Writing is as right as rain

It’s just damn ugly outside right now. Proof:

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This reminds me that one of the rites of passage into living on your own in New Orleans is having your own hurricane tracking map. That season hasn’t started yet; it’s June 1-November 30. Today’s just one of those pre-cursor events. Mother Nature’s way of reminding us that we’re not the boss of her.

The lights are flashing, the outside shutters are slamming against my windows, and Herman is curled into a canine fetal position in his dog bed.

Today is one of my scheduled writing days. Writing by candlelight, especially in this humidity, is not at all romantic or productive. The paper ripples with the dampness, and the candle singes any wayward pieces of my hair if I’m not careful. So, when I experience one of these days, my admiration soars for those writers who used quill pens dipped in ink, wrote without benefit of electricity, even those who pounded out stories on manual typewriters. For those of you too young to even recall an electric typewriter, here’s a visual of each:

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Oh, the days of erasable bond and correctable typewriter ribbons…(pause for angry crack of thunder).

All this to say…I have a laptop, an iPad, a Livescribe…all the tools necessary to make the actual act of writing easy, of making letters, word and sentences appear as if by magic. Even research is just a Google or a Bing away.

But the art of writing, well…it’s like this storm. It’s at times unpredictable, messy, angry, and gut-churning. But this storm will pass, and the grass will seem greener, the sun will nudge its way out from  behind the waning grayness, the birds will find their way back into the trees, and the thirsty ground may need some time to swallow all the water that’s been dumped on it, but it’s grateful for the excess nonetheless.

So, I’m off to make some messy art while I can because I know it’s going to lead to somewhere better.

 

Starbucks, Snails, and Sororities

I didn’t forget that today is Friday, and I said I’d live to blog again. Working in CST, I still have a four-hour window open.

After getting the downstairs apartment ready for a group coming in for Jazz Fest, I schlepped to Starbucks to write for a few hours before working at the clinic. A snail outran their internet speed today, which meant no blogging for me. Instead, I focused my attention on the new novel idea that’s still in gestation. I’ve learned conception isn’t so difficult in novel-land. Though there have definitely been long stretches of time when my brain puts itself on abstinence. It’s birthing the damn idea that can be the labor from hell.

Without revealing too much, I can say that I’m relying heavily on the expertise of one of my daughters. The novel involves a college sorority. Guess what I know about college sororities? That they all use the Greek alphabet.

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Anything else I might know is only information I think I know because I have absolutely no personal experience never having been in a sorority in college. So she’s teaching me a new vocabulary: bid, rush, dirty rush, legacy, PNM, preference, big, little. . .And I have to tell you that after I became aware of the entire process from beginning to end (end being you’re in), I developed a new respect for her. She faced, what I now realize, was an emotionally grueling week, and she survived. I’m proud of her. Not just because she joined a sorority, but because she set a goal, did the hard work, made herself vulnerable, and achieved what she set out to do.

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It’s humbling when your children become the teachers.

Had that experience lately?

 

 

The Lazarus Blog Post

For some reason, the posts I’ve composed in my head for the past four months or so have not materialized on my blog. Or anywhere, for that matter…

I’m sure there are at least five or six of you who’ve been wondering where the hell I’ve been.

Well…

  • My oldest and youngest, both sons, gifted me with two beautiful daughters-in law. Our family has now expanded to ten adults (including Ken and me) and six dogs. Pictures will be coming!
  • I’m not working quite as often as I used to at the veterinary clinic, but I still tag along with Ken on emergency calls and on those occasional days when the staff is desperate.
  • We now have two vacation rentals. One is the cottage on our property that, after three years of renovation and haggling with the Historical/Hysterical Commission, is finally finished.

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The other property is the apartment in the rear of our home where my brother and his partner lived. They bought their own home and, though I’m happy for them, I do miss their company, cooking and decorating skills!

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So, now I’m truly a Domestic Diva…you know when you get excited about discovering the Mopnado (and, I’m not kidding, it’s AWESOME) and your BFF is the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser, you’ve reached a new stage in your life.

Oh, and I’m writing…yes, that author/writer thing I do…I’m working on the second book in the Magnolia Hills Garden Club series, tentatively titled Digging Up Dirt. My delightful designer, Melissa of Monark Design Services, and I are still tossing around ideas for the cover. This one is from LamarAnn’s point of view. And if you don’t know who she is, you can meet her in the first novella, All They Want for Christmas. If you have any cover ideas, pass them on!

I have other books brewing, one in particular that I’m wiggly excited about, but haven’t yet  pulled it together enough yak about it…As soon as I can, I’ll spill.

  • I’m having fun on Instagram (I’m there as cballan) with my daily View from the Balcony.(#viewfromthebywaterbalcony or #viewfromthebalcony). I re-started the photos after people shared that they missed them. Great to know that the dog and I weren’t the only ones seeing them!

I promise every photo is shot from the actual balcony of my house, and I’m surprising myself that I’ve not run out of pictures to take.

Here’s one from a few days ago. This was the first time two pigeons have ever landed on our railing when we were sitting outside. They spend almost all of their time flying into the upstairs of the house across the street through a broken window.

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And, the dog…here’s a photo of Herman. Ken rescued him(my husband is the Schindler of the animal shelter), and now he’s rescuing us.Herman takes me for walks more times of the day than I want to count, sniffs  7,592 blades of grass before he pees for 3.1 seconds, and loves to sit on the balcony in the rocker and watch the world go by. And bark every time it does.

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Last night I left my office to refresh my coffee, and when I returned, couldn’t find the scone from Good Eggs I’d just warmed. I was sure I’d left it on my desk. (Food, I’m sure about. The two pairs of glasses I still can’t find, not so much.). Herman looked a bit too hunkered down in his bed… because he had the entire scone in his mouth. Another lesson learned: my desk is no longer a safe spot for tempting food.

So…what’s up with you?

Until Friday (Of this month and this year)…

 

 

 

It’s a Christmas miracle!

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AVAILABLE NOW at Amazon and as fast as my little elf fingers can type, I’ll upload it to other platforms! Will also be available as a paperback.  It’s my first book in The Magnolia Hills Garden Club series. Book 2 will be ready early 2015.

 

 

Where do you and your children spend your time?

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I know public schools in and around New Orleans are already beginning their second week of school today. Some areas, though, might be just starting or perhaps, lucky you (depending on which side of the desk you happen to be on!), won’t labor until after Labor Day.

Anyway…Choose NOW Ministries, founded by Nicole O’Dell, has posted my hints on Time Management for students. I taught high school English to primarily 11th graders, and I used this system for years. And years and years. It proved enlightening for all of us–students, teacher, and parents.

I hope you click over and read my post today. While you’re there, check out this amazing ministry, a non-profit organization, that Nicole has dedicated herself to for teens and their parents. She’s the mother of six, including a set of triplets, so she’s working from a knowledgeable base!

 

Where I’ll be Saturday, and I hope you are too!

This Saturday (that’s tomorrow!), I’ll be presenting at the Berries, Books, and Bridges Writers Conference in at the Woodland Park Baptist Church in Hammond.

Hosted by the Creative Minds Writing Group, this conference attracts pre and post published writers  from across the South. In fact, it’s a great conference for new writers to attend because it offers them the opportunity to talk to published authors in a setting that’s comfortable and engaging. I’ve been invited to attend this conference for the past three years, and I’m always delighted when I’m included again.

about-erica1New York Times bestselling author Erica Spindler, who lives on the Northshore, will be this year’s keynote speaker. Erica has had written over 20 books and has been published in 25 countries. Her new release is Justice for Sara.

I’ll not only be following Erica, which alone is enough to cause me a wee bit of anxiety, I’ll be giving a general session for the first time. I’m going to be talking about Social Media, which seems to be changing overnight, not only in itself, but in the way it impacts writers and books. Other speakers include Lynn Shurr who will discuss e-books and Kathryn Martin whose topic is “I want to Write, but Where do I Begin?”

Breakout sessions include:

Young Adult-     Chad and Logan Thompson                           Romance-        Deborah Lynne

Mysteries-         Steve Patrick                                                 Non-Fiction-        Dave Berwick

By the way, this conference is worth attending just for the lunch! Always a great meal.

Go to the conference site to register (or you can do so at the door that morning) and for directions.

Hope to see you there!

 

Leap-Frogging into Monday

Stone and Spark Thanks to Sibella Giorello, I’m joining the Monday writers and reacquainting myself with my new website of which I have been quite negligent. But, it doesn’t get dusty or need meals or make telephone calls; it’s self-sufficiency is its own enemy. But, that’s another post for another day…If you’ve not read any of Sibella’s books, please click over to find The Raleigh Harmon mysteries and meet one of the most fascinating protagonists I’ve encountered.

And now to the questions…

1. What am I working on now?

I’m wiggly excited to be working on my first ebook, which will also be my first venture into the land of self-publishing.  Since I’m not on a hard deadline with a publishing house, I’ve motivated (tortured?) myself into a deadline by writing a Christmas-themed book.  For now, it’s entitled An Unexpected Christmas, and I plan for it to be the first book in the series featuring Callie Fitzgerald. My slightly neurotic, over-committed, and fashion-disabled heroine.

2.  How does my work differ from other works in its genre?

My previous novels are all women’s fiction with the exception of one historical romance, and most of them did not tread lightly regarding issues like alcoholism, emotional abuse, inter-racial marriage, and being gay.  I did attempt to balance the weight of the content by using humor so my readers wouldn’t need therapy after they finished my books! I’m also from and live in New Orleans and, while I wouldn’t necessarily label myself a Southern writer, growing up in the Big Easy has flavored my writing.

3. Why do I write what I do?

Because I’m lousy at everything else? I tried writing a mystery and gave up when I couldn’t figure out the identity of the killer. Erotica is definitely a no because figuring how to write about two people kissing is about as complicated a maneuver as I can handle. I’d have body parts flying all over the place, and it would probably read like some slasher novel instead. As a recently retired high school English teacher, I’ve given some thought to writing Young Adult. But after spending 25 years with them, I needed a wee bit of a break.

To be honest, though, I find women’s fiction as challenging as it is fulfilling…both as a writer and a reader. Life doesn’t always take us to happily ever after. Sometimes it’s happily never after. Sometimes it forces us to redefine happiness, to ultimately decide what it is we value in life and what we’re willing to sacrifice or pursue for it to happen. The women in my novels grow into themselves in ways they never expected.

4. How does my writing process work?

Oh, my. It’s surprising it does work! My Christmas novel is the first novel that I’ve actually organized from beginning to end, and that is largely due to the efforts of Lisa Miller and her Story Structure Safari Class. She meshes information from a variety of writing experts and authors to create a process that’s do-able for even wing nuts like myself who get tangled up in their own plots. Seriously. Ask Jenny Jones, one of the wittiest writers I know (check out her YA here!), how many phone calls and frantic texts screeching, “OMG. Three chapters in and no novel. Help!” she’s received over my last few novels! I’m not married to the story structure I’ve created, but at least I know now if I don’t end up where I thought I would be…and that, my friends, is why the process is organic!

I’ll close with a shameless self-promotion of my latest release, Test of Faith. One of the covers I adore!

Test of Faith

Elle Butler has managed to hold on to her politically-driven husband and her secrets until the unexpected happens. When one phone call rips her world apart, Elle will have to decide if the truth is worth the consequences. Especially when it threatens to destroy the world she’s so carefully built around her life and her marriage.

Sometimes I Hate Writing

Note from Christa: This was my post from last month’s Girlfriends Book Club blog. I’m one drool away from smashing my forehead against my keyboard, but I wanted to make something new-ish appear here!  So much to catch up on, so stay tuned…

Years ago, before the release of the movie it inspired, Simon Birch, I read A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. Over a decade later, it’s still on my top five favorite books of my so-far lifetime list.  (Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels is also in that number. If you’ve not read her novel, stop reading this…buy it now…and be prepared for a beautifully written, searingly haunting, and heart-exploding redemptive novel.)

I binged on Irving novels for a while after that until I read A Widow for One Year. Three-fourths of the way into the novel, it seemed as if he grew weary because the remaining one-fourth went by at warp speed. I remember closing the book wondering what caused him to gobble up all the lose ends of the novel with one gulp rather than allowing us to savor what remained.

Now I know.

I’ve written five novels, and I experience the same angsty impatience three-fourths of the way to the finish. I hate my characters; they’re whiney relatives who came for a week and stayed for a month.  And when they’re not whining, they’re mute or engaged in a gab fest entirely unrelated to anything I ant/need them to discuss. I hate the novel. I wonder why I thought it was brilliant 300 pages ago. I want to curl into the fetal position inside a cloaking device and become invisible because, when the book releases, everyone will finally know what a fraud I am.

So, anytime I’m near the end of the novel, and I’m scurrying about like Chicken Little’s twin sister, I remember Irving.  And I breathe, then call a friend who can walk me off the ledge. I make sure I have a case of Coke Zero, boxes of Mike& Ike, and I allow those insistent, annoying characters to take me where they want to go.

Sometimes, they’re actually smarter than I am.

Is your passion worth sacrificing?

Perhaps if I wore a latex bikini and waved around an oversized foam finger with one hand while I tapped on the keyboard with the other. . .I could make money as a writer. The first two seem to be working for Miley Cyrus. And she probably doesn’t have a clue that twerking became popular while she was still in diapers.

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I seem to have a knack for choosing creative pursuits that aren’t lucrative…like teaching high school, bagel-dipping in Nutella, and writing. Maybe I should have actually read the book Do What You Love, The Money will Follow. But since I’d already discovered outlets that “fulfilled my needs, talents and passions,” I didn’t require direction, just affirmation, so I didn’t read more than the title.

Maybe I could write Fifty Shades of Blue Because I Didn’t Think of Fifty Shades of Gray Before She Did. Or The Sun Before Twilight. Or a prequel to the Harry Potter series. But that would be as successful as me at the age 61 attempting to twerk on-stage with Robin Thicke.

Word to the unwise…back away from your laptop if you’re pursuing fame and fortune as an author. I’ve experienced the wiggling excitement of being offered representation by agents, book contracts, seeing my name on the cover of a novel, finding myself in a bookstore and on Amazon. Yet I’ve invested oodles more in marketing, classes, and conferences than I’ve earned.

So, why do I continue to write?

Because I can’t not write, and that’s never been so clear to me as it has recently. I’d been officially retired for five months after having taught high school English for 25 years when my husband decided to open his own business. He’s a veterinarian.

This is what I do while I’m at work: I smile and say, “Hello. How are you?” or Hold on” and/or “I’ll find someone who can help you.” I’m entering inventory and clients in our database, shelving drugs with unpronounceable names, counting pills for prescriptions, mopping the floors every morning so the clinic won’t smell like the population it serves, answering the phone, leaving the house every morning at 6:30 and not returning home until after 7:00 pm, taking emergency calls with him and working almost every Saturday and often going in on Sundays to catch up from the week.

My consumption of Blue Bell ice cream is increasing in an inverse proportion to my hours of sleep and direct proportion to my depression. I went to bed at 7:30 last night and woke up at 4:00 in the morning to write this post. It’s the first writing I’ve attempted outside of chart notes and prescription labels in over thirty days.

When your passion is suddenly taken hostage, you eventually find a way to survive. To entertain it in your mind where it can’t be constrained. I mop and spin ideas of women once wealthy and powerful who assume false identities and hide out in low-end jobs to escape someone or something. I devise stories around clients who own ten dogs and/or cats. I name future characters after some of the clients’ pets. . . I try to not dwell in the land of, “if I’d written a blockbuster before this, I wouldn’t be wiping up unknown glick on the floor.”

I hope to be ransomed one day. In the meantime, I’m following the advice of my writer friends and keeping a journal. Maybe the glick on the floor will lead to a break-out book. Maybe not. But this I’ve learned: you can’t sacrifice your passion on the altar of someone else’s dreams.

Do what you love. If the money doesn’t follow, your sanity will.

What about you? Doing what you love?

A Helluva Authorial Reinvention

christaallanblogMy husband thinks I should try writing erotica. For someone whose books have been published by Christian publishing houses, that’s one hell of an authorial reinvention.

I tried to explain to him that the problem isn’t the genre. It’s my aptitude for writing it. Just working out the logistics of two people kissing when I write can be a challenge. Erotica? I’d have body parts flying all over the place. Not to mention the paradigm shift in our personal sex life. Making love with writer’s brain (this goes there, he does this, she does that, oops…that didn’t work), and thinking one of those speech recognition software programs would be useful at the time.

I have given serious thought to introducing erotica in Christian fiction. Rumor has it that there are Christians who are actually having married-to-one-another sex and enjoying it. And, have you read “Song of Solomon” in the Bible lately? Clearly, a study in metaphoric sex: “his abdomen is carved in ivory” and her “orchard” blossoms, and he’s attracted to her “garden”? Then there’s this illustration of the Song of Solomon, which serves to demonstrate some of the inherent problems with literal interpretations.

Even J.K. Rowling is reinventing herself as evidenced by the outing of her as Robert Galbraith, author of The Cuckoo’s Calling, a crime novel released in April “praised by critics,” according to NBC News. She called the pseudonym a “liberating experience,” because of not having to endure the hype or pressure of being always Harry Potter author, J.K. Rowling. Not many seemed to mind that she published the Harry Potter series using the gender-neutal J.K. as opposed to her first name, Joanne.

But some think she may have pushed the boundaries of fabrication by claiming to be a married father-of-two and a former undercover police investigator.  The author bio on Amazon states, “After several years with the Royal Military Police, Robert Galbraith was attached to the SIB (Special Investigative Branch), the plain-clothes branch of the RMP. He left the military in 2003 and has been working since then in the civilian security industry. The idea for Cormoran Strike grew directly out of his own experiences and those of his military friends who returned to the civilian world.”

Does that mean there are boundaries to reinvention? You can assume a false name, but you can’t assume a false history related to your new identity? But, if fiction is, as Merriam-Webster defines it, “something invented by our imaginations,” are we going to restrict our reinventions? So, people are upset that she wasn’t honest about her alias? Seems rather oxymoronic or, at the very least, headache-inducing.

Female writers have hidden themselves under gender neutral or male names for centuries, even as recently as our own with Nora Roberts reinventing herself as J.D. Robb. Mary Ann Evans used George Eliot so that her work would be taken more seriously, Amantine Lucile Dupin published as George Sand, and even Harper Lee dropped her first name, Nellie. The author of The Outsiders, Susan Eliose Hinton, preceded Rowling as an author using only her initials, S.E.  Publisher’s Weekly wrote an article about male writers using women’s or gender-neutral names when writing romance.

It seems writers reinvent themselves because of reader perceptions, pre-conceived notions of males writing erotica or females writing grisly crime and detective stories. Or, as in centuries ago, readers not embracing women as writers. Sometimes it’s self-preseveration with publishing houses or even careers. When I taught high school, I don’t think parent conferences would have gone well if my name had been on the cover of Fifty Shades of Gray. Then again, if it had been, I wouldn’t need to be sitting in parent conferences…

I wonder, though, what our perceptions as writers are of readers that cause us to want to reinvent ourselves.

What happens when I decide to write outside of the genre that’s defined me for the five novels I’ve already written?

I’ll let you know.

In the meantime, do you feel duped by author pseudonyms? Would you follow a favorite author into any genre?