Thursday, June 28, 2012

League of Extraordinary Authors



The League of Extraordinary Authors is a coalition of seasoned, professional writers who are combining the creative freedom of indie/self-publishing with the best qualities of traditional publishing.

Our brand: creative daring, craft excellence and reader-friendly prices.

Check us out at www.leagueofextraordinaryauthors.com.

Sneak Preview: Relentless Protector

I wanted to share the love by taking a moment to show off the cover copy and photo for my September 2012 Harlequin Intrigue, Relentless Protector. I'm very happy with both, and better yet, in October, Passion to Protect (Harlequin Romantic Suspense) will be out, so readers won't have long to wait. From the Cover of Relentless Protector, which was inspired by a real-life Texas heist...
A RUTHLESS ARMY RANGER

Former Army Ranger Cole Sawyer reacts on instinct he sees beautiful young widow Lisa Meador pull a gun at the bank. He foils the robbery, but when Lisa screams as the real robbers take off with her son, he realizes that things aren't as they seem. Driven by a painful secret, Cole makes the split-second decision to join forces with Lisa and trail the criminals across Texas.

A DESPERATE SINGLE MOTHER

Haunted by his failure to save Lisa's husband in Afghanistan, Cole is determined to help her rescue her son. But he's even more determined not to give in to his growing attraction to her. As they untangle clues and face the potentially devastating loss of their quarry, they soon realize that the kidnappers" motives run deeper—and darker—than they ever expected.

A LITTLE BOY'S ONLY HOPE

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

It's personal: a "You've Got Mail" moment in honor of Nora Ephron

A fantastic retort to the old refrain: "Don't take it personally." Go with God, Nora Ephron, and may I just say, "snap!"

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Finnegans Wake: James Joyce speaks from the grave

Okay, don't get impatient. Just take a moment and enjoy this incredibly cool video for nine minutes. Recorded in 1929, James Joyce reads the "Anna Livia Plurabelle" passage from Finnegans Wake, a dialogue between two washer women who become a tree and a stone at dusk.

Finnegans Wake: James Joyce speaks from the grave

Okay, don't get impatient. Just take a moment and enjoy this incredibly cool video for nine minutes. Recorded in 1929, James Joyce reads the "Anna Livia Plurabelle" passage from Finnegans Wake, a dialogue between two washer women who become a tree and a stone at dusk.

Monday, June 25, 2012

I miss having someone to jam with

Tony Tyler and Dani Jaye cover the Allman Bros "Midnight Rider":

Why Steven Pressfield's TURNING PRO Might Just Save Your Life

I've read a lot of books geared toward writers over the years, some fair, some good, and a very few (Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird, Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way, and Donald Maas's Writing the Breakout Novel, to name a few) great. But Steven Pressfield's Turning Pro is the first that's had me thinking it could actually save lives.

Beginning with Pressfield's groundbreaking The War of Art:Break Through Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles and continuing with Do the Work, the acclaimed author helps readers identify and prevail against the psychological BS--everything from procrastination to perfectionism to mindless, destructive behavior--that prevents us from doing the work we sense that we were born to do. Both books, especially the former, are so helpful in framing the struggle to create in understandable terms that they have become a word-of-mouth sensation, as well as a tool that I recommend in every writing workshop I teach.

Pressfield's latest, Turning Pro, elaborates on the behaviors that differentiate an amateur/dilettante from a professional and, most helpfully, in my opinion, on the addictions and distractions that prevent all too many writers (and other creative producers) from reaching their potential. He talks about would-be creatives embracing--and often excelling in--less risky "shadow careers" that never fully make them happy, or, far more destructively, careening into negative behaviors to escape the pressure to produce.

In addition to the usual drug/alcohol addictions that you might think of, many creatives, according to Pressfield, become addicted to sex, to drama in their own lives, to getting into trouble. (No one expects a thing of you when you are broken, or in prison. The pressure's off, though the addiction might actually kill you.) Writers also become dependent on approval from without, which makes us so desperate for feedback from an editor, agent, judge, or mentor that we forget how to trust our own readers'/writers' instincts. Distractions, too, become addictions, robbing us of the ability to focus for more than a few minutes without checking our e-mail, Twitter feed, Facebook or sales rankings, and consigning us forever to the shallow end of the creative pool. (Favorite line of the book: "The amateur tweets. The pro works." Though, ironically, I'll probably Tweet this post once my day's work is complete.)

Speaking candidly of his own writer's journey (from the failures of nerve to the screw-ups to the suicidal moments), Pressfield doesn't set himself up as a guru (in fact, he warns against "gurudom," for both the guru and the follower) but as a scarred veteran of the creative wars who's sharing a few hard-won lessons. But through his examples and his wisdom, he might very well steer would-be writers from their most dangerous addictions. With this slim volume, he might save their physical, as well as their creative, lives.

Along with The War of Art and Do the Work, Turning Pro is very highly recommended.

Read Boxing the Octopus's 2009 interview with Steven Pressfield here.

For my review of Do the Work, click here.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

It's the Writing, Stupid

I've been quiet on the blog after a week spent teaching my online class, "The Marathoner's Guide to Writing: How to Stay in It for the Long Haul without Losing Your Patience, Your Persistence, or Your Mind." (Link is to the blog post that inspired this online class, along with a talk I give to RWA chapters by arrangement.) It was a fun class with lots of great feedback and participation. It was also a timely reminder of the qualities that keep a writer from losing herself amid the maelstrom of competition and negativity that the world too often hurls an artist's way. One of the things I love about teaching is the opportunity to re-learn the important lessons, the kind too often forgotten when you're out in the trenches every day. As I shared with the students, they shared with me their dreams, their doubts, and the fears that often mire us in destructive, or at the very least unproductive, behavior. Number one among these, to my way of thinking, is the temptation to give away your power, along with the discernment you've developed as a reader and a writer. When this happens, one becomes so desperate for affirmation that she spends all her time entering contests, sharing pages with others and inviting comments, and clicking refresh on her e-mail program after a submission. When the response doesn't come quickly enough (and it rarely does, with writing), the author wastes time fantasizing, obsessing, and doing frivolous time fillers instead of continuing the writing. And when Judgment Day comes, she imbues that individual's assessment with magical powers far superior to her own. When the feedback's bad, depression ensues. When it's good, it only makes us desperate for another hit of affirmation (whether or not it's meaningful as well.) We becoming a bottomless pit of mewling, infantile need, Sally Field at her worst moment--not that we all don't have those. I'll admit, I have been guilty lately, allowing my own nervousness over the opinions of others to overshadow what's important. And discovering, when I could tear myself away from Facebook (Like me, like me!), Amazon (Like me there, too, to boost me in the Mysterious and Ever-changing Holy Algorithm!), Twitter (Tweet me!), and all the other glittering, soul-eating distractions, that the writing itself offers the only sure refuge from the craziness. Yesterday, I rediscovered that refuge, and today I re-commit myself. Writing first, distractions later (if at all.) The story and its people matter, along with the craft, the growth, the work that only I can set down, if I don't choose to waste it on anxiety, addiction, or complaint. This week's ever-so-helpful and highly-recommended reading: Steven Pressfield's Turning Pro. A more detailed review will follow, once I've done my work!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

From the Archives: Muzzling the Inner Critic

Photobucket Back in the bad old days of the Middle Ages, a device known as the branks, or scold's bridle, was used to torture women deemed to be too loud, too bitchy, or too inclined to cruel gossip. Locked into this hideous, metal gag, the unhappy female couldn't speak without injuring her tongue against the spikes. I'm appalled, of course, but part of me says, "Heeeey, I've got a use for that. Finally, something to shut up the hellborne shrew sometimes known as the inner critic!" You know her. She's the voice that mocks that daring new idea you just had, the one who sneers and rolls her eyes at your last paragraph, the bitch who whispers into you ear the cruelest lines of every rejection, nasty comment, bad review, or taunt you've heard since second grade. Is is any wonder you can't write, with this harpy from hell leaning in over your shoulder? So you have to find some way to silence her to allow you to create. Some writers have tried blunting her sharp tongue with drugs or alcohol. Others whine incessantly. Countless more have given up their dreams (which allows her to sit back in smug satisfaction). But let's discount each of these self-destructive stop-gap measures. One thing that's worked for me is to give the shrew her space - within limits. Every morning, before I get to work, I edit. During this time, I listen to her commentary and winnow out the wisdom (and it's there) from the patently-ridiculous. But the deal is that after that she has to keep her mouth shut when I'm writing. My evening sessions, especially, I consider experimental, a form of brainstorming on paper. And in brainstorming you save all ideas, no matter how bad you suspect they might be. My internal editor might raise an eyebrow now and then, but she's mostly content to bide her time, waiting for the morning, when she will get her due. Once in a while, though, she gets out of control, so I whip out of piece of paper -- this has to be in longhand, since the computer's for "real writing" -- and try to make a list called "Ten Reasons I Can't Do This." Once I've written down each dollop of nastiness, I read the list -- and usually start laughing. On paper, the scold's "reasons" look so stupid, so self-pitying, that its easy to wad up the paper or tear it into confetti and toss it in the trash where it belongs. These are just a couple of my methods. You can find more in two of my favorite writers' resources, The Artist's Way, by Julia Cameron, and (especially) The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield. These may be the most important writing books I own. Certainly, they're the two that I reach for most often -- because self-doubt never really goes away. It is only temporarily muzzled by the writer's act of will. So does anyone else have a great method for silencing the inner critic? It's an arms race here in the trenches, and I'm always looking for new weapons... Or maybe someone has a spare scold's bridle she could lend me.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A visit to Pensacola Beach and thoughts on branding oneself as sacred

Expanding on a comment I posted earlier in response to Dan Holloway's excellent post on The Cynical Self-Publisher about the difficulties of consistent branding in the current publishing/social networking environment.

Yesterday, I sat at a particular spot by the Gulf of Mexico in Pensacola Beach, where I lived when I was a kid. It was a dive back then: a small row of shabby Nixon-era townhomes with long flanks of empty beach on both sides and flea-infested, trash-strewn empty lots across the street. Now it's all swankypants. The old place was destroyed by a hurricane in the 1990s and replaced with high dollar apartments and upscale houses side-by-side the entire length of the once God-forsaken road.

I won't nostalgically argue that the old place was better. It wasn't; it was a shithole. But it was a shithole with a beautiful white sand beach. Yes, it's crowded now, but back then it was lonely. Yes, it's overly commercial now, but back then it was ill-maintained because only a few people cared about it. Eventually, all these new things will fall away and be replaced by something else.

What remains constant is the beach. The white sand and blue Gulf -- that's the source of the spiritual, recreational, educational, physical, emotional, financial power of this place.

All of which is to say that branding has to be about who we are, not what we do. Our nature is consistent; money, bizzyness, trends and opportunities are not. Each of us has this powerful natural wonder within ourselves. The question we're asking (though we might not like the sound of it) is: "How shall I best exploit this?"

The broad strokes are obvious:

In any development, as many windows as possible should face the beach. Key to our commercial value is a firmly fixed focus on the art and craft of writing.

Boardwalks and roads should be kept up properly. We have to make our work accessible and reader-friendly. This encompasses everything from excellent grammar to a well-designed, easily navigable website.

The beach must be protected from pollution. Greed, jealousy, negativity and grasping are bound to make an appearance. They should be disposed of quickly and appropriately.

Access to the beach should be open in some areas, controlled in others. Our secondary goal is to welcome as many readers as possible; our primary goal is to lead happy lives. We must reserve significant quantities of time, love and creative energy for ourselves, our work and our personal relationships.

Above all, the beach should be shared, enjoyed and loved. Honored. Because the beach came from God and ultimately belongs to God. It's both fiscally prudent and spiritually healthy for the beach to be consistently branded as sacred.

Monday, June 18, 2012

"Rock the Casbah" The Clash



It's all about the casbah this week. Sometimes you have to remind yourself that while your work is/should be/really must be personal to you, it's just business to everybody else. Don't let the bastards get you down.

Twisting the Truth: RELENTLESS PROTECTOR by Colleen Thompson

September will mark the release of (I can't believe it!) my twentieth novel, a Harlequin Intrigue romantic suspense called Relentless Protector. People often ask writers where they got a particular idea. Usually, I have no idea, but this particular story had an unusual real-life inspiration, a brief news item on the local (Texas) news. A young mother out running errands was carjacked, then forced to rob a bank while the kidnappers held her baby at gunpoint. Thank goodness, the real case ended quickly and with no one hurt, but as I imagined the poor mother's terror, my writer's brain took over and started twisting the truth. What if, I wondered, the robbery didn't go off as planned? What if, say, a veteran, fresh from a recent overseas tour, took it upon himself to play the hero and frightened the abductors in the getaway car into taking off with the heroine's child? (You'll probably understand why my working title, then, was Relentless Pursuit.) Many more what-ifs ensued, until the plot ended up miles from its inspiration. But one thing that's never changed is the stomach-dropping jolt of pure empathy I felt as a mother for this mom put into an impossible situation. I'm hoping readers, too, will identify, and come along with me for the ride. Relentless Protector is available for pre-order online in mass market paperback, large print, large-print hardcover, e-book, and audio format. Or you can wait for September and pick up a copy from a local vendor.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Off the Beat: On Playing With Your Writing



I've been thinking about my ballet-dancing days today.  As some of you know, before I was a writer, I was a professional ballet dancer, a career I loved to the moon and back; the stage also taught me a great deal I would use on the page--about rhythm, pacing, arc, tempo, movement, stamina, how to keep going going going until you think you will drop--1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, ,8--and don't.

Yet looking back, friends, I stretch, and sigh. I am disappointed in myself. And I'm disappointed in one thing, specifically : by what I believe, during my dancing years, was a too-close fidelity to the music. I was fiendish, in those days, about the beat--I wanted my dancing to be exactly on tempo, to be so thoroughly aligned, so perfectly in tune with the orchestra that I and its rhythm would seem to be one and the same. I was constantly praised for this, too, by choroegraphers; reviewers noted it in their columns ("wonderfully musical" was the epithet most frequently attached to my performances); and I disdained dancers who lacked, in my estimation, a sufficient awareness of musical precision, faltered in their loyalty to the conductor's baton.

There was only problem. The greatest dancers do not follow the conductor. The conductor follows them. The greatest dancers stretch the music, so that it becomes, not a vise, but a thing fluid, a thing that can be pushed and pulled.

The next time you are at the ballet (or if you don't or can't go, just take a look at this clip), watch the ballerina and study her playfulness with the rhythm. Does she march along to it like a piper to a drum? Or does she vary her pacing, push and pull against it, ever so slightly, or sometimes boldly? Does she make you gasp by holding her balance en pointe just a hair longer than the adagio would indicate--can you almost see her wink at the conductor, dare the audience, Come with me, follow me?



The greatest ballerinas challenge their conductors. They play with the music. They dance with the beat, not on it.

Writers, good ones, do the same.

E.g.:

A sentence can be as twee as a flea.

Or it can buffle and swerve, manic, look out, that wave breaking on the beach, do you think it matches the rhythm of all the waves that came before it? No, it only seems that way, in fact, like each human ear it is unique, and attaches itself only once to the jaw of a coastline.

I learned recently that tightrope-walkers vary their rhythm as they cross a chasm on a line. Nik Wallenda did so this week when he crossed Niagara Falls, because to be too even is to risk a kind of whiplash: the line you are walking on begins to imitate you and your rhythm in ever larger waves, it loses its tension and steadiness and starts to trip you up with your own rigidity. And so the walker varies his rhythm, which keeps tension in the line, tricks it into submission. The walker is not the one doing the submitting.

It try now to remember this, not just at the level of the sentence but at the levels of paragraph, chapter, story.

I make up for all those lovely but perhaps too-neat performances.

I shove and wink.

I make up for time kept too caged.

www.mylenedressler.com

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Colleen Thompson's Artifact from Life: A Ring of Blood and Bone

Today over at the League of Extraordinary Authors blog, I'm sharing my discovery of a very special artifact of life, one that linked me to my family's Civil War history--and the Civil War-set historical I was writing at the time. Sorry about the photo quality, but I thought you might enjoy a glimpse!

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Ray Bradbury and the Venus Connection

Like so many others, I've been moved by the death this week of writing great Ray Bradbury, who passed during a rare celestial event: a transit of Venus across the sun's face, as viewed from Earth. While reading a Junot Diaz's stirring tribute, "Loving Ray Bradbury," in yesterday's New Yorker, I came across a reference to the very first Bradbury story she read, as a young child just learning English, and its profound impact on her. I had never heard of the story, "All Summer in a Day," first published in the March 1954 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, so I quickly looked it up and found an online copy here. Brief at only four pages, beautiful, and absolutely devastating in its spare beauty, the story hit me like a gut punch. Yes, I thought, this is a tale to inspire the latent writer in the immigrant child. This is a story to stir a hunger for the emotion connection a truly gifted author can forge in a few word. Ironically, "All Summer in a Day," is set on Venus, and it centers on a brand of loss so cruel yet common, it rocks us to our core...just the way a death can. Just the way the loss of something so steady and so omnipresent we somehow expected it to last forever can catch us unaware. What's your favorite Ray Bradbury work? The Illustrated Man, Fahrenheit 451, Dandelion Wine, Something Wicked This Way Comes, or another of his stories?

This is the real Django, baby.



Seriously. Django Rheinhardt. Google it.

(I should have mentioned this one when The Hurricane Lover was featured on Undercover Soundrack on Roz Morris' blog.)

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Ray Bradbury on the occasion of Farewell Summer

Celebrating and saying goodbye to Ray Bradbury today. Words can't express. I'll borrow a few of his.

From ON THE OCCASION OF FAREWELL SUMMER:
"ON THE OCCASION OF FAREWELL SUMMER I can only send good wishes to myself.

Please excuse me, but when I realize this coming week is the publication of FAREWELL SUMMER, which began more than 55 years ago, I can hardly believe it. Indeed, it was even further back. It was when I was 22 and, you might say, put on my first pair of tennis shoes, and ran like crazy.

I was fully in love with writing from grade school on and in high school I began to write things about the ravine in my hometown. In FAREWELL SUMMER the ravine is the center of everything; the old people and the young live on opposite sides of this ravine that divides the town.

...I wish all of you the best in reading it because I had delight in realizing that my ganglion and my antenna are still functioning and the darned thing makes, I believe, a good read.

I send all of you my love,
Ray Bradbury
October 11, 2006"

But you know what I love? He died last night during the Transit of Venus. That seems appropriate.

THANK YOU

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