Saturday, September 29, 2012

What I Did With My Summer Vacation

Hello friends! I've missed you!

How was your summer?

Mine was wonderful. I managed to break my seven year streak of Summer-Brain-Fogginess and write like a crazy woman. Well... a crazy-productive woman. I seriously blazed through the last two thirds of my book and finished it just as September dawned. I am so proud of myself! My amazing and gifted critique group has it now. So, while I wait for their notes, I am free to do fun things like organize book shelves, read magazines, and BLOG!

Another wonderful part of my summer was DANCE. I took lots and lots of dance classes--modern, ballet, and jazz--which fed me so much creatively and physically. Not only did I get to a deeper level of overall wellness, but the inspiration from so many dance classes carried over into my writing. My WIP is based on a well-known ballet, so I channelled some of that energy into my work. It's hard to explain exactly how. But, I have always loved embodying ideas and emotions through movement. Even when I'm sitting at my desk, sometimes I have to get up and move around a bit in order to find a particular dynamic or feeling. So, my hope is that that beautiful, enlivened energy of dance will weave itself into my manuscript, at least in places.

A summer full of dance and writing is hard to beat. I also got to spend lots of time with my family. We saw several real live ballets at American Ballet Theatre in New York City, which was a dream come true. And we took some road trips to visit beloved grandparents and aunts and uncles.

So! That's what I did with my summer vacation. Soon I'll be back to the grindstone, working on the next round of revision. And I look forward to it! It is SUCH a relief to have the proverbial clay thrown down. Now that I've got the raw materials (a completed draft) I will be able to shape it and decorate it and make it into something nice. Revision is fun! Not that I'm minimizing the difficulty. It's also hard. But I am full of hope about this story. I believe in it. And that is a terrific feeling.

Let me know how you are. I've missed you!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

"Don't die with your music still inside you."

Hi friends,

Well, gosh, where do I start? Without telling you my whole life story, let me just tell you that I've spent the last few months dealing with a few major crises. The most recent was a health scare that took the wind out of my sails--to say the least. I hate to be public about these things, and yet I want to share it because I know how many others go through painful things. The experience made me want to reach out and hug the world. If you've been in pain lately, please consider yourself hugged! I was blessed in that, mine turned out to be fine. I am healthy and strong now, released from that terrible period of worry. But it gave me a wonderful gift. 

(Fairy house by my daughter.)

It showed me that, no matter how long my life is, the clock is in fact running. I don't have forever to write these books of mine. I don't have forever to cuddle my kids to sleep and watch them traipse through their days with their quirky brilliance. I don't have forever to have a glass of wine with my amazing husband. Even if I live to be 107 (which I plan to) these times will fade and evolve into something else. Before I know it, these children will grow into little adults. (Then who will I blame for taking away my writing time???) 

This song by Sweet Honey in the Rock gets to the heart of the matter. It's called Meeting at the Building. They sing about the sweetness of our time together, and the truth that one day it will come to an end. It expresses how that joy and sadness live right beside each other. 

So, it was a very painful blessing. It's too bad that I had to go through that but... I am grateful for it. I loathe the cliche of this. But when it's happening to you, it doesn't feel like a cliche. I am able to see the glorious chance before me quite clearly. The irony is that, I was always a person who felt the beauty of the world keenly! I honestly didn't take much for granted. But I've gone even deeper now. I have changed. 

As I was walking through the library today, I was thinking about my work-in-progress. I'm embarrassed to say that even today I was thinking WHINY thoughts: "Ugh! It's too hard! I don't know how to fix it! Phooey!" Then I stopped myself, and I thought: "Just don't f***ing bother, unless it ignites you." Period! Just don't do it unless your soul is on fire! 

It was cold water in the face. But, honestly, there's no point in festering about writing. If we're lucky enough to do what we love, we should just get down to it. 

Wayne Dyer said this on one of his PBS specials: 

“Don’t die with your music still inside you. 
Listen to your intuitive inner voice and find what passion stirs your soul. 
Listen to that inner voice, and don’t get to the end of your life and say, 
‘What if my whole life has been wrong?”

So, that's my plan. I'm going to work like my soul is on fire. There are stories trying to come through me, and I swear to God I'm going to bring them out! I'm also going to build more fairy houses and play more Candy Land and freeze tag while my kids are still young. I'm going to keep going for the double turn in dance class. I'm going to sing harmony, even when I get it wrong. And I'm going to clink glasses with my husband tonight, thankful for all that we have, and all that we're able to give.

As Robin Williams says in Dead Poets Society (quoting Walt Whitman): 

"The powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse." 

I'm really clear on that now. I've got a few verses to contribute. I bet you do too.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS: A Master Class in Storytelling

*** I THINK this is pretty much spoiler-free. 
However, it does reveal something that happens in the pilot episode. 
Read at your own risk!***

Part of my post-move, stress management plan has involved watching Friday Night Lights (via Netflix) almost every night. I'd heard it was great. I had heard it was well done. But I had NO. IDEA.

It's so good.

And I'm pleased to say that, if you write YA, Friday Night Lights is a veritable clinic in storytelling. So, yes, my TV habit is helping my writing!

Here is what I've learned so far:

1. SUFFERING IS GOOD. Give your characters a ton of problems. Make them suffer. Then put them in tense, high-pressure situations. Then? Give them more problems. 

Take, Matt Saracen. When the show starts he's a hapless but good-hearted sophomore with a crush on the coach's daughter. He's the 2nd string quarterback who never gets to play. Since his mother is not around, and his father is deployed in Iraq, he alone has to care for his aging grandmother. He works at the Alamo Freeze to help cover the family finances. And that's just the set up! As the show goes on, the writers just heap pressure on poor Matt. First, he is thrust into the pressure-cooker of Panther football when the superstar quarterback gets injured in the first game. Then, things just keep cropping up: girl trouble, daddy trouble, money trouble, friend trouble, and trouble keeping his position on the team.
We love Matt because he's such a good person. But we keep rooting for him because doggone it, his life is tough! And we want things to get better for this kid!

2. THE SWOON FACTOR ~ Give your readers someone to fall in love with...

Need I say more?

But, as if Tim Riggins weren't enough, FNL gives us lots of choices: the soulful Matt Saracen, the glorious Tami Taylor, the lovely Lyla Garrity, the charismatic Smash Williams, and the incomparable (honorable, handsome, dreamy) Coach Taylor!

When you're writing a book, just give us someone to fall in love with. And make that person genuinely good, terribly flawed, distractingly gorgeous, and electrifyingly interesting to watch. ~ sigh ~ When I first saw this character...

I thought, OK, yeah. Another lunkhead football player. But no! Timmy is complicated. He's a wounded soul, prone to punching anyone who pisses him off, but he's also got a sly sense of humor and a tendency to lighten the mood with his sarcasm. And they just kept adding more layers: his daddy left him, he drinks in the morning, he's unrequitedly in love with his best friend's girl. He's noble. He makes stupid choices. But he's got the biggest heart in Texas. Plus? Look at that face! HOW could you not fall in love with him?

3. WEAVE A TANGLED WEB Interconnect your characters in a web of relationships. It makes every scene more charged. Coach needs the boosters. The boosters need coach. Yet they are often at cross purposes. The players all look up to coach. Some rely on him as a father figure. Some are like thorns in his side. And somehow he earns the respect of each one. Tami and Coach have a complicated, REAL marriage. Even the city of Dillon feels like a "character", with a changing relationship to coach, based on the Panthers' performance on the field. There are love triangles, class differences, alliances, rivalries, pining, suffering, waiting, fighting, winning...

It's amazing.

4. GIVE US VICTORIESGive us problems and impossible odds, yes. That's what makes people want to tune in and turn pages. But give us victories too! The audience needs those satisfying scenes to nourish us and keep us coming back for more. Friday Night Lights gives us just enough of those triumphant moments: the hard-working player finally getting to start, the last minute, miraculous Panther victory, the father forgiving his daughter, a second chance, a sudden kiss, a college acceptance letter. They have to earn these victories. But as a result, we savor them even more.

5. YOU CAN'T ALWAYS GET WHAT YOU WANT ~ This is what Friday Night Lights embodies so well. Life is not fair. Sometimes promising athletes get injured. Sometimes you lose the game. Sometimes you don't get the girl. Your heart breaks, you embarrass yourself, you pick the wrong fight. Life is awkward and glorious and painful and unpredictable. And those tragic moments are often right up against the beautiful ones.

6. "NO REGRETS!" ~ Tim Riggins' personal motto rings very true for writing. Don't play safe! Keep throwing those characters to the wolves. Just when you think things are stable, THEY'RE NOT! Anything can happen in Texas football. Anything can happen in your book. Throw everything you've got at them. It will make your readers desperate for resolution, vindication, glory, romance, and closure. It hurts! But it's worth it! Just give it everything you've got and leave it all on the field.

8. Did I mention Tim Riggins?

Oh, I did? OK, right. 

9. And most important of all... 

Clear Eyes.
 Full Hearts. 
Can't Lose!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Inching Back to the Game

Hello friends,

Here are a few tidbits since I am missing you, and a meaningful post feels out of reach at the moment.

*New Jersey is extremely cold. My toes are freezing just from sitting too close to the window. But we had our first snow of the year this weekend and that was a joy for our whole family.

*I got to meet my sweet bloggy friend Faith Hough at an SCBWI event last November. It was SUCH a surprise, and SUCH a treat! (I also got to meet her husband and baby, which was a lovely bonus.) Here is a pic of us just after listening to a talk by Cheryl Klein.

Yes, I look a little sleepy! But I was so SO happy to meet a friend I had only known on the blogosphere. All my suspicions that we would get along famously came true! Faith is wonderfully kind and smart and such a great mom. I hope to see you again very soon, Faith!

I knew Cheryl was going to be brilliant, but I was still not prepared for how fast my pen would have to move to take notes! It was an amazing, information-packed lecture on plot, and I am still processing all the great stuff I learned.

*Send me writing juju! I am bushwacking through a first draft a new manuscript and it is painful sometimes. I love the moments of magic, but they are few and far between right now. Falling in love (however slowly) with a new set of characters feels like betraying my old ones. Figuring out a new plot feels like reinventing the wheel. Haven't I done this before? Shouldn't this be getting easier?

*Moving is hard. And I miss home. But I am embracing the blessings of my new place in the world. As a very wise person said to me before I moved, "You're going to find out who you are there. You already know who you are *here*. But you need to find out who you are there."

How are things going with you?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Why I suck at everything right now

Hi there,

As you know, I just moved across the country. It would be an understatement to say that it has been a MAJOR stress on our whole family. We're reinventing the wheel, basically. Trying to find our way around a new town, finding new doctors, classes, restaurants, stores, and everything else. Finding new rhythms, new friends, new ways of doing things. Instead of moving forward with goals like: writing a novel, teaching the kids French, and making homemade holiday gifts... we're pretty much just coping. We're helping the kids with all the changes, and making time to process it ourselves. It's hard, but necessary.

So... pretty much everything else has gone to hell in a hand-basket! I'm trying to be satisfied with making sure everyone eats, is relatively clean, and has something useful to do every day. Beyond that, I suck at everything: writing, blogging, exercising...

I didn't do NaNoWriMo. I had such grand visions for myself! But I realized a few days into November that I needed to keep my focus on my family. I felt like this wonderful magic train was racing by... I could feel the wind it was generating, and hear some of the music and laughing voices inside, but I just couldn't get on it. Not this year.

But it's OK! The beauty is that I know I did the right thing. And I am slowly getting my groove back. We are building a new life, and that takes time. In addition to all the challenges, there have already been lots of blessings: my husband loves his new job. We love our new home and our new neighbors. Everyone is healthy. And the sun is shining today!

Anyone else out there going through big transitions? If you are, hang in there. Know that you have my compassion. I'm trusting that all this will be a catalyst for growth and positive changes.

Take care, everybody! I'll check in again soon.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

New York!

Hi friends!

Well, here I am in New York City. CRAZY!!!! I cannot believe that I actually live here now. I am a Seattle girl, through and through, so it was really a long shot that we would ever actually make this move. But, we did it! My husband is LOVING his new job, the kids and I are adjusting slowly our new life, and we're just taking things one day at a time. The hardest part is how much we miss our family and friends. But, we're starting to get excited about all the things we can see in this vast, amazing, wacky city. I already caught a glimpse of the new Freedom Tower under construction and that was COOL. I have a whole list of things we're going to try and see this week so, I'll keep you posted!

Meanwhile, I'm just starting to get my writing groove back. Anyone else out there thinking of doing NaNoWriMo? If you don't know about National Novel Writing Month, here is a link to the website. You write 50,000 words during the month of November and people ALL OVER THE WORLD are doing it with you! You get pep talks from famous writers, and you record your word count every day so you can actually SEE the progress on this handy dandy little graphic they have. It's not for everyone, but I definitely credit NaNoWriMo with "giving" me my novel a few years ago. I finally just wrote it all out, with very little self-editing. It was great!

So, let me know if you're joining me on this quest and we can share the joy and the pain of forcing yourself to write almost 2,000 words a day. I am furiously outlining right now, so I'd better get back to it. I leave you with a little Frank Sinatra, to celebrate my new city. Cheers!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

So Much to Tell

Hello friends!

I am SOOOOOOOOOOO sorry to have been gone so long. I keep thinking that, after all this time, I have to write something MAGNIFICENT and scintillating to make up for my blog silence. But enough is enough! It's time to break the ice. It's better to write a mediocre post than no post at all. (Right? That's right, isn't it?)

So, a lot going on over here. I went to the wonderful-amazing-INSPIRING-and-glamorous SCBWI conference in Los Angeles. I have a bajillion pics and stories to tell you from that! Highlights: meeting one of my heroes, Bruce Coville; dancing the night away at the 40 Winks Ball; anything that had to do with hearing Libba Bray speak (she's a goddess); and spending time with my soul sister Dawn Simon. 

I joined the advisory committee for my own SCBWI chapter, which has been a DREAM come true. I have admired the folks that organize our Western Washington chapter for a long time. We are blessed to have a vibrant, active, FUN, and excellently-run group so, being a part of things has been a true delight.

However, on a more personal note, my life is a bit topsy-turvy right now. Our family is relocating to the East Coast in October and I am going a bit CRAZY with planning and preparations! It's a very exciting move for us. My husband is thrilled about his new job. But, we will be saying good-bye to so many beloved friends and family, so it's bittersweet.  (I'm going to cry just thinking about it!)

So, forgive me for being gone. Look for more posts soon. And celebrate my big move with me!!!!

Here's a clue about where we're moving to:

PS ~ I'm not subtle.