Gearing up for NaNoWriMo…I think…

Yesterday morning, I woke up and got ready to work on the next chapter of Willow. I checked email first, which I usually chide myself not to do, but I couldn’t help it. It’s second nature. Imagine my surprise when I got an email saying only two more days till NaNoWriMo…

Oh yeah. I did sign for that, didn’t I?

No, of course I knew about it. It’s been all over the writing boards (Who’s doing NaNoWriMo this year? I am! I am!) People have been going nuts over it. (It’s a week before NaNo and I still don’t have a plot! Help!!!!) It’s almost as if a famous person is coming to visit your home for a whole month, and you’re not going to do anything except be a willing slave for him while he gobbles up your food and time. (I plan to do several all-nighters during Nano…especially during Thanksgiving!)

Hmm…it’s weird. Ever since my hubby got his job, I’ve been less stressed over it. I can positively say I’ve been less stressed overall, in fact. Maybe I’m not terribly excited over it because I haven’t spent much time at the NaNoWriMo website. One of the big things about NaNoWriMo is community, and up to this point, I’ve been more or less a wallflower, ducking my head in from time to time to see what the buzz is about.

But I think the real reason why I’m not excited is that…well…I’ve been writing. Not just on Willow, but on other things as well. There’s a couple of essays that I need to send off today so I don’t worry about them in November, so I’ve been working my butt off on those. I’ve also been working on a short story whose deadline is in the middle of November. I don’t know if I’ll be able to finish it without going back on my promise to keep November a Willow month. Maybe I ought to pull an all-nighter after all…

Ah well. I am holding off on starting a new chapter of Willow until tomorrow. I’ll send off the essays and spend today prepping myself. Maybe I’ll even venture further into the NaNoWriMo forums. You know, linger by the punchbowl, leave a couple of business cards. Introduce myself casually to the guy swinging off the chandelier…

Book Review: The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror 18th annual collection

I like reading short story anthologies, particularly fantasy ones. It keeps me on my toes as to what makes a great story, and while I like reading them, I also analyze them as to what got them into the book in the first place.

That said, I just finished the 2004 Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. I was pretty disappointed with this one. Most of the stories didn’t grab me, and the ones I did read were expletive-laden or weird (and in one case, one story, Revenge of the Calico Cat by Stephen Chapman had me curled up in a fetal position. Horrible story about stuffed animals doing some…not so savory things…oh, those poor little dollies….)

But there were a couple of gems. The anthology started off with Gregory Maguire’s Oakthing, which I liked better than his Wicked novel. Speir-Bhan by Tanith Lee, about a female musician taking up a task her uncle failed to do was nice and haunting. Posteretaceous Era by D. Ellis Dickerson, about two dinosaurs meeting in the modern age, was funny and sad at the same time. Clownette, by Terry Dowling, about a moving spot on the wall, was spooky (a nice read for Halloween). Singing my Sister Down by Margo Lanagan, about a woman condemned to death by tar sinking, was surprisingly moving. On the flip side, however, was The Specialist by Alison Smith, about a woman with an unexplained arctic region in her…uh…nether regions…reading that was hilarious.

I think my favorite tale, though, out of the whole anthology was Tales from the City of Seams by Greg Van Eekhout. It actually was a bunch of smaller vignettes about various things: teenage ghosts making out, a customer beguiled by lust and croissaints, tiny mermaids sold like aquarium fish, and an epic balloon war. I think he just wrote a bunch of flash stories and strung them together in a common theme that works very well. It made for an entertaining story.

Earlier this year, I read the 2003 collection. I was far more impressed with that one. The stories in this one pales in comparison. This book gets two oakthings out of five, and the next time someone writes a story about a rampaging godlike Raggedy Ann/Andy reprimanding some very naughty stuffed animals, please let me know so I can put it on my Do-Not-Read list. Excuse me…I’m going to scrub my brain now…

Upon Daniel finally learning to jump…

It is this space…

the few inches

between feet and concrete.

A gap of nothingness which startles me:

Realizing

That for a fleeting moment

mere milliseconds

he ignores gravity itself

to launch his body

just a little closer

to the sky…

Eliminating Infodumps in Willow Prologue

This week, instead of starting a new chapter of Willow, I’ve decided to rewrite my prologue. This will be the third rewrite of the beginning of my book, but I think I’ve figured out how to write a strong opening without using so much infodumping. Prologues are actually debatable in the writing universe. Some people feel they’re unnecessary, as many amateurs use the prologue as a way to infodump stuff that could be shown rather than told.

What is an infodump? Infodumping is a term where you take a break from the narrative to present facts about something in a story. Here, I’ll show you. This is taken from the first draft of the prologue and it describes a Dyrian named Tal. I had wanted to show how Tal differed from the people he lived among:

Tall, graceful, and spry, their skin black as a moonless night, the Dyrians’ interest leaned more towards paintings and the arts. Their most prized and recognizable feature was a long, white, silky lock of hair that curled amidst their otherwise wiry hair. This lock, the coulious, had a very special meaning in Dyrian folklore, for it was said to be a symbol of it’s wearer’s soul, his personality and spirit. It was revered highly among the Dyrians, who would often offer single threads of their coulious to each other as gifts from their souls.

Now imagine several paragraphs like that lumped together all throughout the chapter. When I first wrote that, I wanted to show that although Dyrians are similar to Africans in their color and culture, there was one thing that set them apart, and that would be the coulious. The problem in this is that the action of the story halts so we can get an anthropology lesson. Not good when you want to draw people into your story. You don’t want them to get bored right away.

When I rewrote it the second time, I broke up the above information and wove it into the story rather than dumping it all at once:

“True, but you have an excuse. Do you see me with a wife, two children, and a third on the way? And I’ve yet to reach my twenty-third year!” Tal squatted beside the hearth and rubbed his hands. The flickering light caught the only other brightness upon him–his coulious, a white, silky lock of hair planted amidst his otherwise black moss-wiry hair. Tal’s in particular was long enough to be braided down the left side of his face.

Better. We learn about who Tal is in bits and pieces. Here’s a section further down.

Diosk remained at the door a heartbeat longer before he closed it. He then examined the object in his hand and saw that it was a willow twig, its leaves still attached, twisted cunningly into a small heart. Intertwined among the leaves were three strands of silky white hair. “He bound this with hairs from his coulious,” he muttered, awestruck. He had never known Tal to take hairs from his coulious, not unless it was for something very, very serious. It was almost as if Tal had willingly given part of his soul to Diosk. He stroked the hair lightly, feeling suddenly humbled.

And here, we learn the importance of the coulious. It’s from the POV of Diosk, but here, it’s much more meaningful rather than us being just told that the coulious is highly honored among Dyrians.

Last week, I got an idea to get rid of all the infodumps in the prologue so it would be more action packed. After outlining it a bit, I realized that I’d better just sit down and write it out rather than wait until the entire book is done. So that’s my goal for this week: to rewrite the prologue to make it stronger, to get rid of all those infodumps so I can weave them more into the story. I want to reveal facts slowly to the reader, let them discover and experience the world of Dormis along with the characters.

You, on the other hand, do have to wait until the book’s finished to see it. Give me time. I’m working as fast as I can. 🙂

My writing…space?

It’s not what you call a room of your own.

DRtable

In fact, I don’t really have a special room to call my own. My office is wherever I can set my laptop: Kitchen. Dining room. Staircase. Where I plop my fanny down, that’s where I do my writing.

The family room is my favorite spot. Yeah, it faces the TV, but it also faces our backyard, where I can gaze out to the creek quietly bubbling by. Okay. Really, it’s more of a retention pond, one that’s nearly overflowing with goose poop. But I’m a writer. I can bend reality that way anytime I want.

I got to thinking when I read Barbara DeMarco-Barrett posted on her Pen on Fire blog about writing spaces. That got me to wondering, so I set out to take pictures of what I saw when I sit down to write.

Only problem is, there’s evidence of Daniel everywhere. He’s in the toys strewn all over the family room. He’s in the kitchen where I still need to wipe off the table from our lunch of toast and jelly. And if Daniel’s not everywhere, then my hubby is. Granted, though, things have gotten better with him. Now when I look into my living room, I don’t see 40 computers lying everywhere. Graciously, he has crammed all that into his home office. And unless I find a way to get a tiny nook in there amid all the electronics, I’m not writing in there.

So there’s not much I can really call ‘my space’. Depressed, I slumped back to the dining room table, when, oh yes…my tea’s ready. It’s a new blend I just got at Teavana in Woodfield Mall. Macademia lswritingspace.jpgRooibos. Mmmmmm….I fix it up, grab my knitting, which I do when I’m trying to figure out what to write next, and my writing journal when I get the urge to write longhand. Juggling all this usually can be disastrous, but what I like to do is carry the stuff around in a basket when I write…

Wait a second. Hold the phone, a thought has just come through! Standby…

This ‘writing space’ thing. Really, what is a writing space? It’s what makes a writer get into the mode of writing, the ‘okay-now-it’s-time-to-get-into-working-mode-here’ mentality. We stay-at-home writers, we don’t have the daily commute to the office to get us geared up. For some, it involves going into a home office and closing the door. But for those others, like me, we improvise. We put on hats and stick a sign in front of us saying “Go away. Writing.” We go through routines that tell our bodies, “No more playing. It’s time to write.” And for me, when I have my tea and my personal basket of writing tools, I have an automatic writing space I can take wherever I go, no matter what room I’m in–kitchen, dining room, bedroom, or even at the library or Panera.

So…I present to you, my writing space. I do have to say though, I still don’t mind having a room of my own one day. I’ve been wanting to hang my Sailor Moon poster up for a long, long time…

Heeeeeyyyy Yoouu Guuuuuuyyyyyyyyyysssssssssss!!!!!!! It’s the Electric Company!

So last month, I stumbled upon the Best of the Electric Company boxset at our library. It took a while for me to get it, but I finally did.

You remember the Electric Company, right? Done by the makers of Sesame Street, ran in the 70s, had funky music and stars like Morgan Freeman and Rita Moreno? Come on, when was the last time you saw it?

Watching this made me realize something–I missed out on whole lot. I’m not talking about missing the earlier shows–the series debuted in 1971, the year I was born. I didn’t even recognize the show’s openings until I reached the 5th season, which started around ’76. But in the show, they used a lot of recycled skits and songs, so a lot of those I recognized.

What I missed out on was the style and humor. Back then, sitting crosslegged in front of the TV, I think most of those jokes flew way over my head. I was more interested in how ‘t’ and ‘r’ went together to make the sounds ‘tr’.

There’s a skit where Easy Reader (remember him? Let me refresh your memory: Morgan Freeman with an afro, singing, “Easy Reader, that’s my name. Uh…uh…uh…/Reading, reading, that’s my game. Uh…uh…uh…” Dude, are people even allowed to go ‘uh…uh…uh…’ on kid shows anymore?) He’s discussing the word ‘if’ and telling us kids to keep a watch for it in the show. Then he says he’s going to finish reading his book, which happens to be about a shark. Just before the scene ends, he says nonchalant, “Oh. Looks like the shark is about to join Congress.” Five-year-old me pretty much blips that part from her mind, because it makes no sense whatsoever.

Thirty years later…I get it. And Daniel walks in to see his mommy rolling on the floor, laughing her fool head off.

(Incidentally, for years when I was a kid, I used to think that my father actually moonlighted on the show. I never realized that Morgan Freeman and my father were, in fact, two separate people, not until I grew older, anyway. After watching TEC, with the afro and the ‘outasight’ attitude, I can honestly say that my father is a dead ringer for Morgan Freeman. It’s even worse when my son, seeing these episodes for the first time, points to the screen and says “Pop-pop”, whenever Morgan is on. Freaky.)

See, this is why you have to get this. Everyone watched the Electric Company when they were kids. And I do believe we learned a lot from it (everyone once in a while the song, “I have lived all my life upside down/I’m the king in an upside down town…) But did you know that Letterman was narrated by Joan Rivers? That the voice of Letterman was Gene Wilder? That the cats who sang backup in the song, “Hey Diddle Diddle” weren’t fat–they just had huge tails?

And you gotta love the cast. Yes, there’s Morgan and Rita, yeah, yeah. But there was also Judy Graubart, who was Julia of the Jungle (with Paul the Gorilla! Remember him? Remember him?) And Hattie Winston, who made my day when I saw her skit as she tried to sleep, but couldn’t because of all the noises, so she groans, “Clang, clunk, clatter, click, clink, clank, clippety-clop. Clang, clunk, clatter, click, clink, clank, I wish it would STOP!” It’s interesting to note that they actually had quite the diverse cast, and in some skits, they had interracial couples. No hoopla, nothing like “Ooh! We’re quite diverse!”

Man…I can’t even write a decent review of this, because all my memories are flooding back from this show. I do know one thing: as Daniel stares at as an animated kid puts on his shoes to the song “I put my right shoe right on (RIGHT ON!), I put my left shoe right on (RIGHT ON!). I turn the TV right on (RIGHT ON!). Going to put the kettle on, too, RIGHT ON!”, I realize that this is what I want my kid to watch when he starts learning how to read.

The show may be dated in the 70s, but even today, it still rocks. As Mel Mounds, disc jockey, would say, “Heavy, heavy, heavy. Out of sighteous!” Sighteous…is that even a word?! I love The Electric Company.

Get the full wiki description of it here.

Let’s Get Started: Ready, Steady, GO!

Perhaps you’ve been wondering why this blog has been unusually quiet these past couple of days. Well, I’ve been in a bit of a tizzy as of late. You see, my husband, has been offered a full-time job, with benefits.

Up until now, he’s been contracting, which has been good, but with no benefits…well…It’s amazing how God protected and cared for us. When I had Daniel and decided to stay home, God provided the means to do that. We never went hungry, never lost our housing, never got seriously ill. Always paid our bills. But still, there were many times when I wondered if I should shelve the dream of becoming a writer and go back to work full-time.

I know, I know. If I was a “true” writer, I’d find a way to make it happen: write during lunch hours, in the early morning, blah, blah, blickety blah. But come on. You know and I know that for me, it wouldn’t work. I worked full-time for six years and barely put any words down on paper. I loved my job so much that I threw all my creative work into it. My regular writing suffered because of it–I don’t think I even journaled during those years.

Now, it could be that if I did have to go back to work, I’d find a way now that the urge to write flows through my veins. Perhaps I would’ve gotten a crummy job, one I couldn’t wait to find quiet moments to whip out paper and pen and scribble furiously. But that wouldn’t be fair to my employers. What if we decided to have another child? I would only work for a little while, then have to come back home again. And then there’s the family aspect, which…hold on, I’m now venturing into the whining zone. The point is, there are tons of mother writers out there who work full-time, take care of their families, and still write best-selling novels. I admire them. I envy them. I just don’t think I can be like them.

That’s why I’d been praying and seeking God’s will in writing. Many, many times I told him, “Look, if you want me to do this, full-time, you gotta give my hubby something better in the job market.” And for four years, I prayed that prayer, not hearing much of anything except a vague Don’t worry. Just keep writing. God will take care of things…

And then, a job opportunity for my hubby came. He applied for it. They offered him the position on Friday. Yes, that Friday the 13th….Only one other time has something happened on an auspicious day: that was when Daniel was born on Mother’s Day. Pretty surprising for all of us, but when you consider that before Daniel, I had two miscarriages…Well, you can see why I sometimes feel that God has a wonderful sense of humor.

But this also came just on the heels when I realized that if I’m to get serious about writing Willow, then I need to dedicate more time to it. When my hubby got the position, we talked about a lot of things, and out of the blue, he said, “We can even start thinking about daycare for Daniel next year. Question is, what do you want to do with your time? Did you want to think about working again, or did you want to focus on Willow?”

Uhhhhhh…..

It feels weird. To suddenly have the freedom, the permission to write…to actually work on what I feel God has called me to…frankly, it’s terrifying…

But that’s why I signed up for Nano. To see if I could do this. It’s why I started this blog. To see if I can do this. Yes, it’s going to be frustrating and stressful, and rejection letters will pile up, and there’ll be days when I sit down and what spill from my fingertips should be dunked into the toilet along with Daniel’s poop, and if we do have another child, I’ll have to juggle her (or him…God’s still got that sense of humor going…) while writing, and Daniel will most probably drive me crazy trying to show me what he learned in daycare, and the dishes will pile up and my hubby will need his pants ironed, and I’ll open my email to find another rejection letter…

And something tells me I’m going to be loving every minute of it.

So if you don’t mind, I need to quit this blog and start writing, because when God gives you permission to do something, you better hit the ground running…

Letting Potty Training go for now…

So, in a sense, it has happened.

I’ve actually read a lot of Mommy blogs where they throw up their hands and cry, “I give up!” It’s too hard!” “He won’t do what I say!” “We’re putting her back in diapers!” “I’m such a failure!”

Okay, I’ve rarely read that last one, but I’m pretty sure that’s the gist of all the lamenting.

Well…I’m joining the ranks, but I think for a different reason. After giving this much thought, I have a theory on why Daniel’s not going potty anymore. You see, it has to do with how much new stuff his little mind can hold.

Last week, Daniel learned a new skill. In his brain, a new dendritic branch grew, firing a synapse left instead of right, relaying signals to his left wrist that conveyed the instructions: instead of rattling the handle, why not grasp it, turn it to the right, and see what happens? He obeyed, and to his utter delight he opened his bedroom door. So thrilled was he of his new skill, he proudly showed it off, again and again and again, much to the dismay of his father. (I believe my hubby’s reaction was, “Oh, crap. Now we’ll have to start locking our bedroom door so he won’t get in…”)

Fast forward to this week. Daniel’s crying. He’s on the other side of the bathroom door and he wants his Mommy. So I call out, “Daniel, open the door.” The door remains inexplicably closed. Finally, I turn the knob and Daniel’s tears instantly vanish. “Mommy!”

“Hey kiddo,” I jiggle the knob. “What happened to opening the door?”

He looks at me as if I asked him what the Capital of Spain was, in Swahili. I put his hand on the knob and he jiggles it, then is distracted by his Thomas the train engine and wanders off. Just like that, his new sense of freedom is already forgotten. I call him back over, put his hand on the knob, and turn it with him, and his eyes light up. “Oh yeah! I can open doors now! I’m invincible!”

It takes a while for a toddler to make sense of his world around him. Skills are constantly being learned, then put on the back burner to simmer while new skills are explored. I’ve been always afraid that if we stop teaching Daniel potty training, he’ll completely forget it and we’ll have to start all over again. But so far, it hasn’t been true. We still put him on it when he wakes up, before he takes a nap and before he goes to bed so we can establish the habit of him sitting on it. Sometimes he goes. Sometimes he doesn’t. Sometimes he’ll actually come up to me and go “Pee-pee?” and really does go. Other times (mostly during Elmo), he could care less. But I think that potty-training skill is sitting on the back of his mind, growing, maturing, turning into something that makes more sense to him, and one day, it will click and he’ll finally understand what it’s for.

All toilet training is really an evergoing process. I don’t know why I was hyper about it earlier, but I think because I’ve been duped by all these books and programs that toilet training should take place in a day, or at least a week. If it doesn’t then, YOU PUSHED HIM TOO SOON, YOU STUPID MORON OF A MOTHER! AND NOW SINCE HE FAILED, YOU HAVE FAILED AS WELL!!! SCORPION WINS!!! BABALITY!!!

(Now how did a Mortal Kombat reference get in there….?)

It’s pretty stupid when you think about it. All of us mothers trying to force kids to do something within a few days, instead of giving them time to explore this new skill at their own pace. Geez, I don’t want Daniel to be four years old and in diapers, but on the flip side, I don’t to weep and wail and gnash my teeth whenever Daniel gets another accident. I did that for a week and it gets old fast.

So I’m going to unstress myself and leave Daniel in diapers. We’ll still do the potty songs, we’ll still put him on. When he does go, I’ll give him lots of hugs and kisses. But I think I’ll stop the reward system, because, frankly, I think it’s useless. When Daniel wants to go, he goes, and ain’t no M&M, sticker, or Cheerio target will convince him otherwise. And anyway, the M&Ms we have in the clear pickle jar, well, they smell a lot like candy-coated pickles.

The Autumn Queen is up at Mytholog!

I just learned my poem, The Autumn Queen is up at Mytholog. Head on over, scroll down to poetry and click on the link with my name. The entire issue has a nice autumny motif: I think I’ll brew up some hot tea and find a nice comfy chair to read it in…

And as I write this, snow flakes dance across my window…

To my complete horror, I am falling in love with Autumn.

I didn’t use to be this way. Living in Chicago, you have to get used to the change in temperatures, sometimes that even take place within a week. High in the 80s on Sunday, plunging to low 40s the next. This is Chicago weather.

I can take the high heat. I can take the humidity. But Lord, if the temperature falls below 65, I’m pulling out blankets, and pouring gallons of hot tea down my gullet, and I huddle in the corner of the family room like a withered matriarch, barking out the occasional command so I won’t have to touch my toes to the freezing floor. I don’t like cold.

But as of late, I’ve been looking perversely forward to it, and not just because I’m a tea junkie. For weeks now, I’ve been dreaming of hot stews and warm, crusty bread, pulled fresh from the oven. I’ve been thinking of the days getting shorter, which means lighting candles in high spots around the house and writing to their flickering glow. I crave slower, more melancholy music: Enya, Over the Rhine, piano and soft female voice winding through the house in their haunted melodies. And let’s not forget Daniel’s joy as he rushes through a pile of falling leaves, crunching and scattering beneath his shoes, while my hubby yells, “Hey! Quit that!”, but secretly planning to rake together a large pile to toss Daniel into.

I don’t know if Daniel remembers snow.

The snow right now is rushing down fast, making small white blotches on our back patio. I think I’m going to wake Daniel up and treat him to the first snow of the season. Then I’m going to put on some thick socks, because man, my feet are cold.