Friday, December 31, 2010


My wishes on last day of 2010 for new year:

Finish writing a second book.

Read four books a month (if you knew my schedule, you'd think insanity).

Make more money. Give away more money.

Hug more often. Love more vigorously (2010 was good for that).

Dance more. Sing more. Run more.

Write better.

Forgive easily.

Say "I'm sorry" less. (read: make fewer mistakes that hurt people's feelings)

Think fewer negative thoughts.

In short, live fully. Welcome this moment.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Itinerant Writers

Cool thing about telling people you are a writer: they are, too, or know someone who is. Writers lurk in odd places. I used to work at a public radio station, and the janitor had published a cartoon book. It was very good. He never pursued another project.

Last week, a friend handed me a short story by a friend who wanted to be a writer. It, too, was very good. My friend said his buddy played around with writing his entire life, but he never took it up seriously, as in, pursuing publishing.

There's no pat on the back for the itinerant writer. They write for the love of it. Which is how any writer goes on. There's certainly very little positive stroking that goes on in this industry (one I've yet to break in to, so my view may be a little jaded). Too many obstacles and critics. But people usually think it's cool if you tell them you are a writer. Much more than when I tell them I'm a journalist or a college instructor.

The short story from my friend's friend was never published. He died earlier this year.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

What I'm Writing

"Three Musketeers" might be on a few read-this-book-before-you-kick-off lists, but it's not everyone's favorite. I think that's because it doesn't delve much into the thoughts of the Musketeers, for the most part. That's why I wanted to write a sequel about one of the men, in particular.

My book is based on Athos, the eldest Musketeer who shuns the company of women and favors wine. Good fodder for a romance novel, eh? Dumas wrote a book called "20 Years After," which I'm slogging through, where he revives Athos as a happy aristocrat with a son. How'd that happen? That's what I thought, so Athos is my subject.

I haven't found any blogs yet by romance writers who discuss whether they fall in love with their male protagonists (I know you are out there). I definitely did. He's complicated and brooding and lonely .... you get the picture. I'm also more interested in him than his love interest. Not sure that'll sell with the romance reading crowd, but I'll take the fan fiction spill-over.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Blank Page, Take That

It was a word. Denizen. I remember using it in an essay I wrote after my first interview ever. The woman I interviewed was in her 80s, living in rural Missouri and remembered when electricity first came to her home.

I had locked myself in my bedroom and was sitting at my desk (which my mother still has), writing the essay about her life for a contest on rural electrification. I wanted a word to describe her, and that's the word I found: denizen. I loved it. It was cool. It was another way of calling her a resident, and it made me want to keep going, thinking myself clever and all.

All good writing advice says stay away from the thesaurus, and for the most part, I try to follow that advice. Denizen probably looked quite out of place in a 15-year-old's prose. But it was fun learning new words and using them. My mom said too many $2 words in my recent draft manuscript. I retooled. But a good word is worth a million bucks.

I write because it's fun and because I love words. And I like to take a blank page and make something out of it. It's about creating images. Which can be a trip. And reaching into a character's head besides your own. I'm not intimidated by the blank, white stuff. Give me a glowing screen or a lined notebook. And take that.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Words for Free

Toying with this idea of giving away my book for free. It sounds completely stupid, but if it attracts readers, why not? I do this blog for free. I clean the damn bathroom for free. Why not post my book for free? That Cory Doc(what'shisname) is giving his writing away for free and advocating others to do the same. Yeah, I know, he's already making money at it, so he's allowed.

The whole publishing business is a depressing hole anyway. All I read about it makes me want to crawl in bed. I don't like feeling helpless. If I take complete control, I'll just post my work on my own *free* website (via and let the wind and viral media do what it does.

Or not. Okay, now back to the spit and polish.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Magic Fabric or Gob-o-Something

Magic fabric. Had to spell those words for my daughter today. They go together in a hand-in-glove way.

My magic fabric, my draft, is my mending project now. Self-editing is sometimes painful. If you read this, you must know I don't edit it -- much. But the book, the book will get a thrashing. After a while, all my sentences started sounding like gobbledigook this afternoon.

My tendency is to write too much expository (the journalist in me) vs. narrative (show don't tell). I'm likely to delete hundreds of paragraphs. I've got three folders named Dead Passages already.

One highlight today, the National Book Awards. Inspiring, for the process that can blur vision and cause brain seepage.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Finished! Not Quite

The draft is finished. At 12:20 p.m. EST yesterday, I wrote THE END.

I've been pushing all month, in part for NaNoWriMo, but also because I wanted to finish my novel, started 400+ days ago. I felt a little giddy near the end. (I kept proclaiming from the back bedroom where I dug in, "I'm almost done!") The last chapter, all of three pages, was an absolute joy. I danced some, sang some and had a party with friends.

Something I've thought about through this first novel is: if a person can think it, it can somehow be written. Transferring the sublties of human interaction is a huge part of the writing process. The story and plot are the wild part; getting it right in words is the hard work.

Today, I take a brief break. I woke up thinking about stories I want to write next. The fun starts, again.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Postcard from Home

It happened. Reality bumped in. Between job, kids, husband, bills, daylight savings, I didn't write yesterday, Day 10. The literary-abandon month dropped like a spent bottlerocket.

I moped some last night. I wanted to write, but the other voices in my life (not including my dog) said give it a break. I expected this to happen, but I'm not quitting. Re-saddling, today, very soon.

My month at the keyboard has been outstanding. I've written 42 pages and almost 10K words. Did I? I can hardly believe it. Better yet, I like most of it. Here's a short section that made me happy:

In the short windows of solitude, she daydreamed. The visions involved flight. Flight made possible with wings. She stood in a summer field, her body covered by loose, opaque gauze, the sky a blanket of invitation, and from a whirlwind, enormous wings unfolded from her shoulder blades. At times, the wings were brown and barred, on other occasions, red and speckled with yellow. Most often, the wings, spanning beyond her fingertips, were white.

In quick, repeated bursts, the intensity flattening the grasses, she lifted into the air between treetops and clouds. She soared steady, buoyed by the winds without fear of predators. From above, the world displayed its order and chaos. Fields and roads bordered by trees etched comforting patterns while thick forests and jutting coastline reminded her nature meant unpredictability. The contradiction of the view, of the order and disorder, lingered within her after the vision died, when she flew into the sun and burned to ash.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Look, Ma, Still Writing

Look what I've gone and done. It's like wrapping a rubberband around my head and looking on while the blood vessels snap. I looked in "the book." The advice book for writers that I think of as Don't-Look-in-Me-Unless-You-Want-to-Crush-Your-Creativity DeathRead.

The author even says as much in her opening pages. Just look: "Attempting to revise while still writing, like exercising while eating, may shut down the body's flow of creative juices and produce verbal constipation." Great, I'll look in the stool later.

Every time I look in this book, I realize the mistakes I've been making. It takes me a good 3-4 days to look past my imperfections, realize they're fixable and get going again. But I can't afford that when I'm trying to finish. I need to look forward, not back at this point.

My latest waywardness came in looking for advice on dialogue. Advice: Careful not to catch gesture-itis. Look, I'm new at this, open to my flaw-filled ways, but it got me clicking on the Find function to look for words I overuse. Guess which one I looked up?

The book is Don't Sabotage Your Submission: Save Your Manuscript from Turning Up D.O.A. by Chris Roerden, ISBN 978-1-933523-31-6.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

What I'm In This For

Writing a book is like making a quilt. I can back it up because I have, indeed, pieced a quilt. Not a very pretty one, and it was just one, but I pieced together a present for a cousin, and she still keeps it close.

I have another quilt in scraps crammed into a plastic, zippered bag on a dusty nook in my laundry room. I started the second about 10 years ago. I hate that it sits, occasionally mocking me. If I had a NaQuiMo, maybe it would be complete.

This trendy NaNoWriMo sucked me in, and shamelessly, I took bait. But skeptically. Today, Day 3, I see the value. I wanted to use this month to finish the draft manuscript of a book I started writing a year ago, and by gosh, I think it's gonna happen. Because I want to put in my 1600+ words every day and see that little blue bar on the NaNo graph slowly reach the goal line.

I'm stitching it together because there's a support group, a quilting bee of writers. Is it a little goofy? Sure. Am I on my way to fame and fortune? Hardly. Will I spend another year in revisions? You betcha. But I want the privilege of saying I wrote a book, published it, then wrote another. And another, and a few more after that.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Nano Newbie, Not Looking Good

Fridge stocked? Nope. Laundry done? Ha. Toilet paper? Yes, I do have enough toilet paper. Otherwise, I'm diving into National Novel Writing Month with no expectations of success.

Here's my track record: I started a novel mid-August 2009. To date, I've written 78,900 words. I'm supposed to write 50K starting midnight tonight through midnight Nov. 30. About 7 pages a day. Like the saying goes, you do the math.

I really want to finish the novel I'm working on, then start its prequel. If I can accomplish one or both, WHOOO-HOOO! If not, I'll still be writing in December and January and February, etc. etc. etc.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Commit and It Shall Be

NaNoWriMo is days away. (Could the Office of Letters and Light be a little less dramatic with the "countdown" clock?) Okay, so it's exciting and anxiety inducing. But I'm committed. At the very least, I'll write SOME words each day in November. I give some a broad definition.

However, I do believe in commitment. It makes up for many missed opportunities, mistakes, false starts and general distractions. Distractions, or more specifically, obligations, keep me away from the book I'm writing. NaNoWriMo will help me finish it.

W.H. Murray wrote about commitment:
Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation),
there is one elementary truth
the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans:
that the moment one definitely commits oneself,
then providence moves too.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Finding the Creative Cow

No sacred cow exists of creativity. Just sit your butt down if you wanna write (or create). Or maybe, lie down, get drowsy and let your subconscious take over. It happens, you know, those moments of incredible, diamond-sharp revelations, right when you're sleepy.

Keith Richards talks about it in his new book Life. He was interviewed by Terry Gross about how he came up with the song Satisfaction. He sleeps with a tape recorder by his bed to capture the goodies. He doesn't even remember having taped the hook for the song. He woke the next morning, and there it was along with 40 minutes of snoring. Love it.

I've met others who mention something similar. I have writing tools handy by the bedsheets, and occasionally, I'll get an idea that's gotta go on the paper ASAP. But, frankly, I do best by showing up. Let me have the time, and it'll flow. I plot and it helps, but I've got to give it space.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Not a Foothold

Blogging is not a foothold on my life. Neither is tweeting or commenting or emailing or poking or friending. This is a place to experiment and spread a few words around. Take it or leave it. This is a free radical writing exercise. Maybe it'll cause cancer. Maybe prevent it.

Nonetheless, I'm not blogging to make YOU happy. Really, I'm not writing this blog to make ME happy. I place some confidence in the philosophy, I think, therefore I am, which was Descartes' view that because we think, that's proof enough we exist. But writing doesn't make it so, does it? Does the act of writing prove the action of thought and therefore make our existence real?

Footholds are the values I try to live by. The ideas and people I adhere to and trust. Not an exercise in self-awareness. Not this sentence and the period that stops it.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Friendly Perks of Writing

My fall break is over. I wrote. Progress was made. I'm beginning to near the end of my first draft manuscript. It feels momentous. I've been working on writing a novel since August 2009. Not long, according to some writers I've befriended in the process.

The folks I've met becoming a fiction writer (not simply a journalist) have been pretty cool. They laugh a lot and think big thoughts and offer gentle advice. It's true, writers need to stick together. A third of the equation that keeps me writing is the inspiration they provide; of course, the other parts are the creative outlet and a love of the written word.

I wasn't always a reader. I could be a better one. Becoming a better writer takes patience, practice and education. Learning to become a better reader? Not sure how to accomplish that goal. I read at a moderate pace. I have to say the words in my head often as I go. I give the author generous latitude. It generally pays off. And my life is enriched.

Monday, October 18, 2010

NaNoWriMo Insanity

About this NaNoWriMo thingamabobber. I write, sure. Do I write like an idiot? No. I have to stop and think. Will I need to write like an idiot to write 50,000 words in a month? Perhaps.

My first drafts are getting better. I wrote today, and pulled off about two pages, if you count the verbage I added to my novel in sections where I thought could use the umph. But besides this blog, I've got to ruminate. That's sounds bad. I do ruminate over this blog, but not nearly the same way I'm thinking about characterization and motivation and dialogue in the novel I'm writing.

I also like to reread. It makes me happy to know I've gotten so much finished, and "Wow, is that working or what?" The real test will come. The rejections are being photocopied now. I'll just savior this limbo I'm in, and maybe, just maybe, write like a fool in November.

Friday, October 15, 2010

On Being a Maniac

Philip Roth is making the circuit. His new book is Nemesis. For the record, I haven't read him although he's on the list. The NYT Book Review critic offered her mea culpa on Roth's work. NPR interviewed him. He's been writing for 55 years and isn't stopping. He writes nearly every day - seven, eight, often more, hours each session. He calls it maniacal, admittedly, as if it were evil-doing.

You have to have a little of that trait to do this. Having read some about his work, I gather he's taken huge dumps of criticism, yet still he writes. He says he can't do anything else. It's like a pathology. Makes you sick in the head.

I kinda like that feeling. It's like doing something subversive when you're really not. There's nothing illegal about it (at least, not in this country). Take a step back, because it would be horrible to live without free access to information and ideas. We still ban books (sad, but true), but we find ways to weasel them into the public realm. Thankfully.

BTW, I recommend the Roth interview over the written version. His voice conveys his infliction.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A Shot of Something in My Coffee

Write, and be thwarted. Negativity follows writers, especially fiction writers, like an unshakeable head cold. Even (or should it be, especially) in the places where encouragement should be found. The NYT Book Review published this lead on a review, a good review, over the weekend:

"Just because something happened to you doesn't make it interesting. Anyone one who has suffered through an overly indulgent blog post or cocktail-party anecdote is familiar with this thought . . . "

Turn away now from my overly indulgent rant. God bless you, writers. Every last stinking, ego-maniacal, selfish one of you. The act of sharing is a thankless risk. The world doesn't need you, you know. The world needs more fissionable material and automatic handguns and racial rhetoric and toxic assets. We definitely need more religion and morals and pornography. And please, at least a score more talking heads and idiotic threads of user comments. So, writers, put your pens and keyboards away now. It's pointless.

Unless, big exception coming, there's room for something else. There might be room in the world for the small story you have inside. Whether it's insufferable or not. It could be one is and the next isn't. Write it. From it tumbles all sorts of possibilities. Personal fulfillment. Connection with people. Turning nuance into meaning. Transferring love. The creativity, and the crap, are worth it.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Library Privileges

BTW, my library is loaner friendly. Better a book gets read than sit on a shelf. But unlike a traditional library, my books can be taken on perpetual loan. In fact, it's yours once it passes hands. I won't keep track or bemoan its absence. Once I've read it (if I've read it), I'm done. I don't reread. Too many other books to discover.

A few I won't lend out. Right now, those pertain to the book I am writing. So they stay close. But I don't catalog, like some music collectors do, organizing by artist or album or alphabet. I cram them where I can. Unload when I can.

A neighbor wrote recently she moved four times in the last three months. The books and papers were the kicker.  To make her last move, she went paperless. She feels free. I'd feel naked.

PS--I won't mail a book either. I loan only in person.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Book Gifts

Books are a good perk of being a new fiction writer. I know right away when someone is a reader because the conversation about my latest adventure immediately turns to what they are reading, which I like. Then they lend or unload. My office is crammed.

I've accumulated more books in a year from friends and acquaintances than in my entire life. I bookmark about two at a time. I'm a comprehensive reader but not a quick one. I've also become picky. If I don't get into a book by halfway (yes, I give the author the benefit), then I put it aside and start another. I'm alternating between classics, popular commercial fiction and my genre. (BTW, my genre is, right now, romance, but I'll post about that later).

A famous writer recently blogged that she doesn't read nearly enough, but once she described why, I forgave her. When you "make it," writers are in production mode. She is a monk when writing the draft manuscript. Two to three hours of sleep, writing every day, never showering, etc. Sounds like fun.

But I want to read. It expands me. I'll never complain about a book handed over. It's like a secret, and I'll honor it.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Ten-Minute Abs

The goal here is simply to write. Ten minutes is my limit. If my brain can spin out a few phrases worth reading in ten minutes, I'm happy and can move on. It's one way I hope to establish a "practice."

That's the word a creative writing teacher used when she asked about my process. "Do you have a practice?" she asked. I'm thinking, lawyer, doctor? Do writer's have a practice? She meant, of course, my schedule for writing, my habits for butt-in-seat.

I do have a practice, but it needs practice. (Excuse me, a distraction: child w/devil horns and black Halloween costume walks in.) I write at least every other day, for varying periods of time. If I have a space longer than an hour, that's significant. (Hold on: "Can I use a pillow case for candy?" Of course.) With limited time and many commitments, I take what comes.

But one habit I try to practice is not to make writing a big event. I write when I have a spare moment, a thought worth scribbling. In that way, it is always there, waiting for me.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Write = Yes, Edit = No

A postscript to my first entry. I lament about my process, not the writing. I think, like some new writers, the urge to edit while writing is super strong. Spreading out the story uncritically is a near impossibility. The advice is to not look back -- ARE YOU KIDDING?

So, to take a lesson from therapy (not that I'm in it now), compartmentalize. That's what I'll do. I am to sit the entire month of November and just write. NOT edit. Editing is the no voice inside. The voice that says, "Hey, what the hell are you doing? Have you totally lost your mind? That reads like sh*t."

Writing is yes. Glitter lotion slathered all over. Pour out an entire jar of honey and let it drip. Everywhere. It's like going to the grocery story with a full bank account after a fast.

The question is: Am I hungry?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Symptoms of NaNoWriMo

The gut gurgles. The mind cramps. The butt hurts. Add a headache, eye strain and missed meals. I'm thinking that's how National Novel Writing Month is going to unfold for me. I'm approaching it as an oncoming illness. I'm supposed to regurgitate, right? Learn to write unhindered, do it semi-unconsciously, a blur of fingers and mind flashes. Splatter words on a page. Not look back. Not clean up. Hunker down on the screen.

In my case, it will involve an ink pen on paper. Gasp, an old-school illness. I'm having my doubts. I'm no good with a backache. It'll be like the flu, red-eyed, feverish and a nice finish of body aches. And in the end, total exhaustion. And, possibly, a novel. That's the medicine.

This is where I'll chronicle it. So, I'm double damning myself. Write 50,000 words and journal about it at the same time. I need a Tylenol.