The L.A.L.A. Society

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At the end of March, the idea of gathering local authors to help promote each other’s work and introduce ourselves to readers and bookstores in our neighborhoods struck me. While book releases garner attention, it’s difficult to continue that promotion. There are many months between one book release and the next. How does one keep that ball rolling?

Authors today not only have to craft their next book, they must continue marketing themselves nearly nonstop. Not many have a publicist behind them, even if they are with a major publisher. The bulk of the work resides with the writer. It’s exhausting and not exactly a natural act for those who are introverted, or bad at faking otherwise. Operating off the theory of strength in numbers, the goal of the L.A.L.A. Society is to make the introduction of authors to readers much easier and organic. Having events centered around a topic more than a tome opens the calendar. Having more than one author, preferably in different genres, helps broaden the appeal, and removes some of the pressure.

The L.A.L.A. Society welcomes authors, aspiring writers, avid readers, those who keep meaning to read more and local booksellers. We should all get to know each other better.

For more information, click here.

Alligator Wrestling

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Helmut Newton’s photo of Lauren Hutton’s fearlessness.

There are many ways to go about crafting a book–or screenplay–and there are many teachers/authors/experts whose wont is to force the “right” method onto aspiring writers. Many will champion outlining (I’d rather eat glass). Some will tell you to spend time writing character biographies (I’d rather sit jury duty). Others say write a crap draft of the whole thing, then chuck it and start over with a brand new re-write (I’d rather get licensed in real estate).

There is no “right” way to write, just as there is no wrong. What a writer has to do is find their own method and then–this is the hard part–trust it.

I suppose my modus operandi may be different, or perhaps those of us who write like this are a bit less vocal about it. You see, it’s all in my head. That’s where the story gestates until it’s ready to be put onto the page. No outline. No character bios, at least none that are written down. The story and its people live in a corner of my brain, percolating. They stew when I’m talking to you, while out having dinner, at my day job slaying dragons, while I’m cooking, buying groceries, binge-watching Netflix, lying in Savasana, walking to my car or writing this post.

The story never stops churning and growing and developing…if you leave it alone and let it. That’s where the trust part comes in.

By the time I sit down to write, the story’s been clamoring for weeks (months?) to be let out onto the page. It’s usually a great rush getting it out. There’s nothing like that flow when the story is flooding the page, your fingers barely able to keep up. Fighting sleep to get one more paragraph done. Waking early to do more. Tapping into that creative vein is bliss. It’s why writer’s write.

This time, with Novel Three, I’ve been wrestling with Chapters 1 and 2 longer than I have with any of my other books. They’ve become alligators, antagonizing me and threatening the progress I hoped to be making. I expect the first three chapters to be tricky. They have to be because they must be right. They are the foundation of the book and you want them to be solid. Three chapters are about as far as any reader will give you before losing faith if your story hasn’t delivered by then (and the readers who’ll give you that long are truly generous souls). Those first chapters are where the seedlings of secrets are sown, where the payoffs begin and the world takes shape. When you do those chapters right, the rest of the book comes to life with relative ease.

Recently, I stopped alligator wrestling and trashed those two chapters. Sometimes, that’s the best way to move forward, even if it is painful. Taking a few steps back may lead to progress, but it still feels like defeat. (As you may know, I never really throw anything away. I keep the draft or have a doc set aside for cuts and edits. That’s the one thing I will recommend to all writers: keep your cuts. You’ll be able to make hard choices easier if you know they aren’t gone for good.)

Since I made that purge, I’m feeling more connected to the story. But dumping those chapters wasn’t so much my decision as that of the characters. Yes, I know that sounds nutty, but writers will understand. At a certain point, the people you create take over and start steering the ship. A good writer will step aside let them. And maybe that’s what I was failing to do.

The characters have been growing stronger, their storylines taking root, subplots blossomed and all of that shifted the tale a little, giving it new and unexpected depth. That’s another exciting thing these made-up people will do: they will surprise you. Maybe they’re able to do that because they aren’t reigned-in by an outline. Their lives aren’t carved out before the story starts. They get to have a say in what unfolds because they aren’t bound by my expectations of who they are and what they will do.

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That’s not to say the story isn’t mapped out. It is, quite clearly. The ending is even set in stone. You can’t sit down to write without having that knowledge or you will be constructing chaos. But there is a dance between the creator and the created in which you have to let them lead from time to time. They know the rules and the boundaries of their world, and you have to trust them with that. It’s not easy but it is part of becoming the writer you desire to be: one who trusts themselves and their process.

Good writing happens when you stop alligator wrestling and give up control. I finally got out of the way and let the characters have their say. I’ve come to learn how wise they can be, and how easy life is when you loosen your grip. I’m back in love with the story and the people telling it. And it’s a nice place to be.

 

Third Time’s A Charm

I’m currently writing my third novel. So far, that’s been comprised of repeatedly rewriting the first two chapters and watching a shit-ton of Netflix. I think I’ve watched every British crime series available and have found myself in awe of how, in all this time, the English are forever without an umbrella during a rainstorm, never seek shelter from it and talk on their bloody cell phones whilst standing in a downpour. Of course, these are fictional Brits, but still, it seems to be almost a fetish and it’s slightly galling.

Friends have noted how much I’ve talked about the watching (I have a long “recommend” list) but not so much about the writing. I get it. It sounds like a whole bunch of procrastination. Sometimes, it feels that way, too. But, while I’m making the most of my Netflix subscription, there’s another kind of work going on. The internal development is happening. Characters are taking shape, coming into their voices, scenes are evolving, dialogue exchanges noted. While I might appear slothlike, curled up on the sofa, I’m actually getting things done. A good portion of writing doesn’t look anything like writing at all.

Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of being at a book club where TEMPORARY served as this month’s novel. A few attendees asked me about my process and smiled, eyes wide with curiosity about how something like bookwriting is done. I gave them the Sorkin line: “Sometimes, writing looks a whole lot like lying on the sofa watching TV.” The smiles remained but I did see their enthusiasm deflate. “Really?” one asked. “Really,” I answered.

I went on to explain that the more I write, the more I find it to be like a pregnancy — from what I know about that in theory. In the early months, you are exhausted and slightly nauseated. You know there’s a long road ahead of you and you have to take care of yourself as well as this creature you’re creating. You can feel the quickening and know there are parts growing, developing into what you have envisioned and becoming something of its own.

Then, there’s the phase when you are full of energy. You cannot wait to do all the things you want to do…and there’s so much you want to do! That’s when the nesting starts; you don’t want to leave your home because you have to focus on this creation, spiffy things up and fortify its world. It’s a glorious time. However, unlike expectant mothers, writers don’t have shiny hair and glowing skin. This is where we get a bit pasty from lack of sunshine and couldn’t be bothered with hair and makeup and all that jazz because we are creating.

Finally, in those last few months, you simply want it over. Be done with it. You want to push, push, push to get it out get it out get it out because you are puffy with it, exhausted by it and you really want to get back to your real life. You sleep less, make hard choices faster and are sort of unpleasant to be around because, if you are around others, you tend to resent them because how dare they take you away from the push.

When these kind ladies asked how long it took me to write it, the eight months made even more sense and I was slightly chuffed at the anaolgy I just delivered. (They were all mothers and I can’t tell you how much I appeciated those ladies embracing a book about an unmarried woman with zero desire for kids.) Yet, I’ve come to find that when asking a writer about their process, those inquiring expect something other than how much “Broadchurch” you’ve viewed while tinkering with a page. What I think they expect, and sort of deep down want to hear, is, “Well, there is a bit of human sacrifice involved.” No one wants to hear how boring and isolating it is in between the elation and accomplishment.

What’s making this a bit different for me is that it’s the first time in a long time (twelve years) that I’ve written a book not based on something else I wrote. TEMPORARY started out as an idea for a telelvision series with three episodes written; so, basically, a fair chunk of that had been sorted. I’d done plenty of original screenplays in that time, but those have a lot more white on the page than a novel’s manuscript, a set page limit and strict structure. Screenplays are easy. Novels are a bit more of a pain in the arse. It should be comforting that I’ve had the story for Book Three in my head for nearly three years — I know where it’s starting, how it ends and key plot points to hit — but there are over twenty characters, three cities and a five-year time span, and it’s going to get complicated. Really complicated. See why I’d rather watch “Marcella”? But no one sits down to write a book because they want to do it. Writers write because we have to.

In some ways, this book feels charmed by those challenges. While I’ve been digesting “River” and “The Five” and “Paranoia”, the characters are coming to life, making some of their own choices (sounds weird, but it’s a writer thing) and the world is taking shape.  But now it’s time to get down to business and start crafting the chapters, put those words and worlds and people on the page. I’m rather excited to see where it takes me.

There are threads that weave through each novel to connect them, and not just their ZIP code, but this is likely the last in the Venice series. The first novel was about success, the second was about failure and the third is about compassion. Keep an eye out for EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE AT THE VENTURA COUNTY LINE early next year.

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