Friday, December 15, 2006

THE CALL

Recently, I realized my long held dream to be a published author. I gave a brief speech on the topic to my writer’s group in Los Angeles. Many people told me they were both moved and inspired, for which I am grateful. I thought I’d post it here, because it says everything on the topic I could hope to say. ~TJB

I have wanted to be a writer since I was eight years old. I wrote my first story then, about a horse named Spirit, well before Disney contemplated the same. It wasn’t half bad, and was well received by my first audience, my family. I forgot that dream for awhile, however, and parted company with writing for a time. Like most girls, I became preoccupied with the business of growing up. Going to school, getting a job, and starting a family were all more important then writing a story or a poem or two.

But somewhere, in the back of my mind, the dream lingered on. Six years ago, it finally demanded its share of my attention, and I wrote my first novel, The Legacy, a historical romance set in the rather exotic locale of early reformation Germany.

(*shrugs*)

What did I know?

Nothing then, obviously, not about writing or the romance market. But while browsing in my husband’s eclectic library one day, I came across the story of Martin Luther, the reforming priest, and his wife. The story told of how, in the early 16th century, a dozen nuns escaped a convent and fled to Martin Luther’s doorstep during the early days of the Protestant Reformation. Luther found himself faced with the task of finding homes and husbands for all twelve nuns, and eventually married the twelfth one himself because she would settle for no one else. Their love story became one of the great marriages of history, but it got me thinking: What about the other nuns? What happened to them? Therein, as they say, lies a tale, and The Legacy was born.

I made all my mistakes on that damn book. Writing was hard, and when I didn’t know how to do something, I turned to books about writing. When that wasn’t enough, I joined RWA and learned everything I could. Slowly, somehow, my book, and my writing career became "The Little Engine That Could."

Almost everyone is familiar with that old children’s story. The upshot of that tale, variously attributed to Mabel C. Bragg and Mary C. Jacobs, is that when all the bigger trains were asked to pull a huge load over a high mountain, they made excuses that the load was too big and the job was too hard. The little engine took the job, however, and instead of saying it couldn’t be done, asked herself how she could go about doing such a difficult job. Despite the fact that she may not have been as strong, despite the naysayers who claimed she wasn’t as talented or as skilled as the other engines, she took that big load over that high mountain, saying “I think I can, I think I can!” Well, I kinda felt like that with this book.

The trip up the mountainside has taken a long time. Four books and six years later, I’m just beginning to see the top. When the climb got hard, I had to pile on more coal, work harder, and convince myself to go on. Sometimes, I needed a push from others who believed in me: my sister, my writing friends. Sometimes, I went on alone.

Sometimes, I admit, I even stopped for a while, believing it was just too hard to go on. In fact, I had decided to quit for good after a very traumatic year and a half in which my husband lost his job, I left my beloved Los Angeles for the wilds of Texas, and my mom grew very ill, eventually passing away just weeks ago. One day, after completing my fourth book; after round after round of rejections on my third--a Golden Heart finalist for which I had high hopes; after hearing yet another agent say no; and after reading yet another “good” rejection letter from yet another editor, I had decided enough was enough. After losing my mother, so many things seemed inconsequential. Why was I wasting my time sitting at a computer, making up stories that were important, but not real? I decided I needed, once and for all, to walk away from my dream.

That was on a Sunday.

On Monday morning, I got The Call. Medallion Press’s author liaison telephoned, hinting broadly that they were very interested in my work and would I be home for a while, and could I send them my long synopsis electronically. “Sure,” I said. (After all, I’m not stupid.) That afternoon, the president of Medallion Press called and said, “I love this book, and I would really love to buy it.”

That day taught me an important lesson, one I’d like to share with you now. When you have a dream--one that fills your soul and expands your mind, one that won’t let you sleep at night and drives you crazy when you’re awake--God won’t let you walk away from it, even if you want to. He put it there. It belongs to you, and the only choice you have is to live it or not.

I think it is appropriate that the book of my heart is the one that sold first. It was the only one my mother ever had a chance to read. It may be the only book I ever sell, but I don’t believe that, because I will forever be reminded of the moral of "The Little Engine that Could." I quote:

“To think of hard things and say, ‘I can’t’ is sure to mean ‘Nothing done.’ To refuse to be daunted and insist on saying, ‘I think I can,’ is to make sure of being able to say triumphantly, by and by, ‘I thought I could, I thought I could.’”

For those of you chugging up your own personal mountainsides...

I think you can, too.

TJB

Monday, November 20, 2006

Am I an idiot, or is it just You?

I called a parcel pickup service today, (which shall remain nameless but their initials are D-H-L) to pick up a parcel from my home. Here is the text of our conversation, loosely transcribed:

Me: [after punching in the various numbers to access a real live customer support person] I have a package for pickup.

Them: Okay, great. Will we be picking up from a residence or business today?

Me: A home.

Them: May I have the address please?

Me: [I give them the pickup address]

Them: What is a the best time to pick up that package, ma'am?

Me: Well, it has to be some time before 2:30 this afternoon. I won't be here otherwise.

Them: Very well. We can pick up that package at 3:00pm. Will that be all right?

Me: [Pausing] Well, that won't work, because I won't be here.

Them: Okay, is there a better time?

Me: [Clearing throat] It doesn't really matter, as long as it's before 2:30pm.

Them: Three o'clock should work for you then.

Me: [Longer pause] Well, that would be after 2:30, and I need it to be picked up before that. So, no, 3:00 won't work.

Them: But you said not before 2:30, right?

Me: [Gritting teeth] No. Not after 2:30, before 2:30. So you can see how 3:00 wouldn't work for me.

Them: We can pick up your package at 2:00pm. Would that work better for you?

Me: [Unclenching teeth in a desperate attempt to stay polite] Yes, seeing as how that's before 2:30, that would work just fine.

Them: Okay. Is there anything else we can help you with?

Me: No, I think you've done enough for one day. Thanks. [Hangs up and curls into a fetal position on the floor, wondering for the future of all humanity]


And don't get me started on the USPS, who managed to lose a priority mail package that was to be delivered ONE STATE OVER and has yet to make it to its destination. Of course, you can call and ask what happened, but that just makes them laugh. Just for fun, let's replay THAT conversation:

Them: United States Post Office, how can I help you?

Me: I'm trying to track down an important package I sent Priority Mail with Delivery Confirmation. I sent it with another package at the same time. I checked the status of both on-line. The other one got delivered, but the records for this one haven't been updated yet and I'm wondering if it made it to its final destination.

Them: Let me check on that. [Puts me on hold while she checks the same on-line system I just got through checking] I'm sorry, ma'am, there is no record of that being delivered yet.

Me: Yes, I know. I wondered why.

Them: I have no way of knowing that. We can't actually track that package.

Me: Okay, but it is Priority Mail. Doesn't that mean you usually try to deliver it within 2-3 days?

Them: Yes, that's right.

Me: Well, it's been six, and the package hasn't been delivered yet. Why might that be?

Them: I have no way of knowing that. We don't guarantee that the package will be there on any particular day.

Me: So, what you're saying is, you kinda try to get it there on time, but if it doesn't make it, "whoops, too bad for you"?

Them: Ma'am, priority mail is NOT guaranteed.

Me: I'm beginning to see that. And you also have no way of knowing that if it didn't get there, what happened to it, like maybe the postal worker carrying my package went on strike, or pitched my mail in the trash after he got mad at his boss, or whatever.

Them: As I said, ma'am, priority mail is NOT guaranteed. You have to understand that. If you want us to be able to track it, you need to use Express Mail.

Me: So, despite the fact that you sell this product for more money, and claim in your advertising that you'll take extra care with my package to get it there 2-3 days after I mail it, what really happens is it just goes into the big bin with all the other mail pieces, and if you lose it, I get scolded for not spending even MORE money to make sure that your incompetence doesn't overly affect my business needs?

Them: There's no reason to get upset, ma'am.

Me: No, I'm not upset. Thanks for your time. [Hangs up and dials FedEx instead, wondering why the USPS is so surprised it's losing ground in the package delivery business. Them and D-H-L, I guess.]

Grrrr,
TJB

[Addendum: And the D-H-L saga continues. They NEVER SHOWED UP. When I called to ask how come (oh, why do I torture myself?), the explanation was that the driver doesn't knock. I'm supposed to leave the package by the door. Well, never having used D-H-L before--and never planning to again--it would have been nice to have that little piece of advice before I hung up from the above conversation. Nowhere in that discussion were the words, "Leave your package by the door, because the driver is too d*mn lazy to get off his seat and let you know he's parked on your street," or something to that effect, uttered. Heck, he could have blown the horn; I'd have been happy to scurry out and lay my offering down on the sidewalk in front of him. After all, I was just sitting there waiting. So, now the gentleman on the phone is explaining that residential pickups only occur between 5 - 7 pm. Coincidentally, it was between 5 - 7 pm as we spoke. I asked why they couldn't come now. He said they weren't in my area, so tomorrow was the day. I said okay and hung up. Just then a knock sounded on my door. "DHL pickup!"

Grrrrrr.]

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Contest news

Just a quick note: The Justice Seeker, my paranormal romance, has been doing well in contests. It received first place in San Francisco RWA's Heart to Heart, second place in Seattle RWA’s Emerald City Opener, and third place in NW Houston RWA’s Lone Star contests. As a collegue stated, "win, place, and show." Yeah!

TJB

Friday, October 13, 2006

Friday, September 15, 2006

"What's past is prologue"

I've been hearing a lot about finding your "core" story, or the theme of your life that you habitually write into your stories over and over again. I've finally figured mine out. If I look back on the four books I've written (well, I'm currently finishing up the fourth--only about 20 pages left to go!)[*Author's Note: It's finished! Critiqued! Spellchecked! Revised!], I realize the theme of each is that those events that occur in our past shape our future. Or, as Shakespeare said, "What's past is prologue." My characters are often people who have had some life changing event, often a tragedy, occur in their youth or formative years. This event changes them forever, sometimes casting them adrift until they learn to search for and find the meaning in their lives. The characters would have been completely different people if it hadn't been for that event, and in the end, it makes them stronger once they learn to overcome it.

This realization hit me out of nowhere, and I must admit it has been the theme of my own life. What's past is prologue, and I tend to think that is true of most people. What was the event of your past that shapes your writing today? Think about it.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Welcome Back!

It’s been so long since I’ve blogged, I momentarily forgot my username and password to get into the post section. Ha! Sorry I’ve been MIA, but I’ve had an absolutely miserable summer. My mom’s been seriously ill, so I’ve flown back home a couple of times to help out. My own health has seen a rapid decline this summer as well. Growing older is hell. But, I'm dealing with it, taking steps to get my health back and my energy up, and, thank God, it's nothing that can't be dealt with. After spending time with my poor mom, it helps to put everything in perspective. Number one task is to get my back strong again, so I'm doing the PT thang right now.

Anyway, I have been productive, even though I haven’t been blogging. My work-in-progress, The Justice Seeker, which I’m estimating is between 50-60 pages away from being finished (yeah!) actually finaled in two contests this summer, the RWA San Francisco Chapter’s Heart to Heart contest (which has kicked my behind every other year I entered it) and the RWA NW Houston Chapter’s Lone Star contest (which I finaled in a couple of years ago with Dreamweaver). I didn't actually enter to final; I entered to test the beginning of the book to make sure I was on target with it. Finaling was a nice by-product. I’ve written about a hundred pages on the book in the last six weeks or so, which is good considering my fearsome schedule.

Take care,

TJB

Sunday, June 25, 2006

"Smallered"

Has anybody else noticed how ink manufacturers are putting less ink into pens these days than they used to? I've thrown away three brand new ink pens in the last week that ran out of ink while I was marking on essays. I finally noticed in the last one that the ink tube was less than half full before I even started writing! It used to be that the ink went up nearly to the top of the tube, with perhaps an inch of air at the tip.

What's up with that? Is this yet another step on the "same size container, but less for your money" road?

It's just like when the chocolate manufacturers started making candy bars just a little bit smaller. They didn't want to raise the price because, frankly, the candy market is very cutthroat and competitive, so they "smallered" the candy.

Anyone else notice anything that has gotten smaller while the cost has stayed the same (or gone up)? Or is it just me?

I can't help feeling there is a life metaphor in there somewhere. When did they "smaller" my hopes and dreams? Our heroes? The Presidency? When did we start expecting to get less, even though we were putting out the same amount?

Okay, I'll stop now.

TJB

Monday, June 05, 2006

New Agent at Firebrand Literary Agency

Hey, I realized I hadn't posted any industry news lately. Not that there isn't any, I just haven't been motivated to post. However, for those of you watching for that sort of thing, here is a tidbit:

There is a new agent at Firebrand Literary Agency. An agency client reports that "Megan Atwood will represent a mix of young adult/children's and adult projects. She is currently acquiring young adult and middle grade fiction books, literary fiction, political/crime fiction thrillers, and nonfiction political books. She is looking for edgy, innovative writing that doesn't overwhelm with adjectives."

Queries can be directed to her via email at megan@firebrandliterary.com.

As I've mentioned before, it's usually a good idea to try to get in on the ground floor with an agent when they are new to an established agency. While the Firebrand agency isn't an "established" agency, there are agents working there who have come from other successful agencies, so it's a good bet.

One note: on the agency's forum (which is pretty cool, by the way), it states that the agency is not a member of AAR (Association of Authors' Representatives). Normally, this would raise a red flag for me; I'm going to be "cautiously optimistic" in this case, however, because of the reputation of the people involved, as well as knowing a couple of their clients personally. The agency has apparently chosen not to become a member because it limits some of the "packaging" they do for their clients. Okay, I'm not sure exactly what that means, but the good news is that they state they do adhere to the guidelines of the AAR, so that may set your mind at ease if it is a concern for you. I would ask questions if you get the opportunity to be offered representation about how any disputes between you and the agency might be handled. Also, it is always a good idea to talk to previous and current clients of the agent before agreeing to be represented. Firebrand does list their clients on their website, so they should be easy to track down.

There. Now you've had your industry fix for the day.

TJB

Sunday, May 28, 2006

One of these days, I’ll let the dog sleep in the bed.

One of these days, I’ll let the dog sleep in the bed.
Why not?
He’s attentive, caring, devoted.
He follows me around with unabashed admiration and curiosity:
“Where are we going now?
What are you eating? Why are we walking to the laundry room?”

I feed him the same thing, every day.
Yet he is so grateful when I put his food in front of him.
No complaints, just a wagging tail and a busy mouth.

When I’m bored, he lets me play with his paws.
I tickle the little bits of fur sticking out between his foot pads
and even though it torments him, he always brings the paw back.
I toss a stuffed toy for him, and he runs and gets it every time.
“Good boy!” I croon, and he listens, even if he’s heard it all before.

When I’m sad
He lets me cling to him for long minutes at a time,
never shifting or restless
or thinking about what else he could be doing at that moment.
He lets me stop hugging first.
Sometimes he even licks my chin.

When I go out the door in the morning, he rushes towards me
in the hope that he can be my companion for whatever the day might bring.
“Can I come, too? I’ll miss you while you’re gone.”
“No,” I have to tell him. “Stay.”
Sometimes I wish I could open the door wide and take him along.
When I come home, he’s waiting in the same spot for me,
so excited to see me he’s dropped everything just to say “hello.”

At night, when I climb into the bed,
He’ll come and nose my hand before he wanders off to his box
He in his place
me in mine.

One of these days, I’ll let the dog sleep in the bed--
A soft snorting companion to my dreams.

TJB

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Haiku

I’m going to be teaching a literature course in the fall, my first ever. It’s been years (none of your business how many) since I earned my masters degree in lit, so I’ve been brushing up a bit. In reading about the poetry genre, I came across the descriptions for haikus, and remembered the haiku poems our teacher had us write in fifth grade. Well, I don’t remember the poems themselves, but in general I remember how much fun they were. Haikus are often like photographs of a moment, captured in present tense word choices. They follow a five-seven-five syllable pattern.

So, just for the heck of it, here are some “picture poems” (as I like to call them) I came up with today.


Haiku #1
A black and white dog
lying helpless and trusting
with his legs spread wide.

Haiku #2
Reaching for ketchup
in the back of the Kenmore.
There isn’t any.

Haiku #3
The scent of mangos
Papayas sweet and shiny
I prefer oranges.


Let’s see some of yours!

TJB

King Kong, or The Movie that Shouldn't Have Been

My husband and I received the DVD King Kong as a gift a couple of months ago, but hadn’t had the time to watch it. Finally, we set aside three hours one night after the kids had gone to bed and settled in for the viewing. We were cautiously excited about it because the director, Peter Jackson, is very popular in our house. We loved the Lord of the Rings trilogy. We hoped to love this movie, too, but we wondered, how can one say anything original the fourth time out of the gate about a big ape who falls in love with a blonde?

Sadly, we discovered that one cannot, even if that one is Mr. Jackson.

While the filmmaker did try to bring a new angle to this tale of “girl meets ape” that eschewed the unsavory sexual undertones of previous versions, going instead for a “owner/pet” relationship between the two (with the girl being the pet), unfortunately that angle was too thin to be stretched over three hours of film. Heroine Ann Darrow, as played by Naomi Watts, was as lovely and emotive an ingĂ©nue as any who have played the part, but after watching scene after scene of her trading soulful, silent gazes with Andy Serkis’ Kong, enough was enough.

High adventure is something we expect of a Peter Jackson film, as well, and he made a heroic attempt to deliver. However, the middle hour of the movie appeared to be one long bite-fest, with prehistoric dinosaurs attacking each other, the cast members, and Kong non-stop. After the umpteenth time of Ms. Watts falling into the clutches of yet another beastie and having to be rescued by Kong, it got to the point where we just didn’t care anymore. Like the monk in the Monty Python classic Search for the Holy Grail, we were persuaded to “skip a bit, brother,” and fast forwarded through most of those scenes. When, at the end, Jack Black’s character, movie producer Carl Denham, comments that seventeen shipmates had been killed in the rescue of the heroine, my husband and I were amazed. Really? Only seventeen? So many were dropped into yawning caverns, squashed, or consumed, we thought that surely there had been many more than that.

Finally, the willing suspension of disbelief is a critical element of bringing the audience along for the ride in a fantasy horror film of this ilk. If one can get past the “Jurassic Park meets Godzilla” feel of the film, one still has to believe that after hours of man--er--ape-handling by Kong, the heroine still looked perfect (not a scratch on her). As much as the heroine got whipped around in this film, she would have needed a neck brace, casts, and crutches after she was freed.

We wished this film had lived up to the reputation of the director. At a minimum, the movie could have been seriously edited by at least an hour. A better choice would have been to let sleeping apes lie, and not to have made this remake at all.

Better luck next time, Mr. Jackson.

TJB

Saturday, May 06, 2006

A Typical Day

So, I’m driving home the other day after a really long day at work, and I begin to merge onto the freeway. Now, you have to understand where I work--a small college town in East Texas--the freeway is really a long stretch of two-lane road with its own set of rules. If you’re doing less than 80 in the left hand lane, you need to get the heck over or get run over. This is understood. No one will honk at you--that would be considered rude. They will, however, ride your bumper for five miles until you get the message and MOVE OVER. The other rule is, since everyone is pretty much doing 80 all the time, when you merge, you merge fast. Those in the right hand lane when you are attempting to merge need to get the hell out of your way, or slow the hell down to let you in (pardon my French).

So, a big 18 wheeler is in the right lane, far enough back, with no one in the left hand lane to get in its way, when I start to merge onto the freeway. I’m speeding up...and so is he. I check his left hand lane--no cars, so I figure, okay, dude’s gonna pull to the left lane and let me in. He doesn’t. He came up right on my left bumper, and then just kept coming. That idiot ran me off the road right into the breakdown lane! Scared me to death. He didn’t even acknowledge my presence. I was very nearly killed--could have been if I’d lost control of the car, since the breakdown lanes here are pitted to wake you up as you go over them--hard to drive on.

I was ticked! At first, I’m just yelling at the guy, “What are you, nuts?” Then, I happened to see that, unlike most Texas trucks, he’s got one of those little handy “How am I driving?” signs on his back bumper.

Well.

Now, gotta figure, if a man's gonna drive like a freakin' maniac, he ought not to have a sign on his bumper that says, “Call my boss if I run you off the road.” So there I am, driving 85 miles an hour with my cell phone stuck to my ear trying to read the number on the back of his truck, and at some point the guy realizes what I’m doing. He tries to speed up, dodge me in traffic, but I’m not havin’ any of it. I GOT HIS NUMBER. Oh, yeah, baby, I did.

“I’ll report this to the driver’s supervisor right away, ma’am.”

Heh heh heh.

Boy, that felt good. So good, in fact, that as I passed him on the two lane highway, I even resisted the urge to give him the one fingered salute. Just waved and smiled a lot, knowing a three day suspension without pay would be waiting for him when he got home.

That’ll teach him to mess with evil minded Californians who know how to seek revenge.

Heh heh heh.

TJB

Monday, April 24, 2006

On being a good parent

I was a good mom yesterday.

Most days, I go to bed disappointed in myself in that department. My poor kids have put up with so much: my inattentiveness, my impatience with them, my need for proper order. Though they are still in elementary school, I expect so much from them. When a caring relative told me once, “They’re just little boys,” my response was, “I’m not raising boys, I’m raising men.”

It’s true, too. I expect a lot from them: I want them to learn right from wrong, to have a strong value system, to cherish friendship, to turn away from deceit, and to be kind to others when it is in their power to do so. That’s a big load for a little kid. But, I’m raising men, not boys, and to my mind, a successful man does all that. I don’t care whether they turn out to be janitors or generals, but I do care about their character.

So, anyway, must days, as I said, I go to bed thinking, “I was too impatient. They’re just children, give them a break.” In fact, God convicted me of this recently, to the extent that I was forced on my knees to ask His forgiveness for not treasuring the gift that he gave me. I also know my impatience is hard to control, and comes out of my mouth when I don’t. I asked God to teach me the patience with my kids that He has with me.

He heard me. Somehow, in the last few days, he’s given me the supernatural ability to cut my kids some slack. They seem calmer now, happier, more affectionate, and I know that isn’t coming just from my abilities. I’m just as annoyed when they mess up, or do something to deliberately irritate me, but I think first before I open my mouth, and that’s the blessing He’s given me. Somewhere, from the depths of my soul, comes the words, “They’re only little boys.”

So, when one of my boys suffered an emotional setback yesterday, God’s hand touched us both. My heart went out to my son, and I asked myself, “What can I do that won’t make this worse?”

I took my son on my knee, listened to his troubles and his despair, and sympathized with him. I ignored the mountains of work on my desk that weren’t going to get done that evening (although they desperately needed to be), and the dinner that wasn’t going to get cooked (we didn't eat until 8pm), and I figured out a way to help my child. For over an hour, we sat and talked and developed a strategy to solve his problem. I valued his fears, and validated his strengths. At the end, I played a game with him, and he was smiling. Smiling!

My husband, who had been sitting nearby and apparently listening, afterwards came up to me and hugged and kissed me, telling me I had done a good job. I didn’t even feel I could take the credit. God gets the credit for that one, and I only hope He’ll give me the wisdom to do it next time. Only maybe not when I’ve got so much work to do on my desk...?

:-)

TJB

Monday, April 17, 2006

A plague of locusts

Recently, my family has been experiencing a run of bad luck that hearkens back to Biblical days. Over Spring Break, we had a sewer line rupture in our new house (leading to a repair bill of $4000), my car break down ($1000), and a swarm of bees lodge in our attic ($78). Our dog has allergies and ear infections, to the tune of $700 in the past two months for special food, vet visits, and medicine. This past week we had a maddened opossum from the forest tear a hole in our deck screen. We had to get a trapper to come and catch him and take him away from where he’d been living under the house ($130). With no income this summer (we’re teachers), we’ve been sweating how we will make ends meet since a good chunk of our savings had just been wiped out. We did some schedule juggling, and though we’d hoped to spend the summer with our children and taking a break from our intense workload, we will instead be alternating summer session employment. The upside is it helps us a little financially; the down side is at no one time during the summer will all of us be in the house, so all scheduled vacation plans (family reunions, etc) had to be cancelled. Add to this the need to have the enormous tree branch hanging over our roof pruned before hurricane season, as well as the fact that we’d intended to have the windows fitted for plywood in preparation of same, and we’re seriously wondering how we will make it.

The joke has been that we’re waiting for the plague of locusts to come next.

Well, be careful what you joke about...

Today, a swarm of something suspiciously like termites attacked our house. They were streaming in the windows, near as we can figure, entering both bathrooms en masse and in the living room. We’d had our regular bi-monthly visit from our exterminator recently, so many of the insects appeared to be dead already...but many were not. We have to wait until tomorrow for the exterminator to come back and help determine for us if these were just some oddly shaped ants, or if we are looking at another expensive bill.

All this is by way of saying: be careful what you wish for. We’ve wanted our own home for years, feeling depressed that we weren’t able to provide this basic ritual of life for our kids. We got our chance when we moved from Los Angeles to a much more affordable area. We were ecstatic (if surprised) when we qualified, since we are just able to afford the monthly mortgage. However, what we didn’t realize was the unexpected expenses of owning one’s own home. While I still love my home, I begin to wonder how many of my other long held dreams might turn out to be a disaster waiting to happen. How many other things I’ve idealized as, “If I could only have X, I’d be happy.”

God is the only one who knows what will make us happy, and I’m beginning to realize that if we don’t have it yet, there must be a darn good reason why.

Another lesson learned the hard way.

TJB

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Writing Isn't for Sissies

Writing isn't for sissies.

That's what a good friend tells me I once said in one of my "inspirational tirades," and I believe her, though I have no memory of the event. I do know I have a habit of attacking like a pit bull when one of my writing buddies says, "I'm a horrible writer!" or "I should just give up on this writing thing!" or some variation thereof. I will latch on to their pant leg, metaphorically speaking, and not let go until they admit that writing is hard work, self-validation is often the only kind we get, and whoever quits first, loses. I often lose consciousness during these tirades, and only come to after the person weepily thanks me for bucking up their spirits. Then, of course, I slink away and wonder if I'm a horrible writer and maybe I should just think about giving all this up.

Yes, it is true. I am in one of my "depressed" periods. Monet had his "blue" period (I think), and I've got my "depressed" periods. Now, I'm not talking depressed in the clinical sense in which normal, non-writing people occasionally endure. No, I'm creatively depressed in the "my gosh, how much longer will this take, and can I hold out until it does?" sense. I realized recently that the five year goal that I had set myself when I first embarked on this "three-hour tour" had been met and passed this January. In Jan 2001, I set a goal that I wanted to be a "working" writer, earning a modest living from my books in five years. How naive was that?

Okay, so, now what? Do I give it up now that I haven't met my goal? Do I devote the time I spend typing at the computer, talking to people who don't exist and making up stories that are important, but not real, to my children? To my husband? My students? All of whom have been mostly patient, unless they want something at the same time I need to write?

Part of why I wanted to publish was, yes, to tell my stories, to entertain. It also had to do with leaving my mark, being something other than a wife, mommy, employee. Those are all important things, don't get me wrong. But as Margaret Atwood says in her poem, "Spelling,"

A child is not a poem,
a poem is not a child
There is no either/or.
However.


In other words, having either is not a substitute for the other. A child can't fulfill the need I have to "mainline words," as Atwood says in another part of her poem. Nor does writing fulfill my need to be a good mother, wife, and teacher. All which leaves me feeling chronically guilty for not doing any of them well, and yet I can't seem to stop.

When I started this, I let my kids see me struggle, strive, fail, pick myself up, and start again and again. "Mommy's working," I would say, even though I didn't have the paycheck to prove it. I wanted to teach my kids to strive for something hard, something worthwhile that is worth having. I wanted to teach them not to settle, not to give up if what they wanted didn't come easily, if their dreams were too big to fit into other people's perceptions of "should."

They were babies when I started, and now they are old enough to ask with a sigh, "Mommy, when are you ever going to get published?" They know Mommy is a writer, but one who teaches to earn a living. They know not to talk about Mommy's writing outside the home, because, you know, she writes romance, and not everyone will understand. They know writing is hard work, and they've even taken to pecking out their own stories at their own computer, tossing around ideas and searching for just the right words to tell their tale.

Am I teaching them an addiction from which they won't be able to quit? Am I setting them up for failure by pursuing a dream they might never be able to catch? Should I say, "Well, writing well is important, but make sure you get a good degree, so you can earn a living and take care of your family if your writing doesn't take off"?

I don't know. Jennie Crusie said something recently about writers having to choose between relationships and careers (can't be more specific about that, because then the loop police where I saw this posted would have to kill me), and it struck me as truth. To be successful, do I really have to choose?

A child is not a poem,
a poem is not a child
There is no either/or.
However.


TJB

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Another defection from Graybill and English

Word up: Graybill and English has lost another agent. Coming on the heels of the recent departure by Jeff Kleinman to start Folio Literary Agency with Paige Wheeler, et al, comes word that Literary agent, Elaine English, has left the agency as well. Like Jeff, she has set up her own company. She can now be reached at Elaine English Literary, 4710 41st Street, NW, Suite D, Washington, DC 20016. Telephone: (202) 362-5190.

TJB

Character development

"The good have flaws, and the bad have reasons." ~ Bonnie Hearn Hill


This is another writing lesson I’m learning. Characters that are perfectly good--who have no flaws--are boring, or even worse, annoying. Remember that perfect girl in high school with the perfect skin, perfect figure, and perfect grades? Hated her. Bet you did, too. Now, give that girl a zit on the end of her nose on the most important night of her life--prom night--and make her worry that the boy she’s dating really loves another girl and only asked her out because she said no, and you’ve made that perfect girl more vulnerable. Give her a backstory in which she always tried to be perfect because her father was both demanding and exacting, and for whom a 4.0 grade point average was considered merely “acceptable,” and you’ve made her poignant. Add in the fact that she struggled with anorexia in her teen years, but conquered it and helps others to do the same, and you’ve made her courageous.

A perfectly evil character is just as boring. In my current work-in-progress, I resisted making my villain--a “healer” gone bad--a true evil guy. Something in me understood him, even though he is a murderer. He has a reason for the choices he has made, reasons rooted deep in his psyche, and he genuinely believes he is the hero of his own story. He has noble qualities, the ability to make great sacrifices, and, unfortunately, very poor judgment. He might have been the hero of this story, but he had a desire to do good in the absence of the will of his God. This leads to great evil, in which, while trying to search for a universal cure for disease, he falls under the belief that the end justifies the means, and innocent people die as a result. My goal is to make this character so sympathetic, yet so wrong in his choices, that the reader aches for the lost potential of his life. Sort of like how Darth Vader’s backstory makes you realize how much lost potential there was as a result of Anakin’s choices.

In actuality, it is a character’s own traits which move the plot forward: his or her choices force action to occur, and then the character must react to that, driving the plot along. So remember, as trees don’t appear on the landscape fully grown, neither do your characters. Ask yourself, what formed him or her? That backstory may never make it into your final story, but knowing it will make all the difference.

TJB

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

More stuff I've learned

Okay, so I've been spending a lot of time in writing classes, going back to basics. Well, not really basics, actually. I'm taking on-line classes and going to RWA meetings with speakers who are advanced way beyond the basics, multipublished authors, who are passing some of their tricks and tips on.

A recent one from a speaker at the local RWA chapter near where I live was Lori Wilde. She offered the best tip I've heard in a while. In her books, she chooses some sort of prop for the characters in her scene that will represent the emotion or theme she's trying to express. That way, it keeps her away from "telling" the story and moves her towards "showing" the story.

An example would be in the Susan Elizabeth Phillips book Ain't She Sweet, the day Sugar Beth learned that her father was never going to love her the way she wanted him to, which winds up shaping her behavior for the rest of her life. Her father has always treated her like a dumb blonde, so she believes if she works hard enough, and gets all A's on her report card, he'll love her more. On the day she gets her report card (the prop), she bicycles over to show her daddy. She's bursting with pride, clutching the report card in her hand--until she sees her daddy sitting with another little girl in his lap, giving her the love and attention Sugar Beth has always wanted. That little girl is his second family, the one he really loves. Sugar Beth realizes she'll never be smart enough to get him to love her that way, and she crumples up the report card, and in her anguish, it drops to the ground, forgotten. We, the readers, realize along with her what that moment will mean in her life, and it's all represented by that dirty, forgotten, abandoned report card--a hope, a dream, trampled in the dirt.

I thought that was powerful, and I've made use of it as much as possible in my WIP. My hero, an alien cop, wears gloves most of the time. It represents his loneliness and isolation, and the way he surpresses his emotions. When the gloves come off--literally--his emotions are explosive and very near the surface. When he pulls them back on, he's under control again. It's a very effective way for communicating the hero's emotional state to the reader without saying, "He was upset."

Good tool, huh? Try it in your writing and see if it works.

TJB

Monday, February 27, 2006

My Seduction Style

Okay, so I thought I was done for the night, but clicking over to Monica Burns site, I found she had a link to this cute quiz to take. Apparently, I'm a charmer. Hmmm.





Your Seduction Style: The Charmer



You're a master at intimate conversation and verbal enticement.

You seduce with words, by getting people to open up to you.

By establishing this deep connection quickly, people feel under your power.

And then you've got them exactly where you want them!




Well, I'm not telling if it's accurate...but "Come into my parlor," said the spider to the fly. :-)

Check out Monica's site at http://www.monicaburns.blogspot.com/. She's a fellow 2005 Golden Heart finalist who is on fire right now! Thanks, Monica, for efficiently linking my blog to yours. If I could only return the favor...

I will master technology some day, I will!

TJB

Think BIG

I've got a new motto. It's THINK BIG. I've posted it above my computer as a reminder not to play it safe anymore in my writing.

I'm getting tired of the "wonderful writing, not in love with the story" comments I keep getting from agents and editors. I haven't been able to figure out what was wrong until now. I recently took an on-line course from Susan and Harry Squires, whose shoes I am not worthy to polish, and learned more in that four weeks about writing than I have in four years.

These two published authors took their time and considerable energy to comment on eight individual lessons from forty students while trying to live their lives and write their own books. Amazing. They were very complimentary to what I produced most of the time, but they were also hard on me, too, for which I was grateful. They showed their faith in me by making me work up to the level of my ability, and accepting nothing less than the best from me.

One of my problems when writing has always been to write small stories with strong characters, but I haven't thought big enough. I haven't made the consequences big enough so that huge things hang in the balance.

So I sat down at my computer and wrote two words at the top of the page: THINK BIG.

Then I started working. For my current WIP, The Justice Seeker, about an alien cop in pursuit of a former healer gone bad who then runs afoul of a female LAPD detective hunting the same man for crimes on Earth, I decided that instead of having my hero or heroine's life affected by the outcome of my story, I'd go big.

I came up with a blurb that showcased the emotions I wanted to highlight that would make this a BIG story. Then I worked backwards to figure out how to make that true. I visualized my story as a movie being advertised in a theater trailer spot. What did I want the audience to feel? What would make them go, "Ooh, I wonder what that is about?"

Here is my new blurb/tag:"When passion is a crime and trust is the ultimate act of betrayal...What you don't know can kill you. The Justice Seeker: The fate of two worlds lies in his hands."

I know it needs work, but it's a lot better than what I started with. It gave me better ideas for my villain's character traits, my hero's, and my heroine's. It raised the stakes. And now, people will care what happens because for the problem to be big, the solution has to be bigger.

Thank you, Susan and Harry. I'm so excited about writing again, I can hardly wait to get to my computer every day.

Wish me luck. I've got a good feeling about this one.

TJB

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Update on "Naughty Girl"

Folks, regarding the guidelines for the erotica e-publisher:

Yesterday, when I objected to the association of interracial romance with “naughty” (the publisher’s term) sexual practices such as BDSM, anal play, etc. in the submission guidelines for the e-publisher's new erotica line, I decided to forward the acquisitions editor an e-mail politely asking them to consider changing their guidelines to reflect the fact that interracial romance, while still considered by some as "forbidden," was not in any way on the level of "naughtiness" that its association with these alternative sexual practices might seem to imply.

I am much relieved to say the editor responded quickly by forwarding my e-mail directly to the publisher, with her apologies that this had even become an issue. The publisher stated the same, apologized, and has changed their guidelines. They stated that they understood how the association of these ideas with one another might be taken in the manner I suggested. I do believe it when they say the insult was unintentional, and I believe they really meant well. Their willingness to change and their responsiveness does them credit.

Thought you might want to know.

TJB

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Oh, you naughty girl...

So, a friend recently sent out a post about a new line that her erotica e-publisher is starting. As you know, I don't write erotica, though I have read a bit of the milder stuff to see what it was like, since the genre is so, pardon the pun, "hot" right now. (I'll read pretty much anything if I get the book for free, frankly, which a lot of what I read is. Research, you understand. Research.) Anyway, I found a particular part of this publisher's submission guidelines both telling and depressing. (BTW, this is not a riff on my friend, who is a wonderful person and writer, and also in an interracial marriage).

We are looking for distinctive, well-told and well-crafted stories, which appeal to our readers' naughtier side. Accepted submissions will include, but is not limited to BDSM, multiple partners, anal play, same-sex, **interracial**, etc.

**italics are mine

Hmmm. Little did I realize my marriage to my white husband is considered naughty. Imagine my surprise to be lumped in with BDSM and anal play (which I assume is somehow different than anal sex, but I DO NOT WANT TO KNOW).

Is people of different races falling in love and having relationships still considered "naughty," risky, racy, and against the norm? I suppose it must be in some places, for example in Indiana where this publisher is based, though I imagine the color line is occasionally crossed there, too, but to me it's just the day to day world I inhabit. My DH and I are about as naughty as having tea with the pastor on Sunday afternoons.

For the type of audience this publisher caters to, surely interracial romance is not nearly along the same level of riskyness as all that other stuff. I could be wrong, of course. Maybe for some, that's as daring as it gets. I just can't help wishing that they had found another way to say this.

Sigh...and we had made such progress since Rosa Parks...

TJB
African-American

Sunday, February 05, 2006

More News on CMA

Just an update on the Creative Media Agency: it appears that agent Lisa VanAuken has not made the move with CMA to the new Folio Literary Management, but instead has decided to quit agenting and go back to school to get her Master's. We wish her luck, as well as anybody who had a manuscript in-house with her. Submission guidelines are now up on the site, by the way.

TJB

Monday, January 23, 2006

News on Creative Media Agency

Well, those of you keeping track of agent changes will be interested to learn that heavy-hitter Paige Wheeler of the Creative Media Agency is merging her agency into the new Folio Literary Management . It is indeed a merger, and more details can be found on MediaBistro's site.

The agency will have offices in both New York and Washington, D.C., with plans to expand to Los Angeles.

I asked one of Paige's clients, Linda O. Johnston (Nothing to Fear But Ferrets), if she would be following her agent Paige to the new agency. She will indeed, as will all of CMA's clients and staff. According to MediaBistro, Folio has a new vision of what an agency of the future should be: their vision is to deal with all aspects of a client's ability to generate an income stream, enabling them to "brand" their work more effectively. Sounds interesting.

The common wisdom has it that it's always a good idea to try to get in on the ground floor of a newly formed agency, as they tend to be more receptive to submissions at that time. That may or may not be true for this agency, given that the agents themselves are experienced and likely have their own stable already, but the fact that they have a new focus might suggest that. They haven't posted their submission guidelines as of this writing, so we'll have to wait and see.

TJB

Friday, January 06, 2006

Tis the New Year

Been taking a well-deserved break for a while, doing the Christmas "thang" and celebrating the new year in a new home (well, new to us) with my family. I received way more wonderful gifts than I bought, so I guess I cleaned up. Then, I literally cleaned up, banishing the final cardboard moving boxes in the house to the recycle bin.

While going through old Christmas cards to look for addresses to send out our annual (well, occasionally annual) family newsletter, I came across a priceless card from a friend that I will always treasure as one of the best gifts I ever got. It is a list of "10 Things to Say about a Christmas Gift that You Don't Like." I believe the material was original (knowing my friend's sense of humor), so I thought I'd shamelessly steal from him, and post his list on this site. Let me caveat this by saying I didn't find the need to repeat anything from this list at Christmas this year--all my gifts, yes, each and every heartfelt one of them, was thoughtful, beautiful, and/or useful to the extreme. I appreciated and/or loved them all.

Now, with full credits to Barry Merrill, and apologies to David Letterman, on to the sarcasm:

10 Things to Say about a Christmas Gift that You Don't Like.

10. Hey! There's a gift!
9. Well, well, well...
8. Boy, if I had not recently shot up 4 sizes, that would've fit.
7. This is perfect for wearing around the basement.
6. Gosh, I hope this never catches fire! It is fire season, though. There are lots of unexplained fires.
5. If the dog buries it, I'll be furious!
4. I love it - but I fear the jealousy it will inspire.
3. Sadly, tomorrow I enter the Federal Witness Protection Program.
2. To think - I got this the year I vowed to give all my gifts to charity.

And the Number One Thing to Say about a Christmas Gift You Don't Like:
1. "I really don't deserve this."

Hope you had a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

TJB