Archive for February, 2013

Character Development…My Non-Writing Life in Prose: Groundhog’s Day Every Day

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

I know the fanfare is over. February 2nd has come and gone like the fleeting fame of Punxsutawney Phil. But as February slips into March, my groundhog days are just beginning.

I have a garden-raiding trio of fat and furry rodents. Groundhog’s Day is every day from spring until the first hard frosts petrify the landscape.

There is Theodore. He arrived first. He is wider than he is long these days, no doubt due to all the sweet potatoes, beets, and Egyptian walking onions he has poached from my left bank garden.

Eleanor arrived second. She keeps a separate burrow on the opposite side of the stream and wreaks havoc on the celery and melons growing in my right bank garden.

Little Roosevelt arrived a year later. (No doubt his parents have been doing more than eating midst the cool and shaded canopy of my tomato plants.) Roosevelt moved into his own burrow at end of season last year. He is particularly fond peaches.

I call them the Presidential Family. The three of them have both gardens in a triangulation grid and are so fearless as to mosey on up to snag breakfast while I’m weeding at daybreak.

Last summer, my brother offered to shoot them for me. (Gasp!) He’d heard me wail about their midnight runs and blatant daylight strikes for weeks on end.

And there it was…right there…the final solution. My decision was as swift and final as a pistol click.

“No,” I said. “I think I’m old enough to share. I’ll just plant extra next year.”

After all, what’s a little garden rivalry among friends?

Character Development: Reading Between the Lines

Friday, February 22nd, 2013

I write for a living. Wine textbooks by day, novels at night. Sometimes it feels as if my fingers never leave the keyboard.

Whereas many writers agonize over writer’s block, I find myself rarely out of synch with a deadline. Most of this is discipline.

I wrote a weekly wine column for a network of local papers for eight years until a changing economy put newsprint in Chapter 11. That long-running writing commitment took focus and pre-plan and an endless search for fresh material.

What I found most interesting is that, over the years, my hunt for the new and novel rarely involved a left-brained focus. I built my columns out of inspiration gleaned from snippets of casual conversation overheard in a grocery store, from song lyrics on the radio, from books I read or social events with friends and family.

It was regular day-to-day living that provided the insight, the themes, the “angle” from which I could craft my text.

For my article entitled “Pinot Noir in the Fifth Dimension”, my inspiration was radio. “Whining and Dining”? Overheard conversation. “I Think I’ll Have Another”? Kentucky Derby.

The research followed.

My point is that if writing is all that we do, we can’t possibly do it well. Writers need to be connected with life in all of its myriad facets to write about it.

So on Mondays, I’m going to blog about my non-writing life… the cooking classes, cheese making, gardening, travel… all the things that cement the pieces of my writing life together. In truth, it all ends up tucked between the lines of my prose in the end.

With this in mind, I’ve decided to call the installments “Character Development” because that’s what it is…and on many levels!

Life in the Last Lane

Friday, February 15th, 2013

I know that we all live in a fast-paced world of social media and smart phones. Most social interaction is handled electronically these days.

What I find interesting is that my Goodreads giveaway book winners have thanked me for the handwritten note inside their signed book…which tells me that, in some way, people want to capture more than text messages. People still want to connect with real people in a real way… without electronics.

On my end, I’ve found life in the last lane to be a pretty cool ride.

I wake up at 5:30 a.m. and write on my sequel until day breaks. At that point, I let my two Chinese geese out of their pen and walk them to the stream. Chinese geese are the most vocal of all geese varieties. They are extraordinarily social animals. My entire neighborhood awakens to their “song”.

Next steps…the rabbits…which are ready for release. There are two. Dingir and Q-Tip. Personality-wise, they are night and day. Dingir is intuitive, sensitive, extremely out-going, expressive and intelligent. She comes when called and is more than happy to “go to hutch” when commanded. Q-tip, her sister, thumps out plenty of attitude. In human form, this bunny would manifest all manner of piercings, tattoos, and safety-pin facial art. Rebel and then some! If I say “hutch” she scatters like the wind and makes me chase and catch her.

Then come the parakeets. Two. Food and water. Lots of tschy-tschy-tschy happy-to-greet-the-dawn songs played between saliva and teeth.

Then comes my most beloved feral cat. Not that he’s last. Truth be told, he came first. I adopted this beaten, brutalized animal so long ago that he feels entitled to all manner of privileges and I am only happy to accommodate.

It took me six months to earn his trust. Six months before I could touch him. It took three YEARS and a blizzard with 6 feet of snow to get him to come inside my home for the first time. Now, we’re best buds…but if I run or walk too fast near him he hunkers down in fear. Still. He will never outgrow his terror of “feet”.

All of them slow me down. And slow is good.

More than anything, these wonderful little critters make me realize the importance of real-life connections. They ground me and make me a better, more caring person for the people in my life. They don’t live in my i-phone. They live in my arms… as do my family and friends.

Technology is great for very many things, but can it replace that human touch?

Ship Shape and Out to Sea!

Thursday, February 7th, 2013

“Touching the Moon” was a very different book when it was submitted to my publisher for review.

It was 45,000 words longer. It was titled “Wounded”. Julie moved to a town called Angus. And Gray explained all about werewolfery and its Scandinavian connection. There was even mention of Yeti.

My publisher asked me to cut the novel from 124,000 words to 89,000; the story is stronger for it. Angus became Fallston which, I admit, has a better ring to it. Scandinavia and Yeti met the delete button; hours of research drifted back into cyberspace. That hurt, but it wasn’t a mortal wound.

Unfortunately, just when I thought the rug was snugly back beneath my feet…I was asked to move the story to Colorado. And so began several weeks of concerted effort trying to convince my publisher that the states are not fungible goods!

To do that, I enlisted the help of the South Dakota Department of Tourism. They empowered me by providing tons of information about their wonderful state, so much so, that I lobbied successfully to keep my story in South Dakota.

As the manuscript was edited and formatted, I came to a shocking realization. The actual story writing was the easiest part of the whole process. Edits were gut-wrenching, but I did as I was told with a “sir, yes sir”.  And they took time, serious time.

Renaming the book was an agonizing decision that left me pie-eyed and sleepless and very conflicted.  Cover design was intense. Trying to capture the spirit of the book in font, color, and imagery was emotionally and intellectually exhausting… and all I had to do was point the graphic designer in a direction!

Then came the enormous weight of promotion! There was website design & functionality, social media and networking, solicitation of book reviews, bookstore outreach…and all the research that goes into each step.

When I set sail on this journey, I had finished a manuscript! I could see the horizon! But when I got there, I discovered that the “horizon” was not an endpoint, but rather a jumping off point. The horizon was a ledge!

Have you ever found your vessel to be ship-shape in harbor then have to question that assessment in seriously high seas?

The Road Less Travelled

Monday, February 4th, 2013

I was on a Route 66 road trip with my daughter tooling through New Mexico back in 2011. It was a wild combination of spa vacation, hiking trip and Pueblo Indian ruin exploration that involved lots of tequila and plenty of beans. For me, it was my freeze-frame birthday. I wasn’t going to count another year no matter how many more birthdays I celebrated.

We picked up “The Pot Thief Who Studied Escoffier” by J. Michael Orenduff at an indie bookstore in Albuquerque and headed out into the desert during the week of the Blue Corn Moon. The story was an outrageously funny murder mystery set in NM that revolved around the escapades of a Gruet-guzzling potter cum shopkeeper who happened to steal priceless Indian pots at night, fabricate perfect replicas by day, and sell them both for a fortune.

Gruet is a sparkling wine made in New Mexico. (We had several bottles packed in the cooler on ice to enjoy with sunsets.) In the book, the author called it “champagne”. As Education Director for the French Wine Society…I couldn’t help myself. I sent him a friendly email about how “champagne” is a product that hails from Champagne, France. And we became friends.

I was invited to proof his next novel. I asked him if he would read my unpublished manuscript. He ended up recommending me to his publisher… who subsequently offered me a book contract.

It sure wasn’t the traditional way to get a book into print, but that’s the best part about the road less travelled… sometimes it takes you exactly where you need to go.

Have you ever been side-tracked in the right direction?