Tuesday, December 29, 2009

I know there's a balance, I see it when I swing past

It's funny, because I picked out this entry's title and then peeked at my first 2009 entry to ground myself in where I was a year or so ago before I attempted to write this entry. And lo and behold...
"The key word for 2009, I think, will be "balance." I will continue to hold a good balance between time for family and time for writing and time for just me. In my writing, I will continue to seek that elusive balance between doing the smart things I need to do to pursue a career, and doing what I want to do because I love it."
Overall, I think I mostly succeeded at that goal of balance. Oh, I had my off days (weeks, months...), but looking back, I feel mostly good about the last 12 months. Some highlights:

Zero stories sold. BUT. I started three new short stories (two of which were flash pieces), three novels, and a novella. I finished one of each, got a nibble and subsequent rejection on the novel, and got the short and the novella out into submission-land. The novel has been trunked because it was written specifically for a single market, but I learned a LOT from its writing, so I call it a success nonetheless. And I still have the three stories I finished in 2008 out there, too, although I have one back in my court and a second that probably is even though I never got a formal rejection from its most recent submission. Possibly I should take a few days at the start of 2010 and re-evaluate both of those.

I also pitched and landed a gig teaching a fiction writing elective at the boys' middle school. And then spent a part-time job's worth of hours putting together lesson plans in addition to the 45 minutes a week actually teaching the class. My students all seem to really enjoy the class, we've had some great discussions, and most of them have turned in some reasonably workable bits of writing. Sometime in the next couple of months, I suppose I should give some attention to determining if I'll offer to teach the course next year, as well as whether I might offer some classes outside school hours. I need to do some thinking about the time I'd need to put in vs. the time I'll have available, since Joe starts high school next year (!) and our schedule will be changing to accommodate treks to two different schools each day.

In the non-writing, work-related arena, I have spent the first semester of this school year putting in 24 hours/week with the school's extended care program, primarily working with the kindergarten-age students. It has been a mixture of joy and agony that only children can provoke. I have one more week with them in January, then they go full-day kindergarten and I go to a 2 day per week schedule working with the preschoolers instead. I will miss my kindergarten kids. And I cannot wait to be done working with them every day. Given the previously mentioned schedule change next year and the low rate of pay associated with the job, I think it's fair to say I will not be working there on a regular basis next school year. But honestly? I think I've held my ground far better than I feared I might--I may have mentioned a time or two that I do not thrive in people-intensive situations, and working at the school has most definitely been people-intensive.

This been a growing year for me. (For my boys, too, but I will save that for another entry, I think.)

I can't put numbers to this claim; there's no word count or chart of stories started or completed or timecard of hours worked to support this claim. There were short stories jotted down in first draft form and never looked at again. There were novels half-started and then put away to make way for other projects. There were months of spinning my wheels on figuring out what to do with a novel I thought I had a first draft of but came to realize that I hadn't really even begun. There were weeks I blew on leisure activities that had nothing whatsoever to do with writing. (OK, yes. Gaming. I said it.)

But I honestly, sincerely feel like I have a better grip on what I'm doing than I did 12 months ago. I came across the phrase "exploratory draft" in a fellow writer's forum signature today that shines a crystal clear light on what that first draft of Crowmaker really was. I finished my first play-through of Dragon Age: Origins and had a series of mini-epiphanies about plot structure and character motivation, seen from a fresh angle. I did some experimental, "not-for-real" writing just for me that helped me break through walls and bring a new confidence to my "real" writing. I got a rejection letter that informed me in one fell swoop that my writing style was beautiful, but the story itself just moved too slowly, which chimed a note of recognition somewhere deep inside me and brought to my conscious mind what my subconscious had evidently been trying to tell me for some time--that all my effort on style was great and starting to pay off, but now I need to pay more mind to story structure. And a hundred, thousand other tiny moments of learning that I may have missed if I haven't spent the last couple of years struggling to listen to my instincts.

Looking forward to 2010, then:

I will not fool myself. There will be rough patches. There always are. But there will be periods of energy and productivity, too. There always are. I will continue to try finding my personal work rhythm and developing my writing process. I will continue to look and listen for the tiny moments of learning and attempt to apply them to my writing. I will cross my fingers on the stories currently out in the submission void, I will (possibly) work on getting out there again if/when they come back, and I will charge ahead with the novel that is beginning to feel like the great but challenging love of my life. Last year at this time, I was afraid of Crowmaker; it feels much more doable now, although still frightening. We'll see where it goes in 2010, I suppose.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

We are all pursuing magic

What we did this afternoon:

First, the flashy little promo.

Then, a better idea of how the show actually felt.

This was Joey's suggestion. The kid does a pretty good job of picking out entertainment.

Fond holiday wishes to all of you.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Every single day what you say makes no sense to me

Because I have several pages of handwritten notes which need to be compiled and organized into my novel outline, I will now present my version of the 2009 monthly first blog lines meme. Except I think I will also include the titles of the entries.

Gravity and momentum
A brief review of 2008, wherein I look back to see how far I've come in order to inspire myself to continue plodding forward: The boys finished their first year of "regular" school, after having been homeschooled for three years.

Little pieces of the nothing that fall
Last Friday was the middle school's annual "Punk 'n' Rock," which is a lip sync show in which the 7th and 8th graders get to dress up in goofy costumes and ham it up as they present a little skit based on the song.

Head on without a care
The first part of last week was great. I accomplished a great deal of plot-untangling for Crowmaker and managed to work out all the big kinks leading up to the ending.*

No news is good news
We are spring breaking this week.

With a little perseverance you can get things done
"With an estimated turnaround time of 3 months on queries to Steeple Hill, I should have plenty of time to finish the rewrite this week and then let the ms cool a week or two before a final polishing read-through."

I met my word count goal for last week, although I had to work on Saturday.

So a day when you've lost yourself completely
There's a meme going around wherein working writers list the first lines of all the projects on their in-progress list. Because I have at least a half dozen other things I should be doing instead, I figured I'd play along.**

Until then I'll have to find a way
Just in time to join forces with the emotional downswing mentioned in my previous blog entry, I received a rejection letter from Steeple Hill on my submission there.

Just to laugh and say hello and say goodbye
I have not been keeping my blog religiously the last few days.

She's a butterfly
It's been over a month since my last blog entry.***

The first and last breath don't matter, it's all the ones that are in between
The job is still the job.

Take whatever you can, girl
Thanksgiving was both a bust and a blessing.

*I have to laugh, since I am currently in the middle of untangling the BEGINNING of that same damn story.

**Hmm. Sound kinda familiar?

***Bless me Father, for I have sinned. It has been over a month since my last... Oh wait.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Here's another round for you

Not a lot of tangible productivity has happened on the writing front this week, in part because of the whole last-week-before-Christmas-break flurry of school-related activities, in part because I've had a head cold that, while not debilitating, has still managed to affect my energy level and ability to think clearly. And maybe because I'd reached a point where I needed to just let the current story stew a little. I have certainly been thinking about it a lot. And done some light research-variety reading for it. So I think once I've shaken the head cold and gotten through the day tomorrow, I may be able to get my feet under me and move forward again.

Youtube link for the title of the day.

For any fellow Foos geeks hanging around out there: Apparently they did a concert from their studio back in October, via Facebook. It's nearly three hours long. It is pretty awesome.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Drownin' my sorrows, avoiding tomorrows

The fake science is falling into place, finally, as are some final pieces of behind-the-scenes choreography and logistics for the story. I am now at a place where I have (most of) the information about the events that happen, both during the story and in the years leading up to it. I just need to figure out how best to let the story unfold for the reader.

The thing that I think has thrown me all along on this story is that it is actually two stories--one that took place several years before, and the one taking place in the current time of the story. For a while, I even considered trying to tell them as two separate stories. But I found that when I tried to extricate them from each other, the two individual stories felt... thinner. Less substantial. They lean on each other, and each makes the other more meaningful when they are revealed together. Which is not a new story structure, obviously. Other writers have done it. I've even done it. Just, you know, not with this particular story.

My approach to figuring out how to structure the story has been to spend this morning mostly on cat vacuuming activities. I know it flies in the face of the BIC philosophy of writing, but I have this feeling of impending revelation building in my head. (Which is like a cross between that ready-to-pop feeling you get shortly before the baby is due--except in the head--and the headache you get after too many days of sleep deprivation in a row.) And I have been thinking about the story while I fiddle with other distractions. I'm even thinking about it right now, at the just-below-the-conscious level of my brain. I can almost hear the characters' voices as they chat; I just can't quite make out the words. So yeah. Going with the gut instinct on this one, I think, and giving the muse a day or so to give me her insight before I get out my colored paper and markers and try to lure her out of hiding.

All things considered, it's been a fairly productive week on the creative front. The number of kids in the kindergarten crew has been near 20 every day this week, since they've had practice for their Christmas program every afternoon. Add to that the inability to take them outside at all and the shortage of rooms within the school which a) have room for all of them and b) are available at the times we need them, and uh... Yeah. One week to Christmas break!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

It's the moment of truth and the moment to lie

All through school, science was my biggest challenge. Language arts? Rock. Math? Accounting? Bring on the puzzles and rules and let me at it. History? Hey, look. I get to read stories! But science, for reasons I have never fathomed, would just never stick. I could memorize facts long enough to get through tests and classes, but nothing ever really made sense to me in the same way that other information did. (OK. Probably I'm this way with math, too. I was just able to memorize the rules enough that I can fake a good understanding of it. I think.) I have vivid memories of my college buddy Dan helping me get through college biology by making up stories about cells and school buses and other bizarre and amusing things. (He also cut up the pig and let me just take the notes. And drove me home through a near-blizzard one weekend. And uh, there may have been some nerf gun fights at some point, too. He was a pretty cool friend.)

Anyhow. Here I am in the middle of re-outlining and doing additional research and fleshing out of "facts" for my historical fantasy fictional world. And suddenly I am up to my eyeballs in science. And not just science, but fake science that I somehow need to make believable. So if you are reading this, and you are a science-minded person, and I know about it... Be ready. The "what if" emails will be coming soon.

In other news, it looks like a rather blustery day. (Youtube alert!)

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Reachin' out with both hands

I'm back, I think. I've been using my scheduled blocks of writing time mostly for writing. I have refused to beat myself up if I miss time because of doctor appointments or other assorted household duties. That's the whole "flexible" part of a flexible schedule, after all. At the same time, I am managing to not give in to my more manic urges to spend every single free second on my current project. (Yes. THAT one. I refuse to say it out loud for fear of jinxing myself.) So I am working, but trying to not burn out. I'm sure at some point I'll suffer at least a minor burnout anyhow, since that's just how I do things. For now, though, I'll take the upswing and run with it.

In the course of putting together a new, longer soundtrack for THAT project, I rediscovered John Mellencamp's early stuff, from back when he was still just John Cougar. He's gone on record a time or two saying he doesn't think very highly of some of those earlier songs, but I still like them.

(Find the playlist here. Warning! Pop-up and possible music at the link!)

This week, my writing students turned in the rough drafts of their stories so I could offer feedback--and to give them a breather and me a chance to offer some individualized encouragement along with comments. (I have lots of opinions about encouragement being as valuable as criticism to the writer, and at some points even more valuable. Heck, it applies to more than just writers. I won't haul out that soapbox today, though.) I decided to let them go through the first draft process with some basic instructions on what should go in the beginning, the middle, and the end, but with no warning labels about common writer hang-ups in each part. The idea was to let them have their own unbiased experience with the process and then compare notes, because they seem to be a bunch that learns more from doing than from just listening.

In class, after collecting first drafts, I passed out cookies to celebrate the milestone and then read them "The Ransom of Red Chief," both as a good short story example and because it's fun. Next class, we'll dive back into the work. In the meantime, I am impressed with the general quality of their first drafts. We're not talking Pulitzer-level work, obviously, but most of them really grasped the basics I tried to teach them, and a couple showed a good grasp of some more advanced topics we haven't even talked about. I'm most impressed, I think, by their willingness to dive in and attempt the work and get their hands dirty as they try things. Good for them. I'm really enjoying the chance to work with them. I'm willing to bet I'm learning a few things along with them, too.

Michael's sinus infection worked itself into bronchitis, for which he has another round of antibiotics and some serious cough medication. The headaches seem to have resolved, though. I'd noticed over the last month or so that he was going through one of his phases where he was really struggling to remember things and get homework done without spending hours staring off into space instead of actually working on homework. My error in handling it was to merely remind him that he needed to focus, which has become my shorthand for "Remember all the tricks I taught you in years past to help in getting school work done? Do that now." He's grown and matured so much over the last couple of years that I'd started thinking he no longer needed extra help from me. I eventually realized I was wrong, and he and I sat down to talk things over. Once I gave him my full attention and acceptance, he gave me honest answers instead of defensive ones to my questions, and we were able to figure out some things we could do together in an attempt to make homework less torturous for him.

We've set up a regular schedule of focus exercises (which we used to do every day but had stopped), we tracked his actual hours spent on different activities for the week so he could objectively see that it just FEELS like homework takes up all his free time, and I help him organize his homework and work space before he gets started. I also tracked how much homework time he spent on actually doing homework and how much he spent being distracted--which gave him a goal, to bring down the amount of distracted time over the week. By today, he was down to zero minutes spent staring into space. Funny, how just giving him that simple goal gives his mind something to fixate on and snaps his attention back into place. The real key, though, was getting me to stop showing irritation with him, which in turn convinced him to be honest instead of defensive and also irritated in return. Once we actually, you know, started talking TO each other, it went so much more smoothly. Lesson to remember for me.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Take whatever you can, girl

Thanksgiving was both a bust and a blessing. I spent the weekend home with the stomach flu and the dog, while Steve and the boys headed to Tennessee to spend a couple of days at Steve's brother's house. It was a quieter than normal celebration there, too, because the other brother didn't make it and the sister was also home with stomach flu. (But with three kids instead of a dog. I think I got the better deal.) By Thursday evening, however, I was able to do some writing. Actually, I was given no choice by my muse, who finally shared with me exactly how the Heimdal story ends. It was one of those very exciting moments when you feel like you've been struck by a bulldozer of inspiration.

Friday I went back to work on a short short story I've been working on for an anthology call for submissions. The anthology's theme is the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and I had this old rough draft sitting around that seemed well-suited for it, so I've been fiddling with making it a final draft. In the course of rewriting, I switched the story to first person, present tense in the interest of making it more immediate, so I could connect better to the story's protagonist. I hadn't looked at it for the better part of two weeks when I sat down with it Friday. The very first thing I did upon trying to read it was say (to the dog, who likes to help me read), "Ugh!" Which, translated, turned out to mean that the viewpoint and tense of the story were so utterly jarring and artificial-seeming that I couldn't even begin to read it. So I offered up a silent apology to the friend I'd already sent a draft of the story to and then went back to my computer and changed the story back to third person past tense before even attempting any other revisions.

By Friday night, I had a finished draft and cover letter for "On A Black Horse" and eventually managed to convince myself to push the Send button already. I then switched back to working on the Heimdal story and found, upon doing a read-through to make notes for further rewriting and revision, that the story was... Way better than I thought it would be. I found things that needed work, yes, but they were much smaller and lower level changes than the big gaping holes I'd expected to see. It was like watching a bunch of scattered kaleidoscope pieces suddenly fall into a pattern that looked like something real. So I waded in, revised and reread and revised some more, put together the cover letter and did some final polishing and formatting, and managed to convince myself to hit the Send button on Monday evening.

So. Two more stories out into the wild blue. I have no idea how either will fare, so I'm aiming for cautiously hopeful and attempting to move on. The anthology deadline isn't until Dec. 31, so I won't hear back on that story until mid-January, and the Heimdal market has a 3-4 month turnaround time. That's way too long to sit around waiting to hear back, so the plan is to not wait around.

In other news, Joe-Bear got the results from his high school placement tests. (Placement tests as opposed to entrance tests. They're just intended to help determine which classes and level of classes he should register for when registration rolls around.) He scored above average or high on all the categories, in the 99th local percentile (scored better than 99% of the kids who took the test the same day) in the reading category, and in the 96th percentile overall. Along with the scores, he received invitations to enroll in two honors courses his freshman year. He has been talking about high school since last year, and last night when I asked if he was interested in the honors biology class, he knocked me over with "Well, yeah. I'm thinking about chemical or electrical engineering in college." Which isn't as entirely out of the blue as you might think, since he has a cousin in each major, and his father spends a lot of time telling him how lucrative the engineering field is. But it was the first time he'd shown actual interest in it, beyond just rolling his eyes at his dad and muttering something about drums and rock bands and computer programming.

I think I'm mostly just blown away by how much thought he has put into planning for high school and college. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised to find out he's a planner.

Friday, November 13, 2009

I need your grace to remind me to find my own

Let me tell you a story first. When Michael was a baby and then a toddler, he hardly ever ran a fever or acted like anything hurt when he was sick. I would take him for a well check-up, and the doctor would look in his ears and give me this "What kind of a mother ARE you?" look and say, "Were you aware your son has a raging ear infection?" Well, doc, no. Because he never gave me even the slightest reason to suspect that he was sick! We finally got the ear tubes in and the adenoids out and I bought a little doctor's light so I could always check his ears and throat for myself. Apparently, I had forgotten this lesson.

I couldn't stand waiting for Friday to get Michael's vision checked and then Monday to schedule a regular doctor appointment if necessary to determine the source of his headaches. It just didn't feel right. So I got him into his regular doctor yesterday. "Fever?" she asks. "Stuffy nose? Sore throat? Anything other than the headaches?" Nope, nope, and nope. She gets out her nifty little light and starts checking out the ears, throat, and nose.

So, apparently the child with no fever, no sore throat, and no sinus issues has a sinus infection. The doctor is 99% sure that is the source of the headaches and that a few days of antibiotics will have him feeling perky as ever. We went ahead with the eye appointment anyhow, just in case. (Just the tiniest start of near-sightedness, but not enough to warrant glasses yet.) He's now on the couch sleeping off the effects of having his pupils dilated. (Fun for all ages. Last time I had it done, the ensuing headache was bad enough to induce nausea.)

In the meantime, I've been hearing Joey cough a lot since yesterday. He assured me this morning it was no big deal. But every mother out there knows that a kid who's a little sick on Friday is almost guaranteed to be a lot sick as soon as the doctor's office closes for the weekend. Here's hoping I won't be kicking myself by tomorrow morning for not going with my instincts and dragging him into the doctor today, too.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The first and last breath don't matter, it's all the ones that are in between

The job is still the job. The kids have mostly settled into our little everyday routine and mostly behave pretty well for me. (Knock wood. Seriously knock wood.) Even the most shy among them have loosened up enough to talk to me at least a little. I still try to take a little time every day to get down on face to face, one to one level with each of them just to chat a little about something. I'm finding that having that connection helps a ton when I need them to really listen to me later on. Mostly. I think. Hey, it's a good theory? Well, if nothing else it makes me feel better, since I get the chance to get to know them all.

The middle school fiction writing class I teach is also going well. Even the more shy among them have loosened up and contributed in class. I still hear once in a while about our group brainstorming session which resulted in some spectacularly silly story premises. When I talk, they seem to be paying attention. When I ask questions, they really seem to have been paying attention. When I say, "That's your assignment for this week, you may have the rest of class to write," to a man they snatch out their pens and scribble furiously for the rest of class time. No complaints. No face-making. Lots of eager writing. I love that.

I managed to get back into a writing schedule for the last couple of weeks. This week so far, a good chunk of that schedule has been eaten up by shopping, both the regular and the Christmas gift variety. Good news is that I should be clear tomorrow and Thursday morning. Friday not so much, but I'll take two out of five and try to run with it.

Friday morning is not clear for writing because I will be taking the Michael-Monster to the eye doctor. I'm not convinced he has any real vision problems, but he's been complaining of headaches for a week now. No other symptoms, and he claims he can see fine, but the most logical step in a process of elimination suggested I start with the eyes. If that's not the problem, then next week we'll get his regular doctor involved, too. Most of the time when a child is not feeling well, I can make a pretty good guess as to what the problem is. I really HATE having no clue what the deal is or how to help him out.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

When all you got to keep is strong

1. The past week has been underscored by a struggle with a mild bout of depression, possibly brought about at least in part by several gloomy, rainy days in a row. I have muddled through, managed to accomplish work both practical and creative in spite of the struggle, and think (hope) I am muddling through the tail end of the downswing.

2. My boys are bright and wonderful. (But we already knew that, didn't we?) First quarter report cards and conferences were all thumbs up, and fall break is in sight. (Three hours of school tomorrow before an early dismissal.)

3. The language arts substitute teacher they had for the first quarter stopped me in the hall Friday, her last day, to let me know how very awesome she thinks Michael is. In summary, she noted that yes, he has a somewhat nontraditional way of thinking and doing things, but she appreciates how very brilliantly that nontraditional mind works. Which is how I've always felt about him, so it was nice to know that other people, teachers even, are capable of taking him as he is and encouraging him instead of trying to cram him into some other, more acceptable mold. (And we all know how vehemently I oppose the cramming of people into molds that do not fit them.)

4. Apparently, several kindergarten parents have commented that their children sometimes plead to be allowed to go to extended care after school each day. I may be doing something right? On a more personal level, I have noticed that my toughest sell, a young man with blondeblondeblonde hair and a penchant for digging holes on the playground, has over the last nine weeks gone from barely speaking to me to calling me merely "Teacher" to gleefully calling out "Hi, Ms. Lori!" as he comes into the room each day. During lunch, I usually roam up and down the table and stop to talk to the kids once in a while if there are no milk cartons in need of opening or behaviors in need of correction. Last week, he stopped me as I came past his end of the table, by reaching out to playfully stomp my foot and scowl at me. I crouched down beside him. "Do you need your applesauce opened?" "No." "Need a spoon?" "No!" "What do you need, then?" "I want you to talk to me!"


5. Did I mention that fall break is a mere three hours of school away? I do not have to work tomorrow, so it'll be a quick drop off of kids, a grocery run, a couple blissful hours of silence, and a short sit in the car line to pick them up again. And then we have our lives all to ourselves for four whole days.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

I won't mind if you can find the time to stay with me

I am finding that life with the kindergarten crew is not so hard. And not so easy. And mostly unpredictable. And we all know how well I handle unpredictable. I'm finding I can live with it and there are some bright spots, but I'm also pretty sure I could live without it and not miss it a whole bunch. Then again, my bloodwork has been turning in some odd results lately and we're still trying to straighten that out. So maybe I'm just tired and not entirely with it.

The boys both had The Flu last week. Yes. THE flu. They have both recovered, although Michael still acts and looks a little tired. They only missed three days of school each and managed to keep their work pretty well caught up along the way. Next week they have a field trip, two early dismissal days for conferences, and then FALL BREAK. Safe to say we're all looking forward to that.

This past Saturday I sat down and wrote in two blocks of writing time each weekday, one in the morning and one in the evening. Not that those blocks didn't already exist, but I thought maybe the act of writing them down would help me remember to actually use them. So far so good. Today I think I found the right voice for a flash piece I actually wrote the rough draft of several years ago. And this evening the final line of the story finally came to me. I think. Once I have the ending actually written, I'll know for sure. But it's certainly a much more finished piece than it was a couple of days ago.

Queued up on Rhapsody: The earlier Goo Goo Dolls albums. Which I'm finding I enjoy just as much as some of the more well-known tracks. I may have a new band for my favorites list.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

She's a butterfly

It's been over a month since my last blog entry. And that last entry was misleading, since it suggested that no entries here meant I was working hard on other writing. The truth is, I have been working hard--just not so much at writing. Which is not to say I've done no writing at all. Just not as much as no blog entries at all might suggest.

What I have been doing is trying to adjust to the new responsibilities I took on at the beginning of the school year. I put in five hours a day with the school's extended care program, and I teach the middle school fiction writing class--and while the class itself is 45 minutes once a week, the prep work I put into coming up with the actual lesson plans takes several hours a week. So really, I'm working full-time now. The pay is lousy, and the work is challenging, but I'm finding I reap small, quiet rewards in places I hadn't completely expected.

But the fact remains that I am working full-time. And while I could use that as an excuse for not writing more--and I do feel that's at least part of the deal--I don't think it's the entire reason I'm not writing more. Because I'd stopped writing even before the full-time work kicked in, if you remember.

I have concluded that I am in a cocoon stage right now. I don't know how badly I want to write anymore. I will write, I know that--it's part of who I am. I just don't know that I want to continue pushing for the publication part. It's pretty clear that making a living at writing is a goal that I either will not attain or that might burn me out if I keep pushing for it. But then again, I don't know that for certain, either. And in the end, I think for right now I will decide not to make any decisions. I will go through each day doing all the things that need doing, I will reap my small, quiet rewards where I find them, and I will wait for my current metamorphosis to complete. And when I crawl out of my cocoon... I suspect I will find myself still a caterpillar, just perhaps a slightly different caterpillar. Because these cocoon phases have come and gone a number of times now, and I'm guessing that's just life. Someday a butterfly, but for now I'll content myself with the doze that comes before seeing what color my new stripes will be.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Just to laugh and say hello and say goodbye

I have not been keeping my blog religiously the last few days. The good news is, it's because I've been writing instead. So if my posts here become fewer and shorter, that's actually A Good Thing.

Work has been work. Kids and teachers seem to be settling into the school year routine, so Monday was pretty smooth for me. I have my lesson plan for Thursday pretty much sorted out. And I am looking forward to the upcoming long weekend, when we will have not only a day off but a day off which includes a visit from an awesome out-of-town friend.

Cold is nearly kicked. Weather has taken a milder turn. Dust still hangs over the playground, but I suppose it's better than mud.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

I am not a ghost

Friday was something of a blur. By the end of the day, I had added fever and chills to the sore throat and OMGsinuses. I did fit in some more reading. And I am feeling re-energized about the Heimdal story--hopefully my body is back in some semblance of health next week so that I can actually do something about that.

Earlier this week I was talking with a (very dear and sweet and good) friend. I shared with him my feelings about my new job over at the school, which in a nutshell is that the kids are great and the fellow staff people are fine and nice. But I am reminded, once again, as I have been for most of my life, that I am not quite like those other normal people. Or maybe I am, and I simply don't see it. Whatever the case, I have spent most of my life in the "real world" feeling like a misfit, and now is no different than before.

And my (very dear and sweet and good) friend said to me (in paraphrase), "This is going to sound wrong. But I'm glad you don't fit in, because if you did, you wouldn't be the person we know and love. So... Thanks for being different."

I was moved to tears. It was exactly what I needed to hear, exactly when I needed to hear it, and I am grateful for the boost of courage his words have given me.

Go forth and be different.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

To live and die by highway dust

Yesterday morning contained much errand-running but no writing time. Yesterday afternoon, as with pretty much every afternoon this week, contained much playground time with the kindergarten kids. The weather has been hot and muggy, and the playground has a more or less permanent cloud of dust hanging over it. (Apparently there is no child alive who is capable of walking across a patch of bare earth without scuffing their feet through it.) I'm not always on the playground, though, lest you think my new job boring. Sometimes I get to patrol lunch tables, and I even get to loiter outside restrooms on a regular basis while waiting for my young charges to return to me.

This morning, I indulged in more reading and did one last practice run of my writing class lecture. I have ten middle school students in the fiction writing elective I'm teaching, we had our first session this afternoon, and while they were mostly very quiet and a little uncertain, I think it went well. I saw a few sparks in eyes as I was talking, and I have high hopes that I will see more as we all get to know each other and feel more comfortable.

In the meantime, I am nursing a really sore throat and serious sinus drainage, brought on at least in part, I'm sure, by the previously mentioned cloud of dust in which I spend a fair chunk of my day.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Simply a look can break your heart

This morning's agenda included grocery shopping and putting gas in the van after dropping the boys off at school. I forgot to stop and get gas, of course. This is why I start trying to remember at half a tank and don't wait until I really need to fill up. And then of course Avie and I had to haul the groceries into the house and put them away. This is not the small task you'd think when you're buying for teen/preteen boys. Did I mention that Michael has also now outgrown me? He was about the same height when I measured him for clothes the week before school started; by the end of the first week of school, he was an inch taller. I'll have to post a picture of my shaggy, facial-hair-sporting pair of young men.

I did a run-through of my writing class lecture, and it feels about right now. Now I'm just waiting on a head count for the class so I know how many papers to print out for them. And I can mentally prepare myself for whatever size the class is.

On the writing front:
  1. I uh... found some stuff to read. I haven't actually had a chance to sit down and READ yet. I will probably do that while eating lunch, which for me these days is more like a really late breakfast and will be very soon.
  2. Iris is speaking more clearly in my head. The initial breakdown of her character is in the very first scene, and I know how to fix that. All else should follow from there. I just need to sit down and do it. I will probably use my remaining time for item 1 today, and open the ms to start scene 1 fixes tomorrow.
Tomorrow includes an orthodontist visit. That'll be three days running of morning errands, which often makes it hard to get the writing in. But I've still managed to accomplish something each day, even if they were just little things. It's a start.

Monday, August 24, 2009

When you come back in from nowhere

I made a brief side trip on the way home from dropping the boys off at school, to buy stickers to use as bribes... err... positive reinforcement for my kindergarten bunch. After taking a shower and working down the list of phone calls I needed to make this morning for assorted doctor and dental appointments, I delivered my fiction class lecture to myself, found it lacking in a couple of areas, and sat down to work out the trouble spots.

On the writing front, I made a two-item list for this week:
  1. Immerse myself in reading again, because swimming in other writers' words often helps me reconnect with my own.
  2. Think about my main character in the Heimdal story and figure out where the strong-willed woman I thought she was got lost in the existing draft, so I can help her dig out again and light the story on fire.
I have begun work on item 1 and have a reasonably good idea how to accomplish item 2. Checking Monday off my list and gearing up to move on to the non-creative portion of my day.

Friday, August 21, 2009

I wear the scars that prove

We made it through week one of my new job as after-school caregiver for the kindergarten age group at the boys' school. It wasn't the smoothest ride ever, but most of the bumps were caused by adjustments related to my job and not to the boys and school. They rode it out like pros; I'm hoping that what I learned this week will help me handle next week a little better. We're all exhausted, but we survived. Now to make it through the rest of the school year...

Middle school electives were preempted for the first week, so I have yet to get my feet wet on the fiction writing class. I was approached by one seventh grader who asked me to tell her more about the class so she could decide if she wanted to take it. During the course of our conversation, her face lit up a couple of times. Hopefully this is a good sign.

Nothing related to my own writing has happened this week, again. But there's been some rustling around and exasperated sighs from my muse, so one of my tasks for the weekend is to assess my new schedule and pencil in my writing time, along with specific goals for the next couple of months.

Hang on, Muse. Organizer-lady will soon ride to your rescue.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Until then I'll have to find a way

Just in time to join forces with the emotional downswing mentioned in my previous blog entry, I received a rejection letter from Steeple Hill on my submission there. Oddly, it wasn't the devastating blow one might expect--the up side of submitting a lot is that you get rejected a lot is that you build up a thick skin. Would it have been nice to get an offer? Hell, yeah. But I've kept my options open. That one story isn't the only ball I have in play.

Still, I just felt so. Damned. Tired.

So, I took a little vacation from the writing gig. No whining, no guilt trip, just threw my hands in the air and said "I give up." Total surrender. I'm feeling a little less burned out, at this point. I have some vague ideas on new directions.

I'm still not forcing anything. School starts in a week and a half, and my two new "jobs" along with it. I have lesson plans I'm still finalizing, clothes and supplies to shop for, a deck that needs to be refinished, and a growing case of nerves over those two new jobs. I am giving myself permission to handle those things and get a grip on the new school year routine before I sit down with the muse and the super-organizer and try to hammer out details on our new game plan.

Not done yet. Just taking a few deep breaths.

Friday, July 24, 2009

You said you'd stand by me in the middle of chapter three

Two days ago, this was the most awesome story I've ever worked on. Yesterday, it was an overwhelming mess of half-baked ideas. Last night, I quit. Not just this story, but writing altogether. I mean, really, who needs this torture? Too hard, too much work, too much of pouring myself into something that may never happen.

This morning, I caught myself thinking about a possible scene, and an angle for that antagonist that I hadn't had before, and oh hey, I could do this cool thing, and...

We all know I'll never really quit. Sometimes I just need to pretend, I guess.

Monday, July 20, 2009

If I had one wish, I'd wish for two

I'll kick off this blog entry with a brief, paraphrased recap of a conversation with a friend the other day:

Friend: "I've been thinking about trying my hand at drawing. I'll have to buy a sketch pad or something."

Me: "Really, you don't need much more than some plain white paper and a plain old #2 pencil.

Friend: "Well, the paper's not an issue. I could just take some from the printer. I don't have any pencils, though."

Me: "..."

Friend: "What?"

Me: "How can you NOT HAVE A PENCIL?!"

Friend: "Well, how many do you have just laying around?"

Me: (Insert crazed laughter here.)

A photo-tour of Lori's pencil cups:

Starts out innocently enough. Everyone has writing utensils in their coffee cup. Right?

Hey, I do serious business out by the kitchen phone. Like, scheduling and phone calls and, you know. Stuff.

Our stash of mechanical pencils and assorted erasers, resting quietly over the summer. Please note that they are cheap, disposable mechanical pencils. Because the only thing the Michael-Monster is harder on than #2 pencils with leads that shatter inside the pencil and thereafter refuse to sharpen correctly after being dropped on the floor a zillion times an hour is a regular mechanical pencil with pieces that jam when dropped on the floor a zillion times an hour. Looks like they'll need a restock when the school year starts. I wonder what other cool colors they might come in...

The kids' stash of other assorted pencils, highlighters, markers that ran away from their sets, and a couple hundred colored pencils that their mother fooled herself into thinking they might need so that she could scribble with them sometimes, too. And a pack of crayons that middle schoolers are highly unlikely to need, but that their mother cannot part with. I MIGHT USE THEM SOMEDAY. And I did give up the bucket o' broken crayon bits to the school when we cleaned out this spring. IT WAS HARD.

My stash of grown-up colored pencils, drawing pencils, and OMGprettycolorsmustbuy markers that usually lives in the dining room closet to the left of my desk. It was too dark to photograph them in there, so I hauled them out to my desk. (As a side note, the dining room closet has cedar shelves. Mmm. I could crawl in there and take a nap, some days. You know, if I could fit into a dining room closet.)

The above tour does not include the set of chunky Prismacolor markers stashed uh... somewhere in the basement because their fumes give me a headache. Or the two containers full of Crayola chunky markers that I just now remembered and am too lazy to go to the effort of photographing and uploading. Or the 24-count box of unsharpened pencils in the kitchen cupboard above my pencil cups there. (Joe-Bear uses those ones. He has fewer dropping issues than his little brother.) It also includes only pencils, pens, and markers. If you added in other assorted media... Well, there might be a few more photos.

As I told the aforementioned friend, office supply aisles and God-help-me art supply stores are dangerous, dangerous places for me.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

I saw you building a castle for the tide

I still haven't done any actual writing to speak of. I have, however, done a great deal of research reading and pondering and even some writing of notes, mostly related to Crowmaker. I have pretty much reached the conclusion that most of what I've already written for that story will wind up being trashed. But I'm OK with that, because I also think that I needed to write all of that in the process of exploring the story. And with the inspirational romance out in the world, my need to have my toes in the submitting pool is satisfied. So for this week, at least, the writing is what it is, and I'm content to keep playing with the world building aspect.

The middle school fiction writing elective I'll be teaching next school year is shaping up, too. I have more ideas I'd like to share than I'll have class time for, and I'm excited about getting into the classroom and seeing how the kids respond. I'm sure the actual classroom experience will temper my enthusiasm with some gritty reality--kids have a knack for that--but I'm still looking forward to it. Now it's just a matter of getting through the dry-mouth, sweaty-palms, talking-in-front-of-people-nerves part of it.

In the meantime, I also received an offer to work for the school's extended care program on a daily basis. In a nutshell, the job involves looking after kindergarteners during the half day when they're not in actual kindergarten. (Mostly kindergarten. There's a mix of other ages during the day and after school, but I took the description to mean I'd mainly be working with kindergarteners.) I accepted the job, for a lot of reasons I can't quite put my finger on. I'm kinda nervous about it, for a reason I can quite readily define, which has to do with the oft-mentioned introverted tendency to feel a little overwhelmed by too much face-time. But I think in the long run, it could be a good experience. And it's really close to home. And I don't have to worry about getting the kids to and from school because they're, like, there with me.

And did I mention it still leaves me with my morning writing time mostly intact?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

This town was meant for passing through

I tagged on the "angst" label to this post, but I don't really feel angsty. Mostly I just feel like I'm not sure what I should be doing with myself on the creative front. Not that I need more things to do to keep me busy, because I've been taking care of a lot of non-writing projects this summer. And I've been doing a lot of reading, which I count as writing-related work. And planning for the fiction writing class I'll be teaching in the fall. But I have gone a few weeks without actually writing, and I feel a little antsy and perhaps a little knee-jerk guilt about that. After all, writing is my life, right? I should be pouring my every bit of strength and free time into it if I hope to get anywhere with my career?

Except, of course, that writing is not my whole life. And these other projects give me a sense of satisfaction to work on, as well. And I'm really struggling to carve out any regularly scheduled writing time this summer. Well. Not entirely true, because the time is there. But it carries with it the knowledge that at any given moment I could be called away from the writing. And that's really just an excuse, because I know if I put my mind to it I could train myself to write under those circumstances--I have before. Remember back when the kids were little, Lori, how you used to carry around the shorthand notebook and pride yourself on writing stories in 5-minute increments, standing at the kitchen counter while the kids ate lunch? In my defense, I was writing much shorter fiction back then. But I have become spoiled by my school year routine.

My question to myself, then, is do I push to train myself to write on the spot, a few minutes at a time, again? Or do I let the writing slide for a few more weeks until the school year begins again and allow myself the luxury of using the would-be-writing time to continue catching up on reading and other non-writing projects?

I'm leaning toward the latter. It's not like summer lasts forever, anyhow. Right?

Friday, July 3, 2009

And even if we come home empty-handed

Not to be outdone by unfinished projects, the published stories in my bibliography clamored until I also tagged on their first lines.

Other things that happened this week include more painting, this time of the shared kitchen/living room wall that runs the entire length of the back of the house. Things to trim around included two arched windows, a fireplace, a half wall, a patio door, two cabinets, and a deepset window over the sink. Oh, and the kitchen counter. Not a whole lot of wide open space to roll, but the trimming made it take as long as an entire room.

A renewed interest in Crowmaker bit me right about Monday, so while I was waiting for paint to dry I tackled anew the research I'd started, found some cool connections that I hadn't stumbled across before, and made plans to hit the library. Today. As soon as I get out of this chair and get dressed.

Which is what I will do now.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

So a day when you've lost yourself completely

There's a meme going around wherein working writers list the first lines of all the projects on their in-progress list. Because I have at least a half dozen other things I should be doing instead, I figured I'd play along. (Technically, some of these are done, but still in the submission process. So I'm counting them. Because I can.)

In no particular order:

1. Iris Bruckmacher felt the Northern Lights approaching, the speeding solar winds a distant roar in her consciousness, the southerly pull of the magnetic field a gentle tingle against her fingertips. (Unnamed Heimdal novella)

2. "And this is really what you want to do?" Olivia Hargrave peered up at the simple lines of the old farmhouse, as familiar a face in her childhood as those of her parents or brothers or grandparents. (Unnamed inspirational romance)

3. One crow for sorrow. (Crowmaker)

4. "I feel trapped." Rachel's first thought was that Nick really meant he was bored. (A Steadfast Love)

5. At night, sometimes, she dreamed about falling, through the window and into the bottomless winter sky. (Unnamed Loki novel)

6. The furry mole rats of the Antarctic (heterocephalus mythologicalus) lived and thrived in the coldest regions of the earth for many, many years. They thrived so well that, shortly after Max's ninth birthday, his family (mostly his Uncle Bernard, who everyone listened to because he was louder than anyone else) decided it was time to leave their cold digs and head closer to the equator. ("Strong Enough")

7. "Don't leave me," Bobby whispered. ("But He Had Wings")

8. Fifteen years since Kevin had stopped drawing breath, since his too-young heart had stopped and he'd begun the slow fade from living son to a memory as pale as a photograph's after-image. ("Pale Roses")

9. The blue wall was a six-foot-high stretch of rickety wood, painted a new coat of bright baby blue each and every spring. ("The Blue Wall")

10. The rain caused it all. (Unnamed Britomart novel)

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The stars are blazing like rebel diamonds cut out of the sun

Still no writing happening, but I think I'm OK with that. For now. I sense some simmering happening way, WAY in the back of my mind somewhere. I hope.

In the meantime, I spent the week painting the two hallways leading out of my kitchen, as well as the one accent wall, which were a dark shade of grayish-green. Although not an unattractive color, it tended toward too dark for my tastes. I also hired our handy-dandy local painter to come in and do the living room--cathedral ceiling in there, and I find myself loathe to spend that much time on that tall a ladder these days. My monkey days are over, I think. The walls in there were lighter but still tinted with that grayish-green. The paint was also flat, which tends to show every speck of dirt that wanders past. I have two children. You can imagine.

At any rate, I have many shiny new walls to enjoy. (And I do. Joe wandered through at one point while I was standing in the middle of the living room just soaking up the vibes from the new color and checking out how the room seems so much bigger and lighter. "Doesn't it look great?!" I enthused at him. Without missing a beat, he glanced around and said, "Yeah. It's as exciting as watching paint dry. Oh, wait." Smart ass teenager.)

In other news, I will be teaching a creative writing elective for the boys' middle school next school year, and possibly doing something extra-curricular for a couple of the younger grades. "But Lori," you're saying, "Haven't I heard you bitch and moan about how hard it is for you to handle too much face time with people?" Well, yeah. But this will be an hour (or two) a week. And the thought of sharing my enthusiasm for writing with young minds is all kinds of appealing. And some of you may recall this moment from my tutoring stint this spring:
Highlight of my tutoring career thus far came last night. We were reviewing fractions, and one of the boys said, "We did this in class today, and I don't get it." And I said, "Let's talk about it some more and see if we can help you get it." So we did. And he did. He sat back in his chair with this most awesome expression on his face and flung his arms wide and shouted, "OH. I get it now!"

Oh yeah. You better believe I'm hooked now.
So, in summary, I seem to be on a writing hiatus, but other productive stuff is happening, perhaps most importantly the opportunities I've had to simply sit/stand around with my boys and discuss everything from video game design to scientology to watching paint dry.

We're down to six/eight summers left together. So yeah, that last one is the big one.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Mean girls make mean women

Dental work has been survived. Surprisingly, there has been very little pain. However, the novacaine (or something) left me dealing with headache and nausea. Headache is better today, nausea persists. I am feeling particularly grumpy and not particularly motivated. No writing has happened, still, but Michael wiped down the hallway walls and trim for me yesterday and I have begun taping the trim in preparation for painting. At the moment I cannot abide the thought of bending over or reaching above my head to do any more work on that project, but maybe once I've had something to eat my stomach will settle and I'll feel up to it.

If not, I have given myself permission to just take it easy today. I've been trying to catch up my WoW druid to Joe's hunter, and I recently renewed my old DAoC account just for kicks, so maybe I'll even indulge in some video games. Or finish transferring this handful of VHS tapes to the computer. Watching the home movies of Christmases and Easters and beach vacations past has been fun, but with that inevitable touch of bittersweet. It's mostly the same old motherly song and dance--I love my kids as they are now, but oh, look at those sweet little boys in the movies. And then there's remembering just how much I loved the house and the town in South Carolina. It's hard not to sing just a few choruses of the "what if" song.

In the meantime, it has been an hour since I took my thyroid meds. This means I can now eat some breakfast and suck down my morning Dt. Pepsi. Fingers crossed that food and caffeine fixes my mood a little.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

I don't want to go home right now

I did not pick up the Heimdal story the next day, or any of the other days after. It's still in my drawer, waiting for me to decide why I did such an about-face on it. I was very excited about the story, and then suddenly the floor dropped out on it. Some of it has to do with my mood swing rollercoaster and nothing to do with the story itself whatsoever. But that's passed, and I find I'm still reluctant to pick up where I left off with it. I have been thinking about it, however, and I'm beginning to have an inkling of what's going on. You see, I started the story with a specific market in mind. The market publishes novella-length paranormal romances, with a strong emphasis on dark and sexy. Sexy, as in at least one pretty explicit scene per novella.

I've eyed the market in the past, because I like the paranormal romance part of it. I like the novella-length part of it. The explicit sex part, not so much. I finally decided I'd try to write a story for it anyhow--even if it turned out horribly, I'd have the experience of writing the sex scene. But the place I ran aground is, sure enough, just about the place I need to write the big sex scene. Am I stalled out because I don't want to write the scene? Or am I stalled out because I don't really want to publish anything that contains explicit sex? I kinda like being able to show my stories to my kids, now that they're old enough to read most of what I write. (Although I hesitate to believe they'll have much interest in the romances anyhow.) I want to be proud to claim my stories.

Or maybe it's a little deeper than that. Maybe it's because I like the characters more than I'd anticipated I would. Maybe it's because there's this little voice in the back of my mind whispering, "Dude. You could so work all this good stuff into that other Loki story you already have in mind and make the two into one even more awesome story." So maybe it's more about the characters and their conflicts outgrowing the vehicle I'd originally planned for them.

And yet, there's this other voice, the one that sounds nagging and condescending, telling me I'll never sell anything if I don't settle down and finish what I start. That voice says to just finish the last few damn scenes and try to sell it, because selling = success. My gut instinct is to slap the nag out of that voice--except it may have a point. I probably need to finish the story I started, just to see that I can do it. And then I can reassess and decide what comes next.

In the meantime, however, I have set out a couple of non-writing tasks for myself over the next week or two. Generally speaking, once I commit to other projects which take up my normal writing time, the muse will show up and demand to have her time back. And then I have leverage. Seriously, it takes a very clever person to outwit herself like this. At any rate, I have piles of home movies in VHS format piled on and around my desk and have purchased a video capture adapter thingy to transfer the VHS movies to my computer. And I will be painting the two downstairs hallways this week. If the dental work I have done on Monday leaves me feeling up to it. I need bridgework, but first they have to extract this molar. SO not looking forward to it.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

And here is your verse

I am still on a writing hiatus, for the most part. I think tomorrow I will be ready to drag out the Heimdal novella and do some reassessing and regrouping. I spent most of the weekend in the depths of battling the usual various personal demons while holding it together enough to accomplish all the family stuff that needed accomplishing. I seem to be in the process of resurfacing again, which I must confess is a part of my mood cycle I much prefer to the down days. Ugh.

I read a book a couple of months ago, and today I came across the author's web site and some excerpts of possible interest to a couple of people out there: Party of One: The Loner's Manifesto, by Anneli Rufus. The author's tone sometimes seems more vehement toward "nonloners" than I usually am. (Although on my worst days, I can muster up quite a good dose of anger and bitterness toward those who would push me to "fit in" better, I should probably admit.) I found myself chuckling in recognition and nodding in agreement in a number of places. And you know, while it would likely be uncomfortable reading for nonloners, it might also be enlightening, for reasons summed pretty well in this quote from the book:
"They take offense. Feel hurt. Get angry. They do not blame owls for coming out at night, yet they blame us for being as we are. Because it involves them, or at least they believe it does..."
"They" being the nonloners who cannot understand a loner's desire to just be left alone and insist on pushing them to be more "normal." In short, the best thing to remember about loners is this: It's not about you. That loner who is avoiding your phone calls or your invitation to do lunch is not (necessarily) indicating that she doesn't like you. She just prefers--requires--more alone time than you do. Loners do not go around urging nonloners to stay in more or talk to fewer people. We just want the same courtesy returned to us.

Friday, June 12, 2009

We walk on broken ground

Most of yesterday's writing-related time was spent on a) recognizing some points of character development that need some deepening and fine-tuning and b) figuring out the right location for the final scene of the story. Because the setting is important in that scene, and it needs to be more than just "yeah, that'll work." It needs to have that little "Yes! That's it!" click to it. I got closer, I think, but no epiphany yet.

In the meantime, I sat down this morning to type in some revisions I'd noted at the beginning of the week. And as I was doing so, I spotted all kinds of things in the story that just don't sit right with me. And those holes combined with today's frame of mind* tempt me to hate the story.

So I'm putting it away--for the weekend. I'll look again on Monday and see if it feels less dismal--because the logical me can see that it's a sound story and only needs some fixes. If it still stinks on Monday, I'll leave it set aside for a week or two before I come back to it again. It is only a final scene or three from first draft completion, and I frequently have to redo those last scenes during a revision phase, anyhow.

*My moods follow a pretty predictable rhythm, although they vary in length and depth just enough to keep things exciting. This particular flavor of mood involves a lot of existential brooding: "Am I doing what I should be with my life? What DO I really believe in, anyhow? If I never become a published writer, what other value does my life have?"

I know the answers to those questions, and at some level of me that I am currently unable to completely access, I believe them. I just go through this little phase of doubt now and then, and I have learned to wait them out. Actually, while I dislike these phases, I imagine they're good for me. They're a little wake-up call to remind me to pay attention to those answers and questions when I'm at the necessary mood and energy level to do something about them.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

I just kinda died for you, you just kinda stared at me

No new word count yesterday, but 750 words today, which puts me at almost 8,800 total. I'm pushing up to the last couple of big impact scenes and closing in on "The End" a little more every day... But one step at a time. I need to do some choreography-style thinking and planning before launching into the next scene.

I have stopped using the progress meters over on the sidebar. (Although they're very cool little gadgets, which you can find at StoryToolz, along with other nifty writer toys.) The primary reason for that is because I am gradually learning to use all the tools available to me through WriteWay, which I have learned to love. It actually has more bells and whistles than I currently use, but I've found that it suits my writing process very well. My planning process, which involves everything from word webs and diagrams on the back of recycled paper to index cards to an Excel worksheet, ends with a basic "outline." The outline is really just a list of scenes I know I'll need, cobbled together into the order they need to happen and sorted into chapters and acts based on a mostly-arbitrary method. (Mostly having to do with limiting the number of scenes per chapter into a small enough chunk that the writer does not become frightened and flee the project before it even starts.)

WriteWay is a word processing program with a sidebar which organizes your document into acts, chapters, and scenes. Which matches up so very neatly with my working outline. Perfectly, even. And which you can use to move scenes and chapters from place to place simply by dragging the scene or chapter title, without having to find the section and cut and paste. My mind freaks upon seeing massive chunks of text, so it's perfect for me--I see one manageable piece of the story at a time, with the big picture off to the left in one tidy list.

And it has a built-in word count tracker. With graphs, and reports that show word or page count goals and actuals and adjusts automatically to show the minimum count required to stay on goal, and reports that show how many words or pages you have for each scene, chapter, and act. Shiny! And simple, which helps to prevent me from spending too much time fussing with it.

In the meantime, summer is off to an appropriately lazy start, for the most part. Michael has been off to swim lessons, and both boys have been helping with chores. But there has also been much reading the afternoon away and video gaming and just sitting around talking. Joe's best buddy has been gone the last few days, so they've been on the phone for nearly two hours now, catching up.

Yeah. Tell me again about girls and phones?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

On towards the wilderness

The 7,100 words I had on Friday morning were the same 7,100 words I had come Monday morning. The guys got home a few hours earlier than I'd anticipated, so I said to heck with writing productivity. I printed hard copy and tried to work in some revision time over the weekend, but by and large nothing much got accomplished. I took a deep breath and reminded myself that come summer's end, I'd regret not spending time with the kids far more than I'd regret not getting so much as a single word more written. I have tossed my formal scheduling tendencies over my shoulder and am attempting to take a more relaxed attitude for the summer.

I can do this. It's only 10 weeks, even a control freak like me can manage to wing it (mostly) for that long, surely? Apparently I can, because I got another 900 words written yesterday. I need to work out a couple of kinks in my mind before I write the next scene, but I'm pretty sure I know the basics. The house is quiet at the moment, too, so I should probably be working on that instead of here. Oh well.

No word back from Steeple Hill yet. Their estimated turnaround time is three months, and I've heard of them taking as long as six to get back to people, so I'm not really holding my breath. Having a new project (or three) to work on really does help keep your mind off the projects that are out of your control.

Friday, June 5, 2009

I'm breaking to you

I ended last night with 7,100 words and a pretty solid idea how the next scene needs to go. I'm at the last couple of scenes of act 2, with a handful of scribbled notes on my outline about things I need to go back and fix and/or shore up in earlier scenes. I have yet to decide if I'll go back first or just charge ahead. Probably back, since I'm finding that re-reading/revising at least the most recently written scene is not only good for that scene, but also for the next one I launch myself into from there.

This morning has been given over to grocery shopping and some minor housework. I flipped on the cd player in the kitchen while putting stuff away, and lo and behold there was a Foos cd inside. They managed to wriggle onto the novella's soundtrack after all.

The guys will be back sometime today, I'm guessing early afternoon, depending on what time they left the brother-in-law's house this morning. And then Joe is off to a sleepover at a friend's house this evening, and swim lessons start Monday morning, and summer officially begins. Crossed fingers that I will figure out how to block out some writing time while still being a good mom.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Sometimes I get nervous when I see an open door

The novella is moving along. I struggled a little last night to find my hero's voice when I got to his first viewpoint scene. A few replays of emo Goo Goo Dolls songs finally did the trick. I hit my word count goal, so I'm starting this morning with almost 5,000 words, which is 1/3 of the 15,000 word goal for the story. So I went to bed last night thinking about the next scene, and with an uneasy feeling that I was missing something. And this morning I woke up and realized that what's missing is a sense of urgency. There is a Terrible Thing That Must Be Done, and of course the two main characters are all angsty about wishing they didn't have to do it. But there's no real consequence if they DON'T do the Terrible Thing.

We can fix that. And I came up with the perfect, awful price for disobedience in the shower this morning. I think. It's a start, anyhow. I need to add at least one scene to the first act to make it work, and it changes my idea for how the next scene needs to go. But I think I'm on the right track.

Upon request, I have resumed slapping song lyrics into my blog titles. They may be a bit more random than previously, and possibly simply whatever snags my attention from what I'm listening to when blogging time rolls around. Although now that I know people were actually, like, paying attention, I might also start making them a bit more obscure and challenging.

In the meantime, the novella has a growing soundtrack. No title yet, but hey, I have my priorities.

"Name" Goo Goo Dolls
"Iris" Goo Goo Dolls
(Which serve as the angsty, emo themes for both my main characters, actually. And also for Loki in a different story. Hmm.)
"Welcome to the Jungle" Guns N' Roses
(Loki's theme song. Must. Not. Let. Him. Take. Over...)
"Afterlife" Avenged Sevenfold
"Through the Fire and Flames" Dragonforce
"The Running Free" Coheed and Cambria
(Yes, I've been raiding my kids' playlists again. The big, epic, melodramatic metal-but-still-melodic sound seems appropriate for this one.)

Foos have not managed to wheedle their way into this soundtrack yet. You're slacking, guys.

Back to work. I have 1,250 words waiting for me to write them today.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Everybody look down, it's all in your mind

A conversation with a writerly friend today raised a topic which I have discussed frequently and at great length with my children and myself. I'd asked about a story he's been working on, and he replied that he wasn't sure he was going to nail it as he'd hoped to, but that he hated to have wasted time on it for nothing.

I am a perfectionist at heart. I do not like to fail. And I'm a natural enough learner that for several years in school, I never had to fail. I didn't learn early on the value of taking risks and learning from my mistakes. Mistakes were for other people. I was not allowed. (Note that this is not an attitude I blame on my parents. I was born with it, apparently.) I can distinctly recall a boy in my 5th or 6th grade class, flailing around on the gym floor as he tried to learn how to walk on his hands. He tried to entice me into trying it, too, and an argument followed, which ended something like this:

Him: "At least I'm trying to learn something new."
Me: "At least I don't look like an idiot trying to do something I know I can't."

I've learned a few things since then. (I hope.) I've had to pound them into my own brain repeatedly, and if you quote a few of the following lines at my kids, they'll roll their eyes and say "You've been talking to my mom, haven't you?" But these are truths that bear repeating:

No attempt to do something is a waste of time, regardless of the result. If you put effort into it, if you thought about it, dreamed about it, struggled with it, then chances are you learned something from it. Learning is not a waste of time. Ever.

It's OK to fall down. Yeah, I know it hurts. I know you feel kinda dumb right now. But at least you tried. (See the above paragraph.)

A mistake is only a mistake if you don't learn from it.

If you need me, I'll be over here making an idiot of myself and hoping I learn something from it.

Monday, June 1, 2009


I met my word count goal for last week, although I had to work on Saturday. Actually, I exceeded it, winding up with something over 7,000 words. With five scenes completed and the rest of the book roughly outlined, I feel comfortable stating that I could finish that novel in something like three months. The plot feels solid, and I like the characters. Once upon a time, I'd have been terrified to look away from the story, for fear I'd lose it if I didn't pay it my undivided attention.


I am feeling a confidence I haven't felt before. I suddenly find myself at this place where I no longer struggle trying to figure out how to turn a vague idea into a story. I can do it. I have done it. I know what games to play with myself, and I'm growing comfortable enough with my process that I can pick up and lay aside stories in progress and pick them up again later. I, like, know what I'm doing.

I'll wait a few seconds here for the lightning strike.

OK. Safe for the moment. So, on Sunday, I was moved by the urge to work on something, since all this peace and quiet keeps shouting that I should USE it, by God. And I caught up on some reading Saturday, and I'm not terribly in a gaming mood. So I sat down and opened up a new OneNotes tab for Crowmaker, because my old notebook for it is cramped with old ideas and I've been having new ideas (kinda). And I spent pretty much the entire day Sunday working my way through the part of the planning process that I previously skipped on Crowmaker (thinking at the time that I needed to try to be more of a seat-of-the-pants writer). (And I won't say it didn't work, because I think I can trace a lot of the really good stuff about that story back to that experimental, don't plan too much approach to that existing first draft.) And I like the work I accomplished, and I feel good about going back to that novel--next week.

Because THEN, just to be really crazy, I spent today working on a novella I'd started planning just before I got the ms request from Steeple Hill. And I'm incredibly excited about that story now, too. (I bet none of you knew that Loki looks like a very young, Nirvana-era Dave Grohl. The proof is here. And no, the novella isn't about Loki, but he does make an appearance.) The plan is to make this story my "vacation" project and see how much I can get done by Friday.

Or until the naps capture me. Either way, it's been a good writing vacation thus far.

Friday, May 29, 2009

In a mood to malinger

As anticipated, no writing happened on Tuesday, but I'd written enough on Monday to make up for it. Wednesday I hit my goal, but Thursday I fell short again. I managed to spit out not quite 300 words, but life got in the way for most of the day. The scene I was working on is the one where my two main characters first meet each other, and they both abruptly clammed up and had NOTHING to say. I sat them both down and got to know them better Thursday evening, and then tried again today after the guys cleared out for Wisconsin. I'm just a couple hundred words short of catching up from yesterday, and then I should be able to catch up on today's goal over the weekend.

After a last-minute trip for new tires on the truck and a spurt of packing the last few things they needed, the hubby and the boys left for their annual fishing trip late this morning. I was utterly unable to accomplish any writing while they were still home, because I was in one of those moods where I just can't stand the idea of sitting down and just getting into a rhythm and then being interrupted. So I let it slide. A nap tried to claim me this afternoon, but I managed to evade it.

Sneaky, dastardly naps.

Monday, May 25, 2009

School daze

I finished planning and pre-writing work on my second inspirational romance last week, took a couple of days to just unwind and read for fun, and started in on first draft today. I got a solid 1,900 words done, which took me almost to the end of the first scene. I'd like to wrap up the scene later today, with another 400-500 words. My goal is 1,200 words a day, five days a week, but tomorrow will likely be taken up with other activities, and I prefer to do my makeup writing ahead of time rather than after. Still, I'm pretty satisfied with the day's work.

Some of the world-building and plot threads of Crowmaker have begun rising to the surface and unraveling themselves lately. Depending on how my available writing time shakes out over the summer, I may do some work on it off and on, too. Or maybe I'll just let it continue to open up in my mind. The world and its people have begun to feel real to me, and I'm less in the frantic "OMG, must write it down before I forget!" frame of mind. So I feel less driven and more simply bemused by that project. I feel like it's there and it's not going away, so although I enjoy rolling the shape of it around in my mind, I'm not going to lose it if I don't drop what I'm doing rightthisverysecond and try to capture it. I also feel like I'm growing to understand even more about my craft as I work on the inspirational romances, so that what I'm learning from those can only make any other novel I write even stronger.

This will be the last week of the school year for the boys. After our weekly grocery shopping tomorrow morning, I will be chaperoning a fifth grade field trip to a farm and pond. After it rained last night and most of today. And there's a chance of storms tomorrow. It could become very interesting. Tomorrow evening is the 8th grade graduation, for which the 7th grade traditionally prepares and works the reception. I'll be over there most of the evening to help out. So tomorrow as a writing day isn't looking likely. Wed. should be a good catch-up day, but Thursday is a half day and the last day, and we have a couple of extra kids coming home with us followed by a vet appointment later in the afternoon. Possibly some writing can happen that day, but it will have to happen in random pockets of found time.

Friday, the guys pack up and leave on their annual fishing trip with the hubby's brothers and their sons. Much quiet will ensue. Hopefully, much writing will also ensue, but there might have to be some naps, too.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The hardest part is beginning

After finishing the inspirational romance and getting it in the mail, I indulged in some slacking to refresh my tired brain. I also caught up on some reading, however, so even the slacker days had some productivity. Someone asked last night what I was working on now, and I asked myself that same question over the last couple of weeks--what now? Because just waiting to hear back on a finished story is never the right answer. First of all, on the off chance they do like the story, they'll eventually want to know if I have another. And I'll want to have another to send to them while the iron is hot, even if they don't ask. And probably more importantly, waiting can drive you crazy. Better to find a new project to throw myself into.

I'm in a place right now where I've tapped into some well of "yes, this is where I need to be" regarding the inspirational romances. I don't know that it's the romance part that draws me, so much as the inspirational part. And I do think that at some level, my attraction to them is at a craftsman's level. These are shorter than your big epic fantasy novels. The situations are more simple and straightforward. The plotting is more linear. This allows me to really see how everything works together and learn how to make it work for me, too. Prior to writing the first romance, I spent some time reading published samples to see what made them tick. I've since gone even further and completely deconstructed a sample in an attempt to see how each piece is constructed and how they all fit together. I feel like I've learned a great deal that I can apply to a next romance, and that's what I started on this weekend--planning a second inspirational romance. Part of me itches to be working on other stories, Crowmaker especially. But I don't so much feel that I've turned aside onto a different path, as that I've been trying to leap across a chasm, and I've just found a previously-obscured path that leads to the promised land on the far side. This path may take me a longer, windier way than the big leap, but the likelihood of making it in one piece is greater. Everything I write, no matter the genre or form or eventual state of publication (or non-publication), is a learning experience. The process of writing a story teaches me something new every time, and it informs the next story I write.

So, yeah. I feel much more settled than I have in a long time. I haven't been soaring with white-hot inspiration and then diving into doing no work at all for days at a time. I find I'm able to keep a steady pace and figure out how to move ahead when I get stuck. One step at a time. One day at a time.

In other news, school is out for the summer in less than two weeks. I am so looking forward to the break. My daytime writing hours may shrink in number, but I've learned how to be more productive in less time, too. And I've had some success in acclimating myself to writing in the evenings, so I may be able to simply juggle my hours around instead of giving some up. We'll see. Even if not, it'll be nice to have a break from fundraiser requests and subbing at school.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Something magic out of something frightening

The Steeple Hill project has been tucked into its mailer and handed over to the post office. At this point, I have mixed feelings about it. Gut instinct says it's a solid story, although I'm sure it could have been stronger in some areas. There are scenes I think I nailed, and others that I can only hope are well-crafted enough for the editor to see the promise of a salable story.

And, after 4 days of 8+ hours a day spent on line editing, I'm still hearing the voice of my inner grammar and style critic every time I so much as glance at a written word. Time to unwind! Maybe a nap...

Hugs and hearts to all my amazing friends. Even though you only caught glimpses of me this week, you crammed tons of support and encouragement into that handful of minutes.

Love you guys!

Monday, May 4, 2009

With a little perseverance you can get things done

With an estimated turnaround time of 3 months on queries to Steeple Hill, I should have plenty of time to finish the rewrite this week and then let the ms cool a week or two before a final polishing read-through.
(quoting silly me from a couple weeks ago)

So. Mailed the query letter April 24. Finished the rewrite on May 1 and set the ms aside to cool for a couple of weeks before a final once-over and waiting out the remainder of the 3 months turnaround time.

Got a letter requesting the full ms today. (It was dated April 29. Good God, these people must be really on top of things.)

Brief elation dance, followed by brief panic dance, followed by settling down to start that final once-over um, today.

Apparently, I DO know how to write a decent query letter, after all. Now let's see if I wrote a decent novel.

If you need me, I'll be chained to my desk with a supply of red pens and a stack of ms. Crossed fingers, good vibes, and/or prayers are always welcome.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

My sign is vital, my hands are cold

Rewrite of the current project is continuing at a steady pace, after which I will set it aside for a couple of weeks before a final once-over. I've started spending the first part of the day on the rewrite, and the second part of the day on a combination of catching up on reading, playing with some additional world-building work I've decided I need to do for Crowmaker before I proceed with anything resembling writing or revision, and fiddling with a short idea story that cropped up the other day. I feel like it's a good balance of left-brained activity, right-brained activity, and feeding the muse from outside sources.

Day two of clouds and rain. Here's hoping for a return to sunshine soon!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Through dust and heat

Last Tuesday it was 40 degrees all day long, with intermittent downpours of rain mixed with sleet. Yesterday, we had to finally cave in and turn on the air conditioning. (OK, so it had more to do with Joey's allergies slamming him but good than with the actual outside temperature. Still, it got into the 80's yesterday and today.)

The boys had a grandparents' day at school on Friday, and my parents were both able come out and attend it this year. (They're in Illinois, but it's still a 6 hour or so drive.) They arrived Thursday afternoon and left on Saturday morning, so I got to have a nice visit with them and yet still have my coveted writing time each day. Was pretty cool.

Today, I tackled the game room in the basement, which is where the boys have their computers and their plethora of game consoles, along with the attendant tangle of cords and an assortment of bookshelves, file cabinets, and big wicker baskets full of magazines and yet more books. The toy corner is cleaned out, at least, since one of our projects for spring break was shoveling outgrown toys into bag and boxes for Goodwill. (I am mildly embarrassed at the sheer quantity of STUFF we have hauled to Goodwill the last couple of weeks. I'm trying to view it as a reminder of how fortunate we are.) But all the electronics in that one room act as a sort of dust magnet, and it had been a while since I actually pulled out furniture and dusted/swept behind and under it. Ugh. So yeah. That was MY fun for the day.

Got a good halfway through the rewrite of the current project last week. Polished a query and synopsis and mailed those out on Friday. With an estimated turnaround time of 3 months on queries to Steeple Hill, I should have plenty of time to finish the rewrite this week and then let the ms cool a week or two before a final polishing read-through. I'm finding that the rewrite is mostly filling in gaps, as I'd suspected, and that there are entire scenes which give me that little tingle of "Hey, this is pretty good. Did I really write that?" I'm pleased with the ms for the stage that it's in, I have a clear idea what remains to be done to it, and I'm reasonably confident in my ability to finish the work. Then it's just a matter of waiting to see if anything comes of the query.

Speaking of queries, Allison Brennan, who submitted the query for her published novel to Nathan Bransford's Agent for a Day contest, has offered a thought-provoking post over at Murderati today. (She's commented in a couple of other places about other aspects of the contest, too, but I'll let you follow those links from her post.)

Side note: I've removed Murderati from my sidebar because I couldn't get their new blog to show up properly there.* But I read it daily, despite not being a suspense/thriller reader or writer. Cool bunch of writers for whom I have a great deal of respect and from whom I've learned a number of interesting things. Go visit them sometime.

*We all saw that coming, didn't we? As soon as I posted and went to fiddle with my layout, the Murderati link worked. So it IS on my sidebar now. You should still go visit them sometime.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

About that new project

Yeah, I know. I've been kinda close-mouthed on my current project. I have mixed feelings about it, so I've avoided talking about it much. Which is ridiculous, since everyone reading this has been uber-supportive and all kinds of wonderful.

Most of my qualms are knee-jerk reactions stemming from the genre and my target market for this story. I mentioned already that it's an inspirational romance. The publisher I intend to target is Steeple Hill, which is an imprint of Harlequin. So, yeah. Category romance. And you know, as a writer of fantasy fiction, I should be above the whole inward-cringe-at-the-mention-of-genre-fiction. I've read a number of the Love Inspired books, and some of them I found not-so-interesting and reliant on cliche. But then, some of them were well-written and entertaining and even touching, albeit in a light-and-fluffy way. And you know, I'd probably come away with diverse opinions regarding individual books from pretty much any genre I chose to sample. (And have. Direct yourselves toward my foray into sampling YA fiction. Which I would link, if I actually remembered where to find it. Man, someone needs to put better labels on these blog posts.)

How did I make the leap from writing/plotting/planning YA fantasy and over to inspirational romance? At one point I'd done some research into Harlequin's supernatural/paranormal romance lines. I concluded at that time that I wasn't sure I was a natural for writing the general type of story they published in that line. As I was thinking idly about the Loki story one day a couple of months ago, it struck me that story's plot might work as a paranormal romance as easily as for a YA fantasy. (And maybe more, since there were a lot of overtly sexual themes emerging from the plot line. Reference my gtalk tagline: "The Norse gods were sluts.") At the same time, I'd been doing a lot of musing about how my natural story-telling style seems more straightforward than the complex world-building and plot-weaving I'd been doing for Crowmaker and then for Loki. And about how spiritual themes seem to shove themselves to the forefront of almost everything I write. And I stumbled across the Steeple Hill guidelines, and a little click sounded somewhere deep in my brain.

The basic plot formula for an inspirational romance (or Christian romance, more accurately) is fairly simple. Romance is about the personal development of two individuals and their romance with each other and the ways in which they and their romantic involvement change each other. An inspirational romance adds the relationships of each individual with God to the mix. I had a basic idea almost immediately, I hashed out a plot over a weekend in early March, and I blasted out a first draft over the course of... 6 weeks? 7? The word count requirement for the line is 55,000-60,000, which suits my tendency to write short and sweet.

What I've discovered while writing this story:

I started out half-thinking I would bore myself to tears midway through and have to force myself to finish in an effort to have something to throw at an "easy" sell publisher. I expected to feel like I was selling out. I do not feel that way. I like this story. I have begun the revision process, which for me involves layering in setting and mood and theme and additional character development bits. I find that I am excited about how well this story is turning out. I think I will be proud of the writing, even if the story itself never finds a home or earns rave reviews.

The writing has been easier than on recent projects, but not in a white-heat inspiration kind of way. Rather, I simply feel like I have a better grasp on what I'm doing. I am able to think to myself "I want to have this effect on the reader," and then I see how to manage it. I feel like I know what I'm doing. I feel like I am in control of the story, or rather that I am balancing with confidence on that tightrope between right and left brain functions as I am telling the story. It's a pretty good feeling.

Did I mention that I feel like I know what I'm doing? I've struggled for years to figure out a writing process that works for me. I feel like with this project, all the little bits and pieces I've picked up here and there are coalescing into a single, powerful process for me. Which vindicates my long-held belief that writing is like many other skills: You can't just pick up and do it. You can't just memorize a list of rules and procedures. You have to focus on the fine points of technique and practice them individually and often and to the best of your ability. And not only do you get better with practice, but eventually, hopefully, the individual things you do begin to internalize themselves and become part of a whole process.

Or maybe I'm just fooling myself, and the smoothness of this project is just a fluke.

I don't know how good this story will really be, objectively speaking. I don't know if I'll be able to sell it to Steeple Hill or to anyplace else. I do think that I am learning and growing as a writer from working through this story, though. I do think it will be a decent story, and I do think it's been worth my while to write and will be worth my while to continue working on.

Even as Crowmaker bubbles and boils and murmurs in the background.