In A Strange Roundabout Way

Long time no post…

Hey folks, it’s been awhile since I’ve posted. No, I haven’t forgotten my faithful readers—the one or two of you who exist—it’s just been hectic. So many things going on outside the wonderful world of writing in the real world, from the day job to household chores and family events. One very exciting thing is my upcoming class on hair and skincare for Prairieland Herbs. Wait a minute, isn’t this a blog about writing? What’s that got to do with writing? In a strange roundabout way it has everything to do with writing, at least for me.

First off, I had to come up with a simple, yet enticing blurb for their site. Think of it as a short, to the point pitch to sell your novel, in this case to sell a class. Then an outline of what I will be covering, just like outlining your book. You have an idea and you need a map on how to get from point A to point B. True, I’m not big on outlines but I still need some sort of course of action to keep me on track, whether it is in writing or teaching this class.

Next, there’s the whole getting up in front of people and getting your point across. Akin to an oral explanation of your book or practice for book signings and other promotional events, maybe someday you’ll be sitting on one of those fancy panels at a convention.

Last, but certainly not least it gets me back in the game of cosmetology practice in the real world instead of just my alternate reality. As some of you know, I’ve centered my story around a stylist and her salon. It’s been a while since I stood behind the chair and had to impart some sort of information or service to someone other than friends or family. Sure, I remember doing these things but it’s a far cry from actually doing them. Hands on is some of the best research when possible and the gals at Prairieland have made it possible.

I Lost ‘It’

Somewhere along the line, I lost ‘it.’

My drive to see myself in print was still there. My passion for the story was there, obscured but still there. My inspiration was all around me, from the doll resembling the main character to the music I played. But none of that mattered, because I’d lost ‘it.’

In April, we went to see Trans-Siberian Orchestra and talk about getting bitch slapped. I could see ‘it.’ I could feel ‘it.’ I could damn near taste ‘it.’ Tears welled, heart pounded, the hair on my arms stood with an electrical charge I hadn’t felt in quite a while. The high they exuded was so intense my mind reeled.

What I saw and felt was unrestrained bliss and fulfillment; they were doing what they wanted to be doing. They not only reveled in what they were doing but also shared it, showing me the error of my ways and what I’d lost. I didn’t know what I’d lost until that moment. ‘It’ was the unbridled joy of sitting at the keyboard, doing what I wanted to do, write.

Somehow, somewhere I’d lost the pure joy I felt when I sat at the keyboard. Writing had become work. Work?! No, I’m not channeling Maynard G. Krebs, but I do empathize with him. Yes, writing is work, but when you have that unadulterated love in the mix, it doesn’t feel like work.

Now I’m off to sit in paradise and work…I mean do what I want to be doing.

Write, rewrite, revise and repeat

Write, rewrite, revise and repeat. Such is the life of a wanna be writer, or at least this one.

Finished the writing part, the story has a beginning, a middle and even an ending. Next, the major rewrite, some of that beginning, middle and end tossed aside. Painful as it was those parts served no purpose in ‘this’ story.

I’m in the home stretch of going through and either accepting or ignoring my critique partner’s suggestions. Once I’ve finished this part I need to go back to the beginning and read it as a reader instead of a writer. There are things I know need expounding. Some are questions raised by my C.P. others are things I ‘know’ need to be added.

What do I do next? Pass it on to a couple of trusted Beta Readers. Collect their thoughts and questions and start the process all over again.

If you were living under the impression that writing is easy, you’d better wakeup. Writing is far from ‘easy,’ it’s hard work. If you’re not willing to put the time or energy into producing your best work you better find another vocation.

Maybe I’m too picky. With all the talented people out there, I need to do my ‘best’ work if I want a chance of seeing it in print. On that note, I need to get back to work.

Yes, I know I’ve shortchanged you. A teeny tiny post this month and none last, but it’s all about priorities. I’m sacrificing the posts to the gods of writing that I might have a saleable book. Keep your fingers crossed.

Reading Is Fundamental

Time flies, even when you’re not having fun. Think I’m lying? Take a look at the clock; you just lost precious seconds reading this. What I want to know is where the hell it goes, especially my reading time.

Seriously, no matter how much I try I have less and less time to read. Not a good thing with my chosen profession of writing or the job I fell into at the library. Yeah, yeah, I know reading is fundamental for both.

Unfortunately, it’s not the same type of ‘fun’ it used to be. No longer the escape I took from reality, but my job. I can hear the sarcastic chorus of ‘Poor Amy, wish I had a job where I had to read.’ I can see the eye rolls and disgust that comes with my complaints. I also see the total lack of respect when I explain that I ‘have’ to read because of my jobs.

I understand for most reading is a luxury, a hobby, entertainment. Once upon a time, that’s what it was for me. My idea of a great night was a good book, munchies and something to sip. It still is, but now I look at that great book differently.

I rarely flip through the pages like a madwoman falling into the story, oblivious to the world around me. I take my time savoring every word, sometimes rereading passages to see how the author did what they did. Authors spend a lot of time doing the research, crafting the story, making sure it’s polished; their work deserves a little respect.

Not to say I ‘never’ devour a book anymore, there are a few authors who just suck me in and don’t let go until I hit the last page. Those usually end up in my keeper pile, reread after the initial glow is gone.

I also should factor in I don’t always read just one book at a time. At present, I’m reading three for learning purposes and pleasure, an urban fantasy, a science fiction and a paranormal romance. Then there’s the young adult for the library discussion group. Oh, almost forgot the two on writing–editing to be exact–and the pages my critique partner gave me.

Hmm, that’s a lot of reading. Maybe I should skip the housework and attack one of those books, after all it’s part of my job.

Tweet Tweetly-Tweet

Most people think social networking websites are a waste of time or for hooking up.  In my youth that meant something entirely different but, I digress.  Yes, you can while away the hours with meaningless chatter but, you can also learn things.  I have.

I’ve spent time on LinkedIn, LiveJournal, MySpace and FaceBook, fun and believe it or not informative.  I don’t mean what Aunt so and so is up to, yes, nice to know but there’s more to it than that.  I fought setting up both of the later pages, finally giving in and along came Twitter.  I couldn’t see the point in joining.  I mean really, who wants to read snippets of my day in 40 characters or less?  Reading my attempts at blogging are bad enough, right?  Oh wait, you’re reading this aren’t you?  Ooops.

Cheryl—you guessed it, the super talented chick who follows me every month—said, ‘Give it a try, you’ll be surprised.’  I gave in and have to admit I am surprised.  Surprised that people actually follow me—besides my Saturday Writers cohorts—hell, I’ve even got a few published writers reading my prattle.

Most of those I follow are industry professionals. Other writers, agents, editors, publishers ect.  Most of them willingly answer questions when asked.  Don’t ask them what the secret to becoming published is, by now you should know.  Butt in chair, fingers on keyboard!  Don’t try to get them to read your WIP or ask personal questions that are none of your business.  Things like that are just rude and unprofessional.

I’m not afraid to ask questions—I have and have received answers—I just find myself learning more by reading the tidbits they toss us.  Some of these little gems I’ve marked as favorites and I’ll share a few with you.

Yasmine Galenorn—I use “said” as little as possible. And I hardly ever use any other dialog tags. I use action to denote who’s speaking. For ex: “You actually kissed the zombie?” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “Yeah, it was gross.” He shuddered.

Rachel Vincent—My fight scenes must be written in layers. 1st: the blow by blow. 2nd: the pain and reactions. 3rd: internal thoughts. 4th: goings on around.

Laurell K. Hamilton—One of Hamilton’s rules of writing is: The more fantastic thing you expect a reader to believe the more real your reality better be.

Laurell K. Hamilton—Ray Bradbury said, “The muse cannot resist a working writer.” Sit down and write anything see if it breaks something loose. The worst thing you can possibly do is sit & stare at the blank screen, or paper, writing anything is more productive.

The obsession factor runs high with all of these sites, as said before you can lose yourself in them.  Will power is a must when using any or all of them.  Think of them as the carrot at the end of the stick, hit your goal and you are allowed to look.  If inspiration runs low set a timer and do a little reading, something may take spark.  When the timer goes off close the window so you won’t be tempted to peek and get back to work.

Now it’s your turn.  What if any social networking sites do you frequent?  Do you fall into the waste of time camp or do you find them useful?  Don’t be shy.  Share your opinions and what you’ve learned!  I’m listening, I mean reading…

Out With The Old And In With The New

In a few days we’ll be tossing 2009 off like an old pair of shoes and slipping into 2010.  Blinded by all its shinny newness we forget you have to break it in, wear it a bit before it becomes comfortable.  We’ll even glance longingly at the old year, but there’s no going back.

This sudden feeling of nostalgia is brought on by a conversation I had with one of my co-Saturday Writers, Natalie.  We were discussing her latest work, something she’d written ages ago and decided to refine.  I’ll let her fill you in on the specifics, if and when she’s ready.

Just like time, stories evolve. Something once thought a lost cause can evolve into something workable.  My own longing for the past as well as my pack-rat habits have worked to my advantage.  Many of my failed starts and old research have evolved into my current work.

Disenchanted started out as an epic fantasy. My main character just wasn’t into the whole awe inspiring history I’d built or the breathtaking landscape I’d set the story in.  I won’t even mention her less than enthusiastic feelings toward the lack of modern conveniences.

I tried–I really tried–to make it work but it just didn’t fit.  There was no hope of breaking it in, making it comfortable.  I tried new viewpoint characters, but my original main just kept pacing around in my head.  I tried new ‘bad guys’ but she still wasn’t interested.  I tried new plot lines but she would just stand there checking out her nails.  I tried new settings but all she would do is lament about Iowa.  The day I caught her fiddling with another character’s hair was when it clicked.

“It’s about time you clued in,” she said.  “Write what you know.”

I was able to use most of my research and character notes.  Only two original characters survived, others were added or changed to fit.  The setting and basic plot were changed.  My epic fantasy became a contemporary fantasy.
This would have never been possible if I hadn’t kept the first attempts and all my research.  Natalie’s current work would never have become what it is if she had trashed the first story.

With 2010 right around the corner it’s time for something new, but don’t toss out the old.  As you begin breaking it in look back fondly at 2009 and hoard those memories and experiences.  You never know when you’ll have need of them.

Giving Thanks For Guilty Pleasures

We spend every Thanksgiving with my in-laws and I’m asked to bring turkey cookies.  No, they aren’t made with turkey, just decadent butter cookies shaped that way.  The mother-in-law claims it’s because the nephews ask for them.  In truth, it’s the adults I see nibbling at them throughout the day, especially my mother-in-law’s sister.  Last year she came clean, saying she looks forward to them, her guilty pleasure.

As I rolled out the dough, it got me thinking.  These cookies and fantasy have a lot in common.  Like the mother-in-law and the cookies, most people assume fantasy is just for kids.  Not all fantasy books are for children and adults can enjoy even those that are.  I’ll admit to loving many books geared toward young adult and juvenile.

I know being a geek is cool now days, but when I was younger reading fantasy or scifi pretty much torched your social life.  Trekkies and Tolkien fans were looked upon as a social caste all their own.  Even the lower echelons of high school society looked down on the readers of scifi and fantasy.  Funny thing is many of those same bashers had fired a laser or yielded a sword of power.  Like my mother-in-law’s sister and the cookies, those books were their guilty pleasure.

Both scifi and fantasy have become more mainstream over the years.  It’s okay to carry one around in your pocket or read them in public.  I have to say some of this acceptance is due to another bastard genre, romance.  Romance comes in many flavors.  It has introduced things like the paranormal or futuristic to readers who would have never picked them up otherwise.

If you look closely you will find touches of the fantastic in many genres.  You probably just didn’t recognize it at the time.  From scientific discoveries and futuristic settings to myth and lore, all veiled in the literary or mainstream.

As an example how many of you have read a book where the main character, a dead little girl tells her story?  To me this book borders on the fantastic but is shelved in mainstream.  What about all you Stephen King lovers?  Anne Rice?  Alice Hoffman?  How about Heather Graham or Nora Roberts?

Browse the shelves of your local library or bookstore.  It’s no longer contained, caged in one section.  Instead it’s spreading, giving readers what they want and need.  From a trip into the farthest reaches of the galaxy to sexy monsters and super heroes, an escape from reality even if it is just for three hundred pages.

Some will continue to hide these books behind paper bag covers or the guise of another genre, never admitting their trips to these other worlds.  But that’s okay.  Sometimes we need to keep things to ourselves, making it special.  A sweet escape from reality, our guilty pleasure.

This Thanksgiving I’m thankful for all the authors who have made my not-so-guilty pleasure possible.

Who’s Driving This Thing Anyway?

It’s my turn at the wheel of the Saturday Writers bus.  Which way do I go?  Left?  Right?  Straight ahead?  How about I back it up and try again, on second thought let’s just go around the block.  Everyone who knows me knows I have a lousy sense of direction.  I could get lost in my own house.  I damn sure get lost every time I venture out unless I have a set plan, street address and landmarks to follow.

So why is I don’t use this same strategy with my writing?  Wouldn’t it be easier than cruising the tangled web of my mind?  There are signs pointing in all directions, but some point me down the wrong route.  Interesting and fun places not always pertinent to this story, but some deserve a revisited in the future.

I pause to ask characters directions, big mistake.  Sometimes it’s like having too many backseat drivers, all wanting to go in different directions.  Other times it’s like having someone as clueless as myself guiding me.  You can never tell if they really don’t know or if they are just unwilling to share.

Why don’t I just ask my SW buddies?  Hmm, good question.  Probably because they are all busy with their own projects, but most likely because I don’t know how to put into words what I need help with.  Whoa, back up the bus.  A writer who doesn’t know how to put her needs and thoughts into words, that’s a scary thought.

It’s true.  I’m a lousy communicator when it comes to things involving me.  Maybe it’s the whole asking for help thing.  I rarely do it and when I do you know I’m in big trouble.

I’m not afraid that they won’t like what I wrote.  Not every story or genre is for everyone and I’m cool with that.  I’m not afraid they will find mistakes, there are plenty of them and I’d rather they were pointed out before I hand it over to the professionals.

What I don’t need is someone trying to wrestle the wheel away from me; this is MY twisted little journey.  I don’t need someone telling me what I’ve done is wrong no ifs, ands or buts about it.  I don’t need or want someone to write it for me.  That’s my job.  Its bad enough I’ve got characters playing backseat driver.  I’m easily confuzzled and too many people telling me what to do just overloads the system.

In the end I’m the only one who can ‘tell’ this story. I just need to learn to ask for directions when needed, but keep my hands tightly on the wheel.

Na Na Na Fangirl!

I arrive early and wander into the coffee shop at the library.  My jaw drops and I try to keep it together.  The last thing I want is to look like an idiot, too late, considering I’m standing there catching flies.  Sitting in the middle of the shop is the one, the only, Rachel Caine.  Fangirl gushes to the surface, but I smack her down, manage to shut my mouth and head to the counter.

Waiting for my dose of caffeine I sneak covert looks—okay, not so covert. I’m no Bond girl—at the woman.  Don’t go over there. Go over there. Hey, she deserves her quiet time before she has to stand there fielding questions from crazy fans like yours truly.  The little war raging in my head is cut short as she gets up to leave and comes to a complete halt when one of the librarians escorts her away.

Shoes Rachel Caine Tweeted About
Shoes Rachel Caine Tweeted About

With a sigh of relief, I silently thank the librarian for taking her away before I make a complete dork out of myself.  Problem is they don’t take her far enough.  They’re gathered at the front desk chatting and that’s when I notice she’s wearing the ankle boots she tweeted about.

There it is again no longer lurking in the shadows, but pushing to the surface.  Fangirl!  I fight the urge to squeal and point for that would surly turn into clapping and jumping up and down as I giggle.  I’ve got to get a hold of myself, no woman my age should be acting like this!  Hell, I didn’t act this childish when I was in my twenties and met Kip Winger.  And he kissed my hand.  Luckily the librarian leads her away.

With yet another sigh of relief I start watching for Cheryl.  Yes, that Cheryl.  Oops sorry I forgot you can’t see me pointing to my fellow SW buddy.  You can read about her take on our night out at Learn To Write Fiction.  I promise it will be a lot more polished, professional and educational too.  As I wait for Cheryl and her beau I wander the magazine racks and guess who is sitting just beyond them.  The little war starts again but I side with the little angel on my right shoulder and make my way toward the doors.

Now that little sigh of relief is triggered by the arrival of, oh so calm, Cheryl.  If I were her I’d head for the hills at the sight of my glazed eyes and flushed cheeks.  Instead she grins and shows me what I kick myself for not thinking of, her camera.

Five on the dot the doors open and we enter the conference room.  This is where Fangirl shows up again.  Rachel is doing a PowerPoint presentation and her desktop is projected onto the wall.  ‘Damn,’ I say to Cheryl, ‘I’m looking into a real writer’s computer.’  She laughs, but I feel like some big secret has been revealed to me.

When the program begins I manage to stop gawking and pay attention.  I even take notes.  The Hammer Films retrospect hits a soft spot, Fangirl of course is screeching in my ear, ‘She likes Hammer Films too!’  I’m a little more than tired of her and her antics, it’s become easier to ignore.  Then Rachel decides to do the drawing for the door prizes.

Fangirl & Rachel
Fangirl & Rachel

One guess as to whose number she draws for the grand prize.  Fangirl…I mean mine.  Walking over to accept my prize—the audio of Glass Houses—I attempt to hold my breath.  Yeah, that works.  Instead of keeping my cool I stand there like a moron and try to hand her my ticket.  The librarian looks at me a little strangely, but hey I deserve it.

Once the program is over I get the extreme pleasure of meeting the people behind bringing Rachel to Iowa.  Rockwell City Librarian Sarah Weiss and her partner in crime Cosmetologist Angel Crouse. These girls are a delight and not only does one work in a library like yours truly, but the other is a stylist my previous profession!  Talk about a cowinky-dink.  The girls as well as Rachel graciously agree to let us post their picture and even their real names, none of that changing the names to protect the innocent stuff.  After all the only thing they are guilty of is bringing the magic that is Rachel Caine to Iowa and writing damn good books!

 Angel, Rachel & Sarah
Angel, Rachel & Sarah

And with that we put Fangirl back in the shadowy recesses of my mind where she belongs.  Call her out at your own risk.  Pointing, clapping, jumping and much giggling will ensue.  Not to mention incessant babbling!

Writing Naked

My stomach clenches in fear.  Tears gather in my eyes.  Flames of anger threaten to engulf.  An unexpected snort of laughter slips out.  The breeze from an open window pulls me back reminding me of my surroundings.  It’s all there bare, exposed.  I’ve been writing naked.

When I write, I put my emotions on display.  I draw on those feelings and infuse them into my characters.  To those of you who thought I really did write in the buff…well what can I say?  To each their own fantasies or nightmares whatever the case may be.

It’s a lot like method acting.  There’s nothing wrong with borrowing something that works and using it to your own advantage.  Actors don’t own the franchise on channeling emotions.  Songwriters, poets and yes fiction writers can and do use the same technique.

Writing naked is not an easy task, it means dredging up painful memories or embarrassing things you’d rather forget.  Like the time I wore two different colored shoes to work.  Hey, at least they were the same style.  Remembering that humiliation made it possible to describe how a character felt in an embarrassing situation.

Writing naked also has its drawbacks, you need to know where to draw the line.  Some memories are too fresh or disturbing to explore.  If you can’t delve into a memory without hurtling into the abyss don’t go there.  You need to be able to return virtually unscathed with the information you went after and the ability to impart it into your writing.

In a world of show don’t tell, I find stripping down and baring my soul a useful tool.  The reader doesn’t need to know what I’ve based those emotions on, only what my characters are feeling.  If I’m lucky and they feel the fury, panic, misery or elation, I’ve done my job.

Come on I dare you, step a little outside your comfort zone.  Strip down and write naked.  Metaphorically that is, unless you have a more comfortable chair than I do.  The fabric on mine leaves the strangest little marks.