Category Archives: Writing

Back Again

So it’s been over TWO YEARS since I blogged last and I clearly have some explaining to do. I’m sorry, but this is long. I added an intermission for your convenience. Okay, here’s what happened:

My uncle died just after Thanksgiving 2016. Yes, that was sad. Also, I lost NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month Challenge). Neither event was a complete surprise. My uncle had an operation to address a health problem and it went sideways. I spent a lot of time worrying and chatting on the phone with him in the hospital and before to cheer him up. Things went from sideways to downhill, “oh this is bad,” “you might want to …,” done. That was all nicely morbid and mildly traumatic, but it happens, and it wasn’t the first time and won’t be the last that I deal with it. The drama happened later.

I was depressed by my uncle’s health concerns, then decline, and my writing suffered, but I could have actually pulled a rabbit out of the hat and made it on the NaNoWriMo challenge, I’ve done it before. Not this time. I blogged once after the dreaded event(s), but it was hard not letting personal darkness affect my writing. Then writing and blogging fell to the side as I slid down the rabbit hole.

Disclaimer: I take full and sole responsibility that I’m conflicted that I still associate my uncle passing with losing a writing challenge. It’s worse that I’m conflicted about being conflicted. Everything else I had help being traumatized by.

First, people, get your shit together and have a will, okay? Even if you don’t have much, have a will. Handling details is a nightmare for those you leave behind and, unless you hate everyone, it’s not a nice thing to do to. Your loved ones/friends/neighbors will not remember you fondly for the lapse.

That being said, this case was extra special because my uncle was nice to me, he spoiled me – and my kids as much as they would let him (they thought he was weird, and they were right), but he wasn’t nice to very many other people. I knew his few friends, either I met them, talked to them on the phone, or they at least knew all about me and my family. It was assumed by all that I would be the one that the onerous task of handling details fell to.

Well … no.

Legally, I didn’t have any authority to handle the estate, my mother and her brothers did. Which is nice (for me) except that the fairly caustic dearly departed wasn’t on speaking terms with any of them when he passed or, in fact, for years before. His friends didn’t know he had a sister, for example, because my mother told my uncle to never darken her doorstep, or phone, again in 1986. She was the first, but set the bar for her other brothers to strive for.

Okay, so the estate was being handled by people who hadn’t spoken to him in quite some time. Oddly, I was fine with that. His friends and caregiver weren’t. That began to prove problematic with small details such as a physical address instead of a mailing address being required. Huh. I knew he didn’t live at the address I had, but there was someone to sign for boxes of cookies, movies, and things so I didn’t care. I sort of knew where he lived, and had the phone numbers of his friends and caregiver so I could call them if I didn’t hear from him and couldn’t reach him. It was covered. Except his friends wouldn’t talk to anyone but me, and I couldn’t give directions to his house because “the spindly pine tree that bends like a pregnant lady but has so few branches you’ll be astounded it isn’t dead” doesn’t make a great landmark.

Okay, whatever, so I should take over handling the … no. I got to act as an intermediary between my family and his friends. Sigh. Fine. Let’s get this done.

I should mention that I live a couple states away and wasn’t up to travel at the time. I have MS and don’t travel well, but some times are worse than others and I need to be in good shape before I start at least and I wasn’t. Also, I had a mother, uncle, cousins, and my uncle’s cousins closer so it was determined I didn’t need to fly up to sift through the house.

I’ve seen his house and I was happy to pass on that. My uncle was a bibliophile (which is where I got my love of SciFi/fantasy) packrat: Floor to ceiling bookshelves on every wall, sometimes shorter ones in front of taller ones and covering the half of the patio door that doesn’t open. In the extra bedrooms there were bookshelves back to back freestanding in the middle of the room as well as around the sides. This is the result of decades of choosing to buy books rather than borrow from a library, never get rid of any, and insisting every book must be on a shelf. Also, hardback over paperback on favored authors, if you start a series you must collect all of them, and eBooks are of the devil because the smell of a book while you read it helps the brain organize the information – everyone knows the link between smells and memory.

I have a couple dozen boxes of books in my basement that he was scandalized by and kept nagging me to put up more bookshelves. He refused to listen to my argument that I liked windows and pictures on walls, and I believed in fire codes as seriously now as I did in Santa when I was five. I got him a Kindle several years ago and loaded it up with some new SciFi (only available as eBooks) to encourage him to actually use it. I showed him how I had hundreds of books in the same space one took up. He gave it away I think because no one ever found it in the house. On the bright side, I set up his Amazon account so I guess I can load it onto another Kindle and download all those SciFi books again.

Anyway, you’d think handling the details after a death would just be sad, and it is, but in this case it was more frustrating because all of the relevant parties wouldn’t talk to each other. Even the hospital was a nightmare because I was listed as next of kin so they could talk to me, ask about insurance, give me the mortuary information, and call to collect bills.

Since the mortuary got their information from the hospital, initially they insisted on only talking to me too. They wouldn’t talk to my uncles or Mom because I was the next of kin. I tried to get Mom to just pretend to be me but she’s old school and wouldn’t do it. Then the no will/no power of attorney issue came up and they slammed on the brakes and wanted everyone’s identification faxed (including mine for reasons I still don’t understand) and that was extra fun while they figured out who they could legally work with.

Meanwhile, one of his friends called to make sure I knew the proper burial instructions. Apparently he and my uncle discussed this and it was important to one of them.

“He wants to be cremated.”

“Got it. No problem.” That was actually already the plan and we had a burial site and –

“And his ashes need to be spread –”

Wait, what?

“In Ireland.”

Ireland?”

“Yes. You have to, it’s important.”

“I have a cousin in England, it’s fine. But why Ireland?”

“Family is important,” I was told as if this was a great pronouncement. Really? Most of his wasn’t talking to him and he didn’t seem bothered by it when we spoke ten days earlier, so this was news.

“It is. But why Ireland? He’s mostly Germanic if you want to get into ancestry.”

“There’s some Irish and he was very close to his grandmother. He told me about it,” the old man insisted.

“Scottish, you mean.” To me, there is a world of difference between Scottish and Irish. But if you don’t have either in your heritage or don’t live near or with them, I can kind of see the confusion. I mean, British Isles. Geography can be confusing I suppose.

“No, Irish. He said Irish.”

“Listen, I was the one in the family with a passing interest in genealogy –”

“What?”

“Family history, and I promise you he doesn’t have a drop of Irish blood in him. Nana was Scottish, and yes, they were close. I totally get why he might want to go back to, um, the homeland, although to be fair he’s a quarter Austrian and half German, plus we still have family in Innsbruck so I would have thought he’d go that direction. But Scotland is fine if that’s what he wanted. I’m surprised he didn’t mention it to me.”

“HE SAID IRELAND!” the old man growled at me.

“HE’S NOT IRISH!” I snapped back. This doesn’t matter. I should just say fine, we’ll bury him in Ireland and then go stick him in the ground beside Grandma like he wanted two decades ago and we originally planned. It’s not like the old man on the phone was going to fly to Ireland to make sure we scattered his buddy’s ashes to the wind in … wherever.

Although with my luck it’d come up at the wake. Not a drop of Irish blood in my family but we do appreciate wakes. We throw wakes instead of funerals whenever possible, it’s just more pleasant.

Sigh. Take a breath.

“Listen, I think there was some confusion here. He wants to return to his grandmother’s home, that’s a lovely thought. Nana was really nice and I’m sure she would be honored.” Let’s just leave aside the fact that while Nana may have been born in Scotland, she was raised in Nova Scotia and didn’t actually remember the home in question. “I promise you, he wasn’t Irish. Have you ever seen him drink?”

Okay, so that was a low blow and totally uncalled for. My uncle wouldn’t  have touched alcohol if you held a gun to his head. Why? Because my family is comprised of alcoholics, and the much revered Nana pointed out no good came of it, and he was the only one who listened.

I used ageism to promote a cultural stereotype and prove a logical fallacy.

OMG I’m going to hell.

“Oh. Right,” he acknowledged.

It worked. Wow. I am so going to hell for that.

“Don’t worry about it. I’m sure he just misspoke.” Yeah, I just blamed the dead guy so the old man on the phone would feel better. Go big or go home, right?

“Anyway, cremated, ashes in Scotland, I’ll look up the family seat and get with my cousin. No problem.” I pretended to write that down as if this entire conversation wasn’t now burned into my memory for the trial for my eternal damnation later. I was going to have words with my uncle. If I was going to hell, I was dragging him down with me.

“But we already had the wake.” He sounded so confused and deflated.

“That’s okay. My grandfather did business with a lot of Irishmen,” he did actually but it’s irrelevant, “and the family long ago adopted wakes instead of funerals. I think that’s great. It’s what he would have wanted.” Except for the whole aversion to alcohol thing, that could have been an issue if it ever came up. “We’ll raise a glass, or five, later.”

“Oh, good.” He cheered up. Yay for me. I needed points.

<<Intermission>>

So things dragged on, sort of like Vietnam. Everyone had their own separate remembrances because we talked on the phone so much and people kept trying to share stories then letting the words fall away as they remembered that the particular memory wasn’t actually a nice one after all and ended in an argument or thrown vase or something and it got terribly awkward. We had some good ones, but even those seemed awkward.

Like “remember the time I got grounded when I learned smoking gave you cancer and I repeatedly stole his pack of cigarettes and filled it with water?” Silence. Yeah. (I was a kid and it’s the kind of thing that kids do, but Mom smoked too, as did my step-father and uncles and I didn’t try to save them.) Um … awkward. He also spent a lot more time and money on me and later my kids than on my cousins – just something else that came up (a couple of times). We discovered I was the sole beneficiary of his life insurance policy, but he let it lapse (I decided I was relieved). Grade school pictures of me and my kids in the house but not my cousins or their kids. See? Awkward.

Also, I used to believe my uncle was a werewolf. No idea where that came from. Super weird because I didn’t like werewolves. As a kid it was the one thing I was actually afraid of and I wasn’t afraid of my uncle. Huh.

Finally there were fewer calls and everything seemed handled and I thought it was over. It’d been nearly a year.

Normal. Right. Time to maybe start writing again. It’s hard to start again when you haven’t in a long time. Don’t put yourself in that position.

Struggle, read over what I’d written. Umm … Notes. Hmm. Re-read the books I’m writing a sequel to. Re-read the notes to see if they made sense now. No. Rethink some things. Make a battle plan.

Okay, I can do this. Deep breath. Update software. Waiting ….

I received a call from Mom, “Do you know where your uncle is?”

My mind blanked for a moment. “Um, he’s dead.”

“I know that, smart aleck. I mean his ashes.”

What? Seriously? OMG, can this be instead of going to hell? I can’t do both.

“Okay,” I started tentatively, “The plan was to send him to Portland, then London, then –”

“I know.”

You lost him? At what point?”

“Well, he might not have left the mortuary. We’re not sure.”

“What do you mean you’re not sure? Who was supposed to pick him up? Or mail him? Or whatever? I remember the mortuary people, they were extremely uptight about making sure they had every single detail documented, initialed, and itemized, and … everything … in triplicate. Plus copies for everyone he ever spoke to. I remember there was a section on what exactly was going to happen with the ashes, and they wanted to know the name of who would pick him up and the date and they’d have to show ID and sign for him and HOW DID THIS NOT COME UP BEFORE NOW?”

“I’m not sure. We’re trying to figure it out. I guess your cousin came back from her trip to Scotland, said it was lovely, and asked when we were going to send her the ashes so she could plan another trip and …” she let that drift off. Pause.

“You’re serious?”

“So do you still have the mortuary people’s information?”

I am NOT going to hell alone. “Yeah, Mom, I have it. I’ll have to dig it out because I wrote it down in the book I was writing at the time this all happened. I’ll have to go through the files.”

“You wrote your uncle’s death into a book? That’s questionable.”

Yes, she was serious.

“No, Mom. It’s just I needed somewhere to take notes, and Scrivener was open because I was writing, or trying to. Anyway, it was a convenient place to take notes. So it’s not part of the book, but I’m writing a genie does this and that, and my uncle dies and the hospital calls, and call the caregiver, and the mortuary’s info will be there as well as the rest of this shit show.”

“Language.”

“You’ve seen what I write and you’re lecturing me now? For that matter, I’ve seen what you write. By the way, Mom, ‘damn’ has an ‘n’ on the end when you’re swearing. Also, ‘its’ only has an apostrophe if it’s a contraction, not possessive.”

“Apostrophe-s is possessive so ‘its’ will always have an apostrophe, kid.”

“They changed the rules. English is irregular AF, go with it.” Yes, I lie to my parents, and I firmly believe I do not lose heaven points for that because every kid does to some extent. It’s fine, parents lie to kids too.

“‘AF’?”

“Never mind, go with it. I’ll find the information and text you.”

“Okay, thanks. We’ll get it all taken care of. I hope they still have him.”

“Probably on a shelf waiting for someone to pick him up. Or maybe they were supposed to mail him and just forgot, let’s hope. Maybe. I doubt they can just toss him.”

“They can’t store him indefinitely. At some point they have to do something with the remains.”

“Yes, but they billed someone for the cremation, right? So they have someone’s contact info. Actually, they have my contact info. They can pick up the phone before they toss him in the garden.”

“Good point. Okay, don’t worry about then.”

Right. Okay, so time passes. I called Mom.

“Is it sorted?”

“I assume. I gave the information to my big brother.”

“I’ll ask him.”

Email said uncle (we’re not a close family). No answer. Email again. No answer. Right, much more of this and our family will need our own subdivision in Hell. Dig into my phone, find four phone numbers for him. No. Look at old phone bills, find the correct number, and call him solely to ask if he sent his brother to his daughter for her next family vacation. Simple question.

“Is it sorted?”

“Well, we were going to ship him but then she was going to come back for a visit with the kids. Have you seen how much they’ve grown?”

“No. Way cute?”

“Oh yeah.”

“Aww, send me pictures. So then just thinking you’ll pass him along for her to fly across the country then internationally with human remains?”

“I should look into that.”

You haven’t? Whatever. “Maybe. Listen, here’s my thinking: You’ll probably take the kids to the beach when they visit, right?”

“Of course.”

“Naturally. Well, the Pacific connects to the Atlantic, and that connects to the North Sea, and she was thinking Edinburgh, right? And you know how everyone says it’s a small world and all that?”

Silence.

“Your mother isn’t that easygoing,” he said. I swear he sounded suspicious.

“Yeah well, there’s probably a reason I’m the only one who was still talking to him, you know. And I’m only half Mom’s when you get down to it. The mellow gene probably came from the other side.”

“That’s a good point. Your dad’s pretty laid back.”

“Yeah. And it’s been almost two years.”

“Another good point.”

“And I haven’t seen many of my cousins in a while, but I wouldn’t wish customs with human remains on them. Especially with little kids, they get cranky about delays. It’s not nice.”

He chuckled. “I’ll handle it.”

“Thanks.”

<<End Excuses>>

Now there are several takeaways here:

  • This happened. Old man, Ireland, lost ashes, it happened. Well, people had names but you don’t need to know them. The creative license is in the tone – the original interactions were much darker I assure you and it’s probably good I didn’t try to chronicle the events before I was past them enough to look back and laugh.
  • Have a F’ing will. Details. Leave it somewhere it will be found – quickly and easily. Also, don’t play favorites like this, seriously not cool.
  • Don’t stop writing, at least a little bit. Daily if possible, at least a couple times a week. It’s so hard to start again, as bad as starting the first time. Better in some ways, worse in others.
  • Your writing is tied to your emotions, but your emotions are also tied to your writing. Recognize that, use it if you can. If I’d been just a bit more on my game while I was going through the dark crap in this, I’d have taken advantage of that mindset to write darker scenes. OR force myself to write intentionally lighter scenes to help alleviate some of my darker moods. I’ve done both in the past but did neither in the past two years.
  • I didn’t ask for details, but yes, I’m assured it’s taken care of.
  • Learn to laugh at life, at least at some point. It may take time, that’s fine, but don’t live bitter.
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10K, Tossing The Cat Out, & A Nap

There are a couple of days left in the NaNoWriMo challenge. I think this is the first Thanksgiving in years that I didn’t write at all, which sucked because I had to make up for it the day after and felt completely brain damaged by the attempt. I have almost 10,000 words left to write. It’s doable, but I’m not used to cutting it this close on my goals. It makes me uneasy, and that doesn’t help the creative process.

Another thing that doesn’t help the creative process is The Boy getting his driver’s license. Add to that his plans to add some pep to my old car that has been kept around for the kids, and I’m fit to be tied. I thought the car was fairly peppy before, so I shudder to think what he means by “add more pep” to it. Something I think I’d rather not dwell on.

Darth Jingles has taken on a couple new habits that caught my attention. She likes to sneak outside when The Boy heads off to school. Being a black cat, she hides well in the shadows and she has the sort of pep in her tail The Boy is probably shooting for in the car.
Generally, Jingles has her collar on, but The Girl likes to take it off when the cat comes in. It’s a treat and Jingles loves to be Ninja Cat without her bell on. Plus she enjoys her humans’ pets and scratches more when we can rub her neck for her too. Spoiled cat.

When Jingles goes out without her collar, lately she’s come back in within a couple of hours. Then begs to go out again. It’s like she realizes she’s “naked” and gets the cat version of self-conscious, prompting her to come home. Our cat is a prude.

That’s one new oddity. The second is now that the weather’s turning, and we have regular frosts and even light snows, she’s delaying her pleas to go out until the sun comes up and melts the frost. Really? She has a black fur coat but she’s waiting for that little temperature boost? This is particularly annoying to me because I get up to boot The Boy out the door, then I go huddle up in bed again and write or read. Having the cat interrupt me either when I’m furiously typing to document some transient inspiration, or at a really good point in my book, is really irritating. It’s never when I’m staring at a blank page and trying to figure out what to write. It’s never at the end of a chapter when I’m reading. And she never has figured out how to wait patiently for me to finish typing a sentence, let alone complete a thought.

To that end, if Jingles doesn’t leave the house with The Boy now, she gets booted to The Girl’s room. Or that was the plan as of a week ago because of my late start to the NaNoWriMo challenge. The problem with that popped up the day after I initiated the new policy: The Girl.

I mentioned Jingles isn’t patient when she wants something. Food, her collar, attention, whatever. Neither is The Girl. She came stomping into my room at something like 730 in the morning, upset that I shoved the cat in her room and Jingles woke her wanting out. My train of thought immediately derailed, inner peace escaping for hours to come.

Now cats can be trained to a certain extent, and people accept that there are some things that are simply beyond a cat’s ability to process. Appropriate hours to eat, sleep, and play, for example. I think most people are also of the opinion that an 18-year-old college student should be trainable, at least more than a cat. I assure you this isn’t necessarily the case.

Plan C was to simply close the doors on Jingles, mine and The Girl’s. This left her free to roam the house and if she really wanted outside, she could approach Hubby with her request. You’d think I beat her. Jingles wasn’t cool with this plan. It left her with Hubby and no witnesses. Sure, she had the entire house (minus two rooms) she could wander and hide in to avoid Hubby, but that’s not good enough. He’s in her house and she doesn’t have anyone to cater to her. She could walk up and meow at him. He’s pretty fluid in bratty cat and would understand the request. No, it doesn’t work like that in her walnut-brain. Her interaction is with her family, not the “Great Furry One” and she won’t budge on that edict.

We like to imagine Jingles styles hubby “The Great Furry One” because he has an enviable beard and an even more enviable ponytail. Seriously, it’s sickeningly thick with almost perfect waves. One of The Girl’s friends calls him Fabio.

Moving on, I think the biggest relief from the end of the month won’t be the end of NaNoWriMo, it’ll be the end of the battle with Jingles. She gets a little, um, bitchy when she doesn’t get her way. I know that’s technically a canine term, but it applies to this particular feline. Also, then I’ll have time (in theory) to start Christmas decorations.

First, another 10,000 words. Then a nap.

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A Writer’s Need

nanowrimo_2016_webbanner_participant

NaNoWriMo is well underway. It has been for twelve days, and the participants should be somewhere around 20,000 words written, if they’re on track. Many aren’t and that’s okay.

I wasn’t going to participate in NaNoWriMo this year because I’ve simply had too much on my plate and I need a break. I switched The Boy from home school back to mainstream high school, then discovered I still have to babysit him, plus he has his learners permit and I have to take him driving. Getting The Girl to choose a college, then change her mind twice was fun. She finally started school and got hit by a car. She’ll recover, but her injuries make attending even some of her classes hard so Hubby and I are helping her out. He drives her and carries her backpack to the classes she absolutely can’t miss, and I’m now playing teacher for The Girl instead of (mostly) The Boy for the classes she’s missing. It’s like a horror novel.

On a related note, I’ve taken up reading horror in my spare time (AKA long bubble baths). I didn’t like it before, but now… If I can survive a teenage boy, what’s a little death and carnage? Bah.

Oh, and we’re moving Hubby’s parents from the large house they’ve lived in for 40 years to a small apartment in a retirement village. Everything we pack has a memory and a story that must be relived at that precise moment before I can put it in a box. This will take forever.

And then NaNo came around again. I seriously have no time. Except, courtesy of stress and time constraints, for the past year I haven’t been writing much. I used to be able to sit down and knock out 1000 words in an hour or so and 5000+/day wasn’t anything worth celebrating. But I haven’t been writing 5000 words/day; most days I don’t write anything. I should have finished my work in progress by the beginning of the year. It’s November and I’m maybe 2/3 of the way through.

I don’t have time for NaNoWriMo. (Sound familiar?) I need to pack my inlaws, help my son with a math assignment, then study for a chemistry test. I need to make him actually read The Crucible because he’s trying to fake his way through the assignments. I also need to help my daughter study for two upcoming tests, clear out the garden and compost the tomato plants that refuse to die, winterize the yard, cover the air-conditioning unit, and get a new battery for the second car. Also take The Boy driving for Driver’s Ed. See? No time. Too many other things I need to do.

No, I’m a writer. What I need to do is write, and I haven’t been. Not blogs either. To a novelist that’s just not the same, and besides, I haven’t even been good about staying up to date there. Too many things are being pushed aside. I’m going slightly mad and I need to pull myself together. How? Write. I’m a writer, the need is pervasive and as essential as breathing to my overall well-being.

Back to NaNoWriMo then. It’s day 12. I have written exactly 0 words in my manuscript so far this month. I counted. (Actually I looked at the last day the file was updated and it said October 28.) I don’t need to add 50,000 words to this book. It’ll take far less than 50,000 words to finish, but I need to finish it. I’m going to stick with the 50,000 word goal of the challenge anyway because it’s tradition. Once I finish she novel, I can start something else. But to reach 50,000 words by the end of the month means 2635 words/day. So? I used to do that regularly when I competed in NaNo. My personal goal was 2500 words/day and I usually exceeded it, so no sweat, right?

No. There will be a lot of sweating. Probably swearing too. I’m out of practice with less free time than usual and more stress. In short, I’m in about the same mindset as someone doing this for the first time. I was better than this my own first time which makes my position particularly embarrassing and uneasy for me.

The upshot? I’ll participate in NaNoWriMo again this year because I need to get my butt in gear and head back in the game, and this is part of what the challenge is about. For new writers or those who haven’t established regular and successful writing habits yet, NaNo is about making you stop daydreaming, procrastinating, or overthinking your project and just do it. I thought I was done needing NaNo years ago. When I participated it was for fun not the actual challenge of it. I lost my way over the past year and a half and now I need NaNo again to whip me back into shape.

The challenge is ready and waiting, now it’s up to me to rise to the occasion.

 

 

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Reading, Writing, Lack Of Editing

Amazon Prime Day. Wow. Great way to separate me from my money guys, thanks. I think. Among the things I purchased that I didn’t need was something that I probably should have done a long time ago: Kindle Unlimited.

Yeah. Let me tell you how it’s gone so far. On Saturday, I read four books. I didn’t do anything else, and my family didn’t seem to miss me. That should be a concern, but hey, the kids are teenagers and live in their own worlds and Hubby knows I check out from time to time and allows it to a certain extent.

On Sunday, I read two books, felt guilty for ignoring my family, and Netflixed an entire season of The Last Kingdom with The Girl as penance. That was not exactly quality time, but I listened to her chatter, responded when appropriate, and didn’t pull my hair out. I also felt jittery, like I’d had too much coffee. In retrospect, it might have been the Swedish Fish & Monster Java combo I used to get me through the last couple of episodes.

Somewhere around 2 am, while watching Richard Hammond’s Crash Course on Amazon Prime Video with Hubby (my long-time insomniac), I realized why I was bothered by reading so many books lately.

First, I’ve always said writer’s block isn’t a problem for me, and that’s true. If I sit down to write, I can. Not always on what I want to write, what I might need to make progress on or finish, but I can write something. It’s why I frequently have multiple works in progress at a time, and why any given book is almost always written out of order. In other words, I don’t write chapter 1,2,3,4, etc. It goes more along the lines of chapter 12,1,4,6,9,3,2, etc. I think I sat down and wrote two books beginning to end in order. Neither are published yet. (A’gust and it’s sequel if you’re wondering. Both are sequels, more or less, to Chrysanthemum.)

Anyway, while writer’s block may not be a problem, progress is. And I wanted to have Desperate Wishes finished and published by now. I should have. At the rate I usually write and where I was in the manuscript, there wasn’t any reason for that not to have happened. I forgot to factor in teenagers, and then the lasting impact of dealing with them. Or the spectacular crash of my computer and loss of quite a bit of material on two of three projects – didn’t count on that either. So taking time out to read, or work on the two other projects on my desktop, makes me feel a little guilty. Guilt isn’t exactly productive.

The other thing about reading those book was that, while the authors wrote good stories, one of them clearly didn’t hire a good editor. Another didn’t hire an editor at all and I suspect didn’t do well in high school English. I will give her the benefit of the doubt that she graduated, but my good will only goes that far.

Nimoy was snuggled up with me all day on Saturday and she noticed my displeasure at the editing dramas unfolding before me in digital black and white (stretch, yawn, baleful glare, shift away so her back was to me, then fall back asleep in clear disdain). See? Failing to have even a half-decent editor glance at your book affects a lot of people and felines. It’s hellish.

Second, while I appreciated the good books I came across, I’m going to ignore them. Sorry, they’re just not important for rant purposes, although I will review all of the books on Amazon and maybe Goodreads later. (I don’t use my name, you don’t get to see the trash I read.)

Where was I? Oh, the good story but bad writing – sigh. It wasn’t even bad writing. I’ll let style issues go nine times out of ten because style is a matter of personal preference and I realize – as an adult and a writer – that people prefer certain things. I can’t read Charlaine Harris’ books. I loved the True Blood series on HBO and people kept telling me to read the books, but I can’t. Her style makes me want to slit my wrists. Obviously she’s a successful writer and her style appeals to, or at least doesn’t bother, most people. My problem is just that – my problem.

If it’s not a matter of style, but poor grammar, editing, writing, and execution, where does that leave me? Leaving a bad review. Or a mediocre one, the story underneath was good.

Again with something that is clearly my problem, I don’t like leaving bad reviews on good stories. Particularly when the review ends up being actually more of a critique. The author can read the review, fix it, upload a new version of the book, and eventually my review will be buried and fall off per Amazon’s new policies. Assuming the author is willing to do that, and take my advice in the future.

It does remind me of where I came from, however, and that is Book Country. Once upon a time, a literary agent named Collen Lindsay went to work for Penguin (Random House) Books, and they launched an online service for potential authors. Writers could upload their manuscripts for other writers to read and critique, allowing them to improve and get useful feedback about plot, structure, grammar, style, voice, etc before submitting it to a literary agent or publishing it themselves. This isn’t a new idea, and it wasn’t new then either. There were, and are, several sites like this out there. I happened to be part of this one since the beta stage, along with a few other people who have also since published.

For me, it came to a point where I wasn’t getting anything new and useful in feedback. Also, I was stuck in a series where if you hadn’t read the previous books, the character development was missing. So I stopped posting, but I still continued to go back and critique, and I followed the discussion boards, and then…I faded away and got lost in my own things.

Apparently my account is still active. Hmm. So I’m thinking, there are authors out there publishing without editing and they need to be slapped. Amazon reviews will do that to a point, Goodreads too. But I can at least drop in on bookcountry.com and maybe give a nudge to the writers who are just starting out.

Apparently Nimoy approves, she just bit me softly then started purring.

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My Writing Rode Off

I’m a writer. We’ve been over this before, it’s not news. For most of the last school year (August – June) my writing has been spotty. This can be attributed to having to hover over The Boy for him to get his schoolwork done. After doing that, I had little left in me for writing. Bits here and there, and that adds up, but generally unimpressive progress. Or so I thought.

My year-old Lenovo ultra thin laptop kicked it. That was unexpected. So unexpected I hadn’t been backing everything up in my typical paranoid-writer fashion like usual. I hadn’t uploaded copies of my Scrivener files to Dropbox in months. (Yes, I write in Scrivener. It’s a great program.)

Okay, fine, deep breath, hand it to Hubby and let him work on it. He’s already building a gaming computer with The Boy (from scratch, this is a learning experience for the kid and a father-son bonding thing), but hey, he can give my meltdown a once over. Then again. Yeah, it’s going to take some work and probably have to replace the hard drive.

Luckily I have my old computer, the reliable Dell, still at hand. It powered up, and sat on my lap like an old friend. And put my feet to sleep because it weighs a ton. Forgot about that. Not the Dell’s fault, this laptop is big on purpose. It has a full keyboard plus a number pad like the old desktop keyboards used to, a 17” screen, and two hard drives. Everything considered, it’s allowed to be a little bulky.

Unfortunately Mr. Reliable Dell hadn’t been turned on in a while and updates took all day because my power save settings were not prepared for doing updates. It kept going to sleep. Sigh. Solution? Take the laptop into the kitchen with me. Start making dinner, brush the mouse pad, get out a pan, brush the mouse pad, freezer, mouse pad, get milk, mouse pad, put away milk, mouse pad, etc… I watched update number 121 sit there for five hours. I’d love to know what that was, then bitch-slap Microsoft for it, whatever it is.

Yay, all updated! No. Restart computer, now Adobe wants to update everything, then Java. OMG, kill me. Restart again. Everything is peaceful. Go to Dropbox, get back up files – things quickly stopped being peaceful. Mommy turned psychotic.

I have two active works in progress that I’ve worked on depending on my mood. No, this is not the most efficient way to finish a book, but it works. It works really well if you’re having “I can’t think of what to write” issues because it gives you a broader range of options to try to find that Muse. (Mine plays hide-and-seek in future chapters of a book I’m trying to ignore in favor of finishing something else. Muses are like that.)

Anyway, neither book had been backed up recently, so I went to review what I’d lost. Quite a bit more than expected. A lot more than expected, on both of them. I didn’t think I’d been writing that much, but I was wrong. (Mystery solved two days ago when I sat down and wrote 5,600 words in three hours.) Months of a little here and there was tens of thousands of words. Sigh. And I’d completely rewritten the first two chapters of Desperate Wishes (which I’d hoped to have out by now) and that was gone too. My character list for the experimental sci-fi was gone, along with several chapters. Since I frequently don’t outline, or it’s incredibly general when I do, I don’t even really remember exactly what was in those chapters. I had a character dedicated to … something … and something else came up. Ah, hell.

The lesson here boys and girls: back up your writing regularly. Also, not on the same computer you’re writing on. That goes without saying. No help for those writing in a notebook like my brother. Nut.

So, I’m in a particularly bad mood, but I’m trying to catch up and recreating lost work isn’t necessarily bad, just annoying. The kids are largely avoiding me. Nimoy is my steady companion, napping beside me most of the day and wreaking havoc on the house at night. Jingles seems to understand there’s something ‘off’ about Mom, and she’s been inside a bit more and very lovey. It’s almost disconcerting. She’s also once again running up and down the stairs, making the one bell on her collar jingle wildly. I think it’s to remind us she’s there.

A reminder for anyone who doesn’t remember how Jingles got her name: As a kitten she jingled her bells about the house everywhere she went. It was cute in a way, but she’s a black cat and even as a kitten there seemed to be a sinister edge to it. Does anyone remember It’s a Wonderful Life? That old James Stewart movie? They douse us with it every Christmas. Anyway, one of the things from that movie that stands out is the line: Every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings. So Jingles was giving angels wings. Yeah, there can’t be that many wingless angels, however. Follow me on this. If she’s giving angels wings, but there aren’t enough angels that need wings, then that means she’s creating angels to wing them. Um…which means she’s wiping out small rural villages in third world countries every time she runs down the stairs. Jingle, jingle, jingle… Oh. Hence Darth Jingles. And she’s at it again.

Maybe she gave wings to the Lenovo.

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Write First, Polish Later

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Last day for NaNoWriMo!

Those who aren’t participating but living with someone who is are getting ready to sigh in relief. Participants who are ahead are similarly relieved. On schedule: mildly apprehensive perhaps, but also relieved. Other participants may be frantic or even depressed. Don’t worry about it.

Congratulations to all of those who accepted the NaNo challenge, as they say (or will) on the official site – you’re all winners!

I’d like to add a qualifier to that statement. Winning NaNoWriMo isn’t about word count. Sure, it’s great if you achieved that goal, as arbitrary as it is, but as I mentioned before – NaNo is about breaking bad habits and learning. If you learned from the experience, you won. That win is much bigger than consistently writing 1667 words a day. I hope everyone learned to write consistently, either a little each day or a minimum number of days each week. Focus on the story, save the editing for later. Pick a story and commit to it – if you have an idea for a book, there’s no time like the present to write it and don’t let other ideas distract you from writing the last chapter. (Just make a note of the other ideas for later.) Use the right words the first time, but don’t worry about polishing your prose until revisions.

I imagine most people didn’t finish their book, 50,000 words isn’t a novel by most standards. December is a busy month, and don’t worry if finishing stretches into January, or even February. When you finish, there’s a choice to be made. The accepted practice is the let that book sit awhile before you come back to it for revisions. You need time to step away from the plot, the characters, the twists, and the climax so when you read it again, you’re actually reading what you wrote not reliving the writing process. I firmly believe in this policy, almost.

When I write, I find plot holes and inconsistencies as I go. I don’t usually fix them, I mark them in the text and make a notation in my notepad to check and fix something. Maybe it’s something small, like a secondary character’s eye color changed or I might be inconsistent with the spelling of something. I’ll check my book bible/style guide later and fix it, things like that aren’t worth interrupting my flow to deal with. Maybe it’s something bigger, like I have a character driving somewhere, but upon reflection they neither have a car nor a license and they’re 15 so it’s obvious. Or someone could have just used their cell phone to fix a problem but I didn’t realize the obvious solution. Whatever it is, I don’t consider the story finished until I address the list of notes I make while writing it. And I do one revision after all of that for spelling and obvious grammar issues.

Why do a revision before I shelf a book and get distracted with something else? Because when I come back to it, I want to be able to see that book clearly for what it is. I know I get distracted by some spelling and grammar issues, and I don’t want my minor hang-ups to interfere with the revision process when I come back to the book. I know what pulls me out of a story, and I don’t want that to happen when I read mine for the first time since finishing it. If I get pulled away from the plot, it needs to be for something big, something that needs to be addressed (plot-wise) not because I wrote too fast and used the wrong ‘there’ or used ‘an’ instead of ‘a’ or other simple things. Polishing comes later. Hopefully that’s something everyone learned this month. If nothing else, remember that. Write first, polish later.

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Adding Structure To A Story

structure

Apparently I’m a grandmother now. But wait, some of you might be thinking, she only has two teenagers. That’s right, I do. The Girl is 17, The Boy is 15. And the cat is spayed, if you’re thinking that’s the problem. So the culprit? I should blame Hubby.

The Girl has been having panic attacks, and Jingles hasn’t been doing her part to calm her down and cheer her up. Among other things, a ‘comfort animal’ was discussed. In short, Hubby caved to The Girl wanting her own cat. Kitten. Even though she goes to college next fall. Maybe her own cat means she’ll stay closer to home. Or at home. Hmm.

As I mentioned, we have a cat. Jingles has reigned dominant in the house since she was tiny. With a couple of blips – when we tried introducing an adult Siamese that started a minor war, and a near constant irritation with the stray our cul-de-sac feeds – she hasn’t had to share anything. Now we bring home a kitten. We know better than to try to introduce an adult cat, Jingles has been clear she won’t share the throne. A kitten, however, isn’t a threat to her. She’s older, bigger, and can train up the new addition with the understanding she’s in charge. (Delicately reach out a paw, and whap!)

We introduced She-Who-Has-Not-Been-Named to Jingles. The kitten, safely snuggled in The Girl’s arms, failed to react. Jingles, after a vigorous petting and lovey session and still in my arms riding her “I’m a deity” high, didn’t initially respond either. I continued petting, waiting for Jingles to realize what she was seeing. She tentatively reached out to sniff the object in The Girl’s arms (no doubt hoping it’s a stuffed animal and this is all a joke). Sniff, ears back, hiss.

That hiss sounded like a King Cobra being shot with a squirt gun at short range.

Kitten still failed to register the situation.

We’re keeping them apart for now, only bringing them together for supervised meetings. Jingles tends to watch the intruder with wide eyes and tense muscles. Sort of like when she’s watching prey she know she can’t catch, like a hummingbird. Maybe The Girl should name the cat ‘Hummingbird.’

Anyway, that’s not what I promised for this week’s blog. Let’s talking about plot structure. I mean physical plot structure, not tropes/plot types.

The idea behind the three act structure is to plan your novel like the classic play in three acts (Beginning, Middle, End). Makes sense, right? Actually it works well for a lot of books and I think it’s good because it sets basic length guidelines for how to proportion your novel.

Act 1 is pretty straightforward: you introduce the characters, setting, conflict, and stakes. This starts at the beginning of the book (obviously) and ends when your main character passes the point of no return. This can be an action or the point where your character accepts they have to win to be happy or have a normal life, whatever your stakes are. This is about the first 20% of the book or less. This is a hint you do not need to accomplish all of this in the first scene/chapter/page.

Act 2 is the battle, literal or figurative. It’s a fight to the death although death might not be physical. It can be psychological or death of an idea – it’s a vague sort of thing. The battle could be a journey toward a goal, it doesn’t have to be a physical thing, but in that journey you’re building suspense and interest. This act ends with another crisis, discovery, some sort of game changer/surprise. This may vary in length.

Act 3 is the confrontation/battle, and resolution. Movies frequently balance this to be about as long as Act 1, with the bulk of the story sandwiched in the middle. The climax isn’t the end, there’s loose ends to tie up. Usually. This isn’t the time to introduce a new complication, only expose and quickly resolve things that were hinted at before (if you must do that sort of thing).

Now keep in mind this is one structure guideline, there are others. There are lists, like the seven or eight point structures where you have a sort of checklist (Write A then B then C sort of thing), or variants of the three act structure where act one and three comprise a quarter each of the novel and act two is half the book or the snowflake method that takes the simple three act concept and builds on it to create a sort of ‘how to write a novel’ example. There are suggested ‘formulas’ for some genres, and if you want to submit to a publisher for a specific line, you may need to follow their formula to be considered. The formula series that come to mind for me are the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mysteries and some romance lines.

Formulas can be rigid and may or may not be easy for all writers to adhere to. Depending on your genre, there are probably a hundred tips out there on when in your book something should happen or how you should structure this or that.

The most important thing to remember is if you spend all your time planning and worrying about balance, you won’t get anything written. That’s a bigger fail that getting your proportions off or putting a key scene too far forward or back. These things can usually be fixed in revisions. Remember structure is all about balance, and is only a set of guidelines to make the book feel more satisfying for the reader. Writing for your own sake is sometimes enough. If you plan to publish your work, you need to consider structure because you want readers to have a satisfying experience.

Keeping that in mind, there is more to giving a satisfactory experience for your readers than the structure of your book. Your plot could be perfectly balanced, but still be too long, have underdeveloped characters, plot holes, and such.

How do you know what structure to use? I recommend writing and revising a book first. Then see what that work seems to follow so you’re choosing one that already fits your writing style. At least in part. If you want to choose a structure before writing, possibly to assist in plotting your book, I suggest considering your favorite books or something similar to what you want to write. Outline a basic plot of the book, where the plot points fall relative to the book’s length, and compare to some structures to find what may work for you.

Whichever method you choose, having a guide will help make you a stronger writer in the end and hopefully eliminate a messy story filled with plot holes or bunnies.

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