Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Finishing the WIP and Visiting Open Space

From my sketchbook: 
"Open Space Farm Land." Watercolor Pencil.

Last week I finished the year-long revisions to my WIP, The Abyssal Plain. As in: finished, complete, all done. I can't believe this journey is finally over, at least the writing part of it. Soon I plan to begin my marketing, and after that I'm sure there will be more editorial changes to be made at some future date prior to publication. But for now, the book is written and ready to go. Which means I am now officially free to explore some new directions for awhile. So how apropos that I would recently visit a place called Open Space

Open Space is 30,000 undeveloped acres of land situated throughout Albuquerque with the intention that these acres stay wild and free and forever open to the public. Set somewhat in the center of it all is the Open Space Visitor's Center where I met up with the Colored Pencil Society for an afternoon of plein air drawing and painting. 

At first I was a bit nervous--plein air painting has never really been my thing, a topic I wrote about in my post Adventures in Travel Journaling. However, this time I remembered to bring a hat, sandwiches, water, and a sweater, and I was fine. More than fine--I sketched without getting a single bug bite, dirt smudge, or having to run to my car for refuge! 

It was good to be outdoors after all these weeks and months cooped up with my Alphasmart and more red pens than you can count. And it was also good to think about "open space" in more metaphorical and personal terms. For instance, what parts of my creative life can I keep open for new ideas, new methods, new subjects and mediums? Where do I want to stay open in my artwork, and why? And when do I have to follow the rules without neglecting my own individuality? 

These are good questions, and ones that I found myself thinking about while I was sketching the sun on the trees and watching the clouds float by. I also found myself thinking about what I want to do with the rest of this year. Some plans include:
  1. Writing a children's picture book set in Barcelona. 
  2. Designing and painting  illustrations for the book, even if it's just for my own fun. (Note for the curious: Sending a picture book manuscript with illustrations to a publisher is never recommended. Still, that doesn't mean I can't have some input at the end of the day, and the drawing does help me with the writing process.)
  3. Preparing and completing a piece of artwork for the upcoming Colored Pencil Society 2015 show here in Albuquerque--my first ever!
  4. Attending the October SCBWI conference, also here in Albuquerque. (I've signed up for all the picture book workshops.)
  5. Reading. Lots of reading.
  6. And of course, drafting my query and synopsis for The Abyssal Plain so I can begin submitting it to agents and editors early next year.
Looking at my list I almost feel like I'm embarking on a 3-month vacation. So what's on your Open Space list? Drop a line and let me know!

Tip of the Day: Collage can be an excellent way to cultivate and explore your own vision of creative open space. To give yourself plenty of room, try working with a format larger than your usual journal-sized page, for instance, a full-size piece of poster board or construction paper. Don't be in a rush to fill the paper, but do think of what will fill your spirit. Take your time to see what evolves, and what inspires you the most. Keep in mind that this isn't so much about being a "to-do" list as it is about finding what will keep you inspired and happy over the coming months. Enjoy!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Artist's Date--With Friends!

Writer's Group friend Elaine Soto choosing something
wonderful from Blue Bead Designs.

I'm a true believer in Julia Cameron's concept of the artist's date, something I've been lucky enough to take advantage of in the last few weeks. But sometimes I like to tweak it up and break the rule of "go somewhere by yourself." Which is exactly what I did with my writer's group last weekend when we went on the Tanoan Studio Tour here in Albuquerque. 

Tanoan is an exquisite gated community of custom homes built around a golf course and country club. Walking through the immaculately landscaped neighborhoods as we made our way from studio to studio was almost as much fun as seeing the artwork! 

Altogether we visited nine home studios:
  1. Margaret Ferrer makes necklaces and earrings with an ethnic flair. Her company is Blue Bead Designs LLC, and she can be reached at (505) 301-2661.
  2. Sandy Miller-Lastra and Diana Swanson work in fused glass. Their imaginative designs range from kitchen cupboard pulls to delicate jewelry pendants. Contact Diana at creationsx2@juno.com or (760) 601-4417.
  3. Carolyn Poole is an artist working in oils as well as other mediums. She paints portraits, landscapes, still life, and . . . pets! Her business postcard features a bull terrier who I swear could double as Swatch of Project Runway. Carolyn's contact info is (505) 828-3909 or crpoole@comcast.net.
  4. Brenda Bowman makes contemporary jewelry with semi-precious gemstones and glass beads. One item she had for sale that really stood out for me were her beaded wineglasses. She had wire wrapped the stems in a variety of colorful beads and patterns, an excellent way to know whose glass is whose at parties. Brenda can be contacted at www.brendasjewels.com
  5. Debi Housley, Heather Housley, Marie Torres Cimarusti. Debi and Heather made beaded and felted crosses and hair ornaments, and Marie has a series of children's picture books. More info about her books can be seen on Marie's Amazon Page.
  6. Jessica Bonzon is a quilter. Besides traditional bed quilts, she also has home items such as place-mats, wall hangings and pot holders for sale. She can be reached at Pieces and Patches, (505) 828-1066.
  7. Karen, Kirsten, and Jenn Swanson had modern paintings, drawings, and decorated bags for sale. The tiny drawstring bags are perfect for storing jewelry purchases!
  8. Rachel Nelson, the organizer of the tour, was selling wreaths, notecards, and paintings based on her photographs of the Tanoan community. She also very kindly gave visitors drilled pine cones ready to be made into bird feeders. Just smother the cones in peanut butter, roll in birdseed and hang in the garden--how cute is that?
  9. Gloria Dial Hightower is a local author writing mystery and adventure novels. Her titles include The Cotton Rope Strangler, In Total Darkness, The Shadow Mountain Murders, and her latest, Simon of Cyrene. The first three, a trilogy, are set in a Country Club community--a lot like where we took our tour, LOL! Books can be ordered from tomglo@comcast.net, or by phone, (505) 345-7192.
All of the studios generously provided us with snacks, water, and juice (much needed and appreciated by the time we arrived at each stop. The Albuquerque sun becomes pretty hot after an hour or two.). Heat aside, though, it was a glorious day, indeed, and I was so grateful for the opportunity to share it with my writing friends. Thank you everyone for the fun and hospitality! Looking forward to our next adventure.


Yay! Earrings!

Fused glass from Sandy Miller-Lastra and Diana Swanson
All that color was just luscious.

Blue and orange--always my favorite pair of 
complementary colors.

Fall is in the air with Pieces and Patches.

Tip of the Day: Taking the time to see what other artists, writers, and craftspeople are creating in their individual fields is just as important as setting aside time for your own work. Whether you take your artist's date on your own, or make it an event to share with friends, just make sure you go. Now is a particularly good time for exploring as there are so many shows and exhibits planned with the holidays in mind. (P.S. Shows make great places to find those holiday gifts, too!)

Friday, September 19, 2014

Marketing Time: Using a 12-Point List


Good news: The end is nigh! Finally, finally my current WIP, The Abyssal Plain, is just a few pages away from being finished. It's a great feeling, tinged, I must add, with a little sadness. No more exciting adventures for my characters. No more characters! No more figuring out how to get them from A to B. And rather than designing their homes and wardrobes, it's time to move on to marketing. Ugh.

Marketing has never been my favorite part of writing. Query letters, synopses, pitching--they've all been pretty scary to me. I know how small the window is for attracting the attention of an editor or agent, and I know how easily they can delete or ignore whatever they receive.

So that's why I want to turn everything upside down. I want to enjoy marketing, and I want to create marketing materials that will be read. My two main goals are:
  1. That I feel relaxed about writing my query and synopses (in all their wonderful forms, e.g., 1-page, 2-page, 3-page--you know how it goes), and,
  2. That whatever I write be easy to read. After all, who has the time to pore over pages and pages of convoluted story telling when all anyone wants to know is:  what is the story about?
To that end I've come up with a new approach: Before I write a single letter or outline, I'm going to brainstorm three types of 12-point lists:
  1. An ABOUT MY STORY list. This list will include whatever is relevant to sales, e.g., genre, word count, why I wrote the story, who are my potential readers.
  2. A 12-point EVENTS THAT HAPPEN IN THE STORY list, in other words, the top 12 plot points and why they matter.
  3. A 12-point CHARACTER ATTRIBUTE LIST for each of my major players.
Once I have my lists completed, I can then decide what is truly important in each, and what I can put into a single document to be edited and narrowed down even further until I hit pay dirt. 

I’ve always liked listing things in groups of twelve, (something I wrote about in my Take Twelve blog post) finding it a good way to focus and brainstorm at the same time. Aiming for twelve points on any subject seems to help me go beyond the obvious without going overboard and including too much information. My hope is that using the technique for my marketing will turn what has previously been a dreaded task into a good experience I'll look forward to. Wish me luck!

Tip of the Day: What are the top 12 things you can say about your current WIP?  Listing the most important points could be a great way to not only sell your book, but to get it organized before you write it, too!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Influenced By . . .


Who do you consider your literary influences? It's something I've been thinking about lately as I get ready to market my current WIP, The Abyssal Plain. Although I still have about 60 pages left to edit, I'm giving serious thought to my query letters, synopses, and anything else I can put together that can describe both my book and who I am as a writer.

Last night I made a list of all the authors I believe have had the most influence on my own work. In no particular order, they are:
  • Victoria Holt
  • Mary Stewart
  • Daphne Du Maurier
  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • Ursula Undset
  • Edgar Allen Poe
  • Jean Rhys
  • Katherine Neville
  • Doris Lessing
  • Willa Cather
  • Angela Carter
  • Velda Johnston
  • Shirley Hazzard
  • Luke Jennings
  • Arturo Perez-Reverte 
  • Yukio Mishima
  • Haruki Marukami
  • Ray Bradbury
After making my list, I wanted to know what it was these particular authors had in common and/or why they appealed to me so much. I narrowed it down to these categories:
  • Language. Rich, lush, yet also straightforward in meaning. Strong sentences that when read alone could almost be mistaken for poetry.
  • Gothic suspense. Characters and plot lines filled with a sense of foreboding and the darker side of human nature.
  • Details. Dress fabrics, tea ceremony rituals, the dust on Mars--I love experiencing every little nuance transporting me into a world I can see, hear, taste, smell, and until the oven timer rings and I have to choose between burning dinner or finishing "just one more page."
  • A brooding sense of melancholy. Although I enjoy a good conclusion to a story, I've never insisted any book I read end with "happily ever after." I'm just as comfortable with  open endings, characters who end up wiser but not necessarily happier, and anything that leaves me on a philosophical note regarding human nature.
  • International and historical settings and culture. One of my favorite things about reading is the chance to travel through both space and time without leaving home. From medieval Sweden to modern-day Japan, I've gone there just on the strength of my library card.
  • Genre description: literary fiction. I enjoy reading a wide variety of genres, but I always seem to come back to what I call "literary page-turners," books that don't necessarily follow strict (or any) genre guidelines, break a lot of the "writing rules," and yet manage to hook me in so I never want to stop reading. All of the authors I've listed above fit the bill perfectly.
I'm sure there are many more connections I could make between my authors-of-influence, but for now that seems to be a good start to understanding why I write the way I do. And speaking of writing, it's time to get back to work--hoping to turn those 60 pages into a nice round zero before the end of the month!

Tip of the Day: Making a list of "where you came from" is a great exercise for developing your personal brand and marketing materials. For extra credit, why not share some or all of your list under "Post a Comment"? Inquiring minds would love to know! Happy memories, everyone--looking forward to reading your findings.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Help! I Hate My Art Journal!


Okay, I don't hate-hate my art journal, but I'm definitely not happy with it. This is only the second time I've run into this problem, but that still doesn't make it any easier. The first time around I ended up throwing the (unfinished) journal away, in retrospect a bad decision, because now that it's gone, I've realized there were a lot of  pages I totally loved and wish I still had. 

The problem with both journals seems to be:

1. Size. Too small. I like to use a lot of images, words, colors, and collage papers, and a journal measuring only 5" x 6" just doesn’t give me the room I need. I must have bought these journals thinking they were "cute," but cute quickly became tight and cramped.

2. Paper. The journal I tossed had a delicate parchment-like feel that didn’t work well with ink, watercolor, or any kind of water-based medium. When I did use pencil, it felt scratchy and uncomfortable. At the other end of the spectrum, my current journal's pages have a slick, shiny surface that initially felt nice, but now seem like trying to draw on magazine pages. To make matters worse, I gessoed the majority of the pages thinking that would improve them. Not. The result was disastrous—the thicker pages have made the journal so chunky it’s bursting out of the binding, making the book even more unattractive to me. Yuk. So what's an art journaler to do? I don’t want to throw out the pages I do like, but I don't want to continue in this frustrating vein.   

Consequently, I've been brainstorming some ideas I could try to fix the problem, and you know what?  I think they’re going to work! I’m just sorry I didn’t think of them earlier in order to save that first, and now lost, journal. Maybe you can use these too!
  • Keep going. Seriously. Think of the journal as "practice." Sigh.
  • Collage over the bad pages with new images.
  • Take the whole thing apart and re-use the good pages for new material. If you’ve only completed a portion of the journal, cut or carefully remove your favorite pages from the binding. Do the same with any blank pages and use those for scratch paper or practice sheets. Especially gessoed or pre-tinted pages.   
  • Try improving both good and bad pages with ideas from a how-to book such as Collage Lab. 
  • Cut "bad" pages into small squares and divide them into color groupings for future mosaic-style collaging.
  •  Put the journal away and then just . . . walk away.  Forget about it for a while and start something new. 
  •  Change topics—if you’ve been using a particular theme, drop it and start something new, perhaps only using the journal for writing rather than art, or for you daily morning pages.
  • Use the journal for whining.  Call it "the bad, ugly, whiney journal" and put inside everything that upsets you. Burn it when you’re finished.
  •  Analyze why you don’t like this journal—is it the shape, size, color and/or theme choices? Figure out what's wrong and try not to repeat.
  •  Give it away. Ask someone else if they'd like to complete the journal. Or pass it on to friends as a Round Robin project.
  •  Go for messy and dangerous. Try out techniques you would be too afraid to put into your “good” journal.
  •  Keep any pages you tore out and use them to learn book binding. Make small finished journals of only a few pages each. Write poetry. Use them for greeting cards or other types of gifts.
Tip of the Day: The next time you are unhappy with a journal or sketchbook, keep in mind that everything you do is really just practice.  Use a bad experience to propel you into what you really want to do. Write out your findings and goals and then start afresh with a brand new journal. That's what I'm going to do!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Patterns Part II, Writing by Design


Last night while washing dishes in my new kitchen, I was somewhat disappointed to realize that no matter where I go, I still have to wash the dishes. I bet I could land on a desert island and rather than find banana leaves for plates, there would be a set of Royal Doulton just waiting for me to wash. And it's not for lack of a dishwasher. I have a doozey of a new dishwasher. But with only two of us, using the dishwasher for anything other than a feast day seems a tad wasteful. So on go the purple rubber gloves and hello, Groundhog Day. 

Which got me thinking about patterns again. A few weeks ago I posted about how my art practice had led me to work with pattern as a restful way to stay centered and productive at the same time. Tiled borders, fabric prints, wallpaper motifs; I was exploring them all. I'm still enjoying adding pattern to my pictures of cats, dogs, and Barcelona, but after last night I've been thinking about patterns in written work, too.

Using patterns in novels, poetry, or even nonfiction can be an excellent way to take any piece of work to another, and deeper, level. For instance, what about:
  • The patterns of a serial killer or burglar. Rather than random acts of evil, a distinct and unusual pattern can keep the story focused.
  • A main character’s daily routine. (I hope it's more interesting that doing the dishes every night. On the other hand, that just might be the motivating incident that leads him or her to a life of crime.)
  • How characters approach relationships or conflict: fight or flight? Or whipping out the Sunday crossword puzzle to seek out-of-the-box solutions?
  • The story theme--how many related ways can you symbolize or refer to it without shoving it in your reader's face?
  • How do you arrange scene, sequel, conflict, scene? Is there a pleasing rhythm that will keep readers engaged, or do you need something more jarring and experimental to wake them up? What about chapter arrangement?
  • Patterns of misfortune—how does the universe work against (or for) your characters? What do they do (or don't do) to warrant this fate?
  • Secret codes--whether it's a formal cipher, or one of hidden etiquette and body language, codes can be an exciting way to use pattern.
  • Esoteric or sacred geometry: lee lines, metaphysical clues in Old Master paintings. architectural secrets, megaliths and circular standing stones--they're all fun to explore.
  • How about inventing a character who is intrigued or controlled by patterns? It could simply be as a hobby, part of their profession, or perhaps something difficult for them to manage e.g., an obsessive disorder of some kind.
  • How do your characters make patterns of their living space, social lives, and/or working hours? Is there a routine your antagonist observes that can harm your MC?
  • Don't forget about music and ear worms; melodies can be either inspiring, annoyingly repetitive, or a signal that something pivotal to your plot is about to happen. 
Right now the most important pattern I'm working on besides how to get out of doing the dishes is how to most effectively arrange the chapters in my WIP. I'm telling the story through different points of view and I want to avoid an A, B, C, D kind of pattern, yet I still want the story to make sense. Challenges, challenges.
Tip of the Day: We’re all creatures of habit to some degree. Some of us like to write in the morning, others in the middle of the night. Does your current creative pattern work for you--or do you want to make a change? Do you have a plan? Let me know!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Scattered? Me, Too!


Although it's been a good month since I moved into my new house, there is still a ton of work to do before we can say it's actually finished, or even completely livable. The main difficulty is finding both the time and the energy after work each day to accomplish everything my imagination envisions. The same holds true for my creative life at the moment. As much as I want to finish my WIPs, start a new art journal, and sew a winter wardrobe, it's not going to happen as quickly or completely as I would like. And that makes me feel . . . unhappy.

Last night I had trouble sleeping while I worried about what seemed like five hundred loose ends--disconnected projects and ideas that only spun into more projects and ideas. We had an unexpected (and what I would normally consider very welcome) New Mexico thunderstorm during the middle of the night, increasing my feelings of nervousness, incompetence, and outright failure. Consequently I woke up with a sore back and neck and the need for a serious re-think, resulting in some frantic morning pages and a list I titled, "What I Want to Do." It included:

  • Finish my new screenplay.
  • Go back to my screenwriting group.
  • Finish the edits on my nonfiction WIP, A Pet Owners Book of Days.
  • Draw the illustrations for A Pet Owner's Book of Days.
  • Finish the edits on my novel WIP, The Abyssal Plain.
  • Get back to working with clay.
  • Buy jewelry tools and make jewelry.
  • Start a really neat poetry project.
  • Read my friends’ manuscripts when they ask for critiquing.
  • Stay focused on my day job.
  • Finish my new house, as in FINISHED.
  • Keep up with the housework in my new house (amazing how fast dust collects).
  • Read for fun. 
  • Sleep.
  • Blog.
  • Stay current with social media.
  • Promote my books.
  • Buy a sewing machine and start some sewing projects.
  • Sketch more often.
  • Sign up for The Sketchbook Project.

Impossible? You bet.

Long ago, when I sold my first book, my editor said, “You are very ambitious.” I was genuinely surprised. I thought "ambitious" meant you were crazy for leather briefcases and suits with shoulder pads. I had no idea it simply meant I had big creative dreams and wanted to write stories that delved into many areas, topics, and themes.

Either way, I still don’t know how to not be ambitious; how to stop wanting to dive into color and words, how to stop writing multiple stories and chasing after all projects labelled "NEW." So here’s a little scheme I’m going to try. I'm calling it:  Concentration. 


The Concentration Plan

  • For my daily writing, edit and concentrate only on The Abyssal Plain.
  • For my daily art practice: concentrate only on pictures of dogs, cats, and Barcelona.
  • Social media is a reward only after I’ve accomplished a timed amount of work every hour or so.
  • Freewriting time is only for blog posts.
  • Reading is only at bedtime.
  • "Finishing the house" as well as housework is only on the weekends.

To get there I'll have to say no a lot, e.g.:

  • No sewing.
  • No jewelry.
  • No clay.
  • No poetry.
  • No screenplay.
  • No critiquing.

Just looking at these lists makes me feel a lot better; I might even get to sleep tonight! The beauty is that I now feel I have some goals back on track. For instance, finishing The Abyssal Plain edits means I can then move on to marketing the manuscript. Drawing cats and dogs will give me a break from the edits and help me create the illustrations for Pet Owners. And getting the house finished over the weekends means we won't get burn-out. So let it rain, let it pour--I've got it covered.

Tip of the Day: I’ve used calendars, spreadsheets, journal notes, all kinds of things to help keep me get focused. However, the best thing I’ve found to date is a stack of index cards. If my day’s tasks don’t fit on a single card, they don’t get listed at all. 

In the meantime, how do you focus best? I'd love to hear some ideas!