Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Rollercoasters and Row80

Tomorrow, loops. The slow click, click, chunk, eyes bright on the sky overhead, heart skittering jittering…and laughter. Gasp, huff, scree…and hehehehehe-heeeee! Rollercoasters! Six Flags! A day-trip with my oldest niece. I’m excited, feel like a kid again, tomorrow a field trip escape from the hum-drum of school life. And I think…how lucky! I am going to spend the heat of the day dripping wet with sweat hanging out in hours-long lines with a kid who somehow thinks I’m still cool enough to spend time with.

Let’s hope I can keep up.

As for writerly aspirations, I’m hoping I’ll have 300 words in me by the time I make it home. I know I won’t be up early enough to write before I go and it’ll be cutting it close on the back end. I’ve kept up with 300 words a day. Some of my other projects are lagging and whatever my intentions are as far as playing “catch-up,” I’m clinging to this thing, this one thing…300 words. Just write. Every day. Without fail. I’ve managed it every day thus far and that fact, that small, seemingly insignificant fact…has made a huge difference in how I feel about myself as a writer.

Yeah, yeah, touchy-feely self-esteem…but yeah! Self esteem! I’m writing! There’s no downside to that! 

I don’t have much to write about today. I have rollercoasters on the brain, and poetry. I did submit some poetry to a magazine in June. And it’s always there, back of the brain…and I’m waiting. I hate waiting. And I love waiting. It’s a terrible paradox but, as long as I’m waiting, I might have been accepted. Sorta like the lottery I suppose. You buy the ticket for the dream, not the prize. As long as you hold the ticket, from the moment you buy to the moment they read out those numbers…you could be…you could be…

Enough with the random musings. Goodnight all!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

A Serious Writer: Row80

Good news on the dedicated writer front. Contrary to pattern, I am actually sticking with this “serious writer” thing. There is, of course, a difference between being a writer and being a “serious writer.” And, yes, the quotes are required.

I’ve always enjoyed writing. I like world-building, legos for the mind I suppose: a jumble of multi-colored plastic pieces scattered on the carpet…waiting for my fingers to make sense of them. But, up until now, I’ve kept them shut up in the toy chest, gathering them up after 15 minutes, an hour of idle fiddling on a Sunday afternoon. Johnny’s super-duper lego-copter never helps. Why try when others, so much clearer of vision and blessed with a dedicated attent to the task, have already surpassed my best efforts?

Johnny did take the whirligig piece!

My inner-child is a bit of a whiner.

Nonetheless, I seem to be getting in the groove here. I don’t always write spectacular things. Some nights it is all I can do to push out my 300 words. I suspect that, on the worst nights, it must sound as if my inner-child is the writer…first grade vocabulary, pre-school mentality, who knows. I’m a little scared to look at some of my punchier musings.

But I’ve been writing. And, for the most part, I’m adding substance to my world. I participate in the 3 day novel contest every year. 2012 was my first experience hitting the honorable mention list. Twenty thousand words and a science fiction world was born. I’ve been working on it as part of the WOK 20K challenge. I had taken my original submission (in pieces and lightly edited) to my critique group over the past few months and, upon informing said group at our last meeting that we were only 4 pages from the end, I received puzzled looks and (in the words of one of my favorite teachers) an “invitation to reconsider.”

It was not unexpected. The novel had that niggling unfinished feeling about it but, juxtaposed against my own sense of satisfaction in the climactic moments of what I will now call Part I, I waffled. Critique groups are great at resolving such issues. Here I am, the author, teeter-tottering between “finished” and “not-finished” and here they come…en masse…like locusts or junior high school bullies…to settle the score. And, really, I meant that in a good way. Lol!

So, for the WOK 20K, I’ve been working on Part II picking up where the original 20K left off.

I’m switching perspectives. Anyone who is in the know about Baselines might guess whose eyes I have borrowed for Part II. And it’s growing. My world is growing. The only trouble is that I’m not sure I’m progressing the story. I know where it needs to go but I’ve trapped myself in the scenery. There are important pieces…but all of them need to be shuffled and the action moved forward. It’s exciting and frustrating and…I almost wish I had a 3 day deadline hanging over my head to keep me pounding, pounding, pounding till the words on the paper make sense.

Somehow 30 days seems too loose, an extravagance of time.

But I’m working on it.

Row80:  300+ words a day.  Yes.  Words are happening.  2 blogs a week.  Missed one since the start of this round.  Plan to make it up.  This week...I'm good.  July submission and novel rehab tasks are still on the "to do" list.  I have been researching publications though.
WOK Blog Challenge:  Apparently on hiatus till the fall.  But since I'm doing 2 blogs a week anyway...
WOK 20K:  6897/20K.  A little behind...and after this blog post too!  Bad Anna!
CampNano:  3267/25K  Does it help if I say I plan to work on this tomorrow?
Magic Spreadsheet:  24,453 words since June 2, 49 day chain, 1297 points, Level 2

Thursday, July 18, 2013

A Limited Heart

They say that the average human heart is roughly the size of a fist. Small, pink, meaty. A delicacy, if you ask the right monster. And, yes, any monster is the right monster. It’s a well-known monster-fact. Just think of all those wonderful monster-movie moments, clawed hand ripping through skin, muscle, bone…not to crush the heart, but to salvage it. Is there anything more tantalizing than the moment that monster is discovered, its hands, its maw dribbling with the excess juices, the blood?

If you ask someone, either a horror aficionado or someone like myself with at least a modest appreciation for the genre, why we find the idea so titillating…you will get a number of responses. Someone, inevitably and invariably, will profess that the monster desires to be human, that the act of feasting is an act of possession, of ownership. Perhaps, if the monster consumes enough raw red humanity, enough heart, the monster might understand the mystery of what it means to love.

You are what you eat?

 And it’s all about love in the monster-movies. Frankenstein’s monster wanted companionship, love, acceptance. Doesn’t every monster? If you’ve seen Warm Bodies (a zombie movie for those generally disinclined), it’s the perfect example. The zombie feasts upon the brain (almost perfect example) and, for a brief flash of time, lives again…in the memories of his victim.

Of course, with all monster movies, or enough of them as to make no never-mind, humanity is the hero. Whether the monster becomes human, or is murdered by the humanity it craves, that sense of empathy is touted as the holy grail…a monster seeking it either to consume or destroy, humanity preserving it against all odds. Humanity, love, compassion, it is drawn in expansive sweeps of hope.

We want humanity to be the shining example. We want our heroes to triumph, not because they are smart or funny or bad-a**. We want them to triumph because they care. Everyone always looks to Han Solo as the ultimate in reluctant heroes, all that swagger and edgy attitude. We love the fact that he shot first (no amount of digital revision will make my geek-heart believe otherwise). This, we think, means he’s real, a mix of good and bad together…the way we all are. But, underneath, that heart…beats. He cares even when he tries not to. Humanity is the hero…that whisper in his ear that, yes, yes, that farm-boy matters, that princess.

I submit that it is a fiction. Literally, of course. Figuratively, definitely. Humanity can’t be the hero. The human heart is flawed. It will fail. It beats 60-100 times every minute…until it doesn’t. We care…about family, friends, the world…until we don’t.  We like to think that the human heart has no limitation on love, on forgiveness. We tell ourselves to be kinder, better, gentler.

I made a resolution a while back…I wanted to be a wonderful person. Yes, those words exactly…a “wonderful” person.

It sounds funny. And, before anyone tries to reassure me, let me tell you…I am not a wonderful person. I am an okay person. I love my family. I resent the hell out of them sometimes but I thank God every day that he put them in my life. It is one blessing I have never doubted. I try to be polite, kind where I can. I struggle for kindness. My tendency is to withdraw and kindness suffers for seclusion. The world? Is too big. In theory, I care about everything…except I don’t. I can’t. I don’t have it in me. It is too hard and it takes too much effort.

And I’ve come to the conclusion that…we’re all the same. Every heart is limited. Every heart has a boundary, flesh and blood and a mis-timed valve, a blocked artery, an expiration date. The wonderful people I have met…are a surface-shot perfection. I have little doubt that, x-ray vision or monster claws, I would find their hearts equally small, pink and imperfect. We are creatures of glut and famine.  Kindnesses are doled out…like candy after Halloween, a flood of sugar-high excitement followed by weeks of carefully rationed portions, and months thereafter of nothing.

And isn’t that fun? As a writer, really, isn’t that why we love to write…because humanity is flawed and limited? Because we all want to be wonderful people…and none of us actually are? Isn’t that why we go to the movies…to watch our monster half devour that wonderful facade we call our heart?

Row 80 Update: 300+ words a day, yes. 2 Blogs a week; this week yes, but still have to make up a post from last week. July submission and novel rewrite are still on the “to do” list.
WOK Blog Challenge: Behind 1 entry from last week
WOK 20K: 6897/20K. Caught Up!
Camp Nano: 3267/25K Not so caught up…hmmm.
Magic Spreadsheet: 23,301 words since June 2, 46 day chain, 1149 points, Level 2.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Must Have Noise: Row80

Silence strikes at the oddest moments.  I wrote for several hours tonight, picking at a piece of a someday novel, rewriting, adding, imagining.  All good things.  A good evening.  Especially since this was proof positive that my malfunctioning computer is once again functioning.

But then the silence hit.

Okay, it wasn’t entirely unexpected.  I was transferring to the living room so I could relax a bit, write this blog.  And…silence.  It finds me in the in-between moments.

I usually have the TV going, background noise, something to fill those empty spaces.

But, caught up in the words, the TV had gone to slumber and there was nothing.

It’s an odd feeling, the silence.  There’s a pressure, an expectation.  I find myself speaking in hushed tones, stepping quietly, sneaking.  Like there’s someone sleeping in another room who might wake if I’m too loud.
So I’m watching, not watching, old shows on Netflix, familiar refrains working to ease the tension.

So, to sum up this largely pointless post about silence, here’s my week.

Row80:  Well, I got my 300+ words a day in even if one of those days was 300 words of mostly gibberish.  I haven’t done my July submission yet.  Time and computer woes were working against me.  Sink remains functional.  Yay.  I even managed to fix my computer.  Double yay!  My novel rehab list remains on the “to do” list.
WOK Blog Challenge:   Lagging by 1 entry.  Will catch up.
WOK 20K:  3602/20K.   Running a little but not impossibly behind.
Camp Nano:  3267/25000.  Also running behind here, but not impossibly.
Magic Spreadsheet: 21,584 words since June 2, 43 day chain, 1009 points, Level 2

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Fuzzy Sweaters and "Babies": A Blog on the Rewrite.

When I first started writing, after the alphabet and cursive and basic grammar, when I began to write creatively, I dreamed of novels...in the way a child dreams of most things.  I'd imagine going into a bookstore or library, walking down an aisle filled with my favorite books and finding one with my name on it.  It would be hardback, of course, its cloth cover pristine and its pages unbent.  I usually imagined it blue.

I didn't dream of the years of effort, the frustrations, the dead-ends.  Plot holes would not happen to me.  Writer's block?  Hah!  My imagination was more than a match for such pedestrian concerns.

Even so, I did not seriously set to the task of a novel until I was an adult attending junior college and taking my first formal creative writing class.  And one of the assignments was to write the first chapter to a novel.  What?  A novel?  But I'm too young, too new!  I've only ever done poetry, the odd short story, not...a novel!

I was terrified.  I was scared a lot in those days, new to adulthood, uncertain of my place in the world, itchy in my own skin.  I couldn't possibly write a novel!

But, good student that I was, I rationalized that I didn't have to write a novel.  I just had to write a chapter.  So I did, chapter 1 of a novel that went nowhere.  I took my A with my usual sense of relief and put the novel chapter into the pile of things I wasn't ready to let go of:  essays I was proud of, a collection of A-grade papers, poetry that seemed suddenly childish but too much a part of me to part with.  I put this novel-chapter in the pile, the pile in a box, the box in a closet and I didn't think much more about it till I took Creative Writing again.  Same thing.  New chapter, new novel, into the box.  

I took the Creative Writing class as many times as the school would allow during my tenure and, after transferring to and graduating from Cal State Fresno, I came back and managed to squeeze in a couple more sessions.  But somewhere along the way, I'd developed a distaste for the novel-to-nowhere endeavor.  By my third class, maybe the fourth, I'd decided to make a real go of it.  

I won't lie and say I was struck by some life-altering inspiration.  I sat down and I pumped out a chapter, a new start to a new novel that I hoped would go somewhere.  I wasn't too picky.

I've been working on that novel off and on ever since.  

It has grown from a glimmering of a thought to a chapter to...the gigantic stack of papers in my sewing room.  There's at least 10 full chapters but I'd guess, by volume, closer to 20.  There are snippets and paragraphs, handwritten notes.  There are rewrites and re-inventions, a mess of dead-end corners and contradictions.  I resurrected a character between one chapter and the next without explanation! 

But there are people living in those pages, dying, sometimes and unintentionally coming back to life again.  They have histories and habits and a way of being.  There are customs, languages, a whole society complete with laws and social mores.  There are countries and continents and oceans between them.  I had created a world but I didn't know how to write a novel.

I had and have other projects, other novels over the years.  I've finished a few of them.  Okay, finished is a strong word.  I've finished the drafts, all of which need major work.  One of my finished drafts is actually proving to be the first of a trilogy!  This is interesting, exciting, but a little disheartening too.  There's something energizing about the idea of being "finished," and my brain just couldn't let me have that win.

But...the stack.  That first effort to go beyond a chapter and into something real.  It really is my "baby."  I always want to laugh a little when people dub dogs, businesses, novels their "babies."  I imagine them cooing over them, diapering them, dressing them up in fuzzy sweaters (really big sweaters in the case of the business baby).  But it's true, this novel is my baby.  It's broken, it's messy, it's missing pieces...and I can't let it go. 
I'm also scared to try and fix it.  What if I make it worse?  What if it can't be fixed?  What if it shatters to pieces in my hands? 

I've been reading a book on outlines.  I have downloaded a free trial of Scrivener.  I bought notecards and sticky notes.  All this in the hopes of recouping the stack.  And I've been too scared to even step foot into that sewing room.  

That's sad, isn't it?  Still, one day at a time.  And an addition to Row80, inspired in part by a lovely blog by Alberta Ross on the subject of dismantling and rebuilding old works.  That's what I need to do.

So, in addition to my 300 words a day, 1 submission per month and sink repair (done)...let's add one honest self-assessment of "baby" and a rough outline by round's end.

Row80:  300+ words/day: yes.  Monthly Mag Submission: Not Yet.  2 Blogs/Wk: yes.     Novel Rehab Tasks: Not Yet.  Sink:  Done.
WOK Blog Challenge:   Again late but up-to-date with this entry
WOK 20K:   Starts tomorrow
Camp Nano:  2276/25000
Magic Spreadsheet: 15,843 words since June 2, 36 day chain, 716 points, Level 2

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Elbow-Grease, The Count and a Row80 Check-In

Well, I'm a day behind for WOK and Row80.  Go figure.  I was so tired last night that even the restoration of lap-top access was not sufficient to inspire blog activity.  In fact, my 300 words...yes 300...ran the gamut from Atlas (the myth, not the map) to the far-future world of a little girl named Bessa and to my own living room with its owner one blink from nodding off in her chair.  Some of my words were fillers.  There may have been a few repetitive phrases...revolving around my bed and how much I wanted to be in it.

But I did it.  300 words.  Yes, 300 is important.  That's Level 2 of Magic Spreadsheet.  Which means I survived Level 1.  Which means my Row80 goals need an update.  "Three...thrrree!" says the Sesame Street Count, complete with rolling ars and mad laughter.  "Thrrree hundrred words!"

Yep, let's pump Row80 up to 300 words a day...match it up with Magic Spreadsheet.  They can check and balance me.  Maybe.  We'll see.

That said and knowing this is far too early in Row80 to brag and the accomplishment so small that do-it-yourselfers everywhere will scoff...I fixed my sink.  Yup.  You heard it.  The garbage disposal no longer hums when I flip the switch; it growls, grumbling up from the sink like a little monster.  It sorta stinks like a little monster too.  So I have plans for a plink and maybe a lemon rind.  But the little monster can eat again. 
In the end, it was still the simple fix.  Allen wrench.  And the persistent application of force.  I'd never had the blades jam that badly.  Let me put it this way.  In a contest between the jammed blades and the combined force of my broom handle, weight (not insignificant)and leverage...the blades won.  I have a curvy broom handle now and the blades did not budge. 

Still, the next night, I sat with the sink and the stink and an allen wrench.  And I stayed there, twisting the wrench first to one side and then the other, a theoretical exercise as nothing was moving...until it did.  Not much.  Not far.  But it moved.  And I kept working it, slowly, one twist of the wrench at a time.  My father would probably laugh at me or, knowing him, nod his head with that all-wise all-seeing look fathers sometimes get.  "Elbow-grease."

Yes, Dad, I get it.  

And, yeah, maybe my writing needs a little elbow grease too.  Magic Spreadsheet.  Row80.  Camp Nano...yes, my canoe is on the lake...sorta.  Okay, I've still got one foot on shore but so what?  

And WOK.  Let's not forget WOK.  Writers of Kern.  Blogging twice a week and, starting Monday, pushing for 20K fiction in a month-long challenge.  

Before you ask, my WOK words and my Nano words?  Two separate projects, two separate counts.
This is elbow-grease, not shortcuts.  More work, not less.


Row80:   Sink, yes.  300+ words/day, yes.  2 Blogs/Wk, yes.   July Submission, not yet. 
WOK Blog:  Current with this entry, if a little late in coming.
WOK 20K:  Begins July 8
Camp Nano:  509/25000 words.
Magic Spreadsheet:  12,615 words since June 2, 32 day chain, 570 points, Level 2

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Independence versus the Disposal (And a Row80 Kick-Off)

July 1st.  Already, I hear fireworks in the evenings, the odd pop-crack of premature celebration.  Independence day is on the horizon.  Despite the heat, so heavy, so pervasive, there's a sense of recognition, of excitement at the thought.  Independence day.  Fireworks.  Sparklers.  I am too old for both of them.  And yet...independence day.  The very thought makes me want to stand up and do something bold, something daring.  After all, I am a young (relatively) American woman.  Good job.  Good education.  I can do anything.

Except fix a garbage disposal.  Yeah, that's definitely enough to kill the burst of independent pride.  A muggy damp sink, swirling gray water full of...stuff.  That dank, sour smell. 
It is at times like these that I envy my married counterparts.  After all, isn't plumbing the guy's domain?  The stopped up toilets, jammed disposals, malfunctioning whatsits hidden behind various cabinet doors?  If that seems a little antiquated, I'm sorry.  Truth be told, I'd gladly foist the task off onto any capable person, man or woman, willing to work for free.  My sink is an equal opportunity employer.  But, given my own reticence, I suspect only the bonds of matrimony could inspire anyone - male or female - to voluntarily stick their arm into the stink.
In the wake of that lovely discovery, writing has taken a momentary backseat.  After all, I had to try to fix it.  Independence day is coming, my friends!  Was I going to admit defeat?  Was I going to back down before the great swirling stink?  Well, as a plumber-husband hasn't spontaneously popped out of the void, no, I suppose not. 
I tried all the quick fixes I knew, stuck broom handle, then hand into the yick, pressed the reset button, bought an allen wrench.  Really, it shouldn't be that hard to locate an allen wrench in a Home Depot.  And if it hadn't been ten minutes to store closing, I might have been a little more miffed with the lackluster customer service.  But, as a former retail worker, I hated me a little.  So no bigs.  They get a pass.  Yes, I'm skimming.  No one wants to hear the down and dirty of sink maintenance.
Long story short?  I got the water to drain but that's it.  The disposal is on strike.
What does all this mean?  I have no clue.  Only that I started the day with all sorts of ideas regarding its close.  I would launch my canoe into the lake of Camp Nano.  I would outline a series of very small, very do-able Row80 goals.  I would try to level in Magic Spreadsheet.
Now I'm struggling to get the bare minimum in.  My arm still stinks of disposal despite multiple washes and I want to go to bed.  But this is important.  I will get it done.

Row80 Goals:   

250 words a day, one submission to a magazine (or other publication per month), twice weekly blogs.  Oh yeah, and a garbage disposal.  No deus ex machina a la the magical plumber-husband.  Just me and my tools and the internet.  Wish me luck people!