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April 2, 2009

Do you like to listen to music while you are writing?

Years ago, I couldn’t concentrate on anything with noise in the background. Whether I was finishing up homework or reading a book, music or television in the background disrupted my thought process and drove me crazy.

Now, however, I find I am inspired by music when I write. Most recently, I’ve been listening to every Savatage album every made while working on my novel, and during the Christmas season I typed along to Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

Unlike most people I know, hard rock and metal are actually soothing to me. In college, when I was living in a tiny apartment with paper-thin walls, I drowned out the neighbor’s partying and fell asleep to Aerosmith and Dream Theater. My music tastes are more eclectic now, but my philosophy is still “the heavier the better”.

As far as my writing goes, I think I work better when listening to music because it’s the process of creation. A band like Trans-Siberian Orchestra, for example, is so complex and so beautiful that I can’t help but feel motivated when they are playing on my computer.

I think, “If I could create something as haunting and lyrical and mesmerizing as this, I can’t help but succeed.”

If you don’t believe me, watch this video of how one person was inspired to create by TSO’s “Wizards in Winter”. Pretty amazing.

Trans-Siberian Orchestra, “Wizards in Winter



March 31, 2009

I’ve decided that if my writing career ever goes south, I’ll open a private investigation business. I think I could really get used to detective work, provided my clients offer up plenty of intrigue.

A while back, I mentioned a sociopathic family member whose evil ways have disrupted my life in ways unimaginable. I finally decided to take the offensive and began researching her on the Internet.

It’s amazing what a simple Google search can turn up, and I’m surprised I never thought of it before.

This particular person is a member of just about every social networking site on the Internet, and she has no trouble airing her dirty laundry for half the world to see. I suppose that is what I’m doing right now, but I like to think I behave with slightly more dignity.

And certainly I write with better grammar. Good Lord, it’s as if the girl never went to elementary school.

What I’ve discovered is that every time her name pops up in a search result, my stomach tightens with this overwhelming trepidation. What will I find on this web site? And will it completely turn my world upside down?

I’m no saint, and I hate to sound condescending, but either this family member is a world-class liar (which she is), or she’s committed far more felonious acts than I gave her credit for. And she brags about them. ONLINE.

It seems to me that if I were to engage in unlawful behavior under the cloak of darkness, I would avoid describing those exotic trysts even within the sanctity of my own journal. God forbid someone burglarize my house, discover the diary and publish it in the New York Times.

Writing about them on the Internet, though? That’s like begging to be caught.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years about this person, it’s that she can’t stand not to be the center of attention. She is drawn toward the spotlight like a magnet to an iron pipe, and anything that draws her away from said attention incurs her wrath.

I’m sick to my stomach. Anyone have some Pepto?


March 30, 2009

As I mentioned last week, the air-conditioner in our apartment recently went on the fritz, and since we’re smart enough to rent rather than own, we simply called the front office and requested maintenance pay us a visit.

If only things were that simple. You always expect things to be easy, and are surprised when (for the thousandth time) complications ensue.

We didn’t realize the AC had entered its death throes until about 4:30 p.m., and the office closes at five. They assured us, however, that problems with the AC count as a “maintenance emergency”, so one of the guys would be knocking on our door shortly.

Needless to say, no one showed up.

I don’t tolerate the heat well, despite having grown up in Texas, and although our summer is just beginning to rev its engines, that night was miserable. During the winter, when it’s a balmy 48 degrees outside, my husband and I sleep with the bedroom window open and a small fan stuck in the opening so we can wring every last moment of blessed cold from the event.

Anyway, I didn’t sleep at all, but the maintenance guys arrived the next morning at 8:30 a.m., so I was pacified.

Two guys showed up, and here is what I learned:

The first guy, who is from El Salvador, has lived in this country for 8.5 years and is married to a German woman. They are thinking of moving back to El Salvador because it is beautiful and because they want to raise their children according to his cultural heritage.

The second guy, who is from Honduras, has worked for this apartment complex for the last 18 years. I know this because the first guy told me.

I know some Spanish because I used to work at stables and there is not a horse farm in Texas that doesn’t employ at least one or two Hispanic stable hands. Most of them are in this country illegally, but no one says anything because they work for pennies and don’t make a fuss.

Because of my experience at random barns, I can speak some Spanish—though, granted, my vocabulary is limited mostly to dirty words and equine jargon. None of which helps me when a maintenance guy is asking me something about my AC.

The first guy leaves for a few minutes to get something from the maintenance shed across the complex, and the second guy is tinkering with the thermostat. He turns to me and utters a few syllables of rapid Spanish, expecting me to understand what he’s said.

Unfortunately, he doesn’t understand a WORD OF ENGLISH.

Here’s the thing: I’ve got no problem with anyone moving to this country as long as they fill out the requisite paperwork and contribute to society. I’d venture to say that most people who live here are immigrants, even if their immigrant status might be ten times removed.

However, I do have a problem with people who move here from non-English-speaking countries and refuse to learn the language. Not only does this complicate everyone else’s life, but it can’t be easy for them.

Take a class? Watch American television. Buy a book. Whatever. Just learn the damn language—or at least enough of it to communicate effectively in public.

This first maintenance guys has lived here 8 years and is essentially fluent in English. He stumbles a couple of times, but when he doesn’t know a word, he asks what it might be and learns it right then and there.

But this second maintenance guy has lived here for nearly twenty years, yet he can’t speak a word of the language. And he works routinely with English-speaking people. And my AC DEPENDS ON HIM.


March 28, 2009

I was going to write a “flinging” post this morning, but never got around to it. It’s been a busy week, and all I’ve wanted to do today is veg in front of the television. This isn’t typical behavior for me, so I hope it wears off before Monday.

All week, I was kicking around the idea of reserving a domain name and transfering this blog to my own web site. I started a regular blog because I didn’t want the commitment of a “real” web site; I didn’t want to think of blogging as a chore, but as a pleasure.

I shut down my professional web site—the one I created for ghostwriting—about six months ago when I decided to close my business. Since then, I’ve lived delightfully obligation-free.

When you purchase a domain name and web hosting, you feel compelled to use this space because you’re paying for it every month. You feel like if you don’t update it, you’re pissing money down the drain.

Nevertheless, this blog is severely limiting, in terms of both usability and design. I’m not a graphic designer, but I do enjoy working with Photoshop and creating my own designs—versus hiring someone else to do it or going entirely minimal.

So I think I’ve made my decision: On Monday or Tuesday, I’ll purchase my domain and the first year of web hosting. This doesn’t mean the decision-making process is over, but at least it won’t bug me anymore.

The major decision I have to make now is how to structure my new web site. I really enjoy writing these personal blog posts about the writing life and about my wacky adventures in suburbia. However, I also enjoy writing informative articles for aspiring authors and ghostwriters.

Here are my options:

  1. Simply create a new blog at my own site with the same set-up: blog in one section, with articles as pages in another.
  2. Set up two blogs at the new site: one for my personal rants and ravings, and a second for writing tips and advice.
  3. Merge the two ideas into one blog.

My guess is that I’ll go with the second option, but I’ll continue rolling it around in the noggin for a few days before making up my mind.

What I have discovered is that writing articles about ghostwriting and fiction and the like is extremely cathartic for me. I don’t ghost anymore, but I’ve learned quite a bit over the years and I’m more than willing to share the tidbits of information I’ve collected.

It also helps me work out issues with my own writing. For example, I’m currently working on an article about defining the climax of a story, and the research for that article is assisting the momentum of my WIP. Win-win. If only one person benefits from reading an article I wrote, I’ll be a happy camper.

Decisions have never been my strong suit though, so It definitely helps to write about this from a personal standpoint. My best friend and I are both very passive people when it comes to relatively simple decisions, so neither one of us ever gets anything done. We once sat in her car in my driveway for forty-five minutes because neither one of us could decide where we should have dinner.

How sad is that?


March 26, 2009

I’ve read a lot of blog posts and articles recently about writing anxiety, which can manifest in many forms. I think most of us experience this at one time or another, but for some it is a chronic condition.

I’ve written an article on this subject: “Writing Anxiety: Turn Angst Into Productivity.” If you’ve been suffering from this of late, you might find it useful.

Please feel free to add your own tips, advice and insights in the comments section.


March 25, 2009

I come from a coffee-drinking family, which probably explains why I have two Mr. Coffee machines sitting on my kitchen counter and one hiding under the cabinet in my pantry JUST IN CASE. I drink at least three cups in the morning, one mid-afternoon and then two more after dinner.

Yes, I know: Coffee is bad for you. Coffee causes global warming. Coffee is the reason my Mom’s backyard fence was destroyed in Hurricane Ike. Coffee is the devil’s brew. George Bush drinking coffee is like asking for world destruction. Whatever. It gets me through the day.

Night before last, I only slept about two hours because the air-conditioning unit in my apartment decided it needs CPR. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to sleep through a spring or summer Texas night without AC, but if you have, you believe me when I say it was like SPENDING THE NIGHT IN HELL.

Anyway, yesterday evening I started to fade around three o’clock, and by four I felt like my eyelids were weighted down with cement bricks. I decided I had to have an extra cup of coffee or two to make it through the chapter revisions I was conducting.

I padded out to the kitchen in my bare feet, dressed in my pajamas because I hadn’t bothered to change that morning. Why should I, when no one (except the entire Internet) knows about it?

I reached into the kitchen cabinet and felt around for the coffee grounds, then realized that I was out. By that time, I’d convinced myself that I wouldn’t make it another five minutes without coffee, that my entire world was going to crash down around me if I didn’t get a shot of caffeine pronto.

So I grab the keys, head outside, realize I haven’t changed out of my pajamas, run back inside, throw on a dirty pair of jeans from my bedroom floor, shove my feet into a pair of very well-worn flip-flops, search for my keys because I have no idea where I threw them in the search for my jeans and manage to stumble outside.

The nearest grocery store is about fifteen minutes away, and I’m thinking that I’m going to fall asleep at the wheel if I have to wait that long. Not only will I have to stand in line to buy a carton of Folgers, but then I’ll have to DRIVE HOME and WAIT FOR MR.COFFEE.

Then, out of the corner of my eye, I spot a Starbucks. I wish I could adequately illustrate the intensity of the internal debate that transpired. Should I go into Starbucks? What would my family think? None of us is inclined to spend $5.00 on a cup of coffee, not when we’re the assholes in the supermarket who spend ten minutes pulling coupons out of a plastic folder and arguing over the sale price on a carton of milk.

Not when there are small children in Siberia who can’t afford a cup of $0.05 coffee. I don’t know why kids in Siberia would want coffee, but we always want what we can’t have, right?

So I give in to the dark side and pull into the Starbucks parking lot. Sit in my car staring at that green-and-white logo. Justifying the expenditure in my mind.

If you’re going to write your book, you need nourishment. Your body NEEDS the caffeine. You’ll give a homeless guy five bucks to tip the scales in your karmic favor. No one will ever know. You’ll throw the empty cup in the Dumpster to avoid detection. NO ONE WILL EVER KNOW.

So I tentatively step out of the car, looking furtively right and left as though I might suddenly find myself in the middle of a floodlight. Not that it isn’t 86 degrees outside with a bright sun shining overhead.

You spent an entire night without AC. You DESERVE this.

I go inside and stare up at the menu, suddenly enthralled by the sheer volume of choices. Nowhere on the menu board does it say CUP OF COFFEE. Instead, everything has fancy names, and since I’ve never been to Starbucks before, I have no idea what I’m supposed to order.

Then my eyes find something interesting: White chocolate mocha. Wow! Coffee and chocolate all in one drink. It’s like a caffeinated dessert.

So I order a large (it’s called Venti) and carry my white paper cup out to the car. I take a sip.

HOLY CRAP. I’ve never used the words “party for my mouth” before, but that is exactly what this was. It was so sweet I’m surprised I didn’t instantly develop a cavity, but it actually tasted delicious.

I take the contraband home and finish it in about twenty minutes while I work on my manuscript. The caffeine begins to produce this electromagnetic hum throughout my body, like my central nervous system is overloading from all the caffeine and sugar.

Because of my weakness, I made it until nine o’clock last night before I finally gave up and went to bed. I doubt Starbucks will become a habit, but that white chocolate mocha was like a gateway drug. Now that I’ve tried it once, I think it will be easier to go back for more.

Just don’t tell anyone.

writer responsibility

March 24, 2009

It’s been several years since I discovered author Dean Koontz, and when I read FROM THE CORNER OF HIS EYE, I was so profoundly touched by the story that I wrote him a letter.

It was the first time I’d ever sent any correspondence to an author (or any other famous person, for that matter) and I confess I felt rather silly. Nevertheless, even if he never read my letter, I felt compelled to praise his lyrical prose and genuine storytelling talent.

Six months later, long after I’d forgotten about the letter, I received a large envelope with Dean Koontz’s name un the upper left-hand corner. Certain that the envelope contained nothing but promotional materials, I let it sit on the dining room table for a few days before I finally tore it open.

Inside was the Dean Koontz print newsletter, but on top was a folded white sheet of paper. I opened it and discovered a typed letter explaining that my message had been received, and that while he would love to answer each letter personally, he simply didn’t have the time.

At the bottom, however, was a message printed in ink:

Sam, So glad you enjoyed FROM THE CORNER OF HIS EYE. I’ve enclosed a few bookplates for your copy. –Dean Koontz

The fact that Dean Koontz had included a personal message touched me in ways I cannot describe. Here is this very successful author whose prolific dedication to his craft must claim most of his waking hours, yet he takes a few moments to scribble a note of thanks.

This isn’t about hero worship or a serendipitous brush with celebrity. This is about human kindness, about an author who takes his fans seriously and doesn’t place himself above the masses.

After I received the bookplates—each handwritten, by the way—I vowed to treat readers with the same courtesy should I ever become a published novelist.

A few days ago, however, I was surfing the Internet randomly and decided to look up Stephenie Meyer’s web site. I touched on the Twilight series briefly in a previous post, citing numerous problems with the prose, but my husband was interested in seeing the movie that was just released by Summit Entertainment.

Plus, I like visiting authors’ web sites. Sometimes you discover unique gems of information.

What I discovered on Stephenie Meyer’s web site appalled me. Apparently, she is far too busy and famous to even accept fan mail, let alone read it. Last I checked, even J.K. Rowling accepts fan mail, and will even sign book covers and photographs if requested.

This baffles me. It seems to me that writers have a responsibility to their fans. After all, if it weren’t for readers, writers wouldn’t have any career at all.

It just seems beyond arrogant for Stephenie Meyer to imply that she is so famous that she can’t be bothered with her fans. What do you guys think? Do writers have a responsibility, or is this a personal judgment call?