Thursday, December 29, 2011

Sitting in the gap

About noon today, I finished the first draft of Lola's story. What had been four pages of story that Lola told her daughter became 65 pages or a whole section of the book. It has been hugely fun to write because I knew where it started and where it ended and amazing ideas and characters happened in between.

Now I am sitting in the gap. Do I move on to Carla's story? Or do I go back to the main plot? I reread some of the main plot today and it's good. It's been several months since I've looked at it and I was pleased that it holds together.

In some ways it seems quite complicated to also do Carla's story (she's Frankie's sister and Lola's other daughter), but she's an important piece of the story so far so what happens to her next will be telling. But I don't know her yet. I don't who she is or what has happened to her.

So I am sitting in the gap, in the white space between the words, in the silence between the notes, in the skin between the eye lashes. I need to show up, stay put, and wait. Wish me luck.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Being specific

He waited a while. Then he left.
He waited 10 or 15 minutes. He wasn't sure as the phone got no reception. Then he walked away.

One of the many distinctions between good writers and beginners is the specificity of their language. Any time you can be more specific in the plot or the description or the dialog, consider it. She had dark hair or she had dark chocolate hair? He wore long pants or he wore tan Dockers? He walked down the road or he walked down the dusty road seeking out the occasional shadow? 

Notice that I say "consider it," not "do it." Because the other side of the issue for beginners is using too much specificity.

He ate his burger with ketchup, mustard, pickles, lettuce, tomato, and onion. And on his fries, he put extra salt and ketchup. 

This kind of detail doesn't tell me anything special about this character. Of course, if there isn't anything special about him to know, then I don't need any detail. But if there is, how can you show me? Thus, the details can't be specific for their own sake, but to show us or tell us something. Here's another example:

He took the lettuce out of the burger and folded the lettuce so that it was the exact size and shape of the patty. He then cut the burger into 4 quarters. She wondered if he had a secret way to measure them for they seemed exact. Then he took out a towelette, washed his hands, and proceeded to eat the sandwich with his knife and fork. "I'll be you think I'm weird, don't you?" he asked. 

The details here tell us a lot. He's precise, he's fastidious. Just the man she wants to do the job of killing her husband.

You may not want to worry about specificity when you're drafting. Now that I write every morning, I spend the first few minutes reading the paragraphs from the day before. While I'm not editing, I will note a place where I can be specific. This morning I added this detail.

Before: She dried off in front of the window, watching the women in the garden below.
After:  She dried off with the only clean towel in the bathroom, watching the women hoeing in the garden below.

See what comes alive in your writing when you add a few specifics.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Love this

The Road to Mastery

Unconscious incompetence

Conscious incompetence

Conscious competence

Unconscious competence


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Blog post on income writers can expect

A writing friend, Cheri Lasota, sent a link to this blog to me. I found it most interesting and it certainly is a recommendation for picking a genre to write in and continuing to write and write and write.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Drafting or polishing?

In one of the monthly writing groups I lead, Molly mentioned that she was working with a writing buddy who was making a lot of specific suggestions. She liked the buddy's suggestions and so had turned her efforts to polishing the stories she had already written, rather than continuing to draft new material. This sparked a very interesting discussion in our group about when to draft and when to polish.

I've come to believe that it depends on what kind of editing and polishing we're talking about, and it depends a bit on how experienced a writer you are.

The two processes are different. Drafting requires a level of thinking, mulling, imagining, arguing, feeling that editing does not. For many of us, this is why it is so much fun. But it can also be scary for this isn't about control but expansion, it isn't about perfection but about making a mess and maybe even some big mistakes that will have to be undone.

For myself, I do rework some things when I'm drafting but they have to do with content. Like this morning, I couldn't remember if I'd made it clear that Cassie was a redhead and I wanted that identifying characteristic to be enough for the reader to know who had been in the accident. So I went back and reworked the physical description of that character the first time we meet here. I could have made a note to do it in a revising or editing time, but it seemed simpler to find it and fix it while I was thinking about it. Then I scrolled back down and went on with the scene.  When something seems to be part of the content of the writing, that falls into drafting for me.

Editing is about grammar, punctuation, word repetitions, clumsy sentences, saccharine sentences, style and mechanics issues. And that's left-brain, what's-the-rule kind of work.

I don't recommend mixing these too closely. It's too hard to do a good job on either one if you're trying to do both at once.

In Molly's case, I was concerned that she would fall into the pit of perfection, of getting one story just right. That's not a good way to write a book, or learn all the many marvelous things there are to learn as a writer. Instead, most of us need to keep drafting for a good, long time, and then turn to the editing side of ourselves.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The instructive nature of reading bad fiction

In the course of my editing work, I read quite a bit of bad writing. Much of my work is non-fiction and it's relatively easy to clean up and polish the writing if the thinking behind is sound. Bad fiction is another category entirely because so much goes into writing a good book. It's not just a strong feel for the mechanics of English, which are helpful but can be easily fixed. It's more knowing what makes a good story and balancing a whole series of components.

A good novel or memoir requires more than dramatic events. One reason novels and memoirs based on the life of someone often fall flat is that much of our lives are mundane, which isn't very interesting. On the other hand, and stringing together just the dramatic moments doesn't completely satisfy because that isn't realistic. Many less experienced writers don't take the heart that fact that the narrative arc, that crucial plot component, is more than big happenings. It's about making a choice, a decision that alters everything, sometimes for the protagonist and more often for everyone involved. If you can't identify that choice or those decisions, your novel may not hold.

A good novel or memoir requires a clear division between the major characters (only a few) and the minor players. Gone is the 19th-century tendency to fill novels with dozens and dozens of major players. While it is possible to have lots of characters, we only want cursory details on those that aren't major..

Back story should be brief and absolutely to the point. The information should be something we really need to know about the main character and his decisions. Again, we do not want back story on minor players. Often, we don't even need to know their names.

Omit facts and data from back story or from dialog. Readers don't care about a lot of facts. They're reading fiction for enjoyment, not for education. It's important to give sufficient facts so that the reader believes the author knows what she's talking about but beyond that, skip it. Even if your novel concerns the intricate dealings of a the financial world or an engineering firm, readers want plot and character, romance and danger. They don't care about the percentage of a loan.

Avoid verbs of attribution other than "said." No commenting, pleading, querying. If you absolutely must, it's okay to have a character "ask" but the question form of the dialog should carry that.

Learn what passive voice is and avoid it like the plague.

Limit indirect speech to a tiny percentage of your text. If it can't be dialog, maybe you don't need it at all.

Of course, there are exceptions to all these ideas but if you follow them most of the time, you'll write better fiction.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

the ideal with its yeah-buts vs. the possible

Yesterday I had lunch with a long-time client, a psychologist and trainer who has written 5 very successful books on low self-esteem. I've edited all those books. We hadn't seen each other in a while and we got caught up, including stories from her travels around the country teaching her method and selling her books, which are self-published. Then after a lull as we finished our sweet potato fries, she said, "I've haven't been writing."

I was surprised to hear this for she had told me about a year ago that she was done with writing. At that time, she'd been having fun writing a mystery novel with a psychologist detective but had become ill and felt she had to choose to do her professional work of therapy and training with the energy she had. So I hadn't asked about writing projects and didn't expect she would have any.

I asked her to tell me more. It turned out that with the return of her health, she felt too guilty about an incomplete professional writing project (a recovery version of her method) to write for fun. She had written many pages on the professional book but was overwhelmed by the task of completing it. She had plenty of material and felt confident in her writing skills. She even had time and energy. But she didn't have the right kind of time--she wanted 3-4 hours a day for as many days in a row as she could get. And she couldn't see a way to write the book because that wasn't really available to her.

I told her of my experience with finally giving up that need for my own writing and letting an hour a day or even less suffice and move me forward. I told her I still go on retreat and have long periods to write (and that she could do that too as she controls her own schedule). She listened and we talked about it a little more. I didn't push too hard. Just said that maybe with some rearranging, she could finish the last professional book by June and really be done with that part of her career. She said she'd think about it, and knowing her she will.

It is easy, I think, for those of us with creative inclinations and other work obligations to get stuck in needing the ideal with its yeah-buts and if-only's. However, if we can find a different place to come from (how happy creating makes us, how meaningful it is, how relaxing it is, what kind of a contribution to the world we can make when we are happy), then that idea has less of a grip on us and we can welcome the possible, even if it isn't perfect.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Tell it as story or scene

In the novel I'm writing, I needed to include information about the death of the main character's mother. At first I included it in a transition piece (where time had passed and this was one of the things that had happened). So I created a 3-line "story" and cleverly connected it to the fact that the protagonist's child looked like the mother and the complications of that resemblance. And I was quite pleased with how it turned out.

But the event wouldn't go away. It kept returning in my consciousness, nagging at me for attention. The event itself and its circumstances weren't changing but I knew I had to make a bigger deal of Lola finding out and really put her in her reactions. I didn't analyze this. I just let it keep percolating and then it led me to a different beginning for the chapter, one that was more original and helped me show more things than just a few lines of telling it would have. I found a way to work in the scene of her learning and how she deals with it and what it says about her ability in relationships.

And then this afternoon, as I sat down to write this blog, a whole other importance fell into place and it was such a "Duh!" moment. This book centers on the difficulty of mothers and daughters. No wonder my psyche was nagging at me to make this piece a bigger deal. Glad I listened.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Reading your work aloud

I have the great luxury of a hairdresser who comes to my house. Midway through the process, Cindy and I have tea and chat or I read to her from the book I'm working on. Today I read a section of dialog that I wrote about a month ago. And as I was reading it to her, I realized three things. That the dialog was pretty good (feasible, natural, well paced). Second, it goes on too long and that's because of number 3. I don't have a good enough reason for it.

I wanted this dialog to show a conflict between the roommates in the flat and I wanted to make the protagonist defend her shady boyfriend. And I realized in reading it aloud that while those two things happened, I took too long to do it. So I either need to find another plot or character point to include in that dialog or cut it short.

I don't think I would have discovered this in a silent reading of the text. However, I now realize I might have skipped over some of it in a silent read. And if the author doesn't find it interesting, yikes! How will the reader? So I pegged that for reworking.

So two bits of advice: Read your work aloud to a trusted friend and listen for your own impatience. Second, watch for places you're tempted to bypass in a silent reading. Maybe they can be shortened or eliminated all together.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A conversation about description

I met with a couple of writers this afternoon for a make-up session for last month's support group. Vicki had an excellent question about description. How do you know what to include and how much is enough and how much is too much? Flaubert used an encyclopedic amount, Hemingway very little. They're both considered master story tellers.

Of course, there are no simple answers to these questions, even though there are writers on writing who may try to sell you a formula. Lots of factors come into play. But there are some guidelines I use.

1. How much does description fit into your writing style? Many of us have writing styles or voices that are a reflection of how we live. Your style may be sparse in true minimalist fashion or it may be complicated and baroque in its detail. Take a look around your living space and you'll get an idea of how much detail you want to live with and write with.

2. How can description of a character or a setting assist your story? Description for description's sake almost always comes across as lame. It needs to serve a purpose. If your character is wearing a mini-skirt and a tank top to a job interview, we know a lot about her without you having to tell us. Giving your teenager girl an immaculate bedroom will go a long way to underscoring her anorexia without you having to tell us. That's right. We're back in the land of "Show, don't tell." Physical attributes can reinforce a character's personality in a few words. Even when the attribute goes against the moral grain (a thug in an Armani suit), it works without you having to tell us that he has expensive suits or is trying to hide his true nature.

3. How can description assist your scene? If I'm writing a scene that focuses on two characters breaking off their relationship, I probably don't want a lot of physical description. Instead, I'll want to describe what the point of view character is feeling and how she's responding to her lover. I'll want to focus on emotional description and how I can convey that without saying "she was sad." Maybe "she bit her lip and began to take things out of her purse." Actions can be description.

4. When is enough enough? This is a tough question to answer. As a reader, I want enough detail in description to paint a picture in my mind of the character but I don't want too much, because I want to use my imagination as well. I don't usually want specifics. I don't want to know that a character weighs 112 pounds and is 5'4" tall. Those kind of measurements are the mark of the amateur. Instead I want suggestions so that my mind can play. I want to know that she has one of those baby-girl voices that sell records these days or that she is chicken-bone thin or has been spending most of her paycheck on ice cream and brownies.  

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The freedom to go deep

Have been thinking about the freedom to create. Eric Maisel is talking this week about social constraints on our freedom, the pressure we feel from others, known to us or collectively, to conform. And the psychological constraints that we place on ourselves, through conditioning or fear.

When I would read certain sections of my novel, Fog of Dead Souls, to friends, they would comment about how dark the scenes were, how violent they were, and how out of character that was for me. I found their comments interesting. First, because I read a lot of mysteries and police procedurals and enjoy that kind of fiction and so it didn't seem odd to that I would write in that vein. And maybe people don't know that about me, though I don't make any secret of it. Second, their assumption that my personality and my fiction need somehow to be in tune with each other. I think of myself as a rabidly nonviolent person in my relationships and my dealing with the world, but I am interested in those aspects of human nature. And while I didn't feel defiant about my writing on those subjects, I paused a little too long for my own comfort in considering their comments. As if I should reconsider. I didn't. I left it dark. But I'm interested that I paused.

One of the important freedoms we possess is to take our creative work in whatever direction appeals to us. To go deep, to look at our shadow selves, our darker sides, both the emotional and the spiritual. To paint black paintings or purple pumpkins, to present as realistic fictional characters that do not come from our lived experience but from our understanding and imagining of human nature.

When we listen to what others want, we give up that freedom to explore and create what is deepest in us, even though that might be scary. Here's to the scary.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The dangers of writing in your head

One of the things I love about being on a creative retreat is the opportunity to stay with my story most all the time. I’ve just come back from a week retreat with six other creatives in Netarts, a village on the Oregon coast. While I was there, I continued my first-hour creative practice, getting up each morning, brushing my teeth, making tea, and lighting a candle and as the day came on, I continued to create Lola’s story. Then I’d make breakfast, write in my journal, help with cooking, write another 90 minutes, read the mystery novel I brought. After lunch, I’d write again for 90 minutes, go for a walk. We’d have circle. Some nights I read some of the story. But the characters and their dilemmas stayed with me all day, coming in and out of my mind, and all kinds of interesting twists and turns would appear in my mind.

On Wednesday, I drove into town to check email and handle a few business connections. On the way back, along the country road, I suddenly realized there were several cars behind me and I was driving way too slow. I suspect the young men in the pickup directly in back thought it was a little old lady too timid to press on the gas. I had no way to tell them that it was a big old fiction writer completely wrapped up in her story.

Then today, I drove down to Oceanside, another village to the north where there is good beach access. I was cutting it close for the tide was coming in and a big storm was brewing off in the distance. But there were plenty of people and dogs still strolling and I parked and went on down. The going was a little dicey, the sand pretty soft, but I hoofed it down 15 brisk minutes and back. I realized as I turned around that I had barely noticed the beauty of the water or the big rocks glistening in the silver fog so involved with Lola and Jimmy was I. And then I got sucked back into the details and just as I got back to the entrance in full mental writing mode, sorting out what was happening with Lola and the vet, I fell flat forward onto the sand. I hadn’t noticed the fairly large rock jutting out of in front of my foot. I wasn’t hurt, just surprised. And I sat there and laughed at how caught up I was in my imagination and then I dusted myself and went up to the coffee shop where I wrote the next installment. 

Saturday, November 5, 2011

False starts and the perfectionist

In the Enneagram system of personality traits, I am a One. Ones like being in alignment with order, are partial to the details and rules of life. They are often labeled Perfectionists. Both of the first two attributes are definitely characteristics of mine. But I seldom think of myself as a Perfectionist. I'm the one with toothpaste or spaghetti sauce on her shirt., I don't agonize over the documents I write or edit for clients; I do my work, do a good proofread, and move on. It isn't a struggle. I keep my home tidy but I don't stress over dishes in the sink or the rug pad showing in the dining room as it has for the last two weeks. I'm not compulsive about that.

But I realized this morning that the One's perfectionism is a part of my struggle with this new novel. I mentioned in an earlier post that the first two novels sort of unscrolled in plot and organization. And this one is not doing that. I'm struggling for the first time with what feel like false starts. And a perfectionist part of me doesn't like that.

Last week at Writing Friday, I read a chunk of a chapter to my astute friend Jan. She loved the story part of it but felt it couldn't have come from the mother as told story, that it was really the narrator telling this, that it was too perfect, too rehearsed to come out of the mother's mind. Well, of course it was and that had even nagged at me. But it meant I'm not yet on the right track with this book and I'm annoyed about that.

I know this happens all the time to the best writers. And I know my story idea is a solid one. It's just taking some time to find itself and to connect with me. It's a great learning experience, it expands my abilities. But it isn't as easy or fun. So I find myself bumping up against shoulds (it should be easier than this, it should go more smoothly, I should have it all figured out) and that is clearly perfectionism.

So time to go with the flow, go with what is, and keep following the leads.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Unearthing old treasures

Last Saturday, I took a wonderful 4-hour workshop from poet John Morrison on poetic forms: meter, rhyme, and the classic structures. As you may remember, last winter I took on writing 100 poems between Jan 1 and April 15. I was writing in what is called free verse with uneven line lengths and and no established meter or rhyme scheme. To be honest, I never gave them a thought.

So when I saw John's class was on a Saturday afternoon I had free, I signed up. Curiously, I had forgotten how much I already knew about these matters. I have an advanced degree in French literature and while the details are not exactly the same from French to English, the systems are very similar and I had spent a lot of time doing what is called "scanning" of meter and rhyme in French in those classes decades ago and taught them to my students as well.

And then there was the spring quarter I got asked to teach Intro to Poetry to students in English as a part of my graduate assistant job and I worked with a wonderful book called Sound and Sense, a classic. And I learned the differences in English and taught them to my students. And then I put that away in some place in my mind where it has stayed out of sight for the last 30+ years. And it all came flooding back last Saturday and I had a great time relearning, remembering, and practicing.

Three things stood out for me. One, I hadn't had that kind of intellectual fun and conversation in a long time. It's the kind of conversations that academics could do with each other and don't--the intellectual side of academia is hidden and rather private, trumped in large measure by the political. But apparently writers in gatherings do this a lot. I want more of that.

Second, I realize how much fun this was for me is due in part to my being a One in the Enneagram system. We Ones love order and detail and meter and rhyme scheme is all about that. It's almost made to order for us.

Lastly, I could see clearly how this knowledge and additional practice could serve as a major tool in revision of both my poetry and my prose, something I've gone about rather blindly. I'm excited to do more of this.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Meandering in the semi-dark

I got up at 6:30 today to write. Lit the candles, made tea, sat down. The dark was both external (the dawn doesn't come until well past 7:30 now if the sky is cloudy) and internal as I can't quite see my way clear with the story.

The first two novels I wrote, I wrote pretty quickly (about a year each). The stories were unknown to me as they spun themselves but they unfolded in a very straightforward and linear way. I kept asking "What happens next?" and before too long, some intriguing and feasible answer would present itself to me and I'd work with it and write another chapter. I had to go back once the draft was done and reorder a little and fill in some gaps blanks, but the story unscrolled like a lovely Chinese poem.

This new novel is different. Ideas are coming at me from all sides like an unruly classroom of kids waving their hands and shouting "Pick me, pick me." Or a fork in the road with a half-dozen choices equally scary, equally delicious in their beckoning.

Some of the dilemma is in sorting out how to present a large amount of back story for three characters who come together and separate and come together and separate in a somewhat chaotic dance. Equally enticing are the three characters, each with a fascinating point of view. And whispering in the back of my mind is Durrell's Alexandria Quarter, with its retelling of one story by different characters.

I sat this morning for about 15 minutes of my precious hour vacillating. And then I followed the advice I give all the writers I coach. Write a scene, any scene. It will take you in and you will find your way.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

More on showing up

If showing up is half the creative battle, staying put is the other half. Many of us struggle with the modern addiction to email, and I'm someone who's developed a Pavlovian relationship with the little letter icon that shows up in the bottom left corner of my computer. I used to salivate when the little bell rang and then I turned that off. Now I find myself casting my eyes in the direction of that corner a gazillion times a day. So I do my creative writing on the laptop in the dining room where there is no wifi.

Also like many of us, I tell myself I check email to service my clients by responding quickly or seeing if somebody needs me, but the truth is most of the time, I check email because I'm doing something else I don't feel comfortable doing.

This morning I got up again and sat down to the novel first thing. I didn't have the same level of eager anticipation because yesterday I had finished a long chapter in which a great story unfolded bit by bit between two characters. I was very pleased with the writing of that, which had taken five morning hours, but now it was over and I didn't know what was going to happen next.

I didn't balk at sitting down to write, I just didn't know what to write. For the first 20 minutes, I struggled to stay put. I wanted to get up, make more tea, check the sunrise, let the cats in or out or in again, and most definitely I wanted to check email. Email is far more seductive than the other distractors because it can go on and on. Not only can you see who emailed, you can read their message and respond or check a link or buy a groupon or read someone else's blog. You can then go in and see what kittens are up for adoption at the Humane Society or check your bank balance.

But I didn't do any of those things. I stayed put. And I thought about my characters both directly and out of the corner of my mind's eye and I waited. And about 20 minutes into the hour, two big ideas come trundling out of the creative closet and I knew what to do.

Checking email wouldn't have had the same result at all.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Loving your creative work

In his lecture this week, Eric Maisel talked about lavishing love and attention on our creative projects. The attention part of it resonated right away with me. If I don't give my pastel work or my novel any attention, nothing happens. No progress gets made, no enjoyment is had. Even worse, whatever momentum I've built up starts to fade as well and it gets harder and harder to get back into it, like exercise after two weeks with a cold.

But the idea of lavishing love on my project is something new. Loving my work in the past has meant being pleased with it. Loving how a pastel works when it's done and on my wall. Or rereading a good chapter in the novel and feeling proud of how I wove an event into the story or appreciating the sound of certain sentences or turns of phrase. And sometimes I love the doing of it, in the sense of enjoyment as love.

But I think here Maisel is talking about love as nurturing, as tender care, as affectionate response. And that's something interesting for me to consider. For in a sense, that project, at least while I am working on it, is an aspect of myself, a part of myself. And my creative impulses are surely a part of myself. So if I don't love them, if I neglect and ignore them, then that's a vital part of me that gets ignored.

This opens up a whole different kind of thinking and feeling about what I do, in all the places of my life. Of applying all those biblical attributes of love to my project: being patient, being kind, being thoughtful, being respectful. Seeing my novel and my paintings as a valuable part of myself to encourage, not criticize. I'm curious now to see what can happen with this.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Writing one book is not the same as writing another

Today was my 11th morning of writing an hour first thing. When I was writing the thriller novel that's now with my agent, whole chapters would appear at once in my imagination. I would get the kernel of an idea and it would just began to unscroll itself on the screen. Oh, I made decisions and had to sort out the details but a whole chapter would come.

Writing this book is a very different experience. Even more character-driven than the last book, this novel is about a daughter and her mother and her sister. It's about parenting when it isn't very good and what happens to those children, now grown-up, and to that woman now older and ill. Unlike the the last novel, which came out of my imagination backed up by my experience, this novel is coming out of my memories and my own stuck places backed up by my imagination.

Each morning, I write a page or two, each morning I move Frankie a little farther along her trajectory into the plot and into what's coming (and I don't know what's coming). There are also several subplots lurking in the back of my mind waiting for the right moment to come out.

It's very curious, this particular unfolding. And it intrigues me in a whole new way both as a writer and as a recovering daughter.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Early morning writing II

Today I completed my first week of early morning writing. It would have been easy to bag it today. I've come down with a cold and don't feel very good. And I did sleep in a little, writing from 6:45 to 7:45 instead of instead of 6 to 7 as I have the other mornings. But it also seemed really important to continue to build momentum by writing first thing, to continue to tell myself that writing and creating are a priority for me and to demonstrate that by making it happen.

Surprisingly, it felt natural to get up and just do my quick morning routine and sit down. I forgot about the tickle in my throat and the irritation in my chest and wrote about Frankie and her sister. It was like I showed up to visit them and it was important to do so.

Several things are coming out of this new practice. First, I did 7 more hours of writing on my novel than I would have otherwise. This has been a busy week of appointments and paid projects and teaching and then not feeling well. I would not have found other single hours or a block of time to write during my days (including the weekend because I did paid projects last Saturday and Sunday) and three nights I taught and the others I was too tired, too worded-out. Editing all day on other people's writing makes it hard to want to write on my own. And I'm not a night person; I get no creative second wind in the evening. So I drafted about 3500 words on the novel that would not have happened otherwise.

Second, I feel in integrity with my intentions. I am committed to being a writer and writers are people who write. Not only did I keep my commitment to do the 7 days but I stepped more fully into my writer self, something on my list of Creative Intentions for 2011.

Third, I've been happier each day. Not only happy about having written, but just lighter, more joyful, more satisfied. This is a big plus.

So I'm committing to doing this for the rest of the Maisel workshop, which goes until January 2. If any of you have decided to try this, let me know what your expereince is like.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Writing early

Last Friday I listened to the first lesson in Dr. Eric Maisel's new class, Your Best Life in the Arts. I keep taking classes from Eric because he's one of the wisest creativity coaches I know and he keeps honing his thinking and coming up with new ideas so there's always more to learn.

I knew it was going to be an overview of the next 3 months but I hadn't expected him to put out his big gun right away. Point #1: Get up and write/paint/sculpt/draw/compose music/dance/sing for the first hour of the day.

This was not new information to me. I'd heard Eric say it before in each class. I'd also heard his explanations as to why it was a good idea. First, you take full advantage of the liminal space between sleeping and waking. While we sleep, we have good access to other parts of our brains, the subconscious, the unconscious, the imagination, and that can be helpful in the creative process. As we wake up and start the day, that connection fades, the way dreams do. Second, if you create for an hour each morning, you've created that day. When we do other things first, creating becomes a Maybe Later and most of the time a No. We just get too busy. But if you create for an hour each morning, you've kept your word, fulfilled on your commitment, made creating a priority.

So Saturday morning, I set the alarm for 6. I got up, brushed my teeth, put in my contact lenses, fed the cats, and sat down to write. The apartment was dark except for two candles and my computer screen. It became a sacred experience, a kind of physical cocoon where I moved into the story. I am using my laptop in the dining room. I've got no wifi so there's no temptation and I didn't turn on the desktop work computer until the hour had gone by. I didn't write particularly furiously or particularly much, but I wrote with more ease and focus.

This morning I got up at 6 again and wrote for another hour. It felt holy again. And I felt happier all day and more connected to my characters. I'm committed to doing this all week, so I'll keep you posted. If nothing else, I will have put in 7 more hours of writing this week  than I might have otherwise. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Forwarding a wonderful blog post on reading.

zen habits: How to Read More: A Lover’s Guide


How to Read More: A Lover’s Guide
Posted: 03 Oct 2011 12:17 PM PDT

Post written by Leo Babauta.

Reading a good book is one of my favorite things in the world.

A novel is a time machine, a worm-hole to different dimensions, a special magic that puts you into the minds and bodies of fascinating people, a transporter that lets you travel the world, a dizzying exploration of love and death and sex and seedy criminal underworlds and fairylands, a creator of new best friends.

All in one.

I read because I love the experience, because it is a powerful teacher of life, because it transforms me.

I am not the world’s most prodigious reader, but I do read daily and with passion.

Lots of people say they want to read more, but don’t know how to start.

Read this. It should help.

1. Don’t read because you should — read for joy. Find books about exciting stories, about people who fascinate you, about new worlds that you’d love to visit. Forget the classics, unless they fit this prescription.

2. Carve out the time. We have no time to read anymore, mostly because we work too much, we overschedule our time, we’re on the Internet all the time (which does have some good reading, but can also suck our attention endlessly), and we watch too much TV. Pick a time, and make it your reading time. Start with just 10 minutes if it’s hard to find time — even 10 minutes is lovely. Try 20 or 30 if you can drop a couple things from your schedule.

3. Do nothing but read. Clear all distractions. Find a quiet, peaceful space. It’s just your book, and you. Notice but let go of the urges to do other things instead of read. If you must do something else, have some tea.

4. Love the hell out of it. You’re not doing this to better yourself. You’re doing it for joy. Reading is magic, and the magic will change everything else in your life. Love the experience, and you’ll look forward to it daily.

5. Make it social. Find friends who love to read, or find them online. There’s a world of readers on the Internet, and they’d be happy to make recommendations and talk about the books you’re all reading. Try a book club as well. Reading is solitary, but is also a social act.

6. Make it a habit. Pick a trigger in your daily routine, and consistently read exactly after that trigger each day. Even if it’s just for 5-10 minutes. The more consistent you are, and the longer you keep the streak going, the stronger the habit will become.

7. Don’t make it a chore. Don’t make it something on your todo list or schedule that you have to check off. It’s not part of your self-improvement plan. It’s a part of your Make Life More Awesome Plan.

8. Give up on a book if it’s boring. Reading isn’t something you do because it’s good for you — it’s not like taking your vitamins. You’re reading because it’s fun. So if a book isn’t fun, dump it. Give it a try for at least a chapter, but if you still don’t love it, move on.

9. Discover amazing books. I talk to other people who are passionate about books, and I’ll read reviews, or just explore an old-fashioned bookstore. Supporting your local bookstores is a great thing, and it’s incredibly fun. Libraries are also amazing places that are underused — get a card today.

10. Don’t worry about speed. Speed reading is fine for some, but slow reading is great too. The number of books, and the rate of reading them, matters not a whit. It’s not a competition. You’re reading to enjoy the books, so take your time. It’s like enjoying good food, or good sex: better savored, not rushed.

(Leo Babauta at Zen Habits)

Monday, October 3, 2011

Shifting my calendar to carve out creative time

A couple of months ago I took an invigorating workshop with Dave Ellis, a leadership coach. One of my A-list projects was to begin moving towards working for money half-time and creating half-time without a big dip in income. When I met with my Ellis buddy a couple of weeks ago, I decided to take on that A-project like no kidding, so while I was on the cruise to Alaska I talked to my wise friend Melanie and we threw around ideas and I began to look at how I could do this. Here's my current plan:

1. Beginning in December, I'll be able to save a great deal of money every month that I currently pay for health insurance. Some of that money that I won't have to earn can buy some creative time.
2. I can hone my work estimating so that I don't lose money on the occasional project that takes much longer than I'd planned.
3. I can have a frank conversation with my financial advisor about how best to use my retirement resources to fund my creative life.
4. And I can begin to change my schedule.

At first, I thought I would want to have some long days to write each week, but the idea of only being available to my clients 3 days a week and one of those being Saturday didn't work too well. So now I'm working with the following possible schedule:

Creative: Mon, Tues, Thurs mornings and all day Friday
Paid work: Mon, Tues, Thurs afternoons, all day Wednesday and some Saturday hours if needed
Sundays are off and I'll try to funnel all appts into Tuesday afternoons.

This will take some getting used to and a kind of focus that I'm only used to having during writing retreats. I did not find myself jumping up to write this morning. Instead, I worked on a rush project for a client that I knew was coming. And I ran errands that I hadn't been able to do on Saturday. So I am facing the non-time-management issues around this too. Taking my work seriously, and as equally important. So I'm getting up to write tomorrow, no matter the resistance!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Retrieving my zero draft mentality

While I was on vacation, one rainy afternoon I pulled up the draft of the first 7 chapters of the new novel I'm working on. I read through it, did a little rewriting, rethinking, but I didn't really get into it. I didn't have a big block of time, I wasn't in a situation to build any momentum, but I wanted to be back in touch with my characters and I hoped I'd have a clear idea of where to go next in the story. That didn't arrive.

Tomorrow is Writing Friday and I'm out of excuses. I've also committed to producing at least one new chapter before my writing group meets next Tuesday and tomorrow will be the day to do it. I have to admit my acquiring of an agent has set me back a little. The stakes seem higher. I find myself no longer in the writing-for-fun mindset and that's got to change, because what I need now is to retrieve my zero draft mentality. That anything goes, that it doesn't matter if I write a chapter that won't be in the final book or if I take a character down a deadend street or if the writing is marginal. I just need to get back into it and trust that the characters, my imagination, and my muse will all come through for me.

The truth is, I love to be in the middle of a writing project and I haven't been since July. I need it to happen and so tomorrow, I'm writing something, anything, to get me going again.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Thoughts on writing well from Joseph Epstein

"Learning to write sound, interesting, sometimes elegant prose is the work of a lifetime. The only way I know to do it is to read a vast deal of the best writing available, prose and poetry, with keen attention, and find a way to make use of this reading in one's own writing. The first step is to become a slow reader. No good writer is a fast reader, at least not of work with the standing of literature. Writers perforce read differently from everyone else. Most people ask three questions of what they read: (1) What is being said? (2) Does it interest me? (3) Is it well constructed? Writers also ask these questions, but two others along with them: (4) How did the author achieve the effects he has? And (5) What can I steal, properly camouflaged of course, from the best of what I am reading for my own writing? This can slow things down a good bit."

Taken from the October 2011 online magazine: Vocabula Review

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Cruisin' for characters

This past week I was on a cruise that went from Seattle to Juneau and Ketchikan, Alaska. It is a great way to vacation. I went on the Holland America line, which had been recommended to me by several friends. Great food, excellent accommodations, and seeing Alaska and the coastline of British Columbia were wonderful. We did have some bad weather and didn't see everything on the original itinerary as we had to skirt even worse weather but the trip was till great. And I have to say, a cruise is an amazing place to people watch and find characters for your writing.

There are numerous options for meals. Many of the people seem to continually opt for the all-day buffet. The food there was good and it was convenient and the Lido deck, where the buffet was, had big windows and you could sit and watch the sea and the view. I ate up there for breakfast once and lunch twice and saw a few interesting characters. But the best experience for my writing was in the Vista Dining Room.

Most days we ate all 3 meals there. Many of the tables are for 4-8 people and we were 2, so they always asked before seating us if we'd like to share a table and we always said yes. It's not very often that I get to spend an hour over a meal with complete strangers, listening to their accents, their speech mannerisms. Or getting an opportunity to watch their physical quirks and gestures, their manner of dress. It isn't staring excellently but there is an opportunity to study several people in that intimate a setting.

There was a bit of sameness. They were mostly couples, mostly middle-aged and older, mostly white. But there were at least two couples who really intrigued me, who just might show up in a book soon. In his book Weekend Novelist, Robert Ray recommends spending a lot of time in public places, like a shopping mall, to scope out potential body types, mannerisms, affectations. And I've done some of that but those experiences are more fleeting.

For character studies, cruise ships are a better deal. And way more fun!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Stepping in to the writer self

 I'm leaving today for a cruise up the Inland Passage to Alaska. While I'm definitely on vacation and plan to take advantage of lots the cruise will offer, I am taking my laptop and planning to spend a few hours working on the new novel or writing poetry as I expect splendiferous scenery.

One of the things that getting an agent has done for me is validate my ability to write well and to tell stories, something even 5 years ago, I would have said I wasn't good at. Now I have encouragement to step fully into my writer self, and that means writing. Not talking about it or reading about it, but doing it. So while this won't be a writing retreat per se, I want writing to be so much a part of my life that I can't imagine travelling without a way to write.

And just in time to boost me further, my agent, so cool to be able to say that, sent me yesterday a list of the first 8 editors she plans to submit my book to. The publisher names were very familiar to me (big ones) but the editor names weren't. Then I looked them up on the web and saw that these are very heavy hitters, with substantial clients, including the editor for John Grisham. I'm thrilled that Andrea thinks my book is worth sending to these top-notch people.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Making revisions at the agent's suggestion

Fortunately, my new agent only had a few suggestions for revisions to the manuscript she is going to shop for me. It's been an interesting experience to consider them (they were my call, she said) and then work on the chapters with those specific ideas in mind.

In one chapter, I had written the two segments from two different points of view. It worked okay but she pointed out that both points of view were from minor characters and neither one of them ever got the point of view again in the book. I'd been uncomfortable with this before she said anything but I liked how the POV revealed what I wanted the reader to know about these two characters, one of them a new character who would play a strong supporting role to my detective.

So I went in and read the chapter and reread it and realized that I could take Andrea's suggestion and get my main detective into the scene. I lost a few pieces of information about one of the characters but not enough to be problematic.

I fixed the other two ideas pretty easily (mostly by dropping out sentences that weren't crucial).

Lastly, she wanted a different take on  part of the ending but I didn't want to lose the last reveal so we've agreed to leave that as is and see if editors balk.

I sent off my signed contract, so now the ball will get rolling. So excited!

Friday, September 9, 2011

My adventure with traditional publishing begins

In early August, I attended the Willamette Writers Conference and pitched my novel, Fog of Dead Souls, to three agents. I'd chosen them because they represent authors writing thrillers and women's fiction and my book is a hybrid of both. If you've read this blog a while, you know that two years ago at the conference, I pitched my first novel and got very discouraged as I was chided by two of the three agents for not writing to genre (my women's fiction novel has a male protagonist). I didn't know enough at the time to just think that these were not the right agents for my book. I took it all too personally.

This time I went in with different expectations. I was well prepared, had written a great pitch, which I practiced and practiced and practiced. And I approached the agents not with hat in hand but looking for a champion. I actually said that to them: I'm looking for someone to champion this great book and I'm wondering if that's you.

Two were enthusiastic about the story; all three wanted pages. I worked on the manuscript another two weeks, incorporating changes from a police expert, and sent it off Aug 22. On Aug 29 Andrea Somberg, the most enthusiastic of the agents and who had asked for 50 pages, asked for the rest of the manuscript. On Sept 1, I got an email telling me she loved it and wanted  to talk. Last Friday we started the agent/client conversation, Sunday I said yes, and now the ball is rolling.

I was high as a kite on the good news for days. Now I'm settling in to understand the contract and today I'm working with the revisions she wants (minor and not deal breakers). She's also reading my memoir and novel #1 and I'm thrilled to see what can happen next.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Writer's block vs. writer's blank

I've been thinking this weekend about why I don't plunge back into the new novel. Do I have writer's block? Do I have writer's blank? What's the difference?

I suffer very little from writer's block, which I define as a psychological state of discouragement, boredom, or restlessness. I suffer very little from this perhaps because I keep a variety of projects going. I enjoy writing short fictional prompts and anything can serve as a prompt; a line of poetry, a physical object, a phrase overheard in conversation, a band name on a poster on a telephone pole. I enjoy writing poetry and keep a running list of poetry subjects. And I can always read about writing. I count that as writing work because it not only keeps me informed but usually energizes me to try out some new ideas of my own.

Writer's blank on the other hand is when we don't know where to take the piece next. And I think that's what's happened to me on the current project. My practice is to always leave an obvious next step in my writing so that when I sit down to work on it, I can move right in. Sometimes that's an unfinished scene, sometimes it's a list of revisions or expansions to work on, sometimes it's a kernel of an idea for what is next.

Unfortunately, this isn't what happened the last time I was on writing retreat. I finished the chapters I had in mind and I had one day of retreat left. Knowing I was coming home to a full-tilt work week, I took that last day off and didn't make any notes to myself or leave myself any ideas. So I'm stuck in writer's blank and will need to remedy that with a list of possible new chapters, some verbal character sketches, maybe some discussion with a trusted writing colleague. And I'll start with reading what I have written.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Adventure versus experience

I'm editing a very long novel for a novice writer. He's had a most interesting life and has written a novel about it. Unfortunately, an interesting life with interesting experiences doesn't necessarily make for good fiction. Like many people, he's probably heard quite a few times that his stories are fascinating and they'd make a good book. The first is true, the second is not. Why? Because there's a difference between experience and adventure, a difference between interesting and dramatic.

It is possible to make a great novel out of an interesting life. You go deep into characters, you create conflict and tension, you have a protagonist who is desperate for something and willing to spend his life, or a portion of it, trying to get it. But just writing your own life with someone else's name on it isn't enough.

My client doesn't have big aspirations for his book. I think he wants to have recorded his experiences and it was probably a lot more fun to do so with fictional characters than himself. While I learned a lot writing my memoir, I have had way more fun writing fiction. So I don't blame him.

I'm polishing his writing to be more readable and he's pleased with the result. He can self-publish some copies that may be of interest to others who shared his experiences. And it's a very worthwhile creative endeavor. There's a place for that kind of writing in our world and I applaud his intentions. 

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Am I a poet?

I spent Writing Friday this week reading and thinking about poetry. It's been on my list of creative things to do but I also knew that it was avoidance of the new novel. I haven't worked at all on the Frankie story since I came back from the July 4 writing retreat. And when I get away from a project too long, I get cold feet. Or maybe it's just a loss of momentum, like how hard it is to go back to the gym when you've been off sick for a week.

But I enjoyed reading the poems I had written in my 100 poem challenge and I spent time dividing them into the best, workable, and way too personal. Then I started to work my way through the maze of the Poet's Market, a giant compendium of journals and magazines that publish poems, contests that take manuscripts and collections, and publishers of collections. It was overwhelming and I realized that I am way too early in my life as a poet to do much marketing yet. That I need to write more, read more, and hone my craft. And that's okay.

I'm looking for another 100 project and poems might just be it.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Making commitments, living into your integrity

My brother-in-law, David Cobb (, stopped by today to see the pastel painting I had done of one of his photographs. You may remember that on my list of 50 creative projects was a fairly easy one: asking David for some of his landscapes to paint from. He promptly emailed me four lovely ones and so when I went to the last painting class of the term, I took along a goregous photo of the Badlands and their painted hills at dawn.

After we talked about that photo, I showed him some of the other pastels I've done this summer and some of the acrylics, and he asked me how I found the time for it. He knows I lead a pretty busy life and I still work close to full time.

"I make commitments," I said. And because it's really important to me to keep my word, I figure out a way to write and paint and do the things I say I want to do. In Diane DeMarco-Barrett's fun book, Pen on Fire, she encourages busy women to steal moments for writing. That wouldn't satisfy me--I want more time than that. So I make a commitment, like 100 poems or 100 prompts or completing my novel by Aug 1, and I announce that commitment to my creative community, and I make it happen. It's not always easy and in the spirit of William Stafford, I often have to "lower my standards."

But I know only too well that whatever we have on our agendas will fill up the day and so putting my creative desires on that agenda is really important to me.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Getting the meaning of denouement

Denouement is the French word for the final scenes of a play or novel. In English, we call it the climax, I think, because we're keen on the giant cymbal crashing of the final events. But denouement comes from the verb that means to unknot or untie, and it focuses on resolving all the unexplained mysteries. And that's what I've been working on the last two Writing Fridays for my novel, Fog of Dead Souls. How did the killer have the deadman's sperm? How did he track the college professor? How did the detective follow her?

My experienced mystery writing reader also had questions about loose ends and had said that the final scene was unsatisfying so I've spent today rewriting it and really coming to understand my killer in a way I hadn't before. It was fun writing and fun thinking. When Ed first suggested I delve into his motivation, I balked. I hadn't wanted to go to that dark place (as I imagined it to be). But like so many things in writing, it turned out not to be that way at all. And I grew to like the killer for his honesty and wit.

I also wrote a synopsis today and that was helpful for seeing all the parts of the plot and I think it was a good preparation for rewriting the ending. Though when you're writing a novel that runs two parallel stories in different time frames, it's a big tricky. I'm getting these last pieces in order so I can send off the requested pages to the agents I met two weeks ago. As I worked on the synopsis, I could see other places where I might take the story deeper, but I think I'll see what these agents have to say before I work on it any further.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A big list that was fun to make

 If you've read my blog for any length of time, you know I like lists. So when a member of my creativity group, the Monday Muses, sent around her list of ways to rejuvenate her art life, I decided to take on the challenge myself and come up with 50 possible things I could do that would be fun. Here's my list. Anybody want to take on the challenge?

July 29, 2011

1. Do a study of Van Gogh works with the books I have
2. Read in all the writing books I have and discard those that aren’t useful.
3. Write another 100 poems
4. Pick 10 prompts already written and write a short story for each one.
5. Choose one of my drawing exercise books and do the exercises.
6. Draw 15 minutes a day for 100 days.
7. Have a portfolio sale of my art.
8. Work on the third novel.
9. Create a chapbook from the first 100 poems.
10. Do a workshop with Jeanne Carbonetti
11. Enter 10 poetry contests
12. Read and learn about the poetry market
13. Read and learn about the short story market
14. Use some of my less successful pastels in collages
15. Commit to 4 pastels a month or 4 acrylics
16. Learn the color wheel and color theory
17. Read Van Gogh’s letters
18. Read Robert Henri.
19. Send another 20 pitches for novel #1
20. Do a pastel of the fence for the cover of novel #1
21. Collage with the photos of my own art work that Dave did
22. Assemble my easel horse.
23. Read and do the Poet’s Portable Workshop
24. Read Poemcrazy and other books on poetry that I own
25. Read and do Drawing with Children
26. Read and do Drawing on the Artist within
27. Listen to music and paint from within me
28. Work through Maisel’s Book of Creativity
29. Write a creativity manifesto
30. Do 10 artist dates a la Julia Cameron
31. Do the Artist’s Way again, perhaps in a group
32. Make a set of creative soul collages
33. Write a group (a book?) of prayers and meditations for creatives
34. Draw or paint from photos in my family albums
35. Commit to a 90-day creativity program and blog about it every day for the 90 days.
36. Do a study of style using Tufte’s book and Perrine’s book
37. Schedule time for dreaming and doodling a couple of times a week.
38. Schedule a lot of art play dates.
39. Read the Vocabula website 1-2 times a week for a set period of time
40. Listen to music and look at art in my books
41. Learn to use my digital camera well and easily, both shooting and uploading
42. Learn to print and manipulate photos on my printer
43. Ask David for some landscape photos for Christmas to paint from
44. Practice enough to get over my fears about drawing figures and faces.
45. Fool around with water colors
46. Take a poetry workshop
47. Take a short story workshop
48. Develop a comfortable confidence with line
49. Ask Ingrid about getting the Charles Belle book for me
50. Read through my blog posts to see if there’s a book in there

Friday, August 12, 2011

Celebrating 100 prompts written

Last night at Second Thursday Writers, I wrote the 100th prompt in the series I had committed to. I had started it in early May hoping to come up with some good story starts for the next novel, and I did. As I've said in this blog, I've also used the prompt writings to write and learn more about the characters in the new novel, although much of that may never show up in the manuscript. I like having these writing challenges; it helps me keep at my craft and keep creating, and the prompts are really helpful for continuing to hone my skills as a story-teller.

Here's one of my favorites from the 100:

Purple Tulips

When Jake introduce me to the young woman he'd brought to the funeral, I'd have sworn he said her name was Purple Tulips. That wasn't it, of course, but it was Czech or Serbian and had four sylllables and started with P and wasn't something I could pronounce. She said everyone called her Pat but that didn't fit her at all,  so I thought of her all afternoon as Purple Tulips.

Jake was clearly smitten with her and I was a wee bit jealous. Jake and I had been lovers for nearly a year, and we'd had a lovely time until the lust waned. I'd have been happy to see our passion morph into a steadier flame, but Jake got restless and met Anna and I found Paul and he and I married and had four happy years until the cancer won.

Purple Tulips was 10 or more years younger than Jake, which probably suited him. He was a man who loved going more than doing, and I was a sitter, a lounger, a reader. I hoped Purple Tulips liked to hike and travel.

She stood by herself a lot that afternoon, and I wondered if I should go over and speak with her and make her feel welcome, but it didn't seem my place. My old self would have done it, but the widow I was now had a rebel streak that hadn't been available to me before and so I turned away and was done with them both.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

good news, more good news, and work to do

My experience at Willamette Writers Conference last weekend was a good one. I've learned to do only one or two workshops a day. That's all the new information I can absorb. I attended two good workshops by Eric Witchey, including a very thought-provoking one on Myth in Story that will linger in my thinking.

I also had three interviews with agents where I was able to pitch my novel. All of the interviews went well. All three agents were intrigued enough by what I told them of the story that they asked me to send pages (10, 50, and the whole thing, respectively). I felt very relaxed in the pitches for two reasons. I know now more than ever that finding an agent or publisher is a crap shoot and I so expected nothing except a chance to practice and I practiced like crazy with every friend I met, every stranger I talked to. I even went to the free pitch practice area and gave it to someone there. So I felt pretty comfortable.

Then on Sunday, when I got home, my friend Ed Goldberg called. He'd finished his read and edit of the manuscript and had comments for me. Some were reassuring (good characters, good dialog, very well written) and some gave me work to do. He suggested some additional scenes and character complications, advised me to beef up the ending, and do some needed police research. While it's hard to give up my idea that the book was done, his suggestions make good sense and won't take more than a couple of weeks to complete.

Interestingly, the lunch speaker, a film writer, talked about the three things needed for a successful career: practice, an open mind to criticism and suggestion, and persistence. So I'm taking those on.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Introversion and pitching your book

Two years ago I was gungho to sell my first novel. And I was terrified of pitching it to agents. Not because I didn't believe in my book but because one-on-one experiences with a stranger is my idea of a nightmare. I'd rather get up and ad lib about my sex life to 1000 people than meet a stranger and have to have a conversation.

So tomorrow, when I go to Willamette Writers conference, I'm going with as close to zero expectations as I can get. I'm psyching myself to look for an agent that suits me rather going with proverbial hat in hand and relinquishing all my personal power. I feel comfortable talking about my book and I like this book a lot and am confident it can sell. It would be lovely if one of the three agents I am going to talk to is also interested. But if not, so be it.

I still expect to be nervous but I don't expect to be disappointed and frustrated that way I was two years ago. I'm holding it lightly this time!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Pitching my mystery

This weekend is the Willamette Writers Conference and I've paid to meet with three agents to pitch my mystery novel. Two years ago I did the same thing with my first novel and it was a most discouraging experience. That first novel, which I still think is pretty good, never really got pitched. When I told each of the three women that my protagonist was a man and that my story was aimed at women, they said they weren't interested. Because one woman wasn't the main character, it didn't fit romance, or chick lit, or women's lit and they weren't even interested in taking a look. Two of them were polite about it, one of them wasn't. And for my tender writer's ego, that face-to-face rejection was really difficult.

So why have I signed up to do this torture again? Good question and one that I'm asking myself this morning. Last time, I spent weeks perfecting my pitch. Even went to an expensive workshop to learn how to do it right. But doing it right and having a book that fits a certain expectation are two different experiences. This time I have a book that fits a genre. It's a mystery and it has a woman protagonist. And I think it is a much better book than the first one. I'm pitching to three women who say they are looking for mysteries. So maybe it will go better.

And maybe the fact that I haven't yet written my pitch or my synopsis means that I'm more relaxed about it all. Then again, maybe I'm just as scared.

Friday, July 29, 2011

The goat died of cirrhosis

I've been writing brief prompts since 2002. Some of my writer friends also do prompts and if you spend any amount of time with me, you know that I'm always looking for great prompts to write from. Today at Writing Friday lunch, my friend Eileen announced that she was going to be reading her poems at a goat roast. After the inevitable jokes about saying deprecating remarks about goats, Sue told a story about an alcoholic goat from her past, a goat who loved beer and who died of cirrhosis of the liver. A prompt if I ever heard one.

I'm closing in on completing the 100-prompt challenge I set for myself. Such challenges are usually a do-one-a-day idea to keep us writing. Write a poem a day. Write a chapter a day. Write a prompt a day. But as I have said before, in spite of my rather overdeveloped sense of personal responsibility and discipline, I rebel at the tyranny of once-a-day practices (except brushing my teeth and journaling) so I tend to follow through on these writing ideas in my own fashion. This morning I wrote 6 prompts. Three of them revolved around an interesting new character named Muriel, who was last seen at the bowling alley Friday night (prompt was "last seen"). Then I wrote a personal story about the one night I spent in Montreal and two other fictional bits with new characters. I'm pretty restless today and if it hadn't been Writing Friday and if Pam hadn't wanted to use my computer for a while, I might have been in my office working and pretending to write. As it was, I sat out on terrace in the cool summer quiet and kept asking myself to sit still and I wrote those prompts. I stayed at it long enough to get past the obligation and into the stream of things. So glad I did.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Making revisions

At Writing Friday this past week, I spent the day on my mystery novel, making deeper revisions and considering the suggestions of my early readers. Some of the ideas didn't resonate with me. One reader thought I made too many references to food but when I read all those passages, they seemed okay to me. I hadn't fallen into the amateur's need to describe food in detail and I noticed that most of my food references had to do with smell. "Ellie woke to the sounds of Danny fixing dinner, to the smell of meat and garlic." And I rather like that way of putting readers in touch with the senses.

A second suggestion had to do with using people's names in dialog. In one embarrassingly long interchange, I had my two policemen using each other's names over and over and I could see how stilted it sounded. And I found other places where I had included the name. But even though Story Engineer Larry Brooks, in a recent post, advised against ever using a name in dialog, there were a few places where I decided to leave them. In each case, there was something serious going on and something emphatic. "Listen, Ellie, it's just not going to work." And I realized I would do that naturally in my own speech patterns and so I left them in.

Next, I increased the creepiness factor by inserting my psychopath in two small ways earlier in the book. I'm very pleased with how I resolved this suggestion and think it works well.

That left two more substantial considerations to deal with. First was rewriting the climax so that my tired hero had a bigger place in the rescue of his beloved. No solution immediately came to mind but I have let myself mull it over (I'm a great believer in the work of the unconscious mind to solve problems), and I came up with something that I think is going to work without a complete rearrangement.

Second is rethinking my heroine's relationship with her husband, whom she does not yet love. Can she? Will she? In four or five places in the novel, she has interior dialog about this but for some reason, my readers did not find that enough. Now I need to go back, print out those pages, read them through, and delve deeper into her motivation, her longing, and her reluctance.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Revisions and readers' comments

This week I'm sitting with which revisions to attend to that have arisen out of the comments of my five early readers. Last Friday at Writer's retreat day, I made all the small changes: typos, missing letters, double punctuation, and a few sentences that my wise writer friend Jan pointed out were superfluous. Now comes the bigger task. Does Danny's death go by too fast? Do I need to explain how Hansen's daughter has computer hacking skills? Did I make too many references to food? (Can there even be too many references to food? :) Are there enough physical beats in some of the dialogs? Does the climax of the plot need to be slowed down?

The easiest ones are those glitches perceived by more than one reader. Those most likely need my attention. But there are some thoughtful ideas from only one reader and she's an excellent writer and a discerning reader. Do I take her advice? Can I listen to my own intuition and creative self and see if that resonates with me first?

I guess the real question is if I can slow down enough to be thoughtful about this when I want to be done with this book and move back into the novel I started last month on the big retreat.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Using prompts to serve your fiction

I've been writing 100 prompts just to keep my creative mind loose and active and also to give myself some story starts for the third novel. I had written a prompt in January on retreat that has stuck with me and I suspected it would be part of the novel, maybe even the beginning. But the very first one of the 100, called "Road Trip," turned into the beginning, and on retreat I started from it and wrote chapters. However, others of these prompts are seeming relevant. While I was on retreat this past month, I found myself writing more prompts around some of the characters and using those in chapters.

And I saw for the first time how this prompt exercise can more directly serve my novels by letting me explore issues for 10-15 minutes around the characters, their back story, their hopes and dreams, their obstacles and challenges, their families. I have about 20 more prompts to write of the 100 and I don't expect they will all serve the novel but I am open to that if it happens.

I've written before about Judy Reeves' marvelous Writer's Book of Days, which really got me started with prompts. Judy has put out a second edition with revisions and new prompts, so if this idea of short daily fiction appeals to you, either as a genre of its own or as a skill-building tool, I highly recommend it.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Rejuvenated from the writing retreat

I returned home from the 9-day writing retreat on Thursday afternoon and plunged back into the paid-work life yesterday. I've a lot of work ahead and I'm very grateful as there have been some quite lean times this year so far. At the same time, I've come back quite rejuvenated about my creative life. I'm winding up the 100 fictional prompts (wrote #77 and 78 today). I wrote 7 chapters on novel #3. I got some excellent feedback on novel #2 and am ready to do the third draft. I also feel the tug of poetry. So my challenge over the next couple of months is to figure out how to balance hours needed for paid work and hours wanted for creative work.

After retreats in the past, I've often come home to a lull in paid work as I've finished up projects before I left. But not this time. And after retreats in the past, I've come home with one creative project to work on. And the enthusiasm to carry me through. This time I have lots of work and lots of projects, so it will be an interesting experiment to see if I can keep my goal of spacious living, work a fair amount, and write a fair amount. May need to redefine "spacious."

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Clarity arrives with feedback

Two long-time writing friends have read my novel during this retreat and last night I sat down with them to get feedback. It was exactly what I needed to hear at this stage. I'd gotten enthusiastic feedback from two other friends (not writers) and from my sister, who posed some interesting questions about directions that the book could go in. Now with information from Jan and Tamara, I feel clear about making it the best mystery I can at this point and letting the idea of literary fiction go for the moment, at least with this story.

They were very clear about the clues and scenes that needed clarifying and willing to talk over tiny details without being critical of style. Sometimes, when we are tempted to give feedback, we focus on things that the author uses that we would never use. That's all well and good, but each author has a right to her own style of expression and suggesting different word choices is an editor's job, not a reader's.

They had many margin notes of what was working and the places that didn't. I feel very empowered by all 5 readers now to move forward. I'm hoping this next draft will be the work of July and that when the Willamette Writers Conference rolls around and I pitch it to three agents, I'll get a nibble and be able to send it right off.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Writing retreat day #5

I'd had a brief impulse before I got to the retreat to track my progress on either the retreat or my new writing project in this blog but I find the time has gone elsewhere. Today is Sunday and we're coming to the end of Day 5. It's been a wonderful time so far. I've written a couple of new prompts every day. I've read a bit in several writing books I brought with me. Some new information about character development to ponder and a nice confirmation that many of the suggestions of these seasoned writers are things I am already doing. I've had some quiet time for meditation and reflection. Long, lovely periods of journal writing and some good long walks.

And I've drafted four chapters on the new novel. The first two came easily. The third a little slower and today I had to wait almost all day for information or inspiration. The planners of novels, who outline it all, do all this invention in one big effort. Pantsers like me, who invent as we go along, have less control. I like the discovery process of this and it's good for me as well because I am by nature an impatient person and I was forced to rest and enjoy myself rather than be gungho productive today.

I've also spent time looking at some of the very interesting stories and characters and events that are showing up in these prompts that I'm writing and some of them seem to want to be in this novel as well. So I'm going to have to give that some thought.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

novel not quite in progress

I'm sitting in the Garden Room at Aldermarsh on Whidbey Island north of Seattle. This is one of my favorite writing spots. A desk built in to the wall. Straight ahead is the lush green half-acre of garden, to my right the alder marsh and the hammock and more lilies than I can count.

I'm here for a luxurious 8 days of writing and this is Day 2. I like it best when I come up here with a project in full steam. Then my tasks are really clear. This time I am both between projects and sitting in indecision about whether to rework novel #2 from a whodunit into a piece of literary fiction or move on to novel #3. I also have poems I want to work with, my 100-prompt project to work on, books on writing to read, books of fiction to read, lots of choices. Probably too many.

So I made a list of possibilities, including some do-very-little items. And I decided to take on writing 3-4 chapters of a new book. It might not turn into anything, and it might. I might decide to stay with it all of the retreat or consider that enough for now.

I took a prompt that I wrote on May 6 (it's actually #1 of the 100 I'm currently writing) called "Road Trip," and I started writing. I like some of what's happening a lot. At the same time, I'm not so sure. So my indecision continues to be at play and I can sit with that.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Feedback from early readers and moving forward

I've had three early readers for my mystery novel. My two friends loved it and had only minor comments. My sister, on the other hand, really liked it but she had some things to say that I've been pondering today. For a whodunit, she said, it's great. "In fact, I'd skip some of the characterization for a whodunit. But, it has the potential for a great piece of literary fiction. Can you take it deeper? Can you develop your own literary voice here?"

Her words have many implications for me. Is it too good for a whodunit and not good enough yet for literary fiction? Do I shop it now and if it doesn't sell, do I rewrite it? But it's a great story and it could be something more. Do I have the writing chops yet to make it more or am I still learning? Do I need more practice novels as I develop my own voice? I think I have a good style but maybe I don't have a solid voice yet.

I'd geared myself up to let go of Ellie and Al and Hansen and move on to the next novel. I've been writing some great story starts from prompts and some intriguing characters and situations have shown up. But maybe Ellie and Al and Hansen aren't done with me yet.

I'm not discouraged by her comments. I find them very intriguing and a good challenge. I want to be a great writer and I want to write literary fiction. Is it time now to step into that?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Short story rules from Kurt Vonnegut

In his book Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction, Vonnegut listed eight rules for writing a short story:

Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.

Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.

Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.

Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.

Start as close to the end as possible.

Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.

Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Editing tip

I was preparing the handouts for my fiction editing workshop at Willamette Writers Conference in August, and read up on a tip from Dave Browne and Rennie King that intrigued me: To make your writing more sophisticated, avoid participial phrases and “as” clauses; instead move your sentences straight into action. 
Here's the example from Browne and King:

Ripping off several large, dripping hunks of burrito, she pulled up a chair to the kitchen table and took a large bite. As she chewed, she wondered who she was maddest at. Clark, she decided.

The doorbell rang. “Heather, it’s me!” boomed a deep, authoritative voice. “Clark!”

Spotting her favorite red silk kimono crumpled on the floor, Heather stooped over and picked it up. As she pulled the kimono over her shoulders, she said a prayer of thanks that the wrinkled look was in.

As her fingers unfastened the chain lock, she wondered how Clark had gotten her address. It wasn’t listed in the telephone book.

“Good evening,” Clark greeted with a small bow as the door swung open.

“The bug man came last week,” Heather said sarcastically, refusing to budge from the door. “I thought he’d exterminated all the pests in my life, but I guessed he missed one. A big one.”

“Funny, very funny,” Clark said, clearly not amused as he leaned an arm against the door jamb. “Now you’d better let me in before I start causing a scene.”

Their edited version:

She pulled up a chair to the kitchen table and took a large bite of the burrito she’d found behind the stacks of Tupperware in the fridge. Who was she maddest? Probably Clark.

The doorbell rang. “Heather, it’s me!”

Clark. It had to be.

Heather sighed, stooped over, and picked up her red silk kimono from the floor. Thank God the wrinkled look was in. But how had Clark gotten her address? It wasn’t listed in the telephone book.

“Good evening.” He made a small bow.

Heather didn’t budge from the door. “The bug man came last week. I thought he’d exterminated all the pests in my life, but I guessed he missed one. A big one.”

“Funny, very funny,” Clarke leaned an arm against the door jamb. “Now you’d better let me in before I start causing a scene.”

This has given me some good ideas for editing of my own work and that of my clients. Let me know if it works for you.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Honoring your own rhythms and style of working

I lead writing support groups, helping writers get started, get going, stay going, get finished. And in two of the groups, we've had conversations lately about finding your own style of working. We creatives are often looking outside ourselves for formulas that will work, and there are plenty of them. We may read that successful authors like David Huddle or William Stafford write/wrote from 4 to 6 am before his family gets up and he goes to work as a college professor. And we try it for a week, cursing the alarm and nodding off over the laptop, and we feel a failure. Or we hear that another author writes every day right after her day job and is putting out novel after novel. But we always go to the gym right after work--it's our only time for exercise. And so we've failed again.

Conventional wisdom says write an hour a day. Write early while you're fresh. But what if an hour a day isn't enough of a time period or an hour in the early morning is hard to come by?

I believed for a ridiculously long time that I was not a real writer and wouldn't ever be one because I didn't write every day in the early morning. But I have a series of well-honed routines in the morning for my spiritual practice and I don't want to change them. They were hard enough to put into place.

Then I began to realize that I just needed to find my own way. My drawing teacher Phil Sylvester often repeats one of his principles: Do whatever makes you want to keep drawing. And that's what I try to do. Do whatever makes me want to keep writing.

Here's what I do:
1. An average of 3 Fridays a month, I write for 5 hours with others in my home.
2. About every 3 months, I spend most of a week on a writing retreat with others. We find an affordable retreat location or rental house and share expenses. We write for 5-6 hours a day in silence but in each other's company.
3. I keep outrageous projects going, challenges to myself. Currently I'm writng 100 one-page fictional bits from prompts (a suggested word or phrase). My end date is Labor Day and I need to write one a day. But I don't. Instead, I write 2-3 several times a week.

Doing this, I've written a lot of poems, a lot of prompts, and two novels in the last 3 years. It's what works for me. What might work for you?

Friday, June 10, 2011

Found that prompt!

This week I wrote about a lost prompt. Shortly afterwards, my friend Jan, who attended the retreat in December, wrote to say she had a prompt with that title. "Keep looking," she said. So I did.

Years ago (2002-2004), I filled several Clairefontaine notebooks with one-page stories and it suddenly occurred to me that maybe I had had one of those books on retreat, maybe thinking I'd write some prompts. I didn't have a clear memory of that but it was a possibility. In the fourth notebook, which had entries only in the beginning section, I found a prompt with a 2010 date and then I found the one I was looking for. I've attached it here. It still sings to me. Could this be the start of novel #3?

Broken Promise

Broken Promise was the name on the sign—it hung down low on one side, unhinged. The weather had cracked the paint, some odd shade of blue. The two words had been crudely burned into the plank in that Boy Scout wood-working way.

There was a chain across the entrance to the road but it was rusted, nearly worn through in spots. She realized she could probably bust it loose with a nudge from the car. A heavy metal gate lay flat on the ground to one side just beyond the chain.

She pulled out her sketchbook and a couple of pencils and drew without stopping, without thinking for about 20 minutes. It wasn’t art she was looking for, it was a vision. When she looked over, she saw that the boy had fallen asleep—she hadn’t heard him slump over, hadn’t heard his breathing change.

She reached in the back for her heavy coat and draped it over him, then quietly opened the car door and stepped out into the slushy snow that had filled the muddy tracks that led to the gate.

Her mother had been born here, somewhere in that space ahead, within walls, under a roof, beyond a door and a window that had stood on the concrete slab that she could see a hundred yards in the distance. The slab stood bare, as if picked clean by vultures or swept thoroughly by the handmaidens of the wind. At one end, there was a neat stack of bricks and a low remnant of chimney.

She had a sudden sense of being watched and she turned slowly towards the stand of trees to the north but there was no one visible. She heard no sound of water running. Her mother had talked of a stream not far from the house where she had played in the water. But her mother’s memory was intermittent now fading like the blue of her eyes.

Charlene wondered if you could see the color fade out of your own eyes.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The frustration of notebooks

Last New Year's on a writing retreat, we wrote from prompts at some of the afternoon circle gatherings. I write one from the prompt Broken Promise. It was a really intriguing story start and I filed it away in my mind as a potential for a longer start or even a novel. Both of the novels I've written so far came from prompts that became short stories that became novels.

For the last week I've been looking for that prompt. I'm ready to start considering the characters and topics for my next novel (novel #2 has been through several drafts and is now with early readers). Long ago I stopped having separate journals for each of my various activities and I keep two journals now. One is my daily journal, where I do my Morning Pages, and the other is my creative/spiritual/idea journal. They travel with me wherever I go and I always do circle work in the creative journal. But reading it cover to cover did not find me that prompt. I've emailed other participants on the retreat to see if anybody remembers the prompt but no one so far has.

I've been tempted to think that I dreamed it, but I remember the characters too vividly, I remember the setting, but there was something about the tone, the voice that I fell into in writing the prompt, that I can't retrieve in my memory. It's been six months, I never reread it, I didn't internalize it, it was just an inspired piece. And haunting enough to be still alive as a possibility. And I don't know how to get it back.

I don't remember having other notebooks with me but I must have done. I'm going to keep searching.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Between-projects slump

Today is Writing Friday, at least 5 hours ahead of me to write and I'm in a slump. I finished draft 2 of novel #2 earlier this week and it's in the hands of two trusted early readers. No feedback yet. There are a number of things I could do. Write a number of blog posts so I have a stockpile for busy weeks. Write prompts in my fiction notebook. Go through my 100 poems and begin to revise and shape them into a collection. I could read in the two new technique and style books I have. I could write some more poetry. I could write a short story. I could take notes for a nonfiction book on intentional living.

But in my creative heart of hearts, I want to be deep in the writing of a novel, moving forward in a story that is unfolding as I write it. Hooked by characters and circumstances and crafting marvelous detailed sentences that please me. So I'm going to honor that impulse and spend at least part of the day going over my big notebook of story starts and seeing if any of them speak to me. I've one notebook from 6 or 7 years ago that I may not have harvested for ideas. So maybe this is a day of sitting, ruminating, thinking.

We have sunshine for the first time in forever so maybe I'll go sit outside and get a great idea!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Moving the novel to first readers

Last Friday I spent additional time on my first chapter, then took an informal poll to see whether first-person was more effective or third. The unanimous response was third person, which was the way I was leaning so I felt reassured. I also did a little work on the last chapter and made a couple of reordering decisions but I realized I was tweaking the tiny stuff and that I need to have some reader feedback.

So today, I gave it one more look and then sent it to two trusted readers to see what they think. This is rather nerve-wracking as I want them to find it as intriguing as I do and of course I'm so close to it that I wouldn't be able to tell any more if it didn't work. So now I wait.

I'm ahead of schedule on this, having hoped to finish the second full draft by Aug 1. That means at the upcoming writing retreat, I can turn my attention to the poetry I wrote last winter and do revisions and begin to send some out. Or I can start a third novel, which has way more appeal to me.

In these last couple of months of rewriting and editing, I've missed the creative joy of first draft work, where anything goes and you can let the story lead you on in various directions. And I'm looking forward to getting back to that. I have several ideas for the next book but none have truly grabbed me yet. I'll keep you posted.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Opening chapter dilemmas

We all know that the opening chapter is the most important of the book. If it's the smoothest, the most interesting, the most gripping, the most intriguing, and a whole lot of other superlatives, then it will hook the agent, the publisher, the reader. There's a lot riding on that first writing.

A couple of years ago, I wrote a killer response to a prompt about an older woman who walks into a bar in New Mexico. It had a good zing to it. A few months later, I wrote a short story out of it and it was even better. She meets a cowboy who proposes to her on the spot. It's told first person, the narrator is clever, self-aware, kind of funny, and the end is enigmatic.

I liked it so much that I began to wonder what could happen next for this pair and so I started my second novel. Ellie, the narrator from the first chapter, has many adventures and the book went in a whole different direction than I had anticipated: from romance to mystery and back to romance. Two weeks ago at the beach, I jumped into a second draft. And here comes the dilemma:

The narrator from that much-loved first chapter isn't quite the same woman as in the rest of the book. And since most of the rest of the book precedes the first chapter, she doesn't fit. So I'm in the process of creating (not just rewriting) a new first chapter that fits this book. And it is quite the challenge.

I've decided to write at least two versions: third-person and first-person. And I think I'll do a third version in third person from another character's point of view. I like challenges like this. I know it's really going to stretch me to do this.

Friday, May 20, 2011

100 prompts

I've decided to take on writing 100 prompts (10 minutes of fiction) between now and Labor Day. Here are the 100 prompts I've set for myself. If you're interested in playing this game, find a time most days when you can sit down and write (hand or computer) for 10 minutes a story or story beginning using this idea. I find it works easiest if I include the name of a character in the first sentence. Enjoy!

100 prompts

1. Road trip
2. Ice cream
3. Repetition
4. A key
5. Joni Mitchell
6. Accepting an invitation
7. Scars
8. In the scrapbook
9. It doesn’t work anymore
10. A house nobody lives in
11. Sitting in a car across the way
12. Changing your name
13. The hand that feeds you
14. The wall of not good enough
15. The long way around
16. The weight of sleep
17. The light was impossible
18. A crossroads
19. A stranger
20. The convenience store
21. What was forbidden
22. An expectation of pleasure
23. Mr. Bear
24. In the mirror
25. A map of his body
26. Drinking ice water in front of the heater
27. What she asked for
28. The last bicycle
29. Burning her hand
30. Grade school karma
31. Communion
32. Reunion
33. It was premature
34. The painting
35. Tired to the bone
36. Anonymous sex, unanimous sex
37. Sleight of hand
38. Out of sight, out of mind
39. If only
40. What if I had…
41. Bliss
42. Out the office window
43. Finding out the truth
44. Getting out the stain
45. Making the bed
46. In the airport
47. Better late than never
48. Doing without tea
49. The elephant under the bed
50. Scissors
51. Tuxedo cat
52. Gold mug
53. The checkbook
54. Sounds in the night
55. Clear sailing
56. The wind came up fast
57. The last of her friends to say something
58. They didn’t speak again
59. A yellow highlighter
60. On the bus headed downtown
61. She passed him at the corner
62. The right way
63. The right of way
64. A really bad idea
65. My pajamas
66. A separation from the beginning
67. Too many doors, not enough windows
68. We suffer well together
69. Falling on her like a stone
70. A dance partner
71. Young and empty
72. A hard thought
73. All the old voices
74. A dress that moved
75. When I broke the crystal on my watch
76. Too slow by half
77. In the studio in the dark
78. Red leather
79. What I thought at that moment
80. Cheerful beyond measure
81. Vision and revision
82. In a little town bar
83. The last aisle I walked down
84. Last seen
85. Moonrise over the coast of Maine
86. Holding it together
87. A toucan hanging from the ceiling
88. Red carnations, oeillets rouges
89. Van Gogh in the afternoon
90. Nicotine and diet soda
91. Overwhelmed by solitude
92. The oldest boy
93. Down the concrete corridor
94. Dancing to the kitchen
95. Restless deep in the bones
96. Wood and windows
97. Like the fools we were
98. Curly and stinky
99. Purple tulips
100 Her father’s disappointment