Wednesday, July 23, 2014

the kitchen is my sanctuary

When I'm writing a book, I need time away from my desk. I spend most of the day with my characters, listening to their voices and jotting words on paper. After a while, I drift into the kitchen. Then I sink my hands into bread dough, roll out fresh pasta, or slice up goodies from my window garden. It's the perfect hobby for someone who lives inside her head.

radishes (and most fresh veggies) are yummiest when roasted!

measuring cup by cup

kneading bread dough is so relaxing!

delicate ramps (wild onions) remind me of music notes

a pair of French loaves--one to keep and one to give away

I never liked tomatoes...until I tasted them in my summer CSA basket. It's all about eating with the seasons.

Working in the kitchen is a lot like revising a story. You learn as you go. There's no perfect recipe---only what tastes right to you. All that matters is that you're the present tense.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Baked-in Goodness (by Patty Blount)

All this month, we're talking about hobbies.

I don't have a lot of hobbies. I love to read and I love to write. I do those two things almost exclusively when I'm not at work, which leaves very little time to pursue activities like yoga or gardening or rock climbing, and so on.

But there is one thing I like to do. Bake. I'm pretty good at it, too. I baked a 360-degree looping Hot Wheels track on a birthday cake for my son's 5th, and a religious cake for a friend who'd baptized their baby, even a replica of a New York State Learner's Permit when my son turned sixteen and passed his driver's written exam. I make amazing rainbow cookies and am now on a quest for a perfect macaron recipe.

Baking is fun because it results in something that almost always tastes as good as it looks. And that got me thinking about the old adage -- never judge a book by its cover.

Which we all do, right?

Covers are important -- good covers can sell books and bad covers can get them ignored. Just like baking, if the end result looks good, it'll probably taste good, too.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Trouble = fun (Lauren Bjorkman)

I applaud those who blogged before me about their soul-fulfilling, body-tuning, and heart-stirring pursuits. You are amazing. Seriously. My hobby might be considered less wholesome. *lowers head in shame* Still it's the key to my awesomesauce writing life.

When I was a kid, my dad often said, “Lauren! Your head is in the clouds. Wake up!” Or when he was REALLY mad he'd say, “Get your head out of your BUTT!” He wanted me to BE HERE NOW. And get my chores done, damn it. But I liked daydreaming more than washing dishes. And sometimes--while I daydreamed--the dishes miraculously washed themselves.

[Note: head-up-butt image pending]

One time my sister caught me kneeling in the stateroom of our sailboat in front of a bucket of soapy water. My job was to wash the floor. Instead, I'd piled bubbles onto the sponge and was singing Ode-to-SpongeCake, a song of my own composition.

Of course BE HERE NOW has practical applications. In my boat days, I fell asleep at the tiller once, risking all our lives. Luckily the boat didn’t get wrecked on a reef and we lived to tell the tale. (To be fair, I was barely ten.) These days I  limit my daydreaming to times filled with less dangerous activities. Sometimes I forget this principle while working out plot points, though, and drive into a ditch to the wrong place.

All kidding aside, I have a few self-improvement-type hobbies. I knit and hike and take out my aggression on the enormous weeds that grow around my house garden. Sometimes I stretch my hamstrings. But while I’m stretching my hamstrings, I daydream.  

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Sweating My Butt Off in the Hot Sun Because Barbara Kingsolver Told Me To (by Jody Casella)

I'd always liked the IDEA of gardens. But I could never see myself actually, you know, out there in the dirt, gardening. 

The extent of my gardening experience was to buy a couple of pots of tomatoes from Lowes, stick them out on the back porch, and hope I didn't forget to water them.

Then I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. (Side note: Kingsolver's one of my favorite authors. Her novel The Poisonwood Bible is easily in my top ten life-changing books She lectured once at a local university after that book came out, and I missed it --a huge regret!-- so when I saw that she was returning to give a talk about her new book, I was all over it. To attend the talk, you had to buy Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, a non-fiction book about... gardening. Not really my thing.)

I loved the book from the very first page. It's a memoir, of sorts, about the year Kingsolver and her family tried to only eat the food they grew themselves (or could purchase from farmers within one hundred miles). There are recipes. Gardening tips. Disturbing facts about the food industry in America. And a hilarious chapter about Barbara crawling around on her knees trying to watch her turkeys mate with each other (apparently, turkeys have been bred NOT to mate and have kinda forgotten how.)

Around the same time I read this book, my family moved from Lexington, Kentucky to Columbus, Ohio, and our new backyard had space for a large garden. I'm not gonna lie, I seriously thought about buying a few turkeys too, but decided to dial back a little on my plans.

Inspired by Barbara, the first order of business was to plant asparagus. See, it takes like, 6 or 7 years to get a good established crop, but it is so worth it to one day be able to stride out into your garden and snap those lovely stalks out of the ground.

I WANTED those asparagus stalks.

You have to plant the rootballs in March, in a trench 18 inches deep, six inches apart. I ordered 24 rootballs. That year, our first winter in Ohio, was stunningly wet and gray and cold. I wheedled my husband into helping me dig the trench. We felt like 18th century Russian peasants out in the mud with our post digger, clomping in the muck, the icy rain misting our faces. The kids were watching us from the warm dry safety of the house, laughing.

"Mom," my son said, shaking his head, and with a look on his face that showed that he clearly thought his father and I were nuts. "You realize that those asparagus won't be ready to pick until I'm away at college?"

I wish I could tell you now, seven years later, that we had a glorious harvest of asparagus.

We didn't.

Something something about soil composition.

Oh well. My son's away at college and I am still gardening. It's a hobby, I guess. Even though I never thought about it this way until I started thinking about what my hobbies are.

I'm not a gardening expert by any stretch of the imagination.

Every year I plan. I plant seeds. I weed. It's a ton of work. But there's something meditative about it. I spend a lot of my time parked inside my house staring at a glowing laptop screen, thinking. Heading out in the garden to attack a weed patch, NOT thinking, is a welcome relief.

I know I am not the first person to see a resemblance between gardening and writing. The planning. The mistakes. The work. The incredible amount of TIME!!

But I do so love the rewards when I just keep digging around in the dirt.

Spring--just planted.
Lots of lettuce and the beginnings of tomatoes, peppers,
eggplant, cucumbers, kale, and green beans
This overgrown mess is what happens when you've been out-of-town and haven't weeded in weeks
Whew! Took care of that.
And looking forward to this year's harvest

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Enjoy the Journey (Amy K. Nichols)

Earlier this year, I took up karate. After watching my kids take lessons for over a year, I decided that instead of just sitting there with the other parents, I should get off my backside and join them.

I'm so glad I did. Karate is teaching me so much.

It isn't easy. The classes can be grueling. Last week, sensei had us alternating between planks, repetitive single leg front kicks, push ups and katas. By the the class was over, my arms were like limp noodles. The one thing he always says is, he's teaching us to never give up.

Through karate I'm learning how to move with grace. How to defend myself. How to face my fears. How to fight back. How to keep going even when I'm exhausted and the sweat is dripping in my eyes.

All really useful things for life.

And for writing.

Right now I'm revising my second book (While You Were Gone, Knopf 2015). There are a lot of fears that come with writing a book. What if it's bad? What if I fail? What if my editor hates what I've done? My deadline is fast approaching. I'm doing what I can to leave it all the page. My body and brain are exhausted. It's temping to take a break, to let the deadline slide, to eat some ice cream and watch The Musketeers with hubby instead of working. But that would be like giving up. And I'm not about to quit. If I can hold 30 second planks and jump up right into rounds of front kicks, I can sit at my desk and revise.

I recently passed my first belt test. When it was over, I said to my sensei, "I can't wait to be a black belt." He smiled and said, "When you get your black belt, you realize you're just beginning. Be patient. Just enjoy the journey."

There's a lesson there, too, for life and for writing. My first book, Now That You're Herewill be out in December, and here I am working on book two and I feel like I know nothing. I've been through revisions and line edits and copy edits and proofs before, but I feel like I'm brand new to all of this. Like I'm at the beginning.

So I'm learning how to move through this writing life with grace, how to face my fears, how to fight and keep going and not give up. And yes, how to enjoy the journey.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Take a Hike (Stephanie Kuehnert)

For me, the thing about writing that can be both wonderful and horrible is how wrapped up I get in it. It's great when I'm having one of those moments where everything about the story has clicked and I'm so immersed in it that I hardly notice that I've spend ten or twelve hours in front of my computer screen. It's been awful these past few years when I let my struggle to write and especially to sell another book affect my self-worth. It was also kinda scary when I realized that the writer part of me had taken over so completely that actual human me was slipping away. I wrote about this in depth for Rookie, but basically what I mean is that the music I listened to, movies and TV I watched were all consumed for the sake of finding the story--I couldn't even go on vacation without doing story research or seeing the place through a character's eyes.

I needed to start doing things that turned off the writer part of my brain and let me exist right there in the moment. I discovered the perfect thing I moved to Seattle a year ago: hiking. The quiet and the vast beauty of nature--nothing has soothed me like this. It makes me feel insignificant in a good way (again, as I wrote about for Rookie, sorry for all the links, I've been doing some major self-exploration in that mag). Bald eagles, three-hundred year old trees, they don't give a shit who I am or what I've written, but they also don't give a shit about Stephenie Meyer, Beyonce or even President Obama either. None of that really matters here:

My husband and I have gotten into the habit of hiking every Sunday, which has been a great way for me to reset myself for the new week. I forget about whatever is stressing or nagging at me and just breathe the fresh air. Sometimes we have errands to run, so we stick close to home and go to one of Seattle's amazing parks. My favorites are Seward Park, which is just a short drive from our house. It sits on Lake Washington and on clear days, you get views of Mount Rainier like this:

My other favorite Seattle park is Discovery Park, where you can hike through the woods (and pick berries!) down to a beach along Puget Sound with a cool old lighthouse:

When we have more time, we go further out into the mountains and forests outside of the city. On Fourth of July, we went to a county park about 45 minutes away and picnicked on the top of a bluff with this breathtaking view:

I photograph all of our hikes and upload the pictures to the Tumblr I've devoted to originally to moving and now to living in Seattle, Seattle-Bound Writer Girl. It doesn't have a lot of followers or get many notes or reblogs, but I don't care. It's my one blogging/social media space that is completely selfishly for me. Though of course, I am happy to share it with anyone who enjoys cool nature pictures like this:

It looks like a lady in a hat, doesn't it? Or what does it look like to you?

Being out in the woods does get my imagination going in that way. And though I use it for recharging not necessarily inspiration, a story idea did start battering at my brain a few Sundays ago when we hiked a park in the suburbs with a hidden lake:

You can see more of my pictures from that day on my tumblr and maybe you'll understand why it's a YA novel waiting to happen.

But for now I'm just going to enjoy my time in the woods, which I've come to love so much I got a tattoo (another hobby of mine...) to express it last weekend:

Friday, July 11, 2014

Spinning Yarns

by Tracy Barrett

When I was eight or so I got the chicken pox. REALLY bad chicken pox. My grandmother took the train from Pennsylvania to New York to give my overwhelmed mother a break. For days, Magah (my dyslexic brother’s pronunciation of “Grandma”) sat next to me, quietly reading or knitting until I was well enough to sit up, when she taught me to knit. Then we would take turns, one reading while the other knitted. Magah loved murder mysteries, so we read an Agatha Christie novel. I don’t remember which one it was, only that Magah had to flip to the end to reassure herself that a suspect named Tony wasn’t the perp. She said she wouldn’t keep reading it if the murderer had the same name as her late husband and son. Ever since, knitting and reading have been linked for me.

When I started writing seriously, a lot of the process felt very familiar, and I realized that there were a lot of similarities between writing and knitting.
I wasn't the only knitter at the SCBWI-Midatlantic Novel Revision Retreat!
  • In both, there are recognized genres/garments, but the most beautiful finished products often break the conventions of those genres.
  • There’s really only one stitch (the knit stitch) but it has multiple variations and you can make anything you want out of it. Do it backwards and it’s a purl stitch. Twist some stitches around each other and you have a cable. Knit a lot into one stitch and you have a bobble. Change colors/needle size/fiber and it has a completely different look and feel. In writing, all you have are words, but the ones you choose and their sizes and colors combine to make whatever you want.
  • Sometimes you need to rip out/delete something you’ve worked on very hard and start over. If you close your eyes to this necessity, you will live to regret it.
  • The fact that you’ve always been a picker doesn’t mean you can’t learn to be a thrower, and the fact that you’ve always been a pantser doesn’t mean you can’t learn to be a plotter. (Every trade has its own lingo, right?)
  • The book/garment has to look as though everything about it was intentional and effortless. Nobody needs to see your crappy first draft, and nobody needs to look at the back side of your knitting.
  • You shouldn’t trust your spouse/parent/BFF when they say that your sweater is beautiful or your book is great.
  • They’ll also never understand how painful it is to kill off a beloved character or knit a bobble. If you’re lucky, they’ll sympathize, but they’ll never really get it.
  • I recently had to move a scene about twenty pages earlier from where I had first placed it. I thought it would be a cinch but there were so many little things that needed to be tweaked, tenses changed, references explained, that it took longer than the actual writing of the scene. Just like patching in a correction in a knitting project.
  • When you get to the end of a complicated project you swear you’ll never start another. It’s just too darn much work. But before you know it, an idea is weaving its way through your mind, and off you go again.
    Knitting at a meeting of the SCBWI Regional Advisors

Thursday, July 10, 2014

But Don't You Have To Have Natural Talent To Do That?!?! (Sydney Salter)

I can't count the number of times I've told aspiring storytellers--of all ages--that writing is NOT an innate ability. Authors don't possess any particular Word Magic that others cannot access. We're good at putting words on paper because we've practiced, often without realizing it. I started writing by keeping an angst-ridden teenage diary, dabbling with poetic language, and filling notebook after notebook with 10-minute speed writing sessions after reading Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down The Bones. I loved writing and eventually I created publication-worthy stories and novels.

But drawing? That super cool hobby takes innate talent. Too bad I wasn't born with that!

I've spent more than four decades of my life believing that I couldn't draw, even though I love art. I can spend hours in museums, reading biographies about artists, pouring over art books, and admiring pieces at local art festivals. But I never dared to participate in art-making. Never even signed up for a class.

Wasn't born with IT. Dang!

Over the past few years, I've watched my daughters draw and paint. The process looks a lot like my writing journey. Rough immature stuff gets better over time with practice. Lots and lots of practice. Neither child popped out of the womb with colored pencils clenched in her fists--phew!--but a love of coloring books turned into blob portraits of our family and pets. I signed them up for lessons with an artist who lives in my neighborhood, and they learned some short cuts, but mostly they practiced. Doodles appeared everywhere around my house--a few times on the walls. They're doing something they love and they're getting pretty good at it.

So, this summer, I've taken the plunge. I'm diving into a new hobby: drawing. The other night I sat at the kitchen table and doodled along with my daughter.

Sophie has always loved adding wacky aspects to her drawings. I still treasure the angry buffalo comics she drew on a long car trip years ago. Hilarious!

I'm working through I Love To Draw by Jennifer Lipsey. I might even dare to add a couple of puffer fish to the next real letter I send…

Drawing has turned out to be a relaxing hobby. I might even get good at it someday, if I keep practicing.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Force Me to Tell You My Secret Hobby

This month we are posting about our hobbies and how they inform our writing. I have a few hobbies--pretty standard stuff. I've danced since I was three years old. And I've been a runner for the last several years. And like most of you, reading has always been one of my favorite past times.

All of these things inform my writing on a regular basis. Art stimulates art and I find that true for my dancing. Running is meditative. It allows my mind to wander to all the places it should as a writer. And reading is everything if you want to be a word smith--a story teller.

But I also have a secret hobby. It's not knitting, crocheting, cross-stitching, scrap booking, jewelry making or rug hooking. I've tried all of those LOL! I don't have patience for the learning curve needed for the process to become automatic. My secret hobby is also not cooking, gardening or being on the PTA. I have fair weather relationships with these type of activities. *sigh* I also have about three minutes every day when I think about being a dog owner. Then I remember all the fun the litter boxes bring me. Not sure about that one. I do know I'd love to do yoga, martial arts, play a musical instrument or take an art class. For starters. But that's no secret. Just the tip of my length bucket list. My future hobbies.

So, what is my secret hobby?

I'm training to be a Jedi Knight.

I have been since I was a kid and I watched the very first Stars Wars movie. No, I'm not one of those Comic Con enthusiasts. There's nothing wrong with that, but that's not me. I don't even like to dress up at Halloween. Heck--I don't watch the movies very often. Years can go by. And FYI by movies--I mean the original three. Seriously.

And I know it sounds strange--but I really am being serious when I say this is my secret hobby. It's a passion of mine. Being a Jedi Knight in training is all about believing in the FORCE. It's tapping into something bigger. It's about karma and coincidence. It's the thing that happens when the story falls from the sky and onto your lap top or notebook.  It's an exchange of energy. It's about connecting with more--being distracted less. It's about an unknown that is entirely too familiar if you don't look at it straight on. And love that I must.

What is your secret hobby?

Monday, July 7, 2014

Keeping My Practice on My Mat (Joy Preble)

I’ve never had a lot of hobbies – or like Jen Doktorski mentions in her post from a couple days ago, I’m not even sure that some of the things I’ve done even fit the definition of a hobby. I have played the piano on and off since I was six. I collected things for awhile—even a rock collection when I was about seven, spurred on by a book on geology. In my office closet I have my collection of novelizations of the original seasons of Star Trek, mostly written by James Blish, which I picked up here and there starting in junior high and which spurred me into writing Trek fan fic on yellow legal pads with my like-minded friends. As I am fond of telling people, this was before the Internet, and thus a very low-tech version where we exchanged stories with each other and everyone responded enthusiastically to my various love interests for Mr. Spock. Yes, this tells you almost everything you need to know about me. The rest can be surmised from the following: In high school I dated the 1st chair bassoon player from the marching band. I was at that time the 1st chair viola player in the concert orchestra. Yeah. Mull that over for a bit. When you're done, you can ponder my collection of Buffy novelizations and paraphernalia. (Witch Pez like the one Oz gave Willow, anyone? Buffy/Angel lunch box?)

Did all of the above influence and inform my writing? Absolutely. Although not always directly and more in the sense that whatever I have done for the most part I have embraced my passions fully—at least for a few moments. (The rock collection was a mistake. It bored me to tears and it was dirty and heavy to lug around and possibly a brief substitute for my pet parakeet that had recently died of pneumonia because my mother had hung the cage extra high so the cat wouldn’t go after Pippy – who developed said ailment in the blustery drafts near the ceiling of our historic register apartment in Chicago one frigid winter and dropped dead. (Literally. He fell off his perch with a clunk while we were eating dinner. I buried him in a shoe box in the back yard.)

Pippy wasn’t a hobby, though. He was a dog analogue since my father said dogs weren’t for city-dwellers. Or something to that effect. I just know I responded by bringing home stray cats and buying birds at the pet store with my allowance and winning gold fish at carnivals and also buying a bunch of turtles at some point. We have a dog now, by way. She is a 60 pound basset/boxer mix. Yesterday she pulled on her leash vigorously while in the ecstatic throes of a post-poop victory lap, and I tripped over a clump of mini-monkey grass, fell out of my Birkenstocks and face- planted. The ensuing shiner is a thing of beauty.

But back to hobbies. (here, gentle reader, you are suspecting that I have none.) For the past year or so, I have been faithfully practicing yoga. I am mostly horrible at it, but I keep going. I try to keep my practice on my mat, as my teacher Tiffany likes to tell us. Occasionally she can’t help herself and wanders limberly over to adjust my various positions. I am decent at balancing on one leg. My flexibility is increasing but not so you might notice. My downward dog is decent. My child’s pose is better. I  have mastered the yogi pushup… at least more or less. I see a difference in my body… at least more or less. I even left the ground for two breaths in crow. I will never, ever stand on my head.

Mostly what yoga has done for me has helped me quiet my mind. For an entire hour once or twice a week, I have learned to be focused and still and quiet. You know what was the hardest pose to learn? The final pose, called savasana – or corpse pose—a pose of complete relaxation. We lay still and flat and empty our minds for five solid minutes. Do you know how LONG that feels? Longer than five minutes.

But the silence and the focus and the ability to lie still and breathe and just ‘be’--- these are things that have had an effect on my writing. Writing novels is such a strange and cerebral activity. You are in your head all day long. It is a relief and a lesson to be in my body instead. And to understand that all of this—the writing, the publishing, the moments where I can’t help but compare my career to someone else’s and come up wanting and wanting—really is about the journey. It really is about being kind to myself. About praising myself for coming to the laptop with good intentions and a full heart each day just as I praise myself for coming to the mat. (Who am I kidding? Some days I limp to the laptop and the mat. I curse their existence. I clock watch like a fiend.)

Namaste, gentle reader!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

I need a hobby! -- Jen Doktorski

This month we’re blogging about hobbies. When I sat down to think about my post, I realized that sadly, I don’t have one. Unless you count obsessively checking my phone and email to see if my agent has reached out to me. When I’m not busy writing, or being a mommy and a wife, I’m either reading, running, or listening to music. But are those hobbies? In my case, I don’t think so. Especially since I run, read, and listen to music in order to come up with plot and character ideas. Running does serve the added purpose of keeping my butt from expanding while it’s planted in the chair writing. But still, it all feels connected somehow.
The more I thought about it, the more I was like, “Hey, I want a hobby. No, I need a hobby.” I want to walk into the craft store with purpose. I want to carve out time or a space in my home for all my hobby stuff. But what space? What stuff? What should my hobby be? I figured I’d start with a list because I always start with a list.

Sewing. In seventh grade I took sewing as an elective and spent the semester making a corduroy pillow shaped like a “J” and a purple, velour jogging suit. (Yes, it was the 80s.) Ever since then I’ve thought many times about buying a sewing machine and trying my hand at it. Maybe I could turn worn out jeans into cool handbags or make a quilt from old concert tees. Who cares if my buttons don’t stay on without crazy glue, and I use duct tape to “hem” pants? Not me. I still have time to learn, right?

Photography. I love taking pictures and every once in a while I get lucky and capture a really great moment or image, which I’ll enlarge and frame and hang in our living room. But my picture taking is still a long way from being a hobby and my phone has made me lazy about remembering to bring my camera, and my eyesight isn’t what it used to be, and not everybody thinks my dog and my shoes are as cute as I do.

Dollhouse construction. Last year, after Santa delivered an unassembled dollhouse kit to my daughter, and I discovered that the cost to have said dollhouse assembled was double what Santa paid for it, my daughter and I spent nearly twelve months building the Cranbury Cove model. It was a great mother/daughter project. It was a loooong mother/daughter project. And though completing it felt like a great accomplishment, neither of us felt compelled to repeat it. But we do like buying those cute dollhouse miniatures.
Art. I enjoy drawing and painting and have at least a smidge of talent in this area. Owning an easel, and sketchpads, and all kinds of cool pencils, paints, and charcoal would be awesome. I could take an art class, maybe develop my skills enough to illustrate my own picture book someday. Because the publishing process isn’t difficult enough.

Collecting. Someday if I have lots of disposal income—because, ya know, I’ve finally managed to write that bestselling series with a concept so huge it would be like rolling dystopia, zombies, vampires, and terminal illness into one gigantic ball of awesomeness—I’d love to collect things. Art, rare books, antiques, old maps, tiny tea cups, rescue dogs, Mustang convertibles, waterfront property. Anything. Everything. Because when Joss Whedon buys the rights to my books I’ll be able to do that. For now, refrigerator magnets will have to satisfy my yen for collecting.
Miscellaneous. These are not serious contenders, but so long as I’m listing, I may as well include them. I’d love to be able to surf, play guitar, golf, speak a foreign language, remodel and flip houses, and water ski.

List making. I think we have a winner.


Saturday, July 5, 2014

Pow! Right in the kisser! How martial arts have helped me a better writer

I have been doing martial arts for close to five years now.  First it was kajukenbo and then for the last two and a half years, kung fu.

 I love martial arts, an idea that would probably really surprise anyone I went to high school with, where PE was the only class where I ever got a C. My gateway drug was a kickboxing class, where I found out I love hitting things as hard as I can. The teacher was also a kajukenbo instructor, and I ended up taking kajukenbo for about 18 months. I had an orange belt and was training for purple. My sifu even helped me figure out what moves my character could do in various situations in The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die.

When he stopped teaching, I started taking kung fu at the Westside Academy of Martial Arts (which also offers cross training, so our sifu often throws some in at the end of a session). I love sparring, learning techniques like the spinning back fist, and going up against guys who are a half-foot taller than me. I'm even getting better at grappling. I hold an orange belt and hope to test for purple soon.

What I've learned
Martial arts have helped me be a better writer (after all, mysteries and thrillers often contain an element of violence), as well as a stronger and more prepared person.

We often deal with threats, even physical ones, with social behaviors. We ignore the people who make them or try to appease them. We deprecate ourselves. We try to ally ourselves with the person who made the threat by telling them that we are really on their side.

But you know what? These skills won’t work on most predators. They won’t work on the person who sees your purse or phone as something they must have – and sees you as about as valuable as the packaging they originally came in. They especially won’t work on a predator who only wants to take you to someplace private so they can hurt, rape or kill you.

Sparring and grappling have taught me what it feels like to get hurt or simply experience the surprise of having someone attack you. Getting hit in the face or even having your hair pulled is shocking. In our culture, even close friends don’t touch our faces. Once you’re no longer a little child, no one even pats you on the head. Knowing a little something about surprise, pain and fighting back helps me write about them.

I can write authoritatively about fear, about how things blur, about the way people move and hold their bodies and eyes and mouths. I can tell when someone is about to hit me and where. The eyes focus, the breath catches and the shoulder drops or the hand goes back.

I also know how to hurt people – and that means my characters might be able to do it too.

A future book idea?
In a weird twist, a man who was looking for girls and woman to abduct was killed by police right outside my kung fu school a few months ago (you can even see my car in the top picture). He had already kidnapped a teenager from Paradise Tan.  She was only able to escape by jumping from his moving van while still bound with duct tape.  I am thinking there might be a book in there someplace.  Like what if he had taken a girl from the school?  

Monday, June 30, 2014

Dear Published Self--by Ellen Jensen Abbott

Dear Published Self:

The assignment this month is for you to write to me, your younger, Unpublished Self, but right now, as you wrestle with your first book after completing the Watersmeet trilogy, you need to hear from me. Sure you know more about marketing, publishing, editors, agents, Amazon and Barnes and Noble than I do, but at the moment, I’m far more in touch with why we began this journey. 

When I write, I relish the joy of creation—coming up with new worlds, new characters, new plot twists. Sometimes, I ask, “Do I dare?” when a particularly outrageous idea occurs to me, but I have no voices telling me to stop, so I throw caution to the wind and dare.

When I write, it’s not because I’ve done market research or because my editor told me what kinds of things she was looking for. I write because there is a character in my head whose story demands to be told—in her way, not the way that seems hot right now. I don’t analyze the habits of book festival patrons. I just think about my character and what she needs to say to the world. 

When I write, I have a lot of fun. Yes—fun. I have no voices in my head that say, “Oh that won’t sell,” or “That’s more MG than YA.” I have never even heard of Kirkus Reviews.  I just have the characters and the words and the time—something that you have, too, dearest Published Self. No one is waiting for my book so I am reveling in the writing process, writing pages and pages that will never be part of the finished book, but are teaching me about my characters, my world, and my craft. I don’t feel like this is time wasted. All the struggles—because, of course, there are struggles—are worth it because I get to see this person I have in my head come to three-dimensional life on the page.

Even better than the fun of writing is the fun I have when I revise: cutting away all the extra stuff and exposing the lines of the story, the arc of the characters; adding a bit here, a bit there to make sure that I’m communicating with my reader; taking the roughhewn version I have at first and making it a solid piece of craft. So don’t worry so much on the first pass. There is time—and joy!—to be had in the second, third, and fourth passes. 

Published Self, right now, you need to listen to the voice of inexperience.  Although you’re writing your fourth book, you’re in a slump because the previous three were all set in the same world, following the same characters. You’re worried that you had one story to tell and now you’ve told it. Echoing through your head when you put your fingers to the keyboard are all those voices—editor, agent, reviewer, reader. Many of them are encouraging and supportive, but what you need to hear right now is your voice. You need to remember the fun, the joy, the excitement of writing. Otherwise, what’s the point?

With love,
Your Unpublished self