Answering Questions

The first day back from a vacation and already I’m looking at the pile of work in front of me and feeling like…oh, weeping would be an alternative, wouldn’t it? No, of course not. And besides, I worked all the way through vacation, so it’s not so bad. True, I did put some things on the docket for the first week back because, well, it was supposed to be the holidays. So, today and tomorrow are for short stories and wordcount.

Since it is the first day back, I should take this opportunity to answer a few questions. Yes, I do read all the mail my Readers send me. I can only respond via email rarely. If enough people ask a question, I answer it here or put it on the FAQ.

Let’s see:

* A few of you asked when the next Jill Kismet is out. I don’t know precisely yet. I do know that it’s in the revision process, and as soon as I have more concrete information I’ll update the site and announce it. Fear not, there are two more Jill books forthcoming.

* Many of you are intrigued by the words “Latin self-study”. It’s like juggling more chainsaws; I’ve had some luck with it but not much. More than finding a Latin class in my area that doesn’t require an hour of driving either way, that’s for sure. For those of you interested, I recommend Wheelock’s, and also Artes Latinae. Rosetta Stone also has a good program, if a bit spendy.

* Loyal reader TP recently asked this very interesting question:

Why read at readings? Yes, the name of the event answers the question but really, why is it that you, or any other author, must read passages from the book (doesn’t it get boring?)? I have always thought that reading a book is immersing oneself into a new universe but seen and heard through the filter of one’s own mind. Hearing the author reading does neither good nor ill to that universe, I just haven’t found that it adds much to it (then again, I have gone to perhaps only 4 in my life, one in which the author didn’t read but just talked to and with us). From your end, as the author, does reading passages do something for both you and your interaction with the audience that I’m missing?

The short answer: I don’t know, I do what the bookstores (who are kind enough to invite me) ask me to do.

The longer answer: I think it does add something, and I’ve been asked by fans to read a certain chapter and do a podcast. (When I get a microphone, editing software, and some time, yeah. I love you guys, but the actual writing comes first.) Yes, reading the book invites you into the universe the writer has created, you can experience it through the filter of your own mind. On the other hand, your experience of that universe can be deepened and enriched by hearing where the author places emphasis. I’ve had people tell me they came away with a new understanding after listening to me read, especially from the Valentine books. (Hearing me “channel” Japh’s sardonic, flat tone is apparently hilarious.)

Then again, I enjoy reading aloud. I’ve done it a lot and sometimes I’ll read a sentence aloud a few times to get a handle on emphasis and pace. Being taught to stop at punctuation marks and to look for the natural “breathing points” in poetry or lines delivered onstage is far from the worst experience one can have when looking for hitches in the smooth reel of the written word.

Oddly enough, the things I’m most asked at events are either spoileriffic, or about aspects of the world I’ve thought about but couldn’t cram in the books because of space considerations, or about the act of writing itself. I think a lot of people view writing as a sort of Black Arte and are looking for the turn. The actual process is fascinating. It just becomes normal when one does it every day.

Hm. Long answer is long. But I found it a very, very interesting question. I’ve fallen into doing readings because bookstores ask me to, and I’ve found I enjoy them a bit. Except for the parts where I want to pause and correct/revise something on the page. ARGH.

And that’s all that I’m fit to blog today. I have a hot date with breakfast and some coffee, since I’m up anyway. Good luck out there.

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The Mystery of the Mask

Crossposted to the Deadline Dames. Check us out!

Let’s talk about magic.

Plenty of magic[1] is the utilization of more-or-less psychological principles to effect a change in the practitioner. Where there’s belief, there’s a sword to be used. Swinging it effectively takes practice and self-knowledge. The things you believe about yourself and how the world works, especially those core beliefs you hold on a unconscious level, affect your daily (and indeed, the rest of your) life to an incredible degree.

This does not have to be a bad thing. There are thousands of tools for uncovering, reshaping, and altering those beliefs. Some of them are self-help, some of them are psychological theory, some of them are occult, some of them are just plain common sense. You’re bound to find something that works somewhere. The key is to practice consistently enough, to not fall prey to the ersatz jolt of accomplishment that simply learning about a principle provides. You also have to use the principle for a long enough period of time to discover if it works for you.

There are a few principles, however, that are as close to guaranteed as you can get with a tool meant to affect complicated human beings. One of them is the principle of the mask.

A very wise man once told me, “Beware what you pretend to be, because if you pretend long enough, you’ll become it.” It’s one of those cliches built around a grain of truth. The longer you wear a mask, the more it becomes your real face. It’s just one of those things about the way we’re wired. It is also an invaluable tool.

Say you want to write for publication. The best thing to do is to start treating your writing like you’re already published.

Note: I do NOT mean that you slack off, or think that you’re God’s gift to the written word and no editor shalt touch thy purple…prose. That’s a fast track to Never Getting Published, also known as Being Such A Speshul Snowflake You Shoot Thine Self In Thine Own Foot.

No, what I advocate is practicing behaviors that get authors published and keep them finding new work. Here’s a (by no means comprehensive) list, to show you what I mean:

* Act as if writing is a priority, and make time for it.

* Act as if you are open to revision, whether it comes in the form of a rejection letter or a (gasp!) personalized rejection letter[2].

* Act as if some part of your income depends on you being professional, pleasant, and well-informed about writing for publication.

* Act as if your writing time is precious and meant for writing, not for checking email, playing video games, or talking about writing.

* Act as if you already have a professional relationship to lose when you interact with other professionals. (Don’t know what I mean? Read this.)

* Act as if editors, agents, and publishers are your fellow soldiers, in this to make money from providing quality, just like you are.

* Act as if your fellow writers are colleagues, not enemies or ladder rungs. Colleagues are not buddies and they are not enemies, they are people you are in a professional relationship with.

* Act as if it is your JOB to WRITE. I can’t say this enough. So many times I see “writers” who don’t make it a priority to get the words out. This is not professional behavior. And guess what? Not writing is a really sure way to not get published.

Notice any trends?

Do I guarantee that you will get published if you start acting this way? No. I do, however, guarantee that your chances of getting something published will rise exponentially, if not astronomically. I do guarantee that making writing a priority will force you to produce more, which is one of the only sure ways to learn enough to start producing quality. I do guarantee that treating your writing career as an arena where you have a professional reputation to lose will help you avoid a few mistakes, not to mention some pain and grief.

A funny thing starts happening once you start this kind of pretending. There’s a few months where it feels like ill-fitting shoes–not quite natural. Then it becomes habit, which is your best of servants or worst of masters. The mask begins to feel natural, and it’s then that the magic occurs. It’s subtle at first, but it gathers strength the longer you practice and the more ingrained it becomes. Your chances of getting published, and getting published again (which is the trick to producing an income stream) go up to the point where you can start taking advantage and playing those odds effectively.

The mask, the pretense, becomes your real face.

Of all the metaphors I use to belabor the point that writing makes a writer, this is the one the majority of my students has found most useful. Like all useful tools, it isn’t as complex–or as simple–as it appears. What you get out of it is in direct proportion to how much effort you put into it. I cannot guarantee you publication, but I can tell you that this is a way to maximize your chances most effectively.

I like my magic to have a practical side.

So, Happy New Year to you, dear Readers and fellow writers. What mask do you want to wear this year? I suggest you make it one you like.

Now, if you’ll pardon me, I have some writing to do. Over and out.

[1] I am not talking about conjuring tricks here.
[2] A personalized rejection letter, or one with a personal note about what was wrong with the story, is one of the last wickets before acceptance. Oddly, it is also one of the wickets where a majority of people get discouraged and stop trying.

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.

Goodbye, 2009

Well, another year has come to a close. It’s been a helluva ride. I’ve been broken and remade, done things I never thought I could do, and kept going the whole time. The things I feared most happened, and I discovered the world didn’t end. I’ve discovered I’m actually pretty capable, and lots of things I was taught and trained to believe about myself are not true. It’s been an uphill battle all the way, but now I feel like I’ve reached a hilltop and am looking around wild-eyed with my sword in my hand. Come on, I’m saying, who’s next? Who wants a piece of me next?

I realize this is not the healthiest emotional state, but it’s better than numb grieving or pained apathy. I’ll take it. The battle’s over, now I need to start calming down and patching things up. Harder work, because you’re not in fight-or-flight with a tight adrenaline focus. But all in all, nicer work.

I am not going to miss 2009. It’s been a great year in terms of teaching me I’m tougher than I think I am. Still, that’s the sort of lesson one doesn’t ever really like learning.

So. I’m deciding that 2010 will be awesome. It will be a lucky year, a great year. And if it isn’t, I’m still going to treat it like it is. That’s my Major Luck Experiment–a whole year where I look entirely on the bright side.

I’ll wait for those of you who know me to stop laughing before I reiterate: this is my goal. I’m gonna do my damndest.

I have other goals. Not resolutions. Resolutions are sort of airy-fairy; goals, however, I know about. I know how to break them up into little chunks and work those chunks methodically out of the way. Goals, I understand. I can kick the ass of any reasonable goal, and identifying the unreasonable ones in order to make them reasonable is one of my specialties.

So here are some of my goals for 2010:

* Read one poem a day.
* Get back into the Latin self-study; starting in February
* Continue with my now-habitual six-days-a-week exercise regimen
* Continue with the diet plan
* Grow my hair out (it’ll happen mostly without me, but it’s nice to have at least one goal like that)
* Take a basic digital photography class
* Make time for Krav Maga or yoga classes (I am not picky, not one little bit)
* Clean out my garage (again)
* Write the homicidal-fae and Bannon-and-Clare books, between the stuff I’m contracted for
* Get all my work in on or under deadline, barring major disasters or Acts of God
* Shrug and smile and say, “Oh well, I’ll deal,” more.
* View everything that happens as good luck, one way or another

Whew, what a list! How am I going to fit all these things in? Like I said, I’m no stranger to breaking things up into little chunks and chewing the life out of each chunk. I begin to think it’s the only way I ever get anything accomplished.

So, welcome, 2010! I’ll be watching drunken shenanigans occur out in the rain on my street (I know several of my neighbors have reserved firecrackers for this occasion) when the clock ticks over. But I’ll be smiling quietly, probably with a glass of wine I began sipping and savoring when the little ones went to bed, and I will have my first act of the New Year be two sentences.

“Hi, 2010, we’re going to kick some ass together. Let’s get started.”

Over and out.

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.

Slow And Steady

Slow and steady wins the race, sure. But it’s also frustrating as hell.

Steady output helps when it comes to writing for publication. Slow and steady weight loss helps one remain fit longer. But Jesus wept, sometimes I just feel like Veruca Salt stamping my feet and declaring that I want it now, dammit!

This is one of those impatient days, where the world is far too cold and slow to suit the fire in my veins. Deep breathing is in order, and reminding myself that it took decades to get here and things aren’t going to change overnight. Reminding myself that I’ll feel better when I achieve in a set of small steps, it will mean more, yadda yada.

Can you tell I don’t quite believe it? Not today.

In the meantime, here’s a guest review I did for the lovely folks of YA Reads (who had Betrayals as their featured book through December). They’re so nice over there, go take a look! The review is of one of my very favorite YA books, Sarah Dessen’s Dreamland. Otherwise known as “the awesome book that got me reading YA again after a long dry spell”.

Anyway. Off I go with my impatient self. I hope your day is gratifying, either instantly or in the long run.

But all things considered, today I’d take the instant. I’m just saying.

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All and then it’s nothing to me, yeah…

Yeah. Like this:

You and I got something
But it’s all, and then it’s nothing to me, yeah
And I got my defenses when it comes to your intentions for me, yeah
And we wake up in the breakdown
In the things we never thought we could be, yeah…

I’m not the one who broke you
I’m not the one you should fear
We’ve got to move you darling
I thought I lost you somewhere
But you were never really ever there at all… (Goo Goo Dolls)

Yes, I want to get free. But you don’t need to talk to me. I’m done talking. Now I’m moving.

There are hard days and easier days. Today is somewhere in between. But when I’m on the treadmill and running, I find pieces of myself I left behind so I could fit in your cupcake tin. They slide back into place like they were never gone, and I feel more and more like myself. Each day is better as the other physical things migrate out of the house–kind of, I don’t know, like bits of shrapnel leaving a wound.

I’ve made my way out of the cocoon. The wings are dry. I’ve climbed the damn tree I was hanging in.

Now I’m going to fly. I’m scared, and there’s no net…but the worst has already happened, and I’ve not only survived. I’ve just plain thrived. I guess I didn’t need what I thought I did. Lesson learned, I won’t forget it. Ever.

Now I’m gone. Really gone. Gone gone gone.

And it feels good.

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Oh, Louisa May. You go, girl.

It’s funny–the further along I go, the more the Universe steps in to help out. I could also view it as my thinking changing so I can take better advantage of opportunities. Potayto, potahto. Like I told the Princess when she asked me if the gods are real: whether they’re psychological constructs or actual beings, the net effect is the same–and you need to be just as careful about what you believe.

Anyway. The Selkie sent me this great link about Louisa May Alcott this morning; the American Masters episode is on tonight. (I will probably not watch it; our telly is DVD-only.) Of all Alcott’s work, I liked A Long Fatal Love Chase best; Little Women irritated me beyond bearing but I persevered because it was a Classic. I did like Jo the best out of all the March sisters, true. It was impossible not to, really. I wanted to slap Meg and send Beth to a hospital. And Amy? I’d slap her twice.

The thing that strikes me in this article about Alcott is that she decided what she was going to do, and she wrote what would sell because she wanted the money. This is treated as a revelation, because in our society artists (and women artists in particular) are not supposed to be in it for the filthy lucre. Money is at bottom, implicitly supposed to be the preserve of men. (As Ann Crittenden points out, when Motherhood started becoming sacred was when mothers started getting really economically screwed.) It’s news that Alcott was a hack, yet the fact that Poe, Dumas, and Dickens were hacks lacks a certain power of titillation.

Reading the Alcott piece, and listening to the interview, I was struck with a single vivid scene: Louisa May, like Scarlett O’Hara, swearing she or her folk would never be hungry again. Louisa May wrote to sell because her family was hungry, and instead of bemoaning it and dying gracefully she decided to do something about it.

Nobility is hard to come by when you’re starving. We have these myths of the Noble Poor, and that’s what they are–myths. I’ve been poor, and there’s nothing noble about it. It’s terrifying and dirty and ugly. When people are frightened and hungry, nobility is the exception. You can’t count on it.

Louisa May Alcott “resolved to take fate by the throat and shake a living out of her.” (Amen to that.) There was none of this “I’ve been rejected so I’m going to give up and bemoan that Editors don’t want my Precious Prose.” Instead it was, “I’m going to find out what they want, and I’m going to give it to them the best way I know how, and they are going to pay me for it. And if it takes me getting rejected fifty times, why then, I’ll get rejected fifty times. Or a hundred. Or a thousand. But they’re not going to lick me.”

Oh, Louisa. Over a hundred years ago you decided this, and you’re still an inspiration. You go, girl.

As for me, dear Reader, I’m gonna go take Fate by the throat and shake some more. Care to join me?

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Time To Get Laid Back

I might post tomorrow, I might not. In any case, all the social stuff is done. I miss my sisters already. I’ve had a full house for two days and find myself wondering what I have to cook next and then realizing that it’s back to the normal schedule.

The kids have settled down to watching Marx Brothers movies and I’m considering getting back on the treadmill. A couple days off is a nice, but I need to get back in the swing of things. An odd thing has happened, though, I’m getting wordcount just falling out of my head in dribs and drabbles. Something about cooking just makes the words come faster, no matter if I have to squeeze them in between stirring and roasting. Fortunately all the dinners have gone off smoothly. I won’t be sure how smoothly the writing has gone until I finish this draft.

So, if I don’t see you here on Christmas Eve, have a happy holiday. Regular blogging will definitely resume Monday the 28th. See you ’round, guys.

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