Saturday, May 31, 2008

Where I'd like to be today.

This is the pristine Otolum River below the Maya ruins of Palenque in Chiapas.

It was even more beautiful in person, if you can believe it. I've never met a grotto I didn't want to wallow in and it killed me that this was off limits. Later Diego and I walked up above the ruins into the rain forest where guards didn't watch the river and splashed around. After we emerged and made it back to the ruins I stepped in a nest of fire ants. Coincidence or a smiting?

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Old Favorites (You Tell Me)

I’m curious about the books that really formed you as a young reader.

The two that stick out in my mind are Judy Bloom’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret (no explanation necessary, I assume; I think every young girl devoured this book with the same enthusiasm) and a more obscure book, The Mysterious Disappearance of Leon (I Mean Noel) by Ellen Raskin.

I recently bought The Mysterious Disappearance for my daughter, and in skimming through it I could clearly see why I loved it so much as a child: it is really weird. Zany might be the right word. It’s the first book I ever read that played with language and story structure—and fostered my life-long love of footnotes in fiction.

The third book I have been dying to read again is a story about a girl, an only child, growing up in New York City where she lives with her parents who have perfected the art of making a classic Caesar salad tableside, using real coddled egg. Sounds bizarre, but I remember repeatedly checking this book out to vicariously live this girl’s quiet, cultured life. Anyone remember the title to this book?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

I'm only posting to get rid of that clown

Over the weekend we took a vacationette to a hotel in the town 12 miles north of here just to swim, order embarrassing amounts of room service, and sleep in a place where every sheet and towel was clean at the same time. Now and then I find it sweet to have our little family sleeping together in 600 square feet of space; there’s something vaguely Little House on the Prairie about it. Plus, when I get home it makes me appreciate my own child-free bed—excessively and immoderately dressed in just the right combination of thread count, white down feather count, and pillow loft—even more.

Now I’m back in front of my computer, my weekly volunteer gig in Juliet’s class is finished, and I’m digging in to the manuscript. I’ll set a weekly goal for myself here, just so it’s in print: one chapter a day, three days in a row. That’s three chapters by Friday. Can I put it any more plainly, self?

The view from my window is wet and green and my mind feels just as fertile. Here I go…

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Cue the Funeral Dirge

So I opened my blog today and read the last few entries and wondered when the plaintive violin music was going to start. Geeze, lighten up, man! Since I’m obviously incapable of writing anything unelegiac right now, I bring you: Jokes From Around the World.

According to the Internet, which is always right, these are the top jokes in various countries. If we can glean anything at all from this collection it’s that Belgium should stick solely to beer and chocolate as exports.

A man walks into a bar..........OUCH!

A turtle was walking down an alley in New York when he was mugged by a gang of snails. A police detective came to investigate and asked the turtle if he could explain what happened.

The turtle looked at the detective with a confused look on his face and replied “I don't know, it all happened so fast.”

Why do ducks have webbed feet?
To stamp out fires.
Why do elephants have flat feet?
To stamp out burning ducks.

How do you get Holy Water?
You boil the Hell out of it.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Beginnings and Endings

I don’t know if it was seeing my dad in the hospital on my way out of town, not speaking to another soul for 48 hours, or pushing myself so hard to write all weekend, but I had a bit of a breakdown on my way home today.

After driving in silence for about a half an hour I wanted to stop thinking about this damn book for awhile, so just as I hit the winding mountain road I reached into the console, fished out a random CD, and plugged it in without looking. I was surprised and delighted when a song I had not heard in nearly five years started; it was a favorite of mine in 2003, an indie that never played on the radio, and one of the songs on to the CD I’d had Scott make for our second baby’s delivery.

Unlike the birth of Juliet, which turned into a trauma situation and is scrambled eggs in terms of a memory, the second birth I remember vividly. Because of the size of the baby’s head vis-à-vis my anatomy I was scheduled for a c-section. Once in the operating room, I recall handing the CD to the anesthesiologist who could not hide his disdain as he took it from me as if it were a dead mouse. These overindulged Ashland women, I could hear him say to himself.

I remember the room filling with my favorite music, I remember Scott by my side and my good friend and surgeon Jani at the helm. I remember Hank as they pulled him out, screaming and glorious. But what I remember most—and best—about that day was later, when we were back in the room. All was quiet; Hank was tucked under my arm like a loaf of bread and Scott was getting ready to make the calls. Then I remember how his always strong and unwavering voice broke as he told his mom it was a boy. Crushed by the weight of new love.

So this song, playing nearly five years later, took me back to that moment so fully and vividly that I had to pull off. Overlooking verdant hills covered in patches of purple and yellow wildflowers, I lost it. I cried like I hadn’t cried in years.

Then unexpectedly from this mess of emotions that I’d just spilled onto the roadside, the ending to my novel floated lightly into my mind. I reached for my laptop, fired it up and wrote the last page before the thought could fly away as quickly as it had come. It’s not all that profound or magical but it's perfect in that it is exactly how I wanted it to end but had not, until then, figured out how.

Odd that the memory of my child’s beginning begat my manuscript’s ending. A weird day, for sure.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Hermit Weekend

You’d think I was going to Hawaii, considering how excited I am to go away this weekend. I’m just going to my Mom’s cabin, about an hour and a half away, but it means one thing: momentum will not be lost!

I hit page 100 in my manuscript yesterday. Okay, there are only two words on page 100, but still. I got there. I only have 17 days until kids are out of school and any dedicated writing time is gone, so I’m going to make the most of the next three weeks. In 48 hours away this weekend I hope to get 30-40 pages written; that’s about 7,000 – 9,000 words. It’s a push, but being without distraction will make it possible.

Once I’m near 150 pages, mass and velocity pick up and momentum cannot be stopped! (She says with hope.)

Thanks to the Moody's for the cabin, and thanks to my husband for taking over weekend kid duty.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


A blue jay recently built a platter-sized nest in the holly tree by my front door. Every time I’d walk to the car I’d try to catch a glimpse of the three newly hatched babies inside, but they always hid when they heard the door open. Not yet able to fly, they’d hop out of the nest to the branch below and wait for me to leave before hopping back in.

Today as I sat down to write I noticed the babies had relocated to a quieter tree that grows less than a foot from my office window. There is no nest here but the birds, still unable to fly, are now big enough to hang out without it. Mom Jay flies off to forage for worms and buggy treats and comes back to her children, who fluff themselves up and screech to get her attention so they can be fed first. I can relate.

When Mom Jay is off, the babies sit on their branches and scratch, feak, chirp, and even lay their weary little heads on a neighboring branch to nap. It’s killing me—as everyone knows, any action is more adorable when done by something small and fluffy. It’s cute overload here, my friends.

Sometimes when I sit down to write I set goals and rewards, just to get things rolling. It’s a juvenile system but it works for me. This morning as I watched Mom Jay do nothing but forage/feed/forage/feed, I knew what my reward would be: a trip to the sporting goods store. As soon as I get five pages written I’ll be off to buy a styrofoam container of worms from the creepy bait fridge in the back corner of Bi-Mart so I can make Mom Jay’s life a little easier for awhile.

Whatever it takes to get the pages, right?

The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Conference

Can you hear the glee in my typing? I just signed up for the annual summer conference of the SCBWI—the most difficult acronym in the world to say—in August! And, perhaps more exciting, my very good friend, muse, and all-around fabulous guy Davis Wakefield will be coming from London to join me. He’s working on a brilliant YA sci-fi that will blow the socks off of the editors at the conference.

The SCBWI knows how to put on a conference; I noticed they’ve even built yoga classes in t o the schedule! Unfortunately these overlap with prime cocktail time, and I, for one, have my priorities straight. Straight up.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Momentum, inertia, and other things missing on a Monday morning.

For me writing gets easier and faster the deeper into the manuscript I get—probably due to momentum. Any object in motion (a manuscript) has momentum; the amount of momentum is determined by the mass (page count) of the object multiplied by the velocity (speed with which it’s written). Momentum is lost when mass (page count) remains the same and velocity (writing) stops. For me, that’s Thursday night—momentum brakes to a screeching halt. On Friday I have my son with me all day and over the weekend everyone’s at home, so no writing gets done. And I wonder why every Monday morning is the same. I look forward to it until I sit in my chair and then—what? Where do I start? Where did I finish? Have I lost the plot?

Thursday, May 8, 2008


Yesterday the Lithia Writers Collective had its regular Wednesday meeting, but regular it was not! It was an extraordinary day: Jennie had finished her manuscript.

She’d finished!

Starting a book is easy—really easy—and plugging away at one for years is fairly easy as well, but finishing a book? That is damn hard. And she did it in four months.

So we toasted with a lovely bottle of bubbly and passed around the weighty pages. Of course Jennie demurred, mumbling on about how rough it was and how much revision was left to do. Of course, we told her to shut up.

We forced her to look at the stack of paper she had produced, forced her to soak up the fact that she had finished two manuscripts in as many years, forced her to enjoy the moment. Because Jennie’s success is our success, because seeing a fellow writer finish a manuscript is a beautiful thing; it makes you realize it’s possible.

Cheers, Jennie!

Monday, May 5, 2008

Okay, already.

When do we get to stop learning annoying things about ourselves?

I’d been reading interviews with several writers who say that their method is to write the really powerful scenes they love the most in their books and then go back and connect all the dots with the bridging scenes. I’d never tried this before because, frankly, it sounded outlandish. In real life you don’t get to skip to the good parts and then relive the no-so-exciting ones, so why should I get to do that as a writer?

Anyway, the writers who spoke of doing this are all quite successful so I thought I’d give it a try. It worked marvelously! And then failed miserably. I wrote two unconnected, unanchored chapters that I had really, really been looking forward to writing; they were two of the scenes I’d thought about most when I first dreamed up the idea for the book. The minute I started I couldn’t stop! The words flowed like hot magma! I thought I’d finally found the secret to writing!

The next day I opened the manuscript to do the bridging chapters. Can you guess what happened? I got nothin’. No interest at all in writing those chapters. I even thought about turning it into some kind of experimental novel where there are only high-octane, amazing scenes and you, as the reader, have to fill in the blanks about how and why these people get to be there. Yes, my friends, desperation had set in.

The bottom line? I suppose I’m impulsive and greedy. If given the choice of having dessert first I will. In fact, I’ll eat so much dessert that I won’t want dinner anymore. The ability to write scenes out of order, to do the fun stuff and then go back and do the technical stuff, that’s for people who have temperate dispositions. People who have willpower and discipline. Me? I have to deprive myself of the good stuff until the mundane is done and then, then I get to feast.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Happiness and Writing

My PEN America journal came in the mail the other day, and this morning I finally got a chance to look through it. PEN is an organization that defends free expression of the written word throughout the world, and reading the journal is depressing for two reasons:
1) the greatness of the writing puts in perspective the meagerness of my own, and 2) the oppression many of the writers have endured makes my life seem frivolous.

I’ll admit I have a bit of talent, but will my work ever foment protests and demonstrations? Not likely. Will my work transcend my death? Probably not. Should I stop writing? After reading the PEN journal, this is always a viable question.

So I close the PEN journal and open another one of my favorite books about being a writer, On Writing by Stephen King. My finger lands on this paragraph:

“Talent renders the whole idea of rehearsal meaningless; when you find something at which you are talented, you do it (whatever it is) until your fingers bleed or your eyes are ready to fall out of your head. Even when no one is listening (or reading, or watching), every outing is a bravura performance, because you as the creator are happy. Perhaps even ecstatic.”

Good old Stephen King makes me realize that I am not writing so that my words can transcend my death or incite riots, I am writing because it makes me happy. And hopefully, that’s enough.