Monday, September 19, 2011

Random weekendy photos and happy Monday!

Good morning friends! I hope everybody had a good weekend. It was deliciously autumnal here. I got caught up on a day job project with a hot deadline, some novella writing, though unfortunately no cleaning. 

This photo from Friday night. The scene when I got back to bed from brushing my teeth. The cats love to be under the covers, and they stayed posed like this a miraculously long time while I got my smartphone. My twitter friends have seen this picture. Because of course, I must show everybody. 

Mr. Crane and I made coconut soup. It has tomatoes and onions and zucchini and miso and a bunch of other stuff - I can give the recipe if anybody wants it, but you really do need to open a few young coconuts with a machete. When the orange and white cat, Oblio, even hears the machete come out of the drawer he runs and hides, though sometimes he comes into the kitchen and cries in victimy protest while Mr. Crane is hacking away. You would think we routinely chase him around the place with it, but I swear, we never do! The soup was damn delicious. 

In addition to the mystery book from the post below, I am reading Dark Road to Darjeeling, #4 in the Lady Julia Grey series. So love being back in this series! And I organized my Goodreads shelves. As I noted on Twitter recently, advice to new Goodreads users: set up your shelves early in the game. Don't put all your books onto the same massive shelf like I did. Come be my Goodreads friend here!

Our storage room in the basement. We were talking about putting up some more of our pictures. Unfortunately, no home decoration bargaining chip is large enough for Mr. Crane to accept the having Little CJ (my childhood portrait painted by an elderly aunt) or the unicorn and unicorn baby pic up on a wall, and I no longer have my own office to hang them in. I have vetoed plenty of his pictures, so it's only fair. 

So I was looking at my poor pictures in the storage room this weekend. It is very sad. Also, one wonders what the neighbors think when they walk by.

Somehow, though, I hold out hope that Mr. Crane will suddenly change his mind. Perhaps some mysterious force will compel him to go down to the storage room and get Little CJ and put her back up. What do you think?

So what did you guys do this weekend? What are you reading?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Craft nosiness, ape-men, scaffolding, and digging up corpses


I DNFed a book last night, but I will still read it, though I quietly took it off my Goodreads shelf. This is a really popular historical romance, and I have loved others written by this author (and that's all I'll say, so don't ask, my friends!) But in my mind, this one of hers went all wrong - for me, anyway (and if it went wrong for me, it went wrong, since I can only read and write for my tastes). Anyway, it felt paint-by numbers, as though the life didn't spark. I've read books that have the same general set-up, some I've loved to death, but this one fell.

What makes one book work and one book not work, especially when they are similar?  What makes a book a living thing? I think there is a kind of magic in the best books, but there's more than that.

So I'm going to keep reading this DNF - I'll F it for the same reason people in the middle ages dug up graveyards and cut apart dead bodies--out of a keen desire to know what the heck went wrong!

It will also show me what went right with the books of this author that I have loved and embraced. I think sometimes good writers get under pressure to produce too fast, and my favorite writers take risks sometimes too - ones that don't work out - but that spirit of risking is what make them good, and I always look.

It's a kind of nosiness, I suppose. And hell, maybe I'll come to like the latter part of this book better, and I'll get the writerly learning experience along with some readerly pleasure. Maybe the book will spring up and run around and be okay. It will still show me something. Do other authors do that? Read for what went wrong? I guess I assume so. Maybe not!

Awesome Armstrong in a
minimalistic mood.
The less popular series: hidden dimensions
Another thing I enjoy, which is kind of along the same writerly nosiness lines, is that I look at the less popular series of authors I love, because sometimes those books show me how they pull things off in a more plain and straightforward way than than their popular series do.

For example, Kelley Armstrong's wonderful hitwoman series - the Nadia Stafford Series (an awesome series that I'm dying for her to continue beyond two books) - gave me a lot of insights into how she differentiates characters with language. It's almost like  you can see the scaffolding of her character magic; part of this, I think, is because the hitwoman books are quite simple and minimalistic, and about humans, too.

Same thing with Charlaine Harris' less popular series, the Grave Series (reputed to be the author's favorite of her series, and it's certainly my favorite of all her series).

The other Bon Temps
These books gave me a strong sense of the underdog and embattled character themes that are present on a more subtle level in her Sookie series. It is also interesting to get this dimension on small towns from Harris; it's as if the Grave series is the small town dark side of Bon Temps. The Grave series is far riskier, and the hero is a total beta. Is that why it didn't fly like Sookie?

Anyway, an author's body of work shows me things about individual work. What I mean is that the Grave Series shows me things about the Sookie Series that would not be revealed in the Sookie Series alone. This small town bit, for instance. Oh, wow, have people fallen asleep yet? Is anybody reading this sentence? Do you ever feel like that on blog posts? ahem, back on topic!

Hello ape man?
The first books: ape men
This week I finished Dreams of a Dark Warrior by one of my top favorite authors, Kresley Cole, and I then did something I've been meaning to do forever: I ordered Kresley Cole's McCarrick brothers series.

After that, I'll read her Pirate series. You can't imagine how excited I am to read them. I've noticed that in early books, authors can sometimes be viewed trying out themes and exploring techniques that they later perfect and smooth out.

I'm sure I'll enjoy both these series - it's unimaginable to me I wouldn't enjoy something Cole writes, but will reading her early stuff be like the missing link? The ape-man version of what is today her very highly-evolved writerly wonderfulness? Let's hope! I am nosy that way!

Stiltwalker image: Masquerade on the pumpkin festival (Festa della Zucca) in Verzone, province of Udine, region Fruili-Venezia Giulia, Italy by Johann Jaritz

Friday, September 9, 2011

Title news & guest post/giveaway scoop!

Head Rush. Game on! 
Hey everybody! First, thanks so much to everyone who stopped by my title poll. It was fun and also really helpful to get your input. I was torn between HEAD RUSH and PSYCH OUT, and it was heartening to see that both seemed to work for most people, and that they were basically a tie. It showed me they are both strong good titles. (And, good also, to have THE ART OF FEAR put to rest so decidedly.)

Anyway, the title is going to be HEAD RUSH. (Which I understand was originally the brainchild of Amy Boggs - @notjustanyboggs -  baby agent at Donald Maass, during a brainstorming session there. Thanks, Amy!) I'm really happy about it.

A title is a collaboration between the author, editor, agent, and others, and it helped to have a reader perspective. Soon, I hope, there will be a cover. I've seen some gorgeous covers coming out of Samhain lately.

The book: my personal Rorschach Ink blot.
Is the book good, or does it suck? 
An author goes through phases about books (or at least I do). There will be weeks where I'll love a book that I've written and think it's so great, and then I'll hate it and think it's terrible, the worst dreck on earth, and then I go back to thinking it's wonderful, the best thing I've ever written, and then back to terrible, what schlock!

All the while, the book pretty much doesn't change. Clearly my different perceptions mean more about me than the book. Like an ink blot.

Anyway, I'm on the upside of that right now with Head Rush (the  book itself, not the title). Loving it! So excited! Joyous. That will change and I will get all critical about it, but what the heck, it feels good for now. Also, I noticed on Goodreads, it has the highest rating of all my books so far, even though it has not yet been released in any form whatsoever. LOL. Goodreads and I are both on the upswing about it in a conceptual way.

Release info
Come stop by Stella's. We're all about
the pleasures of novellas today! 
So, HEAD RUSH will release as an audio book from (also, the itunes store and possibly elsewhere--must investigate) in early November (all  3 books come out at once in audio). It will release as an ebook on December 6th (available where ebooks are typically sold - Amazon, B&N, ARE, Sony Reader store, etc. as well as Samhain) and as print in 2012 at some point, available from the usual sites and some bookstores)
I have posted about audiobooks on my website. Thanks so much to Liza (@mslizalou) and Melissa (@MelLhay) for questions that led me to this post.

 Realizations of a former short story and novella, discussion, and giveaway at Stella's! 
Today I'm over at Stella Ex Libris, with a post about my reformed ways as a reader and writer of shorter fiction, and novellas in general. I'm also giving away a copy of Wild & Steamy to one lucky commenter.

Come vent or gush about short fiction, just say hi, and maybe win! 

Monday, September 5, 2011

What does this writerly screed have to do with my grandmother's notebook?

I’ve been carrying around this old notebook of my grandmother’s forever—it's sat in the bottom of a bookshelf in every place I live. It was entirely blank and unused, aside from one page of something random (and the front, where she wrote her name and ‘knitting book.’) Isn’t it cool? So cool, that I felt like I needed to wait and find a really important use for it.

 So, I didn’t write in it for years, waiting for the exact perfect use for it. Something monumental. And of course I simply never used it.

 There is this bad habit writers can get into, or at least, I can get into, which I think of as ‘scarcity thinking’ which is where I’ll think of an awesome event or realization or twist, and I think, I need to hold that for the pinnacle of the book.

 Whenever I find myself thinking that I need to keep something to spring later, I try to do the opposite — I make myself blow the cool idea early in the book.

 It’s because I have this writerly superstition that holding things back for the right time implies that there aren’t millions more cool ideas, and I think it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy—that is, waiting to use the good stuff makes the good stuff scarce. Holding back the candy makes it so that I have less candy, whereas if I spill all my candy right away, more will be there waiting for me later. That's the superstition I have, but I really think that's how it works.

 There is another form of it where I’ll hold off on getting my characters in worst-case-scenario trouble until later. I think that’s really bad for a story to let worst case scenarios hang out there forever. When I find myself doing that, I’ll try and spill that candy, pull that trigger, push the nuclear option button.

I'm not successful at it yet. It's a discipline I'm working on. Striving. You know how it is.

Have you ever watched the Sopranos? It’s this whole drama about Tony Soprano, the mafia boss. Not to criticize it, I mean, it was an excellent, bold, groundbreaking show, and I couldn’t have written it better. But, my husband and I would get so frustrated because they kept almost getting Tony in trouble, and then withdrawing the trouble. He never got arrested, convicted, toppled by another Mafia boss, nothing. They kept the Sword of Damocles suspended over his head—season after season after season, just wiggling around now and then. And I think that’s why the show got stale.

The opposite is Joss Whedon, who’s perfectly willing to go there, wherever there happens to be. Joss is a total hero to many writers, including me, and I think a lot of it, for me anyway, is his abundance thinking, which is the opposite of scarcity thinking. He’ll kill characters (sometimes twice) let people radically transform, even plunge the planet into apocalyptic chaos. He doesn’t hold back on going to the ultimate place. He’ll go there - it’s as if he knows that when he comes out the other end, there will be a new ultimate place to go.

Actually, Kresley Cole does that really beautifully, too, in a different way. She lets things get big and crazy and terrible and spills candy all over the place. Sometimes, I look at the events in just one of her chapters, and in other hands, I could see it filling a whole book. I think she is amazing.

So this is a big thing for me that I’m always working on, to get away from scarcity thinking, and always looking to my favorite writers for their example of it. Like, what would Joss or Kresley do?

I was thinking about it this past winter, and thinking about other places in my life where I do that.

I have favorite clothes that are so favorite that I coddle them and, I limit how much I’ll wear them, like they’re too precious. Why do I do that? I actually have another grandmother thing—these little Christmas candles from the 40’s that I never burn. Sometimes at Christmas I take them out but they get dusty if you leave them out too long. But I think I’m going to burn them this Christmas!

And this notebook of my grandmother’s, of course. So I thought, no more scarcity thinking with that notebook! I’m going to use it. I decided to use it for brainstorming notes on short stories and novellas. And it’s been really great, because the thing is in use, laying all over my office, in the living room, wherever. I look at it 1,000,000% more this year than my whole life combined. I’ll eventually fill its pages but why not? It's there to be used. So, that's my big thing.

So do you do that scarcity thing, too? Or do you have the opposite problem?

Images: Sword of Damocles by Richard Westall; Jelly Babies by Father Jack