Thursday, October 27, 2011

When Good Writing Isn't Enough

Wow. It's almost the end of October. I can't believe how time speeds by and suddenly another month is gone. Are you all well? How are your writing projects progressing?

I recently learned a valuable lesson from my editor friend Angela. Maybe it's more accurate to say that I relearned it or finally internalized this principle. You're probably way ahead of me, but here it is, my big revelation . . .

Sometimes good writing needs to be cut. Even if you love it and it hurts to see the scene go, cut away.

I know, I've heard this at every writer's conference I've ever attended, but it hit home during my current rewrite. I guess I've always thought in the back of my mind that if I wrote a passage better I could keep it in. Unfortunately, that's not the case. We need to eliminate what doesn't move the story forward, painful as it may be.

I don't really mind the cutting. I've taken my women's fiction novel down 20,000 words, and I'm not even close to finished. But it's so exciting to see the story improve, see new things emerge. I edited until 3:3o am the other day, and I was startled to see the time, caught up as I was in the thrill of newly falling in love with an old piece of work.

A few more weeks, and I can begin querying again. I can hardly wait.

Are you editing now? Don't you just love writing when it makes everyday life an adventure? Have a great time in the process, blogging buddies!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Worst Cold Ever

I've been laid low for what seems like forever with the worst cold. I can't even read. Or think. Or focus on anything interesting. That's the real bummer. I just lay around with my eyes closed--breathing like a surfacing dolphin--while listening to the drone of the television. Where is my immune system when I need it?

Luckily, a local editor is working on my story even if I am not. Thank you, Angela!

Hope you're well and happy, blogging friends. Are you busy being industrious or enjoying a little R&R?

Whatever you do, stay clear of the dreaded summer cold.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

You Can't Go Home Again . . .

Remember that age-old axiom, "you can't go home again"? Silly. Ridiculous. Absurd. Of course you can. I did. And it taught me something, too.

I was born in Portland, Oregon, during the halcyon days of spring in 196... Well, let's just say I'm an Oregonian and leave it at that. For me, growing up in the Pacific Northwest was a dream. Rain was my favorite season. (Let's face it, when the sun did make an appearance our joints creaked more than the Tin Man in The Wizard Of Oz.)

A few summers ago, our family took a road trip back to my hometown, and I was the human equivalent of that dog we've all seen. You know, the one with the canine grin who blissfully sticks its head out of the car window as the wind whips its face. So great was my joy at seeing the Columbia River Gorge, I felt tears gathering at the corners of my eyes—from unrestrained emotion, not the wind. We stopped at Multnomah Falls, took the kids on a short hike, and then drove into the city.

We had no more crossed the Willamette than an angry motorist flipped us the bird. That put a momentary damper on my nostalgia. The weather was also chillier than I remembered. I'm not kidding, the Portlanders at the zoo wore woolly Peruvian sweaters and thick socks under their Birkenstock sandals.

In August.

Yes, that's the month we, in Utah, call The Hot Time or The Big Heat. (Okay. Maybe I'm the only one in Utah who calls it that. But we all think it, right?)

The Oregon beach was absolutely gorgeous. However, I am not the daredevil I used to be. After trying to body surf with my older children, I realized I couldn't tolerate the water temperature as I did before. Honestly, this water was freezing. My children ran in and then away from it.

How cold was it, you ask? Cold enough that you'd prefer to go skinny dipping in the North Sea in January than test it with your toe, cold enough that you wouldn't be surprised to see a polar bear doing the back stroke in the nearest tidal pool, cold enough that even the migrating whales wear wet suits when they pass through those waters. Alright. Maybe I'm exaggerating. Slightly.

Obviously, everything changes. Portland and I both look different after all these years. Truth be told, I've discovered that I prefer warm weather since living in the desert. I will always be a Portland girl. But maybe, I'm also a Wasatch Front, Utah county girl as well.

Revisiting the past is worthwhile. It illuminates the present. It helps us realize how good things were and often, how much better they are now. Home is a relative term, after all. When we're with the people we love, our roots settle, and we're there. I'm home each time my husband and kids walk through the door.

And yet, a bit of my heart will always belong to that beautiful City Of Roses.

Can't go home again? Hah. The next thing you know, they'll be saying you can't change a leopard's spots. Silly. Ridiculous. Absurd.

Do you have any vacation plans for this summer?

Saturday, June 18, 2011


The first time I met Elana Johnson was in a ladies bathroom.

No, really, it's true. We were both in Provo attending the 2010 Life, the Universe, and Everything writing conference. Seeing Elana there, I knew it was destiny. A few days earlier, my chapter of The League of Utah Writers had just been discussing her over lunch at Paradise Bakery. We wanted Elana to speak at the LUW Spring Workshop in the worst way, and there she was, just a few feet away from me!

Yes, I know it's tacky to talk business while in the loo, but I overlooked this common protocol and seized the moment. As Elana dried her hands on a brown paper towel at the sink, I asked her if she would speak to our group. Hmm. Maybe she felt cornered or stalked by a crazed fan--I know I would have in her position. Still, she was a good sport, and agreed to join us at the workshop. Her presentation on query letters was excellent, one of the very best I've seen. Elana's awesome talent is no surprise to those of us who follow her blog. (That's over 2,000 people, by the way)

Which brings me to my review of Possession.

I finished this book in an afternoon and then gave it to my teenage daughter to read. I was drawn in from page one, and let me just say, I'm pretty picky where openings are concerned. I really enjoyed the humor, and the wry, likable heroine, Violet. She lives in a world where Goodies and Baddies are mutually exclusive and free choice isn't free at all. Or even allowed. But Vi's certainly up to the challenge of bucking the system.

The plot is solid and interesting, moving along quickly, and the dialogue is great. But let's talk about this guy Jag. Whoa. Love at first read. He has it all. Good hair, bad boy attitude, heart, a sexy voice . . . We LIKES him, preciousss.

I have to admit, I was a little bummed when I finished Possession. You know you've read something worthwhile when it makes you laugh and breaks your heart a little as well. Last night, I went to Goodreads and learned this book wasn't a stand alone novel. It's Possession (Possession #1)! As in, there will be a #2 and hopefully, a #3.

Thank you, Elana.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

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 for 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. 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. 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! The Romantics, Victorians and Transcendentalists especially. Here began my second life.

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?

Have you ever heard a piece of music or seen a painting or photograph and then wanted to capture it in a story? What were your dreams growing up? Besides writing, what are your other talents?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Allyson Condie Appreciation Day

It would be creepy if someone as old as me liked YA literature, right? Of course right. That's common knowledge. (wink, wink, nod, nod)

Matched by Ally Condie is YA, and I loved it. This book is well-written, fast-paced and lyrical. It had me at Do Not Go Gentle Into That Goodnight. The Dylan Thomas favorite figures prominently in the plot of Condie's dystopian story. I crave dark, passionate poems. They call to me as sirens would a sailor. I wasn't disappointed with the Thomas tie-in. His masterpiece fit into the plot, calling the characters to rebellion. I admire any writer who can do that.

Another plus! The next installment comes out in the fall. I have all summer to anticipate Crossed (Matched #2.)

My philosophical post script . . .
To quote Dylan Thomas:

Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

This poem challenges us to resist death. In all its forms. The death of body, soul, dreams, love. It urges us to fight the good fight, and never surrender. What a beautiful sentiment. So perfect for struggling writers.

Do not go gentle into that good night, my friends. Be bold. Think up something new, and write it down. Fall back into love with a troubled manuscript . . . even if you and your muse aren't speaking and rejections are camping out on your front step.

Keep reading, creating, and revising. You'll make your own light as you do.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Look Away, Anna. Look Away.

After sifting through the contents of my closet the other day, a thought struck me like a pointy-toed stiletto. I hoard useless fashion. I am an ugly-clothing sentimentalist. It's a sickness, I know, but in my fashion time capsule, I have dresses sewn before the invention of microwave ovens, personal computers, and VHS video players.

Obviously, if you’ve chosen to store away your wedding gown or your child's heirloom blessing ensemble, it’s understandable. I have those, of course, and that sort of memento is normal. Saving the peach suit I wore before my wedding is okay, too. Keeping the formal gowns from my vocal recitals in college pushes the boundaries a bit. But why, oh why, have I retained the Victorian drop-waist pinstripe number with matching bowler hat from my high school days? Steampunk may be in style again, but my daughters wouldn’t even consider wearing it.

Remember Ralph Lauren stirrup pants? Circa 1991? Check! Got 'em.

The shameful list goes on and on. Sweatshirts with the neck cut out, shoulder-padded—and I mean padded—power suits, acid-wash peg-leg jeans, lace Madonna gloves. Beaded and bedazzled sweaters, broom handle skirts, business ties for women, and gypsy patchwork sundresses. Opaque leggings, Donna Karan onesie blouses, Barbara Bush pearls. And I’m skipping over the whole Durran Durran, Miami Vice, and paisley-everything era.

This post is just one embarrassing confession after another. I'm sure I'll erase it tomorrow. But the question begs to be asked. Why do I waste valuable shelf-space on these terrible things?

I think I’ve figured that out. I was happy when I wore those clothes. I liked who I was back then, and I take out my textile scrapbook, and say to myself, “See? This is who you used to be.” Before adulthood, before mortgage payments, children, and wrinkles, when the future was scary and uncertain and full of possibilities and promise.

I love my life now. I’m living what that girl from long ago dreamed of doing. Even so, I don’t want to forget her entirely. I may release my hold on the past and donate my relics to charity one day. But not yet.

Anna Wintour, the editor of Vogue magazine, would have an aneurism, a cardiac infarction, a grand mal seizure, hives, and a nervous tic simultaneously if she laid eyes on this collection.

Look away, Anna. Look away.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Why I Write . . .

Today is my birthday, and I'm pretty stoked about it. I plan on making the most of the next 24 hours. Partay, people! Three years ago, it looked doubtful that I would have another birthday, but I'm still here. Definite cause for celebration, if you ask me.

Backstory on my near-miss with the grim reaper:

After being sick for several months, I went to the emergency room at a local hospital, and a skilled, Harvard-educated surgeon admitted me. He arranged for a few tests and then, with the help of two other doctors, performed an eight hour surgery which saved my life. At one point, these gifted men held some of my organs in their hands, cleaning them of infection. (Ewww, I know.) My doctor said that he had never performed a more difficult procedure and had no idea why I was still alive.

Thankfully, I woke up from the anesthesia and Nurse Hatchett-- or rather, her meaner, more cantankerous older sister-- made me get out of my bed and walk. And so I did, with great effort. But I wasn't alone, I had my trusty, stylish IV pole with me and at least five or six bags of mysterious fluids. I walked all around the hospital floor like this every few hours, day and night. When it was light outside, I'd watch people through the large windows as they went about their lives and wish I was them. Fervently. I wanted to be anyone else right then.

There was a water-stain on the ceiling tile above me (yes, just like Madeline), and one night, I thought of how nice it would be if I could just climb up into that black space and disappear. The pity party eventually grew old. I grabbed my unwieldy IV-pole dance partner and began my journey around the dimly lit halls. It was here that I learned something. Other patients had it far worse than I did. As I walked by those rooms, I had a brief glimpse into another's suffering, and for a moment, I put myself into their situation.

Of course I wrote before I got sick, but I believe I'm a better writer now. I'd like to think I have more resources to offer the fictitious characters I create. Writing makes use of my experiences-- the good, the bad, and the medical. It helps life make sense somehow.

I write because I have to, because my brain is so filled with ideas and feelings, it won't let me not write. I love the freedom to be and create anything I like. I love to tell a good story, and let's face it, few things compare with sudden inspiration flowing from you to the page. These are some of the reasons I keep trying to learn the craft.

Now, more importantly, what makes you write?

Enjoy this beautiful Spring day, blogging buddies. It's good to be alive.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Ray Bradbury Appreciation Day

Like a benevolent mentor, Ray Bradbury instills confidence into our often-shaky, artistic souls by telling us we are not crazy for assuming we can tell a good story, that we are right, and the rest of the world is wrong.

You gotta love this man. He loves you. Without ever meeting you. All because you're a writer. If you haven't read Zen In The Art Of Writing, put it on your to-read list. It is short and effusive and unabashedly sentimental.

This is one of my favorite sections. To set the scene, in 1925 Illinois, a young Ray Bradbury is on the cusp of adolescence. It's the 4th of July, and he is setting off fire balloons.These sparkly, floating incendiaries sound beautiful but dangerous, and Ray is entranced by their glowing light. Surrounded by aunts, uncles, cousins and parents, he releases them reluctantly into the air. He looks at the dear faces around him as the balloons lift toward the sky and the moment is poignantly imprinted on his memory.

Mr. Bradbury shares this story to illustrate how writers are like time machines. We can preserve life by recording it. Though age alters us, and the people we love, we are captured forever through the written word. To quote from Zen:

"I see my grandfather there looking up at that strange shifting light, thinking his own thoughts. I see me, my eyes filled with tears, because it was all over, the night was done, I knew there would never be another night like this. No one said anything. We all just looked up at the sky. . .

"My beloved family still sits on the porch in the dark. The fire balloon still drifts and burns in the night sky of an as yet unburied summer."

See? Our experiences remain unburied if we write them down. And I feel like one of Ray's family when I read that account. As though I, too, am sitting on that porch, gazing at a fiery light rising into the inky darkness. Tomorrow is my 18th wedding anniversary. Can you believe it? I can't. That early spring morning is etched so clearly in my mind, and when I dip into my cistern of memories, time reverses upon itself and I'm there once more. Like one of Mr. Bradbury's heaven-bound fire balloons, I'm still a new bride, taking a leap of faith.

Life is often good, friends. Amid challenges and disappointments, there are still lights in the sky.

Have a wonderful weekend.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

About the Hats . . .

I love a good hat. In my 20's, I was known to wear a white wool beret in winter, a navy fedora with my pinstripe suit on Sundays and a tweed newsboy cap for outings in the city. I worked in a clothing store, or as I like to call it, the fashion exchange system. I spent my days selling things for Nordstrom, they paid me, and I gave my paycheck back at the end of the month to cover my in-store credit card bill. I didn't make a lot of money, but I do have a fabulous former wardrobe tucked away in my closet.

These days, I've scaled down a bit. In fact, I rarely wear hats now at all. Sasquatch sightings are probably more common than seeing me with my head covered. There might be a simple baseball cap brought out on summer days when the weather is especially hot, but even that is rare. Not exactly fashionable or edgy. That's a shame, in my opinion. I love stylish clothing, and wearing something beautiful just for the heck of it.

A woman who can pull off a lovely chapeau has my admiration. She must have confidence, grace, and flare. These are some of my favorite hats from the royal wedding.

This is Charlene Wittstock, Prince Albert of Monaco's fiancee, looking elegant.

I love Lady Helen Taylor's hat. It is classic 1940's and so understated. I would wear this myself, should a glamorous, formal occasion arise. (Who am I kidding? I'd never get an invitation to something glamorous or formal.)
A trio of youthful beauties . . . They can pull off the avant-garde.
Both the father and mother of the bride wore hats. How distinguished!
Prime Minister Nick Clegg's wife, Miriam Durantez shines in this exotic creation. It's perfect with her striking looks and dark hair.
My favorite, Princess Letizia of Spain. What a gorgeous lady! The delicate feathers and netting are just right. A five-star hat!

Friends, I promise to move on from the royal wedding love fest, but first, I must ask. Do you like hats?

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Sceptred Isle

This post is a tribute to everything British. The royal wedding was lovely, and I have to admit to tearing up a little when Will and Kate kissed on the balcony. Why? Because I was happy for the glowing bride and groom, for the people of England. Their joy was so evident.

This isn't a fairytale, it's better.

I feel a strong tie to this wonderful country. For me, it is a place of memories and dreams. Years ago, I lived in England and met my husband there. Discovered myself.

Have you seen The King's Speech? Loved it. Loved Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush. Excellent writing and acting. I thought about this movie for a long time afterward. I could watch it again.

Shakespeare said it well, dear readers.

"This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection, and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,—
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England." King Richard II

God bless the sceptred isle.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Matter of Words

Yesterday, I finished revising a manuscript of 427 pages, 96,207 words. I accomplished this over the course of a week, with a birthday and a wedding thrown in there to keep my on my toes. One night I stayed up until four in the morning, rising at six to get my family ready for school and then returning to the revision project two hours later. When I reached The End, I was elated. I've always identified strongly with the characters in Charm Bracelet, and I felt the corrections did them credit. I love this story. The literary references, the dialogue, the message of redemption and happiness where none were expected.

A couple of hours after finishing, I became very sad. Let's face it, when you create a world you enjoy, it's hard to let it go. To say goodbye to people who seem so real but aren't. How I wish they were. Maybe I'll revise this story again next year . . .

Have you ever felt this way? Longing for the editing work to be done and yet, mourning a bit when it is.

My husband and I took his parents to see the Carl Bloch exhibit. It was even better for me on this third visit. While at the museum, I found another interesting display. A Matter of Words by Adam Bateman, Harrell Fletcher, and John Fraser. It is minimalist, modernist, and conceptual art. Very clever, entertaining, and definitely worth seeing. The above work especially caught my eye. It was a large tower of carefully stacked books. After the exhibit has finished touring, these books will be donated to the Wordwide Book Drive.

It was interesting to watch people react to the book tower. Everyone wanted to touch it. They ignored the boundary marks, walking past the lines without a thought on their way to feel the sometimes beautiful, other times common, volumes. We're all drawn to words, stories, ideas, aren't we?

A plaque at the exhibit read, "In an age of electronic media, where the printed word is rapidly being dematerialized as a result of digital forms, "the matter of words" may soon become an outmoded concept."

A few minutes ago, I picked up a hardbound book, dazzled by the burgundy cover. It's the kind of soft glowing leather that needs to be held and used to grow in beauty. I treasure heirloom quality editions like this, and the classic brilliance inside.

While I enjoy the new digital reading systems of today, knowing they are convenient and accessible, I hope the printed word never becomes an "outmoded concept."

Read on, talented writers, and if you want to check out a great blog about art, drop in and visit Crystal Cook. She's absolutely amazing, and a wonderful writer to boot.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

La commedia e finita . . .

I was cooking Italian with my twelve-year-old son the other day. Leoncavallo's Vesti la Giubba from Pagliacchi was playing in the background. (Pavarotti does an awesome version, but my favorite is the old, grainy recording of Enrico Caruso. Talk about pain and angst.)
As we cooked the pasta, my assistant/son was entertaining me. He does a spot-on impression of Jamie Oliver. He picked up a tennis ball.

"Look at this lemon," he said, sounding a lot like Jamie. "Fresh, lovely taste. It's literally beautiful."

"Um, Jamie?" I replied. "That's not a lemon. It's a tennis ball."

"What are you going on about, woman? Are you mad? Of course it's lemon. Look at it's beautiful yellow color!"

We went on like this for a while, and it was fun. This child always surprises me. He has a great sense of humor, and he's a bit of a rebel when it comes to following the rules. Kind of like the character of Pagliacchi. He's a rebel, too. He actually speaks at the end of the opera. (You just don't do that, people. Speaking is strictly forbidden in this musical genre. That's why they sing every bit of dialogue between arias.)

Anyway, after killing his wife and her lover in a play within a play setting, the tragic clown looks out at the audience in anguish and says, "La commedia e finita!" The comedy is over. Oh, speak to me some more, Pagliacci. Don't you just love that? Awesome, awesome. Or as Mr. Oliver would say, "Literally beautiful!"

Sometimes breaking the rules makes things better. I wish I could do the stream of consciousness thing like Faulkner. I absolutely love The Sound and the Fury. It's one of my favorite books. Wish I had the guts to throw the rules out the window and create something revolutionary. I also wish that I could use description as a literary tool like Dickens, even though it's frowned upon today. Prologues, epilogues, adverbs. I'd do them all.

As Pagliacchi would say, "La norme e finita!" The rules are over.

Which ones would you break?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

SPrinG BreAk

If a picture is worth a thousand words then this is the sum of my Spring Break in a photograph. Chaos. Painting and home improvement stuff. More chaos. Writing like crazy to meet my Saturday deadline. Lots of laundry and dishes. And children like the ones above. (The guy that's hanging upside down is my son.)
You guys are awesome. I've scanned through your blogs during this hiatus, and they are often the highlight of my day. Thanks for posting and being you!

How are you doing out there? Hope you're enjoying the beginning of Spring! (my favorite season!!)

Monday, April 4, 2011

In Which an Old Muse Returns . . . Briefly.

We writers are dreamers.

Funny enough, as I was sleeping last night, I found myself sitting in my living room, wondering why I write in the genre I do. My teenage daughter walked in, looking excited, and said, "Mom, so-and-so from such-and-such agency wants to represent you. They have a publisher all lined up!" I remember feeling elated for a few seconds before saying, "This is a dream, right?" I woke up immediately after making that remark and laughed at myself.

I thought it was funny. Obviously, I worry too much about publishing success. I take that aspect of writing as a sign of vindication, as a means of showing those who have overlooked and underestimated me that I have merit in spite of what they think. (Weaving psychological need into your writing definitely tangles with your enjoyment of the craft. We shouldn't do it. It's self-defeating.)

What about just finding happiness in doing something you love? Can't that be reward enough? (Okay, maybe not. But it's still pretty great!)

This is my old muse Daniel Craig comforting me and saying, "Your story doesn't suck, love. Stop saying it does." He makes a good Bond, don't you think? (My current muse, Matilda the adorable dog, will never know about this because she is sleeping. She does this for hours and hours and hours! EVERYDAY.)
This is the angry Daniel muse. He doesn't like being ignored. When he tells you to write down that new idea, do it. Quickly.
In this picture, I've just told Dan about a plot twist I came up with. His expression really says it all, doesn't it? Usually when he looks this way, he crosses his ankles, sighs, and squints up at the heavens. Oh, I know what's going on behind those cool, blue eyes. He's thinking, "Why? Out of all the writers in all the world, why do I have this one?"

(Sorry, Matilda, but sometimes I miss Dan when you're snoring away in that chair.)

Friday, April 1, 2011

Of Painting, Rabbit Holes, and Phantoms . . .

I am not dead, rest assured, but I am tired enough to be in a coma.

The result of my being a painting fool for the last two weeks? My older sons now sleep in a cranberry-red room with brilliant white crown molding and bead board. My daughter's bedroom resembles a gift box from Tiffany's, all sophisticated blue and white.

I've learned a few things from these projects. Firstly, I'm getting too old for this DIY stuff. It's hard. And always takes longer than you think it will. I also love edging the walls free hand. No taping things off to avoid seepage for me. I use a small, slanted paint brush, and focus on that straight line as though all the world has disappeared except for the two of us. Very therapeutic and calming actually.

I do well at painting for the first two-thirds of the room. After that, my energy level takes a hit, and I need a diet Coke break with lots of ice cubes and a twisty straw. I then drink my beverage and study the remaining, unpainted third. It seems so long to finish, and a niggling voice in the back of mind gives me permission to put it off. 'I can do it tomorrow, can't I?' Things don't go well if I listen to that voice. But if I push on for a bit longer and continue painting, my motivation returns and I reach my goal. You could switch this whole bartering process with manuscript revision and it would be the same!

I listened to Pavarotti while working. Love him and Italian opera! Nessun Dorma from Turandot boomed through the stereo speakers on repeat mode for at least an hour. It's my favorite Pavarotti, followed by Pieta Signore. I also listened to movies as I painted, and it was interesting to concentrate on the dialogue without seeing the characters on screen. Rabbit Hole with Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart was awesome. I wouldn't recommend it for painters though. It's hard to wipe tears from your eyes when your hands are speckled with red and blue. The teenager in Rabbit Hole reminded me of my son, and he killed me in every scene. Personally, I think Kidman should have won the Oscar for her work here.

Lastly, while doing trim, I watched/heard the Phantom of the Opera film with Gerard Butler. His singing was okay, not great, and still I found myself haunted by this movie. The songs went over and over in my head for days. I felt so bad for the Phantom. In spite of the fact he was scary, crazy, and did all sorts of unforgivable things. I guess that's the mark of a great villain.

Who are your favorite villains? Are you tired from working too much? Do you enjoy painting?

Have the best of all possible weekends, friends.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Irish Prayer For Writers

May your keyboard rise to meet your fingers without a need to delete,
May computer viruses, and rejections, never knock you on your seat,
May your muse be good and sober when you're making plot decisions,
And may sunshine flood through your window, illuminating those revisions!

(I will avoid poetry composition from now on, I swear.)

Happy St. Paddys!!!!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Netflix. The Sick Persons Friend.

Over the last week, my family has battled valiantly against the common cold. My days have been filled with hot cups of herbal tea, sick children, throat lozenges, and fluffy duvets. I've also been watching films sent to me courtesy of Netflix. As you can see, Matilda loves a good movie.

This has been a sweet situation, actually. Aside from the coughing and general queasiness. And the lack of writing progress. Very bad on that score.

What did I watch, you ask? Lots of British productions.
For example:

Doctor Who
Top Gear
Little Dorrit
Under the Greenwood Tree
North and South
Wives and Daughters
Lark Rise to Candleford
The Remains of the Day

My children love the gear heads and The Doctor, but they slept through most of the others. It's the price they pay for hiding out in my room.

Hope you're all feeling healthy. If not, I suggest you join Netflix.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Feeling Cool

Here I sit on my fold out chair, listening to Ray Charles sing, A Fool For You, while drinking a green smoothie full of spinach, cucumbers, broccoli, and carrots made in my new Montel Williams fruit and vegetable emulsifier. Now, I ask you, who wouldn't feel cool with all that going on?

No need to answer. Consider it a rhetorical question.

Actually, the reason I'm so happy is that I've rewritten over half of The Second Life. Maybe you all are fast writers, but I am not. This is a huge project anyway. I'm changing tense, tone, adding more characters, taking the plot new places, etc. I like this process because it's hard. I'm developing new strength as a writer by doing something uncomfortable. Pain proceeds growth. Right? Sometimes?

What strengths do you wish to cultivate in your writing?

I want to be a better typist, for one thing. Geez, if I could just tear my eyes away from the keys! I'd also like to plot like a maniac. Oh, well. Remember what Browning said about exceeding your grasp?

Keep on reaching for the heavens, friends.

Should I switch to Matilda for my muse? Daniel Craig and The Mentalist aren't working out. Apparently, they have other things to do. Matthew Macfadyen is also busy.

Yes? No? What's your opinion? Remember: the dog is reliable and never asks for a raise in pay.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Hmmm. If I Could Pick A Publisher . . .

I did some interesting reading over at Publisher's Weekly, and it got me to thinking. If I could choose a publisher, who would it be? This is akin to selecting the names for your future book's dedication or acknowledgment page. Not entirely germane to the situation at hand.

Just a bit of fun before I slip back into ninja mode and return to the Revision Zone. (Twilight Zone theme fades into background.)

Please keep in mind that these are the top 10 American publishers, and there are many more successful publishing houses in the world beyond these. Share some of your favorites if you don't see them listed here.

So, friends, who would you choose?

Top 10 Trade Publishers 2010
1. Random House
2. HarperCollins
3. Simon and Schuster
4. Penguin
5. Hachette
6. Thomas Nelson
7. St. Martin's
8. Tyndale
9. John Wiley and Sons
10. Scholastic

I love those top four. It makes me happy just to say their names! But where are Bloomsbury? And Little, Brown, & Company?

Friday, February 25, 2011

And Then The Glass Shattered . . .

My day began innocently enough. In fact, I thought things were going well. My new ballet flats had finally stopped pinching at the heel, there was one last spray of my favorite perfume left in an otherwise empty bottle, and all the children were healthy and at school.

I didn't suspect anything ominous when the Milgard techs knocked on my door. We had waited 3 weeks for two new windows, and I was happily surprised to see the men in red. They were young, clean-cut and friendly. I talked with them for a few moments, put our dog Matilda in a bedroom, and went back to my office. I was Googling Amazon, seeking out books so obscure they can be purchased for mere cents. All was good, and then the glass shattered.

Amazed, I covered my mouth with my hand as nervous laughter bubbled in my throat. I remember thinking, "You have got to be kidding me. My window just broke."

I stepped into the living room, and the techs were frozen in place with a cockeyed vinyl window frame still in their hands. "Are you alright?" I asked. They nodded in the affirmative. One of them was doing some deep breathing exercises and the other was murmuring "Let it go. Just let it go." I'm guessing the first guy was trying really hard to be calm. I have to give credit to these men. Very professional behavior. No cursing at all. Had I been in their place, the air would still be a soft shade of blue.

I felt really bad for the techs. One of their enormous glass suction cups lost its grip, causing the 8 foot by 5 foot picture window to fall and once the corner of the glass hit the tile, the whole thing exploded. Exploding glass can't be a good way to start your work day. The three of us vacuumed and swept for an hour at least to pick up the worst of the mess. We were comrades in an epic battle against hidden sharpness.

Being part raccoon, I enjoy sparkly things, and there was sparkle in the extreme that day. I had cleaning ADHD! The glass fragments reflected the sunlight coming through the open window, showering my ceiling with fiery brilliance. I kept looking up and trying to sweep at the same time. My floor was one big prism! I felt like I was in the movie Pollyanna when she brings crystals to cheer up the mean old lady. It was awesome! Awesome! A mid-winter Fourth of July!

I would have sat there all day entranced by my ceiling only there was no place to sit. Glass fragments covered my entire main floor: from the mudroom to the front door and everywhere in between. Eventually, the techs left for another job, and there began a five hour cleaning spree, with me, my bucket of water and a cloth in the thick of the action. Word to the wise . . . do not brush glass dust with your finger. Ouchie!!!

Never fear, all is well at our home now, but for one afternoon, I had the shiniest floor in town.

Isn't this just like life? You think you know what to expect and then--wham!-- something happens to mess up your plans. Oh, well, planning is sometimes overrated, and the unexpected often leaves you with a good tale to tell.

Everyone out there okay? Is your stress level low, medium, or high?

Happy, catastrophe-free, weekend!!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

An Email From Mr. Hemingway

To R-- Face it, your first book isn't good, and no one wants it. Yet.
Sit down and work and then who knows? Look at words with innocence. See them as new things. Write what you feel, and use simple language, but most of all, make it true. There is no master of this craft, and if you're looking for easy, go someplace else. Critics can tear your writing apart or worse, politely ignore it. They can break you, nearly destroy your hope if you let them. Never mind. It doesn't matter a damn. You can't be defeated, not completely. Remember Santiago? 84 days is nothing to the whole of life. Today is the 85th, and there are many big fish in the sea. Fight the good fight. Let your blood sing, listen, and then write it's song . . .

Well, friends. Mr. Hemingway is an intimidating muse, isn't he? As a teenager, I read The Old Man and the Sea, Hemingway's last story, and loved it. My grandfather gave a copy to my mother and years later, she passed it on to me. I don't remember anything about my grandpa since he died when I was a baby, but I do know he had excellent taste in books.

Ernest Hemingway had a big, often cantankerous, heart and an even greater talent. I've wanted to write an email from him for a long time, but I knew I would never get his voice exactly right. Perhaps, it's a credit to him that I even tried.

Mr. Hemingway once said he loved the world and that he would be sorry to leave it. Surely the world was sorry to see him leave so abruptly. If you haven't read Hemingway's work, you need to soon. You're doing yourself an injustice by putting it off. Look for his short stories as well, they show a different side of this remarkable writer.

Do you have any goals you're working on? I'd love to hear what they are. You have my complete support and encouragement. My ambition is to finish the rewrite of my novel The Second Life in the next month, send it off to my favorite editing company, fix my mistakes, and begin querying agents in time for my birthday in May. This accomplished, I'd like to think I had done something worthwhile in my 44th year. Of course, there are always the revisions to be done on my first novel Charm Bracelet. Rejected a whopping 79 times, there is still a lot to revise.

But that can keep until I'm 45.

Cheers to all writers and readers of words! May we stand on the shoulders of giants and be worthy of the view.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

84 Charing Cross Road, London, WC2

84 Charing Cross Road, London, WC2

This was the address of the famous, antiquarian booksellers Marks and Co. It isn't in business anymore. It is now an All Bar One. The plaque below commemorates this book shops former location.

There is a place where Marks and Co. still exists however. In the autobiographical tale by Helene Hanff, 84 Charing Cross Road. This story was made into a play, and later, a movie.

I watched the film yesterday. It had haunted me since my teens when I swooned over Sir Anthony Hopkins, all soulful eyes and poignant delivery, as he quoted Yeats' He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven.

"Had I the heaven's embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,

I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
tread softly because you tread on my dreams."

Friends, you know I am a fool for words like these. People don't write this way anymore, however much I wish they did. Helene Hanff felt the same. In 1949, she sent an inquiry to Marks and Co. and it caught the eye of Frank Doel. Ms. Hanff wanted books she couldn't find in America. She wanted old books that were out of fashion even then, and Mr. Doyle searched these treasures out for her. Platonic soul-mates, Hanff and Doyle corresponded for nearly 20 years until Frank's death in 1968 from peritonitis. Their letters are the heart of 84 Charing Cross Road. This story is for the romantic who has a passion for literature, history, England, star-crossed friendship, and old book shops.

It's also about putting ink to fine, stiff paper and mailing your words across the world to a person you care about. Helene and Frank shared one another's lives without ever having met. Their relationship was a true meeting of the minds. As a poor New York writer, Helene could not afford to travel to London, though it was her fondest dream. A bookman of the highest order, Frank Doel brought England to Helene by sending her some of its best literature.

Emails would not suffice in this story. They are too immediate and sterile. They cannot be long-anticipated, received and pored over, wrapped in a silk ribbon, and put away in a special box. They cannot be cherished and touched while being re-read.

What do you think, friends? Do you still enjoy receiving letters or writing them? Are you sad that hundred-year-old book shops are being crowded out these days? Have you ever been to Charing Cross Road?

Choose any question you like or invent another, I'd just love to hear from you.

Happy writing!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Loving Dead Poets

With two English-Lit Major brothers and an aunt who taught English at a local high school, is it any wonder I grew up loving dead poets?

No. No wonder at all.

When I was ten, my oldest brother recited a few lines by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. I felt sympathetic toward the main character in this poem, and I loved the way he expressed himself. The words sunk deep into my girlish heart and I worked for days to memorize them.

"Break, break, break,
On thy cold gray stones, O Sea!
And I would that my tongue could utter
The thoughts that arise in me.

O, well for the fisherman's boy,
That he shouts with his sister at play!
O, well for the sailor lad
That he sings in his boat on the bay!

And the stately ships go on
To their haven under the hill;
But O for the touch of a vanished hand,
And the sound of a voice that is still!

Break, break, break
At the foot of thy crags, O Sea.
But the tender grace of a day that is dead
Will never come back to me."

These words sounded so compellingly romantic! Break, Break, Break led me on to further discovery. The Lady of Shalott. Morte D' Arthur. Ulysses.

On my desk, sitting close like a dear friend, there is a copy of The Poetical and Dramatic Works of Tennyson. It is old, though not as old as Lord Alfred himself, though close. The cover is a rich cobalt blue inscribed with gold, leafy filigree. The paper and vellum inside are no longer white but instead a yellowish-orange.

I open this book carefully, as I have done many times, as I will yet do. Like always, it creaks me a welcome, and I suddenly feel at home.

What books impressed you as a child? Do you love words, and if so, what are some of your favorites?

If you haven't visited Akseli Koskela at An English Teacher's Travelblog, you should. An excellent writer himself, he has a great post today about language.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Play It Again . . . Casablanca

I made this little homage to Casablanca over at the absolute best time-waster ever--Polyvore! I chose clothes that reminded me of Ingrid Bergman's wardrobe in the film. All gorgeous, just like her.

Casablanca was released in 1942, but it's characters still remain undated. The dialogue is smart, sad, and wry. Who could forget Rick Blaine? He said that he came to Casablanca for the waters, but I watch the movie for him. And Ingrid Bergman. She played her part to luminous perfection. Only Ilsa could knock Rick Blaine to his knees.

The one thing I'd change about Casablanca is the ending . . . I wish Rick and Ilsa didn't have to sacrifice so much for the greater good. Yet, maybe the reason this movie stays with us is because they did.

And so, I play it again. And again. And again.

Tell me, friends. Do you have a favorite classic movie?

In your opinion, does wardrobe contribute to character development in books and films?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Ahh, Love . . .

Ahh, Love . . .
Ahh, Love . . . by Roxy Haynie featuring boat neck sweaters

Look above. Can you see the fun to be had at Polyvore's fashion department? My daughter introduced me to this awesome website a few days ago, and it's a virtual shopping spree. Without the buyers remorse. Or poor credit score!

At last, I can almost, sort-of, maybe--at least in my computer file-- own Pucci, Valentino, and Chanel. Think endless shoes. Handbags galore! Excuse me a moment, I'm wiping a tear from my eye.

Instant gratification, here I come. Ahem. When I have time to spare, of course. Of course.

I loved paper dolls when I was young. Did you? I loved coloring them, cutting them out, and using the tabs to fasten the delicate "clothes" to the cardboard figures. Then the story telling began. I imagined I was that winsome girl in the cocktail dress who was swept off her feet by a dashing, handsome stranger.

We ruled a kingdom, joined a circus, became pirates, traveled back in time . . .

Imagination is a wonderful gift when you're a shy, bookish child.

What did you want to be as a kid? Did you have any adventures? Did you like to create even then?

My pal Karyn at Confessions of An Aspiring Novelist is new to Blogger. You should drop by and introduce yourselves. I know you'll be glad you did.

Happy Monday, Friends!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A River Runs Through It

I should have entitled this post Norman Maclean Appreciation Day because I recently re-read his novella A River Runs Through It, and I'm basking in the afterglow.

Maclean's tale of "an American family" resonated with me, bringing memories of my own fisherman father to the surface. I identify with so many of the elements within this story, such as: not understanding the people in your own family, being baffled by the choices they make and yet, trying to love them anyway, and strangely, often the simplest activities, like fly-fishing, develop our strongest bonds.

My dad was an excellent outdoorsmen. Think of James Fenimore Cooper's character Natty Bumppo, and you wouldn't be far off the mark. Anticipation crackling in the air, he and my two brothers would hastily pack their gear in the truck with artistic efficiency and set off for their adventures in the Oregon wilderness. Dad was a busy executive as well as a military man and his work called him to faraway countries for many months of the year. But when he was home, he made time to fish.

I was allowed to go on a few occasions, and it was magic. Wild horses, rattlesnakes, purplish-blue ravines, and fast-flowing water. Remembering those days, I see my father in his prime casting a line across the river to the sun-dappled depths of a rocky pool. Although he's been gone for some 30 years, I have only to think back, and I still see him there.

That shared, perhaps you can appreciate why I love this section of Maclean's writing . . .

"Now nearly all those I loved and did not understand when I was young are dead, but I still reach out to them.
Of course, now I am too old to be much of a fisherman, and now of course I usually fish the big waters alone, although some friends think I shouldn't. Like many fly fishermen in western Montana where the summer days are almost Arctic in length, I often do not start fishing until the cool of the evening. Then in the Arctic half-light of the canyon, all existence fades to a being with my soul and memories and the sounds of the Big Blackfoot River and a four-count rhythm and the hope that a fish will rise.
Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. That river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.
I am haunted by waters."