Jenna Black's Blog Experiment

Wherein romance author Jenna Black plunges into the terrifying new territory of blogging . . .


Thursday, March 30, 2006

Mind Games

Writing can be such a mind game sometimes!

Before I got my cover art for Watchers, I was really moving along on my current project, an urban fantasy. I'd been thinking about it constantly, having multiple writing sessions per day, etc. Now, it's all I can do to get my butt in the chair and pound out a few words. And it's not just because I've been spending time updating my website to incorporate the cover, either. Somehow, getting that cover has just really derailed me from thinking about my current project. Instead, I find myself daydreaming about what it's going to be like when the book comes out.

You'd think exciting news like that would spur a bout of creativity, but it doesn't work that way for me. At least, it hasn't this time.

So, how do I defeat this distraction and go back to writing as quickly and easily as I was before? I haven't figured it out yet, but I will. Each time there's a bump in the road, I have to figure out just what kind of mind game I have to play with myself to get around it. And it seems like the same thing never works twice.

The last couple of days, I've been trying the brute force method. Just sit down and write and never mind if it's any good. That hasn't helped me open the creative floodgates yet, but at least it means I'm making progress. I'm now using this blog as another type of mind game--maybe if I write this all down, it will get it out of my system.

Of course, maybe all I need is a little time. Maybe I need to give myself permission to bask in the pleasure of seeing my wonderful cover. Maybe I'm showing my native impatience yet again by insisting I have to plunge immediately back into my current project. Only time will tell.

Monday, March 27, 2006

My Fabulous Cover

I just got the cover art for Watchers in the Night today. I am so thrilled I haven't stopped smiling for three hours. My face is starting to hurt!

It was worth the wait, and I'm happy to have the release date delayed for a month so I could have this cover.

You know, it's starting to feel like this whole getting published thing might actually be real . . .

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Stupid Writer Questions

I'm in the process of working on a new book, and I got stuck again with what I like to refer to as "Stupid Writer Questions." All right, I use the word "stupid," but they're not really stupid, they're just . . . odd.

Stupid Writer Questions are the kinds of questions that you can't find a quick answer for on the Internet or in a book. If you have a book, you have to read it cover to cover just to find that one little tidbit you need to know. If it's on the Internet, you don't on which of the 1,000,000 hits you get on your search might be the one you need. And usually, they're these tiny, trivial little things that you still don't dare get wrong.

So, here's the thing that was bugging me last week that set off this semi-rant about the miserable existence of writers. I have a scene in the book where my heroine fires a Taser. I found all kinds of good information on the Internet about how Tasers work. I found videos of people getting shot with Tasers. I even found an online manual. You'd think that would tell me everything I needed to know, right?

Wrong. Because my scene doesn't stop after she fires the Taser and the guy goes down. My Stupid Writer Question was: now what happens? How does she disconnect the wires from her Taser? What does she do with the wires and probes when she's done? I did finally find a Yahoo Group dedicated to weapons info for writers, and was able to "talk" to people who actually have used Tasers or have experienced the aftermath (for example, EMTs). But I can't tell you how much time I spent chasing that answer.

I really hate doing research. There are two reasons for it. One is that it's so hard to try to ferret out the one esoteric fact you need. The other is that I just have no patience. Because, you see, when I'm scouring the Internet trying to figure out whether you throw out the wire and probes when you're done, I'm not writing my book. Once I get working on something, I tend to get obsessive about it. It's kind of like how I feel as reader when I'm reading a really great book--I don't want to put it down even for necessary things, such as, say, eating.

I try to avoid putting myself into situations that require research in my books for just that reason. I'm not the kind of person who would think, gee, I know nothing about flying an airplane, so let me write a book from the point of view of a veteran pilot, and let me make it all about flying. Some writers would be excited by doing all the research they'd need to be convincing. I would look at it and think, I have to figure all this really complicated stuff out before I can even start my story??? But I've got a story to tell NOW.

Does this mean I don't do research? Obviously not, considering how much time I spent trying to figure out what you do after you've fired your Taser. But at the height of my frustration with that particular Stupid Writer Question, I seriously considered making up a fictitious weapon instead so I could do whatever I wanted with it.

Friday, March 17, 2006

On Writing Fast

I'm a faithful reader of Miss Snark's blog. Hers is one of the few I read. (See my first ever post on how I'm not a natural blogger!) But not that long ago (don't remember if it was last week or the week before), she had a post that I didn't agree with. *Gasp!* She was talking about being prolific, and she was very much against it, feeling that if you write fast, your writing must be bad. She said she didn't want to see more than one book a year from her authors.

Once again, here is evidence that there is no one way to do things in the publishing/writing world. Because let me tell you, I started writing a hell of a lot better when I started writing fast. Watchers in the Night, which is the first book I actually sold to a commercial press, took me about two months to write. It was one of those books that just flowed out of my fingers. I never seemed to get stuck anywhere, even though it has a complex suspense plot, and I always felt I knew exactly what my characters would do in any given situation.

For me, the books I write fastest are my best. The reason for that, I think, is that when I'm writing fast, my internal critic--that little voice that all writers have that keeps telling them they suck--just can't get a foothold. I lose myself in the story, just like I lose myself in a story when I'm reading a really great book.

It reminds me of an art course I took from my university's continuing education department. The course was called Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, and it was based on the book of the same name. On day one of the course, the best I could do, drawing-wise, was basically a stick figure. The premise of the course was that if we could tap into the right sides of our brains--the holistic, artistic side--we could learn to draw credibly with hardly any training.

One of the first lessons was when we were given a line drawing to try to reproduce. Only we had to look at the drawing we were copying upside down. By putting it upside down, we were short-circuiting our analytical ability to "know" what we were drawing. The theory is that if you know what you're drawing, your analytical left brain will take over and you'll draw what you think it should look like, rather than what it does look like. For example, if you can tell it's an eye you're drawing, your brain tells you what an eye looks like, and you don't really "see" the drawing itself. It was amazing how good our drawings were when we flipped the picture upside down, how close to the original. (Of course I later had to try the same exercise at home, trying to reproduce a drawing first when looking at it right side up, then when looking at it upside down. There was no comparison in the quality.)

The next exercise we had to do was draw pictures of our hands--without looking at the paper we were drawing on and without lifting our pencil from the paper. Now, this might sound simple, but let me tell you, for a control-freak, left-brained, analytical person (you know, like me?), this was so not easy. The temptation to look at the paper, to see whether what I was drawing was OK was like nothing I'd ever felt before. I was very, very uncomfortable, squirming in my seat, feeling something almost like panic. The compulsion was that strong. That's the analytical left-brain trying to seize control. And that's very like that horrible internal critic that harasses writers.

In the drawing class, we learned to fight that compulsion and let our right brains have control, just go with the flow. (Some people learned better than others, but I turned out to be very successful at it.) I think this process is the same thing I go through when I write fast. I think when I write fast, the analytical part of my brain--the part that lets me function as a technical writer--goes to sleep and lets my creative side run wild. And for me, that writing is much better, much freer.

I'm not just thinking about this right now because of Miss Snark's post, by the way. I'm thinking about it because I've started a new project, an urban fantasy novel. As soon as the first inkling came to me, I became completely obsessed with it, and even though I was still brainstorming ideas as recently as last Thursday, I've already written 45 pages. In one sitting, I wrote 2,300 words in 75 minutes. That's unbelievably fast even for me. If I keep being this obsessed with it, and if it keeps flowing out of my fingers this fast, I'll have it done in less than two months. And I hope this book will be another piece of evidence in my argument that for me fast = good.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

My Dream Office

About a year ago, my husband and I moved to our current house. The house had much more room than our old house, and I decided to take the bonus room over the garage and convert it into my dream office cum library.

I've always wanted to have a room in my house that was exciting and different, a kind of fantasy room. And since I spend so much time in my office writing, this seemed like the perfect room to do it with.

When we moved in, this room was plain old beige walls with plain old beige carpeting and my cheap, old, crappy office furniture. (In our old house, my "office" was a corner in the breakfast nook of our kitchen.) I hired an interior designer to help me transform this mundane room into my medieval fantasy office, complete with comfy reading nook (pictured above).

I wanted the walls to look like castle stone, and the floor to look like old wooden planks. The designer found a faux-finisher who could achieve these effects with paint. I'm amazed at how cool and realistic it looks. She also painted the designs on the window to give it that old, leaded-glass feeling.

But the thing I like best about my fabulous new office is the bookcases. A local carpenter designed and built them for me. There are more bookcases to the left of the ones you see in the picture. Those bookcases have doors on them, so I can store my less-attractive paperbacks. I used to have my books stored in bookcases in an attic storage room. And I had to fight my way through all the stuff that manages to gather in storage rooms as years go by in order to get to my books. Now, they're at my fingertips. Which isn't always a good thing when I'm supposed to be writing . . .

Even so, I wouldn't trade my office for anything. I hope someday to write full time. When I do, it will be nice to have a place within my own home where I can feel as though I've stepped into another world. A way to separate my "work" life from my home life. I think this office will do the trick!

Saturday, March 04, 2006

I Hate Waiting!

You know, I used to dream that once I finally sold a novel to a commercial press, the whole waiting game would come to an end. Everything would happen at warp speed, and life would be just dandy.

All right, admittedly it's been a long time since I thought that, but still . . . I at least thought the waiting would be easier. Guess what? IT'S NOT.

So, what am I whining about? I just got the news yesterday that Watchers in the Night has been pushed back to November. It was first scheduled for September, then moved back to October, now it's in November. ARGH! It's amazing how long this wait has been. I've been a bundle of nerves ever since the book sold (about a year ago now), and now I have one more month of neurosis added to my schedule.

On the plus side, the book got pushed back for a really good reason. Apparently, the sales force hated the cover art--which I never saw. My editor had hated it too, but she got overruled. But when the sales people hated it, that had enough clout to make the publisher pull the cover and start over. Which delays the production schedule, which means my book had to be pushed back. Although I've never seen the cover in question, I am really, really grateful that it got pulled. I'd much rather have a good cover in November than a bad one in October.

In other waiting news, I also heard that my editor wasn't going to get a chance to look at the sequel until the end of March. More waiting. More nail-biting. More neurosis. Ah, the writing life! But hell, I've been doing this for about 17 years now. One thing I've gotten really, really good at is waiting. I haven't grown to love it, but I have at least learned to tolerate it.

Friday, March 03, 2006

I'm a Dog-Magnet!

Or maybe I should say "we" are, since all my dog-attracting abilities seem to have started after I got married.

The first incident happened about five years ago. I was sipping coffee in my living room on a damp, gray Sunday morning. I looked out at our deck, and saw an emaciated Dalmatian eating the bird seed that had spilled from our bird feeder. I immediately went to the sliding glass door that separated our living room from the deck to see if I could help the poor thing. But the moment I opened the door, she bolted in terror.

Dan and I were already dog lovers, and we couldn't leave this dog in distress. So we got dressed and started hunting the neighborhood for her. She'd disappeared like a ghost. Eventually, we had to give up, though we hated to leave her to her fate.

About an hour or so later, I looked up once more, and there she was--on the deck, eating bird seed. Now that I knew she was skittish, I took a different approach. There was a stairway that led up to the deck from a different side. I could actually get out that door without her seeing me, and thereby block her escape.

When she saw me, she gave a yelp of pure terror, and my heart ached for her. She pushed herself into a corner and shivered, looking absolutely pitiful. I cooed at her while Dan fashioned a make-shift gate to keep her on the deck. I then wooed her with dog food, which was definitely the way to her heart.

When she got over that first terror, she was the sweetest dog in the world, and absolutely beautiful, despite her condition. She was wearing a collar, but no tags. Despite the fact that she was at least ten pounds under weight, the collar was on so tightly it was digging into her skin. Dan and I determined that we would take care of her until we could find her a good home--we had no desire to try to find her original family. Not only was her collar on brutally tight, she wasn't spayed, had obviously had at least one litter, and cringed whenever we raised a hand. Also, a trip to the vet showed she had heartworm.

I could tell that Dan loved her at first sight and wanted to keep her, but Dalmatians have a terrible reputation as house dogs, and we didn't have a fenced yard. Also, I didn't know how she'd get along with my Pomeranian.

To make a long story short, she found a good home. With us. She is the anti-Dalmatian--a total couch potato, when they're supposed to be high strung and energetic. She's perfect for us and we love her to death.

Fast forward to last summer. We were in a new house now. My Pom had died of old age, so now Cha-Cha was an only child. And one rainy, chilly spring day, Dan and I looked out our window and saw a beagle wandering around our yard. While he didn't look to be starving, he looked very dispirited and had a bit of a limp. We spent all morning trying to catch him, but though he clearly wanted to come to us, he was far too afraid. We tried to lure him into our garage with food, but he stopped as soon as he got to the threshhold and refused to cross. We had to settle for giving him food and water and hoping he'd be OK.

Days went by, and he was still hanging around the neighborhood. He'd disappear for hours at a time, but he kept coming back. And we kept feeding him, as did our neighbors across the street. Finally, he reluctantly allowed us to touch him, and we brought him in. We were afraid to take him to an animal shelter, because he was so scared of everyone that we were worried he wouldn't find a home and they would destroy him. But we were determined to find him a good home. (He had no collar, no tags, and no microchip, and though we reported him found everywhere we could think of, no one called to claim him.)

I'm sure you can guess where he ended up! There's nothing quite so moving as big, sad hound-dog eyes. He's a damaged little soul, still very shy around people, very reluctant to be touched, but he's getting better, slowly.

So, imagine our sense of deja-vu last night when we looked out our window right around dusk and saw a yellow lab wandering around our neighborhood, looking lost. We knew all the neighborhood dogs, and he wasn't one of them. Being who we are, we couldn't just ignore him, so we went outside to see if we could catch up with him. He came to us eagerly, all sweet lab personality, happy to see us. He was wearing a collar, but we didn't see any tags. I had visions of stray dog rescue # 3, and was thinking "oh no, not again!" I love dogs, but two is enough.

He followed us into our garage, and we looked more closely at his collar. To our relief, we found there was a tag riveted to the collar. Barely readable, but we were able to make out a phone number and contact his folks. So, this once, there's no new addition to our family. But I'm beginning to wonder if this is going to be a continuing pattern.

Is it really unusual for this to happen to the same people three times? Or is it just that we're willing to go out and try to catch the stray, where other people don't? Either way, it's made us feel good about ourselves, both for the two dogs we've taken in and loved, and for the dog we reunited with his family.



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