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.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Dear Blog

 Dear Blog,
          I've been working on an alternate project lately and can't really tell you about it. Rest assured that I am still writing, but I took a left turn at Albuquerque and who knows where I'll end up.
          I've been mulling over a question. I strongly believe that a writer should be true to themselves. That said, how smart is it to keep being true to yourself when rejection after rejection tells you that you are on the wrong path? There are only so many times you can tell yourself that you just haven't found the right agent yet before you come to the conclusion that the problem is with yourself.
         I know, dear blog, that you are on my side. I know you think I'm a great writer with manuscripts the world has been waiting to see. Thank you for that. I just think that, perhaps, it may not be the manuscripts that I have already written. That leaves me with the problem of figuring out where I go wrong. The latest rejection told me there was a problem with the pacing. Does that mean it's too fast? Or too staccato? That I don't give enough breathing space? I don't know.
        This brings me back to my first point. I'm taking a break from querying, pitching, or putting myself out there at all. I need to focus on my craft and find my voice. I also need to confirm whether my voice is in genre fiction or literary fiction and go all in.
        As for you, blog, I think I'll return to the premise of building my craft in my posts. Does that mean you'll still hear about Irish dancing? Well, I don't think that I can avoid including that. I hope you don't mind.  But, for the time being, there will be no conference/pitching posts because that's not where I am right now.
        Are we cool?

         Erin Spock

Friday, June 26, 2015

Sure, I Can Make an Irish Solo Dress...

You see the price tags on the USED dresses and think to yourself that you have years of sewing experience. You even have experience in costuming. You can embroider, you can bead. Hell, you once made a dress that weighed almost forty pounds, a little baby Irish dress has got to be cake.

Well, it's not. It's so much more than a dress. It has to hang correctly when stationary and when moving. The skirt has to be weighted to stay down, but light enough to pop up with kicks. The bodice can't be form fitting, but should show the dancer's posture and form. The sleeves should always been in the down position and hang correctly that way, but the dancer needs to be able to fix her wig.

For my first dress I was worried about putting in a zipper. One YouTube tutorial later and the zipper was the least of my worries. In the long run, my biggest struggle (construction-wise) was with the sleeves. The detail work took some getting used to as well. I hated the idea of working with glue and opted to stitch on all the beads. This resulted in a dress that, up close, had a home-made quality. I still think it danced well, but I was too stuck in my own vision to consider resale.

This is a good source that answers questions about Irish dresses. I also found this very helpful when it came to patterning and applique. Then there is always just looking at the dresses, figuring out how the professionals pieced them together (this has been the most helpful). To look at some of the big name designers, click on the images included in this post.

I had a similar experience when it came to writing my first book. I'd always been a big reader, but didn't think, "Hey, I could write this," until I started reading romance (my Mom's Fabio collection). I realize now that I didn't have a respect for the genre or the writers at that time. Not until, years later, I struggled with my own story arc did I really pick apart what made a good book and gain appreciation for the nuances of the story building.

My first book was a labor of love, based entirely on my vision of how it should be. No, it didn't/hasn't sold. There's been interest, yes - but ultimately I hear that it's more like historical fiction than historical romance.

Just like with my first solo dress. I received compliments, sincere ones about how pretty the dress was. But was it an Irish solo dress? I'm learning.

My point here is that, from the outside, sometimes things look simpler than they are in reality. This is not new news by any means, but it's a lesson I learn over and over again. Knowing this has made me a kinder person, less critical. I appreciate the work that goes into making something great so much more than I did when I was full of unjustified confidence.

And thus, I am finished with another adequate blog post.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Aphrodisiac Flash Fiction

I wrote this short piece for Romantic Friday Writers a in 2012. Since then, this is the post most of my friends recount to me when we discuss my writing. I thought I would re-post it just for fun (and to keep my posts more regular, a goal of mine).

Aphrodisiac Schmaphrodisiac
The goose was rubbed down with honey and citrus. I had been drawing cup after cup of rendered fat away for the past three hours. Oysters chilled on their bed of ice in my sink with only a little of my blood still staining the drain from my first practice shucking. The artichokes were steaming and the olive oil, caper, and dill drizzle was setting, drawing and blending flavors. The wine had been decanted, my prized Waterford red wine goblets, polished.
I had eschewed my regular floral perfume for a spicy cinnamon body lotion. My hair was loose, my cleavage bountiful. I had followed the Aphrodisiac Cookbook to the letter, but knew if all else failed, I could count on my breasts.
One way or another, I was going to get laid tonight. No, not 'laid'–seduced. My needs were basic; I wanted to be wanted. I wanted to feel. For so long I had been a wife and mother. Toward the end, when the Huntington's had disabled the man I married, I was more caretaker than wife. Now, with Jason finally at peace and the boys in college, it was time to be a woman again. I blinked away the threatening tears and checked my eyes in the mirror. The mascara was definitely worth the eight dollars, though the lip stain looked too contrived. Grimacing, I wondered if I should have colored my hair. The strands of silver among the auburn screamed, "Old lady." And no one seduced an old lady. No, they helped her open jars and cross the road. My skin was still smooth. Without the grey, I could, maybe, have pulled off thirty-nine. With the grey I was every inch of forty-seven. I ran a finger over my brows, and gave myself a smile. I looked... well, I look like me. And Mr. Harris, David, already knew what I looked like.
The chimes sounded. He was here. I took a deep breath and slipped my bare feet into the kitten heeled slings I bought years ago for a Caribbean cruise but never wore. They still felt sexy.
He stood in the doorway, tall and clean cut in his casual slacks. My son’s former soccer coach, I’d never seen him in anything but his team jersey and sweats.
“Good evening, Mrs. Walsh.” He smiled and brought his hand from behind his back. Roses.
I blushed like an idiot and took them, my smile  so big it hurt. “Gemma, please.”
“Sorry. Old habits.”
I stepped back and he stepped in, wiping his feet on the rug. I should have moved further back—I was too close, in his space. Before I could, he took my hand.
“I’ve been looking forward to tonight for a long time.”
His voice was deeper than I remembered. He was holding my hand—should I squeeze? Pull away? Stay limp? I blushed again, burying my face in the roses. Jeese, you’d think I was sixteen, not someone who couldn’t open jars.
“David,” his name sounded decadent on my tongue, “would you like some wine?” I gestured with the bouquet, but stayed beside him, my hand warm in his.
“Umm, yes,” he cleared his throat, “Or no. Not now. Christ, I’m no good at this.”
“Good at what?” My voice was breathless.
He stepped closer, tracing my cheek with his finger. My breath caught in my throat as he leaned toward me.
            “This,” he whispered. Lowering his head he brushed my lips with his. His hand cradled my jaw, his fingers spearing back into my hair.
I leaned closer and he pressed his mouth more firmly against mine. Closing my eyes, I melted into him and he wrapped his arms around me.
The roses fell to the floor, the timer on the oven beeped, and the wine continued to breathe. None of it mattered. This man, David, he wanted me, grey hair and all, without aphrodisiacs.

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