Archive for September, 2010


Scene Scouting

on September 28, 2010 in Misc 4 Comments »

I’m back from my weekend getaway.

It was shorter than I’d originally planned – just two days and one night.  And like I’ve explained before, my sister showed up unexpectedly so I spent a couple days with her before taking off.  Still, my shortened road trip turned out to be just fine.  I escaped from home and work, relaxed, and was even able to fulfill an ulterior motive…

I scouted the setting for a new novel.

You know, there really has to be something wrong with writers like me.  Here I am, not even trying to get published, writing in this blog about my Layla efforts and how I’m still editing The Compass Master and will soon self publish it, and privately believing that Compass will be my last novel.  This really is it.  Finished.  I’ll swear off writing and concentrate on just living. Hallelujah.

Then a really strong story idea came to me and characters popped up out of nowhere and invaded my head.  And now I really want to write the damn thing just to see how it all turns out.

Shit.

There are only three good points to this literary situation.  The first two are the most obvious:  1) this would be a fun story to write, and 2) it takes place in Colorado.  This means the characters aren’t running around Europe like in The Compass Master.  It isn’t a complex thriller that takes a huge amount of brainpower and time to plot out.  Ain’t no historical research to plow through for background material.  It’s just a matter of sitting down and writing the sucker, which I will do (here I pause to sigh in resignation) once Compass is in print.  As of this last weekend I’ve completed most of the scene scouting in southern Colorado, and that’s 90% of the background work I’ve got to do.

The third good point about starting a new novel is more complicated and I only came to realize its existence this weekend.  It’s also a darker reason that I really believe might apply to a lot of writers.

I’ll tell you about it next time.

Interference

on September 24, 2010 in Misc 2 Comments »

I’m so tired of working, editing my book, and generally trying to be Layla that I decided to get away for a long weekend.  I mean, I REALLY need a cheap mini-vacation SOMEWHERE.  I figured I could go to the mountains, see the aspen change colors, take a short hike or too, and generally just relax.

I was ready to take off by today (Friday).  Then last night the weather report said there’d been the first (light) snow of the season up around Telluride (it’s at a very mountainous, high elevation).  Because I have no snow tires on my car, this meant I had to rule out that part of the state, even though I really wanted to spend a night in a very haunted old hotel in nearby Ouray.  So I had to scramble and plan on going to a couple other spots at lower elevations.

Also yesterday my director/actress sister in Santa Fe called and said she was driving up on Friday, could she stay with me a couple nights?  Because she has free tickets to the theater and do I wanna go with her?  This is normal behavior for theater people.  They can be lively and fun and funny, but they’re not really big on planning ahead or being practical.  So I’m hanging around on Friday and she can stay alone at my place the other nights.  Keep my neurotic cat company.

I’ll let you know if anything exciting happens on my trip (I saw Sasquatch!  There were ghosts in my hotel room!).

Hope all of you have a great weekend.

You know, one of these days I’m going to get caught by a stranger when I’m right in the middle doing something very Layla.  Maybe that stranger won’t call the police and I won’t get arrested, but I could definitely die of embarrassment.

Take tonight.  At about 10:30 p.m. I was ready to climb the crabapple tree next to my condo building’s garage.  No big deal, you may figure.  It’s easy and I’ve done this on a couple of other nights.  It’s good practice for me since Layla climbs trees and buildings in the dark.

Trouble is, tonight, for the first time I wasn’t just wearing dark clothes that make me look kinda suspicious; I was also in a climbing harness and had on a small backpack in which I had zipped my night vision goggles and in which I can also carry climbing rope, which I hope to buy within the next couple weeks.  Then, for that extra touch, I had pulled on my black bicycle gloves that just happen to look like handy-dandy burglar accessories.  At least I wasn’t wearing my headlamp; I figured that would be too over the top.

I want to emphasize that this wasn’t some kind of strange dress up act I was into.  What I was doing was testing myself.  Can I really climb around in the dark while wearing a harness and backpack, which can feel awkward and act as impediments in literal tight spots?  Can I be dressed and equipped for a Layla-type slightly illegal job and still get the job done?

The first part of my self-testing was fun.  I found that I was able to get into my spanking new climbing harness in the dark and make all the adjustments very quickly.   But I also wanted to see if I could move stealthily about in that harness, which isn’t too easy since the carabiner and a couple other metal parts dangle from it and make clanking noises if I’m not careful.  If I were Layla, I’d either want to wrap some black electrical tape around the shiny metal both to disguise and muffle it, or slip it off my harness and into a pocket once I’m done climbing.

These are the kinds of detail you only figure out by physically, really doing what your character does.  Although there are a couple scenes in which Layla uses a harness and ropes, I’ve already discovered that I’m going to have to tweak the details of one scene, thanks to what I’ve learned from my own experience.

Anyway, about the embarrassment…

As I’ve told you before, the biggest risk of doing any Layla stuff at night is that in my neighborhood people just plain don’t seem to GO TO BED!  There is always, always someone out walking a dog, couples taking a stroll, a runner or two, and the occasional passing car.  Then there are the streetlights, which are close by and FRIGGIN’ BRIGHT!  So there I was, in almost full Layla working regalia, climbing the first couple branches of the tree when…

I could see someone walking down the street and in my direction.

That’s when I figured… Oh, to hell with it.  I went back inside and called it a night.

I think I’m gonna ask a favor of a couple friends who live in quieter neighborhoods and see if I can climb around their places at night.  I don’t think they’ll mind.  They may even have a good laugh watching me.

Temporary Detour

on September 17, 2010 in Misc Comments Off

PLEASE COME BACK ANOTHER DAY.

Sorry about this, but my blog is undergoing some technical changes (including being switched to another server, etc.) and I’ve been told by my techie (aka, my brother, who works for free) NOT to post much anything for a couple days.   By this weekend all should be well again, and I promise to come roaring back.

Have a good one, and as always THANKS so much for stopping by.

Animal Instincts

on September 13, 2010 in Misc 2 Comments »

It’s late at night and I’m trying to concentrate, but the cicadas and crickets and whatever are making a bizarre noise outside my window.  For about ten minutes I’ve been trying to figure out why their rhythm and pitch keep reminding me of something ominous in a science fiction movie.

crows on wire

Then it hit me – that’s the sound from Contact.

You know the sound I mean:  a weird, two-tone pulsing that tells the scientists some kind of intelligent alien life is reaching out to touch us earthlings.  Those insects sound just like that right now.  It’s pretty distracting and loud enough to cover the faint noises someone like Layla might make while trying to climb or otherwise get into a building.

There’s no scene in The Compass Master in which Layla’s nocturnal movements are masked by nature’s noise.  But I might add cicadas to a critical scene because that could ratchet up the tension:  the noise would cover the footsteps of a bad guy who’s tailing her.  I first toyed with this idea a couple weeks ago when I took that compass and map reading class at REI.  The instructors held it outside on a grassy spot shaded by trees.  Trouble was there were cicadas in those trees and they were so friggin’ loud the instructors had to practically yell for us to hear them. 

Compass Map and Dividers.

In that same scene with Layla she uses a GPS and night vision goggles to navigate open land.  I figured such technology would be essential for anyone.  Then I read about certain natives in Australia and elsewhere who are raised with such an intense sensitivity to direction that by the age of seven they know instinctively where north, south, east and west are.  At all times, night or day.  Some of these people are so sensitive you can put them inside a building, cover their eyes with a blindfold, spin them around, and they can still point out north for you.  It’s like they’re human compasses.  They just plain can’t get lost because they’re so in tune with nature.

Layla’s not like that.  She needs her compass, her GPS, her maps and anything else ya got that can help do her job quickly and efficiently.  But maybe at some point in another book I can show her as such a keen observer of animals and natural settings that she knows how to read them for warnings or guidance. 

I’ve been in homes where crows or magpies have staked out their territory in the trees outside, and if a stranger walks up to the house they start cawing.  Yet the stranger never notices.  Who listens to birds these days?  I’ve been in landscapes where the prairie dogs or rabbits suddenly vanish because some kind of predator has appeared nearby.  Yet you still can’t see that predator, even if it’s a human one.  When I was young my parents had a sweet old dog named Fluffy who got along with everyone with the exception of one friend of my brother.  Fluffy hated, hated that guy, even though he never went near her.  Turned out her animal instincts were better than our human judgment because he proved to be scum.

bedoin alone

Layla has done work in the Middle East and I like to think that she has traveled with Bedouins (‘cause that’s what I wanna do).  A couple years ago I read a book written by a WWI soldier who went to live with Bedouins in North Africa rather than return to England after the war.  The extraordinary kinship these nomadic tribal families had with their natural environment was so keen they could look at half a footprint in the sand and the fig seeds near it and tell the soldier if a man or a woman had passed that way, how long ago, and what tribe he or she belong to.  In the middle of a vast desert they knew where their friends and enemies were and where life or death lay.  Wouldn’t it be cool to send Layla off on a desperate quest with people like that?  Get her away from technology and modern life and force her to fall back on her animal instincts and powers of observation. 

Note:  The insects outside my window have changed their tune and they’re no longer making that Contact noise.  Which is good because I was starting to freak out.

Lighten Up

on September 10, 2010 in Misc 2 Comments »

You know, trying to live the exciting life of a heroine in a thriller should be a lot of fun.  It should be a hoot.  It should be something to boast about or laugh about or even shrug off like it’s no big deal.

warrior monk

So why do I keep taking everything so seriously?  Not just my Layla plan, but anything I seem to do anymore?

Take last night in fencing.  I got through class okay and afterwards had a private lesson with Bob.  Bob is one of those cool older dudes in his late sixties (I assume) who has such extraordinary skills and blade control he could whip just about any young opponent who dares to go up against him.  He always stays calmly in control and practically Zen Buddhist monk with his in-the-moment presence of mind.

Me?  Think his opposite.  Not a pretty picture.

Bob had to tell me several times to relax (like fencing teachers Nathan and Henri also tell me) because as usual I was trying to anticipate his moves and getting anxious and tense.  That’s not good for several reasons, one of them being that when you tense up your neck and shoulder muscles go rigid, which in turn throws off your aim with the weapon.

“Fencing is fun!” Bob reminded me with some exasperation.

Damn straight it is.  Yet in every lesson and bout it seems that my natural response is to feel as if I’m in some kind of life-or-death final exam.  I am being tested and I had better not fail.  I had better not make a fool of myself.

I mean, I haven’t been in school in years.  Okay, decades.  And I was a pretty good student.  Yet more and more these days I realize that my immediate emotional response whenever I challenge myself is to tense up and feel a cold, small dread that I’m being tested and about to screw up big time.  When I went skydiving, paragliding, wall climbing – hell, you name it – that fear flitted like a nasty little bat across my consciousness. 

DangerousGames1

There have been points during this last year when I really did start to feel more like Layla, which means being more confident, more direct, more clear-headed and less uncertain.  Unfortunately, I  never fully realized before now how deeply imbedded this fear of screwing up is in me.   Time to get over it — WAY over it.

I wonder how many of us could do spectacularly well at sports or intellectual endeavors or a chosen profession or whatever if we just got out of our own way?  What’s especially silly in my case is that I invented Layla and my Layla plan.  It’s my game and I make up the rules.  This means I can do as I damn well please in it.  I can even decide that I’m winning.

Hence as of today, I’ve decided that I’m winning brilliantly and I can only let myself stay in the game as long as I’m having fun.  When I stop having fun I’ll gather up my toys and go home and think of something else to play.

Overwhelmed

on September 7, 2010 in Misc 8 Comments »

Ever get the feeling that you’re disappearing under the pile of stuff you have to get done?

crazy-student

As of now I’m more than halfway through editing The Compass Master.  I should feel some relief.  I should pat myself on the back for seriously editing about a hundred pages of my big honkin’ manuscript over the three-day holiday weekend.  Sitting at my desk and working longer than a normal (non-writer) human being should merits some kind of praise.

So why do I feel that per usual I didn’t get enough done?

You know how it is.  Just when you start to see the light at the end of the tunnel (I’ll have my manuscript fully edited by the end of September!), you remember that you also have a *1%$# load of related tasks to see to.  I want to self-publish my novel before the end of the year (a goal my tax accountant is strongly encouraging)?  Then I have to start creating simultaneously the support structure around that publication.  

This means having a website for my novel ready to go, and since I lack the appropriate geek savvy to design it myself I have to pay someone else to do it, and be ready to tell him or her exactly what I want.  My book could be available at least on Amazon before Christmas?  Then according to publishing experts I should be launching my publicity efforts for Compass right about… NOW!  Oh, and don’t forget that I also need to have a clear idea of the cover for my book so that I can give good instructions to my hired artist, whoever he or she will be.

Anyway, enough of my whining.  The fact is, I’m the one who has chosen to go the self-publishing route. Yes, I wish so much that my agent had been able to find a big, fancy New York publisher to take a chance on my book.  I came very close a couple times – once all the way up to the editor-in-chief. But it didn’t happen, hence here I am in my self-publishing predicament.

But on the bright side…

My novel is finally going to be in print very soon.  That means it’s going to be REAL.

moby sculpture

If you’re a writer you know exactly what I mean.  Doesn’t matter if your friends have read your manuscript and loved it.  Nothing counts if your relatives (if you’re lucky and have a couple supportive members in that crowd) swear your stack of loose pages are better than all the published books they’ve read this year. If your novel is still just a photocopied manuscript in a drawer, it’s somehow not really a book. If it’s only in an electronic format you’ve emailed as an attachment to some loved ones, then it’s merely virtual.  For a writer, a novel has to take a physical shape with some heft and texture to be real.  And no, I don’t want to get into the argument about e-readers and electronic downloading today, ’cause I’m talking psychology, not technology.

Well, very soon now The Compass Master will be a real book. A hold-in-your-hands, genuine trade paperback.  I’ll give away some copies. I’ll do what promotion I can on it without going crazy or worrying about sales. And maybe because my novel is finally in print and real and I can touch, then maybe I can go back to having a normal non-writer’s life.

Maybe.

Down Time

on September 3, 2010 in Misc Comments Off

Last night I started an entry for this blog.  What I was writing was pretty interesting and had a cool twist, or at least that was my impression.  Trouble is, I was so tired that after only a few minutes I started nodding off.  I can finish it in the morning before work, I thought.

dog sleepign

Not happening.

I’m now at work, I’m still dragging, and my brain is straining at any attempt to string a few words together.  So I’m gonna hafta put off this blog until the weekend.  I’ll be spending most of it editing The Compass Master because I MUST publish this baby before the end of the year.  I will also be sleeping in every morning.

Nevertheless, I will no doubt have an exciting, stupendous new entry for this blog by Tuesday morning.

Hope all of you have a great three-day Labor Day weekend.  Stay safe.  Stay cool. Have fun.