Monday, November 30, 2009

Meet the Newest Addition to My Family!

Three years ago my beautiful black lab died of cancer at the age of twelve. I wrote a post about it a year ago at this time, hoping that our house would soon be big enough again for another.  It took a year to finally get my husband on board and find the perfect dog, but last week we did.

Meet Scout.

He's a nine-week-old black lab puppy that we adopted this weekend. He's so smart, so beautiful, and so tiny! And such a joy!   His favorite thing to do is crawl into whatever available lap he can find and curl up.  I don't remember when I've smiled this much.

So now instead of being buried in the computer, I'm taking long walks, wrangling Christmas lights from tiny jaws, throwing tennis balls, and rubbing tummies. So if I get a little more absent than normal here, you'll know where I am. Sitting on the floor with a soft warm puppy.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

It's Thanksgiving already - How did that happen?

Before I hit the whole Thanksgiving thing, let me just offer a word of advice to you writers out there:

Don't let your galley proof edits/ hardcore deadlines/ novel release happen around the holidays. Just... don't. You'll thank me later.

So on to Thanksgiving randomness:

  • I bought a 23 pound turkey. I'm not sure it's going to be big enough. I'm also not sure if it will fit in my oven.

  • I miss reading. I mean, reading something than my own work, which frankly I'm getting tired of at this point (only, darn it, it still makes me cry in parts, which I think makes me the biggest sap ever). I am really hoping to get a little time to read something this weekend. It's not looking likely, but still, I'm hoping. I'm even thinking of reading something totally FUN and superfluous... like a book I've already read and really loved. Kind of like comfort food for the soul. That's what the holidays are for, right?
  • Do you know how I know I'm getting old? (And don't say because I tear the tissue in my foot playing Wii Tennis, because that was SO my 30s, which is NOT OLD, and which I'm told was totally a freak thing, and not that uncommon. I'm not the only one, right??). Anyhoo - I know I'm getting old because I used to be able to stay up until one or two every night working and then still get up and get the kids off to school and go back to work. Now, I stay up until one in the morning and the next day I have to go to bed by 10:30. Five hours of sleep is no longer doing it for me. Just wait - by next Thanksgiving I'll be going to bed at seven-thirty and gumming my turkey.
  • That last point really had no Thanksgiving point, but I managed to work it in anyway. Cool, eh? 
  • I'm so thankful for my family right now. I've discovered the past two weeks that I cannot be a full-time writer and a full-time mom at the same time. Not that I'm not trying. But something's got to give. And my kids and husband have been so good about sacrificing a few mommy things. And they've been really understanding of my stress levels. And my tears. And my rants. And my burnt cinnamon rolls. Not that I've cooked cinnamon rolls lately, but if I did, I'm sure I'd burn them.
  • I went in to the elementary school yesterday to help in my youngest daughter's Thanksgiving feast. Oh my goodness! Is there anything cuter than a gaggle of first graders dressed like pilgrims and indians?? I think there were more pilgrims and indians in that room than there were at the first Thanksgiving. I'm serious. We probably had more food too.
  • I love living in a country that takes time to be thankful every year. We spend an awful lot of time grumbling and complaining and fighting each other and ranting over politics and pointing fingers. I'm thankful we haven't lost the ability to stop that for a little bit and remember how very, very blessed we are. 
    • I have very big Thanksgiving news I'll post on the blog on Monday, if I can wait that long. It's not at all writing related, but personally very big. I'm so excited I could do handsprings. You know, if I knew how to do handsprings and I didn't think it would break my back and put me into traction. But yeah, if not for those things, I'd be doing handsprings!
    I'm off for the rest of the week. Have a great week and weekend, no matter where you live. Remember, being Thankful isn't just a US thing.  :)

    Monday, November 23, 2009

    The Cover Is In!

    There is that feeling when you write that last word on the page, and you know the novel is finished. You look at the document sitting in your computer... you stroke the words on the lined paper in a notebook... you see those last words and think:  I wrote a real book!

    Then there is a long process - usually very long - before you get to the next time you feel that way. There are queries and contracts and revisions and edits. That real book starts feeling like a work in progress again. But one day you open up your email and you realize....I wrote a real book!!

    And that's the day you get the cover of your book.

    So last week I got mine. I guess this makes it official.  :)

    Friday, November 20, 2009

    Good Thing Friday: Everything's Amazing

    It's been a difficult week for me. It shouldn't have been, and yet it was. And I found myself doing the thing that most annoys me...I whined. Not necessarily in that high, sing-songy whiny way that kids do, but whining nonetheless. Complaining. Ranting, even. I promise, it wasn't pretty. Good thing I'm home alone most of the day.

    I'm not one for popping youtubes up on the blog very often, but every now and then I find one that just fits. This one was making the rounds on facebook a while ago, and I'm sure most of you have probably seen it. Still, it's a good one to be reminded of again. When I tempted to yell at appliances and stomp my foot at electronics and snap at my kids for I remind myself, Everything's amazing. Why am I not happy?

    So for my good thing this week, I'm putting up this oh-so-funny reminder that life is really pretty good. Even the things I think that aren't.

    Wednesday, November 18, 2009

    When Nothing Is Good

    Several months ago, when the airline went down on the Hudson River and everyone survived, the common reaction was "What a miracle!" So much, in fact, the media named the incident "Miracle on the Hudson."

    At that time a friend of mine who lives in New York - somewhat of a faith skeptic anyway - wrote me to say, "What kind of miracle is it that the plane went down and no one got hurt? Wouldn't the bigger miracle have been if the geese had flown the other way and nothing had happened?"

    This made me laugh, because every day in America thousands of flights take off and land with no incident. According to one website, there are 1300 that take off every day from New York alone. That is a lot of miracles that no one notices! Until something went wrong, no one cared about how often it went right.

    This morning my husband sent me this article, and if you hang with me here, you'll see how this all ties into my life and writing.

    When Nothing Happens

      By Brian Friel

    Ten years ago this month, federal technology managers were logging extra hours and getting their final plans in place for overcoming the looming Y2K computer challenge. If you recall the hullabaloo, computer experts worried that six-digit date codes -- 11-01-99, for example -- would cause computer systems to go haywire when the date turned to 01-01-00. In November 1999, agency information technology chiefs developed patches to deal with the problem, including rejiggering the code to eight digits, with four digits for the year.

    At the end of the following month, IT managers spent their New Year's Eve in the office, just to make sure nothing bad happened. From the Defense Department to the General Services Administration, from Social Security offices to the White House, the managers saw midnight, Jan. 1, 2000, come and go without a hitch. They had spent the previous four years and more than $8 billion to make sure nothing happened. And nothing happened.

    Much of what government does can be measured by a similar standard. Nothing happened? Mission accomplished. Preventing terrorist attacks or foreign invasion, preserving protected park land and avoiding airline accidents are among the government goals that share the absence of a result as the hoped-for result.

    Of course, none of those goals is easily accomplished. Each takes a great deal of labor, technical expertise, planning and execution. They're the kinds of goals that keep federal managers up at night, because even with strong leadership, failure always is a possibility. Enemies with evil intentions lurk around many corners, and accidents ignore zero-tolerance policies. Even one failure can be catastrophic.... After nothing happened, government IT bosses patted themselves on the back, but no one else did. 

    So why did my wonderful husband send this to me? Because I've been buried this week in my galley proof, proofreading. Line by tedious line. Nearly 90,000 words worth. Checking for errant commas, dropped letters, spacing issues, typos, accidental shifts in tense. Hour after hour, days on end.

    And what do I have to show for it? Nothing. Except eye strain and four baskets of clean, unfolded laundry.

    Will anyone read my book and say, "Wow! What an excellent job of proofreading the author and editor did! There's not a single typo!" 


    But if I miss that mispelled word, if I miss the dropped letter that changes the to he, they will notice then. And not in the way I want them to.

    Writing - and publishing - is not just about the big things you do that everyone sees. Sometimes it's about the big things you do that nobody notices.

    Monday, November 16, 2009

    I need some Lysol over here!

    This is me. I'm officially seeking out a hazmat suit now, because there is a plague on our house.

    In the ten weeks the kids have been back to school, seven of them have seen at least one home sick. We've gone through three flus and three colds, and this morning when I went to wake up my littlest, she was asleep amid a pile of kleenexes.  When I woke her up and asked how she felt, she answered, "A little cruddy."

    Sigh. So she's home today.

    And it's not just my house. In my writing group of seven women, two have the flu, one has strep throat and ear infections, one had a horse fall on her, one sprained her ankle playing tennis, and one had an as yet undiagnosed illness that is leaving her spinning with dizziness and in pain.

    We don't even all live in the same country!!

    Sometimes I wonder if God lets us get sick to slow us down. This weekend my obligations towards publishing multiplied in both size and stress. I got my galley proofs (Woo Hoo!!!!  It looks exactly like a real book!!!), am deciding on cover designs (hopefully done after about a hundred trials and tweakings), rewrote the blurb for the back of the book (which took way, way longer than it should have, because hey - this is the one on the back of the book!). Literally on Friday night I disappeared into my laptop and didn't emerge until this morning, when my husband went back to work and I had to get the kids up and off to school.

    The plan was, of course, to disappear back into the manuscript and work on proofing the proof.

    But then I woke up my daughter and...snot city.

    So now I'm tempering my obsessive reading with some Cyberchase, cuddles, and picture books. Which, as it turns out, you can still do with a hazmat suit on.

    Thursday, November 12, 2009

    We've Come To The End

    Revision are done. I can't believe it! These are the words of my editor as she sent the last of the notes: "We made it! Wonderful story, beautifully told." (Isn't she the best??)

    It isn't the first set of revisions, of course. There were the critiques from my writing group after the very roughest drafts, and then again after I thought it was "all done." Between requests there were tweakings, and right before NorLightsPress asked for the entire manuscript, I went into panic mode and did more revisions.

    So this hasn't been the first edits, but they are the last, and more significantly, they are the professionally driven ones.

    As I come to the end, this is what I've learned: Even the little things can be hard to change.

    I don't know if it's my rebellious nature or my resistance to change, but even many of the seemingly "happy-to-glad" changes I initially resisted in my head. These small changes: the movement of an adverb from the beginning of the sentence to the middle; the change of one word to another; the rephrasing of a paragraph that seemed awkward.

    There were times when I said, "Of course! That makes so much more sense!" But there were times when I thought, "But I like it that way."

    Until I actually made the change. And the lightbulb went off. It is much better this way!

    This is something else I've learned: Even making small changes can make a big difference.

    The paragraphs I wrestled with rewriting; the  dialogs I had to tag; the sentence structure I had to change. Even when I didn't want to do it. Even when in my head I thought, "There's nothing wrong with this..."

    When it was all said and done and I sat back and looked at it and realized, Wow! This flows more smoothly, makes more sense, sounds more powerful.

    Which is why my editor is brilliant. And why we writers need brilliant editors.

    And the wisdom to listen to them.

    Tuesday, November 10, 2009


    I know I've read a million times that once you get a publisher to pick up your book the juggling really starts. You not only have to be able to write a book, you have to write a book at the same time as you are editing the last book, and working on marketing for that book or a previous book, even if that's just getting your name out there.

    I had no idea how hard that really is. I'm a bit obsessive and I don't like switching gears. I've found that, despite all my determination, if I begin the day thinking I'm going to do "just one or two things" to help market myself, I never get around to writing, because there is always one or two more things, which lead to more things, and it never ends.

    Quickly I realized I was doing all editing and marketing work, and very little writing. And I convinced myself that was what I needed to do to get this baby out into the world.

    Unfortunately, I really missed writing. That was the whole reason I'm where I am. It's not the promise of being on the bestseller list or anything. Heck, for that I could dream to be president, or CEO of a major company, or an Oscar winning actress. I'm here because writing is like breathing... I need it to live.

    So I divided up my time into marketing/editing days, and writing days. When I have writing days, I try not to do any marketing things (like writing emails and surfing the web for reviewers and figuring out twitterdom). But how do I take chunks of time to just write and not feel guilty about it?

    Shelli, over at Market My Words, had an awesome interview Tuesday with author Alyson Noel. And Alsyon, after several paragraphs about how she markets herself, said just about the wisest thing I've read about writing and marketing:

    The truth is, and this may not be wildly popular but I believe it to be true—the absolute best thing you can do to market yourself as an author is to write your next book! At the end of the day, that’s all your readers really want from you anyway. And with books getting such a short shelf life these days, the best way to ensure yours books maintain their space is to keep ‘em coming, to build up a nice backlist for your readers to explore and for bookstores to reorder with each new release.

    So now my writing days are just a secondary marketing day!  Yay! Somehow just thinking of it in that equation lessens that frantic feeling that I need to be doing something, and feeling like writing isn't getting my novel sold any faster or wider. 

    Less guilt is good. Writing time is even better.

    Monday, November 9, 2009

    The Author Photo - Let's Hope It Doesn't Lead to Book Burning (by me!)

    Everything is just about done now before Some Kind of Normal goes into pre-print mode. I'm wrapping up the last details, the worst of which is the author photo. It was harder to take photos and find one I liked than writing the book. I love photography as long as I'm the one behind the camera.

    Before I even started sorting through them, my husband said, "Let's just acknowlege right now you're going to hate them all. The object here is finding the one you hate the least."  Such a wise man!

    So here's the one I hated the least. I'm sending it in before I decide to burn it and just submit a picture my 6 year old has drawn of me ( a suggestion by a friend that makes a lot of sense, since my daughter draws me with perfect hair and a really skinny body).

    There were actually not-so-serious ones. I definitely prefer me smiling, but it didn't seem to fit the book. Characters all stressed out and panicky and dying and me all, "Hey! Look! I got a book published! Aren't I happy?!"  So I went with the contemplative one (I prefer contemplative over constipated, but feel free to make that judgment yourself).

    Friday, November 6, 2009

    Friday Bonus: Win a Kindle!

    You know how sometimes you have a social circle that overlaps with someone else's, so that at parties and events you keep running into the same people who aren't necessarily people you know, but you feel like you know them because they are great friends with the same people you are great friends with?

    That's like the blogosphere.

    And two people I keep ending up in the same place with are Lisa and Laura, authors and bloggers extraordinaire. Nearly every blog I visit, they've been there first, and always left witty, funny remarks that make me feel like I wandered into a party late and inferiorly dressed.

    In any case, they have a great blog, and you should go read it.

    Especially today, because today the universe has dropped a KINDLE into their laps, and they are passing it on to one lucky winner!

    Go! Now! Enter! Even though I'm pretty sure the universe wants it to be passed on to me.  :)

    The thing I love most...

    It's Friday and I find myself asking, where the heck did the week go? I guess I had kids home several days because of teacher conferences, another got the flu, there was a final goldfish burial, election day, a random trip to the gym (which is getting infrequent enough to be rendered almost useless)... and there went the week.

    Because of NaNo it's been awfully quiet around the blogosphere. I love the fact that in the quiet, I know there are hundreds of you out there pounding on the keyboard, creating people who were not just a month ago, creating worlds and creatures and accidents and secrets and lives. I am motivated by those of you who are steaming ahead, the word count racking up; and I'm consoled by those of you who are struggling along, hoping just to make it through the month alive.

    I didn't attempt NaNo this year, but I did make the pledge to myself to get at least 1000 words a day, weekends included, no matter what. I'm pleased as punch (what the sam hill does that mean, anyway?) to say I've done that.

    The thing I love the most about writing is how it unfolds itself as I write. When I start, I have an idea of where I'm going, who the characters are, what journey they will take. But as I write, it morphs. The characters become less names on a page than voices in my head - real people, and the journeys deepen and change and grow. There are moments in writing when I have to stop as the ideas tumble into me, and I think, Wow! This is so much more awesome than I thought it would be!

    Which isn't to say that I don't doubt my own ability to tell that awesome story. I think the doubts grow the deeper into it I get, because the deeper I get, the less the story is mine. It becomes the characters, and even though I know it's from my own head and my own imagination, it doesn't feel that way. The more it becomes the story of the characters, the more responsibility I feel to tell it well. So it isn't the story that I fear won't be good... it's my ability to write it.

    So this Friday, if you are a writer, tell me: what do you love the most about writing? And what is your greatest fear about it?

    Friday Bonus: Favorite Blog Post Title of the Week? NaNoWriMOhNo!

    Wednesday, November 4, 2009

    Harsh...But Funny

    I know many of you are hunkered down working on NaNoWriMo (and at least one of you, I won't name names, is already 27% done.... I've got no words for that...).

    So instead of a lengthy post, here's something lighter that came through my email this week.

    Enjoy... then get back to work!

    A College English professor's comments on a student's paper:

    "I am returning this otherwise good typing paper to you
    because someone has printed gibberish all over it and put your
    name at the top."

    Tuesday, November 3, 2009

    It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

     I originally wrote this post last November, right before the over-hyped presidential elections. At that time, the whole world was watching the US and picking sides.  This year, it's less contentious in most places, and yet, we in Virginia find ourselves in the spotlight again, deluged by ads and what is turning out to be another much hyped election.

    For the first time in a long time, we are making national news. This state, traditionally a Republican presidential voting state, went Democrat and helped vote Obama into office. Now, less than ten months later, our governor seat is up for grabs, and it looks like Virginians are going back to a Republican.

    It's garnered national attention for two reasons. One is that it was a huge coup that the state went to Obama, and the fact that now it may turn back around is taken as a referendum on how Virginians see Obama's presidency going. (Let's ignore the fact that gubinatorily speaking, VA has gone back and forth between Democrat and Republican many, many times.)

    The second reason national news outlets are looking at us is that the White House - once the Democrat nominee began losing in the polls by double digits - suddenly backed away from him and began blaming him for a bad campaign and for not using Obama's name enough. It's now become a national debate on whether or not Obama is to blame for Republicans winning in VA, and why the White House deems it necessary to blame someone in the race. It seems to be in hyper-defensive mode.

    And yet, in the midst of this, Afghanistanians are now resigned to a rigged election and a leader they have no trust in and didn't truly elect.

    In contrast, I get a say in who goes into office. I may not like the million phone calls a day I get by pollsters and politicians. I may get upset by the forests of trees that must have been leveled to produce the slick marketing pamphlets I get in the mail. I may have to watch only shows I've TiVod so I can skip the multitudes of mud-slinging ads.

    But today I get to go to the polls and put in my vote. I get to slather on that hand sanitizer they are so freely offering to prevent the spread of swine flu and hit that touch screen button with all the love of freedom that is in me.

    Today I get to vote.

    So here is the post I wrote last year. It is as fitting today as it was back then:

    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.

    Monday, November 2, 2009

    My Two Mistresses

    In the recent Entertainment Weekly, there is an article about Stephen King's new novel, Under the Dome. While I'm not a fanatic about Stephen King's novels, and I didn't read the extensive excerpt from the book that is included with the article, I did find the interview with him fascinating.

    This book, which runs more than 1,000 pages, was started 33 years ago. He wrote 75 pages before abandoning it. 3 years later he picked it back up and wrote another 450 pages before abandoning it again.

    Did you catch that? 450 pages!!  That's more than my entire last book by about 130 pages. It's probably more than your last book, if you're a writer. And that's what he wrote before he decided not to finish it!

    But he did eventually pick it back up and finish it. 33 years later.

    And for some reason, I really needed to hear that this is okay to do.

    You see, I have two books begun - and not just a first or second chapter done, but a fair ways into them begun - and I've set them aside, both for different reasons. The first I think is really a great book. I want to write it. I think it will be an awesome book once it's done. It's unique, it has great characters, and it has the potential to be really powerful. I liked writing it. But 50 pages in, it felt all wrong for right now. It didn't fit with the book that is being published, and if I'm going to build a readership, it's not the right one to follow Some Kind of Normal. I think it might seriously confuse people about me as an author.

    And so I put that one aside for the time being.

    The second one I love for really personal reasons. I have an outline for it: I know exactly where it's going.  I have a passion for it. I can sit and write and write and write on it. It fits with my "branding." But 50 pages in I realized it's not that interesting as it stands now. Deeply personal for me, but for the reader? Maybe not so much. At some point I stopped typing long enough to realize, I'm writing this book for me.

    That's an important lesson to learn, I think. To be able to tell the difference between the stories we need to tell for ourselves, and the stories readers will want to read.

    And so, reluctantly, I put that one down as well.

    I love love love my new book. But there is a part of me that feels like I'm cheating on these others. I'm keeping them on the side, as if I can't let them go, and yet not giving them the attention they deserve. And I'm ashamed to admit I have these stories I just didn't finish. Not because I couldn't finish them, or because I realized they were bad stories, but just because my gut told me the timing was wrong.

    And so today I fell in love just a little with Stephen King for admitting that he, too, keeps mistress books.

    I love having a little validation that it's okay to start something and then put it aside. And in the end, it doesn't matter that I'm embarrassed now to say I didn't finish something. What matters is being able to say I chose the right one for the right time, and I didn't stick to something just because I felt like I would be a failure if I didn't.

    So what about you? Do you have stories tucked away that you plan on revisiting someday?