Conference Brain

Have you guys ever attended a conference? Doesn’t matter what kind. Any kind. A conference for your job. A conference surrounding something you love. Any conference that consists of you swimming along in a giant ocean of other people who do/love the same thing you do/love. Ever been to one?

I have. More than once. I’ve been to several conferences before, most of which revolve around writing. But I’ve never been to something as big as where I am right now. I am currently finishing up Day 2 of the RT Booklovers Convention in Dallas, which is a conference for people involved in the romance novel industry. Everybody is here: writers, readers, publishers, publicists, agents, bloggers, you name it. I don’t know how many people are actually registered, but I’d guess it’s upwards of 500. I am honestly not sure if that constitutes “big” in the grand scheme of conferences, but it’s big for me. And at the end of Day 2, I have Conference Brain.

Here are some of the wickedly informative panels I’ve attended so far:

  • Greasing the Wheels: Building Momentum & Reader Commitment in a Series
  • Writing Fast: Tips, Tricks, and Cautions
  • Worldbuilding: Not Just for Paranormals
  • Post-Gay: When Characters Just Happen to Be Gay
  • How to Write Realistic Queer Characters
  • Platform Building in the Digital Age

Do you see what I mean? It’s amazing stuff. I feel like a giant sponge, just soaking it all in, all the information, the advice, the tips. I’ve been writing now for fifteen years and there is still a ton for me to learn. There will always be another writer who can teach me something new and when those lessons come at me in the form of a four day conference: Conference Brain.

But, Georgia, what do you mean by Conference Brain? (I heard you. Don’t fret. I shall explain.) Conference Brain is a condition that sets in when a person attends a conference and is bombarded by endless information about a subject. It means is that my brain is suddenly overflowing, overwhelmed, chock full of things I need to do/research/implement when I get home next week. It means I am making lists of people I have met here that I need to e-mail after the conference is over. It means I am already thinking about changes I’ll need make to my current work in progress, changes I’ll need to make to the way I market, changes I’ll need to make to my daily schedule. Don’t get me wrong. This is not a bother. Conference Brain is not a bad thing by any means. All of these things will (hopefully) help me to improve the way I practice my craft as well as its product (my books). Conference Brain is just tiring. There are two more days and I’m already exhausted. My brain hurts.

But that’s okay because I’ve had Conference Brain in the past. Many times. Not necessarily at this level, but I’m familiar, and it will inevitably help me improve my work so the next books of mine you read will be that much better than the last. Don’t you worry about me. I am a professional and I know how to exactly how to handle Conference Brain:

Room service and wine, baby. Room service and wine.

You’re Going to Be Okay

I saw a music video this morning that moved me, mostly because as a teenager, I could completely relate. I am so grateful to not be a girl growing up in this day and age of social media, of everybody scrutinizing every little physical thing about you, of cyber bullying. How in the world do you keep your teenage daughter safe and confident today when the media sets impossible standards for her?

When I was a teenager, I had some pretty serious self-esteem issues. I don’t think anybody really knew because I hid them very well, but I grappled. I changed schools three times, the last time in my senior year, so I didn’t have many close friends. I was not popular. I was not unpopular. I was kind of…nobody. Just there. I did end up making friends, friends I still have today, so don’t feel bad for me. I did just fine. But when I see or hear something that reminds me of that time in my life, I’m touched, I’m a little melancholy (remember that scene in The Breakfast Club when Anthony Michael Hall asks Molly Ringwald if they’ll still be friends on Monday and she says no? Crushes me. Every time.). That being said, I realize that compared to today’s girls, I had it easy.

Loving yourself is hard. At least it was for me. It took me until I was well into my thirties to feel good about myself, and even then, my attitude would shift. It still does. I think once you have self-esteem issues, you always have them. You always fight them. Today, at 46, I have a healthier view of myself than I ever have and I like me. A lot. I’m a pretty cool woman. But it took a long time and it was a hard road. And every so often, that little voice starts to whisper in my head. You’ve put on weight. You’ll never be attractive. You have no talent. Why are you trying so hard? You’re not good enough. You never will be. Nobody likes you. And I’m fifteen again, sitting quietly invisible in the back of the classroom, taking notes like a good girl, watching the popular girls sitting a few desks ahead of me and wishing with all my might I could be a part of their group. It was silly. It wasn’t important. I know that now. But fifteen-year-old me didn’t know that. If I could go back and talk to her, I’d tell her not to worry so much, to relax and breathe, to stop trying so hard, that everything’s going to be just fine, and that she’s going to be all right. And to smile.

Here’s the link to the video that got me thinking this morning. It’s by Colbie Caillat.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GXoZLPSw8U8

Everybody Needs a Writing Conscience

So while A Little Bit of Spice is visiting the editor, I have begun work on the next book, the first in a series of I haven’t decided how many yet. Let me tell you how that came about (not the series, the starting of the next novel already, which is very unlike me).

I have a writer friend. Well, I have many writer friends, but I have one who is kind of my writing conscience and I’m hers. By writing conscience, I mean that I kick her ass when she’s screwing around on Facebook instead of writing, and she kicks mine when I whine about how I “just don’t feel like writing today.” We try hard not to let the other get away with lame excuses or laziness that prevents us from doing our jobs: writing romance novels. We are good for each other and we’re good for one another’s careers. Every writer could benefit from a Writing Conscience.

Now, I do not enjoy being between books. I feel lost, like I’m floundering, walking aimlessly through a field of nothing. It stresses me out and makes me cranky. I get unnecessarily snippy. I don’t want to do anything. I am not fun to be around. But I wasn’t ready to begin the new book yet–or so I thought–because I had little-to-none of it mapped out. My Writing Conscience said this: “You know what I do when I feel like that? I start writing.”

Well, that’s just silly, thought Georgia with a scoff. How can I possibly begin writing without a plan in place? I am not a pantster. I am a planner. Everybody knows that. Why would you even suggest something so ridiculously out of my comfort zone? Have you even met me?

But I was tired of feeling untethered and snapping at Bonnie for no reason and watching too much bad television, so I followed the advice of Writing Conscience. I began to write. And I kept writing. And it has worked surprisingly well (which I hesitate to admit, as Writing Conscience will then have an excuse to say ‘I told you so.’). I can’t say that I like it, because I am not used to sitting down at the computer and having absolutely no idea what I will write today, but I can say that I’ve written more than 7,000 words so far with little more than character names and occupations chosen ahead of time. It’s been a pleasant surprise. We’ll see how far I can get before panic sets in. If I throw myself out my own window, you’ll know why.

I guess the moral of this story is this: don’t be afraid to try something new with your writing or even your writing routine. Variety is the spice of life, isn’t that what they say? You might surprise yourself. I did.

On Discipline

The good news about working from home is that I have no deadlines except the ones I impose upon myself and nobody to answer to except me. The bad news about working from home is that I have no deadlines except the ones I impose upon myself and nobody to answer to except me.

Bottom line: discipline is HARD.

I have the whole day to sit here at my desk, gaze out the window at the snow that is apparently never, ever leaving again, ever, and think up stories to tell others. That’s my job. You know what isn’t my job? Laundry. Shopping. Cleaning the house. Walking the dogs. Watching Netflix. Oh, they need to be done (with the exception of the Netflix one) and either I or Bonnie must do them, but they are not priorities. What they are is distraction. I’m stuck on a plot line? Hey, I’ll just run the vacuum instead. No idea how to flesh out this character? I think I’ll go grocery shopping. Haven’t written a blog in six months? Wait! I saw there’s a new cheesy horror flick on Netflix this week and I must watch it!

Discipline is hard.

I can write that line with great, all-knowing authority because today, I wrote those two beautiful words, the words every novelist loves the most. The End. So the next book (the beer book, which is actually titled “A Little Bit of Spice”) is that much closer to done and I’m feeling like a total rock star. Today.

Talk to me in three months when I’m in the early stages of the next book and instead of jotting story notes, I’m cleaning the bathroom…

Beer

So, I’m working on a new book. It has no title yet, so I’m simply calling it The Beer Book. In it, I have a main character who works for a small, family-owned craft brewery and another who doesn’t know the first thing about, nor has she ever liked, beer.

Fun fact: I don’t know much about beer, nor have I ever liked beer.

Yeah, this should be fun.

Like any good author worth her salt, I realized that a boatload of research was going to be in order if I expect to pull this off. Dogs, I can write about. Wine? I know my stuff. Laundry? I got this. But beer? I’m lost. So, I Googled “craft beer for beginners” and found dozens of websites and blogs to help me understand not only the process of making beer, but how to taste it. Who knew that tasting beer was similar to tasting wine? That you look at color, smell, head, all kinds of things in addition to taste? I do now!

As I researched, I realized there is really only one good way to write this beer novice authentically: I would need to actually take her journey. So, I’ve begun, and I’m going to blog about it so you can come with me. (And let me add a side note here: my wife is a huge fan of beer. Huge. It’s her favorite thing in the world and she tries all different kinds. She is over the moon that I’m actually drinking beer, so bonus!)

One of the beer blogs I read suggested starting with light beer. Not light in calories, but light in color. Wheat beer, Hefeweisen, pilsner, and such. A lot of the lighter colored beers are also brewed with fruit, which helps a newbie like me ease in. Some lighter beers have less hops as well and more malt. Since hops is what makes beer bitter (blech) and malt is what makes it sweeter (yay), it made sense for me to start there.

In New York, we can buy our beer in the supermarket, and Wegmans has a huge cooler case of various craft beers for you to create your own 6-pack. So I did that. I picked four beers for me to try and then two for Bonnie because, come on, let’s not get carried away. I have never liked beer, so why risk wasting six beers when you can risk wasting four instead? I bought a Sam Adams cherry wheat, a Blue Moon (at the insistence of three of my friends), a winter Shandy, and a pilsner.

Want to hear something weird?

I actually liked three of the four. Liked them. Beer. (The pilsner was a no-go. Blech.)

I do know what part of my issue is. Bonnie, being a longtime beer connoisseur, has very developed tastes. That’s fancy code for saying she likes the really bitter, hoppy stuff. She is an India Pale Ale fan. It’s her favorite in the whole world. I hate it. Hate. It. It’s horrible stuff. And since I’ve been with her for twenty years, whenever I venture to try a sip of beer, it’s inevitably an IPA. And I make a face and want to wipe off my tongue like Tom Hanks in Big when he ate the caviar. Most of the blogs for beginners say to stay far away from IPAs at first, unless you want to blow your tongue out of your mouth. Sound advice, thank you. I’d like to keep my tongue. They say I can work up to IPAs and may eventually like them, but I’m not optimistic about that.

I have since tasted a few other beers. It’s almost December, so everybody has their winter seasonal beer out and that’s been helpful to me. Blue Moon has a Cinnamon Horchata Ale that I really liked. Their Gingerbread Spice wasn’t as good, but that’s okay. My overall favorite so far has been the Sam Adams Cherry Wheat, with the Blue Moon Cinnamon Horchata Ale a close second. The Winter Shandy (which was brewed with lemon peel and pomegranate) came in third.

I’ve only just begun on this interesting path, and I will try to blog about it as I go so you can tag along with me. Stay tuned for installment number two, which I’ll try to put up within the next two weeks. In the meantime, use the comment section to tell me about your own beer experiences, and feel free to give suggestions to this novice. And, go!

Women’s Week in Provincetown, 2014

Apparently, it is my lot in life to go for months and months with no idea on a subject for a blog. Then one day, I wake up with four of them. I don’t understand my brain.

That being said, let’s talk about my recent trip to Provincetown for Women’s Week. Have you ever been? It’s a wonderful time, filled with women, entertainment, and most importantly (to me), books. It’s one of the few times during the year where I get to work and play at the same time. Like the GCLS each summer, Women’s Week always consists of some of my very favorite people—readers and writers alike—and these gatherings are the only opportunities I get to talk to them face to face, with nary a keyboard in sight.

It’s an eight-hour drive for me, and this is the second time I’ve done it alone. Vacation time (or lack thereof) was the deciding factor for Bonnie to sit this one out, so I drove it myself. But I had my new Accord and the iPod, so there was much singing and good gas mileage to be had. I stayed in a condo rather than a room this time, and my roommate was the illustrious Melissa Brayden, fellow romance author, who turned out to be the best roomie a girl could ask for. I fed her. She gave me cinnamon whiskey. We solidified our friendship over a very expensive flat iron. She even smiled (sort of) when I decided that her wake-up call would be me cheerfully jumping on her bed bright and early each morning telling her it was time to get up. She loved that. She did, too.

Melissa, me, and the wind

I am not one of those people who craves nearness to water. I like it. I like it a lot. But I’m just as happy in the mountains. That being said, Provincetown has a little more charm because it’s on the water; it really does. You can walk down Commercial Street, shop a little, stop into Womencrafts for a reading, grab a cocktail and a snack, then stroll down to the water and just…breathe. I did that many times, something about the wind blowing off the water, the blue sky, the sunshine, and the salt air…it was so peaceful.

And sometimes, you skip the beach and just go straight to the cocktails, as me and Rachel Spangler did...

And sometimes, you skip the beach and just go straight to the cocktails, as me and Rachel Spangler did…

I want to say thanks to Womencrafts and all the women who work there. Next time you’re in P-Town, stop in and say hi. Tell them I told you to. It’s a great little shop filled with colorful, fun, women-created merchandise and lots of books. I did several signings there during my stay and met tons of readers. Thank you so much to each and every one of you who stopped in to see me. Your support means more than you know.

Lynn Ames, me, Liz McMullen, Marianne K. Martin, Wynn Malone at Womencrafts

Lynn Ames, me, Liz McMullen, Marianne K. Martin, Wynn Malone at Womencrafts

There were also some great readings. Fellow author and PR whiz Lynn Ames set us up at Napi’s restaurant for a morning reading with me, Melissa, Lynn, Marianne K. Martin (reading from the brand new and long-awaited “Tangled Roots”), and Wynn Malone. We had almost forty women in that audience at 9:30 in the morning, which surprised all of us. I read from my current novel, “Olive Oil & White Bread.” The GCLS also had some gatherings and hosted readings as well as author chats. In that venue, I read from my upcoming novel “Zero Visibility.” It was the first time I’ve given any peek at all of it, and I got some fantastic feedback. That’s always a nice feeling.

The night before it was time to return home, I spent some quiet time on the dark beach with two of my closest writer friends, Melissa and Rachel Spangler, and we talked about life and wishes and what we needed to leave behind us and what lies ahead. It was emotional and cathartic and just…good. (And there was a fox! On the beach! What?) And now I’m home, working feverishly to put the finishing touches on “Zero Visibility” so I can get started on the next project. As with all my writing trips, I came home all pumped up to get to work.
Time to do that…

(photos courtesy of Melissa Brayden and Lynn Ames…)

The Food Blog

As many of you know or may have heard, last month at the annual Golden Crown Literary Society conference, I sat on a panel called “Eat Your Heart Out.” My fellow panelists were RG Emanuelle, Mary Griggs, and Karin Kallmaker, and what we all have in common is the fact that food tends to play a large role in much of our writing.

It was a fun panel, lots of joking as well as some serious talk. At the beginning of the event, audience members were asked to write out three suggestions on small pieces of paper and deposit them into three bowls. One was to be a protein, one was to be a vegetable, and one was simply, “other.” Each panelist chose one slip from each bowl and was tasked with creating a dish that included those ingredients.

I will stress two things. One, the drawing was NOT rigged (despite what my fellow panelists might think). Two, I got extremely lucky because I drew bacon, artichoke hearts, and pasta. I realize how it looks, since RG had to incorporate gummy bears and Karin’s protein was herring. So, amidst the loud shouts of my fellow panelists calling foul, I proceeded to make my dish. And it was delicious. Ready? Aprons on!

Since artichoke hearts don’t have a ton of flavor, I decided to add some cherry tomatoes from my garden to the mix. So, at this point, I’ve crisped the bacon (which will go on Bonnie’s portion, but not mine, as I am still not eating meat…and holy crap, do I miss bacon), and cut up the tomatoes and artichoke hearts.

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Next, a little oil in the frying pan and add some garlic (you might also note that other ingredient: red wine…this does not go into the dish itself, but into the cook, which makes for a much more pleasant cooking experience). Sauté for a couple minutes, and then add the tomatoes, then the hearts. I added salt, pepper, and a little Italian seasoning, but you could pretty much do whatever you want at this stage.

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This is where I’d alter it a bit next time. I added a small amount of vegetable broth to keep the tomatoes and artichoke hearts from being too dry and to make a bit of a sauce. I was concerned about adding too much and having the sauce end up being too thin, so I played it safe. Turns out, I should have added a bit more because most of it did cook down, and it was a tiny bit drier than I would have liked. So noted for next time.

I cooked up about half a pound of linguini as my pasta (this is more than enough for two people, but I am half Italian and have an inherited inability to cook the proper amount of food without going over…by a lot), then served the garlicky tomatoes and artichoke hearts over it. Next, I crumbled the bacon on top along with a sprinkling of parmesan, and voila! Mangia!

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Not gonna lie: it was damn good. I’d make it again in a heartbeat. Give it a try and let me know how yours turns out.