Monday Morning Post-Vacation Blahs

Yes, I have something worse than the Monday Morning Blues. A disease more distressing than Post-Vacation Lethargy. I have the “Blahs.”

Do you know what I mean?

The weather outside is gray and drizzly. Blah.

Piles of cat-scratchings mock me, clinging to my slippers when I walk anywhere near the dining room. Who cares?

Dishes are piled in the sink and my bullet journal schedule for the week is practically blank. Whatever.

Last night, I tried to convince my husband to call in sick so we could do something fun today. He laughed. (Although he agreed that he didn’t want to go to work today either.)

Working at home is a double-edged sword when I have the blahs. I mean, if I really don’t feel like it, I don’t have to head to the office. No one is staring at the empty desk wondering when I’ll show up.

But my mother taught me better than that.

It’s called self-discipline. And if it isn’t her voice chiding me about the filthy bathrooms and the piles on my desktop, it’s a drill sergeant blasting me with condemnation.

So even with the Monday Morning Post-Vacation Blahs, I’d better get myself in gear and go to work.

At least I can wear my new sweats. Ah, talk about comfy.

I can take breaks to crochet another granny square. Or play Words with Friends.

After all, I’ve only got to write the blog posts for the next two weeks. And I’ve come up with a fantastic idea for half of them.

Vacation is needful. It’s especially important for me to get away from home so I can inhale fresh adventures and map new settings. These are gold mines for future fiction tales.

Hemingway got a few things right. And this was one of them.

If I didn’t work as a substitute teacher, I could go days without ever leaving my house. I don’t count walking to the mailbox or picking up groceries as “living.” Sorry.

Many writers face the same sort of compulsion. To lock ourselves away with whatever we’re currently working on. Why bother even showering? No one’s going to see us.

And then the UPS guy rings the doorbell and waits for a signature.

It’s always best to plan for package delivery if nothing else.

I wonder what he thinks of the big smear of something above my left knee. He glances toward my hair and suddenly a platoon of itches marches through my unwashed hair.

Don’t scratch. Don’t scratch. Don’t scratch.

And then I return to my office and plunge back into my writing.

Did the doorbell ring? What time is it?

Apparently, I should be figuring out what to cook my husband for dinner. When he travels, I don’t have to deal with this problem.

As you can see, this post might have arrived a few hours later than usual. But it’s here.

The blahs didn’t win.

What constitutes the blahs to you?

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Warming up the Patio

House warming. Do they even have those anymore? I don’t know but after all the drama and trauma of the too-long three-week installation of our new patio, it seemed appropriate to have a patio warming.

Do you throw yourself this sort of party?

I’ve always been a little confused by the social standards and expectations for parties, especially if they involved gifts. Doesn’t it seem a little self-centered to throw yourself a birthday bash so people will shower you with gifts?

In this case, the only gift required was attendance…and maybe a side dish for the barbecue.

Before

Our house is seventeen-months new. But that doesn’t mean it has no need for improvement.

It was pretty obvious during our first summer here that the patio was insufficient.

 

I mean, I like to do editing, read-through and read-aloud stages in an outdoor office if the weather is nice. Which is less than six months out of the year in the Pacific Northwest.

The original patio that came with the house was hardly large enough for the grill and my lounge chair.

I wish I was kidding.

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So on the short wish list of things I wanted to change, the outdoor entertaining area of the back yard become the top priority.

During

The project started a week before we expected it to. And lasted a week longer than we were told to expect.

And it was messy.

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So I didn’t have any outdoor office options for about one month of my three-month summer.

And it wasn’t just the back of the house that became a disaster area.

Who knew patio stones could take up two curbside parking spaces?

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The weather decided to cooperate. And then escalate.

The day the secondary crew (which we weren’t supposed to need) came to fix the issues the first crew couldn’t seem to deal with, temperatures soared into triple digits.

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No, these aren't supposed to do this when you step on them.
No, these aren’t supposed to do this when you step on them.

After

In the end, it didn’t have the level appearance I had imagined.

This is the problem with an imagination. At times it hinders our enjoyment of life as much as false expectations.

Truthfully though, I have everything I could want with a soothing water feature and portable fire pit still to be added.

I spent time in the lounger and at the table reading through the first draft of my novel-in-progress.

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And there was plenty of space for the family to recline during the patio warming event on Labor Day.

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It seemed fitting to inaugurate something that required so much labor on that auspicious day.

And the warmest news of all? Those stones heat up and hold the warmth like nobody’s business.

What is the most important feature for your outdoor living space?

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Writing in a New Direction

Which-Way-is-the-Right-way-for-Satellite-Web-Browsing-Sometimes directions are clear: “Turn left at the next stop light.” Other times, the directions can be convoluted: “Take the next right. Keep left.” (My GPS often says this, in fact. Amazingly unhelpful.)

In 2013, I started in a new direction. I quit my job with the school district to pursue a writing career full-time. I finished my bachelor’s degree and wanted a change.

Immediately thereafter, I finished my first young adult fantasy novel and had begun writing its sequel. I took a class on antagonists from Writing Jedi Master Kristen Lamb. When we spoke on the phone about my story, I learned it was gobbledygook without a clear purpose.

Back to the drawing board. For another young adult fantasy series, which Kristen and I had discussed during the heart-shattering call. Her advice: write the entire series before going back to edit book one. That way I’d know what the “real” story of the series was by the time I was rewriting.

Six months later, I had three complete novels in very rough first draft form. The summer of 2014, I attempted to market the first book in the series. By the time I’d gotten the final rejection back, I knew the first book was crap needed work.

But I had this amazing idea for a contemporary young adult fantasy. Dragons, erupting volcanoes, teenagers with special powers and the end of the world at stake. Who wouldn’t want to read that?

Or maybe the question should be: who wants to read it?

I’m still waiting for the rest of the rejection letters to roll in, but I think I finally figured something out.

What I Can Sell

As much as I love young adult fantasy, I’m not going to break into publishing with those stories.

No, I’m not giving up. I’m not copping out.

I’m being realistic.

Young adult is the fastest growing and most competitive fictional market right now. And fantasy has to have a certain bent to even get a look.

Sadly, dragons aren’t it.

Dragons: so TEN years ago.

Short fiction: I have sold three short stories. Two of them are sweet romances written to a new adult audience. The third is a young adult dark biblical retelling.

Bible studies: These are independently published by me, and I don’t price them to make a bundle. However, I do have a small following who enjoys my quirky teaching style.

Writing that Grows Me

In the end, writing the biblical fictionalization and Bible study books challenge me as a person. They require a slightly different writing voice and tons more research than most of my fiction stories.

In short, they stretch me out of my comfort zone.

And if people will buy them, I should produce them.

My Big Dream

During November, I wrote the first book in another young adult series.

I know. I know. I never learn.

What’s different about this book? It uses the short story I’ve already sold as a springboard into my post-apocalyptic universe. I continued the story of Scisco Irons, a sixteen-year-old blacksmith who dreams of discovering the technology destroyed in his homeland during the Demon Wars. And escaping the backward region he’s lived in forever.

I introduced a snarky teenage girl with major trust issues. Added in a “mentor” character with a pile of his own secrets.

The best part, I pitched the outline to the publisher of the short story (at her request, because she liked the world introduced in that story and saw potential for the story to continue). She wants to see it.

I have a professional editor who will help me content edit the first draft and polish the second draft to get it ready for submission. She’s employed by the publisher but has offered to help me because she believes in my story.

The dream:

I submit this manuscript in May 2016. The publisher adores it and offers me a three-book contract (that will finish out the series as I’ve envisioned it).

During our conversations, I mention my four other manuscripts. She asks for outlines of each of them. Why not, right? It doesn’t cost her anything.

She sees the potential in all of them and offers me another contract on Doomsday Dragons and asks to see the first Gates of Astrya book before deciding on that series.

Of course, the Age of Apocalypse series will appear in bookstores everywhere during 2017-2019. I’ll have an enormous fan base. They’ll scarf up anything I write.

The rest is J.K. Rowling’s history.

Where I’m Going Now

As often as I’ve been accused of being a dreamer, I’ll argue that point. I’m a realist. Yes, I’m a realistic optimist, but I know better than to float on the puffy vapors of “hope it happens.”

I’m going forward. I have a novella releasing in a collection with nine other independent romance writers in February. And I’ll say this, romance rolls from my heart onto the page. Nearly effortlessly (and then the editing torture begins).

All those years of sneaking my mom’s romance novels into my room to read when I should have been sleeping are paying off. Unfortunately, those royalties aren’t buying too much at the moment.

I have another study book in the works. There are ideas for sequels to Reflections from a Pondering Heart, but I’m not convinced that’s where I should invest my time.

My biggest project idea is a grief memoir/Bible study combination. I’ve got this baby outlined, and I’ve started amassing research. Am I ready to tap into my personal losses for the memoir vignettes? That’s the big unknown.

I’ll keep subbing short stories to anthologies – romance, young adult and fantasy. My crazy ideas will find their way into the spiral notebook I have dedicated for them.

Writing is more than my passion or my dream. I’m convinced it’s my calling.

And I’m saying “yes.” Even if I’m unsure of the direction it will take me.

Any advice? What would you like to read from me?

What to Write Next: Blues Writer Style

Writing Blues

I’ve got the blues. Since sending my two fiction books to beta readers in late January, I have been floundering for true writing direction. Fiction or nonfiction? That is the question.

Let’s face it, most people who dream of writing, dream of writing a knock-out, impossible-to-put-down novel. They want to weave the perfect story with stellar prose, memorable characters and gripping plot.

Most people don’t think, “I know how to strip wooden floors. I should write a book about that.” (By the way, I don’t know how to do that – even though I have done it before. I call it selective memory.)

If you claim to be an author, people don’t expect you to list nonfiction titles when they ask what you’ve written. Nonfiction is so stuffy and boring. Why would anyone volunteer to write a textbook?

Sure, only a few nonfiction titles have achieved amazing notoriety. “Who Moved my Cheese?” is one little pamphlet that comes to mind. Although, everyone is familiar with the line of “for Dummies” books.

I have steered clear of nonfiction because of the research involved. I finished my Bachelor’s degree in July of 2013. Long before that day, I reached my research quota. And I’m not really anxious to dig in again.

However, I do have several book ideas that would be classified as nonfiction. If you dare, take a peek into my brain to see what other ideas I have.

Things I have considered in the past twelve months

  • A Bible study on women’s ministries – as in wife, mother, sister, teacher
  • A collection of short stories
  • A series for young adults set in a post-apocalyptic setting
  • Dragons from another realm falling into our modern world
  • A memoir-style self-help book about grieving
  • A shifter romance for an anthology call
  • An alien-cowboy story
  • A romance involving an invisible boyfriend
  • Dark Biblical tales for young adults
  • A journal from the perspective of Mary, mother of Jesus
  • Magic as an allegory for Spiritual gifts
  • How to dispose of a body (for a short story written during NaNo)
  • Focusing on New Adult romance
  • Writing for an interesting fantasy collection called The Legend
  • Writing only fantasy
  • If writing for young adults is the right path
  • A short story about betrayal
  • A story about one poor choice ruining a lifetime dream
  • Poems for the blog
  • Story lines for a young adult romance
  • And a million other things – that I can’t remember just now because it’s making my head throb

Things I have started in the past six months

  • A series for young adults set in a post-apocalyptic setting
  • A short story about betrayal
  • A story about one poor choice ruining a lifetime dream
  • A memoir-style self-help book about grieving
  • An alien-cowboy story
  • A romance involving an invisible boyfriend
  • Dark Biblical tales for young adults
  • Brainstorming plots and characters for four different stories or novels
  • A novel based on a short story written during NaNo

Things I have finished (sort of) since January 1, 2015

  • A journal from the perspective of Mary, mother of Jesus
  • An alien-cowboy story
  • A dark Biblical tale about a demon possession
  • A beta draft about dragons and teenagers with special abilities
  • 60 blog posts

Things I need to focus on NOW

  • Editing the dark Biblical tale which will be published in October
  • Finishing the romance involving the invisible boyfriend (it will make sense, I promise)
  • My next project

What should my next project be? You’ve seen the list. What do you think would be a good investment of my time – AND find a market with my readers?

How I was forced into doing NaNoWriMo

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The ink on my blog post detailing why I wouldn’t be participating in National Novel Writing Month hadn’t dried. My writing friend and I met at the library, and she insisted I participate in the insanity. I said no. She cajoled.

I signed up the next day. *sighs*

I thought I was stronger than this. My calendar for November is flooded with rewrite obligations. There are beta readers expecting that novel in December. Wouldn’t want to disappoint them.

“But you’re writing short stories anyway,” my friend argues.

True. I have scheduled seven days in the first three weeks of the month to work on some new stories. I’m trying to improve my market reach. A few publishing credits can only make my queries stronger.

I figured the creation process would be a nice way to give my brain a break during the grueling work of rewriting (which is minor compared to the brain strain of editing). I’m wondering if I can work on two or more different projects at a time – and do them both justice.

“I don’t have time. I’m doing a rewrite.”

“You should still sign up.” (Is someone paying her for all the people she convinces to participate? Is that what being a Municipal Liaison means?)

I have no one to blame but myself. Who clicked on the NaNo website? *raises hand* Who typed in a description of a short story collection for their 2014 project? *looks away*

The voice of reason (my husband), “I thought you weren’t doing that this year.”

Yeah, I thought so too. Why did I want to be friends with writers again? Why did I go with this woman to a writer’s conference? Why do we have regular lunch meetings?

We’re “helping” each other. I’m not feeling especially encouraged at the moment. The stress of writing 50,000 words in 30 days is making my head pound.

What are writing friends for? Apparently, to push me out of my comfort zone. And in front of a speeding NaNoWriMo truck.

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo this year? What crazy things have your friends convinced you to do? Were you later appreciative of their interference? (Please say yes. I really like this person.)

Starting Something New

Maybe it’s the way the tape holding the cotton ball in the bend of my arm pulls whenever I type. I even give blame credit to the golden sun making patterns on the porch outside my office window.

Starting a new project brings out the best – and worst – of my natural tendencies to procrastinate or run heedless into crowded streets. Not sure there is a “best” when I put it that way.

I don’t chew my nails. Even if I did, I’m not fretting about what’s next for the novel I’ve placed into the capable hands of six beta readers. That isn’t keeping me from getting words on the page in the newest Scrivener file.

I tried to come up with some short story ideas, but everything fell flat. This idea that came to me during November 2013 while I was writing blog posts for the church blog kept resurfacing.

It’s a fictionalization. I’ve decided a journal style will give it the most impact. This means writing in first person and a boatload of research.

Where to Start

Some people would load up by researching the time period and setting. That derails my creativity and puts me in a black-and-white frame of mind. If it helps spark your enthusiasm for the project, start here.

I started in the middle. This isn’t my usual method. Generally, I write the first scene and the last scene. Go back to the beginning and work my way toward the ending I’ve concocted.

That doesn’t seem to work for a fictionalization. Yes, creativity plays a huge part in the writing, but the basic story outline is already written. Shouldn’t this make things easier? One would think.

Since I’m using the Bible as my major resource, I started by reading the passage of the scene I wanted to write. I began with the marriage at Cana (I told you it was in the middle). I read the story several times.

Now to bring it to life. I closed my eyes and imagined how my point of view character, Mary, would have felt. Why was she there? How did she discover the wine shortage? What do her snippets of conversation with Jesus and the servants tell us about her character?

It’s not that much different than when I create a fictional character. Except I have to be true to the facts people already know.

It would be easier just to make something up. Why am I writing this again? *sigh*

What to Avoid

As with all my projects, I have a spiral notebook. The first page shows the family tree of Mary. Beneath that, I have her and Joseph’s family tree. Here again, the historical documents I’m using have only a small amount of information.

It’s difficult not to run off and research every little thing. If you want to get actual words written in the story, avoid this temptation.

Yes, I had to pull up a Jewish calendar and figure out what dates certain events might have happened. After all, how will I know what season events happen if I don’t know the date?

Even this tempted me to run amok. There were hyperlinks to descriptions of different festivals. Some of the information about the structure of the calendar piqued my natural curiosity. I steered clear of these obvious traps.

Don’t get stuck in any one scene. I know tons of research awaits me. My rewrite will require thousands of words added expounding on cultural items. I put an asterisk or a parenthetical reminder where I know this information is needed. Keep moving forward.

I’ve had to skip around. Some stories (like the birth, shepherds and wise men) are so over told, I will need to be especially primed in order to write them with original flare. For now, those scenes are blank folders in my Scrivener binder. I know they need to be written and when the time is right, I will tackle that hurdle.

Do I want to use them as an excuse to bog down? Sure. Now is when I have to use the tough love principle.  If I want to keep moving forward, I must say recognize distractions and swerve to avoid their pitfall.

When only a kick in the posterior will do

Everyone needs a day off. Most days, we can spare an hour for sitting in the sun on our deck. What we can’t do is allow respite to become laziness.

Sitting in the sun is a perfect time to read a craft book or reflect on the next scene in the story. Making notes in the notebook is always in order and can be accomplished anywhere.

I’m yawning after only writing 1,000 words. I can choose to take a nap. If I want to get more writing done, taking a walk around the block is a better choice.

Discover your personal warning signs. There are patterns when avoiding work is in question. Do a personal intervention. When my brain gets mushy and begs for a nap, I give it a dose of fresh air and exercise. If that doesn’t work, I put the daily word count goal in front of my face.

“As soon as we reach that,” I tell my wavering writing persona, “you can take a nap (read a book, check Facebook).” You know the rewards that spur you forward. Shamelessly bargain with yourself using these weaknesses goodies.

I didn’t feel like writing a blog post today. I had no idea what to write about. Rather than checking out images on Pinterest (looking for inspiration, of course), I started typing. This is the end result.

It might not be the best thing I’ve ever written, but it beats a blank page.

What advice do you have for starting a new project? What sort of bribes do you use to reach your daily goals?

Is a Power Point without a Presenter Worthwhile?

Isn't this a beautiful slide?
Isn’t this a beautiful slide?

Once again, one of my online professors has assigned a Power Point project. While I have no problems researching and designing these presentations, I wonder at their effectiveness.

What is the point of a presentation? It should display facts and media that informs or persuades an audience.

Can a slide show do that without a human presenter? I’ve seen musical displays that evoke deep emotions. Recently, the teacher I work with showed one about the 9/11 terrorist attacks in our reading class. I was choked up and teary-eyed. The music helped the pictures evoke an emotional response.

This would hardly be the point of my presentation about the major themes in A Visit from the Goon Squad. In fact, it has no sound bites whatsoever. Although it contains sound information in an appealing format, it seems dull and lifeless to me.

Even with my voice file giving the presentation, the Power Point I designed to “sell my skills” for a class last term seemed to fall flat. To me, these slides are a visual enhancement, but as the speaker, I’m the main attraction.

Am I looking at this all wrong? I would love to hear what my readers think about a Power Point presentation standing alone.