Working Titles

My brilliant new writing schedule is working so far.  Here's a quick update on my current projects: WWII Manuscript :  Finished.  181,000 words.  (Yikes, it's long.)

Still out making the rounds with agents.   This novel is an odd animal, so I'm expecting it to be hard to place with an agent/publisher.   Traditional publishing is a long process.   Working title: Jacob Have I Loved.  (Yes, I know there's already a book by this title.)

Vampires Manuscript : In Progress.  25,500 words so far.

Vampires, Manhattan, and musical theatre.

This sucker is moving along now that I have a writing schedule that works.  I've been writing bits and pieces of this novel since I was in high school.  Serious frustration has led me to seriously considered scrapping this project, but guilt keeps me committed.  Working title: The Majestic.  (Look!  A movie already used this title. )

Norse!Quest : In Progress.

I'm writing this on the weekends to reward myself for surviving another week of writing about vampires.   Odin, Thor and Loki go on adventures.  And Ragnarok happens.   Also that time Loki had the brilliant idea of putting Thor in a wedding dress to get Thor's stolen hammer back.

Here, have an Odin:


Elie Wiesel at University of Florida

Last Tuesday I heard Elie Wiesel give a lecture at UF.  Yes, the Elie Wiesel, author of Night.  When the local paper announced (in a tiny column at the bottom of a page) that he was coming the the university, I knew I had to go. Apparently everybody else in town also decided they had to go, because when I got there, a huge crush of people were already waiting in line.  Students had already seized ALL the tickets the day before, so the general public stood for an hour hoping that some students wouldn't show up.

Maybe about ten people got in.

The rest of us waited in vain.  Finally we were told that a screen and speakers had been set up on the lawn so that we could hear Professor Wiesel speak.


Here's the screen.  And obviously, that isn't Prof. Wiesel.  Once he started speaking they told us we weren't allowed to take photos, so I took this during the previews.  Yes, they ran previews.

When Elie Wiesel finally was introduced, they pronounced his name wrong.  He corrected them.  (For the record, it's Eh-LEE Vee-ZEL.  Seriously, all they had to do was Google it.)

He told one story about a time he was in the hospital recovering from surgery.  His young grandson came to see him and said, "Grandpa, I love you very very much.  And you suffer very, very much.  If I love you more, will you suffer less?"

I can't remember all that he said.  I wish I could.  But after the lecture, there was a time for questions.  One girl asked him what it was like to meet Oprah.

That I won't forget.

Another person asked him what would happen when the last Holocaust witness dies.   Wiesel answered,

"That will never happen.  'You are my witnesses,' says the Lord, in the book of Isaiah.  Witnesses testify about what they have seen.  I have told you what I have witnessed.  And now,"  (Wiesel smiled) "I appoint all of you witnesses.  You can tell what you have seen."

And suddenly my novel about the Holocaust feels legit.

Writer's Conference 2013

When I have to get up early for an important event, I need a good night's sleep so I won't be a zombie in the morning.   (I have all the symptoms: grunting, lurching around, feeding off of the nearest warm object.) But no matter how early I go to bed the night before, I never get enough sleep.  I wake up over and over again to stare at my alarm clock, thinking:  "I have three hours left to sleep...I have two hours left to sleep...I have one hour left to sleep..."  And when I finally nod off, I dream that I'm still awake and can't fall asleep.

Nothing is less restful than dreaming for hours that you're an insomniac.

I had one of those nights this past Thursday, when I woke up at the crack of dawn to drive down to the Florida Christian Writer's Conference.

On Lake Yale

The conference was held on Lake Yale.  (Obviously, this is not a view of the lake.)  My father and I only got lost twice trying to navigate through the back woods of Florida, which is pretty good for us.

It's an interesting experience trying to coherently pitch a book to agents and editors on four hours of sleep.  I had several appointments in a row, and between each appointment I found a quiet corner where I could shut my eyes and let my brain fizzle.

But the conference was worth the lack of sleep.  I made good connections with several agents.  Most of them wanted me to submit my book proposal to them-- after I trimmed the manuscript.  My WWII book is currently 181,000 words long.   Most publishers don't want anything over 100,00o words.

(I like reading massive books like Les Misérables, Gone With the Wind, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoneix, etc.  So I wrote a massive book.)

Fortunately, the WWII brick is already divided into two parts, which are more or less two complete books.  Nevertheless, I'm eying my manuscript with a giant pair of pruning shears, wondering if I should start chopping or go ahead and submit book one as it is.


(And I still believe the Order of the Phoenix should have been longer.)

Query Letters & Painted Deer

Yesterday I mailed the first query letter for my novel.  The agent I'm contacting has represented some wonderful books, so I'm hoping to get a "Please send more" response.  Hoping.  Then again, I think authors are supposed to get, like, twenty rejections before an acceptance.  So...I took a photograph of the letter when it was all pretty and ready to mail, then I realized that it wouldn't be smart to post the photo on the internet because A.) My address was visible, and B.) The agent's address was visible. Instead, please enjoy this in-progress photo of my St. Patrick's painting.

Music & Writer's Block

I am by no means an expert on overcoming writer's block.  When I sat down to write this post, I spent a good half hour checking Tumblr (must see if anybody's updated) and watching Youtube videos on facial masks (cuz, you know, maybe someday I'll go to a spa).  But there comes a point when enough is enough.  It's time to write.  Or else. I have various ways of breaking through this brick wall.

One is to push the computer aside and do something else.  Maybe I'll do something else for a week.  Or a month.  I believe stories are like pot roast-- they taste better after being left to simmer for a long time, then chilled overnight.

Another is to re-read what I've written, from the beginning.  I once heard that getting stuck in the middle of a story probably means there's something wrong somewhere.

Yet another is to go back to Youtube.  Not for facial mask DIYs, but for music.

While writing the Manuscript, I made a playlist of WWII era music.   Sometimes writer's block is simply this-- I've forgotten why I'm writing.  I've gotten so bogged down in details and research that I've lost the heart and soul of my story.

That's where music comes in.  It's all there-- cigarettes and Victory Rolls, bittersweet romance, the lushness of Glenn Miller's orchestra, the smoke of Auschwitz.

Here are a few of the songs I played over and over again, whenever I found my writing drifting off course...

The Holocaust in one song:

Romance heavy and lush as summer air:


...And after listening, I would remember why I'd wanted to tell this story in the first place. The brick wall of writer's block would crumble into dust, and I could write again.

"What passion cannot music raise and quell?" -John Dryden

Writing Smoke and Moods

When a story takes place during an era when nearly everyone smoked, the writer can use cigarettes, pipes, and cigars to say a lot about a character's personality-- what they're feeling, what they're thinking. A lot of my characters in The Manuscript smoke.

A cigarette can give away a lot about your character.  Instead of saying, "Rick was a sneaky man," as a writer, you can use Rick's cigarette to imply this.  For example, "Rick smirked through the smoke from his cigarette. "

Smoking can also be seductive.  Instead of, "Slim decided it was time to seduce Steve," the writer could say, "Slim didn't look at him, but brushed her lips against the end of her cigarette like a kiss."

Smoking can be innocent and playful.  For example, "Marilyn giggled until she nearly dropped her cigarette, scattering ashes all across her blouse.   She didn't care.  She was having too much fun."

While researching the post-WW II era, I dug up some advertisements for popular cigarettes.  Advertisements can tell a writer a lot about how people wanted to see themselves and what they bought.   Ads were meant to sell something.  Which means as quaint and naive as the ads may appear today, at the time they were created, those ads had to work.  (If they didn't, nobody was getting paid.)

My favorite cigarette ad:

Please note: I am not encouraging anyone to take up smoking.

Meet the Manuscript

You are looking at the product of 7+ years worth of work. I first conceived the idea back in high school. It pursued me through college, but only in the past few years have I begun seriously working on it.

"It" is a novel. A 181,611 word novel. Saints and angels, I NEVER thought I'd finish!

I've got some beta readers who will be plunging into this epic story of post-World War II Berlin-- with all its nightmares, beet jams, bureaucrats, and coffee substitutes.

These are a few of the photographs I collected for reference. (Most of these have been in my computer so long I no longer remember the source.)