"The notion that such persons are gay of heart and carefree is curiously untrue. They lead, as a matter of fact, an existence of jumpiness and apprehension. They sit on the edge of the chair of Literature. In the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken off their overcoats."
- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Writer's block

No, not that kind of block.

After writing 1,000 words today and feeling damned proud of myself, I went surfing and found some interesting sites for writers. So this post is a block of links for writers, get it?

First of all, I always recommend the Blood Red Pencil blog (http://bloodredpencil.blogspot.com/). It's full of editors telling us writers that they won't eat us alive and have our best interests (okay, our writing's best interests) at heart. Trust them, they don't bite... hard.

Alexandra Sokoloff also has a great blog for writers, or even non-writers who study how stories are told, no matter what the media. We frequently talk about movies in our attempts to dissect story arc, character development, and what makes a good hero-villain relationship. Visit the Dark Salon - I dare you.

And, of course, there's Joe (http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/). The fun part about his discourses on writing is that he manages to engage so many differing opinions. One of these days, I'm going to witness a cyber-fist fight on his blog, I'm just certain of it.

Today, I had three new posts lobbed at me. One of them came via the Echelon Authors Group (my tail still wags when I realize I'm one of the Echelon authors). It's an e-article from ForeWord Publishing by Tom Christensen about the importance of blogs (visit article here). Basically, it says, you'll get more hits if you stop talking about yourself so much and turn your focus on your reader. The really funny part of the article for me was when Tom studied several blogs to prove his point - according to his research, Penguin Books UK actually got TWENTY-THREE comments on one of their blogs. Wow. Joe Konrath's last post is still going at 56 comments. Many of the posts I read get over 20 comments with almost every post. Maybe Tom needs to branch out on his blog studies.

Next, I read an interesting, albeit old (from September) post by E.E. Knight, a science fiction and fantasy writer, on famous writing blunders he has seen. Okay, most of these pits have been pointed out to me along the way, but there were a few faux pas I'd never seen before. Thankfully, I've also never committed them, either. If you're a writer, look here for one more list to tack on your wall.

Lastly, a magnificent letter from John Steinbeck, giving advice to new writers. In one of Joe's recent posts, he was arguing about whether published authors are the best equipped to teach writers. There are two schools of thought about this, but Steinbeck's letter seems to indicate that he would not have made a good teacher. After years of writing and being successful, he sounds as if he puts the words to paper and then "a miracle happens" to make them mean anything. Read it here.

So much for a block about writers. Read and learn, padawans.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Yeah, what Joe said

Joe Konrath has an interesting post (as usual) today about the cost of being a writer (visit http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2009/01/writer-as-spendthrift.html to read the full text). I completely agree that there are a lot of people out there who are willing to charge writers money in order to teach them what they already know. And amazingly, there are a lot of writers who will pay it. They run from one conference to the next writing course, dropping enormous amounts of cash while talking about what they're going to do someday when they "become writers".

Here are my own caveats to Joe's very excellent advice:

1. Taking writing courses from people who've never or only rarely been published. There are writing courses, and then there are writing courses. Some people need help with the basics. These are the people who've managed to drift through 12 years of schooling without realizing that verbs must be paired with nouns. They need to be taught by a licensed professional, and it doesn't matter if the pro has been published or not.

Why do they want to be writers, you ask. Because telling people you are a writer is cool. If you're a man, you get to wear turtleneck sweaters. If you're a woman, you get to have headshots taken that make you look gorgeous without feeling self-indulgent. OK, you and I know that being a writer is not cool, it is hard work because you have to actually think, and turtlenecks are hot and itchy and headshots are a big pain in the butt. But let these people have their fantasies. Maybe they'll take a few classes and decide it isn't worth having to tell the difference between an adverb and an adjective. Or maybe they'll learn and want to keep writing. You aren't the boss of them, so smile and be encouraging when your 80-year old illiterate uncle tells you he's going to write a memoir of when he was at Iwo Jima, except you know he had a desk job in Roanoke the entire war. At the very least, he will be keeping the local writing instructor employed.

2. Don't buy what you can get for free. There are so many wonderful blogs on the Internet now about writing and editing and being published, it's a wonder that anyone should pay for a class or a seminar or a conference. Yet, there are some times when you should. One is if you are reading all of these wonderful blogs and are still flailing about, because you can't organize your thoughts around the information you're being given. The other is when there is a payoff you can't get from the Internet. I have gone to several writer's conferences in the past 3 years, due to both of those reasons.

In September, 2006, I attended my first Southern California Writer's Conference in Palm Springs. At the time, I was a newspaper and magazine columnist who wanted to write a novel, although I didn't know what to write it about. I sat in workshops and listened and took notes and decided to take one of my short stories and turn it into a novel. I didn't plan to go to the San Diego SCWC in February, but I had a big chunk of my horrific novel written and I couldn't figure out why it was so horrific, so I went. In San Diego, I heard the professional writers/publishers/editors tell me why it wasn't good, but I still didn't "get" it. It took me another conference to figure it all out. That's when I wrote a good book, went to another conference, met Karen Syed and sold FREEZER BURN.

Did I spend a bit of money? Yes, BUT it was concentrated in one direction and I got results from my investment. Do I think everyone at SCWC gets a good return on their dollar? No, because I've seen a lot of people at these conferences who don't go to the workshops or listen to the experts. They use the conferences as a writer's group, sitting in read & critiques and submitting their first 20 pages to every editor and publisher on the panel. If you're one of those people, save your money. Join a writer's group and learn to send out queries.

Nowadays, I do visit a lot of bloggers and take a lot of their advice to heart. For example, LJ Sellers was waxing poetic about the need for a character database. I didn't build one for FREEZER BURN, but now I'm starting the next book about Peri and her friends (tentatively titled HIT OR MISSUS) and I spent most of an evening looking at the previous book for characters I wanted to re-use but couldn't remember their last name, hair color, etc. LJ was right - the database makes everything SO much easier.

Will I continue to attend the conferences? Depends upon who is going to be there and what I need from the conference.

Joe is absolutely right to warn writers against poring money into the process unless they absolutely need to. Sometimes you do need to spend a little money, but you need to look at what you're ultimately getting for your dollar. Is it moving your writing career along, or is it teaching you more of what you already know?

Stop talking about "becoming a writer". Write and "be a writer".

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

One ring to rule the mall

Hey, bookworms! I had so much fun making a slide show of Peri's stomping grounds in Placentia, I decided to try another. This one is all about what she finds at Benny's house. I may make one more slide show, giving you a window into Benny's world, too.


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

What are we supposed to do with history?

Today was an important day for Americans. Not only did a new President take the oath of office, but the first ever African-American President took that oath. One hundred fifty years ago, African-Americans were objects to be owned, not human beings to be respected. Now they are doctors, teachers, presidents, and Presidents. This is all very inspirational, but a little too generic. Let me tell you about my own history with race, not because it's all about me, but because maybe you can recognize yourself in my words.

I was born into racism. My dad has always been blatant about it; he never shied from his feelings about blacks and could let the N-word roll from his tongue without a thought. My mom was the insidious racist. She never used that word and shushed my dad when he started on about color, but - this is important - she thought she wasn't a racist because "it's not their fault they're colored." As in, it's not their fault that they are inferior, that they are not as smart or as energetic or as motivated or as GOOD as white folks.

My external environment was no better. I lived in Decatur, Illinois, which is in the middle of the Midwest, and went to school where there was only one diverse child in all of Eldorado Elementary. He was Catholic. So I lived in a sea of Caucasians, and should have married a survival nut and become a card-carrying white supremacist.

Except that I didn't. One of my vivid memories is when I was 3 years old. We had a teeny little black-and-white TV in the corner and Harry Belafonte was performing on some variety show. He had an open, puffy-sleeved shirt, and was singing "The Banana Boat Song" (you know, DAY-O, DAY-AY-O), and I was glued to the image on the tube. He was the most beautiful being I'd ever seen, and I said so, in whatever language a 3-year old uses. My mother informed me, in the language that moms use, "Not only no, but hell, no." But she was too late; TV had opened the door to Oz for me - a wonderful world of color.

In the meantime, a young black child was growing up in the Crenshaw district of south central Los Angeles. He lived in a two-bedroom apartment with his parents and three brothers. His world was dark-skinned, with black neighbors and black teachers and black playmates. His parents were not racists, though. They were people who, although proud of their heritage, did not expect the world to either help or hinder them due to their race. As the young man, Dale, grew up, somehow just knew he'd marry outside his race. You see, he'd been watching TV, too.

Fast forward a few hundred years, to my thirties. Dale and I meet at work, fall in love, marry and have a son. Dale's family has been wonderful. My family has been... two thousand miles away, which is just as well.

Now that our son, Marcus, is a teenager and Obama is president, I'm looking at my colorful family and wondering if it means anything to him. After all, Dale and I don't bring race into our conversations. We don't act like being black and white is a big deal. Neither do our friends. Nor does Marcus' school or classmates or friends. Our musical tastes, our meals, our lives are eclectic. We're not ethnic-free, we're ethnic-inclusive.

Last night, I asked Marcus about the election, and about himself. He told me he was excited to see a black man elected president, but it wasn't as pivotal for him as it was for Dale. I asked him what I'd never dared ask before - had he ever been the subject of racial taunts or discrimination? (Before you go all open-mouthed on me, if Marcus had ever come home from school acting weird, it would be the first question on my list.)

"No," he said. "Nobody talks about being black or white or whatever. It's not important."

So the good news is that there may be a generation out there who doesn't care what's in your DNA. They're happy about Obama, but they knew it was possible, this event my generation listed as a dream. But what does that mean about taking pride in your ethnicity? If no one cares if you're black, do you still celebrate your African-American heritage? If no one treats you differently because you're Jewish, do you still warn of the dangers of the Holocaust? Once the world is truly a better place, where everyone respects one another's race, religion and politics, do we dare forget what might happen if we don't? How do we fit bad history into a better day?

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Butterfly effect, Part 2

Can we be frank? I've gotten a Butterfly Award and two Premio Dardos ("Prize Darts") Awards, and when I look around to see who to pass them on to, I see that everyone I read is getting multiple Butterflies and Darts. Are we supposed to be passing them around within the group to build interest in each other's blogs somehow, or are we supposed to be cross-pollinating, introducing ourselves to new people?

Seriously, I can't tell.

So here's what I'm going to do: First, I'm going to try to insert that pretty Butterfly picture into this post. Pray for me - here goes nothing -

See anything? Me neither. Damn.

Never mind, let's go to the next step. If I read every interesting blog out there, I'd never eat, sleep or write, and forget riding my horses. But here's who I read regularly: The Life of a Publisher, A Newbie's Guide to Publishing, Alexandra Sokoloff, Morgan Mandel, Writely So, and Write First Clean Later. These lovely people have been showered with blog awards from myself and others. Please keep visiting them, and comment often. We all get lonely.

Here are some blogs I've recently discovered by looking at Blogger's "Blogs of Note". I don't know if they need any more followers, and they're not all about writing, BUT they are either pretty, or fascinating, or helpful in some way. Check them out if you've got the time and the inkling:

Book Flap (indy bookstore in Menlo Park, CA)

The One-Minute Writer (quick writing prompts to get your fingers and brain moving)

The Book Design Review (reviews/discussions about book covers - fascinating)

Editorial Anonymous (real-life lessons on what not to do)

Query Shark (same as E.A. for query letters)

Detectives Beyond Borders (international crime)

Poem of the Week (well, yea, what it sounds like)

Cheerful Scoop (good news when you need it)

Synch-ro-ni-zing (beautiful photos)

If It's Hip It's Here (cutting edge products - this was giving me story ideas)

I'll try to alert these folks to their Butterflies, but mostly I just want to spread the seeds of information around and keep us all from inbreeding ideas. Enjoy.

Now that I've spread my Butterfly's wings - have I had any effect on the atmosphere?>

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Butterfly effect

Last week, I was honored by my publisher, Karen Syed, with a Butterfly Award. She had been chosen by Joan De La Haye, and according to the rules, needed to pass it on to ten other bloggers. I'm, of course, pleased as punch when anyone thinks of me enough to give me a mention, but these blog/meme awards are stressing me. First of all, I'm supposed to post the Butterfly award logo on my blog. It's a pretty logo. I wish you could see it. Here's the problem...

I tried to get the Premio Dardos logo on my blog, to no avail. Yes, I'm a former software engineer, but Blogger doesn't seem convinced. I kept using the Insert Picture feature and it kept telling me that I had succeeded, then it ignored my request to insert anything. Basically, it was blowing me off. So, although I'll try to post the butterfly logo, I don't know if Blogger will obey me.

After I get the logo mounted, I have to nominate ten other blogs. I keep seeing the Butterfly making the rounds of the blogs I read, so I don't want to re-nominate people who've already gotten their butterfly. The nominations will have to wait until I hunt around a bit for some folks who need the mention. Which makes the Butterfly Award one more item on my To-Do list.

They say the flapping of a butterfly's wings might ultimately cause changes in the atmosphere, including altering the path of a tornedo. This Butterfly has definitely altered my plans.

Has anyone else out there felt measurable effects from an immeasurably small event?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Beautiful is beautiful

I know this is a blog to talk about writing, how I do it, how I feel about it, etc., but I have to share the good news from one of my good friends. Robin Reichelt is a bright, funny woman I've known since our sons were in Miss Veronica's dance class (boys' tap and hip hop) together. She and I bonded over our families (married with 1 son), our sense of humor, and our love of the arts. I often refer to her as my "wild haired friend" since I cannot call her and chat aimlessly, without hearing, "I got an idea. Throw some clothes in a bag and let's go to Palm Springs." Or some such adventure. That's Robin - she's always "got an idea."

Although Robin has made her primary living by creating ingenius marketing schemes for large companies like ConAgra, her heart belongs to her art. Sound familiar? Unlike me, Robin's medium is pottery. For the past few years, her job consumed much of her life, leaving just enough free time to spend with her son and husband, and molding clay was on the low end of her totem pole. But recently, she returned to her passion in a big way and has been creating some of the most unique and beautiful pieces I've ever seen.

Some of her pieces were in a gallery showing in December. I am ashamed to say I missed the showing because I was out giving horseback riding lessons, but the gallery featured her in their blog. In addition to pictures, they have a wonderful explanation, from Robin, about why she loves clay so much.

So, click on this link: http://chemersgallery.blogspot.com

You won't be disappointed.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Prize Darts, Part Deux

Just when I had completed basking in the glow of Helen Ginger's gift of the Premio Dardos, the lovely and talented Morgan Mandel also chose me for this auspicious award. One of the great things about getting Prize Darts is that I've found even more writers with wise and witty things to say out in the blogosphere. I found them all through my publisher's blogsite, The Life of a Publisher. I wish I could have them all over for a dinner party - what discussions we'd have!

Speaking of darts, being recognized sure came in handy this week. It was nice to have a cyber-hug to offset the ego-spanking I received.

Back in 1983, I received my Bachelor's Degree in Computer Science from Cal State, Fullerton. For the next 20 years, I designed, coded, tested and fielded software systems from ghost radar, to military communications, to using GPS to land planes. And yet, I lived in fear that when I visited my family, they'd tell me since they got their Dells and can open an Excel spreadsheet, they do what I do for a living. Because that's the way my family is. Amazingly, no one did, mostly because they couldn't understand what the hell I even did for my paycheck.

Now that I've got a weekly newspaper column, a short story in the new anthology, MISSING, and a brand new book, FREEZER BURN, coming out, the chickens have come home to roost. Over the holidays, one of my relatives (let's keep him anonymous) told me he's writing a children's book. A man who never graduated from high school because (in his words) "school is for losers", who rarely spent more than five minutes with his children because he didn't know what to do with them, is writing a children's book. Yeah. Good luck with that.

Along with this relative's belief that anyone could do what I do, a writer-colleague absolutely stunned me when I told her of my deal with Echelon and she said, "What's the big deal? They're a vanity press, right?" (KAREN - PUT THE KNIFE DOWN, NOW!) I set her completely straight, to the point of squeezing an apology from her, but I was shocked. She had been nothing but complimentary about my work, congratulating any of my contest wins, but a book deal must have been too much for her to handle.

So, honestly, how do you handle these kinds of remarks without resorting to violence? Or heavy drinking?

Monday, January 5, 2009

Seriously? Premio Dardos?

Helen Ginger, proud author of the Straight from Hel blogspot (http://straightfromhel.blogspot.com), chose me as one of the recipients of the Premio Dardos award. According to her blog:

The Prémio Dardos is given for recognition of cultural, ethical, literary, and personal values transmitted in the form of creative and original writing. These stamps were created with the intention of promoting fraternization between bloggers, a way of showing affection and gratitude for work that adds value to the Web.

I've also learned, from Helen, that the name is Italian for "Prize Darts". I must say, after unintentionally throwing a saw at my ex-husband, this is the closest I've been allowed to any kind of darts for quite a while.

The rules for this award are:
1. Accept the award by posting on your blog along with the name of the person that has granted the award and a link to his/her blog.
2. Pass the award to another 15 blogs that are worthy of this acknowledgement, remembering to contact each of them to let them know they've been selected for this award.

With this post, I've fulfilled Rule #1. Rule #2 might be harder - 15 blogs? Do I read 15 blogs? I'm a newbie - I barely know 15 people. Most of the blogs I read come via my publisher's blog, http://karensyed.blogspot.com. She was given the Premio Dardos last week, and nominated most of the blogs I read. So I've had to reach out and find others to touch.

Here goes:

http://thedarksalon.blogspot.com - Alex Sokoloff provides incredible insights into structure, plot development, and how to scare the pants off your reader

http://murderati.typepad.com - This is a group of 12 bloggers who post tidbits about writing murder and mayhem. Helen counted the bloggers in each blog, so I'm going to count these as 11, since Alex is one of the bloggers and I don't want to count her twice.

http://deannacameron.blogspot.com - Deanna writes Writely So, where she covers her book that will be published in July (The Belly Dancer) as well as interviewing other authors. I love her standard interview questions because they reveal so much about the person, and she's been great to share publishing/marketing ideas with.

http://scwc.wordpress.com - This is the blog for the Southern California Writer's Conference. I always tell myself I'll only go to one of these a year, and I end up at both. They're good, working conferences, and the blog points to some more interesting folk.

http://barryeisler.com/blog.html - In addition to being a gifted author, Barry writes The Heart of the Matter, a blog that defines/debates/discusses the world, its politics, its leaders, and its general goings-on. It's a great workout for the brain.

Okay, that makes 15 bloggers. I'd like to stay around and extoll their virtues, but I have to scamper off and tell these folks what I've done. Take a look around at their blogs - and their websites. They're all smart cookies.

Oh, and thank you so much, Helen, for reading my blog and thinking I deserve this!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Do you really draw more flies with honey than vinegar?

As I've probably mentioned before, I'm completely excited about my book coming out, and I'm on the verge of becoming that annoying author who wants to speed things along. If you can visualize it, picture a short redhead hopping around Karen Syed, asking, "Is it time yet? Should we release it yet? Can I do anything yet?" I fear that's what I'm doing, cyber-style.

In an attempt to stop myself, I'm trying to write other things, but my mind reserves a little corner for my book - constantly hinting that I'm falling behind whatever schedule I've imagined for promoting Freezer Burn. It drives me to sometimes play a little with some advertising - an excerpt on my website, a mention on other blogs, etc.

A couple of days ago, I built a slide show about Placentia, using this website called SlideShow (what else?). Even though I live there, I went to different places around the city and took pictures, to remind me of the look and feel of my town while I was describing it in the book. They served as inspiration for Peri's home and office, as well as where you could hide a body.

My question (and the key to the title of this post) is, does this strike you as a marketing tool? Or just a cool toy to play with? Before you answer, here's the slide show:

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