Writer’s Blech

watson_computer_stareThe other day I was at a party with a few friends and plenty of strangers, and when I mentioned that I was a writer I got the usual barrage of strange and slightly insulting questions. Questions like “Where do you get your ideas, and how do you know if they’re any good?” and “If you’re not published yet, are you really a writer?” I’m mostly used to this kind of thing by now, and have a collection of stock answers up my sleeve that satisfy even the most inquisitive soul. But this time one guy asked me a question that gave me pause. “What do you do,” he queried, “when you get writer’s block?”

Now, I think this is a perfectly reasonable question to ask. But there were a few things about the way it was phrased that struck me as unusual. First, he said when you get writer’s block, as opposed to if—he clearly assumed that all writers, at some point or another, are struck by the affliction of writer’s block. Second, he asked what do you do when this happens. Not when does this happen, or why does this happen, but what do you do. I’m not sure exactly what answer he was looking for (“I YELL MOUTH WORDS TO THE NIGHTMARE TWINS FOR INSPIRATION”) but the question got me thinking a lot about writer’s block, and peoples’ perceptions of what exactly that means.

I have suffered from writer’s block. In fact, I struggle with it more than I care to admit. Try, like, TODAY. But I’ve never really thought of it as writer’s block, nor do I think it falls under the definition of what most people would consider to be writer’s block. When I imagine writer’s block, I think of some baggy-eyed beatnik scribbling frantically on paper before crumpling the paper up and throwing the wad over his shoulder into a bin overflowing with similarly crinkled pages. (I don’t know why he has to be a beatnik, but in my mind he’s wearing all black and smoking a cigarette. He could also just be a mime without makeup.) This is not how it happens for me. For me, writer’s block isn’t a lack of or poor execution of ideas, but an inability to force words out of my brain and down through my fingertips.
My blocks manifest as paralysis, a terrible inaction that prevents me from writing anything whatsoever. I might have ideas clawing at the inside of my brain, screaming to be heard. There may be words pushing up against the back of my eyeballs and poking out of my ears, but still I can’t seem to coax them out onto the paper. I might be desperate to feel productive, dying to get started on a project, but it’s no good. And the longer I go without writing, the more abhorrent the idea seems. Ugh, my fingers say, ten tiny voices squeaking in unison, Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Pooh Exercise GifSo, what do I do when this happens? Glad you asked. The only thing I can do is to to somehow get myself to start writing again, be it through trickery, coercion or bribery. Often, once I actually sit down and squeeze out those first 500 or 1,000 words on the paper, writing seems to make sense again. The ideas and the words are there, just waiting for me to pick up the pen or open the word processor. And sometimes that 500 words is all I’m going to get, but I know that I’ll have to try again tomorrow. So for me, writer’s block isn’t about not having any good ideas or lacking the right words to describe something; writer’s block is all the times I can’t seem to force my butt into the chair and just do it.

Or maybe I should just stop wearing all black and smoking cigarettes. That might help.

Do you ever suffer from writer’s block, or any other kind of block? What do you do to overcome it? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below!

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My 2016 Word of the Year: Emerge

Graphic made with Canva

Graphic made with Canva

I’ve been thinking a lot about my word of the year for 2016. It’s actually been a pretty tough process for me to come up with one this year. I think part of it is that I have no idea how this year is going to go and I don’t want to jinx it. I’ve got so much happening – four book releases (the first occurred on January 1) and attending four conferences, at least as of right now, plus my day job – that I’m just fastening my seat belt for adventure.

When I asked my Facebook friends for suggestions, one of them said “emerge,” which is cool because I had already been thinking along those lines, but this word is more elegant. And it fits nicely with my words for the last two years, “bloom” (2014) and “valiant” (2015).

And in so many ways, I do feel like the butterfly coming out of the chrysalis or the tender bud breaking through the frozen ground. After years of struggling, I’m finally getting the chance to get my stories out to readers and show my face to the world as a published author. And more than that, I’m beginning to emerge as a business owner and speaker. In baby steps, of course – we all know success usually doesn’t happen overnight, even if it appears to.

Goals for 2016:

  1. Enjoy the whirlwind of releasing four books in under seven months.
  2. Write at least one new book (two is my stretch goal).
  3. Continue to market my books and learn about self-publishing.
  4. Exercise on a regular basis and eat healthy.
  5. Nourish my spirit.
  6. Take time to have fun!

Notice that nowhere on there is a sales goal. Partly, that’s because in the end, sales are out of my hands. I could spend thousands in marketing and still have only a handful of people by the book. Or, I could do almost nothing become a bestseller. Sales are an odd thing. And the other part is that I really don’t care that much how much I sell. I want to break even, hell, I want to make millions, but I’m new and I know that’s not likely. They say most businesses don’t turn a profit for 3-5 years. So, I’m giving myself time to get established before I stress over sales numbers. That’s one of the beauties of being your own boss. It’s not like I’m going to get fired!

So, according to conventional wisdom, choosing my word means I should approach every decision this year from the mindset of “does this help me emerge?” I like that because it frames the year in endless possibility, in optimism that I haven’t felt much in the last few years. And it’s about time.

What’s your word for 2016?

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Gray Hair: Trend or Political Statement?

This is a different kind of post for the Spellbound Scribes, but it reflects what I’ve been thinking about lately, so you’ll have to bear with me.

Gray Hair Games

Gray Hair Games

I got my first gray hair when I was about 23 years old.

I started coloring my hair at 24.

Once when I was in my early 30s, I was getting my hair done, and the woman in the chair next to mine started talking to her stylist about “a friend” who plucked all her grays. My stylist looked at me through the mirror and said, “Don’t even think about it, sweetie. You’d be bald.”

That was over twenty years ago.

I let my hair go natural when I was thirty five and pregnant with my first child. FWIW, I didn’t want to expose the fetus to any potential toxins in the hair color. Two years later, when I was pregnant with my second child, I did color my hair. Twice. Because thirty six was too young to be invisible.

When I was in my early forties I gave up on coloring my hair for the second time. I was sick to death of trying to hide the roots and negotiating appointments with popular stylists and paying $150 every two months to look like myself.

Except, without hair color, the combination of mostly-gray hair, fair skin, and light blue eyes made me feel like a ghost.

I mean, it’s sort of a fact of life. Most middle-aged women tend to fly under the radar. As a whole, society values youth – an attitude so pervasive, I don’t feel like I need to justify or validate it. And, for all the progress towards equality women have made, men still hold the power cards. So what happens if you’re neither young nor particularly powerful?

No one really takes you seriously. No one pays  much attention to you at all.

If you’ve got a minute, scroll through this slide show of Hollywood actresses who are between the ages of 50 – 60. They all look terrific, but only one – Jamie Leigh Curtis – has gray hair. Most of them have a sentence or two under their pictures, where the prevailing theme is, “but she looks so YOUNG!”

Because god forbid a woman in her 50’s actually look her age.

An actress in her 50’s may be beautiful, but she’s not likely to be cast as the movie’s love interest. Those roles go to actresses who are under 35 – regardless of how old the hero is. Check out this link for a look at the twenty-five largest age differences in movie couples. Or better yet, just ask Johnny Depp how old his costars are.

In the interest of bringing some actual science to the discussion, I found a paper from the journal Frontiers in Psychology that examines facial attractiveness as a perception of an individual’s value or worth. Their study sample was relatively small, only 60 people (30 men & 30 women) but their data supported their three hypotheses:

One study with a small sample shouldn’t be taken as gospel, but if nothing else it makes me feel like I’m not completely crazy. There’s a reason women work so hard – sometimes pathologically so – to look young. And if aging is bad and gray hair is associated with aging, why would a woman decide to go gray?

“They” say gray hair is trendy these days. Here’s a link to an In-Style article with some pretty pictures of twenty-something girls who have “gone gray” (which means they bleached out their hair then put on a silver toner – though I’ll give Kate Moss partial credit as she’s actually old enough to have some gray hair). They look really pretty, but it’s not my mama’s gray hair.

I will say, though, that articles about celebrities who are aging gracefully generally feature women who are ten, fifteen, or twenty years older than I am. Seriously. Except for Jamie Leigh Curtis, no celebrity close to my age has gray hair.

Because yeah, a couple years ago I gave up on all-over color and went with chunky high- and low-lights to blend my almost-completely-white roots. And then about six months ago, when the time for my appointment came around, I sorta forgot to make it.

I can’t decide whether I’m old enough to have internalized the expectation of invisibility, or if the silver-white thing is more striking than it used to be, or if I just don’t give a damn.

The other day at work, I ran across someone I hadn’t seen in a while, and she greeted me with, “hey, it’s another silver fox!”

She’s about my age and her hair is lovely, a glossy, silver, shoulder-length bob. I said something lame about, “well, you got the silver right”, because it’s not in me to admit to being a fox. But maybe I am.

Or maybe there’s some secret bonus to aging that I have, as yet, not appreciated.

Only time will tell.

 

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Mourning the Loss of an Artist Unapologetically

Sunday night we lost a great artist. The ripples that went around the world as people found out about David Bowie’s death built into a current that pulled so many of us down. It’s always a little strange when a celebrity dies, someone who you probably don’t even know, but their death touches you as much as losing a friend. Sunday I lost an idol I never got to meet.

I saw so many people openly express their grief, myself included, while others seemed to apologize for their feelings. Embarrassed for being sad over the death of someone they didn’t even know. I get it, it’s kinda of like heading off the teasing before anyone can say something to you like, “You’re a little too upset over this.”

But you know what? No, we aren’t.

I wrote about my experience of hearing the news and while I took the time to write that post, I of course was listening to the Starman, and totally broke down and cried. When I heard the news it was a gut punch. It stopped me in my tracks. I was speechless for a minute, but I didn’t cry. I thought, maybe I wouldn’t. When we heard the news about Robin Williams, I was sad, but didn’t cry until I watched Dead Poets’ Society later on. But writing out my thoughts about losing David Bowie, as brief as they were, I cried.

I was introduced to David Bowie at three-years-old when he was The Goblin King, like many my age. It was insta-love. And to this day, The Labyrinth is one of my favorite movies. I watch it unironically and with affection. Jareth was my first villain-crush. Every villain that touches me, reminds me of Jareth. I have dreamed of writing my own Jareth, but fear I won’t do him justice. But that sort of good-bad-guy love was shaped by this artist. No one else could have done for that role what David Bowie did.

I would come to love his music as I got older and his dark record, Outside, would help me through a tough time in junior high school. A record none of my friends enjoyed, but I did.

David Bowie helped me and influenced me. I am sad he is gone and no one will make me feel embarrassed for it. When an artist dies, it is no more sad than any other death, but we may feel it differently. We know no more art will come from them. We’ll have to cherish what they left behind. We have to accept the idea that something else that might’ve changed our lives, our perception, our own art, will never be.

Listening to Blackstar is difficult, but I’m doing it. It’s his farewell letter to us. I don’t know how he managed to create this, knowing the end was coming, but it is something to be appreciated.

Don’t ever let anyone make you feel badly over your feelings. So what if David Bowie didn’t know you – you knew him even if you never met him. He shaped you, just like any other artist that makes you think and feel.

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ETA:

I wrote this post yesterday, 1/13/16, before the news of Alan Rickman broke this morning. Everything I said above applies to this great man as well. I am crying with you. Alan Rickman was another amazing artist who touched me and so many other people. Another artist who portrayed villains and anti-heroes in a way that made you question which side you were supposed to be rooting for. He was a favorite and I am so very upset right now. This has been a hard, hard week for us.

Alan Rickman. Always.

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Rut, Kick, or Growth Spurt?

General writing wisdom holds that writers need to read. It’s like cross-training for the brain, I guess, working muscles that support the muscles we use to write. New stories fill the well, give us new ideas, make us think about different ways of telling stories. And I’m totally behind that advice—I love reading, and I’ll probably be reading books long after I stop trying to write them.

The really ambitious wisdom-giver might also tell writers to read outside of their chosen genres: the sci-fi writer should read mysteries, for example, to give them new ideas of how to build suspense. Thriller writers should read romance to learn how to use emotional connection to enrich character development.

That’s all well and good. Grand, even.

But what happens when a little healthy cross-training becomes an obsession?

For the last six weeks, I have been reading almost exclusively Regency romances. And not, like, artistic, historically accurate Regency romances. We’re talking anachronistic, sex-with-strangers, totally trashy Regency romances. The kind with gorgeous, glistening men on the covers, or sometimes with lovely women in three-quarters profile looking wistfully out at the sea. The kind they sell in airports and at grocery stores. Those romances.

It started innocently enough. It was almost Christmas. There was an anthology of Christmas-themed Regency romances on sale on Amazon. I bought it. Some of the stories were good. Some of them were appallingly bad. One of them I couldn’t finish.

Somewhere around the third story, though, I was hooked. Right around that time, writer of extraordinary, artistic-contemporary-romance-erotica-all-around-badass writer Tiffany Reisz tweeted about a Christmas Regency romance she loves, one she said was filled with hate sex. 

I couldn’t not buy that, now could I?

So I bought it, I read it, and by that time I was a goner. And I can’t tell you exactly why I’ve become so obsessed. Maybe it’s the simplicity of the stories, and the guarantee of a happy ending. Maybe it’s the escapism of a world where a prostitute can marry an earl and then be accepted by “society.” Maybe it’s my own need for low-pressure, commitment-free reading that asks no comparison to my own work. When I was a teen, I spent a month or so around finals reading Danielle Steel novels (I’m so ashamed), so apparently this is a lifelong pattern. With great stress comes the need for bad reads.

Christmas has come and gone, and I’m still reading the darn romances. I’m not using the added seasonal element to excuse myself anymore. I have better things I should be reading, friends’ books I should read, fantasy books I’ve been meaning to read. Hell, I have books own my own to read, edit, and even write.

But I’m not going to stop. I’m going to ride this rut until I crash. I spent months in 2015 not reading at all, simply because I didn’t have the mental energy to pick up a book or follow a plot, and I didn’t have the psychological energy to invest in anyone else’s troubles, fictional or otherwise. The fact that I’m reading now is a very good sign, regardless of what I’m needing. Writers and readers alike sometimes need the mental vacation that comes with consuming lighter media. There’s nothing wrong with that.

And who knows. Maybe I’m learning something, growing as a writer. If the general wisdom says it’s true, I can believe it, right?

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How a TV Show Called Roar Led to a Book About Guinevere

Roar_(TV_series)Happy New Year’s Eve!

As many of you know, my debut novel, Daughter of Destiny, publishes on January 1. As we count down the final hours until it’s available, I thought it would be fun to share with you how a TV show that pretty much no one watched inadvertently led to me writing the Guinevere’s Tale trilogy.

Back in 1997, a little TV show called Roar aired in the United States. The premise was that a 5th century Irish prince, Connor, (played by Heath Ledger in his American debut) was fighting for the freedom of his people from the oppressive Romans, while nursing a secret crush on Catlyn, a Christian former slave played by future celebrity Vera Farmiga (also in her debut role). Due to low ratings, it only aired eight of 13 filmed episodes (the remainder of which were apparently broadcast in 2000, but I didn’t see them). The whole season is available on DVD now.

Despite the inaccuracies (the most glaring of which is the Romans never invaded Ireland), I fell in love with the show and the Celts. I began researching them, which led to a 15-year obsession that took me to England twice and put me in touch with internationally acclaimed author and historian Geoffrey Ashe, as well as Arthurian/Glastonbury expert Jaime George, the man who helped Marion Zimmer Bradley research The Mists of Avalon. Somewhere in there, I found out that if King Arthur was real, he (and Guinevere) would have lived around the same period Roar took place. So the research prompted by the show was crucial to making my book historically accurate.

Other ways the show influenced my Guinevere books:

  • The Druid in the show, Galen, was my first mental model for Merlin. The character later evolved into someone quite unlike the one in Roar, but he remained the ArchDruid of Britain.
  • I eventually named another character Galen with the show in mind.
  • I was very interested in the friction between the Druids and early Christians. While it was only overtly part of the plot in one episode in the show, it became an underlying theme of my story.
  • One of the stars of Roar, Sebastian Roche (General Hospital, The Vampire Diaries, The Originials, Supernatural, Fringe), is my ideal actor for the character of Father Marius. His portrayal of Longinus in the show greatly influenced how I saw the nefarious priest Father Marius in my head.
  • The banshee in the episode of the same name had a profound influence on my understanding of just how real magic and magical creatures were to the Celts. She was a strong influence on my desire to portray the Celts’ magic as more elemental-based and subtle than the flashy fireballs from the hands or lightning from the eyes typical in high fantasy stories. (The actress who played the banshee, Brigid Brannagh, fascinated me and I’ve been following her career ever since.)

Years later, I named my cats after the two main characters in the show, Connor and Caitlyn (I misremembered the name, which was really Catlyn [pronounced “cat-lin”], but I’m not calling my cat that.) I also made lots of long-term friends on a listserve for Roar fans after the show’s cancellation, but that’s a story for another day.

daughter-of-destiny-ebook-cover-iEven though The Mists of Avalon was the true impetus for my desire to tell Guinevere’s story, it’s possible that without Roar, I wouldn’t have written Daughter of Destiny. At the very least it would be a very different book. To me, this proves that no matter how poorly received a work of art is, someone out there will like it and it can still have a profound influence on its audience, one that its creator may never be aware of. Speaking of, do you think Shaun Cassidy would want a Guinevere ARC? ;)

Have you ever heard of Roar? Dare I hope at least one of you watched it? Have there been TV shows, movies or books that ended up influencing your writing or your life? What’s your story?

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Ho Ho Horror – It’s Scary Santa!

This was a topic fellow Scribe Kristin McFarland and I talked about doing as an episode of our podcast THE YOUNG PODAWANS (cheap plug right there folks), but instead we decided to do two back to back Star Wars episodes – because STAR WARS.

So since it’s Christmas Eve and all the kiddies around the world are filled with excitement that Jolly Ol’ Saint Nick is coming down their chimneys with bags full of gifts, lets take look at some of the Scary Santas that they better hope don’t come down instead!

Robot Santa

First up is Robot Santa from FUTURAMA! Everyone knows about Santa’s Naughty and Nice list, but Robot Santa takes it much more seriously than the regular Saint Nick. Those who are naughty are more like to get a stocking full of napalm than cole. From his fortress on the far reaches of Neptune, Robot Santa takes cold and calculating stock of who is deserving of presents and who gets swift holiday vengeance come Christmas night.

Santa's Slay

Next is Demon Santa from the 2005 movie SANTA’S SLAY (yes the above gif is an actual scene from the actual movie). The film starts former wrassler Bill Goldberg as Santa, but in this version the Man in Red is a demon that lost a curling match (!!!!) to angel, requiring him to spread goodwill and cheer as punishment. But that wager only lasted 1,000 years so Demon Santa is back to kill people with turkey legs, drown them in egg nog and set Fran Drescher’s hair on fire. Again, this is a real movie that came out in real life.

Grimm_Krampus

We just talked about a relatively new Demon Santa, but we would be remiss if we didn’t mention the OG Demon Santa, Krampus. Even though Krampus didn’t get a movie until 2015 (somehow SANTA’S SLAY was 10 years before?) he’s the Scary Santa by which all other Scary Santas must be measured. Much like Regular Santa, Krampus brings gifts to children who have been good and punishes those who haven’t. Unlike Regular Santa, Krampus has horns, cloven feet and has been known to stuff bad kids into a bag and drag them off to Hell.

Jack Skellington

Next on this list is Jack Skellington! If you haven’t seen Tim Burton’s seminal animated film THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS then I don’t know what to say to you besides shame on you and go watch it now. Jack is the Spirit of Halloween, but when he stumbles upon Christmas Town, he wants to create a Christmas wonderland of his own and take up the mantle of Santa Claus for himself. Jack’s zeal and shortsightedness nearly destroys the holiday he so badly wants to make his own. While Jack’s is somewhat scary looking, his intentions aren’t malicious so it’s not fair to label him an Evil Santa, maybe just more like a Well Intentioned But Not So Great In Execution Santa.

Death Hogswatch

This inclusion comes via Kristin – it’s Death from Terry Pratchett’s HOGFATHER! The Hogfather is the representation of Father Christmas or Santa in the Discworld Universe, expect his sleigh is driven by a pack of hogs and he gives away pork products instead of gifts (I wouldn’t mind a nice pork belly under my tree, but I digress). In the book / TV show, The Hogfather is assassinated and Death steps up to take his place as a means to keep people believing he exists. So again, not really an Evil Santa, but he is kinda scary looking. And especially if you suffer from Paronomasiaphobia.

Grinch Santa

Now that time has come to bear witness to the most scary of all the Scary Santas. Krampus may be the oldest Scary Santa, but no one is more synonymous with Yuletide gloom and doom than The Grinch! Woe be to thee whose first exposure to this character was that dreadful Jim Carrey remake and not the original cartoon, which really captures to mischievous villainy of the The Grinch. Yeah sure his heart grow three sizes or whatever at the end, but none of these other Scary Santas have an awesome theme song like The Grinch. The GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS is apparently The Queen’s favorite “scary movie” so that’s gotta be worth something too.

So friends, are there any Scary Santas that I missed? Let me know!

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