Tuesday, August 4

Happily Ever After and Beyond...

This weekend we attended the fiftieth wedding anniversary celebration of one of our favorite couples. It was delightful! Not a fancy affair, but a cozy party full of good food, plenty of wine and beer, and lots of great fellowship. We made a couple of new friends there and enjoyed the company of lots of old ones as we celebrated this extraordinary achievement.

I spent some time watching the anniversary couple as they mingled—sometimes together laughing and hugging new arrivals and sometimes separate as they chatted with guests on opposite sides of the big room. But even as they both played the venue, making sure guests had beverages, dinner companions, and huge plates of fried chicken and potato salad, they were connected. A subtle touch of fingers as they passed one another behind a noisy table or a quick, knowing glance shared across the banquet hall. Their intimacy was evident even when they weren’t standing side by side. And it always is --they know one another, anticipate each other's needs, finish each other's thoughts, sense when something isn't quite right. They are what my mom would have called "good and married."

Naturally enough, the whole event got me thinking about romance and what makes a real happily-ever-after. We romance writers build up the sexual tension, create characters bigger than life, and craft situations and conflict that seem insurmountable before we finally let our hero and heroine end up happy. It's what makes a romance novel...well, a romance novel. But after you close the book, do you wonder at all if that love will last—for a year or five or ten...or fifty? 

Why don’t we write about couples like my friends, who’ve shared fifty years together, raised two children, had struggles and joys and sorrows, but held on tight to each other through it all? Why isn’t a fifty-year commitment considered as romantic and sexy as two college grads hitting the sack for the first time? Isn’t it about time we writers took a look at those long relationships, asked what makes them work in a world where 50 percent of marriages end in divorce? 

And isn’t it about time we create characters who’ve stayed, who’ve struggled together through diapers and teething and toddlerdom and braces and those nasty teenage years? Couples who found the magic of happily-ever-after and never lost it. Or even couples who thought they misplaced it among the chaos and frustrations of ordinary life and yet found it again. Aren’t those stories worth telling? Because honestly, staying in love with the same person for fifty damn years is romantic as hell, mes amies.

Monday, August 3

Jumping the shark

by Liz Flaherty

Occasionally, it is fun to "jump the shark," to write something different. It's not done with the intent to change genres, merely to bump yourself awake. I have had a busy few weeks (and they ain't over yet) and haven't kept up on new blog posts. I apologize for this. However, I've made good use of things written for writers' group meetings. 

Let me urge you once again to join one if you haven't. I am the only romance writer in mine, but it is still a growing, learning, laughing time--for all of us, I think, not just for me. 

A few months ago, on the morning of a meeting, I had--just like I do today--nothing to share, so I wrote this. I'm not sure it qualifies as a poem, but it was fun to write. It's not really true, either. Except for little pieces I pulled from the back of my heart.

Enjoy, and tell us about when you jump the writing shark.

It was a beautiful day, but I could not lie still in the green, green grass.
At work I couldn’t focus on the IBM Selectric and kept typing long, tidy rows of z’s.
I burned the corn even as the potatoes stayed hard in the middle. I scorched an iron-shaped mark into the back of my favorite blouse.
Because he’d said, you know, we have to talk.
No, we don’t, I thought but didn’t say.
Things are fine as they are.
I have my apartment, you have your room at your mother’s and we see each other when we want to.
We don’t have to talk.
I don’t want to get married.
No, I do, but not now. Not when things are fine as they are.
We eat. He chews manfully on the potatoes. Leave the dishes, he says—this is the 1960s—he doesn’t offer to help with them. Let’s go out on the hill.
Oh, but I—okay.
The hill behind the house is lush with springtime. We lie in the grass and he says it again. We have to talk.
I prepare my answer in my mind...not now...not yet...later...I really do love you, but...
I got my draft notice today.
The words are stark and cold, bouncing off the grass and making spots before my eyes.
I leave in a few weeks. It’ll be Vietnam. Everyone’s going there now.
Oh, but—
When this is over and I get back, maybe we can talk about our future. You think?
Then? That’s forever. Why don’t we talk about it now?
No. Things are fine as they are.
Fine? How can you say they’re fine?
Because they are.
His eyes are so blue.
It is a beautiful day, but I can’t lie still in the green green grass.

As I wait.

Thursday, July 30

The Cacaphony

 While Kristi and Nan have had problems writing, I've been having the opposite problem--I have too many voices in my head.

Maybe it's because I hadn't written in a while. Maybe it's the new desk/office corner--which I've actually been sitting at and writing. Maybe it's the fact that new voices have started talking to me.

Next weekend is the Willamette Writer's Conference. I paid for two consults and I actually have nothing to pitch.

So, last week I pulled out Bix and started the ninth rewrite. Now, the thing about Bix is that I know all the characters so well that the dialogue flows once I determine what the situation is. 

And I'm kind of digging the changes I'm making--and believe me, there are some major changes. In past rewrites, I'd pretty much left the beginning 100 pages alone because I'd always gotten positive comments and remarks about them. But, this time, I've cut out some of those opening scenes to streamline the action.

My hope was to get enough of Bix going to craft a query and brief synopsis to pitch. I even ordered business cards with the new title. BIXBY, PAINTBALL ASSASSIN. And I'm attempting to go high Middle Grade with it--the cusp of MG/YA.

And then--I woke up Monday morning with a new idea about a group of nobodies forming a club. I meant to just jot down the idea and a couple of notes. But, in doing so, the voices started up. Three characters so far have come out to introduce themselves: Ramona--the leader, Rory--the transgender who can't wait to be old enough to begin hormone therapy, and Trinity--the stutterer who thinks in long form because she has a deep-seeded fear of actually talking.

And then, every time I walk through the luggage section at work, I have Analise pop into my head.

I think I've lost count on how many voices haunt my subconscious. I used to say Daycare was feast or famine business. Maybe writing is as well. Or maybe that's just my lot in life--to have too much or too little. So, I'm going to enjoy this feast while it lasts--or as long as my sanity does :)

Wednesday, July 29

The Right Frame of Mind

photo courtesy: Nuala
"art is more than a product of your efforts - it should be about feeling, life, attitude, soul..." ~Sergio Bongart

I love this quote, and it seems to me to go with the picture over here. Because it's all about frame of mind. If you focus on the streets or the clouds in the upper right, it's a rainy day...but if you focus on the center, the sun is breaking through the clouds and it looks as if the day is changing.

To me, art is an amazing painting or a great photograph or a really well made quilt. It is something that I can look at and that might, in turn, change the way I look at things.

Which, I suppose, means the books I read (and write) are, in fact, art. However, if you ever hear me say something like, "I'm an ahhhtist", please feel free to slap me about the head, mmmkay? Back to the topic of art.

There are days when I look at my computer and I am the rainy, slippery street: I need to be avoided. I'm focusing on what is wrong with my book or characters or whatever kerfuffle abounds on the interwebz that day. I'm in the wrong frame of mind. I'm missing that beautiful moment when the sunshine breaks through (a review, a new contract, a kind word from my agent or editor) to change the day.

Those are the days when I remind myself to change my frame of mind. Not to focus on the slippery street of a bad review or another writer whose career seems to be going places faster than my own. Instead of that negative focus, I look for the sunshine breaking through. More often than not, that sunshine is that I get to do this wonderful, amazing thing. I get to tell stories and the stories that I tell might change the way someone looks at their corner of the world. Maybe just for a moment, but maybe, that change will be longer lasting. In either case, I've done my job well.

What is your art? How will you celebrate it today?

Tuesday, July 28

Dry Spells

I’m writing this as I sit in a beautiful home in Carmel-by-the Sea in California—it’s quiet because Grandboy, Son, and DIL are all napping. The house sits on a hilltop and so there’s a feeling of being high up in the trees,almost like being in a tree house, and I can see the Pacific off in the distance. It should be the perfect place to write—atmosphere, nature, quiet…it’s all here—everything I need to get into storytelling mode. It's all here...

Sadly, I’m not. What I mean is writer Nan isn’t present right now. After nearly a month of being a full-time Nanny to a three-year-old, housekeeper, chauffeur, laundress, cook, therapist, and copy editor, my creativity has taken a serious hike. And after all the stress of the last eight months—worrying over the illnesses of family and friends, stressing over Son and his stress, trying to get accustomed to retired Husband, grieving my dear sister, and being frustrated because I can't seem to write, I worry that my muse may be gone forever. I haven’t written a word on my current WIP in almost two months. That’s a long time… isn’t it?
I’m not one of those writers who works well in angst. When my life is in chaos, I’m simply not creative. And I’m wondering--really truly wondering--if maybe I’m not a writer after all. Maybe I’m an editor. Maybe it’s my job to fix other people’s writing. I realize I’m saying this after having written four novels, but you know, right now, I'm scared that I couldn't write a romance novel if my life depended on it. It’s just not there and beating myself up over it because isn't helping either. Guilt does not equal creativity.

Is this just a dry spell? Is it lack of motivation? Have I run out of steam as writer? But what about the plots that are still keeping me awake at night? The characters in my head begging to have their stories told? Why am I still inventing dialogue as I drive around the Bay Area running errands? Tell me, fellow writers and word wranglers, how long is too long to go without writing? Any sage words of advice? I’m listening…