Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Crying On Stage

So two more days until guild auditions, which is when my students play everything in their memory bag plus scales, cadences, and arpeggios. This is gray-hair time for me.

Also at this time of year, I start to look at their progress through the eyes of what will the guild judge think? And it's kind of nice to realize that, wow, they've made some great progress this year.

Which always leads to the recital in May. At the award ceremony, I always cry up on stage, in the middle of handing out the awards.

It's because I'm so proud of the hard work they've done. But I dread this all year, because we're talking choked up, can't talk kind of crying.

And when you can't talk, it makes it difficult to give out the rest of the awards properly.

So I don't know. DH wants me to play a piece, which means I have to practice piano (a piece for me as opposed to practicing their pieces).  I would prefer to practice my speech, so I don't start crying.

I'm not a good speaker, but it doesn't bother me. Being onstage is more comfortable for me than being in the bathtub.  It feels like home up there. I just don't want to cry.

Any tips on not crying?

Read more...

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Eating and Serving Feeds 101

image The beauty of feeds is that your favorite blogs, web sites, and even news sites like the BBC will deliver all new content TO you, rather than you having to check to see if they've updated, search for new content, and manually click over to all your favorite sites.

Basically, it's about reading the web made easy for the READER.

The absolute joy of reading by feed is that you can follow 100 blogs by feed reader in the same time it takes to follow 10 blogs by clicking around and constantly checking to see who's updated when.

It's been proven that if you offer a feed, you get more visitors than if you don't. If you offer a full feed, you get more visitors than if you offer a partial feed.

Also, offering a feed makes it easy for your visitors to "stick."  If they like you, they click a button, add you to their feed reader, and then they ALWAYS know when you update your site. They always get a reminder when you update your site. Until they delete your feed, they're not going to miss anything you say.

Okay, so long post. I've got a starter on everything feed-related, and even a trick on using a feed to backup your blog, and a trick to reading all your comment conversations via feed!

OFFERING A FEED

I'm fairly certain every visitor here has a feed, and a full feed at that, except two of you. :-)  It seems a lot of you are unaware of it, though. :-)

Blogger: Anyone who has a blogger blog can go to Settings -> Site Feed and just turn everything to "Full." Your feed is generally automatically on.

WordPress.com (hosted on their site): Your feed is your blog address with a "/feed/" tacked on the end. I don't know if you can turn it on or off. Here is their guide on feeds.

WordPress.org (installed on your own server): A little more complicated, but they make finding your feed easy here. Click around to find out more. I'm not real familiar with them.

BURNING A FEED

If you want to turn it into a form that's better for the reader, then you "burn" it, and the "feed burner" will keep track of how many subscribers you have and what they use to read your feed. I use FeedBurner, owned by Google.

They also offer an option so your readers can sign up to receive your blog posts via email. (See my sidebar: enter your email, and my posts will be automatically delivered to your Inbox!)

THREE WAYS TO READ FEEDS

A feed reader is almost identical to an email reader. It's just like an Inbox. Just like email, you can read your feeds online or you can download them to your computer. And many email programs let you set up your feeds within your Inbox!

1. Online readers are like online email boxes. The two most popular are Google Reader and Bloglines. If you ever use more than one computer, then this is the way to go; then you can always go online and get your feeds.

Google Reader: I like Google Reader for several reasons. First, it allows you to subdivide your feeds in folders, and it has a catch-all "All Items" button, which allows you to scroll down through all the new blog posts easily.

Mobile Readers: If you have a palm or mobile phone that connects to the internet, Google Reader is the way to go; it has a special formatting when you read from mobile that works great.

Advanced: If you have Firefox and want to get technical, you can install the Better GReader extension for previewing within the reader -- you can even comment within the reader, too. There is also an extension where you can see your GMail box and your GReader side by side in the same window. Can't find it at the moment, though.

Bloglines: I don't know anything about Bloglines, but several of you guys use it, if my stats are correct. Maybe you can chime in and tell us how it works?

2. Desktop readers are like desktop email readers. Desktop readers are great, especially if you're always using only one computer. They're even better if you want to read later, when you're not connected to the Internet.

Outlook & Outlook Express: I found it awkward, but you can import the feeds to your inbox.  It's set up in another folder, like a different email address would be, almost.

Thunderbird: If you haven't tried Thunderbird, whatcha waiting for? All email and blog posts delivered to one place, organized just how you like it. It's perfect.

3. Home pages also let you subscribe to feeds. If you have one of those personalized home pages, like My Yahoo! or iGoogle, you can get feeds imported. I hear it's easy, but I don't use home pages.

SUBSCRIBING TO FEEDS

Subscribing is super easy. See up there, at the top, where you type in the internet address? Well, see that little image ?  Well, that's the feed button. Click on it, and then your browser (I'm not real sure about IE, but Firefox is great) will give you an options of what program to subscribe to the feed with.

image Sometimes people have bigger buttons in their sidebar. And sometimes people have tinier strips like this: image.

Some have the feeds hidden way down in the "Meta Data" as a link called "RSS," and some you have to really dig around to find it.

They're really just a link. Copy and paste the link into your feed reader, or just click it ... most browsers will hook it up to your feed reader automatically.

BACKING UP YOUR BLOG WITH FEEDBURNER

If you burn your feed, then you can get a gmail account and subscribe to your feed via email. Then all your posts go to your gmail account, and you can archive! Voila! Done! And you'll never lose it.

(If Google ever goes out of business, I'm screwed.)

FOLLOWING COMMENTS BY FEED

So if you like to leave comments, and you find yourself clicking back endlessly to see where the conversation went, then there's an easier way!

Kinda Easier: Many comment pages have a "subscribe to comments" feed. If you subscribe, then you can get every single comment delivered to your feed reader. This gets kind of messy, because then you get every single comment ever on the blog.

Kinda Easier II: Many comment pages will let you "subscribe to comments of this post only."  That's nice, but then you have to manually subscribe to every conversation you participate in, and then two years later, those feeds are still cluttering your reader.

Easiest: 1) Sign up at http://co.mments.com/.  2) Click Tools/Setting for a little bookmarklet to put in your browser toolbar. 3) On your Tracking Page, click "Subscribe" (upper right corner). It's a feed. 4) When you're on a comment page, just click that bookmarklet (Track co.mments).

And that's it!

Now the rest of the comments will be delivered to your feed reader. No more running back and forth, checking to see if anyone else has responded or added to the conversation!

READING PERSONALIZED NEWS VIA READER

If you dig a little around CNN and BBC and newspaper sites, you can subscribe to certain topics via email and/or feed. Some will filter their content and deliver a feed to your favorite keyword, like "espionage," "spies," "CIA," etc.

Did that make sense? It's harder to explain than it is to do.

If you want to start dabbling, the easiest way is to just sign up for Google Reader and start clicking on that little button in the address bar (then select Google, and then select Google Reader). Pretty soon you'll be a feed pro!

Once you start, you will NEVER look back. Feeds are AWESOME.

Any cool tricks I missed? Anything I got wrong? Any questions? And if you read by feed, what's your favorite way to read?

Read more...

Monday, April 28, 2008

Full Feed or Partial Feed or No Feed ...

Okay. Here's the deal.

*start rant*

If you have no feed, I'm going to have no reminder when you update your site. I'm going to have no little niggle in my feed reader to remind me to go to your site. I am likely going to forget about your site altogether and never come back again. Sad, but true.

So God Bless those who have feeds.

But what are people who have only partial feeds thinking?

I understand the splogging concerns. I think a whole .00005% of partial feed users I know are in danger of being splogged.

Which leaves me to imagine: why only have partial feeds?

Reason 1: So I will come and look at your pretty design.

Sorry, but I already saw your design and either liked it or didn't. Either way, I'm not going to read your content unless I, um, like your content. Pretty is as pretty does. And frankly, after I've seen the site once or twice, I stop rolling over the mouseovers obsessively and I stop oohing and ah-ing over the design. It becomes invisible, and I ... read your content. I don't need to visit for that.

Reason 2: So I will come and comment.

Here's the thing: I have to read your post to become inspired to comment. And here's the other thing: you can have your whole post to persuade me to come visit, or you can have your headline and first five lines.

Are you really making your headlines and your first paragraph whizz-bang enough to make me want to click through to read the rest of your post?

And if you want comments, you're probably asking a question at the end.

You know, the end I'm not reading because you only gave me a partial feed.

Why make it harder on yourself?

Reason 3: So I will come and click on your ads.

Fair enough. You better make that headline and first paragraph REALLY enticing.

*end rant*

Bottom line: Do you want five lines to convince me to come visit, or do you want your whole post to do the job?

Fact is, I read every post in my reader. A few from the group blogs, I might skim. I click over to comment in about 4 - 15 a day.  In the past month, I have clicked over to partial feeds ... zero times. Okay, maybe once.

Google Reader does not let me read partial feeds on my palm, darnit.

Are you a feed reader? And if so, do you click over to partial feeds? If you don't read feeds, how do you know when people update their site? Or do you just visit every day, regardless? If you have a partial feed on your site (Sorry, I love you anyway, you know that!), why a partial feed and not a full feed?

Read more...

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Favorite Quotes?

So I set up Google Desktop on my computer, and it has this add-on called The Quotes. It cycles through a bunch of quotes, and I happen to love quotes.

The pre-installed quotes are pretty cool, but I'm making my own custom file of quotes, with Rumi and the like (any spiritual/philosophical poetry grabs me), with more writing ones, too.

So will you help me? What are some of your favorite quotes?

Here's one that just makes me laugh:

"Ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I will not put." ~Sir Winston Churchill.

Read more...

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Gift of Failure

So one of my personal heroes was in my town yesterday to give Master Classes and a couple workshops. Two of my students got to play, which was awesome! They played fabulous, and we all had a blast. The teacher was AMAZING.

What surprised me was that there was a moment when I was talking to this woman alone, and she said something that made she realize she was human, too. (Of course.)

Even more, and perhaps I just read my own feelings into it, but it made me realize that even she worries about failure, too. In fact, I thought I saw (I probably imagined it) in her face, for a moment, the same feeling I feel, quite often.

It's that deep sense of failure, that horrible feeling of looking at your shortcomings and picking up their heavy burden.

This is probably going to come across weird, but there seems to be a few people out there that think I'm a pretty good teacher. Me? I stare at my failures every day, and it hurts. I mean, it is overwhelming.

For me, it seems part of the journey to becoming better at anything means looking at my failures.

Imagine if I thought I was perfect. How would I improve?

So in that sense, we need to look at our failures, like Atreyu when forced to go through the Magic Mirror Gate. It's part of the process.

Knowing our little failures does not mean we need to declare ourselves a failure. Looking at our failures does not need to be as torturous as we often make it out to be. I'm trying to look at my failures as hope. First, it's encouraging to know that I know enough to recognize my failures. And second, the failures are a gift, a path showing me how I can improve.

My new motto is: failures are my friends.

And little failures don't mean we aren't good at what we do, either.

I've noticed that in many artist-types, that sense of failure is deep and strong. I also notice that across the board, not just writers, a whole lot of artists have a deep compassion and love for humanity.

I got all that from one remark and one expression. Who knows if she was mentally looking into that abyss at that moment or if I was just imagining it.

Even though I've thought this before, it struck me again, yesterday.

Sometimes the greatest gift we can give each other is our humanity, to show each other our weaknesses and share our vulnerabilities.

Isn't that something? Our imperfections and insecurities can be a gift to others!

Thoughts?

Read more...

Friday, April 25, 2008

Deep Thought, After Bedtime Questions

I have a question. So those energy saving light bulbs. We finally found some that put out actual light. (We kept buying these ones that put out this crazy blue light and it may as well have been pitch black for all I could see.)

My question: do they really save anything on your electric bill? Did you see a marked difference right away?

And I still don't understand how the mercury in them isn't hurting our environment ...

We had a huge garden growing up. Three or four rows of tomatoes, corn, beans, pumpkins, cantaloupe.  There was a level down with a good-sized patch that was mine, about twelve rows, from about 4 - 9 years old. (Then my dad died, so there was no more gardening.) Anyway, I was pretty good at it then.

But I don't remember much. Is there a vegetable gardening for idiots guide?

Remember that show? Victory Garden or something, with that nice guy? I watched that twice a day with my Dad, LOL.

The tomatoes will make great salsa and tomato sauce presents come Christmas. Bummer that I gave away my canning jars a few years back.

Everything I think about, lately, has to do with investing in our future, saving money, saving the environment.

We pretty much cleared out any semblance of savings when my foot got hurt. (And they didn't even fix it! Don't get me started.)

But I thought today: even though I don't have much of a savings making interest, I have stories making interest. My stories are an investment, you know?

It's not like a job where you put in the time and then it's done. You get paid and that's all you get. With writing, it keeps growing.

That's one really cool thing about writing. When you write, you don't just put in the time, get paid, and it's done. No, even after you get done, it's like a bank: your writing keeps making money for you.

Plant a seed, and it feeds you all year.

Society is changing, I think. As much as I hate this economic crunch, it's forcing people to make changes, to grow gardens, to drive less.

Have you been to The Story of Stuff? It helped make me feel good about my changing values. I don't want any stuff; I keep getting rid of it. I refuse to buy anything that's not some sort of investment. I'm trying not to buy books; instead, I'm trying to save up for a Kindle, and then I'll just read ebooks.

Bush is trying to return us to a spending society this summer, but I'm not sure that's going to happen. The complexities of economics is something I haven't studied much. I know consumerism helps the world go around, but ... our priorities are different now.

The only kind of things I want to buy right now are seeds. A laptop to write stories to invest in royalties. Information to invest in my future. Seeds to invest in a harvest of food to feed my little family.

Are your values and wants changing? Do you notice more of those around you changing?

Anyone out there know more about economics than I? What do you think of Bush's stimulus plan?

What would happen if we, as a society, strayed from consumerism? Would our economic system collapse? What do you think of Time Banking, and building communities based on sharing that most precious commodity?

Where will we be in fifty years? A hundred?

Read more...

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The U.S.A. or the U.S.?

You know, I just now noticed. When I was growing up, I lived in the U.S.A.

I now live in the U.S.

Did you notice that? That's kinda weird.

The food crisis is giving me a sick stomach. It makes me feel silly when I complain about my doubled food budget, because so many are subsisting on one bowl of rice a day. If that. So many have cut out vegetables, even, from their diet. That sucks.

And I usually love The Economist, but I was irritated by this remark that was presented as proof that Baltimore is a safe city with crime on the decline:

"Last year, 89% of those murdered in Baltimore had a criminal record."

Kinda made me sick. I know murdered little girls are treated differently from murdered prostitutes, but ... still. I don't care who is murdered: it's still murder. The statistic quoted above is nothing to be proud of.

Read more...

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

New Agency Blog ...

Just a quickie. You guys have probably all heard. I'm always the last on these things, for some reason. :-)

Folio Literary Management is blogging.

Read more...

Crushin' On Another Opening

Today's Tuesday and I love Tuesdays at the bookstore. Today David Baldacci's The Whole Truth came out.

I picked it up, read the first line, and then put it down.

I'm afraid I had me one of those little temper tantrums we writers sometimes have when something is so good you want to stomp your feet because you didn't think of it and you didn't write it.

After a minute of muttering damn under my breath and making a circle around another table, I started to get that Oh COOL! feeling.

You know, that feeling where you totally start crushing on a book?

image The book, as far as I can tell, both starts and centers around one idea. Definitely high concept. In fact, his first line is the whole book. (Take that with some salt; I haven't read the whole book, yet.)

That first line?

"Dick, I need a war."

Oh, GAWD. Isn't that perfect? Doesn't that contain such true elements, or such elements that feel true? That one line is not only a whole novel, but a line that resonates with us, in light of Bush and our current war.

It's only a few lines later when Baldacci throws in this gem of a line:

"I am dead. I was murdered."

We get to follow the development of that line for two more fascinating pages.

On the fourth page, we come to the end of the first chapter, and Baldacci plants a PERFECT TWIST (I don't want to ruin the experience for you.) that ensures that you will buy this book, you will read this book. The twist literally catapults you into the rest of the novel.

As if the first line didn't.

There's something to ponder. His first line is enough, the second line was plenty, and the twist was just ... way beyond.

Here's an excerpt, but it falls a little flat for me because it skips the one paragraph prologue. That prologue is indispensable with its first line, "Dick, I need a war."

I constantly tell my students, once they finish memorizing and learning a piece, that they've barely begun. Particularly those who want to do competitions. You really have to have all the pieces in place. You have to have the perfect notes, the perfect rhythm, the perfect expression and control and then ... that's just the beginning.

I believe that in art, there is a level you can get to where you're guaranteed success.

Well, that's my faith, my religion, and I'm sticking to it.

And that's not to say I believe one can't have success before reaching that level (dear God, I hope so). In fact, I believe 90% do. It just takes more luck,  more being in the right place at the right time.

Maybe we just reach success on the way to that level, if you're lucky..

At least, I hope so.

I also all art is the pursuit of unattainable perfection.

Have you read any killer openings lately that made you crush on the book immediately? Do you have a favorite opening? Are you a first line junkie like me, LOL?

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What Are Your Mental Leg Irons?

Even though I once roomed with a girl going through the process of converting to Judaism, I don't know all that much about the religion. We had some fun conversations, (I just love learning about religions), but she never explained Passover to me in this way:

"This week, while I eat my daily matzo, I'll
be trying to identify my own mental leg irons.
I'll search out the fetters that limit my
perceptions and/or interactions, that prevent
me from flying even freer in my creativity, that
stifle the best in my life and loves."

Isn't that beautiful? Read Pari's post at Murderati yesterday.

I'm going with the idea that my lack of organization is my leg iron, which is why I'm organizing my feeds. My addiction to blogging, of course, is not a leg iron.

(Not to diminish her post with a joke. I'm going to give her question some serious thought this week.)

I am making friends with Google Reader again. I think I'm going back to it, because it's too clumsy to add Feeds into Thunderbird. It feels like I don't have enough blogs to visit every day! I don't know what's up. I need to go through my blogroll and make sure you're all in my reader.

Speaking of which, are you in my blogroll?

If not, please tell me. Really, please. Because if you're not, I'm going to miss out when you update your blog, and I hate to miss things.

  1. This is a most sensible post on promotion, by Lynn Viehl.
  2. I am so bummed Tess Gerritsen's blog is being shut down. I'm sad. I aspired to be her blog one day. 
  3. And I like Jason Pinter's post on the Point System.  Interesting.
  4. This is late news, but does this mean my beloved Borders is going to be okay?
  5. Have you been to edittorent? Awesome site.

So what are your mental leg irons? And are you in my blogroll?

Read more...

Monday, April 21, 2008

Seeking the BAM! And Foot-in-Mouth Syndrome.

At the start of every new project, I suddenly start analyzing "How I Write."

I think this is because, at the end of every project, I suddenly feel this emptiness, this void, and this fear that I have forgotten how to write. So I dive into self-analysis to remember how I write, and I realize that I've forgotten how I, say, came up with my idea. Usually I just sit down and write and out they spill.

That's hardly any comfort when staring at fear.

A lot has spilled into my spy thriller, mostly the arc and conflicts of my two main character's relationship.

But I haven't found the BAM.

Or maybe I have.

I have quite a few novellas that people told me I wrote in an unexpected way, or came up with an original hook, or something "unlike anything they've read in the genre." The thing is, I didn't feel they were that original at ALL. I'm talking, I felt the ideas were just run of the mill, and they were obvious to me. Maybe they were new to the publisher, but not new if you look at the big picture.

I've always considered myself a writer whose strength lies more in the execution than the idea. I mean, EVERYTHING's been done before. Sometimes I feel I pull a little of this and a little of that.

I see the roots of my story so clearly, that I fear everyone else can, too. I know my execution is completely different and that I've altered nearly everything. I know I make an effort to see what the reader expects and then twist it, but in the end ... it all feels so obviously the way I'd do it, that it's not original to me.

Knowing thyself is hard.

On another note, I have great pity for authors who stick their foot in their mouth. Or who get their foot shoved in their mouth by the petty dramatists around.

Still, when I read this comment by I.J. Parker at Crime Fiction Dossier, I read it five times to see if the feelings of offense in me were skewing his meaning:

On the whole, I'm getting sick of the mass of
mysteries that were written specifically to make
women feel good about themselves. Clearly
their sales success proves that most female
readers need such encouragement.

Huh?

Moving on.

So do you 'know thyself' when it comes to writing? Or is much of it shrouded in mystery and hazy memory? And do you feel that all your writing is, despite your best efforts, obvious? Do you recognize your own originality? Or does it feel banally normal to you?

Read more...

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Six Random Things

Meg tagged me for the six random things about me meme (along with several of you a few months ago!).

  1. If you've ever hung out with actors, then you know you can make the generalization that they have a tendency to affect voices. Sometimes, I have a tendency to do it with my writing, sometimes. If you haven't noticed.
  2. I cannot translate. Like, I used to read, understand and speak German, but if you ask me to translate, it's incredibly difficult for me. So, for example, if you say "die Katze," I see an image of a cat, but it's difficult for me to pull up the word, "Cat."  I either think in one language or the other, not two at the same time. 
  3. Likewise, I have trouble using words to teach music. I'm more likely to grunt and play it and show it.  This gets as bad as me having the inability to recall the names of my pieces. So, when I used to get asked what pieces I was working on, I'd say, "La-la-lala-la," and "La la-la-la La." and "Laaaaah, La La."
  4. I am forgetful and my mind is disorganized. Somehow, this leads people to tell me, "You're so organized!" This is because I plan, plan, and write everything down.
  5. I have a cleaning list hanging in each room, I write everything down, and I have a list next to the door: keys, cell, palm pilot, purse.
  6. Anything that's not on the list I forget. So this winter, when DH was gone, I only remembered my coat two or three times. Even with four feet of snow.

Who am I going to tag? Why don't you just share something random about yourself here? Or if you wanna play, let me know, and I'll link you here!

Finally, I accidentally started the tradition of asking how your WIPs are going and what you're working on every Sunday. At first, it was because I had nothing to talk about, but now I look forward to hearing how things are going.

So ... whatcha working on? How's it going? Are you in the beginning, middle, or end? And how was your weekend?

Read more...

Friday, April 18, 2008

The Journey

So I was teaching the other day, and in walks one of my students. In he walks, all happy and confident as if the last year and a half of struggling with his I'm-afraid-I-can't-do-it and his verge of quitting.

I've pushed him through the challenge, and now that he has it?

The last year and a half are forgotten.

He's all happy and confident, self-motivated and everything.

Mostly it's because he's just finished memorizing everything, so he just has a few loose ends to tie up before he can show off this amazing piece to his friends. See, learning advanced pieces is a bit like writing a novel.

We're talking looooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooong-term goal.

Kids just don't do long-term goals these days. And when faced with the fear that they won't be able to do it? They quit.

Heck. Even adults struggle with long-term goals.

Anyway, I was thinking. You know how they say actually finishing a novel puts you ahead of 90% of wannabe novelists?

Well, I'm thinking that doing any hugely long-term goal, like learning an advanced piece or writing a novel, puts you ahead of 90% of the population.

Adults and kids alike. Long-term goals are a HUGE challenge. They're just one of those things that can't be reasoned. You have to learn how to deal with the fear in your own way.

Learning how to work through fear is another biggie.

Just some thoughts. If I'm scarce the next two weeks, it's because these are the busiest of my year. I might have some old drafts saved up that I never posted, though.

So what long-term goals have you tackled? How did you work through the fear? What's the first memory you've had of a goal you thought you wouldn't be able to do, were certain you'd never be able to achieve, but did? How did you make it through?

Some kids are hard-wired from birth to be long-term goal-ers. (I've had two in my whole teaching career, and they both did AMAZING things.)

Were you like that? Is there a secret trick you have?

Read more...

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

I Survived.

I did my 2006 taxes in December of 2006.

That was nice.

I did my 2007 taxes in April of 2007.

That was not.

But I survived.

You?

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Monday, April 14, 2008

Patterns in Chaos

I love Mark Terry's post today, We're All Liars.  My religious beliefs are ... eclectic. But really, it all comes down to the power of belief. I believe in belief and the power it holds.

After Mark Terry's post, I realized how much my religion influences my views of reading, writing, and the industry.

I am constantly seeking patterns. Constantly. You have no idea, LOL. I analyze everything. I come to conclusions about everything. Some of them you've heard before:

  1. All the bestsellers have impeccable rhythm. They never miss even a microbeat.
  2. Writers who are published have a confidence with their writing. When you read them, you can feel that they know exactly what they're doing, exactly what the effect of their words is on a reader. They wield their words. They are aware of and use their power.
  3. A cliche can be used, as long as it's a starting point and it's deepened, explored, emotionalized, and given a "but."
  4. "Fresh" stories are written with a "but."  For example, they give the reader what the reader expects with the knowledge of what the reader expects, but then they throw in a "but" to keep things interesting.

Some of my conclusions are so crazy that I don't share, with the certain knowledge people would roll their eyes. ;-) I also have what I call hypotheses, ideas that I'm still testing:

  1. A very good story is just as interesting read backwards as it is if read normally.
  2. A novel is more like a fugue than a sonata.
  3. Self-promotion is useless, but believing that your self-promotion works actually tends to ... work. It seems. Well. Look at JA Konrath.
  4. Or maybe self-promotion is useless unless you go all the way and then some.
  5. Readers are not that picky. Really. I'd say they are about 10% as picky as editors and agents.

Like I said on Mark's blog, I believe in the power of belief. I believe in analyzing and drawing conclusions, even when you're always open to the belief that it's possible there is no rhyme or reason.  So, in my religion of the book industry, this is what I believe about pursuing excellence, about pursuing a career in an art:

  1. The more patterns you can see, the more control you have over taking yourself to the next level.
  2. There are always patterns.
  3. Everything they say about an art that's just talent, just creative, just ... whatever, can be analyzed, dissected, and applied.
  4. The key to improvement is finding the patterns you can't currently see. There's always more. The greatest, in any field, see, understand, and use more patterns than the others in their field.

But, again, just what I believe. Who really knows?

So what patterns do you see? What do you believe? What do you believe without proof? What do you believe, even with more proof to the contrary?

Read more...

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Zip, Zap, Zoom

Firefox 3 is in its final beta version, which means it's as perfect as I can notice, techno-dunce that I am. It is SO fast, it feels like you have a new computer. I switched early because my computer is old and slow, and it was getting stuck with the amount of memory Firefox 2 used.

Firefox 3 is really fast. I thought people were just saying that, and it was just tech-nerd buzz.

Nope. It feels like I have a new computer. What is cooler than that?

And for free!

Today is Global Day for Darfur. The list of participating organizations is huge, and what strikes me is not only the long list of organizations who care about this issue, but the wide variety of approaches they have to the problems.

I'm still reading Lee Child's Without Fail backwards. It's a fascinating study, and I can't put it down. Even backwards. Except the cat knocked it into the tub (he really likes to watch things fall), and so now it's too wet to read.

How do you dry a book out? One would think I should know that sort of thing.

When I was growing my teaching business, I had a habit of shaking things up. I mean, really shaking things up. I would change so much from year to year, I would lose about 20% of my students with every change. I would make BIG changes. (The 20% didn't matter, because I'd get double that calling me.) I learned a ton. So did the kids.

I make fewer risks every year.

I remember the me that used to insist that you're not shaking things up enough if it's not scary. That if you're not shaking things up, you're not growing.

I tell my students to go crazy during their twenties. Explore, live, take risks.

But who ever said it had to stop in your thirties?

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Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Universe

Geezuz. I had a whole post in my head. I wanted to come home and tell you how I'd done one thing differently, and it had opened in my mind so many possibilities that my mind was racing and unpuzzling all day long.

It was exhilarating.

DH kept asking me why I was staring at the ceiling, gnawing at my lip, and half-smiling.

And I had a huge breakthrough in teaching, while writing. It's funny how all the things in my life feed each other. How one thing teaches me about the other, how working on another thing forces me to improve on the first thing.

It's cool.

So I get home, thrilled, totally excited to teach this week, after this HUGE breakthrough. I haven't felt this excited in months, maybe even a couple years!

And, as usual, a parent has an email for me.

Because teaching isn't really about teaching. In our society today, we must not only be held accountable for how the students learn, but we must force them to learn with our hands tied behind our backs and all power to actually prepare them taken away from us.

*sigh*

What can you do? You pace, you plan, you time things, and in the end, no matter what you plan, they sweep the rug out from under the plan in the eleventh hour, and still expect the same results.

Sometimes, teaching makes me tired. Real tired.

But that's okay. Sleep, wake up, new day, new enthusiasm.

Ah well. Sometimes you wonder: when is something an obstacle to be overcome, and when is something a message from the universe?

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Friday, April 11, 2008

Crazy Weird Writer

I'm a little bit weird. I approach music and writing as I would approach an athletic event, or an athletic training regime. I draw from piano, swimming, and taekwondo for writing.

Today I sat down and considered the fact that I want to improve my endings. So many books have brilliant beginnings, and then the middle and end are ... well, just normal. 

One weird thing I've done, in the past, is to re-type novels and stories that I want to deconstruct and figure out. I figure, composers handcopy the composers they admire, to figure out how the music works, so why shouldn't it work for writing?

It does.

Except, I always stop once I get to the middle. I decide to type up these genius beginnings, and then the middle falls flat and I stop typing. Hence, I don't type the end, either.

I was reading a book about the art of learning by that chess/Tai Chi Chuan genius. He talked about learning the endgame thoroughly before learning opening moves.

John Irving said he started his books at the end. (So did R.J. Keller!)  I don't. But it got me thinking.

And I remembered that when I learn a piece, I always start at the end and work my way backwards.

So I figured, what if I read a book backwards?

Wouldn't that be something?

I like to turn things upside down, examine things from different angles. Look at things in a new way.  Force my brain out of its box.

Maybe I should type it backwards.

Heck, maybe I should write a book backwards.

Do you do any weird things to "train" as a writer? What's the weirdest thing you've ever done?  And genius beginnings abound in novels. Can you recommend any genius middles? Brilliant endings?

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Lessons of Narnia

Michele's post, Still Searching for the Magic, is totally the inspiration for this post. Narnia holds many memories for me.

I first read The Chronicles of Narnia in second grade. I was enchanted. I loved Aslan. My second grade teacher gently suggested the word, allegory. I can't tell you how pissed I was. The betrayal! I wanted Narnia to be real, not a freaking allegory.

I read them again in fourth grade. I remember sitting on my bed and bawling because I could not go to Narnia, and because Narnia was not real. I hoped and hoped and wished, but there I was, stuck in this old world.

Some time in high school, I believe, my best friend and I began a tradition of reading the series together. We would often spend the night or the weekend at each other's houses, mostly reading. At least, that's what I recall.

I also recall she would track and compare our reading speeds. ;-)

The tradition continued in college. When we'd visit for the weekend, we'd reread the seven books again.  I remember her sitting in a pizza shop window, curled up with Prince Caspian.

I still love the Narnia series. I still refuse to entertain any notion of the series being an allegory. I don't care if C.S. Lewis said as much. I don't care if C.S. Lewis even pointed it out in the series. I. Don't. Care.

I love Narnia, definitely more than I love this old world.

The lesson? If you give a reader a magical world, if you make your reader fall in love with that world, if you make that world so real that she longs to live there ... for goodness sake, don't take away the magic by saying, "Just kidding. It's not real. It's just an allegory."

Down with allegories!

Read more...

How do you ... ?

  1. Facebook? I've just joined. It's a great way to procrastinate taxes and starting a new WIP.  What's the social etiquette? Do I respond on the wall, just like a blog comments section?
  2. Feel when you end a WIP? I feel weird. Lonely. Lost. Empty. Kinda yucky. I've got this underlying terror that I'll never be able to write another story again. I only feel good when in the middle of the muck of writing.
  3. Feel when you start a new WIP? Do you ever get nervous at first? I feel like I can't relax and call myself a writer again until I've gotten a good 8 - 10,000 words into it. What is up with that? I automatically take away the title of writer, every time I take a day off? Yikes, I'm nutso.
  4. Start a new WIP? I jump in until I've reassured myself that I've got something there to work with. What about you?

And have you heard of Digsby? It puts MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, Instant Messaging, and Email all in one place, right on the side of your computer, so all of the above can interrupt you whenever anything happens.

This is crazy.

And I love Scrabulosisisurlsuw, whatever it's called.

Read more...

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

He Still Chews Loudly.

Guess what? Lainey Bancroft's new release, Waiting to Waltz, is out today! Head on over, wish her well, and then buy her new book (or even better, buy all three in the series). She writes with a particular depth of character I admire. It makes her writing stand out, better and different.

Last night I broke down. I could stand it no longer. I had to blog. I was jittery and restless. I kept thinking of things I wanted to tell you guys. I wanted to read what was up with you guys.

In fact, you wouldn't believe all I got done on Sunday and Monday. The threat of not blogging makes me work SO much faster! (I still have a lot to do, I'm just taking a day to blog. :-)

To both my great relief and consternation, my DH still chews loudly. I'm so happy he's home. Except he's a slave driver.

Speaking of which, back to work for me. :-)

How are things on your end? Do you have your taxes done? Did you manage without crying? (Always an achievement for me, LOL!)

How's writing?

(Read: please tell me everything I'm missing! And then maybe I can get through another three days of no-blogging!)

Read more...

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Yay!!!

He's coming home! He'll be here tomorrow night.

Between reconnecting with him, getting my taxes done, getting a big scheduling thing for my studio, and getting a mailing out, I can't let myself spend time blogging next week.

I mean it this time. No internet for me!

Just one week, though. I'll miss you guys.

Will you still remember me in a week?

Read more...

Friday, April 04, 2008

Music, the Distraction.

So Borders is having a guitarist, and she's playing really cool music.  I can barely read or write.  That's both a compliment to her and a selfish complaint.

Right now, she's playing the Godfather theme.  This cracks me up, because my stepbrother always watches the Godfather while rolling meatballs. (In my Italian step family, the women cook, but the men roll the meatballs.)

When I did gigs, it was the song that I always played about two hours in, when I was sipping on my third drink. (I cannot do that sort of playing without drinks. I'm not a lush, I swear.)  Boy, I just loved hamming that one up. 

It's the only "gig song" I'll play when not doing a gig.  So when I get home from a night of drinking at 2 am, I'll sit down and play the Godfather theme, over and over ad nauseum until I fall asleep on the piano bench.

Now she's playing some movie music from Chocolat.  Now that just makes me drool over Johnny Depp.

I mean, really, come on. Johnny Depp. You can't actually expect me to focus on writing on a Friday night when I'm hearing Johnny Depp and drinking songs?

Tonight, I have this burning wish that you were all local, and I could call you guys up and we could all spontaneously go to a bar and have a big old party.  We could laugh, complain, cry, shoot the shit.

No wonder writers hang out in the bar at conferences.

Okay. Back to writing. I swear. I'm writing now, right now. Only 2,000 words and this novella that won't end will be finished!

I've mentioned before that I have a tough time listening to music and writing. It's one or the other. But I can listen to music and drink. :-)  I can listen to music and spend time with friends.

So if you were local, would you come? To a big old drinking bash? Spend an evening just having a party?  Oh, gawwwd, I want to go out. Whatever happened to all the friends I could just call up and say, "Let's have a party tonight!"?

Oh, right. We grew up. And, gosh, having more than two drinks costs days and days of my body going, "What the ****? Do you think you're twenty or something?"

Blah. Back to work.

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What Motivates You?

The question is going around the blogosphere, prompted by a post at BookEnds.

I've been thinking, lately, about motivation. I've often said that money motivates me, but that's not quite true. In fact, if you read the studies, money does not motivate employees all that much, not as much as benefits and atmosphere, and all the other stuff.

And when organizations look for help? Volunteers will gladly do things, but if you pay them a little bit, then they will monetize it and say it's not worth doing. Strange, that, but true.

Y'all know I've had difficulty motivating myself to write a spy thriller, when I'm making money from pseudonym, money that's definitely needed. Luckily, I have a break in my schedule for a little while, but ... still.

Getting published doesn't motivate me, because I feel I am. Getting my real name in Borders doesn't motivate me, because I've done that. Getting more money kinda motivates me, but that's not a sure thing and it comes with a huge risk of getting none. Getting readers doesn't motivate me, because I already have them.

So I've been lolly-gagging on my "real name" career.

The other week the editor for another anthology emailed me, and, well, truthfully, those doesn't make that much money. When you add in the research (re-reading 18 books!), it may be 4,000 words, but ... it takes at least a whole month.

BUT, I love my editor. I learned so much, last time. I'm thrilled to do it, for mostly that reason, and also because the message of my essay is something I feel deeply.

Then, the other day, when Erica was talking about her editor? I realized: how cool would it be to work with a brilliant editor on a novel? How cool would it be to have an agent who wouldn't mind brainstorming with me? How cool would it be to have those opportunities to take my writing to the next level?

I don't believe you can "wait" for an editor to take your work to the next level, don't get me wrong. I think you need to get what you have perfect, and then better than perfect, so an editor can point out the things you can't see.

Anyway, since I had this realization, I've been totally motivated. I am SO excited by the thought--it feels like when I was practicing my fingers off to get into conservatory. I want to LEARN!

Getting published is a thing. It's not really a real thing. It's just a thing that's out there, kind of separate. The readers are another thing. They change the way you write, and that's cool. They're joys and cake and dessert. But all that stuff doesn't ever feel real to me. I've always known that, but ...

I've never put two and two together: I had to find a different motivation.

What motivates you? And if it's getting published, that's cool. It's a thrill, a roller coaster ride. I don't mean to say otherwise.

Read more...

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Interesting Question

I was reading through Seth Godin's archives, and came across a question he asked (but didn't answer):

"How come books get blurbed and promoted
by other authors, but movies don't get blurbed
and promoted by other directors and actors?"

I don't know the answer to that, but it's an interesting question. I like that we do. I get a rush every time I hand-sell a book, a real high.

Whereas, when I'm in Borders, I'm more likely to keep the fact secret that I've got a little essay in a book, but I am all over people who pick up a book by someone who's blog I read, or is in my chapter. 

Like, the other day, I introduced someone to The Ghost Dusters series by Wendy Roberts. (Awesome book! I can't wait until the next one comes out! The only reason I haven't raved to you guys, yet, is because I'm saving it up for a whole post. It's worthy of a whole post.)

Similarly, I check my stats. I get excited when people click through to one of you guys's books. And even more thrilled when they buy it on Amazon. (I do get a referral fee, but it's so low, I'm not worth paying. I think I have a whole eighty cents earned, so far.)

I just love selling other people's books so much, I've actually considered working in a bookstore. In fact, I consider it every summer, but my teaching schedule is crazy, and I still need time to write.

And I love writing in bookstores, so I'm afraid working in one would put a crimp in my style, LOL.

Do you think Borders would take volunteers?

Anyway, I don't know the answer to Seth's question. Do you?

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I Heart Southwest Airlines

So, may I tell you how much I appreciate Southwest Airlines?

I have a voice. A high-pitched voice. And when I call and a computer asks me to talk, it NEVER understands me. I try to enunciate, I try to talk louder, I try to talk lower. But no matter what, it never understands me.

Every call deteriorates into: "I'm sorry," says the clipped computer voice, "I did not get that. Please state your ..."

And me frantically talking louder and louder, trying to get it to understand, while it continually apologizes.

Invariably our conversation deteriorates into me yelling into the phone, "Operator! Human! Human Being! Operator! I want to talk to a fucking Human Being!"

And, of course, I pound on the "0" key, but this rarely transfers one to an operator anymore. Over it all, I keep hearing, "I'm sorry. I did not get that. Please state your reason for calling."

They still won't transfer me, not until I enter the wrong account number about ten times.  Nothing can make my stress level from zero to a million in a second like getting a computer on the phone.

SO .... imagine how happy I was when I called Southwest Airlines, and I only had to say "Operator" once at their first question, and they immediately transferred me to a human being.

And then, can you believe it? Southwest Airlines does not, as a policy, charge to change your plane ticket. If the flight you're changing to is more expensive, then you have to pay the difference, but you don't have to pay a charge.

And say you're late for a flight, and you just don't show up?

You don't lose the money you spent. Not even if you call them months later.

Oh, and I have to add, the customer service people (I've talked to three already), are all nice. They act like they want to talk to you. It's wonderful.

So I just want to say, I Heart Southwest Airlines.

Read more...

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Life Before Death

Have you heard of Walter Schels, the seventy-two year-old photographer who was so terrified of dying, he felt compelled to capture the images and stories of twenty-four people, before and after their death.

When people die, when their spirits pass on, it's the most beautiful, peaceful thing. It's amazing, a true miracle, the most beautiful peace I've ever felt in my life.

But what's left, after?

Is terrifying.  As a child, I wrote a story, once, about a girl at her father's funeral. I can't remember whether it was supposed to be fiction or not, but it was basically non-fiction, LOL. I can remember the fear, and I can remember for years afterward, I had nightmares that I would open a closet, and my dad would fall out, straight and stiff and dead.

It seems Schels approached the project with the hopes of making peace with death and a much worse childhood memory:

From The Guardian article:

... all his life, says Schels, he has had a crippling fear
of death, and of dead bodies. "I was brought up in
Munich during the war, and one day our house was
bombed. I saw many bodies - limbs torn off, heads
torn off, terrible things - and I have never forgotten
them. Since that day, I was always afraid of dead
bodies. Even when my mother died - she was 89
years old, and I'd taken her photograph earlier that
very day - I didn't want to see her after death."

So it took every ounce of his courage to embark
on a project that was going to force him into such
close contact with the dead. "I was filled with
terror. Sometimes when I was taking pictures of a
body I would be loading my camera and I'd keep
looking at their face out of the corner of my eye,
making sure they really were dead. Once I had
a dream in which one of the subjects woke up
during the shoot, and said, 'What are you doing?'
And I knew she was dead but I didn't want to tell
her, and in my dream I was thinking, 'Oh no,
how am I going to tell her she's dead?'"

You can see a good part of the Life Before Death collection here, with the subject's stories and thoughts on death.  I will admit I read the stories and looked at the pictures with my stomach in a terror.

I think, as a society that worships youth, we have failed the older generation. Sometimes, they're looked upon as children, but they're not. They're wise and full of life experience. We should respect them, admire them.  It's not just our responsibility to care for them, but to show them they are an integral, important, and needed part of our society.

I remember what it felt like to suddenly be worthless to society, to be completely useless. Maybe we can't understand that feeling, unless we feel it. I remember not being suicidal, but feeling very point-of-factly that if I could only lie in bed, with no hope of getting better, then I was just taking up space. And that I should just die, because I wasn't living, because I wasn't contributing.

But, thankfully, I got better after eight years.

Still, I remember when I went to see that movie about the race horse during the Depression--what was it called?--I literally broke down into incoherent sobs when the trainer said that just because a thing is hurt, you don't just throw it away. 

(The book, incidentally, was written by a woman battling CFS, so I always wondered about that line, after I found out.)

Sometimes, the only thing we have to hold on to is that there is worth in each of us, just by being. Not by what we do, or who we are, or how we act. There is still worth in us, even when we are confined to bed, "useless" to society.

Sheesh, look at me wax ad nauseum about myself.

That's the thing. This collection is so powerful and thought-provoking, I don't think you can browse it without being deeply effected.  Visit the Life Before Death collection here.

I'd be curious to know how it affected you, what you thought of it. Did it bring you any memories you care to share?

Read more...

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Who Says Spy Girls Don't Kick Ass?

This confirms it. Wow. I've heard of the M16 ladies in WWII, going into France, but I don't recall coming across this woman.

All I can say is, she totally kicked ass.

Wow.

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Sheer Panic and Blind Faith

Good news first: DH will finally, definitely be home by Sunday afternoon. Thank GOD!  And, he is finally in range of Canada, so he can call me on his cell phone. Thank God again. I went a whole eight days without talking to him, which probably seems silly to you guys, but goodness. I really love the guy.

I've said it before: DH is invaluable, in that he keeps me writing through the rough spots. At some point, about the 70 - 85% mark, I panic.

I'm suddenly sure that everything I've written sucks, that where I'm going is awful, and that this story is going to be the one that makes my readers go, "Yuck! She's really gone off the deep end on this one!"

But I have the ending written, and only need to flesh out the tidbits I've jotted down before that, about 2,000 more words. I'm going to finish tomorrow.

Still, right now, I really long for DH to read through it and tell me it's okay. I kinda felt out my editor to see if she would look at things last week, but I got a "I'm sure it's fine" response.

I guess I'm on an ask-for-what-you-need quest. I noticed being simple and easy and not bothering my editor wasn't really establishing a relationship. Not that asking for help did much, either, but I consider the pseudonym an experiment and learning tool for the business.

Anyway, I'm pushing on, finishing. It's the hardest part far me, because I know as soon as I finish, it will be out there.

It's blind faith. I just keep going, gritting my teeth, my heart in a panic.

Writing the end is the scariest bit, for me.

And then there's sort of a weird distancing thing that happens. I just block the story out of my mind, and when readers write me, I go to a different place, where I'm one of those authors who are always confident and cool and sure of themselves.

Hah!

Once it's out there, I try not to look back, you know? It's done. I can't change it. So I'd rather not notice if there's anything wrong with it.  (Even though I ruthlessly go through, over and over, until I'm certain it's as perfect as I can make it.)  Did I ever tell you about the time I almost wrote back a reader, and told her she was mistaken, that another writer had written the story she was talking about? (Turned out, I did write it. I just forgot, LOL.)

Oh well. Do you panic near the end? How do you get through it? Leave it for awhile, go back, re-read, and realize you're not as crazy as you thought? Push on blindly? Elicit the encouragement and/or wisdom of someone else? Or do you go it alone?

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