2013 Blog Year In Review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for my blog. Don’t we all just love stats? Check out what readers were reading on Kecia’s Blog in 2013.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,800 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 30 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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?

How to Finish Your Novel In 6 Excruciatingly Easy Steps

Typing

My first novel began during a NaNoWriMo while I was living in Rome. I talked about that writing adventure with best-selling author Diane Capri in an interview on her blog Diane Capri Reveals yesterday. Because that first novel began in a frenzy, I have high hopes for this second one, having just completed a 50,000 word draft in the last 30 days…

Someone asked me once if I had always written stories. The truth is: no. Sadly, no. I became interested in constructing fiction—writing it—only a few years ago, when I looked around my bookshelves and saw that fiction is what I read, what I have always read. Oh, I round out my to-be-read pile with a good non-fiction account here and there, but my love of reading has always been about a good story. And, again truthfully, I am no journalist. I can construct a decent feature article, but my heart isn’t really in it. I only achieve that elusive “flow” when I write fiction.

As I said to Diane, it was Rome that really inspired me to write fiction. There was so much to look at, so many stories: An embracing couple in the gardens of the Villa Borghese—what was their story? A lovely woman, with rings on every finger and Fendi pumps on her feet, striding down the Corso with a frown on her face—what was her story? A beautiful man, speaking with animation, and many gestures, into his cell phone—what was his story? And because I didn’t really know these people’s stories, I made them up. And then I wrote them down. Fiction.

Of course Rome has been inspiring writers for thousands of years. It’s part of the charm. As Tacitus said, “All things atrocious and shameless flock from all parts to Rome.” What a wonderland of ideas, of marvels to observe, and people to enjoy. I miss it. But the good part is, I have my published novel The Vendetta to remind me of Rome. Cool, huh?

So, since I have done it once, here are my tips to for writing and finishing a novel:

1. Find a topic you are passionate about. Even if you don’t write historical novels, you are still going to have to do at least a little research on setting and character occupations. Even if your characters live where you live and do what you do, they are not going to be you exactly. If you start out on page 1 with a topic/setting/occupation that doesn’t hold your interest, you will regret it on page 62. Trust me.dustbunny1

2. Write. This is where NaNoWriMo comes in handy. I find that self imposed deadlines are not nearly as effective as ones that have the guilt of social pressure attached (and/or if you are cursed lucky enough to have a publishing contract, monetary pressure too). 50,000 words in 30 days is doable. 1667 words per day. For 30 days. Sounds simple. And it is, mostly. But beware what must drop by the wayside as you pursue this goal. These are pictures of actual dust bunnies under my (unmade) bed. I am thinking of naming them. Any suggestions since Flopsy and Mopsy are already taken?dustbunny2

3. Rewrite. My favorite part. The rewrite can take many more months than the actual drafting. Find a system that works for you. Some suggestions: The Weekend Novelist Rewrites the Novel by Robert J. Ray and Manuscript Makeover by Elizabeth Lyon

4. Send out for comments. You should have at least one, ideally three, readers you can send a rough draft to for their comments. This is not a line edit but an attempt to capture their impressions of the overall flow. Are they confused anywhere? Did the story drag in places? What did they really like about the story?

5. Rewrite some more. After comments you may have to rewrite the thing again. By this time you will be sick of this story and these characters. But persevere, the book will get better with each draft.

6. Let it go and start something new. The truth is, you will never feel like your novel is really DONE done. Whether you hide your manuscript under the bed or you send it out into the world to be rejected, or published, or rejected AND published, at some point you will need to let it go. It is finished. Find that new thing/setting/character that fires your passions, write about it, then rinse and repeat.

Do you have any tips for writing or getting something done that you always wanted to do? I am thinking of getting a robotic vacuum, but then the bunnies would get eaten. Suggestions?

What I Did On My Summer Vacation…From Writing

I am back on the blog after an unintentional hiatus this summer. I didn’t actually intend to take a writing vacation (either here or on various works-in-progress) from June until after Labor Day. It just sort of happened. The lack of a set schedule, the demands of children out of school, and the call of the beach all conspired so that I wrote not one word of useful prose for weeks (okay, months). This caused me some discomfort, for what writer is truly content when not writing? But I assuaged my guilt and grumpiness with an orgy of reading, which I will share with you below.

What follows is a bibliographic representation of my reading summer, both from the perspective of a writer and the perspective of a reader. I chose books somewhat at random, but all were well within the parameter of “entertaining” versus “scholarly.” These were the chocolate ice cream cones of the summer’s literary possibilities instead of the broccoli and kale (not that I don’t like broccoli and kale…but you get the drift).
So, in no particular order…

Jill Shalvis, Lucky in Love (Grand Central, 22 May 2012), At Last (Grand Central, 26 June 2012), and Forever and a Day (Grand Central, 31 July 2012)

Shalvis is one of my favorite romance writers. She cleverly released three books this summer, setting up a trio of women to each find love with a hunky man in their fictional Lucky Harbor, a quirky small town in Washington state. I found all three books to be a fun, sexy, and heartwarming combination of worthy characters and intriguing situations, but my favorite was At Last. The middle book in the trio features laid back forest ranger Matt Bower and snarky tough girl Amy Michaels. I do have a soft spot for forest rangers.

Favorite scene/line: Matt has to administer first aid after Amy gets a nasty scratch on her behind after falling down a ravine in the middle of the night. Matt gets a reluctant Amy to drop trou so he can clean the wound but his subsequent reaction to her lovely form is priceless. An excerpt:

“I thought you said you did this a lot.”

“Yeah. I do. But apparently not with anyone I’m wildly attracted to.”

This caused certain reactions in her body that were best not experienced in mixed company. “It’s just panties,” she finally whispered.

“And they’re really great panties,” Matt agreed. “But it’s not the panties, Amy. It’s you.”

Writing tip #1—What do your characters DO? Don’t be afraid to let men be men and women be women. In a romance, a yummy hero who thinks like a guy makes the journey worthwhile. Shalvis’s male characters are MEN. They have manly jobs and do manly things, to include failing to communicate with the heroine at critical moments and occasionally acting all over-protective and alpha, which only makes them more appealing and real. We women are hard-wired to like this. Trust me.

Susan Wiggs, Fireside (Mira, reprint, 26 June 2012), Marrying Daisy Bellamy (Mira, 25 January 2011), The You I Never Knew (Grand Central, reissue, 1 March 2011)

I picked up Fireside at the drugstore when waiting for my daughter’s antibiotic, prescribed for a bad case of swimmer’s ear. I had never read a Susan Wiggs book before, despite her regular appearance on the best-seller and romance favorites lists. It made me wonder if that’s a typical way for a reader to be introduced to a new (to her) writer—in a drugstore/airport/Wal-mart/grocery checkout? In any case, with her larger cast of characters, Wiggs’s books venture away from a classic romance set-up and more into women’s fiction, but the line is very subtle indeed. In Fireside and The You I Never Knew, Wiggs pulled me in with a finely wrought setting (again a small town) and background (baseball and ranching, respectively); and wonderful secondary characters, particularly teen-aged Cody in The You I Never Knew and Daisy Bellamy in Fireside. And apparently I am not the only reader who clamored for Daisy to have a book of her own, according to Wiggs’s website. Marrying Daisy Bellamy was the breakout of the three for me because it was about what happens when you achieve your heart’s desire, and it is suddenly and tragically taken away. In other words, a test of character.

Favorite scene/line: Daisy is a wedding photographer, and the weddings she takes pictures of bring out little nuggets of wisdom throughout the book. This woven theme gives the book continuity, even through flashbacks, and setting and POV changes. These nuggets are really the author’s worldview, but the reader sees them (lyrical and heartfelt) from the eyes of the point of view characters. A sample:

The flaws were what made a wedding special and memorable…Every event, no matter how carefully planned, had its imperfections…

These were the things that made life interesting. As a single mother, Daisy had learned to appreciate the unplanned. Some of her life’s sweetest moments came when she least expected them—the clutch of her son’s tiny hands, anchoring her to earth with a power greater than gravity. Some of the most awful moments too—a train pulling out of the station, leaving her behind, along with her dreams—but she tried not to dwell on that.

Writing tip #2—What is your character’s HEART’S DESIRE? Show us and then don’t let her have it right away, or let her have it but take it away later. Wiggs introduced Daisy and the two men who love her, Julian and Logan, in earlier books, but in Marrying Daisy Bellamy, she presents Daisy with the one thing she wants most in the world. Will she get it? We are rooting for her because we know the stakes for Daisy, but we don’t want it to be too easy either.

To be continued…

Yeah, I really did do a lot of reading. Stay tuned for my thoughts on books I read this summer by Lisa Kleypas, Jo Beverley, Pamela Morsi, and Nicholas Sparks.

What about you? Did you read anything good this summer? Maybe something involving 50 shades…? Did any of your goals get sidetracked by the summer routine? What did YOU do this summer?

Summer Breezes and Immortality

We’ve been enjoying some fabulous summer days here in Coastal Virginia. When I was sitting out on my back patio recently, the delightful weather brought to mind that most famous first line of Shakespeare’s most famous sonnet:

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

So I looked up Sonnet 18. And here’s the thing about Shakespeare: there’s always more to his writing than one meets in the initial read.

First, here is the full text as taken from the 1609 Quarto Version and reproduced on shakespeares-sonnets.com :

Sonnet 18

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed,
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course untrimmed:
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,
Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st,
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

Now, a few things I found to fascinate me in this sonnet, which those of you more familiar with The Bard’s works may already know:

1) Shakespearean scholars are fairly unanimous in thinking that this poem and, in fact, roughly the first two-thirds of the 152 sonnets in the 1609 Quarto are addressed to a young man by the poet (also a man–Shakespeare). One interpretation I read concluded that this was not particularly shocking on Shakespeare’s part, but rather, a representation of pure love, or love untainted by desire. Another interpretation identified the young man referred to in the sonnets as a rival poet who competes with Shakespeare for the favor of the “dark” lady addressed in the latter third of the poems.

2) This sonnet is possibly the most quoted love poem in the English language.

3) The real aim of the poem, as contained in the final couplet, is to point out that a man (or woman) can be made immortal and unchanged by time through the wonder of words written down. A kind of technological breakthrough of parchment and quill.

4) The 1609 Quarto Version was published by one Thomas Thorpe, who in an echo of our 21st century concerns about pirating of copyrighted material may have stolen this version to compile and publish it without Shakespeare’s consent. (Though this point was debated in the research I read on the 1609 printing.)

In exploring this most famous “Summer’s Day” sonnet, I have found a new favorite in the Sonnets of Shakespeare. Sonnet 141 has a sharp, dark texture but it still extols love, ever mysterious.

Sonnet 141

In faith I do not love thee with mine eyes, 
For they in thee a thousand errors note;
But ’tis my heart that loves what they despise,
Who, in despite of view, is pleased to dote.
Nor are mine ears with thy tongue’s tune delighted;
Nor tender feeling, to base touches prone,
Nor taste, nor smell, desire to be invited
To any sensual feast with thee alone:
But my five wits nor my five senses can
Dissuade one foolish heart from serving thee,
Who leaves unswayed the likeness of a man,
Thy proud heart’s slave and vassal wretch to be:
Only my plague thus far I count my gain,
That she that makes me sin awards me pain.

“The poet runs through a catalogue of the senses, to see what it is that attracts him to his mistress. In fact he finds nothing, and therefore concludes that it must be some perverseness in his heart that forces him to love her and to be her slave. His reward is that she gives him penances for the sin he is committing in loving her….There is therefore an element of parody in this sonnet of Shakespeare’s…For that reason it brings us down to earth with a bump, for it tears us away from the tortured conceits of the sonneteers, and perhaps from our own idealisations of the beings we love, and forces us to accept that the things we love often have an earthly and earthy beauty, much less than a divine one. For we also know that love is a power beyond rationality, and that it does not depend on the beloved being made of coral, or ivory, or rubies, but of flesh and blood with all its imperfections.” —shakespeares-sonnets.com

To that I say, “Yes. Oh, YES!”

Do you have a favorite sonnet or poem? Would you rather capture pure, untainted love or earthy, real love in your writing? Does writing something down make it immortal?

Seals and Crofts Summer Breeze from 1972