The Prodigal Returns

It’s been over a month since my last substantive post here–on the first day of AWP. It’s not that I haven’t been writing; I have. Mostly re-writing. I haven’t been writing my political blog; I haven’t done Friday Fictioneers; I haven’t done Flash! Friday. I’ve not put my finger on quite why, other than the obvious: winter doldrums, lingering nasty weather, and overall write-on-a-self-imposed-deadline burnout.

So, here’s a summary: AWP was great; I had story selected as a finalist in a national contest; the agent loved my writing but decided my novel wasn’t for him; the Virginia Festival of the book was wonderful (though I’ll confess I wish I’d been a panelist instead of in the audience); I had a story rejected for an anthology about a week after an anthology appeared with one of my stories in it; I had an editor solicit a story from me “for consideration;” and we’re about ten days away from the staging of my ten-minute play, “Yo’ Momma,” which was a winner in the Ampersand Arts “Bar Hopping” Contest.

Then, on Sunday, I got tagged in a Facebook post: “Name 15 authors who’ve influenced you and who will always stick with you.” Once I started thinking about that, I began to jot down names and decided this would be a much better blog post than a comment on a Facebook post.

I’m back!

Here are the fifteen authors who’ve influenced me with a brief explanation of how and why, divided into women and men but listed in alphabetical order so as not to give away who is/was the most influential.

Louisa May Alcott – She embodied for me the woman writer’s struggle to be accepted for what you are by society and family.

Margaret Atwood – She shows the world that dystopian fiction can be intelligent and well-wrought, and that makes her worthy of emulation.

Jane Austen – For her time, she wielded a sharp pen of sarcasm, feminism, and egalitarianism, and, damn, but she could turn a phrase.

Charlotte Bronte – She showed me that romance and happy endings aren’t elusive after all.

Ursula K. LeGuin – She is a pioneer in one of my favorite genres, science fiction, and I first heard “write what you want to write” from her.

Barbara Michaels/Elizabeth Peters – She taught me that romantic pairs as protagonists can carry a series (or several series in her case) and that the romance doesn’t detract from a good mystery story.

Sara Paretsky – She showed me your female protagonist can take care of herself and not be dependent upon a man and still be popular (and don’t let editors tell you otherwise) and that plots suffused with liberal politics can be, too.

Kate Wilhelm – She showed that female writers could write “hard” science sci-fi stories and be respected by her male colleagues, even the stodgy ones.

Honorable Mentions: Marion Zimmer Bradley, Octavia Butler, Shirley Jackson, Doris Lessing, Flannery O’Connor,

Isaac Asimov – As well as being one of the most prolific authors of the twentieth century, he showed me you could tell a story and educate people at the same time.

Harlan Ellison – As well as being an ardent admirer of LeGuin, he showed me that you could and should go into the dark areas of the mind and write about them. He also spent fifteen minutes with me once and told me to never, ever give up writing.

William Faulker – He showed me what every writer from the south needs to accept–our history is both full of joy and worthy of embarrassment.

Thomas Hardy – I love this man’s prose. He can take pages to relate a nanosecond of plot, but you don’t mind.

Stephen King – He showed me that when you write about the horrific, at least do it in a way which elevates it.

Boris Pasternak – He showed me how an artist should stand up for the integrity of his or her work and that an epic should truly be an epic.

Kurt Vonnegut – He showed me that a good story is worth spending weeks, months, even years to perfect.

Honorable Mentions: Mikhail Bulgakov, Fredreich Engels, Seamus Heaney, James Joyce, V. I. Lenin, Karl Marx, Vladimir Nabokov, William Shakespeare, George Bernard Shaw, Leo Tolstoy

Now, fifteen of the writers who read this need to do the same. 😉


The Last Friday Fictioneers of May

Okay, it’s the end of May. How could we be five months into 2013? Wasn’t it just New Years last week? Time flies when you’re writing.

I’ve had some good carry-over from last week’s retreat–Monday’s post on the retreat itself, a pretty killer political blog post on Wednesday (Click here if you’re interested; if you’re not politically to the left of Stalin, you won’t enjoy it, so you might want to skip it unless you are.), a draft of a new Spy Flash story, today’s Friday Fictioneers (of course), and several more scenes for a novel draft, which had a lot of plot holes. Plus some great writer talk with a writer friend. I love it when the giddiness carries on.

But…a week from Sunday it’s Tinker Mountain Writer’s Workshop, and I’m already doubting the twenty-pages I sent in for the Advanced Novel workshop. Is it advanced enough? Am I advanced enough? Will everybody else hate it? You know, the exact same feelings I had last year about this time.

Friday Fictioneers LogoWeek after week, Rochelle Wisoff-Field manages to find a truly inspiring photo, and today’s is perhaps one of the most intriguing. Yeah, I say that about each of them, but this one is so interesting, I’m sure the collection of stories will be eclectic and amazing.

Today’s story, “Put on Your Red Dress,” features my two characters from the Spy Flash short story collection, Alexei and Mai, on a little adventure to find… Well, you’ll have to read it to find out. If you don’t see the link on the title above, scroll to the top of this page, click on the Friday Fictioneers tab, then select the story from the drop-down list.

Friday Fictioneers May Day!

Friday Fictioneers LogoA busy writing week, this week. On Tuesday evening, I finished a year-long rewrite of my magnum opus, A Perfect Hatred. A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about heading in a new direction with it, but that was really an add-on to the changes I had already decided on some time before. To learn more about what will be a four-book series, click here, or click on the Works in Progress tab above.

I’ve been writing this series since June 1997, and what started out as about 300 pages of disconnected scenes, and after almost as much research as for a master’s thesis, became four, very complex novels, though they do not stand alone. The plan is to begin publishing them next year, culminating in book four appearing in the month of the twentieth anniversary of the historical event that inspired the series.

I also identified four writing contests I want to participate in, and the first one had a due date of next Tuesday, so I began working on a brand-new piece for that. This first contest is to celebrate the fifth anniversary of a great writing space in Charlottesville, VA, called WriterHouse (click here for more information about this wonderful place). Because it’s the fifth, or emerald, anniversary, the contest submissions have to revolve somehow around “emerald.” That was quite a challenge, and I learned far more about that particular gem stone than I ever thought I would, but I came up with something I really like.

Then, I had my usual Monday writing blog post, my usual Wednesday political blog post, plus this, good old Friday Fictioneers. But to go is Friday! Flash, another flash fiction weekly exercise I participate in. Oh, and I forgot to mention, the Rory’s Story Cubes Challenge is back on, so I’m working on the continuation of Spy Flash 2.

Today’s Friday Fictioneers offering, “Post-Modern Ossuary,” is based on a photo of an incredible building in Barcelona, Spain. Even if you don’t read my story, read the one by our Friday Fictioneers maven, Rochelle Wisoff-Fields, to get the history behind both a remarkable photo and a fascinating building.

As usual, if you don’t see the link on the story’s title above, scroll to the top of this page, click on the Friday Fictioneers tab, then select the story from the drop-down list.

Formatting an eBook’s a B***h

Before I get into the topic for the provocative title of this post, let me take your time to discuss a few blogging changes.

If you come here on Wednesdays to see “Politics Wednesday,” well, I’ve changed things around again. I’ve decided to separate my political blogging from my writing blogging–not because I’m ashamed of either or because I don’t want them to be associated, but because logistically it makes sense. For months I’ve been putting the same post on this WordPress site and on a Blogger site. That led to a lot of confusion, not to mention work. For me.

People have often commented that they like both sorts of postings, some like only the political, and some like only the writing. Now, it’ll be easier for me and for the reader seeking just one type of post.

From now on, this site remains as “Unexpected Paths,” and will feature my posts about writing and the writing life on Mondays and Fridays. So, if you visit here to read the writing posts, you don’t have to do a thing. However, if you want to see my political commentary, you’ll have to go to my Blogger site and follow “My Musings” there.

Now, on to eBook formatting. I recently transcribed my print book Rarely Well Behaved, published in 2000, and separated it into two files for two eBooks. I finished polishing and editing, had someone proofread, got eBook publishing advice from an experienced indie author, downloaded an excellent guide for formatting your file for eBook publication, spent several hours Saturday night following that guide to the letter, uploaded the first book, Fences, did a preview, and was discouraged beyond description.

Despite my careful following of directions (anyone who knows me, knows I operate from checklists), there were a plethora of formatting errors. Now, I could have been the typical indie author and clicked on “Submit,” but I withdrew the file, went back over the formatting process, and uploaded it again. (No offense intended. I’ve found from reviewing indie published books, the conscientious indie authors are atypical.) The same formatting errors prevailed. I took it down again, and did a Scarlett O’Hara–as in, thinking about it tomorrow, because tomorrow is another day.

Now, it’s two days later, and I’m about to give it another try. The issue may be that the guide was written for MS Word for Windows, and I have Word: Mac. This guide is excellent, as I said, because it includes illustrations for various formatting menus, i.e., “This is what it should look like.” But they are slightly different in the Word for Windows and Word: Mac versions. In some cases, I had to give it my best guess.

The other issue is the file you upload goes through a conversion program, in my case, to make the file viewable on Kindle. (Smashwords, for example, calls its conversion program the Meatgrinder. How apt.) That means you can have some basic formatting–e.g., font type and size, first line indents, and centered text–but not much more. One indie publishing friend who received a discouraged DM from me suggested perhaps I’d left in the “curly quotes” instead of using “straight quotes,” and that may have caused the formatting issue. The formatting problems did involve multiple lines of dialogue; all lines of dialogue were indented, instead of the second line’s being flush left.

Today, then, is attempt number three, from the beginning through 30 steps and uncounted sub-steps and then another upload and preview. Wish me luck. If it doesn’t work this time, I may have to resort to something drastic. Like hire a professional.

As my indie author friend said in trying to console me, “If it were easy, everyone would do it.”

Versatile Blogger Award

Madison Woods, whose blog for me is a must-read, nominated my blog for the Versatile Blogger Award. This was delightful and surprising, and I’m grateful.

What’s the award, you ask? Well, the award is being nominated by a fellow blogger. Once you’re nominated, you pay it forward by nominating fifteen more bloggers–ones who entertain or support you. When you’re nominated, you do the following:

Nominate fifteen fellow bloggers.
Inform the bloggers of their nomination.
Share seven random things about yourself.
Thank the blogger who nominated you.
Add the Versatile Blogger Award logo to your blog post.

I think I’ll go from the bottom up.

Here’s the logo (above).

Thank you, Madison!

Seven random things about me–ack, I hate these, but here goes. 1. I’m a knee-jerk, bleeding-heart, foaming-mouth liberal. What? You didn’t know that? 2. Even six and a half years later, I still struggle with being single. 3. I’m hopelessly, ridiculously in love with Brandon, Ollie, and Emory, my grandkids. 4. I drive a Mercedes E320 with the license plate “SPYWRTR.” 5. I love airplanes. They’re the one thing that’ll stop me in my tracks to watch until I can’t see them anymore. It’s been that way since I was four. 6. I live in the best small city in Virginia. 7. If I couldn’t write, there’d just be no point to existence.

You’ll just have to trust me that I’ll notify everyone of their nominations.

And, last, but not least, here are the fifteen bloggers who entertain, inspire, and encourage me, in no particular order of preference–this is how they show up in my Bookmarks list:

1. Perpetual Folly
2. Welcome to Exeter
3. Lindsay’s List
4. Transition Voice
5. Addicting Info
6. Left Leaning Liberal Lady
7. Melissa’s Life–Answering to 42
8. Women’s Literary Cafe
9. Arthur Dobrin’s Weblog
10. Legal Lacuna
11. The Weird, the Wild, and the Wicked
12. Thoughts Over Coffee
13. Six Sentences
14. Michael Moore
15. Madison Woods

I hope you’ll take a look at each and follow them. You’ll be inspired, entertained, and encouraged.

And Yet Another New Name

I wrote earlier in the year about wanting my blog to be taken more seriously, so I dispensed with the catchy, alliterative name, “Maggie’s Musings.” I thought about using “Rarely Well Behaved,” after the title of my book but decided that would be too confusing. Besides, I’d discovered by then people had misquoted Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. The correct quote is “Well behaved women seldom make history.” So, the blog became “Seldom Well Behaved.”

Yeah. Positively exciting. Look, it was the best I could come up with at the time, but I’m not a fan of it. In the three months since I changed the blog’s name to Seldom Well Behaved, I haven’t really come up with an alternative.

I like to change things around–I’ve never had the fear of change that can paralyze the accomplishment of anything from a new blog title to repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. My ex would come home after a trip and often find furniture moved around. One time I swapped the living room and the dining room, and even now in a brand new house, every few weeks I make some sort of little change–rearranging photos, moving lamps among the tables. The women out there understand; it’s not something we can articulate. It’s just something we do.

That being said, why is re-naming a blog so difficult? I’ll admit titles have never come easy to me. Many times I’ve written a story, given it to someone to read, and asked him or her what I should name it. However, titling a work has become easier over the years. I’ve reached the point where the story or the novel “tells” me its name. Now, if the blog would just cooperate, I wouldn’t be wasting a post whining about it.

So, let’s wind this up. A couple of weeks ago I ordered an iPad2, and because I did so on-line (rather than stand in line at a store) I got free engraving. My first iPod, a Nano, is engraved with “Deed not Creed,” a reflection of my commitment to Ethical Culture and trying to live an ethical life. What to engrave on the iPad2 came to me easily and also from an earlier post when this blog was called Maggie’s Musings. When I wrote about the six-word memoirs project I concluded the post with my six-word memoir, “I never took the expected path.” That sums up my life so succinctly that it even surprised me with its brevity and appropriateness–whatever others expected of me, I did just the opposite. If my parents were still here, they would be nodding their heads vigorously in agreement. It’s not a bad thing; it’s just me.

Welcome, then, to Maggie’s Musings, aka Seldom Well Behaved, and finally, Unexpected Paths.