Magic of the Everyday, Personal Life, the dog, Writing

Well There Went Two Months…

Gah! Don’t turn around or time will come ’round and bite you in the rear end. Hard. Like it just did for me.

Since last we chatted, my husband was sick, then finally recovered, but he still needs to schedule his knee surgery. My dog is now currently having knee surgery, after a strange bout with some increased seizure activity. At home, we at long last got the okay from our HOA to get our steep and slipping back yard terraced, and with the rain now stopped, the landscaper can begin moving in supplies. All by hand, because of tiny gate area to the back yard. We got two rooms of our home painted (before this the whole house, inside and out, was pale mocha with white trim, inside and out, and I was dying of boredom), and I’m hoping we’ll see more rooms in color before too long. The pool solar has been replaced after unexpectedly dying. And all along, I’ve been working on the revision of the novel.

Revising is slow going at the moment. I’m writing a couple entirely new chapters to replace a number of chapters that are cut completely out. By changing the plot/character arc near the end of the last draft, I knew this work would come along…and sure enough, here it is. It’s gratifying to see the work coming together into a cohesive whole, but it’s also a slow and tedious process right now, since this is the first thicket of change–and area where the changes cluster and make totally new drafting necessary. I’m holding onto that memory of revitalization I felt at WorldCon, and using that to shove myself through the work each day. Until the end of the day’s effort, when I sit back and realize, Yeah, this is actually working. This is sounding like an actual novel. Astonishing!

In the natural world, autumn has crept in while I wasn’t looking. Here in the Orlando area, that means that I’ll wear long pants and t-shirts in the mornings, and again in the evenings, while the daytime temps still reach the balmy upper 80’s or low 90’s. I can honestly say that I’m looking forward to actual winter, and being able to turn off the AC, and maybe even wear socks.

Once the terracing is complete, I can begin planting the back yard (just in time for the cooler, garden-pleasant weather!), making the fairly bland space it is now vibrant with plants that smell wonderful, that bring birds and bees, and some that we can eat. I’ve brought a few starts from the old yard that are really wanting spots in the ground, and can’t wait to get my hands in the dirt. And of course, once Dasher recovers from his surgery, he’ll love the flat area to chase a ball or frisbee in, instead of crashing downhill into the fence at the bottom, as he used to do. [Poor dog. No wonder his meniscus gave out! (Well, not really; we didn’t use the back yard at all, but tossed toys in the open, flat front yard instead.)] And I’m going to absolutely love not killing myself while cutting that steep slope, especially the bouncy area over the tree roots that were being washed out from underneath. Aaahhhh, it’s going to be sooo wonderful.

Until then, I’ll keep dreaming of how wonderful it will all be–the book, and the yard. And I’d be glad if you’d do the same. I hope you enjoy autumn, no matter how it exhibits where you live.

food, Nature, Personal Life, signal boosting, Writing

When Life Gives You Cracked Plums…

…make Jam!

The rain and the birds are conspiring to give me a bumper crop of split, pitted, or cracked plums. The week-plus of drenching rains has swollen the fruit too quickly, and the birds sense the nearby bounty, so they peck an unripe plum. Once its skin is breached, it splits and ripens fast, falling to the ground, where the birds will feast.

That’s where I step in. Several times a day, whenever the rains let up long enough, I step outside and scan under and around the tree. I scoop up the fallen fruit, and pick any cracked fruit still hanging on the branches. These get cleaned, then pitted and tossed into sugar and a bit of lemon juice to macerate. The following day, I make a small batch of plum jam. So far, I have one half-pint jar in the fridge (which didn’t “take”), 5 on the counter that did, and another batch (which should yield about 3 or so more jars) ready to cook later tonight or tomorrow morning. All I can say is “yum.”

In novel-land, I’ve printed out my first, very rough, draft. Today, I get to spread it all out on a table and begin the painful process of whacking, slicing, dicing, deleting, and rearranging words and scenes. Inserting new bits will come later. Right now, I’ve got to adjust the flow and pace, and cut the excess (I always write to excess, and must trim back later), and make notes where I’ve changed things mid-draft so I can correct those once I get back to the electronic file.

Why in print? For me, it’s easier to visualize how long a scene is when I can see it plainly laid out before me. And I can see how 3 long scenes running together might be too much–or how too many short ones are creating a sense of rush that the narrative isn’t justifying. Or…well, you get the idea. I can’t see all that when I’m scrolling on a computer. I’m hoping that one day I’ll be able to hold all this in my head. But that day? It isn’t here yet. So I’m doing what I have to do in order to make this novel work. After that, I’ll work on making it sing.

Oh, and how about a bit of good news? Another one of my VP classmates has had a novel sale! Read about it here. I’m so excited for him! (In case you missed it, the first of my VP classmates with a traditional novel publication offer is written up here; I think I may have only tweeted this one, so I’m putting it here on my blog where it belongs now.)

plain silliness, Writing

On Not-Writing

The dog sleeps contentedly, the chores remain caught up.
Looks around for something else to do, but the eye rests on nothing undone.
Even the cat has been waxed, and run off yowling.
(It is not my cat, but a friendly neighborhood stray. I fear I may have offended it.)

Nothing for it then.

Pours Japanese green tea in fancy Thai teacup.
Sips. Dreams.
Opens file and at last, and begins to write.

publication, Taos Toolbox, Writing, Writing Workshops

Galaxy’s Edge now available free online!

That’s right, starting with this January 2018 issue–which just so happens to contain my story After the Story EndsGalaxy’s Edge Magazine is available free online for your reading pleasure. I recommend you hop over to their site, read not only my story but the other great works online there, and tell others, too. I love this story. It’s one of my very favorites of the things I’ve written, and I would love as many eyes on it as possible. (Scroll down in the orange table of contents box to get to my story; it’s right after the one by Kij Johnson.)

Okay, now for a little bit behind the story. Are you ready for this? After the Story Ends was written for a contest. That’s right–the title was given to me in a contest over on the Codex forums, and I had to write a story to match that title. I got to choose my own title from a huge long list of possibilities, and I scrolled through so many of them, seeking ‘the one.’ Many were often wonderful titles–ones I’d like to read, even–but I couldn’t see myself writing those stories. So I kept scrolling along, and along, and along.

Then I saw this one. It immediately called to me. After the story ends, what? So often, stories end with the “happily ever after.” But I’ve always wanted to know what occurs when that wears off, when you’re no longer the hero of the moment, but just another oddball to the folks around you. The return from fairy lands came from the beginning, and after that, it just rolled right along. But the story wasn’t done yet!

I subbed this to the Writers of the Future contest, where it garnered me Finalist–much to my utter shock! When I’d subbed it, I was sure–utterly, totally sure–that this just wasn’t going to be Dave’s ‘thing.’ So when the Finalist announcements were delayed, I wasn’t worried. I mean, I was totally sure that my story would be another late Honorable Mention, maybe a Semi-Finalist if I was really lucky.

This was the year that I attended Taos Toolbox, and I even had this very discussion with one of my roommates as I pondered whether I should use this story as my week two re-write. I mean, I knew I liked it, and I thought it was pretty good–but I knew it could be better. So, I edited it, and submitted it for critique during week two. And that’s where things get really weird.

There at Taos, Nancy Kress gave me probably the most influential line edit of my life. She pointed out every place in this story where I pushed too hard emotionally, using a two-by-four instead a whisper, where I told instead of showed, or worse, did both in turn, and where my emotions contradicted one another from line to line. She and Walter Jon Williams, and my classmates, helped me take this story from “pretty good” to “great.” My classmates’ enthusiasm and the instructors’ teaching propelled me to rewrite the story again, becoming this version you’re reading in Galaxy’s Edge as the result.

And then, I came home and got “the call” from Joni Labaqui at the WotF Contest. It was the day after I arrived home from Taos, and I still wasn’t over that experience, or recovered from the long trip home. And I swear, right until she said “Finalist,” I thought she was calling to tell me my story had been misplaced, or that I’d gotten an HM but the announcement had gotten misplaced…and a tiny part of me wondered why she’d bother calling someone for that.

So, after I hung up and picked myself up off the floor, I was in a daze. An hour later, I was in a mild panic. I’d looked up on the website to see who judges the Finalist stories, you see, and found Nancy Kress’s name there. I hadn’t thought about it at all while at Taos, but the stories are supposed to be completely anonymous. Sure I’d forfeited my spot, I called Joni the next day and told her Nancy had seen my story already–no problem, she said. And relief washed through me so fiercely my legs nearly gave out and I had to sit once again.

In the end, the story as I’d subbed it to WotF didn’t place in the top 3, so it didn’t become a Winner. While part of me was sad, at least I no longer had to worry about somehow exchanging the improved story for the original. And now the improved story is published in Galaxy’s Edge, a home where I’m very pleased to join the ranks of published authors. Win all around.

All that from a title found in a contest.

(Oh, and did you see–Taos Toolbox is open to submissions for this summer’s session…)

Magic of the Everyday, Today's Desk, Writing

Writer’s Desk, 10/25/17

Out the window: Clear blue skies, sunshine, and gorgeous coolness. Fall has landed with a thud on north central Florida. Last night the temps were in the low 50’s, tonight should plummet into the 40’s! That’s a far cry from the 90+ degrees of only a few days ago. And I’m soooooo glad.

On the desktop: Other than the plain green tea? A big old mess, quite honestly. Post-It notes trail off and sprawl everywhere, as I attempt to tame and structure a short story that’s had me flummoxed for over a year. I know the basic plot, and the story arc, but it’s still missing that certain spark that will lift it above “meh.” At least I found the obvious structural flaw that was killing it before, right?

Today’s Work-in-Progess:  The novel with the working title “Unspoken.” What with having been gone nearly 2 weeks (and this shortly after having started the novel), I thought I’d have a hard time diving back into the work. But honestly, I haven’t.

The first day back to writing (and yes, after traveling I took the weekend off to recuperate), I re-read the most recent 3,000 words, just to get back into the flow, and to find my protagonist’s voice and emotional state. Apparently it worked, because I wrote that next 1,000 word scene as easily as anything. And the following day, the next scene of 1800 words flew from my fingers onto the keyboard! It was a combat scene, so the action practically wrote itself, and I felt glorious, so accomplished and good!

Spousal Unit said, “Well, that’s because you stopped writing at a great point, leaving yourself an interesting place to dive into.” To which, I replied, “Well of course! Because it’s ALL interesting. I’m leaving the boring parts out of this one.”

Honestly, I’m trying really hard to conquer STRUCTURE on this novel, both on a macro and micro level. I want the final shape of the book to more than vaguely resemble the first draft, you see, because I’ve learned that nothing kills me deader than a really HUGE, HARD revision draft. (I feel tired and cranky just thinking of that!) Enervation seeps from my pours like a late August sweat at the prospect of such an edit. So, you see, I really needed to do something. Studying my craft (as usual) was the answer.

And Another Thing: How is Halloween just around the corner? If the weather cooperates, I’m going to dress up like a living scarecrow and flop on my porch swing to hand out the candy, freaking out (in a good way) all the kids that come by. So, hope and pray for good weather, okay? I’m feeling devilish! 🙂

Magic of the Everyday, Nature, Personal Life

April Update

I’ve been missing again–sorry. Life has taken a rather “full to the brim” tack, keeping me jumping.

First there’s been an injury to my knee–no surgery, thankfully, but it still hurts, and limits my motions and actions. I’m not good with this. 😦  Unfortunately, I’m learning.

A rare moment of peace in the sunshine, as Karla waits to steal the bone from Dasher.

Then we did a 2.5 week dog-sit stint. Karla is a pup, bouncy and active and big and strong; basically, all the things Dasher is not. They get along fine, mostly, but Karla sometimes forgets that Dasher’s “no” really means “no,” not “pester me until I give in.” And Dasher sometimes needed reminding that he really does need to share the toys, not need to possess whatever Karla wanted (and vice versa!). We also don’t have a fenced yard, and the dogs wouldn’t walk well together, so it was double dog-walking with a sore knee. Let me tell you, two weeks of this wore me out!

On top of this, the day Karla went home, I discovered termites! Not in the house, fortunately, but far too close by! They swarmed out of the raised garden’s vertical posts, blossoming up and out like endless dandelion seeds, their wings glinting white in the morning sunlight. Kinda pretty, actually, in the way a nuclear mushroom cloud from afar can be pretty. Formosan termites are destructive invaders, and I’ll be happy to see them gone!

Anyway, it’s not all doom and gloom. Strawberries have been ripening in my garden, and the hummingbirds are back. The feeder is filled, and I’ve already seen them hovering there, sipping their fill. Also, my hibiscus are blooming once more, including the expensive true tropical I bought last year. It really suffered through winter, and I wasn’t sure it would make it, which made me very blue. But it’s popped back vigorously as recent temps have soared, and put out its first bloom. To top off the good news, yesterday it poured, raining for hours. We needed that rain so badly! Yay.

On the writing front, I’ve managed to keep writing most through all of this, but ran into a snag with the ending of the final Jessamin book. I needed a bit more oomph–action–going on. It was an easy thing to sketch out once I realized it, but it took me two days of struggling to write to realize what the problem was! I only needed to backtrack two scenes, restructuring them a bit to fit the new layout. It’s going well, and is sooo much more satisfying already.

On that note, I need a bit more “action” myself–on to writing fiction! Happy April, everyone, and if you’ve been having the terrible winter, Happy Spring, as well.

Taos Toolbox, Writing Workshops

Workshop Round-Up

I returned home from 2 weeks at Taos Toolbox Writers Workshop on Sunday, dragging and tired. My dog hasn’t left my side or my lap since. (It’s nice to be loved, but really? Still, he’s on my lap sleeping now, as I type this, so I guess I missed him just as much.) Fortunately for both the dog and me, husband-dearest caught me out of my freefall and helped me settle my feet firmly onto home ground again.

How was it? Amazing. Walter Jon Williams and Nancy Kress each know more about publishing and writing than any five other folks, and their advice was wonderful and specific. The guest lecturers–James S.A. Corey and Emily Mah Tippetts–also had great insights for us, which we ate up like tasty petit fours. Daniel Abraham’s talk on success vs failure was a perfect fit; while some of my classmates found it depressing, I found it liberating and uplifting.

My classmates were wonderful and extremely talented, kind and funny, critical and yet supportive. I’m sure you’ll be seeing them in print and publication soon! Some are self-publishing already! (You can see our class photo at Walter’s website, and soon in Locus magazine.) My roommates were a joy to be around. (*waves hi!*  Miss you guys already!) Conversations about writing took place in the classroom, in the resort lobby, in our rooms, in the hot tub and pool, in cars, on the mountainside, on the roads, and are probably still echoing in the halls we’ve left behind.

Speaking of which, their new location at Angel Fire Resort was beautiful! Three of us took the chairlift to the summit of Angel Fire and hiked down during our Sunday off, and found it gorgeous and exhilarating. But why hike down, you ask? Well…I found out that altitude sickness was a real and actual thing that can whoop your butt. And it did whoop mine. Be forewarned, and if you’ve lived your whole life near sea level, arrive early! Your body and brain will thank you for it.

For two weeks, we students got to live, breathe, eat, and sleep words. We read and critiqued, we wrote. We discussed ideas. And I got to write down snippets of funny things said, especially out of context, as I’m going to present them here:

“We didn’t have a day before yesterday.”

“There are actually things in the first chapter I like.”

On the Oxford comma:
Student: But what about editors who tell you to take it out?”
Instructor: “That’s what ‘STET’ is for.”

“I’m enjoying it, but possibly I’m enjoying what’s going on in my head and not what you’ve written down.”

“Oh, you’re the one with the writing.”

“Most manuscripts aren’t smelly enough.”

“So you’re saying ‘horror’ is undead?”

“I hate words.”

“OK. That’s hard to follow.”

“You need to build the world more before you destroy it.”

“It just seemed like there should be more paragraphs?”

“I like it when Science Fiction novels encourage the metric system.”

“Yeah, what they all said.”

“I have a high tolerance for things that don’t make sense.”

“You want a light spice here, not Sriracha.”

“It had all the excitement of trying to remember where your car was parked.”

“Ditto everything, but with some ‘buts.'”

 

Nature, the dog, Travel, Writing, Writing Workshops

Round-Up for late-June/July

Happy Belated Canada Day to my neighbors to the (now far) north, and Happy (forthcoming) Independence Day to those of us in the U. S.

Husband, dog and I celebrated by taking Thursday & Friday off and making a break to the gulf coast town of Dunedin, FL. We stayed in the dog-friendly Best Western Hotel (great spot for dog owners, with a shady park right across the street for “walkies.”), which was, amazingly, also right on the waterfront! Part of the draw was the quaint town filled with cool little shops and awesome restaurants (not enough time for all of them on this short trip–we must return!).

Another huge draw was Honeymoon Island State Park with its much-touted dog beach. We went, and it was good. However, even on the beach and in the water, dogs had to remain on a leash, which, okay, I get it–but it made it less than fun. Since I didn’t know this, I’d only brought a 4-foot leash, which made me work hard to let him swim. Also less than fun for poor Dasher was the fact that the water was actually hot! Warmer than the air temp, which was around 86°F–and after a few blissful minutes of swimming, he just wanted out and up, into the cool breeze and my arms. I actually felt bad for the small conchs plopped there in the low-tide shallows, slowly turning into soup. 😦

On the plus side, in a very short trip we managed to see much interesting and unusual wildlife: 4 sandhill cranes, 1 spoonbill, 2 perched/nesting osprey, scads of scuttling land crabs (really, it was almost unsettling; they made the undergrowth rustle with their passage on the way back from the dog beach), and a dolphin. Dasher made quick canine friendships with many other dogs, and charmed a number of folks walking in Dunedin, as is his nature. (How did I end up with such a social butterfly for a dog? Oh, yeah, that was husband’s doing…makes perfect sense. They’re the extroverts of this family, I’m the wallflower.)

You may have noticed that I’ve been rather scarce around this blog of late. I’ve been busy preparing for Taos Toolbox, coming up in just a week. Each participant submits up to 10,000 words of their novel + a synopsis of up to 3 pages, and we all read and crit one another’s work. There are 15 students this year; that’s a lot of words to be read beforehand. In addition, Nancy Kress has assigned 2 short stories, and Walter Jon Williams has assigned a short novel. There has been much reading and wearing of eyeglasses going on here, but I’m not complaining. I’m already learning things; there is no way to read that many words and not pick up a few things here and there, and my future classmates are a very talented bunch!

Which leads directly to a warning: I’m leaving next Saturday, and I don’t expect to be posting here on the blog during the workshop. Which means you won’t see activity here until the end of July, when I return. I’m hoping to have a summary of my workshop experience after I return, so there is that to look forward to. If you really, really need a fix of the wit (such as it is) and wisdom (such as it isn’t) of M. E. Garber, I suggest you take a peek at my Twitter feed during my absence. And if not, I’ll see you again once I return.

Happy July, everyone! Hope you’re fully enjoying summer.