"Army" by ~insanity-is-a-gift - deviantART.com

Yesterday I dropped my husband off at the Army Recruiting Station and watched him get into a car of waiting recruits.  Then I drove away.

I will most likely not see him again until Christmastime.  He has 10 weeks of boot camp followed immediately by 34 weeks of officer candidate school.

Now, my husband and I may act like we’re 12 sometimes, but we’re hardly spring chickens, if you know what I mean.  I, myself, am a robust 36-year-old (pre-pre-pre-cougar, I prefer <g>), and my hero husband just turned a foxy 38.

So, who knew that at age 38, my husband would be entering boot camp?  Who knew that at age 36, I would become an Army wife and have a teeny tiny person attached to my hip…literally?

I know what you’re thinking.  This is a scenario for much younger people.

I know.  I’ve got friends my age who are two years from retiring from the military and their kids drive.  And boy, do they feel sorry for us starting at Square One Designed for Younger People (TM).

That’s okay.  I appreciate all the concern.  I do.  But all I can think is, THANK GOD I’M 36!

Maybe I was more flexible and had more energy when I was younger.  But I was so…unformed in so many ways in my 20s, that I can’t imagine how I might have handled this situation then.  But now…I don’t know.  I feel good.  And I feel bad for feeling good, like I should be feeling worse than I am.

I’ve gotten nice calls from relatives offering favors, expressing concern, letting me know they understand how scared I must be.  If you need anything, don’t hesitate to call.* I’m expecting the casseroles to arrive any minute.**

Don’t get me wrong.  There were a few tears.  I may be 36, but I haven’t yet petrified into stone.  I’m going to miss my Fat Cat.  We’ve been together for about 12 years now.  I think the longest we’ve ever spent apart was maybe 4 days.  And it’s hard for me to think about him missing out on a whole year of Puppy’s babyhood and her missing out on a whole year of Dada.  She’ll be 2 the next time he sees her.

So, yeah, I am a little sad.  I’m going to miss him.  But we’ve been prepared for months for this.  It’s a great opportunity for our family.  And the way I see it, it’s a great opportunity for our marriage.  Sometimes it helps in relationships, I think, when there’s enough space that we can get the hell out of each other’s way, if that makes any sense.

And the next time we see each other, we’ll have new stories to share with each other.  We’ll have each other’s successes to share and celebrate.  And we’ll be starting off on new adventures in new places.  It’ll be good times.

So after I drove away from the Army Recruiting Station, I took my little girl for some shopping at Target.  Then I went home and discovered my dogs running amok in the front yard.  Fat Cat had been gone for exactly one hour, and already I could smell a coup brewing amongst the natives.

Anyway, it’s good to know that I can shout-herd two idiot dogs into the backyard and hammer shut dog escape routes with a toddler underfoot.

See?  That’s me, age 36, putting on my Big Girl Panties, handling my business.

I’m an Army of One.***


*  Excellent!  There’s a bunch of trim all around the house that Fat Cat wasn’t able to finish painting.  I’ve got a ladder that will reach the peak of that steep roof no problem if you stand on your tippy toes.  Thanks so much!

**  I’m so okay with that.

***  “One is the loneliest number….” just kidding.  But still, I can’t wait until Fat Cat gets home.  I miss him already.


Photo courtesy of stock.xchng.

Photo courtesy of stock.xchng

Please forgive the recent silences.  I have surrendered myself to an ambitious spring cleaning campaign in an effort to raise my household status from a Stage 3 Disaster Area to something more manageable, like a chronic and persistent state of emergency.  Our family is at the cusp of Major Change, and I’m realizing I had better get organized and fast or I’m going to be in a world of whine.

Next Monday, Fat Cat embarks on his own ambitious campaign to become All He Can Be at boot camp, and amid all the last-minute projects — he’s painting the house pink — it’s officially a girl’s house! — squee! — I’m finding myself contemplating thoughts I never before expended synapse energy on…like how do I turn the electricity/water/gas on and off; having to get our taxes done before April 14th (totally weird — a never-before-has-happened occurrence in our household); should I really consider trying to do the yard work with a toddler wrapped around my knees, et cetera.

(“Major Change…Ya Gotta Love It!” I’m getting this on a T-shirt.)

So with all that going on, I’ve also got a couple of deadlines looming with the writers’ group and a creative writing workshop I’ve signed up for.  Knowing that I’m only one-fifth into the next new short story and still behind on the novel, I thought I could do a little spring cleaning in my story files to see if I could find anything of worth.

Normally, I’m of the opinion that it’s a terrible thing to do to dredge up an old piece and submit it for workshopping.  Number One, it’s an unfair thing to do to yourself because you’re already past it and you miss out on a lot of excitement that comes with having a new piece experienced by others.  And Number Two, I think such pieces reek from the lack of excitement, and it’s a difficult thing to overlook as a workshopper.  No one cares about something you wrote five years ago.

Of course, there’s an exception.  (Yay for exceptions!)  The exception is if it’s a story that nobody has ever read before.  It’s like a virgin story that’s been kept in stasis.  It may smell of moth balls, but it’s still fresh.  That’s all fair game.

And for the first time in Ang History, I have three and a half never-before-seen stories that have been composting half-forgotten in my story files.  Two of them had fatal errors that needed working out — which I think I have the answers! — and one of them needs a spit and shine, but is otherwise a decent story.  And the unfinished story is…well, it needs to be finished.

It was fun to reread these stories.  It was like finding old pictures from when I was younger and skinnier. <g>  It’s also encouraging to read something you wrote as a different person (before motherhood, say) and find that you still enjoy it.

Anyway, it was worth getting down on my hands and knees and clicking on “Explore” and clicking open those dusty little files.  Definitely better than what I found in the back of the refrigerator.  Mmmmm….


"Capture the Moment" by asheeolee - deviantART.com

Last Wednesday, Steven Pressfield posted an article to his blog titled “Write for a Star.” He takes the age-old rule of screenwriting, “Write for a star,” and discusses its applications in all creative endeavors.

To summarize and paraphrase — to get the full goodness, go read the post, then come back here <g> — Pressfield says that the star in any creative endeavor can be a person, a product, or a style;  and he makes a compelling argument for writers to know who or what the star is in their story, and then give the star the great lines, the great moments, the great lighting.

So I’ve been mulling this over.  I know that there are some writers who always start with a character.  I also know writers who always start with an idea.  I’m one of the latter.  So how do we as writers take our star, our great character or our great idea, and give it top billing?

I read recently about a restaurant with a fab-delicious recipe that never sold well…that is, until they renamed the recipe “Bang Bang Chicken.”  They knew the recipe was a star.  It was great!  But it wasn’t until they gave it center stage and gave it a star name that people sat up and took notice.  Once they gave it a try, the buzz began.

Maybe we have to think of the process more in terms of marketing.  After all, you might have a big, hulking character named John who works as a professional assassin.  That’s cool, I suppose.  <shrug>  But call him Little John and have his favorite choice of weapon be his beefy hands, the same hands that tuck in his little daughter whom he has sole custody, and now we’re getting somewhere interesting.

What about ideas as stars?  The premise of one of my novellas is that a scientist has discovered how to repair and bring back the dead.  Not terribly original really.  But this particular scientist is using nanotechnology to pull it off.  And he’s doing it consistently and successfully.  How do you perfect a technology?  You experiment.  You have guinea pigs.

How best to showcase this idea?  How about shining the spotlight on the guinea pig, the guy who’s willing to jump off a bridge because he needs the money?  And what kind of person needs money badly enough they’re willing to commit suicide?

I’m not saying this is an especially great example.  I didn’t write the story with this notion of spotlighting the star.  But Pressfield’s article has got me deconstructing past stories I’ve written with this idea in mind:  Where’s the star here? It’s helped me figure out what works with stories I’m happy with and what didn’t work with stories that have fallen flat.  It’s a new approach for me, and I’m eager to apply it to future stories.

So how about you guys out there?  What do you think of this whole idea?  Who are your stars?  Are you making sure they receive top billing?  Are they getting the best lines, kid-glove treatment, bowls of all-blue M&Ms?

Lots of food for thought…which reminds me, I’m going to step over to the catering tables.  I hear they’re serving Bang Bang Chicken and Tiger Shrimp Cocktail today.


"Friends" by ~skimask123 - deviantART.com

Our writers’ group held our third meeting this past Sunday.  As always, there was lots of food and laughter and conversation…maybe too much conversation.  But there’s definite signs that evolution is occurring.

Already we have gained and lost members.  It’s hard to say whether we have our core group already, or if it will change again.  Knowing how human nature, life, and Murphy’s Law seem to conspire with one another, I assume it will change some more; but I think for the most part, we’re getting down to a core group.

But now that we’ve had three meetings with essentially the same people, I’m recognizing a few problems that need to be addressed in order to sharpen our group meetings.

The Biggest Problem: I think we are, for the most part, awfully polite people, which means that we’re hesitant to curtail conversation that takes us off track.  This excessive conversation has caused some disappointment for some members, especially when it occurs during the roundtable critiques.  Not only that, it takes us way past our allotted time for meetings.

The Goal: Keep conversation that isn’t specifically related to the work that is being critiqued to a minimum.  We have plenty of opportunities for this kind of chit-chat, but the focus of the meetings is the exchange of critiques and feedback.  That’s what we’re all here for…to find out how to make our specific piece better, and ultimately, to become better writers.

The Solution: A talking stick perhaps?  Only the person who holds the stick may talk.  And if they get interrupted, then they’re free to bop the person who cut them off. <g>  (Maybe we better make it a Nerf talking stick.)

There are other issues, like lack of communication, different goals as writers, different expectations of the group, different levels of commitment and feedback effort, et cetera.

All of these things have inspired me to seek help from people who have run long-running, successful writers’ groups.  After all, we’re not reinventing the wheel, right?

A quick search on Yahoo! yielded The 6′ Ferret Writers’ Group, which has helpfully listed on their website their bylaws, as well as tips for starting a group.  (Thank you, 6′ Ferrets!)  Lots and lots of great stuff in there, stuff I will be dragging over to our group to discuss with our members.

I have high hopes for this group.  It’s been a long-time desire of mine to belong to a serious, supportive, long-lasting writers’ group, to connect with like-minded people that are as serious about the craft as I am.  My wish is that we will stick together as friends and colleagues in supporting each other as we all embark on successful writing careers.

And I think in order for this to happen, we’re going to have to reevaluate our approach on how we run the group.  I think we all hope and assume that we’re coming to the table with the same basic understanding about how this thing should go, and we don’t want to presume to manage each other.  But sometimes, you just gotta sit down and hammer these things out, ask each other what our expectations are, how we want to run things.

And although I have been accused in a previous life of being a stick in the mud when it comes to rules, rules work.  As Monica Geller (of “Friends” fame) famously said, “Rules control the fun!”

So call me Monica, but let’s lay down some rules and have a lot of fun while we jam our way together towards publication!


Tool of the Trade

We’ve all been there, right?  A good idea shows up unexpectedly, and you’re caught without a way to capture it.  You’re driving or grocery shopping.  No worries, you think.  It’s such a good idea, you’ll remember it.  As soon as you get home, you’ll write it down.

And to your credit, it’s a good effort.  You repeat a keyword phrase in your head as you head home and unload the groceries.  And you get pretty far.  You make it home with this little idea rolling around in your head.

But as you’re unloading the groceries, you discover an unpleasant gift left on the carpet by the cat.  And while you’re cleaning that, one of your kids comes in and announces that they need 48 cupcakes for class tomorrow.

And that’s about when the good idea, who has been struggling in your brain’s tentative grasp, slips away…probably to find someone who will pay it the attention it craves.

You don’t notice because you’re busy running down the possibilities of whether or not you have time to go back to the grocery store before dinner and whether or not your husband would notice if his treasured cat suddenly went missing.

Sometime later, when you’re stirring a pot of turkey chili, you remember.  Only, it’s not the idea that you remember.  You only remember that you had a really awesome idea.

And then you spend the rest of the evening…and maybe even the next day…alternating between trying to summon it back from the ether and mourning its loss.  My precious!  It might have been your greatest idea ever, and it’s all the cat’s fault!

Besides the fact that as a Professional, you can’t afford to lose low-cost (free!), high-potential assets that float your way, and you have no business being caught without a way to pin down a serendipitous idea, do you really want to keep going through this cycle of excitement and grief?

I don’t.  And brother, I did it for so many years.  Ideas wake me from deep slumber, they come to me at 80 mph on the freeway, they join me when I’m walking the baby around the neighborhood — their natural habitat is out there in the world that we inhabit.

So I got myself a butterfly net, this little tape-recorder.  Nothing fancy.  It’s rather old actually.  But it gets the job done.  It glues my ideas down to a magnetic tape until I have time to pull it off and transfer it into my word processor.  And, of course, I’ve planted paper and pens all over my world, in the bathroom, in the car, in my purse, et cetera.

So now I have all my little ideas spinning in my little mason jar, awaiting their turn to be manifested into something great.  Now I just need to write faster.  🙂


"Microsoft" by DarKSaibR - deviantART.com

…why I switched to from Microsoft Word to OpenOffice.*

I had a compatibility issue with a critique I received from a friend who uses Word.  It had all kinds of great annotations and highlights, but I wasn’t able to view it properly**…so I hopped over to Microsoft’s website and discovered they had Microsoft Office 2010 Beta available as a free download.  So I downloaded it thinking that maybe I would make the switch back.

Unfortunately, I didn’t even get a chance to really check it out.  As soon as I downloaded it, I started having problems downloading files and saving images in FireFox.  I went through the whole tech support thing, routed out spyware, deleted my download file, et cetera.  Still no fix.

Finally, I just deleted Office 2010 Beta, and everything works just dandy.  It’s too bad really.  I really was interested in giving it a shot.

The other thing it did that bugged me is it made itself my default word processor, so that whenever I opened my OpenWrite .odt files, it tried to convert them and pull them up in Word.  To me, that’s like a house guest rearranging your refrigerator to their liking…in other words, it’s kind of rude.  I think Microsoft could ingratiate themselves more with users if their software wasn’t so invasive, if they gave users a choice instead of assuming we want their software to be the end all be all.

Anyway, lesson learned.  You get what you pay for.  I updated my OpenOffice.  Mozilla is working properly again.  Everything is sunshine and daffodils once more.   🙂


*  I should mention that I don’t think Microsoft is evil — but it’s a cool picture, huh?

**  If you want full compatibility between OpenWrite (part of OpenOffice) and Microsoft Word, make sure your file extensions are .doc and not .docx.  (Thanks, Kevin!)


"Painting with Light - Laptop" by neon280 - deviantART.com

This morning I finished my short story, currently titled, “The Manner of Beasts,” and uploaded it to my online writer’s group.  I’m happy with how it turned out, but the revision process was a drag.  It got me thinking about the process of a story from conception to final draft, how other writers approach this process, and how I might become more efficient in getting from idea to that final draft.

My process is pretty consistent…and probably not that different from most other writers.  Usually, I have some sort of idea that I’ll brainstorm out.  Sometimes it’s already well-developed in my synapses and only takes a paragraph to sort out.  Other times it takes several pages and several days of thinking with my fingers.  Right now, this is the process I enjoy the most…because it’s all possibilities, all energy.  I roll around in it like a Saint Bernard in a garbage pile, I swear I do.

Once I’m done brainstorming, I do a first draft all the way through.  This is where I let mistakes happen (reasoning they’ll be there the next time I come by.)  I usually mark a questionable word or section with an asterisk so I know to pay special attention to it later.  This is also the easy draft where I let myself write free, to use and reuse words lavishly, record complicated metaphors, and be outrageously bold with dialogue.  This is me, a writer, writing the first draft.  This is when I’m at my most sassy.  <snap!>  (And probably my most cheesy and most stupid…and therefore, most fun.)  🙂

Once I finish the first draft, I declare victory, which means I spend a few days patting myself on the back and figuring out which presents to buy myself.  During this time, I put a copy of said draft in a drawer and give us some time apart.

After a few weeks, I’ll dig it out and read it with a pen uncapped in my hand.  The margins get covered in comments.  Asterisked terminology gets researched and verified.  This is when I sort out word echoes and too many -ing and -ly words.  This is where I galvanize the passive verbs and shave away at character development and theme.

Once I have all my handwritten comments, the next step is going through the line-edits and making all the changes.  And for me, this is a whole ‘nother pass, another draft.  This is the part that takes me the longest, processing all the corrections and changes, considering word choice, rearranging paragraphs.  This is where I always drag my feet.  Technically, to me, this is my third draft — or my third reading.

Finally, I do a fourth reading — usually on the screen — just looking for typos at this point, and trying to read it as if I were a regular reader.

At this point, I’m done…for now.  This is the point where I feel comfortable to send it on to a reader for feedback.  Once I get feedback, I go back and do another reading, my fifth, adjusting things based on feedback.

Assuming it’s not plot-scrambling feedback and it’s fairly straightforward, I do one more reading — my sixth — to give typos and errors one last chance to make themselves known to me before I send it out into the Wild World.

I want to get faster in this process.  I need to get faster.  And it’s not about writing more stories faster necessarily…it’s more about getting the stories that I have written all the way to the final draft stage so I can send them out for a chance to compete for a publishing slot.

Many of my stories hit snags at the third or fourth draft, the part where it’s the hardest work for me — not surprisingly.  I know I’m not going to somehow streamline brainstorming or typing in corrections — I am aware it’s art and not widgets — but it seems that I could shorten the time between first draft and ready-to-be-submitted final draft if I can work at becoming more dogged and disciplined in getting through those initial rewrites.

How about you guys out there?  What’s your process, and where do you feel you need to work hardest?  Where in the process do you feel you need the most improvement?  Any suggestions for Miss Lazy Reviser here?

Come on now.  Inquiring minds wanna know. 🙂


"Alchemy" by sortvind - deviantART.com

My two-hour allotment at Starbucks has been pushed from mid-morning to the afternoon as Fat Cat readies to go to Boot Camp by stepping up his workout.  For various reasons, me no likey.

So today we tried moving it to early morning.  I snuck out of the house at 6:00 a.m., while my babies slept soundly in bed.

I love being out and about at this time.  The air is clearer, crisper, like my brain.  And a good early morning writing session sets the tone for the rest of my day.

How’d it go at home?  The two of them slept until 7:20 a.m., and were starting on Curious George by the time I got home at 8:00.  The baby hardly missed me.  A tremendous success in my book…pun intended.   🙂


Neighborhood Watch

Neighborhood Watch

A few months ago when I was taking my little girl for a walk, I saw these roof dogs barking from yon high at people walking past their house.  Here they are from this afternoon, one dog laying down and the other dog in full sentinel mode.

There’s a story behind the dog who is draped over the spine of the roof, looking towards the foothills.  It’s a story that’s been pawing at me ever since I first spotted these dogs, and it’s quite insistent that it be written.  All signs point to this week.

Besides collecting more story ideas, I made pretty good progress with a revision I’m working through.  Part of the rewrite includes composing a handful of haikus, which have been unexpected fun to write.  I’m hoping to finish it tonight as I’m eager to move on to other things.  So many lovely stories caught in the butterfly net recently….

I love what I do.  🙂


"Support" by dsiqueiros - deviantART.com

I think having the enthusiastic and undying support of your spouse to pursue your dreams is one of those things that many of us come to expect as a given in a marriage.

It’s not.

I keep forgetting this, and yet, still, I keep finding myself standing with my mouth hanging open, wondering who this creature is I call my husband.  And I know I’m not alone in this unfulfilled expectation of my spouse.

Now, this isn’t going to be a tirade against my husband and how unsupportive he is.  This is me facing the reality that my husband isn’t a reader of fiction.  He never really has been.  As much as I hold him up as my ideal reader, it’s really just that I want his approval.  I want him to be proud of me.

I keep letting myself get disappointed because he’s not jumping out of his chair to read my latest piece of fiction, or because he doesn’t think the two hours I spend at Starbucks each day to write is a high priority or even worthwhile.

The truth is, he’s never going to be invested in my dreams and my writing career like I am.  And he shouldn’t be.  He will probably never enjoy discussing the nuance of a metaphor with me or read a book of contemporary fiction on his own because he’s just not queer for language like I am.  I can only hope to entertain him occasionally with my stories.

That’s okay.  Because as much as I would like to share his interest in military-style fight-’em-up video games, I’d rather have my teeth scraped then spend an hour wired up to the PS3 hunting digital insurgents in a ghillie suit.

The important thing is that he is interested in my success and that he is interested in my happiness, and vice versa.  And that’s enough.  That has to be enough.  I keep telling myself that, ultimately, he’s on my side, and not to expect him to be someone he’s not.  Fat Cat will just never be someone who will clap his hands in glee over an amazing plot twist.  I accept this.

And this holds true with my expectations as far as parental support, familial support, and support from my friends go.  I think because writing is such a solitary pursuit, it’s difficult for people to really share in our process, to know if we’re really working hard or daydreaming, to know if we’re getting better, if we’re growing.

It doesn’t help that it’s a career choice lousy with people who never make it, moochers and couch surfers, and good-for-nothing boyfriends.  “Those guys who claim to be writing a novel, how can you ever really know?” people wonder.  “They’re just goofing off.  Everyone’s writing the Great American Novel.  Take a number.”

The only time we become legitimate is when moolah changes hands.  That’s when you suddenly become the industrious young man living frugally and conservatively with his parents while pursuing his dreams, instead of just the loser college drop-out who’s smoking pot in his parents’ basement and leeching off his folks, pretending to write a screenplay.

Money legitimizes us…shows what we’re doing is worthwhile…worthy.*  I don’t believe this is true, but my husband does.  And most people share this opinion.

I understand this.  I get this.  And I accept that my husband — hell, maybe everyone I know — will never really believe I’m the real deal 100% until a contract arrives in the mail.

By accepting all of these things to be true, I am freeing up my energy to put into the writing, to getting my stories read, to earning that book contract.  There’s nothing I can do about the level of support I receive.  Would it be nice to have better, warmer, more enthusiastic support?  Sure.  But it doesn’t change the work I do and the fact that I’m the only one who can do it.

Instead of worrying about what my husband thinks about what I’m doing, stressing about it, reexamining my course of direction, I am worrying about what I have actual control over:  the work.**  And I am just that much more determined to make it, to prove that I am what I say I am.  The day that my husband treats my writing like it’s my job, that will be the day that I know I have made it.

I don’t need any support for that.  The only way I’m going to get there is standing on my own two feet, putting in those solitary hours in front of the computer, and working my ass off.  And that’s how it should be.***


*I do, however, believe that writing must be shared and read by others, just as performing art should be performed.

**Speaking of which, I made significant headway in a short story revision today…good work happened.  I feel happy on these days.

***I feel like I should be climbing up on the coffee table, my right hand laid across my breast, with the American Anthem rising dramatically in the background…and the crowd goes wild!  They like me!  They really like me!