Just What I Need. . .

books question mark. . . more rabbit holes. Sheesh. Okay, we all know what happens when we sit down to write. We see some irresistible click bait. We think it will only be a few seconds of surfing. A half hour later, suddenly it’s time to make lunch. Or whatever. And now, at the risk of having you think I’m the devil on one shoulder, I have to mention my latest temptations. I belong to LibraryThing, an online book club similar to Goodreads, but different. LibraryThing has many discussion groups in both fiction and non-fiction, but my favorite group is “Name That Book.” People post a few lines or the plot from a book they read in the past, but now can’t recall the title of. You have to be a member to post, but not just to browse what people are looking for. BUT, the site also refers users to even more links to explore, such as the Lost Titles, Forgotten Rhymes from the Library of Congress and Reddit’s What’s That Book.

So, what’s the fascination? It’s kind of like a quiz show, where you compete in your mind with the folks on the TV. It’s fun to test my own memory, as well as the huge backlog of books I’ve read. It’s fun to try to help other readers who are going nuts trying to remember something they’ve read that still haunts them. But, all that aside, it’s for sure one more timewaster. Will I give it up? No. But I know from experience it will lose it’s appeal after a while and I’ll be spending less and less time on these sites. Then I’ll do what I always do: get back to work.

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The Arts

dream palace 3One of the primary delights of living where I do in Southern California is that I am surrounded by a wealth of resources for joy. For me this means the pure joy of learning, of stretching my mind and especially for absorbing art in all its forms. Today I’ll be joining a friend for a visit to The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens. Last night I attended a revival of the film Gold Diggers of 1933, with excellent commentary by a professor of film from a nearby college. Our local little theater, The Playhouse, is staging a run of the Broadway musical Dames At Sea.

But, much as I love movies and the rest, it’s always books that come first. Lucky for me, Inside the Dream Palace by Sherill Tippins combines it all. Sure, it’s a history of the iconic New York residence. But it’s also a capsule version of social movements, history, architecture, literature, painting, politics, music, economics, philanthropy and New York City itself from the time of the Chelsea Hotel’s founding to the present day. What I always hope, of course, is that infusing my mind with art in all its forms will stimulate and foster my own work. This may or may not be true. But if not, so what? The delight and the joy, the pure fascination, the enrichment I gain is benefit enough.

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Send Is Not the End

brain wavesWe’ve all heard, and likely experienced, that getting started is the hard part. It’s certainly true for me. But now I find that ending is also hard. Last Saturday I hit “send” on a new story for a new (to me) market. But I couldn’t let it go. Of course, there were the usual pangs of regret. As soon as we hit send, we immediately think of or remember details we meant to include but left out or other improvements now too late to make. But it goes deeper than that. When I’ve accomplished my goal for the day, I can’t simply switch off my writer’s mind. I jump right into trying to come up with another story for the same or a different market. I’m eager to tackle peripheral writing chores, like research or reading posts on my several writing forums. I’m on a roll and I don’t want to stop it. My regular, non-writing life might not even exist and certainly has no place in my brain. I resent being hungry for lunch. When I take a shower, I forget which part I’ve washed and which part I haven’t. When my boyfriend proposes marriage, I mentally edit his phrasing for better effect. I look at every object, from a paper clip to a pair of sandals, wondering how they could be used in a story, especially in a mystery story, which is what I often write. Mostly, I don’t want to leave this realm. I want to stay in writer mode a while longer. Once started, I don’t want to stop. No real harm is done, I guess. And of course, it doesn’t last, if only because I rather like the other parts of my life as well, the friends, family, books, meals, music, my cat and all the rest. Yet, I know, once I’m back to being a person, rather than a writer, I’ll face the same writer mind problem next time–getting started. Starting. Ending. Both are part of what writers, and perhaps other artists learn to handle. Both in their own ways painful, yet satisfying. Which, come to think of it, applies to so much of the writer’s life. Or maybe not. In the end, I can only speak for myself.

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Fun With Networking

me and vinnie croppedI spent most of this past weekend at the wonderful California Crime Writers Conference, jointly created by the local Sisters in Crime chapter and the local Mystery Writers of America chapter. At left is a picture of me and Vinnie Hansen signing copies of Fishy Business, the latest Guppy anthology,

 

perf6.000x9.000.inddwhich includes stories from each of us. The conference was top notch, with excellent speakers and presentations, good food, lots of opportunities to mingle with and meet fellow writers, but also editors, PR advisors and technical experts. Whenever I go to one of these events, I always come away re-energized about my work, but also impressed with how every one involved in this business is supportive, kind, helpful, warm, friendly and interesting. This particular conference is only held every other year at this point. Luckily, there are many others. My next one will be in Dallas at Bouchercon in October. It’ll be here before ya know it!

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Decisions, Decisions

decisionsStudies have shown that, instead of making us feel richer and blessed, an over abundance of choices actually makes us less happy. We get paralyzed. What if we make the wrong choice? How do we decide between similar, but slightly different options? How do we cope with having to leave so many delightful options behind? This dilemma is certainly true about my abundance of possible writing projects. Should I get back to light verse, one of my first loves? Or should I tackle even a small smidge of the book length manuscript I’ve been working on for several years? Then there’s the lure of responding to calls for essays and short stories that appear every day on the several lists and forums that I follow. Perhaps it’s a matter of focusing on completing the project that is most nearly ready for submission, so I’ll have one more manuscript in circulation? Each choice offers emotional and/or practical benefits. And of course, my decision might be determined by some deadline or other that I’ve already committed to.

In the end, while I can have several projects in various stages of development, I can only work on one piece at a time. The important thing for me is not to get bogged down in trying to make the “right” decision. The important thing is to make any decision at all. Just get started on moving something ahead. My job today will be the one of the smallest, and yet most crucial tasks: coming up with a title for my latest short crime fiction story. A good title won’t sell the piece. But it’s more likely to catch the editor’s eye. And it bears such importance to me, in my own mind, that it feels like a giant hump to get over. If I can do that one thing, I’ll feel encouraged about my work for the day. I wish the same for you, today and every day.

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Note to Self: Stop Talking

stop talkingTo myself, I mean. Or rather, more specifically, stop the mental negative self-talk that doesn’t help and only makes me miserable. Stop saying I have no ideas. Stop saying I have no time. Stop saying my work is too quirky to find a home. Stop saying I’m not good enough to pull off a major project. Stop saying there’s too many other fine writers out there, far better writers than I am. Stop saying all these things before I’ve even get started, before I can possibly have any notion of whether an idea is viable or not. Note to self: you’re not helping! You’re only succeeding in shutting me down. Just stop! I don’t wanna hear it!

not listeningOr maybe I should more profitably tell myself: stop listening. I’ve had a lifetime of practice in not listening to other people (parents, rejected lovers, the fashion police). Why can’t I tune out the voices in my own head? Maybe I can’t. But, I’ve read that brain scientists have shown that you can’t hold two thoughts in your head at one time. So, instead of battling the negative voices, maybe the cure is to fill my brain with thoughts that push the other ones out. Thoughts like: I’m excited about a new idea. Or, I saw a great market for that story I’ve got in inventory. Or, I don’t have to do it all at once, a little progress every day will get me there. Maybe if I can do this routinely enough, maybe if I can make the positive thoughts the default, I can gradually diminish the visitations or the impact of the negative ones. Can’t hurt to try.

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Bragging Rights

AHM_MayJune2019_400x570Every issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine includes a fun contest. They print a picture, and writers are challenged to come up with a 250 word maximum story inspired by or based on the picture. Winners get $25.00. The winning story and the names of the runners up are printed in the next issue. I’m proud to say I was a runner up in the latest contest, with my name in the issue pictured here.

Best of all, it was the most fun I’ve had writing in a long time–a great break from revising, editing, marketing. And even that small bit of recognition gives me the emotional boost to keep going, to do more, to seek out more opportunities. And to encourage all my fellow short story and/or mystery writers to do the same.

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Persistence

I’m excited. My story, “The Wannabe”, is now out in the latest Guppy anthology, Fishy Business. While not quite a “30-Year Story“, it was at least a 10-year story. Still, I kept at it. I kept at it because I had faith in the story. I also had friends along the way who helped. An actress I know helped me shape the “cattle call” scene. I also did research into how long it takes to render a person unconscious by choking and how long they will stay passed out once the airway is cleared. Mostly, I kept submitting. While the story came close to acceptance several times, it never made the final cut. Until the call for the latest Guppy anthology went out, that is. Even then, it was a year between acceptance and the publication of the anthology. But so what? In the meantime, I kept working on and submitting other pieces, plus editing, revising and publishing the second edition of my poetry book, Fault Lines. As writers, we accept the realities of publishing, which include delays and disappointments. But we also get to enjoy the successes and victories. One of the unexpected joys of working on this anthology was getting to know the other 21 contributors, the coordinator and others involved. Sure, I’d seen their names and read their posts on the group list, and even met a couple of them in person at Bouchercon. But this collaborative experience in a small group focused on one project proved delightful. And it’s one more experience to add to this, my writing life.

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At Last

Fault Lines cover final jpeg2 (2)1000After a long slog, I’ve finally issued the second edition of my poetry collection, Fault Lines. Perhaps it took longer than it should have. Perhaps it took exactly as long as it needed. There were three things that slowed down the process. One was my own foot-dragging when it came to the hard work. And my foot dragging came from two impulses: fear (that I wouldn’t be up to the task) and a simple dread of the drudgery of endless editing and proofreading. A second cause was the steep learning curve, in regards to cover design, formattting, uploading, dealing with ISBNs, vendors and all the rest. While there are hundreds, if not thousands, of books, articles and blogs available to teach me all this, none of them were quite adequate for the job. There was always some missing step, or fuzzy explanation, combined with the fact that it all changes by the minute and much of what I read no longer applied. The third factor was my own near-perfectionism. I really wanted to get it right this time, and not end up with the typos, omissions and other issues with the first edition. I wanted a product I could be proud of, now and into the future. Of course, with all my efforts, there are still a few things I now would change, a few steps I would (will) do differently next time. That just means I’ve learned something (well, many things, actually). Hooray! Anything I learn, any hard work, just better prepares me for the next challenge. So, here it is. I hope you like it.

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The Simplest Cure

sleeping babyYesterday my life was awful. I felt discouraged, stuck, overwhelmed and unlovable. Yet, nothing had changed from the day before, when everything was fine. Today, I’m upbeat, tackling chores and creative projects with verve, hope and confidence. Nothing in my life has really changed. So, what happened? For me, it’s a simple but all too often overlooked answer. Two nights ago, I stayed up till 2:00 AM talking to my friend and critique partner, Stephanie on the phone. So, only 4 hours sleep. Last night, I made up for it with 9 solid hours. So, my advice to all my writing and non-writing friends: GET SOME SLEEP!

Sometimes problems in our writing can also be fixed with simple but overlooked options. One of my favorites is this: Just leave it out. If you’ve reworked a sentence or paragraph repeatedly and it still feels awkward, jarring or doesn’t lead naturally to the next, if it’s out of place and you can’t figure out where it fits, well, can you just leave it out altogether? Do you really need it? Is there a scene that drags? If you cut it, will it be missed? Or perhaps reduce it to a sentence or two. At least stop fretting about it, let it rest and see if it looks or feels different tomorrow. “Rests” in music are part of the whole conception of the composition. They should be part of our lives and our writing as well.

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