Autumn Love

The sky is gray and the leaves are starting to cover the backyard in a crunchy brown blanket that reminds me of all the work to be done this weekend. But I don’t resent the endless chore of raking. I like getting out in the air when it’s cool and crisp, when the birds are noisily warning each other overhead about what’s clearly coming soon — winter. I love this season. I love that there is so much to anticipate once we get past September. Once we pass mid-October, it’s like a holiday sprint at our house and I am doing my best to slow it down this year and enjoy each part.

This weekend I’m cleaning out the front beds and planting bulbs, and that will be it for the gardens for the winter. My roses are still going crazy, so I’ll leave them for now and prune them once it gets really cold. But after the mulch is down, the rest of the garden will be ready to rest until spring. I’m looking forward to an explosion of color this year. I always have tulips and daffodils, but this year I’ll have giant crocus, lilies and dahlias as well. (If the deer don’t get wind of my plans). We lived in the desert for almost four years, so I’m embracing a garden-friendly climate with everything I’ve got!

I’ve already pulled out the crock pot and we’re on our second butternut squash. This week I have big baking plans, too, involving puff pastry and green apples and caramel sauce. I get happy just thinking about wearing sweaters and bustling around in the kitchen.

I don’t know why I seem to forget that these Rockwellian dreams are usually shattered by two tiny boys running through screaming about butts and poop and burping or scattering Ritz cracker crumbs everywhere. But they’re part of the fun, too. They’re excited about Halloween, of course, but the little one keeps asking when the Christmas village will be set up. (I have recently developed an old lady addiction to the Department 56 Christmas Villages, and every year I watch eBay like a hawk for my next acquisition. This year I’m adding a light house to my Dicken’s Village. Shut up. I know I’m mixing genres and those things don’t go together. It’s my village.) I think he’s as excited about it as I am, which makes me happy. We take a big trip around Thanksgiving time to see family every year, and it might be my favorite part of the whole year watching all the little cousins play together.

But before that, we have the Marine Corps Birthday Ball, which is also always a good time. I forget sometimes, in the course of our day to day lives, what an honor it is to be associated with the proud traditions of the Marine Corps. And I forget that the man I married has sacrificed a lot and put himself in harm’s way to protect the ideals that this country stands for. It is great to have an annual reminder of his commitment and to get to feel that surge of pride renewed.

I am also feeling energized and optimistic this morning because today I got up early again to start something new! I’ve been doing so much revising and editing and formatting and finalizing with REDEMPTION RED and MEN AND MARTINIS, that I haven’t gotten to just WRITE in a while. I didn’t get far today, because I’m just getting to know my characters and learning about their world, but I’m very excited about them and this project. Having a new focus reminds me why I write in the first place…

I know that spring is supposed to be the season of rebirth, but I still think autumn is the time each year when I take stock and renew myself.

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Nothing. Everything.

I am not a patient woman. This makes many things about choosing to be a writer difficult for the likes of me. For one thing, the second I hit “submit” I want an answer. “Did you like it?” “Do you want it?” “Am I good enough?” Lately, personal validation has come largely in the form of email. I check my email obsessively lately. To the point where I’m pretty sure its a problem that I should seek care for. I’ve got a new full over at Swoon, and I’m dying to hear their thoughts. (Even if their thoughts are, “no thanks.”) Because then I’ll KNOW. And then I’ll be free to skip on to the next potential opportunity. But if their thoughts are “yes,” that’d be great, too. But then I’ll have to wait for terms. And signatures. And lawyers. And edits. And so many other things that are so exciting and wonderful. But that don’t happen instantly.

I have what feels like millions of other stories out in other places. I’ve been putting myself out there. So there’s always the potential for a nice ego boosting email to arrive. There’s a greater potential for a soul-shattering rejection to arrive. But I can’t think about that. I live in hope.

Because patience is so difficult to master, I have begun taking joy in the things that do happen quickly enough to suit me. Take a look at this: amaryllis

It’s an Amaryllis. I let it lay dormant in a paper bag out in my garden shed for three months or so through the fall. And then I re-potted it in time for it to bloom at Christmas. And it didn’t. I watched it every single stupid day and it just sat there, it’s green tips taunting me, but definitely not growing. Finally, about to give up on it altogether of almost two months of resolute NOT growing, I moved the pot. I thought it liked being in the window. But it seems that being more interior has made it happy. And since it began growing four days ago, it has grown at least a half inch a day. I kid you not. I can practically WATCH it reaching up. It’s fantastic. Perfect for us instant gratification types (if you don’t count all that waiting while it was dormant or once I’d re-potted it and it wouldn’t grow… don’t count that.) PS. That’s my fish plate. I just re-found it when I was digging through the closet where I store all the things that no one may ever touch because it might get broken.

I wish I was more like these guys. photo(2)

Look at the simple joy they get from being given a mint. All they want in life in this moment? One mint. (The little one would like to eat many, many more mints. He did that recently when I didn’t know about it, eating all 37 mints in the box and then projectile vomiting pink foam all over the back of my car about three hours later. There is a moral – too much of a good thing is not a good thing.)

I am trying to let myself learn from these small people who I’m lucky enough to spend so much time with. They live for the moment completely. Their excitement and disappointments are so immediate and raw. They are good humans. I want to be more like them.

So I keep waiting.

Poetry in Prose

Like most writers (I assume), I read a lot. Usually three or four books at a time, and usually fairly quickly. I’ve got one going now that I keep taking breaks from. And it’s had me thinking more than any book I’ve read lately. I’ve taken breaks from it because I don’t want it to end, and because the content needs time to sit and simmer in some places.

I’m reading The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. And it’s been a wonderful experience. It’s a book that has changed the way I think about some things. YA literature, specifically. I grew up reading YA classics, but I didn’t know, at that time, that there was any such thing as young adult literature. I read whatever I wanted, and some of the things I read happened to have characters that were more relatable than others. As a writer, of course, the genre is not unfamiliar, especially with the fairly recent successes of the big ones like Rowling and Meyer. And I enjoyed those series very much. And I think the writing in both was just fine. The stories were what kept me reading. But with the Book Thief, it’s different. The language is what’s keeping me reading.

My former experiences with YA had led me to believe that writers who focused that way were looking for one thing – marketability. The quality of the writing didn’t seem to matter quite as much if the story hit all the necessary plot points and kept younger readers engaged. But Markus Zusak has challenged that idea.

I should say, first off, that I have no idea why this book would be construed as YA, if you want the truth. The protagonist is a “tween”, I suppose… but outside of that… the themes are universal, the setting and action are quite adult (although in this day and age, with kids playing ridiculously violent games and watching blood and gore in movies, maybe there’s no line there anymore).

But I’ve gotten off track. My point isn’t to consider the rise of YA literature or find rules for its categorization.

My goal was to basically GUSH over Zusak’s work. I don’t know if he sits down and worries every little sentence to make them read as they do. I’m guessing it’s a bit more natural to him. And I envy that… On every page is a sentence I wish with all my heart I had written. My husband is getting irritated because as I come across these, I tend to read them out loud, several times. So he’s been woken to me saying things like:

“In fact, on April 20 – the Fuhrer’s birthday – when she snatched a book from beneath a steaming pile of ashes, Liesel was a girl made of darkness.”  A GIRL made of DARKNESS. Lovely.

“It was a Monday and they walked on a tightrope to the sun.”

“She wanted none of those days to end, and it was always with disappointment that she watched the darkness stride forward.”

“The tears grappled with her face.”

“Her wrinkles were like slander. Her voice was akin to a beating with a stick.” That one has been in my head since I read it. Her wrinkles were like slander. I adore this idea.

I’ll let you read the rest yourself if you haven’t done so already.

It’s been a while since I’ve read a book that feels like it was painted with a brush and palette. Thanks, Markus Zusak, for reminding me that literary fiction and YA do not have to be different things.

Looking at 2013

As a writer, I should use this space to set some goals for the year ahead. I should talk about how many stories I’m going to write, the novel I’d like to I will finish, or the number of submissions I hope to hit. But I’m pretty good about that stuff, really. I write most days — which is the best I can hope for given my tiny kids and their ever-present unexpected and totally unpredictable lives. And while I can’t boast that I’ve published SCADS of stuff, I can say this: 2012 was my first year out calling myself a writer for real. It was the first year that I gave myself permission to practice the craft that calls me and always has. And in that year, I wrote a novel, had two short stories accepted for publication (out of about 20 submissions), and published a collection of short stories. I attended two writers’ conferences and made many great writing connections online and in the real world. I believe that I’ve made very significant progress as a writer, both in terms of my actual work and in my understanding of the business and craft. So, that’s what I did this year.

Next year, I expect my writing to grow both in quantity and quality. I expect to have published something else myself, and to have had several more stories accepted for publication in journals. I am taking an advanced fiction class through UCLA Extension’s Writers’ Program (UCLA is my alma mater) with David Borofka in January, and hope that that will be a great launch for the year. (BTW – UCLA Extension’s courses are fantastic. I have taken many of them… you do not have to be a Bruin to take these courses.)

So I feel like my writing is in line.

It’s the rest of my life I worry about.

I’ve realized that I default to pissed off. I wake up, feel great. Get out of bed and do my morning ablutions, feel great. My kids see me and begin demanding things, and I am pissed off. They’re five and three…their natural state is need. So it’s a bit unfair for me to get riled so easily… and I don’t want to be the pissed off mommy. Or the pissed off wife. I think I’ve managed to be grumpy enough to make my kids and husband actually fear talking to me at times. And you know what? Life is way too short. I am lucky. I have a fantastic family. My husband actually loves me and tells me so often. (plus, I kinda like him and he’s pretty nice to look at, too…) We have a good life together, few worries and a very bright future. So what’s my problem? I need to enjoy this life on a daily basis. And that is my only goal for 2013. To remind myself, constantly if need be, to enjoy. Because there could be a bus with my name on it lurking just around the next corner.

Are you mindfully enjoying your life? How do you remember to do so? Advice and tips appreciated! 🙂

Happy New Year, all!

Supporting Each Other, Supporting Ourselves

I think I’ve mentioned in the past that I get a lot of critique help over at Scribophile — which I really recommend for writers looking to iron out some problems they might be having, and those seeking a community. Great feedback and lots of good writing over there. One of the moderators of that site has launched a new effort called Spark: A Creative Anthology. Their mission — stolen straight from their site:

Our mission is perhaps best summed up in the words of Brian Lewis, founder and Editor-in-Chief of Spark:

My goal was to establish a high-quality, paying market where emerging authors and poets can gain professional experience being published alongside respected instructors and older creative writing alumni who are now established authors. While Spark encourages submissions from alumni of the California State Summer School for the Arts, we are looking for quality writing and artwork from any source. We set the bar high in order to encourage young writers to continue to excel and develop their talents, and to maintain a publication to which established professionals are excited to submit.

I’m a fan of literary journals, both online and in print, and have been quietly submitting (though not as much as I should) for the last year or so. While this is an admittedly good way to practice being rejected, it’s also a good way to make headway in a writing career that can otherwise feel like a pipe dream.

Right now, Spark is asking for support that will allow them to pay their contributors and produce the anthologies. I believe in this mission, and I agree that paying markets are rare and important. I just opted to support Spark here — in part because they are offering a free membership to Duotrope, which will no longer be free as of January 1, 2013. I’d have bought a subscription anyway — $50.00 a year — and by donating $45.00 to Spark, I get my subscription AND priority ebook copies of the first four Spark anthologies that are published.

Finally, IF you are a writer and you’re not tracking submissions through Duotrope, you might want to check it out. Being eternally disorganized, this tool has made it so ridiculously easy for me to research journals and track my correspondence and submissions! I don’t think I’d do too well without it!

Which leads me to an announcement… but I think it deserves its own post. So you’ll just have to wait until tomorrow.

I hope your holidays were wonderful. Ours were busy and crazy and fun. And now my living room is covered with Lego and Play-doh. And I’m not complaining!

The Things That Should Be Said

I haven’t been able to write much in the past few days. There are a few reasons for this — kids, schedules. I’m a bit stuck on where I need to take my storyline next as I’ve realized that my original plan won’t work as I’d hoped. But mostly, I’ve felt that what I’m doing is small. And the world right now, in the wake of twenty tiny people and six adults being killed at an elementary school, the world needs something more. Clearly something is broken… and I don’t think that anything I could write will fix it.

There are people writing about this, though. Some of the best things I’ve read haven’t been in the news. They’ve offered different ways to consider what has happened, pulled the pointing finger towards lots of potential causes and tried to show us why. I’m glad some people are able to believe that they can figure out why this might have happened. All I’ve been able to do is look into the faces of my little boys and feel incredible gratitude mixed with incredible guilt. This could have been my Kindergartner’s school, my preschooler’s after-school daycare. The places where I send them to feel safe to explore and learn are no safer than Sandy Hook was. And the people who surround us here are no more predictable or stable than people anywhere. This could have been my kids. And I’ve been having trouble processing that. It makes me want to keep them home, eliminate any potential interaction with anyone I haven’t pre-approved. But I know that I can’t do that. And I know that even though there are crazy people with access to weapons who would hurt my little people if they had a chance, my job as a mom is to create the safest environment I can, and to trust.

It’s not easy to trust the world to watch out for your little guys when things like this happen. But I’m trying to remember all the rules my mom passed on about raising me. I can’t rush up behind them to catch them every time they fall. And I can’t sprint over to brush them off and offer coddling hugs and kisses every time, either. Sometimes they have to pick themselves up. I can’t forbid them from climbing rocks and trees because I know they might get hurt. And I can’t keep them home with me all day every day just because the world can be an evil place that might damage them. I have to keep sending them out, my heart tucked inside them like a secret note in their pockets. And I have to believe that they will come back home. If only they were as big and strong as they think they are… heroes

And this too…

So I meant all that stuff about self-publishing that I said earlier.

But I’m also a mom. Maybe that should follow a “but” because the mom thing should probably be number one. But it’s really pretty hard. And so I have to send any other moms who feel like it’s a little tougher than they’d like to go check this out. Nice work, Pregnant Chicken.

See, I’m just all about breaking down the snobs today, be they the literati or the snobby mommies who can’t stop telling me how much better they’re doing it all than I am. Pbtht.