Monday, June 30, 2014

Sources of Inspiration

A couple of months ago, my good friend, Brad, the Black Knight of the Southern Realms, came to visit.  He used to live in DC, he hates crowds, and he was visiting at the height of the cherry blossoms, so finding something he's never done before and that he'd enjoy proved quite the challenge.

This is my friend Brad.  We're nothing alike.  Brad is a biker.  Brad saved me
from quicksand once.  We have lots of adventures.

I ended up taking him to Hillwood Museum and Gardens and fell in love with the place.  Hillwood is the former home of Marjorie Merriweather Post, heiress to the Post cereal fortune.  She's like Richie Rich, if Richie Rich wore stunning gowns and had a thing for Faberge eggs and Cartier.

When she passed away, she opened her mansion up to the public.  What I like is that the mansion is in DC (you can see the Washington monument from the mansion's second floor), but you feel like you're in the countryside.  The grounds are so quiet and peaceful.  Lawn chairs are scattered throughout and visitors are encouraged to stay a while and relax.  It's a great place for a writer to figure out a plot point or to outline their next story.  And it's usually not that busy.  I went on a Saturday at the beginning of June and had whole swaths of the gardens to myself.      

Please, stay a while.

I had the rose garden to myself.
Diana the Huntress

Then there's the mansion itself.  Oh my word.  Do you need inspiration for your next book?  Come on in!  Post was an avid collector of Russian treasures.  Priceless art, a room full of ornate Eastern Orthodox crosses, Faberge eggs, a chandelier that belonged to Catherine the Great...Post collected All.The.Things and the things are beautiful.  

This is the humble breakfast nook.  Chandelier belonged to Catherine the Great.
Plates belonged to some Russian noble.  Your nook looks like this, yes?
The museum also puts her dresses on display on a rotating basis.  Do not miss this, especially if you're writing historical fiction set around 1920-1950.  The dresses are in her closet (which is the size of my condo) and it can be easy to walk past them.  There are also a couple of jaw-dropping gowns in the Cartier exhibit that make the costumes on Downton Abbey look Downton Shabby.           

A few tips:

* Suggested price for admission is $15 per person, but if you get a yearly membership for $50, you can visit as often as you like (and you get four guest passes). 

* They have plenty of parking, but I love to walk to Hillwood.  It's a mile from the Van Ness-UDC metro and you can see homes with the most interesting architecture on the way there.  Plus, the neighborhood has a ton of cute dogs and if you're lucky, they'll be out on their walks.

* Bring a picnic basket (Hillwood offers complimentary picnic blankets) and have a leisurely meal in the gardens.  You can get food at Hillwood Cafe or just stop at the Giant by the Van Ness-UDC metro and stock up on goodies.  

Saturday, June 14, 2014

My Writing Process

The wonderful Rebecca Enzor, whose books I fully expect to see at my local B&N one day, has kindly tagged me for the My Writing Process Blog Tour.  Or as I like to think of it, "The Caffeine and Chocolate Tour."  I think it's pretty self-explanatory, so away we go!

1. What am I working on?

If you follow this blog or have seen my anguished gnashing of teeth on Twitter, you know I've always had a problem with 'voice' and 'connection' and that's a very difficult issue to fix.  What drives me mad (madder than a Targaryen) is that I've written several stories now, and the problem isn't getting any better.  And the criticism is spot on.  I KNOW it's missing.    

After getting the dreaded 'lack of voice' feedback in the last contest I entered, I took a couple of months off to see if I could fix the problem.  You know, without tricking a certain red-headed mermaid.

I have a plan of attack now and if it works, I'll let you all know.  I love my Beautiful Medusa story, love it dearly, and I'm going to try to re-write it to finally get that voice I've been searching for.  It probably won't work, but I want to make an attempt.    

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

My work doesn't have voice and other people's stories do?

Ha!  Sorry, couldn't help myself.

I like to mess with people's expectations and I think that makes my stories different from what else is out there.  If you ever see a character in one of my books named Darla Dogooder who spends her time rescuing sweet forest animals, rest assured she's a mass murderer.

In Beautiful Medusa, Medusa is the hero and Perseus and Athena are the villains.  Another character in the book, Echidna, eats people (mmmmm, villager sandwich), yet she'd risk her life to keep Medusa safe.  That's another feature of my writing, I suppose, I tend toward grays rather than black and white, straight good and evil.

3. Why do I write what I do?

Because it makes me happy.

Because I have to.
I caaaan't stop.  I have a writing addiction.

Once a story idea gets ahold of me,  I have to get it out.  If I don't, it becomes unbearable.
For Beautiful Medusa, the original myth enraged me so much, I wanted to redeem a character who I felt had been terribly wronged (as told by Ovid, Medusa was turned into a horrible snake monster because she was raped by Poseidon in Athena's temple.  That's it.  THAT'S IT.  Even worse, after she's turned into a monster, Medusa runs away so that she won't hurt anyone and Perseus HUNTS HER DOWN. Why is he the hero?!).

I also wanted to explore why Athena punished Medusa in the first place.  That fascinated me and there's no easy answers there.    

4. How does my writing process work?  

I write slow.  The turtle is my spirit animal.  The three-toed sloth is the wind beneath my wings.  Snails wave to me as they zip on by.

I climb trees in the same amount of time it takes for you
to write a page.

I'm OK with writing slow.  As long as I get there and am proud of the result, who cares how long it takes?

Part of the reason why I'm so slow is that I'm an epic Pantser.  Sometimes people ask me questions, like:  "How does this chapter end?" or "What happens on the next page?"  Those questions are always greeted with this:

I have no idea.  I write strictly linear and let the plot develop organically.  I go wherever the characters want me to go.  I do have images in my head, and if I can work them in, great, and if I can't, then that's OK too.  For example, from the start, I've pictured Medusa riding the Pegasus and landing dramatically in front of her friends to save the day.  And luckily for me, everything came together and I got to include that in a scene!  Woohoo!

But I also had a very specific idea of how Prometheus and Medusa would first meet (it was inspired by Nick Fury and the Avengers) and I had to give up on that, because it just didn't mesh with the direction the story had taken.    

There you go.  That's my writing process.  Slow and steady, largely improvised, and aided by chocolate and caffeine.

I now tag the lovely and talented Maria D'Isidoro.  Check out her site!  She can also tell you all about her exciting news.