Saturday, January 29th, 2011

Sleigh Riding and Interviews…

Sorry, the two aren’t connected.

I’m heading out to go sleigh riding today….well, there’s no heading out really. The hill in my yard is steep enough, long enough and wide enough to accommodate all kinds of sleds, toboggans, skis and whatnot…

So, I just need to walk out the door.

I’m just waiting on the invitees I’ve asked over to arrive (a little later today) and then we’ll tackle it.

It’s snowing again (!) — more than flurries, but not quite with the vigor of Wednesday which left us with more than a foot.

I’m so excited! I can’t remember if I’ve been sledding during a snowfall. Whheeeeee!

In the meantime, I leave you with an interview of me (if you’re so inclined) over at Nerine Dorman’s Blog: Toads Corner. She’s called it, “Tea with Kelly Harmon,” which I absolutely love.

Please let me know what you think.

Nerine is an author and an editor, too. (And I was just tickled that she asked me for an interview.) She writes dark fantasy and romance and annually participates in the HorrorFest Convention near her home in Cape Town, SA. She’s really cool. You should check her out Nerine Dorman’s profile to see what I mean.

Happy Weekend!

Friday, January 28th, 2011

Writing Prompt: Weather as a Plot Device

Snow flurries danced in my headlights this morning on my way to work. After two days of sleet and snow (and more than a foot of the fluffy white stuff) I’m not anxious for more. But it got me to thinking about extreme weather conditions and how they can affect the characters in your book.

The “formula” for an exciting story suggests that the author torture his main character with all kinds of dilemma, and then kick him when he’s down. If it’s an action book, we put the character in a dangerous situation: chased by bad guys. If it’s a historical romance, we’ll take away the heroine’s support system.

Usually, the genre will dictate (or at least suggest) what the conflict of the story will be.

How can we make weather one of these tortuous dilemmas the protagonist must ride out?

Rarely will weather be the conflict around which the story is based, though one exception is Jack London’s famous story, To Build a Fire. Written in 1902, it tells the story of a man whose arrogance leads him to his death in the face of a blizzard.

More often, weather is is used to as a prop to propel the story:

On the way to his engagement party at his fiance’s parent’s house, a man has an accident on an icy icy highway. Broken and comatose, he spends weeks in the hospital. The story is about what happens to the man (and perhaps his fiance) after the accident.

Here’s Your Prompt: Bring weather into your story as more than an inciting incident (leading to a car accident, for example.) Instead, make the weather take the part of an antagonist: “someone” the hero or heroine is required to fight against or endure. Write a scene — or several — describing your character’s fight against the heat or pouring rain (or any other weather). Show how he or she got into the situation, and how he or she got out.

What thoughts did your character think as he or she fought the elements? How did he or she feel? (Angry, scared, sad, anxious? Perhaps your character puts the blame squarely on someone else for their predicament. ) Show all of this. Don’t forget to use the character’s senses to relate what he or she is experiencing (what they saw, smelled, touched, tasted, etc.)

Keep in mind the remainder of your story when you choose this weather situation: what drove her to be in this place at this time? How did he wind up there? Whatever you choose, it’s got to be plausible to your story set up: in a historical romance, you can’t make the heroine venture out into a deluge — in which she gets swept away by flash floods – without a really good reason. But you can send her out in a crowded shopping district on an overly hot day after the maid pulls her corset too tight and she’s already feint from skipping breakfast.

Monday, January 24th, 2011

Motivation for Meeting Writing Goals

SpreadsheetAs you know, last year I didn’t submit to magazines as many “pieces” — my generic term for both fiction and non-fiction — as I wanted to. Though, if I’d planned it better (rather than completely focusing on other things) I might have.

And I might have had more than the three pieces accepted for publication.

One of my 2011 goals is focused on making more submissions (which will, I hope, lead to more acceptances). But other than setting myself a reminder on the calendar, I wasn’t sure how to make this happen.

And even if I did schedule it, how could I guarantee I’d have something to submit when the time came?

Today I stumbled on a method which might work, and I wanted to share.

I keep this spreadsheet (I love me some spreadsheets) which tells me just about everything I need to know about submission I make:

  • Name of the story/article/query letter, etc.
  • Type of submission (Fiction, Non-Fiction, Microfiction [added in 2010!] Query, etc.)
  • Where it was submitted
  • Date Submitted
  • Whether it’s still out or not
  • How many days it’s been out
  • Date I received a reply
  • Notes

Over the years it’s evolved (via much writing procrastination and cat waxing) into a document which tells me yearly totals and percentages of each of those, how many total submissions I’ve made in my writing life, what kind of stories I’ve placed more often, average days out, etc.

(Yeah – there have been days when the spreadsheet, rather than the WIP, has ruled my life.

But, I digress.)

Spreadsheets being what they are, I add a line at the bottom when I’ve made a submission and all the formatting is automatic. I usually close it fairly quickly unless I need to reference something. End of file.

But, today, I added 30 blank lines at the bottom of the file….which are begging to be filled.

Such a small, visual change…but seeing the blank lines has me itching to fill them (and motivated to write something new to submit) – as soon as possible. I’m fairly confident I’ll make, and probably exceed, this 2011 goal.

What tricks do you use to motivate you?

Friday, January 21st, 2011

Writing Prompt: Lost

NOT the Underpass to Which I ReferI think I’ve mentioned before that I can get lost with a map in one hand and a GPS in the other. I absolutely despise driving somewhere new for the first time.

If it’s important that I make it there on time, I’ll often make a dry run: like in October when I had a reading at the Constellation Book Store in Reisterstown. The weekend before the reading, I drove to the bookstore to make certain I could find it when I had to.

Par for the course, I got lost, even though I had the GPS and the Yahoo Map with me in the car.

Once, when I was in college, I had to drive into Washington, DC for a late-night event. The evening ended at 11 p.m., and at 1:00 a.m. I was still driving around the city streets. I knew I was in trouble when I’d driven under the 7th street* bridge for the 3rd time. I needed gas and there was not an open station in sight.

I won’t ever forget the panicky feeling I had, driving around, alone, the seep of the cold in my little Ford Escort. Keeping silence in the car, rather than my usual blasting metal.

I thought I’d never get out of the city.

Here’s Your Prompt: Write about being lost. If you’re journaling, this could be a personal time when you were lost. If not, throw your character out into the wild.

Where is he lost? In the city or in the woods? During a gentle summer evening or a sleeting winder evening, darkness falling.

Make sure your character has no means to navigate: no compass, no GPS, no sewing needle and cork (look it up if you don’t know what I’m referring to). If you want to be really cruel, make certain your character has no sense of direction, too. Also: there’s no one around to ask directions of.

How does she feel? Is she panicked? Resigned? Pragmatic? Is her stomach upset? Is she shaking? Does she feel like she wants to throw up? How does he react? Swear? Cry? Kick something? When your character finally moves…tell us why he or she chose that direction. Did he see a light in the distance? Smoke? The sound of gunfire? Maybe they’re running away from one direction, rather than another. Why?

Make it as hard as possible for your character to find his way. And once he or she does, describe the relief, the ensuing anger, the rants, the promises (I’m never going there again!) they feel once they’re safe and sound.


*I could be misremembering which street here. 7th? 11th? It was a long time ago. But I think you get the point.

Thursday, January 20th, 2011

It’s National Coffee Break Day – Have You Had Your Cup (or Pot) Today?

National Coffee Break Day 201Apparently, it’s National Coffee Break Day.

(Not to be confused with National Coffee Day, September 29). Today, we’re just taking a break.

I’ve celebrated several times. How about you?

In my house, I’m the only one who drinks coffee, which is really cool, because that means it’s all mine. On the other hand, sometimes it would be nice to enjoy a cup with someone.

Sometimes I’ll forgo a coffee craving because I don’t want to make an entire pot.

Another cool thing: I can’t remember the last time I actually made coffee. The Husband of Awesome™ makes me a pot every morning. (Have I mentioned that he doesn’t drink coffee?!)

I’m looking forward to Saturday. I’ll be dropping in on my folks. They have one of those restaurant-grade coffee makers which spills out a pot of java almost faster than it takes you to find a mug and slop in some cream. Some Saturdays, we’ll go through five or six pots of coffee for the five of us. Joy.

I like my coffee with cream and just cool enough to gulp. I like to drink it fast because if it sits too long in the cup it starts to to turn funky. I also prefer the first cup out of the pot because it tastes better than any other.

How about you? Any special coffee preferences?

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

2011 Writing Goals – Finally, eh?

Water Polo - Making a GoalI summed up my accomplishments for 2010 in two parts:

Part 1 – the platform building
Part 2 – the numbers

Finally, I’m getting to my goals for 2011.

I’m behind (as you can clearly see) but I wanted to put some thought into this before posting.

It was important to me to make the goals challenging, but reachable. I also wanted to be more specific than I was with last year’s goals, so that my review at the end of the year will be both easier to write, and easier to evaluate.

With that in mind, here’s what I’m striving for this year:

1 – Write 302 out of 365 days in 2011

I’ve determined that since I work full time and have a 2+ hour daily commute for the day job, it’s impossible for me to write daily. 302 = 52 weeks of the year times 6 days a week, minus 10 Federal Holidays. I’m not sure I can actually meet this goal…but I’m going to try.

Note that I don’t care if I write fiction, non-fiction or cereal box ads during any given day: writing is writing.

2 – Triple last year’s fiction output

Since I’m not planning a blog tour this year, I think I can reasonably accomplish this…with some stretching. In order to do so, however, I’m upping the goal words-per-day by 25%.

You’ll note that I’m talking percentages and not real numbers….just as I did in my year end review. I’m deliberately obfuscating the number, and the reason is simple: what I think I can reasonably accomplish in a day, and what someone else can, are different. And that number changes, based on the circumstances. Before I agreed to a two-hour commute, I could knock out 2k words easily in a day. These days, 2k is a good weekend goal.

If you’re playing along, pick a goal which you can reasonably accomplish with some effort – you don’t want it to be too easy, after all.

3 – Finish the two short stories that have plagued me since the beginning of 2010….or trunk them.

4 – Finish the first draft of my current work-in-progress novel.

5 – Write and submit 6 non-fiction articles.

Word count doesn’t matter.

I’ll be keeping track of the word count, of course, but it’s more important that I actually actually write the articles. As part of my “platform building” last year, I wrote three and submitted them to some articles web sites. I’m hoping to drive additional traffic to my site.

6 – Write at least three blog posts per week for a total of 156 blog posts for 2011.

Again, word count doesn’t matter (though it will be tracked). I simply want to remain consistent.

7 – Fifty-two blog posts must be writing prompts.

I want to maintain my “Friday Writing Prompt” which I’ve consistently published each Friday since I started in June 2010.

8 – Make 30 fiction submissions this year, only 1/3 (or less!) of which can be flash or micro-fiction.

9 – Finish reading Sol Stein’s How to Grow a Novel.

(This sounds like a gimme, but I borrowed it from the library last year and I’ve renewed it 11 times so far. I’m only allowed to renew it 9 more times – unless someone puts a hold on it, and then I must return it immediately. It’s a good book, but others keep making it to the head of the line… Putting it on this list will make me finish it. I hope.)

Finally, I come to the big goal….and I still don’t know how to phrase it correctly.

I’m going to be sending a novel out into the wild. Obviously, I would like to obtain representation this year…and yet, that goal is out of my hands. So, rather than set myself up for a pass/fail grade by the end of the year, here’s what I realistically think I can do:

10 – Send 25 query letters to agents.

Obviously, I’ve got a plan. I won’t be spamming 25 agents with my manuscript. I’ve got a carefully written, personal query letter ready to send to my number one agent of choice. And to my number two choice…and so on.

With luck, I won’t need to send all those letters, but I’m trying to be realistic. If I do wind up sending them all…I’ll regroup and make a new goal somewhere late in 2011.

What’s most important? The writing, of course. If I can finish the writing, the rest of the goals, minus Stein, should fall into place.

Can I do it? I hope so, but only time will tell.

Has everyone else set their goals, or am I the last one in the pool?

Monday, January 17th, 2011

What Are You Reading?

I have leaped joyfully into Debra Dixon’s Goal, Motivation & Conflict this morning. (Just one of the fabulous gifts I received for Christmas!)

On the back cover it says, “How to use these key elements to give dimension to your characters and direction to your plot.”, which, IMO, is a sentence fragment, and has no business being on the cover of a non-fiction book. However, it leads me to believe that by reading this book I will be able to work out the snags in my current work-in-progress.

Since I’m only on page 2 (of Dixon’s book), I can’t tell you how true that is. But I will write a review once I’m done.

On the fiction side, I’m reading Barbara Hambly’s Sisters of the Raven (one of the books I picked up during my Ravencon #bookfail).

So far, so good. It takes place in a world where magic was the sole enterprise of men and, suddenly, men find themselves losing their powers and women gaining them. The first two chapters have been very exciting.

So…what are you reading, anything good?

Friday, January 14th, 2011

Writing Prompt: How Does Your Character React to Sad News?

Hospital Street Sign As Seen From the RoadI got some terrible news this morning.

One of my good friends at work is in the hospital and his condition is “serious.”

My first reaction was physical pain: a heart-sick reaction which started in the chest and moved quickly to my stomach. My limbs felt leaden.

I’m still sad, and hopeful — very hopeful — that things will be all right. But I have this nervous energy thing going on and I really want to help.

But there’s nothing I can do. He’s got a good (family) support system, and I’d just be in the way. Besides, as close as we are at work…and as much as I know about his condition…I’m guessing he’d just want family around at such a time.

Still, there’s a frustration factor here. The questions is: how will I handle it? And what if the situation turns bleak?

Here’s Your Prompt: Your character has just received terrible news. What does he do? Is he a manly man who doesn’t cry? Does he punch the wall to let off steam? Does he hit his wife or kick the dog? Does he open a bottle of Jack Daniels?

(Each of these actions tell something different about your character.)

Perhaps he’s only received partially bad news (like me) – the condition is serious, but hopeful. What’s his immediate reaction? Does he swear like he’s angry that this has come to pass? Does he accept it with stoic pessimism (“It was bound to happen anyway.”)? How does your character react if the wost-case scenario comes to pass?

On the other hand, maybe the news isn’t such a bad thing…maybe your character is ecstatic to receive such bad news about someone she knows….and secretly, or maybe not so secretly, she is doing the Snoopy-brand happy dance. Instead of Jack Daniels, does she crack open some champagne?

Write a scene in which your character receives terrible news. Try to show his or her actions without dialogue. How can you use action to relay what your character feels?

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011

2010 Year in Review, Part 2

Statistics of GoalsWord Count

I’ve finally finished tallying all my numbers from last year. In some areas I’m pleased, in others…not so much. Some of my displeasure arises from the way I set my goals.

For example:

I exceeded my word count goal, reaching 174% of the objective.

This would suggest that I set my goal too low and need to increase it for 2011.

But if we discount everything I wrote except for fiction, I only reached 25% of my goal.

Yet – part of my 2010 goals were dedicated specifically to promotion of my book and trying to attract readers to my blog. So neither 174% of goal, nor 25% of goal, tell the whole picture.

I can break it down further:

I reached 91% of my word count goal in blog posts alone. And promotional guest blog posts and non-fiction articles I wrote consist of 59%. .

I would have liked to have written more fiction. I would have liked to have had more finished stories to submit. But I wasn’t specific enough when I set my goals last year. (See that post here.)

This year, I’ll create separate goals for each of these three categories of writing.

Days Written:

My goal was to write between 57% and 71% of the days of the year. (An increase over the 53% of the days I wrote in 2009.)

I wrote on 215 days of the year, or 59%.

I reached my goal, but it felt like an uphill battle most of the time.

I’m toying with the idea of trying to average 6 days a week of writing minus 10 Federal holidays. This would bring the “writing days of the year” down to 302, rather than 365.

Using that number, I would have attained my 71% goal. But: I haven’t decided if this is “cheating” or not. (What do you think?)

Short Fiction Stats

Completed Written: 3, but all were flash fiction

Incomplete: (Started in 2010) 0

Incomplete: (Started 2009 or earlier) 2

Completed Stories just sitting around doing nothing: 10 – this includes two stories which have been published and the rights reverted back to me.

Submissions Stats

Fiction Submissions: 11

Fiction Acceptances: 2, and I have 2 outstanding submissions.

So: 22% acceptances so far. This could rise to as much as 36% or dip as low as 18 % once the other markets respond.

In 2009 I submitted 25 times and had 5 sales, for 20% — roughly the same rate of acceptance. But I’d rather have more sales.

I didn’t actually set a goal for submissions in 2010, but I will for 2011.

Novel Stats

Revisions: 3/4 complete on 1
Completed: None
Started: Two
Queries: None, but did not intend to do so

For 2011, I’ll be setting a query submission goal.


3 articles written and 3 published

These aren’t counted in my submission statistics because they were guaranteed publication….but I’m not sure how to count them when I do my comparison at the end of this year. I might wind up adding them after all.

4 newsletter items written, 1 published – but the newsletter these were written for went belly up after my first article appeared.

These, too, aren’t counted in my submission stats for the same reason as the articles. Again, they might end up in the submissions spreadsheet, simply because record keeping will be easier.

Other Goals

I also wanted to:

1 – meet more people
2 – attend an additional convention
3 – do more readings

I managed to do all three, the first accomplished mostly by attaining the second two as I added Darkover attendance and readings at both the Constellation Book Store in October and the Library of Congress (with Ellen Kushner and Catherine Asaro!) in March.

I’d also intended to try two writing software programs (yWriter and Writer’s Dream Kit) and post reviews. I did try WDK, but didn’t write a review. Maybe I can find time for that in 2011.

This year, I intend to write more fiction — including finishing one of the novels I started in 2010 — and search for an agent. I’ll post official — well defined — goals later.

How did you do with your goals?

Friday, January 7th, 2011

Writing Prompt – Lost Your Best Friend?

Kathy and Kelly A. HarmonHere’s a photo of me and my best friend, Kathy, from a few years ago. We were painting salt dough ornaments we’d made for Christmas.

She’s been on my mind a lot lately…especially on New Year’s eve.

I didn’t hear the traditional Auld Lang Syne that evening, but I was thinking about it: Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind?

The opening line is rhetorical, but evocative, and never fails to leave me thinking about old friends…and this year, it was all about Kathy.

She and I played in the sandbox together in Kindergarten. Even though she went off to private school in first grade, we were inseparable. (We got into so much mischief!)

We’ve been friends forever…but I haven’t heard from her since February.

Kathy told me she was quitting her job, selling her house, and moving to Europe to be with the man she loved…and then there’s been nothing but silence. She asked me not to call at first, and I respected that. But her cell has since been disconnected. And she’s not answering her email.

I have no idea how she is, if she’s safe, if she’s happy, if she’s well… It’s hard not to think that something awful has taken place, but I don’t think it has. Kathy’s done this before: neglected to call or write for months on end. But the beauty of our friendship is that it’s easy to pick up where we left off.

If I had a snail-mail address, I’d write her a letter in all caps (like I’m yelling, ya know?) and tell her to get off her duff and call me. (I’m hoping she’s deliriously happy with this guy and just hasn’t had the time.)

Still, it’s strange, and my writer’s mind can’t help thinking the worst…

Here’s Your Prompt:  Write a letter to someone you used to know, but haven’t seen in a while: someone you don’t expect to ever see again. What are you going to say to this person? Will you admit some long, buried secret that you never told? (A secret love? The stolen money? Cheating on a test?) Will you blame this person for everything that’s gone wrong in your life?

If you don’t want to write a letter…speculate as to what happened to your friend…what were the circumstances of his disappearance? Did she just walk out the door and never come back? Did he go on vacation to some exotic locale and decide to stay? Did she leave you for someone else?