Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Needs and Wants

I've been thinking about the difference between needs and wants--as if anyone couldn't think about it with the season of commercialism upon us.

Like is it a want or a need to make chocolate toffee crack(er)s for the teachers in my life?

Are new socks a want or a need?

What about time? Is it a want or a need to make the time to go to the gym? To write? To not write? To do laundry? To read a book?

Lately, everything seems like a need.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Favorites on a Friday

1. Birthday cake (son #1)
2. Sleep (didn't get much last night)
3. Silly traditions (candles on ALL holidays, including birthdays, and other important ones like Groundhog Day)
4. Groundhog Day (the movie and the holiday)
5. My fireplace
6. 60 degrees in December (which seems to negate #5)
7. The first snow (haven't seen it yet)
8. Bubble baths (does a bubble bath ever need an explanation?)
9. Candied walnuts (crockpot recipe)
10. Time off (I'm letting my incomplete manuscript sit for a month, or until I can't stand not writing anymore)

Friday, November 13, 2009

NaNoWriMo Check In

Now that it is almost the middle of the month, it's time for a check-in. For the uninitiated, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. Though I didn't sign on for the full experience (a new 50,000 word novel written during November; 1667 words a day), I made a goal with my peeps from the Super-Secret Society of Quirk and Quill to finish my draft of Into the Trees by Thanksgiving, or at the very least, by the end of the month.

I began with 30,040 words, a hazy outline, and a slight addiction to Facebook. I now have close to 38,000 words (in addition to having shelved about 3,000 words in the course of revising). My outline has expanded significantly (um, like I have a middle now), and I have had several plot epiphanies. And I have turned my addictions to Lindt's Chili Dark Chocolate Bars. They're more productive.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Winning

I've won a book! A picture book! Though this doesn't make up for the fact that in the course of 24 hours last week, my boiler was diagnosed with a debilitating disease, and my children have torn and outgrown so many pieces of clothing that they practically need new wardrobes.

Still.

A new book. A nice book. A book that I like.

I shall bear the title of "winner" all day now, simply because I tweeted a small tweet.

And perhaps that will make all the difference.

Thank you, PenguinUSA.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Dress up

Why is it so enticing to don a pair of black and white striped tights, and pretend to be someone else? So enticing that on a drive through a windy night with a nearly-full moon, you can practically taste the night air as you soar through it on a broom racing through the falling oak leaves?

What is it about putting on a flapper hat with a long feather that makes your eyes shine a bit brighter and your smile stretch a bit wider? That makes you laugh differently?

What is it about wearing a tiara or a feather boa or a long string of jet beads or even a bandana to take on a persona that is so far removed from your everyday jeans and tee-shirt?

Some things never change; they only grow with time. The dress-up box grows up to be a closet, and the little girl grows up to be a witch. Heh.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A Number, Not a Name

You, too, can scan yourself at the local grocery store, should you be so inclined.

However, don't blame me if you come back as "unknown code."

the barcode printer: free barcode generator
by Barcodes Inc

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Ideas

Eating a ripe apple on a fall day: Good idea.

Buying a bushel of apples to make apple sauce, apple butter, apple juice: Ok idea.

Buying a second bushel of apples to make more apple sauce, apple butter, apple juice: Bad idea.

*****

Buying some peaches to can: Good idea.

Buying a box of peaches to make peach jam: Ok idea.

Buying a second box of peaches to make more peach jam: Bad idea.

*****

Canning tomatoes: Good idea.

Canning a bushel of tomatoes: Ok idea.

Canning a second bushel of tomatoes: Bad idea.

*****
A pattern emerges.

I think I'm ready to hibernate.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

At the Top of the World


At the top of the world, roads look like toothpicks. Forests of trees become moss. Boulders are pebbles. People are insubstantial, insignificant.

At the top of the world, you can see where God took a scoop out of the hillside with a giant hand, and scattered pebbles along the way, sifting them through his fingers.

At the top of the world, you can dance with the clouds, breathe them in, breathe them out. Watch them swirl over a ridge.

At the top of the world, you can see the land, the sky, the curve of the earth cradled in the palm of the heavens.

I know. I was there.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Blueberry Hill




Bucket in hand, ku-plink, ku-plank, ku-plunk, the sound of blueberries dropping in, one by one, then handful by handful. She had no intention of picking blueberries this year, but a free morning, a clear blue day, and a nearby farm called to the deep-down parts of her that pleaded with her to fill the nest with bottled fruit, canned jams, pickled beans--food storage for the hard winters.

So she went. Edging her way through the rows of bushes higher than her head, squinting up at cluster of berries, ku-plink, ku-plank, ku-plunk, into the bucket they go. And before she knew it, four pounds of berries nestled together in the bucket awaiting pectin.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Pomp and Circumstance

The pomp was provided by the bagpipe. The circumstance? Three small letters that represent hundreds of thousands of others written, pages and pages of prose boiled down: MFA.

But there was no "Pomp and Circumstance" at this graduation. There was "Scotland the Brave" instead. There were the dozen brave, the members of S3Q2 who took the long walk down the aisle, smiling, smiling, around the fan, up the center, a squeeze of a hand, love tangible. Chairs to the right of the ornate organ.

There was the heat of the full chapel, the walk to the microphone. "Tis the gift to be simple, tis the gift to be free. Tis the gift to come down where you ought to be. And when we find ourselves in the place just right, 'twill be in the valley of love and delight." Words of gratitude for the givers of the gift.

The speech, the readings, the hooding, the hugging. The diploma. Ginger Johnson, MFA. "O frabjous day! Calloo! Callay!" She chortled in her joy.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Watery


Drip. Drip. Drip. Water comes down from the sky, wrung out of the grey clouds until the air is heavy with rain, and the ground is saturated. Drops roll down the driveway, dodging fallen pine needles, bits of lichen, twigs. The drops gather with other drops, merging together until streams run through the detritus, mob-like, bullying a way down to the oak tree, through the ferns, down to the stream.

Puddles in the grass. Puddles in gardens. Puddles on the paving stones and the benches. Leaves hang heavy, wet, sagging. Swings droop, forgotten. Spirits sag. If only the rain would stop! we think. If only there were some sun! we wish.

We swim inside in a man-made pool, watching the grey clouds gathering through the windows. When we finish swimming inside, we swim outside through the heaven-made pool to the car. Drops roll down the windowpanes, they swish from the windshield wipers, they form a topographical map on the hood of the car.

But a new morning dawns.

Clear blue sky.

The sun shines.

The beach calls.

We drive through town, past the market, by picket fences and window boxes. Hot sand under toes to the tide line, where the water, the ocean water, the cold, cold water takes refuge in the sand, refusing to give heed to the pull of the moon. Tiny drops surround grains of sand, forming a putty for small builders equipped with shovel and pail.

Courageous souls brave the salty water. Screams of girls and gulls fly through the air.

A tiny crab is discovered and captured, its miniature legs moving ferociously across a small palm. When fully prodded and examined, it is released back into the sea, back to its home, and inquisitive eyes search for new discoveries.

Stones, shells, snails washed by the sea, bathed by the water. All are fodder for a day at the beach, until the mist rolls in with the tide. The water in the air bows down to meet the water on the ground, and we, mere mortals, are in the middle, desperate to escape water from above, only to find refuge in it from below.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Healer's Art



The olive oil sizzles in the pan, a sprinkling of red pepper flakes bubbling within. A crush of garlic, a twist of pepper, a handful of salt await the cook's whim.

When discouragement comes calling, the tomatoes never judge. Onions become your friend, chopped and ready, weepy and weeping.

Watching and waiting, wooden spoon lies at the ready.

At the end, when all has been done, when there is nothing left to chop, and the salt has been returned to the pantry, pasta entreats you, steam rising into your face, a balm to your hurt, real or imagined.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Images



An image of me came my way this week--came flying through the airless space, the ether of hypertext and social networking. An image of the ghost of me past, the me who was. The me before babies, before marriage, before graduate school, before travel. The me before life.

The innocent me.

The me who wanted a new dress to wear to the church dance.

And a hat to go with it.

And this image, for some reason, demands to be acknowledged.

So I acknowledge you, my sixteen-year old self. But you really should have helped out with the dishes more often. You should have told your family you loved them more often. You should have been a tad bit less self-absorbed (says the 37-year old me who is writing an *entire* post on herself). You should have worried less.

But some things you got right, by serendipitous chance or by absolute design. Whether by one or the other, I am grateful.

And now my sixteen-year old self tells me--can't you see the look on her face?--as I am now, you once were. As you are now, I will become.

I look into the airless ether to that future self, wondering what the ghost of me yet to come would say to the me right now. Undoubtedly, she will tell me that I should have worried less.

Time is a funny thing. You can never step in the same river twice, or so says Heraclitus, the grand master of the idea that each moment is its own universe. But there is my face. And here I am--dipping into the river again and again.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Lady's Slipper

Up the driveway, around the curve, down a hill, past the barking Dalmatians, through shadow and shade to the brilliant sun. We step carefully, for the road is full of fuzzy caterpillars. Half a mile in, we come to the turn-off, the path to the river. Grassy, muddy, mossy, we're in the tunnel of the trees where all is silent and holy. Past the pond, the full-sun pond with cattails and croaking frogs. We come to the deck built over the wetlands, then we're in the trees.

Grass gives way to moss-covered roots, forget-me-nots, star flowers, parchment berries, wild lily of the valley. Oaks, maples, pines above. At our sides, ferns whisper, poison ivy tangles with blueberry bushes.

"Look! There's a lady's slipper!" We count them on the way to the river. Two, three, four.

We are underwater, we are in a dungeon, we are in a cathedral. We sing at the top of our lungs and the sound echoes. We would dance, but the roots and stones stop us, caution us to slow down, to see what accompanies us on our walk. We sniff the air, so sweet and full.

And then. Oh, then. Wall of trees hiding, hiding, hiding, but we know. Oh, yes, we know. There's no secret here. Water rushing, water gurgling, shining sun pressing down. A flash of gossamer light: fly-fisherman in the middle of the river, looping, cajoling, caressing, a tempter of what swims below.

The path continues, fallen pine needles, trodden, trodden, tread. Tread lightly, says the lady's slipper by the river's bank. And when the wind picks up, when the fisherman wades ashore, when the explorers have explored, we step lightly back through the brown and the green, out from the cathedral, out from the dungeon, back to the brightness of the day beyond.

But there--
Where?
There!
By the side of the road
Between those two trees
Five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve.
An even dozen.
Pink lady's slippers dancing dainty, bobbing on their stems.

Friday, May 29, 2009

A Good Book

It's cold here. And wet. Very wet. The perfect sort of evening to curl under a blanket with a good book. So here are my latest recommendations:

1. The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams and not just because Carol is a friend. The writing is brilliant; the story is disturbing. The book will leave you aching.

2. The Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages. Again, beautifully written. If you're in the mood for a WWII-era historical novel about two unusual girls, this might fit the bill.

As for me, I've got Little Brother by Cory Doctorow up, then I'm going backwards in time: Owl in Love (which is not really that old), Tom's Midnight Garden, Peter Pan, and Five Children and It.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Memories

There is something to a physical memory. Yes, the mind remembers things: the Jabberwocky ("'Twas brillig and the slithy toves...", my college phone number (377-PUKE), the lyrics to "Jingle Bells" in Latin, the radius of a circle. But after years and years and years of dance training, practice, hammering away at technique, I can verify that the body remembers things too, all on its own. Though I'm about twenty years past my last dance class at the studio, my body remembers these things without me even thinking about them.

I can say this because in a burst of energy, I took a cardio-dance-fusion class on Saturday. As soon as the teacher began calling out stretches, it became hard to remember that I'm really not nineteen anymore, that those days are long gone. Three days later, and I can now walk up and down the stairs, mostly free from pain. Ahem. Mostly.

Those long hours in the dance studio are apparently part of my DNA, fused into me, the way a branch is grafted into a tree. You can take Ginger out of the dance studio, but you can't take the dance studio out of Ginger.

I think of these things, because life is about to change again. After two years of monthly packet deadlines, punctuated by ten-day writing residencies, I am about to graduate. Again. And while I certainly haven't yet worked my 10,000 hours advocated by Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers: The Story of Success, I can only hope that the hours I have spent in training, practicing, hammering away at a different kind of technique, has culminated in a new me--that the neurons in my mind have shifted a bit to welcome something new, so that the words I dance with now are not only an integral part of me, but that they are something greater than me, something more than just words.

And, maybe, just maybe writing won't be quite as painful as dancing has become.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Did I Write That?

See below.

Really, did I write that?

Could *not* have had a more different experience today. Completely hit a wall. Chapter four awaits me.

And....nothing. All day. Kept my rear in my chair, but nothing. Nada. Niente.

Sigh.

Capricious employment, this writing thing. Maybe it's time to pull out my tap shoes. Some street corner somewhere awaits me.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Revision, Re-Vision

In my fourth packet of the semester, I have been requested to revise the first six chapters of Spectrum. So I toil away. Sometimes revision is so tedious, and other times, revision becomes re-vision, where the blinders come off and I can see so clearly what's at fault, what's missing, and what's superfluous.

Today the revision has been re-vision.

I've been reading my childhood favorites: Bridge to Terabithia, A Wrinkle in Time, and Tuck Everlasting. Maybe that's what has been giving me clearer vision. Nothing like returning to your childhood self in order to see what's what.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Apples to Oranges

So last night my son asked me to read to him because he has pinkeye and really isn't willing to have his eyes open for any length of time unless he absolutely has to. His current book is one of the Hardy Boys' mysteries.

As I'm reading along, my mouth is saying the words, but my head is thinking, "Yikes! Dated!" It made me laugh because my best friend in high school and I used to joke about our "Nancy Drew words": things like sedan, pocketbook, davenport, slacks. AND THERE THEY WERE! Right before my very eyes!

And it got me thinking about the difference between classic literature and dated literature. What makes a book like I Capture the Castle a beautiful, classic book, when Hardy Boys, a poor stepchild, is the object of lexicon jokes?

Well, ok, it's not really a fair comparison.

Still, it's relevant to me as a writer. I want my scribblings to be classic in fifty years, not dated. Something to ponder.

A small FYI...you CAN BUY a castle. I looked at several online yesterday as a way to extend my fictional dream. I, too, could be a destitute writer living in a castle.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Reading

I just finished re-reading I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. The first time I read it (years ago), my sister loaned it to me insisting that I would love it. I hate to say that I didn't particularly love it. It wasn't exactly what I expected. It didn't hit me with any emotional force.

How time does change us.

I'm not sure why, but this time I felt like I had been hit by an emotional mack truck upon finishing it. Timing? Stress level? A much closer read this time around? I can't say, but I came away from finishing it with a very real sense of catharsis.

Not to mention, a deep desire to live in a ramshackle castle in the English countryside...

Monday, April 27, 2009

SCBWI

I'm back! Did you miss me? Yeah, whatever. I know.

Anyway, conference report: thumbs up. Sadly, though, I did not take a single photo. I wanted to...I almost did...but then I thought I really shouldn't take a picture of Cynthia Lord without asking permission and I just didn't have the guts to ask her. I asked her to sign my copy of Rules and that about exhausted the wee bit of moxie that I have.

Sometimes a conference is all about catching up with old friends, sometimes it's about networking, sometimes it's about the sessions. This conference was a bit of all three for me.

I got to see Julie Berry, longtime friend, as well as several familiar faces from Vermont College (Anandita, Sarah, Joanie, Ann, Tam, Trinity, Cindy, Erin).

I met some new friends at Friday night's Schmooze at the Muse (Phoebe, Erin, Alisa, Scott, Marjorie). I had a critique with Erica Zappy, associate editor at Houghton Mifflin, on Friday and had such a positive and encouraging conversation with her. I had lunch with Pam Glauber, assistant editor at Holiday House, who looks like a combination of two of my friends--sort of a strawberry-blonde version of Samara.

And then there was the meat of the conference... Cynthia Lord and Floyd Cooper were the keynote speakers and such generous and talented people they are. Cynthia Lord spoke about the plusses and perils of writing what you know. Floyd Cooper showed us his subtractive method of producing his illustrations. Truly impressive.

Jacqueline Davies spoke about creating an unreliable narrator. I learned so much and I was so persuaded by her analysis that I'm putting this on the backburner for project #3, turning one of my straightforward characters into an unreliable narrator.

I also went to a picture book workshop given by Toni Buzzeo and Jennifer Ward, in which they so clearly outlined the structure and organization of picture books. We analyzed a PB manuscript of our own for the various aspects we discussed. So valuable.

Cynthia Lord and Linda Urban gave a workshop on theme. Again, so useful for me, particularly with the piece I'm working on for my creative thesis.

Agents Barry Goldblatt, Tracey Adams, and Jennifer Laughran presented a Q & A panel regarding agents. It was great to hear these agents in person, as "listening" to them online only tells you so much.

All in all, I had a great weekend. And now, back to work!

Friday, April 24, 2009

NE-SCBWI

Off to the New England Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators conference. Pictures to follow. I hope.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Muse is In

This morning, after having stewed for three days, inspiration finally struck. The clock is ticking and workshop materials will be due next month...and there's no time like post-packet to fit in writing something new.

I've been wanting to write something humorous, considering I've sandwiched fighting evil in between death and disease in the projects I've currently got going. The last three days, I've tossed aside one idea after another, finally coming to the sad conclusion that I just wasn't funny anymore. Well, yeah, I'm funny, but not that way. It was a sad conclusion to come to, indeed. Have I lost my sense of humor? Did my children drag it out of me?

But huzzah! Inspiration. A new story idea. Funny? Maybe. But definitely different from the other three projects I've got in the fire.

I'll likely be quiet this week, as it's spring break and this weekend is the New England SCBWI conference. Looking forward to it.

Friday, April 17, 2009

And the Verdict Is...

Positive. The Amazing and Brilliant Tim Wynne-Jones liked my excerpt from Into the Trees, my first novel-in-progress, and agreed that I should use it for part of my creative thesis. And as for Spectrum, well, it needs more work. But that was no big surprise. I'm just so very happy that he can spot, diagnose, and prescribe treatment for so many of my narrative woes.

And now, only two packets left.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Another Dream

I swear that someday I'll stop posting my dreams, but I simply can't help myself right now. I dreamt last night that I was walking by this enormous Victorian house--mansion, really--and I wanted to own it. The fact that it wasn't for sale didn't phase me. I walked in and began counting rooms. I got stuck upstairs when I saw the library. Oh, the library. Ah, the library. Two stories tall, floor to ceiling bookshelves (at least I think it was ceiling--they seemed to go on into infinity), mammoth room, fireplace. And then there was the kitchen downstairs. Oh, the kitchen. Ah, the kitchen. Space. Cupboards. Pantries. Counters.

I like dreams like these.

Perhaps I was dreaming such a dream because I sent my third packet to my advisor last night? My tightly-reigned in imagination was allowed to set off in fanciful pathways, since it was freed from the chains of my various fictions.

Oh, the library. Ah, the kitchen.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Another One Out the Door

I just sent in my third packet of the semester. Meaning that the semester is three-fifths of the way done. Scary. Two more packets until I graduate. Two packets, and a lecture. Oh, ok, two packets, a lecture, AND a creative thesis signed off.

So onto happier news, the costumes for the Fairy Tale Ball are all settled. I am going as Jack from Jack and the Beanstalk. Son #1 is going as the Beanstalk (truly, he is rather a beanpole). Son #2 is going as a court jester (type-casting, no doubt about it), and the Gingerbread Man is going as a fairy godmother. He's wearing my tiara and my son's fairy wings. He got a wand and some fake tattoos, and he hasn't shaved. Hilarious.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Clicked

After going to bed last night rather dejected because I hadn't written much of anything new for this packet (just revised stuff), something clicked for me today. Pieces are coming together. No, I haven't written 52 pages of new stuff this month like I did last month, but I am pulling it together. And that's almost as satisfying. In fact, maybe it's more satisfying, because the beginning of this draft is beginning to feel like a manuscript. Gasp.

Besides that?

I'm recovering from Easter. I made these. Don't make them. Really. You'll only regret it. Especially if you have a high school reunion quickly approaching.

Yum.

Or if you have a Fairy Tale Ball to attend this week. In costume. Even if it's with a group of second-graders. Perhaps everyone will be so dazzled by my tiara they won't notice the crumbs strewn across my dress.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Perfect Pitch

Yesterday was piano lesson day. I sat on the sofa in the adjoining room listening in as my son showed his stuff.

After playing a few notes, he turned to his teacher. "Did you get your piano tuned?" he asked.

Surprised, she said, "Yes, I did! How did you know?"

"It sounded different. I could just tell."

This might not have been a surprising dialogue, if the piano student had been taking lessons for quite some time. Or if he was old. Or accustomed to that particular piano. Or if it was wickedly out of tune.

It was surprising because it was my son's third lesson. Ever. He'd only played that piano twice before. And did I mention? He's eight.

What makes him able to hear the difference when a sound is a little too sharp and when it's just perfect? I can guarantee you that it's not genetics. Does he have perfect pitch? I don't know. I guess time will tell.

As I sit here revising and revising for my next packet (due the 16th), I'm wishing I could tell the difference between a scene that is a little too sharp and one that's just perfect. Unfortunately, my eyes are too used to seeing these particular words on the screen. The words blur together and I can't tell if they dance with the beauty of marbled colors or they squat with the reality of mud. Rainbow or mud pie? I'll let you know.

Monday, April 6, 2009

My Fair Godmother

I just finished reading My Fair Godmother by Janette Rallison, a delightful romp through fairy-tale land sponsored by Chrysanthemum Everstar, a so-so fairy godmother (therefore, just "fair"). When Savannah's boyfriend breaks up with her to start dating her older sister, Savannah wishes for a prince to take her to a ball and Chrissy (the only fair godmother) turns her into Cinderella--eight months before the ball.

Cute book. Well done. No loose threads. No heaving bosoms. No vampires. What more could a girl ask for these days?

Next up:The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Angst and More

I have been immersed in the Twilight saga (just finished the third one today), amongst other young adult books (such as My Fair Godmother by Janette Rallison) and I am so full of teen-age angst, I feel like I'm fifteen again. Gack. Actually, maybe it's more than just the books. I have recently put away my flat-iron and am letting my hair go curly again--something I haven't done with consistency since I was in college. I almost look like my teenage self.

Boyfriends, kissing, prom dresses, hair: please release me, let me be an adult again--at least until I get my tax refund. Hee hee.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Support

The Gingerbread Man just surprised me with breakfast in bed. A toasted egg bagel with a thin slice of Virginia ham and provolone cheese (sorry, my kosher friends), fresh strawberries, and a glass of orange juice.

While I think anyone would appreciate breakfast in bed, it has greater significance to me. It shouts out how much he supports what I'm doing, stamps his validation on my scribblings, underscores his love for me, AND boosts my blood sugar. All that wrapped up in a bagel sandwich and strawberries.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Research

In the past two years, I have researched pox, croup, burns, mill fever. Historical wood paneling, cathedral architecture, farm outbuildings, whale blubber, color theory, wavelengths of colors. The geography of Dundee, Scotland, shipbuilding, sheep, udders, shearing. Vaudeville, theater, jute, Scottish food, cheese-making.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg. It's surprising what random information proves useful when you're writing.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Composting, Part II

The problem with the image of composting, I realized as I walked through my still-snowy backyard carrying my compost bucket of kitchen scraps, is that these kitchen scraps turn into mud. Highly nutritious mud, but mud nonetheless.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Composting

My packet went in Monday night, and by 5:30 Tuesday, I had my response letter from Tim. And now it's time to compost.

I find that whenever I send in a packet, I go into a slump. Maybe it's the pause button after working like a maniac for days. Maybe it's the response letter. I'm not sure. All I know is that afterwards, I put on my hair-shirt and proceed to beat myself up. Vigorously. I truly believe that no one is as good at beating herself up as a writer. Possibly a dancer. I am both. Sigh.

So I cry.

And I cry some more.

And before I get it out of my system, I remind myself that I've had the same reaction sixteen other times. Well, ok, fifteen. There was that one packet last semester when Sarah Ellis said some very complimentary things about my critical thesis, but that's not foremost on my mind when I send in packets.

So I read. And read. And read. And I let the letters and words and sentences and structures and plots flow over me and compost deep into my garden of language and I hope that taking all of that in will somehow work its way back out again in a small green shoot.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Mental Freedom

For the next twenty-four hours, I am free. I have written 3000 words today--3000 words, people!--and shipped off my packet to The Tim Wynne-Jones, advisor extraordinaire.

And thus, I am free. Free to make Irish Soda Bread tomorrow. Free to burrow into a book. Free to get caught up on the things of life I have left behind.

Which, I guess isn't really that free at all. Still. I'm going to milk it for ten minutes at least.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Number Crunching

Each morning (much too early, I might add), I'm blasted with consciousness. I fall out of my dreams about donating canned goods (last night's offering), or chucking mice to the tiger outside, or harboring pregnant mermaids in my bathtub.

My thoughts immediately turn to my manuscript. I find that the moments between sleep and wakefulness are ripe with inspiration. So I roll over, grab a pen and paper and write. Death, taxes, and packet deadlines wait for no man. Or woman.

If I'm lucky, my husband can get the household moving while I sit in bed, pen scribbling furiously on a pad of paper. If I'm lucky, I get three pages written and typed before nine. If I'm lucky, those three pages will total close to 900 words, which is the random number of words I've chosen to be my daily goalpost. It's certainly not prolific, but it is realistic. So 900 words.

Sometimes I'm lucky. Sometimes I'm not. But with my packet deadline looming every closer, I find myself focusing on the number of words produced each day almost as much as the actual words themselves. I watch the word counter going up, up, up, then falling as I cut words, sentences, whole paragraphs. Let me tell you of the angst I created when I reached 10,000 words, then subsequently cut a few sentences, which caused me to dip back below the 10K mark. Oh, the pulling of hair and gnashing of teeth! Ok, not really, but I didn't shut down for the day until I was well above 10,000 words.

And now, after some more pulling of hair and gnashing of teeth, I passed 11,000 words. Come Monday, I hope to hit 12,000. By Tuesday, my packet will be submitted. Perhaps then I can return to a less numerical state of mind.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Motivation

Plotting out a novel is in many ways like a game of chess. You move your characters around from place to place, sometimes forward, sometimes backward, sometimes up one square and over two. Sometimes you dance with the queen, other times you flirt with the knight. You act and react. But there's always a goal. And there should always be motivation behind a movement or else your story is based on random collisions and could just have easily been generated by a computer program.

I just finished reading a middle-grade novel, which will remain nameless. It's a little-known book, twenty years old, translated from another language--and poorly written. Reading it was like reading a bad draft of my own work. Embarrassing, yet enlightening. Motivates me to give my characters better reasons for being where they are and doing what they're doing instead of just "Because I said so!"

I don't say that to my own children; why should I be allowed to say it to my fictional ones?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Things That Make You Go "Hmmmm"

So last night I dreamt about mice in a cupboard where we lived, which just happened to be a garden supply store. I told my husband about it, so he went in the cupboard to check, and pulled out a weasel. A very small weasel, but a weasel nonetheless. When he went outside to take care of said weasel, I looked in the cupboard, and there was a mouse, so I picked it up WITH MY BARE HANDS and lobbed it into the outer beyond. Luckily, there was a tiger around, so all was taken care of. After that, I went to get ice cream, and though I asked for the berry variety, the man brought me some hazelnut that he had been saving.

The night before I dreamt about a mermaid and a bathtub and the mermaid's unhappy pregnancy.

And Stephanie Meyer gets werewolves and vampires in her dreams, bringing her a multi-book deal and puppy-love from millions of teens.

Hmmm.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Of Packets and Panic, Muses and Miracles

"Sing to me of the [wo]man, Muse,
the [wo]man of twists and turns
driven time and again off course..."

Wo[e] is me, indeed. The [wo]man in need of a muse, the [wo]man of plots with twists and turns, the [wo]man who has been driven time and again off course.

Sigh.

Didja catch all those [wo]es?

Wo[e] is me.

Homer was prophetic.

So I'm desperately seeking a different muse, this time. A muse who will sing me a song that is straightforward, not so twisty-turny this time. One who will help me complete my packet, which is due in six days.

My first packet of the semester, consisting of approximately 100 pages of novel attempt #2, got a seventeen-page response from my advisor. Note that not even the best writer can drag out "It's perfect! I love it! Don't change a thing!" into seventeen pages. My advisor didn't even try.

I will leave it to your imagination what those seventeen pages said. But I will note that I have started novel attempt #2 AGAIN and I'm currently 27 measly pages into it. I need a muse. Or a miracle. Or both.

Monday, March 9, 2009

I Think I'm a Grown-Up Now

I'm reposting something I wrote on my personal blog two years ago. I can laugh about it now that I don't feel the need to visit the guidance counselor's office anymore. The answer to my question was so obvious--had been obvious for years if I had taken the time to see--but apparently I had my blinders on. Or my rose-colored glasses. Or my peril-detecting sunglasses. One of them, at any rate.

*****
Mid-Life Crisis


The question of what I want to be when I grow up is plaguing me again. Sometimes I think I want to be like Mrs. Murray in A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle---a brilliant scientist with a lab in the barn, cooking stew over a bunsen burner. But then I feel too old to go in that direction, not smart enough to be able to pick up and retain that scientific knowledge quickly enough, and not balanced enough to do it all gracefully. Inevitably, I would poison my family with an accidental slip of something into the stew. So I'm back to wondering what I have to contribute to the world.

When I was in kindergarten, I wanted to be an astronaut (post-Apollo 13, pre-Challenger Shuttle). When I was in elementary school, I didn't know what I wanted to be, but my teachers told my mom at conference time that they were all betting on various vocations for me (research, law, medicine, education, marine biology) [Marine biology??].

In high school, I wanted to be an art teacher. In college, I realized that I didn't really want to be an art teacher, but I didn't know what I wanted to be (other than a mother), so I simply got educated, without getting any particularly useful knowledge (i.e., modern dance, English, Italian, art, art history...). Eventually, I decided on becoming an editor. I had grand ideas of living in Boston, working for a children's publishing house. By the time I finished grad school, I decided that I really should have become an art teacher. C'est la vie.

When I was finally employed as a college writing instructor, I remember several days of frustration with certain students. I would come home and vigorously chop carrots and wonder why I never went to cooking school.

In the past several years, every time I see the Rockettes, I regret that I never auditioned, but then I get some consolation by reminding myself that I'm several inches too short to have been seriously considered.

So here I am, still years away from entering the work force again, wondering what to do with my life.

*****

Well, I'm wondering no more. Four months remain until I receive another degree, this one an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. This one is a great deal more meaningful to me--and there will be no accidental poisonings from simmering stew over bunsen burners.