Monday, May 30, 2011

Pulling everything together

It's been a whirlwind of a week. My apartment is a mess, and my mind even more cluttered. And it doesn't appear any of it will be tidying itself up anytime soon! So I apologize for a scattered post today, but there's a few things I want to say.

Firstly, a huge thank you to Cat at The World Crafter's Inkspot and Kip Wilson Rechea and her blog. Almost two weeks ago they both awarded me a blog award, respectively, the Stylish Blogger Award and the Irresistibly Sweet Blog Award. I'm so embarrassed it's taken me this long to claim the awards and to say thank you. Please take the time to check out their lovely blogs.

Secondly, I've been saying for some time now that TODAY is the day I will have my third draft of Project Demo complete. Uh... well, I've still got two scenes left to go, so I'll have to let you know for sure, but for now I'm cautiously optimistic that I'll make my deadline. Woo-hoo! It's been a LONG haul and there has been much whining involved (have I ever whined so much about any book?).

Apparently I'm a bit of a whiny writer. I once joked that the worst stage of the writing process was whatever stage I was at. So just so you don't think I'm a total complainer, I have to say: I think I like this stage. Most of my scenes are written, I've mostly figured out my main character's physical and emotional journey. There are still plot holes, but they're more mouse-sized than truck-sized. Now I need to figure out my more minor characters, draw some maps, and do all the detail work that makes a book shine. This is the bit where I can finally tell if Project Demo might someday be readable. Even for a whiner like me, that's pretty exciting.

Thirdly, I'm going to be away from the blog for the next week, taking a well deserved vacation from writing and Project Demo (if not my enormously cluttered mind, sadly). So in the meantime I'm going to re-run some of my favorite older posts. I'll try to respond to comments, but my access may not be as frequent as it usually is.

How are your writing projects coming along? Are you going to meet your deadlines? And, because I'm dying to know, what do you do to celebrate meeting your goals? Or, conversely, do you punish yourself for not making it?

Friday, May 27, 2011

Taking Flight: the launch party

Hope's a funny thing. In Jennifer Donnelly's beautiful book, A Northern Light, the main character worries hope is a sin. My Irish Catholic friend assures me it's one of the few things that isn't. But like Donnelly's character, I understand the fear hope can bring.

So in preparation for the Taking Flight launch party Tuesday night, I locked my hope deep inside, and instead steeled myself to keep up a happy face, and to make the most of the night, whatever happened.

I've been doing a lot of behind the scenes work for the launch, so for several hours beforehand I ran around like a crazy woman, checking to make sure the wine arrived and was chilled, the name tags were arranged alphabetically, and as 6:30 approached and agents and editors started to trickle in, they were welcomed.

I greeted people, offered drinks, and was just helping someone to hang up their coat, when my tutor, Julia, appeared beside me. She whisked me off to meet an editor she said was gushing about my extract. I thought, "Oh good, at least one person will want to talk to me tonight."

Well, there were a few others who wanted to talk to me, too. From there, the night became a whirlwind, with editors and agents chatting with me about my extract, but also my writing in general, my teaching experience, Chicago, how long I had lived in the UK...

An hour and a half later I had a moment free to look at my watch in astonishment, discover my feet were killing me, and grab some food and several glasses of water. Then I bumped into someone else who wanted to ask about A TRUTH I DON'T KNOW.

So how did it go? It was a lovely evening. Several people were interested in my extract, and have asked to read more. I even got the opportunity to pitch Project Demo--and people seemed intrigued. Plus I got to spend over two hours talking books with people, reuniting with old friends, classmates, and tutors, and eating a few of these yummy miniature fruit tarts. All in one of my favorite places in the world, London.

So all in all, not a bad evening. I'm so grateful I had my classmates, my tutors, my friends, and all of my lovely and supportive readers' hopes to bolster and encourage me. Thank you.

And who knows, maybe even more will come of it. I hope so.

Left to right, me, Ni, Katerina, Jane, Rachael, Julia, Toni, Regina, Steve, Emma, Bridget, Sheila

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Oia, Santorini: Greece Pics III

While I'm recovering from a late night at the Taking Flight launch, here are some more Greece pictures to keep you busy!

Phil and I flew from Athens to Santorini, a popular, touristy island, southwest of Athens in the Aegean Sea.

Like much of Greece, we didn't really know what to expect. We knew Santorini had nice beaches, was mountainous and pretty. People online had recommended staying in Oia, supposedly the prettiest town on the island. We hadn't planned much, just figured we'd spend a few days relaxing, eating seafood, and touring the small island.

We took a taxi from the airport to Oia, and as it swung around all these mountain passes, with the sea sparkling below, my smile grew bigger and bigger.

Not much to say about Oia, just some absolutely lovely pictures. It might be the most beautiful place I've ever been.

The view from above one of Oia's numerous churches:

Not only were the buildings picturesque, they contained hundreds of lovely shops. This one was my favorite (for obvious reasons!):

The owner has to be not only a complete book snob (the books were in a variety of languages, French, English, Greek, and so much great literature, Dostoevsky, Walt Whitman, Philip Roth, Stephenie Meyer!) but also an artist. The books were arranged so beautifully. My favorite was a Spanish edition of Hemingway displayed beside a worn bottle of gin. Wooden slabs of wood at various angles had been made into shelves and bookends.

At first Phil and I joked about buying property in Oia. Then we noticed dozens of old, ruined buildings along the hillside. Perfect! Course, even if the property was cheap (which I'm sure it's not!), it's ancient, and you'd have to pay builders a lot of money to transport materials and crawl around the hills. Still, it's an investment property, right? Here's me checking out one possibility:

Traditionally the people in Oia lived in caves. Some of them are now very expensive hotels. Here's a glimpse of some of the caves overlooking the view:

The first full day we were there, our hotel owner insisted we walk down the hillside to Amoudi Bay for freshly caught seafood for lunch:

Don't you love how the water changes color depending on your angle, the sun, the rocks, and the depth? Beautiful!

The view from our table (it was a windy day--notice the flag--so we ate a bit further in):

Donkeys carried tourists down (and more importantly, up!) the hillside to Armeni Bay.

We bumped into the donkeys one evening, and were absolutely delighted to see they had a wannabe following on their trail. The perfect picture book, one of the other tourists said to me, and I have to agree. Who wants to write it?

This is me feeling all my problems whisking off my shoulders:

Hopefully this gives you a bit of a holiday yourself in the middle of the week! I've got many many more Santorini pictures to share next week.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Books: This is exactly how they work

Regular readers of Critically Yours will know I've often struggled with the darkness of my writing (I've longed for several years to write a really fun pirate book).

Writing a dark, gritty novel can be grueling. As my character despairs, I despair, and I rush to reach the end so we can both have some sort of resolution.

But anytime I've tried to write a purely fun book, I end up asking too many questions, looking under too many rocks, teasing out all of my characters and settings' dark secrets.

But this past week I had an epiphany sparked by this illustration.

Yes, this. Whether you're a writer or not, if you love books, go look at this picture.

Perfect, isn't it?

I want to wallpaper my bedroom with it.

Not only that, it speaks to the struggle I've been having as a writer. Part of why I read is to be carried off to magical lands, castles, and spaceships. That's what I've missed in my writing as of late. But I also read so I can better understand my own gritty, frustrating, and sometimes sad world, and to have someone to share it with, maybe hold my hand while we explore it together.

So here's my epiphany: why can't I create books that represent this illustration? Fantasy, beauty, and wonder, but also darkness, loneliness, and garbage. What if I wrote about both?

J K. Rowling did, Dr. Seuss did, C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Libba Bray, Shaun Tan... and maybe I already have, at least a little bit, too.

I'm brimming with possibilities and really looking forward to Project Whatever Comes Next!

Tomorrow is the Taking Flight launch party (eek!); hopefully I'll be posting about it later this week, along with more Greece pics. See you then!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Ta-da! A TRUTH I DON'T KNOW is taking off!

As of late, my horn has gotten a little dusty with lack of blowing. But I finally have something to show off for my efforts (I'm so excited to share, I had to post on the blog a day early!).

This Tuesday will be the launch party for "Taking Flight", an anthology of writing from Bath Spa University's MA in Writing for Young People. And it includes (first, in fact--yay for alphabetizing!) an extract from my novel, A TRUTH I DON'T KNOW.

Do you remember how ages ago I tantalized you with the glimpse I had into the illustration for my novel by Bath Spa University undergrad Andrew Hinchcliffe? I thought it captured the grittiness and the overall themes of my writing perfectly.

Here it is:

Is it too gauche to say I LOVE it?

For more information, and to enjoy all my classmates' intriguing extracts, visit the Taking Flight Anthology website.

For up to the minute news on "Taking Flight" and Tuesday's launch party, follow us on Twitter @TFAnthology

You can see my bio and synopsis here.

And you can see Andrew's incredible illustration and the first two chapters of A TRUTH I DON'T KNOW here.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Delphi: Greece Pics II

The second day of our trip to Greece, Phil and I traveled to Delphi, about three hours northeast of Athens.

Our tour bus wound through the mountain switchbacks, taking us higher and higher. When the clouds parted, we could see the blue line of the sea sparkling in the distance. We barreled through this tiny mountainside village, Arachova, with winding streets, crumbling stairs, and picture-perfect houses. It was so pretty, Phil dubbed it "stupidly picturesque."

Then we arrived at Ancient Delphi and got off the bus. Ancient Delphi is built along the side of a mountain, so you have to climb up to see everything. There was enough time for us to get our tickets and to reach the first major ruin, Apollo's Temple. Then the heavens opened up. It poured.

Our guide insisted it would clear up in a minute, that it was very unusual weather for Greece. Then he said we shouldn't worry anyway, it was divine rain, a gift from the gods. It was good for us. A few minutes later we were completely soaked and most of the group insisted to be allowed back on the bus.

Thankfully, while all this was going on, Phil and I had been looking around. Not only had we paid a fair amount to spend the day in Delphi, we were looking at one of the most incredible places we had ever been. Besides, we were soaked anyway.

Unfortunately not many pictures. Other than a few spots of sunshine, it really was pouring.

Here's the amphitheater. The columns (behind the tree) and other ruins directly below it are the remains of the Temple of Apollo. It was inside this Temple that the Oracle of Delphi practiced. Can you imagine a more perfect location for an Oracle?

This gutter ran alongside several of the buildings, down the side of the mountain. And the coolest part? Because of the rain, we could actually see it still working!

At the top of the path, was the stadium, where track and field events were held. Again, what a location!

Why not step a little closer to take this picture? Phil was standing under a tree trying not to soak his camera!

And here's me, soaked, but happy:

When we returned to the bus, Phil and I were shocked to discover most of the rest of our tour had hardly seen Delphi. They asked us if it was worth it. I didn't want to lie, but... yeah, it was. Other than being sopping wet and my socks smelling like mold and getting really bad motion sickness on the way down the mountain, it honestly was one of the best days of the trip!

Luckily the sun came out for a bit later in the day. We had lunch in modern Delphi, and finally got to see more of a view. The sea is in the distance. The green patch that almost looks like a sea is an orchard of olive trees. The olive tree was first given to the Greeks by Athena, and is considered her most perfect gift.

More pictures next week, and for Friday I have a little surprise to show you!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Write another book

The best piece of writing advice I ever got? Write another book.

The best piece of writing advice I can give? Write another book.

Sometimes newer writers despair when they hear that most published authors published their second, fifth, or even tenth book written, not their first. They think, "You mean I'm going to spend months and years pounding out a novel, pouring my soul into its pages, and it's still not going to be good enough? No one will ever even read it?" Yeah, probably. And that completely stinks.

But writing is hard. Just like anything else worth doing well, it takes work and years of practice. You wouldn't want a doctor performing her first ever operation on you. Or an accountant filing his first tax return on your behalf.

And here's the secret to writing multiple books: you get better with each one. Each new book also helps you to gain perspective on the older ones, your many drawer novels. You can see how your previous books weren't working. You might go back to them someday, now that you're a better writer. But you also might keep pushing forward, writing better and better books, no looking back.

Sure, some authors do publish their first book. Some first books are bestsellers. But some authors have to write 10 or 20 books before the industry decides their writing is good enough to be published. Maybe some of us are slower than others. Or maybe some ideas are more marketable than others. Maybe a lot of it has to do with pure luck.

But here's another secret: when you start thinking about all of the above, really despairing that you're not smart enough or lucky enough or whatever to make it, keep writing. Because before you know it, you'll be completing your next novel. And instead of agonizing, suddenly you have a whole new baby to present to the world, a second chance, then a third chance, then a tenth chance...

Not that I know this from personal experience or anything. ;)

Agent Rachelle Gardener recently blogged about this: "Will Your First Book Be Published? Four Reasons You Should Write Several Books Before Seeking Publication." Her blog, as always, is incredibly wise and encouraging. But I also found the comments really helpful--lots of writers pumping out lots of books. We are not alone.

More Greece pictures on Wednesday!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Acropolis: Greece Pics I

Blogger finally got over its massive meltdown, and I finally got my blog back! Here's Friday's post, just a day late:

Are you ready for a plethora of Greece pictures? This should give me something to blog about for the next few days, at least!

Phil and I spent the first day of our trip exploring Athens' Acropolis, which is on a mountain plateau towering over the city.
Above you can see the people swarming the entrance (called the Propylaea). Its ceiling used to be painted dark blue and covered with stars--how beautiful must that have been? The small temple on the right of the picture is the Temple of Athena Nike (erected in a hope for victory (nike) against the Spartans).

Of course, once you've climbed through the marble staircase of the Propylaea, the star of the show is the Parthenon:

The Acropolis is also home to the Erechtheion, which has these lady pillars, the Caryatids. I've seen them in so many pictures, but how cool to actually SEE them (actually, these are replicas, but I saw the real ladies in the Acropolis Museum!).

You see all the ladders, cranes, and scaffolding? At first I thought we were unlucky, but later learned the Acropolis is under an almost permanent conservation effort. And she needs the help--the caryatids lost more facial definition in the past fifty years (before they escaped to the museum) from acid rain, than they had since they were first built in 400 BC.

Speaking of things we learned... Greece really loves its animals. Lots of stray dogs and cats, but they seemed fairly well cared for, with kibble and water set out for them, and no one minding if they made themselves comfortable.

The Propylaea stairs:

A kitty "helping" with stone transport:

For me, one of the most amazing things about Athens was just how much was there, so well preserved, scattered throughout the city. On the edge of the Acropolis is this (slightly newer) theatre, the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, which is still used for performances today:

Below is Mars Hill, which the Apostle Paul (according to the Bible's Book of Acts) climbed up on to rail against the Athenians for their temple to an unknown god:

See? Athens has EVERYTHING. Too cool. I'll post some more next week.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Returning to Project Demo

I'm baaaack! After losing access to the internet for almost a week, I spent the following week in Greece on a desperately needed vacation, and am only now returning to the real (and virtual!) world.

Yesterday I had fresh kiwi and yogurt with honey for breakfast, then spent the morning touring the Ancient Agora, once Athen's marketplace and social center. That afternoon Phil and I gathered our luggage and caught the metro out to the airport for our flight home (Good thing, too! Today is another strike in Athens, shutting down all public transportation and including police, bankers, and air traffic controllers!).

On the long ride to the airport, I mentally said goodbye to Greece, yogurt with honey, the Acropolis, the sea, mountains and blue skies, and prepared myself to return to Bristol. It wasn't easy.

But then I thought about Project Demo, which I hadn't worked on for the past week. I'm hoping to finish draft 3 by the end of this month, to finish my entire revision before the end of the summer. Project Demo has always been the no-win novel. I've despaired over it, feared to show it to anyone, even abandoned it once. Yet I keep coming back to it. And suddenly it's nearing the end. I can see the finish line, and, if I squint, what might be a beautiful story.

So while I didn't really have any choice about coming home, for once it was Project Demo that gave me something to look forward to. Imagine that!

I got back to Bristol last night just before midnight, but was up this morning to keep to my writing routine and dive into Project Demo. Also hoping to put off the massive pile of unanswered emails and the mile-long to-do list as long as possible!

Oh, and don't worry. I took LOTS of pictures of Greece. It is a beautiful, magical place, and I can't wait to share some of it on the blog.