Saturday, January 28, 2012

Holidays and Deadlines

I'm not a big fan of holidays.  I have a reason to dislike each, but I'll example the upcoming Valentine's Day.  Lucky for me, I am someone's Valentine, which means flowers and an overpriced dinner out.  Chances are, I'll feel more like a bowl of soup that night, but, I'll go out.  I'd much rather have flowers on, let's say, February 7.  Why the 7th?  Because absolutely nothing is on the calendar for that day, which means if I got flowers it would be because someone wanted to send them, not because 'everyone else was doing it.'  And I don't even want to think about that feeling of 'nobody loves me' that comes from a February 14th when you aren't someone's Valentine.  Lame. Lame holiday.

I am a big fan of organization. I make lists, I keep up a calendar, I plan just about everything ahead.  If I go somewhere for more than a day, I guarantee you I will have a binder with brochures, schedules, maps, travel information and the like.  Yes, a binder, tabbed and color-coded.  And I'm serious about it.  If something makes it on my schedule, I can guarantee, save malicious intent or an act of God, that that task will be performed by said date and time.   

While I was in school, I had deadlines to meet for manuscript submissions.  Never missed one, didn't even come close, in fact, I think I was ahead by more than a month a few times. 

But school is out, and I have no more deadlines.  I have instead, holidays, coming at regular intervals throughout the year; and did I mention I hate holidays? 

So I have decided, in my dislike of holidays, to embrace them and use them for good instead of evil.  I am a writer, and I want deadlines.  It forces me to say, "I have work to do, got a deadline to meet," and in just saying that, I will work. Hard.  So my holiday schedule for this year looks something like this:

Valentine's Day-First draft done on WIP
St. Patrick's Day-1st half revised
Easter-2nd half revised
Etc., etc. etc.

And in doing nothing more than coming up with this little idea, I've done two things. I've committed myself to writing and I have found a reason to celebrate every month. 

So as each holiday rolls around this year, I won't be the Debbie Downer who goes on and on about how disgusting green beer really is or how Columbus didn't actually discover America.  Instead, I will raise my glass to whatever it is we are supposed to be celebrating.  Another deadline met.  Now that is a reason to celebrate. 

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Chopsticks and Changes in a Digital World

When my sons were children, one of our favorite books to read was The Musical Life of Gustav the Mole by Michael Twinn.  The book follows Gustav's rich and diverse musical education as he learns not only about various instruments, but the importance of music in our lives.  The best part; It came with a cassette tape (hey, at least it wasn't an eight track) that allowed the reader to hear the sounds of the instruments being played in the book and to sing along with the songs Gustav's mother would sing. 
Author Jessica Anthony
Of course, at the time, there were other books that also offered an enhancement to the reading experience.  'Touch and Feel' books like Pat the Bunny come to mind, pop-up books and even scratch and sniff.  I loved these variations for my children because it allowed them to use their other senses while reading a story.
So interactive books, in one form or another, is not new to the industry.  Fast forward twenty-some years to the now.  Sure there are still books that come with CD's and other 'accessories' to complement the hard copy.  But we have entered a new age in books---the digital age.  And honestly, how do you scratch and sniff your Kindle?

Easy. You write a book that is also a digital app.  Actually, it isn't 'easy' at all.   In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, author Jessica Anthony discusses the process involved in creating her newest novel Chopsticks, a collaboration with graphic designer Rodrigo Corral.  It incorporates video clips, IM messages and photo albums to tell the story.  The book is scheduled to be released the first week of February and I can't wait.  I've already pre-ordered the digital version and the hardcover.

 There will always be opponents of any type of 'reading' that doesn't involve picking up an eight hundred word tome and flipping through pages.  But let's admit it, the world is changing, and so is the way we read.  According to Bowker Market Research as mentioned in the article above, "digital titles accounted for 14% of books sold in the second and third quarters of 2011, up from 4% for all of 2010."  Oh, yes, things are changing and they are changing very quickly.

Are books like Anthony and Corral's Chopsticks the answer?  Possibly.  They are definitely a turn toward the future and authors and publishers should be paying attention.  Readers are.  I am, too.

So I will be anxiously waiting for my two versions of Chopsticks in the coming weeks: the traditional book version (which isn't, incidentally, traditional at all) and the interactive, enhanced digital version.  Yes, I am a fan of Jessica Anthony's writing, but I also want to 'see' what she has envisioned for the future of digital books.  This is the beginning, and Anthony is one of the pioneers.
And in the words of the great philosopher Kevin Cronin: "if you're tired of the same old story, turn some pages....(and) roll with the changes."

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Hello, Mojo

The word 'mojo' has taken on several meanings throughout history, from the moco medicine men of Cameroon to the amulets and charms of Mississippi African Americans in the 1920's to Austin Powers sex appeal to the Urban Dictionary's definition of self-confidence, self-assuredness and ability to bounce back from a negative attitude (among other things, if you are familiar with the Urban Dictionary).      

Whatever it is, for the past six weeks or so, I had lost mine.  At least when it came to writing.

My lucky charms
Maybe it was the fact that I had just completed a novel that has been my life for the past two years and exhaustion had finally set in.  Maybe I had rubbed my 'mojo's' or lucky charms so much that the magic just wore off.  Maybe I was worried that my writing wasn't good enough, so why bother. Maybe, Maybe, Maybe.

I stared at blank pages day after day, recycled old stories that had been discarded, lit my candles and said my prayers. Nothing. Nada. Nichts. I could barely write a grocery list, much less a story or, heaven forbid, start on the next novel I had in me. 

For all my self-doubt, all my negative thoughts, all my misdirected anger I knew I had to get my mojo back. 
I just didn't know how.  

As Austin Powers would say: Yeah, baby!
It began at The Gun Store in Las Vegas.  For Christmas, I had bought gift certificates to a shooting range for my sons and four of their friends.  They convinced me to go with them, even though I had never shot a gun in my life. I took some of my frustration out on a clown target, and discovered that I actually liked the feel of the gun.  My pen is usually my gun, the tool that allows me a certain release.  I gained some of my self-confidence because as a novice, I wasn't bad at shooting. I didn't hit the target every time, but when I did, that clown quit laughing. I recognized the metaphor.

Then I went 'snowglobing', a term I have to credit my good friend, RWW Greene. Inside a fabulous hotel in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, I could look out at the snow, while inside the characters ran wild.  Five days, outside of my element in a world I could fantasize, play, write, people watch.  A new world. A created world.  Although I was in the company of several old friends, I met new friends, with different experiences and found some inspiration.  It comes from strange places, you know.
Scene from inside the Snow Globe

Last Saturday night, my confidence level shot to an all-time high.  I graduated with my MFA in Fiction from Southern New Hampshire University and was introduced by one of the four men I admire most: The Father, Son, Holy Ghost and Craig Childs. When he introduced me, his first words were "Kelly Stone Gamble kicks ass." Getting praise for your writing from someone like Craig Childs kicks ass.

I came home on an all-time high and again, stared at a blank page.

Then I had an idea and started to type.
In three days, I have now written six chapters on a new novel.  Yes, six rough chapters, but my mind is turning  and I pretty much have the story line in my head, and with the help of a friend, have created a few very interesting characters.  I can't wait to see what they do. 

So somewhere between a gun shop in Las Vegas and a snow covered mountain in New Hampshire, I found my mojo; and it's working overtime.

Or maybe it isn't mojo at all. Maybe I just needed to get out of the ordinary, needed a little change.

 Maybe I just needed something to relight that fire.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

A Long Way, Baby

About a year ago, a friend of mine read a piece of non-fiction I had attempted that included the following line:

"I was about to graduate from high school, something I thought I would never do."

She highlighted this line and made the comment:  I just can't believe this.   

I had to laugh because my "now" friends don't know me like my "then" friends do, so I can see how that line may surprise them.  But it is very true.  And I've come a long way, baby. 
School was never difficult for me.  I'm not saying I was highly intelligent, not at all, it just came easy.  I think it does for some people, and I was lucky.  Really lucky, considering that I attended so many different schools in my life: 20+ and still counting.  But it wasn't the school changes that made me write the line above. 

I was a teenage runaway. Twice.  The first time I was only gone for 4 months. I was fourteen, so getting back into school was easy when I finally came home after that eye-opening summer.  But the second time wasn't as easy. I was gone almost a year, and by the time I made it home, I was 17.  My friends were in their Senior year, and I had missed a lot of school.  Oh, I had learned a lot in that year, but not anything that would ever show up on a comp exam---and several things that my peers would never know.  Thank God.

Honestly, I wasn't sure I wanted to go back.  I had seen a lot of things in the previous year, and looking toward the future, well, it didn't look very bright.  College wasn't going to be an option.  I lived with my Dad and we were very poor.  A job seemed like such a better idea at the time.  But I had a history of not choosing the 'better' idea, so I did go back, thinking at the very least, I would get my high school diploma.

It's hard to go back and be a kid when you have already been an adult, and I wasn't very good at that. Luckily for me, I lived with my Dad, who understood, and just stood by me and let me try to be both.  I showed up to school drunk more often than not, I missed enough days  the last semester that it is a miracle they allowed me to graduate, and I was listed with two others in our high school yearbook as "The Best Partiers", if that gives you any indication of how things went.

But I did it, and I got that little piece of paper, which never is far from me.  Do you know where your high school diploma is? Mine is right here, within reach of my desk---and I look at it a lot.  Of all of the bad decisions I made as a teenager, that was, undoubtedly, the best decision I made.  It took me a few years to get my life in order, but when I was ready, that little piece of paper was ready too.
I discovered over the years that I liked school.  I liked learning.  And although I learned a lot on the street, it was strength of mind that made me powerful and gave me the most joy.   So I kept going.  And haven't stopped. 

Today, I graduate with my Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing---my second Masters degree.  I will add that to my Bachelors in History and Business Administration and my Diploma in Nursing.

Tomorrow, I will start looking at what is next.  I want to learn Spanish.  I want to learn to ballroom dance.  I also want a law degree and a PhD. 

I think I'll do them all.