Thursday, March 31, 2011

wherever you go...

So, I'm here, in my cinder block cell. Unpacked and ready to tackle the empress, and who should show up but my ex-husband and my son, who were in town for the day.

Oh, the irony, right? The one week without Carson, instead of staying home the whole time and barricading myself in my office, I drive 160 miles to this motel and I'm here 5 minutes before turning into "mom."

But here's the thing. If he hadn't shown up, I would have spent the first hour talking to him on the phone and wondering if he's bathed (he has a broken arm, so hygiene actually is a challenge), or done his math the right way, etc. To spare me dark fantasies of doom, he came tumbling forth, backpack, filth and all, so I could administer my "mom" tools, and send him packing down the road.

So now, I have no excuse. There's nobody watching basketball within earshot, I've had my microwaved soup, and there will be no whiskey until I've worked through three more chapters.

Tune in tomorrow--for now, I'm leaving the Internet! (Well, unless I need to do manuscript-related research or something...)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

writing retreats. in the real world.

So I've never been to Yaddo or one of those places where writers sequester themselves all day and have baskets of lunch left outside their doors seemingly by elves.

I've never scuttled off, by myself, to an island or the woods or a ranch hundreds of miles from nowhere--though I do often vacation in those sorts of places with my family.

When I do go off on a solitary writing retreat, I prefer cheap motels. Typically, I book the largest room in the least expensive motel I can find. Space is important because I like to spread my work out on the floor, on my bed, on the couch, indeed, on any horizontal surface. I bring my printer, my research material, the latest printed draft, my notes, several of my favorite books, my thesaurus and my ten pound American Heritage Dictionary. My only requirements are free wi-fi and a bathtub.

I like the motel to be walking distance from a park and a bustling downtown area where I can walk for my morning coffee and nightly martini.

This coming week I have such an expedition planned. I head off to Bend on Thursday with three days' worth of supplies and all the aforementioned paraphernalia. Amid the myriad resorts and bed and breakfasts I'm staying at the EconoLodge where I've booked a suite, and I feel mighty smug about it all.

Writers, what's your dream retreat?

Friday, March 25, 2011


Greetings, from the airport affiliated with one of the happiest places on earth. Really!

After five days at Disney World, I'm sane, rested, re calibrated and sufficiently dosed up on my Vitamin D. With an 11 yr old boy as the only kid in our party, there was no need to stand in insufferably long character lines, no Princess makeovers, no It's a Small World. Only had to do Dumbo once. And the teacups, just to make sure they still make me nauseous. Yup. Check. Onward.

Here at "The World," they have four significant parks, the best of which, imho, is Animal Kingdom. Shady lanes, zoo animals in convincing habitats and the usual Disney hyper attention to filth.

Yes, there's excess. Yes, there's bad-to-mediocre food for high prices, yes there's over-stim bordering on the ridiculous. They try to squeeze every penny out of you.

And yet.

In five days not only did I not swear (except for once when my computer bag toppled over), but I didn't hear anyone else swear, either. People were ultra-polite, friendly. Happy. The weather was perfect, perfect, perfect. We went to the Disney Cirque du Soleil (La Nouba), and if it wasn't the greatest show on earth, it was damn close. (Of particular acclaim were a troupe of little Chinese girls in an act called Diabolos. Breathtaking!)

So here we are, at the Orlando airport waiting for our flight home. While here I spent a bit of time with my Empress notes and outlined some new plot shifts--really looking forward to tearing back into the manuscript next week. Rested, happy and if not tanned, at least not anemic looking.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Got style? Check it out!

Ever have those totally vortex days? Like you're in a dream and quicksand is involved, and you open your mouth to scream and nothing comes out?

I've been working and writing and living at a somewhat chaotic pace. Work is gangbusters, lots happening in the writing life, my brain loops and loops at bedtime and I dream about the to-do list and all the unfinished business therein.

But fuck it. I'm going to Disneyworld in a few days. Taking the husband and the kid and we're getting on a plane with our Florida outfits, our mouse passes, our maps and whatnot. It's been raining that cold, pelting stuff since Christmas, the back yard is a full sponge. My kid broke his arm the other day. All our vehicles have "issues." I may need root canal. We haven't finished our taxes. The list of "woe is us" goes on forever.

Ah, but there are some intense silver linings. The writers in workshop are going great guns. Books are out, being sold, hitting the bestseller list. Last week I signed with an agent, and she very promptly sent along revision notes on my manuscript. I can't wait to have at 'em. Really, I feel like my life is on steroids. It's all so amazing, sometimes.

That's why, on this very vague and stressed out day, I put the real world aside and worked on my platform. What is that, you ask? Well, here's the short answer. Steampunk. Although my book isn't dyed-in-the-wool Steampunk, there are some Victorian time-travel elements. There's a magical locket. A diary. An empress-to-be. Corsets, lots of corsets.

While writing my book, I grew fond of the "dreaming the future in the past" motif, so much so that, today, I put together a little quiz on Steampunk Style. I beseech you: if you have 3 minutes, take it and let me know if you were properly entertained!

Sunday, March 13, 2011


One of the top benefits of living a pastiche work life is that it lends itself to the unexpected. Now, granted, that's not everyone's cup of tea, but I'm all about the surprises. A couple of years ago one such serendipitous adventure flew into my window. An artist by the name of Ted Katz, whose art is featured to the left.

Ted was writing a book, and he was looking for an editor to help him organize his "are they essays? Stories? Where do I go with them?"

"Let me see what you've got," I said.

Ted loaded me up with his binders: pieces he'd written over the years, sketches, interspersed with his fabulous pictures. We met, mapped, meandered. He had a title: The Studio Within.

Ted has been painting and teaching in one form or another for 50 years or so, and in that time he'd amassed a portfolio and a vita that would be a lot for five men. The first time we met, he spoke about students who would be awe-struck upon seeing his current studio: a clean-well-lit, glorious space built onto the mid-century house he shares with his partner. This frustrated him. "Most of my work was created on a card table sectioned from my living space by a shower curtain," he said. And then, emphatically, pointing to his solar plexus: "It comes from here. This is where the studio is."

Now, nearly two years later, Ted has finished and published his book.
The Studio Within is a collection of 40 lyrical pieces-- personal essays that venture into the heart of the artist's journey. It's funny, heartbreaking, full of voice and life, and most importantly, the essence of Ted.

Today, Ted invited me on his collector's tour--a preview of his upcoming show at Butters Gallery. The paintings he unveiled (the one pictured above is part of it), celebrate the theme "edges," and by way of introduction, Ted wrote a new essay that explores the relationship between a painting and its viewer. In the same way that his paintings "are responses to forms created by light and energy, and the edges formed by their noises and silences," the relationship formed between audience and picture is a response to a particular exchange of energy, much of it silent. Personal.

I love that Ted is acknowledging and calling out this temple within. It's one of the most wondrous qualities of humanity, the occasion to linger in the space where one thing meets another. Like the happy accident of meeting and working with Ted, the edge between the "you" and the "me" of art is as mysterious as is it mercurial, and summed up well by the conclusion of Ted's "edges" essay, a lovely quotation by William Carlos Williams:

"Unless there is a new mind there cannot be a new line, the old will go on repeating itself with recurring deadliness: without invention nothing lies under the witch-hazel bush."

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

writing in the "new world"

I'm a little late to pipe in on the Amanda Hocking buzz, but I really like what she has to say in this post (thank you, Erin Reel, for directing my scattered attention to it!)

What I like in particular is the demonstration of how a "lowly" writer now has the power to set the record straight with nary a phone call or magazine interface. Hocking has a half-million page views and nearly 1,000 followers on her blog, and a choir of tweeters crowing in her behalf. She's honed her audience through sheer will, hard work, and savvy.

That she's the latest poster child for self-pub success not-withstanding, Hocking isn't all that different than other women who set their sites on a goal and exploited their natural sourcing ability and intuition, backed up with a solid strategy. Mrs. Fields and her chocolate chip cookies, remember her? Mary Kay and her drive to turn housewives into entrepreneurs. Amanda Hocking had a vision, a skillset, and the drive to see it through, and while her nay-sayers are pounding out cautionary missives throughout the blogosphere, she's parlaying her success while being careful not to kill the kernel of passion that fuels it.

It's easy to get side-tracked with all the media at our fingertips. Easy to get sucked in to burning cycles and spending our writing energy in secondary pursuits. Talking about writing instead of writing. Ahem. I have well-published friends who never read their reviews because of the derailing factor. I have writer buddies who don't tweet, or facebook or blog, deciding instead to use their time at the keyboard to enter the alternate universe. Other friends of mine are good at compartmentalization, and segment their day and exposure to Internet noise judiciously.

As for me, I'm a binge type. I use the energy of distraction to propel me into my line of flight, and then, when it works the way I like, I can glide in the zone for hours. This tiny talent is what keeps me from being truly ADD, I think. It's a state of hyper-daydream. A high. But, alas, it's not available to me every day, I have to carve space for it. Put it on my Outlook calendar.

What about you? Are you a multi-tasker (have your creative writing doc open while attending to e-mail and social media), or do you do one thing at a time?

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

chelsea cain launches the night season

Last night my family and I popped over to Powell's Books to hear Chelsea Cain read from her newly released "The Night Season." Like any proud extended family midwife type, I marveled at her ability to convey the mixture of emotions, excitement, exhaustion and presence that accompanies the launch of a book. (Here she is signing the umpteenth book of the night with her daughter dutifully handing out the swag.)

This is the fourth book in the Gretchen Lowell-Archie Sheridan-Susan Ward series (formerly known as the "Heartsick" series), and oddly, it seems like just three weeks ago that Chelsea announced to our writing group, "I'm thinking of writing a cheesy thriller."

In a world overflowing with would-be novelists and cliches of folks who dream of best-selling authordom, her claim never left a doubt in our minds. Like many of the writers in our group, Chelsea has that extraordinary combination of intelligence, tenacity, talent and will. The quadruple storm of qualities that allows the publishing industry to persevere in the face of economic ruin, technological explosion and a generation of kids who often won't read anything longer than a tweet.

As she said on the podium last night when asked how long she planned on doing this, "Until nobody shows up at Powell's." In other words, forever.