Monday, April 26, 2010

New Beginnings

First, I am a third of the way done with my current round of HCG injections...  It hasn't been as easy this time in many ways but I'm still seeing fabulous results and sticking to the protocol like glue.  Day 16 and as of this morning I've lost 14 lbs.  I had a couple of days where I didn't drink enough water and ate the exact same thing for both meals which, I found out the hard way, will both stall the process.  So, two days of zero weight loss that I cannot get back but still pretty amazing.  I've never felt better and the smallest size pants in the closet are beginning to hang on me.  By this time next week I'll need a belt to keep them from falling off and by the end of the 40 days I'll need a new closet full of clothes.  (Didn't really think THAT through as I don't have the cash for an entirely new wardrobe but it's a problem I won't mind having!)

Second, I just took my writing to the next level by attending my first ever writer's conference.  It was a two-day event but I was only able to spend the entire day there on Friday.  One of the add-on options was a program called 'Boot Camp' where you take a sample of your writing and you're paired up with either a published author, an agent or an editor who specializes in your genre plus four other writers.  You read aloud to the group and they all give you feedback.  A very frightening prospect on it's own to have someone else read your work before you've edited the shit out of it and think it is the absolute very best.  But to have to read it - aloud! - to strangers?  Bordering on the terrifying.  A fellow member of my writing group (which I found out should be referred to as a Critique Group in industry-speak but hey, we didn't know!) both signed up and were there at 7:00 AM on Friday morning.  It was amazing the insight I got out of what Dan Wells (my assigned author) focused on and picked up on to comment about in my writing sample.  The morning itself was worth the price of admission for the entire day and I came away with fresh ideas for a chapter I hadn't thought about since writing it at the beginning of NaNoWriMo back in November.  After boot camp, we had a full day of conference sessions where we learned how to pitch our work to an agent, address pacing of a story and add emotion to our writing.  They were all very informative but I have to be honest... I walked away Friday night thinking I didn't really get much out of it and was glad I had done boot camp since THAT was where the real learning had happened.  

At least I thought that until I went back for the second session of boot camp on Saturday morning.  Boy was I wrong...

Just reading the next section of my own - in my mind very polished - manuscript, I found tons of holes and examples of amateur writing I had smugly thought didn't exist in MY work the day before.  There they were... had been there the entire time and I hadn't even seen them.  All in the course of 24 hours I became a better writer.  Maybe it was rubbing shoulders with real live published authors (I sound like such a geek, I know it but this is my life and maybe I am a geek.  After all, who else besides a geek dreams of writing a book that one day gets published and spends her days interacting more with a computer than people?  I'm bound to come off sounding geek-ish!)  Or maybe it was the energy of the space and me making the declaration that I am taking myself seriously about this writing business enough to shell out a hundred or so clams of my own money and a weekend of my time.  Whatever it was, I am so excited about the possibilities!

I entered a short-story contest NPR was hosting a couple of weeks ago, I have pretty much figured out how all the story threads tie together so I can finish my first novel, and I have committed to another short story contest with a submission due by May 15th.  Look out, world, I'm a writer!  And one giant leap closer to being a published one at that!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Oceans Apart

I almost didn't write a review of this horrid little book.  But, I am a creature of habit and so I must.  This month the book club pick was "Oceans Apart" by Karen Kingsbury.  It was also not enjoyable for me.  I knew it would be difficult to get through since the announcement of the book last month was followed up by a little disclaimer just for me along the lines of "oh, by the way, she's a Christian author".  Don't get me wrong, I'm a spiritual person but I'm not the religious type and I prefer my reading not to be riddled with preaching.  *sigh*  However, I am in a book club to expand my horizons and many times a book I would NEVER have picked up if left to my own devices has turned out to be an amazing little gem.  And I'm sure there are some who have rolled their eyes or muttered about some of my picks in the past as well.  So I read it.  Every 300+, painful pages.

The story is about an airline pilot who has a wife and two daughters and living a perfect life in Florida.  But, his family doesn't know that he had a one-night stand eight years ago in Hawaii on a layover during a hurricane.  What he doesn't know is that the chick got knocked up and he has a son.  The woman gets killed in a plane crash - she's a stewardess - and her will states that her son should spend two weeks with his father (not knowing he is his father but rather his mother's friend) and then the guy can decide if he wants to keep him or he'll go up for adoption.  Of course, knowing it is a Christian author, I bet you can't guess that it's a story about forgiveness.  *gag*  The convenient aspect is that the harlot stewardess was really a "good girl" who only ever slept with this pilot this one night and ended up pregnant.  (Now it sounds like what my parents used to tell me when we'd have the 'don't have sex until you're married' talk... it only takes once!)  Apparently she somehow fell in love with this one-night stand and pinned away for him and never loved anyone else.  (Like that's realistic... NOT!)  Now she is devoted to her son and God and thus the little boy is this bible reading 7-year old.  Sorry, my eight year old isn't that advanced of a reader so I don't buy it!

The first problem was the preaching and heavy-handed shove-it-down-your-throat-on-every page religious bullshit.  Seriously, I get that there is a market for people who want to read books with characters in them who share their religious beliefs.  However, I do not believe there are any real people living who think or act like these characters did (and if there are, I don't want to know that they DO exist!).  The book was more like a sermon with a little bit of a story thrown in for entertainment.  But, remember, I knew this going in and could have overlooked it.

But then there was this problem of bad writing.  How the hell does drivel like this get published?  And I heard this author was a bestseller... and it wasn't her first book?  The characters were so shallow it was like little walking cardboard puppets on popsicle sticks.  The dialogue by the little boy was done so it sounded like he was 5 instead of 7.  And, the ending was so badly foreshadowed that I knew exactly what was coming from about the third chapter and just kept waiting for her to get to it already.  The descriptions lacked depth - I still don't have a clear picture of what the two daughters even looked like nor most of the main characters.  "Handsome" doesn't really tell me anything, does it?  But go ahead and tell me he's handsome over and over again!  (Show, don't tell, people!  It's the first lesson an author should learn!)  And the religious stuff wasn't even woven into the story.  Just all of a sudden the character would be spouting off about how "I know this is God's plan" without the benefit of hearing the human struggle of deciding that's what they were going to choose to believe.  Plus the preaching was so repetitive... find a new phrase because you used that exact one two paragraphs ago, lady!  The actual content of the story could have been summed up as a short story but instead was drawn out far too long.

I headed off tonight to book club not knowing how I was going to express my opinion about the book without hurting anyone's feelings.  Remember, someone picked this book because they thought it was good.  And, if I totally trash a book with little tolerance, how do I expect everyone to read my picks with the same tolerance, right?  I was glad to hear that even the religious folks in the group thought the religion was over the top and left a bad taste in their mouths.  Having the pleasure of being "the one non-religious one" of the group, I was pretty sure that everyone was wondering what I thought of it all.  I decided not to voice an opinion on the religious aspect and see how long it took someone to ask me.  One hour and seventeen minutes...  ha ha!  What I was not expecting was how many people chose to add layers of depth to the characters in the book that simply did not exist.  They were giving them alterior motives for actions that had no basis in what was actually written.  Some of it was good enough that they should seriously think about writing their own books because it was completely made up with nothing to back up their claims.  All in all, by the time the end of the discussion came around it was clear that the majority of us held the same views as I did and the sappy ones who I assumed would like the book were the ones who did.  

I hated this book enough that I actually wrote my first review ever on Amazon because I wanted a voice of reason out there for others like me that might be tempted to pick it up based on all the glowing reviews.  Trust me, skip this one for sure!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Sore muscles

I have sore muscles of both the literal and figurative variety.  Surely you can guess the source of the literal ones.  My ass hurts, my shins hurt, my hips hurt, my ankles and calves hurt and I'm loving every minute of feeling my body transform.  I am taking full advantage of my week of running before HCG starts again this weekend and I have to pause for a few weeks.  Today I ran off steam in the gym at work all alone because my workout buddies were both in meetings (isn't everything better with company?!?) This was the first time running to relieve stress and I know what people are talking about now.  It was amazing to run away all the anxiety about the idiocy of the day and people surrounding me.  I almost didn't go back!

The other muscles that hurt are my writing muscles.  I got a wild hair this week after someone dropped a dime about this short story writing contest that NPR is doing.  My first thought was about several members of my writing group who have mentioned in the past they had been toying with short stories.  So, I posted to the group's website about the contest, whose deadline is Sunday, and went back to my crazy life.  My post started this email frenzy with everyone talking about how they were going to just throw together something or dust something off and next thing I know I'm the only one of the group not planning on attempting an entry.  Not wanting to be the slacker (or outdone!) I started a little something of my own.  How hard could it be after all since it must be a story that can be read on air in three minutes or roughly the equivalent of 600 words.  Hell, I crank out that many words on a weak writing day... piece of cake!  


Let's just say that writing a short story requires much different muscles than writing a novel.  With a novel you have the luxury of seemingly unlimited words in order to describe in intricate detail everything that is important.  In a short story, you must convey in very few words a slice of a larger story that can stand alone all on it's own.  You have to tell a whole bunch of background to get the reader into the time and place so there is an emotional connection to the story.  You can't lead up to it with foreshadowing or several chapters - only a sentence or two.  I've managed a few hundred words and a halfway decent start but it is far from worthy of submission.  When all is said and done, I believe the exercise will be worthwhile because I'm building creative muscles I can apply to my other writing as well.  And as they say... no pain, no gain!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Back at it

I shaved two days off the three weeks my surgeon told me I had to wait before running again and hit the gym this afternoon at work.  WOW...  not only has it been close to a year since I've been running but it felt like I'd never run before!  I exaggerate of course since back when I first started I literally couldn't run more than 60 seconds before I wanted to die or thought I really was dying.  I started out strong today and was so excited to be at it again that I ran too fast - with a huge shit-eating grin from ear to ear - and pooped myself out after only about 10 minutes.  (I blame the guy on the treadmill next to me with his legs that are taller than my entire 5' 2" frame.  I KNOW I was keeping up with his stride at one point!)  My knee hurt - something new to worry about - and my plantar fasciitis has been bothering me the last week since I started working out again but both seem like old friends because I was constantly dealing with my body readjusting to being a runner before I had to stop.  I stretched well after my mile and a quarter (not too shabby for 20 minutes!) and am hoping for the best so I can go out again tomorrow.  However, as sore as I'm feeling right now I can only imagine the pain I'll be in.  After all that bitching, I wouldn't trade it for the world.  The fact that I had a baby and haven't run in MONTHS and was able to just get right back up there and run was completely and utterly amazing.