Archive | Fiction

Black Lives Matter in Story, Too

Black Lives Matter

The protagonist of my novel is half African American. When I began writing (oh, so long ago), I had a good reason for her (white) mother’s lover to be a black man. Basically, I wanted to layer in that mom’s brother had been sexually abusive, while dispelling any notion that my main character’s uncle is also her father.

Still with me?

The story has changed a lot since then, and the incest bit has fallen away. Her uncle is just her uncle, and her mom was not sexually abused. But I kept the bit about about mom running off, pregnant at sixteen, because that’s the kind of person the mom is, and the fact that she ran off with a black man seemed neither here nor there, so I left it.

It is no longer “important” that my main character be half black. But she is.

Recently, I was told that my audience for the book will be bigger if she’s white. Just drop the race thing and make her white. It doesn’t matter. And besides, who am I to write a half black character?

Truth be told, it is a little daunting as a white writer. I want to be sure I tell a story that rings true, but this is who my character is, and I don’t want to change her into a white girl just because that’s what the market wants. It’s that kind of thinking that continues to have white men dominating everything from astrophysics to feature films. Fuck the market. If people don’t want to pick up my book because the main character is a half-black woman, then they’re racist mother fuckers who probably won’t like my book anyway.

So I guess it is important that my character is half black. Or rather, it’s just as important that she’s half black as it is that she’s half white. This is who she is. Just like in life, we are who we are.

That said, I’m still afraid of fucking it up. So, if there’s anyone out there who has some first-hand knowledge of being an African American woman in a white man’s world, holler – I’d love to get your feedback on my next draft. I promise to list you in the acknowledgements.

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Defending My Writing Time

For the past four years, I have been getting up at 5am to write. It was a tough transition at first, getting up that early, but between working full-time, taking care of two kids, and occasionally exercising, it just ended up being the easiest time of day to consistently set aside time to write. Over the years, I have really come to love my early morning writing time.

The trouble is, I’m always exhausted. I try to go to bed early, but often end up reading until eleven. Over time, the lack of sleep starts to build up. Daniel called me out on that last night. After dinner I said “I can’t believe how tired I am.” He remarked that I’ve been saying that every night for about two months (which is, not coincidentally, when I started feeling better and resumed my writing).

Given that I am (f)unemployed right now, I got to wondering why I’m still getting up so early to write. What I realized is that it is simply my most defensible time. The kids are asleep, no one expects a call or even an email that early in the morning, there are no errands to run. I’m afraid that if I shift to sleeping in and writing after I drop the kids at school I will get distracted.

Can I block out two hours every morning and write? Or will I end up writing a blog post, dicking around on social media, planning camping trips, doing the dishes, or employing one of a hundred other procrastination tactics?

I sure would like the extra sleep. It might be worth a try.

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Best Books of 2015 (says me)

Okay, folks, here it is, just under the wire. My best-of list for 2015. As a quick disclaimer, it’s a list of the best books I HAVE READ in the past twelve months. Not a list of the best books published in the last 12 months. (My blog, my list.)

Best Books 2015

So here goes. (No spoilers, promise)

The best books I read in 2015, in no particular order, were…

The Golem and the Jinni (2013) by Helene Wecker
I love, love, love this book. It’s magical, but grounded. It’s a love story, but not. It’s almost historical fiction, painting a New York of old with amazing detail, but it’s much more the story of these two characters – the golem and the jinni. A must read.

The Signature of All Things (2013) by Elizabeth Gilbert
Stunning. This woman can write. I loved this book so much that I slipped my Kindle underneath my papers at work and turned my back so no one would see that I shifted the work aside and just fell into the story. I couldn’t put it down, and then felt kind of depressed when it was over. It is also highly discussion-worthy. If you’ve read it, please let me know because I am dying to debate some of its finer points with a friend.

The Night Circus (2011) by Erin Morgenstern
My friend Brian McGackin bashed this one on his own blog. I was shocked. It was fantastic. A love story told in the setting of a magical circus, created by an eccentric old rich guy trying to win a bet. The story telling is highly visual, which is a real feat given that most of the things she describes are completely fabricated. Inventive and engaging.

Purity (2015) by Jonathan Franzen
My favorite Franzen yet.

The Invention of Wings (2014) by Sue Monk Kidd
This one took a few pages to grab me, but by the mid-point I was totally hooked. Her characters were based on real people, dealing with slavery, religion, family, and politics in the 1800s. It was a beautifully woven story.

The Adventures of a Helicopter Pilot (2014) by Bill Collier
I think this was the only nonfiction I read this year. It is my dad’s memoir. I love it, and though I may be biased, being his daughter and all, it has been really well reviewed on Amazon and he’s sold over 2000 copies so far (go dad!). It’s definitely worth checking out. You can buy a copy on Amazon.

So there it is. I would love to hear your favorites. I am always on the lookout for recommendations, though Brian’s picks will be a bit suspect after his panning of The Night Circus.

Happy New Year!

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Spiderman on the Scene

This is a tough time of year for writing. In the past couple weeks, both my husband and my little guy have had birthdays. Mixed in between them was Thanksgiving, and with only two weeks until Christmas I feel like every day brings a new note from the school alerting us that our child needs a white shirt and blue pants for the winter sing, or asking us to please send ten dollars in this envelope so someone can buy the teacher a gift card, or something…

Yesterday was my son’s fifth birthday party. He has been insisting on a super hero theme since July, so I was feeling pretty proud of myself that I got Spiderman himself to come to the party (which actually isn’t all that great a feat, given that we live in LA and you can pay people to play act just about anything). But when Spidey finally did appear, Sebastian took one look at him, turned, and bolted.

He ran for the nearest play structure and hid in there for a solid ten minutes while Spidey took over the party with games and “super hero training.” Eventually Sebastian snuck out of hiding and, standing next to his big sister, warmed to idea of his favorite super hero come to life.

Spiderman birthday party

By the end, he and Spidey were good buddies. We gave all the kids silly string and there was an epic web-slinging fight. It was super fun (and a total nightmare to clean up afterwards).

So yeah, I’ve been a little distracted. But I’m excited to report that I’m enrolling in a UCLA extension class that starts in January. It’s an advanced novel writing workshop, ten Tuesday nights in a row starting in January. I haven’t taken a class since I graduated in 2010, and I find that I’m really looking forward to it.

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A Qualified NaNoWriMo Success

I’m counting it as a success. I wrote 32,778 words in November. Given the family demands of the Thanksgiving holiday, and the fact that my guy’s birthday was two days before, I didn’t participate in the final push that a lot of people do at the end of the month. I pretty much wrapped up on the 25th, so for 25 days I averaged about 1300 words a day.

I didn’t get to the 50,000 word mark, but I’m happy, so it’s a qualified success.

The great part is, I wasn’t starting from scratch. I had a draft, and an outline for what I wanted to do. Those almost 33,000 words got me up over the 70,000 mark on my project. I don’t know if I’ll finish a draft before the end of the year. I was aiming for 100,000 words total, so I will have to keep up my 1300 word/day pace, which will be a challenge. Also, I’m into more fine tuning, adding detail and backstory, so it’s much slower going than it was in November.

So it seems that it would make sense at this point to stop counting words, and instead count hours. Because it doesn’t have to be long, it just has to be good.

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An Awesome Night at the Hotel Cafe

If you follow me on Facebook, you probably saw me pushing info on the Tongue and Groove reading that happened last night at the Hotel Cafe. It’s a monthly event hosted by Conrad Romo. It has officially become my new favorite literary event here in Los Angeles, and not just because I got to stand up on stage and be a part of it.

First of all, the venue is super cool. You’ve probably driven past it and not even noticed, because you have to go down a dark alley to get there. It has a certain speak easy vibe about it. If you ever have cause to check it out, you definitely should.

hotel-cafe

But for me, the real excitement was being a part of the reading. The list of people who have been a part of this is like a who’s who of my local literary heroes, including Janet Fitch, Rita Williams, and David Frances. And after last night, I have to add Jeremy Radin. He read a handful of poems that were stunning. By far the best poetry I’ve ever heard live. Such incredible use of language, evocative imagery and honest humility is rare, especially in LA.

So it felt pretty great to be included. For my part, I’m also excited to share that for the first time, I actually had fun doing a reading. I haven’t done all so many, granted, but this was the first time that the fun outweighed the nerves. Partly it was because the piece I read (a piece titled “Butts”) is an irreverent little story, partly is was the super-cool venue, and partly it was that I had a small cheering section (thanks guys!). It was a great night.

And before I sign off, I have to give a big thanks to Janet Fitch, who introduced me to Conrad in the first place, and encouraged me to submit the story for consideration. She has been, and continues to be, an awesome mentor (and her new book should be coming out soon – I can’t wait!).

The next Tongue and Groove event is on December 8. I won’t be able to make that one, as the Rock Lake Writers Christmas party is that night, but I will catch up in the new year. Hope to see you there!

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Watch Me Turn Red

I know I am not alone in the fact that reading my work in front of crowds makes me nervous. I know this. But knowing it doesn’t make it any easier. Whenever I am faced with the exciting opportunity to read my work for a group of people I start sweating like I’m running a marathon in July.

So it’s no great surprise to me that I’m feeling a little damp in the pits. In less than a week, I will be standing up on a stage to read a short piece I wrote titled “Butts.”

Yes, “Butts.”

Over the years I have gotten better at readings, but this piece was an exercise in voice. I dug deep to find my whitest white trash roots and pour them out onto the page. It’s rude, it’s blunt, and it uses more than one word for male genitalia that I don’t think I ever say out loud, let alone in front of a large crowd.

It’ll be fun.

All I can say is thank God my parents live too far away to attend this one.

Click below for event details.
T&G

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Just Because I Don’t Get Paid, Doesn’t Mean It’s Not Work

I was chatting with a friend the other day. He’s all stressed out because he works too much and his baby girl (poor thing) was super sick. I told him I was planning on taking Labor Day weekend to work on my novel and he replied: “I vaguely remember having time for hobbies.”

Picture me as a cat, bristling and hissing.

Here’s a tip, for those of you who have friends who aspiring at anything – don’t refer to their work as a hobby.

I am willing, for the sake of our friendship, to chalk that comment up to his exhaustion, but my writing is not a hobby. Just because I don’t get paid, doesn’t mean it’s not work. In fact, one *might* argue that not getting paid shows an even greater commitment to one’s art, though I’ve never subscribed to the whole as-soon-as-you-make-money-at-it-you’re-a-sellout-not-an-artist thing. I’m not OPPOSED to getting paid, it’s just that, right now, fiction is not paying the bills.

I suppose I would accept the term “amateur” over “hobbyist,” though I do get paid as a professional technical writer. Using a sports analogy, I’m like an aspiring Olympic gymnast who helps kids on the balance beam during the day. Only I don’t have a coach, and I’m not getting any exercise, and it’s much harder to tell if I’m sticking my landings.

I’m a writer, damn it.

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Novel Update

I’ve been blogging a lot about things other than my novel lately, so it seems it’s time for an update. For anyone who hasn’t been following along, I’m working on a novel about an ostrich farmer. Her name is Tallulah Jones. She inherits the farm from her grandfather when he passes away. This much has remained constant, but every other detail of the story has changed, then changed again, then changed again. I’ve been working on this bitch for about 7 years. And when I say “working on” I mean actually working on. Some writers talk about working on their novel, and then write a few pages when they feel inspired. I don’t believe in inspiration.

I get up almost every morning at 5am to write before my kids wake up. I have been working my ass off, and so it is with no small amount of frustration that I admit that I am 7 years in and going back to my outline. But that is the truth.

These days, I cling to the hope that with each draft I am getting closer to the core of what this story is, and with each passing year I am becoming a better writer. I must be getting better. The idea that I could do something so consistently for so long and not get better is too upsetting to even consider.

The other thing that gives me hope is that this new outline is actually not entirely new. I simply decided to start the story sooner. The beginning of my last draft will now be the mid-point, and starting so much earlier, I have a lot more room to develop the characters. I like the story more and more, even as I become increasing sick of working on it.

So that’s the haps on the novel. I have a writing retreat planned for Labor Day weekend. I’m hoping to have the outline nailed down before that, and to start drafting then. I’m hoping that I can keep 50,000 words of the old draft (might be optimistic), and I’m shooting for about 100,000 words total. I write 500 words a morning, so that’s 100 mornings. Six mornings a week is 16 weeks. With any luck, I might just finish a draft before the end of the year.

Of course, holidays and junk always get in the way, but if I can stay focused on the goal, I think I could do it.
I’ll keep you posted.

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Updating My Dreams

As I mentioned a couple weeks back, I have officially made the decision to let go of working as a freelance writer ever again. I love my job, I only work four days a week, which leaves me some solid time on Mondays to work on my fiction, and I get a regular, totally respectable paycheck.

I’ve been sitting with this choice for a few weeks, and am more and more comfortable with it. I don’t know why it took so long to realize what a good set up I’ve managed to land myself in. And I’m so glad I did realize before I did something drastic. Sometimes, when the writing isn’t going well, I get a little crazy.

Anyhow, I noticed a couple days ago that my dream board needed updating. Don’t laugh, I have a dream board. I give full credit to my hippie parents, who are big on visualizing outcomes. Besides, if Oprah does it (and she does), then there must be something to it because that woman is amazing. I mean seriously. How cool is it that she puts herself on the cover of her magazine every month? I love that shit.

So the dream board. I made it about year ago. It has the cover of my novel (or at least a hand-drawn version of how I see it looking), and the next, and some tiny little fake checks made out to me from fancy publishing agencies. It had the covers of all the magazines I was going to write for with mockups of the articles I was going to write (with my byline of course). It had a little drawing of me and Daniel and the kids flying off to some exotic place on one of my writing assignments.

Well, half of it was still good. The other half needed to change. And I had a few free minutes (yeah, being done with all that wedding craziness!), so I grabbed some scissors and glue and went to it. When she saw what I was doing my daughter asked: Don’t you want to travel with us anymore? And I said: Of course I do, but not for work. Which reminded me to grab a travel magazine I had been reading and add it to my pile of supplies.

Here’s how it came out:
Writer's Dream Board

You’ll see three book covers there. The Feathered Tale of Tallulah Jones, Book 2 (I have a title but don’t like it), and the Northern California book, which I’m told WILL some day be published. I also left one article. I have, ever since I received Issue #1 in the mail years ago, dreamed of writing a Spin The Globe piece for Afar magazine. If you don’t know that magazine, you should totally check it out. Best travel mag going. You’ll also see an outline for my third novel with a SOLD tag on it. The fine print dictates a bidding war and a seven-figure sale price.

The best change is that I got rid of all that extra freelance business and wallpapered the board with travel images: Great Barrier Reef, Zion, Yellowstone, mountain biking, SCUBA diving, hiking. These are the things I want most outside of work. Adventures with my family. And the coolest thing of all? Even if I don’t make seven figures on any of my books, I have a steady job that allows me to save up for these kind of vacations.

In short, I’m feeling pretty good about my choices lately. I hung the new board over my dresser and see it every day. My folks, and Oprah, say there’s power in that.

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