What Happened to My Reading Life?

my reading life copy

It is Friday, February 19, 2016. So far this year, I have not finished reading a book.

Not. One. Single. Book.

For those of you who know me, this is about as batshit crazy as I get. My husband calls me a “Reading Fool.” When I started this blog, I had hoped to write one book review a week. It started out that way but when you don’t read, you don’t review.

What the hell happened, you ask? I can’t believe this, but I got too busy to read. Since January 1, this is me:K7bdG

I’ve been working on opening an Etsy shop. (More about that soon.)I have been purging all the closets in my house. I have been shooting arrows. I have been going to the gym. Above all, I have been editing my book. I have almost finished editing this draft and then all that’s left will be the final polish to make it shine like the top of the Chrysler building. (Bonus points to anyone who caught the Annie reference.)

Seriously. When I get a spare moment, and they are far in between, I am usually so tired I fall asleep. And when I do try to read (for instance on Sunday mornings with a cup of coffee and a purring cat beside to me), I can’t concentrate for very long because I feel there are other things I should be doing. So I read a few chapters and then get going with my day.

I do know that this particular cycle can’t continue. I will read two books in the next two months, if only because I am leading two book discussions at the library: one in March and one in April. March’s selection is Longbourn by Jo Baker and April is How to Be Both  by Ali Smith. Yes, I chose both books without reading them only on the merits that they sounded interesting. I do that all the time with book discussions. We librarians play fast and loose with your literary lives and you don’t even know it.

So I am going to have to force myself to slow down and read for a bit. Either that or I am going to have to be very good at faking my way through a book discussion…

Just kidding. I’ve never done that before.

Honest.

Music and Writing

Music and writing copy

Last week I wrote about my writing process but  I neglected to mention the type of environment in which I like to write best. In our library at home (yes, we have a library) we have a blue Queen Anne chair that is also a recliner. I like to sit in that with my feet up with my laptop and and tap tap tap away.

I also require total silence. An sculptor friend of mine and I were talking about this the other day and he says he needs silence too. He pointed to his head and said, “This is all the noise you need right here.” I totally agree.

However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t think there is an intersection of inspiration between music and words as both are different mediums in storytelling. I can’t tell you how many short stories or vignettes I’ve written based on songs. I don’t know the way your brain works, but I think for a lot of people listening to music conjures pictures in their heads.  And words can do the same thing.

And it can work in the opposite direction too. Lots of songwriters have based songs on stories they’ve read. On The Sounds of Silence album by Simon and Garfunkel Paul Simon wrote the song “Richard Cory” based on the poem by E.A. Robinson of the same name. There are countless examples of artists taking inspiration from each other to create something new and that’s an amazing thing to witness. It’s even more amazing when it happens to you.

The current novel on which I am working has a soundtrack, for sure. I just can’t listen to it while I’m pounding out the words on the computer. But I did put a playlist together and I listen to it whenever I can. It’s amazing how listening to a particular song and thinking about a particular character can give me an idea on how to fix a problem with a plot point, or how to add a new facet to their personality.

When I was constructing this playlist I first started out with my characters and tried to find a song that best fit their personality. Some are bang on, some I am still searching for the perfect anthem. But then after the “character sketch” songs, I put in songs that represent scenes or events I know are going to be in the story. And it isn’t a rigid playlist at all. As I’m listening and something doesn’t feel right, I’ll take it out and put something new in to try it out.  It’s always evolving and growing along with the story in my head.

Here is the current playlist with which I am working:

  1. “Lightning Crashes” by Live (Throwing Copper)
  2. “Homesick” by Soul Asylum (Grave Dancer’s Union)
  3. “Girlfriend” by Avril Lavigne (The Best Damn Thing)
  4. “The World I Know” by Collective Soul (Collective Soul)
  5. “Easy Target” by Blink-182 (Blink-182)
  6. “Creep” by Radiohead (Pablo Honey)
  7. “Rock n’ Roll Lifestyle” by Cake (Motorcade of Generosity)
  8. “I Kissed a Girl” by Katy Perry (One of the Boys)
  9. “What is Love” by Haddaway (What is Love)
  10. “Enter Sandman” by Metallica (Metallica)
  11. “The Sound of Silence” by Disturbed (Immortalized)
  12. “My Immortal” by Evanescence (Fallen)
  13. “Song 2” by Blur (Blur)
  14. “Pain” by Jimmy Eat World (Futures)
  15. “Starlight” by Muse (Black Holes & Revelations)
  16. “She Loves You” by the Beatles (1)
  17. “Invincible” by Muse (Black Holes & Revelations)
  18. “Run to the Water” by Live (The Distance to Here)
  19. “Song for the Asking” by Simon & Garfunkel (Bridge over Troubled Water)
  20. “Whispers in the Dark” by Mumford & Sons (Babel)

Tracks 1-6 are character sketches. Everything else is situational. While I know you can’t deduce my story from these songs, you can’t deny there is a story in each one of them. There is a little movie in your head when you listen. When I put it all together that little movie becomes the novel I am writing.

My writing process

writer perceptions

 

One cool thing about writers is that no two have the same exact writing process. I’m going to share mine with you and would love to hear about how you get the words on paper in the right order.

I am fascinated with the way stories and characters evolve for me. It is a totally organic thing–always changing, growing in directions I didn’t expect.

So. Here’s the scoop on how I write:

Step One: The idea

seed germination

 

 

 

 

 

The germ always comes from somewhere in my universe, obviously. My first novel (which I am currently reworking) was sparked from my love of kick-ass girls like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Hermione Granger, or Katniss Everdeen. I knew I wanted a girl who had special powers and fought hard to right the wrongs of the world.

The second part of the idea came from my husband, who is 100% Greek American. He loves all things Greek history, mythology, art, archaeology. I love it all too, it’s one of the reasons we started talking in the first place. So I started thinking about maybe a lesser goddess who might have some interesting adventures, and that’s when I hit upon the muses. Don’t think I’ve missed that irony. Writing about the muses has truly been an inspriational experience.


Step Two: The literary vomiting

stan pukingSo now I have an idea and I have a vague notion of where I want the story to end. Next comes the fun part. I write  out the story in one long, continuous vomit of words. I do not go back and edit stuff I’ve written. I get it all out in one shot. I do make notes as I go along of things I want to change (details, usually, or reordering of events). But I do not stop until the story has a beginning a middle and an end. Usually there is a ton of stuff that is extraneous, but that is the way I work out the story.


Step Three: The Puzzle

jigsaw puzzleNow I have the rough outine of the story. So I go back to all the notes I made as I was writing the first draft and start re-arranging things. Events, details, name changes, all happen now. I’ve cut out entire characters and added new ones that served the story better. This is where the story gets hammered into shape and starts to look like something that might resemble a novel someday. My husband (who will always be my first reader and first line editor) and I go through it together. I read it out loud and he stops me or I stop myself when something doesn’t sound right, or we forgot a detail, or the plot has a hole. I am truly dedicated to giving my readers the most authentic and complete story I can. I want everything to make sense, I want all loose ends addressed. I need to know the background story of events that might have taken place or will take place so the story will flow and my readers won’t be cheated by sloppy plotting.

In fact, I’d like to take a little aside to tell you a story about a story. It was Christmas Day a few years ago and my husband and I were sitting on our lanai (that’s fancy Florida talk for patio) and going over a particularly gruesome scene where a certain evil person dies horribly. Our neighbors were on their lanai as well (although we couldn’t see them, we heard them talking. We were discussing arterial spray and just how much blood there would be with a slit throat. As we discussed this we became louder and louder until we realized all conversation next door had stopped. Uh, Merry Christmas?


 

Step Four: More Cowbell

more cowbellYes, that cowbell. This is when we read through again and think about what needs to be punched up (a little or a lot) and I make a list of all things to be addressed. I really do call it my Cowbell list. Someday I want a whiteboard with an actual cowbell suspended above it. (Nerds have odd dreams.) In the past my cowbell list has included the following items: a character’s accent, mother’s addiction more evident, that blasted cane, and the black heist wig. You get the idea. Or maybe you don’t but you really want to read that book now. I know I want you to.

 


 

Step Five: Make it Shiny

magpieAfter there is no more cowbell to be had, we read it again. Aloud. I must say that this process requires massive amounts of coffee. We go through the manuscript page by page, line by line, word by word and ask: is this necessary? Does it propel the story forward? Is there a better word that could be used here? By the time we’re finished a magpie would pluck it in his beak and plunk it in his nest.


 

Step Six: Go on to the Next Story

which way

Did the story stop? Not with me usually. I tend to prefer telling a tale with a larger story arc above it. I believe in character development beyond what can happen in the confines of 300 pages.  Plus my brain never stops working. It’s constantly plotting, developing, and creating new worlds. It’s the best high you can imagine, creating something out of nothing.


 

So there you have it. What’s your process? How does it differ from mine? I’d be interested to hear from other writers. We often tend to be very isolated and finding community amongst word artists is a beautiful thing.

Talk to me, people.

Soundtrack to a New Year

Soul-Asylum-Grave-Dancers-UnionIf you’ve been reading my blog at all, you know I have earworm disease. But sometimes this is a good thing. Like this weekend. I don’t know what triggered it, but I caught a Soul Asylum song in my head.  So while I was cleaning out a closet I plugged in my earbuds and called up Grave Dancer’s Union.  Listening, I had forgotten how very much I love this whole album. Most of you who were around and listening to music in 1992-93 probably remember the hits of that record: “Somebody to Shove,” “Black Gold,” and “Runaway Train.” My favorite songs are deeper cuts from this album, and as I listened, I could hear a lot of the things I wrote in my New Year’s post echoed back to me. Let’s take a look:


Track 4: Keep It Up

Though the rain weighs down your wings
Still the caged bird’s got to sing
Singing “Na na na na na na na na na”

Message: Don’t fucking give up.

Track 6: Get on Out

I gotta get on
I gotta get on out
All these worried troubled thoughts gotta get on out of my head
Gotta get on out of my head.

Message: Kick the anxiety out of the car at 80 mph.

Track 7: New World

And the fields burns away
The sky breathes it in
So why sit and wait
For the new world to begin

Message: Get off your ass and do stuff.

Track 9: Without a Trace

Standing in the sun with a Popsicle
Everything is possible
With a lot of luck and a pretty face
And some time to waste

Message: Pretty face aside, your life’s possibilites are endless.

So that’s my soundtrack for life this week. I hope it inspires you the way it does me. Or that you can find your own, whether it’s new to you or your heart’s old favorite. Music has the power to transport us, and we might as well go somewhere fun, right?

 

Let’s Do This

Happy New Year!

I’ve been taking stock of 2015 for a few days now. Some really excellent things happened, the most exciting was that I found a literary agent who is head over heels in love with my book.  We’re looking for a publisher now and I can’t be more thrilled.

This year wasn’t really an easy one. I had to work out a lot of things in my head about my job, my passion for writing and how they can coexist peacefully. I’m still working on it.

New YearBut I have decided 2016 is going to be my sassiest year yet. Last night, when the clock struck twelve, I was in the middle of getting teal streaks put in my hair by a 19 year-old cosmetology student. (Who, by the way, did an excellent job.) I am going to keep hiring her to color my hair until she graduates and becomes too expensive for me.

Mid-life crisis? Nope, I really don’t think so. I’ve decided that I’ve spent too much time being miserable, waiting for things to happen. (Waiting to find an agent, a publisher, to get the hell out of my day job, etc.) And doing all that waiting makes one rather miserable. So I have decided to stop waiting and start doing things. Fun things. Crazy things. Daring things.

New Me

This was me in the car this morning on the way to my first breakfast of 2016. I had the bacon skillet at Hoots, I highly recommend it. See the teal hair? I am so in love with it. It is just the first of many things I will be diving into this year.

For instance, there are a few things I’ve been wanting to try for writing research. Archery, for example. In high school we had an archery unit in gym class and I was pretty good at it. I want to remind myself what it feels like to draw a bow and loose an arrow.

I found an outdoor archery club less than an hour away. They offer free lessons to newbies and let them borrow equipment until the newbie decides what is right for them. Now I just have to find a way to have a Thursday afternoon off in the middle of season. Wish me luck.

I’ve also wanted to know what it feels like to shoot a gun. Not that I plan on owning one, but I want to know the physical and psychological feelings a person has when they pick up a weapon and fire it for the first time. So I signed up my husband and I for our local sheriff’s gun safety class. There are four hours of classroom instruction and three hours at the range. My good friend, who is a former cop, is going to let me borrow her Glock for the actual practical aspect. I have to admit I’m a little scared about this, but the class isn’t until April so I have time to get used to the idea.

I’m also downsizing our posessions this year. We have way too much junk. Stuff that has been sitting in closets for years, things we never use, or even remember we had. I am making a run to the Goodwill tomorrow as a matter of fact. Every time I do I feel lighter.

Speaking of lighter, I also return to the gym tomorrow. In 2014 I went 3-4 times a week. I lost all momentum when I had to have my gall bladder removed this last January. That’s a whole year off. I think it’s time to get back on the elliptical machine.

But above all, I am going to be writing. It is the thing I love most. It gives me such a high to sit with my laptop and create a world and characters so real I feel like they really are out there somewhere living their lives. I have been on fire for the last month, writing every day. I am working o n rewriting my first novel and I am very pleased with how it is coming out.

So won’t you join me? Let’s go find new and interesting experiences to fill our days instead of stewing in anxiety until our fingers get all pruney. A champion worrier all my life, I have decided once and for all that anxiety can BITE ME.

Happy New Year. Let’s do this.

 

Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson

FuriouslyHappyJenny Lawson (aka the Bloggess) is someone who has come into my world fairly recently. Last month I read a review of this book in the library publication Booklist, and thought it sounded intriguing. Since it had not yet been published I hunted down her first book: Let’s Pretend This Never Happened. I read it on vacation and came to two conculsions.

The first is that Jenny Lawson is a total wingnut, swears like a truck driver with Tourrette’s, and has a family that rivals the Adams Family when it comes to weirdness.

The second is that Jenny Lawson is completely and unequivocally hysterical.

There are some misguided people in this world who are easily offended by cursing, and I feel deeply sorry for these people. I believe the time one spends taking offense is inversely proportional to the amount of fun one has. I also know that trying to explain this to someone easily offended is like trying to convince a conspiracy theorist that no, McDonald’s is not own by Satanists.

The title Furiously Happy is rather poignant. Jenny Lawson has made her writing career talking frankly about dealing with mental illness. She suffers from depression and anxiety and a host of taggers-on. She has good days and really terrible days. Her theory is that on her good days she needs to live them to the fullest–the craziest, brilliant, most memorable times she can conjure. Then, when the bad days return she will have those memories and be able to tell herself they will come again.

To quote Furiously Happy:

“When cancer sufferers fight, recover, and go into remission we laud their bravery. We wear ribbons to celebrate their fight. We call them survivors. Because they are.

When depression sufferers fight, recover, and go into remission we seldom even know, simply because so many suffer in the dark… ashamed to admit something they see as a personal weakness… afraid that people will worry, and more afraid that they won’t. We find ourselves unable to do anything but cling to the couch and force ourselves to breathe.”

This.

I will admit that I have suffered from anxiety and depression. That’s not an easy thing to admit, especially when the whole purpose of this blog is to demonstrate my talents as a writer, and showcase my brilliant wit and sparkling humor. But I need to be true to who I am. Yes, I have struggled with anxiety and depression, but I would guess 99% of the people who have ever met me would never know it. I can speak in front of huge groups of people and not blink an eye. I give every impression of being warm, funny, and completely well-adjusted.

I have to say that being married has done wonders for my state of mind. My husband, who is a self-proclaimed “happy jackass,” is the best medicine. He makes me laugh every day and really helps to keep me on an even keel. True, I may get tired more easily than the average person, I may need more downtime to recuperate after social events, but I am proud of the progress I have made in the last 20 years. If you would have told me when I was 21 that I would one day be married and not be the drama queen in the relationship I would have laughed and laughed. Funny how things turn out.

I do warm to Jenny’s idea of living furiously happy when the opportunity presents itself. I already know that traveling has made the best memories I keep and I want to do as much of it with my happy jackass as I can in this lifetime.

The happiest I have been while not on the road is when I am writing, and creating stories. The worlds I create are so real to me that my husband and I speak of my characters like they live and breathe out there in the world somewhere. My greatest wish is to be able to do that as a full-time job instead of being a librarian. Don’t get me wrong, librarians are terribly important. But learn from my mistake and don’t ever expect to find fulfillment in a career you chose mostly because you needed a paycheck.

To all of you out there who are like me and have struggled with anxiety and depression, I salute you. Keeping going when all you want to do is hide in your bed is no small feat, even if compared to the rest of the world it seems small. We are working with a serious disadvantage and have to toil much harder to stay even with the rest of the pack.

I highly recommend Furiously Happy to anyone who suffers with mental illness or anyone who lives with one. It will make you understand things on a new level, give validation that you aren’t alone, and make you snort coffee out your nose.

Which is why I don’t recommend reading it with a beverage. That really hurts.

 

Shrieking Ear Worms

I’ve always had music running through my head, regardless of whether the radio was on or not. I never realized that some people (probably the majority of the sane ones) don’t have this problem. It finally dawned on me when I was in my late 20’s. For some reason I kept asking the same friend, “What song do you have stuck in your head?” To which the reply would come, “I don’t. Freak.” Actually, she didn’t call me a freak. But it was totally implied in her tone.

It was a stunning revelation to me. What do you hear in your head then? Surely not SILENCE? That would be…well holy cow, that would be refreshing.

But this, sadly, will never be. My brain is wired to have a constant soundtrack running from the moment I wake up until the moment I sleep again. Sometimes it even carries over into my dreams. Sounds exhausting, doesn’t it? Sometimes it is, but to be honest I mostly don’t even notice it. Usually I can tune my inner DJ to what I like. But there are a few special songs (and by “special” I mean “from hell”) that can make me weep because they just won’t leave me alone.

The Top Ten Worst Songs to Ever Be Stuck in My Head

And I hope you appreciate the considerable risk I am taking with my sanity by listing them all here together for you. I also hope you appreciate what a dinosaur I am by hardly listing any music from this century. Here they are in no particular order:

1. Any of the Music from Les Miserables

lesmiserablesWhen I was 20 I went on a study abroad tour. While in London my friends and I saw the stage production of the musical Les Miserables. I bought the double disc original cast recording and listened to it a lot over the next few years. It was especially good for that three and a half hour drive between college and home. I could listen to the whole thing without interruptions, and really belt it out in what I am sure was a total crackballs voice. I was in concert choir in high school but I have one of those voices that is good in a group but should never ever solo. Ever.

A few years ago when the movie version of the musical came out I took my mother to see it, and the music all came back to me. And then it lived in my head for, I kid you not, a fucking month and a half. There was so much of it that my brain could jump around from song to song, motif to motif, and never, never, ever stop. And the volume and intensity kept gaining over that month and a half until I was sure everyone could hear it blasting through my brain case at top volume. In Spinal Tap terms I was at 11.


2. “Alcohol” by Barenaked Ladies

stuntThe Barenaked Ladies are true bubblegum – poppy, quirky, and often humorous. But every band writes a clunker once in awhile, and this one was a massive, steaming dump left in the middle of their album Stunt. When you think about it, it is really difficult to write a terrible song. Mediocre is easy, but to truly descend into song hell you have to strive for it. Mission accomplished: it has that perfect balance of an inane, repetitive tune paired with banal lyrics about drunks. Yippee. Let’s get that one on the hamster wheel, shall we?


3. “Dead Horse” by Guns ‘N’ Roses

use your illusionsSometimes (sometimes???) my brain does a funny thing: It will take the musical bridge in a song and then segues into what it considers a similar bridge so the earworm is segmented. (Like an earthworm, but more disgusting.) It starts you out with one song and then seamlessly blends into another, so you don’t even realize you began with Barenaked Ladies “Alcohol,” and end up with Guns N’ Roses “Dead Horse.” Sound impossibly incongruous to you? Not for this wing nut.

“Sometimes I feel like I’m beating a dead horse,

And I don’t know why you’ve been bringing me down…”

Preach.


4. “Santeria” by Sublime

sublimeThis one has truly driven me to the brink. I wasn’t all that fond of it when I first heard it back in my college days, and when it started to burrow, I realized I grew anxious listening to the radio, as even the first few notes of the intro could embed itself, boring holes in my gray matter until I was a screaming, frothing wreck. The worst part is that I can’t even understand what the song is about. Bradley Nowell, (who died of a heroin overdose in 1997) wrote the lyrics deliberately cryptic. I fucking hate cryptic. Just say what mean, asshat. It doesn’t make you deep, or clever, or mysterious, or sexy, or more interesting when I can’t understand you. It just makes you an asshat.

Don’t do heroin, kids.


5. The Mexican Hat Dance

mexican hat danceDa-DUM, Da-DUM, Da-DUM… such a simple little tune, just a few notes. Sometimes these are the worst because they are so perceptively small. The tiniest of earworms, no bigger than a dust mite when it goes into your head, and feeds on your sanity until there is nothing left in your skull but an engorged, twenty-foot long behemoth that weighs forty pounds and burps wetly as it digests what was once your brain. Soon to be worm poo.


6. “You’re the Inspiration” by Chicago

chicago 17Anyone who knows me understands that I loathe bloodless music. Sappy lyrics, trite sentiment, and wimpy orchestration leaves me wanting to slit my wrists. During Desert Storm they blasted Poison over loudspeakers at the enemy to drive them crazy. Chicago, John Tesh, or Air Supply would make me surrender unconditionally just to Make. It. Stop.

I wasn’t even sure what the trigger was at first, but I knew I had it in my head after every phone conversation. What the hell was that about? Then it hit me: my ringtone! Ringtones, as you can imagine are the bane of my existence – a soundbite of music on repeat, a ready-made device of torture. I thought I had circumvented that problem by not using actual music for my ringtone: wind chimes. Great idea, right? But what if the first six random notes struck by those chimes sound almost exactly like the guitar intro to “You’re the Inspiration”? One wouldn’t necessarily notice, given the different mediums (chimes vs. guitar) or the key change. I’m still looking for a non-obnoxious, non-musical ringtone. If you have any suggestions, please let me know, but for God’s sake, text me, will you?


7. “Hey Ya” by Outkast

speakerboxxxI don’t even have to explain this one.

 

 

 


8. “The Hook” by Blues Traveler

fourOne interesting thing about me (I’ll tell you the other one at a later date) is that I married a man eighteen years my senior. We are disgustingly compatible except in two areas: politics and music. As far as music is concerned he is a snob that only listens to Classical. I admit this has been a very good thing for me–I have become acquainted with Brahms, Bizet, Smetana, Elgar, St. Saens, just to name a few favorites. But when it comes to me sharing music with him, he is totally uninterested. I can probably count on one hand the times he has actually listened to a song that I chose.

One of these instances happened just last week on vacation. We were talking about writing and the art of hooking a reader in the first few pages. This made me think of pop songs and the hook all the successful (earworms) have. Which obviously, brings me to Blues Traveler. Their song is ironic and funny, and goddammit, I haven’t been able to shake it since.

The worst part is that I don’t actually know all the words and my brain is making up placeholders. For example, in the middle of this particular song is the line:

“I’ll do as I’ll decide and let it ride till until I’ve died”

which I can’t quite seem to remember and my brain makes it:

“I’ll do and I’ll sigh and let it rot until I die.”

And then, the HOOK BRINGS ME BACK. I ain’t tellin’ you no lie.


9. “Spiderwebs” by No Doubt

tragic kingdomI don’t mind No Doubt or Gwen Stefani all that much. But this song in particular is one that can be stuck for days, and usually not the lyrics… just the peppy little ska intro. Just that little bit. On continuous loop. All my waking hours. For days on end. Kill me.

 


10. “Telstar” by the Tornados

And finally, a completely instrumental song. The Tornados recorded Telstar in 1962.  I must have been in elementary school when I first heard it, and I thought it was about the coolest thing ever. It sounded like a Disney-fied version of what outer space should be.

To be honest, I forgot about it for decades. And then… my husband and I were binge watching Mad Men, and one of the episodes (Season 2, Episode 10, “The Inheritence”) closes with this song. While I still totally dig this song, after being set on repeat for, oh, 500 hours, it wears a little thin. Still, I’d take it over any of these others.


So there you have it. You now have the ultimate power to send me to the loony bin if you choose. There are some less than kind people out there who find my earworm affliction entertaining. I have actually had people try to plant things in my head for their own amusement. Those people are now dead.

You’ve been warned.