Damn it. They were right.

In which I look at the sedentary world of writing and why you shouldn’t (Shouldn’t what? I’ll leave you to fill in that blank for yourself.)

If you know me, you know I play volleyball. I have since seventh grade, grumbledy-mumble years ago. My knees are shot. I went to an orthopedist who said I have a choice: play volleyball now or hike with my grandkids later (no grandkids on the way yet or even close, just so you know.) Robot Guy, who also plays volleyball, said definitely play volleyball now. “We’ll get you robot knees when you need them.” So I’m playing volleyball now. In fact I’m on two teams. which means a lot of volleyball on the weekends. And I’m loving it.

Yes, that is Robot Guy playing (Number 17).
Yes, that is Robot Guy playing (Number 17).

Now I’m a writer. We sit. We think. We write. Also the age thing has made me slower, and I’ve never been one to exercise, so I realized that I needed to do a little something extra so I wouldn’t be killing myself on the volleyball court. I started working out three times a week while Youngest is in her classes. It was convenient–the gym was right down the street from her classroom–and it was perfect timing. By the time I finished with my workout, I could whip out a notebook and write for the half an hour or so until she finished. And so far I’ve been pretty good at going.

Here’s the bad news. Although I haven’t lost a pound (eating right is a whole other story), I have noticed that my endurance on the court has gone way up. Damn it. It’s working, which means I can’t quit. I find exercise boring. At least on the volleyball court there’s competition. I thrive on competition, but on the elliptical it’s a fake competition with myself. Doesn’t work for me on a psychological level. Thank God the machines have TV. At least I can be distracted. A little. The day the cable went out at the gym was the worst.

So I’m off to work out. Yeah, yeah, don’t lecture me on how good it is for me. I’m not stupid. I know it’s the right thing to do. I’m doing it. But don’t expect me to stop grumbling about it either. (Razzaldy-hummbledy-brumble)

–Gabi

Books I’m reading now:

Harry Potter und der Gefangen von Azkaban by JK Rowling

Insanity…

…thy name is author. In which I look at the crazy ways being a writer is, well, nuts.

If you sit down to think about it, being a writer is truly absurd. Gone is any hope of a sensible view of the world. In which other occupation can the words “good rejection” make sense? Who else but a writer would read the names of two towns on a billboard–Sylvana and Arlington–and think, “Aha. The names of my next protagonists” ?  And whatever happened to the guilt you’re supposed to feel at eavesdropping rather than the frantic search for a scrap of paper on which to write that perfect turn of phrase  overheard in line at the supermarket or to record the plot point that jumped into your head?

Despite the turn to technology, I still have reams of paper sitting around my house, some blank, some filled with hundreds of thousands of words (that is NOT an exaggeration) that have either made me giddy or filled me with despair. I have more pens in my purse than a receptionists desk at a medical clinic, more empty journals than lifetimes to fill them. I have a huge dictionary that I keep close by my side for reference, and more bookshelves than a classroom and they are still too full to fit all the books I own, so I have huge plastic containers in the garage also filled with books.

And don’t think I’m lacking in the technology either. I have a desktop, a laptop, a tablet, a smart phone, more writing programs than fingers, an e-reader, headphones, microphone, cameras, and yet I still like doing my first drafts in long hand.

TheSeaEagleSmallEverything I watch or hear is possible source of inspiration. True story. I saw a segment on TV about a man who found an injured owl. One of the owl’s wings had to be amputated. The man cared for the owl as best he could and the owl recovered, but, of course, couldn’t fly. When the man realized that the owl missed flight, he strapped on roller blades, perched the owl on his shoulder, and skated along the lakefront in Chicago. The owl would lean into the wind and pretend he was flying again. The man lost fifty pounds too. This story became THE SEA EAGLE, except for the fifty pounds. I don’t do diet books.

FalconAndWolfLatestSmallFamily is inspiration too. Robot Guy once said, “Engineers are never heroes in romance novels. Why don’t you write one with an engineer as a hero?” So I did: THE FALCON AND THE WOLF. Okay, so there’s also magic in that story, but why quibble over the details. And having a child with special needs became the inspiration for two special characters in AS YOU WISH. That one has magic too, but, hey, I’m writing fiction, not memoir.StevensAsYouWish

Once I was out walking with Robot Guy and a plane flew overhead. I looked up and my immediate thought was, “If it blew up right now, could I run away from the debris field?” So I asked him. He just looked at me and said, “Is that really what goes through your head?”

Yup. It really is.

–Gabi

Books I’m reading now:

Still can’t tell you, but when I get back to regular reading, you’ll find my choices here.

Just For the Fun of It

How many times have you picked up a book by an author you’ve never read before and by the end of the first page you know you’re going to love the journey you’ve embarked upon? It’s a magical and miraculous moment. You’re ready to go wherever the author leads you. Why do you think storytellers have been revered throughout the ages, accorded high esteem and regard, and treasured as no other members of society? Think of the many words you find that mean storyteller: bard, ;minstrel, troubadour, yarn spinner, fabler, novelist, narrator writer, dramatist,historian, orator, skald, author. Think of the cultures that are known through their stories: Greek myths, German fairy tales, Elizabethan England (Shakespeare), Marvel Comics.

Harrison Ford once gave and interview where he was asked if he regretted not playing critically acclaimed roles rather than the money makers. Mr. Ford’s unapologetic answer was that his goal was to entertain. If he achieved acclaim, that was fine, but he wanted people to like his movies. indiana-jones-clip-art-9TpRkqjTEWhat struck me most was the nobility of his goal. He wanted to entertain. He didn’t try to claim his work was earth shattering or would change the course of history; he simply wanted to entertain. I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but the idea of giving people something to take them away from their own lives and everyday problems, if only for a little while, is a goal worth pursuing.

And it comes down to the story and its telling.

I want the power to take people to other worlds. I want the power to make people laugh or cry. I want to be a story teller with all the responsibilities the job carries. I want to entertain.

–Gabi

Books I’m reading now:

Still can’t tell you because I’m judging for the RITAs. I did watch FANBOYS the other night. That was fun.

Life Philosophy…

How’s that for a scary title. But don’t be afraid. It isn’t that heavy.

Most of you know my youngest daughter has special needs. She’s an adult now, has a job, and is fairly independent, but she doesn’t drive, has real difficulty communicating, and we pretty much know she won’t be living alone for a while , if ever. That’s fine. We love having her around to watch movies with, play games, or just hang out. When she was little, she hit most of her physical milestones at the tail end of normal, but speech never came. Oh a word here or there, but no real talking. When she was four, however, she came up with my life’s philosophy. One day her older sister was crying. The youngest went up to her, put her arms around her and said, “Try happy.”

Try Happy

What beautiful words. The funny thing is they seem to work. I’m not trying to dismiss serious depression here (having been through a bout myself), and it’s never that easy,  but I’ve tried to live my life by those two words. It’s along the lines of “fake it until you make it,” another of my favorite sayings. But “Try Happy” is better. Life is too short to let yourself get distracted by awful things. I’m not saying hide from reality, or don’t get involved, but I always try to balance out unpleasantness with something that makes me smile. Thus my choice in reading and viewing materials. I am fairly political (Not here. I won’t subject you to my opinions here because I consider this blog part of my reading and viewing materials, and thus it conforms to my rules about those matters.) and the last thing I want to do when I’m trying to entertain myself is engross myself in dark, depressing stories. Yes, I watched Breaking Bad ( I live in Albuquerque, after all), and while I could admire the writing, the acting, the sheer brilliance of the show, I can’t say I enjoyed it. Nope. I want to escape in my free time. And “Try Happy” is a philosophy not used in that series. I want stories that celebrate the human spirit.

So, “Try Happy.” I’m thinking of having T-shirts made up or bumper stickers.

–Gabi

Books I’m reading now:

I can’t tell you–I’m judging the RITAs and my reading selections must remain secret.

Work is a Four-Letter Word…

…no matter how much you claim to love it. So is “book.” In which I explore the idea of working on a passion.

Have you ever considered your writing career as work? Most people thinks of work as a four-letter word(I know my father did), but the truth is writing is work. The secret is loving the aspects of it. If you’re truly lucky, your avocation can be your vocation.

I don’t believe anyone who tells me they love every aspect of writing. There’s plenty about it that resembles work the four-letter word. You have to plan and schedule your time; you have to get supplies; do research; you have to deal with outside forces passing judgment on your efforts; you have to deal with the empty page that can be daunting; you have overcome the self-doubts that plague you. You have deadlines, carpal tunnel syndrome, and isolation from those who don’t understand what you’re doing and just what it entails. Frustration and pain go hand in hand with writing. So don’t tell me it’s not work.

So why do we keep at it? Because our work gives us joy and satisfaction, and fulfills our creative needs. We tend to forget the pain when the joy is upon us (kind of like going through a second–or more– childbirth) because the joy is so much more powerfmargaritaul.

So in this new year, I’m telling you to get back to work, and may your joys outweigh the pains this year. And any to follow.  Work hard and reap the joys.

And when you’re done with work…

–Gabi

Books I’m reading now:

The Mean Vet by MC Beaton

Obsession by Jennifer Armentrout

A Little Loneliness…

…but don’t feel sorry for me. It’s my way of life and I like it, and you should too. If you’re a reader. In which I examine the life of writing.

So much of writing is a lonely endeavor. Authors aren’t known for being social. We live in our made-up worlds by ourselves and stare in silence at the bank page/screen (Unless you talk to yourself, but I won’t get into that here.) For many of us it’s how we actually enjoy living our lives. I, personally, am an introvert. My mother laughs when I say that. She can’t understand how I could have performed so easily as a younger adult on stage and that I still enjoy being in front of people but still call myself an introvert. I believe it’s because that’s not really me there. I enjoy the attention, but I’m not really exposing myself; that’s a persona up there.

Still, like all (most) humans, even writers crave interaction with others. That’s what writers’ groups are for. When I get together with other writers, I can feel less alone. Here are the others who know what I am going through. They have suffered my disappointments, lived my successes, cheered for me as I have cheered for them. My writing circles make me realize I’m not alone out there. My dream is not outrageous or crazy. Have friends who share the same dream. So as I embark on writing yet another novel and exploring a new world by myself until the time that I expose my world to other explorers (readers), I buoyed with the knowledge that I have people I can lean on when the seas get rough or the journey stalls. Thanks in advance.

RWA book signing
RWA book signing

Still the world has changed and this new publishing world requires me to put myself out there and be “social”. Social media, advertising, promotion are all part of the author’s responsibility now, especially if you’re self-publishing, but it’s also true if you are on the traditional path. Self-promotion can be overwhelming. Am I crossing some line? Did I say too much? Are people sick of me yet? How can I pimp myself and my books?  Are you sick of me yet?

But the rewards are great. To hear from someone you’ve never met that your book moved/entertained/helped them is amazing. Yes, the writer friends offer support, but the praise from readers is that treasure that makes the hours of loneliness and agony of putting words on the page worthwhile. And readers can’t do that unless they can find you. And in order to create the stories that readers will respond to requires embracing the loneliness.

And you wonder why authors have the reputation of being a little crazy.

–Gabi

Books I’m reading now

Bad Luck Trouble by Lee Child

With This Ring by Celeste Bradley

Introducing Agatha Raisin: The Quiche of Death by MC Beaton

“Ride, Boldly Ride…If You Seek for Eldorado”

In which I explore the nobility of following a dream with the aid of a poem by Edgar Allan Poe.

 An English teacher told me once I would never be a writer. At the time I didn’t listen because I thought I was going to be an actress, but those words stuck with me. When I finally realized that I had stories inside me (I had just been acting them out instead of writing them), I remembered what that teacher had said, and ignored her. I had a dream to pursue.

Screen Shot 2014-12-15 at 9.25.06 AMAll artists have much in common. We pursue dreams. We aren’t always successful, depending on your definition of success (yes, that’s one of those words where the definition can mean different things to different people despite having an entry in the dictionary). Many of us don’t make money, many of us have day jobs because we can’t support ourselves with our art, many of us have other responsibilities. So we worry about being real artists, but if you valiantly make the effort, don’t worry. The pursuit of the dream is as noble as the dream itself.

Think about it. If you dream about being a writer or whatever, and you do nothing to achieve that dream, then it’s a nice fantasy, but little else. But if you are actively writing (or whatever), and learning, and trying, and submitting, then you are as valid a writer as Ms. Bestseller whose 400th book comes out next week (there is that propensity for hyperbole again). The pursuit of the dream is as noble as the dream itself.

I’ve put Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “Eldorado” here, because it embodies this ideal. A knight spends his whole life searching for Eldorado, but in vain. It’s a poem about perseverance. Yes, he fails, but look at that last stanza. As the knight is dying, he meets a ghost, and the ghost tells him to keep on. “Ride, boldly ride.” That doesn’t sound to me as if the ghost is trying to dissuade him from his quest.

So go on. Ride.

–Gabi

Books I’m reading now:

Tears of the Rose by Jeffe Kennedy

Harry Potter und die Kammer des Schreckens by JK Rowling

Slacking Off

In which I ask for help in either, a) getting inspiration to continue to work, or , b) getting permission to take a break.

It’s that time of year when the desire to do actual work fails me completely. I have presents to buy and wrap, special cookies to bake, and possibly travel plans to make. I get visitors or at least a chance to see people I haven’t in a long time. But I also have THE BOOK calling to me from in my brain. And with it’s call comes a healthy dose of guilt. I should be working, but instead I’m wrapping (hey, at least I’m not rapping. That would be frightening.) I should be plotting, but instead I’m partying.Pixie Christmas

So how do you keep on track? Do you cut yourself slack at this time of year (Or whenever your “time of year” may be)? Do you set a rigid schedule? Do you allow yourself to take a break? Is it okay to take a break? Inquiring minds want to know.

–Gabi

Books I’m reading now:

Harry Potter und die Kammer des Schreckens by JK Rowling

Tears of the Rose by Jeffe Kennedy

 

A Rant about Math

In which I take issue with this culture of fearing and mocking intelligence, and the T-shirt that makes it sound as if it’s all right to do so.

I know you’ve seen it–on either the bumper sticker or the T-shirt or the meme.  The sentiment that reads, “Yet another day has passed and I didn’t use Algebra.” Or the one that says, “I’m an English major; you do the math.” I understand the humor behind it; it’s punny, it’s sarcastic, it’s ironic. Heck, I’ve even used some version of it myself.  I regret that. I don’t find it funny any longer. The more I think about it, the more disturbed I get. No, it’s not a major important issue in our society, but it troubles me nonetheless. Here’s why.

First the goal of this sentiment is to make the displayer feel superior to all those teachers and students who love math and use it; and it somehow tries to make their accomplishments unimportant. As an author you’d think I never use math, but you’d be wrong. Just the other day someone asked me to edit an essay. I moved sentences around to form a logical argument and wrote in my comments, “See, you still use your Geometry for writing. Remember proofs?” Geometry proofs teach logical thinking. It doesn’t require numbers.  And looking at royalty statements, taxes, business expenses–all a part of writing–does require some number acuity.

Here’s one for Algebra that does use numbers: if you go the grocery store and they offer 5 for $3.00, but you only want to buy one. Ta da: Algebra. So what? you say. You still don’t really use it. Well, do you really use history, art, dance, PE, wood shop, or science every day? And having read many, many essays, emails, tweets, and manuscripts, I would say some of you don’t even use English every day. Besides, you probably do use Algebra for simple equations more often than you think, only it’s so ingrained in your head that you don’t even recognize you’re using them (think about calculating expenses, or date entry, or comparing the price of cell phones.)

And there are many many people who do “use” Algebra every day. And even higher levels of math. Robot Guy is one of them. He told me to consider formulae and equations as a language. I use words to create; he uses math. Engineers are highly creative people. Their language is just different.

Math is about problem solving. The skills you learn, the way you look for solutions is math. It’s something that your brain was trained to do in math class. Besides, why is it bad to have knowledge that you don’t necessarily use everyday? I like to learn things just for the sake of knowing them. You never know when you may appear on Jeopardy! Or just play Trivial Pursuit with the family.

I don’t like the trend I’ve seen lately of intelligence shaming. Suddenly being smart is not something people value. TV does it. Look at the Big Bang Theory, a show I like and enjoy, but when you think about it, it makes fun of those members of society we label smart. No, I don’t believe going to school necessarily equals being smart, but this fear of knowledge that pervades our culture right now is a trend I’d like to see stop.

Yeah, I’m taking this too seriously. You don’t have to tell me.

–Gabi

Books I’m reading now:

Harry Potter und die Kammer des Schreckens by JK Rowling

It’s Never Too Late. . .

In which I talk about learning, errors, the importance of questions, the value of knowledge, and an embarrassing story that makes me laugh to this day.

I’ve been at the writing gig for many years now and I’ve found two constants in this endeavor: one is that everything changes–editors change, houses change, styles change, public tastes change; and two there is always something new to learn, whether it’s research, vocabulary, genre, or grammar. People often speak about the changes, but I get excited about the learning. Call it the nerd in me, but I love to learn a new word or some minute grammar point. And don’t get me started on research. For my last manuscript, I had to visit a brewery, take a tour and taste some beer. It’s hard work.

Today, my competence in English is solid. Of course I make errors, but they’re more likely to be typos or skipping words because my thoughts are faster than my fingers, or just not seeing mistakes on the page because I’ve stared at the screen for too long than actual lack of knowledge. But it wasn’t always the case.

In the past couple of days, I’ve seen several mentions of the fight over one space or two after a period. It reminded me of my very first term paper. US History (I still remember the title: The German-American Bund: the Fritz Kuhn Years: 1937-1939).  I have never taking any typing classes (thus the reason for so many typos when I write), and the requirement was ten typed pages, double spaced. It was my first typed paper. I had to borrow the typewriter (in return I bought a new cartridge for the owner–remember those?), get some unlined paper (I bought onion skin–yuck), and hunt and peck my way to ten pages. But I did it. And being the kind of student I was, I was the first person in the school to turn it in. Done. Relief.

A few hours later, my roommate (I went to boarding school, remember?) said that the teacher had held it up to show how not to do a paper, that it wasn’t doubled spaced. Well, I went straight to the teacher and told him he was wrong. I had double spaced. He said it didn’t look like it, but I told him again he was wrong because I had double spaced.  And indeed I had–type a word, space, space, type another word, space, space, and so on for ten pages. I thought it an odd requirement at the time, but it wasn’t until years later that I realized where I had made my error. I think my paper was actually 1.5 spaced as regards the line spacing.Photo on 2012-06-21 at 16.37 #5

Ask questions, people. Questions are good things. (By the way I received an A- for the paper. Thanks,Mr. Waples.)

–Gabi

Books I’m reading now:

Harry Potter und der Stein der Weisen by JK Rowling