Tag Archives: writers

Quitting Time?

I’m 64 years old, so let me just say 1:15 a.m. is way past my bedtime. Yet here I sit. Sweating, because I’m too cheap to turn on the AC. Thinking. Blogging. Sweating. Pondering. Basically driving myself nuts, trying to answer one yes/no question: Is it time to stop writing novels?

Notice the absence of the adjective <em>simple</em>, as in, one <em>simple </em>question. I don’t do simple. I complicate. Everything. It’s a gift.

See, here’s the rub. I used to love to write. Maybe I still do. But, you know, I got caught up in the whole indie marketing frenzy–not to be confused with a shark feeding frenzy, although, hey … maybe they’re not that different. I tried, but I can’t keep up. I’m shell shocked. Seriously. I sometimes think I’ll run screaming down the street—wild-eyed and possibly buck naked—if  I see one more Facebook post about how I could be “10 Tweets Away from Bestseller” or make a killing with “5 Benign Book Signing Strategies” or “Instantly Instagram an Irresistible Author Platform.”

So I ask myself. Should I, an unrepentant marketing failure, a crotchety promo dropout, continue to write? I have neither yen nor breath to toot my own horn. I get cranky just thinking about it. Ergo, wouldn’t it make sense to just stop, for God’s sake?

Absolutely. And I’ve made up my mind to do exactly that, at least a hundred times. Except ….

I can’t stop thinking about writing. No problem at all resisting the urge to actually <em>do</em> it, but I can’t stop thinking about the books I have out there or the ones in progress or the unborn stories running laps in my brain. I’m afflicted with snippets of dialogue, plot points, conflicts, characters. I get ideas, dammit.

I recently confided in my blog-tour coordinator—employed back when I could afford such—my urge to switch off the Mac, throw out the pencils, burn my thesaurus. She said no, don’t do that, all our reviewers loved your books.

I spent all night updating my website. The one I won’t need, on account of I’m not going to write books any more.

Maybe.

Crap.

I need another glass of wine.

Why Remix?

As a writer, I was a late bloomer. Eighteen years ago, I was in my early forties when I decided to write my first book. Crazy, right?

But you know what they say: “Better late than never.”

In my case, better took a quantum leap into fabulous when Bantam bought that book and its sequel for its Loveswept series romance line. I was delighted (read: exuberant, bordering on rapturous). I learned a great deal from my experience with Bantam—thanks in particular to my editors Joy Abella and Beth De Guzman—and I owe them more than I can say.

Now let’s fast-forward a decade. Or two.

Those two books—which remain dear to my heart—are sadly, out of print. They were never available as e-books. To boot, these engaging stories, once critically acclaimed—For Love or Money won a Romantic Times Reviewer’s Choice Award—are now hideously dated. (I mean, who knew back in 1997 we’d all carry around cell phones one fine day?) Finally, in the past eighteen years I’ve grown as a writer, giving new meaning to the ever-wistful refrain, “If I had it to do all over again ….”

Taking those factors into account, the decision to “remix” the two existing books as semi-sweet romances (a genre I personally invented for books that are sensual but not explicit)—and add a third to create the Golden State Hearts Trilogy—was a no-brainer.

Book one, the new and improved For Love or Money, will launch on April 1st. (Making me an April Fool for romance.) Book two, Hunter In Disguise, is slated for late July. And book three–featuring two middle-aged romantic leads and as yet untitled–will debut just in time for Christmas.

Meanwhile, I’m making like a Mixmaster (Mixmistress sounds sort of kinky) and having the time of my life!

Just for Fun: Introverts

Introvert-Leader

Many, if not most, writers are introverts at heart. That being the case, I thought we could all unite here–separately, in the comfort of our own homes, of course–to chat about our common foibles. Sure, I get the fact that we’re far from a new topic. Since the dawn of time–or thereabouts–introverts have been pleading for understanding and offering tips on how to get along with and make life easier for us. Cyberspace teems with blogs and articles about same, and Susan Cain wrote a bestseller about us.

Unfortunately, our cries for acceptance, heart-rending though they may be, all too often go unheard by our bee-busy-buzzy extroverted friends.  Still, on the off chance some stray, snowed-in extrovert is dying for company, scouring the Interweb for somebody, anybody, to talk to, I’m willing to oblige. Listen up.

To begin with, seeing as how introverts make up a mere 25% of the world’s population, I decided I ought to provide a checklist of key characteristics you can use to recognize us. You may even discover you’re one of us. If you do, don’t be surprised if your first reaction is denial. That was my first reaction, at least until I learned introversion ≠ shy, a fact I’m constantly explaining to those who know me and my big mouth only too well. As for retiring, you’d be amazed at the far-reaching effects a few good introverts have had on history. For example:

  • Albert Einstein (who had enough chutzpah to turn the world of physics on its head)
  • Mahatma Gandhi (who had enough chutzpah to turn the British empire on its head)
  • Dwight Eisenhower (who had enough chutzpah to turn the Third Reich on its head)
  • Stephen Spielberg (who produces groundbreaking movies like ET, Letters from Iwo Jima and Schindler’s List)
  • Michael Jordan (fearless on the basketball court, and a terrific salesman, although the less said about underwear here, the better)
  • Steve Martin (a wild and crazy guy)
  • Clint Eastwood (Dirty Harry, Gunny Hightower and the mayor of Carmel, mind you)
  • Johnny Carson (yes, the Great Carnac himself)
  • Mother Theresa (who comforted millions of suffering souls in India and around the world)

Shy?  I don’t think so.

But I digress.  We were talking about how to recognize an introvert, and I promised you a checklist. Never let it be said I didn’t have the chutzpah to follow through.

You might be an introvert, if …

  • your favorite spot at any given party is that cozy corner where you can happily, albeit safely, observe extroverts in action.
  • your first reaction to stress is a desire for space and plenty of it.
  • your last reaction to stress is a desire to talk about what’s bugging you.
  • you think a good weekend is one when nobody calls, visits, or emails.
  • you hold life’s most important bits close to the vest.
  • you like people but prefer them in small doses and need time alone to recharge after contact.
  • your mental calendar is full, your social calendar, not so much … and that’s fine and dandy by you.
  • your worst nightmare is the well-meaning friend or relative who’s decided you’re shy or lonely or depressed and just need to be “drawn out.”
  • you visit a new church and hesitate to fill out the visitor’s card, because you know it will unleash a kindly, completely overwhelming flood of invitations to a) join small groups, b) come to dinner or c) “get together and chat.”

There. Does that help? Did you recognize yourself or someone you care about? If you find yourself facing that most disquieting of epiphanies–i.e., that you have (or are) an introvert in a family of extroverts–don’t panic. I’m about to suggest a few coping strategies. Not that we introverts expect to be coddled, mind you, but remembering a few salient points will keep feathers unruffled all around.

  1. Don’t take it personally, when we go hedgehog. It’s not you; it’s us. We’re not mad, we still love you, we just need some time alone to recharge. Depending on the circumstances, recharging can take anywhere from 5 minutes to 5 months.
  2. Don’t ask, “Are you all right?” or “Is anything wrong?” or “Do you want to talk?” The answers are:  “Yes,” and “Only the fact that I’m not alone right now,” and “Absolutely not, but I’ll call you, if that changes.”
  3. If you’re getting grunts, hmmms or other monosyllabic answers, or we’re giving you that I’m-in-an-alternative-universe stare, we probably need some space.
  4. We do occasionally erupt into nonstop chatter. This usually happens after a prolonged period of “working things out in our heads.” Pretend you’re listening, smile and nod, remind yourself that this, too, shall pass–and thank God these eruptions tend to be infrequent.
  5. In times of extreme stress, we find invitations, phone calls, shooting the breeze, and Facebook posts that have to be shared to prove our compassion or social consciousness extremely taxing. Like Greta Garbo, we want to be alone. We want peace and quiet, online and off. We need to think, to process. (As opposed to extroverts, who seem to process every live-long thing out loud. I can’t tell you how many times an extrovert has told me–in excruciating detail–about his/her current problem, then concluded cheerfully, “Thanks!  Talking to you has helped me work it all out in my mind.” How that happens with all that gabbing going on is a mystery to me, but the system apparently works for them.)
  6. Finally, when we really start to get on your nerves, remember:  While we’re doing our withdrawn-uncommunicative-introversion schtick, we may be formulating the Theory of Everything or composing the Great American Novel or inventing the solution that will permanently straighten your naturally curly hair.

Did I miss anything? Feel free to comment and let me know!

introvert 3

Tools of the Trade, Part 1: Words

ster•e•o•type  /ˈsterēəˌtīp/ noun 1. a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing.

I get this. If you’re an indie author, you get this, because, let’s face it, indies have a bad rep in some circles. Now we can’t do jack about folks who believe writing is easy, and/or we’re in this for the money. No changing minds that color all indies as half-witted hobbyists, geeky basement dwellers, ditzy housewives, or bored retirees.

But before I tumble off my soapbox laughing–or foaming at the mouth–let me add this:  Even Psychology Today admits some stereotypes grow like twisted pearls around a kernel of truth. Our kernel is this:  We’ve got too much half-assed writing out there. Not the sole province of indies, I’ll grant you, but we can only clean our own house.

And speaking of houses, you wouldn’t try to build one without tools–well, not unless you’re Popeye the Sailor, who used to drive nails with his fists, and even he couldn’t build a book without the right tools. For the next few weeks, I’m gonna make like Lowe’s, offering tips and tools for your building pleasure. Today’s special, laying a strong foundation.

We start by repeating our mantra for this Saturday:

Words-Have-Power

You bet they do, so don’t get sloppy with them. Would you get sloppy with a band saw–whatever that is? No way. Well, to paraphrase Edward Bulwer-Lytton, words are mightier than band saws. Think about it.

Words are wonderful. Hobgoblin, finagle, lambaste, titular, weensy, claptrap, crackerjack, fluff, knucklehead, quisling, snout, porcine … I mean, you gotta love ’em, right? So choose the right one. If you won’t listen to me on this, listen to Mark Twain.

The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.

Choosing the right word is key for, oh, let me count the ways. Nail your nouns, you won’t need to swaddle them in adjectives that bloat your writing. A strong verb will free you from adverbs, which as Stephen King assures us, pave the road to Hell. So forget the bad storm and heavy rain. You’ve got your deluge, your downpour, or, if you’re in Texas, your frog-strangler. Jettison smiled wryly or widely or sweetly in favor of smirked, beamed, leered, grinned, or simpered.

Sad to say, sometimes the perfect noun or verb is nowhere to be found. In that case, you’ve got nowhere to go but adjectives or adverbs, so go for the heavy lifters. And use as few as possible. Sticking with the storm theme: sheeting rain, shrieking wind, soupy fog. Smile fleetingly or darkly or crookedly. And for God’s sake, don’t be afraid of the unusual. Check out this evocative image from J.D. Robb’s Conspiracy In Death:  “the thin and sticky hand of charity.”

See what I mean? And I may I just say, “Damn, I wish I’d written that.”

Make use of all your word tools. Onomatopoeia, for example. You probably know, but in case you don’t, onomatopoeia is “the formation or use of words such as buzz or murmur that imitate the sounds associated with the objects or actions they refer to.” (Thanks for the cut-and-paste, thefreedictionary.com!) You’ll find a nice list here. In case you’re curious, a few personal faves include plunk, jitter, plop, babble (referring to speech, not brooks), eew, grit, and gurgle. I could go on and on, so please … stop me now!

Alliteration is another handy tool, but you want to use this one with caution, unless you’re writing standup comedy, and even then, you don’t want to go all Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. Check out these powerhouse examples:

  • “I’ll kill him,” he said, “in all his greatness and glory.” ~Old Man and the Sea
  • “his appearance was something displeasing, something downright detestable” ~Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde
  • “the sibilant sermons of the snake” ~The Gargoyle (nice combo of alliteration and onomatopoeia, yes?)
  • ballbuster ~almost any mainstream mystery novel

Finally, as I’ve often said–much to the dismay of friends and family everywhere–if you’re serious about words, if you want to learn to unleash their power, you need to read poetry. (I heard that groan. Suck it up.) Poets rule when it comes to the efficient, effective use of words. Read and learn:

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.

Frozen-ground-swell, spilling boulders? Oh yeah, words have power ….

When Molly Gets Her Walkin’ Ears On … And Why That Matters to Me As a Writer

When Molly gets her walkin’ ears on, they sweep back.  Not flat and hard like angry dog ears, or limp and wimpy like sad/scared dog ears.  More like the wings on an F-14.  I get a kick out of it, every time.  I mean, Molly’s ears are hardly the stuff of wind resistance—they look about one size too small for even her little head.  But soon as she’s on the leash, her tail revs up and back go the ears.

Shifting into Drive, I guess.

She’s a power-walker, is my Molly.  No sniffing hydrants or nosing around light poles for this gal.  Twenty-one pounds of got-places-to-go-and-people-to-meet, she trots lightly beside me, head on a swivel, undersized aerodynamically positioned ears bouncing in time with her spritely gait:  doink, doink, doink.  She clocks in at an effortless 2.6 mph on the pedometer, and she’s having the time of her life.

That makes two of us.   Especially when ladies stop to fuss over her, and the college student in the silver pickup pulls up to the stop sign, lowers his window, and says, “That is a really cute dog.”

I beam like proud mama.  Molly wags furiously, yearning to get him in a lip lock.  Of course, Molly yearns to get everybody in a lip lock.  She is, after all, a major people person … uh, pup.

We still have some things to learn, a few minor kinks to iron out.

  1. Joggers don’t generally want their legs licked mid-stride.  It makes them trip and get grumpy, even at someone as adorable as you, Molly.  This is why we’re learning to sit as they approach.  I know it just about kills you to let them pass unslurped, but such is life.
  2. Pausing for a silent salute to the bunny who didn’t quite make it across Victoria Avenue is okay.  An up-close-and-personal sniff (or, God forbid, lap) at the corpse is not.
  3. Beetles are not pick-me-up snacks strewn along your path by a benevolent Deity.
  4. Nix on belly-flopping on the grass when we get home, simply because you’re not ready to call it quits.  You grin up at me smugly, obviously intending to play immovable object until you get your way, but let’s face it:  You only weigh twenty-one pounds, and you’re a sucker for treats. We’re not talking rocket science here.

So, that’s Molly.  And, yes, I’m besotted.  But I didn’t create this blog as a platform to prattle exclusively (and, perhaps, endlessly) about my newly adopted dog, wondrous though she may be.  I created it to prattle about writing.

Not seeing the connection, are you.  I didn’t either, until this morning.

But there we were, tripping lightly down the sidewalk under a steel-gray sky when I realized I was writing.  In my head.  Watching Molly’s bouncy step and bobbing ear-lets, watching her get all squiggly and excited at the prospect of planting drive-by slobber on the well-muscled calves of the lady jogging toward us, I found myself searching for the best way to describe it all.  Experiencing the walk on two levels, both as Molly’s pal and as the observer who couldn’t wait to get her fingers on the keyboard, so she could try to bring Molly’s ears and the way she eyed the poor dead rabbit and the fun we were having together alive for somebody else.

So that’s the connection.  Molly makes me want to write.  Not only about her, but about the way people and animals move.  The humidity that rolls sweat down my back.  The way the sky looks when it’s shrouded in gray.

A while back, I quoted Rilke, who said, ““If your everyday life seems poor, do not indict it; indict yourself, tell yourself that you are not poet enough to summon its riches; for the creator there is no poverty and no poor, indifferent place.”

At the end of that post, I reckoned I needed to learn to come alive to the world around me.

And this morning, for 2.23 miles, I think I did.

Thanks, Moll.