Monday, December 29, 2008

The End is Near


Just when I got used to 2008, 2009 decided to close in fast. In the spirit of reflection and the hope for continued growth, I’d like to reexamine 2008’s goals and see how well I met them.

#1 ~ Design and implement an effective blog.


#2 ~ Get 4 more publishing credits.


Not only did I meet this one, I did way better, publishing 10 stories in 2008.

#3 ~ Get paid for a piece of writing.


I didn’t make millions, but I was offered a few honorariums for my work. It felt good and I'm pleased it happened.

#4 ~ 1 publishing credit in a semi-prestigious market.


Between The Burning Black being selected for EDF’s 2008 Best of Anthology and my author interview with EDF in early December, this was a great year for having my work acknowledged.

#5 ~ Finish a novel. Any novel.

Not done. But, I’m working on Folly and have finally selected a novel to commit to. What’s more, I’m extremely pleased with what I’ve accomplished thus far in the second draft. Folly’s a winner and I’m very proud of it.

I’m starting a new novel workshop in January. That should move Folly forward. I expect by this time 2009. I’ll tick this one off my list.

#6 ~ Successful 2008 NaNoWriMo.

Also not done.

This one was intentionally left undone. With the first drafts of two novels wrapping themselves around my ankles, drafting a third was risking breaking my authorial neck. November was hard. I yearned to write a crappy novel. But I’m committed to Folly, so I watched the days tick by and dreamed of writing recklessly next year.

Now for a few unexpected successes from 2008.

1) The great week at Rhinelander School of the Arts.

By far, this was the best thing I ever did for my writing. I’ve never been so energized, inspired, excited and exhausted by my own work. I’ll go back, as soon as family fortunes permit it.

2) Being reunited with some old online writing buddies.

I swore I wouldn’t get involved in another online critique group. I was wrong and this is one time I’m happy to admit it.

3) New writing buddy Jane.

Jane’s been a great source of support. I’ve loved sharing what little I know with her. She’s a tremendous talent and I’m so happy to have her as a writing pal. I look forward to our learning more from each other.

And finally, a few setbacks:

1) While I’m pleased with Folly, I wish I was moving faster on revisions. I seem to get bogged down with the tweaking and honing. Clearly, this is something I need to get better at.

2) I had to walk away from Somewhere on the Road to Me, at least for now. I love that story. I love those girls. But until I earn my revision chops, I need to let it rest in peace.

Looking back, the successes far outweighed the setbacks. It's been an amazing year for me as a writer, full of growth, opportunity, inspiration, friendship and joy. As we march forward, I wish all of you these same blessings and the satisfaction that invariably comes with them.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Vast, Black Empties


I’m on the brink of doing some writing. I’ve skirted the edge of a few ideas. I’ve had good intentions, then abandoned them. I’ve wanted to revise a novel, whip out a few 6s, write a play and draft a few quick flashes. I’ve even thought about revisiting “The End of Day,” a flash I got great feedback on from some fellow writers. But what have I actually done this month? A whole lot of nothing. If Santa awarded gifts based on productivity, I’d end up owing him.

I go through this every December. The worst part is how unbalanced I feel. I’m one of those people who gets snarky when she doesn’t write. A whole lot of uneasiness wells up inside me. I don’t like myself. I want to peel off my identity. I sizzle with energy that has no safe outlet. During December, I put that energy into holiday preparations. I bake cookies. I meet friends for dinner. I cook for the hungry masses. This year, I ventured into something new and unhappy, namely some exhausting girlfriend dramas. Clearly, I’m not the only one who suffers holiday insanity. And still, in the midst of wrapping presents and angsty reconciliations, there’s the awful feeling of emptiness. The waiting.

I’m a big believer in the God-shaped hole in our hearts. I’ve lived with it. I’ve seen it consume the lives of others. I’ve seen people throw drugs, alcohol, shopping, sex, bad relationships, anything they can find into the void of their vast, black empties. My writing is what helps fill mine. I think that’s why God gave it to me and why I miss it so much when it’s gone. It’s my balance, how I make sense of His world. Without it, life seems like so much clanging noise.

At the bottom of it all, we need peace. Peace that surpasses all understanding, the kind that bubbles unexpectedly from the stormy heart. And I know it’s there, hiding in the empties. So I count the days until Christmas, hungry for peace, knowing God comes to us in so many ways.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Dilemma Time


Apparently, December is dilemma time. I’m currently embroiled in the classic: “Do I write or revel?” Writing is hard and it’s easy to let it get inched out by shopping, entertaining, party going, card writing, and decorating. If normal Christmas madness isn’t enough, I’ll be hosting three parties between now and Christmas Eve. Everywhere I turn, I seem to trip over a dilemma. Do I serve cocktail wienies or meatballs in chili sauce for the cookie party? Should I serve heavy hors d’oeuvres for Christmas Eve or a traditional ham dinner? And what the heck do we give Grandpa?!?!

It’s not even mid-month and I’m decision-ed out.

The writing front hasn’t given me a holiday break, either. There’s always the ongoing decisions to make while revising Folly. What’s the best way to ease into the next chapter? What exactly does Nate reveal during that first meeting with Nick? But my most pressing dilemmas seem to revolve around marketing. They’re the choices I need to make now, but I feel the least confident about.

The anthology: The EDF Best of 2008 anthology is out and it’s time to order my copies. So here I am with a wonderful opportunity, wrapped in a thorny dilemma: how do I best use this opportunity to promote my work? Andy and I have been hammering out possibilities: donating a copy to our local library and asking my buddies there to catalogue it for the collection; donating a copy to our cats’ vet for his waiting area; buying extra copies and hawking them to interested acquaintances; donating a copy to my alma mater. The possibilities are endless, but we need to use our promotion dollars wisely. There’s no use giving away books that will gather dust. I still haven’t come to any solid decisions.

And then there’s “The Market.” Some of you may remember this story—a piece from my ongoing Mark/Leslie/David series. I sent this out to Publication A several months ago, where it’s been waiting and moldering while they published a special themed issue. I usually have a slim to none chance with A; it’s a high profile, prestige publication whose normal acceptance rate is just over 1%. With a backlog of submissions due to the themed issue, I figure my chances are nonexistent. So, a few months later, I sent Market off to Publication B, which has an aversion to simultaneous submissions. In my thinking, A would never take the story. B is a long shot, but I thought I’d give it a try. I expect a rejection from B in February.

In the meantime, I’ve tripped across a lucrative contest that I believe would be a perfect fit for Market. The deadline, January 31. So now the dilemma: do I enter Market even though it could possibly burn bridges with B? Karma makes this tiny world go round, and I hate to foster bad ju-ju. But my job is to find the best home for my fictional babies and to make the most of possible opportunities to advance my work. Sometimes that means taking a gamble.

Have you ever faced dilemmas like this in your writing? What did you do? I’d love to hear from you.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Change Is Good


Change is in the air.

Some changes I expected. I initiated the largest one myself. I’m changing from the writing workshop I’ve been in for the last two years to a smaller, more intensive writing group. It’s not that I don’t like the old group. I do, and I plan to stick with it. But the group has grown and the critiques have become less insightful. Many of the writers, though talented, aren’t as interested in writing as a career as I am, so they (understandably) don’t devote the time to their writing I do. I, on the other hand, need to dig in and commit, to have writing buddies who will be there, deeply assessing each inch of the story arc. So a new group to meet that ever-growing need.

Other changes have taken me by surprise. Old writing friends reappeared a few weeks ago to invite me to join them on a new writer's forum. After I left the Writer’s Digest forum, I never thought I’d participate in an online forum again. (Not anything against the forum; it was primarily a time issue that tugged me away.) But, now that I’m back in with these fine, generous writers, I find myself enjoying it. Time is still a major issue. I try to do one well-considered critique a day. It isn’t much, but I do my best.

But perhaps the biggest change has been the new phase my writing has entered. Prior to now, getting my writing out for public consumption had been an uphill battle. I’ve earned every acceptance I had by enduring fistfuls of discouraging rejections. One story, recently accepted, was rejected five times before it finally found a home.

Somehow, I’ve crossed a magical threshold where my work has developed a life of its own and is creating its own opportunities. Two such marvels have come my way this month:

* My short story, “The Burning Black,” has been selected for Every Day Fiction’s Best of 2008 anthology.

* My short story, “Free,” was the most read story on Every Day Fiction for September, amassing a mind-boggling 1400 reads. Every Day Fiction has graciously requested an interview with me (yes, of course, I accepted). So my first official author interview is scheduled to be published December 1.

Wow. It’s been a long haul getting here. And I can’t believe where I stand. I have a long way to go. The same day I got the interview request, EDF also sent me a rejection. And Jamieson’s Folly is far from finished. But I feel like I’m getting somewhere and I’m damn grateful for it.

I’d like to add one final note: I’ve always been a person who dreads change. I live and die by my daily routine. God help anyone who messes with it. But for the first time in my life, I see change as an organic and beneficial force in my life. I see change can be good. Perhaps that’s what I should celebrate the most.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Et Tu, Brute? (Or the Danger and Joy of Writing Buddies)


This week, I’ve had the privilege of observing (from a safe distance) a brouhaha on a new writing forum. I’ve seen it before: one person decides to push his or her weight around and offer dictatorial, snide, nasty critiques. In return, the rest of the community bands against the offender with a pack mentality until the offender flees.

In this case, buddy Stephen offered up a slice of story that used third person present tense. To the critic, this POV choice was simply intolerable and required an aggressive offensive determined to MAKE STEPHEN CHANGE THAT STORY.

Personally, I feel sorry for everyone involved. For my buddy, because he’s a damn fine writer and a helluva nice guy who doesn’t deserve to be ragged on so viciously. For the critic (who shall go unnamed), because she’s one of those people who always have to be right. Right can be a lonely place and lonely places aren’t the best for us writers.

Stephen’s bad experience got me thinking about my own experiences with writing buddies. I’ve been a buddy to many. I’ve had many buddies myself. And I’ve had some real nightmares, people like our critic above who insist you write your story their way or you’ll never achieve an ounce of success. (Or they call names and run away. Bullies are the same whether you’re twelve or forty.) But, after sifting through the duds, I find myself graced with a handful of particularly fruitful writing friendships.

So here are my thoughts about what makes a good writing buddy.

1) Honesty

A good writing buddy wants you to succeed, so he’ll give you his honest opinion, even if it hurts.

2) Kindness

A good writing buddy tempers his honesty with kindness. My playwriting teacher in Rhinelander this year, Liz Fentress, phrased the nature of constructive critique perfectly: DO NO HARM.

3) Ability to communicate

A good writing buddy knows how to put his thoughts into words. He can identify what he sees and name it. He can offer suggestions to help you improve.

4) Vision—both literary and career

A good writing buddy knows about literature and good writing. He reads books. He has his eye on literary trends, past, present and future. He also has an eye toward career track. He knows your strategy for reaching your goals. He watches for articles that may help you fine tune your plans. He wouldn’t insist you try something you aren’t comfortable with. He keeps you on the straight and narrow.

5) Commitment and an earnest desire to helping a buddy succeed

A good writing buddy makes time to read your stuff. He reads it with an eye toward making your writing its very best. He takes his time when critiquing your work. He thinks it over while he’s in the shower or on the freeway. He isn’t distracted by petty jealousy. He cheers you on when you hit a roadblock. He believes in your work as strongly as you do. He tells other people how talented you are. He reads your stuff again when it’s published.

6) Ability to offer both constructive criticism and praise.

A good writing buddy points out what works and what doesn’t. He helps you learn to work to your strengths and either eliminate or circumvent your weaknesses.

7) Respect

A good writing buddy treats you like he wants to be treated himself. He acknowledges graciously that you’re the author of your work and he doesn’t try to bully or intimidate you. I saved respect for last because I believe it’s the most important. It’s the fuel that drives the friendship forward.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Viva Las Vegas!


I’m back from Vegas, tired, but inspired. Crossing two time zones, enduring brutally early flights, and contending with another seasonal time change when I got home have wreaked havoc on my energy level. And, of course, let's not forget all those miles of walking and gawking on the Strip. I think I put on five miles in Caesar’s Palace alone. (For the uninitiated, don’t go there without a map.)

But it was a good trip, full of writing and personal revelations. Here’s the short-list of what got me thinking:

1) Inspiration can come anywhere.

What should have been a relaxing massage generated a story idea when my masseuse chose to unload to me about his marital problems. I’ve never had a massage before, but even I know the massage therapist isn’t supposed to talk for the entire hour. And, believe me, we covered the gamut of topics, everything from following God’s will to impotence to defunct marital communications. As I lay there with my face buried in that sheet covered little donut, I remember wondering if Ed would ever shut up. Later, as my friend Mary and I soaked in the Jacuzzi, I had this vision of the spa as a Christian cleansing ritual. I would have never thought it, but Blathering Ed and my day at the spa got the wheels turning for a new short story. I’m not ready to write it yet, but the seeds are there. And I have a theme: finding God in Vegas.

2) Details, details, details.

I was pleased to see how faithfully I’d recreated aspects of Vegas in Jamieson’s Folly. But the tawdriness of Vegas loomed larger for me this trip. For the first time ever, I noticed the hookers on the Strip. The guys handing out hooker trading cards seemed more grubbily ubiquitous. I felt like a kid who just realized she’d made a horrible, public mistake. The nasty aspect of Vegas is lacking in the revised parts of Folly. For a bit, I saw myself rewriting the whole bollixed first chapter. But a good night’s sleep made me see it with fresh eyes. When Nick arrives in Vegas, he sees it with the eyes of youth. The grubbiness of the city doesn’t really register. He’s too caught up in the glamour and glitz. It will be better to add the grungy side as Nick’s illusions are stripped away. His altered view of the city will make a great parallel for his disillusionment.

3) Seasons are as fluid as martinis.

While we were there, Vegas experienced unseasonably high temperatures—mid to upper 80s during the day and 60s at night. It was beautiful, even to someone who thought she was ready for the cool, crisp temperatures of fall. I enjoyed slipping back into the sultriness of summer, feeling the warm sun on my face. It was like one last fling with my sandals and summer before both went away for too long.

Just as I enjoyed slipping back into summer, so I enjoyed seeing Tom Jones perform at the MGM Grand. Tom’s fully into the autumn of life, but he still embraces performing like a kid bursting forth out of spring. And he still emanates that smoldering sexuality that made him a star in the 60s. Nicest of all is that he still enjoys the magic that music has brought to his life. He experiments with new styles. He tries new things, even as he hangs on to what’s worked for him all along. In spite of all the obvious plastic surgery, his wizened journey through the seasons has inspired me. Yes, seasons change and we should embrace them, but the core of who we are remains unwavering and strong.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Toes, Fabulous; Writing, Crap


I’m in a funk lately. None of my writing projects seems to be going quite right. The last scene of Folly’s chapter one needs work. The flash piece I started in Rhinelander over the summer is…not quite right. I’ve shared it with writing buddy Jane and she says she likes it. But something about it just…isn’t right.

It has me wondering: why can’t there be some universal rule about writing that, when things aren’t right, we know to check a certain thing and—VOILA!—we arrive at the answer. Or why can’t someone invent the Revise-O-Matic? We plop in the rough draft, press a button, and –WHAMMO!— out spits a polished manuscript. But I guess that’s the thorniest bitch about writing: it’s never easy. If it is, I know better than to trust it.

Personally, I think it’s the pressure that’s getting to me. I’m a one-track thinker and having two projects really messes with me. And deadlines are doing me in. I need to get both these pieces done before I go to Vegas next week. But I sit down and don’t know where to begin. I’m on overload.

I have no answers. Vegas is looming and I’m excited. In the meanwhile, I need to clear the decks. After the two projects, my top priority should be spending this week thinking of what I want to research while I’m in Vegas. Instead, I spent the morning giving myself a pedicure. My toes look great, but my writing is in shambles. It makes no sense, but the whole writing process rarely does. The biggest mystery: why we do it at all.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Beauty in Rejection


A week or so ago, a writer friend emailed to ask what was new with my writing. I filled her in on the highlights: small forward progress on Jamieson’s Folly. Two rejections on short stories I’d submitted.

She emailed me back how badly it sucked that I’d had my stories rejected, how awful she felt for me. As I read her response, I remember shrugging my shoulders and thinking, “Gee, it’s not that big of a deal.” I appreciated her commiserating with me—that’s what friends are for—but what interested me most was that I’d crossed an important threshold in my writing career. I’d learned rejection is part of the process.

It got me thinking. Back a year or so ago, I was sick at heart over every single rejection I got. I remember whining (and I mean WHINING) to my writing workshop buddies over the endless rejections I’d gathered. I was angry, too. How could these editors not think my work was gold? Were they just too stupid to get it?

They weren’t. But I was. Back in those days I didn’t see rejection for what it is: opportunity and conditioning for publishing.

As for opportunities, I think rejections offer a few:

One, rejections opened the door for me to view my work with fresh eyes and see where I could grow and develop. Any time I get better at my craft, that’s a very good thing.

Two, the opportunity to mature. My stack of rejections fueled my hunger to publish and to do that, I needed to improve. To improve, I needed to get past my fragile ego. To do any of this, I needed to work hard and persist. I think rejections serve to separate the wheat from the chaff. Quitters get rejections and give up. Those who persist grow and develop into better writers. Writers who persist and work hard eventually get published.

Now conditioning: It’s hard when an editor responds to a hopeful submission by saying he thinks my story sucks. But it’s harder to have my work published for all the world to see and have people flagellate me publicly. Rejection taught me: some people say rotten, mean things about my stories just because they’re rotten, mean people. And some people just don’t like my style. But those early rejections helped me toughen up. To learn we’re all different and we all like different things. To not to take people’s opinions too seriously. Rejection taught me to be tough and discerning. I listen to everyone, then sift through for what’s useful.

Back to my friend: she’s an extremely talented writer with lots of potential. She’s new to submitting, so I think those rejections have more sting. She received her first acceptance a few weeks ago and I confess, I was a little jealous. Everything seems so easy for her. Her acceptance came on say her third or fourth-ish submission. As for me, I’d gotten something like 15 rejections before I ever had anything accepted. (To make things worse, that magazine failed before my story got published, and I persisted through another long dry spell.) But in retrospect, I’m grateful for the beauty that came from the rejections. I hope she gets to endure them, too. Her potential will only be met if she faces a little adversity. Like in life, it’s the way we grow.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

A Matter of Voice


I’m back into Jamieson’s Folly again, after a rocky start.

I started reworking the beginning last Friday and, from the start, it was an uphill climb. First, beginnings are just damn hard for me. But it was more than that. I felt pressured to produce something respectable for my Tuesday night workshop. So I spent a whopping one day analyzing themes and picking one to focus the opening on. By Saturday, I was running with it.

Running at the mouth is more like it.

See, the problem is that I need downtime. I’m a slow thinker. Not that I’m dumb. I’m just a person who needs time to reflect. And a four day deadline to rewrite the beginning of a novel doesn’t cut it for a slow thinker. So I did what the most desperate writers do—I overwrote. I threw in descriptions, adjectives, adverbs and similes. Writer padding that makes us look like we know what we’re doing.

I didn’t.

I rushed the piece, printed it off (even the printing gods tried to thwart me by running out of ink) and took it to class on Tuesday. I apologized, handed out copies and read it. And the class shocked the hell out of me by raving over how fantastic it was. Vivid, beautiful, poetic, amazing. One of my fellow writers even called it brilliant.

You think I’d be satisfied with that kind of praise, but it left me empty. Something still stuck in my craw. The piece wasn’t right. I knew it was off. I sifted through the copies everyone had marked, looking for some kind of clue. I got miscellaneous nits that all seemed to point in different directions—someone thought the pacing felt a little slow, another didn’t feel clued in to the narrator. One person didn’t realize my narrator was a man until halfway through the first page, someone else commented on the beautiful but overly-abundant descriptions. I tried to make sense of the remarks, but no one seemed to echo the same sentiments. It was a hodge podge that I could have dismissed.

I asked my husband. He read the piece.

“I don’t know. It just feels off,” he told me.

I thought about it overnight and the next day. I let it sit, let my thoughts germinate. At four this morning (I wake up and think about my writing a lot, as you may have noticed.), it came to me in a predawn flash:


I’d overwritten the crap out of the thing and it felt like that for a reason. Twenty-two year old guys don’t spend a paragraph contriving gorgeous verbal pictures of dusk in a canyon. They don’t. My husband’s thirty-something, “I don’t know. It just feels off” says it all. Guys are brief. They say stuff. They shut up.

I wrote the same thing with Nick’s new voice. His real voice. And it really works.

I’ve given the problem thought since and come up with some type of explanation. Usually I write from character as a starting point. Voice is natural then, inherent to the inspiration. But because I wrote Folly during NaNoWriMo and move far forward every day, I chose instead to write from a loosely outlined plot. Nick as a character had never fully developed in my mind and it showed in every word.

I’m taking the new piece to class next Tuesday. I’m anxious to hear the reactions to the massive change. I expect some won’t like, at least the devotees of poetry, but I’m thrilled with it and that’s what really matters.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Good, the Bad and the Over/Underwritten


I’m about halfway through my reread of Folly’s first draft. I started out with a bang last Wednesday and Thursday, then progress fizzled over the long holiday weekend. (Although, on a positive note, I did see two excellent plays at American Players Theatre over the weekend, so that has to count for something.)

It’s been interesting thus far, to reread the manuscript with fresh eyes. The flaws stand out a little taller, as if they’d leapt into gawkish adolescence during my absence. Jamieson’s character quirks clearly needs some explanation. There’s way too much telling. And most of the scenes seem scanty and underdeveloped. It’s a daunting list and, at first, I felt like I was in the same boat as I had been with Somewhere. But as I read on, the flaws seem clearer and the fixes more apparent.

But just as the flaws seem to glare, so the strengths glow. If I say so myself, there are some stunning visuals in the first draft. The setting glows with the magic and glamour of Las Vegas. Nick’s character is likeable and sympathetic (for the most part) And the storyline is cohesive and interesting. It wasn't long before I was actively caught up in the story and resented having to set it aside to make dinner.

So it’s once more to the drawing board. A few more pages to read, then a whole darn book to revise. I's be intimidated if it weren't for the most encouraging sign: I woke up around 3 Friday morning and fumbled in the dark for my nightstand notebook. I know I'm on to something when my subconscious is vested and churning.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Somewhere on the Road to Folly


I’ve been in a slump lately. Not writer’s block. My burner’s on and ideas are simmering. But more like I’m stuck on what to write.

My problem is that I’m at a crossroads. I’ve had some success with short fiction. I’ve even begun the transition from non-paying to paying markets. Now it’s time to take the next step.

Yep, it’s time to finish a novel.

Here’s where my dilemma comes in. For months, I’ve been torn over which project to finish first. Somewhere on the Road to Me and Jamieson’s Folly are both finished in first draft form. And I’ve even taken a beginning whack at revisions on Somewhere.

Logically, Somewhere should be my first finished novel. I wrote it first. And in many ways, it’s the novel that lives nearest to my heart. But the problem lies in the sheer amount of work needed to get it into saleable shape. I wrote it without any cohesive plan and meandered my way through the entire sprawling first draft. As much heart and soul as the story has, technically and artistically, it’s a train wreck. To get it into shape, I’d have to toss out 60% or more of the existing text and completely rewrite it from scratch.

Folly is much better, from a first draft standpoint. I wrote it during last year's NaNoWriMo and, knowing I was working under tight time constraints, I approached the story with a well-conceived story arc. In spite of my haste, the overall writing is more sound. I know with a little review, a little research, I could step right in and run with it.

The answer came to me over the weekend. While at a party, I got talking about my writing with a friend of mine. (surprise, surprise) She asked me what my novels were about and, after my horrified, deer in the headlights response, I did my best to give her brief summaries. Her response settled the issue somewhat. She was interested when I told her about Somewhere. It’s the kind of story I know she likes to read. But when I told her about Folly, her eyes lit up and she said, “Wow, that sounds really good!”

I’ve given her response a lot of thought.

I don’t think her interest means that Folly is so much better than Somewhere. Instead, I think it’s just that I’m clearer on Folly and, subsequently, able to communicate it better. I’m closer to doing that elevator pitch agents talk about, where I corner a prospective agent in an elevator and summarize my novel in a sentence or two. And as any writer knows, clearer in the head means clearer on the page. Clarity should always be the writer's touchstone.

So I talked it over with my husband, who added more fuel to the Folly fire. He gave me his blessing to go to Vegas for a few days in November to do the necessary research on Folly.

I guess I have no choice but to go.

So I set aside Somewhere, though it breaks my heart, and pick up my first draft of Jamieson’s Folly. I have hard work ahead of me, that’s for certain. But I feel like I can do this. The signs are there. The time is right. It’s time to step into the world of Nick and Nathan Jamieson and his marvelous seven natural wonders.

What a journey I have ahead of me...

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

What I’ve Learned About Writing…So Far.


My friend Jane asked for some writing advice the other day and, in my usual style, I thought why use a spade when I can dish it with a shovel? So here are a few things I’ve learned thus far on my journey as a writer. Most of these were learned the hard way. And this list is by no means exhaustive. But this is what came to mind as I tried to answer Jane’s questions. I offer them from my humble perch, one rung up from rock bottom on the ladder. Enjoy.

1) Don’t give up.

Persistence plays a large role in reaching your goals. Keep moving forward, even when things look glum. The people who make it are the ones who keep trying. You learn something when you try, even when you fail. Wear your lessons like a cloak and just keep going.

2) Writing is both a process and an end product.

Trust the process, that you’ll get there if you jump on board. Sit down and write every day. Trust your imagination to take you somewhere. Everyone has something unique and interesting to say.

3) Writing is 10% talent and 90% commitment.

Potential without action equals a big fat zero. Give up TV. Enlist the help of friends and family. Write when it’s easy and when it’s hard. Just write.

4) Sit your butt down and write.

You can’t be a writer if you don’t actually write. Stop talking about it and do the work. Don’t wait around for inspiration, that lazy ne’er-do-well. Inspiration only shows up when you reach for it.

5) Be open to new ideas.

Try writing a poem if you usually write fiction. Write a play. Talk to other writers and listen to their experiences. Go to the mall or the airport and watch the crazy people around you. Everyone has a story. Watch someone and find it. Then, write it down.

6) You can learn from anyone.

Even non-writers can help us get better. Emulate your spouse’s professionalism, your grandmother’s patience. Being a successful writer takes more than just writing talent. It’s a package of affirming attitudes and qualities.

7) Sift through all feedback carefully, looking for hidden gems.

Even the stuff that seems way off base may make sense on closer examination. Try to understand where your critics are coming from. Mull it over a few days. Reread and try to see their point of view. Then use what works for you and forget the rest. Don’t change your style to please a critic.

8) Understand the rules before you break them.

Learn what conventions are, then break them with purpose. Only break a rule when it adds to your work, never when it detracts.

9) Humility goes a long way.

Don’t fall in love with your own voice. Authorial self-indulgence makes readers feel unnecessary. Step out of the way and let your writing be about your characters. If you must write about yourself, get a blog or do something interesting enough to sustain an autobiography.

10) Read everything you can get your hands on.

Learn what’s been done already, dream of ways to do it better. Learn from other people’s triumphs and mistakes. Read authors who inspire you to write. Avoid those who make you feel inadequate.

11) Write the stories only you can tell.

Write from your life experience, your unique point of view. Don’t be like anyone else. Above all, do your stories justice. Be honest, unapologetic and unflinching.

12) Revision is your friend.

The best writers are re-writers. Sharpen your sentences, tighten your dialogue. Remove as many adjectives and adverbs as possible.

13) When the going gets tough, get tougher.

The world is full of nay-sayers who want to see you fail. Prove them wrong. Keep at it no matter what. Believe you can learn. Steamroll through the tough stuff.

14) Develop a thick skin.

When you get hurtful feedback or a painful rejection, bitch about it to a friend you trust, then forget about it and keep moving forward. Don’t get hung up on what other people say, good or bad. Just keep your eyes on your writing and keep working.

15) Put yourself out there. Don’t be afraid.

Pass your work around to friends. Take a writing class. Join a workshop or online writing group. Enter contests. Submit your work. If you only want to write for yourself, then keep your writing hidden. But if you want to improve, solicit feedback.

16) Take yourself seriously and others will, too.

Tell people proudly that you’re a writer. Then write. Let them see how hard you work at it. Show everyone that you don’t give up. Make them respect your dedication.

17) Adopt only the best people for your writing friends.

A network of supportive friends and fellow writers is worth its weight in gold. Treat others like you want to be treated. Respect others’ voices. Be encouraging, kind, and honest. Set aside small-mindedness and petty jealousies. Be part of the solution, not part of the problem. Most importantly, do no harm.

And don’t be afraid to cast negative writing relationships adrift. As you move forward, let these slackers drift, bobbing in your wake. Don’t drag them along and let them drain your energy. Anyone who weighs you down doesn’t want you to succeed.

18) Learn to give quality feedback.

Analyzing writing makes us better writers. Frame your thoughts in concise language. Offer suggestions and opinions designed to help. Respect an author’s voice and his or her authority over her story. Don’t issue mandates or edicts.

19) Know when to step away.

Be honest with yourself. Walk away when a project doesn’t work. Think it over, then fix the fixable. Let the fundamentally flawed rest in peace on your hard drive. Don’t let undeserving stories drain your creative energy.

20) Writing is tough. Be tougher.

Don’t give up on a good concept. Recharge, then come back to it. Send it off to a different agent or publisher. Fight your way through sluggish middles. Learn to be ruthless in revision.

21) Trust your creative subconscious.

Push yourself harder. Trust your creativity to rise to the challenge. Step out of your creative comfort zone. Commit to NaNoWriMo. Don’t hold ideas in your ruthless control; let the best ideas assume their own unique shape.

22) Harvest stories at the proper time.

Let ideas ripen in the depths of your subconscious. Don’t force ideas like potted hyacinth bulbs. If something isn’t working, go weed the garden or read a book, then come back to try again later and even later again, if you have to. Keep a story ideas file. Pick through it when you’re looking for new projects. Realize half-finished projects aren’t failures, but are stories waiting for their season to bloom.

23) Always keep paper nearby.

Keep a notebook in your purse, in your nightstand, on the table next to your favorite chair. Write down every crazy idea, every stroke of creative genius, then add them to your story ideas file. Write down snippets of dialogue while they’re fresh and beguiling. You won’t remember them after you dry off from the shower.

24) No matter how much you know, it’s never enough.

Be a lifelong learner. Take a class. Attend a conference. Read a book on writing. Don’t become complacent. Don’t slip into the trap of thinking you know it all. Always strive to be better.

25) Don’t ever give up.

It bears saying again. Quitters don’t make it. Don’t be a quitter. A life of striving is more interesting than a life wallowing in regret. Plodding steps in a consistent direction eventually reach their destination.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

This Present Moment


Last week, I was sitting in the sunshine at the picnic table outside our cottage. The lake sparked diamonds, sharp to the eyes, the bright sun catching the tips of the ripples. Out in the middle of the lake, a wave runner buzzed across the surface of the water, then disappeared around the green, densely forested bend into the next bay. For whatever reason, no one else was around other than a few ducks looking for a handout. I had the lake to myself. And I needed its peace. It had been a busy week, my classes and homework more demanding than I’d anticipated. Every morning and evening were spent glued to the laptop, in between making meals and trying to be an entertaining wife/mother/travel companion. By Thursday, fatigue oozed from my pores. It was nice to sit in the sun and watch the water, to set aside my writing and just enjoy the moment.

After awhile, I pulled out The Senator’s Wife by Sue Miller, a book I’d been reading before we left home, but had barely touched since we’d arrived in Rhinelander. The book felt good and right in my hands, full of that pleasurable feeling I get when I’m about to step into a compelling narrative. As much as I enjoy staring at lakes, I also enjoy reading by them. In moments, I was re-immersed in the story.

I was perhaps five or six pages in when something astonishing happened. From overhead, I heard the loud rush of air being displaced, a whoosh-whoosh that dragged me from the story. And there he was, before my eyes, a bald eagle, massive and majestic, taking flight from the top of the pine tree no more than fifteen feet from where I sat.

He hovered a moment, then his wings flapped again, powerful strokes so wide and so deep, I couldn’t fathom his wingspan. His tail feathers spread white against the blue sky, his chocolate brown body and wings so rich and regal by contrast. Before I could commit every aspect of him to my memory, he’d flown away. With three strokes of those wings, he was halfway across the lake and I, at my table on the shore, book forgotten, was left behind, awed and heartbroken.

In the afterecho, all I could think was that I’d done the unthinkable. I'd committed the writer’s cardinal sin. Somehow in my fatigue and lake-induced lethargy, I’d missed being in the present moment.

I thought about him all day. I’d seen bald eagles before, but always in captivity or, in the wild, only from a distance. Several years ago, my buddy Randy and I saw an eagle atop a dead tree across the bay. Even from that distance, he dwarfed the tree. We’d tried, but couldn’t get closer before he’d flown off. This eagle, my eagle, had been so close. How I would have loved to watch him, to sense his keen intelligence. I’d looked in the eyes of a bald eagle before and been humbled, had been made aware of my minion status. And that had been an eagle in captivity. I could only imagine how lordly and majestic he must have appeared, his gold eyes peering down at his dominion on Lake George. At the tired lady reading the book at a picnic table, unaware she was in the presence of royalty.

I can’t stop thinking about him. About the present moment.

The best writing brings a present moment to us. We feel it, we smell it, we taste it on our tongues. Our skin prickles from the sense of being immersed in it, in this other place someone has created on the page. I’d had an opportunity. To see something unique and frame it in language, to bring it to life for another human being. And I missed it. I’ve fixed the lesson firmly in my heart. Be in the moment, taste and feel it, rub myself across its textures, because the moment may never come again.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Denmark's a Prison


(I’m at the School of the Arts this week, so this post is a prewrite. I’ll be back next week, hopefully burgeoning with new knowledge and renewed zeal.)

I was doing some internet research on a hotel this morning when something caught my eye. The reviews were all over the place, some almost gushing, while others were viciously scathing. Here are a couple gushers from Trip Advisor that caught my eye:

"I've stayed at the **** in the past and then again recently with my family, and I must say I love it. This hotel has so much character, and provides a one of a kind experience. …The rooms have a rustic atmosphere and a charming country feel. The location is stunningly beautiful..."

Wow. And how about the next one:

"The ***** is quirky. The ***** is unique. If you want a place where everything is spotless and new, don't come. If you want an experience you will never forget, try the *****. I have stayed there at least 5 times and each was fantastic… "

I don’t know about you, but I love quirky and unique. So imagine my surprise when I found this on Yahoo Travel:

"Disgusting, Dirty, Disrepair, Rude Should have known something was wrong when I received rude service when I booked the room. It got worse from there. Lobby/hallways freezing, you had to wear your coat. "Shotgun" suite dark,in disrepair and had a 300 gallon concave tank tub with no way in or out, very unsafe. decided on the "Float" Fantsy Suite. Tub,heart shaped, dirty and cracked. The boat that encompassed the bed was dusty and dirty, light fixture was rusted. The heater didn't work our own blankets only warmth all night. Whirlpool had disgusting stuff floating on top, bathroom dirty. Told girl next morning she didn't care. Beware!!! "

Or what about this dismal report:

"truly horrible

My husband and I stayed at the ***** just last weekend-it was so not what we had hoped for. We stayed in one of the Fanta Suite rooms(very creative) and were realy let down with the whole experience. The exercise room has broken parts on their equipment(still lying on the floor) ,the game room was equally blessed with all broken equipment. The underground tunnel attaching the hotel to their restaurant is poorly lit(broken light bulbs) smelled like sewer (as did the fanta suite rooms off that floor-our room being one of them ) the tunnel also had green mold growing off a good percentage of the walls. The customer service was equaly poor-apon checking in the attendants couldn't give us the respect to stand up and come over to the counter until we'd stood there for at least 10 minutes(they were too busy gossiping) We checked out of the hotel before it had even gotten dark. "

I’m still shaking my head. These people are talking about the same place, right? For a minute, I had a hard time understanding how people at the same hotel could have such diametrically opposed experiences.

Then I remembered. Perception. It’s the same reason five people at a crime scene can offer five completely different accounts of what happened. And it’s what makes a story sing or sink. Point of view and all the mysteries of the human psyche it encompasses. Motivation. Background. Psychology. Shakespeare put it beautifully (doesn’t he always?) in Hamlet: “…for there is nothing good nor bad but thinking makes it so.”

In this scene (Act II, Scene ii), Hamlet is expressing his frustration over being trapped in Denmark with all its miseries--the loss of his father, being haunted by his father’s ghost, being forced to see his mother marry his uncle, who he knows to be his father’s murderer. To Hamlet, Denmark is a wretched prison, even though he acknowledges it is not one for others.

This reminded me of a trip my husband and I took to Jamaica a few years back. We knew some other people staying at the property and, to hear us talk, you’d think we were staying at two different resorts. My husband and I thought our room was clean and comfortable if a tad spartan, the activities varied and entertaining, and the food tasty and plentiful. That’s how we look at life. We’re good sports. We believe it’s up to us to make life fun. And we think of our glass as half full.

Our acquaintances, however, were miserable. The room wasn’t to their liking, they had nothing to do, and they thought the food was disgusting. Next time, Sue told me, they were staying at the Ritz-Carlton in Montego Bay. I shrugged my shoulders and figured Sue was just a pain in the ass. I felt sorry for her, not being open enough to life and its opportunities to have fun in a place like Jamaica.

Good sport that I am, I booked the questionable hotel. Come Labor Day, we’ll see what happens. I know what eyes I’m traveling with, though, and I expect that will make the difference. I’m hoping for kitsch. I’m hoping for quirky. If nothing else, I’ll get fodder for a story.

One more thing: I did not correct grammar or spelling in the reviews I pasted above. Note whose reviews were riddled with lousy grammar. Yep, the bitchers. Credibility. It figured into my decision.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Usefulness of Camaraderie


I read a great interview with Joel Willans this morning on Every Day Fiction. I’d read Joel’s story, “One Bright Moment” in May and it was exceptional. The story was sympathetic, without being overly sentimental. The characters seemed accessible and real. The language was visual and resonant.

So I read the interview with high hopes. And I got one of the most useful author interviews I’ve read in a long time. So often, such interviews are discouraging for writers looking for ways to break through the paper ceiling. It’s hard, reading how someone got where they are by a random lucky break, or how they make millions writing two measly hours every morning. Joel’s interview made me believe there was hope for my writing aspirations. Here are a few things that encouraged me:

First, Joel is a regular guy with some useful things to share. Sure, as a writer he’s a few rungs ahead of me on the ladder. But he isn’t a giant. He’s just a guy who’s figured a few things out, but still thinks he has a lot to learn. He’s publishing frequently and he’s done well in several contests. I can relate to where he is, where he’s been and where he hopes to go.

Second, Joel reminded me of something I hadn’t done in years, namely timed writing. He insisted it was helpful to him since he does better writing under pressure. I’m the same way, so I was glad to rediscover it. I tend to use the same routine when I write, but while routine is important to my writing, sometimes it needs shaking up. I have two projects I’d like to try timed writing on—the ever-elusive beginning to “The Great Divide” and a new micro still in the sprouting seed stage.

I think what got me thinking most, though, was seeing, yet again, how useful it is to be in contact with other writers. There are so many ways we influence one another, through our work, through our camaraderie, through our feedback, through our encouragement. Even through things like online interviews. Whenever and however I spend time with another writer, I find something useful to take on my journey.

If you haven’t read this interview yet, here’s a link. There’s a lot more to be mined than the tiny nuggets I mentioned.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Tangled Destinies


I didn’t sleep well last night. A front moved through, triggering wave after wave of thunderstorms. Nothing overly threatening, but loud enough to keep me awake. And as so often happens when I can’t sleep, my thoughts turned to writing.

For whatever reason, I started thinking about my legacy of bad writing. I’ve been on this topic a lot lately, for some reason I can’t quite pin down. But last night, I found myself going back further than ever, to stories I’d written 20 or more years ago.

One story in particular came to mind. It was a dreadful piece I’d written for Redbook’s annual short fiction contest, a trite bit of crap titled “Tangled Destinies.” Lord, I’d had high hopes for that thing, in spite of the fact that I was entering one of the toughest contests out there, tantamount to climbing the Mount Everest of literature.

Not only was this a literary marathon, it was a test of technical endurance. This was back in the days of the electric typewriter, and I was about as good a typist as a writer, so I had to retype each page over and over, agonizing over creating a perfect copy. I can’t tell you how many sheets of paper I discarded, how many cuss words I uttered over my suddenly uncoordinated, clublike fingers. I must have worn out a whole ribbon on 19 lousy pages.

The premise of “Tangled Destinies” was simple. It was a romance set in Colonial America, just before the revolution. My protagonist, Miranda, is a spy named Rebel who ends up deceiving and falling in love with the Nicholas, a cousin she’s been engaged to since her birth. There’s enough romance, misdirects and adventure to choke on--a regular cavalcade of unbridled sauciness, clandestine meetings, and cascades of riotous auburn curls. There’s also quite a bit of spirited flouncing and flirtatious, snappy repartee. Ambitious miss that I was, I even included a prologue and an epilogue, because God knows every 19 page story needs those anchors weighing down the storyline. I remember sending it off with hope singing in my heart. It was a masterpiece and I was damn sure I’d win.

Obviously, I didn’t win. And the heartbreak of losing almost discouraged me from writing again. I’d been convinced I was so naturally gifted as a writer, I was sure to be a Nobel prize winner by age 21.

Last night, all these years later, with the sound of rumbling thunder and flashes of lightning silvering the walls of my bedroom, I found myself wondering: what if I’d given up back then? The thought was sobering. It would have been so easy to give up, to tell myself I didn’t have what it takes, to avoid the heartbreak that inevitably comes when we writers put our work out there for evaluation.

Needless to say, I’m glad I didn’t. As bad as “Tangled Destinies” was, it represented a landmark on my journey as a writer. It was the first piece I ever submitted, so I learned something about the process. Most importantly, I learned about disappointment and how to bounce back from it. I still have a long way to go, but I’m a lot better writer now, with much tougher skin and a better attitude about working my way up the ladder. It’s been hard work, but it’s been worth it. And most encouraging, if I’m this much better now in my 40’s, imagine how good I’ll be in my 50’s and 60’s. There’s something innately encouraging in finally grasping that I’m a work in progress, not an aging old hack who missed her window.

I dug out “Tangled Destinies” this morning, all 19 yellowed pages held together with a rusted paperclip. One of the benefits of being a paper packrat and rather accomplished filer is that I have such things at my fingertips. It was every bit as dreadful as I remember, but still, I think there was hope for that young writer with the big dreams. I've recreated it in electronic form for my personal archives and submit it here for your amusement. Get a tissue. Empty your bladder. And get ready for the parade of jaunty adverbs, hysterical historical errors and glaring plot inconsistencies.

Oh, and one additional disclaimer: absolutely no meticulous research went into the creation of this literary masterpiece. My source was only what I remembered from a high school history class, where I spent more time writing notes to my girlfriends than listening to my teacher. I don’t even remember who he was, so that should tell you something.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

On Courage


A month or two ago, I dragged out an old photo album from a 1991 trip to Vail. I was beginning Nick’s story and I wanted to remember exactly what Colorado looked like, the color of the mountains in October, the clarity of the sky, the exact shade of a hot spring new friend, Baxter, had brought us to.

I found much more. Pictures of my younger, faster-running self. Captions written in her stranger’s voice. The look in my eyes and the voice bothered me most. It was like seeing a stranger in my body.

I read them over and over, heard the sarcasm, the immaturity, the brittle, affected cynicism. Who was this creature, teetering over disillusionment, but still clinging to notions of romance? By that Vail trip, I’d thrown myself at life hard enough to cause a few serious fractures. I was toxic back then and this album proved it. I wanted to throw the evidence in the garbage.

As writers, we face this kind of thing all the time. Our early work, our early selves as writers, are so rustically unskilled, sophomoric and boastfully posturing that it can be hard to face them in retrospect. Around the time of the Vail trip, I remember being thrilled with myself because I’d finished writing a dreadful category romance, tantalizingly titled Legacy of Deceit. It’s an eye-roller, not because it’s a romance, but because my heroine was such a tantrum throwing little snot and because my writing was painfully bad. I couldn’t balance the basic elements of narration without tripping; it was like watching Frankenstein’s monster lurch haltingly along.

I run into this now with recent projects. I expect I’ll run into it down the line with the drivel I’m grinding out now. Somewhere on the Road to Me is considerably better than Legacy was, but the initial draft needs such substantial revision, I’m not sure it’s worth the effort. And my first short story published, “Beautiful,” makes apologies leap unbidden to my tongue. It’s embarrassing. (I swear, I’m a lot better now.)

So what do we do? Hold our writing close on our hard drives until we reach the lofty pinnacle of skillfulness? That’s like waiting for the polar ice caps to melt—they say it will happen, but who the hell knows exactly when? And that kind of insularity is counter-productive. Our writing should be read so we can glean useful feedback, which in turn leads to further growth.

But that takes guts.

I had an email from a friend yesterday. Let’s call him Bob. He was kicking himself over a blog entry he’d posted. Riddled with errors, Bob claimed. He said he never should have posted it. I wondered what the hell he was talking about. I’d read his blog and gushed over it in my comments. I really felt I’d learned something valuable. I couldn’t believe it was actually crap.

Well, I did what any good friend does: I told him he was full of shit (in a nice way) and that I really liked the post. I mentioned this concept of being embarrassed by our own past work. Email back: Bob wasn’t buying it.

I’ll spare you the ins and outs of our e-dialogue. But I’d like to leave you with this: for all its isolation, writing is a public act. We put ourselves out there when we share what we write. And once it’s out there, we can’t take it back. Just like we can’t take back the words we speak, we can’t erase our published writing. And published writing is worse, because it lives on as written, unlike spoken words which can fade in our memories. It takes a tremendous act of courage to put any piece of writing out there for another human being to read. Courage to face whatever criticism we may be given. Courage to face who we are in this moment in time, knowing we may look back and cringe.

At times, each of us doubts our nerve.

The great writer EB White captured this idea best, so I leave the last word to him:

A writer’s courage can easily fail him . . . I admire anybody who has the guts to write anything at all.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Way Out Water Towers!


My daughter is obsessed with water towers. There’s a big one at the top of the hill on our regular walking route. Ever since The Miss discovered it, she’s been fascinated by every water tower we encounter. Plain ones. Fancy ones. Doesn’t matter. On our recent camping trip, she pointed out every water tower between home and Two Rivers, Wisconsin. And there are a lot more than you’d imagine. We’ve become so accustomed to looking for water towers that I find myself calling out, “Water tower!” when she isn’t even in the car. (I recently took a photo of the water tower in Arena because Julia wasn’t there to see it with me.) So it seemed natural to suggest we go to the library and check out some books on water towers. She jumped around the kitchen, yelling “Wat-oo tow-oos! Wat-oo tow-oos!” arms flapping like a baby condor. She was excited; I was excited for coming up with an idea that made her so unabashedly ecstatic. I could hardly drive there fast enough.

Then we hit a bump in the road. Who’d have thunk it, but water tower books are a rare breed.

I won’t bore you with everything I went through, from dealing with a really disappointed little kid to trying to find another source for a water tower book. Let’s just say my efforts were both exhaustive and exhausting. Finally, it occurred to me, after all hope seemed extinguished. Why not write one myself?

Now, let me clarify something before I go a single step further: I have no desire to write for children. Sorry. My work can’t stand up to an audience that sharp. But I can write for the most important kid in my life. I’d written a book for her earlier this year—Little Girl in the Woods, a board book about my sweetie’s passion for camping. So I figured slapping this puppy together this should be a snap, right?

Not necessarily. I’ve learned a few interesting things thus far and thought I’d share them here.

1) MAKING TECHNICAL STUFF EASY ENOUGH FOR KIDS IS A BITCH. Yep, kids are smart little stinkers, but sentence length and vocabulary are an issue. Plus, kids have a limited set of experiences you can refer to in analogies. How to explain hydrostatic pressure to a little kid? Hell, I don’t get it myself! The best thing I can liken it to that she (and I) might understand is the feeling you get when you have to pee. Classy, I know. But I’m at a loss here.

2) YOU CAN BE LAZY AND LARCENOUS WHEN YOU’RE WRITING FOR YOUR OWN KID. I’m talking about pesky little legal landmines like cross-checking information, listing source credits, and obtaining publishing rights to photos. As far as I’m concerned, an initial search on Wikipedia and a cross check with is verification enough for me. But I doubt a publisher would think so. And what about all those photos I helped myself to on various websites? Let’s face it, getting rights to all that stuff would be a bear. Not to mention prohibitively expensive.

3) THERE’S NO SLAPPING TOGETHER ANY KIND OF PROJECT FOR CHILDREN. I spent two hours on the introduction yesterday. Yep, two hours to write 93 words. And that’s after the three hours I spent researching and outlining the day before. Had I operated that slowly in college, I’d still be sitting in College Comp. The discouraging part is I still have many sections to write and I haven’t even begun to think about page design. The way this thing is going, I figure she’ll either have lost interest in the entire topic or graduated high school by the time I’m halfway though.

4) I MUST BE INSANE. I add this as the only logical conclusion, considering I’m moving forward on this in spite of the aforementioned points. And I won’t even get into the lack-of-time rant again. My only defense is I love my kid. I guess that’s reason enough.

So Way Out Water Towers moves forward, God help me. It won’t be at a store near you, so don’t look for it. And don’t look for anything else I write, either. I’ll be so busy inventing non-bodily function analogies for hydrostatic pressure that I doubt I’ll have time to work on anything else.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

To Submit or Not to Submit


I’ve been encountering an uncomfortable phenomenon lately. It’s called Why the Hell Did I Submit That (WTHDIST) Syndrome. Basically, WTHDIST is a condition where I pray for a rejection on a submitted story because I’ve figured out that it actually sucks.

I experienced WTHDIST just this morning. I’d been waiting on a response from my story, “The Game,” from Espresso Fiction for a few months. And this morning, the response arrived. I can’t describe for you the feeling of dread I had as I looked at the innocent Thank you for your submission to Espresso Fiction subject line. Usually, this is because I love a story and don’t want to see it rejected. But with “The Game,” it was a definite case of WTHDIST. Frankly, “The Game” is a damned stupid story. I’d be embarrassed to see it get published.

I filed away my rejection on Duotrope Digest’s handy-dandy Response Tracker, but a feeling of dread still hung on me. I wandered over to my remaining list of pending responses. And there, in all it’s hideousness, it was: a 118 day pending response entry for a little ditty titled “Nighttime Daddy.” I’d submitted the story to LitBits in a fit of pique after the story didn’t make the cut in a Writer’s Digest’s Your Story contest. 118 days later, this thing was haunting me like the lamb kebabs from my favorite Afghan restaurant. I found myself praying: please don’t let this thing get accepted. Or wishing it was lost in cyberspace.

The whole thing got me thinking: how do we decide what to submit and what not to submit? I’d like to think I can tell good from bad. But, usually, until I get a rejection, I often believe with naive earnestness that even my homeliest, gap-toothed, drooling babies are exquisite and graceful swans. Clearly, my internal editor has a bad wire.

But I think the real problem comes earlier in the process, long before I seek out a market, write my cover letter and send my darlings on their way. Bad stories are born of bad ideas. And bad ideas should be nipped before they sprout. I should dump duds early rather than waste time finishing and editing it. Then I could spend my time on the good stuff.

Easier said than done. Maybe it’s a matter of experience. Or of refining my literary palate. I wish I knew. Time is precious. I don’t want to waste it. And I don’t want to live with any WTHDIST’s haunting me by, somehow, making it into print.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Flood


Things aren’t great here in Southeastern Wisconsin. We’ve been inundated with torrential rains. Our rivers are swollen beyond capacity and have overflowed their banks. In Racine, Waukesha, and South Milwaukee, cars float in the streets and people have been evacuated from their homes. West of us in Lake Delton (a popular tourist area), the lake swelled over its earthen dam to come home to the Wisconsin River. I saw the video and it scared the heck out of me, how fast our world can slip away. In moments, the lake drained and roads and homes (whole homes!) were suddenly, irrevocably lost.

Here at home, we’ve had our own weather disasters, but nothing on the same scale. We were away for the worst of the storms here, enjoying a quiet weekend camping on Lake Michigan. It poured the last night and morning of our trip. My daughter and I sat in the car while I watched my poor husband take down the sopping wet camper. Halfway home, I called our house and my friend Pam told me the sewer had backed up in our basement. My heart sank at the news. My husband had spent three years remodeling down there. The carpet, installed in January, was the capstone on a beautifully executed project. I still remember how proud and pleased he was as he showed off his handiwork at Easter. Now everything was saturated with yucky black sewer sludge. We rode home quiet, lost in our own sense of helplessness.

Since I got home, I’ve longed for the sense of normalcy, the routine that keeps my days sane. We live and die by routine around here. Husband to work, then breakfast. Walk, play/errand/library/park time, lunch, TV, read, then down for a nap. Most days, I’m ready for a nap myself by then, but I can’t bear to give up my precious Mommy time. The afternoons are when I write.

With all the chaos, we’re completely off-kilter. My husband stayed home from work to mop up the sludge. I’ve been wringing out the dripping camping gear. It needs to be done, but it’s created a hole in my life and it happened in it’s own kind of flood. A few changes led to a shift in the sense of balance. A camping trip, a husband home from work. Before I knew it, order was swept away.

For me, not writing creates its own flood. A day or two off and I start to get antsy. As the days slip away, a backlog of thoughts clogs my brain. Before long, I start to turn, sniping at my daughter, bitchily ragging at my husband. But mainly, I turn on myself. I’m a waste of space. I need to get my act together. How do I ever expect to make it if I don’t write? Pretty soon everything feels off, like my body chemistry’s out of whack or my planets have spun out of alignment. My sense of self and purpose crumbles and washes away. I lose myself, one facet at a time.

I’m on day six here. Last Thursday morning before we hooked up the camper, I did a little scribbling as ideas for a revised start to Nick’s story came. I meant to get to them while we were gone, but the days slid away over the bump in our routine. Then the mess at home consumed my energy. At this point, I just hope I can find my crumpled page of scribbles. I’m fidgety and nervous. My list is too long. Without the routine to structure and the writing to provide an outlet, I’m caught up in a weird kind of flood. The chaos without mirrors the chaos within. I need a dam and I need it damn quick.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Over-tweakers Anonymous


I had something discouraging happen twice in the last week. Just when I thought I’d finished something, I reread and discovered I was far from done. One was the beginning to the Nick short story, “The Great Divide.” The other was a somewhat unimportant scene in Somewhere on The Road to Me. Both had been cooling for a week or so while I stepped away for a dose of perspective.

I can’t tell you how disheartened I was when I came back and saw my own drivel. In the case of “The Great Divide,” I’d been sure I was ready to submit. But really, I’d created a mess. I’d crafted paragraphs of weighty, poetic description, had fully developed themes before my story even started. I’d written one entire page of a guy looking at telephone lines while sitting in a hot spring. What the hell was I thinking? I’d clearly overwritten.

I don’t know about you, but I could tinker a sentence into complete oblivion. Tweak a little here, reword a bit there, maybe shorten, or re-punctuate, break it into two, jam two together with a conjunction or a comma splice, throw in another snazzy image. Maybe do all of the above until the revision bears no resemblance to the original. Unless you’re Hemingway and you write nothing but unalloyed gold, there’s always the option of mixing things up a bit. But with that possibility comes the chance of overwriting. Damn. I clung when I should have let go.

I think this is what’s killing me with Beth’s story. (okay, I know) I’m so doggedly determined to get every phrasing just right that I belabor even the shortest scenes. Why do I do that? I’m driving myself nuts. Not to mention I’m getting so damn sick of Beth, I’m starting to understand why her mother gets so pissed at her.

But the real shame is that I’m losing Beth’s freshness. Too many similes, too many artful phrasings. Too much writing when I should just shut up. My overly stylized sentences are taking attention away from the story and placing it smack dab on me. And this story isn’t about me. Or it shouldn’t be. I could kick myself for being a pompous ass.

So, once more back to the drawing board with another fine line I need to identify. And as usual, I have more questions than answers. How do I stop annoying my manuscripts with petty revisions? How do I take myself out of a process that’s so entirely personal? I want to just say no to annoying revision, but I’m addicted without a support group in sight.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Precious Time


I woke this morning to the dreadful realization that I’d forgotten to write yesterday’s blog post.

It was Memorial Day’s fault, of course. While long holiday weekends are right up there with cookies in my book, I admit they wreak havoc on my sense of time. It’s only Wednesday and I’m already wondering how I’m going to fit my weekly household chores, library visits and play dates into the few remaining days left this week. While relaxation is good for the soul, it’s obvious slowing down comes at a price. I scramble to recover the lost ground.

This concept affects every area of life. It seems like only yesterday I brought Julia home from the hospital, but somehow she’s just a month from turning three. In the same vein, I realize my novel has been waiting patiently for me to finish revisions for six long years. Six years! How did time get away from me like that?

I understand the lesson: slow down for a moment and time rockets by. Yet, as writers, our truth is often found in those things that we see only when we slow down. As writers, we must look closely and then reflect. These carefully crafted details, the artful connections, are where writing transcends from mediocre to well-wrought. Skillful construction creates a work that readers connect with and remember. (I know I, for one, will always remember E.B. White’s outstanding essay, “Once More to the Lake.”) So how do we balance observation, reflection and productivity to create a work that lives in the hearts of readers?

I don’t know. Clearly. I’ve been plugging away at Somewhere for seven long years (a year to draft, six years of sluggishly picking it apart). More than anything, I want to finish this thing, answer the call of Jamieson’s Folly, my next novel project. But I get caught up in wanting to do Beth and Shel justice. I take breaks to write short fiction, to brush the cat, to bake a batch of cookies. So I fumble along in fits and starts, only making progress one lonely chapter at a time.

Some would argue this is still progress. But I’m not so sure. It takes a long time to get back into the groove after one of my short fiction/cat brushing/cookie baking hiatuses. I lose the feel for Beth. Her voice becomes an echo rather than a shout. I have to rummage through the junk in my brain to reconnect. All of that takes precious time.

Time. Slow down for a moment and time rockets by. It’s daunting, perhaps too daunting after this holiday weekend. Perhaps I’ll worry about catching up tomorrow. For today, perhaps I’ll just bake some desperation cookies.

Desperation Cookies*

1 cup butter
1 ½ cups white sugar
¾ cup brown sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 beaten eggs
2 ½ cups flour
1 ½ cups chips **
2 cups nuts ***

** use any combination of regular chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, white chocolate chips, milk chocolate chips, vanilla, cherry, or strawberry chips, or peanut butter chips—whatever you think will taste good. (I use semisweet chocolate.)

*** use any nuts you like, including walnuts, pecans, cashews, almonds, even peanuts. If you don’t have enough nuts, fill in with crushed cornflakes, rice krispies, coconut, raisins or other dried fruit. (I use 1 cup cranberries and 3/4 cup chopped pecans, plus a handful of rice krispies for crunch)

Melt the butter. Mix in sugars and stir. Add vanilla, baking soda, and salt; stir. Then add half the flour, the chips and the nuts. Stir well to incorporate, then add remaining flour and mix thoroughly.

Drop by teaspoons onto greased or parchment lined baking sheets, 12 cookies to a standard sheet. Bake in 350 degree preheated oven for 10 – 12 minutes, or until nicely browned.

Let cool 2 minutes, then remove cookies from sheet and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Makes 5 dozen.

* recipe originally from Joanne Fluke’s Peach Cobbler Murder, a Hannah Swensen mystery. (Note: this is a fantastic mystery series for those who like a good, old fashioned, cozy murder mystery. And these cookies are amazing.)

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A Good Day, Indeed


Saturday stands in the annals as a very good day, indeed.

The day hadn’t started out promising. I’d gotten up late. The house was a mess, the kitchen counters cluttered, dishes in the sink, my husband and daughter milling about, looking for me to whip up breakfast. I was less than 30 minutes from opening our weekend garage sale and I still hadn’t found time to shower. I was about as flustered as I can get without going into full-scale meltdown. So what did I do? What I always do when I’m flustered and don’t know what to do first.

I sat down and checked my email.

I tripped into fantastic news. My flash, “The Burning Black,” had been published as Every Day Fiction’s story of the day.

Regular readers (Stephen) may remember: my acceptance from EDF marked my first foray into a paying market, something I believe is a significant step in my career. Granted, I made more selling a bundle of homegrown rhubarb at our garage sale, but being paid was a good feeling nonetheless. There’s something satisfying about being offered even the smallest honorarium for my work.

Even more gratifying were the comments and generous ratings Burning Black received. It’s good to know people are reading my work. And it’s good to know they’re enjoying it. For the most part, we writers work in isolation. It’s easy to find reasons to give up. Small successes like publication credits and kind comments carry a weary writer far, serving as rejuvenating protein drinks for the lagging soul, as balm for the oft-rejected heart.

As I clicked close my email, I thought things couldn’t get better. Then I sold loads of baby stuff and fattened my daughter’s college fund with a whopping $250. I met the nicest lady in the whole wide world, who gave me a fistful of bookmarks she’d made from old greeting cards. Her mission: to remind people how much Jesus loves them.

Yes, a good day on so many levels. I stand rejuvenated, soothed, vindicated, my beleaguered heart and soul ready to write.

One last bit of business, if you haven’t read Burning Black yet, here’s a link. Comment if you feel inclined, either here or on EDF. I welcome and appreciate the feedback.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Play’s the Thing


I feel like I need a creative shot in the ass, so I signed up for the Rhinelander School of the Arts this summer.

SOA is a week long program where people of all ages and backgrounds come together in the piney, lake bejewelled northwoods of Wisconsin to immerse themselves in the arts. Painting, sculpture, theatre, writing. You name it. It’s the arts lover's idea of orgasmic overload.

As I browsed the course catalogue, I came across an introductory playwriting class. I vacillated between playwriting and a course on writing a novel that seemed like a much better fit. But something about playwriting resonated and I couldn’t let the idea go. I’ve been a fan of the theatre for almost thirty years. When I was in high school, I worked in a professional theatre as a dresser. I still go to plays every chance I get—I have tickets to see five plays in the next four months. But I’d never thought of writing a play myself.

The more I thought about it, the more it made sense. What better creative challenge than to try to write a cohesive story with multi-dimensional characters than by doing it with a different set of tools. Forget my poetic imagery, my artfully described settings, my viewpoint character’s internal dialogue. I won’t even have much in the way of stage direction (That’s the director’s job, not the playwright’s) Plot, character and dialogue—that’s all I’ll have real control of. The rest is in the hands of set designers, directors, costumers and actors.

I spent this past weekend thinking. Early yesterday morning, I sat outside wrapped in a granny square afghan and drank coffee, my notebook open in front of me. I hadn’t slept well the night before, a refrain echoing in my head most of the night. Casualties and consequences. Casualties and consequences. Over and over, the words linked together, like a chain of events, dominoes falling, lock tumblers clicking into place. From the way it hung in there, claws dug into in my brain, I knew I was onto something. Yesterday morning, before I finished my coffee and the sun had burned the dew from the grass, I’d sketched out the barest of storylines. I closed my notebook, satisfied with what I’d done. I was ready to let my idea ripen.

Like a ghost in the attic, it’s still rattling around, trying to get my attention. So today, I hunted up my copy of Egri’s The Art of Dramatic Writing. (My writing teacher, Gail, recommended this to me as a must-read on motivation and character.) I have no doubt, as I read it, more components will fall into place. And two wonderful nights watching Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and O’Neill’s Ah, Wilderness! under the stars at American Players Theatre in mid-June will no doubt inspire me more. I’ll be watching with the eye of a literary coroner—taking the pieces apart and examining how they work. Come July 20, I should be bursting with the need to write this thing.

The machinations of the creative brain never fail to amaze me. One thing links to another, spreading scope, drawing connections, weaving a web that catches art. It started with the desire to try something new. To invest one week in late July and see what I might come up with. Already I’m learning something and here it is just May. I’m inspired before I even go.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Shouting in the Wind


I admit it: this blog is starting to get me down.

It’s not just the deadlines. Lately, I find myself up against a familiar foe, something I gave serious thought to during those first desperate, fruitless months of submitting my short stories. I wondered then and I wonder now: why write if no one is reading?

I guess the answer lies in who you’re writing for in the first place. If you write for yourself, not having an audience is no real issue. As the saying goes, open a vein, let it drain, then walk away and go do the laundry or something. But if you write for others, because you truly want to connect, not having an audience becomes disheartening.

Personally, I write for both. I get a lot of out writing for myself. New ways of looking at things I didn’t completely understand before. A way of putting things to rest that may have felt incomplete. And of course, I live to develop my craft. But, mainly, I write for others. I love it when people tells me they know exactly how a character felt, that they’ve been through something similar themselves.

Perhaps if I did more (ok, anything) to promote this blog, I’d have a larger audience. But promoting means time away from writing and marketing my work. And that’s time I don’t have to spare right now. Still, I’m loathe to give up this enterprise. It’s been good for me and I’m learning a lot from it. Besides, there’s a lot to be said for persistence.

So I persist. I hope, one day, to grow my readership. I include this URL in my bios on published work now. And perhaps one day I’ll take the time to promote this thing properly. But for now, I write for myself and for my loyal friend, Stephen. (God bless him for so many reasons.) For now, I’ll just keep shouting in the wind.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Confession of a Busy Mommy/Writer


I have to confess, every Tuesday morning, sometime between the first cup of coffee and actually stepping into a productive day, I come to a horrible realization: I have to write a post for this blog.

I wish I could say I write the first draft of these things Tuesday night, just hours after the previous week’s entry was posted. That I polish it all week, then spit-shine it one last time. But I don’t. Usually, I get that oh shit feeling that comes with remembrance, shove my kid in front of the Disney Channel and glue my butt to the office chair. I crank out whatever comes into my brain during the last fifteen minutes of Bunny Town.

I do let my post age on the hard drive while I check to make Julia’s still conscious and hasn’t, say, fingerpainted the cats. But beyond the aging, all I really do is tinker a bit. My last thought after clicking the POST button is inevitably thank God THAT’S done for the week. It’s hard enough trying to juggle mommyhood, writing short fiction, editing two novels, researching markets and finding time to submit, and then following up on my submissions. Once I send a post to cyberspace, I don’t have time to give it another thought.

Any writing teacher worth his or her salt would caution against my slapdash method of posting. They'd remind me that this blog is a showcase and should contain my best work. And my training and instincts as a writer agree. But there’s something to be said for off-the-cuff posting. I like the immediacy, honesty and freshness of a work that hasn’t been edited to the nth degree. Maybe it’s like those confessions you get from drunk coworkers at the company picnic. Once the internal editor’s off, anything can creep out. And what you get is usually ripe and intriguing.

So this is where I ask myself: if I had more time, would I do it differently? My answer: probably not. The honesty is like a drug and I can’t get enough. Some people have nightmares about being caught naked in public. I’m more likely to dread being caught in a lie. So I write what comes out and hope you’ll forgive my mad-dash ramblings. I don’t have time to change anytime soon.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Stories in the Night


I don’t know about you, but my best time to come up with story ideas is between 2 and 5 am.

I’ve often woken up in the middle of the night and, after a quick pee, realized I’d figured out an entire storyline while I was sleeping. I used to tell myself I’d remember it when I woke up, so I’d lay back down and fall back to sleep.

Somehow, I always forgot.

For awhile, I’d lay awake long enough to work out more details, try a few mnemonic devices. Then I’d go back to sleep. And immediately forget everything.

Eventually, I got smarter. I put a notepad and pen in my nightstand drawer and, as soon as the ideas came to me, I’d scribble away in the dark. I’m sure my husband dreamed we had mice in the house, with all my scritch-scritch-scritching. A lot of times what I write is illegible to even me, but there are always enough clues for me to piece together what I was thinking and turn it into something worth writing.

All this nocturnal creativity begs the question: why? This writing in the night is so inconvenient. I’ve woken up too many mornings after a particularly productive night of brainstorming with a splitting headache and bleary eyes, feeling completely unfit to do anything other than crawl back in bed. Parenting? Forget it! I long for the days of my office job, where I could sit in my cubicle and stare at my monitor, occasionally pecking out words of wisdom like Press ENTER to add the record.

I believe therein lies the answer: my days are so busy that those silent hours between 2 and 5 am are the only times quiet enough for my imagination to fly free.

I woke up last night with a solution to a writing problem. I’ve been working on something for an upcoming contest. Yesterday, I came up with a character and a setting, but I had no hint of a storyline, even after scratching out a scene. I’d tried to think my way through the story, during my walk with Julia, while cooking supper, between commercials during Dancing With the Stars. Zip. But in the middle of the night, I remembered something I’d written the day before, a line of dialogue offered tongue in cheek: All God’s creatures just want to be free.


At 3:30 this morning, it suddenly came to me. The idea of being free was the key to my story. Now I need to figure out how to show that through scenes, but that’s cakewalk once I have the key. I drifted back to sleep, pleased and content. Problem solved by my nighttime muse.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

On the Edge


Well, I’ve done it again.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. I have a knack for being edgy. But I think I really outdid myself yesterday while working on my Writer’s Digest Your Story entry. The prompt: A man enters a bar. But it isn’t a bar.

In my mind, this begs the question: well, what is it? After examining the myriad possibilities, I decided to approach the bar as a metaphor. Yes, it’s a bar, but to my viewpoint character, Kurt, it’s so much more.

So where does the edge come in, you ask. My answer: with Kurt himself.

Kurt is a hard-bitten sort, the type of alcoholic with a giant chip on his shoulder, who like Don Quixote, wants to fight the world. And because Kurt is tough, so is his language. He’s angry at the world, at his past, at himself, at God. He expresses it through his language and his fists. Unfortunately, I know where that language will land me: in the pile of Your Story rejects.

Just for kicks, I did a naughty word count. Fifteen. But that’s fifteen out of 750, which means a rather large proportion of what comes out of Kurt’s mouth will raise a reader’s eyebrows. And, yes, I thought about softening the language. But that wouldn’t fit Kurt. Kurt’s in your face. He’s confrontational. He wouldn’t back away from saying something because it might offend someone, so I shouldn’t back down when I put words in his mouth. If anything, he looks for ways to be offensive.

I have another idea for the prompt, a much gentler story, more in keeping with what WD usually leans toward. Since I know poor Kurt doesn’t stand a snowball’s chance, I’ll take that one out for a whirl, see what kind of magic comes out on the page. But I suspect my heart will remain with Kurt. Kurt bleeds on the page and doesn’t apologize for it. He has a burning hole where his heart should be. I feel his pain.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Sweet Satisfaction

It’s been a spectacular week so far.

After a several week long dry spell, I finally got an acceptance yesterday. My 750 word flash, “The Burning Black,” was accepted by Every Day Fiction.

I have Writer’s Digest to thank for this little piece. “Burning Black” was my submission for their last Your Story contest. I wasn’t sure what to write about when I first read the prompt—a character finds something on the kitchen table that shouldn’t be there. But then I remembered my much longer story, “The Walnut Tree” (which has been floundering under the editorial consideration of Ep;phany for over 6 months now.) I liked “Walnut Tree” and felt there was more to explore with Peter and his dysfunctional, manipulative family. And talk about the ultimate challenge! Who’d ever think of cramming a 4500 short into the 750 word limit dictated by Writer’s Digest? Yep, yours truly.

I was happy with the results. I didn’t make the Your Story finals, but I liked the story enough to shop it around. And first time out, it fell into the hands of some sympathetic editors.

As of now, I don’t know exactly when “Burning Black” will be published. But, this marks an important milestone in my career. This will be the first time I’m getting paid to write something besides software manuals. It isn’t much, just a few dollars really, but it’s the start of a new phase for me—paid, professional writer. (Wow. Just typing those words makes me pause and shake my head.) It feels good to tick that goal off my 2008 list. Until the next rejection comes, I wallow in sweet satisfaction.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Nope. Nothing.

Question: what does a writer write when she has nothing to say?

Best answer: nothing.

I could share another entry about how my flu came back last week and made me lose all hope for ever completing EdMo. But I’m sick of whining about EdMo, sick of being sick. I just want to move on and forget it.

The fact is, I don’t have a damn thing to say this week. And that’s an uncomfortable feeling for a writer. No writer wants to open his mouth and hear…nothing. We want wisdom. We want beauty. We want truth. We want art.

This week, I’m fresh out of all that. And I’m learning to be okay with it. It’s okay if there are pauses between the sentences. Silence can mean something, sometimes something significant.

This reminds me of a paper I wrote for my college American Lit class, a light little bit of academy about what Whitman didn’t say in “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed.” The premise: how powerful a presence could be by its very absence. It’s an idea that’s always intrigued me.

So I pause in my absence of ideas, feel my hollowness around where my thoughts should be.

Still nothing. I’m okay with that. See you next week.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

NaNoEdMo: Serendipity...Please?


I love first drafts. There’s magic in those first words to hit the page, an energy that crackles as my fingers fly across the keyboard. First drafts are where I unearth those precious secrets held close in the hearts of my characters, where I see their strengths and their beauty and their frailties. This is where they first reveal themselves to me, their hearts fluttering with nervous trust.

By comparison, editing slogs along. This is where I assure my characters that I know what they’re capable of, that it’s time for them to open up that little bit more, to risk that bit of extra danger. I nag them, I push them, I make them push back. I fill in the gaps and sweep up the mess I left my first time through. Editing is wringing potential from the first bare bones of my story. It’s the last leg of the journey before I let my baby go. Editing is hard, uphill work.

It’s no wonder so many novels never get past the first draft stage. For every minute I spend productively editing, I spend 10 minutes checking my email, sighing and staring at the monitor. I can’t tell I how many times I’ve looked at a rough draft of a scene and thought, “This is it. This is the scene that’s going to bust this book’s balls for good.” I find myself literally panic stricken. I rub my forehead, scrub both hands over my eyes, let out a heartfelt sigh. Sometimes, when I’m really flummoxed, I even grrr at the monitor.

But then I hit that moment of kismet, that serendipitous split-second where everything clicks into place. Suddenly, I see what I need to do—cut this, add to that, scrap those three lousy pages. As the story shapes up, a tremendous high carries me aloft. I know I’ve given my characters the best vehicle I could. I did them justice. Somehow, I made them live and breathe.

I’m trapped in a scene that’s killing me right now. The last precious EdMo hours are ticking away. Beth is lost to me, somewhere beyond the fog that’s clouding my consciousness. I rub my forehead, sigh, but I can’t hear her voice. Without her, my work is empty. I wish she’d come home.

So I stare at the monitor. Somehow, I have to hang on to what I have: faith in kismet, faith in the process. I’ve been through this before, trod this uphill road, felt my feet too heavy in my boots. I have to believe. She’s out there. I trust serendipity will bring her back.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

NaNoEdMo: Mmmmm, Crow


After last week’s indolent foray into shopping and theatre outings, this week I fell victim to a new writing enemy: THE FLU.

Out of nowhere, it hit me, like Michael Strahan mowing over slow-moving seniors at the Old Country Buffet. As I lay in bed, too sick to read, my household fell into shambles. Like a trooper, my husband confronted his fear of the kitchen and prepared three meals a day. My daughter appeared several times an hour, eyes wide and lower lip trembling as she told me, “But I don’t want to play with Daddy, Mommy. I need you.”

On Sunday, I finally emerged wobbly-legged from bed. As I surveyed the wreckage that can only happen when Mommy’s out of commission, I realized two discouraging things. One, I hadn’t done a lick of editing in days, sending my EdMo goals spiraling into the abyss. And two, with 20 people coming for Easter dinner and the house in a shambles, I wouldn’t have time until after the Lord had risen.

I don’t want to lapse into whininess, but I feel as though my EdMo was doomed from the start. I wanted to quit before I began, then, miraculously, things seemed too easy that first glowing week. Did I make the fatal mistake of wallowing in cockiness? Even after the indolent slacker week, I honestly thought I could recover. EdMo was a piece of cake, compared to the intensity or NaNoWriMo. All I had to do was fix the mess I’d already written.

And therein lies the rub.

The editing is the tough stuff. I knew that going in. Still, somehow, this thing slipped away from me, in spite of my good intentions.

So what now?

The way I see it, I have three choices:

1) give up and spend the rest of March feeling guilty and sorry for myself.

2) push forward, torpedoes be damned and let my in-laws eat egg salad sandwiches in our dustbunny-laden germ-hovel. Or,

3) do the thing I find hardest when it comes to my writing--compromise. Not on quality. Never on quality. But perhaps ease up a bit on quantity. Learn to live with it if I only edit 6 scenes instead of 8, fix 40 pages, instead of 50.

The thought of it galls me. I hate giving up and compromising feels like just that. But this is the part where I remind myself this isn’t about me. It’s about the writing, so I guess I have no choice. It’s time to step outside of myself, shut up and accept the fact I may have to eat a little crow. Anything's better than egg salad.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

NaNoEdMo: Lessons for a slacker


What started out with a bang has dwindled to a pitiful fizzle.

Yep, NaNoEdMo is running amok. Don’t get me wrong. I’m doing fine on my scene and page counts. I consider those things the real tangibles of NaNoEdMo. But my editing hours have fallen into a slump.

I won’t make excuses. I booked a busy social calendar for the weekend and didn’t leave myself time to write. But, even while I was slacking off, some pearls of writing wisdom came my way.


This one came from a theatre outing with my husband Saturday afternoon. I enjoyed the production—a very tight rendition of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. The acting ranged from quite good to excellent. The set was pleasingly minimal.

What I didn’t like was being bludgeoned with a heavy handed Lazarus symbol, a too-oft repeated device used to impart theme and character development and to impose structure on the play’s deliberately fragmented structure.

Personally, I got the Lazarus symbol the first time I heard it. By the fifth time I was bored to tears with it. And when they closed the play with it, complete with hackneyed trick of Raskolnikov walking into the blinding light, I found myself feeling a little insulted. Before I even left the theatre, I’d added this to my DO NOT EVER DO list. An audience is smart. Give them credit for it. Let them put the pieces together themselves.


While out shopping with a few lady friends, I tripped across a bottle of nail polish that made story ideas dance through my head.

It was a gorgeous, saucy garnet, made by O*P*I, color name I’m Not Really a Waitress

I pictured innocent girls, leering greasy haired male customers, casting couches, dreamers and those sad, plodding women whose glamorous dreams have been strangled. I’m Not Really a Waitress. That name makes my wheels turn. I could write at least four stories off that single, provocative prompt.


A friend’s husband passed away Saturday afternoon after a vicious war with cancer. He was only 62 years old. No one expects to die in their 60’s anymore. For most people that’s just a beginning of a whole new phase of their lives. As I think about my friend and her husband, I wonder how many things they thought they’d have time to do, but didn't as they raced against the clock.

Since I know my readers are smart, I won’t belabor the point. And, really, I'm in no position to talk. I'm the one going off to plays and lunch and shopping, rather than sitting my butt at the computer.

So I remind myself to work, with the knowledge that life is short. Take time for friends, for family, for fun, but always make time to write.