Monday, December 30, 2013

Is 2014 the Year of the Reasonable Resolution?

Let's be honest: 2013 was a terrible year! We should have known it would be since there was a 13 staring us in the face every single day. How could that possibly be a good thing for anyone?

I won't go into details about all the obstacles and challenges of my year. You have your own. And if you don't, then you probably know someone who does. Around me were divorces, job losses, deaths, and health problems. Friends, neighbors, and students all went through many trials of the spirit and body. It was hard to be sympathetic when you had your own problems to deal with.

Which is not to say there weren't a few bright spots and this is where I'm going to start with my "reasonable" resolutions:

 - in 2013 I got a dog whom the shelter named Peaches. She's a chihuahua-terrier-something mix, perhaps 8 years old, with an utterly unknown history. I love her so much and am so happy she's in my life, even if she does hate other dogs. In 2014, we'll work on that, one pup at a time.

 - in 2013, I got a new literary agent and finished a couple of books. In 2014, I'll have product and a means to get it out there into the world (that's far more reasonable than resolving to sell a book!).

 - in 2013, I discovered kale, my new favorite vegetable, and I rediscovered my love of Brussels sprouts. In 2014, I want to try quinoa.

For 2014, I've got plans - big ones like moving and shooting a short film and starting a new business - but those are hardly "reasonable" and nothing that can be "resolved" to be done. Taking steps to accomplish them will be my next challenge.

Happy 2014~

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Must, Want To, and Should

As the holiday season approaches and I receive requests for more and more things (shopping, parties, extra work, and so on), I begin to get overwhelmed by it all. At first I toss another ball into the air, fill up another blank spot on the calendar, and make a note to myself.  But very soon, the air is thick with balls, the calendar has no more empty squares, and I've run out of note paper.

You have to say no sometimes. But when? And what to say no to?  Well, it occurred to me that there are really 3 categories of things: those we MUST do, those we WANT TO do, and those we SHOULD do.

The MUST do's: attending work parties, buying gifts for Mom and Dad, making a visit to the grandparents.

The WANT TO do's: attending a new movie, buying gifts for friends, arranging a trip to Disneyland.

The SHOULD do's: attending a relative's party way out in the Valley, buying a gift for the boss, visiting a friend's new baby.

Sometimes they overlap - you may want to do the same thing you should do, like visiting that friend's new baby, for example - and sometimes they are at utter odds with each other, like when that relative's party is at the exact same time as the only day the museum is holding its free exhibits that you really want to go to.

So where do you begin? Do you start with the MUST's? Or the WANT TO's? Are you a SHOULD do person?  I know plenty of people who start and end with what they WANT TO do and have no care for anything society or family/friends may tell them they SHOULD or MUST do.  That takes courage to disregard others' opinions as well as a healthy ego that says "My WANTS come first."

Me? I start with the MUST do items and then go to the WANT TO. I am independent enough to ignore what I SHOULD do but let's be honest, I often run out of time and money just completing the MUST items on my calendar/list/inbox. I rarely get to the WANT TO's!

This is the way I plan to approach my gift-giving, party-attending, subbing requests, and so on this month. If it's not a MUST, then it ain't getting done.

But what about writing? Well, I think you can apply these categories to writing as well.  As writers, we all feel we MUST write, that is not in doubt, but whenever I feel like I SHOULD write - whether it's on a particular day or at a particular time or about a specific subject or theme - then my writing ends up terrible. That's happened when I tried following a trend I wasn't crazy about or chasing an editor who kind of liked a book I submitted but wanted to go in a different direction, or even when I wasn't finding anything to write about at all. Each time I did the SHOULD rather than the WANT TO, my work suffered.

I have to find the WANT TO in every SHOULD in order to do it. Otherwise I will resent every ounce of energy I am spending on it.  Life is too short for SHOULD.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The joy of receiving a 1-star review

"Leigh, you're crazy!"
"You're sleep-deprived!"
"I do not think that word means what you think it means."

On a Goodreads scale of 1 to 5, 1 being the worst and 5 being the best, it certainly is preferable to receive a 5-star review.  And when it's accompanied by lots of lovely words like "Wonderful!" and "Entertaining!" and "Best Book Ever in the History of Books!", well, that definitely is nice.

A lot nicer than the 1-star review spewing vitriol toward you, your characters, and your dog, right?

Yes and no.

The yes is obvious.  Every writer on the planet, except for someone like Jonathan Franzen, wants to be loved and appreciated and to have his work revered and praised by critics and readers alike. Isn't that why we publish in the first place - to bring joy to other people?  Of course! So yes, I do want those 5-star reviews.  Keep 'em coming!

Now, the no.

Someone gives your book a 1-star. She writes how she hated your main character.  She hated the story, the plot twists she saw coming a hundred million miles away because that's how obvious your writing is.  She also detested the love interest who was boring, the best friend who was also boring or possibly boreing since she was so angry that she couldn't bother with spell check.  She had to write three paragraphs of how much she hated your book so that she could spare others the pain she experienced.  Oh and yes, she was very glad she got the book as a gift so she didn't have to pay for it.

Is that enough to give you heart palpitations?  Sensitive Author!  Do not fret. If you feel really terrible, go back and re-read some of the 5-star reviews you got.  They're just as accurate.  No, seriously, they are.

Okay, done? Breathe easy. Now, embrace the 1-star review.  Why?  Why? Let me explain:

That reader felt so much after reading your book, she had to tell the world. She had to locate her iPad or laptop, sign in to Goodreads, find your book, go to "review," compose it, and put it up.  Those are many, many steps to take.  Believe me, I know.  I'm a Goodreads member and that's the number one reason I don't write a lot of reviews!  It's time-consuming and for a book I didn't care about too much, meh, I'm not going to bother writing anything.

But this reader did!  She cared enough to go through all that in order to write and publish her review.  Was it nice?  No.  Was it well-written?  Of course not. But she did it anyway!  Let's be honest.  Today's readers don't have a lot of patience.  They are insta-buyers, insta-readers, insta-lovers, insta-haters.  They don't have time to give your book a chance.  They don't have time to waste. Does anyone?  I know I don't.  So look at the 1-star review this way: someone took the time to write something about your book. He or she easily could have deleted it from their Kindle and shrugged, meh. And moved on.

So you touched someone. They got annoyed, so don't do it again, but hey, they were touched. Now move on.  That's it.  Move along and linger no more. 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Writing contemporary fiction: the pros and pitfalls

The first handful of novels I wrote were contemporary young adult fiction.

Actually, the first novel I wrote was science fiction but the first novel I completed was contemporary and not originally intended to be young adult but eventually rewritten and marketed for that category.

There are definitely advantages to setting a story in the present day and using commonplace references.  For one thing, there is a shorthand between author and audience. For instance, if I have a character refer to a celebrity named "Lindsay," you know I mean Lindsay Lohan. If I talk about Facebook or YouTube, you get what I'm saying. I don't need to waste time explaining things that we all understand.

With contemporary fiction, it's easy to throw in cultural references as mile markers or for in-jokes.

But what happens in fifteen years? Will readers know who Psy was? Or what the Harlem Shuffle was? Will TV shows like "Dexter" and "Breaking Bad" be remembered in all their intricate glory? If I say a character was like Walter White, will they think he was simply cruel and manipulative or will they get the multi-dimensionality of him?

No?  Well, what about in ten years? Five?  Three? One?

My first published novels were, naturally, written years prior to their actual publication. As we got closer to the books' pub dates, my editor and I made sure references that could be badly dated were cut or made generic so the books would be as fresh as possible. But there is no getting around the fact that the world changes really, really fast. And things that were big or popular or seemingly impossible to forget were forgotten or left behind.

Things I thought would become big didn't. Things I didn't think could become big did.  After all, I am not a seer.

LOL (will that be old soon too?)

As a result, some things about my books became dated. Certain things my characters did became hard to understand a few years later. Readers today don't consider the time having passed between writing and reading and they wonder, in reviews and to themselves, "Why didn't Vee use the internet for finding work?" (Because when it was written, that wasn't how it was done.) "Why didn't Meg have a cell phone of her own?" (Because when it was written, they were far too expensive for a poor girl.) Things like that throw the reader off and make them question the author's expertise.

Believe me, if I could have seen the future of cameraphones and people taking "selfies," I would have used them but back then, it would have been seen as impossible. Then I really would have been writing science fiction.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Imagination, the future and frustration

Lots of young girls imagine their wedding day.  They picture the veil and the train and the attendants and the flowers.  They may not have an image of their grooms beyond a Ken doll or a GI Joe but they know all the other details.

Lots of kids imagine their future careers.  They see themselves as firefighters or cops or nurses or teachers or tackling any other job that they are familiar with.

Great imaginations these kids have.  Kudos to all of them.

But then reality sets in. The wedding doesn't happen the way they picture.  The dress and flowers and even the groom don't match the early vision.  As for jobs, no one pictures themselves at a desk in front of a computer, maybe answering a phone, or putting in long and boring days just to pay for health insurance.

Frustrating, isn't it?

When I have a story idea, I let it ruminate in my brain for a while. I imagine some characters talking to each other and doing things.  I try to allow a backstory to develop for them.  Their early school years.  Their nicknames. Their friends and parents and pets and favorite tv shows.  In my mind, these characters and their settings are awesome!  They have so much potential. I start to develop a plot and imagine a really cool ending and, voila!  Storytime!

But then reality sets in as I start to write. Characters talk in strange ways and accents.  They have their own quirks I wasn't aware of, quirks that prevent them from doing things the way I want them to.  Sure, I can force them but it's never quite the same as in my imagination.  I push my way through, from chapter to chapter, following the outline or deviating from it occasionally.  And then it's over and it's not anything like what I thought it would be.


Anticipation of anything sets us up for failure and disappointment. I should know this, after the many years I've lived on this planet, and yet I am always surprised when things fail to live up to my vision.  I try to foresee potential problems but I'm still stymied when life - and plot - throws me a curve.

This is another post where I posit a problem with no solution. I wish things were more black and white.  I wish the path to my goal could be clear and singular.

Yeah, frustrating.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Creation and the still mind

Every writer has her own rituals: music, food, chair, spot at the local coffee shop that isn't next to the guy talking on his cell phone nonstop. I don't particularly care about music or food, but I like to be facing a window with some sun streaming through (or rain on some days if I'm in the mood).

One thing I think most everyone can agree on is the importance of having a still mind.

To the mind that is still, the whole universe surrenders.  

-Lao Tzu

But how to achieve that when all around you is chaos?

I wish I was Zen.  I wish I could do yoga and calm my crazy brain but I am a ballet dancer and that is a very structured environment.  It helps me, sometimes, to be in a class and allow the discipline of the dance form to create some structure in my mind but often it only lasts for the 90 minutes I am in the studio or for the hours I am teaching.  Once I am in my car and headed home, the crazy quilt of thoughts comes back.

With all of the recent events in the news (the marathon tragedies, the Texas explosion, the failure of gun control in the Senate, and the many, many terrible things that occur on a daily basis in every city around the globe), it's really difficult to keep a calm and still mind and to allow the universe to surrender its messages to us, the creators.

-- How do we create characters who are sympathetic if we do not have sympathy for others? 
-- How do we invent plots that do not feel trite? 
-- How do we promote messages of love and equality when all around us we see and experience hate and intolerance?
-- And should we do anything of the sort or simply write and let others invest their own meaning into our words?

I have no conclusions, no solutions. I know people who insist on ignoring what they can do nothing about and that's great for them if they can do that but writers need to examine the world beyond them at all times.  When we retreat and seclude ourselves, then our characters and their thoughts/words/actions are not real to the reader.  Nothing feels sincere if it is not based in some sort of reality.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Next Big Thing Blog Hop!

Hey Leigh, whatcha workin' on these days?

If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me that question...I'd have a few bucks to buy some coffee!

Last week, the amazingly talented Claire LaZebnik tagged me in her Next Big Thing Blog Hop post.  Claire writes super fun YA and adult fiction. Lots of romance and humor in her books which I totally appreciate.  Because seriously, you need some love and light when life gets you down, you know?  When that happens to you, I hope you'll grab a copy of Claire's Epic Fail and get all feel-good-y.  I can remember very distinctly how I happened to meet Claire. I had read one of her adult novels and absolutely FELL IN LOVE with it! I found her on on Goodreads, connected with her there and as luck would have it, she was about to read at a bookstore near me so I got to meet her in person!

So thanks to Claire, I'm about to answer some questions about my next big thing...

1. What is the title of your work-in-progress?
"The Mystic Chords of Memory."

2. Where did the idea come from?
I am a ballet instructor and dancer and I wanted to write something with a ballerina protagonist. I also love speculative fiction!

3. What genre does your book come under?

4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie?
For Asya, the ballerina, I would love to see Taissa Farmiga. For Jay, her soldier, I think Evan Peters.  Both are actors from "American Horror Story" and they would be perfect!

5. One sentence synopsis for your book?
A ballerina from a Russian circus meets and falls in love with a Confederate soldier during the Civil War.

6: Is your book self-published, published by an independent publisher, or represented by an agency?
I am represented but the book has not been sold yet.

7: How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
Well, I'm still working on it! Hence the phrase, "work-in-progress"! I finished the 30K word novella in about 3 months but I'm still working on making it a full-length novel.

8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Hmmm...if you like Cherie Priest's Boneshaker, I think you'd like this.  Or Gail Carriger!  I love both Cherie and Gail!

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Good writers like Cherie and Gail, actually.  I love the chances they took with their stories and I wanted to do the same with mine. It's a big risky thing, writing a book that is in a different genre than the one you are known for, but I love it!  Bring on the new and different!

10.What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
Romance and Civil War.  Automaton ballerinas.  Horses with steam engines. A soldier who has lost everyone and everything.  And dirigibles!  Lots of dirigibles.

And now, who's next?  First is my friend, Mina Javaherbin, the author of award-winning picture books (a brand new one is coming soon but that's hush-hush! shh....!). She's also a lover of dance, which is how we connected, as well as a screenwriter and a YA writer.  What can't this woman do?  She is very funny too and super smart and a genius at sizing up a situation and making the most of it.  Love that in a person.  Check out her blog here! 

I'd also like to introduce you to Rachel Olivier, a wonderful writer and friend whom I met when my second novel All About Vee came out. Like me, Rachel loves funny cat videos and "Doctor Who" and unusual fiction but she also loves, well, love!  Romance figures very prominently in her stories which is one reason they resonate so strongly with me and her many readers.  One of my very favorite pieces of her fiction is her Christmas-themed novella, The Holly and the Ivan. Her blog is here!

Thanks again for the tag, Claire and now, Mina and Rachel, you're it!  Happy reading, everyone~