Saturday, December 27, 2008

Y2K came today - just 9 years too late

I know, I know.... the blog is freaking out. For some reason the template I use has imploded. Interestingly, it has happened to a whole bunch of blogs that use this template.

I'd flip it to one of the blogger templates until I fix it, but then I'd lose all my links.

I'm too tired tonight to figure out what happened. I'm going to do what I do best with technology that isn't working: turn it off and hope tomorrow it magically fixes itself.

*** UPDATE***

The turning it off thing didn't work. After extensive Googling and some interesting page translations, I have found the fix to the HTML. Apparently too many gringos were using this Brazilian template (their words, not mine) and it crashed the site. So it's fixed. Sort of. Now I have to spend the rest of the evening translating everything on the template back into English and adding back into it all the HTML and links I lost. Sigh. At least I got it back. And my seven years of Spanish are coming in handy.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Doing our part to save the publishing industry



And this was just Christmas Eve. Looking at the unwrapped presents this year, it's hard to believe we aren't single-handedly keeping bookstores afloat.

Life is good.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas



I meant to write this today, but time got away and suddenly, as I sit to write, it's already officially Christmas day.

We have a nativity set my children love to arrange, the wise men coming with their gifts, camel following. The shepherds in the fields watching over their sheep and the angel who arrives to tell them a Savior is born. A stable: an ugly, dirty, hay-strewn stable with a cow and a trough, and a mom and dad with a newborn baby.

They love Christmas because of that little baby. Because God is huge and unseeable and hard to comprehend, but Jesus - he's a baby. They understand a baby.

Yet when we lay him in the feeding trough, I think that the baby is harder to understand than God. He was before the world, he helped make the world with his own hands, and then came as a baby to live in it. He was all God, yet all man. He who flung the stars in space, who separated the light from the dark and the water from the land, came as a baby completely dependent on two very human, fallible parents. Parents young enough to be my children.

How much did Mary really understand? As she lay exhausted and tired and scared and mostly alone in that stable, holding a baby no different looking than any other, how much did she know? Could she even begin to imagine what life held in store? Could she even begin to imagine that the baby boy she kissed was God?

This Christmas one particular song keeps playing in my head over and over. Words to ponder this day as you celebrate the day:

Mary, did you know
That your baby boy will one day walk on water?
Did you know
That your baby boy will save our sons and daughters?

Did you know

That your baby boy has come to make you new?

This child that you've delivered

Will soon deliver you

Mary, did you know
That your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?

Did you know

That your baby boy will calm a storm with his hand?

Did you know

That your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
And when you kiss your little boy
You've kissed the face of God

Mary, did you know?
The blind will see

The deaf will hear

And the dead will live again

The lame will leap
The dumb will speak

The praises of the lamb


Mary, did you know
That your baby boy is lord of all creation?
Did you know
That your baby boy will one day rules the nations?

Did you know

That your baby boy is heavens perfect lamb?
This sleeping child you're holding

Is the great I am

To all of you from me: Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 22, 2008

There's a Christmas Party....

over at my other favorite Heidi's blog. A blog party! I'm heading over with my scrumptious cookies that I spent all weekend decorating,


and some hot chocolate, in case the blog nog is all gone by the time I get there.


I'm stopping by the local high school first, for a candlelight vigil for my friend Jean and her son Jim. It's six degrees outside right now, so something hot will really taste good. Keep that fire roaring, Heidi! And save some of those awesome bacon-wrapped things!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

In Memory


Twenty four years ago I met Jean Smith. We were freshmen in high school and as different as night and day. I was shy. She was outgoing. I was a reader. She was a talker. We should have never been friends. And yet, we became the best of friends.

In truth, she was probably the person I wanted to be. Vivacious. Well-loved. Happy and confident and talented beyond belief. We both joined the speech team and spent many weekends together in school cafeterias and rental vans and hotel rooms. We terrorized Buffalo, New York with Groucho Marx mustache glasses and pretended to fall over the side of Niagra Falls. We wrote poetry about our teenage angsts and endless notes that we passed in the hall between classes. When she had her first baby, I was the first non-relative in the room, snapping photos of the amazing blue-eyed little girl. We sang the entire works of Billy Joel more times than is humane.

In fact, when I called last month, after four years of not seeing each other to say we absolutely needed to do lunch that Friday, she said, "Billy Joel came on the radio today and I was thinking exactly the same thing!" So, after four years, we met for lunch. And talked. And talked. And talked for hours, as if no time had passed at all.

Late this past Friday night, when I opened my laptop to turn it off, a message flashed across my facebook page. Jean was dead.

Sometime on Friday afternoon, after going to the high school to say Merry Christmas to the many teachers and students she works with, she went home. Her son Connor came home to find her, and her other son Jim shot to death in their own house.

My grief is overwhelming. For 36 hours time seemed to stand still for me. All my grand plans for the weekend disappeared. I am baffled, depressed. I want to sleep. Instead I cry. I hunt through boxes frantically, trying to find old photos I know I have but haven't seen in ages, and instead I come across letters in her beautiful scrawl.

There is no reason for this. Even if the police find something, some reason, there is no reason. There is no reason for a 39 year old mother and her 19 year old son, to be shot in their own home in the middle of the day.

On her facebook profile Jean writes: We all choose the times and the places and people where we think we should be. I hope that I am where I am needed, and that I chose wisely. I will have the opportunity to be remembered for what I have done, instead of what I have failed to do.....

Hundreds of people have organized spontaneous vigils. The high school where she served as a Choir Mom has set up counseling sessions. Her facebook page is filling with memorials from people she has befriended and affected as much as she did me. I think she chose well.

Goodbye Jean. I love you sky big.

Friday, December 19, 2008

It's Friday; It's a Good Thing

While this day didn't start out in any fantastic way, it has come around quite nicely. So in the spirit of all things Martha Stewart, here's my Friday list of things that are very good.

1. My new very good friend in the blogosphere, author Kimberly Derting, has tagged me for an I Heart Your Blog award. WOW! My very first award. (I say, dabbing the corners of my eyes with a tissue). Here is what she had to say about me on her blog:

Heidi Willis at Ocean Deep is a newbie for me. I’ve just started reading her blog, and I have to say, so far I love it! She has great information for those writers still trying to snag an agent’s attention, complete with articles and links. Plus, she totally taught me what a pellet stove was. Hurrah!

She also said I am funny and insightful.

I'll say it again: WOW! That pellet stove problem is really paying off for me! Not four hundred bucks worth, but hey - you can't buy an award like this! I love Kimberly's blog as well, and if you haven't gone there, you should, because she makes me laugh so hard I get cheek cramps. And she is publishing what sounds like a totally amazing book called The Body Finders. I've already got my 2009 calendar marked for the coming out date!

It's a pay-it-forward award, so I'll be posting my nominations next week. I know you'll be on pins and needles!

2. Well, you'd think nothing could compete with that kind of award, but I've got one that comes close. My Christmas cards are in the mail! Yes, stamped, signed, stuffed and all! Woo Hoo! Egg nog for all my friends!

3. Bun Warmers. Seriously. A VERY good thing. So good, my buns only want to live in the car. I keep thinking, Is there somewhere I need to drive today? I must have some errands to run! This is only my second winter owning a car with such a luxury, and now I can't imagine owning any other car. My buns are in heaven! Aaaaaahhhhhhh...... Can we get this kind of technology put into couches? Because with bun warmers in the couch and a laptop on my lap... well, who would need a pellet stove??

4. Christmas break. Now, I know some mothers are not at all excited about having kids home from school for two weeks, but well, I kinda like my kids. They are very cool. And they like baking cookies with me. And playing Wii. And watching Christmas movies. And making the grandparents art projects. And in general, they are just cool. And besides, it means that for two weeks (Christmas day excluded) I get to sleep in. Hooray for sleeping in!

5. We had company last weekend - company so enthralling and awesome and fun that I completely MISSED that last weekend was Survivor finale. SO: I have FOUR hours of Survivor on my DVR!! FOUR!! And I have no idea who won, which is absolutely fantabulous! So tonight I am cranking up that pellet stove, settling in with a glass of wine (or two) and completely and utterly relaxing. I KNOW! It's only six days to Christmas and I am going to relax!

Happy weekend to all, and to all a good night!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Where's the Egg Nog When You Need It?

My Christmas cards are nearly ready to go out! Yay! And in record lateness for me, too! All I need to do is sign them, pick up our family photos at the store and buy a new ink cartridge and print out the rest of the letters and then stuff it all, put return labels on and stamp them! Pshaw - if I hold off sending them two more days it's possible half the people won't even get them before Christmas!

And why was this year harder? Undeniably, it was that pesky letter. That little update we always send with the cards so people we don't talk to every year know what's going on with us.

I put off writing the letter. Then I wrote it, trashed it, wrote it again, trashed it, wrote it again. Gave it to my husband to read, who handed it back and said, "It's okay. It's lacking something though. It feels like a list of things we did."

Aaaarg!

And then I realized why it is so hard this year. Tucked under mountains of information about the kids activities and places we've traveled, we've included the fact that I am seriously writing and trying to find an agent.

And that, folks, is the pressure. Because if I am a writer who wants to be published, surely I can write one measly little creative Christmas letter, right? One that everyone would read and say, "Oh! She should be a writer! She could get even this stuff published!" Every line I write, I think, is this good enough? Is this something an author -a real, published writer - might write?

The pressure, people, is like an anvil weighing down on me. I kick. I scream. I cry. Well, not outright, but inside I am. Finally, the hubby says, "just tell them to come read the blog."

What a great solution! Happily I type this in. Ha! I think. I'm done.

Then I see this blog and think, shoot. It ain't like this is all that creative and entertaining either. I guess I won't be writing memoirs any time soon!

Alert the press. Cards are going to be late this year. I think I need a good glass of egg nog.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

That was one expensive piece of coal...

So I've been asked the question: What is a pellet stove? So here it is, in all it's working glory.



Kinda looks like a fireplace, eh? Only with more expensive parts. That stop working erratically.

May I Have Another Piece of Coal, Sir?

The Pellet Stove Guy is here. It's cold in my house. It's been cold since November when winter decided it had had enough of fall and kicked it to the curb and we discovered that somewhere between April and November our pellet stove developed quite an attitude.

So there's been no heat, and apparently it's a rash of attitudes because the Pellet Stove Guy was booked until February when I called. And apparently in all of Virginia, Maryland and DC there is only ONE Pellet Stove Guy. Bummer.

So I did my little happy dance last week when he called and said he could fit me in today. YAY! Except he has been here over three hours and can't figure out what was wrong. For two months it has refused to drop pellets. No pellets, no fire. Pellet Guy, in all his niceness, called and talked me through a diagnosis over the phone for an hour one Sunday in the hopes that we could get it working before we froze into Popsicles. No success. No pellets. So today he comes, turns it on and WaLa! Pellets. I could have strung it's little iron-pipe neck.

I write the check for Pellet Stove Guy's time, grimacing at having to pay over a hundred big ones in the thick of economically depressed Christmas season while we watch the stove happily spit pellets into a roaring fire and wait for the blower to kick on. Only it doesn't. Not after one hour. Not after two. Not after Pellet Stove Guy drives to the hardware store, gets a part, returns, installs it and finds out that's not the problem. So we got fire. But no heat. I'm no expert but I'm pretty sure this isn't the way it's suppose to work.

Now I am starving, because I had no breakfast and I'm not sure what the etiquette is for eating in front of Pellet Stove Guy (and his very nice wife who fetches tools and holds the flashlight). Am I under obligation to feed them too? And is that on the clock? I can't fix lunch and not invite them.... that goes against everything my mother taught me.

Sigh. Pretty soon I have to go pick up the kids. I'm pretty sure tonight is going to be cold in the house. And I'm hungry. It's starting to feel like I'm in an Oliver Twist novel.

And just yesterday it was a sci-fi book. In retrospect, my life is pretty interesting after all.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Who's In Charge of This Stuff?

I looked up at the clock suddenly and it is after one. In the afternoon. And I am still in my sweats with no make-up and a ponytail and an empty stomach. Is it possible there was a time-warp while I was checking emails?

How does the time suddenly disappear like that?

I think the problem lies when my universe gets out of whack. My small, orderly, routine universe. Upended by something as simple as, say, my husband driving my car today instead of his. My car. Which has my head phones in it. The ones I use at the gym. The gym I go to every morning.

There was truly a sense of panic and the world dropping out from under me when I opened the door and realized what had gone down. Kids crashing through the garage, yippee-ing about getting to drive to school in the monster truck that is my husband's usual ride and the bane of my existence. The big, huge, honking four-wheel extended bed quad cab truck that can't make the necessary turn in the drop-off lane at the elementary school. The one that does not have my headphones.

Any normal person would flex with this... pick up the shattered pieces and move on. I, however, found myself in a dilemma. My entire day was planned, starting with the gym. But I can't work out without headphones, can I? Who can do the cardio machine for an hour without some kind of music or TV station blaring in their ears?

So while I was making the 25-point turn in the drop-off lane, I made the decision to go back home and get some stuff done. I'll utilize the day. Get caught up on my crit group and emails and blogs that I've let go the week when I was going crazy. I'd bake some Christmas cookies that I'm behind on. I'll finish Christmas cards and our letter. I'll rewrite that query and first chapter. I'll wrap presents. I'll shower and get dressed and make soup.

Which all begs the question, in hindsight, exactly how much time did I think I was spending at the gym???

Still, you would have thought I could get something done. My first, and biggest mistake, was starting with the computer stuff. A few emails. Catch up on those blogs (man y'all have been chatty the last week!!). Yeah... that and.... and....

Well, that's it. That's all I've done. And four hours have past. FOUR HOURS!

I'm telling you.... I'm in the middle of some sci-fi book and there has been a time warp!

So if you are writing this book that stars me as your main character, could you at least make me come out of the time warp on the other side showered and clean? I'd really like that. Thanks.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

I'm Feeling Very "Fortunate"

Cracked open a fortune cookie yesterday and this is what I found:



Do you think it's a sign?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Effects of Fiction Writing on a Mac Keyboard

At the beginning of 2008, when I was getting serious about writing, I noticed a strange phenomenon. The N on my keyboard was starting to disappear. I don't have an N in my name, or in my passwords or email. It was however a letter in the name of two main characters.

Hmmm......

By June, the N was almost completely gone, along with half of the H. Not surprising I suppose, since I do sign my name a lot.

I actually wasn't paying much attention, though, since I don't look at my keyboard when writing until yesterday when I gave it to my son to research for his science project. He looks at me strangely and says, "You're missing a bunch of letters, Mom. How am I suppose to know what to type?"

Indeed, the N, the H, the C, the M and the Y are entirely gone. The E is quickly disappearing too, along with the B which now just looks like a lower case B (Hmmm, could that be the use of the name Babs??). Interestingly, the T and S are still quite readable, which you would think odds would be against.

So I used a Sharpie to write them on. Yeah. Not smart, man. Not smart. Now I have seven keys that are purple smudges (I used black, but you know how that goes...).

I look at it as a badge of honor though. That must be a lot of pages of fiction I've written!

That, or it could be the over 2000 emails my crit group has written in the last five months....

Nah.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Army Navy Weekend


This weekend was the Army/Navy game, a football game you either had no idea about or one you prepared for with the vigilance of an overzealous fan. There is little in between.

I first attended an Army/Navy game my freshman year in college, driving to Philly with my then West Point Cadet boyfriend and sitting so close to the field I was practically in the players' laps. What I remember.... thousands of cadets in grey uniforms, and bitter, bitter cold. And three guys I didn't know who bought me hot chocolate in return for using my gloves for a couple minutes!

This year is my fourth year. After two turns driving to Philly for the game in college, there was a long dry spell as I moved around the country and let it pass as nearly a non-existent blip on my radar. Last year, friends got us tickets, and we braved the bitter cold again. What I remember from last year? Tailgating sausage, eggs and mimosas before the game and chili afterwards, applying for credit cards just to get the free hand-out blanket, and bitter, bitter cold.

I think there is an unwritten law of nature that the Army/Navy game has to be the coldest weekend of the year!

This year, I came prepared. Four layers of clothes, underarmor, snow boots with three pairs of socks and feet warmers. Hand warmers. Hats, gloves, scarves that would cover my face. And lots of blankets. The high was suppose to be mid-thirties. Possible snow. No sun.

Once again, awesome seats, although much higher up (all the better to see the game play out).
In college I sat in the Army section (boyfriend got the tickets!) and rooted loudly for Navy (I was in NROTC). Oh yeah... fun times! I'm lucky I survived.

After long, long years of enjoying the rivalry, this year I hung up my long past allegiance to Navy and cheered for Army. Of course, we were sitting on the Navy side this year. Oh yes... more fun times!

Except Army was so lousy that even the Navy fans behind us cheered with us when Army did something not entirely stupid.

We lost, but I didn't look at it that way. What I love about this game is that I love both sides, and that I admire and respect both teams, and at the end of the game, both sides will go back to their academies and continue to dedicate themselves to learning to defend our country. At the end of the day, we are all on the same side. It's about football, and yet it's not. It's so beyond college rivalry. Which is why, no matter who wins, at the end of the game the teams line up in front of both schools and take off their helmets and hold them over their hearts and stand at attention to the opposing schools' alma mater. And every cadet and every midshipmen stand at attention to honor each other, and the dedication to defending our country.

And through the intense ribbing that goes with the territory, I think they all know that when it really comes down to it, they will need each other to stay alive someday.

I dreaded the cold, and it was. I dreaded losing, and we did. I dreaded wind and snow, and they came. But there is something about being surrounded by military people that is addicting and feel-good. And if we get tickets again next year... well, I'll be there gladly. With my hand warmers on.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

When Will It End? (And by that, I mean, the economic problems, NOT the publishing industry... although maybe that too...)

More bad news from the world of publishing.

Really, guys, it's hard to stay positive when you keep posting stuff like this. I'd like to keep my head warmly in the sand. Stop coming along with your sand toys and shoveling me out.

Passion Does Not Equal Martyrdom

On Nathan Branford's blog today, he wrote a post entitled Will Write For Food. The post itself is great, as always, and full of Nathan's usual pithy humor. The topic? People are actually writing query letters in which they say they need to publish their books because they are in dire financial straits. What struck me though was the comments - 57 as I write this - almost all in harmony about how awful it is to expect to make money writing.

Sure, we all want to publish, but it's the art of storytelling, the need to write, the love of writing that should drive us all. We shouldn't expect to actually make a living doing it.

What??? Okay, I admit I don't expect I will ever be the next Rowling or Grisham or Meyer or Sparks or whoever the latest, greatest moneymaker in fiction is. And I fully understand the tiny odds of making enough money to put food on the table and shoes on freakishly-fast growing children's feet. But do all of these people honestly think that writing is something people do as a sacrifice to mankind - the starving artist thing we must do but can't ever expect payment for?

I say, Baloney! There, I've said it. What is wrong with being asked to be paid for your hard work? I can get a job filing papers and plugging numbers mindlessly in a computer (done it) and get paid a livable wage, but just because I love doing something, I shouldn't expect to get paid for it?

Isn't that Oprah's mantra? Find what you love to do and figure out how to make a living doing it?

I'm not saying we writers should get rich. I'm not even saying everyone who publishes should get paid enough to cover their mortgage. I'm just saying, when we start acting like writing is passion and creative art and not work, and that we are so privileged to get to do it that we should be willing to do it for free, we are selling ourselves short.

I work hard at writing. I put in hours and hours a day. Sure, I love it. But there are doctors who love their work and still get paid. And accountants who salivate over money and figures and bankbooks, and they get paid. Just because I love doing something doesn't mean I should give up the idea of making money at it. If the publishing industry feels like authors are groveling just to be in print, they will continue to pay practically nothing to them and then fork over millions to celebrities for memoirs that have no chance of ever recouping that advance.

I can know the realities of it and still not agree with it.

I'm not holding out for that big paycheck. I'm not expecting to pay my house off with an advance. But just because I know writing doesn't pay well to the majority of authors, I still think what I do is valuable, and worth being paid for. Even though I love doing it.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

I Must Be Crazy

I've been talked into another Word-A-Thon. It's what I need, really. A good swift kick in the writer's block. October and part of November were query time. The last of November... trying to figure out where to go next.

I don't know if I'm heading in the right direction, but I'm finally writing again. When I get a couple thousand words under my belt, I'll write about it here. I'm still not certain it's going to work out, but I should know in a few weeks.

For now, a new goal. 45,000 words by January 14.

Just looking at it.... jimminy. What am I thinking?

Monday, December 1, 2008

Dirty Little Secrets

I have a love affair with used bookstores. It's something I've been very open about, the way an alcoholic may admit they like vodka a little. But these days, it feels like that dirty little secret I should hide under the rug. What with the publishing industry struggling and publishing house acquisitions halted, and the fact that I joined the facebook group, Buy A Book, Save the World...

Well, I shouldn't be buying second hand books, should I?

I haven't been in a used bookstore in many months, actually. But over the weekend my father-in-law took me to the one he works in. And truthfully, for the first time, it seemed like kind of a sad place. All these books, some hardly touched and others worn thin, hanging around on the shelves unwanted. I think this is what got me most. Someone didn't want them.

I wandered the aisles wondering: What books are people most likely to give up? Is it a sign of the worth of the book or the story or the writing that they ended up here? Would I want to end up here, someone else's hand-me-downs they'd outgrown and didn't foresee ever reading again?

I know others view books very differently. I hardly ever give up my books. I'm a rereader. Have been since I was eight and reread Katie Kittenheart fifty times before my mother bribed me with a Habitrail for my hamster to read something else. One never knows when they might be in need of revisiting an old friend in a book.

Many people, though, see books as expendable. You read them once and move on. There are thousands of books. You can't read them all, let alone hoard them all. Why not trade them in?

It felt sad at first, the flickering fluorescent lighting, the thread bare carpet, the rickety shelves with so many books already broken in. And then I found a book I'd been curious about but too cheap to buy. And then another. And then another. And pretty soon, I'd racked up fifteen dollars worth of 25 cent books and another three dollars worth of dollar books.

I'd feel guilt except for this: 100% of the proceeds from this store go to the library to buy more books.

And a few books have found permanent homes to someone who will love and cherish them. Maybe it's not so much a used book store as a book rescue store.

And hey- if I really like one of them, I might just buy it as a Christmas present for a friend.... New!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

Here are some of my favorite family photos from Thanksgiving pasts. What's not to love about dressing up like Pilgrims and Indians?? And since one of my great grandfathers came over on the Mayflower, and my husband's genealogy is Native American, we're the perfect Thanksgiving family!

The best part of the holiday for me? Not the turkey. Not the pies. Not even the cute costumes. It's the stopping to take time to reflect on all there is to be thankful for. So wherever you are, turkey or not, have a happy Thanksgiving!






(Those last ones are in Iraq, many years ago, during the first Gulf War... my hubs doesn't even look like the same guy anymore, but I adore the photos!)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Back and Forth, and Back again

I've avoided writing the blog because writing in general is not going well these days. I find myself going in circles, trying to figure out where my heart is calling me to write, and what I might actually be able to publish, and wondering if it's possible to find a place in between.

I started a story a few weeks ago. I outlined the characters and the plot, put work into it to make it a decent story. But my heart wasn't in it. I wrote, and it fell flat. I loved the characters, but the story itself bored me.

The months of querying and agent replies have started take their toll. The fact is, I have had a fantastic run. Some amazing replies to queries that resulted in tons of referrals and personal responses, glowing reviews like, "You have a tremendous talent," and "You have that Spark." I've had phone calls and full requests. But ultimately, I still have no agent.

I am, by nature, a problem solver. And so I look at the past months and think, if so many agents say I am talented, and can write, and have a great idea, why is it I'm not getting the offers?

I don't know what the answer is. But while the query front is dying down and the writing front is frustrating, my mind is spinning, trying to figure out how I get from where I am to where I want to be.

Numbers are fairly clear. The adult fiction market is slowing drastically. The kids' market is fairly strong. When I started writing, my initial idea was to write books like my kids are reading.

It didn't work that way. It turned out I didn't gravitate towards kids' fiction. I am an adult fiction writer. But when things get tough, I keep going back to it: to my list of ideas for middle grade books that have been piling up for years. If it sells more easily, why not revisit the idea?

So this week I did. One that's been bubbling for a while, and I started to get excited about it. Put away the adult book I couldn't get excited about and take up a new one.

And then a friend emailed with a recommendation for a definitely adult book... with an idea that immediately I dismissed as something entirely out of my realm. But it has hung around and grown on me. The more I dismiss it, the greater it screams in my head. And the bonus? It fits perfectly with the themes in Some Kind Of Normal. It would cement a branding and side-step that terrible genre-hopping.

But I'm not ready for it. It's a hard book. And I'm tired of jumping around and not committing (or committing for a week or two) to an idea. I don't like the waffling.

And, in short, it really comes down to the fact that I'm not ready to shelve Some Kind of Normal. Ocean Deep I put away and never looked back. But not SKoN. I love that book. I think it's good. I think it's important. I know I should look at all of these rejections as a sign to move on, but I can't let go.

To go the middle grade route would be to put away Some Kind of Normal for good. To go forward with the new idea is to put myself in a place I'm completely not comfortable, and to risk continuing to try to break into a genre that has no place for me.

I am stuck in the middle.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Dog That Was

Almost exactly two years ago, we put our "trial child," a beautiful black lab, to sleep.

You'd think we'd be over it, but we're not. Twelve years is a lot to have someone be such an intimate part of your life. He came to us when he was barely eight weeks old. We were newly married, and had just bought our first house. He was our house-warming gift, all warm, fuzzy ball of fluff and over the top personality.



Over the years he grew to over 100 pounds. He was the smartest dog I ever knew. Loyal, eager to please, able to shift easily between the rough play with my husband to gentle love with my children.


When he arrived in our family, we were two, and the thought of children far, far away. When he left us, we were five. When he arrived, we lived in Southern California. When he left us, he'd been cross country twice, lived in more than six homes in three states. He loved swimming in the Pacific Ocean, chewing on sticks, chasing cats, riding in the truck with his head hung out and his ears flapping wildly and his tongue lolling in the wind. He loved eating Taco Bell on long car trips, for which we paid dearly. More than once we had to roll the windows down to try and diffuse the toxic fumes.

He loved creeks but hated baths. He loved people and music, but hated fireworks and lightening. When he was a puppy and my husband traveled often, I sat with him on my lap to feel safe at night. When he was old and it stormed, I stayed up all night with him so he felt safe.

When he came down with cancer, we kept him around too long. We couldn't say goodbye. Is there a good time for that? It was my son's birthday... we didn't want him to associate his birthday with the death of our dog. It was Halloween... could you cast that kind of shadow over a holiday? But before Thanksgiving came, and the rest of a holiday season we knew he'd never live through, we had him put to sleep. We held his head and cried our eyes out and rubbed his ears the way he always loved.


We'd heard stories of other owners who took their dogs to be put to sleep and their dogs walked in practically prancing, defying all outward appearance of being sick. Not ours. He seemed relieved. Slow, and old, and very relieved. And when he closed his eyes, he just went to sleep.

Our youngest, who was only three at the time, tells people we took him to the vet and he lives there now. All three children, even now, two years later, when asked to draw a portrait of the family in school draw our dog in the picture too. They write stories about him. My husband has kept his collar under the front seat of the truck he drives each day. And I.... I feel empty.

When I tentatively suggested getting another dog, my husband countered with the statement that he needed a "year of grieving." That year has stretched into two. He tried to remind me how much I have on my plate, and when in the world would I have time for a dog? He likes to point out how we can up and leave at a moment's notice, can sleep through thunderstorms, can juggle five very busy schedules without having to figure out how to fit in walks and feedings and play time with yet one more family member.

The truth is, he doesn't want to go through it all again. Because, inevitably, it comes. The end.


But, despite three children and a very, very noisy house, it feels quiet. It feels empty. It feels like something is missing. And I know it's the love of a dog - that unconditional, full-bodied, tail-wagging, no-holds-barred kind of love that only a dog can give.

So tentatively, we've begun to discuss rescuing another dog. Which is why, when I should be writing, should be cleaning, should be cooking, I am scouring the local rescue groups, perusing lists and photos of dogs in need of homes, and picking out my very favorites. I've got the kids on my side. Just not quite the husband. But I'm getting close.

He was beautiful. He was smart. He can never be replaced. But there's more room in our house, and our lives, and our hearts. I'm ready to move on.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Handing it over to you, Brian

I heard this report on the news today: another possible cure for type 1 diabetes. These kind of reports come often enough it's hard to start planning the "I'm cured, let's eat cake" party, but it's very encouraging.

This is actually one of the possible cures Babs discovers in my book. It's fun to hear news reports about "break-throughs" and have known about it months ahead. It makes me feel like I've well-researched the book.

And, of course, it makes me fear a little that by the time I have an agent the book will be obsolete. It's a sad state of affairs when the publishing industry moves slower than the FDA!



The First 250 Words

Over at Miss Snark's First Victim's blog last week, Authoress held a contest: can you hook an agent in 250 words?

It's fascinating to read the first few paragraphs of so many diverse kinds of stories, as well as the comments left by other aspiring writers and one anonymous agent. There were a few entries where the consensus seemed to lean one way or the other, but most of them, like real books in the real world, elicited a wide range of opinions. What does it take to hook you?

If you open a book and the first page is full of beautiful writing or colorful characters, but something doesn't happen before you turn the page, do you turn it? Are we as a society so ADD that we have to have a car chase, a dead body, a confrontation involving clear danger in the first 250 words or we dump the book for something racier? Do we have to know immediately what it is that makes this different than any other book?

After some good discussion with my writer's group over the difference between contests and real books, I went to my bookshelves and chose some of my favorite books in the past two years, published as either a debut novel or one of the early books of an author that went on to make the best seller list, and read the first 250 words.

So I'm adding them here for you to judge. The first 250 words, or closest to it without going over or breaking a sentence. Do you see what the hook is? In the words of many of the commenters in the contest (and the agent), is there conflict and tension? is something happening? Would you turn the page? And why?


The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs

The hours of Walker and Daughter: Knitters were clearly displayed in multicolored letters on a white sandwich board placed just so at the top of the stair landing. Thought Georgia Walker – usually preoccupied with closing out the till and picking up the strays of yarn on the floor – rarely made a move to turn the lock until at least eight fifteen… or later.

Instead, she sat on her stool at the counter, tuning out the traffic noise from New York’s busy Broadway below, reflecting on the day’s sales or prepping for the beginner’s knitting class she taught every afternoon to the stay-at-homes looking for some seeming stamp of authentic motherliness. She crunched the numbers with a pencil and paper, and sighed. Business was good, but it could always be better. She tugged at her long chestnut curls. It was a habit from years ago she’d never quite grown out of and by the end of each day her bangs often stood straight up. Once the bookkeeping was in order, she’d smooth out her hair, brush off any bits of eraser from her jeans and soft jersey top, her face a bit pale from concentration and lack of sun, and stand up to her full six feet (thanks to the three-inch heels on her well-worn brown leather cowboy boots).


Lottery by Patricia Wood

My name is Perry L. Crandall and I am not retarded.

Gram always told me the L stood for Lucky.

“Mister Perry Lucky Crandall, quit your bellyaching!” she would scold. “You got two good eyes, two good legs, and you’re honest as the day is long.” She always called me lucky and honest.

Being honest means you don’t know any better.

My cousin-brother John called me lucky too, but he always snickered hard after he said it.

“You sure are a lucky b*****d. No high-pressure job, no mortgage, no worries. Yeah, you’re lucky all right.” Then he would look at his wife and laugh harder. He is a lawyer.

John said lawyers get people out of trouble. Gram said lawyers get people into trouble. She ought to know. It was a lawyer who gave her the crappy advice on what to do after Gramp died.

I am thirty-two years old and I am not retarded. You have to have an IQ number less than 75 to be retarded. I read that in Reader’s Digest. I am not Mine is 76.

“You have two good ears, Perry. Two! Count ‘em!” Gram would hold my chin and cheeks between her fingers so tight that my lips would feel like a fish. She stopped doing that because of evil arthritis. Arthritis is when you have to eat Aleve of Bayer and rub Bengay.

“You’re lucky,” she said. “No evil arthritis for you.”


Something Borrowed by Emily Giffin

I was in the fifth grade the first time I thought about turning thirty. My best friend Darcy and I came across a perpetual calendar in the back of the phone book, hwere you could look up any date inn the future, and by using this little grid determine what the day of the week would be. So we located our birthdays in the following year, mine in May and hers in September. I got Wednesday, a school night. She got a Friday. A small victory, but typical. Darcy was always the lucky one. Her skin tanned more quickly, her hair feathered more easily, and she didn’t need braces. Her moonwalk was superior, as were her cartwheels and her front handspring (I couldn’t do a handspring at all). She had a better sticker collection. More Michael Jackson pins. Forensa sweaters in turquoise, red, and peach (my mother allowed me none – said they were too trendy and expensive). And a pair of fifty-dollar Guess jeans with zippers at the ankles (ditto). Darcy had double-pierced ears and a sibling – even if it was just a brother, it was better than being an only child as I was.

But at least I was a few months older and she would never quite catch up. That’s when I decided to check out my thirtieth birthday – in a year so far away that it sounded like science fiction.


My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult

When I was little, the great mystery to me wasn’t how babies were made, but why. The mechanics I understood – my older brother Jesse had filled me in – although at the time I was sure he’d heard half of it wrong. Other kids my age were busy looking up the words penis and vagina in the classroom dictionary when the teacher had her back turned, but I paid attention to different details. Like why some mothers only had one child while other families seemed to multiply before you eyes. Or how the new girl in school, Sedona, told anyone who’d listen that she was named for the place where her parents were vacationing when they made her (“Good thing the weren’t staying in Jersey City,” my father used to say.).

Now that I am thirteen, these distinctions are only more complicated: the eighth –grader who dropped out of school because she got into trouble; a neighbor who got herself pregnant in the hopes it would keep her husband from filing for divorce. I’m telling you, if aliens landed on earth today and took a good hard look at why babied get born, they’d conclude that most people have children by accident, or because they drink too much on a certain night, or because birth control isn’t one hundred percent, or far a thousand other reasons that really aren’t very flattering.

On the other hand, I was born for a very specific purpose.


Blue Water by A. Manette Ansay

Forget what you’ve read about the ocean. Forget white sails on a blue horizon, the romance of it, the beauty. A picnic basket in a quiet anchorage, the black-tipped flash of gulls. The sound of the wind like a pleasant song, the curved spine of the coast –

-no.

Such images belong to shore. They have nothing whatsoever to do with the sea.

Imagine a place of infinite absence. An empty ballroom, the colors muted, the edges lost in haze. The sort of dream you have when you’ve gone beyond exhaustion to a strange, otherworldly country, a place I’d visited once before in the months that followed the birth of my son, when days and nights blurred into a single lost cry, when I’d find myself standing over the crib, or rocking him, breathing the musk of his hair, or laying in bed beside Rex’s dark shape, unable to recall how I’d gotten there. As if I’d been plucked out of one life and dropped, wriggling and whole, into another. Day after day, week after week, the lack of sleep takes its toll. You begin to see things that may or may not be there. You understand how the sailors of old so willingly met their deaths on the rocks, believing in visions of beautiful women, sirens, mermaids with long, sparkling hair.

The crest of a wave becomes a human face, openmouthed, white-eyed, astonished. The spark of a headlight appears in the sky, edges closer, fades, edges closer still.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A Query "Meme"

My friend and critique partner Jen put these questions on her blog to answer. While I'm not sure if I can answer them fully yet, since I'm not done with the query process, I'd figure I might as well start the transparency now.

Background: I sent my first query just shy of two months ago. The last set of queries I sent out were less than a week ago.

  1. What was your longest (time-wise) response to a query letter? Two of my first set, sent two months ago, are still out.
  2. Tell me your total query amount. Out of that amount, how many didn't respond at all? So far about 125 sent, about 62 still outstanding. Still, most of those are less than a month old...
  3. What's your standard habit when you get a request for a partial/full? Dancing? Singing? Or, as I like to call it here on the blog, consuming of 'da life-blood' (aka chocolate?) My first request was a full, and I drank champagne and played Guitar Hero all night with my hubby. The rest... I was very low-key about. It feels like it just prolongs the rejection one more step. I never knew I was a cynic until now.
  4. How many revisions did you put into your book before querying? Several small ones along the way (like four to the first chapter), but only one really good overall.
  5. How many revisions did you put into your query letter before sending? I wrote lots of pitches, then picked the one I liked the best; then threw it out to be critiqued and tweaked, then one more big revision.
  6. Did you ever flub up and send out a query to the wrong agent? (ROFL!) I sent one with the right agent name but the wrong agency name!
  7. What was the most mood swings you ever had in a day of querying? Rejection, then full request, then another rejection; the moods followed appropriately.
  8. Do you have a support system for your query time? How did you use them? My critique group read and offered suggestions and lots of encouragement
  9. Did you have beta readers for your draft(s)? How do you use their feedback? I had six critique partners and my sister. I ended up changing almost all of the suggestions they gave! They were able to see the weak spots I couldn't.
  10. What's the single worst part of the whole process for you? The rejections from people I really thought I had a shot with.
So that's the query update. There is still lots of waiting going on, but I'm putting the rest of the querying on hold for the holidays, and working on my next book.

While Jen has assured me that the road isn't all roses on the other side of the agent tracks, I'd still love to be there instead of here.

My greatest experience so far? An agent called after several emails to discuss possible revisions and future representation, and told me I have "tremendous talent." Those words will carry me through.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Getting to Know the Characters

There are people buzzing around my head, but at this point, they are vagueness... a hint of something bigger to come. I have a hint of the journey they are on, a hint of where they are going to end up, and a hint of where they have been.

It's time to flesh them out. Time to figure out exactly who it is I'm dealing with.

So here it is: my interview questions, completely and shamelessly ripped off from Noah Lukeman's book, The Plot Thickens.

Physical Appearance:
1. What is his facial structure? Face shape? Facial hair? skin color? glasses?
2. Hair: color, texture, length, style, dyed?
3. Age? Are their physical signs of it?
4. Body: height and build
5. Clothing: what style or colors do they usually wear? Expensive? Thrift?
6. Body Language: how do they walk? hold themselves?

Medical Background:
1. general healthy or sick?
2. Any chronic illnesses? Disabilities? Past injuries that effect them now?

Family Background:
1.What kind of family did they grow up in?
2. How many parents did they have? Siblings?
3. What was their socio-economic situation growing up?
4. Are they married? Do they have kids?
5. What is their relationships like with their parents, siblings and spouse? What things might they fight about?

Education:
1. How much schooling do they have? At what age did they complete their education?
2. Are they satisfied with their level of education?
3. Are they smart? Is their a discrepancy between education and intelligence?

Employment:
1. What job does he have? What jobs has he had in the past? How long has he been in this position?
2. How does he feel about the job?
3. How do others in their job see them?

Economics:
1. How do they handle money? Are they in debt?
2. How important is money to them? If they suddenly came into money, what would they do with it?

Possessions:
1. What are the major things does he own?
2. How does he value those things? What role do they play in his life?
3. What kind of vehicle does he own?
4. What kind of house or apartment does he live in? How does he feel about it?

Geography:
1. What country, state and city do they live in? What kind of neighborhood?
2. Does this location play a part in who they are?

Pets: Do they own any?

Police Record: Do they have one?

Inherent Abilities: IQ, psychic, athletic, artistic, etc

Identity: How does he identify himself? A son? Father? Husband? Employee? Leader?

Belief: What do they believe in?

Ethics

Sexual Experience

Motivation: What drives him? What are his goals and dreams and secret hopes?

Friendships: Who does he choose to keep around him?

Religion: What is his organized religion? I love what Lukeman says about this: "Religion may play a huge role in a person's life, or no part at all. Either route is telling."

Spirituality: what is their own faith and relationship to God outside organized religion?

***Look over the answers to this list: do any of these traits influence the plot? Could you base an entire plot off of one of those traits?***


This is really only the tip of the iceberg, but it's a great jumping off point. If you want really detailed questions, check out Noah Lukeman's book, because he brings up all sorts of great specific details to consider.

He does point out, which is a critical point, that these tidbits are to help these characters become real to you, but that the vast majority of these details will never - nor should never- be written into the story. They are the rounding out of the characters that allow them to act a certain way, talk a certain way, react to situations that arise in the book with authenticity.

Some of the questions may be quick, easy, one-word answers. Some might be more complicated. But taking the time to think them out will reap benefits far down the line.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veterans Rock!

It's Veteran's Day here in the USA, and in Canada and the UK and other countries around the world. It's the remembrance of the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, when armistice was signed to end World War 1. It commemorates peace, and remembers the sacrifices of those who served.

I spent my youth as an Army brat. I married a soldier who fought in the first Gulf War. I've spent my share of time watching anti-aircraft missiles firing in the night sky while curled on a couch in the dark, wondering if my boyfriend would come home.

I've seen firsthand how military men and women sacrifice on a daily basis, and put the needs of others and their country first.

So here's to all who served, and have served. For those who go months without real food, warm water and bathrooms. Here's to all those who can't get the sand out of their hair, or off their skin, or out of their clothes because you live in it and it becomes part of you. Here's to those who go where they are called without question. Here's to those leave cable TV and the comforts of home to live in third-world conditions to make a better life for those in other countries. Here's those who walk in places where each step could be their last to keep America - and the world - a safer place to live in.

I never take for granted the rights I have - to vote, to disagree with politics, to speak my faith, to write this blog without worry of censor or consequence, to pursue any career I choose. And I never forget that there are many countries where this isn't possible.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Beginnings

It seems unreal to me that I should be starting my third book. I still have a hard time believing I wrote one, let alone two full novels. And that I am now writing fast enough to be writing one while waiting to hear about agents on the other (the first still conversing with dust bunnies)... just, WOW!

I suppose the ideas for all of the books come from different places, and come to me in different ways.

SOME KIND OF NORMAL is about diabetes and stem cell therapy (although the real story is probably about faith and family). It came from a simple question I had during the primary elections back in February. In looking at a list of where each of the candidates stood on certain issues, I found a checklist of types of stem cell research. I didn't know there were different kinds of stem cell research! The more I looked at the different kinds, the more I realized there was definitely a story there.

But in truth, though that was the impetus for a new book, the story, as all of mine, start at the same place: the characters.

In college a professor told me to write down a main character's name and walk around with it in my wallet for a week. I did, and ever since, I've kept to that same idea. For me, even if there is a general plot, the real story is with the characters, and the better I know them, the more able I am to let them tell the story, which, I've found, is the better story.

It's kind of like people: everyone has a story. You don't go looking for the person who has a story about stem cell experience to tell. You meet people, and then you listen to their stories.

So I start with names. And today I'll introduce you to some of the people in my new book by name, and tomorrow I'll list some of the questions I ask to get a better feel for who they are.

So my new friends:

Texas Winters
Maggie Mae Winters
Annabelle Abbot
Claudine Rose Rousseau
Olivia Rousseau
Tad Collinsworth
Jeb Houston
Jackson Ogletree
Trinity Summerlin
Wade Shaw
Margarita Bautista Cepeda


Whew! That's a heck of a cast of characters! Hard to know yet how many will play a major role. It's really Texas's story to tell. She's been lurking in my head for a few months now. It's time to let her loose!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Transitions

Fall is my favorite season, but it seems to come and go so fast. This fall, the colors seemed very lackluster. For weeks and weeks we waited for them to brighten up, for the dull browns and muted oranges to come alive. Then, for three days, they suddenly got so vivid we had to wear sunglasses to see them.






And then, just as suddenly, overnight they all fell. For 24 hours it snowed leaves.

This is our driveway.


This is the backyard:



And now, the trees are bare and brown. The air is crisp and cool, and smells of wood stoves and burning leaves. The skies are a surreal blue and the clouds look like a HDR photo over-tweaked with unreal shades of greys and purples and whites so fluffy they look like whipped cream.

It'll probably be another two months before we see real snow. Ahead are some cold, drab days. But I love burrowing under blankets and warming the room with a fire and serving hot cocoa with marshmallows. I love the smell of fir trees and sugar cookies and cinnamon-scented pine cones.

It's the perfect time for writing!

Friday, November 7, 2008

It's Not the End of the (Publishing) World

My son has taken to perusing my bookshelves. Once he read the Harry Potter series, he felt he was really over the whole middle grade/young adult thing. After all, nothing else even comes close in scope on the bookshelves in our library devoted to him and his two siblings.

This weekend he expressed desire to read Michael Crichton. Something about dinosaurs and alien spaceships and gorillas in the jungle that appeals to him. And as he looked over the shelves he commented, "Man, Mom, you've got shelves and shelves of just Michael Crichton, Tom Clancy and John Grisham!"

I found myself saying, without even thinking about it, "Yeah. I read them all about the same time. That was the hey-day of fiction."

As I shuffled him out the door to school, it struck me as true. I don't think I was just reading more then. After all, I am still working through about forty books a year. But fiction was bigger. Authors were bigger. There was room for more of them. It seems like now there can only be one blockbuster at a time. A Sparks. A Rowling. A Meyers. In the eighties, I collected dozens of bestselling authors and their collections. Crichton, Clancy, Grisham along with Higgins-Clark, Cornwell, and Grafton.

Lately, as I've been querying agents on my own book, I've wondered if this is the worst time possible to be trying to get published. Books aren't selling as well with the advent of the Internet and wider cable TV, there is much talk about the death of publishing, and the economy... well, that isn't helping anything. Maybe agents aren't acquiring. Maybe publishers aren't publishing. Maybe readers aren't reading.

But I don't think so. I think the standard is higher, now. They all have to be more selective, which is actually better for everyone. If I'm honest with myself, I don't want to just be published because there is excess money in the bin and people will buy anything. I want to be good at what I do, not just good enough. I don't want to be the book that gets published, shipped out to bookstores and then returned. I want to be the one that sells. And even now, in this recession, books that sell get published.

This recession won't last forever. I actually think it might be worse to be a new author coming out right now than a new author looking for representation. If I get picked up by an agent it may be another year or two before I see the book in print, and by then, who knows what the economy and book industry will look like?

Both Moonrat and Jenny Rappaport have very interesting articles on publishing and the economy today. Neither is predicting the end of books as we know it. And what they suggest is just what I intend to do this weekend:

Go buy a book. Write a book.

And have a great weekend!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

A Meme

I've been tagged by my friend, Jen. So here are seven random facts about me:

1. My first alcoholic drink was red wine on my 21st birthday.

2. I am inept at phone calling. I avoid the phone like the plague. If you call, it very well may take me three months to call back. For the love of all that is decent, if you want a response, please email me. Unless you are an agent. Then, please call!

3. When I was in college a boy I knew, but didn't get along famously with, called to ask me to pray about something for him. When I asked why he called me, out of all his friends, he said, "Because when you talk to God, He listens." Of all the things anyone has ever said to me, I still hold this to be my very biggest compliment ever.

4. I qualified to compete at both the American and National speech competitions when in college, but couldn't go because my university, which spent countless millions on athletics, couldn't cough up the airfare. It was probably better...

5. I love the gym. If I could be there all day I would. Despite the fact that I am ungraceful, nonathletic and uncoordinated. Despite the fact that when the eye doctor asked me in eight grade what I do when a ball comes at me and I answered, "duck!" I love cycling, running, elipticalling, lifting, curling, pressing until I feel like my lungs will explode and my limbs will fall off. I love it.

6. When I was in seventh grade I wrote my autobiography completely around the basis that my older sister was out to kill me. It was the first time I realized I could write comedy.

7. I hope I live long enough not to care if I get skin cancer, so I can lay out in the sun and enjoy the feel of its warmth without worrying that it's killing me.


This turned out to be pretty hard. All the things I thought of to write I'd already written about in this blog or my random bio on the side. I'd tag someone else, but everyone I know who blogs has already been tagged!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

I'm Getting Vibes

My question of the day: How much should our gut guide us?

Last night I watched election results come in with my laptop on my lap, looking up more agents. You'd think by this time I'd be willing to query any agent who vaguely reps what I write. If their client list sounds impressive, if they are looking for commercial women's fiction, if they like spunky, feisty main characters.... shouldn't I be frantically cutting and pasting and sending? In the words of my mom, "Maybe you shouldn't be too picky."

But I am terribly picky. And not just because I'm trying to fit my book with the agent who looks like they are the best fit, necessarily. A lot of times there is a gut feeling, a vibe I get about whether someone is right or not for me. I can look at a webpage and list of clients, and then see a photo and think, "Oh, we wouldn't be a match." I can see a name and think, "Absolutely!" Sometimes, an interview that gives a peek into their personality turns me off. But mostly, it's just a feeling. Everything about the agent may seem right on the surface, but in the end, I don't type them into my little excel spreadsheet.

Am I cutting off my foot, here? Am I limiting myself? I don't know the answer, but I have to believe that if an agent feels all wrong from the start, he or she is all wrong. And, as I informed my mom when she imparted that little pearl of wisdom about being picky, "A bad agent is worse than no agent."

Monday, November 3, 2008

Feeling A Bit Patriotic


Tomorrow is officially election day. I've waited to vote on the day as opposed to absentee ballot or early voting. Part of it is so that my kids, who always get off school on election day, can go with me.

They've gone since infants: my son first went in a car carrier seat at less than a month old. They've never missed one. I think it's important for them to know what a privilege and responsibility it is to vote, and how magnificent and unique this country is. We've used purple markers to color in the box, pulled the curtain behind us and flipped the levers, and touched a computer screen. We wear our flag-bearing "I voted" stickers all day.

Another reason I wait is for the experience of it. Mailing an envelope doesn't quite feel the same (although if I had to do that, I'd do it proudly!). And the early voting is in a different location. As a creature of routine, I like my home polling place. I run into neighbors. I know the polling volunteers.

So tomorrow I brave the crowds. Tomorrow I vote.

I'm proud of being an American. Proud of the history of this country, although it's far from perfect. And whichever way this election goes, I'll still be proud to have been a part of this process. Whichever way it goes, I'll be glad to live in this incredible place I call home.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Finding Treasures in the Strangest Places

We practically skipped fall here. One day we are wearing short sleeves and capris, and the next we are pulling out turtlenecks and ear muffs. Craziness, really.

So the kids' rooms suddenly look like their closets threw up piles and piles of clothes as we pull out the winter ones and try to find boxes for the summer ones. Goodbye shorts. Goodbye sundresses. Hello sweaters and sweatshirts.

This morning, as I piled the kids in the car in thirty-degree weather, I frantically shoved my way through the hall closet praying there were winter coats heavier than a hoodie that could keep my precious ones from freezing their tootsties off on the way to school. The fun thing about this?

All the way to school the kids were searching through the pockets finding treasures that had been packed away for months. The lost spiderman glove. The joker's ski hat tucked in the sleeve. Candy from Valentines. Pennies picked up off the sidewalk for good luck. Loads of Kleenex, some of which were actually clean.

Is there any better way to start a morning than finding things you didn't even remember you'd lost? It almost made up for the frost on the windows in October.

Almost.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Whispers

I'm watching Eli Stone tonight. I love this show, if for nothing else for the uniqueness of the premise: a lawyer that has visions - from God, or an aneurysm; it's unclear which. There are some stories I so wish I'd thought up: this is one of them. It is the fresh and completely undone take on what thousands of shows and books and movies have tried to do before: Taking on the underdog. Doing what is morally right, despite the fact that no one else understands.

I don't have visions. But I do have stories circling through my brain. Voices whispering. Characters finding their feet. There is a burden of baggage that is not my own. Like the feeling every time I begin a new book, it's like standing on the edge of a cliff about to jump. I'm beginning to feel the excitement that every new story brings with it. The hint of something great. Of something maybe bigger than me.

I feel sorry for people who are not writers, who do not hear the voices and feel the weight of a story that needs to be written down and shared. I was worried for a while I wouldn't hear it again. It was drowned by the hundred queries and agent bios for a short time, but as soon as I let go of that, they came back. Whispers. People. Stories.

The show ended with a line I think everyone want to hear someone say to them. So I'm saying it to you, whatever it is you do. Listen to the voice. Hear the calling on your life. Go after it.

"You're going to take long strides on the face of the earth, and with every step, you're going to change the world."

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Change Is in the Air

Do you see something different?

It's those restless genes of mine... This is the cyber version of moving furniture around!

The funny thing is that I hate it when other people change their blogs... at least at first. I know y'all through your blogs. It's your internet face. It's who you are. So when you go changing, it makes it seem like you aren't the same anymore. Like a friend who comes back from vacation with a nose job and drastically different color hair.

And yet here I am, doing it. A complete face-lift.

I'm not really shaking off the old. It's more like I'm trying to find a face that's more me.

Stick with me as I tweak here and there and find my comfortable place. I may look different, but it's still me!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Is Anybody Waiting to Tell Their Story?? It's Awfully Quiet In There


Fall is in the air. The weather is cooling down, almost to freezing at night. Short sleeves and capris are being exchanged for sweaters and jeans. The leaves are changing colors and falling all over my yard and driveway so that walking through them is like wading through deep waters. It feels like change is on its way.

I like the seasons so much because I am restless by nature. If we aren't moving every year, I'm moving furniture around. I like clothes for about five months and then I'm ready to switch out to something different, even if it's the same different I wore the past three years. I like routine, but I like change, sometimes, too.

My life is following the seasons this year, and as the leaves are falling and life around me is shifting in the slightest, subtle ways, my writing is too. In September I shifted writing to querying, giving myself until the month of November to query like mad, and then begin the process of writing again. A new season, a new book. It sounded so easy.

But like any change, I can look forward to it, welcome it with open arms, and then, once it arrives balk like crazy at it! Because change is hard, and often uncomfortable. And I miss what I'm leaving behind, even if it did drive me nuts and I am getting tired of it.

So, this last week of October, I am staring change in the face. Another book. I've waited for inspiration this month to hit, but it's more like a slow moving tortoise. Bit by bit I am getting characters, a feel of setting and smidges of interactions. But no real plot. And no real conflict. And I'm waiting for these guys to start talking to me, but they're pretty darn quiet and it's driving me mad! Is it possible I'm going to have to start them off on the road before they'll pick up the journey as their own?

And then, the New Writer's Handbook lands with a plop on my front porch, my glowing query printed in black and white, a small footnote spelling out that the novel referred to is "under consideration" at the time of publication. Ouch! It's not anywhere near consideration. It's under my bed chatting with the dust bunnies ashamed to show its face. But as I read the query again, all that love I felt for it came back. It was a great plot, I think. It had some great characters, I remind myself. Why did I give it up? Because three agents read it and commented that it just started a bit too slowly for them. Because in trying to spiffen it up, I lost my voice. I tried to make it what others thought it should be, and not what I wanted it to be. And after only 16 queries, I gave up. I put it away as my "starter novel." The one I cut my teeth on.

But the publication of the query reminded me that I wasn't the only one who thought the idea sounded good. Three of sixteen agents thought it sounded good too.

So now I am wondering: Do I try to kickstart a story that has no plot and no driving need to be told yet? Or do I dig out the book I buried as dead and try to revive it, imbue it with the life I've learned by writing my last book? Do I take the first book and revise, or take the idea and start all over with it and write a new book based on the same plot with the same characters? Do I wait a little longer for another story to gnaw at me?

Because the last time I was in this place I threw myself into pirates. Oh yes. A YA pirate novel based on the life of Blackbeard, with elements of fantasy in it. And just as I got rolling, SOME KIND OF NORMAL came busting through the gates demanding to be told.

I'm waiting for the demanding, but it's awfully quiet in here!

Friday, October 24, 2008

It's Friday; It's a Good Thing


Last night I was going through pages I had sent my review group of the end of my book and came upon a comment that gave me a good laugh, and also gave me pause to remember why I wrote it, and how far research and development of diabetes has come, and how thankful I am. And it's Friday, after all. Time to list the good things in my life, and believe it or not, as far as diabetes is concerned, there is a lot of good.



The section of writing was this:



It takes less than ten minutes to drive to the church, where I park illegally in a handicapped space and march directly to the kitchen. The hospitality committee is exactly where they always are this time each week, their gossiping echoing down the halls off the sanctuary, which might as well be called the sanctimonious. I forget which SAT week that one was.


They stop the gabbing as soon as I fill the doorway.


“The devil has arrived,” I say, staring them each down. Yolanda. Gloria. Brenda. Vickie. Dina. Jen. Dot. Erin. Alicia. And two dozen angel food cakes.

The amusing part that my critique partner caught? I used the names of several of my group members in this! And yes, I did that on purpose. Hey, if Nicholas Sparks can name his main characters after his kids, why can't I throw in a few extras named after the people who have helped me along the way?

While I stopped to chuckle at the comment my partner left ("I like it that Jen and I are on the hospitality committee, but angel food cake is not my specialty…"), it made me reflect on why I wrote this in the first place. Because the truth is, I am not a fan of angel food cake myself. But it is one of my early memories of living with a type 1 diabetic.

You see, my sister was diagnosed before me - by twenty years in fact. I could write a post someday called "Everything I learned about diabetes I learned from my sister," but the fact is that everything has changed so much since that time. And when it came time for birthdays, my mother made angel food cakes, with barely-pink tinted cool whip lite frosting that looked like clouds. Angel food cakes were, at the time, the promoted cake of diabetics. Low in sugar, low in fat. And low in taste, I thought.

I don't actually remember the last time my mom made an angel food cake for a birthday. My sister left for college three years before me, and somewhere in the time between when she left and I was diagnosed, diabetic care changed by drastic measures. Today, I can have whatever cake I want. Ice Cream. Chocolate. White layer with raspberry filling. Okay, in moderation for sure, smaller pieces than I might if I weren't diabetic, but still: the options are there. And they are there for a variety of reasons, which bring me to this Friday post:

These are the good things about being a diabetic today:


1. Short-acting insulin. When my sister was a kid, she took one shot a day, and the insulin lasted that long, peaking at certain times and falling at others before finally petering out. She had to eat when it peaked, and not eat when it didn't, and eat a certain amount and not any more or less than that, because otherwise her blood sugar would rise or fall dangerously high or low. It's a tightrope to walk, especially in the school system when you have no control over when your lunch is.

Today, I eat when I want. The insulin hits within ten minutes of taking it and leaves within a few hours - about the same amount of time it takes food to hit my bloodstream and be processed. If I want a little, I take a little. If I want more, I shoot up a little more. And if I'm sick or just not hungry, I don't have to eat. It sounds simple, something everyone takes for granted. But for a diabetic, it's an awesome thing!

2. Blood testing meters. When I was diagnosed the first thing they did was give me a meter and show me how to prick my finger and test how much sugar was in my blood. If diabetes is about your body not being able to process glucose on it's own, and taking shots of insulin to cover that glucose, it only makes sense that a diabetic would need to know exactly how much glucose is there to know how much insulin they need. But it wasn't always like that. Back in the day, not that long ago, it was all a guessing game. I don't ever remember my sister having a meter. Which probably explains why she's seen the back side of a coma more times than I can count, and I haven't.

And can I add here that I love that most meters now can calculate that number within five seconds? It used to be much longer, which is a pain when everyone is tapping their fingers at the dinner table or honking the car horn ready to back out of the driveway. It's inconvenient enough to have to do it ten times a day. At least now it doesn't take that long!

3. Carbohydrate Counting. I feel like this is a superpower. I am carbo-count-woman! With a single glance I can calculate how many carbohydrates are on that plate! Half-cup rice: 15 carbs. 15 Doritos: 15 carbs. Slice of bread: 15 carbs. Small tortilla: 36 carbs. Bacon: NONE! Slice of cake: a gazillion. Okay, my powers are a little limited, but still, I'm pretty good at math now, adding and dividing in my head. 45 carbs on my plate. 1 unit insulin for every 15 carbs. I need 3 units.

When my sister was a kid (do you see this pattern?), it was all guessing, just like the blood sugar. She took a certain amount of insulin, and then guessed about how much food she's need to cover it. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes not. Sometimes she had to eat more than she wanted, because by golly the endocrinologist told her she had to take 8 units (her ratio is different than mine) and then cover it with food. Now, I do the opposite. I figure out the food, and cover it with insulin.

4. Pumps. Insulin pumps, to be exact. The size of a cell phone, it clips on my pants or skirts and delivers a constant stream of insulin. No more shots!! Well, there is a needle to put the tubing in my abdomen, but that's only once every three or four days. No more not being able to have spontaneous meals/snacks/ice cream etc when I'm out because I don't have insulin or syringes with me. It's like a mini-pancreas! Except I still have to do the math right... it's not that smart! Yet.

Every time I am tempted to feel sorry for myself, I remember my sister and how it was to live with diabetes only a few decades ago. Research, technology, progress... it's all a very, very good thing.