29 July 2013

Freedom to Move

Greetings Kittens,

Here at the close of July I’m still heavily in the theme of freedom. In my case, it’s freedom from the feeling of confinement.

I wrote a few months back about the treachery of one’s own body betraying them. In my case it’s ME/CFIDS & FMS and it put me on medical leave since March. The loss of income resulted in having to move in with friends in April. Fortunately, it had been something we were talking about before I got sick as a way to help us all bounce back from the recession and get a savings going again. Unfortunately, we didn’t get that planned, budgeted move we’d hoped for.

Because of the last minute, unexpected nature of the move, we couldn’t move into the larger space we’d picked out together and had to make due with the apt they already had. For a little perspective, I haven’t had a roommate in almost 15 years, and now we’ve spent the last 3+ months as four adults, two dogs and a cat in 700sq feet.

As often happens, it was one thing after another once we got here. The new place had to be renovated and we were first told it would be ready at the beginning of May, then June, then July and now it’s August and FINALLY we get to move to the 1500sq awaiting us.

To make up for the delay, we were allowed to start moving things in the moment we paid the deposit. Each day of the last ten days has seen the migration of boxes and clothes and things too long in closets. And we actually have a bedroom closet in the new place and don’t have to store everything in the hall closet, so a big step up.  

We also have a real kitchen for the baking I miss so much, and I get my own bathroom again!

It’s the little things.

Speaking of little things. Our “bedroom” was so small that we had to downsize to a full sized bed in order to be able to walk along one wall. Right now I’m waiting for that bed to get picked up and for our queen sized bed to be delivered at the new place. The new room is closer in size to the one we moved from, so my freedom of space will not only be in the entire house, but in those intimate locations where it’s oh so important.

I’m also returning to work, likely part-time as I’m still highly symptomatic, but even that gives us a significant freedom. My sweetie found employment up here about ten days after we moved. This, after three years of struggling post layoff. That alone makes the small digs and expected irritations of living with other people well worth it.

Being a two income couple again, with $200 less in rent and half the bills, opens up so much to us. From the small freedoms of catching a movie when it comes out, or getting a meal out, to the large freedoms of having a savings again and being able to travel across the country to see my family.

Ultimately, the exact things we do aren’t important, it’s having the choice to do them that is everything.

May you all have the best of choices ahead of you.

Ramble Done, Kittens!

28 July 2013

Freedom. For *all* of us to write what we want!

To finish off a long wonderful month of posts about freedom and independence I'd like to point out how darned LUCKY we are, many of us, to be born into a time and place where we can write almost anything and have it put out to the public.

It wasn't so long ago, and unfortunately is still true in some countries, that writing about same-sex relationships would get you a prison term if not worse. Writing about BDSM or unmarried people having a sexual relationship, people from different cultures or different levels of society wouldn't be tolerated and could destroy not only your career but also your personal life.

We are blessed to live in a time when a writer can, with or without a publisher, put out almost anything you want to write and make it accessible to the public. Whether they like it or not isn't part of the equation - you are able to put it out to them without fear of being lynched; of being dragged from your house and hung or having your family threatened and forced out of town.

But we can't forget that there are still writers out there being held in jail or under house arrest for expressing themselves, victims of a political or social system that won't let them write what's in their hearts and punish them for expressing themselves. There are still writers out there fighting for the freedom of free speech and we shouldn't forget them or forget how lucky we are to live in a time and place where we can not only write about almost anything we want but through the expansion of self-publishing get our dreams and thoughts out to the public.

So while we're finishing off a month of celebrating freedom let's spare a few thoughts for those who cannot say or write what they want - and hope that they'll be able to join us in the near future.

27 July 2013

Let Writing Freedom Wring--er, Ring!

As I rewrite the ending of my Steampunk Nightingale story for the seventh time (don't judge. James Thurber did it) I can't help thinking how lucky I am that I don't write screenplays.

This picture has absolutely nothing to do with the
content of this article, except a cute cat picture is
always good for an extra page view or two. And
a black cat that big is pretty much free to do
whatever he wants, of course. (Yes, he's ours. Or
we're his, depending on who you ask.)
What, you say, does that have to do with this month's theme of freedom?  Plenty.  Give me a minute, and I'll to explain, probably on my first go-round.  (I can do that with nonfiction.  Really.)

It all goes back to Save the Cat, Blake Snyder's 2005 scriptwriting guide.  As noted in the recent Slate article, "Save the Movie", Snyder's page-by-page, beat-by-beat recipe for a saleable script has become a religious icon in Hollywood circles, to the point where they even reconfigured the incidents and emphasis in the recent The Great Gatsby remake to conform with Snyder's structure.  Even Joseph Campbell's eff-ing Hero's Journey couldn't manage that, no matter how hard George Lucas tried.

There are a lot of well-intentioned writing instructors who tout Snyder's formula for all kinds of fiction. There are even folks who claim to have found an analogue for commercial fiction (I'm looking at you, Donald Maass).  But the thing is, as useful as any or all of these would-be bibles can be, when it comes to writing and selling your writing, they can't cover all the contingencies.

Which isn't to say editors don't prefer to work from a limited number of templates. Big Publishing has always had a vested interest in formula. Publishers exist to make money, after all. If they could figure out a formula that would sell as reliably Coca Cola (or Pepsi--sheesh! You people a so picky!) they'd buy it in a heartbeat and spend the remainder of human history injecting it into a succession of slowly evolving covers and formats.

But with all their knowledge of structure, form, branding, platform and target markets, the majority of published titles wither on the bookstore or electronic equivalent of the vine. There might, in fact, be three inviolable rules in writing, but nobody knows what they are. 

The next big thing always comes out of nowhere, and always demonstrates--Again!--that structure and technique don't matter beans if a story touches a nerve. That ability to touch the reader (and inspire fervent hand-selling in one's friends) is the constant that unites such "unlikely" bestsellers as Hunt for the Red October, Twilight, and 50 Shades of Gray.

And there are always more where those came from, because--unlike a Hollywood movie, which is always a multi-million dollar production--writing is cheap. Thanks to the Internet and the explosion of indie publishing, all you need to join the party is a keyboard, an Internet connection, a great story, and a lot of luck.  It's the lowest risk creative investment there is.

This is freedom.  I don't have to structure my story around the Male Hero's Journey in fifteen beats, with a statement of theme from a dissatisfied superior on p. 30.  I don't have to write about the superhero flavor of the hour.  The story doesn't have to turn into a kinderschool teaching moment. I can write about women or collective heroes.  I can write about obscure historical periods and the kind of aliens even a mother couldn't love. I can send a dragon to a conference on magic piracy, and have a siren sing about strudel. My stories can be about anything in any format, as long as they work.

And have an ending. 

Back to the keyboard.

Jean Marie Ward

26 July 2013

What Price Freedom? Invaluable!

Freedom is one of those human conditions we all strive for and yet can often be elusive, since there is a fine line between personal freedom and selfishness, the need to do your own thing balanced by the needs of others. The urge to follow our dreams versus the need to make ends meet. For most of us, these are the issues we battle with as we seek liberty—freedom to create what we want, be it a life, art, relationships, careers—but we should never forget we are the lucky ones. As a descendent of slaves I try to keep perspective by reminding myself that while I search for freedom to write what I want, to live as I like, it’s nothing in comparison to what my ancestors faced, and unfortunately what millions of people around the world still face.

Of course the search for freedom makes a wonderful plot point too, because it’s such a fundamental urge. In “Dragon’s Claim” my hero Talathion, an elf, has never known true freedom. Since the moment he was born his path has been set, the needs of his clan having to take precedent over whatever dreams he had for his own life. When his task is interrupted by an encounter with the dragon-shifter HervĂ©, Tala is left struggling to control his growing love for the other man, knowing there is no future for them. Too many others will suffer if he puts his personal freedom ahead of the task he’s been assigned.

And while HervĂ© can’t truly understand his lover’s need to do what the elf considers to be the right thing, he has to accept that the impulse to give, to elevate his clan through sacrifice, is an integral part of Tala’s character. He can’t love the man without accepting this facet of him, without accepting his freedom to be who he is at that most basic level.

And I think that is the ultimate freedom, being able to choose how we live, where and how much we sacrifice to build not only a good life for ourselves but for others. Without giving, without sacrificing for others and acknowledging those who have less, I don’t think we can truly appreciate what we have. So many people are bound in by expectations, traditions, the desperate need just to survive or the implacable control of others. If you are not one of these people, if you have the ability to choose where and how you live, what you present to others, how much of yourself you give, then enjoy that freedom. Enjoy it, and give thanks for it.

25 July 2013

From Slave to Leader: Choices Are What Makes Dinah Free

Freedom is never simple.

It's not just a matter of  escaping a tyrannical master, starting over, or even grabbing enough power so that no one can control you. It's also about changing outlooks and seeing that with freedom comes an ever-increasing array of choices, some of which affect other people's lives.

In Dinah of Seneca, my heroine is Dinah. She's a former Roman slave trained as a spy and assassin, and has traveled to a new world across the ocean to start a new life.

But she finds out her bonds aren't easily shed. She's still constrained by Roman society and set at the lower rung. She's also under obligation to the man who freed her, Roman Commander Tabor, and owes him allegiance, even if it means sacrificing herself.

What I loved about writing Dinah's journey is that she moves from seeing freedom as moving up the rungs of Roman society to finding true freedom by breaking from Roman society altogether.

At one point in the story, Dinah feels as if she's been trapped in figurative chains as her new circumstances, including a marriage of convenience to a former enemy, make her feel boxed in and helpless. Tabor points out to her that she still has choices, if she's willing to take on the consequences of those choices.

Tabor says Dinah could run and abandon them all. She could break from her new marriage and leave her new husband and his people vulnerable to destruction. Such a choice will also mean the end of the Roman community as well.

But she could survive fine on her own. It's her choice, Tabor says, to stay and try to help or leave and serve only herself.

Tabor's words changes Dinah's perspective. He's right. She could run or stay. Her choice.  And when she stays with her new husband, and finally agrees to participate in a religious ritual that requires a sexual sacrifice, she knows she's not boxed in.

She can run. She simply chooses not to.

And having decided that, she feels free, even with the burdens and obligations she has to assume on behalf of her husband and his people. Even when all seems lost, even when she's injured and all she tried to protect seems destroyed, it's worth it to her.

She's free.

Of course, Dinah receives some <g> compensation for her marriage of convenience. She receives the home she's always longed for, a position of respect and authority and the absolute, unswerving allegiance of her warrior Viking husband.

It's not the position in Roman society she dreamed about when she was freed by Tabor.

It's better.

24 July 2013

The Fickle Nature of Publishing

I have been trying to get this Steampunk/Historical Fantasy/Fairy-tale Retelling novel published for what seems like forever. It's been though edits, and total rewrites, and of, course, a myriad of rejections. Not terribly many, though it feels like a million. But what struck me this week was that I got two rejections within hours of one another, and the reasons for rejection are so...contrary. 

One publisher said there was so much to love about the book. They gave me a long list of the things they had liked about it in the two months they had it. Ah, that's nice. But then there was a long list of things they didn't like and felt would require too much revision. One stood out. They said the setting seemed like 'window dressing', and they would have liked to see more world building. Huh.

The other publisher said that there was too MUCH detail, and they would liked to have seen details shaved down to concentrate on the plot. That was the SOLE reason they gave for rejection. To be fair, it IS a 99,000 word book. There is probably some room for tightening, but...really? That's all you could find wrong? You couldn't assign an editor to work with that? But, seriously? One wanted more, the other less.

It's enough to make one drink.

It reminded me of the absolute subjective nature of publishing. Even myself, when I'm looking for books to acquire for Palomino. I read a lot of YA speculative fiction, so I know what the market is doing. I kind of look for something that will sell, of course, but mostly I look for manuscripts that I can't put down, that have great voices and that I can't live without. We've all read or heard of books that, well, we think are just awful. That a lot of people think are awful. But somewhere along the line, and editor read the manuscript and thought it was GREAT, then managed to convince other people it was GREAT, and managed to convince the accountants that it would SELL and MAKE MONEY. And then that awful book hits the shelves, and my manuscript is still unpublished.  I mean, it's okay, it's the way publishing is. It's not personal, it's a matter of taste. Of one or two people's taste.

I'm going to go find that drink.

22 July 2013

Freedom in My Writing

(photo by Diego Hernandez)

FREEDOM... Such a beautiful thing.

I'm blessed to live in a country where freedom of speech is a Constitutional right. Sure, sometimes we want to smack people for abusing that right and spouting harmful, stupid things, but to have the ability, the freedom, to say what we we feel? That right is important. It is a gift.

My forefathers insured that I could share this gift and do what I love to do--write. I take my right to write very seriously.

It is my duty and my absolute desire to create the best stories I can for my readers every time I set pen to page or fingers to keyboard. I challenge myself to dig deep and produce thoughtful, evocative, heart-touching stories. I am free to let my stories soar.

I never forget that you readers have rights too. You have the freedom to search for your own happiness and entertainment. Your time is precious. I understand that, truly I do. I can only hope that you will let me be a small part of your joy. If reading my words and living within my stories makes you feel good then we've both won.

Freedom. Love. Happiness.

Let them ring.


21 July 2013

Freedom - Oh yeah, I'm all over that!

When I think of Freedom as an individual - much of the concept revolves around Financial vs. Self and the conflict between the two.  Having been raised by children of the sixties, my parents wanted nothing more for me than to be happy.

Well parents - Mission accomplished! 

Now I'm not saying I don't have problems like the rest of the world.  I have illness, bills and some debt.  I hate when simple decisions are made by financial need.  Things like going to a movie, taking a trip, or even picking up a good book.  :(

Considering these items, I'm overall happy with my life. Why? I have the freedom of writing - an opportunity to escape, to a world I love, and make some money along my journey.

These days I tend to be more of a Hobbie Writer - doing it in my spare time when I'm not working the M-F gig to pay the bills.  However, I have big dreams - I plan to gain my financial freedom with my writing.  I don't need millions of dollars, though that would be nice. :)   Thanks to said hippie parents, I've never been one to live much beyond my means. 

My husband, finally achieve his freedom to do and be what he loves.  He went back to school, and now is an instructor to student pilots.

This brings me to the second part of my Freedom concept -self.  When you have to pay bills and meet financial obligations, this requires you to have money.  For most authors this means you have to either, make enough money writing, or keep a job. For most, this tears us between writing and work.  A rock and hard place.  We need to work to make money, but sometimes a job inteferes with our creative process by consuming our time, energy and resources.

What's a writer to do?  There is a school of thought that in order to "make it", you need to focus only on your writing.  Quit your day (or night) job and treat writing as a business.  This might work for some people, but it would not work for me.   I think if I treated my creative process as work, I might not enjoy it as much.  

In order for me to achieve results as a writer, I need to achieve a sense of self.  Who am I?  How do I want people to remember me? If you're not sure, imagine introducing yourself at a community cocktail party (not a conference, not the company Christmas party, and maybe not necessarily your own community).

"Hi my name is Tina."
"Hi Tina.  What do you do?"

There it is- what do you do?  How do you answer this question?  Are you an author?  Do you get into specific genres or only when prodded?  Do you identify more with a title you have at work?  Do you identify with being a parent, spouse or some other connection? 

To say,  "I'm a parent putting two kids through college," does not make me less of a writer.  It's simply my sense of self - right now, at this time, in my life.  As I go on, I will talk about the books I write, and the fortune 500 company I work for.  Identifying my sense of self, helps give way to my goals (where I want to be), and give me a sense of achievable Freedom in my future.  

"You have freedom when you're easy in your harness."  ~Robert Frost

12 July 2013

Don't tell me what to do!

Freedom means a lot of different things to me, depending on my mood and the context.

In general, it means the freedom to make choices -- whether that's how to vote; where to go to church or if I go to church at all; what to watch on television; what to eat; what to read; and of course, what to write.

I was once asked about my choice to write romance. The exact question wasn't put so nicely and I remember that moment well. It was asked, not with curiosity so much as with judgmental derision. She might as well have asked me: "What are you thinking?"

Yes, most of us know that romance -- in any form or sub-genre -- has a bad rap. Honestly, if I hear/read one more reference to romance novels as being "mommy porn", I might throttle someone.

I. HATE. That. It angers and frustrates me to no end.

But back to my brief confrontation: I smiled; bit back a mixture of hurt and anger, and replied: "Because I'm a romantic at heart."

Which is the truth. I believe in love and romance -- although I admit 'romance' often takes a backseat in everyday life.

I crave the happy ending that isn't always guaranteed in other literature or in life itself. Steven King is a master storyteller, but you can bet most of his characters will not live happily-ever-after. I'll still read his stories because, well, he's amazing. But I can only take so much before I turn back to romance.

It's my choice what I read and what I write. Freedom is a wonderful concept.

Meg Allison

Indulge your senses...

07 July 2013

Canada D'eh?

So our Independence Day was July 1st.

In 1867 Canada became a nation, but with ties to Britain still. Queen Elizabeth II is our figurehead, but it was her great-great grand daughter of Queen Victoria who gave granted Canada to become a nation.

We don't have a president. We have a Prime Minister.

We spell things with u's like colour and favourite. As I type this spell checker is seriously underlining the words with red.

It doesn't like the u words. ;)

We love poutine and our beer is a wee bit stronger than yours!

I love being Canadian and though Canada Day has passed, the theme this month was Independence and pride.

I'm proud of being Canadian, eh.

You can find out more about Amy and her latest releases at:

Web: http://www.amyruttan.com
Blog: http://amyruttan.blogspot.com
Twitter: @ruttanamy

01 July 2013

Catch a Tiger by the Tale

Catch a Tiger by the Tale Blog Tour

TT | 07 | 2K13 | 01

Welcome to the first blog post of the Catch a Tiger by the Tale Blog Tour, celebrating the release on Tuesday, July 23rd, of our second book the Chicagoland Shifters series, TIGER TIGER.  We're excited about the chance to continue the series and we wanted to take this opportunity to thank all of our readers and writing friends for the support and guidance during the process of brining this book to completion.

One of the hardest things about writing a novel, I've found, is sustaining the creative output for the long haul.  It's a little like weight loss or, I've heard, training for a marathon (I've participated in weight loss efforts but haven't run a marathon).  Each day brings its challenges in the form of one's day job, family responsibilities, and plain and simple exhaustion.  Time management skills that one learned in school suddenly become all-important because without it, we can lose entire weeks watching television or farting around on the internet with no word count to show for it.

If I were to pick one of my favorite tools, it would be the "30/30" method.  Here's how it works:

You need a digital timer, ideally.  If you don't have one, you can purchase one at retailers like Target in the kitchen section.  If you have a smart phone, you can use the alarm function on it.

Set the timer for 30 minutes and, during that time, brainstorm all the things that you want to get done - whether or not they'll fit into your day, regardless of whether you want to do them - just get everything in one place to start.  And don't worry - you can add and delete stuff on this master task list as you need to.

When the timer dings, or rings, or sings at you, or buzzes, or any of a hundred other alerts, stop.  Step back and get yourself some coffee, tea, or ice water and relax.  Set the timer for another 30 minutes and this is your "Off" time - time for you to fart around online or play video games or whatever other relaxing task you enjoy (try knitting).

When the timer dings, focus on one thing on your list.  The idea here is to pick the most important - "important" as in, time-sensitive or something you don't get to focus on or, worse, procrastinate over (i.e., your writing).  Don't worry about doing more than 30 minutes.  All we're after right now is a focused 30 minutes - that's easy, right?  You don't have to write the whole novel in one sitting; just write what will fit in 30 minutes.

Ding!  Turn the timer off and relax for 30.  Have a snack.  Read a book.  Do something rewarding.  In this way, you can while away an entire weekend day and at the end of it, have a lot to show for it!

What's your favorite productivity tool?

And, so you're not dying with suspense, here is the blurb for TIGER TIGER for you to enjoy.  We hope you like reading it as much as we did writing it!

Chicagoland Shifters, Book 2

Veterinary trauma surgeon and animal empath Sasha Soskoff has found everything he ever wanted with his new partners Neal, Steve and Carlos. Life feels as safe and secure as it can be among a group of ex-Marine tiger shifters. Until a homeless man is found, gruesomely mauled and murdered, near Neal’s BDSM club.

When it’s determined a rogue tiger did the deed, the jaguars’ accusing eyes turn toward Sasha’s lovers. The precarious balance of peace tips dangerously toward war.

Neal knows damned well none of his tigers committed the crime. Someone must be in Chicago without his knowledge or permission, and they’d better find him fast before uncertainty and conflict rip the tight-knit band apart from the inside.

As Sasha struggles to heal the stress fractures forming among his tiger family, he begins to wonder if his dreams of a home, and love, were too good to be true. And it’s precisely that moment the killer strikes at the heart of the tiger clan—Sasha himself.

TIGER TIGER, available from Samhain Publishing July 23rd.