Monthly Archives: August 2013

Taking the Pressure Off

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It used to be that I set the timer on the stove to countdown
the number of minutes in my strength training routine. “I pick things up. I put
things down,” is not my idea of fun, no matter how good it is for my body.
Lately, I’ve been using the timer on my smart phone to tick off the minutes I
spend writing, forcing myself to maintain BIC (butt in chair) for a full hour
of fictional writing. When it occurred to me that I was employing the same
technique for my passion as I was my unpleasant necessities, I was a little
alarmed. I momentarily questioned whether I had lost my love of writing, of
telling tales. But I knew that wasn’t the problem. The problem I’m having
writing my next book is that I’ve written a first book, and a second, and I’ve
learned a tremendous amount from both experiences.

Hypothetically, that should make the process easier. In some
ways it does. I have a much better understanding as I’m writing what will need
to be added, what will needed to be clarified, and what will just need to go. I
know the process and steps involved between where I am and a published piece. I
know the amount of work involved after it’s published.

I know too much. 

I’ve written before about how the process of writing a book
has forever changed the way I read. I notice techniques I never would have
noticed and criticize flaws (many of which my own writing mirrors) where I
otherwise would have shrugged them off and just enjoyed the story. It took some
time and still takes a good book, but for the most part I learned to turn this
part of my brain off when I read for enjoyment.

Instead I’ve turned it on as I write. Fantastic. Now every
time I sit down to draft, I have the voices of editors, reviewers, and grammar
police all shouting over one another like those loud relatives at family
dinners. And just like the deafening din at those gatherings, it can drown out
any lucid thought beyond, “where’d the wine go?”

If about now you’re thinking that perhaps I need
anti-hallucinogens rather than vino, fear not. I am aware that the voices in my
head are my own. I’m just not entirely sure how to shut them up. It used to be
that I thought up a scene and wrote it down, just like that. I didn’t evaluate
its worth in my overall plot mapping. I didn’t dissect it at the sentence and
word level. Those were steps for the later in the process. Writing was the
spewing stage. Revising and editing were the mopping it up and garnishing it
like a gourmet meal stages. Now that the steps are all garbled, I find myself choking
out a few chunks of story and instantly declaring it garbage. Sometimes the
words haven’t even made it to the page before I began my chant of “This sucks.
This really sucks.”

And it does. No, not the writing, at least not always. What
sucks is the pressure, once published and more knowledgeable about what good
writing ought to be, to constantly write something of that caliber. Pressure
put on me…by me. And therein lies the rub. In order to return to those blissful
days of writing whatever strange things came into my head, all I really need to
do is get over myself. It’s not like I’m J.K. Rowling who’ll likely never write
another book with as much pull as her first series. I’ve got miles to go in my
journey before I ought to worry about anyone reading a draft (which no one but
my mom and a couple best friends are ever privy to anyway) and saying with a
haughty sigh, “It just doesn’t live up to the standards set by her earlier
volumes.” I mean seriously, where do I get off stifling my own creativity? How
do I think I am? (Okay, on second thought, maybe I ought to look into those
meds after all.)

Talking earlier this afternoon with a close friend and fellow
artist who admitted she’s had similar experiences as she’s become more knowledgeable
(and extremely talented) in her own field, allayed my fear that I’d lost my
passion. It comes down to taking the pressure off oneself. There are always
plenty of volunteers to criticize our work. We don’t need to be one of them, at
least not in the early creating stages. What we do sometimes need, though, is a
best friend to offer sound and frank advice: “Just write that shit. Just write
it.”
 

And to think of the money I’ve spent on writing conferences, when really
it boils down to just that. Write it. Ju
st write it. The rest are
worries for another day.

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Catching Fireflies

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Last week I had the opportunity to attend the Cape Cod
Writers Conference where I took two different but equally great classes. The
first was all about e-publishing. It got into the nitty-gritty of formatting
books for Amazon and Barnes & Noble, but also had some great advice about
cover design, marketing research, titles, promotions, and sales. It was a ‘learn
something’ class. I took copious notes and left with knowledge I didn’t
previously have. For both the topic and the particular project I had in mind
when I signed up for the course, it was perfect.

Not all great classes have
to be all about ‘learning something,’ though. Especially in the world of creative
arts, sometimes the best thing a teacher can do is to inspire. That was exactly
what author Coleen Paratore did in my second class, which was on writing for
middle grade and young adult audiences. She could have spent the week espousing
advice on plot elements, character development, pacing, and paths to
publishing. We would have listened, taken copious notes, and left with
knowledge we perhaps didn’t have before. That would have been just fine. The
truth is, though, there are a thousand writing reference books that could have
imparted that same information. There are far fewer works, if any, that have
the power to pull a writer’s voice out of reflection on a particular age, or to
derive intensely powerful plot from a minute of memory. The self-reflection and
inner-honesty that these require is nearly impossible to teach and often painful
to experience, but so worth it if one’s willing to try. Coleen was willing to
try, to share with complete strangers her experiences and how she turned them
into sparks that eventually lit up the pages of her books. 

It’s hard when someone is
that real and that honest not to reciprocate. So we did. My classmates and I
looked inside, even in those dark, uncomfortable corners and pulled out sparks
to share. We spent most of the week writing about ourselves rather than our
characters, because that’s where our best writing will draw from. Our truest
characters will be reflections of past selves, twisted a bit to fit in our
fiction. Our most intriguing plots will be the ones in which characters face
the same basic challenges we faced, though perhaps in new places, with different
details and varying outcomes.

This should come as no
surprise; readers, especially young readers, like to see themselves and their
experiences reflected, even in the most remote ways, in the books they read. The
only real difference between writers and readers is that readers catch a
firefly, see its spark, and let it go; writers see a firefly, capture its
spark, and let it grow. 

Coleen inspired us to
realize that we’ve all got a jar of fireflies within us and a world of new
fireflies waiting to be discovered around us. Sometimes we just need a little
help seeing those sparks and letting them grow. Thanks, Coleen, for providing
just that last week! 

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Naughty Can Be Nice: Romance for a Reason, part 2

In my previous post I explained how Unbridled came to be and more importantly how it made the transformation from a fun piece written to satisfy my romance writing whim, to a work with more important themes (but still plenty of steamy fun). As I argued then, writing stories with admirable female characters is important, but it is only one way to honor, celebrate, and foster women’s strength and independence.

I’m also hoping to use Unbridled and my platform as an author (as small as it may currently be) to assist important causes that have touched me, my family, my friends, and countless women across the globe. Though there are numerous organizations and charities whose work benefit women, two stuck out to me, each for different reasons. The proceeds from Unbridled will be split equally between the two this fall.

The Breast Cancer Research Foundation

The facts: Breast cancer is the second most deadly form of cancer facing women today, yet there are over 2.9 million breast cancer survivors living in America. Most of these women (and men) were saved by early detection and advances in treatment that would not have been available without the research and studies funded by non-profits like the BCRF.

My reasons: This one’s personal, having been so deeply affected by my mother’s initial cancer diagnosis when I was just a senior in high school and then again last November. Unfortunately, almost everyone I know has faced a breast cancer diagnosis of a woman they’ve loved, be it friend, sister, aunt, grandmother, or mother. No daughter should have to worry about whether her mother will be around to see her walk down the aisle. No mother should have to wonder if she’ll live to see her grandchild born. Though the survival rates of this particular form of cancer have tremendously improved in just the last decade, those fears can’t be eliminated until breast cancer itself is wiped off the map. This is the BCRF’s mission: to prevent and cure breast cancer in our lifetime.

Why this breast cancer charity: I did my homework. The BCRF is one of the highest ranked charities in the country, currently spending 91 cents of every dollar collected directly on research and awareness. This money goes to fund a variety of studies at top research universities across the globe, and recently they’ve also expanded to helping support awareness and prevention programs, which are key to increasing survival rates.

To learn more: Visit the BCRF’s website.

To help out: This fall I’ll be donating half the proceeds from Unbridled to the BCRF. There’s no need to wait, though. You can get a jump-start on supporting Romance for a Reason by visiting my page on the BCRF’s donation site: http://www.fundraiseforBCRF.org/romanceforareason

V-Day

The facts: One in every three women on the planet will be physically or sexually assaulted in her lifetime. That’s it. One fact. One bone-chilling, infuriating, unbelievable fact. One of V-Day’s primary missions is to make this fact more believable, because they believe that only by ending the silence that too often accompanies such attacks can we bring about an end to the violence.

My reasons: I am thankful that I have never been the one in three, but I’m vividly aware that it has little to do with precautions I’ve taken to protect myself and far more to do with luck. I have been the teacher, friend, and classmate of women who were victims of such assaults, some of whom shared their stories, others too afraid or traumatized to do more than hint. No women should have to suffer such treatment, and surely those that do should not feel the need to remain silent. If I can do anything to put a stop to such violence, if I can provide a voice to victims who cannot find their own, I will, because someone must.

Why this women’s charity: Like the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, V-Day is a highly-rated charity which uses 86 cents of each dollar donated to directly end violence against women. It also balances global programs in countries where women have few rights and fewer advocates, with funding and leadership programs that create and sustain local charities and support groups. As an author, I was also drawn to V-Day because they believe as I do, that “Art has the power to transform thinking and inspire people to act.” V-Day began with Eve Ensler’s play The Vagina Monolgues, and her realization that her art not only had the potential to give women a voice, but also to act as a platform for social change. From one playwright’s pen sprang forth a movement that has aided thousands of women worldwide. How could I not choose this charity?

To learn more: For now, visit the V-Day site. Come February, see a performance.

To help out: Come its release this fall, V-Day will be receiving the second half of the proceeds from Unbridled. Like with the BCRF, though, you need not wait to donate! V-Day’s website doesn’t provide for individual fundraising pages, but they do accept online, text, or mailed donations here.

As I say in the forward to the collection, it’s time women take control of the pens and write our own tales. I’m starting here. Who’s joining me?

*To any authors or bloggers, I’m hoping to put together a blog tour this fall to help promote these causes. If you are willing to host Romance for a Reason, review or share a teaser/excerpt from Unbridled, or do a swap, please contact me! (lauren @ laurengrimley.com)

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Falling into a New Project: Romance for a Reason, part 1

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With August upon me, I’m
gearing up for fall. Yes, I actually just said that. Yes, as a sun-worshipping,
deck-loving author clinging to her last few weeks of full-time writing, it was
painful. It is also exciting, because this fall I’m doing something special
that’s been in the works for almost a year.

Early last fall I began
drafting a new project. I was stuck in a rut writing my third novel, but my
imagination was still very much entrenched in the world of Alex Crocker. I was
constantly creating backstories for characters new and old in my series,
backstories that I felt ought to be told, but that had no proper place in the
main story arc. I was also coming off a summer of reading spicy romance novels.
I’d finally admitted I was that type of woman who loved a story so steamy it
fogged up her glasses. (This was pre-Lasik.) More than reading them, I realized
I wanted to try my hand at writing them. The result is Unbridled.

At first I simply set out
to write short stories about three couples in my series other than Alex and
Markus. I was aiming only for romance. The emotions surrounding love,
especially love in a world with deadly enemies around every corner, seemed like
plenty for a writer to capture. Soon though I was connecting these tales with a
fourth story, one that illuminated what linked the ladies in these tales:
strength and survival. I was no longer just writing about females falling for
hot alpha-males who’d sweep in and save the day. I was writing about the
strength of a gender so often inaccurately depicted as needing such saviors. My
heroines sought lovers whose tenacity matched their own, not mates who merely
made up for their inadequacies. I was writing feminist romance with fangs—and
loving it.

On the surface, writing
romance, a genre teeming with bodice-ripping covers, domineering men, and far
too many weak-kneed female characters might not seem like the ideal medium for
aiding women. Art in its various modes, though, has always been a powerful
means of getting people to reevaluate their views on real-life issues. If
straying from some of the norms of a genre highly entertaining, but not always
promoting a positive view of women prods us to think a little deeper about the
qualities we really desire in ourselves and our partners, then mission
accomplished. Who said there couldn’t be a love scene or two helping that
along? Not this girl.

This idea was the seed
that began Romance for a Reason, a fundraising effort I’m planning for this
fall to help women’s issues near and dear to my heart. In part two of this post,
which will be up tomorrow morning, I’ll share more about the two impactful
charities I’ve chosen and my reasons for picking each.


In the meantime, here’s a peek at the “back of book blurb”: 

Unbridled 

“Think Law and Order SUV meets The Breakfast Club” was Ellie’s trite
explanation of what Alex had been dragged into. Add a few fangs, Fifty Shades of Oversharing, and a dash
of Dr. Phil, and she was in for quite a Thursday night.

Alex couldn’t deny she had
become the pint-sized poster child for PTSD lately, but she didn’t exactly
expect to find a support group for teachers turned vampire chew toys in
Bristol, MA. Listening to the tales of the four other females gathered to help
her heal, however, she accepts that perhaps both the worst and the best of life
can blossom from the unexpected.


Unbridled is a novella-length collection of four connected
stories focusing on the unlikely friendships and less likely lovers of the
female characters from the Alex Crocker series.

Proceeds from the sale of
these stories are being donated to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation and
V-Day. See the author’s website for more information: www.laurengrimley.com


From the three main stories: 

“Grace and Dignity”

Even a female whose mating
has been arranged most of her life still thinks about what she wants in a mate.
Not one of the qualities Sarah had hoped for were easily evident in her
betrothed, the future Regan of the Rectinatti coven. Perhaps, though, there
were more layers to Darian than he liked to reveal, but how does a subject
unmask a prince?


“Rules and Recollections”

You can’t fall in love
with someone you barely recall, but that, Vivian supposed, was the point. After
a terse meeting with the Knower, a mind reader, memory manipulator, and the
coven’s most notorious lecher, Vivian isn’t herself. She can’t shake the
feeling that the solution to her mood lurks just below the surface of her
consciousness. Only plunging into darkness, though, will bring everything to
light.

“Blood and Secrecy”

The shared need for blood
brought them together, but individual desires for secrecy are keeping them
apart. Each already left behind a life of privilege for reasons the other
likely couldn’t understand. Now both Rocky and Ellie need to decide if they’re
willing to open up about their pasts in order to ensure a future.

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