August 31, 2011

Retrospectus

A month ago I sat at my computer feeling a little bit lost. I'd sent out the first "done" version of my first ever novel to a handful of agents, but had been largely ignored. I had a little bit of writer's block. Nothing seemed to be flowing, writing-wise, and I'd started to wonder if my first book wasn't a bit of a fluke. Something I could never again reproduce.

I felt like a one-hit wonder who never even had a hit.

So I decided to give myself a little challenge, and I did it in honor of the amazing students at Pattison's Academy here in Charleston, South Carolina. They inspired me to work to improve myself, if only for a little while, as hard as they work every day of their lives.

1000 words per day for a month. Maybe it doesn't sound like a lot, but some nights I thought my word limit was going to kill me. I'd sit here on my little corner of the couch with my cup of water at my side and absolutely nothing to say, but I'd force myself to get started. To write something.

Three nights out of the thirty I didn't write anything. Three nights. I couldn't even write for thirty days straight, but I tried.

And you know what? I learned a ton in the last month.

I learned how to write in a new voice for a new narrator, something I really wasn't sure I could do. I was afraid I had only one voice, but by now I know a new one. A new girl. I know how she speaks, what her voice sounds like, what she likes to think about, and I know exactly how to go back and edit what I wrote earlier in the month to sound exactly like I need her to sound.

I learned that I can generate a lot of content as long as I sit down and actually do it. Right? A little bit of discipline never hurt anybody, and it helped me go far.

How far, you might wonder. I wondered, too. I'm an estimator. Each night I'd check my word count before I shut down, and it was always...around 1000 words. Maybe a little more, maybe a little less. Some nights much more. So I figured it balanced out.

But I didn't know for sure. So tonight, I created a spreadsheet, pulled every blog entry from the past month (not including this one), and my total words written for each chunk of story I created, and I am SO excited to report my grand total word count from the last thirty days.

33,544 words.

Holy crap, I did it!! I surpassed my goal of 30,000 words!! I'm a little proud of myself. I've written a whole second section to the book I thought was done. It's so not done, not even now, but I have a lot more to blend into my original story, and I have the whole third section planned out. I wrote a lot of blog posts, thought about a lot of random topics, and maybe even made you think about some things.

But you know the most important outcome of the past thirty days? Well, go check out my fundraiser page for my 30 Days of Writing for Change Challenge. What do you see there?

Donors who have read this blog or kept up with my Facebook or Twitter feeds have given $670 to the kids at Pattison's Academy! It may only be a drop in the bucket, but that is YOUR drop! YOU did this. YOU helped me raise enough money to buy school supplies or therapy equipment for some of the most amazing kids I've ever seen. And I can't thank you, donors, enough! You are amazing! And if you're reading this now and have been meaning to give but keep forgetting, please know, they will still take donations via that page, or via the Pattison's home page. With tons of gratitude.

So to everyone who has supported me in the last month, I say thank you. To you, Charles, for putting up with me writing almost every stinking night, I love you. To every donor, you're incredible.

I am grateful. Tonight, oh so grateful.

And I have a ton more work to do, so I'll go ahead and get started. Tomorrow night. Same time, same place.

August 29, 2011

Sick face

When Charles is listening to particularly good music, he scrunches up his nose and closes his eyes and nods his head in time to the beat. He calls this his sick face, as in, "Man, this music is sick!" If I could have any talent of my choosing, it would be the ability to really sing (I'm tone-deaf in the extreme sense of the word - I could make your ears bleed), just to make him make his music sick face once in my life.

I was thinking about this last night. We had the extreme pleasure of sitting in the seventh row of a beautiful, sold-out Charleston music venue to listen to Gillian Welch and her partner Dave Rawlings perform two amazing sets of songs. Charles made his sick face a bunch of times, and I got to contemplate the two performers' sick faces.

Gillian's was more of a sick hunch - when she'd get into what she was playing on the guitar, she'd sort of fold in on herself. Eyes closed, she'd step back from the microphone and just play, and you could see how much she felt her music. It was a part of her, and it almost felt like I was intruding, just by watching. But by then the music was a part of me, too, so I tried not to feel too guilty.

Dave's sick face was more classic - his eyes would close, too, and his mouth would sometimes move like his fingers as they flew across his guitar or banjo. Same thing - it's that moment of shared intrusion, perhaps, that seems to happen to all really great performers.

So I started thinking...do writers have moments like that? I mean, we certainly don't have moments to actually share, since writing is such a solitary activity. But if we did, what would our sick faces look like?

When I thought about it, I realized I have two, and for both, I'm pretty glad you can't see me.

One occurs late at night. I'm always alone for it, working in silence either on the couch or in my bed. Typically by this time I'm in my comfy clothes or pajamas, contacts out, glasses on, hair in a messy bun. Looking terrible, in short. But sometimes I get so into what I'm writing, trying to construct a scene or a set of dialogue, that an hour passes before I know even a minute's passed, and when I stop and take stock of myself, I'm sitting curled into a pretzel with my legs all twisted and I'm staring intently at my tiny computer screen, squinting my eyes and scrunching the rest of my face. It's a pretty ill-looking sick face.

My other one is funnier, and if you live in my neighborhood you possibly have seen it. This one occurs when I'm out running. I've got my headphones on, my music up, and I'm running with the rhythm, thinking about a character or a plot point on which I've been stuck. Suddenly, the answer is there, right in front of me, so clear and obvious I can't believe I didn't see it before. That's when I bounce a little, smile hugely and clap my hands (this may only make sense if you know that I was once nicknamed Tigger). I assume this looks ridiculous if you happen to be driving past...a hot, sweaty mess of a runner, jumping around and clapping, smiling in a way that must look more like a grimace on my bright red face.

So there you go. Writers have sick faces, too. We're just less able to share them, unless you happen to catch us at just the right time. And when you do...it's not pretty.

August 23, 2011

Is there such a thing as too many books?

Peter Osnos at The Atlantic surely seems to think so.

I don't think I agree, but my Sunday experience at Barnes & Noble certainly had me questioning the sheer number of books on sale today. Every shape, color, size, topic...I still think it's overwhelming. But I'll admit, that's in part because I have a Giant Jealous Streak that I try and try to suppress but never seem to be able to. I am jealous of all the people out there who are already published. I want to join their ranks.

So therefore, my argument should be that NO, there's no such thing as too many books, right? Because the more books published, the better my chances are.

And books are great! I love books! And I especially love books in this a country where people try to ban books which are apparently against their moral values or craptastic theories on life or something. I almost want to say we need to publish even more books, right? Even if it's just to piss off the book-banners out there.

But still. I don't want my book published if the writing's bad. Even though (gasp!!) it involves sex and drugs and lots and lots of killing, and would therefore make lots of annoying people mad. I still want it to be good, you know?

Maybe I'll never think it's good enough though. That might just be in my nature. I know the last few nights have been a little painful, writing-wise, as I near the end of my 30 Day Challenge (there's still time to give!!). I sort of need a break. A night off. And so I know the writing hasn't been great. So tonight I'm feeling less than worthy of publication.

Guess that means it's time to double-down on my efforts.

I'm just not sure how yet...

August 21, 2011

Self doubt with a side of frappuccino, please!

I'm starting to think writing, or at least the attempt at being a serious writer, makes me emotional.

Case in point: today, we decided to take Zoe to Barnes & Noble (or, Barnes and Oble, depending on to whom you're speaking) for a weekend-ending treat. It's her favorite field trip, and once we got past the Great Pie and Tic Tac Incidents of Friday, she tried really hard to be good all weekend long.

But the problem is...when I go into Barnes & Noble, or any book store these days, I don't look around and see all the super-cool books I'd love to read if only I had a little more reading bandwidth. Instead, I see the Big Fat Lack of My Book.

And it's HUGE, the BFLMB! It's gaping! I mean, I see all the shelves where it could be. There's the generic Sci-Fi/Fantasy section, where I guess I'd really like it to be. There's the Young Adult section, to where my skill-level maybe pushes me. And there's even the Teen Paranormal Romance section! What the *&^% is that? And I know my book could eventually fit into any one of them, depending on how the next two months of writing and several months of editing go.

But then I look around even at those sections and sub-sections, and I think...man, even if by some miracle I do manage to sell this thing, SO WHAT, right? Seriously, it looks like everyone and their mother has sold a book by now; my book will be swallowed up on the shelves of whichever section accepts it. It will be so sad and lonely there, just one little Leah Rhyne surrounded by numerous books by all the other real authors. It's a lot of pressure, when you get right down to it. Not only do I need to finish and sell this book, but I need to do it again and again and again if I want to get anywhere!

And then I wonder...where the hell IS anywhere, anyway? Right? Do I ever expect to be famous for writing zombie novels?

So...I do have an answer to that, and I'll share it here and now, for once and for all. I know I won't make a fortune, I know I'm not J.K. Rowling or Stephen King or even the chick who wrote the original True Blood series. But what I would love, secretly and publicly really really love, is to sell enough books of my random little zombie story that next year or maybe the year after, I'll be invited to Comic Con. I don't care which one, I just want to go. Once. And sign some of my books for the three fans who would show up. And people-watch for days on end. And maybe meet some real writers and artists and actors who can teach me a thing or three.

So there you have it. I'm insecure, still can't call myself a writer without blushing, find book stores overwhelming, and I want to go to Comic Con. Hope to see you there someday!

August 19, 2011

The day of the pie and Tic Tac incidents, and why I can't focus on zombies...

I should probably start this post with a disclaimer: I love sweets. Cookies, cake, candy. I can't get enough of it. Honestly, it's a wonder I don't weigh a thousand pounds, I love it all so much.

Zoe...definitely agrees with me on this. If it's sweet, she loves it and will eat as much of it as she can. But I don't want her loving it to the extent that I do, or did, at least through high school when a Snickers bar seemed like a perfectly appropriate breakfast.

So I don't let her have sweets all that often. But this post directly contradicts that statement, because it's all about bad things that happen around sugary snacks. Because clearly, I can blame bad behavior on sugar, right? Or at least the addiction thereto? Hmm...I might have a hypothesis...but I digress...

Today was Friday, which means I don't work and typically keep Zoe home with me. We love our Fridays together. There are adventures. There are lunches out! There are shopping expeditions!!

Today was not one of those days, though. If you've ever had a three year old you know there are good days and bad days. Today was an "I don't want to listen to you, Mommy, so I'm gonna do my own thing" day. It's ok, it happens, but still. It was rough.

And it lead directly to...first and foremost....the Great Pie Incident.

We had a party to attend tonight, so I decided last night to make a pudding/fruit pie, and I wanted Zoe to help me. Working on the pie was probably the high point of our day together. We chopped up graham crackers and melted butter for a pie crust. We made pudding. We put blueberries in the pudding. We made fresh whipped cream. We assembled the whole damn thing, and it took well over an hour. It was a work of art.

So we all headed out to the car to go to the party, and I'll admit, I was in a foul mood due to the stress of the day. My arms were full of pie and purse and Pillow Pet, but I somehow managed to yank open Zoe's door and I told her to get in. I couldn't open my door because the lock is broken, and since I was irritated I snapped at Charles, who stood behind the car, to come help me. (I know! I'm sorry, honey!) He opened the front passenger door and I set the pie carefully on the seat.

Still irritated, I decided to go put my dog in his pen to have a thirty-second breather. As I turned away from the car, I briefly registered that Zoe was not in her car seat, but was instead climbing on the front, center console.

Ugh. I thought. Charles can deal with it. I kept walking away.

I locked up the dog, and by the time I was halfway across the yard, I could hear Zoe crying. Wailing. Inconsolable. And I thought to myself. Pie. Zoe. Front seat, center console. Oh, shit.

Yep, sure enough, Zoe had fallen into the pie. Whipped cream everywhere. If I were a screenwriter, I would put this scene in a sitcom and it would get big laughs. Because there was Zoe, devastated, with whipped cream on her arms and legs, and there was Charles looking baffled, and there was me, crushed like the pie.

Because damn. I'd really wanted to eat it.

Zoe cried halfway to Publix, where we stopped and bought brownies and cream puffs, and I? Well, I didn't eat dessert tonight. I'd really wanted that pie.

So anyway, that was the Great Pie Incident. On to the Tic Tacs!

The party was a great time. Zoe got to play with a pair of her schoolmates and they ran around like crazy-people. They were all exhausted by the time we left.

We got home an hour after Zoe's bedtime, and I again headed out to the dogs. By the time I was halfway across the yard, I could hear Zoe crying, but this time I had no clue as to why. I opened the door carefully, cautiously, and immediately Charles was there in front of me. "Here," he said. "This is why she's crying." He held out his hand and opened it up, and it was full of damp, slightly faded Tic Tacs.

Tic Tacs?

Oh. You mean the Tic Tacs I bought for Zoe today and have been doling out in singletons and doubletons throughout the day? Oh, right, those. She loves them. She thinks they're spicy, and that she's like a grown-up when she eats them.

Apparently she likes them enough to sneak past Charles when he's distracted on the phone, to take them off the counter and pour them into her open mouth. When Charles caught her, moments later, her mouth was full of them. He made her spit them out (what else can you do, really?), but again, Zoe was devastated. She cried the whole way to bed. I'm not sure yet if she was more upset about getting caught, or not getting to eat the Tic Tacs, but at least by the time she fell asleep she was calm. Ish.

Yeah. The Tic Tac Incident.

Basically, one day, one three year old, two crazy moments in our lives, and I can't focus on zombies tonight. Darnit.

August 18, 2011

Reading and writing and 'rithmatic

We're getting into an exciting time here in the Rhyne household. Our little Zoe is trying to learn to read!

Now, I know she's only three, so it still may be a couple of years until she actually can read on her own, but lately she's been pretty focused on trying to figure out what those words in her books say. Granted, sometimes she tries to read from right to left, but we're working on that. "Zoe, in English we read from left to right. If you want to learn Hebrew when you're bigger, we'll figure that out then."

Honestly, though, what I'm most excited about right now is her new-found ability to follow longer, "big-kid" stories.

When she was smaller, I'd read her the same books over and over and over again and wonder if I'd ever be able to stop reciting them in my sleep. (Big A, little A, what begins with A? Aunt Annie's Alligator, a...a...a....The night Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind...and another....his mother called him "wild thing" and Max said "I'll eat you up" so he was sent to bed without anything...This tiny hippopotamus has something small to say, and if you're very quiet now, she'll say it right away.....Need I go on?? I did that all from memory, and could have finished all three books...with ease.) I mean, I love kids books. I still remember my mother reading Corduroy to me, and I enjoy reading it to Zoe. But I want...more for her. Already.

And the amazing thing? She wants more now too!

My mother gave her the Little House series for Christmas last year, and we have been slowly but surely working our way through Little House in the Big Woods. I would rather sit on the couch and read that book out loud for an hour than spend five minutes reading even The Very Hungry Caterpillar (One of my FAVORITES...In the light of the moon, a little egg lay on a leaf. One Sunday morning the warm sun came up and...POP...out of the egg came a tiny and very hungry caterpillar.) She enjoys the pictures and the talk of Laura and Baby Carrie most, and I have thoroughly enjoyed re-reading the Laura Ingalls classic as an adult. Do you know there's an entire chapter devoted to the slaughter and butchering of a pig? As a person who loves local, farm-raised food, it's the coolest thing I've read in a long time! They use every bit of that pig - they even blow up its bladder and use it like a balloon! Awesome.

And then I stop and think about all the other books she's going to read as she gets bigger. I only hope she likes being read to long enough that I get to read them with her! The Secret Garden, A Wrinkle in Time, A Cricket in Times Square? Oh wow, I can't wait! Through the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankenweiler? Wowsa! I'm excited to share those stories with Zoe, and I also can't wait to see what grown-up me will re-discover in each of them.

And then, as she gets bigger, what other authors will she love? Stephen King (I read It at thirteen)? Harper Lee? Kurt Vonnegut?

Oh wow...will she one day read my books? Can you even imagine?

It's all so exciting to me. I love books, and always have, and I hope beyond hope that Zoe shares that love as she gets older. I think she already does, so I'll keep reading fun and interesting books to her to keep that love going.

For now we'll focus on Hop on Pop for a few weeks to try to get her reading. So far, she can read cat, dog, fish, no, pop and cup. I know one day it'll click, and I have feeling, from that point on, there will be no stopping her. And I'm going to enjoy watching her read, every step of the way.

August 15, 2011

A good day

Today was a good day. Much better than last Monday, that's for sure. Daniel's random IM of the day was about dongles (which aren't as dirty as they sound) instead of riots, and after dinner Zoe and I played soccer in the backyard. I got a great video of her pretending to be Hope Solo, the goalkeeper for the U.S. Women's World Cup Soccer Team, and if the camera work wasn't so shaky (seriously, you try kicking a ball and taking a video without shaking all over the place!), I'd even let you see it. She dives to save the ball like a pro, I swear! And I'm not biased or anything! Then, while we played outside with our neighbors, we saw an older couple riding their bikes with their parrots sitting on their handlebars. I can't make this stuff up! The parrots' names were Ahab and Mari. 

And then I finally sat down to write, and tonight I remembered how much I love writing. How fun it can be. How you can write your characters doing and saying things that you'd never, ever do or say yourself because it's fiction and you make the rules. How sometimes words can flow like water, and even though I know that through editing I'll remove about half of them, I doubled my nightly goal tonight. Yep, that's right. Over 2,000 words in just under an hour and a half.

(Good thing I'm a better editor than a writer - I can write really badly, knowing I'll clean it up later. Which reminds me. When I stop and think about exactly how awful the first draft of my book was when I shared it with my very first readers, I shudder, and am glad for the work of several months of solid editing. Jon, Daniel, Marissa, my first readers...thanks for muddling through and thanks for your support!)

Anyway, on a night like this, when you feel good about your story and your character does something that makes you think, "God! What a manipulative f***!" because what you wrote surprises you, it's hard to settle down. I went upstairs to take a shower, but my story was with me. I'd have gotten into bed to read, but I'd started writing this post in my head. I figured if I didn't come downstairs and write it, it would keep me up all night.

So now I've written it, and I just want to reiterate. I. Love. Writing. There, I said it. I'll say it again. I love it. Even if I never sell a book, even if the only people who read what I write are my friends and family who say they love it even when it's terrible, I'll keep on doing it. I think it's a part of who I am.

August 14, 2011

A confession

Ok. Here goes.

I didn't turn on my computer yesterday. Not once. I didn't sit down at Charles's computer, or at my mother-in-law's brand new iMac, or at any other computer. At all.

Basically, I took a break. A day off. A much needed day away from writing.

I know, I know. Much of succeeding at writing comes straight from having the discipline to sit down and do it every day, not just when you feel like it. And I remember my 30 Days of Writing for Change challenge to myself, and for that reason, I'm a little sorry to have missed even one day. But I know I can make up the overall word count pretty easily (in fact, I'm fairly certain if I totaled up everything I've written, including blog posts, since I started on August 2nd, I'd have enough words to cover the missed day), and I think so long as I keep on writing, I will still have (almost) met my goals.

Still, I feel like I owe you, faithful reader, an explanation of WHY I skipped yesterday. But sadly, there's not too much of one. I was just tired. Exhausted even. I've been remarkably anxious lately, especially considering how good my life is, and sometimes, anxious during the day turns into bone-crushing, breath-stopping, heart-breaking anxiety attacks as soon as I try to go to sleep at night. There's medicine I can take to help, but sometimes I want a break from the medicine as much as from the anxiety.

In order to calm myself, I have some tricks up my sleeve. Part of it is beyond my control (like when I'm stressing over my to-do list at work but I don't have time to do anything about it without working 24 hours a day), but part of it involves paying attention to what gets my heart rate up. For example, I'm still reading A Dance With Dragons. It's fabulous; it's exciting; I love it. I get so caught up in it that I want to keep reading, and then I think about it after I've put it down for the night.

But since I've been struggling to sleep, I've had to force myself to read something else at night, something that holds no surprises. Something like (this week) The Diary of Anne Frank. (Please note: Charles gives me a hard time for this one, because it's so sad. But I already know the ending and have dealt with that before, so by now I find it oddly soothing.) Other books I pick up when I'm exhausted and can't sleep and want something I know in and out? Pride and Prejudice, Little Women and To Kill a Mockingbird. All are books I've ready countless times, and all are books I love.

But anyway, I thought of that pretty late Friday night, so I think I got a total of three hours sleep. And then Zoe didn't nap Saturday. So by the time she went to bed, I was down for the count. Achingly tired. I barely managed to keep my eyes open for the first half of the Giants/Panthers pre-season game (for the record, Cam Newton is pretty, but I am and always will be a Giants girl).

So I took a day off. I don't think it'll kill me. But now I'm ready to go kill some zombies!

August 11, 2011

A random act of kindness

I am...a quitter. Always have been. I quit soccer at thirteen because I didn't want to run. I quit swimming a year later because the distance increased. I've been at my current job for five years and in my current house for six; both are MAJOR RECORDS for me.

And this is something I cannot stand about myself. I hate it, in fact, and struggle almost daily against my desire to cut and run as soon as goings get tough. Charles knows this and helps me out with most things, but still, it's an uphill battle.

So it's hard to imagine myself sticking through with this "writing thing" long enough to come out with a fully polished, interesting, engaging novel. To me, the fact that I've been doing this since November sort of means I'm doing something wrong. I should be done already! I was an overachiever in high school. Based on that, I should already have a movie deal, right?

But...that's now how it works in the grown up world, and I frequently have to remind myself of that. Ten months is barely any time to really focus on a writing career, particularly since the first few months were little more than an experiment.

But still. It's hard. I expected to be DONE with this by now. Either published (of course published! I know I'm special! *snicker, snicker*), or moving on to some random new project.

Yet I don't want to. I want to keep working on this story until I have it exactly right, even if it means another whole year of writing and editing in those late hours of the day when I'm exhausted and I want nothing more than to sit on my couch and stare blankly at the TV. My story and characters are in my head, and I think they'll be there until I get it right.

Which is why it meant quite a bit to me today when a girl at work randomly sent me a link, saying she hoped I'd find it helpful. I'm not typically into self-help or feel-good stuff (I'm writing about ZOMBIES, for goodness sake!!!!), but this made me feel...better. Good about my choices to stick with my story for now. To not move on to the next thing because just because I haven't exceeded my wildest dreams just yet.

So to return the favor to any reader who may be struggling with their own project, here's a quick post by Kathryn Stockett, author of The Help, a bestseller which is now a major movie with Emma Stone (who I LOVE thanks to Zombieland), about exactly how long she struggled and how many times (60!!!) she was rejected while writing her novel. She put it best, I think:
The point is, I can’t tell you how to succeed. But I can tell you how not to: Give in to the shame of being rejected and put your manuscript—or painting, song, voice, dance moves, [insert passion here]—in the coffin that is your bedside drawer and close it for good. I guarantee you that it won’t take you anywhere. Or you could do what this writer did: Give in to your obsession instead.
So a big thanks to my coworker for an encouraging word and a random act of complete kindness.

August 8, 2011

Life's juxtapositions

Sometimes life happens. This is a blog about writing, but it's also my personal blog, so sometimes I may ruminate over life for a bit. This is one of those times.

It's brutally hot here in Charleston right now, and has been for quite some time. It's hard to go outside in the heat of the day. You sort of feel like you want to pass out. We were on our way home from work yestrday afternoon. Charles was driving, Zoe was eating Fruity Cheerios and I pulled my phone out of my purse. I had an IM on Google Chat from my brother Daniel, so I opened up the app.

(Please note: I am dramatic. These events are highly dramatized, I'm sure, but they're a reasonable approximation.)

"So, there's a riot going on in my street."

Whew. Life stopped for a second, and I suddenly remembered all the news reports we'd just heard of the riots taking place in northern London, so far from where my brother lives in southern London. How could they...why are they...

Turns out the riots are much more widespread by now, at least on some minor levels. Yeah. Daniel was in his flat with only his cat, I was an ocean away and couldn't help, and riot police were on his street.

The horror!!!

Right?

So I stayed completely calm (yeah right, I freaked out) and IM'ed back to get details. There weren't many; there were some kids on the street (if you're British, you say "youths"), and riot police, and there were some smashed windows on local buildings.

Shortly thereafter, our car, our reliable Toyota which hasn't given us a day's trouble in eight years, started to shake. Charles looked at me. "Why's it running so rough?" Then, "Shit, the engine light's on."

Then we smelled something burning.

Three miles from home, Charles pulled into a gas station parking lot, and I called my mom to ask her to rescue us.

So now imagine me, standing in a Quizno's, waiting for my mom, instant messaging my brother who is watching a riot happen, and laughing as my daughter hops between the different colored tiles on the floor.

Then imagine me at home, trying to cook tacos while messaging my brother who is watching a riot happen, while Charles is out waiting for the tow truck, and Zoe is watching The Sound of Music for the hundredth time in the past three days. While she dances to the "So Long, Farewell" song. While she and I sing "Climb Every Mountain" at the top of our tone-deaf lungs. While I chop onion and tomato and try like hell to NOT WORRY about my stupid old Toyota (I love my car!!!!) or my crazy ex-pat brother.

Imagine the absurdity of the laughter and the drama, all rolled into one short series of moments. I realized I was the only tension relief for Daniel so I kept him up to date on Zoe's dance steps, while he kept me up to date on the youths and the riot police.

Life is so bizarre! How does that stuff happen? Something so far from home can hit so close to home and then home can be so ridiculously absurd. Stranger than fiction, harder to understand than James Joyce, and just utterly...unusual.

August 7, 2011

So how do you write a good book?

OK. I'm just going to come out and say it. In all caps.

I LOVE HARRY POTTER.

There. It's done.

Charles and I saw the last film yesterday, and it blew me away. I think Charles was vaguely horrified by exactly how into the movie I was, as I squirmed my way through a story of which I ALREADY KNEW THE ENDING! (More CAPS - I'm a little wired...). It was a good thing I wore a dress...had I been in jeans, I'd have twisted my arms AND legs into my best pretzel imitation. As it was, I gripped his hand till my knuckles were white only twice, with much effort expended on restraint...but the tears? THE TEARS!! Ohmigosh, I swear, I could barely breathe at one point, I was so focused on NOT SOBBING!

And, like I said, I knew what was coming. I've read all the books.

It got me thinking. I mean, I know this was the movie version of the book, so it had a ton of visuals with which to engage me, but still...how in God's name did JK Rowling manage to create this world, these images, these CHARACTERS? I love them. Really love them. So how does that happen? How do Rowling and other writers (example: George R. R. Martin) get people like me so emotionally invested in characters that are ENTIRELY MADE UP?

I guess that's the genius of a good writer, right?

I think a lot of is in the flaws. Nobody in real life is perfect; therefore no characters in books should be perfect. That's the difference between a Harry Potter and an Edward Cullen, in my opinion. Rowling's creations are imperfect. Harry has a temper, he gets jealous, he has meltdowns; Edward Cullen is beautiful and perfect and flat. And while I will (unwillingly) admit to having read the entire Twilight series, too (it's like crack, I swear), I by FAR prefer Hermione Granger to Bella Swan. Hell, I even prefer Bellatrix Lestrange!

Those are the kind of characters I want to write, the Hermiones and the Nevilles and the Arya Starks and Jon Snows. I mean, really, who wouldn't? But still. I think I should spend some time looking at my characters and making sure they're not caricatures of weird angelic perfection. Bleh. Perfection is boring. Why even try?

Plus, in a world where (I love that cliche!!!) every story has been told a million times over, you've gotta have something unique. Something that is only you and you alone and is the reason people want to read your stuff. Charles sent me this article on current zombie literature, and the last book mentioned feels a lot like mine...minus the spirituality. Zombies, young heroine, vicious humans...it's all there in both books. So if I want to get anywhere, I have to make sure my writing is strong, my characters are great, and I've got something unique to offer.

So to that end, and thanks to a great, contemplative run this morning during which I swear I could've solved world hunger but instead figured out plot points in my book, I've decided that I'm done sending it out for now. I started querying already, but I've stopped, because my story is only half told. I need to flesh it out from new and interesting angles and focus on some peripheral characters, which is what I've started working on this week. So that's what I'm going to do.

Kurt Vonnegut, as blogged by my husband

My husband Charles also blogs. We're a happy little bloggy family.

This weekend, we've both been fuming over the decision of the School Board of Republic(!!), Missouri to ban Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five from their high school curriculum. Ban. Yeah, you read that right.

Anyway, I could write a huge, long rant about how I disagree with censorship and how un-American it is to ban a brilliant anti-war book, but Charles summed it up quite nicely over at his blog, Ashcan Rantings. Please know that we share this opinion wholeheartedly.

Hi ho.

August 5, 2011

She's alive! She's alive!

My little experiment in writing a bunch to see where it takes me is working! It's alive!!

I should have known, right? At least, that's what I'm thinking now. I wrote a whole book because a friend challenged me to participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in November of last year, where the goal is to write 50,000 words in one month. I didn't succeed, per se...I hit the 50k mark somewhere in December, and "finished" my story (for the first time anyway) in January, but the deadline component forced me to write more than I ever knew was possible.

Particularly because that was my first time dabbling in the world of fiction - I've always been a much better essayist, and actually used to find writing fiction quite painful. But it became fun, almost like acting, and I got a little hooked. During these long months of editing, I've missed the creation aspect of first drafts, but I've also become nervous that I couldn't do it again.

So, how did this all play out in my August writing challenge?

Nights 1 and 2 were rough. In fact, Night 2 was SO painful and the writing I produced was so utterly, embarrassingly terrible that I considered giving up. I mean, what's the point of writing if you know you're going to delete everything.

But then last night I dove back in, ignored the fact that I needed a transition to get to the meat of what I wanted to work on, and instead just wrote what I wanted to work on. And it worked. I was able to get moving on a story, and once I hit a particular scene, I realized exactly WHY a character in Book 1 was as crazy as I made him...if that makes any sense whatsoever. It was an exciting discovery, and one which made me wonder if maybe, really, somewhere in my deepest heart I know that my book is not yet ready to go out to the world. Maybe, really, my book is only half-done, and I need to know these secret things about my characters in order to make Book 1 really work.

Maybe.

But I do know that what I wrote last night wasn't just part of a short story. It was more than that. So I need to keep going, see where it fits in my Master Plan <insert evil laugh here> and watch how the rest of this month is going to play out.

It's exciting! I'm excited! I'm alive!

August 3, 2011

Sometimes good things do happen...

Tonight, I have three things to report:

1. I found this blog post today via an agent whose site I follow. She's pretty bad-ass. But she's also supportive of her friends, and it was super-nice to be directed to this post at a time when I've been feeling a little unworthy. It's about perseverance paying off, and taking a chance. And mostly, it's about an author selling her first novel. So for that, I congratulate the author, and am *just* a little envious.

2. An update on my 30 Days of Writing for Change project:
  • My first night went well. I wrote 1103 words that may or may not wind up in my second book (assuming I write my second book), and it made me happy. I've been so focused on editing lately, it was nice to just generate some content.
  • I've raised $210 so far for a great organization!! Huzzah!!! Thank you to everyone who has given so far, and to anyone considering starting their own challenge...best of luck!!!
3. Zoe says this: iufnfrh$RYH hhhhhgvfcdxxxsssssssszzzza uyoj76 hygyfgttttr fsree4 mnhn5nymk 9i (She likes to type on my laptop sometimes. She pulls it onto her lap and types with all her fingers in a quintessential Mommy-imitation moment. I love it, so I'm sharing.)

Happy Hump Day, everyone!

August 1, 2011

Excuses, excuses...I need a solution!

I am...tired.

Yesterday we drove home from our vacation in North Carolina, and were suddenly faced with reality all over again. An email about mid-year reviews right before I went up to bed got me thinking about work, which I hadn't done in almost a week. And once my brain got going, it didn't want to stop. So neither did I, until well after midnight, when I finally drifted off into a restless, nightmare-ish sleep.

So I am tired today.

Zoe started in a new class at school today. Yesterday, she was super-excited for her class. Tonight, she was a disaster area, all mixed up and befuddled over the change in her routine. It's 8:56 and I only now think she might finally go to sleep.

I had a busy day at work. My responsibilities there are shifting towards project management, and it's like a whole new world. Today I had got bogged down in the weeds of a few processes, staring blankly at reports while my sleepy brain struggled to understand bar graphs. Tonight, I am a disaster area, all mixed up and befuddled over the change to my routine.

I had big plans for this week, you know? Return to the work routine, return to the work-out and writing routine that I love so much.

And then...now that I am finally seated in front of my computer, there is nothing to write. I've gotten a couple more form rejections (man, what I wouldn't give for at least ONE personal note from an agent saying, "Well, it wasn't bad, but..."), and at this point I'm not sure if I should continue querying, continue working on part two of the little trilogy I've planned out so carefully, or if I should switch gears and work on the MUCH more serious story that has lived in my brain for over two years now...the one I stare and stare at and never get ANYWHERE. Or if I should quit writing entirely.

Nah. I won't do that.

It's just that I'm tired. Tonight.

So, I think what I need is some motivation. A challenge.

As it turns out, I know just the thing.

There's this amazing school for severely disabled children here in Charleston called Pattison's Academy, and they're currently running a fall campaign called the Challenge for Change. The children at the school face challenges beyond what most of us could ever imagine, and they work hard every day to change their lives for the better. So the idea is to find something you can do to change your own life for the better, and let people sponsor you (but really the school) to do it. So, I am running my own challenge, starting tomorrow night. It's called 30 Days of Writing for Change, and I hope to raise at least $500 for this amazing cause. Let's see if I can pull this one off!!!

So starting tomorrow night, I pledge to write at least an average of 1000 words daily for the next 30 days. I don't care WHAT I write, I just have to write something. So...a whole new synopsis to send to agents since clearly my old one isn't working? Counts. Bits and pieces of Book 2? Counts. My random other sad story that just...won't...come...out? Totally, completely counts.

Random babbling blog posts? Counts.

Wish me luck - I think I'm gonna need it.