Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Perfect Photo (or two)

It was a beautiful day. The blossoms were in full bloom. Tourists in great moods thronged to the tidal basin. Everyone smiled. I managed to hop the metro with no problems, stroll around D.C. like a pro, and even have an unexpected lunch with my husband.

But mostly it was just me and my camera.

So here are just a few of my favorites from the day.

Happy spring!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Chasing the perfect photo

It's that magical time in Washington D.C. The cherry blossoms are in bloom. For only a few days, gorgeous pink and white blossoms on trees a hundred years old color the city. In a breath, they are gone.

Tomorrow, I am forsaking everything else of importance: my writing, an impending birthday party, Easter preparations, house cleaning, a laundry basket full of clean clothes that need folding. Tomorrow I am hopping on the metro at the rise of the sun and spending the day chasing the perfect photo.

If I get it, I'll post it tomorrow. If not, I'll be weeping in my computer. Either way, I'll be back tomorrow, sore feet and all.

Friday, March 27, 2009

A Bonus Friday Post!

well, it's not all books and reading and writing and weather around here. I actually have a family, too, with very busy and important lives of their own, which I am sometimes invited to join in on. Especially if it involves school.

My son has been working on a science fair project for almost four months now. My part was relegated to growing and keeping the plants alive until the project began (no small feat, let me tell you), making sure the computer didn't implode with all his data on it (and to retrieve lost data when said computer suddenly decided to randomly shut down), and to make sure he wasn't gluing information onto the display board until all of it was laid out.

So this week it was due, and yesterday the judges came through all Meet-The-Robinsons-like and when we were finally allowed in, there it was:

The big blue ribbon.

We are so proud of him. And awfully glad it over!!

On another note, while the science fair was going on, we got to go visit the rest of the kids' classrooms, where my youngest showed us what she is doing in kindergarten. This week they made a list of what their parents do for a job.

It may be hard to see the list, but there are the typical jobs here: doctor, soldier, helicopter pilot, construction worker, airport worker, teacher, hair cutter, nurse....

What did my youngest say her dad does? He's a paper signer!

Oh my! We laughed so hard we almost peed our pants!

Reminds me of the story about me when I was two and telling everyone my dad worked with animals for a living. Apparently he came home from work everyday saying the office was a zoo.

Have a great weekend!

It's Friday; It's a Good Thing

I took a break from the rush of life today to sit and read a completely fun book. I haven't seen the movie, so it was all fresh to me. I expected to read it as I ate lunch, since you bloggers out there were pretty quiet today. I ended up reading the whole thing.

There was part at the end that reminded me both of my recent blogging about emotions and also about what the good things are in life.

Here is a section from Ann Brashares' Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants:

"Maybe happiness didn't have to be about the big, sweeping circumstances, about having everything in your life in place. Maybe it was about stringing together a bunch of small pleasures. Wearing slippers and watching the Miss Universe contest. Eating a brownie with vanilla ice cream.... Maybe happiness was just a matter of the little upticks - the traffic signal that said 'walk' the second you got there - and downticks - the itchy tag at the back of your collar - that happened to every person in the course of a day. Maybe everybody had the same allotted measure of happiness within each day."

Maybe the little happinesses in a day equal one big sweeping happiness.

So today, in the spirit of It's a Good Thing, I'm counting the little happinesses, and waiting for that big sweeping one that is sure to come along at some point in time. Maybe not today, or tomorrow, but someday. Maybe not in the way I hope it is coming, but something grand all the same.

A few from just today:

1. Time tonight to finally relax a little with a glass of wine

2. Kids that I absolutely adore. I am more in love with them every day.

3. A school event that made us all smile. Friends we run into and talk so long with that we don't get to every room we should.

4. Ice cream out on a school night. Celebrating just life.

5. Getting through the Tracy Anderson exercise without once dropping my arms or legs.

6. Daffodils.

7. Another few good pages on the new manuscript. The feeling like it still might work.

8. A roaring fire and cold rain outside. Perfect for writing. And curling up on the couch with a good book.

9. A writing group I adore. I so, so adore. Even on days like today when we hardly write back and forth, just knowing they are there sometimes - like today - is all that keeps me going.

10. New CDs. I have four new CDs - a treat for me. Every day is a new favorite song. Today's? David Cook's Permanence.

What are some of your small happinesses?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

It's a Roller Coaster - You Getting On and Riding?

"The only test we should use to allow a particular emotion to run its course in our lives is to examine what the final outcome of that emotion will be. Think it through to its logical conclusion, and if the outcome is something that God would condemn, put a stop to it immediately But if it is an emotion that has been kindled by the Spirit of God and you don't allow it to have its way in your life, it will cause a reaction on a lower level than God intended." Oswald Chambers

Doubt Depression Frustration Despair

I've been getting these a lot lately. I'm pretty sure nothing good comes of those, so why do I let them take hold of me sometimes?

Lately, though, I've started feeling little bits of hope here and there, too. When I get a new request for my manuscript. When I get great praise for my writing. When I drop another query and 50 pages in the mailbox. When I hear a song that reminds me of what I felt last summer as I was bringing this book to a close.

And then I crush that feeling. I don't want to feel it, because feeling hope and excitement makes the fall so much harder.

A friend gave this quote to me today. It's made me really think about what I do with emotions, and why I let the bad ones simmer, and the good ones I kill off. Really, what use is that?

The depression and doubt lead to nothing good. Ever.

Hope will eventually lead to something good. Even if it takes a while.

I'm not quite there yet. But I'm working on it.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Stupidity or Bravery? I'm not making that call.

Agent Jessica Faust wrote a post today about how she began making her dreams come true. It's got me thinking about bravery, and taking chances, and what kind of person am I.

I'd like to think I am that kind of person. The kind who takes chances and risks and sets out on adventures. I'm not sure if I actually am that person, but I want to be that kind of person. It's the reason I chose to go to an out of state university when there were plenty of in-state universities and private colleges I could have gone to - but were crowded with people I knew.

It was the reason that, when I was 21 and graduating college and looking for a teaching job, I thought to myself, "This is the chance to break out and go somewhere completely different." I wanted badly to go overseas, but the schools overseas required two years of experience, so I resigned myself to getting those two years under my belt in the most un-east-coast-like place I could find.

In January of 1992 I packed my Toyota Tercel to the hilt with everything in the world I owned and drove from Virginia to Texas to take a job in a state I didn't hardly know a soul. As it turned out, I didn't really know the food or culture or language either. Or the music. Or the fashion.

It only took a few weeks to begin to feel like I had made a huge mistake. I hated teaching - especially since I stepped in to take over another teacher's class who clearly had spent half a year not teaching. I hated my lonely apartment. I felt trapped by my less than livable wage salary ($812 a month, $503 of which went to the rent). To call it homesickness wouldn't even come close. But I'd made a commitment, and I determined to stick with it at least until summer.

By summer, I'd made a few friends, including the man I would later marry. I'd bought a pair of Justin Ropers, fallen in love with Tex Mex food, and could say y'all casually as well as the next guy. I was vastly afraid of looking like a failure, so I signed up for another year, determined to really give it a go before quitting.

And it turned out that having a class from the beginning was a far different cry than taking over someone else's. And I loved it. And slowly, that place became home.

My parents love to tell the story of how I packed everything in my car and drove across country to a place I didn't know. They think I'm brave. In truth, maybe I was more stupid than brave. But I look at that now and think, is that going to be the main act of courage in my life?

When I decided to write and pursue publishing, that felt brave. Even braver - telling people that I was doing it. But I won't lie. Sometimes I wonder if I am more stupid than brave. Is it only bravery when it actually works out? I wonder if I am wasting my time pursuing a dream that may not be meant to be. How much persistence is important, and how much is just plain desperation going nowhere?

Friday, March 20, 2009

It Must Be Spring!

Daffodils up: check.

Crocuses open: check.

Birds flocking to our bird feeder: check.

Weeks until Farmer's Market opens: 1

Weeks until Pool opens: 9! (down to single digits!!)

Happy first day of Spring, y'all!

(and head over to Kerri's blog and wish her happy birthday!)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Write or Die


Sometimes people wait around for a muse. Some people need more harsh treatment. Like screeching violins or blinking red lights. Or a deadline.

It's not that I haven't been writing. But I am just so distractable. Starting a new book is hard. It's hard to find that good pacing, to get lost in it. Starting a new book is exhausting, creative, creating work. And focus is not always my strong suit.

There's email to check - or email that keeps popping up on my screen. There are photos to upload and Twitter to check and blogs clamoring for attention. There is a house to clean and music to listen to and exercise to do and kids to pick up and spiders to squish and dishes to wash and laundry to be folded and food... to make and to eat.

There is just a whole heap of interesting world out there calling for me.

Yeah, focus isn't always my strong suit.

But I finally tried Dr. Wicked's Write or Die. I knew of it... I just didn't think it was for me. I'm not particularly motivated by negative stimuli. But, frustrated at my slow, plodding pace in this new book, I finally tried it.

And what do you know??? It worked!!

In less than an hour, in three sessions of 20 minutes each, I added 1800 words to my WIP. That's the most I've written since I put MOCKINGBIRD to rest.

So I now have enough I can call this officially a begun project.

I'll be putting my progress on the side bar as soon as I get the time to add it.

I feel like I'm finally on my way.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

New Book - Scene 6

I'm beginning to nail this book down. I had a major breakthrough this weekend, the one thing that was holding me back, and now I am knee -deep in a book I am starting to really love, and a character I am starting to love.

Riley was a tough one to grab a hold of. She's changed since when I started this. Usually, my characters are the first to come at me - loud and in charge. The story somewhat follows. Riley came, shyly and a bit sad... a woman with a huge hole in her heart.

But she didn't sit well with me. After the snappiness of Babs, Riley seemed too depressing. I wanted her to be more upbeat and fun to hang out with day after day. But to do that brought complications to the plot I wasn't ready to dive in to.

For a while it seemed she could be depressing and sympathetic, or fun but hate-able. I didn't like either option.

I kept writing. Rewriting. I think I now have four or five first chapters, as well as other snippets of other scenes in the book. And I finally found her.

It was the kind of WOW moment I really needed. Defining her - and a huge event in her life - has redefined the book into something WOW. It's the kind of thing I lay awake at night thinking, "I can't believe I thought of this! This is it!"

Getting over that hump was hard. But it wasn't going to come if I didn't sit down and write, even not knowing where I was going. I had to write - a lot of crap, actually - to get to the gem. But now that I'm there, I feel like I'm back in it. I'm where I belong.

I've found another song that fits so well. It's another one for John, who has become a much larger - and at the same time smaller - piece of this puzzle. He is the key that will tie it all together.

If he could sing - I think this is what he'd sing to her.

I'm leaving but don't worry

I'll be back again
You're always right here

And you're grieving but don't hurry to your pack of friends
I'll stay
It's clear

The one you knew from your love
I grew into complete and whole
And the way I justify
It's my way to control love everlasting

I see your sweater rests upon your bed
Reminds me of home

It can't be any better than it is in my head
I'm blinded by roam

The one you knew from your love
I grew into complete and whole
Ad the way I justify
It's my way to control

There's only one way I know how to do this
Stay here and help me live through this and I'll always be

The one you knew from your love
I grew into complete and whole
And the way I justify
It's my way to control love everlasting

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

New Book - Scene 4

A wise writing partner pointed me to this song, and reminded me that this story is not just Riley's.

Wherever there is someone leaving to find themselves, there is someone left behind, with a story equally compelling.

I often have a soundtrack that runs through my head - or through my earphones - that helps me focus on the characters, the moods, the emotional aspect. So here is John's song.

David Cook's Come Back To Me

Monday, March 9, 2009

Obama signs reversal of stem cell research funding

As soon as my alarm went off this morning, the first words on the radio I heard were, "Embryonic stem cells have never been proven to work. Adult stem cells do."

Unfortunately, I hit the snooze so fast I missed the rest before the words could even register in my foggy brain (it's an automatic reaction).

I couldn't find the rest of that report (or editorial, most likely), but it has me thinking a lot about my finished book, and how relevant it is, and the whole query process. I thought agents would love the idea: a southern Baptist woman's daughter is faced with death unless she bucks the church's view of stem cell research and puts her daughter in a clinical trial.

It's got controversy, faith, medicine, love, protests, and a lot of misunderstanding of the difference between adult and embryonic stem cell use, without being preachy or lecturing (so I've been told. I hope that's true, because I tried very hard to not make it a referendum on stem cell therapy as much a just a good story with a controversy). The book is based on medical facts, true reports and AMA findings, and real-life successes.

I thought the topic would be hot. In-the-news-today kind of hot. Everyone's-got-an-opinion kind of hot. It was the writing I couldn't be sure was great.

Turns out, agents really like my writing - want me to submit anything else - they just aren't sure if the book should be marketed as Christian or mainstream. They suggest I find an agent willing to submit to both markets - agents with contacts in both markets. There is possibly too much faith to be desirable for some agents, and the words "stem cell" frighten others away before they can read it and judge for themselves.

The news today makes me more frustrated. While the book addresses all sorts of issues - faith, questioning, sacrifice, illness, a parent's love, how far friends can go before they go too far - it felt relevant to me on so many levels other than picking a side of a current contemporary political topic. But maybe I was wrong.

And I'm thinking relevance might be overrated.

The New Book - scene 3

Originally uploaded by macorlin
I have a landscape-living view of my life. If you ask me what happened today, I'll tell you I dropped the kids off at school, went to the gym, came home and showered and sat down to write. The same as Friday. And Thursday. And Wednesday. And so forth.

I see my life in big sweeping pictures, broad strokes, and I often don't see the details that make my life different from anyone else's, or any day different than another.

This has become overly apparent through Twitter. While others seem to be able to endlessly narrate their days in humorous and delightful chunks of 140 letters or less. When I sit to update mine, all I can think is the same thing as every other update of mine... I'm sitting at the computer ready to write. Because when I twitter, that's what I'm doing.

But as I've gotten into my new book, I realize this book may have landscape photography in it, but the story is all about the macro. It's about seeing the tiny things we miss everyday because we are swept up in the larger things... or about seeing the details that make a person go off the edge one day, when seemingly that day is the same as any other.

It's important that she's had her plates for fifteen years and no one has a chip in it. It's important that she has conversations with her daughter where neither look each other in the eye as if they are both invisible. It's important that her husband falls asleep each night in the middle of their conversations. It's important that she tucks her hair behind her ears without noticing that she's doing it.

In a small thumbnail, this photo may look like a leaf with a water drop. Click on it and see the amazing world inside each of those drops. If you stop to look at droplets after the rain, if you tilt your head just the right way, get close enough, this is what you'll see. A world inside a world.

This is Riley's life. In the landscape of her life she is mom, a wife, a neighbor. In the macro, she is something no one bothers to take the time to see.

Until someone does. And that will change everything.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The New Book - scene 2

Originally uploaded by jj8rock
There's photography in the new book. I love that! I love that I get to mix my two passions, and have one of my main characters as passionate, and a bit as clueless, as I am about it. I expect there will be lots of researching involved as well, which I am excited about.

It's a great metaphor for the book as well. Everything else I've written I've started at the beginning and worked through to the end in one long sweep. This book is coming at me in snapshots. I have the entire book loosely plotted (until the characters take over, that is), but when I try to work through it chronologically, I am overtaken by scenes later in the book. The character, Riley, looks at life through the eyepiece of the camera in bits and pieces, seeing only what catches her interest, blocking the rest out. And so I see, clearly in my mind, exactly what bits and pieces of the story look like.

The structure of the book may very well end up following in Riley's snapshot lifestyle. Or eventually all the pictures may end up weaving themselves together in a beautiful mosaic to make a much larger picture.

In any case, it's a world I'm thrilled to get to live in every day alongside Riley. Not that the road won't be rough... not all photos are of beautiful things, and there are plenty of un-beautiful things about Riley's life. But overall, it' s going to be a real journey for both of us.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The New Book

Ventura sunset
Originally uploaded by Amery Carlson
I'm trying to focus more on writing the new book these days than blogging, even though I have lots of ideas to blog on. But for now, I need to focus on writing, on the new ideas that are taking root, and giving them a firm foundation to grow.

So for the next few days, instead of writing, I'm going to share a few images that are inspiring my writing, and maybe some of the music as well. The book is as much emotion and setting and mood as plot at this point.

So here is the first... a scene from Ventura, California, as taken by the phenomenal photographer, Amery Carlson.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Snowed In

Last week the sun was out. The birds were singing. My crocuses and daffodils were poking their brave little heads out of the earth and looking around. It felt like spring. I started daydreaming about short-sleeved shirts and counting the weekends until the pool opens (eleven). Despite the fact that it was barely finishing February, winter had been fickle this year, and as it seemed done with me, I was glad to shake the dust off and move forward.

Then this morning I woke up and BAM! This is what I saw out the window.

Snow day for everyone!

No running today. No writing, either. But lots of coffee and some serious shoveling of our 300 foot driveway. And some sledding and a few random snowballs. But mostly coffee and shoveling.

I realize fully that our wimpy six inches is nothing for many people. Someone in Michigan reminded me that they've gotten over 100 inches so far this year. Us? Well... about eleven with this snowfall. So I want to tell her, yeah - but did you get half of that all at once???

Seriously, we don't have the right equipment to deal with the snow... we have tons of back roads and non paved roads, and there is always inevitably a half inch of ice under all that snow that can't be merely plowed to the side.

So all you people who want to joke about how backwards and soft we are to cancel school and offices and governments for six inches of snow (with ice!), you can keep your tough-it-out, never-close-down culture. We'll take our enthusiastic snow days. With some really hot coffee on the side.