Friday, September 30, 2011


    Taking the advice of Lani Diane Rich, whose Storywonk podcast is my new favorite discovery, I am putting together a soundtrack for my current WIP. She recommends a playlist of music that is new, so you haven’t already associated memories with the songs. The soundtrack should become an auditory signal to your muse, allowing you to easily slip into that creative state where your characters speak to you.
    Rather than go on a major spending spree on iTunes (yet), I’ve managed to come up with a playlist to start with. As I started compiling the songs, I realized that the titles were, well, rather appropriate to my setting and story.
    The story, a romantic suspense, takes place in Minnesota in the middle of winter. The two main characters are competing newspaper reporters who return to their hometown to cover a murder trial.
    And here are the first 10 songs on my playlist:
  1. Ice Melts – Matt & Kim
  2. White Sky – Vampire Weekend
  3. Lies – Peter Bjorn & John
  4. Someone’s Missing – MGMT
  5. Miss Murder – A.F.I.
  6. Cold Hands – A.F.I.
  7. Anything Can Happen – The Finn Brothers
  8. Home Is Where Your Heart Is – The Sounds
  9. Antarctica – The Weepies
  10. The Interview – A.F.I.
    Clearly, my mind has already prepared for a cold winter setting. For good measure, I threw in Small Town Romance, by Richard Thompson, and When I Write The Book, by Nick Lowe, among about two dozen other songs. I’m happy with the list, but may still tinker with it a little. And a short shopping spree at iTunes might still be in the works. 

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Scrivener and the Art of Organization

    I use Scrivener to write. I use it because I LOOOOOVE it and every so often, even after using it since Summer 2010, I will learn something that causes me to exclaim, “oh my GOD, that’s so cool.” Like this morning, when I learned that you can easily see thesaurus alternatives by hovering over the word and hitting Control-Command-D. A little bubble pops up and gives alternative words.
    I learned that little trick by reading David Hewson’s book Writing a Novel Using Scrivener. It was so worth the $5.99. I will say that the book is much easier to read on a computer, using the Kindle program for Mac (or PC, if that’s your preference), than on the handheld Kindle device because of the many screen shots. That might have something to do with the fact that I have a 2nd generation Kindle and the latest version, I hear, has better contrast.
    Scrivener works for me because I can adapt it so that it fits my writing style. I’m not quite a plotter — my outlines are rough descriptions of scenes, some of which are out of order, and they only go about 3/4 of the way through the novel. But I’m not a pantser because I do like having a map, however sketchy, to guide me through the writing process.
    I set up my Scrivener projects so I have a folder called “Storyboard” that contains the scenes I expect to write. This is my outline. I can move the scenes around, especially in the index card mode, as things change. Then I have a folder for the actual manuscript, which contains a folder for each chapter. As I write a scene, it goes into chapter folder. I also have folders for character sheets and research, such as photos and articles. I like having all my notes, outline, research, and current draft in one place. It makes me feel organized, trust me, I very rarely feel organized.
    Anyway, my tips for today:
1)  Give Scrivener a try. It’s cheap and fun and who doesn’t like cheap and fun? Remember college? (No, I don’t mean you were cheap and fun. You were just popular.) It’s easy to get distracted with the many software options out there, and you don’t want to waste time learning yet another new writing program that isn’t going to write your book for you. But this one inspires me to write, the way a trip to the office supply warehouses does. (I am a sucker for office supplies. Your pens are not safe near me.)
2)  If you do try Scrivener, check out David Hewson’s book. He’s a working writer who uses the program to write his novels and shares what works for him. But what’s so great about Scrivener is that even if Hewson’s method doesn’t work for you, you’re not stuck with it. There are a billion (give or take) ways to change the program to suit your style.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

On the Nightstand

    The pile of books on my nightstand threatened to topple and smother me in my sleep, so I added a small bookshelf next to it. Problem solved? Not exactly. The additional space seemed to just beg me to buy more books.
    As a result, I now have a small mountain of books threatening to topple and kill me in my sleep, plus a bookcase with an equally unstable pillar of books.

I had to move a stack of books because they were blocking the light
    This, by the way, doesn’t include the audiobooks — four on my iPhone right now. Many more on my hard drive.
    Or the Kindle.
    Damn. It’s really a sickness, isn’t it?
    Currently, I’m reading one paper book (Kiss Me While I Sleep, by Linda Howard), one audiobook (A Field of Darkness, by Cornelia Read*), and am working through a couple writing guides on my Kindle. This probably makes me sound distracted. Which is true, but I have a system. I read the book at night before I go to sleep, listen to the audiobook on my commute, and read whatever is currently keeping my attention on the Kindle ... OK, a confession, I read the Kindle when I'm drying my hair. WHAT? You can't do that with a book, the pages won't stay put! It's totally normal!
  Ahem. If I sound defensive, it's because I live with a non-reader who totally doesn't get my need to surround myself with books.
  So, with this huge stack looming over me I've decided that I'm going to take a consumer hiatus and finish these, or at least a good portion of these, before I buy any more books this year. Of course, this new rule doesn't count the books I pre-ordered. And I do have a birthday approaching... So I don't imagine my nightstand will look uncluttered anytime soon.

* Can I take a minute to rave about A Field of Darkness? Well, it’s my blog, so yes, I can. God, it’s so good. I am loving it! It’s so good, I wish I were reading it and not listening to it, so I could go back and savor the author’s turns of phrase. She has a wonderful voice and I am enjoying all of the characters. I also love that it takes place in the late 1980s. I’ve already purchased the second book in the series and there’s a third, too! I am very, very happy.**

** Did I really just footnote a blog post? Damn you, law school!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Decade Later

    Ten years ago, I was getting ready for work when my phone rang. The college intern working the early shift in the newsroom said in an uncertain voice, “LA called? They said I needed to call everyone and make sure you were aware of what was going on? In New York?”
    Fifteen minutes later, I was driving to work with my wet hair in a ponytail, listening to a live broadcast of the collapse of one of the towers. My mind flipped through its internal rolodex of everyone I knew who resided or worked in New York, then in Washington D.C., then Pennsylvania.
     The rest of the day passed in a blur. I do not remember many specifics, just the constant feeling that my colleagues on the East Coast needed help to cover this monumental story, but it felt like there was little those of us on the West Coast could do. Planes were grounded, there was no way to send reporters or photographers to assist them. We did what we could, which was not enough.
    I do remember the exact place where I finally broke down and started sobbing, where I had to pull my car over after 12 hours at work listening to stories of loss and horror.
    I think it was about three weeks later when my husband and I stood nervously in line at Virgin Air in San Francisco International Airport, waiting to fly to London for a long-planned vacation. We had asked about canceling, but the airline said no refunds. It was only our second time taking an overseas vacation and we had saved for a year for this trip, so we went – despite our mothers’ pleas to reconsider.
    What I remember most about the trip to England was how we were greeted. It seemed as though we were the only tourists foolish enough, or broke enough, to keep our travel plans. We had the country to ourselves. And each time we met someone, our American accents gave us away.
    “So terrible, dear, what happened,” a store clerk said, placing a consoling hand on mine as I paid for a purchase. Her eyes welled up with tears and so did mine.
    In York, a small shrine was set up in front of the cathedral, small American flags among the flowers, candles, and notes. In small towns, our flag was displayed in stores, in windows, and in public squares.
    The fear and horror of that first day eventually faded, replaced by deep sadness for the families and friends of those who died. But the feeling of solidarity and sympathy is what stays with me after a decade. The goodwill of friends I didn’t know I had, many of whom had lived through terrible attacks on their homeland. That remains and still inspires me.    
    While it is not always possible to hold the hand of someone touched by a disaster – man-made or natural – if you are so inclined, please consider reaching out in solidarity and support to those who need help:
    Partners in Health
    Doctors Without Borders
    American Red Cross
    Don’t know where to start researching charitable organizations? You might check: 
    Charity Watch (American Institute of Philanthropy).

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Podcasts, Or The Reason I Just Missed My Exit

    Oh, how I love them. As I wait for my iPod to sync with all of my new podcasts, I thought I might talk about a few of my favorites.

    I love all things bookish – reading and writing – so podcasts about books or writing are tops on this list. My favorite writing podcasts are, in no particular order:
Writing Excuses – No, I do not read or write fantasy or sci-fi. But these writers are a treasure trove of good advice, no matter the genre. I love that it’s concise, 15 minute long, so it doesn’t get bogged down in banter. If the topic starts to stray, they “can of worm” it and save it for another podcast. They’re funny, intelligent, and great guides for beginning writers. They’ve also broadened my reading list with their recommendations, so actually, I should revise that first sentence to say, “I used to not read fantasy or SF.”
I Should Be Writing – Mur Lafferty’s podcast is another writing podcast that inspires me to keep writing. She’s a writer who talks about how damn hard it is to write sometimes and the many ways there are to get discouraged. But she also keeps writing - no matter how hard it is. And she does great interviews. I appreciate that she is sharing her own writing journey with the rest of us.
Packing Heat – Unfortunately, no longer updated, but author Jordan Castillo Price put together 140+ podcasts that kick ass. Ignore the part where it says it’s for wannabe erotic fiction writers. This is just plain awesome advice for all writers. She talks about craft (dialogue, description, plotting, character arcs), business (the ins and outs of publishing, book covers, marketing, online presence), and many other helpful bits of advice (new software for writing, systems for backing up and versioning drafts, getting over writers block). Yes, she writes m/m erotic thrillers, which may not be your cup of tea. Get over it. She’s a damn good writer and has much wisdom to share. And it never hurts to have a few more synonyms for cock, right?

    I am a total news junkie. It’s a sickness. My news podcasts include:  BBC Documentaries, BBC Africa, NPR’s Planet Money, In Our Time with Melvyn Bragg, World Affairs Council of Northern California, and the International Spy Museum SpyCast. To name a few.

How to categorize the others?
The Moth – Storytelling at its finest.
This American Life – I really don’t have to explain this to you, do I?
The Reading and Writing Podcast – Maybe this should go up under writing, but I tend to think of it more as a book podcast. Good interviews with authors, including Lee Childs, Carla Neggers and many others.
NPR’s Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! – Makes me laugh in traffic. Other drivers fear me. As they should.

    What podcasts can you recommend? Have you considered starting one? What would it be about?