It’s the time of the season…

I’ve just discovered that my books have seasons.

Adiós, Accent, and Stars are all summer books. Not only does their action primarily take place over the course of a summer, I wrote them all during summer months. I also lived in Florida when I wrote all three, which is the Land of Perpetual Summer, but that’s besides the point.

Now I’ve got a couple new stories I’m toying with, a YA and an adult, and they’re both what I’d call “winter” books in terms of the time period during which their action is taking place. Admittedly, I started working on the YA during the late summer, but I’ve done the most work on it in the last month or so.

I never really gave it much thought, but when I set my books has a real effect on its overall tone. The “summer” books, even though they can have some serious underpinnings tend to have an overall lightness and definitely happy-ish endings. The winter books are darker, more somber, the pace and tone of the language a little slower—to use musical terms, adagio (slow and stately) versus allegretto (moderately fast). Maybe most telling, the endings, while they’ll still be hopeful, aren’t going to be of the obviously happy variety. There are too many variables involved for there to be a simple solution but it will be a satisfying one.

And that’s how I like it. Not only as a reader, but as a writer. My endings don’t have to be tied up in happy, sparkly bows. I’m not the reader who’s going to fling a book against the wall if the characters aren’t riding off into the sunset together. One of my favorite book endings ever is from Anne Rivers Siddons’ HEARTBREAK HOTEL.

There’s a line on the last page– it’s not the final line, but it’s the most telling line of the ending: “Lucidity that trembled on the edge of something radiant that could not be looked at, yet.”

There. Right there, the reader has all the answer they need. You know she’s broken through the boundaries that have been holding her hostage throughout the majority of the book and that while she’s not quite ready to face the future breaking free promises, you know there’s something ahead. Something better than what she’d ever allowed herself to imagine. That she even knew she was permitted to imagine. Of course, the reader knows this because of how masterfully Siddons crafted the story leading up to that last scene.

And that’s enough for me as a reader. Yes, I have questions and oh, my heavens, what I wouldn’t give to poke Siddons’ mind to find out what future she envisioned for Maggie, the lead character, but the story she told in that book was complete to my way of thinking.

But, I digress. This is what happens when I haven’t blogged regularly in yonks. Sorry about that. Guess I just haven’t had much to say, even when being attacked by book pirates as an “odious woman.” (Yes, that really happened, no, I’m not going to link because what’s the point?)

Anyhow, I’m finding it kind of surprising that I’ve not written a true “winter” book before now. I guess it’s because outside of the occasional surprisingly cold temperatures, I hadn’t lived anywhere with winter for over seven years. There’s no denying, though that fall and winter are definitely my time—when I perk up and start moving faster as the temperatures drop and the days grow shorter. Unlike so many others, I’m comforted by that early blanket of darkness and I find it gives me a greater appreciation for spring and summer when they roll around.

Regardless, I’m enjoying the evolution of my “winter” books and looking forward to seeing where they take me. Already, I’m exploring styles I’ve not ever considered before, so that’s another new experience.

Onward.

Wanna see me call someone an unmitigated jackass?

Head on over to literary site, Beatrice.com, and read my essay where I talk about ballet, body image, writing, STARS, and the NYT ballet critic (aka, the unmitigated jackass). Basically, I expounded on the topic of this post from the other day—and I still wish I wasn’t quite so right.

This was a toughie to write, y’all– first off, I was pissed and second, journalistic writing is so not my forte. Hopefully, I made sense.

It all began with a crush…

Having been part of a drum corps is such an intrinsic part of my background that I never think much about how it started. Until I was recently asked, “So, how did you get into corps?”

I’m a level-headed sort of girl. Always have been. But joining drum corps was probably one of the most impulsive choices I ever made.

And it was all for a guy.

I have never told this story. Even my critique partner, who’s known me for over ten years hadn’t heard this one.

But, because I was asked, I talked about it in more detail for my publisher: It all began with a deep love of music (And a crush on a guy…)

Only twice in my life have I made impulsive decisions for a guy. The other one, I’m still married to.

You can also sign up to a copy of STARS.

Where NaNo goes horribly wrong…

Okay, here’s the thing: I like NaNo. I think anything that encourages a writer, regardless of age or experience, to sit their asses down and put words on a page is a good thing, whether or not they “win” by hitting that mystical 50K word mark. I like the camaraderie, whether of the online or in-person variety. I like seeing people feeling as if they’ve accomplished something.

I’ve done NaNo in some form or another for the last six years. Some years it’s been official, as in, I’ve been registered and have the word counter, other years it’s been a more informal thing. STARS, as a matter of fact, is a NaNo book in a manner of speaking, from the standpoint that I did its first revision during NaNo three years ago. Considering I revised a 73K word MS and added more than 20K words during that month I think qualifies me as having “won” that year, even though I never formally signed up.

But there is one aspect of NaNo that troubles me immensely and where I think it goes horribly awry. Where people don’t get what it means to be a writer.

The forums.

Mind you, I don’t have anything against the forums. See above re: camaraderie. Where they go wrong, however, is in providing a ripe environment for a certain kind of pretentious bullshit that makes me absolutely twitchy.**

It’s the kind of entitled pretentiousness unique to far too many unpubbed authors whereupon they think starting a thread like “Books that bring [insert genre] down” is a good idea. Where they think commenting that “Oh, Book X, definitely brings the genre down because it sucks” qualifies as a good idea. And they’ll defend their right to do so, because that’s what literary criticism is All About.

Um, no.

Which is not to say any individual, unpubbed or not, isn’t entitled to an opinion. For heaven’s sake, of course they are. However, criticism means not only that you have your opinion, but you’re able to defend it in a cogent manner. That you’re able to debate its merits without being reduced to childish, simplistic rhetoric. It’s being able to say, “This book didn’t work for me and this is why,” and be able to acknowledge that someone else might have a *gasp* differing opinion and that *gasp again* it might have just as much merit as yours.

I know full well that this sort of commentary isn’t exclusive to NaNo, but there’s something about this intense month of noveling—of knowing that there are hundreds of thousands of other individuals with a similar goal and they’re tending to congregate in this one place, that provides an absolute petri dish, where these opinions can fester and proliferate with abandon.

Other misconceptions at which I find myself alternately cringing and ruefully shaking my head:

**All the classics are what was considered the “good” writing of the time period.

Actually, much of what is considered classic in today’s literature classes was actually the popular literature of its time and was derided as the amateurish scribblings of hacks. Shakespeare, Dickens, Twain, the Brontës—they were all hammered by the critics of their day, other writers held up as far more stellar practitioners of craft. The lesson to take from this is you just never know what’s going to wind up standing the test of time so to arrogantly state that something unequivocally brings down a genre is just asking for history to come kick you in the ass. Twice.

There’s also the widely disseminated assertion (uttered with a certain tone I call “know it all-itis”) that publishing is “easier” now.

*pauses to allow all the laughter to subside*

And no, I don’t try to disabuse them of this notion, you know why? Because they don’t want to hear it. Especially not from an already published author. The fact that I’m published just proves their point and I’m probably only saying that publishing is tough and getting tougher by the day because I don’t want the “competition.”

*pauses to allow the laughter to subside*

No, talking to them about the economic realities of traditional publishing and how vanity publishing really isn’t “being published” and self-publishing takes a massive amount of work on the author’s part beyond actually writing and how too few writers are able to objectively and effectively edit their own work, is simply an exercise in expending breath because again, it’s not anything they want to hear.***

See, that’s sort of both the beauty of NaNo and the tragedy of it. It’s such an insular environment—one where anything is possible—and by and large, that can be a great thing. However, the sort of arrogance that insularity breeds leads to a closed-mindedness that can be extremely damaging should one of these aspirants actually pursue publication.

Oh well, either they’ll learn or they’ll wind up writing for James Frey’s sweatshop.

** Which is why I tend to stay away from the forums, for the most part. But every now and again, curiosity gets the better of me. You’d think I’d know better. Bad Barb, no biscuit.

***As a totally irrelevant side note, I find it amusing that the most vocal of the critics are often the ones with the lowest word counts.

Bad enough the characters taunt…

They taunt me right after I turn off the light to go to bed, prompting me to open the laptop in the dark, lean (in no way ergonomically recommended) on an elbow, and tap furiously, concluding with me grumbling at the screen, “There. Are you happy? Will you let me get some sleep now?”

Which was greeted with peals of helpless laughter behind me.

Yeah, the Hub was mocking me for scolding my characters at 12:30 AM.

Such is the life of the working writer.

IOLesscrazymakingN: The mail yesterday was very kind and brought me my pre-ordered copy of Josh Groban’s Illuminations, his first new studio album in nearly three years. Not surprisingly, I like it. More surprisingly, I love it. Like, right off the bat. Historically, with Josh, I’ve loved one or two songs on an album, and then the rest of it has to grow on me. That was definitely the case with his last (non-holiday) studio album, Awake. I like it a good deal now, but boy, did that one have to grow on me. And with the first two albums, I never listen to them all the way through any longer. Rather, I have playlists made up of a few select favorite tracks and that’s what I stick to. Frankly, the early stuff is kind of hard to listen to because while his voice is everything that originally drew me to him as an artist (and more, with ten years of maturity), the songs themselves feel somewhat tired and… not quite him. I think it’s because I have been following his career since the beginning and I’ve been able to track his growth as an artist that this is the case. He’s growing as an independent artist, with writing his own work, and it’s really pretty far from the David Foster produced “popera” of the early days. And that’s as it should be. He’s nearly ten years older than he was when he released his first album. I doubt I’d still be a fan if he was putting out the same album each time. It’s no secret that I really admire how he continues to push boundaries and stretch himself. I think the smartest thing he did for Illuminations was to step even further away from the David Foster machine and opt to work with Rick Rubin (who is like a production god– seriously).

What I’m hearing in a full listen-through of Illuminations is how Rubin encouraged Josh to step even further beyond his comfort zone yet miraculously encouraged him to employ his strengths to full effect. To wit, they kept the orchestrations, albeit in a stripped-down fashion and used his big, beautiful voice, yet in a restrained, delicate sort of way. I know, I know… sounds like complete contradictions, but somehow, Rubin managed to accomplish this.

And they weren’t afraid of lovely. They didn’t shy away from pretty melodies and orchestrations. Yet were able to venture into some really dark, poignant places within the works. (Both melodically and lyrically.) Totally the sorts of juxtapositions I dig as a storyteller. (Plus: A Nick Cave cover—go Rick, encouraging him to give that a go!)

Yeah, I’m probably gushing and that brings with it a whole new brand of mocking because it puts me firmly in that “woman of a certain age” or something (although I certainly wasn’t ten years ago, so go figure…) but because I’m kind of slow on the uptake sometimes (especially after a string of days of being awake at 5AM), I’ve come to the realization that one of the reasons I identify so powerfully with Josh and his music and overall career is that I sort of see myself reflected in it (without the enormous success and worldwide acclaim and Oprah-love, natch). I began working towards publication nearly ten years ago and his music was some of my earliest accompaniment during the late, late nights of practicing my craft. (Not to mention, it was listening to him sing “Broken Vow” that started me on the five-year journey that became Breathe, the book of my heart– story for another time.) And as he’s stretched and grown and pushed boundaries, I’ve found myself doing the same with my own writing. I’m certainly not the same writer I was ten years ago or even five years ago or even last year. So every time he says he’s itching to push boundaries and break past people’s expectations, I’m generally the first one cheering. It also means I’m going to be just as hypercritical of his work as I am of my own. Poor guy.

So yeah, there are songs on Illuminations that I’m not nuts about, but overall, I like it. A lot. I like where he’s going as an artist. I can only hope to be as brave with my work.

Back to being part of the GCC! Touring Denise Jaden

Where GCC stands for the Girlfriend’s Cyber Circuit blog tour.

I was part of it a few years back, but then went things slowed down for me, I gave my spot up so others could have their turn. But now I’m BAAAAAACK, baby! And I’m touring my first Girlfriend, author, Denise Jaden, who’s written an incredibly intriguing book, Losing Faith.

Losing Faith
by Denise Jaden

A terrible secret.
A terrible fate.

About the book:

When Brie’s sister, Faith, dies suddenly, Brie’s world falls apart. As she goes through the bizarre and devastating process of mourning the sister she never understood and barely even liked, everything in her life seems to spiral farther and farther off course. Her parents are a mess, her friends don’t know how to treat her, and her perfect boyfriend suddenly seems anything but.

As Brie settles into her new normal, she encounters more questions than closure: Certain facts about the way Faith died just don’t line up. Brie soon uncovers a dark and twisted secret about Faith’s final night…a secret that puts her own life in danger.

Rave Reviews:

“Strong in its characterization…satisfying…a thoughtful read.”
-VOYA

“This book is wonderful. I stayed up way too late because I couldn’t put it down. Tessa is one of my all-time favorite characters – fascinating, nuanced – she lived for me, jumped right off the page. Terrific read!”
– Janet Fox, author of Faithful (Penguin/Speak, 2010) and Get Organized Without Losing It (Free Spirit Publishing, 2006)

“Suspense, religion, romance, teenage angst—this book has it all and it is all well done. Losing Faith was an amazing read that hooked me in the beginning and when it was done I was well-satisfied with the conclusion. Great from start-to-finish!”
– Crystal at myreadingroom-crystal.blogspot.com

Bio:

Denise Jaden lives just outside Vancouver, Canada. When she’s not writing, she can often be found homeschooling her son or dancing with her Polynesian dance troupe. Losing Faith is her first novel. Find out more at denisejaden.com.

Hey! She lives just up the road from me, in a manner of speaking. And her bio is definitely intriguing, no? But of course, being me, I had a few more questions to ask. Okay, I totally bogarted the pop quiz from my own bio with a couple of embellishments. So here we go:

Dark or milk chocolate?

Definitely dark. The darker the better. 70% cocoa or higher preferable.

Thin or thick crust pizza?

Hmm. I don’t really care. Pizza is good no matter which way you slice it.

Lakes or oceans?

Oceans. I love the vastness of them and the waves are calming. Plus, I’ve always wanted to learn how to surf.

Ben & Jerry’s or Häagen Dazs?

When I was growing up, we didn’t have Ben & Jerry’s in Canada, so I’m a Haagen Dazs girl. Though, I admit, I love Cold Stone Creamery above all else. (Mmm… Cold Stone…)

Lady Gaga or Katy Perry? (If neither, then who?)

I hate music questions. I have very eclectic tastes in music and I fear if I answer one way people will assume generalizations about my musical tastes. I plead the fifth! (Barb’s note: Oh, I totally get this. Says the woman with over 13,000 entries in her iTunes library…)

GLEE or Vampire Diaries? (Or whatever show currently has your fancy)

We don’t get any channels at our house so I’m totally not up on current TV. I have a set of Friends DVD’s that I can’t get enough of though.

Ten or Eleven? (For the Doctor Who fans– if you’re not one, then has there ever been a show or film or book that turned you into a hardcore fan?)

Nope. Not a hardcore fan of anything, but I have lots and lots of films and books that I love. Some favorite movies: The Matrix, Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally. Favorite authors (including all their books): Sarah Dessen, Sarra Manning, Laurie Halse Anderson

Coke or Pepsi?

Diet of either. I’m not picky.

Growing up, astronaut or supermodel?

Probably supermodel. More likely actress.

Final question: If your book had a theme song, what would it be?

Ugh. Another music question! Actually, a good friend of mine, musician Jerrica Santos, wrote a song about my book called Losing Faith. It will be released to the world soon. Stay tuned…

Thanks so much, Denise and we’ll definitely be checking out Losing Faith!

Music Time! A new playlist!

This might be a record, actually. I created a playlist for one chapter.

Lemme ‘splain. No, there is too much, lemme sum up.

Basically, my 60s-set women’s fiction, Between Here & Gone that has been trying to, you know, kill me for nearly three years?

I’m almost done.

I have one chapter left to go.

So why a new playlist now?

Well, because story-wise, I’m jumping ahead more than four years, from spring of 1965 to summer of 1969. And none of my current playlists had the correct feel to them. They had the bouncy, peppy hopefulness of the early and mid-sixites. There wasn’t any real evidence of the turmoil and change that would transform the country in less than five years. Not to mention the sheer scope of music that came out from 1965 to 1969. Holy mama!

And that’s just what I needed this playlist to convey—all the change and the new freedoms. It’s no mistake, really, that this story is going to resume during the same weekend that the lunar landing occurred. Landing on the moon was the culmination of essentially a decade-long journey (from the inception of the Mercury program); for my protagonist, her journey also begins a decade earlier with her family’s escape from Cuba in the wake of Castro’s takeover.

Why yes, I’m big with the metaphors.

And it’s not as if it was difficult for me to piece this playlist together. It was actually harder figuring out the order and constructing good segues and flow, because of the sheer stylistic range of the charts. I have so much from that particular era and like all my playlists, it may continue to evolve. Although maybe not, because I AM going to finish this bad boy this weekend. As God as my witness, I will never go hungry again— erm, sorry. Went off into a Scarlett place there.

Anyhow, here be a playlist—probably the last one for Between Here & Gone. Let’s hope it brings me luck and I finish this story off in a good, strong manner and that the whole of it doesn’t suck.

The Kids Are Alright- The Who
Suite: Judy Blue Eyes- Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young
Reflections- Diana Ross & The Supremes
Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In (The Flesh Failures)- The Fifth Dimension
Time of the Season- The Zombies
Get Together- The Youngbloods
Love Me Two Times- The Doors
Somebody to Love- Jefferson Airplane
I Can See For Miles- The Who
Feeling Alright- Joe Cocker
Piece of My Heart- Big Brother & the Holding Company
Valleri- The Monkees
More Today Than Yesterday- Spiral Staircase
Young Girl- Gary Puckett & The Union Gap
Beginnings- Chicago
The Story in Your Eyes- The Moody Blues*
All Along the Watch Tower- The Jimi Hendrix Experience
For What it’s Worth- Buffalo Springfield
God Bless the Child- Blood, Sweat & Tears
Easy to Be Hard- Three Dog Night
I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)- The Commitments*
Love is Blue (Instrumental)- Paul Mauriat and His Orchestra
Both Sides Now- Judy Collins
Everybody’s Talkin’ (From ‘Midnight Cowboy’)- Harry Nilsson
Baby, I Need Your Lovin’- Johnny Rivers
The Tracks of My Tears- Adam Lambert*
Scarborough Fair/Canticle- Simon & Garfunkle

*I cheated in a couple of places. The Moodies didn’t release “The Story in Your Eyes” until 1971, but stylistically, it fit exactly the tone I was looking for. While I adore Aretha, I have a real soft spot for The Commitments soundtrack version of “I Never Loved a Man,” and as far as “The Tracks of My Tears,” again, I just have a real soft spot for how Adam Lambert recorded it. Very true to the original, stylistically, but with perhaps a hair more substance, which I wanted.

Which is probably more than you wanted or needed to know, so I’ll just shut up now and get back to writing.

Wish me luck!