A new look, email updates, and other goodies…

As you can see, I’ve been doing a little housecleaning and blog maintenance…

First of all, I changed the theme because I wanted something a little wider. Not to mention you can change themes with WordPress and I am a bit of a geek when it comes to new templates. I’m still toying with the look, but what do you think? Is it nice? Does it grate on your eyes? Want me to try something else? This blog isn’t just for me. I want you to come, settle down, and have a wonderful time at the cafe. So anything that you can’t stand…like that gigantic raisin watching tv in the corner…let me know and I’ll throw him out. Or maybe you do like raisins watching tv and wish you can see him more clearly. I don’t know.

Second, if you go to the now-hugemongous “LaShawn’s Works” tab, you’ll see a picture of yours truly. That was the main reason why I changed the theme in the first place. I needed to get the color just right so it matches with the picture. Actually, I wanted to add the picture to the old theme, but my hubby said that the colors wouldn’t match, and he’s a bigger geek when it comes to these sort of things…

Third, yes…that is a NaNoWriMo banner below. I’m all signed up (If you don’t tell them I’m actually writing a works-in-progress, I won’t either. It will be our secret). When it starts, I’ll tweak the banner a bit so you can go to my profile there.

And last, you can now get email updates of this blog instead of always huffing over to the Cafe via the web. Scroll to the bottom of the right hand column and you’ll see an orange button for Feedblitz. Click on that, and it will take you to a page where you put in your email address, and voila! It’s like getting an email copy of your favorite restaurant’s daily specials, and here at the Cafe in the Woods, we always aim to please.

Where does a writer get her ideas?

On Saturday, at a party, I told someone that I was a writer (which is a big deal because up until last summer, if someone asked me what I did, I would say, “Oh, I stay at home with my son and I do a little writing.” It took me months to work up to, “Oh, I’m a writer and I stay home with my son.” Hmm…I wonder why it’s so hard to claim the title of ‘writer’…?)

Anyway, I told this person that I write and she asked, “Oh! Where do you get your ideas from?”

Pardon me while I squeal and hug myself for a moment. It’s not often that strangers would ask me that. Occasional family members, yes. But not strangers. That means I’m being taken seriously.

(And why is that, huh? Why is it that when one says she’s a writer, some people eyes turn glassy and they respond in a robotic voice, “Oh…that’s nice….” then move on to other things…do I need to have an actual book in hand to prove I’m a writer? Bleh…that’s another blog…)

But back to the idea thing. Frankly, I don’t know. When I was a kid, I played a ‘what if’ game a lot. I’d make up stuff at the top of my head. What would happen if there was an underground land under my house? What if there’s fairies living in our backyard. I still do that. I take a concept and spin it into a story. Sometimes it works. That’s how I wrote my Light as Gossamer story (what if Cinderella’s shoes controlled the outcome of her fate?)

Every once in a while, though, something will hit me out of the blue when I least expect it. I’ll be minding my own business, just your average, ordinary woman, la la la, I’m happy/bored/sad/stressed/angry/put that down, Daniel!/blissful, busy etc. (and if you think that doesn’t happen all at once, well, you haven’t seen me lately, have you?)–when, I see something, or someone says something, or someone does something…

…and it resonates…

That’s the best word I can use to describe it. Something goes off in my head. A light turns on. The world slows down. And instantly, I think That’s a story…

There’s an anime called Honey and Clover, about a bunch of college art students trying to finish their projects, graduate and get a job. It’s like Friends, except they’re Japanese, and they don’t sleep with each other, and they actually have deep discussions about life and reservations about their future…yeeeeeahh, just like Friends. Anyway, there’s a girl on the show who can be considered as an ‘artist’. And every once in a while, something halts her, makes her stare in amazement: a giraffe, a four-leaf clover. She’s mesmerized, can’t take her eyes off the thing. Then she retreats to her room and paints and paints. When the others come in, they see the object she was so taken with, except it’s through her eyes the way she saw the object in her mind.

That’s similar to what happens to me.

It happened yesterday, while I was in church, listening to the sermon. Just listening, minding my own business, when the speaker, talking about how we are dead in sin, and how Christ makes us alive again through grace, and he illustrated this by telling the story of Miss Mann, who was married to Mr. Lore (and apologies, John, if I get the story a bit mixed up. It is early in the morning for me.) who treated her horribly. Then she died, and her marital ties to Lore was broken, leaving her free to marry someone else…

And that phrase revolved in my mind, and suddenly I could see a story, see what it’s about, and I instantly knew this would be a ghost story (yeah, yeah…how can a Christian write about ghosts, blah, blah, blah…and that’s another blog), and I even had a title for it. Now I just had to figure out how to work it…

Folks, that’s what I call divine inspiration. I honestly believe that came from God. It also makes me all warm and tingly because it affirms His call to me as a writer. It doesn’t happen every day. Sometimes, months will go by before I have one of those flashes. But that’s okay. I trust God to bring those resonations to me, and in the meantime, I work on other stuff. That’s what being a writer is all about.

Anyway, the next step in the creative process is that I mull it over. Do some research. Let it sit a bit and let it percolate. Then, when I’m ready, I’ll sit down and write the story out.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Novel writing by NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo is coming up soon.

No…it’s not a new word by Daniel. It’s National Novel Writing Month, which starts in November. For all you non-writers out there, this is an event that dates back to 1999 where writers all over the world plunk their butts down and crank out a 50,000 novel in 30 days. There’s a website where you can log in your daily word counts, and if you finish, you get a spiffy web banner saying you wrote a novel in 30 days. Granted, when the organizers mean write, they actually mean just churning out a bunch of stuff without going back to edit anything. So basically, you start out writing trash, but the goal is to finish something, which will spur you on after the month to edit the entire mess and, hopefully, get something out by the end of the year.

I’ve never done it before (in fact, I only heard about it last year). But even if I did decide to do it, it doesn’t count for works-in-progress. They encourage you to start from scratch with a new story. Even if you don’t finish that story, the goal is still to churn out 50,000 words by the end of November.

No way am I going to start a new novel. I’ve barely got enough on my plate with Willow and the short stories and essays that I’m working on. And add Daniel watching to the mix, and that pretty much fills my platter.

However, I have been thinking, wouldn’t it be nice to just focus on Willow for an entire month?

Currently, I write about 1000 to 1500 words a night on Willow (usually starting around 10pm and finishing (roughly) around midnight). That’s roughly a chapter per week. If I did decide to use the NaNoWriMo premise, I will have to up my word count so that I’m writing 2000 words per day. That’s roughly no problem–it means writing Willow in the daytime when Daniel takes his nap as opposed using that time for short stories/essays. But that also includes weekends and holidays.

Hmmm….that would mean that if I want to participate, I may need to cut down on some of my writing projects. But I did a little organization of my writing projects, and I think it can be done. At this point of time, I’m working on two essays which are due at the end of the month, and three short stories. One story is due in the middle of November, one can be submitted by December, and another doesn’t have a market yet, so I can finish it whenever.

If I set a goal to get those essays and at least one of those stories done by October, I can easily set November as my focus on Willow. And it will be a good time to get ahead. I know most of the story by heart–I just got to crank it out. The only things to worry about it sudden surprises that come up in the story, which might throw me off a bit (and it does happen–a character that I thought would die somehow decided that, no, he will live–throwing off what I’d planned for one of the main characters. But I’m pretty excited to see what he’ll do now). And writing 50,000 words is a drop in the bucket compared to the goal of writing at the most 1,000,000 words.

And yes, I’m well aware that this takes place in November, when I usually start stressing out about Thanksgiving, and which house are we going to go to, and how will my mother’s new husband fit in when we go to Grandma’s, and if my inlaws decide to come to Chicago and stay near us for a month….

Actually…the more I think about it, the more I think November’s an excellent time to hide–er, to work on my novel.

So let the record show: I’m going to do NaNoWriMo next month. Lord help us all…

Book Review: “Mrs Dalloway” by Virginia Woolf

Well, I just finished crawling through the thorny rosebush of this book. Such pretty prose, but oh, so hard to push through…

I wanted to read this book because I want to read the Hours, since I heard that was a great success. I also read her short story “Mrs. Dalloway’s Party” and wanted to read this version of it. And everyone raves about Virginia Woolf, how she is the literary genius of her time. Mrs. Dalloway is supposed to be one of her best works. And I do have to say, yes, as far as her descriptions go, there are lots of of wonderful, brilliant phrases in this book that made me go, Wow!: “A charming woman, Scrope Purvis thought her…a touch of the bird about her, of the jay, blue-green, light, vivacious…””a single figure against the appalling night, or rather, to be accurate, against the stare of this matter-of-fact June morning; soft with the glow of rose petals…” Now that’s some good writing.

But man! Too much!

Woolf writes in a stream-of-consciousness style that is considered avant-garde back then, and that’s what ultimately made me want to throw the book into the pond outside my house. It’s so hard separate what’s happening internally and what’s taking place externally. Thoughts and points of view jump here and there, people show up in the middle of a thought and whoops! Now we’re with so-and-so and Percy here just dined with the duchess and thought ah! what about those socks that I bought Mable and in the meantime a car passes just as Mrs Eleanor steps from the curb and she wonders who is in that car? perhaps the Prime Minister and Percy looked at the car and thought “who can that be? someone important” and he turns to exclaim to Bernice, look there’s a car, and Bernice is ever so unhappy because the socks he brought her are too big and when they were younger Percy always knew her foot size…and then the bells, bells, bells, bells…

Now imagine almost 200 pages of that.

It’s maddening to read. It’s like watching a Robert Altman movie–the camera spinning continually around a character before veering off to another one; characters vaguely step into each others lives and talk on and on about nothing. The literary nuggets pile so much that after page 50 it gets a bit too much. The prose feels bloated; I had to struggle to read through the latter end of the book. I had to read some passages several times to get the context, and even then it doesn’t make sense until you think about it some more (i.e. black statues).

The plot drove one mad: Clarissa Dalloway is preparing for a party, though the story wheels through several other characters, her old boyfriend, Peter, a whole bunch of other characters, and a thread about a dude named Septimus who is going insane. We bounce to Septimus and his wife Rezia a lot. And yes, I get what Woolf is trying to convey what goes on in someone’s mind, how thoughts can flit back and forth from the past, to fears about growing old (and I swear, each time Clarissa moans about growing old, I hear T.S Eliot echo “I shall wear my trousers rolled), but it is just too much. By the time the actual party happens, near the ending of the book, I no longer cared about Peter’s love affair with a married woman in India, or Rezia wishing she was back in Italy, or how Miss Kilman hates Mrs. Dalloway with a “steady & sinister serenity”. I just wanted to be done with the book.

To be fair, I did like the complexity of Clarissa Dalloway. On the surface, she seemed to be an airheaded party woman–much like a 1920s Paris Hilton. But her thoughts are surprisingly dark, introspective, which makes one wonder: what thoughts lurk behind Paris’s pretty face? I did like the passionate scene between her and Peter when he visits her again after coming back from India. And Septimus did grow on me, particularly Rezia’s despair as she goes from doctor to doctor to find out why her husband is mad.

But this book was way too hard to read. Maybe I need to be an Englishwoman to understand it better. Someone in my book club said it read like a neverending ‘run-on sentence’. Someone else said that in today’s world, it probably wouldn’t get printed. I see it more like this was Woolf’s first draft, like she freewrote the entire book and decided, okay, it’s done. In today’s world, someone will probably send it back to her, saying, “Clean this up. It jumps around too much.”

I almost wish I didn’t read it, and I was the one who suggested it for the book club! I think the short story based on this is better (though I have to go back and read it now). I’m almost afraid of Virginia Woolf now…not good considering I still want to read A Room of One’s Own . But if it was anything like this…

This book gets two omnibuses out of five. I understand that a movie was made of this, but I sure hope Robert Altman didn’t direct it.

And just like that, he was Un-potty Trained….

I knew it was too good to be true…

After a week of “Pee pee? Potty?” Daniel has decided, “Wait a second…these pull-ups Mommy’s having me wear? They’re really just diapers! Why should I stop what I’m doing and run to the potty when I can just go right here? Forget the potty. I’m going right here.”

On the one hand, I expected this. The rational side of me stands with the experts and say, “that kids will do a lot of back-sliding and not worry about it. Just keep casually reminding them to go and don’t lose your cool over it. Don’t worry.”

But the emotional side of me kick the experts into orbit and scream “Dang it! I took him to the store today, and he said he had to go, so I ran him to the washroom, got him ready to do his business, and not a drop came out. Didn’t go at all. 20 minutes later, when we got home, I checked, and his pull-up is wet! And it’s been that way all yesterday, too! Is he freaking testing me?! WHY WON’T HE USE THE POTTY!?!?!” It then goes on to smash several rooms in a huff, while the rational side of me sighs and follows behind with the vacuum.

Yes. I realize I’m rapidly becoming one of those mothers who blogs are filled with, “My kid’s a moron! What’s wrong with meeeeeee?!?!?!” But honestly, if we women didn’t have an outlet for these feelings…well…hmm….

Hey, the mailman just pulled up with the new FullMetal Alchemist movie we bought off of Amazon. I think I’ll go soothe my brain with some anime…

“Tipped Off” is up at the Comfort Cafe!

My short devotional, “Tipped Off”, is up at the Comfort Cafe, complete with a headshot of yours truly.

That’s right, I’m steering you to another cafe website. Unlike here, the clientele is mostly for women, but they have good devotionals and wonderful articles, especially for women going through tough times. Think of it as a Christian Spa for the Soul.

Anyway, head on over and check out what they got. Nice way to start off October, eh?