Winter Break road trip episode 4: Serendipity in Carrizozo

2019-12-29 10.10.13.jpgAt the end of the last episode, Winter Break road trip episode 3: Roswell, NM, your intrepid blogger had spent the day getting her picture taken with little green men and stuffing her face with Mexican food (note: your intrepid blogger spends lots of time stuffing her face with Mexican food).

We left Roswell about an hour before dark, a fact which shall become important momentarily, headed in the general direction of Albuquerque. Let’s drive awhile, we said. We aren’t tired, we don’t have reservations, let’s see how far we get. Note: if someone says this to you when you’re in the middle of the desert at dusk, kill them, take the wheel, and spend the night at the nearest motel. If you don’t, you might just find yourself sliding down a two-lane highway, in the dark, in a freak snowstorm, in a car without snow tires or chains, in a remote section of New Mexico populated by little more than oryx and buzzards. Note: ask not for whom the buzzard circles; it circles for thee.

But I digress.

We slid into Carrizozo–literally–and got the last room in what appeared to be the only motel in town. It was dark and cold and snowy, so we huddled up for warmth and contemplated being stranded in a tiny New Mexican town for who-knew-how-long until the snow melted. I’m pretty sure the phrase, “zombie apocalypse,” entered the conversation at least twice. But–spoiler alert–we were not eaten by zombies. We weren’t even snowed in. Instead, my husband got to experience the wonderful serendipity that sometimes happens when you end up somewhere unexpected.

The aforementioned husband is a big Denzel Washington fan, and one of his favorite Denzel movies is The Book of Eli. In fact, he’d just watched it the night before our impromptu stop in Carrizozo. I, good librarian that I am, decided to read the Wikipedia entry for Carrizozo while we were stuck there. Wanna guess what movie was filmed in Carrizozo? If you said, The Book of Eli… ding ding ding! We have a winner.

So the next morning, we drove just about every street in town, while the husband took pictures and exclaimed over each place that appears in the movie. Not having seen The Book of Eli, I just took pictures:

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Looks like a good setting for a zombie apocalypse, no?

Just outside of town, we got to enjoy the contrast inherent in a snow-covered desert:

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I hope you’ll join me once more for the last leg of our journey, in which the husband gets to visit another entertainment landmark–Walter White’s house–and I sit on a cliffside on a cold winter morning.

Writing as an act of faith

Insecure Writers Support Group Badge

[Lewis Carroll] understands that the text you create is an object that collides with the mind of the reader–and that some third thing, which is completely unknowable, is made. –Jesse Ball, “The Edge of Sense,” in Light the Dark: Writers on Creativity, Inspiration, and the Artistic Process (Penguin, 2017)

Tomorrow is IWSG Day, and until about 20 minutes ago, I didn’t have a topic or even an idea for this month’s post. Then I read Jesse Ball’s lovely essay on Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky, encountered the quote above, and was reminded yet again of how big a role faith plays in my writing. I don’t mean religious faith, though that too can play a big role in writing, but faith that the ideas will come, the words will come, and the words and ideas together will make something that resonates with a reader in ways I cannot fully imagine.

Like most insecure writers (Digression alert! Are there any secure writers? “Secure writer” sounds like an oxymoron.), I often approach my writing with trepidation. My brain is mush. The well is dry. My muse, the drunken floozie, is hung over yet again and not showing up for work. Ideas? I ain’t got no stinkin’ ideas. And then a movie will start playing in my head, or I’ll see a person walking down the street who practically begs to become a character, or I’ll remember some random event from thirty years ago, and I’m back in the writing groove. Some people call this magic, “inspiration.” Some people insist on waiting for it before they start writing. The rest of us like to get work done, so we get on with it and hope the muse takes a couple of aspirin and graces us with her half-drunk presence. And often enough, she does.

And yet each day, the fear creeps back in. What if, this day, the muse is passed out in some skeezy alley (Digression alert! Have you ever seen an alley that wasn’t skeezy?) instead of delivering her daily dose of inspiration? What makes me able to sit down and start typing anyway is… faith. Faith that the words and ideas will come. Faith that the muse will appear. Sometimes I feel like one of the Israelites, following Moses around in the desert and wondering if my daily dose of manna will fall from heaven. If you read that story (it’s in Exodus, don’t ask me the chapter and verse, and I’m too lazy to look it up), you’ll learn that each morning the manna fell, and if the Israelites tried to save it for the next day, it would spoil. But of course some of them tried anyway, because even though the manna fell each day, they feared that maybe the next day it would not. I’m betting some of those doubters were writers. (Digression alert! Can’t you just picture them lugging their stone tablets and chisels across the desert and grumbling about the lack of coffee to wash down their manna? Just me then? OK.)

Even when the words come, we writers face another form of insecurity: Will we find the right words? Many of us see our stories like movies in our heads, only with full sensory detail. It’s the ultimate in high-def–or maybe smellavision. But how do we communicate what we see and hear and smell and taste and feel so that the reader sees, hears, smells, tastes, and feels it just like we do? How do we get the reader to share our understanding, our insights, our epiphanies? The answer is: We can’t.

We agonize over the perfect word, the perfect detail, to create some sort of Vulcan mind-meld with the reader, but we don’t live in a Star Trek episode (Digression alert! If I did live in a Star Trek episode, I’d be a redshirt.) Instead, as Ball writes, our words will collide with the mind of the reader and create a brand new thing. That new thing will be unique to the single, specific combination of writer and reader, and we don’t get to control it. That beautiful movie playing in my head will never play in a reader’s head in exactly the same way, because the reader’s movie will be shaped by their experiences, their culture, and their identity at least as much as by the words I agonize over. Sucks, yes?

Maybe not.

If I can get over myself, I can find this truth to be liberating. Yes, I should still try for the best words, the most vivid images, the most resonant cadence I can create. But I’m not entirely responsible for the result. So I don’t have to beat my head against my keyboard for three hours, searching for the perfect word, image, or cadence. I can give it my best shot, hope I improve it upon revision, and eventually let it go out into the world, trusting that it will resonate with some reader, somewhere, in ways I can neither imagine nor control. In other words, I must have faith–in my own ability, yes, but also in my readers and what they bring to the page.

And so we come to the end of my February IWSG post, a post that came about because Ball’s words collided with my mind at just the right time and in just the right way to help me think about writing in a new way. And my manna is received, my faith is affirmed, for yet another day.

Want to see some other great IWSG posts? Check out the list of participants here. (Powered by Linky Tools).

Winter Break road trip episode 3: Roswell, NM

2019-12-28 14.58.32_cropped.jpgAt the end of the second episode, Winter Break road trip episode 2: Alamogordo to Carlsbad Caverns, your intrepid blogger had survived a trip 800 feet beneath the surface of the earth. Your intrepid blogger emerged like Persephone in the spring to continue her desert odyssey with a search for alien life forms. Translated from pompous-ese (the native tongue of academics like me), hubs and I drove from Carlsbad to Roswell.

For those of you who don’t watch cheesy shows about UFOs, Roswell is the site of a rather famous crash. What crashed, you ask? According to the US Air Force, a weather balloon. But spoiler alert: you don’t see little statues of weather balloons in Roswell. Instead, you see these:

Bonus points if you can pick out which one of those beings is the alien.

Whether or not they actually crash landed outside Roswell back in 1947, those little green men have been mighty good for the Roswellian economy. You can’t walk ten feet in downtown Roswell without tripping over at least one of ‘em.

Hard to get in your daily word count when the tourists won’t stop staring at you.
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If Baby Yoda were made from old tires…
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Payday! Time to get some parts to fix the hyperdrive…
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And… I got nuthin’. Someone wanna caption this?

Even the city itself has embraced the town’s extraterrestrial legacy. Behold the lamp posts, complete with Santa hats for Christmas:

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So did aliens really crash land outside Roswell back in the 1940s? No clue. But if they did, they could make a fortune taking selfies with tourists.

IWSG: My love-hate relationship with writing

Insecure Writers Support Group BadgeThe January question for the Insecure Writers Support Group Blog Hop is:

What started you on your writing journey? Was it a particular book, movie, story, or series? Was it a teacher/coach/spouse/friend/parent? Did you just “know” suddenly you wanted to write?

I’ve always written, and I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with writing. I hated writing assignments in school. Hated. Them. I’d whine and complain and fuss and struggle and whine and complain some more. Then I’d suck it up, write the stupid paper, and get an A on it.

At the same time that I was being a huge whiny baby about writing assignments, I was journaling. I started a diary when I was about 10, which expanded into a journal by the time I was in middle school. My journals then were either spiral notebooks or stacks of binder paper held together with ancient report binders I inherited from my grandmother. Yes, I inherited office supplies from my grandmother. I still have a few of ‘em too. Did I mention my grandmother died in 1979? Anyone wanna buy a vintage porcelain stamp licker?

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But I digress.

So I’d sit in my room writing, copying down song lyrics, or jotting down the weekly top 40 from Casey Kasem for posterity. Yes, the entire top 40. All 4 hours of it, just about every Saturday morning. I was a nerd with no life, OK?

But I digress.

In my journal I collected ideas and pop culture and random written crap the way a magpie collects shiny things. And I wrote. Sometimes pages at a time. Sometimes I felt compelled to write. Sometimes I still do. But if someone told me I had to write a particular kind of paper about a particular kind of thing, well, that was an epic tragedy that required large amounts of whining.

After I became a librarian, I started writing academic pieces for publication: book reviews, journal articles, and book chapters. The whining continued, usually some version of the famous Frank Norris quote:

Don’t like to write, but like having written.

2+ decades on, that’s still an accurate summary of my feelings unless I’m journaling or doing some other kind of low-effort writing.

So why, then do I write anything more challenging than a summary of my day? I suppose the answer is the writer’s version of the bit about the mountain-climber climbing mountains because they’re there: I write because I have something to say.

But there’s another part to my writing journey, the part that started a bit over 5 years ago, when I started writing fiction at the ripe old age of 47. I told some of that story in an earlier post, Talent is Overrated, so I won’t repeat it here, but the gist of that post is that though I’d dreamed of being an author since I was a kid, I never tried, because I thought I had no talent.

The process of overcoming that negative bit of self-image was gradual, and I’m not entirely sure how it happened, but I do remember three key incidents:

  1. A former intern and friend gave me a copy of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, with a lovely inscription encouraging me to take up creative writing.
  2. I read Diana Gabaldon’s account in the Outlandish Companion of how she came to write Outlander. Tl;dr: she decided to learn to write a novel by actually writing one. That got me to thinking that maybe the same method could work for me, even if I had less spectacular results than she did.
  3. I realized that ~2/3 of my life was over (probably, if one believes the actuarial tables), so if I had any unfulfilled dreams, I’d best get busy. There’s nothing like an awareness of one’s mortality to give one a solid kick in the keister.

So one afternoon, I Googled “how to write a novel,” found the website for the snowflake method, and got started.

I still have a love-hate relationship with writing. I still prefer to have written. And I still whine and carry on when I have to put my butt in my office chair and type some damn words already. I do not, however, copy down the top 40 every week, because today’s music sucks. Now get off my lawn.

But I digress.


Want to see some other great IWSG posts? Check out the list of participants here. (Powered by Linky Tools).

Skip the resolutions – set goals instead

I don’t make New Years resolutions, and for the most part I never have. You can’t fail if you don’t try, right? Yeah, there’s your inspirational quote for 2020.

Seriously, I don’t make New Years resolutions, because I can only make major life changes successfully when I am truly ready, not when the calendar says it’s time for self-improvement. What I do set at the beginning of each year, though, are goals.

What’s the difference between a resolution and a goal? Glad you asked!

Resolutions vs. goals

A resolution is a commitment, usually broken by MLK Day, to start or stop a habit or make some other big change: start exercising, stop smoking, lose 10 pounds, start meditating, stop killing teenagers… (OK, who let Jason and Freddy into this party? Someone can’t read the, “No Slasher Movie Villains Allowed,” sign.)

A goal, on the other hand, is SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound (see, OHSU HR Department? I did pay attention in that workshop on goal-setting!). A resolution is a wish. A goal is the first step in a plan. How about some (slasher-villain-free) examples?

Examples of resolutions vs. Goals

Example 1

Resolution: Write more short stories.
Goal: Write 4 short stories and submit them for publication by the end of 2020.
Difference: The resolution is not specific, measurable, or time-bound.

Example 2

Resolution: Finish my novel.
Goal: Finish the first draft of Delta Dawn by February 1. Finish the first round of revisions (fixing plot holes, reordering scenes, cutting out unnecessary scenes, filling in transitions between scenes) by June 1. Finish the second round of revisions (scene edits) by August 1. Finish line edits by November 1. Send to at least 2 beta readers by December 31.
Difference: The resolution is not specific (Which novel? And when is a novel really finished? When it wins the Pulitzer?), measurable (How will you know when you’re “finished?”), or time-bound (When are you going to do what?). I would also argue that it isn’t achievable, or at least will be much more difficult to achieve, because it isn’t specific and doesn’t break the process down into anything specific.

Anatomy of a SMART goal

Let’s take a closer look at the elements of a SMART goal:

  • Specific – I’m pretty clear in my goal about what, exactly, I hope to complete in 2020. The more specific you can be, the more likely it is you’ll actually achieve what you set out to do.
  • Measurable – It’s measurable if you can tell whether or not you’ve achieved it. Some goals have numeric measures (like write 50,000 words in November. Hmm… where have I heard that before?). Others, like mine above, are measurable in that you can tell whether or not the thing is done.
  • Achievable – or at least I hope so. It’s a bit ambitious, what HR types call a “stretch goal,” but it’s doable if I can reign in my addiction to r/amitheasshole on Reddit. A good goal is one that you can achieve with a bit of effort. If it’s too easy, you’ve sold yourself short (but you’ll have plenty of time for messing around on Reddit). If it’s too hard, you’ll probably fall short, and that can be really discouraging. So be honest with yourself but push yourself a little.
  • Relevant – I want the damn thing done, so it’s relevant to me. Make your goal something you care about.
  • Time-bound – For a goal this large, I need subgoals and deadlines for it to be truly time-bound. I mean, who doesn’t love deadlines? But seriously, a project the size of a novel needs to be broken down into manageable chunks. That’s the cornerstone of what the business types call, Project Management. I’m planning a future post on that topic, so don’t touch that browser!

I highly recommend SMART goals, at the beginning of the year or anytime, to help you clarify what, exactly, you want to achieve. They make it so much more likely that you’ll actually be successful.

My writing goals for 2020

And just in case you care (C’mon, pretend you do. It’s lonely back here behind this keyboard), here are my 2020 writing goals. Note: I’m not just having an ego-fest here. Sharing your goals with someone else is what the self-help types call “practicing accountability.” Telling someone else what you plan to do is supposed to make it more likely that you’ll actually do it, because it makes you accountable to whomever you told. So I guess some of y’all are supposed to come over here and break my legs if I don’t get these goals done. (Narrator: Don’t do that.)

Anyway, here’s what I hope to accomplish in 2020:

  • Goal 1: Finish the first draft of Delta Dawn by February 1. Finish the first round of revisions (fixing plot holes, reordering scenes, cutting out unnecessary scenes, filling in transitions between scenes) by June 1. Finish the second round of revisions (scene edits) by August 1. Finish line edits by November 1. Send to at least 2 beta readers by December 31. (This one should look really familiar. If it doesn’t, you’re probably one of those monsters who skips to the end of mysteries to see whodunit. Shame!)
  • Goal 2: Submit 4 short stories to contests or for publication: revise Collateral Damage and submit it to the Arizona Authors Association annual literary contest; submit Proof Text for publication; write 2 new stories and submit those.
  • Goal 3: Polish Vanishing, Inc.: Continue submitting chapters to my critique group and revising based on their feedback (throughout the year as the group meets); send the entire manuscript to at least 3 beta readers by May 1 and revise based on their feedback by November 1.
  • Goal 4: Write a flash or short creative nonfiction piece about my mother’s dementia and submit to a contest or for publication by December 31.

How about you, dear reader? What are your goals for 2020?

Winter Break road trip episode 2: Alamogordo to Carlsbad Caverns

2019-12-27 17.06.52.jpgAt the end of the first episode, Winter Break road trip 1: Flagstaff to Phoenix to White Sands, your intrepid blogger had survived a minor dust storm, depressing country music (is there any other kind?), and a drive across a missile range. Yeah, your intrepid blogger knows how to take a vacation.

After spending an uneventful night in Alamogordo (is there such a thing as an eventful night in Alamogordo? Well, maybe – depending on what’s being tested at the missile range), we drove over the mountains and through the desert to grandma’s house Carlsbad Caverns.

Cloudcroft, NM: Cloudcroft is a cute mountain village at over 8000′ elevation. It was also a convenient bathroom stop after we’d overcaffeinated in Alamogordo. We stopped at the Dusty Boots Cafe, where we were “welcomed” by the following:

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I have a snarky sense of humor, and I’m not easily deterred when my bladder is full, so in we went. Inside we found clean bathrooms, friendly staff–and the owner’s collection of mammy jars. My husband and I are as white as the snow currently piled up on my driveway, and we were cringing. Pro tip for restaurant owners: décor is for making *all* of your customers feel welcome, not for advertising your racism.

Carlsbad Caverns: If you haven’t been to Carlsbad Caverns, go. Go now. Seriously, go. It is the most spectacular cave I’ve ever visited, and I’ve visited quite a few. I’ve included a few pictures below, but as a rule, pictures taken inside caves really don’t do justice to the formations or to the overall experience of being 800 feet underground.

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Underground pool
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Formation reflected in another underground pool
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Your intrepid (and blurry) blogger on a trail 800 feet underground

We got to the cavern later than planned and managed to snag tickets on the last tour of the day. We emerged from the magical underworld at sunset.

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Join me later this week for episode 3, in which your intrepid blogger goes alien hunting in Roswell. Spoiler alert: the only thing that got probed was my wallet.

Winter Break road trip 1: Flagstaff to Phoenix to White Sands

White Sands, New Mexico, at sunset

It’s Winter Break for most of us academics in the US. Work is quiet, lots of holidays, so it’s the perfect time to:

  1. Get caught up on work.
  2. Get lots of writing done.
  3. Catch up on house chores, maybe clean some closets.
  4. Cook and freeze some meals for next semester.
  5. Say to hell with responsibilities and take a road trip!

Guess which option the hubs and I chose?

I’m writing this on Sunday morning from an old motel in the booming metropolis of Carrizozo, New Mexico (population 996 according to this Wikipedia article). I don’t have any pictures of Carrizozo yet, because we skidded into town (almost literally) in the middle of a snowstorm after dark last night.

What I do have are pictures from the previous days of our adventures, which I’ll break up into multiple posts.

Day 1: Flagstaff to Phoenix

Our first order of business was to drop our son in Phoenix to catch a flight for his Winter Break trip. I don’t have pictures from this leg, because this is a trip we make about 6 times per year for various reasons, so it’s not very interesting to us anymore. What made it interesting this time was 1) some dicey driving leaving Flagstaff on a slick, snowy freeway, and 2) some dude who decided it would be a good idea to drive north on the southbound side of I17. I’d lay you very good odds alcohol was involved in that decision.

Day 2: Phoenix to White Sands

Thursday we drove—and drove, and drove, and drove–across what felt like an endless expanse of desert. Rocks! Cactus! Dust storms! It was a thrill, I tell ya.

Lordsburg, NM: We drove through a mild dust storm just over the New Mexico border and decided to stop in Lordsburg for a late breakfast. All was well except for the incredibly depressing old school country music playing on the speakers… in the women’s restroom. Like, I’m sorry your wife left you with hungry children and crops to harvest, but I’m just trying to pee. I don’t have any pictures of Lordsburg, because the musical tales of woe sapped my will to live.

Rockhound State Park, NM: We were lured here with the promise of finding jasper and thundereggs. No such luck, but we had a nice hike on a rocky, cactus-studded hillside.

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Our primary destination was White Sands National Monument, a collection of gypsum dunes inside the White Sands Missile Range. Yes, children, we went on vacation in a missile range, because we know how to party.

We arrived just before sunset, which made for some lovely conditions for picture-taking.

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We spent the night in Alamogordo before heading south through more endless desert to Carlsbad Caverns. But that’s a topic for my next post.

Is anyone else celebrating the holidays by wandering around in the desert like the Old Testament Israelites? Just hubs and me then? OK.

Feel free to share your own wanderings (or holiday dramas or whatever else is on your mind this time of year) in the comments.

Christmas past–with Krylon

christmas_ornamentNote: A version of this piece first appeared on my garden blog three years ago. I’ve mostly retired that blog to focus on this one, but I hope to share a few pieces from it—and from other past blogs—on here from time to time. I’m busy preparing for a long-awaited holiday road trip, so this seems like a good time to recycle something from the past. I hope you enjoy it.

Christmas is one of those times when past and present converge in a strange time warp. Memories haunt this time of year, resurrected by the familiar sights, sounds, and scents of Christmas: happy memories we try to recreate for our kids and grandkids (often at the cost of our own sanity) and sad memories of loneliness, dysfunctional families, or loved ones no longer with us. The ghosts of Christmas Past and Christmas Present blur together in a muddle of memory and emotion and nostalgia. It’s no wonder people drink a lot this time of year.

But this isn’t going to be an essay on the joy or heartbreak of Christmas or (heaven forbid) how to do Christmas right (damn you, Martha Stewart!) Instead, I’m going to share one of my Christmas stories with you, the first memory of Christmas I have. So come on in, find a comfy chair, and join me for a visit to my Christmas Past.

The first Christmas I remember was when I was somewhere between 4 and 6 years old, so sometime between 1971 and 1973. We lived in the country in Northern California, and we were, ahem, dirt poor (garden jokes = dad jokes with dirt, not to be confused with dirty dad jokes). I don’t remember the presents I got that year, though I’m sure there were one or two. What I do remember are the ornaments. My mother bought a dozen royal blue Christmas balls, and those were the only ornaments we had. So my mother, being the creative problem-solver she was, decided we would make more. We cut up styrofoam meat trays and some other sort of packaging we had lying around, glued bits of eucalyptus to them (California, remember? Not a lot of evergreens where we lived except for juniper), and coated the results in silver spray paint. A Krylon Christmas! See? When I describe myself as a California redneck, I’m not lyin’.

Somehow my parents had found the money for an artificial tree, and that year it was festooned with blue globes and silver eucalyptus meat tray parts. Awesome, huh?

The last of the blue balls (ho ho ho – I said, “blue balls”) broke about 20 years ago, but I still have a few of the Krylon-coated meat tray ornaments. There’s a picture of one of them at the beginning of this post. Here are some more:

They don’t have much eucalyptus left–it’s worn off over the last nearly 50 years of loving use–but they’re still around, and I still hang them on the Christmas tree. Each time I do, I think of my mother, doing the best she could, making something beautiful out of what she had and could afford–and teaching me to do the same.

I’m not poor now. We aren’t rich, but we have what we need and some of what we want, and that is a blessing beyond measure. But the lesson I learned that Christmas, cutting out scraps and gathering bits of eucalyptus, has stuck with me. For me, it’s part of the allure of gardening. You can start with almost nothing–a tiny seed, a fragile transplant, a cutting–and nurture it into something beautiful. Growing things is a form of magic to me, a way to make something out of (almost) nothing. Gardening also teaches me to find clever uses for stuff that other people throw away: garden art from recycled materials, pots from yogurt containers, winter-sowing containers from takeout boxes, and, of course, compost from kitchen scraps and yard debris. Reuse and repurpose and recycle–and make something beautiful. Thanks, Mom, for teaching me a lesson that has shaped my life all these many years. It’s the best Christmas gift you ever gave me.

2019 update: My mother passed away in late September. May this post and the one I wrote last Christmas stand in tribute to the woman who gave me more than I can ever say. I miss you, Mom.


Lessons from #NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo 2019 winner's badgeSo I managed to write 50,000 words in November. See that shiny NaNoWriMo winner’s badge? Yeah, I earned that. Yeah. I did. Me. Winner. [thumps chest]

I won NaNo once previously, in 2014 when I was drafting a novel called Vanishing, Inc. that still isn’t quite done yet because I’ve been revising it since 2015. sigh Anyway, I was proud of myself then, but this NaNo feels even more satisfying, because it was so much harder. Some days it felt like I was doing nothing more than spewing verbal vomit all over my screen, solely because I wanted to get those damn 50,000 words (Which I did. Me. Winner. Thumps chest.) Sure, some days my muse showed up, and the words flowed like a mountain stream after a thunderstorm. Most days, though, my muse was holed up in her crappy, roach-infested apartment, swigging tequila and passing out on the bathroom floor instead of showing up for work like a responsible adult. My muse has issues. And therefore so did I, all through November.

I can’t say I enjoyed NaNo this year, because, truth be told, I didn’t. Most mornings I faced my screen and keyboard with a sense of mild despair. I’d looked forward to writing this novel for years, and it Just. Wouldn’t. Come. But each day I dutifully assumed the position and start typing. Sometimes I felt better after writing, but a lot of times I left my office more discouraged than I was when I started, because I was convinced that my muse had deserted me–the drunken floozy—and left me with only the Demon of Suckitude for company. I couldn’t think of character names. I couldn’t think of strong verbs. My vocabulary had been reduced to that of a baboon on ‘ludes.

But a funny thing happened as I went along. I still fought for every word some days, but other days I’d read a bit of what I’d already written and think, “Ya know, that’s not too bad for a baboon on ‘ludes.” And I’d write with a little less angst and a little more hope that I wasn’t a huge failure permanently possessed by the Demon of Suckitude.

So I learned some valuable lessons last month, the most significant of which were:

  • Just keep writing. Let the words suck. You can always revise later. I’d heard this advice, even given this advice, but I’d never needed it more than I did last month. And I took that advice. And it worked.
  • Show up every day, even you really don’t feel like it, even when your muse (the drunken floozy) can’t be bothered. Put your butt in the chair and keep it there till you’ve met your goal for the day. Sometimes the words will come, and sometimes they won’t, but you likely won’t know which will be the case beforehand. On several days, I woke up literally dreading the morning’s writing, but once I got going, the words flowed, and I had fun. Your mood is not an accurate gauge of whether you’ll have a productive writing session, so just sit down and write.
  • Don’t assume your work sucks just because you think it does. Your mood may be coloring your view of your work. Just write, even when you feel like you’re wasting time and electrons. You may be pleasantly surprised later.

I know these lessons are common advice in the writing community, but this year, for the first time, I learned the value of actually following that advice. It worked. I wrote 50,000 words, at least some of which didn’t suck.

Me. Winner. (thumps chest)


Living the Dream

Insecure Writers Support Group Badge

The December question for the Insecure Writers Support Group Blog Hop is:


Let’s play a game. Imagine. Role-play. How would you describe your future writer self, your life and what it looks and feels like if you were living the dream? Or if you are already there, what does it look and feel like? Tell the rest of us. What would you change or improve?

I imagine this a lot. Usually when I should be writing. While other middle-aged straight women fantasize about Brad Pitt or The Rock and a bathtub full of Jell-O, I daydream about hitting it big as a writer. Book tours! Interviews! Swanky cocktail parties! Appearing on the Stephen Colbert show! (Psst… Stephen. I’m currently accepting bookings. I can even be witty and charming if sufficiently caffeinated. Have your people call my people.)

Being the hopeless nerd that I am, I also fantasize about being able to write full time. I even have a schedule worked out:

  • 7:00–9:00: Write
  • 9:00–10:00: Gym or walk/run in the neighborhood
  • 10:00–12:00: Write
  • 12:00–1:00: Eat a nutritious, delicious lunch and take a walk (Note: in my fantasy world, it’s always sunny and 70F with no wind, so I can take long, meandering walks outside whenever I feel like it. In reality, I live in Flagstaff, where it’s currently 18F with 2 feet of snow on the ground.)
  • 1:00–3:00: Corresponding with my agent and editor, social media marketing, blogging, and—my favorite—answering my fan mail. Paging Gilderoy Lockhart…
  • 3:00–5:00: Gardening, napping, reading, journaling. Maybe a little laundry thrown in to keep me in touch with how the common people live so my head doesn’t swell too much.
  • 5:00–6:00: Lounging in the hot tub until my meal service delivers a hot, delicious yet healthy dinner.
  • 7:00–10:00: More reading, journaling, maybe some knitting, a little Twitter.

Sounds lovely, right? Right. However…

I was off work from Wednesday afternoon through Sunday, so theoretically I could have tried out at least some of this ideal schedule. I also take staycations occasionally, which offer a full week in which to road test my dream career. Yet, funnily enough, fantasy and reality never quite align. Let’s take Friday as an example, since I didn’t really have anything I had to do that day. Here’s roughly how it went:

  • 7:45–10:00: Writing (OK, so far, so good, even if I did sleep a bit later than planned)
  • 10:00–11:30: Stuff face with Thanksgiving leftovers, then complain about stomachache
  • 11:30 am – 10:00 pm: Scroll through r/AmItheAsshole on Reddit, smugly convinced that I would never be the asshole in any of the posted scenarios. Nope. Never. The weather is just fine way up here on my high horse, thanks.

And here’s Saturday:

  • 7:45–9:30: Reading about houseboats on the internet, because my current novel-in-progress will have at least one scene set on a houseboat. Children, this is what we writers call, “research.” No, it only sounds like farting around on the internet. If a writer does it, it’s research. And thanks to all that research, I now know that you can buy DIY plans on the internet for a houseboat or something called a shanty boat, which is exactly what it sounds like, and I want one.
  • 9:30–10:00: Writing (not a dang word involved houseboats)
  • 10:00–10:45: Spend another 45 minutes feeling superior to the other assholes on Reddit.
  • 10:45–11:30: Stuff face. Get stomachache.
  • Photo of snow in foreground with blue spruce and San Francisco Peaks in background
    Dead tauntaun or pile o’ weeds. You make the call.

    11:30–5:30: Tunnel through snow to car, excavate car, make several unfunny jokes about tauntauns and AT-AT Walkers, and trudge through snow with husband and camera in tow. Fork over $80 for someone to plow driveways, then go to town, because we’re almost out of milk, and I’m starting to feel like I’m in a sequel to The Shining even though I’ve only been snowed in for 2 whole days.

    Photo of garden sign and small tree covered in snow
    I really want to Photoshop a tauntaun or AT-AT in here. Too bad I don’t know how to use Photoshop. Sounds like a job for… Research!

Yet despite all of this evidence to the contrary, I remain convinced that I could lead a life of genteel literariness if only I had enough money to quit my job and write full-time. I probably have a better shot with Brad or Dwayne and the bathtub full of Jell-O.

Want to see some other great IWSG posts? Check out the list of participants here. (Powered by Linky Tools).