The Story Starts Here

Originally published at The Stiletto Gang on 03.25.15

One of the most common question a writer gets asked is “Where do your ideas come from?”

Once my brother made me lay on his floor so he could tape outlines of me all over his bedroom carpet as though his room had been the site of a mass murder; we found it was surprisingly difficult to get just the right pose so that all the limbs were showing and you didn’t just have weird potato shaped outlines. (Yes, I know that was an odd transition, but I’ll circle back I promise.) When was 12, I told my Dad I had a stove box to make a Halloween costume out of he got out the black and white spray paint and turned my best friend and I into Two Fools in Pair-o-Dice; our heads came out the one dots – naturally. My mom’s friend once had eye surgery and had a rather large bandage, so my mom painted on an eye over the bandage and added a great set of false lashes. Why did we do these things? Honestly, the question never occurred to us. Had you asked at the time we probably would have said, “Why not?” My family has a culture of creativity and odd projects from passing thoughts are the norm not the exception. And as is often the case with cultures, I didn’t think to question it until someone from a different culture asked, “So why don’t you put mayo on fries?”  Or in the case of my writing, “How do you come up with your ideas?”

The people asking don’t mean anything by the question, they are genuinely interested. The problem is that at any given time I’m vacillating between two of my personalities, Helpful Instructor Bethany and Diva Artiste Bethany. Helpful Instructor is usually nice, but Diva Artiste is kind of… well, I won’t use the B-word as we are in a family friendly forum, but you get the idea, and sometimes it’s a struggle to rein Diva Wench back in. Helpful Instructor realizes that the questioner was not raised in a culture of creativity and they are asking for help understanding the creative process. Diva Artiste imperiously demands how anyone cannot have ideas. Ideas are literally littered on the sidewalk, in the newspaper, on the radio, sleeting through the universe like a tiny meteorite looking for a receptive brain (Terry Pratchett, you are missed) and all you really have to do to have an idea is make your brain receptive. It’s easy to do – read blogs by creative people (thanks), buy creative people presents (ok, maybe not really on that one, but I like books, you know, just in case), try new things. But the number one tip that Helpful Instructor or Diva Artiste both agree on, is to ask “What if?”

Any topic can work. Earlier this week there was a news story about a man who ran from the police and got stuck in mud.  What if you had been that man – up to your knees in river mud, unable to move, sinking slowly? What would you do?

What if I… What if you… What if they… The story starts there and you can decide the ending – just answer the question.

Good Days & Bad Days

Originally posted on Girlfriends Book Club on 03.12.15

Writing, as a profession, has many drawbacks – low pay, near constant rejection, and of course, the perception that anyone with two fingers and maybe a toe for the spacebar can do whatever it is an author does. In popular imagination what a writer does seems to consist mainly of drinking, living in dilapidated, Miss Havesham-esque hovels, and pulling genius 500 page books out of their butt in 6 weeks or less. And most people think they could manage that – you know if they sat down and really tried. I’m not entirely sure what they base this on other than the fact that Havasham-esque dilapidated drinking while turning random crap into a term paper is how most people remember college.

Now physically it is possible that typing 40 words per minute for 6 hours a day (I’m leaving 2 hours per work day for eating, bathroom breaks, and cat videos) could get you a 500 page work in about 9 days. (40 words x 60 min. = 2400 words, 250 words per page = 9.6 pages per hour & 57.6 pages per day x 8.75 days = 504 pages with time left over for an extra cat video). The problem is that the words don’t already exist – they have to be invented, discovered, and strung together in the right way. Even for this blog (currently a mere 229, 230, 231 words) I’ve already deleted about as many words as I’ve written. You need words that not only mean the right thing, but sound like the thing, and conjure imagery so that the reader can see the right thing. Basically, finding the right words is not as easy as it looks. But it’s also one of the best things about writing.

Not every word I write is gold. But I have written a few things that have a beautiful symmetry, a fricative taste in the mouth, and leave a crunchy thought in the brain. Those are the good days. And those are the days that keep me pursuing writing. Because sometimes, if I work hard enough, I get to make something wonderful, artistic and meaningful.

But now here’s a picture of a cat in bread – because today is not one of those days.


Goldfish Brain

I’m monumentally bad at dates.  The Christmas after I got married my mother-in-law got a new pair of sneakers and she said, “Oh, I wish I’d had these on XX of some-month-Bethany-doesn’t remember.”  And I said, “Really? What happened on that date?”  And they all stared at me because it turned out that was the day I got married.  Which may seem a bit rude to my poor husband, but in my defense I also can’t remember what year I graduated from college.  And one time I spent an entire day being really annoyed because my friends kept calling me (I was in the middle of a project) to wish me happy birthday.  Every single call was a surprise.  So, I’m not saying that I will absolutely forget that some day (14th?  15th? No, seriously, what day is it?) in February is Valentine’s Day, I’m just saying that the odds are not in my husband’s favor.  But on the other hand that means if he remembers all that lovely chocolate will be a wonderful surprise.

Unfortunately, this type of memory blockage also means that my memory for VERY IMPORTANT FACTS related to my characters is also somewhat lacking. Like last names, eye color, the details of their backstory.   Given enough time and rewrites it all gets a bit fuzzy.  Bulletproof Mascara, for instance went through 9.5 rewrites (I’m counting the typo catching pass as .5 of a rewrite).  That means that the villain Jirair Sarkassian went from being Texan to Armenian somewhere around draft 6.  And in An Unseen Current (Available everywhere April 28! Available for pre-order on kindle now!!) I dropped an entire villain between draft 1 and 2.  Which wouldn’t be much of a problem if I didn’t insist on writing sequels.  It’s a bit of an embarrassment to have to read your own book to find out what you wrote, but apparently readers insist on continuity and well, just generally making sense.  But having just read Bulletproof Mascara and Compact with the Devil (in preparation for the forthcoming High-Caliber Concealer), I can honestly recommend my books to people.  I’m very funny and my plots actually do make sense.  I give myself two thumbs up.  I probably can’t review myself on Goodreads, can I?

Flying Flags

Originally published on 01.27.15 at The Stiletto Gang.

I had to laugh when I read Debra Goldstein’s post yesterday about football being “only a game”.  I live in Washington State, which, in case you’re living in a hole, is home of the Seahawks, contenders the upcoming football high-holy day – the Super Bowl.  Although, even when living in a hole, I’m fairly certain that you probably felt the Beast Quake or possibly Richard Sherman dropped by to tell you how awesome he is, and then probably stuck around to make pointedly blunt statements about the corruption in the NFL.  Football may be only game, but tis the season for every football fan everywhere to lose their dang minds.

As I’m only an occasional football watcher I find most of the fan-actions a bit mystifying.  Twelfth man flags decorate every building, a local tattoo parlor is offering a 12’s tattoo special and last game against the Packers the Seattle City Council banned cheese from the premises.  Like Debra, I say, “But it’s only a game!”  Not that I say that very loudly – my husband would glare at me.

But also like Debra, I identify with the way fans pour over every detail, dissect plays, and watch every report on the subject.  A fan, no matter the subject, wants to know all about the thing they love.  So I don’t wave a twelfth man flag, but the books on my shelf tell their own tales (pun intended).  Anyone visiting my house knows where I stand on the topic of Lord of the Rings (pro) and the work of cover artist Thomas Canty (also pro) and Tintin (highly pro). I don’t have any tattoos, but I can quote The Walrus and The Carpenter – it’s tattooed on my brain.  And as for cheese… no, sorry, I have nothing there. Cheese is never banned at my house and neither are books.

Am I the only “12th Man” uber book fan out there?  What “flags” are flying on your bookshelf?

The Dealer in Your Neighborhood

I was talking to a librarian the other day and she laughed when I said I thought librarians were like drug dealers.  But they really are! They even target the little kids! Get them hooked on the picture books, next thing you know the kids are applying for library cards and mainlining Harry Potter, Divergent and TheTesting.  Give it a few years and YA just won’t give the same buzz and the kids have to move on to bigger and bigger fiction.  And that’s when the librarians start pushing the hardcore stuff – Faulkner, Atwood, Joyce. If you’re not careful your kid could end up reading the entire Lord of the Rings even though there’s a perfectly good director’s extended cut blue ray back home.

And just like pushers, librarians are extremely open-minded.  They don’t care where you’ve come from.  Rich, poor, or in between – all library cards are the same to them.  (Unless it’s an out of state card, in which case you will have to pay the buck and get a local card.)  They don’t even judge when all you want to read is Romance novels; they just point you toward the romance section and recommend new authors who also write in the kilt and dragon milieu.  It’s a slippery slope, my friends. You go into the library for the videos and the free internet access and the next thing you know you’re reading and using words like “milieu.”

So, if that kind of blatant pushing of mind-expanding education is acceptable to you, then you should probably hug the next librarian you see.  Just remember that the VIG on those late library books is due next week…

Hell What Now?

The Navy SEALs must pass through something called Hell Week in order to become an actual SEAL. If they can’t take Hell Week they can always ring the bell that signals that they are opting out and then they get coffee and donuts. For five and a half days the SEAL candidates are expected to operate on four hours of sleep while being cold, wet, and presumably yelled at (since no one seems to do anything in the military without being yelled at). To this I say… What pansies.

OK, the cold and wet does sound miserable. But try operating for three months on four hours of sleep while being constantly yelled at and then having someone puke in your pants. And in your hair. And on just about everything else. Then we’ll talk. OK, OK, so you can snap a man’s neck with your bare hands. I can shoot milk out my boob. What else you got?

All kidding aside, one of the unfortunate side effects of becoming a mother (or probably a Navy SEAL) is that sleep is immediately curtailed. Which makes lots of things, for instance, writing novels and running a business, more difficult.

Side effects of prolonged sleep deprivation include:

  • Weight Gain
  • Loss of Sex Drive
  • Impaired Alertness, Concentration, and Problem Solving
  • Depression
  • Aging Skin
  • Memory Loss
  • Greater chances of death due to accidents
  • Greater chances of other health problems

It’s not that being a mom is so difficult; it’s that being anything else, while being a mom just increased in difficulty due to our adorable little time sucking children and the constant sleep deprivation. Which makes every word I type a minor triumph. I will not be ringing the bell today.

PS Please forgive any typos I may make. I blame them on my daughter.

Puppy Training

Recently my daughter learned to crawl. She’s six months old, so basically any time she learns something it’s “recently”. But as she learns new tricks she forces my husband and I to adapt (and hopefully overcome). Sadly, in our sleep deprived state we find ourselves relying on the training we did with our previous “child.”

As she learns new things my mind reaches out for words that will get the result I want. Ack! She’s chewing on a power cord! Drop it! It works on the dog, so my brain now auto selects for those oh, so useful training phrases. Sadly, the phrases mean less than nothing to my daughter. The only one she obeys is “stay” and that’s only if she’s strapped in the car seat. As a result my dog, Kato, thinks I got the runty, stupid puppy of the litter. I can practically see the thought bubble over his head. “Look human puppy, I am demonstrating what to do. Figure it out!” The tiny daughter’s thought bubble says, “Look at those shiny eyeballs; if I could pluck them out, it might be fantastic. Why is the fuzzy one leaving?” Which is a terrible way to treat a dog who is trying his best to be supportive.

Kato performs many important baby related jobs. There is the “I alert you to the fact that the baby is crying.” (Believe me Kato, we know.) There is the extremely useful butt check. Kato, would you like to smell this butt? Oh, you would? Must be time for a diaper change. And the adorable guard dog duty. He is not quite sure why the human puppy hasn’t been weaned to dog food, but if I’m going to insist on breastfeeding her, then he will do his best to guard us while we’re vulnerable.

But she is learning. She now knows her name and his name, and she knows where the dog food is and how delightful it is to spill it all over the floor. So while the dog thinks she’s dumb, I can see the day coming when he will realize that her little monkey fingers are useful to help him get the delicious human food he desires. Hopefully, by then she will also know what “sit,” “stay” and “drop it” mean.