Writing

This is my third attempt at writing/editing this post. I was planning to share it last month but couldn’t find the time to finish it. Today, I decided it was done.

A work colleague turned friend finished a draft of her book and she’s in the process of getting it ready to send to her agent. I had the chance to do a beta read for her. I really enjoyed it and I hope she finds a publisher. She’s worked on this book for years and she’s ready. The book is ready.

I share that little bit as a segue into this next sentence.

I write. Honestly, that’s difficult to admit not because I’m embarrassed by that confession (OK, yes, some of what I put on the page is horrible until I re-write it but it’s words on a page and that counts so I try not to be too hard on myself.) but because I don’t do it with enough regularity to think of myself as a writer. Take this blog for instance. A regular poster I am not.

I write all day long, five days a week. But I don’t think of that writing the same way I think of my fiction writing, mostly because the ‘at work’ writing is limited to emails, marketing plans, creative briefs, editing releases, web content, you get the idea. I don’t consider it exciting writing. By exciting, I mean that I’m not making up a world, or a character, or a scene. Work writing has to be based in brand reality — that’s not exciting the way fiction writing is for me.

Recently, I had this notion that I would spend 30 minutes a night writing, working on my new story, outlining scenes, whatever it was as long as I was focused on my story in some small way. I would even time myself so I knew it was only 30 minutes and a small commitment.

That plan lasted all of two days.

Two. Days.

I have ideas. I write them down in my notebook. But I don’t feel I’m actively writing. Frankly, life can be busy. Work can be busy and mentally trying. I don’t always want to close one laptop to open another.

You know what that is? That’s an excuse. And lately, I feel I’ve become excellent at making excuses when it comes to my writing.

That needs to change because I want it to. I want to write more. I enjoy writing, making up a new reality to play in, and if it seems right, to share with other people.

Maybe saying that out loud will help create the change I’m looking for.

Interview with Barbara Friend Ish – Part One

An interview! A first here at Just Book Reading — I promised changes and this interview is the kickoff in that new direction.

First, I want to thank Barbara for taking the time to answer a few questions for me. She’s been incredible generous with her time and I very much appreciate her participating in this little experiment.

Before we get to part of one of the interview, a few words about Barbara. She’s the founder of Mercury Retrograde Press, an entrepreneur, writer, businesswoman and incredibly creative person. Barbara is the author of The Shadow of the Sun, the first book in The Way of the Gods series. Her second book in the series, The Heart of Darkness, is in the works. Her full bio is here and I encourage to head over to Mercury Retrograde Press and take a look around as well.

Part one of the interview will focus on the writing process. And, we begin!

Amy @ Just Book Reading: Let’s start with the writing. Every author has a different approach to the writing process. Can you tell us how you prepare to write and a bit about your process, if there is one? Is it different for each book or do you have a system you try to follow?

Barbara Friend Ish: To call how I proceed a system would be to over-glorify it. I’m a seat-of-the-pants writer by nature; as I’ve developed my craft, I’ve leaned to do more with planning, but I will never be the sort of writer who outlines before writing and then sticks with the outline. I’ll never be at all efficient.

I generally start a project with a question. These questions aren’t always intended as story fodder; sometimes they’re just mysteries that intrigue me which eventually find their ways into story. The series I’m working on now, The Way of the Gods, began with questions about the nature of godhood: If gods (note the plural) exist, where would they come from? What would be the source of their power? Once I’ve got a question knocking around in my head, I start reading sources that I hope will provide answers. I begin to work on theories. I suppose you might consider this activity worldbuilding, in the sense that I’m working out the rules and frameworks within which my story will play out.

Meanwhile, the things I’m reading and thinking about begin to suggest characters to me. As writers we know that the protagonist of any story is the one who suffers the most at the hands of the story problem; so the characters and the story problem, which may or may not be the same issue as the question that began this mess, evolve simultaneously. Bits of plot and conflict erupt like popcorn thunderstorms in my fevered little head. Finally I reach the point where I’ve got so much half-formed idea in my head, so much sketched-in plot, that I conclude I know what the story is about and where it’s going to end up, and I start thinking about the place to begin. Once I’ve got that, I jump in and start writing.

I generally write approximately two drafts. I say approximately because I write a first draft, a discovery draft, in a way that seems to be pretty normal: just writing forward, telling myself the story. When I finish that draft, I know what the story is really about, so I sit down and do in-depth analysis and plot planning, and then write a second draft.

My second draft process is not normal. I write generally forward rather than skipping around, but I tinker endlessly with what has already been written. By the time I get to the end of the second draft, I’ll have been over a given scene multiple, sometimes dozens of times. At this point each scene will be as developed as I can make it without input from other eyes, so I don’t do another edit pass at this point. I go to review: my first readers, who typically have already seen chunks of the novel during development, and then my beta readers.

These early readers are invaluable. They allow me to see the story from other angles, detect story flaws and missed opportunities and places where the words just didn’t work the way I thought they did. I take in all their notes and objections, make whatever changes are necessary, and then the book goes to editorial.

Believe it or not, this is a very condensed version of the lunacy. Rather than take over your blog I’ve gone into more detail on my own, here.

Amy: Go read. We’re going to discuss more about the writing process over at Barbara’s blog. We’ll be here when you get back with more of the interview.

Amy:  What inspires you as a writer and how do you nurture your creativity?

Barbara: Nurturing creativity is not something for which I should be held up as an example. I’ve done a rotten job of it for myself in the past few years; an ironic contrast to how hard I worked to create a safe environment for creative folk at Mercury Retrograde. All the rules I made there seemed to apply to everyone but me, and that’s no one’s fault but my own.

So, do what I say, not what I do.

What I know I need to nurture my creativity is pretty much the opposite of how we are told professional artists should behave. I’ve participated in workshops for writers that consciously cultivated a boot-camp attitude. The Next Big Thing for writers is the idea—and associated practices—of producing ten thousand words a day. I have great admiration for writers who are able to create art under those circumstances. But those practices are not for everyone, and it is possible to be a thriving professional without them. Productivity does not presuppose misery. For me, the periods of greatest productivity have happened when I’ve put no pressure whatsoever on myself to produce. When I’ve actually been happy, and have viewed the work as a sort of serious play.

Serious play? I will try to explain. I need—I think most people, and creative people especially, feel this too–to feel the work I’m doing is important; that it matters. It can verge on a spiritual practice. All of this is a roundabout way of saying that I view what I’m doing, on both sides of the desk, as art: not entertainment to be consumed and forgotten, but work that will have impact on the people who receive it, that will stay with them long after they set down the book. The ideas I’m exploring matter to me—and, conversations with readers suggest, to people who enjoy my work as well. This sense of making art, of doing something that matters, is for me the first prerequisite of a healthy creative life.

Other needs include a quiet, safe space in which to work (though early in my career I wrote at a desk in my children’s playroom, wearing headphones and listening to ear-bleeding alt-rock to drown out all but the noises that required my attention)—and the sense that I’m not stealing time from someone who needs it more. I go to great lengths to create the feeling that the world can’t see me when I’m in my writing space. I need that sense in order to be able to write true, without worrying about what this person or that will think about the story as it evolves. Because the minute I let those sorts of concerns into the room, I must abandon making art, because art stripped of unflinching truth is popular entertainment. And the big-box stores are full of that already.

What inspires me as a writer: questions; mysteries. All the things I can’t quite understand, and that includes topics ranging from the grand unified theory of physics to the inner workings of my husband’s mind. My ideal story includes both those topics, which is why I work in speculative fiction: this genre has been described as the literature of ideas, and in many cases it’s only through the tools available to us in genre that I can get at the ideas I want to explore.

Amy: Into every book goes a bit of research. What type of research do you enjoy the most and what’s the most interesting fact you’ve come across?

Barbara: When you work in spec fic, more than a bit of research! They used to say in Department of Defense contracting (and maybe they still do, but I don’t know) that the plane wouldn’t fly until the documentation weighed as much as the aircraft itself. At least for me, every paragraph on the page is the result of at least the same amount of research material read.

I love the research that lights up my imagination. There are people who delight in digging into original source materials to find the least atom of data; I prefer broader sweeps of information. I like to put totally unrelated ideas together and come up with unpredictable results; I like to read history or science or esoteric literature or any of a dozen other topics and follow the little sparks of ideas that emerge–into story ideas that not only will no one else ever have, but which I wouldn’t have at any other point in my life.

It’s hard to isolate a single most interesting fact, because there are so many. I think my favorite ideas are tied up with the word egregore, which is an esoteric concept signifying a thought construct: literally, something that never existed until someone thought it up, and which would cease to exist in the absence of people’s belief in it.

Modern currency is an egregore. Those pieces of paper we exchange for food at the grocery store are worthless, except that we all agree they have value. The electronic currency that threatens to replace it is more esoteric yet.

I can’t be held responsible for what will happen to your mind if you follow the concept of the egregore through its various applications to its logical conclusion. But I can guarantee it’s an unforgettable ride, and that’s why it’s arguably my favorite.

Amy: I know you have a few pets, cats, I believe. While I don’t have any cats myself, I know a few with very strong personalities. Do any of their personality traits ever show up in a character? Also, do you have pics to share? I’m a sucker for pet photos. 🙂

Barbara: I am a cat person. I cannot recall a period during my adult life that was longer than a couple weeks during which I didn’t do the bidding of at least one cat. Presently I am slave to two cats: brothers and littermates Fergus and Niall.

Fergus and Niall office

Fergus and Niall Xmas

(Fergus is fluffy; Niall is not.) Because I live in the part of Atlanta that is frequented by coyotes, their idea of the great outdoors is my second-floor deck. But they spend their days protecting me just the same.

I’ve known writers who reincarnated their pets as characters. I’ve edited books in which that happened, though I’m not going to out those writers here. But for the life of me I can’t draw any substantive connection between any cat I’ve ever known and any character I’ve ever written.

For what it’s worth, it’s the same with the humans in my life. Although I know people who would tell you they were the inspirations for certain aspects of certain characters in my work.

Amy: Thanks, Barbara, for talking about your writing process and sharing photos! We’ll be back on the 27th with part two. Join us on Friday.

Sad, Yet Inspired by Choices

I want to talk about a small publisher, Mercury Retrograde Press. The founder, Barbara Friend Ish, made the announcement recently that she’s closing down the press at the start of 2014. You can read her post here. I’m saddened by the news because I was introduced to this publisher, and it’s amazing group of writers, earlier this year by another blogger (Elizabeth at Darkcargo) and I’m sad to know the press won’t be around to continue publishing great books. That said, I’m happy to hear that the closing of the press will actually mean more books to read. Strange thing to say, I know.

One of the reasons Barbara gives as part of her decision (which I’m sure had to be heartbreaking) is to have more time to continue her own writing. Writing I very much enjoyed earlier this year when a group of us got together to read and talk about The Shadow of the Sun, her first book in The Way of the Gods series. As a means of disclosure, I also offered to help give this press some bloggy love this year — something I’m still going to do by means of reading another of the press’s authors and buying (stocking up!) a few books before the end of the year. I may also see if I can get Barbara to answer a few questions for me that I’d post here. I need to see if she’d be willing. Barbara?

Here’s the thing. Change is something we all need. I’ve been feeling this for a long while, and though there are significant parts of my life that probably won’t change, but one of these changes I want to enact is more writing. I’ve been saying for a very long time (even I’m sick of hearing myself say it) that I want to expand my writing. I want to look for new opportunities. I’ve started writing some fiction of my own; it all sucks, thanks for asking, but it’s fun. I want to keep doing it because I’ve been told it will (should/maybe some day) get better. Either way, I need to give up a few things in order to do more writing.

Lately, I’ve been reading slow. Incredibly slow. I mentioned last week that I finally finished George R.R. Martin’s A Dance with Dragons (the 5th book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series) and instead of rushing to finish it, I spent over 10 days with this book. Yes, I was rushing to finish it in the end (just to be done for the love of god — it was 1100 pages) but not because I needed to write a review of it. In fact, I’ve been thinking and I’m not sure I’m going to write a review. And if I do, finally, write a review, it’s not going to be a traditional review. I’m stepping away from that. I’m not going to do it anymore. It’s my change.

I’m still writing reviews for another site (The BookReporter), and I plan to continue that because I enjoy it but I don’t want to repeat what I do for another group for myself. I also stopped accepting review books for this blog. NOTE: If you sent me an email and never heard back, this is why. I posted this months ago and I’m tired of replying with the same email and you’re tired of reading the same email. Good? Good. Nothing personal. If I’m interested in the book, you’ll get a reply. 

Read slow. Write more. Repeat.

This has nothing to do with anything but I’ve gone back to practicing yoga. It’s been phenomenally freeing. I never thought I’d be able to find solace in 75 quiet minutes of breathing, and yet, I have, in a most extraordinary way. I found I’m full of ideas; ideas that want to be on paper instead of in my head. And, these thoughts, are not about books. I kinda like that. It’s not that I don’t love me some books (hello!?) but there are topics that need to be explored. I want to see where the path leads.

Basically, this means that while this will remain a book blog (primarily) you might be seeing some other things like posts about cooking (I do a lot of it), yoga, and probably a few podcasts. It might also be about my writing because I’m finding truth in that old saying — when you finally start calling yourself a writer, you start treating yourself like one. That means writing. I plan to do it.

So, it means I won’t be going back to a regular posting schedule and there won’t be standard reviews here anymore. If I love a book, I’ll still tell you all about though.

Finally, what changes are going on in your lives? I feel I haven’t talked to all of you in a long while. I guess taking time out to contemplate does that. 🙂

The Sunday Salon – Time (Someone loan me a time turner, please.)

TSSbadge1How much time do I spend on content creation? Andrea at the Little Red Reviewer had an interesting post about this very topic and here’s my answer — not much as I’m posting barely once a week which got me wondering as to whether or not I want or should continue since I’m not actually offering much in terms of book reviews or news. I’ve seen this from a number of bloggers lately so I know I’m not alone but I don’t want to get caught up in that thought because even though I may not be sitting and creating, I’m constantly thinking about topics to write about. In fact, I have a whole list of topics in a file that I just keep adding to. Of course, I’m not writing but that’s another story.

Life got complicated a few months back and while things are better, there are still other things that occupy my time and thoughts. I’ve even been reading less. Shocking but in a way it’s a good thing because I’m also doing other things that I’ve been wanting to do and I feel very good about. Hello, yoga! 🙂 There’s a trade off to everything. For me, it’s about the time. Time to read books, time to write down thoughts, time to edit, and time to post. I also want to find time to write about things other than blog stuff. Writing is something I enjoy and I keep saying I’m going to find time to do it but I’ve yet to get there. I need to do that which means that the blog may need to take a little hiatus for me to get things in order. I’d be okay with that actually but I don’t really want to do that either which means I need to find a better system. (This is when I get envious of all the people out there who seem to be able to wring every usable second out of a day. Obviously, I’m not one of those people. If you are, I envy you. Know that.)

So this question of Andrea’s has me thinking about all things now and not just the blog. Although, I have been thinking about the blog lately and how I need to get things done. It also got me thinking about how I haven’t seen the last few episodes of Doctor Who. I know the tragedy! I don’t even watch that much TV and I can’t seem to find the time to watch a show I enjoy. What is it I’m doing then? How the hell should I know?! Okay, I should know the answer to that and it’s been bothering me because I highly suspect I’ve been doing nothing. We spent two weekends in a row traveling and I had a work conference that sucked hours and the life out of me. I’ve been doing some reading and reviewing for another website too. I know, I’m cheating on myself. I started writing for this site long before I started my own blog; it was one of the reasons I started my blog actually. I agreed to do a few reviews that were out of the regular pattern for me and it reminded me how much I still like reviewing.

Back to the topic that started this whole string of random thoughts, how much time. I don’t really know but I think the next few weeks are going to be a little experiment to find out and see how organized I can be. I warn you, this probably won’t last long.

The Sunday Salon – thoughts on writing and respect

Lately, I’ve been slow on the blogging. A writing slump is mostly to blame but there are a few other things bothering me; bloggy things that have in their own little way kept me from writing.

First, and I’ve said this before but to be clear, the books I review are books I purchase, borrow from the library, and a few are ARC copies that I’ve either asked publishers to send or have been offered and accepted. I do reviews for another online site called The Book Reporter, which I started doing reviews for before I decided to get into the whole blogging thing. I don’t get paid to write review for The Book Reporter although they do send me the books for review. So the reason for the previous sentence is to point out that I’m not doing this for money or for free books. I don’t get many free books and turn down more than I ever thought I would have the opportunity to turn down. I do this because I want to read and talk about my books — the books I buy, the books I borrow from the library, and the books I have discovered on my shelves. I want to be able to read whatever I want and say whatever I want about that book. I don’t love or even like very book I read but I try hard to be honest and fair. I don’t see how anyone can do this any other way.

There was a little kerfuffle about bloggers getting paid this week and, while I don’t care about what other people do or how they make their money be it on their blog or by any other means, it was slightly annoying to read that people think this is a normal practice. I’m a book blogger, yes. I read and write about books, and yes, some of those books are given to me for free, but I’m not getting paid in any way. I don’t talk about anything other than my opinion about the book. I like helping readers discover new authors and books. That’s why I do this. I’m not getting rich off it. In fact, I’ve never made a cent. Not a single one. There are many others like me in that category. Making money is not a bad thing but I don’t do this to make money.

I guess maybe where I’m going with this rather inconsistent post is that I think the book blogging world is changing and I’m not sure what to think of it now. While I still feel it’s a very vibrant community, and there are many people I talk to and share books and thoughts with, it just feels different in a way that’s causing me to be a little sad about it. Everyone these days is so quick to point out things they feel are wrong and what ends up is a mess of hashtags ridiculing people. I can’t get with that. It’s wrong. All I’m saying. People aren’t always right but they deserve a chance to explain and we all need to move on with other more important things. Life is more than books. Really it is. I can attest to that.

There are many things going on in my life right now and the time I would normally spend blogging seems to be getting slowly chipped away at. I need to find a way to mesh blogging with everything else that’s going on. You see, I want to continue writing about books and I will but I also think I needed to get these thoughts on paper so I don’t feel so weird about the blogging thing. I’m not sure that’s really helped other than forcing me to write which may have been part of the big plan anyway in getting over the slump.

Sorry for the ramble today but it was nice to get words down. Sometimes we just need to write for the sake of writing. Maybe that’s what I need to do more of. I’ll call it Zen writing from now on and if you happen to see posts like this from me every once in a while, please bear with me until regularly scheduling programming returns.

Thanks for reading and listening. It’s appreciated.

Happy Sunday. I’m off to go hiking.

The Sunday Salon – Good Books

I’ve had a run of good books lately. I’m not sure if I’m coming out of a reading slump or if I’ve been picking the right books for me lately but the last few books I’ve read have all been satisfying reads.

Starting with Among Others by Jo Walton, I quickly finished up Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness, moved on to Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne du Maurier and now find myself sucked into Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton.

Another slump I can admit to though — a writing slump. Sitting next to the laptop on the desk is a notebook. It contains: one short story that needs to be typed and edited, the beginnings of an essay, an opening paragraph which has been abandoned, an opening line, and five book reviews and various notes and thoughts on books that need to be typed. Looking at the notebook, it makes me happy that I have at least taken notes on the books I’ve been reading and seeing that I’m getting back into the habit of writing thoughts down is also exciting but I need to sit down and do something with all these words.

Alas, today will not be the day. My husband is home after a short trip and spending the day with him is a priority today. I also plan to spend a chunk of my day reading Tooth and Claw. This book is addicting! What my day of relaxing and reading means is that there will be some very early mornings in my future this week and a plan to get some writing done. But I will think of that tomorrow.

Happy Sunday. Happy reading.