Tag Archives: writing

And the winner is…

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… a mug of hot, sweet, milky tea and a peanut butter sandwich. Not fancy, and it makes my stomach hurt, but it’s still the ultimate comfort food.

It was the tomatoes and apricots that did me in, mind you. Kuja stopped by and we wandered out into the veggie garden, and – because she’s not one for half measures – she got busy picking pretty much everything that was ready. I’ve been wanting to do this – no one benefits from food left sitting on the vine – and somehow that resulted in just having to taste a tomato … and then a different one … and another. So my mouth started singing the Halleluja Chorus, which woke up my stomach, and then a few other things happened that demanded action … and so, to end an interminable story, I ate the samn damwich. It was yummy!

Anyway, I still think I’m a winner. Three days of no food? That’s pretty darn good for me! I am going to try to make fasting a regular part of my life, and I need to have another go at keto … although it’s really hard to wrap my head around being completely carb-free when we have all sorts of trees and squashy things and tomatoes right out there.

Right now I’m feeling pretty good. I’m tired, but I feel energized. I’m also as happy as all get out because Peter Pan is back … I don’t think I’ve ever told you about Peter Pan, apart from a brief mention here … Hmm, where to begin?

I’ll begin with a picture and end with a promise to tell you more next time I write. Right now, I need to use this welcome energy burst to Get Shit Done in time for an early night, because tomorrow morning I am once again taking up my quill and reconnecting with Henrietta Gurdy. I’ve told you about Henrietta – I mentioned her by name here, but she’s changed a lot since then. I learned just recently that someone I met at the PNWA Writer’s Conference last year is gifting me her reservation for this year, which gives me just five weeks to make Henrietta presentable.

Anyway … this is Peter Pan…

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He’s a tad more hairy than when this was taken in December 2016, but still the eternal boy. I’ve missed having him around!

And now I must go unskunk a dog. Gotta love life on the farm!

Do you ever find that winning and losing are hard to tell apart? 

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I have to write a bible

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Exploding head

This did not happen to me, but it was a close call.

Well, my head didn’t explode, so that’s good, but I had to skip most of the evening sessions and the whole of Sunday at the PNWA Writer’s Conference, or it might have. It was intense and I learned so much! And something about being immersed in an imaginarium of writers got my creative juices squirting so hard they darn near flooded me out of my own brain.

So, anyway, here is what I know: My book sucks. I have to go back to the beginning and start again.

On the other hand, I have learned things that will help me get it right. I will now share some of what I learned for the edification of fellow wannabe-serious-writers.

  1. Amazon is amazing. It has a bazillion (free!!!) platforms for different types of writing. Terry Persun, who gave a detailed presentation about marketing writing through Amazon, is a writer, not an Amazon employee, and by the time he was done he had me thinking “Pah! Self-publishing is clearly the way to go – I don’t even need a publisher, much less an agent!”
  2. Agents and publishers still regard self-published authors with suspicion. They acknowledge that times have changed, but by damn they’re taking a stand for traditional values!
  3. It is possible to be hungry and distracted and psyched up enough to pay $8.00 for a bottle of water and a banana. I know this because it happened to me at the hotel where the conference was held. Needless to say, I stayed a mile or two down the road at a hotel that didn’t serve bananas or bottled water at any price.
  4. It is also possible to be stuck with a bill for $27.00 for five hours of parking.
  5. Riding the bus is a relaxing and efficient way to get a mile or two down the road.
  6. Back story is key, and you have to write it down in something called a “bible”. This contains everything you know about every character – and when it comes to main characters, you’d better know everything – when they were born, where they went to school, that weird birthmark, sexual proclivities, number of earrings, favorite flower, verbal tics, wishes, fears and dreams – it all gets written down, and as the characters reveal themselves to you during the course of writing the book, you keep updating the bible. The bible also contains maps of any locale where any action happens, building plans, timelines – in other words, anything you could conceivably need to remember 50,000 words into the book.
  7. You don’t start your story with a giant dump of the main character’s entire back story. You dribble out tiny crumbs of information as you lead your reader through the forest to the witch’s house. This means that, to create believable characters, you have to do a shitload of writing that no reader will ever actually see. (How could I not know this? I did know it, but I forgot, and my first two chapters are just this giant blurghh.)
  8. Some things give away a person’s nationality even better than accent. For instance, I was oblivious to Cherry Adair’s South African accent, but when she mentioned  Linda Goodman’s Sun Signs I had a flashback to my university days, playing glassy-glassy (aka ouija) with my friends and spending hours researching my perfect mate (as outlined in Sun Signs) while ignoring the fact that I was not, as advertised, a tall, slender, green-eyed blond. Then she talked about how all her characters have lots of hot monkey sex, but it’s important for them to have a solid back story, so that the novel isn’t just a sex book, and even though I still wasn’t sure of her accent I knew she had to be South African, because Americans don’t talk about monkeys in the context of hot sex. Anyway, apparently when Ms Adair is getting to know a character, she gives them a birthday and then looks it up in her old copy of Sun Signs, and that tells her everything about the character that she needs to know. (She figures out the sex stuff on her own.)
  9. According to an agent who gave a talk on “How to Hook an Agent”, it’s not that hard to hook an agent, but if they don’t pick you it’s not because your book is no good – it’s because … something about going to a supermarket to buy a snack and even though the chocolate looks delicious you walk past it because what you really want just then is popcorn. Seriously – who would do that? I didn’t get to tell him about my book, so I don’t know whether he’s a chocolate or popcorn guy. The point is, don’t feel rejected, just keep doing your chocolate (or popcorn) thing until someone eats you.
  10. There are many different ways to write a series, but you’ll be sorry if you try to do it without a bible.

What else? Oh – I had my first experience of meeting a blogger I follow face-to-face, so that was cool! Lynn Price of Behler Blog is an excellent resource for us wannabes, so go check her out.

And, of course, I mustn’t forget to mention the main reason I went to the con. On Saturday morning I pitched my book to three agents and two editors. The way it worked was, about an hour before the pitch session they let those who had booked for the session into a special room. (Security was tighter than it is at the airport – there was no way anyone got in without the special ticket.) I was one of the first in line (I was early for practically the whole conference!) so I got to sit in the front row of seats. Five minutes before the session started they opened the door, and every author present released their inner buffalo and stampeded for the pitch room. (Sometimes it helps to be on the wider side of chubby – I simply stuck out my elbows and didn’t let anyone pass me.)

The agents and editors were lined up in alphabetical order behind tables, about two feet apart…

A pride of lions soaking up the mid-day sun. Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

They looked like this, only more lions and less grass. (Source)

… and we lined up in front of them, behind a strip of tape. A buzzer went off and the first writer in line scurried forward, sat down, and started talking really fast. Four minutes later the buzzer went off again and if they didn’t get their butt out of that chair immediately a volunteer came up and “persuaded” them, and then the next writer plopped down, while the seat was still warm. This went on for an hour and a half and then they kicked us out, and those who could still walk went and got drunk.

I’ll get the really embarrassing one out of the way first. Delegates got a list of all the editors and agents and what they were looking for, and on Friday morning there was a forum, where each editor/agent talked about what mattered to them and we wannabes frantically took notes. That’s what we used to figure out whom to pitch to. But in the middle of all this figuring out and lining up and scurrying forward to grab a warm seat and talking fast, I got a couple of the agents confused. Consequently, I sat down in front of a sweet lady who listened to the first half of my pitch and then said, “Ermmm … Is this a YA book? Because I do books for children and young adults.” I should have got up and walked away then, but instead I blinked, swallowed, and pitched her a YA book I haven’t looked at for about a decade because … lots of reasons; anyway, it is so not ready for publication. This time she didn’t interrupt me, but when I ran out of words she said, apologetically, “Ermmm … it sounds like a fantasy. I don’t do fantasy.”

So yeah, someone gave me a pity pitch.

The others went better. One agent wants to see a written proposal and 20 pages, another agent and an editor each want 50 pages, and an editor with purple hair wants the entire manuscript.

And it sucks so much!!! I feel like a con artist! Please note: this is not a request for Encouraging Words. This is real, but it’s okay. I confessed to the purple editor that the book needed a little work, and she said as long as she had it within six to eight weeks that would be okay. I’m going to assume the same is true for the others. So now all I have to do is write a novel in six weeks.

That sounds doable. No pressure. I’ll start work on the bible tomorrow.

What lifelong dreams are you getting ready to unleash? Is it scary for you too?

 

What if no one likes it?

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Three days from right now will be half a day into the first day of the 2017 Pacific Northwest Writer’s Conference. I am not ready.

Early this year I decided, “If I finish my first draft in time to book the early bird special, I can go.” Then I decided, “I’m going to book because I can’t miss this opportunity and I want to grab the early bird special, but I have to finish the first draft before the con.”

Two months ago this looked totally achievable. Now? Let’s just say that to meet that goal I have to write approximated 25,000 words in two days and … Honey, that ain’t gonna happen.

Even if I hadn’t spent yesterday and today in a complete funk, it wouldn’t have happened.

The main reason I’m going to the conference is to pitch this book, and in fact the whole planned series. I’m set up to pitch to 21 (TWENTY-ONE!!!) agents and editors, 14 of whom are specifically looking for this kind of fiction. And I know very well that none of them is going to ask for a full manuscript right off the bat. If I am lucky they may ask for a written proposal. If I am very lucky they may ask for a sample chapter or three.

But.

What the fuck is wrong with me, that I have this … this thing that I want to do more than anything else in the world, that I’ve wanted to do all my life, that I know I can do, and I have this patient and supportive guy in my corner, and I have a laptop that works and a desk to put it on and a view from my desk that inspires, and if I need a change of scenery I have coffee shops or a library to go to or a car to sit in next to the river or at the top of a mountain…

And I now even have meds that make my brain work better, so that when I sit down to write the words just roll out of my fingers and onto the screen…

Bad evil men pointing at stressed woman sitting in a boxAnd I still have whole days in which fear sticks its hand in my chest and squeeeeeezes. Fear of what, you ask? Damfino. Failure, mainly. Rejection too. Mainly I’m just scared of sucking.

What if it’s no good? Actually … that’s not really what’s worrying me. That’s not arrogance; it’s plain good sense – if I didn’t think I could write, and specifically that I could write this book, I’d be doing something easier and more fun, like gardening or training my dog. It’s not great literature and it needs some hefty pummeling by both me and beta readers, but it’s a fun little story about something that should appeal to quite a wide readership base.

What if I’m no good? What if these agents and editors look at me – my overdue-for-a-cut-and-color hair, my caftans and flat sandals, my foreignness and fatness – and simply don’t believe someone like me can have anything of interest to say to people like them? What if I accidentally say something wildly inappropriate and they think I’m too weird to work with? What if they listen to my pitch about an alphabet series – 26 books, two per year – and think, “Yeah, right, it’s taken you over half a century to produce half a first draft of A is for Aussie and you want us to believe you can do 25 more full books in 13 years? You’re old, bitch – you probably won’t even live that long!”

What if I get to the con, and pitch to all these agents and editors, and none of them likes it? Sometime in the past 36 hours I asked the Hubbit this question. He said, “Well, you know it’s tough to break into writing. So if that happens we’ll simply self-publish.”

We.

Such a huge, magnificent word. I thought about it for a moment, after he said it, and thanked him. And then I crawled back into my funk.

So now it’s Monday evening. I have two days to prepare. But it’s okay – I have a plan.

  • Tonight I will pack my suitcase. Packing tonight will mean I won’t have to fly out of here on Thursday morning, running late and with insufficient underwear.
  • Tomorrow and Wednesday I will write my two-minute pitch and written proposal, and edit the crap out of the first three chapters, and I will print copies. I’m not sure how many copies … but some.
  • magic bookThursday I will attend a training session on How To Pitch Your Novel.
  • Friday I will deploy all the best words and enchant the shit out of those people (Yes, they are people, not demonic or heavenly powers.)
  • Saturday I will do whatever’s on the schedule that I can’t care about right now, and I will not obsessively replay whatever insane thing blurted out of my mouth during my most promising pitch session on Friday.
  • Sunday I will unroll that “we” like a magic carpet, and come back home.

And then we’ll see.

So how is your book going? And will you be at the con? Let’s meet for coffee!

Alternative retirement planning

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Once upon a time I wrote a personal finance column for a South African daily newspaper. The column was called “Smart Money”, and every week I used it to yatter on humorously about stocks, bonds, money markets and such esoteric entities. It was fun. I got invited to insurance company shindigs and had lunch with movers and shakers like the head of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, and they would ask my opinion about the economy, and listen with interest as I repeated whatever I could remember from the last shindig or lunch I’d attended.

Fun, but also scary. I was constantly aware that, at any moment, I could lose my conversational balance and plummet like a sheep out of a tree.

My friends and family thought this was the funniest thing of all the absurd things I’d ever done. In fact, the only time I ever generated more whoops of appalled laughter was a few years later, after I’d moved to the US, when I got a job driving a school bus. According to the people who claim to love me, the only thing I do worse than manage money is drive.

I’ve been thinking about this quite a lot lately, and pondering how much easier it is to give great advice than to follow it. Take my “Smart Money” column, for example. I knew I was entirely unqualified to advise people where to invest, or to forecast economic trends. But I figured out pretty damn quick that many of my readers were people who had accumulated money by being good at whatever they did, but were as clueless as I about how to make their money grow. They were widget-makers and dream-sellers, not investors. So instead of competing with those much cleverer columnists who pontificated knowledgeably about this or that investment opportunity, I kept just one step ahead of my readers by hearing terminology I didn’t understand, getting boffins to explain it to me, and passing along what I’d learned at a rate of about 750 words a week.

Unfortunately none of this knowledge actually stuck, in the sense of me personally doing anything with it. As a result I’m now hurtling inexorably toward 60 – 70 – 80 sans safety net or parachute. The Hubbit is a fair bit older than I am, so when he retired we chose the larger-pension-for-the-rest-of-his-life option, rather than the very much smaller-pension-until-whichever-of-us-lives-longer-snuffs-it option. Not to be ghoulish about it, I’m expecting a decade or so of widowhood (preferably later rather than sooner). I’ve always assumed I’d be the merry sort of widow – like this one:

Seniorin mit Hund am Laptop, auf Wiese liegend

Okay, so she’s not merry, exactly. Poking around Adobe’s stock photos I found lots of beaming bints with gray hair, kicking up their heels or frolicking on the beach. But this is my kind of happy. Dog, laptop, solitude, trees. That’s plenty merry enough for me.

Not like this one…

Homeless elderly woman sleeping rough in a park

If I’m ever homeless, I hope I at least have a dog.

Only … a question that lately has been coming to mind with disconcerting frequency is, “How?”

I’ve reached that life stage where you start reconnecting with all the old farts you went to school or varsity with, way back in the Pleistocene … and they all seem so darn stable. Settled. Secure. A nice house in the suburbs, a holiday cottage here, an overseas trip there. How did they do it?

I seem to have lived my life just outside the masquerade ball. I can hear music and tantalizing scraps of conversations, I can smell food and perfume, I watch the dancers flirt from behind their masks and fans. I think I was invited but … ehhh … my mask makes my nose sweat. If I tried to dance I’d be like a sheep in a tree – baa-aa-aah, two, three, plummet.

Abandoning that strangely mixed metaphor and getting back to my point (I think I have one; I must just keep circling until I close in on it) … it’s clearly too late for me to spend my adult life preparing for old age.

For a while, until a couple months ago, I thought I’d get a job. After all, I’ve spent a lot of years doing a bunch of interesting things – not just journalism and tech writing; I’ve also started and run several businesses, a mission school and a dog rescue, some of which turned out well and taught me all sorts of useful skills. So now that I’m willing to let some plutocrat chain me to a desk for 40 hours a week in return for health insurance and enough money to pay down our mortgage, wouldn’t you think prospective employers would stare in awe at my résumé and exclaim, “Wow – you’re clearly a flexible, innovative problem-solver! We need you on our team right now!

We-e-ell, no. As it happened, their response tended to be more along the lines of “Seriously? WTF is this?” And, even more worrisome, every time someone turned me down I felt quite dizzy with relief that I’d evaded having to sit down at the same desk at the same time surrounded by the same people every day, regardless of whether or not I wanted to.

I’ve pondered getting back into freelance technical writing, but the problem with that is, you have to market yourself. Back in South Africa when I partnered with my bestie, Twiglet, she slapped on face paint, donned a pantsuit with a nice brooch and high heels, and topped it off with an elegant hairstyle, and clients had no difficulty at all taking her seriously. I, on the other hand, with my swirling caftans and my hair falling out of a bun? Not so easy to sell to go-getting executive types. Plus I hate it.

So the fruit of my recent ponderings is as follows.

First, the masquerade ball is almost over. The dancers are getting tired; some have already left. I didn’t want to go when it was in full swing; why would I go now at the draggy tail-end of the party? Baa-aa-aah-plummet – and then what?

Second, I kinda like what the Hubbit and I have managed to pull together in our small corner of the planet. It’s shabby and untidy and a tad heavy on the dog hair, but I’d rather spruce it up (or not) than replace it.

ants and grasshopper

Third, in nearly sixty years of rarely worrying about tomorrow, this grasshopper has never gone hungry. I guess God likes the sound of my fiddling; at any rate, He’s provided for me this far, and I continue to do my grasshopper best to please Him. (I understand the moral of the fable; I’ve just never liked it. Those ants are a miserable, self-righteous, mean-spirited bunch – why would anyone want to be like them?)

So I have decided: enough with the worrying and pondering. Definitely don’t start with the wishing and regretting. I’m grabbing whatever time I have left and doing what I love.

In other words, work on my book continues, y’all! It’s called “A is for Affenpinscher”, and it’s the first in a series of 26, which is enough to keep me busy for a while. This first one is going slower than I like because I’m having to take time to walk in circles and get acquainted with the various characters, and then make notes so I don’t get them mixed up. But it’s moving along quite nicely; I’m having fun with it and look forward to putting it out there.

Speaking of which, two months from today is the annual Pacific Northwest Writers Association conference. The cost of attending is wince-worthy, but it provides an opportunity to meet with 22 – yes, twenty-two, that’s two hands plus two thumbs up – editors and agents, all a-tremble with their eagerness to sign up fresh talent.

In two months I can finish writing the first book in the series, map out the second, and maybe overhaul a completely different manuscript (a YA fantasy) that I set aside years ago when I realized it needed … oh well, I’ll spare you the details, but I have to do a shitload of research in the form of gaming, which scares me a bit because what if I get addicted?

So, anyway, that’s my retirement plan. If you think it’s a little nuts, you’re probably right. On the other hand, look what I found in my fortune cookie tonight!

Fortune cookie

It’s a sign, right?

If you’re a gamer, which game would you recommend for fantasy, quests and magic? And, regardless of whether or not you’re a gamer, how do you plan to spend your declining years?

The imperfect power of lists

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It feels like an elephant is sitting on my chest and I can’t breathe.

No. It feels like a fist clenched around my heart, witch-claws digging into meat that struggles to beat.

No. It feels like an itch – a million separate itches in every cell inside my skin, too deep to scratch, although grinding my teeth helps.

No. It feels like no. It feels like urgent – hurry – too late. It feels like loss. It feels like quickquickrunaway! It feels like weep, bite, refuse, fail. It feels like hide, disappear, do not be.

Distressed woman

I am a maker of lists. On my phone, with a linked copy on my laptop, I have Evernote, and it is full of lists. There are several shopping lists, and a list of organic ways to deal with pests, and a list of natural cleaning products. Most important, though, are the to do lists. They are like gears – I engage them, and my day, and thus my life, moves forward.

  • There is my list of things to do every morning, and
  • another list of things to do every evening, and next to each item on both these lists are seven boxes so that during the week I can check things off as I do them, and see that they have been done. That gives me pleasure.
  • There is a list of chores I’m supposed to do every Monday/ Tuesday/ Wednesday/ Thursday/ Friday/ Saturday/ Sunday, and another for JFMAMJJASOND. They have check boxes as well.
  • I also have a list of things I want to do as soon as possible
  • condensed into a list of things I want to do this week (which I check off as I do them, to delete at the end of the week)
  • and backed up by a list of things that aren’t urgent but I want to do them someday, so I write them down in order not to forget them
  • and then there’s a list of improvements and projects I want to get done around our home and our farmlet
  • and a list of topics I want to blog about
  • and a list of characters in the book series I started writing just before I got stuck.

The lists stopped working about last November. First, I signed up for NaNo, and instead of starting something new I decided to have another whack at the novel I started writing the last time I tried to do NaNo, and for a while it was kind of like magic because suddenly the characters and the story line coalesced. Then it went from magical to miraculous, because I realized I didn’t have only one book; I had an entire series, something that would be fun to write, easy to sell – not great literature, but fuck that. I used to think I had a Great Novel inside of me, but now I just want to finish writing something that people will pay to read. So for a few joyous days I wrote and wrote, and it was wonderful and glorious and happy and enough.

But the gears locked up and I got stuck. Sometimes, looking back, it feels as though I’ve been halfway stuck for years. Scrolling back through this blog there are so many posts about new beginnings and fresh starts and shined-up resolutions – years of take a step, drag a leg, take another step, drag the damn leg again. And at some point around about November, I stopped. I began to sleep nine, ten, even twelve hours a night. It was never enough; I was always tired. I told myself to eat better, but I was too tired to cook. I told myself to take Argos for walks, to stretch in the crisp crunch of snow and oxygenate my blood with clean, cold air, but it was just too damn hard to get out of bed.

insomnia

Every morning I peer at my phone (scrunching my left eye shut and holding the phone a few inches from my stronger right eye, because to put in contact lenses I must get out of bed, and I don’t want to get out of bed, not ever – it always feels impossible to push the dogs and duvet aside until impelled to do so by the pressure in my bladder) and I look at my to-do-every-morning list, which I have pared down to the bare bones of home functionality. I pick three things to do. I tell myself that if I do those three things I can stop for a while, reward myself before deciding what to do next. I think about what I might use as a reward, to motivate myself to get out of bed and begin. And then I click on Cortana and read the news.

Sometimes it takes three or four hours just to get up, clenching against leakage as I hobblescurry to the toilet for the lovely relief of the first pee of the day.

depression-entropy-definition

How soon dishes pile up on kitchen counters and dirt coats floors and tables. Vegetables compost in the refrigerator, sheets turn gray, blankets smell of dog, piles of laundry consume all the socks and underwear. Some days a to do list yields a joule or two’s worth of energy, but it’s like pushing ectoplasm or blowing away a miasma. You can burn it off and, briefly, catch a glimmer of clarity and order, but the miasmic ectoplasm always oozes back. The only escape is via the secret garden of another book, and another, and just one more.

About two weeks ago I was fingerchatting with my bestie, Twiglet, on Skype, and I started to cry. I wasn’t especially sad – in fact, chatting with her always lifts my spirits – so I wasn’t sobbing or even feeling a need to blow my nose, but after a while it occurred to me that the steady flow of tears down my face wasn’t entirely normal. And then I remembered times in my life that this had happened before, and what I had done that helped. So while I was waiting for Twiglet’s response to something or other I had said, I called my doctor’s office and made an appointment. “What is this for?” the appointment-making person asked. “I don’t think Prozac is working for me any more,” I said, as my voice wobbled unexpectedly like a finger-clutching toddler walking along a wall.

I saw the doctor on Friday, and now I’m weaning off Prozac and have started taking Wellbutrin, and the pharmacist said I should expect to feel worse before I feel better. Specifically, she asked: “Do you have someone to talk to if you have suicidal thoughts?” so I passed that along to the Hubbit. He’s not much of one to be talked to, being more a fix-it kinda guy and also deaf, but he knows which of my friends to phone.

And, you know, I guess it must be working, because I’m dressed, and instead of obsessively clicking round and round between Facebook, Lumosity and the latest piece of insanity spewed from the White House, I’ve written this blog post. It’s not about a topic from my list, but I wanted to write something, and then I did it.

It feels good.