Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Life Continues, Even When I'm Preoccupied

Ada caught a cold and last night she didn't sleep very well. No biggie; I'm not back in the habit of sleeping yet, myself. But NaNoWriMo is over! And I have a nice little sense of accomplishment to offset my despair about being woefully unprepared for December. My house is a mess, I haven't started decorating, I've barely started Christmas shopping, and I haven't even thought about baking. Moreover, I haven't thrown out the indoor "mini pumpkins" yet, and just tonight I took down the Halloween decoration from the front door. I haven't quite figured out how to balance writing and home life yet; I tend to do either/or, in spurts.

But this morning I took myself off to my favorite coffee shop, Kaldi's. First, I treated myself to a latte while reading the last 5 pages of the Ursula K. LeGuin novel I started a couple of days ago. Then I reread the last chapter of Seek Ye First to put myself back into that voice. And I started writing again! It felt like coming home to an old friend. I'm enjoying this story again, so much so that I think I'll be sad when I finish it. No worries, though, the end is still at least 30,000 words away, another few months at my current snail's pace.

Tonight, over dinner at Trattoria Branica (Kirkwood) a friend asked me, "So, what are you going to do with all these things you keep writing?"

Ah, that is the question. And also one of my major goals for 2009. Confession: I cower in the face of revision! (I once ditched a first draft and started over rather than revising it.) Note to writer's workshop coordinators: please offer workshops on self-editing, re-writing and revising. I will show up!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

So, How Was Your Monday?

Here's a summary of mine:

I was up late writing on Sunday night into Monday morning, so Paul got up with the girls. He brought Ada in to nurse with me around 6:30 am, then fed the girls breakfast and got them dressed while I tried to doze. (This is rarely effective, but always so tempting - and appreciated.) In the end, my assistance was required to find Ellie a pair of long pants. I'd only had a couple hours of sleep, but my day had begun.

I got myself dressed, and we loaded the girls into the car. Ada and I took Ellie to school, then headed to the grocery store. After shopping, I played puzzles and board games with Ada, but mostly I just tried to stay awake. Too many nights of too little sleep wear me a little thin.

Ellie's bus arrived at 12:30, and we all headed inside to make lunch together. After lunch, I chatted briefly on the phone with my mom while the girls played together. Then it was nap time. After getting both girls down to sleep, I collapsed in my own bed for an hour. By 4:00, we were awake.

The girls had snacks and watched Dora the Explorer while I straightened the house and popped dinner into the oven. (Thank heavens for Time for Dinner!)

Paul came home from work shortly before 6:00 and we had a lovely family meal. Afterward, he gave the girls a bath while I set out snacks for my book club.

Together, Paul and I got the girls ready for bed. Then I nursed and snuggled with Ada until my girlfriends started arriving at 7:30 and Paul took over bedtime duties.

My book club discussed an entertaining and provocative play called The Women, then moved into the family room to watch the 1939 movie starring Joan Crawford. (If the 2008 remake stays at the cheap theater long enough, several of us hope to go see that as well.)

By a quarter after 11, book club was over (it ran unusually long because of the movie) and it was time for my evening to begin. I did 45 minutes of cardio, then sat down with Paul to watch an episode of Law & Order from the Tivo for another 45 minutes. He made lattes, and I moved to the kitchen table and pulled out my computer.

First I put up my nightly blog post, then I alt tabbed over to my NaNoWriMo novel to get in my nightly 2000 words. Paul stayed up with me for a while, rubbing my feet the dear man, before doing the sensible thing and going to bed.

Shortly after 4:00 am I headed back to the bedroom to start the process all over.

But now it's Thanksgiving vacation, and the end of NaNoWriMo is in sight! I don't love the novel I wrote this year - we'll see what I think of it in a couple of months when I've let it settle and then reread it - but I learned something valuable. Last November I learned that I could write a novel. This year I learned that it can take me a whole year to write a novel at a pace of 2000-4000 words per week. And this November I learned that I can write a whole novel - this year's novel should be complete at 50,000 words - in a month without stopping my life.

As long as I sacrifice sleep.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

November is Boring Blogging Month

First up is a progress report on my fitness goal, because I know that you care. But it's a happy day because I passed a significant (to me) "decade" mark. You know what I mean, right? There's something so psychologically important about that tens place ticking down one. And I'm also more than 1/6 of the way to my goal. So, woo hoo!

Second, before I go to bed tonight I should have written more than 30,000 words on my NaNoWriMo novel, which is fabulous. I find the 20,000's to be the hardest part. And given the email pep talks the NaNoWriMo folks send out, it's a pretty common problem. After that, it's sort of a long, fun coast to the end. There's something psychologically important about passing 30,000 words for me.

I think I'll leave it there, and save the substantive bit for tomorrow. I'm off to write!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Lia Keyes


On the chance that you have a Google Alert on your name and you see this, I wanted to tell you that:
a) You have a really cool website, so
b) Now I'm even more excited to read your book, and
c) You are a hard person to contact.

I've been trying to find you over at NaNoWriMo but have failed. I hope the writing is going well!

--Sarahlynn (from this summer's Gotham Writer's Workshop)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Fourth Grade

Being ten years old is a difficult experience. The age varies from kid to kid, of course, but ten is often a challenge. There's long division, for one thing, and growing up for another.

Sometime in this "tween" age range, many kids begin the struggle to figure out who they are and who they want to be. They start to realize that their parents do not know everything and that adults are not infallible. And, for many of us, it's around this time that we learn that we ourselves are not perfect. Alas!

The main character in my NaNoWriMo novel is ten, in 4th grade, and has recently moved across the country and changed schools in the middle of the year. She has fabulous parents, but life is still very hard. Case in point: she has a really annoying much younger brother.

If you have any tales to tell about your own experiences being a "tween," parenting a ten year old, or just knowing folks around this age, I'd love to hear 'em. Comment away!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to My Goal

First of all, it's very very hard to keep up with all the home stuff (this is the time of year when we have what seems like weekly meetings preparing for Kindergarten, plus all of our usual activities and therapy stuff, plus I'm doing this officer training thing at church) while doing NaNoWriMo and exercising nearly an hour a night. Very very very hard. I'm a little behind on my word count.

But the exercise and all that is going very well. Yesterday I had a funny little set-back. I ate well all day, no snacking or binging, and had a great workout. But my weigh-in was flat. Very frustrating. Ditto today. Weird.

It turns out that there was a bit of a biological cause. But also - and, I believe, mainly - there was something I was consuming that had a few more calories than I expected.

You know I love love love my lattes, right? Well, if there's anything in the world that tastes better than a latte, it's a Starbucks Egg Nog Latte, available only from mid-November through the end of the year. Paul got me one as a special treat yesterday, and it was even better than I remembered from last year. Heavenly! Delightful!

"Do you have a sugar free version?" my wonderful husband asked the barista.

"No, but it shouldn't be a problem," she replied. "The egg nog lattes have no extra sugar."

Whew, was she ever wrong.

I figured it was just a syrup, like Starbucks' other flavored lattes.

I was wrong, too.

It's not a syrup, and it's not sugar free. It's espresso and egg nog, with a little bit of 2% milk. Gulp. No wonder it's so good!

Serving Size 16 fl. oz.

Amt Per Serving
Calories 470
Fat Calories 190
Total Fat (g) 21
Saturated Fat (g) 13
Trans Fat (g) 0
Cholesterol (mg) 140
Sodium (mg) 230
Total Carbohydrates (g) 53
Fiber (g) 0
Sugars (g) 48
Protein (g) 16
Vitamin A 10%
Vitamin C 0%
Calcium 50%
Iron 2%
Caffeine (mg) 150

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


On November 1st, I wrote three things: a quickie blog post, a grocery list, and the first 2300 words of a new novel. Of these, I feel that the the novel comes in a distant third in terms of being interesting reading.

I am excited by my ideas. And I'm good at marketing; I can sell them to myself as stories I want to hear, want to write. But. When I'm writing, I'm sometimes bored. Which is weird and surprising to me. Writers are supposed to looooove the actual writing. I myself have always enjoyed writing. I'm energized by it and feel great when I've done it - like exercise - but I'm not always excited by the process itself lately.

This is especially strange because later, rereading, I'm sometimes very happy with what I've written. And the reactions I've gotten have been positive. So what's that all about?

Maybe it's just because a) I'm perpetually exhausted, and b) the stories take a little longer to type than they do to appear in my head, or even to read, so that they don't feel quite as "fresh" when I am typing them out. But I didn't really have this problem with the NaNo novel I wrote last year.

Another interesting difference between this year's NaNo and last, for me, is the pace. I remember sitting at the kitchen table typing and typing, checking my word count and finding 2000 still a huge distance away, getting more snacks and coffee, then plugging away some more. By now, however, I'm much more practiced at the craft, I guess, and 2000 word segments come naturally for me. Perhaps this has been part of my transition from being a short story writer (a form I continue to enjoy) and writing longer works of fiction.

I know that the conventional wisdom is that you should write what you read. That makes sense to me. But I'm not sure it works for me. I definitely read literary fiction. But some of the books I've been most passionate about have been from other genres, lots of other genres. I don't often read romance or westerns, but I read pretty much everything else. And sometimes, when I'm looking for fun and distraction, literary fiction is not my first grab.

But it's definitely where the writing feels most interesting, easy, and fun, for me.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

National Novel Writing Month Is On

(See ticker in sidebar.)

November 1st:
The NaNoWriMo website is glacial today, unsurprisingly. Parts of the site are nonfunctional, while other parts are text-only, until the traffic dies down a bit. All of which means that I can't update my word count at the moment. But it's going.

And I'm doing something completely different this year. I'm writing in a combination of two genres, neither of which I've experimented with before. I'm writing a different age of character than I've ever tried before. And I'm writing not only without an outline but also without a detailed character sketch. So we'll see how this goes.

And we'll see if I'm able to keep up with Seek Ye First while spending my evenings with Wyoming the Witch. It's a month-long experiment for me! What could go wrong? Who knows, maybe I'll invent Flubber.

Monday, October 27, 2008

November is National Novel Writing Month

So, are you going to do NaNoWriMo this year?

I plan to.

But I still don't know what to write!

I have about 30,000 words left on my current novel. (The NaNoWriMo goal is 50,000 and you're supposed to start with nothing, rather than the nearly 40,000 words I have written so far.)

Do I put my novel aside to work on something new for a month?

Do I finish my current novel in November and spend the rest of the month finishing or starting other projects?

Or do I try to write two novels simultaneously at the break-neck NaNoWriMo 2000 words per day pace? Hah and double hah.

What to do, what to do?

Whatever I decide, real life friends, please don't be offended that I probably won't be around much until December!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Open Letter to Curtis Sittenfeld

Dear Curtis,

May I call you Curtis? I hope so. For one thing, we're about the same age. For another, your writing is very personal/confessional in tone, which makes me (the reader) feel like we've got this one-sided connection. And third, I usually don't mind when people call me by my first name, if it's done respectfully, so I'm hoping that you'll feel the same way. "Ms. Sittenfeld" just seems so cold in this context. And "Curtis Sittenfeld" sounds all fangirl, like you're a celebrity who must always go by her full name.

First of all, I'm a fan. I just want to make that clear.

I found you through your essay, "Your Life as a Girl" in Listen Up! Voices of the Next Feminist Generation through a Women's Studies class in college. Several of the women in one of my book clubs are reading American Wife right now. It's my month to pick for my other book club, and we like to read stuff that's not brand-new, so we're reading Prep. But I had everybody read "Your Life as a Girl" first.

Don't worry, I'm not asking you to come to the book club.

But there is something I would like to ask of you, as a fan. See, I live in St. Louis, too, though I'm not from here. Like you, I've adopted this as my home. But it's a great city and I really enjoy living here. I hope that you grow to love it as well. Or, at least, I hope that you don't publicly disparage it.

I respect your desire for privacy, I do. But the way I see it, you opened the door yourself, talking about the fact that you live here now in certain publications, then not in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Consider your interview with Lesley Stahl in WOWOWOW September 3rd.
Curtis: I now live in St. Louis, MO.
Lesley: Really? St. Louis?
Curtis: I know.

You know what? If there's another way to read that than "That hick place? Seriously?" I'd love to hear it.

And then, of course, there's the non-review of American Wife in the Post-Dispatch (which published a real review, as well).
An author in our town is getting a lot of attention. Only I can't tell you that. I can't even tell you she lives here. And I certainly can't tell you her name.

. . . If you read any of several national publications, you'll find her in articles on the book "American Wife," a roman à clef about George and Laura Bush. The book is even No. 3 on this week's best-seller list (see Page 11). The author has been on talk shows, and the la-dee-da New York Times printed her photograph, too, along with the name of the city where she lives: St. Louis.

But I doubt that you saw that piece. It was printed far away in the National Media. Despite what some economists and new media gurus say, the world really isn't all that connected.

I know this because a helpful publicist for the author told me. I mean she told me that the author doesn't want to talk to local media. Because if we plaster her picture on our arts section, her privacy will be ruined.

She wants to maintain her privacy, said the helpful person paid to obtain publicity for an author writing for the public.

But The New York Times printed her picture, photographed in her "home in St. Louis," I had to say, objecting to the obvious snubbing. And her face is plastered on the book jacket.

Well, national media weren't supposed to say where she lives.

I objected again: We're much nicer than national media. You know how rude sports fans are in places with national media? And how bloodthirsty the media are there? Well, in St. Louis, fans are polite. We applaud. I'm sure that's what we'd do for an author, too. We're practically never bloodthirsty.

Well, everyone in St. Louis reads the Post-Dispatch. But hardly anyone reads the Times.

And so forth. It looks . . . very snobbish. Very anti-Midwestern, or at least anti-St. Louisan. Unsurprisingly, there are lots of intelligent, well-read, interesting people here, too, and not everybody spits hayseeds when they talk. (I do, but only when I forget to floss after mucking the stalls.) Of course you don't have to publish your address or give interviews to everyone who asks. But if you could say something nice about your new hometown, now that the news is out, well, that would be nice. Perhaps a little statement on your website or in an interview. Something to mitigate the ugliness suggested by the two interviews I've excerpted above (one with you, one with your publicist).

I'd feel a lot happier about calling myself a fan and recommending your novels to others if I didn't feel like you were insulting me and looking down on me based solely on where I choose to live.


P.S. Do you want to be my local critique partner?

Thursday, October 2, 2008

It's Alright to Cry

I'm going to do my Friday Photo blogging on Monday this week, to maximize cuteness.

In the meantime, I sold another short story (this one to an anthology) am finally over half done with my novel, have several essays out on submission, and am still loving my daytime writing time.

Speaking of which, Ada is done crying at separations now. I know this both because she's stopped crying when I leave her at school (Kids Day Out two mornings a week) and in the nursery at church, but also because she told me so. "Mommy, no mo' cwying." Sweet, sweet baby.

Then she fell down and skinned her knee, was upset for a moment, asked for a kiss to make it feel better, then struggled to gain control of herself. "No cwying," she said emotionally.

"Oh, Ada, sweetie," I said. It's OK to cry. It's alright to cry whenever you get hurt, or feel sad or angry. It might just make you feel better!"

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Q&A with Author Joanna Campbell Slan

I placed the names of everyone who entered the contest (both via blog comments and my email) for a copy of Paper, Scissors, Death into Ellie's purple butterfly rain boot. Congratulations to . . . Laura! And, if memory serves, this is actually the second prize you've won from this blog, though the first one was years ago and certainly doesn't disqualify you. Wasn't it it a box of novelty band-aids? This is better.

Now on to a Q&A with the author, Joanna Campbell Slan!

Writer questions:
1) How long did it take you to write Paper, Scissors, Death?

My friend Terri Thayer, author of Wild Goose Chase, once answered this by giving her age, so in my case it took 55 years. The book is the sum of all the work I've put into the craft over my lifetime. Now, the first draft took me 28 days. I sat down the first day in February--wearing my pajamas--and worked all month, devoting my attention exclusively to the book. Then, over the next two years, I re-wrote and re-wrote even though the book had been sold. My publisher, Midnight Ink, suggests a few small changes, but my skills had grown, so I cleaned up the book in a lot of ways. I probably reworked the whole manuscript four times.

2) Is this Kiki Lowenstein's first adventure, or had you worked with her before, in "practice novels" or short stories?

No, she was a completely new character.

3) How many words was your completed manuscript?

Around 85,000.

4) Did you have a hard time finding an agent?

The second agent I pitched at SleuthFest took me on. The first looked at me, scratched his head and said, "Why on earth would anyone be interested in reading about a scrapbooker?"

5) Working with a smaller press, did you get a lot of hands-on editorial assistance?

It's possible there is, but for this book, I didn't need that. Midnight Ink wanted a few changes, but not many. I think what was more valuable to me was the access to decision makers. The important part for me was being able to generate ideas and have them heard. I spoke with one of the owners yesterday, and she told me how much they valued working with authors who are willing to work hard to promote their books. In return, I value at least having them open to my ideas such as putting a coupon in the back for 50 free digital prints.

Reader questions:
1) Is CALA based on a real school? (Is it MICDS?)

It's a combination of several local private schools. But since my son went to MICDS, it had a strong influence on me. Like Kiki, I went to a podunk public school. MICDS was culture shock for me. My son got an excellent education there, and I got plenty of ideas for stories.

2) What's your favorite local scrapbooking shop?

Oh, gosh, there are so many. I love Archivers because they have a great selection, and I was just up at ScrapFest, so I met the buyers. I'm a big believer in face-to-face interaction. It changes everything. I also love Rock, Paper, Scissors in St. Charles, Red Lead on Manchester Road in St. Louis, Scrappy Ann's in Weldon Spring, The Scrapbook Garden in O' Fallon (IL), and The Inkspot of Natalie in Kirkwood. What's fascinating is how every store has its own personality. Each has its strong points, and so each continues to amaze me.

3) When can we expect to see Kiki next?

Cut, Crop & Die is scheduled for early summer, 2009.

4) I love how many things in this novel are not simple black-and-white, like Kiki and George's unusual marriage and the way many of the "bad" guys are nuanced rather than evil through and through. What did you start with when you were creating this book? Was it Kiki herself, the mystery, the marriage, or something else entirely?

It was definitely Kiki. She was very clear to me. Then Mert, her best friend, materialized and her voice was unique. Next I imagined a situation which would compel Kiki's life to change. A situation which would demand that she snoop around. For that to happen, someone near to her had to die--and her daughter had to be somewhat at risk. (And that was a fine line because I knew I couldn't stand a book where a child was in danger, so the risk had to be something else.) After I had those essentials, the pieces more or less came together. I'm a big fan of complex characters. People aren't usually all good or all bad. We struggle with our decisions, we fight to get our needs met, and on occasion we panic and make really bad choices.

5) Where do you write? Do you write full-time or do you have another job?

I have a large office in our basement. It's not as gloomy as it sounds because the lower level of our home is a walk-out, so one wall is lovely windows which look out into a forest. Writing is my full-time job now that my son is off to college.

Thank you, Joanna! Best of luck to you and Kiki.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Warning! The free book contest ends today! I'll hopefully be posting an interview with author Joanna Campbell Slan tomorrow, and will announce the winner at the same time. Last chance to enter!

Thinking of writing. My class ended this week! As you might have noticed, I'm working on my first mystery novel ever. I've been working on it for several months, and it's begun to seem . . . silly and obvious to me. Won't it be immediately obvious to everyone?!

The instructor has read my first few chapters and my complete outline. In response to the outline, he said that he was worried that "it seems a bit complex." As in - it is not a good thing to confuse your readers.

I say, hooray! Not silly and obvious, then. Perhaps I've come up with a clever plot. Now I just need to work hard to keep it clear and not confusing. But my characters are supposed to be very smart, clever people. I prefer the challenge of making a complicated mystery accessible than trying to make a simple mystery - well - mysterious. And interesting.

My story involves a little technology (but only the fun bits) and one of the characters is a Luddite, so there's plenty of opportunity for explaining and re-explaining the tricky parts. I was a little worried about page count and coming in short. Now I know I should have plenty of material. It's all good!

I've enjoyed the Gotham Writing Workshop experience, and I expect that I'll do it again. I'm taking the next session off to concentrate on my writing, though. These are mostly 10 week courses, and every week there's a lecture to read, a discussion about the lecture, an optional chat room session with the class, a homework writing assignment, and other students' submissions to critique. For each 4000 word classmate submission, I put in at least an hour of work on the critique, and there were 2-4 of them to complete each week.

All that learning and critiquing is great practice for my own work, but it also cuts into my available time for writing. So I'm looking forward to having some work time during the evenings again, in addition to my 5 beautiful, wonderful, unassailable coffee shop daylight hours.

Which resume tomorrow. So, good night!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Paper, Scissors, Death

Have you ever read a book by someone you know? It's a bit dangerous, because there's always the chance that you won't like it. Or, worse, that it will really suck. Then what do you say?

I'm no scrapbooker. In fact, I'm not very crafty at all. I know how to make neat homemade candles and fill jars with delicious recipe mixes. That's as close as I get to "craft" other than, you know, writing.

So when Joanna Campbell Slan, president of the Greater St. Louis Chapter of Sisters in Crime, announced that she had a mystery publishing this month, I was thrilled for her, excited to see it, and a little bit worried. The worried part came from the fact that this is Paper, Scissors, Death, the first in a series of "Scrap-N-Craft" mysteries starring Kiki Lowenstein.

I needn't have worried. Kiki the professional victim drove me a little crazy at first, as I'm more of a (less hairy) Dodie, myself. But I loved the way Kiki's friends Dodie and Mert quickly signed her up for "Tough Tamales University, School of Hard Knocks" and toughened her right up. "No More Mrs. Nice Guy," indeed.

What I'm saying is that I was hooked from the first word to the last. I finished the book this morning, and have spent the rest of the day still thinking about Kiki's life and imagining what will happen next. The characters were real to me, the sense of place was perfect, and the mystery was solid, deftly handled.

One of my favorite things about this book was the setting. I love a good book set in St. Louis, and this one was more so than most. It wasn't just the names of the streets and malls: I know those Ladue moms! I loved how Kiki held her flashlight like she was Albert Pujols at bat when she was going after the intruder in her house. I used to live right near Kiki, Anya, and Gracie's "transitional neighborhood!" And, yes, she did manage to work, "What high school did you go to?" into the story.

But it's not just local flavor. Slan is a great writer with a real knack for description. When she's depressed, Kiki sees a November sky like mixed concrete. The whole book is full of great little observations like that. And while most of the book is very fast-paced and funny, occasionally Slan slows things down with some fabulous descriptive prose. Witness this image of an early spring trip out to Babler State Park: The earliest spring flowers - jonquils, crocus, and snowdrops - had faded on yellowing stalks. The next wave was gathering courage to burst into bloom. Bare tree branches were tipped in a watercolor wash of celery, celadon, mint, lime, and olive. In a week or two, the skyline would shout hosannah with verdant life.


But I guessed whodunnit before Kiki Lowenstein did. Will you? Here's your chance to try for free! There are three questions below. If you answer them correctly, you'll have a very good chance of winning a free copy of the book, donated by Joanna herself.

Not a big fan of cozy mysteries? Not to worry. Are you local? This is fun for the St. Louis angle, alone. There's more heft to this novel than most cozies, weighing in at 327-trade-paperback-sized pages, though it's still a very quick read. That's because there's a bit more action and violence than you might find in most cozies. And, for the romance fans, well, there's Chad. I won't say more than that.

Here's your chance.

Just answer the following questions here, in the comments. (I recommend you also pop on over to Joanna's site to sigh up for her newsletter; she won't spam you.)
  1. What is the name of Kiki Lowenstein's dog?
  2. What is Detective Detweiler's first name?
  3. What is the slogan on the coffee cup that Mert gives Kiki?

The answers can be found in the excerpt booklet, which I highly recommend! If you'd prefer to answer privately, email me at: to enter.

But wait! There's more!

Joanna Campbell Slan will be guest-blogging here a week from today. Do you have any questions you'd like her to answer? Anything you're burning to know? Leave that in comments, too. She's an expert scrapbooker as well as a great writer, so let your imagination wander.

hint: all the answers do appear somewhere in this post, though none of them are labeled . . .

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Do You Believe in Fairy Tales?

Last night I watched the Democratic National Convention in the most perfect way. I sat on the floor, my back resting against the couch and my laptop on a little stool in front of me, working on a new short story (first draft complete at 2700 words, unlike my puny little 750 word homework assignment that was due today).

I watched Ted Kennedy's speech, then, later, Michelle Obama's. I didn't stick around for the political commentary between or after, I just watched and listened to the speeches, then turned off the TV and kept writing.

I really liked Michelle Obama's suggestion that we vote our hopes this year, not our fears. That was beautiful.

And I think that Teddy Kennedy did a wonderful job. I saw his wife redirect him as he started to walk the wrong way to the podium, I saw his shaking hands, I saw the looks of concern and anxiety on the faces of his family.

But he gave a great speech, and my heart ached a little when he promised to be there in January to see Barack Obama inaugurated.

It reminded me of a few months ago when I was thinking about the Kennedy political legacy, and how here is this family that has so much money and history but is so focused on giving back, helping others. And the whole Camelot fairy tale, and about how we want so badly for it all to be real, for our political leaders to be perfect. For these rich, privileged people who are so dedicated public service, who have this large sense of the responsibility they bear to the rest of society, to be strong and perfect in all ways. To not have affairs, drive drunk, abuse alcohol and drugs, lie.

That night, months ago, I spent some time on Wikipedia, looking up JFK's family: his siblings and their children and grandchildren, searching for someone with that magical Kennedy name who had the right biography. Someone with the moral fortitude to stand comfortably in the extremely bright spotlight in which we bathe our politicians, but who also has the charisma to lead us, to inspire us to believe.

I don't believe in fairy tales, but I want to. And if I am faithful to my own husband, is it too much to expect that he's faithful to me? If I don't drive drunk, if I've never done drugs or abused alcohol, is it too much to expect others in my community to do the same? Is all this too much to ask that of our role models and public figures? And is it ever OK to expect a higher standard?

When they fall short of their promises and our hopes, we feel disillusioned. So I am afraid to believe in Barack Obama. But I want to believe that, yes, we can.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Move On Dot Org

The Olympics are over and now it's time to move on.

For example, I need to clean my bathrooms again.

Hopefully, over time, my children will stop their annoying refrains of, "No volleyball, no!" and "No more 'lympics, Mommy!"

And, sigh, it's now time to move my focus from fun international rivalries in sport to domestic politics.

To help ease my way down that path, we all piled into the Cool Cool Car on Saturday afternoon and headed up to Springfield for the first public appearance of Obama and Biden. We didn't want to make Ellie skip gymnastics, so we didn't get there in time to actually see the speeches. But we heard them in the car while driving around Springfield. And then we loaded the girls into the stroller and walked around the old courthouse area, buying a t-shirt and enjoying the energy of the crowd.

It's also time to get back on track with other things. Tomorrow I start writing morning pages.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Writers Fest 2008

On September 6, the Greater St. Louis Sisters in Crime chapter presents Writers Fest 2008. I hope to be there. Come and join me!

Do you want to be published? Do you want your book to sell? Then join us for a powerful one-day seminar featuring Todd Stone and P.M. Terrell on Saturday, September 6, 2008, from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Steinway Piano Gallery Recital Hall, 12033 Dorsett Road, Maryland Heights.

In the morning, Todd Stone will present a new set of drills designed to make your progress on your book greater, faster and more rewarding. He'll help you complete your manuscript by offering practical instruction in plot, characterization, setting, drafting and revision.

We'll break for lunch--continental breakfast, snacks, beverages and lunch are included in your registration fee. We'll also have frequent comfort breaks and opportunities for you to network and have books signed by local authors.

After we eat, Patricia (P.M.) Terrell will help you get media attention for your books and get people into the stores to buy your work. If you are currently writing your book, Patricia will discuss tie-ins that will boost your sales. She'll also show you a geographic approach to touring to maximize your budget--and she'll introduce you to Virtual Touring.

Then Todd will wrap up the day by presenting Real World Revision. If agents or publishers have shown interest in your book, but not offered you a contract, this is exactly what you need. (If your book isn't finished, this will save you the agony of rejection!)

And of course, at the end of the day, you'll be taking home these precious resources: a copy of Novelist's Boot Camp in book or live presentation CD form (to be mailed to you after we duplicate it), a copy of Take the Mystery Out of Promoting Your Book, and great handouts.

Print out the form below, enclose your check or credit card payment, and make plans to be a successful author!

State & Zip______________________

□ I am a member of Sisters in Crime or Chesterfield Arts. (You pay $75.)
□ I’m not a member of either--yet. (You pay $85.)

After Sept. 1, a $10 walk-in fee will be added.

I prefer Todd Stone’s Novelist’s Boot Camp in this form:
□ Book □ CD—live presentation

Method of Payment:
□ Check (enclose & make out to Greater St. Louis Sisters in Crime)
□ Credit card
Circle one: Mastercard/Visa
Expiration date:__________________

Mail to: Chesterfield Arts, 444 Chesterfield Ctr. #130, Chesterfield MO 63017 or call 636-519-1955


Alas! It's late again. I've finally finished my homework (one day late) so you get a piece of that instead of insightful political commentary (who has Obama chosen?!) or adorable anecdotes about my children (they are both still perfect).

And, as always, a note or two about the Olympics:
  1. If you missed this morning's women's volleyball quarter final between Italia and the USA, you missed a great show. USA! USA! USA! Bump-Set-Spike!
  2. Obama's feel-good campaign ads almost don't bother me. (I like my Olympics without election year politics.) But McCain's incessant attack ads are really starting to tick me off.

Now on to a brief except from my 3-page description of a farm. I'm using my weekly homework assignments to write a short story. It's coming together out of order, all in little 2-3 page snippets, but it's been a fun new way to write. (For this excerpt, remember how much I love nature, and realize that my main character in this story shares an exaggerated version of that trait):

Steph turned the Volvo off the interstate onto a lettered highway, then a double-lettered blacktop liberally sprinkled with potholes, and finally onto an unpaved road that didn’t seem to have a name at all. Each road got noticeably windier and narrower, until Clara’s sense of being a speck in the middle of a big, open state was replaced by claustrophobia; the trees crowding in on the car limited visibility more than skyscrapers downtown.

They bumped along the gravel road for a while, stirring up such a trail of dust that Steph stopped the car in the middle of the road long enough to raise the retractable hardtop and ensure that everyone had their windows closed. Clara removed the blanket from baby Carrie’s face and took a deep breath of air conditioning.

For several miles, Clara had been noticing periodic columns of something along the side of the road. Bugs, she realized just before Steph accelerated again. There were swarming columns of bugs every few feet. She shuddered.

A large, white mailbox appeared on their right, hidden by the trees until they were almost upon it. The mailbox marked a dirt track leading up a small hill and into a thicket. Disregarding her shiny, green paint job, Steph turned onto the narrow path and plowed ahead. After only a hundred feet or so, they topped the rise and popped out of the undergrowth, finding themselves in an open area of closely mown prairie.

“Oh!” Clara said, surprised.

“Dad likes to mow before people come out here,” Steph said. “It keeps the bugs down.”

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Autumn Is Coming!

Thursday was Ellie's first day of school. On the way home after dropping her off, Ada fell asleep in the car and made the transfer to her crib for a long nap.

I had two hours to myself, two hours to write.

And I had so much to say. All at once, the doubts of the last few months were shoved aside by the next scene in my novel-in-progress, one I'd been afraid to start for so long. It just seemed to overwhelming, until, suddenly, it wasn't.

After getting nearly 700 words into that scene, I opened a new document and sketched out the main character and seed of an idea for the novel I want to write this November, for National Novel Writing Month.

Now I just need to finish my current novel within the next month or two, so that I have time to work out an outline for the NaNoWriMo novel before November 1st. And maybe have time for a little break in there somewhere, to finish up a few essays and short stories I've got banging around in drafts.

Fall is in the air! In only 2 weeks, Ada will be in "preschool" two mornings a week and Starbucks will start selling pumpkin spice lattes. I'm poised to break out my new brown twinset and my creative energy, which somehow begins to peak as the year wanes.

Monday, August 4, 2008

I'm Behind

I went to the Central West End tonight for a book launch party.

My fellow Sister in Crime, Angie Fox, just published her first novel: The Accidental Demon Slayer.

It's a great concept, a catchy title, an attention-grabbing cover . . . and is stocked at Wal*Mart and Target. I'm thinking Angie's gonna do very well her first time out of the gate! I mean, a gang of geriatric biker witches? What could go wrong?

And she did all of this with very young children. Wow.

I didn't stay very long at the party, though it was a great party. The venue is one of my CWE favorites, Brennan's, and the pineapple-habanero chutney served with triple cream brie was to die for. But the room was very very hot and crowded . . .

And I had work to do at home.

I'm working on a homework assignment that's due tomorrow, and am a little stymied because the assignment is uncharacteristically vague. I enjoy getting specific writing assignments and then figuring out how I can fit them into my WIP, which is sort of like working with a puzzle. I'm given the shape, but need to color it in. In this way, slowly but surely, I've taken lots of little pictures and created something much larger.

Anyway, this annoyingly imprecise assignment gave my mind free reign. And, sadly, my mind took off. It traveled so far afield that I came up with a better(?) mystery for the title/shell of my current WIP and another title/shell for the mystery I've actually been writing.

This might explain the problems I've been having with the writing - I've been trying to force a mystery into the wrong casing. And both stories might end up better in the end. But the route from here to to better is daunting.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Work in Progress

Here are the first 250 words of a short story I'm working on (in very rough first draft form). This story shares the same main characters as the novel I'm still writing, a first for me. Actually, I have ideas for quite a few novels and short stories involving these folks. We'll see how that goes!

This story is called "Et in Arcadia, Ego." It reflects my love of the great outdoors.

Clara was crying freely.

“I think I’m going to die!” she said to her husband.

Clara and Jonathon lived in a quaint little town, but one surrounded by a large urban area, not farmland. Of course she’d smelled a pig farm before, but never from quite this close-up, never quite this poignantly, pungently.

“And if I don’t die, I’m going to kill Denise!”

Their friend since high school, Denise now worked in sales. The fact that she was very good at her job was evidenced by the fact that Clara and Jonathon were actually crammed into the back seat of her new Volvo convertible, suffering along winding country roads on their way to spend the day at Denise’s dad’s farm. The otherwise spacious back seat was crowded because Clara and Jonathon were separated by their baby’s car seat.

“I can’t believe we’re subjecting Carrie to this. I’m sure she’s losing brain cells with each breath!”

Actually, Carrie seemed quite content with the hot wind blowing across her face, despite facing backwards and being sheltered by an enormous sun hat and tiny sunglasses.

Jonathon laughed, which made Clara smile. She was not usually so melodramatic, but being silly could be fun. Jonathon leaned his head back against the head rest and let the wind toss his feather-light brown hair. It was actually kind of lovely being out on such a perfect fall day, Clara thought as she watched her baby and husband basking in the sunlight.

Did I mention? It's a murder mystery and the tone changes right about here.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

This Is Why I'm in Two Book Clubs

I'm too tired to write much tonight. My parents-in-law arrived today for a week long visit (to be followed by Paul's sister, her husband, and their adorable baby for a long weekend). Yay!

But we were up very late last night, preparing. And I still need to create a grocery list so that I can shop in the morning. So, just quickly, then:

One of my book clubs recently discussed A Thousand Splendid Suns at its annual mother/daughter meeting. Afterward, everyone decided that a lighter read was in order for the next selection.

I just got the email listing three choices from which to choose our light, frothy, frilly, fun, beachy novel:
1) high school shooting involving multiple deaths and injuries
2) woman discovers husband is having affair (also involves her involuntarily being committed to an institution and threat of losing custody of their child)
3) heartbreaking love story beginning with adultery and ending with multiple murder (including that of children) based on a true story.


Good thing my other book club is reading David Sedaris this month.

Athletic Sex in Gotham

Let me start by apologizing to all the people who've come here recently after searching for "athletic sex" or even "crazy athletic sex" and found only this post. I assume you didn't find what you were hoping for, and I apologize for wasting your time.

Thinking of writing and wasting or not wasting time, I thought I'd post a quick review of the first week of the Gotham Writers Workshop in which I'm participating this summer. First of all, I am enjoying the online class experience. The first "lecture" didn't knock my socks off (reading the lectures will take some getting used to) but I enjoy the Blackboard functionality, and this is my first experience with it as a student (rather than as a marketeer educating sales reps and demonstrating educational products directly to customers). Second, I like the other students (at least, what I know of them so far) and think they'll be a great group to work with. I look forward to reading their pieces and getting to know them a bit more.

I like the deadlines and accountability, and I'm using the weekly homework assignments (which go just to the instructor) to work on a short story featuring the same main characters as my novel-in-progress. I'm using the first two chapters of the novel as my two big class workshop pieces.

I haven't gotten instructor feedback yet, but most of my student colleagues have weighed in on my first chapter. Unfortunately, many of them didn't follow the detailed critique directions (including the directive to post some unique praise or criticism!). On the (huge!) plus side, they loved it! Most of the feedback has been glowing. Which makes me happy and motivated and might be worth the price of the class right there.

Deadlines/accountability + positive response to work = happily writing Sarahlynn.

The first and second people to respond talked about my opening scene, which has been driving me crazy and I couldn't figure out how to fix. After reading their comments, I had a big CLICK moment and I knew what to do. Yippee. I just wish some of the subsequent commenters had focused on other weaknesses in the work; I know there must be some!

(On the other hand, they loved it! They loved specific things about it! The had really flattering things to say about the writing, dialogue, pacing, mystery elements, and characters. Have I mentioned how great this feels?)

Now when the instructor weighs in with some more detailed critique, I'll be bolstered, ready, and eager to hear it. Hit me.

So far, so good.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Tomorrow's Gonna Suck

I'm taking a class through the Gotham Writers Workshop this summer, and the course went live today. That means that midnight was the first time I could log on and view course materials, including workshop schedules and critique due dates.

At 11:48 pm, I got a "Gotham Class Late Notice" informing me that I'd been chosen to go first and my piece for workshop was due before July 8th (yes, the first day of class) so I was late. Sigh. Not an auspicious beginning.

I should not have been surprised, then, by what happened when I tried to post my first chapter.

I went through and carefully edited a file to upload, making sure that everything was exactly as I wanted it. This took over an hour. I saved the document several times, because I'm careful like that. Then I closed the document so that I could upload it.

And when I clicked "Browse" on the Gotham BlackBoard site to find my document, it was nowhere to be found. I checked my whole computer; there's no record of the file. I tried to wake Paul, but failed.

Well, I guess my plans for 2:30-3:30am, previously involving some sleep, have changed.


(Update: found it, buried in an invisible internet temp file. Everything else I'd planned to do tonight (like figure out who keeps trying to log on to one of my credit card accounts) will have to wait until tomorrow. Off to bed.)

Sunday, June 29, 2008

I Have a Cold

Saturday night found me curled up in bed with my laptop, reading an erotica e-book. It was research, I swear. No, really, it was. And here's how you know. My cold is stuck at that obnoxious nose-running-like-a-faucet stage, which prompted me, once all witnesses were safely asleep, to shove Kleenex up my nostrils. What's less sexy than that?!

I am so tired right now, but before I can post this and go to bed, apparently I need to reinstall Internet Explorer. I am seriously considering getting a Mac next time.

While I'm drifting hazily on exhaustion and thinking about technology and how much it can suck, I'll mention that it's absolutely not comfortable to curl up on my side in bed while reading my laptop's screen. And this is why I don't think that e-books - while they serve a valuable role in the market and can be quite convenient - are going to completely replace books anytime soon.

Sure, there are e-readers that are less cumbersome than laptops or PCs. But those are expensive little devices that require occasional recharging and internet connectivity. And they're a lot more costly to replace than a $6.99 paperback left in an airplane. They're also a little harder to share. So, sorry, I can't slip you the erotica e-book that I just finished, or at least not legally.

To recap, I'm tired and I have a cold. G'night.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Emailing and Blogging

How many email accounts do you use? (Check out the handy poll to the right.)

I have 5 different email accounts that I use. These are all current accounts and none forwards to another; if I want to see what email has arrived at, say, the account I use for friends and family only, or the one I use for online ordering, etc. I have to log in and check that account individually.

In addition to all the other usernames, accounts, and passwords I have scattered about the various computers, subscriptions, and internets of the world, it's a bit much, really. But it can be so very helpful to see who's got what information about me and how they're using it.

I've not got much else to say tonight, because I want to go to bed and I've been busy elsewhere.

I'm a big believer in truth, especially in writing. As you're all aware, I share some pretty naked stuff here and, if you've read them, in my personal essays. I respond to real, soul-baring truth in others' writing and strive to achieve it in my own. And while I don't publish my home address at the top of each post, I don't really blog anonymously, either. Friends, church members, and my mother-in-law read my blog, amongst others.

So I've been experimenting with a little anonymous blog-like public writing elsewhere, and that's been a little fun.

Because while I'm comfortable standing naked before you, a gal's got to keep a few secrets, dontcha know. And in today's world, it's possible to keep secrets while sharing them openly. Brilliant! How perfect for the modern inhibited exhibitionist.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Mystery Writer?

It has been a long time since I've talked about my current novel. Let me assure you that's not because it's going so smoothly.

I know my characters well, and I like them. (Even the not-so-nice ones.) I know my plot, and I like it, too.

But I hate what I'm writing and how I'm writing it.

I don't know if this is "writer's block" because I have an outline and I can force myself to sit down and choke out the appropriate number of words to complete the scenes I anticipated writing with excitement when I plotted out the novel (which I didn't do in too much detail, because I wanted to leave open the possibility of surprise and excitement, even for me).

But I'm certainly stuck in the doldrums. I am bored to tears with what I'm writing, though I think the story and characters are viable. I wonder if a writer's workshop would help.

Which leads me to wonder more deeply: Can I write a mystery? Can I even write at all? Have I just been deluding myself? Perhaps I'll forever be an almost-writer: pretty good, not good enough.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Bang! Bang! Bang!

Although I might now be a spoiled rich girl, I have not forgotten my roots. (You do notice the tongue stuck firmly in my cheek, right? Whatever else I might do, I tend to take myself lightly.) Tonight I drove a hybrid car for the first time, and I enjoyed it very much.

The part where the engine stops (apparently) running when the car is stopped, however, kept freaking me out. I'm sure I'll get used to this, but my history with cars that die when they stop is not one that involves vehicles functioning well. I used to drive an old VW Rabbit that died whenever you hit the clutch unless you gave it a little gas simultaneously. This made approaching 4-way stops and driving in rush hour traffic especially challenging as I had to pretend that I had three feet. Ah, the good old days. When I leased my first new car, a standard, entry-level Saturn SC2, I thought I was living in the lap of luxury. And I was, for an editorial assistant with student loans and no independent wealth!

I was out on my own tonight, in the new car, because it was Greater St. Louis Sisters in Crime "Get Your (Right) Gun" night at Top Gun Shooting Range in Imperial, Missouri.

I had a great time and learned a lot (though a nice chunk of the material was familiar to me thanks to Lori L. Lake's guest blogging at The Graveyard Shift) but I'll include just the personal injury report for now.

By the end of my time at the range, I was flinching badly with each shot. The instructor assumed it was because of the recoil, and that was partly true. (I'd moved up from a .22 semi-automatic pistol to the same model 9mm that the St. Louis County Police carry.) But mostly it was because the casings kept attacking me.

Several of them landed on my head or on my arm. One somehow got behind both my glasses and safety glasses, and others must have have hit my forehead, because it's streaked with soot. My (formerly favorite) white shirt is a bit charred in front. And, worst of all, two fresh casings went straight down my neckline, burning my chest! I have a couple of painful little blisters to show for this, though they just look like blemishes from afar. The weird thing is that I chose the shirt because it does NOT have a stretched out neckline and fits up above the collarbone, as I prefer. My shooting partner wasn't having the same problem, but the instructor said that the issue was with the gun, not with my stance.

Anyway, it was a GREAT program and I had a wonderful time, malicious casings notwithstanding. And then I got to drive home in the fabulous "new" car, which is especially great because we haven't had to start paying for it yet (with the exception of the check that passed from Geico to the dealership via our checking account).

It wasn't just the shiny hybrid car in the parking lot that probably stood out at the range. I wore khakis and black Danskos, carried a canvas bag that says, "Fall Into A Good Book!" and walked in carrying a latte from Starbucks. (Ah, latte. Is there any more wonderful food on this earth? I think it's better than pizza.) And so we end with a reprisal of the spoiled rich girl image.

The big surprise, of course, was that none of these things really stood out, at all. Because, though we on the left love stereotypes at least as much as our friends on the right, gun lovers don't fit into neatly categorized little boxes, either. And there was a clearly marked recycling box right behind the firing stalls for empty ammo boxes.

Sunday, June 8, 2008


In interesting fiction, characters usually have schedules that would wear a normal person right out. I mean, "and then I went home and laid on the couch for two hours before pouring myself a bowl of cereal and attacking my laundry" isn't exactly page-turning excitement, flat prose aside. Since I'm about to detail my entire weekend for you, it's a good thing that this one was paced more like commercial fiction than like, say, my idea of a good time.

Friday was a day of exciting storms, followed by dinner with a friend and his new girlfriend. They stayed late, which was fun, except . . . well, I was starting to feel a little off.

Immediately after they left I realized that I was unpleasantly ill, presumably with whatever felled Paul last weekend. The problem with that was that I was planning to leave the house around 6:30 on Saturday morning to drive down to Cape Girardeau for the Heartland Writers' Guild Conference. After setting out some things for our neighborhood yard sale.

Paul woke me at 6:15, whereupon I nursed Ada and went straight back to sleep. In the house with my family. It was restless sleep. Paul took a couple of the yard sale things down, and left them out with honor-system envelopes. After listening to Ada crying for a while - she was upset that she wasn't getting her morning nap - I gave up on my own sleep goal and snuggled Ada into her crib.

While she napped, Ellie and Paul went to go get a babysitter while I readied a few things around the house, tried to rest some more, then showered and got dressed when Ellie and Paul left for gymnastics and the sitter was having trouble keeping Ada happy. My precious younger child knew that I was in the house, and naturally wanted my attention.

So I plopped into our rental Hyundai and headed for the conference. By myself. The car was full of old Starbucks detritus, but sadly bereft of fuel, as I noticed as I headed south of I-55 with the dashboard's orange warning light staring at me accusatorily. I pulled off at Festus/Crystal City, and learned that the whole community was completely out of power. Next services, 13 miles. Gulp. Fortunately, the under-powered Elantra sipped fuel slowly enough to coast into the gas station under its own power, though the driving experience didn't impress me enough to want to petition Enterprise to let us purchase the car rather than returning it on Monday.

I still felt like crap, but I really enjoyed the conference and am very glad I went. The Guild includes some really friendly people and I got a lot out of all three "workshops" I attended (really speaker sessions with Q&A at the end). A couple of the authors were painfully bitter, but I learned from them, too. Overall, a very positive experience despite my ailment and the fact that the sole women's restroom on our floor was out of commission all afternoon.

The trip back was uneventful, including my next stop in Festus/Crystal City for some desperately needed Sarahlynn-fuel. Sadly, despite a complete lack of obvious storm damage under the day's bright blue skies, power was still out and no caffeine was to be had.

I made it home safely and got Ada to bed before collapsing on the couch to car shop online for a few hours before stumbling to my own pillow.

On Sunday morning, Paul was very solicitous, taking the girls to get Starbucks while I slept in a little. I was feeling much, much better, but appreciated the slow start to my day, especially knowing what was coming.

Mid-morning, we all loaded into the van and went to Forest Park for the Down Syndrome Association's annual Buddy Walk fundraiser, where Ellie enjoyed a bouncy house and 2-story inflatable slide (though she burned her face on the hot vinyl) and both girls played in the Discovery Toys booth. They were ready for solid naps when we got home, since 90-plus degree heat doesn't agree with any of us.

After naps, we headed the opposite direction, out to Wentzville for The Greater St. Louis Renaissance Faire, which Paul really wanted to attend. No, no, I enjoy it also. And the girls had a good time, too. Their big favorite was the petting zoo (goats! llamas! a bunny! a donkey! dogs! ducks!) and Ellie had fun on her "warhorse" pony ride. Paul delights in bad pirate humor and bawdy singalongs.

By closing time, when we piled back into the van, we were all overheated and exhausted again. it was really really hot in St. Louis today. By 6:30, on the way home, the temperature had dropped down to 90 again.

Dinner, baths, Ada to bed . . . I passed out for a while, waking up to watch Law and Order CI with Paul and write this. Soon, I hope to head to bed for an uninterrupted stretch. Best laid plans and all that.

Interspersed throughout all this, of course, was car shopping and car talking. The rental goes back tomorrow, and we're still chasing our tails. Paul's planning to go in a little late tomorrow so that we can take a candidate car to our mechanic bright and early. Here's hoping we have a little more debt soon. And maybe a pre-loved hybrid Accord.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Suspense Night

Tonight I attended a really cool event at the county library headquarters.

Although the reading/signing/socializing was at the library, the event was sponsored by Borders and Starbucks. That meant that Borders had a table in the back, selling books by the authors on the panel, and Borders supplied complimentary treats and coffee afterwards. How cool is that?

The readings were great; I got to listen to 3 authors I'd never heard of before, all of whom were fantastic. Megan Abbott, in particular, is someone I'd never pick up off a bookstore shelf - early-to-mid 20th Century mob/noir not really being my thing - but WOW. Her prose sings and she's obviously worth reading, no matter what she's writing.

Scott Phillips was a fascinating mix of disgusting, very smart, and funny, a combination I found very appealing.

Susan McBride was who I went to see, and she delivered all I'd hoped (and more). Plus, I got to talk to her husband, who's an old friend of mine, or at least someone I played hockey with a long time ago. (I'm awkward in social situations - and OK with that, generally).

Paul Harris did a very good job hosting. Ridley Pearson and Michael Kahn didn't attend (bummer, since I really wanted to hear both of them).

Reed Coleman initially tried to talk over Susan too much, but she held her own and he turned out to be a really great guy. Also, the most useful advice of the evening came from him.

In response to several people asking the usual questions like, "where do you get your inspiration?" and, "What it you tell the story and it's only 120 pages?" he said: New writers tend to fall in love with what they write. More experienced writers learn to fall in love with the writing itself.

Beautiful advice. (And very true for me as a beginning writer.)

The answer to the first question, by the way, was consistent across all the panelists and true of me as well: writers are often people who aren't fully in the moment; they are sitting on their own shoulders, observing every situation they're in. Everything is inspiration; the magic part is in the writing.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Writing Stuff

This week provided mixed results on the morning writing front, so I plan to continue the experiment into next week. On the positive side, I got up early and got real work done while my brain was fresh . . . and I have a few thousand new words to show for it! On the negative side, once Lizzi the pug decides she needs to go out and the girls get up (usually between 6 and 6:30) it's a little distracting. I think it's workable, but it's not simple. Also, I only got two days in this week; Thursday was a flop.

Wednesday was Paul's birthday, and he spent it in an all-day, off-site meeting. Among other things I did for his birthday this year (not my most creative year ever, remember last year's enormous surprise party complete with clown?) I had a fresh box of Krispie Kremes for him to share at the meeting. When he did so, one of his management colleagues jokingly asked, "What's this, #30? Hah hah hah," like we were ever so young, elbow elbow.

Paul, who was celebrating the big 3-1, replied, "No, that was a little while ago. Hah hah hah," implying that he too was well past 40.

And therein lies the difference between men and women, folks. I might have said, "Nope, this is the second anniversary of my 29th birthday!" If I were Paul's age. Which I was. 3 years ago.

But what can you expect in a world where male actors are frequently at least 15 years older than their female costars and women are old at 30? (Is anyone else watching Lost this season? It's renewed my interest in the series.) And not to get too sidetracked, but why are people acting shocked and horrified at 15-year-old Mylie Cyrus's nude photographs for Vanity Fair (Gasp! Exploitation of a child!) but when Britney made that nasty schoolgirl video as a teen, it was A-OK. Feh. We sexualize very young girls, and then critique them for selling what we're buying. FTR, I don't think it's cool to publicize photographs of a minor that are clearly so adult and sensual - e.g. wearing only a sheet, with windblown hair and bright red lips, etc. Have I mentioned that when Ellie was 2 I started buying little boy shorts for her because the little girl shorts were so short they showed her diaper? It's never too early to start sexualizing our little girls. Note that mine wear board shorts and rash guards to the pool.

Wait. Wasn't this post supposed to be about writing? Back to that, then.

I'd like to be able to share the subscriptions to agent, editor, and writing blogs in my Google Reader without adding them as a separate blogroll here. It's not as easy as I'd hoped, unfortunately. I haven't even figured out how to "share" a whole feed rather than just an individual post. If any fellow Google Reader users have any tips, I'd love to hear them!

Next question: My local writing group has fizzled (a couple of writers lost interest, a couple more are in demanding MFA programs) and I'm looking for more critical feedback on my work so I'm exploring online writing workshops. Do any of you have experience with one of these? I know that OWW is great, but I'm not currently writing SFF and am looking for something more general. E.g. Gotham. So: any stories to share? Or gossip about the relative merits of various programs?

Final question: Is anyone else planning to attend the Heartland Writer's Conference this year? I'm still tossing the idea around.

Monday, May 19, 2008

New Schedule

I can't blog tonight, because I'm supposed to be sleeping. Tomorrow begins my first attempt at getting up to write early in the morning. I haven't tried this before because my girls also get up early - sometimes as early as 5, never as late as 7 - which puts an early morning exclusive parenting burden on Paul. He's willing to try shouldering it a few mornings a week, so we're off on the experiment.

Now I just need to get some sleep so that I have at least a solid 4 hours before tomorrow. Snore. (And I think Paul will soon be regretting the fact that he's not in bed yet, either.)

In the meantime, I'd still love to hear what you think about fanfic (below) so I'm using this opportunity to introduce my first blogger quiz. Happy Monday!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Fan Fic

I read an interesting discussion of fan fiction on Alas, and have been pondering my response ever since, especially given the Mariam Zimmer Bradley thing and then this agent post on copyright infringement and this discussion of the difference between fanfic and profic.

Really good article about it (read: slant I primarily agree with).

Obviously the MZB example is an extreme one. But I can't imagine losing years of my own hard work, let alone the time and anguish accompanying being sued and virtually attacked.

An excerpt from a letter to the editor of Writer's Digest, March 1993, by Marion Zimmer Bradley:
". . .While in the past I have allowed fans to 'play in my yard,' I was forced to stop that practice last summer when one of the fans wrote a story, using my world and my characters, that overlapped the setting I was using for my next _Darkover_ novel. Since she had sent me a copy of her fanzine, and I had read it, my publisher will not publish my novel set during that time period, and I am now out several years' work, as well as the cost of inconvenience of having a lawyer deal with this matter.
"Because this occurred just as I was starting to read for this year's _Darkover_ anthology, that project was held up for more than a month while the lawyer drafted a release to accompany any submissions and a new contract, incorporating the release. I do not know at present if I shall be doing any more _Darkover_ anthologies.
"Let this be a warning to other authors who might be tempted to be similarly generous with their universes, I know now why Arthur Conan Doyle refused to allow anyone to write about Sherlock Holmes. I wanted to be more accomodating, but I don't like where it has gotten me. It's enough to make anyone into a misanthrope."

On one hand, sure it's flattering that others are so excited by the world you've created that they want to keep living in it. Imitation is the highest form of flattery and all that.

But have you read any of it? It's never worked for me, because it just doesn't feel real. Even the stuff that's not atrociously written (and, let's face it, a lot of fanfic on the net is really really horrible) doesn't ever have the same feel as original stories created by the author. And, seriously, I don't care how hot the story is, Harry and Snape were just never going to get it on. What? You've never read slash?)

After kicking this idea around for a while and not making much progress with it, this is where I think I come down on the issue:

Ideas are not copyrightable. It's dangerous for fans (or anyone else) to be able to claim that an author "stole" an idea for one of her novels, because writers get ideas from all over the place: what we read, what we listen to, our families, our lives. Two people could take the exact same incident and write very different stories about it. (Heck, one author could take an incident and write very different stories about it.) It's the writing that's protected, not the antecedent.

However, when an author creates characters and a world, they are hers. Without express permission of the original author, I'm not terribly comfortable with the idea of others making money off an author's creations. This one's sticky for me.

It's not an issue that's likely to impact me personally, but I guess I won't know how I'll really feel about it until I find myself in that situation.

How do you feel about it? Feel free to try to convince me that I'm wrong-headed.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Fiction Cred

Blog? Blog? Blog!

Sorry for the unexplained absence; we just got back from our delayed vacation visiting Paul's parents in Wyoming. We had a lovely time. I'll probably write about that, and about the cute new things the girls are doing, and about the step sheet I'm working on.

But, tonight, I want to tell you that I've had a story published. Yay! It happened really fast. I submitted the story a few weeks ago, got an email yesterday that it was accepted, and saw it posted online today. Yippee!

Enjoy the new fifteenth edition of apt: an online literary journal.

Self portrait:

Monday, April 28, 2008

I've Always Loved Playground Rhymes

In honor of National Poetry Month:

Can do
Won’t do
will do too.
I want
you want
to see this through.
I see--you and me
stuck here in this glue.
We’ll be
you and me
‘til this lie is true.

© 1997

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Working Writer

So, I've decided to take this gig seriously. I'm never going to be completely comfortable calling myself a writer, no matter how much I write, until, well . . . I don't know exactly when that will be. I've been published, so that's not the magic bullet. Perhaps there's some big milestone that will do it for me (publishing my second novel?) or perhaps it will be a gradual accumulation of things, little rocks piled up on top of each other to eventually create a mighty wall. I guess I'll know it when I see it.

Until then, I'll occasionally refer to myself as a writer in conversation or on some non-tax form, but I'll be doing it with the same level of aplomb that I exhibit when I lie. (I am a great liar, you know. Sometimes, I lie without even thinking, and then spend time later wondering to myself, "Why on earth did I tell that real estate agent that I was pregnant?")

But back to the writing, and the taking of it seriously. I have been writing or working on my writing every single day for weeks and weeks, and more often than not for months and months. And intermittently for year and years. What does it mean that I'm now doing it for real?

I have a nifty spreadsheet, where I'm tracking all my submissions. I have another nifty spreadsheet (thanks again, Paul!) where I'm tracking my expenses. I have a new file box with neatly organized project files, budget files, and mailing supplies. I have a sort of business plan, or at least a revenue goal and schedule in place to try to meet the goal.

Upon the advice of several inspirational professional writers, I am sticking to a schedule of working on stories, essays, and the submission of stories and essays one week a month, and concentrating on my novel-in-progress the remaining three weeks each month.

So far, it's all working very well and I'm feeling -- dare I say it? -- increasingly professional. Sometimes, saying something over and over really does make it true.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Short on Sugar

Perhaps you've heard of Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs. The same editors are compiling a new anthology, Short on Sugar, High on Honey. Bittersweet Love Stories. These stories are longer, 7-13 words (no titles).

This is fun:

In the end, Cass kept the baby; it seemed so important to Mike.

I've changed it again. I might keep doing this; it's fun!

Monday, March 31, 2008

And The Winner Is . . .

Keribrary with her suggestion about a dye job! I've given up on an amusing anecdote as an opener. No matter what I do, this story seems to want to start with an argument, so it will. And the hair color conversation at the beginning, while appearing trivial, will introduce the story's most significant conflict and be the biggest (yet still subtle) clue to whodunit until the big reveal at the end.

Ecoeclipse gets the honorable mention for the eco-guests suggestion, two of whom are important characters in this scene and throughout the book.

As Keribrary's prize, she gets to have a possibly unflattering caricature of herself written into the novel! Keri, your choice: appearance, name, personality, or the whole package. Just let me know in comments.

Thank you to all who made suggestions, especially Keri!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Play With Me?

Argh! The exposition fairy has dumped her whole bag of boring exposition dust all over my first 5 pages, and it's really hard to clean it all out.

Usually, I have lots of great first lines that go nowhere. Unusually, I currently find myself with a very good idea of where I'm going but am having trouble finding just the right way to start.

So I'm having a little contest, if you're game. Winner gets to have a character named after her or him!

Chapter 1: I'm introducing all the main characters and setting the stage for the novel's developing conflict at a dinner party. So far, in addition to a lot of dialogue, there are long paragraphs about birding, open source software development, and a computer game that I've invented for the purposes of this novel. I have strategies for cleaning up the exposition, but would love to have a catchy way to begin, other than with the corny joke one of my characters has just made. Again. ("Red or white?" "Blue!" [holds up energy drink])

In the comments for this post, supply me with an opening gambit that I love (an idea, which I'll write into an opening line that fits with my narrator's voice) and you get to have a character named after you or your favorite pet. For people I know, winning will offer you the chance to have me remove the possibly offensive caricature of you from my novel. Deadline Sunday night. Hit me!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Writing Update

In case you have all been frustrated, not wanting to nag but really wondering how the novel is going, I'm finally ready to lay it all on the table.

I petered out on Seek Ye First shortly after starting it a few years ago because I was unhappy with the mystery and the pacing was all wrong. In short, it was a classic first attempt.

So I let it sit, and I worked on some short stories for a while, some essays, a chunk of a memoir, and another novel. By this time, I was ready to look at Seek Ye First again, this time with a bit more understanding of where I went wrong:
  1. I need to have a good sense of the real structure of a novel - a rough outline with the major mileposts spaced out for me - before I begin. Perhaps I'll get better with practice and eventually not need this crutch, but perhaps not. I like the idea of a set structure, and I think it helps keep the emphasis where I want it.
  2. I was writing the protagonist as a fantasy version of me - with my dream house in my dream neighborhood, for example - and that was getting in the way of her character development.
  3. And I was trying to squeeze too many political (actually, religious, in this case) opinions into the novel to make a point, which was really getting in the way of the story.
It was hard to let all that go, to throw away what I'd written, to completely rework the mystery itself, to create new characters, to drop the points I was trying to make. It took a lot longer than I'd expected to do character studies for each of my new characters, to develop a mystery that I'm happy with, and to outline the plot the way I want it.

But it feels a lot better to me now, and, after an evening at Borders hammering out the details of my outline, I'm finally done being paralyzed with fear and am ready to start writing tomorrow, three weeks later than I'd intended.

Hopefully, the writing will go smoothly now, with the amount of prep work I've done. We'll see tomorrow! For inspiration and influence, I'm reading Agatha Christie and Julie Kaewert.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Guy Not Taken

I haven't read Jennifer Weiner since Good in Bed. And, while I enjoyed the novel very much, I still haven't forgiven her for it. My lingering anger, plus the nastiness of the scene from In Her Shoes included at the back of my paperback copy of Good in Bed as a teaser for her second novel, put me off her work for a while.

Have you read Good in Bed? If you have, you probably remember that the main character is fat. I mean, really fat. Fat like she takes up more than her fair share of the seat on public transportation and people sneer at her. Fat like she goes to a physician for necessary medical weight loss assistance. Fat like people make comments, and she rarely gets dates, and when she does get a first via the internet, she never gets asked back for a second date.

The author goes on and on and on in this vein, and she does have some interesting things to say about being a fat young woman in America, taking care to show that it's not just how the character feels, but that her fatness is an objective state, noted by all. Then Weiner chickens out (because, like many of her characters, Cannie is loosely modeled on herself) and has the character tell us that that she's a size 14. 14! The size of the average American woman! So fat that everyone stares, that it's a given that she needs urgent medical help, that she oozes over onto neighboring bus seats. Whatever. I lost a lot of respect for Weiner over the weight thing, as she further reinforced harmful cultural weight attitudes.

(For the record, when I'm thin and fit enough to feel proud of my body, and a few people are quietly asking if I've been ill, or if I have an eating disorder, I am a size 10-12. That's what you get when have a 12-0-12 figure like mine; you'll never be a size 2. Currently, I am not thin and fit. I am wearing size 16 jeans, and I do not ooze anywhere, thankyouverymuch. I fit just fine in airplane seats and I am not in need of medical intervention, just a bit more exercise.)

I know that Weiner is a good writer and storyteller, but I just never got around to picking up another of her books (or seeing that movie with Cameron Diaz) until this weekend, when I gobbled up The Guy Not Taken, a collection of short stories by Weiner.

They're good, and they deal heavily with two main themes: divorce and the difficulties of being a mother to a very young child.

Weiner describes The Mother's Hour as being "as close to a horror story as I'll ever come," a good description of one of the scariest stories I've read in a long time. It's well-written and, like many of the stories, touches on some important issues, in this case ageism and, especially, classism. And motherhood and divorce.

This line, in particular, really resonated with me: She had, she realized, gotten out of the habit of loving him during the first few years of their daughter's life, when every minute of every day was a struggle, and while she'd learned to get along with him, she'd never learned to love him again.

Paul and I have spent a lot of time and money on therapy and on making sure that this doesn't happen with us, but I understand the sentiment oh so very well. It's so easy to focus on just getting through the days, just waiting for bedtime, for a little peace and quiet, for a moment to ourselves, for an end to the battles over diapers and potties and vegetables and indoor voices.

People always say, "It goes by so fast." And we hear, "Just hold on, it will pass." But what they're also really saying is, "Live in these moments. Try to enjoy them, feel them, experience them, share them, don't just endure them. Don't just look ahead to the next thing."

This is it. This is life. And there's no use waiting for it to get better: make a life of this collection of experiences you're living, no matter how difficult it seems. (Although, sometimes, I really do look forward to being able to tell the kids that I'm running out to Borders; please call me on my mobile if anything comes up and they need me.)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Author: Promote Thyself

Much is made of the need for authors to do self-promotion, and it's all true.

I worked in educational publishing for 10 years, which has some significant differences from trade publishing (although the publisher for which I worked, like many educational publishers, does publish some trade products and expects trade sales on many of its titles). From my perspective in both editorial and marketing at an educational publisher, author self-promotion can be a wonderful boost for sales. And publishers just simply don't/can't do all the promotion for a book. There are places that the author is better equipped to reach, either by merit of being the author or by simply not being a large multi-national corporation (or small, over-worked publicity department, or whatever). Author self promotion is even more important for trade titles, I believe, than educational ones.

One of the most obvious vehicles for author self promotion is a website. As a reader, I often prefer sites that are created and maintained by the authors themselves (or whomever they contract to do so) rather than those created by publishers, as long as the sites are current. Publisher owned sites are often focused on the newest releases and usually only mention the titles still in print and published by their own houses. They rarely contain updated information about where the author lives and what s/he is working on currently. (I'm not some crazed stalker, I'm talking about dust jacket style information.)

Some examples:

I read Laurell K. Hamilton's novels. Check out her own website and her publisher website. In my opinion, her website does what it needs to do: it's current and contains relevant information about her books and personal appearances. That said, while I doubt that it hurts her sales any, this simply doesn't look very professional. The Random House website looks much more professional, but it contains far less information, is updated less frequently, and only lists titles published with that publisher. In this case, I'll take substance over style, but not without making a few quips (those bats!).

I also read Patricia Cornwell. Her personal site is about as professional and slick as they come, yet I don't really like it. It's too focused on her newest release, and doesn't neatly catalog the author's whole body of work, delineating the various series and non-fiction titles. (Cornwell's publisher directs people to her site from theirs.)

Good author website: Sue Monk Kidd
Site that would be good, if only it weren't missing its content: Audrey Niffenegger
Brandon Sanderson obviously has a great site, but it's a bit too busy for my taste.

I love Julie Kaewert's Booklovers Mysteries. Love them! But it's very hard to find current information about the author or anything she's written since publishing the 6th novel in the series several years ago. Is she retired? Dead? I also enjoy reading Dorothy Cannell. Thank heavens for Wikipedia and someone else gathering available information into one place! Author websites should be the authoritative place for finding out what an author has written, what she's working on next, how to contact her with requests for appearances, etc.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Irritating Tickle

I'm a little bummed and frustrated. Our new minivan - known as the Cool-Cool-Car or the Cah-Cah-Coo depending on which child you ask - turns 1 this month. It has almost 16,000 miles already, and we'd planned to push that up to 18,000 easy by the end of the month with a trip out to Wyoming to see Paul's parents this weekend.

We've only made the drive once before, last April when Paul was between jobs, but it went well so we thought we'd make it an annual event and Paul's parents' spring break seemed like an ideal time.

I like Paul's parents, I like travel, and I like Wyoming. And while a 19-hour (one way! without significant stopping!) trip is grueling, especially all in one shot with two little kids, I'm excited by the challenge.

So I've been psyched about this vacation for a long time. But now Paul's feeling a bit off, and not that excited about going, and there's snow in the forecast along our route, and . . .


No vacation for me.

(I continue to deny the slight tickle in my own throat and possible tiny little low-grade fever.)

When Paul takes a shift at the wheel, I get great writing time in. If the girls aren't sleeping, they're probably happily watching videos, and Paul is likely to be tuned into an unabridged audiobook on his iPod. A cushion on my lap to prop up my laptop, writing notebook open on the console beside me, feet up on the dash, I can write for hours. Blessed, uninterrupted hours with very few distractions. (Have you ever driven across Nebraska? Trust me about the distractions.)

Monday, March 10, 2008

To-Do List

I've been meaning to mention this since, like, November or something (oops). But now that there's no doubt I've missed all the big gift-giving holidays, I'll finally plug a fun book that published late last year and included a little bit of me.

Are you familiar with the To-Do List Blog? Well, the creator, Sasha Cagen, decided to turn the blog into a book (To-Do List: From Buying Milk to Finding a Soulmate, What Our Lists Reveal About Us) and wanted submissions. I emailed Sasha with an off-the-cuff, funny (if I do say so myself) anecdote about, well, myself. And, hey, presto, she wanted more.

So I sent the 6-page table that I'd created for our 2005 trip to Disney World (not to be confused with the streamlined 2006 version or the we-took-a-year-off 2007 version).

And she asked some questions and I answered them and ta-da! See me in Chapter 8 of the book . . . which just happens to be entitled "Obsessive-Compulsive." Hmm, is it that obvious?

I have a few paragraphs of introduction, then one page of my chart. Sadly, due to Disney copyright issues, you can't see all the amazing formatting I did, which included downloading various appropriate Disney fonts and clip art images to decorate the pages. You'll just have to take my word for how awesome and useful this document was, slipped into waterproof sleeves and tied to our stroller.

We had all of our travel information, meal reservation information, times for the relevant parades and shows, park hours, must-see attractions, etc. all laid out at a glance for a relaxed, stress-free, customized vacation.

If I do say so myself.

Anyway, I got a copy of the book for being a contributor, and I ordered myself another one because I didn't know I was getting a free copy. I've decided to keep them both, because the book really is a lot of fun to read. Aren't you dying to know what's included in the "Sex" chapter?

Verdict: fun book, highly recommended. If I do say so. Myself.

Fiction writing update: research and plotting taking much longer than expected for Seek Ye First. Hopefully I'll be able to start writing on Monday or Tuesday, and go straight through. I've never done so much prep work or lined up so many ducks in advance before, so hopefully that will be a good thing once the words start flowing.

Nonfiction writing update: two personal essays accidentally published in really good books within the last year, both related to blogging: To-Do List: From Buying Milk to Finding a Soulmate, What Our Lists Reveal About Us (Sasha Cagen, Simon & Schuster) and Gifts: Mothers Reflect on How Children with Down Syndrome Enrich Their Lives (Kathryn Lynard Soper, Woodbine House).
Hmm. Perhaps I'd have some success at actually seeking out work too, instead of basically just waiting for it to fall into my lap. Nah.