I have returned after ten mostly restful days in San Francisco and northern California.

(I know. HOW? How is it that I’ve returned? It’s a major effort to drive back to the airport each time. I’d just as soon stay there.)

My son and I decided to hit up way NorCal and spent a few days in Eureka. We ate too much good food. We explored the redwood forest and spent one day driving up the coast, missing the record breaking 102 degree heat wave in San Francisco, but suffering under the smokiness of forest fires – not from California, but from Oregon.

One thing: I’m especially taken with the tall trees. They are thousands of years old and so enormous, it’s hard to compare them to a regular pine tree. Using a car or my son for scale doesn’t fully reveal the enormity of them. Three hundred feet tall! Imagine, they were there before…anything! This country, other countries, wars, Jesus… And they go for miles and miles in Humboldt county, so majestic and peaceful, just as they were back then. It was a great way to spend a few days.

But…

Eventually, one must return to the *ahem* grind, which is what I’ve been grinding at since I arrived Tuesday. As much as the previous ten days have been relaxing, the last four have been an absolute whirlwind.

One thing I did take away from my mini-vacay is that it is necessary to step away from your work in order to make it better. This applies to Real Life work and creative pursuits. Call it breathing room, call it contemplation or meditation. Call it seeing the trees and the forest. Call it doing nothing and thinking about doing nothing and not feeling the least bit guilty. (I don’t know how to describe it. I’m not the expert.)

All I know is at this moment I appear to be at peak performance, not only at the grind work, but in my writing. Poetry! Scenes! Journal entries! Drawing! The flow has resumed. Hallelujah and pass the margaritas!

Try it. You might not be able to physically go somewhere cool (I rarely take time off), but take ten minutes a day to go somewhere in your mind. Slow your breathing, clear your head. Make it a habit. You’d be surprised at what pops out from under the clutter.

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My feet spending a week in San Francisco

Isn’t it amazing what work a writer can complete just by getting the hell out of Dodge and camping out in a cheap motel halfway across the country?

I’ve only been in San Francisco a few days and have edited (to some satisfaction) my next book, including linking the chapters to the table of contents.

I’ve written in my Hobonichi every day. Even filled up pages I missed when I was at home and too busy or too tired to write.

I’ve sorted through my early writings, which spent the last thirty years or so in the basements of various houses we’ve owned. The amazing thing (besides finding them at all, or that they’ve survived multiple minor basement floodings) is that some of this stuff is pretty good! Not fabulous, because my style was still in its infancy, but I’ll still be able to use some of the dialogue.

This is why I never delete (or in this case, discard type- or hand-written) old writing. There’s always the possibility of a gem in the coal.

I take daily walks on Ocean Beach, early in the morning, before the beach is overtaken with humanity. I love walking it at dawn, when it’s foggy and cold, quiet and still. A lot of thoughts come to mind as I walk, about my life, about the characters I’m writing about, about poetry and the world. The Real World is chaotic; there’s so much noise that it’s hard to calm your mind enough to catch the beautiful. Walking is a regulator, it measures the breathing and clears the head.

Granted, I walk/run at home, on my NordicTrack, but it’s not the same. I’ve got TV or headphones on, and I’m paying attention to the Google map screen. When I’m at the beach, I mute my phone and won’t answer unless it’s an emergency.

For me, Ocean Beach is therapeutic. It’s (dare I say it?) my muse, my source for inspiration. It calms me enough so that creative thoughts bob to the surface. (So many, I’m afraid I won’t catch them all, but I write them down as soon as I return to my room.) It’s no wonder that I’ve used Ocean Beach as a setting in my writing. As you might know, the photo I took of the Richmond District on my header looking east from the beach is framed over my bed. Sometimes when I wake up at home, I might think I’m back in San Francisco.

So while I’m here, I’ll make use of the time I have to get caught up, refreshed and motivated.

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Give love a chance.

If you think I’ve been strangely silent online, you would be right. I could blame it on Real Life (that’s a good scapegoat), or health problems, or logistical stress, but it’s more. Whether Twitter, Facebook, or even this blog, I’ve been slowly backing away from the screen, mainly because of the turmoil associated with the so-called “social” networks. It’s not that I’m not engaged or thinking or even investigating, because I’m all that and more. I see all sides, good, bad, in between. I’ve got a brain; I can process the world around me.

I love my online friends, which is why my heart hurts when I see the rancor being spewed or maybe quietly implied. But words are as weighty as they are diaphanous. As a writer, I see their value, and changing a sentence by replacing words or inserting punctuation changes the tone and meaning of the words. It changes the intent.

Ah, but the Internet. We are but tiny human blobs connected by a network we don’t quite understand. (I know I don’t!) We can’t see the facial expressions of our online friends. We can only imagine. Likewise, words are displayed and splayed and launched with abandon. If you don’t agree, you’re called names or disconnected from “friends.” We all fall in step or we’re discarded. (So much for the social experiment.)

Things I’ve Learned in the Last Few Weeks

My son has an expression he uses. “Too strong.” He’s feeling better in his life, and has a new-found awareness that if he thinks (and writes) the things off the top of his head, he can derive a little (or a lot) of shock value from the general public. And if I make a disapproving comment, he automatically comes back with “Too strong?”

A lot of words are “too strong.” Take “hate” for example. I used to use that term a lot, until my sister-in-law pointed out that I was using the word for everything. “I hate the school district.” “I hate that color.” “I hate when he/she/it does that.” “I hate that I can’t fit into a bikini anymore.”

My kids were little then. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t very successful, but I tried hard to limit my use of that term. Now the only thing I truly hate are liars and cheats, but they deserve to be hated in my world.

The Internet is chock full of words that are too strong. (The F word comes to mind. Why not find an equally strong word(s) that is thoughtful?) You might choose words you don’t really mean, but you use them to elicit emotion. You might even embellish on the words you’ve chosen in order to draw sympathy to your cause. (Believe me, I have done this myself when laying out my own arguments.)

You might even be like an anonymous someone who took a sentence a person (who I do know) said in the public forum and blew a simple opinion harming no one and turned it into an atomic mushroom cloud of despicable innuendo. I know the opposing views were passionate, but the tirade headed toward spite, the kind that threatened safety of family and employment. Had this person gone a bit farther, I might have had to resort to legal action. Just because you imagine something and say it’s so (especially regarding a person you don’t even know) does not make it so.

These are trying times.

One thing my daughter learned this past week: You can’t have an opinion. She’s young, she’s passionate, but last week she took all of her political stickers off her car for fear of “liability.” She did not want the harassment of people calling her loathsome names. (Why a 27 year old would think that, I don’t know. I was definitely not that advanced at that age.) I don’t agree with a lot of what she does and says. Really, now. She’s my daughter. But part of me, the heart of me, felt sick to my stomach when she told me this.

We are still (I hope) a free country. If you can’t have strong opinions, if you don’t feel safe expressing them, then damn it, we’ve lost a freedom. You get to have your opinions, as I get to have mine. As an artist, I need the freedom to think what I want, to put my thoughts into writing or art. Unfortunately, the trend has been heading toward intolerance for a long time – another reason why my stomach hurt. I used to write opinion. I purposely gave it up because some of my opinions weren’t being taken in the humorous light I had intended. I use my real name. I didn’t want to be hunted down and accused of things that aren’t true – or worse.

One happy spot in the last few weeks: Someone left me a Facebook message after reading Virtually Yours. (Talk about an Internet story that sounds so old and dated!) She loved it! If I can make one person happy with my words, it makes up for current buzz of negativity we are living through today.

The takeaway: Choose your words carefully. They’re not casual; they can hurt, even though there may be no intent to do so. And of course, watch what you  post on the Internet, because unlike ice cream and good times and puppy love, the Internet is forever.

Choose to be positive.

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This is the Duchess of Hayes. She cannot read, but she sleeps under my right armpit when I do.

This weekend I took a brief rest from my endeavors of slapping together my chap book (poetry, flash, and tiny essays). I’m not a whiz when it comes to book design, and choosing the perfect 24 or so pieces (and editing them) has turned into a colossal time suck. Not that I don’t mind, it’s exciting to uncover the long hidden and shine them up to make them fancy. It’s just this part of the creative process has less to do with art and more to do with mechanics. After weeks of struggle, I was soooo ready for a diversion.

My copy of Michelle Richmond’s The Marriage Pact arrived in the mail Friday. Yippee! Just in time for granddogsitting for the weekend! (If you’re ever asked to dog sit for two chihuahuas when you have your hands full with your own dog and cat – and life, which includes keeping the house clean for potential home buyers, think twice. Love my daughter, love the dogs, but I’m sure I’m a cartoon coming out of the house in the morning with two leashed dogs and one in a carrier.)

I know you’ve heard me ad nauseum, I love Michelle Richmond! I love her writing style, I love the plots, I love the subplots! I have all of her books! I’ve MET her! I’ve taken a couple of online classes with her! The Marriage Pact is perhaps different from her previous style, but yet delivers as a great read.

Why? Because I couldn’t stop turning the pages, that’s why! I had to find out what was going to happen next! I dragged this book (don’t usually buy hardcovers of anything, but there I go) all over town, along with the two chihuahuas and my nervous and unruly Boston terrier. I read it in snippets at the office and waiting at my daughter’s house for the home buyers to go away! I read it so intently, my husband kept asking me was I going to get dinner ready. (He was starving; I needed to finish a chapter.) Today I went home IN THE MIDDLE OF THE DAY and finished the last 50 pages.

What can I say? Very satisfying. 🙂 (I won’t spoil it for you. If you really want to know what happened, go buy your own copy!)

Now I’m ready to go back to the edits. I’ve got a cover designer on the job, and I will plug away like a good writer. I might even finish before my self-imposed deadline.

Sometimes, writers must read. I read all the time, but it’s truly exciting when you get to read something spectacular. Reading sparks the fire. Maybe it will result in a conflagration.

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I have not been around much lately, as I have spent the last two-plus months cleaning and decluttering in preparation for possible (and yes, I did!) listing my house for sale. It’s a beautiful house and I love it, our master bedroom is to die for and the yard is park like with my many gardens. But let’s face it. We are not getting any younger. This is a HUGE house. We’ve lived here 13 years. I found more junk than I’d forgotten about. It’s a major pain working in the garden every year. (I should insert here that this year I performed a reverse flip whilst pulling a weed. Yes. Comical, and it hurt.) We are losing the battle with the weeds and the critters. When the things you love start weighing you down, it’s time to jettison the albatross.

Whatever disposable time I’m allotted I’d rather spend doing something enjoyable. Something creative. Which is why a smaller house is appealing. I can manage small.

So finally the house is clean – now I have to maintain a somewhat magazine lay-out freshness, so potential buyers aren’t scared off by my lifestyle (fairly free and easy and casual). This is not easy to do, but having a two-hour lead time for showings is helpful. I can’t get too out of control with that hanging over my head.

In the meantime, I haven’t just stopped writing. I’m working daily in my Hobonichi. Sometimes it’s character sketches, sometimes it’s poetry, sometimes I just draw, sometimes I write down something interesting I’ve encountered or heard.

I’m editing two entire books (!), one I’d forgotten, one I keep saying I will get to but never seem to find the time, and compiling a book of “shorts” – poems, flash, etc. I’m also collaborating (for the first time) on a piece I’d started and let fall to the wayside. (There’s a cautionary tale here, about poor time management, laziness, and a host of other “bad” habits a writer can pile up without thinking about it.)

All of the above excuses for not writing and not completing anything I’ve started, of course, are lame ones at best. A writer writes. When she doesn’t write she can’t blame anyone or anything except herself.

The busy-ness has finally come to a halt. It’s time to carve out a little time to get my writing as organized as my house. I plan to spend the rest of my summer coming to grips with the inside of my laptop.

(To kick start my plan, I designed a new logo for my books (see above), and I bought a BLOCK of ISBN numbers. I’d better have 100 books on the way. That’ll teach me. I hope.)

What are YOU doing this summer? Lounging by the pool and letting it all slip away? Not me. I’m down to the business of writing.

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I’ve always been a writer, starting before kindergarten when my mother gave me a pencil and a scrap of paper. Sometimes writing comes easily, when I can sit and spew forever and a day. Other times it would be the ultimate struggle: I knew I should be writing something, anything – but I just couldn’t, for whatever reason. Real life, stress, too many things to do, self doubt, laziness, sickness – you name it, I’ve used it for an excuse.

For the last month or so, I’ve been going through a MASSIVE housecleaning. (This is my current excuse for not writing.) It would have started out a huge undertaking anyway. We have three bedrooms that we never use and 2000 square feet of house that we don’t live in. Add to that 14 years of stuff accumulated by four humans and we are talking major decluttering. Thank goodness I’m not a hoarder like you see on TV. I’d just have to run away from home instead of clean.

The basement was one of my last jobs to tackle because it was the grossest. The attic wasn’t bad – it’s a walk up and dry, and my spare bedrooms aren’t bad because I clean them once a year (or before company comes to call). But the basement…yuck. Kind of damp, very spidery, and home to ancient centipedes. Plus it’s a HUGE mess, bigger than the rest of the house combined. And it’s dusty.

As I’m chucking out toys and enough Christmas accoutrements to open my own store, I found a box of my writing. Two novels that I knew I’d started but never made it past the first hundred typewritten pages. More than a few poems. Some other writing I didn’t recognize as my own, but I’m sure it was mine.

My mother had given me an antique (yes, in 1974 it as an antique) Remington manual typewriter for my high school graduation. She must have thought I was going to make a living with my words (ha ha…). I lugged it around from place to place for ten years, until I got carpal tunnel syndrome and I had no finger strength to press the keys down. When I moved from St. Paul to Detroit, I gave it to my best friend at the time. I retired from typing, but still wrote poetry by hand, mostly to my husband. After the kids came twenty years of writing not much more than notes to teachers.

I’d also unearthed an enormous box of cards and letters from that period. Ah, pre-Internet, when the cheapest form of communication was via US Postal Service. Long distance phone calls were expensive! Trips out of town were too. There were tons of newsy missives from friends and relatives, years and years of back and forth. Many were mundane musings of daily life, sometimes the talk was deep. I found a letter from a truly nasty woman giving me 15 handwritten pages of what a terrible person I was. (I tossed that one, but I did keep some of the others. AND all of my fiction.)

Why did I keep that awful letter? or any of it?

Rereading my past was eye opening. These words brought back memories of myself as a young woman. My novels were mostly narrative (it took me 30 years to write dialogue!) but the voice was sassy and fresh. I’d never thought of myself as sassy and fresh at the time. My friends were interesting and led compelling lives, even though now none of us is where we thought we would be all of those long years ago.

As for me, I’m nearly finished with the Massive Purge of 2017. There might be one last garage sale in the future; I’ve given or thrown away everything else. Also in my future: old characters resurrected and given new life. Story lines I’d forgotten getting another chance. I’m starting right now.

Revive your past. It may pave the way to the future.

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We live in times where choices are made in black and white.

If you’re not a Democrat, you’re a Republican. If you question global warming, you must be a gas guzzling denier. If you love God and believe in him, you must be a bigot toward everyone who doesn’t believe. If you can’t see peace, love and understanding in everything, you must be shallow and stupid. Such contests of black and white make for interesting fireworks, but they also draw red lines of demarcation. Cross it, and you are dead to me.

Believe me, this has happened to me more lately than I’d care to think about. Make the wrong choice, and you lose friends, online and off.

The thing is, people are complex and flawed beings. We are more than black or white. A lot more.

I was thinking about this very thing this week as I completed the final modules of the short story course I’m taking online. (Have I mentioned before how much I love taking courses online?  🙂 Gets my brain in gear and thinking.) I learn so much from these courses. Thank you, Michelle Richmond.

Stories are much more than beginning, middle, and end. Once you get that concept into your head and begin branching away from stream of consciousness writing and into something that makes logical sense, you can begin to incorporate the other necessities of a good story, like dialogue, plots, themes – you know, the parts of a really good story.

I wrote a short story during this class, hardly original since I’d started something like it seven years ago and never finished it. (Maybe now I will.) But with a novel half-finished, some of the things I learned in the class I’ll now use in that work.

I thought about how I used to write my characters – the long-suffering female protagonist who at first comes off as too needy and without backbone. Or maybe she’s shallow and materialistic and not the brightest bulb. Or the antagonist who is a textbook slimy attorney, ruthless and mean. Bad guys without a vein of gold, or good girls who live the straight and narrow and never think beyond the box.

They were all black or all white.

They were also all boring. Re-writes change that, and add depth and interest. Characters are far more likeable if their layers are revealed slowly.

This is where I thought about black and white.

In my current WIP, I see where my main characters are coming out of worlds that are all black or all white, in their own way, of course. When we first meet, they are frozen, locked into course, as if they don’t choose black, they automatically choose white. They can’t see anything else. Real life isn’t like that, and as the story progresses, they each begin to see their lives as more than two choices, as black smears into white resulting in shades of gray. In my head I see them coming out of that monochromatic world and bursting into color, something with hope and promise at the end, like a rainbow.

Isn’t it great that humans are more than one thing or the other!

Remember this as we traverse the great wild Internet (especially) and the world at large. People are so much more than the public persona, of what shows on the surface.

I know. This is not very interesting and kinda preachy. But in developing characters, it might be something to think about.

 

🙂

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My husband and I don’t watch most “network” TV. We are totally unaware of anything new or trendy or hot or with it. With the possible exception of crime shows on HLN or ID (and of course, Snapped on OWN and Celebrity Autopsy on REELZ), we can’t stomach “reality” TV either. The “news” (I refuse to call it “fake” because I’ve known for 20 years that it is and a decade ago even hosted a web site of NonNEWS) is depressing and serves no purpose besides propaganda, but I digress. We watch series, not binge watch but one episode a night. We wait until a series shows some value or positive reviews and then we latch on. We’ll watch them over and over too. Good TV, like good books, never goes bad. Besides, if you wait long enough you can stream or buy the DVDs and don’t have to contend with pesky nuisances like commercials.

We started with Leave it to Beaver back when the kids were little, hoping to impart some wholesome values as we are not regular church goers. Every one of those 239 episodes had a moral to the tale. We moved on to That 70’s Show, which was funny and irreverent and so like the 1970s that we grew up in – upper Midwestern mayhem. The Wonder Years is also a great series for such nostalgia. I’m sure my husband sees himself as Kevin Arnold, much like I see myself as Winnie Cooper. (We were, after all, the same age at the same time.)

Then we started on House of Cards, which was entertaining but also like real life. And scary. And hot.

Finally we began watching Mad Men. This series hooked us from day one. The splendor of the photography, the perfect ensemble of actors, the plots exploring relationships and race, fast living and heavy drinking, the accurate depiction of the 1960s. (I love when Sally and her brother are playing with a dry cleaning bag – over their heads. I did that!) Turbulent times reflected just as I remember them as a kid, even though I grew up mainly on the High Plains and was miles and worlds away from the swank of NYC.

Last week, we watched the final Mad Men episode. If you haven’t watched the show, too bad; it’s too old for a spoiler alert. This was the end of the line, folks. The 60’s had ended, Sterling Cooper was no more. While parts of it were satisfying (Roger finds love – with a woman HIS age, Peggy and Stan get together, Pete gets his family back and scores a job at Lear Jet, Joan makes use of her Rolodex and reinvents herself) where most of the characters seem to find some sort of resolution, a huge part was not. A very huge part.

And that part of was what happened to Don Draper. You know, the handsome main character? The original mad man? At the very end, we see him in what I assume to be Big Sur meditating with a bunch of  hippies with a smile on his face.

But is he really smiling? Meditation is the polar opposite of Don Draper, womanizing, high stakes guy that he is. Is he really content with the Northern Californian alternative lifestyle? Grinning like a Jesus freak?

For some reason, Don Draper’s denouement didn’t sit well with me. It didn’t sit well with my husband either. We’re still talking about it, and it’s been nearly a week.

I remember feeling the same way about certain books, The Horse Whisperer and Gone Girl being two that come to mind. I was so disturbed by the endings that I couldn’t stomach seeing the movies.

There are two points of view to endings. A pleasant, sensible one ties up all of the loose ends. Without sounding too much like a romance writer, you would like to see resolution. I personally do not subscribe to “happily ever after” as I enjoy watching my characters suffer, but hope for the future, a definite maybe. You like to leave your readers with resolutions but further possibilities. I like to hear that my characters are believable and when people ask me what happened to them.

Then there is the unexpected, highly dissatisfying ending. Like “Yay, I’m so happy I solved this problem but now I’m going to jump off a bridge for no reason at all.” No. That kind of ending is jarring, the kind that leaves your stomach in Maalox knots.

However, there is an upside to the unexpected ending. After all, we’re still talking about Don Draper, as I’m still talking about Gone Girl.

Thinking about this further, I might change some of my endings to the unexpected, dissatisfying type. What can it hurt?

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If you believe I do that (easily), I’ve got a huge piece of commercial property on the east side of Detroit I would love to gift you. But, it’s not enough to tell yourself that every day (I do), you have to follow through with actual words. On a piece of paper (or computer, but I find the paper and pen/pencil more compelling). The words have to make some sort of sense, so that you can string them together later to make a much bigger sort of sense.

I’m a world class procrastinator. We all know that. There are stories in my head bursting to get out. In addition to the art form, I have tons of Things to Do with regard to the business end of writing. Getting my publishing company started. (Look, Mom, I finally have a logo – after a year! Now on to the purchase of ISBN numbers. Wonder how long that will take?) Writing blog posts (which used to come so easily, now feeling like a molar extraction). Writing my newsletter (I have failed – temporarily – miserably!). Social media. (For the unsociable, a true hurdle.) Getting the web site(s) fixed up. Editing the two novels and one proposed book of poetry/shorts. (I know. I should have been finished so long ago!)

Of course, there are Real Life distractions. Many Real Life distractions, some of which hold promise, and others I should discard. Big, life-changing ones, like planning for retirement. (Promise.) Teeny-tiny ones, like Words With Friends. (Discard!) Snow. (It’s snowing today.) People calling in sick when it’s snowing. (What can you do? In my case, you tell the sick one to stay home and YOU take over.)

Writing every day takes a great amount of will power, the kind to say NO to distractions.  (Example: I’m trying to work on this while the phone is ringing. A challenge.) This is very difficult to do, especially if you’re like me and your eyes follow every shiny object that comes into view. You must tell yourself “NO” and commit to filling a page, even though some days you’re at a loss for words.

This year, I bought a Hobonichi Techo Cousin, which is a fancy Japanese planner/calendar. The pages are graphed, which I prefer better than lined. I use a graphed Moleskine too. The Hobonichi is a bit smaller, but the grid boxes are smaller too. I find myself adjusting my writing to fit into the boxes. These are shiny facts that have no value in this paragraph, but the point is that I try to fill out a page every day. If I miss a day, I use the next to fill the pages and catch up.

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Another way to stay on the writing track is to commit to classes. I’m a great proponent of online classes. I’m so busy, I can barely fit in my jewelry class on Tuesday mornings. Online classes are nice, not just because you don’t have to get out of your PJs and brave the snow and cold, but also because you can work around your schedule. You’ll want to choose an online class with some interaction, and homework. I’m currently taking Michelle Richmond’s short story class. I think I’m not so good at short stories, but it doesn’t matter. I’ve also taken classes with authors who mostly write fantasy, or prescriptive non-fiction, or romance.

Classes are all about honing what you know, or learning something new. If you think you know it all and have no need, you’re wrong. You can always learn something. Classes mean deadlines too; if you have homework niggling at the back of your head, you’re more likely to take writing seriously. I’ve gotten so many good, fresh ideas from taking classes

The last year and a half were so difficult for me in the write-life. It was hard to find my motivation, and even if I managed to whip some mojo up, the results were half-hearted and half-assed. It is now the middle of March and I can say truthfully that this year’s efforts are far stronger than last year’s. (I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’m making a valiant effort to write one blog post a week.)

And now, for a non-writing moment, I will leave you my heart.

Good luck my writer friends, and keep writing!

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This is not a slam. Dude, I love San Francisco!

I spent a third of the month of February in San Francisco. First, to visit my son (it’s always reassuring to know that 50% of the offspring is still in reasonably good health), then to attend the San Francisco Writers Conference.

Unfortunately, I was met by rain on my arrival. It had been raining there for nearly six weeks straight. The clouds parted on the second day and stayed that way for a few more days, which was nice. Thank you, God. The rain reappeared in time for my last four days indoors.

Rain is nice for California. They haven’t seen a lot of it in many years. Because of this, many Californians cannot drive in wet. On previous trips, I’ve seen the people of San Francisco freak out over momentary wet. Heavy rain is another thing altogether. I’ve seen this type of terrible driving here in Michigan. Every year. The first real snowfall, and the place goes berserk.

California has another problem with too much rain. There’s literally no place for it to go. After seeing photos of 25′ high and higher of the snow in the Sierras, there’s going to be huge problems once spring comes and that melts on top of the record rain.

So…we were driving back from Santa Cruz one day, and the main drag out of town and onto the South Bay was closed because of mud slides. The long, circuitous detour up and down mountains wasn’t much better. Parts of the road had washed away, leading me to wonder why I’d decided to drive down there in the first place. But it was an adventure, all good.

Another hazard is that of overindulgence. Wine, food, you want the best, most decadent and creative things to put into your mouth, California is the place to go. Except for no wine this time, I kept my eye on good food. Everything from Hog Island oysters for breakfast to Mexican to Chinese to seafood, to the room service at the Mark – believe me, it was all good. I tended to overdo, meaning when I got back to Michigan, it was time to diet.

Except because I was gone for eleven days, I had a mountainous pile of Things to Do at the house and office. You know…laundry, payroll, the refrigerator full of mystery food, taxes. Two days at the artist market. Catching up with my short story homework. The daily filling out the Hobonichi was about all I could handle.

Yesterday, I ran for the first time in three weeks.

Remember, before you take a trip to San Francisco, the aftermath can be hazardous.

🙂

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It’s been a week since I’ve returned from San Francisco, partly to visit one of the offspring, and partly because the middle of February is time for the San Francisco Writers Conference, held at the incredibly luxurious Intercontinental Mark Hopkins. I’ve now completed my ninth (!) year (and signed up and paid for the tenth next year), and I have to say it again – this conference never grows old or tired. I learn something new every year!

This year, since I had no completed manuscripts to pitch, I skipped the speed dating with agents. By next year, I hope to have at least two manuscripts finished from the every burgeoning files on my laptop. Can one suck up the storage with Word files? You betcha! I’ve had this particular computer for five years, and it’s bursting at the digital seams. Anyway, with no impending nervousness building, I decided to concentrate on the conference.

I like to absorb all the information I can; after all, this is a once-a-year event. I’m either too busy or too broke the rest of the year to attend anything else.

This year, I decided to hang out with the poetry contingent, lead by Dr. Andy Jones. I have pages and pages of poetry, but never considered publishing them until last year’s SFWC, when I won the contest in that division. This caused me to look at my poetry with new eyes.

My poetry is the most hidden of my writing, because I view my poetry as truly a piece of my heart – not for general consumption. I’ve only shared them with a few people; the occasional contest, my husband. That’s it.

My writing developed because I’m not much of a public speaker. Writing (and reading) made me brave, a person who I wasn’t in real life. Ask anyone who I knew in school. I was *shy* i.e. quiet. A bookworm. A nerd. (What a change from now: boisterous AND loud.) I’d never thought of my words as being spoken before this conference.

The poets are all about performance. Words are good, pretty words even better, but beautiful words accompanied by touching exposition is like a sumptuous meal.

With a little prodding, I decided to sign up for open mic poetry reading, which was to be held right after the gala cocktail party (which is always a smashing get together). How hard could it be, right? To read a poem? In front of real poets? Really…I’m the queen of karaoke, even though I can’t carry a tune in a bucket. I chose a poem from the good old days (college) and a flash fiction piece from my online classes with Meg Pokrass.

Dr. Andy starts the proceedings.

Thankfully, I was third in line so the wait was brief. In my apprehension, I had consumed one too many cocktails (2 is my limit). I’d gained bravado, but with the jet lag and lack of a full meal, along with the heat of stage lights, I completed the task at hand but not much more. I went right upstairs to my room before I could pass out from exhaustion-anxiety-a slight buzz and really make a fool of myself. I have no idea if my performance was good, bad, or ugly, but if I can find a local open mic, I might try it again.

The rest of the conference was of course a blur of information. I finally figured out what is wrong with my web sites; whether or not I can fix my problems is another matter, but at least I have help if I need it. Linda Lee is so knowledgeable about WordPress, it’s scary. While waiting for my plane ride home, I changed my jewelry site so that it’s current, and am trying to get it into shape in the next few weeks.

I love San Francisco, I love this conference, because it comes at the right time – deep in the bowels of winter, when my enthusiasm is most apt to flag. Now I am stuffed full of ideas and information, enough to kick start me forward. And of course, the venue is wonderful, the weather cooperated for the days I wasn’t attending (thank goodness, that area has had a lot of rain!), and I love seeing old friends and meeting new ones.

This is what a good conference will do for you.

 

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Page from Hobonichi

I have been moderately silent online, but not without writing, or editing, or plotting and planning future writing in my Real Life world. I bought a Hobonichi cousin and have been writing in it faithfully every day. (Whee!) (Sometimes I draw, but that’s still creative.)

Unfortunately, I have had some other issues to attend to, ones that required way too much of my personal attention. Let’s put it this way, if you buy a brand new washer/dryer combo, you expect it to last far beyond three loads of laundry, dozens of phone calls, five service calls over an eight week period of which only ONE counts as a “real” call since only one had a beginning to end resolution, and a two month shelf life.

I happen to be a master at business letters. I used to write answers to union grievance letters and rebuttals to workers’ comp claims. If you get me riled up and going, my complaint letter will burn the hands of everyone who must touch it at the Post Office. (I hear that it ignites the fiber optic cables via email.)

I have been an unhappy camper regarding this washer/dryer since Christmas. I wanted to jot off a quick and scaldingly hot letter weeks ago, but my husband (who has a much cooler head than I) suggested I give them a chance.

So I gave them a chance. Then another. Then another. And another.

Finally, I hunted down the addresses for the CEO, CMO, the national customer service office, and wrote them a letter, sent on January 28.

Certified.

Return Receipt Requested.

This got me entree to a customer service agent in our country and not in an offshore call center. She assured me this past Friday that everything would be taken care of.

Except it wasn’t.

They were late. The current occupant of my hopefully-one-day retirement home had to get her kids from school, so the repairman left a nice little note on the door. “Sorry we missed you.” (!!!) You were 45 minutes late!

So here is the product of my ire, the best thing I wrote in the month of January (names blocked – for now – I might go full metal jacket next week and post this everywhere online):

Dear Sir

This letter is serves as a formal complaint regarding the washer/dryer combo unit I purchased from the XXX Livonia, Michigan store on October 8, 2016.

I had purchased the unit in Michigan, but it was to be delivered to my second home in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The unit was delivered on October 17, 2016 (I was present) and set up. It appeared to work at the time of installation. In the meantime, I have short term tenant who moved in November 1, 2016.

After three successful loads of laundry, the unit began to leak profusely. I have a water alarm on the washer/dryer which is tied to our alarm service. The leak was so bad that it shut off the water completely.

My tenants went out of town at the end of November to mid-December. When they returned, the washer portion of the unit was in terrible shape. She attempted to call XXX service, but as she did not purchase the machine, they would not schedule a service call. I had to call them. When I called, I asked the customer service rep to take down her cell phone number, as I cannot help her or the XXX technician from 1,400 miles away. I also do not know her schedule. Customer service took this information and informed me that she could make the appointments if she had the sales check number, the phone number of the primary account, my name, and the address of the primary account. I gave her all this information.

Unfortunately, when the tenant called, the person she spoke with would not make an appointment. So I ended up making all of the phone calls.

Here is the history and a partial list of the calls I have made:

12-22-16        Set up customer service (3x*) / repairman came 12-23-16

12-28-16       Washer stopped working / repairman broke the door (!) door ordered

12-29-16        Called for service, informed the door was sent / repairman came 01-06-17

01-07-17        Called for appointment / repairman did not show up

01-09-17       Called for service (4x*)

01-11-17        Repairman showed up to fix door / told tenant the entire back of the machine needed to be replace so they ordered that (2 week). Repairman suggested a replacement.

01-13-17       Went to local store. No store manager. Salesman called customer service 3 times in one hour. (Kept getting hung up on. Tried to see about getting replacement.) Nothing resolved.

01-14-17      Called for service / part had arrived

01-18-17      Repairman came / said it was just a loose wire / fixed it and took away the new part

01-19-17      Washer leaks again / called for service (2x*) Second call I tried to get a replacement. Agent (I was transferred to) said I had only called once and the service man had only been out once, basically saying that I made up the entire thing. He said he would transfer me to service, but instead I was hung up on.

01-20-17       Called for service / was told someone could come out that day

01-20-17       Repairman calls me / says he can’t make it before the tech support closed at 7 p.m. Also said he didn’t think he should fix a problem when he was there the day before but the other guy “fixed” the problem. Said the other repairman should fix it.

01-25-17      Repairman came (I guess the first one who broke the door?) / ordered the part the other repairman took away. (He could have fixed it had the part been there.)

*Denotes the times I was cut off, disconnected, or hung up on so I had to call back.

(By the way, when I get email from XXXX saying when the service is scheduled, it has my name, the address where the unit is located, and my TENANT’S phone number. Why customer service will not allow her to make appointments when they obviously have her number is a mystery.)

In the meantime, I looked online and posted to community.XXXX.com, where my post was just one of thousands of other unhappy customers’ posts. I received an email saying they were working on my problem. Six days later, I made another post on the web site, just a nudge thinking that maybe I was forgotten, where I found this comment made by Wendy:

I do apologize that contact had not been made and greatly appreciate the update. Your concerns have been forwarded to our weekend team, Sears Service team, for assistance.
Thank you

There was some back and forth, as Wendy indicated that someone had worked on my problem before. I told “Wendy” I was sure she was a very nice woman, but no one had contacted me. I am still waiting for the weekend team (last weekend) to contact me. I’ve been waiting for anyone to contact me.

It is now January 26, a full seven weeks since the washer broke down. I am beside myself over this. My tenant has three small children and NEEDS a washer. She is finished with dealing with this and will buy her own (not from XXXX), which unfortunately cannot be delivered for a week to ten days. I will have another appointment, hopefully before then, to fix it. In the meantime, I am paying for her laundry of the last two months which far exceeds the cost of the unit. Instead of “fixing” it, I would rather you take it back and credit my account.

I have been a staunch customer with XXXX for the last 35 years. You used to offer well-made and reliable items, and your customer service was second to none. We have bought everything from TVs and appliances and furnaces to having all of our cars (company cars, more than a dozen) serviced at your auto center. This last purchase, a washer/dryer combo, is the straw that broke my back. I might NEVER buy another appliance from you.

I just want to also note that I have called the 800 number any number of times in the last month trying to get this issue resolved. The store employees are great; your customer service number is not. Here are the issues:

  1. They can’t find you by telephone # half the time, but do the rest.
  2. They can’t find you by name half the time, but do the rest.
    (By the way, I know we have a massive account and I’ve seen all the names and addresses and phone numbers associated with it and I understand, but STILL.)
  3. If you give the address of the primary account, they can’t find you.
  4. If you give the delivery address, they find the person who owned the house before me.
  5. If they do find you by any of the above, they will reference a washer you bought in 2014 that is in Michigan, which is not the same make/model.

By the time they’ve located your purchase (by using your sales check number, which works most of the time) the original person who gets the call can’t help you so this happens:

  1. If you get transferred to another person, you will either be on hold for the rest of your life, or your call will be dropped. Or in many cases, you can hear the agent but they can’t hear you so they hang up.
  2. If you call back you have to go through the entire process again. Which means I have to endure  #1-5 and someone else has to listen to my story again.
  3. If you call back the Philippine call center and ask to speak to a customer service supervisor, you still have to go through all these steps. And THEN be put on hold by THAT person just to have the call dropped after 20 minutes.

I know the 30 day refund/exchange period is over, but I’ve been calling on this issue for 7 weeks. This is a BRAND NEW washer which has only seen 3 loads! If you can fix it NOW, I will accept that. An exchange would be most helpful. If you come and take it back and refund my purchase price, I will not be displeased. Otherwise, I might have to resort to legal action in small claims court.

*sigh*

I’m sorry that I cannot report that I finished five chapters of my current work-in-progress during January, but February looks promising and March looks even better.

By the way, I am available to write complaint letters for the general public. I charge by the level of irritation.

🙂

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This year, I decided to start writing daily. The most in-your-face way I can think of is doing it manually. A person can always shut down a laptop. With the screen closed, you might not even realize it’s there. And if you pile a bunch of stuff on it like books, magazines, catalogs, and tax information, your laptop could be lost for a long time. (The longest for me was two weeks. I got an email notice from Carbonite that I was long overdue for a backup. I know. I’m bad.)

So I decided to write daily in a notebook. Yes! Using pen and paper and pencil. You know me and notebooks. I fall in love with a pretty cover or a size I think is handy; I buy one. And another. And. Another. (Very much like my nearly hoarding affair with books.) But I do use them…

For 2017, I invested in a Hobonichi Techo. It’s a datebook, a calendar of events. It’s got all the handy-dandy doo-dads a good calendar has, plus room to write. One of my high school friends who is very artistic uses one. I am constantly impressed by her Hobonichi creations. You can follow her on Instagram HERE.

Hobonichis are manufactured in Japan, and they are ALL THE RAGE there. When I first ordered my 2017 in the US, I was excited. Not so much when it arrived and I found it was the baby Hobonichi. I learned you can only obtain the larger Cousin by buying it straight from Japan. Thank goodness for the Internet! (I am using the smaller one at work.)

Why do I love the Hobonichi? The paper is fabulous! Although the paper is very lightweight, it takes all sorts of pens without bleeding through. I’ve even used my current favorite, the Pilot G-2. Sharpies, highlighters, it’s a very durable paper. The only downside is that any writing in it is Japanese. (The smaller version is printed in English, so I can at least read the witty sayings and quotes at the bottom of each page.)

What do I put in it? Sometimes tirades of daily frustrations. Sometimes weather reports. Every day, what we had for dinner. Lists of things to do. Simple sketches of weaves (my third or fourth love after food and writing and a few other things.)

Sometimes when I don’t have time to open the laptop, I might work on the book in my Hobonichi. This is how I spent my weekend:

I finally had to map out my setting. As I was writing, I noted that I didn’t have a clear vision of what the place looked like. Of course, this is not a perfect rendition, but at least now I have a clearer idea of how the motel is laid out.

The Hobonichi Cousin is a little smaller than the Moleskine notebook I usually use. In that way, it’s perfect for the procrastinating writer. I can fill the page in about ten minutes. The Moleskine maybe 30 minutes. Both notebooks are laid out in grids, which I like because it keeps my writing nice and even. The Moleskine doesn’t have as many pages, which may be less daunting to those writers who view a blank page as Mount Everest.

Daily writing doesn’t have to be a thing of beauty, as my journal indicates. The point is to note something every day, and that’s the hard part; sitting down, thinking, putting thoughts to paper. It’s all hard. But what I’ve learned is that you can glean something creative and worthwhile in everything. Sometimes you have to let what you spew out sit for a while. When you come back to it you’ll find the glimmer you missed before.

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This year has been a scary one, for sure.

I turned the Big 6-0, meaning I’m facing my eventual lack of longevity right smack in the kisser. It’s all downhill from here, right? I’ve lost good friends and relatives from the outset of this year, and continued to lose them throughout. It’s been sad and crushing.

Then, of course, there are what I call the celebrity dead people, Prince, Bowie, most recently Carrie Fisher and her mother Debbie Reynolds. With every passing, I see the world dissolving right before my eyes. Maybe not so much with the celebrities, since I didn’t know any of them, but there’s that intangible connection, usually borne out of art or music. You mark your own time by their demise. My mother (also long deceased) loved Debbie Reynolds, probably because she was like her in many respects – dancing, singing, short, cute. And Carrie, I remember seeing the first Star Wars. It was opening day, the HarMar theater in St. Paul was packed, and my boyfriend at the time and I were as high as kites, sardined into their tiny lobby.

But I digress. I’m lucky in that I’m in fairly good health for my age. Yeah, being a food snob, I eat far too extravagantly. I’m pretty sure I should be on a strict diet of wheat grass and kale, but that’s not happening. At least I try to eat half (successful sometimes, sometimes not so much). Moderation is the key, you know. I try to run at least three times a week (sometimes a lot more) and I stay away from the real junk like fast food and white bread and soda.

So imagine my surprise when one Friday this month just as I was jumping off my treadmill I felt the right side of my face and my right hand go numb. I tried not to think about it as the tingling got progressively worse. Twenty minutes in, I texted my nurse friend in Colorado to ask her opinion, trying of course to remain calm and light.

I could still breathe, I could move my face, I could still function, so I brushed aside the notion that something was seriously wrong with me.

Until… the next day, when I arrived at work at 8 a.m. and found I couldn’t type with my right hand. The letters I thought I was hitting were not being hit. And I tried to text, but I couldn’t feel the screen enough to do so. (Like trying to text with your gloves on.) And the phone rang, and I found myself sounding like I’d just consumed a bottle of vodka or had just returned from the dentist with a mouth full of Novocaine. So I tried to write a note to my girl coming in at 9, except my normally legible and sometimes beautiful handwriting was not. It was more like chicken scratch. I couldn’t read it. At all…

So I closed up the building and drove myself straight to the ER. (My fine motor skills were gone, but I could still drive.) You can find all the gruesome details on Medium.

This post is not about the hospital stay. It’s not about not being able to talk; I’m fairly certain a life of silence can be handled. No, this post is about being an artist and finding out you can’t express yourself.

I’m right-handed. I write. I draw. I create jewelry. I garden. I like my coffee with cream and sugar. I LOVE to cook. I’ve painted, canvases and houses. I sew. I’ve done tons of needlework. I’ve played instruments (badly).

For me, life is an opportunity to create…in many different ways. WITH. MY. HANDS.

When you are left with a floppy right arm unable to pick up a coffee cup, much less wire wrap or sign your name, panic sets in.

My father fell on his head a couple of years ago while chasing a mouse out of his bird seed container. He had blood on his brain. For a while, he couldn’t speak or walk or feed himself or go to the bathroom (thank goodness he is much better now!). He has said this episode was the most scared he has ever been. You can live with old age if you can function. If you can’t, then what’s the use?

As for me, I continued to have these symptoms ten days after the hospital stay, although with each passing day, they lessened in severity. I have a January appointment with a neurologist. Things have improved immensely. Now I can write! And make jewelry! I even made a prime rib for Christmas!

What I have learned from this unfortunate hospital stay is that I should go back to my original mission statement: I’m writing as fast as I can!

Because life is short, and my story is still in there trying to get out.

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adobe-library-258

Have a writer in your life? Want to encourage them in their endeavors? Christmas is coming up quickly, but there is still time to get that perfect gift for your writer friend/relative.

Have no funds? You really don’t need to purchase a thing. The best gift (in my opinion) is the gift of time. If you are a relative, offer to do the laundry, make dinner, shovel the sidewalk clear, or mow the lawn. This will free up valuable time for your writer to put butt in chair and write without worrying about those common, everyday distractions that we all must tend to. If your writer friend has children or elderly parents to babysit, offer to watch them for a few hours. It would be especially nice if you could make a habit of it, say every Friday from 3 – 6? (Hint, hint…)

Books (of course!) are always a welcome gift, and writers need their libraries full of reference books. Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel by Jane Smiley is excellent. On Becoming a Novelist by John Gardner, also good. Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way Every Day is a daily reminder. Having had attended some of her workshops at the San Francisco Writers Conference, I can attest that Martha Alderson’s Blockbuster Plots: Pure & Simple is a good reference, especially if you find yourself stuck. (Currently using this one.)

Another good gift option is online backup. When you have hundreds of thousands of words saved in digital files and can barely remember what you had for dinner last night, much less remember to manually back up, you need a little automatic help. I have been using Carbonite for years, and it’s saved me when three of my laptops have died. Every time I power my laptop, it backs up – a no brainer. For me, it’s been more than worth the $59 a year.

Gifting an online class is also a good idea. SavvyAuthors and Litreactor are but a few of the web sites offering classes on craft, queries, and even design, most of which are given by authors, agents, and others in the publishing business.

Having taken a class with Michelle Richmond, I would highly recommend gifting classes, reference books, or even a personal session with this best selling author. You can find her store here, or you can purchase her novels on Amazon or any retailer.

Depending on your writer, blank notebooks are also a great gift and will be well appreciated. I’m a strong advocate of keeping a small notebook on your person at all times. Doing so prevents the use of napkins or Taco Bell wrappers when inspiration strikes – items that can be easily tossed into the trash, because…well, it looks like trash. I personally like the pretty, small notebooks for such tasks. I also use a full-size Moleskine with graphing lines for each novel I’m working on (or if I’m in a class). The squares make it easy to plot out your story line into a graph, or if you need to make a calendar in order to keep your events straight. I’ve also given each character a page and a color and can cross-reference the number of times they appear in my novels. Moleskine also offers an “Evernote” which I have but haven’t figured out how to use yet. It takes your notes from your Moleskine and somehow through the magic of technology, transfers from paper into your computer. (Yeah, right.)

In 2017, I’m going to use a Hobonichi, only because I will be prompted to write something every day. Like the Moleskine I like, the pages are graphed. I’m using a big one for creative thoughts and the smaller one for work.

Speaking of notebooks, if your writer has a favorite pen or pencil, consider buying those for gifts. (I like the Pilot G2 07 pen in black but mostly use the Papermate Sharpwriter #2 pencil. Erasures, you know…)

No matter who your writer is, there’s a perfect gift for them just around the corner. If you have any other suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comments. There is no such thing as too many good suggestions.

Merry Christmas!

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Hope everyone had a gorge-ous Thanksgiving!

(Okay, that was lame.)

I’m happy to announce that this year’s NaNoWriMo was completed last Friday.

nanowrimo_2016_webbanner_winner

Can I get some applause here? Champagne, maybe?

Yes, despite my life, my work, the election, Thanksgiving, an art show, my yard full of leaves and sweet potatoes, I managed to pump out 50K words by close of business November 25. It was by far the most successful spillage of words since I started doing the NaNo about ten years ago, and made me feel fresh and renewed since I’ve spent the last eighteen months or so not writing much at all.

This is not to say that the novel is complete. If anything, this novel is like an old house I just took down to the studs and loaded the front yard up with all the building materials I’m going to need to finish. (I have had experience in extreme rehabbing this year. I wouldn’t recommend it, even WITH a plan.) I’m going to need to think this one through very carefully.

I needed the last few days off to decompress. (I’ll probably need until January.)

What I’ve learned with this year’s NaNoWriMo:

  1. You can’t worry about it. Write. Write some more. Don’t worry about prettiness, literary probability, appropriate tags for dialogue, grammar, or the Chicago Book of Style. Don’t worry about plots or subplots or themes. Write like your house is on fire and you’re running like hell and don’t look back.
  2. Give yourself an hour. (I used to give myself three, but I’m way too busy for that luxury.) Concentrate on something, anything. Write dialogue if you want or spew backstory, but don’t be afraid to shift to another part of the book and do something else. Whimsy is as whimsy does.
  3. The notebook that fits in your purse! Yes, get one, and use it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought of a phrase, a word, a name, or something else and have jotted it down to use later. (This is because I’m notoriously forgetful.) I also use my iPhone notes section, but it’s far easier for me to use a notebook and pencil.

For those of you still in the midst of NaNo, don’t give up! You have until midnight Wednesday. If I can do it you CAN do it. And if not, don’t beat yourself up.

Remember, there is always next year.

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fall

Week Three of NaNoWriMo and I am pleased to announce that my word count is 40,008. That leaves just 9,992 words to goal. With Thanksgiving coming up (besides cooking the turkey, I’ll also be peddling my jewelry at Leon & Lulu this weekend for the Holiday Artist Market), I need to be ahead of schedule.

The word count is the good news. The bad news is the way that I’m writing.

I sit down and begin to write. That’s good. (Very good.) I’m actually getting a lot done in the small amount of free time that I have. However, I’m pantsing it the whole way this year. Which means I’m not writing in a linear progression, meaning not by date, not by story line, not by character or point of view, not by anything.

Example: Last week I simultaneously worked on the beginning, the end, and the in between. Not in logical order, mind you. I kinda-sorta know the scenes I have in mind, but I don’t write them beginning to end. And what’s worse, I might get 3/4th of a scene finished, time’s up, I move on to something new the next day, and three days later come back and finish the first scene.

I know, I know, I could maybe go back and serialize it as I go along. But this is NaNo! I don’t have time to dink around with logistics! Dinking around is why they made a month called December!

I wouldn’t recommend writing in this haphazard way, and I don’t think I’ll do it again. It’s very messy. Already I see I’m going to have to print this work out and use my trusty scissors in order to get it back to a normal and sensible progression. Too late to change direction now.

In other news, winter has arrived with a vengeance, after a warm and balmy fall. It was 70 degrees Friday! I woke up to 27 degrees today. Which is why the backyard isn’t raked yet. (See photo above.) I’ll be too busy writing and making turkey and homemade cranberry relish and pumpkin pie and sage stuffing in the next couple of days to get to it.

Got to run. Time to write.

 

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I started the NaNoWriMo challenge last week like I ended Week 1 – on fricking fire! As soon as I hit the halfway point (25K+ on Wednesday), I had to slow up and do a few minor things around the house. Like finish harvesting all of the sweet potatoes and bring all of the house plants back inside after their long hot summer out of doors. This is Michigan, you know, and the threat of a freeze last Thursday night was upon us.

It only took my husband and I from 2 – 6:30 p.m. to complete the task of lugging the plants back in. That’s because we are getting too old for this bullshit (as I reminded him every five minutes, at first gently, after the first hour with more vigor). And he prefers ceramic pots, so an 8′ fig tree is going to weigh about 300 pounds. I love growing things, and most of my plants (angel trumpet, bird of paradise, citrus, bay, rosemary, agave, etc.) are not cold hardy here. I’ve been lobbying for a greenhouse (preferably attached, preferably heated, and preferably with a water supply) for three years now. I think I’m going to have to put my foot down in 2017.

The rest of the week was spent in research for the current work in progress. I don’t usually perform an in-depth research, but this time I’m studying the weather conditions in the areas where I am placing my characters. I’ve also set up a calendar (my story takes place in the month of May) and have begun to sketch out where the ups and downs will be, the climax, etc. I’m a pant-ser, so this is pretty remarkable for me. I normally don’t do this kind of “planning” – such as it is, until after the first draft is complete.

After a weekend of very little writing, I’m looking forward to starting again in earnest.

In the meantime, enjoy this:

newkitty

This is Purrby when we adopted him three years ago. There’s nothing like a kitten picture to brighten up your day.

Until next time…

 

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Wow, not even a full week of writing and I’m up to over 12K in this year’s NaNoWriMo! This is the most productive NaNo I’ve had since I started. (So far. I don’t want to jinx myself by crowing too loudly.)

Not wanting to spend too much time or too many words on this post, I do want to share some observations of the last few days:

  1. The more you write, the more you write. It’s true! Getting into the habit helps.
  2. The more you write, the faster you write. I can remember previous November writing attempts where squeezing out 500 words a sitting would take three hours. Now I’m doing about 1200/hr or more.
  3. Clearing the schedule is a must. This November, I am giving up my daily runs. No work out until I have at least 50K words. Running is my hour of writing. I may weigh 200 pounds by December 1st, but hey, I’ll have the bones of the work down.
  4. Don’t look back. I used to be the kind of writer where I’d write a paragraph or two and then spend the next half hour ruminating over what I’d done. A November manuscript isn’t going to hit any store shelves right away. Go ahead and zoom along. Editing is for later.
  5. Make sure the heat is turned on. It’s easier to write if your fingers aren’t cold.

That’s it for now. I’ve got to finish my Day Job work so I can work on the novel. See you next time!

Happy writing!

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This year’s installment of NaNoWriMo marks the first time in ten years where I haven’t had a clue as to what to write.

No. Really.

It’s not that I don’t have plenty of things to write about or to work on. I’ve been puzzling over the latest (and hopefully LAST) edits for Virtually Yours Forever. I have another YA novel that is completed but needs an edit (and edit and edit). I have no less than five manuscripts in various stages of disrepair, from 20K to 70K words. Most of those I started in November, for NaNoWriMo, but had abandoned because of some crisis or another in my life. (Crisis is a terrible excuse, I’ll try not to use it anymore.)

I’m usually a “pantser” anyway; I can’t stand the constraints of plotting, especially with new work. I want to follow the wind, be able to change my mind at a moment’s notice. Outlines *shiver* make me want to hide under an assortment of covers. Don’t get me wrong. I envy those who can whip up an outline and a synopsis before they begin writing. That is a skill I could use. I’m sure it’s a right brain function, and I’m left brain all the way.

This is not to say that I don’t have any ideas. I have ideas up the wazoo. I just don’t have the motivation or the time to place butt in seat and begin typing. The entire purpose of NaNoWriMo is to write as fast and as much as you can for 30 days. Doing so instills a work habit that writers need – write a little every day.

Actually, pleading the case that you “don’t have time” is a bad excuse too. I used to write while working. It wasn’t my best writing, but I got it done between phone calls, payroll, and irate customers.

Come to think of it, NaNoWriMo is a total excuse breaker! If you can’t pump out 50K words in a month (which don’t have to be perfect, don’t have to be complete, don’t have to have a character arc or a theme), you might as well turn in your notebook and pencil and start a new career as a street sweeper.

(Just kidding.)

So tomorrow, I’m going to start with a clean slate, a new file, and a small, purse-sized notebook and fresh pencil and write like hell for 30 days. I might be writing blind, but hey, Helen Keller was blind. If she could feel her way around a story, so can I.

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Yesterday, I spent the day at Leon & Lulu, a hip shop that once a year features local books and authors. This is my third year of attending.

I have to say that I love this store. It features furniture, clothing, and chatzkees you won’t find anywhere else east of San Francisco. I could spend all day in it reading (there’s a great selection of books as well) while I try out couches and side chairs. (I have hence spent a great deal of money on furniture, as you can imagine.)

After setting up my table, I settled in with complimentary coffee and sweets. (There’s complimentary hot dogs and wine later.)

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I don’t do too many of these meet and greets with my books. For one thing, while spending the afternoon in a fabulous venue with interesting people who are overly kind to you is a fantastic way to spend an afternoon, I don’t really have the time. I could have been pulling up my sweet potatoes or doing laundry, but I do make the time for this one event a year.

I’m also a recovering introvert, which is why I force myself into situations like this. It’s honestly hard for me to start a conversation, but I’ve learned through many years of practice that if you start with a smile and a hello, you can often build from that.

I certainly don’t attend to make a ton of cash. Let’s get real. When you’re an artist, you have to steel yourself for the looky-loos. You can’t creative for everyone. In a room full of children’s books, mysteries, and prescriptive nonfiction, my contemporary literature isn’t going to appeal to a wide audience (although grown men have purchased my book, amazingly so).

Plus, I think it’s a win-win if only one person is enamored of my story just from the back cover blurb and it’s a home run if they love the book once they’ve read it.

So I don’t go in looking for a windfall. After all, this is a charity event. The most I can hope for is getting my name out there.

I also attend for another totally selfish reason. I people watch. I listen to people with their stories, like the little girl who loved to write and was interested in self-publishing, or the man who lost his wife to cancer and was dealing with the pain, or the author who looks a lot like Santa Claus.

There are stories everywhere! You don’t have to look far or wide, you just have to open your eyes!

In a lull moment, I opened up each of my novels and read the final chapter. Something came rushing in…pride? a sense of accomplishment? inspiration? I found the urge to put pen to paper.

And this is why I do Books and Authors.

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I’m afraid I’m going to have to walk away from the electronics for a while…

I came to this conclusion last night after watching the Presidential debate.

At the end of this vitriolic passion play, I felt sick to my stomach. Dirty, like I needed to take a hot shower. I felt like grabbing some water wings and swimming over to Canada. I’m not a strong swimmer, but I think I could make it.

Before you think, “well, she hates this candidate or that candidate” – NO. First of all, I’m an independent. Secondly, I think both choices are sadly lacking. This is the best we could do? Neither one is a true statesman, someone who could keep their head above the fray. What really galled me was that they were talking about things that don’t matter, or that certainly don’t matter to me.

I’m a problem solver; I need a detailed step-by-step solution to our problems, real problems. I want justice for all. I don’t need pie in the sky dreams or handfuls of money thrown around. I need someone to think ahead – way ahead. Like beyond the grandkids ahead.

It’s not just the election. At the risk of sounding like an old lady (I am), the whole world is whack. We’re in a new century with all the modern conveniences, and yet so many people are dissatisfied or disenfranchised. So many people feel hated or unloved. We have this big, tremendously useful thing called the Internet, too. We should feel closer to each other, not farther away.

Last night as I was lying in bed wondering why I couldn’t fall asleep, I realized what the problem is. We live our lives by the flicker of the screen, TV, computer, cell phone. The very anonymity of the online world is what drives us apart. Media riles us up by telling one sliver of a story and not the entire big picture. It amplifies our fears and raises anxiety. The world is now crass and without dignity. The more outrageous, the better. We want what we want when we want it NOW. Everything is an event to be witnessed from afar, in front of others, selfied and video taped for maximum YouTube views instead of submersing yourself in the act. The “reality” of media gives me a panic attack, not unlike the one I felt in the weeks after 9-11.

So I am going to disengage from the pretend world for a while. I’ll draw, create art, finish writing my book. I’ll read more, including the classics. I’ll walk outside in the wind and rain and feel the sun on my face. I’ll visit a few museums. Cranbrook, maybe? I haven’t been there in a decade or so. I’ll talk to people and look them in the eye when I do, and when I shake their hand or hug them, I’ll do it like I mean it. I’ll write longhand in my notebook, and write letters in pen and ink and send them the antiquated way – via mail.

Oh, I’ll still have to use the Internet for my job, but I’ll make a conscious effort to shut it and my cell phone off.

The only way to engage in life is to disengage from the crap.

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…or Why I Don’t Write

the-blank-pageThe blank page, dammit.

If there is anything more distressing to a writer, it’s the occasional so-called ‘writers block.’ After all, we as artists are hard-wired to create. Some of us create using physical materials; some of us create using the world inside our heads. When something gums up the works, when we are unable to produce, we feel anxious and upset. We beat up on ourselves. I call myself lazy, a procrastinator, a wannabe, a failed writer. All these terms are nice (or not) but they do not address any of the real issues.

Believe me, I know of what I speak. I’ve been suffering from the second longest dry spell in history (the first being the first 18 years of my children’s lives). I’ve been introspectively pondering the problem for the last year or so. If you are also suffering from writers block, I urge you to spend a few moments examining the root causes and devise a strategy for change.

My Story…

Real Life as a Cause: About a year and a half ago, one of my family members became embroiled in some major personal drama. It was also very serious, legally, psychically, emotionally. It also caused him to become very ill. In fact, he’s still very ill.

Of course, I love this person. I would move mountains to help. Unfortunately for me, I allowed myself to get wrapped up in this situation. I tried to devise solutions to problems that weren’t mine, and that was frustrating. This led to severe depression for me. When I am depressed, I can’t think of doing anything remotely pleasant. If I do write at all, I tend to pen very dark and depressing stories.

I’m currently battling a way out of my funk. I’m lucky in that I recognize what is going on and reach out to those who can help me. Medication helps.

Self-Doubt as a Cause: Last year, I had just finished what I thought was my final version of Virtually Yours Forever. Then I sent it to my editor. Then he called me and told me I should devise a parallel story to the current one to add interest.

I went along, but I couldn’t see this happening with my characters. Yes, I was half-hearted about the whole idea. It was a good idea, yes, but it wasn’t right for me, for this particular story. I spent a year on the re-write, fighting myself every day I opened the file. Meanwhile, I was berating myself for not getting it. What was wrong with me? This was a GREAT idea!

This entire episode bogged down my creative process.

I decided to take out the parallel story line and am in the process of the FINAL edit.

Laziness as a Cause: I know. I call myself *lazy* but am I really? I own several businesses. I run nearly every day. I make dinner five out of seven nights a week – yes! with my very own hands with fresh ingredients. I garden. I clean my own house (yes, even the bathrooms) and do my own laundry. I take jewelry classes. I read (when I can).

I can’t remember the last time I took a nap. If I have a spare minute of time, I can find something to do. (I am sooooo looking forward to retirement, when I can devote all of my time to pleasurable activities.)

I have determined that my form of *laziness* has only to do with getting my butt into a chair and actually typing something on that blank page.

Things you can do to unblock…

Improve your craft: Any artist can benefit from constant learning. You were not born a perfect writer, and any skill takes constant practice.

Take a class online (I do). Sign up for NaNoWriMo (I did). Find a Facebook group that throws out an occasional writing prompt (look up Meg Pokrass – she’s witty and I love her prompts). Sign up for a class In Real Life. Join a writers group, either a general one or in your genre. Invest in reference books. If you can’t afford to buy, there is that antique thing called a library. Every city has one. They will let you borrow books! 🙂 Find a mentor. Reach out to authors you like online; you’d be surprised, some of them will answer you back.

The bottom line: Make a commitment, even if it’s for ten minutes a day.

Read other people: Finding time to read is tough – especially in my life – but for your own sanity, make the time. Even if it’s just a chapter. Even if it’s just a page.

I get the most inspiration from reading, especially if it’s a genre I enjoy.

Again, it’s the commitment, even if it’s for just ten minutes.

Change your modus operandi: If your blockage is major like mine was (yes! was!), you might want to change up your approach. After all, doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity – and it won’t move you toward your goal of words flowing.

Change your scenery. My creative juices always get rolling if I’m far from home and the worries of day to day life. It never fails. A mini-vacation will do wonders.

I find that doing things helps. While in Colorado recently, I felt compelled to write a short story about running, after spending ten days running with my dad’s dachshund. It was such an intriguing story line, I’m thinking of expanding the story into novel length. I’m also inclined to think about writing when I’m gardening – it’s something about getting your hands into dirt that starts me thinking. Or when spring cleaning – which I’ve just put off until recently, so I guess it’s fall cleaning now – I pull out bits and pieces of my life from nooks and crannies and think about the history in my hands. (Plus the house gets decluttered and dusted. Win-win.)

It also helps to change up where you write. I used to only write in the comfy purple chair in my bedroom. Now I sit at a table where the activity is more a job than a whimsical past-time. I turn off EVERYTHING, even the phone, and I write like hell for an hour before I get up.

No matter what, patience: Blockage is temporary, yes, even if temporary = twenty years. You can and will get back on that bicycle and ride off! Trust me! Don’t compare yourself to other writers; you’re not running a race against them. You own your own creative process, and how you get to your goals will definitely not match up to other writers.

Trust me. A writer can work his/her way out of writers block. It just takes time and constant tending.

 

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I’m armpit deep into writing a story I’ve been toying around with for the last two years. After much research (it takes place in the fairly-distant past so I’ve been beefing up on books from the period), some writing (short sketches and scenes), and a little thought (I know! I’m such a pantser, but now I’m planning ahead?), I’ve decided to narrow down my main characters to three very distinct and different people.

My problem, as I’m sure other writers will admit as their own, is that my characters begin on the written page sounding like me. Which, yes, parts of me are in every story I write, but if you have three people who sound the same telling basically the same story, the reader is going to notice in a heartbeat. What a turn off.

I hadn’t noticed this flaw until my Editor for Life pointed it out to me as he was reading the first draft of the first novel I sent him. Seven characters, six of them women, and they all sounded alike. (Like ME.) Only the male character didn’t sound like me, because I’d based him *roughly* on an author friend of mine – wildly enhanced, of course.

My same-sounding characters had to go through a personality change, so that the readers could differentiate who was who. Granted, this isn’t hard to do when you have a completed 90k+ manuscript, but it does take some time. As outlined by my previous blog posts, the best way to accomplish this is to have each character answer a series of questions, both on physical characteristics and emotional foibles. No two Real people are alike, as are no two characters, even if they are the best of friends.

It’s one thing to come up with a story line, a sequence of events, a beginning-middle-end, but it’s another thing altogether to come up with believable characters who sound fresh and realistic and unique.

In my current work, one of my characters is a young woman in her 20s who has been wronged by her husband. She’s grown up in the 1960s in a traditional family. Like many women of that era, she believes her main purpose in life is to provide for her family (husband), and when she learns he’s flawed, her entire world falls apart.

This character is probably the easiest for me to write. She’s me, through and through. (In fact, I’m giving her my genetics and some of my life events as well as my personality – more on that at a later date.)

The next one is a teenager who has run away from home in search of a better life. She is not like me. She’s brave and pragmatic and open to possibilities. She doesn’t see beyond today, beyond this minute.

She’s so not like the first character I described.

The third is an older woman with a grown child with mental issues and a substance abuse problem and a young teenager. She emigrated from another country and is very old school, like to the point of being sadistic. But this is how she deals with her anger, at being a widow, and at having this adult child who is out of control.

She’s totally not like either of the other characters. In fact, she is so unlike me, I’m having a hard time writing her.

I’m not an actress, but if I were and had to play this woman, it would take me a long time before I could get the nuances of her character down, before I could play her to perfection. One, she’s not very likeable. (I might redeem her at the end. Still toying with that idea.) Her world view is narrow and sharp. I like to think of her as broken glass. She’s mean, too, mean enough where it comes off as malicious.

It takes a great deal of effort to write a character who is diametrically opposed to how the author is. I have to sit in a room and play out her motivations in my head. In essence, I have to become her. Which could get messy. I could become just as mean-spirited and negative as my character. (Just a warning.)

I’m not sure how others find their characters’ voices. For me, this is the only way.

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Summer is underway, so it’s almost time to get back to serious writing.

I’m fond of calling myself a procrastinator, a slouch, a lazy ass, etc., etc. with regard to my sporadic writing schedule. Some periods of time find me pounding away at the keyboard (or in my notebook) like a possessed soul; other times, I’m absent. In speaking with someone who has helped me edit a novel but who is now concentrating on her other business as life coach, she pointed out that we make choices in life. I make choices in life. To write, to not write, to do one thing and not another.

In my case, I’ve been waylaid by the purchase of a Money Pit (more on that later…if I survive it) and also by preparing for the Ann Arbor Art Fair. I have also entered into a major art competition (more on that later…if I make it in). Gardening has also been a huge part of my life.

This afternoon, I have finally finished my spring planting. We had a late start with this year’s non-traditional spring. One day it would hit 80 degrees, the rest of the time we were dealing with frost warnings, so Michigan went from winter to summer in less than a week. It snowed (!) the weekend after Mother’s Day! Okay, so the stuff didn’t stick (thank goodness), but it was still snow.

I managed to plant potatoes during this crappy spring, but as they grow underground (for the most part), I didn’t have to worry about frost. Now my first batch are nearly as tall as I am! The second and third crop, planted three and four weeks later, are beginning to show over their bags. All around me is the promise of good eating: cherries that survived the crazy frost, a few pears, spindly asparagus, blueberries I hope I’ll get to before the birds find them.

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I love planting; I love growing my own food, mostly. Gardening is time consuming; sometimes it feels like a constant chore. I look at gardening as not so much a diversion from writing, but the opportunity to ponder what I’m going to write next. It’s alone time, just me and my little shovel and hours of quiet. As I pull weeds, I think about characters – usually ornery ones that are like weeds. Recalcitrant, problematic, forever bad with no redeeming qualities (at least on the surface). Characters are the fruits of our labor; if given a good start, lots of fertilization, sun and water, they’ll turn out wonderful and real.

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Digging in the dirt can be a very Zen experience. Worms and spiders remind you that we are surrounded by layers in a complicated life. Much like our protagonists. Writers have to carefully construct these characters with layers that our readers can peel away, and in the process perhaps learn something about themselves or at least be entertained.

Is it any wonder that I gave one of my characters the gardening bug? 🙂

Gardening also beautifies our dreary (especially in Michigan seven months out of the year) lives, much the same way reading a good book brightens our lives.

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But now that my last radish seed has been covered with soil, it’s time to move on. The gardening gloves will be stowed away, my fingernails finally clean for more than a minute. I’m making the solid commitment to put my musings onto paper. Hopefully, in a way that makes sense to the reader!

All things fall into place. The choice is yours.

And mine.

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Wow, this has been some year.

Sickness, death, destruction. Problems, big and small.

Sometimes I feel like I’m my own firehouse. I’m putting out fires left and right. I’m rescuing cats out of trees and running my own EMS station, 24/7/365. (Yup, no rest on major holidays either.) I’m running from one thing to another, and while I’m in the car, calling on yet another problem. (Blu tooth, no hand-held for me. And I never text and drive.) When I fall into bed, I’m exhausted. Sleep comes too easy.

No wonder my hair is gray.

Yes, I appear to be a maniac on steroids and Ritalin. But here is a Real Truth: People are not wired to do everything. There is no such thing as a super-mom, a super-woman, or a super-person, except perhaps in the world of Marvel.

Yeah, yeah, I bought into that super-woman stuff years ago when my kids were little. I tried my best. I practically lived in my car with those kids, racing from one event to another. After a while, the frustration increases as your sense of self decreases. Things boil and bubble until there’s an explosion (or implosion).

I’m pretty old and not the smartest, but I have learned one thing: Living is all about moderation.

Living is also not about beating yourself up. There are plenty of opportunities out there to get beaten up by outside sources. 🙂

It’s hard, but I try not to beat myself up about anything, including writing/not writing. Some of the time, I’m the most prolific person out there (or it might seem so because I never throw anything away!). But most times I’m just plain *lazy* – i.e. otherwise consumed by some other time sucking activity. Sometimes (like in this last year), I’m just too depressed/angry/worried to write.

Some of the creative out there think they must be doing something creative every single day of the year in order to be considered an artist. I’ve heard some claim that if you cannot play music every day, you’re not a real musician. The thought is that you breathe, so you’re a person, and you have to breathe all the time, ergo you must be playing every day in order to be considered ‘serious.’

Hold your horses, Mozart. What about living?

(Speaking of Mozart, although the man was a genius, the guy was a paid hack. Had to do it in order to survive, and he did a horrible job of it.)

This weekend, I opened my inbox with my Medium daily email and find this lovely post by one of my favorite authors (Michelle Richmond) regarding not writing.

Thank goodness! At last someone admonishing would-be writers out there to go to your son’s ball game or watch a movie with your husband! In my case, it’s stripping and refinishing old doors, digging up my yard, wire weaving, or planting potatoes.

Creating art should not be a chore. Your mind has to be clear and open. Yes, you need your butt to be in a chair (although the thought of a standing work station is very intriguing), but the true artist is creating in her head all the time. As I’m out there pulling up bindweed and dandelions, I’m thinking of plot twists and back story. The Notes section of my iPhone is full of tidbits of information, things I will use later on when the dust settles.

We are so busy in this modern world, attacked by Internet and TV and pretty flashes of content, that we have forgotten how to live. Writers need to live in order for the words to flow and the stories to surface. That’s why I’ve laid off the Twitter and the Facebook and Instagram. Sometimes you have to be you, not the content.

Which brings me back to the video I posted at the top of this, Words, by the BeeGees. In my 6th grade mind, I felt the pop group was telling me to write a story.

Because it’s only words, and words are all I have to take your heart away.

🙂

 

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elvis

It’s amazing what one can find rooting around in your house.

During a little spring cleaning, I found this poem I’d written a long time ago, between pages 136-137 in this Elvis Costello song book.

This book belongs to my now-husband. We met each other in 1983, at a time when Elvis Costello was all the rage. Such sassy lyrics and danceable rhythms! (I give it a 95…) He wasn’t punk, he wasn’t rock, he wasn’t country or blues, but a strangely pleasing British combination of everything. My husband plays the piano and I was learning at the time. These were difficult songs for a beginning pianist.

I’d written more than a few poems for my husband during the courtship period. I must have written this poem during then, and dropped it into the book, probably hoping he’d fall upon it by chance. (That’s what romantics do; hope for a random slice of kismet to strike the object of their affection just so – preferably during some lonesome dark and stormy night – and thus jump start the yearning.)

(It’s so funny that I titled the poem “Ironies” – because I think of Elvis Costello as being entirely ironic.)

I’d sent my husband the other poems I’d written to him. We dated long distance for two and a half years (Twin Cities – Detroit), before the Internet and cell phones. My long distance bill used to kill me, so I wrote letters nearly every day. But I don’t remember writing this one. I must have slipped it into the songbook soon after finishing it and forgotten all about it.

If a diamond is trapped inside the earth and never sees the light of day is it still a diamond?

I think so.

And now, with a little editing brought to you by 28 years of fermentation, I bring you (parts of):

 

Ironies

Dreams were once so easy, always crystal light,

rich and verdant like springtime glens,

purer than April snow melt.

But that was such a long, long time ago,

so long that you forgot when.

Life was a simple game when you were but a child

and dreams will lose their luster

as you struggle all the while.

Child of promise, child so bright;

they think you don’t need help.

They leave you to yourself.

Oh, how they want you to grow straight and tall.

Sometimes it’s a wonder to grow at all.

On a trip to see your sister

you marveled at the comfortable little house,

overgrown with plants, the babes all around, the simple style.

You long to own that easy smile.

But easy doesn’t come to you the way it comes to everyone else.

You choose to sleep alone at night

though men profess to love you some,

your heart is frozen in time and space

you’re holding out for that special one.

He’s beautiful and funny,

sensitive and wise,

but can he love that stranger inside you,

that darker spirit that lies within?

What will they say when it’s over and done

before your ashes meet a Rockies’ sun?

Will the eulogy be

“The woman was a saint.”

“She was a martyr too.”

For she waited her love

for someone like you.

Posted in books, editing, indie publishing, Joanne Huspek, manners, Monday Blogs, NaNoWriMo, people, querying, reading, rewriting, San Francisco, San Francisco Writers Conference, Self publishing, Uncategorized, VIRTUALLY YOURS, womens literature, writers conference, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , Comment

Please take careful note of the title. Writing for fun OR profit. Not fun AND profit. Because I’m not sure you can do both at the same time.

I had been thinking a lot about this recently. I had quite the nonproductive last nine months. A reverse gestational period, if you must, where ideas didn’t germinate and blossomed, but withered and died. Not to beat a dead horse to pulp, but personal issues, work issues, and attempting a major re-write of a completed novel that I thought was ready to go killed the creative spirit in me. I didn’t write for eight months (except the occasional blog post) and couldn’t create any jewelry for nearly that long.

I became grayer over the rewrite (which wasn’t a bad idea, just not a good idea for this particular story) and sunk into a writerly depression. I over analyzed my characters and my work to where I couldn’t see past the task at hand. I began to hate them, and myself. I didn’t know why I was attempting this rewrite. (Add some spice? Reflect current events? Maybe turn my story into something Hollywood would love?) And a funny thing happened: the story that took me only 30 days to write and that had given me great joy while doing so was now becoming a huge boulder hanging from my neck. I groaned every time I opened the file.

In other words, writing was no longer fun. (I hope lightning doesn’t strike me dead. Better find a ground wire.)

I’m not saying life should be a bowl of cherries and a day at the beach (I know, cliches, give me a break) every day, every minute. Life just isn’t like that. It’s freakishly hard and heartbreakingly sad. Life never goes the way you think it will. NEVER. Even when you’re my age. Even if you have money. The problems just get more complex, therefore taking more time and energy.

It’s the same with work. Take my day job (please!). I really don’t mind it. It’s interesting. I get to problem solve. I find that I’m good writing business letters and can keep a fairly mean spreadsheet, formulae and all. I interact with customers, which sometimes is a joy. I keep my husband (kinda-sorta – the jury is still out on that one) in line so that his part of the business doesn’t fall to pieces.

But if you find yourself (as I do) being ground to powder by the mean customers, if your aggravation exponentially increases with every bonehead move your employees make (over and over, and over), if you put in seven days a week and your rewards don’t seem to reflect the effort you put in, if the self-satisfaction isn’t there, it’s difficult to be engaged.

So.

I have since decided I have to stop looking at both my day job and my writing as a profit making venture. I have to see these activities as creations I have control over, and not let the outside world rule what is happening inside my head.

You see, I was much happier writing for the sheer fun of it. When I started writing online about ten years ago, writing was an exercise in joy. The ideas flowed easier. I often wondered how I could blog post off the top of my head while working, and realize that it’s because I was having a great time doing it. Sometimes I go back to those posts and think, “Damn, that was good!”

Perhaps some people can write for fun and profit, but I can’t. And since it’s that way for me, I’d rather write for fun.

🙂

booksandauthors

P.S. The other day, I received an email from BookBaby (where my eBook sales originate) informing me that they were making a deposit into my checking account. I hadn’t ever withdrawn anything from my BookBaby, ever. Surprise, surprise, it was a tidy little sum! Not that I will become greedy and think to write for profit again. Nope. I’m writing for unexpected gravy.

 

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Recently I took an eight-week online master writing class with Michelle Richmond. You know her. Author of The Year In Fog. And other wonderful works.

words

I am a HUGE proponent of taking classes. I’ve been known to take music classes (piano, violin), art classes (both in college and after), and plenty of writing classes online. For God’s sake, I’ve been in the same wire wrapping class for the last five-plus years, and I’m not ever giving that one up.

It’s not that I’m stupid or dense. It’s not that I’m a stalker (although I felt that way at first with Michelle, because I have to be one of her hugest fans. I have almost all her books including the reference material and writing workbooks).

Life is a constant state of learning. Learning keeps your grey matter hopping. I can almost feel the electrons coursing through my brain when I’m in any class. I want to learn. I need to learn. And I’m not so full of myself that I think I can’t learn something new. The nice thing about being my age (finally! a plus!) is that you appreciate education and you’re in the class for your own benefit, not to score a grade. If you join a class, you are reaching out, for guidance, for knowledge. As I told my kids when they were attending college and experiencing difficulty, the instructor is there for YOU. YOU extract whatever information he/she has, whether he/she wants to give it to you or not.

Classroom situations are nice. You get to compare and contrast. You’re allowed to try and fail, and learn from your mistakes (or as they say in the jewelry world – design change). But if you’re a working adult, it’s hard to carve out time for a class for which you must physically be present. Online classes might not be the answer either. It’s tougher with online classes because you rarely see what the others are doing. At least with the master class, we had a once-weekly video meeting. It was so helpful to interact with the other students, to have Michelle offer her words of wisdom in real time, and to read other writers’ work.

To be a good student, you have to be able to listen to criticism, weigh it, and to make adjustments. This is especially true of anything having to do with the creative. I remember taking my first drawing class at the University of Minnesota. I’d always been so-so at drawing and painting, and hadn’t yet declared a major. Drawing was a class to fill my schedule.

My professor liked my work. He would stand behind my easel, his hand on his chin, and after a few minutes, offer a comment like “Try this.” or “Consider this.” Having only taken art classes in high school where it was a free-for-all, I was unused to constructive criticism. I learned then what a good thing it was to get input on your work from different eyes. I had always believed I was meh– not good enough. This professor actually convinced me to major in studio arts.

Now…for Michelle Richmond…

The first thing I learned? Read your email. Then reread your email. I missed the first video class because I somehow thought the meeting time was later than it was. (East Coast/West Coast mistake. Happens all the time, as my son lives in San Francisco. I love when he calls or texts me at 3 in the morning Eastern, just as I’m sure he loves it when I call or text him at 7 a.m. Eastern.)

The second thing I learned: A series of scenes does not a novel make. I’ve been working on various incarnations of this story for the last couple of years. I have a handwritten book full of scenes. I know what is going to happen – sort of. I really needed to figure out a beginning, middle, and end. Since I had three characters, I had to decide which was the protagonist. (I’d started out writing all three as the protagonist.) Through the weekly exercises, I learned who was the strongest and who was expendable.

I also learned there will be one common thread that draws the three characters together. Now I just have to weave the story line. I call this the “Story by Quilt” phase. Pick one thread and move it slightly to the next patch.

The third thing I learned: Don’t be afraid to do something out of the ordinary. Our last assignment was to write the final chapter. I hadn’t even thought of the final chapter, much less what I was going to do with it. What I learned in skipping over to the end was that 1. it was enormously fun to write, and 2. I’m going to rethink my original rather foggy plans for the end.

I also learned (also from a workshop at the San Francisco Writers Conference) that it’s preferable to have a title that depicts what may happen in the story. I’m not bad at writing a story, but I stumble at headlines and titles. (Remember, it took almost the two years I wrote Finding Cadence to finalize the title.) My new working title will be Bridging the Intersection of Truth and Casualty. Subject to change at any time, of course.

I needed those eight weeks with Michelle. I needed the kick in the pants, because my writer’s block was becoming a nuisance. I needed the camaraderie of other writers, to get out of my little cave. I needed to hear encouraging words from strangers regarding what I was doing.

Classes are learning experiences. They can also save your life.

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I haven’t really fallen off a turnip truck and am suffering from amnesia, but we can always pretend. It’s just that I’ve been majorly overwhelmed. Pulled in too many directions all at once. Which makes me feel rushed. Which makes me feel cranky.

passportphotoAs you can see, I’ve had this face since the beginning.

This is not an excuse (I’m lazy, yes we know), but just to update you on what’s been happening:

Busy

I just finished taking a writing course with Michelle Richmond. It was not only fun and interesting, being in this small group of writers gave me the sufficient kick in the pants that I needed to get the story rolling. I’ve been working on this concept for the last year and a half, with nothing to show but several scenes sketching out my characters and what happens to them. Getting into a class where there are assignments really got me thinking about what I want to say with this particular novel.

Being in a class was great, but I found the one-hour video classes really invigorating. (Even though I’m terribly unphotogenic and with all the windows in the house, there’s really no good room to sit in and not have glare bouncing off the screen. Very distracting.) Writers, we need each other to compare and contrast our work. I’m a huge proponent of taking classes, even if the class is not in your genre. It’s a good exercise to step out of your comfort zone and try something new.

Virtually Yours Forever will be released this year. Even if I have to jump through hoops of fire! Even if I must walk through a football field of broken glass!

I have also spent the month compiling the next book. This one is narrative non-fiction, from years of online posts I’ve made – as another person. Some of the essays were extremely dated and did not make the cut, but it was amazing to see that many of my opinions are still relevant all these years later. I’ll probably publish under a pen name, as this is pretty racy stuff!

Business

What would life be without the business of it? In the Day Job, things are picking up with the onset of spring. Everyone wants to drive now. My husband is ready to schedule Christmas classes (say it ain’t so!). I’m feeling so cosmically windblown, I’d like to retire T-O-D-A-Y. (That’s not looking like an option at this time.)

As for the business of writing, I’m seriously thinking of starting my own publishing company. Thanks to attending many workshops during the San Francisco Writers Conference and after joining IBPA, I’ve decided to consolidate my creative work into one company. When I get a moment to breathe and to accomplish this feat, I will let you know the status.

Busy-ness

I am always on the move, whether it’s writing, working, or working in my yard. Winter is not completely over, but I’m getting my garden ready. I find that turning dirt into edibles a fulfilling enterprise. Plus I get the best ideas while I’m weeding and planting. Currently, I’m starting seeds indoors. (It’s snowed on Mothers Day before, so I’m taking no chances!) I found a wonderful place for seeds you don’t normally get at the local nursery, like many types of bok choy, wasabi, and others. My angel trumpet also had one seed pod, so I will be planting them, too. (Like I need 75 more angel trumpet plants.)

Other than that, life is life, and a writer’s life usually includes more life than a person can deal with. The upside is that I will never want for inspiration!

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This year’s San Francisco Writers Conference has had to have been the best one ever!

I know, I know. So how bad could it be? It’s in San Francisco, my favorite place on the planet, full of things to do and perfect weather and food to die for. It’s at the Mark Hopkins, which is swank city. The bedding is like sleeping on a cloud, and the soaps and shampoos make you feel rich and pampered. And the conference food isn’t half bad! At the conference, you’re surrounded by writers and agents and editors and people with the knowledge you don’t have, and the enthusiasm is contagious. This conference rolls around just when I need it – a welcome break from the rigors of a Michigan winter. (I like sunshine and flowers, in case you haven’t noticed.) This was my eighth conference, and needless to say, I am never bored. Michael Larsen and Elizabeth Pomada round up the best people for their workshops, and it’s so hard to choose one presentation over the other.

This year I concentrated on workshops going over the business of writing, especially dealing with copyrights and self-publishing. I learned so much from attorney Helen Sedwick, who was extremely nice. I also joined the Independent Book Publishers Association after attending their seminar. It’s not expensive, and the information is voluminous. I’m also considering a run at non-fiction publishing – it depends on when I can find some spare time to dive into it.

I tell this to every writer I know: Go to a writers conference! I can only afford to go to one a year, and this is the one for me. Yes, it’s expensive, and yes, you might think you don’t have any time for it, but trust me. You will learn so much, so worth whatever it costs in money. You’ll get out of your garret for one weekend and make friends and compare notes. You’ll be energized by the positive buzz and leave ready to write again. (I did.)

Warning: Personal Horn Tooting Approaching

I usually submit something for the writing contest SFWC holds, usually the first few pages of my work in progress. (Finding Cadence was a finalist one year!) This year, however, I was woefully lacking in new material. I hadn’t really written anything new since May of last year, thanks to personal issues and a bad case of writer’s block (and probably being depressed, let’s not forget that). Over the winter, I began the process of putting my poetry into digital form. There’s a lot of it, and I can’t trust yellow typewritten pages in a raggedy notebook much longer. A notebook that sat in my basement for ten years while I wondered where the hell it was because it was jammed in a box of my daughter’s things and why would I look in there?

So I picked out a poem that was dear to my heart (one about my parents), typed it up, and entered the poetry section of the contest a few days before the deadline in January. Then I forgot about it.

Fast forward to my trip to San Francisco in mid-February. I’m waiting in Dallas for my connecting flight and decide to check out the SFWC website. Where I see my poem had been named as a finalist!

Obviously, I was thrilled, just as thrilled as when my novel had placed. But…I’m a realist. I never win anything. (I dragged my husband to a slot machine I was playing, and HE wins the Harley.) I’m always the bridesmaid, never the bride.

Imagine my surprise and wonder when my name was announced as the winner!

firstprize

One hundred dollars! And a rush of pride!

Here’s the photo of all the winners:

all of the awards

And one of me and Laurie McLean at the party later that night:

me and laurie

(Photos courtesy Artstudio23.com)

I’m explaining to her that I wrote my poem in 1977 and I hoped that was okay that I recycled it. 🙂 Which goes to show you that good writing never goes bad. (Find my prize winning poem HERE.)

After the conference, I spent a week with my son. We ate like pigs and walked many beaches in search of the elusive beach glass. In the end, we went back to Muir Beach and spent 2 1/2 hours bending over and picking up a bounty of glass as the tide was going out.

Now I’m back to work, writing a new novel in a class with Michelle Richmond.

And I feel GREAT! I’ve gotten my mojo back! It’s going to be a wonderful year to write.

Posted in books, editing, Finding Cadence, indie publishing, Joanne Huspek, Monday Blogs, music, violin, writing, women, life, NaNoWriMo, people, querying, reading, rewriting, San Francisco, San Francisco Writers Conference, Self publishing, womens literature, writers conference, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Comment

xdepression

Above: A fairly accurate representation of the inside of my head right now.

I recently read a very good blog post by the legendary Chuck Wendig regarding writer “self-care.” The post wasn’t so much about self-care as it was about an affliction many artists suffer from, at least on an occasional basis, and that is depression.

This post was so timely and so good, I had to bookmark it. I read it over at least a half dozen times. I tweeted it. I talked to other writers about it. That’s because we have all experienced the dreaded ‘writer’s block.’ However, Mr. Wendig draws the comparison from the blockage to depression, which is a pretty astute connection.

One that I had not thought about until I read his blog post.

Normally, I have too many thoughts in my head, so many that I can barely get a few onto paper. But there are times when I am totally devoid of creative thought, and that bothers me, especially if I find myself unable to create after a few months. I call these episodes being ‘extremely uninspired.’ It’s a major pain in the ass to think, much less form words or make jewelry.

Well, folks, I hate to admit this, but I have been unable to create for the last few months. Maybe six. And my inability to create might not be from blockage, but is likely from depression.

That’s not to say I have been in bed all day, filling my head with insipid reality shows (although I must confess that Judge Judy and Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares are especially entertaining). I’ve been depressed before; it’s not a big deal to admit it. The era of the ‘shame’ of mental disorders has thankfully passed. If one is sick, one goes to the doctor; it’s the same with depression.

I must admit that it has been extremely stressful around here lately, and stress doesn’t help with psychic well-being. I also have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), so I am well-aware how my mood changes with the seasons. I can feel the sadness turn into something deeper, and that’s when I act. I start my prescription in August, but antidepressants aren’t the total answer. As fall turns to winter and as the daylight hours shorten, I have to (vehemently) tell myself to get out of bed. To do the laundry. To shop for groceries. To get gas. To go to work. To work out. To go to my class. To make dinner. To be somewhat sociable.

If I didn’t nag myself into action, then yes, I’d be in bed watching Judge Judy. All. Day. Long.

While I’m waiting for my inspiration to be ignited, I putter. I read. I pull out an old manuscript or an old story and perhaps work on it. Half the time, I don’t have the memory of writing any of these stories. I’ve been writing random new scenes, for a novel I hope to cobble together someday. I did last year’s NaNoWriMo, and I’ve signed myself up for an online novel writing class, just to get out of my shell. (It’s embarrassing to have so many manuscripts that are unedited and undone.) On the jewelry side, I will get out my jewels and rocks and look at them, maybe evaluate some of the smaller pieces I’ve started and never finished. I force myself into action.

I force myself to breathe. (That’s tough to accomplish when you’re depressed.) Square breathing is essential for calm.

Mr. Wendig’s blog post reminds us as writers that we are human, too. WE need tender loving care, in order to create. WE give ourselves a high bar to reach for, instead of giving ourselves a break. WE take reviews and comments too personally, instead of letting these things slough from our backs. WE feel the need to produce, or we will be ‘less than.’

Sometimes ‘producing’ might be thinking about writing or creating. Whenever I’m not producing, I’m thinking about future creativity. And that’s okay.

Writers, cut yourself some slack. We are not super-human. Even the greats are/were not super-human. Believe me, a lot more people are depressed than you would think. For most of us, the fog will lift and things will get better.

Do the best you can, with what you have, and keep going.

Take care of yourself, and keep going.

Live, learn, and love, and keep going.

To keep going is the only way to get unstuck.

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sfwcThis was Barry Eisler at one SFWC. One of the best keynote speakers ever!

Now that most of winter is over (such as it is, it’s been 40 degrees and mostly no snow, so I’m not complaining), and the holidays are behind us for another 300+ days, it’s time to get busy and write!

I’ll admit, after November’s NaNoWriMo, where I barely cobbled together my 50K words, I took the entire month of December off. I spent ten days Dad-sitting, which was great! The dad was in good humor and the weather in Colorado was fantastic, until the night before I left, when the area was hit by freezing rain. Then came the holidays – blah, blah, blah. I normally don’t do anything for Christmas (bah humbug!) but this year, my son came home for Christmas – first time in seven years. He ate and drank us out of the house, fought with his sister, and succeeded in spoiling the cat and dog to the point where they don’t want to eat pet food anymore.

Now that he’s gone back to San Francisco (last Wednesday, thankfully), the house is returning to its normal, stress-free and bland condition. My husband and I enjoy relative calm, can you imagine?

In a month, I’ll be packing up for the San Francisco Writers Conference, which means my procrastination must come to a screeching halt right now. I just realized I have three completed novels in various stages of the editing process, and pieces of three more in notebooks and computer files.

Coincidentally, the local RWA email loop has been discussing the topic of “log lines”, which is totally different than an elevator pitch. Remember when I had that problem many years ago with the synopsis? And then the pitch? Well, a log line is ONE sentence – that lays out the entire gist of your work. Think of the old TV Guide listings and descriptions of sit-coms. “When Hyde’s father asks him to house-sit while he is out of town, the gang convinces Hyde to throw a party.” ~That 70s Show The log line is just enough information to give you an idea of what is to come.

But one sentence?! Are they insane? Can I use a run-on sentence?

I have my pitches ready, but realize I need to fine tune the log lines. I don’t want agents’ and other authors’ eyes to glaze over when I begin to talk about my work. I’ve seen that happen, and it’s not pretty.

So… here are some log lines of my current works in progress:

  1. Three women spend a month contemplating the birth of a child that will change all of their lives; one, a hopeful adoptive mother, another, a confused pregnant teen, and the third, the teen’s mother.
  2. Hollywood mom Maya Cooper and her daughter seek to find a way back to LA-LA land after a short banishment to snowy Michigan, but will they both discover that home is not where everything glitters but where the heart is?
  3. It’s the Virtual Moms’ wedding of the century, but with everyone in the midst of personal drama, it’s dicey whether or not the bride and groom will say “I do.”

Holy cow. That was hard. (You didn’t see me back-spacing over my words while trying to make my stories make sense in a sentence. There was a lot of that going on.)

As for the Works in Pieces?

  1. In mid-1970s San Francisco, three lost souls wrestle with the demons of their pasts as they consider taking a final jump from the Golden Gate.
  2. After spending twenty years looking for her deceased son’s daughter, the woman’s search comes to an end when a woman claiming to be the long-lost granddaughter arrives on her doorstep.
  3. Sioux’s search for her father leads to an unexpected result.

Again, log lines are tough.

🙂

I’d be interested in finding out how other writers deal with this. Can I be the only one who balks at writing them? (And synopses, and query letters…)

Back to work…

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2079379_61b9880ede

Image courtesy of Flicker.

Just in time for the holidays…

I am at my childhood home as I write this. Each time I come back here, a flood of thoughts comes to mind. Like the fact that I am Catholic (albeit fallen and can’t get up) and my mother (converted) would tell us every Christmas that Baby Jesus fell from the sky, right into his little manger. Just like magic! It was a much cleaner drop than, say… from a stork, and he managed to land in a perfect, Godlike manner.

It’s a ridiculous story told by a recent immigrant and convert, but I believed her interpretation of the Birth of Our Lord – for a long, long time. I was naive and it took an awful lot for me to wise up. Looking back, I realize that her little white lie covered up the fact that she really didn’t want to go into the reproductive systems of Mary and Joseph. What better way to give birth than to just drop from the heavens? (I know I would have liked it more than the real thing.)

This caused me to think, especially now that NaNoWriMo is over. (I have my 50K or so words, but this means nothing.)

Just because you have a draft doesn’t mean it’s all over. Your 50K or so words are not perfect. Your writing will not fall from the sky, hitting its target without a bruise. It takes a great deal of thought, a lot of work and persistence, and the willingness to adjust before a book is ready for anything besides a dark corner of your basement closet.

Case in point: My first novel. It took two years of NaNoWriMo and then some to write the first (awful) draft. The only words that made sense in that version was “The End.” Going through the 175K words that first time made me want to heave. So I put it away (in disgust) for a year.

Eventually, I decided the story was good but the execution was terrible. Then came three years of editing, with various editors. Again, again, and again. I learned the first draft was woody and stiff, my characters more like caricatures, and I wobbled between genres. Once I beefed up the characters, chose a genre, eliminated 50K unnecessary words – starting the story on Page 72 helped – the job was not yet complete.

No. The more I thought about the story, the more I wove in themes. Musical themes, social themes. Everyone had a secret. I broke the book into three distinct parts to coordinate with a piano concerto. The first, the stage set with heartbreak; the second, healing begins; the third, overcoming adversity and starting anew. It took a long time to edit, much blood, sweat, and tears, but I’m pleased with the end result.

With my current NaNo effort (which stared out as a “Christian” novel, but will end up more YA with a sweet story), I can already see where I’ll have to work on my characters. I have a story line set up, complete with plenty of conflict and a resolution, but have decided that my novel would be more interesting if everyone had a secret.

This rambling post is to remind you that your first effort, while probably good, is not your best. If you’re an honest writer, you know that your writing does not just fall from out of the blue. It takes hard work to produce your best. It takes trial and error, but eventually, you will have that perfect baby.

Happy editing!

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powerpuff

Yes, this is what I feel like. Blossom, the amazing Powerpuff Girl!

You see, I’ve been kicking ass on this year’s NaNoWriMo.

Saturday, I added up my words and found I had over 26K! And this with taking days off!

How did I do it? I have a few tips you might want to consider. Try them or not, it’s working for me.

  1. Don’t care about the outcome, otherwise you’ll expend good writing time on worry. You’re not in a race with other writers; you’re trying to improve the level of output.
  2. Likewise, as you’re writing, don’t go backwards over your words to tweak them. Tweaking/editing is done in December, after the NaNo sprint has been completed. When I’m on a roll, I won’t even use quotation marks for dialogue. Punctuation can come later.
  3. Instead of writing a linear story, consider writing characters. My current story has three characters, all of which will have their own voice in the novel. I’m writing each one in a separate Word file. The same event is happening to each of them, and I’m telling the story from each one’s decidedly different point of view. (Another reason to have different files for different characters – you won’t have the total word count niggling at you. You’ll have to do as I did, add up the counts once in a while. I did this with Virtually Yours – seven characters, seven files.)
  4. If you feel like you’re drained of inspiration, consider getting a writing prompt book to get the creative juices flowing. I am currently using Story Starters by Michelle Richmond, but any prompt book will help. This is a great book for building characters, as some of the exercises explore background without getting into back story. Everyone has a reason for doing the things they do.
  5. Sit down whenever you can and sprint write. You don’t need hours; every 15-20 minutes is enough, if that’s all you have.

As for me, I’m going to complete my Day Job work as quickly as I can. I have a date with NaNoWriMo and destiny.

Good luck to all of you writers, and see you at the end of the month!

 

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Are we all excited?

Tomorrow, November 1, is the first day of NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. You know, the month where writers around the world sign up with glee, intending to pump out 50,000 words in 30 short days.

For those who are math-challenged, that is 1,667 words per day.

For those writers who are challenged by something more than math (laziness, procrastination, fear and loathing), November 1st is a day of trepidation.

I’ve participated nearly every year since 2005. I’ll admit, some years I take a break due to family issues or maybe edits of other writing. I’m not exactly an expert on November writing, but I can offer some words of advice. Take them or leave them, because admittedly, I am a writer without a clue.

  1. It’s nice to have a plan, but you don’t need one. I’ve utilized two NaNoWriMos to write Virtually Yours and Virtually Yours Forever. Talk about success in NaNo, but there was a reason. One was a love story in 30 days; the other was a wedding in 30 days. These two novels were planned long in advance; I knew the characters, the story lines, the subplots, the Big Reveals, and since the stories progressed linearly, as in day by day, it was fairly easy to make the mark of 1,667 words per day. But again, I say, YOU DON’T NEED A PLAN! Just WRITE! Here are a few ways you can accomplish that.
  2. Write random scenes. You don’t have to start at Page One, Chapter One. Instead, imagine yourself in your characters’ world and write out a scene. I can guarantee you that a scene is usually more than 1,667 words. You might not use the scenes you write, but it’s better to have more words than less, especially during the first draft stage.
  3. Write random dialogue between your characters. I often do this as practice. Writing dialogue has always been problematic for me. Even though I’m much improved, I still shy away from doing it. It’s always been easier for me to internalize what the characters are saying instead of actually saying what they are saying. Don’t use tags, in order to make the most of your time. You can always add the attributes later. If you want to note the way the characters are reacting (sadness, anger, lust, etc.), I’d definitely add notes.
  4. Write about your characters. Tell yourself in words what he/she looks like, what they like and dislike, what kind of clothes they wear, if they have an accent, what their quirks are. Outline their family history. Expound upon where they live – the house, the city, the state. This may seem like a deviation from actually telling the story, but is helpful in developing your characters as real people. It also adds to your word count.
  5. It’s nice to have a designated time or place, but not necessary. In past years, I’ve said to myself “3 to 5 p.m., in my comfy chair,” but let’s face it, life is too full of drama sometimes.
  6. Likewise, don’t limit yourself to the computer. Carry a notebook and pen at all times! If you forget or don’t like to write passages in longhand, be smart and open up your smart phone. There’s an app called “Notes” – use it! When you get a chance, you can transcribe your writing into your word processing program and add to your word count.
  7. Remember, this is not a race! It’s not a race against others, it’s not even a race against yourself. NaNoWriMo is meant to encourage good writing habits, meaning writing something every day.
  8. Don’t beat yourself up if you haven’t completed a novel by November 30. As stated in Number 7, the intent of NaNoWriMo is not to complete a novel.

Now, my fellow writers, get a good night’s sleep tonight and go get ’em!

See you at the end of November.

 

Posted in books, editing, indie publishing, Joanne Huspek, music, violin, writing, women, life, NaNoWriMo, reading, rewriting, Self publishing, VIRTUALLY YOURS, VIRTUALLY YOURS FOREVER, womens literature, writers conference, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , Comment

I am armpit deep into a major developmental edit, trying to accomplish most of it before NaNoWriMo, so I really don’t have much time to spew about my life or to wonder about whether or not I’m editing correctly. (I’ve thrown in the Paperclip Method, as well as index cards and handwritten notes, and all I have to show for it is a major headache.) So, instead, I will entertain you with a piece of creative writing, an assignment from the 21 Moments class I took last year.

muralfarright2

The Fish

When you were a baby, I watched you sleep. I had to make absolutely certain you were still alive, still breathing. For hours, I saw your chest rise and fall, your lips slightly parted, two perfect soft hearts lined in violet red. Your eyes twitched with baby dreams. I wondered, what could you possibly be dreaming of, my little boy who had yet to experience life.

I marveled at your skin, so pale and covered in a paler, soft fuzz. A furry caterpillar across your brow, one that rarely moved. The dark hair, so long on one side. Toes and nails of perfect pearl. You were a porcelain doll, a breathing miniature human.

Now I watch you sleep, my heart heavy with concern. Your breathing is labored, not steady. Your skin is stained red, not a healthy rose, but a dull, almost brick color. I couldn’t wake you after a day and a half. Panic filled my chest, one already bursting with worry.

Life is tenuous. It takes very little to tip the scales.

I considered calling the hospital. I won’t bother 911, they’ve already received enough calls from this address. The doctors might say something encouraging, something that will tamp down the alarm.

Your breathing seems suspended, but you’re not holding your breath. It’s shallow, that’s all. I touch your hand; it’s burning. You said you didn’t feel well. Is it sickness, a bug, or something more substantial? I bring soup, but you won’t awaken. I finger my phone, the numbers are typed in, but I don’t hit SEND. Instead, I pray my boy will wake up and talk to me. I hope he will take a sip of the chicken noodle. I pray to God he will give my son a baby dream, so he will dream like he did when he was two months old.

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I am the one person on earth who would never consider myself to be highly intelligent. If I were, I’d probably be a billionaire by now, but we know that’s not happening, so… yeah.

I’m smarter than most, but not smarter than the average bear. This also may be age-related, but I also find it increasingly more and more difficult to see things in their true light. Too many years fogged by repetitious activities. Bad habits are really hard to correct.

Why the morose musings?

Last week, I finally received the complete edit to Virtually Yours Forever. With editorial notes at the end. Finally.

I wish I’d received those editorial notes, oh, say about four months ago, before I deluded myself into thinking this work was ready for prime time.

Oh, well, that’s why I employ my Editor for Life. He’s supposed to slap me around once in a while. (Thank goodness he’s in California, and I’m in Michigan.)

So the bad news is that I have some serious developmental editing to complete.

The good news is that the light bulb finally went off above my head. (This is always good news.) After reading the editorial notes, I went over my outline. Ugh. He was right. Fatal flaws all over the place. It’s all very daunting, but nothing that can’t be fixed with a little hard work and elbow grease.

Unfortunately, this past week, I’ve been engaged in a place sans computer or internet. However, I always carry my trusty notebook with me. And a hard copy print out of the MS.

Part of my problem with this novel was the timing was off. As with Virtually Yours, VY4ever takes place in a 30 day time frame. When writing so linearly, it’s best to make use of a calendar.

editsI also employed this method writing Finding Cadence. One can get very lost in a seven-month story.

Doing this allowed me to see where my holes were. I need tighten up the time frame. I’ll keep the same words, just put them closer together, and delete anything that isn’t advancing the story. (There’s a lot of that going on as well.)

The other problem is that some of my moms aren’t carrying their weight. (This is my fault, obviously.) Three of them are shining, the other three – meh. I experienced this problem in writing the first book as well. I *know* my stronger characters very well; it’s the ancillary ones that are difficult, probably because they are so not me. These characters either need some sort of drama to muddle through (oh, how I remember doing this for the first book!) or what I already gave them as problems to be fleshed out a little more. Either way, I have to step outside of myself and give them the attention they deserve.

Smaller problems included changing the age of one of the kids; speeding up and researching snowfall patterns; I’ll also change the names of the celebrities I mentioned who are way-out-there characters in the story line. One, the Real Donald Trump is running for president, and I can’t put him into my book now. Not using that name, anyway. I’ll still need his persona, his helicopter and private jet, and his high rise building, but he’ll be fictional now.

So yes, I have my entire month planned for this edit. I’m still on track (I hope!) to a winter release.


And for some more good news?

I’ve come out with a print version of Virtually Yours, for those of you who are digitally challenged. You can purchase a copy on Amazon, or if you can wait until I receive my shipment, and purchase one directly from me, which of course will be autographed by the author. If you are interested in obtaining a signed copy, please contact me at

jlhuspek [at] msn [dot] com or leave a message here or on Facebook.

Happy reading!

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I have been armpit deep into a major developmental edit for the last eight months. It’s one that has delayed my getting Virtually Yours Forever off the ground and into the query queue for nearly a year.

VIrtually Yours Forever (72dpi 900x600) smallMight be the cover. Not sure yet.

Keep in mind that before I decided to go off the deep end and explore the possibility of adding a parallel plot line and three more characters, I thought the book was done – finished – completed. I’d edited it at least three times with my ED4Life, and ran it by another independent editor for a second opinion just to be on the safe side. (The second opinion was glowing, by the way. And this from a women who had not read the original novel.)

But then came this idea… This crazy idea that would bring the story into current times. That would add a layer of whacky. That might spin off into a screenplay. (Definitely could see this on the screen, oh, yes!)

This story line would need a ring of authenticity, so I enlisted a former employee who happens to work for the Feds to point me in the right direction. He can’t give me specifics, but I hoped he might okay the gist of what I was going for, or reel me in if I was totally off the wall.

And while I think the idea has merit (if I can pull it off), I think my original idea has merit, too. It’s not like there wasn’t enough going on with the Virtual Moms; if anything, their plates were not just full, but overflowing.

Which has lead me to the current train of thought: Can a writer tweak too much?

I know with other areas of the arts, yes, yes, you can fiddle too much. Take painting. You can add and add until your vision is obscured by busy-ness. You can get too close or fret over tiny issues that a random observer isn’t even going to notice.

After all, less is more, right?

On the other hand, an artful layering will be picked up – and appreciated – by discerning eyes.

As artists, we tend to worry about the finished product. Is it ready? Could I have done more? Will people enjoy it?

And so, the conundrum. At some point, you have to trust your heart and your judgement. You have to step back and let it go. Hope for the best, and move on to the next project, because worrying is not productive.

Posted in books, editing, indie publishing, Joanne Huspek, manners, Monday Blogs, querying, reading, rewriting, San Francisco, San Francisco Writers Conference, Self publishing, VIRTUALLY YOURS, VIRTUALLY YOURS FOREVER, womens literature, writers conference, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , Comment

Yes, I’m still working on my work(s) in progress.


https://www.flickr.com/photos/superfantastic/166215927/in/photolist-fFUcR-qw1igh-9yobFu-9yob4h-ahbVQh-ahbVQU-ahbVPW-eeyY5M-aa63H9-ptwuzW-ahbVQG-ahbVPf-bqnFTw-bWQGU-77SbA2-7xzGd6-tbxSqV-5jg2zy-6FhjJd-9crNam-aiMJT1-7PC8rQ-6PPjpP-37fGU8-6JNJRk-9ykbtx-dSZYCR-25kHDR-4um46A-fmXy7c-e1sxjy-7VmH6t-dkA7nP-9ykakx-4b1hQC-eXezT7-9ykbXK-9yo9XG-9yka4g-gE1Vjn-9yoayw-7F4xRE-4qFJrB-2KwzhL-6JSPuh-brcWkd-dTqn3K-poFQfi-fosJvk-8YS64a

Photo courtesy Creative Commons.

I loved the way she smoked cigarettes.

Yeah, we know smoking is bad for you. Cancer. Heart attack. Tarry kisses tinged in ash. An expensive addiction. It’s a disgusting habit. Yada-yada.

I’d always been enthralled with the way she executed her vice, her movements a poetry. She’d extract the cigarette from the package, using the tips of her long, painted nails, a perfect manicure at the end of long, slender fingers. After the cig had been freed, she’d tap the end of it against the pack gently, one, two, three times – no more – before balancing the stick between her first and second fingers of her right hand. The filter poised near lips that first pouted against entry, but relented. Usually sparks came via someone else’s lighter, but she’d do it herself in a pinch. The first exaggerated draw, a slight escape of smoke from the corner of her mouth, before she sucked it in. After the exhale, she’d extend her right arm away, an ebb of vice, a pregnant pause.

She’d sit pensive after that first puff, her eyes clouded over, her face slack. She’d left our world for her own, perhaps considering what might have been instead of her current reality. Maybe she dreamed of being the mistress of a mansion. I knew Grandma had lived in one, back in the day. She’d told me the stories of the grand staircases, the stained glass, the carved friezes. There had been butlers and maids and flouncy party dresses and all the ice cream you could dream of. But Grandma was gone now, along with the trappings of privilege. We’d been relegated to a matchbox of a house, where the windows leaked air and rain and the kitchen cabinets didn’t shut right because the hinges were bent and rusted. Where worn coats were mended and a full stomach was a guilty pleasure.

“Mama?” I tapped her arm, the free one.

She roused as if from a dream and scowled at me. “What? What do you want now? Can’t I get one minute of peace?” Her words snapped, short and mean, but she held the cigarette with the elegance of a society girl.

“I’m hungry, Mama.”

She glared at me, tapped spent ash onto the tray, before lifting the cigarette to her lips, drawing long. She closed her eyes and journeyed to her faraway place, taking the scenic route to a location without interruptions.

Posted in books, Finding Cadence, indie publishing, Joanne Huspek, manners, people, reading, rewriting, Self publishing, womens literature, writers conference, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , Comment

Front Cover.3518981

Why do you read? To be transported into another world, another time, another set of circumstances? To be entertained? To be frightened out of your mind or to feel deep emotion? To learn something new?

Why do you write? To tell a story? To escape from your Real World? To impart knowledge? To entertain?

I think most writers begin with an overwhelming urge to tell a story, whether it be theirs or someone else’s. They start with a ‘what if’ and move on from there. I know that’s how I started. I’d never completed a novel before (my basement is littered with boxes of quarter-written ideas) – my impetus was to get to those magic words “The End.”

It took me a long, long, long time to achieve that goal. Writing is exhausting, especially the first time around. First drafts are usually awful; mine was about as bad as a first draft can get. I made every mistake in spades. Many times over.

But it’s not over with the first “The End.” During the rewriting process, a good writer will pick over the bones of their work. They’ll tease out the good and round-can the bad. Then they will discover themes and plot twists and parallel story lines and a whole host of other interesting things.

Have you noticed that the best novels have stories and characters that stay with you, long after you’ve finished the book? Every novel has what I call a “takeaway,” or what the reader will discover beyond the initial story. Sometimes the takeaway is blatant. Love conquers all (the romantic takeaway).

Example: I finished “In a Perfect World” by Laura Kasischke, and was immediately moved. So moved, I told everyone about this book. So moved, I even lent it to friends (I never lend books to friends, certainly not favorite books). I still think about the characters, and it’s been years since I’ve read the book. Why? The characters successfully moved beyond their initial circumstances and grew into strong women. Every once in a while, I’ll think about them. Did they survive? Did the world?

The takeaway? Even in the midst of crisis, you can dig deep inside and find strength. (Whether or not the strength is enough, remains to be seen.)

Without going into detail and spoiling the fun, I can give you the takeaway to my novels:

Virtually Yours: Things on the Internet are not as they seem. Friendship ebbs and overflows. Love conquers all. 🙂

Finding Cadence: Once you’ve hit bottom, the only way to go is up (of course, that journey might take some side-trips). People are not what/who they seem to be. Friendship overflows and ebbs. A scarred heart can love again. Or at least see that goal in the future.

When writing, I didn’t consciously put these takeaways into my work. I was too busy birthing these babies to notice what the hell I was doing! It was only after rewriting, editing, and discussing my stories with my ED for life and others did I realize that I was trying to relate something more than the story.

A good story contains a depth that will resonate with the reader long after they’ve finished the book. A finely crafted novel is just that – crafted. Toiled over, worked over, picked over and put back together. Unless you’re very lucky or very smart, you can’t do it in a minute.

Currently editing my next novel, I know that producing it will take a lot of thought.

After all, I’m telling more than just a story.

🙂

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I try to visit the Bay Area a couple of times a year. Besides loving NorCal, I still have a child living in San Francisco, which makes visiting a requisite. The San Francisco Writers Conference is the mandatory February trip, but just about any other time of the year beats Michigan weather hands down – yes, even the San Francisco summer fog-in.

After last February’s conference, my son and I took a trip to Marin County, to visit Muir Woods (fabulous place! Go there if you can before you die.) and hit up some coastal eating. I enjoy walking on beaches – Ocean Beach being my favorite cityside beach – but every beach is different. Some are wide, expansive, and flat, like Ocean Beach. Others are rocky and treacherous. Most are in between. Cliffs line most of the coast. A straight one thousand foot drop off is not beach blanket bingo material. Northern California beaches are what I would consider ‘rustic’ – you won’t see fish taco stands and amusement piers, and the surfers are in wet suits, not bare-chested.

I’m so old, I now only travel with sensible shoes. Muir Beach is a spot of a beach. The part closest to the parking lot is sandy and relatively flat, and I took off my hiking shoes to enjoy the sand.

My son decided to explore the area just north of the main beach. Of course, he didn’t tell me; he just stalked off. Since he is over six feet tall with lanky legs and I am but a midget, I struggled to keep up with him.

The tide was out, exposing extremely rocky terrain, a complete 180 degree departure from a few yards away. Black boulders sported thousands of edible mussels. Suffice it to say, there were more small, pointy rocks on this beach than there was sand. Maneuvering the area was like walking barefoot on a carpet of hot Legos. Between huge rocks and small rocks, there was nothing of note to grab onto. Call me stubborn (I am) but I decided not to put my shoes back on. (Bad move.)

As luck would have it, because I’m old, not very spry, and because I have no good luck, I lost my balance and fell.

Falling at my age is a risky proposition. Oh, I’m beyond embarrassment. Who cares about a momentary social faux pas? I could break something I really need – like my legs. Or my head.

Before a nice young man (not my son) came to assist me to my feet, I happened to look to my side. I saw something I had never seen before on a California beach.

Sea glass.

You don’t understand. I’d been visiting California for years. I’ve found lots of things on the beach, including shells, sand dollars, garbage, driftwood, a starfish, crab bodies, even a bloated and rotting sea lion. I have never once found a piece of sea glass worth putting into my pocket.

After I had been righted into a supine position, I yelled at my son. We had hit the sea glass lottery. I instructed him to pick up any glass he could that was bigger than a speck.

This is what we came up with.

seaglassoriginal

Since February, I had stashed my sea glass in a used Altoid’s container, waiting for creativity to strike me like lightning. Every so often, I would take the glass out, compare each piece, turn it over in my hand. (I do this with stones, often. Before I set something into a piece of jewelry, I let the stone speak to me.) I would think about where the glass originated, what journey it took to end up a smooth piece of silica on a Northern California beach. Who drank from that bottle? Who tossed the container into the trash? Did it come from Asia, or somewhere closer? And how was I so lucky as to literally fall on it during a challenging yet pleasant walk on the beach with my son?

Finally, the glass spoke, and this is what I came up with.

seaglass1

(Currently on my neck and not for sale. Yet.) 🙂

seaglass2

Here’s another one. This one is going in the booth at the Ann Arbor Art Fair this week.

Here is what we need to remember as artists: Sometimes, things are thrown our way – beautiful, ugly, inconsequential, glaring. Sometimes we fall on our ass. Sometimes it takes a while before “garbage” becomes art. Sometimes there is suffering, buffering, tumbling in sand to smooth the rough edges. Sometimes you have to dig deep to find the true story, inciting motives, genuine characters.

The thing to remember is that there is art in every thing.

Even in falling on your ass.

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 As is sometimes the case, aspiring authors occasionally ask me for advice. (!) I know! Last week, I received an inquiry regarding self-publishing using BookBaby. I might not have all the answers, and I certainly won’t have all the right answers, but it’s important to me to pass on information. There’s no such thing as too much info! This also gives me a chance to introduce to you another writer. All stories desire one thing, and that is to be heard.

The Aspiring Author
Obaid Chowdhury’s A Soldier’s Debt is about a 75,000-word memoir retelling his rebellion against his own military, one which committed a genocide against his native Bengali community. Mr. Chowdhury later escaped to participate in the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971. Mr. Chowdhury is currently penning a sequel, one which details specific battle actions that earned him a prestigious gallantry award.
See the YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=14&v=c6WbV-Azwi8

And now, for the questions:
Obaid Chowdhury: The Cover. Should it be soft or hard? Do I need a dust cover; is it necessary? Which is the most cost effective? I have a tentative cover design. But I would like to consult another designer if he can come up with a better and attractive one to depict the story theme.
JH: Cover is key. Check out Joel Frielander’s web site and study it. Each month, he critiques book covers with a fine eye. Pay attention to what he says about art work and font types and sizes. Look for books that are similar to yours and the design. (I did not design my first cover although I had input, but I helped with the second.) You want to tell a story with your cover, or at least convey a theme or define a genre. You want the reader to pick it up if they are in a bookstore, or linger if they are shopping online. Cover designers are everywhere, and most will design a cover for very little money. We have an art college here with a bulletin board and design students will fight for the job. You shouldn’t have to pay more than a couple hundred dollars. Soft covers are best on a budget, unless you have a book publisher for a best friend.

 

OB: Formating and Design. Should I use their in-house services or use an outside professional? Any idea which will be cost effective and better?

 

JH: Book Baby has a minimum formatting guide and you need to follow it, otherwise when you submit, your manuscript will look wonky. I didn’t know about manuscript formatting when I wrote my first book. I just kept writing it using my own formatting. WRONG. This is not to say that you will be stuck rewriting. Seat-of-pants formatting can be fixed, but it’s time consuming and a colossal pain in the rear. Book Babywill only allow one formatting change before it begins to cost you money, so you want to make sure your manuscript is as near perfect as you can before you upload.

OC: Size. Is 6″ X 9″ trade size okay for my project? Do you have any better suggestion?

JH: Sounds right to me.

OC: Paper. What’s best cost effective and quality paper? Is 60lb natural okay, or need a different on to give a better presentation?

JH: No matter who you choose, whether it’s a local book publisher or someone online, don’t be afraid to ask for samples. I published my second book on CreateSpace, but nearly didn’t because I had purchased a CreateSpace book many years before and the physical appearance was sub-par. When I considered them later, I asked for a sample and they provided one. They really improved – the cover stock, the interior pages, the printing, which is why I went with them. I have no idea what BookBaby’s physical books look like, you might want to ask for a sample.

OC:
Interior:  The text will be black. I may have some pictures, maps and charts. They are mostly black-n-white. Any suggestion about their design and/or coloring?

JH: Keep in mind that photographs, maps, and charts will cost money. They also interfere with the formatting of text. Should you decide that photos, maps, and charts are necessary, make certain you have legal rights to use them in your book. If you did not take the photos, you may have to hunt down who did, and ask for permission to use them. As always, credit the photos in the front of your book.

OC:
Editing. My project has been edited by Editoro! Do I still need their in-house editing?

JH: No. Definitely not, you are not required to use any editor. Remember though, you need to send a pristine manuscript to vendors like BookBaby or CreateSpace – they are assuming it’s perfect and are not going to make corrections on a glaring error. Much as I love Mr. ED (disclaimer: he is also my developmental editor) and he is kick ass, I would still run the manuscript by a proofreader, a critique partner who is good at proofreading, or something similar. Do it a couple of times. A dozen times. Your developmental editor will not pick up on typos (YOU will not pick up on typos), misspellings, or weird grammar. I’m terrible at proofreading my own work, and I see where there are mistakes in my first novel. With the second, I went over that (with others) over a dozen times. Get SmartEdit. I did, and run my work through it religiously. It doesn’t proofread, but it reviews your manuscript and adds up how many times you might use a particular word or phrase (redundancy – the bane of the writer). I try to limit my use of a particular word to less than 100 times in a 100K novel (my own personal goal). Smart Edit will question spellings, punctuation and other word problems. I also use it to tighten up my sentences, therefore eliminating a lot of unnecessary words.

OC: Promo & Marketing. How effective is their promo and marketing campaigns? Do the generate sales?

JH: I’m afraid the only entity that will generate sales is YOU. I do not rely on anyone for promo. I tried it, it just doesn’t work. You should follow Frances Caballo  – she is a whiz at social media for authors. I have to say I can barely follow most of her techniques, but you will learn a lot by reading her. Also, before you launch, set up a Goodreads page for yourself (and an Amazon page – I haven’t done that yet, but who has time?).

OC:
BookBaby and Smashwords. Which agency you think better? The problems you mentioned, were they with BB or SW?

JH: I haven’t used Smashwords. I attempted to, but it gave me a headache. 🙂 I’ve heard that it’s now easier so I may give them a spin again. I’ve found BookBaby to be extremely responsive to my questions. Actually, so is CreateSpace. You call them, they call you back. Maybe I’ll give the Smashwords manual another go someday, but I don’t have time, and I’m also not very internet/design savvy.

You can follow Obaid Chowdhury HERE.

 

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About 8 years ago (! yikes!), I belonged to a toxic “social” web site, where the main focus was to be creative, but often the vibes were twisted and borderline abusive. Sometimes scary. However, as with most conditions of the human kind (and some of the cyber ones), there was an upside to contributing to the site. For one thing, my years spent on it charged my creative juices. The friendly (and not-so) banter challenged my thinking. I started writing again, after a long hiatus of taking care of children.

My writing was horrible at first, but having been at different times an English and a journalism major, at least my grasp of grammar was better than most. I hadn’t thought about the mechanics of writing in a long time.

But this web site was self-regulating, by Grammar Police. Some of the critiques were friendly, thank God, otherwise I might have given up writing altogether.

During my last years in, I started writing a serial story about a precocious teenager in mid-1970’s Minnesota. The story started as a lark, an outrageous forty-five minute writing exercise a day of my protagonist’s rather outlandish adventures. After a while, I liked Sioux C. She was me, but with balls. I peppered her neighborhood with my cousins, my boyfriends, and my dreams. I wrote about her as a 20 year old party girl, and I wrote about her as a 45 year old has-been with regrets.

One day, the aforementioned web site appeared to be going down the drain. I was naive back then, and would write directly into the site, never putting my words into a Word document or even printing them out. But the writing was on the wall, and this good time wasn’t going to last long. Before I committed social network suicide, I painstakingly copied and pasted all of the stories into a Word document and erased all traces of her. I started a WordPress blog with the intent of continuing the story there.

In the meantime, I began writing other novels, four and half more. I put Sioux C on a shelf. This was easy, as there really wasn’t any ending to the story. Until a month ago…

Yeah, the light bulb went off above my head, just like in the cartoons.

Now that I had a story line, I decided to dredge up my document and paperclip it, using Michelle Richmond’s technique. Imagine my dismay when I couldn’t find my file!

I use Carbonite (thank you), which I have said many times that it’s the best $50 a year I spend. It’s saved me so many times. I had to dig back into the archives a little, since the last incarnation of the novella was three laptops ago, but I did find it.

(YAY!)

It was easy enough to print out. Paperclipping, that’s another story.

paperclip

I can see now that I have to weave my story line in, and end it to my satisfaction. I can also see that I need to add more dialogue (I hated to write dialogue back then), straighten out more bumps, delete some, etc. I don’t know if I can use the stories I wrote of her in her 20’s or at 45, but that’s a bridge I can cross when I come to it.

These are the things you as a writer can learn from this story:

1. Never throw any writing away. You don’t know if it will come in handy. Maybe not all of it, but everything you have expended energy on has value.

2. Get online cloud storage. I have referred to Carbonite as the granny hoarder of the Internet that doesn’t throw anything out. That’s what you need.

3. Occasionally print your story out. Look at it on paper. Speak it out loud.

4. Buy pretty paper clips. The ones I had in my drawer seem too industrial. Then again, that’s the look I was going for.

Now, to get busy.

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I spent this morning outside weeding. I’m so far behind. We went from winter to summer and back again four times in the last six weeks. There’s been no spring in this part of the world, just extremes.

I’m an urban gardener, not a hardy nutjob. If it’s not 60 degrees plus and sunny, I’ll wait for another day… or another year.

But finally, the gods decided to smile on me and I’ve been out in the yard since Friday. But today has been brutally relentless on the allergies. The pollen is so thick, you can cut it with a knife and feed the hummingbirds dessert for the next two months. By 10 a.m., most of my body was itchy, my tongue had swollen, my nose was a running faucet, and I couldn’t even smell the dog taking her doggie duty inches from my little trowel.

Benadryl

So I opted for relief. I took a mid-day Benadryl.

I don’t normally ingest this wonder drug in the middle of the day. Night time is the right time for Benadryl. That’s because eventually you will lose your will to remain seated in an upright position and will need a comfy bed to crash on.

I once made the ghastly error of taking two of them at once. It was a bad year for hay fever. The kids were little. I’d loaded them up into the minivan and drove to a not-so-nearby nature center, where we would hang out and have our dinner.

Not so fast…

It took a half hour, but I realized I had to get home…NOW. I told my son if we didn’t make it, he was to take my cell phone and call 911 and have us rescued. We managed to make it home safely, where I went directly to bed and didn’t wake up for 18 hours.

I normally power through allergy season, but today, I couldn’t stand my situation one minute longer. I’m fairly certain my neighbors were tired of my scream-like sneezes too. So I ceased all gardening and ingested a Benadryl.

You don’t win-win with Benadryl. You win a little, lose a little. See what I mean?

Mid-day Benadryl upside: My tongue has shrunk back to its normal size, meaning a trip to the ER on a holiday has been averted.

Mid-day Benadryl downside: I can’t concentrate. I was going to work on edits. I might still, but I can’t be responsible for what pours out of my head right now.

Mid-day Benadryl upside: I’m feeling oh-so-mellow. I’m smiling.

Mid-day Benadryl downside: I could take a nap anytime now. NOW would be good.

Mid-day Benadryl upside: It’s a holiday! I could nap if I want! Hurrah!

Mid-day Benadryl downside: When I type Grand Rapids, it’ looks like this – Gtsnf Ts[ofd/.

Mid-day Benadryl upside: I won’t need that cocktail later. Because I’ll likely be napping.

Mid-day Benadryl downside: I really don’t feel like running today.

Mid-day Benadryl upside: I’m at work, the phone is ringing off the hook (it’s loud and annoying), but I’m not annoyed. I don’t care!

Mid-day Benadryl downside: I probably shouldn’t use any equipment that involves sharp edges, flames, or precision. Which means I probably shouldn’t work on jewelry either.

That’s about all the hilarity I can stand for now. I have to drive home while I still can.

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12-16 willow

It might be strange to say out loud, but I’ve never been without a thought of death.

My first memories of death were when I was a child. My sister contracted encephalitis. I was 7 or 8, she was 5. She was in a coma for two weeks. The doctors thought she was going to die, and so they brought my soldier-father home to Arkansas from Korea, where he had been deployed.

I remember sitting beneath an open window with my 3 year old sister, digging in the dirt. My mother was inside the kitchen, on the other side of the screen, talking to a neighbor about how ill the middle sister was. “She might not make it,” I overheard her say.

Instead of being sad, my childish selfishness flared up. I laid claim to my dying sister’s dolls, while my younger sister wanted to score her underwear.

(Our plans were for naught. My sister recovered, was showered with more dolls and toys, and is still alive – many decades later – today.)

In high school, I suffered from teen angst. My mother was nuts, and I wasn’t popular. I wasn’t exactly suicidal, but I often imagined myself “gone” – in another world, a hopefully better one than this one. I walked in the middle of the highway, daring cars to hit me. (Okay, so maybe I had a death wish.) Once I got my drivers license, I visualized violent crashes if I just veered off the road, just a little bit. It could happen. I could be a statistic. This wasn’t a once in a year thought; I thought about it every time I got behind the wheel.

What would my parents do? My siblings? Would the hole at the kitchen table leave a hole in their hearts? Would I be here today, gone tomorrow, a wisp of a thought no one gives a damn about?

I still wonder about cars. After all, three thousand pounds of careening metal is a deadly weapon. Most people are stupid drivers. La-dee-daaahhhh…. On the other hand, I’m a diligent driver, probably because of my Real Life business nagging me on my shoulder. I scan ahead, behind, to the side. I watch for overpasses, on the hunt for kids who think that hefting a large rock onto freeway traffic might be a fun diversion. My “cushion of air” is big enough to fit three cars around me, and I drive like a granny.

But I still think about dying.

Death is a good topic to address in any writing. We are drawn to reading and writing about it. Why? It’s easy to read and write about, because then we aren’t talking about it. Dying is the Big Unknown. No one wants to discuss it, not out loud anyway. I had to drag my husband kicking and screaming into the conversation just to get him to face facts that our will was dangerously overdue for revision, and that only took ten years.

And then there are thoughts deeper than which kid will get what: Is there heaven on the other side? Hell? God forbid, NOTHING? I personally believe in reincarnation AND ghosts. I’ve had visions of me being in other places, in other times, and this was when I was quite young and had minimal access to media. After my mom died (unexpectedly), I believe she spent a year floating from one child’s house to another. It was as if she wasn’t quite finished with us yet, like she was checking on us. So yes, when I go, I’ll be back.

🙂

After you’ve considered your own after-death fate, you wonder about the survivors. Will the husband remarry? Will the kids forget about you? Will there be knock-down, drag-out fights over what remains? (Death has a way of making people go crazy, remember?) Will anyone visit your grave? (That’s not so far fetched.) Will they know how to make your world-famous chicken soup, or will they ruefully wish they’d paid more attention?

I’ve noticed that in my writing, either someone has died or is dying. My first stories revolved around the survivors and how they reacted. I’m old enough where I’ve seen lots of death. Grief reactions are so varied, you really have to scratch past the surface and investigate why the person has reacted that way. There’s always a reason. Sometimes it’s a good reason, sometimes it appears crazy, but later, it makes sense.

Now I tend to write about people who are dying or are considering suicide. Being sick with a terminal disease sucks; so is being hopelessly depressed. I am neither, so it’s difficult for me to imagine confronting Death knowing your days are numbered and your seconds are ticking by faster and faster. Still, I’m getting to the age where I have to think about it.

All of this translates into good material.

Every night I go to sleep and the words of the nighttime prayer come to mind:

Now I lay me down to sleep

I pray the Lord my soul to keep.

If I should die before I wake

I pray the Lord my soul to take.

I am amazed and happy every day I wake up.

Another day gives me another chance to write.

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Yesterday was Mother’s Day.

I don’t have a mother (anymore, not since 1992), so I usually take this day to ruminate on my mother’s parenting skills, her cooking skills, her financial skills, her communication skills, and her maternal instinct, and come up with the same conclusion: She wasn’t very good at any of those things.

Oh, I’m not bitter about it. She might have been flawed, but I’m not the type who would blame my entire life circumstances on the fact that she might have been severely bipolar and/or maybe even evil. I miss that she wasn’t here more than I rue the fact that she wasn’t June Cleaver.

Not even close.

Yesterday would have also been her 82nd birthday. Here is the photo I posted on Facebook for the occasion:

mommy

Despite the bittersweet day, I’m not going on regarding emotions. I can blog forever about parent-child relationships and how it is to live with a crazy woman.

Instead, let’s devote today’s talk to F-O-O-D.

There are only two days a year where I refuse to cook. One is Easter; the other, Mother’s Day. On these two days, I prefer to hit up a high-end brunch and get liquored up on mimosas and all the prime rib and shrimp cocktail I can eat.

It is sad when I do not get my Mother’s Day brunch. Three years ago, I made a reservation at a VERY nice restaurant for Mother’s Day brunch. My husband and I had enjoyed a very nice anniversary there the September before. We loved the place. Good food, good service.

I called in my reservation two weeks before Mother’s Day. I provided the hostess with a credit card number (on the very slim chance that I would no-show my brunch. As if!)

We arrived at the very crowded venue in chi-chi Birmingham with time to spare. Enough time for the rudest hostess ever to tell me that we didn’t have a reservation. And couldn’t get me in. ON MOTHER’S DAY. Nearly in tears, we stopped at Papa Joe’s market on the way home. They saved the day with their own prime rib.

This year, my daughter is home, which is lovely. This year, Easter was cold and blustery, which caused a dissent regarding another brunch outing. In fact, I was outnumbered. “I hate eating around children.” “I don’t want to drive that far.” “You mean I have to get dressed up?” “This cuts down on my outside time.” I’ll let you figure out which family member declared which silly sentence.

I hate being worn down, so I said, “If you don’t want to go out to brunch, I’ll accept a Lobster Gram.”

Sold!

Sure they were sold. I ended up making the lobster. And the twice baked potato. And the cocktails.

And my lobster did not resemble this lobster tail/tale from another time:

lobstah

That’s because we had whole Maine lobstahs (which I love).

With whole lobsters, you must know how to dismantle them. It’s been a long, long time since I’ve been near one. Which is why even with crackers, a hammer, and various other gadgets, extricating the lobster meat was messy.

Lobster guts were everywhere! All over the table (should have laid down a tarp), all over the walls, all over my hair and glasses.

It was hilarious…and tasty… but that’s only because I haven’t cleaned up yet. I’m hoping the animals will take care of the floor.

Next year, Mother’s Day brunch for sure!

 

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This is the million dollar question every writer asks herself as she sets about telling her story.

What do readers want most? Entertainment? Believable characters? A trip to a faraway land, another world, or another time? To experience a situation that would never happen to them in Real Life?

There are several books I’ve read over the course of many years that stick in my mind. The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran is one of them. It’s my go-to book when I’m on an emotional roller coaster. There is so much truth in this little book with its small, poetic chapters…for me, it’s the Bible of common sense and how to live.

I have been thinking about this as I finished Eden Springs by Laura Kasischke, one of my favorite novelists.

1lkasischke

Why am I still thinking about this book days after finishing it? It’s a small book (novella length), it’s a period book (Michigan in the early 1900’s), it’s a departure from her usual novels about broken people. I shouldn’t have even liked it.

I’ll tell you why I love this author, and others who write like her.

1. Her words are poetic without being purple. She does wonderful things with them. Not verbal gymnastics, an in-your-face exercise, but more like a beautiful, slow ballet. Of course, I’ve always been a sucker for an artful turn of words, which is why I love singer/songwriters like Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan.

2. Her characters are so believable, you can’t help but wonder what happened to them after you’ve reached “The End.” I still think of the survivors of In A Perfect World. Other talented authors like T. Greenwood and Michelle Richmond also populate their stories with very tangible characters.

3. I have the distinct impression (and I could be wrong, I’ve been known to be wrong about lots of stuff) that she writes from her heart. She’s not writing for an audience, but rather for herself, for her craft.

And now I am opening the floor. What about you? If you’re a reader, what makes a story stick in your mind? If you’re a writer, how can you conjure your words to achieve the same effect?

 

 

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If you know me and/or follow me on Instagram, you would realize that I’m quite the foodie. (Instagram because I’m totally addicted to food porn. Most of my photos are food I’ve eaten, food I’ve made, or food I wish I could eat.) I especially love local dining, no matter where that might be, and regularly seek out holes-in-wall-restaurants that are gastronomical diamonds in the rough. I honestly do not get fast food (although I will falter and succumb to a Big Mac or KFC once a year), or chain food (ICK!). I mean, really…if you’re in San Francisco, why would you grab a coffee at McDonald’s or Starbucks when there are so many local java huts? Why would you eat at PeiWei when there are literally thousands of Asian restaurants within a 49 square mile radius?

I have taken my food snobbery to other, decidedly smaller venues. Everywhere you go, there are local restaurants who attempt to maintain cuisine that is true to the area.

Food is more than fuel or comfort; it’s art in its own special way. In order to experience the art, you may have to travel outside of your comfort zone. Way outside.

mipueblo

Which brings me to this cheese smothered “California” burrito which I half ate last night. (Daughter got the leftovers.)

I’ve lived in the Detroit area for nearly 30 years. Detroit has quite the Mexican community. A Mexican Town, even. I HAVE NEVER BEEN TO THIS AREA UNTIL LAST NIGHT, when I suggested we go to Mi Pueblo (technically Southwest, not Mexican Town) for dinner.

Why not?

Well, for one thing, this area of Detroit is not one of the best. It’s industrial. It’s gritty. It’s DEE-TROIT. Buildings are covered in graffiti, every third house is burned out – in other words, it’s soooo not suburban Royal Oak.

It’s also far from the main drag and a freeway entrance, making it scary for my husband.

But I (and the daughter) was craving a super burrito something fierce. Something genuine, or a reasonable facsimile of it.

Okay, so the “California” burrito pictured above was not a real San Francisco Mission burrito, but it was close enough. The rest of the meal was tasty. Mi Pueblo makes their own corn tortillas. The margaritas were decent. Our waitress was excellent, quick, friendly, helpful.

Now, what does this dinner have to do with writing?

As I mention in this post, sometimes as a writer, we must go to places (physical or psychically) where we are not familiar. Sometimes we want to take this trip; but other times we are pushed into it.

Either way, if you don’t take that leap of faith, you will never know.

Good artists and good chefs will push the envelope. They’re not afraid to try something new.

The best food snobs will eat just about anything – once.

The best writers keep their minds wide open to new possibilities, whether they jump or are pushed off that cliff.

🙂

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eyeroll

This is a photo of me attempting an eye roll. I’m no good at it anymore.

You’ve heard all the writing talking heads.

There is one school of thought: You’re a writer, you write. You write every day. You write for money. You write to sell. You don’t give anything away. Your sole purpose for writing (besides telling a good story) is to get an agent/contract/publishing house and make it into the big time.

There’s another school of thought: You write because you’re an artist. You might write to hone your craft, or when you are seized by whimsy. You write to create a world, perhaps beautiful, perhaps stark. You write because you enjoy it, not because it’s a job.

Either way, there must be a thread of inspiration. Sometimes it comes easily, sometimes not so much.

I had a very uninspiring 2014. Too much drama, too many bad things visiting me all at once. When it rained, it poured, and poured again. My inspiration was frozen, like a freighter in Lake Michigan in mid-January. Stuck. It sucked.

When my kids were little, I started what I called Forced Family Fun Night. Usually, it was Friday or Saturday. We’d have our meal together, and then take turns picking out and watching a movie. Or we’d go to the symphony en masse. Or we’d go golfing or bowling. The point was to make an appointment to be with the family, the entire family, one day a week.

I can’t believe it, but my kids did this (albeit somewhat grudgingly) until they graduated from high school and flew off to the West Coast for college.

The point is this: sometimes you must force inspiration. Sometimes the Muse (or whatever you want to call it) doesn’t light on your shoulder  and sprinkle you with fairy dust. Sometimes you have to part a sea of self-doubt and beat the ideas out of your dusty, drafty head.

Sometimes you have to go to a place you don’t want to go to and experience something you’ve never done before. Step outside of your frozen comfort zone and off the cliff. The best inspiration comes from putting yourself into an uncomfortable situation.

And me? I’m going there. Right now. Write now.

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wordsWhile I was at the San Francisco Writers Conference in February, I sat in on a few workshops with my favorite author (well, definitely in the top three!), Michelle Richmond. Not only does she NOT outline, she doesn’t write in a linear fashion. (My kinda writer. An organized pantser.)

Another news flash: She also writes what she doesn’t know.

I know, I know. Writers are often told to embrace what they know and write about that. This was the first time a major author told us to consider writing what you don’t know.

I can see the value in this. First of all, if you are penning fiction that closely follows what happened in Real Life, you will often receive critiques. “This is unbelievable!” and then the resultant response, “But it really happened!” “But it’s not real!”

Good Lord.

Sometimes Real Life is too much. Real experiences sometimes are too graphic. A fictional story might be based in fact, but it doesn’t require an angst overload. However, your story does need enough conflict to keep the reader interested.

A little careful teasing helps here.

Also, if we are too familiar with a story, if we write more as a journalist instead of as an entertaining storyteller, we will focus too closely on the facts, to the exclusion of other possibilities with your story.

My novels are based in part on Real Life. The Virtual Moms are my fictional adaptation of the Beanie Mom online group I’ve belonged to for nearly 20 years. In some cases, a personality might be loosely based on one of my friends, but in other cases, I found I had to jazz up some of my characters. Give them recognizable quirks and personalities that are uniquely different from my real friends. I also had to come up with a plot that while it might have been plausible, it definitely did NOT happen to us.

The same holds true for Finding Cadence. People who know me saw my house as Cadence’s house; they knew which high-profile attorney I used as a muse for my antagonist; my son attended the San Francisco Conservatory; I grew up in Colorado. Most importantly, I’ve experienced that love and loss, the close but strained relationships between mother and child, spouses, and sisters.

But I had to change it up, and I did. I don’t write memoir; I write fiction, and most of the tale is just that – a story I concocted in my head.

Michelle Richmond writes what she doesn’t know as a way to get her to step outside herself and what she does know. She confessed that Golden State was written in this way. It’s an excellent idea, which requires the writer to research. Research equals found knowledge. The writer sees things from a different angle of the life prism. Not only does it expand the writer’s world, it expands the scope of writing.

After I get my current edit out of the way, I’m working (using the Paperclip Method) on the next story, which is now in bits and pieces. I think I’ll step way outside of my comfort zone and write about what I don’t know.

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sharing the love

As an author, you would like to believe that the worlds and situations you have crafted have inspired or touched your readers. Yes, we long for validation. We’re the twirling ballerinas yelling “Look at me! Look at me!” But besides being shameful exhibitionists (and some of us waiting for the “Big Break”), most writers want to know that we did a good job with our stories.

In some ways, I don’t care if I’m liked or not. My first motivation for writing is to get my story out. My next is to write well. Once that’s completed, I can think about my readers. I’m honestly concerned about them. Did they laugh? Did they cry? Did they figure out the mystery? Did the characters seem real, as in multi-dimensional? Was the story believable? Were my readers entertained? Would they read more of my writing?

I used to write reviews, before I got caught up in my own writing. I might still if I’m really touched by a novel. I thought I wrote honest reviews, asking myself the very same questions I’ve listed above. The first rule of writing (or reading) a review is that it’s a subjective exercise. The reviewer’s opinion is not the end-all be-all. You shouldn’t base your art on what other people think. If you’re in the market to read, you shouldn’t be too swayed by the reviews of others. It’s nice to have a positive review or two (or three, like in the photo above for Virtually Yours), it’s better to have a constructive review, but there is a silver lining for bad reviews. Even bad publicity is publicity. Look at 50 Shades of Gray. It’s not my idea of a perfect read, but millions of people liked it. Even I bought the book, simply on the negative publicity.

If you’re a reader, you should provide feedback to the author. You don’t have to meet them and gush, or write them a letter and gush, although I’ve done both. Modern technology makes the ratings game so simple. I might not have the time to write a full review, but I do have time to rate books. (An aside: I used to only rate on sites like Amazon or Goodreads. I rarely read the actual comments, nor did I make any.) It takes less than a second to voice your opinion.

It takes the same amount of time to click one star as it does five. (I’m hungry. I’ll even take one star.)

It takes less than a second to like this blog post or to subscribe to it.

It takes less than a second to like my newly hatched Facebook page.

It takes less than a second to retweet an author post.

Even a brief nod is a nod.

Sharing the love: it’s what I do. Now go share the love with authors you know and admire.

 

 

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michelle richmond books

While at last month’s San Francisco Writers Conference, I sat in on a workshop given by Michelle Richmond (one of my favorite authors, if you haven’t read her, DO) on writing a novel by the “Paperclip Method.”

Okay, so at first I was star-struck. I am in the process of buying every book Michelle Richmond has ever written (along with Laura Kasischke and T. Greenwood – my bookshelves are bursting). These three women are, in my honest opinion, the greatest writers of these modern times. Their books are lyric, complicated, literary, sometimes gritty and real – basically they touch my heart in ways that can’t be explained with mere words. I find myself thinking about the characters long after I’ve read to the end.

Back to the workshop – I finally came out of my hero fog and began to listen. I had no  idea what the “Paperclip Method” was; I would have listened to Michelle Richmond reading from the phone book. I would have listened to her critique my first page to shreds. But after a few minutes of her talk, I realized that Michelle Richmond writes like I do. Talk about a hit-by-lightning moment!

Unlike most writers, Michelle Richmond does not write in a linear fashion (start on Page 1, end with “The End.”) She also doesn’t use outlines. Boom, and boom! Neither do I! And here I thought I was ADD, unable to start at the beginning, unable to know what I’m going to say in advance. *duh*

You might know what your next novel is. I kinda-sorta do. I’ve been working (lackadaisically) on a story about three women since last summer when I took some online classes with The WriterMama. Her 21 Moments class gives you a prompt each day to write about a “moment” in time. After six months, I had a notebook (hand written) filled with moments, most of which had to do with these three characters.

Do the math. If I was writing between 500 and 1000 words each day for 21 days each month for six months, I had a reserve of at least 63K words worth of story. All I had to do was to weave it together. Yeah, right. I tried to explain my story to my Editor for Life, but he was busy editing VY4ever. So the notebook has been fermenting since last July.

But listening to Michelle Richmond explain the Paperclip Method renewed my interest in the story. Her method involves writing in scenes or short pieces. (It helps to have a vague idea of the story line.) Once you have enough small pieces, you arrange them into stacks and use paperclips to keep the stacks separate. Scenes with specific characters might have their own stacks. Writing that might have to do with the theme of your novel. Maybe a parallel storyline that seems inconsequential but presents a hidden meaning for the main story in the end. Eventually, you study your stacks and piece your story together.

Like a quilt! Like one of my twisted pieces of jewelry! These start out with small pieces that are seemingly unrelated, but eventually make up a work of art.

After the dust settled from my trip, I went online and purchased Michelle Richmond’s workbooks, which are pictured above. They arrived this week. And now, I will retrieve my handwritten notebook and start paperclipping.

After all, there’s more than one way to skin a cat, or write a novel.

 

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02-19One short week ago, I was in San Francisco packing my bag for the return trip home. I’d spent a nice, long weekend at the San Francisco Writers Conference, and another week enjoying the City by the Bay (and my son).

I’m always amazed at the stuff I bring home: business cards from fellow writers or presenters; hand-outs galore; books (like I can keep from buying books when there’s an in-house mini-bookstore?); chatzkis like pens and bookmarks and bags and other things. After I’ve emptied my bag, done a quick load or two of laundry, and inventoried the souvenirs I purchased for my office staff, it’s time to sort through the bounty of information I’ve culled from the conference.

The wonderful thing about the San Francisco Writers Conference (besides getting to meet my favorite writer of all time, Michelle Richmond — swoon, tongue-tied, instant fever) is that everyone is so helpful, and the help extends way past February. In fact, I’d like to think none of these people want to be emailed 25 minutes after the last workshop. If they’re anything like me, they will want to decompress and let the whirlwind of the conference settle before tackling anything that resembles work.

In my case, since I didn’t pitch to any agents this year (working on edits, have nothing finished to pitch), I concentrated on gaining information. This year, it was filling my little pea-brain with everything Internet and social media.

I know I’m an old lady, but I do try to keep up. I learn by trial and error. I learn by watching others do it. I learn by reading up on the subject (of course, most of that flies right over my head).

Imagine my surprise when I learned I was approaching social media all wrong. The tweeting, the Facebook, the blog – all wrong! Savvy social media-ites have a system. My system is this: 5-10 minutes on Facebook, keep Twitter open while I work and occasionally scan it for interesting items, blog once a week (sometimes twice a month), and don’t push my book at all (well, maybe some half-hearted attempts).

This is not a good system.

I learned a few things:

Facebook is not my friend, nor is it much of a friend to any writer or business. I’d suspected that for some time. It’s undergoing some changes, there’s a shift in algorithms so that not everyone in your sphere of influence sees your posts. It’s not quite a needle in a haystack, but it’s getting there.

You can schedule tweets! No joke! Now, of course, I have to learn how to do this. I tried TweetDeck many years ago and didn’t get it. Fast forward to today, a new TweetDeck installed, and I still don’t get it. (I may have to email one of the new friends I made at the conference, the ones who actually have a clue.) Also, I learned that there are prime times for tweeting, where one gets the most bang for their buck, and that there’s a content tweet percentage – 20% personal, 80% tweets on other things. Who knew?

I should blog more regularly. And, I should always include a photograph with a blog post. I’ve done that at times, but now I’ll do it each post. Something about the fact that most Internet content is visual and people are drawn to photographs.

The one thing I have done right? Using Pinterest for writing. I’ve used it to sketch out story lines, to post flash (it’s got to be flash on the P – you are only allotted 500 characters), and as a pin board for my novels.

Today, I’m sorting through my business cards; tomorrow I will touch base with the presenters I was most impressed with and thank them for their information and say hello to the writers I’ve met.

A writers conference doesn’t end when you say goodbye. This is what makes going to them so valuable. The information that you garner, the friendships that you make, the electricity of ideas that jump start your own flagging ambition – all of this makes attending so worth the monetary expense.

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sanfranciscoI’m giddy! This Wednesday, I’ll be traveling to San Francisco. It’s not just to escape the cold, the snow, and the grey. I hope to learn a few things this weekend.

This weekend I’ll be attending my seventh San Francisco Writers Conference. If you’ve followed this blog from the beginning, you’d know that I started writing it in 2009, the weekend before my first conference, and days after completing my first novel, Finding Cadence.

I strongly urge all writers to attend conferences. Yes, even the introverts pecking away in the dark, the ones who can barely make human eye contact much less conversation. It’s expensive, yes, but choose one. Attending a conference might be the jolt of inspiration you need. The knowledge you gain, the friends you’ll make, the networking you’ll find – makes a writers conference so valuable.

I’ve read a lot of blogs outlining what you should bring to a writers conference (pitch, synopsis, smile, laptop, pen, comfortable shoes, clothing in layers), but rarely have I read anything regarding what NOT to bring.

Now that I’m a veteran attendee, I’ve witnessed a wide gamut of behavior from very, very good to cringe-worthy. Here is my brief list of what NOT to bring to a writers conference.

1. Leave your delusion of grandeur at home. Yes, your novel might be the best thing since The Great Gatsby, or maybe it’s not quite there and needs some TLC. Save your attitude for when you’re on the NY Times best sellers list.

2. Don’t bring your sour face. Maybe you’ve been toiling at this writing game for years and years and YEARS. You’ve sent out a couple hundred query letters, half of which are rejected, some auto-rejects, the rest scathing (or not) personal missives telling you “Sorry, not interested.” After years of being worn down, you think agents are the devil’s spawn, since all of them have dissed your work. Whatever you do, do not wear your disappointment where other attendees (including agents) can see.

3. Get rid of your protective shell, at least for the conference. Shed your turtle coat and let it all hang out. Sure, you’ll be left in a vulnerable position, but repeat after me, “They will not eat me.” The other writers are not your mortal enemies, and neither are the agents. (Tip: If you smile, you might make some friends.)

4. Don’t bring your closed mind. You will attend many workshops and absorb a lot of information in these three short days. Instead of discounting the possibilities, carefully consider the material that is presented to you. After studying the options, you might find that “this” technique or “that” approach might work for you. Or not.

5. Forget your hound dog nose, too. Agents and presenters can be a friendly bunch, but stalking is not recommended – unless done discreetly, of course. (Do you really want to be known as that writer?) Save your dogged perseverance for later. Like when you’re feeling dejected and want to throw in the writing towel.

Me? I plan on not pitching, even though I have two novels in various states of disrepair. I plan instead on listening very carefully, garnering all the knowledge I can, and furiously writing notes.

And now…I must pack.

See you on the other side.

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After my second (or third, I forget) edit of Virtually Yours Forever, I decided to run my novel through Smart Edit.

Smart Edit, for those who don’t know, is writing software that takes your words (yes, even novel length) and analyzes your word usage. In just a few short minutes, all of the glaring errors you thought you had avoided slap you upside the head. Overuse of adverbs and adjectives, phrases, what I call “dumb” words (really, like, the to-be words), redundancies, and cliches. It counts your exclamation points, apostrophes, and hyphens.

Smart Edit was the best $57 I ever spent.

I ran my final draft of Finding Cadence through it, and managed to eliminate 10K words. This book’s first draft started at 175K, whittled down to 130K (after I found I had used the word “family” 900+ times and “perfect” 700+ times – completely unnecessary), and finally pared to the 120K, which is still perhaps too long, but at that point I couldn’t take anything else out without compromising my story.

With the current pass at my Virtual Mommies, I want to tighten up what words I have in order to adequately express my parallel story line. I’m only on Draft A of the inserted story, so I have a way to go before completion. But at 92K, I’ll safely stay on the low side of 100K.

I’ve often said that I write how I speak. This talent might make for interesting dialogue, but the spoken word is full of redundancies. Yes, I visibly cringe when I see what Smart Edit decides to spit back at me. I’ve only been writing novels for a few years, but I take this craft very seriously. I read and house an impressive library of writing reference material. “You’d think you’d learn?” I say to myself.

I’m learning, but at a snail’s pace (yes, a cliche). And I’m OLD, meaning I can forget things now with amazing speed. (I long for those days when I could hear a song on the radio twice and remember the words.)

I’m not one of those writers who believe in the non-usage of adjectives and adverbs. I love descriptors, but you don’t want to read the same word over and over. I strive to limit my descriptor usage to less than five times in 100K.

It’s the same with phrase redundancies – unless the phrase is a signature speech pattern. For example, Janna always says “Oh, my Lady GaGa” because she’s Jewish and never says the word “God.” Or how I have Ashe signing off on email either “Virtually yours forever” or “Peace out.” But if Smart Edit shows 37 “you have tos,” I know I must get in there and change at least 30 of them to something else.

There is an upside to having all of your errors staring you in your face. You won’t find  900-anythings in my manuscripts anymore, which means I must be learning from my mistakes.

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words

Yes, my main mode of writing a novel (or anything else) is via computer. It’s easy, and since I can type approximately 70 words per minute, if I get on a nice little writing jag, I can pump out paragraphs in no time at all. Everything is online these days…everything, including writing. If you’re a writer who doesn’t have a computer (horrors!) or Internet access (blasphemy!), you are an old-school dinosaur writing at an insurmountable disadvantage.

So yes, my laptop is my bestie, and thanks to the World Wide Web, people on every inch of the globe can read not only my words, but everyone’s words, if they so desire. Instant knowledge at the tips of your fingers, what’s more Nirvana than that? However… since my work involves heavy computer usage, my eyes get tired. I personally despise looking at computer monitors, especially after 8 or so hours of squinting into one at work. While the Kindle is nice, I find it difficult to read any words on a screen, much less my own. I haven’t mastered Scrivener, so I use Word which is the worst word processing program ever! It’s cumbersome, it’s hard to format (if you want to go beyond the standard 1″ margins all around), it’s basic, the dictionary and thesaurus suck, and well…I’m sometimes too tired by the time I get around to creating words on a page to fuss with it. I consider Word a necessary evil.

Call me old-fashioned, but I still write in notebooks. With a number 2 pencil – a Papermate Sharpwriter. (Excellent lead, sturdy eraser.)

First of all, there’s the notebook fetish. I love, love, love notebooks. My favorite for writing is the larger Moleskine with graphing lines, like the one pictured above. The lines keep my handwriting on track, plus, those squares are handy for plotting out scenes, easy to divide into columns, rectangles, or other shapes. I’m a pantser, so I don’t outline, but I can set scenes into this notebook. I need visuals and highlights and graphs. I might draw a scene, although my artistic skills are nothing to brag about. After I’ve got the basics down, I go back to the computer and type them into my Word document.

Each notebook contains all of the information I need for each novel. (I tried combining different stories in the same book; it just doesn’t work. Too confusing.)

I have notebooks of every size and color for other things. A small one always at the ready in my purse. Sometimes I’ll hear or see something, and jot it down so I won’t forget. (Because if I didn’t, I’d surely forget. I’m old, remember?)

I’m hoarding notebooks and pencils for the Apocalypse. Okay, so maybe when the earth is scorched and radioactive, I won’t have hands to write my stories. Still, it makes for a good excuse.

And yes, I am old school. I began writing before computers. I submitted my first story (typewritten) to a contest when I was 16, but before getting down to the typing (back then I was a terrible typist and my Remington didn’t have an erase mode), I worked my manuscript on paper many times before I committed to the final draft.

There is something about handwriting your work that makes it precious, especially when doing writing prompts. You might think the well has run dry, but give yourself twenty minutes to fill a page with your own handwriting, and it will be done. Staring at a computer screen promotes procrastination, at least, for me. I need the manual labor of writing to get me going. It’s also nice to see a notebook full, every page taken up with words and whimsy. You can see it, it’s tangible, you can feel it, not like you can when you open up folders on a hard drive.

So if you’re experiencing a slump, a blockage, or just want to try something different, consider handwriting in a notebook.

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fogThis is my heart. Gray. Lifeless. Foggy. Heavy like a wet sponge.

NO WONDER I CAN’T WRITE!

*palm slap to the forehead*

Those terrible occurrences of last year have followed me into this year. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, it did.

I don’t know how life has spiraled so out of control. I’m a creature of habit; I’m used to a schedule, to relative calm. I like a quiet house and no worries. When things go haywire, I don’t like it. That old adage about how God gives only the burdens that you can bear is a bunch of hoo-ey. I could have freaked out and become catatonic with only one-half of the burdens heaped on my plate. I should have.

The most difficult item on my agenda was letting go. I had bottled everything inside me, worrying over things I have no control over. I’m a wife, a mother, a business woman, a gardener, an artist. I need stability to do my best job in all these areas, and I just wasn’t feeling it. The ground beneath my feet has been shifting like an earthquake rumbling, and it was all I could do to keep myself upright.

However, I am glad to report (after the first six days of the New Year – Happy New Year to me! – not) that things are beginning to look up. Many problems remain, but others are slowly untangling.

It’s almost the end of January. Winter has been a milder one than last year’s, although winter is winter, especially here in the Frozen Tundra. The days are getting longer. When it doesn’t snow and is terribly cold, the gray skies blow away, leaving a crystalline blue background and puffy white clouds. When the sun’s out, even 18 degrees feels warm.

I haven’t seen the crocus sprout, but it’s only a matter of time.

Hope. It’s what I needed.

Releasing the angst and admitting I’m not capable of changing others – I needed that, too.

I’m now going to get on the horse again – MY horse – and write. Run my own life for a change. Get my hands dirty, let my mind go wild.

I don’t know what just happened now, but I know I like this.

🙂

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Thank goodness 2014 is nearly over! Let’s break out the champagne and usher in the New Year!bloodorangemimoso

Okay, so that’s a blood orange mimosa, but you catch my drift. 2014 was a downer, a fallow 365 days of suffering, high hopes and expectations, with low production. Plus, I’m a year closer to death (or at least the big 6-0.)

Here’s how I hope to do better in 2015:

1. WRITE! WRITE MORE! Due to many unforeseen complications, I didn’t write many new words this year.

2. EDIT! EDIT MORE! This year saw me finally complete an edit for VY2. It took for-ever. My above complications made it difficult for me to concentrate.

3. RELEASE VY2! Yes, I’m fast-tracking this baby. I’ve been playing around with it long enough. However, just because I completed an edit (on Christmas Day, no less), doesn’t mean it’s ready for the big time. I’m guessing at least two more edits, maybe more, since I wove in another two characters and a parallel story line. (Can’t say much about it right now. But expect bigger things to happen to my girls.)

4. Somehow I need to get my life in some sort of order so that I can do the above mentioned three things on my list.

I’m not a fan of New Year’s resolutions, but I am a fan of setting goals and attempting to see them through to fruition.

I also plan on writing more online articles, so stay tuned.

And, to shamelessly mention during the last few days of this year, if you haven’t purchased a hard copy of Finding Cadence, you should do so through me. That way you’ll have an autographed copy in your hot little hands.

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I’ve been Facebook chatting with several people who are experiencing difficulties in their lives right now.

Suicides, break-ups, aging parents, adult children with mega-problems.

In my previous post, I mentioned that I have difficulty speaking. It’s not that I can’t maintain a conversation, it’s just that I’m not as coherent as I wish I could be. I rarely say witty things on the fly. Writing is a much better outlet, because if the words aren’t just right, you can erase them, make them better, add some zing and pizazz.

There are some things in your life you don’t want the whole world to know, but there’s a desire in all of us to hash things out, try to analyze and puzzle through to a solution. That’s why I don’t post my sordid business on social media, whether because I’m ashamed or embarrassed or afraid of what people will think of me. I realize that the private chat is more intimate, like having coffee with a friend. My friend with his break-up, I could palpably feel how upset and hurt and depressed he was. (His lady friend, I’m not so sure.) I felt the same with my suicide survivor. My friend whose daughter suffered domestic abuse, yes, I’ve been there with my own children.

What can you do? These are situations that YOU can’t fix. All you can do is listen.

The experts say that if you’re depressed, you should work out, fire up those endorphins. I did that for thirty days straight, and would only feel blah while on the treadmill. The rest of the time, I could have burst into tears at some sappy commercial, or if I couldn’t get a damned weed out of my garden. (Yes, it’s that bad.)

If you’re artistic like I am, you try to channel some of that angst and sorrow into something creative. My best poetry was written right after breaking up with a boyfriend. However, getting creative after an emotional upheaval is sometimes easier said than done. I found it so much easier to force myself to run 6 miles than I could to sit at my computer and actually write.

But I have to.

Because that’s what I do.

So I have pledged to get through this damned edit of Virtually Yours Forever by Christmas. I’m going to sit here for as many minutes, hours, and days as it will take and conquer this, to the exclusion of all other things. I love my characters, I love the plot and where it’s going, but like all writers, I have a fear of not being able to accomplish my goals.

But it’s the final trimester, and it’s time to push this baby out. And I’ve done that before.

Wish me luck.

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My good friends know that I’m depressed this winter, partially because of SAD and partly because of family issues.

I think of myself as a warrior woman. Machine gun me with nails, I’ll spit them right back at you. Say I can’t and I’ll prove that I can. I create out of a deep need to express myself, and with a vengeance. You can try to chop me into pieces, but like the burls of a redwood, I’ll just multiply and conquer you a little at a time.

But not this time.

Depression has kicked my ass.

So I have sought out help. I have medications, which don’t seem to be helping one bit. I have a therapist, but confronting the things that are bothering me results in a sob fest. I’m not sure if talking helps.

I’m not good at speaking. I never have been. I signed up for Mr. Dionysio’s speech class in high school and spent the entire semester in silence. When I took speech in college, I had one successful speech, one that was rather “meh”, and one where I bombed completely – end grade, B-.

I couldn’t speak on the phone, and therefore gravitated toward factory jobs instead of those involving customer service. I thought I didn’t like people, and that people didn’t like me.

(Imagine me now, on the phone all the time. You can teach an old dog new tricks.)

I’m not stupid, I’m in the low Mensa range. I have coherent, cogent thoughts. I read smart books, funny books, inspirational books. But speaking, either publicly or privately…I’m the stereotypical writer, an introvert who’d rather hole up with my laptop or pen with a hot cup of green tea by my side.

So I have decided to write (again) about these deeply seated feelings. Get them on paper. Because I sure as heck don’t want to burden my friends and family with the intimate details.

Plus I can’t.

Last night, I had a Facebook “conversation” with a friend in a similar position. I received more insight in that thirty minutes of back and forth than I did the last time I saw the therapist. Why? Because we were typing. I don’t think I could have the same conversation in person. I cannot verbalize my sadness. Not yet.

And this is why writing is better than talking.

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Don’t get me wrong; I LOVE NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, which starts November 1 and ends November 30. If you’re a procrastinating writer like me, you need every cattle prod or device out there to kick you into the writing mode.

This is not to say I don’t enjoy writing. OF COURSE, I enjoy writing. But having other responsibilities, what ends up being short shrifted is my writing time. This year, there’s been other factors as well. Family members in dire health. Business in flux. An incredibly Bummer Summer which resulted in lots of rain, an extraordinary flash flood, and resulting damage, which of course, takes me away from pleasurable activities and instead has me planning out construction worker schedules.

Here is why I love me the NaNo… It’s an extremely useful tool. Just like jumping on a treadmill exercises your body, jumping head first into the waters of NaNoWriMo exercises your brain. It introduces you to keeping a schedule. It gives you a not unreasonable goal of 50K words in 30 days. There’s a camaraderie of fellow writers, across the internet and across town, that cannot be beat.

I’ve participated in NaNo many times. In fact, because of it, I managed to complete three manuscripts that turned out (with much editing and fine tuning) to be decent novels. (Still in the editing phase on two of them.)

Last year, I tried it for a week, and then decided that editing the work I’d been suffering over since 2007 (Finding Cadence) had to take precedence over any new material. So I put that idea aside. For later. I like the story, I just can’t have three completed novels in various states of disrepair hanging over my head like a black cloud.

This year, my problems are much the same. I’ve been toying with Virtually Yours Forever (completed during NaNo a few years ago) for… well, forever. It’s time to clean up this tale of moms, the internet, and high intrigue and get this story nailed down and move on to the next project.

I can no longer tell myself that I’ll write more when I retire from this business. The sad truth is that I might have to work until I die. But I’m also a writer, and I’m not going to sacrifice my art for outside influences.

Not anymore.

So to all you writers out there who are participating in NaNoWriMo – Bravo! or Brava! Keep pushing on. I’m there with you in spirit, and I hope will have my edit complete by November 30.

 

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Yesterday, I attended my first Books and Authors Event at Leon and Lulu‘s in Clawson, Michigan. This store is trendy, hip, and sells everything from jewelry to clothing to furniture to toys. It’s one of my favorites, as my husband can tell you from our VISA bill.

I can’t even believe I went through the event; hell, I can’t believe I filled out the application. And then sent it in! And then was selected as a participant! As you might know, I’m rather lackadaisical about selling my work. (I’m also rather lackadaisical about writing – sometimes.) But, I’ve been in a slump since summer, so I’ve signed up for writing prompts, classes, and have committed to (somewhat) weekly Skype conversations with my editor to sort of kick start my juices. So I figured, might as well throw this event on the pile.

I had NO IDEA what to expect at this event. NONE. I had hoped to sell a few books, get my name out there. As with everything new that I do, I was petrified. And as with everything, in order to get rid of the petrification, one must dive in head first.

Leon and Lulu’s does a fabulous job of making all 50 of us authors feel comfortable. They provide food, coffee, water, even hot dogs! The friendliness relieved some of the sting. 🙂 After being shown my table, I set up.

booksandauthors

We had an hour after that to look around. While all of the authors were from Michigan, amazingly many of them were from Royal Oak. I found I was speaking with authors who were neighbors!

Some had many titles to choose from. Some, like me, had the one physical book, and the eBook. Some were traditionally published; many more were self-published. Most of the books were for children, picture and chapter books, many were mysteries, there were some non-fiction, and just a few novels.

If you’ve ever been to Leon and Lulu’s, you’ll know that walking into the store is a total assault on your senses. Bright colors, things hanging from everywhere. Add to that 50 authors and their many books, and even I was shell shocked. It was a long day, but it’s what I needed. Suddenly, I’m energized to get that manuscript out and start editing in earnest. I sold a few books, handed out a ton of business cards for those who wanted to buy the book in eBook format (one woman did it from her phone while chatting with me!), and made a few new author friends. I enjoyed it so much, I’ll definitely do it next year.

The only thing is, I need to have another book for next year.

Better get to work.

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I’ve spent quite a few months in inactivity. My creativity hasn’t dried up, it’s just taken a sabbatical. Hopefully, somewhere nice and warm, like the French Riviera.

As an artist and a creative person, when the well threatens drought conditions, you start to worry. The worry turns into a bigger monster, into self-doubt and self-loathing. You begin to second guess your choices, your methods of operation, your intelligence, and your stamina. All of that conspires to make the largest black hole of negativity that will swallow you whole if you allow it to.

If you allow it to.

If your writing life pitches to these historic lows, there’s only one thing you can do: Get another set of eyes. Meaning, find someone else to read your work, to offer honest commentary and critique, even to read and gush. Yes, these are times when even your mom or your sycophantic employee will do. When the stakes are that low, you need all the uplifting you can scrounge up.

It’s not going to be easy. You may have to beg someone. Not your mom, of course, she’s always going to love you, but that employee who claims to love your writing while rolling her eyes behind your back, yes, you might have to beg her. You may have to barter one skill for another. Find another writer and offer to do the same. It doesn’t have to be a long term critique-partner commitment. What you need is short term. The idea of a set of different eyes works for everyone – we as writers ALL feel deficient at some point. Plus, I find it interesting to read the WIP of others.

In my case, I turned to my Editor for Life. I try not to bother him too much, as he has other clients, most of whom are NOT tied to him in a lifetime commitment. This time, the urge to cry for help was overwhelming.

We normally email, occasionally text, but this time he wanted to Skype. (I don’t really like Skype, but what the hey? At this point, I was willing to try anything.) Our first meeting was a blur. I couldn’t understand what he was trying to tell me. The next was the “light bulb” moment. I saw clearly what vision he had for my novel. It’s “okay”, it just needs a little je ne sais quoi. It was as if my writing block needed a tow truck to pull it out of the mud. I’m not on the highway yet, but I’m on my way.

So, thanks to another set of eyes, I’m on my way to (yet) another rewrite. Thanks to another set of eyes, I’ve found the spark that was missing in my writing. Thanks to another set of eyes, I’m back on my way.

Yes, writers are a solitary bunch. But if you don’t have that other set of eyes, you might as well fold up your tent and go home. Because even if your ideas are fabulous and your technique is flawless, you don’t know everything.

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I’ll admit, I’ve been in a bit of a slump.

There are a lot of things going on my life right now. Kids. Parent. Work. Outside influences. More outside influences. Even more outside influences.

I’m normally a pretty upbeat person, able to handle any situation with aplomb, but every person has a top level of stress that he or she can optimally handle. After two and a half months of piling on and more piling on, my creative juices trickled and then shut down completely.

Yes, I’m depressed. I liken depression to an emotional fetal position. Your brain curls up and stops working.

I’m not only fairly upbeat, I’m smart. I went to the doctor. I have medication. I purchased a light box for the SAD that began two months early because of the horrible summer weather we’ve had. I force myself to run/walk on my incline trainer every day.

But creativity… it still wasn’t forthcoming.

This is when I realized the writing won’t get done until I plunk my behind in a chair (or resume carrying my notebook, or keep a pen in the car) and begin doing it again.

Action is the only means by which to accomplish your goals.

I might be minorly depressed, but I still have goals.

So… I signed up for another writing course, starting in October. If forced to complete tasks on a schedule, well, I can do that. I also applied for an authors’ meet and greet at a local chi-chi store, for October 26. I was amazed (and excited!) to be chosen as one of the participants. (Finding Cadence might not be a perfect work of art, but it’s mine, and I’m proud of it.)

In the meantime, I’m using the J. Peterman catalog as a writing prompt. If you’re familiar with the catalog, which was made popular by the TV show Seinfeld, it sells trendy clothing and accessories (think high-end Banana Republic). The catalog features catchy titles, and the first few sentences are usually not about the clothing. Instead, the short paragraphs might refer to a romantic rendezvous in Toulouse or chance meetings with a fetching red-head whose mane glistens in a harvest sunset. This catalog is evocative. Dreamy. I’ve never purchased anything from them, but love the catalog for its literary value.

🙂

So my current mini-writing assignment is to take each title in the catalog and write my own scene. Should take less than ten minutes.

The takeaway from my sad plight is to remember this: You have to ACT. Make a move, any move. Hibernation isn’t going to solve anything. Taking that first positive step might not be a joyous one, but it’s a step in the right direction.

After all, you can’t claim to be a writer until you write.

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This summer has been brutal. Exceedingly so. If you’d like to read about it, go here, otherwise save yourself some misery and continue on.

I have a confession to make: because of what was going on up there, I haven’t written a single word since the end of June. It’s not so much writer’s block as much as it’s been a writer’s sabbatical. I suppose I could call it anything, including laziness, but naming my lapse a sabbatical sounds so much more forgiving.

What have I been doing in the meantime? I mean, besides worrying about many things, including wondering if I’ll ever put another good idea down on paper? Lots of things. Many things many writers could try doing if they find themselves in a similar logjam of non productiveness.

1. I worked out. Physically, I mean. I ran every day. EVERY DAY. I know, I can’t even believe it myself. I forced myself upon my NordicTrack and pushed and pushed. Running (or fast walking, which is mostly what I do) makes your body breathe in regular intervals, not in gasping breaths. While I on my incline trainer, I emptied my mind. Or tried to. The jury is out on how successful I was.

2. I read. A lot. If you can’t write, you might as well read others’ writing. Luckily, I am never in need of books; my To Read pile is now more than a mountain, it’s a mountain range. Reading keeps the brain engaged. While reading, you are less likely to worry about your own situation, you’re taking a dip into another world. That’s what I need right now, other worlds.

3. I cleaned. Yes, I purged. Might as well, right? I wasn’t getting any writing done, and the energy had to be disbursed somewhere. While cleaning the basement (which hasn’t been cleaned since 2004, when we moved here), I located my old notebooks of poems and other writings. So it was win-win-win situation. Plus, I hope to make some serious garage sale cash next weekend.

4. I worked with my hands. Gardening, making jewelry. It’s been mostly too wet to garden, and my mind is too consumed with problems to make any jewelry of real import. But… the type of jewelry I make depends on many small parts. I used this fallow writing time to construct a lot of small parts. When the creative juice kicks in once again, I’ll be good to go.

My days of non-writing are drawing to a close. A true writer never stops writing and really never has a block. My last sabbatical lasted 20 years, and I know this one won’t take that long. I know in order to get out of any funk, you have to force yourself into action, and that’s what I’m doing today. I have a book of writing prompts and I’m going to start at page one and work myself as far as it will take for me to pick up writing again.

Sometimes you have to kick yourself in the ass when your writing dries up.

 

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I don’t know how I’ve been struck with the ambition, but I am in the middle of deep cleaning and purging my house, in advance of a monster garage sale I plan on hosting late in August.

I’m not a consummate slob. I tend to veer toward the lived-in but not dangerously germy look. Deep cleaning is something I haven’t done in the ten years we’ve been here. Just consider: a four-bedroom house with plenty of nooks and crannies, a basement full of boxes (most of which haven’t been opened since we moved), and a walk up attic bulging with the hastily packed mementos of my children’s school years. (Yeah. I didn’t oversee that operation, and I should have.)

Back at another place I wrote for online, an orange, hazy, huge toxic bubble, I remarked in a post that I had misplaced my folder of poetry, and asked the pressing question, “Where the hell is it?” The resulting comment thread blasted me for being a dumb ass, and how the hell would the Internets know where my poems were?

Even back then, my feelings were rarely hurt. Just temporarily slapped silly. I imagined I’d thrown my folder out by accident (I grew up in the Ice Age, and had only the typewritten copies, having not had the time or inclination to put the work on an actual computer, where my words could be backed up on a flash drive or by Carbonite), or maybe the guy we had staying at our home as it was being sold decided to run off with my silly scribblings.

Eventually, I chalked up my loss as a learning experience. My teenage and new adult angst-ridden lyrics and poetry forever absent, never to be enjoyed by posterity.

(Now I back up in several places and pay Carbonite for the stuff I’m apt to forget.)

Imagine my pleasant surprise last weekend. After fighting years of cobwebs and nearly retching over an army of dead bugs, I opened a box labeled “Kids Books” to find my folder of poems prominently sitting atop well-loved copies of Pat the Bunny and every book ever penned by Mercer Mayer.

Win! (clean basement) – Win! (possible garage sale windfall) – Win! (my book of poems). I momentarily died and went to heaven.

I spent an hour reading them. Most of my “poetry” was set to music. I played the guitar back then, and wrote simple songs with (what I thought were) tender lyrics about unrequited love and loss. Reading the words brought back the music, and I found myself humming. Most of my songs were god-awful, music and lyrics, but some of it wasn’t half bad.

What was most interesting that my writing voice back then isn’t that far removed from my writing voice now. The excavation of words cements the fact – in my mind – that I was destined to write.

Now, to celebrate my wonderful find, I will regale you with one of my favorites, written after a trip to Sioux Falls, SD, where we lit sparklers during a midnight tornado warning after ingesting Black Star.

 

Black Star

 

his grandpa was a cowboy, he said

you nod in silence–

your dreams are riding the range.

 

a little wine, a little smoke

helps to ease the loneliness,

shake off the chains —

lose those midnight blues.

you laugh and joke,

ha! your smiles are plastic

flowers molded from pain.

and still you choose

too much wine and smoke

the strawberry madness.

so you’re backed against the floor.

from another galaxy, he leans toward you

and shouts in a foreign frequency

heyareyouallrightdownthere?crazybroad!

o-zoned again.

 

lonesome cowboy,  roll me in your arms

just once.

i know i ruin everything good

but sometimes one kiss is all i need.

 

what space tripper? you’re returning home?

but you’ll soon return to ride the range

blue skies your rolling prairie

unlimited, weightless, darkened void.

you’re always searching for the light

in a heaven that gives no easy answers,

in a heaven where the sun

is just a black star.

October 28, 1978

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I’ve sort of been absent and silent on the Internet lately.

Oh, I’ve been on (a little) but I haven’t been commenting (much).

People who know me know that I’m not just a writer. I own a business, and we’re in the middle of our bread and butter season, meaning a 12 hour work day is not unheard of. I have a house which is currently undergoing renovations – let’s just say the dust bunnies are multiplying faster than the real bunnies. I have a yard in sore need of weeding. I have children – yes, they are grown, but they have problems of monolithic proportions. I’m married to a man who is not the healthiest person on earth and I can’t get him to make a follow up doctor’s appointment re: his Christmas Eve pulmonary embolism.

So in the face of a rainstorm of lemons, my writing has kinda-sorta taken a back seat.

Except for participating in Christina Katz’s 21 Moments Challenge (since February) and goading my ED for Life regarding the edit to my sequel to Virtually Yours, I haven’t been writing as per usual.

I’ve been writing, but not in a linear projection.

I’ve filled a notebook with pencil scribblings, a page and a half or so each day. A moment here, a moment there. I’ve been using my angst over certain situations as fuel. I have dissected my broken heart and used words to describe the agony, 500 words and 20 minutes at a time. I’ve written passages specifically meant for works in progress. (Good Lord, there are a LOT of them.)

Writing in this way is not advised. I prefer to have chunks of time (at least three hour blocks) dedicated to fleshing out my stories. However, I’m giving myself a one-time pass for using the patchwork tactic. Partially because it seems to be working, and partially because I *think* there may be a light at the end of the tunnel.

In the meantime, I have a notebook of moments, scenes, dialogue, sketches, rants, that I can draw upon later.

After all, summer’s almost over. When I finally snag an afternoon of solitude, I’ll be prepared.

Lemonade, anyone?

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While I feel writing is my artistic outlet, there are times where producing actual writing is hampered, by real life, by other interests and responsibilities, by the lack of time. This happens to be one of those two week periods where finding a good, solid block of writing time is just not possible.

It’s not that I’m lazy – well, yes, I’m kind of lazy, although I’m trying to reform myself. It’s not like I’m lying around eating bonbons and watching daytime TV (which I guess is now NOT soaps and might be Judge Judy). I work – a lot, in fact, it’s a holiday and I’m taking a break from work right now (and the phone is ringing off the hook! Shouldn’t they be barbecuing or something?) I have a huge house and a bigger yard that I maintain on my own (with the help from the other half), and there are other commitments that eat into time. It’s not unusual, in fact, you could say that outside influences are a prevailing factor amongst us “struggling” artists. It’s a monumental struggle to create.

Still, you can find inspiration everywhere.

I force myself to do writing prompts. I’m currently doing 21 Moments (I’d link you, but this month will be the last set). Short writing prompts are the easiest. They take about 30 minutes to complete, perfect for those days where a block of three or four hours just doesn’t exist.

Even without the prompts, life gives you plenty of opportunities to explore your creative side. I have a huge vegetable garden, and have had to devote many days recently (thank heavens the days are sunny and clear!) to tending it.

At my age, I rather enjoy gardening. There’s something organic about the human hand digging in dirt, getting rid of the weeds, planting new material and seeds. There’s an order, a certain Zen about it. It’s the circle of life, and hopefully in a few months, I’ll be able to bring the fruits of my labor to the table. In the quiet of the early morning hours, I can entertain entire conversations in my head, play out plots and scenes, and think about the larger picture.

During breaks, I scribble down the meat of the moment. I’ll uncover it later, and use it in my writing.

It might seem strange, but I find cooking gives me a similar artistic charge. Many modern people think cooking is a bore, that it takes a lot of time, that you can nourish yourself a lot quicker through a drive-through or with ready-made meals. Not me. Home cooking takes a little forethought but it’s not difficult. There’s a care and love in making a meal, and the machinations always translate into tasty literary morsels. In fact, I’m working on a story with food as an underlying theme.

(I used to be able to write at work; unfortunately, things are more stressful now than they used to be.)

Art can be born of any action. The artist has to take a germ of an idea and go from there.

Any art takes a commitment. The artist has to be able to carve out time from the day to create.

It’s a daunting task, but you can find inspiration everywhere.

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I am currently armpit deep into a MS with a beginning and a middle but no end, and waiting on my Editor for Life to provide feedback for another finished novel. My head is full of [too many] words. So I guess I’ll just unleash a rant on a completely unrelated subject.

Equality and the Fairness Issue

For some reason, there’s been a lot of emphasis put on the “virtues” of being “equal” or “fair.” I really don’t get it.

I know. I’m old. I’m a freaking dinosaur. I’m definitely not hip. I’m so opinionated that I’m politically incorrect. I’m also busy with my own pursuits; I don’t have time to luxuriate in new (maybe imagined?) slights.

There seems to be some consensus that if only the playing field were level, people would be happy. If only minorities could get a special dispensation for being minorities, they could get into college. Or if only the Evil Rich One Percent would give away all their money, the poor wouldn’t be poor. Even our President and our Pope says we have to do something about income inequality.

If only we could get special consideration for our shortcomings, no matter what they are.

If only, if only.

(Let me say right here, right now, that I’m several shades of minority, I’m a woman, and I’ve been on the dole – for three months, the worst three months of my life. So I’m not an over-privileged white person who has never had to struggle.)

It’s not fair! *stomps foot* Remind you of something? Like a headstrong toddler who wants candy NOW or a defiant teen who wants a later curfew? As if demanding “fairness” will make the world right.

The world isn’t right; it was never right. It’s not going to be right, ever.

Life is not fair, so what?

I might be in the minority, but the purpose of life is not to get everything you want. The purpose of life is to work for everything you want. It’s to take your struggles, puzzle out a solution, and come out on the other side a better person.

The past might be a bad thing, full of heartbreak and injustices. So what?

At what point do you drop the past and journey into the present (and the future) on your own two feet?

One should build (positively) on the mistakes of others, instead of falling back on the negatives of the past.

And here, for my own personal rant of things that aren’t fair:

1. It’s not fair that my ancestors were Native American. It’s not fair that my great-grandfather had to take my grandmother (when she was a toddler) and hide her in the northern bogs of Minnesota to escape the Bureau of Indian Affairs and their plan to put them on a reservation. It’s not fair that for much of her life my grandma couldn’t vote, hold property, or drink alcohol because she was 1/2 Chippewa.

2. It’s not fair that the male members of my Greek grandfather’s family were killed by the Turks, and that he had to travel across the ocean all by himself to start a new life in America.

3. It’s not fair that my father had to join the Army to escape poverty. It’s not fair that after he married my mother, she had to wait in the immigration line for two years and accumulate 4 inches of paperwork to come here and become a citizen.

4. It’s not fair that I had to quit college before finishing my degree. It’s not fair that eating and putting a roof over my head became more important than my education.

5. It’s not fair that my health insurance is so high (even though for an old lady, I’m in fairly good shape) that I’ll probably have to work the rest of my life just to be able to afford it.

6. Speaking of that, it’s not fair that I’ve worked since 16 (actually 13, if you count the time spent working for my father in his gas station) and that I’ll NEVER be able to retire.

7. It’s not fair that I have to pay taxes. It wasn’t fair that my tax dollars couldn’t fund a decent school system and we had to pay out of pocket of our kids’ education, or that our tax dollars aren’t enough to repair the city-owned sidewalk in front of our house and we’ll have to pay for that ourselves. Or that we pay exorbitant fuel taxes to keep the roads up, but they’re still like driving on the moon. (I wouldn’t mind taxes, if I could see a return on investment that wasn’t lining some millionaire politician’s pocket with retirement possibilities.)

I guess I could throw a couple more trivial unfairness issues on that shit pile, ones that have to do with writing. It’s not fair that I don’t have unlimited time to write, or that I don’t have a wonderful agent, or that I’m not traditionally published, or that I’m not sitting on a pile of writing-related money.

*********This part of unfairness rant over. It didn’t feel good, so it was likely not worth it.************

My husband (who is very wise) says that for some the whole “fairness” issue is not one of leveling the field, but rather it’s borne out of jealousy. Whipping out fairness (or unfairness) is the easy fall-back explanation for everything not right in your world. It’s a way of blaming everyone else for your woes, instead of working toward fixing the problem on your own. You can give people whatever they want, but you can’t give them happiness, or equality. These things come from within.

As for me, I’m going back to doing what I do best: making my own world better, despite my shortcomings, my history, and my circumstances.

And I’ll be happy no matter how unfair life is.

 

 

 

 

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I am currently in the middle of writing the first draft of my fifth (!)* novel.

As with my first effort, Finding Cadence, I’m starting out with a load of vague ideas and a kinda-sorta story line. I have characters, and they all have their own problems (i.e. baggage). I have a situation, which will eventually culminate with a show down of sorts on the biggest, most iconic bridge in America, hell, probably the world (the Golden Gate). Other than that, I have a notebook and a pencil and a bunch of scenes. At this point, I’m letting my imagination do the talking and walking. Somewhere later on, I’ll have to tie these people together and resolve their problems.

This, my friends, is known as the “pantser” method of writing a novel. Being a pantser means you don’t write outlines (because you’ve never been able to stomach them), you don’t use 3×5 cards or sticky notes (because it’s a waste of cardboard and you know how I love trees), and you don’t do any preliminary work, like figure out who your characters are (because you are an artiste and why should you bow to convention?).

Yeeee-ah…

I’ve also written novels using loose outlines and sketched out story lines for my characters way in advance. Consider my Virtually Yours books, where I’ve got a lot of characters and thirty days worth of time to get the story finished a al NaNoWriMo. Thirty days is nothing. I don’t have time to mess around with pretty prose or inner character angst.

Having done both pantsing and outlining, I would agree it’s much easier to proceed when you have a plan. It’s still not foolproof and writing a novel is still daunting, but the work seems to flow more seamlessly.

Writing is a lot like painting a picture. Having done a fair amount of painting (since I was an art major, once, a long time ago), I can say that my best work started out with sketches. Stream of consciousness painting can work, but it’s more like creating without a clue. (It can be done, it’s just a different journey.)

As we all know, I’m a rebel artist. I resist convention. I currently design jewelry, and I’m sassy during class demonstrations.** I have taken pantsing to a new pinnacle when it comes to metals. Me, sketch out a design? You’ve got to be kidding me.***  There is a downside. Oh, if you could only see my scrap-junk-failed projects drawer…

Pantsing is a very interesting way to write a novel. It takes longer and it’s fraught with landmines. You might have to write and rewrite to achieve the desired result.

However, if you’re open to constant change, it is definitely a way of discovering infinite possibilities.

Either way, I’m writing.

__________________________

* I know. Can you believe it? I got from an opening line to a “The End” four frigging times? Unbelievable!

** Ask my teacher, Mary. She will give you an extended run down of what a horrible challenging student I am.

*** That sound you heard was my butt hitting the floor, as I fell of my chair, laughing my ass off.

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acknowledgmentsA shot of my Acknowledgments Page, FINDING CADENCE

As a writer, there are some forms of writing that I enjoy more than others.

For example, I relish writing scathing letters to editors and politicians, angry rants to restaurants that have done me wrong, or other customer service related diatribes. That’s because when the emotions are riled, the juices flow easily.

I used to be quite the letter writer back in the day, before the Internet and text messaging. I’d buy beautiful stationery or artistic greeting cards to bleed my feelings onto. Now I don’t have the time to write in this way. (I wonder if Hallmark has experienced a dip in sales???) Thank you, social media, for making my life easier.

And yes of course, I like writing my stories. Writing fiction is the most fun a person can have while sitting in one place.

I don’t mind writing query letters, although thinking about doing so used to give me the willies. Now, writing a synopsis – no, I get no enjoyment at all from that – I don’t know when to stop, and forget about outlines. Can’t stand them, never could.

The one part of the novel I most enjoy writing? It has to be the Acknowledgments page. This is the one page where I can thank everyone who has helped me along the way. After all, not everyone is online, not everyone reads my blog and sweats alongside me while I’m laboring with my stories.

I actually start writing my acknowledgments while I’m working on my novel. In the case of FINDING CADENCE, it was so I wouldn’t forget who helped me, how, and why. This was a novel with many twists and turns, and I had to be reasonably certain that my premise and situations were plausible. I asked for and received so much help along the way. It was a long way, too, and with my advanced age, I tend to forget what I ate yesterday, not to mention who gave me insight or answered my questions. Writing things down is the only way to go.

I’m a very firm believer of paying it forward, and also paying it back. In a world where courtesy and appreciation seem stretched thin, a public display of thanks takes so little time and means so much.

Next up…paying it forward.

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I had written a blog post a month or so back (I’d look for it and link it, but it’s Monday and I’m busy and besides that I’m totally lazy) where I had admitted (more or less) that my novels are based on my own personal experiences.

No, not just the experience of the places, or using people I know to sketch characters, but my own experiences that have touched me so deeply that I could not possibly remain unchanged. Love, loss, grief, misunderstandings, the entire gamut of the human condition.

I piled a heap of trouble on my protagonist in Finding Cadence, but I didn’t have to go far to look for conflict. There are stories all around us, ones that burn and chafe and scar, that make us angry enough to eat rusty nails or joyous enough to have us sob like babies. All you have to do is open your eyes and pay attention, and to open your heart and feel, even if the feelings are devastating.

After he’d read my post, my Editor for Life either emailed me or text messaged me back (I can’t remember) with “What? This is you?”

I’ve been working with the man for four years. What could I say?

Well, yes. And, no. And, duh.

I’m not a tall, leggy blond like Cadence, and while my son is a talented pianist, my husband isn’t a trust fund baby who left me nearly destitute when he died. (My husband is still alive, thank you, and in real life grew up poor and struggling.) But these are my options as a storyteller: I get to pick and choose. I get to take a whim of a story and embellish it or tear it down all I want. I get to hide what I know.

It took a long, long, long time to write this story. That’s because Cadence was my first completed novel. I knew what I wanted to say (sort of) but lacked the skills to say them at all, much less with any style and grace. The result was truly God-awful. I spun it past a few editors, one who wanted me to change the entire storyline. I couldn’t go there; I couldn’t envision the ending being any different than it was.

In the meantime, with classes, and reference books, and editors, and beta readers, with writers who helped by slapping me upside the head every once in a while, with conferences and workshops, I managed to weave together a [halfway-decent-if-I-do-say-so-myself] coherent story. Beginning, middle, end. Story arcs. Hidden themes. A reveal at the end. Maybe not “happily ever after” but at least a light at the end of the tunnel and some growth.

In working on the writing craft, I’ve found that telling subsequent stories gets easier. I’m thinking the next novel (about broken souls who end up in San Francisco and mend through their relationships) won’t take two years to finish or five years to edit and re-write.

The point of this convoluted blog post is that I have to write what I know. My own emotion and soul is the only thing I have as an artist. To try to be someone else would not only be foolhardy, it wouldn’t work at all – at least, not for me.

It’s all fiction, yes, but beneath the words you’ll find a thread of truth.

That’s the key. It’s what I know.

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cadence coverThe cover for my new book.

If you want to be thoroughly entertained and crave a shower of fireworks on the Internet, one might be better served to stay away from the political realm and follow authors and agents embroiled in the brouhaha over self vs. traditional publishing (or as Barry Eisler would say, as he did during the 2014 San Francisco Writers Conference, the indies vs. legacy options). It’s a virtual shit show of information and misinformation, competing opinions, mud slinging, happy and less-than-happy endings, spreadsheets produced with dreamy algorithms, and nightmarish anecdotes. Both factions are passionate. Both have valid points. Both are loud and proud.

Beats TV. With. A. Stick. Yes, even House of Cards.

Even with the path fraught with pitfalls of evil operators (including some small presses) who want to drain the unsuspecting writer of every dime they can scrape together, indie publishing is an option that the modern writer can’t take off the table.  “Eyes wide open,” I always say. It is why I have decided to self-publish my next book, Finding Cadence.

It’s not just the successfully indie-published authors like Eisler and Konrath or the Create Spaces and Author Houses who think this way. I’ve spoken to plenty of literary agents, some of whom encourage self-publishing, for various reasons.

My PRO reasons are many, including this brief Cliff Notes version:

1. I have a story to tell. In recent days, I’ve picked the brain of many an artist, including visual artists and musicians. My informal poll shows most artists want their work OUT THERE. Sure, they want gallery time and recording contracts, but reaching that level does not confirm (in their minds anyway) the fact that they are artists. Example: If you create a painting and it sits in your closet, or if you write a song and you never play it in public, is it art? Probably. But art is meant to be enjoyed. If it’s not being enjoyed by a wider public, is it worth the effort?

2. I have limited time with which to get my story out. I’ve read some very depressing stories of late of writers working for twenty years or more before they received a traditional book deal. Twenty years? In twenty years, I’ll be dead, no probablies about it. I’d just as soon begin the next WIP and worry about my next story than to spend that time wishing and hoping and praying for lightning to strike me.

3. The technology is there, why not use it? Back in the day, hell, only ten years ago, e-pubbing and self-publishing books weren’t even options, or they were limited in scope. Aspiring authors had to send out queries, and wait, and wait. And go to church and make offerings to the literary gods. It’s different now. Most people (even dinosaurs like me) are Internet savvy, and if they’re not, there are other people in the world who are. Even after paying for help, in the form of editing services, book cover design, and file conversions, you realize it’s not going to drain the bank.

4. The process is quick. Instead of taking two years from agent deal to finished product on the bookshelves, the indie author can complete the job in two months.

The CONS? There are a few:

1. The stigma of “vanity.” Yes, we’ve all heard the term. Self-publishing equals “vanity” publishing. Vanity publishing calls to mind anyone with a pen (or word processing program) who hastily writes a book and puts it out there for the world to see. Vanity publishing was often full of grammatical errors and/or sported horrific covers. However, the new breed of indie author is different. They’re excellent writers with great stories, and they realize that the finished product reflects on them and the sales of now and future work.

2. It’s nice to have an agent on your side. Yes, having an agent working for you is great validation, and I hope to be on the agented bus soon. Scoring a literary agent is just the first step; next comes selling to a major house. And even though you might have landed an agent, that doesn’t leave you, the writer, to sip scotch while you’re pounding out the next novel. You’re expected to market your work as well. (And remember, days of BIG advances are long gone.)

3. The expenditures of time and money, or “you should get paid for your work, not the other way around.” Yes, it costs a little to self publish. Yes, you’ll be pulling the hair out of your head trying to imagine marketing ploys that won’t leave you looking like a common shill. Yes, writing checks or begging people to buy your book is less than pleasant. I know agented authors who sell 100 books and think this is a good thing. (Yes, it is.) They don’t make enough from writing to quit their day jobs.

4. If you self-publish, you’re just adding your drop to an ocean filled with books, and no one will see your work. Yes, and if you don’t self-publish, no one will have a chance to see your work, EVER. (BTW, the traditionally published authors suffer that same predicament now, competing with a tsunami of books, some of which are interesting and just as entertaining as those traditionally published.)

This is my take: I’ve been writing online for nearly ten years. I’ve gotten paid for some of it, and I’ve not been paid for the rest. If you look at PRO reason #1 above, you’ll see that I’m not writing because I’m thinking I’ll make a windfall from my words. I write because it’s my art of choice.

Does this mean I’m going to stay an indie publisher?

Hell, the no! I’m going to always write, and I’m still going to query what I’ve finished writing. In fact, my dream agent would be Donald Maass and my dream publishing house would be Simon and Schuster. In the meantime, I’ll choose a parallel path and keep to my goal. As long as there are viable options, I might as well explore all of them.

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It has to do with the fact that I’ve been busy getting my novel ready for release.

Can we say “YAY” or SQUEE? Or sympathize and pray for my soul? 🙂

Yes, I’ve decided to publish FINDING CADENCE myself and I’ll go into the reasons why in a later post (I keep saying I’m going to do that, but my notes keep getting larger and larger and I might have to chop my one post into three more manageable ones), but today I will tell you a little about my book by using the world-famous Chuck Wendig’s Ten Questions About [Fill in the Title]. I hope he won’t be mad that I lifted his device from his web site, but I figure if an author can’t answer the ten questions, he/she should probably find another line of work.

So without further ado, I’ll get on it.

1. Tell us about yourself; who are you?

Wife, mother, business owner. I MAKE time to write. I began writing as soon as my mother put a pencil in my hand. (Cliche, I know. She regretted it, especially after I was expelled from Catholic school for…writing.) I enjoyed some local success in high school, some journalistic endeavors in college, 100 pages of a first novel (still in my basement – somewhere).  Then came life and I figured eating and putting a roof over my head was more important than art. Marriage, babies, when the babies went to college, I started writing again. It’s a full circle.

2. Give the 140 character pitch.

Recent widow learns ugly truths about her husband, her best friend and herself. She overcomes financial and personal hurdles to find peace.

3. Where does the story come from?

While obviously the story is fiction, you may pull threads of it from my life. I drew much on what has happened to me, my time in Michigan, Colorado, and my love for San Francisco. How music has played an important role in my life. There are parallels with the son in the story and my own son, both classically trained pianists, both attended the San Francisco Conservatory, both with a soft spot for Rachmaninoff. The list goes on and on, but remember…this is fiction.

4. How is this a story only you could have written?

See #3. Plus I’ve felt that ultimate betrayal in the way Cadie experiences it – enough of a blow where it leaves you incapable of functioning. I wanted to get that across, as well as the healing.

5. What was the hardest thing about writing FINDING CADENCE?

There were many. The first one, getting to “The End.” It took two years. After that, cutting and editing. My first draft was 175K words. It took some convincing for me to see I didn’t need all the words. After that, editing became a matter of tightening.

6. What did you learn by writing this book?

Everything! This was my first completed novel and I made all the rookie mistakes you can think of. I took classes, I bought reference books. Somehow I turned a mindless stream of consciousness blob into a story with an arc, a reveal, and everything!

7. What do you love most about this book?

It’s cohesive and makes sense. It’s a book about adversity and hope. I love how it’s finished (finally!) and I can move on to other projects.

8. What don’t you like about it?

Dare I say it? I don’t know if it’s “literary” enough. I know it shouldn’t matter, I should write my best story and let it go. I went for literary with this one, and don’t know if I succeeded.

9. A favorite paragraph from the story (the fourth paragraph):

Carter, consistently late, would be later still because of the storm. A fine pinot, first a glass, then more, kept me company. Hours of waiting on my husband turned my annoyance to vexation. Outside, my wind chime collection banged hard against the garage wall, the once soothing tinkles replaced with dissonant clatter. I remember thinking, if Jackson were here he could name the pitches of each steel and copper rod, contralto A flats clanging against high C sharps. Behind the discordant score, the wind’s relentless, anguished caterwaul vying for attention.

10. What’s next for you as a storyteller?

I have two completed manuscripts to edit and query. One is Virtually Yours Forever, the sequel to my first novel, and a YA tentatively titled Acorns and Oaks. There are other 100 page starters that beg to be completed too. I’ll be busy, no doubt.

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It’s Monday, and my Real Life plate runneth over. Our office survived four days of painters, which is no easy task.  (Think trying to paint around an explosion, and you’ll know what the painters had to deal with.) Today’s enrollments are way up (must be between sport seasons, or the fact that the snow is finally melting – now everyone wants to drive). It’s a payroll week. Last Thursday, we got our curriculum approved by the state (finally), so I’ve spent the last three days making manuals – through the obstacle course that was my office full of painters. The house hasn’t seen a thorough cleaning in I don’t know how long, which caused my husband to dust my bookshelves yesterday. It was either that, or the spider building a high-rise cobweb condo was going to make his digs permanent.

When I tell people I write, they wonder how I can squeeze it into my day. I can firmly attest that it’s not easy. Making time to write is like going on a safari. There’s only so much time to get things done.

Writers write. Dreamers talk about it. ~Jerry B. Jenkins

As a writer, you have to do more than WANT to write. That part is easy. The hard part is sitting your butt into a chair and making it happen.

You don’t find time to write. You make time. It’s my job. ~Nora Roberts

The thing I’ve learned since beginning to write again: Writing is a commitment. It’s a flower you have to water, it’s a pet you have to feed. That means daily, people. I find if I skip a day, I feel terrible, like I forgot to breathe.

If you don’t write the book, the book ain’t gonna get written. ~Tom Clancy

Unless you are fabulously wealthy and have gobs of money to live on while you write, you’ll have to work. This means there must be a conscious effort to carve out a niche for your “write” time. For example, I’m doing it right now. I’m taking a half hour break from the disaster that is my life to write this blog post.

A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit. ~Richard Bach

Your “write” time doesn’t have to be hours. You can find it in shorter segments. Right now, I’m doing the Writer Mama 21 Moments, because right now, 250 to 400 words a day is all I can spare. I find myself looking forward to the prompts each day. The upside is that my little moments are shaping up to be the basis of my new novel.

Technique alone is not enough. You have to have passion. Technique alone is just an embroidered potholder. ~Raymond Chandler

It’s true that the more you write, the more you write. I’ve spent the last year in a massive edit. There was an urgency to finalize my work. At first, it was hard to commit to an hour or so (or more) a day in order to see to the end of my goal. With practice, exercising your mind on a regular schedule is much like exercising your body. It gets easier. You get an adrenaline rush.

Writing is hard work; it’s also the best job I’ve ever had. ~Raymond E. Feist

The best thing that a writer, like any other artist, can do is to fill your time with creativity. I’ve given up on most TV. I don’t have time for it. I’d rather fill my head with my own creations, or the creative works of others. If you’re serious about writing, you’ll keep your eye on the prize. Use whatever precious moments you might have to hone your craft. And if you need a word of encouragement, reach out to other writers. Yes, even me!

You’ll find putting yourself on a schedule will be time well spent.

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A long, long time ago (holy cow, five years ago!), I wrote this article about kicking my muse to the curb.

Thanks to a workshop at the San Francisco Writers Conference this year, I have changed my mind.

When I first started writing – back in the day when dinosaurs ruled the earth – I subscribed to the idea of a muse. My muses would invariably take the form of human beings. Most likely, they would be human being males that I was romantically involved with, or were men I longed to be involved with, or were guys who had snubbed me and therefore I wrote as a way to beat down my enemies with the power of my words. I’d never really puzzled through the fact that my relationships (i.e. muses) were somehow compelling me to write, that they were responsible for my thoughts. All I knew is that I was most prolific in times of conflict and angst.

As a writer, it’s nice to have a fairy godmother muse to sit on your shoulder. She can tap you with magic dust whenever you need her and voila! you begin to type as though your keyboard is on fire and you only have twenty minutes to get it down before it spontaneously combusts, Mission Impossible style.

Yee-ahhhh… That might work for some people. I happen to be more pragmatic. If I don’t cattle prod myself to write something everyday, I’d never have completed three novels. Which is why I decided back in 2009 to kick my muse to the curb and set a schedule.

Five years after writing that article, I wandered into a SFWC workshop totally by accident (because the workshop I’d wanted to attend was standing room only and I really needed to sit down) with Lisa Tener regarding writing in the zone. She insisted that we must find a muse, and went about describing other writers’ various muses: mice, insects, old men, young children, birds, etc. Dictionary.com’s definition is the goddess or the power regarded as inspiring a poet, artist, thinker, or the like.

Our first task was to close our eyes and imagine ourselves going down a path in the woods toward a house where we would then introduce ourselves to our muse. We’d ask for direction and guidance.

(You can imagine here how I reacted. With total skepticism. And with horror, as I had killed off my own muse a long time ago. If I revived my muse, I feared he/she would probably kick my ass in retaliation.)

I decided to humor her and play along, but when I got to the house (invariably located in Golden Gate Park) and opened the door, instead of a room, I walked onto the large plain of Ocean Beach.

I mentioned this, and Lisa said, “Yes! That’s good. Water can be a great muse, and the ocean is vast.” Whodathunkit?

Later on, as I was sorting through my handouts of the day, I thought about using the ocean as a muse. Haven’t I been doing it all along? Isn’t that why I return to San Francisco on a regular basis? To stay by the beach, walk near the water, fight a biting wind, collect my thoughts? Isn’t this where my stories are born? My attachment is so great, I’ve used the photo of the Richmond, taken from the beach, on my blog. This photograph has been enlarged and framed and hangs over my bed, so when I feel a need to connect to Ocean Beach, I can look at it whenever I want.

I might have wanted to deny my muse, but I will no more. After all, it’s been there the whole time.

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It had to happen.

After weeks of Internet back and forth on the self-publishing versus traditionally publishing options (which kind of blossomed into WWIII), with articles like this,  and this, and this monstrosity of a blog post that took me three hours to read and that time was spent on the post, not counting the comments, you’d figure that some of that fiery emotion still lingered in the air.

The keynote speaker for the 2014 San Francisco Writers Conference was Barry Eisler, renowned writer of thrillers. He is also an engaging and charismatic speaker. While the ensuing address wasn’t exactly a s*** show, the sparks were definitely flying, mostly because Mr. Eisler gave a spirited speech on the current state of publishing. He listed toward the side of self or indie publishing, giving his own personal experiences and the reasons why he decided to go that route, while acknowledging the fact that there is still a place for an author to choose the traditional publishing route of gaining an agent and then a Big New York Publishing House. (I’m not going to rehash his words; you can click on any of those above links to get the gist of the debate.)

Keep your eyes wide open and make a decision based on gathering all of the facts. That’s what I got out of this address. Sage words for everyday living, wouldn’t you say?

I observed a wide range of reaction in this crowded room of 500 attendees. Keep in mind that the room was not only full of wannabe writers who have never published a word either on their own or with assistance, but it was also filled with authors, agents, editors, and those who make their living on the “legacy” model. In between the green with a freshly completed manuscript and the greenest at the top of the food chain were people like me, who had attended the conference before, or who had some success in self publishing, or who had started companies specifically designed to make the self publishing experience easier. By the end of Mr. Eisler’s speech, some were nodding in agreement, some were visibly blanched and upset, and others experienced a light bulb moment of “Oh! I can do that?”

At the end of the address, Michael Larsen came up and gave a just as spirited counterpoint to everything Barry Eisler said.

sfwc

I don’t know Barry Eisler. I’ve never read his books, as they’re not in the genre I like to read for enjoyment, but I might buy one of them to throw on the To Read pile that I can now build a small house with. To be honest, I don’t know any of the authors who have broken away from the traditional publishing model. I know the most visible ones write great books and have strong followings and they’re all immensely wealthy as a result. I do know that what works for one might not work for another.

On the other hand, I know agented authors with published works who haven’t seen book sales rise over 100.

I’m the kind of person who doesn’t believe in leprechauns or pots at the end of the rainbow. I buy lottery tickets, but I’m pretty sure I’m never going to win. I missed out on the eBay and Martha Stewart IPOs, and totally missed the bitcoin boat altogether, which means I will work like a dog until I drop dead.

Economic success is a combination of creating a viable product, brilliant marketing, being at the right place at the right time, finding a loyal niche and consistently delivering. There’s also a bit of serendipity in the way the cards fall; all the stars have to be aligned perfectly, especially in the writing world where a book is a work of art and the art of gatekeeping is a subjective (i.e. artistic) one. Not everyone can find that level, if it were that easy, everyone would be rich and famous.

The reason why I attend the San Francisco Writers Conference is that it consistently provides a wealth of information on the writing world, in craft, in marketing, in giving the opportunity for writers to briefly touch those in the publishing world. Michael and Elizabeth have been generous in allowing all points of view, thereby giving the attendees many options.

I go each year, because by mid-February, I need a recharging badly.

And it doesn’t hurt at all when the sparks fly.

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This will be a short post, because I have a thousand things to do before I leave Thursday (way early) morning.

SFWC Sign up Now

1. I am so ready for San Francisco! I’m always ready for the City by the Bay, but right now I am craving some interaction with creative types, authors, editors, movers, shakers. The San Francisco Writers Conference couldn’t come at a better time. Besides, it’s so cold and snowy here, I need a mini-escape LIKE RIGHT NOW.

2. After the last year, I’m finally feeling like a real writer! That’s because I’ve been writing or editing or outlining almost every day. It’s been tough to get on a schedule, and believe me, you would know. I’ve been bitching about my Real Life problems for years now. However, I’m getting better at carving out a space for me and my writing time. It’s true, if you write, you will write more.

3. I’m planning another book, this one YA. Like I don’t have enough to do? This one will have death as a theme, and I haven’t decided whether I should put my story in Michigan, Minnesota, or California. Hopefully, it’ll be funny. Maybe not.

4. I’ve started editing Virtually Yours Forever (for those of you who were wondering what happened to my Beanie Moms), and I hope to self-publish the sequel by the end of the year. I already have a eCover design, it’s just a matter of getting the story to the point where it makes sense. There’s a lot going on with my moms!

5. I’ve undertaken another launch, but since it’s in the gestational stage, I’m not going to talk about it. Don’t want to jinx it.

I know it’s only Monday, but I’m already packing. I’ll be gone for longer than usual (ten days) so I’ve been plotting and planning my Real Life so there won’t be any Real Life disasters while I’m gone.

Finally, I’m praying that Mother Nature will cut me a break this week. Please don’t send any monster blizzards my way on Wednesday or Thursday, PLEASE. I want all airlines to be running on time, without delay. If I miss one second of this conference, I’m going to be super PO’ed.

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For some reason, I felt that 2013 was a banner year in my writing endeavors. Never mind that it took me the entire year to re-work and re-edit my first manuscript…even though that was a major undertaking full of major hurdles, I got the job done, which is a major accomplishment. It’s as good as it’s going to get; in fact, I can’t think of anything I left out. (Of course, someone is going to find something I missed – that’s a given.)

On to a new year, and I have plans for 2014. Now I’m tackling other writing tasks, such as editing the other TWO manuscripts that need my attention, and coming up with a new story from bits and pieces of other stories.

One thing I’ve learned from the last year is that 1. It’s not completely God-awful to forsake all of your other projects and concentrate on one thing (I honestly thought I was too ADD to try focusing on one project, much less succeed at finishing one project all the way through), and 2. It helps to get as many sets of eyes on your work as possible. I could possibly throw in a #3. – I’m getting better. Edits of subsequent novels are going so much faster, because now when I write a first draft, I catch myself before I make a mistake. You can teach an old dog new tricks!

🙂

San Francisco Writers Conference

I’ll be attending the San Francisco Writers Conference again this year, and only have twelve days to get it together. While I’ve signed up for the agent speed dating, I’m not so interested in pitching my work this year, and will look upon the experience as an exercise in sociability – something I’m not so good at. Of course, I’ll network with other writers, some who like me attend every year, but my main objective is to learn as much as humanly possible, and maybe absorb some positive vibes. I’m not totally down in the dumps about writing or life in general, but with this Massive Winter, I could use a little rah-rah to rally my flagging ambition.

To kick start some of my storytelling, I’ve signed up for Christina Katz’s 21 Moments Challenge. I suggest all writers give it a whirl. (I’ve just started, so I can’t tell you yet how helpful it is, but I’ll give a full report later.) The price is certainly right – $21. I need a cattle prod – I mean, classes – to get me going. I’m only a partial self-starter.

The new year is still young, so make the best of it now! I see good things in my future, and hope you do too.

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OK, so I’ve been over this manuscript, what? A million times? Rough draft, second rough draft, third rough draft, final draft, three edits with MR ED, after which, a year of self-imposed edits, one edit with a completely different, third party editor, several contests, a half dozen SmartEdits, another edit this month, and finally a proofread or two. I even thought of a scene that I’d forgotten to put in, and have bookmarked a scene to take out in case I can’t get permission to quote two lines of lyric. This baby about as tight as it’s going to get.

And so today, with tentative fingers, I decided to open my query (newly polished from a LitReactor query class I took in December). I spiffed it up, and then opened QueryTracker and scanned down my list of agents (since it’s January, thankfully many have opened to queries again), studied their web sites, including the types of clients they represent and the titles of books they’ve helped get published, and, OH MY GOD, I clicked SEND on three of them.

“No big deal,” you say.

Are you shitting me? I started hyperventilating after the first one.

Especially when I saw my email after I sent the first one. Why is it my formatting is so wonky? Many agents want the first few chapters imbedded into the email. Once I copy and paste, the formatting goes right to hell and stays there. I’m not a newbie, I know how to format a manuscript now. I’m doing it the right way. And this story is so straightforward; there are no text messages and very few email, only some italics, so it’s not like I’m trying to perform literary gymnastics.

It’s not just the query letter, or my email server problems. I’m well acquainted with my story, and it think it’s a good  great one. I’m well-versed in penning business letters, I do that every day. I’ve married the pitch to my business style in a beautiful ceremony that’s not too staid and not too sappy.

That part doesn’t bother me. My (now) angst is the result of moving on to the next step. This story is finished, complete, as good as it’s going to get. Now I leave the artist phase and enter the hopeful-for-an-agent phase, to be continued on to the product-selling phase.

I queried three agents today.

*deep breath*

I’ve done it before, and it’s not any easier now than it was then. It’s like getting on a roller coaster and realizing your seat belt isn’t secure. WHEE! and oh, shit.

This part of the process takes time, and you can’t take it too seriously, or you’ll lose your mind. I have a plan, though. I’ll distract myself by working on the next edit. It’s been nagging at me for a long time.

And maybe I’ll query someone else tomorrow.

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Having just spent the better portion of a year editing my Epic Tome (and just completing a perfunctory proofreading a few days ago), I have to pat myself on the back. It’s been a long, strange, hard, ass-kicking journey since my first thousand words scribbled on a series of Northwest Airlines napkins (and the back of my itinerary, and my boarding pass, and along the margins of a magazine I was reading). That idea ballooned into a monster that I ended up giving a literary colonic bypass to. Thanks to classes, reference books, writing friends, my Editor for Life, etc., I learned the ropes to better writing – the hard way.

The most basic rule concerns descriptors: adverbs and adjectives. Especially with the dreaded adverbs, if you use them, don’t, or at least, use sparingly.

I didn’t believe this rule at first. I LOVE words. I LOVE descriptors. I love flowers, and I (thought) loved flowery prose. I love obscure words, I love reading them and discovering them. I like to throw in a couple of unusual words here and there. A seldom used word causes me to think, and I would imagine the reader has to reach inside and think too. (That’s my thought anyway.)

The -ly words add punch to ordinary speech. My father is a big user of them – literally, evidently, actually; to me, it makes him sound like a backwoods philosopher, even though it’s been more than a half century since he’s lived in the backwoods and he’s not much for philosophy. But writing is not speech, as I was to learn later. The human brain doesn’t need to see these words, and super descriptors end up being super distractions. So for my own work, I searched and replaced, and used SmartEdit to remove the redundancies, to eliminate the adverbs, and to tone down the adjectives.

Really, just, completely, seriously, you don’t need them.

After all these years, I think I’ve gotten smarter about writing.

Unfortunately for me, now that I have a working grasp of the rules, the descriptor overdose in other writers’ work is glaringly apparent. I not only read for entertainment, now I’m an accidental English teacher armed with a red Sharpie. Believe me, I’m no teacher, but adjectives and adverbs blink at me from the page. It’s disconcerting. Sometimes it’s so annoying, I cannot finish reading the book.

I’m currently reading a sweet little romance (an ARC sent to me by Simon and Schuster) that I’ve been asked to write a review for. I like the characters, but I found it hard getting over the uber-liberal use of descriptors, especially within the first two chapters. It so annoyed me, I had to put the book down. I’m about halfway through now, and the reading is easier. It’s as if the author came to her senses during Chapter Three and toned down the adverbs to a sensible level.

As a person who once suffered from LUAA (Liberal Use of Adverbs and Adjectives), I know why she and others write like that. We think it’s witty. We think we are wordsmiths, turning a phrase with literary gymnastics. We think it will make our characters appear snarky/sassy/sad/insert-descriptor-here. We think it will draw attention to our work.

Well, writers, I can tell you, it DOES. But it’s not the kind of attention you want, really.

It’s like dressing up a beautiful girl in sequins and hooker heels. We’re stunned by the get-up, not by the person under it.

What writers need for a successful book is a compelling story, honest characters, and eventual redemption. Feather boas and chrome plating gets in the way of the story.

Yes, descriptors were used in the writing of this piece. Please feel free to ignore.

🙂

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As you know, I’m lucky enough to have a permanent editor, i.e. my Editor for Life. He’s a nice guy, is personable, does good work. Seems to even care about me. 🙂 I also take online classes (currently taking a LitReactor query class), and have many eyes both professional and not reading my manuscripts.

I’ve taken Finding Cadence down a very long journey, from conception on a windswept beach in San Francisco, to bits of prose jotted on napkins, slips of paper, and backs of deposit slips, to a bloated manuscript (170K words) clogging my hard drive, to a complete re-write, to major editing (over and over and over…and over), to the lean and mean 120K words it is today. I’ve sliced and diced and eliminated adverbs and adjectives and junk and chaos, reworded my cliches, showed more and told less. I’ve entered it into contests (positively received). I’ve toiled over this novel for SIX YEARS. (I know, that’s forever.) The last ten months of my writing life have been dedicated specifically to this story.

After this last edit – completed December 3 – I sent the manuscript over to my alternate set of eyes. When I called her Thursday for her opinion, she intoned the words I never thought I’d hear; “I can’t tell you another thing to do. This book is ready.”

It’s ready?

As in, I have nothing else (except proofreading for typos, and the dreaded query) to do?

Whoa…

To hear news such as this is a double-edged sword. You’re giddy, because finally there is validation from a professional that your life’s work (and believe me, it’s my life and it’s been a labor) is complete. You can finally move on to another project, another edit. You reach for the champagne (which you’ve kept in constant state of chill just for this occasion) and vow to down the entire bottle. You want to tweet it from the rafters (or wherever tweeters tweet), and yell it until your throat is sore.

On the other hand, a certain sadness falls, fast like a winter dusk. Your baby has grown up, sprouted wings, taken off without so much as a backward glance. You won’t have to spend three or four hours at a time studying your characters, layering into the story psychic suffering and the resultant scar tissue, smiling at their triumphs and crying at their heartbreak. Your characters are your family, your friends, and to finally (and literally) close the chapter isn’t easy.

It’s a somber goodbye, but it’s also a new beginning. Writing a book, like any art, isn’t just the idea hatched in the artist’s head. It’s also technique and time, and later, marketing.

Now I must gather the strength and courage to start the query process, and hope (and pray) some agent somewhere will feel the same as I (and my alternate set of eyes) do.

Fear not, I’m not out of ideas. You (and I) might see these same characters again, someday, in a new situation.

That’s the beauty of storytelling.

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I wish I could say I completed the 2013 NaNoWriMo with 50,000 words written easily and under my belt, but it was not to be…

*sigh*

Oh, I had good intentions. I started out with a bang. I knew the story I wanted to tell. I racked up a worthy word count within the first week – even exceeding the minimum daily count. But something else happened.

One, I really wanted to finish my edit of Finding Cadence. NO, I REALLY WANTED TO FINISH IT, ASAP. This is a story that must come out, somehow. I’m not getting any younger, and this novel has languished in various stages of disrepair since 2007.

After you’ve stripped and layered a manuscript for nine months (funny, that gestational metaphor), after you’ve taken classes specifically for this MS, after you’ve deleted and inserted, sweated, re-inserted what you deleted two weeks before, ran the thing through SmartEdit a couple of times, and let two editors and a couple of BETA readers have a go, there was only one thing in my sights: Finishing this sucker.

This is where I tell you that 2013 NaNo was a bust. Yes, I’m an abject failure this year. I had to suspend my new story – which is going to be great by the way, once I get going again – to polish my old (very old) story.

I had to make a gut-wrenching decision, one that didn’t come easily. I decided to prioritize.

I fretted over it for days. I like to write while the fire is hot, because there is nothing more motivating than passion. I had a burning desire to begin the new story, but I had a bigger urge to finish the old. That’s because by hook or crook, if I have to crawl over shards of broken glass, I’m going to get this story out of the edit stage of its life and into the final production stage of its life.

This is a huge move for me. After years of cobbling together a writing schedule, I realized I can’t flit from one work in progress to another. Maybe other writers can do it, but I can’t. My novels are so different from each other, i.e. they don’t fit into a single genre, that I have to concentrate on one at a time. It’s too hard to get into the serious-literary-thoughtful voice after you’ve been playing in the sassy-fun-romantic voice.

So I spent the last three weeks of November working on Cadence, jiggering the developments, the ending, the arc. I took that baby apart and put it together. I somehow eliminated 6K words. (I might have to add a few somewhere, but I’m not so concerned about it; I think this incarnation is as tight as it can be.) Then I shipped it off for more eyes to view.

I’m going to take a couple of days off, just vegging and clearing my head, before I start working on another first draft in sore need of editing. And when I have the time, I’ll add to the new story, but my main priority is to get what I’ve already finished (two manuscripts!) whipped into shape before I finish NaNo 2013.

Sometimes you have to prioritize. It hurts. But sometimes you must. Believe me. A finished result will lessen the hurt.

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And I mean very quick. I have things to do – lots of things to do.

First of all, it’s Day 2 and I’ve already exceeded my minimum word count per day. Chugging right along! I am thinking there are several reasons why this year’s NaNo seems to be easier in previous years. I’m basically a pantser, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a plan.

If you’re attempting NaNoWriMo and are having difficulties, just keep these things in mind:

1. It helps you you have the characters, at least one or two main characters. You won’t need to know the depth of character yet, but it’s helpful to name them, have a general idea of what they look like, and also have a plan for them. Your plans can always change, but it’s easier to write if you already know their beginning, middle and end.

2. It helps to have a time set aside for writing. And I mean time you use wisely. The last two days, I’ve been out of town and therefore on my East Coast schedule while on the West Coast. I’m up at 3 a.m. as a result, and I’m using my sleeplessness to write.

3. Write as fast as you can. Don’t edit, don’t worry. That comes later, after you finish the challenge. Grammar doesn’t have to be perfect, the plot doesn’t have to thicken, just get down as much as you can as quickly as possible.

4. Always carry a notebook! I lost my hotspot capabilities and my trusty notebook came into play as a back up. You can’t easily count the words, but it’s easy enough to type them in when you’re ready.

5. Most of all, be kind to yourself. If you falter, don’t beat yourself up. Try to do better the next time.

Okay, fellow writers, that’s it for now. I’m going back in.

Happy writing!

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One of the bad things about getting old(er) is that it seems I don’t dream quite as often as I used to. I used to have so many dreams, so vivid in place and time and persons, that I kept a notebook by the bed. As soon as I woke up, I’d write down what happened so I would remember it later. Even though I mostly dream about real people in this world, my subconscious world is quite strange and exciting, not at all like my Real Life. Many of my dreams have ended up in bits and pieces of my writing.

I’m quite a fan of the unconscious state, although lately, I have too many things on the agenda to take advantage of sleep. When I was younger, I used to be a napper, but these days I feel guilty if I’m not cramming every spare minute with some sort of productive activity. I can’t remember the last time I napped in the middle of the day, but there must have been a malady or jet lag associated with sleeping while the sun shines.

The other night, I had a very weird dream. It was about my 40th high school reunion, which will be coming up shortly. (I know. How the hell did that happen?) I was speaking with my best friend from high school, who I haven’t seen nor spoken to in thirty years. He’s always been an artist; I’ve always been a writer. What was odd about this dream was that he congratulated me on my successful novel.

I woke up, sans notebook, and quickly jotted down the gist of the dream into my iPhone (where would civilization be without it? I ask you.)

Later, I opened my Notes and thought about the dream. First of all, I hardly ever think about my once high school best friend, although he comes to me in dreams occasionally and we have cogent discussions about what’s going on. Secondly…success? What does that mean? I’ve self-published the one short, romantically leaning novel. It was fun to write, and for some readers, fun to read, but can’t be considered a financial success. I mean, I’m not swimming in dough, lunching at chi-chi restaurants, and schmoozing with the elite over it. I’m still a coupon-clipping woman sliding into middle age and worried about retirement.

Success is relative, and you can look at success in other ways. For example, I completed the novel. That alone is a difficult task. I (with my Editor for Life) worked it over and reworked it over. Editing a piece is even harder than writing, if you want my honest opinion. Then after a year of rejection email from agents all over the country stating my work was too “out there” for them, I got the bright idea to produce it myself, to design the cover, and to market it myself (not a hard sell salesman yet).

So I only sold 100 books. It seems like a mere pittance, certainly not enough to quit the Day Job over, but it’s something. I know of authors with agents and contracts and hard covers who don’t sell 100 books. Writing isn’t a lucrative vocation, and if you think it might be a goldmine, you’re in it for the wrong reasons.

Perhaps the “success” comes from the fact that writing, like any other art form, is something that must be honed. It’s a skill that needs constant attention and practice. Perhaps the “success” comes from being able to touch and entertain a few readers with your words.

Gore Vidal is quoted as saying, “Ideally, the writer needs no audience other than the few who understand. It is immodest and greedy to want more.”

Got that, I guess I’m a success. 🙂

In the meantime, I’ll keep dreaming, not of money or contracts or fame or fortune, but of another story to tell. And therefore, I will write.

 

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Can you believe we’re already into the second week of October? With the current edit, I’ve been neglecting this blog (The original deadline for edit completion was the end of February. Then the end of July. Then the end of September. You know how that goes…) Because I’m armpit deep into rewrites, I  haven’t given much thought to NaNoWriMo this year, even though I plan on participating.

Some of my best work comes out of NaNo. No, really. There’s something about a forced program that really makes one productive. It could be the whips and chains on the wall. And Dr. Wicked running on my laptop helps, too.

NaNoWriMo forced me to complete both Virtually Yours (a love story in thirty days) and Virtually Yours Forever (a wedding in thirty days). Both books were relatively easy for the NaNo challenge. I had characters that I knew intimately (much, much easier for the second book). I had story lines for each character, and an end result in mind.

I’m a pantser, and I detest writing outlines with a passion reserved for my other dislike (squirrels), but it helps to have a plan. While waiting for October to whiz by quickly, why not take a few minutes of time to sketch out your NaNoWriMo strategy. These seem to work for me:

1. Devise your story. This means you must have a beginning, a middle, and an end. It doesn’t have to make sense, so don’t worry about that. Just remember this mantra: a person you like wants something very badly and is having a terrible time obtaining the goal.

2. Figure out your basic characters. You don’t need an entire cast, but start out with one or two people. Antagonist? Protagonist? You can fold in other secondary characters later. You’ll want to write down names, ages, what they look like, and a few basic personality traits. BASIC, remember? Save the rest for the real rewrite on December 1.

3. Choose a setting and become familiar with it. My settings tend to be places I’ve been or lived in. Virtually Yours started out as an online venture. If you are writing fantasy, you’ll have a harder job. I personally don’t get how some writers devise elaborate other worlds (I still think the Three Acre Wood was out of the ordinary) but hey, go with your talent.

4. If you have time, work on a schedule. You’ll have to somehow spew forth at least 1,667 words per day during the month of November, and unless you’re a magician or are retired with all the time in the world, finding time is going to be an issue. (It is for me.) Just remember: It can be done!

Once NaNoWriMo begins, just write. Don’t worry about back story, don’t concern yourself with spelling, edits, don’t even think about grammar. Just start writing, and don’t stop. You might want to carry a notebook like I do. Sometimes you can’t get to a computer, but inspiration will hit you where you can write things down for later.

Look to other participants for help, with strategies or just to commiserate. There’s no such thing as having too many writerly friends, and most writers make great cheerleaders.

If you would like to follow me on my NaNo journey, you can find me here.

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I’m in Las Vegas.

Before you think, “Oh, she’s there for gambling and debauchery,” think again. I’m not all that fond of Sin City. It’s the desert, a way too hot desert. There are lots of things to see and do, restaurants serving food to kill for and shopping the likes of which I’d never see in Detroit, because really, even though there are rich people in Detroit (one or two), there’s not enough to sustain the uber-fantastical, over the top, Michael Jackson-esque offerings here. I’m not fond of crowds, and especially not fond of sightseeing foreigners (nothing personal, I just grew up in a tourist area that lead to a general disdain of tourists – especially the bad ones). I don’t gamble. I’d rather spend my money in a manner that guarantees a small measure of return. Plus, Las Vegas is massive. There are just TOO MANY people. My agoraphobia flares just thinking about it.

No, I’m here for a wedding.

Until the big to-doo on Saturday, I plan on holing up in my nicely air-conditioned room (overlooking the parking lot roof) and writing like a fiend.

At home, I do not have the luxury of hours of time to concentrate on writing. I’m lucky if I have an hour or two every couple of days to crack open the laptop. “Let’s see, where did I leave off…” My writing is like piecing together a crazy quilt. (I have a crazy quilt in progress, about one third of the way finished, that I started in 1985. Yes. I might finish it someday.)

This morning, I devoted three full, unadulterated hours to finishing up the edit of the first part of my manuscript. I discovered that I had somehow deleted an entire chapter. This caused a great deal of concern, and not because it was deleted for good (I have back ups of back ups). No, it’s because after (painstakingly) taking out 7K words, I ended up putting in 3K back.

Two steps forward, one step back.

What a writer needs is air conditioning, an expanse of silence, plenty of ice water, and time to muddle through the mistakes.

And a maid.

And a personal assistant.

Since I don’t have a maid or a personal assistant, I guess I will take advantage of what little AC filled silent time I have.

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Anyone who knows me (and probably a lot of people who don’t) and who has been listening to me bitch over the last month and a half has probably known that I’ve been armpit deep into a major edit.

Writers, here is the down lo: Editing a manuscript is not easy. Editing a first manuscript is enough to make you tear your eyeballs out with your jaggedly fingernailed hands (jagged because who has time for a manicure when there’s so much to do?) and throw said peepers across the kitchen and into the compost bowl. Your eyes will belong with the slugs and the fruit flies after a gazillion hours of cut and paste, semi-and-major plot shifts, and more cut, cut, cutting.

Obviously, it’s my feeling that my story is good. This story is my life, on more than one level. If I’d thought it was a stupid story, a horrible story, or a meager attempt, I would have cut my losses and erased all 175K words from my hard drive the weekend after attending my first writers conference. (In San Francisco. In 2009.) That weekend was an eyeball-opener, when I learned that what I thought was complete was so far from it, I might well have started from scratch. But you know me, hard-headed. I have a burning need to complete this novel to my satisfaction. And I would not have invested in critique groups, in associations, in conference fees, in online classes, in reference books, in following authors or studying (stalking) agents, or in editing services if I thought the book wasn’t worth it. (Let’s not add all those boxes of hair color to that fire. I have children I can blame my gray hair on.) No, I would have given up on fiction and continued my path as a wag and food snob and travel reviewer, with occasional forays into opinion pieces.

I still love food and travel, and I have plenty of opinions, but I made the choice to write a N-O-V-E-L. Writing fiction is an awesome choice, one fraught with pitfalls, one full of responsibility, and certainly not one taken lightly.

Editing is like trimming a tree. I personally subscribe to the Sukiya  or Japanese style of pruning. I try to get as close to the tree trunk as possible. I might sit under it or inside. I study whether the branches cross. I snip away anything that does, or any growth that might point down. Unlike Western gardeners, who whip out their electric trimmers and hack from the outside, I trim from within.

You know what they say, cut the dead wood out, new growth will take off.

Now that the major plot shift hurdle has been achieved, I’m back on the path of not-so-major editing. You know, tightening up my sentences, Things have been going swimmingly, at least the last few days. But in case you don’t get enough advice as to how to edit, here are a few tips that have worked for me.

1. Back story – do you need it? I thought I needed mine. After the twenty-fifth edit (or thereabouts), I realized why I wrote it in. Back story is comforting to a writer. It supports the reason for the character’s being in the writer’s mind. Other that that, you really don’t need it. The reader doesn’t need it. The reader first wants to be let in on your world. Your character must be sympathetic enough for the reader to want read on. Later on you can explain your character’s motivation by using the back story. LATER ON. I’m now in the process of eliminating all references to back story in the first part of my book. I plan on introducing some of it in the second and third parts. Where it belongs.

2. Passive verbs. Was, is, weak verbs, take them out. Change the sentence structure so that your verbs are meaty. You’re not going to eliminate all of those passive verbs, but you can definitely remove a ton.

3. Adverbs, adjectives – No, no, and no. In this current run through, I can see – clearly – too many descriptors. I’m taking out all that are unnecessary.

and finally…

4. Dialogue. It’s a good idea to read OUT LOUD your dialogue. I’ve done it several times already, but this last trip down the editing lane, I realized the speech of the son was rather stilted. Excellent grammar and good English, but not how a 20-year-old would speak. Even the socialite wouldn’t quite speak the way I had her speaking.

Keep in mind that I’m no expert and am only a student of the written word. And while the book’s not perfect – yet – I think I’ll still bask in the glow of my modest achievements.

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This is about selling, this is about social media, and of course, time management.

Even though I’m a writer, and writers are notoriously introverted, it doesn’t mean we’re anti-social.

Well, it does. It’s the nature of the beast. We sit in dark rooms in the middle of the night, or in coffee shops nursing a double venti for six hours, alone with our thoughts and the characters who populate our imaginary worlds. However, in order to sell books, we have to resort to becoming salesmen. It’s really not that icky of a proposition, even though sometimes I feel like a used car salesman peddling a Yugo. (Let me insert here that my book is NOT a Yugo! It’s more like a Scion.) Selling means a modicum of social activity must occur. You can’t sit in your basement and hope and pray that someone is going to buy your work, because it doesn’t happen that way

Writers can improve their socialness in many ways: Going to conferences helps; smiling, introducing yourself to random strangers – including those in the position of power like agents and editors – that’s a scary exercise, but it must be done. But in the modern world, writers must also sell online.

Whee, the Internet! That’s where it’s happening. It’s so easy to be a social butterfly if no one can see your face! or your middle-aged spare tire, or your ugly shoes. You can even socialize in your unmentionables – hell, even in the nude. But wait! The Internet is fraught with sinkholes. That’s because the Internet, that shiny beautiful thing full of information and networks and contacts, is an incredible time sucking m-a-c-h-i-n-e.

And let’s face it, if your time has been sucked, there is no time left for writing.

Here are my strategies (both in time and otherwise) and reviews of the major social networks:

LINKEDIN:

I belong, but I don’t get it. Perhaps it’s because I’m a dinosaur, or maybe because I’m not very “professional” in the strictest sense of the word. I see LinkedIn as a place for… well, salesmen. Maybe that’s why I don’t feel comfortable there. Every once in a while, I’ll get an email notification that I have pending whatever and whoos-it to approve and will dive in and look around for a hot minute. But honestly, LinkedIn does nothing for me.

MYSPACE:

Good for musicians, not so for writers. And of course, it is so totally un-cool. I have a MySpace account, but haven’t been in in forever. I spend zero time there.

FACEBOOK:

At one time, I was enamored of the Book of Face. Let’s see, it was right after the Powers of Face decided to allow more than college students to participate. I joined right away, at the suggestion of my then college-aged son. Facebook was snarky and new, a bright bauble of online fun. I could easily connect to not only my family, but to agents and editors and authors.

While the bloom is off the rose, thanks to many upgrades, and the fact that everyone on the planet (even my Boston terrier, Gracie Boo) has a Facebook page, Facebook still kinda-sorta fun. However, there’s a lot of drama going on. Politics, sniping, dumb shit. I don’t have time to get sucked into one side or the other. The jury is out as to whether or not posting links to your book generates more sales. You hope more than just your friends and relatives will buy your work, but I’m not a pushy salesman, so I don’t know. If I were a better salesman, I would conduct a survey. But I’m not, so there.

My strategy: Go in, spend no more than 15 minutes updating my page with a writer’s quote or a blog post, check out a few friends, and get the hell out. Push my book once a month.

TWITTER:

My new favorite social network. What I love about Twitter is that I can keep the feed open and not have to worry about people IM’ing me. Not that I don’t want to talk to my friends, but I don’t have sound on my work computer, and so I never hear the Facebook IMs. Not answering a Facebook IM makes me look antisocial, not deaf.

Twitter is very much like being at a cocktail party. You can eavesdrop on conversations, insert a witty comment here and there, or just plain stalk (and I mean that in the nicest way) people.

On Twitter, I can narrow who I follow. With a few exceptions, I follow agents, editors, and authors. The writing community on Twitter is a HUGE resource, even though I keep who I follow to under 200. Monday’s are great, so many links to so many great articles, it’s hard to choose what to read first. (I open up a browser just for these links, so it’s not on the same page as my Real Life work links.) Even if you don’t have any time, you can *favorite* the tweet and go back to it later.

I have no idea whether or not I’ve sold any books via Twitter. Ever the non-salesman, I just want to observe, learn, and keep my nose clean. I want people to see I’m not some sort of flake, that I’m serious about writing, even with the pitfalls I stumble into along the way. (I did experience one brief WHEE! TWITTER moment when an agent once tweeted out that she was looking for serious, literary fiction, I answered, and she tweeted back that once I was finished editing, I should query her. Update: I haven’t yet.)

My Twitter strategy is to leave the page open. For me, it’s the most bang for the social media buck.

The key thing for writers to remember is this: being a social is nice, but if you haven’t written anything, you’re a butterfly without a book.

🙂

And here’s where you can find me.

Blog
Twitter
Facebook
Virtually Yours, now on Amazon

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The road to hell is paved with adverbs. ~Stephen King

Truer, writerly words have never been written. When editing, the rule of thumb is to eliminate any word that ends in the dreaded “-ly.”

I’ve been editing my completed novels (one for YEARS), and while the first pass-through with the red pen might include a perfunctory Microsoft Word Find and Replace of adverbs (and adjectives, the adverbs’ junky step-sibs), there are several other writing no-nos a serious writer might miss. (Easy to do in a shit-storm of fancy descriptors, believe me.)

However, Word’s Find and Replace is rudimentary. I also use Smart Edit, which takes your entire manuscripts and evaluates it for language redundancies. The first time I ran my words through, I realized (with dismay) that, yes, I really DO write like I speak. I cringed as I went through the work to tighten up my sloppy sentences. Some of my mistakes didn’t occur once, twice or three times, but HUNDREDS of times.

It’s nearly impossible to write 100K words and not use the same word or phrase a number of times, especially in dialogue. The reader learns about your characters through their speech. Still, nothing in the written word irritates me more than hum-drum prose, I didn’t want to sound boring. (My first incarnation of Cadence included several thousand uses of “family.” Oy. And OUCH.) With much thought, I kept most of my re-usable words down to 50 or less throughout the entire manuscript.

After you edit out the adverbs and adjectives, then the writer must take a look at the verbs. Passive verbs, a no-no-no. Finding Cadence was once full of passive verbs, perhaps because when I first started writing, Cadence was a passive woman, and I was a passive writer. While toughening her up, I became the warrior writer. All it took was to take the “was” out. “I was looking” turned into “I looked.” (This is a gross simplification, of course.) It’s so brainlessly easy, I don’t know why I didn’t see it before.

And of course, there are the weak, junky verbs: brought, came, enter, gave, held, go, turn, look, stare, watch, struck, ran, move, climb, remove, put, stand, saw. Weak verbs are precisely the reason why I reach for the Thesaurus.

Recently, I’ve taken to tightening up even more. I call this method of editing getting out the fluff and stuff. For one thing, I noticed that I use “something” and “everything” way too much, even in dialogue. I evaluated my usage: Perhaps the speaker knows what the “something” or “everything” is, but does the reader? Is it implied in a previous passage? If that’s the case, you don’t need it. If it’s not implied, it’s necessary to spell it out. Yes, I know what I’m seeing in my head, but the reader may not see it with the words I choose.

You’ll want to delete overused phrases – “at the end of the day” or “through the years” etc. and the purple-y, clumsy prose.

Editing out the fluff and stuff isn’t easy. It may be a harder edit to accomplish. You’ve been looking at your words for months (or in my case, YEARS). You’re invested in your character, you think about the time you’ve spent, the blood, sweat and tears and labor pains. It’s a lot to push that all aside and do the right thing. (And if you’re like me, you’re a horrible proofreader anyway.) What I’ve found is that my paragraphs are lean and mean, and I’ve managed to pare down my word count. (Yes, I’m paring DOWN. I have too many words!)

My advice is to take the plunge. It may take a lot to trim and tone, but in the end, it might be the best exercise your manuscript will ever get.

 

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I spent Friday and Saturday in the Michigan Silversmith Guild booth at the Ann Arbor Art Fair, where I drank lots of water in stifling hot and humidity and hoped to sell a bunch of my creations.

(As luck would have it, my newly re-named “Merkabah” (in honor of my author-friend, LZ Marie) bracelets sold out by Thursday afternoon. Win for me.)

As with writing, I do a fairly decent job of making jewelry, but I’m not such the hot commodity that I can quit my day job. If only…

It’s hard to compete at the art fair. It’s the self-proclaimed largest one in the country, and that means creativity is oozing from every pore of every human being within five miles of the A-Squared. Plus, each Guild member is a great talent, and there are twelve of us sharing a booth. I have no idea yet how I did, as I haven’t picked my inventory up. Hopefully, it’s enough to cover the booth rent.

While my jewelry is cool, it’s also rather eclectic. Steam-punk-y. Left of center. Big! With lots of rocks and stones, and lots of twisted wire. It takes a certain type of person to wear one of my creations; my art is not meant for mass consumption, which is why I don’t mind that I’m not deluged with fans. I like the slow and easy pace of creating. I’m lazy! Well…lackadaisical. Art of any kind for me is about the journey, not about the cha-ching at the end of the road.

Which is why I price my stuff reasonably. I love the creative process, but I don’t ever want to see my work again. Let someone else love it.

At the end of the final day, a couple of older ladies stepped up to the booth. One was enamored of this:

pendantsold

(It’s copper, with pyrite, agate, citrine, and peridot. And I made the chain and clasp.)

The other lady preferred my silver creations. It was late, nearly the end of the fair, but I pulled out piece after piece (after piece – I sometimes forget how many pieces I have!) and they both ooh-ed and ahh-ed.

The one woman, however, kept coming back to the copper pendant. She really loved it.

She asked me for a discount. I gave her a little bit of one, but she hesitated. She was a little older and lived on a fixed income, but her friend was encouraging. She eyed the piece, fingered it, kept bringing it to her neck and back again, looked at herself in the mirror. I explained the hours of work I’d invested in the piece, that making the chain itself was a pain in the behind, that the peridot alone was worth a lot of money. She said she understood.

They both spoke of losing family members in the last year. These were new friends, their bond made while in group grief counseling. Shopping the art fair wasn’t just retail therapy, it was a search for some sort of beauty in a tumultuous life, a life that wasn’t always fair.

Again they came back to the copper pendant. Lady’s Friend said, “You should get this. The way it’s designed, it really speaks to you.”

Lady: “Yes. It’s just like my life.”

What could I do? I discounted it more, and she walked away happy.

I’m happy too. Happy that she’s happy.

You might ask why I’m writing about this, when this blog is all about the writing experience from my perspective. Basically it’s this: sometimes writing, like art, isn’t about making money. Oh sure, money is nice, it’s real nice, especially if you have bills to pay.

A writer can get frustrated with creating, with the editing process, with querying, with rejection. You might want to skip over the journey to get to the pot of gold. If you feel that way, DON’T DO IT. It’s not about the money, and if it is for you, you’re in the wrong line of work. Sometimes you have to give joy to get joy.

Spread that mantra around to the rest of your life, and you’ll find contentment.

 

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I keep my Twitter-feed open while I work at my day job. You never know what might pop up. Most Tweets are mundane (like my own regarding my craving for horseradish), some are hilarious (Texts from Last Night, or my daughter’s arcane musings as a hipster in San Francisco), but mostly I use Twitter as a writing reference. Lots of good articles on these Internets, you know.

Oh. And I *discreetly* stalk agents and authors.

So this Tweet recently pops up. Truer words have never been spoken.

Amy Boggs@notjustanyboggs 7m A reminder not to respond to reviews. Once your book leaves your hands, it’s no longer solely yours. You can’t control how readers react.

Thinking about reviews is a timely subject. While on my quick trip to Colorado, I finished two novels, one by an author-friend, the other a random novel I picked up at Barnes and Noble, one with a photo of the Golden Gate Bridge on the cover. (I’m such a sucker for these covers. Authors should slap a photo of the Golden Gate on every cover, no matter what the genre, and I’d buy the book. Yeah. Math for Dummies with a photo of the Bridge on it-priceless.)

Once home from my voyage, I did the Goodreads thing and logged that I’d read the books and also gave my reviews. I rarely have time for words, but I make use of the star ratings. While there, I scrolled down to read the reviews of other readers.

Okay, so I’m clueless, or perhaps just too busy to peruse the entirety of the Goodreads web site. Or maybe I never noticed that readers were writing such comprehensive reviews. Tons of readers, dozens of reviews.

Each book had both huge fans who wrote glowingly of great story lines and meaningful social situations, and those non-fans who panned the book in question, saying that the characters were shallow or the proof-reading was flawed, or something else didn’t appeal. Blah, blah, blah. While it’s interesting to read what others think, their opinions will not sway my opinion of the author or the book.

(It’s actually amusing. Like reading the comment section of the Huff-Po Political Page.)

In fact, I have purchased books because they’ve gotten bad reviews. Largest case in point: Fifty Shades of Gray, although I’ve also purchased other books simply because someone else hated it. I guess I need to see for myself. Besides, every book is worth something, even if it’s horribly written. The author obviously put in time, effort, and energy into producing a novel. To me, even a self-published e-book is worth a spin, if you have the time to read it.

I know my own book and my past articles have reviews. I’ve read them, but I don’t take them to heart. Like Ms. Boggs says, once your work leaves your hands, it’s no longer your baby. It’s sprouted wings and belongs to the masses. If every sharp word from a reviewer causes a pang, perhaps you should consider a different calling than writing. As authors, you certainly don’t want to get dragged into a shouting match with a person who has penned a bad review on your baby. Smile, take a deep breath, and walk away. Silence is golden.

That’s my wise word to the author. For readers, I would weigh each book review carefully. What appeals to one person might not appeal to you, and vice versa. Don’t judge a book by its review.

Watching reviews is like watching the white waters of a swollen river. It might be pretty, but you don’t want to go near. If you’re a writer, write something else; if you’re a reader, pick up a book.

 

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My first self-published book, Virtually Yours, is a tale of Internet relationships. The online moms’ group featured in the novel is loosely based upon an online group I’ve belonged to since the mid-90’s. We’d met each other in an AOL chat room on our way to scoring Beanie Babies for our then-babies, and somehow forged and maintained the friendship for the last almost twenty years. (Almost twenty years – holy cow!) We have weathered relationships, breakups, hook-ups, our kids growing up, Columbine, 9-11, job searches, health issues, family loss – you name the life change, and we’ve lived through and commiserated with each other over it.VIrtually Yours (300dpi 2700x1800)

I penned the second novel in the series, Virtually Yours Forever, about a year and a half ago. (Yes, there might be a third in the works. I have ideas, lots of ideas. 🙂 Once I get a spare minute to get them down…Ah, ha ha ha….) For those of you who have been waiting patiently for me to produce VY4Ever, yes, I know. I’m slow. VERY slow. I’ve been picking at a couple of other projects at the same time. I swear, I have adult onset ADD, because just when I get going on one track, a shiny bauble tempts me from the other side of the room – or my laptop.

Now comes Real Life word that might get my butt into gear with regard to finishing the sequel.

One of my Beanie Mom friends has invited all of us to her daughter’s wedding…in Las Vegas, this September! At the Bellagio! Can you say O-M-G?

Now I have met some of the moms at various points in the last decade and a half. There are a couple who I’ve missed, for whatever the reason. It’s far easier to maintain a long distance relationship with the Internet and cell phones, a helluva lot easier than it was 20 years ago when we emailed, arranged to meet in private chat rooms, or snail mailed. Although we still maintain our email ‘loop’, we now have a private Facebook group, and we send each other group texts on a regular basis. We keep in touch using Instagram and Pinterest. It’s like we’re right next door, even though we’re all over the country.

This might be the first time we’ll all be in the same place at the same time, and you can bet I’m going to do my best to be there.

What is funny is that the premise of VY4ever is a wedding gone (partially) awry. (There are some other things going sour too, but I’m not going to spoil it by revealing too much.) While I don’t wish sweet Rachel (the Real Life bride) and her mother a wedding from hell, you can bet your booties if I make it to the ceremony, I’m going to take furious notes.

Honest to God. A writer needs Real Life. Some things you just can’t make up.

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I love social media.

Usually.

It’s fast, it’s easy. I can keep track of my friends and relatives without calling them. I can laugh at jokes and eCards, view photos and videos from all over the world, and shop for bargains. I can monitor world events, see what’s hot and what’s not, and find large bits of useful and useless information, both meaningful and dumb. I gave up my newspaper subscription, because 1. the Detroit News is a shadow of its former self, 2. news is readily available online, and 3. my bird died.

I especially love social media because I write. Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads (social media for writers), and Instagram – writers tend to use these forums to dispense information. I can check out my favorite authors’ new releases; I can research people and places; I can stalk agents (discreetly) and find out what they really think about us poor, helpless writer-schlubs. I can learn about upcoming contests quickly, thus freeing me from blog hopping all over the information superhighway. Saves both time and aspirin.

But social media isn’t all about ONE THING. It’s…well, social, meaning that what happens in the world spills over with some of these personalities. Believe me, I have narrowed my follows to people I really know or like, or authors, writers, agents, and/or others in the business. While I tend to shy away from the troll types, I engage with people who, quite frankly, I don’t agree with on many issues.

I’m not a pithy Tweeter, and I try to stay away from Facebook as much as possible. I love to be sociable, but these Internet water cooler-coffee klatch-parties are a time suck, my friends. My plate overfloweth. I run a business, a household, and I’m trying to write in between many crushing Real Life commitments.

That being said, while I like a nicely executed verbal exchange of ideas, there are things I do not like. One, I don’t care for a constant battering of positions which inevitably winds up some hapless soul being virtually lynched. I (and others) can have our opinions without being called stupid or worse.

Recently, I’ve noticed the online tone changing from an exchange of ideas to a pity party, where people tend to play the victim card with every revelation or change in government. I don’t care if you’re white, black, red or purple, I don’t care if you’re a man or a woman, straight or gay, born here or (like me) not, if you had perfect loving parents or were abused, I don’t even care if you’re a Donkey or an Elephant. Honest to God, when I look at people, I see none of this.

What irks me more than any or all of these distinctions is that people tend to claim victimhood as a valid argument for any position.

I suppose it’s because I’ve had my craw full this week. Not only do I see this online, I see this in offline relationships. If your mother was a child abuser, if your skin is a certain color, if your spouse cheated, if your boss is a bitch – all these are reasons to justify bad behavior. WHAT? (That sound you heard was my head hitting a brick wall.) First of all, why give the other side that much power? Secondly, if you’re over 18, why not own your situation and carry on? If you have brains and strength and chutzpah, figure out your problems and devise a workable solution.

I am a woman, I am of mixed race, I am old, I have issues. I’m flawed BIG TIME. A physically and emotionally abusive mother raised me. Never once in the last 57 years have I blamed any of my shortcomings on my external environment, that the “man” was keeping me down as a woman or anything else. That’s because I control my life and my destiny, and the parts I can’t control I deal with the best I can.

After ruminating on this revelation and my subsequent annoyance for a few hours (after shutting down Twitter, because I couldn’t stand it anymore), I realized that the victim card is played by aspiring authors too. I’ve been to plenty of writers conferences where there are a few disgruntled and unhappy attendees. They see other writers as enemies or rivals, and agents as tyrants. Perhaps their manuscripts aren‘t the next Harry Potter and need more work. Instead of taking control of their work and their destiny, they choose to play the blame game.

It’s so much easier, right?

Grow and let go.

Rant over.

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I’m pretty sure I sound like a blonde on the phone. In fact, I know I sound blonde, because I’ve had people (employees) who know me by phone only, meet me later and tell me so. (They also think I’m a lot taller than I am.) It’s likely disconcerting to discover that your boss is a short Asian woman, especially after your imagination has convinced you that I’m fair-skinned and statuesque.

(I’m only bringing this up because my daughter decided to dye her hair blonde this weekend. This has nothing to do with anything…)

When analyzing the “why” of this phenomenon, I can only come to one conclusion: It’s my voice. I laugh too loud, my humor is left of center, and I am overly emotional. (I have no theories about the 5′ 8″ supposition.)

I’ve often said that I write like I speak. Which isn’t completely true, because my mouth is not as fast on the draw as my brain. (That’s why I started writing, because speaking was difficult.) It is true in the sense that I pepper my speech with words and phrases I’m in the habit of saying – we all do this, it’s human nature. My own father was fond of “evidently” and “Suzie Q.” But when writing and/or reading, we don’t need those extra filler words.

Take the first sentence of this blog post:

I’m pretty sure I sound like a blonde on the phone.

This is how I sound in real life – full of adverbs, when all I wanted to say was this:

I sound blonde on the phone.

Now that I’ve been writing seriously, as I edit, these filler words stare back at me with the illumination of a thousand suns. It’s amazing how worthless they are. I’d been told many times before that the mind skips over these words as they’re read. Since I had originally written the words, I didn’t believe it – until the edit. Heck, if I can see I don’t need them, I probably don’t.

However, writing how you speak does have an upside. Let’s say you’re working on a novel in first person. If your main character is middle aged and high class, or a teenager with attitude, or a sassy thirty-something in search of love, you can imbue some of these characteristics in speech. Or, in period pieces like Monte Schulz’s This Side of Jordan, where the rag-tag cast of characters from the Depression era says things like “My cousin Frenchy eats crawdads cold,” a hint of uneducated dialect goes a long way in portraying the look and feel of the character. (Just so you know, the book also features also a dwarf who is extremely well-educated; you know this through his dialogue.)

Writing how you speak has a bad and ugly side, however. Too much can be too distracting. The reader can get the gist of a heavy accent with a light touch. The author does not have to misspell words in order to get the point across. The reader will tire of a character who (perhaps like you) has trouble conversing.

Personally, I have to be in the mood to write in first person as a character. For Amberly Cooper, I have to listen to a lot of teenagers beforehand, the more self-absorbed the better. For Cadence Reed, I have to either read deep, depressing novels or watch movies that make me cry. I had the worst time when I wrote Virtually Yours, a book with seven distinctive characters from different parts of the country. My first draft found all of the characters sounding the same – like me. Slowly, I had to separate the “me” in my characters and give each of them believable voices of their own. I accomplished this by talking to people in various parts of the country and listening to their speech patterns.

If you’re like me and write like you speak, make sure your edit is thorough. Your writing must convey character, but it must also make sense.

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It’s true: sometimes you must step away from your work long enough to gain a different perspective.

This is why writers seek feedback. (Perhaps not all writers, but this one does!) We use our family members and friends, look for critique groups, employ the use of editors and book doctors – basically run our manuscripts through the wringer and then some. Some use feedback to gloat and marinate in praise. I need it because I see the value in being slapped silly every now and again.

Take my good friend, The Little Fluffy Cat. She’s not really a cat, but a great writer, and on top of that, a kick-ass editor. I’ve emailed her passages and she red-lines and returns them in minutes. “No, this won’t work.” “Adverbs?” “Purple here.” (These aren’t quotes, but it’s along those lines. Plus there’s many strike throughs. I can almost hear her sighing from Texas.) I don’t ask her often, because she’s a busy woman. I ask her when I need an unvarnished review. I’m not sure what she really thinks of me, but I must be somewhat amusing because we’re still friends after all these years.

It smarts a little to read a LFC edit, but she’s 100% right.

And while I have an Editor for Life, I like the idea of another pair of eyes. I’ve signed up for classes to work on my manuscript, one that’s already been through the editorial process. MANY times. I am thinking that my ED may be too close to me to give me an unabashed review. (He likes me. I like him. As a person, not just an editor.) I suspect my ED is like me, the writer. We are too close to the trees to see the forest. (Or too close to the forest to see the trees.)

Recently, I signed up for a Savvy Author mentoree class for my manuscript, Finding Cadence. The current edit is better, much better, but I’m going for making this manuscript the best I can. While waiting for my Book Doctor-Mentor to read the manuscript, I hurried to finish the current edit.

Then I put the book away.

She called me a week or so later and we had a nice chat about what she liked, what she didn’t like, what was unclear, and what could be improved. New Eyes Hillary pointed out a few things that were true, basically the sapling trees I’d forgotten were in my forest. She had me send her an outline. This took a while, because the outline saved on my computer was a few incarnations of this book ago and the middle and end was nowhere close to what it is now.

Again I put the book away.

Lately I’ve been working on a different edit. My brain has been full of Cadence for the last six months. It’s time to give it a temporary rest, while I pursue some other work.

If your work is starting to look like a blur of green, step away from the forest. When you return, it will be that much clearer.

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Celebrating the fact that I’ve been writing every day this week!

As I alluded to in this post, a writer can make use of the rigors of daily life as a tool.

Thinking about rigors, I realize most emotion springs from one thing: CHANGE.

Some people don’t like change. They think change is bad. If you’re old, you want life to stay as it was “in the good old days.” If you’re young, you don’t want to leave your mommy and go to school all day. No matter what the scenario, if you like a situation and it changes, the immediate reaction is of repulsion.

Let’s face it; change is damned scary. You’re enjoying your life, comfortable in the status quo, when suddenly a gust of wind (change) knocks you off your moorings and into the unknown.

How dare there be change! Right?

Writers should take advantage of the gust of wind and note their emotional response.

Example: Your marriage of many years threatens to disintegrate. You get news that a close family member has a life threatening medical condition. You make one small mistake and end up totaling your car.

It would be SO EASY to wallow in the emotion of your change. For example: damn it, but I’ve given him two decades of my life! or how will I live without my mom? or I hate walking, and that guy (uninsured, of course) in the other lane is a jerk for hitting me! Instead of marinating in emotion, write down the emotion of your change; the hurt you felt when you learned of the infidelity, the vulnerability of abandonment, the loss of your family member, the rage you feel knowing the insurance won’t cover it and you have no money. Your characters will need to express these things, once you, Author-Person, gets down to the business of weaving the bits of your ideas into a viable story.

It doesn’t have to make sense; it doesn’t even have to be sentences or paragraphs. It doesn’t take long, and it doesn’t have to be pretty. On the off occasion when I don’t have a notebook, I’ll jot down my winds of change in my iPhone notes.

There is only so much time in a day. Make use of it.

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Once, two, maybe three years ago, I suffered from a case of Lack of Writing. I refuse to call the inability to string a series coherent sentences outlining character and plot ‘writer’s block’ – I wasn’t blocked as much as I was overwhelmed/tired/bored/busy/juggling/severely ADD. After several weeks (or maybe months) of N-O-T-H-I-N-G – not a chapter, not a paragraph, not a word, I emailed my ED, throwing him an SOS. I couldn’t believe I was without WORDS. Nice guy, he offered an online intervention, but since I haven’t been able to sign into my Yahoo! account since 2009, getting to the messenger for my wake up call was daunting.

He probably could have called me to jump start my flat-lined ambition, but he didn’t have to. While in the middle of figuring a way around Yahoo! (lowly step-brother of that demon-child Google), something happened. Something epic.

I began to write.

There was no “ah-ha” moment, no light bulb over my head. No dynamiting the log jam, or self-abuse. Somehow, some way, without prompts or nudging,  somewhere in the puzzle of getting hooked up, I wrote.

I must admit that I do love a good writing prompt. I have a whole book of them I can turn to in case of brain freeze. A writing competition is a great tool for getting the juices flowing, especially if you get a friend or two involved. But sometimes LIFE is more than enough impetus to write. Even if it threatens to bury you. (Especially if it threatens to bury you.)

The past few months have found me in that lazy/overwhelmed/tired/bored mode. Sometimes it’s  hard to get excited. Sometimes your creative energy is sucked out of you. Many times there’s no TIME. Writing, as all my  creative pursuits, is an indulgent luxury. (I hope it always is.) Many pressing tasks stand between me and my computer and three hours of peace and quiet. I’ve taken to notebooks and writing quickies when I have a minute to spare.

This is my life the last few months: business, people quitting, friends and family contending with illness or other challenges, drama and more drama, money (or lack of), a crumbling house, the police and jail (don’t ask) – with all this Real Life to contend with, how can I NOT write? The only things I haven’t experienced in the last few months would be dragons, murder (although someone did threaten my husband’s life), and vampires, but there’s always tomorrow.

Today my temporary Lack of Writing has officially ended. I’ve been writing like a fool ever since.

Look out, world.

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It’s a beautiful Sunday in the neighborhood, and while the sun shines and the temperatures are mild, I figured I would get up early and finish weeding and planting my vegetable garden. I made significant progress yesterday and want to finish NOW, so I can enjoy the fruits of my labor.

Gardening used to be a lot easier when I was young(er). I bounced out of bed today with an aching shoulder and a bum knee. Still, I’m on a mission – to eradicate weeds and plant more tomatoes. (Sorry. It’s my Army brat upbringing. Plus, you can never have too many tomatoes!)

On my way to locating my tennis shoes, which were next to my laptop and a six inch pile of printed manuscripts waiting for me to edit, I noticed that my dog had a gastronomical accident. On two pieces of paper that had escaped the tower of editing. Those two pieces of paper happened to be my query. On the query I sent to and received back and edit from a Big Name Agent as part of the Writers Digest class I took on querying back a couple of months ago.

Nothing says “YOU SUCK” better than runny diarrhea on my corrected query.

This, my writing friends, is an omen. First of all, I should have never left my query on the floor. Secondly, I should have spiffed it up and produced a better query from Helpful Agent’s notes a long time ago. Thirdly, I should really impress upon my husband that feeding the dog steak bones and whipped cream is not good for a Boston terrier.

Of course this disaster could be a more serious omen. Like God telling me I should ditch that particular manuscript (FINDING CADENCE) and perhaps channel my time more wisely into something that has more than a snowball’s chance in hell of making it past an agent’s assistant. Or maybe that I should give up writing altogether.

Yeah. Giving up. That would be the easy way out.

After I finish my urban farming, I’m going to work on my edits, dammit. And I’m going to make serious headway.

Because somewhere in my email, I have a copy of that edit from Helpful Agent.

Take that, Powers That Be. Your nasty little omen is powerless against this writer.

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I have to admit this, but as a writer, I’ve been really bad.

No, really, really bad. (Note the use of that adverb. It’s doubled, italicized, and bolded for a reason.) In fact, I’m almost a non-writer.

I won’t go into the grim specifics, but let’s just say that Real Life is kicking my ass.

The older I get, the more I realize there aren’t enough minutes in a day. Honest to God, it was just February and my return from the San Francisco Writers Conference last week! Wasn’t it?

I have three edits printed and waiting for me to slice and dice. Okay. So I did get to one of them about a month ago and made some significant progress, but then… yes. I ended up nowhere near my computer as I raced from one end of the world to the other.

So what do you do when life bitch-slaps you and leaves you with no time?

This is what I’ve been doing.

1. Write in my little notebook. The one I carry in my purse, religiously. I jot down ideas, lists, emotions, character traits I want to use later. Names. Places. Smells. Sights and sounds. It takes just a second. Sure it’s not a novel, probably it’s not serious, but every little bit helps.

2. Read. Here, I’m not doing so well, even with Kindle on my iPhone. BUT… I have discovered Audible.com. I am listening to THE FOUNTAINHEAD by Ayn Rand. I’m up to Chapter Three. I mostly listen in the car or…

3. While exercising. Because if you’re not going to exercise your brain, you might as well work out. Not that working out has made this aging hipster a babe. In fact, while losing a pants size, I have gained two pounds. Go figure.

4. Channeling my creativity to other endeavors. You don’t know how beautifully I can scrub soap scum off my shower tile. Of course, I have to break the chore up into four days. I can’t hack away in one sitting. Cooking is another way to expand on creativity, and it doesn’t take much time. Cooking, however, is fraught with pitfalls. According to my husband, who rails against my creme brulee or cherry duck, I should stop cooking altogether. But when I do, he gets mad.

5. Gardening. It is somewhat time consuming, but at least there are edibles at the end of the season.

6. As a writer, you should give yourself a simple, stupid-easy to accomplish task to achieve daily. Mine is THIS. I know. It’s frivolous, it’s silly, it’s dumb even, but it only takes me five minutes.

7. Buy a tool to help you in your quest to write. My current is 642 Things to Write About. I picked this book up at the airport in San Francisco on the way back from the writers conference (like I needed extra books? my bag was stuffed full of books -and wine), for a couple of reasons: 1., I am a HUGE Chronicle Books groupie, and 2., I often find myself without writing prompts. In fact, I just filled out a page yesterday.

Writing during real life can be done, although, the road isn’t exactly a scenic drive on new asphalt.  When the bulldozer threatens to mow you down, push back, even if the only tool you have is a child’s beach shovel.

It’s the only way to write.

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Get this: I have a finished manuscript on my hard drive, one that I really like, one that I slaved over for YEARS, one that I think is ready for the Big Time (at least, for publishing), one that I have stripped and clipped and polished and buzz sawed and tightened and dreamed about, and I’m at an impasse. I can’t seem to get myself to send it to query.

Why?

Because although the manuscript is good, my query is not. And I’ve been laboring over the query just as hard as I have the actual story. Yes. I started working on the current incarnation of my query letter in December. I even took a Writers Digest webinar on query letters, and received an edited copy of one of my incarnations back from the agent holding the class. I also have several writers who were kind enough to critique my letter, writers from many different genres. And I gave the query letter to my MR. ED, hoping he could add his own spin.

I’ve researched the masses and masses of info online, for hours and hours, and have come away with killer headaches every time. I’d pull out my hair, but I don’t have much left. I can’t spare a single strand.

I honestly have at least a dozen different query letters for the same query, ranging from bare bones, here’s the story, here’s my contact information, to business letter snappy, to a mini-synopsis wedged into two paragraphs. I’m not happy with any of them. (I’m happy with the story, not with the queries.)

The query letter is a fine art all its own. A good query letter conveys a great pitch. Katharine Sands (high powered agent whom I’ve met and observed in workshops) says the pitch must ‘pop.’ It has to sustain enough pizazz to capture an agent’s attention, leaving God (I mean) he or she, clamoring to read more. I understand that publishing is a business and businesses survive only by making money, and that agents and publishers tend to gravitate toward that goal, meaning a manuscript and a writer who is succinct and shows promise. Querying is very much like selling your idea.

You know me, I’m not much of a salesman.

Honestly, what if your story is ‘pop’-less? What if it’s not about dragons, demons, vampires, dystopian future worlds, wild bondage sex, wizard man-children, war, pestilence, charmed city girls with a closet full of designer shoes, or impudent teenagers? What if it’s about a woman and her personal struggle, internally, within her friends and family, and/or with an external force dogging her? (Novels I like to read, by the way.)

Enough of my rant: It’s Monday and I have a minute. Quickly (before the phone starts to ring), I will list a few things I would rather do than write a query letter.

1. Laundry.

2. Vacuuming.

3. Dusting.

4. The dreaded once a year pelvic exam.

5. Picking up dog poo.

6. State audit.

7. Day Job work.

8. Working on the new manuscript.

9. Devising a complicated spreadsheet for the other half.

and last but not least:

10. Poke a needle in my eye.

Enough of my bitching. I have a bookmarked page I must peruse.

Onward and upward, query.

 

Posted in books, DIY, editing, Finding Cadence, indie publishing, Joanne Huspek, music, violin, writing, women, life, NaNoWriMo, people, querying, reading, rewriting, Self publishing, womens literature, writing | Tagged , , , , , , 2 Comments