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.

New Claim to Fame

I am pleased to announce a new claim to fame: this site has been banned in Abu Dhabi.

My husband has just returned home from working in the UAE for the better part of the last two months.  Everything there is censored–TV shows, movies (which are shown with subtitles in Arabic), and websites.  So when Steve went to check in on what I’d been doing in his absence (it was all innocent, I promise), imagine his surprise when he was denied access.

I can’t even begin to imagine what I’ve written that would scare the UAE censors, but I guess I’ll consider it a badge of honor.

The Ghostwriter’s Booksigning

I went to a book signing for a book I wrote the other night–only another person, a kind doctor, signed the books.  The cover of the book features his smiling face and this same image graces the posters that were propped all around the store.

But it would be impossible for you to find even the merest mention of my name anywhere near the book.  Why? Because I ghostwrote it.

Allow me to define ghostwriting for those of you who may still be confused about it (in my travels I find many who are).  A ghostwriter (moi) writes a book for someone else and that other person’s name appears on the book.  If I’m very lucky, the “author” might thank me in the acknowledgments.  On some occasions, ghostwriters get a “with” byline.  As in “Stupid Worthless Memoir by Famous Vacuous Star with Ghostwriter.”

But most of us ghostwriters get nada but a paycheck.  Which is why we do it, of course, because ghostwriting can be among the most lucrative of writing assignments.  You are writing a whole book, after all, not just an article or series of articles for a website.  You are expected to know how to take bunches of information, perhaps some interviews, and vague thoughts and organize them into a readable, informative book.

A great number of business and self-help books are ghostwritten.  Ditto with celebrity biographies and so-called novels.  (You really think Nicole Richie has ever read a novel, let alone written one?)  Rumor has it that some popular mystery series are actually ghostwritten and many readers believe that some of the most prolific romance writers employ ghostwriters to help them churn out the novels.

I can’t verify those rumors, though I suspect they may be true.   I also suspect that many novelists have learned their craft churning out books under the name of a best-selling author.  But I think I prefer to stick to non-fiction.

To my way of thinking, non-fiction ghostwriting projects suit me just fine.  I enjoy learning about different subjects and getting into the mind of the person who I’m writing as.  

Last week was the first time I’d ever actually experienced a booksigning where the “author” of the book was signing what I wrote. 

I had a blast, met a lot of nice people and reconnected with the folks who hired me.  The thing is, I don’t feel the emotional connection to the book that I would with, say, my novel.  And while I’m proud of the finished product, I’m not so invested in it that I can’t let it go.

We’ll be starting the next book in the series soon and I’m looking forward to attending future book signings.  I wish I could give the book some publicity and send you to the website, but alas, then it wouldn’t be ghostwritten anymore, would it?  (And let me tell you, the whole ghostwriting thing wreaks havoc on the old resume, since I can’t really blatantly list all the books I’ve written.)

Fun as this book signing was, I look forward to the day when I’ll be signing my own novel at a book signing!

Writing is Enough

I may have already written about this before–and I reserve the right to write about it again.  Does anyone else have that thing where you forget what you’ve written?  It’s not age, or fading brain cells, it comes from writing a lot and being so present with what I’m writing that I forget everything that has come before.  Or so I tell myself.

But back to the subject at hand, in my continuing effort to master the art of letting go, I’ve been thinking about things I need to let go of in my writing career.  (New age/self-help/energy primer 101–letting go does NOT mean you want to get rid of it, but that you want to get rid of fussing over it, expecting it to happen, requiring it to happen.)  I love every aspect of my writing.  I love writing blog posts, coaching, teaching, and directing the Writer’s Loft.

Most of all, I love writing fiction.  Love, love, love it.  I love every aspect of writing fiction, from brainstorming the initial idea for a novel, to writing the rough draft, rewriting, revising, fussing over it, talking about it–every bit of it.   The most important goal in my life right now is to publish my novel.

But that goal must be secondary to the writing itself or I’m doing it for the wrong reasons.

My wise friend Sue told me on my most recent trip to Nashville that she had realized that writing was in and of itself enough.  That writing is a useful activity that should be encouraged in the world, even if what we write never gets published.  (It is possible to believe this and still desire to get published.)

Sitting down to write is enough.   Doing this is a useful activity that improves the world, even if not one word of what you write ever sees publication.  Why?  To wit:

  • Writing centers you
  • Writing helps you make sense of the world
  • Writing orders your mind
  • Writing helps you to organize your thoughts
  • Writing helps you process emotions

Further, creating stories:

  • Helps you figure out who you are
  • Helps you figure out your world
  • Helps you to find your place in it
  • Helps you to understand others
  • Gives you a moral compass

I’ve often said that I don’t understand how people who don’t write survive in the world.  And it is for all of the above reasons that this is true–writing is a tool, a friend, a habit, a career, and more. 

And using writing for any and all of these activities is, quite simply, enough.

Listening or Waiting to Talk?

One of the best tools a writer can learn is the art of listening.  Actually, learning to listen is a useful tool for any human, period.  I spent the weekend in a workshop with people who had varying degrees of skills in listening, which has had me pondering the subject.

As my good and wise friend (and leader of the workshop) Mary-Suzanne pointed out, most of us spend time waiting to talk instead of actually listening.  I’ve watched other people do this and I know that I myself do it all the time–and I pride myself in being a good listener.

Instead of actually listening and taking in what the other person is saying, our minds race.  We start formulating what we want to say in return, or cataloging all the similar experiences that we have had so that we can talk about them when the other person shuts up.  Or maybe we worry that we don’t have anything to say, or that we’ll be expected to have something to say and nothing will come out.  We worry about what we look like or maybe we’re even worrying about something we did before the current conversation.

If we’re not worrying about ourselves, we may well be judging the person we are supposedly listening to.  We judge the speed of their delivery, or think dire thoughts about the awful outfit they have on.  We judge the funny expressions they make as they talk.  Or the way they are shredding their napkin as they speak.

But all of this is worrying and judging, not listening. 

Why does listening matter to a writer?

Because writers need to observe the world and everything and everyone in it in order to gather material.  Writers need to listen to conversations of others to obtain an ear for dialogue and how people interact with each other.  We need to listen to others in order to understand what it is to be human.  Because, after all, that is what writing is all about–describing the human condition.

So start schooling yourself in the art of listening.  How to do this is a bit harder to describe than telling people they should do this, I will admit.  A quick search of the internet netted mostly descriptions for college students listening to instructors lecture.  But this site seems to have some good advice about interpersonal listening.

The gist of it, of course, is staying present and not letting all your mental chatter distract you, whether that mental chatter is worrying about yourself or judging the speaker.  You might just be surprised what happens when you start listening deeply to the world around you.

Praise is Good and Change is Scary

Geez, things change in an instant.   David Cook is no longer the front-runner to be the next American Idol (but I still think he should be, because he has way more artistic integrity than the pipsqueak David Archuleta and I voted for him a gazillion times anyway) and suddenly the TypePad interface is completely different.  Cool, but completely different.  It always takes me awhile to embrace changes like these.

The above was the Change is Scary part of this post.  Now we get to the important part–the Praise is Good part.  The wonderful Lori devoted an entire blog post to me today.  (Pause for applause, please–I found the new make a link button and guess what?  You can now open it in a new window.) 

Lori won the contest I held awhile back and at first she was going to take a free coaching session as her prize but then she decided to take me up on my offer of reading the first 20 pages of her novel.   It was an absolute pleasure to read her work but I always hold my breath a little after I deliver a critique.  When I read a writer's work I do my utmost to be scrupulously honest and also supportive and encouraging.

The MFA program I attended operated on the principle that a supportive environment is just as good, if not better, at turning out fine writers than a harshly critical one and I like to uphold those values in my own teaching.  However, what might seem supportive and encouraging and honest to me might read as scathing to you–particularly if you are not used to have your work critiqued. 

My most favorite response to a critique is when someone says that it inspired them to get back to the project with renewed vigor and that is what Lori said today.  So I'm basking just as much as Lori is today–its what makes this work I do worthwhile.

Let me also mention the other winners of the contest.  Lauri also sent me the first chapter of her novel and it was great, too.  I don't know what it is with the talented Lauri/Loris who read this blog, but I'm grateful for them.

And finally, I owe Jen and BellaVida coaching sessions.  Email me, you guys!