And Now For a Little Beach Time

I’m writing this overlooking the ocean.

One of my very favorite things.

Since I was in Baltimore last week for work, and I have to be in Philadelphia for more work Monday morning, it wasn’t worth it to me to spend all that time flying home. So, instead, I’m here in Ocean City, Maryland.

Surf. No thinking. Lots of peace.


Last night I was treated to a concert by the fabulous Jeri Smith-Ready. No, she didn’t sing for me, alas. Instead I met up with her at the Merriweather Post Pavilion outside of Baltimore to see the Walkmen and Fleet Foxes. Check out this video from Fleet Foxes if you’re interested. I hadn’t heard of them, but I know Jeri has excellent musical taste, so I went with implicit trust. I bought an album today. Jeri described them as having a Crosby, Stills and Nash sound, which I can see. They use close harmonies and lots of acoustic sounds. There’s also a spiraling, circular feel to their songs that’s most stirring. They music winds around through slow, intimate lyrics to crashing crescendos of harmony.

The Walkmen opened for Fleet Foxes and they did a great job, too. Kind of a U2 vibe there. I don’t consider myself all that musically discerning, but I thought the drummer was really excellent. He drove the songs forward, punching through the lead singer’s lovely tenor.

It was a bit of a pain to get there. Work was long and intense. I had to take colleagues to the Baltimore airport in torrential rain and rush hour traffic, then swap rental cars. Jeri and I resorted to Twitter to find each other. But the skies cleared, the night was balmy, the company excellent. I let the music wash over me and take away all the tension.

Plus I got to hear the scoop on Jeri’s new Sekrit Project and it sounds just amazing.

Happy Saturday!

If I Can Make It There…

Crazy Gym Lady: He’s a lawyer, so he doesn’t do things like Excel.

I haven’t been doing Crazy Gym Lady quotes lately, because I’m trying to practice tolerance. Which, for me, means not paying attention to her. But I couldn’t resist this one.

There’s been a lot of discussion about the RWA National Conference coming this summer. Mainly people being aghast at the costs. It takes place in New York City, so prices are higher. The hotel rooms are $211/night for double occupancy, which seems to be shockingly high to many people. The registration fee is higher, because the hotel costs are higher.

At this point, people start working their budgets. They look at outlay and profit. Investment and return. I see a lot of people discussing whether they’ll sell enough books, or get a high enough advance to justify the outlay. If you’re responsible about your finances, this is what you do, you weigh your cost versus your benefits.

The problem is, attending a convention like this brings mainly intangible benefits.

The success gurus all say that, if you want to be successful in your field, you should hang with the very successful people in your field. They advise to do whatever it takes just to be in the same room with the millionaires and billionaires. Now remember, these are usually people giving advice on businesses like real estate, investment banking, stock brokerage, entrepeneurial ventures. They regard the opportunity to get a 30-second piece of advice from one of the giants as invaluable. From being around them, you learn the realities of their lives and their business. So you actually know whether a lawyer uses Excel. Unfortunately for aspiring folks in these fields, it’s very difficult to get near the giants. They are simply not accessible, much less willing to give even less than a minute of their time.

It seems to me that people don’t recognize the opportunity RWA offers this way.

The millionaires in our field? They show up. They give keynote addresses. Susan Elizabeth Phillips gives an annual workshop on the secrets of writing a bestseller. I sat in the bar next to Nora Roberts while she had drinks and discussed the business. She also offers a seminar where people can ask her anything at all. Linda Howard chatted with me in the elevator. These are our millionaires, hanging out in the hotel bar and offering advice freely.

This just doesn’t happen in other fields. Even other genres.

I met Annie Proulx six or seven times, easily. She lived near my town and occasionally attended literary events. Every single time she was reintroduced to me, she acted like she’d never seen me before in her life. And this was not a big town. My friend, RoseMarie, and I were working up a great idea for an anthology about bars in the West. I asked Ms. Proulx if she’d be interested in contributing. She laughed in my face. Then glanced at some of the people she considered to be “real writers,” sneered and walked away.

Yeah, she’s a cantankerous type, but she wasn’t the only Big Name Writer to behave this way. When people get to be Very Important, they can become this way. Wanna-bes in their field are only so much dirt beneath their feet. They’re not going to help you.

Not like in RWA.

I included the photo above from two years ago at the convention, because these two fabulous authors, Jeri Smith-Ready and Cynthia Eden, became my friends. They’re not in the millionaire crowd yet, but they’re headed that way. They weren’t the Mean Girls, hanging only with the successful authors. And I know they never will be. They received help along the way and they offer help. Which is what it’s all about.

This kind of thing? It’s beyond price.

That Time of Year

This year, I’m resolved to take more photos.

All of my pictures from last year are from other people’s cameras. (And no, we have no idea what Jeri Smith-Ready is doing in this picture. My theory is vampire dog, but you never know….) But then I was crazy busy/stressed last year. Hopefully this year will involve less of me running around like a manic person.

Tonight, the lovely and serene Cynthia Eden will host a pajama party, I believe. That ought to make for good photo opportunities.

Stay tuned – I’m off to Orlando. Save me now…

Me Time

I made the mistake of showing my mother my writing schedule last night.

As I mentioned, I’m practicing being full-time writer this week. I have vacation from the day job and need to get the New Novel underway. It’s a good opportunity to see how I’d set up a professional work schedule without co-workers or daily hours expectations.

One of the main things I’m trying to do is make sure I don’t dink on the internet all day. So I’m allowing myself online windows to check email, talk to people on IM, catch-up on Twitter and Facebook, read blogs and articles, etc. Which is why my mom asked, so she’d know when my online windows are. I pasted her my schedule into IM and she freaked.

Now, granted, people are often taken aback by my spreadsheets. I try to explain it’s that little wedge of Virgo peeking through all the Leo. When I was a grad student, there was a blackboard over my desk that I would draw the semester’s calendar on. I filled it in with all of my classes, office hours, and so forth. One professor, glimpsing it, said it looked like displacement activity to him. Some of it might be. But the practice helps me to get my head around what I want to do.

That’s the key to me: this is all about making sure I’m doing what’s most important to me.

One writer friend, Jeri Smith-Ready, announced on twitter recently that she created a screensaver that scrolled the message: “Is what you’re doing right now more important than writing your novel?”

My mom thought my schedule sounded sad, lacked joy and human contact. She wanted me to show it to David, so he could weigh in on whether I’m crazy. He looked at it and said, “She just doesn’t understand what you’re trying to do.”

Which she confirmed this morning, apologizing via IM during my online window.

I suspect a lot of the full-time writers out there would look at this and say I’m still spending too much time online. I wonder if I’d whittle that down over time.

But then, while I told my mom that David counts as human contact, my online time is the bulk of my social life these days. Quite deliberately so. When we moved, I decided not to join any organizations yet. Which I’m wont to do. I love to join. Then I inevitably end up volunteering to be in charge of stuff and suddenly I’m spending my non-work time on planning charity balls and not writing my novel.

When we moved, I sold my sewing machine and all the fabric I’d stored up, because when I’m quilting, I’m not writing my novel.

I can see how this sounds joyless. But for me it’s about making deliberate choices to do everything I can to get to the point of being a full-time writer. Once there, I can judiciously add back in all of those other things.

It’s difficult for people to understand, I think, the need writers have to build fences around the writing time. I suspect it’s because a person writing looks like they’re doing nothing that can’t be interrupted. Just a quick question. Can you do this one thing. The non-writers don’t know how long it takes to get the flow going and how the voice breaking in totally disrupts it. Soon to be published writer Allison Pang is facing this now. She’ll be doing revisions on her current novel, plus outlining and drafting the next two, plus working on a totally different story that she loves. All this while working her full-time job and raising two young children with a husband whose job takes him away from the house a lot. I keep telling her she’s going to have to get mean (not in her nature), carve out that writing time and fence it off. That probably sounds joyless, too.

What it comes down to is, when you want the big prize, you have to sacrifice to get it. Not a lamb or a pound of flesh. What you sacrifice is some of the other things that you decide aren’t as important as writing your novel right now. What will those things be? Individual and carefully chosen.

It’s the question wanna-be writers ask all the time: how do I find the time to write? The short answer is, you don’t. You have to scratch and claw it out of all the other things in your life that compete. You make what other people see as joyless choices.

Fortunately, in the end, the writing itself is a surpassing joy.

Burning Words

This is banned books week, for any of you who’ve been under a rock.

Hey — even *I* know about it, so you have no excuse! In honor of the event, I picked a banned book from the recent list that happened to be one of my all-time favorite books, ever, to enjoy a little sunshine here. And yes, I read it in high school. (Of course, I also read The Joy of Sex in 6th grade, so I’m not a good case-study.)

Author Jeri Smith-Ready sent ’round this interesting link that shows a map of book challenges. She commented that she found it surprising. I’m betting that she’s surprised there are so many challenges in the liberal East and so few in the conservative West.
I think there are two things going on here:
1) Teachers and librarians in the conservative West are much less likely to rock the boat by choosing questionable books in the first place.
2) The general population are less likely to be busybodies and get in anyone else’s face about what they are reading.
I recall a conversation I had in the wake of Matthew Shepherd’s murder. My friend, a writer, had relocated to Laramie from Boston. She thought the town guilty of allowing the hate crime because Westerners don’t confront issues in the open.
“My landlord,” she told me, “sees me bring women over. I know he can see me bring women over and never once has he said anything to me about me being a lesbian.”
I told her I thought this was a common courtesy thing. You live your life and I’ll live mine.
This is how I feel about books. Leave people be. Even young people. I truly believe that no one was ever harmed by reading. Our minds are meant to take in and filter information and it’s up to each of us to do that for ourselves. Any time we take the step of filtering for someone else, we’re depriving them of some of their humanity.
Not to be confrontational about it.

Thrashing About

Our curved-bill thrasher says good morning.

And yeah, he always has that annoyed look. He lands on the feeder and launches into an ear-splitting song, then proceeds to whip his bill back and forth through the seeds, scattering them hither and yon. Every once in a while, he pecks at the glass sides. He eats a few seeds, also.

I’m not sure what is driving the behavior. Maybe birds do weirdly obsessive things, too.

Jeri Smith-Ready (@jsmithready, a wonderful author and terrific gal — if you haven’t checked out her series about all-night vampire DJs, it’s worth doing) tweeted yesterday that “Checked e-mail so many times today, fingers permanently frozen in Ctrl-Shift-T position. Will bang head on wall instead.”

Which made me laugh.

I have my Outlook set so that send/recieve occurs every five minutes. On both laptops. When my IT guy was autopiloting my work laptop (have you done this? it’s kind of freaky: I relinquish control and watch while he runs through my computer settings from the other side of the country. it’s kind of Poltergeist-ish), when he saw this, he somewhat primily informed me that HE has HIS set to every 30 minutes.


What? Like he’s more patient or something?

I didn’t tell him I also hit my send/receive button all the time, too. Anyway.

Which is how all this came up, because my work laptop Outlook started being weird. It’s connected to our Exchange server in Arlington, and so is kind of a real-time “live” connection. This is apparently why I shouldn’t need to hit send/receive ever. Or why 30 minutes is plenty long enough, because it’s always synching. But it’s a habit, okay? Only now, when I hit send/receive, it sends Outlook into some kind of loop from computer hell and it helplessly cycles until it crashes.

IT guy doesn’t know why. His solution: don’t hit send/receive. This is logical, because I don’t have to.

But I can’t seem to stop.

I know. I know. It’s stupid. It’s ridiculous. I tell myself not to touch it. I know I can’t. And then I’ll be working away, click over to my Outlook and reflexively hit send/receive. Scattering those seeds willy-nilly with an angry orange eye.

At least I have company.