Be Persistent, but with Intelligence

This gorgeous Cooper’s Hawk was hanging out for a while outside our bedroom window this morning. They feed on smaller birds and this one had a great stake-out point overlooking the path the quail take most days. 

A long time ago, back when I was in grad school, I made extra money tutoring athletes. This was at a university with a substantial and competitive sports program. On weeknights, the department sponsored tutoring for the athletes from 9pm to 11pm, and paid us $10/hour. I’d go there 2-3 nights/week and hang out, do my own work if no one came by and needed me. I was the math and science go-to specialist. 

I liked doing it. Teaching math and science did a lot to clarify my own understanding – and it could be fun to go back to more basic algebra and geometry. A lot of these guys were in pretty basic math classes, and had to maintain certain GPA levels to keep their athletic scholarships. They were also generally sweet and grateful for the help. Though sometimes offended if I didn’t know who they were. More than one superstar couldn’t believe I’d never been to one of the basketball or football games. 

Early in the semester, in particular, it was a pretty sweet job. I earned $20 to sit there and study for my own classes.

But, toward the end of the semester, I’d get really busy. Inevitably these guys would show up a week before the final exam, determined to do well on it, so they could get a B or C – whatever they needed to keep their scholarship. 

And the first thing I’d have to do is show them the math. Not the math for the final, but for calculating their grade. Let’s say they’d had four exams for the class, including the final, each equally weighted. If they’d failed the first three exams – let’s say with a 50 out of 100, though it was often less than that – then even if they got a perfect 100 on the final, they’d come out of the class with a 62.5 average. Not a B or C in any universe, unless the professor graded on a curve. Which, in these classes, they never did.

These were never easy conversations to have – and often they didn’t believe me. Maybe it had to do with a mindset of team sports – that it was somehow always possible to rally at the end and win.

In many things, it is. 

In others, well… a big effort at the end, no matter how sincere, is sometimes not enough to make up for the past. 

It’s a hard lesson to learn. Especially because it feels not optimistic, to realize that past performance means we cannot possibly succeed with the current project. 

But there’s a restfulness, too, to abandoning a doomed effort. With these guys, I’d have them talk to the athletic director, to set up probation and get them set up to retake the class the following semester. I’d tell them to come see me from the very beginning of the semester and I’d help them through it.

Some of them would. Some of them learned from past mistakes and did better the next time around.

That’s why I like the idea of intelligent persistence. We laud persistence – I certainly do – but sometimes that’s not all that’s needed. Intelligent persistence means knowing when to change up the approach, when to retreat to fight another day, another way.

Sometimes, that’s what you have to do. 

I nearly forgot! (Okay, I *did* forget, then came back and added this.) THE FORESTS OF DRU, book 4 of the Sorcerous Moons series is available for pre-order on Amazon!!

The Ones Who Gave Up: Great Cautionary Tales

The Tides of BaraAt last, the much-anticipated next installment in the Sorcerous Moons series, THE TIDES OF BÁRA is out! About and Buy Links at the bottom of the page.

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is “My favorite great cautionary tale in the writing world.”

I could cite a lot of Great Cautionary Tales, but with NaNoWriMo (National Novel-Writing Month) on the horizon, I’m going to pick this one: Don’t Give Up.

Or, put positively, KEEP GOING!

Come on over to the SFF Seven to read more. 

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A Narrow Escape 

With her secrets uncovered and her power-mad brother bent on her execution, Princess Oria has no sanctuary left. Her bid to make herself and her new barbarian husband rulers of walled Bára has failed. She and Lonen have no choice but to flee through the leagues of brutal desert between her home and his—certain death for a sorceress, and only a bit slower than the blade.

A Race Against Time 

At the mercy of a husband barely more than a stranger, Oria must war with her fears and her desires. Wild desert magic buffets her; her husband’s touch allures and burns. Lonen is pushed to the brink, sure he’s doomed his proud bride and all too aware of the restless, ruthless pursuit that follows…

A Danger Beyond Death… 

Can Oria trust a savage warrior, now that her strength has vanished? Can Lonen choose her against the future of his people? Alone together in the wastes, Lonen and Oria must forge a bond based on more than lust and power, or neither will survive the test…

Buy the Book

On Becoming a Sociopathic Writer

002In the mornings, we get up at six o’clock, get dressed for the gym and leave the house via the garage. This means that, blearily stumbling about as I’ve been – not a chipper morning person – the moment we hit the button to raise the garage door is my first real sight of the day.

This time of year, it’s right at the onset of sunrise and what a spectacular sight it is.

There’s something about the dimness of the garage, the way the heavy door lifts, with its cranking motor, that reminds me of a theater curtain – that unveils the large screen of this.

The outside comes in and steals my breath away.

It’s an amazing way to start my day and I treasure that.

I value so much about my daily life and am truly blessed to have it. Our daily routine is dull by most standards. Most days I don’t leave our property except to go to the gym. I love each phase of my day, from the kitties walking across my pillow when the alarm goes off to ensconcing myself in my reading chair at night with a glass of wine. The sun shines, flowers bloom, rains fall, the sun sets and rises again. It’s a good rhythm. A long-term cycle.

All through this, my steps seem to be set by the words I lay down in whatever I’m writing. I mark the passage of time by the change of seasons and the accumulation of word count. Writing a novel is an exercise in this kind of patience, I’ve found. For long periods of time – days and weeks and months – the the project continues. Every day I add a little more and track my progress. But it’s incremental and I can’t worry about it feeling like it’s taking forever because it takes as long as it takes.

That’s one of the keys to understanding novel-writing. Patience, persistence and endurance.

Until, suddenly, I’m near the end.

That’s where I am now. On Tears of the Rose, Book 2 of The Twelve Kingdoms, I’m at 84, 502 words. I’d originally thought it would end up around 85K, but once I dug in, once I judged the pace and length of Act I, in fact, it became clear that the first draft would top out around 98K. Writing about 2,000 words per day, as I am now, that means I’ll be done in a week.

And I’m filled with all kinds of odd, restless energy.

It’s as if, now that I can see the city on the horizon, I’m no longer satisfied with traveling 65 mph. I want to go faster and to hell with a speeding ticket. I want to drive all night, just to get there already.

I’m filled with impatience for everything else.

News articles – from frivolous to searingly serious – irritate me. People post jokes that I find facile, ridiculous or even infuriating. Every Facebook and Twitter post I see seems to elicit a snarky response from me and I have to stop looking, because I’m afraid I’ll lapse and actually type one of these comments. Even pics of cute baby animals annoy me.

It’s like I become a total sociopath.

I sometimes think that if I were a full time writer, I would take myself and my last 15-20K and just lock myself in a remote cabin or beach house somewhere. Which I find bewildering, because I love my beautiful, peaceful home and the life we have in it, with our lovely daily rhythms.

Somehow, though, this process of completing the book – which means the ending, because I write my stories from beginning to end, no jumping about – absorbs so much of my thoughts and mental energy, that I snarl at anything else impinging on it.

Also, I’m pretty sure I write a post like this every time.

You all are lovely to put up with me, really.

Another Lesson in Persistence

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYesterday I went on a backstage tour of the Santa Fe Opera.

Yes, it was super cool.

I wanted to see the backstage to help shore up details for my Phantom book. For new readers, I’m writing an updating of The Phantom of the Opera, which will take place at the Santa Fe Opera House. I’ve only been as a member of the audience. My heroine, however, works backstage. Now, I’ve been fictionalizing my little heart out, but I really wanted a sense of the reality of backstage – even if I decided to disregard it.

The thing is, the opera only offers official backstage tours in the summertime. My manuscript is due April 1 (no joke). So, if I really wanted to see backstage before I finished writing the damn book, I needed to find Another Way.

And not breaking-in, either.

Although that would be fun, too.

I had done the obvious – called and emailed the contacts on the website. Nobody replied. Thus I began working connections. Santa Fe is not a big town and the influx of staff and performers for the summer opera season is substantial. Still, I had trouble finding someone who knew anyone.

Could be I don’t run in circles that are rarified enough.

Finally, after growing tired of hearing me whine about it, David suggested I ask our next-door neighbor if she had connections. Susan is a sculptor, but she’s also into the theater scene. Plus she’d been getting me to help her with her luminarias (this was before Christmas), so she totally owed me.

I asked her if she had a connection. She said she might and to nag her about it if she didn’t get back to me. She didn’t. But, a couple weeks after Christmas, she invited us over for dinner. Over the meal, we ended up talking about my recent book deals. When I told her about the Phantom e-serial and the subsequent three-book print deal with Kensington, she said “Wait – isn’t this a big deal? The kind of thing all writers want?!?”

Yes. Yes it is.

~does a little dance of gratitude~

I have had this conversation numerous times, with various people, by the way. But that’s another topic.

At any rate, she tells me she did mention my desire for a backstage tour to a friend who was connected, but the friend didn’t seem enthused. However, Susan hadn’t told her this was a Big Deal. So she gave me the gal’s email address and told me to write her and explain this wasn’t a whim on my part.

I emailed the gal. And heard nothing.

But, because my email address comes from my JeffeKennedy.com domain, it sometimes gets blocked or sent to spam. At the very least, it gives me the excuse to nag people in case this has happened. So, after a week of nothing, I resent the email from another account, apologizing if it was a double and explaining the possible spam thing.

This time she replied – though did not say if she’d gotten it before. She said that, “as she’d told Susan,” she couldn’t help me and to call the Press and Public Relations Office at the opera.

Yeah, I was kind of bummed. Sure I was back to the very beginning. But I called, since I hadn’t called that specific number before. And, lo and behold, the office director called me back. She sounded suspicious at first, but warmed quickly.

Of course they could give me a special tour, she says.

Of course.

So, after two months of trying, I was in. And yesterday – after a couple of postponements – David and I went for the personal tour. I took lots of pictures, too.

I’ll still make a lot of stuff up, but it was great to soak up the feel of the place. Also, to ask my Many Questions.

That persistence thing, I tell you guys – it really pays off

Why Everybody Advises Newbie Writers to Be Persistent

waiting for mouseThis is our master bathroom – and Jackson waiting for a mouse.

All night and all day.

See, the bathroom cabinet there has a space in that overhang at the bottom. I can just fit about half of my hand in there, before the pinch stops me. I know this because I’ve tried. Just a few days after we moved in, I dropped the lid to a little sparkly beaded box from India that I store my belly-button jewelry in. The lid hit the floor, bounced exactly right (what are the odds?) and went up and into that space under the cabinet.

Gone forever, unless I want to tear out the cabinet.

See, the inside of the cabinet is all solid-state – even if you pull out the drawers, etc., there’s no access to the space beneath. That bottom panel is firmly affixed. Short of using a crowbar, I’m not budging it.

This also makes it a perfect escape hatch for mice being hunted by the cats.

The kitties diligently stalk and capture any mice so foolish as to steal into our garage to nibble on our valuable stuff, which is great. They then bring their prizes into the house, possibly as tributes for us, but more likely to extend the very fun game of mousehunt, which is less great. Jackson, in particular *loves* to let them go, so he can chase the mouse again. Sometimes they escape.
 
And this is where my point comes in.
 
Jackson is the most persistent cat I’ve ever known. It’s amazing to me that cats can have such different personalities – and all cats are patient hunters – but Jackson’s primary trait is persistence.
 
If he wants to be on my lap, he will jump on my lap, over and over again, no matter how many times I scoot him off, until he wears me down.
 
He fully believes he should be able to walk on the kitchen counters. He’ll sit there and cringe, hating that we squirt him with the spray bottle, but refusing to move. If we physically move him, he’s back there again as soon as we turn our backs.
 
I woke up in the middle of the night to visit the facilities, as one does, and found both kitties in there, watching the cabinet. In the morning, Isabel had gotten bored and was napping, but not Jackson. He remained fixated and alert. Not one to miss breakfast, he took a quick break and returned to the bathroom where he remained all day. He napped sometimes, but lightly, ears up to catch the slightest sound. He never gives up.
 
And he always catches his mouse.
 
This is what we mean, all of us writers, when we are asked what advice we have for newbies, when we say “be persistent.”
 
I know that this likely seems like empty advice. After all, pretty much everyone says it. It sounds like we’re saying “Yeah, you’ll get rejected fifty-thousand times and it will be like the pain of diving into a swimming pool full of razor blades, but suck it up and quit whining – you might get lucky some day.”
 
It sounds like that because there’s some truth to it. We all know that pain.
 
But, in truth, what we’re trying to tell you is: that goddam mouse has to come out at some point. If you’re not there to catch it, then no mouse for you. Doesn’t mean you won’t get other opportunities to catch mice – there’s always more opportunities. What it means is, if you have a mouse cornered, stay on it. It’s right there.
 
Yours for the taking, if you don’t wander off.
 
Never surrender!