Saturday, October 31, 2009

I've kept a list entitled "10 Things I Want to Do Before I Die" long before The Bucket List (a good movie starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman -- what's not to like) made such an idea popular. Recently I've made mention of the list on another blog and several people wondered where the idea came from.

I have to give credit to Sister Joanna of the School Sisters of Notre Dame. She was my religion teacher Junior year at Bishop Kearney High School. Creating the list was something she assigned us. We had to have it completed and turned in by the end of the period. The items didn't have to be school-related, in fact, she encouraged us to Think Big. "If you don't envision yourself doing it, you'll never even try," she told us. A woman ahead of her time.

Now, I was a pretty concientious student (honest! It said so on my second grade report card!), and I bent to the task, concentrating hard and thinking about all the things I wanted to do with the decades that stretched before me. One has all the time in the world when one is seventeen. The first items came quickly: write and publish a book (yes, have had that dream for many, many years), go so far out to sea I couldn't see land (I'd just finished reading Moby Dick, can you tell?); fly in an airplane; go to Europe.

The next tasks required a little more thought. Fly in a hot air balloon, go so far north I could see the sun not set. A few girls giggled as they exchanged papers, sharing their silliness. They wanted husbands and children and a house in the suburbs. Didn't need to look at their paper to know that's what they'd written.

But I wanted more. With the exception of writing and publishing a book, the others all had to do with travel. Places to go, things to see, life to experience. Would I ever actually do any of them? Who knew back then?

The minutes slipped by and still I had only six things on my list. What other things did I want to do? Fun things...not involving work. I had a sudden thought and scribbled two ideas down quickly: canoe the Erie Canal from Albany to Buffalo and to walk the Appalacian Trail from Maine to Georgia.

I sat grinning at those two for a good five minutes. I didn't even know if the entire Erie Canal still existed. So much of it had been redug and rerouted in the early 20th century that the canal even had a different name now -- the unpoetically named Barge Canal. But both these ideas appealed to the romantic in me, since I could do neither one alone. I didn't need to write down "get married" on my was a given in my mind.

But that still left two more dreams to come up with. Ten things I wanted to do before I died...smiling mischiveously I wrote down, "Go into outer space." Why not? I had to envision it before I could make it happen...well, I could see myself sitting comfortably in a Saturn V rocket being hurled upward, making a space walk with a thick tether to the command module. Yeah. Definitely going into outer space had to be on the list.

One more. Less than five minutes to the end of the period. I shrugged and let whimsy take over. None of this was serious anyway. She would read the lists, slap a grade on them and hand them back. And Sister had specified ten things, so ten there must be. Shaking my head I wrote, "ride in the engine of a steam locomotive and shovel coal."

Done. Bemused by the entire exercise, I went on about my life, throwing away the paper at the end of the year along with all the other accumulated notes, labs, and worksheets.

I didn't give it another thought until a month into summer vacation when I went to visit a friend who had a cottage on Coneseus Lake. Her sister knew someone who worked on the tourist railroad that ran between Lakeville and Livonia, NY. We wandered down to the train barn to see him and he was just taking the engine out and hooking it up for the night's run. The three of us (my girlfriend, me, and the train engineer) fell to talking and he asked us if we wanted a ride over to the station.

We didn't have anything better to do, so we said sure, thinking he meant for us to get in one of the passenger cars. But he gestured to the engine and said, "Hop on, then!" And there I was, riding in the engine of a steam locomotive, the hot boiler just a foot away, the huge beast thundering under my feet. I couldn't stop grinning.

By the time we pulled into the station, I had begun to wonder. If such an unimportant thing on my list could come true without my even trying...what about the other things on my list? Would it be possible to go so far out to sea I couldn't see land? What about actually walking the Appalacian trail? I still didn't think going into outer space was realistic, but the others...

When we got home that night I borrowed a sheet of notebook paper from my friend and rewrote my list. Looking it over, I made my decision: I WOULD do all the things on the list and what's more, every time I did one, I needed to add another. The list would always be at ten items. That way, I'd always have something to look forward to and wouldn't get bored.

I know other people prefer to cross things off and feel a great accomplishment in saying things like, "Three down, seven to go." They feel as if they're headed toward a finish line and life's a race to get things done. I'm afraid I'm not like that. For me, these are end goals in and of themselves, so when one's done, it gets crossed off. There is a great satisfaction in crossing it off, too. But another gets added because I never want to become complacent. There are always new horizons, new activities to do.

So, what have I crossed off? I've flown in an airplane and a hot air balloon. I've written and published a book (14 so far!), I've ridden in the engine of a steam locomotive and I've learned to weave on my very own loom. That last was the one I added since I'd ridden on the train. I've also gone so far north that I saw the sun not set and I've shot a shotgun (another later addition to the list).

Still to do? Walk the Appalacian Trail, canoe the Erie Canal, go so far out to see I can't see land, go into outer space and parasail from the back of a boat (another added item), go to Europe. Yes, I know. That's only six. I need to come up with four more, especially since I crossed three of this summer.

I'm open for ideas! Let 'em rip...what four things should I add to my list so I still have 10 Things To Do Before I Die?

Monday, October 12, 2009

For some reason I couldn't cut and paste into the blog over the weekend, so I ended up sending both these posts as newsletters. This, however, was the original place for this post and I included the one from earlier...well, just because. :)

Romanticon 2009 is over and, my glory, did I have a WONDERFUL time. This has been a truly relaxing, professional…marvelous weekend. Between the EC staff, the readers, the models and the authors I doubt there were many more than two hundred people here and it was the perfect size.

The Author Mania sessions gave us a great chance to chat with readers…and have entire conversations with them. No one felt rushed and the convention books EC provided with that held the schedules, handouts and places for signatures was a stroke of genius. Everything all together in one book…and more than one reader (and author!) made the attempt to get every single author's autograph.

I presented at two sessions: Using Second Life and the How to Write BDSM panel. The Second Life presentation was Saturday morning and had about fifteen people in attendance, over triple the number that came when I gave a similar presentation at RT a few years back. Several authors downloaded the program right here at the hotel and are inworld already. I can't wait to meet them again in SL. Their questions and enthusiasm is catching!

For the panel discussion, Joey Hill , Tawny Taylor and I all gave tips on how to write good BDSM novels and I have to say, I was truly impressed with the level of discussion between and among those in attendance. There were about 25-30 people who came and the questions and comments were terrific. We only stopped because we were out of time, but several of us continued the discussion out in the hall afterward.

Are you seeing the trend here? The level of professional discussion about writing blew me away. It's the first time I've ever had such wonderful talks with authors (and readers) about the craft of writing. Sometimes we talked about the tools (got a great tip on using the comment feature in Word to keep track of details, but I don't remember who gave me the tip. If you're reading this and it's you…let me know so I can give you credit!), and sometimes we talked about the content.

In fact, I'd have to say that was the best part of the entire weekend: the ability to talk openly about subjects that are often step-children at other conferences. Ebook publishing, erotic love scenes, werewolves, vampires, using online tools to promote – all these topics and more were spoken of seriously and with great passion and knowledge. Definitely the best part of the conference had to be the opportunity for quiet, scholarly discussion.

Because the number of attendees was small, it was possible to see everyone. I know I've been to larger conferences and found out after the fact that someone I knew was there and yet we never crossed paths the entire time. That wasn't the case here. I think I spoke to nearly everyone at least once. Ruby Storm said it felt more like family and she's right. So many of the authors I'd seen before and had brief conversations with…but this time we sat down and really talked. Truly a wonderful opportunity!

And so a huge THANK YOU to the EC staff who made it possible and allowed us to realize that our niche genres have just as much scholarship, just as much craft, just as much planning and thought as books published by bigger houses. THANK YOU for bringing the authors and readers together to renew friendships and forge new ones. We may be the step-children of the romance world, but we are not alone. THANK YOU for showing us that.

Play safe!
It may seem like I've disappeared from the universe, but let me assure you, I have not. For the past three months, I've been pretty silent on every venue: my newsletter, my blog, even Second Life. I walked away from the Internet, from promotion...and unfortunately, from you, my loyal readers.

Why? I had to. I've spoken before of finding the balances in life, whether between promoting my works and actually writing the stories or between home and work, family and everything else. Since publishing my first novel in September of 2003, I've managed to maintain that balance. Everyone and everything got an equal share of my time and energy.

But earlier this year, I got out of whack. I was spending hours in Second Life doing readings (sometimes as many as a dozen a month!) and nothing else was getting done. I wasn't writing, I wasn't keeping up with my blog or newsletter, and worst of all, I was losing touch with my family.

In May, I took stock of what was going on and realized I needed to change up what had become a habit. I slowed down my readings considerably and wrote a newsletter and several blog posts. But it wasn't enough. I needed what amounted to a refresh. I needed to walk away, get my priorities back in order and set forth once more.

And so this summer I did just that. I unplugged totally. I went into Second Life only to pay my rents and nothing else, spending no more than five minutes inworld about every two weeks. I didn't post to the blog, didn't post to the newsletter -- I only went to work and, more importantly, rediscovered my family. They're actually wonderful folks with a huge well of patience and I love them very much.

During those months I spent a great deal of time at our cabin (it still feels very new to me, especially since there are still rooms not touched. But that's another post for another day. Which is coming, I promise. But I digress...) and my husband and I spent two weeks on vacation - without the kids (another whole post in and of itself). Because I teach, I had the time to renew and reflect -- something I'm always preaching is important, but forgot to practice myself.
But every catepiller eventually has to emerge from its self-inflicted cocoon, and I hope, as I emerge from mine, that I can be as beautiful as a Monarch, although at this point, even a cabbage-white will do. Expect more posts from me (although I'm sure they'll be as irregular as always) and look for me again in Second Life. I have some new ideas and am writing a new Studs story (Ruth Kerce , Ruby Storm and I are at it again!), so watch this space for announcements.
Thank you, my dear readers, for your patience and understanding. My sincerest hope is that you have found the balances in your life. Until later,

Play safe,