Monday, November 16, 2015

Fan letter to Ani Difranco

In Austin Kleon's book Steal Like an Artist, he suggests writing a public fan letter to one of your artistic heroes. I actually have several and I like the idea of creating blog posts for each one eventually. I'm starting with one of my earliest.

I discovered Ani Difranco when I was in high school. Her self-titled debut album was acoustic singer-songwriter perfection. Her music challenges sexism and war and the status quo as well as tackling love and heartbreak. I'm grateful to have found such a powerful role model in those years when many girls are making do with female pop stars who conform to some pretty gross social standards.

Over the years, she has experimented with different musical styles but her lyrics continue to knock me out. As a writer myself, I am so impressed by her ability to capture a feeling in a few words, to convey the most complicated emotion in a three minute song.

This month, I've been struggling with my current WIP as I participate in NaNoWriMo. I have five characters whose narrated chapters overlap as the story moves forward. Last week, I was feeling a bit stuck when I thought of a lyric from one of my favorite Ani songs, Overlap:

i search your profile for a translation
i study the conversation like a map
'cause i know there is strength in the differences between us
and i know there is comfort where we overlap
I felt these familiar lyrics in a new way, more like confirmation than inspiration. I felt like: oh yeah, that's what I'm doing. As if part of me had known it all along.

As I kept listening to the song, I heard something else that resonated:

i build each one of my songs out of glass
so you can see me inside them, i suppose
or you could just leave the image of me in the background, i guess
and watch your own reflection superimposed.

Switch out the word "song" for "book" and you've got me. Although I write fiction, people who know me well will find pieces of me throughout my stories. And, hopefully, readers discover something meaningful about themselves, too.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Book Review: Steal Like an Artist

I hate how-to writing books. It's not that I don't think writing skills can be learned, I just think that writing is too individual for the one-size-fits-all sort of advice typical of these books.

But the title of this book intrigued me. I am always saying that I "steal" the things I write about. And the opening pages sold me: "First, you figure out what's worth stealing, then you move onto the next thing," Austin Kleon writes. "When you look at the world this way, you stop worrying about what's 'good' and what's 'bad' - there's only stuff worth stealing and stuff that's not worth stealing."

When I got the book, I was a little disappointed at first. The emphasis is on "stealing" from other artistic influences (drawing a clear line at plagiarism) rather than from your own life experience. Kleon even goes so far as to challenge the "write what you know" advice often given to writers. Instead, he suggests you should "write what you like." This resonated with me, though I'd say I do both.

The second half of the book talks a bit more about how to stay inspired, how to seek out the right kinds of influences and keep working at your art. One thing he recommends is writing public fan letters. I plan to do this in my next blog post. Until then, consider this post a little fan letter for Austin Kleon, writer of the only book about writing that I've ever truly enjoyed.
"In the beginning, obscurity is good.. There's no pressure when you're unknown. You can do what you want. Experiment. Do things just for the fun of it. When you're unknown, there's nothing to distract you from getting better."

Thursday, November 12, 2015

World Building - On writing fiction

"World building" is term I've heard used mostly in the context of science fiction or fantasy writing. It refers to the way these writers create an imaginary place and all the elements within that place conform to a certain set of rules: the character's histories, the basic physics of the environment, what's at stake in the storyline.

In a way, all writers of fiction are world builders. The imaginary world that I constructed for my first novel, Monsoon Season, is the same world that exists in A Long Thaw and Finding Charlie. Characters overlap because they're inhabiting the same space.

The forest fire that was central to Riley and Ben in 2003 is remembered by Charlie in 2016. This same event had different meanings to the different cast of characters, as is true in real life. What was symbolic of the end of a relationship in one book is a reminder of maternal abandonment in the other.  In the parallel universe I created, these stories were going on simultaneously, unbeknownst to the characters involved.

Practically speaking, this can be a lot of work. I don't just need to maintain a timeline for each book; I need to be sure each one works in relation to all the
others. I've started keeping spreadsheets.

The stories in these books exist on their own and can be read in any order, independently from each other. I don't write sequels, but because all of my characters live in the same world, there's an opportunity to revisit the past. Readers of Monsoon Season will find a familiar face in Finding Charlie, a partial answer to the "where are they now?" question I've gotten since the first book came out.

Friday, November 6, 2015


Finding Charlie has been selected for publication by KindleScout and I'm over the moon. The journey toward publication can get grueling at times and this feels like the culmination of a lot of hard work - and not just the last 30 days with the campaign.

I am so grateful to everyone for their support - their votes and facebook shares and retweets and thread bumps and good vibes!  I am lucky to have amazing people in my real life and a writing community that means so much to me. Through this process, I really felt like ya'all had my back. Thank you so much.

In the coming days, I'll be writing an article about what I learned from the KindleScout process for my fellow writer friends eager to give it a try.

For the fans: Thanks for the votes! I'll let everyone know when the book is out and for those of you who get advanced, free copies, I hope you'll leave a review on Amazon. It's the best way to spread the word.

At some point, I'll get back to my NaNoWriMo project. I'm about a third of the way through and feeling a new burst of energy from this win. Finding Charlie was a Nano project from 2013, so it's proof that it works.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

NaNoWriMo 2015!

This is the third year I'm participating, and like the other two, I'll be a "nanorebel". I'm less focused on meeting the 50,000 word goal and more on setting aside writing time every day. I've started with a project that already has 18,000 words and I added 1,000 words today. If I keep up this pace, I should finish with a solid first draft.

My last novel, Finding Charlie, was my nano project in 2013, so I know it works.

Looking back over previous blogs, I found these helpful tips for time management:
  • Skipping the news: I'm kind of obsessive about this, so it is going to free up a lot of my time, but it's also going to be really hard. I'm alerting all those close to me that I'm going to need an email or phone call if some huge news event happens. I already don't have cable so I got all my news off the internet.
  • Pajamas all day: Okay, not every day, but some days. I'm kicking off day one in my yoga pants... that I slept in.
  • Easy dinners: I don't pretend to be a fancy cook, but this month I'm going even more bare bones. No cutting meat or chopping veggies. If the recipe requires more than 20 minutes of prep, I'll save it for December. 
  • No more reading: I finished a book yesterday that I may blog about, but that's it. 
That's a good list to start. I just reactivated my account at and may have to limit the time I spend there. They have forums and twitter links and pep talks and notices for local events. It's like Facebook for writing nerds. You can connect with me there- I'm Katie78.