Monday, December 29, 2008

looking into the crackly fire

Ah, the crackle of the fire, the click of the keyboard, the shush of skis on a snowy glade, the fire of whiskey down the throat. It's all good.

Kirk and I have been holed up in Central Oregon, thanks to some very generous folks who loaned us their cabin. We've been skiing, walking, napping. We've made some fabulous meals, relaxed and played and worked a little too. (Where there's wi-fi, there's billable hours).

Last night I dreamt a little bit about my novel. Which is always a good sign, right? When your imagined world enters your nighttime fairy walk? There were vehicles involved, and I think they were driving off of cliffs. Or snow banks.

For years and years, I've wanted and resisted to throw a character into fatal peril via a Christmas tree truck. Seriously, way back in the early nineties, I had this scene all written out. It was near the end of a story, and I'd taken the Christmas holiday and twisted it up with a fatal collision. I deleted the scene, not wanting to tempt fate. After all, I'd foretold several disasters by writing about them: backed up septic systems, marital divide. I wasn't about to ring the dinner bell on a head-on collision with a Christmas tree truck.

But. I must write that very scene. My character who has seizures because of that scene needs her fifteen minutes in ICU. I know all the words, even: she'll have sustained a
skull fracture with traumatic subarachnoid hemorrhages, which just so happens to be the cause of death listed on my first husband's death certificate.

My husband wasn't hit by a Christmas tree truck, btw. It was a teenager who'd fallen asleep at the wheel. Decades later, I've still not written a successful scene that captures the mood and the tone and emotion of extreme trauma. I want to do it with this novel. But at the same time, I'm chicken. I don't want the gods to punish me for looking into the fire, y'know?
So far in this book there has been a suicide, cancer, stroke, marital infidelity, teenage pregnancy.. oh yeah, and homicide.

One tiny head trauma shouldn't be such a bump in the road with this clan, right?
Well, in my novel, the last chapter I wrote ends with "that" phone call. Actually, the phone has merely rung. Nobody's picked up yet. Tomorrow's challenge: the news must be delivered, the siblings must react, the ICU must be visited.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

time: quantity, quality and reality

STL update: I'm rounding the corner on 200 pages completed. Which means, I'm about half-done with the third revision of my first draft. (I daisy stitch when I write, always looping back and filling in).

I wish I were further than that, of course. I wish I had completed the third version of my first draft. Alas, it is not so. And tonight, with a prompt from my beloved, I see why. Adding up all the hours in a given week that are "givens": i.e. parenting, income-producing work, bare essential household tasks, all the hours between 6:45 a.m. and 8:30 p.m., Monday thru Friday, are taken up already. And this is without fun stuff or big projects added in. No going to the movies, hiking in the woods, cleaning out the basement.

Thanks to some very generous holiday benefactors, I'm enjoying a rare few days in a cabin. Just Kirk, me and my computer. The kids are elsewhere, and I've reduced my work load to a minimum for this traditional slow down Christmas through New Years, in hopes that I'll produce pages and pages and pages. So far, I've written six. But, the good news is that during the writing of those six pages, I had enough uninterrupted, no distractions time to uncover a big reveal which will tighten the book and meld the characters together in an unexpected and very welcome way. At least that's how it looks at the end of this very relaxed and productive day.

Monday, December 22, 2008

If your Christmas tree lights are on a timer and nobody's there to see them, are they really lit?

Christmas is a stone's throw away, temporally speaking, and we're holed up in Manzanita still, feeling pretty lucky but at the same time, off our pablum in that way that you get when you suddenly find yourself gutted of your routine.

I actually had plenty of time to work and write today, but it came in fits and starts. Most of the day I was being serenaded by my energetic nine-year-old and his friend: toy gun wars, inane sit-coms and action movies, the occasional squabble.

Then there's the food: breakfast, brunch, lunch, snack, snack, snack, dinner, snack. Clean-up around each. The origami attempt (who knew making an iris would be so hard?) The attempt to play Cranium with the youngsters: how could they not know how to make the anagram "Iron Curtain" out of "torn CIA ruin"? C'mon, don't they teach them anything in the 4th grade? (Cranium was the final straw for the husband, whose patience finally ran dry and he disappeared up into the ether of naps and Ann Rice books).

They've closed various highways between here and home. It's wet and cold here, at the coast, but icy, frigid and snow-slammed back in Portland. Our Christmas tree's timed lights are going on and off without us. Our neighbors are graciously filling our cat's food bowl. There's the weird feeling of unearned vacation. The scourge of the self-employed. And my novel not quite halfway done.

Kirk and I ventured into the night, which was actually somewhat starry and Wisemanish. We walked towards the beach, without the aid of the flashlights, which we stupidly left back at the house. Nobody else was out, of course. We stumbled about on the dark sand, narrowly missing the pools of ocean water. The slippery strands of kelp. But I loved the feeling of him right next to me while the enormity of the ocean roared and spit its waves our way. Nature's own timer: tide. Not bound by our work lives, or our prosaic response to the solstice, or the need to have every food group represented in order to call it a meal.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

winter solstice treasure-hunting

I am in paradise. Kirk, Carson, a friend of his and myself are holed up at our good friend's beach house in Manzanita while 90 miles to the East ice and snow continue to torment the "so over it" city whence we hail. Even though we're above freezing out on the coast, it's a nasty, cold, wet winter day out here, so mostly, we're inside, nestled near the gas-powered fake fireplace. It's a sort of "I in my kerchief and mom in her hat," vacation. There are videos, puzzles, games and books in every nook and cranny. After dinner tonight we gathered up odd assorted objects and played a homemade version of "blockhead," trying to create precarious towers that wouldn't fall. Kirk and I played a "speed anagram" game called "My Word," which nearly resulted in fisticuffs!

There's lots of food here. And booze. We're set.

Our friends have appointed their house with many a book, and last night I pulled a random one out. A mystery type genre hardcover written by some well known author (well known enough to have her likeness encapsulate the entire back of the cover), and here's a sample of the language describing the main character's viewing of herself on the way to a party:

"As they descended to street level, she assessed her reflection in the metal elevator door and realized that her efforts hadn't been in vain."

It's not that that's a terrible sentence, it's just that it's not that interesting. If this person were in our workshop, we'd probably skewer her for a sentence like that. "Writerly language," we'd scribble on her pages. "Formal tropes."

But, hey, this gal has written, like, 60 books. Who am I to scold her for her received text? But, in my tragically elitist state, sentences like that can keep the lights on in bed for about 5 minutes, and then they begin to compete with other things I might be inclined to focus my attention on.

Ah, but all is not lost with regard to the literary possibilities therein, as we spent a bit of time today in what passes, in Manzanita, for a Goodwill. It's a place called Cart 'em, and it's a treasure hunting venue. Cart 'em is the receptacle for all things no longer desired; a place where locals dump their white elephants and the stuff that doesn't sell at their yard sales, and everything's organized in a 7,000 square foot pole barn. Treasures abound. Kirk gave each of the boys five bucks and turned them loose, giving them prompts to find Christmas gifts and art projects. They returned with armloads of stuff. As for me, I headed to the bookcases. Turns out there were two, count 'em, two copies of Irving's, "A Widow for One Year," a book I'd never read. I yanked it off the shelf, and it delightfully passed my opening sentence litmus test: "One night when she was four and sleeping in the bottom bunk of her bunk bed, Ruth Cole woke to the sound of lovemaking—it was coming from her parent's bedroom."

Provocative, right? Well, it gets better:

"It was a totally unfamiliar sound to her. Ruth had recently been ill with the stomach flu; when she first heard her mother making love, Ruth thought that her mother was throwing up."

Now, how could you not peel off fifty cents after reading that; how could you not buy the book from the junk shop?

Kirk's in bed benext to me with the "Outliers" I gave him as an early Christmas present, and I'm about to find out what awaits Ruth Cole, and I'm hoping that we're settling in for, as they say, a long winter's nap.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

take that amazon

Betwixt and between the snow storms, I drove into work today hoping to tip a few windmills, make a little dough and find some time for my novel and/or my nonfiction book.

I did knock some things off my list for sure, but I was quite preoccupied by a situation in the other room. Chuck Palahniuk had arranged to meet the manager of the St. Helen’s Book Shop at the gallery where I work, since it was a half point between the shop and his home, and with icy roads, they split the distance.

Amid several stacks of books, Chuck stood at a cafe table with rubber stamps, ink pads, paint, paint brushes and pens—oh, and sheets of wax paper so it all wouldn’t all smear into oblivion, because when you’re Chuck Palahniuk, and you’re signing stock, and the stock are dozens of hardback Fight Clubs, Rants, Snuffs, Survivors, Chokes etc…you want to make sure that the end recipient knows that purchasing books via an independent bookseller is a good thing.

Chuck was standing at that table for hours, as the book shop manager delivered stack after stack from box after box of his books. 

Chuck is the most disciplined person I know, and his resolve to connect with his readers has paid off.  Go to any country in the world, randomly yank a 25 year-old person off of the street and ask him who Chuck Palahniuk is.  They’ll know, and it’s not just because after he writes a book he throws it off the bridge of the publishing world and waits around to collect his royalty checks.  This writer engages with his fans through his website, where he offers craft classes, and through his readings, where he puts on shows that rival Robin Williams in spirit and energy, and Cirque du Soleil in props.  He sends packages of gifts to fans who write him letters, and he navigates icy roads at Christmas time so his readers can get books that have been signed, sealed and delivered with his very own brand of love—via an independent bookseller in a tiny town northwest of Portland, Oregon.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Avoiding Jacob Marley’s Chain

Looks like the spirit of the season won out after all! Not only that, but we're having a COOKIE MAKING party this evening. God bless us, every one.

Monday, December 08, 2008

grinch mom

As you all know, the holiday season is upon us. This makes it a bit more challenging to follow through on daily word count goals, but I'm determined not to let the distractions of holly and cookies and parties deter me from my plan. Well, most days, anyway.

I'm working on two chapters simultaneously. Chronologically, they dovetail, but in the real life of the characters, the scenes are separated by twenty years. But, as in real, real life, the scenes both take place during the holiday season. The centerpiece of each scene has to do with procuring and setting up a Christmas tree.

Kirk and I agreed that we wouldn't get a tree this year. Well, not a cut one, anyway. I brought home one of those potted numbers they sell at Trader Joe's. The ones small enough to fit in the plastic shopping bags they sell. My nine-year-old looked as though I'd (and I'm borrowing this line from something I read recently) just gave him raisins for Halloween.

"When are we getting the real one?" he wanted to know.

"Um, honey, we're not getting a dead tree this year," I said. I was hoping the word "dead" would conjur up a "green" context and he'd get that this gesture falls into the "recycle," "turn off the water while brushing your teeth," "bike to school instead of taking the car," messages.

But no. He said, his eyes nearly leaking tears, "But we always get a tree."

Not only am I wanting to skip the whole tree thing, but I don't intend on fulfilling his Christmas list, either. For instance, he's not getting an i-touch, nor is he getting a PSP. At least not from moi. Since he confessed to knowing the real deal about Santa, I figure, it's time to interject a bit more home and hearth into the holidays. We'll make cookies, watch old movies, go to the coast and to the mountains. Do things together instead of purchase and fuss and wrap and hustle.

"Well, honey," I said to my son, "You know, there's a recession. That means that we have to be careful about the money we spend. We have to make choices."

"I choose a Christmas tree," he said. "A real one." And by real, he meant cut.

This morning, before he woke up, I was eyeing the corner of the room, weakening my stance. The little Trader Joe's tree does look a little like a potted plant, even with the blue and white lights that weave around it.

Maybe a table top sized tree. One that will go from coffee table to ceiling. In the big picture, what's one more nod to normative tradition?

I wonder how this will play out in my novel.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

busy busy busy busy busy busy

If you dialed my number right now, it would go right to voice mail.

Over the past two weeks I've picked up 3 new clients, several more projects from legacy clients, and am still determined to make time each day for my own writing. And then there was the November holiday. And the upcoming December one(s).

Last night, it felt like I ate a bowling ball. Seriously, there was this ache that felt like it had formed around something lead in my upper abdomen. But it went away by this morning, thank God.

Thing is, I thrive on work. The little queue you carry around with you that's filled up the tasks? I love that. Always knowing that there's a new piece of work in line behind what you're attending to at the moment--that's my sweet spot. Right now, that thing is a shower. Alrighty then!