Eat Sleep Read Write Repeat

fullsizeoutput_200bAn article about Elizabeth Gilbert, author of ‘Eat Pray Love’ lampooned by some of us in our group novel, ‘Beat Slay Love,’ inspired me to open up this blog again.The

That and running into Kate Flora in the desert.

We both spent the month of March in California, she and her husband traveling around, visiting and touring, and me– Lise McClendon– with mine, hanging around in Palm Springs, LA, Paso Robles, and some touring as well.

img_2706.jpgThe discovery that we both happened to be in Coachella Valley at the same time is a happenstance of posting wildflower photos on Facebook. We had both gone for the sun and the flowers, to escape the northern winter which was pretty brutal this year. Kate escaped New England and I escaped Montana. It was great getting together, as always.

51xcfafbzzlSo, this article about Elizabeth Gilbert in the New York Times. It celebrates her journey as  a writer, especially since her blockbuster memoir, ‘Eat Pray Love,’ and her newest novel, ‘City of Girls.’ The new one looks great, I have to say. I also have to say I have never finished one of hers. I skimmed ‘Eat Pray Love’ based on friends’ advice. (I loved the Italian section.) And I tried to love ‘The Signature of All Things,’ a historical novel about a female botanist. It sounded right up my alley but alas. I should try again, I really should. (This rarely works out– does giving a book a second chance work for you?)

Writers — and readers– come in many stripes, as many personalities as there are individuals. I am a private person, mostly. So Gilbert’s out-front sharing of her life on social media is scary to me, and a little suspicious. Why is she doing it, I cry! Is she such a fame whore? She doesn’t seem that way to her 1.6 million Facebook followers who hang on her every life change. They seem to dig it, but I find it terrifying. I don’t know why but I do. I know why I find it scary– because terrible things can happen and then EVERYBODY KNOWS! This is a reaction I confer to my upbringing, that the world is a frightening, dangerous place. Rationally I don’t always agree with that although lately it seems to be more true than not. But I prefer to explore my psyche through fiction. It is very safe that way. I am at heart a chicken. I wish it weren’t so, but in general, it is.

Gilbert is just turning 50 after having so many adventures. One day she will probably slow down. Maybe not, she probably hopes she won’t. But already she is becoming more protective of her private spaces, as the article’s writer notes. She doesn’t do book signings anymore, finding the confessional of readers crushing. One of the benefits of growing older is becoming at peace with who you are. Sometimes it involves a wrenching change to achieve that understanding, for instance, coming out at an advanced age. But better late than never. Suffering in silence because of constraints you probably only imagine is no way to live.

Sometimes the wisdom comes gently though, just a random thought before drifting off to sleep. Although I am soon to release my ninth book in the Bennett Sisters series I still am enjoying exploring their world. In my new novel I write about two characters who are new to me: a nine-year-old girl and a 70+ year-old Frenchwoman. The girl is distraught about *something* — mostly being an only child of divorced parents. The Frenchwoman  dealt with her issues by decamping France for good after the Paris riots of 1968. I had wanted to write about the riots for some time and she offered me a tiny opening.

Both of these characters are enigmas to the other characters. No one can figure them out, why they act the way they do. Both are anxious, angry, and constantly blue. But why? I didn’t consciously know why I made these characters this way, except as a literary device– it makes the reader wonder what the answer is and read on. But later, it came to me, how I had created these two women, one a girl, one old. They are almost bookends, two people at the beginning and ends of their lives, both seeking answers, peace, stability. Having opposites in stories appeals to me.

The similarity of these characters– who never meet in the novel–  made me think how universal they are in their questioning and seeking. We all do it, endlessly, even if we think we’re happy we don’t stop looking for more. It never really ends. (Unless you’re the Dalai Lama, I guess, but I haven’t asked him.) Will we ever find peace, happiness, love, and will it end before we want it to? The answer is maybe, and yes, it will. And so we search some more. cover reveal Bolt

Reading a good book is a lovely– and private– way to start your search. And to shut out that terrible, frightening world while you’re at it.

The new one is up for preorder. Delivered to your inbox on launch day (approximately August 1!) PREORDER HERE

Twenty Years

Twenty years.

170-bluejayThat’s how long it’s been since my first novel, The Bluejay Shaman, came out. April 1994 was a heady month but not as exciting as nearly a year before when I sold the book to my first publisher, Walker & Company. I had already run through a couple of agents and found my editor on my own at a writer’s conference. He had liked the book but told me it was too long. I demurred about cutting it (oh my precious words!) then came to my senses, whacked away the fluff, and sold it.

Yes, I wax nostalgic about that first book. As a writer it holds a special place in your heart. An older writer told me to buy a box of books and stash them in the closet for posterity. (I did.) I remember silly things like the UPS man who asked me about the box then wondered if it was about the Toronto Bluejays baseball team. My first book signing, my first public reading. Good times.

I didn’t sell a zillion copies of The Bluejay Shaman. But that didn’t matter because now I was a professional writer. It would be a rocky road, these twenty years, with ups and downs, falling outs with editors, divorcing agents, new editors,  new series and long stretches without books. I’ve probably done everything wrong with what I laughingly call my “writing career” but really – I don’t care. One thing twenty years in the writing game teaches you is to develop a thick hide.

The Bluejay Shaman new coverWhen Katy Munger and I decided to get our out of print books back into print and started Thalia Press we became cover designers by default. We had a graphic designer set up a template for our first books and we put the photos, stock or otherwise, into that. Here’s how The Bluejay Shaman turned out. I still love that tepee shot and I’ve never changed that cover.

Other covers to come: yes, there has been evolution. Some I got tired of, or decided as we transitioned from just print-on-demand books to e-books, that the type was too small when seen in a thumbnail size. Over the years we’ve learned a lot about covers from trial and error. I have decided I love to fiddle with Photoshop! But I’m not great at it, just barely competent. But I do love the control.

Control of the cover image, the emotion that it projects, the story that it implies, the tone it offers, is a two-edged sword. As writers we love to gripe about our covers. Sometimes the publisher gets it exactly right in our minds, and yet the marketing department hates it and says it won’t sell. Or we hate it ourselves and the sales guys love it. And now as author/publisher/cover designer I have no one to complain to but myself.

This first cover of Blue Wolf, the final book in the Alix Thorssen series set in Jackson Hole, was just short of abysmal in my opinion. Everyone thought the wolf looked like a puppy and it was a children’s book.BlueWolfFrontCover-Nook

The next version, left, from the mass market edition, was an improvement.

 

 

 

But it wasn’t until I convinced Montana artist Carol Hagen to allow me to use her fabulous and colorful wolf painting that I got a cover I really loved, right.

BlackbirdFlyCoverIn 2009 Thalia Press published its first original novel, my women’s suspense book, Blackbird Fly. In my role as She-Of-Many-Hats I designed the cover. It’s set in France so I used what I thought were iconic French images, lavender and wine corks, on the cover. The only problem was the corks looked like cheese. I redid the cover in 2011 and now, in conjunction with the publication of the sequel in a couple weeks, there is a brand new cover. I’ve learned my lesson. This time I got a real cover artist, the fabulous Lisa Desimini. She also designed the cover of the new book, using the blue French shutters in both to connect them.

Blackbird_FLY=ebook-NOOK

Girl-in-Empty-Dress-ebook-2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Twenty years — of hunching over the computer, blundering through covers, and proofreading. Of neck pain, expanding ass cheeks, and eye strain.  Twenty years of waking up at night with ideas, of following false leads, of plodding to the finish and rewriting, rewriting, rewriting. I loved it all, mostly. Please excuse me for a second while I have a glass of wine and toast the young innocent I once was. 🙂

On (Not) Writing

“So, what are you working on?”

When people find out you’re a writer, they tend to ask this question a lot. Sometimes I’m glad to answer: “I’m working on my fourth Jack Keller book,” or “I’m working on my sci-fi vampire space opera.” Other times, the question makes me flinch, because the project’s at an early stage where I’m not really quite sure what the heck it is yet, and it feels like if I say something out loud, it’ll congeal into something unformed and unready, like an experiment that comes shambling out of the lab too soon as something grotesque and horrible.

Lately, however, I’ve had to answer that question “nothing.” Because I haven’t been writing any fiction at all. I’m writing my weekly newspaper column, but that’s about it. Looking back, it’s literally the first time I’ve been able to say that  in the last ten years. I’ve always had some project in the works. Oh, sure I might have been procrastinating on it, but for the past ten years, I’ve always at least had something to feel guilty about not writing. So why am I on hiatus now?

Well, every time I finish a book, I always say it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever written. This one, however, really took it out of me. To begin with, I accepted one of the shortest deadlines I’ve ever had, because I really wanted to work with Jason Pinter and his new venture, Polis Books. I saw that Jason was not only putting out some exciting new stuff, he was also doing reissues of great, neglected works like the ones in Dave White’s Jackson Donne series. So when he responded to my query asking if he would be interested in re-issuing the Jack Keller series by shooting back “would you be interested in writing a fourth one?” I said, “oh, HELL yeah.” After all, I’d had a fourth one in the works when I parted ways with St. Martin’s. So all I had to do was dust off the old notes and the 10,000 or so words I’d written as a starter and it’d be smooth sailing all the way, right? I think I may have even said the words that have gotten me into the most trouble of any throughout my life: “how hard could it be?”

As always, the answer was “harder than it looks.” Getting back into Jack’s head was more difficult than expected, especially since the events at the end of SAFE AND SOUND left him kind of a wreck. The other characters didn’t seem to want to come alive, either. But slowly, they did, and things proceeded as well as can be expected for a first draft.

Then, right before Christmas, my father died. I don’t want to go into too many details, but he did not go easily or painlessly. It was, in fact, thoroughly emotionally shattering for everyone concerned, and getting back to the computer after grueling hours at the hospital with my mom proved to be impossible. Then, when that was finally over, it was (oh joy) the holidays, and then at the first of the year, I launched into a busy trial schedule at the day job. But finally, I pulled it together, got back on the horse, pulled a lot of long writing and revising sessions, and managed to stumble to the finish line, or at least eke out a decent draft, which I turned in only three weeks late. It’s the first deadline I think I’ve ever missed. When it was over, I was drained, emotionally and creatively. I needed a break, and the rest of life wasn’t giving me one, so I took one from writing while waiting for my editor’s notes to get back to me. That process has taken longer than expected (for what turned out to be some very exciting reasons), so the hiatus went on longer than expected as well.

So what have I been doing while not writing? Well, I’ve read a lot. Watched a lot more TV than I usually do. Walked the dog. Played a lot of computer games I haven’t played in years. Probably drank more rum than is strictly good for me. Eventually cut back on that. In general, though what I’ve mainly been doing is feeling kind of aimless, restless, bored and oddly anxious, as if I’ve forgotten to turn the stove off or as if I can’t remember where my car is. I guess I’m one of those people who writes because not doing it is like having an itch you don’t scratch.  So I suppose it’s time to get back to it.

Thalians, guests, and others: how do you typically react to the question “What are you working on?” And while we’re on the subject, what ARE you working on? What’s your longest hiatus, and what are you like when you’re not writing?