Weeping of the Willows description

I’ve put up a description of the first book I’m working on, Weeping of the Willows, on the “LaShawn’s Published Works” page. I’m next going to work on the pagemeter to reflect it accurately. It may take a while though, but I am about a quarter ways through the book and chugging along at roughly two-three pages a day.

Now, if you excuse me, I got a whiny little boy to take care of. He had a little fever yesterday; today’s he’s better, but usually, after being sick, he goes into a whiny, clingy mode for a couple of days. I wish I could do that whenever I get sick–curl up in someone’s lap and whimper all day.

Midwest Literary Arts Festival in Aurora, IL September 16-17 (free)

Midwest Literary Arts Festival

So this Saturday, Aurora, IL is holding their 4th Annual Literay Festival. It’s promising to be pretty good, and the fact that free Wi-Fi’s going to be available sweetens the deal. (Too bad I can’t take advantage of it–my laptop’s been acting up all summer, and last month the wireless feature just stopped working. Don’t know why, but my hubby said it’s time for an overhaul. Oyyy…)

I didn’t realize this Festival was all that new until I attended it last year. I had just heard about it the week before, so I had to take the then 1-year-old Daniel with me. I didn’t mind. I saw it as a good way to expose him to the book craft at an early age. And besides, it was FREE! I had to go, child or no.

I’ve never been to downtown Aurora before. It’s got an old, abandoned feel to it–lots of Mexican restaurants, a couple of thrift stores. But you can also sense the potential that slumbered in the old buildings. The festival itself squatted on a bit of land surrounded to the East and West by the Fox River loping lazily by. I got there around oneish, I think, but there was hardly anyone about, like the festival decided to end early. Just a few people wandering about, browsing the bookstalls and such. I didn’t realize that mostly everyone was sitting in workshops until I actually grabbed a schedule of events. Workshops? There were workshops? Free workshops? How come I didn’t know about this? If I did, I would’ve left Screamer at home…awww, it was too late to gripe about it. I decided to treat my kid to some beans and rice and plot out our time there.

It turned out that there were only one workshop I was deeply interested in–the Worldbuilding Workshop, which sadly was taking place when I got there and would be over in 10 minutes. It wasn’t so much the workshop that it was headed by Tad Williams, one of my favorite authors. By the time I pushed my monster stroller (monster describing the stroller, not the child–he was surprisingly groovy that day) over to the building, then figured out how to get the monster stroller into the building itself without going up all those the stairs, both outside and inside the building (that involved going through a side door and somehow ending on the 3rd floor of the building when I wanted to be on the 1st), the workshop was over. Bummer–I was hoping to hear Tad. I’d supposed I could wrestle the stroller over to the last workshop about women in fiction on the other side of the festival, but I just didn’t have the energy for it.

As I pushed the now squirmy Daniel across the atrium, I happened to glance towards a tall column and there was Tad, not surrounded by legions of writers or walking hurriedly, glancing at his watch and mumbling how he had to catch his plane, but leaning against the column, chatting casually with another person.

Now, if you are a writing barely starting out, and you look up to see a more famous writer standing before you, just chatting with someone else, what do you do? Do you stand and bask in his presence before running home to journal the experience? Do you push a book, any book, in his face and demand him to sign in the middle of his conversation? Now, add a twisting, writhing, one-year-old boy to the mix, as he struggles to escape the stroller so he could explore those curious stairs leading up to the auditorium. What do you do?

The person Tad spoke to took his leave…and Tad turned to see me.

“Hi!” I gushed. “I love your Otherland series!”

Acutally, I don’t think I said that. I have very little memory of what our conversation was, but I do know that it’s in my journal somewhere, because as soon as I got home I wrote out the entire conversation. But I do remember asking how he chose a black woman as a main character…and at that moment, Daniel let out of shriek, which threatened that if I wasn’t going to let him out soon, he was going to become part of the conversation whether I wanted him to or not. Tad, however, took it in stride. He even squatted to say hi to my son. Daniel was not impressed.

“Reminds me of my own kids at that age,” he said. “He looks like he wants to get out.”

“I don’t know,” I replied. “He’s just wants to go over to the stairs and climb them. He’s in that stage.”

“Well, why don’t you? I don’t mind,” Tad turned to his publicist…or someone he works with, and called out, “Hey, do I have anything else scheduled?”

“No…not in the near future.”

Tad nodded to me to take Daniel out, “Okay, so you want to know why I chose a black character…”

And for the next 45 minutes, Tad and I discussed the art of writing while we got a lot of exercise walking up and down stairs behind an energetic Daniel. I picked his brain good–we discussed the writing and editing process, working with agents, his early years of writing, especially working with toddlers, his books and other things that I just can’t remember off the top of my head. Tad talked a good deal while I scribbled madly in my notepad (and writers–if you ever take note of something, take this: Always have pen and paper with you, no matter where you are.) I even got to pitch a little bit about Willow (which I was just starting to get back into). The entire conversation is pitched in a surreal light now whenever I think about it, partly because of all the stairs we went up and down on as we followed Daniel…and at one point, he decided he was going to explore a hallway that somehow led to the entrance of a casino. Ever see a toddler run about in a casino’s lobby, going “Ooooo” at the sparkly lights? Yeah, we had to pull him away from that a number of times.

But talking with Tad had to be one of the best stepping stones I have as a writer. I think God somehow fixed it that way to, because it really did encourage me. One of last things Tad said to me that always stuck in my mind was “Keep on writing! You know, you really have two full time jobs and both of them are extremely hard work. But both are quite rewarding.”

We ended our talk by me buying his latest book, The War of the Flowers, and him autographing it. I do remember what he wrote: “When Willow comes out, send me a copy!”

Here it is a year later. I doubt I’ll have the same one-on-one experience at the Festival this year, but I do hope that the Festival will continue to flourish. After all, when Willow does come out, I plan on being one of those authors they invite to talk, and I intend to hang out afterwards to talk to some up and coming writer, perhaps a harried mom with a screaming toddler of her own. I’ll say, “So, you want to write? Get that kid out of the stroller and let’s talk…”

My work for this week…

Okay. I managed to drag myself out of bed (which wasn’t easy because it’s raining outside, and all I wanted to do was to stay under the blankets, warm and toasty–but the blog…the blog…she calls me…), got some hot tea, and reviewing what my writing jobs will be for this week. Let me share with you:

1. I sent a query in to a parenting magazine in regards to an article I want to write about a parents playgroup, so I’m waiting to hear from that. Hopefully they’ll respond this week.

2. Wrote an essay last week for Chicken Soup’s Tea Lovers and I’m planning to clean that up. Also in the midst of writing an essay for the Spirit of a Woman anthology.

3. This week, I’m going to work on two, maybe three short stories (two have been written and I’ve yet to write the third).  

4. I wasn’t happy at all with the last chapter of Willow I’ve written last week (I’m up to 23 so far) so I’m thinking about rewriting it from scratch. Or I might just move on to chapter 24 and come back to 23 when I’m doing the rewrite. That seems best.

5. I’m toying with an idea of writing another children’s book about patience– that’s basically stemming from the potty training blues. But it’s just an idea right nowl.

6. This weekend, I’m attending the Midwest Literary Festival in Aurora, IL. This is the 2nd festival they’ve put out, which is somewhat like the Chicago Book Festival, except they have tons of workshops for writers. And it’s all free. I’ll post more about that tomorrow.

So, praise God, writing has been quite productive! Now…if you excuse me…I’m going to celebrate by going back to bed. 🙂

How a Writer deals with Blog Blah Blues…

This is growing into an addiction.

Blogging is taking over my writing life, bit by bit. When I check my email, I instantly pop over to the website to see if anyone’s commented (sure, I get updates via email, but why sit and wait for email to come in when I can just click the link on my shortcut toolbar anytime and pop right into the Cafe? Those trees are therapeutic!). I agonize over blog stats. (Why is it that I had 10 readers for my blog last week, but only 2 yesterday? Whyyy!) I know terms now that I’ve could’ve cared less about a month ago. Tags were what was on the back of shirts. Blog rolls? Isn’t that a misshapen doughnut? Trackback? Is that following someone backwards?

Meanwhile, as I plot out what I’ll write here for the next few weeks, my other writing suffers tremendously. Now granted, this week was quite busy because we did a garage sale, and that normally turns my hubby and I into rabid Dobermans anyway, but still. This week’s chapter of Willow was crap. Utter crap. I’m tempted to just delete it and start over from scratch, longhand.

This is what I’d feared would happen when I started blogging–that everything I hold dear as a writer would get eaten up by the Hungry Blogging Monster!

Okay, now that I’ve gotten that bit of hysteria out of my system, I can now look at things more reasonably:

New tools are always fun to play with.

When I got the writing program “Writer’s Cafe”, I spent a good couple of weeks just playing around with it. My writing suffered quite a bit, but I still had a lot of fun with it. It was my way to learn how the program work. Eventually, I settled down and started using the program more efficiently, though every once in a while, I still play around with it.

Blogging’s the same thing. It’s just a tool that writers can utilize, but they have to learn how it works. In order for me to turn this blog into a superpowered promotional machine, I have to play with the nuts and bolts. And if that means getting the Write-o-Meter juuuust right, then so be it!

Like regular writing, blogging needs to be scheduled.

Being a stay at home Mom, you would think I’d have time galore to write. Reality really bit down hard on that. There are two times when I do my writing–when Daniel’s taking a nap, and after he goes to bed. If I’m going to blog regularly, I need to find time just to devote to it. I got such little time as it is, and I can’t take time away from my regular writing to blog. This may be one of those things that I may actually have to drag myself out of bed for. Well…I’ve been meaning to get up early anyway…

Building a good blog takes time. Be patient.

Come on. I just started this blog a week ago. There’s no way I’ll have billions of people logging on just to read my ramblings. According to the August 2006 issue of Computer Shopper, a new blog is created every 5.8 seconds. This blog is just a blip, a gasp of breath. You blink, and my blog’s already old news.

(And before you wonder how I knew about this article, my hubbie’s not the only one to flip through magazines while using the facilities…)

So how do I increase my readership? I read articles like the one above. I tell people–friends, relatives, the mailman, about my blog. I print out business cards (which, as a writer, I should have. It is a self-employed business, after all). I comment on other blogs. And finally, I write. I write. I write. To keep all you readers coming back, I need to write.

So to all of you reading this now, thank you for stopping by. When I’m famous, you can boast that you were here at the beginning. And remember, the Cafe is always open for business. I’ll make sure to have something simmering on the stove every day.

P.S. BTW, for all you writers, check out “Writer’s Cafe”. It’s an awesome program that doesn’t tell you how to write, but it helps you create.

Introducing Daniel

Let me introduce you to my other full-time job. Daniel is two years old, can say his ABCs and count up to 20 (providing if you don’t mind the omission of numbers 17 and 19). He has a B.A. in Whinery, can run nonstop for a full two hours, and considers himself quite the ladies’ man, with two self-proclaimed girlfriends in Michigan and Wisconsin, respectively (there are also rumors of a third girlfriend in California, somewhere, but Daniel refuses to discuss it).Daniel

The reason I am bringing up my son’s smiling mug is not just to please my inlaws, but also to give a quick review on the book I’ve chosen to follow for the much-dreaded potty training. After going through numerous books from the library and listening to countless stories from other, more experienced mothers (“I waited until he was four to even start trying.””You have to let them run around naked and follow after them with a cup!””Don’t ever use the potty–they’ll never learn to use the big toilet then.””You have to teach your boy how to stand first to use the potty!””You have to teach your boy to sit first to use the potty!”) I settled on Toilet Training: A Practical Guide to Daytime and Nighttime Training by Vicki Lansky. It’s a pretty old book, but like I said, it’s the only one from the library that I actually like.

Besides the usual stuff on how to tell when your kids are ready to go. I like this book because it offers how to prepare kids before the actual training. Stuff like changing them in the bathroom, teaching them what the potty is, showing them how to dump their…leavings from their diaper and flushing them away. It also stood out to me because it gave advice on going from disposible to cloth training pants to teach kids about wetness, and it gives URLS on where to buy then on the Net. It presented different training methods fairly (the last book I read before this kept saying that people were idiots if they trained their children directly on the toilet and not on a small, expensive potty of their own) and it included blurbs from many, many mothers.

With this book, plus several resources on the Net, I feel somewhat ready to tackle the chair, so to speak. We’re gradually introducing the potty into our schedule, and so far, Daniel’s taken it in stride. He likes to sing, read books, and play with his…hands. Yeah, that’s it. Hands. But as far as the actual deed goes–well, today, he came up to me and said, “Poopy!” We made an immediately rush to the potty and did nothing for 10 minutes. Put a clean diaper on him, he smiled, went to play with his trains, and promptly turned that clean diaper into a smelly act of nature.

Well…at least he can verbally recognize it now…

My work in progress…Weeping of the Willows

So when people call me up and talk to me (assuming that I’m not chasing after my son at that moment or the phone’s not being hogged by my hubby), they usually ask, “So…what you’ve been writing lately?”

I usually mumble something how I got a couple of short stories in the works (which isn’t true now since I finished them and sent them off in August), or a couple of essays, but I never really mention my opus, the sack of dreams weighing heavily on my back, groaning as more ideas are stuffed in its gullet. My book.

Weeping of the Willows, I think, started out as a short story I twiddled around with when I first got out of high school. I always loved the warrior woman motif, but what I always see on the fantasy shelves at the bookstores was your typical busty, long-haired Xena, complete with a few scraps of leather covering her bare essentials, and often with a big-ass sword strapped to her back.

All of them, of course, was white.

Well, thought I, back when I had little to do but dream lofty dreams and scribble madly in my diaryJournal, if I wrote a fantasy book, I would have a woman fighter who’s black. Lofty ideas, but that was all I had, since I had more important things to do my first year of college such as play cards and go to parties and quietly flunk out my sophomore year.

So I found myself suddenly having to join the workforce, and for the next six years, as I worked my way up from clerk to receptionist to secretary in Corporateville, I had swatches of time when I had literally nothing to do. So I could either invoke the wrath of my boss in playing video games (which I did around 4:30p or so, when no one was around) or I could actually put all that free time to use and actually start writing.

Weeping of the Willowstells the story of Coren, a young black woman warrior ordered to kidnap a well-known doctor. She becomes a bodyguard instead to the doctor’s son, a young man named Joshua who learns that he has the power to hear and control trees, and eventually all of nature. Joshua and Coren fall in love (of course) but they have to contend with Lord Keor, Coren’s master, who has recently discovered powers of his own. Can Coren and Joshua stop him before he enslaves the minds of everyone and causes Cataclysm?

When I first started the book, I had intended this trilogy (and yes, it is a trilogy, as all good fantasy stories must be 😉 ) to be an allegorical Christian fantasy. I’ve pretty much stopped describing it as such, partly because I’ve read lots of Christian Fantasy–okay, I’ve read the few good titles of Christian Fantasy–okay, I read the piddling few good titles…

Needless to say, I decided to submit the secular market. There are still deep Biblical issues in the book, (free will, clash of religions, the use of organized religion to prey on the weak, etc.) as well as identity and cultural issues. And though I did stop working on the book from 1998 until 2004, I actually feel that time was quite useful, as I was the secretary for the Reformed Church in America’s Africa mission office, and what I learned there really helped to flesh out the African culture in my book. When I finally did start writing again, the book and its characters really started coming together.

So seeing it’s time for me to wrap this up, I do want to call attention to the word meter on the right. It’s not calibrated right now, but as I continue writing, I’ll update what I’ve written on the meter. At the moment, I’m about a quarter of the way through the book, with my averaging two-three pages per day. My hope is to get this book finished by next year.

So what am I waiting for? I should be writing!

Review: The Chronicles of the King’s Tramp by Tom DeHaven

So here’s my first book review. All the books reviewed here are books I just finished reading, either on my own (mostly fantasy, writing books, etc) or as part of the International Book Club, (more literary fiction). I got pretty eclectic book tastes, though I write mainly fantasy fiction. It’s good, though, to read a vast selection of both fiction and non-fiction. It helps you as a writer overall.

But for my first book, I’m going to choose a trilogy I’ve been reading all through August:Tom DeHaven’s Chronicles of the King’s Tramp–Walker of Worlds, The End-of-Everything Man and The Last Human. Not exactly an oldie, since it was written during the 80s, but I had this on my shelves for a long time…I think since high school.

I don’t know if Tom DeHaven’s written anymore fantasy novels after this series, but I can tell he’s a thriller writer. That said, I have to say that DeHaven breaks every single writing rule in the book.

He switches points of view, sometimes in the middle of sentences. He uses many cliches, lots of telling, but no showing. His tenses aren’t consistent. He uses parenthesis a lot. A lot of his chapters end at cliffhangers (at the EoE Man, the book itself ends on a cliffhanger). There’s a lot of supporting characters–I guess one could be considered a main characters, or perhaps there are several main characters. Hard to tell. Some storylines do not get resolved. One-shot characters appear and disappear without so much as a mention to what happened to them, and the ending, to me, felt abrupt, rushed to its chopped off end with a lot of plot threads still loose.

And yet, you know what? I really had a lot of fun reading these books.

I think I know now why there are so many people extolling the virtues of The DaVinci Code while so many writers hate it. If the Walker series got published today, I doubt it will be in the same form it’s in now. But it would still get published. Why? Because it had a great story to carry it through. Somehow, DeHaven makes us care about a bunch of people who are connected one way or another to each other as they get pulled into another world by a Rambler named Jack and his girlfriend/wife who turns into a hornet. There’s Peter, who I guess is the main leader of sorts, a sleezy journalist who gets his memory back after living as a bum on the streets, Jere Lee, a bag lady,Monica, the girlfriend of a billionaire, Herb, the chauffeur of the millionaire, Gene, the millionaire who only wants to watch TV all day long and who’s father in law brings in people to try out experimental drugs.

Anyway, they all get pulled into a different world where Jack must tell his king about a mage who’s creating a golem that is supposed to break into the fourth world, where ‘the Last Humans’ are known to exist and will destroy all worlds. And as Jack walks to put an end to the mage, the people basically tag along with him.

Now that I wrote all of that down, the story doesn’t sound that great, doesn’t it? But still, it’s mainly the character of the people who are interesting. For all intensive purposes, Peter is a class-A jerk, whom everyone liked better when he had his memory erased as a bum. Money, your typical airhead blond beauty, gets moxie and is even delighted when a magical Art Prince turns her into a hideous creature (and what happens to him? Who knows…he just sort of disappears). I really liked Jere Lee, a woman who has only her pride left and gets a second chance in life going to another world. there’s also other characters that are in the other world, but frankly I don’t feel like delving into them all.

I think the appeal of this book is that although it’s classified as Fantasy, it’s more of a speculative nature. People can speak a whistling language. A chair-bound king who can snatch rumors from the air. Creating magic by adding up several large sums in your head and visualizing shapes. An albino midget who lives jumps from consciousness to consciousness. DeHaven makes it all work.

Like I said, the third book somewhat fizzles out while the first book starts out strong. If you want a nice, cheap easy read though, I think this is a fine book. Light on seriousness, a dose of comedy and funny situations to boot. And strangely enough, I really enjoyed watching him break the writing rules. Rather refreshing.

Rating: Three 1/2 Ramblers out of Five for the entire trilogy, and I’m glad that if I want to visit a world, I can just pick up a book, not letting my fingers turn into claws and then slashing the fabric of time and space.

Video time!

A couple of videos for interest…

For you serious folk, a short 7-minute documentary on black teenage girls and the aspect of beauty, especially concerning natural (unpermed) hair. One of the girls actually does a recreation of a study involving dolls. The last question she asks really makes one think….

It’s called “A Girl Like Me” and you can find it here.

This video comes courtesy of India.Arie’s song: “I am not my Hair”. We need to change our idea of beauty, folks.

And for those you who needs something a little more on the light side, I bring to you, Kung Fu Baby!Thanks to my sister-in-law, Becca, for taking time to send me this, even though I already saw it on AFV.

Whoa…confirmation received….

It’s not about sending empty words into the air.

Yesterday was an interesting time. I’d finished my second story CrownTree and had sent it off to Realms of Fantasy in July. Today, the story came back in the mail with your standard rejection form letter. Yes, I understand this is normal and, in fact, is a mark of a writer, but still. Ouch! They rejected my baby!

This happened at the same time I had to go through and re-submit some other projects. One was an essay I’ve reworked into a devotional and sent out to a few places who couldn’t take it or just didn’t respond. Later, I got an email back from the editor. I opened it, thinking, two rejections in one day? That blows…Instead, the editor loved it and wanted to use it. Could I send a bio? It can include an email and web address.

<blink…blink> SURE!

At that point, the finger of God that’s been tapping me on top of my head for about several months bore down hard. “You know…this will be a good time to get a blog rolling…

“Hmm. You think?”

Positive.

And so the Cafe was created.

This morning, I actually woke up early to check on it (okay, 7:45am may not be early for you, but it is for me, so don’t knock it). Got an email from the editor who accepted my devotional, “By the way, I love your blog. I’m a fan already.”

So it’s not just sending empty words into the air. I get it, Lord. I get it.

Welcome!

Well, I did it. I broke down, got down off my high horse and hopped on the bandwagon rolling out to the sea of obscurity. I’m writing a blog.

I didn’t want to, for the longest time. I always felt that there are so many blogs out there that are little more than online diaries, and boring ones at that. Guess what, everyone! Today, I watched an episode of the Monkees and clipped my toenails. Oh and btw, George Bush sucks! I just didn’t want to add to the mindnumbing pages of rants and raves, favorite foods, links to even more blogs, etc. I have enough to read as it is, and anyway, I should be using my time for real writing.

Yeah, well guess what? It seems that if I’m actually to succeed in the world of writing, it would be good to have a calling card of sorts to point potential readers to. Plus, it’s good to have something to hold me accountable, to show that I’mnot just writing blog entries and surfing the web. When people ask, “What are you writing?” I can point them towards my website. I have a page showing works that are already published, which you can read by following the links. I can whine and moan about my latest rejection and let other writers comment and commiserate. I can let the world in on the ups and downs of being a writer.

Plus, I get to use all sorts of neat widgets in the sidebar to show progress of my writing projects, and the music I listen to when I write. How’s that for incentive?

So, join with me, won’t you, as I progress from unknown, not-exactly-starving-but-I-would-kill-for-something-other-than-stirfry-each-night artist to a writer who has at least a few faithful fans. And just to let you know, this blog itself is a work in progress, so if you come on it someday and the headers all changed, or if the title itself is changed, then just roll with it. I’m still new to this whole thing.