Sitrep and NaNoWriMo wrap-up

NaNo-2017---Poster-Design_1024x1024

Yep, yep. By writing this post, I’m ruining my chances as a serious contender for world’s least consistent blogger. So be it.

December starts tomorrow, which means it’s one month until 2018. My last post was a “happy new year 2017” post, but I had one saved draft from back in August, written and never posted, which started but never finished explaining why I’ve been too busy to write here. So I quickly hit publish and now I can logically move on with the most recent updates about my tragically-disorganized-but-still-heroically-perseverant attempts to get my first novel published, keep my kitchen clean, pursue a masters in teaching English, and write a second novel.

School: Over the spring and summer, I finished an online public speaking class (yes, I wondered how that would work, too, but I posted my speeches to YouTube to get them graded). Now I’m almost halfway through with another online class, this time linguistics. The word nerd in me is loving this class so much, geeking out on all the mechanics of how words are constructed and how speakers of any language intuitively know its rules without even knowing they know. I’m planning to complete the linguistics course by the end of the year, and then move on to an ethnic studies course in January.

My Kitchen: Load dishwasher. Run. Unload. Repeat. Floor needs mopping? Oh, better do that. Termites in the walls? Oh, time to call the exterminator. Hey, whoever left the peanut butter on the counter needs to put it away. And pick up all those goldfish crackers you spilled on the floor! Load dishwasher. Run. Unload. Repeat.

The Door to Yesterday: Queries sent—33. Partial requests—1. Full requests—2. Rejections received (including the partial and one of the fulls)—31. But one of those fulls is still out, and hope springs eternal!

Which brings me to…

NaNoWriMo: I’m pleased to report that 2017 was my most prolific NaNoWriMo yet, with a total of 26,661 words. This is my third year working on a sequel to TDTY, this time with a new working title: Return From Tomorrow. I’ve also made significant revisions to my  plan for the plot, as well as several characters in the previous two drafts. Another change is that I did all my writing longhand this year as an experiment in whether, as many authors assert, it positively stimulates creativity. The verdict? So far so good. I’m finding my characters showing up in unexpected ways and telling me what’s going to happen, so… yes. I’m going to stick with longhand for the rest of this new first draft.

Last but not least… here’s a preview, the first paragraph of chapter 1:

Darcy Malinger and I have a history. Sort of like the Montagues and Capulets. Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. Zombies and humans. I mean, I’d never actually stab Darcy with a sword or shoot her. I’d never eat her brain, even if I were a zombie. But I’d have no problem shooting zombie Darcy, because I know she wouldn’t think twice about eating my brain.

Advertisements
Posted in creativity, education, housework, life, NaNoWriMo, query, Return From Tomorrow, The Door to Yesterday, writing | 2 Comments

Wait…it’s August?!

That’s what happens when I decide to go back to school.

Yep, back in February, I casually mentioned to my husband that I’d like to get a job working as a para-educator when our youngest son is in first grade, so I can work part time and have the same school schedule as the kids. And he replied, just as casually, “Why don’t you go back to school, so you can teach?”

In the ensuing conversation, he told me he’d already done the cost/benefit analysis on my as-yet unearned master’s degree, and he figured I’d make back our investment within the first couple years.

Fast forward a couple weeks, and by mid-March, I’m pre-enrolled with Western Governor’s University, which offers an online masters in teaching English, from which I’d graduate qualified to teach at the middle or high school level.

Fast forward another month, and I’m enrolled in one of the six prerequisite classes I’ll need because my bachelors degree was in history and social sciences, and changing lanes means I need to do a few extra courses before I can start the coursework for my masters.

 

Posted in education, life | Leave a comment

happy 2017

I’ve been busy, notwithstanding my bad habit of neglecting my blog.

During the last half of September and the first part of October, I reworked my query letter before plunging into more revisions on the ms for The Door to Yesterday. At the end of October, I felt ready to send out another round of queries, this time to my top tier of agents.

In early November, when the rejections started rolling in—the first one from someone I’d always thought of as my “dream agent”—I felt like I’d died a little inside and began to wonder if my confidence had been misplaced.

Then, halfway through November, I got my first rejection containing constructive criticism about why an agent had passed. Finally, something I could use. Close on the heels of the helpful rejection, I received my first partial request. Sadly, that agent ultimately passed, saying five little words I’ve come to dread: “This is not for me.”

In spite of the disappointment (and I think in someways because of it), for the first time I began to internalize what I’d been hearing at SCBWI workshops and reading on writer and agent websites: this business is incredibly subjective and what “is not for” one agent may just be another’s cup of tea. I’m grateful for this shift in perspective, because through most of the querying process so far, I’ve tormented myself with thinking if I just tweaked this or that in my query or first pages, then I’d finally get some interest. My query was clearly doing its job if I’d gotten a partial request; I just needed to keep searching for the agent who clicked with my story.

So, I didn’t give up. Instead, I took a step back from revisions and queries to clear my head, and gave myself a creative break by working on poetry. I pitched a poem about fishing with my grandfather to a new zine on Medium called The Stories. I’d seen their call for submissions because I started following Sara Benincasa after reading her brilliant, sidesplittingly scathing take-down of a fat-shamer, “Why Am I So Fat?” (which hit a nerve with me because I’ve been shamed because of my weight, too, and only wish I’d had the backbone to respond as bluntly and directly as she did).

Christmas came a week and a half early when Sara emailed with a request to see my poem. Then on December 30th, she followed up by sending me a W9 to fill out. As in, yes, she wanted to give me money for my writing. Having this particular poem published—and being paid for it—was especially gratifying because I wrote it about my grandfather, who’s been my inspiration as I’ve pursued my writing career.

Just when I thought 2016 was already ending with the best possible bang…

On New Year’s Eve, I stood hunched over an ironing board down in my basement—because while folks around the world slept off their hangovers, I’d be in church on New Year’s day, wearing a dress. I’m not sure if that makes me overly pious or merely pathetic. Both, probably. Anyway, as I pressed out a sleeve, my phone beeped with an email notification.

My first full request.

In hindsight, the screams emanating from our basement probably inflicted unnecessary trauma on my poor children…but I really couldn’t help myself.

Meanwhile, my poem “Lac Des Roches, 1977” posted to The Stories first thing this morning. Please take a look and let me know if you like it.

Posted in holidays, Medium, poetry, query, revising, Sara Benincasa, SCBWI, The Door to Yesterday, The Stories, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

the value of a moment: why i journal

why-i-journal

Theodor S. Geisel—better known as Dr. Seuss—once said, “Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment, until it becomes a memory.” In a nutshell, this is why I keep a journal.

I first began collecting my thoughts on paper almost 40 years ago. My third grade teacher Ms. Shadow assigned her students to keep a journal including both personal reflections and homework assignments. Since that elementary beginning, my journal has assumed many forms: several loose-leaf binders; a rainbow-hued Judy Blume diary; an old accounting ledger; a collection of letters to my sister while she was on a mission; two volumes of entries from my own mission; multiple blogs; two therapy journals (which I plan to burn at some point because no one needs to re-read those things—not even me); and most consistently, a collection of bound volumes dating off and on from middle school all the way through adulthood.

I’m not going to get into an esoteric discussion on the difference between diaries vs. journals. Here’s a thumbnail: diary=what I do in my life; journal=what I think about my life. For more details, Hubpages has a good comparative discussion here. Part of the beauty of keeping a journal is I’ve always been able to adapt it to whatever budget of time and/or money constrains me—even if I only have 15 or 20 minutes a day and a cheap spiral notebook.

Journaling has been invaluable in so many ways, like being able to look back at the past and gain perspective, articulating and clarifying reflections about personal challenges, recording important events, and (failing other avenues) availing myself of a judgment-free sounding board. Over the years (lately, more often than I’d care to admit), I’ve gone back to check names, dates, and events to trigger my memory. For me as a writer, though, the enduring value boils down to cultivating my craft. Practice makes, if not perfect, at least proficient. One entry at a time, I write a bit better, I become a little more attuned to my own voice, I learn how to listen and take dictation from life.

Don’t just accept my word for it, though; here are a few other advocates of the humble journal, some of whom include excellent ideas about why and how to get started:

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Posted in creativity, journaling, life, writing | Leave a comment

keeping busy while querying

Thanks to a bout of insomnia at 4 a.m., this morning I put the finishing touches on my second text for a picture book (I finished the first one, Gooseberry Pie, last week). The ms for Kaleidoscope Girl is rewrite of a poem about my daughter, from back in 2011. I wrote the original poem in dactylic tetrameter. For the ms, I’ve tweaked the meter so the rhyme lands at the end of each line, and written several new lines to flesh out the middle of the poem.

In addition to taking my mind off the Sisyphean waiting game that is querying, this was a great exercise to flex my poetic muscles, which I haven’t done in months. Here’s a teaser:

“…now she paints the whole rainbow and rides on the moon
learns to dance brand-new steps while she hums her own tune
as the Milky Way curves in its arc through the sky
she writes poems, equations, the digits of pi…”

Posted in Gooseberry Pie, Kaleidoscope Girl, picture book, poetry, query | Leave a comment

living the dream

I’m just two and a half weeks into querying, which means I’ve barely begun to experience what all my published friends warn me is at best an incredibly protracted process. Before now, waiting has never been my strong suit. In the past few months, I’ve been girding my loins for this baptism by fire—I even went out and bought a big binder (houndstooth, of course) for filing all my rejections. Out of the fifteen queries I’ve sent, I’ve received five rejections so far. Here’s what I’ve done after each one: scanned it for any useful feedback (none to date), printed, three-hole punched, and filed it in the binder. Then I’ve turned around and sent out another query the same day, to the next agent on my list (and yes, I have a spreadsheet because that’s how I roll).

I’ve been surprised to discover patience is possible, one day at time, when I focus on the gratitude I feel for just being alive in this moment, doing what I love: writing, putting myself and my work out there, and trusting the universe will respond when I show up each day to take this risk all over again.

Posted in gratitude, I love houndstooth, inspiration, query, writing | Leave a comment

it never hurts to ask

Back in June, I attended my niece’s graduation on Orcas Island. Orcas is located in the upper northwest corner of Washington State and recently gained some exposure as the setting for Kelli Estes’ debut, The Girl Who Wrote in Silk. It’s an eclectic and tight-knit community, and the commencement festivities showcased that in a dramatic way.

Case in point: Robert M. Gates, former president of Texas A&M and Secretary of Defense to three US presidents, gave the keynote address at the graduation ceremony. The senior class president introduced him. This young man, whose father had retired from state politics in Olympia and moved his family to Orcas several years ago, said he’d been nervous about approaching Gates to ask him to speak, but kept telling himself, “It never hurts to ask.” Listening on commencement day, I’d assumed he’d been acquainted with Gates because of his father’s political connections.

My sister, who has lived on Orcas for almost 20 years, later disabused me of this notion. She told me the senior class president only knew Gates by reputation–Gates has lived on Orcas for many years, made extensive charitable donations to the local school district, and long hoped to be asked to be a speaker. Only when the young man in question approached him, did he have the chance to accept.

His speech, by the way, stands as the best commencement address I’ve ever heard. It spanned generations, and bridged economic, racial, and ideological backgrounds. Sharing deeply personal stories from his own life, Gates inspired all within the sound of his voice to rise above their mistakes and keep working toward their dreams–whatever those dreams might be.

I’ll resist the urge to draw any heavy-handed lessons out of this story; it speaks for itself.

It speaks to me now, as I just sent out my first batch of queries this morning. The worst that can happen is for someone to say no–in which case, I’ll move forward and keep asking until someone does say yes.

Posted in Family, inspiration, query, writing | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment