Warm-up Exercise: Your Life in One Page

I don’t write poetry often, and there’s a good reason. It’s not my gift. But I’m tackling my 165,000 word sixth novel with the goal of slimming it down to a less prosy 125,000. I really want to do this. I decided a warm up exercise was in order.

I’ll never know quite how I got the idea of writing a one page poem that managed to encapsulate my life story, but it’s where I landed. Two hours later, I had this. Turns out it takes a LONG time to say things in a few words.

I’m not considering switching careers and becoming a poet, but I am pleased with the result, for me. Plus, my big project is down to 147,000 already and its getting easier all the time.

Happy When

I’ll be so happy when I get out of my parents house and can do whatever I want. I’ll stay out late. Not have to tell anyone where I am.

I’ll be happy once I’m out of college. These papers and tests are killing me. A few more months. I’ll have a job and money to do whatever I want. Then I’ll be happy.

I’ll be happy once I meet someone. You know. The one. He’ll hold me and love me. We’ll have fun together. How can you be happy alone?

I’ll be happy once this project at work is done. Once I get a raise. Once my boss leaves town. I’ll be happy if I just get a window office. How can you be happy without sunshine?

I’ll be happy once the baby comes. I want my body back. I’ll be happy once he talks. Is out of diapers. How can anyone be happy changing twelve diapers a day.

I’ll be happy if this second pregnancy goes well. If this third one does. Once my husband gets that vasectomy. Once he buys me flowers again.

I’ll be happy when these kids are done with sports. Every Saturday. I just want to sleep in. Read a book. I love them but, do other mom’s find time to enjoy themselves? How?

I’ll be happy once the house is built. Our dream home. Everything has cost so much.  I’ll be happy once we get back on track financially. Once it’s spring. Once it’s summer. Once we go on vacation. Once we get home.

I’ll be happy if dad recovers. If mom lives through this. If my son gets into that college. If my daughter gets that job. If the package I ordered comes in time. If it doesn’t rain. If it does.

I sit on my porch and remember my career. Think of my children; busy lives far away. My husband, inside watching TV. Too much of it these days, but he’s here. Still loves me.

What now, I ask? What will make me happy? If one of the kids calls? If the garden grows? If he gets up off the couch and kisses me? If the sun shines?

A little voice inside speaks. Silly girl. You are happy. You have been all along.

 

Coming down the slide in 10 days

I remember the feeling of walking to the top of a high, convoluted slide in a water park and thinking I spent 45 minutes in line to get here. Why? Do I really want to go down this thing?

I always did go down, of course, because I’d spent 45 minutes trying to get there.

There was the first rush of panic, followed by a whoosh of tummy tickling pleasure, then a sadness to have it end, probably 30 seconds or so after it started. It was usually followed by an irrational desire to get in line and do it again.

It’s been a while since I’ve done that, but the past three months have had a similar feel. With each new novel I’ve released, the level of complexity of the tasks has increased, making each slide seem higher and feel more twisty.

I’m nearing the end of my slow 45 minute trek up the steps on book 3. The complexity comes from the fact that I’m  juggling more each time. The audio version of book 1 is in progress and requires my input. Newly released book 2 is in sore need of publicity. Book 4 is blissfully dormant but book 5 is getting edited, while the designers are starting on the cover for book 6 and have quite a few questions.

I feel apprehensive and drawn five different directions and I’m wondering why I thought walking up here and going down this was such a good idea. On March 16 I’ll be at the top, submitting manuscripts and covers and pushing the publish button once again, hoping for 24-hour turn around on the approval so I can claim a St. Patrick’s Day publication date just for fun.

Then it’s whoosh, and whee, and that was fun, followed by can I do it again? Yes, I can and probably will.

 

Not my new cover, but I’m still having fun ….

Wahoo! I just got the first draft of the new cover for Twists of time.  I do love the work done by these fine people at Deranged Doctor Design. Yes this cover is cool. Yes this will need some tweaking. But go ahead and take a peak, and then I’ll share the input I sent back. If the past is any indication of the future, I expect something closer to the mark sometime tomorrow or the next day.

Things I love (and don’t want changed):
1. Mayan ruins in background
2. Model you found for Xuhu
3. The yellowish clouds, and feeling of sun behind clouds
4. The way the title color works with the rest of the cover
 
Things I’m okay with either keeping or with changing:
1. Model you found for Alex
 
Things that have to be fixed:
1. Relative height. Xuha is on the short side. Alex is a former college basketball player. I assume images can be shrunk or squeezed to achieve this effect?
2. Hair — Alex is described throughout the book as a sandy blonde. I’m fine with you lightening his hair and making him taller if you can, or with finding a taller, blonder guy
 
Things I’d like to have fixed:
1. Much less blue or better yet no blue sky on cover. More clouds instead.
2. Yellower clouds, at least at edges.
3. The circle of light around them looks too much like the first cover. Can we do something more unique? Maybe it somehow involves a twist? (It’s fine if it doesn’t …..)

Fun With Covers

When I was advised last summer to get new, genre appropriate covers for the books in my 46. Ascending collection, I had two objections to the idea (besides the obvious ones of time and money.) The first was that I love my original covers. The other was that my stories wouldn’t adapt well to the sorts of covers everyone else uses.

Well, I’ve redone two of the six so far, and I’ve got four things to report.

1. Yes, it does take some time and effort to convey to a designer what you want and to work with them to achieve that end

2. Yes, it does take some money as well.

3. Yes, my old covers were pretty and I’ll always like them.

4. No, the fine professionals I’m working with seem to have had no trouble at all, as far as I can tell, coming up with covers for the first two books that are a) great to look at, b) look like covers for the kinds of books I write and c) capture enough about the story to make sense and not be misleading.

 

Above is the original cover for the first book in the collection, originally called x0 and now called One of One, followed by the designers first proposal and the final version. For context, here’s the description of the story as it appears on the back cover. I think they did a great job.

A young Nigerian telepath faces a crisis. After Somadina’s sister is forced into a frightening marriage, Somadina cannot find her sibling or even her thoughts. She seeks another telepath to help. What she finds is Lola, a busy Texan scientist who has ignored the disturbing phenomenon in her mind for decades, and has no intention of embracing this nonsense now. Yet these two have more in common than they know, and a powerful link will be forged. Once Somadina discovers her sister is a pawn in a dangerous political game, the stakes rise for everyone, including an ancient organization of telepaths compelled to intervene. Both women are stronger than they realize, and they have ignited the wrath of a fanatic willing to kill anyone to alter his nation’s future.

Here is the original cover for the second book in the collection, originally called y1and now called Shape of Secrets, followed by the designers first proposal and the final version. For context, here’s the description of the story as it appears on the back cover. Once again, I think they did a great job.

Zane wants to be himself. He’s gotten a degree in neuroscience to figure out how he can alter his appearance the way he does.  Unfortunately, that degree lands him in the sales department of Penthes Pharmaceuticals, and the more he learns about the company’s dark secrets the more uncomfortable he becomes. Good thing he has always excelled at blending in. Then upper management discovers him and life gets complicated. A sales junket in the South Pacific introduces him to love. It also leaves him dealing with an unsolved murder, an unsavory boot camp manager, and serious repercussions from the fact that not everyone at Penthes likes him, or wants him to knows the mysteries the company has worked so hard to keep hidden. Even in paradise, it will take all of unique his talents to keep from turning into the next murder victim.

Twists of Time will be the next book to get its new cover, sometime in mid-January.  I can’t wait to see how it turns out!

Remember My Name

Do you want to be famous? Why?

The idea of strangers knowing who I am and caring about what I do holds no appeal for me, but of course individual tastes do vary. If you crave your ten minutes of fame, or ten years of it, I wish you well.

There is one thing I do want from you, though, although I suppose it makes no more sense than fame. I want you, or a few people in general, to remember my name. Wait, my name isn’t important. Just remember what I said. Remember something I wrote.

I’m tearing apart the reasons I’ve spent years writing novels, as a way to find a path forward for me, the books I’ve written and my future writing. So far I’ve acknowledged that I write for the sheer joy of it and for the massive amount of things I’ve learned. I write for therapy and play money. I write for praise.

Today, I face the fact that one of the reasons I write is to leave something behind.

“Oh, so you want to be immortal?” you ask. No. I’ve studied too much astrophysics to think anything in this universe will last forever, and enough history to know that few humans leave a noticeable footprint more than a few generations into the future.

The key word to me is noticeable.

Somewhere in my heart, I think if you leave something of value behind, it will affect others who will do the same and so on. Yes, I’m enough of a realist to expect the effect to diminish with time, and to recognize our life expectancy as a species probably isn’t all that long, anyway.

So? It’s not an influence that lasts forever I’m after. However, the idea of leaving a little of me here for awhile is something I’m driven to do. Like I said, individual tastes do vary.

“Why don’t you just have children?” you may ask. Excellent question. I did that and they’re wonderful. If all goes well, I will leave them behind. Whether any of them will go on to produce children of their own remains to be seen, but I don’t think my desire to leave something of myself on this planet should be a driving factor in our relationship. They’ve got their own paths to follow, and that may or may not include passing my fine genetic material along.

Years ago I read a book of short stories called Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon by Spider Robinson. Each tale takes place in an eccentric bar, and involves a mildly sci-fi premise. To the best of my recollection only one character who wanders in is female, which is maybe why her story stuck with me. She’d lived for centuries, long enough to see every one of her descendants perish until finally she had none. The knowing made her sad. Like I said, the story stuck with me.

“Well, you could get out there and do some good works and leave your mark on this world that way,” you could suggest, and a fine suggestion it would be. I think we should all do that, and I’m trying to do my part. But, it’s not the same thing.

We are each driven by what we are. I want to write something that outlives me. Maybe I’ve done it already and maybe it is yet to happen. Either way I’ll probably never know. Based on Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon, I see how not knowing can be a better thing.

Whatever the situation is, though, it sounds like I better keep writing.

But first, I’m going to take a minute and enjoy this great video.

 

(Read more about why I write at The Number One Reason I Write Books, My Eye-opening Second Reason for WritingI write because it’s cheaper than therapy, Nothing cool about modest ambitions and I love to be loved.)

 

My Eye-opening Second Reason for Writing

Over the past few years I’ve learned what it would take to climb a mountain in the Himalayas. I’ve studied supply lists for crossing the Pacific as a single sailor. I’ve wrapped my arms around high-frequency trading, come to understand the damage caused by oil exploration in the Niger Delta, and learned the history of U.S. immigration laws. It has been one hell of an adult education program.

My degree, if you will, is the six novels I’ve authored. I’ve discovered that the information living in my brain because of them is one of the seven reasons I write books.

Couldn’t you go research all these things and more, and not bother with the writing part, you might ask? It would be a fine question. Of course I could, but I probably wouldn’t. I’m curious about so many things, but my ability to get myself to sit down and learn about them instead of goofing off is pretty limited. Unless I’m doing it for one of my books. Then I will spend hours on it.

I’ve recently returned to participating in writers’ group, and that has started this reflecting on why I write. At a recent meeting, one writer was trying to describe the subject matter of Philip Roth’s books. “Anything he got a wild hair up his ass about,” she said.  I had to laugh, not only because it was apt, but because she had described one of the chief joys of writing.

You get to pick something you care about, anything that interests you, and then go learn enough to begin to weave a story. You don’t know where your imagination or your research will take you, but between the two of them you can bet it will be somewhere fascinating.

I haven’t only learned from research. The very act of producing books has forced me to to become more acquainted with software, graphics, and photo licensing. I’ve had to brush up my grammar. Do you know when to use “a while” and when to use “awhile”?  I do, now.

Writing has also forced me to stay more current with idioms and kept me more politically correct. No one says “on the QT” anymore, but “on the DL” is still used. Really? It is better to call a mentally challenged child cognitively impaired? Okay. Glad I know.

My ad hoc education program hasn’t been restricted to me, either. Others have been kind enough to seek out information for me in their own fields, leaving friends and relatives familiar with Mayan numbers and civil war battles. (Yes, my husband really did attend a re-enactment to help me with a book.)

Much of my education has come from the intriguing people I’ve been exposed to because of my writing. There is a lady in Denmark who shared her vacation photos from Iceland with me, to make d4 more realistic. Four wonderful women from India helped me with information and cultural sensitivity as I wrote c3. One went a step further, working with me to create a Sanskrit word needed for the story. I had taken a stab at it, using internet translation, and she laughed at my result. She took the problem to her father, a scholar who speaks Sanskrit, and “Jvalalaya, the Abode of Light” was born.

As I work to overcome the inertia and start a new series of books, the thrill of learning draws me forward. I have a giant “to read” pile already, much of it on artificial intelligence, which will play a large role in the world I am building. Anticipation of creating this world has me headed off in two very different directions this summer, attending two fabulous yet odd events I would have passed on without the added impetus of “this will really help me with the next novel.”

Yes, sometimes writing gets me up out of my chair to take in the world.

Of course, this still doesn’t explain what drives me to keep on with all the other time-consuming pieces of putting together a book. For that, I’m going to need to take a hard look at the other five reasons I spend most of my free time creating novels.

(Read more about why I write at The Number One Reason I Write Books, Nothing cool about modest ambitions  and I write because it’s cheaper than therapy.)

I started a club!

Every kid wants to start a club, complete with a hidden clubhouse, their own rules and lots of secrets. That childlike fascination is part of what led me to create the fictional x0, a secret society for telepaths of all ages.

It was even more fun having my hero Alex found his own organization in z2. His group isn’t secret; it’s for anyone trying to understand the nature the time. He’s quite proud of his club, and I happen to know it will play a pivotal role in developing scientific philosophy about time travel. Of course, that’s because Alex, his club, and this particular future all live inside my head.

Last week, I crawled out of my own brain to fulfill a childhood fantasy in real life. I started a club, or, to be more precise, a Meetup group.

Now, I’m not a particularly social person, but I recognize that writing is an almost brutally solitary activity and contact with other writers helps maintain perspective and promote sanity. I’ve been in a lot of writer’s groups; some worked well and others were a waste of my time. Those that worked best for me consisted of a small group of people, all committed to writing and all willing to share their thought processes with others.

I liked one group I joined after arriving in the Asheville area, but found it difficult to attend, due to it’s location and time. It disbanded in December, and the original organizer on Meetup sent around a note basically saying “anyone at all want to pick this up?” I was in the process of deleting the email, sent to all 192 members, when something in the back of my head said “wait”.

For the price of a Meetup fee of $15/month, I could have my childhood wish. I could pick the location and time. I could make up the rules. Hell, I could even add a secret handshake if I wanted. I don’t think I want, but, you never know.

So for the last week, instead of blogging, I’ve been creating my own vision of a writers group. Everyone in it will be an active fiction writer with a work in progress. We’re going to meet in the daylight, at a coffee shop that is easy to get to, is affordable for all and has plenty of parking. We’re not going to charge money, critique each other’s work, have prompts or assignments or, God-forbid, homework, and we’re absolutely not going to have guest speakers. All those things are fine if you want them, they just don’t fit my vision.

Out of 192 members, near as I can tell all but a few dozen have turned off notifications and have no idea they ever belonged. Of those remaining, a handful are not so happy with my changes. A couple have quit. All well and good. That leaves me with a potential couple of dozen people out there, more than enough, and if this works as well as I hope it will, we’ll find others.

If you happen to live near Asheville, check out Write and Thrive for Fiction Writers, an outgrowth of the original Write and Thrive Salon. My new clubhouse is the Hopey and Company Coffee Shop in Black Mountain, and we meet the third the Saturday of the month at noon. If you are nearby and this sounds good to you, I’d love to see you there.