Monday, February 23, 2015

March Madness is Coming!!!

And I don't mean the basketball thing. I mean MARCH is a month for PICKING A PROJECT in your writing and GETTING IT DONE!!! Unlike WriMos, this can be editing or finishing something that was started earlier, or whatever else it is that has been hanging over your head.

The discussion and cheering for this usually happens at BuNoWriMo on Facebook. I know not everyone is on Facebook, but I am no webmaster, so unless someone wants to volunteer to form a discussion forum, there it is...

Now to pick a project...

My first two months of 2015 have been pretty much a wash, all lost in insecurity and as close as I think I've ever been to depression (which I know is not actually all that close to real depression, so no pity needed... just a deep funk), so there are plenty to choose from.

Kahlotus Disposal Site: I've been tinkering and have started here, but my ideas for a really major rewrite are finally coming together. I've been reading some ghosty YA and thinking about real life hot-button issues. Plus my MC. Helen is still my challenge. Balancing what drives her forward with what holds her back. This may be the one.

Next Ale Tale: I have been wondering if figuring out how to fix What Ales Me might be hidden in writing another—figuring out the voice I want with something fresh...

Undoing: I have a trilogy that is 2/9 done... maybe I want to work on THIS... I feel like this may be my best bet for getting back to loving writing because it is its own thing, not trying to fit something else...

A Shot in the Light: The Screenplay: I've thought this would make a great TV series... no clue how I would go about this, but maybe learning a new skill is exactly what I need right now...

I am leaning toward with Kahlotus (because it is SO CLOSE to done) or Undoing (because it seems to be the SORT of story I have not had my confidence shaken on... Mystery and YA are hating on me at the mo....

So anybody else have a project for March?

Monday, February 16, 2015

Freedom of Speech and Food For Thought

So with the release of the movie 50 Shades of Grey this weekend I've seen a few odd discussions... I've seen some HYSTERICAL critiques. This one from an Australian TV personality was brilliant.

And nobody disses the right to review something, but...

There have also been some content discussions, and THERE people get touchier. If you veer away from the “poorly acted” or “not sexy” critiques and get into the actual way BDSM is displayed, or a debate as to whether this is “romance” (or erotica)... well people can get touchy.

...Missing the point, in my opinion...
Among the discussions I've seen a lot of “Free Speech Card” calling... “Who are you to criticize? People can watch what they want and create what they want!”

And they are right. I place Free Speech very high on the list of things I value. The free flow of information is critical to a non-totalitarian society.

And everybody has the right to produce whatever they like (provided nobody gets hurt) and consumers have a right to watch, read or enjoy whatever they like.

But you know what? People are ALSO entitled to have discussions about the things put out there into the common space. Once something is put out there, it is not protected from criticism. Saying "BDSM doesn't work this way" is NOT saying "I want to censor this". It is saying “I'd like to clarify that the author didn't know what she was talking about” (which according to people far more into BDSM than I am, is the case).

In particular there was a discussion about distinguishing BDSM and abuse... Here is a post showing where 50 Shades is on the wrong side of this.

But my REAL point is just to point out that criticizing something doesn't mean an attempt to ban it. It means that a discussion and dialog is merited and whoever has posted the criticism is just trying to get the discussion going. So I hope all you fabulous people can go forward on ANY topic and consider it in that light. We will all be better off if we can talk about stuff and learn from each other.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Whatever Happened to Delusional Thursday?

You know... I used to be a good time. I was funny, zany, wacky even... Somehow the last couple years have sapped me. Two full time jobs (pretty much—with the writing, I mean), kids challenges, money trouble, family deaths, my husband almost dying... Really heavy CRAP. So I've come to the conclusion it has made for a dull Tart...

The big stuff is dealt with, so I think I need to recommit to some silly shenanigans.

It would fit well here...
Tart-Worthy Book of Digressions

One of the things I've toyed with is writing a non-fiction book. I'm not an expert on much, but I think I could manage a guide for people to add a little silliness back in their lives—one of those silly bathroom books people keep by their toilet so they can read a bit when they only have 90 seconds... Just random ideas on things they should do or think about. I'm not sure if I will ever publish it, but it is time to start working on it, as it would get me back focused on stuff that makes me laugh.

Speaking of laughing...

My buddy Gae posted an article on Facebook yesterday that I didn't read because I was at work and didn't want to get busted, but the part that she noted—it was for reducing worry in kids—was our body doesn't actually know the difference between real laughing and fake laughing, so I hereby command you (and me) to laugh for a while every day, whether you feel like it or not. You'll feel better for it and it will help me feel like I'm in charge of you, which is good for morale.

Nobody can watch this without laughing. Armadillo at play
Or this: Teddy and his pumpkins
Or this: Cute Little Duck, Quack quack quack

Mercury is out of Retrograde

This officially means stuff is going to get better. So there. All the crap of January? Poof. All gone. Bye-bye. But if you'd like to give me credit for your year taking a turn for the better, I am okay with that. It should last until May, though the May one will be a doozy because Mercury will be in Gemini and Mercury RULES Gemini, and then it will go all backward and wonky... so don't count on anything going right at the end of May or the first half of June.

So go out and get a little silly today, and I will try to insert a little back into the blog, ne?

Monday, February 9, 2015

Bret R Wright and Nasty: An author interview and book review

So today I'd like to welcome a friend of mine who has just released his debut mystery/ Bret is part of the network of friends I connected to through ABNA originally.

Tart: There are some things about Nasty that are definitely hard-boiled—things that remind me of Raymond Chandler—Nate has confronted some violence, carries some demons, and abuses himself just like those, but he is a considerably more enlightened man (not to mention more three-dimensional than any Chandler characters). Did you use any specific authors or books as guides at all?

Bret: Chandler was in the back of my mind a little when I created Nate’s character, as was Dashiell Hammett. I wanted to capture that noir feel, without going full-on Thin Man. The voices of those early masters carried their books. Combined with really tight writing styles, those guys just popped off the page.

Tart: And how conscious were departures from classic hard-boiled protags?

Bret: The departures from the classic hard-boiled detectives were purposeful. We live in a different world now, with problems that Hammett’s and Chandler’s world didn’t acknowledge or know much about. One of the limiting factors in hard-boiled, from my perspective, is two dimensionality. The protagonists don’t show us much of themselves, and they arguably don’t change a whole lot. When I set out to write Nasty, I was very aware of some of the limitations and expectations of the genre, but I wanted people to be willing to step outside those expectations to experience someone new. I also wanted to appeal to those who maybe weren’t as familiar with the genre with an offering that was fast-paced, covered the basics of hard-boiled, and then stepped beyond those into someone with a conscience. I made the decision to give Nate full agency in most areas of his life. He makes a big deal of Fate and the like, but he’s got a bit of a Zen thing going in the way he approaches his life. Like all real people, he has baggage that drives his responses to the world around him, and his story arc is one of small, hard-won personal growth. I wanted a character who was hard-boiled plus, in other words. He had to have the voice, the attitude, and the no bullshit aggressiveness of a classic noir detective, but he also had to be a man of this century, living in this version of urban America.

Tart: “Llama doing sign language to the clown head who doesn't understand.” HA! Have you HAD this dream, or are you more broadly a fan of llamas? Do clowns haunt your nightmares?

Bret: I’m so excited! You’re the first person to ask about this. The problem is, I don’t want to give the thing away too much. I don’t have any fear of clowns. I’ve known a lot of them in my time . . . and llamas, while cute and fuzzy, aren’t really a thing for me, either. (Although who can resist a baby llama, I mean, really?!) The llamas and clowns are surreal connections Nate has to his childhood and the ways he’s processing some of his personal baggage through his subconscious. The imagery changes as his story arc progresses. They are also weird and not-so-apparent nods to two of my favorite writers, Hunter S. Thompson and Tom Robbins.

Tart: “Take a bad guy to hell with you.” You know... I've always thought of people as falling into two categories: 1) those who want vengeance/justice so badly that they sort of stop seeing people as people vs. 2) those who couldn't kill with very few exceptions (true self defense or saving their children, for instance) but this phrase implies a situational decision. I know you—not in real life, but pretty well through the old social network—and I know you are nearly the bleeding heart I am... but I also know you are former military and I am curious how you see this? Are these traits or states? (willingness to kill)

Bret: In some ways, it’s a trait, but only by way of his ability to compartmentalize his situation. Warriors of any sort tend to separate “real life” from the life they have to lead inside the bubble of conflict. Emotion really has no business in this bubble. In fact, it’s a hindrance. This line is meant to show the business end of a man who stands at the threshold between these two worlds. In “real life,” he’s this Zen-ish seeker trying to make a living and figure out what the universe is all about. He’s not quite Big Lebowski laid back, but he’s on his way. It’s not that Nate is cold-hearted or soft-hearted, he has simply divided his life; he separates the two, a practice that he developed as a SEAL. To him, it’s perfectly logical to operate this way. He has a line across which a smart person won’t cross. Compartmentalization is what allows soldiers, doctors, and emergency responders the ability to switch from their “real” lives to being “on” in a heartbeat. It’s also what helps a psychotic killer rationalize the horrible things he or she does to people. There is a dissonance that takes place within Nate on this, however, and so he’s kind of on a search for his answers in the grey area in between.

Tart: Having known you for a few years now, I see some similarities between you and Nate Jepson, but I also see some notable differences—most notably your ability to have good healthy relationships as husband and father (something I can see Nate doing so well at). Do you feel like you had intentional samenesses or differences from Nate or was the process less intentional than that? Could you talk a little about character development?

Bret: I don’t think I’d ever write a character that was me in disguise. Although I draw on some experiences and knowledge from my military career, and I do use him as a part of a larger social narrative, he is most definitely not me. On the other hand, as writers we always hear that we should “write what you know,” right? So, true story, I wrote Nate to prove to my wife that I couldn’t write a detective story. She wanted me to write something that wasn’t sci-fi, which wasn’t her thing. Ha! Guess what? Can you say Niven and Asimov? I’d read my fair share of old pulp fiction, both hard-boiled and sci-fi, by gum! A robot detective novel, is a detective novel . . . but with robots, haha! So, I wrote Nate. I started with what I knew about the genre, the standard conventions. Then I decided to break a few of the rules of hard-boiled by giving him an internal dialog that showed him to be a little vulnerable, and quite human. He’s also not the suave, charming guy that a lot of the genre demands. He thinks he is, but he really isn’t. There are other differences, as well. He needed to have lots of room to grow as a character. What I wound up with was a character who would drive me up a wall if he was a real person, but who would also be one of the best kinds of friends to have. He’s the kind of friend who would help you bury a body. He’s the psycho side kick who happens to be a loner . . . and he has issues.

Developing a character like that is a lot of fun, especially when it’s done with tongue firmly in cheek. I’d say the key to writing a good, strong character is making the character act like a person, not a character. I “interview” Nate on a regular basis, working on world-views, dialog, opinions, and his core beliefs. Not a lot of that makes it into the stories, but I feel it adds a depth to him that is hard to reproduce if you’re writing your character off the cuff.

Tart: “Herd of goats munching on your mother's dainties.” Okay, that's about the best synonym I've ever heard for “It all goes to hell” [told you guys Nasty was enlightened]. So have you HEARD this before 9and where)? Or are you just making up phrases? Because if so, I'd like to put you in charge of the next generation of American slang.

Bret: . . . in charge of American slang . . . yes, please! Nate has his own way of expressing himself, and if a situation requires goats and dainties, then so be it. There’s always room for goats.

Tart: I loved the humor you infused, and admire how you managed to ALSO maintain the tension. Is humor part of your natural voice? Or do you feel like you need to work it in? Or do you think this is character-specific? I have just observed that it is one of the harder aspects of writing to fake.

Bret: I’ve always been pretty good with the zingers, it tends to make it into my writing. I’ve never been “Mr. Jokebook,” though. I tend to be more of a situational predator in that respect. If you ask me to tell a joke, I draw a complete blank, but when there’s conversation and opportunity, I wade in with the one-liners. It’s part of my voice, and when I realized this, life as a writer got much easier. It was really hard to maintain that tension, and I had to go in several times and hack things out that were hilarious, but didn’t really serve the story. The original was a lot more tongue-in-cheek, but I like the way it turned out. I hope I struck the right balance.

And now for some broader questions:

Tart: Where do you start? Character, plot, setting?

Bret: I very rarely start with setting. The setting, to me, is simply the stage that the actors use to play out their drama. It’s mine to manipulate. Which is weird, because I’m told that the setting in Nasty (which takes place in the Pacific Northwest) is almost as much a character as some of the actual characters in the book. I like that a lot, as I put a lot of work in folding reality into fiction in the setting, but it’s not where I started. Honestly? I usually start with a really great line of dialog that I think of, and then flesh out a character who would say it. That’s not always the case, but usually that’s the way it goes. I’ll be walking the dog, or drifting off to sleep, or even in the middle of teaching, and a line of dialog will hit me, or an affectation, or a spin on a cliché, and I’ll have to write it down. I’m a little A.D.D. in that respect. Sometimes the plot is what drives me, though. In those cases, I’ll sit down and draw out a rough a rough story arc, and start filling it in with details. I have several notebooks full of those things. If I ever write them all, I’ll have quite the body of work.

Tart: How long have you been at this and which book is this for you? (first published, yes? But how many are warming your file drawers?)

Bret: Oh, geez . . . I’ve been writing since I was in kindergarten I think. I remember my first mystery, actually. I lived half a block away from my school, and when I got home around noon, the house was empty. I knew Dad would be back, but, being an only child, I set out to entertain myself. I laid out some “clues,” like a ransom note, and made a recording of a scuffle on a toy tape recorder that had about a minute of tape on it that was looped, and some spilled ashes on the floor near the wood stove. After setting the scene, I went next door to the neighbor’s and told the teenagers there that my Dad had been kidnapped! They ran over to the house and I presented them with the crime scene. It was great fun, and I’m glad the kids next door humored me.

As far as writing for publication, I’ve been at it for a couple of decades. My first poem was published locally when I was 12, and I’ve had short stories picked up, a Chicken Soup for the Caregiver’s Soul non-fiction piece, several large stacks of magazine and newspaper freelance stuff . . . without trying to sound cliché, I really have been writing my whole life. As for novel length works, I’ve got a couple cooling it in the closet, and one on a hard-drive somewhere. Nasty is the first one to go to press.

Tart: And finally, What next? Are you working on something?

Bret: Nasty is a three book contract, so I’m working on numbers two and three now. They’re on an 18 month turn around, which is a faster pace than I initially thought, but I’m keeping up so far. I’m also working on a YA that my kids at work are very excited about (I teach middle school, and I’ve got a lot of beta readers on that one, haha!) So I’ve been work-shopping that when I can, while I write the sequels. I’m hoping Nasty has a run that lasts more than the three, and I’m setting it up as such, but we’ll see.

Tart's Nasty Review [Buy Link:  Kindle only 99 cents at the moment]

First the blurb: Adultery pays. Murder doesn't. That is P.I. Nate 'Nasty' Jepson's motto, and he normally makes his living snapping pictures of cheating spouses. When a stranger is brutally shot in the passenger seat of his car, he finds himself in the middle of a gang war between battling triads, as well as a suspect in the murder. Nate must step far outside his comfort zone to clear himself and live to catch another cheater.

Nate Jessup is a PI in the Pacific Northwest and as the story begins, Nate is in the wrong place at the wrong time. He is held up by a desperate man who really just wants help getting away from the beach where they encounter each other, or more specifically, the MEN on the beach who are trying to kill him. Nate ends up with his car exploded and some people after him who think he has something that he doesn't.

The tone of this has a lot in common with the hard boiled detective stories of old, but I felt like it had a lot more heart. Nate isn't a caricature—he has some demons, sure, but he is also balanced—a good person who has just been through some stuff. I also loved the Pacific Northwest setting, though that may be because I have roots there myself.

Overall I loved the tension, story and the nice sprinkling of humor to keep this balanced. And excellent debut.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

A Crisis of Identity

Halo, fine people! Welcome to First Wednesday and the Insecure Writer's Support Group!

I am feeling particularly insecure this month, so the timing is good.

My regular readers will know because I announced in my Monday Whiny Baby Blog, but for anyone who missed it, my agent fired me.

Okay. Fired is sort of too strong.

She doesn't want What Ales Me though, and doesn't think she's the agent for me. And I'd been so sure What Ales Me was very close to publishing ready, which means I don't know what the heck I'm doing. I am producing dreck and I feel useless.

Tara, Jess, Leanne, Me (front to back)
Thank goodness for Leanne.

I have a writer friend who has been with me from the beginning—she has read everything I've ever done and has edited for me as well as providing good feedback, so when I got the disheartening email from Ellen, I forwarded it to Leanne and asked for honest feedback.

There WERE problems...

Now while this isn't the news I wanted... I WANTED her to say “Oh, that agent doesn't know what she's talking about”... It was the news I needed. And it was accompanied by (*wipes brow*) some of my STRENGTHS as a writer.

I plot well.
My ideas are unique and strong.

What was problematic...

My actual language is pretty utilitarian (I know this—have actually sort of prided myself on my language not getting in the way of the story, but I have perhaps gone too far)

And she suggested that I am over-editing—losing my voice, which USED TO be one of my strengths, but she didn't really see it in this and has previously seen it in stuff that gets too many passes.

She suggests I read more in my TRADITIONALLY PUBLISHED genre. No offense to self-pubbing or pre-published, but I need to know what the bench marks are for good current work.

And that I maybe slow down a bit so not so many rounds of editing are needed and more of my original voice is retained.

My own addition... I think I may need to DIAGRAM my mysteries (the ones I do this for work out best) and have more plot points on my timeline. I ALSO think I need to do more longhand—those scenes are always best, so I really need more of them.

Here is to the light at the end of the tunnel. I was feeling pretty lost there for a while, but now I feel a spark of hope. I don't suck. I just picked up some bad habits...

For all of you... find someone who both LOVES you and your writing (and gets what you are trying to do) AND can be objective and tell you hard truths.

Now you should go support some OTHER writers... (link at the top)

Monday, February 2, 2015

The Watery Tart and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Month

I have never been so relieved to have a month over. Seriously. Mercury is still in retrograde until the 11th, but I am seriously hoping my issues were with January. And here is hoping this will be my last whiny baby blog for a while...

My Boss is being replaced at work. I LOVE her and have worked with her a long time, but the administration at the hospital has changed and I believe [redacted because my real opinions would probably get me fired]. It has shaken me up and caused my workplace to feel hostile, even if I still believe very strongly in our mission and care a great deal about the coworkers left (though there is some broken trust I will need to get over).

So my worklife is messed up.

ABNA is gone, which is a blow to my writing routine. But worse...

My agent and I have had a parting of ways. She doesn't want to represent What Ales Me and hasn't been excited about the stuff she's seen post Garden Society stuff... I have been feeling for a while like she doesn't quite get me, but I get attached to people. I stick with relationships even when they maybe aren't ideal because loyalty and permanence are part of my core, so probably this is for the best.

But it feels really scary to be dangling out here agentless again... I will go into this bit more on Wednesday, as that is what Insecure Writer's Support Group is all about, but suffice it to say my writing confidence is totally shaken. I am meant to be editing, but I have lost all confidence that I know how to make something better—I keep getting the idea that my editing makes stuff worse. And MAYBE it is because I haven't found the right “professional” to give me feedback—my FRIENDS who give me feedback seem to improve it... but the pro feedback I've gotten I think maybe sends me off into “try too hard” range and it adds an element of not quite fitting... I need an agent or content editor who really gets me, but I am not in a position to pay for that right now, which means I need to get SOMETHING close enough for an agent to love me.

So my writing life is a mess.

And Remember the Cleanse?

The work shake up largely threw me off, but it wasn't doing huge leaps and strides. I've decided I maybe need some professional help because I am of an age where my hormones may be throwing me a wonky-do, if you know what I mean. I keep reading all these tricks, and I am going to try a few of them (need to eat so the body becomes more alkaline, do super-doses of vitamin D, eat so my body doesn't horde estrogen... really? Does every woman have to do all this crap?

On top of that, on my way home Thursday it was slick, but what I was THINKING about was trying to take advantage of a rare break in traffic on Stadium (where there is no crosswalk) so I stepped to go and slipped, landing hard on my knee. Finally, three days later, the upper part is no longer numb, but around the bottom and inside it is very purple.

So the health issues are fun *rolls eyes*