Periodically! #9: The Lost Seasons Edition

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Well, well, well. I’ll bet my followers thought I must have fallen off the edge of the world. (Pretty damned close.) The last Periodically! was released in February. Friends, that was a good five months ago. Let’s just refer to this black hole of nothingness as the Lost Season (as in Lost Weekend…only much, much longer).

In the blur that was the Spring (that wasn’t – we here in Michigan were hosed again with cold and snow until the end of May), several things happened: people died, people sickened, people were institutionalized, people adopted a homeless Detroit chihuahua, people bought a second home (heretofore renamed Money Pit), people bought another home (heretofore renamed Minor Money Pit), people dumped tons of money into the Pits and their adult children, people sprint-planted a vegetable garden, people applied to an art contest, and people readied to enter the Ann Arbor Art Fair while working a full time job (business is b-o-o-m-i-n-g!). Some people actually wrote for a hot minute.

Now this Person will take a break and fly to San Francisco for a long weekend and eat decadent food and search for sea glass. It’s not running away from home, but it’s the next best thing.

Outdoor Updates: The Guerrilla Urban Garden

The wacky spring wreaked havoc on my fruit trees. They blossomed, then we had a frost. This means NO cherries and precious few pears, so if you were expecting a hand-crafted cherry tart or pear preserves, not this year.

The potatoes, on the other hand, are none the worse for wear, but they are underground for the most part, so they managed to survive the snow. My first planting is nearly ready to harvest (that’s what four weeks of hot weather will do for you).

We’ve eaten our first peppers, cucumbers, lettuce, and blueberries. The backyard is a jungle of edibles.

What I most enjoy from vegetable gardening (besides the eats!) is that working the soil bonds you to Nature. There are many analogies to the writing perspective as well. Gardeners take seed; add water, light, and fertilizer; tend by weeding and warding off pests; and finally reap the reward at the end of the season. Writers take a small idea; expound it by adding characters and plot; work the literary landscape until it makes sense; and finally reap the reward at the end of the story.

On Writing

Ever hunker down on your Twitter feed looking for inspiration? Ever buy all the writing reference books Amazon offers during that dry spell when you can’t seem to scratch out your grocery list? Yes, I’ve been there, mining golden nuggets, for inspiration and education. But here is a very good article on looking for and perhaps not taking advice. There is such a thing. It’s called a grain of salt. (I know. Funny coming from me, who is always looking for writing references online. See more below.)

Your brain is a muscle, and if you don’t exercise it, it will get flabby. So in the spirit of mental gymnastics, Book Baby’s article on using your TV and movie time as devices in your own writing make a lot of sense. My husband and I actually did this a lot with our kids, in pointing out the “bad” guy, the struggles of the “good” guy, and what the projected ending might be. (Now that our kids are grown, he just likes to guess the ending sometime within the first ten minutes. He’s usually right, dammit!)

Is it really stylish when YOU do it? Probably not. That’s why reading this (gently) ass-kicking blog post on the rules of writing (which can be broken – sometimes) can serve as a wake-up call for those of us writers that might be a tad full of ourselves.

Read Lately

One thing I do is write scenes in a real notebook. (By hand. In pencil.) I’ve taken classes with Christina Katz and this is a very easy way to commit to prompts on a daily basis. The summer I started doing these prompts, I would write different scenes with the same characters. I’m putting these together in a novel about random strangers who meet in San Francisco in 1978.

I started the sequence of scenes during modern times, but I liked the idea of a lack of modern conveniences like cell phones and online banking for this story. My characters weren’t easily traced, meaning they had time before they could be found out (and therefore, time for the story to be told). In some ways, 1978 wasn’t that long ago, but in others it’s light years in the past. Placing the setting of a story four decades ago makes for some interesting challenges. Most of my reading time in the last few months has been devoted to research, which might sound dry, but is actually quite compelling.

The Final Leap: Suicide on the Golden Gate Bridge is one such book. Since the Golden Gate Bridge and suicidal souls figure prominently in my story, I thought this should be a fine reference, and it is. Besides providing a wealth of statistical data, John Bateson also interviewed survivors including family members and those who lived.

No foray into Bridge jumpers would be complete without diving (sorry, pun not intended) into Cracked Not Broken: Surviving and Thriving After a Suicide Attempt, by Kevin Hines. He miraculously survived his drop from the Golden Gate too.

Ten Years that Shook the City: San Francisco 1968-1978 by Chris Carlsson helped me to define the mood and tone of City. However, I happened upon the biggest bonanza of paraphernalia through my Twitter feed, when SF Gate posted this breathtaking photo essay.

Movies

I don’t go to them anymore (too expensive, too crowded, I’d rather be comfortable in my own house, thank you), but I do have a Netflix account. Here are a few movies I found to be entertaining. Keep in mind that my mentions might have sustained some terrible reviews along the way, which is why I don’t read reviews until after I’ve seen the movie/read the book/dined at the restaurant/etc.

The Fundamentals of Caring: it’s a Netflix original movie. Honestly, I’m starting to like Netflix originals. They did a kick-ass job with House of Cards, right?

Life is about a Life magazine photojournalist who finagles a way to cover James Dean just before Dean scored his role in East of Eden. Overlook Robert Pattinson as the journalist, because he still looks like a Twilight vampire to me, but Dane Dehaan as James Dean…WOW.

The Do-Over, (another Netflix original) but I’m a sucker for Adam Sandler. Yes, even his terrible movies hold an appeal to me.

Question of the Issue

What is your preferred method of reading? Are you digital only? Or do you like the smell and heft of a bound edition? Mix and match?

I personally love a nice hard-cover, particularly if it’s signed by the author – and if signed by one of my favorites, I’m in heaven – but I admit to reading books on my iPhone. I haven’t picked up a magazine in a doctor’s office in years. For traveling, it’s paperbacks all the way (same entertainment, slightly less poundage), and I’ll leave them in airport waiting areas or at friend’s houses just to share the love.

Quote of the Issue

The idea is to write it so that people hear it & it slides through the brain and goes straight to the heart. ~Maya Angelou

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 do have an Instagram. I’ve had it for a long time. Be forewarned, I take a lot of photos of food, either what I’ve made or my restaurant choices. My Instagram is also littered with photos of dogs and cats.

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

With any luck, I will see you next month.


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

 

 

Periodically! #7 – Late December Mayhem

cropped-periodically3.jpgYes, I know I’m early. That’s because last month I was late. 🙂

Write News

Now that the winter solstice is over and the days are getting longer (finally), I may be able to get back to editing. Oh, I had the best of intentions while I’d spent ten days in Colorado; I’d schlepped my notes, my computer, and my reference books with me, but I just couldn’t. For one thing, I couldn’t get my butt out of bed most mornings! And the weather was clear – most days. I slept like the proverbial hibernating bear. Normally when I’m traveling, I remain on “Michigan time” and am up at 4 a.m. Not this trip. Plus, I rather enjoyed the time with my dad. There are six of us kids, many grandkids, and great-grandkids, so it was nice to have him all to myself.

Once home, with the hectic holidays upon us, I couldn’t get anything done. It’s Christmas Eve as I write this (I’m at work, which is deader than a door nail), and my intention is to write more, starting this minute! Let’s see if I can make it past today.

Interesting Articles

Myths about publishing – we all know about these. It’s a new world out there, folks! We are not tied to tradition!

A blog post that hits close to home – knowing you’re a writer when you’re young, getting caught up the Real Life, and coming back to writing. Once a writer, always a writer. 🙂

CamMi Pham implores us not to date a man who reads.

If you are a writer and not hooked up to Medium, you certainly should be! In addition to being a great writing reference, there are also some very good writers contributing. (I’m ashamed to say that I have been ignoring Medium lately, but I’m in the midst of getting back on track.)

And here’s a great post/interview on self-publishing.

Reading This Month

I participate in the Leon and Lulu Books and Authors event in October. It’s not just a good place to show off your little babies (books), it’s also a great place to meet other local authors. There are more than I ever expected. This year, I picked up Searching for Nannie B by Nancy Owen Nelson (whose table was right across from mine – lovely woman). Memoir is not my usual read, but I really fell in love with Nancy’s story of her hardly-spoken-about grandmother who died while giving birth to Nancy’s mother. I’ve attempted to reconstruct my own genealogy, and I know it can be a daunting task. Most of Nancy’s family lives in the Huntsville, Alabama area, and as I have friends there, I could recognize many of the places she writes about.

On my iPhone, I’m reading The Restaurant Critic’s Wife by Elizabeth LaBan. Due to be released in January 2016, this is a humorous take on one woman’s life questions after she gives up a successful career to marry and have children. (Who hasn’t been in that boat?) I love the author’s voice; it’s real and women who have been in a similar situation can totally relate.

On the way back from dad-sitting in Colorado earlier this month, I read A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding by Jackie Copleton. I loved this book! The perfect mix of a Japanese woman who spent most of her life grieving after her town, Nagasaki, was bombed and the redemption and self-forgiveness she finally finds. While the author is not Japanese, she captured the nuances of the culture perfectly.

Musical Notes

While this edition of Periodically! will come out after Christmas, here’s a sad little song you might want to listen to. Eleven years ago when my kids were still under the family roof, they discovered this gem in a Christmas song book, decided to learn it, and performed it at the Rochester Conservatory Christmas recital. (The recital had the director on piano, daughter singing, but the family has been known to spontaneously combust into song.) I have videotape of this performance somewhere. They could never finish the song without bursting into laughter (actually, my husband and I couldn’t help but laugh too – I know, we are twisted for finding such obscene pleasure in the fate of a poor, little boy), and the video shows it. (I really have to get my videos converted into DVDs…but that’s another story.)

🙂

Question of the Month

Do you participate in the dreaded New Year resolution? I have to admit, I only make writerly resolutions.  Who cares about my weight? I’m heading into six decades and even I don’t care anymore. My 2016 resolution is to write at least one page (by hand) or for 20 minutes (by computer) each day. I might set up a private blog to track my efforts. I’ve been known to be a slacker.

Quote of the Month

Between the wolf in the tall grass and the wolf in the tall story, there is a shimmering go-between. That go-between, that prism, is the art of literature. ~Vladimir Nabokov


 

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

 

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.

I’m SO Ready for San Francisco!

This will be a short post, because I have a thousand things to do before I leave Thursday (way early) morning.

SFWC Sign up Now

1. I am so ready for San Francisco! I’m always ready for the City by the Bay, but right now I am craving some interaction with creative types, authors, editors, movers, shakers. The San Francisco Writers Conference couldn’t come at a better time. Besides, it’s so cold and snowy here, I need a mini-escape LIKE RIGHT NOW.

2. After the last year, I’m finally feeling like a real writer! That’s because I’ve been writing or editing or outlining almost every day. It’s been tough to get on a schedule, and believe me, you would know. I’ve been bitching about my Real Life problems for years now. However, I’m getting better at carving out a space for me and my writing time. It’s true, if you write, you will write more.

3. I’m planning another book, this one YA. Like I don’t have enough to do? This one will have death as a theme, and I haven’t decided whether I should put my story in Michigan, Minnesota, or California. Hopefully, it’ll be funny. Maybe not.

4. I’ve started editing Virtually Yours Forever (for those of you who were wondering what happened to my Beanie Moms), and I hope to self-publish the sequel by the end of the year. I already have a eCover design, it’s just a matter of getting the story to the point where it makes sense. There’s a lot going on with my moms!

5. I’ve undertaken another launch, but since it’s in the gestational stage, I’m not going to talk about it. Don’t want to jinx it.

I know it’s only Monday, but I’m already packing. I’ll be gone for longer than usual (ten days) so I’ve been plotting and planning my Real Life so there won’t be any Real Life disasters while I’m gone.

Finally, I’m praying that Mother Nature will cut me a break this week. Please don’t send any monster blizzards my way on Wednesday or Thursday, PLEASE. I want all airlines to be running on time, without delay. If I miss one second of this conference, I’m going to be super PO’ed.

Writing, Editing, and Twelve Days to the San Francisco Writers Conference

For some reason, I felt that 2013 was a banner year in my writing endeavors. Never mind that it took me the entire year to re-work and re-edit my first manuscript…even though that was a major undertaking full of major hurdles, I got the job done, which is a major accomplishment. It’s as good as it’s going to get; in fact, I can’t think of anything I left out. (Of course, someone is going to find something I missed – that’s a given.)

On to a new year, and I have plans for 2014. Now I’m tackling other writing tasks, such as editing the other TWO manuscripts that need my attention, and coming up with a new story from bits and pieces of other stories.

One thing I’ve learned from the last year is that 1. It’s not completely God-awful to forsake all of your other projects and concentrate on one thing (I honestly thought I was too ADD to try focusing on one project, much less succeed at finishing one project all the way through), and 2. It helps to get as many sets of eyes on your work as possible. I could possibly throw in a #3. – I’m getting better. Edits of subsequent novels are going so much faster, because now when I write a first draft, I catch myself before I make a mistake. You can teach an old dog new tricks!

🙂

San Francisco Writers Conference

I’ll be attending the San Francisco Writers Conference again this year, and only have twelve days to get it together. While I’ve signed up for the agent speed dating, I’m not so interested in pitching my work this year, and will look upon the experience as an exercise in sociability – something I’m not so good at. Of course, I’ll network with other writers, some who like me attend every year, but my main objective is to learn as much as humanly possible, and maybe absorb some positive vibes. I’m not totally down in the dumps about writing or life in general, but with this Massive Winter, I could use a little rah-rah to rally my flagging ambition.

To kick start some of my storytelling, I’ve signed up for Christina Katz’s 21 Moments Challenge. I suggest all writers give it a whirl. (I’ve just started, so I can’t tell you yet how helpful it is, but I’ll give a full report later.) The price is certainly right – $21. I need a cattle prod – I mean, classes – to get me going. I’m only a partial self-starter.

The new year is still young, so make the best of it now! I see good things in my future, and hope you do too.

And Now For the (Semi) Good News…

As you know, I’m lucky enough to have a permanent editor, i.e. my Editor for Life. He’s a nice guy, is personable, does good work. Seems to even care about me. 🙂 I also take online classes (currently taking a LitReactor query class), and have many eyes both professional and not reading my manuscripts.

I’ve taken Finding Cadence down a very long journey, from conception on a windswept beach in San Francisco, to bits of prose jotted on napkins, slips of paper, and backs of deposit slips, to a bloated manuscript (170K words) clogging my hard drive, to a complete re-write, to major editing (over and over and over…and over), to the lean and mean 120K words it is today. I’ve sliced and diced and eliminated adverbs and adjectives and junk and chaos, reworded my cliches, showed more and told less. I’ve entered it into contests (positively received). I’ve toiled over this novel for SIX YEARS. (I know, that’s forever.) The last ten months of my writing life have been dedicated specifically to this story.

After this last edit – completed December 3 – I sent the manuscript over to my alternate set of eyes. When I called her Thursday for her opinion, she intoned the words I never thought I’d hear; “I can’t tell you another thing to do. This book is ready.”

It’s ready?

As in, I have nothing else (except proofreading for typos, and the dreaded query) to do?

Whoa…

To hear news such as this is a double-edged sword. You’re giddy, because finally there is validation from a professional that your life’s work (and believe me, it’s my life and it’s been a labor) is complete. You can finally move on to another project, another edit. You reach for the champagne (which you’ve kept in constant state of chill just for this occasion) and vow to down the entire bottle. You want to tweet it from the rafters (or wherever tweeters tweet), and yell it until your throat is sore.

On the other hand, a certain sadness falls, fast like a winter dusk. Your baby has grown up, sprouted wings, taken off without so much as a backward glance. You won’t have to spend three or four hours at a time studying your characters, layering into the story psychic suffering and the resultant scar tissue, smiling at their triumphs and crying at their heartbreak. Your characters are your family, your friends, and to finally (and literally) close the chapter isn’t easy.

It’s a somber goodbye, but it’s also a new beginning. Writing a book, like any art, isn’t just the idea hatched in the artist’s head. It’s also technique and time, and later, marketing.

Now I must gather the strength and courage to start the query process, and hope (and pray) some agent somewhere will feel the same as I (and my alternate set of eyes) do.

Fear not, I’m not out of ideas. You (and I) might see these same characters again, someday, in a new situation.

That’s the beauty of storytelling.

NaNoWriMo 2013: I Failed, But I Prioritized

I wish I could say I completed the 2013 NaNoWriMo with 50,000 words written easily and under my belt, but it was not to be…

*sigh*

Oh, I had good intentions. I started out with a bang. I knew the story I wanted to tell. I racked up a worthy word count within the first week – even exceeding the minimum daily count. But something else happened.

One, I really wanted to finish my edit of Finding Cadence. NO, I REALLY WANTED TO FINISH IT, ASAP. This is a story that must come out, somehow. I’m not getting any younger, and this novel has languished in various stages of disrepair since 2007.

After you’ve stripped and layered a manuscript for nine months (funny, that gestational metaphor), after you’ve taken classes specifically for this MS, after you’ve deleted and inserted, sweated, re-inserted what you deleted two weeks before, ran the thing through SmartEdit a couple of times, and let two editors and a couple of BETA readers have a go, there was only one thing in my sights: Finishing this sucker.

This is where I tell you that 2013 NaNo was a bust. Yes, I’m an abject failure this year. I had to suspend my new story – which is going to be great by the way, once I get going again – to polish my old (very old) story.

I had to make a gut-wrenching decision, one that didn’t come easily. I decided to prioritize.

I fretted over it for days. I like to write while the fire is hot, because there is nothing more motivating than passion. I had a burning desire to begin the new story, but I had a bigger urge to finish the old. That’s because by hook or crook, if I have to crawl over shards of broken glass, I’m going to get this story out of the edit stage of its life and into the final production stage of its life.

This is a huge move for me. After years of cobbling together a writing schedule, I realized I can’t flit from one work in progress to another. Maybe other writers can do it, but I can’t. My novels are so different from each other, i.e. they don’t fit into a single genre, that I have to concentrate on one at a time. It’s too hard to get into the serious-literary-thoughtful voice after you’ve been playing in the sassy-fun-romantic voice.

So I spent the last three weeks of November working on Cadence, jiggering the developments, the ending, the arc. I took that baby apart and put it together. I somehow eliminated 6K words. (I might have to add a few somewhere, but I’m not so concerned about it; I think this incarnation is as tight as it can be.) Then I shipped it off for more eyes to view.

I’m going to take a couple of days off, just vegging and clearing my head, before I start working on another first draft in sore need of editing. And when I have the time, I’ll add to the new story, but my main priority is to get what I’ve already finished (two manuscripts!) whipped into shape before I finish NaNo 2013.

Sometimes you have to prioritize. It hurts. But sometimes you must. Believe me. A finished result will lessen the hurt.