Monthly Archives: January 2013

Wyoming in my mind

My husband and I are down to one working laptop and one semi-but-not-really-working desktop.

This generally doesn’t pose too many problems for us.  After all, we both have Droid Razrs.  But smartphones aren’t the best for writing novels, or for downloading 20th Century retro video games.

So Monday night when I wanted to work on my book and Ryan wanted to play Unreal Tournament, we had to pull out the ole marriage handbook and strike a compromise: I’d get the laptop until 8:30, and then I’d go watch Biggest Loser.

Normally it doesn’t take much to get to me crash on the couch downstairs in front of the TV for several hours.  On one hand there’s washing dishes or putting away laundry…on the other there’s my stockpile of Big Bang Theory episodes, followed by Once Upon a Time, Elementary, and SVU.  I know, right?  Why am I always the one taking one for the team?

But Monday night was different.  For one thing, I’d already watched all of those shows over the weekend (the ones that didn’t have a bye week, that is); for another, I couldn’t get my novel out of my head.  I might have been listening to Jillian Michaels lament the probability of going home early after the likely demise of her White Team, now down to one contestant, but really I was talking with Darby O’Dell in the forest of Wyoming’s Grand Tetons, considering how to rewrite the scene that would come next, one of the many I’d tossed out in favor of a new, better-written(?) plot line.

Since reaching the end of this novel three summers ago, and actually thinking myself to have a readable manuscript, I have deleted half the book (eight chapters) and so far rewritten about seven.  I think there are another two chapters in there that will need to be rewritten from scratch too, but time will tell.

Really, not having the laptop to myself was not a good enough reason not to work on my book, but I let it be good enough as I chose reality TV over the reality of my life: That I’m a novelist who’s been editing her first complete book now for close to four years and frequently chooses almost anything to actually writing or editing.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy the story, and Monday night was a perfect enough example of that.  My head was in the game, but my willpower was cooling its heels over on the sidelines planning out strategies while taking a breather with a gallon of Gatorade.  The reality of noveling is, it’s hard.  Even if you know what you’re going to write, it’s still more difficult than flipping through the index of your DVR and scanning through shows that have piled up over several months and that you still don’t want to watch but are considering anyway because you so desperately want to feel what you feel while writing your novel, only in an easier way.  The crux is that nothing will make you feel what you feel while writing your novel.  Movies and TV and other people’s books might come close; they might give you that fix for drama or comedy or heartbreak that’s similar to what you were looking to feel, like how Cadbury chocolate will do, if it’s easily accessible, even though what you really wanted was Hershey.

And that’s what ultimately made me turn down old Charlie’s Angels episodes that have been stewing on the DVR since the last time Cloo Network had a marathon sometime last summer, and instead work on my novel by hand.  By hand is even better, by the way.  It’s harder than typing and takes longer, but that’s what makes it the Cote d’Or of the writing experience.

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Real life is like that

So, you know how when people become inspired by the life or actions of a character on TV or in film, there are always those naysayers who combat the feelings of the newly inspired with, “Oh, but that’s just a movie.  Real life isn’t like that”?

Even those who have been inspired will find ways around achieving what they’ve seen others do.  “I know it’s only fiction, but…”  This preface to whatever we might feel bolstered to bring to life is like a safety net for when we don’t.  It’s like saying, “I know this is stupid, but…”  Then if it really is stupid, and someone else calls us on it, we can say that yeah, we knew it wouldn’t work out, however much we really thought it might and really wished it would.

Well, what I think, and know it might be stupid and it’s only fiction, but…

So what?  So what if the stories we love and want to live are scripted?  Is it really so cliché to point out that every day we’re writing the very lines of our own stories?  In National Novel Writing Month we learn that writing our stories unscripted is what truly breathes life into them.  If we stick to an outline and any preconceived scenes or actions or dialog, then the characters and their choices seem stiff.  They might even feel too perfect.  That’s when they don’t feel real.

Personally, (and I’m just thinking out loud on my digital paper here, but…) I’d say real life is exactly “like that” – at least, it’s like the really good stories — the ones about realistically drawn characters who have to overcome adversity in order to improve upon their situations in life and who, along the way, improve upon themselves as well.  Sure, by the time we read a book or watch a film, we’re seeing the scripted version, the edited finished product, after someone or many someones have come along and chosen which version of a greater story they want to convey to an audience, but isn’t that what we do each and every day when we relate the stories of our lives to our loved ones?  We tell them only the good parts — or the bad parts.  We don’t give them all of the boring every-day in between stuff, unless we’re trying to frame our story with the humdrums: “I was just driving to work, like I normally do, and I turned on the radio like always…”

So who cares if you read about someone who broke out of her everyday blah by being determined enough to shoot for something greater?  Okay, so it’s just a book, but maybe someday your life will be a book too, a fiction based on real life.  The lines in that book or screenplay will be scripted, and they might not be yours, but it’s not really the dialog of our lives that matters anyway.  It’s the actions.

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Mud

Fridays at the online writing group I belong to are set aside for writing flash fiction.  Every Friday at 9 a.m. a writing challenge is posted on the Flash Friday blog for Shenandoah Valley Writers, and participants have twelve hours to come up with something before the deadline at 9 p.m.  Then the judging begins.

Last Friday was the first time I participated.  I have known for a while what flash fiction is, though I never tried writing it, except for a six word story one time.  Last week’s challenge was to write a 50-word story based on an uncaptioned photo of astronaut Buzz Aldrin’s foot taking one small step for man.  In the moment when I viewed it on my Droid Razr in a darkened parking lot outside my office building before heading home from work, I did not recognize the photo.  To me it looked like someone in hiking boots stepping into mud.

Flash fiction, I learned somewhere, can be anywhere from six words to thousands.  There are even flash novels out there somewhere.  What binds all these stories together in their own genre, however, is that they are succinct; they are brief.  Every sentence, every word even, is important.  Flash fiction doesn’t contain long paragraphs of description simply for the beauty of writing.  Not that there’s anything wrong with such paragraphs, in other books.  That’s just not what flash fiction is.

So I drove home last Friday, recording ideas for my flash fiction into the digital recorder I use for work, and when I stopped at Martins for groceries, I jotted down ideas into paragraph form.  I was racing the clock by that point.  By 9 p.m., my entry had to be posted in the comments section of the SVW Flash Friday blog, and it then was nearing 8 p.m.

At home, though, the writing went quickly, and by 8:20 or so I had a finished version.  It was pretty good, I thought, and I even dared to think it great.  I had read over the six or seven entries to the previous week’s contest and thought my 50-word story easily a contender to be this week’s winner.  On my first try, I’d produced a masterpiece — one giant leap for writerkind.  And I patted myself on the back for being someone who scores a hundred percent without even studying…much.

Then I saw how many other people entered the contest.  I’ll give you a hint: It wasn’t six.  There were twenty-one entries, plus one by the moderator herself.  Not only did I not win, I wasn’t even one of the two runners up.  Suddenly, my story seemed a lot more like sixty percent.

I’m sure my story is fine for what it is, a first try, but I definitely learned a lesson in humility Saturday after I read over all the other entries, most of which did use a theme of space exploration, whereas mine was about mud.  When the results came out, I wasn’t much surprised.  Sad, maybe, but also encouraged.  It was my first try.  That’s why there’s practice.

Read on for my flash fiction:

buzz-aldrin-footprint-pic-1969

(Photo credit: NASA, I suppose? Found through Google)

Mud.  I’ve embraced the name.  I’m more like mud than they realized.  It’s squishy; it won’t be brushed aside like dust.  When someone steps on it, it leaves an impression.  It also sticks to shoes.  They don’t know they take it along with them.  Unlike dust, mud has a life.

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January 17, 2013 · 6:00 am

New year, same old me

Last year I wrote my New Year’s themed blog post about the importance of not forgetting the past in favor of a better future.  It seemed to me that people so easily hope to forget the past as the clock rolls over from December into January.  A clean slate is much more attractive than a book of mistakes and regrets that wrote the early pages of our adulthoods — maybe even our childhoods.

I have no such words for this year’s first blog.  In fact, I have very few words on any subject at all.  To those of you who have been checking my blog and wondering when I might return, I apologize for again abandoning my post for two months.  When last I left you I was writing another novel.  Then I guess everything just got crazy, and the blog fell to the background.

Over the weeks leading up to now, I have thought about writing.  Then every Thursday would pass me by again.  I could list the reasons and excuses, but it’s a new year.  Instead, I’m moving on.

I don’t feel new like so many people would hope to feel in the new year.  But I do feel as if I have good opportunities waiting for me to find them in the future.

Like many others, I’m currently on a healthy eating/exercise plan, though I’m not stressing over the boundaries of said plan.  I also have intentions of finishing my first novel this year…the one I had hoped to submit to the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards this month, which, yeah, isn’t going to happen.  But I’m much closer to my goal than I was last year at this time.  This past fall, I rewrote five whole chapters, and just last week I scrapped and began rewriting another two.

Then, just this evening, I picked up my clarinet for the first time in a good long while.  Every couple of years I attempt to begin playing again, having given up the daily routine of it more than twelve years ago.  Yet tonight, I practiced Bach … from memory.  Of course I stumbled over notes, but I found them all, and the second try was even better.  I’ve fallen from a size 3 reed to a 2, but I’m playing.

So I’m making these recent attempts my metaphor for the new year.  It doesn’t matter how long it’s been since you’ve written anything creatively, or how long it’s been since you’ve eaten broccoli, or how long it’s been since you picked up your guitar or sat down to the piano or tried to recall high school Russian.  All that matters is you’re doing it now.  And that you keep doing it, for as long as it means something to you.

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