Monday, August 29, 2011

It Takes a Crazy Person

Pop quiz: You have to be crazy to be truly artistic and/or creative. (T/F)

It's something I've been thinking about lately. When I was growing up back in the Stone Ages *cough* I mean, in the 80s, that was somewhat the prevailing view.

The truly creative, artistic people were all total nutjobs. Some writers even went so far as to cultivate a crazy persona to be taken more seriously. Remember this post?

Why am I thinking about this? Two reasons. First (and most importantly), I'm trying to rationalize my own nutty behavior as of late. It's all that latent creativity coming out. (Right?)

But also, thanks to Nathan Bransford, I watched Stephenie Meyer on Oprah, and she's just the most normal-seeming person on the planet. Jo Rowling, too.

These ladies don't seem crazy, but they've each created something that everyone loves. Perhaps you would argue that their books aren't particularly original or creative. Or artistic.

In the case of Twilight, I can see much borrowing from the classics. But in the case of Rowling the same can be said. She reimagined many old hero stories and myths--the Alchemist's stone? I think both ladies are great writers and demonstrate much creativity. Yet they're both just average, stay-at-home moms.

So what's the verdict? True or false?

I know, crazy is a charged term. I hesitate to describe anyone, myself included, that way. But there is something different.

Maybe it's more a matter of learning to let go. Losing a grip on self-discipline, schedule keeping, fitness regimines, keeping up with family events, the appearance of actually listening when someone's talking to you...

I guess the way most writers act when they're chasing down an idea does make them appear somewhat crazy. Or air-headed--fer sure--a bit like those absent-minded professors.

Artists can be the same way. Musicians just hum a lot and tap on everything.

I'm going to answer False, but I think the appearance would lead the uninitiated to say True. You?

Just some fun before I head back into the revisions cave--here I go again. Have a great week, reader- and writer-friends. Til Thursday~ <3

Thursday, August 25, 2011

In my head, zombie

My youngest daughter is hilariously extreme. I'll give you an example.

I'll be brushing her hair and hit a snag. She'll cry out, "Ow!" Then pout, "You love to hurt me." Or she'll make a statement of fact, like, "It's hotter here than in south Alabama," and I'll say, "Well, not really. It just seems that way today." Her response? "You just think I'm stupid."

The first time she did this, I was alarmed. Was my child suffering from a horrible low-self-esteem issue? I didn't see any additional evidence of that. She had friends, did well in school...

The second and third times, it was funny, and I'd hug her and tell her to stop being ridiculous. After a while, it became incredibly frustrating because it was like she simply shut down and didn't want to learn or work with me.

She's just a little kid, so my goal is to help her grow out of it. But then I catch myself doing the same thing!

OK, I'm not going around declaring everyone thinks I'm stupid, but I'll catch myself, when met with criticism of a piece of writing or a particular scene thinking, "This is just stupid, I should just trash the whole thing. I'm the worst writer ever."

It's Laura--and she's in my head! Like that "Zombie" song by The Cranberries. (Wasn't that the worst thing? Talk about a message getting stuck in your head, and what did it even mean?)

Anyway, am I the only person who does this?

I can say (with help) I've learned to push back on those mental messages that I stink and I should stop wasting time every day and start pounding the pavement and get a Real Job and etc., etc., but occasionally they'll still pop up.

When my daughters are playing together, my oldest will sometimes yell downstairs to me, "Mom! Tell Laura to stop being ridiculous!"

That makes me laugh because my oldest is a true mini-me. I have to watch what I say, because it will be repeated back to me. In the same tone of voice even.

So I'm telling myself (and any of my reader- or writer-friends out there who might be in the same boat as me): Stop being ridiculous. Just because you get a bit of criticism or a helpful suggestion, take it. Don't close up shop or believe you stink.

And if you're hearing the same message over and over, look at what it's saying. Maybe its an area that needs a little focused attention.

Wow. Some unexpected inspiration for the weekend--have a great one! Til Monday~ <3

Monday, August 22, 2011

What we think we know

I read The Joy Luck Club in one sitting on a flight from New York to London.

Doesn't that sound romantic?

Truth is, I was in college, and I was helping a friend's mom "chaperone" her high school English students on one of those 10-day guided tours of London and Paris. It was a fun experience.

But back to the book.

I was hooked from the start by the story of the goose and the feather and the mom wanting to use it to tell her daughter all her stories.

Then Amy Tan goes immediately to the days after the mom's death, and her daughter casually remarks that she doesn't know anything about her mother.

That sets off her mother's friends who instantly begin regaling her with "Remember this?" and "Remember that?" They insisted that she did know her mother, and the implication is they fear their own daughters don't really know them.

I remember when I read this book in college, I related completely with the daughter. I felt like I didn't know anything about my mother--at least not as an actual person who'd had real life experiences.

In a way, I still feel like that sometimes. Just a little.

Now we're here, and I see my little daughters struggling with the stress of the biggest move in their lives (so far). My youngest daughter, the one who broke down crying at the news we were moving 850 miles due north of the only home she'd ever known announced today that she's having a wonderful time!

She loves it here!!!

My oldest, the one who was so excited to return to the city where she was born, who couldn't wait to see snow, and who told her little sister not to be afraid, "it's going to be an adventure," announced yesterday at breakfast she wants to go home.

I feel all torn up inside.

On the one hand, I understand exactly how my eldest feels. She wants familiarity. She wants to know that today when she goes to school, she's going to see the same faces, sites, and sounds she's been seeing since she was old enough to remember.

I get that.

But I keep telling her to hang on. The longer we're here, the longer we'll have been here. The more familiar it'll be, the more faces she'll recognize. Just hang in there.

I want to tell her my story of coming here for the first time ten years ago. Back then she was my little feather, a secret in my womb, and I held onto her as I willingly gave up everything I'd ever known and my life quietly began to change.

I planned to wait until she was old enough to understand, but now I fear that day will never come. That as time passes, feelings change. And memories sound different out loud, in the present than they do in one's heart, in the past.

This feather may look worthless, but it comes from afar and carries with it all my good intentions...

Do we ever know people the way they want us to know them? Do people ever know us the way we want them to?

It's a thought that's buzzing in my head now that I'm out of the cave. Maybe it's time for a new opening paragraph.

Til Thursday~ <3

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Revision Cave - What I've Learned

I'm peeking my head out, I'm almost done, and I thought I'd share what I've learned... what I'm sure most of you already know about revisions. Revisions are painful,

but in the midst of it all, I'm having a very Zen-enlightenment experience of learning about myself. (That's a joke, because I already knew these things about myself, I'm really experiencing the joy of attempting to grow through them.)

#1-I don't like redoing things.

It's the reason I took classical piano lessons for eight years and never excelled. I hate to practice. Something in me resists going back and reliving, revising, learning to make something better.

And that's a huge mistake. Practice, revision, and review are so important. Already I can tell certain scenes are stronger from just a third (or fourth) look.

#2-I get in a funky mood when I write funky scenes.

On Friday I added a love scene (going from YA to adult here) and enhanced a ... (no spoilers) Bad Scene. And by the end of the day, I needed some dancing medicine. (Just ask Matt, Sheri, and Kelly who I happened to find on FB later that evening.) I am not proud.

But at the same time, that's probably a good thing, right? And if we can all resist becoming Earnest Hemingway over it, investing real emotions into emotional scenes only makes them more authentic, yes?

So those are my weak excuses for why I'm M.I.A. again. No moves, no motherhood drama. Just me in the revision cave, hopefully getting better all the time. Miss you.

Got any humorous (or not) self-discoveries to share from the cave? Otherwise, I hope most of you are having a blast at Write On Con--another great writer's resource.

Have a great weekend, reader- and writer-friends. Til Monday. Namaste~ <3

Monday, August 15, 2011

Good Book Alert - Bastard Blue

Today's a quickie-post, but I'm poking my head out of the revising cave to tell  you about a really great book that's just become available for Kindle.

It's Bastard Blue by my friend and Mobile (Ala.) native, Murray Dunlap. Here's the link, it's $3.99, so seriously, you can't afford not to get it. Unless you don't have a Kindle. But then you can download it on Kindle for PC... (Okay, here's the link for the hardcover edition.)

Anyway, I've only read the introduction and the first few pages, but already I want to read the story this narrator is prepared to tell.

Murray's accomplished one of those tricks great writers in the South are known for. He's created a distinct voice that is so evocative of the region. Having grown up in so-La., and then lived in so-Ala. for seven  years, I can literally see this character.

I met Murray when I was assigned to write a feature story about him for the Baldwin Register last year. He's an accomplished writer who just happened to be almost killed a few years ago in a car crash.

He suffered a traumatic brain injury, lost the ability to walk for a while, had to relearn how to speak, the works. But he didn't lose his talent.

Here's the link to his website; you can read his inspiring survival story at your leisure. But get his book. It's amazing.

Now, I'm back in the cave. Til Thursday~ <3

Thursday, August 11, 2011

What's it all about?

When I graduated high school, my mom said I was going to write a book. She actually used to say that a lot, and true confession: It drove me nuts. It really did.

I had no desire to sit in a chair for hours and hours, day after day, trying to keep up with some story idea. I just couldn't conceive how that could ever possibly be enjoyable or fulfilling.

And I didn't even know about agents or rejection letters or reviews or sales figures back then.

I remembered this because I read another interview with Kathryn Stockett about her five-year, 60-rejection-letter journey to publication with The Help. (link).

More true confessions, I avoided reading that book for years--mostly because I was just getting started on the journey to publication, and I didn't want to see any similarities to myself in it. (Which would mean that was at least a fraction of the pain I was going to have to endure before... something happened.)

I finally caved when my book club decided we'd read it in January, and of course I loved it--like everyone else in America. I even reviewed it for The Burrow (link).

But now when I read Stockett's story, I react in a different way. Now I know what I'm up against, and now I'm wondering why I had more sense at 17 than I do now, more than 20 years later.

Trying to become a published author (at least the traditional way) is self-abusive madness! So why am I doing this?

Hmm... I've asked myself this before, and I'm not sure if there's one reason. Last time I pondered the question, I decided it was because I'd gotten to a point as a professional communicator where it was the only thing I hadn't done.

That sounds really good, right? I'm not sure it's true.

I sat down and wrote my very first book in the fall of 2009. I'd just returned from a trip to Scottsdale, Az., with JRM, who was there for a work convention.

While he was in classes and hanging out with his lawyer-buds, I was alone, in one of his partner's rental cars (an '09 Camaro, no less), cruising around, visiting ghost towns, running up to Sedona...

Taliesin West
I visited the Frank Lloyd Wright house Taliesin West (link), and on the tour, they told us how Wright was a teacher and a designer, how he did what he had to do to survive the Depression in his 50s and 60s, and how it wasn't until then, in his 60s, that he started getting the commissions he's most known for today.

He started work on Falling Water (link) when he was 67 years old. He finished the Guggenheim art museum in New York City when he was 92, after working on it for 16 years.

After I got home from that trip, I sat down and wrote the first of four complete novels and four half-novels that bring us to today, with me in revisions on #4.

What happened?

Well, I visited this weird little souvenir shop on the road to Sedona, and while I was there, in the Indian artifacts room, suddenly all the lights went out and a bizarre hailstorm started.

I was alone, in the dark with shrunken heads, masks, weird weapons, pottery... I walked to the nearest door and looked outside at the huge hailstones falling and thought how glad I was to be driving a rental that day.

The temperature nose-dived 50 degrees in less than 10 minutes. And I returned home possessed by the spirit of Frank Lloyd Wright.

Just kidding.

OK, the part about the freak hailstorm and the temperature drop while I was in the creepy souvenir shop is true, but it's just one of those crazy, "it happened to me" stories I like to tell.

That story of Frank Lloyd Wright did effect me, though. When he died, he was at his table sketching, they said at Taliesin. Happy.

And I think that's it. I think when you hit on something you love to do, you just can't help doing it. It's nice if people like it and you get recognition while you're alive. But I'm not sure if it's ever possible to stop doing it.

I don't know. Why do you guys keep pursuing the dream?

Til Monday, have a great week-end, reader- and writer-friends. I'm over here revising~ <3

Monday, August 8, 2011

And as the game changes...

So on Thursday I wrote about how interesting it is to be in the middle of a publishing revolution.

And while I'm still personally committed to the traditional route, I'm impressed that so many thoughtful, calm writer-friends are taking the self-publishing leap.

I'll be reading and reviewing their books and doing interviews with a few of them in upcoming weeks. So check back!

Entertainment Weekly recently jumped on the bandwagon and reviewed Amanda Hocking's books (link), and while they gave her Trylle trilogy a B-, they also pointed out a big problem in indie publishing: Quality Control.

In our ensuing discussion of self-publishing last Thursday, we all noted the same problem: it's hard as a consumer to know who took the time to work with a professional editor and who was just (understandably) frustrated and eager to get their book "out there."

I've been burned more than once on a self-published book, so I'm cautious about buying any more.

And it's not just the reader in me cringing, it's the former English teacher/editor as well. I just want to break out my red pen and start making notes everywhere.

So I was thinking, as this revolution plays out, how will the ancillary businesses that develop around it look?

There's already a growing field of professional editors for hire--if anybody's hiring them. (Or can afford them.) Some of these editors even have backgrounds in traditional publishing.

Will there also develop a system of "Self-pub Reviews and Recommendations"? Will they take into account things like plot holes and underwriting? Rushed pacing and undeveloped characters? Poor word-choice and/or misused words?

In a recent post on the Pimp My Novel blog, Eric predicted a resurgence of independent book stores as a result of the collapse of Borders, and possibly other big-box stores. (link)

One thing I loved about indie bookstores was the Employee Recommendations section. You remember, the shelves that had employees' names on them and the books they thought you'd like? There was usually an employee whose taste matched mine, and whose rec's I always devoured.

I wonder if we'll see something like that appear in the world of self-pubbed ebooks.

There will definitely be a need for this. Something to help us navigate the sea... What do you guys think? Any suggestions for the entrepreneurs out there who might be reading?

In the meantime, I'm back in the revisions chair. And I'm looking for a little freelance work, so let me know if you come across anything.

Have a great week, reader- and writer-friends! Til Thursday~ <3

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Game change

JRM and I started watching The Social Network last night. Being the parents of small children, we didn't get to finish (yet), but we made it a good three-fourths of the way through.

I'm not familiar with the real Mark Zukerberg, but I remember being on MySpace for about six months, and I remember when Facebook hit the scene in late 2006 (early 07?) in south Alabama.

At first I didn't care for it, but soon it replaced MySpace. It was simpler and much easier to use.

Then in early 2009-ish, it seemed everyone found FB. I went from about 150 friends to 500 in one month. (Not bragging--just noting the speed at which it progressed.)

I closed my MySpace account and focused solely on FB for sharing family pictures and ultimately reconnecting with people I hadn't seen in approaching 20 years (or more!).

Friend requests came out of the woodwork (ghosts everywhere!), and it was fun.

Back to the movie. Justin Timberlake plays the role of Sean Parker (Napster founder), who is described at one point as paranoid, and who it seems is following the Zukerberg character. Z is fascinated by Parker and repeatedly seeks his advice.

What stood out to me was (movie) Parker's claims of what he did to the music industry. In the movie, he insists that he changed music forever, at which the Eduardo Saverin character scoffs. Parker quickly replies, "Want to buy a Tower Records?"


This morning, that scripted exchange got me thinking about the publishing game. Napster did change the music industry--you could also throw in iTunes and the rise of the 99-cent single. But wasn't that a response to Napster?

More might happen in the movie, but right now I'm focusing on that small nugget--the conversation where Parker tells Zuckerberg, "We're changing the game. It's our game now." (var.)

My angsty post last week led to some interesting conversations with several very thoughtful bloggie buddies--BBs who are not inclined to be rash or impulsive.
And they're seriously considering taking the game into their own hands. One emailed me this weekend that she's doing it, and asked if I'd help with getting the word out. (To which I said, "Yes. Of course!")

These friends have agents--some are on their second. They've gone on submissions, been dissatisfied with the results, and now they've decided to take the power back.

We've read about big-name authors doing the same thing. Then yesterday on the Today show, Kathie Lee quoted Dolly Parton's line, "Don't sell your babies." (She was talking to Pitbull--I'm not kidding--about not selling the rights to your work.)

I'm still on the "wait and see" fence. I'm still committed to the traditional route, and I still think it's the cleanest, most quality-controlled way to go.

I still want an editor, a gorgeous cover, the works.

But I'm watching.

And to those of you who are trying it, I'm wishing you the best of luck. And I'm here to help.

Have a great weekend reader- and writer-friends. Til Monday~ <3

Monday, August 1, 2011

What's in a Name?

It's Monday! Time for some True Confessions: I stink at titles.

I'm also not so great at naming characters either, but that's a different post. I was able to name my two daughters, but that's where my naming abilities took a powder. I didn't even name the cat.

Some of you guys, however, are just the opposite. You pop out creative, snappy titles... just like that!

I'd share one a bloggy friend off-handedly told me over the weekend, but I don't know if she's keeping it a secret for now. But it's fantastic. I want to steal it and write my own book around it!

A writer-friend from way back who lived in New York and worked with Hollywood types told me how he'd written a screenplay about a pedophile stalking a kid using the Internet.

It was a thriller in which the villain set up a fake email account and was slowly closing in on his victim. The title? You've Got Mail. And he envisioned that old voice-greeting becoming the sound of intense, paralyzing, scream-smothering fear... 

He later sold it to Warner Bros. for something like $20,000 so they could use it for a Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan joint. Isn't that fun?

The point: Titles matter.

Some of you are so good, you even title all your chapters! That thought makes me shudder.

Remember the game about finding your stripper name? Take the name of your childhood pet and combine it with the street you grew up on...

Mine's Rusty Amerest.

And that's about how I feel about titles--Rusty.

Last year, when I was shopping my YA romcom, I can't tell you how many times I was told, "You should fix that title. It sounds paranormal."

What was it? Shadow Falls. (It was the town where the story occurred!)

I started going through titles of very popular books or stories. Romeo & Juliet is just the name of the two main characters. And Twilight? It's just a time of day. Even Carrie. Again, main character's name. Harry Potter?

OK, "The Deathly Hallows" is pretty good. Even "The Order of the Phoenix." But hey--those are just places in the story. (Like Shadow Falls!)

Can anybody help a sistah out? Any title games you play or exercises to get you in a titular kind of mood? Spill! I'm in need of assistance.

Have a great week, reader- and writer-friends! Til Thursday~ <3