Monday, December 23, 2013

Valerie's Rules for Winter

Happy Holidays! And welcome to longer days now that we've passed the solstice. More time to write--well, a few minutes per day at least!

For the coming New Year I've decided to make myself some "rules," ways to stay energized during those extra minutes when I'd much rather pull the covers over my head and hibernate until spring. Here are my top 12:
  1. Morning pages. 3 handwritten pages first thing in the morning are easy to write in the spring and summer, torture in the winter. Which is why I need to shift my schedule just a little bit. Instead of giving up, or stumbling around in the dark hating every minute of the exercise, I'm going to write my pages during my morning tea-break. It will be something to look forward to every day, and a good use of my spare time.
  2. Write up my goals for 2014 step-by-step. Every year I set at least 5-6 new goals for the year. What I usually bypass is how I'm going to achieve those goals. In the past I've relied too much on hope and magic: hope that I'll get it done, and wishing for a fairy godmother to wave her magic wand and make things happen. This year if I can't list a number of practical, sensible ways to achieve a goal it goes in the trash.
  3. Read good books. My reading time is limited. If a book bores me halfway through or I think it's just too silly for words, I have no obligation to finish it. The End.
  4. Drink cocoa. A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down. 'Nuff said.
  5. Take artist's dates. I am so bad about NOT taking my planned artist's dates. 2013 saw me make at least a dozen or more plans to visit museums, galleries, specialty shops . . . they all fell through. I told myself I was too busy, I would go "tomorrow," I would make up for it by taking two dates in a row, who needs artist's dates anyway . . .  No more procrastination.
  6. Be crafty: knit, sew, crochet. A few years ago I accidentally bought 5 times the amount of yarn I needed to knit my husband a sweater. (OK, math never was my strong point). 2014 is the year that stuff turns into some more outfits, or maybe a blanket or two! I also want to buy a new sewing machine to make a dress from the fabric I bought at Mood in April.
  7. Walk. Although I try to walk as much as possible whenever I have to accomplish errands (the mall, grocery stores, etc.), nothing compares to going for real walks in the real outdoors. Albuquerque has many beautiful parks just waiting for me to stretch my legs, clear my head, and take some photos while I'm there for future art references.
  8. Wear gloves, bundle up. It's taken me several years to realize that if I want to enjoy a winter walk, I will have to wear the right clothes. A light cardigan won't do! I suppose in the past I went without gloves or a hat thinking I would get too hot and then I'd have to carry everything home. This has never happened.
  9. Be a Secret Santa regardless of the date. Giving doesn't stop at Christmas. One of my favorite ways to help out is to always maintain a donation jar or tin for coins all year long. At the end of every day I place my spare change in the jar. It's amazing--and fun--to see how that money adds up!
  10. Make soup. There's something so healing and comforting about soup for lunch or dinner in the winter time. Not only is soup ridiculously easy to prepare, it seems to go a long way, leaving plenty of leftovers for those nights when cooking is the last thing anyone wants to do.
  11. Plan a new manuscript. But don't actually write it--at least not until my current WIP is completely finished and ready to submit. To that end I am going to have a dedicated notebook just for ideas for the next novel. Only ideas and notes. No actual scenes, no freewriting "just for fun." The notebook will be at my side as I work on the WIP so I can jot down any ideas that come to me, but that's all I'll do: jot, jot, jot, and then back to the WIP.
  12. Dream about summer vacation! Catalogs, travel magazines, and brochures make great resources for collaging a visual summer treasure map. And most of them are free. Where will we go?
Tip of the Day: Christmas is just one day of the year, but that's no reason to turn into the Grinch on the 26th. Do something special for yourself and someone else every day--and then write about it. Merry Christmas, one and all--see you again in 2014!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

'Tis the Season--to Read!

One of the best things about the holiday season is the excuse to browse bookstores and buy books: for friends and family, for local charities eager to spread the joy of reading, and hey, just for you! 

Books as gifts have always been special for me; my first memory of visiting Santa in the department store was to ask for a book--I wanted Johanna Spyri's Heidi, and sure enough, I got it! Of course that didn't work so great the year I wanted Lona by Dare Wright. (Still want Lona, sigh.)

The number of books I read in 2013 was not as extensive as in past years, but quality certainly made up for quantity. Here are the books categorized by their respective genres that stood out for me:

Historical: Cathedral of the Sea by Ildefonso Falcones. I bought my copy in a bookstore while strolling down the seemingly endless Las Ramblas shopping district during my trip to Barcelona this summer. I had gone in to buy some children's books in Spanish and Catalan and saw a display of books in English--surprise! I had to have this one immediately, but I saved it to read for when I got home. I'm so glad I did; set in medieval Barcelona, the book made me relive my trip through an entirely new perspective. A real page turner.

Mainstream/Romance/Series: The Stone Trilogy by Mariam Kobras. I know this series is  often referred to as "romance" but to me it's more mainstream, possibly "women's fiction" if I had to really narrow it. Regardless of description, however, these three books following the story of rock star Jon Stone and his soul mate Naomi Carlsson will stay with you forever. The writing is so strong and descriptive, the characters so real and well-rounded, it's hard to keep in mind that this is fiction! Seriously, I have to constantly remind myself that these people are characters in a book--not people I have actually met. I seem to think about them all the time as if they had ongoing stories happening right now--that's how vibrant they are. Earlier this year I was lucky enough to have Mariam visit my blog as a guest author. To read her post, please just click author Mariam Kobras.

Literary: 2666 by Roberto Bolano. Difficult, haunting, disturbing . . . and I couldn't stop reading even when I didn't want to. Partly based on the horrific multiple murders of women in Juarez, Mexico, the book is divided into five distinct but interwoven stories that read as a metaphor for everything corrupt and evil in the world we live in. My feeling after finishing: I survived a walk through Hell. And I learned a lot about both life and writing, that's for sure.

Mystery: The Dinosaur Feather by S.J. Gazan. Another dark book, but very, very readable. I often stayed up past midnight just to keep reading--bad decision, but I couldn't help it. I live to read. Anyway, Dinosaur Feather was the winner of the Danish Crime Novel of the Decade (!) and I think it will especially appeal to fans of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. (Although I think it's much better . . . sorry, Dragon fans.)

Scary: A Cold Season by Alison Littlewood. England. Snowstorm of the century. A single mother and her young son come to live in a creepy village where nothing is quite what it seems. I read this in one sitting and was terrified the whole way through. Need I say more?

Nonfiction: The Book of Kimono by Norio Yamanaka. I read this book after attending an exhibition of Japanese Art Deco. I've always been fascinated by Japanese art, culture, and literature, and I decided to make that my writing theme in April with my project "30 Days of Kimono." I got so enthused over the whole subject I even made a Pinterest board to go with my writing! The main thing I learned from the book however: I am very grateful to not wear a kimono, LOL! The time involved to simply get dressed must take ALL day. Whew. And then you have to be on your very best behavior for whatever hours you have left. Nope, not for me. But it was a good book.

Art Instruction: The Tao of Sketching by Qu Lei Lei. After working on my kimono project and then taking a Splash Ink Watercolor class, when I saw this book on super-sale I just had to have it. It's turned out to be one of my favorite how-to books, full of quiet wisdom and excellent painting tips.

Writing Instruction: Now Write! Screenwriting edited by Sherry Ellis and Laurie LamsonI have to qualify here that I have a chapter in the Now Write! Mysteries volume of this series, so I may be a teensy bit biased, but I think all the Now Write! books are some of the best around. This one on writing screenplays is incredibly helpful with advice you won't easily find elsewhere. (Note: I made another Pinterest board for the screenplay draft I wrote with the aid of the book. I do love Pinterest.)

What I'm reading now: The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton. I bought The Luminaries the minute I heard it had won the 2013 Man Booker Prize several weeks ago. Set in nineteenth-century New Zealand during the Gold Rush, the book is written in an unusual and archaic style reminiscent of Dickens or Thackeray that somehow actually works. I love New Zealand authors, starting with Katherine Mansfield, and it's exciting to find a new writer to add to my list.

What's next on my TBR pile: Bite Down Little Whisper by Canadian poet Don Domanski just arrived in my post box yesterday. I'm saving it up for Christmas Day when I plan to drink tea and eat cake and wrap myself in a blanket of astonishing words and images. Can't wait!

Tip of the Day: While you're doing your book shopping, don't forget about The Great Scarab Scam, Better Than Perfect, Overtaken, and The Essential Guide for New Writers, all available at my website and always with free domestic shipping. Drop me a note, say you saw this message on my blog, and I'll include an extra free copy of the Essential Guide with every order right up until January 1, 2014! Catch you later--I'm off to find some more great new reads for the new year . . .

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thankful, and a Splash Ink Update

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Got all your shopping done? I did mine yesterday, and it was wonderful to avoid the crowds and tick everything off my list. As always, we are having a vegetarian celebration, and this year I'm going to especially enjoy the day by writing more NaNoWriMo pages while my kiln fires a couple of new pots--time to celebrate, indeed!

For some reason this also seemed like a good time to share some of my latest splash ink efforts, maybe because they are so misty and reminiscent of autumn and the beauty of the season. I'm still using gouache on top of the initial watercolor background, a medium I'm finally learning to understand (thank goodness). As I've been painting, it's made me think how thankful I am for, well, everything!

But if I narrowed it down to just my creative life, these would have to be my top 12 thank-you's:
  1. I am grateful for my writing tools: computers, Alphasmart, fountain pen.
  2. Grateful for my Sunday morning writer's group! Best in the whole world.
  3. My art supplies: I have enough to stock a small store, and I'm grateful that I have been able to buy them.
  4. Books!! What would my life be without books? I love books more than just about anything. I love the way they feel in my hands. I don't care if e-books are amazing; they will never duplicate the thrill of opening those real-world pages.
  5. Social networking--now here's where the Internet is fun for me. I'm so grateful for my Twitter, Facebook, and JacketFlap friends. They make me smile every single day.
  6. I'm very, very grateful that I have a day job that is flexible and allows me to write or draw whenever possible.
  7. And gives me a nice studio-office where I can spread out my manuscripts, my art journals, my mess!
  8. I'm super grateful that I have my own little kiln--it's tiny but it works and allows me to  experiment and play with complete freedom (and zero worries about destroying anyone else's work--a huge bonus after some early traumas when my pieces would blow up in a shared kiln . . . don't ask . . . ).
  9. The library--forget Disneyland. The library is truly the happiest place on earth. And they give you free magazines for cut-outs. How good is that?
  10. Ideas! I have no idea where they come from--but where would I be without them?
  11. Art teachers. I would not be painting or potting or even writing without them. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
  12. Living in Albuquerque for the last ten years. New Mexico is not called "The Land of Enchantment" for nothing. The landscape is inspiring; every single kind of art supply or bookstore is within easy reach; and the amount of classes, groups, professional organizations for writers and artists is overwhelming. Sometimes it's nearly impossible to choose which one to attend--but each one I go to is always the right choice.
Last but not least, I want to thank everyone who follows and/or reads my blog posts. Every day I am stunned by how many readers I have and where they all come from: Egypt, Connecticut, New Zealand, Romania, Illinois--it's wonderful! You are all my pool of inspiration:

 Tip of the Day: If you haven't already, do start a dedicated Gratitude Journal. To me this is one of the most valuable journals you will ever write. Writing a simple list of just 12 items that made your day special can often be enough. Some days will be more difficult than others to find those 12 incidents, but I can promise if you dig deep they will be there. Enjoy your holiday weekend wherever you will be, and remember, I am grateful for YOU! Thanks again, dear friends.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Last Week of #NaNoWriMo 2013; Let's Get This Manuscript Finished

Here we are, the last week of NaNoWriMo! And yes, I know you'd rather go to Paris for the weekend, me too. But we need to get these manuscripts finished, so Paris will have to wait for a little while.

I don't know about you, but my word count isn't looking so great right now, something I want to change by Monday at the latest. To achieve that goal, I'm going to try something brand new: 10,000 words in one day! Yes, 10K, really. I'm all signed up to participate tomorrow 11-23-13 in a fun website writing party hosted by my Twitter friend Milli Thornton at @fearofwriting:

I only learned about Milli's site a couple of days ago, and just in the nick of time. In fact, the discovery was so fortuitous that I'm still reeling from one of those "how did that happen?" moments.

But despite my best intentions to write those 10K words, I also know that if I'm going to stay motivated I'll need some trusty writing prompts. Last night I brainstormed a list of 25; please feel free to borrow, steal, or add to the list by leaving a comment or two. All suggestions will be most welcome!

My 10K Prompt List:
  1. Write about my characters' goals: why are they so important?
  2. Write back story--lots of back story!
  3. Write a character's first memory and make it essential to a present scene.
  4. Describe my main character's place of work and how that influences the plot.
  5. Various characters' neighbors: what do they really think?
  6. Have one of the characters stuck in an elevator--with the villain.
  7. A mysterious package arrives: why and what's in it? How does this change everything?
  8. A death in the family.
  9. An invitation my main character can't refuse.
  10. Write about a recurring dream.
  11. Phobias--assign one to a secondary character and use it to keep them from helping my main character.
  12. Car trouble. At the very worst time possible.
  13. Illness. Ditto as above.
  14. Somebody witnesses a crime.
  15. And then is framed for it!
  16. A big lie and the unexpected consequences.
  17. Hobbies--pick one and make it important to the plot.
  18. An overheard conversation--and what happens because of it.
  19. A stolen identity.
  20. One of the characters finds (fill in the blank) and is devastated.
  21. Something observed in a window.
  22. A favorite item is broken. What, why, what happens because of it?
  23. A sudden storm.
  24. A creepy prophecy--that comes true.
  25. The three very worst outcomes that can happen if my characters don't reach their goals, and then have them happen.
So come on, join us on Saturday--I think you can even wear your pajamas all day, just as long as you promise to write.

Tip of the Day: In case you can't sign up for this Saturday's 10K session, be sure to check out anyway for one of their future writing sessions; they're held twice a month regardless of NaNoWriMo or similar events. Whichever day you choose, 10K in one day will surely help you reach THE END, a very good place to be.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

NaNoWriMo 2013; Lost in the Woods

Yesterday I was ready to give up on NaNoWriMo, as in seriously QUIT. Why, why was I torturing myself to write these stupid 50,000 words? Am I so devoid of writing projects that I have to take on a task that wasn't even fun?

Fortunately, that was yesterday. Today I'm feeling a whole lot more positive and ready to keep going. The secret was in realizing several things:
  • First, nobody is making me do this. Nobody. There is no contract or deadline awaiting me with dire consequences if I don't write. I've won enough previous NaNoWriMo certificates to know I can write 50,000 words in a month. I have nothing to prove here.
  • If I don't reach the 50K mark, so what? I'll have 10 or 20K extra manuscript words to work with that I didn't have before November 1. And that's a good thing.
  • Lastly, I was taking my manuscript way too seriously. Demanding that it make perfect sense--right now. That all my characters be fully developed and action-oriented, intent on weaving their way through a brilliant plot line that was simply amazing, full of shocking twists and turns with a stunning conclusion. Except NaNoWriMo doesn't work like that, at least not most of the time. (Note to self: neither does any first draft. Sigh.) Asking that it do so was setting myself up for instant failure.

So here's what I did to beat the NaNoWriMo blues: I decided to be willing to get lost in the woods. Crazy plot line? Just follow where it does go, and if I don't like it, write "stuff happens here" and carry on writing a new and more interesting scene. Characters I can't stand? Get rid of them--send them to China or off on safari where they get eaten by lions. Bored with the whole process? Write about things that interest me, not what I think is "supposed" to go in the manuscript because I want it to fit a particular genre or style.

I'm not going to quit. How about you?

Tip of the Day:  One of my favorite ways to infuse any flagging manuscript with new life is to grab a handful of writing prompts from old magazines. Article titles and headlines are perfect. Get your scissors and start cutting; throw what you find in a jar and then pick one for every new page you start. Here's a sampling from my current collection: "Warm Kebabs for a Cool City." "The Human Face Behind the Makeup." "Last Stand in the Serengeti." (Uh-oh, I guess those lions really did get my unlikeable characters . . . ") Good luck; happy writing!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Heroes and Heroines

Just in time for NaNoWriMo: How well do you know your characters? By now you might be familiar with their physical features, their taste in evening clothes, and what they like to eat for breakfast, but what about their personality quirks and motivations?

One of my favorite writing how-to books to help uncover more about my characters' inner worlds and psyches is one by Tami D. Cowden, Caro LaFever, and Sue Viders:

Originally written for screenwriters, The Complete Writer's Guide to Heroes and Heroines, Sixteen Master Archetypes is a great tool for all writers, poets too, I can imagine! Based on the idea that there are 16 character "types" common to all fiction and mythology, the book is a great one to read just for fun as well as for research.

The other day I thought it would be interesting to re-examine where and how the three heroines from my published novels fit into the various categories. I also used the templates to evaluate the Pinterest boards I had created for these books: What kind of pins could I add to each? I started with:

The Great Scarab Scam

See The Great Scarab Scam Pinterest Board!

The Great Scarab Scam is my Egyptian mystery for young readers 8-12 years, so obviously there isn't the conventional male-female interaction you might find in a book for older readers. However, my main character, eleven-year-old Lydia Hartley, definitely falls into the category of "The Spunky Kid," and not just because of her age. Her other traits and story difficulties include:
  • She's stuck between two brothers--one a little bit older and one quite a bit younger.  Although neither of her brothers are particularly "heroic." 
  • She's a reader--and even enjoys doing homework!
  • She's fiercely loyal to her father, a university professor and archaeologist.
  • Loves history, especially ancient Egyptian history.
  • She's curious about the world around her, but can be shy in social situations.
  • She's brave, but a little reckless too.
  • And she's very motivated when it comes to helping others. 

Better Than Perfect

See the Better Than Perfect Pinterest Board!

My Young Adult novel set in New Zealand, Better Than Perfect, follows fourteen-year-old Elizabeth Haddon when she is sent from London to live with her wealthy relatives in Auckland. Elizabeth falls into "The Waif" category.  She's:
  • Lonely.
  • Unwanted.
  • The "poor relation."
  • Insecure.
  • Smart, but without direction.
  • Prone to envy, especially when she continually has to make do with second best.
  • And she has a serious crush on an unconventional "bad boy."
And although Elizabeth does manage to find her true north and come to grips with real life in the course of the story, she does so with all the handicaps of a victim and lost child.


See the Overtaken Pinterest Board!

Written for an adult audience, Overtaken includes some of my most complex characters, especially my heroine of Sara Bergsen.  I had a bit of trouble discerning exactly which archetype she truly was, but in the end I decided she was "The Librarian."
  • She's essentially a loner.
  • Her chosen career as a portrait artist reflects her powers of observation and love of order. Abstract painting doesn't interest her in the least.
  • Her wardrobe, at least in the beginning of the book, consists of practical pieces in black and gray--great for work!
  • And this girl does love work. She's disciplined and dedicated to deadlines.
  • At the same time she takes risks because she is confident in her own ability to succeed.
  • She's a reader--which has also led her to believe in the possibility of a happy ending.
One of Sara's main challenges is to confront and understand the three men in her life: a Warrior, a Lost Soul, and a Charmer.

Tip of the Day: The Complete Guide to Heroes and Heroines is an excellent reference for any stage of your manuscript, even your published stories. For your WIP's see where your characters match up to the suggested archetypes, and pay particular attention to the sections on how they all work (or don't work) together. For your published manuscripts, you can still use the book to help describe your characters in your marketing material. You may be surprised at what you find!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happily Ever After--Write Your Ending First

Ready for NaNoWriMo? Here's a tip to make the next month easy on your time, planning, and imagination: Write your ending first.

Writing the end of my novels and short stories before I write my first page is a trick I've been using for years, and I love it. It's especially helpful for someone like me because I've never really been either a total pantster (someone who freewrites her way through a manuscript as opposed to persnickety planning), or an obsessive outliner. I've always preferred a combination of the two. 

For instance, I like to know who my characters are and what makes them tick in advance of writing a full manuscript, but to get there I still have to freewrite what those traits and motivations are going to be. If I have a pre-written ending that tells me where my characters will be on the last page, complete with dialogue and action, I'll know exactly what they need to do, be, and feel to reach that point. 

Writing my last three to  five pages first has saved me a lot of worry. Here's why:

1.  Writing your ending first gives you a life raft to swim toward. You will always know where you're supposed to go, giving your scenes a sense of forward movement.

2.  When somebody (like an editor) asks what your WIP is about, you will instinctively know the answer based on the tone and mood of your ending.

3.  Many writers (like me) love to write back story, but so often we're told "no back story allowed!" I think this is because so often back story is inserted into the wrong places where it slows the plot down. However, if you have to write your story backwards to explain how you reached your ending, you get to write all the "back story" you can think of--and it's always in the right place because it IS your story!

4.  Writing "The End" first means that technically at least, your manuscript is finished; a nifty psychological ploy to keep you from feeling overwhelmed on the blah-days when it seems your book is going nowhere fast.

5.  Which creates confidence--you know in advance that your story has a strong and satisfying conclusion. No more unfinished manuscripts piling up in your filing cabinet, no more excuses for not sending out those query letters!

Tip of the Day: Even if you have no intention of participating in National Novel Writing Month this year, take some time on Friday November 1 to sit down and write the last five pages of either a new work, or something you've already started. The first time I tried this exercise was with a novella I was playing around with just for fun. What I discovered from writing that final scene before I'd even written Chapter Two completely turned the book around from being a superficial light comedy to a serious story about aging and accepting mistakes with grace. Wow--who'd of thunk it? Happy Nanowrimo-ing!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Happy Birthday To My Blog!

You are invited: to my blog's birthday party!

5 years old! It's my blog's birthday on Monday, October 28; I can hardly believe it. 
To celebrate I'm having a special giveaway just for my followers (thank you, everyone!). 

All you have to do to be eligible is a) follow my blog. Easy-peasy. 
And of course, if you'd like to leave a comment that would be lovely too.

I'll be holding a random drawing on Friday, November 1 (the start of NanoWriMo) at 12.00 PM Mountain Time, so that gives you a whole week to sign up and join the fun.

The giveaway prize will consist of books, journal, and pens--just one winner.
Don't miss out :) In the meantime, everybody eat cake . . .

Friday, October 18, 2013

Autumn Planning

For the last few weeks I've found myself offline much more than usual. I can't help it--where some people suffer from "spring fever" and the inability to stay indoors and concentrate when the first green buds appear on the trees, I have the exact opposite problem: "autumn fever." 

It's been that way all of my life, something to do with the turning leaves, cooler days, an Indian Summer wardrobe that pairs sweaters with cotton skirts, Halloween, Nanowrimo . . . my birthday . . . there's nothing about the season I don't love! 

And even though it's been a long, long time since my student days, I think autumn brings back a remnant of "back to school" determination and renewal to my psyche--all those great plans to accomplish by next semester! I recently read somewhere that deciding to become a writer is like signing up to do homework for the rest of your life. Too true--which is probably why I'm so interested in creating schedules, routines, and self-imposed deadlines; I don't want to mess up my assignments.

With that theme in mind, I've been busy getting ready for the writer's equivalent of term paper and doctoral thesis rolled into one:  revising my next novel. In this respect I've been a little bit like a squirrel hoarding autumn acorns for the winter. Do I have the right supplies? Have I done all my prep? I think so, starting with:

  • A complete first draft with a beginning, middle, and end.
  • First draft fully edited. (Four red pens hit the dust!) Areas that require new scenes and chapters all marked out for new writing.
  • Character names, dates, goals finalized.
  • To keep my characters and story events in order, I've created a "manuscript chart" listing my chapters.  This was important for me to remember both my timeline and to know exactly which characters appear in these chapters, and why. I've also included a section to remind myself why I even HAVE a particular chapter other than because it's so well written, LOL! I figured this last section could also be helpful for marketing and and editorial response, especially in the case of an editor requiring any kind of further rewriting.
So . . . I'm ready to go! Second draft, here I come. But first, I just have to take one more autumn walk with my journal-sketchbook in hand. These leaves are just too pretty to miss.  

Tip of the Day: What projects have you got planned for the winter? What "school supplies" do you need to purchase or make to ensure the work goes smoothly? In my case it was a bigger binder to hold all my revision notes, as well as some new magazine cut-out for those extra sections I need to write. It's good to have everything you need before you begin.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

New Book Trailer! The Essential Guide for New Writers, From Idea to Finished Manuscript

Announcing!  The Essential Guide for New Writers, From Idea to Finished Manuscript now has its own book trailer:

I'm excited to have this new development for the book, especially as it's been one of my best sellers over the years, and it's been quite a few years! Some of my favorite memories from the early days of writing the book:
  • The idea came to me while I was teaching my first workshop at West Georgia College, now the University of West Georgia.
  • I was still in the middle of building my house in the middle of 5 acres of woods and farmland.
  • My initial idea was to simply make photocopies of my workshop notes and staple them together. (Whew. Would've been a lot of stapling. Glad I didn't choose that option!)
  • And then I realized I could have a complete trade paperback. A revelation in publishing.
  • Chapter 3 on "Creative Conflict" was reprinted in a textbook for the Atlanta College of Art. Prior to this I never knew you could sell and get royalties for just a part of your book. The textbook was for the college's class on making videos.
  • International sales have been as far away as New Zealand and Singapore.
  • I'm proud to say the book has been used in both male and female prison writing programs throughout the country.
  • It's also been a featured textbook in several university masters' programs, including the Masters in Professional Writing at Kennesaw State.
  • I wrote the entire book in longhand first--still my preferred method!
To celebrate the release of my new trailer, The Essential Guide for New Writers is on super-sale at my website.

Instead of the usual price of $10.95, the price is now only $5.95, and all USA orders include Free Shipping! What are you waiting for? Get on over and get your copy today!

Tip of the Day: I wrote The Essential Guide as a way to express my love of writing. When I sat down to type out my handwritten notes, writing was, and continues to be, my passion. I just love to write--and I wanted to share that joy with other writers. Whatever you feel passionate about is always a good indicator of what you should be working on.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Splash Ink Watercolors

I can't believe how long it's been since my last blog post: over a month. Guess I've been busy! Most of August found me editing my new novel, The Abyssal Plain, and practicing the techniques I learned in a recent 2-day art class, Splash Ink Watercolor.

I was attracted to this class for two reasons: first, the word "ink" made me think of fountain and gel pens, freewriting, and calligraphy. And I just love ink! Second was the course description that mentioned using our imaginations to paint--always a good sign of something interesting up ahead.

In a nutshell, Splash Ink is based on Chinese art and theory. One of the things that surprised me the most was that the word "splash" actually means "pour" in Chinese, so the class wasn't quite as messy as I thought it would be. (I wore my absolute worst clothes and shoes on both days, terrified that we would be throwing paint all over the room and each other. Thankfully, this never happened and was straight out of my over-active "imagination." Splash Ink can be safely attempted in any work space or studio with a plastic tablecloth and paper towels.)

To start off the first day of class, our wonderful instructor, Ming Franz, gave us each 12 sheets of good quality rice paper measuring roughly about 14" x 14" that we divided into sets of 4. The sets of 4 were kept together and taped to plastic boards. After taping, we then sprayed water onto the top sheet until all 4 sheets were saturated. We then poured ink and liquid watercolor and/or acrylic paints onto the top paper in the following order: sumi ink first, then blue, red, yellow, and white paint. Using the white paint was the most surprising to me as I've always heard, "Don't use white in a watercolor!! Ever!" But for this method it was essential. Somehow the white paint seemed to soften, blur, and highlight the other colors all at the same time, a very nice effect.

After pouring the color and letting it seep down into all 4 sheets, the next optional step was to sprinkle salt onto the first sheet. We could also drip diluted dish washing liquid into the damp color for added depth and texture. Another option was to place pieces of scrunched-up plastic wrap in selected spots. Last of all we then carried our boards outside into the New Mexico sun to let the papers dry--which in our super-dry climate took about 30 minutes.

Once everything was dry we were able to separate the pages, and wow: 3 sets of 4 abstract backgrounds in varying degrees of dark to light depending on the order of the papers . Here is one of my lighter pieces that was #3 in a set of 4:

This next much darker sheet was the first of a set of 4. I also used some of the crunched-up plastic wrap to fill out the design:

Day 2 was where the magic really began--we got to paint over the backgrounds with either acrylic or gouache (opaque watercolor) paints. Our homework assignment between classes was to study and meditate on our pieces so that we could "find the picture" inside each one, kind of like looking at clouds or cracks in the ceiling. There's an elephant! No, it's a giraffe! Ming also suggested we look through books and magazines for reference photos we could bring to class and that could help turn our background pieces into finished paintings.

For me, a magazine picture of falling autumn leaves over rushing water seemed to fit the red paint splashes I already had on this particular piece:

I was sorry the class was for only two days, because I certainly had a lot more backgrounds to fill. I ended up with even more when I took 4 of my least favorite sheets and cut them down into quarters, giving me a stack of little "mini-sheets" to practice on. Here's the result of my first small attempt at home; I called it "On the Way to Taos" as that's exactly what it reminded me of:

Now that the class is over, I hope to continue using Splash Ink and adapting it to my own style and choice of mediums. I think it would be an incredible way to illustrate a book, especially one for children, or perhaps a dark and mysterious Gothic novel for grown-ups. Maybe I'll have to do this one day for a new edition of Overtaken!

Tip of the Day: To learn more about Ming Franz and Splash Ink, take a look at Ming's book, Splash Ink With Watercolor (Looking East, Painting West). Not only will her beautiful artwork inspire you to try some painting of your own, but you might want to experiment with using Ming's paintings as writing prompts--a great idea for yourself or your writer's group. Happy creating!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Watercolors for Everyone--Writers, Too!

Tomorrow morning I start a new watercolor class, which I thought was the perfect excuse to write about: Watercolors!

The idea to post about painting has been with me for awhile, thanks to watercolor artist, Rita Squier, one of the winners from my blog giveaway last November. I had asked followers for some suggestions on what I should blog about, and Rita asked what it was I enjoyed about watercolors. Great question! And it was one I wanted to give some thought to, not just write any old thing from off the top of my head. 

It may seem that I waited rather long, however, to answer Rita, but I have a good excuse: at the time of Rita's question, I had taken a small break from watercolor painting. November in Albuquerque was SO cold that watercolors seemed too thin, too bright and summery for the way I was feeling. Instead, I found myself turning to oil pastels for creative inspiration, especially the more muted tones of gray, olive green, and brown. Just the thought of watercolor back then made me want to shiver and put on an extra sweater.

But now it's summer again, and I'm back to sandals, T-shirts, and open windows. Once again I'm craving the brilliant light and sparkle only watercolor can produce on a pristine sheet of white paper. (Oh, that scary white paper . . . no, not really!)

My interest in watercolors started about twelve years ago, but it took a while for me to get up the nerve to try them myself. For years I had heard so many people say that watercolor was a difficult, even impossible, medium to work with (something I still hear) that I was afraid to make a serious start. Especially when most of the instruction books and magazines I read concentrated on super-realism; beautiful to look at, but the time, the talent needed to achieve such results! Whew. How could I ever reach that pinnacle of perfectionism? My own meager attempts seemed like messy blobs of . . . well, mess. Then one day I had an epiphany: the watercolor paintings I loved best were messy. And they were beautiful. There was room for everyone.

Once I started using watercolors on a regular basis, I learned that yes, they could be frustrating, no two ways about it--those nay-sayers had a point. But more often than not the paints were pure magic: the transparency they can give to light and shadow alike; the meditative dreaminess of the wet colors and soft edges flowing across a damp surface; the mystery of "what will it be?" allowing for a constant sense of new direction; the bright intense color which can match my mood whether it be somber and reflective, or happy and playful. I can't think of any other medium that can provide all that at the same time.

One of my favorite things about watercolor, though, has to be its similarity to ink.  In the same way I prefer to use a gel or fountain pen when I freewrite, each time I start a new watercolor I can simply let the images "flow." A single drop of color can spread into an entire design, leading to yet another choice of color, and another new doorway into my imagination. Happy accidents abound, and sometimes I can almost say the painting painted itself. When that happens I can barely remember even holding the paintbrush.

Another wonderful aspect of watercolors is that they come in a variety of forms now--not just little pans or tubes of paint. Watercolor pencils, pens, and crayons are perfect for writers! Whether I use them for  journaling or perhaps to add some loose sketches to my manuscript notes, they're as easy to use as any other pen or pencil, like the time I went into my backyard looking for haiku subjects:

In this next example I wanted to illustrate a poem about my cats and I used a brush and traditional tube colors instead of the pencils. I experimented with using just three colors:

Here I simply took a break from editing to capture another of my cats as he dozed on the couch in my office. I had to work fast before he woke up!

Painting people is almost as fun as painting cats (almost). This next picture was done with a single watercolor crayon. (I also think this model would be a great character to write about):

Now it's your turn . . .

Tip of the Day: Visit Rita's blog as well as her Etsy store.  And while you're at it, why not buy yourself a watercolor pad or journal, as well as a little set of Prang Watercolors? (Amazing value and excellent quality for beginners and professionals alike.) Just be sure to throw away the accompanying brush that comes with the set however, or keep it for spreading glue in your art journal. In its place I recommend buying 2 synthetic brushes: a flat and a round, size 8 or 10 is just about right for anything. If you've never tried watercolors at all, a good place to start is by watching beginner's how-to videos online and following along with the step-by-step lessons. Paint your world beautiful!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Motorcycles and Madonnas: Back from Barcelona!

I'm back: from my Internet holiday and 2 weeks in Barcelona! I'm jet lagged, recovering from a head cold, and surrounded by so many bits and pieces of Barcelona ephemera (ticket stubs, receipts, postcards, museum brochures, postage stamps) that it seems I will be art journaling on the city for the rest of my life. And that's fine with me--I love having a theme that can extend into my pottery, my watercolors, and who knows--maybe even a short story or two.

Our choice of Barcelona started with my husband's wish to see a Moto GP race live, and the Catalunya circuit seemed like a good venue. Put that with my desire of many years to see the Black Madonna of Montserrat, and we thought, hey, let's go!

Our first day was spent settling into our apartment converted from an old palace straight out of a fairy tale. (I still don't know how I got my suitcase up these stairs.)

The view from our living room: 

From the bedroom:

From both rooms:

The original (and very high) ceiling in the bedroom:

Next stop was afternoon coffee:

I loved all the architecture of the city, from Gothic to Art Nouveau, and for some reason became obsessed with this particular building we seemed to pass just about every day. This picture doesn't do it justice, but it was so full of carving and plants and romantic stonework . . . I wanted to move in and live there forever.

Old world undies (no, I did not shop here): 

Seeing Montserrat at last was every bit as thrilling and meaningful as I thought it would be--maybe even more so. Ever since reading China Galland's book, Longing for Darkness, Tara and the Black Madonna I've been intrigued by the history and spirituality connected to the various Black Madonnas throughout the world. Add that to my love for the work of New Mexico artist and writer, Elaine Soto and her own versions of these beautiful icons, there was no way I could go to Barcelona without making the (somewhat scary) ascent up the mountainside to this sacred site.

Montserrat wasn't the only place with a view, however. This picture was taken right from the heart of the city on Montjuic and the steps of the Catalonia art museum: 

After several more days of nonstop museums (Picasso, Roman ruins, the Cathedral . . . ) it was great to get out onto the water with a boat trip:

And visit Gaudi's Sagrada Familia: 

As well as the Maritime Museum (uh-oh, more museums!):

Here's me at the Aquarium. Husband's instructions: "Smile--there's a shark right over your head!"

Before we left Albuquerque, someone asked me if it wasn't a little unusual to mix motorcycles and Madonnas into one trip. But for me, it seemed the most natural combination in the world--two extremes blended into one perfect whole. It's what I aspire to in my writing, my painting, and well, even my life, I guess!

So on that thought, I'll leave you with another shot of the race (as you can see we were smack in the middle of the Rossi fan club. Good thing they were so focused on their guy they couldn't hear us cheering for Pedrosa.). Yay, Barcelona!

Tip of the Day: Where's your dream vacation? Try starting a "vision board" and special art journal to help get you there. Collect pictures, create your own artwork of the place, and write about the sights you want to see. Not only will you have an excellent source of daily writing and drawing prompts, you might even surprise yourself with a plane ticket.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

It's Summer: Take a Break!

Happy Summer, everyone! If your schedule is anything like mine right now, I bet you're having a difficult time fitting everything there is to do into a short 7-day week. Where does the time go? I want to write, paint, blog, visit friends... But the days just seem to whoosh away. Which makes me think we all need a break--an Internet break!

Don't get me wrong--I'm a big fan of the Internet, probably too much so. And that's precisely why I'm going to pull the plug for a couple of weeks. Starting on Friday I'm going to try: no web surfing, no tweeting, no looking up vegetarian crockpot recipes. Instead, I'm going back to old-school basics: my journal and Inktense pencils; print magazines and books; and lots of daydreaming while staring at cloud formations. Want to join me?

Here's my top 12 list of fun things to do while offline:
  1. READ. Glorious reading. I plan to peruse as many used bookstores as possible and bring home some great additions to the TBR pile.
  2. WRITE. Yes, I do write every day. But for the next few weeks I won't be using any kind of technology other than pen and paper.
  3. DRAW. Oh, do I have some fun art projects lined up.
  4. SHOP. Artist's dates--every day. All those little odd and fun things (i.e., art supplies) I would normally be too busy to find.
  5. PARTY. With real live people.
  6. MEDITATE. I want to visit some special and sacred sites. Looking forward to the silence of some genuine retreat hours.
  7. AFTERNOON TEA. A long-lost ritual that also involves visiting with real, live people, not just staring at lovely scenes on Pinterest.
  8. COOK. I want to experiment with fun and foreign ingredients I would not normally use. Bon apetit!
  9. MOVIES. In theaters. With popcorn. Maybe even take in some matinees.
  10. PLAN. Halfway through the year I like to take a fresh look at my goal list, the one I made in January. It's nice to see where I am with it, and where I still need to go. Working on the list in an unhurried atmosphere helps to put it all into perspective for me.
  11. DREAM. What would I like to add to my goal list before the year is over? Maybe there are items I would prefer to discard and replace with something more fulfilling. This is the perfect opportunity to dream big.
  12. SLEEP. Ah, yes. Afternoon siestas. Early to bed, late to rise. I need this. Added benefit: more dreams and inspiration for all the wonderful things listed above. Just give me a pillow and a blankie and I'll be on my way.
Treating myself to some vacation time away from the web wasn't a decision I made lightly. I enjoy social networking and having a constant source of research material at my fingertips. The most important thing I'll be doing to make sure I don't fall into temptation and "just look up what's on TV" or "check my email--just this once..." is to pack away my computer and to stay far away from any libraries or Internet cafes with their banks of blinking screens. Wish me luck!

Tip of the Day: My goal of 2-3 weeks of radio silence may be too extreme or impractical for you at this exact moment, so you might want to start slow. How about setting aside one day a week or weekend to go Internet-free? Use the extra time to relax, regroup, and rewind. See you in a few weeks! (And yes, I will miss you.)