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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Goodbye, Dear Blog

Well, this is it.

This blog is closing down, and the new and improved blog begins now. For those of you who've stayed with me these years, I truly appreciate it.

To sign up for future blog posts, please subscribe here. Otherwise, this will be your last post.

Please visit my new blog, including archives since 2008, and also my new website 

It's been great fun posting here these years, with my mewse, Sonny Hawks, curled up above my posts. A huge thank you goes out to my friend Teresa Smith Porter, a creative soul and amazing photographer, who designed this template for me way back when my writing was rough as can be. Though she's out of the website business, she's now responsible for my wonderful photographs that grace my new site and author Facebook page.

Shaila Abdullah of House of Design has created a wonderful website for me and transferred my blog there.

Hang with me at my new blog to learn about my latest work in progress or check out my latest releases: my debut short-story collection, The Flat and Weightless Tang-Filled Future, and my debut novel, How Wendy Redbird Dancing Survived the Dark Ages of Nought.
I hope you'll join me in my new space!

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Kid in a Candy Store, or Careerist?

Last week, I was a guest speaker at my alma mater's Career Day. And as I suspected, I learned more from the kids at my former high school than I could ever teach.

I met with an eclectic group, including a screenwriter who also considers himself a novelist, a personal essayist, and a newspaper editor. Across from me was a published author of several fantasy novels. She shared how great it feels to hear from kids who read her books and parents excited to try her work because their children love it. One girl said she collects hardback editions and loves to see them lined up. None of them own e-readers.

One young man said he was curious but not "aspirational" when it came to writing. He asked some great questions and stayed engaged the whole time. The personal essayist said she didn't feel led to see her work published; she wrote for herself, for pleasure.

A listening audience of 16 and 17 year-olds will hold a mirror up, that's for sure. As they politely let me chat away at super speed, I could see a gal full of self-publishing tips: a woman eager to share what she's learned lately about royalties; someone fascinated by cover design, platforms, self-pub gurus, and launch planning. In other words, I was all business.

I can't get these kids out of my mind, because they represent to me something I lose every day when I'm too much business. Whatever I do in this writing career, I must never lose the joy of writing. That "kid in a candy store" feel I had at age nine, writing pages and pages, just because the spirit moved me--that little girl must stay strong inside.

Kids in a candy store have two missions: get massive quantities, and go for the sugar high. Writing has always been a delightful grab fest for me, gulping down great words, addictive, and energizing. A rollercoaster charging down the hill, guaranteed to get you happy. Pure fun. I met kids last week who write for fun.

When the young author shrugged that her books weren't vetted by "real people," I offered some thoughts about the demise of the Big Six (now the Big Four) and how these traditional publishers are getting replaced by The Crowd on the web, one that can tell you directly what The People want to read. I wish I'd asked her, "Why did you write these books? For the supposed editors, agents, and publishers--or for you and your dreams? Don't lose that muse and passion, that joy in crafting your stories. At the end of the day, that love is what we're guaranteed."

I took too literally my charge of being a Career Gal on Career Day. I wanted to be professional and glossy, sleek haired and elegant, admirable and driven. I do believe I appeared driven. But why so much sound and fury about this vaulting ambition? If I have no love, as the good St. Paul once said, I'm nothing but a banging gong, loud and brassy, full of sounds guaranteed to fade away.

As I travel this week, I'll have an old-school pen and an old-school pad of paper in hand. I'll get back to writing the way I did at an eager age nine. Maybe once again I'll sit outdoors on a porch, hearing sounds of nature and silence, the wonderful world of writing in the palm of my hand.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Finding My True North

It's hard to believe that a year ago, I was struggling to edit yet another draft of my novel and hoping it might be the version my agent would be willing to shop to publishers.

I would have never imagined a year later I'd have already published a collection of short stories and be on my way to  launching my debut novel. That after almost a decade of work on the former and three years on the latter, I'd be enjoying an adventurous, never-a-dull-day year of publishing on my own terms.

I might say I've found my true north.

The idiom captures the difficulty of knowing one's right direction in a world of magnetic forces that would have us wander this way or that. I spent two years of my life querying agents, working with one for over a year, and revising the manuscript constantly according to potential market specs. There were some dark moments of staring at a screen in a panic (my words have failed me!); arguing on a phone (you think the point of my novel is to get 16 year-old girls of bland suburban tastes to read it? Who ARE said girls--I don't know them!); or questioning my own instincts about Wendy's character (are you clinging unreasonably to her beliefs and obsessions?).  I wondered if I'd deluded myself that I ever had a chance in this business.

I had to regroup and let my faith rally, and I had to remind myself that I am a writer, first, last, always. Not a second of that wandering and wondering was a waste. Every moment taught me skills and strengthened muscle for the moments I live now, full of trust my words are beginning to have a reach I've dreamed about.

No, my numbers haven't knocked the Kindle best-sellers out of the park. But slowly, surely, great news trickles in daily, after two months of only a Kindle edition. A friend 3,000 miles away wants a signed copy of the collection, now that my paperback came out last week. A group of high school students will be discussing "Midrift." Eight wonderful reviews are up on Amazon. Kind, unsolicited emails arrive from readers. An interview will happen next week on a nationally-syndicated radio show.

I'm having a lot of fun, too. I'm sharing my cover design with friends, family, and a support team, seeking people's gut reactions and design eye. I'm talking sales and marketing with my dad, and getting requests for images and URLs from my web designer. I'm arranging head shots with a former student, Teresa Porter, who is pursuing her dream of photography--now a busy professional winning awards and penning a blog that's gone viral, because she's speaking her true north-truth.

"Can you believe we're here?" she said to me the other day. "You getting published, and me with a photography business?"

My first reaction was to laugh with delight. Those who know the intense type-A worrier that I am can attest this is not my typical first reaction to things. Which tells me I'm true-northing it right now, truly.

I am also very excited about a co-operative venture I and two other devoted students of Doris Betts have recently undertaken: True North Writers and Publishers. Bob Mustin and Dave Frauenfelder, my partners in this venture, are passionate, gifted writers with whom I'm honored to be associated. We encourage one another's work, promote it, and plan some exciting events for signing and sharing this summer.

Our first precept is Scribere quam videre scribere. To write rather than to seem to write. (If you know the North Carolina state motto--Esse quam videri, To be rather than to seem (to be)--and if you try to write regularly, you know what we mean!) We're NC writers sharing authentic writing for the New South, and we will keep each other honest in this endeavor.

My ship sees its way clear right now, the waters glassy with calm, the lighthouse straight ahead. My compass doesn't waver. I know that when the clouds gather, the sky roars, and the swells rise, I'll have to grab a little bit tighter to that instrument and trust, trust, trust. But for now, I'm loving the peace and the joy of following my true path. So grateful I'm able to be here!

Check out the Kindle edition of The Flat and Weightless Tang-Filled Future or the paperback edition.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Take a Chance on Some Writing

Today is a free download day for my collection of short stories, The Flat and Weightless Tang-Filled Future.

This collection offers tales of obsessive teachers and distraught parents, technology run amok and technology to the rescue, and clashes between conservatives and liberals. Race, sex, religion are also fair game. My stories have received recognition in Relief Journal, from the AROHO Foundation, and from contests such as NCSU, Glimmer Train, and the Writers’ Group of the Triad. 

It is viewable on Kindle and with a free Kindle app on iPad, iPhone, PC, Mac, Blackberry, and Android phones.

Perhaps someone you know, a person not so sure who this Fairchild Hawks character is, will take a chance on my writing.

Perhaps you will.

Check out the reviews and sample here.

I hope art spreads and people keep reading, reading, reading as much as they can.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Kill That Back Story...Says The Village

My writers' group has told me in no uncertain terms to kill that back story that currently serves as the opening to my new novel.

Image found here
But the other night, I couldn't quite believe my trusted critique partners. No, the voice of habit and comfort, never mind a fond memory of How the Muse Struck Me, was wa-a-a-a-a-y louder than they.

As I've been prepping my manuscript for their critique this week, I've stared lovingly at my opening chapter, a back story tale of the protagonist in fifth grade. The history of how the poor thing was bullied--how in the world can I leave that out?

The main action of the novel will take place in ninth grade, when the protagonist vows to seek revenge--but no matter, no matter, the back story tale is just so clever, so well-written, so full of protagonist voice, how could I ever move it from first place?

You see, the Muse brought me the first lines of the character's voice, they came like a revelation, so OF COURSE they should be the first words of the novel, right?

And don't readers need to know about the long-standing enmity before we see the ninth grade scenes? Won't the reader feel the pathos of the poor little 10 year-old character and the story will be the better for it?

My head was so full of these rhetorical questions--in other words, the vote to keep the back story had already won the argument--that I couldn't move forward. Then it hit me: Post the question on Facebook and see what the people say.

At first I wondered if it was just another one of my procrastination tactics, me refusing to face the hard work of drafting. But I headed into the virtual village anyway.

I wrote, Begin with back story, or jump right into the action? That is the question.

Bob: Only if it's a prologue, and I've been shooed off of those.

Lauren: So many of my favorites start with action in the first chapter, that I lean towards that side. But that's not to say that there can't be backstory as well. Find a situation to put your character in that allows them to tell a part of their story as the action develops. Just a bookworm's two cents.

Karen: Action...plenty of time for backstory later.

Jamey: I do love me some backstory, but I think that might work (at least for me) if it's doled out bit by bit in the story...This makes me think of when we watch older movies. The credits came before any action at all. And now it has to start with a bang.

Tara: "I will destroy this mean girl." That's a pretty darn great first line to a book if you ask me. Flashbacks to the history as she goes would prob work.

The people spoke, and finally, I was ready to listen.

It's not about my not trusting fabulous critique partners, Stephanie and Jen. They steer my prose well so often. It's not about my not knowing modern storytelling strategies that work well--because I do. I think one of my issues is that I can't always define my genre and in this limbo land, I try to be both old school and new school. I write commercial fiction, with a literary twist--but not full-on literary and not straight genre. Since I straddle the lines, those fast-dissolving lines that perhaps never were to begin with, I confuse myself sometimes wanting to be all things to all people, which is a way of giving myself a pass Don't box me in because there are no rules. In other words, an easy way out.

Not so with writing. What does the audience want? is a question you can never ignore. You can answer it myriad, creative ways, and the voice of the people can set much-needed strictures. Nuns fret not, remember, in their narrow convent rooms; Wordsworth tells me so. Limits are a good thing.

So I got back to work on Chapter 1. And suddenly, I started asking more questions of plot events I'd taken for granted. Why didn't Mean Girl Carli's secret get more play? Why didn't Carli ever directly threaten Minerva, the protagonist? What if they had a scene together? Does the pain of fifth grade seem like centuries ago to a ninth grader, and why should the reader care anymore than Minerva about that fated day, circa age 10? Suddenly my sacred manuscript suddenly looked moth eaten, a Swiss cheese of plot holes.

The new chapter might fix this. I don't know; it's only draft one. But if we are going to write novels in this revolutionary time of self-publishing, we must take heed of what the people say, else become part of the supposed "tsunami of crap" that would-be authors unleash on the web, or, lost in the hubbub, the roaring noise of too many voices.

Last thought: if Salinger, Lee, O'Connor, or Munro (four of my favorite authors) had used Facebook, would their writing be better? I'm not saying it would. All I know is, I needed it yesterday for my creative process, and it kickstarted me out of an idling path and revved my engine for better plotting going forward.

Now I have a new chapter called Cornered by Carli's Cartel. Clearly I'm having too much fun with alliteration. The inspiration came from the crowd, and I'm thankful for it.

Where do you get your inspiration when you're trying to break through a writing block? 

Friday, January 25, 2013

So I'd Rather Be Writing...

With my nose running down my face, I gathered kindling today for our wood stove. It was a bitter cold for this California girl, twenty-something degrees, so I snapped sticks with a vengeance and got my freezing self back indoors as soon as possible.

Photo by Steve Ohlsen
Don't feel sorry for me--it wasn't a Little House on the Prairie moment, as in the endless blizzards of The Long Winter. But I did tell myself I felt virtuous and outdoorsy, meditating on why I needed to be doing this very thing rather than writing.

Most days, I'd rather be writing or doing something related to it, as the self-publishing world now demands. When you choose to go indie, you learn quickly that you must not only keep to a writing schedule for your big projects but also craft
  • promotional emails
  • social networking status updates and profiles
  • articulate specs to the designers for covers and formatting 
  • accurate profiles on retail platforms
  • succinct, clear emails to contract workers
  • effective press releases
  • and much more writing I haven't yet discovered.
But the fact is, if I'm not actually creating new pages for a novel or short story, I feel like a fraud. So I had to tell myself as I snapped sticks and swiped at my nose that every little thing counts--like warming the house so I can sleep well tonight--or editing a profile on Amazon. 

There's a time to write, and there's a time to publish. And if you choose to become part of that 287% rise in self-publishing since 2006, or that 1.5 million books published per year (and rising), you've got to take that time. As Dan Blank says so eloquently in his post, "Should Writers 'JUST' Write," connect with your readers if you want to get read, using all your writing talent. And that's not just through your books. 

Now the wood stove roars with its fat chunks of wood and hot-orange coals, sprung to life through all those dry sticks I found. The little bits start something big. It's only me that can start this fire.

My collection of short stories, The Flat and Weightless Tang-Filled Future, is available on Amazon. It's viewable on Kindle, and with the free Kindle app on iPad, iPhone, PC, Mac, Blackberry, and Android.  

Sunday, January 20, 2013

My Grandma is a Racist?

I've just released a book of short stories, and "My Grandma is a Racist" is one that means a lot to me.

It's not personal in the sense of family history--though I did have a grandmother who didn't like blacks, Jews, or Catholics--and another who didn't like hippies. These very complex, loving, interesting women harbored many prejudices as many of us do today. But this is not their story.

The setting is the Bush/Kerry election of 2004, when America was taking sides on the Iraq War and Swift Boat Veterans. It's the story of a little girl, Wendy Redbird Dancing, trying to make sense of her mother and grandmother's daily battle over politics. And it's also the story of what happens when no one is looking after this particular child.

Racism in the story is overt in some moments and covert in others. It's conscious and subconscious, as much as every moment in American history is laced with hyper-awareness of whether you are black, white, brown, yellow, or some mix thereof.

Don't think it's so? Please do a family history and place it against a timeline of civil rights landmarks for the last 150 years. You'll see members of your family living through some strange and terrible times, whether it touched your family directly in traumatic ways or not. Someone may have an opinion, if not fought, like my ancestor, on one side of the Civil War. If you don't wake up aware of your particular skin tone, chances are you walk the world with some amount of racial privilege. Even in this post-racial society, we can't deny that walking into some places as the only white, black, or minority of the particular context, that there are different permissions given. Just the other day I was told that I as a tall white woman will be treated differently in India when I travel there this February. In other words, my risk of assault is lowered for a number of reasons. One of them is the colonial history of British oppression, white on brown.

Today, as President Barack Hussein Obama is inaugurated into his second Presidency, we know that America has done something historic in voting him in once and then again. We know it is a particularly special day that his inauguration occurs on the Dr. King holiday, because no matter what your politics, Obama has that content of character that gets certain things done. There will be historic legislation and events for historians to evaluate; it's not a do-nothing presidency. We can judge him for those actions and not for his blackness. Dr. King may not applaud today's gun violence nor the recent wars or massive uptick in poverty, but I do believe he would applaud the fact we can judge Barack the man with a different bar than many would have back in 1968.

And back to timelines--'68, the year King was shot, was the year I was born.

"Midrift" is another story in the collection, written from the perspective of a black woman, by yours truly, a white woman. I was told back in 2004 while workshopping this story that "You can't write this." I did anyway, and no doubt I will offend both white and black and perhaps others, too, in taking this risk.

Good writing starts a conversation. I hope I've done this. And I invite you to take a chance on my characters who like to stir things up and out of the complacent daily grind. Art for life's sake.

Today, this holiday, I will take inventory of my service to others, as King would have us do. I'll take inventory of my prejudices and the breadth of my mind, treating this as a New Year's Day to be a better person this 2013. I have a hand in this historical timeline, and I hope to leave a mark that helps our progress as a human race--one people, under God, and indivisible, no matter how hard we try to tear ourselves apart.

What is your mark, and what do you want it to be?

The Flat and Weightless Tang-Filled Future is available through the Kindle select program, viewable on Kindle and with the Kindle app on iPad, iPhone, PC, Mac, Blackberry, and Android phones.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

And the Winner Is...

I'm excited to announce my series title!

The Girls Outside series. Gifted. Weird. Wise.

Image found here
In December, people voted here at the blog, or wrote me messages on Facebook, or commented on my status updates. After gathering all the feedback and mulling for a few weeks, I feel great about this choice that has both a title and a tagline.

A special thanks goes out to Madeline, Jen, and Nancy whose ideas inspired me this direction. Madeline gets credit for thinking up "Girls Outside" and Jen and Nancy encouraged me to think about keeping individual titles for each book, and to perhaps have the titles themselves follow a pattern. Nancy challenged me to think about why I need a brand at all, and that thought helps me to keep everything in perspective. The brand is not all. The work is.

And we discussed that while that is true, this age requires artists to market their works themselves, no matter whether traditional or self-publishing is the mode of release. Understanding your target audience and who will be most drawn to your book is the first order of business for a writer who wishes to tell the world, "Hey, my baby's here!" You want what's called "word-of-mouth on steroids." The UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School shares an interesting post on the fast pace of today's marketing and how branding evolves from audience. One of the subheadings, "Learning to Listen," is exactly what happened here--I asked The People Who Might Like My Book what they thought of my ways to describe my characters. I'm not just invoking cliche when I say I couldn't have come up with a name without you, Dear Readers!

I also appreciated the meditative posts and comments from Maureen that explored connotations of all the words on the table (nerd, geek, etc.). It's just that kind of analytical thinking that helps me weigh the resonance of terms and what will last with certain groups. I should do that with every word of every story I publish. When I draft well and meticulously, that's actually the writing process I can follow.

There are too many others to thank, so instead of listing all your names here, please know I am grateful for the time you took to think on behalf of my creative work and help me with your opinions.

When I publish HOW WENDY REDBIRD DANCING SURVIVED THE DARK AGES OF NOUGHT this spring, Wendy's story will be the first of three books where teen protagonists overcome strange, crazy, and sometimes traumatic situations. They're survivors, all of them, so the next book could likely have "SURVIVED" in its title, as would the next. Or not. What's important here is that Wendy, Minerva, and Alastrine are all girls on the fringe, trying to find their voices, and they are definitely gifted, weird, and wise.

So what's on deck now? Wendy's story is in final developmental edits, and my first publication, a short-story collection, will release very soon. THE FLAT AND WEIGHTLESS TANG-FILLED FUTURE is uploading to Kindle in a matter of days. The product of eight years of toil, and happy toil, for sure, will be hitting the electronic shelves, and I couldn't be more pleased. Stay tuned!