Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Guest Author: Kimberly Van Meter

Helen here. I first met fellow SuperRomance author Kimberly Van Meter at last year's national RWA conference in Dallas. We were both newly published, but since she's much more prolific than me, her third book (not that I'm counting or anything) is out this month and her fourth book will be out in April. She's smoking!

Welcome to the convertible, Kim!

The Gift Of Words

Inspiration is a funny thing. Sometimes the muse knocks you sidewise with her magic wand and you go ass over teakettle with the force of the amazing ideas ready to spring from your brain to your fingers on the keyboard and other times, it’s like the muse went on vacation and left no forwarding address.

But who has time for that fickle little imaginary friend? I don’t and most published authors on contract (and deadline) don’t have the luxury of luring the muse to return if she’s being stubborn. In fact, sometimes you have to grab that recalcitrant little hussy and shake the stories out of her because you don’t have time to play games.

That’s what happened with my current release, RETURN TO EMMETT’S MILL, published through Harlequin Superromance (help a starving writer. Go buy it. Now. Don’t wait. Hurry. While supplies last.) Pull up a chair and I’ll tell you a story about a writer, her muse, and a psychic’s advice.

As I state in my Dear Reader letter, while writing my current release, I was going through a personal crisis of my own. In short, my marriage was imploding. Not much fun to write about a blossoming romance when your own is going down the proverbial tubes. In short, I couldn’t write. I mostly sobbed at my keyboard and if I wasn’t weeping I was staring at the blinking cursor, my fingers frozen and my brain paralyzed. Writers put pieces of themselves in their work but if they have nothing to give, where do they go from there? Well, I can’t speak to other writers but what I did was panic. And cry some more. Then, I went to a psychic.

She told me some great things about my future as well as gave me hope for my marriage but the one thing she said about my writing was that my creativity would return in a month. That’s great, I said. Except my deadline was in a month. I couldn’t wait that long. She smiled and said, “Fake it ‘til you make it. You can fix it later.”

Strange advice but I’ll tell you, it worked. I pretended that I was writing wonderful prose with a meaningful plot and wonderful characters and didn’t allow that internal editor to tell me that I was doing the exact opposite.

While my heart was mending, the words flowed from a magical place and the heroine, who was going through her own pain, felt my heartbreak. Each time I sat down to the keyboard it was like opening a vein and before I knew it, I was nearing the end. I managed to make my deadline (two months to write a book isn’t long enough, I’ve learned), much to my agent’s immense relief (she was afraid I was setting myself up for a nervous breakdown with such a short window) and after I turned the book in to my editor, she emailed me to say that it was a wonderful story and my readers were going to have to read it with a tissue handy because it was a tear-jerker.

Yes, it was, for me as well. But writing it was cathartic and I don’t know if I would’ve been able to get through that painful chapter in my life without Tasha Simmons crying right alongside me. And then, I realized my muse hadn’t really left me, she just encouraged me to tap into something I wanted to run from. Sometimes the muse is the one giving out the tough love for our benefit. Through the gift of words, like a pressure valve, my writing helped the pain dissipate until it was no longer crippling.

So, when people say to me that they can only write when they’re inspired, (i.e. birds are singing, the sun is shining, and there’s peace and happiness in the world) usually I laugh. If I’d waited to be inspired to finish the book currently on the shelves I’d have missed my deadline and I might still be curled in a ball sobbing, lost and wondering whatever happened to that sweet muse who used to whisper lovely stories in my ear from the time I was fifteen until now.
Nope. Like I said, there’s no waiting in my world. I’m the boss and I say back to work. But don’t worry, I’ve learned my muse likes it a little rough. She gives as good as she gets and I’m thankful for it.

What do you do when you find yourself staring at a blank page, wondering if you’ll ever be able to write anything worth reading? How do you inspire yourself? And lastly, have you ever found the courage to write through something painful to come out the other side, feeling better because of it? I’d love to hear your stories, comments, and thoughts on the subject.


Betina Krahn said...

Welcome Kimberly! What a great picture of you! I love this post-- so inspirational!

Yeah, I've had some tough writing times, myself. Now when I find myself unable or unwilling to write and work on THE THING in progress, I switch to something else and write something not under contract pressure for a while. That isn't quite the muse-thrashing approach, but it gets the juices flowing. The problem is, I have all kinds of things started now and in various stages of completion. . . and who knows if they'll ever go anywhere.

On the other hand, maybe they're valuable as source material or for a future effort. . . or just proof that all my words haven't just dried up!

Enjoy your day in the convertible. Did Helen give you some of our industrial strength hair spray?

Helen Brenna said...

Funny, you should bring this up, Kim. I feel as if I'm going through something very similar with the book I'm writing now. I think/hope it's the whole getting used to a deadline thing new writers have to go through and I'll be fine once I get another book or two under my belt.

I've been muttering to myself a quote from Nora Roberts - "I can fix a bad page. I can't fix a blank page." Just getting it down is more important that getting it perfect.

The other thing I've been practicing is being kind to myself. If I haven't reached my daily/weekly/monthly writing goals. If I'm a little short-tempered. If I don't get a bill paid on time, or forget things. It helps.

Cute, Betina - industrial hair spray. Love it!

Playground Monitor said...

What a wonderful story!

I'm like Betina. I have beginnings of all sorts of stuff all in one folder on my hard drive. Or I'll read or watch a good movie on TV to see if I can get focused again. I've never had to work through anything really bad. It's usually just general funk and it's been hitting a lot lately. Maybe I need to see the psychic again. ;-)


Kimberly Van Meter said...

Hello ladies! It's so great to be here today. I'm excited to read about your writing experiences and how life affects you and your craft.

Betina, I also have a cyber folder full of bits and pieces of stuff that's been started but really has no end (or discernible plot). Sometimes I hear conversations in my head and I just have to write down the interaction between the characters because it's so good. No idea what the heck they're dealing with but it's sure good dialogue. LOL. Of course, we've all learned you can't make a story from just a conversation but who knows, maybe in the future, that conversation will spring to mind when I'm looking for my newest story idea. So, keep working on those tiny side projects! You never know where they might turn up, right?

Marilyn, I confess. I've been seeing psychics since I was 18. I had my palm read as a birthday present to myself when I turned 18. Thus far, everything she said, has turned out right! Coincidence? Maybe. But I like to think that it's not. (Especially the famous author part!)

Helen, hand over that hair spray girlfriend, I like to drive fast! ;-) Good luck with your current WIP. I'm not worried, though. You are a fabulous writer! (I seem to remember a certain someone getting a Top Pick! for Treasure.)

I love chatting with you ladies!

Michele Hauf said...

Welcome Kimberly!

My muse strikes briefly and fiercely, and when she does, I hunker down for the major pages. Then she scampers off, taking the characters along with her. Sometimes I have to chase after them, but if the story isn't due for a while, I just let them go. I need a break after a furious first draft.

As for the struggles? I find myself with tears in my eyes once in a while as I'm writing. Not too often. But I don't think I've faced anything yet where I'm afraid to delve into the depths. Of course, that said, I'm sure my next book will drag me right down into them!

Have fun in the convertible today. If you take it for a spin, don't drive too fast! I just waxed it, baby. :-)

Cindy Gerard said...

Hey Kimberly. congrats on all your success and the way you managed to overcome some very rough times and finish that book! As as been said, we've all been through similar situations where the last thing we want to concentrate on is a happy ending. But the fake it 'til you make it' advice is perfect to get us through those tough times.
As a 'working' earning writer I can't afford to wait for the muse to arrive from her day at the spa or where ever she goes when she leaves me in the lurch. Signing a contract, receiving advance money up front - well, it sort of reeks of expectation, don't ya think? And that means I have to deliver. so I dig in because people (read: publisher) are counting on me. I dig back into the story and usually find what I'm needing right in front of me. More often than not, progress comes from what I've already written and leads me in the direction I need to go.
It's tough going sometimes. Kind of like digging for gold with a toothpick but if that's what it takes, that's what I do. I have a feeling that's what all of us do.
Speaking of which - I need to get back to it.
Have fun in the convertible and thanks for visiting.

Jeannie Watt said...

Kim, I loved your story. And what its telling me is that I can write even when things are getting me down. Thank you for telling me about faking it and fixing it later. Excellent advice. I do tend to read or watch movies to get "into the mood", but sometimes a person just has to put their butt in a chair and write. Thanks again for sharing.

Theresa Ragan said...

Hey, Kim. Great blog. Thanks for the inspiration to keep on writing no matter what. I hope you and your hubby end up with the same happy ending as your characters.


lois greiman said...

Hey Kin, thanks for traveling with us. I love your attitude, and your psychic's. I couldn't agree more...most of us can't wait around for the muse no matter how 'amusing' she is. :) We just hunker down and get it done. But isn't that just kind of what we all do? As women? As mothers? As productive people. Writing does take creativity, of course. But more anything it takes tenacity I think.

Best of all with your exploding career, and congrats.

Kimberly Van Meter said...

Cindy, I absolutely agree with you about needing to just keep your behind in the chair and write because when we've signed a contract and received a check, there is expectation. That's the business side of the job, but the creative/artistic side doesn't always cooperate and that's when we have to really dig in and find what works. I do something similar, by reading what I've already written, sometimes it gives me that spark needed to go forward. :-)

Hi Jeannie, Theresa! Thanks for coming by for a ride in the convertible. Fake it to til you make it is my new motto. So far, it's working!

Debra Dixon said...

Kim-- Great to have you with us and thanks for shining such an honest light on your struggle to write. Too often people don't realize how much heart, soul, blood, sweat and tears goes into a book. You bring that realization beautifully to life.

And I'm betting it's a fabulous book. Love the cover. Makes me like those people and want to take them home with me.

Natasha72 said...

Hi Kim -

Just thought I'd swing in to say hello. But drat, now I'm going to have to add another writer's blog to my ever expanding "Writer's Blogs" favorites file. I didn't discover these things until November. (A disclaimer just in case you happen to read 2 posts by me, because the first one disappeared into the atmosphere.)

I love your topic but I haven't gone through such a painful time in my life while writing, so I can only speak to what I've been going through just recently.

My muse is a wily one. I'm convinced that for the past several weeks she's been off on spring break in Cancun sipping margaritas and munching on salted nuts while I slog through the current WIP. She's probably smoking one of those long cigarettes too, waving to the pool boys with her long red nails. Doesn't she know I'm waiting for her? Hello? Put down the lime and get back here.

You see, I'm an unpublished author who just finished and submitted her first manuscript. I sent my baby to Canada the first Friday in December. No one asked for her. No one knew she was coming. So she's probably sitting in a giant slushy pile right now.

But I played it cool to my friends and family - yes, I've sent it in, long wait, months probably, blah, blah, blah. I tried to start the next book - as suggested by a writer friend. But I couldn't get a handle on the characters. And the plot. What plot?

What I finally realized after trying to force myself to write something, anything, is that I had a giant anxiety elephant sitting on my chest. Internally I've worried the paper was too white, the postage insufficient, the font too small and whether I remembered to put my phone number in the query letter.

Outwardly, cool as a cucumber. Inside a giant puddle of jello - and not the good kind. The kind with bits of celery in it.

Finally realizing what I mess I was and admitting it aloud to my husband - who did not even pretend shock - freed it.

I bought a new craft book and listened to an RWA session and tried a new technique. And guess what, she came back! She's still a little fuzzy from all that tequila, but she's tan and rested and for the moment back in my head.

So bring on the hairspray. I'm here for the ride.


kimberly Van meter said...

Woohoo! You go, Tasha! There is something to be said for letting the muse enjoy the sunshine for a bit as long as you don't let the vacation turn into a Hollywood writer's strike-type hiatus! (anyone else bemoaning the loss of their fav shows??) Sending in your baby is always nerve-wracking, it never ends. I have THREE babies sitting on my editor's desk and with my active imagination, I figure she's using them to prop up her desk or something because they're no good for anything else. We writers are such a neurotic bunch, aren't we? But it sounds like you've got the way of things and I have no doubt someday you'll be on the other side of the fence, too. :-)
Thanks for coming by and playing!
Debra, thanks so much for the kind words on the cover of my newest release. I fell in love with that cover! It's exactly as I'd hoped. I grew up in the backyard of Yosemite Natl Park and that scene is supposed to the ice rink at Curry Village (okay, the art dept took a little poetic license, but that's fine with me) and I love what could be Half Dome in the background. Honestly, despite the hard work it took to get there, I am very happy with this book. It feels true and honest and more than one reader has told me that it touched them deeply. One reader told me that it had made her remember some things in her childhood that she'd forgotten and wanted to hold onto. How sweet! Another admitted that they'd cried through nearly every emotional scene. (Isn't it lovely when we writers make our readers cry?) Anyway, it's rapidly becoming my favorite book, although I am fond of my upcoming release as well. Nora's story comes out in April and that story is HILARIOUS. But enough about that! Another time, perhaps.

Helen Brenna said...

WAY TO GO, Tasha! Woohoo, that's a big step. Best of luck with your story, and thanks for stopping by.

Kim, that's so cool that you grew up near Yosemite. I haven't been there since about 1985, but it was gorgeous. DH and I spent 3 nights camping there and loved it. I've rock climbed, but have never done THAT kind of climbing. Amazing stuff. And that could be Half Dome on your cover. Love it!

Kathleen Eagle said...

Welcome, Kim!

What do I do? I listen to--in this case read--fellow writers. I've been published for going on 24 years, and I still have to be reminded that I'm not the Lone Ranger. Everybody goes through tough times. Writers write. S*** happens. Writers write anyway.

I'm in a place right now--that place you described--where it's SO much easier said than done. And it's supposed to get easier at some point, isn't it? Well, you couldn't prove it by me.

But I've done it before. Sometimes I wonder whether the time and energy I spent perservering was time and energy my family needed. I've written though trials, tribulation, grief of all kinds. Maybe I didn't write enough, but I wrote. The worst thing I can do is stay away from it too long.

I used to say that I couldn't work on more than one project at a time. Guess what? I can. I've been working on a couple of projects lately. I used to brag that I'd sold everything I'd written. I'm going to stop bragging. There are no guarantees. The only "made woman" I know in this business is LaVyrle Spencer. She retired at the top of her game. She set goals, reached them, and took them to the bank. I can't think of anyone else who's done that.

So we write. Through thick and thin. I'm so grateful for our community of writers. If it were just me and my notebook, I'd be howling at the moon.

Thanks so much, Kim. You've inspired me today.

Kimberly Van Meter said...

Kathleen, being around other writers is so helpful. I get energized and inspired by others in this business as well. Thank goodness, we seem to be everywhere. :-) And, I am so glad I inspired you! Hugs and good luck with your current WIP.

You know, I think there's truth to the earlier statement that women tend to dig deep when the need arises. Our shoulders tend to be fairly wide when it comes down to it. If someone had told me ten years ago what I'd be going through now, I would've laughed because there's no way I could've handled it but giving up and hiding isn't an option. It never is. So, like Kathleen said, we write, through thick and thin, and sometimes even though the writing is difficult it can save us, too. Just like it did for me. I shudder to think where I'd be without my writing. Probably a mess. :-)

MsHellion said...

If you write it, the Muse will come. I totally believe that. Great blog! Lovely to meet you!! :)

Hmmm. Not sure...what I do. I eat a lot of chocolate in hopes the muse will visit me. I write with POTC playing in the background; it helps, I write more strangely enough.

I'm not feeling very write-y today. Didn't win a contest; and though I know contests are subjective, blah, blah, blah--it still means my writing is subpar in some way. *LOL* The Muse has stomped off in a huff, which is too bad because I'm already huffy--and we could have at least commiserated together. *LOL*

I'm sure writing when love and romance is the last thing you want to write about is a hundred times harder.

Kimberly Van Meter said...

Mshellion, here's some cyber chocolate on your contest disappointment. You're right; they're subjective but I know it feels good to get positive reinforcement when you win. Just keep writing, improving your craft and don't be so hard on yourself! And you're right, it's hard to write about love and romance when you're own is suffering but it actually helped me because I could give my characters a happy ending even if mine was shaky. I will say that my marriage was saved (with LOTS of therapy!) but when I look at this book, I can't help but remember what I was going through during the writing. Then again, I'm extremely proud of this piece of work, too. So, in the end, it all worked out.

Samantha Hunter said...

Love that, if you write it, the muse will come. But sometimes not easily, and not even within that particular book, LOL.

Kim, you've heard me talk about the muse long enough that I'd think you know it isn't always birds chirping and sun shiney! The muse can be a bitch, too, LOL. You talk about opening a vein and pouring your heart out and writing this terrifically emotional book (which I do have, but just haven't gotten to, big sorries!), but to me that IS the muse. The muse isn't what sits your butt in a chair and makes you write, it's the life that comes through the writing when it happens -- so you have one, whether you like it or not :P

I watched an actors' studio with John Cusak last night, and he said, when you feel stuck or things seem shallow or cardboard, that seeking the things you deny, the shadow side of yourself, that's where you'll find the richness, the thing that makes it all interesting -- sounds to me like that's what happened for you here. Neat. :)


Dara Edmondson said...

I've had to force myself to just sit and write on occasion - even when I didn't think I could. Can't say it was my best work, but it was something I could at least edit and whip into shape.

Caitlin Hoy said...

I'm not a writer but when I am doing something that needs inspiration to get done I relax and try not to think of it at all. Thats usually when I get my best ideas. and yes I have tried to do creative things as an outlet for pain and i have felt better for it. Hope its ok I'm not a writer. Happy Valentine's Day!

kimberly Van meter said...

Caitlin, welcome! Of course, it's okay you're not a writer. We enjoy all viewpoints, right ladies? Creative outlets are so necessary, whether it's writing or pottery. Thanks for coming!

Sam, you caught me! You're right, the muse can be a bitch; she and I have scrapped more than once. And there are moments when I'm in the Zone and I know she's there with me because I almost don't even realize I'm typing and before I know it, I have 20 pages written. Of course, the funny part of that kind of writing jag is when I go back and check, I always seem to miss words here and there because I was typing too quickly. LOL!

Playground Monitor said...

Nobody's mentioned it, but today is Cindy's 39th birthday! *g*

Samantha Hunter said...

Woo hoo! Happy Birthday!


Helen Brenna said...

That's because she didn't tell us, Sam. Happy Happy, Cindy!

Chelle Sandell said...

I've found that I tend to write better when I'm on emotional overload. I struggle when our life is tame and boring.

I'm struggling with a chapter and I've saved your book as a reward. Rumor is you need a box of tissues handy. :)

Kimberly Van Meter said...

Thank you Chelle. :-D I hope you enjoy it.

Cindy, happy birthday, of course!

And to everyone who came to play with me today, thank you so much for making me feel warm and welcome. I've had a great time chatting and sharing; I hope everyone has a lovely day tomorrow filled with many well-written pages.


(returning the keys to the convertible)

Helen Brenna said...

Thanks for hanging with us, Kim!

Cindy Gerard said...

Thanks for the birthday wishes guys. And Marilyn - thanks for the lie (39? I wish)