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 . . .