Monday, July 25, 2016

Let the Sunshine In: Where Writers Write



On DeGroff Way, a short block of ten houses in the historic Union Hill district at the edge of downtown Kansas City, several homeowners welcomed visitors to their yards during a recent garden tour. I talked with one of the creative gardeners about his choice of plants, his artistic landscaping, and the street of lovely hundred-year-old houses, all of which faced south in two tandem rows.

“William Rockhill Nelson had the houses built,” he told me, “for his editors and writers.”

Nelson, the founder of The Kansas City Star newspaper, believed that houses should face south so his writers/residents could benefit from direct midday sunlight. Maybe early Star journalists such as Earnest Hemingway and William Allen White drank in the sunshine to enhance their creative geniuses. If this giant among Kansas City’s famous citizens, William Rockhill Nelson, the man who bequeathed the land and money to start our magnificent art gallery after helping to develop the city, believed that sunshine induces creativity, it’s worth considering.

Too much sun can cause a multitude of skin problems. On the other hand, the right balance can have lots of mood-lifting benefits. “Sunlight and darkness trigger the release of hormones in your brain. Exposure to sunlight is thought to increase the brain’s release of a hormone called serotonin. This is associated with boosting mood and helping a person feel calm and focused. At night, darker lighting cues trigger the brain to make another hormone called melatonin. This hormone is responsible for helping a person feel sleepy and go to sleep.” [Sunlight and Serotonin, http://www.healthline.com/].

In a 2002 Creativity Research Journal study, the researchers found that teams of high school students who worked in direct sunlight… designed more innovative collages than those who worked in an inside space…. [Let the Sunshine In] Research from Australia and from China shows that children who get out in the sun more have better eyesight.” [Dr. Micozzi's Insiders’ Cures]

Another research project “showed that light exposure actually enhances brain response. In 2006, researchers in Belgium and England exposed study participants to light and then performed tests on their thinking abilities. They used brain imaging to see exactly what areas of the brain responded to the light exposure. Results showed that even a brief exposure to light substantially increased alertness and thinking ability in participants.” [A Natural Boost: Sunlight and the Brain, 2008]

I do much of my writing at a computer in a south-facing room of my house where I can look out at the sun on the leaves or bare branches, can see when the mailman arrives, and can watch birds play. Sometimes, one side of my brain processes a neighbor walking her dog down the sidewalk while the other side formulates my next sentence. Perhaps I benefit from the sunlight coming through the second story window?

When I’m in the “zone” of dreaming up scenes, anyplace I happen to be works as my writing space—the passenger seat of our car, the kitchen table, a picnic table at a campsite, or an airport waiting area. I’m not the only one. Allison K Gibson, in a Huffington Post article, wrote about habits of famous authors.  Emily St. John Mandel said, “I do most of my writing in my home office, at my unbelievably messy desk. It’s by far my favorite place to write—my cats and my music are there, and it’s a very peaceful room. Often, very often, I’ll find myself writing in the subway. I spend two hours a day on the F train, five days a week, and I always carry a notebook with me.” Believe me, I can relate to the “unbelievably messy desk” part.

Apparently, Mandel and I aren’t the only ones who write during trips. Erskine Caldwell, author of Tobacco Road, ran a bookstore in Maine. “…when he needed time to write, he would take a bus from "Boston to Cleveland maybe, and get off at night once in a while to write.” Said Alexander Chee,  “Usually it’s trains where I get the most writing done—I wish I could get a residency from Amtrak on a sleeper car, or an office booth in a cafe car.”  

It’s not clear how sunlight or the lack of it relates to people who write in cars, trains, and airplanes or in other busy places such as coffee houses or Paris cafés. Elizabeth Crane, author of the story collection, You Must Be This Happy to Enter, said that she writes at home, often on the couch with the T.V. on.

I also write in front of the television sometimes. I grew up in a small house where I shared a bedroom with my sister and had no place of my own to which I could retreat. I did my reading, writing, and arithmetic homework in the living room with the T.V. blaring. Background noise and activity don’t stop me now.

The living room of my youth was open to large windows on the front and back, to the north and south. I like the idea that sunshine aids creativity. "I always get up and make a cup of coffee while it is still dark—it must be dark—and then I drink the coffee and watch the light come," Toni Morrison told Elissa Schappell in a 1993 Paris Review interview. There’s another author citing sunlight as a force that invigorates or inspires.

In Poets and Writers’ Magazine, Alexandra Enders wrote about her own writing experience.  “I was in the middle of a novel when, several years ago, my husband, the sculptor Peter Soriano, won a grant to live and work in Alexander Calder's house in the tiny town of Saché, France…. My novel was about an island in Maine, a novel in which landscape, and the character's attachment to it, played a big role, and the irony of working on that while feeling distinctly unattached to this place in the beautiful French countryside was not lost on me…. Meanwhile, in the days and weeks that followed, the French landscape outside and its lovely slow spring was seeping in, and in my novel the bright and forceful Maine summer was hurtling out, and there, on that simple pine table pushed up against the bare white wall, I found a way to contain it all.”

Enders’s French springtime “seeped in.” The sunshine slipped through the window. Could the arcs of my stories and the personalities of my fervent characters be influenced by the sunshine sparking on the leaves of the giant elm, oak, and maple trees outside my office window? Did Edgar Allen Poe visit dreary places in his mind while he wrote in the sunshine? It’s possible the early Star editors and journalists retired to dark back rooms and never sat on their sun-facing front porches to write. I believe, though, that my mood and productivity lifts when there’s a sunny day after periods of dreary overcast.

What about you? Where do you write? Where do you read? Where do you create? Do you think sunshine or its lack might have an impact on your mood, subject matter, or creativity?

Friday, July 22, 2016

A Call to Action- Literally

This week a trifecta of events led me to an unwelcome realization. Ordinarily self-knowledge is a good thing, but not so much in this case.

First, I made an appointment for a physical. You know what that means- I’m going to have to step on the scales. A grim prospect, at best.

Second, the coup attempt in Turkey following closely on the heels of the horrific attack in Nice, France, mesmerized the world, including me.

And third, my Fitbit has been remarkably silent over the past seven days. No buzzing to let me know I’ve hit 10,000 steps, no notification on my phone to congratulate me for achieving some kind of milestone.



I’m sedentary.

There, I said it.

I am a writer, so much (read: all) of my time is spent at my desk or at a table in the kitchen or at the library, tapping away on the keys of a computer. I don’t get nearly as much exercise as I should.

I need to get moving, and not just because it’s good for my physical health (I’m sure you’ve heard the oft-repeated phrase “sitting is the new smoking”). It’s also essential for my mental health. I need to exercise more often in order to get my mind out of my work-in-progress, out of all the bad news permeating the airwaves, and out of the endless lists of marketing assignments I’ve given myself.

I know it works (it’s not as if I never move). I always feel refreshed and ready to get back to work after I walk my dog or go for a bike ride. I just need to do it more often. I need to make exercise a conscious part of my daily routine, and lately my physical movement has been sadly lacking.



So I have an idea. I was brainstorming topics for this post, my first for Novel Spaces, and I hit on something I think might work. I know I’m not alone- there are lots of people, and many writers included, who don’t get enough exercise.

My idea is to start a Facebook group where we share our exercise goals and encourage and inspire each other to get moving by posting what we do for exercise and how long we spend doing it. I’m in a closed Facebook group called “What’s for Dinner?” in which members post photos of the meals they cook each night at dinnertime. It’s a fun group and I would love to participate in an exercise group that operates the same way. Anything you do in motion counts as exercise- weeding the garden, walking the dog, biking, swimming, playing with your kids. Anything.

I’ll even start by telling you my first goal: I want to have more energy and more focus when I write and when I’m marketing. I believe physical exercise is going to help me achieve that.

You’ve heard of writers who sprint? That’s when writers get together in person or virtually or on the phone or in any other way and write together for a specified period of time. In terms of actual sprinting, I only run if I’m being chased (please note, the photo above was taken two years ago). But if anyone is interested in setting up a time to exercise together virtually, I’m up for that, too.

Of course, exercise is more fun when there are built-in rewards, so I want us to share our rewards with each other, too. You want to reward yourself every time you exercise? Cool. Want to reward yourself once a week? Great. After every five workouts? That’s fine, too. The rewards are up to each member and can be anything- dark chocolate is my personal favorite.

If you’re interested in joining the group, mention it in the comments below. I’ll create the group (I’m thinking of calling it “The Write Way to Exercise”) and add you to the list of members.

So what do you say? Are you in?

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Me and Writing

by Linda Thorne







I’ve been peeking in at Novel Spaces for years and I’m happy to say that, starting today, I have a regular slot on their schedule. Since this is my first presentation, I took the opportunity to talk about me; specifically, my writing, something I didn’t take seriously until fairly late in life. Something I didn’t begin until about eleven years ago with a decision that seemed to come out of nowhere.

There are all sorts of gray areas, thoughts and events that occurred throughout my lifetime that may have contributed to this sudden decision. The idea of writing novels could’ve been bubbling inside of me all along. I’ll never know for sure because I never consciously made the decision until the day I did. How that came about would be a post in itself, so if anyone wants to know more, check out my bio and my addendum, "How It Began," on my personal website at: http://www.lindathorne.com/bio/

My husband and I had lived on the Mississippi Gulf Coast for eight years when he was offered a job opportunity in the Central Valley of California. I quit my job and followed him to a little town called Hanford. It was some time during this period of unemployment from my usual career as a human resources manager that I'd decided to write a book. With the decision made, I drove to the nearest bookstore and bought a book on how to write a novel, read it, then proceeded to buy varying colors and sizes of index cards. I began.

I made it easy on myself by writing what I knew. I created my lead character to be, like me, a career human resources manager, and placed her in a manufacturing workplace similar to the one where I worked during nine of the fifteen years we lived in Denver. I set the book’s location at our prior home on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. My first character to be killed came from a fictionalized version of a true murder case that happened at my HR job in Denver. I was easily spinning off fiction from real life experiences, now I only had to transform my HR manager protagonist into a sleuth. I wrote the book as if trying to pass a college class, without needing to do the research. This was going to be a piece of cake!

Yeah, right. Several months later, I completed all 125,000 wordy words of my book. Good plot, great ending, but bor-ing. My novel did not sound like other books I’d read. It wasn’t good. In fact, it was awful. I had to face the fact that I didn’t know how to write and I needed a great deal more than one self-help book to solve the problem. My piece of cake had crumbled into pieces.  

So I began the long process of beating myself over the head to get it, spending most of my spare time in those years after the book’s completion re-writing, studying self-help books, sharing my work with critique groups. Unnecessary characters and scenes were tossed, pacing improved, subplots thrown out. My book was getting shorter. I also began writing short stories that gave me writing projects I could complete quicker, hope for an award, a contest win, a publication, and they helped me learn to write. I started publishing short stories long before I published my book.

I entered contests too, my favorite being the Minotaur Books/Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition, a free contest for anyone who had not already published a novel. Each year when I didn’t win, I’d do a critical review of my book before submitting it for the next year’s contest. In 2013, I knew I was making headway because my novel, Just Another Termination, made the finals. It made the finals again in 2014, but I couldn’t wait another year. I tweaked the book again and submitted it to Black Opal Books. By now, my 125,000 word book was down to 85,000.

To my surprise, Black Opal offered me a publishing contract for a 2015 release date. I was ecstatic. I’m currently writing the second book in my series, A Promotion to Die For. The journey has taken longer and been tougher than I ever imagined and it’s not over.

I am really glad to be here as a part of Novel Spaces. I hope the members and readers of this great blogspot will enjoy hearing from me from time to time. Your comments are more than welcome.

 Website: http://www.lindathorne.com/



Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Should Your Book Have an Agenda?



     I was enjoying coffee and cheesecake with three published friends when I asked something that had been niggling in my mind. 
     “When you write your books, do you have an agenda?” 
     It was not an innocent question. I had a feeling I knew what their first response would be. 
     “Absolutely not. I write for enjoyment and to give the reader a good novel,” said friend #1. 
     “Really?” I said, stirring creamer into my coffee. Then I pointed out that her first book dealt with past lives and the Mayan people. Her second book was about ancient Japan. “Seems to me you want to open people up to other cultures. 
     “Well, yes,” she agreed. “And I want to talk about the possibility of past lives because I believe in the idea.” Her next book will be about “the lack of harmony man has with the earth because of ego.” That's an ecological agenda. 
     The woman who just debuted her first novel in the fantasy genre still maintained she didn’t have an agenda. But, with a little nudging she admitted she believed in alien visitations and wanted her book to be about love, trust and honor. “But I didn’t do it consciously.” 
     Friend #3, a mystery writer, readily admitted “I wanted to create Christian characters but not in a book just for Christians. Although my characters screw up, they have a higher power. I didn’t want to write stereotypes.” 
     “Agenda” is not a dirty word. It doesn’t mean hitting people over the head with your viewpoint. It doesn’t have to be blatant. Webster defines it as “A plan of things to be considered.” I think that’s very important. An author needs to understand their own motivation for writing and to be very clear in their minds when they prepare to set down words on paper. 
     Authors have changed the world via novels with agendas. In 1906 Upton Sinclair wrote “The Jungle” and uncovered horrific practices in the meat packing industry that led to reform. Aldous Huxley warned us about a Brave New World, one of reproduction control and human conditioning as early as 1932. Ray Bradbury scared us with a future without books in Fahrenheit 451. 
     My friend, James Callan, posted about his latest in the post previous to this one. In A Silver Medallion he wrote a mystery about current slavery in America. J. A. Jance at the end of one of her novels tagged a warning to us about air bags taken from wrecking lots for the dangerous chemicals they contain. Would I have been aware of these issues without these books? Perhaps not.  
     I always have an agenda in my novels, my short stories and even my blogs. The seed of an idea stems from something that is currently bothering me. I’m not talking about major events like the recent deaths in Dallas. Yes, that is massive and needs to be addressed, but I’m not up for the task, it’s beyond my abilities. I would rather couch my agenda in the confines of a mystery and entertainment. 
     In Fools Rush In I wanted to present the meth drug culture and how it grew in my part of the country. It was something I dealt with every day in my job with the narcotics unit at the sheriff’s department. In Where Angels Fear I wanted to defend the right of people to their sexual preferences, whether I agree with them or not. In A Snitch In Time I addressed the issue of “Who is the better friend?” after discovering I fell short in that category. I also added lots of dead bodies and astrology. My more obvious agenda was to pull the curtain aside and demonstrate how astrology is used as a tool.  
     Do readers know they are being spoon fed my agendas? No, I don’t really think so. I believe they are reading for fun. But I do hope they are subconsciously absorbing what I have to say. Like Mary Poppins, I'm giving them a spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go down. 
     And books that have no agenda? Like the photo above, they are simply beach reads.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The story behind the story - And a free offer.


Several years ago, I read a short article in the L.A. Times about a woman who was held a virtual slave by threats to harm family members left behind in Viet Nam. I was amazed that such could happen here in the United States, so I did a little research.

What I found astounded me. One government report stated there were more slaves in the U.S. today than in 1860. Today's slaves are held not by chains, but by threats to harm family members, usually left behind in a foreign country.

This information rattled around in my head for months. I knew I would write about it. But what? How? One writer friend said it needed to be a non-fiction book. Another suggested a story based on an actual instance, interviewing someone at ICE and perhaps even a victim.

Finally, I decided it would be a fictional account. The actual truth was too heavy. Either of the approaches above would haunt me and I suspected such a book would never be finished. So I created a completely fictional story, but one I believe, based on my research, was close to the truth.

Crystal Moore discovers a young Mexican woman , Rosa, who has been
held a virtual slave because her husband in Mexico would be killed if she escaped. But many months later, Rosa learns from another woman smuggled into Texas, her husband has died. With that threat gone, Rosa manages to escape from her captor, Hunter Blackwood.

Crystal's grandmother takes Rosa in and gives her a job.

When Crystal and her Nana are visiting with Rosa, they find out about Lucita who is also a virtual slave to Blackwood. Lucita had a husband and two small girls in Mexico. But when her husband died, she could not provide the bare necessities for her children. Jose Rodriquez offered her the opportunity to make "big Yankee Dollars." Jose would arrange for a job in Texas and pay for her transportation. In addition, he would take care of the children until Lucita could save the $1,500 to pay for the girls travel to Texas. Surely, that could be done in a few months.

But once in Texas, Lucita is given a different story. She will work for Blackwood and should she leave or even tell anybody of her predicament, her children will be killed. She must stay at his massive house and is paid only a few dollars per month. She will never be able to accumulate the money to bring her girls to Texas. And other Mexican women tell her that Jose Rodriquez is indeed capable of carrying out the threat.

This revelation stuns Crystal. She is haunted by the plight of this young mother and her children. Crystal's parents were killed in an auto accident when she was seven. Nothing could be done; they were dead. But Lucita is not dead.

Crystal manages to see Lucita and it becomes clear Lucita will do nothing that might cause harm to her young girls.

Crystal tries to put it out of her mind, to forget about it. But her conscience will not let her. Nightmares plague her. She often wakes, thinking she can hear Lucita's two young girls crying. After considering various approaches, she comes to the realization that Lucita will never be free unless her girls are rescued from Jose first. Naive and driven, Crystal travels to Mexico in an attempt to rescue the two children.

If she succeeds, Lucita and her two girls will be free and reunited.

And Crystal will have two powerful and ruthless men, one in Texas and one in Mexico, who want her dead.

See the offer below.

"A Silver Medallion is a gripping, action-packed adventure from talented author James Callan.  Crystal Moore is a tough and savvy heroine ..."

 New York Times Bestselling Author Bobbi Smith

If you'd like to read the first six chapters of A Silver Medallion, send an e-mail to:   asm6@callansite.com  and just put  "6 chapters" in the subject line and your name in the body of the e-mail.  I'll send you the chapters right away.
 
A Silver Medallion is the second in the Crystal Moore Suspense series, following A Ton of Gold.

Thanks for stopping by Novel Spaces.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

"But enough about me-What to you think of me?"

I was waffling on a topic this month but I decided to talk about me! LOL! Don't worry it won't be THAT long. But I posted awhile back about how I was moving from California to Oregon. Well, I moved in January. And before I moved I promised myself that I was going to "Go places, do things, and meet people." All the things that were harder (for me) in California.

And I have made good on this promise! I went to the Rainforest Writer's Retreat which helped me start and finish a Middle Grade novel in near record time!

My book Tea Time Three came out to an utter lack of promotion on my part!! Arg! I'm sorry book!! At least you have one 5 star review on Amazon! PLEASE check it out! Share the link with your friends! Give me a guest blog spot or an interview!

I joined the SCBWI and went to a Middle Grade Bootcamp for aspiring MG authors. The day long workshop was lead by an amazing literary agent who encouraged me to send her my book when it's finished. She encouraged everyone, but she also said it to me specifically. Dare I hope? I don't know yet.

And lastly I jurt returned home from Westercon 69 this weekend armed with new information and an organization of Indie Authors to join called NIWA the Northwest Independent Writer's Association. They are putting on a book fair for Indie authors and I am determined to go to that as well! I also exhibited in the art show and people LIKED my work! Orycon wants me show in their art show and even a big name artists complimented my work!

With so much to do and join I am having to skip things or chose carefully what I go to. What event will give me the biggest ROI (return on investment). Should I try to go to the SCBWI writing retreat? Or more conventions? Which art shows would be best for my work? Should I try to self publish? What writing groups should I join? And OMG how do I promote Tea Times Three?!

I don't think I've ever had such enjoyable problems before! The change of scenery and state has lead to an even greater change in state of mind.

And of course I can never forget to just keep writing!



Monday, July 4, 2016

The Dreaded Typo Critters

This is a tough subject because it's my absolute pet peeve and it's a real true part of this biz - typos - the elephant in the book release room. Seems authors don't talk about it much online, and bless the hearts of readers, they don't mention it much to authors. But today, I just felt like writing about it. So here we go . . .


As an author with dozens of titles, I know it's extra frustrating for writers to go through the very necessary, arduous process of ensuring that books are error-free, when in fact some books end up with typos. The errors might be the word you vs. your, morning vs. mourning, text vs. test, or perhaps switching character names or missing words altogether, or even our choice of knowing when to use the word fiancé or fiancée, or worse.

Typos are those sneaky, tricky little suckers that aren't there one minute, and then they appear out of thin air the next minute, almost sticking their tongues out at us like na-na-na-na-nana! (did I spell that right?)

The typo critters always hide from the author's eyes. After all, we created the sentences, so what we see is nothing like what's really there because when reading it back, we already know what it says. And the critters can even manage to hide from the fresh eyes of the proofreader, and not just proofreader number one, but proofreaders number two, three and four. Most of us always hire more than one extra set of eyes, paying good money for such expertise, when at times we want to yank our writer fingertips out when we read a random page before or even after publication, knowing it's all crisp and clean, and then we scroll through weeks later, and bam, there they are, having hidden like sneaky little rickety word roaches in the night.

The bottom line is, no matter how proofed our stories might be, having been checked by beta-readers, production departments, or professional proofreaders, it can happen, though not always, however, the buck stops with us. Our name is on the book. We wrote it and it's our responsibility. Even when the title is published via mainstream, there can be a few errors. The reader is not going to check to see who the publisher is and blame them. Some indie publishers who vowed to have error free, quality works, have quickly found that the word roaches paid them a visit, too. All we can do is correct it and vow to do better. It's not on purpose.

The bottom line is, we really owe the readers a clean copy. They spend their hard earned money and they deserve better. They themselves can tend to miss errors because they're so caught up in the story (if it's good), but if we as authors know the typo is there, it hurts. No one's perfect, we're human, however, when and if it's distracting to the reader, in my opinion, even if we gave them 99,990 good words, those messed up 10 words can be just enough to turn a 5 star review into a 4 star, or enough for the reader to tell a friend or book club member or two, and so on, and so on,

My dear top authors, mid-list authors, new authors - how do we do our best to ensure that our books are error free? Please share your tips/opinions. And readers, we'd like your opinions as well. Let's talk about that big old elephant in the book release room! Because, sometimes, it really is there.