Sequels and Missed Opportunities

Some of my readers have requested a sequel to my recent novel Scar Jewelry. While I am thrilled that they care enough about the characters to want a part two, I suspect the requests come from desire to witness certain conversations and interactions that, well, frankly, won’t ever occur, even if I were to write a sequel. Such additions would make the story more tidy, maybe – but no longer right.

Here’s the bottom line: at any moment, life stretches in all directions and sometimes the options feel endless. But most of those options are fleeting opportunities and it can really be too bad if we don’t say something or do something or change something when we have the chance.

If this is a spoiler it is an enigmatic one that shouldn’t harm the reading experience.

The Value of Shards of Writing Time

More progress with less time.  That seems to be the bottom line. Yesterday, the middle of three days off, I had all day to write. I frittered and chilled and squandered all those hours on doin’ nuthin’ (which has its own rewards but that’s another story).

This morning, crammed between the trip to the mechanic and the shuttling of kids – first items on a long must-do list – I knew it was now or never and I got a weekend’s worth of writing done in a couple hours.

These are recurring refrains. The tighter the time span, the more I get done, especially when preceded by a day of “nothing”, during which some part of my brain figures out what I need to write: when I sat down today I had it all figured out, but yesterday I had not a clue.

An Ode to Repetition

On one level, I hate routine. I’ve made important life decisions based on a futile attempt to avoid repetition. Changes of jobs, homes, cities – and probably relationships. I have to fight feeling trapped once I exhaust the options for fresh experience. But that time will always come. There are only so many ways you can drive to the store, if you are going to the same damn store from the same damn house.

Yet, concurrently, repetition and routine provide essential foundations to so much that matters to me. While it is always great to share a new experience with my kids, the comforting patterns of family life are constructed of routine. There is no question that I plan most of my writing during mundane tasks like toothbrushing or weeding. And one of the richest benefits of travel is how much I appreciate home when I return.

I have a friend who talks about Buddhist intent to stay fully present in each moment – aware of the give of the keyboard as I type, conscious of the flow of water and the scratch of the scrubpad as I wash a plate. She strives for this awareness to feel grounded and calm. I try it and discover subtle variations that make each repetition unique. Doing this seems to be as close as I can get to meditation -with all my Western impatience and resistance to organized faith.

The Idea Aggregator that Produces a Novel – Case Study

My novels apply a filter, sieve, microscope, and paintbrush to my life, with the occasional fun-house mirror or handful of feathers thrown in.

Scar Jewelry evolved through disparate experiences and observations that gradually connected inside my head:

  • When my twins were toddlers, a friend would look to incite reaction in me by stage whispering to them, I know things about your parents.
  • A decade later, I was hanging around with other parents at our kids’ track practice, when one mom came over to introduce herself. Her husband had pointed me out and said, She’s wearing a Billy Zoom t-shirt. Zoom was the guitarist for an obscure but legendary punk band, X, which we had all loved long before. From that point we became friends – and I looked at the other parents differently, wondering who they were before they were parents.
  • We set aside so much of ourselves to become parents. Some of us never regain those set-asides. Most children don’t much care about the non-parent parts of us and can be so dismissive of what matters – or used to matter – to us.
  • As parents, we don’t always appreciate what matters to our children. We make decisions that can dramatically and permanently change their lives, yet we rarely consult them as we decide what’s best for them. Hey, we’re the grown-ups, right?
  • I am adopted. As an adult I was lucky enough to be contacted by my birth family. It turns out that after I got adopted away, my birth parents married each other and had five more children. Meeting them transformed my views on many things and they’ve been a part of my life ever since.

By the way – though it may seem otherwise – nothing I’ve said here gives away Scar Jewelry‘s secrets!

The Resurrection of C.R.I.M.E. Science

CRIMESCIENCE_cover

Cover art by Lars Huston.

So. I’m a writer who didn’t write for a couple of decades. Life is short and I’ve squandered a lot of it. But let’s just say I went in other directions. I tried other things. Certainly the hiatus was worthwhile. I became the mother of twins and completed graduate school in earthquake science. Bu the reality is that I fashioned a life where writing fiction became well nigh impossible, and for a long time I didn’t even try. At the beginning of that long hiatus – before I admitted defeat and succumbed to all the non-writing demands of my existence – I wrote a novella, envisioned as the first book in a detective series. I wrote it, and I shelved it, and I mostly forgot about it. Rhetorical Q: What kind of writer doesn’t even try to get a book published and/or read?

The thing is that I really liked the characters and they kept poking me for attention. So, now that I have resumed writing, I have also unshelved the first book in the series C.R.I.M.E. Science, about a misfit group of scientists and techno whizzes who solve crimes and right wrongs. As of today, it is available on Smashwords in every common ebook format.  Coming soon to additional venues.

Life with Writer’s Block

It was comforting to read Tennessee Williams’ essay on writer’s block and its sibling, procrastination. (And how wonderful to discover any similarities with his writing!) He talks about stalling daily, about his collection of “the shortest, sharpest pencils” imaginable. Apparently he had the Block throughout his life.

Unfortunately, he didn’t share his techniques for getting around it. Over the years, I have employed several. I’ve self-parented:  not allowed myself to do X, Y, or Z until the day’s writing was done. I’ve reduced self-delusion by setting a daily page quota and keeping an “anti-cheat sheet” where I daily recorded how many pages I had completed. I’ve forbidden myself to change – or even re-read! – the previous day’s writing, and thus eliminated my tendency to rewrite incessantly in order to avoid facing a blank page screen.

My most successful technique was neither controlled nor intentional, however. I developed an overbooked life with only shards of time available in which to write. While I still squander plenty of time, write right now or write not has proved more persuasive than any of my other methods to get the words flowing.

“If you want something done, always ask the busy man.”*

I’m interested to hear how others have dealt with Block — and whether there are any writers out there who never have the problem? It’s a big world so I assume there must be at least a few writers who never experience writer’s block – but I’m guessing they are very much in the minority.

* an observation from Preston Sturges’ master comedy “The Palm Beach Story”.

Download eNovel “Scar Jewelry” for Free until 12-14-2012

Cover for Scar Jewelry

Cover art by Lars Huston.

For the next few days, my recently-completed novel Scar Jewelry is available for free if you go to the Smashwords site and use the coupon code CJ25A. The coupon expires on December 14.

Smashwords is a great thing and it gives you the option of downloading in formats that work with Kindle, Kobo, iBooks, Nook, and more. You can also read it in a browser. If you don’t want the commitment of a complete download, you can opt to start with a sample few chapters.

Scar Jewelry is literary fiction set in southern California in the present day and some 30 years before, in the early days of punk. Here’s the blurb:

What do we really know about our parents or the ways they shape us? For twins Deirdre and Langston, 20, the answer is: not enough. With their father long dead, and their mother now in a coma, they realize they don’t even know whom to notify. In fact, they understand almost nothing about their mother. They dig into her life, and as they do, they uncover secrets that revise the past and transform the future.

In case you are even newer to self-publishing than I am: I’m doing this giveaway in hopes that you will read Scar Jewelry, like it, and tell people about it.