Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Whistling Season, by Ivan Doig

I'm not usually a fan of the western but this was like no western I've ever read.  The story of a homesteader widow and his three young sons in Montana in the early 1900's who take a chance and hire a housekeeper from back east hoping she was lying in her ad and really can cook, too.  It was an enjoyable glimpse of early American life in a one-room school house that culminated in a mystery that I didn't see coming.  The writing was heavy in the language of the period with a sing-song quality at times that, at first, was hard to get immersed in.  I listened to most of it on audiobook by a good narrator which I believe was a better experience than trudging through the language and trying to find the voice of the book on my own.  A book club pick that I would recommend to anyone if you're looking for a quick read you won't have to think much about.

The book club discussion was surprisingly focused on JUST THE BOOK which was a welcome change for our crazy group lately.  We decided it isn't really a western but more like a period drama which makes sense when I think about it.  After some of the very heavy and very political books we've read (and fought about) lately it was nice to have nothing but early American life and our ages to discuss.  I'm hoping to be one of the few of us who was alive in '85 when Halley's Comet came and still alive in my 90's when it comes again.  Some in the room were too old to live that long while others were too young to see it in '85.  I kind of had mixed feelings about that - I have old friends and ones that make ME feel old...

Monday, April 25, 2011

Rolling with the punches

Ever have one of those kind of weeks where at the end of it you have nothing clean to wear and your to-do list has grown rather than shrunk even though you were so busy you are sleep deprived?  No?  If you haven't let me share what you are missing out on!

Mine started on Wednesday as I drove home from the gym on a night I am usually driving the dance taxi for Big Sister blissfully enjoying our week of Spring Break from both dance and school.  I'd just done a killer uphill run and felt amazing with both girls in the car headed for home and bed.  And then my phone rang the sexy ringtone for Hubby who was calling with week-changing news.  His Dad, who lives hundreds of miles away, is delivering trailers all over the country to satisfy his gypsy blood without having to sacrifice his homestead or retirement and would be arriving at our place in about twelve hours on his way to Oregon.  Awesome!  We rarely get to see him... wait, what did you say?  "I'm going with him" is what he had said.  Those four little words almost destroyed my sanity and did destroy everything that resembled a schedule for the rest of the weekend.

Hubby's been working the grave shift this month which means I've gotten to see him for about fifteen minutes each morning and each evening for three to four days a week as we cross one another on our way to and from work.  Just the thought of getting to see him and have a two-parent household in the evenings for the rest of the week was the only thing keeping me together at that point of the week.  And now he's leaving in the morning with no notice?  I immediately went into psycho troubleshooting mode which came across as me being a total bitch about this amazing opportunity for him to get to spend a few days on the road with just him and his dad.  Strike one for me.

After salvaging that mis-communication and getting us both into troubleshooting mode, it became even more apparent how this was going to play out for me.... Thursday I had to work, and it was book club night, and Friday I had to work - which is the day Hubby never works so we don't have daycare, and Friday is the day I am supposed to run not once but twice as part of my Ragnar training, and it is Easter weekend...  and now you can imagine the extent of the chaos that ensued with no Hubby to help out.

Luckily my Mom is retired and loves spending time with my girls.  I feel like I use and abuse her sometimes because I know she is always available at the drop of the hat when I need her.  She was willing to extend her normal babysitting hours with the girls on Thursday to all day with a small break to go to dinner with my Dad and then come back to watch the girls until all hours of the night while I went to book club.  And our amazing nanny rearranged her schedule - two weeks before her own wedding - to spend all day with the girls on Friday so I could work. 

At that point, however, all good things planned like a nazi and executed on schedule came to a grinding halt.  Friday I got up at the ass-crack of dawn to run my first run before work with plans to rush home and rush to the gym for the second run before the daycare center at the gym closes early on Friday.  That of course didn't happen because let's face it, trying to put a 15-month old on that tight of schedule was never going to work.  My morning run sucked - apparently I have no stamina at zero dark thirty when normal people are sleeping.  Go figure.  After work, I got a rare twenty minutes of just chatting with my nanny about wedding plans that I took advantage of which put us behind schedule.  Still salvageable until my mom called with an invite to dinner which turned into "why don't you take the girls and then I won't be rushed at the gym" which took me out of rush mode.  Except then she called back saying "just kidding, I didn't know Dad had other plans".  At that point I no longer had time to get to the gym and get a run of any distance in before the kid's center closed for the evening so why bother.

Have I expressed yet how much I HATE that the kid's center closes early on Friday night?  Don't dictate to me when I should be spending time outside the gym with my kids!

We spent Friday night instead shopping for new clothes for Big Sister to wear for Easter and shoes for the nanny's wedding to match the flower girl dresses, and crap for the Easter baskets.  I guess the one good thing about Big Sister having figured out the truth behind Santa and subsequently the Easter Bunny is that - combined with Little Sister being too young to understand or remember much - I got to shop for stuff for their baskets with both of them in tow - something I wouldn't have been able to do without Hubby home that night otherwise.

The rest of the weekend rolled smoothly through and I even enlisted Big Sister to babysit for an hour while I did my missed run from Friday night on Saturday while Little Sister had her nap.  Hubby and his Dad drove sixteen hundred miles and arrived back home mid-day Saturday to sleep for about eight hours straight.  Enough for them to be well-rested and ready for dinner out followed by Easter festivities on Sunday.

Even with the second weekend in a row of doing no laundry, and no grocery shopping, I still survived the week with my sanity mostly in check thanks to the efforts of others and their willingness to step in and roll with the punches with me. Now it is time to get back to normal day to day activities which is still no easy task for this busy girl on the best of days. If you need me this week, I'll be digging myself out of piles of dirty laundry and hoping to discover hidden snippets of time to work on my damn novel... if I'm lucky!  Know what I didn't even miss once?  Facebook!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Salvaging and re-working

Work on the novel continues at the slow speed of life with two kids and a full time job... but it IS continuing which is the only thing that matters!  This week I've gone back and taken the almost finished draft from before I decided to start over and began deconstructing it into outline form.  The basic story was pretty much hammered out in that draft - at least to the end of the middle - regardless of how poorly it was written in my early days of training to be a good writer.  That is the easy part!  Then I can outline the key points that have always been swimming around in my head about where the story has to go to reach the end.

But then comes the hard part...

I've been grappling with some massive changes that must be worked out because of some new directions I already know are in store.  For instance, I've decided that a different character is going to be kidnapped instead of my main character's daughter.  The kidnapping itself was merely a means to an end to get her to follow her daughter's kidnappers and once she got there I never wrote her authentically enough to have a missing daughter; nor could I because there were more important reasons for her to be where I had sent her.  So, no daughter kidnapped.  Solves the characterization issue but creates a whole bunch of new things to work out.  Does she even need a daughter?  I don't think so now.  But, the daughter is key to several pieces of the puzzle - like the two main characters initial meeting happens because the daughter stumbles across him in the woods and takes him home.  If she doesn't exist, how do they meet now without dissolving the believability of one of my favorite scenes written to date?  Okay, then maybe the daughter can stay but she isn't the main character's daughter.  Maybe she's a niece?  But then that requires there to be more than a string of only-children which is how the family dynamics have already been written with an important tie to the matriarchal grandmother who is the key to everything at the end.  *sigh* 

Like I said, the hard part!

As much as I love some key pieces of discovery writing (where you just write and things happen and hopefully they all work out in the end) I don't want to waste another year of just writing without knowing exactly how the story ends.  I need to work out all the background to the story, figure out the way all the characters fit with each other and the major plot points.  THEN I can start writing to fill in the blanks and flesh it out with characterization, description and tension.  I am a woman on a mission - to finally finish this damn thing!  If you need me, I'll be writing... or staring blankly into space trying to figure out how to make it all work so I can start writing again!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Something new to keep things exciting

I've decided I'm going to start talking about my novel in detail...  Perhaps some teasers?  I have to have an outlet to keep things fresh and since this is what my blog does usually - plus give me perspective and allow me to vent - what better way to keep me on track and working toward the finish line.  So first, a recap of where I started and where I've been up until now...

The first version of my first draft began as my wanting to do NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in November of 2008.  And ended with me failing miserably and only writing like 5K words.  Plus, I found out that while I had a great idea for a story, I didn't know squat about writing.  So, I read some books and I started learning more about the art and craft of being a writer.  The nuts and bolts if you will.  It was this year that my writing group was formed...

My second attempt at NaNoWriMo was the second version of my first draft in 2009 and I won that year with 50,000 words written in 30 days of November.  What a crazy year that was!  All while I was pregnant, too!  This was the best and biggest chunk of story writing to date but it wasn't amazing yet.  After I went back and started editing and pulled it out to polish some stuff up to take with me to a writer's convention last year, I realized that I'd written my main character all wrong.  Like completely wrong.  She's supposed to be this kick ass woman who's daughter gets kidnapped and she was instead this simpering little pussy who I would have hated to read about.  She didn't even get that upset when her seven year old daughter was taken.  Instead she tags along with the other male character who is from another realm and isn't even freaking out that much.

So, after trying to write something else (okay, anything else) for the 2010 NaNoWriMo I started over yet again - that makes third attempt at the first draft.  I wrote some really great new stuff involving the male main character and his other realm but when it came time to write the main female character scenes I stalled.  I still didn't know exactly what she was going to be like and I didn't want to fail yet again to capture her perfectly.

And then we had a writing prompt in the writer's group last month which inspired me to write a scene that most likely fits somewhere in the middle of the book.  I nailed her character!  Being able to just write one scene and figure out how - in one isolated moment - she would react cemented everything for me and now I can go back and start writing her.

So, as soon as I'm done outlining and getting some basics down on where this story is heading so my discovery writing at least has a high level road map to keep me out of the weeds on the side of the road, I'll be starting attempt number four of my first draft.  Number.  Four.  I'm glad I'm stubborn (my mamma didn't raise no quitter!) or I might have thrown in the towel several attempts ago.  But, the story and the world I've uncovered within myself wants to get out so the world can read about them.  Who am I to argue and complain that it's taking entirely too long?

Why I ever thought that writing a novel would be easy should be shot.  (Since I've read so many in my lifetime it should be a piece of cake, right?)  Oh wait... that would be suicide, so I guess I'll refrain!  Stay tuned for new developments on this journey to a completed first draft which I'm hoping to happen before the end of the year... and yes, I mean THIS year.