before? (Northwest France. I think. Burgundy held itself as a separate entity from struggling France in the 100 years war, English allies. Joan of Arc campaigned against them in 1429, was captured by them, and later sold to the English for 10,000 francs by them. Just saying.)

This year's carol curiosity is "Lo, How A Rose E're Blooming." I have to admit, I always thought it was boring. Just boring. And slow. And too somber for Christmas. This may be because I grew up listening to the Mannheim Steamroller version, which presented it in French horn. There is nothing particularly malign about creating a brass rendition of this old song, but it makes the already somber tune too heavy for one who liked dancing around to "In Dulci Jubilo" and "Wassail, Wassail."

But then, I saw The Time Traveler's Wife. If you've ever seen it, please do. It is a beautiful film - a nicely watered down version of the novel. Anyway, "Lo, How A Rose" is woven throughout the film - from Henry DeTamble's mother singing it in the car with her lovely operatic soprano (in the original German), to his wife Claire's bridal procession, to the theme playing at their home in the last few months of his life. This was a simple string ensemble, perhaps a quartet, and it was/is perfect. This song should NEVER have been arranged for brass.

So naturally, I am intrigued and very deeply moved by so simple, so quiet, so lovely a piece.

Here's a little history:

* First officially "published" in 1582, but is probably much older.
* Thought to be from Song of Solomon 2.1 - "I am the rose of Sharon..."
* There is a legend associated with this hymn: a monk in the German town of Trier found a blooming rose while walking in the woods on Christmas Eve. He placed the rose in a vase, and placed it before the alter to the Virgin Mary.
* In 1609, Protestants adapted the hymn to reflect Jesus instead of Mary.
* Wikipedia has the lyrics:

German:

Es ist ein Ros' entsprungen,
aus einer Wurzel zart,
wie uns die Alten sungen,
von Jesse war die Art
Und hat ein Bl├╝mlein bracht
mitten im kalten Winter,
wohl zu der halben Nacht.

English:

Lo, how a rose e'er blooming,
From tender stem hath sprung.
Of Jesse's lineage coming,
As men of old have sung;
It came, a flow'ret bright,
Amid the cold of winter,
When half spent was the night.

Like Christina Rossetti's "In the Bleak Midwinter," it tells of hope in the midst of winter - roses blooming in the snow. That is the beautiful mystery of the Nativity: how Christ was born - whether it was winter or summer - into a dark, cold world. That's a hope we can carry throughout this winter - that there will be roses even in our Winters if we look hard enough.

* Trivia on this hymn is from http://www.hymnsandcarolsofchristmas.com/Hymns_and_Carols/Notes_On_Carols/lo_how_a_rose_eer_blooming.htm

Sunday, January 23, 2011

On Winter (Jillian)

Alas, 'tis January still and we will be in the throes of Winter for quite some time, yet. I've resolved this year to enjoy winter (shocker, I know), despite the cold, the snow, and the everyday anxieties compounded by snowy streets and heating bills.

Emily Dickinson captures our tricky relationship with Winter quite beautifully:

The sky is low, the clouds are mean,
A travelling flake of snow
Across a barn or through a rut
Debates if it will go.

A narrow wind complains all day
How some one treated him;
Nature, like us, is sometimes caught
Without her diadem.

Winter is beautiful in ways that Summer is not. Yes, Summer is characterized by the green, growing, thriving elements of nature. Summer is projected as the perfect sister of the seasons, full of color and sunlight and excursions to faraway places. But Summer has her issues too: sweltering heat, insects, etc. Winter is clearly the earth's rest period, the plainer sister despised for her white mantel and her cold personality. Like throwing sheets over furniture to keep the dust off, so does the snow hide the naked and inglorious parts of houses and lawns. Everything beneath that snow-sheet is in suspension, getting reading for the Rise that will come with Spring. Without the snow, there would be no well-watered Spring, no glorious Summer, no magnificent Autumn.

I suppose I am saying all of this to jolt my spirits up. This morning, we had more snow to shovel... enough to erase the walks and the drive. It can get to be oppressive and exhausting, but there is still life there in the snow and in spite of the snow: words to write and books to read. That is Winter's diadem: her quiet, her birdsong (without the flies and cicadas), her Time to be busy and create new things... bake a new kind of cookie, grow flowers indoors, take up sewing. There are many possibilities.


Happy writing!

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