Monday, June 20, 2005

The "Already Been Read" Pile

Many authors and readers have commented about their "TBR" or to-be-read shelves/stacks/shopping bags. I have one of those. It's in the vicinity of about 50 books, on the actual bookshelf itself. Then there are the books still in their sacks on the floor, the ones in the box from the mail-order folks (not Amazon), and the books on the big "keeper" bookshelf stacked in front of the actual keepers. Probably another 50 there. It's that small because I read fast and can read several books in a day...if I don't do much of anything else...and sometimes if I do.

However, I'm not sure many readers have an "ABR" stack.

About three or four years ago, I picked up a little blank booklet at our local library titled Personal Reading Log. Or something to that effect. It had one page for each book read with spaces for Date Read, Title, Author, Publisher & Date, Comments and Disposition. I filled up one book (which wound up needing a rubber band around it when the pages started falling out) and decided it actually might turn out to be a good way to keep track of what I'd read in hopes of helping me keep from buying the same books twice (hasn't helped that much--just accidentally bought a second copy of Hawken's Way by Brockmann--donating it to the library...) and a way of tracking what the various publishers were buying and publishing. So I started keeping the log on the computer.

Last fall, I was on deadline, trying to write--well, I had about 60 pages of partial for The Barbed Rose, but my editor wanted me to start the story on page 50. So I wound up writing 567 pages (or however many it turned out to be) in about 4 months. I still read, but I didn't do much other computer work. So I just started stacking up the books under my worktable next to the computer desk. And they stacked. And stacked. And stacked. Because I didn't stop reading.

Sometime in April of this year (the month after Compass Rose came out) I gave up trying to catch up with last year's log and just started over. I decided I was going to post comments on every book I read and NOT let them stack up so bad--the books would sit on my desk till I got them listed. And every time I posted comments on a new read, I would pick up at least ONE book from the ABR pile and post it too.

Slowly, slowly, slowly the stack is being whittled down. Very slowly. Some of the books I read so long ago I basically have to re-read them to remember what they were about. And when I go on a reading binge--which I frequently do--they tend to stack up on the desk. (Or the end tables in the den or the kitchen counter...) (I have four stacked right now--no, five. (One is hidden under the photo paper box))

I have GOT to get these into the computer today, because this next week is going to involve a lot of travel (not that I can read in the car, I'm one of those who gets headaches (after a childhood spent getting carsick) if I try to do anything but stare out the window or sleep or talk...) and sitting around in hospital waiting rooms, which means lots and lots of books. Because, remember, I read fast. And it's impossible to write in a waiting room, because there's always another relative who wants to talk to you. Not that I mind. But I just know better than to attempt it. So...let's see which books I want to take with me...

Remember the contest at my website. I'm going to put the spaghetti recipe in my newsletter, if you want to sign up. And if you want to see my short-and-sweet book comments (not long enough for reviews, really), let me know. Maybe I'll post them here as well as to the Romance Readers Anonymous loop... I might get by here more than once a week...

16 Lighthouse Road by Debbie Macomber
211 Rosewood Lane by Macomber
One Way Out by Michele Albert
He Loves Lucy by Susan Donovan
To The Edge by Cindy Gerard
The Color of Death by Elizabeth Lowell
Regrets Only by Nancy Geary
Scandalous Passion by Emilie Rose

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Life Outside of Writing

I read somewhere that one ought to blog (is that a verb? I know it's a noun now, but is it a verb? I guess it is...)--anyway, one ought to blog about things other than just "I'm writing a book, and I did X number of pages today." (I did two pages today--which is very disappointing, because I wrote almost 30 pages in longhand last week, which will probably come out to around 35 pages once I type them in--about six pages a day. Two is not going to give me thirty pages by Friday, and I have to head to DFW on Friday, so I doubt I'll get any writing done then...)

One ought to blog about things in the larger world, the "blog experts" say. (What made them experts anyway? And just who are these experts? I read it somewhere, but names fall out the holes in my brain faster than anything else.) The problem is that I'd really rather not, thank you.
Yes, I have my opinions on public events and politics, and while I realize that I have the right to have opinions and I can even share them with other people if I want to--inevitably, they seem to stir up arguments and ugliness (and as a Southerner, I'm a firm believer in the fact that Ugly is Behavior, not appearance. I grew up being told to "Stop acting ugly to your brother", so I'm here to tell you that the reason ugly goes clear to the bone is because it's all in how you act.) and people insulting each other, and I don't want to listen to it. I won't listen to it from people I know, so why would I want to listen to it from people I don't?

I don't mind blogging about issues regarding the writing and publishing business. I just can't think of any I feel strongly about right now. Well, except for the tendency of people to run around yelling "The sky is falling!" at the first raindrop, before they know whether it's a little shower or a thunderstorm with grapefruit-sized hailstones and tornados.

Apparently the book-reading public is shrinking. Or at least they're buying fewer books. Publishers are caught in the catch-22 of having to print enough books to make a bestseller list, but still allow returns from the booksellers, which puts the authors in a bind too. But there's not a whole lot I can do about that. All I can do is write the very best book I can and hope an editor will buy it, and then--if they do--hope the public will buy it and love it as much as I do.

However, I'm not loving this book right now. It's not loving me either. Frankly, I think it's thumbing its nose at me, daring me to figure out why it's not getting out onto the paper. It forgets that I'm the boss, and if I don't write it, it won't get written. I'm the boss. Maybe if I repeat it enough times, it will feel real. As for the rest of it--you think if I ignore it, it will go away? Me neither. Unfortunately.

Books read since last post:
Urban Shaman by C.E. Murphy (really good)
The Love Affair of an English Lord by Jillian Hunter (pretty good)
The Shop on Blossom Street by Debbie Macomber (pretty good--what I was in the mood for)

Monday, June 06, 2005


Someone asked about my roast beef spaghetti recipe. It is a family recipe, but only since, oh 1970 or so, and Mama got it from a dear, dear friend, Sue Reich (pronounced Rich). Sue died a couple of years ago, in her 70s, from ALS and we miss her a lot. It calls for a chuck roast and a buttload of spices, but once you measure out all the spices, you just stick it in the oven (or crockpot) and let it cook. And cook and cook. It's really good, though quite spicy. (Which is probably why I love it. Though I don't eat plain jalapenos for snacks, I am enough of a Texan to put chili powder in my meatloaf...) I will try to get it up on my website in the next week. If I don't, and you really want it, nag me.

I have The Eternal Rose off to the agent. Friday, I put Uncurse My Heart, the curse book with a ghost in it, in the mail to the agent. Now I can concentrate on just writing for a while. Once I clean up my worktable (I junked my workspot all up hunting something on the junky table so I have to clear that out again.) I can sit down and write the Desire proposal.

I like to have a "writing plan"--in terms of what to do next--laid out in my head, even if nowhere else. (And I should have it laid out on the calendar or something) That way, I waste less time dithering around trying to decide what to work on next. (Believe me, I'm really, really good at dithering. I can dither for days on end.) Once I finish the Desire proposal, I'll go back to an older story and work on revising that till I hear about the Rose book. Then it will probably be "pedal to the metal" to get that puppy finished. And that should finish out the year. ;)

I did update the website this week, so go by and check it out. It's got some new hunks for the "Hunt the Hunk" game and some fun pictures and a Contest! The contest doesn't officially begin until June 15, though, so don't get too excited about it. Still, some cool books and lots of stuff to go with them, cause there are 6 or 7 of us hosting the contest (hey, I do words, not so good with numbers).

Books Read since I last posted:
Thursday: Bait by Karen Robards and Superstition by Karen Robards (both very good)
Friday: The Hallowed Hunt by Lois McMaster Bujold (fantabulous!)
Saturday: Area 51 by Robert Doherty (quite good--better than expected, which sounds like "damning with faint praise", but really, it was quite good. It's a straight adventure/near future SF story--I tend to prefer more romance of which this had None--but I liked it anyway. Fast paced, lots going on, and it made sense.)

Thursday, June 02, 2005

You Don't Have "It"

I'm a big fan of The Gilmore Girls, which is unfortunate, since I usually have a class on Tuesday night when it airs and have to remember to record it and often don't find time to watch it when I do. Anyway, the other night I saw (finally) the episode where Rory is told that she "doesn't have what it takes" to be a journalist, and it crushes her.

Old as I am (and I'm not tellin') I identified with her because 1) she apparently didn't have "it" because she was behaving like a "good girl"--trying to do everything that was asked of her, but nothing more because she didn't want to get in trouble, and 2) I was once told something very similar when I was just a bit older than she. It didn't have anything to do with being a journalist (which is what I got my undergrad degree in) but it was for similar reasons. I was too quiet, not out-going, not agressive enough. And that much was true. I am quiet and reserved. At least I was when I was 21. I've been living for almost 30 years with a man who knows how to mingle, so I've improved a bit since then.

And I got to thinking about peoples' reactions to that sort of news. I wanted Rory to get mad and decide to show him he was wrong, rather than giving up her dream, rather than accepting his rather facile assessment. It made me think of that old story that's told about dancers and violinists, about the maestro who tells a student they don't have "it" and the student gives up and becomes a teacher of dance or violin instead. Years later the maestro and student now teacher meet again, and the maestro says he had no idea back when whether the student had "it" or not, but obviously he/she didn't because if she did have "it", she wouldn't have given up. A large part of "It" is determination and the refusal to give up.

On the other hand, thinking back to my own degree in journalism and my rather checkered career in the field, it's pretty obvious that although I got my degree, I really didn't have "it" myself. Not for a heavy-duty career in the news business. What I really wanted, and what I refused to give up on was writing novels. The two are not exactly compatible.

For one thing, in journalism, making stuff up is frowned upon. I love to make stuff up. I make it up every day of the world--people, places, events, even whole universes and cultures. And other people give me money for doing it, instead of reprimanding me and firing me from a job.

For another, novelists get to hide from the world. Journalists have to be out there in the middle of it, willing to harass people for the information they want and need, or at least call them up and ask them questions. I don't like doing that. I can do it, if I have to. But I don't like to. I'm perfectly happy sitting in my office (now that I have one) staring out the window, or staring at the computer screen or the paper on my work table. I'd rather not talk to people all the time, thank you.

But I was lucky enough to know that this was what I truly, madly, deeply wanted and needed to do from a fairly early age. Everything else was material. Subject matter. Life.

So what is "It" and where does it come from? I think a lot of it is indeed that persistence and determination not to let the bastards get you down, if it's something you truly, deeply want to do. What do you think "It" is? Isn't it different things for different people? Different jobs?

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

After a Break

It's been a while since I posted. We've had visitors. Our son graduated from high school last Friday and a horde of relatives descended on our little town, increasing its population--up over 1850, anyway. I served grilled margarita pork chops and potato salad to nine, roast beef spaghetti and green salad to sixteen and leftovers to eleven for lunch before everybody headed home again.

On top of all that, our daughter and her 2-year-old spent the week before graduation with us. I love the grandboy dearly, but he's a big two, and he wanted to play on the computer. Or with the CDs in the rack on the desk. He would take two or three out of the cases and carry them around, look through the holes, lick them, scrape them together, carry them with his sticks, which he also loves... And he didn't want the old CDs I gave him. Nooooo, he wanted MY CDs. The Important CDs. Sigh. And because he's so big, (this is the boy who weighed over 10 pounds when he was born) he's strong and heavy and hard to drag off the desk chair when he goes limp or fights to stay. Of course, he did fall asleep on the computer chair with his face on the seat and his knees tucked up under him. He'd had a hard day that day.

But we had fun sharing oranges and jumping off the arm of the couch onto Gigi (me) and Granddaddy. When cousin Ben (3 years old) came for a short visit, they chased each other and had a great time. The house has several circles a little guy can run, sorta like a track. Of course, once everybody went home, I collapsed and pretty much slept all day Sunday.

And now it's time to go back to work. And I have to figure out how to get the brain back into gear. This isn't an unusual occurence. "Breaks" happen all the time in a writer's life. We may be writing one story and have to leave it to write another, or deliberately leave it, as often happens when we send in a proposal and stop to wait and see what its reception is. Then, when the editor or agent wants to see the rest of the story, or even buys the story on proposal and we have a deadline to meet to write the rest of it--we have to get our head back into the story.

There aren't actually many ways that writers do this. Mostly, we get out what's been written already and read over it again. If there's a synopsis, we might read over that. Some can hop right back in at that point. I usually have to think a little more, depending on what I have to get back into. If it's just an edit or revision--depending on how extensive the revision is, I might be able to start in at that point. But often, I have to "think out loud."

I have to write stuff down, usually in the "blank book" I keep for my version of the Artist's Way morning pages. It's not as big as Julia Cameron says you need to write in, and I don't always write in the morning and I don't always write every day, but I do write in the thing on a semi-regular basis--especially when I'm actively creating. I've found that it's a good place to brainstorm with myself, to work out plot problems, develop character and conflict. (I write the title in the margin so I can find it again, or the character's names if the story has no title yet.) Somehow, thinking in ink like this is more creative to me and easier to remember what happened.