Research can be deadly (OR) Why Scotland?

So, as I’m writing (yay!), I’m listening to a guided meditation.  There is a very calming voice in my ears telling me that I am intimately connected to the creative power of the Universe.

I’m also looking at pictures of the Scottish countryside, because that’s where the next part of my story takes place. Why Scotland? Why do American writers always go back to Scotland? I’ll tell you why: because it’s pure dead brilliant that’s why. And if you’ve ever been there, you know what I’m talking about. It’s been over 20 years since the summer I spent there, and it still pulls me back.

eilean donan castle

My husband thinks I’m crazy. I’m sure he thinks it’s just a nerd-fantasy thing, and yeah it’s that, too. I’m a nerd, I like fantasy, so that’s cool. But he probably wishes I would shut up about it –  the same way I get when people talk about football.

Eye-Roll-gif-6

But looking at the pictures helps me get in the mindset. Where my characters are, what they’re doing, the topography they’re traveling through. If I can see it in my mind’s eye, I can follow them, and let them show me what’s going to happen next. It also helps me focus.

Why is research deadly? Because like so many other things – like blogging for instance (ahem) – it takes away from what I should be doing, which is writing.

The searches, images, and learning more about the things in my story help me feel connected to what’s going on in that world, as opposed to letting my mind wander back to the dusting and the laundry pile. Not to mention that it’s Christmas and that puts a whole new spin on the lack of writing time. Even though research (er, Google) can be a deadly distraction from your daily word count, sometimes you just need to dump the everyday garbage out of your head before you can make way for your story. Don’t overthink and don’t be too hard on yourself.

clear your head (y-oman.com)

Thankfully, I’m making progress. I keep telling myself that all I have to do is keep moving my story forward, and it will tell me where it needs to go.

So now I’m going to stop blogging and researching and get back to writing. Happy Holidays everyone.

xoxo heidi.

Enjoy some pictures of Scotland (click for source):

Black Watch Regimental colours

d1182071f86b0626b8f8cab348293cb1

birks of aberfeldy
birks of aberfeldy
the Isle of Mull, with Duart Castle, from Bike Scotland
the Isle of Mull, with Duart Castle, from Bike Scotland
Tobermory, on the Isle of Mull ©Mitchell Ratner, Smile of the Dandelion (with permission)
St. Kilda, www.kilda.org
St. Kilda, http://www.kilda.org
Kelpies at Falkirk, ©Ben Williams, bbc.co.uk
Kelpies at Falkirk, ©Ben Williams, bbc.co.uk
Jamie and Claire; Outlander
Jamie and Claire; Outlander

— If anyone ever says to you, “Hey I’ve got an aunt who lives in Glasgow, you want to hang out for the summer?” Say yes.

— More Scotland info here.

— the meditation currently in my ears: click here.

Merry Christmas.

Juniper is waiting for Santa :)
Juniper is waiting for Santa :)

What I learned at Barnes & Noble Today

  • Time flies when you are looking at books.
  • There are way more books to read than I will ever have time for in my life.
  • For fiction books, all you need to read is the first page to know if you’ll like the book.
  • My fantasy-adventure story is still relevant. The “does it matter?” slump/doubt has been completely erased, and fed with new inspiration. Thanks to the teen & young reader’s section, and re-visiting some of the classics.

classic books

  • My read-aloud bedtime book is very relevant, and I can do my own illustrations. Even though I’m totally getting into unleashing my artistic side, I’ve been overwhelmed by my lack of experience. I keep thinking: How can I illustrate this story while fooling everyone into thinking I know what I’m doing?

With the recent nudging of a very good friend, some inspiration from Neil Himself (watch this video, and if you already have, watch it again), and today’s hours spent in the children’s section, now I know: art is art. Everyone has a different approach, and like Mr. Gaiman says, no one  can tell my story but me. No one can create the art that’s in my head but me.

So.

Off I go.

Sample Chapter – Ruby and the Unicorn ch. 12

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted any progress on my book, and with going back to school, it’s been a bit on the backburner (again), but with some recent encouragement from writing friends, and a Unicorn-loving little girl, I think it’s time to revisit Ruby.

chroicoragh unicorn

Chroicoragh, the Unicorn in my backyard, inspired me to write this book. Ruby is a 13-year-old girl, growing up in the middle-of-nowhere, Middle America. She might seem familiar to you. Here’s my “elevator pitch”:

Her parents are breaking up. The hunky farm boy down the road doesn’t notice her. She’s having strange dreams of hummingbirds, and all she can think about is getting a horse. But when she discovers a Unicorn in her neighbor’s barn, Ruby Fortuna goes on the adventure of a lifetime.

An elevator pitch is something you could use if you ever are stuck in an elevator with, say, Faye Bender or Jennifer Laughran, or George Lucas, and they just happen to say: “Oh, you wrote a book? What’s it about?” Then you give them your pitch, and by the time you are stepping off the elevator, they’re shaking your hand and going, “Have your people call my people.” Then 12 months later you are at the book release/movie premiere/Newbery Awards, saying, “Thank you, thank you, it all started with a serendipitous elevator ride…”

But first, one must finish the book. :) Working on it! Until then, a teaser:

 

RUBY AND THE UNICORN

Chapter 12

 

Dodder’s Field sat on a low hill above the river. The small cemetery dated back to the days of the town’s founding fathers, and some of the limestone grave markers dated over 150 years old. Elm and walnut trees stood guard over peaceful grounds, seldom visited, but well-kept. Graceful stems embraced granite monuments of residents past.

Moonlight shone down through the trees, giving the place an eerie otherworldly glister. Bad enough being in a cemetery at all hours of the night, but the strange glow trickling through branches and and reflecting off headstones made it seem they had stepped into another time. Though the air felt balmy, Ruby shivered as they entered the hallowed grounds. David looked around, scanning the shadows. Chroicoragh went forward, and sidestepped walking over a grave, out of respect for the mortal remains within.

Ruby, taking note of the plots, looked down and realized her boots and legs were not getting wet anymore from rain soaked grass.

“Hey, look. It’s dry here,” she said, and startled herself by how loud her voice sounded in the stillness of the graveyard.

David paused to glance around him.

“Huh, you’re right. Must not’ve rained here. That’s weird.” He was careful to use a more subdued voice.

“Really weird,” stated Ruby, “especially seeing as how big that storm was.”

“So,” David began, “this all started with a hummingbird?”

“I think so,” Ruby replied.

The two had been discussing the day’s events, and David was still trying to put the pieces together. Ruby had told him about her dream and then seeing the hummingbird when she woke up, and then later, in Molly’s barn, with Chroicoragh. And she told him all about the storm, and the lightning, and discovering the Unicorn.

When David had asked her why she’d been out at Molly’s in the storm, she told him about her parents’ fight, and that creep, Mr. Miller, and of the ruined photograph. She didn’t say anything about seeing Bobby and Missy and the other kids in the car. She’d been embarrassed and humiliated, and besides which, she didn’t want her best friend David to know she had a crush on Bobby, his bossy big brother.  It would’ve been too weird.

“Well, I wonder what the bird has to do with any of it,” David pondered.

“I don’t know,” said Ruby, “I never really thought about it. I just thought it was strange to see a hummingbird. Have you ever seen one around here? My grandparents had some around their ranch out west, but I’ve never never seen one here.”

“Nope, me neither. Why don’t you ask her?” David said, thumbing in Chroicoragh’s direction.

Ruby perked. The thought hadn’t occurred to her, and she’d almost forgotten about her ability to communicate with the Unicorn, since the creature hadn’t spoken to her since they’d left David’s house. Chroicoragh seemed to be aware of Ruby’s thoughts, because the girl then heard the soft lilting voice in her head:

Child, sometimes ‘tis better to listen than to speak.

“What do you mean?” Asked Ruby.

The boy has a good heart, he will suit us well on our path. As we walked, I did not interrupt your tale so that I may better attend to the essence of your companion. “Where your mouth may make you blind, your ears may make you see” she quoted. 

“What’s that from? It sounds familiar,” Ruby asked.

‘Tis wisdom of the Ancients, replied Chroicoragh, passing a large lichen-covered mausoleum.

“Where your mouth may make you blind, your ears may make you see?”

“What?” Said David.

Ruby repeated the phrase, and pushed a fern out of her way.

“What does that mean?” He asked.

It is a lesson. Remember it well,  the mare cautioned.

“I’m not sure,” started Ruby, “but I think it’s the same thing my dad says to me sometimes when I’m arguing with him. Only he says it ‘Sit down and shut up.’”

Yes. One cannot hear what he speaks over. 

“Anyway, Chroicoragh, do you know anything about the hummingbird?”

Dappled moon-shadows darted grey and white on the soft grass as they walked, and shafts of shimmery light stood like columns in a cathedral.

Humming bird? The mare questioned. What is a ‘humming-bird’?

“The little bird that was flying around your head today, in Molly’s barn.”

I saw only the sprite, Chroicoragh answered.

“Sprite?” Said Ruby.

“Sprite?” echoed David, “you mean like 7-Up? Ouch!” he said. He had run into a blackberry bush, and its thorny brambles stuck to his shirt.

“No, ssh,” said Ruby to David, “I’m trying to hear her.”

“What Sprite? Like a fairy?” Asked Ruby.

“Oh, yeah,” said David to himself, “shoulda known that. Duh.”

One of the fair folk, yes, Child. Siofran, Lord Chamberlain of the High Court. A wood-sprite; an honorable breed.

“Oh. Sounds important.”

Yes. Very important, Chroicoragh replied, but said no more.

Ruby noticed they had almost reached the far edge of the cemetery. She turned to David.

“Where did you see it? The fairy ring.”

He got his bearings.

“Well, there’s the Pierces’ plot, over here, and the Ayers monument is that way…where’s the tree with the ‘No Hunting’ sign? It marks the back of Schultz’s property. That’s where the fence is down and you can cut through.”

“How’d you find this place anyway?” Ruby asked him.

“Debbie showed me.”

“Debbie Twist?” Ruby said, in disgust.

“Yeah. Old Schultz is their grandpa. What?” He asked, noticing the look on Ruby’s face.

“Ew. I don’t see why you guys are always hanging around those Twists. I can’t stand them. They’re so phony,” Ruby tilted her chin up in defense.

“Oh, come on, Debbie and Missy aren’t that bad. Besides, our parents have been friends forever. We’re just used to seeing them, that’s all. Oh, there it is,” he said, heading for a large elm, an old metal sign nailed to it side, and rusty barbed wire enveloped in its skin. The fence had deteriorated enough to let the three of them pass through, single file. First David, then Ruby, and Chroicoragh following behind.

As Ruby stepped from the sanctuary of the graveyard to the woods beyond, she thought she heard light notes of laughter, like a giggle.

She trailed after David as he wound his way through the overgrowth, backtracking and correcting his path along  the way, studying the trees around him, trying to find a particular spot.

We are near, Ruby heard Chroicoragh’s voice, but there are others.

“Others?” Ruby stopped, and reached out to grab David’s shirt, “wait up.”

He stopped, and the tinkle of laughter floated to them again.

“Wait a minute,” David said, “that’s where it is. But who’s over there? Did you hear that?” He asked Ruby.

She nodded, holding her finger to her lips in a “ssh” motion. Then she waved her hand, pushing toward the ground, signaling to go slow. She wanted to find out whoever was in the woods before letting her own presence be known, and especially didn’t want any strangers seeing two kids out by the cemetery at night with a Unicorn. Try explaining that, she thought.

With that thought in Ruby’s mind, Chroicoragh understood, and hung back just enough to be able to see the children, without being seen herself.

David inched forward, crouching low behind ferns, and a fallen tree. Ruby crept up beside him, and peered into the grove.

A circle of oak trees formed the border of a clearing, carpeted with thick moss. In the moss dotted with acorns, another perfect circle formed, a ring made of hundreds of mushrooms,  some tall, some short, broad and button-like. Ruby could see why they called it a Fairy Ring. The moonlight within the ring flickered and shimmered like glitter in one of her grandma’s snow-globes. Mysterious and magical, it drew her in.

The sound of voices reminded her to remain cautious, and she pulled her focus away from the ring. Across the clearing on the opposite edge near the trees, lay a young couple canoodling on an old blanket. The boy wore cut off shorts, and tube socks. He kissed the girl, oblivious to anything else, and his hand groped beneath her blouse. Suddenly Ruby’s face felt warm. She avoided looking over at David, afraid he would notice her spying, even though she knew he saw the same thing.

The girl arched her back, and spoke softly. A ray of light illuminated the view, and Ruby’s heart caught in her throat.

Missy Twist.

…and Bobby.

END OF CHAPTER 12

outsetmedia.com unicorn puzzle
outsetmedia.com unicorn puzzle

I’m kind of scared to be putting this out there, so be gentle with me. Let me know what you think in the comments.

Would YOU keep reading?

Why Do You Write?

One of the first pieces of advice I received as a writer was, “don’t tell anyone you’re a writer,” this person said, “unless you actually get paid for it.”

I thought this was a great idea, because as soon as you tell someone you’re a writer, they start asking questions.

Wow. A writer? Really?

They are clearly impressed.

Well what kind of stuff do you write?

You’ve piqued their interest. They want to know more. You answer:

I have a blog and I write about my horses, my family, and writing. And I have a few articles published online.

Oh.

 

You realize they are unimpressed – you pull out the big guns. You confess:

And…I’m working on a book.

They perk up again.

Oh yeah, what’s it about?

You tell them that it’s a middle-grade fantasy adventure, set partly in this world and partly in a magical world.

Their faces belie the thought going through their head: a children’s book?

So you decide, well, you’ve already lost them, why not keep going? You throw in:

Oh, yeah, there’s a Unicorn it it, too. And fairies.

Then they give you that face, without even thinking of it. That Oh-my-god-did-she-just-say-she’s writing-a-book-about-Unicorns?

That face.

The kind of face I have when my uncle talks about aliens.

You’ve lost them, and now they are trying to think of ways to get out of the conversation. They nod, smile, wish you good luck, and they’re on their way.

Basically people aren’t impressed with the fact that you write unless you make a living as a writer.

Problem is, it’s kind of a hard thing to get into. The ultimate Catch 22: You can’t make a living as a writer without first writing for free (i.e., working on a manuscript before you can sell it), but while you are writing for free, you aren’t really considered a “writer.”

It takes a lot of time and a lot of work, and if you aren’t currently being paid for it, that means you are unemployed. OR, if you are employed, you are probably doing something like stocking magazines, or working in a laundry or waiting tables, or whatever, then coming home and taking care of your family, cooking dinner, doing laundry, driving kids to soccer practice, all the while daydreaming about what your characters are doing in that scene that you might be able to get to if you wake up an hour early tomorrow morning.

But if you are lucky enough to quit your day job for a couple of months, others in your life will assume you have all this time on your hands because:

You Don’t Do Anything All Day.

And then, because you “don’t work,” you will get all of the extra side-chores to do, like getting that thingamabob fixed and calling the plumber and oh, yeah, can you (Fill in the Blank) for me??

And then when you’re not there they say to each other:

She calls herself a writer. She hasn’t written anything!

What she really needs to do is go get her hair done.

Yeah, or update her wardrobe.

Is she gaining weight?

Are people even buying books anymore?

Or some such drivel. (It’s not that you’re paranoid, it’s just you’ve heard them talk before. Or maybe you are paranoid. Either way.)

talk behind back

Either way, I really didn’t talk much about my writing, and then when I did, I let others make me feel ashamed for doing something so impractical.

That was my mistake. Then for whatever reason, I just started owning it. I’m a writer. I write things. I hope to one day get paid for it, but for now I consider this as me building my resume.

And, yes, here’s the horrible, shameful, awful truth:

I have been working on my book for FOUR YEARS. Four years. God, I hate to say it. I’m truly embarrassed to admit it. I’m even thinking twice about revealing the truth as I type this. But I’m trying this new thing where I’m just open and honest. It’s hard, because I’m so afraid of being judged–but I’m also sick of trying to make everyone on the planet happy except me.

And, I like it when people are open and honest, even when it’s horribly embarrassing. I LOVE this scene from Love Actually, and wish more people would be this candid:

Everything else in my life, I have quit before I accomplished what I’d wanted to. And every time I think it would be easier if I just left this book in a drawer, I can’t. I can’t quit. I don’t care if I don’t finish it until I’m 85, I will keep writing this story until it’s done. I don’t even care if it’s a piece of crap. Then I will just start revising.

Do I think I’m writing the great American teen novel, and that I will have Rowlings-esque leagues of fans clamoring for autographs?

No, But I do know that I’m following the 2nd piece of writing advice I ever got:

Write the book you wish existed.

I mean, somewhere along the line, someone had to tell Stephanie Meyers she was crazy for writing about young vampires in love.

I would have read this book (my book, I mean) when I was in this place. The place between being a kid and being a teen. Ready for listening in on adult conversations, for making your own decisions, and ready for that first kiss. For adventure.

But I like my magic a little more like the Renaissance Fair than Tales From the Crypt. I was scared to shit of Dracula when I was a kid. There’s no way I would have read a book about vampires.

And I know there are tons of other readers out there who prefer their magic on the “happy” side. (Ever heard of Bronies??)

And dude, seriously, when was the last time you heard someone say:

“I HATE UNICORNS!”

You haven’t, because

EVERYONE LOVES UNICORNS.

 

http://giphy.com/embed/VRcgZakrc21ji?html5=true

When I finish my book I’ll send NPH a signed copy. Hopefully he’ll still be alive by then.

Meanwhile, I will be working on my book (and going back to school, but more on that later).

MEANWHILE, BACK AT THE HALL OF JUSTICE...
This what goes through my head whenever I hear the word “Meanwhile”

Some thoughts that keep me positive and motivated:

  • It took JK Rowling 7 years to write Harry Potter.
  • It took JRR Tolkien 12 years to write The Lord of the Rings.
  • It took Jane Austen 16 years to write Pride and Prejudice.

Not that I’m comparing myself or my story to these fine people and their timeless books!

It just makes me feel a little better.

But that doesn’t answer the question – why do I write?

I can’t help it. I get so many ideas in my head that if I didn’t get them out, I think it would explode. That and the fact that I think everyone needs to hear what I have to say because I’m so farging brilliant. So here I am, slaving away, creating the miracle of literature, bestowing upon you the gift that is my genius.

You’re welcome.

More Unicorn love HERE.

So why is my book still unfinished? I went back to college.

Meet the Writer – Rhonda McCormack

An author interview on the craft of writing, and on the changing landscape of publishing.
Featured Writer: Rhonda McCormack
Book: Wildflowers, Ecotopian mystery YA  (more info below)
Buy it:
Intro, from Heidi:

I am very happy and proud to introduce you to my dear friend, Rhonda. The moment I met her, it was like flashing back to seventh grade, where you end up sitting next to someone at lunch just because they smiled at you and seemed nice and not bitchy (like those other girls) and you just become instant friends right then and there. Except it wasn’t seventh grade, it was my very first grown-up writing event, our regional SCBWI conference. But still, I have the feeling that had she been eating PB &J for lunch, she’d have been happy to split it with me. Since then, Rhonda has been one of my most trusted critique partners, and just one of the many friends I’ve made through SCBWI. I’m planning an upcoming post extolling the virtues of attending a conference for newbies, but for now you can read this from last year.

Rhonda’s stories are varied but they all have that magical quality that every author strives for:  a main character to whom everyone can relate. She speaks to the misunderstood, the ones trying to make a difference, and the ones hoping that someone will notice (or not!). She has one of the most dedicated work ethics I know, cranking out page after page, revising and editing to perfection. And usually, she’s working on a few projects all at once and – oh, in her spare time (ha ha) she is an accomplished painter.

 

So to say Rhonda is a good influence on me is an understatement. She’s the one who always pushes me to want to do better, a creative yin to my yang—or is it yang to my yin? At any rate, when you are a creative person, you soon realize that there are people in your life who are either vampires, those who suck out all of your creative energy and throw all sorts of negativity at you and make you feel bad; and then there are the sages and muses, those friends who inspire, support and help nurture the seeds of your creativity, and celebrate with you when it comes into bloom. I’ve gotten to that point in my life where I shut down the vampires and open up to the sages.

The latest inspiring thing that Rhonda has done is to jump head-first into the world of self-publishing. Now, hang, on a minute, don’t judge. Self-pubbing isn’t what it used to be. In fact, just 4 short years ago when I first started this writing journey, the only people who self published were (for the most part) amateur writers looking to get their life story in print to hand down to their grandchildren. You would also see a lot of erotica and science fiction. And the problem with these types of books wasn’t that the stories themselves were bad, but that they lacked the professionalism, the polish of a literary powerhouse team that you get when you have an agent, an editor, book designer and art director all working together to make the writer’s piece really stand out, and be the best it can be. Not to mention the dollars behind a traditional publishing house that would go into marketing the book once finished.

A lot of self-pubbed titles end up only being edited by the writer themselves, which we all know can be a HUGE mistake. The covers are done quickly with desktop software, and the end product ends up a bit…meh. Don’t ever believe the line “You can’t judge a book by its cover,” because that is exactly the first thing that every reader does. But as Rhonda describes below, the self-pubbers of today would be nowhere without the writers before us paving the way.

typesetting

The landscape of publishing is changing, and fast. Now, done right, self-publishing can be the impetus to a successful writing career. Take my friend Anne Tibbets for example. She started out with a short fantasy novella, pumped it up on Smashwords, Goodreads, dozens of book blogs, and got some recognition for herself. When she was ready to send out her next book, she already had readers waiting for it, continued her forward momentum of readership and good reviews, and when she was ready to send out her next project, it got signed with an agent. It’s all in how you present yourself, and it’s a LOT about self-marketing. Even if you get signed with a traditional publisher, you will be expected to do your own share of marketing. And hopefully you will have an awesome friend like me who will feature you on their blog :D

I am more than happy to be a cog in the marketing machine for Rhonda’s debut YA novel, Wildflowers, especially having had a front-seat-view to its evolution. Wildflowers is the first of three books (unrelated) that Rhonda will be releasing under her publishing house, Row Press. She is currently working on her fourth book, a contemporary dystopian fantasy.

There is a ton of information here, so grab a cup of coffee, and enjoy:
On craft:
  • How old were you when you started writing?

I was three when I started writing…in my head.  I made up elaborate stories that I play-acted out with blocks and dolls and imaginary friends.  Around age four I began to come up with tangible products.  I started with greeting cards.  They said things like: Get Well Soon.  And, You Are Neat.  Then, I wrote and illustratedThe Lonely Chrismas Tree, which was my first Indie published piece.

  • Where do you write?

Everywhere.  In notebooks and journals and on a computer.  On scraps of paper and in margins of books (ones I own, of course).  But mostly, I write from the inside.  Whole stories unfold in this crazy collaboration between my head and my heart.  And when it comes time to get large chunks of a novel down, I take those words I’ve written “inside” and put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard to move ideas around.

  • When do you write?

I left teaching to write full time and putting together a writing schedule has been an interesting evolution.  I’ve learned that, hands down, early morning is my favorite time to write.  If I’m really engrossed or challenged, I’ll stay hunched over a keyboard or notebook all day.  This tends to lead to a stiff body (and hence a stiff mind), so I make myself knock off early.  In the fall, I’ve noticed that I don’t mind starting in the late afternoon, as the day cools and the light changes.  Only with recent projects have I written into the evening hours.  I’m not a night owl, and I’m always impressed when I hear about writers who write after a long day of doing other things.

I think the Where and When Do You Write questions are important, and each writer must commit to understanding their creative voice’s preferences.  In knowing when and where our creative tap turns with ease and the words flow in steady rhythm, we make room for our art…and it responds in kind, making room for us.  There will be messy moments, where creative flow can be untimely, arrive unannounced, and require the entire world to stop in order for us to find a spot a get the words out.  If we honor all those moments the best we can and write where and when it feels good, our creative voice does seem to cooperate more on cue.

  • What helps you write—music, pictures, maps, journals, etc.—what gets you into that mindset?

Music and art definitely inspire me, and I find lots of interesting ideas come up when I’m traveling.  I dream many of my stories, or parts of them.  I also rely deeply on personal experience.  I was lucky enough to grow up in a time when kids had more freedom to roam, and my childhood moments include both wonderfully awful and awfully wonderful people, places, and things.  When it comes time to sit down and really do the work, though, I just need a clean work space, my imagination, and quiet.

  • What are some things that stand in your way? logistically as well as creatively?

For me, time and creativity seem to always be at odds with one another.  I just read Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn and am slowly learning that time is not my issue.  It’s the awareness that I bring to a project that makes the clock disappear.  Also, I tend to want to follow the rules, and for an artisan this can create some intense inner conflict.  Truly, the answer to this question is that I stand in my own way, both logistically and creatively.  Thanks for asking the question and making me nail down an answer.  I may have just had an Ah-ha moment.

  • What do you do when you “hit a wall?”

Creatively, I rarely hit a wall.  It’s the physical stuff—like hunger, needing rest or exercise, or feeling unwell—that brings me to a halt.  And being in the midst of a project I love can disconnect me from my physical needs.  When this happens, my reaction is to the work itself.  Meaning, I blame the work when I feel stuck or misguided, and I may even begin to loathe what I’m writing or painting.  When I get to this place, I know it’s my inner-critic playing this weird game of criticizing my ideas in order to protect the physical me.  We’re always told to dismiss, ignore, and shun the inner critic, when really it can send us important messages.  And if I get the message that I’ve hit the wall, I know I need to move.  I mean this literally and figuratively.  Getting away from the project, taking a walk and changing the scenery can make a big difference.  But sometimes I need to move to a new state-of-mind, or move my emotions with some journaling, or move my attention to other needs.

  • Do you use an outline—do you know exactly how the arc will play out—or do you just let the story develop as you write? If so, how do you outline? (notecards, etc.)

Outlining?  What’s that?  I kid, of course.  I know what outlining is, I just don’t do it in a traditional way.  As I’ve mentioned, I write in my head and have a strong ability to hold onto an entire storyline before anything gets written down.  But the written bits eventually end up in a pile, and like a puzzle, I begin to lay out and fit together the pieces of paper that have the ideas on them.  Spread out on the desk, I move the written parts down and begin to type up a somewhat structured piece.  Some people use a big bulletin board with index cards (old school is cool) or a software program like Scrivener, which I hear is pretty cool (too).

Here’s the funny thing about that structured-piece-serving-as-outline:  For me, it almost becomes irrelevant as I write because in their natural setting the characters take over the plot.  The characters’ stories just unwind themselves onto the page.  Still, there comes a time with almost every novel when I print out the entire work and physically cut it to pieces, and again, reassemble it like a puzzle.  I’m very tactile and visual, and I can “see” the story better this way.  I can feel the pacing, recognize the missteps and holes, and because this process is done early in the revision stage, it becomes more of an outline than that original, non-traditional one.  Big things happen at this point.  And it gives me a powerful second wind.

  • How do you draft/revise? (i.e. do you just get it out in one big “dump,” then revise, revise revise, or do you revise and edit as you go)

I’ll admit that I’ve taught myself a big lesson in regards to how I draft the initial manuscript.  I spent many years editing as I went along because…I’m a perfectionist.  The thing is, Anne Lamott was right about the beauty in allowing the original draft to be The Shitty First Draft.  Something happens in that SFD; all the tangents and bizarre ideas and general garbage are released and processed, but a momentum is also built, for the story, the characters, and amazing, random concepts can be revealed in that draft.  This idea of “dumping” is behind Julia Cameron’s prescription for morning pages in The Artist’s Way and the Propreoceptive Writing Method (Writing the Mind Alive by Linda Trichter Metcalf and Tobin Simon), but it can be extended to the first draft.  Without the SFD, which is essentially an information dump, editing had me caught in a cycle of distraction.  I was bound and restricted to catching every mistake and nuance, and I constantly wanted to go back and rewrite.  Or research.  It would take months to get a few chapters tightened up.  And to what end?  Most of those beginning chapters would need revision once I could see the scope of the entire story, which could only happen with A FULL, FINISHED DRAFT.  I (slowly) came to realize that my creative self is most happy when I make every minute valuable, and non-precision is the key…at least at first.  There’s plenty of time for perfection later in the process, but up front, I gotta write my SFD.

  • What are some tools that you use?

The Synonym Finder, Chicago Manual of Style, Woe Is I, Google, a dictionary, fresh air and space to think.

  • Do you use critique groups? How did you find them?

One-on-one or small group critique works best for me.  I’ve got a handful of trusted (honest, thoughtful, knowledgeable) people I turn to, including a professional editor who came from traditional publishing.  Critique groups can be found through local libraries, writing organizations, like SCBWI, and at conferences.  Critique is important and can be fun, though it may take a few tries to find out what format works best for you.  Ask around, sit in on meetings, and then go for it.  Trading one chapter to start and building up until you and your partner(s) know you’re a good fit.  I’ll mention that self-critique is valuable, too.  Reading work out loud is one of the best ways to catch grammar AND content issues.

On your current project:
  • What was your inspiration for this book?

Wildflowers was inspired by a dream.  In fact, I dreamt many parts of chapters 21 and 23.  As more of the story revealed itself to me, I was inspired by those who survived and helped during and after Hurricane Katrina, by the environmental awareness movement, by the desert.  Also, years ago, I had written a picture book that I thought would make an adventurous scene in a novel, and the brother and sister team in that story became a natural fit for the characters in the young adult novel.  Grown-up, of course.  From there, I was inspired by all the people (kids and adults) I’ve met who adapt and grow, and in spite of tough times or choices, find and live their truth.

  • Wildflowers is described as an “Ecotopian” mystery. Can you elaborate on that?

Dystopian is a popular genre these days, and it describes a fictional place where the population lives in fear and feels dehumanized, often by the rules of an larger authority, class, or government.  Think Hunger Games.  When I first began submitting Wildflowers, I knew labeling it dystopian wouldn’t capture the hybrid elements of the book.  It’s a mix of the environmental disaster, futuristic, coming of age, and mystery genres.  So I came up with the term “ecotopian”.  After adding the “mystery” tag, I received positive feedback about the label from editors and agents, who felt it was an accurate representation of the work. The Lawrence, Kansas Library recently put out a great flow chart to show the diversity in dystopian titles. Click the picture to see it:

  • What kind of research did you do for this book? And, were you surprised by something that you learned in your research?

I researched environmental disasters and technologies relating to earth, air, and water.  I also researched horticulture, desert plants, maps of the West, dystopian and, what I call ecotopian novels.  What surprised me was how I had to keep reminding myself that the book was fiction.  At times, with the data I’d collected, it felt like I had to include every possibility of what could happen with natural disasters and climate change.  In order to maintain the entertainment value of the story, it became more important to be mostly-accurate.  I took inspiration from how the environment works.  It’s a big cycle, where one thing is connected to another in such a way that it becomes a whole.  Interestingly, this same thing came up with the mystery elements and how they influenced character development.  It shouldn’t have, but it surprised me how much writing I had to do to have the characters evolve with the clues and discoveries.  This was the only way to create one whole unit of story.  In fiction, we ask the reader for space to suspend belief, but in exchange, we must deliver on our promise to describe a believable moment in time.

  • This is one of the most beautiful covers I’ve seen, especially for a self published title. Can you describe how it came to be?

Thank you!  As an artist, I wanted to be involved with the entire creation of the book.  I use collage in most of my large pieces, and I just had a gut feeling that that same technique would work for the cover.  Once I put together the first sample to send to my graphic designer and critique partners, I knew it was “right”.  It took me a few hours to resource and create a design for the front, spine, and back.  Using my own photographs of local desert wildflowers and piecing together many photos of family members to get the silhouettes at the right maturity level, I finally got a working copy.  It took several weeks and lots of back and forth with the designer (thanks Firehed) to get the colors, textures, layout, and fonts correct.  For my first go at it, I feel good about the results.  To see how far it came, here’s the initial sample created for the front:

On the business of publishing:
  • How has self-publishing shaped your career as a writer? OR What is your opinion of self-publishing?

It’s an amazing time for publishing of all kinds, and I think there’s room for everyone.  For me, dedication to craft is the most important tool to take with you into the self-publishing world.  The stigma attached to self-publishing has always been about one question:  Is it well-crafted?  In the beginning, when folks had a vision to see their words in print, but were turned down in the traditional publishing marketplace, few knew (or accepted) the value of critique, editing, formatting, or design.  There was a level of professionalism missing from many of the self-published titles.  But here’s the thing, why squash creative expression?  In fact, those not-so-professional books paved the way for more knowledge, better printing options, and on the backs of the early self-publishing pioneers, the self-publishing marketplace was carried and made into the Indie market of today.  Independent or Indie publishing is when one or more author-publishers self-publish a title, and it’s become like the Indie film community.  It’s become a place for unique voices, ideas, artistic expression, niche topics, and man, there’s a lot of freedom out here. With that comes some responsibility, I think.

Indie authors need to look at their work like art and take time to polish all aspects of the work, learning from mistakes and honoring the time it takes to present a beautiful, fun, value-added product.  The exciting thing is, we’re seeing traditionally published authors creating projects just for this market, and we’re seeing Indie authors who are willing to cross over and publish traditionally.  It’s a craft bonanza, and writers, illustrators, and even industry professionals are feeling empowered by the creative possibilities.  It’s likely we’ll see many twists and turns in both marketplaces, but what we know for sure is that The Big Six are jumping in the game by putting their smaller acquisitions and out-of-print titles for sale in the eBook market, and there are many new, boutique publishing houses and agencies offering to support and work with Indie authors whose titles are print-on-demand (POD) and/or eBooks.  I’ve also heard that there’s a green movement to create less hard-cover and mass produced books in the future.  Instead, most new releases would be POD.  The draw is financial as well as environmental for the big, traditional houses.  Whatever the case, it’s a fascinating time to be a writer…and a reader.

  • What can you share with our readers about marketing?

Over and over again, I’ve heard the same thing about marketing, and now that I’m embarking on a marketing tour of my own, I believe it to be true.  All that matters is word of mouth.  Do anything and everything to generate talk about your book and you’ll know you’ve done all you could.

  • Can you tell us the story behind your publishing name, Row Press?

Leaving the path toward traditional publishing happened quickly for me, but I still had mixed emotions about self-publishing and all things Indie.  And it hadn’t occurred to me that I may want to designate myself as an author-publisher, and not just an author.  I learned about this from Kris Tualla’s book Becoming an Authorpreneur, and for me, it was simply a way to honor the entire creative endeavor.  When it came time to name my new, little press, I remembered a moment with a vintage friend in Seattle.  We were out at a flea market and came upon this amazing vendor who sold parts and bits from bigger mechanisms and products.  Watch faces, game pieces, and…type writer keys.  When we found the keys labeled “Row” and “Storm”, my friend scooped them up as inspirational reminders.  “When things get stormy, just keep rowing,” she said.  A year or so later, when the waters in my life had gotten a bit rough, she sent me those keys to cheer me on.  Since then, I’ve learned the importance of keeping my creative boat afloat.

  • What other social media tools have you used to help the reader experience Wildflowers?

Social media is a complex entity, and my advice for anyone is to use only those outlets that call to you creatively.  I’ve picked Twitter, Pinterest, and iTunes to do some world building with Wildflowers.  Twitter isn’t about mass self-promotion, but it is a fun way to share information that speaks to my interests as an author and artist as well as supports the themes and topics in my books.  As for Pinterest, I love it as a place to do some visual storytelling.  I love what others do with their boards, and I find Pinterest to be artistic in a way that other sites haven’t mastered.  As an author, I can create a whole new view into my novels there.  I also wanted to create a soundtrack for my books, so I turned to iTunes as the place to share the songs that inspire certain scenes or the feelings in a scene.  I don’t write with music playing, but it does provide inspiration when I’m brainstorming concepts.  I guess my goal is to give the reader a complete experience. (links below)

About You:
  • What is a trick that you’ve learned along the way that has made the writing process easier?

No tricks.  Just be dedicated to the craft and follow the unique spirit of your story.

  • What writers inspire you?

Marilynne Robinson with Housekeeping.  Kathi Appelt with The Underneath.  Lois Lowry with Anastasia Krupnik.  Lane Smith with It’s a Book.  There’s more…so many more.

  • We all know that learning from our mistakes is part of the process of becoming who we are. As a writer, what’s one lesson you’ve learned that you would like to pass on to others?

Deserves repeating: Just be dedicated to the craft and follow the unique spirit of your story.

  • What’s next for you?

I’m releasing Roll, a young adult novel (for any aged reader), in the first quarter of 2013, and I’m collaborating on a non-fiction wellness/inspirational title that will be traditionally published.  It’s due out in Fall 2013 or Winter 2014.

And…

  • What’s the funniest thing you’ve seen or heard online lately?

Voice mail accident hilarious: http://www.funnieststuff.net/viewmovie.php?id=2998

  • Thanks, Rhonda! That really was funny!
Find Rhonda online:

Wildflowers:

In the three years since Keifer and Abi Michaels were evacuated from their desert home, the world has been ever-changing, and they don’t agree on the details of the past.  But when Keifer uncovers a confusing family secret, Abi is his only ally.  Now, they must sneak into the Restricted Zone and navigate a maze of clues in order to unravel the truth.  The journey will transform them…and the entire western landscape.

Thanks for reading! Please feel free to comment below.

Focus

It’s never been one of my strong points. I’m amazed at people who can choose just one thing, make that their prime concern, and follow one straight path all the way up to the top to succeed in that one thing. Examples are everywhere, but one that stood out to me recently is a guy named Jeremy Wade, who Animal Planet describes as an “extreme angler,” which means this guy is really good at catching really big fish. Particularly those dwelling in rivers.

In fact, he’s gotten so good at catching huge fish that he’s been able to make a living at it. He goes all over the world, meeting incredibly interesting people, and helping them discover and catch the thing under the water that ate their cousin last week.

Now, that’s a pretty specialized field of expertise. He started out with a zoology degree, taught school, traveled and wrote, and all the while had a curiosity to find these really big fish.

There are days when I would love to have that kind of focus. The problem is, there are too many great things I’d like to try. And some I’d even like to accomplish.

I’ve mentioned my creative side before. That creativity, coupled with a genuine interest in everything around me, or in it’s simplest form, curiosity, produce what my dad refers to as a “Jane” of all trades and master of none. Well, he’s got the Master of None part right, anyway.

 

(side note: this is part of the reason I love Wikipedia. They actually have a page about the saying Jack of all trades. From it, I just learned that I can also be referred to as a generalist — another useless tidbit of information that might come in handy if you ever qualify as a contestant on Jeopardy!)

Anyway, back to focus (see what I mean??) Is it a type A/type B personality thing? Or is it just ADD? I wonder. You hear about focus in regard to athletes. They train vigorously night and day. Championships lead to scholarships, which lead to careers, then sponsorships and if they’re lucky they can spend their retirement as network commentators. All because of focus in one specific area.

What causes someone like Michael Phelps (a specialist) to be supremely focused on swimming; training constantly, over many years, to reach a pinnacle matched by no other swimmer?

And someone like me to be so macro-focused as to want to try it all:

  • ballet
  • cheerleading
  • theater
  • yoga
  • bellydance
  • sky dive
  • deejay
  • paint
  • sew
  • write
  • blog
  • web master
  • horse owner
  • cook
  • wife
  • mom

I mean, does it make me well-rounded or just plain crazy? And what about all the things I have yet to do:

  • earn a college degree
  • world traveling
  • graphic design
  • wood crafting
  • screen writing
  • advertising (Don Draper, you’re my hero)*
  • stand-up comedy (Kathy GRIF-fin!)**
  • star in my own show on the Travel Channel (it could happen)
  • write for Family Guy (or at least sit in on a recording session)
  • be a guest panelist on NPR’s Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!
  • live in a little cottage in the woods, on the beach, with a pasture for the horses and a big red barn. And a studio. And a chicken coop. And a gourmet kitchen. (it could happen)
  • finish my book

The problem with being a generalist is that all of these interests and pursuits take time. I’ve never been fast at anything, and each new thing I want to do, i.e., build a website or blog, takes time to learn.
Time, research, and a few …For Dummies books:

So, even though I don’t have a full-time job, and people wonder why I am always so busy, it’s because I’m teaching myself new things, learning more and more every day about the way the world is working nowadays, or trying to work, and what trends to follow, what to avoid, products and services that might be better or worse than others, while at the same time keeping up with the latest in publishing news – or trying to keep up, as the case may be, since the industry is changing more and more every time I see it.

I’m also trying to keep up with the everyday stuff, too – like everyone else out there. Taking care of my husband and two boys, housework (blah), laundry (double blah), and now that the kids are fully fledged teen males, more and more of my time is spent grocery shopping (eh), cooking (which I actually like), and cleaning up (which I actually don’t like).

And in my free time :) I sew.

And because I always have a movie playing in my head:

*you have to say this in the voice of Cameron in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off .

**you have to say this in the voice Kathy Griffin uses when she’s imitating the way Oprah Winfrey welcomes her guests.

So what kind of crazy stuff do you do?

Midweek Mish Mash

Well, folks, I have a few different things I want to let you know about, so I’m giving you a Wednesday quickie! ;)

1. Books!

First, I have to do some friendly promotion. My friend and mentor, Deb Ledford, has just released her second novel in a series.
Deb was one of the first people to encourage me to write – not only that, but to take it seriously, and to treat my writing professionally. I am indebted to her for her guidance and enthusiasm regarding all aspects of my writing, as are the other members of the Scottsdale Writer’s Group, of which she is the moderator.
I was honored to have been a part of Deb’s editing team, and proud to see my mentor reach her goal of publication. And now, as a cherry on top of her sundae, not only is she published, but has been honored with an award nomination! For anyone out there who likes a good, tight mystery that keeps you up at night turning pages, please take a look at Staccato and Snare, by Deborah J. Ledford, available through AmazonKindle, and Second Wind Publishing.
The first, Staccato, is a thriller set in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina, and follows a piano prodigy as he pieces together the clues to find his girlfriend’s killer, and the deputy who is trying to solve the case.

“Deborah J Ledford’s thriller tears through mountains and music with a steady rhythm in perfect time with the maestro Alexander’s music room metronome … as readers turn STACCATO’s pages, quickly, crisply, sharply throughout Ledford’s Toccata-like virtuoso performance.”

    ~ Malcolm R. Campbell, 5 star review: “Knight of Words” Book Reviews

The second book, Snare, follows the same deputy, Stephen Hawk, as he helps a Native American pop star find the person who is trying to kill her. Snare has been nominated for the Hillerman Sky award:

“Performed against the backdrop of the picturesque Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina, and New Mexico’s mysterious Taos Pueblo Indian reservation, SNARE is a thriller fans of Tony Hillerman will appreciate.”

“White-knuckle suspense at an electrifying pulse.” ~ Suspense Magazine

“Deborah Ledford’s expertly crafted SNARE is a gripping story of the price of fame and the haunting and deadly power of long buried secrets. It’s also a valentine to the landscape and people of New Mexico’s Taos Pueblo. A terrific read.”

        ~ Dianne Emley, L.A. Times bestselling author of Love Kills

They are both great reads and I highly recommend Staccato and Snare for you and the readers in your life.
In today’s tumultuous publishing environment, getting a book sold is more difficult than ever. Please support up-and-coming authors. I have provided a link to published friends on my left sidebar.
Disclosure – I receive nothing for promoting Deb’s books, other than good karma.
2. Update!
Second I wanted to give you an update on Chroi’s icky dermatitis condition. It had gotten to the point to where it was bothering her so bad that she was kicking her foot on the ground, and hurt herself. I think she bruised her hoof. Yes, that can happen. None of the idiot home remedies that I tried worked, and the itchiness and scabs just got worse. So the vet came out, and his recommendation, which I had feared, was to clip her feathers.

I know. Ugh.
So here’s what a Gypsy Horse looks like with shaved legs:

who wears short shorts?
Awww.
Luckily we just had to clip the feathers on her hind legs because she didn’t have any issue on the front legs. In addition to clipping, I have to wash her legs with a prescription-grade anti-fungal shampoo, and gave her antibiotics twice a day for five days. If any of you ever have to give your horse medication, here’s a good method:
  • dissolve the tablets in a couple tablespoons of water,
  • mix with a couple handfuls of sweet feed (oats and grains mixed with molasses)
to make it extra yummy, follow Mary Poppins’ advice, and (see below)
  • add a generous spoonful of brown sugar.
For Chroi, this worked so much better than trying to force the medicine down her throat – she actually loved it!

 

So she’s feeling much better, her infection is clearing up and even though she’s lost some feather, it will grow back. And she still looks pretty.
3. Baby Watch!

Which brings us to our next subject: BABY!!

 Chroi is due to foal in two weeks! She’s getting super fat, uh, I mean, great with child. As we get closer to the delivery day, her body shows signs that she will be ready:
  • Udder filling up with milk (already happening)
  • “waxing” of the teats, which just means some of the milk is starting to flow.
  • softening of the pelvis, right above the tail
  • slight decrease in appetite, which is a big one, especially for a pig like Chroi. When she’s not hungry, I know something’s going on!

I will keep you posted. Last time we had babies, they were both born during a rain storm, so we will also be keeping an eye on the weather.

Now, I just have to think of a name… any suggestions?

***

Chroicoragh is a perfect example of how “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” I loved Mary Poppins as a kid. We had the soundtrack on vinyl, and used to sing along to it all the time. I miss the days when Disney just wanted to put out great films. And I mean how can you top Julie Andrews? She’s the best. Enjoy!