Wednesday, November 3, 2010

I was ready to set the world on fire

My writing hiatus has lasted a little over a month so far. (Although not really, because last week I wrote a teeny tiny little scene that was in my head and wanted out.) Today I felt compelled to work on the draft of a query letter for the middle grade novel. (Because really, I have nothing else I should be doing.) So it's sitting open in the background while I work on more critical projects. Right now, it's at the stage I call "what I REALLY think" and will need to be made polite and politically correct and refined and so forth before I send it to any prospective agents. (If I send it out to any agents.) What can I say, I was in an extraordinarily honest mood this morning.

No, I am not taking part in NaNo this year. The very thought makes my head want to implode. (I've even been avoiding my usual rounds of agent/editor/writer blogs lately.) But cheers and good luck to those out there who are participating. It's only a little over 1,500 words/day. You can do it!

In other news, I have found myself feeling very privileged to be the mother of two such fine young men lately. I wouldn't even know where to start with singing their praises, and it's not always fun and games for me or for them, but they both make me very proud.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

And if you wanna hear God laugh, tell Him your plans

So, unless I'm buried by an avalanche of registration forms over the next couple of days, the writing class is off. Apparently I managed to find the wrong combination of class format and timing, or maybe there just wasn't as much interest as I thought in the middle school. I'm a little disappointed, but not crushed. I'm glad I at least made the attempt, because if I hadn't I'd always wonder and feel a little guilty for not making the effort. Now I know, and I can move on. Failure is God's way of saying, "Nice try, I appreciate the effort, but that's not exactly what I had in mind for you."

I am also taking a hiatus from writing. I'm not sure yet if I'm just burned out and need a long rest or if I have also reached the "Nice try, I appreciate the effort, but this is not exactly what I had in mind for you" point with writing. "The effort" in this case netted me 15 published stories, and I can definitely live with that. Maybe I just need to stop thinking in dollar signs and listen to that little voice that keeps telling me I'm a short story writer, not a novelist. I quit writing for a couple of years previously, and that hiatus also came about after I pushed myself to write novel-length instead of short. I do not yet have enough mental or emotional distance to think about that objectively, however, so I will go back to just saying "I'm on hiatus."

Fear not, I have plenty of (long-neglected) household projects to occupy my time!

Monday, September 13, 2010

I'm the same old trouble you've been having for years

Just enough time for a quick update! (I hope.)

1.  Adjusting to school is still in process. I'm guessing we'll be all settled in just in time for next summer.

2.  The middle grade novel has been rested, re-opened, and heavily notated for revisions. Actual write-in of revisions is about 1/5 completed.

3.  WORDS Writing Classes is officially open for registration. Flyers went out to the local 6th-8th grade today. I am both excited and nervous.

4.  That weird noise I keep half-hearing is the dog snoring. No need to call the A/C repair guy after all. Whew.

Time to go be afternoon carpool driver. Hope everyone out there is doing well!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

This road was paved by the winds of change

Two weeks of the new school year under our belt. I've kind of felt bad for Michael, because all the fuss has been about Joey starting high school and sorting out all the NEW! and UNFAMILIAR! that goes along with that. Michael's in 7th grade this year and no longer has the shadow of the brother hanging over him. Whenever I ask him how school's going, is it different since he's a big shot this year, does he like the new P.E. teacher, etc., I get an "Eh. It's OK," and a Michael-shrug. (He gets his talent for small talk from me, apparently.) But he has stepped up and settled with relative ease into the role of latchkey kid for the hour or so while I'm making the afternoon carpool run for the older kids.

Joe is a freshman at an entirely new school this year. It's a 30 minute drive, but luckily we can carpool, since a couple of his friends are also going there. When I pick them up in the afternoon and ask THEM how school's going, I get plenty of answer--usually all the way home. As I mentioned already, there has been a somewhat exhausting amount of NEW! and UNFAMILIAR! to deal with, and there have been bumps. I keep reassuring Joe that he (and I) will survive.

I made a fill-in-the-holes revision pass to the middle grade novel, complete with the usual bout of "OMG, this sucks, what makes you think you can write?" But if I force myself to be objective (or as objective as a writer can ever be about their own work), I think it's... Well, what I think currently depends on the reading I've been doing and how well my work (seems to) stack up against that, the content of industry blogs I've just read, and the price of tea in China.  In other words, I have no clue how viable it is right now. Which is why the ms is parked in a drawer for a much-needed objectivity rest.

I have spent more time fiddling with ideas for a middle school creative writing class that is a combination of online (for convenience, mine and the kids') and in-person (for increased motivation and fun). Honestly, I almost just let it slide. (The usual self-defeating voice in my head: "No one really cares if you do this or not. Won't it just be a lot of extra work?") But Joe has been hounding me about WHEN (not if) I'm starting a class, and a couple other former students have said they miss the class. (Although whether they miss the actual class or just the fact that we spent class time talking about books and movies and sometimes going out on the playground, I'm not sure.*) In any case, I had Joe do a test drive of a couple of pieces of the online portion this weekend. So there has been forward movement on that project, too.

And in my free time, I have... uh... I haven't had a ton of free time lately. Or rather, I've dumped what I've had into one of the above projects instead. But it balances out, since the ms is in a drawer now, and I'm not ready to start another creative project at the moment, so this week holds potential for other, non-writing things to happen. Who knows, maybe I'll actually get my laundry room cleaned out and new coat hooks put up before jacket season sets in.

*It was all in the interest of illustrating story structure and promoting inspiration, I swear. If your child was in my class, ask him/her to explain the purpose of the running "Squirrel!" joke in UP.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

It's time to clear the air, you better save your breath

It's been a while since I've done an actual update on my activities. In part this is because every time I make a plan and post it here, it winds up changing. Which leads me to fear either that I appear indecisive or that I am jinxing my plans by stating them "out loud." In the interest of avoiding both, I'll stick to telling you what I have done and leave out what I (think I) plan to do next.

Writing-wise, I spent the last two or so weeks writing the first draft of a middle grade novel. It still needs work, but I think I like it. Crowmaker has begun nibbling at me again, as well. And in the midst of all the first drafting, I've had some deep thoughtful spells regarding the craft side of my writing, which may have helped in the completion of the middle grade first draft. And may help in the completion of future projects. We shall see.

The creative writing elective had to give way in the middle school schedule for other classes this year, so I will not be teaching that after all--at least not as an elective. I have done some fiddling with other possibilities, including something more online-based. Specifically, I have been playing around with Moodle to see what I can come up with. My main concern is less "Can I set up a course?" and more "How strongly can I motivate kids to actually keep up with it?" I have some ideas about that, as well. The whole scheme needs a little more sleeping-on-it time.

And in my free time, I watched meteor showers and learned a few stars and constellations (and even convinced my boys to join me a couple of times). And played several hands of Euchre vs. the computer while trying to think up things to write or waiting for kids to get shoes on or other things that required something to click while killing time. And read a lot of books. And watched some movies. And for reasons I cannot entirely explain, I started learning how to read Biblical Hebrew. (Maybe it has something to do with getting a kick from the expressions of mingled awe and befuddlement my family gives me.)

School starts tomorrow. As a mother, I am of course obligated to be as nervous on my children's behalf as they are for themselves. Although less nervous than I have been in the past because, honestly, they are both growing into responsible, competent, independent young men. And I am very proud of both of them.

Friday, August 6, 2010

You hung the moon in a big empty sky

In partial response to one of yesterday's comments, I'd like to revisit the quote I used from Stephen King's short story, "The Body." Having been a King fan for something like 30 years, I tend to assume everyone realizes that this story was the basis for the movie Stand By Me.  If you didn't know that, you do now.  And if you haven't seen the movie, you may wish to do that also, because it is awesome whether you read the story or not. (The short story collection Different Seasons is where you'll find "The Body." You will find in that same collection "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption," upon which the movie The Shawshank Redemption was based. Again, if you haven't seen the movie, you're missing out.)

The line I used yesterday is just a snippet from the opening paragraph of "The Body," which I quoted because that one tiny bit seemed most pertinent to what I had to say. What I have on my fridge, however, is the entire opening paragraph of the story:
The most important things are the hardest things to say. They are the things you get ashamed of, because words diminish them--words shrink things that seemed limitless when they were in your head to no more than living size when they're brought out. But it's more than that, isn't it? The most important things lie too close to wherever your secret heart is buried, like landmarks to a treasure your enemies would love to steal away. And you may make revelations that cost you dearly only to have people look at you in a funny way, not understanding what you've said at all, or why you thought it was so important that you almost cried while you were saying it. That's the worst, I think. When the secret stays locked within not for want of a teller but for want of an understanding ear.
The first time I read the story, that opening sentence paralyzed me. By the time I got to the end of the paragraph, I had tears in my eyes. I copied that paragraph word by word, longhand, into my journal*, like I was writing words of power into a magic spell book. It wasn't just the meaning of the words themselves that shook me, although King had put into words something I had, up until that moment, felt but found inexpressible. (I know you all know what I mean.) It was also the realization that at least one other human being understood how I felt, at least well enough to put it into words for a fictional character.

I could talk forever about the different layers of reasons this paragraph has meant so much to me over the years, because what I take from it has varied and continues to vary depending on what's on my mind or happening in my life. But the first thing it meant was that I wasn't alone. Back in those much younger days, that was huge.

The other huge thing was the crystallization of the understanding that words can be immensely powerful. And if I hadn't entirely realized yet that I wanted to be a writer, I did then.

I would love to hear if anyone else has a quote (or story or poem) that holds a similar place of importance in his or her life.

*I have been collecting quotes since before I had a refrigerator. Pre-refrigerator, I used a spiral notebook.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

My will gets weak and my thoughts seem to scatter

The writer's conundrum:  Why, when I really DO want to write this story, when I actually KNOW what I want to write next, do I still catch myself stalling when it's time to sit down and actually write the words into the ms?

Yesterday's post over at Magical Words touched on this topic, specifically as it regards writing the ending of a story.  But this happens to me off and on at every stage of a story.  After pondering the question (which, as I'm sure you've all figured out, is a version of cat vacuuming, and one at which I am particularly adept), I have reached the conclusion that it's all about fear.  (And ties fairly well into the linked post's item #3.) Or, to paraphrase a borrowed line from Field of Dreams:

If I write it, it might suck.

Which in turn ties back to one of my favorite refrigerator quotes*:

"...words shrink things that seemed limitless when they were in your head to no more than living size when they're brought out."  (From Stephen King's "The Body")

And that is the unspoken fear that creeps in and makes me feel more inclined to do laundry than write. (The lack of logic alone should tip me off that something is wrong.)  Oddly enough, though, when I define and face down that fear, it turns into a reassurance:

If there is no humanly possible way for me to capture in words exactly what is in my head, then I am freed from the restrictions of trying to do so.  Perfection is not a requirement. 

And now I will take the reassurance reached via that convoluted line of reasoning and go finish my scene completion goals for the day.

*"Refrigerator quotes" being the slang used by family and at least one friend to refer to my habit of plastering clipped-out inspirational quotes all over my refrigerator.

Note:  I have this nagging sense of having written this post in some form or another in the past. If so, then it must be pretty important to me! I'm not going to take the time to look it up, though, although I am still feeling the procrastinating urge strongly enough to be tempted.

Friday, July 16, 2010

In the desert in the dry, before the breaking of the rain

As I mentioned on Facebook today, I dragged an old story draft out of the drawer for further consideration as a contender for publication. It's difficult sometimes to verbalize exactly what inspires me to make such moves, because inspiration for me is often less like a hurricane and more like a conspiracy of small breezes which eventually manage to catch my attention. In this case, the most recent nudges involved finally getting around to reading The Fire In Fiction after seeing Robin LaFevers endorse it, along with stumbling across a note I'd made to myself about a promising short story market which caused this story to leap to mind.

But the very first breeze (several months back) was a rejection letter. Oh joy. But rejection letters are not always A Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Thing. This particular letter (email, technically) came from the editor of IGMS and contained a personal note in addition to the usual form rejection wording--which is, oddly enough, always a very exciting thing to me, because writing personal notes in rejection letters is something not every editor can take the time to do for every letter. (Or so I hypothesize.) So if an editor does take the time to tell me something specific about my story, you damn well better believe I sit up and take notice.

In this case, what the editor had to say (paraphrased to avoid digging through email folders) was something like this: "You write beautifully, but this story is boring." (Actually, he elaborated more than that and gave me some specific examples of what he meant. Which was even more awesome.)

This tidbit of criticism came at a perfect time, because I had become somewhat obsessed with the minute details of my writing style. This editor made me remember that no matter how pretty my style becomes, I still have to TELL A STORY in an interesting manner. Which in turn reminded me that writing is a constant balancing act, because I do need to tell a story, but I do also still need to pay attention to the manner in which I'm writing it.

Which only goes to show that learning to write isn't something you do once and then you know how to do it. (At least not for me, and not for any of the many writers whose blogs I follow, so I will profess that this is a universal conundrum.) For me it's been like a long, slow spiral, where I focus on strengthening different elements of my writing in turn--characterization, setting and atmosphere, plot, style--and then back around to each in turn again. I gradually internalize at least part of what I'm putting into practice and then tighten my focus even more the next time I come around to an element, building on what I've internalized and understanding more than I did the first time I passed through--or at least reminding myself of things I'd thought I understood but managed to forget. And then I do it again. And again. And again.

With hopefully a whole lot more again's to go, because I am so not tired of this writing thing just yet.

Friday, June 25, 2010

When the hitman comes, he knows damn well he has been cheated

I am officially in full summer mode--I can barely keep track of what day it is, let alone tell you what I accomplished or did not accomplish over the last week. At least, not without thinking about it really hard. And I am going to pass on that.

I can tell you that the house is mostly clean, the laundry mostly caught up, and the kitchen well-stocked enough to prevent starvation. We have taken walks, sat on the back deck and read or talked, played cards, played Rock Band, and just generally enjoyed each others' company while also finding time to go off and do our own individual things. The whole "late to bed, late to rise" thing is kinda nice, too. I know I'll pay for it when I have to readjust in August, but right now, I just don't care.

On the writing front, I am making no plans. No outlines. No word count meters. I'm trying to put in at least a couple of hours a day toward doing something writing-related, but that's the limit of my goals for now. What I have been doing is working on Crowmaker. In a very laid-back, roundabout, no pressure kind of way. Vincent suggested another song for his playlist today. I have been reading up on assorted, semi-related historical topics as it strikes my fancy. I have written the skeletons of a couple of new scenes. But that's all I'm going to say about that, for fear of scaring off the muse.

In the meantime, I am steadfastly refusing to think beyond the end of June. 

Sunday, June 13, 2010

We're all okay, until the day we're not

The week in review:

I don't feel like I accomplished a great deal, at least from a tangible perspective. (In other words, you can't tell I've done much just by looking at the state of my house. Although honestly, just keeping dishes and laundry caught up is a feat unto itself. And the summer version of grocery shopping, oh God.) But I did get my closet cleaned out. And my piano bench, which was just about as cluttered. And I figured out a couple more details about how I might like to set up the after school writing club(s) I might like to set up next school year. And while my original plan was to look over some short fiction and see what could be done with it, my fictional version of Tenskwatawa* popped his head into my brain and informed me that he knew how to fix Crowmaker. Or at least part of it. I didn't keep track of word count, but I did some fiddling with his ideas, and they seem to be working. I guess they didn't call him The Prophet for nothing.

 As for the week ahead... Y'know, I don't know. Obviously, I have several writing-related things I could work on. And a list of household stuff that we could do. But as to exactly what we'll do and when? I think we'll just play it by ear. Chill, Lori. It's summer.

*You can Google to get a basic idea who he was, but after the research I've done on him, his brother, and that historical period in general, I can only add that you should take everything you read online with a grain of salt. It's also highly likely that I have such a solid vision of my fictional version of the man that even reading proven facts might cause me to grind my teeth if they didn't match up with what MY Tens is like. And of course there's always the "history is written by the victors" aspect, too.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Peace and harmony don't come in packages with bows

Week in review:

Big package of peace and harmony, accompanied by a little writing, a little reading, and a resurgence in my interest in piano. Also perhaps some playing of video games. By Thursday or so I could feel a hint of restless start to creep in, along with the growing urge to plan something. Organize something. Accomplish something. I managed to put it off by telling it we could start a fresh work week on Monday morning.

The guys arrived home yesterday morning, along with a lot of dirty laundry, sun tanned necks and arms, and fish stories. I am happy to have them home, but I am finding that my previously rested and ready to work brain is feeling all muddled and tired again. Once my senses have readjusted to the company of others, I'm sure I'll be back into plotting and planning mode again.

Looking ahead:

Assorted housekeeping to be done, along with a trip to the library to meet Joey's request to start reading The Dark Tower series. (Assuming they have a copy of The Gunslinger. I have all the rest of the series, I think, so I may just have to buy that one, too. Maybe I'll have to reread along behind him. I never finished the series, because I took a years-long break in the middle of it and could just not get back into it after that. Or maybe, given my mixed reaction to The Dome, I'm just over King.) And both boys have requested to have their buddies over for airsoft, music playing, video games, and clearing out the fridge and pantry of all snack-like foodstuffs, so we'll have to set that up.

Somewhere in all that, I need to get my personal "work hours" set up, so that I can focus on the Big Plans for Writing Classes and Finishing Some Short Fiction. I think once the boys and I are home a few days and fall into a summer daily routine, I will feel more settled once again.

In the meantime:  Fishing trip pictures!

And also, it has come to my attention that while I posted this announcement on Facebook, I neglected to mention it here. The Four Horsemen anthology has been released!  (OK, technically it's been out for over a month now. I can't believe I forgot to post the news here.)

Incidentally, anyone here who wants to look me up on Facebook can find me as Lori Rosenbalm Erickson.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

We face the dark 'til we see the light

I told myself that June 1 would be a good day to dust off the blog, give it a fresh new look, and start posting again. So here I am!

We have survived the end of the school year, I am now the mother of a high school freshman and a 7th grade student who has less than a year left before he becomes a full-fledged teen, too, and all the assorted men in my life are off together on a week-long fishing trip. This has left me with Avie and a whole lot of peace, quiet, and privacy in which to find my center and reassess the state of my writing career, such as it is.

My stint with Extended Care is over. I have enjoyed working with preschool and kindergarten kids, and I do not regret having taken on that job over the past year. However, I also think I made a good call in deciding to not continue with that job in the future. As I may have mentioned previously, I am a serious introvert. As in, I score at or close to 100% on the introvert side of the scale anytime I've tested for it. And since an introvert's energy is drained by being around other people, and young children tend to be the drainingest drainers that walk the earth, that particular job on a day to day basis is probably not healthy for me in the long run.

I also enjoyed the time I spent teaching the creative writing elective at the middle school. I was worried that I wouldn't be able to stand at the center of attention in the front of a classroom for 45 minutes a week and think of interesting, educational things to say to a bunch of 6th-8th grade students without shriveling up and dying. I am, however, still kicking. Not everything went as I'd hoped, but I learned a lot about teaching in general and about how to draw and hold the interest of that age group. I've put together a general plan for next year's elective that hopefully successfully incorporates all those things I learned. I also have tentative plans to start an after school writing club or two, but I'd like to wait until after the school year starts before making decisions or seeking school approval for that. And I have all summer to think through the details.

On the writing front, I have not done a whole awful lot of actual writing since my last post here. I have, however, done a lot of reading, because reading counts as writing work but requires less mental effort than coming up with my own words. Crowmaker is... something. A longer draft than I had previously, but still not coming together in quite the way I'd envisioned. I'm going to let it sit a while longer, I believe, let it breathe and ferment and not try to force it. If it takes me years more before I manage to figure out what it takes to make that story work, then so be it. In the meantime, I have a handful of flash and short stories in assorted stages of development, including some really rough drafts I've scribbled down as they've come at me. I'm not forcing myself to do anything this week, because it is my vacation, damn it, and I've earned it. I can feel all the little pieces of my brain and creative energy settling back into a comfortable pattern, so I'm going to let it settle. But I think those short pieces will be at the top of my list of writing stuff to work on over the summer.

So, in summary: Vacation. To be followed by The Return of the Children and Decisions About What We're Doing This Summer, in conjunction with Big Plans for Writing Classes and Finishing Some Short Fiction. Sounds like enough of a plan to be comfortable, but not so much plan that it threatens to overwhelm.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Hearts are fragile toys so easy to forget

A quick note of the update variety from my inbox today:
Dear contributing authors of The Four Horsemen: An Anthology of Conquest, War, Horror and Death:
I am thrilled to let you know that The Four Horsemen: An Anthology of Conquest, War, Horror and Death has been sent to the printer. It should be available for purchase online within the next couple of weeks.
The anthology will be available in soft cover AND (for the first time from Pill Hill Press, I believe) hard cover.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

I'm looking for a complication

Yeah, I know. Just as soon as I say I won't be here much for a while...

But Editorial Ass is having a giveaway contest to celebrate her 500,000th hit--a first 20 pages crit! I don't know that I have 20 pages polished enough to show anyone on Crowmaker yet, but I figured I'd spread the word anyhow.

Monday, March 29, 2010

If you never owed them anything

I live! 

In the interest of keeping this short, a brief recap of the last two weeks:

The allergy/asthma/bronchitis thing seems to be better. OTC Zyrtec and a zap of Proventil when needed, which has been maybe twice in the last two weeks. I can live with this.

Spring cleaning. Lots of it. Two weeks' worth, as a matter of fact. Yay for two strong boys to help. And a school with a really big recycling bin.

Writer's math: Completed percentage of estimated total word count = 74%.  Completed percentage of estimated total scenes in my outline = 63%. (I'll spare you the convoluted calculations used to arrive at those percentages.) However, clearly 74% =/= 63%. Analysis? Probably have a longer ms on my hands than I initially thought. (Good thing I poured all that cash into an accounting degree so I could figure that out.)

I will probably be scarce around here for a couple of months. April and May are shaping up to be busy on the school front, and I am feeling the serious urge to just dig a hole and spend as much time as I can on Crowmaker. (I say that now. As soon as I go back to it after this short blogging break, I'll be ready to give up. Until the characters kick in and starting giving me directions again. At which point, I'll get interrupted as soon as I get on a roll. Because that's just how that works, y'know.)

I still have an email address, however! I welcome waves and updates anytime.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Miles away from those I love, purpose hard to find

The week in review:

Uh. There was a week. I'm sure of it. And stuff must've happened. See, this is why I keep a time-tracking journal--so I don't start feeling like I'm accomplishing nothing, when in fact I am accomplishing quite a damn lot.

In the writing world, I am caught up on my 2YN assignments, despite hemming and hawing and trying to talk myself out of doing them each week. I taught my class, and while the enthusiasm for one of the exercises I had them do was lackluster at best, we had a decent discussion toward the end of class about the difference between showing and telling. And the high point of my youngest son pointing out that the phrase I had just used was a simile, not a metaphor. Silly teacher. More rough draft happened for Crowmaker, and I am now in a research phase for the next set of scenes. I also got smacked upside the head with an idea for a middle grade novel. It's a very fully-formed idea, so I may work on it a little once I've checked off my daily list for Crowmaker.

Health-wise, I'm not exactly sure what's going on. The meds I mentioned last entry did wind up helping--or at least the steroids did. As soon as the stepped dosage stepped down to about three a day, I could feel all the good breathing I'd had start to come undone, until I felt as bad as I had before by the time the cycle of meds was complete. Yet a doctor's appointment Tuesday gave me a clean pulmonary test--it was hugely improved from the week before. Chest x-ray showed my lungs look good. Blood test for allergies came back negative on the specific allergens they tested for, but high overall, which indicates I'm having an allergic reaction to something--we just haven't determined what yet. They're supposed to be setting me up with an allergist. I am beginning to be highly frustrated by getting so easily winded doing little things I should not be winded from doing. Like carrying a basket of laundry from one room to the next. Seriously.

The week ahead:

Last week of school before spring break! I have a list of cleaning and clutter-reduction jobs for the boys and I to work on starting next weekend. Here's hoping I'm feeling well enough to get them tackled, because the clutter is really starting to bug me. And I would so like to get things cleaned up well enough to do some more room painting this spring. My plan is to take a break from writing the entire week of spring break. This week I will focus on getting through the current research phase of Crowmaker so things are all tidy and ready to go when I get back to it after spring break. I will also put together my next lesson plan for my class and do this week's 2YN assignment. If there's time, I'll fiddle some more with the middle grade idea, too.

That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

I got some money in my pocket, I got the alligator shoes

You may recall that last week, I struggled with a snooze-worthy scene and how to make it less snooze-worthy. I wrapped up the week having written four scenes for that particular sequence of events. Over the weekend, I concluded that all four of those scenes would put me to sleep, particularly if I encountered them that early on in a novel. Furthermore, I don't think I really need them. I have scooted the entire sequence into my scratchpad at the end of the ms and spent most of this week regrouping and finding my new direction. All right, yes. There was also a minor bout of the familiar "you suck, just give it up now" game. Game over, I win. There will be no quitting just yet. (Confidence, or sheer stupid stubbornness? I have no idea.)

Over the weekend (once I came down from my euphoric mother moment), I also reached the conclusion that I should really not be having so much difficulty breathing, no matter how out of shape I may be. A trip to the doctor yesterday netted me a diagnosis of asthmatic bronchitis and prescriptions for an antibiotic, a steroid, and an inhaler. I'm not sure I feel terribly better overall just yet, but there have been patches of betterness. I think. I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Least I don't need to beg or borrow

Roncalli High School Quest for Excellence Competition
U.S. History Category
First Place:  Joey Erickson

When the boys were little, we used to share thumbs-up on everything. They could see a thumbs-up from a distance without me having to shout and embarrass them. It was a clear visual signal that everything was all right, that I was proud of them for their accomplishment or that I had confidence they could handle whatever difficult undertaking they were facing. Make it to the end of the block without your training wheels? Thumbs up! Place well in the spelling bee? Thumbs up! Standing nervously on the stage waiting for the Christmas program to start? Encouraging thumbs up!

We don't use the thumbs up so much anymore. They're too big and mature for such silly things. But today?

Today I got a thumbs up from across a crowded gym. And then when the awards ceremony was over, I got a hug. In public. And when I said, "I'm so proud of you," he replied, "Thanks for the study guide, Mom." It was one of those full circle moments you get once in a rare while that allows you to believe that maybe you've done an OK job as a parent after all.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

And all that you hope to be

That scene I mentioned last entry? I have scrapped it entirely. OK, no, not scrapped entirely. I copied it into the scratchpad section of my document, because there are bits of scenery and character description that I can likely make use of, if nothing else. But I woke up yesterday thinking how boring this scene and the next planned one were, and how I wished I could just get on to the one after that instead.

Uh. Here's a clue, Lori. If you feel that way, then maybe, just maybe, you should consider skipping this scene and the next and going to the one that matters. So I took another look at what I wanted to accomplish with the two snooze scenes and determined that I could accomplish the same things if I meshed them into the more exciting scene. AND I don't risk slacking up on the pacing of the story at this early point where I probably should not yet be slacking up on the pacing of the story.

So yeah. Now I just need to do the work. Yesterday was a bust, in part because other things demanded my attention, but also in part because I was having a fuzzy brain day. I am having a fuzzy brain day today, too. Hence the blog post--I'm trying to wake myself up, remember how to string words into sentences, and convince myself that I want to wake up and string words into sentences.

The non-writing stuff that kept me busy yesterday consisted, aside from my afternoon stint working at school, of taking Joe to register for his freshman classes in the morning and then spending a couple of hours at evening meetings to go over field trips for Michael's 6th grade class and Joe's 8th grade class. And to discuss 8th grade graduation, which is a big deal in these parts because St. Rose only goes through 8th grade, and the students then depart for a variety of high schools, depending on where they live and/or whether they enroll at one of the Catholic high schools.

One of the things they do at the graduation reception is a slide show of photos of the graduating class as they grow up. I started going through pictures last night. I may be in a funk of motherly sentimentality for a few days. It's a bittersweet, wistful sort of experience. I should be used to the feeling by now, but I kinda figure I never will be.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Think I have about sixty miles of gasoline left in my car

Research for the next group of scenes has been accomplished, and that should be the biggest part of the research overall, save for some inevitable smidges along the way. (Knock wood.) I have begun writing the next scene and am probably about halfway through it. But I stopped because there are a couple of fiddly details that are not sitting right with me. The right characters are in the scene. They are behaving as they should be (mostly) and the necessary relationships and setting details are being revealed. But these little fiddly details are bugging me. I think I have decided to push ahead and finish the scene anyhow, with the resolve to mull over what needs to change about the little fiddly details--because I know at this point that they need to be different, but I do not yet know what they need to be instead of what they currently are.

I also need to tweak the behavior of one of the characters, because I am not quite capturing who he is. And I do need to nail that before I go on, or I will be floundering in every scene after this one.

Any writing is good, as long as it's taking me somewhere. Right?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

You know love's a funny thing, you just gotta let it be

It didn't take me until the end of the week to hit the 30,000 word mark after all. I pretty much had it Monday night and then just finished up the scene I was working on Tuesday morning. At which point I realized I needed to move into a different character's head, as well as a different physical setting. At which point I freaked out a little: "OMG, I don't know enough about this setting. I can't write it believably enough. I'll never be able to make it convincing! I should just quit now!"

I can be pretty dense like that sometimes. I have since remembered that a) I didn't know enough about the other two time periods/settings/historical characters/cultures I've written scenes in before I researched them, either, and I think those scenes turned out reasonably well. And b) Um, that's what that stack of books over there is for. To READ before you try to write these next scenes, remember? It's called RESEARCH?

I have always gotten very easily fixated on word count and daily production of it. My agreement with myself on Crowmaker was that I would try a different approach this time: I did the basic, absolutely necessary research before and during outlining. I will do the nitty gritty, need-the-details-please research as I write the draft. This necessitates relaxing my stranglehold on the word count tracker, because it takes time to do the research before I can write the scenes. Which is, y'know, what I've been doing. I just sort of got all caught up in the excitement of watching that little bar grow, I guess.

That, and I want to get this next part written so I can get back to the two characters I have to leave in limbo while I switch to these other characters. I'm going to take that as a good sign. Even better will be if by the time I get to the end of these scenes, I don't want to leave these new characters, either.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

It's like falling backwards into no one's arms

We had no school Monday, because Archbishop Buechlein gave all Catholic schools in the archdiocese a free day to show support for the hard work and leadership of the Colts. (We have to make it up on President's Day instead of having that day off, so... yeah. It was a nice thought, I suppose.)

We had no school Tuesday or Wednesday, because most of the state was under a winter storm warning. We didn't really have all that much snow, at least not as compared to what I remember us getting when I was a kid in northern Illinois. But apparently there was much blowing and drifting in the outlying areas. And hey, who am I to argue with a day off? (Although again, I hesitate to call them "free" days, because you know they're coming out of future days off at some point.)

And then we had an early dismissal day on Friday.  Although I did work for about an hour and a half. But, y'know, considering I didn't work at all on my usual days of Monday and Wednesday, I cannot complain.

Joey's buddy Matt has been here since yesterday afternoon, and the three boys are currently romping around upstairs. I think they think they're getting dressed to go outside for an airsoft fight. But I also think that given the rate of distraction and goofing off I hear, they're actually getting dressed so that Matt will be ready just in time for his parents to pick him up in 45 minutes. (Side note: What I love about Matt--about Joe and all of his friends, really--is that they always include Michael in what they're doing. If Michael wanders off for some alone time, they will even come looking for him. I suppose some parents might worry that Michael never asks to have any of his friends over, but... Joey and his friends ARE Michael's friends. He has other people he hangs out with at school, but given a choice of who to ask over, he opts for whomever Joe is asking over.)

Work accomplished this week:
  • I taught class on Thursday (the ONLY full school day of the week). We talked about story premise, looked for it in books and movies we know and love, and recalled fondly the in-class group story premise brainstorming exercises we've done in the past. (I have been told, repeatedly, that it was the best class session ever. If I let them choose what we do, I think that's all we'd do.)
  • I have prepared my lesson plan for next week's class. Funny how it's always easier when the kids have participated enthusiastically the class before.
  • I have completed this week's assignment for the 2YN class over at Forward Motion. I was kinda bleh about this one, since I'm already 99.9% positive what point of view I'll be using. But it was cool to revisit these characters after not thinking about them for years. Except whenever I hear Boston's "A Man I'll Never Be," which has been Zaras's theme song for as long as I can remember. Y'know, it's possible the song even helped give birth to him, now that I think about it.
  • The early part of the week was heavily loaded with research reading for Crowmaker before falling into a pattern of somewhat lighter research and scene design/preparation followed by actual writing of the scene in question. As of this morning, I have completed three scenes to the tune of 5,750 words total for the week. I have a fourth scene researched and prepped and will hopefully get at least some of it drafted today or tonight. I am pleased with this progress. By the end of next week, if all goes as planned, I should have 1/3 of a novel. This also pleases me.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Sure make a hell of a car

By the way of brief explanation, so that I don't sound like a complete wacko to any of my non-writing friends, when I work up characters for a story (or anything else), I start with your basic information about them--what they look like, what they do for a living, what kinds of things I have in mind for them to do in the story (so that they will be the kind of person who would believably do such a thing), etc. And I continue to fiddle with their bios as I plan the story, adding stuff as it comes up. And at some point, they "show up," more or less like I've summoned them by the magic ritual of writing down the facts of their fictional existence. I like when that happens. It makes the whole writing business so much easier.

At any rate.  I was fiddling with some technical details a few days ago, trying to come up with a fictional title for a fictional rank in a fictional outfit of gunfighters/security guards/organized mercenaries. Mr. Vincent Bradley is a member of this unnamed rank, and he hadn't had a word to say to me yet.

Got out the thesaurus. Started writing down possibilities: regulators, enforcers, implementors, administrators...

Pause. Snicker. Tools...

You bitch.

And not only did I hear him call me that, but I could hear him do this awesome little laugh-snort along with it. 

Next day, hubby is cooking and has AC/DC cranked up. I am not overly fond of AC/DC. But as I walk through the kitchen, I hear Mr. Vincent Bradley's voice in my head once again.

That's my kind of music. You're gonna need that on your soundtrack.

 And then he smirked at me. And he's grinning right now. Apparently, he can really turn on the charm when he likes. And yet there are those cold eyes, still, reassuring me that he is capable of gunning down any idiot who gets in his way.

Hello, Mr. Bradley. Why yes, we should get to your scenes very soon now. Just put the weapons away and try not to wear anything out with your impatient pacing.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

And I get scared but I'm not crawling on my knees

I told myself I could not blog until I'd finished the scene I intended to write today. But it's at nearly 2,000 words and still not over yet, so in the interest of giving myself a breather, here I am.

Nearly 2,000 words is actually right about 1,750, and honestly, I wasn't sure I'd get more than 10 when I started out this morning. I have researched everything in this scene that needed to be researched. And then some. I knew what needed to be written--I've been seeing bits and pieces of the scene for days now. I even knew the first line. The scene was THERE. I was READY.

And I just could not get myself to sit down with it this morning. OK, granted, the morning started with getting up at 7am, checking email to find out that school was canceled for the day, and sending everyone back to bed, myself included. So it was 10 before I got back out of bed, got dressed, had some breakfast, and even attempted to wander back to my desk. But as soon as I sat down...  Stage fright. That's what it was like. This is the first big scene of the book--everything else I've written so far will eventually be incorporated later in the story. This will be the scene that has those magic first five pages. This is the scene that launches all those later scenes. And I think I just let myself over think it.

But no. I don't think I over thought it. I believe the amount of planning and research I've put into it was absolutely necessary. So it wasn't over thinking so much as just forgetting to turn off the thinking and planning portion of my brain and turn on the part that takes all those facts and structures and makes magic with them. So yeah. We're back to stage fright. The scene is so big and so clear in my mind that I was afraid I could never do it justice.

At which point, once I'd realized I was falling into that trap again, I was able to remind myself that no scene EVER comes out as perfectly on paper as it appears in your head. But it sure as hell comes out a lot clearer than if you never write it at all. So I took some deep breaths and put on my Crowmaker soundtrack. And once I sat down and forced myself through the first sentence and then the first paragraph, it got easier. Like it always does. And it started flowing. Like it always does. And the muse handed me some lovely poetic bits crafted from hard-earned research facts. Like it always does.

Someday it will take me less than two hours to talk myself into remembering how this always works. Someday.

But in the meantime, yes. Almost 2,000 words on today's scene.  If you average it out over the research time I put in on Friday, that's still almost 1,000 words/day, and I don't count myself done for the day just yet. I can live with that, I believe.

Edit:  Final word count on the scene, as of 12:30am, was 2,750.  Whew.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Don't need much, just enough to get me through

Let's see. Friday was library and research reading day, followed in the evening by the much-touted annual Punk-N-Rock show at the middle school. Sixth grade serves as stage crew, so Michael got to wear black and hop around backstage. He also got to catch a wheelchair after it was flung down the stage ramp as part of one of the skits. This was Joe's last year, since he's on to high school next year, and his entire class (yeah, all seven of them) looked so relaxed and like they were having a ton of fun up there, which made every skit they were in all that much more fun for those of us in the audience. They did covers of everything from the Hee Haw gloom and agony song to "Crazy Train" to Veggie Tales to "Love is a Battlefield" to Jonathan Coulter (plus a whole bunch more I just can't think of right now). I will follow up with pictures and perhaps video when we get the dvd we ordered, but my own camera sucks, so for now I will simply assure you that Joe made an awesome Bob the Tomato.

Yesterday's writing time was devoted to putting together next week's lesson plan, and today's was spent on the 2YN class I signed up for over at Forward Motion. I've been wavering on how badly I really need to be working on another project right now. But so far, the time spent on it each week hasn't been overwhelming, possibly because so far it's much resembled the process I already put myself through. Which also makes me question how badly I need to be in the class. But I keep telling myself it's not about learning an entirely new writing process at this point. It's about picking up little bits and pieces of other people's processes that I might incorporate to strengthen my own process.

And honestly, it's also about walking through the process with other people. Because let's face it, writing is pretty quiet work, even for a seriously introverted introvert like me. And since I gave up WoW, it's kinda nice to have other online "voices" around once in a while. So hello to any fellow 2YN participants who happen to wander through! Feel free to say hello. I promise I won't yell and chase you out of my yard.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Hey satellite man your time has come

Today's productivity countdown:
  • Hauled not only children, but also drum kit, to school this morning. The drum kit will be used for mass tomorrow morning, and for the annual middle school lip sync/skits/musical production tomorrow night. (Unless winter unloads on us. Then we'll have to see.)
  • Supervised the crew of 8th grade boys who unloaded the drums, which involves such difficult feats as asking them to NOT beat on the drums INSIDE the school, please, and reminding them that yes, they do need to go back to class now that the kit is stowed safely on the stage.
  • Confiscated the guitar amp that somehow made its way into the trunk with the electric guitar, because I'm pretty sure Mrs. B. only wants the guitars for props, not for actual loudness. (I'm sorry, I can't help it. I haven't been able to use that word without picturing that band since the 80's. Seriously.)
  • Made a quick restocking run to the grocery store because have I mentioned lately that the boys are bottomless pits?
  • Spent six--SIX--blissful hours working on Crowmaker, either rough draft or research. You will notice that my progress bar now stands at 20,000 words. That's 20% of a draft. I am mildly psyched. New word production will likely fall off for a few days now, since I need to pause for some more research before embarking on the next scenes.
  • Picked up the boys from after school dress rehearsal, coached them through getting a couple of quick pieces of homework done, and herded them off to take showers. They had pizza after rehearsal, so I didn't even have to cook supper tonight! Any night without cooking is a good night.
  • And it's still only 8:30. I could conceivably get a good chunk of research done yet tonight.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Same old line you used to use before


I have spent almost every appreciable chunk of free time over the last couple of days... sleeping. Killer cold really knocked me for a loop, so I followed a pattern of take kids to school, set alarm and sleep until last possible second, get up for work, come home and nap until supper, go to bed as early as possible after supper, rinse lather repeat. So yeah, pretty much sucked for writing. But I seem to have broken the worst of the cold. (Serious, SERIOUS knocking of wood, here.) And I was clear-headed enough to crank out some word count tonight.

I might be back. I just hope I haven't slept so much that I won't be able to sleep tonight and will wind up sick again.

Tonight, I finished up the last scene of a sort of story within the story. I wrote said story within the story before starting on the main story because I needed to know what happens in that story in order to figure out some of the things that happen in the main story. Now I need to write up some backstory stuff in order to figure out some other things that happen in the main story.

And I'm just not thinking any further ahead than that right now. The outline is there, the story is there, so I'll just focus on this piece of the bigger picture and refuse to be overwhelmed.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

A warning to the people, the good and the evil

I knew that if I waited long enough, Falconesse would post about the most recent Amazon fiasco with much more clarity and coherence than I can. Amazon is quickly working its way onto my short list of big companies I abhor doing business with. (Walmart having snagged the top spot some time ago.) Not that me pulling the measly amount of business I send their way each year will hurt them much. But damn. I am also adding my hopes that Macmillan will tell Amazon what they can do with their bullying little stunt.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

On the street where you live, girls talk about their social lives

For those of you who pay attention to such things, a progress meter has reappeared over in the sidebar for Crowmaker. No, I do not recall how many times I have supposedly written a draft of this story. Yes, I am hopeful that I will really wind up with a real first draft this time. Cross your fingers, knock wood, all that jazz.

If you are paying attention, you may also have noticed that I started this draft last Saturday and have officially hit 15,000 words. That averages out to almost 2,000 words/day. That's a reasonably blazing fast speed for me. I feel obliged to point out, however, that I have been working on this story off and on for nearly two years. And even when not actually working on it, I have been dreaming about it. And I just spent the better part of the last two months outlining the hell out of this story. It had damn well better be just about falling off my fingertips.

Having said that, I'll be switching time periods and character viewpoints sometime in the next week or so. I also have some upcoming family obligations/events that will cut into my writing time. So I don't anticipate continuing at quite as breakneck a pace. But it's nice to watch that progress meter jumping ahead while it lasts.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

They'll make you cry, baby, and then blame it on you

Meet Avie:

OK, so most of you have already met Avie. Which means you have heard about her amazing vocabulary skills, which require us to spell such words as "eat," "treat," "snack," "Chex," "lunch," "cheese," and "walk." (You can guess, based on the ratio of food words to exercise words, just which way the scale wavers when she visits the vet. The rapt expression on her lovely face in this photo, by the way, is the result of one of the boys holding a treat over her head while I took the shot.)

My husband enjoys cooking. Which works out well, since I do not. He does have a tendency to drop things while he's working, however--shreds of cheese, snippets of meat he's cutting up, chunks of potatoes he's dicing, etc. These moments of droppage are invariably accompanied by the phrase, "Oh, shit."

Now put those two stories together. Go ahead, I'll wait while you sort it out.


Yeah-huh. Avie will now respond with great enthusiasm if you utter the magic words "Oh, shit."

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Pick yourself up, get yourself moving

Early dismissal on Friday, a three day weekend, and no work for me today. We kicked this week off with a very exciting weekend of listening to Joe and Michael and two buddies romp through the house. One of them wandered too close to the main road behind our house with an airsoft gun and attracted the attention of a police officer who just happened by at the same moment, so there were a few tense moments there. The officer was very good-natured, though, and remarked that if he weren't on duty, he'd like to join in the fun. All in all, the boys are all pretty well-behaved and self-sufficient, so I was still able to get quite a bit of work done, including our household budget.

I also wrapped up a reasonably complete outline for Crowmaker, or at least complete enough that I feel prepared to move on to the actual writing. Well, sort of. The story is leaning heavily toward alternate history, or at least has one foot in the genre. I've decided to write the first draft in chronological and general setting order of the scenes, and to do the heaviest of my research as I work. Mind you, I've already done a great deal of research. But I think if I really dive into period details and then write the scenes specifically related to that period, I'll stand a better chance of really feeling the setting as I write.

At any rate, that's the plan for now. That being the case, today involved a trip to the library and a stack-o-books to be consumed. Thereafter, it involved several hours of snuggling in a big chair with a dog and a book. Man, what a rough schedule.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

A life you don't live is still lost

The first week back to school and work following winter break felt much like being hit by a bus. Repeatedly. This was due at least in part to me overestimating what I could accomplish during my "free" time. I pried my fingers loose from the goals I'd set, took several deep breaths, and reminded myself that I wasn't on my new work schedule just yet, so I wasn't going to get that much work done for myself for another couple weeks. This week was mostly a transition period between my previous 25 hours/week with the kindergarten/preschool crowd to my 10 hours/week schedule which will officially start next week. It also involved the usual smattering of dentist, orthodontist, and other appointments. And on Friday I got to play roadie for Joey, as we hauled his drums in to church so he could play with the pianist and choir for an all-school mass. I overheard a couple of teachers plotting to get him back for a repeat performance sometime, so I think he did well. (I thought he was awesome, of course, but we all know how objective mothers are about such things.)

My primary projects for 2010 are Crowmaker, the 2YN class over at Forward Motion, and my Fiction Writing elective over at the middle school. Actually, with the priorities in the reverse order, pretty much. If anything happens with the novella I finished and subbed late in 2009, I'll probably shuffle Crowmaker off to the side and work on a follow-up project for that same publisher. But that's a big "if," so I'm not counting on it.

The way electives are set up over at the middle school, the kids have the option to switch to a different offering mid-year. No one in my first semester class opted to leave. I got five new students, all of whom seem as enthusiastic thus far as my initial group. Our first class of the second semester, I gave my pep talk which is summed up with "No attempt at writing a story is a waste of time if you learned something from it." Then I asked my first semester students, even if they hadn't quite finished their story or weren't completely happy with how it turned out, did they feel like they knew more about writing than they had at the beginning of the school year? I got a big round of enthusiastic nods in reply. I am pleased, and my motivation is renewed.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

But I'm too young to worry

Today's blog title is dedicated to Jimmy Owen Sullivan, because Joey is seriously bummed about the death of a drummer whose style and technique he admired. And hey, I kinda like some of Avenged Sevenfold's stuff, too. And just because it's always pretty sucky when someone that young dies.

Tomorrow is back to school and work day. I knew winter break would go by too fast. I was right. I have organized myself and set some writing goals for 2010. With some trepidation, I've signed on for the Two Year Novel course at the Forward Motion Writers' Community. I tried telling myself I didn't need any additional projects, but myself kept answering with that niggly little "but I really think you need to do this" tickle in my gut. So I caved and signed on. I do usually learn a lot by trying out other writers' processes, and the community in general seems like a decent group of folks.

And to kick off 2010, I have sold a story. "On A Black Horse" will appear in the anthology The Four Horsemen from Pill Hill Press. That was another case of the niggly little tickle, that time inspiring me to dig out an old almost-story and turn it into a real story because it seemed like it would fit so perfectly in that call for submissions. Thank you, niggly little tickle.