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.