I’m heading to Chicago tomorrow to meet some coworkers and assist on a presentation. While I will miss my children, while I do not like to fly, and while I’d rather be at home in my yoga pants instead of at a rent-an-office in my new flashy duds, I’m going to do what I did when I went to Denver last summer … bring AL with me. Flights tend to inspire me.
Last Saturday, I joined some of the members of my writer’s guild in attending a book signing by William Kent Krueger. A couple of thoughts: 1) The man is a dynamic speaker. This is the second time I’ve seen him speak and he’s just warm and engaging. A great lesson for anyone who wants to make a living at this writing business. 2) He’s warm and engaging. (Yeah – I just said that, but hear me out.) He signed a book for my mother-in-law after his signing and I took the opportunity to ask him about some various writers conferences in the Midwest. His response was gracious and informed. I really enjoyed the opportunity to ask him a “craft” question.
After Krueger’s talk, the Guild retreated to The Staghead – a new “gastropub” in Red Wing. And while I enjoyed some Lake Superior Oatmeal Stout, I ended my afternoon with a cup of coffee. And was presented with this:
I drink my coffee black, but if I’m confronted with a situation where I think the coffee is going to be shit (or basically, if I haven’t made it) I request cream and sugar. This was pretty damn cute and even though the coffee was excellent, I couldn’t help but doctor my coffee accordingly.
I’m sorry for my absence. I recently read a statistic that said that nearly x(*)-percent of blogs were abandoned within the first year of their founding and honestly – as someone who has written and contributed to a number of blogs over the past several years, I was not surprised to see that number. Blogging is a commitment. And while I’m going to grant myself some grace in regards to my blogging practice (Demanding full-time job! Two toddlers! Good fiction is going on from my fingertips!), this space is important to me.
So … haaaaaiiiiiii. Happy New Year! How are you all? What’s good that’s going on in your worlds? What is inspiring you?
My family has gotten through the first part of winter without succumbing to flu or other crud (*knock on wood / strikes head*). We had a great time with our family members over the holidays, ate too much food, drove many miles, and just had a good time seeing people we don’t get to see as often as we like to. (My parents are about 2 hours from where my family and I live; my husband’s parents are 3 hours away.)
And things are going gangbusters on the writing front:
Version three edits of Afterlife (AL) were finished before the Christmas Eve deadline that I set for myself. AL is currently resting on my brain’s back burner and will be picked up again in a week or so to start the next round of edits.
AL also received an award! Right before the New Year, I received an email from Mystery Writers of America Midwest Chapter (MWA Midwest) that the critique of AL that I submitted was one of the entries selected for the Hugh Holton Award!
From MWA Midwest: “Hugh Holton was a Chicago mystery writer and member of MWA Midwest. He wrote eight books about Chicago Police Detective Larry Cole, all of which drew on his experiences as a Chicago cop. When he died in 2001 the mentor program was launched to remember his contribution to the writing community.”
To say that I’m honored and thrilled is an absolute understatement. (I just made my news Facebook official and I’m getting a little verklempt as the “likes” are rolling in from my friends and family, as well as the awesomely random comments I’m getting from folks. Getting. Teary.)
So while v3 is marinating in its own weird thought process, I’ve decided to treat myself to a little bit of a diversion. No, I’m not binge watching old episodes of Quantum Leap. (That was at the tail end of November. And yes, that did get in the way of the deadlines I had set for myself. Darn you Scott Bakula!) I’m going through and outlining a story idea that I had a few years back and have a few chapters written on.
Although AL is a marriage, I’m having a wonderful little fling with this story that I call “Summoned.” Again, I want to give AL a month’s worth of rest, so I’m doing a little bit of research on Summoned, working on an outline (I’ll talk about my crazy writing process in a future post. I always thought I was a pantser – and I am! – but man, there’s something seductive about writing an outline too.). I am aiming to be done with the outline by the time I pick AL up again.
So … life is good. Life keeps rolling on. And I keep setting deadlines. I wouldn’t want it any other way.
(*) Of course, now I can’t find that random statistic regarding how many blogs are abandoned in their first year. But if you Google “abandoned blogs,” various articles state that 95% of blogs are abandoned.
It was great seeing you this past weekend. And thank you for the kind words that you wrote in your book to me. I can’t tell you adequately what it meant to read that.
I’m struggling today. Part of it is exhaustion from the kiddos. They are great, but between parenting and work and trying to make the needle move on the novel edits, it doesn’t leave time for much else. And then there is the editing process itself … one foot in front of the other, all while trying to ignore the inner voice that tells me that each word that I place on the page is shit. And while some people think that writing can be taught, they forget that I really have no mental capacity to retain the words in the writing books that I’ve read. In the meantime, I want to read some more Craig Johnson. When I read the first Longmire book, I felt electrified. His voice was so unique and genuine. How do I capture that and find my own genuine voice? But more accurately – when the hell am I going to find time to read?
Sorry that this has turned into a regular ol’ bitch session. I had wanted to get some pages to you by the end of the year. And I think that I’m almost there. But as I keep revising, I can see a couple of spots that just need a little more love before I let this baby out into the world. How do I deepen the relationship between my heroine and her father? How do I transition naturally into a romantic relationship between her and Travis? How do I amp up the tension, but keep the B-story progressing? How do I know that this book is not shit?
I’m not going to stop. This is what I do in my “free” time. I try to move that needle and inch closer to my dream of being a published fiction writer. But god, sometimes it’s hard.
Hope that the bird hunting went well and that your hunting buddies didn’t give you too much grief that you had to postpone your trip to attend your book signing. It’s going to sound stupid when I say this, since you are old enough to be my dad – but I am so very proud of you.
^^ An unsent letter to my mentor. Today’s a tough day, but if writing was easy – everyone would do it. I am getting so close, but the edits are taking longer than I anticipated and there are just a few problem spots that need time, love, and undivided attention.
I will get there. I will persevere. But damn, there are days that I think my spirit animal is an effing tortoise!
OK – now that my rant is over. Here’s what’s good:
My author platform is limping/wogging (walk/jog – get it?) along. I’m aiming for a January 1, 2015, launch. Kind of scary, but I embrace it.
I entered the first 20 pages of AL to a writing competition that is hosted by a state chapter of the MWA. To be honest, I do not anticipate to win, but I basically invested $25 into a brief critique of the opening chapter of AL. And you know what I realized through that process? I do need to tighten up some of the exposition a little bit. That re-read in getting those pages ready for submission provided a great moment of clarity.
That’s what’s good in the writing world. When it comes to everything else, life is pretty damn good. My BFF gets married this weekend. It’s fall in Minnesota and the tree out in front of our house is a beautiful tangerine shade. My husband and kiddos are healthy. And there’s a lot of love in my world.
So, here’s the thing – I try really hard not to be “that mom.” I don’t think that my kids’ poop smells like roses. I don’t let them climb on strangers’ furniture and then praise their precociousness. I try really hard not to dominate conversations with how stinking cute they are. And while I think my oldest shows signs of being a burgeoning genius (he can count to 14! he knows colors! he knows letters! but he sucks with a fork! and he just turned two!), I keep most of those revelations to myself and only discuss them in whispers with my husband and the kids’ nanny.
Here’s a cliche for you: Becoming a mom did something to me. Yes, something beyond ensuring that my favorite jeans would never settle on my hips properly again. Something beyond the obligatory “when I see them walking around, my heart is gallivanting outside of my body.”
Becoming a mom has changed my focus on writing. Notice: I will never say that becoming a mom has made me a better writer. I came too close to not being able to bear children to be that kind of a twee asshole. But I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you that motherhood changed things. First off – reading books that “fill the well” and inspire me? Sandra Boynton may not have the same allure as the latest Diana Gabaldon, but it’s what I’ve been reading. Over and over and over again. And running off to the coffee shop to sit for hours noodling on prose? It still happens, but it’s usually a once a week thing that’s planned around bedtimes and my husband’s standing game night.
Having my eldest son paved the way for change, but Number Two pictured above was the game changer. I was working on my manuscript for “Afterlife” up until the night before we went in for our scheduled C-section. And then I finished the first draft of AL on the last day of my maternity leave (thanks to an amazing spouse and three mornings a week that our babysitter came to acclimate herself to two hooligans versus one). Having my youngest son – who turns a year old today (eeek!) – ushered in the era of “getting shit done.”
Lev Grossman wrote an engaging piece on how his daughter helped him find his voice. And talked about the challenges and frustration of trying to write in fits and spurts, but more importantly – how prior to the birth of his daughter, there were writing days where he let himself down, but with the arrival of Lily, he’d be damned if he’d let her down. (I love this: “Any time I wrote a sentence that was less than true I could feel her looking over my shoulder and shaking her head, slowly and sadly: Come on, Daddy. We both know that’s crap.”)
Although I spend time on Facebook narrating what I think my sons are saying with their expressions, I don’t have this image of them on my shoulders chiming in every time I make an editorial misstep. But what I do have are two really adorable and engaging little boys that have helped me prioritize.
So – happy birthday to my youngest and last baby, my littlest bear. And if you or your brother ever decide that you want to spend your lives stringing words together – do not let fear limit you. Live authentically. And the quickest way to write a novel is to park your ass in a chair and put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, and write.
“Filling the well” is one of my favorite cliches and it’s one that I find circling my head space when I’m doing almost anything that gets me outdoors, away from the computer, or encourages me to think outside of my mind’s normal realms of travel. My recent trip to visit a friend? I got a lot of work done on AL, but I also got a chance to revisit some favorite haunts that may or may not appear sometime in the future in my fiction. The occasional nights out that I have with old co-workers? Sometimes it is tempting to say no, but I work from home. I don’t interact with as many people as I once did and I find that those nights are usually filled with little moments where I see something that I can use in a story – usually moments or quirks that I can put in my characters.
This past weekend, my husband and I took a road trip up to Superior, WI / Duluth, MN to show our sons the Aerial Lift Bridge and watch some big ships come into the bay.
I am officially one chapter behind on the progress I’ve been making on AL edits, but this was good. And if you ever read a story of mine that involves a precocious two-year-old saying “oh no!” when Mommy hits the brakes too hard, it’s a moment from my own well.
I had set an internal deadline of finishing edits on my Shitty First Draft (SFD) by July 1. It is July 1. And I’m about four chapters, give or take, behind. However – I am not bummed by missing this deadline. I have two children under the age of two that are running afoot, I work full time, and I really like spending time with my husband and other family members; I’m cutting myself a little bit of slack. And that’s partially because I’m confident that I’m not far away from finishing my edits.
What’s next? I’m wavering between giving my story some time to rest and marinate (what does that even MEAN?) or going right back into more edits. I think I’m going to give it a little rest, partially to give myself some objective distance, but mostly because there’s another project that’s been niggling at my gray matter and I want to do some outlining on that before I return to my edits. I worry about losing my momentum, but my instinct is telling me that I’m going to be OK as long as I return to AL before August 15th.
In other news – I’m reading again. When I’m writing, my reading habit becomes feast or famine. And if I do read, I want to read something that I’ve read before (It’s my brain’s version of comfort food? I’m really strange? All of the above?), I’m out of my famine mode and back into feasting on books. I’m back to reading Patricia Briggs’ “Mercy Thompson” series and restarted the “Alpha and Omega” series. I love the world that Briggs created with these characters – again, mental comfort food. I’m also reading books on the Russian empire – Robert K. Massie’s “Catherine the Great” and Edvard Radzinsky’s “The Last Tsar.” I’ve been minorly obsessed with the Romanovs since high school. And like my penchant for mental comfort food, I cannot explain why I am drawn to those eras in history and that country.