When everyone decided to read aloud.

trenchcoat party. Just a quick note: I had so much fun at the trench coat party at Made in Bridgeport last night. (Want more photos? Check my author page on Facebook.)

Despite the heat, people did actually arrive in trench coats (and my mother showed up, dressed like this photo of Jessica Fletcher from Murder, She Wrote. QUALITY.)

There was even a party game in which a noir stereotype was taped to everyone’s back and people had to figure out who they were by asking each other yes or no questions.

I came up with the list of stereotypes, with the help of the folks on my Twitter feed, so I take full responsibility for this:


Sorry about this.

My favorite part of the evening came during the reading. It was a small crowd (thanks, heatwave!) so someone suggested that instead of me doing the reading, we should all take turns reading a paragraph from The Eagle & The Arrow.

Now, when I read, I get self-conscious. All sorts of things go through my head: Did I just skip a word? Does it work better with the skipped word than it does on the page? Did I mean to use the passive voice there? I wonder if I’m boring them. I wonder if my publisher would let me re-write that bit. Maybe I’ll just skip it. I can’t wait to get away from this stool/table/podium. I’m thirsty; I need water. No. I need wine. NO. I need whiskey. Is it ten minutes yet? Did my voice just crack?

Because I know I will do this, I choose short readings. But as a group? We went through the whole first chapter, (some of us using funny voices.) It might have been the first time I’ve ever heard someone else (10 other someones, actually) reading my work aloud, and it was amazing. I could hear my own story, being read to me. Suddenly, I was no longer self conscious, and, actually, a little emotional.

Anyways, it was a great event. I have a couple more scheduled this summer (one tomorrow in Mystic, CT and one I’m confirming for next month.) But none of them will match this one, unless the whole audience decides to pick up a copy of the book and read aloud with me.

(Even more) Blood and seashells

So the other day I posted about how I spent my Monday night up to my elbows in fake blood in our bathtub for the sake of my career.

I took several photos for the cover of my e-short story about a killer sea god. Now the fake blood stains are finally fading from my palms, but I have another problem: I don’t know which photo to choose for the cover.

So because you all rock and probably have exquisite taste, I want your help. I’ve put four of these photos up on Facebook.*  Head over there and tell me which one you like best.  I trust your input.

And while you’re there, please like me. When you have strange hobbies like I do, it’s good to know that you’re liked.

*It’s currently an untitled album because Facebook is freaking out and won’t let me edit the album, but bear with me.

Making time to daydream (or, Aliens are more exciting than anxiety.)

I need some daydream time, or what Julia Cameron calls in The Artist’s Way an artist date, or what educators now call free play.

Whatever you call it, I need to get back into the mental state I used to occupy as a kid, back when my head was filled with aliens, pirates and pegasi, and I need to get back there pronto.

There aren’t enough unicorns in my life.

I’m writing the first draft of something, and I’m writing it on a deadline. The first 25 pages wrote themselves, but then  – like Wile E. Coyote, stepping off a cliff and looking down – I started thinking.

I started worrying about my deadline. I started fretting about the plot. I started mapping out the intricacies of each character’s individual problems and backstories. I created a complex timeline.

In Hindu mythology, nothing would be created if Vishnu didn’t spend all his time dreaming. (“Shiva Dreaming,” shared courtesy of Alice Popkorn on Flickr.)

That’s when the writing began to be a problem.

Not only did the joy go out of the work, but the plot snarled up. The characters ceased to have direction. I couldn’t get into their heads. In desperation I showed what I had done to people and they asked me what happened to the good work I’d started in the first 25 pages.  I didn’t have an answer for them at first.

But then I started thinking… I haven’t given myself the space to play. I haven’t allowed myself to sit back and daydream, and that’s the space in which I develop my best work.

Aliens are more interesting than triple-digit subtraction.

I think a lot of writers will sympathize with the following statement: I was at my most prolific when I was young.

As a kid I was an incorrigible daydreamer. I enraged my second grade teacher by staring out the window* during every math lesson. I didn’t sleep at night.** I tuned out for the tedium of school bus rides or disappointing recesses.***

At some point, someone gave me a Walkman, and then,from  the time I was a pre-teen right into the first years of college, I spent a lot of time listening to mixtapes, making movies in my head, just imagining characters and adventures.

I wrote them down as an afterthought at first, but by the time I was 16, I had six novels, one screenplay, one collaborative piece and a sheaf of poetry in progress.

When I was in my early 20s, I didn’t have a car, so  I spent a lot of time walking places or sitting on buses or trains or whatever, listening to a CD player, and imagining stories. And then I wrote them down. And that’s how Beware the Hawk started.

Pirates & spaceships are more interesting than that guy you hope will call you,
but in your 20s, you don’t always remember that.

Then I grew up. I got a car, I got a job that required a lot of time and mental energy, and I started dating. My imagination was directed at my love life.† My mental energy was directed at problem-solving. Anxiety took the place of daydreams.

It’s time to bring the daydreams back. I need them if I’m going to be able to work, and honestly, I prefer them to anxiety.

Show me the unicorns!

This is tough. Today I feel like I’m always with people who need me to have my ears open to them at all times, and with the Internet and smartphones, it’s hard not to be available to the world. And honestly, I feel a little guilty putting on a pair of headphones and tuning people out, like a teenager.

But some of my best work has come out of music, so I’ve put together a playlist for the piece I’m working on, written a page about why I chose the songs on the playlist, and told my husband that I’m going to need an hour each day to listen to it. I spend that hour doing yard work, because I thought, well, at least if I don’t get anything out of my daydream time, the lawn will look decent.

Sometimes it doesn’t work at all, because for it to work, I need to enjoy the process, and I’m often keenly aware that what I’m doing is playtime on a deadline.

That can be counter-productive, like trying to fall asleep when you know you have to be up early in the morning: if you worry too much about falling asleep, you can’t fall asleep because you’re not relaxed.

But for the most part, the playlist is working wonders.

For the first time in a while, some of my plot issues are being resolved, and new scenes – scenes of which I’m proud – are being written. I feel like the characters, allowed to roam freely through my head, are growing again. The story is much more sound than it was before.

I’m convinced that when I present this story to my editor, it will be a better story than the one I would have written without this daydream time.

There have been some unintended side benefits of daydreaming as well: I’m calmer and happier, and the yard looks great. Also, although I’m not writing about them, sometimes my head is filled with aliens, pirates and pegasi. It’s nice to know that they’re still in there.

*and imagining that aliens were about to invade the school. Only I could save us!
** because I was telling myself stories about the wall next to my bed opening up so that I could enter a world in which I rode a unicorn through outer space.
***by imagining that spies were hiding in the nearby shrubbery.
Should have stuck with aliens.

Revisions scare me.

Right now I’ve got a knot in my stomach because the manuscript for my novel is out to one of my writers’ groups. I gave it to them last month, and recently, two of the writers emailed to admit that they hadn’t yet read it. And I replied with something like: “Aw shucks, that’s fine, take your time.” But what I meant was: “I’m sort of hoping that all three of you have lost your copies to three separate freak manuscript flash fires, which will mean that we can’t have our meeting to discuss my work next month.”

Used with permission from Debbie Ridpath Ohi at Inkygirl.com.

I dread making revisions to this novel. I don’t know why. No, I do know why. I just hate to admit it, because it seems silly when I say it aloud blog about it. I dread revisions because I worked hard on this novel all last year and although I know it is still lacking, I’m afraid to ruin what’s already been written by meddling with it.

This has always been my fear about revisions; that I’ll work on something so much that I will destroy it.

I was introduced to this concept young; my father is a visual artist and he often gave classes to the kids in our community, both privately and through the local parks and recreation department. My brother and I ended up in a lot of these classes, partially to teach us art, but mostly to give my mom a morning off from us.

My dad used to tell his students that one of the biggest challenges in art is not the art itself, but knowing when a piece is done. You might create a lovely line drawing and ruin it with too much shading. You might get so into a painting that you mar it by concentrating too much on the details.  When you’re painting or drawing, each stroke is potentially fatal.*

Recently, I realized that I’ve been applying this visual art lesson to my writing. I’m afraid that I will overwrite, or over-edit my novel and ruin it. In fact, I’m always under-writing things for just this reason.

I know that this isn’t logical – working in Microsoft Word is not the same as working in charcoal. Still, I fear tampering with something so much that it’s no longer as good as the original idea.

Also, the idea of revising something as large as a novel scares me. How can I stand back and look at the shape of a story that’s nearly 300 pages long?

If you have any answers for that, let me know. Because as soon as my readers get back to me, I’ll have no choice. It will be time to revise.

*My father never said that exactly.  I doubt a class of seven year-olds would have responded well to “each stroke is potentially fatal.”

The Drop Sinister

This painting has been haunting me.

"The Drop Sinister - What Shall We Do With it?" by Harry Willson Watrous

We saw it this weekend at the Portland Museum of Art in Maine, and I took a picture of it because it struck a chord with me, although I didn’t really stop to consider which chord had been struck. The plaque next to the painting said that it is the first known portrait of an American interracial family, and aside from noticing that the family looked very unhappy, I didn’t give it much thought.

It was only when I was uploading my pictures to my computer and idly mulling over the title of the work that I realized what it was about the painting that had hit me in the museum: The “drop” to which the title referred was blood. In particular, the African blood of the little girl. That chilled me: Watrous was saying that part of the little girl’s genetic make-up was sinister. Was he a racist? Or was he making a point? I dropped everything and started Googling.

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