Archive for July, 2011

Why My First Novel Was a Western

I was raised in a household that was heavily immersed in the Western genre, including action figures (who remembers Johnny West and General Custer?), movies, paperback
novels, and television shows. I still recall my mother telling me “when I married your father, there were almost 30 western shows on TV.” I was too young to remember most of them as they quickly began to fade from the small screen.
However, I still fondly recall Cheyenne, Cowboy in Africa (My favorite lunchbox ever!), and The Wild Wild West. I consider Jake Slater, the hero in my first
novel, Hot on His Trail (Alyson Books, 2006), to be an amalgam of Chuck Connors, Clint Walker, and Robert Conrad.

John Wayne was a legend in our house, and as kids my older brother and I saw many of his early movies at our local drive-in with our parents. It was great Saturday-
night, family fare. Truth be told, a complete library of John Wayne VHS tapes
still happily resides at my parent’s house (although each Christmas and for
Dad’s birthday we slide in a few DVD versions), and I still watch one or two
during my annual trip home. I still count The Cowboys and True Grit as among my
favorites.

And the books, ah the books. All the members of my family were avid readers, although here’s where my mother parted company with the rest of us. While a fervent watcher of movies and television shows, she read strictly romance, a la Barbara Cartland and Kathleen E. Woodiwiss. My father seemed to literally consume the works of Louis L’Amour, Max Brand, and Zane Grey; often reading two or more paperbacks in the course of a weekend. My brother, while less voracious, did manage to read every
Louis L’Amour book in print at that time. While I favored mainstream Sci-Fi, I
still enjoyed reading the adventures of Louis L’Amour’s Sackett family.

Although there was a smattering of Western pictures in the 1980s: Urban Cowboy, Heaven’s Gate, and Silverado, to name a few, the field saw its biggest resurgence since my childhood, in the 1990s. As modern life became increasingly fast-paced and complex, people were yearning for a time when life was less complicated, values were more clearly defined, and the concept of right vs. wrong didn’t contain so many shades of gray. This is evidenced by the miniseries Lonesome Dove and Return to Lonesome Dove; television movies including Buffalo Girls, Children of the Dust and Streets of Loredo; independent Western cable productions Monte Walsh, The Rough Riders, and You Know My Name; big-screen pictures like Dances With Wolves, Open Range, and Tombstone; even an Encore channel devoted solely to Westerns, which is still alive and kicking today.

Westerns continue to enjoy a rollercoaster of popularity, and I firmly believe that they
will always be in our blood. Proof positive being the remake of True Grit, with Academy Award nominee Jeff Bridges stepping in as Rooster Cogburn to gallantly try to fill John Wayne’s boots.

A funny anecdote: My father, who is now 76, drove 50 miles to the local mall (he lives
in upstate NY) to visit the bookstore and purchase some Westerns. Upon entering
the bookstore, he was disgruntled, even amazed, to discover the store didn’t carry
Westerns anymore; I am currently buying him the complete works of Zane Grey,
which are largely out-of-print and available only through out-of-print
distributors.

So why, you may have asked yourself, was my first novel a Western? The answer is simple: It was my homage to a resilient, beloved genre, as well as a loving nod to growing up in a “Western” family.

All my best,

Zavo  

It’s Work, People, Not A Hobby

By Greg Herren

Nothing drives me crazier than the mentality people have that because I work at home I have nothing but free time.

“Oh Greg, I need you to do this favor for me” and so on and so forth–because you know, when you make your living as a writer and work at home, everyone just seems to assume that you really spend most of the day with your thumb up your ass, sitting on the couch eating bon-bons and watching Oprah. I know part of this is my own fault; my inability to say no to people and put my foot down and say, “Um, do I ever ask you to take time off from work to do something for me?” I think it is enormously frustrating, to say the least, the way the vast majority of people never take ‘writer’ seriously as work. I think it has something to do with the mentality that every single person out there who can either read or write the English language thinks they, too, can write a book, if they only had the time–little do they realize that once you do decide to take the time to write a book, everyone in the world thinks you’re now available to do errands for them–or to do this or do that, or just sit around bullshitting on the phone.

It is enormously frustrating, as I am sure you can imagine, because writing actually is work. It requires time, focus, and discipline—and it is endlessly annoying to have people act like it’s a hobby.

When people now say to me, “Oh, I have always wanted to write a book,” whereas before I would smile and say ‘that’s nice’–now I say, “so why don’t you?” And then, as they offer up a thousand and one reasons as to why they don’t, I just smile and say, “Then I guess you don’t REALLY want to write one.”

When I work on the one of my series novels, which are told in the first person, I have to go inside Chanse’s (or Scotty’s) head and write from his point of view; not mine. I have to think like he does, I have to see the world the way he does, I have to make sure that everything that he says is his, and not mine. I have to remember everything that has happened, not only in the manuscript so far, but in the previous books. (Because people are more than happy to point out continuity errors.) I have to figure out where the story is going, and take it there.

And when I have to go weeks (or days) between working on it, I then have to go back and reread everything I have written so far, otherwise there will be massive continuity errors. This requires focus, and yes, discipline, so then to have someone get pissy because I don’t want to talk on the telephone in the middle of this process, or drop everything and run to the store, or whatever, it makes me want to just take a baseball bat and then beat them to death.

This is why I also turn down all those wonderful offers from people to write for free…because of course, my time is worth nothing. Sure, when you are first getting started, you should write for everywhere that will let you, regardless of whether they can or will pay you for the work; because its important to get publishing credits, so that other venues that do pay will take you seriously. And once you crossover into the getting paid category, you should never do anything for free again–unless it’s a favor for a friend, or something for a fundraising effort, or something like that–but you are not required to do that, either, and if a friend gets pissy because you won’t write something for them for free, well, then maybe they aren’t as good a friend in the first place as you thought.

No matter what anyone thinks, writing is work, and you need to look at it that way—even when everyone you know in the world acts like it isn’t.

And the next time someone bothers me with something stupid while I am working, I can’t be held responsible.

Just hope they have health insurance.

The Amazon Trail

 The Amazon
Trail

Social Insecurity

            Wow! I just got my first Social Security check!

Darn, I must be really, really old.

Not as old as Washington is planning for its kids and grandkids to be. As often as I hear that Social Security is about to go bust, I hear that it’s fine.  Hey, you guys in D.C., like they say in twelve step programs, if it works, don’t fix it!

I imagine visiting the Capitol Building and buttonholing a Congressperson. Look, Representative Womanizer, I’d say, try this for a hypothetical. Your once-favored child grows up. He becomes an artisan, a tile setter, a job he’s great at, but there’s no pension. He saves the best he can, but one of his kids has a chronic disease and you voted to disembowel universal health care, so he’s broke from medical bills. His partner dies, but your son doesn’t benefit from his pension because you voted to outlaw gay marriage. Sonny boy’s job does in his knees and back and he develops an allergy to the glue he uses. In constant pain, asthmatic, he manages to keep setting tiles until age 65. But, wait, you voted to increase the retirement age to 70! You’d help him, but you’re dead or in prison for skimming or scamming or conspiring. Is this the life you wanted for daddy’s little boy?

The word security is pretty misleading these days. My father had a secure job with the federal government. When he died my mother received a pension and health care for life. Which was good, since she’d light out of the house every day, well
into her 90s, get on a bus or subway and go shopping somewhere, anywhere. She was thrifty as only someone who survived the American Great Depression can be, so she only spent at sales.

Security died with my mother and father. The very concept of security gets more  obsolete every year.

All my life I’d planned to retire at age 65. Then congress changed the rules.  So, okay, I can wait till 66. Only I didn’t. The Republicans won some elections this November and are yammering about fixing Social Security. While I didn’t lie awake worrying, exactly, I did panic.

Okay, I thought. If I retire in November, 2010, how soon will I break even with the amount Social Security would have paid me if I’d waited another 12 months? I
got as far as stating the problem in words and then I spaced out, escaping into a daydream of winning the lottery, enabling my sweetheart to retire and me to write full time.

A month or so later, I took up the problem again. This time I mentioned it to my
sweetheart. She’s the math-head in this marriage. A minute later, or less, she’d calculated my answer. We had a decision to make. I could apply for Social Security immediately and start working at my job only three days a week. That sounded wonderful! I could take my first checks and buy the Mac Book Air I’d been drooling over. Tempting, but kind of splurgy for a semi-retiree. I could stash the whole year’s payments – down to eleven months by now – in the bank and have it as a cushion. Or I could quit my job altogether and maybe finish my new book by the promised deadline. Wow. This was exciting. Thirty years earlier I would have gone for finishing the book.

But I don’t have a pension. Or a 401K or company stock. I let all that go to finish
the last dozen books. What I have is Social Security and you politicians are messing with it. What are you thinking? That no one you care about will ever actually need to live on the rather paltry stipend Americans are awarded for working all our lives? Well, I say, stop it, Representative Womanizer!

Stop kicking aging Americans’ futures around in your power plays. Be fiscally
conservative at the expense of someone who can afford it, like the beneficiaries of boondoggles from Boston to Bagdad.

Ah, Representative Womanizer, does it rile you to think entitlement programs feed and clothe Democrats and gays? Are you afraid seniors are going to use birth
control and get abortions?

Wait! Social security isn’t an entitlement program! It’s completely funded by
employers and employees. We pay for it with chunks of our wages. We gave it to our government to hold until we needed it. Now, when more of us than ever do need it, you want to treat our contributions to our own futures as taxes so you can make government look lean? And keep your congressional seat? I don’t think so.

I don’t trust you, Representative Womanizer. I’ve decided: I’m going to keep working at my job, continue writing my subversive lesbian books. Then I’m going to vote you out of office.

Copyright Lee Lynch 2011

Revision: Looking Again

by Lesléa Newman

I have to admit, I love love love revising! Let me rephrase
that: I confess, there’s nothing I like better than writing a sentence over and
over until I get it right. What I mean is, I can spend hours changing a “the”
to an “a” and then changing it back again. See what I mean?

I can’t really say how many drafts my novel, The Reluctant Daughter went through. I started writing it by hand, as I do all my books. Then I typed the first section into my computer, and rewrote the first paragraph about seven times.
Then I moved onto the next paragraph. I think I only rewrote that paragraph
three times. Then after I had moved through the first section paragraph by
paragraph, I read the whole section and made some more changes. And this is how
it goes, for 300 pages or so. And I love every minute of it.

What kind of changes are made? Everything from broad strokes
(my protagonist Lydia whined too much, and I had to make her less annoying) to
narrow strokes (in the first sentence, I changed the phrase “fifty years” to
“half a century”). I had to add sections when I realized that readers needed
more scenes about Lydia’s childhood to understand the issues she faced as an
adult, and I had to cut sections, when I realized that Lydia and her girlfriend
were saying the same things over and over and over. Of course that’s what
happens in real life (at least in my relationship!) but fiction, as it has been
said, is life with the boring parts left out. I like to think of a manuscript
as an accordion: you can stretch it out and insert material, and you can
squeeze it together and push things out.

In addition to looking at plot and character, I had to pay
particular attention to the setting of this book. Much of The Reluctant Daughter takes place in a hospital and while I can  invent family interaction and drama, I can’t make things up that would never  actually happen in a medical setting.

The book centers around Lydia, a lesbian in her late forties
who has never resolved her issues with her mother. One night Lydia gets a call
that her mother is gravely ill and on life support, three-thousand miles away.
Lydia flies across the country, and in a early draft of the novel, I have her
barge into the hospital, take the elevator up to the first floor, march herself
over to the CCU and bang open the swinging doors as if she were entering a
saloon.

Well of course, you can’t do that! When visiting the
Critical Care Unit of a hospital, one must be buzzed into the unit. So much for
Lydia making a grand entrance.

Later on in the book, (again in an earlier draft) when
Lydia’s mother is taken off a respirator, I had her say to Lydia in a loud,
angry voice, “What the hell are you doing here?” Well guess what? When one has
had a breathing tube down one’s throat for ten days, one cannot speak right
away. In reality, Lydia’s mother would not be able to speak at all following
the removal of the tube, and for a few days afterwards, she would only be able
to manage a whisper. These things may be obvious to some people, but they weren’t  obvious to me.

Luckily, after I complete a first draft of a book, it goes  through many stages before it lands in my readers’ hands. I rewrite the book on  my own at least three times before I show it to anyone. First in line is my  beloved spouse, who is not a writer but is a life-long reader. Plus she knows  me better than anyone else on earth, so can point to a paragraph and say,  “You’re being lazy here.” Or, “You’re not being honest here.” Or, “You can do  better than that.” And she is always right!

Next I show the novel to my writers group. The group was
started 40 years ago (!) and I have been a member for 11 years. These 7 women,
whom I am privileged to meet with every Tuesday afternoon, are smart,
supportive, kind, honest, and wise. They take me to task and push me to make my work the best it can be.

And I often enlist the help of an expert. In this case, I
called upon a friend who is a nurse and has worked in Critical Care Units. I am
always amazed at how generous people are when it comes to helping out authors.
Julie was only too happy to read the book and comment extensively on all the
medical aspects of it. She also helped me revise (literally look again) and
make my book better.

Once I think the book is ready for the next step, I send it
to my agent, who also gives me comments. When I rewrite to her satisfaction,
she sends the book off to an editor. Once the book is accepted, my editor gives
me comments, and then after more rewriting, the book goes into copyediting (yet
more comments!). It is said that a book is never finished, it is merely
abandoned. I can ceertainly vouch for that. Left to my own devices, I would
probably still be fiddling around with The Reluctant Daughter. But one has to let go eventually. And then it’s on to  the next book!

Unfinished Business

At the end of each of my romance novels, my two main characters are at a happy place. They’ve professed their love, they’ve made commitments, they’re renting U-hauls. But not so much for the supporting cast. Many of these poor souls are used as foils, mere chess pieces on the board aka plot of the novel. The story ends and their lives are left in disarray because only the stars merit resolution.

So, what’s a writer to do when she gets attached to some of these bit players? A couple of these gals kept speaking to me long after I’d written The End to the stories of their friends. Aimee Howard from truelesbianlove.com and It Should be a Crime, is the quintessential best friend – always a bridesmaid, never a bride. Skye Keaton from It Should be a Crime, is a rough and tumble cop who broke ranks for the sake of friendship and honor, sacrificing everything in the process. Within weeks after writing The End to It Should be a Crime, I knew it wasn’t really the end. Aimee and Skye deserved what their friends had found – love, commitment, coupledom. I wrote a couple of novels in between, but the idea for The Best Defense started with the inspiration that the broken cop and the former debutante would be perfect for each other. Ultimately.

The Best Defense is available now. It’s a standalone novel – you needn’t have met Aimee or Skye before to be able to jump into their story. But if you have met them, I hope, like me, you’ll enjoy the triumph of their love that much more.

Business and pleasure don’t mix, especially when the business is crime.

When Aimee Howard, successful boutique real estate broker and socialite, is visited by a team of federal agents looking to arrest her wayward niece, she hires the best defense money can buy. But Aimee begins to question her confidence in the law firm when she learns they’ve hired a disgraced former police detective to take the lead.

Homicide detective Skye Keaton’s shortcuts in the name of justice have finally tipped the scales in the wrong direction. She’s lost her job, her pride, and the respect of her family and friends. When an old friend trusts her with a simple task—find a young woman in hiding—she’s happy to have the work even though the client is a bossy former debutante who wants to micromanage her every move.

Skye reluctantly decides to let Aimee close to the investigation so she can manage Aimee’s expectations, but their professional proximity quickly takes a turn toward passion. Despite their best defenses, as they work together to regain what they’ve lost, both women find the magnetic attraction that develops between them hard to resist.

The Amazon Trail

  The Amazon Trail

Qpondering

          Although it’s not one of the certified butchly arts, I am a coupon clipper from way back. If for no reason other than to justify buying the Sunday paper, I have at hand my nifty sliding coupon cutter (that I haven’t mastered) to make back the cost of the paper with snipped savings. If only I remembered to use the coupons, the plan might work.

I’ve tried everything: stacking them on the kitchen counter where I’ll see them, or at the front door where I’ll miss them when I go through the garage to my car. I’ve stashed them in the car only to forget to bring them into the store. I’ve stuck them in my wallet with the cash so I’d find them at the register, then used my credit card. I’ve gone to the cashier with coupons in hand and, distracted, stuffed them in my jeans pocket while emptying the shopping cart. My good-natured sweetheart calls me an absent-minded professor. I forget that I swore off newspapers,  buy the Sunday paper and start all over again.

There are coupon traps. I’ve purchased stuff I’ve never used because I had a great coupon.  It hurts now to pay full price for anything. I bring home items like frozen dessert for our overweight dog because I can’t pass a clearance bin without exploring it. Some mega-corps, whose names I won’t mention, are really, really stingy with their $.25 off coupons for $15.00 packages of Charmin’ (who’s squeezing who here). There are certain items I won’t buy anywhere but a dollar store. I search out businesses that give AARP discounts. Still, I’m glad to have made it to senior citizen age before the stampede of boomers inspires companies to redefine the concept of senior – we’ll have to be 85 to get in to a movie matinee at half price.

This is what modern day hunting and gathering looks like. Eventually we will all have iPhone-like devices that flash coupons to computers called cashless registers (RegX ®) when we go to drive-in bars for our Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters. The Sunday paper will be replaced by online feeds that continuously scroll Preferred Product Coupons (PreProCs®), that amazon.com knows we’ll use, along the sides of our screens while we’re working at our jobs (till age 85), reading tweets or composing love- mails. “Wait!” I’ll post to my sweetheart in the middle of a passionate declaration via her iTop® (something like a netbook but invisible to management.) “I have to capture a promo code for a Wild-Salmon Entre-in- a-Capsule® at the A&P’pod®.”

Currently, I’ve been training myself never to make a purchase without checking on line for promotional codes, coupons and deals. It’s frustrating that businesses don’t just charge what goods and services are worth instead of pretending to save us money. At the same time, it’s very gratifying to score “free” shipping on an item as heavy as a ton of bricks, or to bring the price of a dinner out down to the price of a dinner in.

For my sweetheart’s birthday, I paid for part of our visit to the pricey Gallagher’s Steak House with a deal through groupon.com. On Valentine’s Day we grouponed ourselves to a pleasant repast at a favorite local Irish pub. No wonder she was willing to marry me; I take her nice places and save money doing it.

She has no objection to my skinflintery and claims her Scottish blood is in cahoots with me.  It’s gotten so I’m signing up for all sorts of possible coupon resources. Grocery stores, gas stations, Dunkin’ Donuts (which is also stingy) – my inbox looks like a phone book. Some businesses give out coupons for birthday specials, some offer sweepstakes, some have printable coupons. The paper pile on the kitchen counter grows. My sweetheart, bless her patient heart, sorts all the offers and puts them in the junk drawer. Once a month she extracts them, not an easy task, and does our big shopping.

This has backfired a few times.  Last week I printed a grocery store coupon worth $10.00 off $40.00 in purchases. My sweetheart lost no time dashing off to use it. While trying to spend the required $40.00, she racked up a bill of $111.00 and came home all proud, declaring, “I saved us $19.00!”  I said I would never print out one of those coupons again, as if I could resist. No wonder I married her; she makes me laugh at myself for my coupon clipping frenzy and with her, when she plays the mad hopper.

At least we’ve finally answered that age-old question, “But what do lesbians DO?”

Copyright
Lee Lynch 2011

March
2011


Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 614 other followers


%d bloggers like this: