Friday, January 31, 2014

The Pleasures of Panera

Hmmm.  It wasn't my intention to have my heading sound like the title of a sci-fi novel.  What can I imagine for planet Panera?  A place where folks made of baguettes sail on endless rivers of onion soup?

Never mind.

I want to talk about possible havens from the solitary task of writing and bastions against its accompanying loneliness.   I may be a loner in some ways but the constant isolation of writing at home is too much for me.  So, like many of my compatriots, I've explored writing in other atmospheres.

Of course, you have the library.  That's a given.  Good place to meet readers for obvious reasons.  That's why I try to appear there dressed in one of the t-shirts I have had emblazoned with my book covers.   The result is cheap advertisement and one of the few situations where I won't be offended if I catch a man staring at my boobs.

When I write at home in my tiny office/den I feel like an aesthete stuck in a cave on a mountain top in the Himalayas.  (Gotta keep the heat down at home.  Another benefit of working in a warm public place where someone else is paying the oil bill.)  The library is warm, but it's almost as quiet as my office.  More so when you account for the fact that I almost always have the Weather Channel blaring just to hear the sound of a human voice.  And even if someone at the library should notice my shirt, a conversation about my work would be much more difficult to initiate than at a coffee shop or even a book store.

Larger book stores with cafes are another option.  Unless the cafe is small.  Then you might be asked to move if your food-consumption-to-time-writing ratio doesn't meet the management's expectations.  This happened to me once.  I wrote for an hour over tea and was just about ready to order lunch.  My appetite didn't coincide with the manager's patience.

This is why I prefer Panera's.  Unlike the library, there is food and drink if I get hungry.  Like any cafe, it smells of coffee and soup and cinnamon.  There is water there, and bathrooms for what happens after you drink it.  All the necessities of life and then some.  One of the Panera's I frequent even has a fireplace.  And they've never asked me to move.  Not even when all I ordered was a latte.  A possible negative for some - on most days it is noisier than the library or most bookstore coffee shops.  Sometimes much noisier.  This is not a deterrent for me.  Personally, I find that the white noise of others' conversations cheers me.  (Okay, except for the time the women in the table behind me were speaking about their highly personal problems LOUDLY.)

Actually, the chatter is the best part.  If I'm having a particularly lonely, isolated-writer day, I can wear my "Careful or you'll end up in my novel" tee and be assured that someone will start up a conversation with a lonely author.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Up to my ears in words

A writer's life.  Forget those visions of someone sipping a smoothie in front of their pc in their pajamas all day.  Someone still has to pay the bills, do the laundry, and call the oil company before the tank runs dry (something I forgot to do last month).  Someone has to answer e mails, the phone, and the doorbell for the UPS guy.  Someone has to call the doctor and the cable company.  Someone has to tell Verizon they screwed up on the monthly bill by charging them for 611 callbacks made to them in Mexico.  Add to that the myriad contests, agent queries, submissions, and the act of writing itself, and it's easy to see how writers' friends often wonder if they're agoraphobic. Who has time for a social life?

So, in the interests of MAYBE getting to a movie this weekend I'm going to keep this short and hunt down a market for one of my short stories.  No pajamas.  No smoothie.  Just me.  Up to my ears in words.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Getting back on track....

John Lennon once said: "Life is what happens while you're busy making other plans."  And has life been happening to me lately!  In the space of about a month, all my technology went wonky - Bluetooth broken, camera doing odd things with my pictures, GPS died, computer power supply fried (with THREE hard drives failing to back up the info before this happened).  I felt like a little black cloud was following me - and it was electrically charged.

Well, now that I finally have a pc again, I find that I've lost my groove.  The Top Gear drive I was experiencing pre-crash is gone.  I used to get up and get on the pc first thing.  Breakfast was an afterthought.  I'd stay up until 3 or 4am.  I lived in a perpetual state of dehydration with dark circles under my eyes.

Now I'll  admit this tack wasn't very healthy, jangled my nerves, and tended to make me want to kick the person in front of me who had 11 items on the "10 items or less" line at Shoprite.  But my new groove - sleeping in and getting distracted by every little time-sink the internet offers - is very unproductive.

Well, I'm still getting used to Windows 8.1.  Yeah.  That's it.  It's the new OS.  I'll be back to slave driving myself and being obsessive about my characters again in no time.  Once I stop playing the free sessions of X box games.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Mermaid wannabe....

Those who know that I hate crowds might think it anomalous that I try to go to as many cons as time, finances, and energy will afford, until I point out the homogenous nature of these gatherings.  When I go to a con, I know I am definitely going to have at least ONE thing in common with the people there so, even if I'm in a crowd, I kind of feel at home. I'm with kindred spirits at a con, be that writers, mermaids, or geeks. 

Last summer I went to Florida for a mermaid con called Merpalooza.  I was decidedly not the best dressed person there, not even close to authentic.  I was nervous about this because I knew that droves of gorgeous young women were going to show up in silicone tails that cost upwards of $2-4K.  And there I was, a mermaid wannabe in a last minute, jacked up $27 costume from an online discount costume merchandiser.  Would they think I was a mermaid sychopant?  Would they make fun of me?

Happy to say that my efforts were warmly welcomed.  I got compliments from the real mermaids.  They "got" that I was a sympathizer, a kindred spirit, golden in heart if not in pocket.  I wasn't authentic but they knew that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Later, on Facebook, I assured a gal that she too would get a warm welcome for her sincere efforts if she went tail-less to a mermaid event.  She had been to a pirate event (another con I have in my sights) and someone had chastened her for her lack of authenticity.  I assured her that would not happen at a mermaid con (even though I only had one experience to judge by).

When I posted pictures of my mermaid costume on Facebook, another woman who had friended me on the basis of my mermaid photo told me I was a sham!  (Uh, lady, did you notice that my mermaid profile pic says "Face In Hole"?  I'm not exactly trying to project a pro image here.)  She pointed out costumes that cost thousands of dollars and basically told me that I had some nerve presenting myself in my Cinderella rags in front of these real merfolk who worked so hard and spent so much time, money, and effort on their tails.  I was a little taken aback.  Not so much for myself as for the gal I had just advised to feel comfortable with  her "mermaid sympathizer" gear.  What if she saw this blatantly negative appraisal of my efforts?  Would she be deterred from attending one of the mer-cons?  I couldn't let that happen because the folks I met at Merpalooza were amazing, warm, and welcoming, and I didn't want to discourage the first timer.

I deleted the negative post and the person who sent it. 

I am a fantasy writer.  I often write about mermaids.  I am never going to be a professional mermaid.  That doesn't mean I can't rejoice in all things mermaid, advocate for ocean conservation, or wear a $27 mermaid costume. 

I can't wait to see all my merfolk friends at the next con.  They'll understand.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

A Computer from Mars....

Yesterday I finally decided on a computer.  I had been procrastinating because (see previous post) what I DESIRED (a loaded piece of hardware) and what I could afford had about as much affinity as Exxon and the environment.  Still, I found a compromise and wound up with something ...ummm...sufficient.

Finally, I write to you from the hallowed plastic of my own piece of machinery.  I feel like I've been wandering in the wasteland and have finally arrived home.  Does anyone else feel this way about their computer?  When I was borrowing my son's PC I felt like I was on foreign soil (and not only because of the two dancing bikinied ladies that popped up on the desktop).  The OS on his machine was exactly the same, the browser I use was there, but I was on another planet.  Where are MY desktop icons?  MY favorite pages?  Suddenly I'm Tom Sawyer playing a part in A Princess of Mars.  It's still a book but the story is very different.

And so, with holidays behind, the computer issue solved, and an upcoming procedure on my knee that is going to lay me up for awhile, I'm finally going to be able to get back to writing.  On my own turf.  In my own fantasy world.

Very glad to be home again.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of writing

Wealthy writer is kind of an oxymoron, sort of like slutty nun or diet ice cream.  Yes, a good writer can become wealthy and, judging by some shlock out there that has garnered movie deals, even bad writers can become wealthy.  But it is all too easy to be a good to great writer and wallow in anonymity (and the concomitant poverty) due to myriad factors of publicity, chance, circumstance, and so on.  There are literally millions of books on Amazon competing for a reader's attention.  Getting someone to notice your book without lots of money to advertise it is like sitting in the back of a giant classroom, raising your hand, and shouting "Pick me! Me!" in a very tiny voice.  So, considering the sacrifices one makes to pursue writing (or any artistic pursuit for that matter), I sometimes get the idea in my head that I should return to a full time job.  It was with this thought that I began a conversation with a friend who recently quit her full time job to pursue, well, her life.

Now let me be clear.  I was born on the fourth of July.  I am a tremendously independent person.  I would never advocate mortgaging your home or going on public assistance in order to fulfill your dream of becoming a unicycle rider in the circus.  On the other hand, if you can sustain yourself through your art or some other non-soul-sucking means, is it worth giving up your dream to have certain luxuries?  This was the conversation I had with my friend.  Her approach was this: put (fill in the blank with desired luxury material possession) plus the full time job you would need to obtain it on one side of the scale, and put your artistic pursuit on the other.   No matter how I varied this imaginary desire (Mercedes Benz and FT job, Nikon D3X and FT job, date with Johnny Depp and a...oh, wait, that's another imaginary desire), writing always sent that little mental balance tray kerplunking down like a block of parmegiano on grandma's table on pasta Sunday.

In a much earlier post, I shared some of the vocations and avocations I've engaged in over the years -  pursuits as disparate as taxi driver and actress.  Whenever I participated in something creative I felt far more comfortable in my skin no matter what I was being paid (or not being paid).  Whenever I participated in endeavors that weren't creative, I would make mental notes of those experiences so that I might use them later as reference for a character I might someday play or write about.  In this manner I would attempt to transform the banal and drab into something with the potential for color.  There was no question of where my heart lived.

Ursula LeGuin once wrote of the quandry of explaining "How do you write?".  For many writers, myself included, the process is intuitive.  I can discuss grammar, spelling, and punctuation but I can't explain the process of writing anymore than I can explain how I breathe.  I know the basic mechanics of both but I'd be hard put to go into great technical detail.  I don't approach writing in a linear way.  Words (and music) were things I was born with.  I might keep notes and draw sketches when I write, but I don't create extensive outlines or plan everything out step-by-step.  Everything comes from someplace within. It's almost as if I "meet" my characters one day, I "hear" their problem or dilemma, and they tell me their story.  All the time I am listening to them, I am aware that my characters are a part of me, but that part is magnified into a whole person with exaggerated flaws or talents, new quirks and, sometimes, a taste for disco fries.

So don't expect to see me trolling LinkedIn with a three page resume any time soon.  I feel compelled to tell my characters' stories.  And I am happiest when I'm doing that. 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Winter is coming....again....and again.

I don't need the Starks to tell me winter is coming, all I have to do is look out my window at, grrrrrr, more snow. 

Now those of you who love skiing, skating, Malamutes, and other things that take you out into the cold (willingly!) may not understand how I feel about the white stuff.  Here's a good analogy:  The amount of snow that falls in New Jersey is in direct proportion to the intensity of my desire to move to the south of France.  (Ah!  La Mole.  But that's another story.)  I'd even settle for Florida despite my deep seated fear of alligators and men who wear white shoes and belts.

And what's with naming snow storms after Greek gods and Roman mythology? Oh boy!  I can hardly WAIT for snowstorm "Maximus".  (Hello, Expedia?  When's the next flight to Tampa?).  Perhaps I shouldn't be wary of Maximus; Wiley (thrown in there because there is no "v" in Latin) sounds like he might be a very tricky storm to deal with.  Visions of Acme anvils of snow clobbering the Northeast fill my head when I hear that one.

Well, for some ungodly reason, my grandparents left warm, sunny Italy many moons ago, left the cactus fruit voluptuously falling to the ground, left the verdant olive groves and pregnant grape vines, and moved to...New Jersey?  Sheesh, grandpa.  When they changed your name in Ellis Island, they should have changed it to Stark.