Friday, April 29, 2011

High Wire Act

Whenever I'm strolling through an art show or immersed in the work of a debut novelist, I can't help but wonder, "How do so many people find time to create?"

Life isn't structured to allow time to follow one's muse. Whether you want to act on the stage or dip your hands into clay or scribble down your latest story idea, the tedium of everyday chores bogs you down. Family members conspire to take the weekend away. Employers gobble up far too many hours.

Somehow, artists continue to produce. In snatches on the lunch hour, late on Sunday night--artists make fire. And thank the heavens they do: the world would be a cold place without them.

I don't know if any young writers will ever stumble across my blog. In the off chance that, one day, they will, here are a few pointers from a seasoned artist on how to complete that beloved work you've been hiding from family and friends:

1. Turn Off Your Internal Editor. If you're sitting down late at night after slogging through the 9 to 5, forget about perfection. It's more important to get the first draft down on paper--the entire draft. Whether you're writing a short story or a novel, you can't reasonably edit until you've made a complete pass through your story idea.

2. Find Your Tribe. Your boyfriend won't understand why you're desperate to write. Your parents may subtly question why so many years of education are "wasted" pursuing nebulous dreams. Ignore them. Find other artists who are struggling to produce. They'll offer useful feedback as well as sympathy when the going gets tough.

3. Don't Rush into the Marketplace. Take time to polish your work. If you haven't yet joined a critique group ... do. The competition for a readership has always been tough. To survive--and grow a readership--you need to present your very best work to the world.

4. Let Your Elders Inspire You. Precious few artists make it overnight. Most spend years balancing on the high wire, trying to earn a living while finding the energy to follow a heart's desire. Personally, I've always been inspired by comedian Billy Crystal. One of his finest quotes? "It took me twenty years to become an overnight sensation."

Here's hoping you get there a whole lot sooner.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Crack the Whip

Seven days and counting until my next critique meeting.

This sounds like a lot of time, but isn't: critique partners should evaluate polished prose, not the last-minute scribbles of an over-committed novelist. Fact is, all novelists are over-committed. Most pen stories late at night after working the 9 to 5, attending to family duties then sucking down that third (or fourth) cup of coffee.

Full disclosure: I'm not one for nocturnal creativity. Early bird catches the worm and all that--my brain simply doesn't work late at night.

My schedule changes depending on where I am in a novel. During the first 100 pages, I write in the morning or the afternoon. After that? The characters become firmly entrenched in my life, demanding attention at all hours. I've been known to wake from a dead sleep at 4 AM to begin the work day because the murky pool of my subconscious has offered up a solution for a difficult scene. I've leapt out of a swimming pool at 8 AM to scramble for the pen and paper by my towel because the damn funniest dialogue appeared between the 12th lap and the 13th.

So now I'm on the count to next week's critique meeting, and I need to revise (yet again) a few chapters of Second Chance Grill.

You'll note the cover isn't done yet. For starters, the title and my name need to switch places. And the manuscript still needs a nice buff and polish before reaching the Amazon Kindle Store in June.

Next week, when I meet with Mary Ann and Ellen, I'll read another section then sit back as they perform jujutsu on the pages. I adore my critique partners. Wise, funny, insightful, they always find the missing characterization and gently suggest cuts to overlong passages. I don't want to disappoint them by offering lackluster pages for their review. It's time to get to work.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Treasure Me is Live on Amazon!

Writing versus Cornflakes

(Christian, several years ago, on her way to college)

Yesterday an insightful (and probably suntanned) blogger in Hawaii sent a few questions that got me thinking. Question number two: What’s more difficult, breaking into publishing or raising four young adults?

Wow. No Contest. Raising the kids.

Sure, breaking into publishing is extremely difficult. The writer who is serious about her craft will write hundreds—perhaps thousands—of pages destined for the trash bin before submitting that first, polished novel to a literary agent or a book editor. If she has the courage to self-publish, she’ll ask her critique partners to perform slash-and-burn operations on her prose. Before uploading to Amazon or B & N she’ll edit once more, keeping in mind Stephen King’s mandate to evict the “little pretties” from every chapter, those long, loopy sentences a writer pens, thinking, “Ah, how beautiful!” but which make the reader think, “What the hell?”

In comparison to parenting, all of the above is a walk in the park amidst the daisies.

I’ve been a single parent for many years now. I can’t threaten the use of serious ammo: “Missy, wait until your father gets home.” I can’t head for the exits when an adolescent implodes. Every issue a child faces on the journey to adulthood is mine to navigate. Rough seas? Often. But the days of sunshine are the sweetest reward.

My two older kids are now in college. The younger two are wrapping up high school. Born in the Philippines, they were abandoned at an early age. I became their mother in my late 30s after working for years in public relations. Fifteen years later, we’re a tight-knit group.

The home office where I write straddles both the worlds of motherhood and writing. High school graduation invitations are neatly stacked beside my current WIP. There’s a note by the keyboard to remind my oldest daughter to wrap up her passport application for that semester abroad. It’s Friday, and all four kids (and the dogs) had a party in the living room last night. Where’s the vacuum?

All parents will agree the days are many when you're not sure how to guide your child. I have a few tricks: get one kid alone in the car and drive slowly. Kids tend to open up on the open road. Hug your child often. There's a direct correlation between lack of parental affection and how quickly a young adult becomes sexually active. Insist the kids pitch in. If I'm preparing egg rolls, someone offers to fry them and someone else appears at the sink, to help with the dishes. Praise your children often and tell them--every night--how much you love them. Small steps all, but they'll make a rocky road easier to tread.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

In Praise of Book Bloggers

I have a confession to make. I've fallen in love with book bloggers.

In the last 24 hours I've been checking out book bloggers in the hopes of finding a few reviewers for Treasure Me, which will appear in the Amazon Kindle store next week.

A few more confessions: I'm rarely in cyberspace. I don't own a cell phone. If I find time to sit in front of the tube, it's usually for a dose of BBC America or to watch a movie with my four young adult children. We have a rule: Mom can't spoil the film by revealing the plot when she figures it out. If I am on my computer, it's usually to flesh out a first draft. Most revisions (and more revisions and more revisions) are completed long-hand. Usually with Nala staring at me as I scribble away in my easy chair:

Sandy, my golden retriever, also harasses me as I revise (biscuit! biscuit!) but I don't have a pic of her presently; she's wandering the house in search of socks to steal.

Back to book bloggers. They're amazing. Sweet, special people drifting through cyberspace with the message that literature is a good thing and you ought to pick up a book and read.

Regardless of your tastes, there's a book blog that's right for you. Women's fiction, high literature, mystery, suspense, romance, experimental fiction--somewhere on this pretty blue planet a dedicated bibliophile is spending her precious time posting in her blog so that you'll know what to read, what's new, what's not-so-new but damn good so you should hurry to the library and dig the book out from the stacks. Some bloggers are open to reviewing e-books (thank the heavens) which allows many novels that weren't published in the traditional method to reach the light of day.

Here's my last confession: I spent several years watching my various novels garner interest with the heavy hitters in NYC. I was sure Random House would pick up Second Chance Grill. An editor at the Penguin Group was so enthusiastic about publishing Treasure Me, and the rest of the Liberty series, in hardcover, that I spent several months sweating bullets while writing a series proposal. When Wall Street melted down, so did the editor's interest. Which I understand. It's difficult to consider releasing a debut novelist when your publishing house is laying off your compatriots in droves.

Through it all, book bloggers continue to write about books they love and books they dislike. They keep interest in literature alive and--I suspect--they introduce younger readers to the delights of fiction. You can never get beneath another person's skin. IMHO the closest you'll get to understanding another human heart is through fiction. So please read. And visit those book bloggers in cyberspace for the sweetest celebration of literature you'll ever enjoy.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Nervous Dervish

I've blissfully spent the morning in Istanbul with Greer, Adelaide and the other characters of my latest WIP. Now it's time to attend to the day's other responsibilities.

The valiant Barb S. sent through the cover art for two of the novels in the Liberty series. Here's the first book that will appear on Amazon for the Kindle:

I'm not sure yet about the sidebar copy, although "Liberty safeguards the cherished heart" is an important clue during Birdie's search for hidden treasure.

The second novel, which should be up on Amazon by late May, takes the reader back in time before Birdie's appearance in the town of Liberty:

Of course, the sidebar copy isn't correct. Another item for the old "to do" list!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Stumbling Through Cyberspace

I've spent most of the day working on a cover design for the first women's fiction novel I'll publish for the Amazon Kindle, Treasure Me, which should be released in late April/early May. The process is overwhelming. How do I find book reviewers for an e-book? How should I market the novel? No doubt all novelists brave enough to wade into digital publishing asked the same questions, and struggle to find solutions.

Here's a short synopsis:

Petty thief Birdie Kaminsky has arrived in Liberty, Ohio to steal a cache of rubies hidden since the Civil War. She’s in possession of a charming clue passed down in her family for generations: Liberty safeguards the cherished heart.
The beautiful thief wants to go straight. She secretly admires the clue’s author, freedwoman Justice Postell, who rose above the horrors of slavery to build a new life in Ohio. Birdie wants to rise above her own past and escape the criminal tendencies that have put her infamous parents on the Fed’s radar. If she can unlock the clue’s secret, she’s sure she’ll snatch enough loot to start fresh as a law-abiding citizen.
According to family lore, Justice left South Carolina at the dawn of the Civil War. Heavy with child, she carried untold riches on her journey north. As Birdie searches for the rubies, she begins to believe a questionable part of the story: a tale of love between Justice and Lucas Postell, the French plantation owner who was Birdie’s ancestor.
If the stories are true, Justice bore a child with Lucas. Some of those black relatives might still live in town. Birdie can’t help but wonder if she’s found one—Liberty’s feisty matriarch, Theodora Hendricks, who packs a pistol and heartwarming stories about Justice. Birdie doesn’t know that an investigative reporter who has arrived in town will trip her up—as will her conscience when she begins to wonder if it’s possible to start a new life with stolen riches. Yet with each new clue she unearths, Birdie begins to discover a family history more precious than gems, a tradition of love that is richer than she could ever imagine.