Thursday, July 31, 2008

Demystifying Voice: My definitive definition

Nathan Bransford had a post yesterday in which he asked people to write in about their pet peeves in writing. The result? A comprehensive list of just about everything in writing.

At first, going through the comment section, I thought, I do this! My book has this! Oh no, it has this too!

After all, what book doesn't use the word, "said," use descriptive passages, narrative, short sentences, long sentences, adverbs. If you try to please everyone, you can't have either a surprise ending, or a predictable ending, can't set your book in New York or Seattle, have dreams, any real purpose in telling the story other than to just entertain, have religious or anti-religious themes (This from the same person... apparently any mention that faith might in any way play a part in someone's life, even if minutely, is off limits), include too much dialog or not enough dialog.

Are you getting my point?

Much ado has been made lately over an author's voice. I've written about it myself. Almost every agent who has a blog has written several posts about it. Writers write about it. It is tauted as the most important part of a submission. Yet no one can define it.

Well, I'm going to.

Voice is writing like you. Not trying to write like someone says you should. Not changing your setting because ten people are tired of books set in New York. Not cutting out every descriptive phrase. Not changing every "said" to something more creative like "replied" or "whispered" and then cutting them out altogether, and then putting the "said" back because, heck, at some point you've got to know who is doing the talking, right?

Voice is not writing a story and then changing it to make it the way everyone else says you should. Voice is saying, "This is the story, and I'll evaluate the critiques I get, and understand that for many of them, there is an opposite opinion and I'll decide if the changes are really right for me."

In my critique group I get the chance to read lots of stories by some really great writers, and then offer suggestions. Sometimes I find myself writing, "I'd change this to this," and then realize, I would, but they wouldn't. I could take everyone's writing and change it to sound like me, but what's the point of that? So I offer some suggestions, and then I am fine with whatever they decide to do. After all, it should be their voice shining through, not mine.

I think voice is strong when you can tell a writer is writing with confidence. That they know exactly the story they are telling, and are telling it the way it should be told, the way they hear it.

If you have kids it's likely you know of Arthur the aardvark, the adorable series of books and PBS shows by Marc Brown. There is one that illustrates this perfectly. It's called Arthur Writes A Story. Every author should read it. A third grade aardvark writes a story he absolutely loves, is passionate about. Then he submits it to his critique group - his sister and friends - who all suggest new and different things they would add or change, and what he ends up with is a mess no one likes at all because it makes no sense. When he changes it back to what he originally wrote, everyone suddenly likes it. Because his voice is his own.

So there you have it: the official demystifying of voice.

Go, write. Stop being scared that someone isn't going to like what you wrote. I'll tell you right now, there will always be someone who doesn't like what you write. But there will be people who do, too. The story plot could be anyone's, but how you tell it is yours. That's your voice.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Oh the Humanity!

Total word count today: 1
And that was the word chapter at the top of a new page.

AAACK! (and not in the good, "I got partials requests", Jaekaebee kind of way!)

My three-act book has four parts (yeah.... that's the mathematically challenged side of me coming through). The first three parts are done. I arrived today at the fourth, and I suddenly lost my way. The direction I was taking hit a road block and I started rethinking the entire end of the book. And the politics of it all.

The problem? The medical salvation, the miracle that saves Ashley, is a stem cell clinical trial. Adult stem cell. And there isn't a lot of conflict there. Few people really know what it is, mostly because few people oppose it. It doesn't involve any embryos; it involves very few risks to the patient; it's highly successful. There are no laws against it.

The fact that it is adult stem cell is critical for the story. So where lies the resulting conflict?

Thus the stall.

I'm researching more, rethinking the climax of the book as well as some of the lead-up conflicts. I'm pondering. I'm mulling. I think I'll go to bed and see if the answer comes to me in a dream.

And here I was cruising so nicely.

Monday, July 28, 2008

What I Did Instead of Writing A Thousand More Words

78 degrees with no humidity. Dollar hot dogs. Dollar tickets. Local heroes. It doesn't get better than Potomac Nationals Baseball!

We won huge!! In the second inning we scored five runs! Of course, everything wasn't perfect. I love the expression on this guy's face. In case you can't tell, the catcher has the ball in his mit.

My youngest got a game ball. So cool!

And if you stay around for the end of the game, there's always someone to autograph it!

(Word counts for the day below!)

I have no idea what to title this one (The still small voice is silent)

I wrote a few weeks ago about a blog post by Rachelle Gardner about why we write, or more specifically, why God might call us to write. The point is, if you feel God is calling you to write, it may not be for the reasons you think it is. (I love how Rachelle puts it: God may be telling you to write, but he's not telling me to publish you.) There are lots of things we get out of writing. For some people it is cathartic. It is a way to get over past hurts, smoke out the ghosts in their lives. For some people it is about persistence, or discipline, or to touch a few people around you. It may be that you become an inspiration to others, or that by writing you become part of people's lives you would never have otherwise met. Maybe, just maybe, we change just a bit in the journey.

This post has been rolling around in my head lately. I realized the other day how much this process is changing me. Patience, which has never been my virtue, is becoming more important to me. As others steam ahead in their writing, I am plodding along, slow and steady, and slow. And for once, I'm okay with this. I am content to take this process one step at a time instead of jumping into the agent waters and letting the idea of publishing get in the way of my focus. I am content to be where I am, instead of where I am not, in this process. I am content to let my first book mellow under the bed until I finish this one, and I am content to take my time on the editing process.

I am more disciplined. I am learning to not let emotions rule how much I get accomplished and my determination. And I hope all these things bleed over into the non-writing part of my life.

The truth is, I don't know what God has planned for me in terms of my writing, but I do know I am a different person because of it, and if that is all I get out of it, it will be enough.

Well, okay, not. I'm not that evolved yet. :)

Banner word day today: 2,107

(and it's not even night! But tonight is baseball, so I don't know what I'll get done then)

I'm over 50% in both my WIP and my word-a-thon!

My favorite paragraph today:

Last night I snuck the SAT book out of Logan’s room to read while I smoked. I got stuck up on the word “elusive.” The big black sky, the vastness of space, the stars flung there by a God who is bigger than all of it. A God who wants to love me, if only I’d believe. A daughter whose life hangs on the thread of possibility. One more insulin. One more steroid. One more trial. The answer is there, if only we could find it. Could there be a more heart wrenching word than elusive?

I don't like the word heart-wrenching. Anyone have any other suggestions that might fit better?

Waiting for Inspiration

I stopped writing in the middle of a sentence tonight. I started it.... it's where I want to be, but then I wasn't sure where it was going to go. And this is important: the end of this sentence decides the direction Babs in going to go in dealing with her own faith.

And I'm not sure where she's going.

So I am off to bed, and I hope the next few chapters will work themselves out while I sleep.

Word count for Sunday: 1,576

My favorite paragraph which I will no doubt have to kill down the line because I like it so much:

"Which one of you is the patient?"
“The one who looks like her arm is a helium balloon,” I say. I get a look for that. “Ashley Babcock.” I think of SAT week 5: acquiesce.

“And what is she here for?”
I point to her bloated arm and neck. “I’m afraid she got in Willy Wonka’s secret stash of gum last night and things went terribly wrong when it came to the cherry pie part.” Ashley giggles, but the nurse gives me a look to kill. Clearly there is no sense of humor in the ER.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Smelling the Flowers

Every now and then it's important to stop and smell the flowers. This week has been that time for me, and I've realized that, while I love photographing flowers, I'm not so good at the theoretical smelling of them. It took serious effort to take time off. By Wednesday I was waking up early, brewing a pot of coffee and trying to get a few pages in before the rest of the family got up. When we went to the pool I still took my notebook and pen, but tried hard not to disappear into it and play with the family. At night, when I usually am completely immersed in writing, I closed the computer and watched TV and drank wine and had long conversations. And I didn't check the word count once.

We went to the dollar theatre and saw the movie "The Bee," the animated movie with the voice of Jerry Seinfeld. We'd never seen it. I wasn't optimistic, but there was popcorn involved, and it was raining. So we went. And I almost snorted Coke out of my nose I was laughing so hard! I don't remember the last time I laughed out loud in a movie theatre. That was good for the soul.

My son wanted to go to Busch Gardens. We settled for a huge water park near us. He and I tackled every big water slide. We were the last to leave. They had to kick us out. That was really cool! This photo isn't from there. I didn't take my camera (there was a LOT of water there!). This is from today at the botanical gardens in D.C.

My daughter wanted to go to the Air and Space Museum in D.C. A girl after my own heart! I drooled over the space capsules and moon rocks and we walked through the actual Sky Lab and took photos of the Spirit of St. Louis and talked about the tragedy of Amelia Earhart. And I plotted how I could steal her leather jacket, cause it totally rocks!

We spent long hours at the pool, ate enormous amounts of food at places where I neither had to cook it nor clean the dishes. We went to the used book store. We went to the Botanical gardens. We watched movies together. We had a rare dinner with my uncle, of whom I do not have a single memory that doesn't involve gut-wrenching laughter. My youngest learned to swim laps and jump off the diving board.

I tried to soak it all in. I tried not to write when I had the opportunity to spend time with the family. I reminded myself that these days are fleeting, and I will never get them back. And I reminded myself that it was only a few days, and then life goes back to normal.

But I worried over it. I obsessed over it. I tried to figure out how many words I'd have to write to catch up. I wrote scenes in my head in the car; I jotted notes on napkins.

I had some great conversations about books and the internet, and how computers have changed the way people read and whether that should influence the way writers write. And then I wondered if what I am writing is marketable, and if it is, am I a sell-out, and if it's not - is it sellable?

And though it was a great vacation, it was exhausting, and I will be glad to get back to writing in larger chunks. And it's not because of the word-a-thon. Well, not entirely. Mostly, it's because I just really love writing, and I missed it. And as a person who thinks writing is what I want to do with my life, I figure this is a good sign.

So my totals for Tuesday through Saturday: 4,740 words

Word-a-thon: 43.6 % towards my goal of 50,000 words by August 15. About 20 days left. That's 1409 words a day.

And my favorite line of the week?

I watch him trot down the halls, all legs and arms and purple fringe. I am ashamed that I wonder, if Ashley dies, will he be enough?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Going, Going, Gone

I'm on vacation. The husband took a few days off and we are doing fabulously fun things with the kids, going going all day long, staying up late, talking. I think I remember how to do that.

Even in the middle of word-a-thons, family is still the most important thing.

Writing is hard. Little time, here and there. I'll post the word count when I get around to figuring out how much I'm writing.

Until then, I may be scarce. I'll try to check in with y'all and see how it's going.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

What I'm Not Doing

So yesterday I listed the books I've read, which, looking back, are pretty embarrassingly fluffy. I could list the books I have on my shelf to read which I haven't because they require too much mental engagement (Kite Runner, Drowning Ruth, A Million Little Pieces, among others).

Instead, lets look today at what I'm NOT doing, because I'm reading and writing.

I'm not getting laundry folded and put away. I will wash several loads of laundry and leave them in the basket or the dryer until I do more laundry and absolutely need the space. At which time I dump them on my bed, where the necessity to put them away become much greater.

I am not returning phone calls. I am the worst at this. I will keep a message blinking on my machine for a week. I will write the number down and hang it on the fridge. But I don't get around to actually picking up the phone and calling.

I am not scrapbooking. Yeah, I started. I think I am caught up to about the year 2000. I started in the year 1998. It's pathetic.

I am not mending clothes. They can sit at the bottom of that laundry basket until two children have outgrown them, but getting a needle and thread out to sew on a missing button or sew up a seam is apparently beyond my capabilities.

I am not cleaning bathrooms. Unless it becomes a health hazard or my in-laws are coming over. I do the quick swish when necessary, but my scrubbing powers are going to complete waste.

I am not watching TV. Okay, sometimes. Mostly on Friday nights when I try to catch up on the DVR shows and my husband and I try to put away our respective electronics and reconnect to each other by engaging conversations over how TV has gone to pot in the last decade. Otherwise, I'm plugged in to the laptop.

I am not gardening. I do not have a green thumb. I have given up trying to make it green. Or to keep the weeds at bay. We have no garden, the rose bushes are eaten down, the flower beds are wild.

I am not shopping. Two stops a week, if I can spare that. Especially in the summer with three kids in tow. Corralling them through a store? No thanks!

I am not getting dinner to the table on time. Although I am making dinner every night, and lunch, and breakfast, and I do clean dishes, so I'm not a total washup on that front.

I am not going to the gym, training for a triathlon, or riding horses every day. I am, however swimming laps when I go to the pool with my kids, but it's a pretty pathetic kind of swimming.

I am not responding to emails fast enough.

I am not critiquing my writer's group submissions in a timely manner.

I am not going to movies.
Although I have been known to take in the local baseball game on dollar night now and then.

I am not sleeping.... which is what I should be doing right now. The majority of the writing I do these days is after ten at night. Sometimes until three if I am having trouble getting my word count in.

Today's word count: 1,431
The word-a-thon grand total: 17,066
34% complete.

Slow but steady. I feel like the proverbial turtle in the race against the hare. Still, I'm getting there.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Book Lists (or What I Do With All That Free Time of Mine)

Every writer should be a reader. And we are all nosy about what each other is reading. Let's face it, when you visit someone's house, isn't the bookshelf one of the first things you look at to get a feel for who they are? Admittedly shallow, but true nonetheless.

So, for you friends long distance, and blog buddies who never get a chance to see my shelves, in a moment of pure transparency, here is the list of books I've read in the last six months.

(This is most probably not entirely complete. I was relying on the, and for a month or so I couldn't remember my password. I think I caught all the books I own, but ones I borrowed from the library might have slipped through.)

Something Borrowed (Emily Giffin)
Something Blue (Emily Giffin)
Baby Proof (Emily Giffin)
Blackbeard: America's Most Notorious Pirate (Angus Constam)
Blow Fly (Patricia Cornwell)
Dear John (Nicholas Sparks)
Dear Stranger, Dearest Friend (Laney K. Becker)
The First Five Pages (Noah Lukeman)
The Plot Thickens (Noah Lukeman)
Innocent Man (John Grisham)
King of Torts (John Grisham)
Lottery (Patricia Wood)
On Writing (Stephen King)
Pieces of My Sister's Life (Elizabeth Joy Arnold)
Strange but True (John Searles)
Vanishing Acts (Jodi Picoult)
Wedding in December (Anita Shreve)
Writing Dialogue (Tom Chiarella)
The Year of Fog (Michelle Richmond)

Books read in six months: 19
Writing process books: 4
Books read because they're repped by agents I want: 3
Books I thought were horribly written: 3 (but don't ask which ones!)
Books that left me in such a funk I wish I hasn't read them: 2

The thing about books this year is that, as I've gotten so much more serious about writing, I read them with an eye to writing instead of just enjoying them. What works. What doesn't. Which ones are debut novels and which are by authors who are veterans who may be a little tired or lazy. Which deal well with tricky aspects of writing, like back story and dialect.

It would be hard to pick one favorite. Each book is a little different. I loved Emily Giffin's so much I bought all three for a friend's birthday. Reading King of Torts reminded me of great summers long ago sitting on the beach reading The Firm, The Client, the early works that made John Grisham the powerhouse he is: pure enjoyment. Lottery is a class in itself; a remarkable work that will make you believe good people really exist. The Year of Fog is plain beautiful, but sad and melancholy, and all the same, one I'd recommend to anyone.

So what's your favorites the last six months?

(Oh, I did some writing too!)

Weekend Word Count for Friday, Saturday and Sunday: 3,782
Total word-a-thon words: 15,635

Percentage done of Word-A-Thon words: 31%

Word count for entire book: 39,004

Percentage of book done based on 90,000 words: 43.3%

Friday, July 18, 2008

WORD-A-THON Update status

Today was a hard writing day. Lots of research. Skipping around between my WIP and the internet, interviews and medical processes. It made it difficult to keep a flow, and so every word was hard wrought.

And, after several really good days, today's writing felt sluggish, and I second-guessed everything I wrote. My mood followed.... or maybe caused it. In any case, I am in a slight depression today.

Still, I made the quota.

Today's word count: 1,550.

That brings to total to 11,853 since last Friday. I am one fifth into the challenge. 38,147 words to go.

Not even coffee can keep me awake tonight.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

There's More to Life than Word-A-Thon's (if you drink enough coffee)

Coffee is the happy drug. I've tried to drag myself through the day without it, but, after many late nights keeping up with the Joneses (and the Jens.... okay, mostly the Jens--- can I just say at least one of them, if not both, are keeping up the ridiculous pace of 5k a day???), I started off the morning with a huge pot.... and kept drinking through the day. And let me tell you.... life seems so much better hopped up on massive doses of caffeine!

I connived my kids to let me write all morning (which goes very fast-the writing, not the morning- when hopped up on caffeine!) with the promise of taking them into Washington D.C. in the late afternoon for a museum (one of their favorite things to do) and a concert on the steps of the Capital Building (one of my favorite things to do).

I wrote, they played. And at three we headed in to D.C. We debated about museums. I have three kids, and of course they have three different favorites, but we finally settled on the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, which offers dinosaurs, live bugs, mummies, and famous jewels. Something to please us all!

We were so enthralled most of the way through (not that they don't already have this all memorized, because we visit so often), I missed photo ops at the bug exhibits and in the dinosaur hall, but here they are in the aquatic skeleton hall:

I love the gems section. It has tons of bright, unbelievable raw crystals. It reminds me of being a kid and disappearing for hours and hours into the woods in back of our house with my best friend, wading through the creek hunting for crystals. Of course, the Smithsonian doesn't have just raw crystals. Oh no! It has jewelry! So as a bonus to taking the kids out for an educational outing they love, I get to do some birthday shopping.

Shall I suggest my husband buy me a nice little tiara for my birthday??

A little over the top? Maybe then just a simple necklace would do.

So when the museum closed we gathered up my husband (who works a block away in downtown D.C. and headed over to the Capital Building.

We love the city. We love the feeling of patriotism here. And what is more patriotic than sitting on the steps of the U.S. Capital building, and listening to the "President's Own" Marine Band play? For my husband, former Army soldier that he is, the answer to that is listening to "Pershing's Own" Army Band, but the Army band wasn't playing tonight, and, for that matter, neither was the full Marine Corp Band. But the Marine Corp Dixie Band was playing, and on a Wednesday night, under a balmy 80 degree sunset, what could be better than a little dixie-land jazz?

So we sat on the steps looking straight out at this:

And my goofy husband tried to hold the Washington Monument in his hands:

While we ate a picnic dinner and took blatant product-placement photos:

Except my middle child, who is hardly ever truly goofy, but does love to pose:

And listened to amazing music while the sun set in front of us. My husband says these men, who are all the most incredible musicians, have masters and PhDs in music, and then join the military as enlisted men, with enlisted pay, to play for their country. Makes me wish I was more musically inclined...

It's so patriotic that my oldest and youngest ceased their feuding:

Mostly because my youngest was almost asleep by this point!

And, after a month and a half of feeling like maybe I made a huge mistake with my new camera, I finally figured out how to take decent photos with it. And almost every one of the 140 photos I took between the hours of three and nine turned out pretty good. And some of them were great.
And the best part? I completely relaxed and enjoyed it, because I managed to exceed my record for writing, and all before the sun went down!

So my word-a-thon totals today? 2,665!

That puts me at a total of 10,303 of 50,000.... one-fifth of the way!

29 days left.... my daily word requirement is down to 1,368 words!

The more I write, the easier it is getting.... and the more I enjoy it! It's getting good now!

Tomorrow... well, that's another day.

WORD-A-THON Update status

I had a whole post today planned about voice, and how I am NEVER - do you hear me????- NEVER going to do first person point of view again, because it is so hard to do well, and because it requires me to find the voice of someone else and not myself, and I miss my own voice when I'm writing this book, and I am probably going to have to rewrite half the book because I keep slipping into my own language and out of Babs, and I never realized I knew so many big words until suddenly I am not allowed to use them because Babs would never use that kind of language. I had this all planned out all day, but now it is after one in the morning and I am exhausted and I just want to go to bed.

I spent the day at the pool again with my kids, but I took my trusty notebook and pen, and this is what I have discovered:

1. Since computers were invented, my handwriting skills have declined considerably.

2. I cannot write a quarter as fast as I can type.

3. I cannot read what I write.

4. It is a pain to write out everything in longhand, and then type the exact same thing hours later.

Still, I am sticking to it. It is both exhausting and exhilarating.

Todays word count: 2,000 (Can you believe it? EXACTLY 2,000!)

That puts my total at 7,638.

15.3 % done. Which doesn't sound like much, except I am only 7% into the 35 days. Which means I am ahead of my goal! And my daily requirement went down to 1,412 words, which, frankly, is starting to look like a cakewalk.

Okay, maybe not. But still, I'm doing it. In the words of Wild Hogs (a movie you must see if you haven't already): "How does that feel?" "It's feels gooooooood!"

Whoo Hoo!

Okay, now to bed!!

Monday, July 14, 2008

WORD-A-THON Update status

"That which does not kill me makes me stronger."

This is my mantra these days. I had to stay up until one in the morning last night to get in my quota for the day, as well as make up for a sub-par writing day on Saturday. Trying to write 50,000 words in five weeks is a major challenge for me, but tackling this in the summer when my kids are home 24/7, and every weekend is packed with interesting activities was not the smartest thing for me to do.

Not that I am complaining. I am still excited about the possibility of doing something I never considered possible. I love the kick-start this has given my book. I love the focus I'm forced to take, and the discipline of writing. As my husband points out, I am very goal oriented. And I hate failure.

But I'm exhausted. And to top it off Jennifer wrote 6,000 words today. 6,000! If I could highlight that and add twinkly starts around it and put it on a billboard for you I would. 6,000! I keep going back to her blog to make sure I read it right. I can't even begin to think that high. I'm reaching for my Motrin as we speak.

And just as I think this MUST be a typo, that she has found some freakish tweak in the time/space continuum, Jenwriter announces she wrote 5,000. Yeah, I'll wait while you take that in and figure out how to breathe again.

Just kill me now. I'm competitive as the next guy (sometimes more), but I know when I'm beat (and humiliated!).

Still, I promised the numbers, so here they are:

Friday: 1231
Saturday: 403 (Pathetic, I know. Sometimes, though, family has to trump writing. Even during a challenge.)
Sunday: 2,147
Monday: 1,857

For a grand total of 5,638.

There are 31 days left. That's 1,431 words a day to average. Tomorrow may be lower because I am hitting a research snag and will have to stop writing briefly to gather more information about medical testing, but I'm on track. Maybe to a fast death, but I'm on track!

WORD-A-THON: It's All About A-COUNT-ability

At the beginning of the journey, I only told maybe one or two people I was trying to write a book. The humiliation factor, you know, if I failed in the quest. It's not that I hadn't thought of doing it before, but I hadn't actually done it, and so there was that very real possibility that I couldn't do it, or that, midway through, I'd realize I hated doing it, or that I was horrible at it.

But then it became harder to not tell than to just admit it, and so I did. Which leads to the inevitable questions: When will you finish your book? When is it being published? Why can't I find it when I google it or search for it on Amazon?

The good and the bad of this is that it doesn't allow for slacking. If someone knows, and someone is asking, I better darn well have an answer that is better than, "Well, I haven't written more than a page or two in the last month or two" because then I really look like I'm not serious, at which point my husband might begin suggesting again that I find a job that actually pays.

But if you are a writer and you want a fire under you, join a writer's group where some insane person says, "Hey, I can write a book in the next five weeks. Anyone else up for the challenge?" Because when those words flew across my email screen, without thinking clearly (six hours in the sun at the pool, dehydration no doubt, and exhaustion), I wrote back, "I'm in!"

The challenge: 50,000 words in the next five weeks, which will pretty much finish her YA book and get me darn close to the end of the one I started in March. While I always aim to write as much as possible, these hazy lazy days of summer when the pool is open and the kids are home and my DVR is full of tantalizing reality shows at night are not good for the motivation factor. And it is easy to let a few slip by without writing a single word.

So the challenge is there, and for once, there is real accountability. There are people checking in with me every day to see how much I've written. And the time clock is tick tick ticking.

So there will probably be fewer blog posts as I push the limits of my time, not just to write 50,000 words but to write them well. If you want to keep track, the countdown and the word-count are on the right at the bottom of the column.

Just the thought that I could be done with my first draft by September is tantalizing enough. I just needed someone to say, "It can be done. And I'll do it with you."

Friday, July 11, 2008

It's Friday; It's a Good Thing

I haven't done one of these in a long time, and there are so many good things to be thankful for.

Janet Reid put a link on her blog yesterday to this Youtube video, which is such a good thing, I had to embed it here. It makes me smile ear to ear.

His name is Matt Harding. He left Australia and spent six months traveling around the world to 42 countries, dancing. I think of the vision he had to have to make this happen. And I wish I'd been able to be in all those places, or at least one of them, to dance with him.

Watch. Smile. Dance.

And if you want a giggle, too:

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Writing Is Just Another Word for Insanity

It's now late at night, and I am just now realizing that writing books is just a defensible, excusable way to cover for being crazy. Looney. Insane. The talking to the people in my head kind of thing that puts people in years of psychotherapy with prescription pills on the side.

I have relationships with people that don't exist.

It's true. It's late and I can hardly wait to wave my husband off to bed and settle down with my new friends: the characters in my books. As Babs would say, "Lord have mercy!" These people are real to me! When something sad happens to Babs, I feel sad. When Babs is determined and plowing through life with the kind of gusto I wish I had, I am empowered. When she feels overwhelmed and wants to crawl into a ball in the corner and close her eyes and wish life away, I feel that way too. It seems sometimes that the only time my life that is completely my own is when I vacation from writing.

I long for their company. I can't wait until Logan shows up because I am like a giddy school girl around him. He is rebellious and brilliant and completely a surprise. And I never know what color his Mohawk is going to be. And I loathed the appearance of the church ladies until today, when I got a glimpse of what they are going to be, and how they are going to totally be the saving grace the Babcocks need, and now suddenly I see them with entirely new eyes. And I feel all motherly with Ashley. And I am over the moon excited that she gets to be the guinea pig that changes the face of diabetes.

And sometimes, when I talk about these people, I think about the characters I left behind. I think of Caroline and Tate and Nathan, who are languishing with the dust bunnies waiting for me to decide if I think their story is worth taking out again and struggling to make more salable. My heart actually aches for them, the same way it aches for my real friends that have somehow slipped away over time and distance, and I am almost desperate not to lost them the way I have lost others. I want their stories to matter. And I ache for Tate, who is the best of the lot, and got the rawest deal.

And even as my heart hurts, I realize I am crazy. This is insanity. They are words on a page. Figments of my imagination.

I keep telling myself this. In time, I might believe it's true.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Invisible Woman: The Job That Really Matters

Sometimes when I'm researching I come across the greatest gems when I am least looking for them; when my mind is somewhere else and I am intent on going down the road I think the book is taking, and suddenly I am on a different one altogether. And the two worlds I straddle - the world of my book and the world of my real life - collide.

This happened today as I dug around for more information about developing cures for diabetes. After heaps of JAMA articles and university hospital reports, trying to wrap my mind around medical jargon and simplify what is incredibly complicated biological and chemical information, I stumbled on a blog, of all things, where a mom of a type 1 posted a youtube video about a doctor who has found a cure for diabetes in mice. I scrolled down to find what other tidbits of type 1 motherhood I can gather and there it is: the gem.

At first I thought she wrote it. I was so moved, I went to comment, which I almost never do, especially on a stranger's blog (see Cyber Ettiquette- I'm Not Stalking You, I'm Just Old ) when I realized this woman hadn't written the post. I researched a bit (but not extensively; I do, after all, have my own research and book to write) and could find several copies of this, but no author.

In the spirit of flagrantly reproducing someone else's work and spreading it with no credit, I'm reprinting it here. It's not about being a writer, but it is about being a mother: my number one job. If I never get published, if I never make it as anything the world notices, I'm doing the most important work in the lives of my kids. And if, by the grace of God, I become a published author and the world notices, I am still doing my most important work in the lives of my kids.

Sometimes, especially in the life of a writer, it pays to bear in mind what really matters.

Read. Have a Kleenex nearby if you are one of those who weeps at Hallmark commercials.

The Invisible Woman

It all began to make sense, the blank stares, the lack of response, the way one of the kids will walk into the room while I’m on the phone and ask to be taken to the store.

Inside I’m thinking, “Can’t you see I’m on the phone?”Obviously not. No one can see if I’m on the phone, or cooking, or sweeping the floor, or even standing on my head in the corner, because no one can see me at all.

I’m invisible.

Some days I am only a pair of hands, nothing more: Can you fix this? Can you tie this? Can you open this? Some days I’m not a pair of hands; I’m not even a human being. I’m a clock to ask, “What time is it?” I’m a satellite guide to answer, “What number is the Disney Channel?” I’m a car to order, “Right around 5:30, please.”

I was certain that these were the hands that once held books and the eyes that studied history and the mind that graduated summa cum laude -but now they had disappeared into the peanut butter, never to be seen again.

She’s going … she’s going … she’s gone!

One night, a group of us were having dinner, celebrating the return of a friend from England. Janice had just gotten back from a fabulous trip, and she was going on and on about the hotel she stayed in. I was sitting there, looking around at the others all put together so well. It was hard not to compare and feel sorry for myself as I looked down at my out-of-style dress; it was the only thing I could find that was clean. My unwashed hair was pulled up in a banana clip and I was afraid I could actually smell peanut butter in it.

I was feeling pretty pathetic, when Janice turned to me with a beautifully wrapped package, and said, “I brought you this.” It was a book on the great cathedrals of Europe.I wasn’t exactly sure why she’d given it to me until I read her inscription:”To Charlotte, with admiration for the greatness of what you are building when no one sees.”

In the days ahead I would read - no, devour - the book. And I would discover what would become for me, four life-changing truths, after which I could pattern my work:
* No one can say who built the great cathedrals - we have no record of their names.
* These builders gave their whole lives for a work they would never see finished.
* They made great sacrifices and expected no credit.
* The passion of their building was fueled by their faith that the eyes of God saw everything.

A legendary story in the book told of a rich man who came to visit the cathedral while it was being built, and he saw a workman carving a tiny bird on the inside of a beam. He was puzzled and asked the man, “Why are you spending so much time carving that bird into a beam that will be covered by the roof? No one will ever see it.”
And the workman replied, “Because God sees.”

I closed the book, feeling the missing piece fall into place. It was almost as if I heard God whispering to me, “I see you, Charlotte. I see the sacrifices you make every day, even when no one around you does. No act of kindness you’ve done, no sequin you’ve sewn on, no cupcake you’ve baked, is too small for me to notice and smile over. You are building a great cathedral, but you can’t see right now what it will become.”

At times, my invisibility feels like an affliction. But it is not a disease that is erasing my life. It is the cure for the disease of my own self-centeredness. It is the antidote to my strong, stubborn pride. I keep the right perspective when I see myself as a great builder. As one of the people who show up at a job that they will never see finished, to work on something that their name will never be on.

The writer of the book went so far as to say that no cathedrals could ever be built in our lifetime because there are so few people willing to sacrifice to that degree. When I really think about it, I don’t want my son to tell the friend he’s bringing home from college for Thanksgiving, “My mom gets up at 4 in the morning and bakes homemade pies, and then she hand bastes a turkey for three hours and presses all the linens for the table.” That would mean I’d built a shrine or a monument to myself. I just want himto want to come home. And then, if there is anything more to say to his friend, to add,”You’re gonna love it there.”

As mothers, we are building great cathedrals. We cannot be seen if we’re doing it right. And one day, it is very possible that the world will marvel, not only at what we have built, but at the beauty that has been added to the world by the sacrifices of invisible women.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Am I Just Showing Off (my ignorance)?

I recently read an interview with Jodi Picoult in which she says she acts out mock trials with an attorney before she writes the legal parts of her books. They go through all the examinations that might occur in the courtrooms of her books, so that when she sits down to write, that part of the book basically writes itself.

On the other hand, John Grisham, who is himself a lawyer, wrote at the end of his book King of Torts, that he makes up much of the locations in his books. He doesn't scour the restaurants and streets of D.C. to make sure his book is entirely geographically accurate. Some creative license, he insists, is needed to make the story go where it needs to go, and certain things just shouldn't be limited by reality.

I understand these two things are entirely different. One is legal and one is descriptive. But it begs the question: how much in a fiction book should be reality?

As I write Some Kind of Normal, I am currently mulling this issue as I flesh out the clinical trial that Ashley will undergo. I am not a doctor, or a lawyer (although I am the daughter of one, so having that access is nice). All I have on my side is an internet full of legal jargon and clinical trials that I have to mold to my own purposes. How much about stem cell research and replacement and the moral and ethical legalities and processes of clinical trials do I need to know to be able to write? How accurate does a reader expect the writing to be?

I already know way more than will be in the book, because I don't want the book to be full of legal and medical jargon. I'm not John Grisham, or Michael Crichton (who was a doctor) or Tom Clancy.... my knowledge wouldn't hold up under the type of scrutiny that professing knowledge incurs. But I do wonder how much is necessary to make it look like I know what I'm writing about, and how much makes it look like I'm showing off - namely my ignorance.

I recently read Jodi Picoult's book Vanishing Acts. She obviously did her research on prison life and making meth. Personally, more than I considered necessary. I found myself skipping the longer paragraphs that detailed how to make meth in a homemade lab because it didn't really add to the story, and I don't care how to make meth. To say the main character became involved in this process and that, as a pharmacist in a former life he had this knowledge, was enough for me.

Would it have been enough for you? How much research do you expect to see in a fiction book? If a writer only skims the surface of what is complicated medical or legal or technical aspects, do you think they don't know their stuff? And if they get too deep into it, do you think they are showing off? And more importantly, do you really read it?

Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Better Things in Life

I realized today how much I have surrounded myself with the better things in life. By this I don't mean material objects, I mean the things that really count in life. I have an incredibly supportive husband who brings me flowers randomly and does the dishes on the weekends. I have great parents, and an amazing sister. I have kids who draw cards for me to thank me for working hard and leave them under my pillow so I'll find them when I go to bed. I have good friends.

I read good books; mostly I read ones that make me want to be a better person, make me laugh or feel good about people, or make me think about God and family and life in a new way. I choose to watch mostly TV that is uplifting.

I take pictures of the beautiful things around me: the flowers and trees and fireworks that celebrate the birth of our country and the courage of the founders who set out to do something no one had yet dared to dream. Dogs and tigers, butterflies and neon lights. I love to capture the sun as it's setting, reflecting in someone's eyes, and the way light dances on the water and clouds languish in the sky.

I listen to music that makes me sing and dance, brings back good memories, that make me smile.

And so, when ugliness encroaches on my life, it almost always catches me off guard. The angry driver who somehow found something I did offensive. Kids who are just mean because they get a kick out of it. Writers who join writer's group intent on creating discord and slashing not only a writer's writing but the writer himself as a person.

This is the case the last two weeks in my FLI group. Flurries of emails, hateful comments, rude, snarky remarks, personal attacks. I tried to ignore the ones aimed at me, but when the comments caused others to start leaving the group, I began to speak up. And doing so put a huge target on my back. My words were distorted and blatantly changed. He could not have come at me any harsher had he been wielding a sword. If we lived 150 years ago he would have challenged me to a duel, no doubt, and shot me on the count of two. And then stabbed me fifty times for good measure. Because he can't just let things go.

So I did. I'm bowing out, temporarily at least. There is not enough time in life to fight battles that don't need to be fought, with people who fight merely for the sake of it and not for any grander purpose. I realized today that I could have written ten pages of my own work in the time I spent on emails today, to him, and to others in the group trying to mediate and draw some back in who have left because of him. Hours lost in the last two weeks equate to pages lost, and I'd rather write, even if badly, than not write at all.

It's not that I don't know the world is harsh. I know many rejections are probably in the future before the publication. I know getting published only opens a writers to more criticism. I know a great many people won't like my writing. I'm okay with that. I know a great many people may not even like me. I'm not as okay with that, but I can live with it. But I choose, when I can, not to put myself directly in the path of people who set out to be ugly and vicious, or those who can't tell the difference between being nice and mean.

I closed the computer and left the mess behind for a dinner with family. For several hours I was surrounded again by the best things in life, and while I put my kids to bed, we prayed, as we always do. And I realized how great my own life is, how much love I have around me, and that my strength is in God. And how sad this singular man's life is that his purpose is to make others miserable. And so I gave it up. And I prayed for him, and asked God to give me strength to reply with grace and humility and love and not out of my own anger or hurt. And I let the goodness of God wash away the day.

And when I went to open my computer again, there was an email from the administrator asking this individual not to comment any more in the group and that he would be moved into his own group where people who felt like minded could join him if they wanted. I felt... relieved, I suppose. But not triumphant or overjoyed. Because our lives go on, and so does his, none the different. His unhappiness will rub against others, and he will remain discontent and aggressive.

And there is so much better out there for him.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Summer of National Treasure

Every summer when May rolls around, our family makes a long, elaborate list of things we want to do, places we want to go during the summer. We hang it on the fridge and check off the items as we accomplish them, and when a weekend comes with a day or two of free time, we look to the list.

This May, our kids watched National Treasure, the movie staring Nicholas Cage where he races all over places of early American historic significance in search of clues to a treasure beyond all treasures.

My kids were totally enthralled. Especially since we live near D.C. and they have seen every place in the movie in D.C. The first half of the movie is hard to hear beneath all the cries of, "We've been there!" And especially since Nicholas Cage could be the identical twin of our very good friend Bob (who gets asked for autographs all the time!).

So this summer, when we made our list, the kids wanted to make it the "summer of National Treasure," and hit all the places in the movie. We're not dumb. This is American history. Completely masquerading as a movie. We were totally in.

So here are my kids in D.C., in front of the Capital, which isn't exactly a focal point of the movie, but cameras are frowned on in the archives.

Over Memorial Day we set out to see Philadelphia. We spent an inordinate amount of time staring up at Independence Hall trying to figure out how Cage climbed out of the clock tower and skittered along the roof. We also determined it is impossible to get the "timely shadow" on the arches by the clock tower at 2:20, or any other time. The sun rises and sets in a way that shadows here are impossible.

We had to visit the real liberty bell, of course, which is where Ian, the bad guy, realizes he is in the wrong place. There is great history here, but my hubby and son spent the time trying to figure out the entire of the engravings on the bell, and , of course, looking for hidden clues!

In Independence Hall, we found the stairway Cage and his cohorts snuck up.

Ever the pranksters, my son and hubby tried to sneak up as well, with the permission of our tour guide, who was a fan of the movie as well!

My five year old loves the movie more than anyone, but here she was happy to dance while the rest of us are sneaking up the stairs. We call it the I've-been-to-Independence-Hall dance. It was entirely cool to be in the actual room where the Declaration of Independence was signed.

A few weeks later we headed out to New York to finish our tour. First stop: Trinity church. The movie doesn't capture the outside very well, but here it is.
The funny thing is that we have determined the movie couldn't actually be filmed in Trinity church. The lighting isn't the same. The pews aren't the same. The front, where Cage and the FBI guy sat, wasn't the same. Despite that, the kids hunted furiously for the crypts where Parkington Lane was buried!

Of course, we had to take the photo of the intersection. The kids kept saying, "Heere at the wall... De Heere Street and Wall Street!"

And here is my son in front of the original wall that formed the battery made by the Dutch that formed what is now called Wall Street. Who said movies can't be educational?

So now it's July and two more months stretch in front of us, half our summer list already accomplished. Life is good!