Friday, May 27, 2011


I graduated from San Francisco State University last Saturday. I needed to put a great big metaphoric exclamation point on the end of my university experience, so I walked with 2000 other graduates dressed head to toe in purple. I sat in the blazing sun listening to speech after boring speech on a jumbo-tron because the actual speaker was too far away from me to see. The stupid cap kept sliding off the back of my head and the "hood" all masters candidates wear continued to choke me, despite my heavy ring of keys I'd attached under my robes to hold it off my neck. The only one in my O and M class who decided to walk, I felt a little lonely surrounded by large groups of celebrating students from other departments. But at last I got to walk to the podium,  get my bright purple envelope (they send the actual diploma in the Fall) and shake the hand of a University chancellor. For those sixty seconds, I was buoyant; I could have flown above the heads of every single person crammed into the stadium on the wings of my bright purple robes.

I finally feel done.

I've spent the week catching up on Medusa work, but mostly I've been sitting quietly thinking about the day I got my Masters Degree. Now and then that feeling of completion fills my body and I have to stop what I'm doing and look around at the world. Nothing has really changed... except me. I reached my goal. I am free.

There's nothing else to prove. No other challenges on the horizon. At least not today.

My muse is eager to put all that drive and energy into creativity again, but for now, I want to rest. I want to plant my garden and clean up my yard; read a book; watch old movies; dance; play princess dominoes with my daughter; cook; sit in the sun with a glass of wine; kiss my husband.

I want to live.

Don't worry, Muse. I've never been able to resist you for long. And besides, didn't I just write you a full length play last month? Give me a break for a few weeks. I promise, Medusa's Muse will prosper and thrive and my own writing will flourish. You'll see. 

Monday, May 23, 2011

"where" and "wear"... f**k!

Mother-F***er!!!! Did I really write "What should I where?" Argh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Yes, I did write that. It was the title of a post for my other blog, Gravity Check, in which I was writing about my graduation from SFSU and wondering what to WEAR with a purple cap and gown. This isn't the first time I've written something so wrong, and I'm afraid it won't be the last.

I'm a publisher for frell's sake! I'm supposed to know better.

Occasionally I get a friendly email from Jane, or another friend who is a grammar girl, pointing out some mistake I made which (that?) would be completely obvious to any 4th grader, but slipped right past my editing consciousness. Each time I blush with shame, because it's always something really stupid, like mixing up "where" and "wear." Why the hell can't I see it in my own writing? I see it just fine in other people's writing, but not my own. Why am I so blind?

I realize it's because I don't actually see the words I'm writing; I'm writing down what I hear inside my head. I see the pictures I'm creating, not the words I'm writing. I do the same thing when I read. The book's scenes play in my mind in vivid technicolor, but I have no idea what is actually written. I can't remember quotes or facts or page numbers, I remember the smell of the breeze coming through the kitchen window and how the woman felt when she saw her cat carrying a baby mouse in his teeth. When I'm editing, I'm paying attention to the actual words, so I'm able to catch mistakes writers make (the easy ones, at least. Some of the more esoteric grammar rules fly right over my head). You'd think I'd pay attention to the words I'm writing as I write, but if I do, I lose the images in my head I'm frantically trying to write down. My words are like paint on a canvas all mixed together to create a scene. They blend and shape the picture, but I can't break the individual strokes apart to see how the picture is made. So I'm stuck writing "where" when I mean "wear." I only catch the mistake later, or if I don't, I hear from a friend.

Seeing just the image isn't a bad thing all the time; I'm able to take in the entire piece and see how it flows together, or where it stops. I can find the thread of a story and follow it, tying all the disparate threads together until they interlace into something beautiful.

I'll probably keep making ridiculous mistakes, and Jane will have to keep coming to my rescue (thank you Jane, and Maggie, too). People will keep shaking their heads, wondering what kind of publisher I am if I can't tell the difference between "where" and "wear." I'll keep trying my best to see the mistakes before I press "publish post," but more than likely, I won't catch them until three days later when the alarm will finally go off in my head that something isn't write... right!


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

First Draft Revision

I am proud to announce that I won Script Frenzy!!!! 

What did I win?

Wait for it... (drum roll please)

(horns tooting)      A year or two of revisions!     (crowd cheering)


Wouldn't it be great if we could just write something brilliant in the first draft when we're energized and excited about it? Instead, the first draft is 95% crap, at least mine always is. The first draft is usually a collection of disorganized scenes and a cast of underdeveloped, whiny characters who don't know what they want. The beginning is typically weak, full of exposition and back story; the climax good, but doesn't include all the elements it needs to be a true climax; and the ending unsatisfying. Writing dialogue is my strength, so it's lucky that this time I wrote a play rather than a novel. But it's still going to take a long time to get the language right for each character, and for the time period (I don't think an upper-class woman living in the 1930's would say "cool").

Revision is exhausting, because you can see what needs to be done, but you can't figure out how to do it.   It's too early for me to get feedback from a reader, so I'll muddle through on my own, focusing on gaps in the plot, inconsistencies, and character development. I work on all three elements at once because they impact each other. As I develop a character, I may discover a motivation that will propel the action of a scene, which can effect the entire plot. The process works the other way as well: a change in the direction of the plot can change the way a character behaves in a scene.

This whole process can feel like remodeling a house of cards, though. Change one element and the whole structure could collapse, which is scary. The threat of collapse raises important questions: if the plot needed that one thing to hold together, what does that one thing need as support so a change won't make the whole story collapse?

But sometimes having the whole piece collapse can be a good thing, because it forces you to see your story in a whole new light. Starting from scratch isn't the end of the work (although it might make you feel like killing the work anyway). It is simply part of the process of building a good story. You will have much stronger characters and a better idea of what direction the story arc takes the second time you write it.

Okay, I admit it... I really hope this play doesn't collapse once I start revisions. I don't have the energy to write it all again from scratch. But I'm in love with my characters right now and the time period is a blast to work with. Think 1930's movies with glamorous women and big sets, lots of dancing and drinking (it is post-prohibition) and witty dialogue. These people are rich and desperate, pretending to have everything they want while the Depression starts taking things away.

The excitement from my first draft is still there. Here's hoping that excitement continues as I work on it for the next year...

... or two...

...or three.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

From Punk Rock to Duran Duran

A few weeks ago, Jane Mackay, my dear friend and Medusa's Muse copy editor, submitted a proposal for a new book project. The proposal was perfect, and could be an example to everyone on the right way to submit a book for consideration. She reminded me that as the publisher, I could say no, but after reading her proposal and understanding how passionate she is about the project, I had to ask myself if this was something I too could get excited about.

Which is how this non-Duranni is now publishing an anthology of stories from people who's lives were saved by listening to Duran Duran.

Duran Duran? Yep, that Duran Duran, the 1980's New Wave mega band. Sorry to disappoint Durannies out there, but I was never a fan. I liked some of their songs (The Chauffeur still makes me stop whatever I'm doing to listen), but I was more into The Police, preferring drums to synthesizers. So why would this Goth/Hippi-Punk consider publishing a book about them?

Because Duran Duran affected millions of people in the same way that Punk Rock did for others.

There is a huge community of people, mostly women (but not all), who survived trauma and tragedy by listening to the music of Duran Duran, and they remain just as passionate today as they did when they were teen-agers. That passion needs to be honored. They have stories to tell, stories of triumph and survival, which need to be heard. Music sustains and feeds the soul, and Duran Duran has managed to do so for 30 years (they're still playing today and just put out a new album).

We may lose some "cred" in the punk community for publishing a book about a super-popular New Wave band, but I don't give a rat's ass. Medusa's Muse is open to all view points and genres, as long as the story is strong and the writer passionate (although I may have to draw the line at Country. Sorry, I really hate that music).

If you are a Duranie (am I even spelling it right?) with a story about the way Duran Duran helped you survive when you were growing up, go to Jane Mackay's "Friends of Mine" Facebook Page for more information on submissions and focus.

I'd better start listening to more Duran Duran. 

Monday, May 02, 2011

How to make your muse insecure

My muse is staring at me while I work. She hasn't moved in ten minutes. Even her snakes are attentive.

"What?" I ask.

"I'm trying to decide if anything about you has noticeably changed."

Stopping my writing, I turn to stare back at her. "What do you mean?"

"You seemed so different on Saturday."

"Why? How was I different?"

"So... confident."

"You say that like it's a bad thing."

"No. I don't mean it to sound like a bad thing.... it's just..."


"Where did it come from?"


Moving closer, she sits on the edge of my desk while keeping her gaze fixed on me. "This confidence I saw. Where did it come from?"

"I don't know what you're talking about. You obviously didn't notice how scared I was. It was terrifying standing in front of all those people trying to sound like I knew what I was talking about. Thank God they were a good crowd and asked a lot of questions. If they'd just sat there staring at me the whole time, I would have thrown-up."

"But your fear didn't show. You stayed in control of yourself and that room and got your point across effectively. The audience learned from you and were inspired by you, which is what good teaching requires." She picks up a strand of my hair and strokes it between her fingers. "Even when you lost your train of thought a few times, you just took a deep breath and got organized. I've never seen you so... confident."

"Think my confidence is hidden in my hair?"

She laughs, but keeps playing with my hair. "No. I'm just wondering what exactly has changed about you."

"It felt good standing up there in front of those people sharing an idea with them. I liked it. And I believed that I had something to say that could really help them. That made it easier."

She lets go of my hair and leans closer. "Yes, this idea of yours... where did it come from?"

"I don't know... it's just something I was thinking about... about how many options there are to get published now and how someone can figure out what choice is right for them."

"But you created a step-by-step process for discovering that path. How did you know how to do that?"

"I just thought about it a lot. Thought about my own journey and how I figured out that I wanted to start a press. And I thought about how I've been trying to get an agent for my fiction, but it's so hard to get one. So what other options are available? Once I started thinking about that, the idea of the four step process just sort of... bloomed."

"Are you sure you didn't have help?"


"Yes. Help. From anyone, or anything..."

"I suppose I've had help from other writers and teachers over the years, but no one specific. I didn't steal the idea, if that's what you mean."

"Of course that's not what I mean. You're not the type." She stands, smoothing the snakes away from her face. "I want to know what inspired you."

"Are you asking me if I found a different muse?"

"No... of course not." Standing in front of the mirror, she pats her snake hair into place. "You would never do that to me." She pauses and glances at my image reflected in the mirror. "Would you?"

"Where would I find another muse?"

"They're about, always hunting for a new artist to inspire."

"I already have a muse."

"So. If one sensed that you were unhappy..." She turns around and looks at me with wide, sad eyes. "Are you unhappy?"

"No. I'm fine. Everything is fine between us." I stand and move closer, trying to be close enough to reassure her while also keeping my distance from her unpredictable, poisonous, snake hair. "Medusa, I don't need another muse. I have you, and I like you. Even if you're a bit hard to work with sometimes, we both know I've created my best work since I've been working with you."

She nods. "I'm glad. Because I like working with you."

"It would be nice to hear it now and then."

"Why? If I didn't like working with you, I'd be gone."

That's my muse. Forever kind and supportive.

She pulls back a snake that is slowly inching closer and closer to my head. "Are you sure no one else inspired you?"

I hold a hand to my heart. "I swear."

"Good. But just to be sure, I'm going to look around and see if anyone else is trying to get a hold on you. You may not even be aware if another muse is attempting to take control."

"You make it sounds like a pack of vampires out to get me."

She smiles. "Who says we aren't?"

Who indeed?

"But first," she says, taking my arm and leading me to the couch. "You must tell me all about this process of yours for finding your publishing path."

"Didn't you hear enough on Saturday?"

"I want you to tell me again. Slowly. I find it very intriguing."

"Well, first, you have to look at your work and decide why you're writing and who you're writing it for. Then..."