"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

Monday, February 23, 2009

Oh, what a tangled web we weave

It's funny how the same topic will be on so many people's minds. I had been thinking all week that as soon as I could, I wanted to blog about my website, and LJ Sellers' latest blog is about - drumroll, please - websites and blogs and whether you need both. Great minds...

In the beginning, I had a website. I got one because some expert somewhere told me I needed one if I was going to be taken seriously as a writer and get the word out about my wordsmithing prowess. Even though I'm a software engineer by training, I decided to go with a kind of 'plug-and-play' site builder because I didn't want to take the time away from my new career as a writer just to learn html. I used Yahoo's Small Business Web Hosting to pick a template and fill in the blanks. I named it www.gaylecarline.com. Genius, huh?

It took me a little while to get the content right, mostly due to the fact that I didn't know what I was doing. At the time, I was writing journalistic articles for Riding Magazine and humor columns for the Placentia News-Times. You could say I felt divided, and my website reflected it. Finally, I got it all sorted out, and added buttons to lead you to whatever half of my writing personality you wanted to hire. In an attempt to garner more interest in my humor, I also put some funny pictures with funny captions, to show people that I'm funny.

Fast forward to now: I'm being published! Freezer Burn will be out in September 2009, I have a story in Missing, which is now available, and I've started writing the second book of Peri's escapades. I still want to write my humor column. I no longer write my Riding column, but if my editor called and asked me to cover a show or interview a trainer, I'd do it in a heartbeat, just because they gave me my publishing start.

So what I'm asking is, what should my website look like now? Please take a look-see, if you've got the time and tell me: Where should I focus? What's working? What needs to go away?

Even if you don't want to give me specific suggestions for my site, how do you think your website reflects who you want people to think you are?

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Missing: I once was lost but now I'm found!

I feel like I spent last week in a weird bubble - the bubble of leading the VHS Choir dinner theater. No, I wasn't in charge of the music, but I was in charge of everything else. We did two nights and managed to get people seated, fed, and entertained. Unfortunately, I didn't do anything else (with the exception of writing my column), which is why I can't find the floor of my family room from the clutter and I've got two weeks' worth of laundry looming.

But I'm back now, and I'm going to take a day to relax a little before I jump into taming the chaos, partly because I feel like I've been rode hard and put away wet, but mostly because today's my birthday.

Yes, feel free to raise a glass - you can toast anything you want. If we ever meet, just tell me you wished me well. I share this birthday with one of my favorite writers EVAH, the lovely and talented Erma Bombeck. Erma would have been 82 today, had she lived. She passed away April 22, 1996 from complications due to a kidney transplant.

My kidneys seem to be still firing on all cylinders, and I'm not quite as old. How old am I? Hold your left hand up about a foot from your face, palm forward, fingers separated. Now hold your right hand up to mirror your left hand. Now wiggle your hands back and forth while keeping your arms quiet. What have you got? Jazz hands! Also two-fives. Double nickels. The speed limit on some freeways.

That's right. I'm "jazz hands" old.

So time is ticking, people! I've got to get more written, more published, more sold! Freezer Burn will be released this fall, but in the meantime, Echelon Press has published an anthology, MISSING, to benefit the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. I have a story in the mix, "Cleaning up at the Franks," starring my P.I., Peri Minneopa. If you'd like to meet Peri early and support an organization dedicated to finding lost children, order your copy by clicking here.

Before I go, do you have an author or other artist with whom you feel an extra bond, whether it's a shared birthday, or a hometown, or even a food allergy? I'd love to hear from others who feel that special attraction to an artist's work, only to find out later that they share a common bond.

I'd love to stay and chat, but I got stuff ta do!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

I was back in a flash...

I got back from the San Diego SoCal Writer's Conference, and really hit the ground running, as they say. Yes, it's a cliche, but do you know a better way to describe getting back into town just in time to complete the arrangements for my son's choir's dinner theater? I was in charge, which meant fielding phone calls, assigning tables, decorating, running errands, talking to the caterer, and making sure everything ran smoothly on Thursday and Friday nights. I'm happy to report that we've got one night down, and one to go, and it was perfect. I couldn't have been happier with the adults and the children who volunteered. If you want to see my son's choir, go here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BsTKbM-9k78. They're amazing.

But let's talk about San Diego. It was fun, as usual. I got to hang out with my publisher, Karen Syed, who is just so funny and outspoken, and my friend, Alicia Bien, who makes me laugh until I cry, and Claudia Whitsett, who is really nice. And, of course, there were Michael and Wes, fun folks to decompress with at the end of the day.

My very first workshop this trip happened by accident. I meant to go hear Andy Peterson talk about how bad you can make your good guy, but instead I went to the Flash Fiction workshop with Julie Ann Shapiro. I was so surprised at falling into the wrong room, when she asked if I'd ever done flash fiction, I couldn't think of a thing.

What a dolt!

First of all, I LOVE to enter the SCWC Topic contest every year, 250 words of any kind on the topic chosen Friday night. I've been to 6 SCWCs - I've won three and been runner-up once. I entered the Southern California Writer's Association topic contest once, and won that. Let's face it, I'm very popular at 250 words.

At a little longer, I was also runner-up in the WOW-Women on Writing flash fiction contest, with my entry, "Quarter Life." Here's the interview I did with them when I got my award: http://www.wow-womenonwriting.com/2009/02/interview-with-gayle-carline-runner-up.html.

When I write one of these little ditties, my good buddy, Kip Mistral, always emails me with the same question: How do you come up with this stuff? My answer is always the same: Many things remind me of many things.

I thought perhaps I'd use one or two of these posts to discuss how I think of these things, in a little more detail.

During the Flash Fiction workshop, Julie produced a group of trinkets: fur boas, plush stars and butterflies, foamboard crowns and pirate hats. She challenged us to write a 100-200 word story about one or more of these things. Here's what I wrote:

"The boa slithers across her arms and around her waist. It is yellow and matches her outfit, what there is of it. She clings to the pole on the stage, gyrating to her heartbeat while speakers spit out a seductive dirge.

The fat man is here today. He sits in front and lets the drool slide down his mustache, his rheumy eyes feasting on her body, but not her soul. Today, she smiles at him, white teeth surrounded by crimson. She leans forward and lets her boa drop from her shoulders, feather light as she drapes it around his neck. His eyes, bright with desire, open wide. They continue to bulge as the snake tightens its grip."

How did my mind work with the materials? First, I think you should know I like my stories dry with a twist, so I don't want a straightforward tale of a pirate or a butterfly or a queen, etc. Let someone else do that. I looked at the fur boa and began to think about a boa snake. But who could hold a feather or real boa? Hmm, an exotic dancer. That put me into a strip joint, at least as I've seen them in the movies (no, I've never been, but that's another story). Then I wondered how I could write a tale that made you wonder what kind of boa the girl was holding until the last possible moment.

What do you think? Did I succeed?

Sunday, February 8, 2009

San Diego dreamin'

Next weekend, I'm going to the San Diego Writer's Conference, and I'm already making my lists. I have a list of things to pack, a list of writings to take, and a list of tools to have. Oh, yes, and a list of people to look up, find, buy a drink, etc. I love these conferences, mostly because they re-charge my writing batteries, but also because good things have tended to happen to me there.

On my first trip to San Diego, I met Gordon Kirkland, who became my humor-writing mentor. I enjoy his company greatly and was sad to learn he won't be in San Diego this year, especially since he makes me laugh until I hiccup. My second trip to San Diego is when I met Karen Syed, pitched her my book and ended up with a contract. This will be my third trip - what could possibly top that? Oh, and of course, I have met TONS of friends at each conference, most of whom I've stayed in touch with, thanks to email, Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, etc.

One of the nice things about these conferences is they are working conferences. You can bring your WIP and read it aloud in a group of other writers. There is a workshop leader there who makes certain everyone is polite and focused and gives you feedback you can use. Trust me, I've been in writers' groups where one man complained about the font I used, and another didn't like it because he doesn't read my genre. *sigh*

What I find a little disappointing in the conference is that some writers don't take advantage of all of the other workshops. Because read & critique groups are offered all day (and into the night), some people show up with their manuscripts and travel from r&c to r&c without stopping in to hear Jean Jenkins talk about editing, or Jennifer Redmond discuss what makes a good query letter, or Michael Thompkins introduce them to the psychological/physical aspects of characters. Not only are they losing out on dynamic speakers, but they are missing an opportunity to take someone else's experience and apply it to their own works. I once heard Willard Scott say something interesting (yea, it scared me, too): "When you're green, you're growing, and when you think you're ripe, you're rotten." It shot through my soul like an electric current, and I've vowed to try to keep learning, no matter how accomplished I think I might be, no matter what the subject.

This year's conference will be fun, in that I'll get to see my publisher, Karen Syed, in person, instead of just e-bugging her. I'll also get to see a lot of the friends I've made throughout the years.

In addition, this year, the conference falls on Valentine's Day, so I've bought an extra banquet ticket for my hubby to join me on Saturday night. San Diego is only two hours from our house. Dale has met a handful of these folks, but I do hope he enjoys himself at the dinner.

If anyone's wondering about my lists, here they are:
1. Packing - Business casual with lots of layering options. Weatherman says it's supposed to rain, and I know the hotel corridors aren't completely enclosed.
2. Writings - I'm taking the first four chapters of my latest work in progress (another Peri story, entitled "Hit or Missus"), and the first 20 pages of a book of my newspaper columns I've put together in the form of a journal.
3. Tools - my laptop, a pad of paper, pens, pencils, and business cards.

Oh, yea, and I'm taking a Valentine to give to my hubby.

Did I miss anything?

What kind of writer's conferences have you been to? Do you like to work at a conference, or do you prefer to sit and be handed information? Let me know - I'm an enquiring mind!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

If it's fiction, does that mean it's not true?

They say the worst liars are the people who blend a lie in with the truth. You can assume, with people who lie all the time, that they are lying each time they open their mouths. But when they tell the truth most of the time, but mix one lie in every once in awhile, how do you know which statement was true and which one was false?

When I started writing Freezer Burn, I knew I wanted to set it in Placentia. Call me crazy (no, it's okay, I've been called worse), but I knew which house I wanted Benny to live in, knew Peri's neighborhood, knew where they'd have lunch and get takeout and get gas in their cars. I've lived in Placentia since 1984, albeit in three different houses. If you'd asked me five years ago why, I'd have told you it was purely accident. Nowadays, I call it an instinctual accident. Let's face it - Placentia is a teeny little 'burb in north Orange County, engulfed by other, bigger 'burbs. But every time I needed to move, I looked around at the neighboring cities, then my gut called me home to Placentia. It's where I belonged.

The good thing about setting a fictional story in a real place is, you know the place well. I can drive you down real streets and take you to real places without having to make up new names. The bad thing is, you're afraid people will take umbrage if you don't represent their town well.

Some towns are huge and can take the heat. I doubt if anyone in Chicago reads J.A. Konrath's books and thinks, "That hoser - the way he tells it, Chi-town's littered with the bodies left by all the serial killers." Even the Irvine and Newport Beach areas of south Orange County don't whine that Dean Koontz is making them sound like they're all in imminent danger of some supernatural evil. As a matter of fact, they kinda like Dean down south.

When I was dropping people and clues and bodies around Placentia, I confess to a small worry. What if the Placentia citizens don't want bank managers with gambling problems, or sociopathic day care workers living in their borders? (Note: these are just examples, not actual characters.)

So I mixed things up a bit. For example, I set quite a few scenes at the Homeless Intervention Shelter, or HIS House. I am proud of our community serving the homeless in this way, and the setting fit in with a character who is down on her luck. But I gave the home a big grassy backyard, and I completely made up the interiors. Benny's house is in an actual location, but I changed the name of the church next door, and I took the basic house and exaggerated the style.

Now, of course, I'm wondering if I should have stayed more true to life, or should have renamed Placentia, like Sue Grafton in her Kinsey Mulhone series. She renamed Santa Barbara to Santa Teresa, except that everyone who reads her books knows it's really Santa Barbara so what was the point?

Anyway, whether you are a reader or writer, which do you prefer? Can you take your reality with a teaspoon of fiction, or does it bother you to know a neighborhood and have the author change a restaurant's name? I'd really like to know.

P.S. I would be remiss if I didn't mention a couple of things today:

1. I have a short story in the anthology series, Missing, from Echelon Press. Proceeds from the sale of this book will benefit the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and it's ON SALE NOW. Buy it and read a bunch of cool stories by good authors, and earn some good karma by helping a worthy cause!

2. Has Karen Syed (publisher and queen of Echelon) got a deal for you! TODAY ONLY, buy ANY book/download for $3 or more from http://echelonpress.com/directory.htm and receive a FREE download of your choice! Don't wait!

3. This Friday (Feb. 6) is National Wear Red Day in recognition of women beating heart disease. So put on your red hat, or ruby slippers, or scarlet letter, and send a picture of yourself to Karen (echelonpress@comcast.net) for her wall of honor. C'mon, it'll be a fun way to call attention to an important health issue.

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