Buoyed Up, Parasite, & #ROW80

 

Friday I announced the goal of

a) adding another 1,000 words to my Work in Progress; OR,

b) rewriting the oatmeal,

and said I would say which I’d accomplished in my Sunday A Round of Words in 80 Days report.

The oatmeal refers to the 1,000+ words I added last Thursday.

Report: I accomplished neither, and this is Monday, not Sunday.

I do not despair, however. I’m buoyed up by the thought of those 1,000+ words extant.

My next goal is to do b), above, and to submit to Austin Mystery Writers, my critique group, by Tuesday night. Monday night would be better, but a Tuesday submission is not to be sneezed at.

Here are two pictures of Ernest. In the first, he’s trying to damage a USB device.

In the second, he’s pretending he’s not leaning on the keyboard while I’m reading K.P. Gresham‘s Ink-Stained Wretches post, “Read a Book, Save the World.” 

If you have—or haven’t—seen the movie Parasite, you’ll be interested in K.P.’s post.

My Writing Writing Writing Day: Yeah, Right

In the previous post, I announced my intention to get up, go to BookPeople, write for an hour on a project of not-email and not-post (because Ramona DeFelice Long told me to), and get off the laptop by 7:00 p.m.
Here’s how the day went.
IMG_2800
Ernest

At 8:00 a.m., I discovered Ernest experiencing grave digestive problems reminiscent of previous problems caused by eating string. No matter how careful we are, he’s always able to find string.

After practicing every sneaky tactic I know to wrestle him into the carrier, I hauled him to the vet, wrote a check, hauled him home, and spent the next twenty-four hours stalking him up hill and down dale, from litterbox to litterbox, to get an accurate picture of his post-doc activity.
If there wasn’t any, I would have to take him back to the vet today for reconsideration of the diagnosis of UTI to ingestion of string.
In addition to the X-ray, the veterinarian gave him a long-lasting injection of antibiotic so we wouldn’t have to catch him and fight over pills or liquid for a week. I could have chosen to start treatment without the X-ray and see what happened but wasn’t sure I could get him back into the carrier if the antibiotic didn’t work. Some things are not worth the effort.
Because we have two cats and two litterboxes, and because I knew isolation wouldn’t be possible, at least if I valued our doors, I sat up all night watching him. He slept. All night. Didn’t go near a litterbox. I played Bookworm.
David rose at 7:00 a.m. We changed shifts. I went upstairs for four hours of sleep. David stalked.
I woke at 11:00 to the news that Ernest had performed admirably. David had kept samples. I said I didn’t need to see them.
Ernest is in fine fettle. At present he’s lying on my arm, making biscuits where I wish he were not. I will tolerate this until the first claw penetrates my clothing and punctures my flesh. He means well.
In fact, he forgave and forgot as soon as we returned from the veterinary clinic. He swished around as if I had never betrayed him, sat in my lap, pinned down my left arm while I typed, lay on the footstool, gazed at me lovingly.
I’m grateful he doesn’t hold a grudge. In the fight for proper medical attention I nearly dislocated his shoulder. I’m trying to forgive and forget that my back and my right arm will once again have to be put right by the massage therapist. The carrier alone is heavy, and with Ernest inside it gains seventeen pounds.
Concerning the writing life: I did not go to BookPeople; I did not write for an hour; I did not eat breakfast or lunch until nearly 3:00 p.m. I did not do anything except be nurse and mama to a big, hulking guy tabby cat.
But hey–I got another blog post out of it.

The craziest thing is that it’s almost the same post I wrote two or three years ago, about the day I was

William
William

determined to write write write but instead spent the day lying on the floor in William’s bedroom, trying to coax an ailing Ernest out from under the bed and to the doctor.

Now the question: Do these things happen because I’m crazy, or am I crazy because these things happen?
What is the moral? (Must be a moral.)
  • Change in the Davis-Waller house doesn’t seem likely, at least while Ernest and I live here. Might as well accept that and go on.
  • I should never never never publicize my intention of writing writing writing.
  • Writing writing writing equals change. See first moral, above.
And failing to follow through is embarrassing. Especially reporting the failure, as is only fair. Readers deserve to know.
cropped-img_31112.jpgWhen this post is safely online, I shall throw things into a bag and head south to retreat with Austin Mystery Writers. I will have a cabin and a river and some pecan trees. I will not have Internet connection or decent TV reception. Phones will work only outside.
And for the next two days, I promise to sit in a porch swing and Write. Write. Write.

 ***

If paragraphs in this post are incorrectly spaced, please pretend they’re not. Today’s format is like Ernest–not under my control. It’s just one more miracle of modern technology.

Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! is for Publish

[Links are scattered throughout this post. If you slide your pointer across the screen, you’ll see where to click. In the meantime, I’ll choose a theme that makes finding links easier.]

In yesterday’s abbreviated post, I promised an announcement to end all announcements.

Confession: Kaye George was quicker than I. She made the announcement on another blog, whose title and URL I will display later in this post. I’d hate for  readers to click on that link and forget to come back here.

The Announcement: “Murder on Wheels,” an anthology of eleven short stories written by members of Austin Mystery Writers critique group and two of its friends, has been accepted for publication by Wildside Press.

It’s occurred to me that we might be sending out this news prematurely, that we should wait for the book to appear. But yesterday the contract, and self-restraint, went the way of the dial telephone.

I doubt we’d have had the energy keep the secret anyway. We’ve been on the verge of dancing in the streets ever since receiving word that Wildside would publish. When one AMW member heard the good news, she broke into song. Thanks to the miracle of modern technology and a husband who knows how to make an .MP3 file from a voice mail, I have a recording. I would share it, but I value my life.

The next question, of course, is WHEN? 

We don’t know. There’s a lot to do between now and the launch date. Before Wildside’s final acceptance come edits. The others have informed me it’s gauche to tell a publisher that your stories are already perfect. So I imagine compliance with the editor’s requests won’t be an issue.

I promised I would display the address of Kaye George’s official announcement. An Agatha-nominated author, Kaye has published a number of mystery stories and novels. Although she’s no longer around attend AMW’s meetings, she’s still our leader and our guide through this new territory. She writes about how the idea for “Murder on Wheels” came about. Her account of this Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! experience is more detailed and more interesting than mine.

Read Kaye’s version of the story at Judy’s Stew.

 

###

 

Kaye George blogs at Travels with Kaye.

Read more about Kaye and her books at http://www.amazon.com/Kaye-George/e/B004CFRJ76

 Find other AMW members’ blogs at–

 VP Chandler

 Elizabeth Buhmann

 Gale Albright (Crime Ladies)

 Scott Montgomery

 Laura Oles (Austin Mystery Writers)

 ***

Find other contributors to “Murder on Wheels” here:

Reavis Z. Wortham

Earl Staggs

 

Book Not-Quite-Review: Terry Shames

Back in my teaching days, I handed a student a copy of T. H. White’s The Once and Future King and told her I thought she might like it. She did. So much, in fact, that she volunteered to write a review for the school newspaper.

The review went something like this: I loved this book. It was just so…Guinevere was terrible. She was just so… It was so sad…It’s a wonderful book. I just love it.

Unfortunately, the review was never published, because instead of turning into ideas and thence into sentences and finding its way onto paper, it remained a clump of molecules of emotion lodged somewhere in the vicinity of the student’s corpus callosum. Only a few tiny bits escaped as babble.

The reason was no mystery: The writer was too close to her subject. She lacked distance, detachment. She needed, as Wordsworth said when defining poetry, to recollect her powerful emotion in tranquility.

Lack of detachment is a common condition. I’ve suffered from it for weeks.

IMG_2814Several days ago, I posted part of a paragraph from Terry Shames’ first novel, A Killing at Cotton Hill, and illustrated it with a photograph of four white-faced Herefords. That was all.

That’s still all. I’m too close to the book. I wouldn’t dare try to review it now.

If I did, it would come out like this:

I love this book. It’s just so…There’s this wonderful sentence on the second page about hovering cows…That’s exactly what cows do…I can just see those cows…The person who wrote that sentence knows cows…And the dialogue…It’s just so…I just love it.

As soon as I saw it, I fell in love with that cow sentence.* I’ve read well past page two, but I can’t erase hovering cows from my mind. So I’ll say no more about A Killing at Cotton Hill.

I can report that yesterday evening I attended a reading at BookPeople celebrating the release of Terry Shames’ second book, and the second Samuel Craddock mystery, The Last Death of Jack Harbin.

Terry spoke, read an excerpt from the book, and finished up by taking questions from the audience. To prevent the possibility that this part of the post turn into babble, I’ll simply list some of the notes I jotted down:

  • Terry is from Lake Jackson. She graduated from the University of Texas and then worked for the CIA. [KW: I have your attention now, right?]
  • Both of Terry’s books were finalists for the Killer Nashville Claymore Award.
  • The Last Death of Jack Harbin is about a veteran who comes home from war damaged in body and in spirit. The book is about what people do with their guilt.
  • Library Journal gave Jack Harbin a Starred Review. [KW: And they don’t hand those out to every book that comes along.]
  • Scott Montgomery, BookPeople’s Crime Fiction Coordinator, says Jack Harbin “subtly works on you”–that you don’t realize its depth until you’ve finished–and you’ll still be thinking about it a week later.

Because of the hour, as well as my lack of detachment, this is as far as my not-quite-review will go. Suffice it to say that I enjoyed Terry’s reading, that I love A Killing at Cotton Hill,** and that The Last Death of Jack Harbin has gone to the top of my To Be Read list.

For more about Terry Shames and her books, read Terry’s “What’s Next for Samuel Craddock” and “MysteryPeople Q&A with Terry Shames,” both on the MysteryPeople blog.

_____

* The sentence isn’t really about cows. It’s about Samuel Craddock. But I am fond of white-faced Herefords, and the image Terry painted is so vivid, the cows overshadow the protagonist, at least in my mind.

** I forgot to take my camera to the reading, so I’ve illustrated with a photograph I took myself. The fur on the right of the book shouldn’t be there, but it was easier to just take the picture than to move the cat.

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Excelsior! – Yeah, Right

(Excelsior: a Latin word meaning loftier,
used in English as an interjection meaning Ever upward)
***
 
The shades of night were falling fast,
As through an Alpine village passed
A youth, who bore, ‘mid snow and ice,
A banner with the strange device,
      Excelsior!
 
His brow was sad; his eye beneath,
Flashed like a falchion from its sheath,
And like a silver clarion rung
The accents of that unknown tongue,
      Excelsior!
 
“Try not the Pass!” the old man said;
“Dark lowers the tempest overhead,
The roaring torrent is deep and wide!”
And loud that clarion voice replied,
      Excelsior!
 
In happy homes he saw the light
Of household fires gleam warm and bright;
Above, the spectral glaciers shone,
And from his lips escaped a groan,
      Excelsior!

“Oh stay,” the maiden said, “and rest
Thy weary head upon this breast! “
A tear stood in his bright blue eye,
But still he answered, with a sigh,
      Excelsior!

***
A traveller, by the faithful hound,
Half-buried in the snow was found,
Still grasping in his hand of ice
That banner with the strange device,
      Excelsior!
 
There in the twilight cold and gray,
Lifeless, but beautiful, he lay,
And from the sky, serene and far,
A voice fell like a falling star,
      Excelsior!
 
~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
 
***
 

IMG_2677I should have posted a list of resolutions on January 1.

I should have said, In 2014, I will write a blog post every day and write one short story a month and submit it for publication and finish my novel and query agents and sign with one and impress a publisher so much that he will offer a 6-book contract and an enormous advance to publish the novel and will pay for a coast-to-coast book tour and I will graciously accept and while waiting for the book tour I will lose 800 pounds and finish my second novel and I will reduce clutter and I will run a marathon and I will read Moby Dick and all of Henry James’ novels and I will learn to cook and will put a tasty and nutritious dinner on the table every night and I will read a book a week and will practice the piano and take voice lessons and a conversational Spanish class and I will, by January 1, 2015, be such a paragon of perfection that I will never have to make another New Year’s resolution ever again.

But all this week, I’ve been in a beastly mood, just waiting for some unsuspecting person to do something nice so I could switch on my evil eye, and that feeling was compounded when Ernest ate six inches of ribbon that was hanging from David’s birthday balloon, which we didn’t think he could reach but were we ever wrong, and then I stayed up two nights watching him for symptoms before delivering him to the emergency clinic Wednesday night and at dawn Thursday picked him up and delivered him to his regular doctor, who this afternoon said so far he seemed okay and probably just needed to come home and move around and relax because he’d been sort of frozen up, not because he was scared but because he didn’t like the people there, from which description I gather he was in a beastly mood, too.

To make a long post short, I don’t want to write about resolutions, much less make them, and even worse, I don’t want to spend 2014 striving to become a better and more productive person.

I want to recline in a vat of chocolate.

Anyway, to show I’m still a good person even though I don’t want to be, I’ll share this post from Totsymae: 9 Rules on How to Be Fabulous in 2014.

Nobody knows more about being fabulous than Totsymae, and I’m not talking everyday, garden variety fabulous. (To wit: Rule 1. Carry breath mints.)

I’ll be back in a day or two and maybe then I’ll have something more edifying to impart.

 

Shut-eye

A brief report: I’m spending a couple of days with my cousin VZ. That’s the one who fell asleep while I was reading her the first pages of my work in progress two years ago.

I posted about the incident here even as she was snoring away in the other bed–we were sharing a hotel room after attending a bridal shower that afternoon–and I hated to do it but felt it served her right. There’s a certain deference due to writers, and that night she didn’t give me any at all.

Nonetheless, I came to officiate at VZ’s cataract surgery. Experience allows me to say things like, There’s nothing to it, and, Don’t worry, and, They’ll give you enough Valium, you won’t care what they’re doing. I’m also an expert eye drop dropper. Steady hand, good aim, all that.

Surgery took place this morning and all went well. Waiting went well, too, because the ophthalmologist’s office had Wi-Fi and I had my Chromebook. We spent the afternoon doing drops and sleeping. I was supposed to be reading a book but I suppose Valium is contagious. Fortunately, her prescription read every two hours when awake.

VZ crashed again two hours ago. It’s approaching ten o’clock, so I am waking up, as I tend to do about this time every night. I’ll read for a while but will retire in about a half-hour. It’s important that I be awake and alert in the morning. VZ wakes early and will need her eye drops, three different drugs, each with its own set of instructions.

And at present I’m the only one of us who can read.

*****

Image: A Maid Sleeping, Johannes Vermeer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Writing Competitions and Opportunities Digest – Edition 12

Limebird Writers post a list of contests and opportunities for writers. Search the archives for previous editions. Thanks, Limebird Writers.

Limebird Writers

Welcome to the 12th edition of our weekly selection of writing competitions and opportunities.

How would you like to be published in a magazine that has previously published original fiction by the likes of Thomas Hardy and F Scott Fitzgerald? You would? Then have a look at the first one below for details.

If you missed the last edition of our digest, you can view it here.

——————

Opportunity type – Short story competition.
Theme – Spring.
Word count – Up to 3,000 words.
Organiser/publisher – Harper’s Bazaar magazine.
Reward – “The winning entry will appear in the May 2014 issue. Its author will be able to choose a first-edition book from Asprey’s Fine and Rare Books Department to the value of £3,000 and enjoy a week-long retreat at Eilean Shona House, on the 2,000-acre private island off the west coast of Scotland where JM Barrie wrote his screenplay for…

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Talking Turkey and Cooking Goose

In the previous episode, Kaye George, author of the Immy Duckworthy, PI mystery series, had just suggested members of Austin Mystery Writers publish an anthology of short stories. Her proposal sent me into paroxysms of insecurity and doubt: could I write two stories of acceptable quality in the time allotted? Or would I embarrass myself and slink away, ostracized from the group, never to plot again?

Now, the rest of the story:

The burning questions posed in She Cannot Get Away have been answered, in part. I can write at least one story in the time allotted me. I’ve already done so. Almost.

As with every project, the key is to start early. I started two years ago. In a retreat workshop sponsored by the Writers’ League of Texas, I wrote a fragment beginning with the following sentence:

The day I found Mama stirring ground glass into the eggs she was about to scramble, I took the eggs away from her and called a family conference.

Some readers have seen that sentence before. They may be sick of it. I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of it, fizzing over what comes next. My critique group suggested it’s the beginning of a novel, but I don’t think the situation has the necessary elasticity. In my hands, a novel starting with four siblings plotting to “put Mama out of her misery” could end up reading like the story board of a Road Runner cartoon: Children drop a metaphorical anvil off a bridge, miss Mama by a hair, light the fuse on a stick of dynamite, miss Mama by a hair, find themselves hoist with their own petard. Over and over for three hundred pages.

Shakespeare, given the same situation, would no doubt have come up with something fresh and original. But Shakespeare didn’t see as many Warner Brothers cartoons as I have. If he had, his creative faculty might have been warped, too.

Well. On July 4 of this year, I posted here that I was optimistic about the chances of getting a story out of the ground glass. Today I report that the two-year-old fragment is now part of a short story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. At our meeting last week, Austin Mystery Writers gave it their approval. Except for one thing. And I knew before a word was said exactly what it would be.

“But nobody died,” said Kaye.

I said I knew that.

“But it’s a murder mystery,” said Gale. “Somebody has to die.”

The three critique partners sitting  the other side of the table nodded.  In unison.

“I was going for subtlety,” I said. “It’s a death of the spirit.”

They stared at me. I stared back.

“But somebody really has to die,” said Kaye.

And then five people said they didn’t understand the last line. I had written the entire story so I could use that line, and no one understood what it meant.

I continued to stare. A string of pejoratives ran through my brain, notably philistines, peasants, and bourgeoisie. Finally I spoke.

“Thank you,” I said.

Then my friends began throwing out ideas for endings they preferred to mine, in each of which someone died. I sighed repeatedly and said things like, Yeahhhh, and Okayyyy, and I guessss…

People who tell inconvenient truths are so irritating. Especially when they gang up on you.

We moved on to discuss someone else’s submission. We chatted a while. We gathered our books and papers and parted.

I didn’t mention they were correct: The ending as written was weak. It fell flat. When I walked into the meeting, I already knew it was wrong. And I knew they wouldn’t let me get away with it.

Thirty minutes later, I sat across town in a writing work group, staring at my laptop monitor and thinking, Kaye gave me the perfect ending. All the suggestions were good, but hers works on multiple levels. It’s so right. Why didn’t I think of it myself?

Oh, who cares about why. What matters is that Kaye thought of it, and that she and four other writers talked turkey and made me listen.

If they hadn’t–and if I hadn’t–I’d have had a bigger problem than the embarrassment of

not turning in a story for the anthology. I’d have faced the humiliation of turning in a story whose last line four highly literate women couldn’t decipher.

Critique groups meet a variety of needs: for inspiration, encouragement, advice, mentoring, ideas, retreats, gossip…and for talking turkey. Carefully. Kindly. Intelligently. Honestly. Firmly. Timely.

I owe Austin Mystery Writers–big time. Because I’m convinced that if they hadn’t talked turkey to me, my literary goose would have thoroughly cooked.

AMW- logo

(Okay, guys, what do you have to say about that ending?)

She Cannot Get Away

Kaye - testimonial - pictures - croppedIf you read the previous post, reblogged from Gale Albright’s Visions and Revisions, you know mystery novelist Kaye George attended the Austin Mystery Writers meeting last week. Kaye, who for a number of years served as AMW’s Grand Pooh-Bah, moved to Tennessee last winter, leaving Gale and me forsaken and forlorn.

At the Last Lunch, celebrated at the Elite Cafe in Waco, Gale and I presented Kaye a certificate declaring her Member Emerita. It was supposed to say Grand Pooh-Bah Emerita, but, distraught over her impending move, I forgot that part.

The bull pictured on the certificate is an homage to Kaye’s first published novel, CHOKE, in which heroine Imogene Duckworthy narrowly escapes death by goring. I don’t believe that’s a spoiler, since Immy later appears in both SMOKE and BROKE.

Gale and I were foolish to suffer so over our friend’s disappearance because, thanks to the miracle of email, social media, and the Eyes of Texas, which are perpetually upon her, Kaye cannot get away. She’s been gracious about our continued presence in her life. She even suggested AMW publish an anthology of mystery stories, and so we shall. Each member has agreed to write two stories related to a central theme.

The prospect of putting out an anthology is exciting for those of us who haven’t published widely (roughly four of the eight current AMW members), but for me it’s also stressful: What if I can’t deliver? What if I’m already written out? What if I have to tell Kaye George the dog ate my homework? She knows I don’t have a dog.

At this point, I should tell a story related to the questions raised in the preceding paragraph. But it’s nearly 4:00 a.m., David just exchanged sleeping on the couch for sleeping on a bed, and I’m left downstairs hearing, sort of by default, Marvin Hamlisch first say that the music of the ’80s exemplifies our country’s return to family values, and then introduce a very old person I don’t recognize to sing “Under the Boardwalk.”

In other words, I’m outta here. The story will wait until tomorrow.

***

Oh, jeez. Now they’re singing “Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog.” Those family values just won’t quit. What are the PBS folks thinking? 

I have to retire now, before we all drown in sarcasm.

Mama and the Ground Glass Resurface

English: This is Alpine, Texas with the six-th...
This is Alpine, Texas with the six-thousand foot plus Ranger, Twin Sisters, & Paisano Peaks in the foreground. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Monday’s post, I announced my goals for Round 3 of A Round of Words in 80 Days (ROW80):

    • To write 300 words a day, five days a week; and
    • Not to haul myself out of bed at 5:00 a.m. to write the 300 words.

So far, the latter goal has been easier to accomplish than the former. Nonetheless, I made my 300-word minimum and then some both Tuesday and today.

I’m working on a short story that began as a ten-minute timed writing at the Writers’ League of Texas Summer Writing Retreat at Sul Ross State University in Alpine a couple of years ago. I spent the week in Karleen Koen’s class, Writing the Novel: The Basics. That was probably the most productive week I’ve ever had. Karleen told us she couldn’t teach us to write, but she could teach us to play. And she did. She’s teaching the class at this summer’s retreat later in July. She also teaches for Rice University’s Continuing Education Department in Houston. Anyone who has the opportunity to take one of her classes should do so. Lots of writing, lots of fun.

The timed writing that I hope becomes a full-fledged story begins, The day I found Mama stirring ground glass into the eggs she was about to scramble, I took the eggs away from her and called a family conference. When I started, I had no idea where it was going. Back at home, I added to it and showed it to my critique group. They said I should work it into a novel. I still didn’t know where it was going. Or where I could make it go. But it didn’t seem like novel material, at least in my hands. Last summer, I tried to turn it into a ghost story but kept running into obstacles, the chief of which was that the plot was forced and downright silly. Now, a year later, an invitation to write a different kind of story has come along. Once again I dragged out Mama and the ground glass. And this time I think I can pull it off. It’s not over till it’s over, of course, but I’m optimistic.

It takes time to get some things right.

***

To see what other members of ROW80 are writing, click here.

A Knotty Problem

Deutsch: "Kopfschmerzen". Die wohl b...
Deutsch: “Kopfschmerzen”. Die wohl berühmteste – stark von James Gillray beeinflußte – Arbeit in einer Reihe von sechs Blättern “medizinischer” Karikaturen, in denen Cruikshank Krankheiten als Teufelswerk brandmarkt. Erstmalig publiziert: 12. Februar 1819. Originalgröße: 210 x 255 mm (Photo credit: Wikipedia)  George Cruikshank [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons, PD-Art
 Yesterday Dominica felt faint, and Molly, my main character, steered her to a bench on the courthouse lawn and then dithered over what to do. She couldn’t leave Dominica, but she thought asking a passerby (of which there were none at the time) for help sounded lame.

Today, talking about treatments for migraines, one of my brilliant critique partners took a bottle of peppermint oil from her purse and passed it around. At the first whiff, I said, “Molly carries peppermint oil in her purse! She’ll use it to revive Dominica.”

In one fell swoop, I both saddled Molly with migraines and solved a knotty problem.

That is why I go to critique group.

NaNoWriMo 666

Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. ~ Herman Melville

National Novel Writing Month–NaNoWriMo–started yesterday. Because I can’t  resist challenges, I’d already registered as a participant. All I had to do was begin. Boot up the laptop, write 1667 words every day for a month, and pat myself on the back. And publicize my accomplishment. Publicizing allows other people to pat your back, too.

The number of the beast is 666 by William Blake.
The number of the beast is 666 by William Blake. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here I must digress. 1667 reminds me of a story:

When my library converted to an automated circulation system, the staff typed, barcoded, laminated, and distributed several zillion library cards. A couple of days later, a freshman girl appeared at the circ desk and told me she wanted a different card.

She pointed to the barcode. “This one is against my religion.”

I examined it for heresy: # 1666.

I was tempted to say–quite reasonably–“No, dear. The number 666 is against your religion. This is 1-666, a different thing entirely. Now run along and have a nice day.”

Instead, I said, “It’ll take about five minutes.”

Some things aren’t worth arguing about.

NaNo isn’t worth arguing about either, and that’s what NaNo makes me do. Argue. With myself.

Every year, I sign up to write 50,000 words in thirty days, and as soon as November 1 arrives, I tie myself in knots.

NaNo is supposed to be fun. It’s supposed to be about freedom. It’s about pouring words onto paper. It’s about turning off the inner critic and going with the flow.

I’ve never been good at fun. And I like to do things right the first time so I don’t have to do them over. These are not the best traits for a NaNo participant. Or for any aspiring writer.

Here’s another story. About ten years ago, I read Tracy Chevalier’s Falling Angels. I’d loved her Girl With a Pearl Earring, but Falling Angels was better. Exquisite.

Later I read an article in which Chevalier told how she’d written the novel. She’d completed the manuscript but felt something about it–she couldn’t say exactly what–was wrong. So she set it aside. Then she read Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible, which is told from multiple points of view, and saw potential. She completely rewrote her manuscript, changing the third-person narrative to multiple first-person points of view.

Chevalier’s description of her “process” impressed me, but for the wrong reason. I should have focused on her dedication, her craftsmanship, her openness, her perseverance in the pursuit of art. Instead–and I’m ashamed to admit this–I put down that article thinking, “How could she bear to write an entire manuscript, draft after draft, hundreds of pages, and then cast it aside and write the whole thing all over again?”

I had hardly enough energy to read about it, much less to contemplate doing it.

Well, there’s my dirty little secret, spilled all over cyberspace.

I’m not lazy. I just have an active imagination. I become exhausted in advance of need.

And the thought of the NaNo variety of freedom leaves me in shackles of my own design.

Gosh, it’s so nice to have a blog. There’s nothing I like better than sharing my neuroses with people I don’t know. And some I do.

On the other hand–looking at the subject from, as it were, a different point of view–it’s possible that my neuroses are responsible for everything I write. For my compulsion to return to the keyboard. For my love-hate relationship with NaNo. For my ability to jabber all over a blog and then have the fantods at the sight of a blank MS Word screen.

I started this post intending to thank my critique partners for encouraging me to dive into NaNoWriMo, letting the devil and my 3400-word deficit take the hindmost. Unfortunately, in the course of self-psychoanalysis, I wandered off topic, and now I can’t think of an appropriate transition.

Nevermind.

This is November. NaNoWriMo. Freedom. Death to transitions! Throw convention to the wind! Write bad drafts! Worse drafts! Quantity, not quality, counts.

So thanks, Austin Mystery Writers, for aiding me in this damp, drizzly November in my soul.

And thanks, dear reader, for enduring another 700+ words of self-indulgent cliched prattle.

Writing about the pain of writing is such sweet sorrow, I could prattle on till it be morrow.

Retreating

Retreat
Retreat (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am at a writing retreat with two critique friends, deep in the heart of Texas. Have been here since 11:30 this morning. Two other writers arrive tomorrow.

Have written some fiction for me, some nonfiction for my friend Em. Before e-mailing Em’s to her, I read over it, as every conscientious writer knows she should, and discovered the nonfiction may be more fictional than the fiction.

Em will just have to deal with that.

I am tired. Fatigued. Exhausted.

And the phone will ring at 8:00 in the morning.

I shall retreat to my bed, where I shall dream about sweaters.

Sunday’s expected high–66 F.

Things are finally looking up.

Napoleons retreat from Moscow
Napoleons retreat from Moscow (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

ROW80, AMW, Dorothy, & Tallulah

Promotional photo of Tallulah Bankhead.
Promotional photo of Tallulah Bankhead. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I owe A Round of Words in 80 Days (ROW80) another Wednesday check-in. Fortunately, I finally have something significant to report.

My original goals were to sleep (get to bed before midnight, I believe); eat well (get off the white stuff, processed foods, added salt, sweeteners); and show up at critique meetings with  something to be critiqued (in other words, write).

Before I discuss progress, I’ll note that Austin Mystery Writers (AMW) is alive and well. Several members have been on hiatus, dealing with other projects (such as work), another can’t attend regularly (again, work), and this week our Grand Pooh-Bah moved a hundred miles to the north. Only two non-Pooh Bahs remained to stay the course, and we considered four eyes insufficient to ferret out the flaws in our respective manuscripts.

Last night, however, concern vanished. Two new members joined us, a third has promised to drop in next week, and two others have listed themselves as maybes.

American writer Dorothy Parker (1893-1967)
American writer Dorothy Parker (1893-1967) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Being in a critique has been a good experience for me. In addition to ideas and advice, I’ve received  encouragement and support for my writing and for my personal life. My partners have helped me over some rough spots in the past couple of years.

I’ve also learned a lot. Since we’ve been together, one partner has published a novel and has more in line for publication. Two others have completed manuscripts. While in one sense I’ve been stalled–scrambling down bunny trails, trying to get my plot under control–I’ve learned about the business of writing.

As to my own WIP: Pieces continue to fall into place. Listening to a presentation at the Austin Sisters in Crime meeting last Sunday, I had a brainstorm–a detail that would make a central character’s motivation much more credible. I flipped to the next page in my notebook and scribbled it down. I’ve also had another idea about reframing the novel to update it a bit. When I realized that Molly hadn’t once, in nearly three hundred pages, gone online, I pulled out Chapter One and inserted Internet.

Today I retyped Chapter One. The experts say not to do that–especially considering the number of times I’ve rewritten it, trying to get the foundation right–but I’m not revising so much as remembering. It’s been through many incarnations, and typing requires me to read more closely than I would if only my eyes were involved. I’ll continue this process for three or four more chapters, inserting new segments where appropriate (I hope!). Projected changes add originality. They give Audrey Ann, a minor character, more opportunity for mischief-making. Audrey Ann is a hoot, and I look forward to spending more time with her.

(One of my critique partners suggested Audrey Ann would make a good victim, but she’s too much fun to kill. Very much like my first intended victim, whom I couldn’t bring myself to knock off. If this becomes a trend, I’m in big trouble.)

I’ve added a progress meter to the sidebar on the left. Five percent represents progress on the current draft–in other words, what I retyped today. I’ve been working on this project, and talking and writing about it, for a long time. I don’t want to give the impression that I’ve eked out just four thousand words.

Now, as to my plan for eating real food: Sometimes I have and sometimes I haven’t. I have, however, dropped nineteen pounds since the first of the year, so I claim at least modified success.

(Who am I trying to kid? I rock.)

Regarding sleep: It’s after 1:00 a.m. No excuses.

One last thing about Austin Mystery Writers: When the other left-behind critique partner mentioned we might need to put several of the coffee shop’s tables together to handle the potentially large turnout, it occurred to me that if we works things right, AMW could become the Austin equivalent of the Algonquin Hotel’s Round Table. A heady thought. Critique partner said I could be Dorothy Parker. She wants to be Tallulah Bankhead. I wish I could be the glamorous one, but with my evil tongue, Dorothy P. is right down my alley. More’s the pity. I’ll try to be nice.

*****