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!

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