Saturday, April 9, 2016

My White Whale

I am wrestling with Courtly Pleasures (formerly known as Courtly Love) again. Why? Because I'm insane.

Also, it's current state of unpublishability (word?) makes me angry.

Courtly Love was the first manuscript I ever wrote. When I finished it, I was certain it was the BEST BOOK EVER! I expected immediate publication and to be lauded as author extraordinaire. I did get some positive feedback, but ultimately the book had some big problems.

1. It wasn't genre specific. It was too much of a romance to be historical fiction and too much historical fiction to be a romance. It was almost chick lit, but didn't delve deep enough to be a journey of discovery.

2. It was history lesson for era politics and costuming. All my readers told me that there was too much about the clothes but I dismissed them as not able to discern how really necessary that clothing description was to the story. By the way, it wasn't necessary.

3. Basic writing skills. The feedback told me I was too passive. I went through and search all "was" and came up with everything being good English. Nope. Reading it years later I found so many examples of "she was sitting at the table" and changed those to "she sat at the table." Little things that make the story faster paced.

4. It was more of a story about my female lead. We hardly ever saw the male lead and even then it wasn't enough to care about him. If it is romance, you need to fall in love with the guy a little. So I rewrote it once, and gave the male a bigger part, but then my female lead became unsympathetic. Damned if I do... you know the rest.

I am, yet again, tackling Courtly Pleasures. Why? Because I have Courtly Scandal and Courtly Abandon and really feel like they need to be a trio. In the rewrite (which is only a little bit Frankensteined from the original) the love story is central. Then I get frustrated with it and wonder if I should just own the chick lit nature of the book and make finding and accepting love thread secondary and re-brand. And then I think I need to go into unique faces of Queen Elizabeth's court and re-brand as historical fiction. And then I get mad at the whole thing and play World of Warcraft.

This book is holding me back on all the other projects. Having it left in limbo has hobbled me as a writer. Solution = get it done. Get it done now. 

My critique partner shakes her head whenever I bring it up, but it must happen. This is my Moby Dick and may well be the death of me.

Do you have any projects that you cannot shake?

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Judgy McJudgerton

I volunteered to judge for a contest for unpublished romance writers. This is the second time I've done this and I'm in awe of the unpublished talent out there. This experience leaves me with two vastly different impressions:

1. There's some good stuff out there in the unpublished world. If I number among their ranks, I should be proud. So many are books that I wish could continue reading. They are clean and professional. The ones that pull me out of the read with errors or plot issues just need some more fine tuning. None of them, so far, have been anything any writer should be ashamed of. In fact, it's obvious they're not ashamed--they hope to win this contest so they have confidence in their manuscript. They are my peers. Go team!

2. Who the hell am I to judge a contest? I'm just one of the gazillions of unpublished authors out there with only my failures to guide me. Good grief! Are the people judging my manuscript(s) schlubs like me? If so, where do they get off liking or not liking my writing? And why should I give any weight to the results?

Luckily the positive response dominates, but the negative one peeks through here and there. I guarantee it will come to the forefront of my defenses when I get my own results (unless they're good, in which case my judges were fellow geniuses).

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Believing in Magic

Merry Christmas! This crazy time of year has, strangely, brought me back to writing because I realized what threw off my mojo. I shelved a book before I was finished and started another one. That was a message to myself that what I wrote didn't matter. I'd stopped writing for me and started writing for the market. I realized this a few months ago, but still couldn't get back on the horse. I think this is because I lost any sense of urgency to get anything done. I'd lost hope.

Well, I have slapped myself back to writing and thank goodness for that. It really is a part of me and when I'm not creating, I'm in a slump. Writing is the source of my magic.

Magic plays a big part in our house around Christmas. Yes, Jesus or Saturn or Odin is the reason for the season (we go with Jesus even though I completely get the roots of the Winter Solstice celebrations -- I think the meaning the celebrants impart into the celebration gives it authenticity). But we also have Santa. Call him a marketing figure created by Coke or creepy stalker who watches you sleep, I don't care. He's magic and when kids believe in him, their sense of wonderment and optimism is contagious. It abolishes all the skepticism, depression, and stress that comes with the season. Because Santa is watching. And Christmas morning when there are things under the tree, it's proof that faith is rewarded. Santa is more than a carrot on a stick, he's potential and limitless possibility -- something we grow out of way too soon.

My oldest is eleven and in the sixth grade. She informed me she no longer believes, but she was waiting for me to confirm or deny. I left it in the air and made a joke about Santa bringing kids that didn't believe in him socks for Christmas. She's still going to go to be too excited to sleep on Christmas Eve and her heart will race when she finds her stocking. She's on the edge of the age of not believing and I want her to hold on because there is a joy that comes with belief in magic.

As for me, I think I must hold on to some innate belief in order to keep plodding forward with faith that someday I'll write the right book. Either that, or I'm insane (reminiscent of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell where only the insane could see magic). Either way, I just entered the Golden Heart contest. Again.

I hope I never reach the age of not believing.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Come Undone

A couple of Romance Writer's of America conferences ago, based on what the agents accepting pitches were asking for, I realized I needed to write contemporary romance. The genre is more than just something that happens in current times. They tend toward small towns and quirky people where the setting and supporting cast is as important as the main players. I started out to write something with a Northern Exposure flavor set in small town California. It was a beach town and after my husband gave his two cents (realtor) that a beach town wouldn't be dwindling, it became a mountain town similar to Idyllwild. Then I got a really good response on my paranormal romantic thriller and put this story away to work on another thriller.

I've just unearthed it and begun rereading. It has been out of sight/mind for long enough that my writing was no longer familiar. Pardon my lack of humility, but I really enjoyed it. I felt her anxiety and laughed at her self-deprecating humor. I related to the book and wanted to read more. That just means I have to write it.

Thank you to Mary Wine for telling me to write about a costumer. She also inspired the Hobbit wedding.

To read the opening pages of my work in progress, Come Undone, click below.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Back on the Horse

I am the biggest obstacle to my writing. There are those moments when I could believe in muses gifting me with a story. Then there are those moments (many, many moments over the past year) where my writing is forced with the hope that if I write something, the right thing will happen. The result usually involves many mindless Facebook games, deleted pages, or the urge to nap.

When I have experienced writer's block in the past it's always because I wasn't writing the correct thing. Something was critically wrong with my story and I couldn't work forward until it was fixed. This past year has been different. I think I stopped trusting myself and my vision. Rejection took its toll and I think, on a subconscious level, I no longer believed that the right story lay within me. I lost the joy of writing for writing's sake and could only see my failures.

My critique partner would ask me about this every time she saw me. I didn't see what was happening because I was still writing, sort of. Hardly producing, but I would open the file and change it enough to have to save at the end. She saw me flailing and wanted to help, but I didn't see it. She asked if I was done with writing. I said no, but I wondered.

So, here it is. I am not done with writing. What I am done with (until I freak out again, there's a full moon, menstruation, out of ice cream, whatever) is writing with the goal of getting an agent/editor's attention. I'm writing for me. I'm writing what will make me smile, cry, or surprise my husband with unsolicited physical affection. I will write because it makes me feel like I'm fulfilling my potential.

And if an agent/editor ends up liking it, bully for me. If not... well, eventually sometime something I write will be the right thing for the industry and then I'll have a whole backlog of completed manuscripts for my future readers.

In honor of my wake up call, my next post will include the beginning pages from a work in progress than I'm disinterring and going to finish (if it kills me, goshdarnit). So stay tuned.

The video linked below is twenty minutes but worth your time. I have thought back on it many times over the years, especially when I don't feel the creative genius percolating and try to force it. It helps me to realize I can't control everything (serenity prayer anyone?) and the stories that need to be told will be told.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Hell if I Know

I have no idea what I'm doing. It's true. It doesn't matter if we're talking about teaching, parenting, writing, sewing, breathing.. I have no clue. I'm just making things up as I go along and hoping no one notices. Luckily I've become good at faking it, but that doesn't change the fact that I feel like a fraud.

I have these moments of clarity when I think, "Hey, I'm a grown up now," or "Wow, I've been teaching for fifteen years," or, "My kids are still alive!" and think I may be competent. But then I wake up the next day and have to fight my own self doubt again.

In The War of Art author Steven Pressfield calls this niggling doubt of being an impostor "Resistance."

Resistance lurks and preys on insecurities. What makes me think I'm good enough to write a book that people want to read? I'm just me, how can I design and sew a dress that looks like anything other than bits of fabric an overweight mom threw together in her kitchen?

Sometimes Resistance floors me, filling me with doubt and self loathing. Then there are the times that I square my shoulders and flip it of and write because I love writing. I know that dress looks great because I trust my judgement (except when I don't). I am so full of ideas, of color, of energy, how can I not create?

Creative outlets, in writing or teaching or parenting, are where I find fulfillment so how can I let Resistance make me complacent and willing to be mediocre? In order to believe this about myself I have to redefine success to the act of creativity rather than any sort of external validation. Of course, this makes it easier to listen to Resistance when it tells me my books are terrible, but in the end I trust the spark inside me that pushes me to keep truckin'.

So, KERPLOWWWIE! I will continue to spray the world with my creative juices (ewww) because 1. I can. And 2. It makes me whole.

Who cares if I'm just making it up as I go along? Isn't that what creativity is?

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Words, Words, Words

I remember using the "n" word as a child (the 1970s) with my friends when "eeny, meeny, miny, mo" had different words than it does today. Yes, I'm white. No, I did not live in a white supremacist community/family. At the time I didn't understand the history or the impact; now the word gives me the creeps. As a teacher I've dealt with students who have used the word to hurt, knowing full well the impact, but having no empathy for the recipient. I like to think caring will increase with age (hooray for optimism).

Today I used the word "tinker" and the woman with whom I was speaking winced. Based on my life experiences, tinker was a commonly used word and, at the time, didn't seem negative -- as far as I knew, it's just what the travelling people were called. I gather by the reaction today that the word's connotation has changed. Or, perhaps, the word always was offensive and I wasn't aware (innocent ignorance - the same could be said of the word in the first paragraph). Either way, I was embarrassed by my usage today.

In my historical manuscripts I strive to use accurate words for the times. If I question something's historical authenticity, I look it up just to be sure I'm correctly representing the era. That said, values have changed since the fifteen seventies and the significance of historically accurate terms to the modern reader may seriously impact the reading experience. My most recent research was on the terminology for early condoms (one nickname: scum bag.... ewwww).

Bearing in mind the reaction of the modern reader, I do not put faggots on the fire. I do not call ladies wenches, but nor do I use the term to imply a woman of ill repute (wench meant female and was not rank or morality specific). As much as I avoid addressing the hygiene norms of time in order to maintain reader buy-in to the romance, I keep obsolete, though era appropriate words to the minimum. As far as words go, black people in Tudor England would have been referred to as Moors or Ethiopians (to name a few examples) and were present during this time, not only in a slave capacity. I wonder if, at that time, there was objection to the generalization and massive grouping of a people comprised of many tribal identities. Either way, during those times, they were certainly considered more socially acceptable than those known as Gypsies or Romany. That said, I would never disparage the Gypsy people, even in a historical when that would have been the attitude of the day. It could alienate the reader.

The question this brings to mind is: should I? Should I aim for historical accuracy despite the potential for reader reaction? I think the answer lies in whether I'm writing historical fiction or historical romance. I addressed abortion in my second manuscript, but I did so keeping in mind the modern reader response rather than the Elizabethan attitude toward it. I did this to be safe, if not true to the era (and worked it into my main character's arc of self acceptance). Today, abortion is controversial and involves the question of when life begins. All my reading of Queen Elizabeth's court shows there was no such moral quandary.

These same issues were prevalent when I performed in a living history group. How much history do you sacrifice to the need to be entertaining/non-offensive? It's a delicate balance that can be upset by a single word.

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