Saturday, May 22, 2010

Don't Light Yourself On Fire

I have just sewn a really elaborate night gown. Actually, it's supposed to be my costume for the Cinderella and I production I'm in next week, but it still looks like a fancy full-length slip you'd sleep in. The dress is made of a shimmery Wedgwood-blue satin and white lace, and I have bedazzled it with sequins, rhinestones, and pearls. I can hardly wait to take off the embellishments and put it in my lingerie drawer. Really. I'm doing that after it's served it's purpose.

The main thing I need to remember during this foray in the theatre is not to turn my wand the wrong way. This prop really sparks. As in incendiary, hot sparks. I shoot it twice. Once at the beginning of the performance and once at the end. I know I will be muttering the entire time, "Don't light yourself on fire! Don't light yourself on fire!" Good advice, no?

Oh, and the silver cloak! I should instead call it Satan's cloak of doom. This thing was impossible to make. It's pattern could confuse Einstein. It was like rocket science but for costumes. My mom and I worked on it for two days straight, and I just noticed that the gathers on the hood are ungathering again. The cloak hates me. After the performance, I am wearing this thing everywhere. It will be like Halloween at my house. I will make breakfast in the cloak. I will make excuses to go to Renaissance fairs. I will send the kids off to school in it, and I will pretend that I am Galadriel. "Don't lose the ring, Frodo!" I'll call. "Watch your hair, Legolas."

*Deep yoga breathing* Okay, I'm alright now. I just get a little crazy about the cloak of doom. Anyway, after next week, I will lovingly embrace my normal chores. All this stretching out of my comfort zone leaves me frazzled.

I am pretty excited-- no, more cautiously optimistic--about a full manuscript request, I just received. It came from a local publisher, nothing national, but I will be polishing my manuscript and sending it in.

I hope you are all having an awesome weekend. Don't sew--unless you enjoy it-- and get some fresh air, if you can. Eat chocolate. Laugh. Take a long walk. Listen to music. Play a board game. Read and write. In short, make yourselves happy, blogging buddies.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Time Management

Hi, Everybody. How are you all? I survived the LUW Spring Workshop without having a nervous breakdown. Barely. It did go well enough, I suppose, but I think I'll let some other lucky person do the honors next year. The highlights of the event had to be Dan Wells, Elana Johnson, and Clint Johnson. They each gave awesomesauce a whole new meaning.

Now, if I can just survive playing the role of the Fairy Godmother in a local production of Cinderella and I. Odds on my survival are only fair, however. (So, if you never hear from me again after next Tuesday, let me tell you how incredible I think you are!) While trying to find a white wig, a blue dress and a silver cape, I'm seriously getting a nervous tic. (We've already established the fact I'm not a performer.) Anyway, I'll let you know wether my reviews are merely mediocre or completely disastrous.

How do you find the time to do all you do, blogger buddies? I know you are each terribly busy balancing your daily responsibilities with your desire to create and write. Here is a brief overview of my last six weeks: Easter, three of my kids birthdays, my birthday, my 17th wedding anniversary, Mother's Day, two week stomach flu, and doing tons of stuff for the writer's workshop. This is not a normal schedule for me. April and May are always overwhelming months. And maybe December. But the rest of my year is completely boring. I spend most of my days doing housework with a couple hours of driving carpool thrown in to spice things up.

Ah, here's the rub, blogger buddies. When do I write? My kids hate it when I'm in my office during the day. They go to great lengths to disturb me. My husband hates my writing at night. In those odd moments when nobody's around, I am often too tired to focus on the computer, and I almost get a phobia about sitting at my desk. Don't make me go into the dark room, I say to myself. I don't want to use my brain again. It hurts!

I'm sure you are far more organized than I am. Please, tell me your secrets for daily writing success. How do you do it? Do you have a laptop? Should I get one? Do you set writing goals? Is the key to making progress on your WIP tenacity or discipline? (Wow. That's a whole lotta big questions.)

Have a great Wednesday, writer friends.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Be Like That

All I ever wanted was to be an opera singer. Between the ages of 10 thru 25, I was consumed with this desire. I took bel canto lessons and practiced hours and hours each day. During high school, I earned honor credits with the musical training I received off campus and I went to college, on scholarship, in hopes of earning a vocal performance degree.

As an adolescent, I would shut myself in our family room, crank up the stereo, turn off the lights, sit on the naugahyde sofa, close my eyes, and listen. Just imagine the allegro con brio from Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. Or Chopin's Heroic Polonaise in A flat major. Tears on my cheeks, I wanted to absorb the music into my soul. I heard passion, hope, sorrow, and triumph. I wanted to sing like that.

Dreams don't always mesh with reality, however. I wasn't Beethoven or Chopin. I loved to sing, but I absolutely loathed performing. I enjoyed learning arias in French, Italian, and German, but I hated doing recitals. I had natural talent and a good ear, but my musicianship wasn't great. In short, the future I had hoped for during the first half of my life changed. In my junior year of college, I switched my major to English Literature. Why? Because I loved books as much as I did music. The Romantics, Victorians and Transcendentalists especially.

Today, I still sing. For my mother, husband, and children. Sometimes in church. Writing now fulfills the need for self-expression that I thrived on as a vocalist. Even better, I can write and no one has to look at me out on a stage. At last I've found my niche! But old habits die hard. After finishing a writing exercise this morning, I clicked on my iTunes music library, turned up the volume on my computer, laid my head down on the smooth surface of my desk, closed my eyes, and listened. Jessye Norman's Amazing Grace. Pavarotti's Nessun Dorma. Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata. Masterpieces all. In them, there is longing, joy, genius. I thought to myself. How do I write that? Be like that?

Now Robert Browning's ghost almost whispers, "Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp. Or what's a heaven for?"

Have you ever heard a piece of music or seen a painting or photograph and then wanted to capture it in writing?

P.S. Is it just me or does Beethoven look a little like Simon Cowell?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A Toast On My Birthday

I can't believe I'm this old. Really, it's true. My laugh lines have laugh lines. Yesterday, a door-to-door pest control salesman dropped by my house and told me I didn't look old enough to have teenagers. You can bet your sweet checkbook I signed up! Obviously, the man was a blatant flatterer, but I didn't care. He made me happy. My husband laughed aloud and then covered his mouth with his hand as I related this experience to him. I mean, was that necessary? And on my birthday, no less? Maybe Hubby should take some lessons from the bug guy.

In all honesty, I look back over all these years I've been given with gratitude. I'm so happy I'm not the timid girl I once was. I'm thankful for the personal growth which I've garnered over time. Big life lessons are universal in nature, I believe. Falling in love, becoming a parent, learning a skill, making a friend, rendering service, finding beauty in simple things, living one day at a time. These are ordinary, yet remarkable, experiences. They make life full and rewarding.

I still feel green and unschooled inside. I have not yet hit my prime. What would I wish for if I were blowing out my candles right now? I'd wish for another year and another after that and another still. I lift my water-beaded glass of Diet Coke with Lime and make a toast, on this, my day.

May our lives, and ourselves, become what we want them to be, and may we all have joy in the journey.


Supposing today was your birthday. What would you wish for?

Monday, May 10, 2010


So, I was doing the dishes this afternoon. I do not like doing dishes. Especially cookie sheets. Don't ask me why, but they are beyond obnoxious to me. Maybe it stems from my childhood. Perhaps, in some far corner of my sub-conscious, I have a repressed memory of touching a hot cookie sheet at the age of three. Or it could be that a neighbor threatened to whack me with a cookie sheet for cutting across his lawn. I really have no idea. All I know is that I abhor washing them. I do it though because, as we all know, sheets happen.And then it began to rain. It was a deluge. I expected to see Gene Kelly and his umbrella at any moment. (Born and raised in Oregon, I love the rain.) I opened the window above my kitchen sink and reveled in the sounds of liquid sunshine. I automatically felt better, all safe and cozy, as I finished my work. I completely forgot about hating the cookie sheets.
I watched the storm move across the valley, thunder and lightning playing tag in the hills. It was an awesome display and like the grand finale of a fourth of July spectacular, the storm was over too soon.
The horizon was scrubbed clean, and the air smelled of sage and pine. Life seemed better, more beautiful, than before.

During the rainstorm, I was distracted from my dislike of doing dishes by something lovely. Lately, I have dreaded writing almost as much as the cookie sheets. What do you do to distract yourself from tasks you don't like? How do you stay motivated?

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Poetry Nerd Alert! Part II

  • My muse Daniel Craig and I have selected two of our favorite poems. Well, of course Dan loves poetry! Poetry cuts to the core, evoking images and filling the reader with emotion while using very few words. I hope you enjoy this sample of brilliance.

Disclaimer: please forgive any inconsistencies with the font and spacing. My blog is doing all sorts of weird things today. It is possessed, I swear.

Now, I present to you The Match by Swinburne
  • If love were what the rose is,
  • And I were like the leaf,
  • Our lives would grow together
    In sad or singing weather,
    Blown fields or flowerful closes,
    Green pleasure or gray grief;
    If love were what the rose is,
    And I were like the leaf.
    If I were what the words are,
    And love were like the tune,
    With double sound and single
    Delight our lips would mingle,
    With kisses glad as birds are
    That get sweet rain at noon;
    If I were what the words are,
    And love were like the tune.

    If you were life, my darling,
    And I your love were death,
    We’d shine and snow together
    Ere March made sweet the weather
    With daffodil and starling
    And hours of fruitful breath;
    If you were life, my darling,
    And I your love were death.

    If you were thrall to sorrow,
    And I were page to joy,
    We’d play for lives and seasons
    With loving looks and treasons
    And tears of night and morrow
    And laughs of maid and boy;
    If you were thrall to sorrow,
    And I were page to joy.

    If you were queen of pleasure,
    And I were king of pain,
    We’d hunt down love together,
    Pluck out his flying-feather,
    And teach his feet a measure,
    And find his mouth a rein;
    If you were queen of pleasure,
    And I were king of pain.

    Okay, Mr. Swinburne. You are totally awesome, and I have a big literary crush on you.
    Dan just reminded me that I can't forget Walt Whitman. I chose to share a small portion of O Captain! My Captain!
    O CAPTAIN! my Captain! our fearful trip is done;
    The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won;
    The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
    While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:
    But O heart! heart! heart!
    O the bleeding drops of red,
    Where on the deck my Captain lies,
    Fallen cold and dead. . .

    Whitman, American poet laureate of his day, wrote that poem for Abraham Lincoln, and it is perfection.

  • Thank you, blogging buddies, for reading through this post. Great poems like these taught me to love words as a child. Today, they inspire me to write fiction, and with my limited skill, to take common language and refashion it into something new and bright. As Frost would say, we writers take "the road less travelled" and indeed, that makes "all the difference."

  • Do you like poetry? Who are your favorite poets?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


In the 5th grade, I wrote a play about Queen Elizabeth and Mary, Queen of Scots. My elementary school teacher believed in my writing ability enough to have my class act out this amateur attempt at historical drama. Inspired by Mrs. Boughton's faith in me, I continued writing.

At Lincoln High School, I was a shy, anxiety-ridden adolescent. Miss Moyes was my English teacher. She often called on me to read aloud in class -- a special hell for a wall flower who wanted only to go unnoticed. Miss Moyes gently bullied me into joining the school speech team. This organization promoted competitive speaking, or forensics, with meets throughout the Oregon region. The teenagers who participated in this mental blood sport generally wanted to be attorneys or CEOs, and the first time I spoke, I threw up in the bathroom afterward. But like a bolt from the blue, I found I had a talent for writing speeches, and this helped me come out of my shell and express myself. Frankly, I learned to kick some ass on the speech team.

Mrs. White was just as influential in her quiet, supportive way. I always felt safe in her class room. We were a tight little bunch of creative writers, and Mrs. W. was our protective mother hen.

A few years ago, I took a continuing education class from Sharon Jarvis. I had just finished my first women's fiction novel, and I had no idea what I was doing. Book writing was completely new to me. Under Sharon's tutelage, I learned that my story was completely wrong. I'm not kidding. If there was a mistake you could make, it was in there. I needed this instruction. Badly. It made me look at writing with new eyes and gain a fresh passion for the craft. Sharon Jarvis, you saved my bacon.

I owe each of these teachers a great debt. They helped me at the precise moment I needed help. I doubt these women will ever know the full ramifications of their kindness. God bless the dedicated teacher.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Too Scary For Me

I had a bad dream last night. This is a rare occurrence for me. Almost akin to a Sasquatch sighting. I don't usually remember dreams the next morning, but this one I did. It was in the steampunk style actually, and I was held captive in an old Victorian house with a crazed killer. Let me add that I am not a person who enjoys scary books or movies. I relive the frightening moments when I am alone and vulnerable, and though I don't like doing this, I can't seem to help myself.

In my dream, I was trying to protect a group of children. We ran for our lives down a long hallway, and when we finally reached the room ahead, I locked the door behind us. I helped the children out a ground floor window just as the killer began breaking through the wood paneling of the door.

I didn't care for the way the dream was heading so my conscious mind stepped in. I said to myself, "To hell with this," and a shotgun appeared in my hands. This special steampunk weapon had an endless supply of bullets, and the evil villain was vanquished. Needless to say, the children and I survived the terrible ordeal!

This ridiculous experience made me think of writing. Do you ever find your WIP taking weird twists and turns you don't like? Do you read over your previous days work only to realize that you screwed up the plot, dialogue, or character development somewhere?

My question to you. Do you step in, like I did in my dream, and go back and change things then and there? Or do you continue writing, knowing you can fix things at the revision stage?

First draft editing is taboo, I know, but again, I just can't seem to help myself. What about you?

Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Easter Orchid

He collapsed outside the Tokyo embassy on a business trip and died a short time later. We learn this from a phone call during dinner. I shut myself in the bathroom and look at my face in the mirror. There are no tears, but my hands feel like ice, as though death has brushed up against me with the passing of my father.

His casket sits in our living room the night before his burial. He doesn't look like the man I knew, the man who gave me a penny to sing him a song while he shaved in the morning. But his hair is the same, it still has the salt and pepper curls I remember.

He would have enjoyed his funeral. We Irish-Germans know how to throw a party, and we send him out in style. It's the least we can do for a man who had such a big existence.

The weeks crawl by, and soon it will be Easter.

Our family believes in tradition. To us, every holiday is special. Easter time means a corsage for my mother, and since my father isn't here to buy it, the job falls to me. No one tells me I have to do this, but I feel the responsibility just the same. My father didn't have life insurance, and it took all my mother's savings just to fly his body home from Japan. Now we can't afford to heat our house. Instead, we turn on the oven in the kitchen to keep one small room warm. I know our situation is desperate, but I take the money I saved from picking strawberries and mowing lawns last summer. I go to the nicest florist in our town to find an orchid. It is large, the size of a salad plate, and flawless white. As I look at it, I know I've picked the right one. Just the kind my father would select.

I take it home and hide it in the back of the refrigerator behind the milk. I do my chores for a few hours, but I worry. What if my mother discovers her Easter gift before I give it to her? I go back to the kitchen and move the corsage around, trying to conceal it with ketchup and pickles, but the clear plastic florist box is too big. I think of a better hiding spot, a place my mother would never look.

I go to the basement and put the corsage in the old freezer. I run back upstairs and begin cleaning the bathrooms. Hours later, after all my work is done, I feel happy. I'm excited about the next morning, and while my mother is cooking dinner, I slip downstairs. I take the orchid out of the freezer. It's covered with delicate ice crystals and as I look at it, the flower turns from white to black. I panic. I know nothing at all about corsages, but it's obvious that I've ruined this one. I have a few dollars in my wallet, but it's too late to go to the store. I've let my mother down. She won't have anything this Easter.

I sit on the steps and weep as though my heart is broken, as though my father is lost again. It's here that she finds me. She takes the box from my hands and looks inside.

"Thank you, " she says, pinning the corsage to her t-shirt. "I love it."

I lift my head, face wet. Her eyes are glittering and there's a slight twitch at the corner of her mouth. She doesn't say I'm stupid for putting a hothouse flower in the icebox. She doesn't lecture me for wasting the precious money.

"It was beautiful, I can tell," my mother whispers, touching the orchid. "No one could ask for a better gift on Easter."

In that moment, on the dusty basement stairs, I learn my first lesson about love. I learn that it doesn't come with conditions or restrictions. Love looks deep into the heart and lodges there instead of bouncing off the surface. It is overwhelming and generous and forgiving.

My mother smiles at me and I smile back at her, and I know that together we'll be all right.