Wednesday, December 30, 2009

writing resolutions 2010

Our annual workshop get-together where we announce our writing resolutions was supposed to happen last night. We had a freak snow storm a few hours before the appointed gathering, so our intentions fizzled with the melting snow. Or at least the spoken declaration of them.

Given the reprieve, I'm putting mine back in the slow-cooker. There are the concrete production goals: finish a novel, sell a screenplay, etc... those are no problem. It's the process oriented resolutions I have a harder time with. The "eat healthier" as opposed to "lose 10 pounds" type promises. For years I have vowed to write first thing in the morning, before the soil of the day seeps into my psyche. I talked about this with my client Ted today. The beauty of attending to the writing, even if it means simply sitting in a room as the light changes out the window. Slow. Down. Listen.

So much of what ends up on the page is dependent upon psychic stance. Tone, character, dialogue. When we attend instead of barge forth, we are operationally at an advantage. Attending gets harder as the day grinds on.

So, in deference to the muse, in 2010, I will pledge, once again, to write before my monkey mind has a foothold. There. I said it.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

revising during "the season"

December is galloping along the way it always does. Candles, boughs of holly, ornaments, gingerbread creatures and their lairs. Who put all of these props on the stage? And then there's the concerts, plays, parties and festivals. Wassail? Why not! It's been a while since I had night free of alcohol.

I am a big fan of the seasonal hyperbole. As long as I stay clear of malls, I'm not unduly affected by the stress of too many people, spending too much money and the ennui that comes with abject commercialism.

My biggest complaint about December is that it's really hard to hunker down with the pages. Especially revision. Writing new stuff aligns with the mania of December. Sober judgment of existing work--not so much.

This Sunday afternoon, I've sequestered myself at the office, where there is nary a soul, save the cleaning lady. I've come here to tweak sentences, gain clarity on voice consistency, make back-story pacing decisions and to hopefully solve a host of other second draft problems, but my brain is not wanting to go there. It doesn't want to engage in work at all! Instead, my heart is leading my brain off in search of whimsy and baubles and the desire for rum balls.

Oh bother.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Stairway of Love gets reviewed by the briliantist writers in Portland!

Last night my writing group came over, manuscripts in hand, sat in a circle in my living room and opined on Stairway. Jim said I should have been wearing a crown. Seriously, all that was missing was a cake with candles in it and a wish before I blew them out. The Stairways lay about, each decorated with the pen colors and handwriting of my various workshop mates. Chelsea (blue marker) said she was proud of me. Cheryl (red pen) said I was one draft away from a book deal.

Everyone who writes a novel-length manuscript should have access to this--a circle of trusted advisers--smart writers all--who want you to succeed.

We're a big group. In size, in psyche, in personality, in success, in every way, we're big. And we come from disparate writing traditions. Some of us have MFAs, some literature and journalism degrees, some, none of the above. We write memoirs, thrillers, popular fiction, high lit. Poetry, reviews, screenplays and short stories. We blog, avoid the Internet, write until 3 a.m. or only in manic bursts.

Though we've been meeting weekly in one configuration or another for, in some cases, two decades, this is the first time we've ever critiqued a manuscript in this fashion. None of us was sure it would go well, in fact some of us had serious doubts it would work at all. One of the great things about our workshop, we've all said at one time or another, is that there's no homework. We show up, pass out pages, and get feedback chapter-by-chapter. Until now.

We decided to add this once-a-month whole-work review to our weekly workshop because although feedback on granular sections is undeniably useful, and has a cumulative quality as we venture further into our books, occasionally the critique veers toward the pedantic as we examine sentences and declare, on a micro-level, what works or doesn't. At a certain point, it's crucial to examine work from a big-picture stance, the way the ultimate agent, editor and reader will. For me, and for my next draft of Stairway, this was imperative.

Typical of the workshop model, the group started large and positive, and then moved into particular concerns, holes and problem areas. Having set the work aside for a month made me pretty open to hearing the negatives, and when there was disagreement about what should be done about the bumps, I felt relaxed enough to push further to get to the heart of the problem so I could determine whether the issue was universal or an individual reader's taste.

At some point, we stopped offering opinions on problem areas, and began to come up with solutions. The evening swerved into brain-storm mode. "What about" became "what if" and, in the course of two-and-a-half hours (and a few glasses of wine), MAJOR areas of my book got fixed. It was magic.

All that remains is two months of disciplined focus as I pore over my notes, re-engage my intuition, and dive into my book. Happy birthday, SOL, it's time to get you out of the womb.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

some contemporary characters redux

The 3-day Twitter-thon is over, and, frankly, I'm glad.

Moody's "Some Contemporary Characters" told via Twitter in 10-minute increments during three work days in a row proved to be somewhat like a sexy character sketch with a smart first act arc, and an ennui-riddled ending.

The characters themselves were not contemporary, really, but the modes surrounding their "hook-up" and the props and, of course, the medium of the message were all very modern.

What worked terrifically well were the tweet-to-tweet POV shifts. Better than white space on a page, the temporal cadence of 10 minute pauses between micro-narratives had an interactive component. The "reader" had time to imagine the retort of the other party, and more frequently than not, Moody thwarted that expectation with the lyrical interjection of enjambment. Not always, but enough to get your attention.

I have to admit though, I felt like a misbehaving high school student when meeting with a client with my phone blurping out the announcement of a new message continually. And if a half-hour or, God forbid, 45 minutes went by without me checking for recent installments, I felt behind--which is my big argument in opposition to Twitter generally.

The big question is, is this prelude to more of the same, or simply a passing fad.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

moody ambrosia

Rick Moody is tweeting in my pocket. Okay, it's not REALLY him--it's processed him, but the effect is the same if I suspend disbelief.

The innovative folks at Electric Lit engaged Moody for this particular experiment in micro-serialization via Twitter, and I'm enjoying the output immensely. To the reader (or audience, or viewer, depending how you experience it), it feels like being in on a secret- a fly on the wall in your favorite writer's writing room. Or maybe like being a bobblehead doll pasted next to his computer screen. Or the recipient of an epistolary manic episode.

This is the opening of the micro-piece:
"There are things in this taxable and careworn world that can only be said in a restrictive interface with a minimum of characters:"

Of course Moody would employ the colon at the beginning of this thing. The king of appropriative literature (read Hermit Crab) Moody has always been my favorite genre-bender. Twitter seems to be a terrific medium for the way he writes. The piece is dense and lyrical, utilizing repetition and enjambment innovatively and effectively.

Check it out--command it to inhabit your iPhone. You'll be hooked!

NaNoWriMo day last

I made it! Nope, I'm not a "winner" in NaNoWriMo parlance--I did not make it to 50K--but I did manage to crank out just a smidge more than 23,000 words and create a narrative hitherto nonexistent. I also managed to wreck my "t" key and build a chronic ache into my shoulders.

Nevertheless, the impetus behind signing up for this ludicrous marathon of wordspill was the carrot of unexpected reward. Unexpected because I couldn't predict whence my swerves and epiphanies and happy accidents would spring. And where they would go. And a lot of that happened--just not 50,000 words worth of that.

Yesterday, before clicking closed my laptop and heading to the dentist for a couple hours of rubber dam torture, I knew I'd failed, and I was sad. So sad, that I haven't yet logged on to the NaNoWriMo site to view the percentage of winners, because who wants to start a new month feeling like a loser?

But I did leave the contest on a high note. I added a significant lover to my narrator's cache, and in so doing found what amounts to a plot-driving grail object--the quintessential tragedy that informs my character's broken heart. So hurray for me! Not only that, but for the first time ever in my non-memoir writing career, I've appropriated an historical event for narrative catalyst. So hurray for me again.

I do plan on continuing along at less than break-neck pace with ALL OF MY CHILDREN ARE NOT HERE, but the fish fry that awaits at week's end is my writing group coming over this Sunday w/ skewers and STAIRWAY OF LOVE under their respective arms. Anyone for novel-kabob?

Monday, November 23, 2009

erin reel the lit coach

My first and only literary agent, Erin Reel, left agenting a while back to pursue other endeavors, and has created a dream career as a lit coach. It's a terrific niche market, in my humble opinion, and a perfect complement to the rapidly evolving, frenetic world of today's publishing marketplace.

With so many distractions and expectations for writers today, it's helpful to have an advocate and a guide, who's familiar with the way the publishing world works, offer a recipes for success.

Check out Erin's new blog frequently for tips on how to develop the virtues associated with literary success!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

unwelcome information

My last couple of chapters of my NaNoWriMo novel have been difficult to push out. I find myself wandering around in a wasteland of confusion, annoyance and failure of spirit.

It's hard to write this way...really hard. My mind wanders, I check facebook, I move money around on my online bank accounts, and then, just for the hell of it, move it back again.

My character--and the book--is getting way more sexual than I'd intended. Yesterday, there was a surprising revelation with her, and I reacted the same way I would had I just found out about a friend's unsavory secret. Sort of tmi, sort of "I wish I didn't know that."


Because I'm writing blindly forward in this exercise of word-count-as-grail-object, I now must digest this information, and move ahead with it and see where it all leads. Never-the-less, I feel somewhat betrayed.

Friday, November 13, 2009

keeping the momentum up

Life is full. Adding a 50,000 words in one month project to a full life can be harrowing, if not detrimental, to the delicate balance of family, fitness, fun, or yeah, and work. And don't even get me started on sleep.

When I started grad school lo these many years ago, the then-director of the program, Eloise Klein Healey, cautioned that something would have to give. That we could not expect to add 20 hours of committed work a week to an already packed life and expect that the other things would simply shove their fat butts over to make room. Like 12 tits and 13 puppies, someone wasn't gonna get fed.

And so it goes with NaNoWriMo. Producing 1,667 words per day is only possible when I take three hours to do just that and only that. So far I've been able to steal those hours two days out of the twelve. If I'm going to benefit from this experiment, I have to do better than that. Today, I'm giving up working out. I'm going to paste my rear to the chair, and maybe do some tummy tightening, glut clenching, but I shan't take the foray into the gym and all that goes along with getting my stuff together, finding a place to park, fussing with my iPod earbuds, etc... Nope, today I'm sitting here until I do my word count!

Monday, November 09, 2009

another day, another less-than-stellar word count

I wrote less that 600 words today. That's the bad news. The good news is that I think I've found a certain comfort, here in chapter four, with my character's voice, and the characters with whom she interacts have begun to feel fleshy to me. Substantive, even.

So, with pounding head (I had major dental work today), and resolve, I'm heading back in before I sleep, see if I can knock out just a few more sentences.

Perhaps a glass of Clear Creek apple brandy might help? Medicinal, of course.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

r and r. sort of.

Yes, I'm getting into the word count frenzy. Just shoot me. I'm relaxing at the Oregon coast with my darling husband (who has grades due at school Monday--so also has a hunker-down deadline), and the weather cooperated magnificently with a full on thunder and lightning hail storm this morning.

I wrote about 2,000 words, then took a break. Kirk and I walked into town via the beach and it seriously looked like a ginormous bubble bath gone awry. Bubbles of foam had churned up and were rolling all over the sand like tumbleweeds.

Got my dopio macchiato at the Manzanita News & Espresso, and headed back to the beach house, totally getting caught in a second downpour on the way home.

Unfortunately, my afternoon of writing was fragmented by the need to watch a couple of college football games on FSN, and a rousing game of dirty word Scrabble with hubby. I lost, btw.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

so you want to be a writer

My friend and business partner, Laura, sent me a reminder today. A reminder of what's at the core of my affliction and in so doing, helped me get over myself and into the spirit of revisionless writing.

It's worth passing along.

so you want to be a writer? by Charles Bukowski

if it doesn't come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don't do it.

unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don't do it.

if you have to sit for hours
staring at your computer screen
or hunched over your
searching for words,
don't do it.

if you're doing it for money or
don't do it.

if you're doing it because you want
women in your bed,
don't do it.

if you have to sit there and
rewrite it again and again,
don't do it.

if it's hard work just thinking about doing it,
don't do it.

if you're trying to write like somebody
forget about it.

if you have to wait for it to roar out of
then wait patiently.
if it never does roar out of you,
do something else.

if you first have to read it to your wife
or your girlfriend or your boyfriend
or your parents or to anybody at all,
you're not ready.
don't be like so many writers,
don't be like so many thousands of
people who call themselves writers,
don't be dull and boring and
pretentious, don't be consumed with self-

the libraries of the world have
yawned themselves to
over your kind.
don't add to that.
don't do it.

unless it comes out of
your soul like a rocket,
unless being still would
drive you to madness or
suicide or murder,
don't do it.

unless the sun inside you is
burning your gut,
don't do it.

when it is truly time,
and if you have been chosen,
it will do it by
itself and it will keep on doing it
until you die or it dies in you.

there is no other way.
and there never was.

Monday, November 02, 2009

the sun's out

...but I'm not in it, thanks to word count hell!

Yup, it's day 2 of NaNoWriMo, and I wish it would just bloody rain! Sun, rain, sleet, I'm determined to plow forward, regardless. The first page honeymoon is over, and now I must face wholesale invent--which vacillates between anticipation and excitement, and terror of flat prose.

I have two NaNoWriMo buddies--Patty Kinney and David Millstone, and I have to say--it's so much better to have company in this misery. (Ack! A silverfish pincher bug just crawled into bed with me. Yes, my laptop is in my bed too. Disgusting, I know.)

I suppose I should swap out my sidebar wordcount meter --still boasting the 100% done of my last effort, with this one--it's just freakin' scary to face the drop-in-the-bucketness of it all.


Sunday, November 01, 2009

NaNoWriMo day one

Okay, 1688 words done. The beginning has begun. Yikes. 29 more days of this. That's all I have the breath to say, at this point. Other than, writing without revising (a major "rule" of NaNoWriMo) is really, really hard for me. But then again, this is an experiment, right?


Monday, October 26, 2009

gearing up for my line of flight

This is only a test. Really. Next week I'm diving into this NaNoWriMo thing with two fingers pinching either side of my nose, so this week I'm buying the life preserver and bathing cap.

Let's just say, I'm jumping into the deep end as prepared as I can be, and for that, on dry land, I have commissioned Excel. For this 50,000 word project, I've identified 26 chapters, and within those 26 chapters, I'm at work outlining the scenes, what happens in the scenes and the plot points. I've been taking notes recently when I overhear something interesting, and I'm slapping them into the spreadsheet as well--as prompts.

It was really hard to sit on my hands today, because I've been visualizing the opening scene for over a week. I really see it, and hear it and sense it as my, what Gordon Lish refers to as, line of flight.

So--next week I dive into the pool--or take off from the runway, depending. The fun part is holding myself back.

Friday, October 23, 2009

NaNoWriMo grumbles and confessions

There's just a little more than a week before the dawn of yet another National Novel Writing Month.

In the past, I've looked skeptically at these novel-writing-as-a-community-of-declared-intention groups as hokey and ill-conceived. But why, exactly, I asked myself recently. Why do I cop such an attitude about novels approached with zeitgeist zeal? Is it because:
a. I'm hopelessly elitist
b. I like to do things in secret and not tell anyone I'm doing them due to fear of failure
c. I believe novel-writing to be a huge undertaking and making it a pep rally cheapens it
d. All of the above

It took me over two years to write my novel, and in the process of writing the "first draft" I revised, rewrote, deleted and un-deleted several drafts. Pretty much every page save the last 100 were vetted (and often re-vetted) through the brain trust otherwise known as my kickass writing workshop.

In approaching a long work, I'm pretty fussy. I tend to write the beginning of a long piece over and over and over again before, often, abandoning the idea--and the 100 or so pages generated in the process--altogether. Eventually, something sticks and I forge ahead, always circling back to shear up and tuck in and reformat. In short, I know how to write a novel MY way. I know the ebbs, flows, stutters and mis-leads that go along with poring over characters, arc, research, so, just for the hell of it, I'm now going to try the "reckless abandon" method of slamming out a first draft.

But first, I have to get a couple of things off my chest and declare my ambivalence and prejudices. I have to admit, I absolutely despise the not-quite-an-acronym NaNoWriMo (that would probably have to do with item "a" above). I don't like the cadence, the non-lyric sound and the clubbiness of it. I don't like that it ends in "mo" especially. WriMo sounds like rhymo which sounds lame-o. And then there's the audacity of the whole thing. I mean, why not NaNoReaMo? Let's spend a month READING all the novels we can get on our hands on. Maybe THAT should be the prerequisite? That seems somewhat fair, given the state of publishing today, doesn't it? Like, if you're going to be part of the problem, why not first first be part of the solution?

Another problem--online communities are wonderful supportive environments but they also can suck time and brainpower from the task at hand. Like this blog, for instance. Yup, I'm part of the problem too.

Okay. So I've owned up to my hesitancy, snottiness and foreboding. Now I'm going to play devil's advocate with myself, and admit that I was completely humbled after reading the "about" section on NaNoWriMo's website. Who am I, after all, to criticize such a guileless, worthwhile organization? So, in the spirit of suspending cynicism and crankiness, I offer the "What is NaNoWriMo" section in its entirety herewith:

National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing November 1. The goal is to write a 175-page (50,000-word) novel by midnight, November 30.

Valuing enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft, NaNoWriMo is a novel-writing program for everyone who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved.

Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It's all about quantity, not quality. The kamikaze approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly.

Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that's a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create. To build without tearing down.

As you spend November writing, you can draw comfort from the fact that, all around the world, other National Novel Writing Month participants are going through the same joys and sorrows of producing the Great Frantic Novel. Wrimos meet throughout the month to offer encouragement, commiseration, and—when the thing is done—the kind of raucous celebrations that tend to frighten animals and small children.

In 2007, we had over 100,000 participants. More than 15,000 of them crossed the 50k finish line by the midnight deadline, entering into the annals of NaNoWriMo superstardom forever. They started the month as auto mechanics, out-of-work actors, and middle school English teachers. They walked away novelists.

So, to recap:

What: Writing one 50,000-word novel from scratch in a month's time.

Who: You! We can't do this unless we have some other people trying it as well. Let's write laughably awful yet lengthy prose together.

Why: The reasons are endless! To actively participate in one of our era's most enchanting art forms! To write without having to obsess over quality. To be able to make obscure references to passages from our novels at parties. To be able to mock real novelists who dawdle on and on, taking far longer than 30 days to produce their work.

When: You can sign up anytime to add your name to the roster and browse the forums. Writing begins November 1. To be added to the official list of winners, you must reach the 50,000-word mark by November 30 at midnight. Once your novel has been verified by our web-based team of robotic word counters, the partying begins.

Still confused? Just visit the How NaNoWriMo Works page!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

why letstalkaboutwriting was broken

Let's Talk About Writing was broken for the last day-and-a-half. Had you noticed? I apologize for any convenience that this caused in my barely two-digit readership!

Seriously, I've had 24 hours of the craziest firestorm involved CNAMES and DNS and Round Robin A Names. It was like a scavenger hunt through cyber space. Every time I got a clue to a back end page or a strip of coding or some random numbers, I'd think, voila! Done. NOT!

The problem is too long and arduous to bore anyone with, but let's just say the reason for all of this had to do with an ill-conceived efficiency exercise, and it blew up in my face. There's a reason why Google is so all-powerful, and I now have first-hand experience of what happens when you try to fuck with the masters. It's a hand-slapping of the most insidious sort.

Hopefully I'm firmly on land at the other end of this debacle. Time will tell.

Monday, October 19, 2009

starting anew

It's Monday again finally. Moms who write and have kids in school love Mondays from September to June.

Let me qualify that. Moms who write and have kids in school and who have flexible enough jobs so that they can squeeze uninterrupted time with their projects love Mondays from September to June. The clock is always reset on Mondays. Unless your kids are sick. Over the weekend, mine has developed something of a phlegmy chest and the shadowy tint of under-eye circles. I hope the ten hours of sleep he's finishing up right now will be enough for me to feel good about pushing him out the door, backpack heavily clunking against his back, when the 7:15 school bus comes 'round the bend.

I haven't begun my new project in earnest yet--but I'm tackling this one differently than I did SOL. I'm heeding the advice of Ansen Dibell (who, I was shocked to find out, was a woman!) and paying close attention to the elements of plot before I even begin.

I've decided to harness the momentum that was byproduct of sprinting to the finish line with SOL and conduct a little experiment. If I can write 100 words in a month, why not 200? If I can finish a first draft in a month, why not an entire manuscript?

You guessed it, I'm signed up for NaNoWriMo with the handle gemini7 (if you want to look me up).

Besides the madcap adventure of writing forward really fast without revising, pondering and deleting, I'm putting this project in the way of temptation to revisit SOL without having let my mind and psyche rest. I have several readers poring over the manuscript, readers whose smart insights I trust (I'm so lucky!), and until they're done, and I've paused sufficiently enough to be able to absorb critique, I need to busy myself with something completely different. Thus, the novel in 30 days challenge.

NaNoWriMo doesn't begin for another couple of weeks (actually, there's only one more Monday between now and the beginning of November), so I'm doing my warm-ups, taking notes, and plotting my course. Anticipating the fun of beginning anew is a huge part of this--which also has a lot to do with why I love Mondays from September to June. I sure do hope my kid is well enough to go to school--I have a lot to do today!

Thursday, October 08, 2009

all of my children are not here and other lovely burnt eavesdrops

Tom Spanbauer calls it "burnt tongue" when you say it wrong on purpose, to bring the prose closer to the heart. The actual metaphor, burnt tongue, has something to do talking to the gods--and the punishment for the hubris. Or maybe I got that wrong. Maybe that's an example of burnt ear--or a similar post office type game gone awry.

Anyway, with SOL (not, sigh out loud, no, that would be Stairway of Love, of course) in the can, awaiting comments from my trusted writing group, I'm naturally consumed with the next thing. I have a few characters and a "situation" squirming around my brain--a most delicious time in the cycle of novel-writing. All the possibilities--none of the commitment. My ear is especially tuned for appropriation during this stage. I'm looking to steal a voice I can sustain. I want that lyrical sound in my head. I want a certain type of burnt tongue to guide me into this story, this new one. To actually chant the story to me--but lyrically. Of course.

The other evening during that bewitching 90 minutes of soccer mom-dom, my boy installed in the OES playing field under the watchful eye of his coach, I stole off to indulge in my usual double espresso with foam and one packet of turbinado sugar (which, btw, is only ONE DOLLAR at the otherwise pricey New Seasons Market). I had my notebook (well, okay, it was a parking receipt folded into a pocket), and Lorrie Moore's new book (more on that in another post), and I curled up in one of the comfy chairs and pretended to read (I'm getting more and more like my 10-yr-old boy each day).

In the New Seasons lounge and food-consuming section, there were a smattering of moms who knew one another, and they were engrossed in casual conversation. This one mom had a particularly fetching accent. She may have haled from New Zealand, or perhaps she was Scottish. At one point, her three children (one in a wheelchair even!) vanished. She was clearing the table post-snack, and sort of talking to one of the other mothers--a nurse, who was described her three 12's as they call it when they pull those shifts, and she suddenly jerked her head up and looked about and exclaimed, "All of my children are not here." And they weren't. Not one. But she said it in this musing, sort of ponderish tone that I tried to rehear and rehear for its musicality and wrongness.

I'm not sure if I can steal this stranger's voice and plunk it in as a main character, but she might be perfect in a supporting role--especially valuable is the covetous energy such a secondary character might generate in the protagonist. Whoever she will end up being.

Monday, October 05, 2009

red shoes and a croissant

These shoes and this bakery is the short answer to how I celebrated completing my novel.

I'm big on ritual--the idea of it--and not-so-big on the follow-through. Typically when I finish a project I don't even pause to breathe before charging onto the next thing. I suppose this is a by-product of the day. Never enough hours and all of that. But with Stairway of Love, I did, actually, pause, contemplate, de-compress and pull out the Visa.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

it's finished.

All three parts, 44 chapters, 362 pages, and 78,377 words.

I'm going to sleep now, and I'm keeping all of my hair.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

the finish tape is in view

I work best on deadline. People say that a lot, and when we hear it, we nod. Yeah, okay, who doesn't? If you really think about it though, there's always a deadline. Sometimes it's soft and squishy and semi-transparent, and other times it's in six inch block letters on a whiteboard.

External deadlines advertise their existence with a price tag: opprobrium, disappointment, money. In my case, hair.

In two days, I must deliver on the challenge to offer up a complete manuscript. I am pages away from this--have paced the ending to the hour. As though Thursday is the 26.2 mile mark. If that were true, I'm at 24.8 miles right now. Maybe 25.1. Anyway--I'm close enough to smell it. Additionally, though, I have a website to launch, myriad delineated milestones to accomplish, a sick kid upstairs and end-of-the-month billing to do. Without the indelible and consequential deadline, my novel would still be hovering around the 18.3 mile mark. Or maybe even 17.9. Competition for my attention is pretty dang fierce 'round here.

Okay then, it's 6:3o a.m., and I have client work lined up for most of the day--best get busy running that last mile.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

stairway of love--the final pages

Here I am, a glass of rose by my right hand, next to my mouse. Yes, I'm writing under the influence. Can't help it. In the tradition of all drunken writers: Falkner, Carver (okay, he got sober), Yates, I'm resorting to alcohol to finish this fucker.

Reason why? It's headed into some scary, dark material. The realm of creepiness. It's hard to see Frances go through the revelations she must endure in these final chapters. Today I had to break it to my main character that her beloved had kept a life-long secret from her, as did her brother. She has been left to steer the family wreckage, her husband having long abandoned her, and her job on the line. It's all so very sad for poor Fifi. And there's no time to give her a lover or a great career. She's left sopping up the muck, and now I must prepare for the last scene. The scene I wrote and rewrote in my mind a hundred times--all the while trying to avoid the inevitable.

Somehow this final scene, in addition to destroying the sacred, must also point to redemption. To an unknown future of fulfillment and happiness. Not happily ever after, exactly, but risk and reward.

Ah--put the glass of rose down, Suzy. Go to bed. Wake up early and get it done. If you don't the natives are ready to scalp!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

the final countdown

Last summer at Bread Loaf, Lynn Freed had us write last paragraphs to our novel. It was a grand exercise. Really hard.

From my position, still very much at the beginning stages of a first draft, I stuttered and stammered and wrote a horrible passage based on an inorganic ending that I hoped would fix itself when the time came.

Now, over a year later, the entire third act of the book is vastly different than originally conceived. My final scene is based upon another conceit entirely. What was I thinking?

The exercise itself was invaluable though. A way to jump start the plot muscle--force the writer to consider structure in the design of a novel. Now, a few chapters from the end, I am writing to that last scene--I see it clearly, and it is both compelling and daunting.

Friday, September 18, 2009

thursday night at the table

Here they are, two of the nine folks I gather round the table with every Thursday night. Every writer should have a support system --one that carefully considers her writing, while providing an opportunity for critical engagement.

These guys kick my ass! And they also encourage me and inspire me and promote me. Last night we celebrated a birthday, a manuscript completion and a NY Times best-seller inclusion. Not bad for one night, eh? Oh, and the cake was incredible!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

i heart steve almond

A few years back I got to spend an entire week in a classroom with this guy at Writers at Work in Utah. He's awesome. Here's his message. Buy his books. Really.

a chapter a day keeps the scissors away

I've got a freakin' head cold! Now, on top of racing to finish my novel whilst bringing home bacon and the usual mom stuff, the threat of a bob on top of puffy eyes, red nose and achy joints joins the fun.

Not that I'm complaining.


The only way I'm getting this done, at this point, is to write a chapter every freakin' day. I have 15 days, and probably 12 chapters left. That leaves three days to edit roughly 350 pages.

The good news is: I'm almost at 300 pages of "mostly" usable content. Hope I don't run out of Kleenex!

Friday, September 11, 2009

the bob keeps bob, bob, bobbin' away!

Last night at workshop, we convened for the first time since the threat of "the bob."

I was pleased to deliver a semi-successful chapter, get great feedback and feel inspired to sprint to the end of the book.

That said, today's writing engagement has been less than stellar. The muse is off doing her laundry, and my attention has wandered to lives and projects of others. Nothing new. I must dig in deep, and carry on. Meanwhile, though, a buddy of mine sent this cartoon. Timely.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

72% and tap, tap, tapping

I am disgusted to admit how externally motivated I am. With the threat of hair snippage, I've maintained a vigorous writing regime these last several days, blasting into the 70%+ wordmeter count.

It's sort of like the reunion I dreaded going to a couple of months back. I couldn't fathom the psychic, emotional and strategic energy required to fly East and undertake a room full of people whose names I'd long since dismissed. And that ice-breaker night--true to fear--was paralyzing. I stammered and guessed and whispered my way through the evening, embarrassing myself several times over by mis-remembering just about every detail about high school.

The next night, the fancy night, was much better. Classmates emerged from the pea-soup fog whole people, with names and relationships and memories. They jumped off of the two-dimensional facebook palette and into human form. This is becoming true of my merry troupe of characters as well. They're marching out of abstraction and becoming, once again, friends with whom to tip a pint and tell a joke. I like it.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

hello, my name is suzy, and I'm a character protector

I'm closing in on the end of the second act here at novel-writing central. I'm frankly appalled by the behavior of some of my characters. They don't seem to want to learn from their mistakes!

At least Frances is beginning to cooperate. She finally left her crappy marriage and is starting to deal with her denial. Starting to. God, I need like an Alanon meeting for writers: coping with your character's addiction. Seriously... I need to kick Frances into the fire here. She needs a good dose of danger--I 've got to stop protecting her from herself! These next few chapters--it's tough love time.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

an advent calendar--in reverse

So I went to a book launch party last night. All the usual suspects--the writers and their significant others and various Portland luminaries--were present. It was a great party, actually. One of the most fun evenings of the past year.

I found myself, once again, lamenting my lack of focus, and yammered on about not having, after two years, a complete manuscript. While my colleagues pound out the pages amid other work, raising kids and having packed lives with external commitments, I continue to fill my days up without tending to my novel. It's like my garden. I have all the intentions in the world--cultivating a weed-free paradise with dahlias and asters and roses and pruned trees and contained vegetables that bare spotless fruits. Alas, my actual garden is an over-grown squash factory with bolted stalks of aphid-crawling who-the-hell-knows-what-all.

And so it goes with The Secret to Love (or Stairway of Love--I'm still on the fence about that). Weeds have thrust themselves up in the white space of time. I have to reacquaint myself with the texture and tone each time I sit down because of the passage of days, and sometimes even weeks.

At the party, I was tired of hearing myself whine about my lack of commitment, and so were, I'm guessing, my writer friends. "You know what?" said my industrious Virgo friend Cheryl, "There's going to be a consequence if you don't get this done by October 1st."

"A consequence," muttered the chorus of others in earshot. "Yes, a bad consequence."

Cheryl gleefully offered: "We're going to cut off your hair!" And Lidia said, "Into a bob."

Me with a bob would look like Bozo the Clown, except maybe without the bald part in the middle. "That's horrible," I said.

The writers made fake hair-cutting motions with their fingers. "A bob," they said. "Unless it's finished."

And then Cheryl, who immediately realized that I might be moved to cheat, said, "And you can't just slap anything into the manuscript and say that it's done. I'm going to read it, and if you put like, copied and pasted words from somewhere, you're still getting a bob."

According to the notes I scribbled in the tent last month, I have eight significant chunks of things to have happen. Eight as-of-yet-unwritten chapters. Meaty chapters. What am doing writing about writing instead of writing? I have 24 days until the dreaded bob. It's like a reverse advent calendar--with the big "Christmas" window in the middle being either a bob or a finished book.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

evil at heart

Chelsea Cain was terrific at Powell's last night, reading her third "Gretchen Lowell" thriller in the series. "Evil at Heart" is the funniest, gruesomest one yet, and Cain has become quite a book tour pro. (She even brought Voodoo Doughnuts for the audience to snack on during Q & A).

Look how big her name is on the book! She's a superstar!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

summer's repose

Oh, the long and lovely days of the fair season. With one more day of August left on the calendar, my melancholy is already ramping up. The light, which just gets more beautiful in fall, still heralds the cold dark days to come.

I feel, often, greedy and selfish this time of year. I don't want it to end. I want a rewind button. So, in service to closure (with grace, if that's possible), I am going to list my blessings right here, right now.

I have a wonderful family, and it's growing. My husband and his kids, sibs and mother have added to my joy more than I can say. My own children have all grown enormously this summer. The sum total of their adventures: exploratory veganism, travels to Europe, getting and keeping "real" jobs, adding variety and balance to their lives, working hard at and succeeding at various athletic pursuits, not to mention the many, many small ways in which this family loves and tries and works together has given me, for the first time in my life, a feeling of permanence.

The trips, oh the trips! Across the country and up the coast, riding the tide with Orcas and waking up in a tent to the sound of rain softly falling in the forest.

And our garden, and our new windows, and our terrific neighbors with whom we shared gin and tonics last night, and the wonderful team I work with at BridgePoint, and... beginning next week, a brand new web site for BridgePoint Creative (that will, of course, deserve its very own blog post).

Yes, it's all very good. Summer will come again.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Valetudinarian and POV

Check out this Joshua Ferris piece a few New Yorkers ago (a damp evening last week had me in the bathtub with a stack of back issues. Bliss!).

I loved this story, but if Joshua was sitting at the table with us on Thursday nights, we'd rake him over the coals for breaking a whole bunch of rules. For instance, at one point in the story Ferris inexplicably shifts to the POV of a character on the other end of the phone in a speculative scene hours later, then there's a space break and then we're back to the main character. Some would call this a leap. Some would call this presumptuous. Me, I just had to reread a couple of time to get it, and after I did I enjoyed the irony and appreciated the reasons why Ferris slipped that in.

The ending, however, left me mid-stream in a way I'm not fond of. The story opens with a head on collision involving a character we never meet, and extenuating circumstances that never bear out in the rest of the story. The ending is similar. There are three characters in the scene, and the motivations and passions of each of them are knotted in a convoluted mess. What will happen next is horribly unclear in a way that makes me mad. Broken contract with the reader mad.

But the story as a whole explored the underbelly of reality so well, I couldn't, at the end, hate Ferris. I started this story in the tub, but had to leap out of the tub and rush to the bedroom in order to read the story aloud to my husband, and he loved it, in a way he rarely does a New Yorker tale. We also did quite a lot of smooching afterwards--and I know that tmi, but there was something startling, sexy and profoundly sad about this obsessive character. The title, which means "someone obsessed with his own health" is much meatier and odder than "hypochondriac" which would have been a lesser-writer's choice for this story.

All in all, the story has been living in me for several days, and I'm a little obsessed with it myself. Is there a word for someone who obsesses over a story? Bibliodinarian, or something?

And here it is

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


This was my friendly little wake up call this morning. Nothing pisses me off more than willful destruction of property. Really. It brings out the redneck in me. I think pistol. I think waterboarding. I mire in fantasies of choke chains and 47 years of community service and repeated kicks in the behind.

Human nature is a vast and surprising swamp, is it not?

Okay, that's out of my system.... thanks for indulging me.

Monday, August 24, 2009

fragmentation and throughline

In less than 12 days, I hope to broadcast the launch of my company's new website. My partner Laura and I began this company in April of 2006, after several years working as independent contractors in the broadly enigmatic vertical known as communications.

What's gratifying to us about our delinquency is building out our own web presence (a shoemaker's children example bar none) is that in the last six months emerging communications technologies have largely changed the businesses-to-customer landscape. Micro-blogging and transmitting information in real-time has become the new "over the back fence" way of creating an intimacy with a person or a group of people.

Case in point: I'm writing an article about defender Scot Thompson and the vociferous fanbase of the Portland Timbers soccer team. I attended a match on Saturday, and in my recon, hooked myself into the Timbers Army twitter-loop. Via ongoing tweets, I got more material, insider language, and post-game analysis than I could have had I shoved my DVR into the faces of several screaming fans.

Of course, there's a bit of a downside to all of this. I was so busy tweeting and tweet-hunting during the game that I missed a few key plays on the field. In other words, there is a learning curve with micro-blogging as well as a note-to-self about cutting up a good through-line by obsessive fragmentation and multi-tasking.

Somewhere in all of this we must strike a balance. As business owners or managers, we mustn't ignore social media platforms and shrug them off, but neither should we embrace them to the detriment of deep concentration and resounding insight.

Since our niche, at BridgePoint, is the "mature" client--we are mindful of striking that balance between hip, slick and new and sensible, human and timeless. It's an interesting juxtaposition. Stay tuned for further reportage--which may come to you via twitter, facebook, newsletter, this blog or good old-fashioned face-to-face.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat

Okay, I admit it. I'm a soccer mom. A 15+-year veteran soccer mom. I can't help it--nothing makes me more vicariously thrilled than watching my kids on a field with a bunch of other kids and a soccer ball.

Carson's team, Barca, participated in a tournament this weekend. For the most part, they played well, and there were some stunning moments--saves, goals, all price-of-admission highlights. But, alas, they did not do too well in the standings. They won a match and lost two. My son--running his heart out as sweeper, saved the day several times, but mis-kicked at the end resulting in a cross and a goal by the other team. So hard to watch your child weep. There's a part of you that wants them to just hang up their cleats and quit when you witness that brutalizing failure of spirit.

But the good news is--the young are resilient about these things. Carson got home, took a nap and woke up with the request to go to a local park and whap some in. Indomitable, I'd say!

Not only do I watch soccer, this week I'm going to be writing about it. Stay tuned for the highlights of my night with the Portland Timbers!

Friday, August 14, 2009

a tail is a tale

Up there in the remotest of the remote--no phone /computer or obligations -- time grows big. Things fall away and some things don't. The stuff that sticks is the stuff deepest in.

I thought a lot about my book. One particularly rainy afternoon I holed up in the tent with a mechanical pencil and a scrap of paper and amid the moist, pungent salt air, to the sound of dripping raindrops and slapping tide, I outlined the ending for my book. I came up with, at long last, the central problem for Frances: the thing that propels her to constantly move in the wrong direction. So that left me with the question of redemption.

I stumbled out of my tent and went off in search of Kirk. I found him on the Orca rock: see photo. We brainstormed the finale. It's so wonderful to have an invested party in whom you can entrust all your stoopid ideas, yeah? Amid the whales and the weather and the fabulous food that was prepared for us by our guides, I indulged in the luxury of talking through the final chapter of my book with my husband and trusted adviser.

Blasting back to Portland yesterday I had these lovely scenes blossoming in my brain. I had workshop to look forward to. My house. My wonderful business partner, Laura--who's been tirelessly rain-making exciting opportunities for us. My kids. Kirk's kids. The man who sits beside me, guiding the helm: my life-mate, lover and best friend. There are many stories. I choose the ones that stick. Life is abundant, is it not?

Friday, August 07, 2009

on the way north

Here we are, sleepy and "before-like." Awaiting transformation in the rough and cold waters of the Johnstone Strait.

So we're off to the races!

Thursday, August 06, 2009

has it really been a whole month?

...since I last posted a blog entry? I'm embarrassed and ashamed.

Where do I start? Odd, I feel compelled to catch my very few readers up on all the goings on of the past month, but will resist that urge in favor of the proverbial blank slate.

Without further ado...

I have printed out my novel, read it, made notes and outlined the ending. The final push begins, with a few huge changes.

1. LOCATION: Instead of setting Part III in Paris as originally planned, I'm going back to the setting of Part I. Watch Hill. In service to tightening, compressing and distilling the myriad storylines, there is no better choice than returning the reader to the place where "it all happened."

2. TITLE: Working title is now "The Stairway to Love" instead of "The Secret to Love"

3. ARCS: Instead of huge shifts and leaps, I'm squeezing the redemptive moments down to small, palatable shifts. I'm attempting to reduce the absurdities which abound in the book in order to finesse the tone somewhat.

Hope to post more tomorrow before heading into the wilds of BC!

Monday, July 06, 2009

when the kid's away...

Carson's away at camp this week, so Kirk and I are indulging in nightly episodes of NetFlixed Weeds!

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

A Cube of One's Own

The new digs. I've just signed a 6-month lease to rent a micro-office nestled in an Eastside advertising agency. Despite the blue, blue, blue of the picture, the space is light and bright and filled with warmth and free bullets of espresso. (Not to mention feminine protection products in a tasteful box in the Ladies'.)

This is the third space I've occupied since officially hanging a shingle as a freelancer, and the first space that is truly my very own. Really! This is my first unshared piece of real estate in my entire life. I'm sitting here, alone, feeling the warmth of a hot summer sun setting through the window to my left, and typing slightly self-consciously--unsure, exactly, how to bask in this good fortune. I feel somewhat giddy. A bit unworthy. Though mostly gleeful.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

mixing it up

  I slept with my computer last night. I dared not sully the integrity of the marital bed, so I slept in the guest room, indulging in NETFLIX, a couple of New Yorker's, Fran's salt caramels (a favorite with Obama, I hear), and The Secret to Love.

It was an unparalleled chick night, I must admit. Me and the sensory stim. My book, the inspiring prose of others, the conundrums of Paul Weston. All this on the heels of an evening visit to my gym, where I worked out on the eliptical, swam in the saline pool and hot-tubbed my stiff joints.

I must report that I am at last satisfied with my chapter one rewrite of TSTL, and I am channeling that voice throughout the 265 pages I've written. No easy task, but I will stay in the moment of victory a bit longer before the hand slaps the forehead.

Still miss my husband and the kids, but am glorying in the good fortune of solitude.
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Monday, June 29, 2009

no more excuses

Last night I bid my husband farewell for the week, and sent him on his way down the road, where he will spend five days in the woods teaching teachers how to teach ecology.

My young son is with his dad.

My two older kids are busy moving from their respective apartments to new apartments.

In short, except for Opal, my very independent cat, my house is mine and mine alone.

My ambitious goal this week is to finish my damn book. Okay, I shouldn't say damn. But I will, because I'm angry with it. As if its a lover who has betrayed me--even though I'm the one who keeps cheating on it with other projects. It's as if my novel has let itself go, and I've used that as an excuse to keep my distance. "Yeah, well," I say to it, boldly avoiding "I" statements or other forms of psychological diplomacy, "You haven't been pretty enough lately. You've waned from my lust. You just can't compete with the more outgoing, expansive, daring things on my plate. It's all your fault."

Ah, but.

If only.

Yeah, right.

The truth is--and I'm reminded of this every Thursday when I sit at the table with my more dedicated colleagues--I'm the one who is straying. Call it lack of confidence. Accuse me of lack of ambition. Turn the finger of blame to me, and me alone, for I'm the one who engaged in benign neglect, who allowed TSTL to lapse off of the queue of "recent documents."

Oh sure, there's work and obligation etc, etc, etc... BUT, I am now feeding Carson's pet snakes before writing. I am sorting boxes of rubbish before writing. I'm obsessing over a slightly odd sound in my transmission and thinking about repainting my perfectly serviceable living room. Not to mention that the flat, red NetFlix envelopes filled with "In Treatment" episodes stare at me each time I pass the inbox.


I shall report daily on my actions to correct my bad behavior. I only hope my novel will have me back.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

summertime schedule

The solstice arrived Saturday in its typical Pacific Northwest fashion. Cold, rainy and gray. But the dreariness didn't eclipse the spirit that gets unleashed every June 20th--a feeling of amorphous boundaries, day bleeding into night in long, subtle strokes.

Like most Geminis, I love summer. The month of my birth heralds mercurial sprites, new ideas, life-changing conversations in the Jacuzzi. Since I married a fellow Gemini, that particular energy has quadrupled around our house--putting the active 10-yr-old to shame almost. Oh, you should see us frolic in the garden at 10 p.m.--gathering ripe berries and weed-whacking the tall grass and watering the basil while we plan the next great escape, remodel or potluck.

Work gets done, too. In jaggedy fits and starts, stuttering to an end by midnight, my laptop blinking low-battery caution as I've unplugged it to free myself from the typical sit-down workstation drudgery.

It's all so lovingly chaotic, life in the summertime. And The Secret to Love looms ever more clearly in my head, notes on scraps of paper, tidbits of dialog. Ah--but to sit in my seat for hours to get it all out in a cohesive chunk--there in lies the rub!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

let's talk about amazing

My little girl, the amazing Maggie Vitello, future social worker and crusader and advocate for girls, women and the deaf community, has just graduated from college and is set to enter grad school in September.

On Thursday she was identified from a field of over one thousand graduates and awarded one of seven commendations for her outstanding service, scholarship and dedication. Though she laps me in so many ways, the one comment that touched her most was when the presenter of the award mentioned her strong writing skills.

Like many bright young people who later go on to make writing a definitive part of their lives, Maggie always thought of herself as a "struggling writer." She would never share a draft of anything she wrote until she'd gone over it seventeen times and had others edit it. Even then, she would rather read it aloud than have me read it to myself.

The last major piece of writing she shared with me was the essay she wrote for her grad school application. I was blown away. At 20, my daughter knows how to effectively communicate her passion, tenacity and hope with spirit and grace.

At the risk of appearing to be much too much of a doting mother--I am deeply in awe of my little girl, and I can't wait to see what she does next.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

no is the new yes

Here is a little essay I wrote for a website today. I may actually start following some of my own advice!!

Has this ever happened to you? It’s late on a Sunday evening, your fourth-grader has a diorama titled “Inuit at Home” due the next morning and he’s just thrown a major tantrum and stormed into his room because the igloo he hastily glued together from sugar cubes has collapsed. There is a now pile of sticky confection on the floor. Your washing machine buzzes to alert you to move the wet clothes to the dryer. Oh, but wait! You promised to coordinate the soccer practice carpool this week. And, you need to prepare for a meeting at ten the next morning. Your child continues to wail from his room.

And yes, there’s more! On the work front a colleague has asked you to respond to her blog post. You’re behind on Twitter, Facebook and Email. Your iPhone beeps to remind you that you’ve double-booked a conference call with a client and a conference with your son’s teacher. Oops!

If you’re a working parent, this is an all too familiar scenario. Even if you’re not a parent, you can probably relate to much of the logjam described above.

When overwhelmed, my business partner used to say, “I’m running as fast as I can to stay in the same place.” Then, when things got worse, she changed it to, “I’m running as fast as I can to stay hopelessly behind!”

Let’s face it, we live in a time and in a world where multi-tasking is the default, and the expectation is that we’ll get it all done regardless of how much more gets put on the plate. We are over-committed. We’ve become a nation of work-bingers! Seriously, think of the tasks in your day as food items. Forget the three squares, we’ve got our hands in the bag of Cheetos, the box of Twinkies and wrapped around the Big Gulp. We’re constantly “eating” and getting limited nutrition.

Okay, enough with the metaphors. What I’m getting at is this. We’re organizing our days around quantity in favor of quality. We continue to say “yes” to everything because we think we’ll let someone down if we say “no.” I can handle it, says that little voice in our heads that doesn’t want to succumb to our limited capacity for quality production.

As co-owners of a communications company, BridgePoint Creative, my business partner and I were also guilty of this behavior. We’d say “yes” to every project, and many volunteer opportunities as well. One day, though, I accidentally said “no.” A graphic designer who often partners with me for Web work asked if I’d be interested in heading a PR campaign for a caterer on the East Coast (I live on the West Coast). For some reason, I hypotheticized the invitation, putting a client in my place, and realized, et voila! that the combination of skillset, location and other work made the likelihood of success a long shot.

“I don’t think I’m the right person for this,” I said, instantly feeling both guilt and relief as the words left my lips.

My business partner looked over at me in horror. As soon as I hung up the phone, I asked her, “What did I just do?”

“I think you said ‘no’,” she said, in awe.

Five minutes later, one of our favorite clients called offering us a huge e-mail marketing campaign. Just like that—no proposal, no bid, just “do it!”

It was one of the weirdest experiences because of the huge neon sign that flickered: When one door closes, another opens! Aha, but that door did not close on its own. When I began to chronicle the myriad ways in which opportunity knocks, I realized that often I’d prepared myself in some way to invite it. By shifting my consciousness to a place, or a space, away from chaos and obligation, I’d allowed more room for intention.

The thing about the hamster wheel, and why we often feel helplessly ambushed by the onslaught of external demands, is that we re-act instead of pro-act. Once we start “driving the bus” instead of being a passenger, we find that we’re less exhausted and often become the recipient of path-altering benefits.

Here are just a few gains we make when we become more discerning:

• The beginning of the end of “analysis paralysis” where a new energy can be harnessed and activated in a particular direction
• Clarity, resolve and peace of mind
• Concrete goals and steps toward those goals
• A strong idea of what needs to be excluded in order for goals to be obtained

So give it a try! Make like a two-year-old and start practicing the word “no”!


  1. When someone asks a favor, pause before responding.
  2. Keep a small notebook and pen with you at all times.
  3. Start your day writing down the three main things you wish to accomplish by day’s end.
  4. Every time a new task is added to your day, write it on the same page as your top three, but underneath.
  5. Practice these words: “I’d love to talk more about this, but I’m going to have to cut it short today. Let’s schedule another time to talk.”
  6. Every month you should fill out a personal “intake” form. At the top of the form answer this question: “What do I never want to do again in my life.”
  7. Remember this: the right thing and the familiar thing are often different.
  8. Stretch out of your comfort zone at least once a week.
  9. Think of your day in a big picture way, rather than in ten minute increments.
  10. Stick to your guns! Don’t cave! Some people will make you repeat “no” several times before they get the message.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

on transcending inertia

As I've posted many a time, I've always resisted staying in scene. I like to click along the horizontal--get my character out of there. Maybe, I'm beginning to think, it's a symptom of commitment phobia. Like--if I stay and explore, I might end up being beholden to something that'll make me have to give up my gadabout pace. My blithely swashbuckling through scene and into slick asides and away from trouble.

In this rewrite I'm doing of the first section of TSTL, I'm challenging my tendencies. I'm allowing myself to become bored in a scene. Staying there until I find something in the room, or in the air, or in one of the character's epiphanies that transcends the boredom. It's hard, but continues to reward me with the sort of prose that writes itself--eventually.

Patience is more than mere virtue. It's a fairy godmother.

Monday, May 04, 2009

pep talk

The rains of May have arrived, and with them, a reprieve from the distractions of sunnier days. Can't mow the lawn, don't want to trudge out into the park for a hike, the ski hill has shut down for the season.

So, write, then, writer. Write amid the gray, the damp, the damned. Finish what you set out to do.

Friday, May 01, 2009

on trusting the voice

I've made what I think of as a bold move with my main character, Fifi. In an effort to court her, to make her my bff, I'm pulling her in, upping the tempo of her voice. Her place at the table is across from you. She's demanding that you look in her eyes, feel her, understand her. In short, you, the reader, has been hired as her shrink--well, okay, maybe not shrink, but, companion.

Sure, she's going to tell you about her family, but her family isn't going to eclipse her as much as in the first draft. Her family is the supporting cast. Fifi is the one. Fifi is the diva. Fifi is the one on the quest for the Secret to Love.

In taking this move, I've upset the apple cart. My colleagues, there at the table, are bewildered. What's with the tone? They want to know. Truly, they are not used to this character being in-your-face. It seems wrong. It's as if she just got a personality transplant.

This is a test. A writer must trust her vision and the voice of her character, even when the character gets that personality transplant. Okay, so now, instead of my sweet girl, you're this snotty adolescent. Fine. I'm on your bus. Take me somewhere.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

my new fan obsession: blazer radio

Here's Travis Outlaw being all pumped up in last night's clincher against Houston.

Great to see, but even better to hear. We're now in month two of our tv ousting, and really, the playoffs were my only regret. Until I started listening to Brian Wheeler and his trademark alliterative tagging of the opposing coach after significant Trailblazer runs. (E.g. After the Blazers 4th Quarter run, Adelman was characterized as "dejected, deflated and devastated!")

Wheeler's commentary is immediate, grabbing and entertaining. He doesn't miss a beat, and he takes in the whole picture, offering realtime tidbits from the bench, the court, the stands and the scoreboard. It sort of comes down to the power of storytelling, I think. The ability of a narrator to pan the landscape and zoom in on nuance and tension, without the aid of visuals. As Lorrie Moore once said in a lecture I attended, "the reason books are more powerful than tv, is that books cannot proceed without you." As a listener, your imagination, experience, emotional state and attention is called upon differently when you have to supply the picture.

The other thing about listening to a sporting event instead of watching one is that the dynamics of a household change. For instance, while we had both upstairs and downstairs radios tuned to 95.5 fm, we were engaged in several other activities. Me: doing dishes and relaxing on the couch; Kirk and Carson: cleaning and organizing his room in anticipation of his big birthday bash coming up this weekend. It was a sort of social multi-tasking, where we converged every so often to comment on Roy's flu symptoms or Scola's foul, or that steal Fernandez made. We all brought more to our interaction this way, each of us interpreting the game with what we were seeing in our respective heads, rather than what may have been on a collective screen.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

good stuff

We interrupt this economic downturn to point out a few exquisite pieces of terrific news:

1. Many of my writing colleagues have just, or are in the midst of, landing terrific book deals
2. My daughter has just been accepted to a master's program she has worked very hard to be in
3. The gallery where I work, after experiencing recent hardship, is facing brighter days
4. So many of my entrepreneurial colleagues and artist friends are venturing forth with exciting work and new business

In short, for folks who continue to work hard and think outside the box, the future is bright.

Monday, April 20, 2009

stepping back from the trees

Last week my very good and smart writer friend Cheryl, offered to examine the first part of my novel. She's seen much of the book in seven page increments (our page limit at workshop is seven, so we can get to everyone), but seeing the novel is a larger chunk gave her a whole other perspective.

We met at a tequila bar during happy hour, and for the next 90 minutes, over margaritas and tortilla chips, Cheryl and I talked about The Secret to Love. It was like meeting your child's teacher for a parent conference, when you know that the teacher loves your child, and that anything other than "Little Johnny is a talented, wonderful angel" was going to be constructive and offered in the spirit of: Now, what can we do to ensure that Little Johnny become president some day?

Seriously, having a trusted, smart colleague pore over your work and then offer a considered critique is far and away the best supplement you can add to your draft. In the case of TSTL, the upshot is, I need to restructure my conceit. When it comes to the "horizontal" of the book, instead of giving equal billing to backstory and ongoing narrative, I need to allow the backstory to inform the emotional drivers of the novel. The reader must become more rooted in Fifi's present world--more compellingly invited to the ongoing party. It all seemed so obvious, after two loaded margaritas!

Back to the drawing board with TSTL. Sort of. The good news is, pretty much everything I've written is keepable, I just need to build slower scenes around it. My opening prologue, a wholesale adjunct, is now a scene with Fifi, her husband and her dog at the Portland airport, as opposed to backstory about characters that are not as crucial to the trajectory of the narrative.

Now, on this sunny Monday morning, I must return to them, my little trio, and gear up the engines for this line of flight.

Thursday, April 16, 2009


A few days into my Twitter experiment, I already want to quit. Or take a re-tweet (get it?). The feeling of being behind if I'm not checking my laptop or phone every five minutes is fracturing.

So I did, actually, take a re-tweet. Kirk and I played hooky yesterday afternoon and cruised up to our favorite off-the-grid destination: Mt. Hood Meadows--our skis in tow. On the way up, we both felt sort of out of our bodies: headachy, stomach-achy, general malaise. With his mother currently weighing 82 pounds--and lingering with this grim diagnosis of debility and decline--and my 71-year-old father and his rapid-fire matrimonial hyjinx, my ex-husband's lack of reliability regarding the fiscal and custodial terms of our divorce, the publishing crisis and my dwindling chances of finding an editor interested in my novels, the impending ax in Kirk's school district promising pink slips to 25% of the teachers come next month, the large-scale economic shadow of doom generally--all of this felt packed into our bodies, tamped down with the weight of another damp, gray day in the Pacific Northwest. So, on this IRS red-letter day, we went skiing.

Despite the parting clouds, the fresh snow and the calm winds, Meadows was a ghost town. A skeleton operation with only a handful of lifts operating. I had new equipment I was testing out for possible purchase, and Kirk had waxed his skis, so we went slow, took the easy runs: up and down, up and down.

By the fourth run, I felt terrific. The aches and pains had dissipated with the clouds, the new skis were amazing. Kirk was having a bit more trouble though. The uneven wax on his old skis were sticking in the slushy snow, and he actually fell a few times--a very rare thing for him.

We took a break, went to the lodge, and I ordered something with vodka--something I never do. I'm a sober skier--way too uptight to risk altered reflexes, but yesterday, all of the sudden, I felt in need of a stiff drink. Yes, in need of. (Cue the warning bells.)

So back up the mountain we went. And down. And up. And down. Kirk had a better experience, and my thimble full of vodka had absolutely no effect at all. Until we finished, and were heading back down to the valley, and the impending catch-up with work and Tweets and conference calls and absorbing news, and following up with stuff slammed into me and sent me scrambling for Excedrin.

But, I said I'd give it a month, and that's what I'm doing. Back to the fray. Follow me.

Monday, April 13, 2009

What song is running through your head right now?

All morning Steely Dan's "Kid Charlemagne" has been running through my head! What about you? (Answer is comment below)

Sunday, April 12, 2009

twitter, tweater, twiddle, twerp

Okay, I've decided to completely embrace, figure out, dive in and otherwise become obsessed with all manner of online social media. For a month. I'm giving it a month. The back of my head and my neck already aches, and, hey, what about that Internet Sabbath I pledged. A month.

Here's why.

I write for a living. It isn't a hobby, it's not what I do on my time off, it's what I do. Period.

My concerns, projections, trepidations and misgivings are thus:
  1. I'm contributing to the trend towards limited attention and shallow engagement
  2. I'll have to give something else up, and I'm not sure what that will be
  3. I worry that my tendency to feel like everything is only half done and that there's something I've forgotten will increase
  4. I worry about being sucked into the land of endless trivia

My hopes, goals and optimisms are:
  1. I'll get to know more cool people
  2. I'll get to know about more cool things
  3. I'll waste less time and improve my powers of concision
  4. I'll be able to get more clients, and help more clients
  5. I'll deliver my creative messages to more people
  6. I'll be able to boil down my messages to their most salient points
  7. I'll find more audience

Let the craziness begin!

Friday, April 10, 2009

unpacking Christmas

I find that Christmas works itself into my stories a lot. It's sort of like when I used to go house shopping and envision the placement of a Christmas tree before contemplating things like the price of the house, for instance. Does that make me sentimental, I asked myself the other day?

Why is the chronicling of ritual--the anticipation of gatherings--so important to me? In STL I've spent about 100 pages on various Christmas-time scenes with my little family, Messmeir. It's the distillation of family, I suppose, that I'm after with all this yuletide reportage. The pure drops of love, dysfunction, hierarchy, personality--all things that inform character development.

I read some "Christmas morning" pages at workshop last night. Three characters plus a dog assembled around the fake Costco tree, trying to create new ritual after the death of one of the character's mothers. Because this novel includes current day phenomena, I had Annika with her laptop, trying to evoke her missing father via Skype. A far cry from a traditional Christmas scene, and the culmination of the scenes before, where all ritual had been broken down due to various chaotic fiascoes.

I have to add another layer to the scene; tie it more tightly to the chapters that proceed it. The good news is, that I seem to have accomplished my main objective with this scene--to plant the seeds for a new alliance between Fifi and Annika--the first positive connection between two characters in my book.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

scribbling witness

The last few days, giddy with sunshine, I've been steeped in collecting ephemera for use in my work. Eavesdrops, descriptions, scenarios, utterances.

Typically, when I'm gathering like this, I jot things down on scraps of paper: gasoline receipts, deposit slips, napkins. I reached for one of these today, wanting to record a potential exchange between Annika and Frances, a bit of b-and-f that had played out in my head, and, lo and behold, there was a note already scribbled upon the only square inch of blank paper in my purse. It was something my son had mused about months ago when we pulled out of the gas station, after the attendant had issued a receipt.

The note, in scratchy, cryptic handwriting had claimed that my son asked what would happen if I wanted to return the gas (in his world, that's the only reason you have a receipt--in order get your money back). "Would they suck the gas out of your car with a different kind of pump?"

I'm sure I'll use that someday, somewhere...