Tag Archives: writing

Job Hunting and Moonshine Go Together Like Bubbles and Blood

gardenia from our garden

Last week I applied for four jobs.  I have heard nothing from any of them yet.  I’m told I have to be patient but the last time I heard that was two weeks ago when I applied to three jobs and I still haven’t heard back from those companies either.  It means they aren’t interested.  It means I’m bombing out.

So what do you do when faced with a looming deadline for getting work?

You buy some 153 proof moonshine, that’s what you do.

Then you guzzle it until it peels off the inside of your stomach and intestines and apply for 40 more jobs wearing the stench of despira-

OR you make liqueur out of the grain alcohol and the amazing home grown plums your friend brings you.  You wait a respectable two months before straining and sipping.  I usually work with 100 proof so I’m going to have to dilute this liqueur with something.  My first thought was to just water it the hell down.  But – water – ?  Doesn’t sound right.  So then I figured maybe I could water it down with some added juice?  maybe something flavorless like white grape juice?  I will commence experiments and write about it on Stitch for the scientifically minded booze-hounds.

So.  There doesn’t seem to be anything to apply to today so I think it’s time to clean up my office and get some sewing done because I have the pyjama pant project to work on and I have pants to make myself so I don’t look homeless when going for job interviews.  Surely someone at some point is going to see what an awesome prospect I am as an employee and want to talk to me in person, right?

RIGHT?!

I have got three paragraphs of Cricket and Grey Spring written.  Then I got sidetracked by researching third degree burns.  I’m going to have to make plot changes since I injured my MC more than I intended to.  I mean – they say to make bad stuff happen to your characters but I might have gone a little too far.  Philip reminds me that I can change the severity of the wounds in the first book.  I suppose he’s technically correct but I feel it would be cheating at this point – I’ve already published it on my blog.  Even though that isn’t a traditional method of publishing – my book is still out there and I think it lives on its own now.  I set it free and can’t take it back.

It’s a fine day out there.  Not too hot.  A breeze is blowing.  It’s already 1pm and I’ve gotten very little done.  I guess it’s time to do something productive.

3rd street aleworks

Those Old Stacks of Notes

3rd street aleworks

Three great things happened this week:

1.  Max ate a tomato sandwich.  Whole wheat bread with the crust cut off, 1 slice of tomato, yellow mustard on one slice of bread and ketchup on the other.  He ate every last crumb of it.

2.  I finished sewing 5 shirts which you can read about on Stitch if you’re interested.  So I’m feeling productive.

3.  I cleaned the downstairs of my house.  Epic.  My kitchen floor was growing scared of itself, it was so dirty.

I don’t really want to be up right now.  I’ve been awake since just before 5am.  I finally gave up at 5:45.  Here it is, 7am, and I have to commit to staying awake because I am drinking coffee and until Philip wakes up it will not be comfortable to get back into bed with all the breathing going on in there.  I thought I’d write but I don’t have a starting point yet for the new book as I’m still working on the outline.

I just now thought about the stacks of notes and bits I wrote for two different ideas for novels I had almost 15 years ago.  Some people have great ideas that just need time to mature before they can become fully formed.  This is not the case with those earlier efforts of mine.  I worked so hard at them but I couldn’t bring any of my ideas to life because I was stuck in a strange warped place of literal truth.  I knew that fiction is all about making shit up – telling stories and using your imagination to build different versions of the world we live in as seen through the eyes of people who don’t really exist.  At the time I was coming to terms with some of my own truths – with my family and my past and the fact that I really CAN excel at doing math.  I had my saber held against the chin of my worst demon and with my chest full of fire and my head full of TRUTH I knew the living words would follow.

Naturally I was wrong.

I kept trying to tell MY truth because I thought that’s what writers do.  Well, they do, but not in a literal way.  If I was going to tell my truth then I was beholden to the facts surrounding my truth as well.  Basically I was trying to write fiction but kept veering off into autobiographical territory and it didn’t work because I couldn’t tell my story and then make stuff up that wasn’t true.

I made up a girl named Vera who worked in an underwear factory.  I loved the idea of her.  She most definitely didn’t resemble me at all so it was weird how I kept trying to make her life have the same issues as mine.  It turns out I can’t write good fiction by starting with a conclusion and trying to stuff it into the shape of a story.  It turns out that the story has to live for its own sake.  It has to matter outside of myself.  It turns out I have to start with a question and endeavor to answer it.

I could see where I kept getting hung up but I didn’t know how to work past it.  I remember the reams of paper I wasted trying to work through it, trying to force life onto the page and it was just like trying to light a cigarette with a packet of soggy matches.

I remember giving up.  I remember telling myself that I can’t write fiction, that I’m a poet not a novelist.*

In a nod to the character Vera, who never came to life, I made Jane Bauer (from that first novel I started writing “Jane Doe”) work in an underwear factory.  I’m realizing now, as I write this post, that this is not right for Jane, it doesn’t work.  To change this I’ll have to adjust some of what I’ve already got written but that’s what novel writing is like.  It’s not rigid work, it’s fluid.  You can write out the most detailed outline and you’ll still discover that something you planned for your story doesn’t work and if you try to flog a story with details that don’t work – it will stagnate.  If not for you, then for the reader.  I am becoming better at recognizing when something I’m trying in a story isn’t working.

In those earlier efforts at novel writing I was full of ideas, ideals, and huge life lessons and THINGS I NEEDED TO SAY but I didn’t really have a story to tell yet.

I wonder what I’m going to think about my first novels once I’ve written many?

*One can be both, obviously, but when you’re super busy tying yourself to the whipping post you don’t consider such things, all you want is to get on with lashing yourself and crushing your own dreams before someone else has the chance to.

case of the bag of meat

The Vocabulary Pit of Despair – “yearn”

case of the bag of meat

Last night I said to my fellas “Y’all are quibbling” and Max informed me that I am not allowed to say “y’all” because I (apparently) constantly make fun of people saying it.  Making fun of something precludes you from being “allowed” to use it (he says this is a well known RULE).  To be fair (and he wasn’t being fair) the only time I make fun of anyone saying “y’all” are people who use it as punctuation.  It’s exhausting to my ear.  The truth is I only make fun of Paula Deen using it because she does it with a southern drawl so drawn out and shrill she sounds like a cat yowling in a fight.  And she uses it excessively.  I have a lot of friends who say “y’all” (some who are southern, some who are not) and it doesn’t bother me one whit that they use it.

I happened to have said it by accident though.

“Yearning”

For general writers this is tough enough to carry off.  It brings to mind a flaccid princess committed to a life of inaction which has given her plenty of reason to YEARN for things.  “Yearn” is a word people use when they want to pluck at your heart – but it comes off as corny or manipulative.  For food writers, this word is even worse.  How ridiculous is it to “yearn” for steak and eggs?  But worse than that is suggesting that your food “yearns” for – well – ANYTHING.  Food does not have human emotions.  Some writers have found this confusing.

The one exception to the challenging use of this word is in humor.  “Yearning” is quite useful in sarcastic and satirical writing.

 

Disclaimer:

I’m not a vocabulary snob.  In fact, I’m not a language snob.  I’m not even a grammar snob.  All of these things are tools for communication in a very colorful, constantly shifting world.  Language is just another way to express all the stimuli we experience in our lives.  As such it must be somewhat fluid, flexible, and accommodating as well constantly evolving to meet the needs of new generations and technology.

Even so, it is exquisitely fun to share my opinions of words on a regular basis.  If I trash any words you happen to love – just know that I inevitably love to use some words that make you feel like your head is being dragged through a swamp.  It’s okay. It’s not only okay – you and me liking and hating different words means there is more variety of words being used on the whole.  And that’s what keeps our language vibrant – that we all have different tastes in words.

De gustibus non est disputandum is a patently untrue maxim.  Disputing taste makes for lively discussion as long as we respect each other at the end of the day for having different tastes.

sonoma rental property

Drives to Sonoma and Thoughts on Creative Pursuits

(I wish I had taken a picture of the fall landscape I described below – instead this was taken at my dad’s Sonoma place – still pretty I think!)

Favorite word of the day: trousseau.

I have always loved this word and not because it’s French.  I love it because it’s so hopeful (which is distinctly un-French).  A girl collects (often makes) bridal clothes and household linens and other treasures she will need as a new bride.  Trousseaus  were often kept in trunks or chests made of cedar – which makes it like treasure.  Who doesn’t like treasure?

Worst word of the day: glean.

I hate this word.  It’s useful and I’m not saying I wouldn’t use it in my writing but it sounds mean and glinty.  It sounds sneaky and greasy.  It also always brings to mind this quote “Shall we glean some nuts from the hedgerow?”  If you know where that comes from then you’re a genius because I am 99% sure I haven’t quoted it properly.

Gleaning nuts is something I actually do but I prefer to call it “collecting nuts” and I don’t have access to hedgerows so I just collect them from the pavement.

Yesterday I had an actual conversation in which I asked my almost twelve year old kid to imagine what it might feel like if he had balls the size of grapefruits.

Yesterday my friend Sharon and I drove up to Sonoma to go olive picking at my dad’s rental property.  My dad planted a small orchard of olives for pressing into oil.  I had hoped he planted some olives that are both good for eating and pressing but it turned out they’re all very small.  It’s a sweet little orchard anyway and I’m going to help harvest the olives for oil with my dad in a couple of weeks because I enjoy that kind of thing.  Anyway – so we ended up finding a couple of trees in town with some good fat ripe olives on them and got permission to pick them.  Just as we were heading home it started raining which was so pretty.  If you haven’t seen Sonoma county in the fall – with the vineyards turning red and purple and the hills painted in gentle yellows and oranges and sage greens – put it on your agenda.  When the rains come down it’s soft and gorgeous.

We stopped off at Whole Foods to get some salt for the olives and I brought up my usual writing dilemma: do I start writing the next Cricket and Grey book or do I work on Jane Doe?  Do I keep writing fiction or do I give it up for another 10 years while I work on non-fiction which has higher career potential?  If only a handful of people are interested in my fiction is it a good place to – same old same old.  All the questions I always struggle with.  I am such a decisive person with regards to almost everything in my life it’s extremely irritating to be incapable of KNOWING the answers to these questions about my writing “career”.  The one I wish I had.  The one I keep trying to build.  It just so happens that Sharon has read Cricket and Grey and her response is “I want to read the next Cricket and Grey book!” so I launched into the difficulty I’ve been having settling on the next book’s main story arc which I need to decide on before I can flesh out the rest of the plot.  I shared with her the ideas I’ve been having while we bought sea salt by the pound.

She shared her own similar questions regarding her art career.  She’s an extraordinary artist – I happen to be a huge fan of her work and have 2 pieces of it and am negotiating a trade for a third exquisite piece.  She has received some unwanted career advice from someone who means well but who has caused her to question (again) the nature of her work and whether she should be painting to please the tastes of the public or continue to paint just what she’s moved to paint.  This particular person said something about her work being too dark – saying that people just want to be happy.

I think many artists and writers have similar doubts and conversations as we had.  I may not have a lot of answers but talking this out with Sharon did bring clarity back about the nature of both mine and her creative pursuits: and artist should paint what they want to see in the world or paint what they are moved to paint by that inner drive that urged them to take up the brush or pencil or charcoal in the first place.  A novelist should write the books they really want to be reading – not the books they think others want to be reading.  I don’t like reading heavy literature that appeals to intellectuals and academics.  I did read a lot of heavy literature when I was young and I’m glad I did.  It enriched my vocabulary and gave me such a broad understanding of what different people can do with language and how many different ways the basic human experience can be expressed in stories.

But I don’t read heavy literature now.  I don’t want to read depressing stories where every character is so flawed you can’t like them.  I want to read compelling stories with enough suspense to keep me glued to the page and interesting characters who I want to know more about – characters to love and characters to hate and just enough ambiguity of ethics to keep from being predictable.  I need someone to root for and I need endings that are hopeful.

Talking to Sharon reminded me that I wrote Cricket and Grey because it’s the kind of book I wish I could find more of.  I am going to have to write Jane Doe because it’s personally important to me and that one is darker than I like to read usually.  But I want to write more Cricket and Grey books (there are meant to be 4 CandG books) and I want to write more books in that style.

Fiction versus Nonfiction?  No author has to really choose between them.  I’m embarking on the nonfiction project with my friend Emma so I’ll be doing that.  But I know that I never felt more like I was doing what I was always meant to be doing than when I was writing my novels.  That should be all the answer I need to move forward.  Will I ever be a commercial success – maybe not.  I need to commit to the knowledge that I may just write novels on the side for the rest of my life but I can’t ever let that get in the way of doing what I know I need to be doing.

This all reminds me how important it is for creative people to talk to each other – to share these doubts and these questions with each other because we need frequent encouragement from others on similar paths.  It’s sometimes easier for me to see what Sharon should be doing or who she shouldn’t be listening to than it is for me to see what I should be doing and who I shouldn’t be listening to.

I have a small handful of people reading my novel here on my blog and I have heard from a couple of them that they look forward to the new chapter every week – this is deeply gratifying and between them and Sharon I have a renewed determination to shake the writer’s block and plot uncertainty and get moving on book 2 of Cricket and Grey (Spring).

But today I have to work for a living all day.  Tonight I will write some notes.  Maybe I’ll share some ideas here tomorrow.

the riches look down

The Death Of Me

All my clothes have holes.  Dark and bitten.  My memory hides underneath the eucalyptus oil on the warm night air.   If I shed my cloth it would cover the earth in black cotton.  Never mind.  Never mind.  The alarms have stopped ringing.  The smoke is nothing more than vapors in ghost pipes.  This airport hasn’t seen more than bones in twenty years and the chattering teeth are nothing but talking skulls.  Don’t run.  Don’t turn away from five am.  Don’t pretend you’re awake when you’re struggling not to bleed out in dream.  I know this sleep and it’s a tunnel that leads into the dark if you forget your body laid out, half under cover and half sprawled into the bite.

The cliff calls almost as loudly as the stripped rusted frame of the crashed Ford full of weeds and branches and restless memory.  You know it called you to the edge where the ghosts dance like punks and never fall.  You know you reached your hands out across the chasm and felt freedom stab at you and you met it with open arms, with the calm hands of suicide.  You can say what you want to everyone but the mountain knows the truth.  It never dies on the trail of grass and spirit.  You have never left it, dead as you were, you will never leave it.  You are recorded through the rocks and dirt and scrub and bush and the free-fall you have been taking ever since you walked away from the precipice.

The tunnel may have been narrow, but it was clean. It was open for the wake.

 

***

Inspiration for this piece is “Young Wild Girls” by Bruno Mars

a frightening chaos

My Work Table Standing in for My State of Mind

(This mess is now half cleaned up)

My work table is reflecting the state of my head.

My main canning/preserving season has just ended.  I’m playing with foraged olives and soon I’ll be playing with drying produce to make zombie-soup with but the big projects – the few hundred pounds of tomatoes projects are done.

Max is mostly doing okay in school right now so I’ve had a little break from dealing with all that.  Though I’m surprised the school never contacted me about Max’s long fight over “The Pledge of Allegiance” which he has been refusing to stand up for or say on the grounds that he isn’t religious and won’t make any pledges that include “God” in them.  More than that – he’s expressed that he’s not all that keen to pledge allegiance to a country he’s not so proud of.  After many weeks of irritating his teachers with his refusal to cooperate they reached a compromise this Monday when the PE teacher finally agreed that Max didn’t have to say the pledge but he does have to stand up with everyone else.  Max is not overjoyed with this compromise but has accepted it.  I can’t deny that I’m proud of my kid for fighting for his right to not make religious-based pledges.

Or political ones for that matter – no pledge should be automatically demanded of any citizen because that is how dictators and fascists roll.  Anyway – children should not be giving pledges of political allegiance until they are allowed to vote and when that day comes they should be free to give that pledge or not, according to their political beliefs.

(And no, I did NOT put him up to this!  He has no idea that I stopped saying the pledge when I was a teen and only stand up when others do it but never put hand to heart or say the words.  But damn – he sure didn’t fall far from the parental tree)

I have not had the time nor the spark to do any fiction writing.  It’s beginning to weigh on me pretty heavily.  I shouldn’t let it.  I have plenty of non-fiction to work on – fun nonfiction even.  But the Jane Doe story won’t shut up in my head.  It won’t shut up but it won’t come out either.  Meanwhile I need to finish the real edit of Cricket and Grey because the chapters I’ve published online are catching up to the chapters I’ve actually re-edited.  It’s time to plunge into the world of e-publishing so I can make the first book available in e-book format followed by print-on-demand format.  I’m hesitant to try and make it available for Christmas buying because in my experience – people don’t buy shit from me.  That would represent a lot of energy most likely to result in no return.  Yet I still want to make it available – to symbolically finish the book.  To take it to the end.

I’m not sure if I will be writing more Cricket and Grey books.  I suppose it depends on whether or not people would actually be interested in reading more of them.  That was two years of work for the first one.  I know the next one wouldn’t take quite as long since so much of the character development has been done already.  Still, would it be a waste of my time?  If I am only writing to please myself and not trying to develop an actual career – then I would write the whole series only because I love the story so much and want to see all the seasons completed (I planned one book for each season of one year in Cricket’s life).  But I AM trying to create an actual career out of my writing and that’s where I have trouble knowing where best to put my energy next.

The truth is that it would be most awesome if one of my blogs would get so much traffic I could make money off my ads (I currently make zero dollars from them and mostly have them on my blogs out of solidarity with BlogHer and my company and partly because I like to keep even the most unrealistic dreams alive).  It would be cool if I could do something with one of my blogs that it took off and became my way to earn money – then I could write the fiction merely to please myself and those few others who might be interested in it.  But this question always drives me in circles of madness.  I don’t have the magic it takes to make a popular blog.  In fact, over the last several months both of my blogs have been dropping traffic like crazy.

So.

There it is.

I suppose part of the answer is that to make either of my blogs (and let’s face it – we’re really talking about Stitch and Boots because Better Than Bullets is just too all over the place to attract a crowd) to make it really thrive I would need to stop paying attention to the fiction all together and put a lot more energy into the blog(s).  But I’ve done this in the past without any resulting benefit so I’m not all that hopeful.

Then there’s the newest blog: The Post Apocalyptic Kitchen

Which I’m super excited about and we’re slowly figuring out how we want to set it up so we can start writing it.  I think it’s a great idea with a solid premise that links up really well to current trends of interests and concerns.  I dare not hang any specific hopes or dreams on this project.  I am simply going to work on it because it absolutely has to be done – it needs to be created.  Plus it’s going to be so much fun to collaborate with my friend Emma who is also really excited about this.

So.

There’s that.

Meanwhile I am bogged down by feelings of dread that are nonspecific and irritating.  I know there are lots of specific reasons for me to be stressed out but I’ve been handling all of them pretty well.  Or, so I thought.  Perhaps I am mistaken in how well I’m handling everything.

One really good thing is that Netflix finally put all the Saturday Night Live episodes from the 20000’s on the streaming site.  So I’ve been watching all the years I missed and now Max is hooked on them too.  His favorite SNL comedians are Kenan Thompson, Amy Poehler, and Seth Meyers.  Mine are Bill Hader, Kristen Whig, and Fred Armisen tied with Kenan Thompson.  Though it’s so hard to pick favorites because they all have such different strengths.  I think if I had to pick just one favorite of all of them it would be Bill Hader.  We’re watching the 2007 episodes and it’s so weird seeing all the presidential election skits from the last election while we’re up to our eyeballs in the current one.

It’s time to get more coffee and get to work.  I hope you all have a great Wednesday.  And try not to use the word “giggle” too often.

Powell's parking garage

What Works For My Writing

I read a post on 80,000 Words called “What Works For My Writing” that I enjoyed a lot because Christine Lee Zilka discusses in loose list form what things get in the way of her writing and what things help it along.  This is the kind of stuff I always want to know about other writers.  I have an infinite curiosity for it.  All writers have their own processes and it’s fascinating to me to know what they are.  Christine’s post about what works for her writing was inspired by a post on “distraction no. 99″  about the same subject.  I just read that post and now I want to write my own.  For any other writer I know –  I would love it if you would do the same so I can know more about the things that work for you.

What Works For My Writing:

Music -

If other people are in the house I listen to music on headphones.  I have always written to music.  There is a soundtrack to every single thing I write but the longer the work the more difficult it is to find the soundtrack.  Music sets the tone in my head and I often find a song that reflects and can sustain this tone and then listen to it obsessively until the piece is done or until my ears hurt with it.  I estimate that most chapters in my novel are 100 – 150 song lengths.  I can’t change the song until I’m done with it.  I don’t pay attention to the music while I write, it doesn’t obtrude, it simply holds me in the proper space.  Change of chapter, change of scene, or change of post almost always requires a new song.  Sometimes I know what kind of mood I need for what I’m going to work on but can’t find the right song.  It once took me three days to find the right song and so I didn’t write for three days.

I once wrote a whole chapter to the Moonlight Sonata and it came out all wrong.  The writing was too quiet and slow but I couldn’t figure out why.  I sat down to re-write it and started off with the same song but it wasn’t right – I found a song with more urgency and anger and the chapter, though not all that changed in content, was completely changed in feeling and it was so much better.

Solitude -

I know it’s a cliche but I write best when no one is home, when no one is around.  I love writing at 5am because most people on the west coast and certainly in my town are asleep.  The world is a lot more quiet when it’s sleeping.  I can hear the churning of the earth and the buzz of collective humans and find it hard to shut out.  I don’t get to be completely alone very often so writing while my whole house and whole town sleep is a good match.  I hate the feeling of writing at 5am if I got there by staying awake all night.  By the time I’ve dragged myself through 3 and 4am I feel like a drug addict coming down from a high and losing my teeth right there on the spot.  I only do that when I feel like all the words will be lost if I don’t stay up.  I hate  being awake between 2am and 4am.  I’ve spent a lot of time in my life up at that hour because of insomnia.  I rarely do it on purpose.  But waking up at 5am to write is awesome when I can manage to do it.

Beverages -

I love that Christine mentioned this too.  Unlike her, I can eat while I write.  I can eat through most things, unfortunately.  Beverages are necessary.  I can’t imagine writing without a drink near my left hand.  It goes like this: wake-up to 11am is coffee or black tea time, 11am to 5pm is water time, 5pm until bed is beer time.  Except that I don’t always get to drink beer so when I’m not drinking alcohol I’m drinking either tonic and lime, water with lemon, ginger ale, tea (herbal or decaf black), lemon Italian soda, or mineral water with a little unsweetened cranberry juice.  I don’t prefer writing between 11am and 5pm and I think this is because I don’t find water very creatively inspiring though I do drink a lot of it.

Facebook -

The majority of the time I wrote Cricket and Grey I used Facebook as a breather.  Giving status updates on word counts and favorite words and bits of the research for the book gave me a chance to breath between stretches of writing.  In many ways it was part of the rhythm.  Friends commenting on those writing statuses gave me all the connection with other humans I needed so that I still felt like I belonged in the world instead of outside of it.  A couple of people responding to Nova’s post mentioned Twitter providing a similar function for them – I was glad to know I wasn’t the only one.

Outlines -

I wrote The Winter Room without one.  I just wrote and wrote and wrote with no plan and thought it was going really well until I got to 108,000 words and suddenly realized that I had no idea where to go from there.  I couldn’t finish it, I couldn’t see in my head where it was supposed to lead and pretty soon I discovered such huge plot problems I had to set it aside.  I’m still trying to figure out how to pick it up again.  When I wrote Cricket and Grey I used a fresh outline for each draft because with each edit I had made so many changes I needed a fresh outline that accounted for them.  The outlines really helped move me along and seeing my chapter plans on paper helped me SEE plot holes.  So I’ve discovered I write best with one.  I find them really hard to write.  But once written they are a great tool for me.

Word Counts -

I know this kills creativity for some authors, freezing them up.  Not me.  I think my philosophy about lists keeps word counts from being oppressive to me.  A list is a way to organize my thoughts and once I write a list I may refer to it to remind myself of my goals but I never use it to measure my personal successes or failures.  I have never been one to scratch everything off of lists.  By the time I get halfway through it either becomes apparent that I’m not going to get anything else done or I simply forget because my day has evolved however it needed to.  No guilt.  A list is a suggestion.  A list is a thought organizer.  A list is not an appropriate measurement of your worth in any way.  This is how I feel about word counts.  To reach my larger writing goals I would figure out how many words I needed to write every weekend or every day to get there.  I figured out the approximate number of words per chapter and sometimes simply told myself that I would finish one chapter per weekend or sometimes when completely charged – per day.  I often met my goals.  It kept my momentum going.  I can get caught up in infinite details and not paint a whole picture.  Word counts kept me moving forward instead of stagnating.  For me it was a positive pressure rather than a negative one.  I knew I could walk away if I had to and I wouldn’t feel I’d failed in any way if I didn’t meet my goal for that day.  I would just start over the next day.  Fresh conscience.  Fresh mind.

Big writing goals -

Much like word counts, I found these very useful for me.  I know that a book is going to ultimately take as long as it’s going to take to be written.  You can’t always control that.  However, deciding how long I wanted to give myself to complete each draft was very helpful in pushing through the tougher weeks.  I suppose it helps that I’m 42 years old and I don’t feel like I have all the time in the world to finish my novels if I want to get published.  I’ve got a fire under my ass and a lot of ground to cover to become the writer I want to be (published AND making a living at it).  So specific goals helped me move steadily.  Again, I didn’t thrash myself for not meeting those goals but I did work better when I set them.

Talking about the novel with people I trust -

discussing issues I’m having with plot or character development with Philip or close friends was necessary for me to get it out of my head where it these things tend to gnaw at me.  Most useful of all was discussing these things with writer friends.  Talking with other writers was incredibly sustaining to me.  Talking with people is often helpful in this way: their opinions often make me more clear about my own, especially when I disagree with them.  As Philip likes to say, I’ll do the opposite of whatever you think I should do.  I admit that hearing other people tell me what I should do gives me this clarity: they don’t know how to write this book and hearing their misbegotten opinions has shed light on how strongly I feel about points I didn’t realize I felt so strongly about.  Opposition flushes out the important things.

Translating A Novel Into My Mother Tongue

Burning Hand

The first punishment came like road rage
scorching the pavement with friction
devils uncuffed with viscous screams
thick and rich and choking with blood iron
flooding the closed room filling with metal death
small hands buried in mud, elbow deep
constricting nightmares lapping at small skin
punishment like living threads of belief
frayed to a nothing point, to a nothing thought
a nothing pain, a nothing confusion
until the mud is tight and cracked with thirst
fighting for oxygen, crying with child’s tears
for being a dirty girl.

The Weight Of It

You will look at me, sisters.
you will remember me as I am today
you will not say my name but you will feel my hair
the weight of it will hold down your chests
the weight of it will remind you that I’m free
the weight of it will remind you of your passive life
how you stood and watched me hang
how you turned your eyes away, from a nothing face
how you shut your ears to me, a nothing noise
you will look at me, sisters
you will hear me, sisters and brothers
you will see me for the first time
I may die as I leave but you will envy me
when you discover how they lied
about the cost of the freedom they promised
how we paid in wages of skin and sweat
alone we are nothing at all, not even names
we only exist in this strange forest cage
we are their trapped dreams delivering promise
we are their weapons of war against the machine
we are their fevered delusions squalling in poor light
you cannot follow me into the road
you cannot tell me I am nothing anymore
you cannot stop the machine of change

Note: these two poems constitute this evening’s notes for Baby Girl Six.  This is how I grab onto my fiction.  It is always poetry first.  It doesn’t matter if it’s good poetry or not.  We need not attach value to it.  I don’t, and I would appreciate it if you offered no critiques.  That’s not what this is about.  It serves to let me get to know a character in my own language.  A repetitive emotional shorthand.  Poetry isn’t something to “get” unless you get it.  It isn’t really a puzzle to be solved so much as it’s a script for longer thoughts, for longer stories.

When I was 23 years old I realized that poetry was my first language.  I’ve written a couple of good ones in my life but most of them are worthless to anyone but me.  Poetry is my mother tongue.  It is where I begin.  It is where I will end.  It infiltrates my prose, my most serious discussions about life and death.  You hear me most of the time as a translation from poetry to regular speech.  I think in poetry.  I smell in poetry.  I see in poetry.  I am constantly translating.  It is no wonder, then, that things go awry in my life.  Translation is not a perfect art.  If I want to write a novel I must first hear it in poetry.

Other trends emerge.  Patterns of thought connected tightly to music.   I cannot write without a soundtrack.

Tonight I learned another lesson: there are specific stories I have to tell.  All of my stories are guided by an internal switchboard directing what is revealed.  I have a beginning point that is necessary for me to tell stories from.  You don’t need to know this because it will become obvious to you over time.

Tonight it is Six I’m hearing.  Her story is becoming lucid.

Excellent Reads for Writers

When I started working on Cricket and Grey I wanted to work in a more organized way than I had with The Winter Room because I wanted to avoid getting lost in pages of emotive crap that leads nowhere.  What I really wanted was to avoid emotive crap altogether.  I looked for a book that could serve as a guideline and found a great help in the book “Write Away” by Elizabeth George.  I didn’t want someone to tell me what to write but how to structure a plot and story thoughtfully.  Taking the time to work out a plot outline, do some character analysis, and to play with POV before digging myself into an enormous grave full of words made writing my second novel a completely different experience than the first.  Each draft I wrote accomplished very specific things.  I know that all writers have their own processes and mine, as it develops, will not match anyone else’s exactly.  Still, I think it’s useful for writers to listen to other writers talk about writing.  I think it’s useful for us to share notes, to compare notes, and to share ideas.

Through doing my agent research, looking for support with other writers, and reading advice from the trenches I’ve compiled a number of great reads (and a video) that I think most writers will find encouraging, interesting, and useful.

Write Away

Elizabeth George is one of my favorite mystery writers.  Though I admit I stopped reading the Lynley series a few books ago because I got really sick of Tommy and Helen’s inability to work their shit out and then she went and killed Helen anyway, so that’s alright.  I have seen George speak and I really like her.  So I bought her book and have found it very useful.  Her message isn’t “If you write exactly like me you’re guaranteed success!” (because she’s not stupid), her book is meant as a guideline to writing fiction, not a gospel.

Bird By Bird

Anne Lamott is funny, she’s real, she’s honest, and her book “bird by bird” is a great collection of essays about writing she’s taken from the writing classes she teaches.  It isn’t a manual (can you tell I don’t want anyone telling me the ONE way to write?) so much as it’s collected perspective from a seasoned and respected author.  Reading her book was illuminating and made me want to shove the book back on the shelf, roll my sleeves up, and write.

The Writing Life (writers on how they think and work)

Edited by Marie Arana.  This book is a collection of essays written by writers about writing (the process, the editing, the rejection slips, the magic, the slogging).  There are a couple of essays I didn’t get much out of but most of them had interesting perspectives and showed the diverse range of ways one can approach and succeed at writing.  Some of the writers have written only a couple books that took years to write while others write a book a year.

Here are some blogs I’m finding useful and entertaining right now:

The Novel Doctor An editor talks about novel writing and reveals your deepest insecurities.  He also says some useful things and cracks the whip against your indolent ways.

Query Shark Excellent site a friend shared with me while I was trying to write a query letter and was 100% bombing.  I’m still working at it but at least I’m avoiding many of the biggest mistakes thanks to this witty and ruthless agent who really wants you to write better queries.

Rachelle Gardner Another literary agent whose blog has many truly interesting and many useful articles about the business of publishing books.  She’s not the agent for me as she almost exclusively represents Christian fiction, but I think her blog is great.

Agent Query This is a great site to look for agents with.  It is reputable and has good information on query writing, looking for agents, and other things you’ll want to know such as how long an unpublished author’s first novel should be (yeah, this is useful to know before you’ve finished writing it).

Terrible Minds I would truly love to get Chuck Wendig together with my Grandma just to see who would win that inevitable clash sharp tongued titans.  His profanity is breathtaking (as in – I’ve never heard anyone swear so much who wasn’t a stand up comedian) and he finds the most shocking ways of making everything sound pornographic.  His writing advice is gritty but completely sound.

Novel: First draft, Second draft revision…  I loved this post and am enjoying her blog.

25 Things You Should Know About Suspense And Tension In Storytelling I had to give you an actual post to check out from Wendig’s blog.

Editor Alan Rinzler & Literary Agent Andy Ross On All Things Publishing This is a video interview with a written transcription.  It’s long but well worth watching.

on fire

Reaching For Winter

Reaching for Winter

This fall air collapses lungs
sharp needle intention rents empty space
where your heart used to be
you wear your colors like your milk
in drooling white streaks across a devastating void
you’re too far gone now
sparrows diving into spoiled crumbs
crushed sunflowers rising to light
with eyes like silkworm wombs
green, with water light
you see between the days
killing through corrugated windows
with cellos sketching the negative space
carving one more minor note to decorate your throat
it hangs like the moon on your skin
a jewel of flesh
a cancerous tool of life
listen to the autumn music
rich with black keys reaching for ether
reaching for winter, even now.