Archive for category Friendship

Celia: 8/19/53 to 3/9/91

Scan 1My friend Celia died young. She left two young daughters as well as a number of good friends. She had many varied interests in life. She was a wood carver/sculptor. I once said to her that she was lucky because with sculpting vs writing, she could leave her creations out and people would notice them. She laughed and said hardly anyone ever said anything about them.

Today is the 24th anniversary of her death, and in honor of her talent and lack of recognition I am posting two photos of wood she sculpted.

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Is There a Good Platform for Online Critiques?

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November, Denver Botanic Gardens

I recently quit an online critique group. The other three women in the group were excellent critiquers so it was a hard decision to make.

One of my difficulties with the online group was the platform we were using, yahoo.groups. I have used this platform for classes and found it daunting. I couldn’t easily follow any conversation, partly because people would start new topics when merely responding to a previous post. This happened in my most recent group as well.

A disappointment with the group was that we didn’t interact around points made about each others’ work. In my live group, someone may complain about the premise of a story. The others chime in and agree or disagree, make new points, etc. The author may also ask a question or explain what he or she was attempting. Either of those scenarios may result in more discussion between the members. Sometimes this sort of conversation helps the writer see where something went wrong or find a solution for a perceived problem. Not doing any of this made the group feel more like individual beta readers. True, we posted our critiques and the other participants could read comments, and yes, that has some appeal and advantages, but I believe the interplay of the various readers is both fun, enlightening, and engaging. And this interplay, more than the shared work, might eventually develop friendships.

I’ve been following Writers’ Rumpus for awhile now, and as part of the weekly digest I noticed Marianne Knowle’s interview with a woman who has started a website set up for critiques. I glanced at the sample pages, and it looks like it might be useful. I’m wondering if any of my readers has used the site, Inked Voices, or if anyone has another site or method to recommend for online critiquing?

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The Bechdel Test: the Right Question for the Unpublished Author?

The WFWA newsletter has provided fodder for a post once again. This time it started with a blog from Writer Unboxed related to gender bias in publishing. I know many are tired of this subject, but this post by Julia Munroe Martin was slightly different and included a link to the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. As many articles on this subject mention, this one discussed the Bechdel test. This test is normally applied to movies, with the basic requirements to pass being at least two named female speaking parts where the characters talk to each other about something other than the males in the movie.

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Thanks to Aleska D and FreeDigital Photos.net

As noted, this test is mostly applied to movies, but comments on Munroe Martin’s post suggest applying it to books as well. Some suggested applying it to their own manuscripts. In a book is it “fair” to say that the test is passed if there are two female characters who talk about anything other than men for as little as two sentences? Does it have to be more of a sustained exchange? Do different genres have different likelihoods of meeting this requirement, or is it mostly realistic fiction that should be put to this test? I’m going to start paying more attention as I read and maybe produce a blog on this topic down the road.

For the time being, I’m immersed in critiquing manuscripts. Three of these are from my WFWA critique group, and others are from my mixed local writing group. I’ve read much of the work of one of my partners, and I have little doubt that if put under scrutiny her work would pass, since her characters, both male and female, are trying to solve problems not related to sex or gender but to life, death, and ghosts. A number of the manuscripts I’m reading are historical fiction. One involves a woman realizing she is a lesbian. This is set in the world of rodeo and other topics come up naturally. Another involves an English woman and her maid traveling out West to meet the lady’s husband. These two do talk about their travel and danger. A third is about a young wife and her engineer husband. My recollection is that she exchanges a few lines with a sister when they are children, but I don’t recall her as yet speaking with any other women. A romantic suspense has not as yet introduced the female lead and has been two men talking. In fairness I’ve read sixty or fewer pages of each of these and the tenor of the story very well may change and include other issues.

The last short story submitted by the male of the group involved a family of husband, wife, and two children. The mother and daughter might have had a brief exchange, but this story probably would not lend itself to this kind of analysis due to the tight knit group of characters. Possibly short stories are too brief and feature few enough characters that this test would seldom be passed.

How do my own manuscripts hold up? In the one I’ve submitted to my online group, one of the questions I’m trying to address is friendship. The main character asks others what components they feel are necessary for friendship. This alone should pass the Bechdel test. The problem I’m encountering, though, is that I’m told this exchange is either boring or seems like it doesn’t fit. The question that might be posited by my critiquers is, does this advance the plot?

I read sections of another completed manuscript and it might have problems meeting the test even though there are at least four important female characters. The plot of this particular book involves unplanned pregnancy, affairs, and jealousy, and  revolves around the male lead. My two lead female characters are together only briefly, leaving them little time for interaction. The female protagonist does discuss their relationship with her mother. The two also talk about the protagonist’s children, but is this enough to pass the test?

Could it be that “women’s fiction” needs a slightly different test than the one applied to movies?

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Side note: when looking for pictures of women talking, most were of either children or sexy, partially clothed women.

How would you rate your writings as far as the Bechdel test? Do you think it is a fair way to look at books, or should some other criteria be used? What might you recommend as more fair? And last, do you find conversations not necessarily connected to the plot, but part of character development, uninteresting or unnecessary?

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Grading My Conference Experience

I attended Colorado Gold, the 30th edition of the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ conference this past weekend. Although I could get many other posts out of the conference, I’m going to start with grading my own experience.

Networking: (D- ) After the Crested Butte conference in June I had 500 business cards made. I handed out THREE. Although I chatted with a few people, I made no new contacts or even Facebook friends.

Hotel Location: (A ) Easily accessible from I-25 and N of the Denver metro area, which made the drive easy for those of us coming from the north. Not sure if people driving south felt the same way!

The hotel did have a spectacular view, although this is not it.

The hotel did have a spectacular view, although this is not it.

Hotel Reservations: (D- ) I never received a confirmation. When I called to check on this, I was assured by both the reservation service AND the hotel itself that I did NOT have a reservation. They offered to rebook me for $185 a night, seventy dollars over the conference rate! I made other plans. The only reason I’m not giving the hotel an F for this is they sent me a pre-arrival notice prior to the weekend so I was able to cancel the reservation I didn’t have before I was charged.

The Hotel Facilities: (C- to D) I’m not sure how a hotel in 2014 can get away without having Wifi in the conference rooms. Even worse, there was limited audio-visual ability. Most of the conference rooms were small. Many sessions held in those rooms required people to stand. Even after chairs were added, it was sometimes difficult to find a place to sit. The doors to the rooms opened at the front, making an early exit or late entrance noticeable and noisy.

Food: (C+) The rolls were good. Why there weren’t water pitchers on the table, I don’t know. The luncheon buffet tables were whisked away almost before everyone was served. The hotel restaurant had some interesting offerings, but my pinon-crusted French Toast featured nary a pinon.

Beverage Service: (B ) Four dollars for a club soda? Really? Last year I ordered club sodas and they gave them to me for free. Maybe it isn’t fair to compare last year’s hotel to this one. Water was offered in all sessions, which was fine, but again, the hotel last year gave us rootbeer  floats for free! Okay, no more comparing. On the plus side, this hotel did supply real glasses for serving the water.

Speakers and Banquet: (B ) I suppose if you’ve been to a conference of almost any sort, you’ve sat through the messages and speeches and jokes. Unless you’re part of the inner group, they aren’t really of much interest.

The Running of the Conference: ( A) This is run totally by volunteers, and they do an exemplary job. There were a few glitches, some foreseeable, others possibly due to the layout of the hotel. Some might have been due to the unreasonable expectation that everyone was staying at the hotel and attending all functions. Most were minor, and if not self-correcting, easily explained by asking questions.

Other stuff (No grade): I overheard complaints about the lack of a rating sheet for each workshop. The conference chair did specify everyone would receive an email to a survey monkey in the next few days. This seems sufficient since it saves paper, many people don’t fill out surveys anyway, and the results will be easier to compile.

The Important Part: the Workshops

Probably your perception of the workshop offerings depends on how many conferences you’ve attended in the past, your level of writing experience, and your interests, as well as the ability of the presenters. I do know one person who said she was attending as much or more for the networking as for the workshops, but to me that is an expensive way to make contacts! I consider a conference a success if I come away with a new friend or contact, but the actual content of the conference is still of utmost importance.

The Friday morning add-on sessions didn’t interest me this year, either due to the subject matter or the presenter. There were small group critique sessions with agents and editors. Normally I might have availed myself of these. If I attended one of these,  I would have wanted to have stayed overnight to make sure I didn’t get caught in rush hour traffic.That effectively would make the cost of the critique session more than $150 as I would have had to pay for the session, an extra night of lodging, dinner, and breakfast.

I was most looking forward to the Writing with Scrivener class. It was good, but I would have preferred to have spent all that extra money mentioned above in order to attend a longer session.

My other main objective during this conference was to acquire more social media knowledge. I was disappointed in the few offerings. A local writer commented that she felt there weren’t that many offerings, because most people already knew all they needed or weren’t interested. I attended Marketing for the Introverted Writer, which touched on social media, as well as the two dedicated classes, Websites and Social Media and How to Manage Your Author Social Media Platform in 30 Minutes a Day. Both classes offered a plethora of information on what to use. New, useful websites were mentioned and useful handouts provided. What I was looking for, and what I overheard many others say they needed, were the nuts and bolts of how to make these techniques work. This workshop was missing from the conference schedule. Again, I would have been willing to pay extra for an in-depth explanation.  Another option would have been a series of free sessions on each of the various social media outlets. In truth, this might have been very difficult with the limited audio visual and lack of Internet connectivity.

Up until late Saturday afternoon, I would have said the conference wasn’t really worth the cost, but finally the session on science fiction got me excited and smiling. Although I still might not have thought I’d gotten my money’s worth if I’d gone home at that point, at least I would have been happy.

Unfortunately, Sunday morning had the most enticing classes. Why unfortunately? Because most of them overlapped. I could have attended any of three of the 8 am sessions, but two of my critique group members had stories in the RMFW’s anthology, Crossing Colfax. I had agreed to attend the panel discussion on the formation of the anthology, which was concurrent with the other three sessions of interest. I did enjoy the panel and hearing the impetus behind the accepted stories.

The speaker for the New Golden Age of Short Fiction, Thea Hutcheson, was a dynamic presenter. Her enthusiasm was contagious and her insights and ideas useful. Literary Pulp: What it takes to Write Literary Genre Fiction was my last session of the conference. It might not have completely filled the premise of that title, but the speaker, John Blair, was interesting and entertaining. He engaged the audience and we left on a positive note.

At the 2013 conference I met Najah Lightfoot. This year she was presenting. I planned to attend her session, Show and Tell: Magic and Magick Tools of the Trade. I wanted to be a supportive friend and also thought I might glean some interesting tidbits I could use in a story. Instead of that small expectation being met, I thought the first half of Najah’s session had to be one of the most interesting and best presentations of the conference. As I was also looking forward to the session mentioned above, I only attended half of the magic session, but that half was moving and wonderfully presented. I hope that I can someday listen to the rest of her session. Thank you, Najah.

If I were to actually grade the sessions, I would say the Sunday sessions brought up the average. Since they were last, the impression I was left with was of success. I’d have to give the overall conference an A. Okay, to be true to my curmudgeonly self, I’d give the overall sessions an A-.

 

Were you there? What did YOU think? What was your favorite session?

 

 

 

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Crested Butte Writers’ Conference, Really a Conference Like No Other!

This past weekend I attended the Crested Butte Writing Conference which advertises itself as “An Experience like No Other.” More than one of the guest speakers agreed that this was true. One of my friends, and fellow attendees, was a finalist in their writing competition, The Sandy.* I suggested to her that this was a much more laid back conference than others she might have attended. There is no banquet, and although a list of the contest winners was included in the program, and each was featured during a panel, I never  heard an announcement of the overall winner(s). Possibly this information was posted.

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The Princess. A winebar.

There are no dinners provided. Instead, you are free to eat in your room. Many of the available rooms had kitchenettes or full kitchens. Or you could sample one of the many restaurants in the historic town of Crested Butte itself. The conference and most of the hotels are located in Mt. Crested Butte, which is a short  (free) shuttle ride from the actual town of Crested Butte. (You might think of Mt. Crested Butte as the big fancy hotels and ski area and the town of Crested Butte as the hippie area with all the restaurants and funky shops.) One of the nicest aspects of this conference experience is that it currently is small, and even if you aren’t dining with one of the visiting writers, agents, or editors, you very well may run into them while having dinner. Or, as was the case for numerous attendees, you were invited (or tagged along) and had dinner in a large group with many of these same people.

This conference also runs its “pitch sessions” differently than most. Instead of making appointments with the agent/editors or accosting them in the elevator, never letting them have a moment’s peace, and causing many attendees to be both anxious and possibly less open to spending time with other writers, you submit your pitch and first page PRIOR to the conference. The a/e then receive a large document with all the pitches and pages and flag those they may actually be interested in. THEN an appointment is set for you to talk to the person who has preselected your material. I posit that this makes the conference atmosphere less anxious and more enjoyable for all concerned. You might wonder how those who are not selected to pitch feel? This was the second time I attended this particular conference. The first time, there was some sort of mix-up and I missed the deadline to submit. The current system is for you to be notified about a week prior to the conference if you have been given a pitch spot. If you have been, a slip of paper with the time and place is included in your registration folder. I heard nothing, but since I was doing an Advanced Read and Critique session, an add-on (as is the pitch session), I was okay with it.

There are other opportunities during the conference where you might catch an agent or editor’s attention. One is the ARC mentioned above. Another is the “first page read.” First page reads have become more common at other conferences in the last so many years, but the first one I ever participated in was at the conference five years ago. During this, someone reads a mix of first pages to a panel of editors and agents. Although you want to see how your first page is viewed, it is also educational to hear why an agent or editor might stop reading any page. The person who sets up this session mixes in some openings to books currently on the bestseller list and, yes, this does trip up the panel. This year’s panel was nicer than that of five years ago,  and one manuscript was actually requested!

Other, unexpected benefits might ensue. The first day of the conference, prior to the ARC, a man who was attending asked me if I’d attended a few years ago. I said yes and didn’t think too much about it, but by the end of the weekend, I was curious why he remembered me. Had I said something especially obnoxious? He looked vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t think why he’d remember me. I hadn’t read during the open mike night. During the last session I asked him. He remembered a line from my first page read! That alone made me feel good, but the editor from my Advanced Read session had many good ideas to improve my selection and said she wanted to see it when I was done.

I consider a conference a success if I come away with at least one new writing friend. At least one other conference attendee found me on Twitter, and there is that Facebook page referenced below. I have the email address of three more, plus I know I’ll see a fourth at RMFW. One or two others also said they’d be there, and since a number of them are very tall men, I’ll more than likely see and recognize them.

If you are looking for a small, friendly conference were most of the speakers are approachable and the presentations are interesting, this is one you should look into next year!

 

*I currently can’t link to the conference page, but here is the link to the Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/pages/Crested-Butte-Writers/188744957828306

 

 

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March 9, 2014

Celia near Pompelli’s at 18.

We’d been friends since 7th or 8th grade. She sat across the aisle from me in homeroom and we’d converse in sign language, the going communication method in those days. When we couldn’t sign fast enough, or the teacher wasn’t around, she’d talk in an almost monotone, swinging her foot, staring straight ahead, almost unaware of her words. She was the first of my circle of friends to have a steady boyfriend.  That boyfriend put a year or two rift in our friendship, since she wasn’t as available t o talk, but when she dumped him at the end of junior year, we called each other nightly.

For years we wrote letters, but she died prior to the dominance of the Internet and email. I often wonder what would have happened if she’d lived into the days of quick and easy email. Even during the last year of our snail mail correspondence the frequency dropped. Would we—I—have been able to pace an email exchange so that neither of us was exhausted or bored?

Celia in the Hickories at 28.

Although my brother had died prior to Celia, his death had been more or less expected whereas hers was unexpected, sudden, and mostly unexplained. The March day I found out was similar to this March day in Colorado. It was warm enough to have the front door open, and the park across the street was full of kids playing.  My husband had gone fishing. I’d hung up from talking to a friend who wanted me to go to the movies with her—I said no—when the phone rang again and Celia’s husband told me she had died. I said, “Okay,” and sat on the stairs and cried.

Later he sent me the letters I’d written to her over the years. She had unfolded them and kept them in a file. I had all hers but I’ve never attempted the task of matching mine to hers because she was notorious for leaving off the date.  One of my earliest blog posts (Sept 28, 2013) used a quote from her letter, which is still hanging on my bulletin board.

She’s hard to forget and someone I will always miss.

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Lessons Resolutions Have Taught Me

I’m not sure I’m ever going to get around to writing the post I was thinking about all week, so I’m taking the easy way out and discussing resolutions.

I haven’t often made those lose weight/exercise more resolutions that are easy to make and easy to discontinue when February rolls around. In the past, I’ve attempted to resolve to do something I’d want to continue for many years. One year my goal was to entertain in some capacity at least monthly. Another year I planned to do something cultural on a monthly basis. That kind of goal prompted me to do something that I enjoyed and probably wanted to do but had been finding excuses not to do. Even though I don’t set either of these as current goals, the fact that I did them for a full year helps me stay in the groove. For various reasons, entertaining has morphed into a goal of twice a year–once outside in the summer and once at the holidays, but the mere fact that I once did this more often encourages me to exceed my goals.

I started implementing my resolution for 2014 more than a month ago. This year I am putting things where they belong in the first place. No more jackets thrown on chairs or mail shoved to the side. This should help me be both neater, making it easier to clean the house, as well as accomplish more since I won’t have to be looking for missing items. If I open the mail and pay the bill, throw away the donation request right away, etc. I won’t have missing bills or other mail avalanching off my desk. This resolution is a direct result of B.K. Winstead’s post Mindful Writing, Mindful LIfe.

The advantage of making a resolution and sticking with it for a year may be that remnants of it continue to influence in later years. I might not entertain monthly these days, but I do still think to ask people over; I look at occasions as a possible time to entertain and I am more willing to take the time to attend a concert or visit an art museum. In the back of my mind, I’m still counting how well I’m doing with both those goals. They are now part of how I operate. My writing goal for this year is to post a blog a week. I believe I posted my first blog on Sept. 27 and although all my posts have not been scintillating, I have already posted often enough to average once a week. This is, then, both the last entry for the past year and the first of the new one.

Since for me writing is all about interaction, I’d love to hear what your writing goals are for the year and how you plan to implement them. At the end of the year we can all see how we did!  Happy 2014.

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