Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Christmas Magic

Amid the stuff that needs be wrapped, the chores that need be done, I stopped, looked around, and wondered, When had Christmas become such a job? Where has the magic gone?

Christmas, when magic is commonplace and dreams come true, has ceased to be. And I can blame no one but myself.

Writing takes me to other worlds, other dimensions, and within them all there lives a diety. That diety plays an important role in the character and morality of each world's inhabitants. Some dieties are bringers of joy and hope. Some bring death and destruction. All impact the lives of those who believe.

Childhood saw the diefication of Santa Claus--with a vague understanding of Jesus. Youth saw Santa fade and Christ grow in importance. The joy of Christmas changed from presents to presence, to the realization that the gifts we give and receive are just a token of the gift given us by a loving God.

There is no price tag on Hope or Faith or Love, and these are the true gifts, personified by the Baby Jesus, of the holiday season and yet, they've been in such short supply.

Everyone has their dark moments, hours, weeks, even years. With the economy in flux, various media stealing the innocence that once crowned childhood, and a variety of other woes, it is easy to abandon the three most precious gifts of Christmas, to wallow in the darkness and lose the magic.

Leaving the job.

The stress, the worry, the myriad tasks that pile around you become overwhelming when it's just a job. Gift buying is not a joy. Gift making? Yeah, I know; who has the time?

And that's when the epiphany came: The Little Drummer Boy. Yep. We hear it over and over, but do we pay attention? Giving doesn't have to cost, or stress, or exhaust. Giving should be joyous. A selfless sharing. THERE resides the magic.

I want the magic back. I CHOOSE to have the magic back. That means choosing to give with a glad heart, a heart thankful that it CAN give--be it time, a hug, and encouraging word, coins thrown into Santa's kettle outside the market.

Nobody says Christmas has to bankrupt you. In fact, that's the antithesis of what Christmas means. That dollar you put in a red kettle may mean little to you, but to someone it means Hope. That smile you give to the mommy with the fractious toddler costs nothing, but to her, it shows empathy, caring, understanding. The door you hold for someone struggling to juggle packages or strollers or whatever may take only a moment, but could make the difference for someone who has seen little good in mankind.

Giving of yourself doesn't cost much, but the dividends are high. And the magic? You'll find it.

I did.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Yesterday, Tomorrow, Forever

Some things survive the test of time. They don't decay. What they do is change.

Love is like that.

In the course of writing, I've seen the romance market change drastically. Like love, it has gotten past the fervor of discovery, the raging passions and heartrending angst of youthful desire and grown into something more stable, more lasting, less exhausting. (Okay, so that last may sound out of place to some, but those who enjoy long loving relationships will not only understand but smile at the memories it evokes.)

I still believe true love CAN conquer all--and not just between the covers of the books I read. Perhaps it is that belief, in and of itself, that makes love work, that makes romance, in all its incarnations, more than adult fairy tales.

I married the man I love more than three decades ago. I feared my heart would burst with the love I felt. Silly me. The children came. Seeing my love on the floor playing with the babies made me do something I thought impossible; I loved him even more. Watching him under the car hood with our son talking about "the meaning of life" stuff that plagues every kid, holding our daughters when they had their hearts broken, standing strong when our youngest's fiance was killed even though his heart, too, had broken, all these things and a thousand others found room in a heart I thought already full. And so it has played out through the years.

That's the secret of love. There is always room for more.

Romance shares that secret. The number of genres continues to expand. Romance authors recognize no boundaries writing in every conceivable age, era, epoch and beyond. That is the power of love. And while the literati will never give romance authors the credit they deserve, those who read the genre understand that there are no limits anywhere when we believe true love does, indeed, conquer all.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Nourishing your Muse

Friday is coming! Yay!

No, it isn't that it's the end of the work week that has me so exited. Friday will see me driving (forever, on roads I hate) to Woodbridge, NJ for my annual foray to the NJRW conference.

A writer's gotta do what a writer's gotta do.

NJRW was one of the first conferences I ever attended. I keep going back because I've yet to be disappointed in what it offers, and it offers a great deal more than the agenda you'll see on the website. It offers comradery, understanding, encouragement, friendship, and nourishment for the writer's soul--and muse.

Published and unpublished mix and mingle, talking about a subject only we, as writers, understand. Conversations in the lobby alone include things like: "And then she stabbed him!" and "Well, the sex has to be hot or it's not for me." Or "Well, I'm not sure if I should kill him. If I do, then I have to decide how, but I know it won't be poison--that's a woman's weapon. Maybe I'll throw him off the battlements. That would work."

I can't begin to imagine what the other guests at the hotel must think hearing those snippets. I can, however, report that people passing a cluster of writers often look as if they've found themselves on the wrong side of Alice's looking glass.

Writing isolates us. We write alone with only our characters bearing us company. Most of time, those characters are enough. But not all the time.

I have a wonderful friend who doesn't write, doesn't read romance, and is a cheerleader extraordinaire. She hasn't a clue about my process, but she'll listen. I'll start talking about a character who's giving me fits, and she'll say, "Stop. Is this a REAL person or one of yours?" (Real to me doesn't count.)

As much as I love this friend, as much as she allows me to use her for a sounding board, she really doesn't understand the call of my muse, why I'll spend hours on a paragraph, or work into the dawn when I'm on a roll so, no matter how much she would like to, she often can't help me. I need another writer's take on an editing problem, for info on an editor or agent, and a host of other things.

Writers aren't plentiful where I live. There isn't even an RWA chapter within an hour of the house. Online groups are wonderful, but being overwhelmed by email isn't. Conferences fulfill a need for all writers, but are a necessity for writers who have no immediate support group. While surrounded by others like ourselves, we network, we laugh, we discuss, and we argue. We talk writing until the parched creative gardens within each of us are awash in a refreshing, fulfilling rainshower of new ideas and differing slants.

By the time the weekend is over, we're all ready to sit in solitary splendor (I can dream, can't I?) once again, answering the calls of our individual muses. We have nourished them, and they, too, are ready to get back to work. The blank screen looks like an adventure waiting to happen again, not a forbidding wasteland.

I can't wait.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Time Leeches--addendum

Sometimes my head gets so far ahead of my fingers, I actually get lost in my own thought process. Annoying, but true. That's what happened with the Time Leeches post--so much stuff wanting out that the original reason for the post got lost in the shuffle. What was that reason? BLOGS. Lots of them.

Blogs are--as much as it pains me to say it--mega-time leeches. As you hopscotch from one interesting piece to another, the day slips away. The "call" stories, the advice, the bios on other writers you know only online, the tips on perservering, the little known fact or amazing tidbit all conspire to keep you glued to your computer, but you aren't writing.

My solution is a once a week approach. If a chapter mate or writing friend is blogging somewhere, I will pop in to support them (goes back to that being a friend ideal), but then it's back to work (and here we have a wee bit of self-discipline. Whodda thunk?) Posts are also a once a week chore--so far--and provide an outlet for the myriad random thoughts playing Ricochet Rabbit among the characters and story ideas that people my cerebral landscape.

I also realized, in the course of my earlier Time Leeches blog, while illustrating the "mother" part of the family time leeches, I presented no solution specific to that particular problem. Some of us live some distance from our families. That makes avoiding these leeches easier thanks to Caller ID. That's it. I see that area code, and nobody's home.

For those of you with a drop-ins problem, the solution is more difficult. First, if you tend to just "drop-in" yourself, stop. Call first. "Are you busy? Do you have time to (fill in the blank)?" Bioligic reproduction tells us that like begets like, you reap what you sow, etc. These are basic truths. The same holds true in most relationships.

Changing gears with friends or family may take some perserverance--which, as writers, we either have or must cultivate--but after the first couple of times someone asks, "Why are you calling? Just come over." And you reply, "Well, I know how valuable my writing time is, and how distressing it is to have that interrupted. If you are doing something important to you, I didn't want to be inconsiderate," they'll catch on. Well, maybe not the Guilt Master, but even she will back off after a while. Not gracefully, mind you, but you gotta do what you gotta do.

Okay, bases covered--I think. If I'm wrong, feel free to fill in the blanks.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Time Leeches

First, a public service announcement: I don't edit blogs. You get what I think when I think it. Proceed at your own risk.

In the course of my writing, I've discovered the Time Leeches. They are many and varied. Some are sentient. Others, silent but deadly. All swallow your writing time, sucking it into a gaping black hole, leaving you dazed and aghast. They all have names. Some can be avoided. Some we must work around. Some we can outwit. The rest? The Oracle at Delphi couldn't answer that question, so I won't even try.

Let's start with the most insidious. Email.

If you are like me, you belong to numerous loops dedicated to the craft, business, or specific genres of writing. They provide support and information. How can they be Time Leeches?

Easy. We belong to these loops because the topics interest us. We read the posts, respond to our fellow writers, and when we have asked for research help or input, check back often. They hold our attention until we look at the clock and realize an hour or more of writing time has been sucked away.

The most dangerous time for Email Leeches is when we first boot-up the computer (maybe someone posted a response to my question), and when we need to go online for research (I'll just check and see.)

There are several ways to avoid this sneaky leech.

A friend uses an Alpha Smart. This gets her drafts done without temptation. It's portable and convenient for her. Editing and polishing force her back to the computer, but half the battle is won.

Self-discipline. Yes, I know. A tough one, but all writers must exercise it to some degree or we'd never get anything written. And you know with exercise muscles grow, get stronger, power increases. Exercising self-discipline is hard at first, but becomes easier over time, just like those nasty crunches.

My personal solution (Now, be fair. I never claimed self-discipline as MY strong point) is to avoid my email carrier. I have several email addresses, but none with my ISP.

This has served me in two ways: When we move, I don't have to change addresses with any of my loops; they travel with me. And my friends and family can always find me (a mixed blessing sometimes) regardless of our geographic location.

When I need to research, I go there. Yes, the other little icons do call my name, but I've learned to ignore them. (See? Self-discipline at work.)

The downside is that many of my favorite research sites are saved to my original server, but as the need arises, they are being moved.

Family and friends are next on the Time Leech list.

They love you. They need you. No one else can do what you do.

Family is rough. How do you tell your mother you can't talk now? Or turn down your sister's invitation to lunch to 'catch up?' The kids have commitments and you're the chaffeur. Come on, Mom, get with the program. Since the needs of each family member, and their abillity to fill those needs themselves, differs, each must be judged on his/her own merit.

If you have a supportive family, Mom will understand if you ask, "Can I call you later?" Some of us are blessed that way. Others are not.

"Why do you always put everything and everybody else first. Don't I count at all? I'm your MOTHER." The stationmaster at the Guilt Train Express is handing out tickets. She's had years of experience knowing exactly how to push your buttons and doesn't hesitate to use it. Oh, and she will, of course, be the first to crow and take credit for your success when you get published. (Just a word of warning.)

Before my mother slaps me upside the head, let me add that mine is the supportive mom. I do, however, have the misfortune to know the other kind as well. Marriage will do that to a girl.

Your darling children. The apples of your eye, the fullness of your heart, the pain in your---neck.
Yeah, I know. You aren't fooled.

I wouldn't trade my children for anything. They are, in truth, my pride and joy. But the demands of their schedules while they grew made writing difficult. Prior to the acquisition of driver's licenses, they ran me ragged. And I let them. Why? Because the children were, appropriately, my priority. While there are days that seem to last forever, our time as necessities in their lives is short. Enjoy it. But don't hesitate to draw some lines--and adhere to them. Pandering too much results in selfish, careless, inconsiderate little monsters.

Priority they may be, but they will leave (unless they've morphed int the monsters described above. Then they might bless you with their presence forever), and having a life outside their needs is a good thing.

Friends are a blessing. No doubt about it. Friends understand. Friends are there when you need them. Friends DO NOT undermine your ambition. Even if they aren't writers and don't really understand, they listen. They support you and your efforts. If you tell a friend you need to work, a friend won't pout. A friend doesn't whine about the time you spend working. A friend will make a date to have coffee or lunch or whatever because a friend is in your corner.
This doesn't mean, however, that when a friend needs you, you should ignore that need. Sometimes needs are inconvenient. But to have good friends, one needs to be a good friend--and good friends find time when necessary.

Cultivate the good friends and weed out the Time Leeches. You'll be glad you did.

Okay, so this is turning into a thesis, so I'll try and summarize the rest.

TV. Turn it off, close the door, do whatever it takes to shut it out. PLAN your viewing. You'll see what you really like and get a lot more writing done.

Chores. My nose is a sensitive thing. Smells drive me crazy. I will track them like a bloodhound pursuing public enemy #1. We have animals. Smells are part of the deal, and like the dust bunnies under the bed (yes, I do believe they call me), trying to ignore them is more distracting then attending them.

It took a bit of juggling, but basic chores are tended every day. Some folks can work with clutter and chaos and mess. Some can't. To make the most of your writing time, define which you are and do what needs be done. Personally, keeping my office tidy (I didn't say orderly or organized, mind you) is suffient to silence the other dust bunnies--as long as the door is closed--when deadlines approach.

Phones. If you have children at home an ailing parent, anything that requires you answer every call, and don't have caller ID, get it. If you don't have voice mail or an answering machine, make the investment. You can then know if a call should interrupt your writing. If unsure, you can check your messages--a matter of a minute instead of ten--and decide whether to call back now or later.

Spring fever. (Didn't expect that one, did you?) When the sun is shining and the air is warm and redolent of hyacinths, birds fill the air with their joyous welcome, and the garden cries out for attention, planting myself in a chair kills me. Cabin fever has given way to rebirth, and the experience renews everything. So take a walk. You heard me. Take a walk. No treadmill, no gym, just you and the fresh air. You'll be amazed how much clearer your head is, how much more alive you feel. Indulging your needs is not forbidden; it's required. If you don't take care of you, no one else will, and your work will suffer. That walk is an investment in yourself so take it, enjoy it, and never doubt that you're worth it.

Do you have any personal Time Leeches? If so, how did you overcome them? I'm sure I missed some, so please, feel free to educate the rest of us. Time Leeches are everywhere. We are the exterminators. Let's get it done.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

How far is too far?

In the early days of human history, sanitation didn't exist. Some cultures changed that faster than others, but during the middle ages Europeans thought bathing made them sick (as opposed to the other way around) so used perfumes to hide the stench of their odoriferous bodies. (Just thinking about it makes me a bit nauseous.)

We, of course, thanks to various biologic sciences, know better. Clean is good. Cleaner is better. Sanitized is the best. Kill all those nasty little germs. Right?

Or have we gone too far?

Now, standing in my kitchen eating probiotic (i.e. bacteria laden) yogurt to jumpstart a system that too often stalls, seeing the anti-bacterial soap and dishwashing liquid on the sink, knowing my bottle of bleach and my disinfecting spray are close at hand, I have to wonder.

When I was a child (not quite the neolithic era, thank you), we spend most of each day outside. The tv, for those of us who had one, had a small, black & white picture and only three channels so, after Happy the Clown, Captain Kangaroo, and Gene London, out the door we went. We ate mud pies, swallowed earthworms, splashed in puddles, and got REALLY dirty (as in Mom turned the hose on us before letting us indoors.) And, for the most part, we were healthy.

Growing up, I only remember being ill three times: measles, mumps, and chickenpox. Flu, colds, a sick belly now and again, yeah, but my siblings and I didn't stay down long with any of them.

We always laughed that "God made dirt, and dirt don't hurt." I'm starting to think those words contain more than a grain of truth--along with the sand and gravel.

Today we hear more and more of a variety of illnesses preying on children. Asthma is rife. Some children live with daily doses of steroids. Allergies? Getting worse every day. Chronic diseases seem to shout from headlines followed closely by myriad genetic disorders.

Okay, the proliferation of media may, indeed, have something to do with our awareness, but the numbers don't lie; our children are getting sicker.

There are "good" bacteria and "bad" bacteria, but the broad-spectrum antibiotics prescribed don't differentiate. In fact, they have gone a long way, in conjunction with people who don't follow directions, into the creation of our current crop of super-bugs.

Now you may ask, why this discourse on a science-fiction writing blog?

It's the whole "What if" thing.

What if a society, in the name of sanitation, succeeded in killing all bacteria?

In my head, there is a story taking shape around the premise, but I'll not contaminate your thought processes with mine.

If this "What if" intrigues you, grabs a corner of your mind, and you'd like to share your thoughts, I'd love to see them. Do you think we've gone too far?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

My CP

I am so blessed. Serendipity, the grace of God, fate, call it what you will, threw my CP at me when I least expected it. In fact, I'd stopped writing--fiction, that is (let's face it, writers don't stop writing. They always find some outlet to get a "fix")--because something happened (another story) that destroyed my faith in my ability to make sound business choices.

Two more unlikely partners there never were and probably never will be.

Laurie is a four time Golden Heart finalist and two time winner. All my manuscripts moldered on a closet shelf and only one had ever seen a contest or two (and while it didn't win, the scores were good, I'm happy to say.) Laurie put her writing before everything but her family. I agree, family first, but that's where we diverged; everything came before my writing.

When Laurie started writing she had no grasp of mechanics--ignorance of punctuation, grammar, formatting, point of view, etc., had no bearing on her ambition---she just knew she wanted to write and set about making it happen. I, on the other hand, started writing as soon as I discovered words, submitting short bits to our local newspaper (and getting them published) while still in elementary school, winning local and county competitions in high school, working for an ad agency, putting out newsletters for various organizations, even composing form letters for an international firm. Whoopty-do.

Laurie's drive humbled me. There are no excuses for not writing in her world and only one or, possibly, two good reasons. Death is one. If number two exists, I haven't discovered it yet.

And there's one more l i t t l e tiny difference; Laurie writes sexy, humorous home-and-family themed contempory romance. She is such a pragmatist, I tease her that her feet are so firmly rooted in solid ground that when it comes time to plant her they're going to have to dig her up first. It makes working on Science Fiction interesting. She can be such a hard sell, but she keeps me honest.

And the worst part? I wish you all a Laurie.

Why? Because she can be brutal in her honesty. When she writes TSTL (too stupid to live) next to a paragraph, I cringe, but that keeps the contrivances away.

Oh, and lest you think I take all the flak, never fear; we are both of the opinion that false flattery is the worst kind of lie. Friends tell friends the truth, and we quickly became friends, appreciating each other's strengths and weaknesses.

I offered to take a look at her stuff and see if I could help--that's what I'd been doing for several friends online, two of whom got published shortly thereafter, and I'd like to think my suggestions played a small part in their success. She hemmed and hawed a bit, but agreed to a trial run.

After a couple of weeks, she demanded I show her my stuff. The trial had, apparently, been a success, but she declared she didn't do one way street deals. Either I handed over some of my work, or the deal was off. Reluctantly, I dusted off a box and gave her a few chapters. The rest is, as they say, history. She pushed me to rejoin RWA (after a nine year hiatus), and enter the manuscipt in a national contest.

I placed third.

Next came the GH. I entered under duress--and made the finals, much to my amazement. So did Laurie, so we hied off to Dallas. Neither of us won, but what a fabulous time we had. (I'm smiling as I type this. We had a blast.)

Oh, there is one small item that needs clarification: Most of you are probably under the impression CP stands for Critique Partner. In your world, I'm sure it does. Finding the perfect fit in a CP is a goal worthy of any aspiring writer. Some writers have three or four CPs to give them guidance and balance, which is all well and good for those of you with a Critique Partner.

For me, CP stands for Cattle Prod, and trust me, one is plenty. (Love ya, Laur! )

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The competition is killing me.

My historical persona was a 2007 Golden Heart Finalist. For 2009, my Sci-Fi persona insists on trying.

My historical persona started a blog today for purely business purposes. My Sci-Fi persona insists she'll need a web presence sooner or later. Why not now?

Yes, I write in two genres---two genres that some think diametrically opposed. Not so. It is often the little known fact or odd mannerism I find in my historic research that sets off the "what if" questions that send me into the future.

What if:
. . . Napoleon was more than a short despot with a bantam rooster complex and a strange penchant for rubbing his own chest?
. . . a more advanced alien race had inserted him into history for their own purpose?
. . . he stuck his hand in his coat to activate a communications or recording device?

However, after an uncomfortable bout with tendinitis in my shoulder that tune changed.

What if:
. . . Napoleon had tendinitis and elevating his arm eased the constant ache?
. . . being a vain man, he didn't want to ruin the line of his coat with a sling?

Yeah, blew that story right out of the water without bothering the British fleet. However, there are always more "what ifs" to pursue.

What if:
. . . a society existed where people were genetically engineered to fulfill certain jobs?
. . . a product of that society found herself stranded among a people living in the equivalent of Earth's Dark Ages?
. . . the superstitious hero learned the truth about her?
. . . he wondered if she had a soul?

And, thus, Warrior's Woman was born--and spawned a the idea for an entire Earth Colony series. Two of the stories are well on their way to done. Several more are simple jottings, but are starting to coalesce.

Being young when James Tiberius Kirk started his mission to "boldly go where no man had gone before", the possibilities of Star Trek seemed as vast and endless as the universe. I found myself caught between my love of history and my fascination with the futuristic.

I'm still caught.

The framework of history often feels like a cage, confining my imagination, but that framework can't exist where history has yet to be written. No framework, no limitations.

Sounds like a plan, but there is--as always--a caveat.

Werewolves, vampires, witchcraft, trolls, and the like held no allure. Science fiction, however, always compelled a quest for answers to the "what if" question. Yet, unlike fantasy, science fiction imposed a limitation--plausibility. Scotty had "beamed" people hither and yon with impunity despite our knowing molecular decomposition and recomposition of anything, let alone living tissue, isn't possible--yet--but it is plausible. Gene Roddenberry made us believe it could happen, so why couldn't I?

Plausibility is one limitation I can handle.

So, I am writing science fiction romances. The history buff. The English geek. The literature nut. The library whiz and math catastrophe--who happened to love advanced biology.

Facets. Lots of facets. Humanity is a heck of a ride.

The biological sciences are intriguing. Chemistry--not so much. Physics--only the basics and those in small doses, thanks. BUT when they are integrated into a story, that's different.

Well, isn't it?

I mean, I'm not talking quantum physics here--yet--but what if your binary star system is in flux? Something happened to throw the largest planet in the solar system out of orbit? The moons of that rogue planet are now changing the tides, the weather, everything about an inhabited world? How are you going to fix it? What force will restore order? How can that force be created? How will it be administered? What happens if you miss?

Oops. Sorry. The "what ifs" can be difficult to control until they find life on the page. Giving them that page keeps me (barely) sane.