dianne salerni author
dianne salerni author

June garden 007I’m working on a new WIP — well, an old one actually, that I started and abandoned last September. Now, I’ve returned to it, and I’m 25k into the first draft.

I’ve reached the point where I think this is the stupidest thing I’ve ever written. It’s boring, it’s unmarketable, and it’s a waste of my time.

Which is what I think about every first draft at about 25k.

It’s a good thing I’ve learned this about myself, or I’d never finish anything. It’s also a good thing I have my critique partners to wave the pom-poms and encourage me to keep going. They keep asking me for more chapters, so I guess it’s not as crappy as it looks from this end.

Aug 2015 2This one is a challenge, though. It’s a mystery, so I’ve got that problem of where and when to put all the clues so the reader can figure out a little at a time, but still be surprised by the conclusion. There are two storylines taking place in different time periods, roughly two decades apart. And the whole narrative is non-chronological.

That’s a first for me. Telling a story out of order.

There are multiple points of view, and some chapters are excerpts from a biography of one of the characters. I’ve never written a biography before — real or fictional — so I’m having trouble getting the tone and voice right.

Parts of the story are told in first person present tense — a POV I’ve never tried before and don’t even really like very much. But this character only exists in the here and now, so this is the only way to tell her story.

Aug 2015I figure, even if I break up with this story again — or it comes to nothing — I’m learning something in the writing of it. Of course, it would be great if it turned out to be an award-winning New York Times bestseller, but in the event that doesn’t happen (LOL), I know writing it will teach me things about plotting and voice and point-of-view that I would otherwise never learn.

I spend a lot of time thinking about this story at my goldfish pond, which is where I go for inspiration. I don’t know why watching fish is so fascinating, or mesmerizing, or calming — but it is. A lot of plot issues get untangled sitting right here.

What are you working on right now? Trying anything new? Where do you go for inspiration, meditation, or just to feel as if everything is all right with the world?

Over the last week, I’ve been sitting beside my goldfish pond a lot. Partly, it’s because I’ve been brainstorming. Partly, it’s because I’m waiting for the monster to reappear.
It’s amazing how mysterious a self-contained pond with no access to the outside world can be. You’d think we’d know what was in it, huh? Of course, frogs come on their own. Sometimes we have tadpoles; sometimes we don’t. But frogs hop in from other places. Fish can’t, right?
Not true. First there were the Mystery Fish (From Outer Space) that appeared entirely on their own – read here for the story.
And there are other strange things in our pond. Every year, we see things swimming around in there and think, Where did that come from?

First of all, we’ve learned that goldfish change color over time. Babies are often black or gray and then develop color later. So, a sudden plethora of little dark fish often mean that our goldfish have had babies. Keeping track of them is hard, since their colors change rapidly.
One of the Mystery Fish (From Outer Space)

Plus, Gina has a habit of dumping into our pond critters she a) wins at carnivals b) finds in streams.

This year, I was startled one sunny day to notice that what looked at first like wrinkles in the pond bed liner were moving. They were long and skinny and grey, and when the sun shone directly upon them, we could see they were catfish – catfish that (we think) Gina brought home from some wild stream last year.
And then there was the monster. It crawled out from under a rock last week. Like the catfish, it
This picture includes one our favorite koi,
which we lost to a heron a couple years ago.
It used to eat from our hand.

was most visible when the sun shone directly on it, because it was the same color as the rocks beneath. It had giant claws and numerous pairs of scuttling feet …

It was a crayfish, maybe six inches long.
Yes, we vaguely remember that Gina may have caught some crayfish once … last year? … the year before? … They were an inch long at most. They sank to the bottom of the pond, vanished under a rock, and were never seen again. Until now.
I keep hoping to get another glimpse of it. Them. Who knows how many there are? Or how big?
I’m sure there’s a parallel to writing here – the closed system (your brain?) – the fish that change colors (revisions?) – the monsters out of the deep (eep, you subconscious?) – and the visitors that arrive from bird’s feet, eggs attached to pond plants, or critters dumped into the water by adventurers (your beta readers, agents, editors).

I’ll leave you to figure it out. I’m still watching for the monster.

I’ll be skipping my Wednesday post this week, but come back Friday for First Impressions!

It’s O’Dark Thirty in the Salerni house, and eight people are stumbling around, grabbing a bite to eat and mumbling at each other with as much civility as we can muster for this ungodly time of day. Then my niece, Olivia, puts on her fishing hat and gives me a big grin, and I laugh and grab my camera.  With a hat like this, I think, how can we not get lucky?

Sadly, however, this year’s family fishing trip was a bust.  Thirteen people on the boat in the Delaware Bay for 8 hours, and we didn’t go home with a single fish.  Not one.  Even the throw-backs were few. We may have caught 2 dozen over the course of the whole day.
Sometimes, no matter how great your fishing hat, you don’t catch any fish. We had great bait, too – lively minnows.  We know they were great bait because the darn bluefish kept chomping them in half.  Time after time, we’d feel that one tug on the line and then nothing … and with a sigh we’d reel up our line to find just the minnow’s head.
The most exciting part of the day was when my dad almost pulled in a shark that was as big as Olivia (I swear!), but it jumped off the line before he could get it in the boat. 
You know where I’m going with this, don’t you? Our whole fishing trip could be a metaphor for querying and submitting.  The awesome hat that didn’t help one bit.  The bait chomped in half.  The big fish we didn’t land.
Of course, we still had fun.  My sister’s family was making their annual visit from Kansas, and it was a great opportunity to see some of our cousins, who joined us on the boat. It was Olivia’s first fishing trip.  The weather was gorgeous.  My sister laid dibs on our brother’s fishing rod should anything happen to him, and I graciously withdrew any claim to it. (He was the only one pulling in fish, even if they were too small.)  We had sandwiches and Tastykakes and beer.  We were disappointed not to have a fish dinner that night, but that won’t stop us from booking another trip next year.
I don’t know if the writing metaphor completely works here, because when you’re querying and submitting and pulling in no fish, nobody says they had fun anyway.  The company might be good, if you’re hanging out in the blogosphere with your writing pals, and there may or may not be Tastykakes and beer. (Probably not Tastykakes if you live outside Pennsylvania.)  But even if it’s no fun whatsoever, you can’t stop trying.  Not ever.  Keep casting your line, and don’t forget to book the next trip. Bring your best hat – and a fourteenth person, for heaven’s sake.  Thirteen fishermen was probably a bad idea …

Can anyone identify this species of fish?

About three years ago, approximately 2 dozen of these fish appeared suddenly in our pond. They were about ½ inch long when we first spotted them, and in the past 3 years, they’ve grown to 7-9 inches. Before anyone asks, our pond is a closed system with an upper pond …

… and a lower pond joined by a pump.

These fish look nothing like any other fish we have, so they weren’t babies of our existing fish. It’s as if they just dropped from the sky (or outer space). Now, my friend Kelley Crist did admit to sneaking into our yard when we weren’t home one year and depositing a bucket of frogs in our pond (No, I don’t know why, either. Ask her.), but she adamantly denies delivering these fish.

They are all dark-green to black in color. Some of them have a silver streak along their backs at the base of the top fin. (Military rank?) We wanted to catch one of those to photograph, but they were too quick. Our regular goldfish are dumb enough to be caught by a net again and again, but not these mystery fish and especially the striped ones. (It’s as if their mother ship warned them about this.)

Now, brace yourself for the weirdest part of this story. In the fall of the year they first appeared, we decided to drain the upper pond and clear out the algae. As the water level dropped, we discovered another of these fish – living all by himself, upstream, in the upper pond. He was twice as big as the others (because he was their leader).

One more interesting point: When our pond was robbed of all the largest fish this spring (by a heron, a juvenile delinquent, or the Fish Rapture – don’t know which), these fish all escaped harm. They are all still here.

If anyone can tell me what kind of fish this is – or make up a plausible interesting story about how they got in my pond – I’d love to hear from you!

Which pet do you think would make the better “guard animal” for your house?

An 80 lb German Shepherd with sharp teeth?

Or a 10 lb black cat?

If you picked the dog, you’d be wrong – at least in our case. Since we lost Maui and adopted Sorcia, we’ve been robbed blind … of fish.

Last week I reported the loss of our beautiful 8 lb golden koi. Now most of the rest of the fish are gone as well. It’s like the Rapture happened after all, but only the fish got to go. However, I suspect the fish have gone NOT to a better place, but into a heron’s tummy.

A heron has terrorized our neighborhood goldfish ponds for years, but he always left us alone. We figured this was because our pond is sheltered under the deck and too close to the house for the bird’s comfort. But I also saw Maui take him on and chase him off the property – never mind that the bird was WAY bigger than the cat.

Maui was hit by a car about 18 months ago (breaking our hearts), and then we got Sorcia. Since then Mr. Heron views our pond as an All-You-Can-Eat-Buffet. Where is Sorcia while the bird is chowing down? I don’t know – maybe snoozing in the garage?

A neighbor suggested stringing fishing lines across the top of the pond. That’s probably one of the first things we could try. My husband checked out the internet for suggestions, but what he learned only confused us more.

1)Herons don’t like ponds that are sheltered under an overhang.

Well, this one got over it, or it’s not a heron after all.

2)Once a heron has discovered a good source of food, he will return again and again, emptying the pond.

Yeah, we’re at that point. There’s nothing left in our pond but 1-2 inch minnows.

3) Herons usually cannot carry off really big fish and will often eat them on the premises, leaving carcasses behind. If your fish are disappearing completely, without a trace, then it might be a land predator, such as a raccoon.
Great. Now we’re not sure what kind of enemy we’re fighting. The fish have been disappearing without a trace.

4) The very, very best thing you can do to keep away a heron or a raccoon is buy a great big dog.

Sigh. That’s a big FAIL, Sorcia. Shame on you.

Do you like fishing? I admit it’s not something I like to do often, but I do enjoy an occasional family fishing trip. This picture is from a family outing a couple years ago. That’s me and my family, my sister’s family, my father, brother, and uncle.

Publishing is a little like fishing. You throw your lines in the water … and then you wait. You might even have multiple fishing lines in at the same time. Whether it’s queries to agents or submissions to editors or even a screenplay circulating around Hollywood (ahem), the hardest part is the waiting, watching for one of those lines to twitch, hoping to reel in a fish.

There’s lots of ways to wait. You can keep pulling in your line to see what’s on it.

My sister to her son: “Cameron, if you reel that line in one more time, so help me …!”

You can keep changing the bait.

One daughter to another: “Try sticking a bloodworm between two pieces of squid and making a sandwich.”

You can see what’s in the cooler.

My brother and I: “Hey, Dianne, can you pass me a beer?” – “Sure, Brian, if you hand me those Tastykakes.”

What do you do while you’re waiting for something to bite on your line?

And speaking of fish, I am really sad to report that my beautiful golden koi is gone from my pond. He was there when the pond thawed in the spring, swimming around in the deepest part. And then he simply vanished. No body, no nothing. That fish muat have been around 8 pounds, so I’m thinking it had to be a heron or a raccoon that got him. I am really bummed. Below is the video I made last year of him eating out of my hand and sucking on my fingers.