Monday, January 23, 2012

Ghost Writer


One of the great things about writing a paranormal mystery is that I can justify researching ghosts. Reading about them, watching horror movies--it's all good. I spent a lot of this weekend reading supposedly non-fiction accounts of hauntings--and fraudulent hauntings. (It boggles my mind that some people go to the trouble of creating their own poltergeists and moving out of their house in "terror", but I guess if your story is good enough, it can garner you a lot of money and attention. Quite a gamble, but it's worked for some.)

I did some Internet research on the best ghost movies of all time, and purchased quite a few of them.

The good news is that all of this "research" has actually given me some new ideas I can use to flesh out my novel in the upcoming rewrite. Several aspects of paranormal activity stood out as things all ghosts tend to do, and yet, my ghost doesn't do them. If it's at all possible to add realism to a tale of the paranormal, that's what I'll be doing.

The old adage is, of course, write what you know, but that's difficult when you're writing about something like ghosts or the Loch Ness Monster. Unless--of course--you have personal experience with such things. And even if you do, they might not be believable. In one of the original drafts of Lost, I included a version of a paranormal experience that actually happened to me, and every single one of my readers said I should remove it because it wasn't believable. And it was the only part of that book that was non-fiction!

For the opening chapter of Dragonfly Summer, I used a scenario that is very closely based on something that happened while I was taking the local media around the museum on a "ghost tour". This time, for whatever reason, the paranormal incident passed muster with everyone who read the early drafts. Maybe because the ghostly activity isn't as in-your-face.

All this ghostly research had The Boy commenting that it was interesting (actually, I believe he said "cute") that he was dating a girl who believes in ghosts. That comment gave me pause. Did I believe in ghosts before my paranormal experiences? (My protagonist starts her journey as an unbeliever.) While I was definitely open-minded to the possibility, I wouldn't say I believed. When my best friend died in high school, I certainly hoped to somehow have contact with her again, if possible. But one thing I've learned--no matter how excited you are about the possibilities, or curious (either from a scientific or personal point of view), having a paranormal encounter is not fun. It's terrifying. The Boy may not know this, but I actually like to know what causes each strange noise in my house. If I hear someone walking up behind me, it's nice to turn around and see an actual person. I would never wish to encounter a ghost, but since it seems that I have, it's easier for me to recall the fear that I experienced at the time and use that to make my protagonist's reactions more realistic.

How about you, Dear Readers? Have you ever experienced something you couldn't explain? Do you believe in ghosts? Why or why not? And if you have a scary story to share, please do! My research continues....

Friday, January 20, 2012

Fun Friday: Getting Creative



Welcome back, Dear Readers.

If you believe that there are no coincidences, you'll love the fact that in a low moment at work, when my computer was down, I stumbled across a book by Julie Cameron in the Museum's Unintentional Book Club (I'll explain this book club in another post).

A lot of you are probably familiar with Cameron, whose book The Artist's Way was an international bestseller. Cameron is well-known for providing exercises that help artists tap into their creativity. (And by artist, she means anyone creative--painters, sculptors, writers, musicians, florists...anyone.) I remember going through some of the exercises in The Artist's Way and being happy with the results, so I picked up this new book, Walking in This World: The Practical Art of Creativity, and took it back to my desk.

Similar to The Artist's Way, this sequel is designed as an at-home course, much like you'd take through distance learning, with homework assignments included. I thought it might be interesting to go through the process together on Fun Fridays, and see where it takes us.

If you agree to follow Cameron's process, you are supposed to undertake three weekly exercises throughout the twelve weeks. (Don't worry, none of them involve wind sprints or sit-ups.)

1) Daily pages: Wake up a half hour earlier each morning (groan!) and write three pages of stream-of-consciousness writing. Do not read these pages or edit them, and don't share them with others. This should take thirty minutes. Don't worry about what to say--write whatever comes to mind, as fast as you can get it down. Ideally, this should be done by hand.

2) Take a twenty minute walk by yourself each week. Cameron believes walking is a great way to clear our minds, therefore allowing us to tackle roadblocks which may hinder our creativity.

3) Go on an Artist's Date each week. Go to someplace new, interesting, or inspiring by yourself. These 'dates' needn't be longer than an hour. Locations Cameron suggests include toy stores, fabric stores, etc. If you're a writer, a bookstore, library, or a paper boutique may provide inspiration; artists may enjoy art supply stores or galleries, etc. Museums are always great (no bias here), and I personally love ethnic food stores.

Week 1, Discovering a Sense of Origin, has two additional exercises. For the first, list twenty small, creative actions you could take. (These include things I don't normally think of as creative, such as painting a windowsill or making soup.)

For the second, use ten positive adjectives to describe yourself. The goal of this particular exercise, Cameron explains, is self-acceptance. So even if the word you use isn't always meant in a positive way, think of it as positive when you write it down. For instance, I'll be including the word "sensitive". I've had this word thrown at me in a negative way by several people, as in "You're so sensitive",  or "You're too sensitive". But being sensitive has many benefits as well, and to my way of thinking, it's much preferable to being insensitive. So I'm including it.

Feel free to undertake one, both, or none of these exercises, but I'd love to hear your thoughts on this process. Have you read any of Cameron's books or tried her exercises? How have they worked for you? What twenty creative things could you reasonably accomplish? What ten positive adjectives would you use to describe yourself?

If you try the morning pages, artist's date, or weekly walk, please let me know how it went. My own answers will be posted in a comment.

Happy Friday!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Good News/Bad News

I will be here. Yes, I will be.


Can't have one without the other, right?

The good news is that I finally feel like a writer again. After the Sparkling Werewolves (writers group extraordinaire) met last Thursday, my commitment was to finish going through The Boy's edits of Dragonfly Summer by our next meeting.

Well, I've already finished! Now I just need to go through Jeff's (another beta reader) comments, make any necessary changes, get some expert opinion on a couple of dicey situations, and then finish the polish/edit before sending it to the second group of readers. I even have a natural deadline--as one of the group (a voracious reader and someone whose opinion I value) goes on holidays in mid-February, I'd like to have my next draft ready to go by then.

On the other hand--here's the bad news--I really don't feel like a kickboxer these days. Life has been interfering with my attempts to get back to the gym, and to tell the truth, I haven't been fighting it much. I just don't feel like it. I'm not sure if this is because I've had such a long break, and I simply need to give myself time to get back into it, or if this is a sign it's finally time to do something else.

Maybe I can only be obsessed about one thing at a time.

On the "living my best life" front, two trips are being tentatively planned. If all goes well, I'll finally see Hawaii with a writing friend this year, and will journey to Egypt with The Boy in 2013. The fact that this is finally starting to fall into place gives me hope.

How are you making out with your New Year's goals? Any progress? Setbacks? Thoughts on my inability to get back into fighting form? Any and all advice accepted!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

One for the Bucket List



I can dream, can't I?

I just finished one of the most enjoyable books I've read in a long time. On Rue Tatin was a Christmas gift from The Boy, who understands both my love of food memoirs AND true tales of people escaping from their humdrum lives. On Rue Tatin is a bit of each.

This extraordinary memoir details an American woman's journey from her life in Seattle to living in a 15th-century convent in Louviers, France. Susan Loomis graduated from journalism school knowing she wanted to be a food writer. Thinking she needed to learn more about cooking, she took a job as an apprentice at a Parisian cooking school.

Loomis's incredible home.
Of course, she falls in love with France. Of course she doesn't want to go home. But she does, and somehow she manages to convince her less-than-enthusiastic husband (who doesn't speak French) to uproot their lives and move to Louviers, a Norman town which is one hour away from the City of Light. As they tackle renovating the gorgeous derelict building they were able to buy, they must deal with culture shock; their confused, unhappy toddler; unfriendly florists who use their backyard as a storage area; and local men who were accustomed to peeing in their drains!

Still, On Rue Tatin is a lyrical love letter to France. Interspersed with recipes, Loomis brings the setting and people of her new home to life, and you instantly understand what drew her to this place. While France has never been on the top of my list of places to see, reading this book made me wish to join her there, to meet her wonderful friends, to peek into the shops and bakeries and cafes she describes so well, to walk those centuries-old streets and touch history on every corner.

Loomis.
And best of all, if you have the means, you can! Susan Loomis now runs a cooking school, where you get to learn the fine art of French cooking and eating at her side, along with five other people, in her own home--the home she so lovingly describes in On Rue Tatin. (Class sizes are kept small.) Along with the twice-daily lessons and sampling sessions, there are tours of the places she loves best, including cheese shops. Heaven!

Unfortunately, this heaven comes at a steep price. Her six-day course (three-day courses are also available, but what would be the point of coming all that way for three days?) is almost $4,000 US, and that doesn't include airfare, room and board, or transportation once you get there. Ouch.

Still, it's fun to dream, and this is a beautiful dream of what would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. If nothing else, I can always read her gorgeous book and be inspired.

The church across the street from Loomis's home.
Have you ever made a huge change in your life, like Susan did? Or have you ever dreamed of doing so? If you could run away, where would you run to? I always admire people who are brave enough to leave everything they know behind for a whole new life across the pond.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Woman in the Mirror


My mother used to say the worst thing about getting older was seeing her mother's face when she looked in the mirror.

No matter how pleasant your upbringing, there's resistance at the idea of becoming your parents. And lately, even though I'm not seeing my mother when I look in the mirror, certain aspects of her personality are creeping into mine.

My mother is a very shy person, uncomfortable at parties or meeting new people, while I've always been a social butterfly. But slowly, over time, I seem to have developed this aversion to social obligations--you know the ones. You feel obligated to go because you love the person who invited you, but that's the only reason you're going. And the person who invited you, since she is usually the host, will not have time to say much more than hello.

My mother would dread this situation, while a social butterfly would recognize the opportunity to meet new people--perhaps even strike up a friendship. Somehow, I've moved farther and farther away from who I used to be, and become my mother when faced with one of these "forced" invitations.

It is only when I'm dragged to one of these events, kicking and screaming, that I realize "Hey, I'm actually good at this! I can start up a conversation with almost anyone, and I always meet someone interesting." Why, then, all the dread? (My mother is also a champion worrier--she will agonize over things that never come to pass. Seems I've inherited that characteristic as well.) I'm in public relations, of all things--it's my job to mingle and network. I'm a journalist, used to making cold calls and convincing people who don't know me that they should talk to me. So why do I panic at the thought of making polite conversation with someone's co-workers, family, or friends?

It boggles the mind.

I've actually lost friends because I couldn't bear to attend their obligatory get-togethers, when it turned out they really needed me--and expected me to be there. You'd think I would have wised up by now.

So, adding to my pile of New Year's Resolutions is this--I'm going to say yes more often. While I can't possibly accept every invitation, I'm going to attend whatever social obligations I can without worrying or fretting about awkward silences and lousy conversations. If it ends up being an awkward evening, it's only one night out of my life, right? What's the worst that could happen?

Have you ever experienced the same aversion to social obligations? Any idea where it comes from? Anyone else becoming their parents? What's the worst thing that ever happened to you at an event?

I should add that I love my mother dearly, and there's many aspects of her personality I'd be proud to call my own...just not this one. :)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Naked Truth


Hello Dear Readers,

Today's revelation may shock some of you. It may cause a few of you to take a hard look at your own success (or lack thereof).

There is one single reason I am not published. (You may never have seen an unpublished author admit to this before, so sit down before reading.)

The answer is...

(Drum roll, please.)

Me.

Yes, the only one I can blame for my lack of publishing credentials (except for my journalism articles, that is) is myself.

It's not the publishing industry, because I haven't given the publishing industry the chance to refuse my work.

It's not my agent, because I let her go two years ago, and I still haven't gotten off my duff to retain a new one.

And this is why I grit my teeth when people tell me to go with a smaller publishing house, to go Canadian, or to e-publish. Why would I aim small when I haven't even tried for the big leagues yet? I want to try for the big leagues. I want to exhaust every other option before I accept that the only route for me is to publish my own work. I simply don't believe that yet, possibly because I've been making my living as a writer for almost twenty years. (Which seems a shockingly long time to me--it's over half my life.)

Yes, my life is busy, but I'm the one who sets my priorities. Every time I sleep in rather than work on my rewrite, that's my choice. Every time I choose to read someone else's work instead of hacking away at my own, that's my decision. Letting my freelance journalism career suck up every creative impulse and bit of time I had for years was also my choice. Same with focusing on kickboxing instead of writing last year.

I have plenty of faith in my work. It attracted a big-name agent once, and I believe it can do so again. What I don't always have faith in is my ability to stick to that commitment once I've made it. I write for a living, and that means the last thing I want to do in my spare time is write fiction. But if I ever want to write fiction for my livelihood (and I do), I have to put my time where my mouth is. I have to finish those rewrites, and even more importantly, I have to get them out the door.

As much as people would like to believe e-publishing is the key to fame and fortune for writers, that's simply not the case. But if you've banged your head against too many doors, and no one will let you in because your work doesn't fit an easily saleable category, it may be the right venue for you. If you do go that route, please please PLEASE do it professionally. Get a good editor (I don't care how well you edit your own work; if it's your own, you are missing some mistakes--trust me on that). Make sure your cover is professionally designed. Be prepared to spend a heck of a lot of time marketing your book, because without your blood, sweat, and tears, it's doomed to failure. For more rarely considered pitfalls of e-publishing, please see Michelle Argyle's wonderful article on the subject. (This one is good, too.)

I'm not against e-publishing, but too many writers have put unpublished work up for sale on the Internet before it's ready. This is starting to make it look like amateur hour, and pretty soon people will be afraid to take a chance on an author they've never heard of--even if the manuscript can be theirs for only 99 cents. Ninety-nine cents of crap is still crap, and crap is never a bargain.

If I have the time, I'd like to publish Lost as an e-book, only because I can't in good faith tell agents and publishers who has already considered it. But it certainly isn't my priority. My priority is to follow the sure-fire method of success in the writing world:

1. Write. 2. Rewrite. 3. Polish. 4. Submit. 5. Repeat.

So wish me luck! I'll be sharing my journey on here, as always, and I'll be hoping that you share yours as well.

The good news is: when you only have yourself to blame, you have the power to change the situation.

Why aren't you published?

Monday, January 9, 2012

Love/Hate



It's funny how much you can dread something you love. I must love kickboxing--I've been taking classes in it, off and on, for fourteen years. And I recommend it to so many people. Anyone who mentions wanting to get in shape and seems interested gets to hear all about my club.

But all it takes is a couple of weeks off, and I dread going back. Why? It doesn't make any sense, but there you have it--once I'm out of the zone, I'd rather just go home than go to my club and kill myself for an hour or two.

I know I'll feel better afterwards. I know the chronic headaches that are starting to creep back into my life will go away. My stomach will feel firmer again. I'll be happy about not throwing away all the progress I made last year. And I'll renew acquaintances with my fellow kickboxers, some of whom have turned into really good friends.

Why the dread, then? I don't get it. Why would I rather curl up with a good book, hang out with The Boy, watch a movie, or enjoy a bubble bath than do something I love that is so healthy for me? It's a mystery, but it sure makes it easier for me to understand those who struggle to exercise. Finding something you love is key, because even when you do love it, there's going to be a lot of times when you just don't feel like doing it.

Have you begun or renewed an exercise program this month? If so, how is it going? What are you struggling with?

Today will be my first day back at the gym since my fight in November. I'm going back for Stamina Monday, and Grant is going to kick my butt. Hopefully in the process, I'll remember what I love about this sport, and then the next day back won't be as hard.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

What's It For?



Hello Dear Readers,

So far, 2012 hasn't started off on the brightest, shiniest note. A friend just left our writing group. In a group of ten or more, this wouldn't be such a big deal, but we're small...five people, to be exact, and one of those doesn't even live in the city anymore. Now we're down to four, three of whom can actually attend the meetings. To make matters worse, one of the reasons I began this group in the first place was to spend more time with this friend, who has a great attitude about life and is a stellar human being. Sure, I love his writing, but his contributions as a person are much more important to me.

He left for his own reasons, and I get it. When you're not writing, you're constantly guilty about not writing, and the last thing you need is to sit around with a group of other writers and hear about how they're all-so-busy with their many projects. Sometimes it can guilt you into getting your butt in gear, but not always. A lot of times, it just makes you feel like a loser.

I wonder why so few writers talk publicly about how difficult it is when you're not writing. Surely we've all been through periods like this, and yet, it seems no one wants to admit it. Instead we're bombarded with stupid quotes like, "Writers write. Period." Yeah? Well, sometimes they don't. Sometimes (unless you're already making the big bucks as a full-time novelist, and if that's the case, bully for you) life gets in the way. And, in my opinion, this doesn't make you any less a writer. Say you're a runner. If you take a year off because of an injury or a death in your family or a stressful situation, no one says, "Oh, there's Karen. She used to be a runner." No, Karen is a runner who is taking some time off. Why doesn't the same go for writing? I don't know of another art form where people are so focused (and judgmental) about output. I blame things like NaNoWRiMo for this. Sure, it's a great idea in theory, but to my thinking, quality is more important than quantity when it comes to the written word. Is it really so important that you wrote 500,000 words if 488,000 of them are crap? The best writing involves a lot of thinking. So what if you're not pounding out chapter after chapter? Just tell your nosy writing buddies that you're in the thinking stage. It has its place, and it does have merit.

But back to the idea of writing groups. I've always had my struggles with them, and I've yet to be a member of one that really worked for me. My first writing group was composed of myself and two like-minded friends. None of us were writing, and all of us wanted to be. We hoped that the group would be our impetus. It was for one of us, but the other two languished, feeling guiltier and guiltier while our friend churned out (very well-crafted) pages. The second writing group was more inclusive. Anyone who wanted to be a member could be, and there was no pressure to write or to read your work aloud. Sounds perfect, right? It could be--when the work being read was interesting, and the person reading it was a good narrator. When those factors were missing, it was purgatory. And although there was supposed to be a time limit, no one stuck to it, and let me tell you--listening to fifteen minutes of a ho-hum novel being read in a monotone is not inspiring.

You were also at the mercy of anyone who showed up during the evenings you planned to read. Those who critiqued tended to fall into two groups: people who loved everything, because they were very nice and trying to be helpful, and people who wanted to sharpen their claws on everyone else's work. While I did meet some good critique partners at this group, they were far from the norm.

My latest writing group has yet to hit its stride, or figure out what it wants to be. In the beginning, I envisioned a place where people could talk about the writing life and its challenges--including how to deal with the times when you just can't write, for whatever reason. I didn't want us to be held hostage while everyone read twenty pages aloud, and we're probably too busy to read each other's finished works. But I don't know...I could be wrong about that, and I will ask at the next meeting.

At this point, I'm not sure what writing groups are supposed to achieve for their members, or what the best structure is. The one thing I can take away from every experience I've had is the wonderful writing friends I've met, and how good it feels to meet kindred souls who completely get where you're coming from. To me, that's been the best part.

What's been your experience with writing groups? What has worked the best for you? Have writing groups improved your writing, or inspired you to create during a non-productive time?

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Happy New Year!

Having my first fight was a huge goal realized in 2011.

Welcome to 2012, everyone!

2011 was a fairly epic year for me. If I could sum it up in one word, that word would be: kickboxing. I trained hard all year, ending the twelve months with my first fight and a well-deserved break. A break that has lasted much longer than I ever meant it to, after I promised myself that I would never be one of "those" people who take too much time off after fighting. Pot, meet kettle!

My goals for 2012 are many, but one of the most important is to regain my focus on writing. While I love muay thai, and it is good for me both mentally and physically, it is not my desire to be a professional kickboxer. However, I do want to be a novelist. So my priorities have to shift somewhat.

Here are my resolutions (at least, the ones I can freely share). Last year, I was taken to task for calling them resolutions instead of goals, so by all means call them anything you like. I won't mind.

1) Rewrite Dragonfly Summer.
2) Submit Dragonfly Summer to agents/publishers. Repeat as necessary. (I'm hoping to start this submission process in the spring.)
3) Write (or at least begin) new novel.
4) Put more energy and time into my relationship.
5) Put aside more money for savings (I do have an exact figure, but I'm keeping it to myself).
6) Take green armband test. Stick w/ the running and weights on non-kickboxing days.
7) Complete household projects: fixing drywall, etc.
8) Do not let workplace stress take over my life.
9) Query other magazines.
10) Travel.

Numbers 1, 2, 4, 5, 8 and 10 are resolutions--the rest are more of a wish list of sorts. I have to accept that there's only so much I can accomplish in one year. There has to be time for fun and relaxation, too, and allowances made for my full-time job and all my freelance journalism work.

Looking back at last year's resolutions, I seem to have accomplished only two of the seven, but they were big ones: getting out of debt and having my first fight. I'll try to do better this year.

1) Polishing Dragonfly Summer and sending it off to publishers and agents
2) Training for and hopefully passing my green prajioud test
3) Having my first (and perhaps only) fight, if applicable
4) Beginning and finishing research/outline of new novel
5) Submitting one new story to a contest
6) Starting to write new novel
7) Getting out of debt, once and for all!

What are your hopes for 2012?