NaNoWriMo, Week 2

Friday started out pretty rough.  I only got 800 words, and since I have been pounding out over 1000 a day typically, I was feeling discouraged.  I sensed a wall coming, one I wouldn’t be able to break through, and then came Saturday and my kiddos.  I was concerned not much writing would get done with them in the house, but I was wrong.  I passed 17k on Saturday, bring me up to 1/3rd completion.  K made a point of guarding my office so I could write. E offered to get me coffee refills and snacks as needed.  They shushed each other so I could concentrate, and even the boys have been rooting me on.  I was able to pull past 20k on Saturday, and am eternally grateful for their encouragement.

Sunday was more of the same.  With their assistance, I dropped another 4k before hanging it up for the day.  I was nearing the end of Part 1, and I was feeling somewhat deflated, but they kept pushing. 

On Monday I wrote early in the morning, sitting at my computer for two hours trying to get the ending of the first part out. It took some time, but in the end, I topped out at 26k, which is more than halfway to my goal.  And, it was only the 11th.

I had finished Part 1, and now it was time for Part 2.  Here’s a secret, though: I’m a plantser in the strictest of terms.  (Lingo explanation for the non-writer.  Planner: someone who meticulously plans out their book. Pantser: someone who writes by the seat of their pants.  Plantser: someone who does both.)  I planned and outlined and took notes for the first half, but not the second.  The book started to go somewhere I didn’t expect, so I went with it, and now I have no notes left.  I will be writing the second half completely without a net.

On Tuesday I started the day with a couple thousand words, and finished chapter 10.  The problem I found myself confronted with that afternoon was how to start the next chapter.  So, there was a great deal of debate and contemplation, followed by researching what happens when an electric car runs out of juice (one of the fun parts of writing for me is researching all the weird stuff you need for your book.  That said, someone clear my search history when I die.)  Then I got out another 1200 words before retiring for the day.

Wednesday was a mess.  I had an appointment in the morning so I couldn’t get into my regular groove, and when I came home, I only got a paltry 800 words or so out.  Instead, I polished up a children’s story I wrote some time ago and sent it off to Sahar to test out on her kiddos.  I had hoped it could get the juices flowing, but the afternoon found me sitting on Twitter, procrastinating like it was my job.  After some encouragement from Twitter folk, I got back at it and put out another 1000.  I felt better after that.

Today I am at a loss.  I have discovered some timeline problems and have to go back and read the story so far, making notes about when certain things occur.  I am struggling with my current main character, someone different than the first half of the book.  I shall give small details to illustrate my problem: the first half of the book is narrated by Frankie, the second half by her mother Lila.  I know Frankie, inside and out…I am still discovering Lila.  And since I think all good books are character driven, this is making it hard for me to write at the moment.  It’s my hope that after I finish redoing the timeline, I will be able to get a few thousand words in.  Fingers crossed, but still, I’m not holding my breath.

I managed to get though week two without much of the dreaded slump, and am at 34.000 words.  I would say some days have been better than others, but mostly I am ahead of schedule.  The end is still a ways off, but I am looking forward to completion because I can sense it in the air.  Soon, this book will be written, and the five years of planning and thinking about it will finally mean something.  Of course, I have no idea what to do with it when it’s done, but we will figure that out when the time comes.  In the meantime, I shall write, write, write…and hope for the best.

An Ode to my Kiddos

I have sat at my computer every day this week, pecking out my novel.  It has been the main focus of my life for the past 11 days, and nearly every thought I think when alone has been related to it.  So of course, I sit down to write my blog and all I want to do is go back to work on the book, or write about how I’m doing on it.  But, that’s for Thursdays, not Mondays, so now I am at a loss.

I ask E what I should write about, and she suggests a dozen topics that have already graced my fingertips.  I ask K and get more of the same.  They are clever little girls who have great ideas, but sadly they are ideas I have already had.  E suggests I write about the kiddos, but I don’t, really.  I mean, they appear in my blogs, but I like to keep a certain air of privacy around them (hence the initials.)  But I will bend that rule a little, today.

I remember the day I met them.  First, there was M, five years old and playing Transformers on his father’s PlayStation.  He explained the difference between autobots and decepticons, and then started talking about different kinds of dinosaurs, and I was confused but also impressed by his ability to retain knowledge.  L, who was three, was sitting at the kitchen table eating a hot dog.  I sat beside him and commented on the cartoon character on his shirt.  I taught him a secret handshake.  He told me a knock-knock joke that made no sense.

E was only two and very shy, clutching a small toy duck and peeking at me from behind the arm of the sofa.  Eventually she came forward, placed the duck in my lap, and ran off again.  She wasn’t very good at hiding though, so I always saw her peering around corners, watching my every move.  K was furious, screaming and crying and refusing her bottle, only 10 months old.  I picked her up and put her in the middle of Mark’s bed.  I sang her Too Ra Loo Ra, an Irish lullaby my mother always sang to me.  She fell asleep, and I fell in love…with these kiddos, before I even loved their father.

Now.

Now, we have all grown.  M can still be found on his electronics talking about Transformers or Godzilla, but not all the time.  When he comes here after school, he may retreat into the world of screens for a half an hour or so, but then he emerges and engages me in conversation or joins me in whatever activity I’m doing.  He is fourteen now, and becoming this amazing young man that makes me proud.

L is twelve going on twenty, and now all of his jokes make sense.  Sometimes he crosses a line, and I shoot him a look and receive a prompt apology in return, but for the most part he keeps us laughing.  And his heart…his heart is enormous.  Definitely the politest kids I’ve ever met, he has a well of compassion in him that I don’t think has a limit.  Everyday with him is a jovial surprise.

E just turned eleven, and is blowing my mind.  No longer shy and timid, she is a talkative and engaging girl who is maturing into this lovely young woman.  She’s clever and funny and helpful, and long gone are the days when she would tattle on her siblings or fib to me about nonsense I could prove.  Her smile brightens my day, and her actions make my heart swell with joy.  I am so looking forward to everything she will become.

K is ten now, no longer a crying baby.  She knows no life without me in it, no life where mom and dad were together, and sometimes I wonder if that’s why our connection is so strong.  To her, all of this is perfectly normal, not a careful configuration of parenting that took a decade to sort out.  Her personality has always been strong, but as she ages, she is finding herself, her cleverness and compassion being her strongest traits.  Saturday night, we celebrated her entry into the double-digits club.  No more babies in this house.

Being a step-parent is a peculiar thing.  We have a stereotype to battle, for one…everyone knows the story of the evil stepmother.  We are often looked at as “less than,” because we did not give birth to the child.  It’s frequently difficult for me because I feel like odd woman out a lot…I neither created the children (like their parents did) or live with them most of the time (like their stepfather does.)  Still, when I am with my kiddos, none of it matters.  I don’t think about anything except what’s best for them.  I love them more than I thought was possible, if I’m honest.  They have changed my life in a way that no one has, save perhaps their father.  Mark has even made me swear that should our relationship fail for whatever reason, I will not desert the kids.  He made me promise, when we got married, that I will always be their stepmother, even if I’m not his wife.  He, in turn, promised that should that tragedy ever happen, he would continue to encourage the kids to have a relationship with me.
It’s not many men that would put their kids feeling before their own like that.  Of course, I hope that never comes to pass, but it makes my heart happy to know that he would want me in the kids lives no matter what.  After all, like I said, I loved them first.

Being a step-parent can be hard, but there are blessings.  I see it when E surprises me with a fresh cup of coffee, or when K tells me to get in the office and start writing.  I see it when M takes an interest in what I’m doing, or L sneaks up and gives me an unexpected hug.  These kids were not always in my life, and I wasn’t always in theirs…but they don’t remember that.  They only remember how much I have loved them, and they return that love to me in spades.  

Being a step-parent is hard.  But I wouldn’t change it.  I wouldn’t give it up.  I am grateful every day for my kiddos, and I love them more than they will ever know. Their ability to inspire and encourage is astronomical, and they are growing into amazing little humans.  I never wanted kids of my own, but I am eternally grateful for the little hearts that found their way to me and opened my life up in the process.

NaNoWriMo, Week 1

Last Thursday was Halloween.  I went and handed out candy at my mother’s house, then came home and watched TV with Hubs like the thirty-something’s we are.  On Friday morning I awoke at 5am, unable to sleep due to bad dreams, which have been plaguing me lately.  I’ve been very stressed out so I’m sure this is the reason, but alas, I haven’t been sleeping well.  So 530am found me at my computer, retyping half of the first chapter of my novel.  I could easily have finished it, but I was pacing myself.  1667 word a day is rough.  I didn’t want to get too crazy.  On Saturday morning I finished the chapter and felt very proud of myself.  Only like 14 more to go.

Day three was a little trickier.  There was much research of the Eastern Meadowlark, as well as me trying to peck out a couple hundred extra words when I came up short.  I wasn’t discouraged though, and sat there typing away while my husband watched the football game.  Every once in a while, my click-clacking was interrupted by a holler from the other room.  I could tell the Bills were winning.

Monday found me on my sofa not wanting to move.  I had to update the blog as well as do NaNo, and I am running out of blog posts.  All my writing thoughts have been about the WIP (work in progress, for future reference,) and I have thus been neglecting my blog.  I mean it’s easy right now to do NaNo updates on Thursdays, but Mondays are looking pretty bare.

Anyway, I wasn’t feeling it, and then Hubs send me a text saying “break a leg on your writing today. You got this.”  That got me off my ass and into the office, where I finished up a blog post and got it out, then did 1500 words on the WIP.  A little encouragement goes a long way.  I told him so, and therefore on Tuesday I woke up to “never give up on your dreams, you’re an awesome writer.”

I went to the office and did 1800 words, then 2000 words of a short story that was taking up space in my field of vision and needed to disappear.  I felt that if I could get it out of me quickly then I could continue focusing on my WIP, which was getting away from me because of a stupid ghost story idea.

Yesterday I dropped another 1700 words which took me over 10k total.  I did another 2000 in the afternoon, and today I did 2400, bringing my total up to 14,768.

Pretty good start for a week.

Of course, everything I have done so far has been meticulously planned and many scenes were already written in bits and pieces.  In a few days, I will be writing without a net, so to speak; I have less material and notes for the middle and end of the book.  I know where I want to go, but we shall see what path I take to get there.

In a few days, my friend Sahar will be in town, and we are planning an epic 24-hour write-in.  I am both excited to be working alongside my friend and terrified that she will be typing away while I stare at the ceiling trying to peck out 100 words.  This is a stupid fear of course, and I will do everything in my power to ignore it, but it’s symbolic of how I feel without having so much material to work from.  Still…I got this far.  I wrote this much.  I can do this, right?

And so, week 1 comes to a close, and we move on to week 2.  I am on the end of Chapter 4 currently, and am excited to see where I will be in another week, even if I am terrified that I will run out of words.  To my fellow NaNo buddies, keep plugging away!  I promise to do the same.

Dead Man Reading

Today I was rereading a story I wrote that was published at Soft Cartel, a literary journal that went out of business not long ago but fortunately retains its archives.  I love this little story and I loved this site for publishing it.  It was one of the best acceptances I ever got, actually. “I was wary of this piece and afraid that it would be a cliché, POV experiment. I was wrong in thinking that.”  I do love proving people wrong, and I will always remember this acceptance because it was the first I ever recieved for a story. 

Of course, now Soft Cartel is gone and I don’t know what to do with my sad little tale of a dog having a bad day.  I am planning on submitting it to a few mags that print previously published material.  I am hopeful I will find it a new home, but I am sad that the journal that originally published it is gone. 

I see people on Twitter posting about such things, and how they search for their old poems or stories and find only dead links.  How sad this is to me, that their creative sparks have been erased, and how grateful I am that at least Soft Cartel kept its archives.  But for how long?  Eventually someone is not going to want to pay for web hosting anymore.  Eventually my story will be gone, too.

I went on Submittable the other day (for the uninformed, Submittable is a platform for sending your work to publishers.)  I have two sets of poems that have been listed as “received” for the past year, and one that has been “in progress” since January.  Both “received” journals claim to be open for submission, but have no dates on their work so I don’t know if they’re still in existence.  If not, close your Submittable portal!!!  Archive your website, or shut it down!!  At least change your submission page to say that you are closed to submissions!  It’s infuriating.

 The other journal seems to still be producing work, so I shall bide my time a little longer before inquiring about my pieces. 

I keep an extensive file of everywhere I have submitted, been rejected, or been accepted.  Yes, journals come and go, but with every entry I add to my list, there is that spark of hope that makes me think “maybe this is the one.”  So, it’s extra annoying when you find out that no, this isn’t the one, and they weren’t even going to let you know. 

Still, I feel like it would be worse to have an acceptance, and then have the mag shut down.  Your words become lost, and lonely, and begging to be read.  I have a flash piece upcoming at Edify Fiction.  At least, I’m under the impression that I do.  It’s been nearly a year and I haven’t heard back from them about publication dates.  They’re still producing, so I’m being patient, but I really like this piece and want the world to read it.  I have often worried they will go out of business before I get that chance. 

Someday, inevitably, something I have written will disappear forever.  I do not look forward to this moment.  I write to share my words with others and if I’m not doing that, then I’m not succeeding at my craft.  In my opinion, at least.

Anyway, if you would like to read my little story before it disappears, you can find it HERE.  I wish all my writer friends many years of successful journal publications.  May we never see a 404 page again.

Of Grief and Friendship

Hubs asked me a question that knocked me on my butt the other day.  “What were you doing at 23?”  I had literally no idea.  I couldn’t come up with one single thing that happened in 2006.  He knew where he was: “jumping.”  Jobs, women, substances, etc.  My sister Bernie is 23 today, and I wonder if 13 years from now she too will wonder what the hell she was up to.  Probably not.  She has a nice healthy brain that hasn’t been controlled for years by anti-depressants.

There’s some time I have lost.  I can’t pinpoint much of my twenties, not just 23.  I also have no recollection of third grade, which occurred right after my grandmother died. It’s not like the drugs I was using were recreational, aside from some occasional marijuana, and I was never a big drinker, so really I think I have to blame that old cocktail of trauma and psych meds.  I asked my mother what I was doing in 2006.

She told me that’s the year my aunt Ka died, and then the floodgates opened.

I handle death very well and very poorly at the same time.  Poorly in that when it’s someone very close to me, I will block out a lot of the time surrounding their passing.  I honestly don’t remember most funerals I have been to.  I also hate going to wakes, as they cause instant panic attacks.  On the other hand, someone will pass away and I will grieve quickly, which is nice. I unfortunately do this by picturing them on a sunny island somewhere for an extended period of time. 

Ka has been in the Philippines for 13 years.

I vividly remember the night she died.  It was Christmas day, and I had cooked dinner for my family.  She was in the hospital and it would be the first year she wasn’t with us, but I was going to go see her after dinner.  My parents called and said they wouldn’t be home in time and to eat without them.  It was strange.  Then after dinner, as I was serving dessert, Dad called and said to come to the hospital right away.  When we got there and he told me she was unresponsive and unlikely to make it through the night, I ran to the bathroom and threw up Christmas dinner.

That night Jaime and Molly and I went out for milkshakes.  They had a vigil the following day at the convent, as Ka was a Sister of Mercy (a nun, in laymen’s terms.)  My friend Katy sat next to me and held my hand.  The next night there was a wake.  I remember many of my friends coming and that got me through it, but I had a big panic attack beforehand.  Afterwards my friend Tom took me out to a party.  The following day was the funeral, and I sobbed over her coffin, then ran crying from the church.  I remember Christina, my best friend from youth, coming and sitting with me in the reception area during the Mass.  I had other friends around me as well.

The point is that my friends are the ones who got me though that, who made it so I could let go to the best of my abilities and send Ka off to the Philippines of my mind.  I went back into my LiveJournal to see what I was doing in 2006, and one thing is prevalent: friendship.  I was spending a lot of time with a lot of amazing people.

That was the year my aunt Mary and I went to New Jersey to meet Kevin Smith.  That was a year of many parties and Jackdaw concerts with Katy, Rick, and Tom.  The year me and Kev got acupuncture.  Endless Wednesday night get-together with Jaime, Andy, Molly, Chelsea, Steve, and Will.  Mad Yellow Sun concerts with Nick and Doug.  The list goes on.  The point is that I was at a low point and didn’t even realize it, and these people were there for me though it all.

Sadly, life, she moves on.  My friends are now scattered to the winds.  Andy and Christina live on different continents.  Katy, Will, Nick, and Doug live in different states.  The friends that I still have here have careers and families and lives to live, just like me, so it’s very hard to keep in touch, and eventually we all move on.

I put a meme on Facebook a while back about missing the bonds I used to have with people.  From that meme, I got an inside joke from my buddy Dennis, a message from Christina with plans to see each other when she’s next on this side of the planet, a coffee date with Chelsea, and plans to meet up with Lissa and Joe, my friends from college. 

Sometimes you just need to say “Hey-I miss your face.”

This is a weird post, as we went from death to friendship.  But what really gets us though death?  Our friends.  Sometimes our family can’t be there for us because they are grieving too, but our friends pick up that slack.  I blocked 2006 because of death, but I reopened that door while reading about my friends.  You, my random reader, don’t know these people, so you’re unaware, but trust me when I tell you that I have been very lucky in the good friend’s department.  They had the power to heal what was hurting in me when I didn’t even realize I needed to be healed.

I have been making a conscious effort to keep up with the people I love for the past few months.  Between my mother’s injury and my father’s radiation, I have been holding the people that matter a little closer, thinking of them a little more often, and trying to reconnect.  So, if you’re reading this and you’re an old friend of mine, please know I love you, and I miss you, and I will always be grateful for your place in my life. 

Call me.  Seriously.  Whenever.

Write or Die

I’m running low on blog topics. 

I went to one of those sites that give ideas and they suggested lists and tips and such, which I simply do not do.  Unless I’m listing things that piss me off, or giving tips on managing panic attacks.  Right now, it is two in the afternoon and raining, and I don’t feel like doing much of anything, let alone writing, but here I sit racking my brain for ideas because if I don’t write, I’ll die.

That sounds dramatic, but it’s the way I look at things.  Everything inspires me, from some beautiful experience of nature to a song with amazing lyrics.  I watch television and analyze storylines and dialogue.  I read books and wonder how the author managed to get so many words out of them.  Everything pushes me to write, from convos with Hubs to interactions with strangers.  If I were to not write about it, it would all live in my head and weigh on me until I crumble.  So, write or die.  Which is my credo right now.  Why?

During the month of November, I will be doing NaNoWriMo.  I have decided that I will blog about my progress on Thursdays.  I will have to type at least 1,666 words a day for a month to accomplish my goal.  This is both daunting and exciting.  I am currently ready to roll, with an outline, several pages of character development and notes, and an idea of what I want to accomplish.  I am working on little things right now, like preparing my office, making a writing playlist, and working on a storyboard on Pinterest.  I can’t wait to actually start writing, and Friday cannot come soon enough. 

Finishing this novel means a lot to me.  It’s not just some fun little experiment I am trying out, it’s more important than that.  It’s the first steps towards a future doing what I want to do instead of what someone is telling me I should be doing.  I am committed to finishing my novel, editing it, and getting it out there for the world to see.  Yes, that’s some big ambition and lots of pressure to put on myself, but I am doing it because it needs to be done.  I need pressure to work well, and I need to see what I can accomplish with a deadline. 

My dream, perhaps lofty, is to someday publish my book and make money off it.  I suppose this is a dream of many writers.  Yes, my biggest hope is that people will read my work, but I wouldn’t be opposed to them buying it as well.  I have been lost at sea this past year, unable to work due to illness, and I want to be able to do something that brings a paycheck into this house.  Yes, it will take time.  Yes, it will be a lot of work.  But yes, I believe myself capable.

The only thing, besides my brief foray into theater, that I consider myself talented at is writing.  Yes, I generally think everything I write is trash, but there are these moments…I will be rereading something I write, and I will forget that I am the one who wrote it.  I will be transported to this world where I am just the reader, and after I snap out of it, I am amazed with myself.  This happens on occasion and always pushes me a little harder when it does.  I come out of my trance believing that I really can write something good that someone will like, something that may even be ::gasp:: marketable. 

Marketing oneself is my downfall.  For instance, I read somewhere that publishers like to see a high follow count on Twitter.  I don’t know how true this is, but I figured it can’t hurt and went hard in the Twitterverse for the past couple months trying to get my follower count up.  Which worked out really well, because I have met some awesome writing folk this way.  However, I don’t think my number of Twitter followers should have anything to do with whether or not someone publishes my manuscript.  I see a lot of these Twitter authors using the platform for marketing their work and developing a brand, another thing that seems foreign to me.  I am trying to do the same, but as I have said many times, it feels like a combination of begging and bragging, and I’m just no good at either.  I know I’m putting the cart before the horse when I discuss marketing before having a publisher.  Still, these things must be thought about.  It’s the following step, and if I truly want to believe in myself, I must believe that step is coming. 

I must believe it is all coming.

I must believe I can write those 1,666 words a day, because otherwise, I will die inside from lack of trying.  I write because I have to, and now it is my novel’s turn to be written.  I am terrified; I am ecstatic.  I am sure I will have many moments of doubt and frustration.  I am hoping, always, that I will have moments where I read the words I wrote and forget that I penned them.  Either way, I will push myself to make this work, because I don’t have a choice, you see.

Write or die.

Playing God

Once upon a time, I was an actress.

There’s like a mountain of backstory involving my ten-year theatrical career that I will definitely write about at some point in my life but let’s just sum it up for right now with that one sentence.

One day I get a call from a guy I know that runs a company that was putting on a series of short plays, and he and one of the directors were looking for someone to play a role in one of them, and they thought I would be perfect.  This was the first time I had actually been called and asked to play a part without an audition or anything so I felt like hot shit for about ten minutes and then started panicking because the show was in less than two weeks.  I don’t remember how many pages it was, but I do remember staying up late reading it over and over and over every night for a week.  It wasn’t a difficult part, but for me acting was never that hard, honestly.  I was a pro at make-believe as a child, and I have no problem slipping into another character.  Also, they wanted me to play God. 

Literal God, as in Lord and Savior.   A God who was female, and progressive, and schooling a Christian on evolution vs. intelligent design.  At the time, I was a liberal, feminist stage manager, so it wasn’t that far of a stretch for me to play a broadminded creator of the universe. 

Anyway, I learned the lines and did the part and got the applause.  I did it in about a week.  It was stressful, but I went at it like a beast and accomplished the goal.

So why, a decade later, and I freaking out right now?

I wrote this poem called Halloween that you can find here.  It was the first poem I had published since I was a teenager, and I went and entered it in a Halloween poem contest at my local book store on a whim because the prize was Stephen King books, and I love adding to that branch of my library.  Then after I did that, I read a little more accurately and found that the prize is also an open mic slot.  Which means that I have to come up with material to possibly read in front of a crowd.  Now, as stated by my God story, it isn’t so much the audience or the performance aspect that bothers me.  It’s the choosing of the poems, which is a direct reflection on myself as a writer, and the mingling with the people, which I was pretty good at back in my theater days but not so much anymore. 

First there’s the poems.  I have a very love/hate relationship with my work.  The ones I don’t like are always the ones others like and the ones I love are never picked up by anybody.  I don’t want to get up there and go on about a bunch of stuff I care about but no one else understands, but I also don’t want to read stuff that I think sucks just so others applaud. 

Then, there’s the mingling.  I went to this poetry group last month with Beth and I was not too nervous to read but as soon as it was over and people started talking, I clammed right up and needed some air.  I used to OWN rooms like that!  I think back to my first experience in theater when I was sixteen and joined a youth troupe that met on Tuesday nights.  I was scared that first time, but I made myself go back.  But there was Rose, you see.  Rose was this woman that ran the group, and she made me feel so welcome, instantly.  I knew I belonged there, so making myself go back was easier.  I don’t know if I belong in this group.  I want to, as it is right near my house and I have been desperately wanting to connect with other writers outside of the Twitterverse.  But I have to push myself to go, solo this time.

I also think it’s a costume party, which I hate because you never know who’s really going to wear a costume.  I usually wear black so I’ll just go with that and hide a witch hat in my purse in case of emergencies, I think.

Oh, and this is tomorrow.  I don’t have two weeks to prepare like when I played God, I’ve only got a few hours and I still don’t know what poems I’m reading.  What am I doing blogging?  I have to go figure this out.