Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Spooked-out Text.

In honor of Halloween, I though I’d blog about spooked-out text (hardy, har, har, har), you know, the big black-ed out words, passages, paragraphs, or even pages of material that has been censored by the CIA?

Have you seen them?

Rebecca Traister at Salon.com does not find them amusing.

I like those long blocks of redactions in spy novels. I rather like knowing what someone thinks I’m not allowed to know, thank you very much.

When I first stumbled across them, I was like ... what the f*ck? But I quickly began approaching them like a puzzle, trying to imagine what the blacked-out words were. Hmm ... seems approximately three letters in length ... hmm ... gun?

What’s great about the blacked (or grayed, in this case)-out text in Valerie Plame’s autobiography is that if you turn to the back, the information in the public records the CIA would not allow Plame to include has been reported in an afterword.

So it’s very simple to flip to the back and fill in the blanks. A bit like a puzzle -- fun!

It is also a bit ridiculous, because if the information is already in public records, if any moron can flip to the back of the book and fill in "Athens," then why didn’t they just let her say Athens?

Oh well.

In novels, this is more or less amusing. Why leave them in? It does add to the ambience and gives the author a certain aura of credibility. It’s also fun, like a puzzle.

And since I enjoy using my imagination, it’s fun to fill in the blanks with all sorts of preposterous ideas. Probably much more interesting than the secret, anyway.

But to have whole words, whole phrases, and whole sentences blacked out definitely interrupts the storytelling experience.

Barry Eisler never has blacked-out words. It’s possible that the CIA has never censored a single word in his novels, but it doesn’t seem likely. I’ve come to the assumption that he must re-write those sentences to edit out offending words so that his storytelling is seamless.

He’s such a good storyteller that I think that’s a wise decision.

What do you think?

And ... HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!

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About Series.

Series have been on my mind, lately. Nathan Bransford calls series a tricky beast in the debut querier. As you guys know, I know nothing about the NY publishing world. But I have noticed certain things about readers, though, and I wonder if they’ll transfer (should I get the opportunity).

Lots of readers love series.

I never thought to ask myself why--perhaps the most important question to ask--until a reader asked if a novella I’d written (to start a new series) had been inspired by another series. I’d heard of this other series, but his world had taken on such a cult classic sort of life that I didn’t even know there were books, LOL. Just thought it was a Dungeons & Dragons sort of thing or something (evidently there are books for that, too).

So I investigated it and was amazed at the lengths readers had taken to live in this fictional world, the lengths they had gone to immerse themselves in this world, the fact that this series--crafted, er, a tad, er, um, not-so-greatly--has been inspiring new readers, fan fiction, and countless websites for forty years!

Wow.

Why?

We hear a lot about creating great characters, but I think it’s more than a great character and a funny sidekick. It’s the world. The trick is to create a world that makes you just wish, with all your heart, that you could live there, visit there, escape there.

One of my readers wrote that she wished she could visit this little place I’d created, and I wrote back that it had been my fervent dream for many, many years.

So as I’m thinking of building a world for November (don’t remind me that it’s only ONE DAY AWAY!), I don’t want interesting, clever rules.

I want to find a world my heart aches for.

What do you think? Ever read a series that made you wish you could pack up and move there? What hooks you most in a series? Character or World? Or a combination?

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

At Least ...

Sometimes I read a book by some amazing author and I’m left more than a little depressed. My stomach starts doing this ... churning thing and my jaw tightens.

Then comes the I must write better.

By that I don’t mean better than that author, but better than I currently am. It’s inevitable that we compare ourselves, that we look at ourselves with a jaundiced eye.

It’s important that we seek out authors whose writing is so much better than us that they kick our ass or punch us in the stomach. So good you’re left beaten, down for the count, none of this giggle and just tripped, is all.

As I lay there, I start planning how I’m going to write more, read more, study how novels are constructed more, push myself to sharpen my voice more ...

And as I wonder if I have the talent or the smarts or the ability, I’m only left with one consolation.

At least I can work harder, longer, smarter.

*sigh*

You ever feel sucker-punched by someone else’s great book? How do you get up?

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Monday, October 29, 2007

Espresso Book Machine

Marcus Sakey at The Outfit: A Collective blogged today about the future of books, "Books 2.0."

Have you heard of the Espresso Book Machine? Evidently, they’re placing them in between 10 and 25 libraries and bookstores this year, even the New York Public Library. You press a button, and it prints out a book with a color cover, fully bound, everything.

What would that mean to the industry? Less waste, the ability for publishers to take more chances without loss of profit ... but then also more work for the authors to stand out of the crowd, more work for the reader to find books. But every Starbucks could have a book machine. You grab a cup of coffee, print out a book, enjoy an afternoon.

But then whole bookstores might become 100% co-op. After all, there’s a book machine in the store. Right now it may not print royalty books, but I’m sure it won’t be long. Why risk printing books if they’re available in store at the touch of a button? So publishers might be taking bigger risks by having print runs at all.

Readers will still buy more of the books they see up front. And a little less of the ones on the regular shelves. And much less of the books not in the store. Hence, real estate on actual bookshelves would be more competitive.

Oh, who knows. It’s cool to watch it work, isn’t it?

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Sunday, October 28, 2007

Thrilling Sales (10/22 - 10/28)

First of all, go to Magical Musings, because they came up with this idea. (Will you forgive me for covering that which you don’t? They don’t report Thrillers, Crime, or Mystery. Heck, I’ll throw in Horror since Stewart sometimes pops by. ;-) )

Then, of course, go to Publisher’s Marketplace because they have coolest information.

Thriller

AUTHOR: Ken Follett
TITLE: The Century Trilogy (three-book deal)
EDITORS: Leslie Gelbman at NAL and Brian Tart at Dutton
PUBLICATION: hardcover in 2010, 2012, 2014
AGENT: Amy Berkower at Writers House

"focusing on personal dramas set against the looming background of world-changing Twentieth Century historical events up through the Cold War"

Mystery/Crime

AUTHOR: Ira Berkowitz
TITLE: Old Flame (two-book deal)
EDITOR: Julian Pavia for Three Rivers Press
AGENT: David Larabell at David Black Literary Agency
"a gritty noir set in Hell’s Kitchen, in the vein of the author’s debut Family Matters"

AUTHOR: Malla Nunn
TITLE: A Beautiful Place to Die
EDITOR: Emily Bestler at Atria
AGENT: Catherine Drayton at Inkwell Management, on behalf of Cameron Creswell
DEAL: auction
"set in South Africa at the time of the introduction of apartheid"

AUTHOR: Richard Yancey
TITLE: Book 3 & 4
EDITOR: Marcia Markland at Thomas Dunne Books
AGENT: Brian DeFiore at DeFiore and Company
"in the ’highly effective detective’ series, featuring a bumbling, earnest detective and his lovable girl friday/favorite waitress"

AUTHOR: Livia Washburn
TITLE: Book #4 in the Fresh-Baked Mystery Series
EDITOR: Brent Howard at NAL
AGENT: Kim Lionetti at BookEnds
DEAL: “nice deal” ($1 - $49,000)

AUTHOR: Donn Taylor
TITLE: Melodies for Murder
EDITOR: Andy McGuire at Moody
PUBLICATION: 2008
AGENT: Terry Burns at Hartline Literary Agency
DEAL: “nice deal” ($1 - $49,000)
"measured to take a fall for a murder they didn’t commit, two unlikely sleuths team up to clear themselves"

AUTHOR: Lisa Harris
TITLE: Final Deposit
EDITOR: Krista Stroever at Steeple Hill
PUBLICATION: September 2008
AGENT: Joyce Hart at Hartline Literary Agency
DEAL: “nice deal” ($1 - $49,000)
"in which a woman’s father falls victim to a foreign scam; after disposing of all his stocks, mortgaging his house, and maxing out his credit cards, he flies to meet with the man who promised him millions for his help in expediting funds out of West Africa"

AUTHOR: Susan Page Davis
TITLE: Inside Story
EDITOR: Kim Moore at Harvest House
AGENT: Chip MacGregor at MacGregor Literary
DEAL: “nice deal” ($1 - $49,000)
"about an investigative journalist and a U.S. Navy officer looking into some strange goings-on in the Philippines"

Horror

AUTHOR: Terence Taylor
TITLE: Bite Marks and Blood Stains
EDITOR: Monique Patterson at St. Martin’s
PUBLICATION: 2009
AGENT: Victoria Sanders at Victoria Sanders & Associates
"BITE MARKS, set in the downtown New York City art scene circa 1986, and BLOOD STAINS, the sequel set 20 years later"

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The Silly Goals, the Silly Stats.

Do you have any silly goals? Ones that don’t really mean that much, but stick in your mind anyway?

My goal for a long time was to get past selling one million words. Or at least one million words of finished and polished work. Well, in my guesstimations, I thought I’d get there by the end of this year.

I’m way short.

As it stands, I’ve definitely written 630,966 words, plus an estimated 92,000 that I’ve lost. (Two novellas and three short stories, and I refuse to buy my own stories just to count, LOL.) That’s only 722,966 words.

I should be at about 855,000 by the end of the year.

So, middle of next year, hopefully! Not that it matters.

And I’ve been saying I’ve sold fifteen novellas for about two years now. Oopsy, I lied. I counted today, realizing that such a number wouldn’t stay the same, LOL. I’m just now at sixteen, so I was wrong. I’ve sold forty-two short stories, though. Holy crap. Can you believe that? I can’t. Who would’ve ever thought me would get forty-two short stories done?!

That’s not that much. Ray Bradbury wrote one story a week for like, years, didn’t he?

The other silly number and goal I’ve got stuck in my head is one hundred novels. I don’t know why. LOL. Well, hey, if Nora can do it, why can’t I? Maybe they won’t be as good ...

At this point, ONE novel would be nice, LOL. Here I am worried about a hundred. Several of my novellas were novels I split into two parts, but they don’t feel like novels. They have 6 hinges instead of 3, LOL. Come to think of it, do novels have more turns or just bigger turns than novellas? More subplots layered in with the three big, main turns, or what?

Shit, I never thought about that. Do you know?

Come to think of it, where did I ever get the idea it was right to have 3 pivotal scenes in a novella?

Oh boy. Methinks I’m getting scared for nano. Tough.

So what about you? Do you have any goals that are just a tad ... silly? And why do we sometimes feel embarrassed, admitting our dreams? That’s silly, too.

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I love writing.

Novel Journey has a great (and rare) interview with Dean Koontz. He answers each question with care and attention; I wouldn’t be surprised if he spent several days on it. He says that he likes writing much more than having written.

Then I was reading Stewart’s post about journaling, and he mentioned that some people complained they didn’t want to write every day because it was too confining.

When I read that, I sort of went bug-eyed. I thought, are you kidding me? I can’t imagine a day without writing. I can’t imagine not wanting to write about everything, not wanting to put my thoughts into coherent paragraphs for this blog, not wanting to spill my whinings and complainings into a big dump file, not wanting to push forward with my latest story and see where it goes.

So in the comment section, I typed, "I love writing." I almost erased it. Well, you know, it sounds a little cheesy. DH had to practically pry the love word out of me when we were dating.

This love of writing wasn’t an instant-on thing. Sure, when I wrote that first story, I had a total crush on the process. I remember I couldn’t wait to play and toy with the words. It was so fun! I’d grin at the screen and play with a single sentence for an hour!

But then I had to finish that first novella, after my very first story won a tiny little contest and was turned into a first chapter. I’d write a chapter, send it off, it would be posted, and I’d get a check. This situation made for a lousy reading experience, but, at the time, it was the norm (e. had not boomed yet, and EC hadn’t been born).

Of course I totally wrote myself into a corner. I know I switched heroes halfway through. I got stuck. I couldn’t go back and change things, which meant I had a huge mess on my hands that I had to pull together anyway.

With a stack of how-to-write books beside me, I muddied through it. The first crush feelings were gone. It was work.

Then I wrote to understand humans, intimacy, my sexuality. The writing was secondary to my psychological journey. Writing itself became an up and down process where I would sometimes take weeks off, months off, until I missed it so much that writing and I would ’get back together’ again.

Through the grittiest, hardest part of learning the craft, money was my savior. I needed money, so I wrote. Without that, I would still be on the same novel, the same first chapter, fretting that it sucked. Even two years ago I took six whole months off to research (okay, I read voraciously but really got little writing done).

There are days when I wish I could just stay home, when I hate the fact that I can’t just sit around the house and play a game or watch TV. There are days where the prospect of writing makes my teeth grind--the exact same feeling I get on those days when DH just chews so gawddamned loudly, you know?

I’ve briefly considered, now and then, whether or not I liked writing. Mostly I just did it. I just obeyed the call of the keys.

Yesterday, though, was a bit of an epiphany. I love writing. I had no idea. I don’t know when it happened, exactly. The thought of going a day without writing is preposterous to me. Don’t tell DH, but when he wants us to go away for the weekend? My first thought is damn, I won’t be able to write. Isn’t that horrible?

But so often you hear writers say if you really love it, you’ll find the time to sit down and write. You should have the motivation, you should have that love.

That is so ass-backwards.

Sure, there is love at first sight, but even then, there’s a journey to a deeper love. There are times when you almost break up, when you do break up, when you get back together, when you just don’t feel like being around each other. And then one day, gradually, you look and "suddenly" realize you deeply love each other.

To those writers who struggle with guilt and motivation and all that nonsense? I’d say give it time. Give it years. Develop a respect for each other, let it deepen into friendship, and give writing the time for passion to take root and grow.

And put some effort into keeping the sparks alive. They’ll get you through the rough spots.

Just don’t expect a hello, nice to meet you, I love you--don’t blame yourself for it. Let the relationship play out--both work at it and enjoy it as it is, not as someone tells you it should be.

So. Do you love writing? When, how, and how long did it take to happen? When did you notice it? Or was it love at first sight?

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Friday, October 26, 2007

Breathing is ecstacy.

This morning I woke up with a horrendous asthma attack. Hah! Actually, most people with asthma would tell you it was not that bad at all. I didn’t turn blue or go to the hospital, LOL. But to me, on the slow journey into this new world of asthma, it was scary and overwhelming.

I hadn’t been able to feel like I could get a full breath for about ten days or so, and somehow it erupted this morning in the shower. So while I was panicking and doubled over the toilet, throwing up as my lungs spasmed and coughed to get a breath through the drowning fluid, DH found the inhaler. After some wimpy tears (I am not one of those steadfast, elegant types you see on TV who bear illness with dignity), I could breathe again.

BUT, I’m not writing that to complain. I’m writing it to say that after that, I kept walking around going, "Wow, I can breathe!" I’d take a breath and it would reach all the way to the bottom of my lungs and I’d practically whoop out loud. I hadn’t been able to breathe that deeply in ages. Every breath today--what, maybe thousands?--has given me a feeling of relief that it worked, and gratefulness that it worked and felt just so good.

And as if I wasn’t happy enough about being able to breathe, we then went to Borders so I could write all day. With so much gratitude flowing through me for being able to breathe, I was practically giddy at the thought that I actually got to spend a whole day writing and reading and wandering through the bookstore.

Then, as I was book-puttering, I realized there’s a few writing books that have come out in the past year or so I haven’t read yet. Why don’t I review one a week or something?

By that time, I was practically giggling in public, all by myself.

You know, it really rocks to be a writer. And a musician. I get to think about music and words and stories and rhythm all day long. How awesome is that?

I think I should start every morning grateful that I can breathe. Why do we have to get sick to remember the simple stuff like that?

We’re alive. That’s pretty cool, you know? Most everything else is pretty much alterable, if you’re not dead.

LOL.

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The BBC and the WIP.

I love the BBC. They have a week in pictures, "Your perspective on the world October 20 - 26," and on the right side of that, they the last few "Day in pictures."

From best I can tell, the BBC covers the world much better than CNN. We Americans are a bit focused on ourselves. Did you know yesterday was the end of Buddhist Lent? Did you know Buddha had a Lent? The BBC is cool.

And do you know how refreshing it is to get reporting on the Iraq War that’s not mired in this Republican vs. Democrat fight? That’s not surrounded by name-calling and political pushing? Just the plain, simple truth.

My latest WIP has a bigger cast. I didn’t choose that intentionally, it was sort of a by-product. Funny how we sometimes choose the skill that we need to improve, without giving it any conscious thought.

I’m also trying to think about mood, you know? Erica Orloff (of course, LOL) got me thinking about mood with her post on Eastern Promises. The whole movie is stark and gritty and unrelentingly dark. It matches her book, The Roofer.

I couldn’t write that, but I realized that I don’t give enough thought to the overall mood I want to convey.

So what are you trying to improve with the latest WIP? What’s the mood of your WIP?

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Cave Blogs.

The editors of Ellora’s Cave are blogging. And if you’re popping by to see if recalcitrant Natasha has a Thursday Thriteen up, then hop on over to their hilarious Thursday Thirteen post about euphemisms to learn about "one-eyed purple-headed yogurt slingers."

I have the pesky SQL/EE/SMF thingies installed, yay! So on to step two: learning how to work ’em.

Be back soon!

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Just some tidbits ...

I’m still reading your blogs in the reader, even though I’m not commenting as much. I’ve discovered I can’t live without blogging, LOL. Maybe this seclusion thing is going to happen in baby steps. :-) I promise to be officially back to normal soon.

I just wanted to point you all to a Really Awesome Post by Theresa of Magical Musings. She talked about process and creativity today. Not to be missed, really.

And finally, dagfrabbit, I’ve spent six hours trying to install Expression Engine on my website, only to have it not work, and on top of it, my efforts undid the five hours I spent last week on installing a SMF forum. Dagafrifffrafffraom.

What I know about SQL and databases is ... nothing. Are there any geniuses out there that would be willing to lend a helping hand?

Although, unfortunately, this might be one of this instances where I don’t know enough to even know what to ask. I followed the directions perfectly. *sigh*

How are things going for you? Kate has some good news. Yay!

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Monday, October 22, 2007

Seclusion.

I’ve got so much to do I can’t think, LOL. So I’m not blogging for awhile. (Yes, I know I’ve tried this before and failed. I’m addicted, damnit! And what if I miss some of your posts? How could I bear it?)

But, ya’ gotta do what ya’ gotta do.

I might crack again, LOL, but ... if you don’t see me around the blogosphere, I’m busy working. Happy writing, all!

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Sunday, October 21, 2007

Cross my heart ...

... hope to die, I did not read this post about anxiety and success by Tess Gerritsen before I blogged today, LOL. She said it better than I did, of course.

:-)

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Perspective.

Stewart has a great post up about hope being the key to horror (and suspense). I never connected those dots before. Don’t you love those a-ha moments?

I have a student who is amazing. He can just play like you wouldn’t believe, and turn out these note-perfect, expressive performances. It’s just astonishing, how much talent and ability and smart work ethic he has.

However, if you’d ask him how good he’s at piano, he’d say "bad."

It’s really perplexing.

I have no other students who can come close. Out of hundreds of student pianists, he’d probably be in the top ten in Ohio. I rank him a little higher, because I don’t spoon feed him. He comes to his expression and understanding of music through the foundation he received and his own inherent ability, rather than having him copycat me or drill a certain nuance or phrasing over and over.

(And I can think of no other blog to write today, because I’m usually worried and thinking about him all day before his lesson, LOL.)

I have a friend who used to write fabulous stories. It became a very clear indicator that the worse she thought a story was, the better and more popular it would be. She said that the stories she liked best were her least popular. (I’ll have to take her word on that; I loved all of them.)

Something good comes out of this insecurity: it pushes my student to a very high level. At some point, however, it’s killing his enthusiasm. What’s the point of demanding such a high standard of yourself if you don’t have some fun? If you don’t reward yourself?

But what if, no matter what other people say to you, you just can’t see that you’re any good? (Even if the evidence makes that statement wildly preposterous?)

Anyway. I lose perspective all the time, too, especially about teaching. What about you? And how do you get yourself to see things as they are--rather than how they feel--when your perspective is off?

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Saturday, October 20, 2007

Relief.

The words came back to me today. What a relief. I found my story.

It’s not like I lacked for ideas. I spent the whole week wish-washing between three ideas, grinding out my minimum of 1,000 words a day. Today, I completely dried up.

The thing is, ideas are like a watched pot. They don’t boil. So I just sat and read Escape, an oh-my-God memoir about how Carolyn Jessop escaped with her seven children from her husband and the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (not to be confused with "regular" Mormonism), a cult-type sect that believes in polygamy and "perfect obedience" by women to the men that they’re married to.

The woman’s courage and strength are inspiring, but it’s so hard to believe that this is happening in America. It is unreal, and as you read, it gets worse. I kept staring at the dates, thinking "2006? Shouldn’t that read 1886? Surely not just last year ..."

I embrace freedom of religion, but extreme fundamentalism scares me. But to legislate against something like that would be wrong. I suppose all we can do is legislate against abuse, and pray that will provide some protection. (It provides none in this book.)

When you read, it’s hard to understand people would continue to live that life, but then you realize they grew up in it. They were brought up that way, and the women were married before they even had legal rights. Besides, they’re taught to distrust the outside world and when it comes right down to it, they don’t know anything different.

It really breaks my heart. Here’s some places to go if it breaks your heart, too.

Well, anyway. The words came. Hopefully this story will be a gift. I’ve written novellas in a week before. I hope this is another case of that, because I want November cleared for Nano.

How’s the writing going for you? (And since I’m home, I’m getting to the comments from yesterday--great discussion and I’m sorry for the delay! I discovered that when I reply from my palm pilot, they don’t always make it to the screen, LOL.)

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

A Poem

A poem by Emily Dickinson, since I seem to have a big case of blog block. You know, come to think of it, my writing’s been slow this week. I don’t know what’s up. Doesn’t matter. Keep plugging away.

How are things for you?

PROBLEMS.

Bring me the sunset in a cup,
Reckon the morning’s flagons up,
And say how many dew;
Tell me how far the morning leaps,
Tell me what time the weaver sleeps
Who spun the breadths of blue!

Write me how many notes there be
In the new robin’s ecstasy
Among astonished boughs;
How many trips the tortoise makes,
How many cups the bee partakes, --
The debauchee of dews!

Also, who laid the rainbow’s piers,
Also, who leads the docile spheres
By withes of supple blue?
Whose fingers string the stalactite,
Who counts the wampum of the night,
To see that none is due?

Who built this little Alban house
And shut the windows down so close
My spirit cannot see?
Who ’ll let me out some gala day,
With implements to fly away,
Passing pomposity?

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Knowing your genre.

Do you ever, out of the clear blue, suddenly have nothing to say?

I rarely look at the cursor slowly blinking, but that’s me this morning. It’s a bit soothing. :-) A little like meditation.

I’ve been hard at work trying to get my Spy Thriller database up. I’m making it for purely selfish reasons: First, I love spy thrillers, but you really have to dig through the shelves to find them since there’s no separate section; Second, I want to know the genre better.

In my current genre (which is trying not to be named on this blog, but I’m sure you guys all know ...), I literally knew everything when I first sat down to write. Like, for five or six years, I read every single story.

That’s unfortunately not possible in the big genres. Can you imagine reading every romance? Every mystery? Every thriller? You’d die before you’re done! This not knowing everything makes me feel uncomfortable.

It’s easy to come up with ideas in my other genre, because I just take something that hasn’t been done before, and combine it. But when I first attempted a spy thriller, I caught myself trying to write it to the genre, trying to fit into the mold.

That never works.

I miss having that foundation under me; it lends a lot of confidence.

Oh, wow. I guess I did have something to say. Goes to show, if you sit down, the words will come. :-)

Will you do me a favor? If you have a favorite spy thriller author (can be assassins, too), will you leave it/them in the comments? If not, how do you feel about knowing your genre?

(Um ... did I write this post before? I’m feeling like I did ... sorry! Hah ... goes to show how well I know my blog! I guess I did have nothing to say, LOL.)

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Monday, October 15, 2007

Cycles.

My writing seems (sorry guys) intimately attached to my hormonal cycle. Usually it’s okay, except ... there are just some days when my rhythm is way off, when all my sentences end up with a stilted noun-verb sound.

Irritating.

I’m in a rhythm-off phase. Today I’m feeling desperate for my words. Where did they go? I feel so naked.

The upside to the rhythm-off phase is that story actually comes to me in droves. When writing, I’m reduced to taking notes, writing snippets of sentences that will later be reconstructed into prose.

It’s all a fine and good cycle, except when something is done and you’ve got a final chapter that is stilted and awkward. Ugh. One can’t sit around and wait for the next cycle before sending it off, LOL.

So I guess it’s down to manual reconstruction, darnit. I much prefer flow. (Er, no pun intended.)

Do you write in cycles? Does your writing have a rhythm of its own?

When I’m stressed, I haiku. So, in honor of that poetry Monday train thing:

Words, where did you go?
You’re mine, you’re me--I need you.
Words, come back to me.

On a side note, if you’re in RWA, I’m quoted in the latest issue of the Romance Writers Report. Just about the last thing I expected to read when I opened it today, LOL! Good article by Ruth Kaufman!

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The Future of our Children

Last week we fretted about the increase in mass killing attempts by children. We fretted about the dangers of our society and the dangers facing our children.

One of the things I thought last week--after having read a speech of (which?) President get lambasted for declaring that America had lost hope, had lost the vision of a better future for our children--was that he (which he?) was right. I look at history, and I feel like our ancestors progressively made a better world for our children.

Somewhere along the line, things changed. Between the Columbine’s and the 9/11’s, between the whales and global warming, I’m feeling like we are witnessing the birth of a worse world for our children.

Sorry to be depressing, but that’s how I feel.

Please help prove me wrong. Today is Blog Action Day. Will you spread the word? Consider what you can do to help?

And what do you think? Do you think our kids are going to have it better or worse than us? Or, do you think our kids have it better or worse now?

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

More Inspiration

Check out Barbara Samuel’s ten tips on writing a richer book, every time.

If you’re not into NaNoWriMo, have you considered NaBloPoMo? That’s National Blog Posting Month ... one post a day for thirty days. :-) (I only say that selfishly, ’cause some of my favorite blogs have slowed down their postings...)

I’ve been reading the regional forums of NaNoWriMo, and I am so impressed! There are lots of teenagers and college students attempting it, too. Isn’t that something?

When I was that age, I don’t remember doing anything "extra" like that. I’m just so impressed that they’re adding 50,000 words to their already overloaded schedule, in addition to their schoolwork and all the other activities students have these days. Heck, I find something very cool and inspiring in the fact that they are writing and want to be writers!

Their introductions are just full of so much enthusiasm, that I can’t wait to join in.

That’s not to say that most of the Nano-ers are young. On the contrary, there’s a wide range of experience and age and professionals and non-professionals.

There’s just a lot of starry-eyed enthusiasm to feed off of. A few of you mentioned the "inherent snobbery" in the writing community, and I just think of the martial arts. Ideally, beginners are as prized as those more experienced, mostly because that enthusiasm is priceless.

I know where I’m hanging out next month.

How do you remember that wonderful beginner’s love and enthusiasm? Or do you? Where do you get your batteries recharged?

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Friday, October 12, 2007

The Unit, Anyone?

//static.flickr.com/2391/1556683941_5f8ef9ee06_mRoll call ... who here watches the Unit?

I’ve always loved the Unit, but the last episode of the last season kicked it up one helluva notch, and the first three episodes this season have been fantastic.

You know how 24 can kick up the suspense over and over? Well, The Unit is like that, except one doesn’t need to worry about laughing at credibility holes, or having to manually place one’s disbelief on a shelf.

It’s "based on" the nonfiction book, Inside the Delta Force. The Unit is an elite special forces covert unit that receives its missions from the president (who is never seen, heard, talked about, unlike 24). Not only do we get the action and suspense, but we get to follow the lives of the women they leave at home to wait, worry, and raise the kids. (Kinda sexist, but ... realistic.)

It plays Tuesday nights on CBS at 9:00 pm. Do you watch it? If you don’t, and you like 24, you just might like this better ... I’ve never laughed at The Unit, unlike 24, LOL ...

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The Old Real Writer Thing

Since we’re on the subject ... I actually wrote this post a few days ago, but I only post one per day, LOL, so ...

You know that whole "when are you a real writer" thing?

Labels are mostly for others. They want to know where to put you, how to approach you, how to think of you, so they ask for your labels. We’re just ourselves, you know? How often do we really label ourself?

But saying you’re not something--or saying you’re not really something--carries much more power to yourself.

My journey to feeling like I was a real writer is strange.

I "grew up" as a writer in a nice, little bubble. I had one writing friend, one that wrote for the same two little pubs as I did, and that was it. We’d send each other stuff every day, but we’d only tell each other how much we liked it, encourage each other. I felt like a real writer, mostly because I wrote every day, and because I had to write that on my tax forms.

But then I joined RWA.

Oh, okay. I didn’t quite know what to think of all that, but I didn’t want to presume anything so I walked around saying I was a kinda-published author. Seemed fair, seeing as how I wasn’t about to "come out" with my pseudonym.

I still thought I was a writer, but after awhile of saying I was "kinda-published" I stopped feeling like a writer.

I thought, for a little while, that I’d feel like a real writer when I could pick up a book at Borders that had my real name on it. Okay, so that happened, but ... you know, it’s in the table of contents, not the front. It’s on the back, not the side. And it was just an essay, and besides, I was more concerned about hiding my name from the staff than anything else. (It’s my safe little writing haven! I can’t help it! I love my Borders!)

RWA came out with new standards that--I think--say I’m a real writer, but I didn’t feel like one and I just resented them for their segre-- (okay, we won’t go off on the RWA tangent today.) So then I figured I’d feel like a real writer when I sold to a NY-publisher.

So I waited.

I was just sitting and writing the other day. I suddenly felt--or suddenly realized--that good or bad, the words do what I tell them to. I know how to wield these words in my stories to have the effect I want them to have (at least on me, LOL).

(Of course there’s still tons of things I need to work on, tons of things I need to improve, tons of things I need to learn. And I often tell the words to do the wrong things, or go after the wrong effect, LOL ... and I still struggle with affect vs. effect and I still don’t know the difference between laid and lie and lay ...)

But on October 9, 2007, in the middle of writing a paragraph in my local Borders cafe, in the middle of a dull, uneventful day, I finally felt like a real writer (again?). I felt like I could play the page, almost with the same control I can play the piano.

A label is just a label, though. I almost missed the whole event if someone (sorry, forgot who!) wouldn’t have mentioned the ’feeling like a real writer’ issue.

The point is, although labels are usually for the purpose of others (we know ourselves, after all, and don’t need to label ourselves), we can’t let other people label us. I was skimming through a book about politics the other day, and it said that if you don’t label yourself, someone else will (in politics, they’ll do it in a negative way, LOL).

Labels should be what you do, not who others judge you to be. So, I label myself a pianist, piano teacher, and writer (in alphabetical order), LOL. If they still feel like listening, I tell them I study taekwondo (although not so much anymore, because of the foot) and that I live with DH and have four cats.

Do you feel like a real writer? When do you think you’ll feel like a real writer? And how do you label yourself? Is it different from how others label yourself? (I don’t even know how others label me!)

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

What Makes a Writer?

I’ll never forget, years ago, when I overheard a classical musician ask a fan if they were a musician. Embarrassed fan would admit that no, they didn’t play anything, but they listened avidly. This musician would then reassure the fan that yes, coming to concerts every week did indeed qualify them as a musician.

That stuck with me, mostly because she was right.

There’s no great divide. Whether you’re on stage or you’re in the audience, whether you’re recording music or listening to a recording, we’re all part of the same community. It takes ... something ... to understand and appreciate the language of classical music. It takes being a musician, even if you’ve never picked up an instrument in your life and can’t read a lick of music.

I remember in college, there were three of us working in a little museum shop. We were discussing the employees (mostly us), and a painter-friend commented that for a car museum, it was strange that all of us were artists. (I’m a musician, too.)

The third friend just stopped and said, "I’m not an artist. I’m a history major."

Both of us stopped and stared at her, completely surprised even though we knew she was a history major. Then both of us said, "Of course you’re an artist."

She listened, she looked, and she was creative. She showed me that history was an art, a creative art. She just was.

But when I started blogging and going to writer’s groups and conferences, things changed. In the writing community, there are polls that ask, "Are you a reader or a writer?" As if there’s a difference. Readers are part of the creation circle, even if they don’t write themselves. And writers, of course, read, even though they write.

To further muddy the waters, there’s all the hullabaloo about whether you’re a writer or an author. And what makes a novelist? When can you call yourself a novelist? When you’re struggling through your first draft? When you’ve finished it? When you’ve had a novel published?

I would not write if there were no readers, and I suspect a hearty portion of writers would not write if there were no readers. Readers are a part of the final product. They keep this whole book thing we love alive.

So, yep ... that girl sitting under a tree, avidly reading a novel? In my book, she’s a novelist, too.

What do you think?

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Too Close to Home

Things like this are not supposed to happen so close to home. It’s our world, I guess. All we can do it look and try to understand, and hope for a better tomorrow.

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Apologetics in Fiction

The number one reason why I loved Brett Battle’s The Cleaner, is that the main character was real, his portrayal was honest, and the author was unapologetic about his rough edges. Our blog-friend Erica Orloff writes the same way.

I love it.

For example, pretend you have a teacher, in fiction, who reams out a student. In 99% of fiction, you will then be presented with backstory, with TONS of examples of how much they care about their students, and an example of why that reaming-out made the student a better person ... all so that the author can portray a real live teacher but still make their character likable.

It’s not that I mind the backstory or the other examples ... it’s just that I prefer a story that trusts me to understand that the teacher yelled from a place of caring without overdoing the apologetics and explanations. Or at least a story that is really subtle about all that.

So often I see that if a character has a negative trait or does something "wrongish," then apologetics are heaped in such abundance as to not leave the reader any room to misunderstand that This Is A Good Person or--maybe?--for the author to receive complaints about Mr. Evil Teacher.

I prefer characters without apologies.

I’ve noticed, on the shelves, the edgier or kinkier erotica gets, the more apologies, excuses, and counter-demonstrations are needed to make up for their desires. (And you wouldn’t believe how many erotica authors proclaim on their blogs that they don’t have these desires they write about ... ((Okay, tiny rant: even if you don’t have those desires, why say something like that? Do they want their readers to feel ashamed of enjoying the stories of those desires? And why admit to their hypocrisy? If they don’t get it, really get it, I damn well don’t want to read a story about it from them!)) )

Er. Apologetics. Right.

I wonder, sometimes, if paranormal and horror genres are so popular lately because you can say ’this is the world,’ and not have to apologize for showing our humanity (especially when it’s in vampire form, or wiggle-man form, LOL). It’s in a different world, after all, so it’s at a safe distance. It’s not like we’re saying it’s our humanity.

I’ve written apologetics before, that’s for sure. I stand before you, guilty.

But isn’t it refreshing when you just let the characters be? Let them be human? Let them be who they are, no excuse, no apologetics, no judgments ...

An apologetic, in the end, is a judgment of guilt by the author about the character ... maybe in defense of the character, but still.

Just thoughts. What do you think?

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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The Guilts, The Fears

The instant I decided to do this thing, to spend the month of November writing just for fun, the guilts set in.

(Until Avery mentioned that he couldn’t do Nano because he could never not edit for a whole month. Then I cracked up so hard I cried. I guess you have to be me to think that’s funny. Let’s just say, it never once occurred to me to actually follow the rules.)

But after that, the guilt returned, and the uncertainty. The flood of excuses and worries and reasons we need the money. The worry that DH deserves a nice Christmas, the cats need this, we need that. It’s a gamble, writing for real name. I love poker, but I’m not much of a gambler, LOL ...

If you’ve been around for awhile, you are rightfully rolling your eyes at me.

Yeah, I know. Just write.

So, will you do me a big favor? Will you please keep me honest? What can I do for you in return? I gotta spend one month really writing the real-name novel. I have to. And, damnit, I’m gonna have fun doing it, even if it kills me. Just for fun, just for me.

Do you ever resist doing something that you want, resist doing what you know is good for you, resist doing what you know you should do? What is up with that? And how do you beat that stupid resistance?

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Monday, October 08, 2007

The Big Writing Party

I’m getting excited for November. There’s a change in the energy around the world. I mean, it’s National Novel Writing Month. Isn’t that the coolest?

Children, fathers, mothers, presidents, sweethearts ... they get a day. We novelists get an entire month! Okay, I know it’s not an official holiday, and unfortunately we can’t get a month off of work for it, but ... it’s still exciting!

Thousands of people will be writing. When I’m sitting in Borders, typing away, thousands of people will be doing the same thing. I do realize that thousands of people are typing away with me when it’s not November, but ... somehow, it’s different when Nano is at full speed.

Part of the energy of Nano is the permission to write crap. The goal is 50,000 words, the rules are crap is okay and no editing. We’re not supposed to be perfect.

We’re just supposed to embrace and remember the energy of the Noble Amateur, of the old-time Olympic warriors who pursued excellence for the love of the game and not for the love of the buck.

It’s like a big, month-long party to celebrate writing, to celebrate novels, to celebrate words.

In the spirit of the Amateur, I want to write something just for fun. I’m thinking of X-ing November off my calendar, and making it a once-a-year tradition that every November, I write one novel just for me, just for fun. No matter where I am in my career. Just to remind myself why I love this game.

What do you think? Are you going to join in the party officially? Just enjoy watching all the hoop-la? And do you feed off the energy in the air, too?

If you join in, will you tell me your username? It sure would be inspiring to me to have a little list-lounge in the sidebar to pop by each other’s pages and encourage each other. I can just feel it; we’re going to have a blast this November!

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Sunday, October 07, 2007

Eight Things ...

I’ve been tagged several times for this meme (lately by Edie Ramer--thanks!), but I kept forgetting! I think y’all have already done this one, so I won’t tag you. But will you leave a fact or two (or eight?) about you in the comments? If you haven’t done it, give it a go and let me know!

I’ve put off doing this because I’m not all that interesting, (I just teach and write and rinse and repeat), but here’s the best I can do:

  1. One of my grade-school best friends told me, a few years ago, that I was the most competitive person she’d ever met. This surprised me, since our other best friend is way more competitive than me. In fourth grade, we’d put jalepeno peppers and lemons and limes in our mouth, and see who could hold it the longest. I’m pretty sure she always won.
  2. I LOVE poker. I’ve only played in two Texas Hold ’Em tournaments. I final tabled in my first one, and next-to-final tabled in my second. I’m really good at reading people and a shark when it comes to betting people into their fear zone. BUT, I’m not a gambler, so I could never play in a cash game. Besides, there’s not as much do-or-die fear in a cash game as there is in a tournament.
  3. I’m allergic to dairy, but I LOVE the stuff. I love ice cream, hot pudding, milk chocolate, hot chocolate (I make a killer hot chocolate with real freshly-whipped cream that I haven’t been able to drink in YEARS), cheese ... all of it. I can eat a little of it (but I gain weight), but if I go over the little bit, I get sick and hate myself and swear never to touch the stuff again ... until time has faded the memory and I start eyeing the cheese again.
  4. My favorite restaurant is the Melting Pot, and I get to go once a year on my birthday. Of course, I forgot that eggs make me sick, and ate eggs for breakfast on Friday. So by the time we got to the Melting Pot this weekend, I was so sick I could only watch DH eat my favorite meal in the whole wide world. MAN! Doesn’t it just figure??? I even had to turn down the chocolate!
  5. I’m afraid of the phone. I used to love my voice because I had the only one like it, but now it just makes people think I’m really young. Drives me nuts. Unless a student has come to me through a direct referral, they don’t sign up for lessons, because they take one listen at my voice and move on. I sound younger than my ten year old students!
  6. I saw smog for the first time in my life this weekend. Ick. Detroit is icky. I believe Cleveland and Detroit compete for the title of "armpit of America," but in my opinion, Detroit wins hands down. Come on, we don’t have a dirty, gray haze hovering over Cleveland, do we???
  7. I met DH online. I "saw" him in a chat room and I knew. We barely spoke three words to each other, but I knew I would be spending the rest of my life with him. It wasn’t love at first sight, just a knowledge. We have a lot of different interests, there are over twenty years between our ages, but somehow we’re perfect for each other. I am SO grateful!
  8. On a completely unrelated note (because I can’t think of a number eight), do you ever write a sentence and then think, "I love that sentence! But damnit, now I can never use it again ..." I almost didn’t use it, because I wanted to save it. Ever feel like that about something you wrote?

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Thursday, October 04, 2007

The Bourne Hook: Guest Blog by Mark Terry

Please welcome our very first guest-blogger, Mark Terry! I’m a terrible host, because I’m leaving for the weekend (my birthday!). Will you please help me make him feel at home while I’m gone?

//static.flickr.com/1066/1487148930_1b13e9c93a_mMy wife and I went to see "The Bourne Ultimatum" about a week ago. The big debate was whether to see "3:10 to Yuma" or "Bourne" and ultimately Matt Damon won out over Russell Crowe and Christian Bale.

We loved the movie. I enjoyed the first two, "The Bourne Identity" and "The Bourne Supremacy." Lots of action, intrigue, and enough plot to require you to pay attention-what’s not to like? My wife and I also like the fact that Jason Bourne is so smart. He’s not just an action hero, he’s smarter than the people he’s taking on.

That said, I have a confession to make. And this is a confession from a guy who writes action thrillers. I don’t particularly care for the books by Robert Ludlum. I’ve only read a few of Ludlum’s own and I find his writing to be sort of, er, dull and thudding. He was a terrific storyteller, I think, and what’s more, and probably most important, Ludlum really understood the concept of a "hook."

And that’s where I really have to give him credit for the Bourne books. There are tons of espionage novels out there-I write novels on the edge of espionage-with competent spies. And there are even some with not-so-competent spies (Mrs. Pollifax, anyone?). But Ludlum had a hook, you see?

A spy-an assassin-who has amnesia.

I mean, when you put it like that it sounds like all those in-jokes in Elmore Leonard’s "Be Cool," where Chili Palmer laments that they made a sequel to "Get Shorty" and they gave the character amnesia. (Was it "Get Lost?" I don’t remember and I’m too lazy to go hunting for the book.) Hell, I’m just barely old enough to remember an episode of "The Mod Squad" where Linc wanders around L.A. with amnesia.

But still. there’s your hook.

When I was an aspiring novelist versus, say, the struggling novelist I am now, I used to lament the fact that mystery novels were always built on what I felt were cheesy hooks: the female P.I., the caterer detective, the wedding planner detective, the golf pro detective, the freelance writer sleuth, the national park ranger detective, the black detective, the Hispanic detective, the blind detective, the deaf detective, the gay detective, the lesbian detective, the paralyzed detective. I once told my agent I needed to write a book featuring a black, female, lesbian, blind, quadriplegic cop-turned-lawyer detective. My agent wryly noted that it would give me a lot of demographics to market to.

So what do you think? Who’s the next big spy? Jim Bone, ghost spy? Felicia Smith, animorph spy, able to turn herself into a cat?

//ec1.images-amazon.com/images/I/21wx171uePL._AA_SL160_Mark Terry’s latest book, The Serpent’s Kiss, is out! Here’s the blurb:

A terrorist calling himself the Serpent unleashes sarin gas in a Detroit restaurant during the breakfast rush, killing 52. Homeland Security troubleshooter Derek Stillwater is called in on a race against time to stop the next attack...

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Disciplines and Rumi.

I’m guest-blogging for the first time ever. I’m terrified. It’s funny, how I feel comfortable enough to spit out whatever I’m feeling and thinking here or in another blog’s comments, but someone asks me to talk on their blog, as a main course, and I’m terrified.

We writers are such weird creatures.

Part of my nervousness might be that I’m guest-blogging at Magical Musings, one of my most favorite blogs and a blog I really, really respect.

So, um, will you stop by and say hi? Warn me if I’ve forgotten to zip my pants or something?

And don’t forget, tonight we have Mark Terry coming to guest-blog here!

Anyway, my post at Magical Musings reminded me of a poem by Rumi, called Disciplines (here translated by Coleman Barks, with A. J. Arberry and Nevit Ergin in Rumi: Bridge to the Soul.)

Do not expect to be always happy on this way.
You have been caught by a lion, my dear.

The friend dumps plaster on your head.
Think of it as an expensive perfume.

Inside you there is a monster
that must be tied up and whipped.

Watch the man beating a rug.
He is not mad at it.
He wants to loosen the layers of dirt.

Ego accumulations are not loosened
with one swat. Continual work
is necessary, disciplines.

In dreams, and even awake,
you will hear the beloved screaming at you.

A carpenter saws and chisels a piece of wood,
because he knows how he wants to use it.

Curing a hide, the tanner
rubs in acid and all manner of filth.
This makes a beautiful soft leather.

What does the half-finished hide know?
Every hard thing that happens
works on you like that.

Hurry, Shams. Come back
like the sun comes back
every day with new
and powerful secrets.

Read more...

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

My Proudest Moment.

Guess what??? Tomorrow we have our very first guest-blogger!!!! I’m SO excited. Mark Terry, whose Serpent’s Kiss was just released this summer, will come and talk about hooks, writing, and Jason Bourne. And he even sent me a really hot picture of Matt Damon.

Drool.

Awhile back, Stewart posted one of his open "assignments" on his blog about education. I avoided writing it, because I could fill a whole book on my thoughts about teaching. It’s been on my mind, lately.

The number one thing I love about teaching piano is that I don’t really teach piano. To begin with, it’s a difficult instrument. And then, because you’re learning at your own pace, you’re always riding the edge of what you can do and what you have not learned to do. It’s scary stuff!

My mission in teaching? It’s to teach three things to my students: 1) To keep going, no matter what; 2) To teach excellence, to show them that they can do what they think they can’t do if only they plan their work and keep working--to take pride in working hard; 3) and to teach them how to navigate the mental skills necessary to overcome all the learning issues and fears that we all have--the mental game of excellence.

The number one thing I hate about teaching piano, is that I often have to choose between helping the child at their own pace, or minimizing the issues and avoiding teaching them a life lesson (why I teach in the first place) because piano is supposed to be "fun," and when it’s not, the parents want to quit.

I have great parents, but there are always one or two. I’d rather go at the child’s pace, not the parents’ pace. But since they pay the bill, what can you do? I hate watering things down to just producing a performance so the parents are happy. I hate NOT taking advantage of a life-lesson-teaching opportunity so that the piano remains convenient and fun and "profitable" in a parent’s eyes, so that the child doesn’t get uncomfortable and decide to quit, rather than learn the life lesson.

(Off the soapbox, Natasha!)

Anyways, I have one proudest moment when teaching, and I’m sure most people would call it one of my failures, a mark against my teaching.

See, there’s usually one thing a parent or teacher feels so strongly about that they are willing to reduce a child to tears in order to get their point across. You know, you’d smack a kid’s bottom even if you didn’t believe in that sort of thing, if it would keep your child from running into the middle of a street and getting killed. You’d probably yell and put the fear of God in them, rather than have them run into the middle of the street and get killed by a bus. I mean, geeze, you’d do anything to prevent that, am I right? Reason is not one of the top ten effective deterrents for a four year old.

Well, I have one issue just like that, and that’s keeping going. Poor things. I must ask them ten times a year what they do if they mess up (keep going), if the roof falls in (keep going), if their duet partner falls off the bench (keep going), if the piano starts rolling (keep going), if they forget every single note (make something up, but for god’s sake, keep going).

When students do duets, this becomes an even bigger issue. If one student pauses, the whole duet falls apart. The pressure mounts, because parents always blame the other child if a duet falls apart on stage.

I have to make sure they get through, because some parents can get really mad about who their child is paired with and what happens onstage. If it’s a solo performance, the parent will swoop in and declare their kid has "stage fright" and "can’t perform again," or will just quit piano altogether, rather than have them go through a bad performance again.

(Then they’ll carry the memory of that failure their whole life--I can’t let that happen!)

Funny enough, students learn far more about listening and ensemble with a less-than-prepared partner, than with a prepared partner. Besides, I think the value in performance is in our preparation. Most of my students seem to get this about me, which always surprises me since I really push them to be prepared for performances.

When duet partners are practicing for the first time, they have a tendency to think they’re ahead when things get a little off. They’ll stop and wait when they should be pushing forward faster. Or they feel like they’re off and just freeze, unsure what to do.

Nine times out of ten, they’re just a teensy bit off and they’ll get back on if they--you guessed it--just keep going.

So first comes our rational discussion on why we keep going. Then comes our gentle prodding. If one of the partners have been in the studio awhile, they will generally explain to the newer partner that we must keep going.

But if all that fails, I put on my mean hat. "Keep going!" I yell. "Don’t stop!" When they start again with the promise that no matter what, they won’t stop, they invariably get to that spot where they feel like all is going to fall apart. "But," they say as their fingers slow down, a bit afraid to completely stop by now, "I’m lost--"

"Just keep going!"

"I don’t know what to play--"

"Just keep going!"

"I forget the notes--"

Generally the other partner will step in at this point and say the child’s equivalent of "dude, you just gotta keep going." The unspoken words being "She’s just not going to shut up unless you keep going. She’ll rant for hours if she has to. Just keep going, and she’ll be normal again." This secretly cracks me up, but you know, you gotta keep up appearances. :-)

The thing is, if they stop, they’ll forget. They’ll panic, they’ll freeze, and they’ll think about panicking and then they definitely won’t remember what to play next. The whole audience will hold their breaths and worry, and the student up there can just feel the energy in the room change.

A hundred people hold their breaths in horror just looking at YOU. The feeling you get, onstage, when that happens is ... terrifying.

In the end? They burst into tears and run off the stage. To prevent all that, we have to just keep going.

Well, back to my proudest moment. Two of my boy students decided to do a competition. One was struggling with practicing on a bad piano, and the other was paralyzed by fears associated with being overwhelmed. Needless to say, they were both unprepared for a competition. Because the application is due so early, I didn’t know they’d both go through that when we committed to the competition.

But they learned it, memorized it, and it could’ve gone well, but it was more like a 20% chance rather than a 90% chance.

Sure enough, halfway through, things got rocky. They couldn’t find each other in the music, one kept slowing down, the other kept rushing forward, and ... let me tell you ... I was holding my breath the whole time in sheer panic.

The students? They got this look on their faces. Dear God, they were not going to stop for anything. They set their jaws in pure determination, they dug deep, and they kept going through the next three hundred and sixty excruciating seconds.

At the time, I was far too panicked myself on making sure they would be mentally okay to feel anything but intense fear and worry. But when I look back, I see their faces, and I know they learned what I learned as a pianist, what they will take with them if they never touch another piano.

There’s nothing else like facing the fear that the world is going to fall apart, that you’re going to humiliate yourself, that everyone is going to think you ... I don’t know what ... that you won’t be able to make it to the next note, let alone the next six hundred notes. You’ve got no music, no crutch, just you and the piano spotlighted on a stage.

If you can face that fear and learn to just keep going, you’ll gain a little bit of character. You’ll learn that no matter what happens, no matter how bad it is, no matter how badly you think you’ll fail, everything will be okay if you just keep going. You will survive.

You have no idea how much strength I draw from that lesson. The fact that I passed a little piece of that on to two of my students? That’s my proudest moment.

So when have you felt like the world was going to fall apart, that everything was going to fall apart, like you just couldn’t keep going ... but you did?

Read more...

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Grammar Question on "Then"

What’s your verdict on the word "then?"

I’ve read that sometimes we writers don’t use it when we should. Darnit, I wish I could think of an example that’s clear, but ... darnit. Brain’s not working this late.

But then (er ...) I don’t like how many times I’m writing "then" in a manuscript. I generally go through and take them out, but then I worry I’m taking too many out.

Obviously, you could get crazy about it. Then you’d have a mess on your hands. Then you’d have to clean it up.

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Not Today.

Okay, I wrote this post last week, but was afraid I was posting too many of my neuroses at once, LOL. Since today has been a draining teaching day, my brain is fried and you get to read it! :-)

As it turned out, I ended up writing my thousand words that day, and even had a good time. Writing is such a strange sort of habit...

Strangely enough, every few months I have a day where, if someone told me I had to write today, I’d growl, pull my lips back, and imagine ripping their throat out with my teeth.

Um, yeah, really, that violent a feeling.

And then I won’t write a word, not a single word. I won’t read a book, I won’t do anything to do with writing. Even though the day before, I couldn’t wait to get back to writing.

I’m not sure where this comes from, but I suspect it’s to do with resenting the need to work every day, all day long at one job and then another, or maybe it stems from not feeling like emotionally going where the story needs to go, or maybe it’s a mixture. Maybe it’s hormones. Maybe it’s just that love is close to hate thing, or maybe it’s just some cousin of passion, or some strange instinct that has decided to ensure that I let the WIP set on the back burner for one more day.

Still, I go to Borders and sit. On these days, I force myself to write at least 100 words, even if I hate every second of it. Usually that’s enough to make me feel better and return to normal.

Paradoxically, as my writing time nears an end, I feel panicked that maybe I won’t get to write. Maybe my story is going to disappear if I don’t write today. Maybe I’m missing some stroke of inspiration that might happen, if only I sit, write, and open myself to it.

So I guess I’ll write anyway.

One of these days, I’m going to stop blogging about my writing neuroses, LOL. Goodness, what’s up with me lately? Ever have feelings like this?

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Monday, October 01, 2007

Being Different.

Back when I was young, no one else around me was named Natasha. This, I liked. In fact, when I was about four or five and at an amusement park, an adult other than my father or mother called out "Tasha!"

All three of us turned, but she was calling her daughter, also named Natasha.

I was jealous. How dare someone else have my name! It was mine. No one else’s!

I suppose it’s all my name’s fault. I’ve always wanted to be different. No matter the situation, the time in my life, whatever, I’ve always--whether consciously or unconsciously--chosen a different path.

To me, peer pressure was never an issue, except that if my friends chose one way, I was likely to choose the other. I liked being different, even though I’m a terrible people-pleaser.

Most of my life is slightly unconventional. I teach differently than most, I write in a tiny niche that is different, I prefer my sex a little different, I don’t have a house and two kids, I’m self-employed, I’ve only worked a 9 to 5 for five months, my DH is over twenty years older than me, and I hardly do anything that other people my age are doing. (Kids, dinner parties, houses, cars, climbing the career ladder, keeping up with the Joneses, etc.)

Right now, I’m considering another path that is different. (I’m not saying I’m different than everyone, just different from "normal.")

When I came back to the table at Borders today, where DH was reading to keep me company while I wrote, I realized how very happy my choices make me. It struck me how insane it is to try to fit into society’s molds and expectations. Every single difference in me brings me my greatest happiness.

I mean, different is just so much fun.

I suppose the downside to my name was that I never could buy those notepads with my name on them. Although my name is more common now and is often represented in those personalized items, it wasn’t when I was growing up. So no pencils that said "Natasha" on them.

But if that’s the only downside to being different, I’ll take it.

(And I’m not saying being "normal" isn’t fun. I’m sure it’s as much fun for some people as my life is for me, LOL.)

Any thoughts? What paths have you chosen in your life that were "different than?" Any regrets?

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