Finding the End

Full moon rising the other night. Just a bit of nostalgia.

I’m catching up a bit here, on photos and topics, both.

The other day (see?) I had an interesting Twitter conversation with the charming Abby Mumford. She announced to Twitter at large that she believed was done writing her novel. Then she asked how she should know if she was really done.

This might seem like a silly question. Duh – you’re done when the story is over. Thing is, when you’re writing, you don’t always know when the story is over. In fact, if you’re like most writers, the story doesn’t really end at all for you. You have this sense of the ongoing thread of your characters’ lives. Perhaps this crisis is over, but it’s not like they all fall over dead at the end, not unless you’re writing a Shakespeare tragedy.

(Even with those, the role-call of deaths in the final act begins to feel a bit contrived. Really, Will? EVERYONE??)

So, I told her that, if she’d tied up all her threads, then she was done. Even a thread that continues into the future needs a nice little knot at the end of a particular story. She thought they were, but she was feeling still unfinished. I finally suggested that she type “The End” if it made her feel better.

She did and it did.

This might seem like a false resolution, but endings, especially on first drafts, are moving targets. By the time you go back through the whole novel, cut, amplify, eliminate, massage and tighten, then ending might have moved by 45 degrees. Which is necessary, sometimes. I’ve heard that  John Irving never starts a book until he knows the last line. But I also know, from reading about his process, that he revises over and over, getting to that ending.

For me, each book is different. Usually I have to write to find out how it all ends. With Middle Princess, I’ve had a pretty good idea how it ends, but I’ve been sneaking up on that ending for days now. In the past, when I’ve gotten close to the end, the words flow in a great, ultimate rush. Not so this time. I keep telling myself it doesn’t have to be perfect, that I’ll likely change it in revision. Still, it only feeds at a measured pace. I’m tying up the knots, one by one.

Soon, I know, I’ll be done.

Not Running

I didn’t get good photos of the moonrise last night, but fortunately she hung around until I woke up this morning for a little repeat performance.

I haven’t been getting to run on the treadmill this week.

Yes, I know, I know, at one time in my life – hell, for a good chunk of my life so far – I would have embraced any excuse that prevented me from exercising, especially running.

(As a total aside, one of my all time movie scenes is from The Big Easy, when Dennis Quaid gets his cop cousins to “arrest” Ellen Barkin while she’s out jogging and bring her to a family party. Ellen is in her jogging shorts and sports bra, all sweaty in the New Orleans humidity and his mother looks her up and down, drawling “did he get you out of the bathtub, sugar?” Ellen says, “No, I was running.” And the mother, played by New Orleans native, Grace Zabriskie, gives her this LOOK and repeats “Running.” It’s a brilliant moment, how much incomprehension and pity for the dumb yankee Grace packs into one word.)

At any rate, I messed up my back a teensy bit – I think I compressed my sacrum and pinched a nerve while sea kayaking on the Bioluminescent Bay (still totally worth it) – and my in-house physician (David) says it would be better for me not to run for a few days. I have to admit he’s right. Running usually loosens up my back, but after doing a very low-key run on Monday, my lower back tightened up so much I couldn’t bend over. Which, I’m pretty sure, is a Bad Sign.

(I was also instructed not to wear heels of any sort, but that’s just too painful to discuss.)

(I’m clearly feeling quite parenthetical today.)

So he’s been treating me and that helps a bunch. But it’s interesting to note how much I miss my morning workout. No running. No weight-lifting. It’s not like I’m ahead of schedule without it either. I get up at the same time, but apparently I just blog more slowly or something.


Maybe I can run tomorrow.

Running. Heh.

The Critical Step

Sometimes I wish I could make the photos really big, so all the subtle variations stand out. Guess you’ll just have to come sit on my porch. I’ll give you a blanket and a mug of mulled wine.

My waxer is a lover of sexy books and an aspiring writer.

Isn’t everyone’s?

I know, I know – it kind of sounds like an episode of Californication. My waxer – I’ll call her Angelica – is the polar opposite of Marcy. Angelica is an Amazonian redhead, with this very glam look and an incredibly sweet heart. She has a thing for firemen and runs her salon with style and aplomb. She once wrested my Kindle from me and wrote down the title and author of every book I had on it. She’s read my books and asks me questions about writing hers.

She’s at that stage where she’s still playing with it. She’s done the thing where she’s read the really awful book and thought “I could write something way better than this.” She asks me questions about my process, like if I write a book from beginning to end (I do) and how much I go back to revise (easily a month’s worth of writing time). All of this in the approximately ten minutes it takes her to give me a Brazilian. She’s not only skilled, does a perfect job – she’s also really fast.

I see her about every six weeks and two appointments ago, she told me her sister suggested that she take a one-week course on romance-writing at the Iowa Writer’s Program. I had no idea they were offering one now – go figure. I do know a fair number of writers who graduated from that program though and I have a pretty good idea that it wouldn’t be cheap. I told her it might be a great experience, but that there’s so much available online and through local RWA chapters, that she should consider starting there first. In fact, I said, the New Mexico local chapter, LERA, is having a one-day conference in November (now this Saturday) where we’re bringing in a gal to teach deep editing techniques. I told Angelica she should come; I tried to get her to mark out the day in her appointment book.

And she totally balked. She didn’t really have five opening chapters. She wasn’t ready to learn to edit. Her work isn’t at a place where anyone else can look at it. It didn’t matter that I told her she had three months to put those five chapters together, that only she would see it and that learning to look critically at your work is a huge step.

She wasn’t ready and I let it go.

So, then, the most recent appointment, she said her sister told her she’d read about all these people who self-published their books and made millions and what did I think of that? Could that be a viable option for her?

I tell you, these stories about the Amanda Hockings of the world are attaining the level of urban myth.

So, yes, I tell her – things like this have happened for people. But they are isolated cases (I didn’t mention that they’re also regularly and wildly distorted) and that the people who seem to be doing the best with self-pubbing are those writers with either established audiences or backlists of already polished work. I asked her if she’d encourage someone to open a salon who’d never worked in a professional capacity before and she got my point.

Now, I hope I don’t sound negative about self-publishing here, because I think it’s becoming a great option for many writers. But it’s disturbing to me that some people are seeing it as an option to skip the critical step. Not the crucial one, though it’s that, too, but the many-layered process where you learn to critique your own work, to assimilate the criticism of others, to incorporate editorial input that shapes the story and to view the work in light of the readers’ expectations and the marketplace.

Yes, this is the painful and awful part of being a writer. I really don’t blame anyone for wanting to skip it.

It would be a lovely world if we could write our stories and they would emerge full-fledged and perfect, ringed by rainbows and escorted by white ponies with ribbons in their tails.

This is not that world.

So, what I tried to get her to see is that she needs to apply all the work she put into becoming a terrific aesthetician – and she’s one of the best I’ve ever encountered – and to building her business and creating a well-run salon, and put that into becoming a writer. You don’t need a certificate from a fancy writing school, but you do have to work at it.

And, if you’re not ready to show it to people for critique, you’re not ready to publish it.

No golden tickets to fame and fortune, alas.

Though I wouldn’t mind one of those white ponies with the pretty ribbons.

Having It Both Ways

A storm rolled in yesterday afternoon, producing rain, sleet (or hail – we weren’t sure) and then snow. I love all the looming shadows and the layers of cloud here.

I was IMing with one of my Critique Partners yesterday, about how I’m hitting this new place in my writing career. KAK (who just redesigned her blog AND actually posted to it here) is pre-published and is hitting the querying and submitting now. She was catching up with me on how Sapphire is doing, and I said it seems to be doing really well, though I make a point of not looking at sales rankings, etc. (With the glaring exception of that run on the Carina Press website, which I caught by surprise and then all the people who love me kept checking and telling me that I was still #1. That was pretty damn fun.) One way I knew was that my Carina editor, the insightful Deb Nemeth, emailed to ask if I was sending them more BDSM romance. Check that, she said “you are submitting more right?” and then said things about building readerships and frequency of publishing and so on and so forth and other things that I just don’t like to keep in my head for very long. KAK holds marketing stuff in her head much better than I do – one of the reasons I love her – and she said that Deb is right and that you need 3-4 books a year to build a readership. And I asked her if she wanted the email address for my boss at the day job.

Okay, I might have been whining a little bit.

Because she said, hey, you should be happy that editors are ASKING for your work. (I may have mentioned that my Ellora’s Cave editor, the lovely Grace Bradley, has been making similar noises.) I was chastened. I should be grateful. I *am* grateful.

The thing is, they ask what I’m working on and the novel I’m finishing is not one they’re asking for. So far, nobody is really asking for The Body Gift, either. So, I’m in this funny place where I have limited writing time and I’m spending it writing the books nobody is asking for instead of the ones they really want.

I’m insane, right?

I’ve seen career writers talk about this particular struggle – the work you want to write vs. the work they want to pay for. From that I know that this will never change. Charlaine Harris wrote the Sookie books way longer than she wanted to because of this. And you keep reminding yourself how tremendously lucky you are that they want to pay you to write more.

But then there’s that other reason we write. The love of it. “To touch the hem of the gown that is art itself” as Ann Patchett says. (Yes, I’m still reading that book. I went back, slowed way down and now I’m highlighting great lines to share here.)

I suspect the next step will be finding a way to do both.

One Great Novel

This is actually the same sunset that I posted on the blog November 3, but with a different camera and settings. In case any of you are as geeky as I am and like to compare.

Come on, you like it, you know you do.

I don’t typically read a lot of writing craft books these days. I have my favorites on the shelf and occasionally look up a particularly good quote – usually to share with someone else. Last night, though, I saw in the Kindle store (most invidious marketing tool EVER) that one of my all-time favorite writers, Ann Patchett, had a little book up on writing. I saw it because I was debating whether to buy her new book, State of Wonder. The story doesn’t look all that interesting to me, but who am I kidding? Ann Patchett is one of those writers who writes so beautifully that I don’t care what the story is. But then they want $12.99 for it, which I think is too much for an eBook. So I was wavering and I spotted this: The Getaway Car: A Practical Memoir About Writing and Life.

At last! Ann is going to explain to me How She Does It.

It’s short – only 45 pages – and it looks like she self-pubbed it. Which means she should get most of the money for it. Which I also like.

And it’s lovely.

There’s this great story in there that I just have to share with you all. Long time blog-gobblers will understand why I like it so much.

…my husband had told her I was a novelist. Regrettably, I admitted this was the case. That was when she told me that everyone had at least one great novel in them.

I have learned the hard way not to tell strangers what I do for a living. Frequently, no matter how often I ask him not to, my husband does it for me. Ordinarily, in a circumstance like this one, in the Masonic Lodge in Preston, Mississippi, I would have just agreed with this woman and sidled off (One great novel, yes, of course, absolutely everyone), but I was tired and bored and there was nowhere to sidle to except the field. We happened to be standing next to the name-tag table. On that table was a towering assortment of wildflowers stuck into a clear glass vase. “Does everyone have one great floral arrangement in them?” I asked her.

“No,” she said.

I remember that her gray hair was thick and cropped short and that she looked at me directly, not glancing over at the flowers.

“One algebraic proof?”

She shook her head.

“One Hail Mary pass? One five-minute mile?”

“One great novel,” she said.

“But why a novel?” I asked, having lost for the moment the good sense to let it go. “Why a great one?”

“Because we each have the story of our life to tell,” she said. It was her trump card, her indisputable piece of evidence. She took my silence as confirmation of victory, and so I was able to excuse myself.

I couldn’t stop thinking about this woman, not later that same day, not five years later. Was it possible that, in everybody’s lymph system, a nascent novel is knocking around? A few errant cells that, if given the proper encouragement, cigarettes and gin, the requisite number of bad affairs, could turn into something serious? Living a life is not the same as writing a book, and it got me thinking about the relationship between what we know and what we can put on paper.

So now I’m thinking about that, too.

After the First Mile

David and I have been dragging rear a bit this week. It’s probably a mild virus, possibly something that hitchhiked from the tropics. Not awful, but we haven’t been hopping up and hitting the gym like usual.

Today, though, we mustered up the will power and did the workout. Afterwards, David said, “It didn’t feel good at first, but after the first mile, I got my rhythm and then it felt great.”

You know me – I thought of writing.

I’ve been working my way back into the groove this week with Middle Princess. I know I’ve talked about it before, how difficult it can be to get back into the writing every day and, more, trying to hit at least 1,000 words/day. A lot of people out there are doing NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), which calls for 50,000 words in the month, or about 1,666 words/day.

For me, I’ve really found that that first mile is really the hardest. Wordcount-wise, it’s somewhere around the first 350-400 words. Those can be painful and take forever to get out, but after that, it starts to feel good. Oh sure, some days I have to eke out to the very end, but often if I can just get past the 500 word mark, I can go pretty easily.

David said he thinks the hormones kick in after the first mile and I said, no, that shouldn’t be the case, because I see it with the writing like this.

What I think it is? The subconscious. Our subconscious is like a little kid or a pet. They like to play, to have fun, to run around and enjoy life. It’s the conscious, the left brain, who says “no more goofing off. you’re going to sit down and accomplish something.”

No, the subconscious doesn’t like hearing this. And, like a toddler or a puppy, it will test you.

Oh look! A yummy book to read!

Oh, let’s go outside!

What’s going on in Twitter-land?

If we want to get something done, we have to keep gently steering the subconscious back on task. I do mean gentle. If you scream at it, it’ll shut down and sulk.

But, if you keep running on the treadmill, keep tapping those keys, eventually the subconscious will play along. Then it starts to have fun. And, that, my friends, is when you hit the glory point.

It’s there. Believe me.

The Hallowed Ones

Big news today! One of my favorite people, whose writing I also just love – which makes for serendipity all around, because these two things don’t always come together – has a Big Announceament! (Yes, I always hear that in my head as in the Legally Blonde musical. This man is gay AND European!)


So, Laura announced yesterday that she’s signed a two-book deal for her new Young Adult series!!

Let the hooting and rejoicing begin!

The first book is called The Hallowed Ones. The official spiel is: pitched as “Witness” meets “28 Days Later” in which an Amish girl must protect her family from a violent contagion, even as fear and denial threaten to erode her community from within.

I can add that for an image for this post, I looked for a good one of a raven in a denuded field, since we don’t have a cover yet. I really need to get out and snap some corvid pics. It’s a great story and I’m proud to say I was there for the initial brainstorming. In fact, I don’t think it’s going too far to say this story was totally my idea. Maybe even 95% my idea. I mean, sure, Laura came up with a few things here and there. Well, and then she spent all that time actually writing it – but really, I think this could totally be all about me.

Don’t you all agree? Yeah, I totally thought so.

At any rate, for the writers out there, Laura’s agent is the ever-charming Becca Stumpf at Prospect Literary Agency. She sold the books to Graphia, the YA imprint at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, for a very decent advance on the two books.

SO exciting!

Congratulations Laura!