Please 2017, or Hope Springs Eternal

After a year which wore out its welcome sometime in August, I’m really hoping for a better 2017.

Sure, a few great things happened in 2016 – I took two terrific vacations with the family (Jamaica and San Diego, CA), my near two-year battle with dizziness came to an end, and the Cubs won a World Series but on the whole, hope seemed hard to find.

I grieved for the loss of human beings who inspired me – David Bowie and his art of reinvention, Umberto Eco whose pinball scene in Foucault’s Pendulum is sexy perfection, and for Carrie Fisher, who lived life with such fearlessness, wit, intelligence and honesty that for this child of the 70s at least, she was a role model of both what not to do (the drugs) and how to live. When Mohammad Ali died, I grieved once more for my grandfather who died from Parkinson’s disease 35 years ago. And I grieved for my grandmother-in-law who passed away in the spring.

I grieved for the loss of civility, and for my hometown, the City of Chicago, which seems incapable of stemming the tide of violence.

In 2016, I suffered many professional shortcomings. I expected to end the year with an agent, or at least a contract. I put forth a solid effort, but simply put, I failed. It’s not a good feeling, even though I understand that larger industry consolidations make it harder for a well-reviewed mid-lister like myself to break through that magical ceiling that divides the best-sellers from the rest of us. It’s easy to get down and think about quitting, but then something magic happens.

January first, 2017 is a new day. My calendar is not entirely blank, but it may as well be a clean slate. Today, I will do some serious exfoliation and scrub off 2016. As of this writing, no-one has died in 2017, so there is no need to grieve. No-one has teased my children or been unkind to them. No-one has told me no. Look out 2017, here I come.

 

 

Five things I’m thankful for

For my first Friday Five, I’m tackling gratitude, because this month, and this week in particular, I full of thankfulness. Here goes.

  1. I’m thankful birthday season is over and I do not have to deal with party invites and RSVPs until October rolls around in 2017.
  2. I’m thankful it’s boot season.

    These are on my wishlist.

    These are on my wish list.

  3. I’m thankful for Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy and finally getting relief for the vertigo I’ve endured for the last 18 months.
  4. I’m thankful that I’ll have writing news to share in the near future. Newsletter subscribers will be the first to find out what it is.
  5. I’m thankful I got to see the Chicago Cubs win the World Series. I grew up following them and learned the mantra “Wait until next year.” Waiting through a lot of next years taught me lessons in patience and hope that apply to my writing career. I wait for the next book to take off and be the one that gets on the shelves in Target, or at least gets a high-profile review. In the meantime, I sure do appreciate all you loyal fans, er readers, who’ve stuck with me. Can I add a 6th? Because if so,
  6. I’m thankful for you.

Writing is a strange business

Every time a non-writer friend shares an article about the writing industry, I’m struck anew by how strange this business is. For a job that seems like a dream, the reality is different from about any other job I have held.

In the work world, I was expected to work for a certain number of hours and at the end of that period, I received money. As an author, I can spend hours and hours and years working on a manuscript and receive nothing except a pile of paper to support the dust bunny colony hiding under the bed.

Sometimes, it’s hard to know when to give up on the manuscript under the bed. In my work world, either a time clock, a deadline, a boss or a shift in corporate culture let me know when it was time to stop. Now, I can’t tell if the manuscript call is an authentic need to revise, or merely a distraction and there is no-one to tell me.

I’m trying to move forward with newer projects, but some days, that manuscript calls out and the ghost of a character whispers “but what if you…”

If I stop cleaning long enough, maybe the dust bunnies will finish off the project.

First Friday Five: Writing Tween Girls

You can get Valentine’s tips anywhere, so rather than celebrating romance with my First Friday Five, I’m sharing

Five flaws an editor would point out you wrote a tween girl as they actually are.

  1. “This character is inconsistent. One minute she’s likable, the next she’s bat-shit crazy.”
  2. “Your character needs a clear goal, not the vague desire the world is against her.”
  3. “She lacks proper motivation.”
  4. “The conflict is too scatter-shot. Focus. Giving a more concrete goal and motivation will help.”
  5. “I found three variations on “eyeroll” and counted 812 incidents in the manuscript. Avoid repetition.”

Let your inner editor free in the comment section. I’d love to know what you think.

First Friday Five: September Love

September is here! There are so many reasons to love this September. Here’s my 5.

1. The kids are back in school.

2. Bad Traveler is out.

Bad-Traveler300x450

 

3. Both children are in school full-day, so my writing time doubles.

all gifs from mashable

4. Fashion boots. The weather is cool enough to wear them, but not so cold that warmth overrides style.

 

5. Did I mention my kids are back in school?

What do you love about September?

Another year

Another year has come and gone. I reached one of my writing goals–to have another book in contract–but missed another–polishing a work in progress.  That’s okay.  I have a new year ahead of me full of opportunity.

I no longer make New Year’s Resolutions. Not only did they tend to be way too lofty (lose 10 pounds, write a best seller) but also lacked concrete steps.  By February, I failed to make good on the promise of a year.

The arrival of a new wall calendar still offers me opportunities for a fresh start.  A few years ago, I committed to having a smaller environmental footprint. Although that phrase smacks of over ambition, I found ways to make it work by looking for small shifts in my behavior.  I committed to composting coffee grounds and banana peels. Now, composting is routine and throw out less garbage.  When I learned the plastic beads in cosmetics and soaps end up in the ocean, I stopped purchasing polluting products.  This year, my goal is to learn more about my local eco-system since I know little about Minnesota and how my life choices influence the land of 10,000 lakes.

Professionally, I’m challenging myself to write a short story and have it ready for publication by the end of the year.  A slow writer like me is at a disadvantage in the current market which favors frequent publication.  Since it is year-long process, I have broken it down into small steps, but I’m not ready to share those.

Do you make resolutions or is January first just another day?

Zombies! Dead New World by Ryan Hill

I love a good zombie story.  The Walking Dead is my favorite show on TV.  I love a  good zombie kill as much as the next person (is anyone else picturing spinning tires right about now?) but what keeps me coming back is the humanity in the show.  Zombies are an excellent metaphor for uncovering what makes us human which is why I’m so excited for Dead New World by Ryan Hill. Why, you ask? Read on!

Dead New World by Ryan Hill

 Zombies aren’t mindless anymore.

They follow orders. And if Holt and Ambrose want to kill some undead, they’ll do the same. But when a routine mission goes horribly wrong, the best friends’ lives are flayed to the bone. Now there’s only one light in the darkness of Holt’s life, and when she’s taken, he’ll do anything to get her back. Even if that means defying orders and using his best friend as a weapon. Holt and Ambrose risk all to save her, but what they discover among the hordes threatens to remake humanity. Again. In the end, will there be anything left to live for in this dead new world? I get chills from the title Dead New World, so I asked Ryan Hill (Twitter @J_Ryan), why zombies and here’s his reply.

Zombies: An Emotional Connection?

Just like everybody has their own zombie story, the dead meat all tend to mean something different to different people. George Romero made them out to be like consumers in Dawn of the Dead, Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead suggested the living were really the zombies, and Max Brooks’s World War Z, well… I guess you could say they brought out the best and worst of mankind. Hard to pin it down since the novel is really a collection of short stories that tell one massive story. What interested me about zombies was exploring a survivor, like Ambrose (the main character’s best friend). Someone who’d been bitten, sort of changed, but didn’t and now looks half-human, half-zombie. He still eats human food (not humans, mind you), but has an odd sort of psychic connection to the walking dead. Get it? Walking dead? Lame, I know. More importantly, how would the living treat a survivor? Would he be embraced? Pitied? Hated? I figured all of the above. Ambrose is forced to use different silverware, cups, etc. than the others, and he must wear biohazard symbols on all sides to let people know he could be a danger. The only one who isn’t afraid of him is his best friend, Holt. But what would that kind of hate and isolation do to a person? Would he prefer he were all the way dead, or fight every day to remain human? It’s an interesting conundrum, and one I hope gets answered in Dead New World.

Ryan Hill’s Dead New World is forthcoming from Definition House, (Click here for their gorgeous site) but there is a catch – a Kickstart campaign!  Want to help make this book become a reality?
[kickstarter url=http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/definitionhouse/dead-new-world-a-young-adult-dystopian-zombie-nove width=220]
Be brave!

RWA13

RWA13 in Atlanta was a wonderful experience.  I find I learn so much in the company of other writers, and not just in the formal workshops.  In case you couldn’t attend, here are 13 things  I learned at RWA13.

1.  Romance readers are generous and passionate about good books.  I worked as Cashier at the Literacy Signing.  One woman drove across two states to get to the signing.  She had more books than she could hold and her husband rounded to the closest hundred to benefit literacy programs.  I don’t know her name, but she is why we write.

2.  The publishing industry is in flux.  As more authors take charge of their own career, publishing houses and agents need authors more than authors need the traditional publishing world.  It’s a scary but exciting time.  As the author you are more empowered if you take the time to figure out what you and your rights are worth.  (Discussion with Dorien Kelly and Courney Milan)

3. Independent press does not necessarily mean small press. (Indie press panel)

4. A great hook taps into the reader’s curiosity and gets at a deep emotional response (from Elizabeth Boyle)

5. Publishing a book is not a solitary activity.  It takes a team. (from Simone Elkeles)

6. Don’t be afraid to ask a question of authority. The powers that be may not want to answer the question, but you’ll never get an answer unless you try.

7. Interested in trying a stand up desk?  Before you spend $1,500 on a fancy work station, try the ironing board.  I always wondered what those things were for…..  (from Bruce Kelly, CIH,CSP)

8. A workshop on finances may not sound exciting, but Laura Alford, Diane Kelly and Donna MacMeans made taxes and record keeping a conference highlight.

9. Michael Hauge is an amazing public speaker.   The goal of any story-teller is to solicit an emotional response in the reader.

10. If there is an open chair at your lunch table, you might make a new friend.

11. The best presenters were the most prepared and organized speakers.

12. We need more euphemisms for “lady parts.”  (Stephanie Doyle, Elizabeth Hoyt and Molly O’Keefe)

13. When you get over two thousand writers in one place, the energy is amazing.  I’m fortunate to be part of this terrific writing community and I can’t wait until San Antonio #RWA14

Did you go to the conference?  What stood out for you?

On tour to talk writing

I’m declaring myself a writer on tour because I can. Sort of. No-one officially organized a tour for me but over the next two days I will discuss writing in two public forums all while preparing for the Crimson Wonderland Blog Hop launching next week.

My first stop will be my daughter’s classroom. I’ve been asked to talk about research and the work involved with becoming a published author.  I’m told there will be about sixty students. Fortunately, this number is not reflective of my daughter’s class size, they’re combining a few. I’m a little nervous.  Third graders are a tough audience.

My second stop is the Chesapeake Romance Writers’ Open House. If you’re near Chesapeake, Virginia on Saturday, November 10th, please stop by Russell Memorial Library between 10 and 3 for food, book signings, prizes and the chance to chat with me and other authors.  Our members will tend tables covering topics such as membership, editing, pitching, and writing a synopsis.  We’ll also be available to answer questions you have about becoming a writer.

Hope to see you there.

Oh – and if you have any advice for dealing with a herd of third graders, please share.

Weeding

With the weather turning tolerable (meaning lower humidity and temperatures under 90), I’ve finally begun giving my long neglected flower beds the treatment they deserve.  I’m pulling the weeds.

My front walk flower beds became so overgrown this summer, that I hereby apologize to every milk man, newspaper and package deliverer who has graced my door over the last few months.  I do not extend this courtesy to door-to-door marketers.  They deserved to be slapped in the legs as a punishment for taking up my time.  The others did not.

I pull the weeds by hand rather than spraying for three reasons.  First, it provides a bit of exercise. Second, manual labor is cheaper than chemical sprays that cost money and probably add to the pollution in the nearby Chesapeake Bay. (Stepping down from my soap box – sorry). Lastly, pulling weeds gives me a deep sense of satisfaction.  I can see and feel and even smell the progress. Chaos gives way to harmony before my eyes.

Weeding is a form of editing, act of destruction that allows beauty and creativity to thrive.  Soon I will plant pansies or perhaps violas in the vacant spaces leading to my front door. A riot of color will greet me and I’ll smile.

So let me ask you, have you done any weeding lately?