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Saturday, February 27, 2016

the one thing

Last week we watched a film we've seen multiple times (we do that), City Slickers. We enjoy the camaraderie of the men, the humor, the working with cattle, the performances, and the 'one thing.' It is in the conversation between Jack Palance's and Billy Crystal's characters:
 "Do you know what the secret of life is?" Curly holds up one finger, and then says, "This." Mitch is mystified. "Your finger?" Curly shakes his head. "One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don't mean shit." Mitch asks, "But what is the 'one thing?'" Curly just smiles. "That's what you have to find out."
I always like that scene because I think we are all searching for meaning of life. Or maybe that's most of us. When we have enough to eat, shelter, the
basics, we want to think life is about more than just surviving. When we are at risk of surviving, we put philosophy on hold.

In City Slickers, Mitch has the life he had been taught he should want, but he's unhappy. He feels trapped, and he's sliding into middle age or already there. The cattle drive is where he hopes to find what he feels he's been missing. He wants that one thing and does not know where to find it. It turns out it was inside him all along. It just took the cattle drive to bring it out.
 Always after I watch the film (which is worth watching for me just for its great western theme music), I think about the one thing for my life. 

Some people are born with the one thing drilled into them from seemingly birth. It does not change. They might do other things alongside it, but it's the driving force; and for a lifetime, it will be the same. Some never find the one thing and maybe don't care about it. They are satisfied to just get along and be happy. They don't need a driving force.

For me, at least in one sense, the one thing has changed with my years. I suppose I could say that it was being creative as that has been with me my whole life, but often it took a backseat to other things, and I didn't mind. I didn't have to do it. I just did do it generally with a lot of variety through the years.

I believe for my first twenty years, my one thing was to get to be an adult and be ready for being on my own. It was growing, getting an education, learning how the world worked, finding some friends, experiencing as much as I could to help me figure out what I'd want for the rest of my life. That was my driving force for those first twenty years or so. During that time though I told stories. As a child it was play. When I got older, it was writing down short stories. Even riding in a car, I'd be making up stories in my head, while I was traveling somewhere with my family. For me though, it wasn't a one thing. That was getting myself to being an adult and launched into the world.

Then came a shift and my one thing was raising my children. It became everything to me even though I continued to write, paint, sculpt during their growing up years. Those though were not the one thing for me. They were. Holding my children in my arms, making their lives as good as I could, giving them the experiences I had had growing up, experiences that would help them figure out what they wanted for their lives. That was my one-- maybe even obsessive-- thing. I continued to write down my stories during those years but didn't care if I did anything with them because the obsession was my children. I believe that lasted about thirty years until they were both launched. 

The shift from an obsession can be rough, and they don't call it the empty nest for nothing. In one sense, I was prepared for it if you ever can be. Before I had my first child, I had read Betty Friedan's book, The Feminine Mystique. She said  (paraphrased) that your last child had to be your creative work. She didn't call it the one thing but she might as well have. Still, when you see your children launched into independent adults there is both loss and satisfaction. I knew I needed something to replace what had consumed me.

For the years after they left, I think I drifted a bit without a recognizable one thing. I spent several years doing clay sculpture, painting people, and continued to write stories. At that point, I saw none of them as the one thing. As I look back on it now though I see they all revolved around telling a story of life. I kept this work mostly to myself. I did not have a need to have it be seen. I knew some was not exactly societally acceptable. I mean I painted and sculpted nudes, both male and female. As I created each one, always I thought of them as telling a story. Those were also the years I went through my own explorations of the spirit and made huge changes in what I believed spiritually. I explored my femaleness and took photos that I couldn't ever share with the world. (no, not porn but definitely sensual and sometimes daring at least in my thinking). While drifting, I experienced things in life that I never had before. 

 I consider those years of drifting, without a one thing, as very important for what would come next-- when again I would have a one thing, and it was writing-- possibly the underlying story all along for my life. When writing became the one thing, it involved also acknowledging myself as an author by publishing and promoting my work-- the step I'd not taken with earlier creative endeavors. Writing, and all that goes with it, today is the one thing. It took some doing, but I finally accepted it as mine, acknowledged publicly the work, and owned it as being me. 

That doesn't mean I can't do other things like be involved with family and friends. It does mean there are times where the writing is all I do. Then I need to step away to take care of the human part of my reality. A one thing can be an obsession, but it does not have to be 'everything' in a person's life-- at least not in my life.

Some people need a one thing that lasts a lifetime. They will fit their children into it or maybe put off having children for it. They will do whatever they need to do to bring it to fulfillment. Some don't need a one thing at all. Some though will be like me-- the one thing changes with their changes or remains dormant until the right time.

The photos of the lambs are not the one thing for me ;). They are a seasonal reality right now. They illustrate growth, change, and a part of my life. Having them was one of those life goals that got fulfilled-- and incidentally fits nicely into the one thing

Finally, I'd be interested in knowing. Do you have a one thing? If you do, was it always there or did it change throughout your life?

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

editing is never fun

 but some things make it even harder!

With my seventh Arizona historical romance, Bound for the Hills, I learned a painful lesson regarding editing or should I say failed editing. This is a warning for writers who may find the same thing happening to them-- if they hadn't already smartened up.

On the week-end, I decided I'd had enough distance from the rough draft to go for a proofread as well as copy edit. This kind of editing is tedious, word for word, looking for mistakes, but also plot inconsistencies. 

For anyone who has yet to write a book, even writing one in a little over a month leaves times between scenes where a person can forget they just covered something and then repeat it. Also plot ideas change as the characters become more entrenched in the writer's mind. What seemed a good idea in the beginning can end up not so impressive when more deeply into their personalities and story. Copy editing, in particular, is hard work and mostly cannot be done by anyone but the writer or someone who has worked with them over many years and knows their mindset. A really good editor, coming in cold, can offer many things but not read the mind of the author.
The week-end work had gone well, I thought. I opened up the document on Monday morning and nothing looked right. I quickly realized all the edits that I'd done Sunday afternoon and evening, were gone, I was more than a little frustrated

First, I looked to see if it was actually saved somewhere in a wrong folder or under a wrong name. I've had the misfortune of accidentally saving my last work in a different place due to the computer moving a different folder to the fore. Nope. I went through some of the older versions to see if they had accidentally received the most recent edits. They had not. Since this had not been its only edit (Ranch Boss did one last week), I couldn't afford to jump into just any manuscript as I might've lost more important changes.

Finally, I gave up and brought up the document with a new title using the day's date and went to where I saw the last good edits had been made. I resigned myself to finding all the changes from the week-end. Having been a writer a lot of years, I am not unfamiliar with losses like that. As I worked though, I kept trying to think how the heck this had happened.

Because of past blue screens or other catastrophic computer failures, I save frequently to jump drives, sometimes several of them. I've lost too much work to trust to working all day without many, many saves both on the hard drive and small jump drives. What I now believe went wrong has two aspects.

With this manuscript, I had begun to save my work as a docx, as that's what it has to be in the end. A docx evidently takes longer for saves. Add to it, that this is a long book at 110,000 words, I wasn't waiting long enough for the saves to be complete before trying to save to the other drive. Lack of patience is not a new problem for me where it comes to the computer.

My hope is that by switching back to saving as I work, as a simple doc, there won't be more editing snafus. If this was not the problem, if my computer is playing games with me, I will cut one more notch against Windows 10-- there are others...

Photos are mine and from the region of Arizona 
where most of this book takes place.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

against the grain

Over halfway through another month and basically it's been a pretty good one with finishing a rough draft, writing promotional material for it and an earlier book, lambing almost finished, weather that has been mild for this season, and of course, cannot forget, a political season that has been anything but mild. I could rant on the latter but won't. I like to stay positive and to do that, I need to concentrate on what is going well. In my opinion, nothing in this political season is going that well with all the negativity, and no candidate that totally inspires me. 

I have an Arizona based historical romance that will be out early in March, but my mind is really on the series I plan to write next, which will be contemporary, romantic suspense and set in Tucson. If I was in this for the money, I'd stick to the historicals as they have done better than my contemporaries. I just can't do it. I need a break-- but not from writing. 

With that in view, I have been looking for potential images for the heroes and heroines to come. Some I already had but let me say that finding images for men and women who look like we all do (except prettier) is not easy. It seems most of the royalty free sites emphasize historical or they offer sexed up contemporary. Some are too expensive for me to afford especially when this may be a series that does not sell that many books.

What I want are images for lawyers, artists, musicians, actors, models, detectives, teachers, judges, professional people of all sorts, as well as carpenters and truck drivers-- male or female. I want them for the ordinary people (except prettier) who work at a job and stumble into an adventure both of the romantic and dangerous sort. I need images to suit covers, as well as backgrounds when I don't already have them. I will also need them for trailers where the same person is on the cover and in the book trailer but with different expressions and garb. 

I've written contemporaries before but not recently. In the past, my characters fit what I mentioned above and I liked writing the stories, but finding good images for covers was tougher. To some degree, a romance is mythic. It can feel as though it's real, but it has to have a bigger than life aspect as it's what inspires. If someone wants to read about people who fail and have miserable lives, there are plenty of literary type novels out there. A romance offers something different. 

So how do you get that mythic quality while still looking real? If my husband and I were younger, I'd use us. Some writers do. But I am not writing about a H/h in their seventies... yet anyway ;). I saw a guy loading our livestock fencing and feed the other day who would have been perfect, but you can't really go up to a stranger and ask them to pose for a romance cover, not to mention the complications of royalties where it comes to contracts.

What I do at this point is get a handle on who my characters will be. For heroes, I plan an artist, actor, musician, writer, and not sure who the rest will be (maybe even a model *s*). The heroines will be four sisters and their mother-- all in the legal profession as lawyers, detectives, cops, or judges. It's reversing the usual for lead protagonists, but I think it'll be fun. I like going against the grain... but it might be why I will never be a best selling author ;). Luckily I don't need to be. I need to write and love it when readers do find my books and say they loved them. (Let's not mention the negative reviews). I feel so lucky to be doing this at my age. It's not always fun although it can be. What makes it good is that it's always challenging!

 [Images from CanStock and Period Images]

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Afraid of the dark

This article describes something I first researched heavily from my third Oregon historical, Going Home. The book dealt with the aftermath of the Civil War in Oregon. I knew a lot about the racial bigotry that was being practiced in a state that claimed to hate the South all the time while it blocked blacks from entering it. 

To write about it here seems especially apropos since last night we watched a documentary on Nat King Cole, who I knew little about his life other than I loved his music and remembered his television show in the mid 1950s. The documentary seemed a little disjointed for how it was put together but it drove hard on the problem of how blacks were mistreated and put down even during Cole's era. A man as talented as he was couldn't stay in some of the hotels where he was performing unless someone like Frank Sinatra said he wouldn't stay there either if that was the case.

The program was good but also depressing especially in a time where we have seen our American President treated poorly by those who say it's not bigotry but... Come on, do we really believe another President would have been told by the leader of the Senate-- you should not do your duty because you only have a year left in your term! The hate that some feel for Obama often is very thinly veiled, sometimes not at all, as racism of the sort that infected Oregon and attacked Nat King Cole, causing his popular TV show to be dropped because sponsors were afraid to back it.

In more recent history, we have read story after story where blacks were killed by police who may not have reacted the same if it had been a white. How much comes back to this fear of the dark? For someone like me, who has grown up when I did, a lot of this is hard to comprehend. We had black neighbors out here, who were the best neighbors we ever had, but it was rare as since they left, no blacks.

My mother, a professional musician in the '30s, described how she traveled on a train through the South, where the most lowlife white was considered superior to any black. 

Recently, there have been polls showing how 21% of Trump supporters either believe the white race is superior to the black or they aren't sure. Seriously, in this day and age, how can this be???

Anyway read the article about Oregon's past. It wasn't just Oregon with these laws but as the article said, Oregon wrote it down. Then if you get a chance, see the documentary on what Nat King Cole went through. 

Think long and hard on how Obama has been treated as our President-- then what should we be doing about it. This country cannot call itself exceptional when bigotry and ignorance are still calling too many shots.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

the arc

 image purchased from CanStock and on the background for the cover of 'Bound for the Hills'

The first sentence in Bound for the Hills was typed January 4th. "Wilhelmina Agatha Tremaine Butler listened with pretend concern to the driver of the wagon carrying her and her possessions to the cabin she had rented for three months." Willy was on a journey, which would change pretty much everything in her life.  110,000 words later, her story and the rough draft came to its conclusion on February 9th.  

Writing a book, for me, goes best if I stay with it, which means it is sometimes a grind. There are reasons to stay with it, even when my back is screaming-- quit that. One reason is how easy it is to forget what was written even two days earlier-- let alone if it's longer. I never start a book without having thought quite a bit about who the characters are, where they are heading and where they will end up. I learn more as I write. I like to stay with the flow, leaving time between scenes to think what is going to add to this event, make it more real. There are days I enjoy writing and days I have to make myself.

Almost universally, when I finish a rough draft, I think the story is a classic, the best thing I have ever written. A week or two later, when I give it its first edit, I think it's horrible, how could I have ever thought it was good? Multiple edits later I will be back to thinking it's good. I don't put out anything I don't feel positive about.

With the rough draft done, comes the week to write the blurb, which will be sent with it to Amazon, CreateSpace, and D2D (which sends them to B&N, Kobo, etc). I have just spent many words telling a story and then must reduce it down to say a hundred to let a reader know what to expect. Even though I dislike writing blurbs, they do let me see if my story has an arc that will not only be believable but also exciting to readers.

Since I began publishing my books, I've been on an arc of my own for learning. Arc is a word I only recently heard in connection with writing, in an article on The Notebook where Nicholas Sparks, its author, said he believed that the reason it was hard to find a star for the film was the actors complained there wasn't an arc for the hero. The hero began where he was and more or less stayed there with the heroine the one making changes. He defended why that was true, and I think what he said made sense. A character does not need to change if they are already where they need to be.

In my case, I think I generally write arcs. My characters do go through changes. I have, however, thought of it as Joseph Campbell's-- [The Hero's Journey], which I believe is not just true of mythic tales, but also of a life insightfully lived. We enter something new through a gatekeeper experience of some sort. It is not always something we'd have chosen of our own accord; but once in it, we go through steps that have the potential to change us, deepen our understanding of life, teach us skills, and strengthen our knowledge of ourselves. The hero's journey then returns home but with us changed by the experiences. The journey could be schooling, an illness, relationships, a task, moving, loss, so many things, but it is found in life as well as mythologies. 

In my books, the hero and heroine both have a journey, and yes, an arc. They come into the journey through something that takes them out of their world into a new one. Through what they experience, they change and there is, in the end, a satisfying sense that they have grown through it. This is the nature of romances, not so much novels. Novels don't need to be positive in the end. I write romances because I see enough negativity in the world without choosing it for my writing. I have to live with these characters and their experiences for months at the least. I want to feel good for that time.

This week I began choosing images and words for the book's trailer. Book trailers are to share the physical reality and beauty, as I see them, in my stories-- like a little movie of sorts.  Some of my readers say they enjoy them. I think they are especially good after the reader finishes the book when all the images will mean more. I've never felt they sell books, but they are what I enjoy doing for mine.

Other than that, I've had a little more time at the social media sites and not sure what I think about that-- so for now not saying. Same with the primaries. Sometimes I just plain get angry that we end up with so few candidates that I can feel good about. With the world in as big a mess as it is, I wish it was otherwise. This is a good time to be buried in creative work as it is certainly not a good time to pay much attention to what's going on in the world...

Saturday, February 06, 2016

writing, politics, lambing, and birds...

 where a lot of my new book takes place. I bought the image of a lake and a cabin and had to put them together with photo-shop
Reading what some people comment in places like Facebook, I have seen a different side of politics for the anger. I knew it was in the newspaper comment sites, but was surprised when it's supposedly involving friends. I was even more surprised how much was coming from the left.

There are two candidates running for the Democratic nomination. Hillary Clinton, who was the designated one, and Bernie Sanders, the outsider who has been elected as a socialist in the Senate for years, even though he caucuses with the Democrats. He's not exactly an outsider considering his many years in Congress, but he also is not one of 'them' and he is advocating big changes if he wins.

Anyway I missed the beginning of their one on one debate Thursday night but caught the last hour. I guess I missed the fireworks. I saw reference to it the next morning in comments. One person declared that at one time she had favored Bernie but now she is mad at him for what her friends say about Hillary. Say what!!! You might agree with his politics but because he has fans who you don't like, you would not vote for him??? Might I say, that is nuts! lol

And then there are those who want Hillary just because she's a woman. Excuse me, but that is no more reason to vote for her than voting for Obama should have been because he was half black and half white. Sorry, but I just don't consider that sensible when the next President may appoint more Supreme Court Justices, where they will have wars they could enter, taxes they could increase or lower, environmental issues to decide, programs to gut, even Constitutional amendments to push. Come on, the fact that Hillary would be the first woman President is absolutely no reason to vote for her. Incidentally, neither should that Bernie would be our first Jewish President.

I believe (drum roll) that we should vote on two factors-- character and issues. Some would say character does not matter, but I believe it does and equally. IF the candidate says everything you want to hear, but they are known for deceit or waffling, seriously can you believe what they will do on those issues once they are in?

This seems early for people to get so angry but that's how it appears to be going. *shaking my head* Which is why I took a picture of me smiling. Seriously, it's laugh or cry a lot of the time, isn't it? And I'd rather laugh.

Meanwhile, I am still writing on the new historical (around 95,000 words and not sure how long to go), which should have its rough draft done by Sunday if not today. It's hard at the last, as from here, I could write it all in a day, but when you go too fast on writing, you miss the character notes. You don't get what these people would do when the unexpected happens. 

Below is what my desk currently looks like with research books, sheets of paper with character lists, timeline, calendars for their activities, moon cycles, notes, and chapter lengths as well as glasses, etc. etc. The bulletin board above it mostly has the pictures of the hero in this book with his heroine and much of its landscape (there is one snuck on there from what will be the first of the Arizona contemporaries, which I will get into when this book has its rough draft finished). 

I vary writing, watching birds, and talking to Ranch Boss about the latest plot development. I used to write totally alone with what I was doing, my plots, etc. Now I enjoy having someone to bounce ideas from and he likes doing it. There are places he knows things about that I don't; so it's very symbiotic as how it's evolved

Finally, lambing is going well.  

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

four and twenty... what was that again?

It's going to be a long election season in the US with the media pimping anything that happens as the biggest thing ever. I am so sick of it and suspect a lot of Americans feel the same way. I have no candidate I am totally thrilled by although there is one we have donated to, but there are doubts regarding policy positions and how they'd actually work out. I have candidates I cannot stand and unfortunately they seem to be the ones most pushed by the media into our faces night after night if we watch the nightly news-- which is why I don't do that anymore. Ugh.

 Doesn't it all seem a bit like the way the red-wing blackbirds squabble! Except, we can't abandon ship not if we want to see our country make wise choices. Of course, our voting may not get the country going the way we want. At least though we are taking the responsibility seriously of what a democratic nation should mean-- involvement of the citizens in the governing process.