Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Monday, December 29, 2008
The same night I took the tree photo I took this shot of our front walk. Something(s) had been there, but I couldn't figure out who or what, because I couldn't make out a pattern to the prints. The next day, in sunlight, I saw they were definitely mammal tracks, most likely one of our red foxes. But there was something else mysterious about them--one paw has six toes. Do you think this looks like one fox who came back the other way? Or maybe two foxes walking side by side? I still can't make out the actual walking pattern, can you?
Sunday, December 28, 2008
Our neighbors, bless them, are the ones who put the lights on it every year.
Saturday, December 27, 2008
Friday, December 26, 2008
Recently, someone asked my mom how she and I manage to live together so peacefully. She said, "It's easy. I don't ask how her book is coming along."
Wise mother! Of course, I had to train her first by warning her that she was more likely to reach 93 if she never asked that question.
This silly-sounding situation is an actual, real, painful problem that a lot of writers have and they find it hard to handle. Possibly you've recently heard some version of that dreaded question, yourself, you lucky writer, you.
When writers ask me what to do about it, I wish I had a list of stock answers to give them, since "if you ever ask me that again I'll kill you," is not conducive to happy marriages, or talking to strangers at cocktail parties.
How do you answer that kind of question without strangling the questioner? And pul-leeze, don't say, "Don't let it bother you." If the people it bothers could do that, it wouldn't bother them! And honestly, it doesn't bother writers all the time. If the writing is going well, or if they just got an acceptance letter, then the question is no problem. But when some unwary person asks it on a bad day--or in a bad year--then it's dangerous to innocent bystanders and depressed writers. It ties their tongues, or makes them burst into tears, or throw things, or hole up in their room fuming for hours.
Yes, indeed, it brings out the best in all of us.
I recently promised a writer that I'd throw out the question to you smarty-pants, especially since some of you haven't confessed to being writers, and you may be able to shed some light on it from the other person's point of view. Do you have any funny retorts or thoughtful responses a poor beleagured writer might use that won't scorch the shirt off the one who asks? If you do, I'll pass your ideas along--and reap the undying gratitude of writers and everyone who knows them.
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Sunday, December 21, 2008
True dat. Ten thousand hours, to be precise, according to Gladwell. (Read the book--it's short and fascinating--to find out how he reached that number.) This accords nicely with the ten-years-to-get-good-at-anything rule that I've heard preached for years. It also accords with the fact that every career writer I can think of has served his or her own version of a long apprenticeship.
As she read about all the time and practice it takes to be a success at anything, Lisa said that at first she felt disheartened--and too old!--until she realized she was already doing exactly what Gladwell says it takes. She has already put in three years or more, and many, many hours of "practicing" her writing. She does spend the time. She does practice, and practice, and practice, and she is getting better over time.
I think there comes a moment in every aspiring writer's life, no matter what our age, when it hits us how hard it is going to be to do what we want to do. I know that when I first plunged into fiction, it seemed fun and easy. I was exuberant and had all kinds of dreams and fantasies. But then came that inevitable moment when I realized with a shock: good god, if I really want to finish this and even get it published, this is going to be a lot of hard work! I wasn't ready. So I put it aside, knowing I didn't want it seriously enough to persevere. I didn't even feel any regret about putting it away, because I just didn't care enough. It would be another few years before the desire in me was strong enough that I found myself actually wanting to do all that hard work.
Personally, I think when an aspiring writer reaches those moments of realizing what it's really going to take, and feels discouraged, but then realizes, "I want this," and puts their hands back on the keyboard, then that's a meaningful point. It's humbling, and there are few things more honorable and realistic than simple, humble practice.
(Gladwell is also the author of Blink and The Tipping Point.)
Saturday, December 20, 2008
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
We have a day before the ice storm cometh. It is cold. I have a cold. I am cold. You may be getting several days--weeks, months--of fireplace and sunshine photos until I begin to warm up. I don't know when that will happen. The warming up, I mean. Do you think brandy would help?
You *can* tell this book by its cover. The cover looks as if this supernatural novel will be sexy, funny, smart, suspenseful, and original, which is exactly what everybody who has read says it is. I loved Maria's first book in this series and I can't wait to read this new one.
If you're in the neighborhood of Alexandria, Va. this evening, go to her signing!
- Time: 5:00 PM – 7:00 PM Eastern Time
- Place: Matrix Group HQ, 1033 N. Fairfax St. 2nd Fl., Alexandria, VA
And here, stolen straight from the publicity, is a bit more about this exciting new book and its terrifically fine author:
Blood Bargain follows the story of Keira Kelly, a feisty young woman coming to terms with an unknown supernatural power that may affect her relationship with a handsome vampire. Soon after re-settling in the Texas Hill Country, Keira realizes that her life is much more than meets the eye...much more than she could have ever imagined. Can Keira overcome her fear of the dark presence and unleash the incredible power hidden within her in time to save the man she loves? Come with her; follow her into the darkness if you dare. You will never be bored, but you will be surprised at where her dark and treacherous road leads.
ABOUT MARIA LIMA
Maria Lima was born in Matanzas, Cuba, to a family of voracious readers and would-be writers. In 1961, when it was clear that the situation wasn't going to change, her family emigrated to the United States, where Maria then discovered the magic of books...lots and lots of books. Starting with the public library, followed by the Scholastic book sales in elementary school, then on from there. As a child, storytelling was part of family dinner hour, when her father, who dreamt of becoming a writer, spoke of heroes, heroines and battles royale. In this was mixed a love of both fictional and non-fictional worlds, of history and splendor, dragons and them that slayed 'em. It's no wonder that Maria grew up composing stories.
In 2007, her first novel, Matters of the Blood debuted from Juno Books, an imprint of Wildside Press. Maria spends most of her days working as Director of Client Services (a.k.a. Cyberdiva) for Matrix Group International, a leading interactive Web agency in the DC metro area. Her evenings and weekends are spent in her writerly persona.
Monday, December 15, 2008
Saturday, December 13, 2008
Photo by Andif
Yesterday's book dissection was lively, fun, and illuminating. The group decided that the book we were studying works because:
1. The author is not afraid of phobias. She uses them to scare the reader. We realized that in at least three of her books that we could remember, she uses claustrophobia, for instance, though without ever once calling it that. She put her victims in tight, dark, scary places. The most interesting thing about this from the viewpoint of the writers attending the group yesterday was that several of them admitted they had never had the nerve to write about things in their books that really do scare them in real life. After our discussion, they decided they might just give that a try. ::scary grin::
2. The author builds suspense by telling you what's going to happen and then delaying the happening. You know a character is going to be--for instance, and not from this book--buried alive, and you're made to wait and wait and wait until it happens.
3. The author is a master of using a limited time frame to build suspense, and she repeatedly reminds the reader of the passing of that time.
4. There are extremely high stakes.
5. Character is sacrificed entirely to plot. Every character is there to fulfill a specific plot function, and they are like individual puzzle pieces which, when dropped into the frame of the book, provide the picture.
6. Despite that ^^^, every character has his or her own resolution at the end, to tie up loose ends and to fully satisfy the reader.
7. The author gives readers both a mystery and a suspense novel in the same book. Someone in the group told us that mystery writer and teacher Carolyn Wheat says that in a mystery the reader is two steps behind the detective, while in a suspense novel, the reader is two steps ahead of the protagonist. The author of this book does both. Kudos to that.
I love my book dissection group!
Friday, December 12, 2008
So today, Saturday, I'll be leading a "dissection" of a certain best-selling suspense novel that is so badly written that it makes professional writers slam it shut in despair and wail, "Why do we even trryyyyy?" I won't name it, because I won't do that to any author, at least not on my front page. I wouldn't like it done to me, soooo. . .
It's going to be interesting to take the book apart and try to figure out where the magic lies, because there *is* magic in it. It casts the kind of spell over a reader that makes her keep flipping pages even as she wonders, "Why can't I stop reading this?" And that's our question for today in my group: why can't people put that book down? When I say it's badly written, that is an understatement. It is illogical, impossible, manipulative, cliched, infuriating, and it beggars belief in dozens of ways. Nevertheless, to this day I can remember exactly where I was sitting when I first read it many years ago. I was in a hurry to get somewhere, but I just kept reading.
This post has no satisfying ending. I don't know why the hell that book works. If I find out from the other writers and readers today, I'll let you know. I'm sure they're going to say it has to do with a compressed time frame, the highest of stakes, a heroine to root for, a villain to loathe, and a good setting. Okay. That's all true. But the negatives are *so* negative that in most books they would out weigh even those features of good storytelling. In this one, the negatives make no difference at all, except to keep the literate reader asking herself in dismay and wonder, "Why am I reading this?!" And then she turns to the next page. And all over the globe, for several decades, millions of readers have done, and are still doing, the same thing.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Monday, December 8, 2008
Sunday, December 7, 2008
Photo by Andif
Saturday, December 6, 2008
Friday, December 5, 2008
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
It took about fifteen minutes.
My job was to be willing to listen, learn, and not be a know-it-all about my own book, because if there's anything I don't know everything about, as strange as this sounds, it's my own books.
Afterward, I went in to where my mom was watching tv and I stood in the doorway, shaking my head, and exclaiming, "My editor is a genius."
Well, she is. Now all I have to do is remember her wisdom and try to write something that reveals it in action and dialogue.
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
We're expecting snow, so I thought I might get out the can of Irish oatmeal and see if I can make it better than the one time I (over)cooked it last year. To get in the proper mood, I tried to find a good photo of a bowl of oatmeal, but you know what? Oatmeal doesn't photograph well, lol. In fact, you don't even want to see a picture of a bowl of oatmeal, because it might put you off your oats for a long time. I like my oatmeal very hot, with butter, milk, strawberries, and brown sugar. I like my pancakes with butter and maple syrup only. I like my snow on a sunny day.
Monday, December 1, 2008
Massive put-upon sigh.
Sunday, November 30, 2008
Saturday, November 29, 2008
I love this photo so much I may never take it down. It's a photo that makes me wish my novels came with pictures of their scenery. I wish I had written a novel with the words, "magic forest," and if the reader clicked on those words this photo would appear. Be sure *you* click on this photo, to make the bigger version appear, so you can see it in all of its green greener greeniest.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Monday, November 24, 2008
Sunday, November 23, 2008
I love this hot chocolate photo I found on the web, 'cause even though it looks as if there's a pat of butter (?) on top of it, it imparts that wonderful feeling of wrapping my hands around a warm cup of something on a really cold day.
May your week not be so cold as to require hot chocolate, but if it is that cold may there be a cup of hot chocolate to warm your hard-working hands.
Saturday, November 22, 2008
Do you have a favorite library of memory or of current use?
In Kansas City, we used to have public libraries in some of our high schools. I remember frequenting those with my mother, and we also took the trolley (yes!) to the main library downtown. The very best thing about the libraries of my childhood was that they had Nancy Drew novels. Not every library in the country allowed those books on their shelves, because a lot of people considered the books to be trash and bad influences. My libraries allowed them, however--thank you!!-- and I am convinced that is why I'm a mystery writer today.
Friday, November 21, 2008
This photo by Andif has, I think, interesting contrasts to make a writer--or anybody--think. There's the fuzziness of the mist in the background vs. the sharpness of the branch in the foreground. There's the red vs. the green. The light vs. the dark. An I missing some contrasts in my list?
Once I had a manuscript to which my editor responded by saying, "You need to make your heroine stronger." I had to sharpen her, like that branch, toughen her up a bit, darken her a little, give her some edges so she didn't fuzz into the background. Finally, it was easy to tell who was the focus of the story.
Once, I turned in a book to which the same editor said, "You picked the wrong villain." Oops. So I had to fade that dark branch into the background and shine light on another branch that had been hiding in plain sight in the background all along.
This photo brings up all kinds of manuscript stories and issues for me, but I'll stop with just those two. Oh, heck, no I won't. See that spot of diffuse light in the center? That kind of thing just appeared mysteriously in a manuscript one day and demanded a certain amount of attention. And darned if it didn't enrich the story, just as that light enriches Andi's photo.
And *now* I'll stop. See you in the comments for coffee or tea.