Thursday, February 23, 2012

More on Writing Retreats

So fellow writer and editor extraordinaire Ramona DeFelice Long was awarded a two-week fellowship for a writing retreat at the Virgina Center for the Creative Arts. It sounds idyllic. You have a cabin, a desk, a bed, corkboards on the walls. Three meals a day provided. Socializing if you want it, solitude if you don't. Beautiful surroundings in a climate more southern than New England. Ramona has been mostly offline since she arrived there, but apparently she can access the Internet if she wants to.

Ramona writes that she just hit the 30,000 word mark at day eleven. WOW! Ramona, you rock. Mostly for focus, for sticking with it, for typing out that draft. Although knowing Ramona, I'll bet a nickle that her first drafts
are as polished as my tenth drafts.

Somebody even goes into town every few days for, as Ramona put it, "supplies." This after I asked her if she can even GET a drink to celebrate the 30k milestone with. Yes, apparently.

Needless to say, I'm going to be readying my application sometime in the next two weeks (before I start my new day job, which I expect will demand much of my energy in the beginning).

In the meantime, my dear and generous friend Deb has allowed me to borrow her lovely, quiet Plum Island second home for a solo writing retreat next weekend. The house is across the road from the Atlantic, and has light and breeze aplenty. I plan to stock up on large sheets of paper, new markers, and large sticky notes so I can storyboard my way through the rest of my first Local Foods mystery. I'll bring food, a bit of wine, my walking shoes, and my laptop. If the house comes with Internet, I plan to ignore it. (By the way, should you want to rent this lovely beach house for a week or longer, leave a comment and I'll put you in touch with Deb!)

Mad Martha's Cafe is right next door for big
nourishing breakfasts and coffee. And we'll see how many words I can accomplish in three solitary days. (I have, of course, dreamed of it before.)

And you? Have you done long retreats? Weekends? What works best for you? Or can you accomplish long focused writing stretches at home?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

On Pseudonyms

My dear departed father, an excellent writer in his own right, loved to use his pen name, RJ Nalla. His name was Allan Maxwell, Junior. RJ Nalla? Allan Jr backwards.

Once, in the early 1980s, he even made it onto NPR. All Things Considered had solicited "First signs of Spring" from listeners. Living in our house in a suburb of Los Angeles as he did, Daddy sent in his postcard with a comment about the camellias blooming in February (those are camellias behind him in this picture from his 1980 second wedding day). He was notified ahead of time that they were going to read his contribution, so I, in Boston, made sure to have the radio on at the correct time. What did I hear? "Listener RJ Nalla from Southern California reports..." His moment of fame, and he couldn't even use his real name? Well, that quirk was part of my father's loveability.

(Fun side story. My home town of Temple City sponsors the Camellia Parade every year, with floats made completely of camellias and their leaves by Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, and royalty drawn from the first grade classes.Think mini-Rose Parade. I was a Princess when I was six! And look here, the parade continues, complete with the floor-length dresses for the girls. Maybe this weekend I'll venture into the attic and find you the picture of ME in that princess dress.)

I myself am now presented with the need for a pseudonym. I always planned to publish all my books under my good solid name, Edith Maxwell. It even sort of sounds like an authorial name, right?

But in reviewing the contract for my three-book Local Foods Mystery series with Kensington Publishing, I noticed a clause. It said I have to deliver all three outlines and manuscripts to the publisher prior to the delivery to any other publisher of a book-length work unless that book is already under contract. They don't want me to come out with two mysteries by two different presses at the same time under the same name. That makes sense.

Well. My first mystery, Speaking of Murder, is currently being considered at several small presses after the contract with Trestle Press fell through, but it is not currently under contract. I want it to be published, though, and have plans to self publish if none of the reputable small presses want it.

I asked my agent, John Talbot, what to do about that clause. The resolution from the press was that I had to agree to publish
Speaking of Murder and its sequel only under a pseudonym. While I'd rather use my real name on all my books, I agreed. I figure I can always link to the other name under my Amazon author page or whatever.

So now I get to make up an entirely new name for myself and am having fun playing with family names and combinations. Nicky Henderson? Ruthie Adams? Cat Flaherty?

Speaking of Murder, featuring Quaker Linguistics professor Lauren Rousseau in northeastern Massachusetts, is a traditional murder but a little darker than a cozy. I want to get the right feel and sound to the name. It has to be easy to spell, easy to say, easy to remember.
Somehow, Htide Llewxam doesn't roll off the tongue anywhere nearly as well as RJ Nalla did. Any advice out there from those of you who have done it on how to design a new personality? Any feedback on the three possible choices I listed in the previous paragraph?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Flu, Writing, and Weight Loss

Okay, so having the flu and losing a few pounds might be related. But how do they relate to this blog, that is, to writing?

Well, one doesn't expect to be stricken with an extreme and involuntary form of a cleanse. Sure, I didn't have to purchase a Kleanse Kit or follow a recipe for purging my system of toxins near and far. The flu did that for me, complete with fever and narcolepsy. But cleansed I was. No writing was possible. Consciousness was barely achieved.

By the third day (this is not a religious treatise, so don't get your hopes up), I was eating small amounts of gruel and tea. As a woman with legendary appetites in several directions, I know I'm sick when I'm not hungry and I eat a little only because I know I should.

But then I started getting short of breath. Sweated through fevers at night. Coughed prodigiously. One doctor (not my regular one) listened to my lungs and bronchii and declared I was having an asthma flareup, not bronchitis or pneumonia. Hmmph. I was able to work from home for a couple of days, but no creativity emerged.

The next day, the one I weekly devote to writing fiction, I was determined not to let illness stand in the way of accumulating word count on the first draft of the work in progress. Because of the continued night fever, I returned to Holistic Family Practice to get my lungs checked again, this time by my long-time family doctor. Nope, still clear. Okay, so it was aggravated asthma flareup.

In some way this gave me extra energy for writing, now that I knew that my demise was not imminent and, actually, I was apparently not even sick. So let's write! On that day and the following, I moved the story forward by almost 5000 words. Whee!

Oh, the weight loss? Being sick took off about four pounds I'd been unable to shed on my own. Now that I'm finally feeling better after ten days, I'm back on my fast-walk exercise routine and determined to keep them off. But what about today's delivery of my annual ten-box order of Girl Scout cookies? Uh. Umm. Well, the ritual consumption of an entire sleeve of Thin Mints on delivery day has been held to a half sleeve.

And tomorrow is Writing Friday again, wide open for fiction, walking, and self control. What about you? Do you get extra hungry after surviving a stomach flu? Find inspiration for writing during a fever or only aftewards?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Out in the World

Writing-related musings on being out in the world, after a few days sick at home.

I have an Author page on Amazon. On Amazon! Makes it seem real.

I had the chance to visit Turkey Shore Distilleries recently. They're down the street in Ipswich, and they make a line of hand-crafted rums with table-grade molasses from Louisiana sugarcane and a custom-built 250-gallon copper still built in Kentucky. They aim to produce rums like those made in Ipswich several centuries ago. They handed out tastes in little plastic cups.

Since I had only ever tasted pretty low-level rums, I was amazed. It was smooth, it had flavor, and you didn't even need sweet stuff to mix with it. I could imagine sipping it straight in front of the wood stove on a snowy night (if this winter ever gets snowy). So I trotted right home and added that vendor to the Locavore Festival scene I was in the middle of writing, despite the fact that the molasses Turkey Shore uses isn't local.

With reluctance I canceled my registration to Malice Domestic for this year. It's a fan tastic conference geared toward mystery readers. I went last year for the first time. I greatly enjoyed seeing fellow writer buddies and some fans, meeting the great and gracious Louise Penny, heading south at the start of spring to a warmer clime with flowers in bloom. But since I don't have a book to sell this year, I decided to conserve my resources and go next year (and the year after and the year after!). I'll miss my pals and a chance to see my son who lives in the area, but there will be other times, Goddess willing.

The Chocolate Challenge is this month and I decided to join up. It's a bunch of Guppies who try their best to write as many words as they can. We provide mutual support, and whoever writes the most words gets the prize - all the other Gups send her chocolate. Now that's a prize. I doubt I'll win, since I have the pesky matter of the day job, but I'm going to do a big push on getting another third of the way through A Tine to Live, a Tine to Die. Two years ago I managed to write 28000 words in the month. This brought me to the point of typing THE END at the end of Speaking of Murder, which was a huge thrill.