The week that was

As weeks go, this one can best be described as … There are no words strong enough. I want to say it sucked, but long ago I forbade my sons to use that expression, so I can hardly use it now, in case they read this and say, “But Mom…”, dragging it out in a moan like they did when they were teenagers.

First, the weather.

I hate wind. Always have. Wind makes me break out in nerves. I keep thinking a tree will fall on the house. In fact, trees fell on several houses in the area, but mine was spared. So far. It’s still windy.

Then, a dear friend died unexpectedly. We are all still reeling. He was so much a part of our community and especially our local writers’ club. Where do we go from here without his guidance and leadership?

And, I’m having trouble with my book cover. I keep uploading it, only to discover CreateSpace has cropped off part of the title or some other essential copy. I thought I knew how to do this. I couldn’t remember how to make a .pdf from a .jpg. I finally figured it out, but it shouldn’t have taken so long. Maybe my mind is going. Something else to worry about.

Then Thursday, when I got home from paying bills and grocery shopping, Frenchy got on my lap. I looked down to pet her and discovered she had dug her ears raw. I called the vet and was told I could bring her in if I could be there in 15 minutes. I’ll just say I drove home at the speed limit.

So now she needs drops in her ears twice a day for two weeks. It’s a struggle, as she is certain the drops and/or I am out to kill her. First, I have to corner her, then somehow capture her and wrap her in a towel to prevent scratches (I already have enough battle scars from previous attempts). Then spend time calming her down and getting her to forgive me.

Most of these complaints are trivial, except for the loss of our friend. That’s major. All else falls away. My heart goes out to his wife, also a dear friend. I know what it is to be suddenly widowed. You aren’t ready. You’re never ready, but here it is, and you have to learn how to play the new role convincingly. So say a prayer for her.

Her week really sucked.

And I realize my petty concerns mean nothing at all.

Let the wind blow.

 

 

 

That “Oh, no” moment

I got my proof copy of Riverbend from Amazon last week. I started to look through it, and —

Yes, you guessed it. I saw a typo. Then another.

To make matters worse, when I began reading it more carefully, I noticed places where I could have chosen a better word or phrase. Oh, the beauty of hindsight.

When I think about ordering a book online, I read the reviews. If readers complain of poor editing or too many typos, I usually pass.

I do not want that to happen to me!

So one more time, I went through it page by page, paragraph by paragraph, sentence by … You get the idea.

I followed some advice I heard at a workshop and started at the last page and worked my way to the beginning. When sentences are taken out of context, it is much easier to see errors.

And now I see my back cover blurb doesn’t really tell what the story is about, so I need to work on that as well.

At this rate, I’ll never be ready to let go, but I have a firm publication date of May 1.

I remember reading about an author who  wasn’t satisfied with the ending of his book, so every time he was giving a reading or lecture in a new city he’d visit the library and cross out the last paragraphs and write in the new ending.

I don’t intend to go to that extreme. But I am going to make sure this book is as ready as it can be for its debut.

There are people, and I used to be one them, who think writing a book is easy. You just sit down and begin typing.

They don’t  know the whole story.

Pun intended.

 

 

Writers retreat and beach memories

Home again!

I’m home after a week away. It was a fantastic week: sunrise over the ocean, the sky tinted pink and baby blue with whitecaps rolling against the shore.  Coffee, drifting to our self-appointed stations, everyone working on her project from a published writer meeting deadline to a novice working on her first draft. Ice cream breaks, walking along the beach, feet crunching over  broken shells or seeking balance on softly shifting sand, claiming the reward of sweet, cold strawberry or salty caramel. Silent afternoons, then laughter as eight women work together to prepare an evening meal.

It was a fantastic week in the company of women who got me, who understood what it is to create a story from nothing but our imaginations, what it means to select the right word, to bring a character to life.

They say writing is a lonely life. It is. It is the nature of the profession. Oh, we have critique partners, beta readers, editors, and hopefully, publishers, who help us along the way.  But the essential work is done inside our heads.

That’s why writer’s retreats, such as the one I just completed, are important. We remember we are not alone on our journey, that others are traveling the road with us. Some are a little ahead, and they look back and hold out a hand to help us along. And we do the same for those behind us.

I confess I was a little reluctant to go.  Live with strangers for a week? How did this work?

But I’m glad I did.  Within 24 hours, the doubts had fled. The strangers became friends. When the week was over we hugged goodbye with real emotion and pledged to meet again next year.

Did I accomplish the goal I had set? Yes, I did. I finished my edits. Others finished their drafts or met their deadlines. We all did what we came for, but for me, it was more than that.

It was realizing I was in good company. That I was not alone. That I was a part of a sisterhood of writers.

Of course I was glad to get home and accept the welcome meows of Spooky, Jack and Frenchie. There was mail, telephone messages, and the inevitable dirt to be swept up because my cats love to dig in the houseplants. Bags had to be unpacked, laundry done. Every vacation — even working vacations —  end.

But the memories remain.

 

 

 

Judge not…?

The thing about contests is that someone has to judge them. Not many people clamor to do this job, hence a little arm-twisting might be necessary to urge people to volunteer.

I volunteered along with three other members of my writing group to judge a neighboring county’s contest entries. It’s been a long-standing agreement that their club judge our contest entries and our club judge theirs.

So there we were, sitting around a kitchen table sipping water, tea, or diet soda, passing the pages around as each “judge” read and made notes. You may think we were in agreement on our choices, but that wasn’t the case. Some gave one story high marks while another called it average. We were divided on the poetry as well. We discussed our reasons for our decisions. No minds were changed, however.

Then we voted. The results were probably as fair as they could be. The only thing we agreed on was that some of the entries were categorized incorrectly. We could tell creative non-fiction from a short story, but somehow the writers could not.

I don’t like judging for the simple fact that 90 percent of it is subjective.  When I judge I weigh the merits of the story, its flow, the pacing. I want to care about the characters. I ignore typos and give some leeway on grammar. These things can be fixed. A story that goes off the tracks can’t. Yet others will leap gleefully on a misplaced comma and lower the rating accordingly.

I’ve entered contests and had my work returned with judge’s comments. Some were constructive, some not so much. Having been a judge myself, I know how impossible it is to be completely impartial. Our prejudices creep in. We like one genre better than another; we like one tense better than another. We try to be fair and push our preconceived notions aside. Sometimes we can.

Contests are important and often help the writer to become stronger, give her direction, help her see and overcome her weak points. If the writer enters in order to get this valuable feedback, she has won even if she doesn’t get to claim the prize.

Contests can provide confirmation to the winner. My hope is those who don’t place resolve not to give up, but to try again. Because it is’t the aim of contests to crush the writer who “failed.” Nor is it the aim of the judges to send a message “you’re not good enough” to these folks.

I’ve judged and been judged. Neither is easy. But in both cases, it helps us to grow as writers.

 

 

 

 

How deep is enough?

For the second day in a row I woke before 5 a.m.

I try to fall back asleep, but it’s useless and I know it. This phenomenon happens every time I am halfway though a story. After dutifully plodding through the opening chapters, setting up the plot and characters, the book suddenly comes alive.  My mind goes into overdrive. Ideas flow like lava, igniting my imagination.

My main character, Greg, is an actor on a popular nighttime drama. As such, he has to dig deep into himself in order to bring the character he portrays to life, to make him believable. When his lover on the series “dies” he draws on  his grief he felt after his father’s suicide, and the subsman-cryingequent scene catapults him from mediocrity to fame. And that fame makes him a target…but no more about the plot. That’s not the point.

What I’m saying is that we, as writers, also have to dig deep within ourselves to find the emotions we want to portray. I’ve been in love and I think, old as I am, I can still remember what first love felt like.

I’ve been betrayed, and I can draw on that anger and denial.

I’ve felt deep and devastating loss. And I can draw on that.

It’s hard to bring these emotions to the surface and relive the grief, anger, loss. It’s hard to remember that first love, because now I know how  it ends. But in order to write about these emotions honestly, I have to remember and relive those experiences. It isn’t easy. And sometimes it doesn’t work because I am afraid to go too deeply.

So it isn’t just the overflow of ideas that keeps me awake. It’s the surge of empathy I feel toward these cardboard people, an empathy that will breath life into them. Is Greg afraid his career,  now that he’s achieved success, will end? How does that feel? How does he feel? How did I feel?

I lost a job I loved because I had to make the choice to walk away or be sucked into a pit I didn’t think I could climb out of. So I know a little about his fear and anger.

My job now is to translate that into his actions and words.

And that is what writers do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Procrastination

As I write this, it is raining outside. A lot.

Jim would be checking the rain gauge every five minutes, and spending the rest of his time watching the weather channel. He loved weather.

I can take it or leave it.  Rainy days, when they are not actual hurricanes, can be restful. Notice I did not say productive.

It is a perfect time to settle down and start that new novel I promised my half dozen fans I was going to write. But, over the summer, I have learned to procrastinate. Yes, I finished my edits. Yes, I have begun sending out queries. But when anyone asked if I am writing something new, I am forced to say “No.”

The characters are in my head clamoring to be set free. I have a glimmering sense of a possible plot.

My excuse is that what with all my gadding about this summer I haven’t had a solid block of time in which to write and that I don’t want to start something only to be interrupted just when the juices are starting to flow.

Yeah, I know BS when I hear it, too.

I think I am procrastinating because I know once I start, it is going to be a long, tough road until I write “The End.” And as I once said, “the end” is really the beginning. Rewrites, edits, submissions, more edits, promoting…

I get tired just thinking about it.

To quote Cheryl Strayed, “Writing is hard for every last one of us… Coal mining is harder. Do you think miners stand around all day talking about how hard it is to mine for coal? They do not. They simply dig.”

Neil Gaiman’s rule #2 for writers is “Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.”

Yep. One word after another. One sentence after another; one page…

It’s the first word, not the last, that’s so darn difficult.

 

 

 

 

Answering to nobody

On Friday, I mowed the front yard. Then I began a task I had putting off all summer: clearing out the basement.

It isn’t really a basement, it is more of a crawl space under the house. You can’t stand upright, and the “ceiling” gets lower the farther you go in. But it is a space where we have stored everything from garden tools to old bottles to half-empty gallons of  paint. Clearing it out is a task I didn’t want to leave to the kids whenever…life happens.

So I made a pile of things I wanted to keep. I saved one of the many tool boxes and put in it the tools I thought I might need in future projects and home repairs. The rest I put in a pile.

Then I came inside and showered and fell into a chair where I stared at the TV until bedtime. Because I was tired.trash-3

Saturday, I got up for my daily two-mile walk, then came home and carted all the stuff to the front yard and arranged it on a tarp by the road. I added a sign saying “If you can use it, you can have it.”

Two hours later, almost everything was gone. One young man came to the door to be sure it wasn’t a yard sale. I told him he was free to take anything he wanted. In the meantime I painted the front door and trim, and then mowed the back yard.

Another shower, because mowing is hot and sweaty work, and there was the rest of the afternoon staring me in the face. I decided to go to a movie. Because I could. Because I didn’t need to be anywhere, or do anything. I still miss Jim with all my heart, but sometimes it is all right to do what you want to do when you want to do it.

The nearest theater is 30 miles away, but I figured what the heck. I got in the car and drove. First I stopped at the landfill and dumped three large trash bags of stuff that I didn’t want, and no one else did either. They fell into the bin with a satisfying clunk.

For the record, I enjoyed the movie. I came home and watered the outside plants I’d recently planted and fed the cats.

I poured a glass of wine, sat down and turned on the TV, and decided that after all was said and done, it was a productive and pleasant day.

I hope yours was as well.

 

 

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