Once upon a time I used to engage in a whole bunch of different creative projects.
I made cross stitch pictures for weddings and Christmas gifts. I crocheted afghans and knitted baby sweaters. At Christmas I made gifts for everybody (well, okay, not everybody. But lots of people.) Gingerbread houses? You betcha, and none of that buy-the-kit business. My kids wore cute little hand knitted sweaters with pictures of trucks and animals. (I’m sure they are eternally grateful that I’m not still knitting, because let’s face it – the trucks and teddy bear sweaters aren’t so cool in high school and college).
Once upon a time I played the piano nearly every day. I took art lessons and was learning how to draw and was thinking about painting classes.
Not so much. Every now and then I pull out some yarn and try to knit something, but my brain goes wandering off into storyland and I lose the count, drop a stitch. I did start a baby blanket last year – no, not for me, before you ask. Simply because it’s a relatively quick project and is a straight knit stitch that’s hard to mess up. As for the piano – it’s been so long that I’m pretty sure I can’t remember how to play anything and I’d have to start all over. There’s no time to draw, and even if there was my drawing pencils have been absorbed into various corners of the house, appropriated by kids for projects.
If you’ve recognized the above as a string of excuses, I suspect you’re right. If I was truly itching to play the piano, or to make a baby sweater, I’d find the time and the attention to make it happen. I could easily buy more drawing pencils. Truth? At this point in my life, all of my creative drive is focused on one thing, and one thing only. When I have time, I write. All of the creative stuff goes onto the page.
I’m not saying this is the way it should be. Chances are good it’s not even healthy, and that my creativity would be enhanced by engaging in another type of project. But there’s also this other nefarious thing called time, of which there is somehow never enough.
Right now it is 4:52 am. Time to get this post up and clear the decks for an hour of writing before I get ready for work. Let me leave you with this question:
What types of arts and crafts do you enjoy? And how do you preserve enough time and energy to work on them?
I am privileged this morning to invite you to party week here at the Deb Ball, where we are celebrating the release of The Glass Wives by one of our illustrious Debs – Amy Sue Nathan. I’m sure you’d like to see a picture of the cover, so let’s start there:
Very pretty, isn’t it? Sort of peaceful and companionable. But appearances can be deceiving.
Evie and Nicole Glass share a last name. They also shared a husband.
“When a tragic car accident ends the life of Richard Glass, it also upends the lives of Evie and Nicole, and their children. There’s no love lost between the widow and the ex. In fact, Evie sees a silver lining in all this heartache—the chance to rid herself of Nicole once and for all. But Evie wasn’t counting on her children’s bond with their baby half-brother, and she wasn’t counting on Nicole’s desperate need to hang on to the threads of family, no matter how frayed. Strapped for cash, Evie cautiously agrees to share living expenses—and her home—with Nicole and the baby. But when Evie suspects that Nicole is determined to rearrange more than her kitchen, Evie must decide who she can trust. More than that, she must ask: what makes a family?”
The awesome reviews are already piling up for Deb Amy’s novel. This one, by Shine, Shine, Shine author Lydia Netzer hits the nail right on the head, as far as I am concerned:
“Reading The Glass Wives is like driving down a familiar street and having one of the houses you thought you knew open up on hinges to reveal its secrets. Nathan firmly but with good humor peels back the layers of suburban “normal” to reveal ethical ambiguity under a publicly rigid moral code and tenuous bonds between strangers under strict definitions of family. Evie Glass is the neighbor you want to know all about, and her story is told with charm and frankness to create an illustration of friendship and motherhood that feels very real.”—Lydia Netzer, author of Shine, Shine, Shine
I would add to this only that Amy excels at capturing on the page a realistic process of grief in all of its manifestations. Her depiction of friendships between women is equally real and from the heart.
As part of the fun this week, we are offering up a copy of The Glass Wives to one lucky commenter. All you have to do to win is show up here at the Ball and comment on the posts. The more you comment, the better your chance of winning! And you know you want a copy of this lovely book for your very own.
That said – why wait? The Glass Wivesis available now for pre-order, and officially releases tomorrow.
We’d love it if you would drop a comment below to congratulate Amy on the birthday of her first book!!!
I love book covers. This is one of the reasons why I prefer paper books to electronic. When done well, they draw us straight to the books we love. When done badly – well – things happen. Mismatches occur. People pick up books they think will be one thing, but turn out to be another. Or they don’t pick up the book at all because the cover doesn’t pull pull them in.
Sometimes, the covers are just, shall we say, not well planned out:
And sometimes they are incredibly beautiful:
Something I never realized before I got published is that there are certain known conventions for covers. If a man and woman appear on the cover together, it usually means romance. Certain colors tend to mean certain genres, etc. I suppose this all makes sense, but as a reader I never really thought about it. If I like a cover, I pick up the book, read the back copy, and a page from the middle to see if I like the writing style. Which is why I am eternally grateful to the beautiful cover I got for BETWEEN.
What about you? Do you have a favorite cover, or one that makes you die of laughter? We’d love to have you share.
This week is I’ve Got a Secret week here at the Ball – with the caveat that it’s a shareable secret. Which led my brain down a twisted and convoluted pathway of “is anything still a secret if I post it on the web?” When does a secret stop being a secret?
Yes, my brain is like that, which occasionally makes life difficult.
And here is my response to the conundrum – I’m going to share five things about me that you may or may not know. Only one of them is true. You get to guess which is the true thing. Or, if you wish, you can just choose to believe it all and be on your merry way.
1. Before writing ate up all of my free time, I worked as a yoga instructor.
2. In high school I got in trouble for an English class assignment in which we were supposed to give driving instructions from our home to the school. Mine would have placed any driver foolish enough to follow them in the lake and the teacher actually called my mother to complain.
3. I have a philosophy minor to go with my English major.
4. My favorite place to be is in a crowd of people.
5. My favorite kind of pie is pumpkin, with lots of whipped cream.
So there we have it. If you choose to play along, tell me which one of these tales is true in the comments below. Or just believe it all if you wish.
I’m going to be honest here today – I’ve started and deleted this post five times already and I still don’t quite know how to say what is on my mind.
Last week, somewhere in between the bombing at the Boston Marathon and the explosion at West Texas, I had to take our beloved family dog for his very last ride. I sat on the floor beside him and and held his head in my lap while a veterinary technician, at my request, ended his life. The tears started then and flowed for hours. They were mostly for the dog I loved more than any other dog I’ve had the privilege to own, but they were also for all of the other sadness and death and disaster that was taking place in the wider world.
So much death. So much darkness. So much despair.
But the next day, even though the new disasters started to unfold, I dried my eyes, opened my laptop, and got back to work on my little book.
And I’m going to confess that I haven’t watched any news footage of the bombing or the explosion or the man hunt. I followed along a bit on Twitter, but other than that I deliberately looked away. Some of you will think that this is selfish on my part, or that I’m hiding my head in the sand, or even that my response shows a hard heart or disrespect for those who died.
And I will tell you that I disagree. My heart breaks for the families who have lost loved ones – I know that pain. Also for those who were injured, and for the children who saw that bomb go off and lost their innocence and the belief that the world is essentially safe and predictable. In fact, my heart breaks for the bombers, for whatever set of genetics and life circumstances turned them into the sort of people who would do such a thing.
But I also believe that there is nothing to be gained by staring too long and hard at the pain and evil in this world. In fact, our fixation as a nation with disaster media reminds me of Pippin and the palantir in the Lord of the Rings. If we spend too much time looking, I fear soon all we will see is the red eye of Sauron looking back at us and forget about all of the things in this world that are beautiful and bright and good.
I’m not wired to be a political activist. I can’t imagine ever being somebody engaged in making wide sweeping changes in the world. But I can make small ones. I can go to work and spend time reminding my clients that there are good and beautiful things in the world. I can hug my family and send love to my friends.
And I can write. Writing is my way of whistling in the dark. It allows me to create worlds where things make sense, where there is some sort of logical cause and effect. Characters behave as they do for a reason. Justice happens, and sometimes even redemption.
It seems to me that this is a valid response to the dark. Small, perhaps. I’m writing urban fantasy and not some brilliant social commentary that has the potential to change the world. But I like to believe that even small books make a difference. That the things we write – even the blog posts and maybe sometimes even Facebook posts and tweets – have power to make things different for somebody.
And if it so happens that what I create makes no difference to anybody else, it makes a difference to me. I am only one, but everything starts somewhere and I have to believe that I, too, matter in the grand scheme of things.
Writing advice is about as hard to come by as mud in the springtime.
These days, writing books, writing sites, blogs, tweets, seminars, and classes are a dime a dozen. You can find them online, at your community college, maybe even free at the library. Don’t get me wrong – I think all of these things (or at least most of them) are valuable. But today’s topic is supposed to be “the best writing advice I ever received.” And here it is, a quote from the incomparable Neil Gaiman:
“Whatever it takes to finish things, finish. You will learn more
from a glorious failure than you ever will from something you
It took me ten years to finish my first novel, and it’s somewhat of a miracle that it happened at all. You see, I didn’t understand yet the need to finish and move on. I hadn’t figured out that every book we write – every story, every poem, every essay – teaches us something. We learn and grow by completing the process, looking at what we’ve done, and then carrying everything that we’ve learned over to the next project.
You can’t do this if you’re endlessly reworking the same piece of writing for ever and ever. You also can’t learn it if you abandon things in the middle and don’t finish them.
I learned to finish things by participating in the insanity of Nanowrimo. 5o,000 words in a month for a writer who took ten years to write a book is a bit of a stretch. But it was possibly the best thing I ever did for my writing. Nanowrimo was a crash course in characters, story arcs, plot arcs. More importantly, it taught me how to just sit down and write whether I felt like it or not. To get the words onto the page and worry about making things pretty later. I’ve learned that you can fix characters, plots, and bad writing, but you can’t fix an empty page.
Not that I don’t still struggle with this. Procrastination is one of my greatest skills, particularly when I hit a tough patch in the writing process. There are times when I want to abandon a project and walk away, but I have developed a mantra for myself:
Rejection sucks. Big time. I’m pretty sure we can all agree on that. But the truth is, nobody gets through this life without experiencing it somewhere along the way, no matter how rich or beautiful or talented you might happen to be.
Everybody’s been there. Some other kid gets the part you wanted in the school play. Another candidate is selected for the job. The person you are sure is your True Love and Divinely Ordained Soulmate loves somebody else. Every time it happens, it hurts. Some of us take it more or less in stride. Others of us take every rejection deeply to heart, sure that it means we are deeply flawed and somehow not worthy to be here on this planet.
Here are two sadly twisted truths of the universe:
1. A lot of people who are born with the need to write are sensitive souls who are devastated by rejection.
2. Writing professionally guarantees a constant onslaught of rejection.
If you are a writer and you have not yet experienced rejection of your writing, then either your work is hidden away somewhere or you’ve only showed it to people who love you deeply. If you expand your horizons, it’s inevitable that you’re going to come up against people that just don’t like your work. And for a lot of us, this feels very much like they don’t like us. Or like they think our kids are stupid and ugly, which is worse.
When I was at the querying stage, I believed that once I managed to unlock the Magical Agent Gates the horrible, soul curdling rejections would never happen again. I dreamed of making a pyre of those rejection slips and dancing around it with glee while I erased all memory of the people who didn’t love my writing. Maybe roasting hot dogs and marshmallows, even. Oh all right, my rejection accumulation wasn’t that big, but if I include all of the rejections over all of the years – for the picture book attempts, and the poetry, and the other novels – it was a significant accumulation.
My fairy godmother finally waved her magic wand and I got an agent and a publisher in one fell swoop. This gave me some nice recovery time to heal and prepare for the next round. During that time I watched agented friends go Out On Submission. This is the publishing version of the Hunger Games, in which your agent sends your beloved book out to make the rounds of publishing houses. And you sit behind your computer screen watching other writers achieve brilliant publishing contracts while editors make polite excuses as to why your wonderful, polished, perfect book isn’t a good fit for them.
If the stars line up and you work very hard and sacrifice the right kind of chicken on a full moon Sunday to the appropriate god or goddess – you get that publishing deal and your book is released and makes its way into the big wide world. Oh Frabjous Day! Great Joy and Wonderment and celebratory occasions. Surely now all of that rejection stuff is past.
But no. Now there are Real World Readers and Reviewers who do not like your book. Who might even say callous and heartless things like, “this book is a hot mess” or “the plot is ludicrous,” or “I didn’t finish it, I couldn’t connect with any of the characters.”
Once again, rejection.
This will happen – I don’t care how brilliant you are as an author. And it’s up to you to find a way to handle it. I’ve only found a couple of things that work for me.
1. Hands off the keyboard until you are calm and rational. Don’t fall into the trap of emailing the rejecting agent to tell them how stupid they are for turning down your masterpiece. Don’t share your weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth with everybody on your Twitterfeed. And really – don’t post rants on Goodreads or your blog or wherever about specific reviewers who didn’t like your book. It’s a free country; they have the right of free speech.
2. Do find a couple of trusted people to whom you can rant and vent and express your feelings. Make sure they are the sort of people who will support and encourage you.
3. Set limits on your despair. Allow yourself a couple of hours or maybe even a day to wallow in your misery. And then suck it up. Wash your face. Comb your hair. Put away the chocolate and the ice cream and wipe up the counter. Which leads us to Number Four, the single most important way to deal with rejection as a writer:
4: Write Something New. Yep. This is, I believe, the cure. Writers write, pure and simple. And if you’re busy writing the next thing, you have little emotional energy available for worrying about what people think about the last thing. Of course, once you’re done with the next thing, somebody is going to reject it again, which means you’re going to have to write yet another thing. And so it goes. The Cycle of the Writerly Life.
Yeah, now I can almost hear the soundtrack from the Lion King playing, but instead of that I leave you with a clip from Willy Wonka. (Not that any rejected writer would ever behave in this way. Uh uh. No Sirree Bob)
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