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Monday, February 24, 2014

Writing Process Blog Hop

No, this is not my writing space. But wouldn't it be
 distractingly cool?
Kim Rendfeldauthor of sweepingly epic and historically accurate The Cross and the Dragon and The Ashes of Heaven's Pillar (forthcoming), invited me to participate in this blog hop tour and answer four questions about my writing process.
My Writing Process

1) What are you working on?

Currently, I'm in the ideas stage for the third part of my Providence series. 

It started with "Hope & Benevolent," a novellette about a college girl who tries to outdo her sister, who's so talented, she not only moves things with her mind, but also heals wounds and maladies (a great rarity). 

Before I left North Carolina, I completed the first draft of the second part, Waterfire. It's a novella about the terrible school system set up for firestarters and the lengths a group of them have to go to in order to overcome those obstacles. 

The third will deal with issues of psychics in this paranormal Providence, and will tie in with both of the other stories. I'm also trying to decide whether to self publish these strange little stories. Other exciting projects are also in the idea stage.

Providence as seen from the Mall. When it's not iced over,
Waterplace Park is where Waterfire (real and literary) takes place. My characters
Kelly and Brian end their October stroll on the other side of the bluish glass building, foreground. 
2) How does your work differ from others of its genre?

My historical fiction is different already because of its setting: medieval Spain, the most awe-inspiring place and time I've ever come across. I like to write historical fiction so that the reader is immersed in the period, but also sympathizes with the characters as much as they would with any contemporary person. Also, I can't seem to help it — my pacing is ten times faster than other historical fiction I've read. 

The magical realism and/or fantasy I write tends to be much sunnier than what I read. Terrible things happen, of course, otherwise there's no story. But the optimism and enthusiasm with which I consider my real life colors my writing as well. Readers often take this lightness as comedy. That's fine. Laughter is good for the soul.

3) Why do you write what you do?

Whether it's about an incident in medieval Spain I've researched to the rafters or just a collection of my experiences and inspirations, no one else can write the stories I do. Would anyone care if they never got written? My writing is an act of faith that someone would!

4) How does your writing process work?

I seem to thrive on routine, which I sorely lack lately. Weirdly enough, going to bed at the same time and doing the same kinds of things opens up my inspiration so the ideas flow. Of course, when I get an idea, I have to postpone bedtime or get up early to jot it down.

It's essential to have a routine during the actual work of writing, too. I've been most inspired and productive when I've set myself a word count goal and sit down at the same place (whether at my desk or on the hotel couch with a laptop) at the same time each day with no distractions. 

I think this sort of spatial routine trains the body to recall what it's like to inhabit the creative space, so the mind responds to a pattern it recognizes with discipline and the fun part — making all the crazy connections and playing with language — follows naturally. I usually use a playlist of music I've compiled for the specific project and have certain sentimental objects around unless I'm moving — which I'm now certain I'm going to do a lot less of!

If you'd like to hop backwards, visit the blog of Marta Merajver, bilingual author of Just Toss the Ashes and many other fascinating fiction and non-fiction titles.

Coming March 10: Kathleen Rollins, who writes utterly original prehistoric epics, will post about her writing process. It's sure to be unmissable!

Thanks for stopping by! This is my last blog post until March, when I shall discuss critique groups, job hunting, and the publishing world. Your input is always appreciated.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Brag Space: I Edited The Kiss

It's not often I feel the need to shout about the wonderful projects I've helped to make even more wonderful since becoming an editor, but this is one of those times. On Sunday, February 16, Scott E. Blumenthal had a spectacular reading at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, North Carolina (a great store in the last place I lived), enrapturing a large crowd with his sparkling personality and his jaw-dropping book.
Photo via Scott Birnbaum

I accepted The Kiss for publication, edited it, edited it again, and made all the changes required by copyedits. I also dealt with a million little necessary details before and after publication. In short, I had a small hand in bringing The Kiss to fruition, and I'd like that to go on the record.
Photo via Scott Birnbaum

I'm really proud of The Kiss. Thank you. That is all.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Winter's Tale Then and Now

I read Helprin's Winter'sTale the year before I graduated college on the recommendation of my thesis advisor in preparation for writing my thesis (which turned out to be the novella Tree/House). I'm sure it was recommended because of my interest in magical realism, but my reading of it went much farther than academic analysis, and like a lot of readers of this book, I experienced an enduring, gasping devotion to it long after I forgot what it was about. (If I ever knew. It's special in its inability to be pinpointed.) Even now, having moved a million times, I have Winter's Tale with me. I've gotten rid of a lot of stuff, but's non-negotiable. I tried to read other Helprin works, but they never worked out. Maybe I can only go through such a complex, transformative experience once.

Go to the microfiche for the really amazing discoveries.
Fast forward to 2014, and there's a movie of this unwieldy masterpiece. It was such a thrill when the first trailers came out. To think, someone dared to bring Winter's Tale to the cinema! I doubted it could be done — and apparently, so did everyone else! The reviews have been terrible.

I went to see it on opening day (Valentine's Day — thanks, sweetheart!) and the film is lovely to look at and highly sentimental, a perfect Valentine. If it weren't compared to the book, it wouldn't be judged so harshly. In fact, I'm not sure the two should be considered together because this goes beyond the usual cutting necessary for the visual medium. It's so simplified and reprocessed, it's hardly the same story at all.

I have personal reasons for being okay with the movie version being so much more linear and to the point. When I read the book, it encouraged me to see the world in a complicated, ritualized way I was already cultivating. But I went to see the film with my one true love, and our life is simple and our love is uncomplicated, so both art forms were a perfect match for the way things were going with me at the time.

A bad reason to like a movie that doesn't deliver even half the messages of its book? I don't think so. See the Winter's Tale movie with your true love and you'll see what I mean.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

All The Small Things: A Guest Post from My Husband

Our wedding day in 2009.
My dear husband had some musings about the meaning of love, and since it's so close to Valentine's Day, I'm letting him take over the blog. Thanks, sweetheart!

Why is one day a year, Valentine’s Day, designated to show love to your significant other? Is this all that the most important person in your life deserves? One day of the expression of your love and devotion? What about the rest of the year? The other 364 days? I would suggest that Valentine’s Day be an everyday occasion and I make every attempt to make it so. 

As we all know, “love” is a concept – a notion that is not well defined and, in all likelihood, has a somewhat different meaning for most everyone. As with the “meaning,” you most likely exhibit love to your “special person” differently. I try to exhibit how I care about this most special person in my life in many ways – each and every day. It’s not always about the big things – boxes of chocolate, greeting cards, flowers, trips and such. It’s more about finding small ways to make your partner’s day-to-day life special. Recognizing that everyone is a product of their childhood conditioning, you must find what’s important to them and do things for them that they enjoy or treasure – the smallest of things.

Jessica and I go out of our way to take care of each other all year long. Openly and truly taking care of each other – not because we have to, and not out of habit, but consciously doing these things in the present moment. We celebrate our anniversary more than once a year, acknowledging it each month at least.

I love to make her happy in doing chores around the house, making her breakfasts, opening the car door for her, being a good listener, doing the “heavy lifting” around the house and keeping things clean, telling her “I Love You” frequently, that she’s the most beautiful woman I have ever known and thank her for choosing me as her life partner. She loves chocolate, so I make sure she has plenty. The list could go on for pages.

There are many, many small things we do for each other with no expectation that the kindness be returned but – magically – it is. Of course, we both have our occasional “off” days and we strive to provide the support to help those days pass without any additional trauma.

I never take Jessica for granted. She has fulfilled every dream that I had for a partner. My only regret is that we did not meet much earlier.

Thank you darlin’ for everything! Happy Valentine’s Day.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Love for Little Rhody: The RISD Museum

Check out this virtual tour of The Breakers. I live so close to Newport that I could visit just about any time it's not snowing or sleeting on the roads.

But Newport is not the only place in Rhode Island that's full of splendor and history. At the end of the twentieth century, Providence was considered the armpit of New England and there was no earthly reason for my friends and I to head south when we were in college, no, it was always north to Boston. But by the time I went to Brown for my PhD, Providence was on its way to becoming the thriving jewel it is now.

The part I'd like to highlight today is on the East Side. My husband and I recently visited the RISD (Rhode Island School of Design) Museum, and we had some trouble finding a parking spot. But it wasn't the annoyance it might have been because we zipped by all the landmarks I can only look on with love. And when we finally parked and started walking down the hill back to Benefit Street, I couldn't help but thrill a little to each one of the historical plaques. One after another, they describe the history of this part of Providence. They're well maintained and you can just about imagine yourself walking through in the nineteenth century. It seemed there was one of these plaques on every single building we walked past, not to mention the Athenaeum, one of the first library-like repositories of history. That stuff makes me giddy with joy. No wonder I wanted to write about this place in my Providence trilogy! And what better way to write on a love theme at this time of year?

Inside the RISD Museum is a whole other wonderland of creativity, beauty, and history. From the latest student exhibitions to ancient Egyptian sculptures, the collection spans just about everything I can think of when it comes to art. Their medieval collection is spine-tingling, with some imposingly gorgeous Spanish examples and a curlicued grate for sealing off chapels I wish I could have somewhere in my home.

We spent several hours trying to take it all in. Two items really stood out this time.

First, this ivory etching (not a practice I would condone today) by Goya. I love that it's Spanish and that the subjects are reading. It's tiny, but it's all Goya. The wispy clothes, the mischievous expressions. You get the feeling these boys have either never seen a book before or are getting away with some naughty reading. (Yes, those are my fingers reflecting off the protective glass.)

Keeping with the reading/writing theme, this women's writing desk knocked me out. In the background of the picture you can see some famous Bostonian Gilded Age paintings, but this desk kept me spellbound because I could vividly imagine using it. It was made to impress, with pounds of silver and other precious materials, for the World's Fair in 1893. As I picture using it to write, of course, the first thing that come to mind is whether I would be too distracted with how I looked to really write. Did they put those mirrors on ladies' writing desks to keep their minds where they should be, on the shallow things? Or is it intended to reflect light and save eyesight?

Just one of many imponderables presented by this excellent collection of art.

My husband and I met on February 13, six years ago. Enjoy this week of love!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Procrastination Cure

This is a sloth. Do sloths procrastinate? (No, they don't.)
I've seen a lot of posts on how to cure procrastination, and I'm always puzzled by them because I've never suffered from it.

Why not? It's a question of belief. I do not believe in procrastination.

The word was made up from Latin components. Pro = for, cras = tomorrow. What a silly word! For-tomorrow-ination!

We're always doing something, even if it's just breathing, so I always figure, why not be doing something that has a deadline? Why not get it done long before said deadline? I don't find it easy to leave things for tomorrow because, let's face it: tomorrow doesn't exist. It's a question of priorities. If it's worth doing, do it today, because there is no tomorrow. I mean this at the existential, philosophical, and practical levels. If you keep this in mind, it becomes laughable to procrastinate, a weird mental exercise in futility because leaving something for tomorrow is leaving it for a time that does not exist.

Today we're more overcommitted than ever, so it's important to prioritize. What is most important to you? What would it be okay to omit? In procrastinating, we condemn certain activities to never being done, so make sure they're the less interesting or important ones.

And if that doesn't work, just remember, it's really cras to leave things for tomorrow.

Monday, February 3, 2014

The New York Literary Scene

On a frigid (though less cold than it had been the past few days) night in the East Village (a place I'd never been before in my life despite a few jaunts to Manhattan), we approached a bar (which is not something my husband and I would normally do) that held the promise of a fine literary evening (which it delivered).

When my friend and (now long-distance) critique group co-founder Reneé Bibby mentioned that she would be in New York City doing a reading, I was still living in North Carolina, but I planned and hoped that I would be at least somewhat established in New England by January 26, the night the reading happened. And I was! My husband and I had to drive for a while and then take a train for quite a while, and as it turned out, we didn't get home until 2 a.m., but it was a small effort to attend such a momentous event.

I'm sure it's going to be far from one of a kind, however. Reneé is so talented, there will be many more publications and many more readings. This first one was in honor of the branch sites of the Writers Studio, an institution that promotes the craft of writing and produces award winners like so many snowflakes. Reneé teaches lucky students at the Tucson branch. (See an excerpt and a link to her first publication at her site.)

My husband and I were wearing all the layers of clothes we could manage to sit down in, and it was a good thing, because the KGB Bar is a little walk from a subway stop The breeze wasn't warm enough to have anything gentle about it, but we were aided by a new app called Street View, suggested by my brother, another talented writer. I had heard of this bar before, but would later learn why we were headed there: it's often the host to cozy, classy literary events. In the gloom of 6:30 pm, we found the KGB Bar by its neon lights and ascended the outer stairs.

From there, the only real choice was to follow the urging arrow up more stairs. Already I was put in mind of that percolating atmosphere I encountered at college readings and in many parts of Iowa City — a sort of shabby chic irony fueled by burgeoning creativity, posters, and peeling paint. The bar itself is smaller than my new apartment and crowded with tables and USSR paraphernalia, most importantly, perhaps, a statue of Leon Trotsky behind the bar. The walls are painted thickly red with black accents. Reneé was perceptive enough to compare it to being inside a heart.

After a happy reunion with Reneé, my husband and I sat with some of the many Tucson writers who showed up to support her. I knew some of them, so it was an unexpectedly comprehensive and fun blast from the past. I'm so impressed with the enthusiastic set of supporters Reneé has! Even when I gave readings in college I only ever had one or two people cheering and whooping, but here it seemed like 75% of the audience was there for one special person, and I know I was one of them.

Five people read at a podium with a circle of red Christmas lights behind them. It seemed as if Reneé was the only one tall enough to make a proper halo out of it. All the readings were stellar excerpts from each author's opus, but Reneé's story was the most achingly beautiful, the most painstakingly perfect. I know firsthand that every line had been labored over in draft after draft for about two years, and that effort of love resulted in something deceptively seamless, smooth, and surprising.

I'm definitely a city girl. That day, I felt energized and creative in spite of a draining journey that required three days to recover from. You just don't get that spark from anywhere but a good city. Or I don't, anyway. What a wonderful welcome back to the Northeast!