Lake Atitlan, Panajachel, Guatemala

“Reading and writing are acts of empathy and faith. Guard that trust carefully — in this rapidly changing business, it’s the only sure thing.” ~Erin Keane
"Never give up. And most importantly, be true to yourself. Write from your heart, in your own voice, and about what you believe in." ~ Louise Brown

"Write something to suit yourself and many people will like it; write something to suit everybody and scarcely anyone will care for it."
~Jesse Stuart

"A writer's job is to take one thing and make it stand for twenty." ~ Virginia Woolf

Monday, June 29, 2015

Down With Conformity

I came of age in the Sixties when conformity was a bad word. Everyone wanted to be different, to act different, to rebel. I did my own share of rebelling to be sure, but I never did drugs.

When I got to college and went to a few parties and saw unpleasant results of alcohol, I stopped drinking and stopped going places where people would be drinking.

When I transferred to the University of Illinois my sophomore year, drugs were hitting campus big time and what I noticed was that the people who seemed most against conformity were all looking and acting and thinking exactly alike.

Rebellion had become the new conformity. It made me turn away from rebellion and become my own kind of non-conformist.

I see this happening everywhere in our world today. People are afraid to express an opinion that differs from what's socially and politically acceptable. If you do, things can get ugly. You get called names like racist, homophobic, religious nut case, far right Republican, a bigot, intolerant.

I am none of those things, yet I have my own thoughts about issues, and I will rarely express them because if I'm not conforming to the politically correct view, then I'm something ugly.

What ever happened to free speech? What ever happened to a thinking society and open discussion of issues? It's like we're going backward in time to a society crippled by prejudice and fear and strict conformity.

I am so tired of the name-calling, the hostility, the ranting back and forth. People are unfollowing and unfriending on social media, and probably in real life, when they find out their friends have the "wrong" political ideas. Did you know in Hollywood there are closet Republicans? People afraid to be found out for their political and religious beliefs for fear of losing their jobs.

I don't care what side you're on politically, just stop it. Everyone should just stop it.

By the way, in case you think you know my views and can categorize me, you're wrong. I have a gay son and I'm very happy he is with such a fine person as his partner. I know neither of them chose to be the way they are, and I wish them all the happiness that is possible to them in this world. But marriage? Marriage is ordained of God and is between a man and a woman.

Let the name calling and unfollowing begin.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Rainy Season

While many of you in the U.S. are feeling the heat and drought conditions, in Guatemala we are deep into the rainy season. In the morning it is sunny and everyone is outdoors before the clouds come and the rain hits.

Gotta do laundry and hang it out to dry.

Gotta walk to the market before the water is pouring down the middle of the streets.

Gotta just get out and feel the sun on your skin.

Later in the day when it's pouring rain, wifi can get spotty. Sometimes the electricity goes off altogether.

If it gets cold and dreary, I've got a supply of wood ready for the fireplace.

It's nearly impossible to go all through the rainy season without getting caught in a downpour without an umbrella. When that happens, people stand inside stores or under shelter, watching for a tuk tuk, or just waiting for it to lessen a bit.

One of the best rains happened last year when we were at the hotel. It was evening, the electricity went out, it was dark. We stood on the balcony and watched the rain filling up the street as the parking lot across the way turned into a flood.

The main street of Panajachel during a light rain:


Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Deciding What to Write

As a writer, figuring out what project to work on next is part of the job. As a blogger, wondering what to post can be puzzling. Blogging is personal, and posts with heart are what appeal to me. I appreciate those who share something of themselves: things they're going through, insights, ideas, successes and failures, ways they've changed.

Writing books is not as spontaneous as blog writing. There's a form for each genre which must be respected. A book is a lengthy enterprise, not to be dashed off in a spurt of inspiration. Maybe the first draft can be written like that, but to achieve a professionally finished work, the spurts of inspiration must be supplemented with hours and hours of sometimes perplexing drudgery.

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This is why I only write the book I want to write. Whether it's marketable or popular isn't a consideration, at least not in the early stages. John Truby in The Anatomy of Story, says to "write the story that will change your life."

As I look back on my six published books, I realize each one of them fit this principle. Each one was important for me to write at that particular time, and the writing of it changed my life in a significant way. When I hear from a reader, or see a review that shows me my book also changed a reader's life in a significant way, it means more to me than all the royalties in the world.

One of my absolute favorite reviews on House of Diamonds exemplifies exactly what I mean:

 

 "As a reader who is struggling to start a family this story was my worst fears put to paper. But it reminded me also of the love of a being more powerful than all who does what is best for us whether we see it or not. It was honestly what I needed to read to put my current struggles in perspective and I recommend it to anyone who feels they can't deal with their struggles. Thank you Ms. Gowen for writing this book, it was just what I needed to read."



Recently I've been struggling with what to write next. At first I was doing the third book in my Diamond series. After all, it's been four years since the second, House of Diamonds, came out. And it is supposed to be a Mormon Family Saga. What kind of saga only has two books in it?

Despite it making perfect sense for me to write that next Diamond novel, I just couldn't do it. I finally put the rough draft away for another time. Apparently this isn't the story to change my life at the moment. Whenever I worked on it, I'd get upset, revisiting a time in our family's experience I was not ready to face. I want so badly to write that book but right now I just can't.

Instead I'm eagerly working on something else. That's my clue I'm on the right track--how I'm excited when I think about it, getting ideas, looking forward to my writing time, jotting things down in a notebook when I'm not at my computer.

As writers, we think a lot about sales and marketing. We have to as part of the job. But maybe we should be considering what means so much more than money: changing a life. Especially one's own.

And if in the process our work changes someone else's life for the better, then we have truly done a fine job.

"Every story I write creates me. I write to create myself." 
--Octavia E. Butler


Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Insecure about Twitter?

For my Insecure Writer (IWSG) post this month I choose Twitter. I've been insecure about how to utilize it in the past and have tried different methods and approaches. In fact, I've reinvented myself on Twitter numerous times.

I've at last come to the conclusion: There is no one right way or wrong way to use Twitter. All those rules you see about Ten things not to do on Twitter! You can bet someone is doing every one of them and highly successful while breaking all the "rules."

Like all social media, a Twitter account needs a purpose, a focus for the activity, and it must be enjoyable or why bother. Set your own rules. Mine are that I don't RT any tweets with sex or profanity, just plain creepy, or what I deem inappropriate. Regardless of what anyone else does, these are my personal boundaries as I fill my timeline with the cleverness of others.

I'll tweet the occasional book link, a Goodreads review, or a good article related to writing or publishing, but more often I'm tweeting and retweeting pithy comments about life in general. It's a word game for me. How clever can one be in 140 characters or less? Some of the best tweets are only a few words long and one reason why I find Twitter to be a challenging and enjoyable word game.

Do you ever see those accounts with 50K followers and wonder how they got them? One of my Twitter friends, has an excellent formula. In Gen's words: "Small accounts would be big accounts if they understood that all they have to do is write one decent or indecent) tweet a day and retweet."

That's the secret right there. Retweet and star the good stuff (believe me, it's easy to find with all the  cleverness out there) and then you put one decent tweet of your own out each day. It shows you're in the game and know how to play, and like-minded people will follow you, RT and star you, and it turns into a lot of fun.

This is how I'm playing Twitter right now. Bottom line: there's no need to be insecure about Twitter! It's fun, it's easy and it's fast, making it a very effective social media tool. Find your niche, set your boundaries then tweet away!