We’ve Got Weather

from Susan/Sarah…

Well, I was going to blog a bit about the garden and the yard, since it’s the time of year when everything is looking pretty good. Even mine, and I don’t go overboard with the gardening thing, since allergies have something to say about that. Ahem.

Here’s some of the flowers in containers on my deck, last week. 062406_1503a

And then it started to rain.

And rain. And rain.

We’re in Maryland, in an area where it hardly ever floods. Until this week. The rains came from nowhere…well, I’m sure they came from somewhere but I wasn’t paying any attention, having lots of work to do, so I was busy tap-tapping away on my keyboard, when I looked up…and noticed it was raining pretty hard. Sheets of it. Later, when lightning cracked and thunder started boom-shaka-lakking, I leaped out of my chair and ran downstairs. The dog scurried under the nearest sofa, and I stood at the door watching the deluge in the street and the yard, and while lightning flashed and thunder rolled like bowling balls, I thought about where the husband and sons were in relation to cars, roads, and various routes home. And I resisted the urge to regress, er, resort, to a time-tested technique that worked for me when I was a kid in Upstate New York: I would put on rubber-soled sneakers and wind as many rubber bands in my hair as possible (great look), then settle down on the window seat to watch the storm. Taking out all those rubber bands later was a pain, especially extracting them from curly hair, but it was worth it: I was safe, so the method clearly worked.

This week it wasn’t just one storm that sent me bolting from my chair, it was one storm after another for four days or so, big, lusty, crashing, violent deluge storms, day and night, several inches of rain a day. Locally and throughout the area, there was flooding, and several routes closed down. We’re just outside of D.C., which was a mess. A friend’s son parked his new car outside a museum, and came out a few hours later to find it sloshing up to its side mirrors in water. Many people had losses and were evacuated, and for many this has been a very, very serious situation. I appreciate that, and I feel for them. There’s a helpless feeling when Nature takes over, yanks life out of your control, and all you can do is sit and watch.

We are fortunate to be perched on the highest point in our county. Roads were closed, but we were okay, and the basement stayed dry. We watched our yard turn into a water theme park, complete with mud slide, waterfall, wave pool, a lake, a crescent-shaped river, and a log flume (for squirrels). I think we had a tunnel of love flowing for the rabbits under the deck.

The dog, a fearless little Westie who cowers at nothing (except the vacuum cleaner, but anything that devours and growls like that is worth avoiding), kept running out on the deck to bark at the thunder. But being low to the ground, she won’t go out willingly in wet grass. This creates logistical problems….so more than once I tugged her outside on a leash in drenching rain.

When I wasn’t watching the back hill dissolve into rivulets and craters, or dragging the dog outside in the downpour, or worrying about the teenage son with the car, a job to go to, friends to visit, and a sense of immortality undaunted by oh, a little rain, I did get some work done.

I know it was a terrible series of storms for many, and our problems were few in the scope of things around here. We lost electricity and internet more than once, but I had no problem getting to work (just down the hall, turn right), and I enjoyed the steady thrumming of rain on the roof. There’s something very peaceful about sitting down with notebook and pens (had to turn that computer off!) to do some writing, and it’s equally nice to sit down with a wonderful story and do some reading. I often listen to music when I read or write, but not this week. Rain is its own music.

I was reminded how good it is to do without the rush-rush of an electronic lifestyle, to go without electricity, internet, easily accessed computer files, and just to sit quietly and listen to my own thoughts, without the extra buzziness that we so often allow into our days. So for me, those storms were a little gift of simplicity in very wet packaging. I welcome storms, and snowstorms too, for that quietude. But I always put on my Keds just in case.

~Susan

p.s. it’s sunny today!  (with thunderstorms called for this afternoon….)

A lake forming in our back yard. 062706_1656a

Not a Highland waterfall: the back hill                                                          062706_1658a

What Are You Reading

From Susan, of the Sarah persuasion….

Happy Anniversary to the Word Wenches, one month old today!                                                                                                                          Wedcake

And it’s Thursday already, and my turn again — what to blog??!!

My amazing sister Wenches have posted fabulous keeper essays on writing, research, and other assorted good stuff. I’ve been thinking of possible topics. Hmm….

I could write about how to design yummy heroes from a few handy writerly ingredients…or list some books that I think every writer’s research library should have…or blog a bit more about experiential research (not 18th c. farms, or anything about corsets, fires, pigs or randy five-legged rams, because Susan/Miranda and Loretta are the CHAMPEENS of living history, imho!)….

Or maybe I could blog about adventures in field research, like tramping out into a meadow to fly hawks, or catching arrows shot by an eighth-degree black belt and former Marine…or maybe I could tell you about the time I set out to research Celtic harping, and ended up with a world-famous Celtic harper stranded overnight at my house, playing her gorgeous Irish harp in my kitchen (and later scrubbing her fussy two-year-old in the tub, long story)….

Ah but today is not about me, my friends, for this is the one-month birthday of Word Wenches!

And all the Wenches, and visitors, have been working very hard lately to make this a great blog.

So in honor of the occasion, I think we deserve a wee break from all the theorizin’ and expostulatin’ and wisdom-ness. I’m thinking we could play a little game that me and the other Wenches (yeah that’s not grammatical but we’re on a break here) were thinking of springing on you all from time to time.

This is called "Quick! What Are You Reading Now?"

Here’s how it goes:

Pick up a fiction book you’ve been reading most recently (if you have more than one book in play, like a true addict, choose the last one you had in your hands).

Now find…um…page 70! Then find the first sentence of the third paragraph (if there’s less than that, try the second paragraph).

Then type that sentence into the Comments area and post it for us (please let us know the title and author, since all writers, living or gone, should get credit)!

There are endless variations to this game, so let’s give it a whirl (hey if you feel like cheatin’ a little, it’s in the privacy of your own ‘puter, and our game rules are very elastic <g>).

I’ll get us started…

Currently I’m on pg. 70 of Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier  (I often re-read my keeper classics, especially when madly overworked, as lately):

"We should grow old here together, we should sit like this to our tea as old people, Maxim and I, with other dogs, the successors of these, and the library would wear the same ancient musty smell that it did now."

Okay –- now it’s your turn!

~Susan/Sarah 

                                                                            Lordleighton_the_maid_with_golden_hair_1

Woman Reading, by Lord Frederic Leighton

Inspiration in Odd Places

I did a bit of field research last night for a medieval setting I’m currently writing.

I saw Spamalot at the National Theater in DC (hey, it’s medieval!).

My husband and I are longtime Monty Python fanatics, er, fans, and we passed that gene along to our kids, who were spouting lines like "Wot, the curtains?!" and "Yer muzzah waz a hamztah an yer fazzer smelt of eldterbewwies" when they were very small. So we trooped off to see the show, delighted that a company had come to DC so we didn’t have to arrange a family trip to NYC to see it on Broadway (which we had been discussing).

Here’s my quick review: Spamalot is flat-out hilarious, and wildly creative. It deserves every Tony Award they can throw at it. Eric Idle wrote the show, adding new scenes and new songs with John Du Prez. They translated the movie "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" brilliantly to the stage, adding send-ups of several Broadway musicals while they were at it. Somehow it’s all just as funny, and even funnier in some bits, than the movie. The sets and special effects are amazingly creative, and the cast is excellent, with some truly extraordinary talent among them. The connection with the audience is a big part of the show: not only did applause break out as soon as familiar characters and bits appeared (all the French knight had to do was pop up from behind the battlements for a huge round of applause) — the show takes it further by involving audience members toward the end.

And though the performers must have done this a zillion times by now, Spamalot maintains a sense of spontaneity and unpredictable humor, with flashes of creative brilliance. It’s exhilarating. I could have watched another hour of that raucous madness easily. And many of the audience members left whistling, and singing …Always look on the briiiiiiiight side of life….

Spamalot is inspired lunacy.

That’s all well and good, you may be thinking…but this is Word Wenches territory, and what does this blog have to do with writing?!

Hmm…. Creativity in action. The benefits of teamwork and brainstorming. And of course, the benefits of field research!

Creativity in action: No matter what a writer is doing, part of the brain is always in writing and creative thinking mode. My head was whirling as I watched the show, and I was in awe of the ecstatic creativity that brought the whole thing about. And some of the solutions the writers chose to translate the story and characters from screen to stage were fascinating. For instance, the character of Dennis the peasant, who flings mud and talks about the autonomous collective, only has a short scene in the movie. On stage, he’s transformed into Sir Galahad (in a funny parody of The Phantom of the Opera). A terrific, but throwaway, character is linked to an essential one in a great little plot twist.

In a draft of Waking the Princess, I had introduced the hero’s crabby old uncle, who ultimately didn’t move the plot along much, so he had to go. But I liked one aspect about him: he flung teacups at people when he got into a snit. So I transformed the character into a pet monkey who throws china across the room, and worked that into the first meeting of the hero and heroine. Et voila! The bit I liked was salvaged, and the plot moved along.

Teamwork and brainstorming: Writers work primarily in isolation (whether it’s in a spare bedroom or home office, or a sunny deck, or the blissful quiet of a Toyota Camry…), and that comes naturally to writers for the sake of the work. But sometimes I’ll reach an impasse in a story, and I’ll appeal to a couple of writer friends–we’ll toss that thing around like a volleyball until it gets going again. And if one of my friends gets stuck, the help is reciprocated. Then we go back to our isolation chambers. <g> As for teamwork, let us not forget the publishing team of agent, editor, and production departments that gets that book out there on the bookstore shelves!

Brainstorming with others can help unstick a stuck story – just as the creative teamwork in Spamalot was essential to the success of the story and the show (yeah, I realize it’s an entirely different genre/medium, but the idea applies!). Too much brainstorming isn’t good for writer or story, but the right dose, now and then, can stimulate a miracle cure.

Field research: I love experiential research, and maybe another time I’ll blog in more detail about that. It’s great to step away from the stacks of research books to absorb information and atmosphere another way. Though I’ve poured long hours into researching Celtic harp playing and fiddling, archery, blacksmithing, falconry, and several other topics, often the best research bits come from trying something myself. I’ve flown hawks and practiced archery, and I even learned to catch an arrow for the sake of a plot point. And I own a customized longbow (ok, so it’s not that long, I’m under 5 ft. tall…). Shooting that bow has come in handy for more than one of the medievals I’ve written.

So there’s a bit o’ Spamalot morphed into some observations on writing. When you write, whether historicals or contemporary, let yourself be creative not only with the writing, but with your resources too. No matter if it’s a stretch–if it gets your creative wheels turning, go for it!

And remember to Always look on the briiiiiight side of life… <<whistling>>

Susan/ sarah

Spamalot_2 A bit of medieval research:

King Arthur and his knights from Spamalot

The Elusive Muse of Focus

Nina commented: I have a question to our Word Wenches. What do you do to keep yourself "in the moment of a book/chapter/scene when life keeps yanking you out? For me, something a simple as a potty break can yank me so far out of a scene I have to re-read the chapter just to "get in the mood" again. So, what do you do to “stay in the moment” when life interrupts?

Hey, if you ever figure this out, let me know!  Seriously, this is almost a daily issue for me, as I’ve written most of my books surrounded by kids, a dog, and the usual (and unusual) family and household matters ready to throw me off track. I once wrote an intense love scene late at night on deadline, while seven boys on a sleepover played video games and made rude and rather creative noises in the very next room. And I’m distractible by nature, so focusing on the work despite all–and that night was a challenge!–can be a real issue.

I’ve learned to use crutches, aids, and techniques. If I need to get up and move (this is a constant, I can’t sit still for long), or if I want a fresh cup of tea but have to run the gauntlet of Mom-requests, doorbell, phone, mail, UPS, dog-goes-outside, dog-goes-back-inside, I try to make myself keep thinking about that story thread if I don’t want to lose it. I’ll jot something down on a piece of paper while I’m waiting for the tea to boil. Or I’ll mutter it to myself, over and over.

Once I’m back at work, I’ll retrace what I wrote last to get back into the flow of it again. Retracing is a great and very simple tool — one step back for two solid steps forward, if all goes well. 

Music also helps me to create a focusing bubble. This doesn’t work for everyone, I know, but it’s a must for me. It helps my brain to synchronize again after interruption, and helps me get back into full focus mode. I’ve gotten very interested in the last few years in right brain/left brain functions, and in music that enhances and organizes. This seems to help ma wee brain. Also, I’ve learned some physical exercises that help as well.

I also use journals. I keep one notebook going, and sometimes finish two or three, for each book I write. I like a certain type of spiral notebook, a size and design that I like. These pages are not for pouring out my personal angst, that’s a waste of time and ink for me, cuz in these pages I want to focus on the book and I want to make some progress — even if the only progess I make in a day is a great entry in that notebook. I talk to myself about the story–anything and everything to do with the book in progress. Ideas, thoughts, plot points, character notes, name lists, research tidbits, anything I don’t want to forget or lose track of entirely. There’s a lot of chitchat, mutter, flotsam and jetsam running through my head, both book and non-book, and I try to corral it here. This works great when I can find the notebook, haha, but no system is perfect. 

Anyway, I find that my messy, scribbledy, beloved journals really keep me on track, as does music (instrumental, never with words! not for working!). If all else fails, walking around muttering to myself usually does the trick (and clears the adolescent males out of the house so I can be alone again to think.)

Oh yeah, and sticky notes. Lots and lots of sticky notes…

Susan/sarah

Ah, sweet focus: Sir Walter Scott’s peaceful study at Abbotsford. Took this myself, and was alone here, blissfully alone, for about 15 minutes before my friends came looking for me. Heaven!

Abbinterior2

Cover Karma

Ah, covers–they can be the delight, or the bane, of an author’s publishing existence.
Generally, art departments will request that authors submit character and setting descriptions and any suggestions for the design, and in my experience so far, the art departments have been wonderful about considering the author’s ideas. OK, I’d like to think that my ideas are fantastic and the art dept. cheers in unison when my email gets to them, loaded with helpful pictures and details…but really they appreciate the jumping-off point the author’s suggestions provide, and they take it from there, since they understand not only artistic concepts but market trends. Most of the time they take it in the right direction and their decisions are a lot more savvy than mine, and most of the time I’ve been very pleased with the final cover. And relieved, yes. That too.
I anxiously await the first sight of each new cover. Usually this appears in color proof form, though sometimes early on, it’s a photocopy of the original ink sketch (the sketches I’ve seen are breathtaking, fluid and lovely line drawings, fresh and immediate and inspired. The one I have for Keeping Kate is graceful and gorgeous, but I can’t show it for legal reasons since it belongs to the artist…I asked!). After sketch and proof comes coverflat (and if you’re lucky, tons of coverflats to send out to readers!).
My cover karma has been very good on the whole, and I’m so grateful for that. Soooooooooo grateful, you have no idea…because ya just never know what you’re going to see when ya first open that FedEx envelope, or click on that jpeg file….
The foreign covers can be the most fun surprises of all. Here’s one for The Raven’s Wish in Dutch …this one lRwdutchooks like Roman gladiator fun in 16th century Scotland!
 
                      
And here’s the Chinese edition of Angel Knight. This one’s prim and sweet, and just rather odd… with characters in modern clothes and a heroine with a 1960s style hairdo…it’s a 14th c. setting, btw.Akchinese_1
But of all my covers, good and not-so-hot, American or foreign… the piece de resistance (found the italics but not the accent marks!) — has to be the original cover for The Raven’s Moon. I don’t know how this ended up as the cover for a novel about 16th century Scotland–it defies explanation….
Worst_cover_1
A little story about Naked Gold Guy, as he’s fondly known now. This was the original cover, and after my agent, editor, and I were all done gagging — what is that, a gold garden statue?! And what is it doing on a cover about 16th century Scottish Border reivers? They would spike it with arrows if they ever came across it while out on a moonlit cattle raid–we requested that it be changed. No deal, too expensive, a commissioned painting, forget it. We got nowhere, until a certain large chain store refused to order what would have been a considerable number–claiming no way would they carry that book. Ah, money talks more sense than horrified authors. That refusal was on a Friday, and by Monday, The Raven’s Wish had a new cover–plaid and roses, and the Naked Gold Guy completely gone, either through the miracle of graphics or just cement shoes. Only his strategically placed roses remained.
Ravensrmoon_1
Several thousand books with the Naked Gold Guy covers were printed before the change was made, and I was assured they would be recalled and buried in the warehouse somewhere. I did booksignings with both covers on display, afterward calling my editor in horror–they’re out there! OMG!– really we all had a very good laugh over it, after I got past the initial hurdle of believing my career was toast. The stepback of this book was gorgeous, btw, and the plaid-and-roses version is very nice.
But be warned, the NGG is still out there…in used bookstores on dusty shelves….
And so my tale of cover karma. I don’t know what I did in a past life to deserve that (frolicked a little too heartily in more than one grotto, perhaps?!), but in the end The Raven’s Moon got its happy ending after all…complete with plaid and roses.
Wenches, I’ll continue Jo’s challenge — what’s the worst cover fiasco you’ve had?
Susan Sarah, experiencing glitches with line spacing in her blog posts due to AOL and other ‘puter issues, and sending ‘pologies if the post doesn’t look quite right….