Inspiration, Censor, Editor, Pet

Inspiration, Censor, Editor, Pet
Miss Mouthy Mouse

Friday, March 7, 2014

Four Months' Growth

So, it's been just a little under four months since I posted. I was in the midst of my first NaNo novel, teaching, and dealing with day-to-day "stuff."  Blogging took a backseat, and it wasn't until today, my first day of Spring Break, that I could even get to this page. 

Here's a rundown on the growth rings I've accumulated:

  1. I ended up with about 25,000 words in my NaNo novel. Not bad for the inaugural effort!
  2. I had a 100% retention in both my 0900 courses in the Fall--not 100% pass rate, but not losing any to withdrawals is pretty fantastic!
  3. I continue to fight with ADD brain, but there are certain strides that I'm making.
  4. I had to drop out of my women's fiction critique group. They were awesome, supportive women, but my plate got so full that I wasn't able to pull my weight, and it wasn't fair to them to pull me along. They've left the door open, and I hope someday I'll be able to catch up with them.
  5. December and January were months full of depression, but I fought through it thanks to a good therapist and good friends.
  6. My job is being forced to change pretty drastically because of overzealous, under-informed legislators, so I've had to apply to a graduate certificate for composition studies that will begin this summer. Hopefully, I'll be accepted.
  7. I was honored to be invited to share some knowledge and experiences about Southern Women's Fiction in a presentation at the Casper College Humanities Festival.  Here's a link: Kitchens, Porches, and Pews: Southern Women's Voices Through Narrative
Time moves on, and so will I. 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Cleaning My Plate

Food is a conduit to all things Southern, at least in my opinion. It pervades every part of our culture; it builds and destroys relationships; and it has rules for every occasion. With those rules comes two that were drilled into my head from an early age: never put more on your plate than you can eat, and always clean your plate.

I can't say that I've always been successful with both of those rules, and in reflecting on it, these rules moved past food and seeped into other parts of my life. I almost always have too much on my plate, whether by choice, by default, or by the excess mind-baggage brought on by having an ADD brain that is hellbent on working overtime without time and a half pay! This all leaves me questioning myself, wondering if I'm measuring up or letting people down. My to-do list is a barrage of shoulda, coulda, woulda, hafta's.

So here I sit, taking some time out of the to-do list to blog and reflect on what I would tell me, if I were my friend. And that's the key, isn't it--if I were my friend. How many of us take on work, hobbies, and relationships to fill up our time and lives so that we can live from outside ourselves instead of from within? How many of us define our worth based on how others see or react to us? How many of us clean our plates and stuff down the contents whether we're hungry or not, just because "we're supposed to?"

I want to buy new dishes and eat from them whatever makes me feel good and healthy. I want to be more thoughtful about what I put on that plate and be okay with deciding it's fine to change my mind about eating something if I lose my taste for it.  I want to balance good choices with decadent dessert choices. Most of all, I'd like to be able to be my friend. I have lost sight of that through the years, while I've been busy trying to clean my plate.

picture from

Sunday, November 3, 2013

NaNoWriMo Update

Who'da thunk it?

On November 1, I, along with more than 200,000 other folks, began a mad dash to write 50k words in 30 days. My plan was just to get into some type of rhythm with writing--to make it part of my daily life. I didn't intend to "make buddies," participate in writing sprints, or be in a group. I just wanted to put myself first and write with no guilt over "not having my work done" before having some fun.

Here's what happened!

  1. I met some folks online who asked me to help brainstorm some ideas with them, so I did (they had some really interesting premises), and I found out that they had some great ideas to help me too!
  2. I found out that Casper has a Writers Group with some women I already know (and like) so I'll have camaraderie face-to-face a few times this month!
  3. Checking in with other writers pushes me forward.
  4. When I sit down and sink into my story, the words just flow.
  5. Not re-reading what I've written keeps me moving forward.
  6. Showers and talking to myself about what my comrades have suggested has helped me navigate a situation I didn't know how to do--and introduced 2 new characters I didn't have a clue about.
  7. I have a hard time pulling myself away, so I have to really be careful not to shut out all the other things I have to do to be a responsible adult.
  8. I have written over 10,000 words in the first 3 days of the challenge.
Now, of course, I won't be able to shirk all my duties and concentrate solely on writing this week. I have a full-time job, a volunteer position, friends, and other commitments. However, now I really know that I can write 600 words in 45 minutes. I know that there should be NO REASON I can't spend 30-45 minutes (minimum) per day on this thing that I like to do.

Not a bad payoff for 3 days' worth of effort. I'd say I've already won.  The only thing I feel a little weird about is the whole conversation between two of my characters, Fairlee and Elna who had a big fight over whether walking a ferret on a leash would be harder than putting a diaper on a chicken. I don't know where that came from.


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Countdown to NaNoWriMo

How many blog entries are devoted to this subject this week? I've looked at dozens, so the number is large. Mine won't be as insightful or as useful as most of those. I won't offer the "12 Best Ways to Prepare" or "5 Ways to be a NaNoWriMo Winner;" nope, I'll just be giving freshman commentary on my own experiences.

Mindset 3 days out: 
Mixed. I am excited to get started. I've had to hold myself back from writing like a maniac as many, many ideas about my characters and the scenes have been bombarding me. I've got notes on scraps of paper everywhere. I picked all those up from their various piles and put them in one folder last night. I am sort of irritated that I don't plan better as far as outlining. I'm just not an outliner--in school I had to write the paper first, and then outline it to find out where my holes were. The only reason I'd like to plan is to be able to set out the chapters to get a sense of the pacing. Of course, that's just me trying to control something that should probably be left to the characters and unfolding of the story. It should be more fluid than my brain wants to make it.

I don't care if I don't make the 50,000 words. I don't expect to have a useable first draft. I won't be disappointed if the story is a bit clunky. My goals are to 1) give myself permission to add writing into my life as something worthy of priority--even if my "work" isn't done; 2) find out how I write--what's the process I need to use; 3) to follow through with a project and become invested enough to finish a manuscript; and 4) to explore Burgey and the people who live there.

I don't have classes on Friday, November 1--so my plan is to celebrate the beginning of NaNoWriMo by taking myself out to breakfast (perhaps I'll invite a friend--or not) and then go to an undisclosed location to give myself some dog-free writing time. Then, on subsequent days, I'll do my best to balance writing time with grading/class prepping so that I'm not being a hyper-focused freak who cannot function. I do plan to have no less than 1 hour per day where I am doing nothing but working on the "novel."

To Do List: (in no particular order)
  1. Type all those tidbits into a document so I don't lose them.
  2. Use Scrivener corkboard to plot out the scenes I know of so far
  3. Finish reading Secure the Shadows so I have the notes I need for the Victorian post-mortem photography.
  4. Finish reading about placental abruption for the miscarriage scene.
  5. Finish my map of Burgey so I can picture where people are and who they might run into in town.
  6. Clean off my desk and make file piles of school stuff, February presentation, and other piles so I don't lose anything.
  7. Pay bills online so I don't forget to after I get started on the novel.
  8. Finish folding laundry and clean the bathroom so the house is as good as it's gonna get for a bit.
  9. Buy more Diet Dr. Pepper and Dingos for the pups.
  10. Wash and cut up the veggies in my fridge so my snacks will be ready to go.
  11. Grade those 1.2 papers so students have feedback, and I have an empty "to grade" folder.
  12. Make a list of my NaNoWriMo buddies who I'll be checking in with during the month to cheer on and be cheered on by.
  13. Decide when I'm going to the gym and commit to it--no sense in making writing a priority without making health one too! 
  14. Continue writing a love letter to someone every day. 

So, that's it. My deal for the next few weeks. This post is just for me--because if I read it on the internet, it must be true. Right? :-)
What I'll try hard to do. Thanks Mr. Bradbury, thanks for the reminder.

Thursday, October 24, 2013


I got excellent news yesterday. My dad DOES NOT have lung cancer. Yet, today, I'm still feeling sad, still feeling a little out of sorts. I should be jumping up and down, celebrating. So what is it that causes this heavy, dragging weight on my chest today?

I think it's the pull of home--those apron strings that I added elastic to as I moved almost 2,000 miles from where my family has lived since the 1700's. That South of contradictions that so many of us want to escape from while at the same time longing to throw our arms around it and give it some sugar. Under the neck, where the old lady sweat smell of our great-grandmother lingers. That cloyingly sweet, familiar smell of cherry pipe tobacco mixed with the musk of coondogs. Daddy's breath filled with eye-burning secondhand smoke of a Vantage cigarette tinged with yeasty Miller Lite. Watching Mom's hands with the blue dye of denim worn into the weave of adhesive tape that wrapped around her fingers as she sewed loop after loop of gold thread on back pockets. The feel of bare toes sinking into red mud so strong that it sucks at my feet to keep them from moving forward. The grit of soil that scraped my lips as I bit into a thick, sun-warmed strawberry just picked from the plant. The way my butt felt sitting in a perfectly curved apple tree branch, bark imprinting itself into my back as I read The Secret Garden.

This was childhood - the romanticized memory of it. Filled with people, places, sounds, tastes, fears, expectations, and not-quite-true truths. It's what I  choose to keep of childhood that I draw my stories from, and not all those stories are true. Some of the stories I create are to show what it was; others are to tell what I wished it had been, and yet others are to smudge the truth to what I can bear to remember. It's the heart of the story that is usually the truth--even if it's just the truth I choose to believe.

I didn't leave my home because I didn't love it. In leaving my home, I think I found it, understood it, and actually valued it more. Thomas Wolfe's title says "You can't go home again." And that's true insofar as that it won't be the same place, time, and situation. Moreover, you won't be the same person. That's where the mistake is, isn't it? Expecting that memory of home to be frozen in time----to be the truth--where the definitions and boundaries of relationship and place and family  are clearly defined. To go home, you have to accept that the people, place and yourself have changed. That the love of family doesn't necessarily mean that you know them anymore--they don't completely know you anymore either. So, we need to keep talking, keep telling stories, for in telling stories of what was, we better understand what is, and we can hope for and work towards what will be...could be.

So this week, I miss that place and those people so very much. Yet, if I still lived there, I would not be me; I would be a different form of me--the one I can't imagine, but that's another story.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Poison & Wine Inspiration

This weekend was filled with all the usual to-do lists, and high on the list was continuing the planning stages of my NaNoWriMo novel. I've been reading about how others prepare, their "survival kits," and their playlists. I haven't really written to specific music before. I'm fortunate in that I can write in silence or amidst the hum of everyday noise. Yet, I find myself looking for ways to NOT WRITE the way I have in the past because those habits have led to much unfinished work.

So, as I've measured myself against the other WriMos in the forums, I began to think about making a storyboard--a map of my fictional town, Burgey; a cd with cool songs on it that somehow fit the tone and mood of the characters; and a poster of pictures of houses, businesses, faces of characters.

Next, I moved on to jotting down all the different tidbits of information I know about my characters: hobbies, aspirations, fears, relationships. I decided on names for peripheral characters who own businesses in town that my MCs will meet and get to know. I listed scenes I think that will need to happen. I threw out some pivotal moments that will move the plot forward, and then, it was really quite cool--my MC, Jen finally showed me what she looked like. I've been waiting for about three weeks for this.

Now that I know what my girl looks like, I sat down and talked with her about her friends, her husband, why she's so disengaged from her life, and she spilled her guts. One of the things we talked about was how she and her husband were growing apart--but he doesn't really know it. Then, music filled my mind, and I realized that I had a song for my playlist. This is the song for Jen & Will during the struggle. I hope their song by the end of the book is a much happier one. These are two great people; I want them to be happy.

And so, the first song officially on my playlist for NaNoWriMo is "Poison and Wine" by the Civil Wars. Here's a link to the official video on Youtube.

Monday, October 7, 2013

NaNoWriMo, Me?

What would possess a person to commit to an attempt to write 50,000 words in 30 days? Right now, according to the NaNoWriMo website, there are more than 50,000 folks signed up and ready to go. (So, does that mean if everyone wrote one word--everyone would win?)

For some people--it's the Viking horns.
For others, it's the competition to churn out a novel-sized, novel-like piece of text.

For me--it's a carrot dangling at the end of a stick to continue my goal of claiming my label of writer. I don't think I can write a novel in 30 days. I do think I can have a heck of a skeleton created. There may even be parts that remain useable through a couple of drafts.

I've waited far too long to BE this thing that I think that I am, have always been, but self-doubt, low self confidence, and some fun-crushing belief instilled in me since before I have memory that "until your work is done, you cannot play" have held me back.

So, as I work through October, I'll be doing my usual school related duties, volunteer activities, and I'll be planning. Talking to my characters to find out their backstory. Scouting out the locations that matter to them, the homes they live in (yes, Joseph--what that damn kitchen looks like so I won't have anyone reach into the dishwasher when they meant to reach in the salamander), and the places where they find happiness. I plan to take my characters to dinner, let them pick the tv shows, and invite them to trust me with their stories.

Then, come November 1--I will be getting up early and going to bed late, trying my best to jump off cliffs and write approximately 1667 words per day. So:
  • if you don't hear from me,
  • if you notice that I'm pale and tired looking,
  • if you think my clothes are wrinkled a little more than usual, 
  • if you catch me talking to myself, 
give me a hug, a fist bump, a knowing nod--hell drop a fiver in my hand for a burger! You'll know what I'm up to.

Ask me how it's going, but don't ask me what it's about. It's about me trying to prove to myself that spending my time telling tales is an acceptable use of MY time.

I expect a great dinner out with some of you during the first part of December to celebrate the first draft of Lifelike Pose by Jill Snyder Hughes.