Thursday, October 24, 2013

Contain the Brain Drain

Last week, I finished #2 of the Detective Lou Norton series. Yay! And now, I want to start #3. I know the story, I know the characters, I know 68 percent of what I plan to write. But!

I cannot pick up the pen for more than ten minutes without sighing and mentally pushing away.

You know that I write full-time. And that I have a fourth grader. And that I live in Los Angeles. Each of these activities require mental calisthenics. (Arrays and quotients in fourth grade? Really??) And around 2:35 every afternoon, I start going dim.

I guess my brain is saying, 'Basta!" And according to this Scientific American article, Why Your Brain Needs More Downtime, that's a good thing.

"Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets," essayist Tim Kreider wrote in The New York Times.

And so, I'm resting some. Playing 'Dishonored.' Doing easy thinking as much as I can. Letting my mind stretch and pick up shells on the beach and eat popcorn and all of that. I'll be a better writer, a better mother, a better citizen for it.

Friday, October 18, 2013

A Girl Like Me... is what?

My family.

We're all quite... something. Very interesting in our own ways. Bright. Insightful. Crazy. Funny. Strange. Competitive. And smart.

The young ones - my nieces and nephews - are carrying the same smart-crazy-insightful banner, and I'm so very proud of them.

Recently, though, as I waited to see 'Gravity' (OMG, see that movie), I read an INCREDIBLE poem penned by my fourteen-year old niece Ryan. And as I read, my jaw dropped, and I held my breath as I read, and then, I jabbed my husband David in the arm for him to read it, to read it now, damn it, I don't care if Passbook isn't working, you gotta read what Ryan wrote RIGHT NOW.

Her piece truly struck me (even after reading it for the sixth time today). As you'll recall, back in August, I posted thoughts about Strong Female Characters.

And as a writer of The Strong Female Character, and as s Strong Female, and always questioning what that means, Ryan's essay completely overwhelmed me. The ease of her language, the sarcasm, the anger, the thoughts behind it, knowing the type of young woman Ryan is today and who she will be in seven years... Right then, I emailed my brother Terry to ask Ryan if she'd let me post and share it with you all. And Ryan agreed.

Background first: Ryan and her classmates have been discussing gender roles, with reference to a piece by Jamaica Kincaid. The kids were told to write in her style.

And here is what Ryan wrote:

Girl by Ryan H.
Don’t scream or play in the mud. This is how to dress up like a princess and like the color pink. This is how to raise your hand enough, but not too much. This is how to think boys have cooties and sit at separate lunch tables. This is how to wear dresses and be a daddy’s girl even though you have shorts underneath. This is how to be a girly girl or a tomboy. Never in between. This is how to have ‘fastest’ always followed by ‘girl.’ This is how to avoid contact and talk behind each other’s backs. This is how to be nice. This is how to smile. Don’t raise your voice or tell people what to do.

You would never want to hurt anyone, would you?

This is how to be a victim. This is how to need saving. This is how to exist for others and make other people feel needed. This is how to need others because I know you will. This is how to define yourself as strong because it isn’t implied. This is how to let others define your worth until you drift into becoming someone else’s. This is how to be his sister, his mother, his wife. This is how to be a mother because I know you will be.

This is how to be pretty and wear makeup. This how to be delicate and soft-spoken. This is how to listen first and pause before you speak. This is how to apologize when you’ve done something wrong. This is how to apologize when someone else has done something wrong. This is how to precede sentences with ‘I’m sorry’ even if nothing is wrong. This is how to use pretty language and giggle and flirt with your eyelashes even though you think it looks foolish.

You want to be ladylike, don’t you?

This is how to pretend you are half the person you are.

People like that.

See?! I told you! It's... DA BOMB, right? Gives you hope for the future.

Smart Girls.

Thinking Girls Who Know Gender-Shenanigans Are Afoot And Cock Their Eyebrows At Your B.S.

I absolutely love it!

Thanks again, Ryan, for letting me share!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Why Even Bother with the Writing Thing?

So, I just finished the second book in my new Lou Norton series -- and sent it to my editor three weeks before the due date.

And I now have the cover artwork to Land of Shadows (which I will be sharing with you very soon)!

And now, the anxiety sets in. About writing the next story in the series, certainly, but also about the book I just finished, which my editor hasn't read yet. You know, those questions that many writers asks themselves:

Is it good?
Does it stink?
Is that weird?
Is that boring?
Will she like it?
What if she hates it?
Is it better than the last book?
Why can't I breathe right now?
Did I use the F word too much?
What about the S word?
Maybe I should've read over it one more time?
Does Stephen King ever feel this way?
Should I recall that message, the one with the manuscript attached?
Does Gmail recall?
Should I be worried?
Really: why can't I breathe right now?
Crap - did I resolve that plot line right?
Did I use too many first names that start with 'C'?
Why hasn't she emailed me back yet?
Did she read the first chapter, then shake her head in disgust and say, 'What the frack is this piece of frack?'
Will they find out that I don't know nothin' about anything and will it all come out right?

And then... THEN! Once I exhaust that poor horse, I return to the corral to saddle up another. And I start thinking about that next project. You know, those questions that buck about in many writers' minds:

What do I write about next?
Can I fill another 421 pages?
Do I remember how she spoke? The cadences in her language? The type of car she drove? Her world?
Why isn't she speaking to me? Doesn't she want me to write about her again?
Where is that notebook that I bought, the $12 one for the next story?
Is Office Depot open even though it's 6:25 a.m.?

There are easier ways to live. Other things to think about. I have a fourth-grade girl -- yes, she gives me plenty of things to think about. Math that I haven't done in thirty-something years, parallel circuits, sandwich book reports, Gradelink...

But I can't imagine NOT thinking about writerly things -- they are a part of me. Like the moles on my face. The red strands of hair on my head. The way I tug at my lip when I'm worried.

I ask these questions because I want to share: my world, your world, the good, the not-so-good, the 'remember whens' and the 'no ways.' And since I'm not a public speaker, and suck at math, and will never run for public office, writing is the way for me. And writing good. And worrying that I'm writing as good as I can. Which leads to 'Is it better than the last book.'

Is it worth it?

I found this essay: When Writing Pays Off | Thought Catalog.

It pays off when someone sees themselves in your syntax and under your paragraphs and behind your syllables. You can bring them places they’ve forgotten or expose pieces they’ve hidden or lead them to the strength they’ve misplaced.

Since my writing career began, I've had a life-lone dream come true, met incredible readers, had fictional love affairs or scorched-earth arguments with the people in my head who populate my books, had lovely conversations with other writers, met Judy Blume, rode in a chauffeured Town Car, become Google-able, received great reviews, saw my name in print, watched my parents see my name in print, watched my daughter see my name in print....

Yeah. It's worth it.