A nod to anonymous bloggers

I started this blog almost six months ago, at the end of September 2012, because I was supposed to. It’s the “writer” thing to do.

For non-fiction writers, a blog is another venue for establishing platform which, in turn, helps sell books. For fiction writers, like me, we don’t really have “platforms” the same way that the non-fics do (despite the title of my blog). But if I can develop a readership for my writing, I can then go to an agent and say, “I’ve written a manuscript…, and oh, btw, I have a blog with X-amount of followers, and I get XX hits a month.” This sets off a light bulb for an agent, because if he likes the manuscript, he knows he has a little something-extra to help sell it to a publisher: blog stats are quantifiable.

Business people (i.e. publishing company execs) love things that are concrete and quantifiable because they can be translated into dollar figures. Publishers know that an author’s good blog-following equals a certain-percentage of already-sold books. (For example, if an author has 3,000 followers and 20,000 hits a month, it’s going to guarantee at least 1,000 books sold. Or something like that.)

So for right now, that’s one of the reasons I’m here. I’m playing around, trying to find my correct blogging niche, which might, one day, help me sell my books. I try to be as real and approachable as possible, but I’m showing you my “public” persona — you know, the one I play at dinner parties or when I volunteer at my kids’ school. Me, but dressed-up and wearing makeup. I actually disclose very little about what goes on behind the silk curtain.

But there are those among us who have not only pulled the curtain aside — they’ve torn it down, shredded it, and thrown it away. They’re walking around the dinner party with no makeup on. And they’re naked.

You know who I’m talking about: the anonymous bloggers.

Some choose the path of anonymity for the complete sense of freedom that it provides — the ability to pour out one’s heart and soul, in whatever manner it comes tumbling forth, without fear of being judged by anyone who knows them. Sometimes writers are afraid of criticism of their work at this stage in the game, or of backlash because their genre would be frowned-upon by family and/or friends. Writing anonymously emboldens them to let the muse out, in whatever form she takes, and to get past their fears.

But many other anonymous blogs are written by people who are not necessarily “writers,” and who are going through difficult, often painful times in their lives. Their blogs read like online diaries — not your average dinner-party chatter. Probably not stuff they can discuss with their co-workers. Maybe not even their neighbors. In some cases, not even their best friend.

Yet I submit to you that it is these blogs, in all of their raw, unedited glory, that are among some of the best writing in the blogosphere.

The authors expose parts of themselves that, perhaps, they are unable to show in any other way. I’ve read post after post on which whole hearts and souls were bled open. The Anonymouses parade their ripped, dirty laundry with unabashed abandon for the whole world to see, holding it up to point out the various stains. “This is the one where I was raped.” “This is where my mom became an alcoholic.”  “This is where my child died and I started doing drugs.” “This is the one from when I cheated on my wife.” “These are the ones from where I’m still cheating on her.” In some cases the authors are proud of themselves. Mostly, though, they express the deepest levels of doubt, anger, fear…. Guilt, shame, humiliation…. Despair…. But the common thread running through all seems to be an elemental quest for answers and meaning. Truth.

Unless they are blogging under a pen name that they intend to use when publishing, there is no business reason (read, “no potential financial incentive”) for them to be doing what they’re doing. It’s all personal. These blogs read like stories, the most intimate glimpses into the darkest corners of the human soul, and I find myself cheering for each and every one who is brave enough to put himself or herself out there in this way. The blogs, themselves, become like giant, interactive diaries, and I’m constantly impressed at the decorum and restraint shown by commenters, whether or not they agree with the actions and ideas of the blog’s author, and the openness with which the authors respond to the different points of view presented to them.

If you haven’t yet discovered the hidden gems of anonymous blogs, you might want to treat yourself to a WordPress search. Just type in a topic of interest, and spend an afternoon with a fascinating real-life read. And who knows? You might even find one that resonates with something inside you.

 

“Um, a little help, please!” — getting an Rx from a writing-doc

I’m in limited-writing mode right now. On purpose: orders from my new writing coach.

I’ve written multiple 300+ word manuscripts. I’ve been an active part of writers’ groups for over seven years. A Chicago Manual of Style and a copy of Strunk and White’s Elements of Style (both well-thumbed) sit front-and-center on my desk. I’ve even had a literary agent once.

[Hmmm. I’ve stopped writing, at my previous sentence, for a while now. I’ve been finding excuses to do things other than going forward with this post. I “needed” to check my e-mail. And play spider-solitaire. And take a drink of water. And go to the bathroom. Riiiiight. Those things all “prevented” me from knocking out the minimum one-post-a-week — a measly little 500 words a week! — that I’ve committed myself to doing on this blog.

Sorry, no. What I’m really doing is mental-blocking because I’m about to admit my failures as a writer. And that’s not a fun thing to do.]

You see, despite all of my hard work — even the achievement of scoring an agent (for eight months, back in 2008, until she quit being an agent) — I’m still not published. Which means I’ve never earned a penny from this endless drive inside of me to write. Which means I’m nowhere close to being able to making a living at it. Which means my endless drive is currently headed toward nothing.

As the rejections pile up Self-Doubt grows like a cancer, anchoring its tentacles into the weakened foundations of my confidence. No one will hear your voice…, your thoughts…, your passions…. Ever!

But giving-up isn’t going to stop my need to write. I do want need my voice to be heard. And I get positive feedback from enough readers that I think I have a chance, if I can just figure out what it is that I’m missing. So I’m fighting back.

Just as one would go to the doctor to diagnose an illness, I hired a writing coach to help diagnose what was wrong with my writing. In our first session (so far), she listened to my background about where I’m at with my writing. She read my synopsis of The American (the cliffhanger-ending one), and she got through the first four pages of my manuscript. First-and-best of all: she likes my story. ( :)! ) But based on my “symptoms,” she said she thinks I’m at about seventy-five percent of where I need to be. (Hey, by Rotten Tomato standards, that would make me more than “certified fresh!” 🙂 :)) She then recommended that I read three books (Writing the Breakout Novel, by Donald Maass; Hooked, by Les Edgerton; and Wired for Story, by Lisa Cron). Then she wants me to revise my first fifty pages and meet with her again.

I’m wading my way through the Donald Maass book, which I found easily at B&N. The others just arrived in the mail yesterday. (Btw, I’ve been rejected by Donald Maass, personally, on two different manuscripts. Yes, feel free to regard me with awe: I’ve been rejected by the best. *tosses head*) It feels like I’m in school again, and I’m cramming for finals. I really hope I can do this. I have to do this. It’s what’s in me. It’s who I am. I. Am. A. Writer!

She may as well have been speaking Chinese

Last week I had my first, scheduled, online discussion with “Amy” from Rosetta Stone. When I finished, I wished I knew how to say “Oy vey!” in Mandarin.

A “scheduled online discussion” in Rosetta World means that for thirty minutes you get to talk to someone who is a native speaker of the language. I was excited, because I had a lot of questions about syntax, and I really needed some help. At the designated time I logged on with my pre-prepped microphone headset and waited. Soon Amy’s voice called out.

Nǐ hǎo, Dawn!”

Nǐ hǎo,” I responded. My stomach quivered a bit; I’m not comfortable wrapping my tongue around this language yet, and even the “hello” set me off. But this was all part of the famous Rosetta Stone process. I needed to do it, and I was ready to go with Amy, who is a native Mandarin-speaker.

What I didn’t realize is that it was the only language she would use in our chat.

I knew that she was going to stick to words I’d learned two lessons earlier. At the time, I’d been on Unit 1, Lesson 4. Amy was quizzing me on stuff from Unit 1, Lesson 2. Should have been a piece of cake. It was more like a piece of mud pie. I couldn’t even remember the word for “milk” (niú nǎi).  I felt like a clueless two year-old.

Except that a two-year old Chinese kid would know the word for milk.

I should be better at this, I screamed in my head. I’m a writer, for Pete’s sake! I have a better-than-average command of the English language! I manipulate words on a regular basis!

Making things worse, during the chat it became clear that Amy also had an excellent command of the English language. (And she pronounced my name as though she was American.) But she stuck to speaking in Mandarin. She’s probably supposed to do that, however on-the-verge-of-tears the Rosetta Stone customer is. Maybe it’s some Tiger-Teacher philosophy.

She was patient with me. “Tǐng hǎo!” she would encourage when I got things right… which was usually after she’d had to type the answer on the screen. A few times I broke down and had to use English to explain that I didn’t know something. Or that I didn’t understand what Amy was asking me to say, like when she asked if I had a cat, as she pointed to a photo of a cat. (It was only an “Oh, duh!” after I understood what she was asking. Then I couldn’t remember the word for “no,” which, it turns out, isn’t “no.” Because “no” means no, except in Mandarin.)

It was the longest half-hour of my life. I literally breathed a sigh of relief when she said our time was up. “Zài jiàn, Dawn.” Zài jiàn, Amy!

I’m still going forward with the course. I want to learn this language. Eventually, I’ll even schedule my next chat session. But am I looking forward to it?

Bù shì!

Writing, and other forms of communication

Crickets since last week with the agent. 😦

I haven’t done too well with my writing either. 😦 😦  That’s not to say I haven’t been working with words, although perhaps not in the way that would seem obvious for a writer.

One of my personal goals for 2013 is to learn a new language. It was my Christmas present to myself: the Rosetta Stone set – the big one, all five levels, with speech, reading, writing, the whole shebang. Because being able to communicate in two languages is akin to having both a FB page and a Twitter account. Speech is the original social media.

I wrestled over which language I actually wanted to take. There were two. Spanish was a heavyweight contender. After all, I live in a state with a strong Hispanic presence, and I adore the cultural vibe of the American southwest – everything from rustico furniture to Latin jazz to the colors of the painted desert. Plus, I minored in French back in college. Not that I’m exceedingly fluent in it today, but I could probably hack my way around Paris in Franglais. (Okay, maybe Montreal.) I figured the French background would be a decent segue into a sister-language. (Spanglish?)

But in the end, me being me, the other language won. I’m taking Mandarin.

You can’t get much different from Western-culture speaking and writing than a Far-East language that has it’s own syntax and writing system. I’m becoming acutely-more aware of this as the lessons progress and I’m still lost. The way Rosetta Stone works, you get a happy-sound when you answer correctly, and a disappointed-sound when you guess wrong. It really is an actual disappointed-sound, like the program is tsk-tsking you. (No! I didn’t mean to guess wrong! I didn’t mean to let you down, Rosetta Stone!) If you don’t do well enough on a section, you have the option to do it over to improve. I like the do-over feature. We’re friends now.

I think if I’d realized how different Mandarin was from English I might have been too intimidated to try. But I’ve already started. (And I’m getting addicted to the happy-sound.) It fits me, though. I’ve had a fascination with the Chinese culture for years. One of my series — the one I’m pitching — spends its first half in the wilds of northwestern Yunnan. This is a province on the edge of the Himalayas that contains the Three Rivers Parallel Region, where the Yangtze, Lancang, and Nujiang (three of the world’s largest rivers) flow very close to each other. It is one of the most bio-diverse regions of the world. Researching it made me want to visit. I would love to tour the temples and historic districts of Lijiang and Dali before heading off to photograph the mystical landscape that was the basis for James Hilton’s Shangri-La. (Of course, I didn’t plan for the story to be set in China; it’s just how it came out of me. You know how the muse works! 😉 )

The other thing that tipped the scales for me is that I recently discovered that I have a local venue in which to practice Mandarin.

I’ve started treating myself to monthly massage sessions at the nearby mall. However, in addition to the masseurs’ magical knowledge of acupressure, these guys are all Chinese! It was like a sign: my fascination combined with a real-world place to practice my skills. I’m about a week into the lessons. I’m pretty bad at it so far. I mean, I can usually score in the upper-90s on the quiz-type sections, but I have no idea how to really say anything. The guys at the mall wouldn’t understand me. Yet. And my vocabulary is super-limited. I could maybe say “The little boys are drinking juice.” (And then they’d know I was certifiable.)

Anyway, at the rate I’m going I should finish in about six months. We’ll see. Zài jiàn! 🙂

For War

Part three (of four) of CIA-agent Trig Denton’s story. This time, our writing exercise was the same: character/objective/obstacle (mine was Frank the painter/to find true love/that idiot from corporate), but to write it from the omniscient viewpoint. As before, I asked and was granted permission to continue my character’s story, rather than rewriting it. Enjoy! 🙂

——-

FOR WAR

Get a count, get proof, get out.

The orders sat front-and-center of Agent Trig Denton’s mind as he stood in the belly of the secret, underground manufacturing facility of the Bao-Dong Building in New York. Having obtained evidence that they had developed plans for a small, remote-controlled stealth rocket that ran on a near-perpetual battery—something the U.S. military called a Total-Range-Unceasingly-Energized-Land-Operated-Veiled-Explosive, or TRUE LOVE, the Holy Grail of smart bombs—, he now needed to discover how far they’d taken those plans. Maybe they’d already completed a prototype. His time-window was limited, due to the fact that he’d already sent a virus into the company’s private LAN. It would release in less than three hours, and the building would go into lockdown. He’d be trapped. There was no cell phone reception in this area of the building, and no way for him to call for backup from other CIA operatives. He was entirely on his own.

He’d made his way along the cracked walls of the long underground tunnel and was now ten feet from its intersection with what looked like a wide, empty corridor. The sound of a sniff made him freeze. Footfalls slapped in the distance. Someone was in the corridor, approaching. Trig flattened himself against the wall of the tunnel, his hand poised over the place where his gun was hidden in the fake belly of his painter-disguise.

*****

T’ien Jing strolled down the corridor between the two halves of the underground manufacturing facility. Jing was an unregistered Chinese national who was, therefore, in the U.S. illegally. He had a PhD in mechanical engineering, and also bad allergies that made his nose run. He stopped at the vending machines by the neglected back-exit tunnel. Drip, drip, drip, echoed off the tunnel’s concrete walls. It was the Hudson’s attempt to expand its trickle-invasion through the cracks. A shiver ran down Jing’s spine. He always half-expected a jiaolong, the mythological, alligator-like flood dragon, to slither from that dank, poorly-lit place.

Jing plinked a quarter in the machine. A faint shushing sound came from the tunnel. Jing froze and listened. Nothing. It must have been his imagination. He dropped two more quarters in, and the shushing sound came again. Jing held his breath. Again, nothing.

*****

Trig remained stationary. Every time he tried to go forward, tight against the wall, the coarse fibers of his slightly-better-than-paper coveralls brushed against the concrete. And every time he moved, the other guy seemed to pause. Trig stepped away from the wall and drew out his G26.

*****

Jing’s reason kicked in: when he put the quarter in, he heard the shush. The sound must be coming from the vending machine. He dropped a fourth quarter in the slot and listened. No shush. Oh, well. The long hours they put in at the facility had taken a toll on everyone. Maybe it had been his imagination after all. He selected a bottle of mango-cherry juice. As the machine whined into action the shushing sound came again, this time louder. Jing spun around.

*****

Damn coveralls! Trig dropped to a crouch and took aim.

*****

A low, squat shadow loomed forward into the corridor from the dim light in the tunnel. As Jing watched, the shadow morphed, growing tall, into the shape of a man. Jing’s eyes bulged. The jiaolong had such powers! Ice gripped his heart.

Just then, the bottle of juice fell to the bottom of the vending machine. Thunk! Jing stopped breathing and fell over in a dead faint.

*****

Trig eased into the corridor where Jing’s body lay slumped on its side.

Well, that was easy.

He quickly injected a paralytic into Jing’s neck in case the man came-to, and relieved him of the lanyard containing his ID badge and key-card. Then, after dragging the man’s body around the corner into the tunnel, he made a calculated decision.

Trig was larger than Jing, both in height and girth, but he figured he should still be able to fit into the man’s lab coat. If he got rid of his fake belly, that is. Slipping out of the coveralls, Trig unstrapped layers of padding from around his waist. The lab coat was snug around his chest and fell several inches shy of his knees, but it would do. He tossed the painter’s hat, ripped off the beard and mustache  but kept the brown contacts and the unruly mop of dark hair. His own spiky blonde buzz and grey eyes would draw too much attention. Returning to the corridor, Trig studied his reflection in the vending machine. It was enough not to get him noticed on the streets of New York. Hopefully enough to buy him the few minutes he needed in each half of the facility.

He knew from the blueprints that the chemical engineering lab, where they made the bombs, was to his left, and the aeronautical fabrication center, where they made the rockets, was to his right. He needed evidence from both places. Voices came from the right. Trig headed left.

A nine-foot, blast-proof steel door loomed in front of him. Trig swiped the key-card through the sensor and heard a click. He stepped into a lab. Tables containing vials, tubing, centrifuges, Bunsen burners, colorful liquids, and dark powders lined the far walls. Technicians hunched over various stations, deeply immersed in their work. A humongous steel-walled room took up the center of the lab. Trig recognized it from his Marine days: it was a blast-test room. He slipped on an ear-cam and walked purposefully around, taking in the entire radius, before he strode out the main, steel door, back into the corridor. The preoccupied techs had ignored him.

One down, one to go.

But even after he was done with both rooms, he’d only be halfway there: it wasn’t enough just to get the photographic evidence. He’d have to deliver it, too. And for that to happen, he would have to get out of the facility. Preferably without causing a disturbance.

He headed for the aeronautical fabrication center. The Rocket Room.

——-

Hope you’re enjoying this! Tune in next week for the final installment in Trig’s first adventure. 😉