My audio feature is live(!) and 4 things I learned for good story recording

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My story is set on a fire escape, which reminds me of scaffolding (utility) and a jungle gym (frivolity). And there’s the crux: between work and play, adulthood and childhood, responsibility and freedom, the communal and the individual.

It’s called “Recruit,” and the audio feature–me reading my story in all my Ohio-accented glory–is live at Flock Literary Journal.

From “Recruit”:

‘There is a wideness in God’s mercy, like the wideness of the sea.’ I thought of our lake that couldn’t wash away the filth of this city. Of our river that burned so many years ago and still seemed to burn.

From Flock Literary Journal:

In “Recruit,” Rebecca Moon Ruark has us on the edge of our seats and knocks us over with sentences like the above. We’re excited to share with you this short story in audio, a glimpse of what’s to come in #Flock20!

If you’re looking for a little reading (or listening) this weekend, I’d love it if you checked out “Recruit.” Let me know what you think! And share it with a friend who likes stories.

What I learned along the process of recording my story:

  1. Audacity (free recording and editing software) is awesome.
  2. External microphones are best but my MacBook’s internal mic did the trick.
  3. Closets–all those hanging clothes absorb extra sound–make a good recording studio.
  4. Be authentic, even if you have a weird accent.

Not to mention all the writerly stuff I took away from this process. So, props go out to all the podcasters out there who make it sound so easy. And to the poets, who brave live audiences all the time.

Happy weekend and happy reading.

What’s on your literary plate?

 

 

 

 

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Agent query letter purgatory

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…because “hell” seemed a little strong.

What’s up?

Months ago, I announced that it was time for me to dive into the process of seeking literary representation (an agent) for my WIP, a historical novel manuscript.

I was ready. However, my manuscript wasn’t…quite. (And you only get one chance to make a good impression–or any impression at all–on an agent.) So, revise revise revise, and I have come out the other side knowing that now is–really–the time.

I talked here before about the steps required to prepare for this journey. Step 1 is knowing what to “pack” for the publishing road ahead, with agent query letter as “passport.” Step 2 involves putting myself in an agent’s shoes. What might he/she want of me besides a manuscript? Step 3 will involve compiling a list of agent who might be a good fit (stay tuned…).

Today: I’m in query letter purgatory. It’s not hell, really. We writers write and we write about writing, and so to get to write about our own writing is kinda neat–if tasking, and requiring a good bit of objectivity. Some say the query letter is tougher to write than the novel (a bit of an exaggeration, but still valid): As in, boil down an 85,000-word story into a 150 word synopsis. Oh sure, no problem. It certainly can’t hurt to start with a fantastic first line (or “hook”).

And here’s another couple pieces that I’m using to spit-shine my agent query letter:

Successful Query Letter with Lots of Tips by Erin Beaty on Kathy Temean’s wonderful blog Writing and Illustrating

How to Polish Your Query Letter for a Professional Shine on the Writer’s Relief site

All you writers out there, ever written an agent query letter? How’d it go?

When I’m not working on my query letter, I’m reading novels I could use as comparisons to mine. Right now it’s Lilac Girls about the Ravensbruck women’s concentration camp, which isn’t a close enough fit, but I’m enjoying it.

What are you writing and reading this week? Like this publishing talk? There’s a category for that at the top of my site.

 

 

Our Characters, Ourselves*

 

OK, that title is a bit of a misnomer–this post isn’t wholly about bodies–but I liked it.

This post is about the characters we create: both on paper and on, well, us.

What happened is this: I was told I needed a headshot for story I wrote that will be published later this spring. My rarely-needed “headshots” are usually crop-jobs needed to extricate my face from the face of a small child or two. My last good headshot (above, left) was taken when I was 18 and an aspiring dancer–a whole lifetime and profession ago.

I figured it was time. So I made an appointment for a blow-out at my local salon, where they said they would also make sure my makeup was camera-ready. Then I had my husband shoot a couple pics of my face, sans offspring, so that this journal can have my modern-day visage (above, right) for viewing alongside my story.

Also, I will be recording myself reading my story, so that the journal can have my voice along with my story along with my face. This is all OK and even flattering; this is what we call exposure (ahem).

Do you ever think about your own character? As bloggers we all have a handle, a personality. Mine’s Rust Belt Girl.

I realize I spend so much time thinking about the characters I create on paper that I forget my own character, my dominant persona. I was a ballet dancer in my youth; then a student; then a young married woman; then an aspiring writer; then a mom.

The “mom” character is basically all-consuming. The funny “mom” memes you see online–that’s for real. In writing, what “mom” means is that I’m supposed to write children’s literature now that I’ve birthed children who read literature. Instead, lately, I like to write about taboo subjects; a little incest anyone? (Please don’t message me with weird responses to this aside I meant to be funny/not funny.)

Onward…this story of mine that will be published later this spring (or wet-winter), I actually let my children read. This is a first.

One of my boys said he thought it was going to be funnier; one said he didn’t. Both read it until “The End”–4,000 words–so in my eyes it passed 8-year-old-boy muster. But I did have to “clean it up” first, which my more astute of my astute sons said meant, “Take out the bad words.” And the drug references and the…

I create characters to live a different life, though I love mine. I’ve talked here before about my penchant for writerly distance. Still, the characters we create are extensions of ourselves.

The other night, I attended a lecture/Q&A on developing believable characters in our writing, hosted by the Maryland Writers Association’s Annapolis chapter and featuring author and editor Barbara Esstman. My character-building takeaways:

Characters inhabit a world–closed or confined systems can work well: think Lord of the Flies or The Handmaid’s Tale–with walls of some kind that will lean on and pressure a character. These boundaries that test a character can help the writer show what the character is made of.

At least one of the main characters must have a problem to solve; when the character arrives at a solution, the story ends.

Characters have a history before the start of the story. The writer should know it, but must decide what the reader needs to know and what the reader doesn’t.

You know, sorta like this whole blogging thing. The reader needs to know us writers and highlights of our history–the stuff that matters–to understand our character, to feel invested in us and want to follow our story.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Thank you for following my story.

Do you consider your blogging persona? (Is it just me?) Is it one in the same with you? Somehow different?

Have any tips for creating believable characters in essay, memoir, or fiction?

* A little nod to Our Bodies, Ourselves (a book about women’s health and sexuality first published in the late 1960s). A relevant character-building takeaway: characters, like real people, have needs and wants. Characters, like us, go grocery shopping and sneak ice cream at 10:30pm. (Oh, is that just me?)

a bit of writerly advice… for National Licorice Day

It’s like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.E.L. Doctorow, novelist, essayist and professor best known for his works of historical fiction (who also maybe adored licorice).

Yep, doing something new here: A little writing advice chased by a little trivia (with a dash of speculation).

The headlights writing advice was provided to me (in response to my novel manuscript) by a former writing instructor and current friend, David L. Robbins, who has written about a million historical novels at this point. (Don’t know if he’s a licorice fan, but I’ll inquire.)

Why that advice?

Because, I admit it, I am a lover of the flashback. Sometimes called an analepsis (but not by me), a flashback is an interjected scene that takes the reader to a time before the current action. You know, backstory.

I’m a lover of the flashback within a flashback. (Though I know this is terribly wrong and something for which I should flog my writerly self.) Here we’re interrupting the forward moving action to talk about something in the past and then interrupting that something to talk about another past something. Whew!

And, heck, while we’re here, what’s wrong with a little flash-forward now and then?

What did Doctorow know?

A lot.

Sometimes the problem is we didn’t start the story in the right spot. If we’re constantly looking back, maybe that’s where the story should start. (Looking forward? Maybe we started too early in time.) Just don’t fall into the trap of turning backstory into dialogue for characters to deliver. Too much “remember the time…?” reads false.

So, in my novel-in-progress I killed my prologue because it took place years before the current action (and it was a prologue); and I’m doing my darnedest to drive by my headlights.

Do I promise to use no flashbacks, no flash-forwards?

No. Moderation in all things, as the Greeks said…those Greeks who called licorice “sweet root.” Did you think I’d forgotten what day it is?

Officially a weed, licorice has been prized for its health benefits for thousands of years, and is even said to have properties that may slow the effects of aging on the brain.

So, maybe have a piece of licorice to stimulate your writerly brain, turn on those headlights and get back to work.

I am…

 

 

 

 

The sound of your story

 

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“Your voice sounds even weirder than normal.”

That’s my son talking, razzing my recorded voice again. (Yep, we’ve been here before.) For some reason, my resplendently nasal Northeast Ohio accent shines through especially when recorded.

No, I don’t sit around vanity-recording, but I conduct–and record–a lot of interviews for my job. (Luckily, I’m on the end that talks less.) And, then there’s something new on the creative/publishing front:

I’m recording a flash fiction piece of mine to divert my attention from work for a day submit for publication (and a nice award) to the Missouri Review‘s 11th Annual Miller Audio Prize.

Truly, I thought about having a friend read my submission (talking about you, R.!), which is allowed. This friend is a poet, and so she has had more practice reading aloud (in that soothing NPR announcer kind of way), but she also just has a lovely speaking voice–clear and pleasing to the ear.

Then, I thought, no, this story of mine takes place in my native Cleveland; the characters are Clevelanders. The voice should sound like it.

And so, for authenticity’s sake, I sought out the digital recording and editing app, Audacity. I’m learning to loop sounds for background (of seagulls; yes, we have seagulls–or lake gulls, anyway–on Lake Erie). And I’m re-learning how to cut out the extra-long pauses and goofs and “ums” in a sound file. My only previous experience editing sound files was during an internship with the online journal, Blackbird, in school, which was a long time ago.

What struck me this time around is how instructional it can be to look at the patterns of sound, like here:

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The flat lines are pauses between sounds, so I can quickly see when a pause is longer than the others–and decide whether that’s intentional, for dramatic effect, or not. (Like, I was sipping my coffee.) The blips are sounds, and to look at them can help me decide whether my phrases tend to be of the same length–and whether I meant it that way, or not. The higher the blip the louder my voice. Do I get a bit louder at the climax? Or softer? Did I do that on purpose?

This is a work in progress, so I’ll let you know how it goes.

Have you ever tried to see your writing in a different way–by hearing it in a different way? How’d it go?

 

 

 

 

Speak the language of publishing

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Just like there’s a language of, say, France or finance, there is a language of literary publishing.

In this language, I am no longer conversant (Daily Prompt); in fact I’m rather rusty.

Used to be, on a Friday night, I’d pore over the latest edition of the library copy of the Writers Market*, which was dog-eared from all the other aspiring-writer English majors who’d done the same before me. (I led a thrilling social life.) This door-stopper of a book was the bible of publishing. Study this tome, and one could at least sound like they were publishable.

Note that this language of literary publishing is a second language to the language of literary writing. Or should be.

Write. Write well. Write a ton. And only then worry about acquiring the language of literary publishing. That’s my advice. Why?

Because it’s like Greek (unless you’re Greek). Read more

Kill your inklings

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I’m playing fast and loose with the English language today, redefining inkling as: a little inking, or a bit of writing, a literary snippet, if you will. This post is in response to today’s Daily Prompt: Inkling.

Rust Belt Girl followers know where I am in my journey toward traditional book publishing. Rather than call myself stalled in editing, I’d like to say I’m at a rest stop along the journey–one of those rest stops with a fabulous overlook. Only, I’m not looking out onto rolling farmland or a lake vista. I’m looking over my WIP (a historical novel manuscript) and trying to do more than edit. I’m trying to genuinely revise–or re-see–my story.

This requires brutality.

This requires killing my inklings, my snippets of lovely language that don’t move the story forward, that don’t evolve the characters, that maybe draw too much attention to themselves.

Today’s dead inkling:

Pregnancy had meant an intense inversion, feeling sensations from the inside—hosting, feeding, growing this glorious parasite.

In the days of printing out drafts–huge reams of paper–I would actually snip this snippet and put it in a jar I have for such things. Then, if I felt blocked or needed a prompt for a new story, I would select one and start from there. Today, my dead inklings wind up getting lost in my Mac world.

William Faulkner is credited for “kill your darlings,” and there’s been discussion about that phrase and other great writing advice here at WP this week.

But, now I’m getting down to it: slashing and burning.

What’s your favorite dead inkling?

 

Hold up, wait a minute: Rust Belt Girl on ice

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Lake Erie, iced. One of the Lake Erie Islands (Green Island), is in the distance. (Thanks for the pic, Dad!)

Hold up, wait a minute. Hold up, wait a minute…

Nope, you haven’t stumbled on a 90s music blog (but if you now have that old club song in your head, you’re welcome!)

Here at Rust Belt Girl, I promised a new thread this new year: a journey into the terrifying abyss that is the world of book publishing. That’s agent querying, novel synopses, novel submitting, etc.

How’s it going so far?

Um. Yeah, that.

Let’s just say, like so much of the Rust Belt at present, this Rust Belt Girl is on ice–at least as far as that project.

What happened?

Shall I add another metaphor into the mix? Well, I got the cart before the horse (ie: the agent query letter, synopsis, etc.) before the manuscript itself. And, really, the horse is a little bit lame. Not so much that it has to be put down or even put out to pasture. (Yep, I’m just running with this metaphor.) But maybe re-shod, rested, exercised–certainly made stronger. Race horse strong.

Who says?

A former writing teacher of mine, an author and editor whose feedback I trust wholeheartedly.

What now?

Thaw out? Get back on the horse? (Can I stop talking about ice and horses?)

Really though, I’m revising my novel manuscript (yet again) because I only get one chance with agents, and I don’t want to blow it. I’m really trying to “re-see” this story that’s been with me for years; these characters that I’ve known longer than I’ve known my own kids, which is a little crazy. It’s not an easy task to really re-envision an 86,000-word manuscript, and so I can’t rush it.

“Time is a great editor,” said my editor friend.

So, bear with me if this thread takes its time.

I mean, there’s an order to things–like seasons and horse-drawn things, right?

In the meantime, more writing advice I pick up from experts along my way; more reading (and emulating!) great books; more author interviews.

And…in the publishing vein, more submitting short stories to journals and magazines. Keep your fingers crossed (and frost-bite free) for me.

Happy weekend! What’s on tap for yours? ~ Rebecca

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Re-blogging query letter help: the all-important first line

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This site–link below–focuses on children’s literature, but a query letter needs to grab the agent by the collar, whether the book in question is for children or adults. I thought this post on the all-important first line of a query letter–the hook–was helpful.

I especially like thinking about a query letter in three major parts: “the hook, the book, the cook.”!

Maybe this will help you, too. ~ Rebecca

via New Jersey Farm Scribe: The Query Letter’s First Line

Step 2: Reviewing the publishing road map

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Call it cold feet.

Nah, let’s call it, being truly prepared. Here at Rust Belt Girl, I’m documenting my journey into the frightening abyss that is traditional publishing. Only I haven’t set off just yet.

Here’s the deal: right now, I’m preparing to query literary agents about my completed behemoth 86,000-word novel manuscript. Only, there are steps I must take first. Or else I ruin my one-and-only chance with agents: professionals who don’t take kindly to, “just kidding” or “no, really, this is my finished manuscript” emails.

In Step 1, I covered the all-important agent query letter, which is like a passport that introduces the agent to the book (with a brief synopsis) and to the author (with a list of credentials.)

For Step 2, here I (optimistically) look toward the road ahead, which hopefully includes hearing back from at least one of the agents I query. In stalling planning, I reviewed a few old emails from writer-friends who were in the position I hope to be in soon.

One of these writer-friends received a request from an agent to read his entire manuscript, which the agent did. Her feedback on the novel manuscript was largely positive.

Then…she sent my writer-friend some questions. I will paraphrase the questions here, as I think they provide a window into the thought process of the agent.

Me, the writer, I’m thinking of securing an agent as an end–a conclusion to years of writing and revising and editing and rewriting. For the agent, signing a writer is only the beginning of the journey. As such, the agent asks the writer:

  1. Provide all your writing credentials in detail, including previous publications, short stories, screenplay writing, etc.
  2. List authors that you think have a style or write in a genre comparable to yours.
  3. Is there anything you could do to help promote your book, for instance contacts or friends who are writers and could provide blurbs, friends who could review, people you could leverage?
  4. Do you blog or have a following on Twitter, Facebook, or another social media platform?

Could I answer those questions? Mostly, I think I could.

  1. I’ve got some credentials under my belt, including a couple short stories published fairly recently.
  2. Here’s where I have to forget my humility. Genre- and subject-wise, my book compares to Snow Falling on Cedars, The Master Butchers’ Singing Club, and (more recently) Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. Language- and subject-wise, my writing in general compares to Alice McDermott’s. (Of course if I were to meet any of these authors, I would faint straight away!)
  3. Thanks to this blog–and the writers I’ve met “reading and writing the Rust Belt”–I do think I could wrangle up a blurb or two, something I couldn’t have said last year at this time.
  4. And, why YES, I blog (thanks to you, followers). Yes, I’m on Facebook. A major following–not yet. But stay tuned…

What do you think of the agent’s questions? Does this make the road ahead for us would-be published authors appear any clearer? Are there any questions you’d add, if you were in an agent’s shoes?