"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, March 30, 2021

Writing, editing, and leopard-print lingerie

 I have in the past written a post about my editing process. It is long and it is tedious (the process, not the post) and is usually composed of five official stages of editing, and within each stage, an infinite number of passes through the manuscript. If you want to look it up, it's here:


Since that's the way I've always done it, that's the way I expected to do it for this book (currently titled MOON DRAGON FALLING, book 2 of the fantasy trilogy). As usual, my great expectations were incorrect. I'm going to chalk it up to two things. 

One is that this is a Big Damn Book that refuses to come in under 110,000 words. (My editor might eventually disagree when she reads it.) 

The second is that this book, much like the first, refused all attempts to be outlined like my mysteries and insisted on being born naturally, without a plan. Or an epidural.


So instead of doing many sweeping reads to get rid of my go-to words and fix grammar and tidy things up, I went straight to Step 4, where I reverse-engineered the book and made an outline, then looked at the pacing, re-arranged chapters, and fixed what fell flat. 

I'm now going to the Read Aloud portion of the program, followed by the Listen to the Digital Voice Recorder step, and hopefully end up Verifying My Edits without losing my mind.

I'm thinking of making a board game out of this process.

As I was re-structuring the chapters, an idea slapped me. Why not make the beginning of the second book echo the beginning of the first? If I can do it subtly, it's one of those things that brings the reader confidence, makes them feel like they know and like this story without knowing why. Like when a woman wears leopard-print lingerie under her business suit--her secret brings her confidence. No one else knows why there's a spring in her step. They don't have to. 

They just have to stay out of her way.


Friday, March 26, 2021

The post in which I wax philosophic

 I've lost friends in the past twelve months.

One was the dearest of souls who called to tell me of her diagnosis and I broke down crying because, well, I'm a selfish beast sometimes who could only think that my friend was in pain and sad and scared and I should have bucked up and been optimistic and calm and gentle instead. My failure haunts me.

One was a sassy gal I only saw at writer's conferences and I knew she had some health issues but she tended to want to talk about writing instead. I never brought up her health because that's not polite conversation and I figured it was the last thing she'd want to talk about.

The latest was a fab and funny woman I served on a board with, worked with, laughed with, and last saw at my book launch party in February of 2020. I didn't even know she was ill. Her face is still fresh in my memory, smiling as always.

They all had one thing in common in my narrow world--I didn't get to say goodbye. What would I give to have been able to spend just a few more minutes in their presence, putting every detail down to memory? A fat lot of whatever the Universe asked.

I try to be reasonable about it all. If I knew my prognosis was grim, that I may not have all the time I wanted on this Earth, it would be difficult to share that with even my close friends. I wouldn't want pity and I wouldn't want helpful advice about a new drug or a doctor or some herbal concoction. To be honest, I'm not certain I'd like my friends to visit, no matter how much I love them. It might be too raw.

What would I want?

Funny cards that make me laugh. Photos of people enjoying life. Weird little tchotchkes that remind them of me. Inside jokes to remind me of them. Communication.

But that's just me. Your mileage may vary.

Monday, March 1, 2021

Sometimes the mind gets cluttered

 I'm actually editing the fantasy (part 2) but I have to get this out or my mind will not stop reliving the day.

Yesterday I went to the Anaheim Convention Center for my second COVID shot. No, I have not had much of a reaction. Yes, I feel bulletproof and might step out later today to put on a cape and stop a train.


The Convention Center was fairly organized, but they'd had to scramble a bit, because we're having EFFING SANTA ANA WINDS IN FEBRUARY and they had to re-route all the Disneyland vaccinations to an indoor location. I had no place else to go, so I was okay to stand in line and play with my phone.


Except I couldn't play with my phone, because the older lady behind me was chatty. After I tried multiple times to look engrossed in a crossword puzzle, I surrendered and reminded myself that life is to be experienced, not tuned out.

She was shorter than me (so, SHORT!) and discussed the Convention Center, how much she hated parking garages, and Disney in general. I found out she works the phone lines for Disney, helping people with reservations for the parks and hotels, etc. She mentioned her eye surgeries a few times (regarding parking garages and doctors' appointments), we had the loveliest chat, and then the line started to move. I lost her in the sea of tables and syringes, and figured that was that and I wish I'd gotten her name.

After it was all done, I found my car (yes, I lost it briefly even after writing down where it was) and made my way toward the exit. Who was pulling out of her parking space? My chatty friend.

How did I know it was her? First, she was looking through the steering wheel, not over it. Second, it took her a 99-point turn to back out of her space. Pull up a little, back a little, pull up a little, back a little. I followed her out of the garage and she turned right on Katella, just like me.

BTW, she was in an older model Buick LeSabre. Her license plate said GENIUS 7.

I watched her in the middle lane for a while, going straight, then slightly veering toward the right. Thank God for the bumps on the lane lines! At one point, I was able to stop almost next to her at the light. That's when I saw the right side of her car--it had the crap beat out of it. Dented front and rear fenders, scrapes down the entire side, a significant dent in the rear door.


My first and only thought was, "She is delightful but she should NOT be driving!"

And now that's out of my system, I can go about my day of editing. Thanks ever so for listening.

Friday, February 19, 2021

My a-MUSE-ments

 Sometimes I muse.

The other night I watched IN THIS OUR LIFE (1942) on TCM and really enjoyed it. Bette Davis is a very bad witch, narcissistic, sociopathic, all the icks. Her sister, Olivia de Havilland is so sweet and unassuming, it's like watching the battle of archetypes. 

After the movie ended, TCM played SUPER FLY, and I watched enough of that one to hear the theme song and make certain Ron O'Neal was still sexy as hell, which he was. (I'd have watched the whole thing but it was already past midnight and I was turning into a pumpkin.)

And I started thinking...in cinema, we began in silent movies, with large gestures and facial expressions. From there, we moved into melodramas and broad comedies, still with larger-than-life performances. Stereotypes, archetypes, it was difficult to find a performance that represented "normal life."

And then, technology and equipment and filmmakers intersected to make movies that felt like real life. The camera could follow Priest down the streets of Harlem while he makes a drug deal. No one's horrible, no one's honorable. They're just people doing what they have to do. Archetypes are for superhero movies.

I looked at that evolution in contrast to the evolution of visual art. Artists used to paint a tree to look like a tree. To paint it any other way would get them blocked from galleries, critics, and basically the general public. 

Jean Leon-Gerome
Century of Augustus: Birth of Jesus Christ

But a handful of artists chafed at the sameness of portraits and religious/historical scenes. They took their canvases outside and started to work with the concepts of light and shadow, line, space. Like filmmakers, they wanted scenes from real life, although they wanted to paint them in the least realistic way possible. (BTW, it took them over ten years to be accepted.)

Claude Monet
Madame Monet & her Son

While one medium took the road from broad strokes to reality, another medium took it the other direction.

Why was I thinking all this?

Because stories. Throughout time, writers have been able to tell all the stories. Melodramatic, realistic, fantastical, experimental, we can twist and turn a story any direction we want.

I've got no strings
To hold me down
To make me fret
Or make me frown
I had strings
But now I'm free
There are no strings on me.

Have an a-MUSE-ing day. 

Saturday, February 6, 2021

You still working on that fantasy thing? How's it going?

It's going...um, okayish. I thought it was going better in that it was going more forward, but it might be stepping a little back, and then leaping, kind of like that prep step a gymnast does before she launches across the floor in a series of death-defying aerials.

The trajectory I had planned was to have the first book out looking for agents while I wrote the second book. So far I've gotten about 40 rejections out of 96 queries (don't look so hopeful--many of these agents tell you up front that a non-answer from them means no), and I have the second book finished and in the editing process.

Here's the thing: Once I loosened the reins on the second book and wrote it with the same casual disregard for where it might go that I wrote the first one, it revealed a secret I didn't know. A secret I need to go back and sow through the first book. 

Color me shocked.

I am reminded of my friend, Jeff, who wrote a delightful first book to a trilogy, then revealed to me that he regretted publishing the first book because there are things the story would like to do in the second book but is constrained by the first one.

Unspoken Rule #1 about writing trilogies: Finish the WHOLE story before you wander off and get anything published. I am actually now relieved that none of those agents have jumped onto my manuscript. There's still time to tell a better tale.

In the meantime, I thought I'd do a little reading aloud from the first book. This beginning probably won't change that much, and I do like to tell you a story. Enjoy.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Go ahead. Debate me. Or not.

This morning I went to see my very awesome dermatologist, Dr. Hsu, who used her freeze-ray gun to zap a number of moles and blemishes on my person (I did complain that I always leave her feeling like I've been electrocuted). As she was zapping me, I was making little "pew-pew" noises in my head, mostly to distract myself from the discomfort. I got to thinking about STAR WARS and I realized something.

They should have never made those prequels.

Before I'm branded a heretic, hear me out. I have two reasons for my statement (and sincere apologies to Mr. Lucas, I still love the storyline).

1. The first trilogy had elements to it that made it immensely entertaining. It was action/adventure, a space Western-Samurai movie, full of pew-pew fights with lively banter in between. We went with this story happily, giddily, because we knew that the hero and his plucky band of rebels would win. Good would triumph over evil. We were not disappointed.

The prequel is all about Anakin's descent into Vader, the destruction of the Jedi, and the rise of the Empire. It is not a happy story. The hero does not win because there is no hero. It's grim on top of grim with a side of grim. The pew-pew fighting wasn't adventurous fun, it was a desperate struggle to survive. And let's just forget Jar Jar ever happened. He was the only comic relief and he wasn't funny.

I get it--this is the only story to be told, the story of how things came to be the way they were before Luke Skywalker looked up at the double moons and chafed against life as a farm boy. Which leads me to...

2. At the end of all discussions, the prequel trilogy is backstory. It's a prologue. How many of you actually read a prologue in a book? True confession: I'll read them if they're 1-2 pages and not italicized. If I see one going on longer, I skip it. Sometimes I skip the whole book.

Blah Blah Blah.

What are we writers told about writing backstory? You don't plop it all into the front of the book, or any place in the book, in a big lump of "here's what happened before Chapter 1." You sprinkle it throughout the story, using it right before it's needed. There is no need to give me several pages describing your character's PTSD prior to Chapter 1 if I need to connect with that PTSD in Chapter 10. 

You certainly don't need three movies to explain it.

By the end of the RETURN OF THE JEDI, I had received all the backstory I needed. Empire bad, Rebels good. Vader bad, Jedi good. Vader is Luke's father, Luke rejects Dark Side, Good conquers Evil. Did the prequels tell me anything else I needed to know?

I think not, although I guess your mileage may vary.


Sunday, January 3, 2021

If your best day was your last

 We had a recent scare with our golden retriever, Lady Spazzleton. She came to us in June 2012 as a rescue. At the time, the vet estimated her age at between 4 and 6. When she had to have her spleen removed in 2016, the vet told us she had typical problems for an older dog.

"So she's not eight?" I asked.

"Oh, no," he replied. "She's at least ten."

Lady Spazzleton when she came to live with us.

So basically, she's somewhere between 14 and 200. Even 14 is old for a goldie.

She's got arthritis and sleeps a lot, but plays with Duffy the corgi, bouncing on her stiff legs, tail wagging, still a puppy inside that old frame. I know her days are numbered but every day she's the same happy-go-lucky dog with no complaints.

On Wednesday, she began having intestinal issues, refusing to eat, throwing up, etc. Fearing a blockage, I got her into the vet Thursday morning, who ran every test they could plus x-rays and diagnosed her with colitis. I breathed a sigh of relief.

At 14, she could not have survived surgery for a blockage.

For two more days I watched her lay around, lethargic, refusing to eat. She would drink water then go throw it up in the yard. Her face was drawn. She was in pain, and I started to wonder whether it was "time."

I have two different friends who told me of having to put down their pets. In both cases, they said their fur-babies were on the decline, couldn't get out of bed without assistance, ate minimal amounts of food, etc. And then a day came when the pets got up, ran around, played like they were two-year-olds again, and THAT was the day my friends took them in to be euthanized. And at the time of their telling their stories, I thought, "NO, but they're feeling GOOD!"

Now I understand.

Lady Spazz was so sick, so sick. I hovered over her for four days, stuffing pills down her dry throat, sitting with her on her very dirty, dog-hairy bed, watching her pain, talking to her. The vet's office was closed (yay, New Year's) so if she needed more professional help, we'd have to take her to the emergency clinic.

I couldn't stand the thought of her being so sick and being hefted into the back of our car and driven to strangers, who might possibly be responsible for sending her to that dreamless sleep. To feel like utter crap and then die? Perhaps living your best day ever on your last day isn't so bad.

Fortunately, by Saturday afternoon she began to rally and ate a little chicken. On Sunday, she was ravenous and ate breakfast and dinner with great enthusiasm. She was back to wandering about the yard, finding me to lay at my feet, and sleeping by my bed.

I know she is an old dog, and that I am losing her piece by piece. My prayer is that she makes the decision someday, to stretch out on the warm patio in the sun, close her eyes and take the last breath. Failing that, I pray for the wisdom to help her if she needs it when "the time" comes.

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