Ben has the good sense to never say, “I told you so,” no matter how many times we go through this. And we’ve gone through it a lot, because I am a serial quitter. Like an alcoholic, I need to put this statement in the present tense. I don’t think I’m cured. I could quit again when the going gets tough. I know I’ll feel the urge.
But quitting exacts a price, not just on my writing but also on my soul. When I can’t give my soul what it needs through writing, I go off in search of some other bright ball of yarn. And what I need to learn is that I don’t have to be so extreme. When my soul yearns for the tactile, it’s okay to weave. In fact it’s a good thing for a writer to be nonverbal for a while. It’s a big lesson for me to learn that being a writer shouldn’t mean that I’m chained to my desk twenty-four-seven.
Another big lesson is to finally understand that once I am a published writer I will always be a published writer, but that I will also always be an unpublished writer. I will get rejection slips, no matter what the New York Times said about my first novel. And hopefully I will always have material in need of some work, because if I don’t have the pages I hate I will never have the pages I love.
Nancy Peacock, A Broom of One’s Own: Words on Writing, Housecleaning and Life
Harper Perennial (2008)
“Paula is a soul-baring memoir that, like a novel of suspense, one reads without drawing a breath. The point of departure for these moving pages is tragic personal experience. In December 1991, Isabel Allende’s daughter Paula became gravely ill and shortly thereafter fell into a coma. During months in the hospital, the author began to write the story of her family for her unconscious daughter. In the telling, bizarre ancestors appear before our eyes; we hear both delightful and bitter childhood memories, amazing anecdotes of youthful years, the most intimate secrets passed along in whispers. Chile, Allende’s native land, comes alive as well, with the turbulent history of the military coup of 1973, the ensuing dictatorship, and her family’s years of exile.”
“Note from Isabel:I have received more letters from readers in response to Paula than for any other book.”
Allende quotation from Why We Write. Meredith Maran, ed.
One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one’s cheeks burned with the silent imputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied. Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty-seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas.
There was clearly nothing left to do but flop down on the shabby little couch and howl. So Della did it. Which instigates the moral reflection that life is made up of sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating.
While the mistress of the home is gradually subsiding from the first stage to the second, take a look at the home. A furnished flat at $8 per week. It did not exactly beggar description, but it certainly had that word on the look-out for the mendicancy squad.
In the vestibule below was a letter-box into which no letter would go, and an electric button from which no mortal finger could coax a ring. Also appertaining thereunto was a card bearing the name “Mr. James Dillingham Young.”
The “Dillingham” had been flung to the breeze during a former period of prosperity when its possessor was being paid $30 per week. Now, when the income was shrunk to $20, the letters of “Dillingham” looked blurred, as though they were thinking seriously of contracting to a modest and unassuming D. But whenever Mr. James Dillingham Young came home and reached his flat above he was called “Jim” and greatly hugged by Mrs. James Dillingham Young, already introduced to you as Della. Which is all very good.
Della finished her cry and attended to her cheeks with the powder rag. She stood by the window and looked out dully at a grey cat walking a grey fence in a grey backyard. To-morrow would be Christmas Day, and she had only $1.87 with which to buy Jim a present. She had been saving every penny she could for months, with this result. Twenty dollars a week doesn’t go far. Expenses had been greater than she had calculated. They always are. Only $1.87 to buy a present for Jim. Her Jim. Many a happy hour she had spent planning for something nice for him. Something fine and rare and sterling – something just a little bit near to being worthy of the honour of being owned by Jim….
A group blog I write for is seeking bloggers to write one or two guest posts next month.
We’re also looking for bloggers interested in posting once or twice a month on a regular basis.
If you’ve published books or stories, or if you aspire to publish, blogging with us is a good way to publicize your work and to show readers what you do. Other members of the group will share your posts on their social media, so there’s the potential for hundreds, maybe thousands, of readers to see your work.
We’re family friendly, but aside from that, topics are up to you.
If you’re interested, leave a comment and I’ll get in touch.
At my office/coffee shop/bookstore, sitting at the computer bar at the side of the room, laptop plugged into an outlet beneath, iced Atzec mocha against the wall where I hope it won’t spill, two industrious critique partners on my right.
I am scrimshanking.
The spell checker says scrimshanking isn’t a word. That’s what it knows.
Scrimshankingis a word, because I saw it on Dictionary.com five minutes ago, just in time to use it.
We are sixteen days into National Novel Writing Month. Writers following the plan are 26, 762 words into their projected 50,000-word novels.
I am 75,000 words behind.
I DO NOT WORK THE NANO WAY.
Someday that will sink in.
It sinks in every year, but someday it will sink in.
NaNoWriMo –National Novel Writing Month–the month* in which participants vow to write a 50,000-word novel–and some of them do–began yesterday.
The goal–if you want to reach 50,000 words and win NaNoWriMo (which from this point on will be called NaNo), you need to write an average of 1667 words a day.
I’ve registered for NaNo–there’s a website–at least three times, maybe four. Unfortunately, every year, as soon as I signed on, I became claustrophobic and began to hyperventilate. Mentally, not physically, but mentally is bad enough. There was something about having to write a novel in a month that made me feel the walls were closing in, as if I had to do something I didn’t want to do, as if someone were forcing me to write that novel in a month. No one was forcing me, but seeming can feel a lot like being.
For example, consider what Hamlet** says to his mother the first time we see them together. He’s been going around wearing customary suits of inky black day after day, and suspiring all over the palace, and although his mother knows he’s grieving for his dead father, she says everybody does that at one time or another, and asks why he seems so much more miserable than others in the same situation.
In other words, this isn’t put on, he’s genuinely perturbed. Of course, there’s more to it than he lets on: After his father died, before the funeral baked meats, like the casseroles and tuna sandwiches the neighbors brought in, had been consumed, his mother went and married her husband’s brother, who doesn’t have much to recommend him. That would make any prince suspire. And Hamlet must be irritated that his mother is so clueless. She asks a silly question, and he sasses her. “Nay, it is; I know not “seems,” is, in modern terms, something like, Well, d’oh.
Anyway, back to NaNo. The mere act of registering gives me a serious case of the fantods.
Hamlet could have addressed his fantods by confronting his mother and his uncle and asking straight out what in the world they thought they were doing, but instead he takes the passive-aggressive route and pretends he’s unhinged.
I, on the other hand, have, every year, faced my dilemma head on: I’ve dropped out. No novel, no problem.
This year, however, I’m confronting it by plowing on through. I shall, and I will, write 50,000 words by November 30. I’ll go from beginning to middle to end, I’ll submit my scrambled manuscript through the NaNo website, and I’ll win.
On the basis of my experience, both past and present, I’ve come up with some helpful hints I’m happy to share:
After you register for NaNo, be proactive. Fill out your profile. You don’t have to use your real name. Title your book. It doesn’t matter what, just name it and record it on the website. Join a community. Then write a synopsis. If you don’t have a plot, wing it. Nobody’s going to read it, and it might end up working out. Complete these steps and you’ll receive badges. I got one for filling out my profile, one for joining my community (I told them where I live), and one for “creating” my novel. I take issue with that creating business, but if it makes them happy to think so…
Badges make you feel better, so award yourself some for personal achievement. I gave myself a Plantser badge, because I usually have to write for a while before my characters tell me what they want to do (flying by the seat of my pants, or pantsing), but then, once things get going, I come up with a rudimentary framework (plotting). Plotter + pantser = Plantser. I also gave myself a Rebel badge to declare myself a NaNo Rebel!, state my belief “that rules are meant to be broken,” and admit that on November 1, I’ll “start writing anything but a brand new novel.” I could not have phrased that better myself. Plantser and Rebel might seem contradictory, but who cares.
Relax. Getting all het up won’t help. By Thanksgiving you’ll be so antsy your family will make you take your plate and eat out on the porch.
Now for the Don’ts:
On November 1, don’t let a podiatrist operate on your foot. It won’t hurt, but it’ll take a chunk out of your day that you should spend working on your novel.
On November 1, don’t have two meetings, even if they promise to be interesting and you want to go. See #1 regarding chunks.
On November 1, when you want to quit, don’t. If you feel the queasies coming on, follow Eloise’s lead: Say, “Pooh pooh to you,”*** and get over it. (Eloise and Hamlet’s mother have a lot in common.)
Don’t schedule the Sisters in Crime chapter newsletter you edit (and write) to post on November 1. Before you post, you’ll have to tweak, and you’ll tweak everything, even things that don’t need tweaking, and you’ll add content, and it’s already too long, and it’ll be 9:00 p. m. before you press Publish.
Don’t download the trial version of Scrivener**** that’s available to every NaNo participant. Even if you’ve used it before, you won’t remember how it works, because it’s big and complicated, and you don’t need it right now anyway, you can get it later, and MS Word is sufficient, and if you have Scrivener, you’ll open it and work out how to color code, and then you’ll spend the rest of November color coding everything from plot points to red herrings to subplots to your cats, if you can figure out how (blue for Ernest’s gray coat, much of which currently adorns my sweats, and rust for William’s elegant cream tabbiness).
On November 2, don’t open your email. Don’t open Facebook. For goodness’ sake, don’t open your blog. Opening your blog will lead to writing a post, any post, because you’ll do everything in your power, even write, to get out of making up 1667 words, which by now have increased to 3334 words because you had surgery and two meetings and a newsletter on November 1. Email might not pose a problem– it depends on how popular you are–but Facebook will take you directly to Candy Crush and you’ll be lost. (Candy Crush Saga, Candy Crush Soda Saga, and Candy Crush Jelly Saga, all of which you sneered at during the years sanity prevailed.)
There are other d0’s and don’ts, but I’m too tired to remember what they are. Except for the one about getting enough sleep. Last night, I didn’t. A nap is inevitable, but there goes another chunk of writing time.
Anyway, that’s my take on NaNoWriMo. Contrary to the what you’ve read here, I have a positive attitude. I’m going to make it.
Because I want to call myself a winner. I want to experience the satisfaction of a job well done. I want to finish a novel so I can go back to short stories where I belong. I want to be a winner. I want a tee-shirt.
But above all, I want Scrivener. I want Scrivener when I create, plot, organize, research, file, write, revise, prepare a final document. I want to join the legions who say Scrivener is the greatest gift to writers since the eraser. I want the 50% discount on Scrivener that winning will earn me.
But above all else, I want Scrivener so I can color code.
* A man invented NaNoWriMo. We know this because it takes place in November.
** For a quotation, an example, a whatever, go to Hamlet. Hamlet and Mark Twain. Everything you need is there.
*** I think Eloise says “Pooh pooh to you.” Somebody says it.
****Scrivener is a sponsor of National Novel Writing Month.
I’ve now written about 1370 words. Only 1964 to go before midnight and I’ll be caught up. Blog posts don’t normally count, but if your main character participates in NaNoWriMo and writes a blog, they do.
The total solar eclipse–the first across the entire continental United States in ninety-nine years–will take place on August 21. David and I will view it from Kansas City, where the full eclipse will be visible. We have our eclipse glasses and hotel reservations and look forward to a jaw-dropping experience.*
Not to take anything away from the eclipse, but I’m more excited about an event scheduled for later this month–Wildside Press’ release of Kaye George’s crime fiction anthology DAY OF THE DARK: Stories of the Eclipse. The book has twenty-four stories, each centered around a solar eclipse.
As a sneak peek, I’ll say that my story, “I’ll Be a Sunbeam,” concerns Marva Lu Urquhart, Kilburn County librarian, who set out to “put Mama out of her misery” in her debut story, “Hell on Wheels,” which appears in Austin Mystery Writers’MURDER ON WHEELS: 11 Tales of Crime on the Move. If you’ve read that story, you know that when planning a murder, Marva Lu takes into account every eventuality–she thinks.
A number of online events are scheduled to celebrate the release. An interview with Kaye George, editor and contributor, will soon appear on Criminal Elements. Interviews with all the authors will appear on Writers Who Kill. Austin Mystery Writers will carry an interview with Laura Oles and me. For a complete list of events, as well as other information, see Travels with Kaye.
To see paths of future eclipses, click here. It looks like the one scheduled for 2024 won’t require travel. David and I will just step outside, pull up a couple of lawn chairs, and look up. Which is kind of a shame, because part of the excitement resides in getting out of town. But maybe Kaye will put together another anthology. That’s exciting. I’ll ask.
The Friday Fictioneers Challenge: Write a 100-word story based on the photograph.
USED TO BE
“The convention center? Well, go about six blocks, to where the old movie house used to be–the one that burned in ’87–What’d you say, Fred?”
“It’s The Oaks now. Condos.”
“Oh, that’s right. Well, just before the condos, turn right, and when you get to where the Masonic lodge used to be, there’s a–What’s that, Fred?”
“It’s the Hyatt–”
“All right, the Hyatt. Turn right again, and almost to where Milton Badey’s furniture store used to be–”
“Omni. One day they’ll knock down the diner and this’ll be where we used to be.”
On my husband’s first visit to my hometown, I took him on a walking tour: There’s where Miss Blanche Harris used to live, and my great-grandmother lived there, and when my grandfather moved in from the farm he built that little house, and the house across the street was Uncle Carl’s, and that one belonged to Aunt Bettie and Uncle Maurice, and Rob and Nell’s grocery store was there, and right next door was where Dick Ward sold double-dip ice cream cones for a nickle, and next door to that was Earl and Lorene McCutcheon’s store, and that was the Masonic lodge, and across the street was Dr. Luckett’s office, and that was the cotton gin, and there are the scales where they weighed the cotton wagons, and there’s the old post office that was a bank before it was a post office, and that was the gin yard where they stored the cotton bales, and the skating rink was back there on the river before they moved it to Lockhart . . .
And when the tour ended, I realized everything I’d told him was history.
(The the event pictured below happened before my time. And it’s Fentress Resort. That’s the skating rink in the background.)
“The good old days.” Joe turned his eyes up to the ceiling and sighed.
“Oh, I remember it all. Fried chicken, sunbathing, you grabbing me and holding me under the water till I almost drowned before you let me go. . . . What I don’t remember is anybody actually swimming.”
“We had too much fun doing other things. I wasn’t a strong swimmer anyway. But I loved playing in the water. And just being with y’all.”
I personally believed what he loved most was Bonita and her bikini. My sister Bonita was the youngest in the crowd, but she developed early. Mama absolutely forbade her to wear anything but her blue gingham one-piece, and as long as Mama was taking us out to Paradise Bluﬀ, that’s what she wore. But when I turned ﬁfteen and got my driver’s license, I started driving us out there. And every day, as soon as we got to the Mobil station on Main Street, Bonita would set up a howl, and nothing would do but we had to stop so she could slip into the restroom and change.
Joe goofed around with me, but when Bonita was wearing that bikini—there wasn’t enough cotton in it to stop up an aspirin bottle—he only had eyes for her.
Joe leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees. He had a faraway look in his eye. “I haven’t been out there in years. It’s kind of sad, you grow up and get responsibilities, seems like you to forget the simple pleasures of youth.”
“Um-hmm, sad.” Watching him leave with that silly smile on his face, I knew he was thinking about Bonita’s little red bikini.
~ M. K. Waller, “I’ll Be a Sunbeam”
Marva Lu Urquhart is on the move again. This time, she’s celebrating the 2017 eclipse with a picnic at Paradise Bluff.
If you remember Marva Lu from “Hell on Wheels,” in Austin Mystery Writers’ anthology MURDER ON WHEELS, you’ve probably already guessed the picnic has less to do with the eclipse than with–well, it has more to do with knocking the memory of Bonita’s little red bikini out of Joe’s head and replacing it with–let’s put it this way: Marva Lu hasn’t been taking belly dance lessons all these years for nothing.
All twenty-four stories in DOTD focus on those crucial minutes at midday when the moon devours the sun and anything can–and does–happen
Especially if you’re Marva Lu Urquhart.
Austin will see only a partial eclipse, so David and I will watch from Kansas City. Our eclipse glasses arrived through the mail this week.
Now there’s nothing to do but pack, grab my copy of DAY OF THE DARK–a little escape reading for the drive–drop William and Ernest off at their hotel, and head north. Where we trust our experience will be much less eventful than the one Marva Lu has planned for her friends.
When I think of brands, I think of Opal the White-faced Hereford.
She was big and sleek and fat, the only registered cow in the Waller herd, and the best escape artist in the history of cowdom.
No matter how strong the fence–heavy cedar posts, six strands of barbed wire, stretched tight, a barricade I couldn’t get through without a follow-up of iodine and gauze–she broke out. How the beast breached the barricade was a mystery and remained so for a long time.
Finally she slipped up, as bovines sometimes do, and busted out while my father was watching. He said she just lay down beside the wire and rolled under. A regular Hairy Houdini.
To her credit, she never fled, nor did she meander into the neighbor’s maize, but grazed beside the narrow lane between the fence and the property line.
Nevertheless, since cows are capricious, my father bought a brand. In my honor–and because technically Opal was mine–he chose a K.
I hasten to say the branding was nothing like you see on Rawhide. He did not restrain Opal, stick the iron into a blazing fire, and sear her hide. After repeatedly shooing her back through the gate, he probably wanted to, but he didn’t.* He merely dipped the iron into an acid designed for the purpose, walked up to her, patted her on the back, and pressed it against her hip. The acid ate the hair and killed the follicles, so she was left wearing the initial. Maybe she itched a for a few days, but that was nothing compared to what the barbs must have felt like.
The K didn’t keep her confined, of course, but it made her easier to spot if she ever decided to widen her social circle.**
Well, anyway, when I think of brands, I think of Opal, or did until the writing thing came along–and I learned I must have a brand so readers can identify me.
The prospect wasn’t pleasant. I felt like a box of Kleenex.™
But it had to be done, so finally I’m designing my brand.
Unfortunately, the K won’t do. I mean, it really won’tdo. When I put MURDER ON WHEELS (see sidebar) on Goodreads, I was immediately confused with a different Kathy Waller. That required some straightening out. Googling Kathy Waller brings up a multitude of people I’m not, including the EVP and CFO of the Coca-Cola Company (NYSE: KO). (I wouldn’t mind being the EVP of Coca-Cola, but the company would.)
Officially, I’m a Mary Katherine, so I have options. Mary Katherine isn’t one of them. In the early years, I liked it just fine, but lately I’ve heard, “Are you a nun?” often enough not to want it hanging around.
People who don’t know me well, and some who do, call me Mary, so when I hear that name shouted out in a doctor’s waiting room, I answer, but it’s still a little foreign. I sign Mary K., a name I’ve come to despise, in part because it’s sometimes confused with Mary Kaye and I have to get that untangled, but mainly because Mary Kay makes lipstick and I don’t.
Once again, Google proves its worth. M. K. Waller brings up only one other person with my initials. That’s good.
When I search for MK, Google thinks I mean MK Wallet and pulls up only Michael Kors, which appears to be more of a business (jet set luxury: designer handbags, watches, shoes, clothing & more. Receive free shipping and returns on your purchase). That’s even better. But I don’t like the way it looks on the page.
So I’ve settled on M. K.
The name chosen, I changed the theme–appearance–of the blog. I wanted to change it anyway, because I was tired of the previous one, and it seemed best to make one smooth transition rather than two bumpy ones. I’m not sure about the new theme. I may change it again, but M. K. will remain.
There’s one more aspect of branding I’m still ruminating** over, so I’ll leave it for another time.
I’ll add, however, that I first ran across the word ruminate in a line from James Thomson’s “Winter”:
The Cattle, from th’untasted Fields, return, And ask, with Meaning low, their wonted Stalls; Or ruminate in the contiguous Shade . . .
And I complete this post by circling back to the beginning, starting with cows and ending with cows, and thus preserve the unities, as every writer, duke, and scoundrel knows is proper.
P. S. What do you think of the new design? Both positive and negative comments are welcome. I need to know. The page I’d like feedback on is here: http://kathywaller1.com
* If he’d threatened to brand her the old-fashioned way, I would have cried and that would have been the end of that. (Maybe.)
**In fairness, I add that Opal wasn’t the only one who*** got over the wall. Clyde Barrow escaped a couple of times. But he was a Holstein and flew over the fence, as Holsteins are often wont to do, so there was no mystery. We would have been surprised if he hadn’t.
The animals in the photograph are cows, not steers, and they might not be Holsteins, but they’re black and white, and they’re sweet, and I have poetic license, so I ask you to suspend disbelief for the moment.