Balancing Act

The concept of balance has come up a couple of times lately. It’s important to both physical and mental health — you have to balance the bad you eat with the good, the activity with inactivity, the demands on your time with the needs of your soul, etc.

There are all kinds of balance in writing, too. You want a good balance of narrative versus dialogue or romance vs suspense; your hero and heroine need to balance each other; your descriptives have to balance the pacing. You have to promote your book and maintain your online presence while still protecting your writing time so that there will be a next book to promote.

You have to find the proper balance when it comes to critique or contests; you need to figure out which suggestions have merit, which don’t and which to use (just because they have merit doesn’t mean they fit your vision of your story). You have to learn how to put your heart and soul into a manuscript and yet still be able to detach those emotions and view it as purely business.

You’ve got to recognize the line between standing up for yourself and your story and shooting yourself in the foot. And you’ve got to realize that writing isn’t everything. It’s important, but so is family. Friends. Not writing. (Got to refill that creative well sometime.)

Writing is a passion, and it makes a wonderful career,once you find all those important balances.

Favorite Book of the Year

Today, I’m at Conestoga, a local SF convention.  Unlike romance conferences, SF “cons” are for readers and writers.  It gives the readers a chance to rub elbows with their favorite writers and the writers the opportunity to meet their fans and pimp their new book.  In between, the con-goers get to play.  There is one room slotted for nothing by gaming 24/7.  Fully clad aliens stalk the halls and filking (singing of SF songs) abounds.  After hours, there are room parties to cover every type of SF/Fantasy that exists.

Later today, Ill be part of a panel called My Favorite Book This Year.  “Which one is that?”, you ask.  I don’t have a clue!  Do they mean the best book published in 2009? Is that limited to a pub date of 2010?   With the size of my TBR pile, one of the best books I read this was published so long ago it’s not even in print anymore.  Since this is a science fiction con, am I limited to SF?  I emailed for an answer, but got no answer.  So in my usual fashion, I’m going to try and cover everything.

One  book I brought to enter is DRAGONHEART by Todd McCaffrey.  I chose this because Pern is one of my favorite worlds and Todd has continued the series in a voice very close to his mother.  He is allowing me to see another era of Pern history which gives me my beloved dragons.  And he does it without violating some of the tenets set forth in the original Pern books.

Another book I brought is MORTAL SINS by Eileen Wilks as part of her werewolves’ series.  Like J.D. Robb’s series, it’s no longer really a romance, but to a purely SF crowd, I’d like to introduce them to the idea that you can really write urban fantasy and romance in a pleasurable read.

And last, I brought my absolutely favorite read for the year…and 2010 will have to go a long distance to beat it as long as I’m concerned.  I’ve already read it twice in one year and can’t stop thinking about it.  SAY GOODBYE by Lisa Gardner.  It’s sold as a thriller though there is a romance in it.  The suspense in it so strong, I can’t even remember the hero and heroine; what has me in awe is the villain.

As you know, each character must have his/her own GMC.  In SAY GOODBYE, we watch the villain develope from a child kidnapped by a pedophile to a serial killer.  We watch as his soul is twisted and deformed by his new life, battering at him until his emotions are totally ripped away from him, leaving him cold and uncaring.  It isn’t as if he doesn’t know right from wrong; he is a man whose moral compass has been shattered by his torment.

There they are…SOME of my favorite books of the year.  Of course, this aren’t anywhere near the only great books I read this year.  For that, we’re going to need a bigger boat!


Wish I had more of it, with my writing and life and physically. I used to have both, but now? As for life, I know it will come back or I will adjust. Physically? Let me just say I won’t be doing backflips or cartwheels on a balance beam anymore. And I can’t cross the wire on Wii.

On Tuesday, I experienced vertigo at the bottom of the pool. I was helping students do out of air ascents, so I can understand the physiology of why I might have become disoriented. But I had such clarity of what was happening to my body.

And the weird/good thing:  I was calm. Whether that came from training, stupidity, or knowing that I was completely safe if I got into further distress, I wasn’t worried.  Even writing this, I can still feel the weightlessness, the slight spinning. Being able to recreate the sensation, I can inject this into my stories. The hero or heroine can have their world become totally unbalanced. 

As word weavers, we don’t have to experience every sensation to create it. I don’t want to die, although I’ve come close a couple of times. I don’t want to be shot or stabbed or poisoned. Being able to translate what happens in everyday life to paper is awesome.  

Taking balance away from a character will show what s/he is made of.

Voices in Our Heads

Voices in our heads. We’re not crazy. We’re writers.

One of my favorite lines.

Mostly because it’s true. 🙂

Real writers are a different kind of people. I can talk to a group of self-proclaimed writers for thirty minutes and pretty much pick out the real writers from the players every time. The difference isn’t in output; there are real writers who write very little and players who write a lot. It’s more in the outlook.

Real writers — the ones who are drawn to writing, nay, driven to it — have a different way of seeing the world and the people in it. Players look at writing as a job or an easy way to fame and fortune.

Real writers have a passion that few non-writers understand (and are usually thrilled to meet someone who does). Players approach their writing the same way insurance agents or nurses or school teachers do: logically, rationally. (And it shows in the final product.)

Real writers know they’re not in control of the voices in their heads, that characters rarely do something they don’t want to and if they do give in, they do it badly. They might forget to put on a coat to go outside in winter because in their head, they’re chasing their characters through a tropical jungle or strolling along a sandy beach. Tell a player that your character’s in a snit and refusing to do what you need her to, and they’ll look at you as if you’re certifiable. Players are so logical and rational that their characters probably wouldn’t dare rebel.

Real writers know there’s no such thing as regular hours in this biz. If your characters start talking to you at 3 a.m., you ignore them at your own peril. If you have a deadline looming, little things like changing clothes and bathing fall off your radar, and you don’t eat anything that can’t be consumed one-handed at the computer. Players keep to a regular schedule, turning the tap on and typing, turning the tap off and stopping.

Real writers turn out books filled with their passion. A reader may love it or hate it, but there’s no denying they’ll feel something for it. Players’ words may be lovely, their characters well-drawn, their story perfectly plotted, but they lack the passion that grabs the reader by the throat and sucks her in.

Real writers may, in fact, be a little crazy. We’re certainly different. And not one of us would have it any other way.

Hold your nose and chug it down!

Because of a medical condition, I’m required to take potassium chloride twice a day.  It usually comes in a honking big pill that could choke a horse.  In a liquid form, it’s flat out nasty tasting.  For years, pharmaceutical companies have struggled for a way to 1. make the pill smaller or 2. make the liquid pleasing to the palate.  Recently, my doctor accidently prescribed the liquid form.  It came in a powder that you mix with water or juice. 

Again, due to my medical condition, I can’t drink juice without a meal (real hard to do at work!), so I have to mix it with water.  The first time, I took only a sip and thought I was going to gag!  Holy septic sludge, Batman!  It was beyond nasty; more like chemical torture.  I started working on getting the pills back, but until I could work things out, I had to keep taking the powder.  So what I did was pinched my nose, chugged it down, and I didn’t take a breath until I have taken a sip of something strong to clean my palate.  Jim Beam works well!

Meanwhile, it brought to mind certain aspects of writing that you need to “hold your nose and chug it down”.  For instance,  setting up booksignings.  There is nothing I hate more than selling and when you approach a bookseller for a signing, that’s what you do.   Only you don’t sell your book; you’re selling yourself as an author that can bring in paying customers to the store.   But I’ve done it.  I’ve actually faced store owners and asked for a signing.  I’ve gotten gig, but afterwards, I always feel the way I do after taking the liquid potassium chloride…relieved that a nasty task is done.

There are so many other things; pitching to an editor or agent, filing a more complicated tax return, getting rejections or a bad review, etc.  When these things happen, you just have to “hold your nose and chug it down”.  Luckily, there are things that are like pills.  That call or email that says you sold.  That first royalty check you can wave in front of all those doubters.  The love and support of your fellow writers.  Sometimes these events can seem too big to swallow, but you deserve them, so do it.

And to my sisters of the keyboard in RWI…thank you for being my “pills”!

You Smell

I smell. Let’s face it, we all smell. It is one of the five senses.

What did you think I was referring to?   🙂

On my trip to town to return a faulty hose, the truck had filled with that wonderful plastic funk. I sat for a moment to just inhale. I’m not sure why I like that particular smell–oh yeah, I’m twisted. But it got me thinking about my writing and how I forget to add smell.

You don’t want to insert it just because. Then it grabs the reader like removing your yard shoes in a crowd–maybe you have feet that smell like roses, but my yard shoes have tracked through cow, horse, dog and chicken poop and that’s not even including my sweaty feet.

Right now, I have Carolina Jessamine and Confederate Jasmine blooming. The yellow jessamine’s fragrance reminds me of my childhood and playing with friend, Boo. Her mother grew the most wonderful flowers and landscaped four acres of yard, plus raising four kids–or twelve as the Yeakel house was THE place to be. We caught horny toads in the front that was xeriscaped–way before it became fashionable. The plantation house front lawn was just like I read about in my books. We went to Asia in the backyard with the bamboo. Climbed trees.

The jasmine is the last plant my father made for me. Each new leaf and bloom remind me of him, and his magnificent backyard of huge oak, elephant ears, sultana, and his love. I did not inherit his green thumb, but I’m trying.

I love the smell of a horse and the sweat stained saddle after a long leisurely ride. Indescribable.  The salty tang of the ocean. New cars. Sweet feed. Puppy breath. Baking cookies. My husband–most of the time even with a funk, but not all. (You can fill in the blank here.)

And the one smell that totally makes me weak, the scent of a freshly bathed infant slathered with Baby Magic.

On The Horns of a Dilemma

In the beginning, I was a reader.  From the age of three, books were my friends, my companions, my drug of choice.  You want to hurt me bad?  Put me in a situation where I don’t have something to read.  For example, on one of my trips to the ER, I finished the book I always carry with me.  I told the nurse, if she didn’t want me to get into trouble, she’d better find me something to read.  She brought me a National Rifle Association magazine.  Truth!  And I read it.  Didn’t like it, but I read it.

I’m reaching the point of my life where I’m considering retirement.  Always before, that had meant to me to have the time to read and write as much as I want.  Going to foreign places for research.  Spending days in my jammies, writing deathless prose.  Curling up in my recliner with my blankie, my hot tea, and a good book.  But then I suffered a startling thought.  I won’t live long enough!

I have both of my children’s former bedrooms piled high with books, read and unread.  I also have boxes that used to hold reams of paper filled with books I’ve already read and hoped to re-read in my retirement.  Hell, I even have them stacked in the workshop where they’re probably growing mold since the space isn’t weather-proofed.

On the other hand, I have my “story” file.  That’s a list of stories and/or books I want to write.  Some of them are only an idea.  Some have character studies started and others have the first few pages written.  Allowing six months to write each and factoring in edits, promoting, etc., I figure I have to live another 30 years to get them all done.  More if I want to take showers and clean the house once a year.

So my dilemma is how can I live long enough to do complete the two things I love best?  Yes, I could split up my day so I write in the morning and read in the afternoon during the week.  Then, on the weekends, I could see my friends and family.  The only problem is my favorite authors keep putting out more great books and I keep getting all these story ideas.  What’s a girl to do???