Friday, November 16, 2007

Five Reasons I Love Friday

These are my five reasons I love Fridays:

1. Library Time: I get to spend three uninterrupted and non-distractable hours writing in my local library quiet room where no children can yell that the bathroom is out of toilet paper or that the new carton of orange juice just slipped out of their hands and is now all over the kitchen floor and spreading precariously close to the stairs (and yes, my four year old would use a word like precariously!)

2. My Entertainment Weekly is waiting in my mailbox: A little fluff never hurt anyone. And since I got the subscription free, it's a guiltless pleasure. Besides, I only read it for the book reviews anyway!

3. I get to stay up late: I am by nature a night owl, which I've come to discover is quite handy during those college years but not so much when you have young kids that need to be up at the crack of dawn for school ( and expect lunches and breakfasts and packed backpacks and a ride to school!). Friday, I get to stay up and watch all my favorite TiVo-ed shows without dreading the alarm clock!

4. Wine! This falls under the same reasoning as #3.

5. It's Pizza Night: This is the only day of the week I actually know what is for dinner before dinner time. I make our dinners every night, and it is the bane of my existance. I love cooking. I just don't like trying to figure out what I can cook that four very picky people will eat without too much aggravation. But Friday, for the last many, many years, is pizza night. And while I'm at the library, typing diligently on my book, the dough is already at home rising. In the words of Forrest Gump, That's one less thing!

Happy Friday!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

“A cynic is a man who, when he smells flowers, looks around for a coffin.” -H. L. Menken.

I am tired of cynicism. It seems like every time I turn around someone is saying how impossible something is. Life is hard, no doubt. Nothing is easy and perfect, but how about focusing on all the possibilities rather than the difficulties?

I use to be a positive person. I could do anything. I could be successful at whatever I put my mind to. It wasn't conceit. It's that confidence that every modern mother wants to implant in her daughter. The world is her oyster.

That was then. This is now. Now, my greatest fear is that I am not good enough; that no matter how hard I try, I will be part of the masses stumbling over their own feet in the dark, beating my head against a brick wall that I can't break through.

Every (reliable) website I read about publishing makes it appear that being published is beyond realism. I have been so pulled in by this cynicism that I thought I'd keep this blog as a way to document every rejection letter... I bought three bottles of champagne: one for when I finish my revision, one for when I send out my first query, and one for my first rejection. I have steeled myself for it, psyched myself up for it, tried to look forward to it until I realized today that I have not allowed myself to think of the possibility of getting a request for more pages. After all, I can't control that, so why look forward to something that may never happen?

I hate cynicism. I hate that I have become a cynic, because that is not who I am.

Because sometimes looking forward to something that may or may not happen is what life is all about. I choose to see the flowers and look around for my camera.

Monday, October 29, 2007

To Erase or Not to Erase (or how much to cater to an agent)

On my journey to figuring out the age old question, "What next?" I find myself a little stumped in my query quest. I thought I'd try to get ahead of the game (or at least in the game) and seek the wise internet for exactly what an agent wants, only to find that not only do they not all want the same thing, what one wants may absolutely turn another against you, and not just in my novel writing, but even in just my query!

One site tells me the best way to "hook" a query reader is to ask the hypothetical question that will want them to read on, but blogging agent Nathan Bransford, one of my new favorites, has very strong sentiments against the hypothetical question. In the famous words of Nathan, "For the love of JustinBobby!" I certainly plan on customizing my queries to each agent, but unless I'm picked up by one of the first four (and I completely understand the astronomical odds against that!), I think I may die of old age before I could write a new and different query for each submission! It's taking me longer to get the query perfect than it took me to write the silly book!

And then, when five people read it and find five different things they would change to make it better, who to listen to? How does a writer go about figuring out what really needs to be adjusted and what is fine as it is? Do I follow my instincts? I have rewritten my first chapter fifty times trying to get it to that "I'd definitely want to read the rest of the book" stage. How much is too much?

I love that Nathan Bransford just let people submit their first paragraph for him to choose his favorites. No rose for me in that ceremony (or even a token carnation), but all the same I learned a ton. For instance, the other people independent of him that judged the entries for themselves picked entirely different favorites. Lesson learned? I need much thicker skin and a higher tolerance for rejection and failure, because there are a thousand people who will hate what one will love.

Maybe my husband is right: I should go into computers and math, because there is definitely a right and wrong answer in those fields. On the other hand, I remember using a lot of erasers in Calculus too...

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Dreaming with my stilettos on

A friend just came back from New York City, full of the energizing feeling of walking the streets and working on Broadway. I sometimes dream of that day when I will be walking the streets there, too. Specifically, wearing red stilettos and a strikingly red power suit, pulling open some great glass door to a magnificent highrise where my dream agent will be waiting for me with a glass of champagne and a contract.

Hey, if I'm going to dream big, I might as well dream in specifics. Some writers visualize the book cover, the signings, their name on the top of the best seller list. For me, it's all about the journey. I used to dream of sitting down each day, a cup of coffee next to me and my computer on my lap, and writing blissfully hour after hour. So this year, after tossing my youngest one out into the scary world of public education, I am living the dream. I'm all hopped up on caffeine, two letters have completely worn off my keyboard, and I am obsessing over rewrites and queries. It's time for a new dream. So stilettos, a power suit, and a New York agent are it.

It may be a long way off, and maybe it will never be anything but a dream, but still I allow myself to go there in my head every now and then, because seeing it so vividly gives me hope to keep writing, even when the journey seems hard.

And because, in the dreams, my legs look awesome in stilettos!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Writer's Block = Laundry Day

Today I am an aspiring writer. Somedays I am a writer, Somedays I am a writer because I write. Today I am aspiring, because I want to write, but I'm not.

My biggest challenge as a mom and writer is how much time do I devote to a job that doesn't promise a paycheck? I have spent two years trying to write a novel in between doing my main job: raising three kids. If I had birthday parties to plan, I didn't write. If I had loads of laundry that had to been done, I didn't write. When time seemed to close in on me, writing was the first task to go. As a result, two years after starting I was only 200 pages into a novel that should have taken a few months.

This year I pledged I would devote myself without reservation to writing, no matter the consequences. After all, all the working moms I know can't just say, "I'm not coming in today because I have no milk in the house." That, and my husband suggested that next year, when last child begins school full time, I find a job that pays. My time is running out.

So I have been writing, every day, two and a half hours at least, and what do you know? In less than six weeks I finished the thing! About 100,000 words, 300 pages, beginning, middle and end, with character and plot and resolution.

Now, I am rewriting. I thought this would be the easy part. I am not clinging to this project like it's a baby. It is fraught with problems, and trying to solve them, and make it marketable instead of just an accomplishment on my part, is turning into a full time job. It feels like my brain is squeezing into a tiny bubble that might pop at any minute.

I am struggling to find the right format, the right words, the right timeline. Meanwhile, laundry is piling up, company is coming, the fridge is bare and the rug under the kitchen table needs a serious moment with a vacuum. Do I sit down and wrestle again with words that won't come, and feel like I've wasted an entire afternoon, or do I attack the housework and fall further into the trap that I've been in for two years?

Maybe my main character can do laundry in the next chapter... in that case, can I consider my own housework research?

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Meditations in the Middle of the Night

"And we know that God causes all things to work together for good for those who love Him..." Romans 8:28

Last night my youngest daughter came down with the stomach flu. I wonder sometimes why the stomach flu always hits our house at midnight: after the kids are well asleep and too groggy to help themselves, but before I have gotten any shutteye. The heavings seemed to come like contractions: every ten to fifteen minutes from midnight until after six in the morning and I spent the entire night doing laundry and laying next to her on the very cold floor and praying.

I have been studying Romans in my Bible study and this verse was fresh in my mind. I had much time to meditate on it as I prayed and I tried hard to listen to God speak in the darkness.

I prayed, of course, that God would heal my little one, that she would miraculously get well. I knew that this was unlikely, which was not to say I didn't believe God could do it. God can do anything, and a little stomach flu would be nothing to Him to cure. But I also know God doesn't always do our bidding. not because He doesn't care or because He is not actively involved in our lives, but because these things which are hard on us are of use to us, and because, for reasons I do not always understand, God allows suffering, even for those who love Him.

I have grappled with this long and hard, this idea that God will allow bad things to happen to people. Can good always come out of bad? There are so many questions to deal with, like cancer and car accidents and starvation and poverty and terrorist regimes, I won't touch. I don't have all the answers, and last night wasn't about these things. It was about a little girl who was sick, and a very tired and delirious mom who was trying to survive the night.

I used to think that "work together for good" meant God would make even the bad circumstances to become good in the long run, but I have come to realize this isn't at all what God means. Sometimes He will do this, and things that are awful can give birth to great happenings. Joni Erickson Tada is a great example of this. A woman who became paralyzed in a terrible diving accident, who has lost the use of her legs and arms, has found great power in her new life. She has become a world-renowned artist, drawing with a pen in her teeth (surely a talent she would not have found without the accident!), and writing inspirational books, giving lectures that give hope and open the doors of faith to countless people, singing and inspiring. Her life is so much more powerful because of her paralysis. I might argue, though, that the best result of this accident is what God has done IN Joni, and not just through her. The good Paul mentions in this verse is the good God is doing IN us. It does not mean God will change our circumstances to good, but that He will use the circumstances we find ourselves in to mold us more like Him. Which is why, in the dark of the night, holding the little body of my sick child, I prayed that God would take away her sickness, but if He chose not to, that my daughter and I might have strength to get through the night, and that God would grant me the gentleness and patience and love needed but so scarce when I am tired. And that prayer He most definitely answered.