Monday, July 31, 2006

Just...Loving Life

The past few weeks have been wonderful. We had a week at the beach, lots of sunny days at home and at my parents' house. Little Boy is growing tall and Little Girl is growing fat, their father is content, and I'm feeling a strange sensation creeping over me....peace.

I'm cleaning, I'm cooking, I'm writing. I'm not spending much time at my store, just enough to prevent a complete derailment. I'm happy.

The writing's coming easy, which is a big change for me. Always a new scene or idea waiting for me, and so far none of those scary blank moments. It's a genre I never thought I'd write, but I don't want to say just's my secret for now.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Motherhood and the English Language

I'm one of those people who regard the english language as sacred. Before I had kids I was sure that I would insist that they speak properly. When my little brother said ambleeance, I saw the transgression as yet another sign that he was fundamentally defective, and ought to be sent back from whence he came.

Now my beloved little boy says ambleeance, and I don't want him to stop. Because when that goes, it won't ever be back.

What will I do, when we don't see ambleeances any more? The world will be different when I stop reading the constructions when I assemble Happy Meal and Kinder Egg Toys. Right now, a hambooger is the kind of booger it's ok to eat, and you can have oatmemeal for breakfast.

These boy-isms are as precious to me as the intricacies of the language once were. Or, perhaps it was the rules, the sense of order that I loved. In that case, too, I value him more - more than order in my home, in my car, and in my language.

He'll figure it out, and he'll be as precious to me tomorrow as he is today. But a little bit of him will have gone when the day comes that there aren't any boogers left that it's ok to eat.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Chicken Casserole

Y'all have got to try this stuff.

2 cups cooked rice
2 cups cooked, diced chicken
2 cans cream of mushroom soup (cr celery or cr chicken also ok)
1 cup sour cream
1/2 large red pepper
2-3 green onions
1 medium onion, diced (feel free to adjust vegetables to suit yourself)
2 cups sliced mushrooms
1/2 cup finely chopped celery
2 cups shredded cheddar
2 cups crushed nacho cheese tortilla chips

spread the rice in the bottom of a 9x13 dish. Mix the chicken, soup, sour cream and vegetables in a bowl and pour over. Top with cheese, bake at 350 for 35 minutes. Sprinkle chips, bake 5 minutes more. Makes quite a lot of food, be prepared to eat leftovers.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Ending scenes

Starting a new WIP after years of mud-wrestling an old one is a very educational process. I highly recommend it as an exercise if you're stuck, even if you only write a few chapters. Don't, don't, don't develop a habit of always starting new things - that isn't the way to stardom, my friend! - but you just might find that the change in prespective will highlight strengths and weaknesses that you were missing while you were busy pulling out your hair. You were learning and progressing in your craft while you were on that treadmill, after all - because now you'll recognize problems as they occur. For instance....

The endings of my scenes are weak. Sometimes they just progress until the business seems to fizzle out, and I'm left with only a few blank lines to signal a change in time and place.

Elizabeth Lyon, in her book A Writer's Guide to Fiction (Perigree, 2004), discusses this. Specifically, she mentions Jack Bickham's list of possible endings for scenes (page 174):
1. discovery that a newly begun task is more complicated than expected
2. learning a disturbing piece of information
3. arriving someplace new
4. meeting someone who will significantly alter his or her (your pov character's) life

Ms. Lyon adds also that there may be a dramatic event that provides a good scene ending.

Of course these things are present in my writing, but I have a tendency to put them at the beginning of a scene: action or event - character response - fizzle. I see that I need to structure scenes this way, instead: character response - action or event. This creates momentum, as opposed to a limping, lurching pace. A resounding smack on the forehead for me. Go figger!

In addition, the first and last sentences need to have punch, impact. I knew that, but I haven't been making an effort to relate one to the other by using language to reveal parallels or contrasts. It makes a very satisfying, round shape when you can pull that off. Another thing to work on!

Now, writers who may be doing me the honor of reading this, please do add your own comments on scene endings!

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Don't think, dammit, just write!

Well, I'm always learning, but this week has been especially enlightening.

I mentioned that I started something new, and I'm now over 5000 words in and still loving it. Starting is always so easy, there's that uncomplicated lightness, the freedom of being able to go anywhere. I admit, there's a part of me that thinks all writing ought to feel like that, and maybe it would, if I was doing it right.

But it started slowing down today. I've arrived at a place where I need to start looking things up, and that's time consuming. But there was drag that I felt sure wasn't related to the tiny bit of research I needed to do. Something was getting heavy, slowing me down. What was it? And then, eureka.

When I'm not thinking too hard, I can write. When the thinking starts, the writing slows waaaay down. To test my hypothesis, I sent my thinker into the back room. Hush, I told her, you'll wake the dreamer. She can't dream with you thinking so loud. And it worked!!!

Wow. All my life I've been taught to listen to that thinker, and I never thought she could steer me wrong. But it's too early in the WIP to do that. The problem is that my thinker has some confidence issues. She's neurotic. She paces, she checks my spelling, she's always asking me if I'm sure. Of course I'm not sure.

She's on stress leave right now. I have writing to do.

Thursday, July 20, 2006


There were tears, name-calling, gnashing of teeth, foot-stomping and a time-out. But he ate his lunch.

Thursday is grocery day, and wouldn't you know I forgot to eat breakfast. My hair and make-up are done, I'm dressed in a pair of shorts that's one size too small, the kids are fed and their little bums are clean. It was a bazillion degrees and there was construction en route to the usual grocery store, so we went to the unusual one. I hate that. I need to know where stuff is.

Note - not everybody can work three tenses into one paragraph!

Anyway, we got home and I'm starving, but I did all right - didn't make any hunger-induced bad judgement calls by that point, but never fear. I fixed that with a lunch of two chocolate cookies (with icing) and a pack of ramen noodles. In that order. (That'll take care of my sugar, fat and sodium budget for the day...phew, don't need to worry about that anymore!) Then I took a mulitvitamin - call that my perfunctory nod to the nutrition gods.

Phoned my husband to make him laugh and brag about how good the kids were at the grocery store. Fired the littlest into the crib to watch the clown mobile and sat down to fill you all in - 'cause I'm sure you need to know how my day has been, so far.

Maybe later we can talk about writing - I need another chocolate cookie.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Speaking to Strangers

Well, there's good news and bad news. The good news is, I wrote 3227 words yeaterday. The bad news is that it wasn't a part of any current WIP. New stuff, words on paper, yes. Productive? Not so much. Fun, yes. Indicative of my committment to my novel? Nunh Unh.

But it was fun, and if I can, I'll do it again today.

What happened? There was a stranger standing at the periphery of my vision. I kept catching glimpses of her, and I knew she wanted me to follow her. I don't usually do that, I can't go following every spirit that pops in to say hello. The reason I did it was that she was different from other strangers I've met lately in that I found I already knew her story. The whole outline was there from the get-go, and that hasn't happened so naturally for me in a while. I decided what the hey, let's see what happens if I just type a few words....ya never know. At the very least, it was good exercise, and I did learn some things. She's waiting for me now, so I'll see you guys later!

Monday, July 17, 2006

Changing Gears

We're back from vacation, and here I am in front of my computer even though there's tons of work still to do. Clothes to put away, cat hair to vacuum, stuff everywhere. And there's a funky smell in the kitchen. Anyway, it'll keep, and once this mess is gone there will be another one underneath it, so I'm taking naptime for writing. For me.

One of the things I find is challenging about writing is changing gears. I don't just mean the inevitable speedbump caused by the return home after a week away. I mean going from the 50 mph required from me as a mother to the full, contemplative stop that I need as a writer. For me, sitting down in front of my computer isn't enough to make the transition. So I'm doing for myself what I'm doing for my baby - developing a series of cues that help me to recognise when it's time for what. A blanket, some music and slowdancing means bedtime for baby, and for me, a cup of decaf, a deep breath, a candle and a jot in here are helping me to open the door to the room where my fiction lives.

Someday I'd like to chat about the different hats we wear and how each one makes up a part of who we are as people and writers, but naptime is short and, as Vicki lately pointed out, talking about writing isn't writing.

I'm interested to know whether there are rituals or signals that other writers use. I know Susan must have a trick or two, she wrote a novel on her lunchbreaks at work. Anyone want to share?

Friday, July 07, 2006

The Novelist and the Hare

I am not a fast writer.

I started to keep a progress journal, with daily word counts so I could track my progress, thinking this would be a good thing. Actually, it's turned out to be a little bit depressing, as it's revealed that all I've been getting down lately is a couple hundred words a day, every few days. Like, 2500 words for the whole month. (sigh)

All right, before you say it, I know. New baby, plus pre-existing child, marraige, self-employment, pets and household responsibilities do take time. (Gee, when I say it like that I want to go lay down.) So I know it's ok, it's truly my best at this time. It's just, you know.

OTOH, what I am writing feels good, and that keeps bringing me back to my keyboard. A few weeks ago that wasn't the case, so I'm grateful. I'll just keep at it, in between feeding hungry creatures and cleaning up after them.

Leaving tomorrow to go to my parents' cottage for a few days. Yay! Back at the end of next week, if you're interested.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Uh oh

She laughs at my hair and my singing.

That didn't take long.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

A Quiet Moment


The Little 'Un is in bed, she finally gave up trying to make me carry her around all day. The Bigger One has been banished to his room for quiet time after a tantrum that lasted, I swear, most of the morning. 'Nuff.

So, a few blessed minutes to write. What I'm working on right now is faith - just writing, and never mind where it will go or what the purpose of the scene is. Just listening, and getting it down. It's been a long haul and I finally surrendered - I let my ambitions, my plans and my outline fall away. I'm offering it up now, to the characters. "Ok, then. You show me how it happened." We'll see.

The other discovery I've made lately is that I'm wordy, and my word choices and style are often a bit pretentious. Which might be fine for another kind of work, but this is a historical novel set in Scotland in the 1560s. People (at least the ones I'm writing about) didn't speak or think like this:

"To an observer, had there been any, it would be obvious that he was not out for a stroll; he walked quickly and with apparent purpose, though his destination was undecided."

That's how I normally write, I think because it amuses me. It's just me. But I'm afraid it doesn't work for the kind of story this is. It ain't Dickens, lady. This is more appropriate:

"He wasn't headed anywhere in particular, he just needed to think."

So, I have 55000 words of this to go through. I don't know whether to cry because it's all wrong, or feel elated because I can see that. I'll go with elated, for now.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Fall On Your Knees - Ann-Marie MacDonald

This is one of those books that I think of as Awfully Good. By that I mean it's powerfully written - a very, very good book - but the story itself, what these people go through, is Awful. Scorching humanity, each one flawed to perfection, beloved and unforgettable. You really must read this book. It's not an International Bestseller and an Oprah's Book Club selection (which came first, I don't wonder?) for no reason. I'm not finished reading it yet, but it's a keeper.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Sugar and Spice, and Puppy Dog Tails

I was walking the Baby, waiting for her to go to sleep. Yeah, she's getting heavy, and this walking thing will only get older as she does. But when she lays her head on my shoulder, and I hold her warm, solid 12 lb body in my arms and feel her angel's breath on my neck, I will do anything. Out of love, out of gratitude for the gift of this little person who has been given to me to love. To hold. And hold her I will.

So anyway, I was walking the Baby. I was thinking about the fact that her dresser has no mirror, because the dresser was mine and the mirror got broken and never got replaced. I was thinking that I'm glad there's no mirror on that dresser, and I won't put one in her room until she insists. There's no mirror in her brother's room, and that's not an issue. She doesn't need one either. I won't teach her to place undue emphasis on her appearance. She'll have dolls, yeah, but also books, a chemistry set and some dinkies.

Now, wait just a minute, here's the thing. My daughter is three months old, and already I'm trying to figure out how to protect her from gender bias. Sexism: a nice, light topic for my first blog entry.

Do you see it? In even having these thoughts, I'm subscribing to gender bias myself. Not because there isn't a real problem with what little girls learn while they're growing up, but because I'm thinking she'll need protection. After all, there's every possibility that she'll love football and abhor makeup.

This is obviously too big a topic to cover in this little blurb, but it bears consideration. I can honour my daughter's femininity without being sexist. There's a line there. For me, it falls between soft pink cotton and itchy, frothy tulle, between pretty sandals and pierced ears. I'm guilty of wanting to put her in pretty things, but I won't hurt her so I can decorate her. Don't get me started.

What about the rest? Make-up, belly shirts and how old for the first date? I have no freaking idea. Thank heavens there's time. I'll just have to figure it out when we get there.