Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Blazing a Trail and Blazing Laptops

I think all artists owe two things to society. One is doing their art, and the other is sharing their knowledge and expertise with the world. (Of course, it is nice if they get to share their art with the world, but some never get that chance, for myriad reasons.) I love writing, and trying to help writers get their art out there, and I adore being able to appreciate the art of writing.
As Langston Hughes said: "My motto, As I live and learn, Is dig and be dug in return."
My path as a writer has been erratic, to say the least. I started writing in school and have never stopped, but my career has largely been about other people's writing. I was surprised to find out, back in 1997, that I really liked working on other people's writing. My parents are both voracious readers, my mom is a poet and writer, and my dad is an editor, so maybe it is in my blood!
I started writing professionally by writing plays and acting in them. Enter Russel, my life partner and co-conspirator in all things, and soon I was editing a literary journal of writing about Baja California, where we were living on our sailboat.
That labor of love led me to Sunbelt Publications, where I spent over a decade happily editing, packaging, and marketing books about Mexico and the SW U.S. That was fun and challenging, but as Editor-in-Chief I was soon spending more time with P&L statements and budgets than books and authors.
On my own as a freelancer since 2011, I got back to editing books which was, and continues to be, a joy to me. I love helping writers figure out how to "tune out the static" to bring in the clear message behind the obscurity of too many words.
I have recently discovered again just how fulfilling it is to help "birth" a book by being involved from the beginning of a book's journey. My most recent "book baby," The Dining Car by Eric Peterson, just won the Gold Medal for Popular Fiction at the national IBPA Ben Franklin awards and I am so darn proud. (It's like your kid getting Student of the Year!)
Along the way, I started teaching. I started by sharing what I was, by then, an expert in—writing great query letters to editors and publishers. Soon I was teaching a popular pitch class at the Southern California Writers Conference, and I quickly joined the SCWC staff.  I teach different classes there in conference and each one is better than the last!


Another home I found as an instructor was at San Diego Writers, Ink (SDWI). Over the years, I have taught classes in everything from writing YA to crafting exciting expository. For a San Diegan like myself, SDWI represents a unique resource for our writing community, with classes happening nearly every day somewhere in the city. Mostly they happen at the wonderful Ink Spot in Point Loma's expansive Liberty Station.
I love SDWI and have supported the non-profit for years. This May I'll once again be participating in their annual Blazing Laptops fundraising event at the Ink Spot. Here is the link to my Blazing Laptops page, should you want to donate. I promise to write all day and to keep sharing whatever knowledge about writing I have with new and emerging writers.
I am so lucky to be part of a wonderful community, not just SCWC and SDWI but the world-wide community of artists who have something to say, and want to share it with the world.
hasta pronto!

Monday, March 6, 2017

Beauty is Truth (BOAW Blogfest 2017)

This post is part of the Beauty of a Woman BlogFest VI! To read more entries, and potentially win a fun prize, visit the fest page on August’s McLaughlin’s site between today, March 6 and 11pm PST March 11th.

 "Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
   Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know." —
John Keats


I've been thinking a lot about truth lately...And I am probably not the only one... In an age when words and phrases like "truthiness" and "alternate facts" have been coined, we find ourselves pondering the meaning of words like truth. I believe we know, deep down, when things are true, in the same way we know when things (and people) are beautiful. It is an innate sense humans have.

So what makes a person beautiful? Honesty. I don't mean that a woman can't wear makeup, dye her hair, or even have plastic surgery, if she desires that. I am talking about the difference between being who you are—and you know who that is—and being something that other people or "society" tell you you should be.

I don't know you, so I have no idea who in your life is trying to alter the way you speak, believe, move, look, love, or even make love. But, unfortunately, if you are a woman, I can almost guarantee that someone is.

So, what to do?

Not everyone is cut out to be a rebel or an activist. But each person in this world can take a stand for their true selves, even if it is simply holding fast—continuing to believe what they believe, or love who they love, in the face of oppression and hatred. And, who knows? Perhaps taking that internal stand will lead her to express herself or resist in another more tangible way, or help another woman to do so, and that is how worldwide change begins. As the saying goes "Well-behaved women seldom make history."

And remember, if people in your life are embarrassed, appalled, or upset by who you are, or how you choose to act, then it is time to think hard about whether they are supporting your true potential, or if they are trying to mold you into their idea of who you should be.

Be your true self and be a truly beautiful woman.

hasta pronto!





 

Saturday, February 4, 2017

It's Almost Conference Time! (Five Reasons to Attend SCWC)

What happened to January?
Seriously, I blinked, I marched, and it was over... Great experience, and it was heartening to see how many young (and older) people really care what is happening to our country. You know I don't normally post about politics here, but nothing about the current state of affairs in this country of ours is NORMAL anymore.
So, let me just say that whatever you are moved to do in support of your country—whatever country you live in—get up and do it! Call, write, be prepared to vote. And maybe try to help someone else get ready to vote. Here in the U.S., it's less than two years until mid-term elections, and there will be a lot at stake (again).

Now, it's February and time to get ready to teach at the Southern California Writers Conference here in San Diego. As always, I look forward to the long President's Day weekend with anticipatory glee (as RR would say).
I've written a few posts with reasons why I advise writers to attend this conference, but it is such an important decision, so I'll remind you of a few:
1. To meet your tribe! This is perhaps the most important reason of all; we all need people in our life that "get" us and "get" our writing; you can find them at SCWC!
2. To hobnob with industry professionals. Where else can you belly up to the bar—or share morning coffee—with agents and editors and successful authors? (Too many conferences are mass affairs with an unspoken caste system where the pros all hang out together and you never actually meet anyone except first-timers who are as lost and overwhelmed as you are.) SCWC is kept to a manageable number of attendees so you'll actually meet and connect with people who you can learn from or share with.
3. To get expert eyes on your work. All too often, authors publish when their first or second draft is done, not knowing the book isn't ready to be published. Whether you submit your writing in advance or take some pages to read and critique meetings or rogue sessions, you'll learn what is working—and what isn't.
4. To learn what is happening right NOW in this fast-changing industry. With workshops on getting published & self-publishing, plus marketing & promotion for your published book, and speakers and an agents panel, there's something for everyone. I'll be bringing a client who has a fine novel just out that we're working on promoting, so I'll learn a lot, too. (There are also plenty of workshops on craft, don't worry.)
5. It's so darn fun! We writers all need to get out from behind our desks and socialize once in a while. And who doesn't want to hang out with a talented, inspiring, upbeat group of creative souls right now?
Hope to see you there—it isn't too late to get the "Early Bard" discount, by the way.
hasta pronto!



Friday, December 23, 2016

Five Books I Read in 2016—and Highly Recommend.

It’s time for me to list five books I loved in 2016. As always, I leave off the bestsellers—those ten titles you’ve read about ten times in the last ten weeks of top ten books lists. (I'd love to talk about The Underground Railroad but I haven't read it yet!). I tried to keep it to works published in 2016, but made exceptions for two recent works I discovered this year.
I am also, as always, not including on this list the books I edited in 2015, but I can't help mentioning two of the excellent books I help to bring to the world—they'd make great gifts.
Gayle Carline’s latest, A More Deadly Union (Peri Minneopa Mysteries Book 4) is a good mystery and a whole lot more. Gayle is taking on some key social issues here, but she doesn’t allow any of it to get in the way of the fast-paced story. I enjoy working with her—she works so hard on her manuscripts, I get to really dig in, as I'm not distracted by superficial errors. And there's a dog in it!
Another book I edited this year is The Dining Car by Eric Peterson. Eric and I go way back, and it has been a pleasure to see his writing mature and evolve. I had such fun with all the food and drink references, and probably gained a few pounds doing "research"! So far, the critical reception has been phenomenal, which makes me happy and proud. Bottom line: Private railcars, haute cuisine, and finely crafted cocktails. Who wouldn’t love that combo?

So...On to my "top five" list for 2016, in no particular order:

1. Dete Meserve shows up on my Top Five Books List two years running with Perfectly Good Crime. Like her debut novel, Good Sam, this novel explores our society’s fascination with both crime stories and heart-warming human interest stories. Set in Los Angeles, Perfectly Good Crime has a protagonist you can believe in, even though most of us have never worked in television news. And, in spite of its timely insights into wealth, politics, and the media, the book is a fun read, with breathtaking descriptions of outrageously over-the-top mansions that rival anything from “Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous.”

2. The best title on this list goes to The Awful Mess: A Love Story by Sandra Hutchison, and the book lives up to its name and then some. As much as I liked Mary Bellamy and related to her—she is an editor, like me, and a young woman, which I remember being—she is only the main ingredient of this book’s delectable stew of characters. Wait until you meet Arthur, an Episcopal rector with great charm and serious secrets, and Winslow, a small-town cop who's a part-time farmer, and full-time heartthrob. And then there’s Winslow’s dad, Bert, and…You see what I mean. Check it out if you like thoughtful romance!

3. Everyone who knows me knows I love theater, and one of my favorite reads this year was Follies of God: Tennessee Williams and the Women of the Fog by James Grissom. I had heard a lot about it on social media and I tried a sample of the ebook and was hooked. I’d shelve this rambling tome under “biography as memoir," since I learned almost as much about Mr. Grissom as I did about Mr. Williams. That might sound odd, but it worked perfectly. After all, Tennessee Williams was probably a very different person to everyone that knew him—he was, quite obviously, a theatrical character in his "real" life, as well as the second-best creator of living, breathing, believable theatrical characters, ever (Shakespeare, duh!).

4. The Popcorn Girl by Michael J Vaughn was a lovely surprise. The chapters are told by alternating first-person narrators Paul and Jasmina, and I never had that feeling such a novel usually produces: “Dang, it’s another Bob chapter, I can’t wait to get back to a Mary chapter” or vice-versa. It’s not often that a writer can make a character both lovable and an atheist, but Vaughn has done it; Paul is not only a person I would want to know, he's definitely a guy I would have fallen for, had I been Jasmina. I won’t tell you if she eventually does or not—that's part of the fun of this book—but I can say that these two characters (and the whole "cast") are so compelling I didn’t want the book to end.

5. The Wide Night Sky by Matt Dean is another winner. Dean is a former finalist for the LAMBDA Literary Awards and it shows, both in the assured way he deals with an eclectic array of sexualities and in his artful prose. His previous novel, The River in Winter, is also fine, and much more “political," if that's the right word, but I love the family dynamic here. I’m a sucker for dysfunctional families as long as there’s also plenty of love and this book maintains that balance perfectly. And...the ebook is currently FREE!



Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Expository Tips—Your Book is Not a Script!

Having just taught my second workshop in as many months on how to make expository more exciting, I’ve come to the conclusion that authors who write books, as opposed to screenplays, don’t realize how good they have it.
In writing a screenplay, writers only get to include two things—what can be seen or heard onscreen.
Screenwriters can write what a beach looks like, but they can’t mention how the sea spray feels, or the odor of sun-warmed kelp, or that the taste of salt on her lips reminds a character of summer vacations sailing on Lake Michigan. They can’t have a character reminisce or feel nauseated or hungry unless the character says exactly what they are feeling or thinking out loud—which often feels too “on the nose” or clunky.
Screenwriters can describe a character’s clothes and hairstyle, and how they walk or sit or gesture, and of course, they have dialogue to fall back on, in case it's needed to explain something particular or convoluted.
Screenwriters only go into character’s heads to the extent of trying to figure out what a character will do (what action they’ll take) to reveal what they are thinking or how they are feeling. Writing a script means being unable to write what characters are thinking or feeling, unless you want to write narration, which is considered dated and very much out of style (of course, some screenwriter does it right every now and then, but narration is almost universally viewed as something to avoid in screenwriting).
Now, just because you can go into character’s heads, don’t get carried away and start “head-hopping” from character to character in your book. Why not? Check out this post on the evils of head-hopping from Jami Gold.
And yes, you novelists and creative nonfiction authors can write "stage directions" in your books as well as screenwriters can, but remember not to go overboard with them—like explaining, in great detail, exactly how a character turned on a bedside lamp, down to which hand he used to twist the switch. Here's a timely post about stage directions from Nat Russo.
Bottom Line: Compared with writing scripts, writing a book is so freeing. You are not confined by such tough strictures, so celebrate your freedom and explore the sounds and scents and tastes of your scenes. Let your characters touch, smell, and taste—have fun exploring the world through all their senses!