Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A little (hoarding) problem in paradise...

My basement is...full.

Okay, that's putting it tactfully. My basement it stuffed to the gills with less than useful--let's call it "useful-ish"--crap. (It might be full of crap, but I am hanging onto the "-ish" for dear life.)

This isn't entirely my fault. See, ideally, when a couple marries, it should be stipulated in the wedding contract that at least one of them is a thrower-outer instead of a saver. The trouble with my basement is, the theater god and I are both savers.

Every computer we have ever owned is up--and running!--down there. Even the Commodore 64. Seriously, it looks like a freakin' geek museum. We've nicknamed it "Nerdvana," and it is a veritable paradise for the socially awkward.

(Not that we are socially awkward, of course. But we have deep empathy for those who are.)

Anyway, for Nerdvana I blame my husband, who, aside from being a theater god, is also a technology wizard. He loves to upgrade his equipment, but can't stand to let go of something that still works. Also, he's utterly fascinated with antique gizmos and gadgets; to him, the older something gets, the more interesting it becomes.

(I have to admit, I like that about him. It bodes well for our future together. As long as he doesn't try to "upgrade" to a sleeker, faster-running twenty-year-old, and retire me to the basement, I figure I can look forward to a long and happy dotage with a husband who blissfully raves, "Look! She still works!")

But it isn't just my husband. Honesty compels me to admit the state of the basement is partially my fault. I have a small problem of my own.


I, Linda Grimes, am a bookaholic.

There. I said it. (Whew. I feel so much better now that that's off my chest.)

Stacked-up boxes of books line the perimeter of Nerdvana, the overflow from the shelves upstairs.

Apparently I am constitutionally incapable of getting rid of any book I have ever owned. Because...well, they're mine. And I might reread them again (for the fiftieth time) someday. Besides, they'll come in handy when I'm old and senile, and living on a fixed income. It won't matter that I can't afford new books when I've forgotten the endings to cases full of thrillers, mysteries, and romances.

It's not hoarding. It's a retirement plan.

All right, it's more than that. Some of them I keep purely for sentimental reasons. Fond memories of my larval phase as a bookworm. Like this favorite from when dog books ruled my shelves:

And this from my "nobody wants me in a crime-fighting club so I'll just read about it instead" period:

Though some of the selections I just found while excavating downstairs force me to admit my addiction may border on the compulsive. Yes, this is an old Guinness Book of World Records. From *cough* 1995. (Hey, what if I need to research world records from that era? I am prepared!):

And then there are the duplicates. Yes, I accidentally bought two copies of the same book. But I can't get rid of one, because, if you look closely, you'll notice one of them has an embossed title. So really they're different:

Besides, what if I wear one out? Best not to take any chances.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Pay It Forward Interview: the Fantastically Funny and Talented Tawna Fenske

Welcome to those of you who've clicked your way over to my little corner of the blogosphere by following the breadcrumbs on the Pay It Forward trail.

It all started with the fabulous Elana Johnson and her brilliant idea to spread some hope and promote debut authors the first week of April. As my contribution to the project, I'm interviewing Tawna Fenske, a wonderfully talented author who just happens to be an "agency sistah" of mine at Wolfson Literary Agency.

I met Tawna online through our brilliant agent, Michelle Wolfson. During my first phone call with Michelle, she mentioned Tawna as one of her authors she was sure I'd hit it off with, and she was right. Tawna and I share a similar (some might say warped) sense of humor, and we've been cracking each other up ever since Michelle tipped us off to each other's existence. After some of our Twitter exchanges, it is *cough* barely possible Michelle regrets bringing us together.

But it's too late now. Bwah-ha-hah!

Anyway, this is Tawna:

[Photo credit: the very talented Claudine Birgy.]

Isn't she lovely? If she weren't so dang nice, I'd be jealous enough to spit.

[Here comes the interview part!]

Tell us a little about your book.

Tawna: I write quirky romantic comedy, and my amazing agent just landed me a three-book deal with Sourcebooks, Inc. They’ve set an aggressive publishing schedule with all three books coming out in a 12-month period starting August 2012. Two are already written, but we’re still waiting to hear which will be published first. Most likely, it will be MAKING WAVES:

There are normal ways to cope with job loss, and most don’t involve plotting a revenge-fueled diamond heist in the Caribbean with a crew more suited to the boardroom than the poop deck. But Alex isn’t feeling very normal when his unscrupulous boss kicks him to the curb, and Juli hasn’t felt normal – well, ever. Losing themselves in their high-seas adventure – and losing their hearts to each other – Alex and Juli find that while normal is nice, weird can be wonderful.

Can you tell us a little bit about your road to publication (finding an agent)?

Tawna: I assume you want the short story? That goes something like this:

I started writing fiction in 2002, targeting Harlequin/Silhouette’s Bombshell line of action/adventure novels for women. I got “the call” in March 2005 from an editor buying my book, and I got “the un-call” August 2006 informing me the line was being cancelled one month before my book was set to hit the shelves (yes, I got to keep the advance; no, I didn’t get anything for the two follow-ups I’d written by then). I switched gears and wrote a romantic comedy/mystery that I used to woo agents, and ended up with four offers of representation. The agent I chose turned out not to be the right fit, so we parted company after a year. A month later, I signed with Michelle Wolfson of Wolfson Literary. Though she was (and is!) the perfect agent, we had a rough couple years of submissions. Several times we came THIS CLOSE to selling, but it never quite happened. Then in February 2010, Michelle called with the news that Sourcebooks wanted to buy not one, not two, but THREE books from me! I’m still reeling from the shock and joy (or maybe it’s the celebratory wine).

That’s the short story. Want the long one? That’s posted on my blog:

Was there ever a time you felt like giving up? Why didn't you?

Tawna: Though any sane person probably would have thought of quitting a million times, I never seriously considered it. I credit my stellar agent for always believing in me, and my parents for instilling me with such fabulous self-esteem that I never once thought, “I suck.” Every rejection fueled my fire and made me want to stick it to everyone who shot me down. I regarded the process as my “literary grudge f**k,” and credit that attitude with keeping me sane throughout my bumpy path to publication.

If you knew then what you know now, what would you have done differently?

Tawna: I would have purchased the Charmin instead of the Cottonelle.

Ha-ha! Okay, if you were interviewing yourself, what would you ask...and answer?

Tawna: Question: How do you keep your hair so shiny and manageable?

Answer: A painstaking process of being too lazy to wash it, followed by a rigorous failure to comb. Repeat as necessary.


And back to Linda again: Need I say more? Go. Check out Tawna's blog and website. I guarantee you will be as anxious as I am to read her books.

If you'd like to read the super-wonderful Tiffany Schmidt's interview with me, go here: Tiffany's blog.

Still in the mood for inspiration? You'll find it at the following links:

Lisa and Laura Roecker, Beth Revis, Leah Clifford,
Victoria Schwab, Kirsten Hubbard, Susan Adrian, Dawn Metcalf, Kim Harrington, Carrie Harris, Amy Holder, Kathy McCullough, Suzette Saxton and Bethany Wiggins, Elana Johnson

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Epiphanies in the Air: Flying, Fartage, and Phobias

I hate flying.

Well, it's not really the flying I hate so much as the not being able to get off the airplane if--and precisely when--I want to. So it's really more like claustrophobia, plane-ophobia?

Maybe if I could wear a parachute, and be assured the flight attendant would open the door for me if I wanted off, maybe then I'd like it better.

Nah, that wouldn't work. There's that whole being terrified of jumping out of planes from thirty thousand feet up to consider.


So, what I do with it. The rare occasions when I must fly, I suck it up (along with a martini or two) and deal. It's worked for me so far. Sure, I get a few looks on morning flights, but that's a small price to pay for avoiding a major panic attack.

What I can't seem to avoid on planes is the person who is operating under some sort of divine imperative to Tell Me His Life Story. (And by "his" I mean, for the most part, "her," but I try not to impugn my own gender when speaking in generalities.)

It's my own fault. I exude a talk-to-me vibe. I realize this. There's just something about me that says "I am utterly fascinated by every aspect of your being--please share!" Maybe it's the glow from the martinis.

The last time this happened (on a looong flight to Seattle) the woman sitting next to me pounced before I could pull my book of crossword puzzles out of my over-sized, stuffed-to-the-gills handbag (hey, when I travel, I like to be prepared for any eventuality--you never know when you might need a tape measure, three Chinese take-out menus, or an industrial-sized bottle of Tums).

So, my new traveling companion--let's call her, oh, I don't know...does "Gabby" work for you?--caught my eye. I hadn't even scored a freakin' martini yet, so it couldn't have been the glow. Maybe she smelled the fear and, predator-like, struck while the opportunity was ripe.

I tried to look away, but it was too late. She smiled at me. I can't be rude to somebody who smiles at me, especially twinkly little gray-haired ladies who look like everyone's favorite grandma. It is physically impossible for me to cold-shoulder them.

An obvious pro at getting right down to the nitty-gritty before the possibility of being cut off, she started with her recent gall-bladder surgery, apologizing in advance for the emanations she feared might waft over from her general direction. Sadly, the operation had upset her system.

Oh, joy. So not only would my ears be assaulted, but if I was interpreting her delicate references correctly, my nose was in for quite a ride too.

I wanted to jam my hands together in the classic time-out signal and squeal "TMI! TMI!!" (that stands for "Too Much Information," for those of you not up on interwebz lingo), but courtesy forbade. Instead, I beckoned the flight attendant and tried to pre-order a martini using an elaborate system of hand and eyebrow gestures. She wasn't amused, and I'm sure she put me on a List.

From there Gabby segued directly to grandchildren (the visiting of whom was the reason for her own flight). Takes a while to get through every milestone of cuteness in the lives of three children. And then came the pets. Two cockapoos and an ancient pekenese, all with impacted "you-know-where" glands that required regular draining (she could warn me about impending fartage but couldn't bring herself to say "anal"?), and she was terribly worried her pet-sitter would neglect to do that while she was away.

Huh, I thought while smiling blandly (the first martini having been delivered somewhere around her granddaughter's first ballet recital...or was it her youngest grandson's honorable mention in the Junior Golf Championship?), you can bet your sweet bippy I'D be skipping that particular chore if I were pet sitting for you.

But of course, I only nodded sympathetically and chewed my olives.

THAT, dear blog reader, is when I had my Great Backstory Epiphany.

And here it is: Nobody cares.

Simple, huh? Nobody who doesn't know you gives a flip about the minutia of your life.

(Unless you're a celebrity, and really that's only because they feel like they know you. Or sometimes if you're really pretty, because they think listening attentively will get them laid.)

Here's the writing connection: it goes for your characters, too.

Early in your book, before the readers have learned who your characters currently are--right now, in the characters' "present"--they aren't interested in what happened to them before. It has no relevance until the reader knows enough about what's happening "now" to care about what happened "then." (Unless the "then" is a terribly sensational scandal of some sort, fascinating in its own right, in which case it should probably be part of your main story, not your backstory.)

[I KNOW. It's been said thousands of times before, highlighted in every book on writing you've ever read. But sometimes it takes a real life connection to make it sink in. It did for me, anyway. Maybe you're better about learning vicariously.]

So, when adding in your backstory (which is not entirely avoidable--your main story must have context), try to use a light hand. Reveal the past on a need-to-know basis. Retain a little mystery. Trust me, your traveling companion--*cough* I mean, your reader--will appreciate it.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Virginia Chainsaw Massacre

When I woke yesterday to the jackhammer musical stylings of a woodpecker on the chimney cap I should've suspected my day was not going to go well. I mean, sure, it had a good beat, but could I dance to it?

(Not that I ever feel like dancing at 0-dark-thirty in the morning. Puh-leeze. I like to ease into my day at a leisurely pace, not even speaking--beyond a grunt to the theater god--before a strongly-brewed cuppa good black tea.)

And the chicken-sized woodpecker was just the beginning.

(Allow me to interject here: OUCH!)

It has to do with the winter that just keeps on giving.

You may remember this post I made in February, after Mother Nature's little Eff-You birthday present to me:

The shovel-out from that was all sorts of fun. But what it left behind was even jollier. Broken branches by the score, just waiting to ruin a warm spring day. Apparently pine trees don't like to be laden with tons of gloppy snow for days on end. Huh. Who knew?

And that was just a small part of the whole mess.

The theater god and I had a choice to make. Pay somebody grind it up and haul it away, or do it ourselves. IOW, $1500 for the pros, or $99 to buy a chainsaw at Home Depot. Since we already have a chipper/mulcher for dealing with the leaves in the fall, we decided to go with the chainsaw & sweat, and save the $1500 for something fun, like groceries.

It was the right choice. Not only did we save a nice chunk of change, but I've also gotten rid of the nasty exercise deficit I had been living with after the long winter indoors. I am officially in the exercise black. In fact, after a few minor run-ins with wayward tree limbs and dropped logs, I am in the exercise black and blue!

OUCH. (I know. I repeat myself. But then again, so does the pain.)

The sad thing is, I didn't even get to play with our new toy! For some reason, TG doesn't trust me with a chainsaw. I mean, just because I can't operate the toaster oven without setting it on fire, does it really follow I'll cut off an appendage with a chainsaw? I don't theenk so!

Be that as it may, I spent the day hauling branches to the chipper, stacking our new logs on the woodpile, and spreading our new mulch around the needs-mulch areas of the yard. (See? That was another plus. Now we don't have to buy mulch this year.)

And I'm sure, given a week or two to recover, I'll even be able to walk upright again.


Friday, March 19, 2010

A Gunrunner's Tale (Kinda)

Okay, so it turned out I did not have to cook on St. Paddy's Day--a big hooray for all concerned! The theater god came home early enough to take care of the whole thing. Funny, but I suspected all along he would. It would've taken a hell of an emergency at work for him to risk the outcome of his sacred corned beef and cabbage.

He made the right decision. *pauses for a moment of reverential contemplation of TG's cooking prowess* Mmmm.

But enough about my stomach. Back to the gunrunner story I kinda-sorta threatened to tell.


Once upon a time a nice young married couple--we'll call them Junior Theater God and Wannabe Writer Chick--decided to chuck it all and see Europe. So they quit their jobs, sold their house, and bought Eurail passes. Hied themselves aboard the cheapest transatlantic flight they could find and set out to do some serious sight-seeing before their money ran out.

After longish stint in Sweden, visiting WWC's relatives (this being basically free and therefore much to be desired), the nice young couple struck out on their own. The trains became their go-to place to spend the night, since this saved beaucoup (they picked up a little French during their sojourn in Paris) bucks on hotels, and didn't waste precious daylight hours getting from place to place. Hotels, B&Bs and youth hostels became default accommodations, used mostly when showers and laundry facilities were desperately needed.

As time went on, the knowledge came upon them that their train passes were good for free ferry passage to the Great Green Land of Eire. Yea, not only for the passage, but also for all trains within the great land.

Verily, they said unto themselves, "Whoa! Dude. Let's do it!"

Much was learned along the journey. Important things, like by "ferry" they mean "rather large ship," and that crossing the North Sea in November is an exceedingly motion-full experience, no matter the size of your "ferry." Just because the deck is beneath you as you begin a step does not mean said deck won't plummet six feet before you finish your step. Also, no matter how strong your stomach is, being around seasick people will make your own complexion take on a greenish tinge.

And finally (perhaps the profoundest lesson of all), a ferry crossing over a choppy sea is one time in life when having a Guinness is not particularly helpful.

Not being the sort to dwell on unpleasantness, JTG and WWC hopped a train as soon as they were off the boat, and tried to put the harrowing 28-hour trip behind them. (The trip was only supposed to take about 20 hours. But rough seas, yadda-yadda...)

First stop: the Old Head of Kinsale, County Cork.

And, as in any good fairy tale, there was a castle. Desmond Castle, to be precise:

Alas, luck was not with the nice young married couple. Their visit fell on a Sunday evening, and the castle was closed.

Sadly, they were due to leave for Dublin early the next morning, and would not be in the area when the castle was officially open. What could they do?

Why, break in, of course!


Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time. And they didn't actually have to break anything--only hop over a stone fence and wiggle a window that hadn't been properly latched. Besides, it wasn't like there was anything there to steal, so, really, why would anyone mind? And it would be such a shame to get so close to Desmond Castle and not get to see the whole thing.

Once inside (which was very much like the outside, it being, for the most part, an open courtyard), feeling very clever and not a little wicked, they came upon another couple, who had apparently had the same idea. Let's call them John Smythe (because that's what he said his name was, and it is generic enough preclude lawsuits) and Cuchi-Cuchi (because she spoke with a Spanish accent and looked remarkably like...

...Charo, only in tourist clothes, and her real name was not generic).

Smythe (whose weathered, pale blond visage was as generic as his name, and in no way deserving of celebrity lookalike photo) and Cuchi-Cuchi were friendly enough, so JTG and WWC did not run away, as was their initial inclination.

That was their first mistake.

Bonded by a few jovial comments about the changeable Irish weather, and their new life of crime, the two couples agreed to retire to the local pub and pass a convivial evening over a pint or four of Guinness.

That was mistake number deux. (Again with the French. Have I mentioned that the ferry to the Great Green Land of Eire originated in Le Havre, France?)

Over the course of drinks, Mr. Smythe and Cuchi-Cuchi regaled the wide-eyed JTG and WWC with stories of their connections to the Abbey Theater in Dublin.

(If JTG and WWC hadn't been floating cluelessly in a Guinness fog, they might have noticed this so-called connection didn't pop up until after their own theater leanings had been revealed. The whiff of entrapment, however, went undetected, camouflaged as it was by the atmosphere of the pub.)

It was arranged that JTG and WWC would meet up with Mr. Smythe and Cuchi-Cuchi in Dublin, there to receive an intro to the sacred Abbey Theater connections, and possibly obtain *gasp* unofficial jobs, which would allow them to extend their stay in the Great Green Land.

That was their third mistake.

[Scenic interlude of lovely train trip to Dublin.]

At the first opportunity, JTG and WWC presented themselves at the Smythe residence, a small house on the seedy side of the city. It was a dark and rainy night, but they had been promised a meal, and free meals were high on their priority list.

Smythe greeted them at the door, a cheerful cloud of whiskey fumes emanating from him. But as he led them through the hallway his manner changed. The walls were lined with framed black-and-white photos--portraits, they soon learned, of the glorious dead. Each frame was draped in cheap black cloth. Smythe explained, in loving detail, the contributions of every dead person there to the cause, growing more morose--and slurring his words increasingly--with each passing photograph.

JTG and WWC, sensing something was Not Quite Right, telegraphed the look at each other simultaneously, but the hallway was narrow and Smythe was behind them, so they couldn't slip back out the door.

Besides, they smelled roasting mutton, and just knew there'd be potatoes to go along with it, it being Eire and all.

Once all were seated in the shabby drawing room (no sign of Cuchi-Cuchi), Smythe assured them dinner would be served momentarily, and pulled an open beer from behind his chair. Without offering a beverage to JTG or WWC, he proceeded to inundate them with story after story of the fight for freedom, from Easter 1916 to the present day, shifting seats from time to time, pulling bottles out from various stashes throughout the room and sneaking swigs.

It soon became painfully apparent to JTG and WWC that working at the Abbey Theater was but a distant dream. However, the mutton was really smelling grand, and restaurants were expensive, so the intrepid pair stuck it out.

An hour or two in, a young man came to announce dinner was at last ready.

"T'anks, Guido*," Smythe said, and swayed unsteadily into the dining room.

Over the course of over-done mutton and still-crunchy, undercooked dried peas (but the potatoes were lovely), Smythe explained that his Abbey connection was on vacation, but if JTG and WWC were still interested in employment, he had a small museum "up north" that could use a caretaker. He couldn't pay much, but the freezer would be stocked with steaks, and all they'd have to do was take delivery on a "package" from time to time, and relay the odd bit of information back to him.

"What's in the packages?" WWC asked, ignoring the warning look in JTG's eyes. WWC was hopelessly curious, and frankly a bit of a snoop.

"Printing presses," Smythe said vaguely, waving his hand dismissively, "...and a few other t'ings. I run a small charitable organization, to help the poor unfortunates in Africa."

JTG pushed away from the table and took WWC by the elbow, saying, "That sounds great. We'll definitely give that some thought. Well, better get going. Long way back to the hostel, we'll be in touch..."


"Don't want to miss the bus," said JTG, still hustling.

"But you haven't had dessert. Don't worry about the bus--Guido will drive you back."

WWC's ears perked. "Dessert?" After all, she hadn't eaten much mutton, on only one pebbly mouthful of peas.

Resigned, JTG sat back down. The spongecake, topped with freshly whipped cream, was superb. Apparently Guido's true culinary skills lay in the realm of sweets.

The ride back to the hostel with Guido proved informative. With a worshipful voice, he recounted how John Smythe had picked him up off the streets, literally out of the gutter, and provided him with work and a home. If some of the things he had to do were maybe not quite what some would consider to be entirely legal, they were entirely moral and right, and that was what truly mattered to God, wasn't it?

It was noted by the now slightly less naive young married couple that apparently speeding, running lights, and ignoring stop signs was somehow moral and right.

The truly important thing--to them, anyway--was, they survived.

Could they be sure the bibulous Mr. Smythe was a gunrunner, and had intended to recruit them to his cause? No. Nonetheless, early the next morning, JTG and WWC left the hostel. Left Dublin, in fact, having decided it was a fine day to visit Killarney.

Moral of the story: breaking and entering can only lead to no good.

Corollary to the moral: there's no such thing as a free dinner.

* I know. But as God is my witness, he called the little Irish lad Guido.

P.S. If either of my kids is reading this, I made it all up. Your father and I would never take stupid risks like that, and neither should you.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Me & St. Pat, we got a thing going on...

I love St. Patrick's Day. :)

Every year I wear this:

It's not a shamrock, but I figure a four-leaf clover is close enough. This one I've had since I was born (which makes it *cough* over twenty-one), a gift from my aunts in Sweden (who were really my mother's cousins, but as close to her as sisters, so my brothers and I always called them aunts). They wanted me to have a life full of good luck.

Here's the back:

Isn't that handy? I'll never forget my name as long as I am wearing it.

Seriously, St. Paddy's Day is just about my favorite holiday. Yes, even above Christmas. As much as I love jolly old St. Nick, there is a lot of mom-work involved with that holiday. Not to mention High Expectations from just about everyone.

St. Paddy's Day is laid back. Relaxed. No gift shopping, no unavoidable card & candy & flower shopping (oh, you can send cards if you like, but nobody really expects them, at least nobody I know), no hard-boiling & dyeing eggs, or filling up baskets with fake grass and goodies. No infernal racket & blowing your fingers off with fireworks.

Just good ol' Guinness and a nice New England boiled dinner (corned beef and cabbage, and of course potatoes).

Normally I don't even have to boil that dinner, since the theater god loves to cook. But this year I may have to, if he doesn't get home from work in time to start the corned beef (it takes about three hours at a simmer to do it right). I am assured by both TG and DD (my darling daughter, who inherited her cooking skills from TG--too bad she's not here to step into the breach) that this meal is easy-peasy to produce.

Ha. We shall see about that. Never underestimate my ability to screw up in the kitchen.

Update later. If I haven't burned down the house.

(And if I've had enough Guinness, I may come back and tell you about the time a gunrunner for the IRA tried to recruit TG and me in Dublin. Long story short, we, um, declined his kind invitation to be a part of a noble cause. Even though he did offer us a freezer full of steaks and a possible job connection at the Abbey Theater.)

Monday, March 15, 2010

Boobs and bras and doubt monsters, oh my!

Anyone who has reaped the benefits of a good foundation garment knows the importance of support. Without it we sag. Flag. Droop.

And nobody wants that. It's...sad. And, frankly, kinda ugly.

Ignore for a moment the perky and firm among us. Be honest--we hate them anyway, don't we?

Let's speak instead of those of us who require a like-minded group of friends and colleagues to walk with us through the forest of life, whistling in the dark, braving the dangers that lurk around every bend.

(What? The foundation garment was a metaphor. Sheesh. You didn't really think I was going to write a whole post about boobs, did you? True, bra shopping is fraught with peril, but that's a post for another day. In this case, the "firm" and "perky" I was referring to are those people who stroll blithely through life without a stumble, a trip, or a crash, needing no one but their firm, perky selves to navigate the pitfalls. I've never met one personally, but I'm sure they must exist. Though I suspect it's mainly to annoy the rest of us.)

Most of the writers I know are amazing mashups of neurotic insecurities and horrendously large egos. Sure, we know we're brilliant, but what if nobody else recognizes it? What then?

Those writers among you who take issue with the large ego part...come on. You know the odds of succeeding in this business. How every step along the way--finishing a book, querying agents, getting a request for a partial or a full, finally landing an agent, and then selling your book to an honest-to-God publisher--is exponentially more difficult that the previous one. If you didn't have a big enough ego, you'd give up before you even started. But you're here, aren't you? Still trying. Persisting against the odds.

Yeah. You know you're good.

Most of the time, leastways. Except when you don't. Except when the Doubt Monster attacks.

This is where support comes in, preferably in the form of a writing group. A good writing group is a lifeboat in the shark-infested publishing waters. Your fellow group members are food and drink, sustaining you while you float around waiting for rescue.

If you're really lucky, some of your fellow lifeboat passengers are critique partners--people who read your work and provide helpful commentary, and vice-versa.

A good crit partner understands when you need your ego inflated and when you need harsh, unvarnished truth. You can go to her with questions like, "Does this suck suck, or only suck?"

And she will answer, "It's only a tiny bit sucky, totally fixable."

And, if you ask for suggestions on how to fix it, she won't be offended if you wind up doing something totally different, because she knows just brainstorming with her helped you tremendously.

Not everyone in a writer's support group has to be a crit partner. It's okay if some just provide moral support for the process, and friendly interaction/commiseration when needed. These are the ones who will happily listen to your rants privately, thus keeping you from popping off and saying something insane in public. (Even if--or maybe especially if--it's true.) Believe me, for this alone, they deserve a place on your acknowledgments page.

Should you ever get an acknowledgments page, I mean.

Which, I believe, is more likely if you have a good group of writers helping you along the way.

So, thank you to my group. For listening. For providing advice and support. For throwing cookies at my Doubt Monster, distracting it from feeding on me when I need to be working. And mostly for being there in the boat and keeping me focused. You sparkle, every one of you. :)

Friday, March 12, 2010

Me and Christine, keeping it real

Christine Lavin is one of my favorite entertainers. She's funny, smart, and her songs can be either moving or hilarious (sometimes both!). I first discovered her, lo, these many years since, when the theater god came home from work with one of her CDs.

I listened.

I loved.

I listened some more.

Says I to TG, "I must see her in person."

Says TG to me, "But you never want to come to a show."

Says I, "That's because I'm always too exhausted from riding herd on the children you begot upon me." (Subtext: You owe me, mister!)

Says TG, "Look, I had the vasectomy. Can we drop this, please?"

Says I, "Sure. Right after I see Christine in person. Coincidentally, that's when our sex life will resume, too."

Says TG, "Anything for you, dollface."

(Okay, I made up that last bit. TG has never called me dollface. If he had, he wouldn't have needed the vasectomy.)

Soooo, anyway, I arranged for the kiddos' grandparents to babysit, and I got myself down to the theater on the appointed night. I was so excited! When you're married to a theater god, you spend a lot of time at home in the evenings, because (A.) The last thing theater gods want to do on a night off is spend more time away from home, and (B.) see (A.)

[Let me insert here, lest anyone think TG was/is an awful husband, I am perfectly welcome to go to any show I want--and there are well over a hundred a year to choose from. But, as with anything readily available, one tends to take it for granted and dismiss it with an airy "Oh, I can do that any time, no need to bother tonight."]

However, since I Really Wanted to see Christine, I made an effort. I gussied myself up and drove myself to the theater, where TG ushered me to one of the best seats in the house. I was so excited to not be home watching Winnie the Pooh videos, I turned to the stranger next to me (um, yeah, did I mention TG couldn't sit with me, because he actually had to run the sound for the show?) and voiced my enthusiasm for the upcoming performance, perhaps a tad over-exuberantly.

The stranger sipped his wine (yes, one of the wonderful things about the Barns at Wolf Trap is, you can actually enjoy a drink while you watch the performance--tres civilized!) and said, "You don't get out much, do you, dear?"

I shut up.

When lights dimmed and Christine entered stage right, I felt a shiver. I was really there. I was out of the house. I was surrounded by adults!

A few lines into her opening patter, she said, "I want to give a special welcome to a member of our audience tonight. She's married to the Production Manager--otherwise known as the genius at the soundboard--and this is a big night for her. Her husband finally asked her out. Sure, she had to drive herself to the theater, and she'll be driving herself back home, and she's sitting by herself in the audience, but this is the closest thing she's had to a date in four years, so she's not complaining."

I should've been mortified at being singled out, but hey, I got a standing ovation. So I bowed.

Anyway, here's a little sample of why I liked Christine Lavin so much back then (listen to the words & be careful not to spew your drink):

She's a little older now--who isn't?--but I still love her unique mixture of music, comedy, and commentary. And guess what? She's coming back to the Barns in early April.

Yep, I'll be there. Sitting by myself and loving every minute of it.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

When you ask for suggestions...

I'm being attacked by a scene.

Yesterday, I was attacking it, going at it every which way I could, trying to beat it into submission. Apparently it is not the submissive sort.

Today a new idea is flickering in my brain. No, more than that--it's skittering around like a rabid mongoose, a virulent thing determined to send reinforcements to the beachhead of my imagination. If it gets a toehold, I know it will conquer the clown of my uncertainty over what to do next, plot-wise, and I will feel centered again.

And then I will eat bacon to celebrate. :)

Okay, that's what comes of asking for words-to-include-in-my-blog-post suggestions on Twitter. All the words in bold were suggested. Make of it what you will.

What's that you say? You think it's dumb??

Look, I could've just said "The clown centered on the beachhead fed bacon to the virulent mongoose in the flickering moonlight." But that would've been silly. And I wanted to make it relevant.

Work with me here, people!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Really, y'all, I'm just a little different...

My mother-in-law thinks I have a southern accent.

Now, I may in fact have a trace of one (shuddup, Kreekie--I know you're reading this), but not nearly as pronounced as the one I unconsciously adopt whenever I'm talking to my MIL. I can't help it--it's like it's contagious and I have no immunity.

I was raised in Texas, the product of a Missouri-born dad and a Swedish mom. A military brat surrounded by so many variations in dialect I instinctively sought neutrality of voice. Which, it turns out, made me the perfect vocal canvass for other accents to paint upon.

Same thing happened to me when the theater god and I spent a few weeks in Ireland. After two days, I was lilting with the best of them, and not intentionally. TG laughed and mocked, but to no avail. My brain just seemed to think it was the thing to do.

My daughter tells me this is a common linguistic phenomenon, especially apparent in people who seek to make those with whom they are talking more comfortable. Some sort of mirroring behavior, designed by Mother Nature to help you fit in to new situations. I can buy that. I do want the people I speak with to feel at ease.

(Mostly. Sometimes I want just the opposite, like the time I was having a small conversation with my ex-sister-in-law about her treatment of my baby brother before their divorce. I can guarantee you, there was no trace of the Midwest in my voice then. In fact, after overhearing one particular phone conversation, my kids told me I just sounded "scary," even though I never raised my voice OR made any actual threats of physical violence. But perhaps she inferred...)

Anyway, this is just a round-about way of saying we are different things to different people. I am different as a daughter than I am as a mother. In fact, a different mother to my daughter than I am to my son. The me who is a wife and life-partner is not the same as the me who is a buddy or a writing pal.

So, what's the point of all this self-analysis? Well, for me it serves as a reminder that the same thing goes for my characters. They are different people to their various friends and relations, too. My mc slides (or sometimes fights sliding) into certain patterns of behavior with family members and old acquaintances. Teasing, combative, immature, thoughtful, funny, kind, brave, whiny, relaxed...she can be any or all of these, depending on the character(s) she's sharing the page with in any given scene.

And now I'm off to open the WIP and see which of her various selves I'm dealing with today.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

A little green promise fulfilled

Remember those green tendrils I was so excited about a few days ago? Tada! Look:

Yay. :)

Friday, March 5, 2010

Linguistics vs. Dead Bodies

Dear Blog,

I was going to write a brilliant post today. Really. All about linguistics in literature (my field of study in grad school) and how it influenced the way I write. But first I was just going to rip through a quick scene in the WIP. It was going to be a short, transitional thing, meant to get my main character from point A to point B in a logical and orderly fashion, with maybe an extra dollop of humor thrown in so the reader would be too busy laughing to get impatient for the next significant plot point. But then this body happened. The dead kind.

It's not the sort of thing you can just leave hanging out there.

I mean, my poor mc doesn't even know if this person was shot or stabbed (or--gasp!--something worse) yet. I have to go figure it out.

Later, 'gators! Trust me, this is way more fun than a dusty old linguistics post. Well, for me, anyway.


Thursday, March 4, 2010

Do you see what I see?

Looky! See it? (You might have to squint, and if you're color blind, fuhgetaboutit.)

See it now? That little touch of green? Those skinny tendrils just starting to poke out of the ground under my trees out front? CROCUSSES! (Or croci, which is also an acceptable plural. I just tend to gravitate toward "-cusses" for some reason. Hmm.) No flowers yet, not even buds, but that's okay. I'm not greedy. Because you know what this means??? Spring! Spring WILL come this year.

Take THAT, winter, you sorry SOB! You LOSE, suckuh!


Of course, there's still plenty of this...

...around, taking for-freakin'-ever to melt, but it is diminishing daily. It's getting soft and weak. Losing it's grip. Heh, heh, heh. Soon its sorry white behind will be out of here!

YES! *fistpump*

Okay, so I'm anthropomorphizing a tad. Sue me. This year I took winter personally. Oh, I know we'll have more freezes before it's really gone. More flakes. More dreary days. Like the guests who s-t-r-e-t-c-h out the goodbyes from the front door all the way down to the curb, and then just won't get in the blasted car and drive away. But at least they're out of the house, and there is a glimmer of hope that your world will be your own again.

Happy sigh.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Go ahead, paint yourself!

Back in my Melodrama days we had a special term for a crappy performance:


Typically yelled with disdain by any one of a number of Melodrama hangers-on who attended most rehearsals, it was short for "You're painting yourself brown." And when you were bombing big-time, the utterance was accompanied by hand motions that mimed painting a wall with an invisible paintbrush. Which meant, basically, you were slathering yourself with virtual shit and stinking up the joint.

Brutal? Well, yeah. Kinda. But it was mostly yelled with affection, a gentle (ha!) admonition to get your act together and do better. It was feedback of the most immediate kind--you knew right away when something was not going to work.

Now, you'd think this would be inhibiting. Oddly, it tended to have the opposite effect. To earn a "Brown!" from our live-in, self-styled critics became a badge of honor. If you didn't paint yourself brown in the early rehearsals, you weren't daring enough. And, frankly, we lived to be daring.

The worst insult you could get was a tepid "Beige." Followed by an exaggerated yawn. If you were going to dip into the cesspool, you'd best go all out. A deep, dark chocolatey hue--a truly outrageously bad, chewing-the-scenery performance--was respected much more than a timid, cafe au lait, I'll-just-stick-with-the-tried-and-true offering.

(I'll bet my writer buddies already know where I'm going with this.)

Most writers are familiar with the concept of the "shitty first draft." First (and sometimes second and third) drafts are like rehearsals: your chance to practice, to do everything, to risk anything, to make it as right as you can.

When I made the switch from acting to writing, I wrote an awful lot of beige words before I was comfortable enough to let myself go all-out brown during the first draft phase. (Even now my alpha and beta readers don't always see the 72%-cocoa brown words I've been known to produce with my early forays into a book.) But what I've found out is, shit is good fertilizer for my imagination. If I spread it on thickly enough at the outset, some amazing ideas can grow from it.

So I think it helps to remind yourself of something at the scary start of any new project: when the readers/audiences see your final effort, they aren't going to be thinking of the manure you had to spread to get there. They're just going to enjoy the garden.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Free Writing

Well, not free. But reasonably cheap. Ba-dum-bum. ;)

(Okay, see, that was really just an example of what I'm about to blog about: writing whatever comes into your mind. Just spitting it out, no matter how inane--oh, look, a butterfly!--it seems at the time, because the idea is just to get words flooooowing along, in the hopes that something good might accidentally spew out with all the--no, not a butterfly, a BAT! A big freakin' bat with a two-foot wingspan!!--garbage.)

Whew. So admittedly this is not so much an orderly discussion of the craft of writing, or even an extension of my post on warming up, but rather an indirect admission that I don't have a damn thing to blog about today, and I told myself I WOULD blog about something, and that once I started typing I was not going to stop until I finished. (This is a lot harder than it seems, especially for an inveterate re-writer, fiddler, tinkerer, whatever you want to call it, like me.) But, damn it, I'm gonna do it, because I said I was gonna do it, and when I say I'm gonna--

Gawd, this is getting BORING, isn't it?

Okay, I never said it was going to be a LONG post, did I? Just a nice, short post, illustrative of the concept.

And you know what? Now I feel like working on the WIP, so I guess there might actually be something to it.

Later, 'gators!