Thursday, 13 August 2020

"May you live in interesting times"

The title of this blog post is supposed to be an old Chinese curse; it may be apocryphal but it resonates nonetheless. I like "boring" times; boring translates to peaceful for me, a respite from horror, loss, devastation and sadness. The prospect of "interesting times" is downright chilling. So, right on time, interesting times have arrived with the force of planetary collision in the guise of Covid 19--just when we thought the state of the world was as "interesting" as we could bear.

So much has changed...

...There are people in my writing network who have lost beloved relatives and friends to Covid 19. 

...I've visited my mother once in the past 5 months. It's not safe for me to visit her; she's 84. She forgets the reason we're not visiting and perceives it as neglect. The older we grow, the more sensitive we become to real and imagined slights, so it doesn't matter that my mother and I chat on the phone almost every day. I'm not visiting so it must be that I've thrown her away.

...A germaphobe I've always been, but my paranoia is off the charts now. It would be funny if it weren't so exhausting: the stripping at the door as I come in,  the flinging of said clothes into a bag in the entry, the scrubbing of everything that comes in from the supermarket (I never thought I'd be scrubbing onions with dish soap, ffs!), the struggle to focus on anything, the elevated stress levels--and maybe the uncertainty most of all.

...My blog buddies from 12+ years ago when I started this blog might remember my son--barefoot surfer boy who loved nothing more than a good adventure. Well, a brand new adventure found him when he visited Panama earlier this year on business and found himself stranded there when the country went into lockdown, closed its borders and the airline canceled his flight back. He should have returned at the start of April. Instead he's still there. He's nothing if not resourceful, though, and is fortunate in that he loves the place and has very good friends there. Two weeks ago he started vlogging his journey, with the encouragement of Kaylee and Jordan of The Nomadic Movement, a popular YouTube channel. You can find him at Adventure Rich which is off to a great start. The fact that he's a professional videographer puts him at an advantage; hopefully he will be able to monetize his vlogs soon and this will go a long way toward helping him survive in a very challenging situation.

...And finally, speaking of changes... Facebook has dumped me. 😂😂😂 Seriously. A few months ago I tried to sign in and couldn't: they said I had violated their community guidelines, which is absolute BS unless photos of my spider plants are somehow threatening to the Facebook community. I can get back on if I give them my phone number, they say. Well, my response is Up yours, Mr. Zuckerberg. I can buy a burner phone and use that, but I have other priorities. I lost the gardening page that was helping to preserve my sanity during the lockdown since it was tied to the Liane Spicer account, but my FB author page survived because there are other admins there and I access it through them. Ironic, this divorce, as I've always hated FB and was there only to keep in touch with my writing network. I've wanted to leave FB for years.

I've missed this blog. Some of my old blog buddies are still active on their blogs, I know. I'll try to drop by now and then. I enjoy the peace here. I certainly don't miss the rudeness and crassness and insane politics and sensation-mongering and click-baiting and conspiracy theories and outright lies and malignancy of FB. Now to wean myself off WhatsApp...



Be kind. 

Take care of yourself. 

You're stronger than you know.

Saturday, 1 December 2018

Hello world!

No, that's not me. I'm older. And wider. And...
Okay, that's not me. We'll leave it at that.

Hello, Wordtryst, my old friend
I've come to talk with you again...

I started this blog, my first venture into social media, back in 2007, one year after I found a literary agent for my first novel and mere months after she sold it to Dorchester Publishing NY (now defunct). Wordtryst has been on hiatus for most of the 9 years that I've been devoted to coordinating and contributing to the Novel Spaces group blog. That second blog is now on hiatus for a year and my thoughts return, as they often have, to Wordtryst.

The 11+ years since I started this blog have been quite a ride. I published just two romance novels under the pen name Liane Spicer. I've published dozens of short stories, novelettes and novellas in several genres under different pen names. That's what I call my commercial work, the work that consistently brings in royalties.

Then there's 'me art' -- the serious stories in which I explore form and language and the ethos of this Caribbean place I call home. A few stories have been published in journals, and one short story landed me on the shortlist for the Commonwealth Writers Short Story Prize (2014, under my real name Charmaine Rousseau). I have at least a dozen incomplete works -- both commercial and otherwise. I have eight unpublished literary short stories squatting on my drive; I'm working toward an anthology but I'm inconsistent because I don't write those stories until they 'come' to me (unlike the commercial work that I write much more consistently and intentionally).

I've moved twice over this period. My son has grown up from the barefoot surfer boy my old visitors remember -- but that carefree surfer with the passionate love of nature and green spaces is still his core identity. I'm so glad. My son is my soul-brother. We understand each other like no one else, I think. And he's brought angels into my people-averse existence in the form of his offspring and his partner. The memoir about our journey through his childhood is written, has been written for years. It needs a final polish, and a publisher. I hope the world gets to read it some day soon.

Coming back to Wordtryst feels like coming home. Hello, world! I've missed you! And like Cynara's lover in that old poem, I've been faithful to you, Wordtryst, in my fashion. I've blogged elsewhere, but my heart never left you. I've dallied with Facebook, but I hate it more than I love it. And I abhor Twitter, that sometimes-entertaining, sometimes-brilliant, but dreadfully noisy place. I've met some truly lovely people on this quiet blog. Maybe I'll meet a few more, or renew old blog friendships that fell by the wayside. Or maybe it'll be just me, my musings and my photos. A quiet space. A Zen room in this chaotic world.

I'll just close my eyes and rest here for a bit. Mmmmm.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Books on Writing: Spicer's Picks

Several of my favorite books on writing, such as Stephen King's On Writing and The Elements of Style by Strunk and White, have already been discussed on Novel Spaces over the past weeks. My approach to writing differs somewhat from the "craftsman" approach mentioned by Kevin Killiany in "Kevin's Picks: Books on Writing". I like to believe mine is more holistic--embracing both the preeminence of craft and the mysterious, subliminal, sometimes magical nature of writing.

Stephen King puts it well: “At its most basic we are discussing a learned skill (writing), but do we not agree that sometimes the most basic skills can create things far beyond our expectations? We are talking about tools and carpentry, about words and style... but as we move along, you’d do well to remember that we are also talking about magic.” Spanish writer Luis Buñuel writes: “Mystery is the basic element of all works of art.” And Jorge Luis Borges views writing as "Nothing more than a guided dream."

I'm not King or Borges, or Buñuel, or Steinbeck who famously said, “I have written a great many stories and I still don’t know how to go about it except to write it and take my chances.” But I'm in good company. When Joan Baez claims "...those songs that have been any good, I have nothing much to do with the writing of them. The words have just crawled down my sleeve and come out on the page” I feel the hairs raise up on my arm because this has been my lived experience. My very best stories come to me in an intuitive flash and these rare gifts invariably eclipse the ones that I consciously, deliberately and laboriously craft. It makes sense that the books on writing which I choose to read are eclectic rather than craft-heavy. Here are two of my favorites.

Page After Page by Heather Sellers is one writing book that I hardly ever see other writers mention. It's for those who are just starting out and it does an excellent job of dispelling the illusions with which most of us begin. Sellers is a teacher of fiction, poetry and nonfiction writing workshops and she brings a wealth of experience in coaching writers to the table. There are chapters on the state of mind you bring to starting something new, on balance, on tools for getting the work done, on reading, on the influence of parents on your work, on managing anxiety, on daring to suck, on mentors, rejection, workshops, ambition... In short, it covers everything beginning writers need to know about what they're getting themselves into. I'm glad I read it early on. Bonus: There are exercises at the end of each chapter. I admit I did very few of them.

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield (author of The Legend of Bagger Vance, Gates of Fire, Tides of War and Last of the Amazons) is all about breaking through the blocks to creativity, or put another way, about overcoming potentially paralyzing fears and doubts. Pressfield says:

"There's a secret that real writers know that wannabe writers don't, and the secret is this: It's not the writing part that's hard. What's hard is sitting down to write. What keeps us from sitting down is Resistance."

He defines the many forms that resistance takes, shows how to combat it, then discusses the powerful psychic forces that sustain artists on their journey.

I've given away one writing book because I knew I was never going to read it again. That was Zen in the Art of Writing, a collection of essays by Ray Bradbury. There are others languishing on my bookshelf: A Writer's Space by Eric Maisel, The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron, and Letters to a Young Artist, also by Julia Cameron. I have no idea when or if I'll read them. I called a moratorium on buying books on writing, but given all the intriguing suggestions I've seen on the blog this month, my resolve is crumbling fast. Thank you Novelnauts for introducing me to all these resources!

~Liane Spicer

Friday, 22 April 2016

Papyrus, Paper, Pixels...and Life

I had planned to write a sober assessment of the paper versus digital publishing situation, and the ramifications for traditionally published, indie and hybrid authors. I was planning to write about the way Amazon's Kindle Unlimited subscription programme all but killed my indie sales on the Zon since its launch last year. After reading several depressing essays on the issues in sources such as The Economist (The Future of the Book) and Smashwords (2016 Book Publishing Industry Predictions--a must read for anyone in the indie publishing business), I decided to give it a rest.

Since my first novel was published in 2008 there has been nothing but turmoil and upheaval in the industry. I'm tired to the bone of it all. I've come full circle and I'm back to the basics: my love of reading and my love of writing. Reading has been the mainstay of my life, my escape, my therapy, my delight, my muse, my great teacher. And writing? I no longer fuss about what I 'should' be doing. I do what I want, zipping back and forth between genres, between novel and novella and short story, between editing and formatting my own work and doing the same for other writers.

Late last year I discovered the pleasure of writing in a totally new, fun historical niche (new to me as a writer, not a reader) when a short story turned into a novel which I serialized and which now outsells my twenty-something other indie titles. I'm now reading up on the history because I'm about to start another series set in the same period. Plus, I'm back at school and one year into a graduate programme. The taught courses are behind me (or will be when I turn in the last paper on Friday) and then the real work begins for the vivas and thesis that will absorb much of the next two years. I see a lot of juggling in my immediate future: school-related research and writing, fiction writing and publishing, editing jobs.... I've also been invited by one of my lecturers to tutor her UG courses. I have to make time to enjoy my two awesome grandkids...and to do this every now and then:

Me just chillin' on Maracas Beach, Dec. 2015
So, let the publishing battles rage. Let the players--the giants like Amazon and the ocean of tiny authors trying to eke some cash out of making up stuff--duke it out. Let others sweat and swear and worry. Me? I'll be busy doing...other things.

~Liane Spicer

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Writing or Wasting Time?

Kevin Killiany's column on August 19, "I Was Just Getting To That", touched on a sore issue for me: disrespect for writers' time. Except for the big guns—who I assume command respect based on their impressive royalties and resultant lush lifestyles—nonwriters regard your writing as a kind of sneaky self-indulgence at best, or an affectation at worst. The expression "I'm working on a novel" has somehow become synonymous with pie in the sky or dereliction of duty.

I tend to write late at night because that's when the house is cool and quiet and I can string two thoughts together without any kind of intentional or nonintentional interruption. My mother knocking on the door to ask for the five millionth time if I might have purloined her car keys or reading glasses just for the fun of it, and if not, whether I happened to see them anywhere unusual, falls under "intentional interruption". The man cutting the grass outside my window with what must be the loudest weed whacker on the planet falls under "unintentional interruption". But whether one or the other, these things interrupt the flow of my thoughts and sometimes it's hard to get back in there.

One of the problems with intentional interruptions—and part of the reason there's so much disrespect for writers' time—is that the writing process looks like wasting time or just chilling to others. Writing is hard work, but nonwriters think we're having them on when we say that. Case in point: back in December I achieved what I think is a personal record: I wrote roughly 8,000 words, the first draft of a short story, in one day. I was in the flow and I just kept going until I reached the end. I don't recommend these marathons although they sound impressive, and the reason is that I was completely fried: I spent the day after my marathon in bed, firing up the laptop for short stints to work on the edits for another project. To anyone who saw me in crash mode that day, I was just lying around doing nothing. They have no idea that I crashed because I did four days' writing work in one.

When I taught high school, no one visited or intruded on my work unless there was a real emergency. A call during school hours was rare—like that time my brother whacked off several of his toes while mowing the grass barefooted, or the day he was found alive after being lost at sea for three weeks. Now that I'm a home-based writer, however, everyone thinks I'm accessible all the time. It's really annoying.

The question Kevin raised about whether the writing or your family is more important should not even arise. It's unfair, a straw-man argument that has no correlation. No one ever suggested I should abandon my students back in the day to run errands, do laundry or clean the house. I did what I could manage around my workdays, and what I could not do had to be postponed. The hours the job required were inviolate. Not so a writer's hours.

I don't expect that nonwriters—and especially the families of writers—are going to develop respect for what writers do anytime soon. It's therefore up to us, the writers, to respect our own writing time, to growl, bark and bite when we need to so that we get the point across: writing is a job and trying to do it around the edges of other people's expectations of us and demands on our time won't cut it. Be strong. Be firm. And eschew the guilt.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

NaNoWriMo? Not for me—or is it?

Never, ever have I been even remotely tempted to participate in NaNoWriMo. Not once. Not even part of once—you get the idea. I always figured that spitting out 50000 words in a month is just a bit silly, and that the focus on quantity over quality would not work for me. But something strange happened over the course of three weeks from the end of November to roughly the middle of December. I began writing a short story that I'd had in mind for years, and the story 'magically' grew into a novel. In three weeks! I was writing 3000 to 7000 words a day most days, and before the end of those three weeks I had a complete first draft that weighed in at 55000 words.

I'm not sure exactly how it happened, and I still don't quite believe that it did. The story was so much fun that I just kept going. There was no pressure to meet a goal because I had completed the original target of writing the short in two days. There's also the fact that I was in procrastination mode: I was supposed to be working on a paper on critical and cultural theory, which apparently motivated me to focus all my attention and energy—elsewhere.

So who knows? Maybe it's time for me to rethink NaNoWriMo. Seems I may have stumbled across a foolproof formula: 1. It must be a lighthearted, fun project, and 2. There must be something else of critical (pun intended) importance that I absolutely should be doing during that time instead of fooling around making stuff up. Now that I've figured this thing out, I might actually give NaNoWriMo a whirl next year.

Here's wishing the community of writers and readers a very merry Christmas and a productive, healthy and happy 2016. Jewel Amethyst shared the meme below on Facebook and it encapsulates my sentiments for the season perfectly.

Lots of love and warm hugs to all!


Sunday, 22 November 2015

Location, schmocation

In the real estate industry, there are three important watchwords: location, location, and location. Publishing, it appears, is not quite that geo-fixated. Let me illustrate. When most people think of the Caribbean, this is what they picture...

Maracas Beach, Trinidad, West Indies
...and this does in fact exist, many times over. This particular beach is a 45 minute drive from my home in Trinidad, at the butt end of the Caribbean. [see illustration of butt end below]

Map of Caribbean illustrating butt end, aka Trinidad
When I first got serious about writing for publication in the late 1990s, my location mattered a lot. The Internet existed but accessing it was a slow, tedious process that involved dial-up modems and, if one did not own a computer, long hours spent twiddling one's thumbs in Internet cafes waiting for a single web page to load one [minutes pass] thin [more minutes pass] line [maybe I should step outside and get some fresh air] at [sigh...they need to fix the AC in here] a time [damn and half hour is up!].

So, I got info on publishers and literary agents from a friend who printed out a few pages for me now and then, and from magazines like Writers Digest which advised me to invest in a monstrous telephone book-like tome called Writers Market that was published every year and was out of date before it hit the shelves. I bought it anyway. Back then no one was accepting queries by e-mail so I became familiar with SASEs--self-addressed stamped envelopes--and IMCs--international mailing coupons--all of which were a pain in the assets. I had to acquire rolls of US stamps to stick on the envelopes, figure out how many I should put, wait months--and usually in vain--for a response, etc.

I did not do much querying back then, and no wonder. More than six years of inactivity passed between my first flurry of queries and my second.

The second bout of querying, at the bottom end of 2005, began in much the same vein, but then I discovered the website AgentQuery, a database of agents that could be sorted in various ways, including by those who accepted e-queries. I sent out the first e-batch in the first week of January 2006 and got several responses immediately, four of which requested my full manuscript. Printing out the 420 page monster plus synopsis times four cost me money I could ill afford: photocopying was expensive here in Butt End.

Two months after I sent out those first e-queries...I had an agent and let me tell you, no milestone in publishing has thrilled me, literally bringing me to my knees, like that day the agent called with her offer of representation. This was BIG, I thought at the time. Susan had sold The English Patient, one of my favorite films, to Miramax, and Holes to Disney, and repped Julia Cameron and Jonathan Safran Foer. This wasn't just good; it was stratospheric.

"I have to tell you--I'm in Trinidad," I told her haltingly, thinking of her telephone bill.

"That's okay," she responded. "We have clients all over the world." I said it before and I'll say it again: this was my kind of agent. She sold the book some months later.

Over the years my location has become less and less relevant to my publishing life. High-speed, wireless net access caught up with Trinidad and with me, as did lightweight laptops, netbooks, tablets and phones that are way too damned smart. Self-publishing platforms such as KDP, D2D and Smashwords, as well as social media utilities like Blogger, Facebook, Twitter etc. also helped to shrink my world and give me near instant access to everything and everyone I needed. My network of writers and readers is modest by some measures, but far outstrips the reach I could even have imagined back in 1997 when I bought that Brother electronic typewriter and converted my tiny scrawl on piles of legal notepads into a readable manuscript.

There are still downsides to my location in Trinidad: the popular conventions, workshops, retreats and book fairs are too far away and thus too expensive for me to attend. I seldom meet my online writer people in person--I've met only one to date, actually. But I don't complain. I have consolations, like writing retreats on the coast with local writer friends who are a lot like me. Writers. Dreamers. Thinkers. Just like every other kindred writing spirit I've found around the globe.

I now have 29 titles (two novels, several novellas and a slew of novelettes) out there in the world under a variety of pen names and in several genres. With the exception of the first novel, I managed every aspect of their publication myself. And I've done it from right here on my little rock at the butt end of the Caribbean. You asked about my location? Location, schmocation!

Port of Spain, capital of Trinidad & Tobago
~Liane Spicer

Monday, 22 June 2015

Happy anniversary, Novel Spaces!

July 1 will mark the 6th anniversary of the Novel Spaces blog, and the beginning of our 7th year.

We're a different kind of writing group. Whereas most author blogs focus on a particular genre, Novel Spaces authors come in every stripe, from romance to historical, sci-fi to horror, literary to erotica, mainstream to fantasy graphic books, young adult to paranormal, crime fiction to poetry, media tie-in games to mystery. Yikes! That pretty much covers every major genre out there. Our writers are as diverse as their output, coming from backgrounds that range from biomedical research to information technology, the military to education, archaeology to law enforcement, health administration to broadcast media, graphic art and more. They are dotted around the planet, from Asia to the Caribbean and the US. So what on earth do we all have in common?

We love books. We love to read good stories, and to write them. We love the creative impulse, the idea that comes screaming through the ether begging: "Write me! Write me!" We love the research, the actual act of writing, of fingers flashing over keyboard or picking hesitantly at keys, of the swash and backwash of words forming into images. We really love words--all those sounds, shapes, and shades of meaning. We agonize over them, chuckle at them, cry over them. And perhaps most importantly, we love interacting with people who understand all of this and who feel the way we do about stories, about books, about writing.

To the 22 wonderful authors, past and present, who have stepped aboard the Novel Spaces ship, we thank you all. We appreciate the unique perspectives you have brought to the group, as well as your discipline and commitment over the years. To the new members waiting in the wings to join us July 1, welcome! We look forward to the new flavors you will bring to Novel Spaces as we embark upon our newest odyssey. And to our guest authors, readers and followers over the years, a heartfelt 'Thank you!' You're a lovely bunch. Never once have we had to deal with unpleasantness on our threads. That is something rare and beautiful.

Happy anniversary to the Novelnaut community! Off we go again.

Friday, 22 May 2015

So, you're a writer? Let me annoy you for a bit...

Back in April Dayton Ward wrote this post about the things people say to writers, which gave me the idea to do my own version. Every question/remark below has been said to me--by relatives, friends, or total strangers. As you can tell from the responses I wish I had made, this sort of thing brings out the very best in me. I deserve gifts of chocolate for not strangling anyone--yet.

Why don't you try to get your book on Oprah? 
Do you have any idea what I write? Do you have any idea what sort of book Oprah promotes? Do you have any idea how...  Sigh. Never mind.

I need some quick money to cover my bills while I wait for my severance payment to come through, so I'm going to write a book.
ROFL. ROFLMAO. Bwahahahaa! That's a good one... Oh--you're serious?

I'm not much of a reader but I'm writing a book. I'll send you the first draft and you can fix it up and get it out there for me as you know about this stuff.
Sure I will, you lazy SOB. That's what friends do. Because instead of writing my own books, I'd like to spend a couple years polishing your first draft, researching markets, submitting to agents and editors, following up, promoting, etc etc etc. Yeah, that's what I do because, you know, I took about 15 years to learn this stuff so I could do all your work for you.

So--you're writing the great West Indian novel?
No, I'm writing the great Nahuatl erotic sci-fi lesbian vampire novella. I'll let you know when it's out.

Can you get your agent or editor to read my manuscript? [Asked by total strangers]
Of course. Because that is what my agent and editor do--read manuscripts by people their clients do not know, recommended by said clients who have no idea what or how you write. This is the way we build trust in the author-editor-agent relationship.

So how much do you make? Give me a ballpark. [Said with a condescending smile.]
Frankly, it's bad manners to ask people probing questions about their earnings. Even if you know them. Even if you're family. What possible use can this information be to you? Until such time as I ask you for a handout [read: never] what I earn is none of your [expletive] business. Upside: You've given me a great opportunity to practise concealing my anger behind my mild-mannered facade while fantasizing about planting my foot up your smug rear end.
Are you getting a private jet?
I'll let that pass because you're technically still a child. A money-obsessed pest of a child, but a child nonetheless. I doubt I'll ever be into ostentatious status mega-symbols so if I ever strike it rich you'd never know it--unless you sneak into my shoe closet, maybe. Now get out of here before I whup your precocious butt.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Lit Fest & Novelnaut meet-up

Author panel at Bocas Lit Fest, May 2, 2015 in Port of Spain
Gadabout social butterfly that I am, I managed to completely avoid the Bocas Lit Fest every year since its inception. This year I had to be there come hell, high water or the onslaught of any of my usual avoidance impulses, and for two very good reasons: Carol Mitchell, my fellow Novelnaut, and Vaughn Stanford, my friend, first reader and publishing client, were featured authors this year. I made it on the second to last day and had such a good time my only regret is that I didn't attend at least one other day. On to Bocas 2016!

Bookstore's display
Bookstore chat
I had a long and sobering chat with the proprietor of an independent bookstore who has been very supportive of my work from the get-go. He said that sales are terrible (yes, everywhere), and the talk got around to a particular bookstore chain that continues to snub local writers unless they are already big names in the business. That chain snubbed me back in 2008--twice--and I've heard similar stories from other writers. Very unwise of said chain, since the books are in the big stores internationally and people can just get on their devices and order online. Way to cut your own throats, boys!

Celeb sightings
The legend Earl Lovelace himself, imposing as always in head-to-toe white; Nalo Hopkinson who set my groupie friend L'Oreal all a-twitter with adoration; and NYT bestselling spec-fic writer Tobias S. Buckell who hails from Grenada.

Liane Spicer & Carol Mitchell, with Gulf of Paria in background
I 'bounced up' several familiar faces, including my old UWI classmate, Chad Cumberbatch, who's now the Arts Minister in Montserrat. You go, Chad! Also met Kirk B. who will be joining the "Word Warriors" on our writers' retreat in July.

In a rare burst of maturity,
Vaughn ordered this drink from
the children's menu. 
We had our own little 'afterparty' at a seafront bistro on the Chaguaramas peninsula. Vaughn, L'Oreal, Isaiah and I started proceedings while Carol Mitchell and her charming friend Patti spent a lot of time driving around Chaguaramas (it was night by then) looking for the turnoff to our spot. Just so happened that the sign I told them to look out for was unlit so they never saw it. We eventually located each other and it was a blast! I'm here to tell you that Carol is every bit as lovely as she appears online. Writers, writer talk, book talk, coconut water and she-crab soup... It was bliss and I can hardly wait for the next Novelnaut meet-up. Who will it be, I wonder?


Liane :)