Saturday, March 25, 2017

Was the Fun Lost?

I have never and hopefully will never, lose the "fun" part of my writing. I write the kind of stories I want to read, be it set in a science fiction future with romance or in a fantastical ancient Egypt with romance. I love telling my stories!

BUT - and this is a very large caveat - the writing and the joy of it is totally separate in my mind from the 'job', which is the work of then making that story available to be read by others, of doing the promo necessary to let readers know the book even exists, of putting in the time to do blog posts and participate on social media in support of the book. I do love social media for the sheer enjoyment of the conversations and the networking and 'meeting people', but sometimes there is a definite pressure in relation to "I need to write twelve blog posts on the new book and keep each one fresh and fun to read, and then tweet them and...."

I had what I refer to as "my competitive job" for a very long time and I did really well at it, and enjoyed it. I call it competitive because there were positions, opportunities, projects and management assignments that a lot of people wanted and so an employee had to stay on their toes in lots of ways to do the work and have the responsibilities they wanted but so did a lot of other people. That job involved commuting to an office and there were bosses and performance reviews and deadlines and endless revisions to documents and all the trappings of  standard work. Valuable experience but I certainly don't miss it. (Miss the people, yes. Miss the work, no.)

In the job part of of being an independently published author, I have to do edits and rewrites, based on input from my professional freelance editors. Are they my bosses? No, but my own internal boss refuses to let me put out books that haven't been edited and burnished. Do I have deadlines imposed on me by other people? Rarely. Only if I'm in an anthology or going to a conference. Otherwise the deadlines are set by me but that doesn't make them less real. I just did some deadline setting today in fact as far as my release schedule for the rest of the year. I can change that of course, but since I need to be selling books in order to pay my rent and my bills (and the costs of new books - covers, editors, the formatter, promo etc) and since there are so many books coming out all the time now, I need to be doing frequent new releases of high quality books. so there is definitely performance pressure.

Do I want to be rebellious and take a 'day off' and binge watch all ten seasons of some wonderful TV show? YES! Occasionally I'll even do that, but I'm always conscious in the back of my mind that I really need to get that book written for the June release and get it to the editor in plenty of time for her schedule and....

So the challenge for me isn't so much about losing the fun, but in keeping the job aspects of being a full time writer running my own small publishing business (publishing only myself to be clear) from crushing the creative juices.

Luckily for me, when I sit down to write the actual story, I lose myself in the flow of the creative process and I'm having fun. But I have to keep it all very much separated in my mind from the worries and pressure of the business of publishing and selling books.

To paraphrase one of my favorite TV shows, 'Killjoys', the story is all!

And by the way, I did a cover reveal for my next book, The Captive Shifter, available on the major ebook sites on April 3rd! Thanks to Fiona Jayde for another gorgeous cover!

Here's the blurb:
Concealing her own considerable magical powers, Caitlyn enters the service of the northern Witch Queen masquerading as a simple healer. Under order from her goddess, she’s searching for a magical gem stolen long ago from her own people, believed to be hidden in the massive castle. The task is daunting but Caitlyn is sure she can locate the gem and escape, bringing the prize back to the temple where it belongs. Until she meets the captive shifter and her loyalties become dangerously divided.
In payment for her past services to his people, Kyler the leopard shifter has entered into a life of servitude far from his forest home, allowing the Witch Queen to tap his magic to power her ever darker spells. Factions at Court are threatening to turn the Queen to the Shadow. Her increasing demands for magic will cut short his nearly immortal lifespan. Kyler’s resigned to his fate until the day he crosses paths with the new arrival, whose secrets and magic entice and attract both man and leopard. Has he met his mate at last?
The Queen will never willingly release him from captivity. Caitlyn’s goddess refuses to grant her any delay in accomplishing her own task. Can they locate the magical gem, fight the Shadow and win free of the Witch Queen to earn the right to be together?

Friday, March 24, 2017

When the Thrill Is Gone

It's been a crappy week. Really. The eldest cat had the words "atypical cells" mentioned in his proximity. And due to a confluence of other events coming together in a big FU to the fam, we're in the process of moving off the boat and putting it up for sale.

Those of you who know me know this is just about The Worst Thing That Could Happen. (TM)

And here I am to talk about fun. Well, sure. Because let me say that there's nothing like life dishing up a bit of perspective to make you appreciate just how much shelter losing yourself in writing (or whatever thing you love) has to offer. As Hatshepsut (right) so aptly and expressively demonstrates, nothing is fun and games all the time.

I suspect we each of us have our favorite parts of the writing process - the parts that are fun. For me, the first idea stages, proof of concept, plotting, arranging the conflicts and the characters, drafting the first few chapters - that giddy, get lost in the flow stuff. But into every life a little rain must fall, yes? So it is for every project. Every book has bits that defy fun.

Here's my theory on that, though. Writing isn't supposed to be fun. I don't mean that in a 'It's work!' sort of way. My assertion is that the creative process is a PROCESS. That means going through a cycle with identifiable stages. It means descending into the labyrinth and getting utterly lost before working out how to extract yourself before you starve or get eaten by the minotaur. It's maddening and sometimes scary stuff. But it's necessary.

You know Chris Vogler's work The Hero's Journey? Where he describes story arc as a mythic construct with a series of stages? It isn't just the story that is a Hero's Journey. Every time you start a book, YOU are the hero accepting the call to go on an adventure.

The Call to Adventure - your initial idea. This may include all of that heady plotting and proof of concept work.
Refusal of the Call - the point at which you think this story won't work. Or the dog pukes his bodyweight on carpet and you spend days at the vet clinic in mortal terror, story forgotten.
Supernatural Aid - call it inspiration. A visit from the Muses. You get a bone tossed your way from the story or from the characters. A tiny scene volunteers. Doesn't matter, you get driven back to the work.
Crossing the First Threshold - you've invested in getting this book done.
In the Belly of the Beast - You dive headfirst into this new thing you're creating. It swallows you and for most of us the suck starts here.
The Road of Trials - Obstacles, complications, all the head pounding against desks comes in this stage. You're being challenged. Your creativity is being challenged. Seriously. This is YOUR arc. By the time you finish your story, you will be creatively capable of more than you were when you began, simply because you faced down problems you thought you couldn't solve.

I won't list out every single stage. But you can see it, yeah? The descent into the pit of despair to face your greatest fear, the big battle with your demon(s), the return carrying the Golden Fleece, as it were.

What I hear when someone, including me, talks about writing being fun, is a desire for writing to be easy. That is straight up Refusal of the Call. It's wanting to skate along the surface of writing, never delving into the depths of a story, declining to walk the road of trials in search of something meaningful to bring back from the journey. Writing, and the hero's journey, are meant to be - well - difficult. Challenging. Hard, even. Because only when the writer is forced to grow by some tiny increment (writers have growth rings like trees - each one the pages of a story) does something human and resonant emerge from the writing.

Sure, but dang, how do you face that? You learn to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Redefine fun. I do NOT like being scared. DO. NOT. LIKE. So guess what I'm going to get my face rubbed in every single book? I have a choice - run away from that or turn around and walk into it. I've tried both. I don't recommend running away. Makes it last longer and you just get tired. Whatever you deem unfun, reframe. Turn to face it and make yourself an explorer. Dealing with an emotion set that makes you want to hurl? Take it apart, piece by piece - catalog the sensations for use in writing. Got a scene to write that makes you want to slit your wrists with your felt pen? Walk away from the keyboard. Grab a paper and pencil and sketch out as many ways for that scene to happen as you can think of. Make 'em stupid and ridiculous. Make them serious. Funny. Tragic. Heroic. Somewhere in that exploration, you'll hit on something that speeds your pulse and you'll know you've found The One.

At the risk of sounding like Yoda, I'll say: Don't seek fun. Seek the discomfort, because that's where the jewels are hidden.

But by all means, if you're blocked, change your venue. Change your mode of operation to break up the kinesthetic expression - if you write on a keyboard 99% of the time, go to long hand for a day. Dictate. Whatever shifts you to another part of your brain and muscle memory. Remember to take breaks. Exercise. It shakes stuff loose. Why do you think Frodo had to walk across the whole of Middle Earth?

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Perils of the Writer: The Toil and the Joy

Friends, I won't lie to you: I love writing, I love that this is my life, but there are times when it's a grind.  There are plenty of times where the idea of going into a manuscript just makes me want to go lie down.  
Right now, I've had to put drafting Parliament of Bodies to the side for a couple weeks.  Largely to focus on Holver Alley promotion, Imposters of Aventil copyedits and a whole lot of home/business/Live the Language stuff that required the forefront of my attention.  Now it's time to get back into Parliament.
And getting back into a book once you've been out of it for a chunk of time can be a real grind.  If the engine is cold, it takes a bit to get back up to full speed.  
Part of the process, for me, involves printing out what I've got and reading through with a red pen.  It helps get me back in the mindset, and see where I might be starting to lose the plot or go off course.  
This part isn't always "fun", though, so it helps to have a couple other things to mix it up and keep it fresh.  A big thing I do to help this is engage in a secondary project for a bit, to be a palate cleanser.  I'll also do long-term planning, big picture work.   
And all this is why, this week, I've been making hand-edits on the first part of Parliament, working a bit on The Secret Project, and updating all the Maradaine spreadsheets.  And doing that stuff is, frankly, a lot of fun for me.  Especially after a couple weeks of household bookkeeping data entry.  Oh, taxes, such a joy.  But that work is done, at least.
How about you?  How's your journey in the word mines this week?

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

A Dreamer's Journey

"Finding the Fun Again" is an ironic topic this week.

Since my fellow writers here are going to surely post about writing, I will take a wee diversion and post about something that is, while not writing words, is also creative. I'm talking about writing music.

Let me take you back in time. I once owned a Baldwin upright piano. It was a heavyweight of my childhood, pun intended, and when I became an was mine. It came with me when I left home. Being one to rearrange a room on a whim, it moved it here and there with effort. Always, I played. I scribbled notes on paper wishing I had to skills to play all the things I heard in my head.

That piano was sold, a bit of cash was added to the amount gained and I suddenly owned an awesome keyboard with 16 track built in recording and midi orchestra at my fingertips. And so my journey as a scorewriter began.

Sadly, the music I labored over, stored on a 3in floppy (it had a built in disc drive) was not able to be removed and put into something more...shareable. Technology had other plans for me. I tried Cakewalk. No. It was not appropriately named. My cd dreams were back-burnered.

Fast forward seven years.

New computer. New software. New gadget go-between hooked the computer to the keyboard. At last, I could get the music off of the disc. But it was one track at a time. If I didn't hit play and record pefectlly then the notes did not line up. Each had to be moved individually. And when I wanted to hit play back to hear if they were aligned...well the program offered only one synthesized voice, impossible to differentiate the tracks.

The task was again back-burnered. Hope was hard to come by, but I had my 3 in disc. I had my keyboard. My music lived, but like a houseplant...only for me and anyone who visited (and happened to give a shit about my music) to enjoy.

Fast forward ANOTHER seven years.

I received a new computer last fall. I recieved Pro Tools for Christmas. A second keyboard became my birthday present. Then the East West subscription was purchased. Piece by piece, the new dream kit was assembled. On Tuesday of last week, after nearly a month of "this-is-not-my-normal-computer-area" tech hell, my persistent and wonderful husband got Pro Tools and East West talking to each other.

Wednesday went like this:
7:15 am bus ran; I'm home alone. Chores ensue.

8:30 am coffee in hand I go to office to begin

At some point I began to feel hungry, pulled a granola bar from my desk drawer (don't judge me) and ate it.

My phone reminded me at 2:30 to open the garage so the kid arriving soon on the bus could get inside...but it was a snowday. I ignored the chime and worked on.

I looked at the clock. 5:30 pm.

I looked at my coffee mug. It was half full.

I'd spent 9 hours working on music and it had passed like a flash. I hadn't even thought of what I'd make for dinner... Saving the work, shutting it off, I rushed downstairs gulping my coffee...only to find my husband in the kitchen, home already. Usually, I have dinner waiting for us. I apologized. He shushed me and held up a bag...a bag that had Jeni's on the side of it. (As in Jeni's splendid ice cream.)

A new door has opened and I've rediscovered a joy I used to know, a joy that for too long has slumbered. Before me is a challenge, not only to master this new program (it is SOOO amazing and complex and I've only gleefully scratched the surface), but to hone my skills and exceed.

There will be a CD, my first, available with the release of my novel, Jovienne, in May. It will be the score for the book. My music is alive. Themes for my characters grew and overlaped and merged as when I wrote this score years ago when the music was an exercise to shape the vision in my mind of this story that I was writing. And the melodies are growing in the light of these new capabilities.

I have breathed the deep breath of someone who has created and waited.

My score is steps -- minutes, not years -- away from shareable.

To me, fun is the act of creation and the act of refining that creation. To be here, now, on the cusp of sharing it with is an act of persistence, of clinging to a dream that embodies me, that had embodied me for so long that it is part of the core of who I am.

You, whoever you are, never give up on your dreams, never give up on your self, never give up on working toward that goal that lives inside your soul.

Its true. There is nothing like the joy that overwhelms you when you're touching that goal. I danced in my kitchen eating ice cream for dinner and giggling with the one person who means so much, who believes in me and did all he could to give me this moment, all for the joy of sharing it with me.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

What To Do When Writing Is No Longer Fun


🎉 HUGE congrats to our Sunday captain Jeffe Kennedy! PAGES OF THE MIND is a finalist in the highly competitive RITA Awards--aka the Oscars of Romance Writers of America.  🎉


How do I sort the work from the pleasure of writing?  Uhm. Well, writing is work, so I'm going to rephrase that question as, "How do I deal with the unfun so I can get back to the fun?"


Monday, March 20, 2017

Finding the fun again

Writing is always fun for me, but, yes, sometimes the work part gets me down.

The best method to make me remember that I love writing is to actually WRITE. Put aside the deadlines, the edits, everything else. Sit down and tell a story, write it out, consider the ramifications of each action taken and every reaction that comes afterward.

if that doesn't work, I set the project aside (for no more than one day, seriously) and work on a different tale.

I need to clarify that for me editing and writing are not the same beast. Writing is the freeform mess I put out on the pages, Editing is what remains when I'm done cleaning up that mess.

Want to know what else helps?

Get away from the desk and do something 4else now and then, In this case4, I went to a convention, What is in that picture but can't be seen are the notes I took while I was waiting for the next person to come by (they often came in waves between waves, I made notes).

The change of venue opened up my mind to new possibilities. I'll be using those notes in around 2 minutes.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

When Writing Is Work: Finding the Fun Again

Yesterday I got to take my stand-up paddle board out for a jaunt on Lake Sumner in New Mexico. It was a gorgeous day - warm and still, the water cool but not freezing. To my delighted surprise, I hadn't lost my skill with it since last fall. Rather, I'd improved! My balance and strength are much better. I even discovered what should have been a no-brainer, that the way I distribute my weight on the board contributes to the direction I turn as much as the paddling. There's a joy in both doing the work and in discovering I've improved, as much as in the simpler aspects of the sun, peace, and water.

Our topic this week is along those lines. The Business of Writing: How Do You Separate out the Work of Writing from the Pleasure of Writing?

This is one of those aspects of being a writer that tends to plague established authors more than aspiring ones. Don't get me wrong! The whole query-hell aspect of being an aspiring author, or the initial steps of self-publishing and trying to acquire an audience, those are their own special circles of torment. They're kind of like middle school and high school - full of angst and drama. None of us would go back to it for anything. I had dinner the other night with a lovely writer friend who's self-published some work and is in her fourth year of query hell with other work. It's hard. You just have to get through it.

So, yes, getting to be an established writer is better than being an aspiring one, in the way that being an adult is better than being a teenager - much more self-sufficiency, less drama, your own space where you can watch bad movies, drink wine, and eat junk food all night if you want to.

Not that I ever do that.

But, to extend the analogy, it's also more pressure than being a teenager. There are bills to pay. No one stands between you and the consequences of bad decisions. There's no more summers off or writing whatever takes your fancy, taking as long as you like to do it. You have to adult and treat writing like a, well, A JOB.

Because it is one.

And the thing about jobs is you have to do them even when you don't feel like it. When your art pays the bills, it becomes a business. That doesn't mean it CAN'T be a pleasure, but the two don't necessarily go hand in hand.

There's all those inspirational sayings like this one:

Which, in case you were confused, is not something Confucius said. I also found it attributed to Mark Twain. Also, no. I think it's one of those insipid things thought up by success coaches. I say insipid because it implies that if you love what you do it will never feel like work. This won't be news to any of you smart people, but *everything* feels like work sometimes. Anything worth doing takes effort. I love my stand-up paddle board, but sometimes it's a hell of a lot of work, especially paddling into the wind. I love my husband, but sometimes a relationship is work. There's nothing wrong with that.

Let me set that out on its own: THERE IS NOTHING WRONG with work.

There's nothing wrong with business. It's not drinking margaritas by the pool, but neither is writing. In fact, where most arts are concerned, this motivational poster has it spot on.

I know, I know. But really I don't mean that in a depressing way. Think of this: if we all wrote only the fun bits, we'd have 57,000 scraps of fabulous plot-bunnies and one-liners and zero novels or completed stories. Because at some point we have to do the parts we don't love. Sometimes we have to paddle into the wind.

Recently I've been working up a new series for my new agent. (Yes! Totally burying that quasi-secret lead. I'll be able to announce all the details on March 29, because reasons. Anyway, I'm working up a new idea for her. She wanted ~20,000 words of the first book, and I can write 5,000 words/day when I'm cruising, so I figured I could do this in a week.


Turns out not so much. All that *WORLD-BUILDING* doncha know. So there I was, flailing away, with only 3K when I'd hoped to have 10K, beating myself up about it. And it occurred to me that I spent an entire year on the first draft of THE MARK OF THE TALA. I went and looked it up. An entire year on 80K. Which works out to a little over 200 words/day, for those of you who prefer not to think about math. Sure, I was working full time then, and traveling for the day job A LOT,

But I also had that day job income. I had no agent, no publisher, no contract. I played with that book for a year because I could. That was still high school for me. Maybe Freshman year of college, when I could still take whatever courses looked interesting because I didn't have to think seriously about my future yet.

Yes, it was fun.

The thing is, writing this new book can be fun, too. IF I can keep from flogging myself with unrealistic timelines and schedules. And if I can keep from fretting about paying the bills. And from worrying about what that scathing review said, or what the market is looking for, or... or... or!

All of this means that, as with all things adulting, it's up to us to find the fun in what we do. It can be a lot like reaching back to our carefree youth and rediscovering those aspects that felt like PLAY instead of work. When I wrote THE MARK OF THE TALA, I called it The Middle Princess and I just followed the story wherever it led, indulging myself in *my* favorite stuff.

You know what? There is absolutely no reason I can't do that with this book, too. Yes, this is my job, but it's a job I chose out of love. It's hard work at times, sure. It's also a joy.

Finding the fun in effort is a conscious choice.

Instead of thinking about the wind I'm paddling into, I need to focus on the joy of balance, of cool water splashing my feet and the sun warm on my skin. And of the pleasure in finding that I've improved, of discovering a cool new trick.

It's all fun, if we let it be.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

I Have A Recipe Box But...

The little metal stove was my grandfather's when he was a kid in the early 1900's.

I do have a recipe box (see photo above) which my Dad gave me when I left home to get married at age 19. There are old family recipes in it on index cards, including a couple written by my late grandmother.

But see, here's the thing - I grew up in a house where my mother HATED to cook and my father would have been happy to eat steak or hamburger, and mashed potatoes with canned corn or peas every night (oh, gee, we pretty much did) and overeasy eggs with bacon, toast and butter every breakfast. I don't remember him having a preference  about lunch actually. He probably grabbed a sandwich at the office. Coffee and chocolate were his other two food groups. I taught myself to cook to have some variety but mostly so I could have cake more than once a year on my birthday, which was my mother's grudging compromise when it came to baking. She also made one lemon meringue pie annually. I pretty much concentrated on learning to make my own favorite desserts.

My late husband was a foodie and one of those people who could look at a pantry full of ingredients and whip up some fabulous dish from his mind. He did not need recipes! He would have loved the "Top Chef" program. I love to watch the show, but more for the personalities involved and the way the challenges go. Although I do salivate at the many seared scallop dishes each season...

When I look inside my recipe box, other than desserts, a lot of the 'treasured' family recipes are really plain ones from a 1950's USDA cookbook for new brides that my mother was given when she got married. Lots of butter and eggs. The ones from my days as a mother cooking for the family tend to be casseroles done with the most basic of basics. Good for reheating. Good with catsup.  I also had a tendency not to write down recipes the way they were originally set forth but as I simplified them or revised them, so for instance, our favorite beef n cheese crescent pie now omits ALL the spices but salt. I do include the green beans that the recipe calls for - one of my offspring so loathes the green beans that I wrote it into one of my novels as an in-joke. (The alien heroine cannot bring herself to eat green beans.) I also didn't bother to write down my specific steps in preparing anything, so the index cards aren't very helpful. Hey, I know how to make the dish!

Currently I open cans for the cats, who are very non demanding. I now have a chronic health condition that severely limits what I myself can eat, so I have the same three simple meals pretty much every day. Occasionally I splurge on either a dessert or a dinner out, knowing full well I'll "pay for it" later. I don't cook anything complicated. Or even from the 1950's USDA pamphlet.

So no, dear Readers, I won't be sharing any recipes with you today. Sorry! (Not're better off, trust me.)