Thursday, September 30, 2010

Whee!!

It's late Thursday night in Decatur, Georgia, and here I am, all tucked into my king-sized bed at the Holiday Inn Conference Center, glass of white wine by my side, awaiting the commencement of Georgia Romance Writers "Moonlight & Magnolias" Conference bright and early tomorrow morning.

I am shaking like a leaf because at 11:20AM I have an appointment with an esteemed New York literary agent to pitch my novel. You know!?! - the novel I have been pouring my heart and soul into for the past many weeks and months and years. (Okay, a little over a year. But it seems like FOREVER.)

It's all good. The most I can hope for is that, upon hearing my story line, she will ask to see part or all of the finished novel. Worst case scenario, she will say it isn't her cup of tea, it isn't something she thinks she can sell, and send me on my way. Which might not mean my book actually sucks (although naturally I will think so) but that it isn't right for HER. Regardless, I am looking forward to the learning experience. This might be my FIRST pitch appointment, but it definitely won't be my LAST.

I have spent every hour that I wasn't teaching or cooking or cleaning (or sleeping) this week working on the novel revision/trying to find that perfect opening sentence/paring down my synopsis/working on my pitch for tomorrow. And, honestly, I don't think I really believed I was a writer until THIS WEEK. But you know what? I AM A WRITER.

What they say is true: you can't edit a blank page. When you have a story idea, the thing to do is write write write as fast as you can, and THEN go back and make it pretty.

In the beginning, my main character was SO MUCH LIKE ME, and the story line was SO DARK. But the more I revise, the more my main character takes on a life of her own, and the more humorous her story becomes. I like that. The fact of the matter is that writing this novel has been cathartic for me. I have purged a lot of poison, I have learned about the craft of writing. Even if it ends up nowhere, it will have served its purpose.

And my next book will be better. Oh, yes, you'd better believe there WILL be a next book.

And another. And another. I have so many ideas, there is a definite risk I might burst.

My biggest regret in life isn't marrying the wrong person, or choosing a career that didn't pay big bucks, or eating too much junk food. My biggest regret is that I didn't start writing fiction thirty years ago.

But the good news is that it isn't too late.

Wish me luck tomorrow...

Friday, September 24, 2010

Four Word Self Help


"Is life really all that complicated? Do we need seminars, self-help books, more therapy? What if we could solve all our problems with just four simple words?" In her new book Four Word Self Help, author Patti Digh (http://37days.com) explores the possibilities raised by this question. She points out that we often confuse the complicated (sending astronauts to the moon, doing our income tax returns) with the complex (raising a child, finding meaning in our lives) and, as a result, seek complicated solutions for things that are actually complex. As she explains, "No amount of of math or newfangled formulas will help you raise a child. Simple wisdom might." Based on this premise, she addresses twelve areas - community, love, stress, travel, soul, wellness, success, green, activism, children, generosity and endings - and summarizes them with 101 concise pieces of advice, each exactly four words long. They are expressed positively - no "don'ts" here - and as actions you can take to make your life richer, simpler, more full.

Here are some of my favorites:
Give up toxic people.
Say what you can't.
Do less, be more.
Live like you're dying.

The words are simple but they speak volumes. The entire book can be read in one short sitting, although there is rich food for thought, and one could spend hours studying the beautiful original artwork sprinkled throughout, all contributed by readers of Patti's blog. I know, because the night I received my copy, I was up for hours, taking notes and accepting Patti's challenge to write my own four word phrases. Two weeks later, I did the same thing, and found that different areas struck me, inspiring me to write different bits of advice to myself. Both times, I took away from the experience exactly what I needed.

Here are a few thoughts I came up with:
Take time to play.
Open up to wonder.
Be kind to yourself.
Tell yourself the truth.

It's one of those books that meets you where you are, lifts you up, and makes you believe that it is truly possible to create a better life. I can't recommend it highly enough.

Pink Roses, Part 2

Here is the first person version of the story I told yesterday. Which one do you think works best?

###

After a typical morning of saying goodbye to Daddy, breakfasting on Cheerios and apple juice, feeding the goldfish and starting laundry, six-year old Joseph and I had finally made it to the park. Holding his chubby hand tightly, I relished the warmth of the sun on my back and the familiar sounds of birds chirping, swing sets squawking, children laughing as we made our way towards the play area.

"Tell me about the day I was born, Mommy."

Not today! My heart pounding, I stopped in front of the pink rosebush next to the path, cupped a blossom in my hand and inhaled deeply before offering it to Joseph.

"Mm!" he declared with a gap-toothed grin.

"Pink roses are my favorite. Especially when they smell as good as this one."

"I know. Daddy always brings you pink roses. He gave you some at the hospital when you had me. I saw 'em in the picture."

So much for trying to change the subject. It wasn't like I hadn't told Joseph his birth story a thousand times - how much he was wanted, how happy I was when I discovered I was pregnant, how I sang to him and told him stories even before he was born. How afraid his dad and I had been when we thought we might lose him due to complications and how ecstatic we were when he was born three weeks premature but healthy and sound.

It was a story we both knew well, but I wasn't up for telling it again just then. Because Emlin had been born four years ago that very day. And her birth story had been very different.

"Why are you crying, Mommy?" Joseph asked, his black eyes clouded with worry.

"I'm sorry, Joseph; it's just a hard day for me."

"Why, Mommy? I thought you liked coming to the park."

I wrapped him in a hug. "I am so happy to be here at the park with you. But I'm sad because today would have been your sister's fourth birthday. I miss her."

"I don't remember her," he said, his face screwed with concern.

"Of course you don't. You were only two when she was born. And she wasn't with us very long. But I have a picture of you sitting next to her. She was wearing a Mickey Mouse sleeper that you picked out for her. You were grinning like a monkey. You were so proud of her."

"Will you show me that picture when we get home?"

"I'm not sure where it is," I lied.

Of course, I knew exactly where it was. But I wasn't ready for Joseph to see the picture of his gaunt, misshapen sister. I was certain that, in his mind's eye, Emlin was pink and plump like all the other beautiful babies he had seen. I wanted to keep it that way until I was sure he would be able to understand.

"I will help you look for it. Please don't be sad," he pleaded.

I took a deep breath and forced myself to smile. "Okay, sweetheart, I'll stop crying." I kissed the top of his head and tousled his curly hair. "How about a big push on the swings?"

He took off running.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Pink Roses, Part 1

I promised to share a sample of my writing with you; well, here it is. This was an assignment for my very first online fiction writing class. The purpose of the assignment was to explore point of view by writing the same scene from two different vantage points, both first and third person. As I wrote, I discovered how much point of view affects the telling of the story and the characters themselves. It was fascinating.

Below is my scene written in third person. I will share the other one tomorrow.

###

Joseph held on tight to his mother's hand. Part of him wanted to let go and skip ahead - he could hardly wait to climb the ladder to the top of the sliding board - but he could tell his mother needed him. This morning she had barely spoken during breakfast. She had held onto Daddy an extra long time when she hugged him before he headed out to work. And she had completely forgotten to pack snacks for the park.

He didn't know what was wrong. Maybe she was still angry with him for coloring on his bedroom wall yesterday.

"Joseph!" she had shouted. She hardly ever shouted. "Crayons are for paper and for coloring books, not for walls."

Well, he liked his walls better now that they were decorated with his artwork. But his mother had been really upset. He knew better than to argue.

Just ahead, he spied the big pink rosebush on the path. He knew how much his mother loved that rosebush. She always stopped to sniff a bloom or two. Not only that, pink roses covered the wallpaper in her bedroom, and Daddy always gave her pink roses on special days, like Valentine's Day or on her birthday. That reminded him of a picture he had seen of him and his parents in the hospital when he was a baby.

"Tell me about the day I was born, Mommy."

She stopped suddenly and gave him a funny look. Then, kneeling in front of the rosebush, she cupped a blossom in her hand and inhaled deeply.

"Pink roses are my favorite," she said, offering him the bloom. "Especially when they smell as good as this one."

Maybe she hadn't heard him.

"I know. Daddy always gives them to you. I bet he gave you the ones in the picture of all of us at the hospital when I was a baby."

His mother turned away. Her eyes were shiny and wet.

"Why are you crying, Mommy?" he asked, worried.

"I'm sorry, Joseph. It's just a hard day for me."

"Why, Mommy? I thought you liked going to the park."

"I'm happy to be here at the park with you. But I'm sad because today would have been your sister's fourth birthday. I miss her."

"I don't remember her."

Of course you don't. You were only two when she was born. And she wasn't with us very long. But I have a picture of you sitting next to her. She was wearing a Mickey Mouse sleeper that you picked out for her. You were grinning like a monkey. You were so proud of her."

Joseph had often thought about how much fun it might be to be a big brother. "Will you show me that picture when we get home?"

"I'm not sure where it is," she replied, hesitating.

"I will help you look for it. Please don't be sad," he begged.

"Okay, sweetheart. I'll stop crying." She stood and kissed the top of his head. "How about a big push on the swings?"

His baby sister instantly forgotten, he raced to the swing set.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Wishing Box

Besides being the name of my Etsy store, The Wishing Box is the working title of my first novel.

For a little background on my evolution as a writer, click HERE. When I wrote that blog post, my goal was to complete the first draft of my manuscript by the end of April and have the revision ready to submit for publication by fall. I didn't quite make my deadline, but I typed the words The End sometime in August (which also starts with the letter "A," right?) and I am determined to have the revision ready to pitch to an agent at Georgia Romance Writer's Moonlight & Magnolias conference in October (click HERE to read about my first experience there in 2009.)

Life sure has a way of getting in the way of writing. There was that bout with bronchitis in June/July, all the relationship angst, and then my piano students came back. Also, with decreased student enrollment this year - many of my colleagues are feeling the effects of this challenged economy, too- I am finding it necessary to look for ways to increase my income. I have been selling books on eBay and making jewelry and listing it on Etsy. I am especially optimistic about my Etsy site, as beading is a wonderful creative outlet for me. I am even blogging about it; click HERE if you would like to follow my progress.

But I HAVE to write. It's my passion, my desire, my dream. Somehow - despite physical setbacks and emotional upheavals and financial challenges - I must find a way to weave writing into the fabric of my days.

"Becoming a writer means being creative enough to find the time and the place in your life for writing." ~ Heather Sellers

Yesterday I attended the monthly meeting Georgia Romance Writers in Decatur. I had a lovely breakfast - including two slices of bacon, pescetarianism be damned. I caught up with some old friends - who are struggling with similar challenges, both personal and writing related. I made some new friends - who inspired me and encouraged me despite having just me. And I heard a wonderful speaker - author Karen White, whose work I have never read but cannot wait to dig into. Her message, titled The Good, the Bad and the Unpublishable: the Nuts and Bolts of a Writing Career (or, Writing Isn't for Sissies) highlighted the careers of multi-published and award winning authors (including her own). She shared stories of the good and the bad in the publishing industry, the rises and falls on the divergent roads to success, the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat. Mostly, she encouraged us to stay grounded and keep writing.

It was a message we all needed to hear.

So now it's full steam ahead. I have an agent pitch appointment at the M & M Conference and I intend to make the most of it; then I hope to achieve PRO status in GRW before the end of the year. I am looking forward to participating in NaNoWriMo again in November, and then getting started on one of the many projects I have swirling around in my head.

Check back later this week for a sample of my fiction writing. It's about time, right?

Monday, September 13, 2010

What's Going On

I'll admit it: I'm still in the free fall plummet phase of my roller coaster ride of emotions. But I might be easing into a coast. People have been in the right place at the right time - on the internet as well as in the flesh - to offer me nuggets of wisdom to help bring the blur that's rushing past me into soft focus. Don't you love the way that happens? More about that another day when I have the clarity to express it.

In the meantime, I'm spending time doing things that make me happy.

(1) I'm reading - Jane Austen's Emma, the next selection of my wonderful Jane Austen Book Club; and a book called Four Word Self Help by Patti Digh, in preparation for my participation in her blog tour this month. Be sure to check out my review right here on September 24th.

(2) I'm playing the piano. You can watch my first ever music video by clicking HERE.

(3) I'm beading - and my Etsy store is finally open for business. You can view my items for sale by clicking HERE.

(4) I'm hanging out with old friends, making acquaintance with new friends, and enjoying time with my sons. Last night, the three of them and I sat at my kitchen table and had dinner together for the first time in ages. It was a moment I will hold in my heart forever.

I collect quotes the way some people collect Precious Moments figurines or music boxes or key chains. Here's one that seems especially appropriate today.

"When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us." (Helen Keller)

I'm walking straight through every open door.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Firsts & Lasts

The first time you fall in love. Your first date. A graduate's first "real" job. A couple's first wedding anniversary. Their first child. His first birthday. Her first day of school. Their first soccer game or dance recital.

These events are eagerly anticipated and joyfully celebrated, memorialized in journal entries and scrapbooks and photo albums and end of year letters to far-flung friends and relatives.

What I have been contemplating recently, though, are lasts. The last time I read a good-night story to one of my children. The last time one of them crawled into bed with me after waking up from a nightmare. The last time my family sat around my grandmother's table sharing a holiday meal. The last time I hugged my brother before he died. The last time I lay in the arms of a lover before our relationship ended.

I wasn't able to fully appreciate these moments because it wasn't until it was too late that I realized how precious they were. Wandering in a fog of thought and too much to do, I missed them all.

Here are a couple of quotes that are going on my bedroom mirror.

First, the admonishment:

"Time is a companion who reminds us to cherish every moment because it will never come again." (Author Unknown)

Then, the redemption:

"I'd rather have a moment of wonderful than a lifetime of nothing special. What you need to know about the past is that no matter what has happened, it has all worked together to bring you to this very moment. And this is the moment you can choose to make everything new. Right now." (Makhtal Ali)

Carpe diem, y'all.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Meanderings on love

I have been thinking a lot about romantic love lately. On the heels of yet another failed relationship, I was on the verge of throwing in the towel, giving up the quest, quitting while I was behind.

I am woman, hear me roar.

Problem is, I'm really not wired to be alone. Oh, it's fine for now. I just don't wanna live like this forever. Plus, I just tossed my 100 Things out there. Maybe something BIG is about to happen. I sure wouldn't want to miss it.

I have resisted the concept of soul mates; certainly, there isn't just ONE person out there waiting for me. Talk about a needle in a haystack! Then again, have you ever had the experience of meeting someone for the first time and feeling as if you'd known that person forever? That happened to me recently. The theme music from "The Twilight Zone" has been running through my head ever since.


It's all very mysterious. The winds are shifting, for sure. Tired of fighting, I'm just gonna adjust my sails and see where I end up. I have a wonderful feeling my destination is going to be better than the one I was headed for, anyway.

On my list today:
Do the next thing.
Have fun when I can.
Grab every brass ring I can lay my hands on.

***

This is the kind of love I crave. Find a tissue before you watch.

Danny & Annie from StoryCorps on Vimeo.