Ahi Tuna Moments

ahitunaMy daughter and I have a phrase we use when we talk about something that’s really simple that we’re making complicated. We ask the other…are you having an ahi tuna moment? 

This goes back to when we were at the RWA Conference in San Francisco in 2008. We were writing together in our hotel room. At the time I was working on the young adult novel (I haven’t finished) and my main character, Mila, was at a restaurant having her birthday dinner with her adoptive mother, Oona, and grandmother. It was a scene with a lot of emotion that had been a challenge to write because Mila had driven her brand new birthday present–a very cute VW bug–into the garage. Literally. So, instead of the dinner being a celebration, it was full of conflict.

I’d gotten myself all tangled up describing the actions at the table and probably made some disgusted noise at myself. My daughter looked up and asked what the problem was. I explained that I was having trouble writing that Oona stabbed a piece of ahi tuna with her fork.

And then my daughter asked me, “Why can’t you just say she stabbed a piece of ahi tuna with her fork?”

Well? Why couldn’t I?

I wanted to growl at her and kiss her at the same moment. Instead, we both ended up laughing hysterically.

The line became:

Oona stabbed an unsuspecting piece of seared ahi with her fork.

Ahi tuna moments happen all the time in writing–at least to me. Sometimes I have whole ahi tuna scenes. The problem is that it isn’t easy to see I’m having one when I’m in it. Sometimes I need someone to gently tell me that I’m making things more complicated than they are, and that things are simpler than I think.

*My* Readers

It’s every author’s dream to connect with their readers…the ones who “get” them, love their story, and are transported to a different place and time, away from the problems and cares of their life; readers who are dying to read the next book whether it’s been published or not.

But finding those readers isn’t as easy as one would hope.

Publishing a book is a bit like sending a child off to kindergarden, although it also has similarities with tossing manuscript pages into the wind. You can do your best–by having it edited for content and grammar, giving it a great cover, and an excellent blurb. You can light candles, take out advertising, blog-hop, have launch parties–online and off. But none of that guarantees that the book will fall into the right hands. Especially not in today’s incredibly full marketplace with traditional publications and indie publications all vying for attention.

Although I have participated in them, free promotions seem to be a particularly difficult way to find one’s readership since some people will take advantage of any free book (those are the reviews that start: I don’t usually read books like this…) and some people never do.

I admit that I have not exactly been able to find my readers. Although I do feel like I’m getting close, and by that I mean I have found some of them. (Waves!)

And I’m finally beginning to understand the importance of branding. Although it sounds terribly painful, it’s supposed to ease the connection between the consumer and the provider by making what is offered completely accessible, traditionally by a logo or a slogan. Since writer’s products are composed of words, it tends to be a slogan. I’ve come to realize my slogan is:

Richly Textured Historical Romance

Interesting–and obvious–when I think about it. I have always been captivated by textures. When I used to sew for a living and bought fabric it not only had to look good, but I always walked through fabric stores fondling every bolt that I liked and if it didn’t feel right I didn’t buy it. One of the things I love about history is that each time and place has unique sights, smells, sounds, and tastes.

Having a brand with only the one book out is not an easy thing to do. Unless one hits it big out the gate (a notable example is my critique partner Lisa Valdez and her first book, Passion) making an impression is usually done over the course of several books.

Trust me, I’m working on them. The Unsuitable Earl is coming along, just not as rapidly as I would like. It’s going to be a smashing good book when it’s done. And now there’s a third book for my Restoration series that is begging to be written. Soon, I’ll have a series title for the three of them.

Meanwhile, it turns out that like many authors, the best way for me to connect with my readers is word of mouth. So, if you liked my first book, I’d appreciate it if you would tell someone about it if you think they would also like it. In both the short and the long run, finding one’s readers takes help.

I Am Not Now, Nor Have I Ever Been…

…a realtor.

Why mention this, you ask? Well, it’s because the prior owner of ginablack.com is a realtor and I get some of her web traffic and way too much of her email.

So, accept this as a Public Service Announcement. If you give up a domain and you have been receiving email at a connected address, it’s best to unsubscribe or change your email to one that won’t go to the new owner. That way they won’t get  information–confidential and otherwise–that doesn’t belong to them.

Just sayin’…

More Progress

“I think the hardest part about writing is writing.”
–Nora Ephron

Who watched the Oscars last week and saw the clip of Nora Ephron during the “In Memoriam” section where she said this? I don’t know any writer who doesn’t agree with it. There are days when getting words on the page (or screen) is like wrestling with demons or dictionaries or even toddlers who haven’t had their naps. Sometimes a book exists because a writer has a long stream of days like that and simply didn’t give up.

There are writers who will tell you about books that wrote themselves. I have never been lucky enough to have one do that. Yet. Although I have had parts of books write themselves, I have also had parts of books unwrite themselves. This occasionally happens when the story takes off in a direction that ends up leading nowhere. You’d think that because I plot things out ahead of time that this wouldn’t happen? Well, it does.

So far, none of that has happened yet with The Unsuitable Earl. I am making steady progress. It is, however, much slower than I would like. I have never been a fast writer, but I would like to fall through some hole in the space-time-continuim and emerge with a mind that streams a fluid (and perfect) story and fingers that dance on the keyboard to keep up with it. 

I am hoping to post the first scene of the book sometime this month. I’ll let you know when it’s up.

Progress Report

Before my website decided to crash during an update and needed to be completely redone, I had made the promise to post about my progress on at least a weekly basis.

For the record, I haven’t been doing that. Also–for the record–it isn’t because I’m a flake, it’s because I have been so busy that when I’ve  told myself Gina you really should update your progress on your website, I’ve answered myself what if I just work on Jeremy and Eliza instead? and that’s what I’ve done each time.

Today is different because I’m supposed to be walking right now. Walking is (apparently) one of the best things you can do for insulin resistance which I was diagnosed with in January. That didn’t come as a surprise. I’d known I was hypoglycemic since I was in my early 20’s. What is surprising is how much has changed about treating blood sugar problems since then. Back in the day I was told to stay away from sugar. Now I’m told to stay away from starches and sugar drinks (sodas, juice, etc.). Apparently sugar itself is okay in moderate quantities. Since I’m not crazy about bread and potatoes, sodas, and juice, this isn’t a big deal (except I really miss rice). I can have an occasional See’s Candy or creme caramel, but not cookies or cake. Most importantly, I can still drink beer. And wine.

Anyway, the problem with walking in the morning is that I have to get dressed. As an Official Home-based Writer, I have adopted the official uniform which is my jammies and I usually stay in them until after lunch. Walking works better for me if I do it before I start writing for the day. In fact, walking works really well with writing because it often shakes loose ideas that I need for what I’m working on and I spend less time just looking at my computer monitor and wondering if it’s time to check my email…again.

But since it’s cold out there this morning and I am still in my jammies I decided it wasn’t really procrastinating if I made this update. So that’s why I’m Officially Posting that I have successfully completed a thorough outline of the The Unsuitable Earl which is essentially my first draft.

I cannot write “into the mist” as some writers do. If I don’t have a roadmap, I don’t know where I’m going and I tend to wander off into all sorts of other places…like research…or Facebook…or…you get the idea. Since this is a pretty thorough outline, I am in hopes that the draft I am working on now won’t need a HUGE amount of revising. It will need some. They always do. If I’m right about the revising, then I am not terribly (horribly, miserably) off-schedule. Even so, I am seriously lagging behind what I had promised many people who bought The Raven’s Revenge (especially those who have books promising a Winter 2012 release–oops). Those of you with books that promise a Spring 2013 release…it’s still possible.

Especially if I get up, put on my walking clothes, and get going.


About DNA, Historical Antecedents, and Such

dna_helixI don’t know if any of you have gotten caught up in the DNA craze, but it hit my family after watching Finding Your Roots on PBS last year. As a result, my husband decided to participate in the Genographic Project, which is through the  National Geographic Society.

He waited (im)patiently for many weeks for the results and was fascinated when he got them. I have to say he was mildly disappointed by the lack of any Native America and African American DNA, but it wasn’t surprising. I was amused that he has less Neanderthal DNA than the general population simply because Screen Shot 2013-01-29 at 7.51.44 AM I’ve always teased him about his magnificent brow ridges. The rest of the results were both interesting and mysterious and led to much internet research and discussions about haplogroups and migrations and things like that.

So far I haven’t been tempted to participate. It’s not just the money ($200), but also that, as a woman, I won’t get any information about my father’s line (because I don’t have a Y chromosome). I do have a brother, so I could get that through him, and I’m thinking about that. But while I’ve been pondering this I’ve been digging around on the internet, exploring my family tree.

I come from Eastern European immigrants on my mother’s side, where the genealogical information disappears once you get to the old country, and, on my father’s side,  a mix of Italians and what I’ve always referred to as New England blue-bloods. The first of them arrived here in 1669–which is fun because it’s the historical period I’ve chosen to write about, albeit in a different country.


Most of the information I have is about my grandmother’s father’s line. In fact, there is a family tree that takes us all the way back to Charlemagne. I know nothing about my grandmother’s mother’s line and after a discussion with my brother about whether we are Welsh (we are not) I ended up googling the great-grandmother I didn’t know anything about. Voila! The internet gave forth a picture. I was stunned. I’d stumbled on a family tree put together by a family member (first cousin once-removed to be exact) that had a wealth of information and pictures I’d never seen before!

This led to more digging and even joining an ancestry site (MyHeritage which I like tremendously) and after spending many days at this, I discovered that I’m related to two of my favorite historical heroines, both of whom had their lives fictionalized in wonderfully researched and well-written books by Anya Seton.

291742The first is The Winthrop Woman. Elizabeth Fones Winthrop Feake Hallett is my 11x great-grandmother. I read the book when I was a teen-ager and loved it. Elizabeth was a strong-willed, independent-thinking, and courageous woman and is one of the founders of Greenwich, Connecticut. I’m delighted to be descended from her. The fact that I’m related through her third husband (Hallett) is even better, because he was her true love. :sigh:

n68470My second favorite heroine (who might actually be my first…it’s so hard to decide) is Katherine Swynford. She’s my 20x great-grandmother. I read Katherine  also as a teen and was carried away by the passionate love story between her and John of Gaunt, who was son of Edward III. She was sister-in-law to Chaucer (squee!) and great-great-great-great grandmother of Queen Elizabeth I–who has always been my favorite historical figure. This makes us distantly related cousins (super-dooper-squee!). Which means that when my DH asks “who made you queen?” I now have an answer for him.

It also makes me related to the Stuart dynasty, which means that I’m some sort of cousin of the real Charles II who appeared fictitiously in The Raven’s Revenge, and, as a character dwelling in my subconscious, is asking to appear in The Unsuitable Earl. I guess being family and all, I’m going to have to let him.

So who needs DNA? I’m having too much fun digging around on the internet.

Here I Sit

It’s raining outside. Grey clouds speed past my window. I’m listening to “A Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra,” a lovely piece I rediscovered the other day when I watched Moonrise KingdomI’m guessing the LP I had when I was a kid was conducted by Leonard Bernstein. The version I bought subsequent to hearing it on the movie was conducted by Richard Bonynge and features the London Symphony Orchestra. It’s just as wonderful.

The Google Oracle told me that the composer, Benjamin Britten, based it on a piece by Henry Purcell. I looked that up and discovered Purcell wrote it to accompany a play by Aphra Behn called Abdelazer or The Moor’s Revenge. Yes indeed, that’s Restoration Theatre. It’s from 1676 which is after my period by about ten years. Still, how exciting to have this bit of my childhood connect to the time period that I’ve been inspired to set my stories in.

I promised I’d report at least weekly on my progress and it’s almost been a week. I have to say that at this point, I’m still circling my wagons. I have the bones down, but I’m not sure if I have the right bones in the right places and I am still missing some important ones like a femur here and an ulna there. To help, I’ve been doing research of the theatre and social events of 1665. It’s one thing to know that Aphra Behn is out-of-period, but it’s quite another to know what play Jeremy might be sitting down to watch at the Theatre Royal on a spring afternoon in 1665. Now I do.

I won’t have a word count to share until I’m done with this plotting phase which is taking much longer than I expected. I thought I knew what was happening with my story. And I did, but there are bigger holes than I thought there were. Which has me finding just the right color thread to sew them up.

More later.

New Year’s Eve

Last night I filled in my new Edward Gorey calendar with birthdays and appointments and all the things I don’t want to forget in 2013. In the process I reviewed this year’s calendar and it explained why I’m not saying good-bye to 2012 as vigorously as I see others doing.

I’ve had a really fun year, partly because it has been a year of travel. In addition to the usual trips south to LA to see the kids, I went to Vegas (first real trip to that land of sin), did a two-week tour of San Diego county with the DH, spent a couple of days at Disneyland with the DH to celebrate our 30th anniversary, traveled to San Francisco twice to see good art, made it up to the lake and then sojourned to Oakland for almost a week on the way back. This was all topped by my trip to London in October which was so fantastic I’m still basking in its glow.

Next year will not have so many trips, especially not so big and so far. I hope to get to the lake in the summer and down to LA to see the kids (who I miss desperately if I don’t see at least every six weeks), and probably up to family in Santa Cruz and the bay area. But that’s it.

I’m dedicating this year to my writing and to publishing what I write and I’m laying it out here for all of you (friends, readers, writers, and spammerfolk) that I have the following plans:

1. write and finish THE UNSUITABLE EARL in time for a late April publication. This will be a challenge since it is still in its formative stages. However, the story *is* all there and others have written books much faster and it’s time for me to do that myself.

2. finish the YA story I’ve been working on for so very long. It’s got one big problem that will hopefully sort itself out while I work on EARL and then I need to revise that into the first two acts and finish the last two. I’m hoping it will be ready by summer. I don’t know if I’m going to shop it to agents or self-pub, but by then I should have figured this out.

3. there’s a novella I’ve been dying to write for several years. I’m going to let myself do it once I’m done with the bigger books. It’s a contemporary time-travel and it involves rock-n-roll.

4. then I’ll have to decide if I’m going to work on the YA sequel (it’s the first of a trilogy) or another Restoration based historical. It will likely be some time in mid-to-late summer and I’ll update my goals for you then.

I’m hoping that posting my progress at least weekly here on THE GINACHANNEL will keep me honest and accountable. One thing I have done this past year was find a couple of lovely writers in my community and we started an accountability group that meets weekly. But having the eyes of the internet upon me could likely prove to be a more powerful force to keep me on my path.

My other goals for the year are completely predictable: diet and exercise. I plan to eat healthy and keep moving. I’ll be thrilled if by summer there is slightly less of me, and I can touch my toes and do a decent plank for thirty seconds. One of these days I’ll tell you the story about my teacher and toe-touching in the fourth grade.


My Shakespearean Weekend

This past weekend I immersed myself in Shakespeare’s world. Saturday I was at Shakespeare’s Globe for the final performance of Richard III for this season. Starring Mark Rylance as Richard, and supported by an all-male cast, it was also presented in the original pronunciation.

I went by myself, my in-laws apparently not being fans of Richard, and I will proudly state here for the record that I did not get lost either too-ing or fro-ing (in fact I even made it to a yarn shop near Waterloo Station without incident). I grabbed a quick lunch–a quinoa salad that was surprisingly palatable–and got into line with all the other groundlings. When they let us in I headed for the back wall so I could lean on it if I got tired during the performance. That turned out to be a good decision because even before the play started it rained. I only got a little wet because I was somewhat protected by the roof. Since weather was one of the things the groundlings had to contend with during Shakespeare’s time the rain could not have been more perfect for someone who wanted to steep themselves in the world of Shakespeare.

Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York

From the very first lines I was captivated. Mark Rylance played Richard as a villain but with humor. He had the audience on his side by his asides. (There is a marvelous review here.) Having never seen the play except on film, the interactiveness was a revelation to me. Richard was not the only character to appeal to the audience. At different times we were encouraged to cheer and boo by different players.

I had thought that men playing the women’s roles might be bothersome, but it wasn’t. They were fabulous. It took me most of the play to realize that they also doubled as men (the Duchess of York was also Richmond). In fact, many of the players had multiple parts, which explained why I had a hard time figuring out who everyone was. I go by faces and apparently you have to go by costumes to keep track of who is who.

As was the custom in Elizabethan times, the play ended with a dance. I suppose that allows even a grim tragedy such as Richard III to end on an up note.

The experience of seeing one of Shakespeare’s plays at the Globe was incredible. The rain, the birds flying through, the music (there was a small “band” above the stage), the costumes–which were Elizabethan even though Richard III was not–all combined to make me feel that I had entered Shakespeare’s world. Except for the occasional helicopter and the plastic rain ponchos, I could have been in 16c London.

My Shakespearean weekend continued on Sunday when I went to the British Museum to see the Shakespeare: Staging the World exhibit. My sister-in-law bought the tickets several months ago and we had prepared for this by listening to a series of podcasts called Shakespeare’s Restless World available on iTunes. Each episode runs just under fourteen minutes and I recommend them highly even if you can’t get to the exhibit. We spent over two hours viewing artifacts from the Elizabethan world that gave context for Shakespeare’s plays. Items were as diverse as a knitted cap, John Dee’s black obsidian mirror, and a reliquary that contained an eyeball. (All together now: ewwwwww.)

What better to top this up with than a Shakespearean lunch? This was available at the museum restaurant. I had spinach and egg pie and also lamb faggots (pictured). They were delicious. And no, the beer in the picture was NOT Shakespearean. Oh well. I drank it anyway.

Next we joined a group of about twenty people on aLondon’s Walk that was about Shakespeare’s and Dickens’ London. It was rambling and disconnected, more anecdotal than informative–and not really enough about Shakespeare and Dickens.

We walked past a place where Shakespeare lived on Silver Street (now renamed but I don’t remember what) and the churchyard where the two gentlemen who put together the first folio were buried and where this commemorative statue resides.

I did learn an awful lot about how London grew and for a while I was able to see ghosts of Tudor buildings superimposed on the glass and concrete that now stand in their place. Fire, blitz, and time have changed London but the bones of the old city are there if you know where to look.

The Great North American Airport Tour

Remember how I wrote about my difficulty flying? Well…

On Tuesday I began what came to be The Great North American Airport Tour. Starting off in Santa Barbara Airport (SBA)–a place I hadn’t flown into or out of since I was seven or eight–I embarked at 2:25pm flight to Los Angeles. Most of the transit time involved taxing to and from the runway and gate. We were only aloft for twenty minutes.

Once in Los Angeles (LAX) I met Theo for a beer and a scrumptuous plate of ahi tuna tartar at Encounter Restaurant, the occupant of the Theme Building–that splendid representation of Mid-century modern architecture that sits inside LAX. I hadn’t been up there since some time in the 70′s when I met my Dad and step-mom while they were in transit. I highly recommend popping up there for a drink if you have the time. But I digress…

The almost six o’clock flight to Heathrow took off without a hitch. I had planned to get a good three or four hour nap while on the plane and then stay up until eight o’clock or so that evening after arriving at Heathrow just after noon. This was not to happen. While I was dozing, the Captain told us that the plane was being diverted back to Chicago so that an unruly passenger could be removed. What I heard was that she actually hit the captain. (I believe he had gone back to deal with her because she was pushing people around.) This is what the Chicago Tribune says. The upshot was that they had us wait on the plane for about forty-five minutes and then they cancelled the flight.

I had never been to Chicago. I would love to see it sometime. Standing in line at O’Hare airport (ORD) along with almost three-hundred people in the middle of the night is not the best way to appreciate it.

Fortunately, two months ago I had upgraded to a my cell phone to a Droid. This meant I was able to email my sister-in-law and brother-in-law in London (who were planning to meet me at Heathrow) and tell him there was a little hitch in plan. In fact, I emailed them at every step of the way as the story unfolded. I was also able to post on Facebook which made the whole ordeal quite a bit less lonely what with friends liking and commenting on my updates.

Finally, I got to talk to a Customer Service Rep at 5:20am or thereabouts and she put me on  a six o’clock flight that would take me to Dulles (IAD). That gave me fifteen minutes to grab something to eat (United gave me a small voucher) and get into a new line.

Flight number three was amiable. A number of us from the LA plane were on it. By now we were all talking to each other and commiserating–that’s what standing in line together for three hours will do to you. On our descent one of the passengers started a loud rather incendiary tirade. He got up along with the two men who were escorting him from one prison to another (as it turned out) and the stewardess freaked out because of course they aren’t supposed to be standing up having a dispute while the plane is landing. That was Incident #2. Exhausted and somewhat punchy, those of us who’d started in LA simply couldn’t believe it. Fortunately, his escorts were able to get him off the plane so we didn’t have to wait for a security team to do that.

Thirty minutes later, we were on our last flight. Set to arrive at Heathrow (LHR) at 9:55pm–only a bit more than nine hours late and  a full twenty-four hours after starting out from SBA. On that flight, I realized how tired I was when it took me fifteen minutes to notice that I was watching Madagascar 3 in German. I don’t speak German.

My dear sister-in-law and brother-in-law had met me outside customs and helped me get my Oyster Card (for the Tube) and navigate my way to their flat in Kensington where I’m staying. I’d had perhaps three hours of sleep in the past thirty-two hours and probably couldn’t have found my way on my own.

And now that I’ve successfully managed to stay up past 9 o’clock on my first full day here (pix on my facebook page) I’m going to bed. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Richly Textured Historical Romance