Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A Little Ray of Sunshine for you!

My dear friend Lani Diane Rich's new book will be out February 5th, and it's simply beautiful. Lani and I and a small group of friends have been in this writing thing together since nearly the very beginning of our publishing careers, and it's so important to have people you can turn to in the hard times -- and share news with in the good times. She's good people, and this is an amazing book. I thought I'd interview her for my blog and tempt you to check out her book. If you like funny, intelligent, heart-warming women's fiction, you'll love A LITTLE RAY OF SUNSHINE.

Alyssa: A LITTLE RAY OF SUNSHINE is a departure for you – you’re known for madcap comedy and snarky, fast-paced women’s fiction. But this book is deeper, quieter, and simply lovely. What made you want to move in this direction?

Lani: You know, it's funny, because a few people have seen it as a departure, and I didn't notice! I think it's just a matter of giving the story what it needs. I've always had emotion in my books, but usually used it to flavor the funny. Here I swapped that balance, because that's what this story needed. I had a good time, too, really swinging for the fences with the emotion and not holding back.

Alyssa: No spoilers, of course, but what will surprise readers to learn about EJ as the book progresses?

Lani: That she's not near as tough as she seems. In the opening, EJ has really shut herself off to people, and is in no hurry to reconnect. As the story progresses, she's gradually forced to face everything she'd run away from, and I had a great time writing that transformation.

Alyssa: The theme of mothers and daughters is one you often explore in your books, in myriad intriguing ways. What is it about this often-fraught relationship that fascinates you?

Lani: I think all family relationships fascinate me, but this one especially because it's about women at different stages in their lives, and how those stages conflict. I love writing women past the age of fifty who are still vibrant and flawed and struggling and dangerous and conflicted, and I love writing the daughter who watches this woman in horror and thinks, "How am I going to sit across the table from that?" There are so many levels of subtlety in female relationships, but the mother-daughter relationship is the most fraught with landmines and just fun to write.

Alyssa: What do you WISH someone would ask you about A LITTLE RAY OF SUNSHINE?

Lani: I wish they'd ask about the jokes. I thought, when I went into it, that using jokes as a way for EJ to communicate with Luke was such a great idea - so much opportunity for subtext and humor, and it showed how hard it was for her to be straightforward when it came to what was really important to her. I still like that element, but I didn't realize how hard writing the jokes would be! For the rough draft, I used placeholder jokes just to see if it worked, but when I got to the final draft - because I'm not a fan of stealing someone else's work and it's impossible to find and properly attribute the original writer of a joke - I had to write them myself. I spent a lot of time studying jokes, learning structure, thinking, trying them out on friends. I thought that because I'm a funny girl, writing jokes would be easy, but in order to be good, jokes have to do a lot of heavy lifting in very few words, and it's hard! I want someone to ask me about that so that the next time they hear a good joke, they realize that someone worked hard on that and got no credit and probably no pay. It's an art form, seriously, and it should be appreciated! I finally had to have EJ acknowledge that the jokes she loved best were the bad ones, because I couldn't make them as good as I wanted them!

Alyssa: Okay, this is totally frivolous, but what movie have you seen lately that you love? What movie have you seen lately that I can add to my much-updated WORST MOVIES IN THE WORLD list?

Lani: Oh, man, I don't see a lot of movies; I'm a TV girl, myself. I have gotten into documentaries lately. I really enjoyed Who the #$&% is Jackson Pollock?, a doc about a female truck driver in her seventies who bought a $5 painting at a thrift store and forensically proved it was by Jackson Pollock, but the snooty art community came back with, "What are zees fingerprints! Zis is art, not science!" They actually found an acknowledged and provenanced piece by Jackson Pollack with paint dribbles that matched up to her painting, as if he had done them both at the same time, side by side. And still, the art community turned up their noses to her. The woman was offered millions of dollars for it, but she won't sell the piece until the art community admits it's Jackson Pollock, and they never will. I think this movie is great for writers to watch, because the characters are so strong, and what they want is so clear. It's a real-life example of what stories need in order to work; it's just fabulous.

Now for your Worst Movies list... hmmm. I can't think of any off the top of my head. Like I said, I don't see many movies!

Be sure to pop by Lani's website and check out the excerpt for A LITTLE RAY OF SUNSHINE - you'll be glad you did!!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Help a fellow author

Patry Francis is a talented author whose debut novel THE LIAR'S DIARY came out in hardcover from Dutton last spring. The trade paper release is today, January 29th, but a few weeks ago, Patry was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. She's had several surgeries, and her prognosis is good, but given that Patry won't have much energy for promoting, a number of bloggers are banding together to do it for her.

'THE LIAR'S DIARY blog day' is today. Please pop over to
Patry's website and check it out. In support of Patry Francis and this remarkable blog initiative, Penguin Group USA would like to offer 15% off the paperback edition of The Liar’s Diary when purchased online from the Penguin website until 2/15/2008. On the shopping cart page, enter PATRY in the ‘coupon code’ field and click ‘update cart’ to activate it.

If you have a moment, check out her book. Or send her your thoughts and prayers and healing energy. Thank you!!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Looking beneath the surface

I have a friend, a writer I truly admire, Stephanie Bond, who gave a tip during a workshop to learn to write in small increments. She can set a timer and write for an hour or even 30 minutes, which means she is far more productive than I. I've tried this and I can even do it if I'm at the very end of a book, when every moment, sleeping and waking, is lived in the alternate reality of the novel's universe, and my own world is only viewed dimly through bewildered eyes.

But usually it takes at least an hour to read and re-read, to sit and dream, staring off into space, before I can fall into the place where the words come exactly as I want them. Well, never exactly, because there is always revising and rewriting, but closely enough that I'm satisfied with the words on the page.

Another technique many writers use is the crappy first draft, or don't-look-down first draft. Where you write anything, just to get it on the page, and then worry about revising later. I've never been able to do this, either. It paralyzes me. The Muse works differently in all of us; the Process is something that I've learned should be left alone. It's an arcane mystery in a world of pragmatism, at least for me, how this thing we call Creativity works.

So I let it be, unanalyzed, and try to be grateful that it works at all. Looking beneath the surface, trying to find the words.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Okay, it amuses me

I played the "which Battlestar Galactica character are you" game and came up with this, which probably should worry me with insights into my evil nature:

Which character are you? And am I the only one who CAN'T WAIT for the final season??

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Creativity and depression

I'm sending thoughts and prayers to Heath Ledger's family, especially to his daughter, today. I cannot imagine how difficult this time must be for them, especially with the media furor.

Many of the journalists have commented on the link between creativity and depression. I know that artists, writers, musicians, and actors have a consistently higher -- much higher -- rate of alcoholism, drug abuse, and suicide than the general population. Depression is rampant. Lately, even before this tragedy, I've been wondering what it is about the creative mind that makes us subject to the black pit so much more than "normal" (for want of a better word) folks.

There's a place inside herself where an artist goes - and I include writers and actors and musicians in the word artist, here -- to find the emotion that resonates through our work. Some of us have much darker places than others and must enter those shadowed nooks and corridors of memory and experience in order to create.

Yet others can write/paint/sing about pain from a more surface perspective. They don't have to FEEL the pain to translate it into art. Maybe it's a glib shallowness; maybe it's a healthy way to live and create. Certainly, it's an individual experience.

But for many of us, the experience of channeling creativity invokes the emotion described, and we often feel it at a sharper level than even what we put on the page. The pain informs our work and deepens it; the empathy colors our perspective and point of view. Does it make the work better? It does, or at least we believe it does, to the point of being afraid to seek out medication or therapy with which to better cope with the demons devouring our equilibrium.

What is the answer? I wish I knew. "Outing" depression as a chemical imbalance instead of stigmatizing it as it was in years past is a beginning. Perhaps studies proving that creativity does not suffer when the lowest of lows can be softened would be another step forward.

As a child, I believed that I must live in a garrett in Paris, freezing and starving but for crusts of bread and sips of wine, in order to be a "real" writer. As an adult, I know that creativity doesn't depend on external trappings. As a writer who wrote an entire chapter once in the midst of the hell that is Chuck E. Cheese, doling out "more tokens, Mommy!" every page or two, I can promise you that surroundings mean nothing when the story has you in its hot and sweaty embrace, urging you to write on, write on, write ON.

But who can prove to us that treatment for depression won't blunt the edges of creativity? And until they do, will we be forced to watch shining talents crash and burn all around us?

I don't know. I don't have any answers, just unanswerable questions. I do urge any of you reading this who have suffered with depression to talk to somebody about it. Get help. We're all in this together, and my thoughts and prayers are with you, too.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

This may be my next car

The Saturn Flextreme

You can read all about it here, but what really snagged my attention was this line:

As early as 2010 or 2011, "Driving range after leaving the house with a fully charged battery pack and a full tank of ultra-low-sulfur diesel is estimated to be 444 miles."

Think about it!! I'm already considering trading in my beloved BMW convertible for a Prius, but maybe I'll hold out for this one. It's so important for me to be eco-friendly and this is just - WOW! Plus it looks like something a space pilot would drive on her day off, which tickles me.

Chatting with readers this week

I'll be chatting with readers at the Cherry Forums this week and answering all sorts of questions about ATLANTIS AWAKENING. You do have to register to participate, but it's a fairly painless process.

Also, I'm off to get my hair cut CLEAR OFF today and changed back more toward my natural red. Wish me luck!! Will post pics, I promise!

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Insomnia really REALLY stinks

Have had 6 hours total sleep in the past 4 days. But I get to do really constructive things, like raise my winning percentage at the Hearts game on my computer to 26% and find little-known internet gems like my new obscure British title:

My Peculiar Aristocratic Title is:
Milady the Most Honourable Alesia the Prickly of Biggleswade by Biscuit
Get your Peculiar Aristocratic Title

Post yours here if you're bored! Oh, and any cures for insomnia would be awesome.
Alyssa, off to drink more coffee

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Happy New Year!!

How is it 2008? I remember being a kid and thinking I'd be positively ANCIENT (i.e. older than 30, LOL) at the year 2000! And here we are nearly at the end of the decade.

I don't do resolutions, but I feel like setting some goals. I'm big on career goal-setting, but this year my goals run more toward the personal:

I'd like to achieve balance. I spent so much of 2007 running around like a madwoman; chasing after my own tail much of the time. Stress-induced migraines and stomach ache were my frequent companions.

This year, I want to do things a little differently. BE a little different. My goals are to:

1. do some travelling for pleasure, not just for work.

2. spend more time with the kids doing things they like and simply enjoying them for the fascinating individuals they are.

3. sitting still and living in the present instead of constantly berating myself with "what's next?"

How about you? Care to share any life goals?
hugs and happy New Year's!!