Okay, basta! Here’s my very important question: if I were to start a Facebook group (that might or might not be closed, I’m not sure), would you be interested in joining it? I’ve long been pondering a way for my loyal commenters and others to have an easier way to talk to each other. Thoughts? What are your positive/negative experiences with such groups? And while we’re at it, what is the secret to life? (Kidding about that last one–unless you have the answer.)
How I’m Feeling: The title of this post. I’m in a mind miasma. I finished the rough draft of my novel, which was such a non-event it barely even registered. No glowing feeling of satisfaction or bragging to family and friends. I just quietly wrote the last word, fell on my office floor and cried “Thank you, God!” as I genuflected. Not really, but I am glad to be done with it. I just know the rewrite is a huge job and I’m putting it on the back burner for the moment.
I have projects galore that I’m excited about. The whole time I worked on the novel all I could think about was how I wanted to be done so I could move onto the new things. And then I finished–and suddenly the new things aren’t so shiny any more. Mind miasma. Does that ever happen to you? It does to me all the time when I finish something. It means I just need to take some time off and give my brain a rest.
What I’m Excited About: We’ve had a couple more people sign up for the France retreat and that’s made me think about it anew and get excited. If you are at all interested, now is the time to raise your hand because slots are filling fast. You can reply to this email if you’ve got a yen to write in the south of France come September.
But maybe you don’t want to go so far? How about three days at the Oregon coast? Registration for my Sitka workshop is open, and several wonderful people have already committed. The workshop is called Mapping the Novel and it is going to be a ton of fun. Here’s the link.
What I’m Disappointed In: My knitting. I went to Knit Night on Wednesday with only one project which was a big mistake because I ended up ripping it out and then I didn’t have anything to knit so I had to go home early. Ever since then, my knitting has been kind of like my writing: all my fun, shiny projects seem dull and boring. Maybe I’m in a creative slump. Nah. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the eons and eons I’ve been a writer, its that creativity is a process. And part of that process is ebbs and flows. Right now I just have to be in an ebb.
What I’m Obsessing About: Organization. Not macro-wise, but mini-wise. As in, should I put those notes I want to take about that book on index cards, the computer, or a min-binder? The issue is ease of retrieval, as in, where will I be able to find them again? (This is my the desktop of my computer is covered with icons–out of sight, out of mind.) Yeah, such are the things I worry about when I’m not writing. Which is why it is VERY GOOD that most times I am writing. Because I drive myself bat shit crazy when I’m not.
What the Weather is Like: It is full-on spring here, sunny, a light breeze, 70 degrees, everything that blooms or has ever thought of blooming is abloom. There is no place better on the planet than Oregon in the springtime. But whatever you do, don’t move here. We can’t take many more people! The population is expected to increase by another 50% by 2020 and already our housing prices have increased higher than anywhere else in the country. Trying to buy a house in Portland these days is about as easy as training a cat or selling a book.
How about that title? Clever, huh? Marching into spring…and it’s March this week….I know, you are way ahead of me, you got it on first read. Anyway. It truly is spring here, with daffodils and crocus and daphne popping out all over, along with my favorites, the pink plum trees. We’ve had some lovely warm temperatures, too. Soon we’ll be sitting outside every evening. Can’t wait. In the meantime, here’s what’s been going on:
What I’m reading: I’ve had this huge stack of books from the library, because, as I’ve noted before, I put them on hold and then they all come in at once. But a funny thing I’ve noticed is that when I have so many books, none of them appeal to me. Proving once and for all that too much of anything is not a good thing. So yesterday I piled most of the library books in a bag to take back and last night I started a book I bought at our publishing workshop a couple weeks ago, called The Tale of Oat Cake Crag (try saying that several times in a row) by Susan Witting Albert. The main character is none other than Beatrix Potter. So far, so good. I’m also finishing a memoir called The Unlikely Lavender Queen, by Jeannie Ralston, which I found on the library staff picks shelf.
What everyone is talking about: Toxic air in Portland. Ugh.
What I’m going to watch: I swear to God on a stack of bibles (as we used to say when we were kids) that I’m going to watch Spotlight this weekend if it kills me. Seeing as how it is now available on demand, this ought to be easy to accomplish. We’ll see. We have a terrible track record of actually seeing movies, because social events and life gets in the way. An interesting side note: as you know, the movie is about the Boston scandal about priests molesting children and how reporters covered it. But years before that even happened, here in Portland, my hairdresser at the time was the first to sue a priest because of abuse. He was really brave to do it, because at first he was roundly vilified on talk radio and in the media. Until something like 20 other men came forward and said that they, too, had been abused. I’ve lost track of Joseph over the years, but I’ve always been proud of what he did.
What I’m writing: I turned in the rewrite of my macaron novel to my agent and she’s turned it into the editor who is interested. So while I hold my breath I’ve returned to the novel I said I wasn’t going to finish. I’m now determined to get to the end of it, even if it kills me, which it might. In the meantime, I’m having some interesting thoughts about finishing things. Blog post to follow.
What I’m doing on Wednesday nights: Debbie and I run a writing group every other Wednesday night. It is pretty kick ass, if I do say so myself, but not because of Debbie or me–it’s because of our amazing writers. On alternate weeks, I go knitting at open knitting night at Close Knit. Which is great fun in a different way, especially because several of us meet at the CruzRoom for Happy Hour ahead of time. I love the variety of knitters that appear–some old, some young, lots in between. Some are experienced knitters cranking out accomplished projects and some are brand new.
That’s it! That’s all I got. What is going on with you? What are you reading, watching, writing?
Hey, its February! How about that? January went by in a blink, it seems to me I was just in Nashville. I have it on good authority that this month is going to be a good one, full of new ideas and energy. But first, let’s wrap up January with a look at some of the posts I read over the last week.
Contests, Submitting, Etc.
Okay, I was all proud of myself because I had an interview with the editor of the New York Times column, ModernLove. But now I can’t find the link. So I went in search of it and found this and this. I think that last one was the one I originally had in mind–some good tips for submitting there. And here are the submission guidelines from the Gray Lady herself.
If you’re interested in free-lancing, here’s an article for you.
Finally, I offer this link to the NYT book review of Fates and Furies, by Lauren Groff. I mentioned in my Friday post that I had started it and wasn’t quite sure of it. But now I’m totally absorbed and loving it. The author plays with narrative structure and viewpoint in a way that is unique and would usually annoy me but for some reason doesn’t. Its a dense book, but one I think is really worth reading.
What have you been reading/thinking about/perusing this week?
Every book needs a good editor, and if your publisher does not offer you one, you’ll need to pay for it yourself. Here’s a post about how to lessen those costs.
One of the best things you can do in order to write gripping fiction is to torture your character. This is really hard for most of us! But Stephen Pressfield has some tips on how to make your hero suffer.
That is all. No wait, it isn’t. I have a question. Actually, you may not be able to answer it. But I’ll go ahead anyway. What days are you most apt to spend time reading a blog post? I’m trying to figure out a consistent schedule for posting. Monday, Wednesday, Friday? Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday? (Which has sort of been what I’m doing, except then I dreamed up Five on Friday so that gums everything up.) Any ideas appreciated.
The photo has nothing to do with anything. I just liked it. Credit: Duchessa.
It appears that Christmas is kicking my ass. Appears that way, because it feels like I’ve been crazy busy, so busy that I’ve not collected my usual round-up of links. But I’m not running around shopping like crazy because I refuse to spend time in malls and do most of it online. And I gave up writing Christmas cards years ago. I do, however, decorate the house and spend tons of time with family. This past weekend we rode the Holiday Express train in the pouring rain, which is a blast. And today we’re celebrating the four-year-old’s birthday with corn dogs and mac and cheese. And let us not forget the cheese cake I made last night that has so much cream cheese and peanut butter in it that it weighs ten pounds, I swear. You so want to come to dinner now, don’t you?
Anyway, I didn’t save links for you but I decided that I could still do my weekly Otherwhere post by sharing some of my favorite places on the web and you can go soak up all the richness of them yourself. So here we go:
Writer Unboxed is a blog written by a variety of people, some better than others, but it is always worth checking out.
I just discovered Center Cut Cook and have founds some great recipes on this blog. The author of it has her hands full with a husband suffering from cancer and a child with a serious medical problem so I always click on a few ads while I’m there.
I’ve been reading Kath Eats Real Food for years, and I’m not quite sure why because the constant perfection of the author gets a bit wearying. But I do like her take on healthy food, so…
Okay, you really have to have a taste for rich food to follow The Pioneer Woman. She’s become an industry onto herself with product lines at Walmart and a Food Network show, but I like her photos of the cattle on the ranch.
Knitting and Stitching
Of course I couldn’t resist adding a few under this category.
Yes, farming. I’m a confirmed city girl, but I love reading about people mucking about in the mud. I really only have one favorite under this category and that is:
Celi’s The Kitchen Garden. She runs a small family farm in Illinois and blogs daily, with tons of photos. I marvel at her energy and fortitude and live very vicariously through her blog. Though I’d love to go stay in her cabin and write for a week or two some time.
Oh, there’s BuzzFeed, which is aimed at a demographic much younger than me as far as I can tell, but I enjoy it anyway. Sometimes their stories make me howl with laughter and that’s a great thing in anyone’s world.
And there’s Brain Pickings, which is an incredible weekly labor of love.
And Jezebel, also for younger women than me, but hey, I write women’s fiction, I need to know what’s going on in the minds of the younger generation. (Having a daughter and a daughter-in-law helps, too.)
Okay, honestly, I didn’t expect the list to get this out of control. I’ve got more, but I’ll spare you and myself. In the meantime, what are your go-to blogs?
It's 6:35 AM and I should be writing. My main character, though, is in the middle of a somewhat dicey scene during which she not only sees an unpleasant side of her love interest but she must also confront him about it. And I don't do confrontation well. So I thought I'd leave her for awhile and head on over here and write a blog post instead.
Yes, I'm avoiding. But at least its better than combing the internet for useless stories. Which I was doing a couple minutes ago, in truth. And in all that uselessness (Kate and William in New York! Big storms to hit both coasts! Asteroids!) I found something of value–a story on Writer Unboxed about New Year's resolutions for writers. I've been thinking a lot about how I want to approach 2015 and so I stole the idea to write my own post. (Happily enough, #3 on Keith Cronin's list is "steal something." Do go read the rest of it, the post is worth some time.)
As usual, I have tons of ideas about resolutions for my life beyond writing. Such as lose weight, walk a lot, do yoga, learn to play the ukulele, cook more, finish all the half-done knitting projects I've started, and on and on and on. But this year, I have two goals for writing. I think of them as underlying goals, or themes, if you will. Because I do terribly when I give myself specific goals. So, here we go:
1. Write Fast. I experimented with this last fall, taking a class called Book in a Month, wherein you were supposed to write a book in two weeks and then revise it the last two weeks of the month. I got on an airplane to Paris in the middle of the class and that pretty much ended my participation. But I loved the idea. Its the same idea that propels Nanowrimo. You quit kvetching, quit moaning and groaning, and just write. Throw freaking words at the page. Get the draft done already. The most productive writers I know do this. And I want to get better at it. I still find myself sitting at my computer staring off into space too often. I want my hands to be worn out by the end of the day. (I figure it will also be good exercise for my ukulele playing. I had my first lesson yesterday. TOO MUCH FUN.)
I'm curently in the middle of rewriting a novel that I'm greatly enamored of (during which I'm also doing my best not to get bogged down, this morning nonwithstanding) and once that is done by the end of January, I'm going to return to the mystery series I started for the Book in a Month class and finish it fast. It is now going to be more romance-ish, because I'm not good at killing people. Oops, I just realized I committed to a specific goal, finishing this rewrite by the end of January, and worse, wrote about it. Well, you guys will just have to hold me to it.
2. Quit Hiding. Now, most of you would not think that I hide. But sometimes I do. There are degrees of hiding. I'm quite visible on the interwebs, for instance, but not as willing to put myself out in real life. I'm better known in Nashville then my home town of Portland as another for instance. (Though this is not that unusual–sometimes you just aren't appreciated until you go away.) This tendency is so ingrained in me that often I don't even realize I'm doing it. So I'm making a list of ways I can Not Hide. Suggestions are welcomed.
(And, I do have a couple of in-person events scheduled for 2015. Besides the writing workshop in France, which you really should come to, I'm going to be doing a workshop in Nashville on May 1st and 2nd, at Scarritt-Bennett Center. Details to follow soon.)
Next week, I'll write my three words of the year post.
But for now, I've written enough about me. It's time to go practice the ukulele (I've mastered the C chord! Don't laugh.) Or knit. Or perhaps rescue my protagonist from her predicament.
My granddaughter, the lovely Olivia, who at 14 months is learning to walk quite efficiently, is here today and so no deep thoughts on writing. While she naps, I'm compiling this post of things I'm currently loving (with thanks to Beverly for the inspiration).
1. Suddenly, I'm all about writing practice. I'm working on a whole post about this for next week, but in the meantime I'm reading this and this and I just got this and haven't yet had a chance to dive into it. From what I've seen of all these books, all are highly recommended!
2. This kid's book: A Walk in Paris. When my grandson, Henry, stayed with us last winter, I fed him honey from my Air BandB lodgings the previous summer. This led to a discussion about how someday I would take him there. Which has led to him, every so often, stopping whatever he is doing and saying quite seriously, "Henry go Paris with Nonni." This book allows me to show it to him. (I'll be back in France this summer–and you could join me! Click here for more details.)
3. The fact that the University of Glasgow is actually calling for applications for a knitter-in-residence. My current knitting consists mostly of log cabin cotton washcloths, because they are easy to take along when traveling. And they are uber cool besides.
4. My chiropractor. And the fact that she has got me walking without pain for the first time in a couple of years.
5. Buzzfeed. Whatever you do, do NOT subscribe to any of their email lists. You'll never get any writing done.
6. Resonate wine. I'm in love with this deep, luscious red by Enso. While they are a local urban winery with a cool tasting room, they also ship all over.
7. The wonderful Sandra Pawula's Living With Ease home study course. Highly recommended. I took the live class in the winter and found it very helpful. I also did an interview with her that you can read here.
8. Alegria shoes. Fantastic walking footwear. I found a pair of Mary Janes at Goodwill before I realized Alegrias were a thing, and I have a pair of sandals on the way. Because, you know, one must look good when walking around Paris. (Refer to #2.)
9. My local library. It's the second-most-used library system in the country and I'm sure that's because of me. I love that I can put books on hold and then its like Christmas when they all come in. If I get a book I don't like, I don't have to feel guilty that I spent money on it. (And all that being said, I am still a huge book buyer and believer that we need to support other authors. You should see how many titles I have on my Kindle.)
10. Mahi mahi. I'd never eaten this fish before a couple of weeks ago when I had it at my sister's. I've cooked it a gazillion times since then. It's inexpensive and delicious. Grill it with butter and garlic, that's all you need to do. Oh–and serve with mango salsa. Amazing.
11. Orchids. I'm a lousy gardener (the raised-bed vegetables on my driveway that don't seem to grow being exhibit A) but for some unknown reason, this spring I've been blessed with three orchid plants that have re-bloomed. (See above photo.) They are spectacular! I just wish I knew what I've done to make them bloom again.
12. The conference I will be attending next week. Being around like-minded, positive people feeds my soul and that in turn powers my writing.
What are you obsessed about this week? Writing? Stories? Beer? Cats? Calculus? Water-skiing? Tell us in the comments.
This morning I was making soup to take to a celebration (which turned into a wake) to watch the Ducks play in the Rose Bowl, and I thought, Maybe I'll become a cook." You know, it's a new year, why not go for a whole new career? I could totally do it, especially if I turned out more delicious soup like this, for which I used the ham hock left over from Christmas dinner, a conglomeration of beans, and all kinds of vegies, including my current favorite, parsnips.
But then I remembered how many days I throw together a wretched, last-minute meal because I'm so engrossed in writing that I don't want to stop and cooking is just a bother. I recalled how often I resented having to stop writing and run to the grocery store for food. And I decided that perhaps a new career in cooking was not the best idea.
Usually these kinds of thoughts come to me when I'm discouraged about my writing, which I'm not at the moment. I'm actually quite excited about all the things I have on the horizon. It is just that sometimes writing seems so hard, and it takes such sustained effort to make anything of it. And because of this, sometimes I think it would just be easier to be a cook. Or a retail clerk. No, never mind, I've done that and it is way harder–being nice to the public is wearing at best. But knitting is fun, and lots of people sell their stuff on Etsy….or I could start a business creating gift baskets, or….oh never mind, you get the idea.
But the truth is after I knit for a few minutes or so, ideas for my novel generally start percolating. And every time I think about the types of things I might arrange in a gift basket, I end up wanting to write about them. Because nothing has every captured and held my attention like writing. The craft is endlessly interesting, because there is always something to learn, another level of skill to master, a new layer of depth to uncover.
(Brief aside: I have to tell my favorite story about learning to write here. I'm pretty sure I've told it before on this blog, but too bad, it is good enough to tell again. A few years ago, when I was in the middle of earning my MFA, I had dinner with the family of a friend of my daughter. The mother, a former high-ranking executive of a Fortune 500 company, asked me how long the MFA program lasted. When I said it was two years, she replied, "Oh, I thought you would be able to learn everything there was to know about writing in six months." To my credit, I didn't kill her, and it was one of the few times in my life when I had the perfect reply on the tip of my tongue. I said, "Most people think that it takes a lifetime to master the craft of writing." Thanks, you can stop applauding now–can you even believe how ignorant that comment was?)
I like to think of myself as a person with many interests. When I was younger, I was torn between two possible career paths–something to do with design (I designed and sewed and sold children's clothing when my kids were little) or writing. But gradually, writing took over. And while I maintained my interest in design (I wrote about art as a free-lancer in my early career), I slowly quit sewing.
There was a brief flirtation with gardening, which I came by somewhat naturally, seeing as how I grew up with a father who composted before anybody knew what it was and everyone thought we were nuts for separating the garbage. But these days I'm lucky to throw a few annuals in the garden bed. While others labor to grow vegetables, I am hard at work on my computer. Once, a few years ago, I was walking through a Portland neighborhood with my fellow writer and wonderful friend Sue. Portland is a huge gardening town and every block has at least a couple gardens bursting with flowers. Sue asked me if I was into gardening and I replied that I had been, once upon a time, before writing completely took over my life. She allowed as how she had had the exact same experience–that slowly, bit by bit, everything sloughed away, leaving only the obsession with words.
So it always come down to writing. And I am reminded of this on this New Year's Day, as the Christmas tree is being stripped of its ornaments and lights, and the angels and snowmen are being put away, because the first day of the new year is a good day for introspection. So I'm pleased that my fleeting thoughts of starting a new career as a cook were quickly supplanted by the memory of how much writing means to me and how, no matter how hard I try, I can never get away from it.
And I think of what happened yesterday, when a new friend on Twitter challenged me to write for an hour. I thought and thought about it and realized that I really had no excuse not to write for an hour. Sure, I could work on my office, or sweep the kitchen floor, or do a load of laundry, but none of those things were as important as writing.
And so I wrote. I worked on my new novel, which I can actually admit is going to happen because finally it feels like it is going to turn into something. I wrote for an hour, and then I wrote for a few minutes more. It was glorious, absolutely wonderful. And so today, I am pleased to remember that there's really only one thing that is important in this world and it is this:
It always comes down to writing.
If we all just remember that this year, we'll be fine.