Great, but does it have legs?

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I’m brewing up a new book idea.  It’s fresh, it’s clever, and I don’t think it’s been done in women’s fiction before. (Of course, this can be tricky with my genre, as one wants to be innovative without straying too far from the fold.)  But the important thing is, I’m excited about it.

Like, when I talk about it with friends, kernels of ideas pop and things get wacky.  My favorite part of writing – the “Ooh, and then maybe this happens, and then, like, that happens, and THEN…” – the spitballing, brainstorming, brewing, and machinating all kick into gear.

Later, it gets tricky.  Because you have to wrangle all that out-there energy and wrestle it into one coherent plot. Characters get nailed down, and storylines emerge, from which one best not deviate.  The hard work ensues.  What makes sense?  How do I get the protagonist from A to B to C?

And all the while you wonder… does this kooky idea have legs? Can it go from clever premise to 400 solid pages?

Now’s a time of possibilities, and uncertainty.  Anyone who knows me knows I love the former and loathe the latter.  I appreciate this time of creative freedom – I really do – but I’d like to know I’m on the right track… soon.

So this idea… I won’t say much, but I will say two movies are inspiring me right now. Galaxy Quest and The Net.  Whee!

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Refilling the Well

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Since I handed in Last Chance Llama Ranch, I’ve been wondering… what’s next? I’d hoped to leap instantly from Merry and her fluffy friends to our next enchanting heroine, but… I discovered the creative well needed a few days to refill.  So, I’ve been taking it easy, crocheting and watching gobs of TV, enjoying Santa Fe while the weather’s good. It feels amazing to have finished another novel, but… I won’t be passionately engaged again until I’m working on my next project.

I’d thought about doing NaNoWriMo, but after handing in a novel the very day before it started, there was just no way. I sat there with my laptop open, and… nothing.  Zip. Zilch, nada, nowaygo. Now I think I may have the beginning of a cool new plot forming in my fevered brain.  It’ll take some research (which I hate, because it’s such a stumbling block to getting started) but it may be a lot of fun.  We shall see.

What I do know is that, while creativity is not necessarily something you have to woo with flowers and chocolate, it does require a little finesse. Perspiration may lead to inspiration, but there’s something to be said for creating a non-threatening environment for it to sneak in, make a little nest for itself, and feel at home. Trying to bludgeon a new idea into being wasn’t going to work. I needed to let it wander around at will, and still need to, though I think I may have laid out the welcome mat now.

Wish me luck nurturing this new zygote into a novel!

Pumping out the pages

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It’s true what they say. It ain’t about the inspiration, it’s about the perspiration. I think I’ve written about 25,000 words in the last three weeks, and we’re nearing the home stretch on LAST CHANCE LLAMA RANCH.  Woo hoo!

After a year full of hell and high water, I wasn’t working very hard for a while there, except on keeping my head above those waters.  Now… I’m finally writing like I’m meant to, in the thick of it, the meat and the bones, and quite frankly, the gristle.

Writing is HARD!

Writing is FUN!

Writing is an insane occupation I have no idea how anybody ever came up with. Who the hell sits around parsing words and dithering over it should be “dilly” or “dally” all day? Yet even when I was a little kid on the playground, I’d always be coming up with scenarios for my friends and I to act out at recess, so I suspect fiction has been in my blood a long, long time.

Today, I’m just glad it’s in my fingertips too, and that those fingertips keep tapping the keyboard.

Head in the Game, I’ve Got Alpacas to Tame!

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So much has been happening with my family this past month or so that it’s been tough to focus on Book 2.  Health issues with my nearest and dearest have been a worry and a distraction, though I’m happy to say it seems we may have a respite for a little while now.  But I can’t let the story slip from my grasp.  I mean, c’mon! These lovelies are waiting to have their tale told!

Three little alpacas are we...

Three little alpacas are we…

It’s odd how I’ve chosen to weave a story that is, itself, so much about tying things together. From fiber to finished product, my story needs to knit so many themes, be cozy and comfortable, and have lasting strength. But last night I dreamed I was in a yarn shop that no longer sold yarn! All that was left were souvenirs and junk no one could use. I hope that’s more anxiety than omen. In my mind, Merry’s tale is so vivid, her character so alive. Now it’s my responsibility to make sure my readers see the same things I do. Studly Sam needs my attention. Dolly the Llama Lady needs my attention. Jane and Marcus and Mazel Tov and Steve Spirit Wind and Needlepoint Bob all need my attention. Buddha and Severus and all the other beasties in the book need my attention.

And I so want to be there. There’s nothing better than when you’re deep in the world of your novel, crafting. Nothing better than being surprised and set on your heels by unexpected ideas and events that just make the whole book more delightful. That’s why I write. That’s why I want to write. But I need to have the head space to let creativity in. And that means letting stress out.

So let’s howl a big ol’ OHMMMMMM! and get to work.  Cheers, friends.

The Greatest Gift You Get As A Writer… Other Writers!

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Today was an all-over-the-place kind of day. I couldn’t get my shit together with the proverbial pooper-scooper, so I was flying around doing errands on a windy afternoon, trying to TCB before meeting up with my pal Chad to workshop our awesome novels-in-progress. Anyhow, finally I got to sit down with him at our local java joint, and we started parsing the verbiage.

Now, I don’t know about him, but for me, the session was electrifying. I’d been gnashing my teeth and pulling my hair over the direction of BOOK 2, which is very dear to my heart. I am determined to “get it right,” whatever that ends up meaning, but struggling to figure out how best to accomplish my goals. During the course of a couple hours, we got to hash out the central themes, what would make them stronger, what’s working and what ain’t. It was a bit scary, frankly, to find out that my suspicions were correct–this is still very much a work in progress, not perfect straight outta the gate. But it was also pretty remarkable to see how, talking it through aloud, I could come up with some character adjustments and some additions to scenes that would make everything work so much better.

It’s my favorite feeling in the world–when you go, “Ooh, ooh, I got it! How about if X does this instead of that…” and suddenly your story makes more sense. Yes, I’ll have tons of revisions to do because we took such a hard look at the story, but it’s worth it in service to the finished product–and now I’m thinking the finished product is actually not going to suck.

A little while later, a gaggle of NaNoWriMo’s descended (all of whom won, getting 50,000 words while I… well, I did not) and we started working on our novels. The gathering was crackling with cheerful banter, and a great energy settled around our communal table. It reminded me of just how fun it is to do something creative! It’s like being in kindergarten and being handed a huge lump of Play-Doh and told, “Have at it, kids!” I was so happy to be hanging out with people who have the same passion for wordplay I do, who can commiserate over crappy characters and laugh at our shitty first drafts. When you work alone so much of the time, it’s nice to be reminded you have “peeps.”

And then I arrived home and got a lovely, supportive email from a dear friend and pen pal, a wonderful writer who’s enmeshed in “the process,” with all the mushy, gloppy gut-wrenching it entails (entrails?).  It was another reminder I’m not alone, and a validation that writing is a passion, an avocation, and a fucking hard bit of work. And we’re all awesome for undertaking this crazy career.

What IS it with Writing?!

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dorothy parkerI believe it was Dorothy Parker who said, “I hate writing. I love having written.”  (My favorite quote of hers is actually the one where, when asked to use the word “horticulture” in a sentence, she quipped, “You can lead a horticulture but you can’t make her think.”)

But I digress.  As I am wont to do, because, damn, writing is a weird occupation.

I can’t agree with Dorothy about hating writing, or say I only get joy from the completion.  I love the “Oooh, ooh, I got an idea” aspect, and the fun I have with alliteration; tinkering and toying with language.  I adore having characters make me laugh with their crazy dialogue, which totally arrived out of the blue and not out of my head.  It’s a rush, and a delight, and a privilege to spend so much of my time in my imagination.  So no, I don’t hate writing.  What I hate is how damn uncontrollable it is.  You can’t own it, and you can’t direct it.  You can surrender to it, try to trick it, bargain with it, or make a blubbering fool of yourself over it, but it permits no master.

The image I most often picture is that of those weird water snake toys we had back in the seventies (cough-cough, I mean eighties) where you’d try to hold onto them but the tighter you gripped, the faster they’d squirt out of your hand.  The equivalent of that happened to me today.  Work on the new novel was slow going for most of the day, with me wailing and agonizing and, as I usually do when I’m fearful, merely editing old pages instead of getting on with the show.  (This isn’t wholly a bad thing, as it saves me having to do a zillion drafts.)  Then, just as I give up, head to the living room, and turn on CNN for my evening dose of “Hey, look how shitty the government is!”, I go back into my little cave… just to close up my computer, you see… and come out an hour later with five new, rather lively pages.

What. The everloving. Fuck.

Perhaps it’s time I learned to cede control over the process, and just accept that it may take me a whole day of banging about the house, being useless and catching up on episodes of Nashville (which is fucking fantastic, by the way, at least if you write romance), before my brain ekes out that elusive element I’m after… inspiration.  Yet anyone who knows me knows that “laissez faire” and I are not on speaking terms.  I don’t easily let anything ride.  (My calender reminders have calender reminders.)  I fear if I don’t wrestle, I’ll get nothing done, and frankly I don’t think I’m wrong about that.  I suspect that without the all-day grudge match, my unconscious would not have had time to percolate.  And the more often I apply Ass A to Chair B, the closer I get to producing Product C, which is the novel I need to write.

I guess that’s why they pay us writers the big bucks.  Ahahahahahahahahaha.

Seriously, it’s a privilege to be a writer, and I’m luckier than I have any right to be.  But it’s not always easy.  And boy-howdy, it’s one trippy gig.

The Outline That Wasn’t

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Notebook picI lack discipline.

Absolutely and incontrovertibly this is so. Exercise regimens, vows to eat vegetables, promises to keep track of my budget–all are beyond my capacity to fulfill.  I can’t commit.  Can’t stay committed. It’s not that I want to conform for the sake of conformity, or be admired for my ooh-la-la adult-ish behavior.  Honestly, I’d happily don my old combat boots, shave my head into a mohawk, and shout “Fuck that noise!” if it weren’t for the fact that I actually want the benefits of a disciplined mind.  (And that I suspect I have an unflatteringly shaped skull.)

Anyhow, I wish I was some Stephen King type, a holier than thou “I write every day no matter what” dickbag.  I want more than anything to be regular in my writing habits, because, as my jealousy no doubt gives away, I believe that structure and sitzfleisch are some of the keys to great writing.  The more you plan ahead, the more focused your mind, the tighter your story weaves together and the better your book.

With pain, with wailing, hair-tearing and tears, I’m learning to glue my tuchus to the chair (I once had a roommate in college literally tie me to my desk with twine while I was trying to write an essay), but even once there, my mind won’t think in straight lines.

Thus, the outline that wasn’t.  Merry’s novel (AKA Book  2) is a series of great ideas, vignettes, and sample chapters right now.  She’s coming along great as a character, and the theme of the story is clear in my mind.  I know most of the important turning points, and have a store of hijinks just waiting to deploy.  But whenever I try to write a chapter outline to get all my ducks neatly in a row, I just…

SQUIRREL!

…go off on a tangent.  I get a few paragraphs in, determinedly denoting what makes each scene essential to the whole, delineating the important details, making decisions about what has to happen.  It’s incredibly helpful.  It clarifies concerns and opens doors, lays down the metaphorical railroad tracks ahead of my train of thought.  But then, just when I’m chugging along, I get a case of the “and then’s.”

You know: when you’re excited about an idea and you’re telling it to a friend, and you start spit-balling, and suddenly you’re saying, “and then… and then… a space cow flew outta the clouds and it started hurling plasma flops at everyone, and then… and then… um… Gary Oldman stepped up and whacked them with a cricket bat!  And then he saved the day, and then…”

Shit like that.

Next thing you know, your notebook has fifteen pages of Unibomber chicken scratch on it, with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one (points for knowing the reference there).  However, though you’re all fired up, you’re nowhere close to knowing exactly how you’re going to wedge cosmic cow flops and classically trained British actors into your story.  All you know is that you may as well just sit down and write a scene–any scene–and see where it leads you.

Because discipline ain’t leading me nowhere.  ‘Cept maybe the booby hatch.

A Room of One’s Own–Now With 100% More Lava Lamp!

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A few days ago I decided to “claim my space.”  Hoo, doggy, does that ever sound pretentious.  But it’s kinda what I did.  And I swear, it pertains to writing.  Lemmie ‘splain…

When we moved from a 500-square-foot studio in Manhattan to a 2,500-square-foot rental in a Santa Fe subdivision (not counting the garage), I felt like Julie Andrews whirling around atop the Alps, arms thrown wide.  We had more rooms than we had people!  More rooms than we had cats!  (So we adopted another cat.)  A guest room and a room just for the treadmill I carted 2,000 miles knowing I’d never use!  A few Craigslist expeditions later, and I even had some secondhand furniture to fill them.

The little bedroom in the back was supposed to be my sanctum sanctorum.  My writer’s cave.  My room with a view (of scrub brush and cactus, but still).  Instead it became home to a litter box, an ugly hutch-topped desk, and the aforementioned clothes hanger (ahem, treadmill).  It was depressing.  And smelly.  And I hated the hutch.  So I never went in there.  I wrote at the kitchen table or out at a cafe.  Which made for a messy, paper-strewn dining table and a lot of overpriced coffees charged on my credit card.  And no space where I could properly focus on being a writer.

I’d say this went on for over a year.  Then suddenly–eureka!–I got a bug up my butt.  “C’mon, husbeast,” I cried.  “Let’s spend your precious Sunday night shifting furniture around and hitting things with hammers!”

I have a very gracious husband.

And a couple hours later, I had a very inviting space.  Hutch dismantled.  Desk moved in front of window for maximum bunny-and-coyote spotting.  Litter box, banished.  Treadmill, relegated to inconspicuous corner.  And the funky blue lava lamp my brother got me when I was seventeen dug out of storage and placed proudly atop my desk.

lava_lampI haven’t turned it off since.  I freakin’ love that thing.  It reminds me of my essential ridiculousness, and the ridiculousness of what I do.  (Hell, I’m writing about a gal who gets exiled to a llama ranch right now…)  It’s useless as a light source, and a total waste of electricity, but for me it’s a beacon of silliness and creativity.  I watch it blub and bubble in my new, cozy office, and I feel like I’ve given my writing self a home where it’s okay to warm up, let thoughts burble to the surface, move mysteriously.  And for me, writing is mysterious.  As are my needs as a writer.  You’d think all I’d need is a laptop, or a pen and some paper.  Have muse, will travel, right?  Environment should be irrelevant…

Shouldn’t it?

Not so much.  For a while now I’ve writhed and wriggled like a kid with a wedgie every time I sat down to work on the new book.  I thought my restlessness and discomfort were never going to go away, or that I’d lost the knack for concentrating.  But since I claimed my space (there goes that obnoxious phrase again) I’ve felt a sense of renewed focus and energy.  I now love going into my cave in the morning, setting my coffee on the little warming disk, lighting some “Scents of the West” incense and listening to Neko Case or the National. When I’m in here, I’m a writer.

Turns out, I just needed a little, quiet corner to call my own.  And now I’ve got one.  Lava lamp and all.