Update: July 26, 2014

It’s been over six months since my last update about my writing life, so time for another.  Those of you who have been following me during that time know that it’s been busy, busy, busy.  Crazy busy!  I’m looking forward to my “vacation” that begins in about ten days.  I will not be working for at least two weeks, but I will return!  Without further ado:

Designed by Christopher Bohnet, xt4, inc.

Designed by Christopher Bohnet, xt4, inc.

Perceval Novels:  Of course, the BIG accomplishment here is the e-publication of my first novel, Perceval’s Secret, at Amazon Kindle Store, Barnes & Noble Nook Store, and Kobo International (for my friends in other countries).  The novel has two reviews at Amazon, good ones, too.  Sales in the first four months have been quite slow despite enthusiastic response to the marketing.  I want to scream to the world — hey!  It’s a really, really good book and a fast read!  Give it a try!  The e-book format is just fine.

My next chore will be to set up a crowdsource funding project at Indiegogo (I did one at Kickstarter last fall, if you remember, to help pay the production and publication costs, that wasn’t successful) to help me pay the production and marketing bills.  I’ve been tracking the costs so this time I’ll know exactly what I need.

Marketing:  Marketing and promotion for Perceval’s Secret has consumed most of my time.  I mailed 1100 postcards to orchestra musicians early June, and I’ve been handing out the postcards to anyone I meet (almost).  I’ve left piles at doctor offices, my dentist, my hair stylist, and at the large annual science fiction and fantasy convention, Convergence.  I continue to carry postcards with me to leave wherever I can.

Author Buzz promotion is in full swing.  The first part was a book giveaway contest that brought a good response.  Five happy readers received free copies of the novel, as well as one book club in South Carolina.  The Bookmovement.com campaign was changed from a book giveaway to a banner ad on the home page of their website for a week.  There was some concern that book clubs wouldn’t be that interested in an e-book novel.  Well, the book club in South Carolina was very interested and all members had e-readers.  I saw the Kindle Nation promotion and my novel was the first on the list.  Actually, Amazon has been promoting Perceval’s Secret on its own, sending out e-mails to people and every time my novel is at the top of the list!  Then there’s the “Summer Buzz” ad campaign that began this past Monday.  Ads for my novel will run on various book blogs and websites for the next month.

I am working slowly on getting more book reviews at a variety of online locations.  I continue to utilize social media also to spread the word about the book.  I’ve been quite surprised by how much time social media takes up, and I’m only focused on four sites.  I can’t imagine the time commitment for more than four sites.

Short Stories:  I have not had any time to work on short stories.  As usual, I continue to get ideas for more stories, and I write down the ideas to flesh them out at a later date.  I have continued to collect markets for the short stories ready to send out, and this fall I plan to start sending them out again.  If you haven’t read them yet, they are available at Wattpad.  The Light Chamber is here.  The Negligee is here.  Please rate them as you see them and leave comments!

Essays:  My monthly Word Power column continues in the Minnesota Mensagenda, and has expanded to included a word-find puzzle four times this year.  I love creating the puzzles.  If there were a job creating those puzzles that I could do as a day job to pay my bills, I’d be one happy camper.  Of course, if my writing brought in more money, that’d be especially wonderful too! (smile)

a_readers_advice_to_writers-460x307Paid Gigs:  The wonderful surprise in the last few months was being approached by a producer at ClassicalMPR to write for their website.  I’ve written four essays for them so far, and they’ve now given me an annual contract so I’ll be doing even more in the future.  My latest was just published at the website yesterday and is here. 

Yager Editing Services:  My freelance editing and typing business has been on hold but I plan to finish setting up the website after my “vacation” and start looking for business.  I’ll announce here when the website is open for business.

The Successful Patient:  I’m writing this nonfiction book/memoir under my pen name, Gina Hunter.  Work stopped when the e-publication project took flight.  It doesn’t look like I’ll be working on this project this year except for the Successful Patient blog posts that I publish at Eyes on Life.

Presentations/The Successful Patient: I gave a wonderfully successful presentation based on material from The Successful Patient at the CCFA IBD Education Conference this past May in St. Paul, MN.  I was quite pleased to observe attendees writing notes as I spoke and we had a lively Q&A at the end.  I also participated in a panel about supporting a loved one with IBD and that was really interesting.  Patient advocacy is an element of chronic illness management that is one of my causes.  I have no presentations scheduled for the rest of this year, but I’m hoping to do more next year.

The Eyes on Life Commentary Blog:  This nonfiction commentary blog continues a steady build in audience.  Popular posts in the last six months again involved the Minnesota Orchestral Association and nonprofit governance, and just about anything concerning raising boys or male behavior.  As with the memoir, The Successful Patient, I write this blog under the pen name Gina Hunter, and it can be found here.

The Anatomy of Perceval Blog:  I continue to write here once a week about fiction, the Perceval novels, classical music, movies and book reviews, and anything else related to writing, especially fiction.  Watch for updates here about  Perceval’s Secret and the beginning of work on the second novel in the series.

Job Search: I will need to find at least a part-time job once I’m back from my “vacation.”  As much as I’d love for my writing and editing endeavors to support me, I cannot count on that.  I am satisfied, however, that I’ve been working my butt off to find ways for my writing and editing skills to bring in the money.

Reading:
As you might guess, my reading hasn’t been as active as I’d like.  I’ve been working my way through the biography of the conductor Stanislaw Skrowaczewski since the beginning of the year.  I’m almost finished.  I’ve joined Goodreads (friend me if you’re there!), and this will either make me intensely guilty that I’m not reading and reviewing more books, or will be just the incentive I need.

I’ve mentioned before here that I will be having major surgery soon, and that is my “vacation” time.  I will not be able to work for a while, but I hope to do a lot of reading.  I plan to post here next Saturday but then will be on hiatus for at least two weeks.  Please hang in there with me!  Thank you.

cute-cat-picture-wallpaper by jasonlefkowitz.net

The Brilliant Detective

Earlier this week, I was thinking about characterization and character development, specifically as it relates to detectives.  A detective represents the power of society in many ways, but none as well as in finding and catching criminals. Usually murderers. Often serial killers. As “good” characters, they must still be interesting, sympathetic, and somehow easy to relate to for the reader.  How to make a “good” character interesting?

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Photo: Paul Grover)

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Photo: Paul Grover)

We never seem to tire of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective, Sherlock Holmes. I think he must be the standard against which all other fictional detectives are measured.  Since Doyle’s books, we’ve seen fan fiction, movies and TV shows using Mr. Holmes and Dr. Watson as the primary characters.  What is it about Holmes that makes him so fascinating?

Holmes and Watson (original actors) (Photo from DVD)

Holmes and Watson (original actors) (Photo from DVD)

For one thing, he’s brilliant.  Doyle must have been brilliant himself to create and write him.  Holmes can be rather abrasive at times, though, and he’s eccentric to a fault.  Watson definitely puts up with a lot.  Holmes plays the violin, has a drug habit, and an ego bigger than a barn.  But we love him.  He makes the world right.  In other words, he’s not at all a goody-two-shoes or an idealist about humanity and justice.  He has flaws.  And he’s brilliant.

So, I started thinking about other “brilliant” detectives, wondering if they have been able to fill Holmes’ large shoes for us.  The first that came to my mind was DCI Morse as played by John Shaw on Inspector Morse for Masterpiece Mystery.  Writer Colin Dexter created him in the original novels. In keeping with the Holmesian tradition of abrasiveness, Morse is known for his short temper and being a curmudgeon.  He can be downright difficult.  But he doesn’t like dead bodies at all, i.e. he stands away from the victim at a crime scene as he quizzes the medical examiner.  He prefers not to go to the morgue for the autopsy report.  He drinks too much — it landed him in the hospital in one episode.  He’s particular about his red jaguar.  But his powers of observation  surpass anyone around him.  He loves classical music, especially opera, and is a champion at solving crossword puzzles.  He’s also a slightly paunchy middle-aged guy who likes the ladies but whose love life leaves him alone most of the time.  Poor Sergeant Lewis has to endure Morse who has no illusions about humanity.  But Morse is absolutely brilliant.

DCI Morse (John Thaw)

DCI Morse (John Thaw)

It’s interesting to note that the Brits are masters at creating interesting and brilliant detectives.  Adam Dagleish, for example.  Jane Tennison. And most recently, a TV series about the young DCI Morse in which we learn what Morse’s first name is, Endeavour.  What parent names a kid Endeavour?  No wonder he develops into a curmudgeon.  This series interests me specifically because it shows us how Morse developed into the detective he was in middle-age, the people who supported and challenged him, his blunders as well as longer glimpses into his personal life.

(copyright ITV/MammothScreen)

Endeavour Morse (Shaun Evans) (copyright ITV/MammothScreen)

Finally, an American detective of brilliance who can stand proudly with his British comrades: Adrian Monk.  I stumbled onto Monk while in the hospital, and I was incredibly grateful I did because watching his exploits made my hospital stay much more pleasant.  Monk adds a tragic personal life to the mix: his beloved wife Trudy was murdered and her case has never been solved.  He suffered a mental breakdown after her death and left his job as a detective with the San Francisco Police.  After he recovers, he works as a private detective. Soft-spoken and vulnerable, Monk suffers from OCD, i.e. obsessive-compulsive disorder.  His OCD also makes him incredibly observant about details and solving the puzzles that are murder investigations.  The thing I loved about this show and this detective was the ultimately positive light they shone on Monk’s OCD.  Yes, it could be unbearably painful and debilitating, and they show that.  But it also makes him a brilliant detective.

Adrian Monk (Tony Shalhoub)

Adrian Monk (Tony Shalhoub)

I cannot stand an unsolved mystery.  I can be very compulsive myself once I’m hooked on a detective.  It is so comforting to watch a brilliant one solve a mystery and take a world that was in disorder and give it order….

 

 

 

The Creative Brain

Credit: Mike Basher

Credit: Mike Basher

For a lot of people, creativity is a big mystery.  Where does it come from?  Is it hereditary? Is it dependent on Nurture vs. Nature?  Is Creative Genius dependent on a high IQ? What makes someone highly creative?

Dr. Nancy Andreasen asked those questions and more as she developed studies to find out.  She reports on her findings in this month’s The Atlantic.   Andreasen looked at creativity not only in the arts, but also in mathematics and the sciences.  It’s an amazing article, one that I read twice, marveling at the clarity of her writing (well, she has a PhD in Literature) as well as her descriptions of her studies, her procedures, and her thinking. I highly recommend this article for anyone interested in creativity and/or neuroscience.

I was relieved to learn that I don’t need a high IQ, i.e. over about 130, to be a creative genius.  In fact, there was that curious effect about not getting a higher return the higher the IQ.  So, creativity is not necessarily dependent on a high IQ.

Another characteristic of creative genius she found is perseverance.  Highly creative types tend to not give up easily on whatever it is they’re doing.  I don’t know how many people have commented to me about my perseverance. Making a person with perseverance especially successful is her discipline.  I would also say that focus needs to be a part of that discipline.  Writers know that perseverance, focus and discipline make it possible to write.

But what about the actual brain?  Is it bigger?  Is it somehow physically different?  Or does it just function in a different way?

Andreasen recounts the results of a functional MRI imaging study done on symphony orchestra musicians that revealed they have an unusually large Broca’s area which is the part of the brain associated with language.  She went on to describe that most of the high level functions of the brain occur in the six layers of nerve cells and their connections called the cerebral cortex, including the Broca’s area.  Some regions are highly specialized such as those receiving sensory information.  The most developed areas of the brain are the association cortices which process and use the specialized information collected by the senses and movements.  Curious, Andreasan developed a study to figure out which parts of the brain make creativity possible.

First, she learned that REST was not very restful, i.e. random episodic silent thought, or what the lay person would call daydreaming, or letting one’s mind wander.  During REST, she discovered through functional MRI studies, the association cortices are “wildly active.”  From this, she realized that these areas support recognizing relationships, making associations and connections, and seeing things in an original way or angles that others can’t see.  Highly creative people are gifted in doing all those things.

Next in her study, she interviewed her subjects to learn about their family backgrounds and personalities.  After putting all the data together and analyzing it, she concluded that creativity tends to run in families but takes diverse forms.  Nurture is essential.  And there is a tendency toward mental illness, usually a mood disorder, of varying degrees of severity.  Her explanation of contributing factors fascinated me.

For example, highly creative individuals tend to be exploratory or adventuresome.  They will push at established boundaries and meet with resistance and rejection.  They persist in spite of the rejection, in spite of doubt, because they believe powerfully in what they do. (Does this sound familiar to anyone?)  This sets up a conflict, however, in the psyche which leads to psychic pain, and that can manifest as a mood disorder such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder.  Andreasen also found that mental illness ran in her subjects’ families, but often the highly creative subject suffered only a mild form and was fully functional.  Eccentricity, anyone?

Creativity cannot be forced and provided on demand.  We all know this, of course.  Those breakthrough moments that some call “eureka” moments occur after long periods of preparation and thinking, so working daily is part of the preparation.  They tend to come during REST periods, i.e. when doing mundane tasks that require little attention from the brain such as taking a shower or a long walk.  My most creative days are actually Sundays when, after a week of butt-in-the-chair work I’m RESTing.  I read, take a long shower, putter around the house, take walks, and so on.  My RESTing association cortices, however, are pumping out ideas and solutions to creative problems.

I absolutely loved this article by Dr. Andreasan, and I plan to keep it near for a while.   It’s helped me to understand how my own brain works….

 

The Writer’s Life: Taking Care of Yourself

deadline-clockMarketing and promotion efforts for Perceval’s Secret have so preoccupied my mind, especially this last week, that I’ve not gotten dressed each day until mid-afternoon.  This is not like the normal, regular me.  But I’ve fallen into a routine in which I set up the computer immediately after breakfast when I usually wash up and get dressed.  Urgency has compelled me into this routine.  This urgency is about getting as much done as possible each day so I must start as early as possible.

There’s a part of my brain that is pounding on the wall to the other part, insistent and determined.  It’s the part that knows 1) like most humans, I am capable of accomplishing only so much in any given time frame, and 2) the marketing and promotion efforts can be spread out.  In fact, it’d probably be just fine if some of my plan sat on the back burner until September when I hit the 6-month mark of being on sale.  It makes perfect sense to implement another big promotion push at that time.

On the other side of that wall, though, is the emotional part that is trying to hold the panic at bay.  What if the book really doesn’t sell?  What if no one likes it?  What if, despite the best laid plans and implementation, I fail?

This is powerful stuff.  What I need is a cat.

upside down cat

Have you ever watched a cat deal with life?  I swear, the cat’s answer to almost everything (but hunger) is to feign indifference.  Oh, you have a new toy for me?  I think I’ll wash my face.  You want me to jump up on your lap?  Oh, I need to walk over to the window and look out.  Oh, you want to pet me?  I’ll run around you for a while then into the kitchen for some food.  Cat behavior is a good reminder for how to back away a few steps without losing sight of what’s going on.  I love the way cats seem to be capable of sleeping anywhere, and that they have absolutely no problem with bathing themselves whenever the spirit moves them, no matter who’s around or what they may want.  There is something, somehow, that’s very zen about a cat.

awkward-cat-sleeping-positions-005

They are choosey about what and who they’ll allow to influence them.  Of course, the human pet with the food gets top priority.  But the thing that most leaves me in total awe is their total lack of guilt.  I can make myself feel guilty for not doing certain work on a daily basis, for goofing off at Twitter too long, for wanting to close the computer to just read for the rest of the day.  A cat wouldn’t feel guilty about any of that.  First of all, a cat’s job is to be a cat and a cat does that constantly, without effort or a need to brand herself or establish a platform.  By that measure, a writer is a writer is a writer, and my name is my brand, and my life is my platform.

I would definitely like to see a cat tweet.

Ready? Set? Go!

Ready? Set? Go!

The brain needs a rest.  The body may be just fine, but we don’t often think about a brain needing rest.  Cats are masters at resting.  They can sit and stare out a window for hours, or stare at an aquarium.  Then they’re off to play with — what?  The air.  Cats must have amazing imaginations evidenced by the play behavior.  I’ve watched a cat chase nothing around a room, jump at nothing, swat at nothing, her head moving to follow some imaginary bug flying in the air above her.  Cats rest their brains all the time!  Humans need to pay much more attention to over- stressed brains and rest like cats.

cute-cat-picture-wallpaper by jasonlefkowitz.net

In other words, take care of yourself.  For me, classical music can be part of resting my brain, or complete silence.  Sleep works, too, although I’m not a big napper.  Reading an engrossing mystery that takes me far away from my own life also rests my brain.  Watching reruns of favorite TV shows.  Taking a long walk around the nearby city lake without cellphone or earbuds.  In short, getting away from technology, of being plugged in.

How do you take care of yourself as a writer?  What are your methods for resting your brain?

big-cat