Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Let's Introduce the Band

So it's the year of the Dragon now. Not only that, it's the year of the Water Dragon. Some time ago, I did this painting for the year of the dragon, and I happened to pick a sea dragon as the model. Happy coincidence, I think. 

And now that we are all in our Water Dragon groove, I thought I'd take a moment to meet the band, my back up singers, the mellow balls of fluff and claws that have been there every time I've sat down to write for the past decade or so. 

My leads, Zorro and Lola. Zorro is the one on my lap every time I sit down to post on this blog. Except right now. Now he's sitting on the rug having a bath. Lola on the right has been jamming with us for twelve years now. But she only likes to work at night. Now the sun's out, so she's working on her side project, cataloging the squirrels in the back yard.

Then there's the new guys.



They showed up last summer, ready to join the crew. Ended up getting a place across town, but we still jam with them once in a while. They're good guys. Their sister Ivy is pretty sweet too. She hangs out over here.

And now that I posted a bunch of cat pictures, I'll get back to writing about writing. Promise.

Friday, January 27, 2012

How Much is Not Enough?

Are you in the middle of revising a manuscript too? You are! Well come on in. There's fresh coffee over there, and cream if you like. Pumpkin or Peppermint. We're pretty fancy here. 
Right through here is the office - yep the couch is brand new. And we just redid the floor. Took out the old carpet and put in pretty shiny wood. Right outside is the deck we put in two years ago, and then the patio we did last summer. Right past that, we're going to put in another deck as soon as the weather warms up. Though, heck, it's been a ridiculously warm "winter". We'll probably do a fence, too. Just along the back, where we can grow some vines. It'll be really cute... when it's done. (hint - it will never be done. By the time I finish one project I have a whole list of new projects to get started. Some of them I probably already have started. There are a lot of paint cans and bits of spare wood lying around my house.)

And this is how I feel about revising. There's always something. I'm actually very good at revising - the rewriting part, anyway. I can make huge cuts and changes all day long. I might even look like I know what I'm doing. The trick I have yet to learn is what to keep vs. what to toss or change. i.e. How not to make more work for myself.

It's quite similar to when we bought our house, and before we had even picked up the key, I had a list of things I wanted to change, or fix or demolish entirely. The yard has been straight forward. There was nothing there but  four old trees when we moved in. A nice blank page to start writing my garden. Other things I felt like changing included the kitchen cabinets, the weird black toilet in the spare bathroom, the front porch/ minideck. I had grand visions of new toilets and new decks and cabinets with glass doors... and it was all a monster amount of work.
But gradually, I found ways to work with what was there without getting drastic. Paint on the cabinets, new posts and a coat of stain on the front deck, some white tile and old fashioned wallpaper in the little bathroom, and it all started to fit. It started to look like part of the same house. A more cohesive whole. And it was with tweaking, not ripping everything down to the ground and starting from scratch. It wasn't easier, necessarily. Putting new posts on the front deck wasn't much less work than just replacing the whole thing. But it was cheaper and less wasteful.

I'm learning to apply this thinking to my manuscript revision. It is challenging. I have to see the things that can be salvaged, perhaps with line edits, perhaps with a bit of rearranging, and recognize them from the bits that just need to be axed. Some things are good. Some things are working. Some of the bits need to be left alone. It would be helpful if there was some kind of app that would give me a little slap on the hand when I was about to change something that was working. A little "No, not there. Move along now." But since that doesn't exist, I'll have to do this on my own, like a sucker. I mean writer.

Every part of the buffalo, friends. Use every last part.

Friday, January 20, 2012


I've been spoiled. Spoiled rotten. This winter has been so ridiculously mild that just a few days ago, I was out planting spring bulbs. There was snow on the ground, and mud underneath. And I hardly wore more than a hoodie and a down vest when I left the house.

Those days are no more.
Wisconsin winter is upon us. Yesterday, the temperature finally got it's first minus of the season. Our little old furnace is firing away, trying to keep us defrosted. The cats and blankets and slippers and coffee are all helping out, too. It was supposed to have warmed up enough to start snowing by now. But it hasn't. It's still that special kind of cold that will freeze one's nostrils closed if one pinches one's nose out of doors. And you know what? It's fine.
Today is the kind of day that I sit in my old cat-clawed desk chair, wrapped in my quilt that is bleeding batting, and needs to be patched, with a chipped coffee cup, and a cold nose, and a cat with a patch of fur missing on his side, and I am so very happy to have all of it. Think of all the things I got to do today already -

I got to wake up next to my husband of nine years, and complain about how cold it was going to be when we crawled out of bed, because we were so toasty and snuggled under our mountain of blankets.

I got to make a waffle for my little son, which he barely touched as usual, and I got to see him smile with confidence about his spelling test today, and I got to hug him in his big puffy snow gear right before he climbed on the school bus. Because it's first grade, and you can still hug your mom in front of the other kids.

I had two cups of coffee with peppermint creamer. And they were delicious. 

Now I get to climb into my writing cocoon, and work on the ending of my latest first draft. I get to work on something I truly love to do. In fact, I know what I love to do.

And now the house is quiet, and my manuscript is waiting, and I am feeling very thankful, and quite a bit lucky, that all these simple things are mine today.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

So...Writing Tips

This little blog of mine exists in a kind of paradoxical purgatory right now.
I am a writer, that's why I started this blog, but I'm still in the middle of the etiquette minefield that is agent querying. How much can I say about the projects I am still working and reworking and re-reworking? How much should I say about who has my manuscript right now?
I'll just mention that I have a MG steampunk manuscript out there in the big world. (really Blogger? Still don't want to admit that "steampunk" is a word? Fine.)
I have a MG ghost story percolating in first draft form.
I have another MG steampunk in very rough notes/character sketches/random chapters/pre-first draft form.
And a whole file of ideas for MG horror/ghost stories.
So, while I hesitate to talk about what I'm writing with too much specificity, I will happily tell you all about how I  write. My suggestions for all writers are as follows.

1. Get a Cat.
    Yes, it's trite, I know. But cats love writers. Writers are the kind of people who will hold still for long stretches of time.Cats love holding still. Holding still allows for sleeping. My cats see the laptop come out, and they are overjoyed. Which to a dog would mean hopping about and whining with excitement, but to a cat of course means looking at you with especially cute eyes. I tend to write on one of the couches, or on my bed. Usually they are already waiting by the time I've made a cup of coffee and found my most recent notebook. The cats curl up right beside me, and nothing is a better motivator to stay in place and keep working through some wretched scene than the thought I would disturb those little peaceful wads of fluff. (also, my cats are getting pretty old. They don't take crap off nobody now, and when I try to get up and say, go to the bathroom or refill my coffee, they raise their little heads just enough to glare at me with one eye, in a way that clearly says "Sit down and finish that chapter or I will claw up your favorite dress while you sleep." It's magical.)

2. Get Warm Slippers.
    I recommend the boot style, with the softest possible fluff on the inside. No distractions while you're in the middle of the action, and the zing of a cold wooden floor will certainly do that. Also a blanket, if that's your style. In the summer I like to write outside on the deck, but it's January now, so I'm inside, looking at a very fine falling snow, which is the best writing weather, because when it's daylight in the summer, I want to be out digging in the garden, and when its cold and snowy, I want my coffee and slippers and blanket and manuscript.

3. Like to Write
    There's more to it than just ideas, kids. Everyone has an idea. You'll need the whole story written down in a way that is consistently interesting. Like, every sentence, for hundreds and hundreds of pages. I love to write. I love the actual act of writing. I love putting words on the page and rearranging them until they make a fine little composition. Not in blog form, obviously. This is the free form jazz of my writing world. In a novel manuscript requires a bit more investment and dedication, and if it's a constant struggle to make yourself write, if you've resorted to coercing yourself into sitting down and working, this might not be for you. Writing is work, and it's usually hard. Always. Even when it's fun, it should be challenging. And that never ends, not on your first book, or your twenty first. It's kind of like marriage and children. A joy that's worth the effort, but effort none the less.

4. Get Another Cat
    The problem with just one cat is that it's a cat. At some point, it's going to get all prissy, and not want to sit down for writing time. I've solved this dilemma with the adding of an additional cat. That way, they can trade shifts.

5. Write Lots of Things
     The world loves good stories, even when the writer themselves becomes the story, as it was with one Hunter S. Thompson, or Mr. Hemingway, or the Mrss. Woolf and Plath. Or the tale of how the story came to be becomes the story. Some otherwise occupied person has a dream or a vision or an epiphany on a train, and rushes off to whip out a manuscript that within years (or months) becomes the Greatest Bestselling Book in the World Ever. Props to them. But lots of writers - lots and lots and most writers - don't sell their first book. Or their second. And maybe their third gets them an agent, but it's the fourth that gets the attention of an editor, and then the fifth that sells. Really. (This is why #3 up there) Most writers are going to have to write a lot of words, in a lot of different projects, if they ever have hopes of publishing. Which leads me to my final tip

6. Love Your Words
    Which could also be interpreted the other way around, as Write Words You Love. Write the kind of stories you like. The kinds of books you want to read. Things that you find interesting. It took me many years to stumble into children's lit, but when I finally found the Middle Grade genre as a writer, I realized "This is what I should be writing." And I went down that path, working on a very odd little manuscript that was puzzling even to me, until I stumbled again on the concept of steampunk, and it all clicked together. I had found my writing home, complete with hot coffee, and slippers, and a pair of old cats. And life was good.

Monday, January 9, 2012

And the Tree Lasted Until...

It could have stayed up another month, the way it was holding its needles. It still smelled fresh from the forest.
Thank you, Blooe. You were a great tree.

And now on to 2012! I don't have much time to blog today. There's a half-finished manuscript and a pot of coffee waiting for me...