Check-In

Apologies for the no-show last week.

Here's the thing: I'm getting married soon. We are having a very simple wedding that is deceptively complicated. It's easy to think about things in the abstract, but when it gets down to it, you have to visit the place where you want to go and talk to the people there. (Or at least I do. I'm horrid on the phone.) You have to consider apparel. (I ordered what looked like an inexpensive, what-could-go-wrong dress from Amazon. The color in real life was hideous, and it looked horrible on me. That's when I decided to follow Mike's lead and go Hawaiian for the event. As I said, it's casual.) And then there are the accessories. When Mike suggested that I wear a floral crown, I barked out “No!” as soon as the words were in the air. But then a few days later, I thought that it might actually be nice. So I should be receiving a floral crown in a few days. After the dress experience, my hopes are not high. But that's all right. I can always focus on some other sort of floral doo-dad if I so choose. Writing this down, it all seems frivolous and trivial, but it somehow has taken up a lot of mind space this past week.

In the actual writing life itself, I'm hard at work on the revision of The Sharpest Claw, the sequel to The Loudest Meow. It's actually been a really fun process where I lose track of time and I seem to know where I'm going. (Ha, ha!) It really helped when, with the feedback from my beta readers and my developmental editors, I figured out that I had several stories competing in one book. Actually, today, at breakfast, I thought of another storyline I wanted to pursue, perhaps in Book 3, and I had to stop myself and say, “I think that would actually be its own separate book.” It's quite liberating, to let stories have their own books. (Does any other writer reading this have this problem? Am I the only one?)

Finally, I had intended last week to write some thoughts on this article about how to mentor someone. In my life, I have sought out mentors because I've had so much to learn, and I wanted to learn everything. My experience goes along with what is reported in this article. I believe the best mentors are the ones that can look at your work and see your strengths and encourage you from there. Writing is challenging. It's easy to throw up your hands and say it's too hard. I've done that many times. You need a mentor who understands your work and can help you figure out how to make it bloom, knowing that over time, if you continue, you will get better. You can tackle more complex things, be able to see your faults more clearly as your writing days continue. But you need someone to see the good in you. You need intelligent cheerleading, both with your inner voice, and with the people you choose to invite in on your writing. Anyway, if this interests you, check out the link, and I will see you next week.

How Writing Has Changed Me

This morning, after a delicious breakfast at a Greek diner, I suddenly thought about how writing has made me a better person. It was something that I felt I needed to tweet about immediately, but then I thought I would expand on it here.

Writing teaches patience. In my experience, in order to write, you have to let go of at least a certain amount of control. Characters pop in my head and demand to be part of a story. They go on stirke when they're not happy with a turn of event. I have to listen to them in order to move on. I may have to move like a turtle and hang out in the sun until I have that aha moment that seems to come when I surrender and relax.

Writing makes me hunble. I think I know what I'm doing, and then I'm thrown for a curve. I experience days of rotten sentences or moments where nothing inspires me, and I feel like I'm right back to being a rank novice once again. It's happened so often that I'm now adopting an attitude of curiosity about it. What else can I learn? What is my next step? How can I become a better writer?

Writing gives me confidence. I have written three books. Even when times feel rough, I now believe that I can navigate the waters. It may take me a while. I may have to circle the wagon more times than I'd like, but I have faith that I will figure it out.

Writing brings me joy. I've wanted to do this ever since I was a kid. It's been a lifelong dream, and the fact that I can spend a part of every day pursuing it makes me happy.

That's it for now. It's just about time for a dinner of coconut shrimp, and who would want to miss that? To be continued, hopefully, for the rest of my li

The Oscars, Income Tax, and Writig

I'm terribly late this week.

I'm blaming the Oscars and income taxes.

I have watched the Academy Awards ever since I was a little kid, first with my mother and my sister, then with friends, and in the past few years by myself. It's best that way now. In my current grouchy years, I can no longer stay riveted on the proceedings. I have to be doing something else while I watch. Otherwise I would be bored. I would feel like I had eaten multiple boxes of candy. Don't get me wrong. I love chocolate. But I need only a certain amount, and I need to accompany it with something meaningful.

This year, I started watching at my typical time—the beginning of the red carpet festivities. I studied fashion far removed from my typical home uniform—a bathrobe beloved by our young cats. One of these cats, Samantha, will only sit in my lap if I'm wearing this robe. Both she and Indiana love to suck on the right sleeve. The left sleeve? Blah. The right sleeve is irresistible. And while this pageantry of color and glamour and varying necklines unfolded before my eyes, I would look down every moment or so at the papers scattered around me to start preparing my taxes.

I think in the future I will always hyphenate what I once considered Academy Awards Day. From now on, I will call it the Academy Awards-Tax Preparation Day. It worked quite well for me. It's hard to feel anxious about numbers while movie stars in evening wear pose in front of you. And there's the feeling of synchronicity when the ceremony begins, and while they're announcing the results of categories, I am working my way through my financial considerations. I ended up feeling quite satisfied, even though I hadn't seen hardly any of the films this year, and I still don't know the answer to my taxes, as I was just getting the numbers ready for my accountant to notify me of the final verdict. I will say that, to my surprise, I liked the no-host option, and I was thrilled to see Queen 2.0 with Adam Lambert take us through a few songs to launch the show.

So what does this have to do with writing? Well, usually Sunday, I spend time figuring out what I want to write for this blog, and I get it done, while this week, I celebrated my holiday which I've honored ever since I was small and which now is a hyphenate. That's one reason. The other is, a kind of awards show wriggled its way into my draft a while ago, and while it now seems that it will turn up in a later book, it was one of my favorite things ever to write. Because even when previously adored things grow to seem a bit silly and maybe even tedious, they are still much loved, and that makes them really fun to stick in a scene. Try it and see!

Save the Cat! Writes a Novel

I've been working on The Sharpest Claw, the sequel to The Loudest Meow since August. When I started writing this book, it felt effortless. I thought that perhaps I would just whiz through it in a month or two. (Cue ironic laughter.)

Since that time, I've written a character in and out of the story at least three times. (Now I believe that she'll show up in Book 3 of this Cats of the Afterlife series, but we'll see!) I thought that the one thing I was sure of was how this book was going to end. It's no longer ending that way. I've had a character show up in a big way that I never imagined would happen. Another character threatened to steal the show away from my main character. And another one was acting in a way that I just couldn't understand, and, try as I might, I couldn't convince her to do anything else.

By mid-January, I knew I had a problematic first draft that I could no longer “see.” I turned it over to my readers. One came back with suggestions that I thought were great. Then I tried to implement them in the draft, and the pages bit me, and I had to realize that if this reader wrote this story, those scenes would be front and center, but that's not my story. Besides, I hadn't heard from my other reader yet. Why was I going down that garden path when I hadn't talked to him yet?

When my other reader called me, he had a very different take on the book. I'm waiting to hear what my developmental editor has to say. In the meantime, in order to avoid insanity writer style (a feeling of deep gloom when you wonder if you will ever be able to create anything of value ever again), I decided that this was probably a good time to study up on my craft. I had some Audible credits lying around. I promptly ordered Save the Cat! and started listening. (I am an auditory person. Listening and taking notes is the best way for me to learn.)

I thought I was reading the book because I might want to write a screenplay in the future. But I quickly discovered that there was a treasure trove of information here for novelists. I'm specifically talking about Blake Snyder's explanations of genres and beats. He explains that there are fifteen beats that make up a story, fifteen things that need to happen, and that there are ten thematic genres. Once I finished that book, I decided to listen to Save the Cat! Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody. I am still listening to this book. Brody takes the same information that is in Save The Cat!, but she tailors it specifically to novels. You get a better sense of where the story elements fall into your novel. She gives many examples from many different types of novels (Pride and Prejudice to Confessions of a Shopaholic to Misery and more). It's taking me a long time because while I listen and take notes, I'm having ideas on how to revise my draft. So I have to stop the audiobook and write down these thoughts. Brody also has created a very helpful PDF that you can download with your audiobook purchase. There's charts and tables and exercises to do. Here's my true confession: I rarely finish these kinds of books. If I do, I race my way through it. If I fill out the exercises, it's without much thought. I don't know if I would be so engaged if I was reading this book. I think listening to it really helps me. But I also think that there's a timing factor. I checked out Save the Cat! five years ago from my local library, and I returned it when it was due without ever opening it. But right now I'm absorbing the ideas. I'm excited. I feel like I am adding quite the snazzy tool to my writing tool kit. And I'm happy about it. I'm not moaning that it's “taking so long” and “it's so much work.” I feel like this study, this revision, this book will make me a better writer, and that is my lifelong journey, to up my skills, to let my characters sing their song

Snow

When we moved to Sonora last year in late April, we knew there would be snow in the wintertime. We had seen patches on the ground in March when we found our home. We had heard about the weekend last winter when the power went out and things shut down.

So we were delighted to see the snow that lasted a day or two around Thanksgiving. Ditto the two- or three-day cover that looked so festive at Christmas. Then came the storms. We've had several weeks of them now, one after another with several feet of snow on the ground. Yes, I got to make my first snow angel since when I was a child in Michigan. (And discovered that I had forgotten one fundamental instruction, both legs need to move! I saw later on the video that Mike made that my left leg had apparently not read the memo.)

It is beautiful. It is wondrous. And it's challenging. I fancy myself an introvert who can spend days on end with just my family, spending a certain amount of hours by myself in my office. But right now, I would love to see other faces. I long to engage in meaningless banter. I want to drive a car without worry and walk down a sidewalk.

Perhaps it also has to do with writing. I'm in wait mode. I want to hear my developmental editor has to say before moving forward. I'm trying to be patient. I'm attempting to learn a lesson from the past weeks, where I had heard from one of the two of my beta readers and jumped ahead without waiting to hear from everyone.

Outside I can hear a kindly neighbor plowing our road. The snow-laden branches of my writing tree beckon. Try another snow angel! Maybe this time, both legs will work. I turn on my heated mattress pad and focus again on the screen. I try to accept where I am in this time of unexpected snow, of hanging out, and letting go.