Saturday, November 14, 2009

Taking the gift

Hmm, disappeared there for just a little while, didn't I?

Well, I overcommitted for October and it spilled into November and I finally, FINALLY had my last travel stop/interview/event last night - that is, until next week - but apart from some cool publicity, next week is going to be just about writing, MY writing.

Whatever that is.

No, actually, I know exactly what I'm going to be writing, I just need to sit down and go over these blog posts and follow my own advice.

My last stint has been teaching this Screenwriting Tricks For Authors workshop on a beach in Charleston. I got great teaching done and zero writing done. But sometimes that's a good thing, as I finally came to realize, and as you might as well, as I recount my experience here.


The Jump Start Master Class is an incredible week long retreat for writers and aspiring writers sponsored every year by the Lowcountry Romance Writers. It's all women except for one man, who is taking those odds very much in stride, and the focus is paranormal, historical romance, and romantic suspense, although to my delight there is one horror chick so I don’t feel like the complete voice of doom.

I had a fabulous drive from Raleigh to Charleston, nice to be on the road again. The great thing about driving toward South Carolina is that you get all that beach music, which I never knew it was its own genre of music until I actually lived in the South, and then I could see it in EVERYTHING - the Spinners and Temptations and Marvin Gaye and everyone.

I got to the bridge over to the island where our retreat house is, just at sunset - WOW. I drove straight out to the beach strip and pulled into this - incredible - mansion. To say it is luxe is the understatement of the year. Exquisite. Cherrywood floors, which for some reason do me sideways, and three levels of absolute perfection, elevator accessible of course - but in a very beach, livable way - there's a lot of Southwest influence, which is where the family of owners is from. This porch that I'm out on now, or terrace or whatever you call it in the South, has multiple living areas, with fireplaces of course, and the ocean is right there, in front of me (past the pool and volleyball court, naturally) and that SOUND, and the air - I'm just in a tank top and I'm fine, and this incredible fragrance - it's not jasmine, but something sweet and completely intoxicating, and there are turtles, apparently, out there in the sand doing their thing in a way that is so protected that you can be arrested for turning on porch or pool lights after sunset.

And my room. Well, the word is suite. With sweeping ocean view, entertainment center and kitchen, and spa bath. Yes, I could get used to this.

I truly believe that anyone who commits to this kind of week-long writing intensive, at the prices that get charged for them, is ready to move to another, professional level, and I've never been disappointed in the calibre of students.

We had a fantastic dinner and got to know each other a bit, and out of 25 people about half are either psychiatric professionals or law enforcement or social welfare. Unbelievable stories at dinner, I'm so psyched to be here - as usual, I'm going to learn every bit as much and more as the students.


Funny, here, how it’s incredibly cloudy, layered and stormy and brooding and you look away for a second and when you look back the whole sky has gone dazzlingly sunny, just the slightest wisps of clouds. I have noticed, oh man, have I, how Southern temperaments are just like that weather. Violent moods and storms that shake the earth and are forgotten in the next minute. Not what I’m used to.

It’s another warm day but not so humid, easier. I’m on the terrace again (and that sweet smell is jasmine, I found the vines) and I am noticing that in the overgrown yard next door there is a swing set, rusting, covered in brambles. Tragic. It would be lovely to swing and look out over the ocean. But an overgrown swing set is a good image…

Romance conferences are great - for many reasons, but what I’m thinking of specifically right now is the swag. Authors who can’t come contribute these extravagant giveaways for the swag bags – lush beauty products, flavored condoms, chocolate lip gloss, chocolate cock suckers (chocolate, chocolate, women and chocolate – someone’s in the kitchen right now making double chocolate biscotti). Once in a while there’s even a mini-vibrator. I used the body lotion from my bag and now, in the sun, my whole skin is sparkling with tiny iridescent flakes – the label on the bottle says it’s mica. It’s making me feel like a mermaid or something.

People here are great. The entire house is now vibrating with deep creativity. Four of us who just had their periods have started them again from all the free-floating estrogen, just like in college. Everyone is so excited. And for me there is nothing like being able to draw a fantastic plot line out of a beginning writer – who up until that second didn’t even think she could do it. I tell people: “You would not have had the idea if you were not capable of executing it.” (Something I am always fervently hoping for myself…)

Whether they do execute it or not, you never know – that’s more about endurance and a certain ruthlessness than about talent. But I have been privileged and proud to see people I taught show up at a conference a year later with book deals – NOT saying I did it, but that I could see that it would happen, and told them so.


I taught my class again today and people are now constantly laughing out loud in surprise when they saw how brilliantly formulaic film structure is and how much easier their lives are going to be from now on, knowing a few simple tricks.

And my horror chick is a real author. One of those that I wouldn’t dare give notes to, she is so dead on about what she’s doing. Naturally the most nervous one here, almost fainted before she had to read, and the most surprised that what she’s written is what it is. And it is so great and logical and right that the Universe has put her here because I’m one of the few women out there writing what she’s writing and I will be able to save her about a year of grief and possible disaster when it comes time to get an agent, the right agent, and between me and my other dark female author friends we can help her navigate what’s going to be her new life.

(And this happens over and over and over again at these workshops and conferences – for authors, for aspiring authors, for me personally. If you do it, the Universe understands that you’re serious about your writing and lifts you to the next step in a way you could never do for yourself.)

She’s one of the ones I bonded with last night, staying up way too late watching an excruciatingly bad horror movie called Orphan. But finally there was a plot twist so sublimely ludicrous we were screaming, laughing – worth ever single minute we wasted with the rest of the movie.

Sunset was about three hours long, wave after wave of color crashing over the clouds, with a full moon on top of that, and dinner was Fettuccini Alfredo, from scratch.

No. It doesn’t suck.


Things I love about this place.

- The spiral staircase, going up three floors, that polished, cherry wood…

- The elephant tapestries on the second floor. Ganesh, god of happiness.

- The knockout 180 view of the ocean you get walking through the archway into the living room.

- The theme of palms – I’ve always loved that as a design element anyway, and I was in THE palm room, they were on everything, pillows, pictures, shower tiles, ceiling fan. Just like the Atlantic ocean is a softer ocean than the Pacific, these are softer palms than California palms, feathery and feminine.

- That sea foam. Didn’t Venus come from sea foam – the sperm of Zeus? Never got how of course the Greeks would think that, before this trip. Totally fitting for a romance retreat.

- Omg, the food. As anyone who has read this blog for a while has no doubt noticed I am NOT a foodie but we have had some spectacular meals - one night crab legs and oysters, which were cracked and fed to us by the Charlestonians – this beautiful auburn-haired lithe elegant woman named Cathy, with the sexiest, butteriest accent – standing in front of me with a knife and opening oysters for me – full well knowing the picture she was creating and the primal pleasure of it all…

- And sparkly Lisa from Florida, who owns an apparently quite famous bakery/cafĂ© in St. Augustine, the Cookery, made a five course Hungarian feast: sweet beets with sour cream, flat herbed egg noodles for goulash, this incredible sour cream and dill cucumber salad, green beans. And homemade, soft granola in the morning… ummm….

- The surfers. It cracks me up to see surfers trying to surf the baby waves here, but some of these guys were actually catching some rides…. Mystifying. Looked great in the wetsuits, too.

- The butterflies – so many of them, little animas, everywhere, fluttering right in front of our faces, fearless: bright yellow ones and tiger-striped.

- The company of women. The comfort level - open, loving, supportive, sexy, giggly, earthy, hilarious.


As you can probably tell, I had a cosmically wonderful time, and got some seriously good teaching done.

And yet I kept getting these anxiety – not attacks, but prickles, that I was not getting any of my own work done, that any time I had a free moment, not that there were many, I’d walk on the beach or get talked into another horror movie marathon or just sit on the porch baking in the sun and staring out at the ocean.

Why do we do that to ourselves?

I’ve been touring NON-STOP for over a month now, because of the Halloween thing and because The Harrowing came out in the U.K. in September. It was a total, Universal gift to have a week on the beach, in such overwhelmingly beautiful circumstances. I wasn’t slacking, I was teaching, and yet I was beating myself up that I had gotten no further on deciding my next book (that would be after the next TWO that I’m writing at the moment).

Is there not something a little crazy about that?

Well, finally I relaxed and decided I was just going to take the gift. And maybe instead of forcing a decision on my next book, I will just listen, and see what I might be being told to write, if I just manage to stay quiet enough to hear.

So that’s my message today. We’re given all these gifts, all the time. Life is so abundant, and a writer’s life seemingly even more so – just magic things, all the time. Do you take the gifts you’re given? Doesn’t it work better that way?


diane pershing said...

Oh, wow, Alex, can you write or what? Lovely, lovey depiction of the truth of that week. I was there too, and all of it was heaven. I don't remember feeling that relaxed, ever. Was able to bring it home with me, inner serenity (a normally foreign concept) and a work ethic that I can keep to.

Going back every year, a gift to myself.

Your class was amazing, as are you. I'm a fan.

diane p

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

Very nice post, Alexandra. You left me yearning to be there.

laughingwolf said...

grats alex... sounds like you had the time of your life!

am kinda disappointed you only mentioned the guy in passing, was he not up to the challenge? ;)

Wendy Wagner; said...

Sitting in my messy kitchen, knowing full-well there's been snow in the hills behind me, I can only reel with envy. But I can totally sympathize--it's so hard to sink into enjoyment when you've got a project just waiting to be written!

Missed your comforting words of advice here. Glad you're back on the blog!

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Diane, I agree about heavenly relaxation! I have had many breakthroughs, being home, and I know it will always be with me.

So great to hang and teach with you, and I can't wait to read that book.

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Joylene, I'm yearning to be back. I've got a different version of it coming up, though - this time deep in the woods. In a haunted mansion.

Will definitely keep everyone posted.

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

LW, you know better than that! What happens in Charleston, stays in Charleston.

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Winnie, I'm sorry, now I feel guilty!

I have to get back on my own writing horse, but I'll be posting here, too.

Hope you've been blazing on your own book.

Nishant said...

sounds like you had the time of your life! Work from home India

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