Thursday, August 21, 2014

the writing space

Whether artist or writer, we all have to find places to do our work. Over the years, I've pretty well tried a lot of them from a kitchen table to an extra bedroom but am enjoying best my corner of the living room-- which is good considering how many hours a day I work there between editing, writing books, creating covers, working with photos, and blogs. 

Working in a living room has a drawback for the living room. Writing can be a cluttered work. There are notes and ideas for the book. Jump drives are piled nearby (smart writers save onto them frequently-- or should I say experienced computer users), Then there are the personal items-- lipstick (well, mine because my lips often feel dry, and I don't want to remember where my purse is), extra glasses, the dealie I use to strengthen my neck, BenGay, postits, etc. Camera can't be too far away.

So, a working writer's area in the corner of what is an otherwise tidy living room is an issue if it matters how the living room looks. On the other hand, for working, it's perfect for me. It wouldn't be for everyone. 

One thing that makes my space work is my husband is not much of a television viewer. If the boob tube was on, there might be a conflict. Although when I had the grandkids here a week, I worked right through their morning kid viewing. It also enabled me to peek over once in awhile to see what they were watching. Mostly I have a personal ability which helps, when working around others, I space out what is not on the computer screen in front of me. 

This space is also handy for me to be near a phone, out where I can duck into the kitchen if need be, where I am in a central location to the house.

By working here, I am near windows which enables me to check out  strange noises (also, of course, has me hearing all the log trucks, noisy motorcycles, and cars traveling too fast on the highway (about 100 feet away although with a creek in between). I can keep an eye on the cats if they are in what we loosely call the hummingbird yard. 

Naming our yards, which (like most people) we have two, is not the easiest thing because of the placement of our house, and this being a farm property. We have come up with different ways to describe them but none have stuck. The hummingbird yard can also be called the old yard, the first yard, the creek yard, the flower garden yard, front yard (even though it's really the backyard), or the driveway yard. The vegetable garden yard can be the... oh you get the idea. Maybe one day we'll figure out a title for each that works. For now I love having two yards where one works when it's morning, the other afternoon. One works when it's hot and the other when it's cooler. We have tables to eat in them in both. Where I am working looks out onto the the 'first' which is also the rose garden yard. 

What made my writing experience here even better is something I just added to my work area. It took a rearranging of favorite paintings and a Navajo rug but I am very happy with how it functions. Because I went on so long about my yards, I'll save this change for next blog. It is a change I much recommend for writers where characters are important to their story.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Evening Star

cover based on ElenaRay photo/painting at CanStock

As I have been doing a re-edit for all of my Portland, Oregon based books, I have also reconsidered their covers. I had earlier come across the above image which seemed perfect for Evening Star. It's not exactly a typical romance cover even though the story is a romance. It suits though what the heroine goes through to become all she wants to be. Evening Star is a story of a woman opening herself to love and risk. 

This cover represents her at the stage of her life where she has finally won her victory and recognizes what she needs most in her life. It is more  iconic than many of my covers. I like the freedom to do this. Another of those pluses of being an indie writer.

I have mentioned some of my books are about peeling back protective layers, about the need to go within to find the ability to live a full and fear-free life. Evening Star is such a book.

Regarding the image, a friend wrote the following as an analysis of it. I liked her words so much that I want to share them here also. 
"The Oceanic mystical mature woman intrigues me when I saw the detailed version. It is as artistic and powerful as you are.  She is in a ballet pose with toes of one foot pointed as if about to move in a sensual way. sexual but not submissive at all. Quite to the contrary. Her arms express dominance declaring leadership. The mandala she holds up looks Celtic.  But do take your glasses off and look at the image. Her arms are like the brow of an owl with eyes the center of the conical shells.  I love that a powerful mature woman is sensual and yet her power might also be her demon.

I think my impression of this painting fits the kind of stories you tell.  If a cover could sell a truly creative book of yours, this is it."                             Diane Widler Wenzel
I would like to think that what she said about the image and about me is also true for my heroine. She discovers the woman she finally realizes she wants to be. 

One of the things love relationships reveal in us (and one of the strengths of romance novels) is how they pare us down and reveal our strengths and weaknesses. While a romance will be dealing with other problems, in the end, it's the story of two people and what it takes to join together as one couple. It is in such relationships where we are most tested. We unfold ourselves to be known. This cover reveals the story I hope I have told in Evening Star.

If you bought this book, to get the edits (which weren't major) but always improve the stories in my view, you delete it only from your device, go to Amazon's Manage Your Kindle where you click on send it to the device you want (never delete it there or it's gone).

 If you haven't already bought the eBook, and it sounds interesting, it is $2.99 for August but back to $3.99 in September. 

Hopefully by September all the Portland books will have been re-edited, some for the umpteenth time, and out as paperbacks. Some go together with continuing characters. They all though set in my part of Oregon and involve a city I have at times lived in and love very much-- Portland. Today, if I had to live in a city (it'd be a tough adjustment), it'd be the one I would most enjoy, which makes it a lot of fun to base stories there where my characters live in neighborhoods I know well and could very much imagine living.

Friday, August 15, 2014

First Kiss

Usually I post here on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday but there is a reason to change that. Today I have a guest post at Lily Graison's blog. It is a regular feature for Lily that every other Friday she has what she calls First Kiss, a snippet, from a different western romance of the hero and heroine's first kiss. 

August 15th has the first kiss between Rafe Cordova and Grace O'Brian in my Arizona historical-- Comes the Dawn. This the third of the O'Brian historicals, set in Tucson and then up through Central Arizona, the White Mountains as far as Holbrook. Beautiful country and a great spot for a passionate romance between two people who weren't supposed to fall in love. Besides being a love story, this is about what being a father means, which is seen through different fathers, what they did and didn't do, and the outcome for their offspring.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

pluses and minuses of writing

Many times I have written how much I love to write. I've read writers who declare that their writing is sweating blood. It's not for me. Writing, for me, is the rose; but one must never forget that roses have thorns. 

If you want your work to go beyond you, to be seen by more than you, there is a thorn waiting-- marketing, which is more than just getting your work seen by someone whether through a query letter or an eBook. There is also getting your story into shape for someone else to see it. You don't have to do any of that, if you are keeping all your work to yourself. Preparing it for publishing is marketing and editing.

Editing, while still writing, is not fun for me. I am not a detail person. I am not anal about almost anything. So to edit a book which requires attention to details, even when it's a book I love (and I love all of mine), to read it word for word, thought for thought looking for mistakes, details, misused words, etc., that is hard work and emotionally stressful. 

For me, the hardest part of editing is not the first edit or even the fifth. It happens on what I hope to be the last-- preparatory to the book coming out or taking it another step and making it into a paperback. This edit happens when I am giving one last look to a story like (fill in the blanks) ____ _____ ____.

Why is it that no matter how many times I have edited one of mine, when I go back, I can always improve what I wrote? Will I someday get to a point that I simply cannot say it better and can go on from such a last look with a smile? Or will I always be improving as a writer which means there will be places I can say it better? Sometimes that leaves me so frustrated I could chew nails-- and I don't mean my own.

Experts say writers should all use professional editors. I am not averse to that-- except, looking at the facts, a good editor (if not a personal friend) for a full sized novel will run over a thousand dollars. Yes, you can get it done cheaper, but they are not the top of the line and often aren't doing a lot more than using Word tools (which you can also use). They also can totally ruin the flow of the book if they are not also gifted writers who understand what your work is about. 

I should add beta readers are not the same. They do not need to be pros. They are reading the book as a fan of the genre or of writing in general. They can be a big help to a writer but they aren't after the detail read that an editor is. They are about the energy. They are reading it as a fan who can sometimes tell it works or does not.

Back to editing using a pro, someone like me, with seventeen books out there, would have a big financial stake in those books doing well. In fact, it'd be such a big stake that not having them sell (and great editing job or not, a story still has to meet reader expectations) could lead to serious depression. It's hard enough when there is not that kind of money into it.

How bad my last edit (which isn't likely to be a literal last edit) feels varies from book to book. Most often, it's minor tweaks, not the kind of thing that a reader (who wasn't a writer) would be bothered by (that is unfortunately not always the case). I wonder if professional editors, those who do charge a thousand dollars to do a book, if they would find going over it again also led to improvements that they missed the first time.

Repeating-- editing is not enjoyable. Much as I like my books, my characters and plots, I love more the joy and satisfaction of creating something new, finding new ideas, exploring new ground. Going over the old is work and draining work.

Plus there is this-- I want to think, when I put out a novel/novella/short story, that it is total and complete-- the best job I can do. Well, it was-- for then. But, perhaps not for someday. I don't think there is a way around this either-- except perhaps not looking at them after they have been published and giving a nice long time between rough draft and final edit.

Some of this might be like our human relationships where we look back on things we did and know we could have said something better, helped someone more, or maybe walked away sooner. It has to be one of the minuses of life but also the pluses. No matter where we are, we won't be there in a year.

Lately I've been struck with the concept that we are in a life vortex. Life is not a cycle but a spiral. When we return to the same point, say August 14th but in 2015, assuming we are still here to return, we won't be the same person. The world won't be the same. It is something we have to accept, but I have to say sometimes, where it comes to my books, it drives me nuts.

I can only hope that next year, if I look at ____ ____ ____ again, I will see nothing I can say better-- or will that mean I didn't grow? I'd like to think this time, August 2014, with these covers and this recent marathon re-editing, that everything I have out there is as good as it can be. That if I go back next year, I won't see a thing to change. I truly want to think that... 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

summertime and the living is busy

A busy time with family-- as it is for so many people in the summer. Here are a few photos from July at the farm.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Perigee full moon

 photo of August full moon 2013 at the farm

Tonight should be another fantastic full moon, this one known as an extra super moon. I plan to have the tripod set up out in the field as photographing a large full moon is one of those things I enjoy. We will still have the grandchildren here; so they may enjoy it too-- or not. I guess I will find out tonight.

This August moon will appear 16% larger and 30% brighter than usual. Obviously, the moon does not change its size. We appear to see a larger moon because it is closer to earth than it is at other times in its orbit around our planet. Where I live on the West Coast, it will rise at 8:14pm-- approximate time as hill valleys like mine aren't going to see it as early as in flatter terrain.  

My seeing this moon or getting photographs will all be dependent on the weather here. Some clouds are predicted, but it should be mostly clear. Clouds are not always bad for photos, can even make them better.

 On a more mystical note, one of the astrologers, where I get emails, had this to say about this August full moon. 
"Work with the sun on this day. With conscious focus bring that energy into yourself and embrace the fullness of the masculine and all its qualities. Be receptive to any shifting or healing or clearing of any old patterns around the negative masculine that is possible for you at this time.
"This is also a good day to work with fire as a representative of the sun. Light a candle or build a ceremonial fire. Ask the spirit of fire to help you clear out what is not useful in your life regarding old patterns of the masculine. Ask the spirit of fire to kindle that strength and power within you to shine with more chi in your life. Take some kind of action during this time that represents a bigger way of stepping out and being seen.
"Conformity, hierarchy, and authority may present some taut situations under this Moon.  Get clear about where you are abdicating your power to others’ needs and why.  Your wild side, rebel, and individual ‘chispa de la vida’ may need some expressing.  Strengthen those areas of your life where you express yourself without regard for approval.  Aquarius/Uranus has rulership over goals so kick up your clarity and focus, visualize the outcome and eliminate what distracts you from your purpose."                                     Lena Stevens

I am very into moon cycles. I don't say I follow something like the above religiously. I don't follow anything religiously; but I like to know how times and energies can be used. I often put the moon cycles into my books as I think enjoying the beauty of a night sky is part of the experience most of us share.

Personally, I know certain times are more auspicious, where I can get more done, where I feel my energy is highest. Our culture isn't into that as a set of shared beliefs, but it is open to those of us who are (well, we don't get burned at stakes anymore). Where I would like to be more effective in certain areas, I will be thinking of it all this day and night.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

heading west and rechecking the path

Last week, besides the final touches on a root canal, was another edit of that wagon train story that I wrote years and years ago. Can you imagine what it was like for those first pioneers. They were going across a vast land, with all the torrid tales of how dangerous it could be but the promise of a better life when they reached the other side of the country. Some had barely enough money to make it but what they had was a desire for adventure, sometimes gold, but always a new life.

Some of the trains were big ones and the people paid a wagon master to guide them and assure them the best way to proceed. Eventually many went by themselves or in family groupings, some with just carts. For some they barely saw an Indian but especially with the southern route, some wagon trains were massacred.

The Indians who lived in the Plains were assured, to begin, that these people only wanted to pass through. Eventually they came to see that wasn't the case. Treaties were made and broken and finally there became more assaults in an attempt by both cultures to get or keep what they had. Cholera was more of a risk though than being killed by an Indian, still it was the more exciting story to put into pulp fiction with lurid covers.

  It's hard to even imagine today what it meant to those first settlers who left family and friends they were likely never to see again. To begin even to hear by mail wasn't that dependable. 

So the journey and the courage of those who took the risk fascinated me, living here in Oregon, as well as my seeing it as allegorical for our own journey to maturity.

This particular story began for me, probably about age 17, when my cousin and I would go for walks during big family gatherings. I started it off, and she'd pick up pieces of the story of two young people, friends from very different families, who began this route in Missouri. It was pretty simple back in those days versus how it became as I grew in maturity and saw deeper levels to it. From telling it orally, it was written down with one of my first 'Underwood' typewriter when I was in my early twenties.

image from CanStock
From there, it was written again and again. Finally I chose it to work with a consulting writer after an agent suggested I'd be ahead for doing such craft developing work. That professional had helped a lot of published writers get there and I have to say my time with her was productive,  expensive, and taught me so much about how to make a story come alive. I didn't actually send the manuscript off to a regular publisher, but I did keep working to make it better, fuller, more truly the story that I had in my head.

 from Baker City Oregon Trail museum.

To write this book I spent a lot of time researching old journals, and history books. I live on a small ranch that was one of those original Donation Land Claims and the story of the couple who raised a family here was a pretty inspiring one also. To find what I needed, I went through a lot of museum where their whole story is about the trip West. I know a lot about that journey. One of the things I learned from the consulting writer was not to put out all you know and instead to let it permeate your story as it would the lives of your characters as they live out what you imagined. 

I was almost afraid to read it again after my disappointment with Sky Daughter which I had re-edited for the zillionth time last month. I've seen a lot of first novels by writers where they hadn't gotten it out and years later, when they do, I've ended up thinking they should have never brought it out. I wondered if that's how this one would strike me. It had a few drawbacks for me in that I don't much like stories of kids or the very young adults-- to read or write. So I started into it with some trepidation, but it held up for me better than I expected. It was epic in the story of the journey these people went on but the two young people go on the kind of epic journey that we go on when we begin a new relationship-- most especially when it's love which can be the greatest challenge any of us will find as we are forced, at any age, to grow in maturity through those kinds of feelings.

 Ben Kern Wagon Train