Roger Zelazny and Me: Talking the Literary Canon at Backspace

confhotelmay I attended the Backspace Writer’s Conference last weekend (it was my birthday present, actually). Wow, what a ride. Three days of workshops packed with info on what literary agents really want (no, really); how a book idea becomes a movie (it’s not how you might think); inspiring words from YA author A.S. King (One truly cool chick, go check her out. Like, right now. I’ll wait.); and choreographing fight scenes with thriller author Jonathan Maberry (holy crap, I didn’t know you could break someone’s elbow with two fingers!). All culminating in the equivalent of Writers’ Church with superagent Donald Maass talking about his writing how-to: 21st Century Fiction (props to Vanessa Lillie for coining the term 🙂 ). Lots of take aways, lots of work up ahead for me, but the best part was that I got to indulge one of my all-time passions: talking about books and favorite authors with people who love books and authors.bryantparkmay

In an evening conversation with Ted Boone, aspiring Science Fiction writer, I related an event that sticks out in my mind as formative regarding my notions of novelists and what they do. I don’t read SF these days (and I definitely don’t write it–never say never) but I have read it in the past and here’s why: When I was a young kid looking to sell Girl Scout cookies, my mom took me up to Stagecoach Drive in Santa Fe, which was potentially a brilliant sales strategy because Stagecoach Drive is Santa Fe’s equivalent of Newport, RI’s Bellevue Avenue. I don’t remember if I sold a lot of cookies–I think we were a bit stymied by the gated driveways–but the key to our trip was Mom’s acquaintance with Judy Zelazny, Roger Zelazny’s then wife. Roger Zelazny, for those of you who don’t know, was the prolific and award-winning author of classic Science Fiction and Fantasy novels. His oeuvre spanned the “Golden Years” of SF/F from about 1962 into the 1990s. He died in 1995. He was particularly known for his Amber series and for elevating pure genre fiction to something more literary. George R.R. Martin (of Game of Thrones fame and another Santa Fe resident) counts Zelazny as an inspiration for his own work.NinePrincesInAmber500

At any rate, Mrs. Zelazny selected a flattering number of my boxes of cookies, and while I was counting out change, she asked if I might like to see where her husband worked. I had no notion at the time that I was entering the workspace of a renowned novelist. I did know Roger Zelazny wrote books because his name was on the paperbacks my brother read non-stop in those days. As I remember the moment (which may bear only a little resemblance to ground truth) we walked down a few sets of stairs, like we were going underground. We got to a set of huge doors, where Mrs. Zelazny knocked. Upon receiving the call to enter, the doors parted like the gates of Mordor, and we entered a place of literary dreams. The Author, ensconced in the middle of floor to ceiling shelves holding books and Hugo awards, turned from his typewriter to greet us politely and a bit distractedly. I think he may have even signed a book or two for my brother. This is a sacred image for me, and no matter how many books I sell in the future (I hoping it will be many!), I don’t think I will count myself a success until I have an equivalent book-lined room of my own.

So thanks to Ted for reminding me of that formative experience. And thanks to Roger Zelazny for opening those doors so I could glimpse the writer at work and dream.

So what are your formative experiences about people in their workplaces? Did you visit a fire station as a kid? See the Marines at 8th and I? Anyone a Roger Zelazny fan?

Love on a bike…and off

Because I am involved in my own small way in the sport of bike racing, bicycling stories interest and inspire me. In my internet surfing this week I turned up two unusually moving stories about life on and off the bike. While it’s true that writers use sports analogies early and often to drive home points about sacrifice, achievement, and life, often their message is about sacrifice of time, other activities, and relationships FOR one’s sport. The stories below, however, have a bit of a different spin. They talk instead about sacrificing the sport itself, for love.

Alison talking about Tim: “He’s amazing. He’s the strongest person I know”.

Tim about Alison and his definition of love:

“Since the accident…it’s not always about that next adventure. We just enjoy each other’s company. My definition of love: caring for someone so much that you are absolutely and completely willing to put their needs above your own…and not ask why. Just do it.”

And the thing is, a true impression of selflessness rings through in Dr. Tim Delgado’s voice.

As I was absorbing the emotional moments of the Delgados’ story, I happened upon another headline on the ESPN site: Cyclist Willow Rockwell gives up her Olympic dream

It turns out that back in the beginning of April, champion mountain biker Willow Rockwell, somewhere in her lead up to an Olympic spot, decided to give it all a pass. Right before the 2011 World Cup Championships, she’d discovered she was pregnant and had taken time off to have her baby, Raven, and recover. She was gearing up for her next goal, victory in the 2012 World Cup and a chance at the Olympics, when something else clicked into place. In her words from her website post discussing her decision to retire from bike racing:

“In giving birth to my daughter, I also gave birth to an aspect of myself that was buried deep within. The woman. The lover. The feminine mysteries. I have found a love that transcends bike racing.”

I, for one, find it incredibly courageous of Willow Rockwell to admit to herself and to the world that these things she’s talking about have value–beyond her achievement in her chosen profession of mountain bike racing. Women need to say this more often. They need to say it often enough that we don’t wince at the sheer feminine sentiment of it. Here’s a bit more from Willow:

“My soul needs my baby. My soul needs laughter and contentment. My soul has expanded, and I had to let myself catch up with it. When I was in South Africa, I looked around and everything felt wrong. My heart and soul were not there anymore. My body was a shell of it’s former self, just going through the motions. Living is not going through the motions. Living is being engaged, with awe and wonder, in every moment. I have decided to live.”

Just like Allison Delgado decided to live, and her husband decided to enjoy Allison not just for the mountains they could climb and activities they could do, Willow Rockwell gave up a competitive career in bike racing to be with herself and her family. Maybe I am reading too much into a simple human interest story, but this is really the essence of humanity for me–how giving up an external driver (a dream, a goal) can often open you up to new possibilities for love and achievement.

The whole topic put me in mind of a quote from writer and teacher Holly Lisle’s blog:

“Every dream has a price. You need to know this now, because the price can be enormous, and if you don’t know about it in advance, you can wake up one day to find that you have paid with everything you ever loved, and what you have to show for all of that isn’t enough.”

So when is it okay to stop striving for a goal? Have any of you ever quit something you worked for, only to find you were better off?

Lucky 7 Writing Share! Yipes.

Tagged with the Lucky 7 meme (what is a meme, exactly?), by Myndi Shafer AND Emma Burcart, I scrolled through the WIP, only to find out I don’t actually have a page 77–haven’t progressed past page 56. So below you will find 7 paragraphs from page 14, multiples of 7 still count, right? I have really enjoyed the snippets of people’s works-in-progress. Now to tag some other writers…

Here are the rules.

1. Go to page 77 of your current MS/WIP
2. Go to line 7
3. Copy down the next 7 lines, sentences, or paragraphs, and post them as they’re written.
4. Tag 7 authors, and let them know.

Here’s my bit from the WIP I have titled TAYLOR’S BARGAIN:

“So, what do I have to do with your bride-to-be dumping you? You said this wasn’t just a catch up on old times session.” She fiddled with her silverware, lining it up precisely with the bottom of the bread plate.

“I have a…ah…proposal to make.” He took a small sip of water, and she noticed his long, strong fingers.

Her gaze snapped to Alex’s face. “To me?”

“Yes. Taylor, will you marry me?”

Her foolish, foolish heart skipped its next beat, and its next. The racket in the restaurant fell away, and it was just the two of them in a cone of utter silence, where she could hear the thump thump of her heart beat. “Marry you?”

“Well, really it’s just an engagement. Or a fake engagement actually. I need a fiancee to hook this big investor I’ve been scouting for weeks. He’s very conservative and he’d expressed his pleasure that I was getting married soon.”

Her fists clenched in her lap. “Well, I don’t think it’s going to make your case when you show up with another bride entirely.”

Tagging seven more authors to share (sorry if you’ve already been tagged, you can share twice!). Come on, you know you want to… 🙂

Susie Lindau

The Journal Pulp

Shannyn Schroeder

Jillian Dodd

Louise Behiel

Ted Strutz

Pat O’Dea Rosen

Let’s see ’em, writers! Don’t be shy now.

All Hail the Haters

I was distressed to find that three of my favorite bloggers encountered hate mail this week in the course of providing enlightenment and entertainment through their writing and instruction. Not surprisingly, they each dealt with a similar situation in very different ways, according to their personality type and blog voice.

Even though it resurrected horrible childhood memories, Lisa Hall-Wilson recovered from a personal attack with grace, courage, and forgiveness.

Daniel Nest responded to a bizarre and seemingly random crazy with characteristic humor and a little “right-back-atcha.”

And Graeme Street, cycling trainer and fitness guru, fought back from a punch to the gut with an impressive display of physical prowess. Get a load of the TRICEPS on this guy, my friends. How can anyone say he’s phoning it in!?

So, the haters…Who can forget the author who disagreed (ungrammatically) with a review of her self-published novel last year and was publicly (and a bit unfairly, IMO) excoriated in blog comments? I blogged about my response to that incident here at Edits [that] Rock.

But my question is: do the haters help us step up our game? Or are they just a blight on the blogosphere (and elsewhere to be sure) that we all will encounter sooner or later and must deal with in our own way?

Support of like-minded writers can pull us through the dark days when the haters are chipping away at our writing, our confidence, and our dreams. Kristen Lamb in her blog post this week talked about (among other gorrillas things) writers/authors banding together in order to anticipate, not merely react to, coming changes in publishing. Her mantra is We Are Not Alone (Yay, WANA!), and I have personally seen the power in that statement. In fact, she wrote a book about social networking with WANA in the title, which you can find at her website.

Hecklers, however, may have a positive purpose too.

We often respond (as the bloggers above did) to the haters in the best tradition of Nietzsche: “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.” (That ol’ Nietzche was quite a card. He also said: “Ah, women. They make the highs higher and the lows more frequent.” 😉 )

Anyway, after the dust of emotion settles, if we can get past that lump that gathers in our throat and that ball of fear that settles in our bellies, we emerge from the incident tougher and clearer for having been through it. Or put another way, if everything was fluffy bunnies and cute kittens would we really ever reach down deep to the good stuff, the REAL stuff, and share it with the world? Sometimes we come back from a blow with our best response ever, and the comments to that response prove our worth to ourselves and our readers. Take THAT you haters, you!

A little research on the psychology of hate turned up this sage article from psychologist and writer Rick Hanson. He begins his discussion of the chemical causes of hate in your brain with the following:

I heard a story once about a Native American elder who was asked how she had become so wise, so happy, and so respected. She answered: “In my heart, there are two wolves: a wolf of love and a wolf of hate. It all depends on which one I feed each day.”

Hanson talks about how fight-or-flight chemicals from the primitive amygdala flood our brains, particularly our “rational” frontal cortex, washing everything in an “us” vs. “them” bath.

As soon as you place anyone outside of the circle of “us,” the mind/brain automatically begins to devalue that person and justify poor treatment of him. This gets the wolf of hate up and moving, only a quick pounce away from active aggression. Pay attention to the number of times a day you categorize someone as “not like me,” particularly in subtle ways: not my social background, not my style, and so on. It’s startling how routine it is.

There is some positive news for the primitive brain, however:

Humans and other primate species routinely restrain the wolf of hate and repair its damage, returning to a baseline of reasonably positive relationships with each other. In most people most of the time, the wolf of love is bigger and stronger than the wolf of hate…Love and hate: they live and tumble together in every heart, like wolf cubs tussling in a cave.

My hats off to these bloggers for coming through the storm stronger. We all need to spread more love and less hate. Include more people in our circle of “us.” Always remembering meanwhile that the Wolf of Love is still a wolf, right?

Have you ever held yourself back from a post for fear of the backlash? How do you deal with the haters? Do you turn to your supporters to buoy you up when you get stung with a hate zinger? How do you feed your wolves?

Sports As Inspiration

Susie Lindau’s (hilarious!) post about snowboarder Louie Vito and Shaun White’s recent perfect 100 score in the X Games Superpipe … and of course the huge sporting event coming up this weekend that will have the majority of Americans parked in front of their TV’s (hint: starts with SUPER, ends with too much chili 🙂 ) inspired this week’s picture blog of sports related ephemera. Enjoy and let me know what inspires you…

Sports have it all: highs, lows, comic relief and unimaginable drama. But what inspires us so much about athletic events? Of course there is the sheer, balletic athleticism.

There is also the cathartic shedding of emotions through the medium of a sporting event.  That’s why we yell at the TV, right? Go! Go! GO!

And then there’s the idea that we can do this stuff too. If we only had the chance…and the right equipment…and a trainer…and, oh, the athletic ability.

And last, let’s not forget the poetry of the human body, honed to perfection through training and discipline, pitted against another in a contest to see who wins. Because there can only be one winner.

Do sports inspire YOU? Would you rather do or watch?