Time’s Up

Quote: Tock: Look, son, it’s bad enough wasting time without killing it. — The Phantom Tollbooth

I haven’t written in a while because I wanted to have good news to report.  But that’s dishonest.  So, here’s the painful truth.

I’ve been scrambling to meet the June 30th deadline to submit the first 7,000 words of my novel to a contest.  I’m not going to make it.  And that makes me sad.  Because I hate to give up.  Because I’ve made progress, but it just isn’t good enough.  Because I had a plan that while the judges of the contest were reading this I would be doing more edits on the following 68K words so that at exactly the right moment, I would win the contest, add one more line to the query letter mentioning this initial success and ta-da, requests would come in for the full manuscript.

Today I took the kids to see the movie Brave and then to the park.  I had printed out pages (7K words is about 25 double-spaced pages) to edit. I figured out a reason for a specific nurse to be in a bomb shelter and to have brought her kids.  Then I took out part of the prologue and gave it to a new character.  Undecided whether it works or is an information dump. 

Then Sylvia (real child) had to go to the bathroom.  For a moment I was fuzzy because I could still hear bombs and smell burning sulphur.  And then Evelyn (also a real child) also had to go to the bathroom and could I go with her?  And we couldn’t find their shoes.  At lunch Diana (another real one) had to lay out each placemat and napkin and plastic fork with painstaking detail and I was pulling my hair out.  Trying to be present in the moment and make a summer memory with my kids while still being true to my own project. 

It didn’t work. I wasn’t completely in the moment and I didn’t quite finish the 7,000 words.

So, tonight I’m calling it.  I will not be entering the contest.  Bleep!  That stings my pride.




Quote: Lee K. Abbott is the author of six previous collections of short stories, many of which have been featured in The Best American Short Stories and have won O. Henry Awards.  A multiple winner of National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, Abbott ….

                                                                                         — back cover of “All Things, All At Once”
                My friends May and Julie told me they were ‘groupies’ of Lee K. Abbott.  I wasn’t sure what that meant.  My mind conjured black-and-white cinema of screaming girls fainting at the sight of The Beatles.  The evening before workshops were to begin I understood a little better.  The conference was like summer camp.  We were divided into units (fiction, non-fiction, poetry) and the majority of campers (writers) returned each year.  Greeted their fellow writers with hugs and quick questions about the intervening time.  Amenities were primitive in some aspects, but conducive to introspection.  Last thing we all said was ‘keep in touch.’

                Lee K. Abbott, the metaphorical camp counselor, is the huge draw for fiction writers.  And after a few days of workshopping stories under his guidance, I was feeling it.  There was the obvious criticism: questions raised within a story that weren’t answered, beginning the actual story on page 8, skipping over the scenes that should be present.  But then, on the first day, Lee changed one word in a story from ‘slut’ to ‘fool’ and, no kidding, we all went, “Yessss.”  I’m not comfortable getting all gooey, but we trust Lee.  To be right.  To understand what we’re trying to say.  And how to say it better. 

                My own story.  Due to being a ‘W’ in alphabetical order, mine was the last story on the last day.  The author has to sit quietly while each of the other writers offers comments around the table in ‘a circle of love.’  I didn’t name it; that name was already in place.  Lee directs the conversation through questions or statements to make sure that the critique is productive.  My first ‘love’ was a question.  Is Sherri’s story a story?  All heads swivel toward Lee. 

                OMG.  I didn’t even write a story?  I’m a freelance editor with a Master’s in English and I didn’t write a friggin’ story?

                Yes, he said.  It’s a story. 

                I slumped with relief.  Then piped up.  “Are you going to ask me whose story it is?”

                He shook his head ‘no.’

                And then someone guessed that the ending was wrong.  Which I’ve heard before.

                He shook his head ‘no’ again, but this time he explained.

                And I completely relaxed.  In the hands of a master.  I don’t know what else to say except that it was a moment of complete confidence.  And anyone reading this knows how I worry the details.  So you can imagine the freedom in letting someone else drive.  And by the end of his explanation we all understood.  And Lee was right.  My ending was right.

                Of course, there were errors on my part and revisions to do including cleaning up the point of view.  After the ‘circle of love’ we hand over copies of each story with our own comments to the author.  I had more than one person say to disregard their remarks because their suggestions were pre-Lee.  Which is a little scary.  Because Lee is off to…wherever he is off to…and we are on our own to exchange work and question each other without our fearless leader to moderate.

                I’m reminded of Jesus and his twelve disciples.  They were a close-knit group with shared experiences.  And then, suddenly, the disciples realized their vision of what was to happen was all wrong.  Jesus died, came back, ascended, and they were left to spread his teachings.  I’m not being so blasphemous as to suggest that Lee is Jesus.  I’m just saying that I’d never really understood this aspect of the gospels before.  Men intimately familiar with Jesus, a group vocabulary, but individual understanding, different details in the recollection.  Interesting.

                Jesus appeared a couple of times and then sent the Holy Spirit back down to help out.  From Lee we have a copy of twenty rules that ends with: “Bigger than all the rules is the story.”  We have T.T. and stuff and a group vow to never use the word ‘pause’ in our writing.  We have the promise of next year in the Majestic. 

TGR Conference

Wednesday, June 6th

TGR Conference

                                – either ‘The Gettysburg Review’ or ‘The Great Run-Away’

I leave in one hour for the writing conference.  I’m really excited to go for several reasons, but I can hardly look forward because there is so much to do in the present.  I also feel bad that for me to get away Anna will have to miss her college class one morning and Mike will be coming home from a full day of work to four children by himself.  In fact, he worked late this week to prepare for a meeting scheduled during the time I’m gone.  By the time I get home on Monday he will be leaving for a business trip in Europe.

The thought I hold onto is: I haven’t gone anywhere on my own in years.  I was in charge of the Pittsburgh trip a few months ago– but I had the twins.  I went to New York City without kids, but it was an anniversary trip for Mike and me.  Thuy, when did I meet you in San Francisco?  I think that was really the last trip I made and it had to have been before the twins.  Or, Elyse, I visited you in Boston right after Chance stopped nursing.  2004?

                So, I’m nervous and guilty and a little scared.  But I’m also getting really excited to meet new people, see the area around Gettysburg, and spend time reading and workshopping with fellow writers. 

Things to do before I leave:

1)      Volunteer at Chance’s school picnic – Monday                                          Done

2)      Volunteer at Diana’s school picnic – Wednesday a.m.                             Done

3)      Tuesday is special day with twins (and go to gym)                                    Done

4)      Return library books – due 6/12                                                                    Done

5)      Give Evelyn methotrexate – Monday                                                            Done

6)      Write thank you notes to teachers (‘cause I missed TA week)                Done

7)      Finish reading stories for the TGR workshop (183 pages)                       Done

8)      Print stories for workshop; Printer OUT OF TONER                                 Done

9)      buy toner                                                                                                           Done

10)   Make change to work-in-progress chapter 5                                              Not done            

11)   Change Great Wolf lodge reservations as husband will be in Europe     Done

12)   Finish freelance editing assignment and return to client                        Done

13)   Print directions to Gettysburg.  I’ll be driving without a GPS – HELP!!      Done

14)   Pack.  Thank you May for insider tips!                                                            Almost done     

15)   Confirm Diana’s horseback lesson day (because of rainy forecast).         Done

16)   Print livingsocial coupon so Anna can take twins to Bouncy Place            Done

17)   Write out childcare schedule for while I’m gone.                                         Done

18)   Check that Evelyn has chemo (daily/next Monday)                                      Done

19)   Find someone to cover Sunday School class                                                   Done

20)   Grocery store and a load of laundry and put out trash                                 Done
21)  Sleep                                                                                                                     not done


Mr. Bumpercars

And the answer is….a pet African hedgehog. 

For a little creature covered with quills, he’s awfully cute.  He’s an insectivore so he’s made to eat lots of bugs, but currently eats a blend of cat chow.  He can be trained to use the litter pan, although he seems to prefer ‘going’ while running on his wheel.  Curious, cuddly, little snout always in motion.  He can be held in a towel or with bare hands and when he’s unsure of something he pulls down his upper quills as if he’s raising his eyebrows.  He likes Diana to carry him around in his cookie-monster hideyplace so he can peek out.  And, he can swim and has already had his first bath.  He only needs about two a year.  The twins’ favorite part was when he pooped in the bathtub.  Ask them — they’ll still crack up.

Diana and I picked him up on her actual birthday — Mr. Bumpercars had just been weaned and was a ready-to-go seven week old.  He came with two little blankets decorated with Paul Frank monkeys and hearts.  He won’t get a lot bigger, unlike his European cousins.  A hedgehog is an ‘exotic’ pet, but he works for our family.  No fenced in yard or early morning walks, no scratching the furniture or acting imperious.  And, I just couldn’t do a rat.  I couldn’t.  Besides, since Mr. Bumpercars isn’t a rodent, he doesn’t have an odor.
It took five years of Diana asking for a pet and then a year of research into the best match, but WELCOME MR. BUMPERCARS.  May all your birthdays be filled with mealworms.