Wednesday, November 30, 2011

On Broken Things. (Again, no links. Not about buying today, at all.)

"Ring the bells that still can ring, Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack, a crack in everything, That’s how the light gets in." ~ Leonard Cohen

I guess I could just stop right there, with Leonard Cohen. Damn, he compresses everything into rich antioxidant juice.

But since it's the holidays, I feel inclined to share that I didn't spend Black Friday in line at Best Buy. I probably should have, though, because my dryer door is duct-taped. Every ten minutes or so, the tape comes undone if the load is too heavy. And some days, damn, that load is way too heavy. The dryer is not that old. I reluctantly bought a new one three years ago when my garage-sale one died. I have paid to fix this new dryer twice. Paid to have the door replaced, then turned sideways. Paid by staying home and waiting when I could have been out trying to get new clients. And paid now, in ten minute increments, and by hanging up everything that fits on the line, everything that likes catching sunshine.

My life is a tad duct-taped.

Three kids, two dogs, two cats. Nothing stays nice for very long. I've learned to not even start out with nice. If you start out with used or borrowed, you don't feel as badly when you have to mend it. Or steam-clean it. Or ignore it. Ignoring works.

Right now, after 10 years in one place, everything small is falling apart. We fixed the big things. Now the small things, one on top of another, snowball. The oven, the fan, the toaster, the dryer, the bed frame. It's okay knowing the sofas have holes but now the slipcovers hiding the holes have holes. Can you duct-tape a sofa? I believe you can.

My middle daughter is still traumatized by the year that my husband duct-taped her down parka. But we all know how much parkas cost. And how, when you sew them, the feathers still sneak out around the slash of your stitches.

This morning when I let the dogs out in the dark, there was a light welcoming me. Was it the star of Bethlehem? No. Our car, headlights left on all night. (Should teenagers be allowed to drive at night, let alone vote? Discuss.) The teenager is awakened. In pajamas, we juggle owners manuals, keys, flashlights in our teeth. Electric principles, positives and negatives, remnants of science classes gone by, are discussed. The car does not turn over. It does not spring to life.

The cost of a battery, deducted from babysitting earnings, is silently calculated in my daughter's eyes as the sun comes up. She has seen how big that battery is, how much larger than "C" or "D". She has already paid for a flattened tire, a dented bumper, a small accident when she hit a friend. She is young, and already exhausted with paying, of replacing, with comparison shopping, with time away from homework and friends, with making new again.

I see it in her eyes. And I know: This is how duct-tapers are made, not born.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Just A Little Early Holiday Story. No Links. Nothing to Buy.

It's too beautiful to sit inside writing all day. The bike must be ridden a bit. What else are 66 degree November days for?

I weave through the trucks up and down the street, the trucks driven by the foremen, the stone masons, the plumbers, the roofers, the plasterers, the kitchen designers, the marble cutters, the mural painters who replicate the Sistine Chapel in the breakfast nooks.

Our neighborhood, once divided equally between lush woods and modest homes, has been under construction for 10 years. Wooded lot by wooded lot. McMansion by McMansion. Truck by truck. The noise some days requires headphones indoors. Outside, riding my bike, it's even worse. As a little girl in one of my not-yet-published novellas says, as she stares at a wood chipper: "Is that the sound of the tree screaming?"

Yes. Yes it is.

Some of these homes are beautiful beyond measure, filled with fine people I have loved getting to know. But two of them, the ones built later, at precisely the wrong time, sit empty, in limbo. Too expensive to sell. Too big to rent. Too showy to do anything but attempt to keep up appearances. Raked, trimmed, tidied. Chin up! Last weekend a service came and put up Christmas decorations and lights. Part of me finds this absurd, and part of me is grateful that someone is trying. Someone is staying cheerful, showing up, lighting the light. Fighting the fight.

Surely these homes would sell faster if they knew an author lived in the neighborhood. ;-) Or knew, perhaps, simply that someone who cared was home, and listening for them. And hoping all would turn out merry and bright.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Autumn Rules: Collection #2

Autumn Rules:

1. You're not really a parent until someone drops a pumpkin on your toe.

2. Somewhere in a dark warehouse, all the ROAD WORK AHEAD signs are loaded onto trucks for use on the exact SAME DAY.

3. Recipes in all magazines shall contain either maple syrup, bacon, or butternut squash.

4. If you have no trick or treaters, it's a sign from God that you deserve to eat candy.

5. As leafblowers descend like Hell's Angels, you will mourn the sound of a rusting rake against a drying leaf.

6. Pecans toasting on a closed fire. Jack Frost nipping at the Pinot Noir.

7. It ain't over 'til it hits 68 degrees one. last. time.

8. You will be expected to be thankful at the precise same time you have to remove mountains of dead leaves from your lawn.

9. Someone very short will ask you what the pilgrims ate, and you won't remember.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

You Are A Writer. You Know You Are.

Being a writer has nothing to do with being published. Or wearing glasses.Or having a nice author photo that looks younger than you are. No.

You know you’re really a writer when . . .

1. Your clothes are not easily distinguished from your pajamas.

2. Your friends ask for help writing their wedding vows, their resumes, and their Netflix complaint letters.

3. On vacation, you walk into a hotel with a beautiful view and think, “ooh I can’t wait to write here!”

4. Your laptop is worth more than all your furniture combined.

5. Your primary criteria for viewing real estate is: Where will my desk go?

6. You spend more money on books than clothes.

7. You have paid a babysitter to take your children out for the night.

8. Your idea of a spa is Breadloaf.

9. You refuse to share your bookshelves.

10. When you take your child on college visits, the only thing that excites you is the library.

11. When people ask you what you want for Christmas, you say “an agent.”

12. When your kids have puppet shows, you urge them to work on their dialogue a little harder.

13. You have a backup to your backup to your backup.

14. Your children have never said “Sssh, Mommy’s sleeping,” but “Sssh, Mommy’s writing.”

15. You have written a tender and compassionate acknowledgments page for each unpublished work.

16. You have had paper cuts on your palm, not just your finger.

17. The idea of going to jail just . . . does not seem that bad to you.

That's my list -- feel free to share yours!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

On My Mind: One Word Tips. NaNoWriMo. Cajones.

Saturday at Montgomery County Writer's Conference (which was a beautifully organized event on a gorgeous campus with great food -- how often does THAT happen?) I taught a 75 minute class called Do's & Don'ts for Writing. I adapted it for the Thriller genre,as they requested, but it's a good primer for any plot-based fiction, and I worked really hard developing the material and the point of view, culled from all my how-to books and working knowledge as an author.

Afterwards, a gentleman came up to me and said, "Great class. The best of the day." I thanked him, and then he said something so bold I didn't even understand it: "Can I have that paper you're reading from?" I asked him to repeat himself. He pointed to the stapled outline in my hand. "The notes you taught the class from. Can I have them?" And I burst out laughing. "No," I said. "Why?" he asked. "Because it contains trade secrets," I whispered.

Given my overall openness at sharing writing tips on my blog, and on twitter, and helping complete strangers who write to me and ask, maybe I shouldn't have been that shocked. But I was. If he had been a man with no hands, or a blind man, or a deaf man, I would have given him the world. "Take notes!" I wanted to scream at him. "Bring a pencil or a laptop, you knucklehead!" He walked away and I was still shaking my head over his nerve, when he walked up a few minutes later with a copy of my first novel, STANDING STILL and asked me to sign it. This was surprise number two, that he wasn't angry with me, and was willing to buy it abook. Then he unleashed surprise number three, as I bent my head over the title page. "Just write your phone number down," he said.

Sigh. Apparently, "Can I have your notes?" is a pick-up line.

I know slides are turned over in the corporate world all the time. But a lifetime of writing advice? Weigh in, guys, go ahead. Tell me I'm wrong.

In the meantime. . . in the spirit of "handing over my notes" -- here are my twitter writing tips from the week:

Today's #NaNoWriMo Tip: STUCK? Maybe someone new needs to knock on the door. Or someone needs to travel to a new place.

1-Word Tip for #NaNoWriMo: SENSES. As in what does your character smell, taste, hear? Use the senses to show.

1-Word Tip for #NaNoWriMo: DESPERATE. If desperate to up the word count, add a dream, flashback or prologue.

Today's 1-Word Tip for #NaNoWriMo: WHY. As in give every character a concrete reason for their actions and desires.

1-Word Tip for #NaNoWriMo: CONFLICT. As in inner conflict. Two paths to take. Two lovers to choose. Creates tension!

1- Word Tip for #NaNoWriMo: DESIRE. Your lead character must want something badly and have obstacles in the way.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

A Longish Writer's Tip. Along With A Story of, Well, Woe.

What do I do when I'm stuck in the middle of a novel? I look out the window and play a game I'm good at. It's called "What If . . .?" Spend a few minutes coming up with ten "What if?s" for each character, and you can't help but have plot possibilities unfold. Soon, character by character, connections will emerge. Suddenly "What if Julian was having an affair" lines up with "What if Sylvia is hiding a secret from her daughter" and boom. You have a subplot.

Why am I good at this? Because I have panic disorder. Which is, essentially, the ability to wake up in the middle of the night, hear a thump, and "What if?" myself right into believing tanks from the Spanish Inquisition (hey, what if they have tanks?)are rolling across my lawn. It's a great skill. For those of you who are naturally anxious, use it. For those of you who are not, give it a try.

During the day.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Tips for #NaNoWriMo So Far This Week:

Yes, I'm a two-time veteran. And having written so damn many manuscripts I know how to get tripped up and how to untrip myself. Hope these help.

1. If you have an idea but don't know where it goes, write it anyway. You'll need it for the dreaded middle.

2. Whenever you're feeling strong, surpass your daily word goal. So you have some words banked.

3. Don't take the time to name any characters. Just assign a letter & do it in December.

4. At the end of a work sesh, write a sentence leading into the next scene, so ur not left hanging.

5. Don't be tempted to stop and do research. Leave a placeholder, i.e. "Brilliant facts about X go here."

6. Avoid editing temptation. After a sesh, make a page break & write a sentence of the next scene.

7. Don't fall into the trap of always using description to fill word count. Move to the next scene.

8. Set up mini- rewards tied to mini-goals. Like a few M&Ms, cup of tea, or a warm neck wrap.