Monday, June 30, 2008

I Need A Drink

A big, tall one. Actually, I need a whole night on the town. What happened where all my night-on-the-town friends just gradually disappeared?

So I got the root canal today.

It was EMBARRASSING, mostly. I was terrified. I actually had tears running down my face and I was shaking. Not trembling, but shaking.

You know, when I saw this ending to The Other Boleyn Girl, I though Natalie Portman had overdone the shaking. I thought, people don't shake like that.

Um, yeah, actually, they do.

When did I become such a wimp?

Nothing hurt except the one Novocain shot.

How was your last trip to the dentist?

 

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Sunday, June 29, 2008

Ethnic Identity

image I spent all day in bed listening to music and writing (which is not as bad as it sounds; there's literally no where else to sit in the whole house except my desk and the piano bench--it's all the piano studio, which is why I usually go to Borders--but I'm trying to save money).

It's just I kept finding more music (Thank God for YouTube), particularly Mana, an AWESOME Mexican band (thanks, Melanie!).

And this is crazy. I didn't go downstairs to eat until about 5 because I didn't want to take my headphones off and stop hearing music. (I've just emerged from a LONG dry spell when it comes to listening. And I'm not good at listening and doing something else. If I'm listening to music, I'm listening to music.)

I am totally in love with Mana. I want to learn to speak Spanish so I can understand Mana.

A voice can totally turn me on. If you go here and listen to the first free track, he talks in Spanish. I have absolutely no idea what he's saying, but man does he have a voice that makes me melt.

Listening to Mana got me thinking about ethnic identity. I'm a mutt, of course. My father who was not biologically related to me was French; biologically I'm mostly German and Native American and West Virginian (well, isn't that an ethnicity, LOL?!)  My non-birth mother is biologically related to me, so I've known that part of the family, but aside from the West Virginian thing, they weren't particularly ethnic, and even then it was more accidental than pride.

Anyway, after my dad died, my mother married into an Italian family. Growing up in an Italian family (I imagine in any ethnic family) forms part of your identity. (Talk about burying your lead!)

It's something that's always there; like if you go to a strange new town, you're automatically part of the group, you know? There's some elemental relationship that is there, some automatic connection.

Like, when I went off to college, my stepfather went up and got me settled into Little Italy. I was given a job and an apartment that very day in the neighborhood, and my stepfather was promised everyone would look out for me.

But I'm a mutt. So once I was out in the real world without the family name or Italian looks, I was suddenly no longer Italian. It's a bit strange, because you go to a party and all the Italians are grouped together and you feel like you belong there but... to them, you're not Italian.

Of course, they're friendly and stuff, but they don't relate to you in... that way. I can't quite explain the difference, but it's there, and it's both subtle and big.

When that connection isn't there, when that part of your identity is no longer there, it feels weird. I kinda miss it sometimes.

That probably sounds strange.

I was also adopted, so I'm told (and agree) that it's just part of it to always feel a little bit alone. This isn't an identity crisis, LOL. I'm not sure why I'm on this tangent today.

It makes me wonder: as Americans, do we have an ethnic identity?

It's one reason why I miss DH so much. He's my one touchstone, my one sort of always-there foundation. My best friend is like that, too, but it's different, too.

To be part of a family but not quite or not really can be weird. Unless I can make my own, I suppose it will be the story of my  life. I wish DH was here, though.

I need to find a way to hook my computer up to some good speakers. This is Mana singing Rayando el Sol, which seems to suit my mood perfectly today. I haven't the slightest clue what the lyrics mean, LOL. I could be listening to a song talking about happy birds and thinking it's melancholy! Do you know what it means?

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Trauma as Entertainment

Do you... ever feel weird about what you've written?

I mean, you put a character through hell, see her through with the worst day of her life, and then you sell that as entertainment?

Does it ever feel strange?

I endlessly find it fascinating: I go so deep sometimes, I practically feel traumatized by my character's life. And then when I come up, I see I've written entertainment for people. Heck, entertainment even for me, if I step back.

Just a thought.

You know, it's odd: I'm always so surprised and touched when people are kind to me. I rarely ask anyone for anything, like hardly ever, but there have been two recent instances, and I feel so grateful I have to share. Have you ever been really surprised someone was kind?

Anyway, I'm writing a ton, or pseudonym is, and I feel so calm and settled. I have decided I'm not writing for real name until she has the same feeling about a story. I just go crazy when I'm not writing, or when I'm writing but not feeling it.

But I desperately want to ask one site to match the other's royalty rates. Except I keep putting it off. But I really need to. I haven't a clue how. Have you ever asked for a raise? How'd it go? Did it make things weird?

This post is starting to sound like twenty questions, LOL.

I discovered I can make Watermelon Juice in the blender. YUM! I love watermelon.

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Saturday, June 28, 2008

I Need A Second (fifth?) Job ...

Because I've just discovered iTunes. Okay, not really. I've been using it for over a year to play the student's their songs.

But, like, ohmigosh, I just discovered iTunes.

It started when I decided to download all my CDs into iTunes. See, even though I had them semi-organized, when a student wants to hear something, I have to go digging through my CD collection. And I forget which piece is on which album, or I think I have something I don't, or I think I don't have something I do and I buy it.

When it's catalogued and folderized and playlisted on iTunes, it's just a two second click away. So I'm doing that.

But I've discovered the iTunes store. It started when one of my students (who has excellent taste in music which I take full credit for since I've taught him since he was a little guy) and Mark Terry (who I'm prejudiced to believe has good taste in music since he played piano) mentioned Jack Johnson.

So I went on iTunes and listened to the first 30 seconds of all his stuff. (Edie, he reminded me of you: happy.)

I like.

And then I've always been curious about Coldplay.

I like.

The thing about iTunes, is there is SO MUCH music. It's like a freakin' aural candy store! There's everything. Everything! I've been listening to thirty second snippets of all my old favorites, Dylan, U2, The Cure, a lot of musicals, and a ton of others.

Then this cataloguing and playlisting thing is SO cool. I have all the Beethoven Slow Movements from his Sonatas in a playlist, and last night I couldn't go to sleep for listening to them.

It's crazy, but it seems like I don't listen to as much music because I'm too lazy to go rooting through my CD collection.

This is SO convenient. iTunes is, like, heaven.

But I can't buy any. No budget for it until at least September. And it's KILLING me. If I won the lottery, I could easily spend $2,000 within an hour. I LOVE iTunes!

I want an iPod for my birthday.

(Update on DH: The internet and phone were down (provided by the same company). All is okay. He hasn't received my birthday package yet and didn't confess his birthday to anyone, so he spent his birthday all alone. Poor guy.

Man, he had me worried. I knew there was NO way he wouldn't call me on his birthday, let alone skip three days! )

Anyway, have you discovered the glory of iTunes? The software is free, if you want to download and catalogue your music.  The songs aren't, though. Except you can listen to free 30 second snippets of ANY MUSIC IN THE WHOLE WORLD! That is THE coolest.

So if you have iTunes, what tricks do you use? Do make a new playlist everyday? How do you organize it? I'm pretty new to the whole iTunes universe.

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Friday, June 27, 2008

For Crying Out Loud!

So, okay, it's been a day. For the third day. Mostly because DH just hasn't called in three days now.

The first day, I figured he was busy. No biggie.

The second day, I was already panicking. You see, the second day was his birthday. It's been our running joke for the year because last year I forgot his birthday.

(I have to interject: I did NOT forget it was his birthday. I forgot that that particular day was already the 26th. There IS a difference, right?)

He's a guy who likes attention on his birthday. So I was definitely worried when he didn't call yesterday. And then today, nothing yet. I'm in half a panic, trying not to be.

I keep telling myself it could be internet costs. They raised the rates, RETROACTIVELY. By a HUGE amount. AFTER he downloaded 629 MB of pictures, they mentioned rates had gone up to $1 a MB! 

So I wouldn't be surprised if he got a bill for $2,000 and threw his computer in his suitcase or something. Or maybe the company cut service and is setting up one with a new company; they had been making noises of doing that.

Or maybe something's wrong.

Anyway, you remember when the Hot Cop came and got my keys out of the car when I was locked in my house?

Well, I took the house key off DH's set and hid it outside. Brilliant, no?

Last week, I locked myself out of the house. No biggie. I was so proud of myself, because I went and got the key and got in the house! Brilliant method!

And then I put that spare key on my table.

You know where this is leading, I bet.

Last night, there were two keysets: DH's car keys without the house key, and mine, with the house key. I looked at DH's and said no, that's the wrong one. I went and picked up my set with the house key. I locked the door, walked outside.

And looked in my hand. DH's car keys were in my hand.

So I tried for three hours to break into my house. I even tried to break a window, but I couldn't get it to break. (I figured it would be cheaper to replace window than to get a locksmith.)

No go.

So I call a locksmith. He comes out, a cutie twentysomething who called his girl an "Angel" in a delicious Russian accent. "You're an Angel, is what you are. Do you want me to pick something up on the way home?"

I liked him after that.

Except he couldn't pick my lock. He had to drill a hole through it. Twice. What annoyed the heck out of me is that I COULD HAVE BOUGHT A DRILL AND DONE THAT FOR A QUARTER OF THE PRICE!!!!!

*sigh*

Where is DH? I hope he's okay.  It could be a storm, I guess.

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Ultra-Focusing into the Fictional World

I am so distractable. You?

It's gotten out of hand. If I'm on the internet, I have a habit of writing half a page, then seeing the little Gmail notifier pop up and tell me I have new mail, so I jaunt off and check that, then I remember I haven't checked my reader yet, so I go there, which reminds me that I need to check my calendar, and then I see that I have to add a task in my task list, and then...

Well, you get the idea.

The flow is lost. My "living" in the character is lost. It takes me an hour to get back to focus. Not a good use of my time, LOL!

Remember that friend I told you about, who wrote 10,000 words a day for almost two years and then quit writing altogether?

Well, she could actually write and IM at the same time!

I can't. When I go into my little fictional world, it's all or nothing. I have to be 100% there. Getting into that ultra-focus is a more and more of a task for me, lately.

There are only three things that can get me that focused:

  1. Being at the last-minute of a deadline (a real one, not a self-imposed one).
  2. Caffeine.
  3. Random Inspiration.

So you can imagine the relief I felt, the actually happiness I felt, when one of the sites wrote me and asked if I could give her my latest story earlier. Instead of more pressure, I just felt, Oh thank God! I get to write tonight! A lot, too!

I was practically giddy with gratefulness, because this is going to back me up against a wall and I'll be writing my little fingers off for the next month.

Isn't that silly? Why can't I replicate that on my own? Why can't I just back myself up against a wall and write my fingers off all the time?

*sigh*

I did find ONE thing that helps me focus: Q10. I love Q10 because it does three things:

  1. It's full-screen writing. NOTHING is on the screen except the words of your story. Not even formatting buttons.
  2. It has little timers. If I set the timer at 10 minutes and tell myself I can be unfocused all I want after the time goes off, I go FOCUSED quickly. I guess my brain interprets it as a last-minute deadline or something.
  3. It has countdowns. So if your goal is to write 3,000 words in a given day, then you can set the countdown to 3,000 words.

And look how pretty and relaxing it is: (You can change all colors as you wish. I'm told black background with light gray text is easiest on the eyes.)

Q10

So how do you focus? Do you have to use tricks? Do you rely on deadlines? Love them or hate them? Have you ever tried a full screen writer?

PS: If you try Q10, there are no buttons to distract. Remember pressing F1 is the key to navigation, or else you'll be stuck!

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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Confidence... or Arrogant Cockiness?

So you guys know I write in a tiny niche. And when I started in that niche, I'd read everything. No, really, I mean Every. Single. Story. Ever. Published. (for money, at least) in that niche. And I'd read a great deal of stories people were just writing and posting on (what were they called back then?) newsgroups?

When I started writing, it was easy to be a little bit original. (Not so easy to write well, LOL!) I knew everything that had come before. I'd read everything. Everything. It gave me confidence.

And now, I am completely comfortable taking an idea that's been done to death and making it my own.

I mean, I'm confident to the point of probably a touch of unjustified arrogance.

Either way, I know pseudonym can make any story interesting. I know she can make any idea work. I know she can make any idea feel fresh, whether it's original or not. (At least to those who enjoy that niche.)

No problem. Just sit down and do it. It might not be as good as my last story, or whatever, but I can make it work. And sure, I'll fuss and fret to make it better, worry it's the first story that sucks, you know. But in the end, it gets done.

So I can't even begin to explain the frustration I feel when I work my brain to come up with an original idea for me (er, real name me), and I have zero confidence. And then I turn around and the idea I've come up with has been done.

A million times.

And I feel zero confidence in my real name to take an idea that's been done and twist it until it's "freshly mine." LOL.

And these issues I have are getting SO OLD, honestly. And FRUSTRATING!

Well, anyway, that's the real reason I created The Spy Books Drop Site.  I wanted to feel that foundation, know the genre so well that I could replicate the confidence I feel with my pseudonym.

Because, frankly, this freaking character will not leave me alone. I've dumped her thousands of times. I've tried to put her in other genres.

I just don't know what else to do.

So let's hope it helps give me some confidence. Who knows. If it sells some author's books in the meantime, then that's awesome.

So have you ever felt like you've been banging your head against the wall for years? Do you ever lose confidence that you can tell a story your own way, when it's been done a million times?

Sometimes I think writing takes a touch of cockiness. You need that confidence, that in-your-face strength of voice that gives a reader no choice but to be dragged into the story. I love writers whose voice "comes on strong" when they write.

I also think that cockiness has to be tempered by a good bit of worrying you suck. Even things out, you know? Being neurotic in private (or on your blog, LOL!) makes you question everything you do, refine it, make sure it has a purpose.

Writing is a bit crazy.

I guess I need my "real name" to find her inner cocky bitch. ;-) 

She's got the neurotic worrywart down pat.

What do you do when you find you're writing a story that's been done before? I know, I know, twist it, make it your own. But I just feel like everyone has done it better than me. Argh.

Oh well. What can you do? Get through it, somehow.

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Egg on Face; Cool Publishing Path

So three things happened this morning. The first is that, ohmigosh, I missed reporting two release dates.

First, Meg Gardiner (love her blog; love her humor ... or is it humour over there?)  The Dirty Secrets Club came out a bit ago, plus I just saw China Fire on the tables at Borders.

She has an interview up at Omnivoracious, an Amazon blog, talking about how Stephen King helped get her a US publisher. VERY cool story!

Second, Bernita Harris's new Lillie St. Claire story was released yesterday in the Weirdly II Anthology.  The first one was awesome. You know how I love short stories. The second one I'm positive is fantastic, but I'll let you know personally in a day or two. :-)

And finally, as I opened my reader, I discovered that Things Are Not All That Bad in Haiti. It's a retraction, but it's a confusing one.

So are you saying 2,000 children is not all that bad for Latin America? Or are you saying the 2,000 figure is off? Or what?

Sometimes retractions are fine, sometimes they look like sloppy reporting.

So I went digging and learned that the UN Dispatch is "sponsored" by the UN Foundation, but it is not part of the UN.

I feel like unsubscribing and going back to subscribing to the UN's own feeds directly, even though they don't offer full feeds. If this is his only mistake, that's cool. It's just, when it's your first week with a blog, it doesn't give me a whole lot of confidence that I'm getting what I want.

But, gosh, he did quote CNN. Can I blame him for that? My irritation with CNN grows every day.

Go BBC!

I didn't mean to bury my announcement about The Spy Books Drop Site. If you get a chance, I'd appreciate your thoughts. Egg on Face #4: The formatting in my feeds is all screwed up and I don't know how to fix it. That pretty much sums up what it was like figuring out how to work Expression Engine!

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Yikes! Will you see if it works, please?

So my good news: I have finally finished building SpyThrillers.org, something I've been working on for about a year. (Learning how to work a content management thingamabob has been ... an education.) There's not a lot of books in the database yet, but that's the easy part.

It's not going live until July 1, after I've added a few more books. I think, I hope, I pray, I'm crossing my fingers, and I'm knocking on wood, that everything works right now.

Did I mention it's not totally done? I will have more than three authors up by next week. :-)

I would TOTALLY consider it a HUGE favor if you'd hop over to The Spy Books Drop Site and click around, see if anything's broken or slow or whatever.

There is one really cool thing there right now: an interview with Brett Battles.  Brett's second book, The Deceived, came out today! I'm loving it so far. His voice is really strong, and I love the way it opens. Can't wait to read the rest!

The other thing: I can't think of a title for the site. Is The Spy Books Drop Site too corny? Do most people know what a drop site is? Have any other ideas?

So ... what do you think? Do I look okay in this dress site?

If you want to read why I built this site, you can check it out on the Spy Books Blog.

(If you want to know my real agenda, then I'll tell you tomorrow, here. :-)

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Monday, June 23, 2008

2,000 Children?

I try to keep abreast of what's going on in the world. (The BBC offers feeds for each section of interest if you want to plug it into your reader, and the UN Dispatch also has a feed.) 

Still, I somehow missed Haiti. I don't know how. 2,000 children? Isn't Haiti ... small? From the Un Dispatch:

CNN reports on horrific crimes against children in the restive, gang controlled slums of Port-au-Prince:

"In Haiti, UNICEF and local officials report that kidnapped children are being raped, tortured and murdered. The United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti has been working with the national police force to try to halt such crimes. They suspect that criminal gangs are responsible."

The agency reports that as many as 2,000 children a year are trafficked to the Dominican Republic, often with their parents' support. And about 1,000 children are working as spies, messengers or soldiers for armed gangs in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince.

Earlier in the month, a demonstration was held in Haiti's capital after a 16-year-old hostage was murdered and other hostages had been raped and lynched, including infants, UNICEF said.

So ... how was your weekend? I have some cool news tomorrow! (I hope!)

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Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Guilt of Reading

It is not enough that I over-analyze myself and my writing near to the edge of neuroticity; I do the same with my reading.

I fell into the "should" trap again.

April and May are studio months. It's near impossible to grind out any words at all, let alone read. I am determined not to feel guilty about this next year. I make up for it the other ten months.

The guilt continues in June, when I'm positively parched for books. All I want to do is read, but I feel guilty because my writing has been trickling in April and May.

And the shoulds have attacked, mostly with this mile-high TBR pile at my bedside of all the contemporary authors I'm dying to read, whose books grabbed my attention.

But like last winter, all I seem to want to read is 19th century literature, or something near. This surprises me, but I suppose it shouldn't.

And the guilt isn't just about reading instead of writing, or reading 19th century books instead of 21st century books, but re-reading books.

There are so very many books I am dying to read it depresses me. So the thought of re-reading a book a second or third time, is ... horrifying, like I'm really deciding that this indulgence means I will read two less books in my lifetime.

But I was wandering the aisles of Borders today, not really feeling like reading anything, when I realized I very much wanted to read Dickens and Bronte and (to move into the next century, although that's arguable) Greene and Irving. And I thought: why the heck shouldn't I?

So when I got home, I traipsed downstairs to find an old book. A book from my childhood. Something along the lines of The Secret Garden, but when I got downstairs, I forgot what I went down for.

Instead, I found a book by John Irving I'd obviously read, but have no recollection of.

God bless my poor memory! I think it's the first time I've ever rejoiced in my bad memory!

I can't remember A Son of the Circus.

Thank God. Shouldn't he be coming out with a new novel soon? It's been about two years ...

So how do you feel about re-reading? What books have you most re-read?

Do you ever feel guilty for re-reading when you have a pile of books still to be read? Do you ever trip over a book you forgot, and feel thrilled to get to read it again as if it were brand new?

If you could re-read one book right now, what would it be?

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Well Said:

I've mentioned Dooce before. This is why I love Dooce:

"...the reason kids are the way they are is to remind adults again and again, HEY, STOP GIVING A SHIT."

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Friday, June 20, 2008

Getting the Secret Garden to Grow

Do you ever over-analyze your feelings? Do you ever try to find reason for something that just ... is?

You know, I just don't have much to say. I keep writing blog posts and deleting them, mostly because I feel lonely for DH and it's seeping into my usual chipperness. (Are you laughing, yet? ;-)

Approximately 102 days until he gets back. Almost out of the triple digits!

I also keep writing comments and then just giving up. I'm sorry. I am actually reading everyone's blogs too much, even reading every comment and everything, LOL. I guess I'm trying to avoid missing DH, as if it's wrong to miss DH or something. But then I just can't come up with much to say on my own, LOL.

It's human nature to start trying to apply reason and order to our feelings. We want to find a cause, come up with a solution. Fix things.

But sometimes you just feel blue.

Trying to find a rational reason for emotion, something inherently irrational, is counter-productive. You try to find something to latch onto, something to fix, but since there's nothing you can fix, you start fixing what isn't broke.

And when you fix something that isn't broken, you usually end up breaking it.

Sometimes you feel blue for circumstances beyond your control. And sometimes it's as stupid as what you ate, what you didn't eat, or how balanced your hormones are.

Or, most likely, I'm just missing DH. I know it's not "cool" to be lonely, but I've never been about being cool, LOL.

It's okay to miss people we love when they're not with us. I don't know why society is so obsessed with this "being independent" idea. What kind of life is that? Who wants to be alone?

Or maybe I'm too focused on society.

I have to focus on a novella for pseudonym. I sorta resent that I feel, sometimes, like a little bit of failure for doing that, something I love. It's stupid, because it really comes down to me feeling like pursuing a New York idea is what I "should" be doing if I take myself seriously.

Again, it's focusing on what society things, not what I think.

But I love where I love.

If her stuff was New-Yorkable, I'd throw it there in a heartbeat, no question. It's not. My second love is spy thrillers. And thrillers are mostly what I read these days. So I'm game.

I'm just thinking too much.

My tiny garden is looking a little blue. It was 55 during the day over the weekend.  I don't know how cold it got at night.  My tomato plants did not like that. They're not looking happy, either.

So how are you feeling? Do you ever over-analyze? Do you ever focus too much on what people think?

And if you have a garden, how is your garden doing?

Just to cheer us up, this is a compilation from the musical based on The Secret Garden, one of my favorites. Have you seen it? One of my favorite books, too!

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Wow ... times, they are a-changin ...

So I got an email from one of my seven year-olds, his own email address and everything. I'm not sure why this surprised me, but it did. It cracked me up.

But then I got to thinking.

It was rather practical and wise for the mother to reserve her son's email address on gmail. I mean, if she waits until he's older, someone with the same first and last name will take that email address, and then where would he be?

As I was thinking on this, I was wondering how soon it would be when parents reserve their child's email address when they're born.

And then I got to wondering how soon parents would check email address availability as a factor in choosing a name for their child.

Then I wondered if parents would start reserving their child's domain name upon birth, so no one else would take it.

It's practical.

But, man, times have changed.

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Fears? And Time.

What are you afraid of? Do you ever feel a bit embarrassed to be afraid?

Today wasn't bad, but they take FOREVER. As I was coming home, I felt a little bit embarrassed for whining on my blog about being afraid. I mean, sheesh. I feel like a wimp.

The student dentist spent TWO HOURS with me, just getting acquainted with my teeth.

And I had to set up a second appointment, again for TWO HOURS, where he'll make a "treatment plan."

So I set it up for tomorrow. I'm trying to get it over with, and it's SO slow.

But as I was driving home, I though that I'd much rather have a fourth-year dental student spend four hours with me, along with a teacher coming by to check what he does, than ten minutes with a dentist.

So that's cool. I definitely need a root canal. I complained that I brushed for five minutes with an Oral-B electric toothbrush and flossed and took really good care of my teeth. He said that oral care matters, but it's partly just genetics.

And then he told me he sees people who NEVER brush, and they never get cavities.

Is that not unfair???

The thing about a fourth-year dental student is, I think, they're grateful to get out of the classroom and do some real stuff. And they're at that stage where they still believe they actually like what they're about to do. And I think they're graded on niceness or something. Everyone was so nice.

It was much better than two dentists ago, a "real" dentist, who actually YELLED at me for being afraid. I didn't even do anything wrong, like jerk away or anything. He just took it upon himself to SCOLD me for being afraid, I guess because I had to hold DH's hand.

If I hadn't been so terrified, I would've given him a piece of my mind.

I guess I do feel a little bit embarrassed for being afraid of the dentist.  Oh well, I'm just hoping this mess is over with as soon as possible!

The time thing is nice, though. Have you noticed how the world has become about not having time for this or that? Like the customer needs the quickest and most convenient experience. And it's gotten worse: now some business books even talk about dropping customers who take up too much time.

So I'll take the four hours.

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The Good, The Bad.

Book Roast is here

It describes itself as:

We slice and serve one author a day for fun and prizes and a good, old fashioned roasting. First, we whet your appetite with a short excerpt from the author's book, followed by three questions loosely related to the passage. Some questions are silly, others are straightforward and the rest are plain crunchy. For dessert, the author picks the winner who answers the most questions correctly – or the most creatively. We like spice, but some authors prefer things sweet, which makes Book Roast deliciously unpredictable.

The prize: a free copy of the author's book (and an occasional surprise!) Each contest runs 9am - 9pm Eastern Time (U.S.)

Best of all, authors will pop into the blog throughout the day to answer questions, share a laugh and toss out some insider tidbits.

Three of my favorite authors are lined up for Book Roast's debut weekend, Bernita (love her Lillie character!), Therese (Souvenir will make you cry. Promise.), and Erica (The Roofer is in my top five all-time favorite books, so is Do You Wear High Hells in Heaven?):

Weirdly, Bernita Harris - June 23
Souvenir, Therese Fowler - June 24
Head Case, Dennis Cass - June 25
The Roofer, Erica Orloff - June 26
Queen of the Road, Doreen Orion - June 27

Now the bad.

I'm going to the dentist today.

I'm scared.

The last time I went to the dentist, I tried to think of silver linings, ways to comfort myself. So I came up with this: If it hurts, if they yank a tooth out or something without numbing it, then it'll be good research for a torture scene.

This was not helpful.

I'm not even getting anything done today except x-rays and a cleaning. I'm going to a University place, because it's cheaper to deal with my root canal there.

But having students work on me is a little scary.

I've done it before, but I was a student myself, and let me tell you, the dental students were THE HOTTEST GUYS on campus. And I had several friends among them, so when I went, I was in a room with like three or five of my friends.

That was cool.

Not so cool now.

I'm scared.

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Monday, June 16, 2008

Two Blogs, A Funny, and An Inspiring Speech

Today I just want to share two blogs you might not know, but I hope you'll try. The first is Melanie Avila's blog, What Am I Doing In Mexico?

The first book she wrote was a memoir. I can see why. She has adventures every day, and she shares her stories well. She makes me want her life, scary adventures and all! I enjoy learning what it's like to live in Mexico with her every day. And she's a super nice person. She's one of those people who are just good as gold all the way through, inside and out. (She's got pretty feet, too.)

The second blog I want to share is Any One Thing. I know nothing about him. I don't know where I discovered him. But I always sit back and slow my reading pace down when his posts pop up in my feed reader. His poetry makes me see things in an interesting way. Plus it's awesome.

Next, I want to share a laugh (thanks to Mark Terry!). This article, No Members of Congress Left Behind, suggests, in a humorous fashion, mental tests for politicians. The funniest part for me (Ohmigawd, this is still cracking me up!):

"I was at a conference that a member of the powerful
House Commerce Committee attended by
teleconference. As he recited from a prepared
statement, he included the stage instructions—
such as “Pause for emphasis”—that had been
inserted by his speechwriter. And where one
line had been inadvertently duplicated, he read
it a second time. Carelessness? Stupidity? Senility?
Don’t voters have a right to know?"

And finally, I want to leave you with J.K. Rowling's Commencement Speech at Harvard.

Her words on failure were true and awesome. Motivating, inspiring. And they made me cry. :-)

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The Weekend. And Research.

So I just got home. I went to Columbus this weekend, which is 3 hours away. Except, I can't seem to drive 3 hours anymore. No. After an hour of driving, I have to stop and take a nap. It's insanity.

Last night, I was one hour from home. It was 11:30, which is early for me.

But I could not keep my eyes open. So I slept at a rest stop, slept so hard I didn't wake up until 7 am. (We have a futon mattress in the back from the last time we went camping at DC.)

It was the same when I drove to Columbus. One hour of driving and I'm out like a light. I feel like a little baby who gets taken for a car ride to put her down for a nap.

And the funny thing is, I normally have a very hard time falling asleep!

The weekend was fun. It was a whole lot of piano, and a whole lot of writing in between. I must have thrown away six synopses before I found one that worked.

And what do I need?

MORE RESEARCH.

Oh. My. Gawd.

Until I attempted to write a thriller, I didn't understand the research involved. It is nothing like writing a romance or mystery or fantasy. I swear, for every page of fiction you need an hour of research.

The funny thing is, I've always loved my spy thriller research.

I'm getting to the point where I just want to write the darn thing. I miss writing!

And I finish a synopsis, and guess what?

Now I need more freakin' research. I am tired of research. It's wearing out my writing chops.

I am spending a week reading. I haven't had time to finish anything since the "piano season" began. And I'm spending a week writing my next novella, so I can freakin' write. Then it's back to researching. And finishing this thriller.

I now understand why thriller authors only put out one book every one to two years.

*sigh*

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Saturday, June 14, 2008

A New Bookstore

I'm so happy.

I'm in a new bookstore out of town because a couple of my students are in a competition this weekend. (They won first place. I'd like to think they would have won first place even if there had been other competitors in their division.)

It's a Borders, and the Borders takes up the WHOLE building. It's larger than most Borders, but it's not two-story. It's long. And it's not just long. It's crowded long.

Like, if you stand in the middle of the store, drowning in books could be a definitely possibility.

In fact, I decided today how I wanted to die. I want to die in the middle of a Borders, in old age and preferably after I've written 100 books. I want to die flat in the middle of a BIG Borders under a pile of a thousand books.

Heaven.

The aisles are so crowded you can barely get around, and the book cases go so high you need a foot stool. I made the rounds three times before I could concentrate enough to even start thinking about which books were going to be my friends today.

(Dickens' Bleak House and the writing book I've never read before.)

I was so giddy, I noticed I was grinning. And by the third lap I had tears in my eyes.

I'm sure you think I'm kidding or exaggerating.

Or maybe you understand.

Is there a seven-story bookstore anywhere? Where's the biggest bookstore in the whole world? I've decided: that's where I want to go on vacation next summer.

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Friday, June 13, 2008

I'm Confused.

So ... my research says that if you're a German working in Iraq as a mercenary contracted by the US government, and you die, then your spouse will get $110,000 for the rest of her life from the US government.

To a citizen of another country.

But if you're an American soldier and you die, your wife won't get anywhere near that.

Is my research correct?

And an American soldier makes around $25,000 a year, while civilian contractors make $100,000 - $200,000, and sometimes higher.

There are 180,000 contractors in Iraq, and 163,000 U.S. military personnel.

Another source, an earlier one, put the number of contractors at 127,000.

Either way, I'm disturbed. And confused.

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Oh. My. Gawd.

So with the new cell phone laws in Ohio, it's illegal to use your hands (i.e. hold the phone) to talk on a cell phone while driving.

But it's perfectly legal to use your hands to TEXT MESSAGE while driving!!!

I find that very disturbing. Talking on a cell phone, I feel okay with. I do not want to be driving next to the person who is TEXT MESSAGING WHILE DRIVING!

Oh. My. Gawd.

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A Comma Favor?

Okay, so I've said before that I'm pretty clueless about copyediting. So mostly I just go for rhythm and instinct, then trust the copy editor. Lately, it's been feeling weird.

I'm picky about rhythm, but that's it. I know there are several theories of comma rules out there. One is the fortysomething-rule theory, the seventeen- or eighteen-rule theory, and then there's one around seven, and one that boils it down to two or three. (I forget the exact numbers.)

I don't care which theory you believe in, but will you tell me which you think is correct and why? Here are some examples--I didn't have time to make them sound like interesting sentences, LOL. Is A or B correct? (Or are they both passable, or ... you know. Whatever.)

A: I couldn't look at him as I edged past, and I kept my eyes hidden.
B: I couldn't look at him, as I edged past, and I kept my eyes hidden.

A: "Slide me your gun," he ordered, after I stood up.
B: "Slide me your gun," he ordered after I stood up.

A: I finally just shrieked, and left, slamming the door behind me as hard as I could.
B: I finally just shrieked and left, slamming the door behind me as hard as I could.

A: And that was that.
B: And, that was that.

So ... what do you think? (And thanks!)

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

It Is What It Is ... How to Conserve Gas

Someone needs a cyber hug. I think we're all feeling the squeeze. At least we don't have to suffer alone.

And someone needs a Happy Birthday hug. Sorry, didn't mean to bury that post. :-)

Finally, the title is Erica Orloff's saying. I'm just stealing it because I love it. I'm saying it all the time now.

It seems it applies to the price of gas. So until we come up with better alternatives (corn gas isn't going to cut it; it's hardly cheaper), it is what it is.

My biggest hope lies in solar-powered cars.  They're hitting the streets in Taiwan and supposedly they go up to 44 mph. I can deal with 44 mph if I get to not pay for gas. And the sun? They can't charge us for the sun. And solar technology these days can charge through clouds. The trick is for it to be able to charge as you drive ...

And, funny, it's at $24,000. Doable, not bad, but a year ago, before the dollar fell, we could buy it for $8,000. HUGE difference. That's our economy for you.

In the meantime, I've been researching ways to save gas. A lot of them don't make much difference, maybe pennies per fill-up. These four amount to HUGE savings:

  1. Slow Down! There's a reason why, in the 70s, they lowered the national speed limit to 55 mph: it saves gas. A TON more than I thought it did. Around twenty cents per gallon for every 5 mph. So if I go 55 instead of 70 on the highway? I save around 60 cents per gallon and about $8 per fill-up

    Check out SlowDownToSaveGas for a handy-dandy calculator to figure out how much you can save.

    Bonus: Driving 55mph has been proven to cause fewer accidents. When I first started going 55mph, everyone zoomed by. You know what? More people are doing it with me now, even in a 65 mph zone.
  2. Cruise Control: The gas pedal means every time I press down the pedal, I use up gas. I am now obsessed with keeping my foot off that pedal. The cruise control does a better job than my human foot of conserving gas by keeping a steady pace.
  3. Coast: Along with keeping my foot off the gas, I now coast into stop lights. Instead of using gas and then braking close to the last minute, I now take my foot off the gas pedal about a quarter mile - half mile beforehand and coast to a stop.
  4. Speed Up Slowly: It takes less pedal to the metal to speed up slowly than it does to speed up fast. We gotta stay off the gas pedal. :-)

Well, that's all I have. I'm crossing my fingers for the solar-powered car. If you only do town driving, then building your own solar-powered car is rather cheap.

And is water fuel for real?

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And the birthday ...

elder geezer old fart old man er, BOY is Stephen Parrish! So go wish him a happy birthday, and many more!

I hope you have the most fabulous year of your life!

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Thinking

Do you ever just get completely tired of hearing yourself think?

I miss DH. This is the hardest part, because I haven't talked to him in a week, and probably won't be able to until Thursday or longer. *sigh*

And during this quiet period, I've spent FIVE HOURS on the phone. Most of you understand what that means. For those who missed it, I have probably spent five hours on the phone ... in the past two years?

I locked myself out of the house today, which is a common occurrence when DH is gone, but I hadn't unlocked the windows (I normally break in the house by climbing over the top window), because he's gone, and I've been feeling all alone at home in the dark., so all the windows are locked

A really hot cop came to unlock my car. (In my wisdom, I put the other set of keys in my car in case I locked myself out of the house. Except I didn't think through the whole no-keys-means-can't-get-into-the-car-either part.)

The hot cop was worth it. :-)

Anyway, got tired of hearing myself think (what did I do when I was single???), so I went to a movie.

Narnia.

Man, I love Narnia. I love Prince Caspian. Are they planning on making another movie? I hope so.

I'm completely impressed with these Narnia movies.

How about you? See any good movies lately? How was your weekend? Your writing? Your life? Your pets? Say something, please... I am so tired of hearing myself think.

Oh, I said that already.

I think the silence is driving me mad ...

Addendum, 4:53 am: He's there!

Oh, yay.

I feel like a pitiful teenager.

But who cares. I'm happy. :-)

Here I thought I couldn't bear it any longer and it was only a couple hours! I feel a little silly, actually.

Thanks for listening, anyway. :-)

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Monday, June 09, 2008

Thinking Differently

So a few years back, I was talking to another author, and I said how I expected things to start trending towards seeing more omniscient POVs in the next 5-10, maybe 20 years.

She basically looked at me like I was an idiot and told me no way, things were getting closer and closer every day. (Which, by the way, I completely agree with.)

I basically looked at her like an idiot and said that, at some point, there would be no closer to go. Why couldn't she see that if things were getting closer, that at some point, things were going to cycle around to more distant?

Nothing stays the same.

It's going to trend in the other direction, at some point. Who knows when. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe it'll be 100 years before things start trending a more distant POV. Could be 200 years. Could be 50.

My point is, I'm not sure why people get so caught up in defending how things are now.

Because it's going to change, and that's a guarantee. The only guarantee.

I've been thinking about my ego and writing lately. Sometimes I wonder if I'm pursuing NY publication for ego reasons.

I haven't done anything on pseudonym's site for months, not a real update for about 2 years. And yet day after day, I get traffic. More and more traffic that I'm just letting pass by.

I don't know.

I need to start thinking differently, too.

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Saturday, June 07, 2008

Wow: I'm a Slash!

How freaky. This morning, I sat down and opened my Google Reader, and Mark Terry asked about identity in Who Are You? Then, I scrolled down, and what did I find? A Lifehacker post on a workshop at Google about  "Slash" identies.

A slash is like me: Pianist/Piano Teacher/Pseudonym/SpyScribbler: someone with multiple careers. It talks about an "Over work ethic," and the challenges of being a "slash."  Like juggling multiple identities, and using time wisely.

The workshop is at Google, and it's with Tim Ferris of 4-Hour Workweek and--my favorite--the author of One Person/Multiple Careers by Marci Alboher.

My favorite quote: "Being a slash is to allow yourself to inhabit all the roles you want to play."

That's hardest for me, because, for one, I feel like our society expects us to do ONE thing, that ONE thing being a mark of success. 

The questions I get all the time are: "Do you just write? Do you just teach piano?" That just is perceived as proof of success. 

That doesn't work for me. I don't want to be a just.

I'm not crazy about Tim Ferris, mostly because I don't like his story about how he won the kickboxing championship. I don't think that's admirable. But I have learned a couple things from his book.

What I really loved was Marci's talk. I don't know what her book is about, but I'm checking it out.

I find it overwhelming, at times, to manage multiple careers. I feel like multiple identities, and I've started to integrate them into one personal identity, but it's a challenge at times.

They certainly gave me things to think about this weekend.

So what multiple identities to you juggle? How do you feel about the juggling? How do you integrate them?

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Friday, June 06, 2008

Fly, fly, fly!

I keep telling myself that every morning. Whatever gets me going, I guess. I haven't been sleeping, so I'm having trouble coming up with something intelligent to say.

Instead, I want to point you to this Freewriting Exercise.  Five minutes, timed. IMPORTANT: If you like what you wrote, be sure to copy and paste before the 5 minutes is up, because it'll delete it!

It's teaching me to write in 5 minute chunks.

It's getting me through the writing shit phase. Yesterday I started out with some nonsense about the street being quiet except for the sound of the twinkling stars (????!!!!!), and I ended up with half a scene that was usable. I was shocked.

(But then I forgot to cut and paste before it deleted it. *sigh*)

So, cool. It gets me through when the getting is hard.

And I want to share this picture I have as my desktop background, inspired by my latest motto: "Fly, fly, fly!" Isn't that an awesome picture? I love it in so many ways.

I'd rather get hammered by big waves than sit on the beach. And life is more exhilarating when you're just this close to wiping out.

;-P

surf flip

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Thursday, June 05, 2008

They Want to Be a Spy

I couldn't help it; the title forced me to share this with you. I swear I did not choose this piece for them because of the title; they're getting ready to perform in the All-Ohio Piano Ensemble, and AOPE chose the piece. (I was secretly thrilled!)

And I promise this is the only time I'll post my students playing for you. It's just the title fits so perfectly!

"I Want To Be A Spy" by C.S. Wolf:

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Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Snark Day Again

Two snarks because I can't help it. It might be that time of the month. *sigh*

First, March of Dimes, SO NOT COOL. You sent me a dime and asked me to return it to you. It's going to cost me 41 cents to return it to you! It feels like you're forcing me to donate to you.

Look, I give where I can, and we all have to choose where we want to give our giving money, and, March of Dimes, you are not it..

Usually I can only give a measly $10, but currently I am saving up because I'm sponsoring each of my students one penny for every minute they practice this summer, with the proceeds going to the Bright Side of the Road Foundation, which will really add up because my kids practice a LOT.

So it's not like I'm a stingy person. Every time a blog friend asks, I throw at least ten dollars toward their charity, even when I'm broke. But this dime shtick? SO NOT COOL. Now I feel guilty for keeping the dime, or irritated that I have to spend the 41 cents. And yes, my budget goes down to those 41 cents. There is no such thing as pocket change at the moment.

And, why would I give money to a charity who has the money to mail out MILLIONS of dimes? That adds up. How many of those get returned? I bet not a high percentage for a mass mailing. So my donation would probably go straight into the trash can. I don't want to donate to a charity where my money isn't going to help anything but advertising for that charity.

So ... I guess I'm going to imagine, March of Dimes, that you wanted to donate your dime to sponsor ten minutes of my students' practicing. You said, after all, that you're all about children. Why not give some children a few more years to spend with their father or mother who has ALS?

At least your dime won't end up in the trash.

I erased the second snark of the day. I'm feeling better.

I am also writing complete sentences today, with subjects, verbs, and everything. This is a step up.

If I have time tonight, I'll try to finish a post I started awhile back on SEO for authors and why I think it's important. It might be tomorrow or the next day. I'm on a writing streak, and preparing two students for a competition. And I have to send out a mailing and ...

Yeah, well.

How's your writing going? Have a snark you care to share? I'm in the mood for a snarkfest. Sometimes it feels so good to just vent.

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Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Plunging through the Fear

Truth is, I write best when I've got a lot on my plate. It's sort of like all or nothing. Either I'm putting out 1,000 - 10,000 words a day, or I'm piddling away for weeks on end. During the intense studio time of the year, all I have time for is piddling.

I've been trying to get in some plotting, trying to write a synopsis before finishing. But today I knuckled down and wrote, because intense studio time is over, and plotting is helpless for me. I need to just write.

And the first day back of writing-writing (as opposed to brainstorming and thinking and piddling) is really a killer, let me tell you.

After writing a bunch of dumb stuff, and in a panic that I've forgotten how to write, I pulled open my last story to see if I can actually write, and try to remember how I managed it last time. I read a little, and thought:

Who wrote this? How did this happen? How did these words get on this page? How did I put together a coherent story, especially with all of these threads?

And how come these sentences sound ... strong ... and I'm stringing a bunch of little weaklings together today? Am I, like, a totally different writer, now? Am I a different person? Was I inhabited by an alien, who actually wrote this, and not me?

*sigh*

Hopefully, after I do another long session of crap tonight, I'll find my inner writer again.

And then one of my students came in to her lesson today, one who's been avoiding a piece because she can't quite play it yet.

Mostly because she's afraid she can't play certain parts of it.

She stammers out a bunch of excuses.

I feel like saying, honey, I SO know where you are. You can't kid me. I've been where you are a thousand times.

Instead, I say, you gotta practice through the fear. You'll be amazed how quickly you get unstuck if you just plunge on through the fear, if you just sit down and work it out methodically.

Or, in the worst case, if you just squeeze your eyes shut and do it anyway.

So I pushed her through the scary parts, and she's feeling good.

So now I'm off to follow her example.

Ever get these feelings?

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Monday, June 02, 2008

First Person POV, Redux

So I'm reading David Morrell's The Successful Novelist, and I love it. He knows his stuff. DEFINITELY worth a look-see, even if you don't read many how-to-write books. He writes about writing practically, kinda in the way Stephen King did.

I was, however, surprised at some of his thoughts on first person.

I agree with most of what he said. I believe it's much easier to write badly in first person than in other POVs, and I agree with most everything he said. I disagree with a couple things, and I think he missed the boat on the whole point of First Person.

First, he says that every first person protagonist needs a reason for spending the months or year to write down their story. The protagonist needs a reason for telling their story, like ... in Morrell's first-person novel, the protagonist is journaling for his counselor or something. (I haven't read it, that's just what Morrell said.)

He gives the example that one writer prefaces his first person novels with a fictional letter from a lawyer, saying that now that the protagonist is dead, he wanted his journals published.

99.9% of the first person novels I've read have not had some such manufactured reason. For me, the above would feel too manufactured.

The boat he missed is the experience of the reader when reading first person. Like I've frustrated before, I don't know the minds of other readers; I can only surmise from my experience.

But the experience of reading first person, for me, is a closer way to experience the story as if I'm the protagonist, almost as if I'm living the story. I'm completely in the mind of the protagonist, and I see, feel, hear the story as if I'm the protagonist. 

It's the difference between watching the story and feeling like I'm the one living the adventure.

To me, the closer I can get to taking my readers on a vicarious life experience, the better. Even close third person is a little more distant than first person. We get over it, but it's more distant.

Some readers are vehemently put off by first person. I don't know why. Doesn't matter. If you're writing in first person, you're not writing for that reader, LOL.

Morrell makes a GREAT point about the "I" factor. When writing in first person, I make a game of seeing how long I can write without using the word "I."  The "I" can be incredibly annoying.

He also makes a great point about it being easier to slip into "telling" in first person, as opposed to "showing."

But I also disagreed when he said that in a thriller, first person takes the suspense away, because the reader knows the protagonist lived to tell the story, because you're reading it.

I disagree with that statement, mostly because the type of reader I'm writing for expects that all is going to end well. They already know the protagonist is going to live, because those are the standards of the genre. Yeah, sometimes, you can take the happy ending away. At your peril.

Typically, though, it's a given the protagonist is going to survive. So knowing that fact because they're using first person is not, in my opinion, going to make a difference in the level of tension in your story.

Just my thoughts, though. What do you think? Agree, disagree? Thoughts on first person? Do you enjoy reading it?

And how does your experience of reading third person differ from your experience of reading first person?

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