Thursday, December 29, 2011

Thoughts on Writing

I don't have time to take any writing courses right now and an MFA is out of the question both time and cost wise so I have started a program of self education. Inspired by my friends at the Northville writer's group, I am reading Plot and Structure by Larry Brooks and listening to Stephen King's On Writing.  This could be a frustrating exercise since Stephen King is adamantly against plotting and Larry Brooks is obviously for plotting.  Strangely though, there is a lot of over lap.  Both have said it is important to write. And do a lot of it.  Both have said it is important to have a daily word goal.  Both emphasize the characters in a novel.  Both, in their own ways, are talking about the same thing.  Writing an engaging story that allows the reader to leave  his world for a while.  This has always been my goal as a writer.  I don't care if I ever get any awards for literary genius, I just want to write a great story that is fun to read.  

At this point, I am trying to take in as much information about the craft of writing as I can.  Opposing view points are OK, and there are a lot of them.  I am always willing to listen to what people have to say regarding techniques, style, what is in, what is out.  Use this word, don't use that.  It is endless.  But I have also always known in my heart that ultimately, I am the author, the self styled goddess of the world I am creating.  I am going to do what works for me, the characters, and the story.  It is all about integrating all that knowledge into a new whole.

If I hear things more than once from opposing sources, then I am more likely to pay attention to that piece of information.  Take the daily word count for example.  I have heard that from many different people.  I finally decided that I have to do it.  It's that simple.  But knowing my schedule and myself, I also know that a daily word count could set me up for unbelievable frustration.  So I modified things a bit.  The goal for 2012 is 5000 words per week.  This way, if I have an off day, or I have to run The Girl to the orthodontist in the morning, I don't spend the rest of the day castigating myself that I didn't hit my goal.  I can just pick up where I left off the next day.  

This lead to the next change I made recently.  The idea that I needed a place to write where I wouldn't be disturbed has been floating around in my head for a while.  I love to write at the dining room table, but there is too much going on in the center of the house, too many "Mom's" and "Honeys" and cats walking across the keyboard.  I learned that Stephen King wrote Carrie sitting in the laundry room of a double wide trailer with the typewriter on his lap.  All he needed was a place where he could shut the door.  So I am writing this post in our unfinished basement facing a shelving unit filled with the flotsam and jetsam of our lives.  The computer is on a folding table, I am sitting on an exercise ball (good for the abs) listening to the furnace run. The cat boxes are down here, so it smells like cat pee but it is quiet and I can completely focus on what I am doing.  I've gotten more writing done down here in the last couple days than I have in months.

There are a lot of other pieces of advice that I would like to implement.  But I have also learned that if you try to change too much at once, nothing changes.  So I am slowly ramping up.  The weekly word goal right now, then more reading, then working on submitting to publishers.  I will slowly build up to a writers life.  It won't happen over night, but it will happen eventually.  And really, that is all that matters.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

On The Cusp: Glimpse

I thought the little girl was gone, but I was wrong!  Check out my newest post on Green Spot Blue.  http://www.greenspotblue.com/lifenestbabytoy/category/on-the-cusp.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Garden Lessons 2011

Gardening is a form of moving meditation.  It draws me into the immediate.  Each leaf and petal are drawn in vibrant relief, embedded in my mind.  I become part of a microcosm of veins and roots.  At the same time, my awareness broadens, taking in the over arching lessons, the laws of life and nature that not only govern my garden, but me as well.

My garden has taught me a lot this year.  Not only about gardening (don't plant pole beans under a bird net) but about life (when we are at our fullest, winter is coming). So this blog post is about the lessons learned and relearned and what is in store for the future.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Hair Management



As I was putting on make up recently, I noticed something new and different about my face.  “Holy Shit!” I thought, “I’ve got nose hairs sticking out!”  I desperately started scrabbling through drawers looking for a solution.  An electric shaver.  Too big.  A pair of shears.  Not unless I wanted a nose job, too.  I shifted to my husband’s side of the bathroom.  He is a pretty hairy guy.  He has been an expert in hair management for years.  Ah ha!  A tiny trimmer meant for unwanted nose hairs and wild eyebrows.  I eagerly flipped the switch.  Nothing.  The batteries were dead.  In my mind the coming work day stretched out in front of me.  People would meander into my office on some business related errand, take one look at me and become fatally transfixed by the hairs sticking out of my nose. They would desperately want to look away but would be unable to do so. Jolted out of their reverie by the din of the copier, they would address me as “Chewbacca.”  
“Hey, Honey!”  I accosted my husband as he wandered innocently into the bathroom.  “Can you see these?”  I tilted my head back. 
“What?”
“The hairs poking out of my nose.”
“No, maybe if I had a scanning electron microscope.  But there is a gnarly black hair growing out of the mole on your upper lip.”
I slapped my hand to my mouth.  I turned to look in the mirror.  Then slowly, fearfully, I pulled my hand away.  How could I have missed the black stalk growing out of my face?  I half expected to see Jack climbing it.
I suddenly noticed a plethora of tiny black hairs scattered across my upper lip. “Oh my God!  It has reproduced!” 
Then it hit me.  The nose hairs, the prepubescent mustache, the crazy three inch eyebrow hairs.  It was all menopause.  I thought menopause was about not getting my period Whoopee! and hot flashes Boo!, but it is really all about hair management.  The struggle is about trying to keep up a youthful appearance when your body and gravity are working hard at turning you into Santa Claus with boobs.  Was I going to cave to a cultural obsession with youth?  I looked in the mirror at my nose hairs and mustache and thought “Hell, yes!” as I went off in search of the tweezers and a battery.  

Thursday, September 8, 2011

On the Cusp- Freight Train

Just wanted to let you know my latest post has been published on Greenspotblue.  Click here to go to the site.  After an insane summer, I hope I will be posting more frequently, so keep checking back.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Monday, July 4, 2011

Garden as Life: Beans

My husband got up early to go golfing today which meant I was up early too.  In the summer we sit on our front deck and drink our coffee watching our neighbors amble by with sniffing dogs or getting a preemptive jog in before hitting the picnics.  The dense humidity that seemed to live in the air was blown out by thunderstorms a day or two ago and the sun is using the trees to create green stained glass art against an azure sky.

Other than watching the world go by, and, of course writing, one of my favorite morning activities is to putter around in my raised bed garden. I  balance my coffee in one hand and root around with the other.  My hair is standing on end and I am still in my jammies but the call of dirt is more than I can resist.  Wandering over, I notice one of the bean vines has entangled itself in the bird netting.  I rescue it and wrap the tendril  around the tomato cage, which is now a makeshift bean pole.  Just like the bird netting is really makeshift cat netting to keep our feline companions from using my vegetable garden as their out door litter box.  I turn my attention back to the beans.  The beans have taught me a lot this year, mostly about patience.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Update: New "On the Cusp- Guess Who's Coming to Breakfast"

What's life like living with a tween girl?  Which kid is going to show up in the morning?  The Princess or the dreaded Teenager? Check out my series entitled "On the Cusp" on www.greenspotblue.com.   Click here to go directly to the article.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Going Forward

I am attempting crow pose. I am hunched over, my shins pressing deeply into my upper arms. My tippy toes and hands are the only things binding me to the earth. The goal is to get the toes off the floor and balance on the hands.

“Go forward. More,” exhorts my teacher. She is trying to pull me to the edge, a new reality of what is possible. My brain resists. I do not want to fall on my face. I’ve done it before. It’s embarrassing and it hurts when the frames of my glasses cut into my flesh.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A Cry for Mercy

Dear Men,

I've had enough.  I just can't stand it any more.  What are you thinking when you dress in a ratty golf shirt and baggy assed jeans to take your wife/girl friend/date out?  Really?  And you expect to get some?  If you don't think dressing properly is good for your own sake, please take pity on the rest of us that have to look at you, including your date. Because I know most of you do not subscribe to GQ, here is a list of clothing that you own and should take to your backyard and burn immediately.  Don't donate it to charity, no one deserves it.

Let's start from the top down.  Baseball hats are for baseball games, golf, and yard work.  I don't care if you are going bald.  God decided you have a beautiful scalp, don't argue with God.  If you must wear a hat, go with something else, but be warned, unless you are a stylish black man, you probably will not be able to pull off that brim.  Get a really good hair cut and leave the hat at home.

There is nothing wrong with a nice golf shirt.  Repeat, a nice golf shirt.  The faded, stained, frayed golf shirts should be torched immediately.  A good rule of thumb is if you can't remember purchasing the shirt or you wore it while repairing a toilet you should use it as kindling.  While we are on the subject of shirts, let's cover the ubiquitous and misunderstood t-shirt.  Again, there is nothing wrong with a nice t-shirt.  However, the beer t-shirts, the "I'm with stupid" t-shirts, and any sexually explicit t-shirts, no matter how cute, are not likely to score you points or anything else.  You can save one ratty t-shirt for yard and house work, knowing that taking care of the honey do list is foreplay for your significant other.  But if you take her out to dinner in it, you deserve to be darted and have your limp form covered in Sharpie tattoos.  Keep in mind, it won't kill you to wear a collared shirt out.

There has been a disturbing uptick in "Dad" jeans on men.  If the jeans come up to your arm pits while the seat bags around your knees, you can add them to the bonfire.  Really guys, check your ass in the mirror before you buy the jeans.  However, don't go too far the other way and make the mistake of trying to pull off the ghetto jean.  Unless you were recently released from prison and don't own a belt or you really are a rapper, you can't pull this one off.  Remember, there are other types of pants other than jeans too.  Maybe a pair of khakis or even, gasp! dress slacks.  Honestly, you will not have an allergic reaction to fabric that is not ring spun cotton.

There is a male fashion so prevalent and so misguided that I have to address it separately from everything else.  I am talking about the dreaded cargo short.  You know the shorts that are the masculine equivalent to the crop.  They fall below the knee and have huge pockets on each thigh.  I am not sure I can express how unbelievably unattractive this article of clothing is.  If you have long legs, they make your legs look short.  If you have short legs, you look like a dwarf.  The pockets make your thighs look twice as big.  The reason why you don't see the models in GQ wearing them?  Because no one, and I mean absolutely no one, looks good in them.  Burn them immediately!  The person who designed them should be forced to watch unending loops of Joan Rivers fashion commentary with their eyelids taped open.

Sneakers don't count as shoes. If you are taking your date to a sporting event you might get away with it.  However, unless you are on the field, wear shoes.  If the only footwear you own is constructed of "man made material" set it free by throwing it in the inferno.  Go to the store, purchase a nice pair of loafers made from leather and get a shoe shine kit too. It won't do any good to get all gussied up and then have shoes that look like you just finished trekking the Amazon.  It only takes a minute to shine your shoes and it says "I care."

Ok, so now the fire fighters have left and a good portion of your wardrobe is ashes in your backyard.  Now something very important has to be addressed.  It is complicated so I will use small words.  Fit.  Some rules of thumb regarding fit.  If you can pull your pants off without unbuttoning them, they are too big.  I'm not talking about buying clothes that are too tight.  I just had a shiver run down my spine, because that was a scary thought.  But your clothes should fit.  I understand you have a little belly, but wearing a tent does not make the belly look smaller.  It makes me wonder if I am going to see you on Late Night after you give birth.  If you have a strange shape or proportionally short legs get to know a good tailor.  Every fashionista will tell you it's not just what you wear, it's how well it fits.

I've done informal surveys while out in public and most women try to look decent.  If you're a guy, the view isn't bad.  The men, though, are sluffing around in the their ratty jeans and sloppy t-shirts looking like they just rolled out of bed.  From the female perspective, the view sucks.  Men complain that frequency of sex decreases in a long term relationship.  Have you ever thought it's because you look like a train wreck when you take your partner out?  I guess what I am saying is that you have a responsibility for keeping the world a beautiful place as much as women do.  So have mercy on me and burn those cargo shorts!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Exciting News

I am very excited to announce that I have been brought on board as a regular contributor to the website Green Spot Blue.  This online community is dedicated to parents as people by bringing together information for their family lives as well as subjects they are interested in from the rest of the world.  I will be writing a column twice a month on the joys of living with a tween entitled “On the Cusp.”  My first column, “Goodbye to The Girl” is going live June 2.  You can read it by going to www.greenspotblue.com and clicking on the Life tab. I am looking forward to this new venture and hope that you will also visit me there.  
Jeanne

Monday, May 23, 2011

What I Am Reading Now- "Running With Scissors" by Augusten Burroughs

I’ve told pretty much everyone I know that reading this book has been like watching a train wreck.  You know you shouldn’t stand there with your mouth hanging open, but you can’t tear yourself away either.
As I am sitting here and writing, I am struggling with what to even say. To describe Augusten’s childhood as horrific is an understatement and in some ways sanitizes his experience by generalizing it.  But even in the madness and squalor there were some bright points and the author has no problem showing them along with the nastier side of things.  In fact, his sense of humor is the only thing that allows the reader to even continue with the book.  Otherwise the events in this man’s life would be so unrelentingly horrifying that you would have to turn away.  I thought one of the funniest lines was when he was describing the difference between his mother just being upset and going over the edge.  “She used her teasing voice, as opposed to her disturbing let’s go to the mall in blackface voice.”  In one sentence not only did the author characterize the difference between normal and crazy in his mother but he also worked in an example of the crazy behavior without going into paragraphs recounting the incident.  You get the picture quickly.
As Augusten ages in the book, it becomes harder to read because as time goes on he realizes just how much he is missing and things become less funny.  At first, when he moves into the Finches house, it is a kids dream.  OK, the place is disgustingly dirty, but there are no rules.  You can do whatever you want whenever you want.  But things start to take a darker turn when Augusten, at thirteen, is sexually assaulted by a twenty-six year old man and then goes on to have an affair with him for the next four years.  And no adult stepped in to say “No.”  Dr. Finch felt a thirteen year old was capable of making their own decisions.  As the parent of a twelve year old, it made me cringe. 
My husband and I have a way of describing teenagers.  They are like a herd of zebras.  They all want to be in the middle because the ones on the edge get eaten by the lions.  Even Augusten, with his crazy life wanted nothing more than to be in the middle of the herd, even though he was so far out of it he couldn’t see the dust.  The author does a great job describing this in a couple of journal entries that are reproduced in the book.  In these entries Augusten obsesses over the future and what he is going to do with his life.  All the typical teenage worries, if you subtract out the parts about being with a man in his late twenties that is.
Towards the end of the book, Augusten realizes that no one has done him a favor.  “The problem with not having anybody to tell you what to do, I understood, is that there was nobody to tell you what not to do.” Once he leaves the Finches house and then is completely on his own that realization becomes: “I was seventeen, I had no formal education, no job training, no money, no furniture, no friends.”  But on the other hand, all that freedom did give him one thing, the self reliance to go out and get a job, find an apartment and keep going.
The big question is can I recommend this book?  I would say yes, but brace yourself.  It is hard to read in a lot of places.  I kept putting it down when things got too intense. Then I would pick it back up again a couple days later.  I couldn’t leave it be, a lot like watching that train wreck.

Monday, April 18, 2011

What I Am Reading Now-"The Lincoln Lawyer" By Michael Connelly

"The Lincoln Lawyer" was a book club pick timed to coincide with an appearance of the author at the local Jewish Community Center.  I generally partake of romance and literary fiction. I can't remember the last crime mystery I read, so this was a bit of an adventure for me.  I have to add that it is impossible for me to write about this book without including my impressions of hearing Michael Connelly speak because his interview so strongly influenced how I felt about the book after reading it.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Time To Grow

I was recently in New York City for my daughter, Elizabeth’s, first visit. Of course we had to go see a Broadway play and we chose “Billy Elliot.” For those of you who are not familiar with the play, it is about a boy who lives in the North of England in a coal mining town. It is the type of town where men are men and everyone pretty much expects to live and die mining coal. Billy stumbles upon a ballet class and realizes that he has a gift. The story is about his journey to become a ballet dancer. It was a fun play for Elizabeth to see as Alex Ko, who played the main character Billy Elliot, is about her age. He had a very different path

Monday, March 28, 2011

What I Am Reading Now-"Distant Hours" by Kate Morton

I think reading this book was one of the most schizophrenic literary experiences I have ever had.  Now that I am writing pretty regularly and studying writing techniques, I read as two people, The Writer and The Reader.  When the book is well written and engaging for me, it is really a seamless experience because both The Writer and The Reader are equally pleased.  However, there was a big disconnect between my two halves as I read this book, so I spent a lot of time when I wasn't reading it in an intense internal debate with The Writer and The Reader arguing their separate points.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

What I am Reading Now - "Voyager" by Diana Gabaldon

Spoiler Alert: I will discuss some plot points so if you haven't read the book and want to stay in the dark, stop reading now.

This is the third in Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series.  In the interests of true confession, I will tell you upfront that I am completely addicted to this series.  I time reading these books carefully because I know if I pick it up, I won't be able to put it down.  Definitely a vacation read.  The biggest impetus to get through these long novels is the fundamental desire to know what else could possibly happen to this couple.  I had to laugh because I recently read a blog post through Writer's Digest entitled "6 Common Plot Fixes," number three being "Add another level of complication."  Diana Gabaldon takes this suggestion and multiplies it by a thousand.  Nothing in her novels is ever straight forward.  Jamie and Claire finally are back together after twenty years, but they have to go through another 700 pages of adventure that take them half way around the world before they can even think about drawing a breath.

As I read the novel, I felt there was something missing, something unsatisfying in a way that I couldn't put my finger on. It wasn't until the end of Chapter 59 that I realized that Jamie and Claire hadn't really reconnected until that point of the book.  That unlike typical romance writers who would have had the couple completely back together at the beginning of the book, Ms. Gabaldon treated them like people who really had been separated for twenty years.  It took time for them to get to know each other again and reveal all the deep dark secrets that occurred in their years apart.  It was a very interesting and subtle use of character.

Another thing that struck me was how strong her characters continue to be.  Jamie and his commitment to doing what is right and Claire head strong as always.  I remember reading a passage where Jamie tells Claire to stay put and chuckling to myself and thinking, "Yeah right, Claire never stays put."  The brilliant thing is that it is their basic character traits that drive the plot for the novels, not the other way around.  They have to take the next steps no matter how perilous because it is not in either of their natures just to leave things lie.

I do have to say that I wish she had broken this novel up into two or three books.  There were a couple places where it could have been separated easily.  The problem was that I returned home after vacation and was on page 700 or so.  I was really busy and was afraid to pick the novel up to finish it because I didn't have time for a twelve hour reading jag.  I was still having that weird incomplete feeling about Claire and Jamie and the book was beginning to feel like work.  I began thinking of Diana Gabaldon as The Dominatrix, standing over me wearing her thigh high black leather boots, snapping her whip and shouting at me, "Read It! Read It!"
Like any junkie, I finally couldn't resist and picked up the novel and finished it.

These novels do defy description.  If there is a time traveling, romance, period fiction, action/adventure genre then this book fits neatly into it.  The best thing I can say is that I am working against my addiction for now. I know it will over take me eventually because long after I finished the book and put it down, it continues to haunt me.  Images keep coming up, questions lingering.  Next vacation I'll probably be reading the next one "Drums of Autumn."

Monday, February 28, 2011

The week in writing 2/28/2011

So this last week has been quite an interesting one from a writing standpoint.  I didn't write a lot but I made some new connections and decided on a path going forward.

My sister, Carolyn, introduced me to a friend of hers, Sharon Struth, who went from being an accountant to an author.  You can check out her blog here.  She was very encouraging and offered a lot of helpful suggestions.   One of the things that I took away from our talk was that it is time to get some pieces ready and submit them for publication.  I admit I have been resisting sending things out; it seems very overwhelming for me and, frankly, I am afraid of the rejections.  So I braced myself and marched out yesterday and bought the 2011 Writers Market, which I will use to find appropriate publications for my work.  Then I'll have to write query letters and get some pieces out.  Yikes!  Just the thought makes me wonder what the hell I am doing.  Why at 45 do I find I have to go out on this bizarre limb?  I have a good job; things are going well; we are all healthy.  But, I also find if I don't write, I get cranky.  I am always wondering, "Did I reach a reader?  Did they hear me?"  I am completely addicted to the feedback I get on my writing, negative and positive.  So I labor on despite my doubts.  Sometimes I do think I am crazy, though.

On Wednesday I started a three week seminar sponsored by Springfed Arts, a local arts organization.  It is a small group of 5 or 6 writers.  The instructor, Gwen, and two students are all published, the rest of us are not.  Gwen's lesson for the evening was characterization.  She wanted us to build characters that were 360 and then let the reader make the call on whether they liked them or not.  We had to write a scene based on someone walking in the room.  Who is this person, what are they like? What details are universal so the reader can relate and what are particular to that character so they are set apart from the rest of humanity and are not a stereotype.  The funny thing in writing this scene is I did the first part easily, then Gwen asked us to go back and add the particular details and I drew a complete blank.  I have never had such a complete sense of writers block.  I think my mind was emptier then when I meditate!  Then, as is typical, I got in my car to drive home and it all flooded in.  I had the outline of a novel by the time I got home.  Crazy!  I have posted my scene below with reader questions following.  Please take the time to give me some feedback by posting comments on the blog.

Monday, January 31, 2011

On Writing

This past week has been somewhat less productive than I would have wanted.  But I did make some mental in roads and sometimes that is the most important thing.  I had some serious distractions, but that is something we must all work around.  So this week I submitted an entry to a flash fiction contest, finished a short story and presented it to my writers group, and worked out some plot issues on the novel. When I write it here, it sounds like a lot, but it was, for the most part, wrapping up loose ends, not really producing anything new of substance. Mostly, though, I came to grips with what I was trying to accomplish as a writer.  I have a really bad memory, so I will probably have to come to grips with it again, multiple times.

Believe it or not, part of the light bulb going off was reading the romance novel that I reviewed in my "What I Am Reading Now"  segment.  I was reminded that a good portion of reading and writing is for entertainment.  I had gotten very caught up in writing literature, which in my mind is different than just writing a good story that people enjoy.  Don't get me wrong, I do want to be a good writer, a really good writer.  Ultimately though, you can be an awesome writer and if your work is not engaging and fun to read, it doesn't matter, because no one will want to sit down and read it.

This was emphasized by the introduction to "The Best American Short Stories 2010" written by guest editor Richard Russo.  He related a tale of a question and answer period with Nobel Prize Laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer.  When asked

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

What I Am Reading Now - "Show No Mercy" by Cindy Gerard

Listen, reading books is a lot like eating in restaurants.  I don't walk into a McDonalds and expect white glove service.  So when I pick up a romance novel, I don't expect fine literature.  I do expect a good plot and a fun story.  Cindy Gerard is a RITA award winning author, an award given by the Romance Writers of America.  This novel is the first of series of novels for the Black Ops Inc.  "BOI's" and is actually a spin off from an earlier series.  Ms. Gerard does what a lot of romance writers do and that is link characters through novels.  This story did stand on its own, but I did get the feeling in a couple spots that I was missing something. The attraction between Jenna and Gabe would have made more sense if I had read the previous book.

I have to say after my recent reading list, I was ready for some cotton candy, or as my mother used to call it "popcorn for the eyes."  This novel fit the bill, it is a very typical romance with the plucky heroine and the brooding dark hero who had been horribly wounded physically and mentally in the past.  He must give up his new love for her own good.  Yada, yada, yada.  The funny thing about romance novels is that they are strictly formulaic.  As a matter of fact, if you are a writer writing romance novels and don't follow the formula, you may have difficulty getting published.  Again, back to the McDonalds comparison.  When you order a Big Mac, you want to get a Big Mac and not a Filet O'Fish.

Ms Gerard's plot comes together well and I didn't feel like she beat me over the head too often with the reason why our hero couldn't be with our heroine.  Even though it was all mental, it was relatively less flimsy than other novels I have read.  I had to laugh a couple times at the lines she used.  I quote from the novel:

Monday, January 24, 2011

What I Am Reading Now - "Last Night at the Lobster" by Stuart O'Nan

This was a book club choice.  One of the things I like about book club is that I end up reading books that I probably wouldn't pick up otherwise.  Stuart O'Nan has written several other novels over the years including "The Good Wife."  This particular book is about the last night that a Red Lobster is open and how the manager is trying to keep it all together.  He is trying to keep a mutinous crew on task and sort out his personal life between the waitress he loves and the girl friend who is pregnant.  Mr. O'Nan uses very expressive language and artfully brings the reader into the novel.  He really draws his characters and that is what this novel is about, characters.  This is about one man coming to terms with his life in one last shift.

One of the things that caught my attention on the first page of the novel was the language the author used.  His description of a New England mall a few days before Christmas was vivid.  Cars "sniffed" for parking spots.  They were crusted with salt.  I was standing in the parking lot with them.  Mr. O'Nan had a way of describing things but not telling you about them.  All description was firmly part of the narrative, a master of "show don't tell."  Something that as a writer myself, I struggle with every time I write something and still have a very long way to go before I master it.  He shows you the story, he mentions Jacquie and you get the hint that Manny and Jacquie had a relationship.  He indicates that the relationship is in the past just by one simple sentence.  He does not go into a big retrospective on it.  It simply becomes a ribbon that weaves through out the entire story.  Reading this book is like getting on to a highway. When you get on, you move forward, you don't go back and look at the exits you missed.

Another thing that drew me to this book is that it is set in Connecticut where I grew up and I am married to an ex-chef.  So reading it was like greeting old friends when he mentioned New Britain, West Hartford, and Barkhamsted.  Even though I never worked in a kitchen or restaurant myself, reading about Manny going through and getting everything ready for the day brought back my early years of marriage when my husband brought home stories of kitchens and customers.  So to me there was a certain familiarity with the setting, like coming home a bit.

All in all I would say this book is a read.  Is it action packed?  No.  But it is a very interesting character study and work of incredible writing.  It makes me want to go out and read more of Mr. O'Nan's work.  Which is the highest compliment I can think of for an author.

Next up on the list, some popcorn for the eyes, "Show No Mercy" by Cindy Gerard.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

New character, new short story

So I got some good writing in this week.  I managed to get another 1500 in on the novel.  I am still setting up characters and introduced a new one.  I have included the excerpt below.  Followed by feed back questions.  The whole process is pretty interesting (at least to me).  Even though I have a pretty clear and detailed novel outline, I am already starting to see the story deviate from it.  Not from the major bones, but some of the smaller details.  Every time I rewrite the story (this is the third version)  Frank lives a little longer.  In the first draft, he was already dead in the second paragraph.  In the second draft he is killed in the first chapter.  This draft he will make through at least chapter 1 if not chapter 2.  God only knows what will happen in drafts 3 and 4.  My goal is to go with this draft until I have finished the novel and then revise, not to revise part way through, like I have done in the past. There are writers in my writing group that bring in chapters of a first draft novel for review while they are still writing. I can't imagine trying to revise the first chapter before the thing is done.  It could completely change the trajectory of the novel. The group has been invaluable to me in working out the novel outline.

I was interrupted on Thursday by an idea for a short story and so worked on that.  I've gotten about halfway through it.  It looks like it will end up being 5-7000 words. It is entitled "How To Throw Out A Dildo."  Surprisingly, it is not very racy, except for the fact that it is about throwing out a dildo and all the things that implies.  It is my attempt at comedy and I may post an excerpt here once I complete it and possibly had the writers group take a look at it.   I am thinking of pitching it to Cosmo magazine, should anyone else think it is funny.  I guess I'll have to remove my "Why Cosmo Annoys Me Post."  I know already it needs a lot more work.  Parts emphasized, parts removed or diminished. My goal is to finish the first draft Monday/Tuesday and then get back to the novel for the rest of the week.

Anyway, here is the excerpt from the novel.

Monday, January 10, 2011

What I Am Reading Now-Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon

This is the second of the seven book Outlander series.  I have to tell you upfront that for what ever reason these books are fictional crack for me.  Once I open the cover I am not stopping until I get to the end.  Then I usually have to read the first chapter of the next one just to see where it is going.  Just for illustration purposes, the paperback version of this book is 947 pages.  I finished it in under two weeks.

Wikipedia accurately states that you cannot pigeon hole this series.  And I think that is why I like them so much. There is a romance, but a major plot line is the political climate of 18th century Scotland and the impending Jacobite uprising of

What I Am Reading Now- Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

This post was actually done in January but I am rearranging the blog a little.  So here it is incase you missed it.


I initially had reservations about reading this since I am not particularly religious and have a healthy skepticism regarding man's word vs. God's word.  But Ms. Gilbert's brand of spirituality is like an all-inclusive resort, where everyone is welcome, even the skeptics like me.  She did a great job describing the orbit of her life from serious depression back to vibrant health.  She brought everything full circle, which I like.  I do not like loose ends at the end of a story.

I found it interesting that almost everyone I spoke to found the India part of the story the hardest to get through.  They thought it was dry and a little boring.  I, however, did not.  I have been practicing Anusara Yoga for about 18 months and I struggle with taming my mind during meditation.  I joke with my instructor (see her blog Graceful Transformations in my blog links) that Savasana is the hardest pose for me because I can't turn my brain off.  So I could completely relate to Ms. Gilbert's struggles.

In the end, it was also a great story with Ms. Gilbert herself both the protagonist and antagonist, which is hard to pull off.  I am a writer and it is way easier to show  conflict external to your main character than it is to show internal.  I was rooting for her the entire time.  I am also interested enough that when I find time I want to google her and see what she is up to now. Better yet, she has motivated me to  take a second look at my own beliefs and to spend some of 2011 getting my own mind under control.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Frank and Claire's Relationship

As I promised yesterday,  I had a chance to sit down and do some writing.  I got about 450 words in and I am excited about it! I really needed to write about the relationship between Claire and Frank.  It kept bubbling up in my mind and had to get out!  I added an excerpt below.  Please answer the questions following the text after you read it.  I want to know if I am on the right track.


Claire watched as Frank deftly picked muffin crumbs off the table with his large fingers.   It seemed like every morning for the last twenty years, she had watched his large hands moving over the table like birds of prey erradicating any tid bit left.  She would have liked to think that it was because her muffins were so delicious, but since he did it with embarrassing regularity with virtually every food and in any circumstance, she had long since dimissed this notion.  
“Busy day today?” Claire asked as she cleared Frank’s plate and coffee cup.
Frank got up and stretched, nearly touching the ceiling.   He caused a momentary eclipse of the morning light streaming in the kitchen window, throwing Claire into shadow.  She had always loved how big he was, it made her feel safe, even if he did take up a lot of room.
“I have the normal classes, then office hours.  I also have another meeting tonight with the grad students, so I’ll be home late.”
“Another one?   Should I keep dinner for you?”
“No, don’t bother. We’ll grab something close to campus.”
Frank was backlit, surrounded by a bright line of light all around, so Claire couldn’t see his face very clearly.  She wondered what she would see there.  He had been keeping an awful lot of weird hours lately. 

“OK.  I’ll be in the dark room today, so I may not answer the phone.  I took a roll of film of the garden.  I’m excited to see how they came out.”
Frank bent and quickly kissed Claire on the cheek.  “Have fun making like a photographer.  I probably won’t call.  I’ve got a pretty packed schedule.  I’ll see you tonight.”
After Frank left, Claire sat down with her own breakfast.  As she cradled the cup of coffee in her hands, she thought about his odd schedule and how it had cropped up on and off through out their marriage starting when Anna was a baby.  She had never wanted to prove it, but she could swear he had been having affairs.  Did it matter more now than it did in the past?  Did the gold band on her left hand represent less of her commitment now that Anna was in college?  If he was having an affair, what would she do anyway?  Leave?  And do what? Starve?
  
Claire frowned as she put the dishes in the dishwasher.  Then she resolved to put it out of her mind.  Regardless of what Frank was doing, she loved him.  It was almost a reflex.  She wasn’t going anywhere.  She looked at the clock.  She wanted to get the household chores done so she could get into the dark room.

1) Describe their relationship?  Who is the dominant partner?
2) What does Claire think about the relationship? Of Frank?
3) Even though this scene is from Claire's point of view, is there any indication of how Frank feels about Claire?
I'd love to hear what you have to say.  Write on!


Tuesday, January 4, 2011

New for 2011

Well, I'm back after a long break for a vacation with my husband and daughter.  We saw family in Pittsburgh and Florida.  It was very relaxing to get away from the grind.

I had an opportunity to finish a short story while on vacation.  I know this blog is about writing a novel, but this idea kept popping up in the back of my head with it's hand up in the air.  "Pick me!"  it kept saying.  It was really quite insistent.  So I spent some time writing it out.  The seed was from a discussion about Christmas tree buying that I heard on the radio a few weeks ago.  It reminded me of our family joke about Christmas tree shopping, which is that it was my parent's annual divorce.  So the story is entitled "The Annual Divorce" and it does take place in a tree lot, but it is not about Christmas trees.

I admit that while I am writing pretty much anything, except maybe emails and blog posts, I am thinking at the same time "This SUCKS!"  I read Elizabeth Gilbert's (Eat, Pray, Love) essay on writing and she feels the same way, so I guess I am in good company.  I guess you have to power through the suckiness.  Once I finished, I had Michael read it back to me, and it did, in fact, suck.  So as with anything, it is back to the drawing board.  I will let it ferment for a couple weeks and then present to the Novi Writers Group.  Then revise, revise, revise.

As for the Novel (working title "Loss"), I have posted a synopsis on the blog.  You might notice the ending is missing.  That is deliberate, for one thing, that would be no fun.  For another, I think I know where it is going, but even my limited experience has shown you really never know where the writing will end up until you get there.  I do know where I have to start though, and that is establishing Claire and Frank's relationship.  Unfortunately, I overslept today, so that will have to wait until later, or tomorrow.  Such is the life of a working wife and mother.