Saturday, July 31, 2010

My Muse


Is 6’2”, slightly shaggy hair the color of fresh roasted coffee suntipped with gold, puppy dog brown eyes, surfer tan, and a body Jillian Michaels would approve. He makes sure my coffee cup is filled, that I have anything I need, that my favorite DVDs are within reach, and my iPod is always fully charged. He’s within reach if I need a little … inspiration, and always ready to run to See’s if I require my favorite chocolates.

And sadly, he only exists in my imagination. Sigh!

My muse has been talking away a lot while I’ve been buried deep with new work. And if I hit a snag he would even direct me to my witchy Barbies, my dragon and Fae figurines, and the best, Ganesha, the Hindu god of good fortune and Patron of the Arts, especially writing. All little things that would give me that much needed spark.

Writing a book is a lot of ‘what ifs’ and a muse is terrific at whispering that all important what in my ear or suggestions. Why can’t that new cat hanging around the house be a fun familiar? And he will be because he’s totally perfect for the job. Why can’t Barney show up in a book? Why is my brain conjuring up an idea that might be bare bones now, but will soon flesh out nicely? As if I don’t have enough going on in my brain as it is!

Still, if the muse of my dreams would show up, I’d get a lot more work done.

I did tell you I wrote fiction, didn’t I?

So would you want a sexy muse hanging around when you’re writing? Would he help you write or would you be tempted to do some very important research?

Linda

Friday, July 30, 2010

Music Amuses My Muse



By Greek definition, music is any art presided over by one of the nine Muses. It’s fitting that my muse is amused by music. Specifically, hard, fast, loud, electric-guitar-enriched, drum-thumping, bass-groovin’, singer-screaming music. Rock music throws my muse all in a tizzy and she gets a little wild and crazy on the page. (You can thank me later.) If you take her to a concert, she has weeks of inspiration to fuel her insatiable need to create. I guess that’s not too surprising. I do write rock star erotic romances, after all.

A lot of authors need total silence when they write. Sometimes I do, too. Especially when I need to concentrate on something that just isn’t clicking right. But if I want to channel the story, the chaotic sound of rock music in the background puts me in my zone and the words come pouring out. I’m not exactly listening to the music. I couldn't tell you what song was filtering through my head at any given moment. It’s mostly there to block out other things that are vying for my attention.

So how did I come by such an unusual muse? I’m not really sure. Studies show that listening to Mozart (but not other classical musicians) increases brain activity and memory, especially in babies and animals. So logically, I should listen to Mozart while writing. Right? Erm, no thanks.


Scientists and psychologists really don’t do many studies on how metal music affects the brain. They probably assume all that head-banging is detrimental to brain cells. From experience, I know it can cause a killer headache. According to one “scientific” study, when you force mice to listen to loud Anthrax (a thrash metal band from the 80s) music for 10 hours a day, not only do they become stupid and run through mazes slowly, but they also become excessively violent and kill each other.

Man, it’s a good thing I only listen to Anthrax 8 hours a day. Otherwise, I’d never figure out how to run through this maze to find my cheese.

There you are, my precious.

Other studies show that rock music does not make people (as opposed to mice) more stupid or more violent. In fact, rockers tend to score higher on IQ tests. So my muse’s preferences do not make me more stupid or more violent, just more deaf.
There is one other thing that stimulates my muse and guarantees writing productivity. The threat of doing housework. I just have to look at the dust rag and my muse insists it's time to start writing. Right now!

Does your muse have any unusual triggers? What role does music play in your life? Are you the type of writer who needs absolute silence to concentrate?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Pursuing Happiness Cross Country to the RWA Conference

by Amanda Forester

Here I am at the Dolphin Hotel, Orlando Florida… finally. If you follow this blog you may be aware that I do not care to fly (translation – it terrifies me). So when the annual conference for the Romance Writers of America (RWA) announced it was going to be in Nashville, I looked up the train schedule and decided to give it a try. When the conference location was changed to Orlando, Florida, I took a big breath, made more train reservations and went for it. Since I live in Washington State, that meant a huge cross country trip with my family, including my two young children (no possible way when they found out I was going to Disney World that they were going to be left behind!).

First, let me say that traveling in small confined spaces with two young kids is about what you may expect, only more so. Overall, though, we are having a fabulous time.

We began our journey in Seattle and boarded the Empire Builder train. The views along the coast and through the Cascade Mountains were gorgeous. We stayed one day in Glacier Park, Montana and enjoyed some beautiful scenery. Our favorite excursion was a short hike to Avalanche gorge. The water was the bluest aqua color from the glacier run off.

Our next stop was Chicago, where we visited my husband’s family. Since my husband recently completed his second tour of active duty with the Army (stateside) after a year deployment to Iraq, his sister arranged a hero’s welcome for him complete with a police escort and motorcade. This was a total surprise for my husband (he would have refused it had he been asked) and a lot of fun. The best part was she arranged for all of hubby’s friends and relations to be there to welcome him. It was quite special!

Next we made our way on the Capital Limited train to Washington D.C. I’ve never been there so I had a wonderful time touring the monuments. Many of the monuments are familiar images I’ve seen many times in pictures, but I never truly appreciated their size until standing next of one of them. It was impressive!

From D.C. we took the Silver Meteor train to Orlando. Finally we arrived at the location of the RWA conference, or more importantly (at least to my kids) – Walt Disney World! We arrived a day before the conference began so we could enjoy some of the parks. We have had a wonderful time, despite the oppressive heat and humidity. My favorite purchase so far is a water bottle fan to cool down in the sun.

Yesterday was the first day of the RWA conference and the literary signing to raise money for ProLiteracy. This is my first time at the conference so I was impressed with the size. Approximately 500 authors were signing books (including me!) I had a great time meeting people. One thing about romance authors is they are a friendly bunch of folks.
I am looking forward to the rest of the conference over the next few days. I’m sure I will learn a ton and have a wonderful time!
So tell me about your craziest vacation!








Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Amused Muse visited the Museum of Music

"They are all of one mind, their hearts are set upon song, and their spirit is free from care.
He (she) is happy whom the Muses love. For though man (woman) has sorrow and 
grief in his soul, when the Muses sing, at once he forgets his dark thoughts 
and remembers not his troubles. Such is the holy gift of the Muses." Hesiod

Once upon a time it was a universal belief that creativity in the areas of art, poetry, philosophy, music, dancing, writing, science, and history was inspired by the goddesses known as the Muses. Greek mythology originally referred to three goddesses born to Zeus and Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory, but very early on the number was increased to nine. Legends vary, as legends always do, but the existence of the Muses was part of oral history for centuries before the Greeks indelibly immortalized them in poetry and written myths. According to the prevailing legends, the muses were brought to life to make the world disremember the evil, relieve the sorrows, and to praise the gods. Apollo was the main teacher of the Muses and they accompanied him, along with the Graces, strolling through the gardens of Olympus singing and dancing while Apollo played the harp. Among the great poets of the day, most notably Homer, Hesiod, Plutarch, and others that I have never heard of, the Muses were the source of all knowledge. As you can see by my title, “muse” forms the etymological root of many words related to knowledge and art. The nine Muses were the embodiment of art, the creators of music (literally "the art of the Muse"), the inspiration of grace in song and dance.

Yet they were mystical and mysterious. Artists attempted to depict them and eventually gave them names - Calliope, Clio, Erato, Euterpe, Melpomene, Polymnia, Terpsichore, Thalia, and Urania - and even singled out their particular artistic gifting. Yet for the most part it was enough to believe they were, as Solon said, "the key to the good life" and as such they were worshipped as the divine bestowers of all that is beautiful.

Over time the belief in actual goddesses was replaced with flesh and blood women as inspiration. Think Picasso! For other artists it was the idea that creativity sprang from within or was miraculously birthed by something seen around us or perhaps from a different divine origin. Some don't like to give credit to anything or anyone and laugh at the idea of a muse. But most of us who feel the strange urgings of creativity can't deny that there is something magical about it.

I know that magical is how I feel about it. Frequently I am asked where my ideas come from. Sometimes I can point definitively to an essay I read or a tidbit I stumbled across in my research that sparked an idea. Yet even in those instances I have to write the sentences and paragraphs in such a way that it is entertaining and drives the story. I still am not sure how I do that half the time! And all too frequently I suspect I could commiserate with the schizophrenic who hears voices or carries on conversations with invisible people!

Nevertheless, in my particular case, if I had to point to one muse who has inspired my stories, it would be the divinity who bestowed his/her pleasure upon Jane Austen. Her incredible gift, inspired by a muse she never revealed, is apparently alive and well, stirring up the creativity of numerous authors who keep her memory alive by writing fan-fiction. Personally I envision this muse as a tall man, dark and handsome, dressed in snug breeches and a flawlessly tailored jacket with waistcoat and cravat. He whispers in my ear in cultured, resonant tones with an English accent. Yum. Yep, that is enough to keep me inspired and for some bizarre reason giving credence to a manly muse is far preferred than to a voluptuous female!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

I don't wanna think about it!


In Greek mythology, the muses were nine sisters, daughters of Zeus, who presided over the arts, whispering in artists’ ears, inspiring them to create great works of art.

I don’t like to spend a lot of time thinking about muses. Oh, I believe I have a muse. I’m certain of it, in fact. Well, probably not a daughter of Zeus, but you know what I mean. I have this idea, however, that if I spend time thinking about my muse or trying to figure out where it comes from, that I’ll lose it.

Go ahead and laugh.

I know it sounds silly, and yet I believe it whole-heartedly.

How do I know my muse exists? I know this because I am a “pantser”. Half the people reading this just went, “Ah. Yep, you have a muse.”For the rest of you, and for those who don’t know what I mean by “pantser”, the short version is I don’t know what will happen in my story until it happens. Often I’m just as surprised as any reader would be. Probably the most tangible way to explain this to someone else would be explaining the development of my characters. When I first start writing a new book, I’ll spend hours, or even days, imaging my hero and heroine. I know their names. I know their back stories. I know who their parents and siblings are. I know their age. What they look like. Their education level. Socio-economic status. What they fear. What they want.

Then I develop a conflict to start off the story and place my newly created characters in that situation. What happens next… Well, it just happens. My characters react, and the story progresses from there.

But I’m not done. That doesn’t necessarily scream “muse” at anyone, I know. However, keep in mind what I just said. I know those characters before I start writing. They are solidly in my mind. I have a pretty good idea how they will react to different situations, because of who they are. That’s all work I’ve consciously created.

But then… Well, then there are characters who literally come out of nowhere. I didn’t even have an inkling of their existence until they popped up on the page and had something important to do or say. If this happened once or twice, I could write it off as happenstance. But, in all honesty, it happens more often than that. These aren’t characters that I’ve placed in my story because I’ve researched them. These aren’t characters that I know inside and out. These aren’t characters that I can predict in any fashion. These are characters I know nothing about and they are as much a mystery to me as they would be to anyone else. These characters, they came directly from my muse.

You could name any character in any book I have and I could tell you within a second whether they are a character I developed or a character my muse created out of nothingness. Some of my more popular characters aren’t ones I labored over creating, in fact. I’ve become to depend on my muse. “I don’t need to worry about XYZ problem, something will happen and the rest of the story will fall in place.”

You can see why I might not want to question it too much by trying to figure out where my muse comes from. I’m just happy that it’s there, whispering in my ear from time to time when I need it most and nudging me in a direction I might not have thought of despite my preparations. Losing my muse would be devastating. I think I’ve already spent too much time thinking about it as it is. So I better stop before it’s too late.

Do you think you have a muse? And if so, are you afraid of upsetting it?

Monday, July 26, 2010

Muse Interrupted

Almost two weeks ago, I had to have my 10-year-old dog, Sambuca put down. When I thought about my muse, I realized my best ideas always occurred when I was out with him for his last pee break of the night. Since Sambuca went to the great doggy park in the sky, I had yet to have a decent idea about my current work in progress. I’ve spent day after day in front of my computer writing complete drivel. Nothing came to me. No divine inspiration, no great idea about how to get past the roadblock I’d successfully built to keep my characters apart. I’ve been stressing, thinking that I had lost my muse.

Yesterday I drove from Maryland to Florida with my two critique partners, Laura and Deborah. Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending upon how you look at it, our muses decided to come with us for the 19-hour drive from Maryland to Tampa. The trip usually takes 16 hours, but thanks to Laura’s trouble making muse, Trixie, we hit nothing but traffic and accidents until we reached South Carolina. It was then I discovered I hadn’t lost my muse at all. He had just decided to go party with their muses. After all, my place was bringing him down.

By 11:30 last night, we’d all had our fill of driving and dealing with unruly muses, so we put them to work and began plotting my next project. It was amazing to find my muse again, and even though we are no longer attached at the hip, at least he was stuck in the same car and actively participating. He dumped the plot of an entirely different book right in my lap as we traveled the last miles to our destination. It would have been nice if he’d helped me resolve my current dilemma before starting a new project, but right now I’m just glad my muse is still with me. He isn’t always working on my project of choice, but at least he didn’t leave me for long—and that in itself is a huge relief.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Is it a muse, or is it a memory?

If a muse is a guiding spirit or a source of inspiration, as Dictionary.com tells us, then my muse must be a nerdy guy who wants to be a hunk. "I can be him," my muse will tell me. "I just need a great body, longer hair, and cat eyes."

My heroes, for the most part, are accounted for: I know exactly who and why they inspired me, but that usually only concerns their physical appearance. The hero of Virgin (June 2011) is based on two different people. He has the face, coloring, and physique of the fellow to your left, and the name and height of another. His personality, however, comes from my muse.

My heroines have often been based on ladies I know personally--never a model or an actress. Sometimes it's planned and sometimes it comes as a surprise, but they are all based in reality in one way or another, though it may be my muse who suggests them to me.

You often hear that muses are fickle creatures; bailing out on you in your time of need, or sending you off on a tangent, but other times, that spirit or imaginative force will take you exactly where you need to go. It may send you to places you've never been, or will sometimes take you back to revisit others. For the most part, the strange aliens, secondary characters, planets, and animals that populate my books come from a source buried deeply in my subconscious in the form of memories.

To illustrate this, a few days ago I was working on the opening chapters of the eighth book in the Cat Star Chronicles series when, for some unfathomable reason, I decided to introduce a species of alien hermaphrodites. Now, this is a concept I haven't explored before, but it triggered a memory that is at least forty years old. I was buying ice cream in a shop somewhere, and to this day, I couldn't tell you if the person behind the counter was was male or female. When I remembered him/her, at that moment, I could not only envision a new character, but a whole new world and its inhabitants.

My muse can also visit my dreams. Last night, I dreamed that I was on a bus with my son, and a tiny little woman got on board. She was very alien-looking, with huge dark eyes, fish-like lips, and very slender, delicate limbs. In my dream, Sam asked me if she was real, and I replied that I was pretty sure she was. I don't often remember dreams, but that mental picture is as vivid to me now as if I had actually seen her with my own eyes, and yet another alien species has come to life.

My nerdy muse will often keep me going late into the night, but other times he will smack me upside the head and say, "Go to bed!" It happens so suddenly that I often crash into bed (it's right next to my desk) fully clothed and sometimes with my shoes on. I usually remember to take my glasses off, but not always. Sometimes I fall asleep, but other times I lie there awake, still thinking about what I've been writing. Being horizontal helps my muse to reach into my mind--a mind no longer focused on how cold my feet are or how heavy my eyelids might be. Most of the time I get up after a bit, write some more, and THEN go to bed for real.

Like right now.

Good night, sweet muse. I'll see you in my dreams.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

What if You Don’t Have a Muse?


I’d heard about muses. In my mind, they were little feminine creatures who sat on a writer’s shoulder and whispered ideas and dialogue in her ear. When I started writing ten years ago, I didn’t have a muse. But I figured she would show up eventually. When she didn’t, I thought maybe only published authors had muses. But after I published and my muse still didn’t make an appearance, I finally had to admit that maybe I didn’t have a muse.

Maybe writing was always going to be hard work. Maybe it would always be me and the keyboard. Maybe I was just going to have to rely on myself.

It’s not that I don’t want a muse. I do. I wish she would come, sit on my shoulder, and inspire me. And it’s not that I don’t have muse-like moments. I write something and look at it later and think, did I write that? I don’t remember writing that. Did my muse show up in that moment or do I just have a short memory?

Not having a muse doesn’t play very well, I can tell you that. Do you know what questions an author receives most frequently? Where do you get your ideas? and What inspired you to write this book?

I don’t have splashy answers to these questions. If you’re interviewing me, I’m going to give you an answer. I’m probably going to make up something that sounds really good because no one wants to write a story about a writer who just works hard. And sometimes later I can think really hard and figure out where my inspiration must have come from. But again, I’m thinking hard. I’m not being inspired, really.

Honestly, where do I get my ideas? I sit down and think of something because I have to think of something. I have a contract and I have to produce a book, so I think of an idea and I write it. What inspires me? Well, I signed that contract and it’s legally binding. Oh, there’s also the matter of the bills that come every month.

See, not splashy. Muses are splashy. Inspiration in the form of six-foot vampires in your office or pirates leaning over your shoulder or a werewolf lounging in your recliner—that’s splashy. I’ll just continue to dog paddle. It’s boring, but it gets me where I need to go.

Friday, July 23, 2010

How Your Muse Can Kill Your Book

I've never been much of a believer in muses or inspiration. I'd like it if lightning flickered down from the heavens and zapped me with genius, but the books don't get written if I wait around for creative magic to whack me upside the head. It tends to come on slowly, after I've knuckled down to work on a manuscript.

In fact, sometimes the notion of having a muse can be downright destructive for me.

After all, if I have a muse, I need to nurture her, right? Something as delicate as a muse must be pretty high maintenance.

It seems like a muse would need a comfortable home, spacious and airy, where she could fly free. She would require elaborate little rituals that would lure her out to play. She might be easily frightened, and easily sidetracked; if she doesn't run away altogether, chances are she might dash off to do something else--watch TV, maybe, or play with the dog.

In her book The Creative Urge, choreographer Twyla Tharp covers all those issues. "When you have selected the environment that works for you, developed the start-up ritual that impels you forward every day, faced down your fears, and put your distractions in their proper place, you have cleared the first hurdle," she said. "You have begun to prepare to begin."

The trouble is, it's tough to get past that point. The biggest obstacle may be that first one -- setting up a place that makes you comfortable with creating. Nesting is an ingrained instinct, especially for women, and creating nurturing places is a uniquely satisfying undertaking. How many of us have spent months creating the perfect writing space in preference to actually writing?

If you're stuck on this step, think about whether you're focusing on the right projects. I used to think my creative impulse was geared toward drawing and painting. But I found it impossible to put brush to canvas unless my house was completely clean and tidy. I somehow convinced myself of the odd notion that disorder made creativity impossible. And of course, my house was never clean enough and I never got anything done.

But the fact was, I didn't really like painting. The end result never quite lived up to the image in my mind. I found it frustrating and only rarely rewarding.

But when I write, I surprise myself with connections and complexities in my stories I wasn't aware of at the start. The end product is almost always better than I expected. Writing is a delight and a pleasure.

So the dishes can stack up, the dust bunnies can multiply, and the mail can pile up on the doormat. I'd rather be writing.

Still, there aren't difficult days when I find myself turning to start-up rituals. Clear the desk. Dust the monitor. Clear away everything except my magic stuffed chicken and my Virginia Woolf action figure.

Finally, after all this fidgeting, I usually realize I'm spinning my wheels and settle down to getting things done.

There are also days -- not many of them, fortunately -- when setting my hands on the keyboard scares me a little. Like a kid at her first piano recital, I stare down at the keys and my mind goes blank. What if the words don't come? What if they're not good words? What if I really did have a muse, and I killed it?

I've read that fear of the blank page is a product of perfectionism, and that makes sense to me. Perfectionism is the personality flaw that made me write an incredibly ambitious hundred-page opus that never got finished for high school lit class instead of the required ten-page paper. It's the force that makes me dissatisfied with being an ordinary human being and not a superhero. And I'm convinced it's the reason a lot of people never start their novel.

Maybe you know you have a story to tell. But how do you undertake such an ambitious project? It might not be any good. It might get rejected by dozens of agents and editors. You might not be the next Stephen King.

So you keep dreaming, and never do it.

This is why you have to give yourself permission to write crap - at least at first, and on the bad days. You have to learn somehow, and you don't have to show it to anyone. If someone's standing over you with a whip, demanding you present them with brilliance one hour after you start typing, you've got bigger problems than perfectionism. You're hanging out with a psycho.

And once you start, don't let yourself be sidetracked. Getting up and doing something else is a choice. Which is more important: whether Jake picks Vienna on The Bachelor, or whether you get your book written? (Please tell me it's the book. If the fate of the universe depends on Jake and Vienna, we're in deep trouble.) Which matters more, going shopping or writing? Only you can decide. (Unless the shopping trip involves shoes or chocolate. You might need help on that one.)

But Jake and Vienna broke up already, and shopping - even for shoes - can wait.
I vote you write the novel.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

PITCH SECRETS OF THE STARS!

By Deb Werksman

Since we're all gearing up for RWA in Orlando next week, I thought today's blog could give you an editor's perspective on what makes a great in-person pitch.

Here are the qualities of the very best pitches I've ever heard:

CLARITY
The author knows what the book is and tells me right away so I can listen for what I know is important in that subgenre.

BREVITY
The pitch is about as long as it might take to read the book's back cover copy out loud. It's not a long plot summary, but it does give away the ending so I come away with a complete sense of the book.

HOOK
I can hear 2-3 sentences to sell the project with. I come away knowing exactly how I'm going to position the book for my sales/marketing/PR/design departments.

ORIGINALITY
Grab me with something I haven't heard before and you'll have me eating out of your hand!

PERSONALITY
Let your voice shine through! If I can get a sense of the writing from the pitch, that's fantastic!

KNOWLEDGE
The author clearly checked my submission guidelines in advance and knows what I publish (and what I don't) so this is a pitch for something I might actually be interested in!

QUESTIONS
It is totally fine with me if you have questions for me, in fact I love it as it allows us to have a great conversation most of the time. You don't need to have it all figured out. Intelligent questions are great in a pitch session.

PRESENTATION
The author appears professional and talks to me in a professional manner (you'd be surprised :-).

YOU MAY NOTICE
I didn't say anything at all about performance--I don't care if you're nervous, I don't care if you read off of index cards or have the pitch typed out ahead of time. I know that pitching in person is nerve-wracking, and that you want to do your very best. As long as you don't come across kooky, you're ahead of the game.

I CAN'T WAIT TO HEAR ALL YOUR PITCHES AT RWA.

PS A word about etiquette.
I do not mind being pitched on the fly if you run into me in the elevator, on line for coffee, or in the ladies room (as long as I'm not actually in a stall at the time). I'm told I'm unique in this regard, but I know there are many more authors who want to pitch to me than there are time slots, so if you serendipitously run into me, go for it! I mean it!

All best,

Deb Werksman
Sourcebooks, Inc.
deb.werksman@sourcebooks.com
(203) 333-9399

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Happiness is love. Love is...?

A friend of mine asked people on a yahoo loop to define what love meant to them. This was a while ago, and with my selective memory I'm afraid I've forgotten most of the answers. I do remember mine though.

I saw a one frame comic in the funny pages years ago that said, "Love is letting him have the last cold tablet." Yup, that about sums it up.

Like in the classic story, "Gift of the Magi" Della and Jim are more concerned about each other's happiness than their own, thus one Christmas Della sells her gorgeous long hair to buy Jim a chain for his pocket watch, not realizing that Jim sold his watch to buy Della tortoise shell combs for her long hair. No, they didn't bicker about it afterward. They realized their real gifts were the love they shared.

Several years ago, I was fortunate enough to attend a lecture by the late M. Scott Peck, author of The Road Less Traveled. That talk had a profound impact on my psyche. His assertion was that mature love meant wanting the other person's happiness as much or more than your own. That's been my litmus test ever since.

For anyone who wants to understand mature love, our spiritual connection, and relationships in general, I can't recommend his books enough.

Has a book ever impacted your view of love, life, or the world? Perhaps a movie or lecture or some other delivery system? Has that understanding helped you in your own life? Does it affect the theme of your stories if you write romance? Or perhaps, affect your view of how realistic the romance is if you read it?

I'd like to say my parents taught me what love is since they were happily married for 56 years, but unfortunately I interpreted the message incorrectly and wound up divorced...twice! My parents were complete opposites, and I thought that meant you could make a marriage work with anyone. Obviously I was wrong.

M. Scott Peck taught me what I needed to know after my second failure. Well, better late than never. My third (and hopefully final) marriage has been incredibly happy for 16 years. Twenty years of successful togetherness.

Please share (if you're brave enough) who or what taught you what love is, and if you have anything else to add to the definition.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Pursuit and My Muse

posted by Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy

Way back in May, 2008 when the Casa blog was first started, I introduced myself by saying that I'd been writing for just about as long as I could remember. I wrote in a lot of different venues with varying degrees of success, but one thing was certain, if I wasn't writing I always felt like something was missing. But thanx to my muse Ms. Crankypants (to learn more about her, see my guest post tomorrow on Sia's Thoughts Over Coffee : http://siamckye.blogspot.com/), I usually found something to write about.

My muse always threw interesting characters, situations, and settings my way. When I sat down to write, if the words were flowing, it was thanks to Ms. Crankypants. If not... well, she does tend to be a bit temperamental sometimes.

Over the years and the different writing projects, I've learned to trust my muse and my process. And mostly that process is to just keep showing up! I know, I know, that sounds terribly boring, and not romantic at all. But the plain truth is that (at least for me) writing a book is hard work. If I dilly-dallied around and waited for inspiration, or my characters to speak to me, or whatever, I don't think I'd ever finish anything.

It has taken me awhile, but I have finally learned that consistency is the key. If I show up every day at the same time and place, my muse and I are both prepped and ready. My characters talk to me, my plot rolls along at a decent pace, and the words (and pages) keep growing.

If only that were all that was required, but of course, it's not. Around ten years ago, I made the momentous discovery that I really NEEDED to write. I admitted to myself that I was not a truly happy camper if I didn't have a creative writing project going. Unfortunately, with the need to write comes that other necessity -- readers!

My DH (the artist) and I have had many a discussion on this topic. A story is not like a painting or a sculpture, which is finished when the artists determines it is, and it needs no audience. A story is meant to be read. And if I thought writing a book was hard work, finding readers proved much more difficult! In fact, I'm still actively engaged in the quest.

Back in Spring 2008 I was on the verge of seeing my first book in print, and a lot has happened since then. I know now that writing a good book is only the beginning, and that once the book leaves my hands there are so many things that are beyond my control. But I've traveled this far on my journey, and I'm not about to stop. Knowing that I have gained some readers who enjoy my stories makes the quest worthwhile!

Besides, my grouchy muse isn't always uncooperative. She still tempts me with story ideas and fascinating characters, that I can't wait to share. Ms. Crankypants and I intend to keep rolling along for a good long while.

So tell me some of the things you have discovered that are worth pursuing. Did you have anyone to help you in your quest? A DH, a BFF, or a cranky muse, perhaps?

P.S. Since I have no more books contracted with Sourcebooks Casablanca, this is my last post on this blog. You can still find me online at my personal blog Aunty Cindy Explains It All (http://www.auntycindy.blogspot.com/ ) and my group blog Romance Bandits (http://romancebandits.blogspot.com/ ).

My three books, The Wild Sight, The Treasures of Venice (just named a finalist for the Georgia Romance Writers Maggie Award) and The Wild Irish Sea should all be available at your local bookstore or from Amazon.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Muse on Vacation

I'm posting this before we go on vacation because we're heading west, young man. (I know, corny, but I swear, that's what I hear every time I think that we're going "out west" - I'm a north-easterner; that's how we talk.) Since it's the 19th, we should be in the Grand Tetons and heading back to Denver to catch our flight home on the 20th. Kind of funny to be writing about the end of the vacation before it's even started, but I'm told cell service is nil in Yellowstone, and pretty sad for this part of the country for AT&T (gee, thanks, guys...). We're doing Mt. Rushmore, Mt. Crazy Horse, the Black Hills of SD, Devil's Tower, Cheyenne and all points in between, and Yellowstone. All places I've been to before, but it's been (ahem) thirty-one years. I can't wait to see how much more of Crazy Horse is completed; I want to see if the acres of prairie dog ditches are still near the base of Devil's Tower (and if there are scorch marks from that space ship landing...)

I am bringing my laptop on the silly thought that I might get some writing done, but I'm not holding out much hope. In the last 20 months I've written four books, edited five, am working on another one, and thinking of my next proposal. I think the muse and I have earned a few weeks off to recharge. And my kids kind of forget what I look like. ;)


So here are a few pictures I've picked off the internet (with attributions) of what I'm going to see and I hope to be able to post some of my actual ones when I get home.





Saturday, July 17, 2010

My Closet Muse

I have a closet muse. Really. She doesn't come out to help me when I most need it. Nope. She waits until I'm half asleep and prods my tired brain to think. Think! When I want to sleep. And here is the villain plotting all kinds of evil deeds in my current work-in-progress, Dreaming of the Wolf, and a police officer bringing up all kinds of uncomfortable questions for the heroine to answer and why is all of this playing in my head when it's time to sleep?



If I ignore my Muse, she will force more ideas into my tired brain until I either wear out and truly fall asleep, believing I will remember the scene for the morning, or, I give in and turn on the light, hastily write the scene, and go back to sleep, with her blessing. But woe to me who fails to listen to her musings, because in the morning if I haven't written them down, can I remember a one of them? Rarely. And that's her way of getting back at me!

Night time Muse disturbances aren't the only times she decides to pay me a visit. I'd like to say that all my brilliant ideas come from me, but I know she guides me along my merry way. But sometimes, she just doesn't know when to quit!

Here, I'll be driving to work and she's giving me a great scene! While I'm driving! And I can't just pull the car over to write it all down. Think I'll remember it by the time I have my lunch break, 4 1/2 hours later? Or she'll do it to me when I'm in the shower! In the shower!!! Now, that's just plain cruel.

But when I'm stumped, you think she'll lend an ear while I'm staring at a blank screen, trying to write the next scene? Sure...as soon as I've put out the lights and closed my eyes for the night.

Hmm, I'm beginning to think she's got a little wolf's blood in her. :) Ah, now that would be the thing--a hunky werewolf muse.



My Muse will probably make me pay for this blog when I go to bed tonight!

Even if you're not a writer, do you ever think of something you need to do and if you don't make a note of it, or do it, by morning or when you have a chance to do whatever it is, it's gone??? Vaporized in all that gray matter?

Then, what do you do??? Fire your Muse???

Hope your Muse doesn't stay in the closet for long! :)

Mine is not allowed!!! My next two proposed books SOLD to Sourcebooks!!! That makes Book 9 and 10!!! How about a Highland Wolf in Paradise? And The Wolf and the SEAL.

THE HIGHLAND WOLF IN PARADISE is a follow up of one of the brothers in HEART OF THE HIGHLAND WOLF who is in search of the man who stole the clan's money, only he finds a mermaid in the sea. Well, not really, but close enough. :) But how to get the money back is the question? While one botanist distracts the Highlander from his duty.

And THE WOLF AND THE SEAL is Meara's story, from TO TEMPT THE WOLF. She's on an alpha man hunt. She doesn't expect a former team mate of Hunter's to show up. And he's definitely not on her list of eligible bachelors. He's not there in that capacity either--but to protect her from someone who wants the team members dead--and with Hunter on honeymoon, she's the next target.

But first, SEDUCED BY THE WOLF, Book 5, is coming up next!

And WOLF FEVER is now available for preorder!

And DESTINY OF THE WOLF & TO TEMPT THE WOLF are again in stock after a 2nd printing! :)

And, and, AND!!! here is another absolutely gorgeous cover from Sourcebooks, Book 7, due out Jun 2011,HEART OF THE HIGHLAND WOLF!!!


Now, even if you are not into Highlanders, and even if you are not into wolves, would you turn HIM away???



Hope you have a Muse and that she...or he...is helping you along your merry way! I'm off to put the finishing touches on DREAMING OF THE WOLF, Book 8, and drool over book 7's cover of the hunky Highland Wolf!!!

Terry
"Giving new meaning to the term alpha male."
www.terryspear.com

Friday, July 16, 2010

Bring On The Happy

If you think July is hot, just wait until October…

This fall, Sourcebooks cranks up the heat. On October 1st, Sourcebooks will release its first erotic romance title and I’m so happy I could play air guitar! In public. I know, I know, you can’t take me anywhere.

The first in a series of five, my debut novel, Backstage Pass, features the lead guitarist of the rock band, Sinners. Romantic, sensual, and talented in many, many ways (sigh…. I envy his lucky heroine, Myrna), Brian Sinclair is hot enough to cause soaring temperatures all by himself, but he’s currently on tour with his four yummilicious band mates who add a sweltering mix of personalities and, erm, talents. *cough

Publication is obviously a huge milestone in any author's pursuit of happiness, but I find if I base my happiness on the big things, the huge accomplishments, I’m not happy very often. A new love, a graduation, a birth, a job promotion, selling a five book series (still squeeee-ing over that one!), winning the lottery (still waiting on that one)—these things don’t happen every day or even every year. So if a person focuses on only big events in their pursuit, the happy is going to be spread pretty thin.

I’m not sure how many times I’ve heard the key to happiness and contentment is: “don’t sweat the small stuff”. It’s sound advice, but dang it, if you tell me NOT to do something, it makes me want to do it even more. Yoohoo, look at me. I'm over here sweatin' the small stuff. Whatcha gonna do about it?

One philosophy states people are more likely to obey rules worded in a positive way, rather than a negative one. Yes, I actually paid attention in that educational psychology class in college.

An example of a negative rule: Don’t throw bricks at your sister.

Granted, it’s a good rule, but because it’s saying not to do something, it’s considered a “negative” rule.

Instead, try: Do not throw bricks at your sister or I’ll ground you until college, you little...

Wait, wait. That’s not what I meant. It’s still negative. sigh... But does state consequences.

Okay, I’ve got it. Here is an example of a positive rule: Throw bricks at your sister.

Dang it, that’s not right either. It’s positive, but not a good rule.

One more try. A positive rule: Only throw things at your sister that you want thrown back at you. (Here’s where you hope the kid doesn’t like to have bricks and knives thrown at him/her.)

Right about now you’re probably wondering what positive rules have to do with pursuing happiness. Here’s a suggestion. Instead of living life by a negative rule: “don’t sweat the small stuff”, why not try a positive one: “celebrate the small stuff”. Celebrate those little everyday things that brighten your day. Things like these:

A baby’s laugh. Or in this case, four of them. I cannot watch this little video without laughing. It’s a bad-day cure-all for me.









A dog’s tail wagging in greeting.

A favorite song on the radio.

That first sip of hot tea (or coffee) in the morning.

Hitting every green light on your way through town. That’s serious elation right there.

The fact that this guy exists somewhere. Have mercy.
Yes, he is the inspiration for my fifth hero, rhythm guitarist, Trey Mills, thanksforasking.

Chocolate. Enough said.

Blooming lilies. The way rain droplets cling to their silky petals and their mingling, sweet scents drift to the porch swing. I can sit there for hours, plotting my next novel, and listening to the windchimes. Well, until the mosquitoes descend.

Finding out the second cover in the Sinners on Tour series (to be released April 2011) is even hotter than the first.


Okay, I admit, that’s one of those big stuffs to celebrate and I can spread out the happy over a large chunk of time.




Some days you won’t have any big stuffs to celebrate, but if you try, I bet you can find dozens of small stuffs to bring on the happy.

What “small stuff” do you have to celebrate today? Which “big stuff” events brought you the most happiness?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

My Summer Passion


by Amanda Forester

Many things go through my head when I consider the pursuit of happiness, but one of the things I enjoy the most are the quiet moments I get to read a book. Honestly, in my busy life I’m happy just to have a few quiet moments to myself, and if I can share them with a book it’s all the better. I love escaping into a different world and living, if only for a while, the life of a swashbuckling hero or a daring lady (with beautiful long hair, a size 2 body, and the generous bosoms nature did not see fit to give me in real life - hey, it's my fantasy!)

Summer is a particularly great time to read a book. My favorite place to read is at the beach, with the warm sand in my toes. When I was a kid I read books in a tree – not at all sure how I managed that one. These days I bring my own beach chair – the one with the arm rests and the cup holder. Oh yeah, that’s the life…

Currently one of my passions has been reading the Georgette Heyer books. I’m not sure how I missed them for all these years, but I just started reading them a few years ago. At that time I was having difficulty finding her books and I was forced to scrounge libraries looking for old copies. Then, as if to meet my every desire, Sourcebooks re-released her works, and I’ve been buying up copies ever since. I simply can’t tell you how much I adore these books. I love the crazy plots, the larger than life characters, the dry wit, and the glorious attention to detail.

So what is your reading passion this summer? Do share! What is on your reading list and where is your favorite place to read?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Happiness is Like a Butterfly

I’m not that happy. There. I said it. I have been happier in my life. The last few years have been filled with changes and sorrow, and I’ve struggled to find my balance and my joy. I love my little girl, but I loved my life before her. I love writing and the publishing industry, but I also love reading, watching TV, and spending time with friends—all things I have to give up or cut back to find time to write.

But we aren’t guaranteed happiness in life. Even the Constitution only gives us “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” So we’re free to pursue happiness. But what does this mean? How do you go after happiness? Is it a tangible thing you can grasp? Is it something to be achieved?



For me, happiness is an ebb and flow. I try to find joy in the moment. Honestly, I can’t do it for every moment. But I won’t do it for any if I don’t make an effort.

And I find that some things make me happier than others. Routine and schedules make me happy. I do not like surprises and chaos. If I know how my time will be filled and I am able to control it for the most part, I’m happy. My husband hates having to have a plan for every day. That’s fine. I just make the plan and don’t tell him, so then it seems spontaneous to him.

I like accomplishing things. I like crossing off everything on my to-do list (I like making lists!). I like to feel that I have done something every day. I think that was one reason I didn’t find much happiness as a teacher. I never felt like I’d accomplished anything. Every year I’d teach the same thing again, and in my mind, I’d think, how can you not know this? I taught it already! But of course, the kids were new and the material was new to them. But I wanted to cross off commas and be done with them, not revisit them year after year.

What else brings me closer to happiness? Writing. Writing this blog is making me happy. I’m getting my feelings on paper. E.M. Forster once said, “How do I know what I think until I see what I say?” Writing is a learning process for me. I learn a lot about myself through the novels I write and even these blogs.

Okay, so how do you view happiness? Are you happy?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A look inside Lydia Dare's thought processes


Since there are two of us, whenever something comes up that we need to write -- be it a book, or even a blog, we usually chat with one another on the ‘net until we solidify our idea. We started chatting last night about an upcoming blog (this one) for the Casablanca Author’s blog, and we thought we’d show you what it’s like to be Lydia Dare. Here’s how it went:

[9:54:23 PM] Tammy Falkner: So, Jodie, what's your take on happiness? Do we have to agree on this thing? If so, that's about as likely to happen as moss growing on the wrong side of the tree.
[9:54:55 PM] Jodie Pearson: You don’t know which side is the wrong side of the tree, do you?
[9:55:09 PM] Tammy Falkner: Not a clue. But there's a right side and a wrong side.
[9:55:20 PM] Jodie Pearson: Well, the theme is the "pursuit of happiness". So that's kind of different than my TAKE on happiness.
[9:55:27 PM] Tammy Falkner: Told you we wouldn't agree.
[9:55:34 PM] Jodie Pearson: When do we?
[9:56:08 PM] Tammy Falkner: Never. I prefer doing it this way, actually.
[9:56:21 PM] Jodie Pearson: You do?
[9:56:42 PM] Jodie Pearson: It might be nice to agree every once in a while.
[9:56:43 PM] Tammy Falkner: Yeah, it saves my hubby from having me make up needless arguments just to tax HIS brain.
[9:56:59 PM] Jodie Pearson: lol
[9:57:02 PM] Jodie Pearson: So glad I can help.
[9:58:04 PM] Jodie Pearson: Do you have a problem with the PURSUIT of happiness?
[9:58:08 PM] Tammy Falkner: So, my take on happiness --- it's not something that you can pursue. It just sort of happens. And I do know that the more you pursue it, the faster that b*tch might run. Now tell me you don't agree.
[9:58:24 PM] Jodie Pearson: Well, i don't.
[9:58:29 PM] Tammy Falkner: Go figure.
[9:58:34 PM] Jodie Pearson: Big surprise, I know.
[9:58:57 PM] Jodie Pearson: I should probably tell you Thomas Jefferson is my most favorite president ever.
[9:59:12 PM] Tammy Falkner: Should that mean something to me?
[9:59:14 PM] Jodie Pearson: But I don't think it's foolhardy to try and find happiness.
[9:59:45 PM] Jodie Pearson: Yes, he wrote the declaration of independence, where our right to pursue happiness is mentioned. ;)
[9:59:59 PM] Tammy Falkner: I can't stop laughing!
[10:00:25 PM] Jodie Pearson: Pursuing happiness can be working in a job you love. Doing hobbies that make you happy. There's nothing wrong with that.
[10:00:39 PM] Jodie Pearson: Pursuing those sorts of thing won't keep happiness at bay.
[10:02:28 PM] Tammy Falkner: But the job that makes me happy today might not make me as happy tomorrow. (I love MY job, by the way, but we're speaking theoretically). The tinkle of my kid's laughter makes me happy TODAY. But tomorrow it might make me unhappy, particularly when you're asking me for pages and he’s tinkling like crazy as he bounces a ball off my forehead.
[10:02:50 PM] Jodie Pearson: Are you saying I nag you for pages?
[10:03:09 PM] Jodie Pearson: I mean I was getting ready to. I wrote almost 5,000 words today.
[10:03:11 PM] Tammy Falkner: On occasion, you have been known to nag...
[10:03:20 PM] Jodie Pearson: Only when I need to.
[10:03:31 PM] Tammy Falkner: I haven't written a thing, except for a skype chat about our happiness blog.
[10:03:51 PM] Jodie Pearson: Great! Are we done?
[10:04:10 PM] Tammy Falkner: Did we decide what to write about?
[10:04:35 PM] Jodie Pearson: You know, why don't we just take this chat and post it instead. It's on the subject after all.
[10:04:42 PM] Jodie Pearson: And it makes me happy to nag you.
[10:04:55 PM] Tammy Falkner: Undoubtedly
[10:04:59 PM] Jodie Pearson: lol
[10:05:07 PM] Tammy Falkner: Is that a word?
[10:05:09 PM] Tammy Falkner: Probably not.
[10:05:14 PM] Tammy Falkner: You can edit me later.
[10:05:19 PM] Jodie Pearson: Who cares? It's late.
[10:05:36 PM] Jodie Pearson: I have typos all over the place. So embarrassing.
[10:06:02 PM] Jodie Pearson: My fingers don't work as fast as my brain.
[10:06:05 PM] Tammy Falkner: Good, I'll get to edit you if we ever finish the blog.

Here’s a look into OUR pursuit of happiness, and one of the many things that makes us both happy is a completed manuscript, or even a completed blog. (And, yes, if you know us, you know it’s like this in real life and we’re not just trying to entertain you.) The pursuit of happiness comes naturally in some things, not so naturally in others. And you can find happiness in the strangest places. Even in the moss on the wrong side of the tree. Or when you read a quote by Thomas Jefferson. Or when you’re living, breathing, loving the people around you, and finding happiness in the simple things. Because those are the things that will continue to provide happiness.

So which one of us do you most agree with? And what makes you happy?

*Photo courtesy of Erin Kelly

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Pursuit of Happiness (earplugs required)

By Robin Kaye


Lately, it seems as if the only thing I’ve pursued is an hour of peace and quiet. My life has been a little out of control—especially on the weekends. My daughter, Twinkle Toes, is in Central Pennsylvania at dance camp for five weeks and needs to be picked up every Saturday morning. My son, a Boy Scout Camp Counselor for seven weeks, needs to be picked up every Saturday afternoon on the Eastern boarder of Pennsylvania and Maryland, making it a four and a half hour loop from start to finish.

We then feed the Boy Scout the equivalent of a week’s worth of food, help him do his laundry, and return him to work no later than noon on Sunday—only a three hour drive round trip. For Twinkle Toes, it’s an early Monday morning run to Central PA. My husband and I do ten and a half hours of driving in three days. It is no wonder I’m having such a difficult time getting anything done.

If the driving wasn’t enough to get to me, the state of my household would. A few weeks ago, my Domestic God/husband received a call from his mother telling him she was sending us furniture. So, after ten years of using my living room as a storage shed, my husband was on task and finishing it so that we’ll have a place for his mother’s furniture. (I won’t mention that my grandmother’s furniture has been waiting under sheets for the living room to be finished since we moved in.)

At first, I was a bit peeved that one phone call from his mother could do what I hadn’t been able to accomplish for ten years, but then what was the point? At least the living room was taking shape and not a moment too soon. After I thought about it, I was thrilled that my days of getting kicked out of my own office so DH and one or more of my kids could watch a Harry Potter marathon were numbered.

Right now, I’m writing my blog while sitting on my bed with ear plugs in so that I can drown out the blaring of a Harry Potter movie coming from my office, the Friends DVD playing on a computer in my dining room, and Rock Band – the Beatles version being slaughtered in my family room.

I guess the pursuit of happiness for me requires earplugs. And, now that I am blissfully deaf, I’ve finally found an hour of peace and quiet to write this blog.

“Huh? What did you say? I can’t hear you dear. I have my earplugs in.”

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Blow ye winds, ye fans, and ye air conditioners

by Mary Margret Daughtridge


As I write this, my mind stumbles and lurches, bashing its toes against bumpy thoughts.

After days of heat so intense you feel your skin sizzle as soon as you step outside, and day after day the sky looks like hammered steel, last night it finally rained.

Today we are restored. The sky this evening is china blue. Long gold stripes of sunlight alternate with deep blue-green shadows across the lawns in nostalgic evocation of the perfect long summer evening.

The huge pots of salmon and blood red impatiens have recovered from the pale cringing of heat exhaustion. They sing out scintillating color in the deepening twilight.

I’m tempted to eat supper out on the patio. Mistake. Not-horribly-hot does not mean cool or even pleasantly warm. In less than forty-five seconds I have picked up my plate from the black wrought iron table and returned to the shelter of air-conditioning.

When I was a kid, the only places that had central air conditioning were department stores and rich people’s houses. I lived in neither. We had window fans, floor fans, attic fans, circulating fans. At church, we had paper fans on sticks, printed with pious scenes in idyllic colors on one side and funeral home advertising on the other. They were effective only on the face. Sweat pooled underneath your legs. Then they stuck to the slick polished walnut pews and made rude sucking sounds if you squirmed.

The very best fans were the lazy black ceiling fans that twirled the thick Coke-syrup scented air in the drug store. The sensory impression wasn’t coolth, precisely, but something sensual and rich, substantial and deeply pleasuring.

I heard a commercial the other day for a new-fangled fan. It explained that the problem with the old-fangled fans was that they had blades, and the blades chopped the air (I am not kidding—that’s what it said!) and worst of all, chopped air made buffets. Yes, buffet, that was the word.

Frankly, I can’t imagine what air from this new contraption feels like. With nothing chopping the air into manageable pieces, I imagine it makes something like those “straight-line winds”—you know, that blow like hell for about three minutes and down hundred-year-old trees and the weather service swears is not a tornado.

Can you imagine air that just pushes at you, absolutely steady without the tiniest deviation or let up? Me, I’ve never noticed that chopping the air does it any harm, and as for buffets—I kind of like them.

I run the ceiling fan in my bedroom winter and summer. Seconds after I turn it on the air stirs steadily without the feeling of being blown upon, and yet there are the odd little pats of wind, soft clumps of atmosphere to playfully bat at you, random yet predictable. Buffets.

My dictionary says buffet (second meaning) verb: strike violently. My fan does baby buffets.

Maybe whatever is responsible for keeping my thoughts stirred today is chopping them—instead of moving them in a straight line—and producing buffets.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The elusive butterfly of happiness

Can you spot it hiding there among the flowers? And if you do, could you capture it with your bare hands?

Probably not.

We probably all think we pursue happiness on a daily basis, but for the most part, what we're actually doing is just getting through the day. I used to believe that if I reached a point where all of my work was done and my obligations fulfilled, I could then do only the things that I wanted to do, and my happiness would be complete. However, I've been there (briefly) a time or two in my life, only to discover that I'd forgotten what it was I wanted to do that would make me so happy.

I learned a long time ago that acquiring material things won't bring lasting happiness. It seems fabulous for a while, but then the feeling wears off and you have to find something else to wish for. Eventually, you run out of wishes and have nowhere to turn for happiness, which is a very sad place to be.

There are many activities that I enjoy, but finding the time to do them has been the problem lately. I love to play guitar, but finding a free hour when I'm home alone and can crank up the amplifier and make the walls vibrate is difficult. Thus, my trusty Ibanez sits in the corner gathering dust, occasionally catching my eye to remind me that if I could just spare him a few moments, we could have a lot of fun together.

I also like to grow things, but that, too, requires time. I did take the day off on the Fourth of July to assert my independence and do what I wanted to do, which was to get the weeds out of my rose and lily beds. The best part of that job was the scent of the flowers, and just seeing them blooming without all the weeds made me happy.

My vegetable garden, however, is another story altogether. It is one horrific mass of weeds with a few struggling vegetable plants thrown in. The cucumber vines are smothering the tomatoes, and the weeds have choked the basil to the point that I almost couldn't find it. I did finally locate it, but, not having the time to pull the weeds, I just stomped them down so that the basil could get a little sunlight and have room to grow.

I'm becoming convinced that having room to grow is all anyone really needs to be happy, and writing gives me that space. I have the whole galaxy to explore and can sit here and write and the words seem to come out of nowhere. I'm fully focused on what I'm doing and can go on for hours.

Recently, I discovered something else that made me happy; something that took me very much by surprise. You often hear an actor say that they've never seen the finished version of many of the movies they've been in because they can't avoid critiquing themselves. Being my own worst critic, I've never read any of my own books after they're published because I'd know I'd do the exact same thing. However, I recently acquired an iTouch, and thought it would be cool to get the Kindle app and have my own books on there.

So I did that, and last night, while my patient was peacefully sleeping, instead of reading one of the many books I'd picked up at the RT Convention, I started reading Slave, which I had last read several months prior to its publication in April 2008.

It was difficult at first, because even the opening line, which I've been urged over and over again to duplicate for other books, seemed to need revision. As I read on, the first person voice sounded strange to me, but I persevered and somewhere in that first chapter, a funny thing happened: I stopped critiquing it and got sucked into the story. Even though I know I'd read through that manuscript countless times, it was new again, and I was enjoying it. And that made me very happy.

In just a few weeks, my sixth book, Hero will be launched, and it is so different from Slave it could have been written by someone else, and, in fact, it was. Hero was written by me, but Slave was written by Captain Jacinth "Jack" Rutland of the starship, Jolly Roger. Different voice entirely.



Not long ago, a writer friend made the comment that my voice had "matured." She may have been right about that, but going back and reading Slave helped me to remember my roots. I'm probably a better writer now, but though I've written a lot of characters in the interim, few were as much fun as Jack. I've brought her back in other books in the series, and she's still a blast to write, even in third person.

After Hero, the series takes a different turn and Jack will be there to introduce you to the new guys. It may be her final appearance, but knowing when to pass the baton on to someone new is like knowing when to stop trying to catch butterflies and simply enjoy watching them fly.

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Pursuit of Happiness

We hold these truths to be self-evident,
that all men are created equal,
that they are endowed by their Creator
with certain unalienable Rights,
that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Every American school child is required to memorize these lines penned by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence. I remember agonizing over them, practicing endlessly so that I could stand before the class and say them aloud. We had to get every syllable correct or we would fail our government class and then – gasp – not graduate! Oh the pressure!

Shaking in a cold-sweat terror of nervousness I remember, but I don’t remember the nitty-gritty analysis of what these words actually mean. Do you? I am sure we did study the history but over time we develop our own concepts of “liberty” and “life” and that tricky one: “the pursuit of happiness.”

As I thought about what brings me happiness for this month’s blog theme, it was easy to make a list. Yet I found myself wondering what Mr. Jefferson and our Founding Fathers meant by it. Assuming – rightfully so, I believe – that the authors were extremely careful in their word choices, asking, “Why was that phrase in there?” is valid. Obviously when you are talking politics and matters touching on morals and ethics, the analysis will be widely varied. I discovered some of this when I did a quick Google search! Yet for all the divergent slants on the topic and history behind the phrase, the consensus was clear if one honestly and without bias delves into what we know of these men, especially Jefferson.
Jefferson, Adams, and the others were not the first to conceive of these ideas. In fact, Adams teasingly complained that Jefferson had written nothing new, to which Jefferson wholly agreed. A two-second glance at the before-the-Revolution writings of our FFs will reveal that they shared these philosophies and expounded on them often, liberally quoting previous writers. Numerous philosophers and political movers wrote of and fought for these concepts, including Aristotle, Epicurus, Dr. Samuel Johnson, and Adam Smith, just to name a few. Yet there is zero argument that the greatest influence on Jefferson came from the 17th century philosopher John Locke. (Not the guy from Lost- hehe!)

Many will point to Locke’s Two Treatises on Government where he wrote that governments are instituted to secure people's rights to ‘life, liberty, and property,’ stating that Jefferson cleverly tweaked the last part. If that were so, as some argue, Jefferson meant that pursuing happiness is synonymous with acquiring property, AKA wealth. Of course many argue that he specifically changed the wording to declare that property/wealth was not as important as “happiness.”

Interesting fodder for debate. But the truth is that Jefferson was not cleverly coining a phrase or tweaking Locke. Rather he was using a phrase created by several past philosophers, including John Locke in his 1690 essay Concerning Human Understanding. Few now deny that this is where Jefferson largely obtained his ideals and directly quoted from, especially since he blatantly said so.
The necessity of pursuing happiness [is] the foundation of liberty. As therefore the highest perfection of intellectual nature lies in a careful and constant pursuit of true and solid happiness; so the care of ourselves, that we mistake not imaginary for real happiness, is the necessary foundation of our liberty. The stronger ties we have to an unalterable pursuit of happiness in general, ….. the more are we free from any necessary determination of our will to any particular action, ….. and the nature of the case demands, we are, by the necessity of preferring and pursuing true happiness as our greatest good, obliged to suspend the satisfaction of our desires in particular cases.
The above quote by Locke is only a tiny part of his essay. The meaning, however, is clear and succinctly stated by Jefferson’s “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” The three central realities, these “unalienable rights” are tied together but also listed in order of importance. Life must come first, naturally, since without life none of the others can exist. Liberty (freedom) is the soul’s need to form your own thoughts and not be oppressed, and it must exist for one to walk the path of happiness. But one’s perceived right of “happiness” should not hinder or infringe upon the liberty or life of anyone else. See?

All 3 are innate human drives. But note that he did not just say “happiness” but rather the “pursuit of happiness” where pursuit is used as a noun. Happiness can be nebulous at best, is objective, and will certainly be upset from time to time. The pursuit of it is our quest, our occupation if you will, and is the constant. THAT is what we must have the liberty to do: pursue happiness.

So, was Jefferson, et al preaching the attitude of doing whatever we want to make ourselves “happy”? Was he a hedonist telling us freedom was to go all out, often at the expense of others, to be happy?

Not at all! Locke is adamant that true and solid happiness is a result of intellect and control, employing careful self-examination to discern imaginary, fleeting happiness from that which is necessary to free us from enslavement to harmful desires. Aristotle wrote, “the happy man lives well and does well; for we have practically defined happiness as a sort of good life and good action.” Alexander Hamilton and other FFs referred to “social happiness” as central to the Declaration’s themes. Liberty, as desired by our FFs, was the freedom granted and upheld by government to allow individuals as part of a societal whole to pursue the quest for happiness. In short, we are not guaranteed happiness, but should be guaranteed the ability to freely find whatever will make us happy, remembering that happiness is bound with civic virtues of moderation and justice.

And there, my fellow Americans, is your history lesson for the day! Whew! How do you pursue happiness? For me it is first and foremost my family, and possessing a servant’s heart for them and my church. Next comes my professional life, both in my writing to bring pleasure to readers as well as myself, and in caring for the babies as an RN. I have always felt blessed to be led into a career that brings me incredible joy while offering a vital service. Writing happy, romantic stories is equally a blessing, and I pray to be able to do both for many more years to come!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Learning Makes Me Happy

by Danielle Jackson

I've always loved to learn—I was that overachiever that wrote 20 page papers when the requirement was only 10, because I found out so much great information that I believed was entirely necessary to make my point. As I’ve grown, though, learning has always been a part of my life. Whether it’s researching new publications to pitch books to, or finding out interesting facts from the information in your romance novels, I’m lucky to be in position to literally learn something new everyday.

At the end of the month, many of us will be at the annual Romance Writers of America National Conference in Orlando, FL (at Disney World!), and I get to do a whole lot of learning! Meeting new authors and their visions for their careers, attending a couple of workshops on promoting romance novels, and of course, hopefully learning how NOT to get burnt out too early. It’s a wonderful way to become acclimated with the world of romance novels, and I think a lot of people are surprised by how eclectic and welcoming RWA and the 2000+ attendees of the national conference can be towards one another!

Sourcebooks, of course, will have a fabulous presence with a few great events, and I hope everyone can come to them!

- Friday, July 30, 9:45am-10:45am; SOURCEBOOKS SPOTLIGHT: Deb Werksman, our CEO Dominique Raccah and I will be telling everyone about Sourcebooks and our incredible romance line, as well as about Sourcebooks overall, what Deb is looking for editorially and what we do in regards to pr and marketing.

- Saturday, July 31, 12:00-1:30pm; SOURCEBOOKS AUTHOR SIGNING: Our current authors will be signing their books that Sourcebooks is donating--last year we had an incredible turn out, and with more authors signing this year, I think the line will be even longer and the books will go even faster!

- Saturday, July 31, 8:00-10:00pm; RITA/Golden Heart Ceremony: This year, we are excited to announce that Sourcebooks Casablanca author, Laurie Brown, is nominated for Best Paranormal, with her time-travel romance, What Would Jane Austen Do?. We are incredibly proud and excited!

If you’re attending RWA and would like to chat for a quick minute with me, let me know! My email is danielle.jackson@sourcebooks.com, and I’m setting up meetings now. My schedule is getting pretty full, but even just a quick hello will be fine. I hope to see so many of you in a few weeks!

What do you like learning about, even if you’re days in school are long gone? And if you’re attending the RWA National Conference, what are you looking forward to this year?