Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Imaginary friends

Eight years ago, two writers got together to write outside their genres. They wrote a blog every day for a year talking about creating a fictional world that gave equal weight to romance as well as adventure. He wrote military thrillers. She wrote romantic comedy.  Their collaboration was fascinating. People followed their journey, commented on it all  - even the accidental blank post. Great friendships were born in those odd little comment blocks.

It started benign enough.  "Oh, my dad was in the armed forces too."  Moved up to "I'll be at the conference the week the book drops" and culminated in "Want to all meet at a hotel before the book signing?"  It's not that unusual.  People meet through the Internet all the time.  Blogs, forums, Facebook and Twitter all unite people over a common theme. Sometimes, despite the kid's fear of you meeting people who would harvest your kidneys, they meet in person.

It's not a good idea to tell the border guards that's where you met your friend. It's inconceivable to them that Americans and Canadians can be friends. I'm not lying when I say I met them at a writer's conference.  But I knew them all well long before we met.  Now they are some of my closest friends.  In fact, those friendships weren't without precedence.  I met Elen through Joann Ross' writing group on Yahoo.  And that turned out beautifully.

All of these wonderful people have enriched my life immeasurably.  In the beginning, we were relentlessly silly. Then real life encroached and we shared all that entailed.  When one of us bought her first house, twenty of us flew west, drove north (or south) and threw a big housewarming party.  We even hung a picture over the fireplace, identified trees in the yard, bought a grill and cleaned up after ourselves before we left.  We've attended funerals, cheered grandbabies, told silly stories and awful jokes as we took turnings by the bedside of one who had fallen ill.  When one of us didn't show up virtually long past the usual routine, one of us even called the police from her home in the South to check on the friend in California.  And that's how we found out one of our family had been rushed by ambulance to hospital.  We made sure she didn't go home to an empty house but ensured she had food for her and the critters throughout her convalescence.

But the group is more than doing nice things for each other. Like any family we have our differences. We have agreed to disagree on many things but I love the amount of respect we have for each other's opinions.  One of our big gatherings was around the time of a presidential election.  There were some generalizations about opposing candidates and their supporters. But then we realized we had a microcosm of that in the room and the generalizations fell away. No one switched allegiance but understanding the why of choices and decisions went a long way towards working together on issues.  It never ceases to amaze me how much common ground there is between all that opposition.

When we first met, we ranged from a high school student to an octogenarian.  Our social spectrum has always been broad.  Children grew up, went to school in foreign lands, got married, had babies of their own.  New people still find us.  We're not exclusive though it takes a bit of time to understand some of the jokes and how most of us got our call signs (or whatever you call your Internet name).  A lot of our shorthand dates back to the early days from the original site.

As a group, we've moved twice.  The authors disbanded their collaboration, their website no longer exists.  Then we lost the ability to comment on the new home.  It's also no longer online.  Somehow the spam monkeys still managed.  We gave them a band and found our current home. It suits us well. We built it ourselves with rooms for all the private conversations, the ones about meeting places, passages and plans.  We have a barn for the menagerie filled with critters that have become part of our folklore. We have everything you could need to decorate a blog or throw a party.  We are silly, kind and supportive.

They know how much I appreciate each and every one of them.  I know that it is mutual. People have wandered off over the years but most of them come back.  We're just too entertaining to leave behind forever.  Those who have left through no choice of their own wrench a little piece of me.  They live a hole in our family.

One of the beauty's of the Internet is that things are rarely lost in cyberspace.  So they live on not just in our hearts and minds but also the comments.  We are left with her smile, his silliness, her recipe, his poetry.  And the knowledge that they touched someone far outside their usual circle of friends. We may not have all met in person but their friendship was far from imaginary. It was real, tangible and treasured.

I know that most of you reading this have imaginary friends, people you've met on the Internet. People who fill your life with wisdom, gladness, advice, criticism, challenges, support and celebration.

Today I raise my glass in a toast to the people who created the Internet and those of us who have filled it with life.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The importance of good things

This past week has highlighted to me the value of taking stock of good things. It's not that they magically make the pain go away or alter the course of life. But they give me something else to focus on when the challenges feel like too much to bear.

Most of you know that I lost Milo on Thursday. It was a long day and I'm still not used to the silence when I enter my bedroom. He'd been living there for the past year as Eliot was keen to challenge him at every turn.  He always greeted me with a quiet little meow.  My niece came over and helped me rearrange the bedroom.  It's weird.  My room has looked like that for seven years. Milo just had his nineteenth birthday.  We had a good run together.  No matter how badly he wanted to eat Yoda he never did because he knew how much it would upset me. His body quivered with the effort of subduing his natural extent but he did it - for me.  One minute he'd be purring and the next moment I would pull back a bloody stump because he'd had enough touching.  He chewed his own nails rather than let me cut them.  I've been cleaning out drawers and boxes looking for my favourite photo of him.  He's sitting beside the pond watching the fish.  He often sat out in the garden but only if I was there with him.  He wasn't interested in roaming.

Milo was a stray who lived at the shelter for several months. I was in there one Saturday after hours counting money from a charity car wash I'd organized.  My neighbour had killed my cat a couple weeks previously and the staff was determined to send someone home with me. I was resistant.  I wasn't ready. But Milo had stopped eating and drinking, was curled up at the back of the cage just waiting for the Big Needle he was scheduled to receive on the Monday. When I went to meet him, he ran from the back of the cage and flung himself onto me.  Both paws went around my neck.  When I went back to get the dog, the two of them fell asleep side by side. All of my objections were pointless. We never looked back. 

While the news has been full of sadness, there have been some great moments of people reaching out to each other sharing good memories, funny anecdotes and ensuring their friends are okay.  The kids and I have shared our favourite movie clips, belted out the soundtrack from Guardians of the Galaxy and eaten too much popcorn for dinner.

I have no great words of wisdom, no insight or advice.  I'm doing my best to focus on the good in my life. That's what works for me.  That, and belly rubs with the dogs.  If you don't have a dog, I will share my pup.  He's wonderful.  If you're allergic, find a warm body you adore and engage in full body hugs.  It won't fix everything but it sure doesn't hurt.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Interview with Brenda Harlen

Full disclosure - I've been friends with Brenda Harlen for a long time. Our friendship predates her writing success. She is one of my critique partners and a brilliant motivator.  The woman's production and ability to focus is incredible. Whenever I flounder I picture her hunched over her laptop and get back to the process. We may root for opposing hockey teams but our friendship is definitely a good thing.

Whether you've been a fan of hers for years, or are just new to the wit and romance that Brenda writes, I hope you enjoy the following interview to promote her latest offering in the Engaging Garretts series.

You've written thirty books for Harlequin.  There have been a lot of changes over the years.  What's had the most impact on your career?
I’m not even sure I can answer that question. The publishing industry has changed so much in the past ten years with more and bigger changes coming, including the recent acquisition of Harlequin by HarperCollins Publishers. However, I’ve been fortunate in that, despite all of the changes, I’ve been able to work with the same fabulous editor (Susan Litman) for each one of those thirty books, the first five under the “Silhouette Intimate Moments” imprint before I started writing for Special Edition.

How does writing continuity series like the Montana Mavericks affect writing your own series? 
Sometimes participating in a continuity can pull me out of the flow of another story, because the deadlines for writing a continuity are much more inflexible. Also, there is regular communication between the authors and editors, particularly in the beginning when we’re trying to polish our story ideas and development of characters. On the other hand, it’s sometimes a nice break to focus on something completely different and outside the parameters of my own fictional world. Either way, I absolutely love participating in continuity series and “meeting” and working with other authors. This year, Montana Mavericks is celebrating “20 Years in the Saddle” and I’m thrilled to be part of it. (My book—THE MAVERICK’S THANKSGIVING BABY—is 5th in the series, coming in November.)

There was a really good interview with you at The Reading Frenzy recently about the witty dialogue you write.  It's something you do well.  Does it come naturally to you or is dialogue something you struggle with?
 It’s always flattering to hear that something about my writing resonates with a reader/reviewer, and I guess I’m lucky that dialogue does come fairly naturally to me—the rest of the writing, not always so much J

What's your typical writing day like?  Do you have routines that need to be met in order to produce words?
I’m not sure any writing day is typical . . . however, my usual routine is morning coffee, checking email, Facebook, Twitter, more coffee, then settling down to write. Working from home can be distracting (and often non-writer friends and family don’t think of writing as work), but I’ve learned to treat it as a job and assign myself daily deadlines to ensure that I stay on track toward my real deadlines.

You've created these wonderful little towns like Pinehurt, NY and Charisma, NC where the characters have formed real communities that interact and overlap.  It's wonderful to see previous characters living out their happily ever afters.  What prompted the move to NC? 
The answer to this question is a little embarrassing, because the truth is that it was a lack of planning that prompted the move. When I wrote ONCE AND AGAIN, my very first Special Edition, I made up the fictional town of Pinehurst, New York. The next few books had some connected characters, so I stayed in Pinehurst. But by the time I wrote the first three “Those Engaging Garretts!” books, I found that I had to go back through all of the previous books set in Pinehurst to remember the location of the hardware store or the name of the street that a character lived on. For my own sanity, I needed to move on—and this time, I started with a town map.

In A WIFE FOR ONE YEAR, Daniel marries his best friend in order to access his trust fund to buy into a stock car racing team.  Your Facebook followers know you're a big hockey fan, is the same true for motorsports?  What kind of research did you do to prepare for Daniel's career as a car owner?
 When I was a kid, my family used to go to Merrittville Speedway every Saturday night to watch my cousin race his stock car, but I was never a fan of professional racing. However, when I decided to set the new Garrett stories in North Carolina, I knew that stock car racing could not be ignored, so I decided to do some research. I started with books and websites, but a friend of mine (thank you, Keziah!) suggested that I should do primary research and, when we were in North Carolina recently, we visited the front office and shop of an actual NASCAR team. It was an amazing and informative experience—and a ton of fun. (Thank you, Becky, for the tour and the answers to so many questions!)  

Is that a world we'll see again?
 For sure! Now that my editors have approve an extension of the series, I can assure you that Josh Slater (Daniel Garrett’s partner in Garrett/Slater Racing) will have his own story with the stock car racing world as an integral part of the background.

Wife for One Year is available now at the bookseller of your choice. Or you can post a comment to win your own autographed copy

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Lots of good things

Milo is still around. Just when I think he's done, he perks up, starts eating and drinking again. He and Eliot have managed to tolerate each other. Ky doesn't care care as long as he gets his belly rubbed.

Writing has been a slog but I've stuck with it. I figured out how to trick my printer so it's all printed out. It's been easier to work with that way. The words are less pedestrian.

Creativity is flowing fast and free around the house. We scored a great deal on spray paint today. My car will look fantastic when it's done.

What's your week been like?

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Another weekend of house/dog sitting

I prowl the house when I'm writing.  I always thought I was hungry and often snacked when doing so.  Now that I'm paying more attention to my eating habits, I realize I'm ravenous for ideas.  I'm looking for words, for scenes and emotions to move the plot along in a way that will entertain readers.  Chocolate, chips and raspberries fresh from the garden don't help much, especially when one of the characters doesn't eat.

The other thing I've noticed is that the horror story came out of me in full scenes. Dialogue, setting, emotion, action and plot were all there from the first word to the last. Romance is disjointed.  I write it in layers. No scene is complete and I hop all over the chronology of the story.  I have no idea what that says about me but I'm making peace with the process.

This is another weekend where I'm holed up without Internet - or gasp, chocolate - so the word count is higher. I'm working in layers but the change in surroundings has helped me settle down to the task at hand.

Here's one of my writing spots today.

Yes, the dogs were happy. They are so easy to please.  Their prowling usually is food-related though.  The only words they care about are ball, food, treats.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Mental wanderings

My daily writing goal has doubled in the last week.  It's been easy enough to meet - once I stop whining and just sit down to do it.

That sums up my life well.  Cleaning, cooking, shopping, exercise - stop whining and do it.Most the whining is internal, "I don't want to".  That takes up a ridiculous amount of time and energy so I've been focusing on why I like to do things. For the most part, simply meeting my goal provides a great deal of satisfaction.  That motivates me.

It turns out I've lost 30 pounds in the last five or six years.  It still doesn't feel like it. A lot of my clothes are tight but it is gratifying to know that I'm headed in the right direction. I don't weigh myself. That often ends badly - with me dunking cookies in a vat of ice cream. Not really, but the visual is how I perceive it.

I'm downsizing stuff in the house.  Letting stuff go mentally. And allowing myself to appreciate how much more valuable people are to me than things.  I've made the effort every couple of days to interact with friends and family at least three times a week. It requires me to think past my own circle of bull.

I'd rather have a hippopotamus.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Pets and writing, oh my

Over the weekend, I managed to write seven words shy of 5300 words.  That was impressive. Then I didn't write again until today.  As it was, I had to force myself to turn the computer back on.  I'm glad I did, another 2180 words appeared.  Like magic!  Okay, not really but they were good words for the most part. I'm building something. That takes a lot of work.

It's not fair to blame the Supermoon but a lot of people I love and adore had a rough time of it the last few days.  Lots of feeling unworthy.  Lots of beating up on ourselves.  And everywhere I looked people reminded each other of at least one good thing in their lives. Coincidentally someone sent me the results of a study in which people with pets were proven to be happier and healthier.  I'm continually surprised that there's a whole world of human beings who doesn't know that as gospel.  Sheesh, they need a cat. Or a llama.  But not an elephant.  They don't make great pets.

I read a great book by an author I really enjoy but she had the vet heroine heal an injured wild turtle. The turtle went back into the wildness of the heroine's front yard but showed up at her porch every night for fresh strawberries.  I enjoyed their interaction - until the heroine brought the turtle inside and stuck him in an aquarium.  Yes, she was definitely following the above philosophy of pets making one's life richer but turtles aren't domesticated. It pulled me right out.

What takes you out of a story?