Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Not So Zen

I suspect that I'm frivolous.

Or shallow, at the very least.

Easily swayed by immediate gratification.

There's this whole idea that if you enjoy the gratification of doing something well, then that's ego and dangerous to continue.

So, for example, knife-throwing. I know! Exactly what you were thinking, too, right? If you're truly Zen, or one with the Tao, or enlightened or what have you, then you enjoy the moments that you miss the target just as much as when you hit the bulls-eye. The thrill of a perfect throw means nothing, if you're truly throwing the knife from a pure heart. The act of throwing is everything. The end result nothing.

Clearly I'm not so enlightened.

I confess to loving the gratification. And I find myself gravitating towards whatever's giving me the most gratification at any given time.

Right now, it's work. I'm workin on a project that I helped to create. That I set out years ago to help envision, hire the personnel for, plant the seeds in peoples' ears -- kind of a gross mixed-metaphor there -- and coax into life. And people treat me like I'm insightful and they want my expertise.

I know I shouldn't want it.

But I do.

A couple of areas of my life feel less gratifying right now. One I've labored at and some people are unhappy and others are happy for things to go smoothly. Which isn't a recipe for feeling appreciated. You get flak from the one group and nothing from the other.

And we all know that writing is one of those things where you labor unnoticed for 99% of the time and are showered with admiration for the other 1%. Starving in a garrett and all that. Much more drama than anything else.

There's supposed to be a pleasure in knife-throwing that exceeds the desire for a perfect result. Peace in the moment. Joy in the attempt.

But, oh my, I just love it when I hit the bulls-eye.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Curse of the Interwebs

I’ve been at 97% for nearly two weeks now.

Twelve days, to be precise, including today. Yeah, it’s one of those so-close-and-yet-so-far things.

I’ve edited, redrafted, rewritten and composed 302 pages of a projected 310. I know -- I should be able to finish this in one day of solid work.


It's been a long day for me. Long enough that it's nigh on midnight on the clock where I am, later by the clocks back at home. And long enough that I started this blog post this morning on the airplane, then decided I should be working on that last three percent instead.

Now I'm at 98%. Which feels pretty damn great.

And my heroine passed the big test in an unexpected way. (No, neither of us had any idea how she was going to solve the current riddle.)

1% on on a three-hour crowded flight to Seattle. Worth the price of admission.

When I landed, happy with my progress, somewhere around 200 email messages had filled my Blackberry. I loop I'm on had blown up with one unhappy person saying wild things -- "flaming," by the current lingo. I ended up in baggage claim with my laptop perched on my lap, my Blackberry in hand, trying to do several things at once on each.

My mom keeps asking me, if the airlines get internet, will I use it?

I'm thinking, over a thousand words written, another 1% closer. Coincidence?

No no no...

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Oral Surgery

This is actually a setting October crescent moon. Held by an unstable hand. Turned out kind of cool, actually. I took this after our first party in the new house, at which I drank a fair amount of wine. Hence the unsteady hand.

The serendipity of over-indulgence.

Yesterday was all about getting ready for the party. Which made a good break for me. No working on the book. No working on work. No blog post, even. No, yesterday was packed with buying food and booze and getting the house clean.

Which, apparently I hadn't really cleaned since we moved in.

That doesn't seem like such a big deal, except we've been here two months now. And that's a little long to go. We needed some rebound time from having our house on the market for six months, show-ready all that time. But, that was plenty long enough.

So the mundane tasks demanded my attention and that was okay.

Except for the kitty medical emergency.

I was vaccuming away, only ten minutes behind my intended in-the-shower deadline, when David came in carrying Isabel. I thought he'd captured her before the party, so I nodded and smiled when he said something to me.

"She's got a cholla burr in her mouth!" He said louder.

Oh. OH!

I turned off the vaccum cleanerand went over to him. Sure enough, there was a big cholla burr hanging off her lip. She was frothing and salivating and I quickly yanked it off.

These things are nasty - big and spiky. Every one of us has stepped on one now. They hurt like hell, but they come out fairly easily. Even Zip, who's not that bright, has learned to yank them out of his paws with his front teeth and spit them out again.

But, though, the cholla burr came off Isabel's lip quickly enough, she jumped out of David's arms, still licking and frothing, and raced for the sanctuary of the bedroom.

"She's got one inside her mouth, still." David said.

So, we dug her out from under the bed. I held Isabel on her back on my lap, as I sat on the floor, back against the bed. From my angle, I could see the burr embedded in the roof of her mouth. David held her paws and I tried to grab the thing, but couldn't get a grip. White fur was flying everywhere.

Meanwhile the guests are arriving in 45 minutes, I haven't finished the vaccuming and I'm filthy from house-cleaning.

While David fetches the tweezers, I'm thinking about how we could put a note on the door while we take her to the vet, which may or may not be still open this late on a Friday afternoon. Isabel is alternately hissing and pitifully meowing.

I got closer to a grip with the tweezers, but everytime I touched it, Isabel would yank away in pain. So David got a beach towel -- the big one we bought in Culebra with the multi-colored giant polka-dots on it. We wrapped her up in it, so only her little white furry face poked out.

This time when I pried open her mouth, we could hold the mummy-cat steady. I yanked that burr right out.

Isabel went to the closet to recover her composure, then slept the rest of the afternoon and evening.

I finished the vaccuming -- including a redo of the bedroom -- managed to clean-up and cute-up before the first guest arrived.

Fortuntately, no one was right on time.

Thursday, October 22, 2009


I have this theory about hotel air-conditioners.

One can't hep these things, really. When one travels way too much. Like I do. Don't know if I've mentioned it, in the last three to five blogs or so.

Anyway, the state of the modern hotel room is this: you must run AC. Most of the windows are sealed shut, if they ever opened at all. And if you do open them, it's usually too loud from all the 1) airplanes, 2) people screwing around in the parking lot, 3) traffic, 4) air conditioners.

No, really.

The roar of air conditioners outside the hotel forces one to close the window the air conditioner.

However: Not all thermostates are alike. This is my theory, earth-shattering though it may not be.

This morning I had a conversation with a guy in the fitness room. Which is a hotel euphemism for "really small extra room into which we've jammed random pieces of exercise equipment." We talked aobut how all treadmill s are not alike. That 4 mph is clearly not 4 mph for all treadmills.

This may seem like a minor, even obsessively nitpicky, point.

But you get accustomed to running at a particular speed. And the fact that the exercise machine has a digital readout implies a certain level of scientific accuracy. As if, in our common physical universe, 4 mph might be the same in a hotel in Georgia as it is in a hotel in California. Which is demonstrably not true.

And so it is with the thermostat.

One would think one could find a particular temperature, say 68, that might be one's ideal room temperature. But 68 in one hotel in another's 64 is another's 74. Perhaps, I'm meant to think it's just me, but three hotels in five nights provides pretty clear empirical evidence.

I suspect it has to do with the individual hotel's AC system. And the motion-sensor deals kind of stop the thing running at night. Either that, or they tone down the AC at night, to save on money, you know.

Just goes to show, there's no such thing as a sure thing.

Either that or hotel physics are as questionable as restaurant physics.

Entirely possible.

Monday, October 19, 2009


I'm in Fresno.

Which I guess isn't that bad.

The last time I was here, in 2002 by my electronic file dates, they told us it was the intravenous drug-use capital of the U.S. A dubious distinction. I've asked a couple of people now if that's still the case. They act like they have absolutely no idea what I'm talking about.

Such is the fleeting nature of human perception.

Tonight, I'm hanging back. So many things I could be working on, not the least of which is the Ruthless Revision. And all the emails. I'm not tired, but I'm not feeling the burn tonight. Maybe there's been enough burn lately. I told Allison maybe I needed a night off and she agreed.

Which meant a lot to me.

I mean, David and my mom both tell me it's okay to take a break, to relax, that it all doesn't have to happen right now. But there's been a trend lately among some of my friends, of them asking me for more than I feel I can give. Some have become angry with me for not meeting their deadlines, for not doing what they thought I should. I feel like I've been letting people down. Which is something that doesn't always show in me, I think, how much I don't like being that person.

And yet, more, I won't become what someone else wants me to be.

So, this is a random post. Not meeting any rules or requirements. Probably not advancing anything in particular.

Tonight I'm watching a romantic movie and drinking wine.

Tomorrow is another day.

So Scarlett assures me.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Birds in Reverse

We saw a robin yesterday. The first robin of Fall, as it were.

No, I know this isn't a robin. I took the picture to show David this unusual bird that visited the feeder and so that we could identify it. We decided she's a black-headed grosbeak.

It's a funny thing, being on the southern end of the Front Range now, because the birds appear in reverse order.

When we arrived, it was all about the hummingbirds, thrashers, bluebirds, jays and towhees. Now the humingbirds have all gone, even the last couple of intrepid ones that stayed to milk the feeder and the butterfly bushes as long as possible.

Then the jerichoes arrived. They stayed a few days and moved along.

Now the robins.

I know it's unlikely, but I feel like these are birds that have left Laramie when the first snows hit. They've migrated down the Front Range, just as we did. They stop here to fuel up on their way to Mexico or farther.

Hi and bye.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Don't Touch That Dial

One of the interesting things about the online community is the window you get into people's lives.

Some people post to Facebook or Twitter once or twice a day, little stop-ins to the break room. Others post more frequently. Some in bursts of activity. Others in near-constant streams of updates.

What is striking to me is how often people refer to what they're watching on TV.

Disclaimer: I'm weird about TV. I really don't like it. The sound of TV chatter irritates me and I hate hearing it going in the background. I'm psycho enough about this that we don't have cable or satellite or other feed. We have a television set that we use for the DVD, to play Netflix. But I'm just not a live feed kind of gal. It even bothers me when I click on an article link and discover it's a video news story. Okay, so there's that.

So I didn't "see" any of the Balloon Boy saga yesterday, which was a "a media spectacle of nightmarish dimensions, stunn[ing] viewers nationwide." The article goes on to say "It began mid-afternoon, and we watched for almost an hour..." Okay, I'm naive, but how is the entire nation watching this for almost an hour? I thought everyone was working then?

I suppose everyone is watching video on their computers. I know Hulu is big -- I hear many people reference losing hours to watching old TV shows on Hulu. People also talk about watching movies during the day. Things like "settling in to watch all three original Star Wars movies - yay!"

A lot of these folks are full-time writers.

Which is, of course, my personal brass ring. And when I dream about having that much time to write, I imagine the complex novels I could produce -- the ones I can't quite seem to get my head wrapped around in a couple of hours a day. I think about how much more I could produce.

When I mentioned this to two of be wanna-be-a-full-time-writer friends, about how many writers seem to be watching movies and TV during the day, they both said "I wish!" Which surprised me and, when I said so, they said "Well, I'd like to have that opportunity."

Of course, I already work from home and they both have the cubicle/commute thing, which I would also hate. And I come from a family of women who don't fritter away valuable daylight hours. Maybe we all think we're still desperately tilling the hard Texas soil, but the only time any of us would watch *gasp* DAYTIME TV is if we were sick. One exception: my grandmother religiously watched Days of Our Lives, but for that hour and that hour only. And she always had some sort of mending task set aside, so she could continue to be productive in that hour.

So, I'm wondering now. Is that part of the Writer Dream?

I know plenty of gals who are on various "writing grants" -- whether it's the husband with the well-paying job, the Stay at Home Mom whose kids are in school enough to give her some time to herself, or other kinds of support. I know one gal who left her DC career and lives on her late grandmother's land and takes care of the property in return for the family's financial support.

I suppose it all comes down to quality of life. Something unique to each of us.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Hope Is a Thing with Feathers

Allison asked me recently why I thought we do this, the writing thing. If we're fundamentally insane to think that we could get that brass ring we're seeking. I said "yes."

Crazy in a good way maybe. But still crazy.

I recall some of the writers at the UW English Department throwing around the statistic that there are as many writers making a living at writing as there are pro-football players. Which sounds plausible. And no, I didn't even attempt to fact-check that one.

It's probably a decent analogy in that the miniscule proportion of football players who make it to the pro ranks does nothing to deter the dream for millions of football-playing young men.

But that doesn't make it a rational thing.

If you want to play the odds, you become a civil servant. Once in, you're set forever. And that's exactly what you get. If you're willing to work hard and want money, you go for the big money businesses. Those are rational, sane choices.

Which is why most writers have other identities: teachers, professors, HVAC marketers, IT professionals, university book buyers. Even environmental consultants. We're playing it safe, working the day jobs, keeping the finances in order.

Nobody sees how crazy we are inside. How we obsess and fret. How we nurse our dreams in the dark confines of our hearts. Feeding them little bits of hope now and again. Nursing them back to life when they get crushed and bruised.

The dreams belong only to us, after all.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A Time to Every Purpose, Heaven or No

It's coming up on that time of year.

No, not Christmas, despite the rumored store displays. Fortunately I haven't been to a Target or like store recently, so I haven't been bombarded yet. I'm a strict holiday-orderist (yes, I just made that up). All holidays in their proper order. No Christmas activity of any kind until after Thanksgiving. No Thanksgiving discussions until after Halloween, All Saints Day, Day of the Dead.

Part of moving to a new place is learning the new rhythms.

It's been odd to me that I haven't wanted to get the Halloween decs out yet. Some of that is where my focus is, on finishing this revision. I haven't done a number of things I normally spend my time doing. And being out of my normal patterns, feeling like this is a vacation house and not my usual life at all.

But a huge part of it is the weather, too. The leaves are starting to turn on a few trees now, but we haven't hard a hard freeze. Certainly no snow. David and I are out on the patio in the evenings, having cocktails and watching the sunset, which would just NOT have happened in Laramie.

So, part of me -- the Denver girl who had to wear a parka over her hula dancer costume one year (I wised up and picked WARM costumes after that) and the Laramie girl who associates high chilled winds whipping dead leaves around with Halloween -- thinks it's still summertime. After all, the flowers are still blooming.

But now I'm starting to feel it. Like a whisper in the air. The veil is thinning. The restless dead are teeming in the wings.

The coyotes yipping at night could be the first yelps of the Hunt.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


Yesterday, David told me the Dutch word for editor.

He wrote it down for me in class, because he figured I'd be amused, given how I'm spending my life editing lately.

No, he's not studying Dutch. He's learning basic Chinese for his acupuncture certification and the teacher happens to be Dutch. Which makes for an interesting class, David says. Added to this that among the other students are a guy from Liverpool and a gal from Texas, with their associated thick accents, plus gals who are native Japanese and Portuguese speakers. The interchange of language leads to all sorts of back and forth. At any rate, the teacher told the class yesterday that he was very nitpicky about the pictograms, because that's what an editor, mierenneuker, means in Dutch.

The literal translation? "Ant-f**ker."

What an image.

That's partly the copy-editing idea. But even with a substantive revision, there's a fair amount of ant-f**king going on. Back and forth over the tiny details. I've rounded a corner on mine and I think I have things stacked up so the rest will fall into place. Birds flying high? You know how I feel.

All the while I'm doing this, I've been following the tweets of a Famous Author. She has been working to complete her book by a deadline. She tweets and blogs about it quite profusely -- it's interesting to have a window into her angst. She's been working with increasing frenzy, churning out 10-20 pages in a sitting. She stayed up all night to finish, went to bed at 5am, slept four hours, got up and finished the book by the end of the day.

She's exhausted and triumphant. Happy to have sent the book off.

That's right. She sent it off already.

Now, this Famous Author is one who has openly declared that no one edits her anymore. She's one of those, like Anne Rice, who has reached a level of fame and money-making that she believes she doesn't need an editor. The publishing house doesn't care, because they make money anyway.

Oh yeah, I personally stopped buying her books some time ago because they got so truly terrible.

And now I wonder -- are her all-night outpourings going straight to hardback? Writers talk about the virtues of the "vomit draft," where you just pour it all onto the page. The point being that you then go back and shape it. Not pack it off for publication.

It doesn't bear repeating that this isn't fair. Of course the Famous Author can do this -- she's already made it. She says her sales continue to go up, so she's not interested in her fans complaints that the books have gone downhill. Of course I can't do this, because nobody yet knows if anyone will ever buy my books.

But I swear to this now: I will always have an editor, no matter what. Somebody has to take care of the ant-f**king!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Working Hard or Hardly Working?

I had this teacher of Taoist philosophy who insisted that, if you were working with the Tao, then things would feel easy.

It's like the joke about the Rabbi, the Priest and the Taoist approaching the raging river. The Priest kneels down and prays to God for safe passage across the river. The Rabbi divides the water and walks through. The Taoist steps into the current and gestures for it to keep going in the same direction.

Okay, it's not a FUNNY joke.

But it does illustrate a principle that, while some religious philosophies seek to control or change the world, Taoists try to find which way things are already going and ride that wave. So, the corollary to this is, if what you're trying to do is really difficult, you're fighting the current. If you've found the current, things are easy. Just float along in your inner tube and drink your beer.

I'm not sure if I agree with this or not.

There are certainly good examples in our lives of things falling into place, not the least of which our recent serendipitous switch to moving to Santa Fe instead of Victoria. That was certainly the case of knocking on some doors and seeing which one opened. And every-damn-thing fell into place. It was truly amazing to watch.

I have long been accused of taking the easy way. Of cruising.

I was a naturally good student, so rarely studied. I read books in class because I could always answer the question the teacher's asked, no matter how they tried to catch me out. I could get A's without trying, so why try? In college I had to try harder, but I didn't kill myself by any stretch, to my advisor's dismay. My PhD advisor was even sharper in his disapproval, often castigating me for not pushing myself, for doing just enough to get by.

So, I can see it. I'm not a hard worker. I'm a grasshopper by nature and generally at peace with that.

But with this ruthless revision -- the one you're undoubtedly sick of hearing about -- I'm trying really hard to take the time to do it right. I'm working HARD at it. And feeling a bit sulky about it, to tell the truth. I want to see if it's true, that if you put in all that effort that all the theys want you to put in, will it really result in a hugely better product?

I'm at this point in the book where I got stuck when I was drafting it. It's about 80% of the way through. I solved the problem then by jumping in the river and letting the current take me. Turns out we meandered past some neat scenery, but ended up in a stagnant pool.

So, now I'm consciously directing it. Thinking thinking thinking. With lots of second guessing. And it's making me tired. I know that sounds silly, but I've been doing this writing a couple hours every day/working full-time career-type job all day deal for years now and this push is draining me. Sleeping 11 hours a night draining.

Which makes me worry that I'm fighting the current.

Maybe its my Catholic ancestors, whispering in my ear that I should confess, purge and pray. Maybe its the Pagan ones before that, telling me to sacrifice to the spirit of the river.

Maybe I should just get back to work.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Cats and New Mexico Weather

One of my very good friends, first and faithful readers and giver of really good advice gave me some suggestions the other day to make this blog even better.

I'm sure it's really good advice, for me to stick to a particular theme. She thought I could focus here on one thing and have another blog for subjects like cats and New Mexico weather. She even threw in some flattery about how I'm good at adding whatever thematic frame I want to, to a given mini-essay/blog post.

The thing is: I don't think my brain works this way.

The last few days I've been valiantly trying to follow her advice. Really, I have. And I find myself dreading composing my blog post. When I started doing this, I promised myself I could write about whatever I wanted to.

Which often includes things like cats. And the New Mexico weather. Cuz, hey, I'm a creature of my immediate surroundings. Also, in some ways, all things are alike to me. It all intertwines. Kind of the tesseract view of the world. Even though a cat sleeping on a big blue exercise mat and a full moon aren't the same pattern at all, somehow in my twisted mind, they reflect each other.

And today, all the roads in and out of Laramie are closed. It's Homecoming Weekend and there's a foot of snow on the ground. The pic above is courtesy of Kate Stein. The Wyoming coaches were ferried from Cheyenne in a snow plow. It's Rockies play-offs in Denver and it's snowing away.

We're to hit 70 today in Santa Fe. It's sunny and clear. Which makes all of us happy. Including the cats.

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Job You Want to Have

If you're an artistic type, you probably got the link to author Elizabeth Gilbert's talk on about creativity and genius.

It's an interesting talk, one worth listening to. That's not what I'm hear to talk about. Today is cross-post day with the Fashionista blog.

So, we're talking about Elizabeth's outfit.

I know, I know. She's a creative genius and doesn't have extra brain matter to devote to fashion. Like it's hard or something. One writer friend of mine -- who put in hard time in the VERY fashion-conscious world of NYC's big publishing houses -- sent me this link and said "I'm concerned about her outfit."

This is a big talk after all. In front of a large audience. Filmed, even. Take home story: if you're going to appear on a ginormous screen, give some thought to the turtleneck/scraggy hair thing.

What's that? Her appearance doesn't matter because what's important is what she thinks, says and writes? Oh but see, she is making a deliberate choice here. She's going for the scruffy/academic/I-can't-be-bothered-to-brush-my-hair look.

Everyone makes these choices and buys clothes accordingly. How you dress is a deliberate communication to other people of what you think is important about you.


Stephenie "I don't care about the millions, I'm still just a Mormon housewife" Meyer.

Laurell K. "I think I'm a vampire" Hamilton

Stephen "I don't care about the millions, I'm just a guy from New England" King

Jonathan "I'm just a scruffy academic, too. And kind of British with it, really" Franzen

Okay, okay, it's a little snarky. And one day, when I'm a bestselling author and they snap a photo of me at the grocery store in 80's leggings, a nasty t-shirt and my hair pushed back by what passes for a headband, you can reference this blog post and give me all the grief you want to.

But I can tell you this -- if there's a huge video screen involved, I'm going for professional make-up.

That's MY genius.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

No, but What Do YOU Think?

This morning in the Water Cooler, we had an interesting conversation about contests and a pitfall I'd never considered.

The Water Cooler is a chat room on the website of our Fantasy, Futuristic and Paranormal Chapter. One of our board members is an amazing web designer and she created these various chat rooms for us. The Water Cooler is for hanging out while you write. Sometimes we do timed sessions and then report back word counts or pages edited. Sometimes we throw out problems we're struggling with, for feedback.

Sometimes we just yak.

This morning, one gal mentioned that she wasn't working on her WIP -- lingo for Work in Progress -- but instead doing penance and judging a contest entry. Penance because she'd failed to notice that one of the entries given her to judge was the exact same entry she'd judged for another contest the week before. These are for our chapter On the Far Side contest and everyone is supposed to be done judging by tomorrow.

She turned the entry back in and took another because she "would have had to write all the exact same comments."

So, it's an interesting thing. So many RWA chapters sponsor contests that the market is arguably flooded. And yet, these are opportunities unmatched in the business, that you can get your work in front of agents and editors who serve as final judges, but who won't accept unsolicited submissions. Some people get caught up in collecting contest finals and wins (one group keeps count and actually gives the person with the most finals in a year an actual TIARA -- yes, these are all women). But really, the point is that this is a chance to get your manuscript that much closer to publication.

The real prize.

The editors and agents serve as final judges, meaning that they judge the finalists. As determined by the chapter members who volunteer to judge. And sometimes people from outside the chapter, if the chapter in question can't get enough volunteers.

Now, many people in RWA belong to several chapters -- maybe a local one or two and a couple online groups. So there are two or three contests you'll be hit up to judge right there. More if you're feeling generous and volunteer to help another group. The pool of people submitting to the contests is largely this same group and they usually hit as many contests as they can, to maximize their chances.

There's a word for this syndrome.

MFA programs have been accused of producing literary clones. (I tried Googling "MFA Syndrome" to give you a good link to an article, because I know I've read a couple, but all the hits were in other blog posts. Hmmm....) The academic/MFA environment produces literary writers who get university posts to teach MFA programs.

Right! Incest.

And we all know what the product of incest is. Lethal mutation at worst; reduced heterogeneity at best. Reduced heterogeneity in biology leads to weaker individuals, for those not up on their genetics and evolutionary biology.

There have been complaints that the contests are past their prime. That the agents and editors don't request full manuscripts as much. That they aren't making as much money for the chapters.

Maybe we should think about doing something different.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Houston, We Have a Plot

Yesterday's post left our heroine (that's me) fretting about whether her novel has a plot.

And yes, I know most writers out there would worry about this at some point before they, oh, say, finished it, polished and sent full manuscripts to agents and editors.

Hey, I follow my own path.

But here I am, coming up with a more conclusive ending at the behest of one agent and it started to niggle at me that maybe I didn't have an actual plot arc. So I started the online plotting class on Monday, as I mentioned in yesterday's post. Loglines first, now two-word descriptors and mottoes for the main characters. The latter was more fun than the former.

But I'm impatient.

I'm 70% through my revision and I have two more weeks at home before I enter a five-week cycle of business road-trip hell. I seldom get much in the way of writing done when I'm on the road. Which bites, but there it is.

I want this revision done done done before October 18. Mark your calendars.

Feeling this pressure, last night I went to Alexandra Sokoloff's blog. She's the very dramatic blond above. I met Alexandra at the RT Convention and caught the tail end of her workshop on The Index Card Method of viewing story structure. She's primarily a screenwriter, so she thinks in terms of scenes and movie structure. Which, particularly for genre, can be a really useful way of approaching a novel. I didn't see much of her workshop -- it was one of those deals where I figured I know how story structure worked (ah, those blissful days of ignorance) and I only popped in because the other session I was in ended early, and there she was, talking passionately and tacking up and tearing down index cards from the carpet wall, while the next session trickled in.

But what I did hear was fascinating and I gleaned enough to get that she has the whole thing up on her blog.

So, last night I worked her method.

The good news? I have a plot! Who knew??? At least my Act I, II and Midpoint climaxes happen very nearly at the exact pages she says they should. Apparently that Liberal Arts education of mine managed to shape my consciousness enough for story arc to sink in without my knowing it. (This is, by the way, based on story arcs as in plays developed in Ancient Greece.)

Oh, yeah -- the bad news? Well I have no discernible climax in Act III. Oops. And that agent, bless her heart, said I needed a more conclusive ending. Hmmm. How about an ACTUAL ending, Jeffe?


But now I have a strategy. All this foreplay is now leading up to something.

Just wait -- you'll see.

(12 days and counting.)

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Full Moon on the Rise

I'm taking a plotting class.

For the second time now. Not as in, I flunked the first time so I have to take it again to get a passing grade for my major. That was Immunology. Why Immunology among all those hard-core pre-med courses I took? I have no idea. No one knows which heel is the one that didn't get sufficiently dipped, I suppose.

No, this is a different online plotting class that I'm trying because I keep feeling like I should learn how to plot better.

And no, this has never been feedback on my book, that the plot has to be stronger. I think I have this idea that if I learn to plot, everything will be much easier. See, the RWA folks are all about plotting vs. pantsing. In fact, they ask you that after they ask your name and where you're from at receptions. The first time someone asked me, I couldn't even figure out what word they were saying. "Pantser" is a person who writes by the seat of her pants, rather than plotting out the story ahead of time.

I'm not fond of the term, frankly.

I dropped out of the first plotting class because I hated it so much. They had us start with loglines, which is basically your pitch line. "A beautiful young girl, abused by her family, sneaks into a dance where she captures the heart of the local charming ruler. Afraid that he'll spurn her once he discovers her base origins, she flees, forcing him to search for her so they might live happily ever after."

That kind of thing.

And my deal is, I don't know how you can know what the story is about until I write it. Writing for me is a process of discovery. I write essays the same way. And these blog posts. You can probably tell that half the time I don't know what my point is. I start with an image or an idea and talk about it for a while. Sometimes I make it to a point, sometimes I don't.

When I *do* find a point, it's a wonderful moment. My friend, Craig Arnold, now a dead poet, which he might actually find kind of amusing, taught me a way to think of it. I think it was the Chinese, he said, who talk about the moment the poem "opens its eyes."

I live for that moment. Which I suppose makes me a crazy writer, even if not a cinematically worthy one.

Starting with the logline is, to me, like starting with the moment the story opens its eyes. Which feels fundamentally wrong and backwards, like I'm jumping to the end without having earned it.

Like all ventures that can end in a thrilling reward, there's also doubt and fear. Which is probably why I keep thinking I should learn to plot. Just in case. So I started a second class. And we're starting with loglines. I'll give it a few more days.

Prophylactic heel-dipping, as it were.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Simple Pleasures

Some complain that Teddy doesn't get much press.

And it's true, she gets much less attention, writing-wise, than Isabel. Lately. Teddy did get her own entire essay once, that was published in The Raven Chronicles, lo these many moons ago. I also notice that I don't have a previous post label for Ted, so she is currently neglected.

It's the price the low-maintenance cat pays.

Teddy just turned 16 and her favorite activity is sleeping. Sleeping in the sun. Sleeping on the dog bed. Sleeping between David and me at night.

But best of all is sleeping on the big blue exercise mat.

I don't know what it is exactly she loves about it, but when David gets the mat out, Teddy beelines from wherever she is -- and this is not a cat who beelines anywhere -- to get on the big blue exercise mat. And love on it.

She rolls on it. She rubs her whiskers. She drools. She likes to gently bite the edge, but David stops her and makes her get off if she won't quit. You can see here that she especially loves to rest her cheek on the velcro edge.

Teddy is a cat of simple pleasures. Isabel believes Teddy hung the moon, and it's likely she did. Just to see how beautiful it looks, hanging in the sky.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Your Local Bookseller

I love bookstores. And libraries.

I suspect all writers do, because we all started out as readers. My mom would take me to the library every Wednesday afternoon where I was allowed to check out five books at a time. (My mother's rule, not the library's.) I would have to make those five books last all week. Wednesdays became my favorite day of the week.

Then I started getting an allowance and was old enough to go to the mall by myself and I discovered bookstores. When you could buy the book and keep it forever and read it as often as liked, at least until it fell into tatters. Not that I didn't have lots of books, but now I could have the ones I picked out for myself.

Even better, the bookstore people were as smart as the librarians, but they could talk without whispering and could show you new authors you'd never heard of!

Everywhere I visited or lived, I would check out the local bookstore. It was part of the character of a place for me. I liked talking to bookstore people. When I began to write, and my own book was published, the independent bookstore people were the ones I turned to. My favorite local store sponsored my book launch party.

All of this is on my mind because Neil Gaiman referred to this blog post of his via Twitter.

Now, if you're like me, you'll want me to just tell you what it says so you don't have to go read it. Though it's an interesting read.

Basically an independent bookseller is castigating Gaiman for a free Harper-Collins download and accuses Gaiman of not caring about the survival of booksellers. Which Gaiman refutes. He also says, and this is what's interesting to me:

My local bookshop (now deceased) was physically arranged so that finding a book and then buying it was harder than walking around around the shop and going back out again; the bookseller mostly sat at the cash register in the middle of the shop playing online chess, and he tended to be unhelpful, vaguely grumpy and to treat people who wanted to buy things as nuisances (he was nice to me, because I was me, but still); he didn't stock paperback bestsellers because "people could always go to Wal-Mart for those" and when the she shop closed its doors the final time they put up a note on the door saying that it was that had driven them out of business, when it manifestly wasn't -- it seemed to me that they didn't work to entice people into the bookshop (which is what those paperback bestsellers were for), and didn't give them a pleasant experience when they were there...

I knew exactly what Gaiman's referring to. David and I even spent time helping a young, enthusiastic manager of a local store rearrange the shelves to prevent this exact situation. The owner for time out of mind, put the shelves back the way they had always been.

The young, enthusiastic manager was terrific at selling books. She learned me and what I liked. She became like my crack dealer, luring me to the shop with books I couldn't resist. She would call or email me and say "Such and so author has a new book out next week -- I knew you'd want it, so I put it on order." And, of course, I couldn't resist. She passed me review copies of new books to read and give my opinion on. She asked customers who were fans of particular genres to set up recommended reads tables. When I did my taxes, I noticed that a huge chuck of my book purchases went to that store.

Of course she didn't last. And now the owner has everything back the way it always was, the recommended reads are only "literary" ones and I stopped buying books there. Amazon was faster, easier and more fun.

What I'm thinking happened is this: back when I discovered bookstores, those were the only places to buy books. I was happy to get whatever they threw my way. Then came the BIG bookstores and they were like the candyland paradise in Charlie and Chocolate Factory -- everywhere you stepped, you could simply pluck a wonderful book off the shelf. Then came Amazon, where you could access paradise without leaving your house.

I love bookstores. Always will. But the bookstores no longer always give me what I want. I don't think the solution is for them to try to change me.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Welcome Tabitha!

Yesterday, we made a wish.

And it was granted. Tabitha Claire Beck was born in the early afternoon on October 1, the 40th anniversary of my father's tragic death.

I was bemused to write that Alison, Tabitha's mother, is my stepsister-in-law. My own family is so small now that there are very few people in it who are not step- or -in-law, in some fashion. I am a stepmother and step-grandmother in one direction, and a step-sibling and aunt in another.

The beauty of the blended family.

Some people have enough in their core families that they don't have to let the steps and in-laws in. They keep them on the outer fringes. Forever not-exactly-family.

But those of us with dwindling blood families are grateful for the chance to blend. And in this case, for new blood to change our luck.

For 40 years, October 1st was our bad luck day. A day of car wrecks, broken hips, broken elbows and death.

Now it's Tabitha's birthday. Blessings on us all.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

October 1

Those of you who know me, or who read my book, which is pretty much the same thing, know that today's topic is inevitable.

Today is October 1st. Long a bad luck day in our family.

So, for those who don't know the story -- judging by my sales for Wyoming Trucks, there are a lot of you -- today is the touchstone for it.

Many years ago, before the turn of the century, back in ththere was a young woman who married an Air Force fighter pilot. There she is, posing on one of the planes.

A paragon of sixties loveliness.
After a few years -- five years of fertility worries, actually, but that's another story -- a baby came along. Not a paragon of loveliness, but reasonably cute.

Alas, the story is a sad one. October 1, 1969 rolled around and my dad died when his fighter plane crashed, along with his wing man.

I've written about it before. How my mom and I found the field where they crashed, the trees still broken off halfway up, 25 years later.

Other things happened on other October 1sts throughout the years, some greater, some minor. None as significant as this one. But enough to keep us careful of it.

We're hoping that will change.

My stepsister-in-law, Alison, is checked into the hospital now, to have her first baby.
There's sorrow around this one, too. My stepbrother, Davey, lost his mother to cancer a few years back. And Alison's mother is now fighting serious health problems.

My mom and Dave will head out to help with the new baby tomorrow. My mom will be playing grandmother for the duration.

We're hoping the baby will be born sometime today.

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