Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Comic Con, Ghostbusters, and What Women Wear

This past weekend, I attended Comic Con Chicago. The panels I made it to were fun and informative, including one with X-Files cast members, one by the creator of the Facebook Page Ladies Geeking Out on gender and geek culture, and another on the intersection between film, books, television, and video games.


Seeing all the costumes reminded me of one of the big reasons I loved the new Ghostbusters movie. Not only did I laugh through all of it, I appreciated seeing women on screen dressed appropriately for their work. These women didn't head out to fight ghosts and monsters in bikinis, leotards, or skimpy superhero outfits. They were practical. They wore coveralls. I enjoyed seeing that added to the range of types of dress and characters portrayed at Comic Con.

Along those lines, at the geek culture panel, I learned about a great blog called Repair Her Armor. It's to help all those female superheroes out there forced to go into battle with so much skin exposed. Also, at the Hawkeye Initiative, you can see "How to fix every Strong Female Character pose in superhero comics: replace the character with Hawkeye doing the same thing." It's hilarious and highlights the  differences in how these characters are drawn.

I also got to see the car from one of my favorite 70s TV shows. Do you know whose this is?



Post your answer below, and feel free to share your Comic Con experience.




Wednesday, August 10, 2016

An Illuminating Day -- The First Draft Of The Last Book

My plan for this blog entry was to share with you my thoughts on the 2016 Ghostbusters movie, which I loved. I had notes sketched out on a yellow legal pad (because I really like writing on those). But then this morning I realized I was so close to finishing the first draft of The Illumination, the fourth and final book in my Awakening series. So here I am, typing this at 5:35 p.m. central time. I don't have a cool post, but I do have a first draft. A day ahead of schedule.

 I admit I had a little time left to write a blog post, but instead I went onto ShutterStock and starting saving images of lightning strikes and illuminated cities and silhouettes of young woman I might want to use in a cover. I can't post them because I haven't bought any of them yet, but you can view them here. The photo on the left, which I took, gives the barest hint of what I'm looking for. Not the Sears (now Willis) Tower, as that won't be featured. But a cityscape with sky behind it that looks a bit ominous. Probably including lightning strikes. 

One thing I'm sure I'll struggle with during rewrites is the last line of The Illumination. It's a lot of pressure, writing a closing for a four-book series. The line as it reads now is bad. (No, I won't tell you what it is.) But I'll deal with that, and a host of other challenges, including how to manage so many characters, in the rewrite. While I can't promise a final line that will be amazing--though that's my goal--I can promise it'll be better than what's there now. (No, really won't tell you.)

In the meantime, I'm heading out to see Ghostbusters again to celebrate.


Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Breaking for a Historic Moment

Two posts ago, I shared my main goals for the rest of the year and included a timeline. As I write my first draft of the last book in my Awakening series, having that timeline out there for all to see has helped me return to the keyboard even when I'd really like to binge-watch the next three Agents of Shield episodes. (I decided to watch the series on the recommendation of two other participants in the creative retreat described in my last post.)

Hattie Caraway, the first woman elected to the Senate.
But yesterday I got an email from a friend who has raptly followed the conventions of both major political parties. The roll call was likely to be at about 4 p.m. central time, he told me, so if I wanted to see a historic moment, I should tune in.

I wrestled with taking a break for something that held no real suspense. Sure, there was a question of what, exactly, Bernie Sanders would do, but he'd already endorsed former rival Hillary Clinton. She was going to be nominated. And yet....

A woman nominated for president of a major political party is something that's never happened before in the United States. It's something that my mom, who was born just three years after women got the right to vote, didn't live to see. So I tuned in.

It took much longer than I expected. So long that I finally got my laptop and multi-tasked (something I generally avoid) by scheduling some advertising for August.

But it also was far more moving than I expected. Regardless of political views, hearing a woman born before women had the right to vote announce her state's delegates for the first woman to be the nominee of a major party...amazing. A Wall Street Journal article today talked about how far women have come, and yet I'm so often struck by how much as not changed. There are only 20 women in the Senate, for instance, despite having had the right to vote since 1920. Twenty.

Last night, though, I didn't think about that. I thought instead about how many girls will grow up in a world where it seems perfectly normal for a woman to be president. Where, perhaps, there'll be women running on both sides and no one will even comment on it.

For today, though, it is groundbreaking, so I felt the need to take one more break to write about it.

And now...back to work.




Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Value of Retreating

One of many sunsets during the retreat.
In early July, I spent seven days at a creative retreat organized by Rabbit Hole (a company that designs live interactive gaming experiences). We stayed in a house on a river in Indiana with an outdoor grill, fire pit, and decks. While I set specific writing goals, I didn't think much beforehand about what being on a retreat means.

Today I looked up the dictionary definitions of the word "retreat." As a noun, it can mean a place of privacy that affords peace and quiet, an area where a person can be alone, an area for withdrawal for prayer and study, or the act of withdrawing or going backwards, especially to escape something hazardous or unpleasant (or enemy troops). As a verb, its meanings are similar and include pulling back or moving backward, withdrawing from enemy forces, or withdrawing to a quiet or secluded place.

In different ways, all these definitions applied. I consciously decided to withdraw for the week from unnecessary email, most social media, and business concerns.
Michelle (no longer a baby) taking a break on the dock.

I also withdrew, without really planning to, from other aspects of life. For instance, from being concerned about how I present myself. Rabbit Hole was founded by my niece Michelle Lilly and her friend and business partner Eleanor Hyde. I've hung out with Michelle since she was born (she was a super-cute baby, by the way, not that I'm biased), and the retreat included other writers, musicians, and artists who are family or are friends of Michelle. All had come to work on their own projects (games, plays, music, art), not to evaluate or do business with me. Which meant I packed and wore what was comfortable and weather appropriate without a lot of thought about how I looked. I brought only one pair of shoes--sandals with a gym-shoe like sole. In other words, I could ignore the lines most women walk every day, such as do I look:
  • too young (skirt too short; hair too long; dress, skirt, leggings, or jeans too tight; sweatshirt or T-shirt too big/too loose)
  • too old (too much gray in hair; skirt too long; blouse buttoned too high)
  • too sexy (blouse cut too low; skirt too short; heels too high; hair too wild)
  • too conservative (shoes too flat; make up too sparse or too polished; hair too straight and neither too short nor too long)
  • too serious (not smiling; arms at sides)
  • too silly (smiling too much; gesturing too much). 
I just wore what I wore and looked how I looked. How relaxing was that?

A cemetery a few steps from the house.
It also felt wonderful to be free of scheduling. As I wrote in my last entry, I live by schedules because that's how I make sure I get things done. But because I dropped out almost everything other than fiction writing, I felt confident I could write the number of words I wanted to write without a fixed plan. So I never set in alarm for when I would get up, and I went to bed when I got tired, rather than at a specific time.

Also, Monotone, Indiana is in a different time zone than Chicago, where I live. My laptop stayed on Central Time, the clocks in the kitchen were set to Eastern Time. The clocks in the bedroom were all blinking because apparently the electricity had gone out at one point. My iPhone kept switching time zones, which probably had to do with cell phone towers. All of this gave me a wonderful feeling of time being fluid, and of having no pressing demands.

A zombie game we played (similar narrative to Walking Dead).
Retreating means not only pulling away but moving toward. I was looking for peace and to jump start my creativity after a few busy months getting my third supernatural thriller released, finishing a semester of teaching, and writing an appeal. My plan was to relax by immersing myself in fiction writing (I'm working on The Illumination, the fourth and final book in my Awakening Series), and I did that. But I also completely enjoyed simply being in a place with all these people who love telling stories, and care about telling stories, as much as I do, and who tell them in very different ways. Michelle, Eleanor, and I spent about eight hours playing a game called Her Story. It required using keywords to search for video clips of an interview of a woman who was connected to a murder. By finding and watching the clips, which could not be seen in chronological order, we pieced together the woman's life and what had happened. So it was both a game an an alternate, non-linear way of figuring out a mystery/suspense story. As the next series I plan to write will be mysteries/legal thrillers, I not only had fun, I learned about my genre.

The house, which Rabbit Hole found through AirBnB, had a VCR and a bunch of videotapes, including the original Star Wars trilogy. So one night we stayed up late and watched Star Wars. (I admit it; I went to bed before Empire Strikes Back.) That, too, was a great experience that took me back to how I excited I felt about that movie when it came out, and the sense of wonder it engendered.

These surprises and others (including the neighbors' over-the-top fireworks displays on July 3, 4, and 5) reminded me that while focusing on productivity and sticking to schedules has served me well my whole life, it's also important to be flexible and try new things. Not just to foster creativity but to have a happy and fun life.

One of the cloudy days on retreat.
Finally, I appreciated how responsible, considerate, and cool everyone at the retreat was. Depending on the day, we had between 3 and 8 people staying in a small two-bedroom house. Everyone brought or bought more than enough food to share, washed dishes when they saw them piling up in the sink (no dishwasher), cleaned counters or tables when needed, and cooked. Those who stayed up late or got up early were mindful that others were sleeping. And we all checked with one another regarding workspaces and whether what we were doing might disturb anyone else.

The only downside for me was that while I loved taking walks, sitting near the river, and watching sunsets over the water (see photos), many, many, many bugs also enjoy the same, and are not at all put off by eco-friendly bug spray. I am pretty sure I got more insect bites in one week than I've had in the last 10 years. And I am absolutely going back if Rabbit Hole hosts the retreat again next year.

When is the last time you went on a retreat? If you haven't been on one, would you like to? Please share your thoughts and experiences below.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Best Laid Plans Half Way Through The Year

View from Three Sixty Restaurant in St. Louis
I'm a little nervous posting this. Yesterday I had on my schedule to write out a schedule (yes, really) for the rest of the year. Which led me to defining specific goals for the second half of 2016. I tend to aim high each January with the idea that it's rare to exceed a goal. But I don't share my goals, as I'm not committing to achieving every single one unless everything works out perfectly and there are no surprises. (Surprisingly, I've never had a year like that.)

But mid-year is different. It's about priorities for the rest of the year, and a little beyond. Part of me feels like sharing them, with a timeline no less, is tempting fate. We all know the saying about the best laid plans. The part of me that struggled on and off with anxiety for many years swears by that saying. While anxiety rarely takes over anymore, it's like a broken bone that's long since healed. Every now and then--in a certain type of weather or after a wrong step--it reminds me that it was once very seriously broken and could break again.

View from Cindy's in Chicago
The other, healthier part of me knows that a career as an author and publisher means prioritizing writing and publishing. I already prioritize the part-time work I do as a lawyer and adjunct professor because other people are depending on my efforts to advance their careers and businesses. But my shift to devoting the bulk of my time to writing and publishing only works if I set realistic deadlines. Ones that account for the ups and downs I can anticipate (a larger than usual class size, an unexpected court ruling requiring an appeal at an already busy time, a family or friend or personal emergency). If everything goes far more smoothly than expected, I can always move up the schedule. But I no longer am willing to move it back.

So, here it is, my half-year check in/schedule/goal list. The Cliff's Notes version is the release date for the fourth and final book in The Awakening series, The Illumination, is May 15, 2017. If you'd like to know what else I have in the works feel free to read the details.

8/12/16:  1st Draft of The Illumination finished

8/12/16:  List of 10 topics for blog posts about Writing as a Second Career finished

8/19/16:  First 25,000 words of Illumination and outline revised to send to story editor

8/26/16:  First 5 posts of WSC blog finished, start posting one each Sunday night

9/2/16:  Next 5 posts of WSC blog finished

9/9/16:  Finish Outline of The Worried Man (working title of first book in a new legal thriller/mystery series)

9/16/16:  Next 5 posts of WSC blog finished

9/23/16:  Revision of Worried Man Outline finished

10/28/16:  Send revised Illumination manuscript (based on editor's comments & my post-break review) to Beta Readers

11/4/16:  Next 5 posts of WSC blog finished

12/23/16:  First draft of Worried Man finished

1/20/17:  Revision of Illumination based on beta readers' comments finished.

(work on Worried Man while taking break from Illumination)

2/23/17:  Final revisions to Illumination finished

(take a week off)

2/27-28/17:  Proofread and polish Illumination (minor edits only + corrections)

3/1/17:  Send Illumination to proofreaders

3/17/17:  My last proofread; add edits from others

(do not read Illumination for at least 5 days)

3/28-29/17:  Final check, all proofreading finished, manuscript finalized

3/30/17:  Manuscript to 52novels (for ebook conversion) and CreateSpace (for print publication)

(work on Worried Man revisions, blog posts, proofread ebook files, galleys)

5/15/17:  Publication date for Illumination

Oh, I almost forgot. Why the photos? Most of the action in The Illumination will be in Chicago and St. Louis, so I've given you bird's eye views of both. Which I think is appropriate for goal setting. If you'd like to keep up to date with new releases and be notified when The Illumination is available for pre-order or purchase, please join my email list.

How has your year gone? Any half-year goals or plans you'd like to share in the comment section?

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

A Four Book Series And The Forced Pregnancy Narrative

The Final Print Proof of The Conflagration
Many people have asked why I made The Awakening a four-book series. I asked myself the same question yesterday after I approved the final print proof for The Conflagration, Book 3 in the series, and revised my handwritten outline for Book 4, The Illumination. (You can get The Conflagration now in ebook form if you don't want to wait for the paperback.) It's not that I don't love my main character, Tara Spencer. Despite all the awful events I've put her through, I do. She and her allies and foes are my favorite characters of all those I've written about. But if I had made the series a trilogy, I'd be finished now. I'd miss them all. But I'd be finished. As someone who likes to check off boxes for completed tasks on lists, that appeals to me.

So why write four books? As I talked about in the Author's Note at the end of The Conflagration, originally I envisioned The Awakening as a standalone novel. But as I revised it before publishing, I realized there was much more to Tara's story. I've always been intrigued by world-changing pregnancy narratives, Rosemary's Baby and The Terminator being my favorites. On the one hand, that trope gave us one of our most well known female action heroes in The Terminator. On the other, that narrative seems to say the woman protagonist derives her significance from the fact that she may give birth to a special child, and that it's only acceptable for her be proactive, to fight, if it's to protect her child. That's not the story I felt compelled to tell.

Outline for The Illumination, the fourth (and last) book in The Awakening Series
Tara is a hero not because of the child she might have but because of the values she holds and who she is, so her story goes far beyond having to deal with a pregnancy that was forced upon her. I also wanted to deal with the issue of the forced pregnancy itself. As in, regardless of end goals or motives, what are the ethics of causing a supernatural or mystical pregnancy for a woman who had no part in the plan? As I plotted The Unbelievers (Book 2), I discovered it took me to a natural midpoint both for Tara's personal journey and for the bigger picture of how and why she came to be pregnant and what it means for the world. So -- four books.

My goal is to release Book 4, The Illumination, within a year. If you've enjoyed The Awakening Series to date and would like to be notified of the release of The Illumination, you can join my email list here.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Now Available For Preorder: Book 3 In The Awakening Series


Six months after giving birth to a mysterious child whispered to be the Antichrist, Tara Spencer fights for her life as she searches for her kidnapped baby girl.

While Tara follows leads, she also must struggle to make sense of a shocking prophecy about her own growing power and place in the battle between good and evil.

Denounced by some as a fraud and feared by others, Tara desperately aligns herself with foes who attempted to murder her only days ago. But can she come to terms with what she's learned about herself and control her power in time to save her daughter?

The Conflagration is the third installment in the four-book Awakening series by Lisa M. Lilly, author of The Awakening and The Unbelievers. She lives and practices law in Chicago.

Release date: May 17, 2016 for all ebook editions

Preorder Now:

Kindle

iBook

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