Saturday, April 21, 2012

Ain't nobody got time for that.

After putting another 1200 words on "paper" this morning, I was perusing my news feed on Facebook when I came across this video.  I absolutely love this woman's attitude about getting sick.

After coming off the sinus infection train that has wiped out nearly my whole town over the past few weeks, I just want to share her optimism.  Maybe we all have a thing or two to learn from Sweet Brown.

Bronchitis:  Ain't nobody got time for that.

It's my new mantra.

I'm trying to wrap up this semester at school, but I'm completely lacking in any sort of motivation.  After deciding to change my major, I feel like a fool wrapping up my courses on Education.  The finals involve questions like, "Now that you've learned about the different philosophies of teaching, explain what your philosophy will be in regards to your own classroom?"

Or the ever-popular, "What are the most important things you will continue to learn throughout your educational career in regards the dynamics in your future classroom?"

And I'm thinking, "Jeez, lady, didn't you get the memo?  I'm not going to be a teacher.  I've changed my mind."

But they don't seem to care.

On a positive note which I'm certain is somehow related to my lack of motivation, however, the novel is coming along well, but the writing is sort of an addiction.  How do you keep yourself sane when you are working on a novel?  How do you not let it consume you?  Don't get me wrong, I'm incredibly happy for the wild nights of writing abandon, but I'm starting to fall behind in the rest of life.  

Happy writing!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Busted: An A to Z Dropout.

I have no idea what letter of the alphabet I'm supposed to be using as today's prompt, but that's okay.  I'm sure somewhere in this post I will include each individual letter anyway, so let's just call it even.

Quiet, zebra.

(Covering all bases.)

The blog took a dive for a few days when I was sick, and bouncing back can be tough to do.  Of course it doesn't help that I continue to smoke when I'm sick.  Yes, I'm one of those people, hacking their brains out (from the sinus problem) while kicking back with chest-Vicks radiating throughout my passages, while lighting up.  I'm fairly certain a fruit fly has more common sense than we who call ourselves "mankind" (or "womankind," if you're into that sort of thing).  It's quite ridiculous.

In the meantime, another common mistake made by folks who swear they're "starting to feel better," I moved the living room furniture out to the porch AND planted a vegetable garden.  Not at the same time though.  I may be a domestic wonder, but I haven't figured out how to multitask that well yet.  I also changed my whole life's dream around, changing majors a mere month before I was to begin my bachelors in Education, but I feel really good about it.

Much to my dismay, getting a degree in Education became like pulling teeth.  And not just like pulling teeth, but pulling teeth and then going out and buying yourself some $2000 toothpaste.  Suddenly you look in the mirror and have that moment of, "Why?  Why am I doing this?"  The $2000 toothpaste tastes great, but you've got no teeth.  Similar concept.  I graduated with my AA last summer, then decided to go into Education, only to find I still needed four classes to get into the program I'd wanted:  Middle Grades Language Arts.  So I register for those four classes I needed and then come the classroom observations.  They make it sound so easy.  "Here, just print up this letter and take it around to each school you want to observe."  Fine.  Except it's like pulling teeth to actually get in to observe.  I found a way to beat the system was to simply "volunteer" in the classroom and write my observations later.  The schools are always looking for volunteers, because they are in dire need of assistance.  What they are not in dire need of, apparently, are people to sit in their classrooms and simply observe.  Point taken.

To top it all off, I found that out of the three grade-level schools at which I "volunteered," the one I disliked the most was middle school.  I remembered middle school English as analyzing the great classics.  Stephen Crane, Jack London, some Wordsworth thrown in for good measure.  Robert Frost, Emily Dickenson, William Faulkner.  Instead, I sat in an 8th-grade English class where they read a piece of crap story from their piece of garbage textbook and had to answer some questions.  The story was something about ladybugs.  Non-fiction.  WARNING:  MIDDLE SCHOOL HAS COMPLETELY DUMBED DOWN FROM THE DAYS WHEN WE WERE THERE.  It was an embarrassment.

So now I'm stuck paying for four classes out of pocket because I am not considered a "degree-seeking student" because I'm not yet enrolled in the College of Education because I needed these four prerequisites before I can apply, AND, as if that weren't horrible enough, I just found out I've got no desire to teach 8th-grade students to read, or how to find the main idea, or John please turn off your iPod.  That absolutely was not what I'd had in mind.

I've got a son in 2nd grade.  There is a program at my school for Early Childhood Education, which would allow me to teach anything up to 3rd grade.  Okay, maybe I'll give that a shot.  Well guess what.  Now I've got another seven prerequisites I need to take before I can get in.  Thanks but no thanks.  That's not going to cut it, either.  I cannot go to school full-time and not receive my GI Bill.  Someone's gotta live around here, right?  I mean, I've got vegetable gardens to build, for crying out loud.

I put my thinking cap on and came up with a plan.  If all goes well, I'll be double-majoring in Homeland Security and Criminal Justice.  My fingers are crossed.

So yeah, maybe it wasn't the sinus garbage that kept me from blogging.  Maybe, in addition to writing my novel, I just got a bit too busy to pay attention to what letter of the month it was.  There's always next year.  For now, I'll leave you again with my thought for the day:  "Quiet, zebra."

Good zebra.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Letter of the Day is L.

I wanted to write a whole post about lentils, but I know nothing about them so I decided to write about something that doesn't require a ton of research, and that's lovvvve.  In honor of L day, I'm pulling an old blog off my livejournal site.  It's about Poker Night, which has a P and an N but still no L, but be patient.  It's there.   :)

From April 19, 2010.

I love when my dog sits down while eating her breakfast out of her dish, as if the whole standing thing is just completely overrated, and also, exhausting.  

I'll be the first to admit that there have been times in my life when I've been quite cynical.  I've never been a relationship-basher, necessarily, but I've found myself in enough bad relationships to know that, sometimes, a person is better off alone.    

Then someone comes along that changes the whole perspective, and it's wonderfully scary.

Better still is when the one who comes along is nothing you were looking for, nothing you were planning on, yet they come into your life and from day one, you can't get them out of your head.  Even better than THAT is finding out they feel the same way about you.

There's a saying or something that says that the right person comes along when you aren't looking, or when you least expect it, and it's the truth.  It's the premise to almost every sappy romance movie out there, but I'm beginning to think that maybe those writers had it right, after all.

You're in a relationship with a guy who doesn't seem to care, and you reach a point where you've given up as well, but you just need to play out the last hand and make it official.  It's a Saturday night, and you'd planned on going out with this guy for a few drinks, some lively banter, and a few more drinks.  Typical.  Only, as is also typical, he calls you at the last minute and bails.  Something about being tired.  Again.

You're dressed and ready to go out, literally.  Pants and make-up are on, your hair is just right.  And then you remember an invitation.  Your best friend and her boyfriend had invited you and YOUR boyfriend down to their place for poker night.  It had been a well-received invite to you, but you'd written it off as something your part-time boyfriend wouldn't really be interested in, so you'd closed the door on it.  Now, however, it's a different story.  You wonder if you could still go solo, despite the late hour and the long drive ahead?

This internal decision takes minutes, so you're still standing in your bedroom when you call, feet planted in the very same spot you were standing when you got the voicemail from part-time boyfriend.  Your best friend answers the phone on the first ring.

Trying to hide the desperation in your voice, you ask her if poker night is still a go.  You tell her about the fucked-up voicemail from the part-time boyfriend, and she gives you directions to the new house you haven't yet been to, seeing as you've been busy wasting your time with other things.  The best friend isn't truly certain you're going to make it, which makes you that much more determined to go see her.  You Mapquest her address and you're out the door.

After an hour's drive, you arrive at best friend's house, and there he is.  He.  Him.  In a room full of people, he's there alone.  Your best friend doesn't yet notice your attraction as she introduces you to everyone.  Richard.  His name is Richard.  You tell yourself not to forget that.

You pick up bits and pieces about him, sifting thru the other information you're getting about the other people who, at this point, barely exist.  He's sitting alone at the poker table.  Not alone as in he's the only one at the table, but he's not there with anyone.  Richard.  You can't make eye contact with him for more than a few seconds at a time, because you're feeling something.  And you're telling yourself that you shouldn't be feeling something, because technically you have a sometimes-boyfriend.  But, then again, isn't that just a technicality?

A few times, Richard asks you if you're going to come play poker.  You're standing in your best friend's kitchen, you might've even been in the middle of a conversation, who knows, but eventually you say yes.  Yes, you'll come play poker.  See you later, best friend.  Wish me luck...and I'm not necessarily talking about the poker game anymore.

Now you're sitting next to him.  NEXT TO HIM.  And your best friend is right...he really is cute.  He's from Alabama, you got that.  It makes sense with that accent.  Oh my God, that accent, and those eyes, Jeez.  You still can't make eye contact with him for more than a few seconds at a time because your heart starts beating fast, it's this physical connection that you can feel, and it's making you crazy because you don't even feel that way toward your own boyfriend, so what the fuck is really going on?

When the night is over and all the money's been won, you're out on the porch, smoking, and you don't want him to leave, but his friend is leaving and he's got no ride.  For a moment, you share a look, it's all you can risk, you can't possibly ask him to stay, that's crazy, but you give him a look and in your head, you're thinking over and over and over "Don't leave.  Don't leave.  Don't leave."  And you think, just for a split second, that he can hear what you're thinking, because he's hesitating, too, and the night is over and there's really nothing left, but you don't want it to end.  And you keep thinking it over and over "Don't leave" as you're telling him goodbye and that it was nice to meet him, and then he leaves.

And no sooner does he get out the door than you say to your best friend and her boyfriend:  "Your friend, Richard, is lucky he left."

"Why?"  They both respond.

To which, you honestly reply, "Because if he hadn't, I think I would've made out with him."

They both raise their eyebrows in unison.  By God, you've just given them a mission.  Imagine your surprise when you find out the next day that Richard hasn't stopped talking about you, either.


Later days, people.  A trip to the store is calling my name.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Kinetic energy: In other words, poised for take off.

I used to blog in the afternoons, and it showed.  Since starting the April A to Z Challenge, however, I'd taken to blogging first thing in the morning in order to get it finished, allowing me to write in my free time throughout the day.

It only took me until yesterday, Day J, to realize that I was no longer happy with the blog output so early in the morning.  Turning it into a task was unfair, and I apologize to those of you to whom I've spammed the crap out of such trite reading.  (This would be you.)

This morning, I rearranged my schedule to allow me to work on my novel at 6am.  This was good.  I haven't reached the part in writing yet where the ether has worn off, so I'm happiest when I'm with "my peeps."  (Not an Easter pun.)  Before I knew it, 12:30pm had arrived.  No shit.  I greeted it with the same no-nonsense attitude, as in, "Twelve-thirty?  No shit."

I had made my way into Chapter Five, which is where I decided to stop for today.

After the baby went down for his nap, I gave myself the ol' pat on the back.  Investigation Discovery was showing a rerun on Guatemalan baby selling, you read that right, but I didn't have the mental energy to change the channel.  I ate my Dole's Pound o' Salad for lunch (that's not really what it's called) and over my crunching, I couldn't hear the television, anyway.

I pondered chapter five and realized that the minor bit of difficulty I'm having here lies in the fact that I'm introducing a character for the first time, and I think I need to spend a bit more time getting to know her before I proceed.  She's important, but she's not quite speaking to me yet.

I plan on getting her tipsy tonight and playing "Spin the Bottle."

Wait.  Those were my plans for the husband.  Right.

But it's there.  It's all right in front of me.  The majority of the story is written out longhand in my notebook.  The chapters are outlined (in a 6,000+ word outline, which says something, I think, about where this book is headed).  I've organized the actual timeline of the book by starting chapters, writing a brief blurb about the action that will take place within each.  It's actually happening.

Part of me is so angry for not trying this before.  Why, for the longest time, did I simply "want to write" instead of just grabbing this bull by the horns and doing it?

If you'll excuse me, it's time to put on a pot of decaf.  My friend is coming over, you know, and I need to get to know her.

Happy blogging!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Jabberwocky, and other assorted jive.

I have the feeling I'd be hard-pressed to find a reader who wasn't familiar with Lewis Carrol's "Jabberwocky" poem in all its nonsensical glory, but stranger things have happened.  In honor of the A to Z Blog Challenge, then, please allow me to take a moment to fill you in.

Lewis Carroll
(from Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, 1872)

`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
  Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
  And the mome raths outgrabe.

"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
  The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
  The frumious Bandersnatch!"

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
  Long time the manxome foe he sought --
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
  And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood,
  The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
  And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
  The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
  He went galumphing back.

"And, has thou slain the Jabberwock?
  Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!'
  He chortled in his joy.

`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
  Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
  And the mome raths outgrabe.

I memorized at least the first stanza when I was just a wee kid, and I remember belting it out while running around my house in my Underroos, thinking I was somebody.  I had no idea what the poem was about, and probably mistook the nonsense words as being words I simply wasn't familiar with at that age.

Where was my vorpal sword?

Yeah, Underroos were awesome.

Which leads me into today's thought for the day.  Lewis Carroll did it, as countless others have done:  suspending the readers' disbelief.  Lewis Carroll did it so well that readers can imagine exactly how that terrifying Jabberwock looks.  Smells.  Sounds.

I began an account at Goodreads dot com, where I started rating books I've read.  I noticed, across 90 books, my average rating is 4.19 out of 5 stars.  Logic tells me there are not that many great books out there statistically.  How did I get so lucky with my reading choices?  I'll tell you.  Because if a book doesn't grab me out of my chair and pull me into the pages within the first five minutes, I'm done.  And, of course, those that I simply walked away from, I don't have the heart to give a permanent one-star review.  Maybe that particular book or author just didn't resonate well with me, a mere one person out of a planet of 6 billion.

What is your strategy for making it through a book that doesn't grab you within the first few pages?  And writers, when building your novel, how close to the action do you begin in order to set that hook?

Thanks for reading!  Put on your Underroos and let's write.  Together.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

There is no I in Team.

"I" is for ... well, it's turning out to be a tricky little turd.  When the alarm clock went off this morning, stumbling to the porch I came, notebook, outline, Nook, and pen in hand.  In doing a little soul-searching of words beginning with the letter I, one thing and one thing only topped my list of subjects to ponder today.

I'm assuming we're all on Facebook, correct?  From my mother, stepfather, son, guy that sat next to me in College Algebra two or three semesters ago, I'm pretty sure we're all somehow connected through Facebook.  Well, I happened to be perusing my news feed yesterday morning when I came across a post from LitReactor.  I am a huge Chuck Palahniuk fan, and LitReactor is a great place to go (or to follow on Facebook) for all things Palahniuk-related.

One of his literary techniques that resonates so deep within my happy place is his use of the first-person, and one of his essays on the subject was reopened yesterday, entitled, "Submerging the I."  Throughout the short essay, he talks about how to write in the first person without the reader being bombarded with I-this and I-that.  He sneaks up on his readers, if you will, and by the time they realize they are listening to a character narrate the story, the reader is already completely submerged.  The last thing on their mind now is turning around and getting the hell out of there; they've got to see how the whole thing turns out.

It's brilliant.

Brilliant, but extremely risky.

(And a huge, HUGE disclaimer here, folks.  If you're considering clicking this link to read Chuck Palahniuk's essay, "Submerging the 'I,'" please do so at your own risk.  Chuck is, well, Chuck.  The content of the short story included with this essay--the short story he has written and is referencing throughout the article--is chock-full of things that will keep you up at night.  He is the king of "body horror."  Do not click this link if you are easily disturbed.)

Click here to read Palahniuk's essay, Submerging the "I"

(That being said, he is one of my all-time favorites for the way he uses words to grab hold of the reader.  He'll take you on one helluva ride, that's for sure, but click soon.  Link will open in a new window, but it's only open for another four days.)

Although I've got two or three chapters of my novel down so far, I'm still having a hard time trying to figure out which character's point of view I want to use to tell the story.  It's been fun trying to figure it out.  I think back to things I don't like when reading, and this includes a technique that Stephen King has employed in the past:  the "book within a book" idea.  He used it in Misery, when we read what Paul had been writing for the next book in his "Misery" series, and I believe he used something similar in Dolores Claiborne, or maybe it was simply chapters of flashback that were in that one.  I can't remember.  I just know that I don't want to do that.

It does work for ol' Stephen King in his Dark Tower series, however, when he tells the story of Susan in book three, Wizard and Glass.  The difference, however, is that he begins a new chapter with the premise of Roland telling the story to Eddie, Jake, Oy, and Susannah in the present.  It works.  It's not just a flashback, or even a "story within a story."  It works because it becomes a part of the present-day story.  It's smart, in a nutshell.  It's smart, and it works.

So yes.  I'm one week into writing my novel, and now I'm rolling up my shirtsleeves and getting down to the business side of things.  I'm still scratching notes down on paper, I'm still writing some scenes, but now I'm getting to the fun part of taking what I've imagined and building it into something that is going to work.

Short stories are much easier to find your narrative character and decide from which viewpoint to tell the story, but I'm finding this novel business--when I'm faced with 3 relatively important characters, subplots that exist outside the main timeline of the main plot, and the problem that, initially, the three characters are unaware of each other--becomes a little more difficult to decide how to get each of their stories told without confusing the reader.

But, the point is, I'm learning.  I'm researching, I'm trying new things, I'm bending the rules, and I'm learning.

The things I've now learned thus far:
1.  Start with a small idea and a small bit of organization.
2.  Make a timeline, if that's your thing, but don't carve it in stone.  It's going to change, but it's a good way to keep in mind the point at which you'd LIKE your novel to end, and it allows you to see how your character is going to have to change across plot.  It might allow you to set up some stumbling blocks for your character if you have some idea which direction he or she is headed.  Again, a timeline or an outline is not set-in-stone, so don't treat it as such, but it might help you as mine have helped me.
3.  Once you have taken notes and have a pretty good idea of what is going to happen to these characters along the way, now is the time to get out the hammer and nails and start to think about structure, along with other literary-related topics.  No longer WHAT do these characters need, but now HOW are they going to tell their story to the world?

Wishing you all a terrific day, and happy writing!


Monday, April 9, 2012

Hark! It is the sound of a Novel being born.

I want you to know I've never done this before.

I'm just a girl who started with an idea and ran with it.

I hated English in junior high and high school.  As a matter of fact, I failed English two semesters of 8th grade, but passed with a D, thanks to my grades in the other two semesters.

It wasn't that I couldn't do it.  I could.  But there was so much I misinterpreted about the lessons being taught to me by my 8th-grade English teacher.

I thought I was being forced taught to believe that writing was cut and dried, black and white.  I thought that's what he was trying to communicate to me.  When it came time to study symbolism, for example, we went over the short stories of Stephen Crane; an excerpt from one of his novels, The Red Badge of Courage.

We learned that the color red always stands for blood.  We learned that any character with the initials J.C. is an automatic representation of Jesus Christ.  We memorized the concept that nature always meant "the unknown, something to be feared."

I misunderstood.  I thought that meant always always.

I began to imagine those early writers then, no longer just telling a story, but trying to force some sort of hidden code on me.  It cheapened writing for me.  My misinterpretation came in because I never picked up on the fact that symbolism is nothing more than a literary criticism of a work.

I began trying to decipher everything I'd ever read, and suddenly nothing made much sense anymore.

At 13 years old, I probably weighed all of 85 pounds, and I'm fairly certain I gave my English teacher a bit of hell those two semesters.

I wouldn't be surprised to learn that I'd muttered this is stupid under my breath fifteen times in a single class period.

Because I didn't want writers to have an agenda.  I didn't want writers to have a formula for their work.

Formulas were for math, not English.  Enough said.

Fast-forward to the summer between 10th and 11th grades, and there I sit, in summer school because I failed to complete a book report in my 10th-grade English class.

I'd read this wonderful book.  I can still remember the title:  Reindeer Moon.  It's been 22 years since, and I can still remember how much I enjoyed the book.  What I did not enjoy, however, (and what I refused to do that landed me in summer school) was to pick apart someone else's work with a fine-toothed comb, and lay it out for everyone to see.

Dissection was for biology, not English.  Enough said.

I walked around with a chip on my shoulder regarding English until I started college.  It was my 21st birthday, and rather than going out and getting shitfaced with my friends, I sat in my first-ever college class.  Biology, from what I remember, but I also took ENC 1101 that semester, and 1102 the following semester.

And I loved it.

I loved it, but I had no idea what to do with that passion, other than jump back into reading.

In 2009, I went back to school to take a few courses in Creative Writing.

And now, I'm writing my novel.

Just a woman with a dream.  An idea.  A start to something.  And I worked it, like Play-Doh.  Or maybe a sick pair of heels.  Whichever.  They both amount to the same.

How to Write a Novel:

Step One - Prepare to piss off everyone you know in different ways.  Maybe they're pissed because you're no longer answering your phone.  No longer doing the dishes.  No longer changing your clothes.  Trust me, it's not that that will bother them.  What they really don't understand is why now?  Why the sudden intensity?

Yesterday, you were someone's wife.  Best friend.  Confidante.  Shopping partner.  The person they sat next to in class.

Today, you are a novelist.  There is a difference.

Step Two - Be prepared to put the rest of your life on hold.  Sure there are certain things that can't wait, and taking care of the baby is one of them.  But others?  Let the dishes pile up.  Same with the laundry.  Your characters are not going to mill around in your mind forever.  Eventually, they're going to get bored and they're going to get back to doing whatever it is that they do.  Your mind is the trap, and you need to lure them, get them there, confine them for a bit, write about them, then let them go periodically throughout the day.  When they come back again, lingering, capture them again.  Write about them.  What is different about them since this morning?  Get it on paper, then feed the dogs, water the plants, go to the bathroom.  Whatever it is that you do.

Step Three - Welcome the changes.  You have a brilliant idea, obviously, or you wouldn't be reading this.  You think your idea is completely set in stone.  You have a point A and a point B, and all you need to do is fill in the details, the in-betweens.

Wrong.  Maybe.

Be prepared that things might change.  You're going to have other ideas.  Your characters may not act as well as your children do.  (Or maybe they do.  Parents?  Raise your hands.  You're the first to know that plans are for the birds.  You try to stick to a timeline, telling your friend you'll meet them for coffee and a play date at 11am.  When you roll in at 1:30pm with a lollipop stuck in your hair, a bee sting swelling up the left side of your face, a donut tire on your left rear passenger wheel, and your clothes are on backward, you realize those were the cards you were dealt.  That fiasco was what was really in store for you that day.  You roll with it.)  You now have your 1:30pm play date, an ice pack held to your face, and the play date is much more interesting now that you've conquered all these unforeseen circumstances, right?  Right.  Now write that way.

Step Four - What, you thought there was more?  There's not.  Not yet, anyway, not from me.  I'm only on chapter three.  But you?  Enjoy the creativity.  Enjoy the language.  Enjoy the brainstorming.  Enjoy it all.  If you aren't, put it down for a while.  Catch up on that laundry, those dishes.  Keep a notepad handy for those seemingly random thoughts that will hit you at the most inopportune moments (think:  bathroom-related).

It's all about the journey.

Enjoy it.

Til next time,

H. Pronounced like "Aytch." H is for Help Me Sleep!

The alphabet, the way it sounds.

Double You

It is 3:03am.  I am a mom.

Note that those two ideas have absolutely nothing in common.  They are actually inversely proportionate to one another.

As in, "If you are indeed this Mom of which you speak, you have no business being awake at 3:03am."

Which is exactly what I've been thinking as I lay in bed, tossing and turning.

I took some Nyquil for my cough and some Sudafed for my sinuses about four hours ago.  Which was when, you know, I decided it would be a good idea to go to sleep.  Yet here I am, finally giving up after so much tossing and turning.

Something must've gone down the wrong tube, because it would seem to me that I should be nearing the halfway point of some fantabulous dream starring me, my husband, a bottle of wine, and a moonlit walk on the beach.

Or driving.  I dream a lot about driving.

Either way, none of those things is happening.  Instead I'm sitting here at the computer, trying to think of an H-blog, while the alarm clock still has another 2 hours and now 21 minutes until it wakes from its electric slumber to do its job and belt out the beeps that will wake the husband to take the shower to go to the job that he does so well, leaving me here to do the job that I do so well:  Mom.

H is for help me.

The writing is going great.  I'd like to think that's part of the reason for me being awake, but it's not.  My mind isn't reeling with great ideas.  It's turned off right now.  Did I possibly have a cup of "too late in the evening" coffee?  Probably.  But I still am cursing those Sudafed.  Stupid afterthought Sudafed.

Ugh.  I'm heading back in to try this again.  Don't count this as my H, necessarily.  Hopefully I'll return to the land of the living with something a bit more coherent.  This pre-H blog, as we'll refer to it, brought to you by the makers of Nyquil and Sudafed who remind you, "Don't mix!"

Hasta la vista.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

G is for Gusto.

Have you ever sat back and taken a good look at those around you?  Maybe you see your circle of friends, maybe you see coworkers, or fellow college students, and you wonder why some people just seem to have it, while others don't?

I've had quick friendships before--"quick" here meaning "not very long-lasting, but very impressionable" friendships--with people who seem to have it all.  You know those people?  Good things just constantly seem to fall into their laps.  They are the movers and the shakers of this life, if you will, and everything they do, they do with gusto.

Gusto is my word for the day.

There are certain people that you cross paths with and you can look back and say, "That person?  So-and-so?  Oh yeah.  He (or she) is going to make it."  You may not know exactly what their "it" is that they're going to make, but they are on their way to something big.  This is why I say I've had "quick" friendships before.  People like this are always just passing through, on their way to the next level.  They stay in your life just long enough to teach you something about the world, or something about yourself, and then they move on.

This gusto, the way they approach life, is somehow contagious.  You find yourself wrapped up in their lifestyle for a flicker in time.  You hang out with them because everything they do is centered on one thing:  having fun.  Or maybe it's "being happy."  Or possibly "squeezing every last drop out of this thing called life."  For a brief moment, you forget your woes.  You forget that you're "just a parent," or "just a wife," or "just a student."  You realize that you can be whomever you want to be.  You remember how good it feels to stay awake all night just to watch the sun come up, just to say you did.  You remember freedom as you drive down the interstate with the windows down, belting out the words to whatever happens to be on the radio.  Just for a moment, you forget how it felt to be "just you."

And then, suddenly, they're gone.

These people with gusto, they usually have a large circle of friends.  Some terrific opportunity comes up ("A job in journalism in Borneo?  I'll take it!"), they pack up their one-room apartment, put everything in storage, and they're out of your life as quickly as they came into it.

It's all about gusto, baby.

With a hug and a wave, behind dark sunglasses, they're gone.  And you're left to pick up the pieces.

You let the pieces lay around for a while, hoping they'll come back.

They don't.

But when you finally do get out the broom and dustpan and you begin to sweep everything into a neat, tidy little pile resembling your neat, tidy little life, something catches your eye.  A little scrap of this.  A smidgen of that.  And you remember those fun times, how incredibly cool and free you felt, and you pull those pieces out of the pile.  All the rest, you toss, but you keep those little splinters of memories that existed outside your normal day-to-day.  "I grocery shop," you think.  "I pay the bills.  I change diapers.  I load the dishwasher, the washing machine, then I unload those same appliances.  I taxi my children.  I make dinner.  I feed the dogs."  But in your back pocket, you hold those little pieces of gusto.  Maybe you begin to organize your life so that you actually have the time to kick the radio on and dance across your living room.  Maybe now you find the time to go fishing one Saturday a month.  Maybe you make the time to take a Zumba class or two.

And whatever you do with those few moments of your own, private time, you do them with gusto.

It's all about gusto, baby.


Friday, April 6, 2012

F. I have no idea what the F "F" is for. Fiction? Fairy tales? Fantasy?

Despite the title of today's blog post, I'm not angry.  I just can't come up with a suitable F word that doesn't involve something I have to whisper into the phone receiver when I'm really really really ticked off.

The novel is going well.  Really well.  Almost to the point that it's "out of control" well, so today is the day I'm going to do a little wrangling and a little timelining and start to get this thing in some sort of sensible format, rather than just interviews, descriptions, and a few random action scenes with dialogue sprinkled in the margins.

I've decided the best way to do this, and what I will do in future endeavors, is to number my notebook pages.  I went through and numbered what I had this morning, and I'm astonished to see I'm already on page 66.  Seriously.  Sixty-six handwritten notebook pages.  I doubt all the slop and scrawl, the backstory if you will, is going to make it between the covers of the final product, but there is going to be a ton of "fleshing out," too.  I'm really doing it.  I still can't fathom the whole thing.

What did it take to get me to this point?  From the point of "I want to be a writer" to "F-it, I'm writing a novel"?  Some of it had to do with timing, but the majority of my motivation came when a short story I submitted to an anthology was accepted, and I actually saw my name in print.  It made it into a book.

There's nothing wrong with online publications, so please don't think I'm snubbing the likes of Chiaroscuro or any other awesome online mags, but there is something so satisfactory about holding a book in my grubby hands:  a book that holds my story.

When I wrote, "In Eden," it was one of the easiest stories I'd ever written, but finding a market proved difficult.  A zombie western is a hard sell.  Another work of mine that is out right now is still proving to be a difficult story to sell, but it's the only other piece I've written that seemed to write itself.  Those are the pieces that hit you, the ones where your hand leaves an ink trail across the paper because you simply can't get the story down fast enough.  I know there is a market out there.  I thought I'd found one recently as I'd perused their online fiction and saw a story with a similar premise, a take on an old fairy tale.

I received the rejection yesterday:  "not a good fit."

Out it went again, off to bigger and better locales.  You just can't quit.  Ever.

My first piece of flash fiction that was published, I felt like the market was created simply for my story.  I awaited the email not with trepidation, but with a fair amount of patience for a first time submission.  I knew it would make it.  I simply knew it.

But now, I find that I'm not writing for a market.  I'm writing for the sheer reason that I have to see how these characters' stories end up.  I have to see what happens next.  I have to see where this goes.  I can't stop.  It's such a wonderful feeling.

So now that we're all in agreement on not knowing what the eff the F is for, I'm heading back to the numbered pages of my hot pink notebook.  I'm sick today, went to bed under Nyquil and husband's orders last night.  Hopefully it'll be a quick one.

Wishing you all a happy F day, filled with lots of, ... oh, that's just wrong.   ;)


Thursday, April 5, 2012


I've always loved that word.  Echo.

Just looking at it, shaping your mouth around it, gives you a feel for what it is.  I'm pretty sure it's the most high-quality word in our English language.  Echo.  It's bad-ass, because it ends in an O.  The word itself, that final vowel sound, carries on, because there's no consonant at the end to cut it off, ending the word. The word "echo" might just go on forever.

I'm hand-writing my novel.  Hand-writing has an amazing feel.  I'm working, moving my hand across the page, moving the pen up and down.  All these little shifts of my hand, wrist, fingers, they all combine across the blank page, creating this story that moments ago didn't exist.

The writing part, the beauty of the language, hasn't come yet.  Bits and pieces of it are scrawled across the margins, but for the most part, I'm getting to know my characters through interviews, by the lack of color I see in a mundane apartment, by watching them when they don't realize they're being watched.  And already I'm more interested in them than I've ever been in any other set of characters.

Except maybe Roland and Susan and Eddie and Susannah and Jake and Oy.

But that's another story.

I can't wait to start with the language, the dialogue. And I love the fact that I'm already longing for it.  Dialogue has never been one of my strong suits.  I prefer to follow the action, treating it like a silent movie.  It's wrong on many levels, but it is a place I've been stuck.  It is easier for me to just narrate the details.  What if my character wouldn't want you to know that she is feeling lonely, but it happens to be something important that will turn up later?  I like telling.  I don't want you to miss anything.  I don't want you to misinterpret something, so I'd rather tell you exactly what you're supposed to see.  I'm a Virgo.  I'm also an only child.  The "my way or the highway" mentality is a huge part of who I am.  Leaving it up to my characters to show you how they feel by way of dialogue and action, well, that's going to take some faith, on my part.

Faith and practice.

But I'm up for the challenge.

On that note, adios adios adios adios adios adios.  

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

D: Dedication

Something is happening to me.  Something strange.

I woke up yesterday and began my novel, but that isn't the strange part.  I kept my Writer's Notebook with me everywhere I went yesterday, even when I had to run my son's homework folder to the elementary school at 11:30am, finding it forgotten amongst the Taco Bell wrappers from the prior night's dinner.

I took my notebook and my Nook outside yesterday afternoon, pulling a chair over to the round table which sits in the shade of the Man-AH-tee-oh, and I wrote.  I didn't necessarily write my novel, as in I didn't start with a jaw-dropping opening line and go from there, but I wrote.  I wrote about my characters.  I wrote about their problems.  I wrote the truth of what hides within their hearts.

I watched them move, and I wrote it down.

Instead of writing them into some preconceived action, I simply wrote down what they were doing.  They were doing it, not me.

As I was laying in bed in the darkness, I leaned over and placed my hand on my notebook, trying to remember where the blank spots were, and I jotted things down.  Three different times.  The first time, the pen fell off the nightstand and landed under the bed.  Adjusting the dog, I reached over, fingers stretched into the darkness beneath the bed, and I wrote.  It was as if I'd opened some tap in my mind.

When I leaned over and turned on the bedside lamp this morning, I grabbed my notebook and held it on my lap.  I picked up my pen, held it just above the notebook.  I sat in bed for a few minutes and collected my thoughts.

I don't do this.  Ever.

Ordinarily, I leave rubber on my way out to the porch to start a cigarette, then motor to the kitchen to reheat some coffee.  Then it's back to the porch to finish my cigarette, reminding the dogs to be quiet as the rest of the neighborhood is still asleep before opening the door to let them out.  I check and respond to email.  I check and respond to Facebook.  I scroll through the news feed, checking out what I missed during the night.

I didn't do that this morning.

Instead, I sat at the table and wrote.

This new-found dedication?  I don't expect it to last forever.  I'm not that naive.  The difference between this and Nano, however, is that I don't feel that I'm supposed to be writing.  I don't feel the burden of expectation.  I don't feel like I have to set the alarm clock to wake up and write.  I don't feel like I have to rush to get to know these characters, because in thirty-days' time I need to have their story relatively complete.  Sure, the whole "speed dating" thing might work for some, but I didn't get where I am by "speed dating."

I keep my Nook next to me.  It's almost as if John Dufresne and I are having a little motivational song and dance.

Dedication.  Just keep writing, no matter what.

How do you recover from pitfalls and remain dedicated?

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

C: Get your Character on.

A little-known secret, even to my closest friends:

This morning, at precisely 5:45am, I began writing my novel.

I'll admit, I'm a three-time-Nano-dropout.  Chris Baty and the gang could probably write a book based off the excuses I've come up with each year in order not to finish.  Things like, "November sucks.  The pacing of my novel sucks.  My idea sucks.  This bagel sucks."

Or, the ever-important "bathroom break," where I hide for three hours so as not have to face the disgusting jumble of mishmash I just spent the last two hours trying to get down on my computer, standing in the corner near the towels playing Angry Birds on my phone.

I can't Nano.  It's just not my style.  I've tried it--three times I've tried it--but the intensity and the pressure of the whole thing just doesn't work for me.  The problem, My Problem, isn't that Nano doesn't work for me.  My Problem lies in the fact that I have let the idea of National Novel Writing Month turn me into an "all or nothing" writer and that, my true writing friends, is where the failure comes in.

Mid-November, when I shut the lid on my laptop for the final time and walk away, I begin strategizing for next year's Nano.  "Next year, I'll make an outline.  Next year, I'll slow things down a bit.  Next year, I'll wake up even earlier.  Next year, I pinky-swear I will not get on Facebook."

So there becomes a void, the chasm I've created, in which I promise that I'll simply fix everything next year.  In the meantime, I spend the next roughly 365 non-leap-year days in suspended procrastination.  I call it "planning."  I call it "revising my strategy."

It boils down to "I'm not doing shit along the lines of a novel, thanks for asking."

All that has changed.

Rather than reliving the frenzy associated with November, I spoke yesterday with a friend regarding pacing.  Pacing seems to be the subset of writing that gives me the greatest concern.  I still haven't reread the hodgepodge I so-delicately sloughed from grey matter to keystroke during last year's regal attempt, but I do remember having some concerned moments where I would be thinking, "Goodness gracious," except that's not really the term I conjured at the time, "I'm 27,000 words in and nothing has happened yet!  They aren't doing anything!"  This can be a rather frightful realization.  Talking about needing to get to the point:  I was sitting at my workstation while The Point was off on some Pacific Island getaway.  The Point was more elusive than the Jersey Devil.

I was searching for The Point, or even its second cousin, The Action, but they were no where to be found.

I stood yesterday under a covered awning, discussing writing with my all-time mentor and amicus in scripto as a new name was brought to light:  John Dufrense.  Not a new name for my former Creative Writing professor, but a new name to me.

As I rushed home to my Nook Color, my handy credit card billing information stored safely within the confines of its little Nook walls, I began the planning stages of My New Novel.  Oh yes, I imagined myself sitting at my workstation (this is the glamorous interpretation:  in real life, I slouch over my laptop a la Quasimodo), steam rising from the coffee cup within reach of my left hand (another interpretation, as my coffee does not "steam" considering I get by on reheating yesterday's leftovers), cigarette dangling from my lip (this is true), pounding away at the ol' non-ivories.  I imagine my characters suddenly coming to life, revealing previously unknown tidbits about their lives, all while I'm following along from the plush confines of my "I-bought-it-at-Target" grey fluffy bathrobe.  Oh, in my mind's eye I'm gloriously laboring over the "tick tick tick" of the keyboard...

And then I read ol' John Dufrense's advice.

I'm not sure where John Dufrense lives in relation to my house, but it feels like he just kicked me in the head and took off running faster than I can catch him.

But he's right.  From my Nook to your ears, John Dufrense wants me to start slow.  He wants me to write my novel, oh yes indeed he does, but he wants me to write my novel in six months.

"Six months?" I holler to no one in particular.  "Six months?  Well shit, Mister Dufrense," (and I say it all snobby like that), "why don't I just go ahead and plan a vacation or something?  If you give me six months to write my novel, I guarantee I'm going to use the first month finishing my hardwood floors and baseboards.  The second month you can look for me outside the perimeter of the fence line, rehammering those pesky boards that have started to come loose.  Around month three, Mr. Fancypants, I'll be caulking the panels in Aidan's room, getting ready to paint.  Grab a brush, John.  You can help me out.  You do know how to cut in, don't you?"

Mr. Dufrense just stood there all akimbo, his French eyes waiting for me to shut up.

It was a Mexican stand-off right there in my bedroom.  For every excuse I shot at John Dufrense, he just stood there, taking it.  It felt like me against Sparta:  I could sense John Dufrense and his band of writers increasing the tension of their bowstrings, on the cusp of releasing those arrows that would eventually block out the sun.

Or, in last night's case, the lamp on the nightstand.

So I stood there, John Dufrense and I, and finally I ran out of things to say.  I picked the Nook up again and I started doing everything that John Dufrense told me to do.  I sulked about it for a while, mumbling about how I just wanted to write, I didn't want to do any of this stupid planning, but ol' Dufrense just gave me that shifty Dufrense smile, put his hand on my head, tousling my hair, and walked away.

This morning, I woke to the sound of the alarm after giving myself two extra "snoozes."  I picked up my notebook, came out to the porch, and began getting to know my characters.

I'm finding them pretty interesting.   :-)

Much love,

Monday, April 2, 2012

Day Two: B is for The Behbeh.

There was a commercial a few years back--a set of commercials, really.  Tear jerkers, brought to you by Johnson & Johnson.  The catch-phrase was something like, "Having a baby changes everything."  Most of the commercials were filmed in a black and white filtered lens, so full of estrogen you'd almost feel like you needed a cold shower and a drink before whatever prime-time crap you'd been watching came back on.

I shuddered at the thought of ever having another baby.

Aidan was "a good baby."

The first few times people asked me that while I was plowing my buggy through the grocery store, I really didn't know what they meant.  "Of course, he's a good baby," I'd think.  "He's two months old, for Frith's sake.  He doesn't even do anything yet.  How could he be anything but good?"

As I became more a part of the Secret Underground Motherhood Club, I began to understand the meaning behind the question.  Asking if a baby is "good" is some sort of code for the following:

  • Is he/she colicky?
  • Does he/she sleep through the night?
  • Is he/she on a schedule?
  • Is he/she cutting teeth?
  • Is he/she doing all the things the doctors tell you that he/she should be doing at this age?
  • Does he/she give you hell if you put him/her down and walk away?

It's like a goddamn job interview.

"Yes," I'd reply, finally a part of the club, "he is a good baby."  And he was.

But that didn't mean I'd ever want to have another one.

Fast-forward to another sunshiney day, six years later.  The garage has been cleaned out, every single baby-related item sent to the local Goodwill.  I'm back in school, thinking about my career.  My Future, a proper noun, is simply waiting for me at the end of my own personal Yellow Brick Road.  All I need to do is follow the path and whatever I wish for will be waiting for me at the end.  I know this.  I am that certain.

No one told me about the tricky little fork at the end of the Yellow Brick Road.

No one told me to zag left.

No one told me to watch out for "the road less-traveled."

Oh, there was something waiting for me at the end, alright, but it sure as hell didn't look like Kansas.  It looked like, well, like this.

Sorry to bother you, but can you tell me if I'm still wearing ruby slippers?

And so it was.  

But the thing is, the whole "baby" thing, the whole purpose of today's B word, is that my life is a zillion times better than I ever thought it would be.  I thought I'd met the perfect guy for me in Richard, because I'd been told he'd had a vasectomy.  And as crazy as it is when I look back on it now, I believed it like it was just a part of him.  It would be like me questioning the fact that he worked in air conditioning, or that he was from Alabama.  It had been an off-handed remark he made to one of the ladies he worked with and it just sort of snowballed from there, landing in my ear for the final resting place.  I thought he was, well, "fixed."  

And when I see my life now, with two boys and a husband, I guess he was.

Babies.  They aren't for everyone.  They shouldn't be.  But if you should happen to find yourself carrying one--one you never knew you wanted--be happy you chose the path you never meant to choose.

The ruby slippers?  Oh, they still fit.  They're somewhere in the back of the closet.  Sometimes I pull them out, dust them off, and try them on, but I realize they aren't for me anymore.  Not right now.  I haven't given up, per se.  I'm still in school, still chasing the dream of getting paid to write terrific novels until my fingers bleed, but I'm not quite there yet.

And we're all okay with that.

Much love,

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Day One: Alarm Clocks, Accountability, and April Fools

It happened again, as it happened last year and quite possibly the year before that.

My automatic alarm clock reset itself for some time change that no longer exists.

I'm laying in bed this morning in suspended animation, wrapped in my some-Kelvin-degree blanket, when I decide to peek one eye at the clock.  Of the three numbers from which to choose, I'm really only concerned with the first:  a 7.

"Bullshit," I mutter.  There is no way it is in the sevens.  I'm an idiot before my coffee, but even I can figure that out.  While one eye is on the clock, the other is now glancing toward the curtained windows.  (I can do this because I'm a mom.  We all know how to do this.  Something loosens up during delivery, affording us the ability to look in all directions at once.)

That wandering eye is going to make her a terrific mother someday.

Behind the curtains, the sun tells a different story:  something along the lines of, "Kiss my ass, even I'm not awake yet."

The eye on the clock is certain that the first number is indeed a seven. 

Eventually, I get out of bed, throw on my robe, and mosey to the kitchen.  As if to quell my fears, the kitchen clock decides to tell me the truth.  "Lady," I hear it whisper, "your alarm clock has lied to you."

I answer something unintelligible back to the stove, taking a cup of yesterday's reheated coffee out to the porch.  Why?  Why?  Why do people lie?

Consider this:  A scene from Friday night's dinner.

4 children and 2 adults sit on various chairs throughout the house, eating pizza off of paper plates left over from Caleb's baby shower ("It's a Boy!").  I'm in the house, knocking heads and taking names, when my best pal hollers out from the back porch something to the effect of, "How come you kids are so good for everyone else, but you don't ever listen to me?"

(My best pal, Becky, is the owner of two of the pizza-eating children.)

I decide to get to the bottom of this.  She is absolutely correct.  Why don't they listen?

I start with the 5-year-old girl.  Being the only girl-child in residence, I figure she is going to be the easiest to break.  Like dominoes, I imagine that once she crumbles, everyone else will follow suit.

From my invisible pocket I slip my invisible Drill Sergeant Mask.

(In addition to the wandering eye, this is another component to parenting that one absolutely must pick up.  They are hard to come by new, but you can usually find them at garage sales, dusty and forgotten.  You'll notice at these garage sales that the children of the house are usually around 8 or 9 years old and are running around spitting on the shoppers, trying to steal the change from their pockets.  Their parents obviously still need these masks, but have given up wearing them, so you can get them at a pretty good price.)

I look her right in the eye.  "Why don't you listen your mother?"  I ask her in my most threatening tone.

She thinks about it for a second, pizza frozen halfway to her mouth.  "Uhmm, I don't know?"  She says it in the form of a question, like a Jeopardy! contestant.

Okay, okay.  I messed up my strategy.  Let me begin with my own oldest child, age 7.  Once he breaks, surely the others are going to be easy.

"Aidan," I say, pulling his attention away from his feet, on which he's been focused since this conversation began.  "Why don't you listen to Aunt Becky?"

He hems and haws, adjusting the pizza from his left hand to his right hand, then back to his left hand again.

"Well," he says, thoughtfully.  "I guess it's because...," he adds.  I'm thinking this is really going to go somewhere.

"Well, uh, can you just pass me?  I'm going to pass.  I pass.  Just come back to me."  Hmph.  Like he's the host or something and can just call the shots.  Whatever.

I try the third child.  In response to my question, I get another "I don't know" answer.  I point to Caleb, 14-months-old, sitting in his high chair.  Oblivious.

"Listen, you guys.  'I don't know' is not an answer.  If I were to ask Caleb that question, he'd just sit and smile at me like a doofus.  He wouldn't answer me, either.  If I ask you guys a question and you tell me 'I don't know,' it amounts to the same thing.  'I don't know' is not an answer!  You haven't told me anything."

The only sound in the room is the chewing of their pizza.

Where is the accountability?  Children don't have it.  Alarm clocks don't have it.  Ebay doesn't have it.  Does anyone have it anymore?

I have it.  I do.  I get a rush out of telling the truth.  Especially when it's difficult.  Saying to someone, "Listen.  I'm sorry I broke your face.  I was upset with you, I just reached out, and bam!  It wasn't the best decision and I realize that now.  I, errr, oh boy.  I hope you can get that straightened out, especially that crazy eye you have.  What's that?  Oh, you're a mom?  Oh, then I didn't do that crazy thing to your eye?  Oh, okay.  Whew!"  I throw in a chuckle for good measure.  "So, can I ask you a question?  What time did you get up this morning?"