31 May 2011

Music as a Muse

There is no doubt in my mind that music has influenced my life much more profoundly than most people I know. Hearing a song takes me to specific times and places in my memory -  "Be My Baby" by the Ronettes was my oldest sister's favorite song in 1963 when I was five.

Everything relates to a song or lyrics for me. It took a very long time to realize that not everyone feels that connection.  I've won a couple of radio contests here and there naming snippets of songs with not only the title but the artist and year. Can't tell you how much five plus seven is but I know "Never Comes the Day" by the Moody Blues came out in 1969 from the album On the Threshold of a Dream because my eleven year old self thought that was the greatest cosmic album. Ever.

I dream melodies and almost always wake with a specific rendition in my head. Sometimes it's something silly like Oscar the Grouch singing, "I Love Trash." There are mornings when I don't remember what I've dreamed but the song lingers like perfume.

Music shapes my mood when I'm writing. While writing fun scenes in Dragon & Hawk, I deliberately listened to upbeat Welsh hornpipes and Irish reels. I had a whole soundtrack to the novel I put together on a cd... Evan and Reyna's love theme was "Love and Liberté" by The Gypsy Kings. When they were having their difficulties, the song was "When My Love and I Parted" by the Irish group Solas. Action scenes required active tunes such as Chuck Mangione's "Children of Sanchez."

For Within The Mists I listened to an old British folk tune called "Port Mahon," about a young woman who falls in love with a sailor who sails away on his tall ship to battle and never returns, as well as more Solas tunes such as "The Grey Selchie" and "Darkness, Darkness."

Music puts me in a place, colors my perception, and helps me envision what is evolving for my characters. More than that, it is the soundtrack to my life...

29 May 2011

Interview on The Reluctant Blogger

Join Ashley Barnard and me today for tea and a fun discussion of creepy crawlies and imaginary friends on her blog, The Reluctant Blogger.

22 May 2011

Writing and Discipline

I don't write every day.

There. I said it. I am a bad writer. Although I should probably clarify that statement. The current trend in advice to writers is to sit down and discipline yourself to write at least a thousand words every day. Which I do not do.

Oh, I write on a daily basis. Patient notes, reports, letters, emails to friends... But sitting at the keyboard and plunking out a new chapter in a story every day? Nuh-uh.

Is it a good discipline to develop? When every word should be a nugget of information, spewing tripe just to get a thousand words onto the page seems counterproductive. On the other hand, getting the garbage out may allow the brain clarity and a chance to tap straight into the good stuff. And to be honest, every writer can produce some real stinky stuff.

My methodology is to stew, ferment, and then gush. I think about a story a long time before I start to write. I read, research, read more, and then hike a local canyon with the characters in my mind. I consider scenarios, conversations, conflicts, and timelines. I've recently started writing the timeline first, in longhand to keep by my computer for easy reference.

Once my thoughts are filled with the characters and their situations, the words pour out. I find myself rushing to the keyboard and staying late, concentrating to the exclusion of nearly everything else, irritated and grouchy as hell when interrupted. Hence all the burnt dinners-- well, that and my diabolical plan to force someone to take me out to eat. Doesn't really work, though. I seem to taste lots of charcoal bits...

But back to the subject of discipline. Writing on a daily basis isn't easy and for some people who also have a day job, it isn't feasible. But when I do get to sit down and work on a manuscript or story,  I let the gush run until I can't type any more. Once I have the rough draft, I go back and edit mercilessly before I send it anywhere.

Discipline is important. Whether to produce volume or slash unnecessary verbiage, every writer must exercise their skills. The question is what works best for you, your style, and your life responsibilities.

What methods have you found help you?

15 May 2011

Interview with a Fantasy Fox

Happy Sunday everyone! For a change of pace, I've invited fantasy author Ashley J. Barnard to stop by for a cuppa and a chat. If you appreciate dark fantasy, swordplay, and complex characters, I cannot recommend her books more highly. Seriously. I got hooked into the storyline and absolutely had to finish each the day I began. Here then, I've brewed a pot of Paned Gymreig and picked up some cinnamon scones...Good, huh?

You won Novel of the Year from Champagne Books—congratulations! How often are you polishing that trophy?

Ha, ha, I’m afraid to touch it! I’m a pretty terrible klutz, and knowing me I’d drop it. It’s on the piano in my living room – my daughter just won a bowling trophy and was so excited to put it up next to mine.

And thanks, by the way – I’m still having a hard time believing it.

You have said your award-winning novel, Shadow Fox and the newly released Fox Rising, sprang from writings when you were twelve—and the trauma of your parents divorcing.  Whose books influenced you during that time? How did you adapt the story or change the characters as you matured?  

I was just making the transition from Choose-Your-Own Adventure novels into “adult” fantasy novels. I picked up Split Infinity by Piers Anthony from a used bookstore and was hooked. My mom thought it was sweet that I was still reading unicorn books until I gave it to her to read and she discovered the unicorn turns into a woman and has voracious sex with the book’s protagonist. I devoured the whole series.

The story really appealed to me because – and I am making my way back to your question – something magical and childlike could change form and have human desires and passions. I was going through puberty at the time and so my own stories, which were about foxes, were going through a similar transition. I gave my foxes the ability to turn into humans, and a year or two later, they became human permanently. And with that came a slew of human conflicts and emotions.

Do you find writing intensely in the dark realm of fantasy taxing on your real life?

When I wrote the first draft several years ago I found that very much to be true. I was in a dark place already, and that just pulled me in more. When I finished that first draft, I cut off all my hair and started wearing black. I almost went Goth, but I’m too airy-fairy at heart and found my way back eventually. Having a child really helped; it’s hard to be in a dark place when you have a little bundle of smiles. I think she helps keep me balanced, because when I went back to do the rewrites, I was able to stay centered and happy.

Your experience at LepreCon, the fantasy convention in Tempe, was difficult, wasn’t it? What is the one thing you would advise another newbie to avoid at all costs? Would you still consider attending a larger event such as ComicCon in San Diego?

Yes, it was hard! I did have fun also, but unfortunately I came away from the whole experience unsure I would ever do it again. Probably the number-one thing I would advise other newbies would be to assert their boundaries. I worry way too much about hurting feelings, so it takes me a really long time to speak up and say, hey, that’s not all right. I would also advise bringing buddies. I felt like being a lone woman put me at a disadvantage. People that hovered around the table probably thought they were keeping me company, but plopping down in the seat next to me for almost an hour wasn’t particularly welcome.

I think a larger event would be more fun, but of course it costs an arm and a leg to rent a table at a place like CominCon. I think if I had reinforcements I’d definitely consider it.

What’s next for you after Night of the Fox?

I’m putting the finishing touches on a Victorian romance called In Byron’s Shadow, and I have several WIPs [Works in Progress] that I need to revisit. My agent has some nibbles for foreign language rights for Shadow Fox – I never dreamed I would be translated! I don’t know what that entails, but I think – ahem – an international book-signing tour will be in order. : )

If you had the opportunity to talk to the young girl you were as you began writing, what words of caution and encouragement would you leave under her pillow?

I’d be afraid to say anything. When I look back, I see how perfectly it all fell into place, how one circumstance led to another. I’d be so afraid to leave a ripple that could jeopardize everything. I’d love, for instance, to tell myself hey, watch out for that *&$#@ boyfriend on the horizon, you don’t need that guy. But that guy pinned me into a corner and in desperation I moved to Arizona where I met my future husband, started a theater company, got some plays published, had a wonderful little girl and then saw my dream unfold. While it took FOREVER to get published, many stories came to life during that time that may not have been born had I taken a different route. I suffered for it here and there, fearing it would never happen. But if I’d known ahead of time how it would work out...well, it might have made me lazy. : )

That’s a great question, by the way. It’s something I think about a lot because I was so desperate for a sign from the universe. But the universe knew it was up to.

Thanks so much for agreeing to join me on my blog, Ashley.  

Thank you so much for having me; we desert gals need to stick together!

Ashley J. Barnard has been writing steadily for almost twelve years, ten seasons running the Actors' Renaissance Theatre, a small, Shakespearean company which gave her the opportunity to direct, write, and act in plays. She has authored seven novels and two published short stories. Shadow Fox was her first published novel (awarded Novel of the Year for 2010 by Champagne Books) and its sequel, Fox Rising is now available. The third book of the series, Night of the Fox, will be published in September 2011. Ashley resides in Phoenix, Arizona with James, her husband of sixteen years (who is also a writer as well as an English professor), eight-year-old daughter Alexandria, and Sophie the Welsh Corgi. 

on Amazon: Shadow FoxFox Rising 
Also available from Champagne Books 

08 May 2011

On Mothers

Happy Mother's Day. When you're a child, your mother is Super Woman: she takes you everywhere, bathes, dresses, and feeds you, fixes your hurts  - and seems to have eyes in the back of her head. As you grow older you begin to see cracks in the shiny armor in which your imagination clad her and perhaps it tarnishes a little. When you become a parent yourself, she is Mother Wisdom in your eyes, someone who knows everything about babies. 

None of these incarnations are entirely true, of course. Mothers are human beings with strengths and frailties just the same as everyone else. Some have motherhood thrust upon them as a surprise and struggle to cope as a small wriggling screamer is laid in their arms. Others have prior experience and it's all old hat.

But one thing is certain: you mother influences your life like no other being on the planet. Whatever your relationship is or was with your mother colors your outlook. When you realize this, you can then seriously consider what you want to keep and what you may need to change. 

Rosemary Olivas Johnson (R) circa 1944
My mother was a stronger woman than many in my immediate family gave her credit for. Rosa Maria Ceballo y Olivas grew up in Depression-era Tucson in the historic barrio where the Community Center Music Hall now stands; a smart Mexicana who graduated from Tucson High and married an airman who was shot down over Germany barely two months later. Widowed, she left her home and and the comfort of the barrio culture to join the Navy and be sent East among primarily Anglos with strong prejudices. She married a Navy corpsman who took her to his hometown area of western Pennsylvania at a time when there were no Latinos there (let alone Mexicans), no one spoke any  language other than English, and even her mother-in-law treated her badly because of her brown skin. As the 1950s became the 1960s, the pressure to be like everyone else was huge. She became Rosemary Johnson and didn't teach us much about being Mexican. She never made tortillas but once in awhile she'd buy canned ones (Ortega corn -- nasty) and make tacos. But ooh, she made a mean salsa with banana peppers and chile con queso...

I spoke Spanish as a child but that was drummed out as soon as I started school at first grade. Grade school Spanish was that of Spain not Mexico and the words I knew were dismissed as "peon." ( I can still see my third-grade Spanish teacher's puckered up, sour-lemon face when I told her my name most certainly was not Cochita -- because that meant pig...) American culture back then had no room for hyphens: we weren't Mexican-Americans, there were no African-Americans or Asian-Americans or whatever. We were supposed to be Wonder Bread-eating, Stars and Stripes Forever, plain old Americans. Which wasn't really a bad thing to hope for as an ideal: that all Americans were Americans first. Reality being something vastly different of course.

My mother fed a family of five kids, two grandparents, her husband, her eldest children's friends, and herself on a budget of $200 per month. She managed to put wholesome meals on the table at least nightly, cleaned her three-story farmhouse totally by herself, did laundry and ironing - even starching my father's shirts - and tried to have a little life for herself with two or three women friends. My father put a halt to her bowling league days because he thought she would "get a reputation." (Translation: she was having too much fun.) She learned to drive at age 40 and ran us all over the county until we learned to drive ourselves. She learned to thrive in a culture not her own, assimilated into the local farm community, and supported my father's activities in the Lions, Shriners, Masons, and Rotary.

Now I see the similarities between my mother's life and my own. She left the barrio and her family behind - I left the East and Wonder Bread ways to embrace my heritage in the town she abandoned. She had little to no contact with her siblings; neither do I. She had a few close women friends; so do I. But where she was not permitted to be her own woman, I am more than fiercely independent. I watched what she went through, how hard she worked for little appreciation, and vowed that would not be my way.

Yet what she taught me with rules and consequences, respect and manners, has forged me into the mom I became with my son. And I can only hope to emulate what a loving and giving grandmother she became. (Just not too soon, okay?)

Feliz Dia de Las Madres. Happy Mother's Day.

05 May 2011

¡Fiesta! Cinco De Mayo

¡Felicidades, mis amigos y amigas! Es Cinco de Mayo - at which point most Mexicans will look at you and basically say, "Yeah, so?"

Cinco de Mayo celebrates the Battle of Puebla, when a small force of ragtag Mexican soldiers and peasants defeated the French Army in 1862. Eight thousand French soldiers and loyalists marched toward Veracruz to try and colonize the poor, bankrupt nation. Mexican President Benito Juarez gathered what soldiers and peasants he could - many armed only with machetes and hunting rifles - to stop them. Nearly 500 French solders were killed on this day while the Mexicans only lost 100. It was a great moral victory for the Mexicans.

But this is NOT Mexico's Independence Day. That is September 16th, celebrating the 1810 defeat and liberation from Spain's rule. And Cinco de Mayo honestly isn't celebrated all that much in Mexico. It was an extremely bloody battle and didn't end the French occupation - that took six more years. Some historians trace the start of the Cinco de Mayo celebration to 1863 California - and the Southwestern US adopted the commemoration as a reason to celebrate Mexican culture and heritage. Now of course, it's mainly marketed as a day to drink Corona and eat chalupas.

So if you're in the mood, whip up some chicken enchiladas and raise a bottle of Modelo Negra  or a couple of tequila shooters to those machete-wielding mestizos. ¡Viva México! 

03 May 2011

One Hectic Weekend...

Goodness gracious! This past weekend was one for the record books, wasn't it?

First, the Royal Wedding of Wills and Kate, which to be honest, I really didn't care about enough to sit up and watch. They look a lovely couple and I wish them more happiness than his poor mum ever had with his dad, but the ostentatious show of wealth doesn't interest me enough to mess up my sleep patterns. I looked at the photos the day after, thought Kate looked absolutely stunning and elegant. William favors his mother, lucky boy, and appeared to be genuinely happy. But I guess as an American, modern royalty and their doings don't fascinate me as much as the history does. I mean, I'm addicted to watching The Tudors, and Elizabeth I is one of my all-time favorite strong women, but the modern Royal Family are mainly of German descent and seem to be even more dysfunctional than my own gene pool.

Second, the White House Correspondents' dinner was absolutely hilarious. The President poked fun at himself but Seth Myers' skewering of Donald Trump gave a brilliant example of biting satire. Trump was not amused, demonstrating exactly why the man should not be elected to any public office - besides the fact that he's bankrupted his own businesses twice. You can't be thin-skinned and be in politics.

Third of course, the real Mission Accomplished: Navy Seals Section Six taking out Osama Bin Laden. Yes, I know it isn't supposedly a good thing to rejoice over someone's death but this man was definitely on a par with Hitler, Stalin, and Idi Amin. And no, the threat from terrorism is not over at all. But it is a sense of completion at last, a resolution fulfilled that Americans are happy about more than the death of such an evil man. At least, that's how I see it.

So, how was your weekend?