Saturday, September 27, 2008

The True Art of Procrastination

Right now, as we speak (read actually), I'm smack dab in the middle of editing my first middle grade novel. The book is called "How to Ruin Your Life and Other Lessons from the Fourth Grade" and is scheduled to come out in early spring 2009. The first book I wrote was a children's picture book and honestly (thankfully) there weren't that many revisions to make. I think I had to change a few facts that related to the story, but that was about it. So as you can imagine, I was under the false impression that I was an amazing revisions, barely any corrections-I'm awesome! Then I get an email from my editor, it was four pages long and only two lines of that email consisted of good-natured chitchat. The rest of the letter was a list of all the things I had done wrong, and let me tell you, apparently I did a lot wrong!

So for the past week or so, I've been making my way through the book, trying to change the things that need changing, all without losing the original voice of the character. But as with most things, I'm beginning to run out of steam. Suddenly the task of rewriting my book has become the most unpleasant of jobs. My current list of dreaded jobs is as follows:

1. Clean the house
2. Help my grandmother shave her leg hair (unfortunately true)
3. Wash my nine-year-old son's underwear (no need to go into details here)
4. Change my 9 month-old's diaper (again, no need for details)
5. Clean the toilet (I have two boys in the house, no need to say more)
6. Edit my book

As a result, I've been finding it very hard to get down to work. Every morning I find myself searching for reasons not to get the revisions done. And the saddest part is that the work has to be completed and turned in by this Monday...crippity crappity! Yet despite this, I'm still completely unmotivated to do it. Yesterday, for example, I pretty much wasted the entire day doing menial tasks around the house. Tasks that really didn't need to be done.

6 AM Got up and fed the kids (four in total, though at times I could swear there is more)

7AM Made my son's lunch and made him change out of his pants with the torn knees. Made him change out of his jogging pants with the torn knees. Did some sewing.

8AM Brushed my five-year-old's hair to the sound of her appreciative screams.

9AM Went into my office and sat down at my computer. Time to write.

9:30AM Saw a bird outside the window and it reminded me to fill the bird feeder.

10:00AM While I was outside I noticed the front walkway to the house needed to be swept. I swept it.

10:15 AM Returned to my office.

10:16AM Went upstairs to make a cup of tea. While I waited for the kettle to boil, I found an old magazine I hadn't read yet. Sat and read it.

11:00AM Returned to my office. Changed the colour of my computer's background to purple. Looked through the screensavers and then decided to keep the one I had.

11:21AM Watched a cat across the street clean his unmentionables.

11:30AM Lunch.

1:00PM Returned to my office. Took my pulse. 72 beats per minute. Took it again while I held my breath. No change.

1:13PM Tried to type out all the words from Seal's "Crazy" Couldn't do it.

1:25PM Went back upstairs to search the house for some candy. No luck.

1:45PM Returned to my office. Noticed dust on the top of my desk. Took off my sock and wiped it off.

1:52PM Realize my kids would be home from school soon. Decided I had better get serious.

1:55PM Went upstairs and grabbed a sweater. Noticed a few smears on the living room window. Grabbed some cleaner and cleaned the window. Decided I might as well do all the windows.

2:21PM Returned to my office and checked my email. Answered a few and then searched the Web for "Tips on Staying Motivated." Read a few. Felt inspired. Determined to get my work done.

2:42PM My kids came home. Time to wrap things up.

Another productive day of writing. Hopefully today will be better and more fruitful...which reminds me, I need to buy fruit....

Friday, September 26, 2008

Them's fightin' words...

Whee! Open topic week...

Think think think...

Right. How about something on a subject that is dear to my heart but probably not one that my fellow Novel Girls here have had to deal with a whole lot (correct me if I’m wrong, ladies!).

That is, writing (and reading) a good fight scene.

Perhaps I’m just bellicose by nature, maybe I’m overcompensating for being little and blonde, or maybe I just carry too-vivid memories of those nights growing up spent punching and getting punched in the arm by my dear older brother as we argued in the kitchen over who would wash and who would dry...

But, the fact is, there’s nothing I love so much as a really awesome fight scene.
A duel. A bar-brawl. A full-scale battle...
Bring it on!

I frequently get to work with a group of actors who are specially trained in stage fighting. It’s absolutely fascinating to watch these guys and girls build a fight from the ground up, working the choreography, adjusting the angles and the timing, baking in plot elements and character motivation as they do so. Polishing and perfecting it until you don’t see the choreography anymore. What you see is part of the story.

It’s like that when you write a fight scene, too.

You write down the bones of the thing: the moves, the moments, the winner and loser. Then you flesh out the details: dialogue – if there is any; pain – and there should always be pain (and if you have no idea how much it hurts to get hit in the face or have your fingers whacked by the flat of a sword blade, that’s a really hard thing to get right); tweak the setting and figure out how it impacts on the action of the conflict (a battle in the rain on a muddy field? Not the same as in a sunlight meadow), all that good stuff.

Then you pare. You edit and sculpt and polish. Just like my actor friends until you can no longer see the mechanics behind the action. Less is almost always more in a fight scene. I once had a fencing instructor tell me that he’d love to have me on the team, but I’d have to give up stage-combat. I was always going for the ‘pretty’ parry. Not the fastest. Not the most efficient. My theatrics bogged me down. Interesting lesson, there.

Also, consider this: a fight, even the coolest fight ever, shouldn’t just exist in a story for it’s own sake. It had better tell me something about the characters. And it had darn-well better have something to DO with the story! A great fight scene in a vacuum is not a great fight scene. I just don’t care.

You may think to yourself that you have this amazing idea for a knock-down drag-out, but unless you can absolutely convince me that a battle between arboreal ninjas and assassin tree-nymphs swinging from vines is utterly germane to either plot or character development, then what you’ve actually written is probably going to come off as just as pointless as the scene in that last Uwe Boll movie. You know – that scene between the ninjas and the nymphs... oh wait... right. You see what I mean?

And one last thing: sometimes the greatest moments in a fight have absolutely noting to do with actual fighting. In Parke Godwin’s Arthurian retelling, FIRELORD, there’s a moment when the tide of battle turns in Arthur’s favor, and it’s all because one of his men starts singing. Not fighting heroically, just singing. That scene still raises the hairs on my arms every time I read it.

So that’s my ‘this and that’ for the week, then. Remember kids, think before you punch. Then punch wisely and well!

Cheers, Lesley

Thursday, September 25, 2008

A Girl for All Seasons

I was born and raised in a suburb of Philadelphia, and I went to college at Penn State in beautiful “Happy Valley” central Pennsylvania. But 8 ½ years ago, after getting accepted into the MFA program at The University of Arizona, I moved to Arizona to go to graduate school. And then, after I graduated, I got my first real job here, bought a house here, gave birth to my children here. And somehow in that time I became an Arizona girl, a girl who finds 50 degrees outrageously cold, a girl who complains at the slightest hint of rain or humidity, a girl who knows the difference between a green chile and a jalpeno.

But deep down, I am still a Pennsylvania girl at heart. You see, I am inherently fond of REAL cheese steaks, expansive green lawns, and beautiful fall foliage.

Growing up, fall was my favorite season: Picking pumpkins from a farm on a cool afternoon, the smell of the first chimney smoke in the air, the feel of a fleece hooded sweatshirt against my skin after a summer in a bathing suit. And then, when I was in college, the drive from Philadelphia to central Pennsylvania was always spectacular each fall, the perfect reds and golds of the leaves arching up the sides of the winding mountain roads, a blur of brilliant colors against a pale blue sky.

There are no real seasons in Arizona, no fall foliage (barely any real foliage at all), no snow, no April showers, no May flowers. There is summer, and then there is a slightly less hot summer, and then there is winter, which is surprisingly cold at night and oddly warm during the day.

So I celebrated the first day of fall on Monday in nice cool 95 degree weather! I slathered the kids in sunscreen and walked them down to the park, and not even thirty minutes later we were all red-faced and sweating. We walked back home amidst cactus and purple lantana, nary a gold or red (or green, for that matter) leaf in sight.

There is something about the change of the seasons that always signified, to me, the beginning of something new, a reason to start fresh with a new set of clothes, and sometimes, a new set of goals, or a new attitude. And I have to say, I miss that now. When I moved to Arizona I knew that the weather would be different, but it never occurred to me the way seasons, or lack there of, would actually affect my outlook on life. Maybe it’s because I’m also a super-organized person; I like to be able to visualize things in parts – the year being no exception. Fall, winter, spring, summer – four equal but different quarters, each with their own meaning and their own wardrobes and temperatures and activities. Without that, sometimes the year feels like one long never-ending stretch.

Don’t get me wrong, there are many, many things I love about living in Arizona. And I’ve reconciled the loss of real seasons with the loss of a biting cold winter, with the loss of parkas and snow boots and rock salt.

In fact, in the last eight years, I’ve become quite fond of winter – not the winter I knew as a child, replete with scarves and bundles of firewood. But this new and strange concept of an Arizona winter.

That’s right, come December I will have a lovely walk back to that same park I went to on Monday. Only then it will be a perfect Arizona day, a sunny and clear 65 degrees. And suddenly, the lack of seasons won’t seem to matter one bit.


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Blogger's Block?

Write about This and That. I’m having a hard time with this one. That's for sure.

I keep backspacing through lines of half-started topics leaving me almost ready to shut my computer and try again in the morning. Am I having blogger’s block? And so early in my blogging career? Hopefully not.

Oh here’s something pretty interesting. Did yall here about our gas shortage here in Nashville? It has been terrible! There have been long lines, 150 cars deep at times, fighting for a full tank of gas. One of my co-workers waited 3 hours for gas, only to find the pumps empty when he finally made it through the line. Pandemonium struck when people jumped out of their cars screaming and cussing at each other. It’s almost over now, but of course they (whoever they are politically) had to gouge us again by charging over $4.00 per gallon for regular.

Aside from a temporary gas shortage, I love my Nashville. I was born and raised in my beloved Memphis, but I’ve lived in Middle Tennessee now for nearly fourteen years. In the South, we call our birthplace our hometown or we might say it’s “where we’re from.” So I’m from Memphis but I currently live in Nashville. Actually, I live 20 minutes south of Nashville in Franklin, but that still means you live in Nashville. We’re a quirky bunch down here but like I said, it’s home.

Nashville is full of celebrities. It’s hard to go a whole week without spotting one, if you’re into that kind of thing. The morning before Keith and Nicole gave birth to their baby girl, a friend of mine spotted them in Starbucks. Wynonna and her mom are very easy to spot (the red hair and all) and Faith and Tim are open strollers around town as well.

Two of my girlfriends and I sat in the booth behind Billy Ray Cyrus, and his other daughter (not sure of her name, are you?), at lunch last week. When he got up to leave he glanced over at us – waved - and shot us a perfect white smile. The man is absolutely gorgeous in person. Nashvillians are very respectful of our stars. We don’t hound them with autograph requests, or interrupt their privacy. After all, we have a reputation to maintain. We wouldn’t want to be labeled as star-@#$%%^&. This is not considered cool. And that’s that.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Working For "The Man"

Growing up, I always wanted to be a writer. In my tender mind, I thought all writers lived in fabulous places, like oceanfront beach houses or in luxurious cabins in the mountains. So, all I had to do was write some books, sell them and I’d be living the high life, right?

Excuse me while I catch my breath. I think I started choking from laughing so hard.

No sooner did I step one inch into research about the publishing world, did I realize the average first advance is just slightly enough to put brakes on your car, pay off a few bills and go out for a nice steak dinner. Nothing to sneeze at, but not exactly buy-oceanfront-property-with-cash kind of money, either.

So, I still have a day job. Which, thankfully, allows me some free time to write (and blog!). And most days, I really enjoy it. It also helps that the nature of what I do—fundraising—provides more writing fodder than I’ll ever be able to use.

But then there’s days like today—days when my “To Do” list is a mile-long, my email box pings every five seconds and my phone will not shut up. And all I want to do is run away to the nearest Borders with my laptop and snuggle into some hardcore revisions on my newest WIP.

Monday, September 22, 2008

People Who GET It

Seeing as this week’s topic is This and That, I had to think a little harder about what I wanted to talk about today. Since this weekend is Maumee Valley RWA’s (my local chapter of Romance Writers of America) annual brainstorming/writing weekend, I decided to talk about people who get it. Because if you’re a writer, having other writers in your life isn’t just nice—it’s essential. Like breathing air and drinking water essential. Seriously.

Writers are a curious breed to non-writers, and even if these non-writers are amazing friends, supportive family members, or even interested neighbors, they’ll never GET IT. At least, not like other writers do. I didn’t realize how essential having writing peers was until I finally started showing up at the monthly MVRWA meetings on a consistent basis. I’d been a member for a little while, paying my annual dues each year, and sporadically I’d make an appearance.

But then, I decided to start going every month, and I discovered that around these other writers—I could be myself. THEY understood when I said something strange like “My heroine is yelling at me,” or “My characters are ignoring me and they’re doing what they want to do,” or even “So…what’s the best way to kill someone and have it look like an accident?” No freaky stares greeted me, no dropped jaws, no furtive glances around the room (you know, in the hopes someone normal would come along).

And just as they get me, I get them. Let me tell you—this group of ladies (and Tony and Jim) are the greatest group of writers I know. The best thing is, if you’re in MVRWA—it doesn’t matter where you are in your career, whether you’re writing your very first book or your zillionth, whether you’re published or trying to become published, whether you’re agented or unagented, we’re all writers—and that’s what counts. And actually, from what I know, most writers groups are like this. At least the ones in RWA.

About a year ago, on one of my many writing loops, a writer questioned if joining their local chapter was worth the money. My answer, obviously, was “YES!”But what do you do if you’re a writer and live in a rural area, without a local writing group nearby? Or you have small kids and don’t think you’ll be able to make the meetings? Luckily, there are many online chapters of RWA (and I’m assuming of other writing organizations, as well), so even if you live out in the middle of nowhere, the Internet makes connecting with other writers a breeze.

So, my advice to all writers everywhere who haven’t discovered how amazing, supportive, freeing, and downright awesome it is to be a part of a writers group is to get involved, meet other writers, find a group of people you can be yourself with. People who GET IT! Not only will you learn a lot, but you’ll help others too, and you’ll find it easier to stick to your writing goals—because guess what? Now, with a writers group, you also have some accountability in place.

And how lucky am I? Because with my new pals here at The Novel Girls, I have another group of fantastic writers I can be myself with, and that makes me happy. Very, very happy!

My goal for this week is simple. I want to get a large chunk of writing in, so come this weekend, I can stay for the entire event and immerse myself in talking about writing, brainstorming with my friends, and breathe!

Wish me luck!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Novel Girls News

Tracy Madison's A STROKE OF MAGIC (the sequel to A TASTE OF MAGIC) has had its release date moved up to July 2009!

Maureen Lipinski's title has changed from WAS IT PLANNED? to A BUMP IN THE ROAD: FROM HAPPY HOUR TO BABY SHOWER.

Thanks for joining us as we blogged about our paths to getting agents. Next week is open blog week, so come back for a variety of interesting topics!

The Novel Girls