Integrity v. Profit on a Very Small Scale

We authors are warned to keep politics and other contentious issues from our social media postings, lest we lose readers who disagree with our stance on political and social issues.

But I just can’t.

Does it matter? At this point, I’m on my way to publication, but under a pen name. Other works will be published under my own name. So far, all my work destined for publication is light-hearted genre fiction, the kind of stories people read for fun, for relief of the steady drumbeat of bad news rattling our skulls.

I haven’t yet set up my author webpage—that’s the biggest item on my spring to-do list. I won’t use that site to promote a political viewpoint. And I have no illusions that I’ll become a mover-and-shaker on the political scene.

But my personal postings will continue to reflect my status as a Left Coast Lefty McLeft-face, outraged by gun violence, by bigotry, by disregard for the environment, and the many other crimes against humanity spreading like rotten goo across our once-great nation. And I’ll continue to raise my voice, to do my tiny part to scrape away the goo, like a volunteer washing oil-spill residue from sea birds. (Forgive me, Anne LaMott.)

Someday, a reader might notice and object. Oh well. I’d rather lose readers than integrity.

How about you? Do you conceal your personal beliefs from readers? Trumpet your beliefs for all to hear? Or something in between?

IWSG: What’s Your Favorite Genre?

 

Huzzah! For the month of January, I met my goal of posting a blog entry every week. And now it’s once again time for our monthly blog hop from Insecure Writers Support Group. Thanks to this month’s co-hosts Stephen Tremp, Pat Garcia, Angela Wooldridge, Victoria Marie Lees, and Madeline Mora-Summonte! Join the conversation by clicking on the link above. This month’s question: What do you love about the genre you write in most often?

I actually wrote about this a few weeks back: On Redemption Songs and Romance.  http://latebloomingrose.com/archives/998

Besides romance, I also write cozy mysteries, meaning they’re set in a small town, and the sleuth is an amateur who relies on her relationships in said small town to solve the crime. What I love about mysteries is the knowledge that justice will prevail and the evildoers will get what’s coming to them. I also enjoy the puzzle aspect and the challenge of planting clues along the way. I’m currently working my latest cozy mystery (with strong romantic elements, because love makes me happy) through my critique group. It tickles me to no end to hear their theories about whodunit.

I also enjoy exploring humanity’s dark side, those murderous impulses we all have from time to time. Go on, admit it. Sometime, during the past month, you’ve mentally murdered someone, haven’t you? Especially if you’ve spent much time in traffic. I believe that each of us is capable of great good and ferocious evil, given the right circumstances. It’s fun to set up a situation in which someone who’s not normally a monster feels justified in killing a fellow human who’s done them wrong.

I’m not such a fan of thrillers involving actual monsters, human or otherwise, because I prefer characters I can relate to in some way.

I’m hoping my two main threads will merge into a line of schmexy romantic suspense novels. Sexual tension plus lurking malevolence, with a topping of righteous comeuppance–that equals a good read, as far as I’m concerned.

How about you? Do you enjoy a bit of murderous mayhem?

On Research Trips and Wanderlust

No, she’s not me. I wish I had this much hair.

One thing I love about reading is the ability it affords me to travel without leaving my comfy chair. Writing fiction set elsewhere is even more fun, allowing me to immerse myself in places I’d like to live, at least for a while, be they real or invented.

When starting the first book in my current romance series, I basically picked Eugene, Oregon, out of a hat. I was looking for a charming college town in which to set a quirky bookshop, and recalled hearing that Eugene, home of the University of Oregon, was just such a place. Why not choose the area around the University of Washington, only a 90-minute drive away? I really don’t know. Not different enough to be satisfying? Maybe it’s just my dislike of Seattle traffic that held me back. (So I drove four-plus hours to Eugene, because–logic.)

U of O’s Autzen Stadium

Anyway, I’ve just returned from my very first research trip for a book. Hubs was away for a golf-o-rama with his son, so I took advantage of this free time to go have a look at this setting I’d chosen without much forethought. Hours of looking at pictures, maps, and reading various blog posts helped, but this short visit (hopefully not my last) gave me a much better feel for the flavor of this culture-rich town. I had a lovely time, too, despite a brain-fuzzing head cold. There’s something refreshing about solo travel, especially being able to wander at my own pace and follow my own whims.

  Mural of Eugene’s Track and Field Stars, from 5th Street Public Market

My stories involve a bookstore, a lovely park, and a running club. Eugene is known as Track Town, USA, so running paths abound, especially in and around Alton Baker Park. I also needed alluring places for romantic dates, and charming, quirky neighborhoods.

I’ll send my characters here for some canoodling…

…and here for some canoeing. DeFazio Pedestrian Bridge, Alton Baker Park.

Mural of Ken Kesey in Springfield. I didn’t partake of any LSD on this trip, though I was pretty fuzzed-out on cold medicine.

I really must challenge myself to write a story set in Tacoma. The Gritty City would be a good setting for a tale of suspense, maybe something involving glass-blowing, an art form our city is famous for, thanks to Tacoma native Dale Chihuly.

Tacoma’s Union Station

Perhaps the urge to set a story elsewhere, rather than at home, is just human nature—the old greener-grass elsewhere syndrome. How about you? Do you tend to set your stories somewhere familiar, or further afield?

 

An Idea Whose Time Has Come: Merit Badges for Writers

Why don’t we have these already? At a writers’ gathering last weekend, we  talked about milestones, and how much fun it would be to have achievement badges to wear to our writerly events. Perhaps a sash like a Girl Scout’s, adorned with badges like these:

  • NANOWRIMO win badge, for those who muscle through 50K words of a novel in one month.
  • “The End” badge, for completing a manuscript
  • A badge with a red pen and an eraser–for completing that phase of writing
  • Beta Read badges, one color for acting as a beta reader, another for getting a beta read of your completed manuscript
  • Writer’s Conference attendance
  • In-person agent/editor pitch–very scary!
  • Queries/submissions sent: 25, 50, 75, 100, more?
  • Rejection letters received: 25, 50, 75, 100, more?
  • Genre badges, for completing a book-length manuscript in a new genre. (So far, I’d have only three: cozy mystery, women’s fiction, romance.)
  • Short-story badge, for completing multiples of ten. Ditto poems. Ditto essays and articles.
  • Author web-page up and running. (I’m working on this badge now.)
  • First live author event: book launch party, book signing, etc.
  • 10K hours of writing. Thanks to Malcolm Gladwell, most of us are familiar with the idea that it takes that many hours of deliberate practice to achieve greatness in any field. I’m about half-way there.
  • Maybe a reading badge? Reading in the genres we write helps polish our skills, so we could earn a badge for reading and reviewing, say, a score of good books in the genre. Books in the did-not-finish pile don’t count.
  • How about a badge for 25, 50, 75, 100 blog posts?
  • Entering 10, 25, etc. writing contests
  • Getting an agent
  • Publishing stories/poems/articles in journals and elsewhere
  • Reading your work at an open-mic event (I just earned this one.)
  • Teaching a writing class/workshop
  • And the biggest, shiniest badge of all: Publishing a book!

That’s as far as my coffee will propel my brain this morning. What merit badges can you add to the list? And which entrepreneur will step up and manufacture these? What a great gift for writers!

 

On Redemption Songs and Romance

On a recent episode of my new favorite podcast: Smart Podcast, Trashy Books, the hosts discussed romance fiction as resistance. They pointed out that many people belittle women’s escapist literature, romance and cozy mysteries, but not men’s, sci-fi and thrillers. (Of course, I know that many women enjoy sci-fi, etc.)

Why is one type of reading frivolous and contemptible while another is harmless or even admirable? Why is literature is only serious and praiseworthy when the ending is sad, depressing, miserable? Don’t we face enough defeat in daily life without having to fill our bookshelves with tales of ennui and gloom?

These women have a point: falling in love and being loved in return, despite our flaws and our beloved’s, that’s redemption, a peak experience available to all. Love is a victory, something even the goon squad in Washington, D.C. can’t take away from us. Holding onto hope, love, connection in troubled times—that’s an act of resistance. It’s not sufficient to defeat the evil in our midst, but it’s fuel for the fight.

The type of peak experience offered in sci-fi and fantasy stories, rounding up a motley band of resistance fighters to defeat a might sinister force—or the type in thrillers—using whiles and guile to penetrate a criminal organization and lop off its head—that’s available to few of us in real life.

Is only the unattainable worth reading about? Romance readers say no—and roll in that vicarious pleasure like horses rolling in the dust.

Another aspect of romance fiction that feels like resistance is the joyful celebration of women’s sexuality. In another episode of SPTB, one of the hosts posited a response to critics of romance fiction: “What is it about the female orgasm that bothers you?”

“Oh, romance novels are really just porn,” critics say. Nope. The good stuff revolves around determined, smart, problem-solving women, and the men who love them, treasure them, and give them earthquake orgasms. And yes, there are romance stories for everyone on the gender spectrum. Sex is part of finding one’s mate, for the vast majority of people, but it’s not the whole story, just like armed combat is not the whole story in, say, Star Wars.

So, yeah. There is something to reading romance as an act of defiance. To those who say I can’t be a woman of substance and still enjoy these tales, I raise my middle finger—and turn the page.

On Pity Parties, Book Reviews, and Carol Dweck

Thunk.

That’s the sound of another romance novel landing in my Did Not Finish pile.

As a reader, I want to see triumph of some sort, and not just in the form of a sad, scared woman being rescued by some guy. Give me a heroine with spunk, not just a tender heart, and a hero with substance, not just toned pecs.

This week’s discard goes something like this: Horrible people have done horrible things to the heroine and her siblings. She flees, casting herself in the role of their protector, but she’s a dithering, nervous wreck, making near-fatal mistakes at every turn. And something horrible has happened to the hero. He’s really sad about it, and angry, and spends his time brooding. There’s a dog involved—that’s what caught my eye on the library shelf. Who doesn’t love a good dog story? But in this novel, even the dog is sad, mourning the death of his former master. What the author didn’t accomplish by the end of Chapter Six was to give me something to relate to, something to care about, other than pity.

My Did Not Finish pile contains several works of romance fiction, literary fiction, and women’s fiction that adopted this strategy: Look at this poor protagonist! Such terrible things have been done to her/him! Don’t you feel sad, reader?

Ugh.

But then, I don’t like people like this in real life, either. “Hi, my name is X. Thanks for welcoming me into your writers’ group. I have fibromyalgia, anxiety and depression.”

Why do people do this?  I don’t know anyone who’s reached the mid-century milepost without some physical affliction, emotional scarring, or other heavy baggage. And I get it: women have been taught to bond over shared misfortunes. But a blatant appeal for pity right off the bat?

What impresses me, in real life and in fiction, is meeting a person who’s making the most of life, enjoying it as much as possible—and then finding out that she’s dealing with some heavy baggage. That sparks sympathy and admiration. That’s what’s missing in books like the one above: I want to admire the protagonist in some way.

I didn’t write a book review about this novel because A: I didn’t finish the book, and it’s not fair to review a book under those circumstances, and B: I’ve finally accepted that it’s bad karma for an author to leave bad reviews–though I always read the bad reviews before buying a book. This lets me know whether a story is full of my pet peeves, a probable waste of my time and book budget.

Speaking of book reviews, if you work in education or have kids in school, you’ve probably read, or at least heard of, Carol Dweck’s book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Dr. Dweck outlines the concept of a growth mindset, the belief that you can change and improve through effort, versus a fixed mindset, the belief that your abilities are unchangeable and beyond your control. Guess which mindset leads to success and happiness? This book should be added to recommended reading lists for authors, especially for those tempted to make pity their main appeal to readers.

How about you? What problems send a book to your Did Not Finish pile?

IWSG January 2018: Schedule? I need one?

Once again, it’s the first Wednesday of the month, time for our Insecure Writers Support Group blog hop. The awesome co-hosts for the January 3 posting of the IWSG are Tyrean Martinson, Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor, Megan Morgan, Jennifer Lane, and Rachna Chhabria!

http://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com/p/iwsg-sign-up.html

Speaking of the many fine resources on the IWSG site, I got so much value from the December 11 article by Angela Ackerman, author of The Emotional Thesaurus. Take a look here:

http://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com/2017/12/writing-about-emotional-trauma-without.html

January 3 question – What steps have you taken or plan to take to put a schedule in place for your writing and publishing?

Schedule? What is this schedule you speak of?

A big, fat blessing bomb fell on my head at age almost-52, when I was able to take early retirement from my teaching job. At last, I had time to write! Teaching is freaking exhausting, and it ate up most of my creative energy.

But my adjustment to retirement involved a few years of stubborn push-back against schedules of any sort. Throughout my 27 years of teaching, I hated, hated, hated having to get up so early to go to work. (Why do we do that to our teens, anyway? They’re not fully awake until mid-morning, so what are they going to learn at 7:30?) A lot of my first few years of freedom involved lounging in bed just because I could, or taking long, aimless walks around my new town.

About a year ago, I started treating writing as a real job, albeit a part-time one, and developed the habit of writing from my very civilized wake-up time of about 7:30 until early afternoon. I do this every day I’m able, and get cranky if appointments or visits rob me of my writing time. What a treat to devote my high-energy hours to my own goals, rather than to tasks assigned by someone else.

Now that I’ve received my first publishing offer (huzzah!), this shit’s getting real, as the youngsters say. My intention is to devote the morning to my writing, take a break for errands and/or exercise, then devote the afternoon to correspondence, queries, marketing—the business side of things. But I’m sure there’ll be days when business chores gobble up most of my writing time.

Ah well, such is the writing life. And I love it. Here’s wishing you lots of productive writing time in 2018.

What does your writing schedule look like?

 

 

 

18 for 2018

Thanks to Gretchen Rubin and her sister Elizabeth Craft for this excellent idea, gleaned from their Happier podcast. Rubin and Craft suggest setting eighteen goals for 2018—not the usual vague resolutions, so quickly abandoned, but rather smaller, concrete, achievable goals. I’ve noticed a theme as I compile my list: making better use of the resources I already have.

Here are my eighteen goals for 2018:

  1. Write another romance novel. (I’ve already started)
  2. Write another mystery novel.
  3. For fun, and to help my own writing, I’ll read and review books by at least six new-to-me romance authors, six new mystery authors, and six new women’s fiction authors.
  4. Attend one big writing conference.
  5. Take guitar lessons. Since getting a guitar in May, I’ve only learned chords. It’s time to learn scales, finger picking, some cool blues techniques.
  6. Take dance lessons. For years, I’ve been saying I want to learn basic ballroom dancing, and Hubs is willing to try.
  7. Take golf lessons. I’m a baby beginner, but I have a nice set of clubs and access to affordable golf courses, so why not? Hubs loves golf, and I’d like to share this with him more often.
  8. Incorporate more exercise into my writing hours. I’ll use the Pomodoro technique and monitor my progress until it becomes a habit, however long that takes. Sitting is the new sugar, eh? Or is it the new smoking? In any case, I sit too much.
  9. Acquire or make 18 snazzy garments, clothes I could wear to a book signing. Dump 18 seldom-worn garments.
  10. Publish a blog post each week. I pay for the hosting, so I might as well take advantage of it to practice my writing.
  11. Set up my author webpage.
  12. Get a professional author photo.
  13. Do the online Spanish lessons I’m paying for at least three times per week. Me gusta aprender idiomas.
  14. Use the gym at least three times per week. I love going there, but I tend to procrastinate. Again, if I’m going to pay for it, I might as well use it.
  15. Stretch every day. I tend to skimp on this at the end of a workout—not a good idea for an older person who spends most of her day sitting.
  16. At least fifteen minutes of real conversation with Hubs every day—talking about logistics and daily tasks doesn’t count. Let’s get metaphysical, philosophical, or maybe just silly.
  17. Query the everloving shit out of my recently-completed mystery. Someone wants this story!
  18. Explore the Pacific Northwest. I’ve been living here for three years now, but haven’t yet visited much of it.

There you go! Care to share any of your goals for 2018?

The Golden Thread

The King’s English Bookshop in Salt Lake City, Utah

What’s the brightest thread running through the tapestry of your life?

I do love a good metaphor, and this one is apt for expressing an important insight that has helped me focus my efforts and make peace with some difficult choices. Because one of the lessons I’ve learned the hard way is that I can’t fully pursue every passion that comes along. Interesting people are interested in a lot of interesting stuff.  There aren’t enough hours in a day to dance, sing, play guitar, learn new languages, cook gourmet meals, invite friends over to share them, meet new friends, go hear some live music, travel, sew artistic clothing, paint, draw…

Recently, Hubs and I hosted a Christmas party. The menu was simple, three homemade soups, bread, salad, cheese, cake. As always, our friends rounded out the menu with delicious nibbles. After dinner and guitars, our wine-soaked conversation turned to childhood memories. My sister-in-law, an actress, theater teacher, and director, told us that she’d been shaped by her family to be a performer. She tap-danced and sang on a local TV show at age five and, except for a brief pause when her kids were small, she’s been on stage in some capacity ever since. Performing is her joy, her golden thread.

This got me to thinking. What’s my golden thread? The answer is as easy as saying yes to another Christmas cookie: books! Like my SIL, I can trace this thread to earliest childhood. My fondest early memories center around libraries, bookshops, and the shelves of books that lined our family room. When life got too hard, too scary, too boring, I’d retreat into a book. When I had to wait, and kids are always having to wait, book time. Can’t sleep late at night? Book. Long car ride? Book. Creepy guy staring at you on the bus? Book as magic shield.

My sharpest travel memories often center around books: Shakespeare and Company in Paris, the Bouquinistes on the banks of the Seine, the Bodleian Library in Oxford, Green Apple Books and City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, Powell’s Books in Portland, our own King’s Books in Tacoma, and all the gorgeous, charming independent bookshops I’ve visited, including The King’s English in Salt Lake City, which you must visit if you ever find yourself in that fair city.

Bookshops and libraries are my favorite places to be—I get positively giddy when surrounded by such riches. Is it any wonder I’ve chosen to enter that world as a writer of fiction? Duh!

This blog is entitled Late Blooming Rose for a reason: it’s only now, late in life, that I’m figuring out some of these important epiphanies. I can’t do everything I’d like to do, but I can keep following that golden thread.

What’s your golden thread? And what’s your favorite bookstore or library?

 

Let’s Do the Time Warp Again!

http://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com/p/iwsg-sign-up.html

Once again, it’s time for the monthly blog hop from the Insecure Writers Support Group. On the first Wednesday of each month, writers gather to commiserate, support each other, and laugh over shared foibles. Join the fun here: http://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com/p/iwsg-sign-up.html or here: #IWSG. Thanks to Ninja Captain Alex J. Cavanaugh and this month’s hosts: Julie Flanders, Shannon Lawrence, Fundy Blue, and Heather Gardner.

This month’s question: As you look back on 2017, with all its successes/failures, if you could backtrack, what would you do differently?

The time portal glows–an eerie, pulsing green light that pierces the midnight mist. From within its swirling depths, a seductive voice croons, “Step through. You can undo it all, start again.”

An icy finger of hope and fear tickles the base of my spine. “How far back?” I whisper.

“January 2017.”

“Dang. I was hoping for pre-election—”

The voice cuts me off, harsher now. “January. Take it or leave it.”

I gulp a lungful of air, squeeze my eyes shut, and step through.

I’m holding a phone in my hand. The nice lady has offered me a job, one that involves a commute, not much pay, but the chance to use my skill set again—one that’s rare and in demand, unlike writing fiction. But now I know how much time and energy that job will drain, how my writing will languish, how I’ll writhe with frustration as I prepare yet another lesson plan.

“No, ma’am. Your offer is tempting, but I’ll have to pass.” While I’m at it, I resign from my other time-sucking, low-paying, part-time job and settle in to write full time. Okay, I’m not being paid yet, but I know I need to build up my stable of stories before I can generate an income stream from indie publishing. How lucky am I to have that opportunity!

I smile and turn to the pile of writing craft books before me. Now I know that Lisa Cron’s Story Genius will streamline my revision process and make my next manuscript sleeker, faster, a purring Ferrari rather than a breakdown-prone old Ford.

Now I know that I actually have a knack for writing romance, and that I’ll really enjoy the process. Who’da thunk it?

And then my timer dings, and I get my widening butt out of my desk chair and go for a twenty-minute walk before resuming my work. After all, the brain is an organ of the body.

When my manuscript is finished, I pop over to the UPS store and have the whole thing printed and spiral-bound, then tackle final edits with pencil, highlighters, and sticky notes—because now I know I’ll notice details on paper that I wouldn’t on a screen.

What a productive, satisfying year I’ve had, now that I’ve been gifted with hindsight. As 2017 draws to a close, I strap on my tool belt and return to the time portal to tinker with those controls. If only I can adjust the target to October of 2016…