Saturday, February 28, 2009

Would you like some cheese with that whine?

It's been a very long week. Today is Saturday, supposedly the most relaxing day of the week. Not so much. One kid sick...the other had to be at school at 6:30 am for his weightlifting meet...trip to Lexington to replace sick kid's phone (broken phone knocked into a glass of water when he raced to the bathroom to throw up because fever-riddled body wouldn't hold anything down)...four hour shift working concession stand for girl's basketball tourney (baseball fundraiser)...more errands...Mount Laundrymore.

That last bit sounds whiny, and it's really all just part of being a mom. Parenthood is full of days like today. I guess I'm feeling a little selfish. I edit and tinker during the week, but the real writing happens on the weekends. I look forward to at least four or five hours of writing time on Saturday and then again on Sunday. I feel cheated when I don't have time to write. I actually had some time after dinner, but when I opened the file, the part of me that creates laughed in my face. I'm feeling pretty brain dead, and I hope tomorrow my creative self is revived.

I have always lived two lives. The one I roam about in everyday, and the one in my head. The story changes, but there's always a story there. I mentally write all the my car, at WalMart, when I'm waiting on a kid, when I'm tackling Mt. Laundrymore, even when I'm trying to fall asleep at night. I have one storyline that's been there for over 20 years. Maybe someday I'll write it down. It's weird though, the one I actually have written down doesn't play in my head when I'm not writing.

I made myself blog tonight because I was determined to write something...anything...even a whiny post about not being able to write. Tomorrow is another day, and I am determined to get words on the page.

Sick kid is now feeling well enough to aggravate me with requests that are becoming ridiculous. A good sign I think. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that tomorrow is a better day all the way around.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Hope is a fragile thing...

One should never tempt the gods. Yesterday I was hopeful. Today fate seemed determined to beat it out of me. Grades were due for midterms, and along about 3rd hour I realized I had an Infinite Campus problem. Surprise, Surprise. I tossed poor Landis into the computer lab with 31 kids while I worked the problem. I knew what the problem was, but I couldn't find the right screen to fix it. I'm proficient with the technology in my world, but there is absolutely nothing intuitive about that software. The meeting I sat through during my plan was soul-sucking. Harry Potter's dementors had nothing on this guy. I needed a patronus. Mine would take the shape of a big black cat, stalking in to rip the throat out of anyone who started a sentence with "I'm not trying to make excuses, but..."

Then I picked Connor up from weightlifting, and he was grinning from ear to ear. Seems he earned an invitation to the weightlifting meet this weekend. This is significant because he is an 8th grader, and the coach thinks he can hang with the big boys. He was so proud of himself. I'm proud of him too. He's goal oriented. The coach initially said no, but Connor's work ethic and subsequent progress changed his mind. So rock on, Connor!

When I got home and logged onto my email, my confirmation from the RWA (Romance Writers of America) was there. I'm officially a member. Woo Hoo! Now I can join the KY chapter in Lexington, and go to the meetings. JR Ward is actually a member of the KY chapter. I'll try not to be a geeky fangirl if I meet her, but I'm not making any promises

And last, but certainly not least, American Idol was on tonight after being pre-empted last night. Hope lives, baby!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Feelin' Hopeful

I was bitchy to a pregnant woman today. We had the opportunity to select themes for our team competition baskets at a meeting of team leaders. I spoke up immediately and picked sports. Turns out the team who is currently in the lead also wanted sports. I refused to compromise. My attitude was "I called it first...sorry about your luck." Real mature, huh? Especially since the person I was speaking to is eight or nine months pregnant. I told Linda about it, and she laughed uproariously. We are a team of bitches. Nevertheless, I'm feeling hopeful that we will pull ahead with this competition.

I'm feeling hopeful about a lot of things. I'm 50,000 words into Crimson Crimes which is about halfway. I'm still struggling with the turn I'm making in the plot, but I have a clear vision of where to go once I make the turn. My goal is to finish the first draft by summer break.

I watched President Obama's address to the nation, and he makes me feel hopeful. Much has been made, both positive and negative, about the president's speaking ability. I preach to my students about being critical thinkers and viewers of media, so I know that a good speaker can make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, or put lipstick on a pig or a pitbull or something like that. But for me, Obama captures the spirit of who we are as a nation and articulates it. Putting abstract ideas into words is hard, and he does it eloquently. (Which is why the guy being interviewed on The Daily Show is calling him the anti-Christ??? WTF) a writer I appreciate that skill. Whether he can lead us to solutions remains to be seen, but I am hopeful.

There are lots of reasons to feel pessimistic. The economy is still crappy. College employees are being forced to take time off without pay, so we have that to look forward to. I have close friends who have taken second jobs because of pay cuts. School budgets are shrinking, and hard choices will have to be made. And I'm still shopping Sapphire Sins.

But I choose to be hopeful. It's not blind hope. It's hope born of knowledge. Like the president said, as a country, we've worked our way out of tight spots before. My husband and I are both educated, and our education gives us options. And my book is good. I believe in it. Eventually, it will find a home. Until then, I'll keep writing and teaching the next generation to write.

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune--without the words,
And never stops at all
~~Emily Dickinson

Saturday, February 21, 2009

First place or first loser?

In an effort to promote team-building, my principal has created a team competition in which teachers, divided into four teams, participate in a variety of activities for points. At the end of the school year, the team with the most points wins a day off...a prize worth fighting for. And make no mistake, people are fighting for it. Yesterday, we held a scavenger hunt in which we had to find students who met different descriptive criteria. Watching my colleagues scheme and even cheat to win has been a revelation.

I have worked with Linda for almost nine years now. Our classrooms have always been adjacent to one another. We collaborate on lessons, eat lunch together, organize Friday happy hour together, and over the years we have become close friends. We have even vacationed together a couple of times. I have seen a side of her this year I never knew existed...the cutthroat, win-at-all-costs side. Linda doesn't even like sports (ironic since her daughters are athletes), but by golly she is competitive. I watched her rip a $2 bill out of one kid's hand and put it in another's so we could get a box checked off. She growled at the administrator when it was disqualified. The best part was when after seeing another team had finished, she said "shit" to the principal who gave her a referral for cursing an administrator. I think she has detention next Tuesday.

I think all of us have a competitive streak, and honestly I don't trust someone who says they don't. We all want to succeed, and we want others to acknowledge that success. It's not enough for me to write. I want lots and lots of people to read my books. I walk through bookstores and visualize my book on the bestseller shelf. Of course, I'll keep writing regardless.

Our team initially came in second, and I was bitter too. I told my first hour class that second place was really just the first loser.'s that for boosting their self-esteem? As it turns out, the winning team had one of their entries disqualified because they used the same kid twice. So we tied for first place. We're still in second overall. We have to put some kind of basket together for Easter next month. Linda is already making plans to sabotage our rivals!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Haiku Query

Colleen Lindsay is a literary agent I've queried. Her blog has tons of cool links to other informative blogs and webpages. She is currently holding a contest in which authors write a query in the form of a haiku. The winner gets a critique of their query letter. That's not chopped liver when the fate of your novel rests on the strength of your query letter. It's hard to pitch a 110,000 word novel in 17 syllables, but the following is my submission.

Staid Kentucky girl
Two vampires, three friends, one Dick
Bring laughter, love, death

The exercise was fun. Try reducing your favorite book or movie into 17 syllables!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Crimson Crimes

I spent a good bit of Valentine's Day cleaning my house in preparation for the Tanaras stopping by before we headed to Louisville for dinner and shopping. I suppose it would be easier to keep the place company-ready all the time, but I live in the real world with two teenage boys and a 100 pound dog. So Saturday was the deep clean.

The Louisville exursion was fun. Jim and Charlotte took us to a restaurant called J. Alexander's. It's apparently a very popular place. There was a two hour wait when we arrived at 5:15. Bruce worked his magic with the host, and we were seated within 5 minutes of arrival. Suffice it to say, my husband has the gift of gab. He could sell the proverbial ice to eskimos. Dinner was great, and when Charlotte and I left the men and went shopping, I found a pair of Cole Haan shoes on sale for 70% off. Does it get better than that?

Sunday is the day I tackle the weekly grocery shopping, and I had promised my son we would go to Lexington and get new shoes for track, so that took up a good portion of the day. We won't even talk about Mount Laundrymore that never seems to diminish. I accomplished a lot, but I was beginning to despair of getting any writing done this weekend.

I finally sat down with my laptop after dinner. I thought maybe I would get through the transition between scenes that's been plaguing me. I'm happy to report I drafted not only the transition, but the next major scene as well. And even better than that, while in the midst of my writing frenzy (and it really was a frenzy), I discovered the title for the book.

So without further adieu...the follow-up to Dark Dreams: Sapphire Sins will be Dark Dreams: Crimson Crimes. All in all, a good finish to a good Valentine's weekend.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Songs in a Minor Key

So I'm folding laundry, a never-ending task in my house. I have the ipod playing in the background, and I'm singing along like I do. My mind is wandering. I'm thinking about my day at school, my boys driving to conditioning in this high wind, and the transition between scenes that I've been struggling for almost a week to write. As I'm mulling it all over, the music seeps into my consciousness, probably because a song I really like has started to play. It's in a minor key. I don't know why this occurs to me. When I let my mind wander, it roams to some pretty random places.

The song ends and the next one begins to play. This one is in a minor key as well. Now I'm intrigued. I stop folding laundry and just wait for the next one. I have my ipod on shuffle because I like not knowing exactly what's coming. Sure enough, the third song is also in a minor key. I scroll through my ipod, and although I didn't count (but I'm interested enough that I still might) the majority of the songs are in a minor key. What does this say about me?

I'm not depressed or angry. I've never been particularly angsty. But my favorite songs, going all the way back to the '80s are in a minor key. That led me to think about my reading tastes. Definately dark. I love, love, love paranormal romance and urban fantasy. My favorite authors are Laurell K. Hamilton, Kim Harrison, JR Ward, Charlaine Harris, and most recently Rachel Vincent. My favorite scene in literature is in A Tale of Two Cities when Sydney Carton goes to the guillotine and distracts the young girl in line in front of him so she won't be afraid. Dark.

My books are dark. What does it mean that my idea of an alpha male is a vampire? I'm sure a psychoanalyst could have a field day with my psyche. Some of the scenes I've written make me wonder.

Maybe it's catharsis, the idea that you can experience a dark emotion safely through ficiton. Both reading and writing take me places I don't normally go. Why relive your daily life in fiction? Although in really good fiction, even the wildest paranormal, you recognize truths about life.

Anyway...I'm rambling. I'm a happy person with a fairly normal life, but I like dark stories and songs in a minor key.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Writing the Pain

Any writer worth her salt knows that sometimes you have to kill your darlings...basically lose large chunks of text that you spent hours writing. It's especially difficult when you have a turn of phrase or a piece of dialogue you really like. But I've discovered it's not nearly as hard as letting your characters suffer.

I just finished Rachel Vincent's Pride, the third installment in her werecat series. It's a great series. The protagonist, Faythe, is a strong female in a male-dominated world. She's smart and self-determined, but she's flawed as well. She's impulsive and never knows when to keep her mouth shut, and it keeps her in constant trouble. The thing that really struck me about this book (and the entire series) was its emotional resonance. There's lots of action with good guys and bad guys shifting into large cats and lurking in the woods, but the real story is Faythe's emotional struggle to balance love and family obligation with her own personal goals. Vincent is fearless in letting Faythe make major mistakes, and then forcing her to deal with the consequences.

As a reader, the suffering of the characters gives authenticity to the fantasy world the author has created. As a writer, letting your protagonist suffer is excruciating. Robert Frost said, "No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader." He knew what he was talking about. In Sapphire Sins I let one of my favorite characters die because it was right for the story. It was awful. I felt like I had lost a real friend. I kept thinking I was going to save him, and then in the end I couldn't. Now that I am writing the sequel, I find myself shying away from some hard story choices because writing them will hurt. My characters will hurt, and these people are real in my head.

Reading Rachel Vincent has given me the courage to forge ahead. I put her book down, looked at Bruce, and said, "That was great." If I want my readers to say the same, I have to be willing to write the pain.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Here's to you, Pittsburgh!

With all the drama and trauma of this past week's ice storm, I haven't really gotten excited about the Super Bowl until the last day or two. But Super Bowl Sunday is upon us, and my thoughts have turned to the four years I spent in Southwest Pennsylvania.

Bruce's job took us to Pennsylvania from 1993 to 1997. We lived in Charleroi which is about 45 minutes outside of the city. We bought our first house on top of Speers Hill in view of the Monongehala River. To a girl who had lived most of her life to that point in Kentucky, it seemed like we had moved to a foreign country. Our first winter brought 96 inches of snow. 96. Inches. And they don't even call school off. There might be a two hour delay, but the plows roll through and life goes on.

The region we lived in saw economic hard times long before the rest of the country. There is nothing sadder than seeing a region that used to boom with industry after that industry is dead. All of our neighbors used to work at the steel mills, but now did something else. They were very ethnic, ate foods I'd never heard of, and talked funny.

So alone in an alien land, I wondered if I would ever adjust. How would I connect to these people who seemed so different from me?

The answer to that question came when they discovered Bruce's profession. Football coach? Y'ens are football fans? Uh...yeah. We'ens are. That's when we became part of the Steeler Nation. Or I should say "Stiller Nation."

Folks in Southwestern PA love their Steelers. I have seen rabid Kentucky basketball fans, rabid fans of our red-jerseyed stepchild, Louisville, rabid fans of all brands. None of them hold a candle to Steeler fans. It truly is a religion.

When f'n Neil O'Donnell (his name is always preceded by f'n in Pittsburgh) threw the interception that lost the Super Bowl to Dallas in '96, my neighbor Tim took his lawn mower outside and mowed down his wife's prize rose bushes. In January. Our friend Billy started throwing the living room furniture off the deck. I'm not kidding. His wife Sandy called Bruce, freaking out, because she had locked him in the basement and needed someone to calm him down. We left the party early when things started going south.

But as bad as things were when they lost, they were joyous when they won. Lots of hugging, high-fiving, firing of weapons in the air ( again...not kidding.) And drinking...although there was a lot of that win or lose. And they embraced my family, and made us part of it.

I will always be grateful for these crazy, rabid fans. They took me in and treated me as one of their own for 4 years. They gave me a baby shower when I was pregnant with Connor, and helped me keep my sanity when I was alone with two small children, spending long summer days hanging out in the back yard or swimming in Tim and Carrie's pool. No matter how miserably Bruce's team lost a game, Tim and Billy were always waiting with an IC Light or a Rolling Rock.

So here's to you, Pittsburgh! Go Stillers! And just in case...barricade the rose bushes and make sure the basement locks work.