What I’m Reading

Crossposted to the Deadline Dames. The Dame Smackdown continues apace, I am told we are neck and neck. So exciting!

I was asked earlier today what I’m reading. I do think that in order to write, one must read. You learn so much from seeing how other people choose to string words together. Reading gives you an idea of tone and pacing; it helps you distinguish underlying structure, and every once in a while it gives you some pretty good thrills.

I tend not to read in the genre I’m currently writing in–for example, if I’m writing YA, I can’t read other YAs; if I’m working on an urban fantasy book I can’t read another one. Something about reading in the genre I’m writing in at the moment induces burnout in a big way. I am told this is not so for other writers, but it’s that way for me. So while I’m writing fiction I tend to read a lot of nonfiction or fiction in other genres; I have to wait until I’m working on trunk novels or in revision before I can read in the genres I work in.

So, here are the books I’m working on now:

* Unlawful Contact, Pamela Clare My writing partner tells me Clare’s heroes are almost as effed-up as Anne Stuart’s. I love me a good self-loathing hero, and it’s refreshing to read a romance with no paranormal overtones. While I can almost never write a romance without a paranormal element, I do love to read them. I’m only about thirty pages in, but the prognosis is good. Clare’s craft is solid; I am almost never jolted out of the story by the need to reach for my red pen.

* Before Stalingrad, David Glantz The battle of Stalingrad is one of my particular interests; it’s an intensification of my interest in the Eastern Front in both world wars. Not too long ago my writing partner called me and said, “I know you don’t watch TV…but there’s something on Stalingrad on PBS.” I was incredibly excited until I realized I hadn’t watched the telly in so long our set wouldn’t even pick up OPB. *sadface* But then I found the show she was talking about on the Intertubes, and harmony was restored. And what do you know–the show introduced me to David Glantz, who I hadn’t heard of before. (How is that possible? I’m wondering now. But better late than never.) So I’m indulging in a few of his books, and so far have not been disappointed one bit.

* The Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafon I keep hearing a lot about this book, so I’m giving it a whirl. I’m only three pages in, so it’s too soon to tell.

* Sensational Designs: The Cultural Work of American Fiction, 1790-1860, Jane Tompkins I loved Tompkins’s book about the Western, and I occasionally read lit crit just for the fun of it. (The Selkie tells me I’m mad, but what does she know? She’s just my writing partner.) Anyway, this is my second time through this particular book, I’m slowing down and really picking apart sentences the way I didn’t do the first time. Tompkins’s contention that you can’t divorce a novel and the experience of reading it from cultural and social expectations and assumptions is pretty thought-provoking.

* A People’s Tragedy: The Russian Revolution, 1891-1924, Orlando Figes Well, after reading Robert Service’s biographies of Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin one after another, I really figured there was nothing for it but to read about the wider context of the world they operated in. Whenever I tell people that I’m interested in the Russian Revolution I get the same response: “I try reading Russian history, but then I stop. It’s so…depressing.” Well, yeah. Not for the faint of heart, I assure you. Figes has nice clear prose and a way of untangling events that doesn’t make me feel stupid; plus he sticks with one name for one person instead of doing a fricking Tolstoy and giving you first name, patronymic, last name, and nicknames all at different times so you think one character is four effing people. It really is sometimes the little things that make the difference.

So that’s what I’m reading now. Very little of it informs the book in progress, which is a YA. I tried picking up a YA the other day, but I could only get a couple sentences in before my eyes glazed over and my head started to hurt. I don’t know why I can’t read in whatever genre I’m writing in at the moment; I think my Muse needs a varied diet and likes to separate work and play. Who knows?

Anyway, dear Reader, that’s the answer to that question. You can check out my Goodreads page for more updates; and I’ll leave you with a question of my own: what are you reading right now, and why? What do you like (or not like) about it?

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

On Physical Effort

The Dame Smackdown is still ongoing! Remember, if I, ahem, “win”, I will be posting an excerpt of Jealousy or Heaven’s Spite. *tempty tempty*

This is going to be a post tangentially about my weight…so if you’re tired of hearing me talk about that, you’re probably better off stopping now. On the other hand, I will be tying it into writing, so it’s up to you.

I’ve (drumroll please) achieved the weight goal I set for myself lo these many months ago. (All the way back on Labor Day of 2008, I believe it was. Slow and steady…) I’ve lost between 70-80 pounds and overshot my goal of a size 14 by, let’s see, three or four sizes. Some of that was stress-related, yes. It’s been a stressful year or two. But most of it was acquiring healthier habits– watching what I ate and making exercise more of a priority. I found out halfway through that when I wasn’t miserable over crazymaking people, I didn’t want to eat to dull the misery. That revelation was accompanied by the fact that the steady work I’d been doing before then making exercise a priority actually started to pay off. Once I started seeing results, the whole world opened up, so to speak.

I’m choosing to be very proud of myself. It’s been a long, long road, but I’m glad I started, and I’m glad for everyone who supported me along the way, from my writing partner to my kids to my hairdresser friend C.

I’ve always been a big advocate of taking a brisk walk or blocking out a fight scene to shake things loose inside a story. Physical movement works very, very well for me when it comes to my creative process. The trouble was, for a very long time I hated working out–long, long story having to do with my aversion to anything resembling a team sport. I like to work alone, thank you. Now that I’ve arranged my life so that I can run on the treadmill every weekday morning, ALONE (I’m up to just over three miles again, every day), that time is some of the most productive I’ve ever had.

I’m not saying you have to run three miles or lose a good third of your bodyweight (ha ha) to have a sustainable creative career. I am saying that when you’re stuck working on a story, getting up and moving around for ten or fifteen minutes often unsticks the damn thing and gets the Muse off her couch and away from those damn bonbons. (Not so incidentally, this is another use for your trusty kitchen timer. Set it and move, and when you’re done, voila!)

We live a lot in our heads, we writers, and we tend to forget there’s a whole body carrying said head around. Getting up and getting the blood moving gives the Muse a fresh start on things. Never underestimate the power of ten jumping jacks, ten minutes shaking your booty to loud music, or a brisk ten-minute walk when characters aren’t behaving and the cursor starts blinking at you like Sauron’s Eye.

Just this morning I was brooding over a plot point, and fifteen minutes into my run–at about the first mile-mark–all of sudden the next third of the book opened up, complete with scenes and settings. It’s magic when it happens, and I spent the other two miles playing with it inside my head, fine-tuning. It was awesome. Of course, the cardio benefits aren’t bad either.

You don’t have to run flat-out. Another particular favorite of mine is putting on some music and dancing, awkwardly I’m sure, in my living room. Usually it’s a song from the “soundtrack” of the current book in progress, and it reliably shakes everything loose. I wouldn’t dance like a dork if it didn’t actually work 90% of the time.

Well, yeah, maybe I would. I’m funny that way. But I’m glad it works.

Over and out.

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

Terra Incognita

The Dame Smackdown proceeds apace! Remember, if I–I mean, WE, if WE–win, I’ll post an excerpt of Jealousy or Heaven’s Spite. So if you ever wanted a signed Jill Kismet, now’s your chance!

I have been astonishingly productive in a million ways this morning, none of which involve writing and all of which have grated on my Very Last Nerve. Some days one just needs the Administrivia Mallet to play whack-a-mole with all the varied and nibbling responsibilities of daily life.

But I got home about half an hour ago, crossed everything off my task list, had a quick lunch, and am ready to spend the afternoon luxuriating in writing. I am hard at work on Dru 5, and feeling that subconscious easing that means the Muse has figured out the story even if she’s not going to tell little old me yet. Which means I just have to relax, put my head down, and grind out the words. And the Muse, that tricksy wench, will take care of the rest.

This is the handwaving part that I call “when the magic happens.” Because really, that’s what it feels like. The book takes a left turn, bumping off the road I thought I had mapped, and starts jolting into terra incognita. I’m left hanging onto the dash and praying while the Muse laughs, lights up a cigarette, and shoves the accelerator all the way down.

Yeah. So if you need me, I’ll be over here in the passenger seat, scribbling furiously.

Over and out.

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

Dame Smackdown!

Remember how I said there was some smack talk going on at the Powell’s event between Dame Devon and me?

Well, that smack talk has borne fruit. We are in the middle of a Dame Smackdown! Honor, lunch, and an excerpt are all on the line.

Here’s the deal. There are 15 signed copies of Flesh Circus, the latest Jill Kismet book. There are 15 signed copies of Magic on the Storm, the latest Allie Beckstrom. Devon and I have challenged each other: whoever has the most books sold by midnight next Sunday–June 6th–OR whoever’s signed copies sell out first, is the winner.

The winner will post an excerpt of an upcoming book on the loser’s blog. (I may be persuaded to post an excerpt of Jealousy.) The loser buys the winner lunch. Plus, there’s bragging rights involved. (I ADORE bragging rights.)

So now, dear Readers, it’s up to you. Our honor is at stake. If you’ve ever wanted a signed copy of a Kismet or Beckstrom book, now is a great chance! (Powell’s ships worldwide, too. I’m just sayin’.) If you decide to buy, make sure you use the links above, they’ll take you right to the signed editions in question.

Let the battle begin!

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

I Don’t Wanna

First, announcements, then the meat of the post, then Damiversary giveaways. That is the order in which things will occur this Friday. I declare it. Hey, the Muse is just sitting there filing her nails, so I’ve got to be a petty dictator where I can.

Announcements! You can find a taste of my short story Best Friends over at FlamesRising! The story is in The Girl’s Guide To Guns & Monsters anthology, available just around the corner in February. Also, you can find a short preview of my essay Ambiguous Anita for the absolutely fabulous Ardeur: 14 Writers on the Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series, which will be coming out in April. It was a pleasure to be included in both.

I still have other good news that I’m having to sit on. It KILLS me. But them’s the breaks.

And now, the meat of the post…well, don’t take this the wrong way. But I don’t wanna.

Seriously. I started out yesterday with a huge honking attack of the I don’t wannas. It’s only gotten worse today.

Any disciplined activity you put serious time and energy into–dieting, writing, dance practice–goes through periods where it temporarily gets harder to do. The reasons can be manifold: stress, life changes, boredom, the urge to rest for a bit, what-have-you. It goes in cycles, especially when you hit a plateau right before a leap forward.
I write a lot here about discipline and habit. Think of them as bowling bumpers, keeping your ball in the lane. During good times, when you’re excited and happy to be writing, the discipline is easy to maintain. Your motivation’s high. But there will come times when you just don’t want to, for a variety of reasons. It will get harder to keep a consistent schedule and keep writing a priority. Just like it gets harder to stick to calorie restriction or dance practice when your motivation goes down and a stack of Netflix DVDs plus a box of Entenmann’s are calling your name. (OK, I could be projecting here. Just a touch. But you still get the idea.)

I bump up against the hard edges of the habit of spending several years writing damn near every day occasionally, when the I don’t wannas attack. Sometimes I do slow down a bit and take a rest. It’s hard to differentiate between loss of motivation, just plain laziness, and approaching burnout. I’ve evolved a few questions that I ask myself and a process to tell if it’s burnout, but I sincerely doubt my methods will work for anyone other than me. Part of the difficulty of consistent creative activity is that it is so personal, and the methods of motivation and differentiating burnout from laziness differ from person to person.

Yes, I have trouble motivating myself sometimes. The advice I give is partly because I struggle to keep that consistent discipline and practice. Maybe for some people, it’s easier. I don’t know. The important thing is to keep the habit of discipline strong, so that when the I don’t wannas attack, you have nice strong bumpers keeping your ball in the lane and a fighting chance of getting to the pins.

My motivation to write is pretty simple: I have rent to pay and kids to feed. And yet, still, some days I struggle. It might be worse for people who aren’t depending on their writing to bring home the rent. I suspect it is.

No matter how hard I don’t wanna, I’m still in the habit of doing it every day. So I suppose I’ll just poke at a few things and see what happens.

And now, the giveaway! To celebrate the Damiversary, this time I’m offering 2 T-shirts from my CafePress store. (I really need to get some more designs up…) All you have to do is comment here at the Deadline Dames by midnight Saturday (the 30th).[1] If you can’t think of anything to say, tell me what you do to get going when your own motivation suffers. I’m always looking for more techniques to steal, ahem, I mean, good advice to follow. I’ll pick the winners from Random.org, and the Dames will announce them next week along with this week’s winners.

Speaking of which, we still haven’t heard from some of last week’s Damiversary winners! Make sure to go and see if you won something, and look for other cool prizes that were announced earlier this week as well.

Vive les Dames!

[1]Comments are closed on this post just to make everything fair.

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

Short But Sweet

…just like my temper today. Ha ha. I got nothin’ today, so here’s a couple links:

* It’s the one-year anniversary of the Deadline Dames. Come over for giveaways, prizes, exclusive spoilers, and more!

* Plus, Philip Palmer (the coolest Welshman since Daffyd op Owen) has started a new feature: the SFF Song of the Week. Check out this week’s offering.

As for me, I’m still working away on Dru 4. Tentative title: The Blooming. The book’s taken a weird left turn, which is both terrifying and a Good Sign. Plus, today’s laundry day. The fun just never stops here at Casa Saintcrow.

Catch you later…

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