Of Cats and Bags and Accountability

So, like everybody else on the planet, I made a few goals. Goals are nothing without action, and action comes only with accountability. Or something supercilious like that. Basically, I have happy things to share, so bear with me.

One of these goals was to be more intentional about my eating. The Christmas season was a culinary free-for-all, and I’m paid for it in the end. My giant back end. There that is. Christmas technically lasts until January 6th, so I had a whole bunch of days before dealing with that one. But I have. I am eating a good breakfast every morning. And I must tell you that Belgian waffles with chocolate chips and whipped cream is a good breakfast. I would venture so far as to say it’s a great breakfast. What? Don’t look at me like that. There were strawberries, too. And some powdered sugar, and… I digress. Anyway, intentional eating has been a success.

I’m being very conscious about my to-be-read list. It grows smaller daily. Mostly because I refuse to add anything else to it for a while. I am making a little headway. It’s hard to divide time between crazily devouring pages and crazily creating words of my own. But I have not brought anything home that I didn’t add to my TBR list. In fact, I have taken very little out of the free bin at my favorite used bookstore. And that, my friends, is progress. The bin is bigger than a coffin and has been stuffed to the brim with free books. FREE BOOKS! I have come to understand that free isn’t actually free, since it costs me bookshelf space to store. If I don’t have a reasonable intention to read the book in the next couple of months, back it goes. It’s almost like I’m growing up. I said almost. Don’t be afraid.

And here’s my most exciting top secret news. I had planned/hoped/dreamed/wished  to finish my current manuscript within the first couple of months of the new year. And  (drumroll, please) now (Helloooo? Where’s my drumroll? Desk, head, keyboard. I’m not picky. That’s better. Thanks!) it’s done. The first draft, of course. It’s warty and ugly and not fit for human consumption (yet), but it’s finished. I’ll be moving into rewrites and beta-reading over the next few weeks, which is more exciting than I thought it would be.

But am I content? No. I’m so ready to start another project! My husband thinks I should blog for a little while instead, but I think that’s mostly because he knows if I get involved in another book project immediately, we will never finish Downton Abbey. He’s probably right.

I have a new goal, too. I want to rework my blog page and add some drop down menus and categories. This one will take me a while because I’m not sure I can make that happen on this theme. Changes are coming. It’ll be fun!

So how is your list coming along?

Oh, yeah. The title promised a cat. I meant it figuratively, as in letting out a secret , but when I looked at my latest upload of photos, there were 107 new ones, mostly of my cats. It seems I am missing Piper more than I thought, and my way of dealing with it is to take a blue-million snaps of the two cats we have left. Meet Kisses. Until I work through losing Piper, you’ll probably be seeing a lot of her.

This is me every morning in winter. Every, single one.

This is me every morning in winter. Every, single one.

What’s In It For Me?: Thoughts From a NaNoWriMo Veteran

becomingcliche:

Dying for a follow up on my NaNo experience? I knew you were.

Originally posted on TIPSY LIT:

The beginning of December is a little sad for me. Not because Black Friday has once again crushed all my faith in humanity, but because it means that NaNoWriMo is over for another year. This is my third year, my third December wondering what in the world just happened reflecting on a glorious month of writing.

I had never even heard of NaNoWriMo until October 2011. Two days before Halloween, someone mentioned it in my Twitter feed. Call me crazy spontaneous, but I signed up on two days’ notice. Never mind that I hadn’t written seriously in years. I wanted to write seriously again. What better way to jump start?  I threw myself face first off the deep end, and I belly-flopped. It was a little more difficult than I had imagined. 1,667 words a day didn’t sound like a lot when I was gleefully registering on Halloween, but the last major…

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The Best Present Is My Past

My bags are packed. I’m ready to go. Insert Peter, Paul and Mary here because I am, in fact, leaving on a jet plane, and I don’t know when I’ll be back again. I have a general idea because a return date is printed on my ticket, but it snows in Wisconsin. If it snows, I’ll be delayed.

I like to travel, especially when I don’t have to drive. The possibilities are endless. I’m bringing about 150 books (e-readers are the best!), music, snacks. The kid in me is wired up and fired up. Not because of the books, though, or the secret stash of Cliff bars, or the Lunchable my husband bought me for the flight (Shut up. I’m really eight.). That kid is tickled pink over the brand new legal pad stashed in my backpack.

Back in the days before laptops and desktops and the little electronic typewriter and the gigantic IBM typewriter circa 1944 that shook the walls every time I hit “return,” there were legal pads, bought with my own money. They were impractical and unconventional, so no legal pad ever appeared on my school supply list. When I ventured to the store to buy them, they had a purpose all their own. No mundane notebook filler, legal pads were intended for greatness. As a seventh grader,  I wrote my first novel on a series of them. Those battered yellow tablets are stashed in the garage somewhere. Not somewhere. I know exactly where they are. I leave them there. It’s better to let sleeping dogs lie.

For over a year I carried those tablets everywhere, writing anywhere I could, squeezing in a few sentences here, a paragraph there. They were my best teachers. Through my work on yellow legal pads, I learned about hyperbole (mostly how to do it badly), and that sleep can be lost over sticky plot points. I learned that no one ever died over torn pages, although they might feel like it at the time. I learned that there are critics everywhere and that sometimes when kids see you spending more time with a pad of paper than with actual humans, they think you’re a little weird. And that weird can be good.

I let an adult read my book once. At the time, I was cocky and full of my own self-importance. I was thirteen and had written a book. I was golden. I had not learned that first drafts are word-vomit or that every writer needs an editor. I now try to imagine that teacher’s impression of my work. And I cringe. My writing then was so raw, the very essence of my burgeoning teenage self. I didn’t wear a mask back then. My hopes, my dreams, my insecurities are contained in those pages, bared to the world. Now I could no more let someone else read that early work than I could walk naked across the town square. They are essentially the same, you know. I can’t even bear to reread them myself. I’m not ready for that level of exposure

My husband bought me a new tablet tonight. I added it to the shopping list, and when I came home it was there on the counter. It’s yellow, and it’s new, and it’s waiting for me. I have plans for this pad, oh yes, I do. First and foremost, NaNoWriMo is coming. I signed up again this year, and I’m getting ready. On the pages of this legal pad, I will meet my characters for the first time. I will learn their names and their history. We will plan their story; what was, and what I hope will be. It’s the best present.

If you are signing up for NaNo, too, and leave your user name, I’ll add you as a buddy. I’ll meet you at the corner store to buy a box of Runts, and we can stay up all night plotting and planning whole new worlds. I can’t wait.

Making Up the Rules

Internet is still out. Interesting that when I actually have internet access, I forget that I want to look up companies who can install it for me, which is how I come to be sitting in a Panera, covered in flour and chocolate from all the baking I’ve done for Squish’s fall festival to assuage the guilt for missing the event completely. Because I’m going to miss it. I have a date.

Tomorrow, after I teach my toddler class at the zoo, I will make like a cow patty and hit the dusty trail. In about 24 hours, I’ll be turning into sj’s driveway. There’s a balloon there to show me just where to go and everything. Amy will be there. And I am so nervous.

I’ve know sj for four years. We’ve exchanged emails daily for what feels like ever. She knows the ugly things about me. She has known me at my worst. But we have never actually met in person.

I’ve followed Amy’s blog for over a year. I won her book  many months ago, and I’ve been email her for quite some time. She is witty, charming, and her writing is delightful. I heart her dearly. But we’ve never met, either.

I know how to meet people. I’ve met people thousands of times in my life. When I’m leading tour groups, I meet dozens in one place. I know that routine. Exchange names, smile politely, ask about their work/school, move on to the next person: later, rinse, repeat. Easy.

But what about people you haven’t seen face-to-face, but they were there for you when your beloved pet died, when you were hospitalized suddenly, when the job so wished for doesn’t materialize, when a child has a serious health issue? What are the rules? Can you bypass the polite smiles and move right to a giant bear hug?

What if you have so many inside jokes (I imagine sj snickersnorting over “lather, rinse, repeat.” Long story, but let’s just say I’m more careful with my chat windows) that everything is an inside joke? And you love the same music, and you’ve talked books exhaustively, and they know you so well that their reading recommendations are NEVER off, and Eleanor and Park made you both weepy? Can you skip talking about the weather and move to eating food off their plate?

I’ve done it once before, this meeting someone who was once only words on a screen, a few months ago when I meet Emily, and it was wonderful. It worked so well. I think it will work this time, too, and for the same reason. I suspect that Amy and sj are in person exactly as they are online. That’s one thing that draws me to their writing – their raw honesty.

How does this all work? I don’t know. But I’m about to find out, and I’m so excited! sj and Amy, I’ll be seeing you ladies soon! You’ll know me by my Severus Snape t-shirt and my smile!

Gratuitous baby tortoise shot. Because when I can't share pics, I get shaky.

Gratuitous baby tortoise shot. Because when I can’t share pics, I get shaky. On a computer screen, this pic is bigger than life-size. 

 

I Got Schooled

Conventional wisdom tells us not to go grocery shopping when we are hungry. You know another time you shouldn’t shop for food? When you first get behind the wheel after having been without a car for five straight days. After subsisting on hot dogs, French fries, pancakes and peanut butter sandwiches for that long, I went a little nuts. Grocery store = fresh fruits and vegetables! I stuffed my shopping bag with Honeycrisp apples, nectarines, sugar snap peas, carrots, pears, and maybe some Honeycomb cereal. I have a sweet tooth. Sue me.

My car has been in the shop three separate times this week. That number would have been higher, but I quit bringing it home at night to save a tow in the morning. The issue itself has been a mystery. We were ready to call in Dr. House, or maybe in this case Dr. Garage. The mechanics have tried a number of things. These things seemed to work at the time, and I’d fetch the car, only to have it die in our driveway overnight.

Besides the grocery shopping tip, here’s another thing I learned. It’s difficult for a mechanic to fix a problem they don’t actually get to see. Two of the three times the car was towed (yes, three. This week. We’re on AAA’s hit-list), the stupid car started right up when it was unloaded. It wasn’t until we left it for a sleep-over that they began to see what we saw. Looks like it’s fixed this time.

Car trouble is a pain. It’s an inconvenience. It’s a game-changer. It reduced me to dependence on other people, starting with the very first tow. Another lesson for the week is that having AAA didn’t necessarily mean I could take care of business without my husband. His name is the only one on the card. Turns out that he actually had to be with the car in order for it to be retrieved. Had they made that clear when we initially bought the membership, we’d have sprung for the upgrade. Of course, the tow truck never even asked whose car it was when they picked it up, so chances are my husband was late for nothing.

I also learned this week that, though I may require assistance retrieving Squish from his school and getting too and from my commitments, I could still function fairly well. I made it to work. I made it home from work. Each day I managed some arrangement to get kids to and from their respective schools. I even walked the two miles to the garage two or three times to pick up the car when we thought it was fixed. I can do things. And I learned that some things can be cut out of the schedule and no one dies. I missed Tortoise Day, and it didn’t kill me. It almost did, but like my grandpa used to say, almost only counts in a game of horseshoes.

Here’s another cool lesson. I’ve been on the waiting list at the library for Mumford and Sons “Babel.” It came in over the weekend. I’ve listened to it obsessively a couple of times now. Turns out that M&S is the perfect soundtrack for automotive misery. Who knew?

I learned this week that I being grounded was a gift. In slowing down, I gained momentum. I finished a project that has been on the back burner for months, and I have made incredible headway on another one. I am so pleased with the results, and I can’t wait to share it. Creativity apparently doesn’t require transportation. It’s a vehicle all its own. Ideas are flowing so fast I can barely keep up.

Today, I have a car. It has started three whole times in a row. But it is parked. I’ve stocked up on fruit and Honeycomb cereal, and today I’m getting some work done. Just because I have a car doesn’t mean I can slack, you know?

Gratuitous box turtle shot. Just because.

Gratuitous box turtle shot. Just because.

What have you learned this week?

How To Meet A Fellow Blogger In Real Life

A few weeks ago, I got the most exciting email from Emily at The Waiting. Maybe you know her. She’s been Freshly Pressed a time or three. Anyway, she said she was coming to my town and wondered if we could meet. Um, yeah! So exciting. I’ve never met up with a fellow blogger in person before. So many feelings! Would she like me? Would we find lots to talk about? Would she murder me with chopsticks and stuff me in the trunk of her car? Like being in high school all over again.

Anyway, the lead up was pretty eventful for me.

2 weeks out: Awaken in the middle of the night with the sudden notion that I am actually scheduled to work the night she is in town. It was just a dream, little champ. You work the week before. Go back to sleep.

Ten days out: Where to eat? In this mid-sized town, there are surprisingly few good, local eateries that are easy for a non-native to find. Do we go for small-chain Indian food, or the hipster sandwich joint?

One week out:  Awaken in the middle of the night and ponder what to wear. Something classy, of course. So, Cookie Monster T-shirt or Slytherin Quidditch? This is a question to be settled closer to the event, after consulting a star chart, the Psychic Friends network, and the dirty clothes hamper.

Two days out: Awaken in the middle of the night and remember that one reason I blog is because I am socially awkward and not so good with humans.

The Big Day: 

10am - I have a few hours. With artfully applied sunscreen and a bit of luck, I can even up this farmer’s tan.

11am - I’ve never posted a picture with my regular face before.How will Emily recognize me if I’m not doing this:

Or if I’m dressed as anyone other than Professor Trelawney?

trelawney

 

The answer? MoonPies.

4:30 PM : The tire is flat. This is not good. It’s just flat on the bottom, though, the rest of it is still nice and round. Maybe it’s not the worst.

5:00 PM - Tire is going to take two hours to fix. There is no wi-fi here, and therefore no way to contact Emily to tell her I may be late.

5:05 PM - Minor melt-down in the Wal-mart automotive department. People snap a couple of pictures for the People of Wal-Mart website but otherwise just step over me and go on about their business.

6:00 PM - Car is rolled out of the bay. And around the store. And up the block. And I think possibly to the next town over.

6:15 PM - Keys are dumped on the counter and I pay for my two new tires. Because husband likes to buy them in twos. They’re best in twos. I try to use the same logic whenever I buy snakes, but he doesn’t fall for it.

6:45 PM - I’m on my way! I’m on my way! I’m on my way! The restaurant serves hipster with a side of pretension, which is great because I’m starving.

6:46 PM – Crap. I forgot to brush my teeth. Oh, well. I eat a pile of mints. I also forgot to brush my hair. I hope keys work okay in a pinch.

7:00 PM – Butterflies are apparently carniverous and are consuming me from the inside out. Will I be interesting enough? Will I find something to talk about besides the mating habits of Dwarf Malagasy tortoise species? Will I be in the right place? Will she recognize me? Is there toilet paper stuck to the bottom of my shoe? Is my skirt tucked into my waistband? I’m not wearing a skirt. Why am I not wearing a skirt? I look like I’ve been sitting in a Wal-mart automotive department.

7:15 PM - There she is! I would recognize her anywhere! And she’s smiling. And not in the laughing-at-me-on-the-inside kind of way!

And it was great. We met, we talked, we ate, we talked. The food was good, the company even better. I’m happy to say that Emily is just as wonderful, open, gracious and witty as she is on her blog. It’s always wonderful when art imitates life. If you ever get a chance to meet her, I recommend it.

And if you’re in my neck of the woods, look me up. I’m relatively harmless, and I’ll bring Moonpies!

It was the best!

It was the best!

Sometimes Good Things Come in Small Packages

But some of them come in big ones. Great big ones.

Amy at Lucy’s Football is celebrating 2 whole years in the blogging world. You may remember her when she was Freshly Pressed with this magnificent post.

Amy is awesome. She shares my disdain for mean practical jokery, and she loves theatre so much that I need to go and see her so we can take in a Broadway play together.

Anyway, she had a sneaky giveaway, and guess who won? Um, yeah. Me. Yippee! Hop on over and pay a visit and catch my guest post. And what was in the giveaway? I can’t tell you. You’ll have to visit the photo montage to find out.

Come and visit by clicking here, and be sure to congratulate her on two whole years of blogging!

What If Baby WANTED to Be Put In A Corner?

She might have, if it was anything like my corner. I have one, you know. Fifteen square feet in this world that is all my own. I don’t have to share it with anyone. My husband fixed it up for me, and I love him for it. Want to see?

It's the best, isn't it?

It’s the best, isn’t it?

It has everything I need, and most of the pieces have a story of their own. The bistro table is from our favorite coffee shop. When they closed their doors, my husband bought me “our” table. There are two chairs. If you’d like to sit and talk books or writing for a bit, have a seat. You would be most welcome!

The blanket hanging on the back of the chair was a “dirty Santa” gift from a work party. It’s huge and warm and, hello? LIZARDS! It’s like it was made for me. I may or may not have peed on it to keep anyone else at the party from trying to steal it. I’m not saying. One trip through the wash and good as new, right?

One of the little cases on the table contains my MP3 player. I have writing playlists. There is no better music to listen to when trying to write intense, dramatic scenes than this. For real. Buy it now, thank me later. The other case contains my glasses. We won’t go into that right now.

The cork board was a gift from my husband, and it literally has a story. My story. Pinned to it is the layout for my newest project. The work is not exactly new. I started it for NaNoWriMo this year, but I got stuck and continued on with something else. Now it’s time to revisit. This tale gets my blood pumping. My goal is to finish the first draft by Mothers’ Day. Though it is half-finished this timeline may be a bit ambitious since this will be my most technical work to date, and there are some fiddly bits that I haven’t finished working out yet. By tomorrow, the note cards will be color-coded by story line, character notes, plot twists, and questions I am trying to answer. And then the real work begins.

This space mine, and I love it. I spend hours here each night after kids are in bed. I don’t have have to share with anyone. Except my old cat. She’s the most demanding editor, fussing at me to sit down and write so she has a cozy place to perch. It’s good for both of us, really. She’s my muse.

I finished my book this weekend. At 51K, It’s not a huge tome. It was never meant to be. It was just a story that was begging to be written. It made me happy to write it. It was exhilarating to watch it grow with such speed, uncovering one surprise after another. Is it good? Probably not. Yet. There are still rewrites and such. But it doesn’t matter because it’s just for me, anyway.

So what is your writing space like? Are there notes from a current project you’d like to share? And what’s on your playlist? I’m always looking for new musical inspiration! So many questions! The wheels in my brain are run by a hamster strung out on MoonPies.

 

***If you’re under the age of 30, the title may be meaningless to you. If so, run, do not walk, to the video store, or stream it, or whatever you crazy kids are doing these days, and get this movie. It is key to understanding my generation. No, you darned kids, get off my lawn!

Charting New Territory

I’ve never done this before. I’ve been a writer for a lot of years, and even in my heyday when I was churning out short stories and novellas at a rate that stuns me now, I never tried this. But I’m doing it now, and I’m kind of liking it.

I finished my first novel in 25 years last week, a novel that I started back sometime last summer, before I saw Avengers in the theatre. That landmark is significant to me, so I remember. It was a fun ride, sometimes frustrating. Typing “The End” was the most exhilarating experience I’ve had for a long time. I remembered what it means to be a writer.

How I have missed the writing process; the characters, like badly behaved children, never doing quite what was expected of them. It took 2 days and ten thousand words to work around a surprise thrown into the works by one of my characters. But she was right, I think. In the end, her actions made the story stronger, tied things all together in a way I had never imagined.

I love the magic that is writing. Starting a new work is like footprints in fresh snow, creating something there that never was before. A few days ago, I started a new project. Its beginning was a little less romantic, more like doing a face plant in a snow bank. It’s a story that was demanding to be told. But here’s the kicker. I will never show it to anyone. Ever. This time, it’s all for me.

The story has grown to over twenty five thousand words in six days, the words pouring like water. It’s easy right now. I know this story. I don’t know how I know it, but I do. It’s there, and it wants to be created, demands it. And because it is for my eyes only, I worry less over the turn of a particular phrase, or whether I’ve used “said” once too often in this chapter. It’s liberating and exciting.

I have never done this before. Previously, I created for an audience. I thought about what might interest others. This time around, I don’t care. I am more than willing to admit that no one cares about this particular story except for me. And I care a lot. Suddenly, my previous goal of a thousand words a day is laughable. The words don’t stop. Two, three, four thousand words seems inadequate. The story simply must be told. It’s telling itself.

The hard part is coming. I know that. I suspect that I am heading at breakneck speed to the place when the story dries up. A few thousand more words, and I may be hanging over the edge of the cliff. With my previous novel, the last sentence was written in my head before I ever typed the first one. This time around, the ending is out there in the ether. I can’t see it.

I may get stuck, may leave this story behind for a while at that point, may let it stew in its juice and work on something else. I have ideas, lots and lots of ideas. But I’ll come back to this one eventually. I want to see how it ends.