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Sunday, January 20, 2008

Poetry and Snow Angels

Amazing things, suprises... You're better off not looking for them, but it doesn't hurt to become a pro at wringing them for every last drop of the good stuff once they show up.

Another definition of surprise--this time of the noun:

Something, such as an unexpected encounter, event, or gift, that surprises.

How often do we leave our eyes open to the unexpected? Too often, I wager, we like the everyday calmness of our lives too much, to risk unexpectedly encountering anything we can't control the outcome of. Then again, control's pretty much a like-to-have in life, and not so much a reality most of the time no matter how much we need it to be.

Artists (getting back to our metaphor of writing as life, or at least the art of writing paralleling the art of living) harness surpises--at least the successful artist does. You have to study and prepare and practice, yes. But you also have to be ruthless about taking advantage of those surprises that come your way. The gifts, as our definition above states.

Be ready for your luck, a stragetic business professor a Georga Tech once told me. Seeing the gift is the first skill you have to master, and a lot of us aren't creative enough at that, to move on to developing the next. Which is harnessing the unexpected. Letting it in, inviting it to fill you, and releasing control of where it takes you. If you know where you were going, after all, where's the surprise???

This week, my son's innocent enthusiasm for life illustrated this for me better than anything a professor, a degree, ten years of corporate business experience and four years in publishing have been able to achieve. It snowed in Atlanta this week. Not so much a surprise, because we all saw it coming. But also this week, came the moment I thought might be possible but had given up looking for because it wasn't my moment and I didn't want to mess it up with anticipation--my twelve year old discovered he was a writer...

This kid's a math and science genius (even if I do say so myself). He takes gifted classes in both, is in the LEGO robitcs club at school, loves being in the band and on and on...all things I loved, too, meanwhile he's a natural-born story teller who's struggled in Language Arts (not with grades, but with his difficulty to make everything perfect as quickly as everyone else turns in their first drafts).

So, he decided years ago he wasn't going to like LA, even though he reads and reads and likes to talk about books and loves music and watching movies and favorite TV shows over and over because he digs the characters. Anyway, his class hit poetry this last week...and what can I say...on his first try, with no revision, he started pouring out prose so full of emotion and unique viewpoint it blew my husband and me away. Words strung together in amazing ways--truth and humor and depth in a young voice that makes you hope it will just keep talking so you can hear what comes out next...

"I'm not a writer, mom," he insisted. "I don't want to write books..."

"You were born a writer, honey. Nothing you can do about that. And who says you have to write books? Or try to publish."

"I don't have to write books?"

"Nope, just write something. And you will, for the rest of your life, I have no doubt."

"Oh--Hey! I just thought of another poem."


And off he went to write about his cats. Or was it the wind, coming and going and "leaving" the trees when it was ready to blow somewhere else... Or truth... Seriously, the kid wrote about truth, and it made me cry. Not because he's my kid, but because the honesty of what he was sharing about himself without even realizing it humbled me... Okay, AND because that honesty was coming out of my kid's mind... What's a mom to do...

Guess how old I was when I learned I was a writer--Twelve. Guess what I was doing at that moment--sitting in 7th grade Language Arts, listening to the first poem I'd ever written be read to the class... Yeah. Gives me shivers, too...

Like the snow outside. Which we've all enjoyed looking at and messing with and it'll be gone soon so why not revel. But guess how the youngest writer in the house decided to enjoy it. My son and the kids next door were making snow men, then all too soon he'd lead them back over to our house to make snow angels--on the trampoline. My little hyper, never-sitting-still engineer found the one surface where the most snow had built up (because a scientist would know that the canvas would freeze first because the cold air would be circulating above and below it). And so he picked his favorite jumping, laughing, constant-motion place to be still and make something beautiful with his friends in. He made the most of the surprise in a way that no one else would have dreamed up. If that's not an artist...I don't know what one is.

Making something beautiful and unique out of unexpected surprises... That's what writers and artists do. That's what we can do in any part of our every day lives. In fact, it's the best part...take my word for it. You don't have to write books or paint paintings or learn how to play instruments or sing... You just have to give the creative part of you the reins every now and then, then motivate yourself and others to take advantage of the surprises you find...

That's what I'm doing, anyway, while I work on the draft of my next Atlanta Heroes book, the art department sheets for that book's cover, and the copy edits for the second book in the series... Oh, and as I watch as my child revels in his budding love for writing and probably the only snow he'll see this year...

Go make yourself some poetry and snow angels this week...

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Monday, January 07, 2008

Okay, yeah (hangs her head in shame), I do read the endings of books first...

What can I say. It's a job hazard that can't be avoided... And it's come up more than once in the blog comments over the last year or so, so it's time to come clean...

It's not so much about spoiling the surprise for me, because I'm not really reading for content or plot points. Actually, unless it's a book that's been adapted to a movie I've seen, discussed on the Internet (a-la Harry Potter), or someone esle has blown the surprise, if you haven't read the beginning yet how could you technically spoil the ending by reading it first??? The circular thought for the day. No need to thank me ;o)

As an artist, I cherish the work and the magic in how others express themselves above all else (no matter the form or delivery of the art). And I guess I need to be even more amazed at the creativity of another artist to be carried along for the amazing experience they've promised me. And writing the ending (as well as the beginning) of a book is so much more art than craft. The craft is key, but the emotions and relationships and symbols in an ending should speak to your soul (whether you're reading biography, comedy, drama, or something in between).

So, if the author's not giving us her best in the end, it pretty much louses up the experience for me. To the point that I get angrier than my yoga instructer ever wants to hear about me getting. Think of the nastiest, thundercloud of an emoticon you've ever seen and superimpose my featers. It totally sucks to be let down that way. So, I do flip to the back and read the dismount first. I know, not the most endearing facet of my nature.

You could say that I don't trust the writer. Or you could say that I'm impatient and can't wait for the good stuff. But I've come to grips with the compulsion by seeing that it's more that I understand what feeds my need to read--connecting with characters and their journeys and how they get to where they've been marching throughout a book. Get that wrong, and you're not just disappointing me, you're abandoning characters I've gotten very attached to.

Okay. Fess up yourselves. Do you have a secrect cheat that you do that others refuse to understand?

I'll prime the pump a bit more...

My son eats only the bottoms of muffins. Good thing that I only like the tops, right ;o) To the point that we now have pans that only make tops, lol!

Oh, and my husband loves the crust and bottom of really good pizza. Me? I'm a cheese girl. Very early in our relationship, we bonded over pulling apart more than a few pies, so we could both have exactly what we wanted. And we've been co-conspirators in that altered behavior pattern ever since. That and the fact that we like the pizza better the morning after--cold!

It's the truely disturbing things about folks that make them even more loveable, don't you think ;o)

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Thursday, January 03, 2008

Okay--Surprises...Let's take a closer look...

The thing about suprises, is there are so many kinds. I use to be of the mind that you could prepare for the little besties. That was before I started feeling trapped by the need to keep on the lookout and ever vigilant. Which of course, I was doing to myself. So after much pointless knashing of teeth and wailing, I did the self-slapdown and knocked off.

Not that being prepared is a bad thing. Preparation is where living life and learning intersect. But prepare for what you want and what you need, I always say--not for how the world could take away what you want or what you need. Be positive in your learning and experiencing of things that will get you where you need to go and prepare you for getting there. Nix the negative, protective "I can't trust myself or anyone else" stuff. That's just bad ju ju, and we don't want to upset the spirit gods so early in the Year of the Rat ;o) We'll have to figure out what Year of the Rat bodes, but that's for another day.

Today, let's gander at the transitive verb "surprise:"
(note: nouns and synonyms await further scrutiny as well)

1) To encounter suddenly or unexpectedly; take or catch unawares.
2) To attack or capture suddenly and without warning.
3) To cause to feel wonder, astonishment, or amazement, as at something unanticipated.
4) To cause (someone) to do or say something unintended.
5) To elicit or detect through surprise.

Interesting. A passive verb (to encounter) in only half of one of the definitions. The rest are active. Dare I say it, intentional. We can take or catch, attack or capture, cause, elicit or detect surprise. More often than not, do the surprises turn out to be what you seek, and not so much what's being done to you???

I really like the "cause to feel wonder, astonishmnet or amazement" at the unanticipated one. How often do you embrace the scary, new, shocking stuff that hurtles your way?

And then there's "eliciting or detecting through surprise". That's the learing part I'm growing to appreciate. The letting the surprise teach you what you didn't know you needed to know part.

Kind of like being asked to write a lighter, funnier story for last year's Singles with Kids series--which not only showed me I could do lighter and funier and actually LIKE doing it, but that's the book that's the RT Award finalist. And my latest, "do you want to?" surprise--the "Hot Winter Read" novella I'm doing for Harlequin Single Title (HQN). The synopsis was due yesterday, and it was like nothing else I've ever written--a cross between Sex and The City and My Best Friend's Wedding is all I can come up with, of course with characters you'll love or I couldn't write it. But it was a blast to dream up, and I can't wait to be able to dream some more of the sexy, steamy stuff ;o). REALLLLY can't wait, since I'd always rather be writing the next book than the one currently due, lol!

But I digress. 2008 out here in Annaland is supposed to be about the publishing world as an anology for the world at large. Surprise is such a big part of what writers put up with. In fact, we have to plan for it, learn to sniff it out, and pretend it's no big deal when we get smacked silly by it...wait a minute, that IS just like the world at large. You know what I mean, right???


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Tuesday, January 01, 2008

2008--Let's Take a Closer Look

Yep--2008. Can you believe it!

Where did the end of 2007 go? Like the last two months of it???

Well, remember that old saying, be careful what you ask for... Here's the skinny...

1) 2007 was so eventful (don't believe me, check out the Appearances like above), I pretty much crashed into the end of the year. Not that I got to rest much, because...

2) I finished revisions on Atlanta Heroes: Book 2 (my agent's over the moon with the results)--Remember Me's title's now To Save a Child, BTW--then did quick Line Edits, too...

3) Took a week and a half to head down to the Isle of Palms outside of Charleston (for a writer's workshop weekend), then stayed a week to finish my Paranormal Thriller trilogy pitch--oh, and to pitch it to a big dog editor from a big dog NY publisher...more on that later...

4) Then there was Thanksgiving, and more work for Harlequin, including final packaging work on the Superromance Mother's Day anthology that's coming out in April with Lori Handeland and Rebecca Winters.

5) Oh, and GRW (Georgia Romance Writer's) stuff that had to get done (coming off of our 2007 conference and New Jersey's...my last speaking travel of the year...)

6) Atlanta Heroes Book 3 is due in mid-Jan., and I have half of that to write still, which means I wrote half of it between Thanksgiving and now...

7) While I was finishing revisions on the "Temple Legacy" series pitch--Book One: The Healer. My agent has all the final goodies, and she should be getting back to me this week about taking it out for a spin in the publishing world... I'll share details as soon as I have them...

8) Then came the surprise the week before the week before Christmas--a call from a lovely Harlequin NY editor (my super's are published out of the Toronto office), who wanted to know if I'd like to participate in a single title anthology (with their HQN mainstream imprint) that will be headed by a New York Times best-selling author, and, oh, will also be joined by a USA Today best-selling author:

I give you my newest partners in crime (the book's due hit shelves--tables, actually, because this isn't a series book, so I might just get to see my name on a bookstore table, he-he--in January '09):

Vicki Lewis Thompson:


Jade Lee:

The hitch...and this is the be careful what you ask for part)--we had to pull together a anthology overview and a blurb/short synopsis for each of our stories in a week! Eeeeeek!
Did I mention the revisions and line edits and new novel writing that I was supposed to be focusing on???

Did I say yes--you betcha! You have to be ready for your luck and opportunities, and you have to believe you can make what you want happen. It was exhausting, but that's part of the job. And it put me further behind during the holidays, but that's part of the job. And it was a blast, because the are great authors and fun ladies and we had a blast collaborating on the idea--one of the best and most surprising parts of the job ;o)

So, concept approved, all I had to do was write a book and I was one week further behind and more tired, and then the holidays came again, and

8) then came the surprise the week of Christmas ;o) I'm a Romantic Times Reviewer's Choice nominee again--this time for All-American Father, the Singles with Kids continuity novel I was asked to do in '07...another surprise that I had to work hard to take advantage of, but that's the job... So, cool to be included with such fine writers...and the contest season's only just starting...

Pant, pant....

There you have it, where I've been and what I've been doing (sans all the personal life stuff that would make this long post even longer)...

And just what does that have to do with '08???

This year, I'm going to be focusing on the suprises of this business and the world in general (which I happen to think the publishing/writing business paralells pretty closely)... Because I'm sensing it's going to be a year for the unexpected...

What does Bette Davis say in All About Eve? "Strap on your seat belts, it's going ot be a bumpy ride."

So, I'm on the looking out for bumpy in '08. Bumpy but surprising and very, very good. I'll be ready this time ;o)

There's lots to catch up on, I know. If you've been trying to reach me, know I haven't been ignoring you. I literally haven't had time to check any of my three email accounts since befoer Thanksgiving. Of course, there will be prizes and I'm going to get a newsletter out regularly.

No real resolutions this year, except to enjoy each bump. I'm pitching workshops to cross-genre conference all over the country. So, hopefully I'll get to see some new places and people and to teach to lots of different types of writers. And who knows...promote that mainstream thriller series I'm hoping will sell ;o)

Otherwise, I'm sticking closer to home. Join me as we start a new year of blogging--we'll be inspirational and wild and fun and supportive and it'll be exciting. That's what I want for all my friends this year--exciting lives you can't wait to share!!!

Happy New Year, my friends ;o)

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