And Then There Were None…RIP MiniSeashell

It’s been a while since we checked in with the adventures of our fish. Unfortunately, our fish tank sits empty at the moment, the last of its denizens having expired Dec 1st.

When last we left our intrepid adventurers, Glimmer and MiniSeashell were together in their tank, having dispatched their tank mate Seashell3 after just a few days.

Glimmer did not have much time to enjoy life in our house. We bought him and Mini in March 2018, and Glimmer died on November 27, 2018, while we were in North Carolina (our apologies to our fish-sitter, who had to endure the trauma of finding him dead and give him the appropriate funeral). Before we’d left for North Carolina, he had taken to hanging more vertically than horizontally. Young Owner said Glimmer “wants to be a mermaid.” Unfortunately, this was the same sort of bizarre behavior the two fish that died of tumors exhibited prior to their tumors becoming obvious, so I suspect he was ill with something similar. It was not a large surprise that he expired when he did.

So that left MiniSeashell. You may remember that he was called Mini because he was not much larger than the top part of my pinkie when we bought him. I tried my hardest to get Young Owner to pick a different fish, because I was sure he would die on the ride home. He didn’t, and eventually grew to normal guppy size, even though his tail fins remained so translucent that I often had to check very closely to make sure his tail was not succumbing to the fin rot that claimed another of our fish.

Mini was an odd fish from the start. Most fish, when you drop food in the tank, swarm it like they haven’t eaten in years, and hoover it up like a vacuum. Not Mini. He apparently thought he was a shark, because he stalked his food. He would hide under the plant leaves, then dart to the top and snag a piece, pulling it under like Jaws. Alternatively, he would wait for the flakes to drop lower and lower and grab the pieces when they fell to his level. Perhaps this odd way of eating (he did this even with tank mates present) explains why he was so small in the main fish tank at the pet store. There probably wasn’t much that escaped the school and got to him.

He was also an introvert. I know, I know, guppies are social fish, they like to have a school. And all our other ones did. When we got down to a single fish, that fish would sulk, not swimming around, just hanging out, clearly distressed. Not so with Mini. He seemed to enjoy having the tank to himself, swimming around happily, coming to the front of the tank to see what we were up to, and stalking his food with no competition. We decided that as long as he was acting happy, we would not get new tank mates for him, because we were afraid that new fish might bring a disease, which is what we think killed Seashell3 when we introduced Glimmer and Mini into the tank with him.

So he lived a happy life alone in his tank. The morning of December 1st, I noticed him acting odd. When I dropped in the food, he didn’t come out of hiding to take up his usual stalking positions. I wiggle the plant he had hidden in, and he popped out for a moment, then went right back in. My heart dropped, because his bright orange scales looked dimmer to me—which often happens right before a fish expires. Later that night, we went to get the Christmas decorations down, and I went to check on him. I couldn’t find him. We ended up taking most of the plants out before we found him, dead.

Young Owner cried a lot, which surprised me, as she took most of the other fish deaths (his was #8) in stride. But she said he was special, and she loved him, and that she would watch him in the morning and it would make her late for school. And that he was the only one who understood her. So I guess MiniSeashell had meant more to her than I had thought. Still, the guppy lifespan is about 18 months, and he lived with us for 19 months, so he had a full life, and a tranquil one.

MiniSeashell in September

RIP Glimmer and Mini.

Their story is ended, but I am sure the fish saga will continue…

NaNoWriMo 2019: Week 3

When I started this project, I wasn’t sure I’d make it to week 3. It’s a difficult thing, trying to write 1,667 words a day when you have multiple other responsibilities. But I surprised myself by managing to stay on top of things.

Until this week. This week killed me. I have been so busy with other obligations that I have had to schedule time to breathe. Write words? Forget it! I’ve lost 2 days to zeros and am likely to lose one more.

All is not lost, however. November 21st (today) is 3 weeks. If you wrote 1,667 words a day, you would have 35,007 words by the end of today. As of this writing, I stand at 37,007 words. So even with those 3 zero days this week, I am 2,000 words ahead. A little over a day’s work ahead. It just feels like I am falling behind because I am losing my cushion.

I should be able to keep up and hopefully forge further ahead in the coming days, as my schedule lightens considerably. Thanksgiving may well be another zero day, but hopefully I will be comfortably in the home stretch by then.

I’m also not trying for the 50,000, although if I do it will be icing on the cake. I am trying to get a first draft of this story. I figure I have about 8 more chapters at most, so that would put me short of the 50,000—maybe about 45,000. But as long as my last two words are THE END, I will count this as a success.

I will be writing over my holiday, as much as I can. I wish all my fellow authors some productive creative time, whether you are doing NaNo or not, and I wish everyone a happy and safe Thanksgiving with friends and family.

NaNoWriMo 2019–hitting the wall

I told you all last week that I am unofficially doing National Novel Writing Month. Only I guess since I’ve announced it to all of you, it’s semi-official now. But I haven’t joined on their website, so it’s not official-official.

Anyway, I’m doing this thing. 50,000 words in 30 days. And I’m a bit shocked at how well I’ve been doing. I’m almost halfway there. As of Tuesday night, I was at 24,500 words. Cool, right? But then Wednesday I hit a wall. Kinda like a runner when they’re on that last few miles of a marathon.

I guess I should have expected a wall at some point. I am not an outliner, although I have a basic plan to follow for the book, and I’ll admit I am a tad unsure of where to go next. But I think my brain is also just tired. I mean, I just spewed 24,500 words out in 11 days.

That’s a lot of words.

It’s also cold as all get out here right now, so it’s perfect weather for curling up with a warm drink and a good book, not for pulling words out of your brain. On Wednesday I realized I wasn’t going to write. I scrolled Facebook, I fought with a webpage as I tried to make an appointment, and did other work–like this blog post and the links-roundup over on The Author Chronicles. So while I didn’t write any fiction words, it was overall a productive day.

Hopefully this “day off” will let me jump back into my manuscript today with some energy and push through that notoriously difficult middle of the story. They don’t call it the “sagging middle” or “muddy middle” for nothing, after all.

So that’s where I am in NaNoWriMo–a bit lost, a bit tired, but not giving up. Any other fellow NaNo writers out there? How are you doing? And if you’re not doing NaNo, what are you up to these days?

National Novel Writing Month 2019

So there’s this crazy thing that some writers do. They try to write 50,000 words in 30 days, during the month of November. For some writers, 50,000 words is a full manuscript, but sometimes it is only part of a manuscript, since some genres can be up to 100,000 words.

There is an entire organization (NaNoWriMo.org) that has sprung up around this endeavor, to help authors track their output and connect with other writers for camaraderie and support. If you “win” NaNo (reach 50,000 words) you get a badge to place on your website and a lot of kudos from your fellow NaNoWriMo participants.

Now, you don’t have to officially sign up for NaNoWriMo to participate. I have wanted to do it for some time, but I felt like I could never realistically do it. 50,000 words breaks down to 1,667 per day, and I balked at thinking I could do that.

But this year I decided to be crazy, and try it. Unofficially, so no pressure. I’ve been wanting to write the second book in my Oz series, but never seem to be able to get to it. My Oz books are middle grade, which are about 50,000 words generally speaking. My first book was just under 60,000 words, and I tend to draft short, so a 50,000 word goal will likely encompass an entire first draft of book 2.

I’m making good progress, much to my surprise. This is certainly not a pace I could keep up for the entire year, but it is helping me see how much more I could be doing than I am.

Anyone else doing NaNo—officially or not?

Happy Halloween!

Today is Halloween, so I wish you all spook-tacular fun!

This has been a crazy week for me, and today is no exception. I am frantically cleaning for a party we are hosting tonight.

I did manage to finish a read-through of my YA sci-fi rewrite. It holds up, except in one spot where I need to figure out how to fit it together around things I had cut out. So that’s good!

Since this week has been tricky, I am giving myself a treat by taking today off from blogging.

Although since that means I have to go clean the bathrooms, I guess it;s not much of a treat, LOL.

It’s a cloudy, rainy day here, so we are in for a wet and wild Trick or Treat tonight. Everyone enjoy their holiday and stay safe!

5 Lessons about Writing from Recess Runners

My daughter’s school has a program called Recess Runners. It is a totally voluntary program where kids can come at recess and run or walk around a 1/4 mile track. When they amass a mile, they get a token to hang on their necklace.

Now, if anyone had told me in school that I had the option of running a mile at recess for fun, I would have told them “No way!”. But the program is very popular. Lots of kids running/walking. And I realized I could take some writing lessons from those kids.

1. Find the joy

These kids are having fun. Some are running because they love to run. Some enjoy walking and chatting with their friends. But it is fun for them. Sometimes I get so wrapped up in the business side of writing that I forget to have fun. Or I lose the fun of writing under the constant worry that this book won’t be good enough. I need to find the fun again—feel the wind in my face as I write.

2. Go at your own pace

They all start at the same line, but they all go at their own pace. Some zip around 4 or more times in one recess. Some make it twice. For some it’s a struggle; for some it’s easy. But they all made progress. It can be hard not to compare your own career to other people’s. Some authors are prolific, pouring out books like coffee. Some are snails, a book every few years. My journey is different from theirs, and I need to remember that.

3. Remember this was voluntary

The kids don’t have to participate. They don’t even have to participate in every session. It’s a choice for them. Writing is, too. Well, maybe not the urge to write, but the choice to write for publication. I chose to go the extra mile to continually improve my craft and pay for workshops and conferences and edits. I chose to seek representation and the rejection that inevitably comes with that process. So if it ever becomes too much, I can choose to reassess and see if it’s still where I want to be.

4. Set your own goals

Every kid has a different reason for being there. Some just want to run and get energy out. Some are competitive and want to rack up as many tokens as they can. Some are there because they want to be healthier and get more exercise. Some just want to walk and chat with their friends. Every writer has their own goals, too. Some only have one book and just want it out there. Some don’t care about the money and just want to see their work available. Some want to make a living at this writing gig. My own goals are modest, realistic, and so far largely unattained. But I am working toward them, just like all those kids are.

5. It’s the effort that counts

The biggest thing I’ve taken away from this, however, is that it’s all in the journey. The striving is what needs to be applauded. We can’t always control the outcomes of our efforts, and we won’t always reach our goals. But we are in control of our effort, our dedication, and our attitude. I won’t use the platitude that the work is its own reward (although sometimes it is), but sometimes the effort leads to opportunities and rewards we didn’t expect, if we are open to them.

So kudos to all the kids having fun running, and I hope to incorporate the lessons I have learned from them in my writing life.

Celebrating 50 Years!

No, not me. (Not yet.)

This month is my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. That’s a long time to spend with the same person. Given that the expected lifespan in America is not yet 100 years, that is more than half of your life. My parents have spent almost twice as much time married as single.

It takes a lot of commitment and a bit of luck to last 50 years. I think we will see fewer 50 and 60 year marriages now, because so many of us are marrying later. I married at 14 years older than my mother did. I would be 86 when my marriage hits 50 years.

I wanted to give a shout out to my parents for the wonderful example they have set for me and my brother. They weren’t TV-family perfect, they had their moments of disagreement, but always there was respect and love—and laughter, too..

Here’s to many more happy years for them!

The Value of Looking Back

This past week I have had characters from the past haunting my thoughts. Way back in the day, in high school and college, my best friend and I cut our writing teeth on fan fiction. Miami Vice fanfic, to be precise. It was the characters we created for this series that kept pushing their way into my mind last week.

Finally, on Monday, I pulled out one of these old stories and read it all the way through. The world and the people leapt to life for me like they had all those years ago. And the thing is, it wasn’t bad. Sure, it had a glaring plot hole, and our POV did some head-hopping, but the bones were there. The plot and subplots worked together, and the characters were strong and real.

I don’t know why I felt so compelled to revisit these stories, these characters, but I am glad I did. I saw how much my writing has improved, for one thing. But it also reminded me of when writing was fun. No deadlines, no criticism, just me and my best friend spinning tales.

And maybe it was my best friend sending a message to me. She died in 2004, and I lost my writing collaborator as well as my best friend. Perhaps she was reminding me of who I really am. It is so easy as an adult to lose yourself in all the roles you play—wife, mother, daughter, volunteer positions, organizations you are involved in. If you’re not careful, you lose yourself in all the noise. I admit to feeling a bit unmoored lately, wandering in the wilderness of busyness and anxiety.

Looking back at old work has a great deal of value. First, you gain perspective on how far you have come craft-wise. Second, it grounds you in who you are. And third, it reminds you why you used to write in the first place—for joy and excitement.

Have you ever gone back and read your early work?

October is Boooo-k Month

October is always a crazy month for me. Lots of personal milestones in there. My parents’ wedding anniversary—50 years this year!—as well as my own. My daughter’s birthday (and the requisite party) and of course Halloween and its constellation of activities: pumpkin picking, hayrides, bonfires, trunk or treat, and school parties.

Oh, and I am running for the local school board, and elections are November 5th.

So I’m always a bit busy in October.

But October is also smack in the middle of book event season, and I have 3 events in the next 3 weeks:

October 5th: Collingswood Book Festival, 9 am – 4 pm, Collingswood, NJ

Collingswood 2017

October 12th: Indie Author Day, Galloway Library, 1 pm-3pm, Galloway, NJ

Indie Author Day 2017

October 20th: VPL FanCon 2019, Vineland Library, 11 am-4 pm, Vineland, NJ

VPL FanCon 2017

Whew! That is one packed month!

How is your October shaping up?

Empathy, Creativity, and Negativity

I am what people call an empath. Not in the spooky Star Trek type of way, but I am a person who is hyper-sensitive to other people’s emotions. I not only read people well, but I am personally affected by their emotions. At funerals I rarely cry until I see those close to the deceased crying. At weddings I cry happy tears when I see the joy of the couple.

Not only do I feel what others feel, but it sticks with me. There’s a reason I can’t watch certain films even though I hear they are fantastic—because I know the emotions will haunt me for weeks, perhaps even triggering an anxiety spiral because of their intensity.

I am not alone in this. Many creatives are also highly empathic. It’s what allows us to walk in other people’s shoes as we write characters different from us, inhabit and perform characters different from us, and envision a world different than ours.

And I know that many creatives, like myself, have been very off their game the past few years. In my case, my anxiety disorder has flared up, and everyone knows that when you are anxious you have difficulty focusing and therefore completing tasks. The past few years have been stressful for creatives, and for empaths in particular.

Darkness is everywhere we look, oozing over everything like a thick oil slick. The anger, the bitterness, the despair, the pain, the rise in hate crimes, the never-ending gun carnage…the list goes on and we empaths suck it all up like a sponge, whether we want to or not, and it infects us like a disease.

I think now that my creative slump is not just from my high anxiety. I realized the other day that I have been seeing so much darkness that I have had trouble seeing any light. My books contain some darkness, but in the end the light always wins. But I couldn’t see the light in real life, and I therefore struggled to find it in my work. I seemed caught in a black tunnel that had no end.

But a few days ago I watched Greta Thunberg’s impassioned speech and I saw hope. And I heard Alex Borstein urging women to “step out of line, ladies”. And I realized that I had been seeing something else these past few years, too. Something I hadn’t really noticed.

Women. Women coming together for a purpose. Women moving outside their comfort zones to make things happen. Women finding their voices and taking up positions of power. Women saying, “It’s our turn now.”

A change is coming. I do not know exactly what it will be, or how it will play out. But I feel it. A wave is cresting, sweeping in something new.

Maybe that is why I’ve seen only darkness for so long.

Because the darkest hour is always just before dawn.

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