Sunday, June 15, 2014

Last Leg of the Marathon

This past Friday afternoon, I threw on a sweater over my tank top and yoga pants (yes, unbelievably in Chicago, I still need a sweater in June) and headed to the grocery store for provisions; a three-pack of popcorn (my favorite food to unconsciously snack on),eggs, bread, cheese and crackers (my other favorite food to wonder how I ate so much of while I wasn’t looking) a stack of frozen pizzas and a box of Skinny Cow ice cream cones (you know, to balance out the pizzas).  

You see, I was locking myself in for a long weekend of writing to the finish line. For over a year now, I’ve been revising (rewriting. Okay, writing) my next release, “Every Breath You Take.” It’s been a long, excruciating road, but I can finally see a light at the end of the tunnel and fortunately, it’s not a Mack truck bearing down on me.
The truth is, I’ve been writing this book for 20+ years. I first had the idea for this book back in high school and wrote it in dribs and drabs before finally settling down about twelve years ago to write it in earnest. Then I kept writing other books and life got in the way and it languished on my computer.

When I decided to go Indie, I knew this would be one of the books I would release and honestly thought it would be a matter of dusting it off and revising it. Done and done.
Well, I started that, but about halfway through, I realized I was wholly unenthusiastic about what I’d written. I still believed in the basic story and the characters, but nothing else about it moved me.

So, I went back to the beginning and started rewriting it.
Except, I was kind of like Patrick Swayze in “Ghost.” I was a hanging on to a story that no longer wanted me.
Sometimes, you have to listen to Kenny Rogers
So, I started over again, but this time in earnest. Page one. Clean slate. New mindset. Fresh take.
Except, I still wasn’t hitting the nail on the head, as confirmed by my First Reader, who said the entire middle part just didn’t work. And as I read through it, I realized she was 100 percent right.

So, I dumped about 150 pages of this 300 page book. Yes, I deleted half of my book. Bye-bye lovingly crafted sentences and moments of so-called brilliance and inspiration. It was real. Let’s not do this again.
And started over yet again.

Finally, it started to click. The story started talking to me, the words started flowing and I got it. I finally got it.
And here I am, with about a half a page of notes left to incorporate into the manuscript before final polishing and beta reading.
And sometimes, you have to listen to Journey
Some people would say I should have heeded the Gambler’s advice and known when to fold ‘em. Maybe. But my gut wouldn’t let me and you should always follow your gut, because it never steers you wrong. So, I chose to listen to my inner Journey instead and kept on believin’. Time will tell if I really did hit the nail on the head this time around, but at my core, I (finally) wrote the kind of book I want to read, which is what you should always do.
And now, back to the marathon

Monday, June 9, 2014

Violence in Writing, Marlo Thomas and Walter Mosley: Printers Row Lit Fest 2014

For the third year in a row, I availed myself of Chicago's enduring and popular Printers Row Lit Fest, a celebration of all things literary. The weather was a little cooler than it's been the last two years, but it didn't stop the crowds from coming out for panel discussions, book signings, cooking demonstrations and books, books and more books.

So, here's my little slice of what I did and saw at the 2014 event:

Violence: How to Write It -- and How Far is Too Far?: Presented by the Mystery Writer's Panel of America - Midwest Chapter

This panel, consisting of authors Jamie Freveletti, Michael Black, M.E. May and Michael Harvey and moderated by J. Michael Major, convened at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday ( I could only hope that at that hour, there wouldn't be a show and tell portion). It was an almost full house at Grace Place, the spectators anxious to hear these authors take on violence in literature and to a greater extent, mainstream media. A  few years ago, I attended a book signing where Jaime Freveletti was a guest alongside Wendy Corsi Staub (and a subsequent Printer's Row Lit Fest presentation in 2012 about female protagonists in thrillers - read about it here), so I was fairly familiar with her. Michael A. Black was part of a panel I attended last year about what you wish you knew before publishing - read about it here), so I was familiar with him as well.  Admittedly, I was not acquainted with the other authors on the panel.

The Takeaways: - Sometimes, characters need to die and it's a good sign when readers care that your characters bite the dust.

- Jaime Freveletti shared that there was a particularly violent chapter in one of her Emma Cauldron books that her editor objected to and that ultimately didn't make the final book. However, her German editor (who'd never seen the chapter in question), upon finding out about it, said the chapter could have stayed in for the German market. Freveletti wondered if there wasn't a touch a sexism associated with the objection to the scene.

- There's a secret fascination with the causal nature of violence -"people love to hear about this stuff." It's great to see it/read about it in fiction until it touches you personally.

- The psychology behind why people do what they do is fascinating, even when there isn't always a reason "why."

- People get a false idea of violence from movies, etc. "It hurts when you get hit."

- As a society, we're becoming desensitized to violence, as we're bombarded with another shooting, another rape, another stabbing. The immediacy of social media and lack of interaction was cited as a driving factor in our overall desensitization.

- The authors agreed that less is more when it comes to writing about violence. Violence can be used to reveal character and advance the plot.  The anticipation of violence is more effective than showing the actual act. The scene in "The Godfather" where Talia Shire's character is beat up by her husband was cited as an effective way of building tension.  M.E. May commented she tamps down the violence in order to let the reader's imagination  take over.  Gratuitous violence can be disturbing and it is more interesting to uncover the "how" and the "why" (which goes back to character development.).


- New writer mistake alert: The panel agreed that a "newbie" writer mistake is to have the bad guys discuss what they're going to do to the person before they do it. Bad guys just do it.

- Internet research isn't always reliable, so it's important to reach out to experts and research both sides of an issue so that you can keep things factual, without bogging down the story. "You have to try and get it right."
- Authors the panelists enjoy reading:
  • Lee Child    
  • Thomas Harris (Michael Harvey said if you want a master class, read "Red Dragon" and "Silence of the Lambs."  Duly noted.)     
  • Martin Cruz Smith   
  • John D. McDonald           
  • Robert B. Parker  
  • Joe R. Lansdale

Very interesting panel and certainly gave me some things to ponder in my own writing.

Marlo Thomas aka, "That Girl"
I've seen reruns of "That Girl," the groundbreaking sitcom featuring Thomas as the first single girl on TV. I did the St. Jude's Math-a-Thon. I probably even saw "Free to be You and Me," back in the day.  I've seen her on random "Law and Order: SVU" episodes.  Lately, I'm into her cuddly narration of "Happily Never After" on Discovery ID. 

There was a nary a perky Ann Marie flip to be found in the Pritzker Auditorium in the Chicago Public Library. It was a packed house as Thomas took to the stage to talk about "second acts." She was funny, entertaining and inspiring and as an Indie author doing my own thing, I found a lot to identify with.

The Takeaways:

- In today's marketplace, more and more women (men, too, though as Thomas pointed out, the reason she talks about women so often is because "they're my tribe") are becoming entrepreneurs in order to reinvent themselves.

- Ask yourself "what is it you do well?" and then do it. "The facts may be against you," but as actress Ruth Gordon said, "Never face the facts or you'd never get out of bed." True dat.

- It's okay to dream big, but work small. If you have a dream do something about it every day for at least six months. You can't be lazy about it or you won't get anywhere."  "Just keep going."

-Thomas uses her online presence for interaction, not to talk about what she ate for dinner the night before (good idea). She says it is imperative that as we get older, we "stay curious," so we can maintain that zest for life.

- Thomas invited audience members to stand up when asking their questions and made a point of getting their names.

- Her favorite "That Girl" episode is the first one because it was "exciting," and there was the knowledge "we were doing something groundbreaking."

Walter Mosley
I've not read any of Walter Mosley's books, though I do remember from my bookseller days in the mid-90's people going gaga over his Easy Rawlins series (for which he is perhaps best known).  The great thing about the Printer's Row Lit Fest is you can hear from authors that are either your faves or that you're either not familiar with, which makes it fun and informative.

Walter Mosley definitely fell into the "fun" category. He was there to promote his latest release, "Debbie Doesn't Do it Anymore," about a porn performer ("performer" not "star" being the preferred term, apparently) who decides mid-performance she's done with the porn world. Mosley indicated the media doesn't want to talk about this book, he thinks, because the perception is that it's about erotica (it isn't).

The Takeaways:

- He terms himself as an obsessive who has to write everyday (he also writes in the nude. Apparently he sleeps in the nude and when he wakes up every day, he just wants to get to writing and why waste time "putting on pants?" He does not however go to write at Starbucks. At least not in the nude.)

- Like Stephen King, Nora Roberts, et al., he doesn't believe in waiting for the writing muse, relaying a conversation he had with a fellow author who told him she just had a book come out last year and the notion of putting one out this year was appalling to her, for the ideas for her next book needed a few years to "cook."  He rebuffs the idea of writers thinking they're so "precious" as to wait years between publishing works.  

- Writing about sex came naturally, but like any action, you can't get emotional about it during the writing process.

- He was a computer programmer who had "no yearning to be a writer." He was in his thirties and had already decided he was a "failure," when he decided one day he wanted to be able to write a short story from beginning to end. So he did.

- As an only child, he loves everything he writes.

- Mosley subscribes to the theory that you must say what you mean when writing.

- The "color" titles for the Easy Rawlins series were an accident. "Devil in a Blue Dress" and "A Red Death," were the titles of earlier works and when he turned in the third book, (later named "White Butterfly") his editor wanted to know where the "color" title was. And thus, Mosley had branded his books without meaning to (and stressed the importance of doing so.). "Rose Gold," the latest entry in the Easy Rawlins series comes out this fall.

- He enjoys reading comic books and science fiction and says he'll never leave comic books behind.

- An audience member said she was ashamed to read "Killing Johnny Fry," and he asked her, "Well, why'd you keep reading it then?"

I probably haven't captured just how  droll Walter Mosley was, but needless to say, he was delightful and I'm inspired to dig into some of his works.  

And so, another year of Printers Row Lit Fest comes to a close. And yet another year I didn't remember my camera. I need to start wearing that thing around my neck.

Until next year!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Seven Things You Didn’t Know About Me – The Versatile Blogger Award

My tweep, Debi Smith, nominated me for this award and I give her many, many thanks. Debi and I like to talk smack about “General Hospital” on Twitter (truly, one of the highlights of my day) and I love the recipes she serves up on her Hunter’s Lyonesse blog. I’m always on the lookout for a yummy new recipe and Debi does not disappoint.

So, I’m supposed to offer up seven things you didn’t know about me. Here goes:
I’ve only been outside the U.S. once
And that was to Toronto in 2012. Not sure how it happened that I’ve never travelled overseas. I need to start working on that bucket list…

I speak French
Not fluently, mind you, but I can cobble together a few verbs and nouns now and then.

I’m allergic to peanuts and wheat
The wheat thing has been in the last few years, but peanuts have been my whole life (never had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and yes I know what I’m missing – pain and suffering). Because of the wheat, I haven’t had a bowl of cereal (hot or cold) in years. God help me if I ever have to give up cheese…

I didn’t learn to drive until I was 20
I grew up in the city. Public transportation was my chauffer.

I hate wearing socks
Unless there’s snow on the ground, I wear flats with bare feet in the wintertime (I’m not alone; I’ve seen plenty of girls around the city doing the same. My Sisters in Crazy). If there’s snow, I do have a really cute pair of tall black boots that I wear with tights.

I eat one thing on my plate at a time
I also hate for my food to touch.

I can’t bake
I’m a pretty good cook (I make a mean lemon chicken), but when I try to bake from scratch, it’s like five science experiments gone wrong in one dish. I stick with box mixes and bakeries.

An Author Talks to a Book Club

This past weekend, I got to do something I’ve done before: have a Skype session with a book club to talk about one of my books.

A family member of mine is part of a couples book club which meets every other month over food and wine to discuss their latest picks, which over the years have ranged from “The Far Pavilions,” by M.M. Kaye to “Master of the Senate,” by Robert Caro. I was pleasantly surprised when I was informed “Sweet Little Lies,” was put up by my family member as their pick for March/April, to be discussed in May. I jokingly said I was available to do a Skype session if they were interested.  I was pleasantly surprised when they took me up on it.
I was a little nervous, as I wasn’t sure what to expect, but still excited. We jumped right in with the book clubbers discussing their general impressions of the book and what surprised them the most while reading it. Among the questions I was asked (in no particular order) were:

How did you come up with the idea for the book?
(I was cooking dinner one night when the first line of the book just popped in my head – possibly because I had a knife in my hand at the time?)

Why did you have such a significant part of the action in New Orleans?
(A major theme of the book is things not being what they seem and I felt New Orleans embodied that perfectly.)

Did you ever find you’d written your characters into corners and if so, how did you write them out of it?
(All the time. When that happened, I had to step back and look at things from a different perspective, which allowed me to write my way out of the corner.)

Are the locales in Chicago that you mention real?
(For the most part, yes. I fudged a few things like residential addresses, but most everything else locale-wise is real.)

Who are some of your favorite writers?
(Mary Higgins Clark was an early influence. Joy Fielding is my author crush. Gillian Flynn is a new crush. I think Anita Shreve and Kate Atkinson are magnificent.)

Why did you choose to write suspense books?
(Suspense chose me. I grew up reading Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew and have always loved figuring out whodunit, etc. It was natural that I gravitated towards writing those types of stories.)

How often do you write?
Every day. Supposedly 2,000 words a day.)

Describe how you shaped these characters.
(It was all very organic. I knew I wanted a strong female protagonist, yet I wanted to mess with her a little by tearing her world apart. I also wanted to include some of the Chicago social scene, so I let a little bit of that guide me as well.)

What kind of research did you do?
(I spoke to a local police officer who graciously answered all of my nonsensical questions, as well as a criminal defense attorney. The mistakes are all my own.)

What’s your next book about?
(A creepy stalker!)

Some of the questions, such as how I came up with the idea for the book and what kind of research I did, were what I expected. Other questions like the setting, writing characters into a corner and why I chose suspense were not, which was pretty cool, since I’ve never been asked those before and definitely made me think.

In honor of part of the book being set in New Orleans, the group had jambalaya, which was awesome. I asked them to have a bowl for me. To keep the New Orleans theme going, their next book is “The Tin Roof Blowdown,” by James Lee Burke, which takes place in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

I had a blast doing the Skype session and hope to do more in the future. In the meantime, I better get back to writing!