Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year's Resolutions

In the past, I've had some resolutions to try and make myself a better person. Well, this year, I'm in a more tangible mood.

image My writing goals are... well, much harder work than I usually do. I have maintained this pace, before, for five months, and it saw the greatest growth of me as a writer. I strive for quality always, but most of my progress comes with quantity.

I cleared the clutter from my house last year. I lived a smaller life. I got rid of things and I didn't buy things.

This year? I want to live my smaller life slower. I want to get rid of clutter in my day. I don't want to work 15 hours a day. I want to work hard and relax hard. I want to READ MORE!

image Oh, gosh, and stop feeling guilty for every second I don't write or work. Sheesh. It's too exhausting. I was raised, at first, with a Protestant work ethic, and then I was topped off with Catholic guilt. Either are hard enough to deal with by themselves, but together, they're just grueling.

Living life slower seems opposed to my writing goals. They're a little crazy. I'm determined to find a new genre, so that's another reason for the quantity. And I write better when I'm completely absorbed into the world, without interruptions. So "fast" writing works for me, but it's not really fast, because I spend all day imagining, when I'm not writing, LOL...

Okay, here are the goals:

Writing

  1. Get up at 5 am and write 3,000 words.
  2. Read 3 books a week.
  3. Write 6 novellas (48K-52K) for pseudonym.
  4. Write 6 novels (80-100K), one in each genre until I find one that fits (and/or finds a home): commercial, spy thriller, romantic fantasy, romance, paranormal, fantasy, women's fiction, historical, middle grade, romantic suspense... did I leave any out? I'll put them on the list.
  5. Write 1 novel idea a day.
  6. Write 1 pitch a week.
  7. Write 1 proposal a month (just for practice to find a new genre, really).

Health

  1. No more dairy. Ever.
  2. Do yoga every day.
  3. Do 5 hours of aerobic exercise every week.
  4. Lift weights 3x a week.
  5. Get my foot better.
  6. Eat more like 80%-90% macrobiotically, as opposed to the 0%-30%, lately.
I'm looking forward to it. (I'm really just saying that in the hopes it will convince me. I'm not looking forward to waking up at 5am tomorrow.)

Thank you, guys. And here's to wishing you a very Happy New Year. Big hugs to all of you!

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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Power of Dissatisfaction

image I used to my students that some people are strivers, and some people are complacents. (Or, as one of my English lit classes called them, "common cattle.")

Take my mother and stepfather. Their entire life, they put in their work, came home, ate dinner, and watched TV. In the summer they do the yard and some light gardening. Every year, they go to North Carolina on vacation.

image My father, on the other hand, had a big-time travel bug. He sailed from the Atlantic, through the Panama Canal, and up the Pacific. He took us on a tour of the United States. He built elaborate miniature train sets, handmade wooden boats, screened-in porches, huge gardens...

I was thinking, today, how nice it would be to go to bed at peace, without dissatisfaction with what I've completed (or not completed) hanging over my head.

But what would the price be?

Would I write as much, if I were satisfied? Would I strive as much, if I were satisfied? Would I workout, if I were satisfied? Would I have learned anything as well as I have, if I were satisfied?

image I don't think so. Would the Mona Lisa been more than a sketch, if Da Vinci had been satisfied? It's the human condition to be dissatisfied, because without it, we cannot grow.

But I do want to hang up my striving hat every night, and enjoy one or two hours of satisfaction. Why not? I can torture myself the rest of the day, but for two hours a day, I want peace.

That's my New Year's Resolution.

And guess what? I'm working on a present for you guys, but it's not quite finished yet. Hopefully tomorrow night!

How do you balance your striving and your dissatisfaction with your need for moments of peace, relaxation, and just plain winding down? Do you manage this every night? Once in awhile?

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Saturday, December 27, 2008

It's That Time of Year

Rick reminded me that it was time to start thinking of my New Year's resolutions, which led me to thinking about the past year.

I did start doing one thing at a time, which has been mostly good, except it gives me less time to blog. But I think I get more done, overall.

image I didn't write as much as I wished I would. I never do. That's a bit frustrating. I need to find a number that I can both do, and feel like I've done good work when I'm done. No matter how much or how little I write, I always feel like I need to write more and faster.

I didn't write anything much (well, didn't finish anything except a short story) in a new genre. I'm not sure how I feel about it. Obviously, the grass is greener on the other side. On the other hand, in order to write a story, I need to "live" in its imaginary world, and I only seem to live in my genre's imaginary world.

I don't think I'm going to be happy until I find a "regular" story which captures my imagination, that I can at least try NY with. Then again, I'm feeling greater pressure to make more money with the stories I do write. I have some ideas, but they involve things which will take away from writing time. I don't know.

image I never did get back to my daily yoga routine. As important as that is to me, I really can't figure out why I have such difficulty putting that back into my regular schedule.

I did love more. And I did seem to grow into a more forgiving person. I'm sort of one of those people who never get mad at my friends or acquaintances, ever, but then when I do, I'm like a dog with a bone. But this year, I've just come to a point where I don't have the time or energy, LOL, and I just let it go. Which is great.

Off the top of my head, I can't think of anything else. What about you? How was your last year? Looking back, did you change in any ways? Did you accomplish what you'd hoped to? And what areas are you hoping to improve this year?

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Friday, December 26, 2008

A Perfect, Wonderful Day

We spent all day at the theater: four movies in twelve hours. It was an amazing, perfect, wonderful day.

image Australia was okay (awesome in parts, too long in others), Doubt was wonderful (heavy, but excellent story and acting), Marley and Me was hilarious, but of course we sobbed at the end, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was perfection.

image It's kind of hard for me to relax. If I'm not working, I typically feel guilty for not working. Even when I am working, I tend to feel guilty for not getting more done faster.

So it took until the fourth movie until something in me just relaxed. I was cuddling with Glenn in the theater, and it settled into one of those perfect moments, where you're just so grateful. I was with the man I loved most in the world, watching the thing I love most in the world: story. Is there a better way to spend Christmas Day?

How was yours? What'd you do? And if you missed Melanie's post while you were celebrating the holiday, be sure to check it out below!

Happy Holidays, all! I appreciate you guys so much. Thank you for another great year! Thank you for keeping me company during my ups and downs!

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Guest Blog: Living la Vida Mexico

Hi, I'm Melanie Avila. Some of you know me from my blog, What Am I Doing In Mexico?, but for those of you who don't, let me catch you up. My husband, Ibis, and I live in Zihuatanejo, Mexico, a small fishing village on the Pacific, three hours north of Acapulco. We moved to Mexico at the beginning of 2007 and are waiting for his visa so we can return to the US.

image On my blog, I talk about, well, what I'm doing in Mexico. Everyday things that don't seem "every day" to me, a Midwest girl who finds herself very out of place in the tropics. Many of my posts touch on the fact that I can't wait to leave Mexico and get back to the US (or Canada, depending on how the visa goes), but in the midst of my hurry to leave, there are things that I will miss about out current home. That's what I'd like to share with you today.

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(Spy went nuts and raided Melanie's photo book for this post. This is their view of Zihuatanejo Bay, with the cruise ship in the distance, nearly as tall as a mountain, it seems!)


The Community


image I'm continually amazed by the number of people walking around town. Sure, most of them are running errands and would think I'd lost my marbles if they knew I liked watching them shuffle around town, but I do. Policemen stand on each busy intersection, blowing their whistles to hurry the cars along or stop them for pedestrians. Cars often stop on their own – I've never had to wait more than three or four cars for someone to stop - and traffic can get pretty tied up with a steady flow of people crossing the street.

image A tourist once commented to me that Zihua (as locals call it) is a very fertile town. One look around and you'll agree - there are babies everywhere! On a five minute drive through town, on average, five pregnant women will cross in front of us. Very few parents use strollers and I'm often struck by the interaction mothers have with their children here. Despite the heat, they hold them close and keep them protected, often shielding them from the sun while carrying heavy bags in their other hand. I think most people don't have strollers because of the cost, but I believe there's a stronger bond between mother and child because of it. (I'm not saying strollers are bad. I fully intend to use one when my time comes; I'm just sharing my observations.)

image Every Sunday night the plaza fills with people of all ages who come together to eat, talk, and watch performances by local groups. Teenagers mix with elderly couples, children dart between the legs of vendors, and lately, glow-in-the-dark toys fly high above everyone's heads. We try to join the festivities every couple weeks, where we grab a tamale or taco and sit on the steps surrounding the basketball court to watch the dancers. No other place I've ever lived has had such a strong sense of community, where everyone looks out for their neighbor (and their kids) and welcomes newcomers with a smile and a slice of flan.

Less Discrimination


Ibis is Mexican, and when we lived in the US, there were certain things that I was in charge of because people treated me better than they did him. Sometimes they'd see his face and assume he was a poor immigrant who was only there to waste their time. Or they'd think he wouldn't know English and it would take too long to help him. In fact, he made a decent living and speaks English fluently, but sometimes it was easier just to have me go into the store instead.

image Here, we don't have that problem. If anything, it's the reverse. Zihua relies heavily on tourism and the prices are much higher if you don't look like you're from here. When we were shopping for furniture and appliances for our condo, Ibis would often leave me in the car until he got a price, then he'd have me come look at the item. The shopkeepers were often surprised to see a white face (especially in some of the small towns where we bought our handmade furniture) but they treated me with respect.

When I'm shopping on my own I sometimes have to argue over the price (or haggle, bargain, whatever). I hate doing it but I know Ibis will never let me hear the end of it if I paid the first price they tell me. I learned early on to say "No soy turista, yo vivo aqui" – I'm not a tourist, I live here. We then have a five minute conversation about where Ibis works and what neighborhood I live in, then they drop the price in half. Even then, there are some things Ibis has to shop for because they refuse to lower the price. Despite this, seeing him treated with the respect he deserves makes me appreciate Mexico.

Way of Life


image How many people have joked that they want to quit their job and move to a beach town in Mexico? There's a good reason for that. Zihua is on a small bay that empties into the Pacific, and we're surrounded by mountains and palm tree plantations. Fishing is the main industry so fresh seafood is available every day. The market it overflowing with fresh produce, all for pennies apiece.

image We live in a fourth-floor condo that sits on a hill, and we have a breathtaking view of the mountains and the bay. The sun rises over the eastern ridge, right into our bedroom, then sets over the ocean, sending colorful clouds dancing over the entire town. There are plenty of bars and restaurants – this is a tourist destination – but most places shut down by 10 or 11 at night. 

image There's a sense of calm here that I've never experienced before. No one is in a hurry, things will happen when they happen. It took some getting used to, but now I just plan in the extra time when I need to get something done. As much as I look forward to returning to "civilization," I sometimes wonder how hard it will be to readjust to my old way of life. I know the life lessons I've learned here will stay with me for the rest of my life, I just hope I can bring this Mexican mentality back with me.

Thanks for the awesome post, Melanie! Please visit her blog, What Am I Doing in Mexico? And finally, lookee at the view outside her bedroom window every morning: 

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Vampires, Shapeshifters, and Demons, Oh My!

imageI'm really love this guest blog thing! Zoe Winters is our guest today, blogging about her new release, KEPT, a novella about a werecat!

Hey Guys! Thanks, first, to Spy for having me.  I know probably like five people are reading this cause we're so close to crunch time on the holiday season.  I know this because I've been a very bad Zoe and haven't been visiting my blogs like I normally do either.  And my posting schedule itself is erratic at best right now.

Spy suggested the topic for the guest blog, because she wanted to know about were-mythology and how I created mine for Kept.  Like most writers, if you ask me about my process or where this or that came from, I get a little bit of a giddy glee and proceed to explain it to you.

My first love is vampires.  Not sure why, there is something about the blood factor, and the intensity of the potential bond between two people who share something so primal.  imageMost people find people in the vampire subculture who do drink actual human blood to be gross at best and disturbing at worst.  While I'm not a part of that culture, I find it more intriguing than gross or disturbing.  When Angelina Jolie had a small vile of Billy Bob Thornton's blood around her neck, while the rest of the world thought it was icky, I found it somehow romantic.  Because I "got" that.  I knew what she was trying to do there, hold onto some magical life-sustaining piece of the man she loved.

My second love is a tie between shapeshifters and demons.  Raised really strictly religious, there was a big barrier to get to the paranormal romance style demon.  But I got there.  What can I say?  I like the bad boys.

So shapeshifters.  I've always thought that stories about vampires and werewolves are really about us.  Our shadow selves.  The parts we suppress and repress, and the parts image we set free.  On a very base level we are animals.  We're pack animals to be more specific.  Socially we fight for dominance and live in a hierarchy.  Some of us are lone wolves from time to time, but in the end, we need the pack.  We like to believe we're civilized, but I'm not so sure we are.

For me, a were-mythology has to express these things.  It's a place where we do see people's darker sides come out in a very literal way. I've always found werecreatures that turn into a half-beast/half-human to be weird looking at best, and far less credible at worst.  So I always go for creatures that shift to the actual animal. I like supernatural stories that skate very close to the edge of reality. Worlds we can almost believe actually exist alongside us without our knowledge. 

Kept is about a werecat, named Greta, who finds out her tribe is about to sacrifice her, right about the same time she finds out her mother isn't her biological mother.  Her adoptive mother gives the name and address of the only person in the city who can protect her.  The trouble is, he's a sorcerer with a bad reputation who once killed over half her tribe.  Not exactly the most stellar recommendation.

image Probably part of the inspiration for Greta came from my cat, Drusilla.  She's just a little too self-aware for my taste.  She's highly jealous of me and gets angry any time my husband shows me affection.  She doesn't understand that I'm a person and she's a cat and obviously he's going to love me more.  It's both funny and sad at the same time.  Sometimes I think Dru thinks people thoughts instead of cat thoughts.

And I'm sure in some sense, Greta came out of that.  When a shapeshifter turns into the actual animal, it puts a whole new spin on encounters with animals in life, who seem just a little too human sometimes.  I could get into more of my mythology, like the fact that nobody in it uses the term "were" for anything, but the werewolves. Everybody else uses the term: therian.  "Were" is a derogatory term in my world.  But this post has already gone past most people's word count tolerance for blog posts so close to the holidays.

What about you?  Anybody here write or read about supernatural creatures?  Want to share a piece of your mythology, or what you like in a mythology?


Thanks, Zoe! KEPT can be picked up as a free ebook download, o
r can be found at the Amazon Kindle store here. Visit her blog, or check out her group blog, The Publishing Renaissance.

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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Guest Blog: Edie Calls Spy a Puppy.

Our guest blogger today is Edie Ramer, who has just advanced to the next round of American Title V. It's a big deal! The winner will win a publishing contract with Dorchester! I'm rooting for Edie, and I hope you'll vote for her too! Just send a blank email to votes@romantictimes.com with DEAD PEOPLE in the subject line.

imageThanks so much to Spy for having me again.  When she invited me, I replied, “You're always so honest in your blogs.  Maybe I'll write something about being open in our books.”  One reason I love Spy’s blogs is she isn’t afraid to show her passion and her vulnerability.  It’s like a puppy showing her belly.

I mean that in a good way.  A great way!  You want to pet that puppy, love that puppy, cuddle that puppy.  You say how cute it is.

But in real puppy time (not Spy time), the next time you see that puppy, it’s older.  It’s a dog.  It’s still cute, but it’s lost that puppy openness and affection.  When it sees you, it doesn’t immediately roll over and show you its belly.  You pet it, pay it attention, let it see you’re friendly and won’t hurt it.  Then it might roll over and show its belly. 

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M

ost of us are like the older dog.  I know I am.  So are my characters.  I don’t write about puppies.  Even my younger characters show up in my books damaged.  They’ve built up defenses that protect them from more hurt.  They don’t open themselves up to others right away.  They don’t show their bellies. 

But by the end of the book, they scrape off their defenses and they show their vulnerable bellies.

At the library last week, I picked up a book that sounded interesting.  Though the author was new to me, the back jacket flap said she was one of the most popular writers in the UK.  The story was told in my favorite POV, third person past tense.  The premise was great, the pacing great, the characters great.  I read the book in two days.  But when I reached the end and closed the book, I felt... dissatisfied, disappointed.  Like I’d dined out and the meal was okay, but the cook didn’t put the extra work or special ingredients in it to make it special. 

I knew why I felt that way.  It wasn’t the three-page info dump in the beginning (though everything in those three pages could easily have been dribbled in throughout the next few chapters with no loss).  And it wasn’t because the compelling and quirky secondary characters drifted out of the story, one by one, as the heroine sorted them out.  No, it was the shallow POV that left me feeling flat.  I guessed what the POV character felt, but the author never showed her feeling anything.  Even after the behind-closed-doors sex scenes.  I didn’t mind that the author didn’t show the sex scenes – sometimes that’s refreshing.  But after the sex, when the bedroom doors opened again, it would have been nice to know what the protagonist felt about it.

image I never saw the protagonist’s belly.  Never really knew her.  I knew the interesting secondary characters more deeply than I knew the POV character. 

Perhaps the author’s worst mistake, in my opinion, was that I didn’t see the protagonist suffer.  I didn’t root for her.  When she had her HEA, I didn’t care.  She hadn’t earned it.

I’ve seen Spy suffer.  I see that she misses Glenn when he’s gone.  I see how much she cares about her young students.  I see how she suffered over the horrible root canals.  And I’m rooting for her.  I want her to be with Glenn every day.  I want her young students to be musical stars.  I want her teeth and gums to stop hurting. (Spy interjects a thank you! and a blush. :-)

I want her to have an HEA. 

I’m not surprised pseudonym is in demand. (I wish!) I bet Spy’s characters show their bellies.  I bet we see their pain.  If they have defenses, I’m certain they scrape them off.  I’m certain her characters don’t watch the story unfold from the shallow end.  They dive straight into the deep end. 

image In my blogs I’m not as open as Spy.  I don’t show my vulnerability the way she does.  I’m not made that way.  But in my books, I show my characters’ vulnerabilities.  I show their hurts, their passions and their triumphs.  I show their feelings. 

It took me a long time to get the emotion right in my books.  Karin Tabke, my former CP, used to constantly tell me, “What do they feel?”  I think DEAD PEOPLE, my American Title V book, was the first in which I got their feelings down.  Now in my critiques to my CPs, I’m the one who asks the question, “What do they feel?”

What about you?  Do you show the bellies of your characters?  Their suffering?  Do you tiptoe in the shallow end of the water or dive straight into the deep end?

Thanks for a great blog, Edie!

You can visit her website here, her personal blog here, (she also blogs at Magical Musings!) and the American Title V contest here. Please vote!

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What Are Your Kid Stories?

image So I have GREAT news! Glenn brought up adoption yesterday. We're also officially "trying," but he also brought up adopting some older kids in two years or so, if we find we can't have one.

When we got home, I had this insane, obsessive desire to clean.

He's leaving in eight days, so while I'm hoping for a miracle, it's more likely that I'm going to spend the next three months, while he's gone, detoxing and preparing my body, in the hopes...

Anyway, I saw my niece yesterday. She's two and just ADORABLE. When I got there, she was sitting in her high chair, and she kept smiling at me. (Probably because I was grinning at her like an idiot, LOL.) Then she kept taking me to a couch in the den, sitting me down, and babbling at me for five minute straight spurts. She has a lot to say.

image She can also talk. She told me to "open" the pool table, so we could play with the "balls." And when we played the four-foot singing Santa, she would say, "More Santa!" And I'd ask, "You want Santa to sing more?" And she'd say, "Okay. Okay, more Santa."  And later she'd say, "More Santa. Okay."

It was adorable. She even took my hand and pulled me into the den, once, and I was certain I'd just won the million-dollar lottery.

image So I want to ask: what was your journey like to have kids? To try? Or your decision not to? Any fun Christmas stories involving your children? Or other children? Any kid stories at all? I am so in the mood!



PS: I will be scarce the next eight days, while I savor the last 8 days with Glenn, before he leaves for 3.5 months. I have three guest bloggers, though! On Monday, Edie is blogging about opening up (a great blog, made me tear up!). On Tuesday, Zoe is blogging on were lore, and on Wednesday, Melanie is blogging about her experience moving to Mexico. Hopefully, I'll be back online for little bits here and there, or at least after he leaves. But if I'm in and out, I'll catch up later!

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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Questions of Equality

lightuprights I'm going to be out of town tomorrow (my niece's birthday!), but I promised myself I would do my teensy-tiny part to help make sure Prop 8 will never happen again. To be honest, this blog and my writing is really the only voice I've got. It may be small, but it's the best I've got.

Thus far, I have only been listening. I've been trying to understand why people were so vehemently opposed to gay marriage. I have been trying to learn what I can do to help. I have just been listening.

That's what writers do best, I think.

The results? The people who "don't really care" just sort of say there are no rights being violated, and when you bring up examples, they just shake their head and say that gay partners have all the rights they want, except the right to call themselves a marriage. (As if that weren't enough.) No facts really change their mind about this, which sort of boggles my mind. It's like they erase a fact from their brain as soon as you mention it.

They also feel that because they wouldn't engage in gay sex, they won't vote for it. Not that they care either way, you understand.

image And then there are others who say they need to "just say no" for the "sake of America," and "draw a line for morality." From talking to them, I don't think they are actually realizing that gay rights involves real people with real feelings who are actually love each other.

They forget what a beautiful thing love is.

I was listening to someone spout this intolerance, and I couldn't convince him that it's just love. No matter what I said, he, too, just mentally erased my words. He lost a lot of respect from me that day, and it was actually really sad.

I wish I had some powerful words that would sway someone. I don't. I'm at the point where I feel all I can do is listen, and try to keep the conversation alive. Sometimes, though, I feel talking about it makes them more vehemently attached to their intolerance. Probably it would help if I were a lesbian, if I could show them I'm as normal a human being as anyone else. (I'm quite arguably not, LOL.)

I don't know.

Throughout history, whenever humans have taken away or denied someone's rights, they've just not seen those people as people like them.

One of my readers wrote me last week and said that before I'd written a story about the Amish, they hadn't seen them as real people. 

That's our gift, I guess. As storytellers, we get to help people walk in someone else's shoes. We get a chance to make people come alive for others, to help them understand someone they maybe don't understand. Understanding leads to acceptance, one hopes.

Thoughts? May I listen to your thoughts on the issue? And is it possible to open a mind that is closed? How? Why is it such a strong part of human nature to segregate, to separate, to sort people into groups, to say "I am this way and not this way, and therefore I am better?" Why is it human nature, that once we find what makes us happy, many of us want to force those beliefs on others? Why can't we just let ourselves all be different, and respect that?

Here's the candle I won't be able to light tomorrow night:

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

What's in a Perfect Novel?

image I seem to be on a lifelong quest to read the "perfect" novel. This mental image I have is so picky, that everything I read falls short. But still, I try.

Today, Jon's blog on Essential Novels, (he's JVZ at Erica's blog, and has just started up his own) reminded me of my quest.

And I wondered? What would be your perfect novel, the dream novel that would be your "perfect" reading experience?

  1. What genre?
  2. What length?
  3. What style of writing? Lyrical? Edgy? Aggressive? Poetic?
  4. What kind of pacing? Fast? Slow? A Mixture?
  5. One POV? Multi-POV?
  6. First Person? Third Person?
  7. Lots of subplots? Just a few?
  8. Single tone? Ups and downs? Funny? Happy? Sad?
  9. What kind of themes?
  10. What else? What's in your perfect novel?

image If I could mix John Irving, Neil Gaiman, and Charlotte Bronte (maybe a wee bit of Dickens, too), you might come close. I love the 19th century novel, the exploration of a childhood through adulthood, like the novels of Irving, Bronte, and Dickens.

I love the Fiction that requires the suspension of disbelief like Irving and Gaiman. Third allows for more POV and a more complex plot. I love layers. I get bored with too much lyricism; every word must matter. I love aggressive voices that sort of punch at you.

I like the pacing of sentences and paragraphs to be rhythmic, playing off the rhythm of the plot and scenes. A good portion of the characters should have emotional arcs.

I love complex plots. I love tightly woven, interweaving subplots. I love beginnings and middles that hook like crazy to ends and middles.

image I love books that sweep me onto a roller coaster ride. I love bigger than life heroes, mythical heroes, who make sacrifices that just make you want to bawl your eyes out.

I love to be inspired at the end. I love a sort of book that makes me feel like I can conquer the world when I'm done reading it. I love a book that manages an "epic" sort of feel, without getting bogged down with too many words.

Okay, so what's your "perfect" novel like? And which book has come the closest, for you? Have you tried writing it? Oddly, I don't believe I have.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Hormonal & Inspirational Bits

image Dooce is pregnant! She's fourteen weeks, and she looks absolutely GORGEOUS! Would you LOOK at that belly? Oh my God. I looked at her picture and cried. Man, if I thought I had biological clock-ticking bad before, it's like screaming now.

Screaming, I tell you.

I'm so moody, you'd think I was pregnant.

I wish.

I get to see my niece on Saturday. It seems I just saw her a few weeks ago, but it's been six or so months. That's, like, a quarter of her life. So I feel like I've missed everything!

One of my students, who can really get to talking, stood in the middle of my studio and told me how much she loved piano, for like ten minutes straight, without taking a breath.

imageTeaching is not like parenting. In parenting, you get the hugs, the little special moments, all the time. In teaching, they come like once every year and parents complain (or don't care) at least once a week. And so I totally burst into tears and had to hide them.

I feel so hormonal today I can't really think of anything to talk about. Glenn leaves in two weeks. He'll be back mid-April. I'm looking forward to working a lot, writing a lot. Not looking forward to pretending I'm not lonely.

Well, since I can't think of anything to say, how are you? How are you feeling about the holidays? Are they happy? Laced with moodiness? Stressed?

How's the writing going? The reading?

Here's a parting gift: 40 Inspirational speeches in 2 minutes. Loved it!

 

Today I am grateful for friends who don't mind when you stick your foot in your mouth and say the stupidest things, LOL.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Passion for Words, for Books

I just discovered a new blog through Pink Ink, called Inside My Oyster, written by Elizabeth.

And Elizabeth quoted Anais Nin in one of her posts:

"The dream was always running ahead of me. To catch up, to live for a moment in unison with it, that was the miracle."


Sometimes words can just make your heart stop, can't they?

image Elizabeth also posted Oriah Mountain Dreamer's The Invitation, something I haven't read in ages, but feels like something I should be reading every day. I even bought the book, ages ago, but it's not living in my nightstand. It should.

What are your nightstand books? You know, the ones you keep close at hand, always? The ones that have spiritual meaning, or inspirational meaning? imageThe ones you just have to know are there, even if you don't read them everyday? 

And at the suggestion of Lisa, another new blog buddy, I bought The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. Now isn't this just the most amazing truth you've ever read? A boy's father takes him to the "Cemetery of Forgotten Books." Doesn't this just make you want to weep?

"This is a place of mystery, Daniel, a sanctuary. Every book, every volume you see here, has a soul. The soul of the person who wrote it and of those who read it and lived and dreamed with it. Every time a book changes hands, every time someone runs his eyes down its pages, its spirit grows and strengthens... In this place, books no longer remembered by anyone, books that are lost in time, live forever, waiting for the day when they will reach a new reader's hands. In the shop we buy and sell them, but in truth books have no owner. Every book you see here has been somebody's best friend."


There are sure a lot of books that have been my best friend. Well, not my best friend, because only one person holds that position, but you know what I mean.

Which books have been your best friend?

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Are You A Product of Your Time?

There was an interesting question raised by one of Jessica Faust's readers, and she added to it and opened it up for discussion on her blog on Wednesday. Here all the questions, in a nutshell:

Reader: What effect, if any, do you think the election will have on the publishing industry? Specifically, I was wondering if some of the 'boundaries' might be expanded with the advent of a more liberal administration. Jessica: What effect, if any, do you think the election will have on you as a reader?


The discussion following is an interesting read. What wasn't often mentioned is that we are all products of our times. I'll take that aspect of the question.

Maybe I'm biased, because when I studied music history, it was always done in the context of the political, military, social, and cultural period. I'm thinking art history is treated the same way. My German literature classes were also taught in this way, but I didn't take any English lit classes, aside from Shakespeare.

image The fact that Beethoven dedicated the Eroica Symphony to Napoleon and later scratched his name out is a definite reflection of his times.

Would this thriller have been written without a Bush presidency? Would this book have been written without abolitionism?

Not every book is going to reflect the life and times in a big political way. Entertainment often plays off each other. Just think of Bridget Jones' Diary, Sex and City, and the chick lit phenomenon. Would Stephanie Plum have taken off without the foundation? Sookie Stackhouse?

Pop culture is culture, too.

image My point is that we are all partly products of our times and environment. What we see on TV, what we see at the movie theater, the plays we see, the museums we visit, the politics of the day, the economy of the time.

And yes, sure, the president. (Particularly with the sort of dictatorial presidency Bush ran. Hopefully with the presidency of "change" that Obama has promised.)

image More importantly, even if we hole up in our little worlds as writers are wont to do, our readers are reading the books on the front tables, are going to movies in the theaters, and watching prime time TV.

They are dealing with foreclosures. Someone close to them has likely lost their job. Readers had passionate feelings about

I'm not advocating trying to write "to" a sort of group conscious mind or anything.

image I just think it's okay to be a product of our time, to allow society and pop culture and politics into our mind, to let them settle into our subconscious.

I'm not sure we can even recognize how our history and culture today will influence our writing. Maybe the perspective of centuries will recognize the common themes of the day.

Art is a reflection of its times, part of the history recorded for the ages. Even if it is "just" a fantasy, a romance, or mystery, and not a big literary work aiming to say something "important."

image No, I don't think readers are going to walk into the store and say to themselves, "Because Obama was elected, I'm going to choose this book over this book."

So, yes, I think the change of presidents will change the books people buy and the books people publish. I'll leave it to those who study history to recognize the trends, and those who predict trends to imagine exactly how it will influence the group mind of our day.

What do you think?

Today I am grateful for totally awesome blogging buddies who put up with and supported me during my dental meltdown!

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Quickie Dentist Update

I'm working on a real post for everyone, and settling in for a day of catching up on y'all's blogs. I didn't want to mar the new post with a dental update, though.

So y'all are going to look politely away when I confess I pretty much wimped out? I went in and started sobbing asked more questions. He said they could possibly still heal with the medicine he put in there, so as long as I can bear the pain, he said, then my body might heal itself.

If there is anything my twenties taught me to do, or my foot has taught me to do, it's how to live with pain. No problem.

The root canal, which might need to be re-done, is what it is, but it can wait.

After I got home from wimping out discussing treatment options with the dentist, I read your comments. They made me feel SO much better and strengthened my belief in my decision to wait until January, if possible.

The big clue phone for me was when I realized I would a million times rather bear the pain than go through a dental procedure right now. I just need a break, is all. I need to re-work up my courage.

Besides, I've been wanting to do a juice cleanse for ages, so this might be a good time.

I got some hot chocolate, and settled in to respond to your comments, and I realized just thinking about the dentist again was doubling my blood pressure.

So please forgive me. I'll see you on your blogs this afternoon, and my next post is going up in a second, too.

Thanks for all your support, and for sharing your stories! They made me feel less alone. That's one of the gifts of the internet, I think.

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Friday, December 12, 2008

Thanks & More Dental Fun

These last couple weeks, I've met so many new blogging friends. I was just commenting to Glenn how much I've enjoyed it.

So, I'm feeling a little like I'm letting you all down this week. My blogging is so slow, and I'm really just whining about my dentist. I just wanted to say I'm sorry, and I'm looking forward to being back to normal and hanging out more.

(The rest of the post is skippable.)

By a stroke of luck, I get to go to the dentist today, which is a good thing, because I need to get out of pain. I'm not as bad as Heather, but when I go, I shake for about an hour to an hour and a half. Then I'm so exhausted from the terror and the shaking, that I'm dazed for most of the rest of the time. I can barely drive home, and I usually fall asleep within hours.

Oh! And I run a fever. I get so worked up about it, that I actually get a fever.

But I usually don't cry.

I've already cried twice this morning, just burst into sobs, which is completely unlike me. I don't know how I'm going to do this. I was pretty strong through the whole six months, but last week I was supposed to be DONE.

I'm in pain, but the last two times I went, I was in more pain when I left than when I went.

I know I'm going to start crying as soon as I sit down. My dental spirit has broken, snapped, kaput. I was so brave for six months, I swear, but I just feel like I can't do this anymore.

I made a pizza (pretty much dairy-less), which will hurt excruciatingly to even gently chew with my front teeth and dissolve on my tongue. Hopefully that will inspire me to get in the car and go.

I would say this is one of those irrational phobias, but I don't see a single irrational thing about it. It's logical. You go in, they hurt you. When they're done, you go out, and you hurt 500 times worse, your teeth get worse, and then you have to go back again.

Like I said, I started this whole process with one cavity and one root canal. Dentistry has just made my mouth amazingly worse.

I feel like going again is just going to make my mouth worse, in the long run. Salt will eventually take the pain away from my teeth. I don't know.

I'm being a wimp, right? I should've never gone in the first place. I had the pain of the original root canal controlled with salt, and the cavity wasn't bothering me at all.

Okay, I'm swishing with salt water every half hour. If the pain goes away, then I'm not going to the dentist. At least today.

Do you have any fears, phobias, anything? How do you deal?

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Dentist Math

So, please feel free to skip this post, because I'm going to vent. Last March I went to the dentist. I hadn't gone in 5 years. I went, and the chick said, "Wow! You have almost no tartar buildup! No gingivitis! Your gums are healthy! That's amazing for not having gone to the dentist for 5 years!"

I had one tooth that needed a root canal and one cavity, though.

Okay, fine.

After getting a teeth cleaning (see that? a teeth cleaning? the thing that is supposed to help?), and saving up my money for three months, I went to another dentist. I now had two root canals and two cavities.

Okay. That doesn't make sense, but whatever. Still, I take exceptional care of my teeth. There's never tartar, I always floss. I use an electric toothbrush.

So it takes my student dentist SIX MONTHS to do two root canals and caps, with many, many visits. We're talking between twice a month to twice a week at times.

And now?

My two root canals are done, but it's highly likely one needs to be re-done. One cavity is done, but the other two mostly like need root canals.

I can't close my teeth. The valleys and ridges have to line up, did you know that? Now only some teeth meet.

So after being a good girl and going to the dentist? I have gained FOUR root canals and TWO cavities, for a total of FIVE root canals and THREE cavities.

All in nine months, after first seeing the dentist.

Can someone please explain this to me? Because, from my perspective, my teeth just get progressively and progressively worse with each dental visit.

Oh yeah, and I forgot: because both sides of my mouth were in various stages of root canal disrepair for six months, I've been chewing a lot with my front teeth. And now my front tooth hurts.

I just don't understand.

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The Invisible Beauty of Story

One day, after about six years, 800,000 words, 13 or 14 novellas, and forty-some short stories, story suddenly came alive for me. Just like that, bam! (I never said I was quick.)

And wow, I just fell in love with story. Deep in love. Probably as much in love as I fell in love with the piano and music.

image Underneath every great story, great novella, and great novel, is an invisible framework. It's the hidden plot, but the real and most important plot.

The way I see it, every character has an emotional journey and an emotional arc. These character's journeys provide both aid, obstacle, and conflict for other characters' journeys.

And not just the characters have arcs, but each relationship has an arc and a journey of its own.

Overall, the book has its own arc, its own emotional journey for the reader, and perhaps the arc of the theme.

Somehow, amidst this mess of arcs, an author must line them all up so they interweave and finally, in the end, all peak at the climax.

image The things that happen? The "surface" plot? It's only a tool. It's what we think is the story, but it's not the real story. The picture to the right? That just doesn't work for me.

image To me, the interweaving of all these emotional arcs into a novel is just beautiful. It's like counterpoint, like a fugue. It's thick and rich and full of depth.

I felt for Anonymous who posted the other day, who said books have become, for him/her, "gears and springs." As much as I love, love, love reading, I'm finding it increasingly hard to fall in love with a book. I'm finding it increasingly hard to find that perfect book that sweeps me away, the one with plenty of layers to seduce me, the one that just amazes me with its beauty and complexity.

But all this is just how I see it.

How do you see it? Are you aware of the invisible plot and arcs? Do you find them more or less important than the story the readers think is the real story? Which do you "find" first, when you're creating your story?

Today I am grateful for Advil. Okay, sorta a passive-aggressive grateful, but it's the best I can do today.

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Monday, December 08, 2008

The Secret Place in Your Heart

image Rick asked me what inspired me to write a children's story. It's a bit of a fable, actually, about that secret place in your heart. If there is one thread in all my writing, it's that I believe there is a secret spot in our heart, a kernel of wishes we hold so dear, we don't dare tell anyone. Or if we do, we do so with a fair bit of panic, LOL.

I'm not talking about ambition or anything at all like that. It's a vulnerable place, an embarrassing place, filled with wishes that may be silly, foolish, socially "not cool," or just plain embarrassing.

But there they are, deep inside our heart.

All my stories hope to find and touch that special place in my reader's hearts. If there's any "why I write," it's that.

imageSaturday, while wandering the aisles, I happened across The Magician's Book, by Laura Miller.

The reason I picked it up was because it was about Narnia, my favorite series ever. And in this critical discussion of Narnia and memoir of the her journey with the series, the author professed her feelings of betrayal and anger when someone dared suggest the books were a thinly-veiled not-really-but-almost allegory for Christianity. (Exactly how I felt!)

I immediately bought the book (on my Kindle, of course), when I read how Laura Miller describes herself standing on a corner in her neighborhood as a child, yearning for the Narnia world:

...I'm wishing, with every bit of my self, for two things. First, I want a place I've read about in a book to really exist, and second, I want to be able to go there. I want this so much I'm pretty sure the misery of not getting it will kill me. For the rest of my life, I will never want anything quite so much again.


Oh my gosh, if that's not how I felt/feel about Narnia, too! And that's why the whole Christian allegory thing didn't do it for me, because let me tell you, HEAVEN IS NO MATCH FOR NARNIA. 

I vividly remember sitting on my bed and bawling my heart out, after reading and re-reading through the series six or so times, because I could not visit Narnia. My mother asked me what was wrong, and it took me almost an hour to control my sobbing enough so that I could choke out that Narnia wasn't real, and I couldn't go there.

(Santa Claus, in comparison, was a mild disappointment. No tears were shed.) 

image Laura Miller continues, in the introduction, to remind me what it was like to be a reader, when I was a child. Remember how vivid the worlds were? Remember how you disappeared completely in the world, how you became the main character, how all your hopes and desires were brought to life in reading?

I think I've lost the purity and joy with which I read as a child. Reading Laura Miller's discussion made me realize that most of what I write is a yearning to live in those worlds I read and created as a child. There are days, even now as an adult, where I would do anything to live in Narnia, or even in one of the many worlds my imagination populates.

So all that was stirring in my  head when I came home and wrote a children's story.

And today, I made a new resolution. I want to recapture that feeling of living in a story. I want to read as passionately as I did as a child. When I write, I want to make stories just as big and vivid and engulfing.

imageHave you ever forgotten what it was like to read as a child? Do you read differently now? Do you find, as an adult, that it is more and more difficult to recapture the same childhood joy you had while reading a book, the completeness of the experience, where you left your life and stepped inside the world of a book?

Were there any books you just wanted to live in so badly, you cried? Which were the books of your childhood that you held most dear? And did you feel it, too, as Laura Miller describes it? "For the rest of my life, I will never want anything quite so much again."

Those books we grew up with were magical, weren't they? Gosh, the love I had for my library! I still feel it, in bookstores.

Is that why we write, to recapture that magic?

Today I am grateful for the books of childhood.

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