Category Archives: January 2012

Just Do It!

I don’t like change. Really don’t like it at all. Never have.

Lately my world has been a constant, changing whirlwind that is making me a little nuts, and writing around all that change is making me even more nuts.

Husband’s work schedule, even snow days where my daughter is home for almost a week straight. Urgent, unexpected work at my day job, and appointments of one kind or another to keep that seem to keep piling up.

Among the daily changes of just living, I’m making decisions about major changes in my writing life.

Okay, I must admit some changes can be exciting, but most of all I want to huddle under my shell and hide.

I can say that my focus has increased about a million-fold in the last month or so. In order to write, I have to close out the rest of the world and just do it. Not easy when your office is in the middle of the living room, I’ll tell you.

Writing is, by far, other than the health and wellbeing of my family—and they can pretty much fend for themselves, no matter what they think—the most important thing in my life. It’s my career. It’s what I’ve spent the last almost decade working at.

Right now, I feel as if I’m graduating college and have to decide where to go, what to do. Opportunities are knocking, but making the decisions needed—making the changes needed—are terrifying!

But I’m a brave little girl, and I’ll make it. I will! I’ll do all that needs to be done and I’ll make those changes. And I’ll survive.

Pray for me???

*grin*

Anna Leigh

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Rolling with the Punches

Recently recovering from a lingering three-week bout of being ravaged by the flu and an ongoing losing battle with a sound engineer to get a four-month-behind-schedule project completed, I found myself suffering with a case of depression. I was down in the dumps! Or as Belva, my wife, partner, friend and confidant put it, “Mopey.”

I was buried under a mountain of unfinished projects, products of being ‘on-the-ropes’ with the ague; which left me questioning, not how long it would take me to dig out but if I could dig out! And the “Never Ending Project” wasn’t helping matters, either—my self-image, along with my reputation, looked to me to be, down-for-the-count!

I found myself contemplating giving up, ‘throwing in the towel’—I was asking myself, “What’s the use?” I had no energy. No ‘get-up,’ let alone ‘go.’ I spent my waking hours sitting in my chair, watching the news, old movies, new movies, anything but my work. I felt like throwing in the towel!

I have never been a quitter or someone you can back down. I was born and raised in a generation where you weren’t afraid to skin your knuckles or taste your own blood to defend your reputation, your turf or prove a point. I’ve gone toe-to-toe with cowboys, loggers, millworkers and farmers, many of which were a head taller and fifty to a hundred pounds heavier because of a disparaging word. And I was a boxer in my early years—128 fights, both armature and professional. And here I was, getting my butt kicked by an emotional condition.

It was right about then I remembered one of the cardinal rules recited to me by every referee, in every bout I fought in the ring , “Defend yourself at all times.” And one of the ways you do that is to ‘roll with the punches.’ For you novices to the ‘Sweet Science’ (Boxing), that means, step back or to one side as you are being hit, moving in the same direction of the punch, so that you do not receive the full force of the blow—takes the sting out of it.

I had been standing there flat-footed absorbing punishment like a punching bag, instead of up on my toes, rolling with the punches and giving as good as I got. Well, no more. I got off my butt, and quit having my pity party and got back to work.

I told myself, I can only do so much, but I can do a lot if I apply myself. I prioritized what I had to do in order of importance. I let everyone know I had been ill but I was back to normal and please be patient.

I’m slowly digging out from under the pile of projects that need finishing; delayed starting any new ones until I’m sure I can work them in; and with Belva’s help, set a fire under the sound engineer. The “Never Ending Project” is once again making progress.

Life can be a “Bitch” at times but if you learn to “Roll with the Punches” you can stay in the fight and maybe come out a winner. It beats the crap out of being ‘Mopey’.

Wally

Rude Behaviour on Twitter

Has this ever happened to you?

You’re sitting at a bar minding your own business. A man slides into the seat beside you and without even introducing himself, announces:

“I’ve got something in my pants that’s going to impress you. Many people love it, so I’d suggest you give it a try. Make sure to tell all your friends about it too.”

Rude and unacceptable behavior, right? Of course, it is.

I’m exaggerating as no man has ever said that to me in real life, and this post is not about rudeness at a bar, but on Twitter. Lately, I’ve been bombarded by tweets with a message not unlike the one above, albeit, the person is not espousing the virtues of what’s in his pants, but of what he’s selling—usually a book.

Not long ago, an author connected with me on Twitter, and within seconds of getting the notification that he had followed me, he also tweeted me with a blurb of his book, a purchase link, and then asked me to retweet him.

I had no idea who this person was, but I must have been in a funny mood that day as I responded:

“Thanks for your tweet, but I don’t promote people I don’t know. Consider at least buying me a drink first.”

I figure he would either be a jerk and say something rude, or he might get the hint. Thankfully, he turned out not to be a jerk. He apologized, said he was a newbie to Twitter who was just trying to get the word out about himself. He wanted to buy me some fruity drink (PULEEZ). I told him I drink scotch—neat—and offered some suggestions for promoting his book via #Novelines (refer to my post here at: https://blackinkwhitepaper.wordpress.com/2011/09/27/how-twitter-improved-my-sex-life/)

It was a brief exchange, but one that ended well.

I have no issue with helping fellow writers/artists sell their products or giving them visibility, but let’s remember that Twitter is a social network. Your fellow tweeps are not your own personal PR team, so don’t treat them that way. Even though writers, collectively, are some of the most supportive people I’ve met, I never—and I mean NEVER assume that anyone is going to help me unless they know something about me. And even then, there’s no obligation to do so unless they want to.

Here is my list:
1) Don’t send me a direct or public message to promote you unless we have an established relationship.
2) Don’t spam me with a tweet. I can see your public timeline and know when you are sending the same message to all your followers.
3) Don’t say rude things to me in public. I will immediately retweet you. Remember, your words are a reflection of who YOU are.
4) Do not demand that I follow you. This will guarantee you that I won’t.

Basically, if you wouldn’t behave so rudely in a real-life networking situation; don’t behave that way virtually.

Twitter is a democracy, and it allows us to follow, unfollow, and block people at will. There’s no “politeness meter” monitoring our interactions, but in my books, good manners still count for something.

So, what are some rude behaviors you’ve encountered on Twitter?

eden

The Beautiful Game

I often wondered to what they referred when they spoke about the beautiful game but I was always fascinated by that title, in fact, I still am, still think it would make a great novel, though probably not by me.

But it’s only in the last few years that I’ve figured out what the beautiful game really is. And I, like billions (and I’m not kidding) of people around the world, am addicted.

It’s probably the only sport that’s played right around the world, that’s played in rich countries and poor countries, that’s played on city streets and desert sands. It’s played for money and it’s played for the pure joy of it. It’s played – now more than ever – by woman as well as by men. It’s played by children as young as two or three and by men as old as eighty or more.

It’s known as football in England, as futbal or futbol in other European countries – but I call it soccer.

What do I love about it? I could go on and on and on about it – but I won’t. What I will say is for me it’s mostly about the pure athleticism of it. These athletes aren’t like football players or basketball players or hockey players who play for short periods of time – they’re on that pitch for 90 minutes. And they just don’t stop. Often in games, they measure how far a player has run at full speed in those 90 minutes – and it’s somewhere around 10 kilometers. And they’re not jogging, they’re sprinting.

Sunday afternoon I was at the final of the CONCACAF women’s Olympic qualifying tournament – though both teams were already heading to the Olympics. The game was between the USA and Canada and as it was held in Vancouver, the Canadian team was the favorite – and when I say favorite, I mean big-time, top of the line, we love you to death kind of favorite.

In the end, it doesn’t matter who wins the game (please don’t tell that to any of the millions of rabid fans of the beautiful game), it’s all about the beauty of it. The crispness of the passes, the bodies racing across the brilliant green pitch. That great shot arising from a perfect run down the field. The way a midfielder and a striker just know where the ball should be and where it’s going to be. The way a goalkeeper leaps right across the goal and gets just their fingertips on the ball. The way they play in the rain or the snow, the way the fans sing throughout the game, the way it’s impossible not to get caught up in it.

Today, the USA beat Canada 4-0. They deserved to win. Yes, we were all more than a little disappointed, but we’re consoling ourselves with the fact that we’ll get to try it again in London this summer. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll win the beautiful game.

Kate

The Money Pit

We all remember that quirky 80’s movie with Tom Hanks and Shelley Long about a couple who buy a house that starts falling down around them, right? Right??

Well, about a year and a half ago, my husband and I bought our first home. It’s a beautiful Victorian built in 1869. It’s next to a very quiet Catholic college and it’s the last house in the historic district of the city. The previous owner was a very old man who had died about a year before we bought it. It was immediately apparent that neither he nor his children were big on updating/fixing the place up.

Despite all of that, we immediately fell in love with the house. It was the first one we looked at and, after seeing about a dozen more, we came back to it. It had everything on our list – personality, within easy walking distance to the center of town, a garage, a decent amount of land, and awesome neighbors. Even with the extra rehab loan we took out so that we could immediately put in new windows and a new roof, we got this grand dame of a house for an absolute steal.

Unfortunately, stealing things always comes with a price. As I mentioned before, the previous owner hadn’t updated/repaired anything in decades. The walls are the original lath and horsehair plaster walls, which, after 140 years are cracked and crumbling. They all need to be torn down and replaced with drywall after we put in insulation which it doesn’t have. The boiler in the furnace cracked the first time we turned it on forcing us to buy a new one. The vinyl flooring that covers all of the downstairs floors is most likely full of asbestos. Which we didn’t learn until after we’d already pulled several sheets of it up. The electrical wiring is also hopelessly outdated (there were several instances where the old knob and tube wiring was still in place). And the previous owner had used the downstairs as a dentist’s office, so there several rooms that still have extra sinks and pipes coming up through the floor where the chairs used to be.

With all of these very expensive issues that need to be taken care of, several of our friends and family members have equated our house with the house from The Money Pit. I, personally, just think they’re jealous that we have such an awesome house and they don’t. 😉

I see all of this work that needs to be done as an opportunity. It’s an opportunity to learn new skills and acquire some basic knowledge about how my house was built. My blood, sweat, tears, and energy will be so intertwined with the house that it will truly by MINE.

And that, honestly, will make it all worth it.

Ana

Developing Habits

I was struggling a bit with a topic for the blog this week and you all almost ended up with my grocery list. *grins*

Ah, the “mundane” life. The life outside the story. I don’t know about other writers but I get a little caught up in whatever I happen to be working on. It makes life outside the page get a little foggy, almost dreamlike.

There is a necessity – for me – in taking some time off after I finish a project. A space for grounding, for peeling off the story and focusing on the mundane once again. I’m a big proponent of writing everyday so the focus shifts to journaling during these times, but there’s a need to just let the story stuff sit for a while in the back of my head. (Because make no mistake, it’s always there. Some days it’s just quieter than others.)

Taking a break, however, can be dangerous. A few days turns into a week, which slides into two, then three, then a month goes by in the blink of an eye. One can struggle to find the motivation to get moving again, to get writing and get back to it.

Then that doubt creeps in, the panic – “Can I do this?” “I’m no good.” “That last book was a fluke.” – all the other lovely, horrible things our brain loves to throw at us in the dark spaces.

I find the only way through this is to just start writing again. It might be utter crap. I might go through six different ideas and nothing will spark a fire in me to keep writing. None of it matters though. All that matters is at that point I’ve got my hands on the keyboard and I’m writing.

Funny thing is this works with pretty much everything in your life. Haven’t practiced your piano in a while? Just sit down and play, it might sound bad at first but the longer you play the better you’ll get. Haven’t run for a while? Get back out on the track (or trail or treadmill) and don’t stop until your time’s up.

This is the glory of good habits all you have to do is repeat them and after a while they stick to you like glue. Once a habit has been developed, it’s a lot harder to let go of. You might be able to take a little break … but at some point that itch in the back of your brain turns to madness and you really just have to get back to it.

K.B. Wagers

The Highwayman – Grist For the Pen

From September 1971 through August 1972, I hitchhiked and backpacked throughout Europe, spending days, weeks, even months in various locales. My adventures ranged from wondrous to perilous. Once, I lived with the owner and staff above Kipp’s, London’s sole vegetarian restaurant, where I mingled with the likes of Warren Beatty, Julie Christy and Marc Bolan. On another occasion, I milked cows on an Israeli kibbutz and explored ancient Jerusalem, sleeping in the prison where Christ was held. Some events, however, still chill me …

… like the time I hitched a ride into Paris.

I remember little about the young man who picked me up—longish, medium brown hair and a sparse moustache and beard that spoke of a youth in his early twenties. It was a gray afternoon and I was enjoying my first glimpse of the City of Lights when the rundown gray Volvo braked hard. I tore my gaze from the architecture only to stare down the barrels of dozens of automatic rifles, at helmeted police clad in body armor and ballistic face masks.

I was manacled, shoved into the caged rear seat of a police car and transported to headquarters where I was relieved of my passport and held. With no idea why they arrested me, what they thought I had done, who they thought I might be, I tried to explain I had met the driver only minutes before.

Eventually, they released me, perhaps because the one they had taken to interrogation confirmed my story. I have no idea why we were stopped, but a client of mine living in Europe at the time recalls that the terrorist group, Baader Meinhof, was very active then and numerous arrests were being made throughout Europe. What else could explain such an overwhelming show of force?

Then, in February, 1972, there were the three Portuguese revolutionaries who drove me from Copenhagen to Hamburg, discussing their plans to overthrow the dictator, Oliveira Salazar. I still have the business card of the printer who invited me to visit, should he survive the coup. On April 25, 1973, the authoritarian Estado Novo regime did fall.

Days later, I had just climbed from a concert cellist’s car at an autobahn restaurant near Karlsruhe. I was sitting down to eat when a man asked if I were going to Munich. When I replied in the affirmative, he said if I wanted a lift, to grab my food and come with him.

During the drive, he related how, as a hashish dealer, he gone into hiding after evading arrest two weeks earlier. Friends had phoned that it was safe to return. At one point, the conversation turned to black market merchandise. The most valuable thing one could sell, he said, was an American passport. Conversation halted. We both knew what I had. After long minutes of silence—now well after dark—he suggested we stop somewhere—to eat, he explained. The first likely place was brightly lit. Many parked cars. As I expected, he kept driving. The next autobahn restaurant, however, was deserted—the perfect place for what he was planning. Once inside, I headed for the restroom. If matters escalated, I needed to empty my bladder. Before returning to the common area, I adjusted my sweater to reveal the Buck knife holstered on my belt. Bigger than he and armed, I went out to confront him. One glance, and he was once again the genial host.

I made him drop me off at Munich’s outskirts and walked six hours until I reached the city center. At the Hauptbahnhof—the main train station—I purchased a ticket.

These days, I write thrillers, preferring not to live them.

Raymond

Living off the grid

You’ve probably imagined it, or at the very least talked about it. Perhaps you’ve even played a game like, “Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse”. It’s the idea of becoming “independent” and surviving on less while you test your skills and learn to “make do” with less technology. It’s a fun exercise to talk about, but after
last week, I can tell you – it’s not as much fun to live through.

You might have heard, we had some winter weather in the Seattle area. While not the storm-of-the-century it was predicted to be, this one packed a whallop. The snow was bad enough – because we don’t get that much in this part of the country, so we don’t have mass resources. I lived in a town in upstate NY with around 3000 people, and they had 4 huge snowplows. Plus the county plows, and the state road crews. People there knew how to live through blizzards.

People in the Pacific Northwest are not that prepared. After all, it’s silly to spend a lot of money on equipment you might not even use, (last year we didn’t have any snow). But, when bad weather happens here, it really, really happens.

And after the snow came the ice storm. With trees cracking from the weight of snow, which meant that power lines went down, and many, many of us lived without electricity for days. At the same time, at our house we lived for 24 hours without water, because our hot water heater developed a leak. No cable, no internet, no stove, no heat (except for our woodstove). Living off the grid.

This can be fun for approximately 24 hours. The first day is an adventure. We’d made a huge pot of chili the night before the storm. We heated it on the woodstove and chowed down on homemade bread I’d baked to go with it. A feast, and we were so proud to have expended so little energy to make it. Well, it was only day one.
By the third day the novelty had definitely worn off. We played an endless game of Monopoly, read, snuggled under our Pendleton blankets, toted in wood. We were lucky to have a gas generator, but we needed that to run the refrigerator during the day to keep our food from spoiling.

I could connect to the internet with my smartphone, and my new Kindle Fire is backlit so I read several great books. So while we weren’t totally cut off, it felt so quiet, and dark. And kinda lonely.

When the electricity popped back on, we actually danced around the house. When the cable reconnected, I believe there was giddy joy. It’s not that we couldn’t survive, but we realized that we are 21st Century humans, and we are unbelievably, incredibly spoiled. So while I might write books set in the 17th, 18th or 19th centuries, I certainly wouldn’t want to live there permanently.

But, to visit in a time machine? Maybe. Think of the research opportunities. If you ever visited another time, when would it be and what 3 things would you take with you?

Deborah Schneider

The Test of Time

One of the pleasures of parenting is torturing your children…umm…I mean presenting them with the opportunity to enjoy the books and movies you loved in your youth. The ones that mattered to you, that moved you and helped you scrabble your way through the playground of childhood and the wild jungle of adolescence.

Books are easy. The vast majority of them can stand the test of time, because we’re used to seeing literature as a time capsule of sorts, representing the morals and styles of the period in which the book was written.

For some reason, it’s less easy to be forgiving of films. I never know going in if my kids are going to spend so much time laughing at the horrid special effects that they miss the entire story, or if the emotional resonance will miss the mark, because “kids aren’t like that any more”.

Sharing The Outsiders with my sons was a no-brainer. The book is a YA classic, and Francis Ford Coppola gave it the white glove treatment. It’s beautifully shot and completely loyal to the story, which – being set “back in the day” – is allowed to feel somewhat dated.

But I’ve only recently begun to share the other movies that ruled my world, the ones that spoke to my generation and had us all flocking to the theater on opening night. The ones we watched over and over (on VHS or Beta), because we could relate. Because we saw ourselves in those characters and those situations. Those brilliant, funny, poignant, sad movies that can be summed up in two words:

John Hughes.

The eighties were an odd and somewhat laughable time, and the concerns of that decade feel so plastic in our current economical and political climate. So I was afraid that the beloved films of my formative years would fall flat on their asses – not just for my kids, but for me as well. But I decided it was worth the risk.

We started with Ferris Beuller’s Day Off. Safe bet, and still funny. Matthew Broderick at his charming, comedic best. Thumbs up all around.

Weird Science (to which I was never particularly attached) was the next to hit the screen. Goofy. Funny. Just slightly off-color, which the youngest found hilarious.

Okay, I thought. This is going pretty well. Might as well take the big leap. *gulps*

Last weekend, we watched The Breakfast Club. And it still rocks! I laughed, I cried (a couple of times), I fell in love with the Brain, the Princess, the Jock, the Criminal and the Kook all over again, and – to my absurdly jubilant relief – so did my sons.

For me, and for many of my peers in high school during the early eighties, this movie was our Graduate. I so desperately wanted it to hold up, and it did. Because the core issue – of being labeled and judged by generalizations, of behaving in accordance with the projections of others instead of being true to yourself – still hold up, and not just for teenagers. It’s something most everyone can relate to. That’s why the film worked 1985, and that’s why it works now.

Tell me – what was the film of your youth? Have you seen it lately, and did it pass the test of time?

Guest Blogger, LJ Cohen

I introduced myself to LJ Cohen when I realized we share the same agent and are both writing YA. I’ve since discovered we have a number of things in common, including our first name and decade of birth. (Lisa was quite popular in the sixties. Of course, we could just as easily have been named Moonbeam or Rainbow.)

Her debut novel, THE BETWEEN, released last week, and it’s as delightful as she is. Please join me in welcoming her to Black Ink, White Paper.

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Thank you for inviting me to pen a guest post for Black Ink, White Paper. One of the absolute blessings of the rise of social media over the past few years has been the chance to meet fellow travelers on the writing road. The life of a writer can be so utterly solitary. We spend a lot of time living in our heads while story ideas, characters, and intriguing turns of phrase chase one another around and around. Even if we have supportive significant others in our lives (and I am quite fortunate, indeed, to have an utterly devoted spouse), they don’t really understand how the writer’s brain works.

My husband will often tease me and ask what my characters have whispered in my ear lately. That’s not exactly how it works and when I try to explain it to him, his eyes glaze over in the same way mine do when he’s showing me video of himself on the race track and he tries to explain the physics of the apex of a turn. (His midlife crisis was to start high-performance driving and he is now an instructor. Mine was to write novels.) In reality, my characters don’t so much as talk to me as talk to one another while I get to eavesdrop. On good days, they’ll give me much needed clues. On bad days, I have to blunder my way through scenes with the liberal application of the backspace button.

Conventional wisdom talks about two kinds of writers: plotters and pantsers. I’m not sure I’m either. Or maybe I’m a weird hybrid of both. It’s a balancing act for me: too much pre-planning and the story feels stale once I sit down to write. Either that, or the narrative line veers away from my orderly outline and I’m off the map again. Yet, sitting down to write without any pre-planning feels too much like dancing on the high-wire without a net. It’s too easy for me to write myself into dead ends and lose whatever control I have over the process.

Maybe this messy method of mine has its roots in my truly awful sense of direction. I may be one of the few people on this lovely planet who can still get lost using a GPS device. (Or as I call it, ‘the nice lady who tells me where to go.’) Before GPS became an essential three-letter-acronym in my life, I would often sit in my car and try to visualize where I wanted to go, only to completely draw a blank. I knew where I was and I knew the destination, but I couldn’t connect the dots between the two. So I would call my husband and ask him for help. At first, he would be incredulous that I couldn’t find my way somewhere I had been hundreds of times. His brain, I am certain, has a GPS implant. Either that, or he has homing pigeon genes spliced into his DNA. It did take some time, but he finally came to understand that I needed him to help me lay a breadcrumb trail. Sometimes all it took was for him to give me a single landmark between points A and B. Then the proverbial lightbulb would go off and I could see the whole trip.

I think my writing is very much like that. I have a starting point. I have a finish line. Sometimes I can draw a line between the two and have a story unfolding in front of me like the waypoints on my GPS. Other times, the breadcrumb trail is missing too many crumbs and I need help finding a crucial landmark.

Having other writer friends with whom I can brainstorm and who respect my process has made the difference between my head exploding and finished novels.

I used to worry that the way I wrote wasn’t right. I have a shelf full of craft books that tell me so. They tell me that I shouldn’t edit while I write. (I do.) Or I need to create a complete outline. (I don’t.) Or I need to get the first draft down in a red hot fury of writing. (I don’t.) That I should never go back to revise earlier chapters until the story is finished. (I do.) All that advice is likely well-intentioned, but perhaps a bit limiting. After completing 6 novels, a dozen short stories, and hundreds of poems in 7 years, I think I have made peace with my writing process. Just don’t take away my GPS.


LJ Cohen is the writing persona of Lisa Janice Cohen, poet, novelist, blogger, local food enthusiast, Doctor Who fan, and relentless optimist. Lisa lives just outside of Boston with her family, two dogs (only one of which actually ever listens to her) and the occasional international student. In love with words since early childhood, Lisa filled dozens of notebooks with her scribbles long before there were such a thing as word processors.

After a 25 year hiatus writing professional articles, text book chapters, assessments and progress notes for her physical therapy practice, Lisa returned to fiction seven years ago. Her first novel was written to answer her husband’s challenge to write something better than the book he had thrown across the room in disgust. Six novels later, she is still writing. She also writes the occasional op/ed piece for her local paper and has maintained the Once in a Blue Muse blog for many years.

Lisa is represented by Nephele Tempest of The Knight Agency. When not doing battle with a stubborn Jack Russell Terrier mix, Lisa is hard at work on her seventh novel, a ghost story. THE BETWEEN is her publishing debut.

Homepage: http://www.ljcohen.net/
Blog: http://ljcbluemuse.blogspot.com/
Mailing List: http://www.ljcohen.net/mailinglist/mail.cgi/list/bluemusings
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/ljcohen
Twitter: @lisajanicecohen
Tumblr: http://www.ljcohen.tumblr.com
Google+: http://gplus.to/ljcohen
email LJ: lisa@ljcohen.net