Scheduling Summer

For those of us in Upstate NY it’s hard to believe the long, frigid winter is finally behind us. Odd to think about, as we face high eighty degree temps later this week and I sit here and listen to thunder rolling. Whoops (pause to unplug laptop).

But summer is on my mind right now for a few reasons, all of which relate back to my writing career.

1. Training has begun again for my fifth Iron Girl triathlon. It still blows my freaking mind that five years ago I could barely dog paddle and hadn’t been on a bike in 20 years. Sure, I’m still slow as hell, but I do it. This year I’m fueling my body better and am focusing my training on strength and speed, hoping to make some decent progress in my times. 

2. We are working with an autism consultant for my son. School has been horrible for him this year. Don’t even get me started on the Common Core; that’s bad enough, but we just learned that he’s essentially being ignored in school. Not out of any malicious intent, but because he’s just a quiet, well-behaved kid. Which is nice to hear, however, he is not the squeaky wheel he needs to be. So we have to be. We have some major decisions to make for next year which have the potential to affect our entire family. I’d always been vehemently anti-homeschooling, but seeing my son slowly shut down over the last couple of years has swayed me to considering it, albeit reluctantly. We have a little time; the decision doesn’t have to be made today, or even in August– we could give it a go in the fall and see how things go. If he gets the special education teacher I want him to, things could be just fine. If not, well…

3. Our summer weekends are filling up quickly, as they always do. My husband will soon have his annual panic attack that THE ENTIRE SUMMER IS OVER!!! in May because I’ve scheduled the weekends, leaving nothing free. Well, that’s kinda the way it works, sweetie. I have my race, he has his (Tough Mudder–my husband totally rocks), we’ll run a 5K or two for the hell of it (something else I never thought I’d do). Most remaining weekends will be spent at my in-laws’ cottage at the beach.

The weekdays fill quickly, too. Up until last year, the kids were busy in the summer. My son doesn’t qualify for summer programming, so they went to a camp for a couple of years that was run by the school. Then the administration of that camp changed, and I had to pull them partway through the summer.

Last year I was still working part time at the Y, which took up some of our time, but I resigned in August. So we have the entire summer yawning ahead of us. We need some structure, sure. My husband works at home which is super helpful– except when it’s not. When I have a seven and ten year old upstairs playing, someone gets offended, and the screeching begins. Not all of it by my kids, I confess. Then my poor husband, who is trying to work or talk on the phone with customers, storms out of his office.

Yeah, vacation weekdays are rough. 

My challenge: I like to pants our vacations, just as I like to pants my writing. However, both my writing and my schedule benefit from some structure, some guidance. I need to balance my need for alone time, my need for writing time, my need for training time, my need for time to keep the house clean, with my need to keep the kids out of the house or quiet so my husband can work, with my kids’ needs to stay busy and see friends, with my kids’ needs to also NOT be busy, to just chill out at home and do nothing and just…be…kids.

I will have to schedule every day and it’s going to give me hives. But something has to work better than last summer, when I rarely wrote. Right now I’m on a pretty good roll thanks to this Fast Draft class and I’d like to keep it up. Maintain that momentum. I actually feel like I may be able to finish this novel in May which is HUGE for me. And a little scary. 

But the best part of following a schedule will be that everyone gets their own time. And we might actually accomplish all of our goals, which will be a a beautiful thing.

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Permission to Suck, Granted

When I began writing, eighteen-ish months ago, one of the bits of advice I read was that you need to allow yourself to just write without fear of how bad it’s going to be. Because it is going to be bad.

Or put it other ways: you can’t revise a blank page. Just write the damn book. Writing is rewriting. Vomit out the words. The more you write, the more you learn.

I ignored all that, and continued to be horrified by the words I put on the page. Or I’d stop writing altogether and read instead. Read books on the craft of writing, read books I thought were well-written, examining them for technique and form and trying to learn from the “masters.” In that intervening year, when I did write, I constantly edited as I went. Tweaking this and that, concerning myself with that opening sentence, studiously avoiding adverbs and cliches like the plague. Agonizing over every word. All the while ignoring what I should have been doing. Getting words on the page, allowing myself to suck.

It was probably a year before I truly understood what that that meant. But last fall during NaNoWriMo, it finally clicked. Embrace the suck. The words flowed, adverbs and all. I wrote and wrote and even though the novel wound up making very little sense because I had no idea where it was going, I still managed to get 30K words written. Someday I’ll revisit that story.

Anyway, faced with another several months of being hamstrung and unable to write or get out of my own head long enough to get a story on the page, I enrolled in an online class, Candace Havens’ Fast Draft class. Two weeks solid, writing every day. The goal is to write five thousand words a day, eventually. I will admit it’s difficult to get up there with everything else I have going on. But, I have written every day since I began this class and it’s a great feeling. I’m making progress, solving problems, and embracing the suck.

I mean, this thing totally sucks. No one is seeing this anytime soon. I’m looking forward to revisions, but in the meantime, I’m just plugging away and for the first time, I actually feel as though I might finish a novel.

It’s going to be terrible, but it will be done. Someday.

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Community

One of my favorite parts about being a writer is the sense of community and (for the most part) lack of competitiveness among writers. Every day I’m amazed at the generosity and helpfulness of the writing community, from those who offer free or low-cost workshops, to authors who engage in some inventive collaborative marketing, to pulling together in times of crisis as with Pamela Clare’s breast cancer diagnosis and my friend at Blithely Bookish requesting that people wear pink today and Thursday to support Pamela.

And the new Facebook book launch parties– oh my goodness! They’re so much fun, and I have found so many new-to-me authors that way. I love seeing the way authors flock to those parties to support each other and gain exposure for themselves. It’s a great relationship.

Twitter is full of writers. Adding followers, retweeting, joining in on #FastDraft, NaNo word sprints or #1k1hr parties is incredibly helpful. 

My local RWA chapter is wonderfully supportive; I’m coming up on a year of membership and am finally settling in and not quite feeling like a newbie. If only I could finish a book.

Those of you who follow me here, or just occasionally read my posts. I appreciate your visits and comments so much.

And then there’s my critique group. Without them my prose would still be full of “then” and adverbs and a ton of description.

Just a sappy, mushy post late at night to say a big thank you to all the writers out there.

 

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Review: The Bronze Horseman

The book: The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons

Published September 2009 by William Morrow (first published July 17th 2000)

The Bronze Horseman (The Bronze Horseman, #1)

The blurb:

The golden skies, the translucent twilight, the white nights, all hold the promise of youth, of love, of eternal renewal. The war has not yet touched this city of fallen grandeur, or the lives of two sisters, Tatiana and Dasha Metanova, who share a single room in a cramped apartment with their brother and parents. Their world is turned upside down when Hitler’s armies attack Russia and begin their unstoppable blitz to Leningrad.

Yet there is light in the darkness. Tatiana meets Alexander, a brave young officer in the Red Army. Strong and self-confident, yet guarding a mysterious and troubled past, he is drawn to Tatiana—and she to him. Starvation, desperation, and fear soon grip their city during the terrible winter of the merciless German siege. Tatiana and Alexander’s impossible love threatens to tear the Metanova family apart and expose the dangerous secret Alexander so carefully protects—a secret as devastating as the war itself—as the lovers are swept up in the brutal tides that will change the world and their lives forever.

And the review:

About six months ago, my friend Tara recommended I read The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons. I added it to my “TBR” list and went on with the other books I needed to read.

But I recently began using the library again (“Yay!” says my wallet), so I requested it and read it last week. It is enormous. That itself was a bit daunting; I’ve become used to reading on my Kindle and not only do I read faster, but I don’t know how big these books are. And it’s silly that I’d find the size of a book intimidating; I read huge books all the time. The Game of Thrones books (yes, I know it’s the Song of Ice and Fire but how many people know that unless they’ve read the books?) and the Outlander books come to mind.

Eventually, I picked it up, and once I did, I couldn’t put it down. We’re talking about “staying up all hours of the night until I can barely hold my eyes open” obsessed. The language is amazing. The descriptions of Leningrad and the surrounding countryside are so vivid you feel like you’re there. And when the heroine, Tatiana’s, family was starving to death, I felt like my own teeth were falling out. I was tired. I felt like I, too, was too weak to get out of bed. When the characters developed TB, I swear I had an asthma attack.

It was a part of history with which I’m not all that familiar. The book takes place in Leningrad during Hitler’s siege of the city in the winter of 1941-1942. The siege actually went on through January of 1943, but so many people died during that first winter, and a few were evacuated, so the second winter was slightly more manageable.  But that first winter was brutal. After all domestic animals had been eaten, some residents resorted to cannibalism. Many froze to death, and bodies lined the streets.

You see it all, you feel it all. There were quite a few parts that I thought dragged on too long. Sometimes there’s too much description, or long stretches of repetition. I think it could have been about 2/3 its length. But I skimmed those parts. Most of it moved along pretty quickly and some parts were really intense (I’m trying not to give away too much here). I didn’t like the main characters at first, in fact through a good portion of the book, but somehow I still kept reading. I had to find out what happened. And for me, that’s key.

It’s an epic, historical, tragic, love story and is in a style similar to The Thorn Birds or Gone With the Wind. If you liked those, I would definitely recommend reading this one.

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I’m in Love With Someone New

Don’t tell my husband.

This new man is perfect, so far. Sure, he has a few flaws; who doesn’t? But they’re minor and kind of endearing. He’s intelligent, and intense, and passionate, with a touch of boyish goofiness. And he’s oh, so sexy. His smile dazzles. There’s laughter in his eyes. His voice is low and smooth, and I hear it constantly. All day he whispers in my ear; all night he keeps me awake. We never fight, we never discuss mundane details like the kids or the house or what we ate for breakfast that day. I am his world–he cannot exist without me.

Did I mention he’s fictional?

I began writing a new book the other night. An idea that had occurred to me a few weeks ago, but in the middle of trying to get through the romantic suspense I’ve been working on forever, I jotted down a one-sentence description in my notebook and set it aside. But Saturday night, I was driving home and heard his voice. And he wouldn’t let me go. I arrived home around midnight to an empty house (husband away, kids at my mother’s), fixed a cup of tea, sat at my computer and wrote a thousand words before going to bed. It began as a short story, then I thought it might be a novella, now I’m thinking a novel. Because, why not?

I got stuck on a particular scene in the book I’ve been working on. And although I’d made a promise to myself to finish that book before starting another one, because I HAVE TO FINISH A DAMN BOOK, I finally decided it was silly to remain blocked and to not write and to just continue to obsess over this one scene. Why not follow the muse? Write the words that come to me, even if they’re in a different story. Opening the tap, so to speak. As long as words are coming out, they’re good words. Maybe writing this story will unstick the characters in that other one and get them to cooperate. Like when you’re trying so hard to remember something, it’s on the tip of your tongue, but you have to think about something else for a while. So, I’ve been writing like a madwoman for the first time in months. It feels so good. Such a rush.

And I realized one reason why I love reading and writing romance. It’s that first blush of passion. You know when you first meet someone, and they’re all fresh and new and can do no wrong? You’re positively giddy with the thrill of getting to know each other, because here is this brand-new person to you and you have to find out everything that has ever happened to them. And why. And how it has shaped their personality. You’re a sponge, soaking in the essence of what makes that person unique. You can’t get enough of each other. It’s lovely and exhilarating and exhausting. Quite the high. A hot flash of fire like when a match catches and burns brightly for a fraction of a second.

But then, like the match, the blaze deepens to a slower burn. It’s steadier. It lasts longer. It lights other fires, sometimes with another quick burst and sometimes without it, and that’s how you keep the fire going.

Given the choice, I’d much rather stick with the lasting heat. But, through fiction and living vicariously through people who exist only in my head or on paper, I still get that initial high now and then when I start a new book.

I have friends who won’t read romance because they feel that initial flame is too much, too tempting, too unrealistic. They feel it leads to dissatisfaction with the real, slow burn they already have. But I think the opposite is true. That flame renews the source of heat and makes you appreciate the fire already burning that much more. At least it does for me.

And on a creative level, this story is simple. No major subplots, no suspense angle, no fantasy. Just a boy and a girl, and some sparks, and a few obstacles to overcome before reaching their happily ever after. Hopefully this time I can get there. Meanwhile, it’s writing, it’s practice, and I’ll get there eventually.

But for now, my new man is calling to me again. He’s so demanding. I love it.

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Portrait of a Book Addiction

I have a problem. It’s not uncommon for me to have several books going at one time. Maybe a few nonfiction or writing craft books, a Kindle book, a 3M Cloud Reader book from the library, a paperback or two. They’re usually from all different genres or sub-genres, though, so I don’t get too confused.

I picked up a book a few days ago, one from the library, but it held my attention for only a day–through no fault of its own– before another one caught my interest. Iced, by Karen Marie Moning, the next book in the Fever series. If you’ve read the series, you’ll understand. I discovered her only through the recommendation by a friend, and raced through the Highlander books only to move on to the Fever series and become utterly enthralled. So it was with this one, too, and I quickly finished it so I could return it.

Sunday night, I again picked up the library book, and was drawn into that world. It’s WWII-era Soviet Union, not a time period I’m familiar with, but I found it utterly fascinating. Until an e-mail from the library let me know Divergent was available on my e-reader.

Decisions, decisions. E-books can’t be renewed, but paperbacks can. So, yesterday, I set aside the Russian book and picked up Divergent. I know how the series ends, I’ve heard the big spoiler, so it’s interesting to read this knowing what is ultimately coming my way. I’ve written about my love of post-apocalyptic fiction before. And someday, I swear, I will figure out what happened to everyone and what will happen to Ben and Jodi.

Anyway, I had to force myself to shut down my tablet last night and get some sleep. And since I had work of my own to complete today, I hadn’t yet picked it up when I received an offer I couldn’t refuse this morning.

I set aside Divergent and picked up the first in Kimberly Kincaid‘s Pine Mountain series, Turn Up The Heat. I love Kimberly’s foodie romances. I was introduced to Kimberly via an Avon Addict sister of mine, Amy at Unwrapping Romance. She sort of burst onto the scene last year with her Line novellas, all of which I loved, and her print debut was this past Christmas with a novella in the anthology The Sugar Cookie Sweetheart Swap. When I read it, the descriptions and emotions evoked were so captivating, I expected to see snow when I looked outside, I wanted to listen to Christmas music and eat Eggnog Snickerdoodles.

And it was March, at the tail of the winter that would never end, so that says a lot.

When I got the book this morning a little after nine, I planned to post a review by the end of the week. OK, it’s now 2:05 pm and I just finished. I had to take time out to shower, run errands, eat breakfast and lunch…all of which were very difficult. I did not want to put it down.

The one thing about her novellas that I didn’t like was that they were too damn short! I couldn’t wait to read her full-length novels and, OK, finally I am satisfied. This had everything I wanted it to have. The very title, Turn Up the Heat, makes a promise and it follows through.

Bellamy Blake suffers a very public, humiliating, breakup with a news anchor and, tired of fielding phone calls about it, decides to get out of Dodge. She grabs her two best friends and hightails it to a mountain resort to get away for a few days, but becomes stranded when her car’s transmission blows. Oh, stranded at a spa…sounds like Heaven right about now!

Speaking of the wrecked transmission, her love interest, Shane Griffin, is a mechanic hiding many secrets under his hood. Why are mechanics never that hot in real life? And dark and brooding and oh, so sexy?

This is why we write fiction, people. To make our world the way it should be, to right its wrongs– whatever your genre.

Back to Shane. Of course these two meet and there is immediate spontaneous combustion. Who could resist Shane? I don’t think I could. Although very little time passes in the story, the romance didn’t feel too rushed. It was the perfect blend of sweet and sexy and with a little stubbornness added so it doesn’t go too smoothly. It’s a great, happy read complete with love scenes in the backseat of a car that may or may not have taken me back to my younger years. The story is supported by a cast of secondary characters that are well-rounded and promise several more entertaining books to come–and I can’t wait!

So if you love small-town, contemporary romance with enough talk about food to make you drool (yeah, it was the food, that’s it), check out Turn Up the Heat, or any other of Kimberly’s works. You can find the links to your store of choice here.

Now, I need to get back to Divergent.

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Post-Mortem: Book Reviews

A little warning: if you’re extremely squeamish or rabidly pro-animal-rights, the first paragraph or so may offend.

When I was in graduate school, I killed a lot of mice. Like, hundreds, if not thousands. At the time it didn’t bother me too much, except when I had to cull the colony and euthanize entire families. This later led to a minor case of neurosis and paranoia regarding mice. But the necropsies weren’t as bad, somehow. They had a purpose. We were investigating a virus and attempting to grow tiny human-ish organs inside the mice, implanted just under the kidney capsule. It was pretty cool. Once upon a time I could find the review on which I’m listed as a co-author, but it’s not online, alas. Suffice to say, it was good work, noble work. The ultimate goal was saving human lives, after all.

But the thing I loved about the necropsies was teasing open the layers of tissue, investigating why the animal passed away. Was it an overgrown thymus? Spotted and enlarged liver? So many mysteries revealed just by taking apart the pieces. OK, I’m a science geek at heart, I admit it. This was why I had such a hard time as a kid, deciding what to do with my life when I grew up. I loved reading and writing and all things literary, but I adored science, too: how things worked. I made a decision, and it was the right decision at the time for me. And now it’s time to go the other way.

The great thing about writing is I never have to give up anything else. I can research various topics I still find interesting, and maybe use them in a book. At last, there is an outlet for the many hours of random research I’ve done over the years on a multitude of unrelated topics.

Also still in use is my natural curiosity, my desire to dissect. I read a book, and whether I liked it or no, have to immediately sit back and discern the appeal–or lack thereof. Often, it’s apparent as I read. A lovable heroine, maybe a lot like me. A hero who reminds me of my husband. A bromance–I don’t know why, but I love a good bromance and Jill Shalvis writes some great ones. So do my favorites, Jennifer Bernard and Candis Terry. Humor, or crazy suspense, or a paranormal with fabulous new world-building (if you’re a vampire fan and haven’t read Pamela Palmer’s Vamp City series, you’re missing out. And I hear her shifter series Feral Warriors is excellent).

In the non-romance genre, and I do read those, I love very traditional vampire novels like The Historian, epic historical fantasies like Game of Thrones and Outlander, and urban fantasy (I’m currently reading a new Tad Williams series that I’ll review when I finish the first book. Yes, I read many books at one time and it drives my husband crazy). The same talents appeal in those as well. Because what it comes down to is a good story. Even if it’s not executed perfectly, if it draws me in, if I think about it when I’m not reading– it’s a win.

Every now and then, though, I’m stymied. Have you ever hate-read a book? You begin reading the book, and it takes a bit to get into it but you keep going. And by the time you realize there’s something you don’t like about it, there’s also something drawing you in, so you have to keep reading, even though you don’t want to. Maybe you’re thinking you should really put it down, but there’s an answer you need, a resolution you’re waiting for. Then, when you finish, you’re furious with the author, the characters, everyone who ever recommended the book.

Perhaps you even reconsider your friendship with people who adored this book, made you read it, and wasted your time.

I finished a book today that was a little like that. It’s one that people have raved about, quite big with the populace who love their Grisham and Sparks and Picoult. There’s even a movie coming out. So many people adore this book that it gave me enough reason to avoid it. I’m just that contrary. Contrary enough that no, I won’t tell you what the book is.

But it was a hate-read. I was browsing my local library’s available e-books, and since it was a popular one but available immediately, I grabbed it, thinking “Why not?” The first part took a bit of work getting into, but something drew me in. And then there was this huge mind-blowing twist, so I couldn’t put it down at that point. Leaving me this morning, with a ton of stuff to do, trapped on my bed reading this book until it was finished. And then I was furious. I hated the ending, I hated the people, I couldn’t figure out why the book had me so thoroughly engrossed. I think it came down to the suspense. I had to find out what happened next, even when I didn’t like it.

Food for thought, especially since I write it. Another “master” to study and learn from. I cobble them together, taking tips from this one and techniques from that one, creating a Frankenstein’s monster of creative muse, hoping and praying I can make it cohesive.

 

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