Things…and a Sneak Preview.

Well. What has happened in the near-month since I updated? I went to the Golden Crown Literary Conference, and annual writers/readers/publishers four day get-together/energy booster/meet up with friends old and new.  This year the Con was held in Minneapolis, MN. Well, Bloomfield, actually, just near the Mall of America.

What a con it was! My debut novel, Open Water (2011, Bella Books), though nominated in three categories was only shortlisted for one, “Debut Author.”  And…I won! I was one of three winners in that category and, luckily enough, the first award announced that night. Whew! Talk about getting it over with!

Posing with the wonderfully generous Karin Kallmaker. If you squint, you can see my award tucked between us.

The Con overall was great fun and a wonderful chance to reconnect with friends and to meet face-to-face with those I only know through online discussions.

I was so lucky this year to get to go.  Finances are exceptionally tight, but my stepdad gave me his mileage for my flight, and I offset the cost of registration by doing the program for the event.  My biggest cost was the hotel. Well, and the Lego Store at Mall of America. :::sigh:::

Another pic from this event was all of the Bella Authors dressed up for the awards. I love this photo!

We are, from left to right: Erica Abbott, Nat Burns, Jordan Redhawk, KG MacGregor, Dillon Watson, Karin Kallmaker, Mary Griggs, Pol Robinson, Rachel Gold, and Kenna White. Missing: Tracey Richardson, who had to head back to Canada.

When I returned, it was straight back into work on The Project (and I will update that soon).

It’s coming along quite nicely, and should soon be ready for its maiden voyage. Hopefully.

Now, with the success of one book under my belt (using the term “success” loosely here), it’s more than past time to focus on my sophomore effort. I was working on a new Olympic novel, Thin Ice, but have struggled because the story is far weightier than the first book.  For several reasons, chief among them being I want to get the Olympics books back onto the actual Olympics cycle, I have shelved it.

I have two others in the works, and last night finally got the “zing” to work on Celtic Tide, a contemporary romance sent in Ireland, featuring an American musician who, for her own reasons, settles in the town of An Daingean (Dingle, to the non-Gaelic speakers), in County Kerry.

Here is an excerpt:

Grace watched, mesmerized, as Anne’s hand flew along the neck of the fiddle, moving in counterpoint to the bow sizzling across the strings. Quick and bright, and too fast to distinguish one note from another, Anne’s fiddle filled the room with music, accompanied by Sean and Jamie. Eyes closed and foot tapping, Anne didn’t hesitate as Sean finished leading the first round of the tune, allowing Anne to pick up the melody. The music pulled an old man and woman to their feet to dance along. Tourists, American by the look of them, began to clap and laugh as the old gentleman spun his wife in a happy jig.

Tim looked up from the pint he was building and called out to the dancers, “Oh, it’s the O’Shea, is it? Well, boyo, go on then!”

The man smiled back at Tim and gave his wife another spin, pulling her arms down and across in front of her to lead the two of them through the bar, side by side, hands linked together at the waist, feet flying in tandem. Grace watched as the couple kept their eyes on each other and matched their steps together. They’ve done this for years. She laughed with the crowd as the woman gave her husband a saucy wink, ducked under his arm and began a faster step in time with Anne’s speeding fiddle.

The clapping grew louder as Jamie shouted encouragement, giving a yip as he changed key. Anne’s eyes opened and she grinned at him, raising an eyebrow in challenge. The old woman, feet flying and eyes alight, caught the exchange and shouted, “Go on with you, girl!”Anne grinned back and stepped up the tempo as she matched Jamie’s key and his change in tempo. Grace heard the transition from the fast slip jig to an even faster reel and laughed out loud as, impossibly, the two dancers moved to match the musician’s increased speed. Her fingers twitched as Anne’s bow danced across the bridge of the fiddle and Jamie bent low over his guitar, his fingers a blur on the strings.

The dancing couple once again joined together to match steps, waving two others to join them. As had the first two, the new couple easily swung into step, the four of them performing a complicated set.  Feet flashed, skirts whirled, and the music danced with them around the room.  The noise in the pub grew as the music did, ending with a crescendo of music, rousing cheers and laughter of both participants and spectators.

Suffused with the rush and joy she always felt when there was music, good music, around her, Grace happily looked around the room. This was why she’d come here, to Ireland. This…the pub, the people, and most importantly, the music. She had read and studied all of her life, but she had always known she’d have to come here, to live here, to fully grasp what she’d read. It wasn’t just the music, it was the way it was a part of their lives. Grace watched as the four dancers made their breathless way back to their tables, as Tim began building pints again, laughing and joking with customers, most of whom he’d probably known his entire life. All the studying in the world couldn’t teach her as much as one night in a place like this. The music flowing from the instruments was born in the music of the community. To begin to understand it she had to surround herself with it.

And maybe in the surrounding, she could learn to live again.—

Today: Home Depot in Canoga park for three last things. Tonight: Writing.


Free Copy of Open Water…

In honor of today being another day in the grand scheme of US Olympic trials and hopefuls, I’m giving away a copy of Open Water. Add your name in the Comments on my Facebook page (Pol Robinson) and an impartial selector (I think I’ll have the dog do it) will draw a name tomorrow morning.

I’ll send you a signed print copy (or deliver it to GCLS) or arrange for an ebook for you (and sign it via Kindlegraph). If you already have a copy, enter anyway and I’ll send the book to you and you can give yours to someone else!

And…don’t forget!
Final Olympic Qualification Regatta
May 20-23, 2012
Lucerne, Switzerland

Catching Up…

I always think about posting to this blog late at night just as I’m falling asleep.  Of course, once awake, I lose the brilliance that was last night’s inspiration and this is the result.

To catch up:

The blog was initially begun as a way for family and friends to keep track of me while enrolled in the doctoral program. I was promised that I’d have little time to eat or sleep, let alone correspond with other humans on the planet.  Well, that was certainly true for the first two years, but this year that has been less so.  Thus, less blogging.

The reach of the blog has expanded and allowed me to connect with heretofore unknown relatives, and that has been the very best part of posting here. (Waving to my “new” Hall cousins!)

The year is almost ended and it’s been quite a year. My first novel was published to good reviews.  I even got my first royalty check recently…I was paid for my writing! Oh my gosh!

I was advanced to candidacy in the doctoral program and just yesterday began (after passing IRB requirements) the research phase.  I even have a graduation date and tie: May 24th, 6:30 pm. Sweet.

Another semester of teaching has come and gone, quite quickly this time around.

Then there’s the surgery.  Back surgery was successful, though not without its trauma.  I have lingering paresthesias in the left leg below the knee and including the foot.  The “drop foot” (a result of nerve damage from the surgery) gets significantly worse when I am out and about for any length of time.  On the positive side, my walking is much smoother and, unless I’m excessively tired, you cannot really tell there’s damage.

Things I’ve learned this year:

  • Nurses should be revered above all others.  The middle-of-the-night freakout’s for post-op patients are made better by a kind word and a warm hand.

  • Doctors should be very careful about overmedicating patients.  I fell asleep on two separate occasions with food in my mouth.  I was so severely overmedicated that they brought in a respiratory therapist because they thought I was having breathing problems. I was, but that was because my body was asleep!

  • True friends are those who will go through anything with and for you. Cherish them.

  • It’s all about love, everything else is just rhetoric. Go Navy (<– link. Those are words I never thought I’d say.)

  • I’m sure I learned more, but at the moment, I’m out of bullet points.

Today: writing, some last Christmas shopping, lunch with the great Tammy at the WB, and then cleaning house for visiting family.

Tonight: More relaxing reading.

Merry Christmas, Good Solstice, Happy Hanukkah, Good Kwanzaa, and/or Happy Holidays (or days off) to all and sundry.

Reviews: To Read or Not to Read, that is the Question

(With apologies to THE Bard).

To read, or not to read–that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of overwhelming flattery
Or to take arms against a sea of critics
And by opposing, end them […] aye, there’s the rub.

I opened my email this morning to a note from a friend that was along the lines of, “It’s okay, don’t jump off the bridge.”  Now, a message like that is tantamount to picking up the phone and having the person on the other end say, “Before you say anything, let me begin by saying…everyone’s okay.”  This friend then continued the positive message by encouraging me and building me up, then at the end included a link and said, “I assume you have seen this review.”

I had not.

Oh, the dilemma: To click or not to click on that review.

I tend to lean toward the Georgia Beers school of book reviews in that I don’t like to read them.  I am, despite my stocky build and “I can take anything” look, surprisingly sensitive.  It’s a running joke in our house that of all of us, I am the one most likely to love flowery “gramma” fabrics, cry at Hallmark commercials, and generally react passionately to all things. (I am also, to most people’s surprise, a SERIOUS introvert, but that’s for another blog). So, knowing how emotionally impacted I can be by such things, I hesitated.  Especially as this review apparently was strong enough to bring my friend to drop me a note; this is not someone who just casually emails me on a daily basis.

After a few minutes of waffling I decided, “What the hell, I’ll click and read the review.”  The review, after all, was offered by Lambda Literary, an agency that carries a great deal of respect in our community.

I clicked.

I saw.

I read.

In all honesty, the reviewer did not say anything that I have not said to myself either during the process of writing or after the book’s publication. I know my strengths, I know my weaknesses, and the reviewer pretty much nailed them as well.

The review was similar to a design I once submitted to an art director once.  After meeting with the client, the art director, the client, the other designers, the client, more meetings with more people and yes, another meeting with the client, I came up with a design.  A solid, workable design that incorporated notes from all of the above and my own input.  The art director tipped his head this way and that, resembling a curious terrier, then paused.  He rested his chin on his hand and said, “Well…it doesn’t suck.”

The entire meeting cracked up.  I blew out a sigh of relief.

“It doesn’t suck” was pretty high praise from an art director in that shop (a multi-million dollar shop founded on an animated rodent).

My book got the equivalent of an “It doesn’t suck” from an agency who regularly reviews gay and lesbian writing.  That means that it fell onto their radar, always a good thing.  It was my first book—the first of many, I hope. Could it have “not sucked” less (i.e. been called “spectacular”)? Yes, indeed.  On the other hand, it could have been called a “spectacular disaster,” so all-in-all, I’m good with what I got.

So, to Lamda Literary, I say thank you.

Even had you gone with option B above and said “spectacular disaster” instead, I would still have said thank you and meant it. 

Can a review hurt? Yes.

Should it? No.

Reviews are not meant to be a feel-good “atta girl,”nor are they meant to shatter an artist’s dream or creativity, especially if the reviewer does not also create in that medium.  They exist to give a reader a sense of the book.  To tell us if we want to part with our hard-earned dollars to support an author and gain a few hours of mental freedom.

A good review is like a good report to a parent on student work, a “dirt sandwich,” if you will.  Begin with the good, put the dirt in the middle, end with more good.  You can always find good to say and there is always something good that can be said.  A little good goes a long way.  A savvy reader can pull what they need from a good review, especially one structured in that good/bad/good format.

That’s not to say that I am unaffected by what I read and/or hear about my work.  If you stab me, do I not bleed? Which brings us back to the original question (and subsequent mauling of Will’s fine words).

One last thing.  Even at the lowest points in my self-doubt, and like any creative person I am plagued with self-doubt, I go back to my manuscript.  The one that was hand-marked by my editor, the redoubtable Katherine V. Forrest.  In there are comments and pointers and, every so often, this little gem, “fine writing.”

And once in a while, this: “very find writing.”

That’s good enough for me.

Buy the Book.

I sure wish we could make money from fanfic, ’cause if that were the case I’d be sitting on a cool million by this point.  One story alone has generated 180-thousand hits.

Alas, there’s that whole copyright infringement, yada, yada, yada.

Open Water from Bella Books.

But, that said, I do have a book published.

I am teaching my students “persuasion” at this point in the semester and the thing I emphasize most (after ‘ethical appeals’) is for them to not forget the “ask.” What is it you want your audience to think, do, or say at the end of their persuasive speech?

Then, in the shower this morning as I was trying to figure out which to pay: mortgage or hospital bills, it came to me.

I forgot the ask!

So, now I am asking.

If you have not done so, please buy my book, Open Water, available here: Bella Books. If you’ve already purchased a copy, consider buying another to give to a friend. Or two and donating one to either a local library or a local gay/lesbian center.

If you’re uncertain, you can read an excerpt on my web page, here: Open Water excerpt.

If you are at all concerned about the “lesbian-ness” of the book, let me assure you that this book is by no means a “how-to” manual.  Believe me, I was absolutely aware that my younger cousins would be reading this (as would be my multitudes of parents). And one such parent, this one a very conservative (“I live in McCain Country,” Florida) step-mom, said, “Wow, this is quite good! I actually couldn’t put it down!” High praise indeed from a Obama-wasn’t-born-here conservative.

Thus, keeping in mind what I have often told my students on the think/do/say plan, I would like you to think about what you can afford, buy the book, and tell others to do the same.

If you buy the e-version, you can get it “Kindle-graphed,” or you can drop me a note via my Facebook page and I will send you a personalized book plate.

‘Nuf said.

For now.

Thank you.

Now, THIS is Public Discourse…

I almost never link to other blogs.

Today…I am. Fantastic discussion going on. Join in

Born This Way Blog

Look! It’s Here! My Book Cover!

It’s Sunday night, it’s raining (again) here in Southern California, and I’m home alone. Just me and the dog…so, not so alone, I guess.

Is it wrong that I’m enjoying this so much? *Looks around guiltily.*

S. is still in Guatemala, so I did what any self-respecting spouse would do while she is away. I spent Friday rearranging the house. Well, not so much the house as the master bedroom and the living room. Put the treadmill in one spot, put the big comfy chair in another. So now when I (or anyone else in the house) wants to work out, the rest of us can simply lock that person into one room at the far end of the house. Works great and has forced me to use the thing more, too, which is good (and was quite necessary).

What else? Saturday morning was an early start to get M. off to his flight to Texas (only to find out hours later that he’d only made it as far as Vegas before the Gods of Thunderstorms closed all flights in and out of Dallas. He eventually made it, 24 hours later than planned). Since I was already up I stayed up to organize and pay bills.

Ick. Seriously. Iiiiick. Bleh.

Saturday afternoon was spent grading all of the assignments I had pending for a class that finished last Tuesday (thank God!). 24 students multiplied by 5 assignments=long afternoon. But, grades are posted for that class, hurrah!

Saturday evening I had dinner with a friend, but first braved CostCo. I know! On a Saturday! What was I thinking! *Shakes head.* Then, later that night, did a really stupid thing. Started a friend’s book. I think I finally fell asleep around 5 am. That was really dumb.

Sunday. Ahhh, Sunday. Spent the day with various football games on while I worked, then stopped work in time to see my DirecTV HD signal die, JUST as the Packer/Viking game was kicking off.

S.e.r.i.o.u.s.l.y.   T.i.c.k.e.d.

Oh yes. Ticked.

Went into S’s office (next biggest TV) and watched the first half there while on the fruitless customer service call with DTV. For more on their “customer service,” check out a past blog on the Olympic Games. Anyway, after convincing the woman that I did not, in fact, plan on crawling up on my roof while A) alone in my home with nobody to call 911 when I fell; and B) in the pouring rain, we agreed that she’d do as I’d initially asked and send out a service tech.

On Wednesday.

Between 8 and noon.

Murphy says the guy will get here at 11:55 am.

So…all TV’s are off again (ahh, blissful silence), the rain is pattering down outside, and my classwork is prepped for the week. We won’t discuss the doctoral reading/writing I didn’t even touch this weekend. I’m pretty much doing the minimum on that whole thing right now.

And I will never again (repeat after me) schedule myself to teach 21 units in a semester again, even when I am not writing a dissertation. And a book.

Aha! Which leads me to the very best part!

Beautiful cover designed for me by the great Linda Callaghan. The book will be available from Bella Books in spring, 2011

How. Freakin.’ Cool. Is. That!