Periodically #2 – Dog Days of Summer Edition

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Personal note: Weather. It’s going to change. That is a given. Especially in the Midwest, where each of the four seasons is (or should be) starkly different from the other.

After several years of what I call Bummer Summers (too cold, too wet, too short), temperatures finally hit the 90 degree mark. I am never one to complain about heat. You need a little for the garden to grow. You need some to coincide with a frozen strawberry margarita, to be enjoyed on the deck.

But then the air conditioning goes out. Both units, upstairs and downstairs. And your house was built in 1927. And you learn that because in 1927, the method of heat was radiator and when previous owners later converted to forced air, they neglected to put in enough intake vents. And the lack of said venting strains the AC units which is why we have the painfully brief 11 year life span of a $3000 unit.

Yes! Major appliance replacement AND home renovation in my near future.

My takeaway: Your AC never goes out in November. And, your furnace never dies in July. Preventative maintenance is a pain in the behind, but it is key.

WRITE RIGHT TIPS

If you’re a writer and you’re not currently hooked up to these web sites, you are operating at a deficit. Check it out! Subscribe if it’s an option. Writer Unboxed is a great site. Lots of good information, from the perspective of the author and of the business of writing. An email from Chuck Sambuchino’s Guide to Literary Agents lands in my inbox weekly, and I read every one. Here’s a good site I love to visit – Janet Reid, Literary Agent. There’s of course the great information on the state of the publishing world, and writing prompts, and contests. And did I mention that Janet Reid is the Query Shark? The Query Shark scares the bejesus out of me, but when I have time, I read the archives. You can learn from the mistakes of other writers.

As for me, I’m still struggling, and I’m good with it. All creative types must struggle; if art were easy, the world would be a better place. I’ve put down my reconstruction of Siouxy for now. I began reconstituting the story and found after three chapters that it was too unnatural. Forced. So I’m rethinking how to tell this story. There’s a great story there, many, many pages, I’ve just got to whack at the extemporaneous to get to the pretty.

So it’s now on to the umpteenth edit of Virtually Yours Forever! Thanks to a former employee who is also a Federal Marshall, I should have the governmental aspect of my subplot down quickly. This novel is so close to ready, I can feel it.

READ THIS MONTH

Feathered by Laura Kasischke. This is the book my Boston terrier ate. Not completely, but Millie found the binding to have a piquant aftertaste, as well as being quite chewy. After I yelled at the dog, I reassembled the cover and the first two chapters. I’m reading quite a bit more YA these days, and found this tale interesting. Definitely worth a read, but don’t leave the book where your dog can get at it.

’89 Walls by Katie Pierson. Another young adult novel. I’m heartened to learn that teenage stories set in 1989 are considered historical. Now I can consider my own YA set in 1976 the same. I loved that the author included a bibliography at the end, as well as suggested reading material available at the time. Oh, and a glossary of terms! I won’t divulge the story except to say it’s a romance of sorts, during one of the most trying years of the last century. Please, please, please have Kleenex available for the last four chapters. You’re going to need it.

ART NEWS

The Ann Arbor Art Fair was a success. Not enough to quit my day job, but I managed to sell quite a few pieces. The temperatures were hot but not sweltering, and while tornado warnings were sounded north and south of us, we had a bit of welcome wind and about ten minutes of light rain – not enough to dampen anyone’s enthusiasm. I have put away jewelry for a while to concentrate on writing. (I did, however, enter a competition of sorts – more on that later…especially if I win!)

REDISCOVERED

In a fit of nostalgia, I decided to purchase the box DVD set of the Wonder Years, and so we are now in the process of watching. I’d forgotten what a great show this was, until I read a review online and was reminded.

A couple of reasons why this TV show resonates with people my age: 1. We grew up during the “wonder years” and 2. Modern TV is lacking true creativity and inventiveness. I can’t remember the last time I followed a network TV show, comedy or drama. Like a lot of people, I wait to see if the reviews are good before I decide to commit to any time watching TV. The current wave of “reality shows” on every channel from ABC to TLC and beyond boggles my mind. Where’s the writing? Where are the interesting comebacks and the witty jokes? (And I don’t mean crude jokes, but truly funny ones.)

The Wonder Years did not sugar-coat the ’60’s and the ’70’s. I might sound like a curmudgeonly Baby Boomer, but those were the good old days. Sweet in simplicity, but with looming change just out of arms’ reach. Life is like that now, but when you are coming of age in a time…well, that hits home. I was the same age Kevin Arnold was, during the same time. It’s the same reason we so enjoy That ’70’s Show.

Both shows capture the spirit and essence of what it was like to grow up back then. Plus the music is fabulous.

QUOTE OF THE MONTH

First you’re an unknown, then you write one book and you move up to obscurity. ~Martin Myers

Stay cool, my friends!


 

Here’s the real action: check it out.

Find me on Facebook! I’ll friend anyone. Ask anyone. I even approve the weird guys from another country who IM me to ask about my life but clearly have never read my profile.

I’m a Goodreads author! Honest to God. Ask me a question, I’ll be happy to answer. Even if it’s a *stupid* question. (Or a questionable question. Those are the best kind.)

Follow me on Twitter! I’m not sure I have anything wonderful to say. I will say that I follow some interesting people. I can’t believe I can say this, but a few interesting people follow me, too. Twitter: the cyber cocktail party – alcohol not necessary.

I’m also on Pinterest! Rarely, but I do hit up the boards every now and again.


Periodically!, PO Box 207, Royal Oak, Michigan 48068

Why Writing is Better Than Talking

My good friends know that I’m depressed this winter, partially because of SAD and partly because of family issues.

I think of myself as a warrior woman. Machine gun me with nails, I’ll spit them right back at you. Say I can’t and I’ll prove that I can. I create out of a deep need to express myself, and with a vengeance. You can try to chop me into pieces, but like the burls of a redwood, I’ll just multiply and conquer you a little at a time.

But not this time.

Depression has kicked my ass.

So I have sought out help. I have medications, which don’t seem to be helping one bit. I have a therapist, but confronting the things that are bothering me results in a sob fest. I’m not sure if talking helps.

I’m not good at speaking. I never have been. I signed up for Mr. Dionysio’s speech class in high school and spent the entire semester in silence. When I took speech in college, I had one successful speech, one that was rather “meh”, and one where I bombed completely – end grade, B-.

I couldn’t speak on the phone, and therefore gravitated toward factory jobs instead of those involving customer service. I thought I didn’t like people, and that people didn’t like me.

(Imagine me now, on the phone all the time. You can teach an old dog new tricks.)

I’m not stupid, I’m in the low Mensa range. I have coherent, cogent thoughts. I read smart books, funny books, inspirational books. But speaking, either publicly or privately…I’m the stereotypical writer, an introvert who’d rather hole up with my laptop or pen with a hot cup of green tea by my side.

So I have decided to write (again) about these deeply seated feelings. Get them on paper. Because I sure as heck don’t want to burden my friends and family with the intimate details.

Plus I can’t.

Last night, I had a Facebook “conversation” with a friend in a similar position. I received more insight in that thirty minutes of back and forth than I did the last time I saw the therapist. Why? Because we were typing. I don’t think I could have the same conversation in person. I cannot verbalize my sadness. Not yet.

And this is why writing is better than talking.

Why I Am NOT Participating in NaNoWriMo

Don’t get me wrong; I LOVE NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, which starts November 1 and ends November 30. If you’re a procrastinating writer like me, you need every cattle prod or device out there to kick you into the writing mode.

This is not to say I don’t enjoy writing. OF COURSE, I enjoy writing. But having other responsibilities, what ends up being short shrifted is my writing time. This year, there’s been other factors as well. Family members in dire health. Business in flux. An incredibly Bummer Summer which resulted in lots of rain, an extraordinary flash flood, and resulting damage, which of course, takes me away from pleasurable activities and instead has me planning out construction worker schedules.

Here is why I love me the NaNo… It’s an extremely useful tool. Just like jumping on a treadmill exercises your body, jumping head first into the waters of NaNoWriMo exercises your brain. It introduces you to keeping a schedule. It gives you a not unreasonable goal of 50K words in 30 days. There’s a camaraderie of fellow writers, across the internet and across town, that cannot be beat.

I’ve participated in NaNo many times. In fact, because of it, I managed to complete three manuscripts that turned out (with much editing and fine tuning) to be decent novels. (Still in the editing phase on two of them.)

Last year, I tried it for a week, and then decided that editing the work I’d been suffering over since 2007 (Finding Cadence) had to take precedence over any new material. So I put that idea aside. For later. I like the story, I just can’t have three completed novels in various states of disrepair hanging over my head like a black cloud.

This year, my problems are much the same. I’ve been toying with Virtually Yours Forever (completed during NaNo a few years ago) for… well, forever. It’s time to clean up this tale of moms, the internet, and high intrigue and get this story nailed down and move on to the next project.

I can no longer tell myself that I’ll write more when I retire from this business. The sad truth is that I might have to work until I die. But I’m also a writer, and I’m not going to sacrifice my art for outside influences.

Not anymore.

So to all you writers out there who are participating in NaNoWriMo – Bravo! or Brava! Keep pushing on. I’m there with you in spirit, and I hope will have my edit complete by November 30.

 

My First Books and Authors Event

Yesterday, I attended my first Books and Authors Event at Leon and Lulu‘s in Clawson, Michigan. This store is trendy, hip, and sells everything from jewelry to clothing to furniture to toys. It’s one of my favorites, as my husband can tell you from our VISA bill.

I can’t even believe I went through the event; hell, I can’t believe I filled out the application. And then sent it in! And then was selected as a participant! As you might know, I’m rather lackadaisical about selling my work. (I’m also rather lackadaisical about writing – sometimes.) But, I’ve been in a slump since summer, so I’ve signed up for writing prompts, classes, and have committed to (somewhat) weekly Skype conversations with my editor to sort of kick start my juices. So I figured, might as well throw this event on the pile.

I had NO IDEA what to expect at this event. NONE. I had hoped to sell a few books, get my name out there. As with everything new that I do, I was petrified. And as with everything, in order to get rid of the petrification, one must dive in head first.

Leon and Lulu’s does a fabulous job of making all 50 of us authors feel comfortable. They provide food, coffee, water, even hot dogs! The friendliness relieved some of the sting. :-) After being shown my table, I set up.

booksandauthors

We had an hour after that to look around. While all of the authors were from Michigan, amazingly many of them were from Royal Oak. I found I was speaking with authors who were neighbors!

Some had many titles to choose from. Some, like me, had the one physical book, and the eBook. Some were traditionally published; many more were self-published. Most of the books were for children, picture and chapter books, many were mysteries, there were some non-fiction, and just a few novels.

If you’ve ever been to Leon and Lulu’s, you’ll know that walking into the store is a total assault on your senses. Bright colors, things hanging from everywhere. Add to that 50 authors and their many books, and even I was shell shocked. It was a long day, but it’s what I needed. Suddenly, I’m energized to get that manuscript out and start editing in earnest. I sold a few books, handed out a ton of business cards for those who wanted to buy the book in eBook format (one woman did it from her phone while chatting with me!), and made a few new author friends. I enjoyed it so much, I’ll definitely do it next year.

The only thing is, I need to have another book for next year.

Better get to work.

Another Set of Eyes

I’ve spent quite a few months in inactivity. My creativity hasn’t dried up, it’s just taken a sabbatical. Hopefully, somewhere nice and warm, like the French Riviera.

As an artist and a creative person, when the well threatens drought conditions, you start to worry. The worry turns into a bigger monster, into self-doubt and self-loathing. You begin to second guess your choices, your methods of operation, your intelligence, and your stamina. All of that conspires to make the largest black hole of negativity that will swallow you whole if you allow it to.

If you allow it to.

If your writing life pitches to these historic lows, there’s only one thing you can do: Get another set of eyes. Meaning, find someone else to read your work, to offer honest commentary and critique, even to read and gush. Yes, these are times when even your mom or your sycophantic employee will do. When the stakes are that low, you need all the uplifting you can scrounge up.

It’s not going to be easy. You may have to beg someone. Not your mom, of course, she’s always going to love you, but that employee who claims to love your writing while rolling her eyes behind your back, yes, you might have to beg her. You may have to barter one skill for another. Find another writer and offer to do the same. It doesn’t have to be a long term critique-partner commitment. What you need is short term. The idea of a set of different eyes works for everyone – we as writers ALL feel deficient at some point. Plus, I find it interesting to read the WIP of others.

In my case, I turned to my Editor for Life. I try not to bother him too much, as he has other clients, most of whom are NOT tied to him in a lifetime commitment. This time, the urge to cry for help was overwhelming.

We normally email, occasionally text, but this time he wanted to Skype. (I don’t really like Skype, but what the hey? At this point, I was willing to try anything.) Our first meeting was a blur. I couldn’t understand what he was trying to tell me. The next was the “light bulb” moment. I saw clearly what vision he had for my novel. It’s “okay”, it just needs a little je ne sais quoi. It was as if my writing block needed a tow truck to pull it out of the mud. I’m not on the highway yet, but I’m on my way.

So, thanks to another set of eyes, I’m on my way to (yet) another rewrite. Thanks to another set of eyes, I’ve found the spark that was missing in my writing. Thanks to another set of eyes, I’m back on my way.

Yes, writers are a solitary bunch. But if you don’t have that other set of eyes, you might as well fold up your tent and go home. Because even if your ideas are fabulous and your technique is flawless, you don’t know everything.

The Excavation of Words

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I don’t know how I’ve been struck with the ambition, but I am in the middle of deep cleaning and purging my house, in advance of a monster garage sale I plan on hosting late in August.

I’m not a consummate slob. I tend to veer toward the lived-in but not dangerously germy look. Deep cleaning is something I haven’t done in the ten years we’ve been here. Just consider: a four-bedroom house with plenty of nooks and crannies, a basement full of boxes (most of which haven’t been opened since we moved), and a walk up attic bulging with the hastily packed mementos of my children’s school years. (Yeah. I didn’t oversee that operation, and I should have.)

Back at another place I wrote for online, an orange, hazy, huge toxic bubble, I remarked in a post that I had misplaced my folder of poetry, and asked the pressing question, “Where the hell is it?” The resulting comment thread blasted me for being a dumb ass, and how the hell would the Internets know where my poems were?

Even back then, my feelings were rarely hurt. Just temporarily slapped silly. I imagined I’d thrown my folder out by accident (I grew up in the Ice Age, and had only the typewritten copies, having not had the time or inclination to put the work on an actual computer, where my words could be backed up on a flash drive or by Carbonite), or maybe the guy we had staying at our home as it was being sold decided to run off with my silly scribblings.

Eventually, I chalked up my loss as a learning experience. My teenage and new adult angst-ridden lyrics and poetry forever absent, never to be enjoyed by posterity.

(Now I back up in several places and pay Carbonite for the stuff I’m apt to forget.)

Imagine my pleasant surprise last weekend. After fighting years of cobwebs and nearly retching over an army of dead bugs, I opened a box labeled “Kids Books” to find my folder of poems prominently sitting atop well-loved copies of Pat the Bunny and every book ever penned by Mercer Mayer.

Win! (clean basement) – Win! (possible garage sale windfall) – Win! (my book of poems). I momentarily died and went to heaven.

I spent an hour reading them. Most of my “poetry” was set to music. I played the guitar back then, and wrote simple songs with (what I thought were) tender lyrics about unrequited love and loss. Reading the words brought back the music, and I found myself humming. Most of my songs were god-awful, music and lyrics, but some of it wasn’t half bad.

What was most interesting that my writing voice back then isn’t that far removed from my writing voice now. The excavation of words cements the fact – in my mind – that I was destined to write.

Now, to celebrate my wonderful find, I will regale you with one of my favorites, written after a trip to Sioux Falls, SD, where we lit sparklers during a midnight tornado warning after ingesting Black Star.

 

Black Star

 

his grandpa was a cowboy, he said

you nod in silence–

your dreams are riding the range.

 

a little wine, a little smoke

helps to ease the loneliness,

shake off the chains —

lose those midnight blues.

you laugh and joke,

ha! your smiles are plastic

flowers molded from pain.

and still you choose

too much wine and smoke

the strawberry madness.

so you’re backed against the floor.

from another galaxy, he leans toward you

and shouts in a foreign frequency

heyareyouallrightdownthere?crazybroad!

o-zoned again.

 

lonesome cowboy,  roll me in your arms

just once.

i know i ruin everything good

but sometimes one kiss is all i need.

 

what space tripper? you’re returning home?

but you’ll soon return to ride the range

blue skies your rolling prairie

unlimited, weightless, darkened void.

you’re always searching for the light

in a heaven that gives no easy answers,

in a heaven where the sun

is just a black star.

October 28, 1978

Finding Inspiration Everywhere

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While I feel writing is my artistic outlet, there are times where producing actual writing is hampered, by real life, by other interests and responsibilities, by the lack of time. This happens to be one of those two week periods where finding a good, solid block of writing time is just not possible.

It’s not that I’m lazy – well, yes, I’m kind of lazy, although I’m trying to reform myself. It’s not like I’m lying around eating bonbons and watching daytime TV (which I guess is now NOT soaps and might be Judge Judy). I work – a lot, in fact, it’s a holiday and I’m taking a break from work right now (and the phone is ringing off the hook! Shouldn’t they be barbecuing or something?) I have a huge house and a bigger yard that I maintain on my own (with the help from the other half), and there are other commitments that eat into time. It’s not unusual, in fact, you could say that outside influences are a prevailing factor amongst us “struggling” artists. It’s a monumental struggle to create.

Still, you can find inspiration everywhere.

I force myself to do writing prompts. I’m currently doing 21 Moments (I’d link you, but this month will be the last set). Short writing prompts are the easiest. They take about 30 minutes to complete, perfect for those days where a block of three or four hours just doesn’t exist.

Even without the prompts, life gives you plenty of opportunities to explore your creative side. I have a huge vegetable garden, and have had to devote many days recently (thank heavens the days are sunny and clear!) to tending it.

At my age, I rather enjoy gardening. There’s something organic about the human hand digging in dirt, getting rid of the weeds, planting new material and seeds. There’s an order, a certain Zen about it. It’s the circle of life, and hopefully in a few months, I’ll be able to bring the fruits of my labor to the table. In the quiet of the early morning hours, I can entertain entire conversations in my head, play out plots and scenes, and think about the larger picture.

During breaks, I scribble down the meat of the moment. I’ll uncover it later, and use it in my writing.

It might seem strange, but I find cooking gives me a similar artistic charge. Many modern people think cooking is a bore, that it takes a lot of time, that you can nourish yourself a lot quicker through a drive-through or with ready-made meals. Not me. Home cooking takes a little forethought but it’s not difficult. There’s a care and love in making a meal, and the machinations always translate into tasty literary morsels. In fact, I’m working on a story with food as an underlying theme.

(I used to be able to write at work; unfortunately, things are more stressful now than they used to be.)

Art can be born of any action. The artist has to take a germ of an idea and go from there.

Any art takes a commitment. The artist has to be able to carve out time from the day to create.

It’s a daunting task, but you can find inspiration everywhere.

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