Sticking to My Story

Recently when the editor of the West Houston RWA newsletter asked me if I had an article to contribute to the January newsletter, I found this piece on my computer.  The file date told me that I wrote it in June 2012, but I couldn’t remember why I’d written it.  It wasn’t anywhere here on the blog, it hadn’t been printed in either of my chapter newsletters, and it wasn’t on the Firebirds blog.  Took me about a week to remember that it was written for the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood (the 2009 Golden Heart finalists) when I was a guest on their blog.  Reading it over I see that nothing much has changed, so I’m sharing it again here.

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When Bathtub Jinn, my 2012 Golden Heart finalist, got hosed in yet another chapter contest, I found myself whining about it.  “This manuscript has missed the finals in so many contests,” I said, “that if it weren’t for the Golden Pen and the Golden Heart I might have kicked it under the bed.”

I didn’t say, “I might have quit writing.”  I know that more than a few writers have closed their laptops after too many punishing contests or nasty reviews, but not me.  I always come back.  Glutton for punishment?  Adrenalin junkie?   No.  Well, maybe yes, but that’s not the reason.  I just can’t stop writing, not for long.  It’s what I do.

I wasn’t really born with a book in my hand.  My mother would have mentioned that, although it probably wouldn’t have surprised her.  I’m sure she spent her pregnancy with a book in hers.  She swore that I taught myself to read as a very small child, and complained loudly if she changed a word when she read aloud to me.

I switched from directing my playmates in acting out stories at recess to writing the stories down when I was ten or eleven.  There I was, writing fan fiction for long-forgotten TV shows, decades before the Internet turned that into a sort of massive multi-player online game.  Reading everything I could get my hands on and carrying a book with me everywhere (these days I carry a Kindle in my purse).  Taking high school courses in creative writing—but having much more fun writing satire for (decidedly unofficial) school publications.

That may be where I went astray, venturing into humor.  It wasn’t easy to inject a bit of laughter into years of high school, college, and grad school research papers, but I did my best.  Over years of writing Environmental Impact Statements (the historical and archeological backgrounds, not the bugs and bunnies stuff) I even made a few people in the Corps of Engineers laugh.  Well, crack a smile, anyway.  And wow, did those chuckles make me happy!

So when I went back to writing fiction, longer ago than I care to contemplate, it was only natural that my characters refused to wallow in angst.  Bad things happen, but my people react with snappy retorts, humor and occasional sarcasm.  My characters get trapped in their own costumes, find baby alligators in their kitchens, or make momentous discoveries when they’re too drunk to remember them.  Over and over again they demonstrate that love is perhaps the funniest of human predicaments.

How did I wander from contest angst to humor?  Well, we all know how subjective humor is.  All too often my contest scores tell me that one judge loved my snarky voice and another either hated it or completely misunderstood it.  Publishing pros tell me that they love my work, but humor isn’t selling.

I started writing this with two adages in mind.  The first, classic advice from the jaded professional to the wide-eyed newbie, says this is a tough, tough business.  If you can stop writing, you should.  Take up some other pursuit, something safer, like sky diving, or rabble rousing.  Scratch that advice, doesn’t work for me.

The other famous line is “Write what you know.”  What fun is that?  I’d rather time travel to the nineteenth century, or cross into the dimension of the jinn, or visit an alternate time line.  But I think what that hoary bit of advice really means is “Write what you are.”  Write what you feel, what you care about, what matters to you.  Write what comes bubbling up inside you, no matter what others say.

Love is funny.  That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

And Happy New Year

Well, I’ve eaten my New Year’s Eve herring (a family tradition–I don’t think I’ve missed a year since I was a little girl) and I’ve watched the Vienna Philharmonic New Year’s Day concert (that was a tradition with Jack, and I’ve kept it up).  I’ve started new notebooks and hung new calendars.  I don’t really make resolutions, and I try to keep the goal setting to things I can actually control, but I do find myself thinking over what I’ve accomplished in the last year.

Writing:  In 2013 I’m afraid I did more editing than new writing.  Jinn & Tonic finalled in the Golden Heart contest and I spent some considerable time editing that.  The Golden Heart is quite a rollercoaster ride, but I’m hooked, so in the fall I pulled out Tempting Fate, a story I’ve always loved, rewrote much of the beginning, moved some scene and chapter breaks, and sent that off to the 2014 Golden Heart.  Now I’m finally back on my current project, currently 62 pages long.  I know where my characters are going, but I’m having a little trouble getting them there.

Meanwhile I went to a wonderful regional writers’ conference in Shreveport, put on by the NOLA STARS, the North Louisiana chapter of RWA.  And I flew to Atlanta in July for the RWA National conference, with my friends Cheryl Bolen and Colleen Thompson, and had a great time meeting up with old and new friends.  I also finished my two years as president of the West Houston RWA chapter.  I’m pulling the plug on volunteering, at least for a while.  I need to get back to writing.

Reading:  I continue to buy books faster than I can read them (a life-long habit).  In 2013 I managed to read 38 of them, mostly novels, mostly romances and mysteries.  Between my local writer friends and my Golden Heart sisters, my bookshelves and my Kindle are well stocked.

Work:  In October Jo Anne and I cut our work week back to three days, and we love it.  More time for writing, reading, and sleeping.

Around the house:  Two big projects got done this year.  I had the large dead pine tree in the front yard removed before it could fall on a passing car, along with a couple of smaller ones, and the rest of the trees trimmed.  And I had the swimming pool I’d been ignoring for five years demolished.  Now I’m slowly working on the rest of the yard.  Maybe this year I’ll attack the big indoor projects (the bathrooms need remodeling, and the floors need work), but for the time being I’m picking away at smaller clean-and-toss jobs.  Apparently I am incapable of throwing out pens, address labels, or memo pads, all of which keep turning up in the mail.    I started with my writing nook, but there are plenty of other excavations to look forward to.

Life in general:  I’m catching up on my sleep.  I’ve put on another five pounds or so, a trend I definitely need to reverse.  I admire my friends who go to the gym or their fitness class every morning, but I think I’ll stick with walks around the neighborhood.

Thanks for stopping by now and then.  I hope you enjoy reading these little essays as much as I enjoy writing them.  And I wish you all a wonderful, rewarding, and Happy New Year!

Happy New Year 2014

And More Books

When I cut my work schedule back to three days a week a couple of months ago, I was hoping to catch up on reading.  Well, not catch up, really, since I continue to buy books faster than I read them, but at least read more.  It’s been slow.  But I’ve kicked a few other projects off the virtual sticky notes on my computer screen.  I resurrected, edited, and submitted a favorite manuscript to the 2014 Golden Heart contest.  I’ve gotten back to my work-in-progress.  And I’ve just about finished up my term as president of West Houston RWA.  It’s been too cold to do yard work, but my Christmas cards are ready to mail.

The last book I finished reading was Death, Taxes, and Peach Sangria, another Tara Holloway novel by Diane Kelly.  Tara Death, Taxes, and Peach Sangriais a gun-toting IRS Special Agent with relationship problems.  She spends much of this book tracking down fraudulent tax preparers and money transfer businesses, trying to break up with her boy friend so she can date the fellow agent she’s been crushing on (since she rescued him from exile in Mexico), and drinking peach Sangria.  Only Tara would declare her intentions to that fellow agent in the middle of a shoot out with a taxidermist/part-time tax preparer.  Diane Kelly writes very funny books, and I highly recommend them.

Now I’m reading the latest adventure of bounty hunter Stephanie Plum, Takedown Twenty by Janet Evanovich.  Stephanie and her sidekick Lula are hunting for a gangster, but they catch more glimpses of a giraffe running loose in Trenton, New Jersey, than they do of Uncle Sunny.  Stephanie also has two men in her life, Joe Morelli and the mysterious Ranger, constant car trouble, and a loony grandma.  I love the series for the characters, whether they solve a mystery or not.

I’ve been fairly restrained about buying books lately, at least partly because we had no West Houston RWA meeting (with accompanying book signing/sale) to tempt me.  I did go over to Barnes & Noble a couple of weeks ago for the latest Tara Holloway novel, Death, Taxes, and Green Tea Ice Cream, and The Vanishing Thief, first in a new series of Victorian Bookshop Mysteries by my fellow Golden Heart finalist Kate Parker.  (The women I have met through the Golden Heart are keeping my bookshelves and Kindle full!)

Recent downloads to my Kindle include Tales from the SFR Brigade, a free collection of eight stories.  If you’d like to sample some science fiction romance, this is a good place to start.  Thrown is a new contemporary romance with anThrown equestrian background from Colette Auclair, also a Golden Heart finalist.  And I downloaded Orange Is the New Black, by Piper Kerman.  I haven’t seen the Netflix series based on the book, but I heard an interview with the author on NPR the other day, and it sounded too interesting to pass up.  Who knows, it might even inspire me to subscribe to Netflix.  Just what I need, more TV.

Speaking of Golden Heart finalists, the Firebirds (class of 2012) have restarted our blog.  Today’s post is a very funny interview with Colette Auclair about Thrown.  I’ve promised to post on January 13, so I guess I’d better think of something to say.  Hmmm, maybe I’ll write about . . . books.  And now I think I’ll go read one.

 

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