Why We Dodge Writing Those Difficult Scenes

I might have posted this pic before, but I recently put my screensaver on slide show and I saw this one from a couple of years ago go by. Kind of fun to see your own photograph and think it’s cool. It’s appropriate, too, because we had a rainy weekend. Very unusual for us, especially given the severe drought in the desert Southwest, but we’ve been socked in since Friday, with rain coming and going. The woman at the gym (not the Crazy Gym Lady – she is thankfully long gone) said it’s to be sunny tomorrow and how she’s looking forward to it. About three people jumped on her saying “We need the rain!”

Like we don’t have an average of 325 days of sunshine a year. She can’t give up a few to have some much-needed rain?

~Deep Cleansing Breaths~

I might have been a little sulky this weekend, because I received my developmental edits for Platinum. I know – that was fast! And they really aren’t bad at all, except Editor Deb asked me to write two scenes that I “dodged.”

She did this to me on Rogue’s Pawn, too – pushing me to write this one scene I just SO didn’t want to write. She said

On Platinum, though, I really thought I’d made a considered decision not to write those scenes. I’d kind of had them in my head all along, but when I got to that point in the story, they just didn’t seem to FIT. I mentioned this to her in an email and she replied:

Any time you try to dodge writing something, you should ask yourself why, and try to push through it and make yourself write it anyway. Writing through tougher scenes may often reveal something about your characters, helping you dig further to uncover some truth about them or the story. Whereas avoiding them will often leave readers feeling a bit cheated. They might not be able to put their finger on exactly why or what, but they may sense that a good story could have been great.

I know this. Right?

And this is part of why I really value having an editor like her, because she does push me to write a great book. Left to my own devices, I’d likely allow myself the dodge.

Because it didn’t feel like dodging at the time. I suspect all avoidance techniques are like this. We kid ourselves that we’re not really procrastinating, we’re Doing Research! Oh, I’m not being lazy about getting my wordcount in today, I’m giving myself a break! I’m not avoiding that friend who was a cow to me, I’m just really busy.

It takes a good, hard look in the mirror to parse some of these out. With emotional stuff, that’s why it’s often good to see a counselor, an objective third party who can point out your behavioral dodges. Sometimes your friends can do it, like your critique partners can. But often it takes a professional to hold your hand to the flame and tell you to do better.

Whether it’s easy or not.

Moving On Up

I just love how this storm made everything look like a watercolor painting. It reminds me of one of my favorite Renoirs, La Roche-Guyon. I have a print of it hanging in my house. Now I’d like to hang this photo next to it. Impressionism, Santa Fe style.

I’m off to fabulous Oklahoma City this morning and will be there most of the week.

For now, I’d like to announce that I have a New Website!!

It’s still at http://www.blog.jeffekennedy.com, but it should be a whole lot shinier and easier to, um, actually FIND stuff. Thanks to Liz and Sienna at Bemis Promotions for all the fabulous work on it!

So, please take a tour and let me know what you like and don’t like. I’m still giving them nitpicky some feedback on changes.

It’s a brave new era!

Obsidian Win

Isn’t this cloud a great metaphor? Sailing along, giving rain to a very select portion of the landscape.

So, yesterday was a pivotal day for me.

I received a contract offer on Obsidian.

This is the novel that started it all. That took me from nonfiction to fiction. My red-headed firstborn. This is the one that everyone told me they didn’t know how to market, because it’s hopelessly cross-genre. One famous author friend who graciously read it said it’s like I wrote an epic male fantasy from a very female perspective. She also said I was forging a new path with it and that it would feel like wading through waist-deep snow.

Boy did she call that one.

So, yesterday, after 3.5 years of wading through waist-deep snow, I finally broke through.

I can’t even tell you how it felt. I sat in stunned silence for quite a while, just exploring the feeling of not STRIVING any more. All those feelings of hope and grief and anger and determined outrage I’d been piling on all that time, just let go. I giggled. I burst into tears when my mom sent flowers. What a ride.

I have to admit – I wouldn’t have felt this so much if it had happened right away.

Now, I’ve let (Possible) Agent who has Obsidian know that I have an offer, as she asked me to do. I’ll wait to see what she says and then move from there. But no matter what, Obsidian will see the light of day and I’m just so, so grateful.

Rain for everyone!

And Then It Rained

Rain comes to the Galisteo Basin.

I know a lot of you out there have had WAY TOO MUCH rain, but we so have not. In fact, the first six months of 2011 made for the driest year on record for New Mexico. And for a place that’s already a desert, that’s saying something.

This has been a dry like I’ve never known. Now I know where all the buried soaker hoses run, because only the plants right next to them stayed green. Our skin has itched like crazy with the dry, which no amount of lotion seems to affect.

Then there are the fires. Blazing on the horizon, filling the sky with smoke. Filling our lungs with particulates from Los Alamos that are nevertheless, we are assured, perfectly safe. It’s difficult not to feel the press of the Apocalypse under these conditions.

But, ah, the rain.

This storm filled our rain barrels and soaked the ground. We’ve been hitting 95 every day and having to run the AC through the afternoon, but the rain dropped the temperature to 58. I put on a sweater because the windows had to stay open, to let that sweet, clean, moist air fill the house.

This morning we walked out of the house and David said he smelled smoke, still. I said no, you’re smelling petrichor.

He said, “what the hell is petrichor?”

I scoffed at him. “It’s the smell of rain on dry earth, duh.” (This is only one of the delightful features of living with a writer.)

But it’s a real thing and once you know what that smell is, you’ll always remember how it feels when the rain returns.

Craving the Pain

We bought rain barrels. Plastic ones that won’t, oh, fall over and shatter. Not as pretty, but far better for the long term.

We’ve realized that last year, our first year in Santa Fe, spoiled us terribly, with all the snow and rain. This year is far more dry and we fell behind on watering. We’re catching up now, and the flowers are coming along. Fortunately, as children of the West, David and I are both habitual water-savers. We just need to adjust our thinking, take it a bit further.

I am thinking longer-term in many ways.

I mentioned yesterday that I’m not willing to take The Body Gift to self-pubbing, or even digital publishing yet. See, I have a Plan. This is a Plan suggested to me by a lovely agent-friend who can’t take me on as a client right not, but offered me unlimited advice. (I’m not sure if that’s just her very gracious way of saying no while remaining friendly and supportive, but I don’t care. She also told me I seem to be doing just fine on my own and you know where flattery will get you with me. Hey, I’m a Leo – I can’t help it!)

At any rate, she suggested that with each new novel, I shoot as high as I can, walk it through all the Big Show venues and then, if no one bites, offer it to digital. I like this plan. I know many scoff, because it’s still clinging to the traditional route, which so many are forsaking. Why put myself through the pain of the Big Filter when I could just skip all the rejection and waiting, go straight to Smashwords or one of the innumerable start-up epresses that seem to snap up all and sundry.

Why?

I want the filter.

I want the writing I put out in the world to be the very best it can be. Even though I hate the pain, I want my work to receive ruthless editing and the stern eye of marketing. I know NYC can have a narrow view. I also know traditional publishing has been putting out incredible books for my entire life.

I want that to be my books.

And I don’t know about all of you, but I’ve been reading a lot of less-than-stellar stuff lately. Digital publishing is coming up in the world and some of the digital imprints seem to have pretty high standards. Others…. erm. Not so much. As much as I would love someone to embrace my book and publish it, I don’t want it at the price of quality. I’d rather revise.

I know it’s hard to know these days, what a press’s standards are. But if you look around, you can figure it out. Read their books and you’ll know. The ones who haven’t put out any books yet are a bigger gamble. Every publisher has some lemons, or books that you hate. More than once I’ve wondered what Ace was thinking, or who is reading some of what Kensington puts out. I also know they have exhaustive acquisitions processes, so I figure I’m not their reader.

So, I don’t want to be the person who doesn’t want to belong to any club that would stoop to admitting the likes of me, but I do want to make the grade.

I want to be part of the Big Show.

And I won’t stop until I get there.

Rainy Days and Sick Days


I’m the kind of person who sees this as an omen.

Even as I know how irrational that is.

These are the shattered remnants of the big ceramic rain catchment that was one of the first things I bought when we moved here. With birthday money.

We had this rain last night, courtesy of Hurricane Alex, who’s been demoted to a tropical depression. Torrential rain. I was in the kitchen, making a secret, special, surprise treat for our elegant tailgate dinner at the Santa Fe Opera tonight, when I heard this clatter.

We couldn’t figure out what it was, until David checked outside. I think the soil became so saturated that, with overflow pouring over the side, the big vase listed to one side and, like the Titanic, sank onto the patio and shattered.

You can see how one piece of it still rests on the branch I had in there so that critters who climb in for water can climb back out again.

(This does not work for beetles, however, who gleefully drown themselves. I don’t know why.)

So, I try not to read in too much. But Teddy is sick today. She was sick yesterday and I thought maybe it was just a bug. But she’s still not well today, so I have a call in to the vet. Right now she’s sleeping in the sun, which makes her warm and happy.

I have a feeling it might be diabetes.

Teddy will be 15 in October, so I think I should get some more years with her.

Hopefully we can work that out.

Taoist Excavations

A dramatic arrival that produced nothing in the way of storm-action. And here I was hoping for a real gully-washer.

I spent some time this weekend digging out the culvert at the end of our driveway. We have dirt roads out in our community. Long driveways feed off the main roads and lead to the houses. Like most of the desert Southwest, we’re subject to ferocious rains. Monsoon storms drop relatively huge amounts of water, which all runs down washes that are normally dry.

In this case, water would all run down the dirt road that connects to our driveway, primarily in the borrow ditch next to the road. The only problem with that is our driveway would be in the way of that. Thus, all the driveways here have culverts at the juncture of driveway and road, to allow the water to run under.

This works just fine as long as the culvert isn’t filled with dirt.

Actually, I had two problems: a dirt-filled, neglected culvert yes, but also a wayward Direct TV van. I kid you not.

See? And you all argue with me when I say TV is evil.

During one of our last big snowstorms, a Direct TV service van slid off the dirt road and into our borrow ditch. Many people here treat deep snow as an opportunity to drive fast on crappy tires. It’s mind-boggling, really. So, this guy comes barreling down the road – yes, I saw him do it – slid all over and into the borrow ditch. Then he tried to get out. Mud fountaining up through the wet snow. We watched, since we figured our mailbox was not on his radar, but really didn’t want to have to go out and help. Finally a couple of passers-by who were much nicer than we are pulled him out with a cable and a pick-up truck.

(Incidentally, the Direct TV guy, once liberated, then attempted to pull a U-turn, though there are several ways out if you just follow the road and manage to stay on it. But no, he had to do a U-turn, that turned into something like a nine-point turn and nearly got himself stuck in opposite borrow ditch. If he had, we’d have been forced to go out and hurl his keys into the storm.)

It’s too late to make this a short story, but the end result was our ditch got torn all to hell and gone, with enormous (now dry) furrows. I seriously considered calling Direct TV and telling them to come fix it, but I decided it would be infinitely less aggravating just to dig it up myself.

Besides, I need the exercise.

Now, when I was a little girl, I tried to build a pond in the back garden. I built an earthen dam and canals, various channels, waterfalls and progressive lakes. It was a thing of beauty, I tell you. Which all promptly dissolved into sludge when I added water. My first experience with Taoism.

The great thing about Taoism is you learn lessons by observing nature. This time I paid attention to where the water would want to go and dug accordingly. Eventually I want to line the culvert area around our driveway with rocks, to make it look a little more “on-purpose.” So I cleared a space for the water to run. It doesn’t look great right now, but I have high hopes that a good gully-washer will clear the way.

If I did it right, nature will help me out this time.

It will be a thing of beauty, I tell you.

Frogs in My Driveway


It’s been a funny weather year for everyone.

Certainly a wet one. It’s hard to say, after all the spectacular drought if all the snow and rain is unusual, or just not drought.

One of my Facebook friends, a distinguished Southern gentleman I work with, commented yesterday that they’ve had so much rain that he had frogs in his driveway. I said that sounded like a metaphor for something. He replied that he’d be proud for me to put it in my blog.

Someone else pointed out that it’s a toad, not a frog. He said he could live with that, too.

Yesterday ended up being a sad day. I wrote about Karol, as I really wanted to do, and then people replied. It was wonderful and gratifying, to see the various comments and read the emails. But it made each new contact freshened the grief. I suppose that’s good, the catharsis of it. At times, though, I felt like I was drowning.

I find deaths and funerals to elicit strange reactions from people. In the first place, people in general don’t know how to deal with grief. No one knows what to say to the ones grieving most. Largely because there’s nothing to say. And then there’s a level of competition, of who knew the person best, who loved her most, who’s the most affected.

For me, Karol was far from being a central part of my life. There was a time we were in almost daily contact, but that had long-since changed. And yet, her disappearance from the world feels pivotal to me. I’m sure my issues play in, my own mortality, facing the ways in which that very fun and fertile era is over.

That’s how it is for all of us. A death is rarely about the person who died; it becomes about the people left behind. After all, the person who died doesn’t care about any of it.

Not so far as we know, anyway.

Perhaps that’s why elegies always become autobiographies. People stand up at memorials and funerals to speak about the dead and almost always spend the whole time talking about themselves. They don’t intend it that way, but the thoughts always wend towards how that person made them feel.

Nothing wrong with that, really.

Rain is just rain. It falls without reason, without emotion. We are the ones who assign meaning to it.

We’re the ones who notice there are now frogs in the driveway.

Now, Where Did I Pack My Writing Career?

I hoped to get a shot of our covey of quail for you today, but I missed them.

Instead you get Teddy watching the sunset. Or maybe looking for quail in the chamisa.

It could have been that it was sunnier and brighter today. The last two days they all trooped by and pecked around in the gravel around 9:15. You can hear them coming, snooting around in the juniper to the west of the house. They chuckle amongst themselves as they approach. Then they scurry into sight from around the yucca plants.

They don’t stay long. Maybe ten minutes, before they head off in a line again, heading farther east. Sometimes I see them come back through in the evening.

Today dawned bright and clear, however, so they might have started their perambulations earlier. Not like the cool misty mornings of the last two days. I, too, am resuming my schedule. As mine solidifies, I should better learn theirs.

We’ve gone running the last two mornings, though we’re not back to getting up at 5:30. I’ve been productive at the day job. And now I’m going to work on my book revision. A file that has not been open since July 19, over a month ago. And I’m reasonably certain, by the timing of that date, that it was only to send it to an agent I met at RWA National. The outtakes file is dated June 2.

A sinking feeling tells me I haven’t worked on it since June.

Time flies when you’re losing your mind.

I had a little crisis this morning. My friend, Leanna Renee Hieber, celebrated the release of her first book yesterday, The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker. In fact, several friends had releases in the last few days. I tried not to be too envious. But then I also received my “royalty statement” from UNM Press for Wyo Trucks, which shows that the book is really dead to the world at this point. Never mind that I haven’t been putting in ANY effort to sell it lately.

Nor into my revision of Obsidian.

Nor into writing anything new.

Thus: my crisis.

But my friend Allison was on the other other end of the IM with the perfect pep talk. She made me realize that all this means is that I have my head above water again, that I’m even thinking about my writing career again, instead of what box my frying pan might be in. It makes me think of Maslow’s Pyramid of Needs, a model that has served me well all my life. Basically the idea is that, if a lower tier on the pyramid isn’t handled, you can’t possibly reach a higher tier. What sucks for us artist types? Creativity is the very top piece. Which basically means you have to have everything else in your life handled first.

So unfair.

But I have my manuscript open. I’ve got some great ideas from Allison on working my way back in.

Wonder-Twin Power? Self-Actualize!