Eating Me Some Crow

P1012750This is our artichoke plant. The one that I was warned would lose its artichokes to admittedly gorgeous blossoms if we let it go too long. We (obviously) let it go too long. 

We meant to do that…

But that’s not what I’m eating crow about. This week’s topic in the Bordello is: What did you say you’d never do in a book, and then did? Click over to Word Whores to hear my embarrassing story!

Also, I’m teaching an online class in August! 🙂

**CLASS BEGINS** Sexual Tension – Getting Away from Wham, Bam, Thank you, Ma’am.  Presenter: Jeffe Kennedy.   August 1–15, 2015.  Outreach International Romance Writers,

Sexual Tension – Getting Away from Wham, Bam, Thank you, Ma’am

Presented by Jeffe Kennedy

Dates: August 1–15, 2015

Deadline August 1, 2015

Fee: OIRW Member $10

Fee: Non-Member $15


Registration: Non Members

Registration: OIRW Members

How I Learned to Stop Procrastinating and Cheerfully Meet Deadlines with Room to Spare

We brought home this fresh boxwood wreath to hang on the front door and Jackson immediately inserted himself in it. For those keeping score at home, he’s just shy of eight months old now.

He’s going to be a Big Kitty.

I’m looking forward to the holiday season this year. I have ideas for decorating and even a cool homemade gift for people. I take this to mean that I’m feeling rested and the creativity is flowing. Part of this, I’ve suddenly realized, is because I changed some of my fundamental habits. What’s more is, I change a bad, lifelong habit without really realizing it.

Which is just extraordinary to me.

It’s *hard* to change habits – we all know this. Especially the bad ones. Those junk foods we crave but shouldn’t eat. That wine we shouldn’t drink nearly so much of. The TV shows we waste time on. The internet surfing when we should be working. I imagine each of us could list our top five bad habits – and then write a book on how many times we’ve tried to change them, how and why it ended up not working. (Because if it worked, it wouldn’t still be on the top five list, right?)

So, here’s one of mine: I’m a procrastinator.

Always have been. Back in school, I was the kid who wrote EVERY paper the night before it was due. I never studied until the day before the exam. (Well, the entire weekend in college for brutal classes like organic chemistry.) I once read the Iliad and the Odyssey over a couple of days during reading week before finals. Even with work, I don’t really get going on a deliverable until the deadline was breathing down my neck.

Deadline stress was my eternal motivator.

Which is awful. If you’re like me, you know just how stress-inducing this Very Bad Habit is. The late nights, the great fear that you won’t finish in time or that, if you do finish, the product will sucketh mightily.

I’ve known this about myself pretty much all my life and just hate it. And yet, over and over again, I would fall into the same pattern. Always dealing with the next fire, the next emergency. I always kind of envied the work-ahead people, but never found a way to break this habit.

Until just recently.

You know what worked? I didn’t change that particular habit, I changed other things that just happened to result in me at long last not relying on deadline pressure for motivation.

It’s like I tricked myself into operating differently. Isn’t that amazing?

I’m amazed.

So, what happened is, I had a number of writing deadlines. One was external – my first ever turn-in-your-book-by-this-date publication deadline, which I was determined not to blow – and several internal deadlines, important to me for keeping everything on track.I really, really, really did not want to be finishing that book the night before the deadline. I could not risk that it wouldn’t be as good as I needed it to be. No shortcuts, no crossing fingers, no Hail Mary’s. I wanted lots of time to get it done and get it done right.

So I planned out all my work. I finished another project that I wanted out of the way, to clear time for the one with the external deadline. I planned my dayjob work so that nothing would actually catch on fire enough to divert me. I worked in both measured paces and intense doses, depending on my time and inclination.

This was the amazing part.

I finished both projects early. Like, 7-10 days early. I’ve *never* finished anything early before in my life. Bizarrely, everything else fell into place, too. I’d wanted everything done before Thanksgiving, so I could relax and not worry about ongoing projects. I finished all my day job work by early afternoon Monday – where usually I’m working into the evening before we leave, trying to clear my desk.

At that point, I realized I had nothing on fire. Nothing that I was leaving undone.

It was miraculous.

I’d somehow learned to do my work ahead of time, in an un-stressed, no-deadline-pressure way, all because I’d restructured my other habits.

Now those of you who’ve followed my blog for a while know that I’ve long been a proponent of writing every day. I have my rituals, my good and productive habits. This overall change in my pattern of behavior grew out of that foundation. I suspect that’s key – I didn’t change everything overnight.

But I also think it’s important that I never tried to stop being a procrastinator. I changed the way I work towards a goal.

And that has made all the difference.

(with apologies to Robert Frost)

Finding Your Fiercely Out of Tune Voice

We interrupt the regularly scheduled kitten photos to celebrate the fact that it rained yesterday! Such a blessing on our parched and tinder-dry land. We’re fractionally less flammable now and the birds are going crazy this morning. It’s like everything sprang to life overnight.

Quite a few years ago, an acquaintance of mine who sang and played guitar on the side, said that he just hated Norah Jones. “She sings flat,” he said, and went on about how bizarre it was that someone who sings flat could be successful. I went home and listened to her again. (And I just put her on now.) I love the sound of her voice. It’s distinctive, unique and moving.

I thought of this because Amanda Palmer responded to a tweet yesterday on the topic. A fan tweeted:

@sevocean I think the only person who can make off key sound good is @amandapalmer.

She retweeted and replied:

@amandapalmer patti smith. bob dylan. tom waits. polly styrene

I saw this and suggested Leonard Cohen.

She retweeted me (cuz I’m a speshul snowflake) with the hash tag #fiercelyoutoftune.

This led to a great discussion of all these singers who do sing out of tune. And, among the musicians, about how autotune has changed things, because pitch can be electronically defined now, instead of the performer tuning her instrument to her own ear. Then someone asked and she answered:

@amandapalmer actually, yes. there really is…. RT @TinaH37 is there a secret to singing out of tune perfectly?

@amandapalmer ability to embrace, bend and feel around (or call attention to) roughness in your own voice is a SKILL (see Jeff magnum, Kurt Cobain, et al)

I just love that.

What does this have to do with writing? Well, there’s been an ongoing discussion on the RWA PAN loop about the “Rules” of writing. A gal started the thread saying that her critique partner (unpublished, but an aspiring editor and writer) insisted on certain conventions. Things like never using adverbs. Never use the word “suddenly.” Never use filter phrases like “I realized” or “I wondered.” The consensus has arrived at the idea that when people are learning a craft, they cling to rules. They want to do everything exactly right, so they’ll succeed.

However, as evidenced by the #fiercelyoutoftune discussion, artistry is often found in transcending the rules. That’s where you find the unique take, that special touch that sends a shiver down your spine. This is something my acquaintance couldn’t understand about Norah Jones – she is successful because of the way she sings flat, in her own special, sultry way.

This is voice. For both the singer and the writer

Are You Really Doing It Wrong?

I love how the setting sun is exactly cradled between these two peaks of the Jemez mountain range. Useful to know, in case my calendar breaks.

So, you all know that one of the genres I write is erotica, particularly BDSM. I get asked a fair amount why I chose that brand of kink and I have to say that I didn’t. It chose me. I’ve noticed, in fact, that even when I’m not writing BDSM, the essential elements of it do creep in. Power exchange, intimacy, vulnerability, giving up control. When writers talk about voice, they often give the advice to pay attention to your themes, that your stories will tend to cluster around certain ideas. I almost always write about transformation of some kind and the elements of power and control usually play into that.

Since I’ve published some of this work, especially the more explicit BDSM, I’ve noticed that there’s a contingent of authors and readers who want to critique the writing in terms of verisimilitude. I’ve seen reviews and comments that people who aren’t “in the lifestyle” shouldn’t, or can’t, write about it. I see authors proudly discussing their participation in BDSM activities and citing these credentials. I’ve seen them criticizing other authors for not having, or not displaying, their credentials.

Now, this is not something I talk about. Just as in my stories, I’m a believer in privacy and intimacy. What goes on in my personal sex life is not relevant to my writing. I see no reason to discuss what I may have or have not done. Really, I don’t see why any of you would care. The characters in my stories are much more interesting – and look better naked.

I find it disconcerting then, to see other BDSM authors trotting out their credentials and saying that, unless an author has done these things – and is willing to openly discuss their own sex lives – they can’t write about it. This is patently absurd reasoning. By this line of thinking, only people who have been serial killers can write about those villians. Only master spies can write espionage novels. It totally screws all the historical and speculative fiction authors – we might as well eliminate those genres altogether.

Dan Savage, whose column I read faithfully and who I greatly admire, says that the BDSM community tends to be particularly bad about the You’re Doing It Wrong syndrome. He says in this column (scroll down to the second letter):

YDIW is a social-skills disorder that members of the BDSM community are at particular risk of acquiring. (Others at heightened risk: religious conservatives, sports fans, advice columnists.) BDSMers with YDIW feel they have a right to inform other BDSMers that they’re doing it wrong—whatever it might be—even if the “it” being done wrong poses no risk to the YDIW sufferer or anyone else.

I don’t know why this attitude flourishes in the community so much, but it does seem to. The most insidious part is, the YDIW finger pointers claim that they “can tell” whether someone has experienced something personally or not. This seems to fly in the face of the whole concept of becoming a good writer. If you hone your craft and are faithful to the story, the author should become invisible. There should never be a sense of the author intruding into the character’s lives. When reading A.S. Byatt’s Possession, the reader doesn’t speculate on whether the author has been a male Victorian poet. We all know that Jane Austen died a spinster and never experienced the love affairs she wrote about so compellingly.

When that invidious advice gets circulated, to “write what you know,” nobody ever means that you should write only those things you’ve directly experienced. That would pretty much pull the plug on all fiction. No, instead it means to draw on those themes you understand in your heart. Human experience is universal. We know how we feel in x situation; we can take that understanding and draw on it to imagine how another situation would feel.

This is what people refer to as art.

Otherwise we might as well just videotape our lives and send those out as stories instead.

Oh wait. People already do that.

At any rate, that’s my take. Unless an author is providing a how-to guide, a “Learn to Bake an Angel-Food Cake Just Like I Do!” guide, then it’s just not relevant to question how good their angel-food cake is. There’s a good chance the cake is just a metaphor anyway.

Which is nice, because you can both have and eat a metaphorical cake. And you’re not even doing it wrong.

Tail Sniffing

This time of year is all about purple in the garden. So soothing and lovely.

When I was starting out as a writer, my friends and I noticed the tail-sniffing right away. We were fresh and shiny-enthusiastic, delighted with ourselves, our work and thrilled that other people read what we wrote and talked about it. What had been a hidden desire became public identification. It was a giddy time, full of possibilities.

It soon became apparent, however, that some writers worry more about their position in the pack.

What do you write? is how they evaluate you. Really they want to know how prestigiously you’ve published. It’s not about the money; it’s about the attention. Unfortunately, this kind of professional jealousy just never quite goes away. Someone gets a great publishing contract, then worries that someone else is getting a better deal. You start out as shiny-enthusiastic friends and, after a few years go by, that bonding built on possibilities wears down under the weight of reality. After, we can’t all be the queen-diva. So the friendships fall away.

Some do, anyway.

What’s funny is, I don’t see seminars on dealing with professional jealousy in, say, environmental consulting. Or banking. Or software development. I think this is because those aren’t attention-based fields. The currency is money, not acquiring fans.

The thing is: I don’t think writing should be attention-based either.

So, how do you avoid professional jealousy? Start at home. Here are some rules I’m making for myself.

1) People who read my books are readers, not fans. Fan is from fanatic, which is “a person with an extreme and uncritical enthusiasm or zeal, as in religion or politics.” That doesn’t say reading to me.

2) I wanted to become a writer because I thought that would be an ideal way to make a living. I can tell stories and be paid for it. If I wanted to be a celebrity, I could have chosen another career.

3) The writing isn’t about me. It’s about the story. If it becomes about me, I’m doing something wrong.

4) Jealousy is a sign of insecurity. If I feel jealous about someone else’s deal, editor, agent, etc., I need to look at myself and at why I’m feeling insecure.

5) Focus on controlling the things I can. I can control what and how much I write. I can make it the best I can. Pretty much everything else is up to the winds and how they blow. There’s a freedom in that, if I let it be.

I’m working on more rules, but what about you all? Any more to offer?

Amusing Dreams

I had what I think of as my Water World dream last night.

It’s one of my standard dreams – you know the familiar ones you repeat over and over. Like the being on stage and not knowing your lines one. Or taking the final exam without ever having gone to class. Or being naked in public except for some feathers and a beak.

What, you don’t have that one?

At any rate, Water World is a water park in Denver. No, this has nothing to do with Kevin Costner. It’s one of my very favorite places to go, though I haven’t been in the last couple of years. I love riding the donut tubes down all the different swirly slides. It makes me feel like a kid again, to spend the day in my swimsuit. At the end of the day, my hair is wet and snarled, I’m sun-baked and water-soaked, deliciously exhausted.

Damn, now I want to go!

My Water World dream is one of those “going there but never quite making it” dreams. It’s not a a bad or frustrating dream. We just spend the day going through the admissions turnstile and getting different color wristbands. We get distracted and have to go save people or find treasure. We spend a lot of time in the parking lot, seeing the rides from a distance. Elements from Elitch Gardens, the amusement park of my youth, which has since been relocated and transformed into a Six Flags conglomeration, find their way in. The giant rise of the wooden roller-coaster always figures prominently.

It’s actually a fun dream, full of the anticipation of arriving. I’m eternally poised to have the best day ever. It’s also familiar and, in an odd way, comforting. It’s part of who I am. The sum of so many experiences.

These are the kinds of qualities it’s difficult to give characters. Someone recently told me that common wisdom is that novels about dreams rarely work well, because dreams inherently have no structure, which gives the story a “mushy” feel.

I can totally see that.

In fact, one of the “rules” writers like to cite is that you should never have dream sequences. That editors hate them. I suspect this is the “mushiness” coming into play. Usually if a character has a recurring dream, it’s a nightmare, as JD Robb’s heroine, Eve, experiences. Of course, she has the marvelous latitude of an ongoing series to use that dream as a theme, a device that reveals where Eve is emotionally.

Now I totally want to do something like this. Damn the rules – full speed ahead!


In working through my Sapphire line edits, I’ve learned something new about myself.

I know – who’da thunk it?

And yes, the line edits have been dead easy. I’m sending them off today. I don’t know why I was so worked up on Tuesday about it – thanks to all of you who said supportive things.

At any rate, one of the things my editor, Deb Nemeth, picked out was phrasing that kept the reader out of deep point-of-view (POV). The reader, instead of feeling like the reader she is looking through the character’s eyes, feeling what they feel, can get yanked out by these filter words and phrases. So an example would be “she saw the cat prancing through the cactus” instead of “the cat pranced through the cactus.” The second takes out that step of observation.

It’s been pointed out to me before that I do this. As an essayist, this writing style is no problem. Actually, it lends itself, because the art of the personal essay largely relies on being able to take that step back and observe your own life. But for fiction-writing, especially genre fiction, which is all about sweeping the reader up in the whirl of a new world, you don’t want to do this.

I’m learning.

Deb is an excellent editor and quite deft at pointing out where I create this objective distance. What I’m discovering is why it’s been hard for me to lose this kind of lens.

It’s because that’s how I see my own life.

Ever since I can recall, I’ve kind of narrated my own experiences. My first memory, back when I was in diapers, watching my parents drive away with all the abandonment grief that goes with it (they, um, were going to a movie), was also accompanied by a sense that, hey, here I am in a body and isn’t this interesting? There’s always been that part of me that steps back and observes objectively. Yes, I sometimes refer to myself in the first person. Sometimes I give my remarks dialogue tags. All in fun, but I might IM to a friend “bitch!” and then “and I mean that in the nicest way possible, she added hastily.”

Thus, for my characters to step back and observe, to have “she said to herself” absolutely reflects how I see the world.

It’s good for me to understand this. On the Meyers-Briggs personality test, I come out as an INTJ (introvert-intuitive-thinker-judger). One way they describe INTJs is:

… many INTJs do not readily grasp the social rituals; for instance, they tend to have little patience and less understanding of such things as small talk and flirtation (which most types consider half the fun of a relationship). To complicate matters, INTJs are usually extremely private people, and can often be naturally impassive as well, which makes them easy to misread and misunderstand.

All very interesting to me – and helpful in understanding why I behave in relationships the way I do. But it never occurred to me to examine how that influences how I *write* also.

In the end, it’s just another acquired skill in the craft of writing. It’s easy to say “that’s just how I write” or “that’s my voice” or “that’s how I see the world.” But, depending on what you’re trying to accomplish in a story, you may have to alter those things, to maximize the effect for the reader.

Which is, after all, the point of it all.