… wherever you find it. In this case, this was 6:30 AM last Friday, Terminal G in the O’Hare Airport.
When I was a kid, one of the things that my father frequently asked was “are you helping or hindering?” (I say that to my eldest all of the time and he always happily chimes in “hindering!”)
Here’s today’s co-editor. Definitely hindering. 🙂
When I was a kid, my brother and I would regularly climb up on the bench seat of my parents’ stone fireplace and entertain the masses (eh-herm, my parents and maybe the dog) with our performance of Kenny Rogers / Dottie West songs. Another early musical memory that I have is cranking up my parents’ 8-track player and blasting Eddie Rabbit’s “I Love a Rainy Night” and then go hide under the couch. Because – you know, after the second or third time that this happened, I’m sure that my parents had no clue who the perpetrator was.
OK – so I’ve established that I was a goofy kid. The other thing? While I didn’t turn out to be a virtuoso musician, music is something that’s really important in my life and to my creative presence as a writer.
In September, Sisters in Crime had an interesting group of questions for its blog hop and since I’m apparently immune to deadlines – I figured I’d respond to one of the blog prompts: Do you listen to music while writing?
Oh absolutely, I listen to music while I’m writing. I currently have over 130 hours of music saved up in Windows Media Player and if I’m working on my day job or if I’m writing fiction, there is always music playing. I also have a little mp3 player that has a mix of music on it – that’s for airplane rides, gym trips, and writing evenings at Panera Bread when I’m not feeling the easy listening that pipes through their speakers or I want to tune out the noise that’s around me.
What’s on your playlist?
Before I delve into my personal playlists that I’ve constructed from my Works in Progress (WIPs), there’s one author who really does playlists well: Deborah Harkness. In fact, when I met her at a book signing – I stuttered my thanks for introducing me to the music of Florence + the Machine. “Of course!” she replied.
Ms. Harkness is the author of the “All Souls Trilogy” that chronicles the journey of Diana Bishop, a thoroughly American witch, and Matthew Clairmont, a mysterious and prestigious biochemist who also happens to be a vampire.
Harkness’s playlists are stunning and chronicle her inspiration for her individual characters, as well as the books themselves. As someone who is an avid reader and as someone who really loves music, Deb Harkness’s Spotify playlists are a little piece of heaven. (Find Ms. Harkness here on Spotify.)
Two of my WIPs have their own playlists. The music therein serves a couple of purposes – one is to evoke a certain feeling in me while I write. It’s not unheard of for me to play a certain song over and over again while I’m writing a certain scene or trying to get into a character’s head. The other purpose is to mentally transport myself to a certain time and place that inspired me in the first place. My novel “Afterlife” is set in 2002-03. No, I’m not going through and finding the “NOW” CD compilations from that time, but I remember what CDs I was obsessed with when I was 25 years old. Listening to Moby’s “Play” album transports me back to the tiny house that I rented when I was a broke journalist. U2’s “All That You Can’t Leave Behind” had been out for a couple years at that point, but I had just discovered that album – the song “In A Little While” in particular.
There is a tricky father-daughter relationship that weaves its way through my story. One day I was scrolling through my mp3 player and came across Cat Stevens’ “Father and Son.” That was like a visceral punch to the gut. The anguish in Stevens’ voice helps me understand some of my characters’ misunderstandings. Pearl Jam’s “Man of the Hour” also helps.
So yes – music is a constant of days and of my work.
What about the rest of you? Anyone else out there who builds playlists for their writing lives?
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.
I took a tentative step towards becoming “legit” in the social media world today and created an author page on Facebook. Then I promptly “unpublished” it. Because while I have plans, dreams, and schemes – one of those being the creation of a relevant and robust author’s platform – I have to be honest … creating that page created two feelings for me. The first – a little bit of glee. I can’t wait until I can turn this page on and be like “look at me! I’m an author!” And then the other part of me wants to duck in a corner because … well. I’m not a published author yet. (Notice, I said “published.” I do believe that there is a distinction.)
Anyway – I’ll share more later about some of the research I’m doing in regards to social media. And when I’m not such a chicken shit, I’ll share the link to my Facebook page. For now, I assure you that I’m not taking myself too seriously. After all – how could I do that when this is my profile picture?
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.
You both are my greatest inventions.
“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.
Happy July, friends!
I’ve read some really neat articles lately that feature the offices / work spaces of the “famously creative.” This article “The Writer’s Room” is from the New York Times. The other one is from BuzzFeed and features “40 Inspiring Workspaces of the Famously Creative.”
When I was a kid, having an office seemed synonymous with Being a Big Deal. I’m not sure where I got that from – my father was a farmer, the farm and its 100+ acres was his office. My mom later worked in an office, but since she owned the entire building – well … my mom had an entire building. Somewhere in my mind and in my existence, I thought to myself that if I had a space with a working door and a desk – I’d have an office. And it would be good.
Here’s my “office.” I ended up claiming this space as my own after turning my old office / spare bedroom into a nursery. To be honest … it’s a pretty great space and really gets me away from it all – with the exception of the Cat. He is perched on my worktable right now, purring. And likely plotting.
Anyway, as I’m doing edits on my first draft of my novel (the working title is “After Life” [AL]), I bought a pad of those easel-size Post-It notes. Right now, I have three up and they represent some of the main characters that are in my story and will eventually have their character arcs sketched out. As I’ve finished my first draft of AL and its initial read-through, I realize that there’s a story there and that there are some good moments, but that there are some things that are missing. I’m hoping that if I can physically SEE the arcs and can stare at them for awhile, they’ll jolt something into being. So yes – that sounds like a bunch of mumbo jumbo, but it’s already working. Last night after I affixed the current Post-Its to the wall, I had a couple thoughts regarding the backstories of a couple pivotal characters.
The revisions to my first draft of AL have taken longer than I originally anticipated – I don’t remember what my exact deadlines were, but I adjusted accordingly. I want the first set of revisions to be done by end of first quarter (April) and ready for beta readers by fall (October). To be honest – I think I might be able to hit the April deadline, but I think it’s going to take a little more love and attention before I set this child out into the world to get her first round of critiques.
Part of the reason that my edits are taking longer is because my “real life” – i.e., my job as a proposal writer, has been taking a lot of my time lately. Not only from my writing, but (more importantly) from my family. And then there’s the reality that I’m the mom of two children under the age of 2. God, I love them and while they are my best inventions – they are marvelously exhausting. But here’s the thing – even though I’ve lived solo on this earth longer than I’ve been a mother, I have found that motherhood has done some interesting things to my writing. One of the biggest things is that motherhood has helped me prioritize my time. It’s pretty easy for me to pick and choose what social obligations I’d rather skip in favor of spending some time with AL. I’d also say something about how it’s given me greater depth of feeling, but you know? That’s probably a bunch of bullshit. Motherhood is part of a larger whole of me – I draw from being a mom, just like I’ve drawn from being a reporter. I’ve even got a couple stories that came from the time that I worked as a phone operator at a cab company. Every writer is different. We all bring something unique and personal to the mix.
Writing / Doing: Setting up the Post-Its were a step in the right direction. I got a couple ideas jotted down last night that I need to play with and see how they work in the overall arc of my story.
Reading: Still going through Geneen Roth. Picked up a copy of J.T. Ellison’s latest novel “When Shadows Fall” on my Kindle. I’m looking forward to reading her latest. Also, I’ve linked to my Goodreads account on this page. This also reflects what is on my bookshelf – both physical, Kindle, and virtual.
I was standing in the shower today thinking about how I wanted to utilize this blog. Basically, I’ve blogged about debt reduction, my personal life, my fertility journey (Holy Hannah! I had two kids in two years – I’m fertile), and cooking.
So – this is a writing blog, in a sense. I write for a living – I spent seven years in newspapers and I am a proposal manager for a software consulting firm, so much of what I write is not my own creation. But what do I want to be when I grow up? A writer. More precisely, I want to write fiction that is consumed by the masses. Or, I just want to write and write and write and someday, I want my great-grandchildren to come across my words and think to themselves “wow, she wasn’t just a batty old broad after all!”
This is a writing blog. You’d think that after 20+ years of writing, I’d be chock full of expert advice on writing, but that’s not so.
So what did I do today to further my dream? I entered a short story that has the working title of “Sanctuary” in a short story contest for a respected publication. I have no clue what the odds are of winning. But it’s a story that I like and it’s a story that I’ve polished. I’m probably going to shop it around to a couple other publications / contests because it has a suspense / paranormal bent to it that might fit better elsewhere. But it’s a start.
Another thing that I’m doing, which comes from my world as a professional writer (and I’ve found that my mind seems to really respond to spreadsheets and tables … it helps me think and process), is that I’m keeping an Excel spreadsheet that tracks what contests I’m entering or publications that have my various stories in hand. This was partially inspired by reading about Kresley Cole’s process – her “rule of 25.” USA Today had an article that mentioned this method. Here’s another blog post where this method is mentioned.
I am not there yet. I’m pretty far from it, but it’s a start. 2014 is my year. It will be a year of finishing projects, getting feedback and continued efforts to grow as a writer.
Reading: “Breaking Free from Emotional Eating” by Geneen Roth (why yes, that isn’t fiction and no, I’m not zipping through it like I’d be zipping through something by Deborah Harkness, but I have food issues. I admit it.)