Interview with Me

John Craig did a 5-question interview with me and he posted it today.  I loved the questions he asked and I love his photography, so go check it out. 

You can find his blog here.

After you've read the interview, stick around on his blog and read his posts.  He's got some great stuff and he's also working on a book, I'm happy to report.  And don't forget to check out his photography on his website.

Thanks, John, for interviewing me!

Why Writing is like Drawing

I'm working on becoming a better observer.

Generally, I go about my business, I travel, I write in my journal about my experiences, and those jottings are too often self-absorbed treatises on what I'm feeling.  I like this, I don't like that, I feel so fabulous this morning or life sucks, blah, blah, blah, endless variations on an emotional theme.

But lately I've been writing a bit differently in my journal.  Instead of the endless scribblings that are all about me, I'm into an objective reporting vein–attempting to capture the essence of what its like to hang out in the Pasadena neighborhood where my friend lives, or documenting the unique aura of Ventura Boulevard, where I have appointments.

Its not that I haven't done this in the past, because I have.  But what has happened before is that all of my experiences have gone directly into the alchemical pot of fiction, to come out the other side the same base thing yet somehow different.   My new practice feels much more like a non-fiction, documentary approach.

And it requires careful observation, noting specific details.  It reminds me of my brief career in drawing.  Everyone in my family–all three of my older sisters got the art gene.  (And the thin gene.  Is this fair?  I ask you, where's the fairness here?) One of my sisters even makes her living at it. 

Okay, okay, so I got the writing gene–I'm not complaining.  But I did once go off on a wild hair and decide I would start drawing.  There's something so appealing about taking your journal with you everywhere you go and recording everything you see.   And what I learned from drawing is that you truly, truly learn to look at the world and see it when you are drawing it.

And of course, that is what we do with words, whether they are arranged into fiction or non-fiction.  I'm a wordsmith, not a visual artist, that's all there is to it.  What I'm learning from my new documentary approach is how insight grows out of careful observation and objective reporting.  By observing and seeing you really begin to get the gist of the situation.

The good news is that this kind of documentary writing can then be alchemized into whatever form you like–fiction, creative non-fiction, memoir, poetry.  So I'm finding its an excellent writing practice.  And may I just point out that this is why writing never gets boring?  There's always something new to discover.

Just Do It

I read recently that its the 20th anniversary of the Nike slogan, Just Do It.  I live in the Nike company town and went to school at the Nike company college, so of course this anniversary has extra special meaning for me.

Well, not really, but it always has been one of the most brilliant slogans ever written.

I thought of it the other morning when I was working on a project that seems to have dragged on for months.  Its an e-book that I’m writing and every time I feel like I’m making good progress on it, I realize I still have way more to do.

I was bemoaning my fate to myself, loudly and very dramatically, when the thought occurred to me.  Just do it. Quit whining and hand-wringing and just do it.   Use the energy that gets wasted on whining and worrying about it on writing.  (I used to tell my son this all the time–that if he’d use the time and energy he was wasting on complaining about having to clean his room on actually cleaning his room it would be done in a jiffy.  Well, maybe more like a week, but you get the drift.)

So I did.  And I got a huge chunk done rather quickly.  Tried it again this morning, and guess what?  It worked again. 

The e-book is almost finished (details to follow soon) and I’m excited about it.

So put aside your dislike of large corporate behemoths and join me in wishing Just Do It a very happy anniversary. 

One of Those Days

It’s been one of those days.  I thought I’d take time to work on some of my self-initiated projects instead of all the work I do for other people (those pesky items that pay the bills).  And yet.  There was a series of emails that needed to be sent out for the Loft, and those led to a flurry of emails in response.  And then my friend in LA had called and so I needed to call her back and there was that earthquake so it took way longer than usual to get through because all the circuits were busy.  (Can I just say how happy I am that there was an earthquake this week, since I’ll be in LA next week?  This takes the pressure off all those underground faults and fissures, so there won’t be another one for a long, long time.  Right? Right? Right?)

And after that, oh so many things happened that kept my nose to the grindstone.  I emailed a couple of book publicists for my book review and author site, and went through the contracts for the AWP panel.  More emails.  A lot more emails.  Completed a long-overdue survey about the makeover the wonderful Typepad people did for me.  And so on and so forth.

All wonderful things, but not writing.  Not at all writing.  All writing-related, but not writing.  Sheesh.  The good news is that I got enough done–oh, except there is the wee matter of the next ghostwriting project I need to start–that tomorrow can mostly be devoted to writing.

So, before dinner, feeling proud of myself, I sat down with a glass of wine and my knitting to relax a bit.  Never mind that my son, who is way too old for this kind of behavior, was banging relentlessly on the wall of the family room asking when dinner would be ready.  I ignored him as best I could (he finally went and started dinner himself but don’t be too impressed because it was take-out meatballs) and concentrated on my knitting, pondering what lovely words I would be writing tomorrow.

And as I formed stitch after stitch (I’m making a skirt, yes, a skirt–check out this great book called Handknit Skirts from Tricoter) I had a thought.  A brilliant thought, actually, about a problem in one of my fiction pieces that had plagued me.  I am going to submit a story to my friend Linda’s Christmas anthology, and I’m going to be editing a chapter of my first novel down to make it into a short story.  I really have no clue how to do this, and less of a clue as to how to start.

Ah, but such is the benefit of finally getting one’s mind quiet enough for brilliance to flood in.  It helps, immensely, when one’s hands are occupied, I find.  Any kind of repetitive behavior seems to set the mind free for great ideas.  Gardening is good, as is lawn mowing, or vaccuuming, or sewing.  Walking is excellent.  I’m sure golf probably is, but I wouldn’t know as the one time I played golf it took me so long at each tee that kicked me off the course.  Anyway, you get the idea.

So now I’m primed to get going tomorrow.  As long as I start with fiction first and do no go to the email I’ll be fine.

How Can I Resist A Ghostwriting Scandal?

Well, maybe its not much of a scandal.  But recently Madonna’s brother, Christopher Ciccone, came out with a new book about his sister.  It was supposedly a scandalous tell-all, but apparently it was fairly easy on ole Madge.

Now comes “news” of the true reason for this–Madonna herself ghostwrote the book.  The story is that she wanted the scandalous book out in order to promote her new tour and whatever else it is she has going on.

I don’t know, I try mostly to ignore the woman.  Not a big fan.  But I’m always interested in anything to do with ghostwriting.  So many books that people assume are written by famous stars are ghostwritten.  How Madonna would have time to write the book is beyond me, but the New York Post says it is so. 

And we all know how reliable they are.  Here’s the link:  Madge “Ghosted” Bro’s Tell All.

Hollywood of Comic Books

My son went through a long comic book phase when he was a pre-teen, which involved me driving him to comic book stores and conventions and then standing around waiting for him.  Having nothing better to do, I picked up comic books and began to read and in this way grew to love the form.  One of my early attempts at novel writing actually was set in the world of comics–a sure sign something holds a lot of interest to me, cause I won’t write about it unless I really love it.  (Except for ghostwriting.  I’ll write about anything if you pay me enough.)

For the record, as far as I’m concerned the best comic ever is Concrete, written by Paul Chadwick, and published by Dark Horse comics which just so happens to be located in Portland, along with all the other hot comic companies.  Concrete is the story of speechwriter Ron Lithgow whose brain was transplanted into a huge body of concrete by aliens.  But the series is far more than what it sounds like, as Concrete muses on all kinds of things such as the nature of people’s passions and so forth.  And, as I recall, there’s this sort of tragic The Sun Also Rises thing going on, with Concrete in love with a woman that he can of course never have.  For an interview with Chadwick, click here.  And to see what looks like a pretty complete list of the Concrete oeuvre, click here.  Check it out, its worth it, I promise.

I’ve been thinking about comics because of the success this summer of Hellboy II, a Dark Horse project, and, of course, The Dark Knight, which I’ve not yet seen.  Recently my local newspaper ran an article about how Portland truly is the Hollywood of the Comics world and you can read that article here.

So when I was looking at the ads that run alongside my gmail inbox (it fascinates and scares me how they are so keyed to whatever is being talking about in an email) and saw an ad for a comic book called The Elves of Iax, I had to click on it, just to check it out.  Turns out the comic is produced by Jeremy Kayes, who apparently lives in Seattle, which we’ll have to forgive him for as he might not be able to help it. Anyway, Jeremy is giving away Chapter 1 of his comic until August 11, 2008.  (You can give him a donation at the end of the process.) 

I deeply admire people who do things like this, because it implies that he cares not so much about making money, but getting his work out in the world.  He cares not so much about what the world can do for him as what he can do for the world.  Excellent karma.  So go check it out.  The elves look intriguing and I can’t wait for my copy.  And do check out Concrete, too.

Wish I Had This Ghostwriting Gig

In my travels through the world of blogs about celebrities, one of the rags I’ve come to know and love is The Daily Mail out of the UK.  Don’t ask me why I adore this rag, when clearly one cannot believe a word they print.  Perhaps it is for the bizarre photos they print (Amy Winehouse wandering the streets at 3 AM are always favs) or the strange English celebrities they follow (Peaches Geldorf) or the stupid photo-essays (today they featured one on the trash that Brangelina left behind after giving birth to twins).

Time and time again I get dragged onto this site by enticing headlines and today was no different.  How could I resist this lure:  Katie Price Reveals: I Don’t Write My Best-Selling Novels! 

Now, I have no idea who Katie Price is.  Apparently she also goes by the name Jordan.  What she is famous for eludes me. Oh wait, the article says she was once a lad’s mag favorite.  Don’t know precisely what that is, but I can guess.  At any rate, she has apparently “written” three novels, the first of which, called Angel, sold more than 300,000 copies in the first two weeks it was out.

And now comes the shocking news that she didn’t write these stellar tomes.  As the Daily Mail notes, “But just when it seemed there was no end to the model’s extraordinary talents, she has admitted enlisting more than a little help.”   Ms. Price, or Jordan, or Katie, or whatever you want to call her, says she simply doesn’t have time to write these books that have her name on them.

That’s a ghostwriting job I’d like to have–and I’m hoping that whoever the ghostwriter is, he or she got a healthy paycheck to begin with and an either healthier bonus when the novels hit the bestseller list.

A Day in the Life

6:30.  Rise, stumble to the coffeepot, take coffee with me to the journal, sit and write for an hour.  Best part of the day.

7:30.  Check email; try not to get too engrossed in letters from friends or the latest celebrity gossip news.

8:00.  Walk with my friend Sharon.  We’ve been walking together, three times a week for over 20 years.  Damn, even I’m impressed by that.

9:00.  Eat breakfast, laboriously work on the Sudoku puzzle, pat myself on the back for being brilliantly close to solving it and then realize I’ve screwed up.

9:30.  Back to work.  I know, total grossness–no shower.  Lately I’m lucky if I get in the shower by noon.  Such is the life of a writer.   Spend the next couple hours working on marketing, which always takes tons of time and is a pain in the you-know-what.

12:00.  Sneak in a little more work on my new project, which mostly exists in the journal and is way too raw to talk about.  Suffice it to say I’m excited.  There’s a shower in here somewhere, too.

12:30.  Lunch.  Oh yeah, that. 

1:00-ish.  Realize I’ve missed a call from a client, call her back and we talk about a ghostwriting project for quite awhile.  I’ve just finished one book for them and we’re in the process of shaping the next one.

2:00. Return a call from a new client.  She’s got a book she wants me to write.  I like the sound of it.  We’ll see what happens but I hope we move forward.

2:30.  Panic.  Two big jobs and another couple I’ve got to follow up on.  When will I have time to work on my own things? 

2:45.  Breathe deeply; feel better.

3:00.  Work on a  critique for students who live in Las Vegas.  I love these two–they are a husband and wife who write children’s books together.

4:00.  Email critique off, head out to bank, PO and Fred Meyer for food.  Buy shrimp for dinner and a whole salmon on sale at the unheard of price of $2.49 per pound,  plus a cedar plank to cook it on.

5:00.  Read a little of a manuscript, swear I’m not going to have a glass of wine so that I can stay sharp and work tonight.

6:30.  Pour myself a glass of wine and take it and manuscript and journal outside.  Talk to Lewis instead of doing any work.

7:00.  Realize I never called Candace back and call her while I fix dinner.  Steve is going to be home late, working on a project for the Abu Dhabi folks, anyway.  He’s going back there in two weeks and I’m heading to LA around the same time to meet all those new clients.

8:00.  Release delusion that I’ll get more done tonight and go fart around on the internet.  Burning question: how does Twitter make money?  Answer:  A. they don’t, yet, because they don’t have to, and B. they don’t know how they are going to, when they finally do have to.  Not sure why this fascinates me so.

9:45.  Panic, redux: realize I’ve not written a blog post in several days.  Sit down and have at it.

10:00.  Time to crawl into bed with the wonderful book I’m reading, The Tenth Gift.  Its about pirates.  Did you realize that millions of Europeans were stolen by pirates and sold into slavery?

Ah, But Here’s the Rub

A couple months ago I wrote a post titled Write Three Pages a Day and You’ll Be Happy.

This command, and the post I wrote about it, are all true.  I believe this statement with all my heart, because I believe that as writers, we must write regularly to be happy.

However….

Upon rare occasion, there may come a day, when you realize, as youmdutifully write your three pages a day on a daily basis, that you are lost and meandering.  In a dark wood, wandering, so to speak.  Unsure where those three pages a day are taking you, if anywhere.

Not that this has ever happened to me, mind you.  Just sayin’ it might happen.  It just might.

And you will need to be prepared if it does.  Because when if this happens you might inadvertently feel worse for having written your three pages then if you’d not written at all.  Here you are, diligently writing, yet you seem to be wandering far afield.  No plot appears.  Your characters are aimless, boring creatures.  Your words like dead and flat on the page.

What to do when this happens?

I don’t know, really.  The truth is, nobody does.  Feeling lost and uncertain where you are going in a project is an occupational hazard.  Rare are the writing projects that write themselves.  Wonderful as they are, they can be a curse, too, because if that happens to you even once, you’ll spend the rest of your life wishing and hoping that it will happen again.  It might.  But then again, it might not.

But even though I don’t really have the answer, I’ve managed to muster some suggestions.  So here we go:

What To Do When You Don’t Have a Clue What You’re Writing

1. Cry.  I am sort of kidding about this, but sort of not.  Crying is very cathartic.

2.  Remember that the only way out is through.  You know what this means. Keep writing.

3.  Trust.  This is related to #2.  You must trust that the story will out, that the cream will rise to the crop, that the….you get the idea.

4.  Go back to the basics and plan.  Ask yourself questions about the characters, or interview them.  Put scenes on 3 by 5 cards and arrange and rearrange them.  Make a plot outline–work fast and just write down everything you know about what happens next.  Or write up some scene guides–noting all the physical details of the scene, who is in it, where it takes place, what will happen, what the scene needs to accomplish and so forth.

5. Take a break.  I know, I know, I’m forever harping about writing regularly.  But once in awhile you can let yourself off the hook and take a little break.  As long as it is the pause that refreshes and not the time you quit working on the novel or screenplay forever.

6.  And finally, for some fresh inspiration, download Chris Guillebeau’s free ebook called, The Art of Nonconformity: A Brief Guide to World Domination.  I think you’ll enjoy it and find it useful.

Why I’m Not a Librarian

I’ve been reading more lately.  And thinking a lot about books lately.  This is not an entirely unusual state of affairs, because any writer worth their salt reads as much as they possibly can.  It is simply not possible to be a writer unless you read constantly.

But I’ve been even more engrossed in books lately, due to having started a companion site devoted to books.  Trust me, this is not a bad state of affairs.  Next to writing, reading is my most favorite activity.

However, all this reading and pondering the world of books and authors has also had me thinking about another question: since I love books so much, why do I feel so compelled to write them?  I mean, wouldn’t my life be about 1,000 times less stressful if I was satisfied to limit my love for books to reading them?

This query is akin to the secretary question, which is, why couldn’t I have been happy being a secretary?  (And please, I mean absolutely no disrespect to secretaries).  Why couldn’t I have been satisfied having a stable, nine-to-five job?  Why do I feel compelled to make my living as a free-lance writer?

Good questions, all.  Too bad I don’t have the answers.

Partial blame goes to my father, the late Lewis Jesse Rains, a lifelong small business owner who was fiercely independent until the day he died.  He drilled that independence into the heads of his four daughters, repeatedly telling us not to take the easy way out, that having one’s own business was the only way to go.  Of course, he didn’t really expect his daughters, as females, to create their own businesses, he expected our husbands to.    And he died broke, after his beloved printing business went bankrupt.

Guess that is what you would call a mixed message. 

Sometimes I think I should have paid more attention to the dark side of his example.  But the truth of the matter is that I’ve tried working for other people.  In recent history, I even held down a part-time job for something like two whole years.  But I’m not good at working for other people.  I resent having to be at work at a certain time.  It always happened that I’d just be gaining steam on a writing project when it was time for me to leave for work.  And after awhile that resentment built to where I’d get careless and sloppy on the job.

So it really is best that I work for myself.  And since the only thing I really know how to do well is write, I guess you’re stuck with me. 

Though its probably not too late to go back to school to become a librarian.