Friday, August 15, 2014

Just a creative exercise

As you all have heard at length, I get a little obsessive when I'm writing, and it's difficult for me to make contact with my fellow Earthlings. ;-D  Meaning, even something as simple as writing a coherent blog feels difficult. I was going to try and put something together regarding translation, because I am having such interesting experiences going global. But... it just wouldn't come, and then this morning I had another of my crazy ideas.

What if I pulled out some random bits of story from a very old, unfinished manuscript and we did one of those exercises where everyone builds on what the previous person has written?

You can go serious or funny or whatever, but you write a paragraph or two and leave it to the next person. I wonder what we would come up with?

Let me say up front that this was written back in the day when I used to write and THEN research, which...I don't need to tell you how much of a mistake that can be if you know absolutely nothing about your topic. Which...I did not. I wasn't even sure what nationality my characters were going to be, that is clear. :-D

So here we go. Bits of an unnamed and unfinished story:

“Aren’t you Nate Martyn?  I just love your show!”

“Oh, uh…thanks.”

God.  I hated when this happened around the team.  People always thought it was my show because I was the face the public saw.  I was never so conscious of how little I really contributed until moments like these.

“It’s so smart, so well-written, so original.

“Oh, yeah, it’s a great show, Nate,” teased Charlize, elbowing me in the ribs.  I could see Bill and Travis shaking their heads with friendly mockery.  

I said, “I’m just the guy on camera.  These are the people who actually put the show together.”

But she wasn’t having any of it.  She handed out her tour book and said, “Could I have your autograph?  It would be such an honor.”

As I reluctantly took the book, I caught Johnny’s eyes.  I felt myself flushing, although he looked amused.


Bill was grinning.  “When did I ever lie to you?”

“The bay of Naples thing for one.  That bloody pack of sharks.”

“Sharks don’t travel in packs!”

“They looked like a pack to me. Or maybe a  street gang.”  I could laugh about it now, but that had been a terrifying experience.  I’d only been with the team a short while, and I really had believed I might be killed out there through someone’s carelessness or incompetence.

They all laughed at my tone.  Even Johnny’s mouth pulled into a sardonic little grin as he reached for his drink.  Todd looked mystified, and I tried to explain about the sharks that had turned up while I was supposed to be diving around some old ruins in the bay of Naples.

“But Nate was a pro,” Charlize informed Todd, her eyes dancing.  “You’ve never seen anyone so wet and scared and articulate.  And of course he always photographs like a dream.”

I grimaced at her.  “You can tell I’m shaking on camera,” I told Todd.  Then I turned to Bill.  “And how about your gentle old priest in Peru?”

Bill roared with laughter, his face taking on an apoplectic flush.  “That’s right!  That’s right.  The old boy leads Nate up to this secret temple in the hills and cold cocks him!”

Laughing with the others, I glanced Johnny’s way and caught his eyes for a split second.  Out of the blue I remembered sitting there in the twilight with the scent of sage and dust in my nostrils, and Johnny kneeling next to me, repeating, “How many fingers am I holding up, Nate?”

I grinned wryly.  That had been the first and only time I could ever remember having Johnny’s complete and undivided attention.  It had almost been worth the murderous headache I’d had for two days afterwards.



Typical of how it had always been with myself and Johnny.  He’d never taken me seriously, and no wonder.  I was always making a fool of myself in one way or another—even when it wasn’t actually my fault.  Now he was looking towards Bill who was embellishing the story—complete bullshit—but it did make for a pretty funny story.



When I’d joined the team six years ago I suppose I’d had rather a thing for Johnny.  He’d never been anything but distantly friendly to me, and I’d got over it eventually, but it took me aback to realize my feelings had been so transparent.


So there you go. The basic dynamic was that Nate was the star/host of some kind of travel show (this was back before reality shows! But I guess that's what it would be) and he was in love with his producer, Johnny.

Write us a scene and whoever gets in first, kicks off the story, and everyone embellishes from there. This is strictly for fun. Stretch your creative muscles.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

We've Got Winnahs!

Kitten has nothing to do with anything
The M-sterious Hand of Fate has chosen. Thirty times, in fact, because these comments were so inspiring, both en masse and individually, that I decided to throw in a few extra codes.

So will the following folks drop me a line through one of those contact points, and we can get your codes out to you over the next week.

Kim Williams
Lilian Francis
T.T. Kove
Maria Noriega
CA Glesener

And thank you all for commenting. There was some really wonderful encouragement there -- and some very sensible advice as well.

Friday, August 8, 2014

I. Got. Nothing.

Deep into Boy With the Painful Tattoo right now and you have heard how I feel about rough drafts, so trying to come up with a blog right now is like being asked to explain the last three days through interpretative dance.

Anyway I thought I would cover this lapse by giving away some audio books. It's been a while, right? So let's give away 25 audio books from my backlist.

Comment on this blog -- I could use some words of encouragement right about now -- Friday through Sunday night and you'll be entered in a random draw for a download code -- good for any of my audio books.

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Way it Was

What a great -- if weird -- week.


I finished off Fair Play last Thursday, and then I had about a week to catch up pretty much everything before I dive back into Boy With the Painful Tattoo this Monday. I am very eager to get back to Kit. When I left him, life was falling down around his ears as usual.


J.X. phoned.

“Hey, how’s it going?”

“It’s good. The sprinkler is repaired and I’m unpacking…everything. How was your flight?”

“I spent longer getting through security than in the air. Did you have trouble…” His voice seemed to dip and then I heard female laughter and noise in the background. J.X. said distantly, “Very funny, give me my phone, Samantha.”

Ah yes. Conferences. Networking. Socializing. Shenanigans. And more shenanigans. Shenanigans were how J.X. and I had met.

His voice came back on, loud and clear. “Sorry about that. Kit, I got a call from Nina. She sounded upset but I couldn’t understand what the problem was. I was thinking maybe if you went over there?”

“If I went over there…where? What? Where there are you talking about?”

“To Nina’s house. To see her. To see her and Gage.”

Nina was J.X.’s ex-wife. Gage was his nephew. J.X. had married Nina, his younger brother’s pregnant girlfriend, after Alex died in Iraq. He had done this for the sake of his very conservative family and her equally conservative family and the unborn kid. It was noble in a soap-opera-ish way, but it wasn’t the kind of nobility that I understood or approved of.

Also, though the gesture had been quixotic and J.X.’s feelings for Nina were platonic, the one time I’d met her -- over Christmas turkey -- had convinced me that Nina’s feelings were not so clear cut. Maybe not clear cut at all. She didn’t like me. J.X.’s parents didn’t like me either. Possibly for the same reason. And the kid, Gage, disliked me with all his little heart.

“And I would do that…why?”

“Because I can’t and you’re family. And…”

“And what?”

“And this would be a good chance for you to get to know them.”

I laughed though it came out sounding more winded than amused. “I hope you’re kidding because there is no way in hell I’m going over there. They can’t stand me. None of your family can stand me, and the last thing Nina wants is your gay boyfriend showing up.”

J.X. made an exasperated sound. “Kit, you’re family now. That’s important. A lot more important than whatever it is you’re thinking at this moment. I know it’s inconvenient and maybe a little awkward, but it’s also a perfect opportunity.”

I cannot pretend this little speech of J.X.’s did not irk the living hell out of me. So much so that I actually couldn’t speak for a few seconds.


I managed to swallow my anger before I choked to death. “Putting aside my thoughts -- and feelings -- for a second, I am up to my ears in boxes. Yours included. We’ve got the furniture company delivering the bed this afternoon. We’ve got the satellite dish people arriving any minute. There is no food in this fucking house. So whatever this unspecified emergency is with your ex --”

“She’s not my ex.”

“Yeah, actually she is. And if she can’t spell out what the problem is for you, it’s a good bet I can’t solve it for her. Even if I had the time -- or inclination -- which I don’t.”

There was a pause before J.X. said grimly, “That’s pretty blunt.”

“Not really. Blunt would be to point out that we’re not family. We’re living together. And it may or may not work out.”

I’m not sure what his response was -- I’m sure he had one. I’d never known him to let me have the last word. But I got it by default that time. I hung up.

Then I tottered over to the nearest stool -- J.X.’s contribution to our kitchen furnishings were tall bachelor pad bar stools of leather and steel -- before my knees gave out. I was shaking with a crazy rush of anger and adrenaline and alarm.

Also shame. I was too old to be hanging up on people like an angry and inarticulate teenager.

Not my finest hour. Or even my finest one and a half minutes. But this was what I had been afraid of from the first. That we were going to commit to this madness and it wasn’t going to work out.



So that’s right where I left Kit about eight weeks ago.


I wanted, needed to make every minute of this break count because when I am writing everything else falls by the wayside: email, promotion, laundry, groceries…showering. Okay, I probably should not have admitted that last one.


It turned out to be a hugely productive break. I think I got more done in six days than I’d managed in six months. Anyway, I forget why, but I started sorting through boxes of old floppy disks. Originally I used to handwrite everything, and then when I learned to write directly to a PC, I used to print everything out (there went a forest or two), but eventually I got to the point when I used to write and save files on floppy disks alone. So boxes of disks -- apparently every revision got its own disk. There were all kinds of stories I’d forgotten about: the ubiquitous 3 - 7 chapters of various abandoned projects. I used to “get bored” with a story (meaning I’d hit the part where actual work was required) and drop it for the next brilliant idea. Even after I was a successfully published writer I still used to do that, which is so bizarre to me now. That lack of discipline.


But then I wasn’t trying to earn a living at writing. I could afford to abandon six out of every seven projects.


There was some very interesting stuff there, though I don’t know whether I’ll do anything with it. Then yesterday, someone was asking whether I’d ever blogged on Show vs. Tell. I was sure I had, but I went skimming through my old LiveJournal posts, and I didn’t spot anything. What I did notice was how much more time I used to have to blog and chat.


Those were enjoyable days -- chatting with readers and other writers about writing and books and publishing -- and whatever else caught my attention. It wasn’t merely the amount of free time I had to visit, it was also the amount of time I had to write thoughtful and reflective posts. I still blog and I still spend a lot of time interacting and chatting with readers, but I could see the difference.


This isn’t a bemoaning of the good old days. Everything changes and this seems to be a common pattern for writers. We extensively journal our initial experiences and our first literary forays -- look, I just invented the wheel!!! --  but then, if our careers take off, we get too busy writing to manage much more than brief but regular check-ins.


I don’t read the same way I used to either. It’s much harder for me to get through a book now days. It’s very hard to turn my writer brain off, so while I am trying to sink into the story, I am also considering how the writer is handling various elements -- versus how I would handle these elements. It’s easier with vintage stories for some reason, easier to turn off my analytical brain and just read like I used to.


Anyway, I have no idea what all this is in aid of. It’s not just me changing, LiveJournal has changed too. It’s not the vibrant, active community it once was. It’s interesting because we tend to believe that however things are at any given moment, is how they will always be. And yet we have plenty of evidence to the contrary. So often change is incremental, so we don't notice until we look back.




Friday, July 25, 2014

Those Mid-way Mid-draft Blues

Writing is such a weird business. You go days, weeks, months (sometimes years) thinking of nothing but the story you are working. Everything you read, watch, think is basically related to these characters and their world – even when it isn’t.


You crawl through the muck of that first draft. Dragging every godawful little word out one by one. Then finally you’ve got something coherent enough to be called “a first draft,” and off it goes to your editor. Who swallows bravely and tries to make sense of it before she bounces it back.


There is incredible jubilation after that first draft. Partly because nothing is more difficult than carving that “think” out of the concrete block your brain turns into. But then comes the second draft. That is when you feel the power and the glory (such as it is) of what it is to know your craft. The second draft is the fun draft. It is really, in my opinion, the only joyful part of the writing process. When you take that raw material, look at it with fresh eyes, and you suddenly understand what you were struggling to say.


The more time between drafts, the better, in my opinion, but modern publishing doesn’t really allow for this. If you steal yourself an extra week somewhere you are doing great (and giving production teams nightmares).


The first draft is just about…getting there. Arriving muddied and bloodied on the doorstep. The second draft is about writing. It’s about how you will shower, dress, and seduce the reader into losing her or himself in the story. It is about clarifying theme and refining characterization, it is about nitpicking every adjective (Dear God, how many times have I said dryly this time? – PLEASE tell me no one “swallowed hard,” etc.) It is the one stage in a long process where you feel like you maybe know what the hell you’re doing.


But then you hand that second draft off, and there is a real sense of letdown. Almost depression. Because no matter how hard you tried, the infinite possibilities for this story are gone. The story is what it is. It is now limited in what it can be and what it can achieve. And from this point on the changes are minor ones – you did not explain how Character A knew Character B was stealing eggs from the Farm at C. You repeated a phrase too many times. That kind of thing. The fate of the story is now determined. It is the kind of story it is, and you can already hear both the praise and the criticism.  


There is definitely relief – great relief. The book is done. If you were to die at this point, the book could still go forward. It no longer really even needs you. Anyone can do these edits.


And so there is a kind of letdown. We start every story with a sense of excitement and endless possibility. Whether you outline or not, every story begins with endless possibility. But by the end of the second draft, this story has narrowed to a particular set of events with a determined outcome. You know how it ends.


And that’s where I am this morning. I sent Fair Play off yesterday afternoon and today I feel…meh. I loved writing it. I loved researching Washington and the Puget Sound and the anti-war movement of the 1960s. I learned about Black Bull whisky and Montreal and organic farming. But now it is done and there is a definite letdown.


We talk about reader addiction, but I think there is writer addiction too. And that is never more clear than when the rewrite is handed off and that particular high is finished. Done. No amount of accepting commas and removing echoes can bring it back.


But there is always the next story…


And in the meantime, I thought you might enjoy seeing the cover reveal for Fair Play!


Friday, July 18, 2014

SUMMER - Five Things I Love

It's time for our quarterly Five Things I Love update. Of course, we do this daily at Goodreads and weekly on Facebook as well, so there is never a shortage of reminding ourselves that even on the most frustrating day you run into, there is still plenty to be glad about.

So what do I love about summer?

1 - Swimming. Usually every evening, sometimes in the mornings. I love the water. Love, love, love the water.

2 - Barbecue. We grill a lot of food during the warm months of the year. Mostly a lot of salmon and veggies, but also fish and shrimp for tacos. Delicious.

3 - Stars in the night sky. Granted, the stars are there all the time, but we're not outside at night so much in the winter, so we miss a lot. There is nothing like gazing up at the night sky to remind you of your place in the scheme of things. (Which is to say, less than the blink of the tiniest pinpoint of light.)

4 - Fried food. (Wait! How did fried food pop up again? It is everywhere lately!)  It is so bad. It is so good. It is so BAD.

5 - Getting smashed and waking up with a roiling stomach and pounding headache. HAHAHAHAHAHAAA. NO. Having mostly, finally learned not to give into moments that lead to mornings like that. Yes, in some ways I do love -- LOVE -- getting older.

So? What about you? Five things you love about the summer?

Friday, July 11, 2014

Sneak Preview - FAIR PLAY

No cover art yet, but I'm currently working on the edits for Fair Play, and I thought maybe you'd enjoy a snippet for today's blog.

Elliot’s phone rang as he was climbing into his car.

For maybe the first time in his life, he was disappointed to see Tucker’s name flash up.


“Hey yourself. Where are you?” Tucker asked.

Bellevue.” Elliot stared out the windshield at the distant blue of Lake Washington. A very nice neighborhood with its lofty views and safe distance from downtown Bellevue. “Where are you?”

“I’m here. Home. I’m on Goose Island.”

“You’re early.”

“And you’re…where? You’re not here. Your dad’s not here. What’s going on?”

“It’s kind of a long story.” But Elliot condensed it into a couple of sentences that left Tucker sounding winded on the other end of the line.

“You think your dad went underground. And you’re…what? You’re trying to find him by talking to his former revolutionary pals?”

“That’s about the size of it.”

“What the hell, Elliot.”

“What does that mean? What the hell?”

Tucker made a sound of disbelief. Not quite a laugh. And certainly without humor. “You know better than anyone how a civilian getting involved in an investigation can hinder --”

“I’m not just a civilian.”

“Yes, you are. Worse, you’re an emotionally involved civilian.”

It wasn’t easy, but he managed not to lose his temper. Or at least not let his anger show in his voice. “How do you think this should work? Someone tries to take out my dad and I sit around grading papers and painting miniatures?”

“How I think it should work is you take a step back. A big step. Like it or not, you are a civilian now. You’ve been out of the field nearly two years. You need to leave this to Seattle PD.”

“I’m not getting involved in the investigation. I just want to know where he is.”

“Bullshit. He told you to stay out of it. And the fact that you can’t stay out of it -- your inability to respect parameters -- is the reason he left.”

Elliot sat up so straight he almost hit the ceiling of the Nissan. “My inability to respect parameters? What are we actually talking about here?”

“We’re talking about the fact that your father is a grown man capable of making his own decisions. He wants you to stay out of this. You need to respect that.”

“My father is nearly seventy. Someone is trying to kill him. I get that you don’t always understand family relationships, Tucker, but even you ought to be able to follow that I can’t stand aside and not make any attempt to find him.” That time Elliot didn’t bother to hide his anger.

Tucker didn’t usually raise his voice. When he got mad, his voice went deeper, lower. The chassis was scraping the pavement as he growled, “You know, you can really be a condescending prick sometimes.”

“You know what, so can you. And you don’t even have the justification of caring about anybody.”

“I care about you, you asshole. Which is why I don’t want you getting any further involved. Your father made his choices. You live by the sword, you die by the sword.”

Die by the s-s-sword?” Elliot was stuttering in his rage. “Are you fucking kidding me?”

“Not literally, obviously! I just mean --”

“I can’t wait to hear it. Actually, I can wait. I’ve got people to see. I’ll talk to you tonight. Unless you decide to stay at your own place again.”

“No way,” Tucker said. “I’ll be here. And you’re damn right we’re going to talk.”

They disconnected simultaneously and forcefully, in fact, had they been pressing something other than cell phone buttons, there probably would have been a detonation.