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Six Years: A Reflection

Six years ago today we put our six-year-old, our three-year-old, and our two-year-old on a plane and came to California. Although my husband had visited the state for the job interview, I never set foot in it until it became my home.

That was nothing new, actually. I had a history of moving to places sight unseen. I’d taken a train to Boston for graduate school, never having been anywhere on the Eastern seaboard before, and on the first day of class I met the man I eventually married. And while I didn’t love Massachusetts, it seems there was a destined reason for my having gone there.

Still, twelve years later I was more than ready to leave.

California is, in many ways, easier to love. That’s why so many people live here, I suppose. Which is one of the things not to love: the traffic. Massachusetts had that, too, but it’s worse here.

California does have an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables all year ’round. And it only has snow if you want it. (Here they “go to the snow,” to which I say, “no thank you.”) Of course, it also has droughts, or at least it has in recent years. And earthquakes.

Ever since I was young, I imagined I would live in California some day. I had the opportunity to go to school here, but I couldn’t afford out-of-state tuition. I was offered an internship that I had to turn down because, again, I couldn’t afford to move and get a car and live on no wages. A producer I worked for asked if I’d like to work in the L.A. office, but I foolishly said I’d rather finish my degree. (Maybe not foolishly; I would not have met my husband if I’d taken that path.)

Still, I had faith I’d get here. That I was meant to be here. Maybe the timing just wasn’t right all those other times. Or maybe every path was different and this is just the one I ended up on. Maybe after twelve years of seasonal depression and panic attacks in the Northeast, I’d finally earned this reward.

Well, I didn’t earn it, my husband did. He works hard, and when I finally broke down, he acted quickly to move me to a place that would be better for me mentally, emotionally, and physically.

We landed, six years ago, at 9:00 p.m., which was midnight Eastern time. The kids refused to sleep on the plane ride, so they were punchy and cranky as we made our way to the rental car counter. And we were all hungry. It turned out there was an In-N-Out Burger near our temporary housing, so our first official stop in California was the drive thru.

Now, every year on Pi day, we get In-N-Out and then eat pie. It’s a happy tradition, something we all look forward to. And I look forward to many more happy years here, too.

Favorite Books on Film

I saw this post on another blog (sorry but I don’t remember which one), and it got me thinking: Which book-to-film translations have I enjoyed? Sure, we all [usually] think the book is better, most likely because there’s a lot you can do with words that is difficult, if not impossible, to film. Inner dialogue, for example. But some books have translated pretty well to the screen anyway.

One I see on many lists—and yes, it’s on mine too—is Pride and Prejudice, in particular the BBC miniseries. Yeah, I love that one, too. Though it took me a while to warm to it because I had a college roommate that watched it over and over again. At that point I was avoiding her and the series, so when I finally did sit down to watching some years later, I found it was quite charming. And I do love Jane Austen.

Another book whose movie I enjoyed is Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman. I saw the movie first, though, and then felt compelled to read the book, which was wonderful as well. There is a prequel I’d like to read as well, though I always hesitate when an author revisits a scene after a long break. (See: Anne Rice’s most recent vampire novels, which I just could not get into.)

I’ll admit I liked Interview with the Vampire, too. I have no excuse for why except that maybe it came out at a time when I was receptive to Tom Cruise as an overacting blonde and boy does Brad Pitt look pretty in that movie.

1939 — British actress Vivien Leigh on the set of Gone with the Wind, based on the novel by Margaret Mitchell and directed by Victor Fleming. — Image by © Metro-Goldwin-Mayer Pictures/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis

Gone with the Wind is a favorite movie of mine as well. I used to lay on the couch and watch it whenever I was home sick from school. My freshman year of high school, we had to read the book. So, again, this is a situation in which I’d seen the movie first. And I know the romanticization of the Antebellum South is problematic, but Scarlett is such a vivid character that I can’t help enjoying both the book and film.

Another book/movie combo that makes my list: The Ghost Writer. Robert Harris both wrote the novel and the screenplay, so that probably goes a long way toward the two hanging together well. And you know I can’t say no to Ewan McGregor.

Finally, an oldie but goldie: The Haunting. I mean the 1963 version. I love, love, love Shirley Jackson’s novella “The Haunting of Hill House,” and this movie did it justice. Of course, maybe that’s because my friends and I stayed up late one night to watch it and scared ourselves silly. Fond memories can color one’s perception of how good a book or movie really is, I suppose.

What book adaptations have you enjoyed? Maybe later I’ll post about some terrible ones. I think it can be tricky to capture a book well on film, which is why good screenwriting is so important. Some day I still hope to see St. Peter in Chains make it to the screen . . . If and when it does, let’s hope it turns out well!


Every now and then I like to say hello to the visitors from far afield. So this is for you: Scunthorpe and North Shields (UK) and Culverden (NZ). Hope to see you back again soon.

IWSG: Celebrating

It’s time again for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Posts go up the first Wednesday of each month. Read more posts and/or join in here.

Right now I’m caught between the desire to land an agent or [reputable] publisher and the option to self-publish. This is mostly due to my own impatience, but it also comes in part from feedback I received from an agent at the San Francisco Writers Conference. My current manuscript is a YA contemporary update of Hamlet, and the agent said that’s already overdone. That I should go choose a lesser known Shakespeare play to rework instead. She said I could then sit on my current manuscript so I’d have it if whatever fresher thing I wrote took off, or that I could self-publish it. The gist was: it’s good to have another manuscript banked. At the same time, there are no guarantees. And it wouldn’t necessarily work against me to publish it myself since they wouldn’t technically be a series.

Well. I’ve got a couple agencies still reading the manuscript, so maybe not all hope is lost. But if everyone passes . . . I don’t know what I’ll do. At least I’ve outlined a couple more Shakespeare books to write as well.

Question of the Month: How do you celebrate when you achieve a writing goal/finish a story?

Depends on the achievement. If I land a contract (or agent, or option, though those things have then fallen through), we usually go out to eat. If I just finish a draft or something, I don’t do much of anything special. Maybe eat a cookie or something.

Sun Conjunct Ascendant (pt 2)

One of my most popular posts is the one I wrote titled “Sun Conjunct Ascendant” which actually talked more about Aquarius than anything else. So now I’ll tell you about the actual aspect, or really, my experience with it. Specifically, however, I’m going to discuss what it means between two people (what astrologers call “synastry”) when one of them has their Natal Sun on the other’s Ascendant. (Sounds kinda dirty, doesn’t it?)

First let’s recap the function of your Natal Sun. In astrology, your Sun shows your core being. It doesn’t, however, always show how others perceive you. That’s determined more by your First House, which is where your Ascendant comes in. Your Ascendant is the sign where your First House falls.

For example, my Sun is in Sagittarius, but my Ascendant (aka “Rising Sign”) is Aquarius. So I come across to others as more like an Aquarius, though deep down I’ve got a lot of Sagittarius happening.

Okay, so what happens when your Sun is conjunct someone’s Ascendant? Well, in my personal experience—and I’ve had this happen fairly often in my life, where either my Sun is on someone’s Ascendant or vice versa—the Sun person pulls the Ascendant person into their orbit. While there is definitely mutual attraction of some kind, the devotion seems always to be stronger on the side of the Ascendant person. The Sun person feels a bond, too, but it might be more like a deep friendship, while the Ascendant person often falls head over heels for the Sun person.

Depending on the nature of the Sun person, he or she may struggle with the pressure of the Ascendant person’s love. And depending on the nature of the Ascendant person, he or she might become clingy. There’s so much more to synastry, but the thing about Sun conjunct Ascendant is that it seems to go one of a few ways: either the two people are devoted to one another for life; or they form a terrible, co-dependent relationship in which the Sun person may use/abuse the Ascendant person; or the Sun person runs far and fast because the Ascendant person is so intense.

Remember, though, that none of this is written in stone, so to speak. Being aware of your chart and how it intersects with others’ gives you a starting point for planning accordingly. And planets and stars move. They’re dynamic, and so are we. You choose how to behave or react, so choose wisely.

Oh, Oscar

I have an admittedly complex relationship with the Big 3: Golden Globes, Academy Awards, and Emmys. This is because my goal from childhood was to be among those stars, and as I get older that seems less and less likely.

The far-too-late movement to include more minorities in filmmaking doesn’t seem to extend to the likes of me. Despite much wonderful feedback (even a win) for my screenwriting, I can’t get anyone to take me and my work seriously. Is it because I’m a woman? Or because I’ve aged out? Or just because I don’t know anyone?

This is why I resent the overall tenor of things like the Oscars, where they act as though if you just try hard enough you will get recognized. This is patently untrue. Sorry, del Toro, but you can’t just kick the door open. That door is like a bank vault; you need to be able to crack a safe open to get through it.

Some of my sorrow is my own fault, certainly. I made the choice to have a family, and Hollywood is not family friendly. I’ve worked on film sets; I remember the insane schedules and the gnawing worry about what my next job would be. It’s not steady work or a stable environment. Piss off one person and you may never work again.

Still, as a writer you would think I could at least get a script produced. Hollywood needs writers, right? Well, apparently they only need the five guys who write all the Marvel films.

I don’t mean to sound bitter, but I suppose I am a little. For all the talk of being inclusive, what they really mean is including the women (and minorities) who are already there, not anyone new. Those walls are still standing, that vault door is still firmly locked.

Off Topic

Last night I was trying to find some specific information that I was, alas, unable to find. However, I did discover these photos:

The first headstone I’ve seen a number of times in my life, and the second one I’ve seen at least a few times, too. I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen the third, and I don’t know about the fourth.

Lloyd, Joseph, Perry, and Clarence were brothers. Clarence was my grandfather, the others were my great-uncles. For some reason Perry is buried in a different cemetery. I have a vague memory of “Aunt Evy” . . . ::shrug::

Both Uncle Joe and Pop died on November 11. The O. stands for “Ovide”. I own his Catholic missal. Not sure how I ended up with it. I think my family has a lot of the Asian knick-knacks Uncle Joe collected while stationed overseas, too.

I don’t know what the C. or P. stand for. I know next to nothing about Perry or Lloyd.

Miss Stella is, as you see, still alive. She was Pop’s second wife, so my dad’s stepmother. But Dad and his brother and sister didn’t live with them. They lived with their grandmother (for whom I’m named). Here she and Rosemond are:

The V. is for “Viator”, her maiden name. Rosemond’s middle name was Alexandre.

Men in our family die relatively young it seems. Makes me worry about my dad sometimes.

I realize this is a really random post. But sometimes it helps me to collect information in one place. Right now my oldest son—not coincidentally named Alexander—is working on a family tree and history. So I thought this might interest and help him. Langlinais is not a common name. Rosemond was the oldest of 11 children, and so there are many branches of the family, but even still, it’s a fairly small and select clan. According to Name Stats, only 794 people have the surname Langlinais in the United States; Forebears says 991 have it worldwide (including those 794 in the U.S.). That’s a drop in the bucket when the world population is some 8 billion.

Anyway, I like my unique name, even if no one can spell or pronounce it. Dad used to just give the last name “Lang” when making dinner reservations or anything like that because it was easier. In all of my school years, only my high school world history teacher could pronounce it correctly, and he spoke five languages, so I guess that helped.

Do you have any interest in genealogy? Any interesting family stories or names? I love hearing about things like that! Let me know in the comments!

SFWC 2018: Why Am I Not Writing?

Writers love when the dam breaks and the words flow. If only that could be all the time. However, sometimes the words dry up. Sometimes life simply gets in the way.

One of the final sessions I attended at SFWC this year was a presentation by David Rasch. While on the surface it can be easy to say, “I’m too busy,” Rasch delves deeper into reasons we might stop writing. He pointed out:

“Writer’s block” is a universal issue for writers, but it’s not the same for everyone. The consequences are profound. It causes internal distress. Once you can write again, however, your mood improves.

I’ve generally found this to be true.

Why is writing so hard?

Writing is a neurologically complex task. It may seem simple—you put some words on paper or type them on a screen—but there’s a lot more going on than that. Effort and concentration are required—it’s work! Hard work! And it’s often solitary work, so a writer has to be okay with being alone. He or she has to find the time and space to focus on the task. Sometimes the practical demands of daily life pull you away, or sometimes mental chaos and distractions do it (the Internet, anyone?).

Also, the public nature of the final product, the fear of exposure, imposter syndrome can all play a part in writer’s block. Past bad experiences with writing can cause trauma that prevents you from making progress as well.

What are the barriers to productivity?

Well, first you need motivation—a desire to write. Then you’ll make writing a priority. There’s an old saying that if you can walk away from writing, you should. If you can’t, then you’re a writer. Time management, too, can be an issue for some people. If you don’t plan well or are disorganized, you may not be as productive.

Also, health issues (physical, mental, emotional) may impact your ability to write. Natural talent or ability, too. Writing is easier for some people than others. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write if it doesn’t come easily, but you should be aware that the challenge of writing may stop your progress.

Making sure you have a writing space that works for you, a place where you can concentrate and relax without interruption, is key. And developing writing habits and a regular routine is also important. Pinpoint your behaviors for when you’re avoiding writing. Do you clean the house? Bum around on YouTube? Once you’ve figured them out, put a stop to them.

In school we were given deadlines for our work. Now that we’re grown, if we don’t have an agent or publisher, we may have no deadline either. Setting one for yourself is too easy to ignore, so have someone you trust set a deadline for you—someone who will hold you accountable and not let you off the hook too easily. This person might be a fellow writer, or even members of your critique group. They should check in regularly so you can account for your progress (or lack thereof).

What are some of the problems writers run into?

  • Time (scheduling/prioritizing) – Write every day, even if only for 15 minutes, and protect that time. Eventually it will become a habit.
  • Difficulty starting – Better to jump into a cold swimming pool than dip a toe in. Else you might never swim.
  • Freezing up – Sometimes you stare at the blank screen and can’t think of anything, which causes anxiety.
  • Feeling overwhelmed – The project or idea might feel too big, and you feel like you can’t start writing until you’ve figured it all out. But the best way to figure it out is to start writing. The writing itself will help you clarify the story.
  • Procrastination/binge cycle – You put off writing for days or weeks and suddenly sit and write for hours at a time.
  • Excessive early editing – You feel the need to fix that chapter, that page, that paragraph before you can go on. This causes you to write at a micro pace. Remember it doesn’t have to be perfect the first (or second, or even third) time. Just get it written.
  • Perfectionism – Similar to the previous. Save your perfectionism for the final polish.
  • Excessive research – Falling down the Wiki rabbit hole.
  • Revision loop – It’ll never be perfect, and at some point you’ve got to stop revising and say it’s good enough.
  • Unable to finish/not wanting to share your work – A fear of criticism may keep you from submitting or publishing. But not everyone will like what you write. That’s just part of the package. If you want to write just for you, that’s fine. But make that decision early on.
  • Fear of success – Rasch told the story of a man who couldn’t finish his book because he was afraid Oprah would pick it for her book club and he’d have to go on TV. Don’t get ahead of yourself. Take things one step at a time.
  • Fear that you’re a fluke – A one-hit wonder? Beginner’s luck? Maybe you’re afraid you only have the one book in you.

Hard work often pays off after time, but procrastination always pays off now.

Every time you procrastinate, you strengthen the habit of not writing. You feel relieved at first. At the end of the day, you may say to yourself, “Well, I just didn’t have the time. Oh well.” But eventually you feel terrible.

How do I change my habits?

  • Make success unavoidable – Be consistent by writing every day, even if you’re not working on the “big project.” Write anything.
  • Know your avoiding behaviors and create a strategy for dealing with them
  • Set realistic goals and break things into bite-sized chunks
  • Be okay with imperfect drafts
  • Set contingency plans – As in, “I can only go online after I’ve written for at least 15 minutes.”
  • Have a relapse strategy – If and when you fall off the wagon, have a plan in place for getting back on.

I’ll tell you some of my writing obstacles: I’ve had some bad experiences with criticism and a lack of overall success with my work. These things really undercut my motivation to keep writing. I begin to ask myself why I bother and whether I’m just wasting my time.

Also, I’ve recently gone through a serious bout of depression. That definitely impacted my desire and ability to write.

This session helped me see my way clear to getting back into writing. The energy of the conference overall was good for that as well. And it’s so important as a writer for me to have support from friends and family. So be sure that you go support your fellow writers because you’ll need theirs in return.

Do you have avoidant behaviors that cause you to procrastinate? What are your coping strategies when you’re finding it difficult to write? Tell me about it in the comments!

SFWC 2018: Synopses

One of the most onerous parts of being a writer is having to boil down the entirety of your book into 1-2 pages. I’ve often said, “If I could tell it in a page, I wouldn’t have written a book!” Still, many agents still require a synopsis. So here is some info on how to write them.

Some agents ask for a 1-page synopsis. If so, you should write it single spaced with a break between each paragraph. If you’re asked for a 2-page synopsis, you should double space with no extra break between paragraphs.

A synopsis is always written in third person present tense, regardless of the POV of the book itself. Also, a synopsis is the one place where you’ll be asked to tell instead of show. For example, if your character is old and miserly, you might literally write in your synopsis: “SCROOGE is a crotchety old miser who hates Christmas.”

Notice that I also capitalized Scrooge’s name. The woman running this session said to do that the first time you introduce a character in a synopsis. I’ll admit I’d never heard that one before. It’s something we do in screenwriting, but I have never heard of anyone doing it when writing prose. I suppose it can’t hurt.

Although a synopsis tells the story of the novel—and yes, you should give away the ending—do not simply list the events that occur by saying, “And then . . .” Vary your transitions and keep it interesting. Give character motivations, too: “Seeing the vial of poison beside Romeo’s body, Juliet kisses him in the hopes that she might also be poisoned. When that doesn’t work, she takes Romeo’s dagger . . .” You get the picture.

In fact, reading a sample synopsis for a book you’re familiar with can help you figure out how to write your own.

Final rule: omit backstory and secondary plot lines unless these things tie in with the main plot. The example that was used in this session was that of Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice. Could he be included in the synopsis? Sure. Is he entirely necessary? Probably not.

The goal of a synopsis is to give the skull of the book. I say that because, you know how forensic pathologists can recreate a face from a skull? The agent will construct a sense of your book from the synopsis. That’s probably a really weird analogy, but there you go.

SFWC 2018: Beta Readers

There are three types of pre-publication readers:

  1. Alphas
  2. Betas
  3. ARC Readers

Alpha readers are your earliest critics. These are the members of your writing group that see your roughest work.

Betas are the ones we hear about most. They read the manuscript after you’ve tidied it up from the feedback you’ve received from your alpha readers.

ARC readers are seeing the final product. You’re not looking for feedback at that point so much as people to review your book and generate some buzz.

There is one other kind of reader, and those are live readers, meaning people who are reading the book as it’s written. This is specific to display sites like Wattpad, where you may post a chapter at a time to build an audience.

Finally, there is a subcategory of readers: sensitivity readers. Those are people from a certain backgrounds that can advise authors on whether or not the representations in the book are accurate—or potentially offensive. For instance, a white hetero author writing a black transgender character would probably want a sensitivity reader to look at the manuscript prior to publication.

Okay, so why even have beta readers? Well, think of it as similar to a Hollywood test screening. When a studio makes a movie, they’ll host small screenings to get feedback from general audiences. Then they may make changes to the movie based on that feedback. Beta readers allow you to fine tune your book. At the same time, you can build a fan base or community, a group of core supporters who (hopefully) are excited about your book and will spread the word.

How do you find beta readers? The easiest way is to simply ask. Start with friends and family, but also look into online communities where members might have interest in your subject matter. Put a call out in your newsletter or put links in your ebook back matter. There are readers who would love to feel like they’re part of an exclusive group that gets a sneak peek at a new book.

How many readers do you need? The number of alpha readers will usually depend on how many people are in your critique group. If you don’t have a critique group, well, you should definitely find one. But if you can’t, at least try to find around three people to read your rough work. When you’re ready for a beta read, you want more like 10-20 readers. For ARCs, you want as many as you can get. Same for live readers—you want to hook as many as possible.

The most important aspect of getting and keeping beta readers is engaging them. Make them feel valued and special, like they’re part of an exclusive club. Create a Facebook group just for them, and keep in regular touch with them. Give them something to do—be specific about what you’d like from them. And always thank them, even if they’ve given you feedback that’s difficult to swallow. These people have given you their time for free, so they deserve your gratitude.

You’ll get the best (meaning most useful) feedback if you ask specific questions. Just don’t ask too many, or else your readers will feel overwhelmed. I use the rule of three when considering feedback. If one person says they don’t like something, it might just be them. If two people say it, I’d better take a look. If three or more people have the same issue, I need to fix/change it.

That said, don’t start editing until your results are in and conclusive. It helps to give readers a deadline and maybe send a couple of reminders. Just don’t pressure them too much. Again, they’re giving you their time for free.

When do I beta? I wrote a post a while back about the order of the writing process. You will normally beta after your critique/rewriting loop is done but before the professional edit. This is because a professional edit costs money, and you don’t want to pay for that only to have to change everything due to beta feedback. Still, that’s no excuse for giving your betas shoddy material. It needs to be clean and polished for them in a way it doesn’t need to be for your alphas.

I’ve written all this in a lead-up to introducing a site I learned about while at SFWC. It’s called BetaBooks and I’m giving it a try with Hamlette. So if you’re interested in beta reading for me, please let me know! I’ll be posting chapters on BetaBooks as I revise. I hope you’ll consider reading and giving me some feedback. At the same time, we’ll be checking out how well the BetaBooks site works. Should be fun, so please join us!