Monday, June 27, 2005

A Warm Fuzzy Heartache

Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
15,838 / 20,000

On Today's Menu:

Homemade Peach Cobbler (a la mode)

Okay, so peach cobbler was the only dish I could think of to go with warm fuzziness. It's warm, and peaches are fuzzy, but hopefully not in cobbler. I'm feeling pretty warm and fuzzy now that I'm almost done with the first draft.

The other night I was doing some on-line research for a future project. I was clicking through an employee newsletter for an organization related to a new proposal. Gotta get that research right, you know? To be really cliche, lo and behold, I saw a picture of him. He stood in front of a scientific research plane he'd worked on in an engineering project for NASA. Who'da thunk it?

I got snapped back to sixth grade and riding my bike to school. Every day I hope I'd get a glimpse of Steve. Oh, Steve, an absolutely cute eighth grade boy who didn't know I existed. He was quiet and funny and smart. My best friend was friends with his sister, but still, he had no idea who I was. His locker was in the same row as mine--his at the top on one end, mind at the bottom on the opposite end. We passed each other when changing classes. Please, oh, please, say hi to me. I think once "our eyes met." Really, they did.

Now my Hannah is in her post-sixth grade summer. Her "boyfriend" Scott moved onto Fort Hood and away from our neighborhood three weeks before school let out. She saw him on the last day of school, when he said had her number. He would call. They'd keep in touch. Four weeks now, and nothing. She's been busy and having fun earning money, going to the pool, chatting on the phone, helping in day care, sleeping in sometimes, texturing the walls of her room (we're renovating it in retro style--but that's for a whole other post one day). But still, she will occasionally pine for Scott and wonder what she did wrong. "Nothing," I've told her. "Nothing at all."

It might be puppy love, but puppy love is still real to the puppy.

I moved away my junior year of high school, after Steve had already graduated and gone on to college. I still remember him and the school trip to Bush Gardens my sophomore year (he was a senior). They took a group picture, and I sat next to him. Well, actually he ended up about two feet away when they had us all sit on a stone wall in front of a fountain for the picture, but there I was. Next to him. Still crushing, I guess.

Of course now I'm an old married lady, but I still remember the feeling of the possibility of having something special with someone. Warm, fuzzy. I'm definitely not married to a quiet, funny guy. He's funny, but not quiet. God knew for sure I didn't need a quiet man.

Now I just have to be there for my daughter with her warm, fuzzy heartache. She'll get better. We all do.

Sunday, June 19, 2005


Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
11,499 / 20,000

I started drafting a scene earlier tonight for Luke, the hero. He's really got a neat personality, but Krista the bride is clamoring for attention. No, she's not a Bridezilla or anything. She's just more emotionally open about her problem at the moment. Combine a blast from the past, a wildfire on the horizon, and a harried bride and groom, and you've got quite a mix. Or at least I hope so.

So here I am, bleary-eyed. Getting a scene down on the Alphasmart led me to uploading it, which led me to making some edits and reading for flow, and there you have it. I need to hit the hay. Work calls in the morning. I'm glad I only commute to my work computer in our room.

An author friend has said she'd be happy to look at my story. I've got plenty of eyes to check it out once I'm ready for that to happen. I'm used to critique partners reading my work, but now, this is the real deal. Makes my stomach queasy just thinking about it.

I'll take a dollop of grace for tomorrow along with some cream and Equal in my coffee. Night-o!

Friday, June 17, 2005

Just Keep Swimming...

Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
10,175 / 20,000

On Today's Menu:
Filet O' Fish--No Tartar Sauce (Gag)

That goofy blue fish Dory in Finding Nemo had a point. (No, neither she nor her friends are on the menu. I was just pushing the fish analogy, and I happen to like seafood.) When you look at taking a trip, especially a long trip you've never been on before, the whole journey can seem daunting. You think of how tired you'll be. What if you take a wrong turn? Or there's construction, or flat tires, or other obstacles? You can make yourself give up, or just stay home.

But what was Dory's motto? "Just keep swim-ming, swim-ming! Just keep swim-ming, just keep swim-ming!"

Tonight I hit the halfway point in my novella. Yes, I've written longer books before, but each one is its own journey. Right now my printer is spitting out what I've written so far. I've got my pen poised and my editing hat on my head.

This time, the story isn't coming in sequence for me. Instead of fighting through an uncooperative scene, I've been drafting scenes that demand to be put down. Then I circle around to earlier parts of the book. I've never written this way before, but I've got my spreadsheet next to me with my road map. I think it's working. I've also seen my hero doesn't have as much stage time as the heroine. I'm getting into his head a little more, after watching a Nova DVD called Fire Wars, which follows a team of hot shot wildfire fighters through a season. I learned a lot and have a deep respect for these men and women. I hope after seeing their stories, I'll learn more of Luke's.

One thing I'm excited about is I have a northern California reader who lives in the area near my fictitious town of Settler Lake. She's agreed to read my story to see if I "got" the early summer atmosphere of northern Cal in fire season. We'll see. I hope I get it right. In the meantime, I'll just keep swimming.

Besides this project, I'm doing research for another proposal. I had a warm fuzzy happen with this research, a "blast from the past"--my old sixth grade crush. But that's for another time. Night-o!

Monday, June 13, 2005

A Mother's Scream

Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
9,059 / 20,000

What can fiction accomplish in real life? I look at the numbers above and wonder about their significance. I had a great night writing, even chatted briefly on IM with another buddy who was also doing some research. Oh, yes, I'm a research junkie. You give me an obscure question and I'll rip up Google trying to find the answers, or come close. Tonight, though, as I enjoy the creative process, my heart is a bit heavy.

This afternoon about 4:30, a police car pulled up behind one of our cars out front (not ours really, it belongs to a friend and he's leaving it with us for now, but that's not part of this story). Then a maroon SUV pulled up just past our mailbox. A young black woman left the SUV and approached our neighbor's house. She clutched a few papers and wore a phone headset. A police officer followed her.

My husband heard the scream. I didn't. But he said it was one of those things he'll never forget.

"No, that's my baby!" The teen mother let out a shriek.

I saw the Child Protective Services worker carry the child, maybe 18 months old, to the maroon SUV. The baby was blonde, cute as a proverbial button, and wore a pink outfit. The CPS worker strapped her into a car seat. Then she and the officer conversed for a moment. I found my glass of tea, and then found my discreet spot at my bathroom window*.

Now Patty was outside talking to the CPS worker. Patty lives next door. It's a rather complicated family. The baby belongs to Patty's boyfriend's teenage daughter. She visits next door sometimes, but I'm not totally sure of the living arrangements. Theirs is a case of "yours and mine," a forty-something couple living together with a gaggle of kids, ranging from ages seven or eight to fifteen or sixteen. I can't keep them all sorted out, but I think at least seven kids live next door. At one point, Patty had kicked out her boyfriend and his posse of offspring. Now, two weeks later, they're back together.

How can my fiction help them? How could a story help them? This is something I'm trying to figure out. I want to reach out somehow but they are a very proud family--their utilities have sometimes been shut off.

Quite frankly, I'm tired. My husband and I know a couple who's needed much counseling and prayer in the past year, and I feel like I've been drained of what I have to give. The thought of pouring out to someone else makes me want to go into a corner and curl up.

Somehow writing with an audience "out there" in mind is easier (I know, I was talking about kicking cabinets the other day). But someone next door needs help, too.

Lately at church we've been talking about basic things. Prayer. Bible study. Fellowship. Service. I could simply tell Patty and Company, "Y'all need Jesus, " something which many who don't believe as I do might interpret as, "You need to go to church." But it's much more than that. I wouldn't dream of someone trying to seek answers from a group, or a "club." I can only tell her what Jesus has done for me and it's up to her what she does from there. Witnessing outright has never come easily for me, I'm sad to admit.

I can tell, too, that I need a recharge after the exhausting couple. No wonder Jesus was always going off to pray. People and their problems can suck the energy out of someone. I can't change people. I can't solve their problems for them. I can't "make" them believe. I can only learn to set boundaries and point them in the right direction (and keep writing).

*After writing this, I realize how voyeuristic I sound. But I'm a people watcher. I can't help it. Really. As much as they drive me nuts and I'd love to be a hermit sometimes, I do care about people.

Saturday, June 11, 2005


Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
7,908 / 20,000

I'm happy to say progress is coming on the novella. It's a first draft, and I want to get it done so I can go back and make it sing. I borrowed the meter I found on another writer's blog. It's kinda nice to see that I'm getting there.

For so many years, I tried to present work to editors that I "just knew" they had to buy. Or, at least I really, really hoped they'd want. Every book proposal I'd sent received a request for the full manuscript. Good average! And every novella proposal I'd sent came back with a "no thanks." Well, once I never received an official "no thanks." I e-mailed someone and they said, "Oh, we picked the stories we wanted for this book. Guess your letter got lost in the mail, but no you didn't make it." (Note: this was not the publisher I'm working for now, mind you! I won't tell tales in school or out of it!)

At any rate, now I find myself wondering if I can pull this off. After all, how many thousands will get to read this story? I want the readers to love these characters, love the setting, love the story and what my characters discover about themselves and God. Heart's Refuge has a lot to do with forgiving and going on in spite of the past. And how do we learn to trust again when someone closest to us has let us down? How do we know it won't happen again? I won't tell you the whole story, but I'm coming to learn along with my characters that we don't have any guarantees that people we love won't let us down. We're human beings with flawed frailty--look at our Desperate Housewives. As long as we're here, we face that frailty.

Okay, so it's a novella and it's not supposed to be too heavy. Plus, my characters are battling a wildfire that threatens them as well. Did I say a novella isn't supposed to be too complicated? Well, I'm trying NOT to complicate things too much. I've only got a little less than 13,000 words to go!

Friday, June 10, 2005

Kicking Cabinets

On Today's Menu:
Forget the menu, I'm trying to write!

I've signed my contract, and have the first half of the advance. Nice! Feels grrreat!

Like a good writer, I've kept my September deadline in mind and started writing the story where I left off in my proposal. A solid chapter three has taken form, plus an assortment of scenes that come later. Since this is a novella, I think it'll be a minimum of 10 chapters, depending on word count. The maximum for this book is 20,000 words. Right now my book is around the 6600-word mark, about a third.

And I think in its current form it stinks. I've got my synopsis, my road map. But my characters feel like marionettes on a stage, flopping around at my direction. Inside my head, I see the story playing out on a screen, scene by scene. Why don't the words come so vividly?

So I've given myself a time-out to see what's wrong. Maybe I haven't given my characters enough free rein to show their emotions. Or have I not placed them firmly enough in their setting, in northern California wildfire country? At any rate, I picked up a new book I bought at Barnes & Noble on Memorial Day. It's a mystery/suspense, by an author I haven't read before. It's good, it draws me in already.

I think I just need to relax and write. Hopefully these holes will fill themselves in. Plus I hope the characters will cut their strings and live the story on the pages for me.

Now I know what Brandilyn Collins means about kicking cabinets.

I have people counting on me, not just my own personal goal to finish this story and finish well. It's a little scary. But this is what I've longed for! I'm so glad I'm not going it alone.

Friday, June 03, 2005


On Today's Menu:
Graduation Cake, half chocolate, half white

I am so sick of cake. We went to five graduation parties last weekend, and for some reason had cake at four of them. Don't ask me why. When it came time for cake and the plates were passed, we didn't say no. Can you say eating without a brain?

At the last party on Sunday night at church, we watched a Powerpoint presentation of four of the graduating boys as they grew up. With those pictures, I saw my own kids grow up along with two of them. The only thing that makes me want to cry is the fact that a certain boy leaves this summer, and those days of the Fabulous Four--Paul, Matt, Zach and Hannah--are gone. Once upon a time, my best friend Lisa (Paul and Matt's aunt) and I took the kids to the zoo, with all four of them stuffed in the back of her Pulsar with the T-top down. Now Paul's headed to the Marines in July, and life around here will not be the same without him. Meanwhile the two 15-year-old boys and a certain 13-year-old girl left behind will learn about the changes life brings. The tighter we try to hold onto people, the easier they slip through our fingers.

Graduation isn't the ending. Another name for graduation is commencement, which also means "beginning."

I can spend time letting tears fall as I look at pictures of the past, and totally miss the fact that there's changes coming. The future shines bright like an unspoiled morning. Yet I said in a post months ago, "I fear change," like the guy in the Domino's pizza commercial who only orders pepperoni. I shouldn't say I fear change. It's more the unknown that makes me wonder--what if the changes don't bring warm, fuzzy feelings?

Graduation--commencement--beginning--brings change. As a mother, it's realizing my kids aren't kids anymore. Junior high and high school, thanks very much. As an aunt and a friend, it's realizing I get to cheer my nephews on as they step into adulthood, thankful I've had a role in helping them become who they are. As a writer, I feel the weight of trust that a publisher has given me. It's exciting, scaring, exhilarating. When I think of beginning, I think of fresh pages in a notebook, ready to write on. I think of New Year's Day with a whole year full of possibilities, or the first day of school with a new lunch box and sneakers without scuffs.

In all our beginnings, God's mercies are new every morning. I call that a Graduation Guarantee.