Monday, March 31, 2008

The Seduction of a Novel

The challenge is on. I'm actually writing this in the pre-midnight hours of April 1st. The Lost Month of Giveaways is finished, the paper slips of entrants tossed to the carpet like origami confetti. Emails have been answered; my loops are all on web-only. The desk is a vast wooden plane with only a half-water ring to break the chi. I've anticipated every possible roadblock for the next week and calculated alternate plans. The only thing left to do is write.

Although this Robin Hobb rant on blogging and writers is highly cynical, there is a certain measure of truth to it. I love "literary pole dancing," as she calls it, but the seduction of the novel will take priority until summer sets in, until I type the final word, or until blood spouts from my ears--whichever comes first.

I'll post my daily progress over at Sherry Davis's blog, Novel-Words, or you can check out my best line each day on the Twitter feed that comes through here on the sidebar.

Meanwhile, check out the book trailers up for a March Covey Trailer Award. Number nine really shows a closet director waiting to emerge, dontcha think? Be sure to vote for your favorite on the left sidebar.


Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Perfect Cup of Superstition

Each writing spot I frequent away from my desk has its own vibe. When it matches with my mood for the day, it's pure page-cranking bliss. When it doesn't, it feels like a note of discord I can't quite put my finger on. It's crazy, really, to hang productivity on a place's atmosphere or lack thereof, but it does play beautifully into the whole writer's superstition thing.

One place is a wanna-be of the Starbucks down the road. It's proximity to the burbs brings in a steady traffic of geriatric men discussing politics and housefraus discussing skin care lines. The kind of place where the menopausal baristas would donate a kidney to you. Last week, I had to endure a big band version of Van Halen's Jump piped through the sound system. Not my most productive day. Geographically appealing, but gets demarcation for vanilla people-watching and no prime writing real-estate near the back. Productivity grade: C

Spot number two is the largest Starbucks I've ever been in. A four-foot two barista with blond hair spiked like a porcupine pipes up the moment you enter. Like a door chime, but infinitely more annoying. I don't go there often enough for her to know what I want, but I could always use whatever happy pill she downed before work. This is my favorite spot when it rains. Hand painted, blown-glass shades hover over each table, especially a delicious little nook all by itself, and the life beyond the glass is filled with people interrupting the puddles that collect on the imperfect sidewalk. Productivity grade: A

Coffee shop three is an off-chain populated by the high-school version of the rugby team. Bizarre patterns of facial hair can't hide the fact that their little click is circling the drain of contributions to society. Oh, they hide behind beatnik Friday-night amateur music night and local artisan's paintings climbing the walls, but it falls to pretentious and self-indulgent. Geographically, if I'm aerobically ambitious, I could walk to it, but the spilled coffee bean sacks as ambiance interferes with my left-brain's sense of order. Productivity grade: C-

Lastly, I attempt the library on occasion. Extreme enough distance that I can't bargain with myself to drive home and nap when the pages aren't coming. With gas $3.18 a gallon here, I'm totally committed to the endurance page-count marathon. And, although I don't have to endure show tunes or complaint pop music, the ancient air conditioner and the body functions of someone in the stacks twelve rows down ricochets against my creativity. The fiction section also functions as a magnetic force field of temptation, almost justifiable as "market research." Productivity grade : C

Am I too picky? Quite possibly. But these places do serve as a good reminder of my well-worn chair, holey slippers, and beverage perfection waiting for me at home.

What about you? What's your favorite spot and why?

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Another Thursday, Another Celebration

Is it possible today is Thursday again? Squee! Time for the third week of giveaways in March to celebrate the release of "The Lost Highway." This is the last personalized one, as it is a two-pack of my favorite in time travel: The Time Traveler's Wife and Somewhere in Time.

I could gush more, or you could just read my other post on this movie. This edition contains the Back to Somewhere in Time documentary and Jeannot Szwarc's director's commentary.

My favorite thing about The Time Traveler's Wife is the bravery Audrey Niffenegger showed with her choice in structure and her lyrical, almost poetic prose.

Congratulations to the latest winner and don't forget--there's one grand prize to go: a $25 Visa gift card.

T minus eight hours and seventeen minutes until print release day!

A Thousand Words and Birth Control Revenge

I actually have four longer posts backing up in my mind I'll get to eventually, but I'm blogging over at our group blog today; thus, I'm preserving my coherent thoughts for that in the hopes I won't run the story off into the ditch. I guess what's left is what I leave you with here:

April 1st begins a writing challenge over at Sherry Davis's blog Novel-Words. The biggest stretch for me will not be the 1000 words, but the everyday consistency of it. Everyone in on the challenge is at a different place. Several of us are in rewrites, some are creating anew. All of us need a kick in the pants to complete our goals. If you've slipped behind or are up for a challenge, join us. Authors that sweat together, stick together.

And at the risk of dooming my own creativity to the square- peg-whatever-the-hell-genre-I-write that never seems to quite fit into the round hole of the romance industry (there's got to be a joke there, but I'm preserving my coherent thoughts, remember?), I've dipped backward fifty years into a science fiction classic for Sandra's one book a week reading challenge.

I didn't pick it up for the longest time because the cover art is, well, bad. Marsha Brady stroking an injured cat while some kind of steaming UFO/birth control packet is about to swallow her, bad Star-Trek costume and all. But it is time travel, the title is great and the first three pages had me.

Electronics engineer Dan Davis has finally made the invention of a lifetime: a household robot with extraordinary abilities, destined to dramatically change the landscape of everyday routine. Then, with wild success just within reach, Dan's greedy partner and greedier fiancée trick him into taking the long sleep--suspended animation for thirty years. They never imagine that the future time in which Dan will awaken has mastered time travel, giving him a way to get back to them--and at them . .

Gotta love revenge time travel.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Something to Celebrate (Other Than Chocolate)

My Easter candy today...

Happy times: The Night Caller has won first place in the paranormal category of the Great Expectations contest!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

There Are No Mistakes, Only Happy Accidents

I could, quite possibly, be one of a handful of people who remember Bob Ross. In the twenty years since his painting show ran on public television, I've only seen one pop-culture reference on a t-shirt, glorious afro and all. I always envied the way the man traveled through life. Maybe his soft-spoken, overflowing cup of optimism was merely for the camera, but I don't think so. It's hard to fake gentleness of spirit.

I entered my hard-core Bob Ross phase when I was about ten or twelve. Sounds like a season of life attributed to a Korn album or my hand-painted, ripped jeans devoted to Poison, but it's true. The women in my family would gather one day out of the week and paint. My sister, a talented and expressive painter, would give a passing glance to Ross's instruction, then abandon all preconceived notions and just paint. If she had become a writer, she'd be the kind that would craft a story on a whim and follow where the words took her.

My mom was a devoted painting student, pausing only long enough to take tentative steps before Ross's words tethered her back to his idea of art. What would take us an hour would last all day for her, until her burnt umbers and alizarin crimson bled into each other and became more impressionistic than what some of Ross's critics would call "Days Inn" art. Never trusting her creativity, she'd be the writer who obsesses over the first chapter until the spark that ignited the novel fizzled out.

Me? I suppose I fell somewhere in between. I'd approach the canvas thoughtful, but with enough faith in the process and an a non-existent desire to compare myself to what others created, that languishing in the mediocre didn't bother me. For all that I loved having something to hang on the wall, I craved the process more. Much like words on the page today.

Ross's mantra about the "happy little trees" is a great lesson for pursuing art, in any form. His philosophy of layering in what bubbles to the surface of our minds and being at peace with it encourages us to connect with our emotions and sense of beauty in a way no one else can. Sounds crazy--to gain perspective and a certain truth to life--from someone who many joked must have been high on something other than paint fumes. But for all his whispered, Pollyanna-style delivery, I think he was on to something.

I've had three, maybe more, "happy accidents" pop up so far in my current novel. Even in re-writes, the trees bubble to the surface and I keep them. I've written enough to have faith in the process and realize I may not be able to see the entire forest without their presence.

Bob Ross donated every painting for charitable causes. His creations may not be worth of The Met, but he's inspired an entire generation to tackle their own creativity and find that hard-to-get-to place within where thoughts and emotions translate into something to be shared.

Here's a clip of Bob Ross painting and a wickedly funny parody.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

A Little Kuntry and a Little Bestseller

It's amazing what the open road can do for the tired mind. We drove south, hugged up next to the piney woods of east Texas--so far removed from my daily landscape, I'd almost forgotten how a thick canopy of trees can trap the imagination and a scent rivaled only by the unwrapping of a cardboard air freshener. Tuesday's rain brought with it volcanic ash and a trapped dust storm from Mexico, leaving an apocalyptic dust on everything. And, I found, quite possibly, the most delicious hole-in-the-wall diner. Ever. One of those places you're scared to sample, but you follow the locals, en masse, and have a little faith. Within those dated, wood-paneled walls, pure Southern culinary heaven and enough character study to fill the next three novels.

Today's Thursday and that means a third "happy"(as the regulars of the Kuntry Kitchen would say) in the Lost Month of Giveaways. A $10 Wild Rose Press gift certificate is on its way to an entrant who submitted the correct color of the '59 Thunderbird in The Lost Highway's book trailer. Two awesome prizes still to come in March--a two-pack bundle of my favorite time travel movie and novel and a $25 Visa gift card. Enter here, if you haven't already.

Lastly, Love, Texas Style reached #1 on The Wild Rose Press bestseller list this week. That means someone besides our collective moms must think it's pretty special. Thanks again to everyone who made it such an e-book success.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

A Breath

A novel's halfway mark is dangerous territory for a writer. At once, your characters must be closer than they've ever been, yet situationally polar from where the story will end. It's also a place filled with plot quicksands, subplots dangling like snapping vines and the realization that in this marathon that is a novel, you're winded and you're not even close.

I'll be "unplugged" for four days. As tempting as it was to pack my laptop for my half-week vacation, I realize that I can't have a hope of capturing life on the page if I don't step out once in a while and experience it. It's the balance that opens us up to new things.

Take care of yourself and the people you love this week.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Aloha, Elvis, from Texas

Happy Lost-Month-of-Giveaways Thursday! Last week's Texas-themed basket went to someone who'd never stepped foot in the state, a great way to celebrate new friends and the inspiration for Love, Texas Style.

For this second week of prizes, I'm needing more room in the top drawer of my desk. Amongst the white out tape rollers, singing cards of encouragement from my peeps, a fancy pen from my brother for my first booksigning I can't figure out how to use(doh!) and enough lime and pink scribbled post-its to checkerboard one wall, sits Elvis. At this point, he must leave the building or risk drowning in a sea of clutter. I'll draw tonight at midnight, so there's still plenty of time to enter to get your piece of the King and the rest of the awesome prizes.

Thanks so much to everyone who's shown interest in my writing through the contest and elsewhere. If you've read Love, Texas Style and would like to leave a quote for us on Amazon, we'd love to have your review. Don't forget, we know a few Texas boys that'll open up a can of whoop ass if you one-star us. Kidding. Really.

Oh, and today is my day to post at Sparkle This. It's all CSI and fainting time-travelers and corsets.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Aesthetic Ideal of the Anti-hero

In the nineteenth century, a movement in photography called the "aesthetic ideal of the sublime" urged artists to capture images to elicit the physical sensations of fear and excitement. Prior to this, official surveyors for Congress, and later, photographers commissioned by the railroad expansion west, captured the larger picture. Horizons. Mountain vistas. Workers lining a stretch of rail. Technological advances in photography gradually made it possible for the photographer to reach more extreme landscapes.
Grand Canyon of the Colorado, near the big bend by Peach Springs, by William Henry Jackson, probably 1892, when, along with Thomas Moran, they traveled for the Sante Fe Railroad. Jackson was the offical photographer of the Hayden Survey of the American West, 1871-1878.The National Museum of Art, Smithsonian Institution.

This new subject matter allowed viewers to take in exceptional examples and trials of the human condition. Suddenly, it became possible for someone sitting in a Victorian parlor in Connecticut to pick up a stereoscope and experience a moment of terror. Awe. Extreme sympathy. An explorer with a spyglass leaning over the rim of the Grand Canyon. Men baracaded behind a stronghold, guns poised for a Native ambush.

One photograph I found moved me more than all the others. Without getting into graphic detail, its subject was death. Not the kind used to preserve historical record as battleground images or matters of medical study, but a completely voyeuristic look into a moment of extreme grief. This became the dark side of the antagonist in my current novel. An 1880s railroad photographer who longs to capture what no one has before him. The moment life slips away.

This is Charles Pierre Baudelaire, an accomplished poet and translator in nineteenth century France. The poor man became the inspiration for my anti-hero.

The With New Eyes: Exploration and the American West exhibit has moved on from where I experienced it at the Amon Carter in Fort Worth, but I highly recommend it if it comes near you and the American West fascinates you.

If you'd like to read more about my work-in-progress, click over to my website. There, you'll find a quick blurb, a few opening paragraphs and some other photos that inspired The Night Caller.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Cover Quotes

Today's the first of five drawings in my Lost Month of Giveaways. The response has been fantastic, and humbling. I picked up some fun Texas-themed stuff yesterday and feel like kicking off the month with a little taste of my corner of the world. There's still four more prizes to go, so be sure to enter (see post below for details).

I'm reading Alan Lightman's Ghost right now. Of course, I picked it up because of the book's premise about a modest, scientifically-oriented man who must come to terms with a supernatural encounter. Mr. Lightman's credentials as a theoretical physicist, MIT professor and celebrated novelist shed immediate light on the insight he would give his protagonist. Maybe, though, it was the fact that Salman Rushdie provided this quote of Lightman's work: "at once intellectually provocative and touching and comic and so very beautifully written."

The opening is so first person, it's almost disconcerting. Rather like breathing in the exhale of a paranoid man. So much so, and so different from what I normally read that I'm simultaneously tempted to put it down and hole myself in the corner and keep reading. I guess the praise for the novel is what keeps me going with it. How can I deny myself a further look at the "allegory of the birth of superstition" and the "sympathetic picture of the kind of people who are often mocked or patronized in novels"? Am I really so uncertain in my own tastes that I'll adopt those of Joyce Carol Oates above my own? Do quotes really have that much impact on the sales and reading habits of our audiences?

Will I stick with it? I'll let you know. For now, it's a great study in character immersion.

When was the last time you picked up a book and invested time in it based on a quote?

To read a great Alan Lightman interview, click here.