Look at You!!

Five or six years ago, our pupper pack increased to the size that we decided kennels were a necessity. The three youngest members didn’t mind theirs at all; any of them would go anywhere for a cookie. The oldest didn’t mind his, either; being locked in there gave him an opportunity to pester the middle two, one on each side, when they were a trapped audience. #2, though, didn’t take happily to the idea, so not only did he get a cookie when he responded to “Kennel puppers!”; he also got lots of encouragement and praise.

Fast-forward a couple years. #1 has decided he ain’t going in no stinkin’ kennel, and he wins the argument. The other four are pretty placid about it; no more need for praise; they’ve come to the understanding that kennel = cookie + quiet time to save energy for tearing down the house later.

Then, suddenly, one day #2 refuses to go into his kennel, not evenwith the lure of a cookie already lying on the floor inside. He stands stubbornly at the gate, watching me with huge brown eyes as if he can make me understand what he wants if he just tries hard enough. I order, command, offer a second cookie and even try to push him inside. Beau holds his ground.

Finally I remember the praise that worked so well in the past, and I begin clapping my hands. “Good boy, Beau! You’re so pretty and smart and such a good boy! Way to go! Good job!”

And, smiling happily, tail wagging, he trots into the kennel, settles in and eats his cookie.

Everyone needs encouragement and praise now and then.

Fast-forward to last month, my first time to stand up after the knee replacement surgery. It’s been less than 20 hours. I’m in thigh-high TED hose and a gown big enough for two of me. Something about the whole procedure has ticked off my hormones so that I’m having the kind of night sweats that could drown a person. My hair’s standing on end, and I have the kind of icky feeling that mowing five hours in hundred degree heat brings. The physical therapist tells me how to move my legs to the side of the bed, where to put my hands, how to push. I do, gritting my teeth, and with her help, voila! I’m on my feet beside the bed.

“Great job!” she says. “Look at you! You’re standing! Way to go!!”

Now . . . I’m 50+ years old. I’ve been standing since I was 8 or 9 months old. It’s been a very long time since anyone’s applauded me for it. Somewhere in my drug- and pain-dazed mind, I knew that. But standing there that morning, with a death grip on the bed rail and the walker, with the physical therapist waiting to catch me if I fall, I bask in the praise. Look at me! I’m standing!! Way to go!!

Everyone needs encouragement, even if it comes from ourselves. The level of praise depends on our needs at that moment. You wrote ten pages? Wonderful!! You’ve been whacked by the writer’s block monster but finally fought your way free to write one whole page? Fabulous!! Life has snatched you bald but you managed to think about your story today? You’re so smart and talented! You’re such a good writer!! Look at you!!

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For Ms. Susan “I gotta know everything” Shay

Okay, Susan, be prepared to be bored.  I know I’ve talked about some of my favorite “romance” books.  These are stories by little-known authors or stories published awhile ago or even single titles I’ve read by authors known for other genres.  I thought I’d share why I love them so.

Frank Yerby was an African-American author who was the first of his race to have a book made into a movie, THE FOXES OF HARROW.  But the book I love best of his was THE SARACEN BLADE.  It was a story of a gently bred serf who loved a baron’s daughter and spent years earning the right to woo her.  Though in today’s market, a romance editor might insist that the H/H not be separated so long, the book itself was so good, the ending seemed perfect.

You’ve heard me tell about MELISSA by Taylor Caldwell.  Basically, the heroine is a young woman emotionally manipulated by a weak father.  The hero is a diamond in the rough kind of guy and we watch Melissa grow from a naive, deceived daughter to a woman willing to reach out for love.  Caldwell’s true gift is how well she could construct the souls of her characters.  They weren’t just flawed; they were the kind of people you have around you every day.  You might not want them as a best friend, but I might.

Another book I really liked was RED ADAM’S LADY by Grace Ingram.  It was a fun historical romance with a quirky hero and a long-suffering heroine.  At the time I read it, most other medievals were full of war and angst.  This book was just plain amusing…and romantic.

A surprise read was MESSAGE FROM ABSALOM by Anne Armstrong Thompson.  Published in 1975, it was a spy thriller about a civilian heroine swept into an espionage caper while being chased by a handsome, devilish KGB agent.  Yum!  What a great read in the height of the Cold War.

And last but not least, Elsie Lee’s ROOMMATES.  I had been a long time fan of Lee’s historicals.  To start with, she was one of the few who wrote sensual historicals.  And her women were always strong.  This book, however, was a contemporary…enough of a switch to intrigue me.  This 1976 book was about several women in New York sharing an apartment.  They were kind of the mid-70’s SEX AND THE CITY.  The heroine is a country mouse come to the city and she gets caught up in their lifestyle of living by partying.  But by remaining true to her moral compass, she wins the best prize of all…Mr. Big.

Well, there you have it.  Some of the books that made me the romance reader…and writer that I am.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

Writeritous

I’ve spent the last few days talking to college students in Norman, Tulsa, and Stillwater about their futures.  Some were confident – they know exactly what they want to do with the rest of their lives. Some had that deer-in-the-headlights expression on their faces. They don’t know. They just don’t know.  The party’s nearly over and they’re scared witless.

As I spoke to them I realized I’ve always known what I wanted to do – write. Regardless of the job I took to pay the bills, I wanted to write and did. And when I landed my dream job, as a campaign manager and Field Representative for a California State Assemblyman,  I was in heaven. I wrote every day, not fiction, but press releases and all his Op Ed pieces.  It didn’t matter, because I was writing.

I’ve lived in many different parts of the country – Ft. Smith, St. Louis, Southern California, now Northeastern Oklahoma. Everywhere I live, no matter what job I hold down to make ends meet, I still write.

In 5th grade I discovered I had the talent to entertain people with a story. I got infected the disease – Writeritous – and there is no cure.

So to borrow from Susan, I’m terminally curious.  When did you know you wanted to be a writer? Have you recently been infected or have you always had the “bug”?

Life Cycles

Drama magnet, er, Meg here instead of Marilyn! 

As my friends have put up with my whining, I’ve been going through personal changes. Don’s accident meant the death of planned dreams, an intense inward focus of our lives, health, and what is really important.

Like changes in the seasons, I have to adapt. I have no choice.  I’m not a big fan of change if it isn’t initiated by moi! But maybe I should think of it as evolving.

As writers, I believe we have to evolve. Staying stagnant might sell a few books because some readers want the same old-same old heart-shaped face, eyes too large for her face, frail and needs a man to rescue her heroine.  Markets and readers change. The world changes. Life goes on in cycles.

So as I step back from writing the next great novel–**snort** I’m adding, experimenting, traveling, experiencing new things, then use my writing to color in emotion, texture, different views. Along the way, I will know what great fun life really is when you can change.     

Revisiting Old Friends

I wrote my first published book on a Smith-Corona word processor.  The machine  didn’t do anything other than office stuff, no email or anything, but at the time, it was better than my old (broken) Selectric and cheaper than a computer.  By the time I wrote the book, edited it, sent it around to contests and editors, re-edited it, sold it and RE-EDITED again, I was sick to death of it.  Didn’t even read the printed book in my hand for over a year.

It was on the shelves for four weeks, won some awards, landed on the USA Today Bestselling list, and like other category books, passed into history.  Since I was never able to sell Silhouette another book, I sought other markets for my next books.  Soon I started publishing under another pen name, and BABY BONUS remained a loved, but abandoned story.

A few years ago, my career seemed to be going along fine under my new pen name, so I decided to legally change my name to my pseudonym.  And while I was at it, why not “retire” my old pen name, Amanda Kramer?  I retrieved all rights on my Desire and went on my merry way.

A few months ago, several authors who have many more OOP books than I were bragging about how they “re-sell” theirold books in Kindle format.  The really nice thing is they get a larger portion of the price.  One author claimed he made over $1000 on three books.  True or not, even gettinga little more money on a book that’s just hanging around sounded cool to me.

Problem?  The disks I used to save the manuscript to would fit ONLY the S-C word processor, nothing else.  No where did I have a digital copy of that manuscript.  I had a few choices.   Re-type the entire thing.  Not!  What about using Dragon Speak to speed up the process and train the Dragon at the same time?  Eck!  It would take me longer to train the program than it would to re-type.  Pout*Pout.

Luckily, I discovered Seneca who worked her magic and converted one of the extra print copies I had to Word.  I had to edit the copy to find the few mistakes the process leaves behind, but hey!  Bingo.  I was all over it like lice on rice.  And a wonderful thing happened as I worked.

I fell in love with the story again.  Leigh is my kind of woman in love with a gorgeous, yummy guy.  And Nick is absolute adorable taking care of Leigh…and falling in love with her even though he thinks she’s pregnant with another man’s baby.  I love them! 

So now, the edits are almost done.  I’ll get another front cover made, change the title back to the original which I also love, and be ready to see this book reborn.  World, look out!  Here comes CHRISTMAS BONUS.

CRAFT OR SULLEN ART?

Last Saturday at our RWI meeting, one of guest speakers, Chuck Sasser, talked about the importance of learning your craft. As a writer talent and drive will take you so far. But we have to constantly challenge ourselves…no not challenge, demand, that we strive for excellence every day.  The task of polishing our work is one that we can never cross off our To Do List. Our labor is often done late at night when the kids are finally in bed or when the laundry is put away. Life sometimes gets in the way of writing and it becomes easy to re-prioritize our tasks so that writing and polishing our craft moves to the bottom of the list. Chuck said as writers we have to discipline ourselves to keep writing at the top of the list.

 I ran across a poem this week by Dylan Thomas. It says it all.

 IN MY CRAFT OR SULLEN ART

 In my craft or sullen art

Exercised in the still night

When only the moon rages

And the lovers lie abed

With all their griefs in their arms,

I labor by singing light.

Not for ambition or bread

Or the strut and trade of charms

On the ivory stages

But for the common wages

Of their most secret heart.

 

Not for the proud man apart

From the raging moon I write

On these spindrift pages

Nor for the nightingales and psalms

But for the lovers, their arms

Round the griefs of the ages,

Who pay no praise or wages

Nor heed my craft or art.

Celebrating Accomplishments

Somebody commented recently — Jackie, I think — that she was going to finish her book if it took writing one hundred words at a time. Sounds pretty daunting when you have 20 or 40 or 60,000 words to go, but sometimes that’s how you’ve got to do it: baby steps.

If you’re accustomed to much higher output, say, 3000 words a day, 100 sounds so paltry. It’s just a couple paragraphs. A few wordy sentences. It sounds so paltry that it’s hardly worth doing. Skip today, you tell yourself, and you can write — ooh, gasp! — 200 words tomorrow. Or take the whole week off, then catch up with 700 words on Sunday.

But if your life or muse or situation requires baby steps right now, skipping them isn’t going to work. If you’re having trouble getting one hundred words written, then it stands to reason that you’re going to have more trouble writing two hundred words, right? You need that regular commitment, dedication, diligence to build your output. If you get in the habit of writing 100 words a day, before long, you’ll find you’re writing 150 a day, then 200. You may not build up to 3000, but you will build up to the right, reasonable, workable level for you.

Most of you know that I had a total knee replacement three weeks ago. My walking goal right now is one-quarter mile, and I’ve been doing it every day for a week (with one 3/8 mile day thrown in just for fun). The first time I completed the one-quarter, I was excited . . . until I glanced at the timer I’d set when I started. Normally, I walk one-quarter mile in less than five minutes. That first time post-op took me 50 minutes and 20 seconds.

That pretty much put the fizzle on my sense of accomplishment until my husband pointed out that how long it took me is irrelevant. There was nothing in my doctor’s instructions about walking a quarter mile in a set period of time. All Baby Doc said was “Walk one-quarter mile.” Speed might matter when the swelling’s gone, when the dressings are off and the incisions are healed, when the stiffness is worked out and the range-of-motion comes naturally instead of me gritting my teeth through it.

But right now all I can manage is baby steps: good posture in the walker, good gait, heel-to-toe. Be careful on the turns and don’t cut the corners too sharp.

It isn’t fast, but over time, the effort adds up. Just like those 100 words a day.