Sunday, November 23, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving

In the Spirit of Thanksgiving, I offer you this list. It is not exhaustive, but it is true. I hope that as you read this, my list, you will take a moment to meditate on what you are grateful for.
20 things (because 20 has a nice round notion about it) I am grateful for:

1. My family. More specifically here, the creativity that has been fostered and expected within my family, in all sorts of ways, from my grandmother's painting to my nephew's cooking, from mom's doodles while she was on the phone with her sister to my sister's ceramic pots, from great-ancestor's quilts to my cousin's piano accompanying, we are a creative family. It allows me to play with words, with fabric and with ingredients at will without ever feeling I am wasting time or accomplishing nothing.
2. My friends, who have accepted me, loved me, housed me, fed me, entertained me, listened to me, laughed (with and at) me, introduced me to new ideas or new music or new authors or new people, and just generally (and all the time specifically) made this world a better place for me.
3. My years living abroad in Europe and Africa. I was lucky to have done what I've done.
4. Dr. Marshall M Parks and the miracles of this Wesurgeon's hands that operated on my eyes not once but 3 times, so I'm not wall-eyed and can see out of both eyes.
5. The women of Briggs Baptist Church who chiseled within the foundation of my faith as a child that gender has nothing to do with my service to God and my roll within the church. Just do the job I'm meant to do and be the person I'm meant to be.
6. Nora Roberts for writing romances that made me laugh when I was in high school. They couldn't all be about desperation and maimed men and sardonic eyebrows and rain-slicked anoraks.
7. Words. And whoever first came up with the idea that they should be used to tell a good story, and not just report the best hill for tasty roots or where the saber-toothed tiger was last seen.
8. Re-runs. I love watching M*A*S*H* and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir and early seasons of NCIS; these shows are like Macaroni and Cheese, warm and filling.
9. White-Chocolate-and-Raspberry Cheesecake and Key Lime Cheesecake.
10. My job. I may complain about it from time to time, but seriously. I am employed and paying my bills is still a sweet pleasure.
11. Libraries. I rarely go to one these days, but I have borrowed books, been to lectures, watched filmstrips, written, studied, and been amazed. All in libraries. (and now I am wondering why don't I know more librarians? )
12. The Rockville 8. Women who laugh and write and drink and support and read and inspire and create and did I say laugh?
13. Friday Night Videos because I did not have cable or M-TV or HBO as a kid, and I had to rely on FNV to introduce me to the visual feast of Peter Gabriel and The Police and Thomas Dolby and the list goes on.
14. And while we are on the subject of the 80s, I am grateful that I got to see The Who and the Police and the Eurythmics and Talking Heads all before they turned 60 (or 50 or perhaps even 40), and their voices dropped an octave or so.
15.  Weekends and that I no longer work three jobs. The sweet pleasure of sleeping in and drinking coffee in my jimjams while sitting in my big chair with my feet propped on my hassock and nothing to do but walk my dog and figure out what I'm having for dinner.
16. The idea of Hero and Heroine. That the world still has a goal, a zeal, a notion to be better, to be more, to become.
17. Dogs. Mine is sweet and funny and cuddly and old and such a beta animal.
18. Parks and open space and woods and forests and gardens and places to go outside that are beautiful and fresh and green. (especially if I only have to do the walking, sitting and enjoying)
19. Pioneers. People who go forward and try and do it first and pursue the unknown, be they women like Amelia Earhart or Beryl Markham, or Hearty Pioneer men and women who hopped on covered wagons and headed west, or my direct ancestors who actually got in the boat so I didn't have to.
20. Retreats. Writing, religious, sewing. I am grateful for the weekends away with like-minded women and men, to pray, talk, write, brainstorm, create with others.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Three Notes To Self from The Writer Unboxed Unconference: Risk Aversion, Agency, Make a Mess

Earlier in November I had the great good fortune to attend The Writer Unboxed first ever UnConference. It was mind-blowingly awesome and my take-aways were many, but three in particular keep rolling through my system a couple of weeks later. As Lisa Cron would urge, it's time for me to get specific:

Risk Aversion:
Meg Rosoff led a session on voice that consisted of 40 questions to ask yourself. Ranging from What is something you really love, to If you died tomorrow, how would you spend your night, to Is there a person you'd like to change places with, the questions were designed to drill down into issues and themes that resonate deeply within you and which you could use consciously to inform your writing. What you choose to write about is as important as the words you string together. Voice is more than vocabulary and syntax.

One question we spent some time in the session on was Name a turning point in your life. In sharing a catastrophic event from my early adolescence, I realized not so much that it still affects me today (I knew that) but HOW it affects me. I am a risk averse person. That shows up in my writing in characters who avoid conflict. Ah! Epiphany-ville!

Who wants to read a book with no conflict? Not me.

Note to self: Beef up your conflict.

Time and time again, session after session, in group chats or tete-a-tetes, the same encouraging message was shared. Only you have the power to prevent forest fires. No, seriously, the message was only you can write your book and if your draft is currently broken, YOU CAN FIX IT. You've got the power (and so does Jim Carrey in Bruce Almighty).

Nora Roberts says she can fix a broken page, she can't fix an empty one. Well same here and same for you too.

Note to self: You can do it!

Make a Mess:
The last day of the conference, Donald Maass presented his Writing 21st Fiction Century workshop (totally fab, if you ever have a chance I recommend taking it). His take on writing? If it's tidy, you're not playing. Make a mess. Don't be afraid to turn your characters' lives inside out, squeeze out all the layers of emotion, really get into your stories' guts and twist them (but let that be the only gut twisting allowed anywhere near your MS. As Mr. Maass rightly decrees: telling your reader about a character's guts twisting is not the same as making your readers' guts twist FOR the character).

Not to self: Go make a mess!

Are you ready to make a mess?

Monday, November 10, 2014

Confessions of a Clutter Junkie

Part One: The Junk Attacks

Last month, I moved out of a house that I'd been living in for over fifteen years. The change has been a welcome one: our old place was a one-bathroom, two-bedroom-plus-oversized-closet house which we outgrew years ago. In our new place, we not only have an abundance of bathrooms, but enough elbow room that I can turn in a complete circle without either bumping into a pile of stuff, or stepping on a cat.

That's the good part.

The not-so-good part is this: I have. A lot. Of junk. A lot.

The "junk" has been collected with the best of intentions: it's mostly books, dvds, and family treasures. But best intentions or not, that stuff takes up space. And gathers dust. And sometimes gets knocked over when you're rushing around trying to get ready for work in the morning.

Part Two: The Fantasies Form

So, thinking myself extraordinarily clever and efficient, I decided that instead of trying to move everything, we would donate a lot of our excess. But then the obvious truth smacked me in the face like a dust mop: just because I wasn't taking something to the new house didn't mean it didn't have to be packed. Like it or not, I couldn't just use a bulldozer to shovel it all into a pile, then put two fingers into my mouth and whistle for the Salvation Army to come pick it up (although the bulldozer was a frequent fantasy).

(Speaking of fantasies, I also invented a fantasy device which is basically a giant vacuum tube that would have allowed me to press a button and all my stuff would be sucked out of the old house, into the new. There are a few mechanical issues to be worked out, but as soon as technology catches up I'm sure it'll be a big hit.)

During our Great Pack-Up, I often told my family that we were going to become minimalists. "From now on," I'd say, "we're not going to own any more possessions than we can carry on our backs!" This idea didn't go over well, of course. And since I'm not up to carrying a sofa and flat-screen TV on my back, even I had to admit it wasn't really a practical plan.

Part Three: The Truth Becomes Unavoidable

So, the bulldozer was out, and living out of a backpack wasn't looking too workable (where would we have put the catboxes?). Although our former residence was small, the sheer volume of our possessions was astounding, and until it was time to move, I had allowed myself to just keep accumulating. Even now, after the bulk of the move is done, I own too many things that I don't use. That kind of abundance doesn't make me feel happy or prosperous; it just makes me feel exhausted, and a little sad.

Then, a few weeks ago, I read Marjanna's post here on the R8, The Burdens (and Vintage Kitchenware) We Carry that Aren't Our Own, and I realized that I'm not alone. Marjanna has been dealing with a similar challenge: helping her mother move from a house to an apartment. And packing her mom's kitchen, with its collection of memorabilia disguised as labor-saving devices, had been particularly difficult.

It seems that living with an overabundance of Stuff has become a common affliction. Kitchenware, clothes, electronic devices... so many of us have Too Much Stuff Syndrome. But the good thing about having a common affliction is that there are usually many people who are looking for a cure. I went in search of a few of those who have found a way to assuage the pain of possession. As usual, the Internet held all the answers.

Part Four: The Answers Begin to Take Shape

Online, I found three resources which have been particularly helpful:

The Minimalists - The very popular blog of two thirty-something guys from Ohio who found balance in their lives by reducing their possessions and hopping off the corporate track. I perused their blog for information and also listened to their audiobook. My biggest takeaway from the book was this realization: The things I own do not define who I am.

The 100 Thing Challenge by Dave Bruno - I'm always attracted to "journey stories": tales of people who have made a dramatic change in their lives and have come out better on the other side. This book is the story of a man who reduced his personal items down to 100 things, and lived that way for a year. Biggest takeaway from this book? Sometimes we buy things as a substitute for doing things. In my case, this would include an embarrassing number of blank journals. Those empty pages made me feel like a writer, because they "reminded" me of all the words I could write in them... but then never did. Weird, I know, but that's how I ended up being a clutter junkie.

Tiny - This is a documentary which I actually watched on Netflix some time ago. Although the description reads, "A young couple with no construction experience attempts to build a tiny house in this documentary that contemplates shifting American values," the thing I loved most about it was the pretty pictures: seeing how a variety of people had created big, beautiful lives for themselves out of tiny little homes. From this documentary, I took away the knowledge that if you want to live large, sometimes you have to build small.

Part Five: The Next Step Develops

Although I'm not quite prepared to live with only 100 things, or in a 100-square-foot home, I am more than ready to simplify my life, and that includes whittling down what I own to the things I need and love most. I'll let you know how it goes over the next year or so. In the meantime, do you have any tips for me, or any stories to share about having too much stuff?

Monday, November 3, 2014

Covers: Revealed!

Mom always said, "Don't judge a book by its cover!" But truth be told, we do judge, don't we? That reality makes many authors shake in their shoes. Why? Because covers speak to readers. And we don't want the cover of our novel saying the wrong thing!

But what makes a cover appealing? Is it the color? Is it the image? Or is it something else we can't quite define?

As a reader, I love covers with combinations of colors. I love images that are true to the action found inside the book. And I love an over-all look that makes the cover comes to life on my computer screen and e-reader.

As a writer, I wondered if my cover would even have one of these elements. When my fabulous editor at Random House's e-imprint, Alibi, sent me the cover for my December 2 debut e-book, THE KILL LIST: A JAMIE SINCLAIR NOVEL, I clicked open the file with fast fingers. And here's what I found!

Available December 2, 2014 wherever e-books are sold.
In that kaleidoscope of gorgeous color, there's my heroine, Jamie Sinclair, the ultimate outsider, relegated beyond the barbed wire fence of an army installation where a little girl has been taken from her bed. For me, color, image, and everything came together on this cover. And it's true to the story I crafted.

But my good fortune didn't stop there! The good folks at Alibi have just put the finishing touches on the cover to the sequel, THE KILL SHOT: A JAMIE SINCLAIR NOVEL which hits the virtual shelves on March 17, 2015. It's my pleasure to share that with you now.

Coming March 17, 2015 to an e-reader near you.

And there, in another sweep of rich shades, Jamie's one step ahead of trouble, running for her life through London's Heathrow International Airport. This design isn't only true to my story, it's a beautiful blend of color and image. If it's possible, I think I love it even more than the cover for the first novel!

So whether you're drawn to color, image, or something else, if you'd like to judge my e-books by their covers, please feel free! I hope you'll like what you see.

In the meantime, let the R8 know. As a reader or as a writer, what draws you to a book's cover? Is it color? Image? Or something else altogether?