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The best writing

From the essay “How to write your second novel or, if you want to make God laugh, show Him your outline” by Stephanie Kallos:

… the best writing comes not from the part of you that writes an outline. The best writing comes from the part of you that feels, grieves, fails, flails, yearns, despairs, flounders, and prays. The best writing comes from the place where you dream.

(Scooped via Writer Unboxed)


Thank you so much to everyone who has read, rated & reviewed the excerpt of my novel The Good Daughters at Amazon for the Breakthrough Novel contest. Also special thanks to those of you who have helped promoted it, because that’s far beyond what I hoped or expected. (Like this? Seriously?) All of the positive response has really lifted my spirits and gotten me enthusiastic about writing again, even when it’s difficult.

Just a warning: I will probably leave the reminders up on my site and occasionally mention the contest until the semifinalists are announced (Apr 15), but I’ll try not to be obnoxious about it.

Also, I’d like to recommend my two favorite excerpts so far: Eden Lake by Jane Roper, and Kanako’s Foreigner by Amanda Kendle. Both are exquisitely written, and exactly the type of book I’d pick up in a store and buy. Hopefully I’ll be able to do that someday soon. ;)

New Twenty-Somewhere tomorrow coming soon. Obviously “every Monday” is a thing of the past, but for now I’m sticking with “every week.”

OMFG! Please vote for rate me!

The next episode of Twenty-Somewhere will be posted later this week, when I’m done freaking out about this:


Thank you for participating in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. We received thousands of submissions and were impressed with the incredible talent and creativity demonstrated by participating authors this year. We are happy to inform you that you have been selected to move forward in the contest.

Now that you’re a Quarterfinalist, Amazon customers can read, rate and review your excerpt while your manuscript is being reviewed by Publishers Weekly. Last year, tens of thousands of reviews were written by customers and fellow contestants giving authors valuable feedback on their writing. You can find your excerpt on Amazon.com via the following link: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B001UG3AIM, and access the main contest page where all entries are located at www.amazon.com/abna.

Good luck!

(Emphasis added by me, because that’s what it looked/felt like when I read it.)

While I go lie down and try to recover from the shock, PLEASE GO RATE/REVIEW ME! And though I’m not explicitly asking you to give me high ratings just so I can move forward in the contest and possibly achieve my wildest dreams, I will say that you could always rate your support of me and then tell me what you really think via email… (COUGH COUGH)


UPDATE: To clarify, Amazon also has special reviewers reading my Full Manuscript, and their evaluation combined with the 2 reviews of my Excerpt and the ratings/reviews I get from the public, will be used to decide whether or not I move forward.

So to help me, please download (for free) the Excerpt, and then submit a rating & review. The higher the rating, the more points (or “votes”) I get as part of my equation.

I would also love to know your feedback, whether you want to post it publicly or just email me privately.

Again, thankyouthankyouthankyou! (And yes, I’m still bugging out.)

So much reading about writing that you might start to hate me

“A Writing Woman” by Gail Godwin is a really excellent piece — almost more a story than an essay or an advice column.

(This is the fourth and final of the Atlantic Monthly articles I mentioned, BUT then there is their whole archive of literary interviews, plus a few articles I found elsewhere. It never ends!)

Fact and fiction, fiction and fact. Which stops where, and how much to put in of each? At what point does regurgitated autobiography graduate into memory shaped by art? How do you know when to stop telling it as it is, or was, and make it into what it ought to be—or what would make a better story?

I think that’s something every fiction (or “fiction”) writer wrestles with. I still remember when Catie scratched out “Fiction Workshop” in the header of one of my stories and wrote (lovingly), “LIIIIES!!”

We are told to write what we know, and then told that what really happened is too boring, or unresolved. Dialogue should be lifelike, not peppered with the yeahs and ums and whats that we really hear. But so much fiction doesn’t “ring true.” And so much non-fiction (at least lately) has been exposed as fabrication.

Where is the line? Does it matter (to readers)? Isn’t it all just marketing anyway?

I don’t have any answers. Just my own struggles.

I was badly in need of a miracle. I was twenty‑seven years old and had not yet become what I had wanted to be since the age five: a writer. True, I wrote every evening, long exhaustive entries in my journal, to compensate for boring days. I had stayed for three years in my cushy government job — helping the British plan their holidays in the United States — though I had intended to stay one year. I had begun countless stories and novels but there was something “off” about all of them. Either they had the ring of self‑consciousness about them, or they started too slowly and petered out before I ever got to the interesting material that had inspired me in the first place, or they were so close to the current problems of my own life that I couldn’t gain the proper distance and perspective.

Andy pointed out that “proper distance and perspective” may be what I’m lacking with The Good Daughters, and what’s causing me to struggle so much with the revision. [sigh] I think he’s probably right. So I’m going back to the drawing board, which is somewhat disheartening because I’ve invested so much time, effort, and heart into what I’ve already written, but also somewhat exciting, because I know I can do better.


These last two are not writing-related, but I liked them.

“The best means of learning to know oneself is seeking to understand others.”

“Yes, that’s it,” he said, in his cool, professional voice. But I saw the blood come into his face; the blush of exultation; he knew he had freed me. Even if it meant freeing me from him.

For the record

Eat Drink Man Woman is a GREAT movie!!

Very Asian, very cute, very real, very unexpected endings.

I should keep it in mind for The Good Daughters revision… Aiya, that stupid revision is going to kill me.

Wait, what was I saying?

Thanks to my new Netflix subscription (squee!!) I finally watched the movie version of THE KITE RUNNER this weekend, and I loved it. I thought everything (i.e., the controversial rape scene) was handled tastefully, the two young actors were fantastic, and the story was absolutely amazing. For the first half of the movie I nearly forgot I was watching a movie set in Afghanistan, which I had always pictured as a bleak, war-torn desert. (That comes in the second half.) So I really appreciated that in addition to a high-quality story, I got a fresh take on a foreign land and culture. Now I’m definitely motivated to read the book, which has been sitting in my “to read” pile for about three years…

Whenever something excites me like this story did, I Google the sh*t out of it. In my attempt to discover how autobiographical the story really is, I came across this interview with THE KITE RUNNER’s author Khaled Hosseini, and I enjoyed much of what he had to say about the writing process. A couple highlights:

For me it always starts from a very personal, intimate place, about human connections, and then expands from there.

Me too. As a reader/viewer, I enjoy all sorts of stories — action, history, romance, scifi — but as a writer, I have a hard time staying focused and finishing unless I care about the characters and their journey. This means I probably won’t write stories quite as action-packed as Tom Clancy’s or Stephen King’s, but hopefully I can find a good middle ground (like J.K. Rowling did with Harry Potter). Or even Khaled Hosseini, in this case.

Often, as I write, stories are transformed, turn into something altogether different, and I am always surprised by where they end up taking me.

Yaaaay, another point for the non-planners!

“Huh, what?”

Allow me to explain.

The outline vs. let-it-flow debate is a fierce one. I see the pros and cons to each side, and I think I’ve ultimately settled upon a good (copout) answer: it depends on the story. Some need very disciplined direction; they won’t work unless you know exactly where you’re going and more or less how you plan to get there. But others would be stunted by that structured of an approach; they would lose their natural ebb and flow, becoming more of a swimming pool than a sea.

Personally I go for an in-between method that I call connecting-the-dots. I plot out certain points and then just try to write a path from one to the next.

For my first manuscript, THE GOOD DAUGHTERS, I started out with no real plan, just a few very spread out dots. (Not so much “A to B” as “A to Y to Q”…) Then when I made it my senior thesis project, I tried to give it some more structure, plan it out a little better. That helped me stay on track for deliverables to my thesis advisor, definitely, but because I’d switched tacks partway through, the novel didn’t cohere very well. Now that I’ve “finished” it, I find myself extremely daunted by the revision because it’s going to be so. much. work!

For my second manuscript, I’m trying to be a little more strategic. I’ve got an “outline” (i.e., significantly more dots than I had for THE GOOD DAUGHTERS) and I think it’s going to work. But ask me again in six months. We’ll see.

ANYWAY, as I was saying, THE KITE RUNNER movie is quite good, and I highly recommend it to anyone who can take a serious — but ultimately uplifting — story.

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