Saturday, December 1, 2012

Comfort Food Reading

I have lots of stuff in my TBR pile.  Though to be accurate, I guess it's not really a "pile," since 95% of the book-buying I do these days is on my Kindle.  (I'll go into the whole e-book vs. physical book debate some other time, but suffice it to say for now that the Kindle was a space-saving purchase for me - ours is a house full of bookshelves and there are still random books in stacks almost everywhere you look.)  In any case, the virtual stack is growing pretty high - there's a Lynsay Sands Argeneau vampire novel I just picked up for $2 that I hadn't gotten around to reading, a couple other romances that came recommended through reliable sources on Twitter.  I have a copy of Chris Holm's Dead Harvest winging its way to me soon via a random Twitter giveaway (who says the internet's not good for anything?), there's the new Lady Julia Grey Christmas novella that I preordered back in September... so why aren't I reading any of those right now?  Why am I re-reading instead?
I blame Deanna Raybourn, and the aforementioned novella.  When it downloaded automatically to my Kindle at the top of November (and I love that, by the way, I'd pre-ordered it so long ago I had forgotten about it!), I realized it had been a while since I'd read the last book of this richly detailed series.  So instead of diving face-first into the Christmas story like a kid into a birthday cake, I went back to the beginning and started re-reading Silent in the Grave.

If you've never read this series, do yourself a favor and start.  I describe it to people as Victorian-mystery-kinda-romance-just-a-touch-of-paranormal, with clever, witty writing and characters you come to love as old friends, down to the most minor supporting characters (I would love to buy Morag a drink sometime).  One of my proudest moments was getting my book club (whose members tend to recommend "important" depressing books about the Holocaust) hooked on this series.  I discovered this series right around the time my mother's sudden death in 2010, and Julia and Brisbane's frustrating but irresistible relationship (not to mention the entire March family) was a welcome escape during those first horrible weeks.  So I'll always be grateful to them (and to Raybourn) for that.

I know some people who read a book once and never want to pick it up again.  I don't understand that.  Re-reading favorite books is comfort food for me.  It's a giant bowl of mac and cheese on a cold afternoon. (Even more so these days, since dietary restrictions make the aforesaid mac and cheese verboten.)  A favorite series is even better - a whole string of books to wallow in.  For a while I was re-reading Sherrilyn Kenyon's Dark-Hunter series around Halloween (the first few books at least still remain sentimental favorites).

So yeah, I'm definitely a re-reader.  Which is probably why my TBR pile keeps growing.  Oops.  I'll get right on that.  As soon as I finish Dark Road to Darjeeling.  And The Dark Enquiry.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Getting Back to It

I try to be a writer.  I tell people "I am a writer."  I even have this nifty necklace that my oldest goddaughter gave me for Christmas to remind myself.  I wear it to work sometimes and think "This is who I am.  I'm just a legal secretary to pay the bills."

I watch my friends get published and I'm so happy for their success, but my inner five-year old is throwing a temper tantrum.  Why can't I be there too?

Problem is, telling yourself that you're a writer is only a small part.  Turns out you actually have to write, too.    Butt in seat, fingers on keyboard, pen to paper.  A promising first draft isn't enough.  Neither is two-thirds of a draft with a kick-ass ending that's still trapped in your head.

Life is important, and sometimes it gets in the way of the butt-in-seat part.  Then, other times, awesomely, life is driving home from work on a Friday afternoon, and you feel this nudging in your brain.  Characters are talking to you.  "Hey, remember us?  You were totally going to finish up our story in June.  We're into the first week of July.  You gonna get on that anytime soon?"  (And one of the characters punctuates that with a Da! because he's Russian.)

So okay, y'all.  Butt is in seat.  Words are being scribbled.  I'm only going to be able to get a share in some success if I actually finish something I can share.  So let's get on it.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Book Meme (What I'm Reading, Writing, Pondering)

I'm going to be honest: I haven't been writing lately.  Believe me, this is frustrating as hell.  I decided, 'round about New Years, that 2012 was going to be The Year I Do It.  The year I drop "aspiring" from my own self-description of aspiring novelist.  In 2012 I will focus on my writing, finish something, and even if I don't get it accepted somewhere, by the time December comes I will at least have submitted and amassed a few rejections (which to me always mean success: I've gotten my work Out There, even if the answer is no).

Then, on January 2, Family Drama ensued.  The kind that just sucks out your will to live, and it took up the better part of January.  Then houseguests in February on two separate weekends, and during Houseguest #2's stay I threw out my back.  It's only now, three weeks later, that I can actually sit for any length of time in my computer chair without wanting to cry.

So here we are, March, and I haven't done much at all in this Year I Do It.  So I have some catching up to do.  It was a good time for Vivien Jackson to share the Book Meme.  And so shall I.

Books I'm Reading:
I've been working my way through a lot of Kindle freebies lately.  Here are two of my favorites. (They aren't free any longer, but are ridiculously inexpensive, so don't let that stop you):

Shotgun Gravy by Chuck Wendig (currently $.99).  One of the reviews describes the heroine, Atlanta Burns, as "Veronica Mars on Adderall."  Yep.  That's about right.  I started reading this on one of my lunch breaks and immediately regretted it, because I knew I was going to have a hard time putting it down.  So I was late coming back from lunch, and then I stayed up super late that night reading the rest.    Atlanta and her shotgun takes on high school bullies and small-town creeps the way we only wish we could.

Wendig also dispenses writing advice, along with tons of profanity, at his website, Terrible Minds.  Have you checked it out?   You really should.

Phone Kitten by Marika Christian (currently $2.99).  Another freebie I grabbed because it looked interesting.  The other night I went to open a book in my Kindle and clicked on this one by mistake.  The opening paragraph hooked me and now I'm about halfway through it.  It's the story of Emily, a really sweet girl who ends up as a phone sex worker.  When one of her customers ends up dead, she decides to investigate the murder herself.  I'll admit, one of the things that grabbed me was that it's set in Florida, but Emily is a really fun heroine.  She so far manages to stay on that fine line between quirky and TSTL, which is not an easy thing to do.

And my book club's March book is Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln's Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities.  Then in April we're doing The Night Circus.  I admit I'm looking forward to the latter more than the former.

Books I'm Writing:
The main one is Ghosthunter in Paradise, my 2009 NaNoWriMo novel that I'm still trying to make into something "real."  Libby Simpson inherits her grandmother's ghosthunting business, and her first job is to exorcise a dog-treat bakery in a small lakeside Florida town.  Supporting characters include Bruce, the Jack Russell terrier mix she picked up at the North Carolina Welcome Center, her grandmother's 1973 Cadillac Eldorado which really needs a new paint job, and her grandmother's former sidekick, this annoyingly gorgeous guy named Fang, who comes complete with an earring, a motorcycle and a leather jacket that he never takes off, even in the Florida heat.  But Libby gets most of her advice from Nan, her dead grandmother, who shows up every time Libby lights up one of the cigarettes from the half-pack that Nan left when she died.

I think of Ghosthunter as a light-hearted urban fantasy, kind of a parody of all those books that have covers with hot women filling out tank tops and leather pants, wielding kick-ass weapons.  I'm currently about 48K words into a halfway decent first draft, so we'll see where it goes.

There's also Peace, Love, and Rock & Roll, my 2011 NaNo novel, a sweet love story that starts in the late 1980s, set against the backdrop of glasnost and Soviet rock music.  I wonder if it's not an overly simplistic story, but it's mostly about the enduring power of first love, and the two friends who have read it just love it, so I guess it deserves a second look, and possibly an edit and round of submissions.  We'll see.  First draft is complete at about 56K words.

And The Theatre Book, which still doesn't have a name.  It's a Pride and Prejudice meets the modern-day theatre industry kind of thing.  It languishes on my hard drive, waiting for me to come back to it.  I really should put my years of working backstage to some use.

The Book I Love the Most:
Seriously?  I have to decide something like that?  Kneejerk reaction is Jane Austen, which makes me sound all pretentious I suppose.  But I also really love Jennifer Crusie's Bet Me, if we're talking romance, A.S. Byatt's Possession, which is a great literary-mystery-romance.  I also recommend the hell out of Deanna Raybourn's  Lady Julia Grey books (link goes to Silent in the Grave, the first in the series) whenever anyone asks for a "good book to read."

The Last Book I Received as a Gift:
To be quite honest, this book of Christmas stories from my mother in law.  Not the best answer, but an honest one.

The Last Book I Gave as a Gift:
The husband got one of the Codex Alera books by Jim Butcher in his Christmas stocking.  Book 4?  5?  I can't remember which one, but what's important is that I bought it from our independent bookseller downtown.  Support your local bookstores, dammit!   That is, if you still have one!

The Nearest Book:
Hmm.  Nothing on my desk.  When I look to the bookcase on my right, the first thing my eyes fall on is Hans Holzer's True Ghost Stories.  It's right there next to Hans Holzer's More True Ghost Stories.  I have a lot of books about ghosts.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

NaNoWriMo Wrapup

Awwww, yeah.

So this month was a definite success, not just because I managed to crank out 50,000 words. That's the underlying goal, and that final wordcount is what gets you the Purple Bar of Success on the NaNoWriMo site and all the winners' goodies. (Like the chance to buy a t-shirt, which of course I did.  Also a coffee mug - don't judge me!)  But I've won before, so I knew already that I had it in me to finish.  So I measured this month's success in other ways.

The most important thing I figured out this month is when I write. When I started dedicating every spare moment I had to laying down words on the page, I noticed the times I was the most efficient at it.  I set my alarm clock a half-hour earlier, so I could get all the morning crap out of the way - feeding pets, getting ready for work - and give myself a good few minutes to peck at my draft.  I brought my netbook to work and wrote a few paragraphs at lunchtime.  I added to my wordcount a little here and there while cruising Facebook at night.  But I found that I really cranked story out on weekend mornings.

I'm not sure why it took NaNoWriMo for me to figure this out.  I'm a natural early riser - usually up by 7:30 or 8 without an alarm.  The rest of the house sleeps until at least 10:30 or so.  So I discovered that, by getting up at 7:30, putting on some coffee and getting my useless-internet time out of the way, I had a good two hours of solid, uninterrupted writing time.  It was gorgeous.  I was having 5,000 word days on the weekends, jump-started by that Saturday morning writing burst.  Progress led to more progress - I'd take a break to, say, clean the kitchen or fold a load of laundry, but still be writing in my head, so I could go back and type some more later.

My other main achievement is that, not only did I hit that 50,000 word mark, I finished.  That didn't happen the other time I won in 2009.  Then, I crossed the finish line, wrote a little more, then put it aside.  I like the story so I'm still working on it, still trying to finish it up.  This year, I had a romance story in mind.  One that's actually been in my head for 20 years or more, ever since I fell in love with Soviet rock music in the 1980s.  I had the beginning, middle and end in my head, so on November 1 I just dove in and started typing.  I crossed the 50K line on November 24 and kept writing, finishing up the story on the 26th with close to 56,000 words.  And now I have a complete novel.  I mean, it's crap, of course - it's a NaNo draft.  But with so many unfinished drafts on my hard drive, to have something complete is a big deal for me.

There were other NaNo victories among my friends, other than the "finishing" variety.  One friend didn't get much written, but realized that she wanted to make writing a priority, so she set up a dedicated writing space in her room.  Another friend started with a story that had been tickling her brain and decided a few thousand words in that she didn't love it that much after all.  But another story that she had temporarily set aside started whispering in her ear, insisting that it be written instead.

In closing, do you want to hear a really pretty song in Russian, that I've been listening to all month?  Of course you do.

("Muzyka Pod Snegom," or "Music Under the Snow" by Mashina Vremeni [Time Machine])

I'm going to have to start weaning myself off this stuff, and go back to listening to songs whose lyrics I can understand without Google Translate.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Better Than I'd Hoped

There's a section of the NaNoWriMo forums titled "This is Going Better Than I'd Hoped," a place for people to crow about their (often unexpected) success in this crazy 30-day project.  And I hate to say it without jinxing anything, but that's how I feel right now.

I admit, I felt a little guilty at first for participating this year.  I have a novel I'm trying to finish, and to completely ditch it to write something new felt like stalling.  I should know, because I do plenty of that.  But I started writing something completely different - something just for me, without any kind of publication aspirations - and I've been typing like crazy.  I realized on day 2 or so that this was just what I needed.  I hadn't "just written" in a long time.  The past six months or so I've been working on The Main WIP, which was a NaNovel I wrote in 2009, adding bits, taking bits out, and generally turning it into a readable first draft.  But I had hit a bit of a wall lately, and it hit me that my stalling point was at a section that had to be created out of whole cloth.  It had been outlined, but none of it had gone down on paper yet.  And I hadn't "just written" in a long time.  The Inner Editor had come back and set up camp, and I'd forgotten how to just slam words onto paper and edit later.

So, only 5 days in, I'm calling this a success.  Not just for the month - even though I've got a good cushion on my word count and I really think I'm going to win this thing - but for my writing in general.  Come December 1, I'm going to jump back into The Main WIP and finish it.  I'm pumped now.

But first, back to Cheesy Russian Rockstar Romance.  Because for 25 more days, that's my focus.  Even if it never sees the light of day.

Saturday, October 29, 2011


My favorite time of year approaches... National Novel Writing Month!

I'll admit, it took me a while to get into NaNoWriMo.  I've got a couple of false starts, a few failures and one success under my belt so far.  50,000 words in 30 days works out to 1,667 words per day.  That may not sound like much, but it really is.  Especially when combined with a full-time job and a life that involves things like laundry, grocery shopping, cooking dinner and doing dishes.  Not to mention taking care of a houseful of pets.  And a bum shoulder that starts aching if you sit at the keyboard for any length of time, whine whine whine.

But some of my best writing has come from NaNo.  I used the time in 2005 to shape the beginning of a contemporary romance set in the theatre industry, and even though I didn't win, I've worked on it since, and I'd say there's about 2/3 of a pretty decent story there that I really am going to finish at some point.  I think I only hit about 20K words that year because of my crappy shoulder.

I didn't play again until 2009, when a random idea on November 2 had me signing up and writing.  That was the first time I had ever "pantsed" a story, i.e. by the seat of my pants without an outline, just put fingers to keyboard with no idea where I was going.  And yeah, a lot of crap came out.  My favorite was when I was in the middle of writing this long involved scene with characters I knew were never going to figure into the story as a whole, I just had my main character get up and leave the room, and go to where the story should be.  But then, around 10,000 words or so, I knew where it was all going, and then the writing was exhilarating.  Kind of like when you're driving aimlessly in your car down side street after side street, then you find that one stoplight that you know is going to lead you back to the highway and civilization.  That rush of adrenaline-fueled relief.  Yeah.  Pantsing is like that.

My 2009 NaNovel is what I'm currently rewriting into something I'd like to try to sell.  More about it in subsequent posts, I'm sure.

This year is for fun.  Just a silly romance that I have held in my head for a long time that I want to get down on paper for no good reason.  It's not to sell, it's not even really for anyone to read but me.  Writing as recreation.  Like musicians at a jam session.

So I'm in.  My username over there is jengee, if anyone out there wants to add me as a writing buddy or just point and laugh at my progress.  Just a couple more days till the madness starts!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Who Loves Ya, Baby?

Ugh.  Haven't been feeling the writing lately.  I want to.  Sometimes the characters and the scenes do that awesome thing where they come to me just as I'm falling asleep, or when I'm driving or taking a shower, and say and do these amazingly clever things that I try to remember until I can get to a pen or a keyboard and take them down.  We know how that always ends, right?  I've also had some Life getting in the way: a wedding out of state where I had my credit cards stolen and then got a head cold.  So, lots of excuses not to write.  And who's going to notice, really?  Writing's a solitary gig.  Who cares if I don't get it done?

Then, Julia Quinn shared this story the other day on her Facebook page from romance writer Elizabeth Boyle, a writer I'm afraid I'm not familiar with.  It's about her first sale, and the lengths that she, and more importantly her husband, went through to get her manuscript where it needed to be.  I don't want to say anything more specific than that, because I really want you to read the story and I think giving you the rundown of it here would diminish some of the impact.  I'm a cynical bitch, and I was crying all over my smartphone when I read it Monday.  So just go read it.  I'll wait.

Anyway, at the end, her husband says "Don't ever say I don't support your writing!"  And Boyle ends the article And I never will.  Awwww.

It got me thinking, largely about how writers, especially those of us who have yet to drop the "aspiring" prefix, really write in a vacuum.  There's no publication contract, no agent, no NOBODY pressuring you to get it done, so it's really all on you to write.  It can be kind of liberating, but it can also get really lonely.  And it can be easy to put the writing aside, because Real Life is in the way.  It's not bringing money into the house, there's no fame and fortune in it, so it's not really worth any extra effort.  Not from you, and especially not from anyone around you. (Can you tell I've really been feeling like this lately?)

It's easy to get into that mindset, and fall into the trap of thinking that I'm in this alone.  But I'm not.  Much like the excellent Mr. Boyle, my husband is there for me.  He shoveled out the third bedroom in our house (the designated storage room crammed with stuff) and carved out a writing space for me in there.  He talked me into getting myself a comfortable laptop to write on (so my manhands aren't always cramped over my wee netbook) and a nice chair to sit in.  (I have a hard time justifying purchases for myself, so his help was necessary here.)  He reminds me every so often that I haven't finished my book yet, and I really should get to work on it.

I'm so not alone.  I have such a good friend and cheerleader in Vivien Jackson, who, despite her own crazy busy life, drops what she's doing to read my incoherent drafts and tells me that they're awesome, even though since they're at the Shitty First Draft stage I know they're anything but.

So, to the two or three people out there who have read my blog, think about it.  Think about those people in your life who love and support what you do, even if they don't go to Mr. Boyle-size lengths to show it.  Let that keep you going when you don't really feel like it.