The Whole Truth?

In which I look at how much is too much and what to share.

I follow some authors on social media who put their political and social viewpoints out there for the world to see without qualms. I admire them for that. Many of them are popular, successful in their careers, and have continued success after airing controversial opinions. I have strong opinions about politics and society, but I’ve limited my sharing to clicking the “like” button and the occasional link to Snopes to counter sheer stupidity. I’ve never been comfortable sharing information about many aspects of my life or my views. Maybe it’s because I’ve never had security in my chosen career–I can’t afford to offend potential readers. Of course that hasn’t garnered me best-selling status either. Maybe it’s because I don’t do confrontation well. Of course, who does, and that really is a ridiculous excuse. Maybe it’s because I can’t express my thoughts clearly, and one can’t do rebuttals well on social media (comment sections aren’t conducive to civilized debate or discourse). The world is not made of sound bites. Of course, I do enjoy the sound bites and memes that make the rounds and reflect my views.

So I struggle between the what to tell you and what to keep hidden. In person I am very open about what I believe and what is happening in my life. That’s because I once heard a wise woman (Jennifer Crusie) tell a roomful of people at a conference the reason she doesn’t let her workshops be taped: (paraphrasing here) If it isn’t recorded, I can claim you all were high on mushrooms and don’t remember correctly what I said . (She is welcome to deny she ever said this). I’ve used that line more than once in teaching (toned down for my eighth graders to omit the drug reference) and also at our local sci-fi, fantasy conference, Bubonicon. If I say something and you don’t have it recorded, you can’t prove I said it.microphone-626618_640

Which leads me to this blog and social media. Here, I am writing down my words. Here the words are etched in stone (figuratively). Here, I can’t escape what I’ve said, and I have been smacked down more than once for something I’ve written and I don’t have the power or influence to combat negative repercussions. I still want to attract readers; I still want to be “popular”. I mean, they still invite Mel Gibson to the Golden Globes after some of the things he’s said. Brad Pitt is still listed as one of the world’s sexiest men and his social leanings are out there for the world to see.

So I don’t know whether I’m a chicken or if I’m cautious. What do you think?

–Gabi

Books I’m reading now:

The Ryria Chronicles by Michael J Sullivan (I mention this one again because it’s spoiled me for other books at the moment. I loved this series. Which is the reason I’m reading …)

Harry Potter und der Gefangene von Azkaban by JK Rowling (rereading an old favorite, albeit in a different language, because I know its good and won’t disappoint me after the above series.)

NaNoWriMo

Don’t know how much I’ll be updating here since I’m participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), but stay tuned.

–Gabi

Books I’m reading now:

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

The Martian by Andy Weir

Storms

In which I examine power and control.

Yesterday at around 3:00 PM, a sudden downpour hit my neighborhood. I happened to be in my car taking the Youngest to work. The sky was gray, and the drops of rain left marks the size of quarters on the windshield . The sky was nearly black by the time we reached the parking lot of her workplace a mile away. Then the  torrent hit. I pulled up to the door of her workplace so she could dash the final five feet into the safety of the building. The flag that flies outside the store was whipping in the wind and rain and hail. The space between the edge of the flag and the line it was hooked to looked like the letter D. I don’t know why that detail sticks out in my memory, but it does. Visibility was down to just a few feet. And I had to drive home.

It’s only a mile, but the road was covered in water, and cars were lined up on the side to wait out the worst.  I slid back the covering of the sun roof so I could enjoy it better. Because I did. Enjoy it, I mean. It was a glorious display of nature and how puny we are in comparison. I was exhilarated. I was smiling and laughing at the amazing rain.  I have a four-wheel drive (No, I wasn’t driving through any rushing water and I experienced no hydroplaning–I might have enjoyed the storm, but I’m not stupid) and I drove slowly and carefully. I happened to be behind two police vehicles that had been dispatched a few minutes before to make sure there was no trouble on the streets. I followed their taillights (they didn’t have on the flashers) for about half a mile then turned into my neighborhood (It really is only a mile from the Youngest’s work to home.). The sky was dark,  the mountains that rise just off the east side of the road were invisible,  and the rain came in discernible waves across the windshield.

A completely different kind of storm
A completely different kind of storm

Twenty minutes later, the deluge was over. My backyard had a two-inch lake in it (One dog went to explore it, the other wouldn’t step outside). Parts of the city were flooded, the arroyos that run through Albuquerque were full and dangerous, trees had toppled, and according to one news source, my neighborhood had received 1.52 inches of water in the space of an hour–that’s more than we usually get in the entire month.

Despite the danger, I loved it. I marvel at the unbridled, uncontrollable power of the storm and from the safety of my car and house, I watched with pleasure and glee. I’m sure I would feel different if I were exposed to the it, but I wasn’t. Today the sun is shining; they are predicting a possible rain for the afternoon, but I can’t imagine it might be like the one yesterday. Those are one in a million. During those storms the best you can do is find shelter and let it happen.

We have little actual control over much in life. We like to delude ourselves and think we are powerful, but in so many ways we aren’t. I’m not saying that’s bad. What I’m trying to say in a verbose and wordy manner is that you should learn to recognize where your decisions actually make a difference. That’s what you should worry about. (And no, I’m not advocating neglecting your duties like voting in elections or doing your job.)

In the case of writing (yes, it always comes back to writing with me), pretty much the only thing we have control over is the writing itself. Then we hand our work over to agents or editors or the public, and we lose control. Not complete control, but you can’t make an agent like your work, you can’t make an editor throw her support behind you, and you can’t make the public buy your book no matter how hard you beg. So I try to concentrate on the writing. And I try not to let the things I can’t command defeat me. I can’t say I enjoy the lack of control as I did the storm, but I try to keep myself safe and secure and focus on the stories I still have inside me. And, yes, I know I used the word “try” a lot because, let’s face it, I fail sometimes, but the storm always passes, and the sun comes out again.

–Gabi

Books I’m reading now:

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (a re-read, but oh, so, good)

 

Use Your Senses

No, not common sense, although you should be using that one too. In which I talk about the two hardest senses to convey in books–taste and smell.

They say (whoever they are) smell is the strongest trigger for memories. I could look this up, but I don’t want to right now. I’d say they’re right. The smell of diesel fuel in the rain—sounds gross, I know—takes me back to Germany, Austria, and Switzerland and when I traveled there as a kid with my family. Corn meal takes me back even further. When I was a toddler, my parents owned and ran a chicken farm in Los Angeles. Corn meal was used to feed the chicks. The smell makes me feel safe, warm, and loved. (Yes, I had a good childhood. No traumas to draw on for my writing.)

plums
Black plums (And can you tell I’m not a food photographer?)

Taste is another powerful trigger. Just this week I bit into a black plum and was transported to my childhood backyard. We had five fruit trees—apricot, peach, tangelo, quince apple, and, yes, black plum. We would have so many plums we’d walk around the neighborhood and sell them by the bag. Forget lemonade stands. The plum tree was “mine,” and my sister had the apricot tree. My mother would make so many jars of plum and apricot preserves. That bite produced such a vivid memory I almost forgot to breathe.

And that’s why you want to include all the senses in your reading (and writing), not just touch, sight, and sound. It’s the visceral feeling readers crave.

So, do you have any memories associated with smell or taste?

–Gabi

Books I’m reading now:

One True Heart by Jodi Thomas

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

To Kill a Mockingbird (No, not the book…

…well, yes, the book, but this is my opinion on the “sequel”) In which I give you my take on Go Set A Watchman.

You may read whatever you like. Let me just put that out there. If you are waiting to read Go Set A Watchman, go right ahead. I will not be joining you. First, from everything I’ve read, it’s not clear that Harper Lee actually wants this book published. She’s in a nursing home. Her older sister/lawyer/caretaker/protector died, and SUDDENLY (bad writing form) they’ve found the long lost novel. I don’t trust that version of the story. Second, from what I’ve read, this “second book” is actually the first rejected version or rough draft where you are still figuring out who your characters are, where the story is going and what your theme is. I don’t want to read my own first drafts. They’re that bad. Third, To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my all time favorites. I don’t want to ruin it.

It might be too late.

Whether I read GSAW or not, I know it’s out there and spoils the image of Atticus. I can’t pretend it doesn’t exist when it does. I know, not through first hand knowledge but from critiques and reviews that hero Atticus is no longer a hero. I can’t get that fact out of my head.It’s sort of like the reason I didn’t like the first three (as in episodes, I, II and III) of Star Wars. I already knew that Anakin Skywalker becomes Darth Vader.* Totally spoiled the whole premise for me. It made me not respect Obi Wan as much, and I couldn’t root for Anakin because I knew he was evil (yes, yes, he gets redeemed at the end**, but it took the joy of discovery out of the whole story. I’m not even talking about the whole “too much backstory” aspect. If the book was put out there as an academic study of the evolution of TKAM (which I’m told many people are taking it as), I might have accepted it better, but it’s being marketed as a sequel, so that’s  that.

 

Mockingbird
My dog chewed up this copy of TKAM.

I understand where the publishers are coming from. They’re all about the bottom line. GSAW will earn them a boatload of money. I’ve faced that unforgiving bottom line in my own career (maybe “butted heads against” is a better term than “faced”) and while I don’t agree with the decisions that follow looking only at the unforgiving bottom line, I do understand it. Maybe corporations should put a line in their charters about serving the public good instead of profits, but I get it.

So I’m not reading it. And I’m not sure I can go back to TKAM without prejudice either. I taught that book and it was so lovely. Now it has a bad stench associated with. At least for me. But then again, this is my blog and my opinion. I hope the rest of you aren’t as neurotic as I.

–Gabi

*First, if this was a spoiler, too bad. It’s been common knowledge for decades. Catch up. And second, I misspelled Anakin and didn’t capitalize Darth on the first attempt at typing. They were flagged as incorrect words by spell check. Once I corrected them, they weren’t flagged at all. What does that say about the integration of Star Wars into out culture? Pretty cool, I’d say.

**Really? Watch the damn movies.

Books I’m reading now:

The Lost Key by Catherine Coulter And JT Ellison

Ten Quick Tips About Writing Fantasy . . .

. . . In which I examine my own thoughts about writing fantasy.

I am trying to switch genres from Romance (though I still love it and am currently working on one) to fantasy (Although my next manuscript will be more science fiction–it’s the process of “throw everything out there and see what sticks”). I love fantasy and have since I was a child. I am currently shopping a fantasy romance (which I love!) and a straight fantasy (which I also love–two books of the heart) So here are my top ten quick tips about writing fantasy.FalconAndWolfLatestSmall

  1. Read in the genre–there are all kinds of fantasy. Read, read, read. (That’s true for any genre)
  2. You can’t just throw in a dragon– although dragons are great, right?
  3. You must build a world–as the author, you have to know the rules of the world and stick to them.
  4. Logic must still prevail–just because you’re making up a world, doesn’t mean it doesn’t have to make sense. (Almost the same thing as 3, but not quite)
  5. The characters are more important than the flash and decoration– a reader still wants and needs to identify with at least some of your characters.
  6. Writing rules still apply–If you’re going to be wordy, you’d better have a good reason to be so. (Like not using contractions–works great as a characteristic for Data, but not so good for other characters)
  7. Know where you’re going–especially if you plan several books. You have to know the destination.
  8. Avoid story clichés–they’ve been done to death.
  9. Actions have consequences– don’t forget to show them. Rarely is anything black and white. Gray can be a much more interesting shade.
  10. Research is essential–yes, even for a fantasy, you must do your research.

So, you know anyone interested in a fantasy?

–Gabi

Books I’m reading now:

Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

Names–or–A Little Known Fact About . . .

Temptation’s Warrior

TemptationsWarriorCoverLatestSmallNames can be trouble. When I had finished writing Temptiation’s Warrior and was getting ready to send it out for possible publication, I came across a review of a medieval set novel (like Temptation’s) by a big name author whose main characters were names Elf and Ranulf. I almost screamed. Those were the names of my hero and heroine too. My characters were Elfrieda and Ranulf. Hers were Eleanor and Ranulf. It wasn’t fair. Elf isn’t even a nickname for Eleanor. My Elf was also a running joke because Elf was freakishly tall for a woman. So I decided I had to change one name. I couldn’t change Elf (running joke and all that), but I did decide to find a new name for a hero.

Usually when you write a book you start thinking about those characters with those names and somehow they become those people. Stormy (in Wishful Thinking) was a silly name, but that’s how she introduced herself in my sub conscious and the name stuck. I even joked about it in the text. But she was  Stormy. Changing a name can be traumatic. A rose by any other name is NOT as sweet. I thought changing Ranulf would be just painful. (Ooo, a pun. You’ll see why.)

I did research on medieval names and discovered that the name Payne was fairly common. And when I found that name, suddenly I forgot all about Ranulf and discovered the hero’s real name was Payne. It sounds like TW Mollysuch a modern name, but it isn’t. So instead of being painful (Ha!) the name change made me like this book even more. And I really like this medieval romp that I wrote. It won a prestigious contest before it was published (The Molly).

Serendipity.

–Gabi

Books I’m reading now:

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

Little Known Fact About . . .

A Matter of Convenience

MatterOfConvenienceLatestSmallI started this book by turning to a blank page in a spiral notebook while sitting in one of my college courses. I filled that notebook and then another. Yup, this book’s first draft was entirely longhand. I have since gone back to writing in longhand because it’s a different experience and one that I find more freeing (Try it sometime), but this one started them all.  When I had transcribed it into the computer, I threw out those notebooks. My husband yelled at me for that.

–Gabi

Books I’m reading now:

The Tiger Queens by Stephanie Thornton

 

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.

Brick Walls and Critical Mass

In which I look at my method of writing. . . if you can call it a method.

I usually start a book with a general idea of character and plot. I don’t make notes or do character interviews. I have an idea of where the story starts, where it’s going and how it will end. Everything else I just let happen. It’s not the most efficient way to write, but it works for me. Especially once I’ve passed the brick wall and hit critical mass.

Brick wall? It’s my term for that part of your novel that is so awful to get through that you don’t think you can continue at all. I’ve hit the wall in every one of my books.

http://media.photobucket.com/user/just-in-sane/media/2226095398_06ef9b423b_o.jpg.html?filters[term]=brick%20wall&filters[primary]=images
Photo by just-in-sane at Photobucket (Click to find)
The wall is too tall to climb over, too wide to go around, and its foundation extends too deeply to tunnel under. The only way to get past the brick wall is through it, brick by brick, prying and chiseling out  each individual stone until your fingers are bloody, your skin is raw, and you can’t catch your breath any longer. You’re sweaty, and dirty, and exhausted. You can’t see the other side, all the progress you’ve made until this point has been futile, and your soul is crying for you to give up. Well, that’s my metaphor anyway. There is always some point in the book where I just want to throw it away and never look at it again, but I keep going. You have to keep going.

Because by now I know that just beyond that brick wall is the critical mass. It’s that point in my novel where enough of the story is done that the weight of what’s written overpowers what’s yet to write, and the novel won’t stop writing itself. Just like a boulder rolling downhill. It starts slowly, sometimes seeming to falter, then suddenly it gathers enough speed that nothing will stop it until it reaches the bottom and comes to a rest.

http://i247.photobucket.com/albums/gg128/justin_640/HPIM0520.jpg
http://i247.photobucket.com/albums/gg128/justin_640/HPIM0520.jpg

Reaching critical mass is my favorite part of writing. I reach a point where I want to see how it ends. Okay, I know how it ends since I’m the author, but it’s more fun to see it on paper than in my head. There’s something so concrete, so uplifting, about finishing a manuscript. I don’t care if the novel is dreck; the dang thing is finished. It doesn’t mean the writing is done. Oh, no, for then comes revising and polishing and fixing, but in my opinion, which I’m allowed to express here because this is my blog, working on something that already exists is easier than fixing an empty page.

A completed manuscript in any form is an accomplishment. It’s an amazing feat, whether it’s your first book or your thirty-first. You wrote a book. You just have to get keep going, especially when you hit that wall.

–Gabi

Books I’m reading now:

Obsession by Jennifer Armentrout

Eyes Turned Skyward by Rebecca Yarros