Thursday, November 29, 2007

In the Midst of Things

I'm in the middle of revisions of Unexpected Grace, and I'm having a blast with them. I'll write more about the process next week, but suffice it to say that having a brilliant reader point out one change can open up a world of possibilities. It was definitely a "lightbulb" moment--one of those "Gee, I could have had a V-8" experiences. I'd been too close to the manuscript to see how to tighten everything up and add some needed tension. Once my reader suggested it, I knew it was perfect. Other eyes are always a good thing!

My blogging buddy Larramie tagged me for a meme I'm actually going to be able to complete. Here's the scoop:

1. You have to post these rules before you give the facts.
2. Players, you must list one fact that is somehow relevant to your life for each letter of your middle name. If you don't have a middle name, just make one up...or use the one you would have liked to have had.
3. When you are tagged you need to write your own blog-post containing your own middle name game facts.
4. At the end of your blog-post, you need to choose one person for each letter of your middle name to tag. Don't forget to leave them a comment telling them they're tagged, and to read your blog.

This will be easy because, like at least half of the little girls born circa 1960, my middle name is ANN. (I used to wish it had an "E" at the end to make a very plain name--Judy Ann Merrill--a tad more exotic.)

Here goes - -

A--I'm an Author. As a little girl I dreamed about being an author. Then, I spent years (oh, say, 7!) thinking it would never, ever happen. Then, when it did, I couldn't fully wrap my brain around it. But, man, the first time I wrote it on my tax form, I was thrilled. And I've finally gotten so that it rolls off my tongue (right along with "novelist") when someone asks what my job is. Totally cool.

N--I Notice things. Details, oddities, you name it. I have a head full of trivia and tidbits that I can draw from when I'm writing. My kids have learned, sometimes much to their dismay, that they better not change their story because I'll call them on it. My husband refers to this as my "spidey-senses." Whatever it is, it serves me well.

N--Never say Never, Never give up. I can't help it, I'm a glass half-full person. I've had too many times where I've thought, that's it, I'm throwing in the towel, but I could never actually do it. Like when I told my sister, late in 2000, that I'd had it with dating and I wasn't going to even attempt it again until my boys were out of the house (in 5 or 6 years). Then, less than 6 weeks later, a friend told me she had a guy for me to meet. That guy? He's now my husband. Or a manuscript I'd been working on for years. The one I had almost relegated to the trash heap. Yeah, the one you can now buy in bookstores across the country (and in a handful of foreign countries). The world is too full of possibilities and surprises to ever give up.

There you go--3 facts, one for each letter.

Now I need to tag three other bloggers (I hate this part of memes).

Therese at Making it Up
Daisy at Compost Happens
Melanie at Refrigerator Door

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Writers in their own words-GCC

Allison Winn Scotch joins us today to talk about her wonderful, warm, witty debut novel, The Department of Lost and Found. In this book, Natalie Miller, the novel's heroine, is faced with questioning everything she knows when, on the very same day, her doctor gives her the shocking news that she has breast cancer and her boyfriend dumps her. So she decides to take on her cancer the way she does everything—with steely determination. But as she becomes a slave to the whims of chemo, her body forces her to take a time out. She gets a dog, becomes addicted to The Price is Right and, partly to spite her counselor’s idea to keep a journal, Natalie embarks on a mission. She is going to track down the Five Lost Loves of her Life and figure out what went wrong.

Here is just some of what reviewers are saying:

"Funny and frank. A serious comedy that shines light into the darkness." - The Tampa Tribune

"Smart and well-written.” - Marie Claire

"Too good to pass up. You'll laugh a lot (and cry just a little) as Natalie rebounds from the big C and reinvents her life." – Cosmopolitan

"Scotch handles the topic of cancer with humor and hope, never dipping into the maudlin. The changes and realizations that the characters make are profound and moving. An impressive debut." – Booklist

"A bonbon of a book." - Publishers Weekly

And now, let's hear from Allison in her own words. . .

1.) How did you come up with the idea for this book? Are you more driven by plot or by character?
I lost someone close to me to cancer, and that was definitely the emotional spark for the book, but from there, I took it and created fiction. I’m definitely driven more by character…I swirl the characters around in my head and see where they lead me. Rarely do I start out with an overarching plot with everything filled in. I mean, I have an idea of where I need and want to go, but my characters are the ones who take me there, and sometimes, much to my surprise, they deviate from where I thought they’d go…which is why I let them lead me in the first place!

2.) Who's your favorite character in this book and why?

Great question! Hmmm, probably Sally, who is the protagonist’s best friend. She’s a little batty and sardonic, but she’s also a voice of reason and a loyal friend, and on all of those fronts, I related to her. She also infuses her scenes with a much-needed levity, and I always had fun writing her.

3.) What's your writing process/writing environment like?
I write fast and furiously…I procrastinate and procrastinate and then I finally can no longer procrastinate, so I force myself to spit out as much as possible as once. Usually, this involves setting a daily word count for myself, and I have to keep writing until I reach it. (Which means a lot of clicking on the “Word Count” button in Word!) I can write with a lot of distractions – my kids screaming in the background, my husband constantly IMing me (even when I tell him to STOP!) – but my ideal environment is my home office with my door closed and my dog snoring at my feet. In other words, quiet, but not eerily so.

4.) What's your favorite part of writing?
The last chapter! And yes, I’m being serious. I’ve discovered that I don’t actually enjoy the process of writing as much as I enjoy creating characters and the worlds they live in. What I mean by that is that I create dialogue and scenes in my head all day, but then when it comes to the effort involved in getting these things down on paper, well, as I said above, I procrastinate because it’s not as much fun as the “creating” part for me. So, to that end, the sense of accomplishment I feel when I bang out those last pages and last words is unmatchable!

5) What's the best piece of advice you've ever gotten about writing?
It’s okay to fail at it. Actually, I don’t know if anyone specifically told me this, though I’m sure that I’ve read anecdotal advice that says something similar, but it’s certainly something I’ve learned along the way. My first book was decent enough to get me an agent but not good enough to sell, and in retrospect, that was such a blessing because, man, I read it now, and it just STINKS. But writing that book taught me so much about how to craft a novel and what not to do, and hey, you know what? That’s all good info to have. There’s no shame in it for me. It lead me to where I am now – a published author with a second novel on the way – and so, I’ll own that failed attempt and consider myself luckier for having it.

Sounds like a perfect pick for your holiday shopping lists!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Moments of Thanks

"You can plan all you want to. You can lie in your morning bed and fill whole notebooks with schemes and intentions. But within a single afternoon, within hours or minutes, everything you plan and everything you have fought to make yourself can be undone as a slug is undone when salt is poured on him. And right up to the moment when you find yourself dissolving into foam you can still believe you are doing fine."

Wallace Stegner, Crossing to Safety

Thirteen years ago, just before dinnertime on the Monday of Thanksgiving week, my seven-year old son was hit by a car. Now twenty, he'll be arriving home from college tomorrow; his twenty-one year old brother the next day. We have much for which to be thankful. But that night, for a few moments, I wasn't sure I'd ever breathe a thankful breath again. When the neighbor boy burst into my house, yelling, "Eric just got hit by a car!" my world froze. I wasn't sure I could face what awaited me just outside my front door. Somehow, I propelled myself outside, after tossing the phone to the neighbor and telling him to call 911. When I hit the porch steps I heard my son's cries and I thought, Okay, he's alive. When I knelt by his side, I saw his feet moving and told myself, Okay, he's not paralyzed. And I knew right then we were incredibly lucky. And I was thankful beyond measure.

Later, after the ambulance ride, after the X-rays, after the doctor shook his head and said, just before releasing him, "He's fine. He shouldn't be but he is," I remembered the above Stegner quote. The salt had been just ready to pour down on me, on us, on our life. And then it didn't. But I knew how easily it could have rained down over our world. A different driver. A bigger, faster car. A shift in the trajectory of my son's body as it flew through the air. But, even now, I have to turn my mind away from those awful possibilities.

Our lives are full of such moments, but many times we don't even know it. We don't know what we've narrowly escaped, what's just missed us. And so, for what we know and don't know, I am thankful. For the times the salt didn't pour down and for the strength to continue when it did, I give thanks.

I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving, but even more, I wish you a spirit of thankfulness as you go about your lives everyday.

(Next week, back to posting about writing--and even connecting the Stegner quote to my revisions. But for now, I have a family to start cooking for!)

Friday, November 9, 2007

A Bit Off Topic. . . .but not Entirely

Last Saturday morning I realized once again how incredibly lucky I am.

Lucky to have people in my life who love me.

Respect me.

Lucky that the choices I've made, even the ones that didn't work out, have ultimately made me stronger.

Lucky that I have friends and family to lean on.

I tried to remember the last time anyone ever hit me. I'm thinking it must have been my brother when he was about 14 and I was 9. I'm sure I cried and he was sent to his room.

I tried to recall when someone I love has said demeaning, hurtful, threatening things to me. I couldn't come up with anything.

And then I tried to imagine what if? And the prospects horrified me.

Last Saturday morning I attended a Community Conversation called "Why Didn't She Leave Him?" put on by the Women's Initiative for Health and Safety. It dealt with domestic violence and explored what we as individuals and in community with one another can do to empower women who are in abusive relationships. It was stunning, painful, instructive and powerful. And I realized how much I don't know about what goes on behind closed doors.

The manuscript I've just completed deals with some aspects of domestic violence--mostly emotional abuse. I attended this conversation because I wanted to be sure I was striking the right note in my characters. I wanted to be sure I was accurate in my portrayals. What I came away with was so much more than the fine-tuning of characters.

Here are some of the statistics:

~somewhere in America a woman is battered every 15 seconds
~in the US, there are nearly 3 times as many animal shelters as shelters for women and their children hoping to escape domestic violence
~22%-35% of women who come to emergency rooms are there for injuries related to ongoing partner abuse
~40% of girls age 14-17 report knowing someone their age who has been hit or beaten by a boyfriend

One of the issues in my manuscript is how we often don't see or sense abuse going on nearby and how hard it can be for women to speak out about it going on in their own lives. And ever since last Saturday I've wondered what I can do, what anyone can do. It seems so foreign, so far away from me, but I know it isn't. I'm just lucky. And perhaps a little naive.

I came away from the morning wanting to help spread the word about what can be done.

One of the handouts I received listed 5 statements that women say helped them to break the cycle of abuse:

1-I am afraid for you
2-I am afraid for your children
3-It will only get worse
4-I'm here for you; let me know how I can help
5-You deserve better than this

Other things you can do? Don't look away if you suspect something is wrong. Offer to help out at shelters or organizations in your community.

And if you're being abused, make a plan, tell someone you trust, get help. You deserve better. As a society, we all deserve better. Our children deserve better. But mostly, you deserve better.

Here are some web resources:

The Battered Women's Justice Project

The Domestic Abuse Intervention Project
Family Violence Prevention Fund
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
National Domestic Violence Hotline
National Network to End Domestic Violence

Without a doubt, this is the most important blog post I've ever written. Feel free to pass it on to others. As a matter of fact, I'm imploring you to do so.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Writers in their own words-GCC

What the hell? To hell with it. The road to hell . . . . Go to hell.

As a writer, I've used these phrases often over the years. Usually under my breath (or even better, just in my head). In all sorts of situations. They fit a whole range of moments. Like when I decided, what the hell, I am going to write a book. Or, when said book wasn't panning out just as I'd imagined it. Or, when I'd done all sorts of nice, good things and wasn't getting appreciated. Or, the last one, maybe for the reviewer who termed my baby "maudlin".

Ah, but I digress.

Look at the pictures above. The lovely young woman on the left, Jackie Kessler, has gone to hell. And back. And keeps going back for more. And, in the process, has created quite the buzz with reviewers. (I know, her picture looks so sweet. You wouldn't even think she'd know words like Succubus and Incubus, now would you?) For example, "Kessler's raunchy blend of heaven, hell and eros makes for a wild thrill ride, and hot, tough-talking Jesse has gumption and sass." — Publishers Weekly.

Jackie's newest book, The Road to Hell, is in stores now and she's offering a chance to win an iPod Nano and three iPod Shuffles just for visiting her website and checking out the HIT THE ROAD section.

Let's hear from Jackie in her own words:

1.) How did you come up with the idea for this book? Are you more driven by plot or by character?

I wrote a short story published in FROM THE ASYLUM back in 2005, which was about a demon who gets downsized to hauntings. That, and Neil Gaiman's SANDMAN series, was the springboard for me thinking about changes in Hell's management, and that got me thinking about the purpose of Hell in the first place. And so the situation behind the Hell on Earth series came about. As for the heroine, Jezebel: I knew I wanted to write about a demon who leaves Hell and becomes a human -- and for me, there's only one sort of female demon, and that's a succubus. :) Jesse herself sort of pulled an Athena and sprang fully formed from my head.

The Hell series is very character dependent: it's Jesse's voice that carries the stories. Of course, the plot is vital...but it's how the plot is conveyed that makes the difference.

2.) Who's your favorite character in this book and why?

As much as I love writing as Jesse...I adore the incubus Daunuan. He's not plagued with human emotions (or a human conscience), and being an incubus, he's very one-track minded (cue cheesy 1970s porn music here). But he does have very strong feelings, and it's a blast writing about him struggling with those feelings, because he (and Jesse) insist that demons don't feel. They're both wrong. (No one ever said demons were the smartest creatures out there...)

3.) What's your writing process/writing environment like?

Write, write, write, get kids and husband ready for school/work, write, write, write, do my day job, lunch/write, do my day job, pick kids up and get dinner ready, family time, get kids to bed, write, write, spend time with Loving Husband, write, write, write, collapse into bed. Repeat. (At times, "write" is loosely defined as "ego surfing" and other Internet activities.)

4.) What's your favorite part of writing?

Getting lost in a scene -- that's when the words just fly from my fingertips. Sort of like being possessed, I'd imagine...

5.) What's the best piece of advice you've ever gotten about writing?

For the actual writing process? That came from Martha O'Connor, author of the fabulous Bitch Posse. She once told me that we should "write like no one's watching." And yeah, that's really it in a nutshell: be true to the story, and don't self-censor. There's time to make it purty, and marketable, after the bones are down.

So, check it out. What the hell . . .

Thursday, November 1, 2007

The Incredible Journey

Last Friday, I drank a few cups of strong coffee, took a deep breath and headed out to the mall. I was determined. I was resolute. I was going to find some jeans that fit, that were cute, and that wouldn't require a home equity loan. Seriously. That was my plan.

Jeans used to be easy. In the 1970s, and even into the 80s (until I had my first child), I would glide into any jeans store, grab a few pairs of Lee jeans, size 28w x 34l (I liked them long. Heaven forbid my socks would ever be seen.), plunk down my money and head out to wash them 4 or 5 times before wearing them. Easy peasy.

Then, through much of the 1990s, I'd order straight out of the Eddie Bauer catalog.

But, somewhere this millenium, jeans became complicated. Expensive. Oh, and something happened to my hips and thighs. I felt like I needed a 12-Step program. "Hi, I'm Judy and I need to shop for jeans." "Hi Judy." I'd watch Oprah or "What Not to Wear" and I'd nod and take it all in. And I'd think, well, if Oprah says Lucky Brand jeans fit everyone, they'll sure work for me. So I bought a pair. And they were okay. But, not day to day jeans. (Good lord, they cost $100+. That's not everyday for me.)

I wanted jeans that were comfortable, were cute, and didn't make a statement.

And so I grabbed jeans from every rack, from every pile and shlepped to the dressing room. (Can I just take a minute to say three-way mirrors combined with that sick yellow light should be outlawed. I don't need that view.) I tried on, I winnowed and sifted. I shlepped some more. At one point, when I was making my 3rd or 4th trek to the dressing room, I thought I might be having my first hot flash, but decided that I was just overexerting myself. Too bad I didn't bring along a sherpa.

And, miracle of miracles, I found a pair that worked. And, they were on sale. So I grabbed them in dark wash and regular wash. Then I grabbed a 3rd pair. Just for good measure.

I know what you're asking: "WHAT KIND? SHARE THIS INFO!! IT'S NOT CLASSIFIED, DAMMIT!" But, here's the problem. They might not work for you. Because you don't have my thighs (but, if you want them . . . ). So, you'll have to do what I did. Set aside a few hours, and try on 20+ pairs. Look at them from all angles (yes, even that angle). Squint. Try on another pair. Try on the first ones again. Then grab a brand you've never worn and just see. Revise. Edit.


It's like writing. No one brand works for everyone. What worked a few years ago (or decades ago) might not work now. What you first think is right might not be right when you look at it from another perspective. Just like writing. Some people write on the computer, some write in longhand. Some outline. Some wing it. There's no one perfect style or size or cut or brand.

It's work. Writing and jeans shopping. It takes time. It takes commitment. It takes sacrifice. But, when it all falls into place, when the conflict sets up the perfect plot point, when the character swims into view, when the jeans fit just right, it's a beautiful thing.

And now, I'll share with you the jeans that worked for me--I found them at Macy's in the Style & Co. department. They are Levi's 512 Perfectly Slimming (that might be hyperbole) Stretch Jeans. The tag even mentions that they "flatten your tummy." According to the tag they are "New" which makes me feel very cutting edge.

So, have no fear, if I could find some jeans, so can you. Same for that whole writing gig. Have at it.