I’m here!

Hi Everyone,

I can’t believe it’s been so long since I posted. I’ve fallen into that place where writers are told not to go. You know, that place where you start a blog, keep up with it somewhat and then masked men with Mac computers come take you away to a special place where you’re ordered to write and write and write and are forbidden to do anything else — including dishes, laundry and taking the dog out before the next accident on the carpet.

Okay, maybe I’m being a little dramatic.

The truth is, I have fallen into the trap so many writers, and other professionals, fall in to. We start a blog, and then….life happens. Or in my case…a book happens.

Writers love their books, we have to to spend so much time with them, but this book is very special to me. To be honest, I didn’t think I was ready to write it. (It’s definitely one of those training-wheels off types of projects!)

I’m nearly done with the first draft and I’m still not certain I’m ready to write it, but sometimes a thing just has to be written and if that thing lives in your head, you have to be the one to write it.

That said, that’s where I’ve been — writing and researching and living in a mental cave deep within the earth, excavating very very dark things.

I love blogging and reaching out to people and feeling that odd cyber-connect. I also love reaching out to people with pages and pages of black ink on white paper and touching people in, I think, the most intimate way possible — by sharing stories.

Anyway, just wanted to let you know that I haven’t fallen off the face of the earth, I’ve just fallen in a very deep hole with my laptop and my story.

I’m near the end of it now and there’s that excited running-downhill thing going on.

I’ll be excited to share this book with you when it’s ready. Though I have to warn you, it’s dark, and truth be told, it might take me a while to climb out of that dark cave. To be honest, I’m not sure I’ll make it all the way out.

So if you see a hand reaching out from the earth and hear a voice calling from the darkness, it might be me.

“I’m here!”

 

 

 

Sleeping with the Lights On

I’ve recently started a new manuscript. The idea has been swimming around in my brain for a while, but I was somewhat reluctant to pursue it.

Part of it was timing. Part of it was fear.

Concept of security. Silhouette of refugees climb over the barbed wire at the border

All writers know the importance of research — of immersing oneself in the real world to help you create an authentic fictional one. For Deadly Design, I had to swim in the waters of DNA and ghost hearts and all things genetic. While science certainly has it gray areas and ethical dilemmas, this new project requires me to delve into a world which will NOT leave me unscathed.

One of the things I love most about writing is how writers become mini-authorities on the various topics that come into their fictional worlds. It’s fun to learn about science or space or history. But sometimes we get ideas for stories that are of a darker nature.

I have never been to a war-torn country. I have never seen, first hand, the way war destroys everything. But I have this idea, an idea that I truly love and that I believe could become an amazing piece of literature. Do I want to learn what war tastes and smells and feels like? No.

I don’t want to experience it first hand, and yet I want to create it on the page. So how do I do that?

I’ve talked before about writing naked — figuratively speaking — and when it comes to research, it’s the same.

If we are to have vulnerable characters, we have to become vulnerable ourselves. If war changes people, we have to be open to changing ourselves.

I have literally watched hours upon hours of war videos and interviews, and each is like having a flu shot, only instead of protecting me from some awful virus, the exposure makes me feel things — awful things, but necessary things.

When Elizabeth Kostova was researching and writing The Historian, I’m sure she slept with the lights on, and maybe with garlic hanging from her bedroom door. She created a world where vampires seemed as real as anything anyone had ever read about in a history textbook, and I’m sure there were times when she wanted to take a shower in holy water.

Eilean Donan castle in the night, Scotland

We expect our characters to learn and to grow. But before we can create our characters and create their world, we, as writers, have to grow and to grow, we must be vulnerable.

We have to be willing to put ourselves on the front lines. We have to be willing to expose ourselves to things that might make us toss and turn at night. To things that might make us cry and make our souls age.

Before we can make our readers cry or cringe, before we can make their hearts double-over with joy or sorrow, we have to open ourselves to those emotions.

What would life be like without stories? The best stories are often the ones where invisible fingers reach from the pages like spirits and they inhabit us. They make us feel something new and unique. The make the reader more than they were before they started reading.

As authors, as creators of the stories, we must lay ourselves wide to the world, not to sacrifice ourselves for our art, but to become more. To get the stories right, even if it means sleeping with the lights on.

To Nano or Not to Nano

October is almost over which means the buzz of NaNoWriMo is in the air.

As a professor, I’ve always wished that the month writers are supposed to dive in and dedicate themselves to the purpose of writing, wasn’t November. Let’s see, there’re the holidays, the whole finals coming up and the last minute grading to get done. Not to mention hosting relatives and doing that cleaning that only gets done when relatives are coming (yes, I am one of those “spring cleaning be damned” kind of people).

Writers are drawn to the wonderful possibilities of dedicating an entire month to the magic of writing. Usually it takes nine months to create a baby, and even if the novel that’s been pulsing in your soul doesn’t emerge fully in tact by the end of the month, at least you’ll have something tangible, something so close to complete that the urge to continue the frenzied writing will continue long into the dark, cold months of winter.

To be honest, I’ve never participated in Nano month. Not because I don’t absolutely love the idea of it, but because I’ve always been in the midst of working on something that I didn’t want to put aside. But I’ve considered it this year. I have a new project I’m wanting to start, something very challenging and the idea of getting a running start at it takes away at least some of the anxiety. But I’ve noticed something about writing lately,

It has to do with pacing, or should I say, my pacing. To use the old fable, I love writing like the hare, racing through the story, getting it on paper as quickly as I can and perfection be damned — that’s what rewriting is for. We’ve all heard the advice, and good advice it is, to get the story out. Once you’ve created your world and characters, you can go back and fix and polish and tweak all you’d like.

little baby rabbit

Enter the frail ego of a writer faced with the shaky first draft of a manuscript, and well, lets just say the hare curls into the fetal position and sucks his paw while questioning what made him think he could write in the first place.

We’ve all had those moments when we’re reading something and we stop, mesmerized by the beauty of the words or the image they’ve created. It’s magic. It’s eating a sandwich or a bowl of soup and suddenly finding a flavor that’s new and exquisite, and it makes you appreciate being alive just a little bit more.

My race towards the end of a first draft is slowing down. When I go back and read what I’ve written, I find myself not caring how many words are on the page, but whether or not they are the right words.

But there must be a balance. If a writer becomes too critical during that initial stage of getting the story out, it’s like taking their muse and breaking its fragile spine over your knee. The next thing you know, it’s curled up next to the rabbit who’s still sucking its paw. Tell the story, first and foremost, but keep an eye out for those moments of possible greatness.

If writing is a journey, you have to find the pace that works best for you. I’ve found that of late, I want to look around more, explore more and worry less about how quickly I reach my destination. In other words, the process matters. Spending thirty minutes staring at the computer screen hacking at the block of marble in your brain to release the right combination of words is worth it sometimes, because as wonderful as it is to stop and inhale the beautiful words of another writer, it’s even nicer when you realize they’re your own.

Every writer must find their pace, the method of writing that works best for them. In Kansas, the wind blows cold in November.

Long summer dry grass against a sunset.

But I love the idea of winds being created by words, by stories racing from the minds of writers and onto the page. Write. Write like your life depends on it. Write like some crazed maniac is coming to nibble your fingers off so it’s now or never. But no matter how you chose to write, enjoy the journey, and remember that sometime along the way, your job is to create magic.

Surviving Limbo

Anyone who writes knows all about waiting. Whether it’s waiting for beta readers to give you their opinions or waiting for a response to a query letter, writers spend a lot of time waiting…and waiting…and waiting.

It’s almost enough to make a person go mad — as in main character in a Poe story kind of mad!

If purgatory is a real place, any writer ending up there will spend eternity logging into their email to no avail.

So how do we keep from chewing our fingernails off and pulling our hair out or chopping up a body and storing it under the floorboards? How do we keep from going mad? Well, it’s not easy, but the answer is obvious — we do what we do when facing any challenge. We write.

My agent and I are currently waiting to hear back from my editor on a project, and I asked my agent if she would mind if I sent her another project. To be honest, I was afraid that since we’d so recently finished rewrites on one novel, she’d want a take a break from my writing. Instead, she was delighted (of course, she hadn’t read it yet so time will tell if she stays delighted). But agents represent books and writers write books so it just stands to reason that working writers make for happier agents.

The point is that we have to keep working. (Even if she doesn’t like the new project, at least I’ll know so I can move on to the next story brewing in my mind).

Now, I’ll admit, waiting has gotten to my psych on occasion (that whole hearing the heart beating like a clock swaddled in cotton comes to mind, but don’t worry; there are no elderly gentlement with cataracts sleeping in my home).

Last week after another day of waiting, I felt a strange kinship to the protagonist in the tragic story of The Little Match Girl, only instead of envisioning a table of food set before a warm fire, I was envisioning my new book on the shelf at Barnes and Noble.

All right, I wasn’t  freezing or starving to death, but sometimes mental starvation can be almost as bad.

Waiting is not fun. But it is necessary, and it is inevitable. But there is something wonderful, something magical and almost god-like we can do to not only force the current of time to quicken, but to actually enjoy the minutes as they flow by.

We can create. We can write the next story and then like an expectant mother resting before the contractions start, we can wait. And wait. And wait.

A Writer’s Dreams Come True in Pieces

As writers, we have dreams.

When Deadly Design, my young adult thriller, came out on June 2nd of this year, it was a giant dream come true. Seeing my book on the shelf was (and still is) amazing. Having a complete stranger purchase the book and want me to sign it, is also completely amazing, but…

Okay, here’s where I try not to sound like a brat. Here, I’ll go ahead and say it for you.

“How dare you minimize the wonderful experience of being a published author!” “Do you know how much this would mean to many struggling writers?”  “Do you know how grateful you should be to have gotten a book deal, especially one with a major publisher?”

First off, I don’t mean to minimize the experience at all and I DO know what it means to a writer to be validated, to have someone say that their work is worth reading.

It means everything.

But here’s the flip side of that —

As writers (as humans) we have dreams, goals, aspirations. And they usually come in a sort of surreal completeness. We form a picture of what our lives will be like after we achieve our goal, down to what we’ll wear, how late we’ll sleep each morning, maybe even what we’ll have for lunch once this major life achievement is accomplished. But dreams don’t usually come in package deals.

Sometimes they come in pieces.

Before going to my first book signing in Tampa, Florida, my husband asked me why I didn’t seem ‘happier’. Besides being nervous that no one would show up, there was just something missing. My life hadn’t magically changed because I had a book out. There was no quitting my day job. My son’s health problems didn’t magically go away. Our aging dog still had a nasty cough and my house was still a wreck because I’d just finished my grading for spring semester.

Before being published, I can’t tell you how many times I fantasized about getting that magical letter or phone call from the agent who just happened to love the pages I sent. Followed, of course, by him or her saying that they’d already discussed the book with a publisher who is so excited about it. Here comes the nice advance, (few rewrites are needed because, well, this is a fantasy). Book stores can’t keep the book on the shelf and so on and so on and so on.

Of course, this isn’t how it goes, but I don’t think any writer can keep writing without those fantasies. To work so hard, for so long, to give up sleep and sometimes sanity for our craft, we have to dream big or we’ll quit.

But we also need to remember that dreams are often puzzle pieces. Encouragement from a beta reader is a piece. A rejection letter with a positive, personalized comment is a piece. A request for pages is a piece. Signing with an agent is a piece and so on and so on.

Writers are a special breed and we have to be content with each piece we get and we have to have faith that once all the pieces come together, it will make a beautiful picture.

Curse the Day Job!

Okay, the fact is that most writers have day jobs, or sometimes, night jobs, or second shift jobs or maybe jobs that seem to never end, like teaching. Day jobs are great in that writing these days generally requires electricity and caffeine, both which are hard to pay for without money.

But while day jobs are a blessing, they also have their downsides. Talk to any writer and the one thing they’ll tell you they need the most is time. For many people, they work the 8 to 5, pick up the kids, fix dinner, do laundry or whatever. For the writer, the real work begins after they’ve punched out, but there’s still dinner to fix, still laundry to wash and still a big steaming pile of “whatever” to get done.

Day jobs take up time. They also keep us from getting hungry, figuratively and literally. The bills are paid, there’s food in the fridge, and there’s a danger of becoming comfortable, of forgetting the dream and the stories we want to tell.

I’m not saying we should quit our jobs. (Yes, I think all writers fantasize about getting out of bed, filling their favorite mugs with coffee and getting to work in our pajamas  —  in short, quitting our jobs), but you may have noticed that few homeless people today are getting published. Most of us can’t quit our jobs, at least not yet. We have to see the dream through, and to see the dream through means, at least for now, getting up to the alarm clock, getting dressed, and heading to the only 8 to 5.

My point? Do your job, but don’t forget that no matter what it says on your pay check or your name tag, you have two jobs. You’re a writer. Let the day job feed you and pay the bills, but don’t let it feed your ambition. Don’t let it feed your dreams. Don’t get comfortable being part of the status quo. Don’t let your day job turn into the thing that keeps you from fulfilling your dreams.

Two Dirty Words — “No Time”

Okay, I’m going to say it and hate me all you want, but sometimes it’s just true. Some days there is no time to write!

It’s a horrible reality, like death and taxes and waiting for replies to queries.

Writers are told that nothing is more important than the craft. Like Stephen King says, if you want to be a writer, you have to read and you have to write. In the make-believe realm of Writer’s World, there would always be magical moments when the clock stops, the children take naps, and the dryer hums quietly making sure nothing wrinkles until the spell breaks and it’s time to get back to reality. In today’s world, writers are often Cinderellas stuck mopping floors, just waiting for our godmother to send us — not to the ball- but to some quiet sanctuary where we can WRITE!

Non-writers don’t get it. They don’t understand that not writing is like not getting the drug we’re addicted to. It’s literally like all the characters in our brains start running their fingernails (and some of them have very long fingernails indeed) across some chalkboard in our brains. To put it mildly, we get a little…irritable when we don’t get to write. But it happens.

Life gets in the way. Things like the need to pay bills and eat and avoiding ending up as guests on Dr. Phil because we’ve neglected our children and spouses and we remember our characters’ birthdays but not theirs.

So what do we do?

What can we do?

First and foremost, we have to not beat ourselves up. We may create superheroes on the page, but sadly, we can’t turn ourselves into them. We can’t go without sleep or food or somehow add hours to the clock. We can however remember that tomorrow is a new day. Sure, it will come with challenges, like every day does, but it’s new. It’s fresh. It’s a blank page.

Even if you can’t get a word physically on that page because the one hour you’d carefully set aside is taken up by an emergency trip to the vet because the dog ate a roach hotel, you can still think about writing. You can turn the radio off and visit with your characters at stop signs and traffic lights. You can jot an idea down in the little notebook you carry or on a fast-food napkin. You can fan the flames of your creativity until things settle down a bit.

They’ll never settle down completely. Writer’s World doesn’t exist. But we can remember that tomorrow is a new day, and with it comes a new night and new minutes and new moments. New opportunities to push the laundry and the grading and the dishes aside, and do what keeps us sane.

Write when and what you can. Fifteen minutes at lunch is better than nothing at all. And amazingly, if we give ourselves small goals, they have a way of growing bigger. Fifteen minutes at lunch turns to thirty. Maybe we wake up thirty minutes before the alarm goes off and instead of going back to sleep, we get to work.

Stephen King is right in that to be a writer you have to read a lot and you have to write a lot. But when life becomes our own personal antagonists, we have to remember that ‘life’ is what it’s all about. Enjoy the cuddles when the kids are sick, don’t forget to listen to the birds when you take the dog for a walk. After all, if we get too out of touch with our own lives, how will we be able to write about the lives of our characters?

Getting in the Mood — to write

It’s Saturday morning. The kids are asleep. Dad is working in his garden (hooray for spring) and the dog’s gone out. It’s time to write! And yet….

It has occurred to me that writing is like sex.  Sometimes we’re more ‘turned on’ than other times. Sometimes we’re in the mood, and sometimes…our creative side gets a headache. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was a Viagra for writing! Okay, I know this sounds ridiculous, but we all know that writing takes focus and energy (the mental kind of energy that’s much harder to come by). So just like most people have their turn-ons for sex, maybe we writers have turn-ons for writing.

Let’s see. For me there’s….

Music:  Trying to find a song that would go with the scene I’m working on. Youtube is great for this. Last week I was working on a scene where a character is playing the violin. I found a wonderful video of an artist playing a heart-wrenching Bach piece — perfect.

Ambition: Okay, this is a big word that can mean many things, from just wanting to be able to pay bills to going to that next high school reunion and telling the girl who made head cheerleader and razzed you about not making the squad at all that you have a book deal. Ambition can be wanting your kids to go to college, wanting a bigger house or one with a basement that doesn’t flood when it rains. Or for someone like me with a child who will be battling health issues his whole life, the ability to know he’ll be able to go to good doctors and have a good life. Ambition isn’t a four letter word. There’s nothing wrong with ambition, and reminding ourselves of ‘why’ we want it so badly can be just what we need to get us to work when it’s hard to get in the mood.

Dreams and stories: I think this is the most important one. Writing isn’t easy. I think that horse has been beaten to death and the only people who believe writing is easy are those people who don’t write. We hack away at writer’s block, at the insecurities and rejections because we have a dream and we have stories. In a world of destruction, we dream of being creators, of giving birth to characters and scenarios and tragedies and moments when something magical happens on the page and we cry and we know that someday someone on the other side of the globe might hold our book, read our words, and cry too. That’s the dream. Stories move in us, beseeching us to tell them, to exorcise them from our souls and release them into the world, to set them free.

Right now, the sink is full of dishes. The couch is covered with laundry and very soon, too soon, the dryer will buzz like some sci-fi beast to let me know I have responsibilities! And yes, I do have responsibilities — to my craft, to myself, to my characters and their stories.

There is no viagra for writers, but we can turn ourselves on to writing. It’s not easy, but it’s what we do.