Wednesday, April 30, 2008


I found this meme-okay, I stole this meme-from another writer's blog. Since I'm knee-high in revisions, cracked black pepper popcorn and re-wetting eyedrops, and can't produce a coherent thought to save my hero's life after today's word count, here's the rules:

1) Post an excerpt from page 123 of your work-in-progress
2) If you write short or haven't made it to page 123 yet, post from page 12 or 23

There's no official tag (because that would be-well-annoying), but if you're reading this, we'd love a quick sample of your writing. Leave us a taste here or let us know where we can find it on your blog. If you're a reader, post us a line from page 123 of the novel your bookmark is parked in, along with author and title.

The Night Caller, page 123

"I have proof. A nightgown and this," Evan scrambled to the drawing and unrolled it. "Her sketch. She left them both in the floorboard. For me."

Margaret's blank assessment of the tree, the white spaces of light, triggered a spark of annoyance.

"You don't believe me."

"I believe she's real to you. Those things could have been there for years."

Evan's controlled exhale flowed hot past his rigid nostrils. She could have spouted concrete quantum physics disproving his theory and it wouldn't have changed his mind.

"I'm not crazy. I'm not like my mother."

Margaret rose and placed her hand, warmed through the chipped stoneware, on the back of his own. "I can't say, Sweetheart. But there are worse things than loving someone you can't see. It's loving someone you can, but you can't feel it back anymore. Love is always a gift, no matter what form it takes."

A vise cinched Evan's throat. He didn't trust himself with anything else, so he nodded and found comfort in the tape measure. Fastened in on itself again.

Have fun and post away...

Sunday, April 27, 2008

A Pause

Near my workspace is a collage of sorts, a pseudo-bulletin board littered with photographs, awards, notes from agents and editors, business cards, goals, slips from Chinese fortune cookies. A visual representation of each step on my way to publication. In the nine years I've been seriously pursuing writing, I've moved across country three times. Somehow every one of those photographs makes me mourn, not only for friends left behind, but for the place I was in my writing.

Had anyone told me I'd miss sitting at my first RWA chapter meeting, feeling completely overwhelmed and struggling to decipher the "author lingo" in the program, I'd have thought them crazy. But before the rules came on like cement, hardening the complete recklessness of creation, before every choice came on like a calculated move in publishing's version of RISK, and story choices presented themselves like a literary buffet, I was a new writer. Fresh. Raw. Filled with an infectious optimism that permeated the friendships I made. A blissful ignorance of the long journey ahead.

Another picture is the snapshot of someone who knew the rules and had studied the writing bibles of Dwight Swain, Jack Bickham and others. Seasoned with the first of many scathing contest entries and the memory of a one-on-one critique so brutal it blistered the path for many steps to come, I understood the cost of offering the deepest part of myself to others. I'd come so far, I thought. Had I not focused prematurely on the golden ring of publication, I might have taken a breath. Looked around the humble kitchen nook in backwoods Mississippi to celebrate the intensity with which we attacked the words, the wading into fiction we all took together before a better understanding of the craft set me adrift into a more solitary task of creation.

Glancing now at the mementos of the past five years, the back half of this journey filled with increasing achievements and a sense of self as a writer I've never known, I pause and wonder if those moments soaked in through the patina of "what's next?" While I sat at the booting ceremony for the Golden Heart finalists, did I become so enraptured with the idea of being the next booted into the world of publication that I forgot to soak in the excitement of being the newest candidate? Before trying to navigate my square peg voice and style into the round holes of marketability, did I ever pause to celebrate the uniqueness only I can bring to the page? Will I miss the freedom now when I exchange it for outside expectations and deadlines?

We all know intuitively to mark rites of passage in our lives. Births. Deaths. Moves. Snapshots of celebration that fill the lives around us. Almost like an inherent radar, our minds capture these to draw on again. But how many times do we do that with our dreams? Are we so likely to keep our eye on the finish line, we miss the subtle changes in the landscape and within ourselves along the way?

So I propose a pause, just for today. Call to mind the things you'll miss at this moment in time when your dreams have whisked you far from this day and it's but a snapshot on the collage of your career. Instead of chasing down aspirations to come, breathe in everything that is now and right and leave them here...

What will you miss?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Stretch Something Other Than Your Mind

How long have you been at the keyboard today? I'm going to sound like your Mom, but get up for a few minutes. Right now. I'll wait.

You didn't go did you? I didn't either.

I found a downside to the heart-pumping, intoxicating high of consistent, marathon word count. Crippling neck pain. Think Lurch strapped to a body board.

I've heard all the ergonomic, proper positioning-blah, blah. I even read R. Garland Gray's great article in the March Romance Writer's Report on dry eye syndrome common to writers, but my poor work habits had never come up to bite me before. Now it's forced me to figure out what I'm doing wrong. So at the risk of becoming another yadda-yadda you've heard and will tune out, here's how to take care of yourself during screen time:

1) Pay attention to pain or discomfort right away and relieve it immediately.

Sometimes I sit cross-legged with a fifteen pound cat on my lap. When I can't feel my legs anymore, it's time to jig away from the computer and hop on the balls of my feet like a lunatic until the pins and needles subside. Note to self: The cat should remain a paperweight, not a human weight.

2) Stand up and walk away. Stretch. Relax. Once per hour, ideally every 20-30 minutes

This is a serious downfall of mine. Usually the only thing that gets me up on my productive days is nature's undeniable urge. Sometimes hours vaporize while I'm working on an intense scene or the flow is amazing. To break the flow is to lose all the brilliant things coming behind it, right? Wrong. Your brain needs oxygen, too. Set a timer on your computer or watch. Drink more water so nature becomes the ultimate reminder. Oh, and walking to the pantry to find Oreos is counter-productive. Remember, when we're writing a book, we're working our butts off, not on.

3) Check your workspace

Tons of websites have tips on healthy computing, but I'll cover a few of my mistakes. Remember if you share a chair with someone to adjust it when you begin work. You wouldn't forget to adjust the rear-view mirror or seat in a car, so don't forget it now. Your feet should be on the floor--not twisted into pretzels to accommodate a feline. The top 1/3 of your monitor should be at eye level. If you lean forward to read text on the screen, own up to the fact that you need glasses. The keyboard should be low, at elbow height, with the mouse close by.

Aside from daily exercise-which we know, right?-make sure your stretches put your overworked body parts through the normal range of motion. Consider yoga. I'm starting it again after many years off. I've heard sitting on the inflated balls makes it impossible to have an incorrect body posture, but my jury is still out on that. It must be hard to write an edgy, gripping scene while balancing on a Hippity-Hoppity ball.

So there it is. Too late for me, at least for a day or two and a few dozen pain pills, but just in time to save you. Have you gotten up yet? Go ahead. I'll still be here.

What do you do (or not do) to stay healthy at the computer?

Monday, April 21, 2008

A Twenty Year Old Caper

If any of you have read my Love, Texas Style dedication, I referred to a seventh grade novel I wrote. Didn't all writers have one of these? A work so horrific the shadows under the bed couldn't conceal its unworthiness? Recently, it found the light of day. So in the interest of full disclosure here and to achieve one of my 2008 goals to strive toward raw honesty in my writing, here's a painful sampling:

"It was a cool, crisp, autumn morning when the leaves were breaking away from the trees."

Stellar opening line, right? Very Snoopy and passive, but even then my panache for descriptive constipation reared it's ugly head.

"I guess you could say she was an all around athlete."

Nice touch, dipping into second person narrative.

"I honestly don't believe you," Natasha retorted.

I can almost smell how foul this is. Obviously, my struggle with dialogue had roots.

"Amy stormed away from the table leaving Craig speechless and Natasha with an evil smile."

This is a small taste of the melodrama. Poor Craig has been sitting at the dinner table with a dozen high-estrogen teenage girls for twenty years. Amy returns to the boarding school, pounds some gin and finds a box of rat poison. And the riveting wrap up to the ensuing murder investigation:

"Two days later the trunk was found. A full investigation followed and proved all the facts on the dolls and in Natasha's system."

Yadda, yadda. Apparently, my hand cramped up fifty handwritten pages in and I tied it up in classic if-it-hadn't-been-for-those-pesky-girls Scooby-Doo fashion.

The most fascinating part to me is the grading sheet. I can't remember the teacher's name, but she believed enough in me to send it off to Seventeen magazine's teen fiction contest. Maybe that's all it takes, really. Someone to believe in you until you can believe in yourself.

I would not have made it through revisions on my current, excruciating scene without the song playing. It's where I am right now, pushing me on.

Where are your painful first attempts hidden?

Friday, April 18, 2008

The Door Into Summer

So I'm horrifically behind on Sandra's read-one-book-a-week challenge, but I finally finished Robert A. Heinlein's The Door Into Summer. Remember? That was the one with Marsha Brady stroking an injured cat while some kind of steaming UFO/birth control packet is about to swallow her.

And, for some reason, cryonics is following me around this week. Yesterday, I'm scrolling through the on-screen guide and found a National Geographic's Naked Science episode entitled "Freeze Me." That really says it all, right? This is sixty minutes I'll never get back, but it followed a small, devoted hope-filled army of believers who have put forth $150,000 to have the guinea pig priviledge of undergoing a post-mordem deep freeze in the hope that future science will overcome whatever ended their present life.

It's strange to look back on a classic work of science fiction. Written in 1956, Heinlein predicts a 1970s future and a year-2001 future. A highly intelligent and gifted mathemetician and physicist, an astonishing number of his predictions came true. Aside from the odd charm of reading a future in hindsight, Heinlein captures the humanity involved with the notion of time travel and "the cold sleep." The perpetual longing for things left behind. The suspension of self while watching everything familiar play out, change and disappoint. This book is far from a glass-half-full look at the paradoxes. While it seems antiquated in the face of our present fiction market, it delivers a good-overcomes-evil premise and the resonating image of a "door into summer" that we all spend our lives looking for.

At the time of filming, Alcor had seventy-four patients who'd undergone the cryonic (often mistakenly called "cryogenic") sleep. Pioneers in what some consider an inevitibility. Who knows what nanotechnology holds in the next fifty or one hundred years? Is this hope or a mere suspension of grief? A divide between family members who have fundamental disagreements between not only the logistical possibilities, but religious or spiritual implications?

Heinlein crafted a protagonist with few ties, a completely believable scenario that leads the reader straight into the rightness of his choices. What kind of real-life character would make this choice? Not Walt Disney, that's an urban myth, but Ted Williams did it.

So that I don't topple head-long into some whacked-out imbalance of the creative mind, I'm going light next. I adore all things Elvis, and a wonderfully talented local author, Leanna Ellis's latest release Elvis Takes a Back Seat is next on my list. It's women, on a cross-country journey of discovery with an Elvis bust. Right now, that premise sounds like my "door into summer."

Lastly, in an attempt to realign light and dark here on the blog, I offer a delicious YouTube link to comedian Lewis Black's take on Writing a Book. Love, love, love Lewis Black. Thanks to Juliet for the discovery. Enjoy!

Light or dark...take your pick and let me know your thoughts.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Mindfreak...Without the Black Eyeliner

I have a mindfreak for you. And it's not Criss Angel's smacked-out version of parlor tricks. This time, it's science.

Researchers at UC Berkley have found a way to analyze brain activity in order to predict with ninety percent accuracy what natural image was seen by the subject at a specific point in time. Where previous experiments using MRIs failed because the computer had to be familiar with the images prior to testing, this latest approach tackles the way the brain encodes information by computer simulation. The jump from encoding to decoding is not far off.

Professor Jack Gallant believes, "one day it may even be possible to reconstruct the visual contents of dreams or visual imagery" and cautions, "it is possible that decoding brain activity could have serious ethical and privacy implications downstream in, say, the 30-to 50-year time frame."

Imagine these implications. Within our lifetime, this technology's capacity to destroy the human elements of white lies that play to social graces, the true nature and internal battles of interpersonal relationships, even the potential to affect the outcomes of political interactions is staggering. Secrets of the mind, our preoccupations and fantasies, could be broadcast, perhaps even for public consumption. Our greatest and lowest humanities revealed.

Maybe to those of you who are fleet of tongue, this doesn't seem as terrifying as it does for those of us who wrap ourselves in the insulation of these private thoughts. Introverts thrive on the isolated spaces of the mind, a rich terrain simultaneously comforting and forbidden, where we find the room to breathe. The idea that the final frontier of scientific exploration is not at the point of two geographic coordinates but within the mind inspires far more than my two novels, Chasing Midnight and Chasing Destiny. This frontier has enough feet to fill a career.

While browsing the photo shop creations of Time Travel Celebrities (10 galleries worth-Squee!), I found this haunting image. At the risk of breaching some posting rule, I wanted to credit the artist who created it, HDoyer. It fit my paranoid thoughts today.

Check out more about the UC-Berkley study. The article is dated May 3, 2008. Some kind of omen from the future? Hmm.

Were it possible today, whose mind would you decode?

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Coffee-caliber Inspirations

Inspiration must come from somewhere, especially in this marathon race to the end of my edits. So, in the spirit of all that is right with my book right now (and because Sherry asked), these are a few things that keep me writing each day:

These, and a dozen or so other irises are outside my writing window. My absolute favorite flower because the window of "spectacular" is about two weeks. Sort of like my attention span if these re-writes take too long.

This Victorian house landed on my writing desk as a random gift about two weeks ago. It's actually a matchstick holder, which is symbolic in itself for my plot, but its capacity to hold tons of pencils keeps me firmly in my novel's setting and all those jagged points remind me what I should be doing, instead of, say, blogging.

Mr. G. isn't exactly the hero in my novel, but he comes pretty close. I'd give you the real deal, but alas, the real Evan Braun inspiration jumped ship from my crowded notebook at a coffeehouse about two months ago. Poor guy was not dressed appropriately, either. Maybe he made off with quill-girl and has become eye candy perk in the employee's restroom. Stronger than the Organic Sumatra-Peru blend, trust me.

So that's where I am. Lime green post-its, a plot board with evaporated words, historical maps of Clear Creek Canyon, Colorado in the 1880s, and this book, among many, to keep it real.

What inspires you this week?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

I Can't Believe It Hasn't Been Done

Okay, so I'd really only want to visit it, not own it, but I can completely picture it. A pub in some trendy arts district called "Time Out" where moonshine in Civil War flasks is served alongside a Genghis Khan-worthy concoction in a gold stemmed Mongolian goblet. Where patrons could match their mood to the period in history saturating alternate nooks and come away with a different experience each time. The focal point would be the bar, the epicenter tying it all together with some kind of Timeline-esque, hollographic glass construction where drinks were served on a raised hydraulic platform instead of sloshed out from the meaty hand of a bartender. I'd SO go there.

Incidently, thanks to the Smart Bitches, my new favorite reward for hitting my daily page count is to flood Fabio with the names and phone numbers of those who need the special kind of message that can only come from the buttery Italian. I'm sure their fondness for me only grows when Fabio interrupts a board meeting, calls them by name to cite Elizabeth Barrett Browning and jokes about what he'd like to do on a bear skin rug. Could technology of the future get any better?

"I can't believe it's time to write."

I know, I know. I'm going...

Name a drink for my time travel pub.
Oh, and let me know how the calls go. You know you want to send them.

Monday, April 7, 2008

A View from the Other Side

Friday night's booksigning was surreal. For the dozens, maybe hundreds, of times I'd stood on the other side of the table to support authors, the view from behind the stacked books and name placard rivaled any on this journey to date. Few times have I broken free of the tangled forest that's so isolating along the way and been able to enjoy such an intoxicating vista. A heady taste of what's to come should I stay the course.

A huge thanks to Sherry, Melanie and Mary for allowing me the diva crown for the night, to my fellow Love, Texas Style authors: Christine, Nikki, Mary, Gina and Jen for their support and friendship, and to those readers who came out to sample a little romance, Texas style.

Above (l-r): me, Sherry Davis, Gina Lee Nelson

At left: Love, Texas Style authors (bottom l-r: Nikki Hollaway, Christine Crocker, Mary Malcolm; top l-r: me, Gina Lee Nelson)

Two sick days (and no, it wasn't Friday's celebratory martinis) later, I'm back on course with Sherry's writing challenge. Daily word count. No excuses.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

No, Larry Hagman Won't Be There

Who knew Southfork had a hotel?

When I was eighteen and I sat down for dinner with my host family in Munich the first night, I remember their only frame of reference about Texas was the show Dallas. Apparently, we all rode around in cars with personalized plates and threw each other in the pool during heated cat fights (or was that Dynasty?). The horns-as-hood-ornament thing had also bled over from a Dukes of Hazzard episode. I don't remember the Ewings being that out-there.

Tomorrow night from 7-9pm, I'll be signing Love, Texas Style with Gina Lee Nelson, Mary Malcolm and Nikki Hollaway, alongside some pretty heady company:
  • Sandy Blair
  • Ken Casper
  • Jax Cassidy
  • Kristin Cast
  • P.C. Cast
  • Judy Christenberry
  • Kresley Cole
  • Connie Cox
  • Gretchen Craig
  • Jana DeLeon
  • Leanna Ellis
  • Lori Foster
  • Tracy Garrett
  • Jane Graves
  • Amie Stuart
  • Nancy Haddock
  • Lorraine Heath
  • Ashlely Kath-Bilsky
  • Karen Kelley
  • Celya Bowers
  • Kara Lennox
  • Dixie Cash & Anna Jeffrey
  • Nina Romberg
  • Gena Showalter
  • Terry Spear
  • Sara Thacker
  • Colleen Thompson
  • Carolyn Williamson
  • Alisha Paige
The buzz with all these talented writers will be amazing. A portion of all sales will benefit the South Collin County Habitat for Humanity and Women Build charities. Admission is free, so drop by and say hello.