In search of Harmony

Well, April and May were tough months for me. Shortly after I gave myself that pep talk to get back into daily writing, I succumbed to Yesman disease where I couldn’t say no to some friends with a business opportunity, overextended myself far beyond what is humanly possible, and neglected my family, my house, and my writing all for somebody else’s dream. In no time I was diverting all my efforts toward something I didn’t really care about. I became irritable, stressed, and unhappy. Thanks in part to my husband, I realized what was happening, swallowed a heavy dose of whatthefuckamidoing, and finally just said no. Continue reading “In search of Harmony”

There’s something wrong with this picture

Can you see it? This is my To Do list for today, but it could very well be yesterday’s or tomorrow’s. It’s fairly representative, with the exception of “Call doctor” which swaps out with “Call dentist,” “Call plumber,” “Call Verizon,” and “Return client’s call” depending on the day.

The problem with this picture is that it is missing something very important. It’s missing “Write.” Continue reading “There’s something wrong with this picture”

Thank you sir, may I have another?

I suppose this is why people sign up for those fitness boot camps: To have somebody crack the whip.

I just joined a Writer’s critique group last night for that very reason. My first ever. I was a little surprised to find out that most of the members belonged to more than one. I wondered if it was possible to get addicted to these groups the way Jack did with his multiple support groups in Fight Club. I joined the group to get some much-needed brutally honest feedback on my writing, so I couldn’t fathom getting addicted to that kind of punishment on more than a biweekly basis. But after sitting through last night’s meeting, I’m beginning to realize it’s more than just voluntary pain and suffering. It’s fun!

Apart from me, there were four women and one man. Tracy the hostess (not her real name) is writing a YA fantasy. Pablo (also not his real name) likes to write sci-fi. Nina (you guessed it, I’m changing all their names to protect the innocent) is into cyberpunk and Kim is… well, I never learned what Kim is into, but I was so impressed with her reviewer comments that I’m sure whatever she writes will be amazing. Leah just started last night, like me, but she already belonged to another group that helped her on a short story already under review. Everybody seemed seriously into their craft and very willing to offer up constructive criticism.

I didn’t post anything for them to review; mainly I just wanted to see what the group was like and if I felt it would be a good fit for me. I think it will be. I have no doubt that they will motivate me to post pages in two weeks when we meet again, and if I don’t, I hope they kick my butt. Aside from the obvious external accountability a group like this offers, it also offers something else I haven’t had yet: Readers. Finally, I have somebody I am writing to. And that’s reason enough to whip myself into shape.


Not enough hours in the day

Well sh*t! There aren’t enough hours in the day to do all my reading AND writing! Do I steal a quick chapter out of Water for Elephants, The Screwtape Letters, or listen to Dune for 30 minutes (almost done… so close)? All of them are fantastic. Not to mention reading Harry Potter to my son and Winnie the Pooh to my daughter each night. Then, there’s that little novel I’m writing…

My next novel is going to take place on a planet with a 36 hour rotation period where everybody gets everything done every day. It’s genre will be fantasy.


First Person vs Third Person- A few notes to myself

I admit, I’m behind on my 90 Days to Your Novel by about a week. Here’s why: I had over 14,000 words when I started 90 Days, all of it in First Person. I love First Person- it makes me feel connected to the narrator and allows his voice to really come through. But now that I’m filling in bits and pieces of my outline and discovering new things about my characters, I’ve realized that a fairly large portion of the book will take place outside of the view of my narrator. At first I hoped I could accommodate that with clever “here’s what happened after I left” dialogue between the narrator and his love interest, the female protagonist, but now I realize there are certain things that she simply wouldn’t tell him. Those details are somewhat important to the story as they offer a glimpse into the antagonist’s psyche as well as his motivations, which otherwise wouldn’t be apparent.

I’ve been spending a lot of time writing scenes both ways to see how they work and I’ll admit to being completely undecided.

So…. my choices are, 1) Keep it in First Person, keep my narrator in the dark, and then use my antagonist to spill the beans about the protagonist’s activities to the narrator at a later time. (That would be just like him to rat her out and cause mischief, but this option is at the expense of depriving the reader of a behind-the-scenes look into the antagonist and his inner workings), or 2) Re-write the whole thing in Omniscient Third Person and let the reader experience events as they unfold, learn about the antagonist, and understand his struggles which wouldn’t be as obvious if they were seen through the eyes of the narrator.

In my mind, it boils down to this. In option 1, the book is about two characters, the narrator and the protagonist, and they are driven apart by an antagonist who is painted in a fairly bad light because his actions are interpreted through the narrator who hates him. In option 2, the book is equally about three very different characters, all of whom have their own struggles to overcome with conflicting motivations. I’m more comfortable with option 1 since that’s the path I’ve been on for months, but I can see the merit behind option 2. What to do… what to do…


What have you Dune to me, Frank Herbert?

I decided to take up Audible on their 30-day trial the other day and chose, as my inaugural audio-book, Dune by Frank Herbert. I’m ashamed to say I never read it, despite being a self-professed science fiction freak. I know, I know, how could I not have read Dune, one of the greatest sci-fi book to ever grace the shelves of nerds and geeks alike? It just never happened but no time like the present, right? It also didn’t hurt that Dune was one of the more expensive books available on Audible and I wanted to make sure I was getting the most for my free book credit during my free trial (which, since it was free, meant I hadn’t actually paid anything). But mainly I chose Dune because I’d heard the book was fantastic.

Welllll, fantastic doesn’t do it justice. I just started Book II and am absolutely in awe of Herbert’s writing. It’s incredibly detailed, beautifully written, and wonderfully paced… a real page-turner. (Wait, what would be the audio-book version of ‘It’s a real page-turner’? Hmmm…. But I digress…)

Herbert’s writing was so fantastic it brought tears to my eyes.  Seriously, I started crying. Not because it was so good, but because my own writing was so bad by comparison. As I listened to his words all I could think about was how perfect his metaphors were, and how crude my own seemed. I began to hate Herbert and his stupid Dune for showing my writing for the hideous monster that it was.

And then I did a little research on this Herbert fellow and found out that he had a hard time getting his book published. In fact, he got rejected. Frequently. When he finally found a publisher, it was Chilton. As in the Chilton that specializes in automotive maintenance manuals.

The first edition of Dune was published by the same company that puts out car manuals. For some reason that made me feel better. I know it’s counter-intuitive; the logical conclusion should be: Oh my God, if the incredibly-written Dune got rejected nearly twenty times, what hope does my little novel ever have of being published? But I don’t see it that way. In my opinion, the real take-home message is Don’t ever give up. You KNOW Chilton had to be low on his list of potential book publishers; they print car part manuals for goodness sake. But Herbert didn’t give up when he got to their name on the list. He sent his manuscript off anyway, automotive manuals and target audiences be damned. And the effort paid off.

So thank you Frank Herbert for not giving up. Your words are brilliant and I stand humbled and inspired by them. I admit that next to your books I feel like a child coloring in a paint-by-number while a Monet or Picasso hangs over my head. But I suspect your first draft wasn’t much prettier in the very beginning. You stuck it out, polished it up, didn’t take no for an answer, and now I have Dune on my iPhone whispering in my ear as I do laundry. Thank you, Frank Herbert, for showing me how it’s done.


How do YOU know Lincoln wasn’t blue?

I started doing the exercises from 90 Days to your Novel by Sarah Domet. Day 1 is to brainstorm about early memories. This was one of mine.

When I was in first grade, I went to Catholic School for exactly one year. I don’t remember much about that year, other than a few flashes of memory. My babysitter’s kids went there, so it was convenient for me to ride the bus home with them and stay at their place until my mother got off work. I remember not minding the uniforms at all; I was too young to care. And I remember only one specific incident in class. My teacher, Mrs. Self, had asked us to draw a picture of somebody, I can’t remember whom. When I turned in my carefully executed drawing (I was a perfectionist even then), Mrs. Self examined my work and then said, “People aren’t really orange, are they?” She was questioning my choice of crayon color.

Even as a 6 year old, I was stunned. My memory today is poor and- perhaps in cases of painful episodes like this one- deliberately incomplete; I don’t recall how I reacted. But knowing myself as a perpetual teacher’s pet, I’m sure I was deeply mortified and humiliated by her critique. As a grown woman with children of my own, I would often share this anecdote as an example of how times have changed: such a comment would never be tolerated in today’s politically correct schools where a person’s feelings should be preserved above all else. We’re all winners, right?

Apparently not.

A few weeks ago my 5-year-old daughter (a tiny clone of myself in all respects) brought home her work folder. Among the kindergarten cut-and-paste projects was a portrait she had drawn of Abraham Lincoln. It had all the Lincoln criteria- a giant top hat, a beard, ridiculously long arms and legs… it was a spitting image! My pride in her artistic ability was enormous. Then I read her teacher’s comment in giant curling letters across the top: “Abraham Lincoln was not blue!!” My daughter had sketched her portrait using a blue crayon.

And suddenly I was back in school wearing my Catholic girl’s uniform but staring at my daughter’s teacher while gripping her collar in my tiny, shaking fist. The words came easily this time: Fucking hell! What’s the matter with you? Lincoln wasn’t brown or black either. What do you expect from us when all we have is eight colors to choose from? If complexion accuracy is so G’damned important to you then you should spring for Crayola’s 96 count box instead of the standard 8! Or how about this: focus more on the quality of the art and the effort of the artist rather than on the superficial details like skin color.

I was back in my kitchen. Unclenching my fists and smoothing the now slightly crumpled portrait on the refrigerator, I smiled and congratulated my daughter on the best portrait of Lincoln I had ever seen.


One earthquake, Many books

Books are more than just stories; they are hooks upon which the timeline of my life is draped. When I look at all the books on my shelf, I can remember what I was doing when I was reading each novel. Robin McKinley’s The Hero and The Crown– sick in bed. Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park– on lunch breaks while interning at the Smithsonian. Bram Stoker’s Dracula– in between rehearsals for a performance of Carmina Burana. Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon– according to my 13-year-old cursive on the inside cover, “May 26, 1989 James Madison University Ben E. Wright Spring String Thing” (as if I would forget decades later.) I was very proud when I finished that book in the JMU dorms as it was the longest book by far that I had ever read to that point. It was also the first book I read in secret because I knew my mother wouldn’t approve of the steamy sex scenes.

Today I add a new peg to my timeline scaffold: Watching the horrific destruction of the Japanese earthquake/tsunami unfold on CNN while reading Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere; two completely unrelated memories that will forevermore be linked in my mind.

Far below the Twitter peaks of trending topics such as #japon, #earthquake, #tsunami, and #prayforjapan, there is one called #fridayreads. Apparently it happens every Friday. Book lovers tweet what they’re reading to the world, myself included. The titles are eclectic: Demonglass, The Center of Everything, Swamplandia, Mothers and Daughters, Hunger Games, The Mothman. I haven’t read any of these. In fact, I haven’t heard of most of them. But I know one thing about all of them- they will all become markers in the minds of their readers that point to today’s devastation and carnage. Just like a particular scent can bring back memories long forgotten, I suspect these books will forever remind their readers of the day the earth shook in Japan, the waters rose, and whirpools spun menacingly offshore. I can only imagine what memories the books read by the Japanese on this day will evoke.

And the day is not over yet. Fifty countries stand braced for impact as tsunami warnings abound.

My thoughts are with the Japanese and all who will be affected by this terrible tragedy.