Oct 27

Building the picture

I’m feeling the impact of my week at the Writers of the Future workshop more and more as time goes by. Someone in my local writer’s group asked me last week how the WOTF workshop was different from my experience at Clarion West, and it started a bit of a chain of events in my head when I began to think about just how different the two are.

At first glance, the two workshops–other than the significant difference in length–are fairly similar. After all, both are workshops for writers. But really, that’s where the similarity ends, because the focus of the two are radically different in subtle ways.

Clarion West was an incredible experience for me. (Anyone interested in digging through some of my ancient history is more than welcome to read my journal of the event). It was six weeks of complete immersion in writing, among writers, with the time and encouragement to do nothing but write and critique. The instructors were there to guide us and give us insight into their experiences. I wrote (I think) 8 stories and forged some wonderful friendships. I’m very proud to say that my Clarion class produced such luminaries as Daniel Abraham, Ruth Nestvold, and Eric Witchey, to name just a few of the most prominent and now-successful. I learned a great deal about my writing and the industry. After I returned home I wrote a few stories that didn’t sell, but then I went through a bunch of Life Changes and my writing dwindled to next to nothing for about five years.

Funny thing was that during this time that I wasn’t writing, I also wasn’t making any sales. No one was coming to my door and saying, “Hey, Diana, I really want to publish your stuff, so would you please write a few more stories and send them to me?” Go Figure. I finally got off my ass a bit and started writing again, and then became frustrated that I’d fallen so far behind the curve, and that my writing still wasn’t good enough to sell. As the rejections mounted, I found myself comparing my career (hah!) to the careers of others I knew who had Made It. I didn’t want to face the fact that the five years of not-writing hadn’t done a damn thing to improve my craft.

Then, I Got Lucky. I’d written this little poignant story called “Schroedinger’s Hummingbird” about a year after Clarion. I’d sent it out with high hopes, and had received it back with various levels of rejection. (In fact, I think that the continued rejection of a story that I considered to be one of my best was one of the things that made me stop writing. (Yes, I was foolish.)) Several years later, I pulled the story out, dusted it off, reread it, and realized that it wasn’t good enough. So, I rewrote it, tightened it up, and started sending it out again. Once again it gathered rejections, but this time it was getting the “This is good but–” variety of rejections (which in many ways are worse than form rejctions, in my opinion.) As a last resort I sent it off to Writers of the Future–my first time ever entering the contest–and the rest, as they say, is history.

So, here I was, finally with a significant sale, with a heaping measure of validation to go along with a nice-sized check. About a year after I learned that I’d won, I went to California and joined eleven other writers for the annual workshop.

So, to continue the comparison with Clarion: Writers of the Future, on the surface, is also a writers workshop. But when you dig deeper it’s far more than that. It’s a professional writer’s workshop. There’s a basic assumption that the writers attending the workshop are just that–writers. They’ve already made a professional sale, are already feeling a measure of success, and thus the aim of the workshop is encouragement, refinement, and generous heaps of how to be more successful and more professional. It seems a nebulous difference at times, and it wasn’t until the woman in my writer’s group asked me that I stopped to think about it. In Clarion the focus was to write, write, write, critique, critique, critique and hone your craft through the same. At WOTF, you’re only expected to write one story, but you’re expected to write it fast. In 24 hours. And I did. In fact, everyone did. Holy crap, I wrote a story in a day. And it didn’t suck. Too bad.

Over and over during the workshop, along with the valuable instruction on refinement of craft and plot and character and setting, was the continued reinforcement that we were writers. That we could all be successful writers, if we wanted it and worked at it. That we ALL had the ability to make it. And I realized that, yeah, that applied to me too. If I wanted it and worked at it.

But that realization set off a cascade of realizations. Number one was: If I want to be a successful writer, then I need to actually frickin’ write. A lot.

Yes, I know that seems like a real “no shit” kinda thought, but after reading the experiences and thoughts of other writers, I’m finding (to my relief at times) that other people have made that same “Aha!” realization. Yes, if you want to be a better writer, you need to write a lot. Sure, in the couple of years before WOTF I was writing a story every couple of months, and telling myself that with my busy schedule and life that was as much as I could handle, that it was sufficient to make sales and get my name in print. Funny thing is that it was when I finally made the Big Sale (to WOTF) that I realized that I was nowhere near good enough, and I sure as hell wasn’t writing enough. During the WOTF workshop we had numerous established professional writers come and speak to us. Kevin J. Anderson told us that he’d already turned in over 600,000 words of material since the beginning of the year. Tim Powers and K.D. Wentworth told us that they write a minimum of three pages a day. It seems like two ends of the writing spectrum, except that the consistent factor is that they write every day. Every. Day. Then I started looking around at other writers. Nora Roberts (and you can roll your eyes if you want to, but you can’t argue with her success) sits down in her office and writes for eight hours every day. Jay Lake says that it was when he started writing a story a week that he finally started getting better and started making significant sales. (Read his entry about this, because he says it far more eloquently than I can paraphrase.)

Then I read a quote on Jay Lake’s blog (and I can’t remember to whom he attributed it) that said “The best indicator of future success as a novelist is finishing one.” (Or words to that effect.)

Yeah, that was another “Aha!” moment that I should have had ages ago. Holy crap, I need to actually write and finish a frickin’ novel if I want to be a novelist.

So, I started writing. Started on a novel. Nothing too incredibly ambitious, just something that would be fun and interesting. A mystery–since I have, you know, SCADS of personal experience to draw on–but with a supernatural element as well since, darn it, I really like writing spec fic, and I wanted to write something that I, well, wanted to write.

And I wrote on it everyday. Every day. I started around the beginning of September, setting for myself the initial goal of a thousand words a day. As time went on I found that I was easily meeting that goal even with the time constraints of a full-time job and a two-year-old at home, and therefore it began to creep up. Before I knew it, I had over 30,000 words written, a fairly complete outline, solid characters, an interesting plot, and a knowledge of how it was going to end. My word goal went up to 2000 words a day or a minimum of 10,000 words a week, and somehow, today I’m finding myself in the home stretch of the first draft of this thing. It’s definitely a crap first draft, and there are numerous places where I put things in brackets such as [write more description here] and [write fight scene with demon] and [go back and make this make sense]. Basically, any time I stalled, I skipped over the part that stalled me and kept going. But it’s a novel. It’s something that I can now sit down and revise and can look at actually sending out in the not too distant future.

And, yes, it’s not a literary masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination. And I know there are eye-rolls aplenty at authors who churn out novels in the span of weeks instead of years, but I don’t think that prolific and good need be mutually exclusive by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, I think–to use a math analogy– that prolific approaches excellent as # of words written approaches infinity.

I’m not saying that the Writers of the Future workshop is superior to any of the six-week workshops, because it’s really like comparing apples to oranges. Both were invaluable to me as a writer. But, it wasn’t until I got home and started really thinking about where I wanted to be as a writer, and what I wanted to do, that it all fell into place. They’re all pieces of the puzzle that are slowly coming together, and the cool thing is that even after the picture come together, I’ll still be able to build along the edges, expanding and refining my skills and craft through writing, reading, and staying focused on the bigger vision.

I think it’s going to end up being a pretty cool picture.

Oct 26

Cosleeping. Just Don’t. Please.

So I’ve heard all sorts of pros and cons about babies cosleeping with their parents ever since I first got pregnant. Pros include things like better bonding with the parents, easier to breastfeed… that sort of thing. Cons include minor little things like YOUR BABY COULD DIE.

I don’t get it. I just don’t get why anyone would take that risk with their baby. It only takes a couple of minutes for your baby to get into a position where they can suffocate. You CANNOT assume that you will wake up if he’s having problems. When they’re really little they can’t move themselves to where they can breathe. Hey, folks? I really don’t like having babies on the autopsy table. Really really really really don’t. So, please, don’t cosleep with your babies.

Just Don’t.

Oct 23

October Happenings

Today I had what could easily go down as the most pleasant and painless visit to the DMV in human history. I arrived shortly after ten, knowing that it was going to be crowded to the gills since it was a Monday, and a beautiful clear not-a-cloud-in-the-sky Monday to boot. Sure enough, I pulled into the parking lot and found it to be chock full. I was all set to drive to the back of the building when, to my delight, another car departed the parking lot just in the right time frame to allow me to slip into the spot.

I went inside and dutifully took my little paper number off of the red dispenser. I had 06. The counter on the wall read 73. I groaned and sat down, preparing myself to wait at least an hour, probably more

Not two seconds after my butt hit the plastic of the chair, a woman with a clipboard came out to the very crowded waiting room and announced, “If there is anyone here who just needs to renew their license and does not need to test, please form a line here.”

I needed no further encouragement. I dove over chairs, elbowed grandmothers out of the way, and scored the first place in that line. Thirty seconds later I was happily handing over my expired license and my insurance card to the lady, and about thirty seconds after that I was told to go pay the other lady and get my new picture taken.

All told I think I was in there for a whopping five minutes. I’m not sure what I did to deserve such amazing DMV karma, but I’m not about to complain. And my picture is actually pretty darn decent as well!


As my more astute readers may have deduced, I recently celebrated a birthday, hence my need to renew my license. Yea, verily, I turned 40 this past Friday. Actually I didn’t do a whole lot of celebrating on the actual day of my birthday, which was mostly due to the fact that my new employer was throwing a big golf tournament campaign fudraiser shingdig, and I was occupied pretty much the entire day with that.

But I wasn’t upset about that, since several of my friends and loved ones decided to be incredibly devious and threw me a surprise birthday party a week prior! I was actually 100% surprised, which made the whole thing incredibly cool and fun. I’ve never had a surprise party, and I’m still totally amazed that none of the people who knew (which apparently was the entire population of Southeast Louisiana, judging by the number of people who came up to me afterwards asking me how it had gone and if I’d been surprised) let slip that it was happening. All I can say is that I know some seriously devious, conniving, sneaky people. It’s just too cool.


Other news

The fine folks at Galaxy Press sent me a copy of another review of the anthology:

WRITERS OF THE FUTURE, Volume XXII, edited by Algis Budrys, Galaxy Press, $7.99, 500 pages, ISBN:1592123457, reviewed by Barry Hunter.

It’s hard to believe that the contest has been going on for twenty-two years. Even though there is only one winner chosen per year, there is a much larger number of writers who are making a living writing in various genres and entertaining readers all over the world. The same can be said of the Illustrators that have appeared in the pages of the annual volume and several who have also appeared on Baryon covers.

This year’s winner is “Schroedinger’s Hummingbird” by Diana Rowland and it is a story of time travel and the powerful truth revealed in the end will bring a tear to your eye. “The Red Envelope” by David Sakmyster is a story of ghosts, love and redemption that takes on an unusual aspect. Brian Rappatta’s “Tongues” is a tale about recognizing and listening to our god but do we really understand what he is saying.

Another fantastic volume of varied voices, this volume adds to the stature of the contest and shows that the future remains in good hands with a new group ready to move onto the best seller lists.

I have to wonder if this guy knows that I didn’t win the Grand Prize? Or maybe he’s just being figurative in calling my story a “winner”? Either way, I’m totally tickled pink at the review, to say the least.


Other other news

Well, the biggest writing news on my front right now is that I’m neck deep in a novel. In fact, I’m over 40K words now, and though I had a bit of a slow start I’m now averaging about 10k words a week. My goal is to finish up the crappy first draft before the end of the year, and then finish up rewrites, edits and a few tosses against the wall by about March. It’s a paranormal mystery which will probably round out at 80-90K words I think. I tried several times to write a straight “normal” mystery, but I just couldn’t get into it. I’m so very much a sf/f writer that I had to have some sort of speculative element in it. But of course I have SO MUCH FRICKIN real life experience to draw on as far as writing a mystery goes that it almost seemed criminal to not write one. The cool thing is that once I figured out what the book was about it started flowing fast and furious, plus I can totally see more books down the line with the same setting/characters.


Other other other news

There isn’t any more. Go click on another link.

Oct 6

My first review!

Publisher’s Weekly had the following to say about WOTF 22 and my story:

The best speculative fiction reaches beyond the bells and whistles of the genre to explore the deeper complexities of the human condition. The original stories selected in this year’s “Writers of the Future” contest include strong attempts to do just that, as well as some promising work that doesn’t quite measure up. Standouts include Judith Tabron’s Bradburyesque “Broken Stones,” the story of a woman facing a crisis of faith when her fellow Muslims, colonists who left Earth centuries ago to escape social and religious persecution, aim that same prejudice toward the indigenous life of their adopted planet; Diana Roland’s “Schroedinger’s Hummingbird,” the heartbreaking tale of a young woman who dooms herself to relive her past again and again in an attempt to save her only child; and Lee Beavington’s “Evolution’s End,” an old-school science fiction romp about a group of explorers who discover a simple cellular organism whose evolution has made it the greatest—and deadliest—of survivors. Also included are four short essays offering advice to young writers and artists. Except for Orson Scott Card’s illuminating “Are We at the End of Science Fiction?” these essays are rudimentary at best, condescending at worst. Illustrations are adequate, with special mention going to Daniel Harris and his artwork for Roland’s story, and Eldar Zakirov for his work for Joseph Jordan’s excellent story of faith lost and found, “At the Gate of God.” (Nov.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


So, other than the fact that my name is misspelled, I’m pretty stoked about that review!

Oct 6

Snarky mini-rant

Okay, I just have to say I’m a bit tired of people who say that they suffered through Katrina, or witnessed it first hand, when in actuality they evacuated before the storm and then did not return for weeks. (Yes, I know that they did not return for extremely valid reasons, but that still doesn’t mean that they suffered through the hideous aftermath and the grueling weeks of heat and mud and no power or communications and limited food and water.)

Oct 5

I am the Before in the laundry detergent commercial

Last night I gave Anna her usual bath before bedtime, and when I took her out of the tub I grabbed a white towel off of the rack and wrapped it around her. “Anna,” I said as I toweled her down, “what color is this towel?”

She answered with total confidence. “Grey!”

Oct 3

Thank God for YouTube and Kittens

Because if I didn’t have the ability to go to YouTube and watch random videos of kittens playing, I’m not sure I could still stay sane in a world where innocent young girls are murdered, in a nation where my rights are slowly being stripped away in the name of freedom.

Kittens. Better than Xanax.

Oct 2

Updated Upcoming Appearances

There’ve been a few changes in the mad schedule of signings, etc:

Nov 2-5
World Fantasy Con
(Upgraded from “hopefully” to “Definitely”!)

Nov 11th, 2-4pm
LSU Bookstore, Baton Rouge

Nov 12th, 2-4pm
Barnes & Noble, Mandeville. (Yes, this is a repeat performance. They actually asked me back!)

Nov 18th, 2-4pm
Books A Million, Covington

Nov 25th, 3-6pm
B Dalton bookstore, Slidell Mall. Yes, this is a signing in a mall bookstore the weekend after Thanskgiving. Akk!

Dec 9th, 2-4pm
Books A Million, Baton Rouge

Dec 16th, 2-4pm
Barnes & Noble, Harvey