Friday, July 30, 2010

You Learn Something New Every Day: Am I a Closet Sci-Fi Addict?

This comes under the heading of "a tongue-in-cheek look at my own psyche."  I've always stated (with perhaps too much emphasis) that I'm not "into" science fiction.  I mean, Star Wars was great, ET made me laugh and cry, and Avatar was a really fun way to spend 280 minutes.  But am I a sci-fi fan?  Until recently, the answer would have been no.

But then last week I joined 150,000 other people at the San Diego Comic-Con.  Just a few years ago, Comic-Con was a medium-sized convention for fans of comic books, graphic novels, and (to an extent), science fiction.  But it's exploded into a legitimate phenomena and mini film-festival, where celebrities of varying stature mingle with their adoring public.  It's still largely sci-fi-centric, but the boundries have expanded to include many things that are genre-defying and/or slightly off-kilter: Dexter, Nurse Jackie and Family Guy being three of them. 

The con was a really unique and fun experience (and yes, I do have pictures to post on Facebook!  This weekend, I promise!).  It was for the most part a cheerful crowd (isolated pen stabbings notwithstanding): all of us were bonded by the general atmosphere of festivity and the aching feet we developed while standing in line.  As I chatted with my fellow fun-lovers, I found myself repeating my firm stance that I wasn't a sci-fi fan.  And then something remarkable happened: I started listening to myself!  This is what I heard:

"I'm not really into sci-fi, but I love Battlestar Galactica."

"I'm not really into sci-fi, but I love Firefly."

"I'm not really into sci-fi, but I love Futurama."

Hmmm, am I crazy, or is there a pattern emerging?  Suddenly I realized that my professed indifference of the genre was just my way of "playing it cool," much like we used to do as kids when we didn't want someone to know that we "liked" them!

So after much inward-searching and contemplation, I have come to a remarkable conclusion: I am a fan of science fiction!  I mean, beam me up, Scotty, because I frackin' love that shiny sci-fi!  It's full-on double rainbow. I'm twirling my hair into Princess Leia buns right now! 

You know, the older I get, the more I have to learn -- especially about myself.  It makes me feel hopeful about the future, and very young at heart!

Have you ever had an experience like this, or am I the only one?

Friday, July 9, 2010

Where do ideas come from? And why haven't I had any good ones lately?

Yikes! It's been a MONTH since I've blogged!? Oh boy, that ain't good. The truth is, aside from being "busy" (which is never an excuse not to write, as any writer will tell you!) I just haven't had any good ideas lately! It's been a bit of a problem, let me tell ya. But then last week, something funny happened. (Insert dramatic segue music of your choice here.)

I was invited, by someone I'd never met, to submit a short story for a new website. The deadline was fast approaching, and I was stumped. I mean, when someone I don't know contacts me and asks me to write something for them, that's progress, right? So I had to do it, right?

There was an inkling of an idea wriggling around in my brainpan about a woman who takes a "sick day" from work and winds up in a most peculiar situation. It was all I had, so I decided to run with it. I chiseled three hours from my schedule, packed up my laptop, and went to Starbucks to write. Now, three hours isn't a lot, but it's enough to get the bones of a short-short story down on paper. (Short-shorts usually run 500-1500 words.) I was convinced that I could bang out a rough draft, do rewrites over the next couple of days, and voila! Brilliant story, rave reviews, worldwide fame. I had it all planned.

I strode confidently into the coffee shop, head held high, laptop over my shoulder. I ordered my beverage and a chicken-veggie platter with humous (yum), plunked down my stuff at the corner table with the good view, switched on my computer…and sat there. And then sat there some more. Oh, I sat like a champ, let me tell you! Finally, I started typing, grinding out the story as I'd imagined it. It wasn't good, but at least it was something.

Slowly and painfully, words made their way onto the screen. I hacked out the first act of the story, which was all that I'd thought of at that time, and then I stopped again, and sat some more. What should happen next? I asked myself. But I had absolutely no clue; I was stumped, good and proper.

Now, anyone who knows me well can tell you that I've had a lifelong love affair with the works of Agatha Christie. She's written some of my favorite stories of all time, including classics like Jane in Search of a Job, The Golden Ball and The Manhood of Edward Robinson. So at that moment, in my time of trouble, I sent up a quick prayer to the writing gods and asked myself, "What would Agatha do?" Suddenly I had an idea. Just like that, I Saw It All: the whole story, all laid out like a pretty little lollipop path winding its way into an enchanted forest.

But there was a catch, of course (isn't there always?) and it was this: no way was this story going to be only 1500 words. And no way was I going to bang it out in the time I had left which at that particular moment was – well, damn it all, I was out of time!

Okay, almost out of time. See, I was supposed to meet someone approximately one hour from that particular moment, and I was going to need about ten minutes to get to where I was going. So I had fifty minutes to come up with another brilliant but short story and write the rough draft. The impossibility of the situation overwhelmed me, and I knew I had to get out of the store and get some space.

Frustrated, I packed up my laptop, threw away the remains of my yummy snack, sucked down the rest of my coffee and got the heck outta there. I used the short drive to remind myself of all the times that writing has been easy. Okay, so there aren't that many of those times, but there have been a few! A few of those lovely, delightful instances when everything falls into place and the words just flow like fine wine.

There has to be a way to have that again, I told myself. I just need a little sweet inspiration.

I arrived at my destination and parked the car. I looked up at the blue sky and imagined having a hundred brilliant ideas. I pictured them like brightly colored balloons, rising in the air, multiplying and spreading….

Something clicked. Oh, yes it surely did. I looked at the clock on my dashboard. Forty-fiveminutes left. It was better than nothing. My laptop was out of juice by that time, so I grabbed my trusty spiral-bound notebook and my favorite ballpoint and I started scribbling. Spelling and grammar were in no way important, and for once, neatness absolutely did not count.

By the time my friend arrived, I had handwritten almost half the story. She took pity on me: helped me find an electrical outlet so I could plug in my computer, and waited patiently while I banged out the second half. That rough draft came to about 900 words; further tinkering brought it up in the 1300-word range. I emailed it off just under deadline, and now I'm waiting to hear back. If they don't choose to use it – well hey, that's okay, I'll just post it here. :)

You know, one of the most common questions for a writer to be asked is, "Where do you get your ideas?" The truth is, ideas can come from anywhere. My original story concept(about the sick day) came on a morning when my alarm went off and for the briefest of moments I contemplated calling in sick (I confess I wasn't sick, I was just feeling lazy!). Then I imagined where the day might take me if I didn't go to work, and that's how I got my first act. As I really think about it, most of my ideas come from that same place: from simply asking What if?

What if two childhood sweethearts were suddenly thrown together in an intimate but exotic setting, while all the secrets of their hometown life threatened to destroy their last chance at happiness? That was Homesong, my first novel.

What if a woman finds evidence that her husband is having an affair, but he dies in an accident before she can ask him about it? That was Still Waters, my second novel (available now on Kindle, and available in paperback on August 18th, I might add!).

Sometimes the what-ifs don't go very far, but sometimes they go all the way!

So now, what if you tell me about a good idea that you've had (artistic or otherwise!), where it came from and where it led you?