Research

I am working on a novel that features a heroine who is a master brewer. Her brewery and her job plays a big role not only in the plot but also in setting, and her characterization. Which means research. I’m not much of a beer drinker, but I like it much better than wine. So I have done some basic research so I can get the first draft done. Then I shall have to delve into the world of brewing deeper.

Research can be tricky that way. You need to know enough about the subject so that you don’t get nasty letters about the errors you made, but you also have to avoid the temptation to show off to the reader and share every picayune detail that you learned. I have yet to write a book where I haven’t had to do some sort of research. Even when I’ve set a novel in a familiar place, like San Diego, I still pore over maps (and Google Earth–what a great writers’ tool that is) to make sure I get details right. And still sometimes you have to fudge things. In one of my books my hero and heroine waltz, but the year is 1798, and while all sorts of research exists about the waltz in the Regency in England, I couldn’t find anything about it in the New World. So I fudged it. I know it came around mid-century in Austria and Germany, and I know that many, many Germans immigrated to the US (I believe it was in the 1830’s what a member of the House put forth a bill to have German declared as our national language. It failed.), so I fudged it. Bottom line I am writing fiction, and it wasn’t a crucial element to the story.

Unlike some novels I’ve read where wrong details rip me from the story completely. Like the novel I read that was set in Venice, and the hero and heroine drove to a masquerade in a coach and four. In fact they traveled around the city that night (in the story) and only on the fourth excursion did they ever climb into a boat. Excuse me? In Venice? No horses in Venice, except the bronze ones that grace St. Mark’s Plaza. And if you’re setting book in Venice, why are you not using boats to get around anyway. Or the novel that was set in contemporary New Mexico and the hero was anticipating a typical New Mexican meal of red and green chile. Uh, no. Chile is a condiment; it goes on top of everything, not eaten as a meal by itself. Or the novel where the German hero calls the heroine “messy” as a play on the German word “Messe” which means fair…but not fair as in the adjective, but fair as in a convention or conference, like a book fair. Pulled me completely from the story. I literally stopped reading and shouted, “Oh my God. You’re so wrong.” False cognates exist in all languages so you can’t make one of your running jokes based on something that makes no sense. When I first met my husband, I kept asking him to index when he drove. I finally realized I had taken the false cognate for signal in Hungarian and because it sounded English, used it in my everyday language. And we’ve all heard a story about telling someone you are “embarazada” in Spanish.

Yes, historical novels require more research, but as I said above, I have written a single novel without some research. Even the paranormal ones. So if you’ll excuse me, I’ll get back to my current WIP, and decide which of the local breweries to visit to get my details correct. Hmm, I may have to visit more than one.

–Gabi

Books I’m reading now:
A Feast for Crows by George RR Martin
Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare

The Power of Art

To roll off of what I posted a couple of days ago, I wanted to discuss why I believe literature is not just important but also vital to our world. I taught eighth grade gifted language arts and literature for several years, and each year I would greet parents at Open House. I always enjoyed Open House because I enjoy performing, and talking in front of a crowd is like a performance. In addition to telling the parents about myself and my background (and always saying that I wrote romances that were not appropriate for eighth graders and that if anyone had a problem with that to please, please, please start a protest because I could use the publicity—never happened, but my students always offered to hold a book burning for me), I would give the parents my passionate and sincere beliefs about literature—all kinds of literature.

 

Technology progresses at a much faster rate than society. I love technology. I believe we can’t have enough engineers, physicists, and scientists in general in this world (My husband holds a PhD in robotics—yeah, I have a soft spot for the brainiacs). Robot Guy is an optimist; he believes technology can solve what ails the world. Unfortunately, technology moves too fast—too fast for the average person to assimilate it and understand it (by understand I mean use it with comfort—For example, we all drive cars now, but how many of us could actually put a car together? And you should read people’s reactions to automobiles when they first arrived. Hilarious. That and the use of electricity. The showy Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 helped usher in our dependence on electricity. Once people saw the spectacle, electricity became less frightening. Anyway…). So how does the average citizen become accustomed to new ideas and new advances?

 

Through Art. (Yes, with a capital A)

 

Art of all sorts exposes us and makes us comfortable with new ideas. We explore our fears through this safe venue and learn from it, so when reality confronts us, it isn’t as frightening. Ideas are often met with fear. Take robots for example. Stories and novels have explored all aspects of robotics in a way that a lay person can understand. From killer robots to helpful robots (Dr. Who to Isaac Asimov). My husband can tell you that there isn’t a robot that doesn’t have a huge red kill switch beside it (we’re not talking Roomba here), and the kill switch isn’t to kill the human operator. In any case, we’ve become so accustomed to the idea of robots that we hardly notice them in our lives. I don’t know about you, but Google’s self-driving car is something I want (although Robot Guy says there is still a long way to go. Robot vision is a particularly nasty problem.) And yes, I feel safer knowing a computer does most of the flying on an airplane.

 

But it isn’t just technological ideas that Art helps with. Cultural change happens through the examination of ideas in Art. Between Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Gone with the Wind, The Invisible Man, To Kill A Mockingbird, and more recently The Help, we’ve seen racism through various lenses. Without realizing it, the ideas become a part of us and how we respond to those ideas shapes us (I don’t want to debate the validity of the arguments represented in such works—that would be a whole book by itself. What I’m saying is the ideas are there and we’re exposed to them, which affects us, however greatly or minutely). The rapid switch (rapid being relative to the time from when it actually came into our collective consciousness as opposed to the history of mankind) to the acceptance of same sex couples (which the majority of us now do) I believe was helped along by TV shows, books, and movies that featured LGBT characters. Once we saw they are simply like the rest of us, acceptance followed. (And if you’re not in this group and want to leave some sort of screed as a comment, just don’t. This is my page. Make your own page for your own screed.)

 

Whatever we read touches us, changes us, teaches us. We can agree with, disagree with, argue against, stand for, or dismiss those ideas, but in whatever way, those ideas have affected us. This is why books can be dangerous. This is why governments use propaganda. This is why dictators fear freethinking. This is why education is so important. This is why a great swath of people can be convinced to vote against their own self-interest. This is why debate is so important.

 

Right. I’ve gone on long enough. If you’re a former student, you’ve heard all this before.

–Gabi

 

P.S. I’ve focused mostly books, but I truly believe all forms of Art has this power. I just know books best.

 

Books I’m reading now:

The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare

A Feast for Crows by George RR Martin

7 Quick Thoughts About Books

1. Do you have a favorite author? Terrific. A new release from them, or re-reading a special book, can cause a celebration. But what do you do while you’re waiting? How about checking out that author’s web page and seeing if they mention any authors that inspired them? Or pull one of their books from your shelf and see if they mention any authors in their acknowledgments or dedications. You never know. You might find another favorite author and have a larger pool of books to keep you occupied.
2. Decide what kind of reader you are. Do you keep books pristine as they taught you in elementary school or do you like to have a conversation with your books and mark them up with questions, comments, and annotations? If you like to have books pristine for your collection, consider buying two copies. If you like to make notes, you might want to consider buying the book for your e-reader, so you can take notes on the device. Personally, I buy books to enjoy. I own a few autographed copies of favorites that I don’t touch, but for the most part, you can tell my books have been loved. I like a book that shows its age, that has had a full life.
3. Don’t be shy about speaking about the books you love. Tell your friends. Leave reviews. Write the author. I can tell you that nothing makes my day like receiving a note, a tweet, a message, an email from someone who had a fun time reading one of my books.
4. You don’t have to finish a book. I give you permission, right here, right now, to put aside a book you aren’t enjoying. There are so many books out there; why would you want to waste your time on something you aren’t enjoying? A caveat: I am not speaking about a book you must read for a class or an assignment. If you’re not enjoying one of those, you still have to suck it up and read it. Sorry. But if you’re reading for pleasure, you don’t have to finish. Really, you don’t. Find something you will enjoy. The world won’t end if you don’t finish a book. Honestly. I’ve not finished a lot of books. Time continued forward and societies didn’t collapse (at least not from not reading). Okay, if you absolutely must finish everything you pick up (and I understand; I was once like you), learn to skim. Jump ahead by several chapters. Most of the time you can keep up.
5. Don’t let anyone tell you what to read. You don’t have to apologize for anything you enjoy reading. Or justify it. You can read what you want. When I taught, I often had parents ask me to recommend books for their children. I told them to let the kids pick. It didn’t matter if they chose classics, genre, or even comic books. All reading is good for you. (I hate making absolute statements. There is some reading material that is awful—for society, for humanity, etc.—but I don’t even want to acknowledge them…even though I just have.)
6. Taking time to read is NOT a waste of time. Escape is good for the soul, and if the dishes don’t get done for an hour, who gives a flying fig? (That’s right. I don’t cuss much. It doesn’t offend me, but I can’t pull it off comfortably. On the other hand, when you do hear me cuss, then you know I really mean it.)
7. And yes, you can judge people when they say they never read. I do all the time, and not just because I’m an author. I don’t understand people who don’t read. Or say they don’t have time to read. I can’t imagine a good life without books. I might have some acquaintances who don’t read (and some family members, but I’m stuck with those), but they’ll never reach the friend stage. Call me shallow, but, yes, reading means that much to me. My youngest is intellectually handicapped, and for years my greatest tragedy was that she hated reading. I’m happy to say now that that has changed. She reads a lot now—oh, at a very low level, but she’s reading. And writing too. She writes fan fic. And reading and writing has helped her language skills in ways that therapy and special ed classes never did. So, yes, I’m willing to judge people who don’t read.

Books are brilliant, dangerous, enlightening, educational, entertaining, elucidating, and a relatively inexpensive big bang for your buck. There’s a reason dictators get rid of intellectuals first when they take over. Books contain ideas, and ideas create greatness and wonder and curiosity and freedom. So read a book.

–Gabi

Books I’m reading now:
Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare
A Feast for Crows by George RR Martin

10 Simple Things to Do Before You Submit Anything

Here’s my list of the ten things you should do before submitting to anything–agents, contests, editors, contract manuscripts, homework, self-pubbing, etc.:

 

  1. Run spell check–Seriously, just do it.
  2. Read aloud–You won’t believe how many errors you catch  by reading aloud. Including continuity errors. For some reason saying a fact aloud  makes it easier to remember. In my latest manuscript, one of my characters changed eye color, and no one caught it except me on the read aloud. Which leads me to…
  3. Have someone else read it–New eyes find errors your eyes gloss over. By the way, pick someone not related to you who will tell you if something is good or not, not your sister or even your best friend. Unless you have a family like mine where we rip each other apart (only in our work–they are great editors)
  4. Let it rest–You aren’t always able to do this one, but if you can, put the work aside for a while before the final re-read.
  5. Do a word check–You know which words you used often while writing. Do a search and find for those words to make sure they aren’t overused.
  6. Be careful using global replace–If you decide to change a character’s name from Liz to Jennifer and do a global replace, every time you use a word like realize, it will look like reaJennifere. Yup, I’ve done this. Especially short words.  Same thing happens if you want to search for how many times you used “is”. Every his, isolated, wishful, and list will come up.
  7. Use “said” or “ask” in dialog–If you’ve used something else, make sure that word is warranted. Characters shouldn’t announce, declare, or hold forth unless you want to distract from the dialog.
  8. Watch out for homophones–You’re a writer; you know the difference between there, their and they’re, but that doesn’t mean you typed it that way. Know or learn or look up the difference between pore and pour, past and passed, led and lead. There are some obscure ones too, like just deserts (that’s correct, by the way; it’s not just desserts. And on that note, but a totally different expression, the phrase is “You have another think coming, not another thing). Expose yourself to language. *
  9. Check the submission rules–If an agent wants you to include the first three chapters in the body of the email, then don’t attach a document.
  10. Don’t worry about it–Did you hear my laughter as I typed this? Really though, you’ve done your best (I hope), turned in the best version you possibly could, so forget about it. You’ll hear back or you won’t. Once you’ve sent something it’s out of your control. Sure, you have a little more control when you’re self-publishing your work, but even there, you can’t guarantee how readers will react to your words, nor how it sells, nor word of mouth, etc. You could be doing everything right and still have little success. So make sure the work is the best it can be.

Okay, maybe these simple things aren’t so simple after all, but the more you write and learn the easier they become. Can you think of any I’ve left out?

–Gabi

*My two favorite homophone mistakes were made by students I had: “Huckleberry Finn crossed the Mississippi on a fairy”; and , while reading The Crucible, “Reverend Hale came to Salem to get rid of Satin.”

Books I’m reading now:

Still Storm of Swords by George RR Martin.

 

Contests

In the romance world a writer has ample opportunity to enter contests. I confess I haven’t looked into contests for other genres much. Of course I’ve heard of the big ones–the Hugo, the Nebula, the Edgar, etc–but in the romance world there are contests for published and unpublished authors in every sub-genre you can imagine. I’ve entered several, finaled in most, won a few, so here is my take.

On the plus side:

  • A contest can give you validation. It feels good to win or final in a contest. It lets you know your work is appreciated by others who have nothing at stake in judging you. It ain’t your family telling you you’re good. Sometimes you need that validation. (Let me tell you though, the feeling doesn’t last. Why are we humans so quick to forget the good stuff and obsess on the bad? Or is that just me?)
  • A second perk is getting your work in front of an editor or agent who might be interested in buying your manuscript. While I never received any offers from my contest wins, I do know a couple a of people who sold directly because of winning a contest.
  • If your writing isn’t at the level of winning or publishing yet, a contest can give you valuable feedback on your work from readers who again have nothing at stake in critiquing you. One of the most helpful things a beginner can receive is unbiased feedback. It can hurt, but the learning curve is huge with an honest critique.
  • A contest can help build your thick skin. You need it in this business. Losing a few contests, or being ripped apart, can teach you that you can survive a harsh review in the future.  Lastly, for you already published authors, a contest win can give you bragging rights, something to stick on your covers. You will often see Hugo Award winging author on a cover.

On the minus side:

  • Most contests cost money, and some are very expensive. Sometimes entry fees are out of reach.
  • You might be judged by thoroughly incompetent judges, people who aren’t qualified to judge writing. I’ve always laughed when someone criticized my grammar. Yeah, I rarely make grammar mistakes. If I have often it’s a typo, not a grammar error. (Mind you, if you’re judging my grammar by this blog, just stop. I’m talking about my manuscripts, not the thoughts I randomly post here. This is casual. My writing is anything but, and if dialog or writing is casual in my manuscripts, you can bet I did it on purpose). My favorite judging error was when a judge had no idea what Cartagena was. Really? And there have been several others. I’ve even had judges mark up a manuscript for using passed instead of past, when passed was correct. Anyone who has entered contests can tell you stories about judges’ errors.
  • You might end up with a judge who just doesn’t like your work. No matter how objective a judge tries to be, judging is subjective, and if you write vampires and they abhor vampires, it will reflect in your score.  A contest is often a crap shoot. Your manuscript/book may be incredible, but it won’t get the recognition it rightly deserves. You get judges who hate your voice or plot or theme. Or not finaling may be as simple as getting a judge who doesn’t believe in giving out top scores because nothing is perfect. So, it’s a crapshoot.
  • You can get addicted to contests and winning. I knew of a writer who had three perfect starting chapters and won contest after contest, but never finished the manuscript. The danger of polishing the beginning (usually what is asked for in a contest) is never giving the rest of the manuscript the attention it deserves.
  • If you don’t get the results you hope for and you haven’t developed that thick skin, you might find yourself so discouraged that you quit.

I know I listed more cons than pros, but I personally like contests. I can claim I am an award winning novelist. Almost every one of my novels has been recognized in one way or another. And besides, I’ve always loved competition. (Never play a board game with me unless you play by the rules and play to win. I don’t mind losing as long as it was a worthy battle. But I play to win.)

So vet your contests. Examine why you are entering and what your goal is. Choose wisely. Contests can be fun or helpful or none of the above. Entering is something you have to decide for yourself.

–Gabi

Books I’m reading now:

See previous posts. (Yes, I’m reading slowly now; or I’m blogging too quickly.)

Overcoming Fear

The RT Convention was held this past weekend. It is a jam-packed weekend of authors mingling with readers, holding talks, and throwing parties.  I didn’t attend and I have to admit that a part of me wishes I had gone, but a bigger part of me is thrilled I didn’t. It isn’t that I don’t love talking to readers because I do. It isn’t the travel because I love to travel. It isn’t even talking about my books because I love to talk about my books and writing. It’s all about the crowd. I am not comfortable in crowds. Never have been. I see pictures of rock concerts and I nearly get hives. For all my political leanings, you will never find me at a protest because I can’t stand in a throng. The pictures friends posted about RT had me gasping and gritting my teeth. It’s funny because I have no problem standing on a stage or in front of a room and speaking (well, a few nerves, but public speaking is NOT my number one fear. It doesn’t even make the top one hundred–I can’t testify that I actually have one hundred fears. Hyperbole is one of my favorite tools.), but put me in a position where I’m hemmed in by people and I become very uncomfortable. That’s the main reason why I don’t dream of traveling to place like Singapore. It’s a good thing I live in the West (although you will hear me complain about Albuquerque’s isolation–you can’t win with me).

Sometimes you have to participate in events that make you uncomfortable, and I have been to RT in the past and I’m considering going next year. So how do I get through those situations? Well, I have a theater background and I put on a mask. Not literally. I plaster a smile on my face, pretend I’m the person who loves to be out there and act. Acting doesn’t mean that I’m not sincerely thrilled with meeting people; it’s simply my coping mechanism.

More and more writing/being an author requires you to put yourself out there–in person and on-line. I don’t mind the on-line. I never post anything I wouldn’t tell or share with you to your face (thus the reason I keep my politics off my professional pages). Authors are required to do a lot of their own promotion until you’re big enough that your name alone generates buzz. So I overcome my fear and do it.

I’ve met authors who don’t like technology. Fine. But suck it up and learn it because you need to use it (unless you already have that big name that generates its own buzz). I’ve met authors who are socially awkward; that’s something else that can be learned. I’ve met authors who were required to change genres; do it. Authors have to make major career decisions for themselves and be in charge of hiring and firing agents, or deciding not to take a contract, or deciding to take a contract. None of those are pleasant tasks. Yes, even when you think something is a positive step, your decision  comes with new anxieties or fears or responsibilities.

Bottom line: writing is a job and sometimes requires uncomfortable actions. Yes, it’s creative, but it is a job and no job is wonderful 100% of the time.  Unless you’re doing it as a hobby. In that case, ignore what I’ve said and just enjoy.

And if you ever meet me at a conference, please be assured that I am happy to meet you, and if you corner me somewhere semi-private, you’ll find I’m really not distant and I love to talk and share ideas and stories.

–Gabi

Books I’m reading now:

Boy with this almost daily blogging I’m not making the reading progress I usually do. so I’m still on Storm of Swords by George RR Martin.

 

Conversations with My Husband

If you follow me regularly, you know that my husband is Robot Guy. This week I sent him a video of a robot arm catching objects. It was pretty cool, although the objects still needed tracking devices, and the speed of the robot was amazing. So today our conversation was:

Me: Do you think sometime in the future, protective vests could have the capacity to catch bullets and render them useless?

RG(Robot Guy): Ummm…I’m trying to picture how people could wear a vest weighing a couple of tons.

Me: No, I mean in the future when we have materials that weigh next to nothing but are strong.

RG: It would be better to have  some sort of helicopter blade to deflect the bullets, but you’d have to work out the rotational force because it would throw you off.

Me: Couldn’t the–

RG: Wait. I’m trying to figure out the f=ma. (Pause) It would be better if you had some sort of orb you could deploy in front of you.

Me: Like the Jedi training orb that Luke fights in Star Wars? Oooo, and it could shoot lasers and obliterate the bullets.

RG: No, you want to do something with the kinetic force. There’s a lot of energy in a moving bullet.

Me: Why could you just fphfft the bullets so they don’t exist?

RG: What you’d need is something to change the trajectory.

Me: That wouldn’t be good. Wouldn’t you just put your partner in danger? The bullet avoided you, but hits someone else?

RG: A black hole. A portable black hole, though I don’t know how you’d do that.

 

Yup. Welcome to my world. (Technical terms may be incorrect because this is me writing, after all. RG knows the technical terms) But, hmmmm, a portable black hole. Wonder how I could use that?

–Gabi

Books I’m reading now:

Still on the re-read of A Storm of Swords by George RR Martin