Thursday, January 31, 2013

I Want

Little man is two-and-a-half years old and has reached the stage of "I want." This goes on all day for all things. I want TV on. I want (to avoid copyright infringements) Rickey Rouse Club House. I want cookie. I want apple juice. I want call Nana (or Grandma, Granddad, Dada, whoever). I want go outside. I want go park. I want that. I want light on (this is at bedtime). And if I don't jump and fulfill his want the screaming starts. This goes on all day for all things. This is particularly annoying when I'm in the shower and he comes into the bathroom and starts screaming because he wants to go outside and I want to rinse the shampoo out of my hair first. The screaming brings the tears and the runny nose and "I want tissue." As a mom, you learn to pick your battles. Fine, we can go outside. No, you can't have a cookie. Fine, let's call Nana. No, it is bedtime and light is out. And sometimes I just have to let him scream it out. What? I can't hear you over the baby!

He doesn't understand that there are things that I want too, and I feel like screaming about them. I want the dogs to stop shedding. I want groceries to be less expensive. I want parking spaces to be wider so I can get my son out of the back seat of my 2-door car more easily. I want gas to be cheaper. I want humanity to return to the concepts of personal responsibility. I want people to employ the power of common sense more often. Alas, adults just don't go around screaming about their disappointments (most of the time) and we cope and move on.
Little Man will get so worked up in his tantrum that he forgets what it was he wanted in the first place. Perhaps all he wants is to know that Mommy is there for him. What I have learned from my Little Man is that it is not necessarily the wanting of some thing but it is the wanting of something that upsets him. And perhaps labeling the thing as a cookie or juice or Rickey Rouse is the only way he can express his longing for something that is inexpressible for him.

But don't we all have those feelings? That feeling of frustration, or nostalgia, or melancholia, or boredom or even cabin fever. Isn't it really that we are longing for something and perhaps we don't even know what? Do we substitute some thing to fulfill or stifle that want? Do we eat? Drink? Watch TV? Surf the net? How do we, as adults, scream it out?
When I start the revisions on my novel I want to take a long look at what my characters "want" and what they may really be longing for and how they scream it out. That will certainly make them more interesting.

Monday, January 28, 2013


When I was young it seemed like time stood still. It took sooooo looooong to get to Christmas or my birthday. The school year lasted an eternity (fortunately I liked school) and summer was just as dragging. I don't think I ever used the term "already" in relation to time until I was in college. "It's mid-terms already? Maybe I should go to class." (Just kidding, Dad)

As I've gotten older the word "already" has become part of my daily vocabulary. In fact, it starts my day. "It's morning already?" And so it goes with all my tasks throughout the day. Little Man is up already? The washer stopped already? It's bedtime already (finally!)?
I don't know if time flies because I'm older (and probably a little slower) or if I just try to cram too much stuff into my day. And as a planner there is nothing worse, or more stressful, than leaving things on the list undone (gasp! the horror!). And the whole point of a list is to avoid the "already" and be "all ready." Enough already!

Fortunately, I'm in the last chapters of my novel already. The trial has started already and several of the characters have already testified. Soon it will conclude and I'm all ready for that to happen.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

That's Really Really Good

Little Man is two-and-a-half which means he has learned to express himself but he has not yet learned to tamper his words. In short, he is honest. Brutally honest. Right now, in his world of black and white, things are either good or bad. When he experiences something that he likes he enthusiastically says "That's really, really good!" But when it is unpleasant he says, "Oh no, that's really bad."

Now it's one thing to be at home and have him express his displeasure at the dinner I slaved to make for him. (Here's your spaghetti and meatballs, Sweetie! Oh no, that's really bad.) However, it's nerve-wrecking to take him out. The other night we were having dinner at church. They were serving meatloaf. He takes one bite, looks at me, and opens his mouth to express his opinion. I cringed. What would he say now? Out loud, in public, at church?! Ready? "That's really, really good." (Swipe brow). My blood pressure dropped dramatically.
This started me thinking about what we teach our children. Right now he's honest. And nothing he says is out of malice. I remember being 3-ish and making an observation about someone (he's fat, or she walks funny) that was not meant maliciously. I remember my mother telling me "don't say that, it hurts their feelings." And that's when it started. I felt bad about myself that I might have made someone feel bad about himself and maybe when people say something about me I should feel bad about myself and I should feel bad about making them say something bad. If you can follow that at all. All I'm saying is that we teach our children to obfuscate what they say (lie) and at the same time crumble their self-esteem because they said it or because someone said something about them.

The result is a bunch of hyper-sensitive people who take everything too seriously, believe every word uttered is a judgment on them, and they try their best to not hurt others by speaking some form of Political Correct speech. Which is "unspeech" which is "double plus ungood." To counter balance all this negativity we create "sensitivity programs" and we give every child a trophy for showing up. Wouldn't this be better - "Mommy, that man is fat." "Yes, Honey, he is. Let's talk about it at home." And really, if you are fat, is it too hard to acknowledge it? Perhaps the sensitivity training needs to be reversed and we need to teach people to not be so sensitive.
Okay, I'm not on a soapbox, I have a point. My point being that with my novel almost done (yay!) I have embarked on the editing process with a couple of friends. I have revisions I want to make already but I'm beginning to get nervous about what they will say. I recently sent back the edits I did on their work and I find myself hoping I didn't hurt their feelings, or insult them or their work. I have to remind myself that any comments I made were not made in malice but in honesty to make their work better - in my opinion. And that any comments they may make about my work is not disparaging but a way to make my work better - in their opinions. The whole point of having others help you with your editing is to take your work from "oh no, that's really bad" to "that's really, really good!"

Monday, January 21, 2013


I'm a reasonably intelligent person, however, dealing with Technology can leave me frustrated, short-tempered and near tears mired in insecurity and emotional abandonment. Yes, Technology has left me behind. I call it Technology because along with Earth, Fire, Wind and Water, it has become the fifth element.

I grew up in an age of rotary phones and televisions you had to manually change the channels on (that means turn the knob). I learned to type on a typewriter! Not even an electric one!! Microwave ovens didn't come out until I was in middle school. Our first "remote control" had a looooong cord that went from the controller to the VCR. The VCR was the size of a small car which was okay because the TV was a gigantic piece of furniture. We got our first computer when I was in high school. It actually used floppy discs. The big floppy ones! And you had to type in C:\\ as an opening statement. That's right, DOS! *gasp*
I was excited in 1988 to purchase my first home that was pre-wired for phones and cable in every room! And they were phone outlets - you plugged the phone cord in yourself! WOW! In 1995 I purchased my first microwave when my toaster oven died. And in 1998 I made the BIG leap. My father bought me a computer (the floppy discs were the hard 3" ones then) and I got my first cell phone! Let's just say that both devices were large. The "technology" to use these things was not very challenging either. It took very little time or emotional involvement to deal with them. Now the computers and phones are smaller and they are merging. There is something unholy about it.

This weekend I got my first "smart" phone. I was amazed at how deftly the young man with the tight jeans, man scarf and faux-hawk could caress the phone and manipulate it -  bringing up different screens, flip them around, open something new, go back and return it to the home page. I was lost and just wanted to play peek-a-boo with my toddler. Personally, I don't care what anyone under the age of 35 says, Technology is not simple or intuitive. It is mocking and manipulative. And I'm pretty sure it is male. I say this because my husband and two-year-old son have no problem with it.
An excerpt from this weekend:

Me: (angry) This @$!?&*% phone is broken. It froze.
Husband: What happened?

Me: (whining) I was trying to set up this app. I got to this page and pressed "next" but nothing happened.

Husband: Hmmm. Did you go back?
Me: It won't let me.

Husband: What are you doing now?
Me: (near tears) Pressing "next" again.

Husband: Why? It didn't work the first time.
Me: (having a nervous breakdown) Maybe it didn't understand. Maybe it didn't hear me. Maybe if I keep pressing the &*%$@?! button, it will finally work!

Long story short, it works now. I can answer the phone and send text messages on it and that's good for me right now.
Since we are updating our fixer-upper house, we are also updating the electrical things like outlets and switches. While we were putting these things in the cart, my husband starts to look at the complicated electrical things for the office we will be working on at some point. These things had USB ports, AV inputs and other outlets I've never SEEN before. So what's next? A "smart" house? Cars that drive themselves? Soylent Green?

My main character, Walter, is also not technologically savvy. He, like me, prefers to use the computer and phone as the tools they are and not as a way of life (head down, ear buds in, unconscious to the rest of the world). However, times are changing and Technology is here to stay (and manipulate us, and alter our world view). Since I am not up-to-date on these things, this is where I have to do research when characters show up who are technically skilled. So, if you see me in a puddle of tears, notebook open, pen in hand, standing in front of the Geek Squad counter being stared at by a young man with a man scarf and faux-hawk, I'm just doing research.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Thing in the Tree

We have two yellow labs, Jake and Cooper. They are litter-mates so we call them "The Twins" but they couldn't be more different if they came from different litters or different breeds.

Cooper is afraid of new furniture arrangements, and sometimes the floor if it is slippery or a new texture. He only barks indoors and only at people in the house, even us sometimes. Cooper is aloof and occasionally wants to be scratched but most of the time he's content to be in the same room with us but out of the way. He isn't very smart and only knows two commands: sit and shake. After that he's a lost cause. But he is pretty. He is classic lab and very photogenic and if he could have followed directions like "stay" he would have been a good doggie model and we'd be rich. But he's just pretty.

Jake, on the other hand, is the smarter of the two. He can sit, shake, speak, and stay. He is not pretty. He's crooked. He has a pointy head, his ears are not seated on his head the same way on both sides and his eyes are not level with each other. He is asymmetrical. He is tall and leggy and when he runs, he is not fast and all his legs run in different directions. He is, however, friendly and playful and social and loves to be scratched and petted. He would be perfectly content to settle his 100 pounds in my lap to nap or watch TV.

Every night at precisely 8:30 Jake asks to go out. He paces the fence a couple of times and then the barking starts. There is a creature that comes out at night and runs along the fence. Jake's "job" is to tree it. I don't know what type of creature it is. It could be a raccoon, squirrel, possum, or a neighbor's cat. Jake probably doesn't know what it is. He just knows it has to be treed. Every night. At precisely 8:30.
The result, however, is a stalemate. The creature cannot get down and Jake can't get at it. And all he can do is bark and jump up and down. And that leads my husband, or me, to have to call him and call him and finally coax him in with a treat. Every night. At precisely 8:40. And at the age of almost 10 years old, Jake has a bad hip with a touch of tendonitis, a touch of dysplasia and a touch of arthritis. And every morning, his hip is sore from the running and jumping. But by evening he's limbered up and ready to go out. It's an endless cycle.

I take from this that in writing it is important not to get "treed." There are some subplots, back stories and even characters that just won't work in the story no matter how loud we bark or how high we try to reach. And we need to edit those out (no matter how interesting they may be to the author). Do we really want our readers to have to reach? Sometimes, however, there are juicy morsels in the tree that just need to be shaken a little and they will come into your story and add so much flavor!
I recently had my main character's back story fill in. It was a revelation! And finally, I know why he does some things and why he doesn't do other things. And I can't wait to get back to writing to complete the novel. Because while I was shaking this morsel out of the tree, I realized that this part of his back story is a story of its own that needs to be written.

Monday, January 14, 2013

What Doesn't Work

Almost a year ago we bought a fixer-upper house. It has a terrific yard and the location can't be beat. The house itself has good bones but needs work.

At first glance, the work seemed mainly cosmetic. Okay, okay, the kitchen and baths are a gut job waiting (needing) to happen, but they function so they can wait for now. We started with the "easy" stuff like painting. Then we discovered we had wallpaper under the paint that needed to be removed. Removing it caused damage to the drywall which needed to be repaired. Now when we talk about "painting a room" we know to schedule a couple of months worth of work, not a weekend. Oh well, it will be beautiful and picture perfect when it's done.
The "surprise" of a fixer-upper is that periodically something will just no longer work. It started with the refrigerator. We have a freezer-on-top-refrigerator-on-the-bottom type. The kitchen has a center island with cook-top right in the middle of the room (not a big room either). Only a side-by-side refrigerator will work (open) in the space. So, our refrigerator door only opens about 10 inches before hitting the island. Okay, it opens 16 inches, but still. To get anything in or out of the refrigerator you have to kneel, bend and stretch. Yoga while you cook! Who needs to go to the gym? I'm frugal (cheap) so I'm not going to buy a new refrigerator until we redo (gut) the kitchen.

The next thing to not work was the laundry room light. You have to jiggle the switch juuuuust right to get it to come on. I can do laundry during the day so this can wait.
Then the garage door. Sometimes it goes all the way up. Sometimes it only goes up part of the way. And you never know when it will choose to go up. You approach the opener button with hope and eager anticipation. Sometimes you are disappointed. Sometimes it works and you're elated! Still, this can wait to be fixed.

A few days ago the garbage disposal stopped working. No jiggling of the switch, no pressing the reset button or throwing the circuit breaker off and on would make it work. This couldn't wait. My husband spent a good deal of time under the sink and back-and-forth to the hardware store. Finally, with a little finagling and replumbing under the kitchen sink, it works! And no leaks! Yay!
It's like this with writing. The first draft is your fixer-upper. And at first glance it may seem like only a few things need to be added or subtracted or changed in some way. But when you get into it, things just don't work. Some things can wait until the next revision, others can't. Some things begin and you read on with eager anticipation and hope only to be let down because it just drops off or stops working. And some things need to be replumbed, or rewritten, completely in order to work. I like revision. Because when it's all done it will be picture perfect.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

What's For Dinner

As the mom of the house, I get asked daily "What's for dinner?" On the surface this does not seem like a complicated question and many times the answer is right there ready to go. Other times it is more difficult to answer. Dinner requires planning and if I haven't planned ahead, then I can't answer that question easily.

Cooking dinner requires ingredients and time. Ingredients require shopping. Shopping requires work. As the cheapest, sorry, frugal, person on the face of the planet I shop the sales and then I check to make sure I have a coupon for what's on sale. I shop at multiple stores. This one has "buy on get on free," this one accepts competitor's coupons, this one give you gas points and a discount at the gas pump. And yes, I do get a thrill of having coupons for "buy one get one free" stuff and a really big thrill when I can stack a store coupon with a manufacturer's coupon. And if I can do that with "buy on get one free" I'm in a total happy place! Squeee! I know, I'm a freak.

 As I was saying, dinner takes all sorts of planning. Once I know what ingredients are on sale, then I can begin menu planning. I can make meatloaf, or turkey tetrazzini, or chicken and rice. And I have to consider that meals need to stretch for leftovers (if I can get the Little Man to eat leftovers) and lunches for my husband to take to work. "Honey? Are you traveling this week? Or do you have customers visiting that you'll take to lunch?" I ask. "I don't know yet. I don't think so. I'll let you know. What's for dinner?" he replies. I remind you, I'm the planner and he is more spontaneous.
Then there is the time element. Sometimes I don't have time to do my due diligence with the weekly sales ads. Perhaps we've been working on a project in our fixer-upper house, or I'm busy knitting scarves for church, or Little Man is in full-swing terrible two's. Whatever the reason, sometimes dinner is scavenged out of the freezer and pantry. Tonight we are having hot dogs with macaroni and beef gravy! Or some such interesting concoction. And other times, dinner is take out from whatever restaurant is closest and has curbside service (a wonderful invention).

Writing is like dinner. To have a story you want to tell is easy but to have all the ingredients and time to write it down takes planning. And even with planning, sometimes things get in the way. Sometimes you are able to make your outline, plan your back stories, list your tensions, and block out your chapters. Sometimes you are scavenging and just writing by the seat of your pants. Other times there is no writing and it is just a day to read. Ironically, I write mostly by the seat of my pants and do my structuring and continuity during revisions. I do know my characters' back stories and list my tensions. Where the back story is revealed and when the tensions happen is entirely up to the flow.  Hmmm, I'm a spontaneous writer! But tonight we are having meatloaf.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Back to Normal??

The holidays are fun. They are a well-earned diversion from our mundane lives and by the end of the year, we need a diversion. The holidays are well-choreographed chaos beginning with planning family visits around EVERYONE’S schedule, the panic of choosing the right gifts for the right people and wrapping, bowing, labeling and shipping said gifts. It is the rush of writing the Christmas letter (yes, we are the annoying family that writes an update letter), addressing cards, getting stamps and mailing the cards in time for them to reach their destination before Christmas. It is the hunt for the perfect Christmas tree, the ornaments, lights, wreaths, garland and stockings hung with care. And feasting. We didn’t have one Christmas feast, we had three. We had the one when my parents came to visit (okay, we feasted at a restaurant), we had the feast when my sister came to visit and the one on Christmas Day with Nana. The holiday festivities are a huge, dramatic prelude to a short-lived climax and finally the “Thank you notes.” I do hope all of you wrote personal notes and didn’t send a mass text or tweet just saying “thanks.”

But now that the holidays are behind us and the last pine needle has been swept up, it’s good to get back to normal. There is a lot to be said for routine. I like routine. Everyone goes back to work and school and we have dinner at six. It’s comforting to know what to expect. But do we really know? Sure, the Big Man is back to work and the Little Man is back to his Play Care, but my car is leaving puddles of a mysterious fluid on the garage floor so it’s off to the shop for that. One of our big, yellow labs who chases the nocturnal thing on the fence every night precisely at 8:30 aggravated his hip. This morning he was stiff (sorry old man, you aren’t as young as you were).

As I’ve written before, I prefer to live in my planner without too much straying from the schedule of the day. My husband is more of the spontaneous ilk. We’ve both learned to adjust. I have learned to go to bed even if action items on my list haven’t been completed. My husband has learned to ignore my panic when he suddenly suggests we do something. He has also gotten better and will tell me on Thursday that we should take Little Man to the zoo on Saturday. To him that’s planning. To me that’s a whole rearrangement of chores and schedules (i.e. stress) but at least it gives me a few days to plan.

Life is constantly in flux and there are surprises that pop up out of nowhere that catch us off guard and make us say bad words that I don’t want Little Man to repeat in church. At least with a routine there is a framework, or scaffolding, to prevent us from falling too far off the cliff.
This is good to keep in mind for writing too. Recently, there was an excellent article in Writer’s Digest by James Scott Bell. He wrote about structure in our writing. Our stories, be they short or long, must have a structure to hang on – a beginning, middle, and end. Obviously there was more to the article than just that but basically that’s what we need to keep in mind. We may draft an outline, or chapter blocks, or jot a synopsis, but eventually, we have to put our story into some sort of order. What make our story interesting are the surprises of it. What do the characters do? How do they react? What is the “gasp” moment? And just to give you a little tid-bit about my novel, working title Murder at the Primrose Inn, the main character, Walter Martin, gets run over by his own car. You’ll have to read the book to see how that happens!!!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

How do we know each other?

It’s that time of year again - time to update the old address book. This year it is more than just updating, I have to get a whole new book and start over from scratch. Nooo, I didn’t lose all my friends and/or family, I just ran out of room. Nooo, I’m not so greatly popular that my book is full (although that would be awesome). But after a few years the old address book is in bad shape.
First, the physical condition is embarrassing. I’ve had this address book for a number of years and it has been beaten up, the pages are tattered, the tabs have pulled off and my Little Man uses it as a coloring book (Mommy blue!). I have an unnatural attachment to things sometimes and this is something I’ve had pre-baby and pre-husband. I guess in some way it is an artifact of my single life (and yes, there are names of past boyfriends in it too).

Second, it is not just that the pages are tattered and that the tabs have been pulled off that make the interior unsightly. There are a lot of original entries, crossed out entries, additions, crossed out additions and cross references to other entries added and/or crossed out that it takes an expert cryptologist to decipher what is written on the page and what is actually up-to-date information. Fortunately, once the tabs fell off I was no longer restrained by the alphabet and I could put entries anywhere there was room.

Why all the editing? Because life is constantly changing. People get married and their names change (most often if they’re women), people get divorced and their names change (again, mostly women), the spouses have to be added or subtracted, they have kids that have to be included, they move, they get new phone numbers, cell phones, and email addresses, the kids move out or get married, or sadly, sometimes people pass away. Then there are those entries that I have no idea who those people are. And with each change there is the asterisk (*) denoting the reason of the change or commentary. For example:

Jane and John Smith  Doe *she finally dumped the jerk
123 Main St. *she got the house
Anytown, GA
Mary and Tommy (the kids) *hope the bum pays child support

So, I find that it is now time to get a new address book and to start anew; rewriting the entries cleanly and clearly as the current state of affairs exists, leaving out those that have been removed from my acquaintance for whatever reason (or who I don't remember) and leaving behind those that have passed away. It is simultaneously refreshing and nostalgic.

I recently printed out what I have completed writing of my novel (I’m about two-thirds complete!). I know I’m still writing and I should wait until it is done before I start the editing process, but I couldn’t resist the urge to read it. I did resist picking up my red-teacher-correction-pen from my teaching days to edit (or slice and dice) what I had. That will happen in good time. And just like my address book I will make additions, cross things out, and I’m sure people (characters) will pass away (be written out). And once all is said and done, I will probably rewrite a lot of my novel. I expect the editing process will be as bittersweet as getting a new address book.