Monday, October 30, 2006

Crazy Weekend

I started my first novel in the fifth grade puple ink on lined notebook paper about the Twellingtons. There were 11 of them, including two sets of twins. The story was told from the viewpoint of the 11 year old twins, Abby and Amy. Eventually, maybe by summer, I gave them a brother Bruce and made them triplets. Who know why except I had a crush on a boy named Bruce. I wrote many many pages of that story mostly about ice skating. Abby was a speed skater and Amy did figure eights. Of course they hit thin ice, one almost dies, but that may have been as far as I got because I don't remember much else.

The novel wasn't a fluke. I have spent a life time writing. I have written with many different attitudes--I suck, I'm terrific, who do I think I am, slow and steady wins the race, I need to be committed, I can do this, Just Do it, Keep it imple stupid, give up, don't give, quit, stick it out--and turned out lots of lousy and sometimes evocative stuff, but never anything that anyone would look up at me and say, "Wow-w-wow!" So I kept working: six screenplays, two complete novels, 40 short stories in various stages of completeness and many many more unfinished pieces.

The reason I bring this up is that yesterday I celebrated my success twice. First at Vroman's reading a flash fiction piece and second at a party given by two dear friends.

The Vromans reading was a result of taking Kerry Madden's class. I don't need to explain much about that having dealt with in on more than one occasion in this space, but the party that followed for me at a friend's house to celebrate the publication of "Leaving Slackerland" in Landmarked for Murder was amazing. It was a simple Wine-and-Cheese and just a few friends, but it was so much fun because everyone was so happy for me. I've been writing for soooo long and they've all gone through the computer crises, the identity crises, the rejection crises, well, just about all those crises for almost twenty years and a few who knew me way way back, before that. So I want to thank Betsy and Gale for creating a time and place to celebrate and for supporting me all these years and to all my friends who are terrific people because, well, I picked them!

So although this is a milestone in my journey that started when I was 11, it hopefully won't be the last. I'm working hard to get What Came Before (do I dare keep my title now that the famous Elizabeth George has abscounded with it?) finished before Landmarked goes out of print.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Charming Tess


She IS charming. Trish and I drove down to the Torrance Borders to have coffee with her. It was fun to hear about her new book which is going to be an historical detective venture set in Boston in 1830. I don't know how much she wants in the ether, so I won't say any more but it sounds like a provocative story. Her lecture about her current release, The Mephisto Club, explored how she got the idea for the novel from an apocryphal text of the bible. The research she does seems exhaustive, but has led to some very provocative insights. I'm on chapter 7 and anxious to have time to read today.

Thanks, Tess, for taking the time for coffee and for the words of encouragement. May your new permanent address be The New York Times bestseller list.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Schmoozing with Tess Gerritsen

I can't believe how lucky I am, but then, I don't think it's really luck.

It's one of those universal truths that most of us don't understand until we're spending a lot of time in the Preference by L'Oreal section of Target: It's the little things one does everyday that often have a pay off way beyond our expectations. The key is to strive toward one's goal with focus and determination and no matter how bleak the path may seem, keep moving, keep striving, and suddenly something will happen that one doesn't expect. If I stick to the path metaphor: one will round the corner, the trees will part, and a golden meadow will appear. Yish. That was corny, but this is a blog. Remember what happened to Dorothy, her meadow was full of poppies.

Anway, to the point. Years ago, I asked a friend who had polio as a child to tell me what it was like. I had an idea for a story and wanted my character to have had polio and I wanted to get it right. She wrote me eight or nine pages of beautiful emotional prose. I was quite honestly blown away. I told her, "You should write this. You've got something to say." So she joined our writing group.

She's been a writing buddy ever since. Sensible, to the point, encouraging. We've gone to Iowa to write and learn about writing, to drink and kibbitz with other writers. From this, we've formed a group of writing friends from Chicago, Galesburg, Illinois, Milwaukee (Lakeport? I can't remember. Someplace in Wisconsin), St. Louis, Boston. Then she decided to defect one year for Maui.

Maui v. Iowa. I sure didn't get it, but it turned out terrific for her. She met Tess Gerritsen who happens to be a fabulously supportive teacher. My writing buddy came back with notes and praise for everything she learned and she kept in touch with Tess. She emails when Tess wins awards or writes a striking blog and Tess always writes back. (For more on TESS)

And my friend is generous. She's taking me with her to have coffee with Tess. I am very excited about this. I have no expectations other than meeting her. I am not going to thrust a manuscript on her. But it's magic to meet someone who has traveled the same path. (Trying hard not to mix metaphors here). She might happen to mention a ditch I won't see. Or a shortcut I would never know about. One never knows what each little thing we do will lead us to. If I hadn't encouraged my friend to write, I would have missed out on a years-long best-friend relationship that has helped me to be both a better writer and a better person. I would have missed out on Tess, too.

We have to be open and friendly and welcome those along the past. Most of all we should be humble. And not just humble at the feet of someone who is famous and respected like Tess Gerritsen, but humble with every person, in every experience.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Last Kerry Class for this year

Sadly the class I'm taking with Kerry Madden is over. All that is left is the reading at Vroman's on Sunday at 3:00. The opportunity to read to an audience is rare for unpublished writers and it's essential for writers to read to see whether or not what a person is writing actually works. So after six weeks of learning from Kerry,, playing, typing away, getting to know the writers in the class, we get the added bonus of reading at a real book store in front of a real audience. I haven't decided yet what I'll read, but more about that later. First I want to talk a little about what this class have given me.

Having Monday evening deadlines has been a god-send during a time when there are so many distractions. It's fall already. That means HOLIDAY season. (Is XMAS a four-letter word to any one else out there?) There are the three holidays that prepare us for the big holiday: Labor day being the gunshot heard around the water cooler, Halloween being fun and fattening, reminding us that if we keep this up, by January we'll have gained another thirty pounds, Thanksgiving being the holiday where we realize we must now ask for a whole new wardrobe for Christmas because we've GAINED that thirty pounds, and then the DAY. More food, more family, more work...well, I can't stand to even type about it. The point is this is MAJOR DISTRACTION. Kerry's class has allowed me to remain in blessed denial about that four-letter word (no disrespect intended against the original meaning of Christmas. I'm bitching about the trappings!)

Second distraction: the remodel. Yes, it is a small remodel. Yes, we do need to stop the Hoover dam above our breakfast room from leaking, but the timing!!! I quit my job so I could write and wouldn't you know that after two years of searching for a contractor, he pops up NOW. I am grateful and Juan is so conscientious and reliable I want to clone him and turn him into doctor, lawyer, insurance salesman, etc. but I still have to listen to a daily cacophony of hammers and compressers. At least I think that's some kind of compresser on my back porch. Soooo Kerry. Monday deadline. No time to really worry about the two x fours blocking my back door. I have to get another chapter polished for my class.

But now it's over. And I have to rely on my own self-discipline to get my writing done. This could be trouble, but I don't think so. I have such a buzz from all the good writing I've seen in this class, the kindness and astute insights from Kerry, and the fun of getting back into my book that I should be okay. That's why I'm posting this so I can read and reread it to remind myself that I can do this thing.

And the whole experience ends with me having the opportunity to read for an audience! I have to admit, I love doing it. I love to read anything aloud, especially from great authors, but it's okay too when I read from me. It's a confidence thing because when you work on something, fret over it, rewrite every word, question every emotion, polish it until you're ready to barf, then put it out there, you are giving something back to the world. (Yes, you may be giving something bad to the world, but they can at least see you are striving toward good), you are opening yourself up to others and saying, "Look, I trust you. I hope you can feel some emotion that with give you a start, a tweak of hope, a little reaction that all's right with the world." If I can get that sense, then I'll keep doing it. And I want to keep doing it, so I'll work hard to create that emotion in others. One of those vicious cycles I guess. But the good kind. I need a name for that. Visceral cycle? Nah. Something will come to me.

So, Sunday at 3:00, I think I'll read "One Question."

Monday, October 23, 2006

Behind the Eight Ball

Of course I put myself there on the pool table when the felt was brand new. Now it’s full of rips and bald spots. And I like hunkering down behind the eight ball, putting myself in situations that take time I really don’t have and if I did, I couldn’t manage.

After I COMMITTED myself to being more responsible, timely, Johnnie-on-the-spot, to “Words in Place” way back when. Maybe I should call this “Words NOT on Paper” or “Words Missing in Action?”

And that’s not all.

Writing Life: I finally have something in print after years of slumping over a typewriter, and I still don't have my novel finished to take advantage of the hype!

Real Life: I haven’t called to get the dead oak removed. Get the chimney repaired. I haven't cleaned up my email address book. Picked up the dry cleaning or the dog poops on the driveway or returned my lemon of a vacuum cleaner to Pasadena Vacuum!

And most of the month of October is gone.

But it's hard to blog when I have a novel to revise and a short story to promote. Yep that's what I said. PROMOTE which means it is published and amazingly enough available at Amazon.com. I'm playing with the big boys now. Here's the link Landmarked at Amazon.

Of course the only review out there I've seen doesn't mention MY story or even MY landmark, but maybe that's a good thing. I won't take it personal. It was some Valley newspaper and I don’t think it was MY valley. No press is good press? Any one of you (that’s what I said, Jane, any ONE) who reads this and is willing to submit an Amazon review, please bring me up?

Enough clich├ęs. You see, my mind is slightly blown so bear with me. What this post is about is how I feel about this whole “getting something published” thing. Because I've been writing seriously since 1987. Strange how my first publication is 20 years after my high school reunion where people came up to me and said, "Are you still writing?" "Have you published?" I had to say “yes, I’ve dipped my pen” a few times over the previous years. But nothing came of it but two beautiful children, a terrific husband, and a nice little Victorian house. I hadn't published anything more than a couple of letters-to-the-editor in the LA Times about traffic. (I’m still writing about traffic. After all, they say “write what you know”). So back in ’87, I made a vow to get to work. I felt I had the raw skills and all I had to do was sit down at a desk and DO IT and all would be well.

Fast forward twenty years...almost. Is that possible? (Am I actually going to have a FORTY YEAR REUNION next year?) Has it taken me almost two decades to actually see my name on a published story?

Yes, I suppose it has. I guess what I saw happen was that a little talent doesn't really get you all that far, if indeed you have that talent you think you have. The real key, the real test, is fortitude, conscientiousness, stubbornness, occasional rudeness, focus, vulnerability, and determination. All that to get one twenty page short story about a twenty-something slacker/pot smoker set in type. (I know. They don't set type any more. Give me a break. I'm old.)

But I’m nothing if I’m not stubborn. I figure I’ve got a good twenty years left before my mind can’t get past my aching feet and I can still move my fingers to type, so I am committed both to this space and of course, to the forty or so novels and short stories that are floating around my head. If I believe in myself, and I accept the fact that I have to take each step one at a time, I’ll get somewhere. Life is like writing a novel. You may know what you want and you may strive for it, but that isn’t always what eventually comes to you. What comes, though, if you have worked hard, is enough. I am proud of that little twenty page short story. And it’s given me exactly what I need: confidence to write more.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Kerry's Class-Gremlin Protection

I did a very intelligent thing on the spur of the moment. I signed up for Kerry Madden's class at Vroman's Bookstore, "Intense Fiction Workshop" and it is really narrowing and controlling my focus to finish my book. Several reasons.

First, Kerry is a born teacher. She has her own talent which is profound and she is developing it with dedication, care, and passion. This passion for the written word spills out of her and motivates those around her. She has the most productive attitude for her students using encouragement, sound suggestions, and patience.

Second, the class level is high, filled with women who are passionate about taking the writing journey. Each one has a unique point-of-view (well, that's a no-duh statement), but what I mean is, they allow that POV to come through in honest language. I am pleased to be a student among such strong writers.

Third, I need the audience and the deadlines. I feel that now is the time for me to finish this project, but working in a void leaves me frustrated and blocked. That gremlin sits on my shoulder telling me any number of unprintable stories of my worthlessness. I have learned to ignore the gremlin, which is good, but I haven't been able to eradicate him. Yes, mine is a dude. I suppose no one ever really gets rid of gremlins, but we can shrink them down and step on them like cockroaches.

I guess that means that the class is my way of pounding the cockroach. Somehow that didn't come out right.