Thursday, April 29, 2010

Follow Up to Writing as Therapy

Apparently I am not alone in my thoughts. I don't remember exactly who Graham Greene was, but I remember he had a book in my travel writing seminar in college that I very much enjoyed. I want to say it involved a trip to Africa.

Writing Is A Form of Therapy

Writing is a form of therapy; how do all those who do not write, compose, or paint manage to escape the madness, the melancholia, the panic and fear which is inherent in the human condition?


From today's "Advice to Writers" at

New projects

One of the writing groups I belong to, I believe it was PLRW, posted this call for urban fantasy/were-creatures short stories from Ekaterina Sedia:

And I thought to myself: well, there's no reason why I can't write something for that. Even if just as an exercise in finishing a new project for a specific purpose. Always a good lesson. Creative people sometimes forget how to complete an assignment that's not muse-driven.

I now have several pages of notes in my journal about a werewolf in post-Liberation 1945 Paris...

Sunday, April 25, 2010

In Character

WARNING: This blog post may contain colloquial language, vulgarity and discussion of different sex acts.

2ND WARNING: Author has had three cups of coffee

Sometimes, as authors, we view our stories and our plots with the detachment of an outsider. I'm not saying we don't get lost/caught up in our stories, because we do. What happens is more like worrying about making sure we get the road to lead where we want it to that we don't pay attention to the actual path.

I was editing a chapter today. In that chapter, Galen the bad guy is coping poorly with the fact that the now-dead ingenue from the previous book (Adelaide) has possessed him. To add insult to injury-- to use a cliché-- Adelaide has noticed a young man her age and her lust has left Galen with an erection. Galen gets into his car where his mate and fellow witch, Flidais, laughs at him for his predicament.

Now the basic road map for this scene required that Galen and Flidais drive from Point A to Point B. I got the sense upon reading it, that Flidais would do more than laugh at him. I spent the next 24 hours contemplating whether Flidais would give him a hand job or a blow job.

Yes, seriously.

One of my friends suggested a little bit of both. But that didn't seem right. As a writer, I typically can write through big problems. Little problems like this, or even smaller ones like what the characters had for dinner, can halt my progress for hours.

Today, I labeled why these things often stump me. It's not because of the sex acts. It stems from not thinking inside the character's head. The chapter I'm writing comes from Galen's third person limited point of view. I pondered the problem as if Galen had a say in which sex act Flidais performed. Which, he could ask, but he doesn't.

As soon as I considered the conundrum from Flidais' point of view, I had to weigh the magical consequences. In that case, a hand-job seemed vulgar and like a waste of male essence. She might try that if she wanted to weaken him or merely distract him. I think she would perform a sex act for her own gain. In that case, what can she receive?

In my series, any sex act has a supernatural weight to it and it all means something. Feminine power must be given, not taken. Masculine power must be taken. Sex, in the male/female intercourse variety, adds something to the universe and provides energy that can fuel rituals.

The answer became obvious, Flidais had to give Galen a blow job because she needed a shot of masculine power and that was an easy way to take it.

The moral of the story:
If you're stuck at a point where characters have to make a choice, make sure the characters reason out the problem and chose according to their motivations, not yours. Don't confuse the POV character's preferences with the character who is actually the one in control of the choice.

Friday, April 23, 2010

I'm raising a romance writer

My daughter has been on the phone with Etienne (the protagonist from my work-in-progress) most of the day. I know because I had to translate some things.

When I asked her why they were spending so much time on the phone she informed me that they were getting married. Tonight.

"You're stealing MY Frenchman," I told her.

"Mommy, he stole me," she replied.

"I don't think his wife will like that," I replied.

"Well, I can't help it. He told me that he loved me."

"There's your first mistake. Never believe a Frenchman when he says he loves you."

"And he kissed me."

"We're not talking 'bisous' here, are we?"

"No. And he said, 'I won't ever let this kiss stop.'"

"That does sound like Etienne."

I think I'm going to have to use that line.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

My Journal

When I was in high school, a fabulous English teacher somehow got me to go to a writer's conference on the campus of UPenn in Philadelphia. I think I was 16. I started my first official journal in the spiral bound Penn notebook they gave us, while my dad drove me home.

By the time I graduated from college I had more than 100 journals of all shapes and sizes.

I used to number them in the corner, every new one got a number on the inside cover. I stopped this process and I wish I hadn't. It made it easier to put them in order and easier to label exactly how prolific I'd been.

I kept pretty detailed journals during my pregnancy. That changed with the birth of my daughter. Then I journaled when I could, but no longer with the intensity or the frequency that I used to. It got to the point, and this was recently, that my journal entries would be a weekly affair instead of the breaking news format I used to follow.

With some of my recent health issues, I thought I needed to return to as-needed journaling. I wanted to record everything I'm thinking and feeling in order to connect or perhaps disconnect my physical and emotional problems.

I have done this for about three weeks. Maybe four. I'm worrying that these entries are clinical, full of my rants and fears, and make me look like a basket-case. But then I see a glimpse of the old me, and the old journals, with hastily scribbled items like this:

How many thaws from frigid winters
until a heart can no longer be reached
with the frayed and weakening stems
of dandelions held by the tiny hands
of strangers' children?

And I do think that journaling has redirected my attention from social media and also put me more at peace. Now, if only I could make the time to resume my bicycle rides and do some yoga, I might regain some real peace of mind.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Archiving Twitter

I've heard plenty of people say that the publishing industry expects its authors, even undiscovered ones, to have a following on Twitter and Facebook. I'm new to Twitter and I'm still learning its nuances (and to some degree, the point).

Last week, the Library of Congress announced that it would archive "tweets." Let me repeat this: The Library of Congress will archive tweets.

What does that say about the American written word?
What does that say about the pace of our lives?
What does that say about our desire to read?

With my background in journalism, I can say just about anything in 140 characters. In the newspaper industry, we call this a headline.

So, I say nothing more for or against Twitter. Any new technology for connecting people has the capacity to improve our lives. I can't help but think we're breeding a generation of voyeurs and exhibitionists who see life as a performance and not something to share with those around us in that old-fashioned, face-to-face kind of way.

Yet, I also think it's really cool that I can monitor all sorts of people from all around the world, potentially with interests similar to mind, without having to say hello and introduce myself.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Job Doing What You Love

When I was in college, someone (I don't even remember who) asked me why I didn't pursue a journalism major. I had two reasons:
1. I don't believe in a journalism major. Journalists must have broad education or at least an intelligence that allows them to question and receive information. The craft of writing is part talent, part experience and part having the right mentors. I don't think journalism professors are the best mentors. The fast-paced universe and the breadth of topics that appear in a journalist's world are constantly in flux and an academic at a university has lost touch with this and cannot train a journalist for this.
2. I love to write. I didn't want to ruin that by writing all day long.

I was right. I spent four years in public relations and publications. Then, I moved to my journalism career. I wrote an average of ten stories per week for years on end. Sometimes I did as many as twelve or fourteen.

By the time I got home at night, I had no words left for me. I have given them all "to the people." I didn't want to read words. I didn't want to write words.

The pleasure had gone from them.

I remembered this recently when a friend of mine recently finished her honors project for her bachelors degree. She lamented to me that her brain had been in "research mode" so long that she looked forward to returning to her creativity.

And I understood.

Many of us who write creatively also use our skills professionally. This can hinder productivity. It is important to do something you love as a career. It is important to have skill in what you do. But any career that involves creativity in its day-to-day life will drain you.

So you must be careful.

If I ever get the chance to write my novels and stories as a career, that means I will no longer have that as a hobby (and perhaps could return to having hobbies that involve putting my photos in albums, gardening or oil panting). But if I use those skills in my next career: for press releases, articles, whatever... I have to weigh if those things add to or detract from what I want to do with my words.

If the New Yorker calls and wants me to go be Adam Gopnik in Paris, I am there. If the AFP (French Press Agency) calls and wants me on staff, I'm there.

Other opportunities? Depends how badly I need the money. Depends how much of my soul they demand.

In America, we don't sell our souls to the devil, because corporations so gladly take them off our hands.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Adaptable and connected

Jonathan Maberry, a very prolific author of everything from paranormal-related nonfiction to paranormal thrillers and other odds and ends like comic books and movie-novels, spoke to Pocono Lehigh Romance Writers (PLRW) today about trends in the publishing industry.

My first exposure to Jonathan had to be in March 2008, at GLVWG's The Write Stuff, when I attended his query letter workshop. He was the keynote for the conference that year and the theme of his talk boiled down to write anything they throw at you and you can build a career. I oversimplify a tad, but the man lives by that motto.

He has fun with his work, and it seems like whether it's a GI Joe prose series to accompany a comic storyline, his novels or his zombie YA book, he's willing to tackle it.

When he walks into the room, he has so many practical ideas on how to build and market yourself as a writer, you might feel exhilarated and overwhelmed all at the same time.

I remember from two years ago, he told us to query up. He told us to start with all the dream agents, the big agents, because we didn't deserve to sell ourselves short. What's the worst that will happen? They say no. But maybe you will hit it big.

Today he talked about social networking in that same kind of light. Connect with people bigger than you, treat them as a colleague in a professional manner. Interview writers bigger than you for your blog. Use Linkedin, Twitter and Facebook.

And keep it positive. Because more kids want to play in your sandbox if you're positive. And Jonathan believes in the power of putting positive into the world.

It works for him.

And honestly, his enthusiasm is infectious. Now, if only I can find about six more hours in a day.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Writing Psychotherapy

My personal life has changed somewhat in the last few weeks with the loss of my job. I have a theory about life, perhaps one trying to circumvent the old superstition that "bad things come in threes." When one bad thing happens, I face every other potential stressor in my life on purpose.

So, since I lost my job and pitched to a literary agent in the same week, let's also get the car inspected and go to the doctor for a physical.

Now I have a $700 car bill, am waiting on test results for anemia, and working with a psychologist to see if I have general anxiety disorder. Just the fact that there is such a thing as "general anxiety disorder" that effects a large segment of the American population amazes me.

Could it be part of the problem is our lack of connection to anything other than our material lives? We all seem stressed out about money, jobs and stuff and I don't get it. Why? I'm a victim of it as much as anyone. But why? If I lost my house would my family really let us go homeless? If I couldn't afford food would my friends and neighbors let my daughter go hungry?

But yet... these fears exist.

(I promise this will get to writing.)

In the 19th century, after the industrial revolution, many writers and visual artists addressed the potential hazards of modernization. Many writers like Zola and Sinclair took the naturalist route and described what they saw in detail and when you read these works, like Zola's experience of the Hausmann-influenced Paris, I feel like we've never dealt with these issues. Not yet. More than 100 years later.

Gauguin's solution was to live, paint and frolic with the natives in tropical paradise.

And I think people today are no more "screwed up" than people 100 years ago. A nervous person 100 years ago might lock herself in the parlor with a book, or work in the garden, or get sent to the sanatorium for a "rest," but would more of us be more at ease if we had a more natural rhythm of work and rest?

150 years ago everyone had some connections to the land. If they didn't grow their own food, their neighbors grew it. They understood the limits of their universe and had a connection to ever part of their lives. We're detached. Our food comes from grocery stores. Our fuel comes in tanker trucks. Our clothes come from malls. We hit switches and lights come on. We type words on screens and send them to other people with the touch of a button.

Our ancestors understood their needs and how to fulfill them. Our ancestors worked and slept on schedule with the sun and didn't have a snooze alarm.

I've connected this with some 19th century writers, but how does it effect our writing?

Until Monday, I thought I was a naturally nervous person, that it was part of who I am and I had to deal with it. Monday I faced some of the reasons why that's not true. Monday I had to inventory some of my demons and realize how they effected me. And this wasn't done in the safety of the psychologist's office. This hit me like a sledgehammer several hours later. And I'm still recoiling.

But I also realized that the struggles my characters go through are quite literally the same struggles that I go through. I downright torture Étienne, and his turmoil is a veiled commentary on what I've faced and how I feel about my life.

We all do it. If we don't use our characters to vent or explore our emotions, then we give them the opportunities we want or we let them chase our dreams.

Writing. Ultimate psychotherapy.

What are you writing?

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Writing in my head

I love when I find myself writing in my head. It provides a welcomed escape from what normally occupies my head, which right now is something like this:

Oh my... the car's brakes and inspection cost almost $700. We have $100 in the checkbook for food and unexpected bills and it has to last throughout all of April. I have lots of schoolwork due and my textbooks for my seminar are still in the car. I hope I don't overdose on iron. I have a doctor's appointment Monday and I think I'm looking forward to it. Sh*t, tomorrow is Easter. I forgot.

So, I'm in the shower. And instead of these things I'm thinking:

Galen sits on the bench drinking coffee. A cute guy walks by. Adelaide, now dead and cohabitating Galen's body with him notices. Would she have the power to prompt a sexual response in his body? If so, what would it be? What would Galen think? And since she later uses her powers to assist impotent Étienne, maybe she should inadvertently cause something now we foreshadow that she can *ahem* assist the male anatomy.

Which also brings to mind... What kind of guy would Addy find attractive? Would he be a hip, young, American Étienne?

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Selfish Writer

My apologies to Molly Cochran for stealing her desired title for the talk she gave at last week's GLVWG The Write Stuff conference. The talk was actually titled "Finish your novel" or something equally boring, but she really wanted to call it "The Selfish Writer" because that's what it takes.

Sometimes you have to neglect your children, your life, your job.

And those of us who spend our lives being way too serious need to hear that.

I finished my agent submission Tuesday night and emailed it. When I should have been in class.

I allowed myself to work on a scene five chapters away because my emotions seemed drawn to that scene.

And I promised myself I would make time for writing. That no matter what happens, I will give myself 30 minutes to an hour of writing time a day.

Because I need this.