Turning into a Farm or Research?

It’s the middle of summer and I have seven children in the house, the dog in a bedroom upstairs because he keeps barking at one of the children, and two rabbits in the laundry room because it is 97 degrees outside and bunnies, as you know, don’t like temps over 85 degrees. Also, one of the bunnies might be pregnant, but that’s not why she’s mean. She was mean before. That’s why she lived in a chicken coop. But now she lives at my house.

I’ve been working on a contemporary novel about a woman who runs an animal rescue and somehow real life and writer life are overlapping. How else to explain this?

And these?

Some pigs strolled through my backyard. Seriously.

And, finally, why would I have a rooster show up in my garage?

These pictures all have stories and they may or not make it into my novel, but there are other parts of animal rescue. I had to research pit bull fighting. Here’s the book that was most affecting.

The Lost Dogs: Michael Vick’s Dogs and their Tale of Rescue and Redemption

What I read made me angry and horrified and sad and proud. Yes, PROUD. The animal control officers who were told not to accuse a sports celebrity, but did because it was the right thing to do. The men and women at rescues all over the United States who worked tirelessly to save the dogs: rehabilitating and teaching these abused animals how to be dogs again. Loving on them, training them, believing in them. Acting on Gandhi’s famous quote, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

I salute those who, like my character, give their life to make this world a better place for animals. I had the opportunity to attend a fundraiser for Luna’s House, a rescue in Maryland, and get a glimpse into the amount of work that goes into running a rescue.

I need to hurry up and finish this draft because there’s a chapter where a zebra appears and I….I don’t think I have any more room in my house!

Hope you are enjoying your summer.

Love,

Sherri

Fear of the Week

Hey Friends,

Just wanted to give a quick update on my own private NaNoWriMo. I made the last goal so I’m at 20,000 words. The way I’ve been doing it is a hybrid method. That is, I’m not writing every day because that doesn’t work with my schedule. Instead, I’ve set aside a week where the writing is the number one priority and gotten 10K words. Then I had to stop and make up all the things I didn’t get done. Then I did another week of 10K words. I’m about to start on my third week.

One of the things that some of you might say is, “Lame. The whole point is to write every day until you get 50K. Taking breaks isn’t NaNoWriMo. You’re a cheater and I don’t care about you.”

Okay. That’s a little harsh, but fine and fair. And, this is my version. Whether or not I’m doing it wrong, I have learned that there is a specific fear associated with each week of writing.

Also, to come back to that whole “lame bit” here are some of the things I’ve done the past two weeks to make up, catch up, and try to triage to prepare for next week long sprint:

One Times: I finished my Christmas Letters. (Now are you getting how overwhelmed I am?)  My daughter Evelyn participated as a cancer survivor in the “Pantene Beautiful Lengths” experience by cutting the ponytails of students donating their hair to be made into free wigs for cancer patients. Dog had to go to vet to get nails clipped, and fresh orders of heartworm preventative and flea/tick meds. Lime disease is terrible in Maryland. Son had to go to orthodontist. He needs braces.  I went to Baltimore for critique group at the Baltimore Science Fiction Society. Had several stories come in from The Potomac Review that I need to read and get responses back to editor. I called my senators about the cuts to the EPA.

Regular: Post office, bank, drycleaner, grocery store, laundry for six people, I wrote my bills, went through mail I hadn’t looked at in over a week, and then the sports. This is the overlapping of winter and spring sports. My son is regular basketball, all-star basketball, lacrosse. My oldest daughter finished her volunteer hours at the horse stable and then started Track and Field (which is EVERY DAY that I have to pick her up from school). My little ones finished science club but still have gymnastics. They also have birthday parties to attend on the weekends. I wasn’t teaching as many classes this week, but I had to finish the session with all the attending paperwork to be filed and moved around.

Now that I’ve been nice and defensive, let me throw away all the little sticky notes that I write my daily to-do lists on and tell you about FEAR.

The first week fear is: DO I HAVE A NOVEL IN ME? That is, you’ve thought of a premise, you’ve got a hook and a setting and some characters, but do you have enough for 85K words? You kinda know what’s going to happen, but what if it all happens too quickly and this is only a short story?

The only way to get through this fear is to try it. Take a deep breath and keep asking “what if.” What if my character wants A, but then B happens? What if my character chooses to do something stupid when someone else has A and doesn’t appreciate it? What if my character gets A, but realizes she wanted B?

The second week fear: THIS ISN’T INTERESTING. I’ve got too many characters, too many pets, the conflict isn’t threatening enough. All my sentences are subject-verb-direct object with no variety so that EVEN MY SENTENCES ARE BORING.

That’s okay. I’ve read NaNoWriMo pep talks. The authors all say the same thing. You can’t edit something that you haven’t gotten out of your head. You must get something onto the paper and then you can change it around. Also, this writing is so fresh that you are not a reliable indicator of whether there is an engrossing story. You’ll need beta readers and TIME.

As I’m getting ready for my third week (tomorrow is an elementary half-day so kids are getting home as I’m getting home from teaching yoga and my son has three basketball games Saturday because they are in a tournament and I teach Sunday School on Sunday morning, but after that. Monday, March 6th)…

I have another fear: THIS ISN’T WORTH IT  All those things I listed above that I had to get done so that I could write something that no one is ever going to want to read. My premise is stupid, my characters forgettable. I’m stressed and irritable because I have no time and it’s all going to be forgotten, recycled, a waste of paper.

Maybe I’ll have some insight after I make it through this writing week. But, this one seems to be the hardest to fight because I KNOW I’m out of balance. My day, each day, is scheduled down to ten minute intervals and that is not how I want to live. I’m nervous when practice schedules don’t come in ahead of time because I am constantly doing logistics. I’m short with the kids when they want to play instead of sticking to the schedule. I live in the minivan and dread dinner because I didn’t have time to make anything that they’ll all eat. The situation makes me very unhappy.

My guess is this is where the author says he or she had to dig deep and have confidence that the novel will help other people, that the story will connect and resonate with others.

I don’t know. We should have an answer by March 13th.

Love,

Sherri

 

Short Cuts

Hello peoples,

It has been one week since I started my own private NaNoWriMo. I made word count! 10,550 = 7 days times 1,500 words.

So, YAY! But also. Wow. Because it wasn’t just work to get this first week done, it was a lot of shortcuts that aren’t sustainable. I pretty much look like a zombie with a frownie face, not-chic pony tail, and burning eyes. Instead of brains, though, I want sleep. I want to sleep so much that my eyes burn when I wake up in the morning and I need two cups of tea before I can even stop yawning long enough to make a third. I’ve been cheating on making my kids’ lunches and telling them to buy instead. I should change the music for my fitness class. My dog is absolutely bored with being walked up and down the street because I haven’t had time to take him to the park. He retaliated by chewing up one of my yoga CDs. I have no social life. I have unreturned text messages, three post-Christmas cards still to send out, and forget seeing any of my friends in person. Overall, there’s no sense of balance. I’m running from one activity to the next, just smearing across the surface instead of really checking things.

So, I need to adjust. I’m leaving for AWP (writing conference held in Washington DC this year) on Friday. I’m setting aside my speed writing until I return on Sunday. That way I can get my household squared away before I leave and, most importantly, I mentally prepare for the conference. There’s no use going if I haven’t looked at the panels, discussions, and activities. I want to go to get energized about writing. I want to learn something new. All I can think about right now is crashing on the hotel bed and sleeping before my roommates get there and potentially try to get me to actually attend the conference.

From Sunday the 12th through Saturday the 18th I will write another 10,500 words.

Anyone else going to AWP? Seen any good panels I should check out? Anyone else sludging through first drafts right now?

Love,

Sherri

 

NaNoWriMo Retry

Friends,

It’s been busy and there have been a lot of distractions in our private lives as well as the political sphere. Life was so chaotic that I didn’t even send out Christmas cards this year and that makes me feel like a really bad friend/family member. But, my daughter Evie did have her fourth year anniversary of stopping chemo, my husband and I did get away to NYC to see Hamiliton to celebrate our anniversary, and we did go to France to see our friends get married. All the bad stuff I’ll leave in 2016.

In November I started the National Novel Writing Month challenge. If you haven’t tried this, it’s really well-run with social networking, graphs of progress, and emailed pep talks. Still, I failed with spectacular success. School was cancelled what seemed like every other day and then we traveled for Thanksgiving. So, I’m starting again tomorrow, February 1st. My plan is to write 1,500 words each day for a total of 42,000 new words. To help myself, I’m making a Top 10 list of PITFALLS TO AVOID if you want to win a NaNoWriMo.

  1. Don’t have four children. Well, too late for that. Solution: Honestly acknowledging that I can’t write from 3pm -10pm because I will be making snacks, checking homework, hounding about cleaning up messes, and driving to various activities. And, seriously, after 10 pm I’m too tired anyway.
  2. Don’t check Facebook or Twitter. I admit to being swirled around by the election results and the past eleven days of nominees and executive orders. I do believe in action — phone calls about issues and donating to charities that I feel are especially vulnerable — but I’ve wasted hours reading articles and cross-checking info and reading status updates and generally getting caught up in an extended panic mode. All I’ve ended up with are anxiety headaches. This doesn’t help anyone. (I will, however, continue to remain informed because I believe in the great American experiment in democracy).
  3. Don’t ignore the small successes. Writing is a hard business. I sold two stories this month: “Breakage” to Abyss & Apex and “Saving Money” to Flash Fiction Magazine’s anthology. That feeling is going to have to carry me through the rejections (six in January).
  4. Don’t have a nice lunch. I get tired of making breakfast, packing lunches, making afternoon snacks, making dinner. ALL THE TIME FOR SO MANY PEOPLE. So lunch by myself is sometimes the only time where I can eat what I want to. It’s my treat. Unfortunately, that takes time. So on school days, for February, I’m giving up my nice lunches. Instead, I’ll have a vegetable soup that I can make on Sundays to last the week. (Will this be the first “pit” I fall into? It might be).
  5.  Don’t let trainwrecks at the day job eat into your time or consume your thoughts. In November I was training a new teacher and creating the schedule for the next session and doing time sheets and a million other things. This February, fingers crossed, nothing unexpected should be occurring. I can go in each morning, teach class, and be out.
  6.   Don’t let blog posts, short stories, or other projects take priority. Ummm, guilty. Posts are good — they connect a writer to other writers, to readers, and make the author produce content. Short stories are good. They are a chance to improve craft, get feedback more quickly, and finish a project. I also have a “secret” creative project I’m working on that takes a couple hours a week. Good is good, but it’s not the best. This month I need to PRIORITIZE my novel writing. I want to be a novelist. That has to come first, even when I’m tempted to revise a short story (because revising is EASIER) rather than creating that first draft.
  7. Don’t hate yourself, yell at yourself, or try to go back and read parts of the first draft. Yes, it’s going to be crap. Yes, there are a ton of parts that need to be fleshed out and plot threads that went nowhere. That’s okay.
  8. Don’t be a martyr. Your kids won’t care. Seriously. You drive them to basketball, gymnastics, indoor soccer, after school activities. YOU EVEN DRIVE THE OLDER TWO KIDS TO THEIR VOLUNTEER ACTIVITIES. You can go to the writing conference weekend in February. You can go to a critique group meeting in February. These are ways to recharge and become inspired by other writers.
  9. Don’t do any major household renovations. Obviously some things are out of our control (lightning strike anyone?), but I can’t concentrate when I have strangers walking into and out of my house. We’ve recovered from the strike, the upstairs carpet has been replaced. NO MORE PROJECTS.
  10. Don’t stop exercising. I’m lucky that I teach exercise classes — strength training and yoga. I also walk my dog. But when the plot won’t hold together, when you don’t know what happens next, I suggest taking a walk or getting on the elliptical, whatever you need and get your brain in a calm, relaxed state so that solutions can flow.

 

That’s all I got. It’s 3:02 and my daughter is rolling her eyes because I asked her to walk the dog and my son is complaining about the cereal selection for his snack.

Do you have any advice to get meet your writing goals?

Love,

Sherri

Wax Museum, Malala Y., and Cookies

The teachers at our local elementary school do this very cool thing. (Well, MOST teachers at elementary schools do very cool things. It’s part of their job requirement). BUT.

Our third graders do a wax museum. They choose a person to research, read a biography, and sort through the most interesting personal facts. Then the children dress up as their person and stay frozen. Parents get to come through and press a button to make the wax figure start his or her brief speech. It is beyond adorable. These kids have worked so hard, you can see it in the posters, the costumes, and especially when they give their speeches.

Evie decided to be Madame Curie and we looked through the book together. Did you know that she won two Nobel prizes? One in chemistry and one in physics. Did you know that the second year (1911) she won the Nobel prize she was also turned down for membership to the French Academy of Sciences because she was a woman? Did you know that she and her daughter Irene took their x-ray machines, attached them to vehicles’ batteries,  and drove these mobile x-ray units to the front lines of World War I and saved countless lives?

img_3128

My other daughter, Sylvia, decided to be Malala Yousafzai, the young woman from Pakistan who wrote a blog for BBC Urdu about what was happening in the Swat Valley. The young woman who was shot by the Taliban because she wanted to go to school. The young woman who cannot return home because of more death threats.

img_3127

Click to hear her own words: Malala’s speech

Sylvia was so inspired by this wax museum project that she asked me if we could do a bake sale to raise money to send a girl to school. I wasn’t sure. I mean, I’ve baked cookies before, but how would this work? Who would buy the cookies? How would we package them for sale?

The girls and I decided to do it. We offered chocolate chip cookies, peppermint cookies, hash mark peanut butter cookies, and peanut butter cookies with Hershey kisses in them. Our goal was to to raise $65, the approximate cost to sponsor a girl through http://www.malala.org.

We took pre-orders, enlisted my husband, baked all day Saturday, and Voila!

img_3122 img_3123

We’ve just about reached $100. I know it won’t change the world, but it’s the flapping of a butterfly’s wings moving from person to person. Both Madame Curie and Malala, women who fought so hard for what they believed in. The 3rd grade teachers in our elementary school. My daughters, willing to act on their feelings. And, hopefully, a young woman out there who will be able to attend school — knowing that strangers believed in her and her right to an education.

We wish you the best this holiday season! Take care of each other and let others take care of you!

Love,

Sherri

 

Attempting to Critique Group My Teens

Happy Halloween!

Today means two things: 1) You should go and buy your copy of Pantheon Magazine, Hestia Issue right now so img_2942you can read some scary stories. My story “1416 DeForested Lane” is included and I’m honored to be in this issue.  Here’s the link: Amazon  And, if you enjoy it, please post a review. It helps the writers to get noticed by other readers and spreads the love.

AND…….

2) I now officially have two teenagers. Count them. One. Two. And they are nuts. Absolutely crazy, but they are also the same. And that took some getting used to. My daughter is in high school, but I didn’t realize it until August when I drove her to the sports tryouts and the parents lined up court side and then the coach came and ushered us all out and thanked us, very nicely, for coming, and said she’d see us when tryouts were over. Then she shut the door to the gym. That’s when I took a deep breath and looked around and realized that zooming toward me were driving lessons and formal dances and college and BIG decisions. Like, the kind of decisions that were going to affect my daughter’s LIFE. It seemed a good time to go and get myself a coffee. And maybe ice cream.

She went to Homecoming with friends. I thought I had until Junior year? Nope.

She went to Homecoming with friends. I thought I had until Junior year? Nope.

Today is my son’s birthday. Yup, he’s a Halloween baby.

img_2941

He turned thirteen. In some cultures he would be considered a man. I was telling my friend who also has a son about how I was having a conversation with my son, just talking about whatever, and he reached over and lifted me up. WHILE I WAS TALKING. He set me down like nothing had happened. My friend goes, “What? My son did that to me the other day, too.” So, maybe it’s a thing? Like, how adults are always like, “You’ve grown so much, you’ve gotten so big, blah blah.” Maybe teenagers are like, “I’m going to randomly pick you up and set you down again because now I can.” Maybe it was the trend that predated that throwing-a-bottle-in-the-air-and-landing-it-thing that is now happening EVERYWHERE.

Anyway, I’m no parenting expert, but I figured I’d take what I’ve learned in my writing critique group and see if there’s a parallel.

  1. In Critique Group it’s less about “fixing” someone’s writing than asking questions so they can see their way to the answer. Same with teens (although so much harder). I no longer get to be in control. I have to step back, offer guidance, and also listen while my child gets to a right answer. Sometimes it won’t be the answer I was thinking. Sometimes it will be worse because NO COMMON SENSE, but sometimes it will be BETTER and then I get to be proud.
  2. Have food. And beverages. In critique group we all stop and get our treats before we start working. With teens, this is beyond important. You will seriously not even believe how much my son eats. I double recipes for NORMAL around here. These articles are like “just double and put the extra in the freezer for a day when you’re rushed.” SHUT UP, non-teenager parent person. THERE ARE NO LEFTOVERS. And, if food is not available, there will be tantrums or tears or both. I promise.
  3. Realize that we will have off days. My critique partners and I have given apologies, accepted apologies, and are the stronger for it. This is how I need to be with my teens. My teens are hormonal. I don’t always communicate what’s in my head. There are going to be bruised feelings, but we will get through it with as much grace as we can.
  4. Commitment. Our critique group has met once a month for two years. We show up for our work and we show up for each other. Even when we know what we’ve submitted isn’t the best. Or it’s two pages instead of ten. We show up. That’s what family is. That’s what relationships are. That’s the work. I’m going to show up for my teens.

 

That’s all I’ve got for now. Except a HUGE shout out to middle school teachers. You guys are amaze-balls.

Love,

Sherri

 

The summer of lightning strikes, car accidents, and angry yogis.

You guys…I just can’t even. This summer was, well it was like you’ve got a barbell across your shoulders and you felt pretty good that morning so you put a decent amount of weight on there, but you didn’t fully load it because you wanted some margin. Some “what if” because you don’t know what the instructor has planned and if there are those crazy pulses or some such you don’t want to be panting by the end of the set. You don’t want an injury, you’re just trying to get healthy. And then life starts putting more weight on without your asking for it. A little bit at a time, and you try to smile, even laugh, but you’re struggling to hold your form and more of those stupid round weights keep coming and you can’t breathe and you’re shaking and your joints are bulging like a cartoon and that isn’t healthy. At this point, you’re not even listening to the class, you’re completely focused on getting out from under this weight and you’re able to nudge some of the little ones off, but it isn’t enough and you allow the bar to fall to the mat, even as you feel that you’ve tweaked your back and your heart might explode and this isn’t the good “burn” after a class, this is the clanging of metal plates rolling away from you.

Yeah, that’s what this summer was like. I won’t go into too much detail because that’s boring, but I want to list here so I don’t forget. I also want to explain to anyone who wonders where we’ve been or why I’ve been “flaky” about returning emails or phone calls.

On the last day of school my husband broke his arm playing ice hockey. The puck flew at him and hit above the wrist right where the protective glove ends. Cracked the ulna right through. For three weeks he suffered through the pain with his cast on. At the next doctor’s visit, the x-ray showed the bone was way out of alignment. Because it wasn’t healing correctly, he’d have to have surgery so they could re-break it and put him in a new cast. The surgery was days before our family vacation.

Last month our house was struck by lightning. Yes, our surge protection was consistent with the code in our county. However, lightning is a powerful thing and it wanted to travel along our gas lines and frazzle whatever it wanted. So it did.

img_2807 <——  This did not happen to anyone in our household, but when the lightning struck blue sparks flew out of an appliance on the wall, there was a sound like glass hitting a counter, and the hair on my arms stood on end. Immediately we knew there was a gas leak — we could smell it. If nothing else, we’ve learned that we should have gotten out of the house immediately instead of waiting for the service person. He came in, smelled the gas, and walked right back out. For a month we’ve been working with contractors because, in all, there were six gas leaks. Drywall was ripped from three rooms to follow the pipes, another manifold was put in, etc.

Our babysitter had an accident in our truck with my four kids in the car. She was fine, the kids were fine, the truck was fine. The other guy’s car. Well. Everyone likes a new bumper, right?

While this was going on, my husband and I had a trip to France planned. Our friend was getting married and we’d booked the hotel nine months before. Until the very last minute we weren’t sure if we’d be able to leave — we couldn’t leave the country and our kids in the house if the plumber couldn’t find the last gas leak!

As soon as we got to the hotel I connected to wifi and had a bunch of angry emails from my yogis — the substitute had gone to the wrong place and they wanted their yoga class! Not much I could do from Avignon except apologize.

In France we traveled on the high speed train between Paris and Avignon. We flew over the ocean. We even rode with our friend Stein as driver and that might have been the most dangerous of all! Through all of this we had no problem. Then, during the morning commute after we arrived home, my husband was rear-ended. He was hit so hard that the water in his cup flew up and hit his windshield and he was pushed into the car ahead of him. Our car looked like an accordion. Insurance has equations and such they use to figure out what to do, so the car is going to be fixed. Even though I’m not sure how many original parts it will have. We will have to call it the Franken-car.

mikes-car

Last week everything was double or triple booked. Here’s a picture of our family calendar. Please note this is ONLY children’s activities. It was my week to drive for cross-country, football practice, soccer practice. Both my husband and I gave blood for the American Red cross drive and we both worked. This does not include last week’s visit from the plumber, the electrician to reground the manifold, and the visit from the county inspector to check all the work. Drum roll, please. WE PASSED. On Friday of last week he inspected everything and it was over.

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My husband went to the orthopedic surgeon — his arm looks great! He’s allowed to now remove his cast for periods of time and resume a light workout.

We got a message that our car is on track to be finished by the beginning of October.

Now that we’ve had the home inspection, we can have a team come in to repair the drywall and then paint it.

I’ve been struggling with the yoga class schedule because I’m down a teacher, but Wednesday I’m interviewing someone new who might be perfect.

So I was feeling good on Friday. It had been rough, but we were going to make it. The end was in sight. And then as our babysitter was driving my son to his football game, a buck jumped out and hit the truck. They are fine. Our truck? Not so much. And, I wanted to hit my head against a wall. Here we go again.

We’re switching seasons, summer melting into autumn. I hope this was the last thing. I wish I could make this funnier or include some of the good things (because there were some wonderful parts of our summer), but I’m tired. I’m tired of being double and triple booked. In yoga we say to limit our commitments so we can enjoy life, not just rush from one thing to the next. But, I can’t say no to lightning. I can’t say no to car accidents.

What I can do, is realize that any of these things could have been so much worse. Our house did not catch on fire despite the gas leaks. Three car accidents this summer, and everyone involved was able to walk away. Even the stupid buck. My husband and I are trying to model for our children what it means to keep putting one foot in front of the other. And who knows? Maybe I’ll get a story out of this lightning strike.

Love,

Sherri