Heatstroke Jury Duty vs. Frostbite MRI–what’s your perfect temperature?

I’ve packed a lot of activity into this week. First, I had jury duty, then I had an MRI of my shoulder. Jury duty here is for 2 days, although mine went into a third. And time seems to warp inside an MRI tube, so the 18 minutes inside stretched into an eternity.

Jury duty is an obligation that I do take seriously, even though it can be inconvenient. A jury of our peers is one of the elements of our judicial system that sets us apart from many other countries (or did at the time it was codified). It is one of the checks and balances on the power of the judges and police in our system. So I praise it for what it is…but, man, there has to be a better way of picking a jury.

We spent from 10 AM to 4:15 PM picking a jury—and still hadn’t filled the whole panel. We seemed to have a full panel around 3 PM, but then the lawyers started using their preemptive challenges (they get 10 each), and suddenly the prosecutor had dismissed 2 jurors and the defense had dismissed 4, and we ran out of time. So we had to come back the next morning. They questioned and dismissed me very early, so I have no idea how many more jurors they went through. But we undoubtedly spent more time picking the jury than the case would require to be presented. This was not a complex case.

The worst part of the experience was not the long day, or the bad lighting that gave me a headache, or the mind-numbing boredom of not doing anything but listen to other jurors get questioned over and over. It was that fact that on this 83-degree day, the air conditioning was not turned on. I was sweating like I’d been exercising, as were most of the others. Melted jurors everywhere.

So I escaped the courtroom sauna early Wednesday morning, and the afternoon found me getting an MRI at the medical imaging place. They imaged my shoulder because I injured my arm/shoulder in December and it still hurts. I’ve lost a great deal of range of motion, and it hurts almost constantly—to the point where even my sleep is disrupted because I can’t sleep.

The MRI room was the antithesis of the courtroom. Freezing! I started shivering as soon as I stepped into the room.Thankfully they had a blanket for me. But I was grateful to get out of that tube and out of the cold and back into the warm sunshine.

But the temperature variations didn’t stop there. The first floor of my house is chilly enough to need a sweater, while the upstairs I need a fan turned on. Will I ever find that perfect Goldilocks temperature of just right?

Do you prefer heat or cold? Does the temperature influence your writing at all—style, speed, voice?

Taking a Break before Revision

We’ve all heard this advice: put your manuscript in a drawer for at least a month before you revise/edit it. Generally, I do this as a matter of course (and because life often gets in the way). But lately I have been lamenting an unscheduled break in my revision plans.

My sci-fi YA Vertias is inching toward being finished. I wanted one more major sweep for voice and plot tightening, and then I think it will be ready for professional editing eyes to look at it. So, I printed it out—all 100,000 words of it—punched some holes and stuck it in a three-ring binder (2 three-ring binders, actually). Ready to go!

My manuscript before my editing breakNot so fast! I did a few chapters of it, and then for some reason (or many reasons), it languished. From September 30, 2016 to March 8, 2017, it sat on my table waiting for me to return. That’s 160 days. 5.3 months.

Way too long.

My frustration built and built as the binders gathered dust on my end table, and they accused me of slacking every time I glanced in their direction. Finally, I got back to it.

Since March 8, I have made good progress. I finished polishing the shortest of the 3 POV lines in my novel and started the second.

For all that the length of the break frustrated me, there have been some good things out of it. Not only do I see mistakes more readily and clearly (the rationale for taking a break in the first place), but I can see what I did WELL with greater clarity. In a pleasant surprise, my writing is better than I remembered it.

Also, I hear the three POV characters voices more clearly in my head. I see where a sentence doesn’t fit the voice and needs to be tweaked. I have a better handle on their worldviews and can use the voice to crystallize that. In another surprise, the three voices are more differentiated than expected, allaying my fears of them all sounding like me.

So while I hadn’t planned on such a long break, it had some up sides to it. How long do you usually wait before coming back to revise a manuscript?

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Character Voice: Easy to hear, hard to write

Every writer is familiar with the idea of voice. Every writer has their own author voice. Some are terse; some lyrical. Some are plot oriented; some character. It takes time to develop, but eventually every writer finds a voice that is uniquely theirs.

When writing fiction, however, authorial voice is not enough. Our characters have to have their own strong voice, particularly if the story is in first person.

Character voice is a concept I understand but don’t “get”. My brain understands character voice, and I know it when I read it:

“Tom and me found the money that the robbers hid in the cave, and it made us rich.  We got six thousand dollars apiece—all gold.  It was an awful sight of money when it was piled up.  Well, Judge Thatcher he took it and put it out at interest, and it fetched us a dollar a day apiece all the year round—more than a body could tell what to do with.  The Widow Douglas she took me for her son, and allowed she would sivilize me; but it was rough living in the house all the time, considering how dismal regular and decent the widow was in all her ways; and so when I couldn’t stand it no longer I lit out.  I got into my old rags and my sugar-hogshead again, and was free and satisfied.  But Tom Sawyer he hunted me up and said he was going to start a band of robbers, and I might join if I would go back to the widow and be respectable.  So I went back.”

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

or

“I knew there was going to be trouble the minute I saw him, which was the minute that tall man carried me over to the kennel and said, ‘I bet you two will get along.’ Immediately I said at the top of my lungs, ‘WHAT? WHAT? DO YOU SEE THE SIZE OF THAT DOG? DO YOU SEE THE SIZE OF ME? How can you expect me to share space with a HIPPOPOTAMUS DISGUISED AS A CANINE? All the fur isn’t fooling ME. I am going to get SQUASHED BY GIANT PAWS and THEN where would the world be? ME-LESS, I tell you! I DEMAND A PRIVATE KENNEL! DON’T YOU KNOW WHO I AM?’” – The Incredibly Important True Story of Me! by Tui T. Sutherland (in the anthology Lucky Dog: Twelve Tales of Rescued Dogs)

But I find it very hard to get right on the page.

My first few novels only had a single point of view character, so if there was a significant overlap between author voice and character voice, it wasn’t terribly noticeable.

My current work in progress, however, has 3 POV characters—a significant departure for me. The problem is that they all need to sound distinctly different from one another, which I am finding difficult.

Some writers have suggested maybe I do not know these characters well enough to hear their voices. Perhaps they are correct, although I feel I know these characters intimately. I have never been a writer who “hears” their characters talking to them in their head. It’s apparently not how my creative brain works.

However, in chipping away at the revisions, the three voices have become more distinct. The last to fall into place was my 16-year-old boy’s voice, but I did finally hear him loud and clear.  Now I can only hope I can get all that onto the page.

We worked on character voice in one of Kathryn Craft’s Craftwriting workshops, and I feel that I am edging closer to “getting” it. I hope someday that character voice will be an element I master so I do it more unconsciously. Then I can move on to improving another aspect of my craft.

Does character voice come easily to you? Or do you find them all sounding like mini-mes?

Book Fair Spring 2017: Readers are Happy Campers

My daughter’s school’s Book Fair is in full swing! This Fair’s theme is camping, and there sure are a lot of happy campers milling around the bookshelves these days.

On Tuesday night, I helped out while the Book Fair was open in the evening, while the annual Grandparent Sock Hop was going on across the hall. Let me tell you, grandparents LOVE to buy books! We were swamped almost the entire time. I have never seen so many people at the Book Fair at one time. We were down to our last copy of many books by the end of the evening, and we still had 3 days to go!

Wednesday morning my daughter’s class and the another first grade came in to “book shop” and make their wish lists to take home to their parents. Excitement sparkled in the air! There’s nothing like colorful, shiny new book covers to get kids ooh-ing and aah-ing. My only quibble is that the book prices seem so high to me—very few are under $4.99, which can make buying more than a couple of books hard on some families, especially those with multiple kids in the school.

Book Fair Spring 2017Book Fair Spring 2017

Still, most of these kids will return on Friday with some money in hand, to pick up their books. And their eyes will shine and their smiles will light up the library as if Christmas had come way early this year. Nothing does my heart so much good as to see kids enthralled my their books. Getting them hooked now will hopefully lead to a lifetime of learning and enjoyment for them.

Book Fair Spring 2017I also love seeing those books flying off the shelves because the Book Fairs are our school library’s only fundraiser. Whatever we raise, that’s the book-buying budget for the year. Other schools may have a similar situation.

So go buy books at your school’s Book Fair! Your school library and your kids will be happy campers!

Book Fair Spring 2017

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Sick Day

It’s been some 5 years plus since I missed a post on this blog, but today is the day. I am down with a stomach bug, and can’t do much other than curl up and wait for it to pass. I think everyone has the “illness” that hits them hardest. Some can’t deal with pain, others with fevers, some hate coughs or congestion. For me, it’s my stomach/intestines. That’s the one that makes me want to crawl in a hole and die.

Here’s hoping tomorrow is better! With that, I will leave you with The Monkees singing Tomorrow’s Gonna Be Another Day.

A Taxing Time

Well, it’s that time of year again—tax time. Some people find it a very taxing time of year, but I find a bit of satisfaction in it, to be honest. Math has never been my favorite subject, but I enjoy it when all the numbers work out right—like that moment when your checkbook balances. There’s an instant gratification to it.

I had intended to get into the taxes last week, but my daughter was home all week with a stomach bug—another taxing time! However, she is back in school this week, so I dove into the tax season with gusto.

I have an account to do my taxes, and she very kindly sends out a Tax Organizer sheet every year. This details what paperwork you need to send her (such as W-2s and 1099s) and what other information she needs to have (such as expenses, donations, etc.). So my taxes are not so much about doing a great deal of math, but more about being organized enough that I can find everything she is looking for.

At tax time, I look at the big picture of my business. Going through the numbers always brings some surprises. The inventory numbers pleased me, even though I had not moved as many units as I had wanted. My income, although a paltry sum, also satisfied me. On the whole, my first full published year met my expectations. I broke no records, but I have something to build on, and writing is a long-term game.

Now that I’ve gotten everything together, I will deliver it into the hands of my tax guru. And then we will wait for the next surprise—whether we owe or get money back.

I’m hoping for another pleasant surprise there.

How about you? Do you find this a taxing time, or do you have it down to a science?

When Life Disrupts Your Revision Routine

Manuscript awaiting revisionI printed out my 100,000 word sci-fi manuscript last week, fully intending to start the final big revision this week. Sometimes things don’t turn out the way you plan.

My daughter has been home from school for 2 days. She was sick enough to not go to school, but not sick enough to stop her wanting to play and run around. It’s been hard to get anything done, and forget about the concentration needed to edit! So the manuscript still sits on the table, untouched.

My daughter went back to school this morning, but did I jump into revision? No. Two nights of shattered sleep wiped me out. So I took a nap for 3 hours instead of the 1 hour I had intended! But it was just as well, because between the headache and the fuzzy brain, none of my edits would have been as sharp as I needed.

Tomorrow, assuming no relapse and a daughter in school, I will separate out the 3 points-of-view of my manuscript and begin the process of revising each one. I will sharpen conflict and tension in each scene, make sure I use enough sensory detail, and ensure that the character voice is consistent.

I am not a person who likes change. Routines help keep my anxiety in check, and keep me feeling productive. When life disrupts my plans, it makes me irritated and anxious. But life often has other plans for us. So instead of diving into the revision of my sci-fi novel, I spent the days reading to my daughter, playing games like Monopoly, Sleeping Queens, and Candyland, and helping her build a fort in the upstairs foyer.

And that’s not so bad.

How do you deal with detours in your writing process?

 

 

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Someday

Someday I will not have a beach in my living room.

Someday this beach will be gone

Someday I will not have a panda village in my family room.

Someday this panda village will be gone

Someday I will not have a spy fort in my bedroom.

Someday this spy fort will be gone

Someday I will not have a campfire next to my piano.

Someday this campfire will be gone

Someday I will not have a doll village next to the entertainment unit.

Someday this dollhouse will be gone

Someday I will not have an office fort in my office.

Someday this office fort will be gone

But…

Someday my daughter will no longer say “amn’t I?” instead of “aren’t I?”

Someday her front teeth will grow in.

Someday she will not hug me so tightly she hurts my neck.

Someday she will not glow with excitement when she finds Orion’s Belt in the stars.

Someday she will not pause with wonder at the first flower of spring.

Someday she will not tell me I am “the best mommy in the history of the Earth.”

So even though I long for the “someday” when my house is clean, when my days as a chauffeur are over, and when my daughter stops asking her incessant questions, most days I cuddle her ever-lengthening body as close to me as I can, and wish time would stop, because…

Someday there will be a fear I cannot abate.

Someday there will be a tear I cannot wipe away.

Someday there will be a hurt I cannot heal.

Someday there will be a situation I cannot protect her from.

Someday there will be a grief I cannot comfort.

Someday she will need me…and I will not be there.

So I wish for time to stop. And I whisper for her to not grow up so fast. Because she will soon enough.

Someday.

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A Safe Place to Recharge

Anyone creative knows that stress can bring your creativity grinding to a halt. My January was an avalanche of physical and emotional stress: family illnesses pretty much every week, an arm injury that is not healing, Donald Trump’s inauguration and the chaos that followed, and the anniversary of my best friend’s death, which always knocks me sideways. My creativity bombed big time. I needed a safe place to recharge.

My tailspin seemed unshakeable. I could still churn out the non-fiction blog posts and query letters, but my fiction vanished. Something outside myself had to bring my focus back. I found that something at Kathryn Craft’s Craftwriting sessions.

My anxiety disorder niggles at me in the best of times, and this January exacerbated it to the limit. I cannot write in that frame of mind, and it is exceedingly hard to “snap out of it” when you are in the depths of the spiral. When I told Kathryn how my anxiety was acting up, she said, “You know you have a safe place here.”

Yes, the term “safe place” has been politicized of late (what hasn’t been?), but we all need some places in life where we feel physically and emotionally safe. Ideally, home is one of those places. If we are lucky, we find other places outside the home where we feel safe. Without that safety net, being creative can be too frightening.

This is especially true at Craftwriting, where we end each session practicing a craft element by writing a scene, and then share it with the group. It can be terrifying to share your first-draft word vomit with a group of people, some of whom you may never have met before that day. Yet we do it, because Kathryn has created a safe place for us to share even the rockiest of writing.

Don’t get me wrong, we do not indulge in the pats-on-the-back, participation trophy type of false praise. We are professional writers, we are there to learn, and we cannot learn without honest feedback. However, we don’t couch the feedback negatively. We talk about what is good about the writing. We offer suggestions of what might be done in future revisions to improve the technique we were studying. But because we are all equally vulnerable (we all had the same 25 minutes to write something—anything—after all), we choose to uplift rather than tear down. I have been taking Kathryn’s Craftwriting workshops for years, and I have never had a negative experience. This is a testament to the atmosphere and expectations Kathryn sets, and the character of the people who come to the workshops.

This round of Craftwriting has done more than (hopefully) improve my craft. It has shaken me out of my daze, and forced the creative flow back to the surface. I’m writing again, and the writing itself is helping me find the stability I had lost in my tumultuous January. I feel more like me again.

And it’s all because I had a safe place to recharge my battery and refocus my mind. Many thanks to Kathryn and the wonderful participants of the workshops for providing me with exactly what I needed reconnect to my writing.

Do you have a special place to recharge or to reground yourself when you lose your writing mojo?

Research, Balance, and Fish

Research could have made this easierAs regular readers of the blog know, we got a small fish tank over Christmas. Fish were supposed to be easy pets. How hard could they be? Throw some water in a tank, plop in some fish, feed them, they’re good. Very few things in life are as easy as they appear. If we had done a little more research, we would have been more prepared for what happened next.

We’ve had a total of 5 fish, but are down to 3. We lost one (quite literally lost him) the first night, while the second leaped from the tank about a week later and never recovered. How they got out of the tank through a skinny opening in the dead of night we don’t know. But we have fixed this issue with a new cover. A little research may have saved their lives, but who knows?

Research might have saved Seashell 1

RIP Seashell 1

Research might have saved Sparkleshine

RIP Sparkleshine

 

 

 

 

 

What more research WOULD have prepared us for is the difficulty of maintaining the proper chemical balance in our tank. We let the water sit and percolate for a week before adding the first 2 fish. Turns out we should have let it “cycle” for at least a month, maybe more, before adding the fish. Now we are trying to control the ammonia and nitrite cycle while fish are in the tank, which is very stressful, because a spike in either ammonia or nitrite can kill the fish in a mass extinction event (we very nearly had one a week ago).

So here we are with fish and struggling to keep them alive through this natural aquarium cycling process, when a little more research would have saved us the headache. And the same can happen when writing. A little research in the beginning can keep your manuscript from going off the rails.

Research may keep Seashell 2 alive

Seashell 2

Some people do extensive research before writing. Some research as they go along. I am in the middle. I do broad-stroke research before I write, and fill in the details as I need them. But by doing basic research first, I know the broad restrictions I need to work within. This saves me from writing the whole book, then finding out I had a fundamental flaw which now requires me to rewrite an entire plotline. So a little research can save a lot of angst later on.

The other thing about the aquarium is that the ammonia and nitrite need to be kept at 0 ppm, or you end up with stressed and perhaps dead fish. Bacteria are supposed to eat the ammonia and the nitrite, keeping the whole thing in balance. But little things can throw the cycle off and suddenly your water is testing in the danger zone.

Research may keep Gem alive

Gem

The writing life is like that, too—a delicate balance. Writers juggle writing and daily life, often including family and a day job. It’s not easy to keep the water balanced right. One little thing can send one part of your life spiraling into the danger zone. All we can do is keep testing the water and try to head off any problems we see. One way to do that in an aquarium is partial water changes. We can do that in life, too. If one issue is causing undue stress, can we change it up, change it out? Sometimes a small change can make a huge difference.

Research will save you headaches. Balance will save you heartaches. And fish…well, fish are cool when they’re not jumping out of the tank in the dead of night.

When do you research your manuscript? How do you maintain a healthy balance in your life?

Research may keep Flower alive

Flower

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