Thursday, December 24, 2009

T'was the Night Before Christmas - News Editor's Copy

T’was the night before Christmas,  So not politically correct - suggest
"It was the eve of the celebration of the winter solstice holiday"
 when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. Can we back up this claim?
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there.  Don’t back into it. Be positive.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads.
And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
What does this mean? Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap.

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below.
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer.
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St Nick. Verified?
Faster More rapid than eagles his coursers they came, If it’s reindeer, let’s say reindeer!
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name!

"Now Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! On, Cupid! On Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! To the top of the wall!
Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!" ←Too many dashes.

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky.
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew, There’s that word again.
With the sleigh full of toys, and St Nicholas too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot, Not pc -  try "fur-like apparel"
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler, just opening his pack. Let’s say “Sales Associate”

His eyes-how they twinkled! his dimples how merry! His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry! This needs work - “sparkling eyes”, “a merry dimple”, stuff like that. Just keep it simple.
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow.

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly!

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself!
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk.
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose!

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight, Archaic. Use “Before”
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!" Bold Face Caps, and stet the "Christmas" this one time.

Clement Clarke Moore, 1779-1863

Finally, here's a silly video of me and my takes a minute to open, but hang in there. It's fun, and you can make your own.

Have a wonderful, delightfully-caloried holiday, everyone.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Trying to Live a Good and Simple Life - We Are All Maldivians

I've been very grumpy this week. All this talk of the fiasco of Copenhagen, our Canadian leaders' truly shameful attitude (and, yes, I did email the Prime Minister), the sheer nonsense that comes up in TV news analyses - it's enough to make a vegetarian humanist weep. I wonder what Helen and Scott Nearing would have to say about it all?

I think of myself as unconventional. I've never followed the crowd. I question everything. I hate rules, despise conformity, baulk at authority, and generally consider myself politically left of center. This, despite the fact that my daughter once accused me of being too conservative. (What was she thinking?) I am painfully aware of the environment and very uncomfortable with people who aren't. I try do everything in the Greenest way possible. I pursue all these ideas acutely aware that I could be perceived as a crank, if I say too much. Naturally, I prefer to live around like-minded people.

How, then, have I survived two years in what appears to be a very ecologically insensitive town and how did I get here? Was I hoodwinked by the country setting? Did I assume I had found my rural idyll?  Sadly, this place seems to be filling up with affluent retirees who've brought their city thinking with them. Now wonderful old country houses are being pulled down and replaced with brick, center-hall, four bedroom, rather ugly buildings, complete with granite-countertops in the kitchens, and with monstrous-sized SUVs - usually two - parked in the driveway, which are used for the five minute walk to the supermarket. I wasn't expecting people to be using horse and buggy here, of course, but the vehicles are preposterous.

The new people aren't friendly, either. They've brought that city reserve with them. Don't make eye contact with strangers, and certainly don't smile or speak to them. Fear traits, right? I have become more restrained myself, after being snubbed a few times, and am now somewhat surprised when an original local greets me on the street as if he or she knows me. I can't believe this place is changing me for the worst.

The first year I was here, the local council shot down the suggestion of permitting wind turbines in the area. Too noisy. Too ugly. I started to rethink my move about then.

If I came here to experience a Greener, more simple way of life, I've failed miserably. I could just as well be living in the heart of a rich neighborhood in any major city, but without the benefit of museums and art galleries.

I could look for another town here where undoubtedly there are people more sensitive to the global mess around us, but I'm beginning to think it's time for the Grand Tour again. I mentioned this to a neighbour, who almost sniffed as she commented that I must be a Gypsy. Perhaps I am. I think Gypsies are probably very Green. I'm pretty sure they don't live in new-brick, center-hall, over-sized houses, with granite-top counters in their kitchens, and SUVs in their driveways.

When I first moved here I was overwhelmed by the prettiness of the countryside, the fine old houses, the diminutive proportions of our shopping area, the friendliness of the people. Could this have changed so much in two years?

Sadly, I think it has.

Look, I'm not opting for some off-the-grid settlement somewhere in the back country where folks can grow their own weed without fear of reprisal. I just long for a town that prefers a simple, sustainable life, away from urban grandiosity, where they're proud of the fact that they don't have a mall or a fast food franchise in their driving vicinity, and where I can say that I don't own a car and not have eyebrows raised. I'd like to live where people know and care about what's going on in the world.

All this leads me to confess that I'm planning to move again. It will take a while. I'm a slow, methodical planner when it comes to my relocations. It could be Australia. Pretty laid back in Australia, in more ways than one, and actively trying to be Greener. I'll have to be responsible for an inordinate amount of carbon emissions to achieve this, but I'll try to make up for it in other ways.

Not that it matters where we live, really, in the long run. Unless we're very young, which I'm not, we won't be greatly affected here in the developed world by continuing ignorance. We'll see the rest of the world's problems on the nightly news, tut-tut, perhaps, when we hear that the Maldives has sunk beneath the ocean. And we'll regularly be reminded, if we really listen, that our children and grandchildren are in for a very rough time in a few decades. As the President of the Maldives said in his speech at Copenhagen, in the end, "...We are all Maldivians..."

I could say so much more, but won't. I'll just repeat what I often say to fellow struggling writers: We're all in this together.

I'll try to be less irritable next week. I prefer to be more uplifting with my blog. But, oh, Copenhagen? What a cop out...

Post Script: received Saturday morning -

"On behalf of the Prime Minister, thank you for your correspondence regarding the Government's climate change strategy. The Government of Canada fully appreciates that Canadians are eager to share their suggestions and opinions on this issue. You may be assured that your message has been carefully reviewed. As the Honourable Jim Prentice, Minister of the Environment, will also appreciate being made aware of your views, I have taken the liberty of forwarding a copy of your message to the Minister. Once again, thank you for taking the time to write."

P. Monteith, Executive Correspondence Officer for the Prime Minister's Office.

What a relief! Now everything will be fine...

Friday, December 11, 2009

A Break from the Novel and a Sculpture of My Gran

No writing in a week, and I'm not apologetic. It's been a hunkering down time, watching old movies, reading, messing around with polymer clay. What? Polymer clay?

I finally did a sculpture of Gran. This is Gran in one of my early paintings of her, and below that is the three-dimensional 6.5 inch (16 cm) sculpture I finished yesterday.

I knew I needed a break from writing. I don't have a block about it at all - I know exactly what's coming next - but I simply wanted to step back and take a breather. I've been writing this current novel very quickly - 2/3 completed in three months. So I can afford to relax for the holiday season, I think. I'll putter, do some more sculptures, write when it's imperative, but I won't be sitting down each day for the sole purpose of finishing the book. My friend, Judy, who's read all seventeen chapters to date, will just have to wait. Hope she doesn't forget the plot.

Have a great weekend and stay warm, guys, if you're in this Hemisphere. Relax indoors with hot chocolate or a nice Scotch. Remind yourself that it's not officially winter for another ten days. Then reach for the Scotch again...

Friday, December 4, 2009

Too Many Creative Ideas. Can You Commit to More Than One?

It's snowing today in my corner of Ontario. We broke a two-hundred-year-old record last month by having no snow at all. People were golfing. It couldn't last.

It's odd how much we are delighted by the first snowfall of the season, like children, as if we've never quite seen it before. I'm happy to see it, but in six weeks I'll be back to my usual bored and grumpy state. I rather like the idea of Sydney, and Vancouver, where you can go to the snows in the mountains if you like that kind of thing, have a bit of fun, and come home again, leaving it all behind. We don't have that choice here. Naturally we have less rain, and it's usually spectacularly sunny, brighter because of the reflection of the snow.  But today is gray, the sky colorless, the bare trees dramatically stark against it.  No wonder there are so many poets in the Northern Hemisphere. You gotta do something in response.

I've been tweaking Summer Must End this past week, with little new work. Two-thirds through now, so time to back track and see if it's properly coming together.  I have to admit that I did some more outline work on my new idea, too, tentatively called Uncharacteristic Behavior. I'm not fickle about my writing usually, devoting myself to one book at a time, but this story keeps coming to me, and I have to get the ideas down as they present themselves. It's a psychological, paranormal, thriller, it seems. It certainly is heading that way. The ending hasn't come to me yet, and that's a good thing, because then it would be impossible to put to one side, as the characters would begin babbling at me. As it is, I have a rough draft of an outline, and pretty well know where the plot is going. I have some characters, but not defined yet. It's like painting. You sketch out that first idea, with a vague idea of what you want to produce, but it's not until you lay down the paint that the image comes alive. So, I'm "sketching" right now, in between work on the current book, and will begin "laying down paint" next year.

I've asked the question before, but it's worth repeating. Do you involve yourself in more than one project at a time? Do story ideas buzz around in your head that have nothing to do with the work-in-progress? Would you put aside one novel, to work on the second?

For me, this surprising arrival of new ideas has to do with the number of years when I wasn't devoting myself to writing. It was all in there, waiting to come out, but I busied myself with painting, and travelling, and making a living, and it all became locked up in my brain. I can't help wondering how many other plots are waiting to emerge, now that I'm writing full time.

On top of that, I'm suddenly keen to do some small sculptured clay figures. I've ordered the supplies already. I guess that physical creative me is feeling neglected. I'll put up a picture of my first one - my Gran character, I think - when it's done.

And so I'm a total bore in all other aspects of my life. I'm spending little time checking in with my blogger friends, and I miss them. I stare into space a lot, can't be bothered with people because they interrupt my flow, and I'm generally antisocial.  I'm reasonably extroverted when I'm not creating, so this hermit life can't continue indefinitely. I think I'll just hole up here for the winter and do what I must, so that in the spring that livelier me will be back.

I certainly wouldn't want to be so self-absorbed and contemplative for the long-term. I haven't quite outgrown partying yet.

Friday, November 27, 2009

One Year of Blogging...thanks for hanging out with me.

It's exactly one year since my first writing blog post. Since then, I've blogged about three works-in-progress, completed two, chased agents,  and moaned about that a lot, secured a contract with an agent for the first book, and a "we'll see" for the second, from the same agent. My gut feeling is that they want to find a publisher for Hafan Deg before they consider Strachan's Attic. The agent wasn't sure about Strachan for the first three chapters, set in modern day Toronto, but then decided it was okay once the World War ll England chapters unfolded. They haven't said they love it, as they did with Hafan Deg, but they haven't rejected it out of hand, either. No news is...etc.

Meanwhile, I'm bowling along with Summer Must End, and can't help wondering how many books I'll finish before I publish. I will publish, you know - it's just a question of when, and whether it will be posthumous or not. I'm a very fast writer, and work as quickly as any of those one- or two-books-a-year novelists out there - Jonathan Kellerman, for instance. After years of writing, I no longer slog over the words. I'm getting a handle on how to map out the structure, and almost understand the the rules of the game. In an article in the Guardian by Darrah McManus on November 16, celebrating Margaret Atwood's 70th birthday, the following caught my eye:

"I believe that most writers get better as they get older. Unlike, say, rock musicians, exploding in a star-burst of youthful inspiration, novelists take their time. They grow into and with the act of writing; over decades, over thousands of hours and millions of words."
Well, it's certainly been decades, although I'm not certain how many words I've written in total, but I have a large box that contains everything I've done, and it looks rather a lot. Averaging 100,000 words each for the full length books, plus dozens of poems, short stories, plays, and novellas, I'm guessing I've done at least a million words. Perhaps they weren't particularly brilliant words, and this could still be true. Can we ever really know when we've reached excellence? There's so much doubt, often eclipsed by enormous certainty;  I'm somewhat bi-polar, figuratively speaking, about my writing. Is it really any good?  Have I found my unique style, my true voice? I only decided to find that out for sure last year, when I figured it was now or never to publish, and it was time to announce that I was ready. But publishing was never a real goal. I was simply having fun with words and enjoying the process.  But this year, I need to know if anyone gives a toss.

It's been a fantastic year, sharing all of my thoughts on writing with you. I've made so many real friends, people I know I can count on when I'm down, people who lift me up, and spur me on, regardless of where their own journey is taking them.  In a crazy fantasy, I imagine us all sitting down one day, face to face, in a comfortable living room somewhere, sharing some wine, perhaps, and able to voice those ideas that were so difficult to express in emails, despite the fact that we think of ourselves as good writers. Whoever gets rich from their writing first can arrange it. Which is why it's a fantasy. Getting rich can never be a goal.

I've been reading a first novel by Jonathan Bennett, a Canadian with Australian ties, like me, who writes lyrically about Sydney and Toronto, and whose words spurred me to email him. I've mentioned many times how generous published writers have been in responding. I think of dear SarahBeth Purcell, and Martha Moody, Ben Nightingale, Bonnie Kozek, Darcy Pattison, all of whom have shared their thoughts on the process of being published and were unstinting with their time.

Now here's Jonathan Bennett.

I only wrote to say how much I like his book, After Battersea Park, and certainly expecting nothing in return from  him. And now he's looked at my sample chapters at my website, offered solid feedback on them, and even made nice noises about my paintings! I got his permission to print the following, the last paragraph in his first email (we've exchanged several since):

"Good luck with your own work. I wouldn't worry about the agent and publishing part. Getting a book into print might feel good, but it isn't sustaining. The writing must be all that matters. ABP, for example, is long out of print. For all I know you'll be its only reader this year. So, if not for the deep importance of the act of writing to my sense of self, I can't say I'd bother. There are simpler ways to punish oneself!"

And then this, later:

"If publishing is important, then sure, pursue it with the zeal it last paragraph was just a caution, that, well, a book is just a book. It's not some kind of metaphysical deliverance. I think I once thought it would be. I think many writers who want to get published think that too."
Jonathan's second highly-received novel is available: "Entitlement: A Novel".  Take a look at the reviews, both here and at the Jonathan Bennett website.

Thanks for hanging out with me this past year. Writing is a solitary occupation, yet I never feel entirely alone.  I imagine you all out there, creating your own precious words, and we are like a closely-knit club, a small,  exclusive network, and able to reach out for support at the touch of a few keys. How has blogging or communicating with other bloggers affected you? For me, it's been inspirational.

Late, but wonderful news: SarahBeth has received enough financial help to get that treatment for Willow Fern. Perfect Thanksgiving message to receive.

Friday, November 20, 2009

On Writing a Canadian Novel - Are We So Different to the States?

Summer Must End is at the 63% point now, a big jump from two weeks ago. I've been writing and editing every day, and I'm happy with where the story is going. This is the first time I've written something set in one place, in this case, my local area, here in south eastern Ontario.  I tend to incorporate a couple of countries in my books because I personally enjoy the change of venue, but I wanted to explore what makes Canada - particularly Ontario - unique, in this novel.

In fact, I could be writing about New England, when you get right down to it.  Our terrains and weather are the same, our people have much the same accents, we love coffee and doughnuts, drive on the right side of the road. You watch a movie set in Chicago, or New York, and, if you're very astute, you could well discover it was made in Toronto.  If you were plonked down in some unidentified small town in the north, the only way you'd know which nation you were in is by the flag flying on the public buildings. The restaurants and superstores will look much the same, although there could be some unfamiliar supermarkets. And the guy who was responsible for the design of those 1900s houses with the front porches was just as prolific here as in Buffalo, Detroit, and Baltimore, et al.

Only that arbitrary line, drawn by surveyors without the benefit of today's technology when our nations formed, dictated that this is Canada, and, a couple of inches over, that is the United States. There is a town in Quebec which is evenly divided right through its center, so that even the public library has a line painted across its floor to indicate it's an international border.  People exiting from the wrong door are technically liable to be charged as illegal immigrants! Before the border clampdown, this was one village, and now it's divided, with metal gates manned by border agents.  It's a microcosm of Berlin in the 60s. And there are other towns like this sprinkled along our shared border, including four airports!

They say Canadians don't stand out in any memorable way when they travel overseas because they sound American, so they're lumped in as coming from one of the fifty US states, unless they're questioned more closely. That's okay, I guess, because we're a low-key, modest bunch, most of the time, and comfortable with who we are. On the whole, Canadians are softer-spoken, reserved rather than conservative, unconventional in many ways, and less hung up on money than most Americans, but this will barely be seen in a casual meeting. We're statistically much less violent here, so we make up for it by playing ice hockey, where almost anything goes. It's also a secular nation, with less emphasis on church-inspired doctrines.

Of course, there are other clear constitutional and philosophical differences between the countries, and I'm certainly not going there in this blog, although it would make very interesting reading, were I that clever. But the point I'm getting at is that it's difficult to write the all-Canadian novel. I could toss in a few 'eh?'s in some dialogue, and mention the Toronto Maple Leafs, but that doesn't do it. Instead, in creating my Ontario characters, I'm writing about our North American sameness, our common flora and fauna, our weather, the human experience.

And so I'm left trying to make sense of all of this through my characters. As I said, it's not easy, really, and perhaps that's the point. We are so alike.

If I wanted to snag that New York agent, I would be wise to set this whole thing somewhere north of Boston, say, instead of Belleville. But I can't. This is my tribute to Canada. It's perhaps not the Great Canadian Novel, but it will be my small offering.

Please check out SarahBeth's blog again. She's doing all right with her Art Sales for Willow campaign, but she's not there yet, around $400 short. She has less than a month to pull this veterinary expense together to save her dear cat-baby. I know you'll want to help.

Have a great weekend. Oh, and enjoy a fine American Thanksgiving on Thursday. There's one of our differences. We celebrated ours on October 12.  Give a poor turkey a break, if you can.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Publishing World Is Cruel, But Kinder Than Broadway

Since my list of grumbles a couple of week's back, I've written another 10% of Summer Must End, and I'm over that awkward spot and past the 50% mark. It's flowing nicely, the characters are solid, and I believe I know where the plot is heading. I say 'I believe' because we just never know. An impulsive piece of dialogue, a character suddenly shoving forward to take precedence, could cause the navigation to fail, and I'll end up somewhere entirely unexpected, which isn't the end of the world, but I like to have some control. This is one of the frustrations and joys of writing fiction, of course - the surprise of it - and I'm not complaining.

I'm confident enough with this first half of the book to send it to my friend in Australia for her comments; until now, I wasn't sure if other changes would be necessary. I know she won't care for this book. It's not her genre. But this doesn't matter, because she's a great reader, appreciates good writing, and will look at it as a lot of agents would - with the cold, hard eye of practicality.  In other words, she will see (I hope) that it's good, regardless of her own personal preferences, and she'll undoubtedly pick up some absurdity that I missed. This is good. I am indebted to her, once again, for reading something she otherwise wouldn't consider.

Already I have another plot bouncing around in my head. I so wanted to attempt a humorous book next time, just for a change, but, sad to say, this new idea is steeped in mystery, shadows, and a fair chunk of the supernatural. Instead of falling asleep at night thinking about the book I'm working on, I've been running through this new one. Is this crazy?  It's one thing to have more than one painting on the go, but fiction?  But what do I know? Perhaps it's more common than I realize. It really makes sense, when the writing is going slowly on one, that you could switch to the other for a while. Have any of you done this? Anyway, I'm itching to get to it, after I've finished the current one, and, after that one, then I'll tackle the humor.  That's a really tough genre, in case you didn't know, and a huge challenge. I think I can be funny, but can I write it?

SarahBeth Purcell has been receiving some help with her art sales and other fund-raising, I'm happy to tell you. I'm not assuming my blogs had anything to do with this, because she's been hugely active herself in raising the money she desperately needs to treat her poor, sick cat, Willow Fern. The fantastic news is that the treatment has tentatively been booked for December 15, and could be slightly less expensive than the original quote. How amazing is that? It's so rewarding to be a part of this, and I'm keeping a close eye on the little meter SarahBeth has put up on her blog page.  She's almost at the half-way mark, based on the new cost, and it's only a week since she started, I think. If you missed her plea for help, take a look at her link above, and my blog last Friday.

I've had a number of doubts, fears, and questions about my current agented book, Hafan Deg. I blythely tell you guys about the patience needed in snaring an agent, and the excruciating time they can take in finding a publisher. But, naturally, I don't listen to myself.  The truth is, I've been really frustrated because it's four months since I found my agent and nothing has happened yet. So I wrote to SarahBeth, who's been through all of this more than once, and with British agents.  She set me straight with a wealth of information, but essentially she said I should hang in. (For a little while longer, at least.) I knew it would be a hard slog - I told you that, didn't I? Physician heal thyself.

I was going to remind you how tough this writing business is (as if you didn't know), but I watched a documentary the other night on the production torments of Broadway shows  - how hard they work, the preview process, refining the script, re-writing music and lyrics, the stress of First Night and the ultimate bete noire - the critic. The odds of failing are astronomical. Imagine the heartbreak - for everyone in the company - to be forced to close after a couple of months, a couple of weeks, or even one night. Makes me feel a lot better about my choice of artistic endeavor.

I'm not using my Boadicea avatar here today, because I'm not in battle mode, and I don't need Edna either, as I'm feeling quite sane, for a change. I am doggedly resolute and no-nonsense, in fact, and just need to get on with things. This granny image says it all.
Have a good weekend (definitely soup weather) and be kind to one another.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Writer and Artist SarahBeth Purcell Really Needs Our Help

I featured SarahBeth Purcell on my writing blog some time back. She is a young, published writer of enormous talent, who deals with heart-rending emotional issues that many of us wouldn't have the courage to tackle.  Her books are available at Amazon, and their page alone is so worth reading. 

But SarahBeth, like me, also paints. She's going through a rough time right now, and in desperation is now offering discounts on her paintings, in a last ditch effort to raise some cash to save her beloved cat's life.

It takes humility and guts to reach out like this, but she has been coping with huge expense because of her ailing baby, Willow Fern, for months, even selling her car, but has now run out of funds.  Another book is in the works, but won't bear fruit for ages.  (We all know about that part of the business.) She has nowhere else to turn but to her followers and kindhearted strangers. Now, perhaps you don't know SarahBeth, but I do. She would never ask for help like this unless she was at her wit's end. This lady is usually out there donating time and money to other animal care agencies.

If you're in a position to help, please go to SarahBeth's art page and check out her paintings. They are usually quite pricey, but she's now offering the largest at $100, and the price goes down relative to size. This is not only a great opportunity to own a piece of highly-collectible art, but to do some real good.

Alternatively, as sensitive, caring people - and don't most artists and writers fit this category? -consider donating a small amount of $5, $10 or $20 to help her through this.  The cost of healing her cat once and for all, using a specialized Radioactive IodineTherapy,  is around $1500.  Seventy-five people donating $20 each would cover this. Anyway, this is my route. $20 is small change these days - coffee and muffins for a very few guys at the office, a paperback, whatever. And if $20 is too much, consider $5 or $10. SarahBeth and Willow Fern will be so grateful.

Like SarahBeth, I have no modesty when it comes to helping animals.  And this little animal is part of the family - our collective art and writing family. Please try to help.

You can purchase SarahBeth's art, or simply donate, through PayPal (citing her email address), or you can arrange an alternative method, by emailing SarahBeth here.

I'd like to think that we all could expect support from our fellow blogger friends if we were in a similar situation. This is a reminder that we are all in this together, and should never be shy about reaching out for help when we need it.

Have a good weekend, guys. See you next week. (I did achieve some writing this week, by the way.)

Friday, October 30, 2009

Reasons Not To Write - tears, germs, and fleas

Okay, so I'm still not back into my writing. It's been a puzzling week. I have no difficulty in accepting that we all get moody from time to time, but I always need to know the reason for my black days. Without a reason, therein lies really scary stuff.

So, with cursory analyses, I thought it was because my main character is about to go through a  rather hellish period. My book has been reasonably light until now, but with this next stage, tears will be shed. So there's a good reason not to write - to avoid dealing with it.  But, simultaneously, it also brings that bleak and guilty feeling about not writing.

I also thought I was getting a cold. Now that's always a good reason to feel lousy, right? Before you get it properly, I mean.  By the time you get it, you don't care if you're depressed - all you want to do is die anyway. But it wasn't a cold.  In fact, I have a strange immune system that consistently warns me of something pending, but which ailment rarely transpires. It's just enough to get me to slow down, reflect on what I've been doing lately, and make amends.  It's a good physiology to have.

Then I decided it was because both my cats appeared to have fleas. What's with fleas in the fall? That can't be right. You may well laugh.This should not cause depression, you say. If this is all you have to worry about, life must be easy, right? But they were miserable, dancing around the room, trying to avoid touching the floor (the cats, not the fleas, although theirs would be a jig of joy, but I couldn't see them), which demanded considerable feline athletic ability in hopping from chair arm to coffee table, to sofa arm (never the seats, oh no - they might be there too!) They were sadly funny, and I felt terrible for them.

Well, Greenie that I am, I tried to get them to eat the tiniest bit of Brewers Yeast in their meals (no way!), and put a bit of good apple cider vinegar in their drinking water, which I think they did drink. These last two things are supposed to make the cats' blood unpalatable to the fleas. (Such elitists these fleas are about their blood flavors, apparently.) I also made up a mixture of teatree oil in water, added it to a gentle, non-immersing cat shampoo, and applied it liberally, and then I combed and brushed and looked.  I did this four days in a row.  I saw just one flea.

I vacuumed every day. especially those areas you hardly ever get to, right down in those little inaccessible crevices where you find the odd bobby pin or paper clip, and I even added mothballs to the vacuum bag (supposed to kill the ones you suck up).

For those of you who have experienced all of this, you know how miserable it can make you, along with your pets. You've lost control, haven't you? IN YOUR OWN HOME! It's wrong, what fleas can do. Both my cats are indoor cats, and never outside. Did you know that fleas can come through under doors, or through insect screens, or hitch a ride on someone's pant legs?

Anyway, Jeeves and Baby were exhausting themselves, twisting into impossible Yoga-like positions to locate the source of their misery, and I was exhausted from trying to stay on top of the situation. After all my Green preaching, my anti-chemical philosophy, in the end I got a product from the pet shop that guaranteed results. Yes, it has nasty things in it, but it's milder than the more well-known brands, and my cats were at their wits' end when I bought it.

The worst appears to be over now. Both cats are walking properly on the floor, not springing about on it like ballet dancers, or staring suspiciously at it, watching things that I can't see. They are now what I consider normal. Whatever that is.

I know I'm not.

So, no writing this week.

I'll end with Edna, because she says it all about my mood. If you look closely, you'll see suspicion and fear, but there's also a wee bit of hope. And, as long as we can still apply our lipstick, we must be okay.

I hope I've added a few thousand words to the manuscript by next Friday and have passed the misery bit, because I want to see how my Mel character handles herself. She has to do a better job of it than I did.

Halloween tomorrow, right? My face will be just perfect for it.
See you next week.

Friday, October 23, 2009

On Feeling Blue Writing the Sad Bits.

I'm not myself. I produced only a couple of thousand words this week, and then reached a point in the book where I needed to step back and forget about it for a while - at least, this is what I told myself. I'm about to enter a harrowing section, fraught with distress, sadness and an unhealthy chunk of depression - for the main character, that is, not for me, I thought. And guess what? I haven't stepped away from it at all. I've simply taken on her mood, and I'm now feeling quite down.

Once I face it, push through the difficult stuff, I'll be fine. This means I should just get on with it, doesn't it?  But I can't. Perhaps, like an actor preparing for a dark scene, I'm carrying the situation around with me, letting it bubble away, until I'm ready. But if I stay blue like this for too long, perhaps I won't want to go back to it. It's one thing to have a reason to be miserable, quite another to write yourself into it.

It's times like this I wish I was writing humor.  The next book, for sure.

Coincidental to my posting last week on feeling that our writing is underappreciated by most non-writers, I came across a perfect article on the subject by novelist, Emma Darwin. I've added the link to her blog, This Itch of Writing, because I think you'll enjoy it. I particularly love one of the comments left: Margaret Atwood is said to have been at a party once, and met a neurosurgeon. He said to her, 'When I retire, I'm going to write a novel,' to which she replied, 'When I retire, I'm going to become a brain surgeon.'

Of course, only Ms Atwood would have the aplomb to get away with that.
Well, that's it, guys. No point in going on. (With the post, I mean.)

I usually like to leave you, I hope, reasonably bright and cheerful in anticipation of the weekend.  It's a struggle today, but this image of the weird and whacky Edna is somewhat pertinent to how I'm feeling. My hair is particularly dry and unresponsive, which always affects my mood; my expression is a bit wild-eyed and desperate; and my nose is certainly out of joint. 

(This use of Edna is courtesy of artist Debra, from Monnie Bean Folk Art at Etsy.)

Dear Edna, you really do help. I think I'll bring you back here from time to time. I'm not always in a Boadicea mood. Wait a minute...sneezing, irritable and tired...perhaps I'm just getting a cold.
Have a good weekend. Stay warm and dry. Only a week to Halloween!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Do People Understand Your Writing Passion?

Well, here it is - my vintage Canadian Post Office desk. It took me forever to tuck all the wires away, and they're certainly not out of sight, just tidy-ish, at least. I haven't decided which things I'll store in it yet and even the drawers remain empty until I decide what to stash there. The whole thing needs a good wax and buffing, but I wanted you to see it now. The flap, which forms the desk top when down, needs a new cover. Green felt is my preference, but I'd have to age it a bit, as it would look far too new for the rest of the piece. I'm guessing the desk is from the 1920s, although one of you might know more. As I mentioned when I first bought it, it's meant to be attached to a wall, but I won't be doing that here.

I should be wearing a green perspex eyeshade, I think, sitting here.
Post Office People wore them back then, and editors, of course. I looked for a Norman Rockwell type picture of someone wearing one, but couldn't find a thing. Forgive this garish, modern example. Funny thing is, someone gave me one some time back - I think it had "Sydney" emblazoned across it (in that case, for tennis use), but I don't seem to have it now.

I spend a lot of time alone. I think of myself as a loner. Even before I was married, in my little basement apartment in Darlinghurst, in downtown Sydney, Australia's most populous area, I enjoyed my solitary state. I quietly went to and from work, walked my dog, saw a guy or two, and occasionally socialized with the girls at dim little jazz clubs. But being alone was always preferred. I read hugely, practiced my flute, painted and wrote. I had no TV.

Now I have all the time in the world. No kids around, no demanding job - especially no commute, which takes up a huge chunk of our lives, and I live in a quiet town with few interruptions in my day - or even my week. I now spend most of my weekday waking hours writing. I get strange looks from people when I tell them this, usually accompanied by little remarks..."Goodness, I don't know where you get the patience..." "Poor thing, do you ever do anything exciting?" "That's nice...I always thought I could write a book."  "But what else do you do?" "Oh, so you don't work?"

They just don't get that I am the happiest I've been in years.

Do you get similar reactions? Does it irritate the hell out of you? It does me. Except for a documentary film producer I met (at a huge gathering of descendants of my children's paternal genealogical tree) in London in August, and all of you who share this blog with me, I have never spoken to anyone who understands this creative pleasure. But it isolates you, doesn't it, not being understood? Of course, the answer is to be published. No one would ever question the writing life of a real live author.  It's funny, but I feel just as real, and live, as any of my favorites.

I've referred in the past to the embarrassing bloopers made by some members of the publishing world. The following snippet is from an item by John Carroll, of the San Francisco Chronicle:

"I remembered the story of Chuck Ross, who, in 1979, submitted the first 21 pages of Jerzy Kosinski's much-praised "Steps" (it had won the National Book Award in 1969) to four publishers, including the original publisher of the book. All four rejected it, most with form letters. Ditto about 30 literary agents. Not one recognized the book as the award-winning novel. The experiment did seem to confirm that reputation and personal connections have as much to do with garnering fame and fortune as actual quality does, however defined."

You can read the whole article here:

Little curiosities like this are my modest way of pointing out that the powerful guys that we stress over are not infallible, nor, in some cases, particularly astute. I want you to feel better if and when you get another rejection. And, of course, it's fun to smirk, isn't it? We read that they do quite a bit of that themselves, at our expense, after all.

I'm past the 40% mark with Summer Must End. I've noticed that my best writing seems to occur from around 2 pm until 7 pm, with breaks for cat-tending, meals, etc. I work away, feeling a stronger and stronger forward momentum that builds up feverishly until I've said everything I need to say. It's almost orgasmic. Then I sit back, and that's it for the day. Done! Or I believe it is...until something else pops into my head, and I trot back quickly to get it down while I'm still in that afterglow. I do write in the mornings, of course, but the afternoons are best. I've cleared my desk, so to speak, of inmail, and Google reader, etc., and know my time is then purely for the book.

My friend in Oz keeps asking for the first three chapters. It can't be done yet, I say. I'm still heavily into flipping back with insertions  and corrections, brought about by situations in the current chapters. This is the fun part, tweaking that earlier work, accessorizing it, if you like. The newest pages are more demanding, like starting a Times crossword puzzle. There's no clear pattern to it at first, and then it starts to reveal itself, and finally it all fits in perfectly, once you've amended the words you wrote three weeks ago.

Anyway, I told my friend I'm not quite ready yet, but I can't give her a time frame. I feel that it's close. But who knows?

Have a good weekend, all of you. Oh, and I want to say again just how much I love the comments I get. It makes our blogs so worthwhile, doesn't it? No one wants to feel that they're writing into thin air. We do enough of that with our manuscripts...

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Kreativ Blogger Award from Kit Courteney

I'm a creative blogger, apparently. Well, Kit Courteney thinks so. Wish these award designers knew how to spell, though. Perhaps it's Scandinavian...hmm, a Scandinavian award. That's Nobel Peace Prize country. Very posh.

There are all the usual things that must be accomplished in order to accept this award, although Kit kindly suggests that it's not all that necessary. But I liked the Seven Things That No One Knows About Me (at  least, at this blog site).
  1. I secretly long to own a really powerful sportscar, but never will, unless Tesla gets on with things (e.g. reduces its price).  I'm a dedicated Greenie. (And not at all weird. Don't make me climb down from this tree...)
  2. I despise reality TV - ALL of it.  I like TV that's professional, intelligent, and rewarding.  
  3. I'm buying a new bed. A big one. (I have a small one now.) Make of that what you will.
  4. I've always wanted to be an actor and still believe it's not too late.
  5. Caldwell is not my true surname although it is legal.
  6. I am not Christian. Make of that what you will, too.
  7. When I was small, I wanted to be a cowgirl. I think it's too late for that.
My nominees are Melissa, Johanna, Retired and Crazy, Suzanne, Jennifer, Jenaveve and  Embee.

According to the (easy-to-ignore, if you're so inclined) rules, I will now advise my seven nominees. 

Thanks, Kit. But please don't send these fiddly ones too often, all the same.

Friday, October 9, 2009

In Praise of a Slower Life, Canadian Thanksgiving, and Kit Courteney

I enjoy all your blogs. At times, caught up with my own writing, it's difficult to read them all. Along with my favorites, there are new ones constantly presenting themselves through my Google deliveries, and there just aren't enough hours in the day. Regardless, there are certain blogs I must read. They're not always about writing, but they are insights into the writer.

And so I designed my own special award for blogs I hate to miss. I'm going to send one out every week or so. They involve no rules to be carefully followed, no requests for forwarding and linking. Do with them what you will; honor your favorites.

The first is for Kit Courteney. She always makes me smile (rueful ones at times). It makes no difference to me whether or not she displays it, or if she chooses to send it to her own favorite blogs.  It's just my quiet little token of esteem. Thank you, Kit.

I'm at the 34% mark of Summer Must End, and suitably pleased with myself. The house is already a little messy, because of my computer time, but I'll take a break this weekend and have a tidy up. Nothing much else to report on the writing - the characters, as usual, have now taken over, bullies that they are. I'll let them go until around Christmas, and then I'll reign them in. They'll probably kick up a fuss, but, in the end, I'm the boss.

I found a very nice editorial at Huffington Post on the need to slow down the fast-paced life. Even in my corporate days, I was never really good at running about, chasing my tail a lot of the time, for that special salary, but I was efficient at appearing to be a quick mover. Of course, it was necessary in my role to multi-task, but I didn't enjoy it. I'd be useless in today's Bay Street office. I figure - whatever I'm doing - something is bound to suffer if I'm not dedicated to the task at hand. I like to get deep into each project, submerge myself in it, and that's how I work best. Sadly, in my family life, this was impossible. As a single parent, I juggled a demanding job and the demands of three young children. I'd get home exhausted, facing meal preparation and cleanups, getting the kids to complete their homework, take their showers, get off the phone! - all that stuff -  and I wasn't always in the best mood.  At times, they missed out.  I was an Absent Mom - there in body only, and a cranky body, at that. It saddens me now, but I can't turn back time. (And they don't resent me for it.)

Today, with our technological accessories, our constant need to be in touch, to be on top, seen as savvy, it's even harder. I feel for you, especially you moms. Read Arianna's post on Carl Honore's book, Praise of Slowness: Challenging the Cult of Speed, on the latest movement to save you from your harried life. Certainly never let your kids miss out on you. Turn off your phone tonight, stop surfing the net, and, just for a while, salute Buddhism, and be in the now for them. While you're at it, teach them how to do it, too. And don't forget to take some quiet time for yourself. And then find time for the writing. Superhuman, aren't we?

I've included a link here for a yet another article on e-publishing that I think you should read. It's a calm, simple observation of that other world through the eyes of agent Richard Curtis. We traditionalists get tired of seeing all the stories about Vooks, but we should stay on top of the subject, all the same. It's one thing to be perceived as elitist, quite another to be ignorant.

It's Thanksgiving weekend here. Canada's own celebration is based on a different historical take to that of the U.S. In fact, its early establishment as a civic holiday involved a lot of controversy. All that nastiness is well behind us now, and we enjoy our long weekend, appreciate the beautiful fall colors, and continue to be very grateful for where we live, and - in my case - it's all done without a turkey in sight. 

See you next week.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Summer Must End, Hockey Night in Canada, perfect writing weather - and Rio wins!

I've decided to keep Summer Must End as the title for my current book. The more I get into the story, the more I see how the sentiment will fit perfectly. Fingers have been flying this past week and I'm at the 24% mark of my anticipated 95,000 words, or the middle of Chapter Eight, as of last night - late last night, I might add.

It's hockey season again! What a beautiful set of words, for me, at least. In fact, I think I look forward to the winter (which can sometimes be a little tough to take up here) because of the hockey. When autumn leaves start to fall, you may well think of snuggling up on the sofa in a warm afghan with a cup of hot chocolate, or even something stronger, and you could picture, perhaps, a roaring fire, or at least a good creepy movie on TV. For me, it's not the fire or the movie - it's Hockey Night in Canada!

Considering I'm an English-born, Australian-raised Canadian, it's odd how much this game means to me. The younger of my twin sons introduced hockey to me when he was a teenager, and it's stuck ever since. I read somewhere that 'older' women (without giving it a name - those whose hormones are as screwed up as any pubescent teen) tend to gain more testosterone, and that this is the reason for masculine interests. I haven't had any desire to do anything else particularly male, but the study I read seemed plausible. Is it possible I really am, now, one of the guys?

The first game was on last night, and it finished around 10 pm. I tidied up, got ready for bed, got into bed, and then...the voices started. Put this into the plot of a horror novel and it would work very well. In this case, the voices were a couple of my characters, chatting away. Even if I'd had pen and paper handy, it was too much to scribble out, so I went back to my computer. An hour later, I had another chunk of story, around 750 words. I wasn't grouchy about this. I count myself lucky that the words flow so easily. In retrospect, I think the hockey got me so wound up that I didn't have time for my usual head-writing while I was watching, so all of it caught up with me when I hit the sack.

My only concern with the current work is that it could be too long. I have so much to say, so many situations to describe, that I'll have to be very careful with my pruning to keep it contained well. So far I haven't even hinted about the subject, and I'll leave it that way for the time being. This is because things could change. They often do in that first draft. Best wait until I have that Voila! moment, before I share with you.

If you have any interest at all in famous, but vintage, writers, you might want to take a look at this Telegraph newspaper (U.K.) article on P.G. Wodehouse - perhaps you recall his most memorable characters, Bertie Wooster and Jeeves (which name I gave to my rescue cat). This is English writing of a certain age, witty, snobby, and totally delicious. I particularly like the fifth paragraph of the article, where his writing methods are described. I tend to just name people, places or things casually at first, using the red font, and then come back to them, perhaps much, much later, to give them their final names. Wodehouse didn't even do that. He used "hero", "heroine", apparently, deciding later what they'd be called. It's the story that counts, you see? The detail can come later.

So my most favorite city in the world, which I've never visited, Rio de Janeiro, has won the 2016 Games. My commiserations to the other contenders, but Rio! To experience the Olympic Games AND the music, people, beaches and weather of Rio will be truly amazing. Jobim would have been so proud, he would have written another samba just to mark the occasion. In lieu of that, I've added his "Wave" to this posting. Just for the week, you understand.

Have a good one. Wet here, chilly, but great writing weather!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Writers' Methods. Everyone is different...

The new book is going well, but I won't mention word counts; if you've been following, you'll have noticed the increase in the side bar.

I always know things are humming along properly when I hear interior conversations between the characters when I'm supposed to be watching the news. I apologize to Jim Lehrer's Newshour, but sometimes it does drag, and that's when I sneak off to the computer to get that dialogue down.

Perhaps it's appropriate to mention how I write. I've discussed it before, but some of you could have missed it. We are all so different in our approach to the work, but it can't hurt to hear my take on it.

Once I begin physically writing - that is, not writing in my head, but typing - I am very fast at getting the words down. I usually do a complete chapter before I stop and get off the rollercoaster. I'll take a break, then come back and read that chapter again, correcting, amending, and, I figure, improving. I then go back to the previous couple of chapters and re-read them. Something I've just written could well upset something I'd said earlier. If I'm really on a roll, I might start the next chapter. About once a week, I re-read the whole manuscript and do another clean-up, which never - ever - ends.

In other words, the manuscript is being vetted, and added to, as I go. I am constantly inserting new snippets (which came to me while I was washing up, probably) into previous chapters and this will go on for the whole book. I could be adding something to the fourth chapter when I've reached twenty-seven. When the book is finished, that so-called first draft, which is really a misnomer, I'll give it a final overhaul, but basically it should be ready to be queried.

Some of you speak of pecking away, not really into it, suffering over it. I can't work that way. If I have nothing to say, I leave it alone. A couple of days later (even a couple of years later!) the fire's back. It's worth really thinking about your own methods. Is it tedious for you most of the time? Are you writing because of guilt, thinking that you must write something or you're not a real writer? Don't do that. Don't beat yourself up. When that little daemon critter is firmly residing in you, you'll know it.

I believe that writing should be an enormous pleasure. It shouldn't be making you miserable (although there could be some of that if you're writing a particularly tragic book, but this, too, can be cathartic in a positive way). Crying over your work is one thing, but bleeding over it (metaphorically) is crazy. It should be the reason you get up in the morning, although not necessarily every morning, because we all have dry seasons. But you should definitely know what that feeling is like. It might happen for you once a week, or just once a month. You have so many other things going on in your life - most of you work full time, for Pete's sake. Don't force it. Don't put huge demands on yourself. The writing will come when it's ready, and not before. This is how you are. Accept that. Everyone is different.

For those of you who are dejected at being rejected, take a look at Query Tracker's Suzette Saxton's posting on GOOD rejection letters. Hope you get some renewed enthusiasm after reading this.

In a couple of weeks, I'll put up the first three chapters of (tentatively titled) Summer Must End. By that time, the bulk of revising and snipping should be finished on that part of the book. Not that it will be ready as the infamous First 30 Pages an agent could ask for on a good day (knowing my constant need-to-tweak), but it will be close.

AppleFest is on here this weekend, our salute to fall. This is apple country, you know. There will be dozens of stalls all along my street, and outside my house, offering their collectibles, and art, and food, and so on. And here's me freshly cash-poor because of my cunning local antique dealer.

I got seduced into buying a vintage post office desk, about the size of a large suitcase, the sort that's meant to be attached to a wall. It has a drop down door, which becomes its work surface, and it has loads of pigeonholes and drawers. I'm a sucker for this kind of thing, especially when the antique shop displays it right outside, where I can't ignore it. I tried to avert my eyes, honestly. Today I spent a good two hours trying to make room for it on my desk, moving my screen and laptop around, disrupting my dozens of paper notes, clearing an area where I think it will fit comfortably when it's delivered.

Which reminds me: that's why Macs are so good. I have the other sort. What on earth do I do with all these damned wires?

Have a great weekend.

Friday, September 18, 2009

On Starting My Third Novel - Does this news motivate you or make you yawn?

Thanks, all of you, for your lovely comments about my new granddaughter. I was only a tender forty years old when my first grandchild was born and I wasn't too amused, although I got over it, of course. With this fifth grandchild, I can now laugh about my earlier vanity.

Obviously this overshadowed everything else on my blog, and caught your eye, but did anyone notice that I started my new novel? I've now completed 12,500 words, an additional 7,000 from last week, and I'm totally involved in the thing. I'll probably do the same amount in the coming week. I told you about it because it's a big deal for me, and isn't that why we blog about writing? To encourage, to motivate?

But it occurs to me that this must be a real downer for a lot of writers who are stuck in the no-man's land of non-inspiration, perhaps pessimism, and are just plain feeling blue about the whole process. It stands to reason that you don't want to read about someone who's trumpeting on about how easy it all is with their third novel, when you could be battling with your first. Well, I know it's not easy, of course I do. I know how it feels - all the doubts about the quality of the writing, and the negativity about finishing, let alone the frustration of finding an agent. I remind you that I've been at this for years and years (and years). You probably started later. Just remember, whatever appears here, I am not published. We are all in this together.

So, from now on, I won't expect any comments about my word counts - or anything else I have to say about the positive side of writing. You'll still read me, but I understand if you have to stifle a yawn while I'm on this particular roll.

But be warned that I'll be expecting you all back when I go through my own mid-novel blues period again, or when I announce that my agent isn't working out and I'm back in query mode again. I'll really need your upbeat comments then.

I've added a link to a site called Varkat - a very detailed post about all things related to the business of publishing. It was originally a keynote speech - you'll read the details - and I found it covers many of the questions we have from time to time, all in one place.

Check out Fiction Notes in the sidebar today, under 'Always Worth Reading'. Darcy has done a wonderful job of talking about character development. I'm such a smarty, I figure I know just about enough, but she always reveals something more. Thanks, Darcy.

See you next week.

Friday, September 11, 2009

It's About Time - and How We Use It

As a young kid, I was smitten with rock'n roll, the usual favorites, most of those now classics, but I was always fascinated by jazz. One brother played boogie, and has continued that passion throughout his life. My other brother had a great record collection of traditional jazz - Jelly Roll Morton et al - and New Orleans blues. Growing up with it, I naturally enjoyed it and still do, but my young brain back then craved a newer, more sophisticated sound.

And then I heard Dave Brubeck.

With his totally new take on time as it relates to jazz (the use of 3/4 as counterpoint to the conventional 4/4 beat, for instance), he stunned me. Since then, for me, cool jazz, particularly the sounds from the Fifties and Sixties, is the only kind.

I've seen Brubeck perform live twice in my life, decades apart - once in Australia (we hung outside his hotel for hours, just to get a glimpse of him and went to the airport to see the group leave), and once here, in Toronto. I've loved a lot of other jazz over the years, but Brubeck remains the one who changed my musical tastes forever.

To achieve anything worthwhile from life, we are urged to simply turn up. Dave Brubeck has been turning up at his piano for over sixty years. Perfect use of time, as I see it.

He's to be honored at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on December 6 (coincidentally, his 89th birthday!). I'm so proud of him, anyone would think we were related.

After battling some Avoidance Demons that had me in their clutches for the past couple of weeks, and who laughed at me as time dragged almost to a standstill (it's all relative you know, and can speed up or slow down), I've started the new book. Forgive Boadicea's appearance once more, but I'm feeling hugely triumphant.

Summer Must End is probably only a working title right now, and I'll tell you if and when I stamp it with a permanent name. Come to think of it, your agent could force you to change your title anyway. Did you know that? Anyway the outline is good, and I have a lot of ideas for the plot which are still inside my head at this stage, but the characters are more or less ready in the wings. I've set it, for a complete change, in an area very similar to where I live now. I knew I didn't move to Brighton for nothing.

Naturally, I have the last line for the ending. Couldn't start without it.

I've completed two good chapters, or 5500 words, and I have that bug well and truly back - the one that doesn't let me sit anywhere except at the computer for more than ten minutes. I'm once more shifting impatiently in my chair in the living room at night, ostensibly watching TV, but longing to turn the computer back on, even when I've been writing for hours during the day. Over the past two weeks, grouchy and impatient, my time has been used cleaning the house, watching the BBC, cleaning the house some more. Lousy use of time. I wasn't even writing in my head, which would have been fine. Never mind. Tempus fugit again. My house will be neglected and full of dustbunnies, but I'm writing. Now there aren't enough hours in the day.

I became a grandmother again early this morning. My fifth grandchild, and third granddaughter, was born to my son and his wife in England, a sister for their first daughter, who just turned five. I have no deep words of wisdom to add about this because I am in stunned awe of it all, once again. I'm teary-eyed, overwhelmed, and utterly delighted. Practically speaking, it's yet another indication of my time here, I suppose. More proof that I turned up.

Have a great weekend.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Fall introspection. What's in store for you?

Since I finished Strachan's Attic (and I'm still waiting to see if my agent wants to take it on in addition to Hafan Deg), I've been in an extremely quiet, introspective mood. I thought it was because of my vacation in England, the inevitable upset of my routine, but I see that's only part of this state of mind.

The light is changing in my little neck of the woods, and there's a tiny nip in the air overnight. I should have immediately recognized my feelings. It's that hint of fall that gives me a totally different view of things. It happens every year, without fail, a need for deep examination of where I've been and where I think I'm going. And so it's almost fall again, bringing an almost delicious anticipation of soft, warm sweaters, and even more snuggling-with-cats-on-the-sofa, and contemplative moods.

It's the season for knuckling down to the real work, with no outside distractions, and certainly no temptation to sip wine on waterside restaurant decks. I'll enjoy cooking soups, and baking cinnamon-scented yummy things. Fewer people will pop in to chat, opting to stay sensibly at home in the warmth, surfing for something worth watching on TV.

I've been watching a lot of BBC News. CNN has started to pall, and I never thought I'd ever say that. In fact, it's a real shame I have no fireplace.

I'm guessing I'll have nothing much to blog about, only the rehashing of things past, which is covered in my archives anyway. If I get something new to impart (e.g. agent offering a contract for Strachan) you'll know about it, but, in the meantime, you won't see much of me. Perhaps I'll redo my page design. Melissa changes her background every day, I think. Very nice.

And I'll begin my new book, she said confidently.

What does the fall have in store for you?

Monday, August 31, 2009

Vacations are over. Now back to work...ready or not

I wish I could say that I'm refreshed from my vacation in England and ready for anything, but that would be untrue. My holiday has made me restless and grumpy.

Was it because I slipped in the shower the morning I flew out? Bruised and badly-scraped, I sat on the plane unable to tell anyone that vanity (not owning a rubber shower mat) had resulted in pain. Something to do with time differences perhaps? I've been back for days and I'm still waking up way too early, forced to miss any good movies that start after 9 pm. The psychological shake-up of dealing with family close-up? I live a sheltered, almost monastic, life here in Brighton, and avoid the usual confrontations families encounter from time to time. Is it to do with de-accelerating? I rushed there, rushed about, rushed back, and then screamed to a halt. Perhaps this was too much for my now-countrified system to handle. I used to do rushing very well back in the city, and could stop on a dime...

It was lovely being in England again, seeing family and friends. It was a time often filled with emotional nostalgia, and there were some tears of both joy and sorrow. I prefer to save that kind of stuff for my writing so that I get to tie up all the loose ends. We don't get to do that in real life, where there are always loose ends dangling about somewhere. Perhaps that's why I write. I have a certain amount of control there.

I did all the usual touristy things; you know what people do in England in August. The photograph here is of a London Bobby chatting ME up, not the other way around. This is not the usual touristy thing, in my experience.

I have no idea why he befriended me, as we only asked if he knew a nice place for breakfast, but we walked a good few blocks together before he was waylaid by lost tourists. Oh, one son captured this picture from some yards ahead when he glanced back to see where I was. My sons always walk far too quickly for me to keep up with them. We were on holiday, for Pete's sake, so what was the rush?

If any of you can comfort me with your own vacation blues anecdotes, it would be appreciated, as I'm feeling more than a little ungrateful and loserish. As it is, I'm meant to be painting soon, and then beginning my new book. The way I feel right now, I just want to bury my head in the sand and pretend to be someone else...but first I must buy a rubber shower mat.

Is it good to be back? I'm not sure. I'm reminded that it could be another year or so before I see my sons again (who live in England and Australia, respectively), and I often question why I'm here. My cats were very pleased to see me, certainly, but there should be more than that, I think.

Oh, yes, of course - the best bit about being home, beyond seeing my cats? I get to sleep in my own bed, with my very own pillow. Bliss is in the familiar, for me, now. To think I used to be so adventurous...anybody's pillow would do.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Pre-Vacation Vacation, and Rejection Humor

I didn't post anything last week. This is my quiet time before my vacation, which starts next week. I need a break before my hols. I need to unwind in preparation for them. It's all very well to say that's what the vacation is for, but it doesn't work that way for me.

Away-Vacations can be tiring. I prefer sleeping in my own room, especially with my own pillow. I have a quirk about pillows. The not-always-enthusiastic early jumping out of bed to go and see something (usually something quite old) doesn't happen at home, either, nor do I have to visit people out of duty. That's what living in the country without a car is all about. I won't even dwell on the stress of airports, planes, and jet lag, as that's a given.

Anyway, this is my pre-vacation quiet time. Don't expect too much from me.

I came across this agent-related article that perhaps you'll find equally amusing, bemusing. Times have changed in Agent-Land over recent decades - we all knew that - but here's the proof. I haven't read anything by Stanley Middleton, and the Booker awards can be alarmingly disappointing, but let's take the view that Mr Middleton wasn't a bad writer, and certainly more than worthy of publication, to say the least. This cheeky test by the Times of London, then, was a bit embarrassing, surely. Or perhaps Mr Middleton's writing was just too good, perhaps there was no fantasy, no vampire, no sex or violence, no teen protagonist? I must be a literary snob, because I still like to read books that include none of those things, from time to time. Carbon-dating myself, perhaps...

The following is a famous Chinese rejection letter to a writer. Perhaps you've read it before. In any case, it's always good for a smile, and the style of writing will make you slow down your internet-skimming brain just for a moment, like a bit of meditation, almost.

"We have read your manuscript with boundless delight. If we were to publish your paper, it would be impossible for us to publish any work of lower standard. And as it is unthinkable that in the next thousand years we shall see its equal, we are, to our regret, compelled to return your divine composition, and to beg you a thousand times to overlook our short sight and timidity."

Now you know why those rejections are still coming.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Summer Reflection on the Query Process

I received a rejection for Hafan Deg yesterday, from a New York Agent. Here it is - succinct and concise - "Sorry, tough to sell here, in my view." Well, I think she said it all with that 'here'. Considering the amount of interest I did receive, I think I wasted my time with all those New York queries and should have approached Britain in the first place.

For your interest, I've now received 15 rejections, 13 haven't responded after 90 days, 1 offer of representation, 1 request for the full manuscript received after the offer, and there are still 3 pending, for a total of 33 queries since February 16. I suppose I could email the pending ones and tell them I have an agent now, but that would defeat the purpose of keeping a statistics summary. Of the ones who never got back to me, 2 were the only online form submissions, and 9 accepted one page queries only. They were also my earliest queries, and I improved as the weeks went by, became more confident, less tremulous in my approach. I hope all of this makes you feel a bit better about your own query experiences, if you're there yet.

Thankfully, Strachan's Attic is now safely with my agent, too, and perhaps I'll get a verdict on it before I take my vacation. I am now in a strange no-man's land of wandering my apartment finding odd things to do, little tasks that get put on the back burner during my normal day. It's the summer of course, making my brain slow down, and allowing me to appreciate this short, short time of easy strolls, and outdoor meals. Not that our summer has been so great; it's more reminiscent of an English summer the way things used to be over there, before their weather patterns changed.

Speaking of vacations, I think my cats know I'm leaving soon. They are strangely quiet and contemplative around me. I believe they sense my plans, somehow, even though I've only pulled my rolling bag out once, to clean the wheels. My friend up the street will come in twice a day to tend to them over the two weeks, and to sit with them and have a chat. Not that Jeevesie will come out from under the bed while he's here, although it's possible. It will be an opportunity to teach him that I'm not the only one in the world who cares about him. Perhaps by the time I'm back, Jeeves will be sitting on Larry's lap. I do hope that happens. I have huge guilt about this, you understand. But a cattery would be worse.

Have a quiet, easy weekend. It's that kind of sticky weather here where nothing too physical gets done, and that's fine.

Quotes to Consider

"If you would not be forgotten, as soon as you are dead and rotten, Either write things worth reading, or do things worth writing." ~Benjamin Franklin

"Well behaved women rarely make history."~Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

“A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.”~William G.T. Shedd (1820-1894), theologian, teacher, pastor

"It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something." ~Franklin D Roosevelt (1882-1945), 32nd U.S. president

“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.”
~Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), essayist, poet, philosopher

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." ~Mark Twain

"You miss 100% of the shots you don't take."
~ Wayne Gretzky