Thursday, November 19, 2015

NaNoWriMo is back and I've already learned so much!

It’s November, and that means it’s NaNoWriMo.  National Novel Writing Month has been around since 1999 but I firmly paid it no mind when it came onto my radar a few years ago.  I mean, seriously, what a dumb idea.  No one can write a novel in a month.  Except a hack. 

But last year, on November 6th, On Point, my favorite NPR show of all time, did a show, “Do you NaNoWriMo?” 

Stupid show.  I almost didn’t listen.  Except I always listen to On Point. 

Coincidentally, I already had a young adult murder mystery planned out in my head.  I wasn’t ready to start writing it yet, because I was busy working on a screenplay for another book of mine, The Truth About Dating, but my young adult heroine was always knocking things over in the back of my brain to get attention.  She was who I thought about when I woke up at 3:34AM and couldn’t fall back asleep.  But I couldn’t start a book until the screenplay was done.  And then about three quarters of the way through the radio show I suddenly decided that I WAS going to NaNoWriMo!  I was going to write that novel in the month of November!  It was such an abrupt turn-around.  One minute, no, one second I was scoffing and scorning and then next second I was 100% on board. 

I started Murder in Suburbia that day, November sixth.  I wrote 1499 words.  The next day I wrote 3650 words.  By day three I had over ten thousand words!  I hit a wall at day 13.  I was up to 40,553 words and I didn’t know how in the word to get ten thousand more.  Four three days I let the story gel.  But at the time, I didn’t know I was letting things gel.  I thought, “I’m not going to finish!”  That is the big problem with NaNoWriMo.  You feel panic-stricken most of the time because you only have a month!!!!!  That’s also the reason NaNoWriMo is so fantastic.  I have to keep writing or I won’t win.  Right???  So after three days I noticed a little hole in the wall, and when I scratched it, some bricks fell out and I wrote 3972 more words.  Now I was at 44,525 words.  At this point in my novel, my teenage sleuth had everything she needed to solve the crime but I needed some kind of spectacular, nail-biting, brilliant finale.  I wanted my young adult readers to see our heroine cleverly escape from mortal danger.  She wasn’t magic.  She didn’t have a mutant skill set.  She couldn’t fight like a vampire slayer and she couldn’t kill like a vampire.  She had to do it like a regular teen.  My readers had to be able to save themselves in just the same way (in the unlikely event that a killer lived on their block).  I was only 5,000 words from my “win” so I took a day to think it through.  I like to plan things out in my head before opening up my laptop to write.  So I thought about the plot while I raked the leaves and went to work and made pumpkin pie.

On my nineteenth day (November 25), I put in a marathon session and wrote 7,975 words to complete my story at 52,500 words. 

I had just written a young adult murder mystery in 19 days.  Mind blown. 

Then I sent it to my mom and she LOVED it!

Over the next five months I revised, mainly by bulking up the story.  It’s about 66,000 words now.  But very little of what I’d written during NaNoWriMo got thrown out. 

This year, I’m doing it again.  From the start of my first book I planned to write a sequel from the best friend’s point of view.  I plotted in my head.  I wrote down a few scenes I didn’t want to forget.  But I knew I’d start the real writing this month.  In November.  And things are really different the second time around.   I’m not worried I won’t finish so I’m taking the time to write in all the details now.  I’m not sure, but I suspect I’ll have a lot less revisions at the end.

Isabel Allende always starts her new books on January 8.  I don’t plan to only write my books in November.  But the timing worked out this year.  And I learned something important.  For the first four days I was so unbelievably bored from my writing that I didn’t think I had this book in me after all.  I would have stopped, but I couldn’t.  It was NaNoWriMo.  So I kept writing.  And eventually, everything clicked.  Suddenly, I had all these great ideas for my character.  I couldn’t wait to sit down to write her story.  I couldn’t stop thinking about her when I was getting the kids off the bus, making dinner, and helping with homework.  Looking back on the past five months, I realize I wasn’t saving this book for November.  I tried to write it several times in the spring but I hadn’t immersed myself enough in the character to make her three-dimensional.  So she bored me.  So I stopped. 

But you can’t NaNoWriMo without being immersed.  It’s too time intensive.  Before this month, I was sticking a (kind of lazy) toe in the water.  NaNoWriMo makes you dive.  And the water is freezing.  So you have to swim.

Try it.  It's exhilarating.  

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Parenting is like writing...

Parenting is most fun when you get to teach a life lesson with something that you are already doing yourself.  It’s kind of like the first rule in writing: don’t tell, show.  Last week one of my kids had a disagreement with a playmate at school.  Now that playmate is causing my kid a little grief.  It’s elementary school stuff, so as an adult my first thought was to take it with a grain of salt.  On the other hand, kids feel the same pain as adults, even if the crime is that so-and-so broke the orange crayon.  And at this age, kids will do dumb, sometimes mean things, but it doesn’t mean they are mean.  They are just kids. 

When adults aren’t nice, you could decide the same rules don’t apply.  Or you could wish them well and move on.  That’s what I do with wearisome adults and it works beautifully.  I don’t waste any energy on these people and this week I got to teach my kid the same thing.  In the end, it makes everyone’s lives easier.  You teach your kids to forget about difficult people instead of being reactive.  No matter what gripe they have with someone, people are still people and worthy of kindness.   You don't have to be a punching bag, just remember that bullies are mean because something isn't going well in their lives, and take anything they say or do with a grain of salt.  Then forget them.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Ruby Neptune is BACK

The third book in the Ruby Neptune mystery series is finished!

When the headmistress of a prestigious private school in Brooklyn suddenly dies in front of the student body, the police assume the death is an unfortunate accident.  But the school’s Writer in Residence, Ruby Neptune, thinks she’s witnessed a murder.  Suspects include the parents of children who weren’t accepted, teachers vying to be the next director, a harassed secretary, and even the mother of a child thrown out of the school for a peanut allergy.  As Ruby Neptune investigates, she makes other surprising discoveries, one which impacts her personal life.  Meanwhile, the killer might get away with murder, unless Ruby can uncover the truth before she, too, has an unfortunate accident.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Hilary Clinton and Violence Against Women

When I was a little girl, there were no cool female role models. Well, there was Wonder Woman, but she looked uncomfortable, like her breasts were about to pop out of her swimsuit. My brother had his pick of cool heroes but I did not. There were some spunky heroines, but in most television shows, the women, even the smart ones, eventually had to be saved by men.

People need heroes in their own images. I remind my husband about this all the time, because I love and appreciate all the women on television today who don't need saving. They can fight like men. (Buffy the Vampire Slayer.) Even without supernatural powers, they can win with smarts and a stun gun. (Veronica Mars.) And by the way, both of these fictional women were created by men.

But lately I'm registering a disturbing trend with these characters: They all get raped. I don’t know why I didn’t notice before.

Why do men who create strong female characters always make them get raped?

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo so graphically details horrible abuses to women that I began to wonder if the writer (and some readers) got a high from thinking about the torture of women. The movie is worse. I had to leave the room during those scenes. It's true, the female lead is smart and strong, and she gets vengeance. But I don’t know how anyone could leave that film thinking women were empowered.

I suppose the Ohio man who locked-up and raped three girls for ten years might have enjoyed the scenes in that book/movie. And since one in six women are sexually assaulted*, rapists are not so much an aberration as part of the norm. There were the high school students who undressed, raped, ejaculated on, and photographed an unconscious teenage girl while carting her from party to party. There's that rap song where the singer (Rick Ross) brags about giving a woman a drug and raping her while she's unconscious. On college campuses, as many as one in four women are sexually assaulted**. In my state of Nebraska, some third grade boys sexually assaulted an eight-year old classmate on the school playground. The list goes on and on.  I could write for an hour and not record all the sexual assault stories that have happened in this year alone.

I could probably write all day and not have time to document the sexual assaults occurring in the military. The Air Force official in charge of its sexual-assault prevention program is arrested for attacking a woman in a parking lot and the military's response is to "retrain" the men. Weird, because I wouldn't think men need special training in not attacking women. Shouldn't they just know? Like the way they know not to rob liquor stores or step in front of a moving car?

Obviously, something in our culture is teaching boys and men to rape. Is it simply the belief that women are less valuable than men? Is there a male rage that can only be relieved by hate crimes against women? Rape is an act of violence. Who is teaching our boys and men to be violent to women? Why do so many male writers view rape as a rite of passage for strong women?

So where does Hilary Clinton come into all this? Well, we know she is considering a run for president. I would like her to think carefully about her legacy. Barack Obama has shown us how ineffective a president can be. The GOP will devote themselves to blocking her like they do him. But they can't block the light from her international stardom. She could affect much more change taking on a single cause than trying to run our country. I'd like to see her take on that fight. I'm not alone. My blog on her speech about violence against women gets more hits than any other blog I've got. (And it's nothing but a transcript of her speech).

There are men running our country who believe that women can shut down rape sperm. Their brains are operating in medieval mode but that's who you have to deal with in government politics, apparently. Sadly, the president has little more influence than those politicians who seem proud of their ignorance.

Mrs. Clinton, I ask you from the bottom of my heart to forget about being president and make it your mission to wipe out violence against women, in our country and in the world.  I want a better world, not only for my son and daughter, but for all the children of the world. 

* According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) 1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime (14.8% completed rape; 2.8% attempted rape).
**According to the U.S. Justice Department's report The Sexual Victimization of College Women.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Are Art Galleries Fading From New York City?

When I attended Pratt Institute in the late 1980s, I was intimidated by shows at art galleries.  I went to lots of them, but I always had the impression that gallery owners weren’t happy to see young students like me wander through the door.  I’ve never been very eloquent about discussing art; I feel like I’m shoveling out a lot of BS.  So when I graduated with a bachelor’s in Painting, I was deeply intimated by the process of asking gallery owners to represent me. 

That was decades ago.  I still paint, my art continues to develop, but I don’t bother trying to get shows. I replaced that desire with the goal of snagging a literary agent.  By the time I’d written my first book, I no longer lived in New York City.  I’ve often thought that my Omaha, Neb address was part of the reason I couldn’t get the literary agents to read my books (most live in NYC).  But thanks to Amazon, it now no longer matters that I don't have an agent.  Epublishing has served me well; I've sold well over 50,000 copies of my self-published books in just a couple of years.  So I'm a fan of online sales.

Today I read art critic Jerry Saltz’s article, “The Death of the Gallery Show,” in New York Magazine where he laments the rise of online art auctions because the public never gets the chance to wander through an exhibition of that artist, to see the artist’s works juxtaposed together.  Mr. Saltz says he goes to 1,560 NYC gallery shows a year.  A year.  That is incredible. 

Reading his article brought me back to my school days, and to the research I did while writing my second mystery novel, which begins with a death in a Williamsburg art gallery (Murder with Art (Ruby Neptune Mysteries)).  And as I read Saltz’s defense of art galleries, in spite of the fact that poor artists might not get to NYC to see the art, I started to think the art world was following in the footsteps of the publishing world:  both had NYC as their center and a small tribe of New Yorkers decided who was in and who was out.

But after mulling over his argument for a few hours, I’ve decided that what’s lost by art galleries disappearing from Chelsea is what’s gained for Indie writers like me.  In online art galleries, even non-represented artists get to sell their art, so it sounds like the democratization of the art world.  But only for the artists.  For art lovers, the opposite is happening.  As Saltz points out, auctions keep art away from everyone except the collector.  Even though I felt intimidated going to art galleries as a young student, I still went.  I got to see some amazing art.  I couldn’t buy the art, but I could still be influenced by what I saw on those walls.  Jerry Saltz goes to 1,560 shows a year, but he's not buying something at each show (at least, I assume he's not, on an art critic's salary.)  He's just looking and enjoying.

There’s no doubt that Amazon, for all its many flaws, has democratized the publishing world for writers like me.  But readers, too, get to read more books.  Books that literary agents didn't think they would like.  I may not make my living off my books (yet), but I'm still a success.  Without an agent or publisher and with a marketing budget of less than $200, the first book in my mystery series (Murder Beyond Words (A Ruby Neptune Mystery)) sold 20,000 copies last year.  Murder with Art sales are steady, too.
Living outside the city has its disadvantages for agent-less novelists.  Besides the obvious one, (not living in the city), some bookstores only carry consignment books for local authors, and though I’m from New York I no longer count as local.  An art gallery would let me show from afar, but of course they have years of experience working with out-of-town artists.  I imagine bookstores will get there eventually.  More than anything, Saltz’s article made me feel my absence from my favorite city in the world.  He made me miss living on campus at Pratt.  He made me want to gallery hop.  He made me worry that one of the defining traits of the city, art galleries, might be an endangered species.  Let’s hope he’s wrong.