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

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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

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

 

Running Out of Gas

When I was 16 years old I had to share a “lemon” with my older sister. My kids didn’t know what a “lemon” was when I mentioned this the other day and I tried to explain how horrible an olive green station wagon with faux wood panels was…especially to a new driver in the throes of teenagedom where one doesn’t want to stand out. My parents thought it quite a joke. They bought a key ring with a picture of a lemon. In case we didn’t get it, my sister and I, the word “Lemon” was written underneath the picture. Thanks.

(BTW, my middle-aged sister worked her butt off at McDonald’s and bought herself this teeny-tiny adorable car that she jetted around in, driving with concentration, her visor at the correct angle to account for her curled and hairsprayed bangs)

I digress. The point is, I hated this car. And, I didn’t have a lot of money. So, I’d put whatever money I had into the gas tank, drive it around, and then turn it over to my older sister. She did the same to me until one day I was driving and pushing the gas pedal and yet, somehow, slowing down. The cars passed by on my left. I assume the drivers gave me a quizzical look as I grabbed the wheel more tightly and began rocking my body, trying to get that car to move forward.

It went slower. I pulled over to the side. The gas needle was very clearly on E. I got out, left the keys in the car (who would steal it?), and walked to my friend’s house. From there I walked home. My older sister wanted the car, demanded to know where it was. I told her. “Over on Route 22. You can’t miss it.”

What I remember is that sensation of pushing the pedal, but slowing down. The actual action of running out of gas. My character Rachel experiences this. She’s given everything she has in trying to save her son. She’s asked to give more and she does until she physically collapses, the voices around her sound muffled, her vision is blurry, and she collapses.

Has this ever happened to you in real life? It’s happened to me twice in the past month. Yes, I know, that doesn’t speak well to my learning my lesson. I was always stubborn. But, I also struggle with being a people-pleaser. I WANT people to like me even though I rationally know that my desire is INSANE. I say “yes” to too many things.

Teaching an adult Sunday School from Lent to Easter.

Parent helper for the Elementary Science Club for five weeks.

Teaching seven fitness classes a week.

Running a household with six people: laundry, lunch packing, dinner making, homework checking, projects, grocery shopping, shoe shopping, gathering too small clothes for AmVets, buying little gifts from the “Valentine Dove” (yeah…that’s a different story).

Classroom mom.

Supporting my son’s basketball obsession — playing both rec and travel and against the walls of my house — and driving my twins to gymnastics, and keeping track of my daughter’s horseback riding lessons.

Walking the puppy in the freezing cold and rain because he is potty trained and we AREN’T going to regress.

AND I WAS REVISING MY NOVEL WITH A DEADLINE. You know, my personal dream that I’ve been chasing for years.

I was running out of gas, pushing as hard as I could, cutting out anything that wasn’t directly related to work. There was no time for friends (oh, and I gave up Facebook for lent so I didn’t even have that pleasure), no time for reading, no time to enjoy my kids, no time for myself. No time!

And then I was done. I smacked into depression and I no longer had a choice. I had to cut back. That is, I could only do the bare minimum to function. My husband noticed. “You’re such a drag,” he said. My son noticed, “Where’s your sense of humor?” My twins noticed, “Mommy needs a massage!”

But no one stopped me from running out of gas. I was mad — everyone was willing to take from me, but no one was ready to take care of me. I was mad at other parents. Why doesn’t someone else step up and do something about starting middle and high schools later? Why aren’t there more volunteers at church so I don’t always feel like I have to “step up”? Why can’t the kids make themselves an after school snack without completely destroying the kitchen?

Here’s the thing. We’re all responsible for ourselves. Yes, it’s nice when we have a partner or parent or friend who is tuned in enough to advise “slow down” or who will make a nice dinner or give a gift to “fill the tank.” But, we have to take responsibility and not get so low in the first place.

I started doing little things. My husband watched the other kids so I could take my oldest daughter to the nail salon. She got a mani, I got a pedi. It sounds silly and frivolous, but it made a difference. I was doing something because it was fun.

Here’s a list I’m making for the next time I get out of balance, start giving faster than I’m filling. I will take care of myself with:

  1. Real food. When I’m stressed and running from task to task, my eating habits drop. Solution: Turn to veggies and hummus, crock pot recipes, and fresh fruit.
  2. Exercise. My job is to exercise right now. But, in hindsight I should have called in a sub for help and let myself rest.
  3. Sleep. I don’t think I’m the only one to try to get more done in a day by staying awake for longer, but it will catch up to you. Lack of sleep makes you feel hungrier, less able to focus, and more emotional.
  4. Less caffeine. Again, I don’t think I’m alone in drinking coffee to make myself move faster. Same thing. I need rest, not more fake energy that leaves me feeling unable to focus, dissatisfied and impatient.
  5. Physical. I just rescheduled my dentist appointment from December.
  6. Mental. It sounds crazy, but even when you are revising, read a book. I fell in love with books and piling up “to be read” when I finished my “work” was actually harming me. I wasn’t getting the stimulation to my brain and imagination.
  7. Social. Yeah. I had coffee with my across-the-street neighbor this week. First time we’ve done more than wave since December. Yes, she’s a busy mom and artist (photographer) and I’m a busy mom and artist (writer), but we have to make time. Relationships are important.
  8. Family. Spending time with your family that isn’t the “business” of life. My niece came by. She’s on her spring break. It made me so happy to talk to her and then watch her with my kids. Cousins rock.
  9. Look at pictures of adorable animals.  St. Pattys Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
  10. Fun. This is probably the hardest for me. My husband too. We both work hard and push aside activities that are “only” fun.

Do you have any ideas for ways to fill your tank so that you don’t “run out of gas?” Would love to read about them in the comments below.

 

Still Revising — a conversation

Hello, Friends.

I’m still revising. The good news is that I’m in the final act. Here’s my favorite sentence:

If Scott was right that energy paths ran across the lithosphere of the earth connecting land forms and significant natural monuments, and Emesh was right that the earth was overflowing with antediluvian energy activated by Shamash’s dying body, and The Weatherman was right that energy was the key to understanding the post-firestorm changes, then…Rachel’s mind stopped here. She didn’t know exactly what it meant, except that this LaPorte place was something like a nuclear reactor.

It gets readers all on track for Act 3 when everything both falls apart and pulls together, based on the clues and action in the preceding acts. No pressure.

Here’s my bad news. IT’S HARD. You want everything to SHINE and MAKE SENSE and just because a scene is fun or develops character, it doesn’t get to stay. It has to WORK. And sometimes that’s hard to decide.

I agonized over a chapter (chapter 30) this weekend, used my agent’s feedback, talked to everyone I encountered about it. Then, I send my revision off to my critique group. We meet this Friday to discuss and exchange notes.

This morning I realized that I can cut the scene. Just cut it out. Skip the agony. Boil the scene down to the three things I need to keep and move that to a different chapter. But, I’m scared. I’m over-thinking. WHAT IF THAT WAS THE CHAPTER WITH ALL THE BRILLIANT WRITING THAT READERS WERE GOING TO UNDERLINE ON THEIR KINDLES?

(It isn’t)

WHAT IF THIS IS WHERE READERS FALL IN LOVE WITH MY PROTAGONIST?

(If they haven’t by chapter 30 then you have a problem that revising chapter 30 isn’t going to fix)

BUT THIS IS THE CHAPTER WITH A HISPANIC CHARACTER WHO SPEAKS SPANISH AND I CONSULTED BOTH MY HUSBAND AND GOOGLE TRANSLATE TO MAKE SURE I GOT IT RIGHT. I NEED TO BE DIVERSE.

(There are many languages used in this world. Many languages that have been used. Many that will be. Are you going to have each one represented in this particular novel? You might want to check both the word count and your readers’ patience if this is your project. Instead, maybe concentrate on the story?)

BUT NOW I HAVE TO WRITE THAT CHAPTER, AND THE BEGINNING OF THE NEXT, ALL OVER AGAIN.

(Yeah, that’s called revising.)

Next month when I post, I hope to tell you that I’m finished revisions and have sent to my agent….then I get to attack my next novel that is almost there. It just needs some….wait for it…revisions.

Love,

Sherri