Thursday, September 18, 2014

Look! I'm using my degree! (sort of)

Yeah, so I've been kind of quiet recently, and there are lots of reasons for that, most of which I won't bother to go into here.  Suffice it to say, August kind of sucked for a lot of reasons, and my font of writing awesomeness dried up for a while.  I'm trying to prime the pump and get it going again, so don't worry - I'll be back in gear again soon.  

One reason I've been away - a good reason, for once - is that my duties at work have been expanded to include writing ad copy for the shop's website and online store.  This allows me to engage in two of my many passions: gushing about yarns I love, and overusing exclamation points and elipses:
Debbie Bliss Fine Donegal is a luscious fingering weight wool with just enough cashmere to make it something special.  A tweedy single-ply, this yarn is both lofty (read: warm) and easy to work with.  Try a versatile neutral like Snowdrift, which has a cream base and touches of blue and yellow in the tweedy bits ... or go for the wilder Blackberry with its black base and flashes of bright primary colors.  And check out the pattern support Debbie Bliss has provided - you can use Fine Donegal to make beautiful garments, accessories, and more!
Between coming in early to write before the customers arrive, designing and writing up patterns for the store, and joining a gym so that I don't turn into a cautionary tale about the health effects of too much sedentary crafting, finding time to write anything for myself has been a challenge.  Oh, and Erika also roped me in to making some tutorials, too, which mainly demonstrate why I was always more interested in radio than in television:

We're going to have to work on her camera skills, I think, if she wants these to reach a wider audience.

At any rate, school is back in session, and I'm settling in a routine with work and the gym, so hopefully I'll get back in the saddle again soon.  One good motivator is the writing conference I'm attending, um, tomorrow (gulp!).  This will be a first for me, and I'm excited to see what it's all about.  I'm also psyched to meet some actual agents and editors in the flesh - it will be nice to know that they really exist, and not just in my dreams!  Trying to get started as a writer can seem like throwing lots of time and mental effort down into a deep well, waiting for an echo that never comes.  Maybe this conference will be the push I need to start getting responses and feedback and (one day) maybe even a contract.  Stranger things have happened!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Prompt: explain why no one hits the bottom

Today I learned that an acquaintance of mine committed suicide last week. According to third-hand sources, the anti-smoking meds she was taking have some pretty serious side effects ... like, for example, suicidal thoughts and attempts. So someone who, only a few days earlier was picturing herself as having enough of a future that she ordered expensive yarn from Germany, instead threw herself off a bridge three days before the yarn arrived. She was a wife, and a mother, and a daughter, and a sister. She was funny, and smart, and determined, and a great knitter. She was 46. She will be missed deeply, and by many, many more people than she ever could have imagined.

For all of our sakes, I wish there was some way that people who jumped off of bridges would somehow get a do-over. Some way that they would automatically bungee back up to the bridge deck, step back from the edge, and get help. Or a giant safety net would deploy automatically when brain sensors located in the drop zone detected regret or fear. Or something.

In honor of Nora, today's prompt is this: one (unfortunately fictional) bridge, which was previously a popular spot to commit suicide, hasn't had a recorded fatality in five years. Describe why.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Prompt: Today my daughter told me her underwear was malfunctioning. Discuss.


I was young, in maybe second or third grade.  Keep in mind, this was back in the VERY early '80s, when fashions for young ladies were not quite as casual - or comfortable - as they are today.  Think polyester turtlenecks and corduroys ... and plaid, lots of really ugly plaid.

Anyway, I had this red turtleneck shirt that I wore a lot.  It was mostly comfortable, once I managed to squeeze the too-tight neck over my head (which inevitably squished my plastic-framed glasses down on my nose so hard I saw stars, because I never remembered to take them off before I started).  The sleeves were almost long enough if I hunched my shoulders just right, and if I didn't, well, that just allowed them to ride up enough to show off my awesome Mickey Mouse watch.  But no matter how groovy it was, the most notable feature of this shirt wasn't its color, or its neck, or its sleeves - it was the snap crotch.

Yes, this shirt had a crotch... with snaps.

See, back in my day, mothers were somewhat obsessive about the whole "keep your shirt tucked in" thing. They were always telling kids to tuck in their shirt, only slobs go around with their clothing untucked - were you raised in a barn? In the interest of making shirts that would stay tucked, no matter what, someone invented the snap-crotch turtleneck.  You'd put it on like a regular shirt, then fasten the two or three metal snaps that were on the flap that came between your legs.  It was sort of a onesie for the elementary school set, if you can imagine that.

Given that I was tall for my age (see comment about sleeve length above), wearing snap-crotch shirts was inherently fraught with danger.  I had my choice between hunching over to keep from embedding the snaps in my delicate regions, or standing up straight and hoping the snaps didn't let loose and send one of my overstretched shirttails flapping up in the air.  Yes, that actually happened.  I'm sure one of my friends on Facebook will be happy to confirm that for you.

By far the worst part of wearing a snap-crotch shirt was the fact that I generally forgot how much extra time was required to deal with it during bathroom trips.  Inevitably, the snaps would get stuck just when you were really hoping they'd come undone, and trying to get them fastened again was a nightmare of awkward maneuvers and mis-matched snaps.  Add to that the fact that I tended to try to "wait it out" rather than raise my hand and walk past all the other students to the bathroom, and it was sort of a recipe for disaster.  There were a lot of near-misses, but only one trip was truly horrifying.

I don't know what had possessed me that morning, but I had somehow managed to snap up my shirt before I put on my underwear.  But I didn't realize it, or else I forgot all about it in my hour of need.  So when I finally got desperate enough to use the bathroom, I slammed the stall door, threw down my corduroy pants and Underoos, and sat down to business, forgetting all about the snap crotch I hadn't bothered to undo.

I noticed something was wrong almost immediately, but being only seven or eight years old, I had neither the presence of mind nor the control of my bladder required to prevent this disaster.  So, smack in the middle of my school day, I peed all over the bottom of my shirt.  It soaked in almost immediately and began slowly wicking its way up my body, like some sort of ammonia-scented nightmare.

My mind has somehow blocked out what must have followed - the embarrassed hiding in the bathroom until another student was sent to fetch me, the cringing attempts to wring out the tails of my shirt, the whispered consultation through the crack in the door, the summoning of the teacher, the call to the office for a plastic bag and a fresh shirt, the teasing of my classmates who could only imagine what I had been through but teased me about it nonetheless.  It's horrible and cringe-inducing enough in my imagination - thank goodness I don't have to actually relive the memories.

I do know, however, that snap-crotch turtlenecks were no longer a staple of my wardrobe after that incident ... and now, thirty years later, I NEVER tuck in my turtlenecks, no matter how sloppy it makes me look.  There are some sacrifices for fashion that are just too much to bear.

Prompt: Write a passage that illustrates what you think a "Dinglefloffer" does.

Write a passage that illustrates what you think a "Dinglefloffer" does.


"Being a Dinglefloffer?  Interesting?  Nah.  Same damn thing, every day.  I come in to work, change into my coveralls, grab some coffee before I head for the floor.  I work for two hours, then I get a break so I can pee and get more coffee.  Another two hours, then I get to eat lunch.  The cafeteria food is decent, even if they put fish in everything.  Damn Norwegians.
"So after lunch it's another two hours on the line, then a break.  By then my dogs are really barking, so I sit down for a few minutes in the break room and amuse myself trying to read the newspapers other people left behind.  I've been here for four years, and I still don't know what all those extra circles and dots over the letters mean, or how to say them.  Being functionally illiterate kinda sucks, know what I mean?
"Anyway, after that I got to get myself back to my station and put in my last two hours.  I'm really dragging by then, and generally my productivity is crap for those last two hours.  It's a good thing I don't work on the part of the line that's on a continuous feed ... it would look like that old I Love Lucy bit, only with stupid ski hats instead of chocolates.  I can just about keep up with the supply during the main part of the day, but by 4 or 5 o'clock, it just isn't happening.
"By the end of the day my coveralls are covered in trimmings from the line.  That stuff gets everywhere - in my hair, up my nose, in my mouth.  It just clings to everything, and you can't brush it off.  I'm going to come down with Acrylic Lung Disease or something if the plant managers don't give me a face mask or something.  I've complained a bunch of time, but I'm not sure they understand me.  I get lots of nods and smiles, and someone hands me a fish, and we all go on exactly like I never brought it up.
"So at the end of my shift I strip off the coveralls and leave them here.  I don't know how they get the fuzz off - maybe they just burn the suckers and give me new ones every day, I've never asked.  I try to get as much of the stuff off of me as I can, but I still end up dragging it out the door.  My car is coated in the stuff.  It's in layers, you know, because we work with a whole bunch of one color for a few days, then switch to something else.  After all this time, I could probably peel that layer of fuzz off my seats in one piece and turn it into a poncho or something.
"So no, dinglefloffing isn't exciting ... it's barely even interesting.  Still, I'm lucky to have a job.  I don't read the language or even speak it very well, and I never worked in a factory before I moved to Flekkefjord a few years ago.  I met the plant manager in a bar, and after a few glasses of aquavit he offered me a job fluffing up the pom-poms on the tops of the ski hats.  I figured it would be a good way to make a few bucks, meet a few people, and keep myself busy until I moved on to someplace more exciting.  That was four years ago, and I've been a Dinglefloffer ever since."

Prompt: I just had a life-changing short rib sandwich

I just had a life-changing short rib sandwich.  Write a nonfiction narrative about a memory you have that centers on food.

(I cheated and sent them an old blog post from 2007)
Liza's got the pukies (don't worry, no pictures today). So far today the laundry total includes : carseat, carseat cover, straps, and buckles; Liza's jacket, mittens, expensive pants, expensive sweater, socks, and necklace; Jason's sweatshirt, my jeans, my socks; my fleece jacket, my fleece pants; four pairs of Liza's pajamas; my watch; the wool rug in the family room; the washable rug by the back door; about 14 different places on the wood floor (including one where there's a 1/8" gap between the boards, and I had to try to fish out the worst of the chunks with a table knife); the kitchen sink; the bathtub (because I gave Liza a bath after the first episode, stupid me); and probably a few more places I've either forgotten or haven't found yet. And it's only lunchtime.

Some observations: 
  • We have hardwood floors in every room. There are two rugs on the first floor, and the kid has managed to cover both of them. The cats do the same thing. Is there some sort of puke magnet built into the rugs that I wasn't warned about when I bought them?
  • What was the thought process that made it seem like a good idea to include hideously stain-inducing red food coloring in a rehydration solution? Someone without a carpet puker did this ... or maybe it's a conspiracy led by the carpet industry.
  • Why is it that the kid can be happily sipping Pedialyte for an hour, watching videos and asking to be tickled, but as soon as she gets down and makes it to a virgin piece of carpeting, the fountain starts again? Why, why, why?
  • Why, when called for emergency backup at lunchtime, would my husband choose to bring home food from Taco Bell, the place I've only been able to eat at once in the past two years because a particularly bad bout of stomach flu had me puking up the same burrito for a day and a half? Why, why, why? Dude, the smells of vomit and Taco Bell are now so firmly linked in my brain that the restaurant is dead to me. Dead, I tell you.
  • Essential supplies for toddler pukefest: large sheet of vinyl-coated fabric that used to be the stain-catcher under the high chair (used to protect sofa or floor from puke); plastic bucket to fruitlessly try to catch puke (even if you get there in time, she'll be so pissed that she's puking that she'll slap it away, so you'd better have a good hold on it); as many rolls of paper towels as you can find in the house; as many pairs of easy-to-change clothes as you can find (for both of you - zip-fronts work best, as they keep the puke out of your hair when you're changing); as many DVDs as you own or can beg, borrow, or steal. We've watched two hours of Baby Einstein and Curious Buddies today; this afternoon I'm going to indoctrinate Liza with the finer points of the Muppet Show.
  • Oh, and did I mention that my stomach doesn't feel so great, either? Hopefully I'll wait until she's done before I start ... I'm having a tough time keeping up with the level of cleaning now, I can't imagine trying to keep up while being sick myself.
  • On the positive side, Liza has learned new words today, including "puke" and "sick," and has gotten plenty of practice saying "YUCK YUCK YUCK" at the top of her lungs. Nothing like a little stomach flu to improve a kid's vocabulary.

Prompt: this fountain

PROMPT: This fountain in front of the Delaware Museum of Natural History.

Once upon a time there was a mischievous god who was kind of an asshole.  His favorite activity was disguising himself as an animal so that he could visit the kingdom and reward those he found causing trouble.  He did this frequently - so frequently, in fact, that the residents of the kingdom soon became used to the idea of a huge wild boar that seemed to like watching them.  Soon the people took no notice of the boar-god and did things in front of him that would otherwise have cost him quite a bit of money in pay-per-view fees.
The other gods - especially his wife - thought this behavior was incredibly tacky, and they came up with a plan to teach him a lesson.  They waited until the next time the boar-god was distracted by the shamelessly wanton behavior of nearby humans.  Then they struck, using their combined powers to freeze him in place, his haunches reclined on the ground while his front half leaned avidly forward, drool slowly spilling from his opened mouth.  He was stuck in a shell of bronze that prevented him from moving ... but not from thinking.
The boar-god's thoughts see-sawed from one extreme to another.  How could they do this to him?  Actually, it was kind of a good trick - it would be hilarious if they had done it to anyone but him.  When would they let him out?  He should pretend to want to stay here, just to annoy them.  No, seriously - how long was he going to be stuck here?  He wanted to get out, NOW!  And that was all in the first second or two - the boar-god was kind of a drama queen.
The other gods congratulated themselves on a prank well-played, slapping each other on the back and giving each other high-fives.  After a few minutes, one of them declared it was time to release the boar-god from his prison now that he had been taught a lesson.  The gods all looked at one another, nobody's face showing the slightest sign that they knew how to dissolve the curse that had trapped the boar-god.
The god of fire finally came up with an idea.  The god was trapped inside the hollow shell of the statue - so if she could melt or cut her way through the outer layer, the god would be set free.  So the fire god summoned a blowtorch and set to work cutting through the bronze.  But since she was a former girlfriend of the boar-god (and kind of pissed off at him for how he had ended their relationship), she attacked the spot on the statue which was most likely to cause the boar-god pain if something went wrong ... which it did, almost immediately.  The second the blowtorch touched the crotch of the boar statue, the metal began to melt and flow, shrinking it instead of cutting through it.  As the shell began to thin, more metal from the surrounding areas melted and flowed to the thin spot, ensuring that the torch never punched through to the inside.
The boar-god, meanwhile, was horrified to see his ex-girlfriend approaching his package with a blowtorch.  His thoughts rose to a fevered pitch as the flame got closer and closer to his favorite body parts, and he just about passed out when the flame hit him for the first time.  His consciousness bounced around inside the statue like a ping-pong ball inside a lotto machine, staying far away from the heat and anticipated pain in the statue's groin.  He waited for his opening, ready to escape through even the smallest pinprick of an opening in the bronze, but none ever came.
Eventually the fire god gave up, as did the rest of the gods who had played the prank.  They washed their hands of the situation and went back to whatever it is that those guys do all day, leaving the boar-god stranded on the outskirts of the kingdom.
Oh, well, his wife thought, dragging the heavy statue behind her as she started toward home.  I better find someplace safe to stash this until we figure out how to get the nimrod out.
She found a museum under construction and offered the statue to the managers, free of charge if only they would take it off her hands.  The managers were a little surprised to see such a small woman single-handedly dragging a huge bronze statue across their parking lot, but they readily agreed to her suggestion.  It was a science museum, not an art museum, but they were happy to explain to all of their visitors that "pigs are science, too - kind of boring science, but it still totally counts."
The boar-god was delighted in the change in scenery his new installation allowed ... right up until the first visitors to the museum decided to use him as a jungle gym.  Kids climbed up, over, and around him, using the least appropriate parts of his body as footholds and handholds on their ways up.  It's probably a good thing the boar-god was still trapped inside the statue and couldn't feel anything other than the existential embarrassment of having a bunch of Kindergartners use his wang as a stepping stone on the way to sitting on his back.
This went on for years.  Then one day, a morbidly obese boy decided he wanted to climb to the top of the statue.  He placed one foot on the base of the statue, then put his other foot right on the boar-god's genitals.  As soon as he tried to put his weight on his second foot, that part of the statue snapped off, tumbling him to the ground.  The boy hit hard, and he was still trying to clear his head a few minutes later when he watched a dense purple smoke pour out of the small hole he'd made in the statue.
"Later, bitches!" the boy heard echoing across the parking lot as the purple smoke dribbled away into the camouflaging darkness of the nearby forest.

Prompt: Your character's name is Zebley

PROMPT: Your character's name is Zebley.  Write a description of this person (or animal, or whatever) in as much detail as possible, using short scenes or quotes from other characters rather than tell-y adjectives.

It was an investigation technique that had worked well for him many times - start each interview with the same question.  In this case, he spent days asking variations of, "So, tell me about the missing man."
Shift manager: "Zebley?  Not a bad worker ... assuming you get him to show up on time and stay awake during his shift. On his good days, he was one of my best guys.  But I wasn't surprised when he didn't show up yesterday.  He's been late more times than all of the other first shift workers combined.  You find him, you tell him not to bother coming back - I don't need a worker I can't count on.  I've let him talk me into taking him back before, but not this time."
Coworker: "Zebley?  Pfft.  The boss seems to like him, but those of us on the floor never know when he is going to actually show up to work, or if he'll be awake enough to be useful.  I spend half my shift covering for his narcoleptic ass, and the other half scrambling to make up my own work before the end of the day.  With him gone, management will have to bring in someone new, and we'll get back to having a consistent workload.  To tell you the truth, I'm glad he's gone."
Wife: "I can't believe he would just leave like this!  He works so hard for me and the girls - after all those nights spent at his second job and things he's had to sacrifice, he wouldn't just leave us ... would he?"
Bartender: "You mean Big Z?  Yeah, he works here.  I love the nights he's manning the piano - that dude can play, let me tell you.  We get a lot more people in the bar on nights he plays.  Plus, he splits his tips with me."
Bar patron: "I don't know why you're asking me about him.  Sure, I talk to him sometimes, and once or twice I might have let him buy me a drink.  But that's all - really!  It doesn't mean I know him - it's just a thing girls do, right?  Let cute guys buy them drinks?  It doesn't mean we're sleeping together or anything..."

More fun with prompts

My mother just drove 10 minutes out of her way to buy gas somewhere that was 10 cents MORE expensive than the place 1/2 mile from her house.  Tell me the real reason she drug me along with her.

        She slammed the car door, leaning back in the open window to say, "I'm going to run in to the bathroom.  Need anything from the store?"  Her daughter shook her head and sighed heavily.
She forced herself to walk at a normal pace across the parking lot.  No need to show anyone how nervous she was about this.  She pulled open the convenience store door, wincing slightly at the electronic beep it made as she walked through.  Keep cool.  No one is looking at you.  No one cares that you are here, or why.
She glanced around, hoping to see a sign to point her in the right direction.  Despite what she had told Gretchen, this gas station wasn't the one she usually used, and she didn't know where to find the restroom. She wandered the aisles, pretending to look at the snack foods on display.  She'd better locate the bathroom quickly - she had only a few minutes to make the drop and get out of there.  She hugged her purse to her side, nervously feeling for the bulge of the package.  It would be gone soon, and things in her life would get back to normal.  She would stop getting cryptic messages on her phone, stop looking for tails in the mirror every time she left the house.  She just had to hold herself together for another few minutes ... and find the women's room in the damn Wawa.

Well, hi there!

While I was out of town a few weeks ago I decided to keep up with some writing friends by sending them writing prompts, which the three of us then worked on individually.  I won't share their responses - that's their job! - but I thought it might be fun to record what I came up with ...

"Oh sweet Jeebus, my mother has these huge mutant striped crickets everywhere!  Your prompt for today is to write something from the mutant cricket's point of view as it plots world domination through scaring the jeepers out of me."

"They're coming!" I whispered to Ron, who was cowering behind me, useless.  "Retreat!"
"I can't!  You're standing on my shoelaces," he said in a quavering voice.  I sighed and shuffled my feet.  Who wears lace-up shoes to an alien invasion?
We backed down the hall, careful to make no noise, but the advancing army kept pace with us.  There had better be a locking, air-tight door around here somewhere, or we were going to be toast.
Ron's elbow hit a hatch with a clang that must have given away our position - the skittering of thousands of chitinous claws on the walls, floor, and ceiling of the passageway grew louder as all of them converged on us.  Ron turned to open the hatch while I kept my weapon trained down the corridor.  I didn't stand a chance of holding the invaders off for long, but I could at least try to give him time to escape.  He fumbled with the wheel, turning it the wrong way until it jammed in the locked position.
"Move!" I screamed, elbowing him aside.  He caromed into the corner, and I heard a snap as his arm hit the wall.  Great.  Now I was responsible for saving someone who was not only useless, but injured, as well.  I wanted so very, very much to leave him where he stood sniveling against the wall.  But his DNA contained the only weapon we had found effective against the invaders, so I wrenched the wheel the proper direction and slammed open the hatch, propelling Ron through by his uninjured arm.  I slammed the hatch shut and spun the wheel on the inside of the door, flinching as a hailstorm of small clicks heralded the arrival of the swarm.  I shook my head and straightened my spine.  I was on this side of the hatch, and the invaders were on the other, unable to operate the lock.  We would be safe.
I looked up to see if Ron had noticed my momentary lapse into fear.  It wouldn't do to have a civilian aware of my weakness.  I would distract him, perhaps by berating him for his slowness at the door and his carelessness in getting injured.  But his eyes widened and fixed on a spot over my head, and I realized I had a much bigger problem on my hands than one useless test subject.  
I let my eyes roll up slowly, raising my chin and tilting my head to look at the wall above me.  The horrible, multi-faceted eyes of the enemy considered me coldly for a moment before the creature attacked.

Monday, April 7, 2014

I feel like I'm in a Muppets song**

Things have been both creeping along and making significant progress.  Every time I get frustrated by my lack of progress in one area, it's nice to have another thing I can point to and say, "Yeah, but I did THAT!"

In no particular order, here's what's been going on around here:

  1. I joined a critique group for writers of children's and teens' books.  It meets monthly, but I know that at least one other member is interested in meeting more frequently to discuss our work.  The people at the group are very welcoming, and there's a broad range of interests, topics, and skill levels present.  It's great to hear about other people's projects ... sometimes it feels like I'm the only one out there pounding away on a keyboard in her spare time. We spent part of last week helping another writer deal with her fixation on how her editor friend used the word "abusive" to describe her main character's relationship.  Seeing how personally she took that single word made me doubly conscious of my own peculiarities when it comes to interpreting the comments of others.  In the words of the ever-inspiring Ze Frank, "And when I eat my critique, let me be able to separate out the good advice from the bitter herbs."
  2. I got a Red Light in RL/GL, but the comments that "Kissy" made led me to rethink the opening chapters of my book entirely.  I sat down last week and reworked them, and I believe they're a lot stronger now.  They move faster and have less back story jammed into them, and I think they put the focus back where it belongs.
  3. I went to a critique meeting sponsored by the local chapter of SCBWI, at which a published children's author (Jean Daigneaucritiqued pre-submitted pages from our manuscripts.  Unfortunately, the pages I submitted from the swamp story were from the version that hadn't been revised based on the RL/GL comments, so it wasn't really my current version at the time of the meeting.  It was, however, helpful to hear Jean's comments on the story, and some of the input from the other writers was interesting.  My main takeaway was that I definitely need to bump up the age of the main character, and I'll probably need add a scene somewhere since my word count falls below the standard for Middle Grade fiction. Can't decide if I'm looking forward to heading back into the swamp (and into Susannah's head), or if I'm getting sick of beating a dead horse and it's time to move on.  Definitely food for thought.
  4. Vacation!  I didn't do as much writing as I had hoped, but I got more done than I expected (sometimes I have high hopes and low expectations!).  I've now got some brief character outlines and a plot for a new story.  More on that soon ...
  5. I sent The Indian in the Garden to Alice Bradley for book-doctoring.  It's such a help to have someone with a professional writing background take a look at my work.  She thinks about things that never occur to me, like, oh, I don't know, giving my story a theme (shudder).  She sees where things work, and she has a magical ability to point out things that don't work without making me feel like an amateur.  Yay, Alice!  I've read through her written comments on my story, and this afternoon I'm scheduled to talk with her about her feedback. I'll be editing The Indian pretty intensely for the next few days, just to get as much done as possible before I totally forget her suggestions.  This one's going to need an extra scene to up the word count, too, so hopefully she'll have some suggestions for me on that.
  6. The DIY/Girl Scout story (have I mentioned that one yet?) is dead in the water.  It's going to need a complete overhaul, and I'm just not up for it right now.  Every time I think about working on it, I decide that cleaning the gunk out of the shower door track sounds like a better idea - so you know it's bad.  I've hit this before, and generally this sort of reluctance to even open up the manila folder that houses the pages means that my subconscious hasn't figured out what needs to be done.  If I wait long enough, some day I'll flip it open and voila!  The path forward is clear to me!  It may not be easy or quick, but at least I'll know I'm on the right track.  So this story is going in the timeout pile until I don't flinch every time I think about it.
  7. In the interest of finding my niche in children's literature, I'm going to try - TRY - to write the story I outlined in Jamaica as something other than an MG book.  The plot is fairly straightforward and there aren't too many characters, so I'm going to aim for writing it as a picture book.  I know, I know - "But Gretchen," you're thinking, "how can you possibly write a whole story in less than 1,000 words?  You regularly write sentences longer than that."  That's just the point.  By forcing myself to write the story concisely, I'll work on letting a few words paint a picture rather than having to narrate every brushstroke.  Best case, I learn a few things and end up with a manuscript that doesn't take half a ream of paper to print out.  Worst case, I realize that PB isn't my genre, and I move on to thinking of it as a chapter book.
So that's what's what in the world of Gretchen.  The swamp story needs a rewrite (but I'm not sure it's worth devoting more time to do it right now); the Indian story is going to be getting extensive but guided revisions; and the DIY story is in timeout.  The newest story still needs to be written, which will take me approximately 10x as long as normal to write a story with 1/15 the words of my previous works.  And summer break - the time of "Mom can I play Minecraft? Mom can we go swimming? Mom I need a snack!" 24/7 - is fast approaching.  Wish me luck, getting some of this stuff "done" before my working hours shrink too much.

** "Movin' Right Along," which is old-school Muppets.  Yes, I know I'm dating myself.  No, I don't care.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

My fingernails are history ... might have to start working on my toes next

Remember that contest I entered? Well, I finally got feedback on my second "page," and I got cleared to send in a third!  In the interest of full disclosure, here's what I sent:
     Bobby earned extra money each summer by selling the snapping turtles he caught in a nearby swamp to a restaurant in town, where they were used to make snapper soup. Today, Bobby had tried to show off by making the turtle bite twigs and sticks in half over and over again. Eventually the turtle had snapped, too, and it went after Bobby instead of the stick. He would be lucky to get away with only his pride wounded – I’d heard a turtle of that size could easily bite off a finger or two.
     Mr. St. Clair – father of Barbie and Bobby – poked his head outside. Shaking his head, he calmly walked up behind the turtle, picked it up, and returned it to the cardboard box Bobby had used as a cage.
     “I don’t object to you catching turtles for the restaurant, Robert, but I do not want to see you mistreating them. It’s bad enough that its home in the swamp is going to be turned into a housing development soon. You don’t have to torture it, too. Either take it to town, or release it. Your choice.” He shot an irritated look at Bobby and went back inside, screen door banging shut behind him.
     “Oooooh! Bet you’re embarrassed that Dad had to save you from that horrible beast,” Barbie said, rolling her eyes. Bobby narrowed his eyes and glared at her as he stooped to pick up the box.

And here's the comment I received back:
the backstory feels a bit jammed in and we wondered if this was set in the past or current day time, given what the character is doing

I'm going to overlook the comment on the year, because while that is clearly stated at the beginning of the chapter, she just doesn't go back and review the first page(s) you sent when she reads the current submission.  If you were reading the two submissions right in a row, it should be pretty obvious that it's all happening in the past.

And I appreciate the feedback on the backstory.  I'm going to think of some ways I could bring it in via conversation, rather than internal monologue, to make the scene move along a little faster.  Always interesting to get other people's perspectives on things I've stared at for WAY too long myself.

So, moving forward, here's submission three:
     “I wouldn’t expect you to understand how dangerous snapping turtles are, since you don’t have the guts to go in the swamp and catch one yourself.”
     “I’ve got plenty of guts! I just can’t go through the poison ivy to get there, you know that,” she said.
     Barbie and I had spent most of the summer exploring the wild areas around our little community – poking around in the fields and ditches, wandering through the woods, collecting rocks and shells on the beach. But we had never explored the swamp, which was surrounded by a forest that was dripping in poison ivy. Bobby was able to push through it because he didn’t react to the stuff, but Barbie was violently allergic. Like the caring brother he was, Bobby had been taunting her with stories of how awesome the swamp was, knowing it was impossible for her to get back there without a hospital visit afterwards. And my parents said I was too young to go in the swamp – I think my mother was convinced I would get bitten by a snake, lose a toe to a snapping turtle, and then drown in a pool of quicksand, all on the same visit.
     Barbie’s inability to explore the swamp was a sore point for her, and I wanted to avoid watching another shouting match. “Let’s go to my house. We’ve got better things to do than sit here and listen to Bobby’s ‘Reasons the Swamp is Awesome’ lecture again,” I said, jumping down from the picnic table.

I've got the next few submissions edited and ready to send (assuming I get the green light!).  Gotta plan ahead when you're trying to compete in something like this and have to leave in the middle of it on spring break!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Fine, hand me the Pine-Sol

Wednesday is my day for heavy-duty writing.  Mondays I pay bills and run errands, Tuesday and Thursday I work, Fridays I clean the house and teach a class in the afternoon.  I get as much done during the bits of time I have available on those days, but Wednesday is the big day.  Nose to the grindstone, shoulder to the wheel, fingers to the bone ... you name a work-related aphorism, I'm probably living it out on Wednesday.

Except ... today is a snow day.  Coming the day after a sunny-50-degree break in the otherwise relentless winter, this one is particularly unwelcome.  It is the tenth day my daughter has stayed home from school due to snow or extreme cold conditions; other than the chance to sleep in, both of us are totally over it.  She's holed up in my bedroom watching endless Mythbusters episodes on my iPad, and I'm telling myself I should use the quiet time to get something done.  I should sit down and work on my writing, or do research on agents, or revisit my cover letters and synopses.

But the wind is making the house creak, and the tiny chunks of ice flying into the siding are so loud I can't even drown them out with my earbuds and white noise.  The birds at the feeder outside my office are going nuts - my feeder is in a sheltered location, which makes it a nice break from the one the neighbors installed, which is closer to the woods but has been canted at a 45-degree angle in the wind all day.  I love to watch the sparrows and junkos, and I have been doing so often enough that I've developed a crick in my neck from craning around to see them, but do they have to be so loud when they argue about whose turn it is at the feeder?  How can I be expected to get anything done under these conditions?

So ... procrastination.  I have finished listening to my latest audiobook, worked on my spinning, done some knitting.  I ran the dishes so the dishwasher repair guy could see the problem we're having, only to have him call halfway through the cycle and tell me he wouldn't be coming because of the storm.  I have endlessly checked the weather report to see exactly how awful my husband's 4 pm flight into town is going to be (answer: worse every time I check; I doubt he's even going to make it onto the plane until hours after his scheduled arrival).  I have endlessly refreshed the contest page to see if the judge has started posting the results from the round in which my second page is entered (she hasn't and won't until tonight at the earliest, and yet I still keep checking).  I have looked at my list of chores I'd like to get done this week, and then conveniently discovered reasons why it is not the right time to hang 14,000 pictures in the basement or wash the grease off of the kitchen cabinets.

I stared at the rough draft of the newest story I've been working on, then decided I needed to do some research on a minor plot point.  Looking up things on the internet - actual things related to the story, not Facebook links and blog posts, mind you - was good for half an hour of "work," but it also made me realize that I may have to completely scrap my rough draft and rewrite the whole thing to be satisfied.  And THAT makes me think that maybe de-greasing the kitchen cabinets doesn't sound so bad, after all.  If only I hadn't finished my audiobook already ...

Monday, March 10, 2014

My fingernails are suffering tonight

I heard about a writing contest last week, and it struck me as something that might be good for me to do. You know, willingly participate in something where a complete stranger reads your writing and judges it and some people win and most people lose. The idea of it made me simultaneously excited and nauseated, so I went ahead and entered.

This one is a little weird, in that it is very specific: you send in the first 125 words of your book, and if the judge likes it, you get the green light to send in the next 200 words of the same book. Every time the judge likes what she sees, you can send in another page. If the judge at any point decides they don't like the book so far, you get sent back to square one and can begin submitting a new work. This goes on until somebody - actually, eight somebodies - submits eight pages or has sent in their whole book (picture books have a lot fewer words than other categories).

The theory is that those first eight pages are what most editors and agents (or their assistants) use to decide which manuscripts they want to read, and which are headed for the incinerator. So if you have a great first chapter, you're more likely to get a deeper read when you submit your work, and are therefore more likely to sell that work. Sure, the rest of the manuscript is important, too, but this format gives the judge the chance to slog through a much larger pool of entrants than she would be able to handle if we all sent in thousands and thousands of words.

I entered the second wave of the contest yesterday, and I received my code number today at the same time the first of this round's results came out. And the verdict is ... That the chart only goes up to entries numbered 10 less than my number, so I have to wait until tomorrow to see whether I get a red light or a green light. I can't decide whether to be grumpy (I really want to know how I did!) or relieved (Now I don't have to try to sleep after a rejection!). Mostly, I think, I'm just excited to have gotten involved in the process at all. I feel like I'm joining a group, a cohort of other aspiring writers who share my hopes and processes. We'll see if I feel so comradely once I actually get judged ...

In the interest of full disclosure, here's the 125 words I submitted for the first round. They come from the first manuscript I ever finished, and it will be interesting to see what other people think of them:

August, 1985

             “You better run faster, Bobby, or that turtle’s gonna bite your toes off!” I yelled.  Bobby dodged and weaved, trying to capture the snapping turtle without putting his fingers in danger.  But his bare feet slid on the dried-up grass, making it hard for him to circle around behind the surprisingly fast animal.

            “Shut up, Susannah, and scoot over!”  Bobby tried to climb on top of the picnic table where his sister and I were watching the show.  The turtle lunged forward, jaws snapping a whisper away from his toes.  “Aiee!” he yelled as Barbie pushed him off the table.

            “It serves you right for taunting that poor thing!  Sheesh!  You didn’t have to keep poking at it with sticks.” Barbie said.

            I, too, was rooting for the turtle.  


Working on synopses and query letters today ... sigh ...

So, do you want to read this book?
     Susannah Bohl has explored virtually every inch of the river, trails, and fields that surround her rural Maryland community.  Only the nearby swamp is off-limits – her parents say it’s too dangerous for a 10-year-old, even if it is full of fascinating animals and ecosystems.  But now a builder is planning to drain the land, sacrificing the wetlands so he can build a bunch of expensive houses in its place.  Susannah’s neighbors are doing their best to preserve the swamp, but it’s starting to look like a lost cause.
     When an unusually low tide uncovers an easier way to reach the swamp, Susannah convinces Barbie, her friend and babysitter, that this could be their last chance to explore it before the bulldozers move in.  And there, ankle-deep in smelly mud, Susannah makes a discovery that just might be enough to save the swamp.  

How about this one?
     Ten-year-old Topher Smith is crazy about history and archaeology, so he isn't terribly surprised when he starts having vivid dreams about a Native American hunter.  But things start to get strange when he uncovers some artifacts while digging in his yard – items he saw in his dreams before he found them.  Topher knows the artifacts could important and should be excavated by a professional.  Unfortunately, his parents are more concerned about getting their new garden ready than they are in preserving any arrowheads or pot shards that might be buried in the way.  The strange dreams continue to tell the story of the hunter, and Topher’s friends are half-convinced his yard – and dreams – are being haunted.   He isn't convinced … until he makes the next big find, right where his dreams told him it would be.   His only hope of ever getting a good night’s sleep again is convincing his parents to shut off the tiller for good. 

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Earth to Liza; come in, Liza

I'm sitting here next to my first, best, and most beloved test reader: my daughter Liza.  She's eight years old ("Almost nine!" she would say, if she weren't concentrating on my manuscript), and she is both my intended audience and the reason I got into writing in the first place.

Right now, she's gobbling up my latest manuscript, which is in its last revision and was sent out today to my tribe of test readers.  She's read it twice before, and it hasn't changed substantially since the last version she read, so it's not like there's anything especially surprising in the draft she's reading today.  And yet when I tried to get her to put the pages down at the end of each chapter to ask for her feedback, I had to basically wrestle them away from her to get her attention.  I eventually gave up, figuring I'd just go through the whole thing once she was done with it all.

Of course I am pleased that she's so caught up in it that I have to drag her back to reality in order to get any sort of information from her about the book.  That's what I always hope for, and what every revision tries to make better and better.  I've been slashing and cutting, tightening and describing, ramping up the speed of the action and trying to make the dialogue a little snappier, all at the same time.  Apparently, it's working.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

If it ain't broke...

I've been thinking a lot this week about routine, how it can either work for you or bring you down. Case in point: the soundtrack for my life while writing.

Before we get into that, though, a few details about me. I tend to have problems sorting through auditory input. It's not a hearing difficulty as much as it is a brain problem: I hear everything fine, I just have a hard time ignoring the unwanted parts and focusing on the parts I need. I'm an expert at eavesdropping, but it makes having a conversation in a crowded room a real treat, let me tell you. At least after 16 years of marriage my husband has finally worked out that I am incapable of conversing intelligently when the television is on, so when he mutes it I know we're about to capital-T-Talk.

I also tend to imitate the cadences and rhythms of the speech I read in books. It's entirely unconscious on my part, but it happens so frequently that I can't ignore the effect. It's especially bad with some series - my husband groans every time I pull out an Elizabeth Peters book because he knows I'll be talking like Amelia Peabody for days.

Given these two facts, I decided early on that I would have to be careful what I was reading and listening to during the time periods I was writing. Not just while actually writing - that's a white noise situation, no question about it - but also during the rest of the day when I didn't actually have a pen in my hand. I didn't catch on at first, of course, which is why some of my early children's writing had to be HEAVILY edited. Apparently, listening to R-rated Paranormal Romance audiobooks in between writing a kid's book isn't a good idea, at least not for me. All of my 10-yr-old protagonists ended up sounding world-weary, if you can imagine that. Not quite what I was going for.

Since then I have learned to either sequester myself from other books ("to give my characters room to think for themselves," as I pretentiously describe it) or be VERY careful what I listen to. Classic literature is okay - Great Expectations and Red Badge of Courage, while not terribly exciting to hear, at least didn't influence my muse. But I have to take a vacation from Sookie and her vampire buddies while I'm writing , lest my tiny protagonists end up with fangs and ennui.

When I got the spark of inspiration for my latest story and started writing last month, I listened to the classics while I ran errands and did the laundry. About the time things started to go really well with my writing, I pulled up The Fault in Our Stars, and things really took off. Apparently my brain can admire John Green's prose without trying to imitate it, which is a relief because I was getting really sick of Dickens. But then Gus and Hazel's story ended before mine was complete, and I had to make a choice. Should I start a new book and risk ruining the good mojo I had going with my manuscript? Should I go back to Dickens and his boring brethren? Or should I give up and just maintain radio silence until the draft was complete? What if Gus and Hazel were giving me the mojo - should I start listening to that book over again? Or would that be like declaring these my lucky socks and not washing them until I was finished? How superstitious was I willing to become?

Fairly superstitious, as it turns out. I shut the radio off and wrote like a mad woman for two days, nearly crippling my wrist in an effort to finish before I lost my mojo.

And then I threw down my pen, bought the next Kim Harrison audiobook to celebrate, and dug out the magazines I had hidden for the previous few weeks. I let myself listen to Welcome to Night Vale again, and I breathed a sigh of relief.

Next time I start a book, I'll probably try crying along with Mr. Green again. Because why change something that seems to be working for me? That would be silly, kind of like shaving during a winning streak or not wearing my lucky hat to an Indians game. And that's just crazytalk, my friend.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Writing Exercise: "But Knot for Me"

Exercise: Pull up a random song on your music player and use the title of the song as the title of your next story.  My song: "But Not for Me," from the When Harry Met Sally soundtrack.
But Knot for Me

     Why, why, why?  Why did I ever think that this class was a good idea?  I could be sitting somewhere with an adult beverage and a pattern that doesn't make me want to tear out my hair, but instead I'm here on the verge of tears.  Happy birthday to me.
     I look around the room to see if there's anyone I can commiserate with, but the other students seem to be taking the new technique in stride.  Well, that, or they haven't gotten to the hard part yet - since I work so fast, it's hard to tell who's caught up with me and who is still blissfully ignorant of the horrors yet to come.
     The tangle of yarn in my lap mocks me.  I have tried this section so many times that I didn't even bother winding the yarn back onto the ball, I just ripped out the bad section and let the strands stay wherever they fall.  The next time I try to knit with it, I know, the yarn will stick to itself in clumps, making an already difficult pattern even more of a pain to execute.  But right now, I'm more likely to set the whole mess on fire in the parking lot than I am to patiently wind it into a tidy ball, so I keep my hands to myself.
     The pattern isn't that complicated-looking, at least once it's complete.  It's made from string manipulated with two pointy sticks, the same as any other knitted object.  How hard can that be?  I take a peek at the student to my left, and see that she's gotten to the part that has stymied me.  Her brow is furrowed in concentration, and she's not jabbering away with her friend like she was earlier in the day, but she doesn't seem to be as frustrated with it as I am.
     What is it that is tripping me up?  It's two sticks and some string, nothing to get myself in a tizzy over.  And yet ... knitting is supposed to be easy for me.  Ever since I progressed from that first scarf - the one where my stitches were so tight, they were practically impossible to work - knitting has come easily to me.  If I wanted to learn a new technique, I'd look at it in a book or online, try it a couple times, and boom, it was there.  My style might not be the most traditional - one knitting teacher who looked at how I formed my stitches basically said, "Huh.  Haven't seen that before," - but it's fast, and it gets the job done.  I can whip out a hat in a few hours, a scarf in a weekend, a sweater in a week if I don't have much else going on.
     But this ... this sucks.  "P2tog tbl" - the official abbreviation for the stitch I was failing to make - is evil.  Purl two together through the back loop, indeed.  Whoever came up with that little gem deserved a good thrashing.  This was it.  This was the thing that I would never learn, that would make me a failure in knitting, just like I was in everything else.
     I took a deep breath and looked out the window at the lake.  The water was calm, still except for the ripples left behind the ducks paddling around on its surface.  I felt like those ducks - outwardly calm, but paddling like mad where no one could see.  There were so many commitments, so many things pulling me in different directions.  Just keeping up with the house and my family commitments was taking everything I had - and knitting was supposed to be my escape.  It was the one thing I could count on, the one thing I knew I had down pat.  I could sit and knit and turn off my brain and not worry about everything else that was going on in my life.  I had planned for months to come on this retreat, to take this class from a famous teacher, and now here I was, paddling like crazy to keep up in the class.  It just wasn't right.
     I picked up my needles and steeled myself. This time, it would work.  This time, I would do it.
     I followed the pattern for several stitches, stitches that were nothing new, stitches I had done thousands of times before.  So far, so good.  Then I got to the symbol on the chart for "P2tog tbl" and I winced.  Now or never.  With a deep breath, I rolled my left wrist toward me so I could see what I was doing.  Counted two stitches over, then torqued my right wrist to insert the needle tip into the stitches ... carefully, so that they didn't slide off of my left needle ... and inched the needle further along.  I manipulated the yarn around the needle, wrapping it the proper direction this time, and drew it tight.  Now, for the moment of truth.  Slowly, carefully, I moved my painfully contorted wrists to pull the right needle out of the stitches, catching the new loop of yarn as I did so.  New loop securely held on the right needle, I popped the two old stitches - and ONLY those two stitches get back on there you miserable little cretins - off of the left needle and finally let out my breath.  It was done.  One P2tog tbl complete in under five minutes ... only ten more to go on that row.
     I worked carefully along the row, a stitch at a time, my normally blazing pace slowed to a crawl.  Knit. Purl.  Yarn over.  And then ... P2tog tbl.  I thought of revenge on the people who had invented that stitch, designed the pattern to use the stitch, and decided to teach a class based on that horrible, horrible pattern.  Fire.  Fire would be a good and reasonable response to the terrors they had inflicted upon an innocent knitting public.
     Only a few minutes later, I looked down, and I had reached the end of the row.  I counted my stitches with trembling fingers, hoping against hope that my number would match the one in the pattern.  It did!  I breathed a sigh of relief, then went on to the next row, which was blissfully absent of those evil, evil new stitches.  But only moments later, I was done with that row and ready to do the return row, which once again featured my friend, P2tog tbl.  Yay.
     I glanced around the room again while I rolled my shoulders to loosen the tension that had settled there.  I was getting a headache, and a backache, and I couldn't actually turn my head to the right without rotating my whole torso - that's how tense I had been.  Around me, the other students were falling silent, their own shoulders hunched and eyes squinted at the patterns in front of them.  Various oaths were muttered sotto voce, and more than one person was ripping back their work, one stitch at a time: tink, tink, tink.  Oh, thank god - it wasn't just me having problems with it.
     With a slightly gladdened heart I attacked the next row methodically: stitch, stitch, torque, insert, pray pray pray, slip, celebrate, repeat.  This time the row took incrementally less time than it had the last time, and once again I had the proper number of stitches when I was done.  Score!  Maybe I was getting the hang of this.
     Another easy row, and moments later I was back at the beginning of another row of horrors. Stitch, stitch, torque, insert, pray pray pray slip oh god oh god oh god no no noo get back on there you little piece of shit god damn it ...
     I slammed my needles down on the table.  The stitch had slipped off and run down the work, ruining a whole column of knitting that had been perfect only moments before.  Tears came to my eyes as I thought of taking out all that work to fix the mistake I had made - again.  I couldn't do it.  I couldn't force myself to go through that again.  I pulled out my needles and started to unravel the swatch.  Some people would leave the class with a beautiful sample of lace, but I wasn't one of them.  I looked at the hopeless tangle of yarn in my lap and sighed again.  For the other students there would be triumph, and a feeling of accomplishment, and something they could show off to their knitting friends.  But knots for me.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Fulfilling the stereotype

Here I am, sitting at a table at Panera, using their wifi and drinking their soda while I work on my story.  How stereotypical, right?  The trope of the lonely writer holed up in a coffee shop working on the Great American Novel, has been done, done again, and overdone.  Darn you, Ms. Rowling, for giving everyone the idea it could be done successfully!

But ... it's a convenient place to squat during the two hours I have between when I drop off my daughter at school and when I have to start my work day.  I find I get a lot done here, despite the constant distraction of other people's conversations and the cold draft from the front door opening over and over again.  I've got a system nailed down now that works pretty well for me.

I usually don't try to write here - that's done at home, in a comfy chair, preferably in the sunshine and with a cup of tea at my elbow.  But I do all of my first drafts longhand, so eventually I have to tackle the tedious job of typing them into my computer.  Panera is a great place to do that, because if that's all I bring with me, and I purposely don't connect to the wifi, I'm not tempted to do other things instead.  There's no laundry to wash, no Facebook to check, and no writing books to peruse.  Just me and my handwritten draft and a keyboard, every Tuesday and Thursday, until it's done.

Most of the time I can tune out the noises around me.  It's hard - I love to eavesdrop (what author doesn't?  where do you think all of our ideas come from?) and people seem to think the booths at Panera include a code of silence or something ... they discuss the strangest things in the middle of a very public location.  If all I have to do is type the words in front of me onto the computer, the intrusion of an occasional conversation doesn't really slow me down.

Other days, though, the lure of the hubbub is too strong.  That's why I always bring along my earbuds, and why I installed a white noise generator on both my phone and my iPad.  I prefer the full-featured one on the iPad, which lets me make custom mixes of sounds.  I like matching the mixes to the subject matter I'm writing about - when I was working on Susannah Saves the Swamp, for example, I listened to lots of beach  noises and croaking frogs, and it helped keep me in the mood.  If I don't have a specific theme that fits, I go with a standard blend of traffic noise, crowd sounds, and a cat purring - I call it my City Apartment Special.

I'm a good squatter, always purchasing something, never taking up insane amounts of bandwidth by trying to edit photos or post video or anything.  The restaurant makes money off of me, but since I was buying my lunch here before anyway, it's not like it's an additional expense.  Besides, if my $10 lunch is the cost of actually getting something done twice a week instead of just driving back and forth on the highway another time, it sounds like a pretty good deal.  Besides, I plan on thanking them in the credits when I finally get published, so it's a good deal for all of us, right?

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Howdy! (waves hand in your direction)

Well, here it is - the start of a journey.  Technically the journey began last year, when I started writing my first manuscript ... but now is when I'm beginning to get serious about getting published, so I say the journey starts now!  Here's where things stand:

I have one manuscript, Susannah Saves the Swamp, that I consider finished and ready to submit to agents. My second one (The Indian in the Garden) is in the final throes of my editing process and is about to be sent out to test readers.  I finished the rough draft of a third story (working title is DIY) on Monday, and I'm procrastinating on typing that sucker up even as I write this blog entry.

All three of those are chapter/middle grade books, focusing on characters that are in 2nd-6th grade.  They aren't easy reader books - they're books for kids who don't mind lots of description in their stories and are willing to occasionally look up a new word or two.  I'm proud of the characters I've created, and I think the stories I've written are uniquely mine to tell.

I have two more potential books that are bumping around on paper right now, too.  One is definitely a Young Adult book, since there is - gasp! - kissing in it.  That one is on its second incarnation - it started out as an adult book written from a different point of view, and boy, let me tell you, was swapping out all those pronouns fun to do! Right now it's stalled about two chapters from the end of the story, and it's stayed that way for a month or so.  The other story hasn't decided whether it's upper MG or lower YA ... or even whether it's really something I want to write at all.  I mainly started it to give me a place to try out a techniques that I haven't had the guts to use in a story I'm serious about finishing.  This attempt at writing without an outline, just letting the characters "tell me what they want to do" is proving that I babble at even greater length when I don't have an outline to rein me in.  I've got lots of pages, but not a lot of story so far.  Eh, we'll see - maybe once I'm done with the two stories I'm editing there will be space in my brain to plan out this one.

So here I am - a few manuscripts written, SCBWI joined, an untidy pile of agent descriptions sitting on my desk.  I'm starting to build my official online presence, worrying over writing a bio, and honing my query letter to a fine point.  There's a lot of work to be done in the next few weeks and months, and very little of it involves actually writing stories.  But if I want to be a published author - not just a hobby writer - these are all important steps on the road to success.

I guess if we're going to use the metaphor of my writing "journey", my bags are packed, some maps are uploaded to my phone, and I'm about to go fill up the car with gas and check the oil.  Hop in the car, dear reader, and let's see where this literary road trip takes us!