Monday, 30 July 2007

Hunk of the Month: James Hyde

So what was the purpose of posting gorgeous hunks on a writer's blog again? You weren't paying attention, were you. (And why should we need a reason to ogle anyway?)

Who are the leading men in our steamy romance novels? What do we want to see on the covers?

Hunks! Hotties of every description. Guys like actor James Hyde - who once posed (in nothing but his Calvin Klein briefs) for the cover of Playgirl Magazine's September 2002 issue. Look at that half-smile. The humor comes through, the dangerous charm, the glint of mischief, the challenge. This guy will probably drive our heroine out of her mind, but when he falls, that girl will have the ride of her life.

A man's man. A woman's man. All man.

Friday, 27 July 2007

July poet: Semele

A Valedictory Poem

Each dawn
you clamour through these hills
to enter this valley's womb
and tread its charred remains

With wounds and scars they come
children of wantonness
beauty shrouded in restless discontent

You dislodge cobwebs from their minds
uproot resistance
badger souls out of dull slumber
pierce pin-prick points
to leak out truth
and seep in hope

But O, the pain
the constant forays that bear no fruit
the helpless silence
while some young soul
who never found his feet
has lost his way

But then, the joy
one dawning hope-filled sigh
that sends out waves of enlightened wonder
rippling through time.

So now,
as bamboos creak and groan our farewell
we honour you
our mother
our sister
our friend

Blow soft, flow sweet
you mountain breezes
sheathe her in songs and laughter
and the morning-fresh fragrance of valley pine

River, stay your course
anoint her with your healing waters
cascading bubbles of soothing joy

Pools of dewdrops
whirl around her

Leaves, rustle the secrets of mysteries in celestial rhythms
birds, intone a matching chant

Move, valley mists
enfold her in your sunny tenderness

Come, you stately poui
waft down from your high places
unfold your buds
rain them gently at her feet
adorn her with garlands of love
weave crowns of wisdom through her hair

Butterflies, dance and dazzle
lift her on your wings
lay her on a blanket of silk cotton down

Bees, feed her with your honeycomb
and take her safely
to celebrate
new life.

Copyright Semele, 1990
All rights reserved.
Posted with kind permission of the author.

Semele is a Trinidadian poet and teacher. Her poetry has been published in a number of magazines including Savacou, Caribbean Quarterly, Kalaloo and Experiment, and she has published an anthology. Semele is also an art photographer, jazz enthusiast, and all-round wonderful human being.

GMTW - Report Card

I can't say that my Get Myself Together Week has been an unqualified success, but I've worked on that second book most days, and today I did some overdue edits on a friend's book, so I got that out of the way. Next week will be better: I'm getting back into my stride, and am living the story in my head, which is important.

Thursday, 26 July 2007

Is it me or what?

Since I'm new to this blogging business, I automatically assume that when anything goes amiss with the blog it's my fault. Like when the pages take forever to load. Is the Blogger service slow sometimes? I mean, v-e-r-y slow? Or is it a problem on my end, maybe with my dial-up internet account which is slow by definition, but usually works quite adequately?

The other problem is the profile photo. Every now and then only a strip of it loads. I refresh the page but it makes no difference. I assumed at first it was a problem with the URL, so I changed the pic. After a day or so, same problem. Changed the photo again. Perfect for awhile, then ditto. Went back to the first URL and it worked perfectly - for a day. Now all I'm getting is a strip.

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

Get Myself Together Week - Day 3

Happy to report am back on track with edits. Feels like working in dark, though. No idea whether changes are improvements or otherwise. Seem to be having crisis of confidence. Anxiety level in red zone.

Wish someone would advise whether second book always this hard. Likely know too much this time around. First time in knew nothing of business side, nothing about conventions, expectations, less than nothing about sheer numbers of aspiring writers out there. Wanted to write a novel. Wrote it. Fear that head now filled with too much information. TMI getting between this writer and story. Fear care too much.

Didn't believe when told pressure grows rather than abates.

Ignorance = bliss.

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

Get Myself Together Week - Day 2

Those imps are really something. So what did they come up with to keep me away from the edits today? My mother got ill last night... trip to doctor today... brother visits... sister visits... brother returns with niece and nephew... excessively hot weather all day... headache kicks in... mother returns with meds and appointment to see cardiologist...

Got some work done, but it wasn't much. Couldn't concentrate so gave up before I did real damage. Pressfield (The War of Art) would say work through it, no matter what. Sorry, Press.

Tomorrow is another day.

Monday, 23 July 2007

Get Myself Together Week - Day 1

This is the first day of the Week of Buckling Down and Doing the Work - the one where I gird my loins and sweat over the edits to my second book. It's the week where I do the work before I get on to the Internet to check mail, blog, browse and basically get happily lost in the catacombs of my cybercave. Yeah!

Well. I've noticed that whenever I make this kind of decision, evil cackling imps conspire to throw obstacles in my way, just for the hell of it. This morning my mother asked me to go with her to a town about 30 miles away to look at new doors for her kitchen cabinets. How could I refuse? She asks little of me. So we trotted over to El Socorro, checked out the doors, chose a colour (satin white), and left with a handful of brochures. By then it was midday, so I took her to a little hole-in-the-wall place with the best Indian delicacies in the area, and we parked and had those for lunch.

When we took off again I thought we were returning home, but I should have known. She turned in the opposite direction and I resigned myself. There's a large garden store in that area, and just as I suspected, my mother pulled up in front of it. The maniacal gleam that gets in her eyes whenever she's around green, growing things was on high beam. Once she gets into one of those places time stops, so I paced the aisles between the arborvitae, junipers and frangipani while she rooted through row after row of herb seedlings, shrubs and annuals. I like plants myself, so it was not a chore. Except for the sweltering heat.

When we finally left she was clutching (of course) a little thing with purple inflorescences that she called queen of flowers. We got home around 2.30.

I have to admit that I peeped. I booted the computer and checked the mail and the blog.

Then I settled down to work on book 2. Binned chapter 2 and immediately felt better. All that back story was just slowing the thing, and I decided to chop it up and spoon the info in small bites in other places. Worked for several hours on that. Beginning to feel much better about the book.

Tomorrow I'll print out the outline and shift stuff around to get the story moving faster, then decide where I'll introduce the other changes that I'm contemplating.

Actually looking forward to getting back into it. I hope those imps are getting the message that (to mix metaphors) they can throw curveballs at me, but they won't derail me.


Sunday, 22 July 2007

Pottermania T&T style

T&T, if you haven't guessed, is the affectionate name given to this twin-island republic by its citizens. The photo above was taken from the front page of the Trinidad Guardian of Friday 20th July, 2007.

According to the caption, this was the scene at a local bookstore as two 'witches' arranged the Potter display while two others stood guard.

I have never, ever seen anything like this here - not over a book, anyway. There was a promotion of sorts when Trinidadian Nobel Prize-winner VS Naipaul visited his much-maligned homeland a couple months ago, but this tops all. Trinidadians have a love-hate relationship with Sir Vidia; by the time he left these shores once again, he and his wife had succeeded in alienating a whole new generation of readers here, as well as further riling his old adversaries. The man seems to thrive on that sort of thing.

There's no ambivalence about young Harry and his creator, though. I can only imagine Ms Rowling's reception if she were to visit here. This Potter mega-phenomenon boggles the mind.

Saturday, 21 July 2007

Oh, hell. That second book.

The agent's assistant loved the first book. The agent loved it, and offered representation. The editor at Dorchester loves it. She's buying it. My job right now is to focus on that second book, and beyond.

The second book is more or less finished. Since last year, actually. The agent read it, suggested a few changes (that I totally agree with) and that's what I'm ostensibly working on now. The problem is, I'm not. Working, that is. Every now and then I do a bit, but then I get sidetracked. I mean, in a major way.

First it was the teaching stint from January to May. When that ended I launched into the edits of book 2 - and stalled in grand fashion. Spent weeks working on the proposal for a nonfiction giftbook, and doing the research for the first three chapters. Finished that and started this blog. Then there dawned the day of the widget. Man, that was fun. Followed by the hunt for chicklets and, oh, lots of desultory web-surfing. Not to mention writing down some ideas for novel #3. Why am I even considering #3 when my agent is waiting for #2? I berate myself.

Every time I think about that second book something looms up in my head. I know what it is. It's fear. It's resistance. What if this one's no good? What if I make the changes and instead of getting better, the story does the opposite? What if it never sells? What if I'm a one-book wonder? What if what if what if...?

I've re-read The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. I love that book. (Thank you Angela Canales of the Woosterdafoe group). Pressfield shines an unflinching beam on every one of my neuroses, excuses, fears and rationalizations. He says what every writer who has been through the fire says: the only way to overcome the bogey is to write. Sit there. Do it. Even if you think your writing stinks, do it. Even if you know it stinks. And keep doing it. That's the only way.

I'm taking a deep breath, and making a resolution for next week. I won't go anywhere near the net until I've put in my time on #2. Every day. This crap has gone far enough.

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

July writer: Zora Neale Hurston

I am delighted to feature Zora Neale Hurston (January 7, 1891 - January 28, 1960), novelist, folklorist and anthropologist, as my very first Writer of the Month.

Born in Alabama, Hurston moved at an early age to Eatonville, Florida, the first incorporated black community in America, of which her father would become mayor. It was Eatonville that provided the inspiration for her work. She attended Howard University and later Barnard College where she studied anthropology along with fellow student Margaret Mead. In 1937 Hurston was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship to travel to Haiti and conduct research on conjure.

Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937) had been mouldering on my wish list for years. The novel is always mentioned in any talk of classic African American literature, and that was reason enough for it to get on to my 'to buy' list. Then I read somewhere that the story is about a relationship between a woman and her much younger lover, a woman who took control of her life and went after what she wanted at a time when that was revolutionary. Older woman - younger man? Woman flying in the face of tradition, popular opinion and community pressure? Liberated woman? I was hooked.

Last year I saw a copy at the little library in my town and grabbed it. I was not disappointed. In addition to my enjoyment of the story itself, it was illuminating to find many similarities to people of African origin in my Caribbean society - especially in the spoken idiom of the day. Some of these speech patterns I had believed uniquely Caribbean, or Trinidadian. But best of all was Hurston's use of language. There were sentences and paragraphs which I just had to reread because of the sheer beauty of expression, the lyricism, the magic that she succeeded in conveying. The structure of the story, as she alternates between the African American dialect of the day and Standard English narrative, must have been ground-breaking at the time of writing. I'm not easily impressed, but Hurston's writing blew me away. She is master of her medium.

Among her many books are Jonah's Gourd Vine (1934), Mules and Men (1935), an exploration of African American folklore, and Seraph on the Suwanee (1948). Although she enjoyed a measure of literary acclaim during her lifetime, Hurston's work was severely criticized and almost forgotten, and she died in poverty and obscurity. Alice Walker initiated a revival of interest in her writing in the 1970s, and her books are now celebrated not only as African American literature, but as feminist literature as well.

Few of us will ever attain Zora Neale Hurston's level of excellence. All of us should aspire to her level of competence.

Saturday, 14 July 2007

Needle on my obsession meter takes a dive

Couldn't stand it any more. I e-mailed my (absolutely wonderful) agent last night for a status report on the contract from Dorchester. This morning I found her response in my inbox. She has heard from the editor via e-mail that the contract is coming, so the deal is still in the works.

I'm okay now. The problem is it doesn't take very long for my stress-meter to start climbing back into the red zone. All I have to do is remember the post from that writer who had three verbal offers from publishers fall through in one year, and I'm off again.

Affirmation time. I. Won't. Obsess. Que sera, sera. I. Won't. Obsess. I... Wait a minute - affirmations shouldn't be couched in negative language. Scratch that. I. Will. Be calm. I. Will. Be positive. I...

Friday, 13 July 2007

How I Became a Famous Writer

This one is by Megan Lindholm. Don't remember where or how I stumbled on it, but it's a gem. If you've got a cat who's your writing guru you'll identify. You'll identify even if, like me, you never owned a cat.

My Writer's List of What I Won't Do Today

Article by Laura Brady. Ripped it off from Absolute Write. I'm really good at sourcing terrific advice. Really bad at following it.

Thursday, 12 July 2007

What I'm reading right now...

I'm about a quarter way through Trading Tatiana. Good read thus far. Debi Alper plunges you right into the action with a bare-bottomed, terrified man hanging upside down outside the window of the grimy Boddington Heights council apartment of our ex drug addict, compulsively helpful heroine. Her penchant for rescuing any man, woman or animal in distress catapults her into big trouble with the Eastern European underworld of London's gritty east side.

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Growing pains

I didn't want to blog about the minutae of my life, just about the writing part of it, but seems like I'm yielding to the temptation today...

Anyway, here goes. My mother is back from a month long vacation in NY. Which left me in charge of her house (not a problem - I just ignore the housework until it can't be ignored any longer, and then proceed to ignore it some more) and in charge of her garden.

There's the rub. This little valley on this little island must have the richest soil on the planet. Things just leap out of the ground, practically growing before your eyes. My mother left the yard immaculate, and a week after she was gone it was obvious that the jungle was already beginning to encroach. Vines were coming over the fence on three sides. All manner of alien green life forms were sprouting with reckless zeal in the herb beds and borders, the grow box, and even in planters and pots. The grass appeared to be on steroids, especially since the rains had begun in earnest. The wind blew down two plantain trees and I found myself wrestling bag after bag of plantains into the freezer. The ferns around the water tank were getting so huge that they threatened to engulf it entirely, and were beginning to look at me in a distinctly malevolent fashion.

I exterminated the ferns, did a bit of dilatory weeding here and there, and watered stuff on dry days when I remembered.

Last weekend it dawned on me that the lady would be back in two days, and I took a good look around. Panic. I had not fertilized her row of cabbages once. The grass was so high an entire commune of giant anacondas, not to mention their smaller and more lethal cronies, could have taken up residence there and I would have been none the wiser.

Summoned the lawn guy. Did some tidying in earnest. When my mom arrived she immediately began walking around the yard, muttering something about wanting to see if anything had survived. Survived? Lady, how about asking how I managed to survive your damned aggressive garden?

Monday, 9 July 2007

Dirty little secrets

Keeping an online ID under wraps is one thing. What about hiding the writing from one's nearest and dearest?

I've kept my writing a secret from most of the important people in my life. My son has always known, and my sister, who also writes. A couple of friends who write know that I do some clandestine scribbling and there are two more who pretty much are traveling the same road, so we talk about the work, provide encouragement, act as critics and first readers. Who else is in? My agent, of course. Even now that I have an offer from a publisher, I'm not telling a whole lot of people until I see my signature on the contract. Maybe not even then. Perhaps only when the book is released.

I told my mother nothing until the agent called to say we had an offer. My brother is pretty much in the dark. I haven't even told several near and dear friends. Why this ridiculous secrecy?

Apart from my own paranoid need for privacy, there are good, sound reasons. For one thing, there is a yawning division in most people's minds between pubbed and unpubbed writers. Until you're pubbed many non-writers view you with outright derision, patronizing good humor, or simply consider you an oddball. The writing is hard enough, sometimes. Trying to get pubbed can be dementia-inducing. I can do without the attitude as well.

Even the most harmless and well-meaning of people can put a strain on a writer. Innocent questions such as: So when is your book coming out? and Why don't you self-publish? when you're barely past the first draft either put the writer on the defensive or compel her to try to explain the industry, blurting out info which the questioner really has no interest in. Many people also have this weird idea that once you take up a pen you're on the fast track to raking in the dollars à la Stephen King. They have no idea that most fiction writers would starve if they tried to live off their writing. The erroneous assumptions are endless.

I no longer feel badly about my predilection for secrecy. Heather Sellers in Page After Page tells us to shut up and write. And Carolyn See, in this wonderful article which I re-read occasionally to alleviate the guilt at my lack of openness, advises that you keep your family out of your darned business.

Sunday, 8 July 2007

Coming out

No, this is not my gay confession. Though I have to admit, the words 'gay confession' do have a certain cachet, an avant-garde flair about them. My coming out is much more mundane than that.

I'm coming out of anony-land, after lurking and commenting on a number of blogs over the past year and a half. I have been attacked for commenting anonymously - especially on Miss Snark's blog, where I maintained - and still do - that the generalized animosity toward anonymice is utterly ridiculous. Here are my reasons for remaining anonymous in the past - not, mind you, that I felt I needed reasons for exercising what I considered a right, or at least a legal option.

* I did not have a Blogger account, and refused to get one simply to comment on other people's. Whenever a host turned off the option to comment anonymously, I simply stopped commenting. Interestingly, the host would usually turn the option back on very soon. I assumed that her/his action was affecting the number of hits on the site. I believe it is hypocritical to chastise people for their choice to remain anon on blogs run by people who are themselves anon. Coining a cute ID makes no difference; you're still anon. Likewise for most name IDs.

* The focus should be on the issues at hand, not the personalities involved. There was a certain in-group, frat boy [or sorority girl] atmosphere on some blogs that I had no desire to become a part of, even though I enjoyed the posts and comments immensely, and learned much from them.

* I share certain qualities in common with the jackass: the more you push, the more obstinate I become. Even if I had been inclined to take an ID, and I was sometimes tempted, the thought of giving in to unfair pressure, or any pressure, cured me of the impulse.

* Not least, I have an inordinate horror of loss of privacy. The Internet is a wonderful invention, but it takes some getting used to the idea that anyone on planet Earth with the machinery and Internet access has access, theoretically at least, to me. There are bad people out there. I know - I've been stalked and terrorized once already in this life. So I tend to err weightily on the side of caution.

* There was also the little matter of the writing. I had not been published, outside of editorials for a newspaper where I worked for awhile, and reviews and commentaries on other people's books. I've been loth, therefore, to call myself a writer; hanging out on writer's sites seemed so self-indulgent when I had not been pubbed that I preferred to do it in the closet. It was like having a delicious, secret vice.

So, what's different now? Well, I've started this blog, and I'm terribly excited about it. I'm not an 'outie' anymore. Also, I've had an offer for a book, so I feel a bit more assured, almost vindicated. I want to know the writers and readers out there, and I want them to know who I am. It's PR, yes, but it's also the sense that maybe now I've earned a place in the network.

Does that make sense to anyone?

And Kevin K, you were the inspiration for this post. You gave me my first feedback, and I love it.

Thursday, 5 July 2007

Widgets for not writing

Okay, I suspect that I'm very late to the party, but I've just discovered - widgets. Or gadgets. Or blidgets. I went across to LibraryThing last week to find out how to put a random selection of books from my online catalogue on to my blog. Did it. Felt like a techno-whiz. Also found a 'chicklet' banner that I could add to the page. Went over to Romancing the Blog and discovered another cool chicklet, which provoked a manic search for cute thingummies for my brand new blog.

That's when I stumbled on Yahoo Widgets, and realized what the really cool stuff on my son's laptop was all about. Over the last two days I've checked out hundreds of these little gizmos, and my desktop is now a maze of flitting butterflies, bouncing balls, moon phases, weather eyes, a day planner, mail checker, picture frames that scroll through photos on Flickr, Yahoo Photos or my computer, a CPU portal gauge, a memory gauge... I don't even know what some of these things are for (CPU portal, anyone?), and there are others lined up in a dock that magically appears when I move the cursor to the extreme right of the screen.

I have only just begun. There are webcam widgets with views of beaches and campuses (?). Games. News feeds. Dictionaries. Clocks. Foreign language translators and tutors. Little images that don't actually do anything, like the tiny cat that just sits there on the desktop. Restaurant menus. A clipboard washer to remove formatting from text. And lots, lots more.

This is fun! Keeps me fully occupied. What I have discovered is yet another method of avoiding the edits to that second book - edits that my agent is patiently awaiting. I'm so wound up by this interminable wait to finalize my very first book contract that I can't work. I can't think. I can't write. So - I prowl the Internet for days at a stretch on the hunt for... widgets!