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Saturday, January 11, 2014

Long Time No See

I promised myself in the beginning I'd never be one of those bloggers who just babbled on and on without anything to say, and I haven't been. Sorry if you think that's hardly an excuse for not writing for over a year, but it's all I have.

2013 was a difficult year for writing for me. I got ALONG THE RAVENSWOOD out and piddled around thinking I'd design a web site (didn't come to anything) and get both Ravenswood and CHICAGO STORIES: WEST OF WESTERN out in hard copy. That didn't happen, either. It was early spring by then, so I thought, well, I'd get to work on the next Chicago story. I already had a rough draft. Maybe I could even get it up on Amazon by July.



Obviously that didn't happen. I ditzed around all spring and summer, writing this and that, tearing out my hair, spending a lot of time working in the garden. I hated the way the story felt. It was boring and not at all like the Pilsen I remembered and loved. The characters bored me stiff. They even bored Seraphy.

I told myself I didn't have to love writing. It was a job. Stephen King has talked about that. Put your butt in the chair and write. I kept putting the butt in the chair and writing and the result was a fat butt.

Then I decided to change my main character (besides Seraphy) from Matt to his significant other, Alex. Alex, a second-generation Mexican/American, a fashion designer who's worked her way through school and started her own business, a woman on the verge of major success. Hmm, things were hotting up. She has blue-tinged temper tantrums. Seraphy was never interested in fashion and isn't sure what to do with her. Better and better.Matt remains a strong character but takes a place in the background.
The schoolhouse's former owner turns up, very dead, in the disused dumbwaiter, just when Seraphy thought the demolition was going well.

Better, but still not much is happening. Add in Paco, ten or thereabouts, a kid from a huge family barely hanging on in Pilsen, part legal, mostly not.His father and uncle and two cousins have disappeared. He can't go to the cops because they're illegal . . . the missing men and forty others had been living in the old schoolhouse Seraphy's redesigning for Alex. All disappeared just before Alex closed on the building. Seraphy is shanghaied into hunting for them.

It was all getting better, but didn't really come together until the fourth or fifth revision, when I began to understand just what I was really writing about. It's always like this for me. I write a story and am the last person to figure out what it's really all about. Not the surface story, the murder mystery, that's obvious from the start. But there's always more.

 It took a comment from my writing instructor at Gotham Writers  to point out that the theme of West of Western was home--Seraphy's learning how to make her home and what it means for her to be home. There's more,of course, the power of imagination and the havoc wreaked by those who lack it, the strength of unexpected friendship, and kittens.

When I started writing Along the Ravenswood, I intended a straight-forward mystery thatwould take place in upscale North Side Ravenswood. I ended up writing about the essence of fine architecture, what it means to be a family, what happens to old soldiers. Wow. I never saw it coming.

So why was I so surprised when AT THE HEART OF CHICAGO refused to materialize as another genre mystery, turning  into a story about immigration, about new beginnings and old evils and friendship, but above all, about what lies at the heart of Chicago. Because Chicago, ever since the days of John Winthrop, has been for so many the city on the hill.

I'm sending the manuscript off to my editor, the fierce and perceptive Elizabeth Lyon, tomorrow or the next day. Then, after she unerringly points out the icky parts,I'll fix them and send it off to Booknook for formatting--then, in a month or three, I'll sling the result up on Amazon. Really.I will.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Daniel Silva, The Fallen Angel and Me


Daniel Silva's The Fallen Angel

I've had the book for a while now, sitting on the mantel, saving it for the right time. It's a hardback, The Fallen Angel. I don't like hardbacks. I like to read in bed or lounging in my recliner. They're heavy, but I bought it and that should tell you something as well. I don't buy many books now, since I got my second Kindle and discovered the freebies, only those books I know I'll read again and again, books I want to hold and tuck into a bag when I go. Books that become part of me.

Today's the second day of writing my third book. I'm in that magical state of awareness,  with the words waiting to be written down always in the back of my mind, a program constantly running in the background. Driving to the grocery, waiting in the dentist's office, vacuuming the basement stairs—whatever's happening on the surface, underneath I'm deep in the story to come.

I like to read while I'm loading the three cups of coffee it takes to get me up and running in the morning. This morning it was The Fallen Angel, and I only managed to get through the first chapter. Don't mistake me, I was as totally fixated on Gabriel Allon as ever, but I run on several levels at once, and this morning, my writer self was ooohing and aahhing and rolling over in admiration at Silva's technique even as I was falling in love with Gabriel all over again.

Silva's master class, chapter 1: set the scene, using an accessible character, check. Make it an intriguing setting, check. Don't be a travelogue, check. Drop a small bomb. Check. And Gabriel—show us his deep humanity, check. His importance, check. His unique ability to speak to the paintings in his care, check.  Make him nuanced and vulnerable and  so, so skilled.  Most of all, make me love him. done.

Sorry, for some reason I can't understand, this picture won't rotate upright. The reason I took the picture was it's so essentially Pilsen--St. Matthew's church, offering immigration services a notary public, and food to the community it serves.

Torn now, between reading on and writing Seraphy's next story. I want to do even a tenth as well. There's a title waiting—In Pilsen, South of 16th.  The title to pins the story down, gives Seraphy a place to stand, and, if it’s the right title, brings a little sense of what's to come.
   
I think I'll read Silva's first two chapters again, try to learn a bit from the master. Hmm. I just had a flash, generations of would-be painters standing in front of Caravaggio's Deposition, studying the masterwork. And that's how it's done. 

Friday, December 28, 2012

A Good Year for Imagination

Yup, end of one wild year and time to start off again.

I just totaled up my Kindle sales, including free promos, and as far as I can tell, some 5877 copies of Chicago Stories: West of Western (known around here as WOW) have gone to good homes. At least, I hope they're good and have given the readers something. I don't know yet about Along the Ravenswood, too soon for figures to come in.

A good year for me. I published WOW, my debut novel, in mid-January, having no sense of what to expect, and started fumbling around learning how to promote a book. Joined Twitter and Facebook, spent far too much time doing the things folks used to do--notifying alumni magazines, that sort of thing. I did some things right, too, like spending a lot of time finding good Facebook friends (thanks here to Sisters in Crime) and Twitter connections and telling everyone I knew about the book.

And I finished my second book, Along the Ravenswood (ATR), published in mid-December.

There has never been a year when I learned so much so fast. I originally intended to write a straightforward mystery novel, well-crafted but not so different from many others. A good plot, interesting characters, a nice two or three hour read on a rainy afternoon,maybe. Somehow other things slipped into the stories as I stumbled along, and I ended up revealing far more of myself than I'd intended. Maybe that's partly because WOW is sited in my old neighborhood and some of the events in the book were taken from events in my life.  Maybe it's because Seraphy's named after my great-grandmother, Seraphy Temperance Taylor.

Someone on some Sunday morning TV show several years ago was talking about gangs and commented that the real problem was a failure of the imagination. I don't remember the name of the show, or the commentator, but what he said burned itself into my thoughts and sits there today. My friends and I lived by our imaginations, although I hadn't thought of it that way before. When  I was a potter, my studio partners had a bad spell (no sales, no $$ to live on) and asked me what to do. Without thinking, I said "re-design," and that's what they did. That's what we did.

Gangbangers may be the way they are because that's the only way they can imagine themselves. I sometimes wonder what might happen if we all started thinking about that, and what could be done to change that . . . I know many have tried before, but maybe not quite the right way?

When something's not working, come up with a new idea. This isn't true for most folks who have jobs, because having a job means someone else has thought up the whole job. Thinking a project, product, business up from scratch is very different. For those who do that, whether we're Steve Jobs or the guy in his garage with a mousetrap, for us imagination is the basis of survival. We really are different from others.

We tend not to have absolutes because we know reality is only an idea.

I'm going to stop now before it gets any deeper.







Friday, December 21, 2012

ALONG THE RAVENSWOOD up on Kindle

LIVE ON AMAZON! tinyurl.com/c6zqjd5




It's about time! I had thought to get Along the Ravenswood on Kindle last June, but as you know, reality intervened. Well, actually I read the manuscript. Yikes! By the time all the edits and proofs and so on were done, not to mention finding a cover designer, I was lucky to get her out before the end of the year.





Lots of folks helping to get the word out this time: a herd of Twitter followers, Facebook friends and others. I woke up to find that the EReader Cafe had featured CHICAGO STORIES: WEST OF WESTERN  (tinyurl.com/83aqnfn) at the top of its page this morning. I'm running WOW (West of Western) FREE 12/21-23 as part on my coming out party for ATR (Along the Ravenswood) in the hope readers fall in love with the series . . . sorry, I have no thoughtful tidbits to offer today, too excited to be at the end. Or is it the beginning?

Friday, December 14, 2012

Riding the Artist's Cycle

Once long ago, when I was once again back in graduate school and trying to figure out how things worked, I came across a psychologist's theory about how artists worked. And sorry, I can't remember his name right now, and probably the details of his theory have evolved with time. His book was huge and fat, if that helps. And had a blue cover.

He suggested artists run on a defined cycle of restlessness/seeking, creative spurts, and depletion/depression. I remember this after thirty years because it seemed to me to be spot on. First the restlessness: roaming around, trying a dozen different things, looking for some undefined something.  Starting books and tossing them aside. Standing in front of the open refrigerator. Running around town on unnecessary errands. Walking anywhere. Cleaning closets. I now think this is the charging-the-batteries period. I try to use the extra energy while charging to clean up whatever I've put off--basements and garages, mostly.

Next, I become totally involved with the project, whatever it may be. All the materials I need are ready, having stewed for days in my subconscious while I was rambling around. Now is the time. I start the project, leaving everything else aside. For a long time it was making pots, then rehabbing a house, researching and writing a dissertation. Later on, for a short time painting (not very good at this). Quilts. Now it's usually writing.This is my favorite time, working hard, excited about the work, seeing something come from a conglomeration of materials. Often I don't fully realize what the end product will be, not consciously. Even now I'm intrigued to read my work, after it sits a few weeks. Did I really write that?

Then the down period. Depleted, tired, dissatisfied, bored. Seeing the flaws in the completed work. Why am I doing this? Blah, blah. Once this was the pits, even bordering on clinical depression. I thought I might be bi-polar, when that was popular. But actually, I'm just an artist of sorts, with an artist's cyclic personality.

Having a structure in mind has been a lifesaver. I ramble around in the restless period with an undertow of excitement, knowing that eventually I'll be ready to make something new, and have learned to see the down time as simply time to rest, not wallow in depression.I'm social during my restless phase, anti-social and distracted when making things, and long for company when resting.

So thanks, psychologist-whose-name I can't remember.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Looking for the Anal Retentive Inner child

Yesterday I finished my first round of formatting edits for ALONG THE RAVENSWOOD. It wasn't really the first round. The first round was going so badly--I'd reached 108 changes before I was a third of the way through the pdf--that I pulled the plug and asked Hitch & co. to start over. Paying another formatting fee was going to be much less that all those individual change fees.

Before I sent the new and improved word document, I went through the whole thing again, being as neat and focused as possible. I swore there were no mistakes this time. I'd get it back and it would be clean. Right. I got it back right away, and it was much better. Unfortunately that morning I'd waked early with the realization I'd misnamed a crucial street--all the way through the book! So, with that and one thing and another, I had 56 corrections this time, a record low for me. But this time, it will come back perfect. Right!

I'm hoping for free of typos. I'll settle for that and get it up on Kindle ASAP. Because, if I let myself think, there were bits here and there I'd like to rewrite. Dialogue to sharpen. Sentences to reword. Images to focus. Sure, and the damned thing would never get published.

What now? I'm planning to put both books out as trade paperbacks through CreateSpace. It's rather scary for me, as new things can be for we Luddites. My friend Stephan tells me he'll help. I live in a university town and can get drugs . . .

I looked at CHICAGO STORIES: WEST OF WESTERN. It's been a year since I finished that one, and I can't let it go without a revision, so I'm calling the paperback the 2nd edition. (Probably have Hitch format the 2nd for Kindle, too).  I didn't make any big changes to the story, but there were a lot of words and phrases that needed something. Anyhow, the rewrite's done, and I'll proof it and upload it soon. Arghh.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

They Come in the Night

They come while I'm sleeping, those infernal Typo-beasts, to frolic and reproduce on the pristine pages of my ALONG THE RAVENSWOOD pdf. How else could it be that after reading and rereading and rereading the mss, both I and my friends have declared it perfect, only to find it riddled with typos the next time it's read? Even on this, my absolutely, definitely last run-through? I'm just over half-way through and already have listed 123 corrections, for which I shall have to pay. Yikes.

I have two days to get this done and off to booknook.com (again), where their resident geniuses wave their wands and fix it all. I hope. Then, sometime just after Thanksgiving, I'll upload the new and improved pdf and ALONG THE RAVENSWOOD will be live on Amazon for Kindle.

I'm also proofing the word mss for both ALONG THE RAVENSWOOD  and CHICAGO STORIES: WEST OF WESTERN to publish as trade paperbacks through CreateSpace. I'd love to say they're coming in a couple of weeks, but I've never done this before, so we'll see about that.

I ran into a slight problem. when I reread West of Western, I saw so many things (small things) I'd like to change that I decided to issue the paperback as a second edition. I think the second edition's better. I may have Hitch and company at booknook do another pdf for it and put the second edition out for Kindle as well. Hmm. Have to think about that.

With all this going on, I blew off NaNoWriMo for this year. It's the first time in five years. Arghh. I did start another Seraphy story, and got about 14000 words in, but couldn't do that and get the proofing and so on at the same time.  It's a good story, though, and I'll get back to it after Christmas.

Well, I'll probably work on getting my Pilsen story finished first--I think I'll call that one South of 16th (that's where Pilsen is, south of the viaduct that runs along 16th street southwest of the Loop). I like the Pilsen story, which I wrote as last year's NaNo novel. I have the characters, and a lot of the scenes, and I know how the ending goes. I love the ending.

The plot, though, has problems and the middle just sucks. Arghh! I hate plotting, so that's what I should do after Christmas: sit down and fix the plot, actually plan out the scenes according to my editor's advice (ugh. another first), so I can avoid those bits that jabber on and don't go anywhere. Somehow a lot of those seem to have found a home in Pilsen.

And then I have the other Nano Seraphy novel, the one about Logan Square and the apartment building full of modern-day Amazons. You know, carpenters and cops and ex-military and actors and . . . all women. The building was an old funeral home and apartment complex, has been bought by a retired Marine Corps colonel who's going blind and needs a retirement project. She's turning it into a condo complex for single women, non or post-domestic women. I like the camaraderie among the women, the building (an ode to 1920s Moorish architecture). So far the plot's pretty nonexistent, tho, and what there is, stinks. This one needs lots of work and is complicated by the fact I never particularly liked Logan Square. Hmm. Maybe just needs a bit on site research. Maybe I'll find something I love there. Otherwise, it's the round file.

The Seraphy novel I started this year is about Ukrainian Village/Wicker Park and centers around an old mansion in Wicker Park. No problem here with the neighborhood, the characters are great, and the idea behind the plot works, I think.  There's also a very appealing secret society at work. I'll finish this one, for sure.

And then there's LIBERTY, a very off-the-wall, definitely not Chicago novel. Liberty discovers she has a gift when her parents are suddenly killed and she inherits her grandmother's gift of finding dead bodies. She also inherits her Christmas Tree farm in Veedersburg, Indiana, and a few other things. Sheep, lots of sheep, and a Basque shepherd to go with them. It's a rather strange and wonderful story I made up out of nowhere for Nano a couple of years ago.  My favorite scene is when Liberty and the Basque shepherd, pursued by Chicago mobsters, run naked through a field of sleeping hogs. There is a story behind that!

Gotta go, Typo-beasties have taken over another manuscript!