Monthly Archives: July 2012

Character Quirks

Given the title of this blog, you may perhaps be wondering what black eyeliner has to do with writing.  This is a question I pondered myself as the idea for this post took root.  The bottom line is, I love black eyeliner, and lots of it.  In fact, as far as appearance goes, my living dead eye makeup is probably one of my trademarks.  What does this say about me?  I’m not sure.  However, as a writer, I do think that little quirks like this, superficial or not, are integral to developing characters.

Whether I like it or not, the way I appear to others affects how they perceive me.  I believe the same is true for fictional characters.  If a character always has a note to himself written on the palm of his hand, this may suggest that he’s absent-minded, laid back, or a combination of the two.  Depending on the context, it could also signify something completely different.  Obviously, these external quirks can only play a supporting role in the character development process, but when used effectively, I believe they can allow a writer to convey information without beating the reader over the head with it.

This brings us back to the concept of black eyeliner.  It goes without saying that out-of-context assumptions are always dangerous.  That being said, I think that one quality shared by all who rock the raccoon eyes is a sense of boldness.  As evidence, I present ten of my favorite fictitious smokey-eyed characters:

1. Mimi Marquez (RENT)

2. Margot Tennenbaum (The Royal Tennenbaums)

3. Eric Draven (The Crow)

4. St. Jimmy (American Idiot, Broadway)

5. Jack Sparrow (Pirates of the Caribbean)

6. Spike (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

7. Germain (Foamy the Squirrel)

8. Blind Mag (Repo! The Genetic Opera)

9. Harley Quinn (DC, Various Batman Comics, Gotham City Sirens, etc.)

10. Ziggy Stardust (One of David Bowie’s most famous alter egos!)

Each of these characters is bold in some way.  Mimi Marquez is fearless, Jack Sparrow is a rogue,  and Eric Draven is an avenger.  Granted, some of these characters are bold in ways that are less admirable:  Harley Quinn is a criminal, St. Jimmy is a rabble-rousing heroin addict.  Still, regardless of their faults, these are characters I love.  They are a diverse bunch, pulled from many different media and storylines, but they are united by the way they live their invented little lives.

Obviously, the qualities I love about the characters mentioned aren’t merely suggested by their choice of eye makeup.  They are masterfully crafted through dialogue, conflict, and many other elements.  Furthermore, sometimes the external is at odds with the internal.  Sometimes that’s the whole point.  A character can’t hang on a few superficial details.  But sometimes, it’s a good place to start.



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Writer vs. Rejection Letter: An Ongoing Battle

One of my latest rejection slips–and it’s a form letter! Ouch!

Every time I get a rejection letter from a lit journal or agent, it makes me feel like I just got punched in the stomach.  It’s virtually the same sensation: pain, nausea, the desire to curl up in the fetal position for an indefinite period of time.  You’d think that after ten years of submitting my work, I’d have developed a thicker skin by now.  It’s not like I wasn’t adequately prepared.  When I was younger, friends and professors with infinitely more experience cautioned me profusely about the fact that, as a writer, my rejection letters would far outnumber my publications.  It was sound advice; at first, all I received were rejection letters.  In fact, the first time I got published, it was such a shock that I was nearly hysterical with excitement.  Of course, I received my next rejection letter soon thereafter, which sobered me up pretty quickly.

When all is said and done, I suppose these dreaded slips of paper are a necessary evil in a competitive industry.  That doesn’t mean it’s easy to receive one–I don’t think anyone looks forward to being rejected (unless you’re remarkably well-adjusted, in which case I applaud you).  However, I think what’s most important is how you move forward post-rejection.  Personally, I usually take a few hours to feel like crap.  Then, I move on.  This isn’t always easy and sometimes, I’d rather stay curled up in the fetal position on the couch.  After a blow to your confidence, it can be difficult to feel inspired, but I think there are ways to get around that.  Here are some of mine.

Write Something!  Sometimes, I turn getting rejected into a challenge.  My work wasn’t good enough for you, Magazine X?  Fine!  Chew on this!  I don’t necessarily do this on purpose, but sometimes getting rejected just compels me to write something new.  As I said earlier, it can be difficult to find inspiration post-rejection.  One of my favorite ways to get around this is to use writing prompts.  Sometimes, it’s easier to write when someone else generates my topic.  You can find a plethora of sites online dedicated to writing prompts, such as and .  For poets, it can also be helpful to write form poems when you’re feeling blocked.  This is something I’ve found incredibly effective, perhaps even more so than writing prompts.  As with writing prompts, the internet can provide numerous sites, such as, that are devoted to poetic forms.  Even when I use prompts, my post- rejection pieces aren’t always anything worth reading, but I don’t think that matters. That’s what revision is for!

Submit Somewhere Else Getting rejected can be the kick in the pants that I need to submit more writing to other publications.  I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes I get lazy about sending submissions.  I’d rather be writing poems than cover letters.  Still, my work won’t publish itself and writing those cover letters is something that I absolutely need to do.  Rejection letters usually remind me that there are many other places that I want to send my work to, and that usually results in more submissions.  Lemons to lemonade? Check!

Submit Your Rejected Work to Resurgo  Resurgo Magazine ( only features work that has previously been rejected.  Wait, it gets better.  If they publish your rejected work, it appears alongside the corresponding rejection letter.  How vindicating is that?  If you’re a writer who has ever been rejected, check them out.  I haven’t gotten around to submitting yet (as I said, I can get pretty lazy about that), but lord knows I have enough rejection letters to pick from when the time comes.

I’m sure every writer has their own ways of slogging through rejection letters.  These are some of mine.  I think that having my work rejected will probably always make me feel like I’ve gotten gut punched, but I’ve learned to live with that.  Of course, getting published every now and then doesn’t hurt either.  At the end of the day, I believe in perseverance.  If I didn’t, I probably would’ve given up a long time ago.  Ultimately, what matters most to me is that I keep on writing.

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Major Tom to Ground Control: First Post

Hi!  I’m Cara.  I like roller skates, glam rock, costume jewelry and rodents.  I’m fairly indifferent to long walks on the beach.  I created this blog to share my experiences as a writer.  This is not to say that I’ll be writing about staring at a laptop screen while the next scene in my novel builds itself in my head, or anything to that effect.  Instead, I want to explore the adventures of life that have had an impact on my writing, sometimes in unexpected ways.

Writing is my primary art form.  I started out as a poet, but after completing my M.F.A in Fiction, I discovered that I enjoy writing novels, too.  Fiction and poetry are the two areas of writing that I spend most of my energy on, but branching out into fiction made me consider exploring other forms of writing, too.  In recent years, I have also tried my hand at freelance journalism and playwriting.

Writing aside, I also dabble in a variety of other art forms, including painting, sketching, acting and dancing.  I do many of these things really badly.  However, there’s something really freeing about doing something simply for the sake of doing it.  This isn’t to say that I don’t write for writing’s sake–I do.  The difference is, I don’t care whether I’m a good painter or a good actor.  What I do care about is the quality of my writing, and sometimes sketching a really bad likeness of a hermit crab can do wonders for that.

Of course, non-arts based experiences also play roles in my writing life.  I imagine that this is probably true for most writers.  Sometimes, the situation that’s most inspiring to me is the one that’s the most uncomfortable, even if it has nothing to do with what I’m writing at the time.

Since I have not yet achieved the monumental success of, say, Jodi Picoult or Stephen King, my life as a writer is riddled with peaks and valleys.  After the umpteenth rejection letter in a row, it’s tough to keep churning out material.  On the other hand, those rejection letters usually provide the fuel I need to push past what my friend Lisa calls “analysis paralysis”.  I guess that’s part of the fun.  In the words of Hunter S. Thompson, “Buy the ticket, take the ride.”

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