Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Thursday's Children Blog Hop: Traditional Inuit Drum Dancing

Inuit- and specifically Inupiaq- culture plays a large part in my novel.  The heroine is half-native, and a large chunk of the story is devoted to her rediscovering her heritage.

Tradition is still strong in the North.  Inuit of every tribe still practice traditional festivals, eat traditional food, dance traditional dances.  It's a beautiful way to honor those who have gone before, and allows people who are often misunderstood and disenfranchised to be part of a human timeline that extends back into history.

The young play an equal part in preserving these traditions.  As this video clip illustrates, however, Inuit heritage is far from static.  It is a vibrant legacy that everyone can embrace and leave their own stamp on.

Excerpt from All That Glitters

The drummers began to play, an ancient, pulsating sound.  A troop of dancers shuffled out.  Their feet pounded the ground in time to the beat, their hands and arms dusted the air in rhythmic circles. 
      Ethan looked down at Ava.  She was transfixed, eyes glued to the dancers.  Her body swayed slightly.  She felt him watching her and looked up.  Ethan smiled.  “We survived.”
      She chuckled.  “So we did.”  She turned back to the dancers.  Ethan was about to as well, when she threaded her arm through his.  He stared at her, surprised.  She didn’t look up.  “Thanks.”  The corners of her lips lifted.  “You know.  For today.”
      In front of them, the dancers dipped and circled, their shadows long and flickering under the low-slung sun.  Ava leaned into him, her warm, soft weight a comfortable pressure at his side.  Ethan laid a hand over hers and tucked her close.  “My pleasure.”


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Monday, February 25, 2013

The Importance Of Having A Face

Thanks to Zen Mateyka for designing such a beautiful cover!  I couldn't ask for a better graphic designer, or friend.

A book cover is never just a book cover.  It's a billboard, a press release, a PR opportunity.  It lets the reader know what's in store for them.  Is your book a mystery?  A romance?  A thriller?  We should know as soon as we look at your cover.

If you're planning on writing more than just one book, here's something to keep in mind: you are now a brand.  Your book isn't your brand, it's just a product of it.  You are your brand.  Your name.  Your face.  Your style.  Which means your book cover doesn't just represent the book it covers, it represents you.

Now would be a good time to start thinking about what you want your brand to be.  What kinds of books do you want to write?  What is the overall tone going to be?  Who is your target demographic?  Perhaps most importantly, what parts of yourself are you willing to market to the world, and what are you going to keep private?

If these sound like big concepts, they are.  But they're worth thinking about, especially if you're standing at the edge of the pond and contemplating taking the plunge. 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Thursday's Children Blog Hop: Gut Poetry

Every once in a while, I come across a piece of writing that finds its way into my soul and lodges there.  This is one such piece.  I first discovered in back in 10th grade, and it has hovered around the edges of my mind ever since.  The feeling I get when I read it is the same feeling I try to capture in my own writing.
Hiking Tours, Trip in the Yukon
"The Spell Of The Yukon"
by Robert W. Service
I wanted the gold, and I sought it;
   I scrabbled and mucked like a slave.
Was it famine or scurvyI fought it;
   I hurled my youth into a grave.
I wanted the gold, and I got it 
   Came out with a fortune last fall, 
Yet somehow life’s not what I thought it,
   And somehow the gold isn’t all.

No! There’s the land. (Have you seen it?)
   It’s the cussedest land that I know,
From the big, dizzy mountains that screen it
   To the deep, deathlike valleys below.
Some say God was tired when He made it;
   Some say it’s a fine land to shun;
Maybe; but there’s some as would trade it
   For no land on earthand I’m one.

You come to get rich (damned good reason);
   You feel like an exile at first;
You hate it like hell for a season,
   And then you are worse than the worst.
It grips you like some kinds of sinning;
   It twists you from foe to a friend;
It seems it’s been since the beginning;
   It seems it will be to the end.

I’ve stood in some mighty-mouthed hollow
   That’s plumb-full of hush to the brim;
I’ve watched the big, husky sun wallow
   In crimson and gold, and grow dim,
Till the moon set the pearly peaks gleaming,
   And the stars tumbled out, neck and crop;
And I’ve thought that I surely was dreaming,
   With the peace o’ the world piled on top.

The summerno sweeter was ever;
   The sunshiny woods all athrill;
The grayling aleap in the river,
   The bighorn asleep on the hill.
The strong life that never knows harness;
   The wilds where the caribou call;
The freshness, the freedom, the farness
   O God! how I’m stuck on it all.

The winter! the brightness that blinds you,
   The white land locked tight as a drum,
The cold fear that follows and finds you,
   The silence that bludgeons you dumb.
The snows that are older than history,
   The woods where the weird shadows slant;
The stillness, the moonlight, the mystery,
   I’ve bade ’em good-bybut I can’t.

There’s a land where the mountains are nameless,
   And the rivers all run God knows where;
There are lives that are erring and aimless,
   And deaths that just hang by a hair;
There are hardships that nobody reckons;
   There are valleys unpeopled and still;
There’s a landoh, it beckons and beckons,
   And I want to go backand I will.

They’re making my money diminish;
   I’m sick of the taste of champagne.
Thank God! when I’m skinned to a finish
   I’ll pike to the Yukon again.
I’ll fightand you bet it’s no sham-fight;
   It’s hell!but I’ve been there before;
And it’s better than this by a damsite
   So me for the Yukon once more.

There’s gold, and it’s haunting and haunting;
   It’s luring me on as of old;
Yet it isn’t the gold that I’m wanting
   So much as just finding the gold.
It’s the great, big, broad land ’way up yonder,
   It’s the forests where silence has lease;
It’s the beauty that thrills me with wonder,
   It’s the stillness that fills me with peace.
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Monday, February 18, 2013

Write What You Know?

Source: via john on Pinterest

"Write what you know." -Mark Twain

It's one of the most famous lines of writing advice out there, by one of America's greatest writers ever to hold a pen.  Unfortunately, it's also one of the most misunderstood.

What do we know, after all?  I mean, really?  If we only write about those things we've had direct personal experience with, where does that leave us?  What about imagination, that crucial spark that gives life to what is otherwise just words on a page?  If we only write what we know, is there room for what we can imagine?

I look at writing advice the same way I look at the Bible.  There are two schools of thought.  There's the school that insists on fundamentalist purity: every word should be read and understood exactly as it was written.  And there's the school of informed interpretation, that holds there are multiple lenses through which you can view a given statement, and it's up to intelligent people to determine which lens to use.

I'm no fundamentalist, and I'm hardly pure, so I guess that leaves me with option B.

To me, "writing what you know" means writing from a place of truth.  What is truth?  Tough question.  I'm no great philosopher either, and there are many kinds of truth to choose from.  Emotional truth, spiritual truth, existential truth, whatever. 

Some experiences are universal.  What do your everyday experiences feel like?  What kind of response do they generate inside you?  How can you take those core vibrations and translate them into your writing?

Right around Christmas, my toddler had a seizure while my husband and I were out at a Christmas party.  One minute, I was sipping Champagne, the next my husband was dragging me down our hosts' driveway at a sprint, saying he'd gotten a call and something was wrong with our son.  The babysitter didn't know what.  We drove home at breakneck speed, imagining the worst the entire way.

To cut a long story short, our son was fine- the seizure was the result of a sudden fever, and after a long night in the hospital, he was right as rain by the next morning.  But that experience got me thinking.  

I might never face down a killer, or be trapped in a sinking ship, or dodge a hail of bullets while running down a dark alley, but thanks to that experience, I know what real fear is.  I know what it tastes like.  I know what it feels like as it lumps in the pit of my stomach.  I know the surge of adrenaline, followed by the quiet, deadly calm.  Fear is now something I can write truthfully about.

Live mindfully.  Find your own truth, and you'll find your starting point.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Thursday's Children Blog Hop: Keeping Your Tip Up

"In the race for success, speed is less important than stamina." -B.C. Forbes

It's been a long couple of weeks.

I finished the edits for my baby- er, book- close to a month ago now.  In the life of an author, that's huge.  I mean like "getting married", or "we're pregnant" huge.  When you've invested so much time and energy into pouring a piece of your soul onto paper (or computer screen), that moment when you realize it's finally done is a bit like giving birth.

Of course, the journey isn't over just because you've had the kid.  In fact, after the afterglow wears off, it hits you (at least, it hit me): now the real work begins. 

As every parent knows, it's not enough to just birth the baby.  You have to raise it.  Polish it.  Set it up as best you can to give it a decent shot in life.  With a book, the concept is the same.  Just like no good parent would just abandon their child to face the world on their own, no author worth their salt would do that to their book, either.

So this is where I am in the process right now.  I've spent the past few weeks setting up business accounts, working out marketing details, getting my book to review blogs, and just overall playing Puppetmaster.  To be honest, it's not a role I'm entirely sure I was born for.  And I've never been more exhausted.

All the same, I've learned lessons and gained insights about myself that are truly priceless.  I've found that I have it in me to finish a book.  I've met friends via Twitter that I never would have had the privilege of knowing otherwise.  I've discovered people interested in my writing and my novel.  I've tasted the satisfaction and pride that comes with being an entrepreneur.

Like the above quote suggests, what it comes down to is stamina.  Writing and self-publishing is a long-game.  To succeed (or even just survive), you have to find a way to keep going even when the journey seems endless.  Which it often does.  Read for fun, take bubble baths, disconnect from the world when you have to.  Guard your time and don't over-commit yourself, even if it's for people you adore. 

If you reach a point when you can't even form a simple sentence and your brain feels like it's turning to dust, it's time to take a step back.  Don't feel guilty.  You might lose a little time in the present, but you'll be ensuring your ability to continue in the future. 

Work hard, but don't run out the batteries.  Inspire yourself.  Stay juicy. 


Thursday, February 7, 2013

Thursday's Children Blog Hop: For The Love Of Punishment

“The scariest thing about dredging, is the threat of not making enough money to keep doing it.” -Zeke Tenhoff, "Bering Sea Gold"

Ideas come from the strangest places.

I am a slut for the Discovery Channel.  Everything on there gives me ideas.  It's like the network execs traverse the globe looking for the biggest, baddest, most hardcore people they can find, and then make a show about them.  This fits my "tender love stories, tough people" ethos perfectly.

I love these people.  They're the kind of badasses I like to think I could have been if I hadn't settled down and had a kid.  From commercial lobstermen to miners to that guy who wrestles monster fish week after week, they are my kind of folks.

Oh, and gold dredgers.  Mustn't forget them.

"Bering Sea Gold" follows several crews of rag-tag, nuttier-than-fruitcake gold dredgers, each struggling to make a living at what is easily the craziest job on the planet: mining for gold on the floor of the Bering Sea.  It takes place in Nome, Alaska, a former gold rush boomtown that has long since lost its "boom".  There are no roads that lead to Nome from the rest of Alaska- to get there, you have to either fly or swim.  Summers last all of three months, and winters are long, dark, and bitterly cruel.

The first time I saw this show, an idea hit me so hard I nearly fell off my bed: what an awesome place to set a romance.

To be a gold dredger, you have to be tough, stubborn, and a little warped.  Just the kinds of characters I love to write about.  And people who wind up in Nome are usually there because they've exhausted all other possibilities.  What better backdrop for a love story?

Hey, I never said I wasn't a little nuts, too.


Tuesday, February 5, 2013

I'd Like To Thank The Academy...


...Or more precisely, Rhiann Wynn-Nolet, who nominated me for this.  Against her better judgement, I have no doubt.

Like most things in life, this award comes with a few responsibilities ("rules" is such an ugly word).  Here they are:

1. Display the award logo on your blog.
2. Link back to the person who nominated you
3. State 7 things about yourself.
4. Nominate up to 15 other bloggers for this award and link to them.

I'm not even sure there are seven interesting things about me.  Even if there are, most people can only take about three before their eyeballs explode.  But for the courageous of you out there, here's what I've managed to come up with:

1)  When I was 10, my mother and I went on a mission trip to a Russian orphanage.  We lived there for 2 weeks and put on a summer camp for the kids.  I had never seen what real hardship looked like before that, and it totally changed my worldview.  Not to mention my life.  

2)  I was adopted at birth.  I met my birth family for the first time almost two years ago now, all except for my birth mother, who died in 2001.  My sister was the matron-of-honor at my wedding.

3)  I love long-distance swimming.  In the water, I can pretend I'm graceful. 

4)  I don't believe in God, but I'm also not militant enough about it to call myself an "atheist".

5)  Since finishing my novel and starting on the self-pub process, I have developed an eye twitch.  I like to think it's one of the Seven Habits of Highly Successful People.

6)  For Christmas a few years ago, my grandmother gave me her old metal hip replacement joint.  I still use it as a paperweight.   

7)  I sing.  Lots of things, but mostly jazz, blues, and indie rock.  And I actually don't suck.

Embarrassingly, I don't have as many people as Rhiann to nominate for this.  I'm new to this scene, okay?  But here are a couple people who have caught my eye so far:

Rose D'Andrea
Jeff McGown

Monday, February 4, 2013

Shitty First Drafts

“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere." Anne Lamott, Bird By Bird

I can be a bit of a perfectionist at times.

Okay, that's just a nice way of saying I'm anal-retentive.  When I do something, it's go big or go home.  There are certain activities I won't even attempt- mini golf, pool, bowling- because I can't handle how badly I suck at them.

This carries into my writing as well.  When I was working on the first draft of my novel, hours upon workable hours would go by while I "fixed" what I'd written the previous day.  The funny thing is, once I got to the actual editing phase, none of those previous polish-ups mattered.  My completed first draft, while not total shit, came pretty close.  I had been working my head into a tizzy over individual words and sentences, when entire paragraphs, entire scenes, needed to be reworked.

That was my first valuable lesson: there's a reason everyone tells you not to edit while you're writing.  

Fortunately for me, there is a time and a place for perfectionism.  Once I finished my first draft, it needed work.  A lot of work.  More than I expected.  Thanks to some honest feedback and more than a few stiff drinks, I pinpointed where the problems were and fixed everything I could.  It was a task of herculean proportions, and my anal-retentive tendencies proved themselves incredibly useful.     

Now I'm nearing the end of this leg of my journey.  I'm pleased with my work, and I've grown through the process.  I've learned a lot about the craft of writing that will serve me well on my next novel.  There's still that pesky "time management" thing to deal with.  Working on that one.

But I think the biggest lesson I've learned is how to let go a little.  There came a point about halfway through my first draft, when I realized there were problems with it.  Significant problems.  It hit me that if I went back and tried to fix them before continuing on, I might never finish the book.  That's when my mindset switched from pseudo-editor to writer.  "Fuck it," I said.  "I'll fix it when I'm done."

I did.  And I finally have something I can be proud to put my name on.

Still, don't invite me to play mini-golf.

Friday, February 1, 2013

The Out-Of-Town Preview...

 Excited to report the preview for my novel, All That Glitters, just went live!  Come on over to read the whole first chapter!