Thursday, April 30, 2009

Incessant Hyperventilation

image You ever have weeks like that?

I’ve got an essay that my mind is freaking out about. I keep rearranging it. It’s driving me mad. The Genius was kind and generous in helping me without telling me I was losing it, LOL.

And then teaching. I’ve been begging students for MONTHS to bring their music so I can check that they have the proper materials for guild auditions. Now it’s the week before, and they STILL haven’t brought them.

And guess who the parents will blame if they don’t have the proper materials for guild? ME!

I was just talking to a private school teacher who was stressed because she gets judged on AP exam scores of her students, but whether the kids study or do their homework is largely out of her control.

I feel the same way. I plan for the students, but if they don’t do their assignment, or they don’t practice, or they practice the wrong things, they aren’t prepared.

And people blame the teacher for this, nowadays. People judge teachers on how the kids play, and yet it sure feels like at least 40-70% are out of our control.

So I’m in a state of incessant hyperventilation this week.

It’s one of the things I love about writing. How good or terrible I write is up to me. It’s all my fault. I kinda like things being all my fault, LOL. Then I have the control to make them better.

How’s your week going?


Monday, April 27, 2009

Change: The Inevitable

image I went to a Cleveland Orchestra concert last weekend. It was a wonderful, brilliant performance by both the orchestra and Mitsuko Uchida.

But I left slightly depressed. The orchestra has changed. Completely. They used to have such a classical sound; now it’s brighter and more Vienna-ish. (In my mind. I don’t know how else to describe it.) I suspect they are tuning higher, too, but my ears are a bit out of practice to know for sure.

Their sound has been changing since the new conductor, but now the new sound is completely gelled. What was the Cleveland Orchestra sound is no more. I wouldn’t recognize them on the radio, nowadays.

Times have changed. As they should. And all the above changes I have, at some point, wished for them! Now that it’s here… I’m sad. I’m terrible!

Which brings me to fiction. People are reading more online. Writing online means shorter sentences, shorter paragraphs.

How soon before this style pervades fiction?

It’s already starting. The days of one or two or three paragraphs per page are pretty much over.

imageThe Internet has been blamed for the shrinking attention span. This weekend, I’ve learned my concentration has changed. I need to write out of order, if I’m to continue to produce.

My writing identity is that I pants and I always write in order. But I’ve changed. I’m different. I have to change my process.

In the first few years of writing, I used to try to discover “my process.” But a nice, safe, comfortable, predictable process is an illusion. We change. We grow. We learn new things. Writing will always be as much an internal adventure for the writer as it will be for the characters.

How boring would it be if the adventure were always the same?

How has your process changed in the last few years? The last ten years? The last year? Do you see a rhyme or reason to the changes? Or have you found a reliable process that works, every time? What is it?


Friday, April 24, 2009

It’s a Battlefield Up There

image Hello, Resistance! That’s what my mind has felt like lately. It’s been a rough month, and I’m tired. I am still behind. Are you sick of me saying that yet? I’m sick of me saying that.

I can see why writers start to freak out at deadlines. I’m usually better than this, but this spring (actually the past year-ish), they are just killing me.

When you get behind on one, everything sort of… gets crazy. Because if you work on another while trying to catch up on one, generally they both start getting late, and the writing is harder because you’re scattered between two.

And I’m writing slower. Way slower. Every way I turn it or shake it, I am just way freaking slower than I was a few years ago.

I used to write about 1K an hour. Now I’m trudging along at 400 words an hour or so. Am I just slower now, or have I forgotten how to get in the flow?

Gosh, maybe I need to focus on learning how to get in the zone again. I used to be able to snap right into it. Maybe I should start doing more performing again.

I’m not sure really if I have a point or a question. Except never get behind, because once you do, it steamrolls.

I don’t know.

How’s your life? How are things? How do you snap into the zone, into the flow?


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Immigration Adventures

I never expected my husband to ever meet the INS, but it’s a different world we live in, now. On the way home, Glenn had his own immigration adventures, even though he’s an American citizen, LOL. He cooks on a processing boat in the Bering Sea that holds about 200 people.


Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses desperate enough
To take on crappy jobs at crappy wages
That even unemployed American deem 
        beneath them.
Then when the work is done,
Get the hell out of the country.

They tend to get a good amount of legal immigrants in the processing factory on the boat (the company is very strict about making sure papers are in order), so it’s normal for a two or three Coast Guard and INS officials to board the boat every couple years, set up in the galley, and go through everyone’s papers. 

BUT, the Somalian pirate thing happened. There were Somalians on board. You can make your own deductions about that.

imageAnyway, as soon as they were off the coast of Seattle, a whole TEAM of over a dozen INS and Coast Guard officials boarded in full swat gear, with sawed-off rifles and yelling and everything. They ran through the halls and cleared everyone to the deck.

Everyone had to wait up on deck for hours as they searched every inch to make sure no one was hiding. Men with guns paraded both the upper and lower deck.

Instead of going to the galley to interview each person and double check their papers, they did it up on deck.

image In the end, they were stuck outside for most of the day, and one American (an outstanding warrant) and three Somalians (papers didn’t match) were arrested.

Considering the company runs a background check and triple checks papers before hiring, I personally find it suspicious that of all the countries well-represented on board, ONLY three Somalians had unmatching papers during the Somalian pirate incident.

I don’t like it. I know that our freedoms and rights are balanced by our safety. It’s a gray area, but I’m definitely more comfortable on the edge of freedoms and rights. In a black and white world, if given a choice, I’d choose human freedoms and rights over my safety any day.

Does Bush’s legacy still live on?


Saturday, April 18, 2009

Help! Book Suggestion Needed!

image I felt guilty about feeling like I have nothing to read, when I have a TBR pile that’s fifty or sixty books deep.

But I realized that I read three categories of books simultaneously.

Usually I’m reading some non-fiction. Actually, I usually have about 3-4 non-fiction books going. I’m good with that pile.

The second category is drama or action or something meaty. Or lush. Or rich. Something that I can really sink my teeth into. Long. Deep. Emotional. Gripping.

And finally the last category is something light and comedic and friendly to relax. I’ve read all the Janet Evanovich books, and now I’ve read all the Charlaine Harris books.

Now I have nothing to read from that pile. Any suggestions? I prefer mysteries, prefer series, and I want it light and quick and funny and relaxing. Something like Janet Evanovich or Charlaine Harris.

image It doesn’t have to be a mystery, actually. Just something very easy-reading. Fun.

Any suggestions?

And do you read one book at a time, or do you read several categories at once? What are your categories? Do you prefer series? I confess I prefer my light-reading to be series: it’s like hanging out with a group of friends.


Thursday, April 16, 2009

My Impressions of Michigan

image First off, I've have so many piano studio emails and so much writing to do today, I finally asked Glenn to just drop me at Barnes & Noble so I can work all day. This was just not at all a good time for me to go out of town.

Last night I was upset about this, but this morning I'm thrilled. I'm more accustomed to working. It's more comfortable. And I go through withdrawal if I don't get my 30+ hours a week in the bookstore.

So Glenn dropped me off, drove away with his cell phone off, and the sign says they are without power. The whole freakin' mall. On a sunny day. Thank goodness I have Glenn's laptop (he wanted me to fix something), which has power, but not the stuff I need to work on. My laptop with the writing I need to work on has a drained battery.

So I've spent the whole morning at Burger King getting no work done, which is irritating, because I wanted a full day of work.

But Michigan:

image First off, we've accidentally passed more music stores than EXIST in ALL of Ohio. This makes me happy, because if Ohio were any indication, then piano and music are DYING. But if Michigan is any indication, then Ohio is dying, LOL. I'm fine with the latter, not so much the former.

Secondly, there are a TON of cancer advertisements in Michigan. This makes me think of two things: first, cancer is a profitable business, which makes me feel a little queasy; second, there must be a lot of cancer in Michigan. Is the Lake really polluted? The water? What's up?

Michigan also has the "cyberknife," which sounds a bit scary to me.

Third, every exit stop seems to have an RV dealership, sometimes two or three. Wow. And what's even more bizarre is that you cannot stand in front of a row of houses without 1-4 RVs being in driveways in your visual range. Even from the highway, there is ALWAYS at least one house with an RV parked in the driveway in your line of sight.

In all of Chagrin Falls and Solon, I think I've seen two RVs.

And finally, Michigan only has rest stops on one side of the road. So if you're going South, you have to pass the rest stop, go ten miles to the next exit, turn around and go north for ten miles, and then use the potty. And then you have to drive five more miles North, get off the exit and turn around and drive the 15 miles South you've already covered.

image Going to the bathroom involves a freakin' hour of driving. I wonder how much money they get in taxes on the extra gas this consumes?

All these observations make me realize how writing what you know is nearly impossible. If I lived in Michigan, this stuff would probably seem too ordinary to mention. There are probably a million ordinary things about Ohio that I've failed to notice, simply because it seems normal and unremarkable.

Oooh... the mall has power now! I get to work!

How are you guys doing? What's up this week?


Saturday, April 11, 2009

What Does It For You?

image I'm trying to take a vacation. I have two projects to finish that, if things go well today and tomorrow, I can finish and take a "real" vacation. And then Glenn comes home, and we're going to sleep in the car and drive until we hit sun.

The thought of doing without my blog buddies leaves me a little jittery. So I might break down.

But I'm curious: what part of story-telling came first for you? Was it the writing? The imagining? The story? The need to express through words? Which part compelled you?

image For me, I think I could easily leave off the writing bit, but I could never stop my mind from living in story worlds and weaving story lines.

Writing just gives me an excuse, a reason not to feel a bit crazy, LOL. :-)

And what triggers the "vacation feel" for you? When do you relax? When do you let the normal world fall off your shoulders? How do you escape?


Thursday, April 09, 2009

What’s In Your Toolbox?

image Debra’s post on Stephen King’s On Writing reminded me about toolboxes, which reminded me why I’m really studying my process:

I need to know what’s in my toolbox.

I forget. I run into trouble, and I don’t remember how I fixed it before. If I can be more aware of what tools I own and which tools have fixed what problem, then maybe I can save some writing time for… more writing. (What else, LOL?)

My toolbox is a mess. I have all these little things I do, little tricks and techniques, but I can never find them when I need them.

I need to organize and label them.

image The other thing that’s great about organizing the toolbox is that I look at what tool I’m currently using, and I start thinking: how’s this tool working out for me?

After yesterday’s post, I realized my current methods aren’t really working out as well as I’d like. Interesting. Time to try a few new tools, or dig some old ones out from the bottom of the box, methinks.

My process is just not reliably working the way I need it to. Nine years in, and it’s about time for a crisis, I guess. I suspect most people have figured something out by now.

Not me. *sigh* Time to experiment.

Do you know your process? Do you know what’s in your toolbox? How often do you experiment? Ever throw everything out and buy new tools? Ever need to remind yourself how the tools work?


Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Part II: Hen-Pecking, WIP '09 #3

image I’m doing this series on “How I Write” because I truly want to see how I write. I think I am least aware of my writing process. I’m biased, looking through tinted glasses. I’m thankful you’re tolerating it! ;-)

So I abandoned the first thousand words of my WIP. This is unlike me, but I will probably use 700-800 words of it in the second chapter. Getting paid by the word definitely teaches one to write with economy.

One would think it would teach one to bloat one’s sentences, but for me, I’ve learned not to write words I’ll delete, and not to waste the words I’ve deleted.

And yes, there have been times I’ve highlighted a section, counted the words, opened up my calculator (so not kidding), calculated the cost, and said to myself, “Can I really delete $135?”

It HURTS. Let me tell you, it HURTS.

But I was noticing today that I “hen-peck” a lot. As I write, I edit. I write a spurt, then I start at the beginning of the section and edit. Then on to the next spurt.

During this edit, I delete as many words as I can. The less words in a sentence, the stronger it is. I extract words as if I’m doing fine surgery.

What words can I remove from this sentence and still have the same meaning and same effect on the reader? What sentences can be removed altogether?

I think this is a survival process, too. If I delete little bits at a time, I won’t mentally calculate the money in the trash can, LOL. I won’t notice the word count going down too much. (I try not to look.)

image When I write, I also “zoom in” and “zoom out” a lot. I’ll read the whole chapter, hen-peck at sentences, write some bits of a scene, zoom out, double check that it fits and there’s a purpose to it, zoom back in and hen-peck, zoom out to make sure what I’m about to write fits in the overall plot, zoom in a little to check the character arcs, and then zoom all the way back in to write it.

So… do you hen-peck? Zoom in and out? Do you do all of the above during separate “drafts” or all during one session? Do you edit as you go? Is it all mixed together into one process, one draft?

When do you hen-peck, and when do you zoom?


Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Jeffrey Archer’s Process

I find this process fascinating. I’m a slow writer. People get that now because I’m slow all around, lately. But people used to think me a fast writer because I’d write 20K a week. But I’m not. I spend a whole lot of time writing and reading. Probably 40 or 50 hours a week, and another 40 hours or so on teaching and piano.

Well, I don’t have kids. Glenn’s away. There’s really nothing else for me to do.

Anyway, people write that much in 10 hours a week, which is why I say I write slowly.

But I have never done 16 drafts. Wow. That is something. Here’s Jeffrey Archer’s process:

And this is just hilarious:


Saturday, April 04, 2009

The Boat Broke.

image It sorta looks small in this picture, but it actually houses about 300 people or so. Those are little boats dropping off fish, and this is by Dutch Harbor. Yeah, those are the Deadliest Catch waters.

It doesn't look like it would hold that many people, but that's a big mountain in the background, and I think it throws the perspective off.

But it broke. Glenn caught a cell tower on the way home, and called to say that he would be late. The boat is, evidently, "limping home." He should be home by the 14th if "all goes well."


The extra money is going to be nice, but I was really hoping we could spend spring break together. Oh well. We might get a few days. I haven't been in contact with him for a week while they were making their way wherever they are, and I haven't actually heard his voice for about three weeks.

Boy, I really miss him big.

I do have lots of work to do, so I guess the time to do it will be good. I can get it done before he gets here. Gosh, I really miss him.

So anyway, it's (nearly) Sunday. How's the WIP? How's it writing? Is it in the flow stage, the regular stage, the grinding stage? How are you? What's up with you?

Oh--they ran into two storms, too. Here's a "fun" video of the Bering Sea, where he was. These are the little boats. Glenn's on the big boat, which Glenn tells me is perfectly safe. Even broken. (Can you imagine the expression on my face right now?)


Friday, April 03, 2009

Self-Indulgence Again.

CD2 072This is Dixie Ann Doodle. I don’t know why I’m showing you pictures of my cats, lately, but I’m just looking forward to Glenn being home and our family all together again. I miss him, so I think this is how I’m coping, LOL. One more week! Dixie thinks Glenn is the Center of the Universe. I mean, she thinks he is the shit.

When I’m a little down, I stare at cat pictures. I love I Can Haz Cheeseburger, and I’ve just found Cute Overload. Don’t ask me why staring at cute kittens is an important part of my day, LOL.

CD3 302 This is Leo. Leo died.
:-( He was the best. I know cats have feelings because Dixie was depressed for about seven months after he died. It was something. He was one cool cat. 

CD2 077 This is my first cat, Choo-Choo. It absolutely KILLS me when she covers her eyes to sleep. It’s so… human, LOL. She was the only cat for awhile, so it took her about five years to adjust to having other cats in the house.

CD3 329 After Leo died, we got Ittle Bittle. He’s still the baby of the family. He does not clean himself. All the other cats hold him down and clean him. He is also allowed to steal food from any of them without repercussions. He’s a spoiled one. :-)

CD3 485 This is Caesar, who was as sleek as a race horse when we got him from the pound, but who became a lump within a week. He’s a loving lump, but he’s a lump all the same.

I leave you with a picture of Ittle-Bittle on the kayak, and one of Ittle-Bittle taking a walk. Neither of which he’ll do anymore. :-(

CD3 444
CD3 449
So… tell me about your babies. Got any pictures?

Okay, one more.I can’t help it.

CD3 454


Thursday, April 02, 2009

Stories I Ache to Write

image Last night, I spent an hour tearing up the house, trying to find my Jane Eyre DVDs. (My favorite version. My second favorite version is this one.) I couldn’t find them. I was practically in tears. If I hadn’t been carrying them in my computer bag for months like a security blanket, I probably wouldn’t have lost them.

But I’m in the mood, and I NEED to watch Jane Eyre, just like there are times when I NEED to listen to Faure’s Requiem Mass or Mozart’s Requiem Mass or Orff’s Carmina Burana (turned so loud the floor I’m laying on vibrates.)

I pretty much continuously read Jane Eyre all the time. Maybe only once a week, but I’m always in the middle of it or starting over. I’ve probably been continuously reading it for a couple years, and before that, I’d read it every year or so.

Jane Eyre is the book I would LOVE to write.

image Same with Alias. Yeah, it’s a TV series, but the twists and the plot and the character development are incredible. It’s the only TV series I own, and I own every single season. I tend to watch that one continuously, too.

I would just LOVE to write Alias.

I was wondering: Do you have books, TV series, or movies that you would LOVE to write? Maybe the same as it is, or maybe with your own spin? Do you ache to write them?

Do you have TV series or books that you watch over and over, for years? So much so that they become friends?


Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Part I: How I Write, WIP '09 #3

image I often catch myself saying I write this way or that way, which is funny, because every story writes differently. And usually, my memory is rather clouded.

So I thought I'd keep track of how I really write this time.

I started out with the mood and setting: I wanted it to be dark and gothic. (My obsession with Jane Eyre is never-ending.) It is a stand-alone, which is something I haven't done in two or three years.

Then I got a flash of a scene: The main character is a new bride, and the first scene I got was her coming down for breakfast, a complete stranger to her husband. He is comfortable in his house; she is not. (Yeah, it's so been done a million times. So what? My turn.)

After writing about 500 words, I figured out their names. Then I figured out the emotional arc of the story. (A journey of trust.)

From that, I figured out the outer sort of plot that would mirror the emotional arc of the story. (Well, it's gothic. A spooky servant, a ghost, a murder, and all sorts of strange goings-on. Sort of a given.)

Her fear of those "outer" circumstances will cause her to doubt her husband, as well as doubt her trust in him, and doubt her new life.

(Yes, I know... it's all been done before. I'm sticking to the basics for privacy of pseudonym, LOL.)

So that's all I start with. I'm 1,000 in, but this story didn't start with my usual pre-thinking, so I'll need to delete about 300 or 400 and focus. (That is odd for me.)

image Then I'll start planting all sorts of hooks that will get all this going. I try, as best as I'm able, to litter my first chapters with a ton of hooks. I like to think that the first chapter contains the roots of the entire novel, whether through hooks, foreshadowing, set-up, questions, little mysteries, whatever.

I don't need a big NY-able hook, so that makes my life considerably easier. In the next day or two, I'll probably finish the first chapter. (I better, at least!) I'll also set my mind to imagining in the skins of my characters during every free moment I have to daydream. Amidst shower time, driving time, falling asleep time, cooking time, eating time, I'll probably spend over a couple hours a day living in their skin.

So how do you start a story? Always the same way? Differently? How did your latest story begin? Do you remember?