Self-shaming Novel Update

Last week’s goal:  Continue with the outline – map through to the rising action, at least.  Write Leo Baxter’s inciting incident scene. 

I’ve made some progress with the outline.  For me, it’s a slow tedious process.  I have waffled a bit on one particular element – to kill a character, or not.  Usually, I don’t have a problem with this, but I like the guy.  I’m having difficulty letting him go.  I’ll get over it.

The first blow took Leo Baxter by surprise, the second drove him to his knees.  – Retribution

I’ve been staring at this sentence for a week.  All in all, it’s not a bad first sentence for Leo’s introduction scene, even if it’s a little cliché.  I think it’s a good pushing off point for the event that spurs Anna to reenter a life she fear and loathes.  I just wish I could come up with the sentence that comes next…and the one after that…and the one after that…and so on.  Even now, as I stare at it, I am perplexed.

This is a pivotal scene, and I’m well aware of what I need to accomplish.  It’s just a matter of getting the words to flow.  I’m sure they will eventually come to me.  Probably when I’m in the shower with shampoo in my hair and no writing materials within close proximity.  Or better yet, at the gym on the elliptical with 30 minutes left on a 45 minute workout.  I’ve tried keeping a note pad and pen with me at the gym, but I’m not known for my grace, and well, I’ve almost fallen off trying to jot down an idea.

Anyway, what else have I done with regard to Retribution since I last saw you?

Very little.

Well, that’s not exactly true.

I feel I was able to accomplish part of last week’s goal.  The outline is coming together. Leo’s scene is not.  Therefore, I did not advance my word count this week.  Not a big deal. It’s not always about the word count.

Next week’s goal:  Continue plugging away at the outline.  Make a firm decision on the elimination of a certain character.  Finish Leo’s scene.

Until next time.

Water lilies

I went to the Dallas Arboretum this weekend to see the Chihuly exhibit.  Beyond the customary landscaping pansies and evergreens, I didn’t expect to see much in the way of colorful blooms.  It is, after all, December.  Not much grows this time of year – even in Texas.  And, by and large, most of the interesting flowers and trees at the Arboretum have gone dormant for the winter.  There were, however, a few exceptions:  an azalea bush here and there; a hardy daisy or two; and these:

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Simply beautiful.

Chihuly…one last time

On December 31, 2012, the Chihuly exhibit at the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden will close.  Last Sunday, I took advantage of an unusually warm day, and schlepped into the city to take in the magic one last time.

I’ve seen the exhibit several times since its opening in May, and I keep coming back one particular piece – Float Boat.  I simply love it.  Each time I go, I try to capture the glory of it in a different way.  I am always amazed by the boldness of the colors and the way they dance across the water.  I could spend hours sitting and staring at this work and never see everything there is to be seen.

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Of course, my second favorite piece is the water lilies.  I love they way the white glass contrasts with its surroundings.

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I’m sad to see Chihuly go.  It will be missed.

Self-shaming Novel Update

“Panicky despair is an underrated element of writing.”

– Dave Barry

This time last week, I was elbow deep in introduction scenes for both Anna and her brother, Aaron, and my goal was to have two completed scenes by week’s end.

Well, I accomplished half of my goal.

(golf claps all around)

Anna’s scene is rough, and bare bones, but it’s out of my head and down on paper.  Most of it works, some of it needs improvement, but that can come later.

That brings me to Aaron.

<sigh>

How do you solve a problem like Aaron?

(Yes, it’s alright to sing that the way the nuns at Nonnberg Abbey did in The Sound of Music.  I won’t tell.)

I’ve said it so many times – Aaron is a pain in my ass.  However, I think he and I have come to a degree of understanding.  He will play a less significant back up role in this story.  His only real involvement – to briefly aid Anna’s quest by using his unique skill set.  In doing so, I promised not to kill him off before the mid-point.   I thought that was an excellent compromise.

Oh, and I’ve also changed his name.  Aaron and Anna.  Oy.  What was I thinking?  He will now be known as Lenk Schuyler.  Don’t judge.  This new name fits his role and serves a purpose.

In addition to the above scenes, I also worked on reconstructing my outline.  For those of you keeping count, this is version #5.  I’ve made a lot of progress with that.  Most of it is handwritten and as I type up my chicken scratch, I have expanded upon scenes and themes, and will continue to do so.

So what’s the low down skinny?

Last week’s goal:  Two workable scenes

Actual accomplishment:  One workable scene, a character redesignation, and a partial outline.

Word count:  1688

Next week’s goal:  Continue with the outline – map through to the rising action, at least.  Write Leo Baxter’s inciting incident scene. 

Until next time.

Things I learned this week

“What fun is it being cool if you can’t wear a sombrero.”

– Bill Watterson

Indeed.

I learned this week:

…that it is possible to earn an A in Geology.

Who knew? Not me.

Let’s see if I can do it again next semester.  I am feeling so froggy about it that I have registered for Historical Geology.

Take that scary science.

…that having a home office does not guarantee peace and quiet.  The night before my two most challenging finals, I retreated to my new sanctuary for a little study time.  I’m not sure when it happened or even how it happened, but an hour in I looked up at the sound of an awful ruckus and realized my space had been invaded by two cats, a dog, and a kid.  Really?  I had more solitude in the living room.

…that dropping my dog off at the groomers (until two months ago, I’d only owned cats) was a little like leaving a toddler at daycare for the first time.  There was lots of whining and crying and forlorn looks that said:  “Why, mommy-lady?  Why are you so cruel?  I’m really sorry I ate your slipper.  Really.  I am.  Don’t. Leave. Me.” Of course, as soon as I left the building, Kevin the groomer dude became Rocco’s new best friend and I was completely forgotten.

…that I still don’t get the allure of twitter.  I used to have an account a couple years ago – for about a week.  I didn’t understand the point, so I deleted it.  This week I am trying my hand at it again.  All of my writer friends are doing it.  I feel left out.

29 tweets and 23 followers later.

Um…yeah.   Still don’t get it.

I think it’s just beyond my capability.  All those cryptic codes and hash tags.  It makes no sense.  Plus, it seems like an awful lot of work to maintain.  I can’t even get myself together enough to blog regularly let alone come up with something witty and interesting to tweet several times a day – in less than 140 characters.

…that I am too old and snarky to spend 11 hours riding on a bus to and from Houston with a bunch of sugared-up middle schoolers without the benefit of coffee…or booze.

…that just when I thought human depravity had reached its peak, I am yet again proved wrong.  I cannot begin to fathom the level of grief felt by the families of those killed in the Sandy Hook shooting.  My heart aches for everyone involved.

I usually don’t like to delve too deep into political (or religious) ideologies on this blog.  I find that in this digital age where every Tom, Dick, and Harry has an opinion, a keyboard, and the luxury of anonymity such discussions deteriorate into hate filled tirades not intended to find resolution, but rather to shock and offend.

Having said that, I would like to have my say:

I believe in the Constitution. I believe in the Supreme Court’s authority to interpret the intended spirit of the Second Amendment.  I believe in an individual’s right to protect his/her person and property.  I do not, however, believe civilians have a need for military grade assault weapons or magazines that hold dozens of rounds.  I do not believe a ban on such weaponry would seriously impinge upon a citizen’s constitutional rights, and I think it’s passed time for rational dialogue on how we prevent the recurrence of such senselessness.  Of course, then there is the issue of the perpetrators themselves – the ones who yielded these weapons.  I do not have hard statistics, but I think a blind man could see that a good number of these shooters are plagued by some form of mental illness.  This is a problem.

How do we fix this?  I honestly do not have the answer to that question.  What I do know is this:  This will happen again unless we can set aside our egos and self-promoting ideologies and move toward a real solution through meaningful conversation and compromise.

…that I don’t have an awww moment of the week, so I will leave you with a photograph I took recently of the Day of the Dead bride and groom figurines I brought back from my last trip to Mexico.  I bought them to commemorate the 15 years my husband and I had been married (at the time).  We are now two weeks shy of our 17th anniversary.  I just love these little guys.  They make me smile.

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Feeling squirrelly?

I am.

I made it through another semester.

With all A’s.  Even in that damn Geology class.

Bring on the tequila.

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Not really.  I don’t drink all that much, but it sounds good.  Right?

Self-shaming Sunday Update

I have dipped my toe back into the writing pool.  It’s been a long time since I embraced my WIP and allowed it flourish.   Of course, I still have 3 finals to get through before I can completely commit myself to Anna and her plight.

In the interim, I’ve started to assess where I left off, what needs my immediate attention, and where do I want the journey to take me (and Anna, of course).  When last I left you, I had decided Anna needed a brother – a dysfunctional brother with penchant for trouble.  He’s a thief with problems.  Most of which become Anna’s.  In September, I was having trouble writing his introduction scene, and by the end of it I wanted to just kill him.  Purely a selfish urge on my part.  I didn’t like him, I still don’t like him.  I resent what he is  doing to my story.  Irrational?  Maybe a little.

I am starting fresh with the outline.  Yes, for those of you keeping track – this is outline number 5.   My favorite number.  A good omen?  I’m going to go for optimism here and say, yes.

So, today I am working on two scenes:

Aaron – an introduction to a thief (in action).  He will nearly die.  I will enjoy writing that part, I think.  Of course, he will not die because this incident will spur Anna to reenter a life she left behind a long time ago.

Anna – an introduction.  Her life after the thing that happened years ago that sent her into seclusion.  I do have a great opening written for her in my previous draft.  I am going to recycle it as a flashback scene.  It was too good to give up.  (I am going to choose to ignore Bill Chance’s voice as he tells me: “If you love it, delete it.”)

So there you have it.

Word Count:  0

Next weeks goal:  Drafted introduction scenes for Anna and Aaron.

To read or not to read?

As I wrote in my last blog entry, I’ve just finished reading John le Carre’s The Spy Who Came in from the Cold.  Prior to that I read a few –  okay, eight – Daniel Silva novels in a row.  As much as it pains me to say, I think I am a little spied out at the moment.

So, this bears the question:  What do I read next?  What am I in the mood for?

I have no idea.

I’ve been engulfed in academic reading for so long I’ve scarcely paid attention to what’s trending on the bestseller list.  I suppose I could pursue my nightstand for something.  On second thought, it seems my choices are limited:  Agatha Christie’s Murder in Mesopotamia, Lawrence Schiffman’s Qumran and Jerusalem:  Studies in the Dead Sea Scrolls and the History of Judaism, Elaine Pagels’ Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation, and Daniel Silva’s Gabriel Allon books 9-11.

Doesn’t excite you either?

I’ve read the Agatha Christie a dozen times.  I know who killed poor Mrs. Leidner and Miss Johnson, and how Hercules Poirot brilliantly deduces the crimes.  After the semester I’ve had the last thing I want to read is scholarly works – Schiffman and Pagels are out.  And as I said above, I’m a little sick of the spy game right now.  I want something a bit more frivolous.  Something that doesn’t require too much thought.

So, what are the hip kids reading these days?

Fifty Shade of Grey.  Paranormal…everything.  Vampires and zombies and werewolves.

Oh my.

I’m going to take a pass on those for right now, because just the thought makes me want to put an ice pick in my brain.

I think it would be best to consult the experts over at Goodreads.

Here are a few on my recommendation page:

1.  Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn:  A psychological thriller with a missing wife and a suspicious husband.  Hmmm…this might have potential, though I am not sure I am in the mood for something so heavy.

2.  The Seventh Scroll – Wilbur Smith:  An archaeological adventure story set in Egypt – sort of an Indiana Jones meets Romancing the Stone.  Definitely different from my usual fare these days.

3.  Crocodile on the Sandbank (An Amelia Peabody adventure) – Elizabeth Peters:  I was skeptical about this Goodreads choice, but the consensus labels it a fun read.  Brain candy.  I could use a little brain candy.

4.  Cleopatra: A Life – Stacy Schiff:  Hmmm…I see a pattern evolving.  Goodreads thinks I need to go to Egypt.

5.  Gorky Park – Martin Cruz Smith:  I’ve seen the movie.  Loved it.  I count it as one of my favorite Cold War murder mysteries.  But, it is a little on the dark side.

Not recommended by Goodreads, but a book I downloaded to my Kindle a couple of weeks ago:

6.  Bound:  J. Elizabeth Hill:  I am actually in the process of reading this novel.  It comes from my WP friend over at Word Flows.  It’s her first publication and has received some great reviews.  I’ll be the first to admit magic and fantasy aren’t something I gravitate to when choosing reading material, but so far it’s a captivating and intriguing story.  Go check this one out for yourself.

So, what are you reading?  I’m open to suggestions.

Things I learned this week…and more

“Brevity is the soul of wit.”

– William Shakespeare (Hamlet)

I learned this week…

…that finding a link between Truman’s Cold War policies and the civil rights movement is easy.  Writing a paper arguing the connection is not.  I can’t remember the last time I wanted to bang my head against my desk….oh wait…yes, I do.   Last semester when I wrote that paper about Thomas Hobbes and absolute power.

…that waiting for my professor to grade the above-mentioned paper is excruciating.  Generally speaking, I am a pretty patient person.  I don’t get too worked up about things, and I’m far from someone who requires instant gratification.  Except when it comes to my writing.  I think, in part, this speaks to the level of insecurities I have about my own ability as a writer.  I worked hard to construct a meaningful work, and when I submitted it to my professor, I was confident I hit the mark.  Now, more than a week and a half later, I’m having doubts.  Did I take the topic in the right direction?  Is it in-depth enough?  Is it too detailed?  Have I made a persuasive argument? Should I have picked this particular subject matter knowing my professor is a Cold War enthusiast?

As you can see, the wait is killing me.  I have gnawed my fingernails to the quick and am currently resisting the overwhelming urge to drop by his office unannounced or send him a string of stalker emails with the following:

“Have you graded my paper yet?  Have you?  Have you? Have you?”

“Did you like it?  You liked it, right?  Say you liked it.  You didn’t like it, did you?  Damn it.”

“Please, please, please Dr. P, grade my paper.  I need to know.  Like, now.  Before I die from not knowing.”

“Ugh!  Tell me!”

…that despite my best efforts, I’m still prone to bouts of resentment.  I like to think that I have evolved enough to rise above the pettiness and spite that comes with disdain, but in truth, I have not.   I’ve complained ad nauseam about my group project.  It’s been the bane of my existence for weeks now.  Last Friday, we did our final presentation.  Two of us earned an A.  The rest of the group…well…frankly, got a free A to boost their lagging course grade.  And yes, that boasts of bitterness.   And no, I don’t care.  I’m not feeling overly charitable at the moment.   I have marked them all off my Christmas cookie list.

…that I’m going to have to take some sort of statistics class.  That really pisses me off.    So much so, that I can’t bring myself to find any humor in it.  Give me a week or two.

…that my spare bedroom furniture will soon be gone and I will be the proud new occupant of my very own home office space.  I’m over the moon about it.  My family is pretty stoked, too.  They will finally be able to venture into the kitchen without being leveled by my stink eye for disturbing my creative vibe.

…that I’ve lost ten pounds since the beginning of the semester.  Stress is a hell of a diet plan.  I don’t recommend it.  I’m a firm believer in healthy weight loss – i.e. eating rabbit food and sweating like a pig.  However, I’ve got to say, it’s kinda nice knowing I’m going into the holiday baking season with a little wiggle room.   Bring on the snicker doodles!  And the chocolate peanut butter fudge, and the peppermint almond bark, and the cocoa ginger crisps…

…that I think I am looking forward to the holidays.

I’ll give you a minute to absorb that.

Okay.  Are you good?  No one needs medical attention?

I’m not a big fan of this time of year.  I dislike the clutter, the crowds, and the commerciality of it all.  Yes, this makes me a jerk.  I’m alright with that.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again (because it bears repeating) – my ideal holiday involves sun, white sandy beaches, and a margarita – or ten.  I make no apologies for myself.

I feel a little different this year.  I find myself wanting to drag out that damn tree and all its messy trimmings.  I’ve bought a half a dozen Christmas gifts, scoped out a few more, and ordered my Christmas cards.  I even R.S.V.P.’d to an annual Christmas party I have successfully avoided…well…always.  Of course, I’m not sure this last one counts.  It’s being held in the new Perot Museum of Nature and Science, and I’ll admit to an ulterior motive in accepting the invite.

I’m not sure what’s wrong with me.  I fear someone might have forgotten to wash their hands and has now infected me with the Christmas spirit.  Not cool, people.  Not. Cool.

…that Princess Kate is going to have a baby, and is suffering from a bad bout of morning sickness.  Okay, I love the romantic notion of the Royals as much as the next gal, but is this really front page, above-the-fold, news?  Call me a killjoy (it’s okay, I’ve been called worse), but I think the looming fiscal cliff, the UN recognition of a Palestinian state (and the Israeli reaction), the absence of good faith negotiations and compromise in government policy making,  the implication that the Syrian government may be contemplating the use of chemical weapons, the moving of Patriot missiles to Turkey, and…oh yes…the new Egyptian’s president’s move toward a totalitarian government just a tad more important than a Royal bun-in-the-oven.

But what do I know.

…that I do love a story without a happy ending.  Why?  Because life is messy, and happy endings are the stuff of legends and fairy tales.  Cynical?  No.  Realist.

I just finished John le Carre’s The Spy Who Came in from the Cold.  It’s an early Cold War spy thriller set in 1963 when the Wall was new, Germany was divided, and Khrushchev ruled over the Soviet Union.  The thing I love about this story is that there is no clearly defined good guy or bad guy.  Certainly there is the fundamental clash of ideologies – individualism and democracy vs. totalitarian socialism, but what you see in this novel is a questioning of morality on both sides of the Iron Curtain, and the lengths each will go in order to advance their political belief systems.  I found it a fascinating study of human nature.

“A man who lives apart, not to others but alone, is exposed to obvious psychological dangers.  In itself, the practice of deception is not particularly exacting; it is a matter of experience, of professional expertise, it is a facility that most of us can acquire.” – John le Carre

“People who play this game take risks.  Fielder lost, Mundt won. London won – that’s the point.  It was a foul, foul operation.  But it’s paid off, and that’s the only rule.”  – Alec Leamas

And as always, I am amazed by le Carre’s ability to weave such an intricate story with arcing tension without the use gratuitous action.

…that this blog entry seems to be nothing more than one big negative rant-fest.  My inner rebellious self seems to be in a bad mood this week.  I shall have to work on that.

…and last, but not least, this week’s awww moment is brought to you by my silly dog, Rocco.  I went a little snap-happy with the camera this week and he let me know it was not cool.  It’s the same look my daughter gives me.

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A writing marathon

Yesterday I took a break from my studies and went on a little excursion with my writing group.  We ventured south from our corner of suburbia into an eclectic downtown neighborhood known as Deep Ellum.  It has the kind of charm that comes with age -each building has a tale to tell; every face a story. 

Organized by my fellow WC-er Bill Chance, the trip was intended to spark our imaginations.  You can read about his experience with a recent New Orleans writing marathon [here].   The idea was to walk through the streets, take in the sights, draw inspiration, brainstorm, and then find a comfortable corner to write.  We wrote in 20 minute bursts, then shared.  I wasn’t big on the sharing part at first, but I warmed up to it.  I’m glad I did.   If there is one thing I’ve learned over the last couple of years, its that raw honest feedback is invaluable to a writer. 

I haven’t written much fiction since the end of August when I chose to put my WIP aside, and focus on that damn Geology class and lab.  Regrettable, but necessary.  However, now that the semester is winding down and all I’ve left on my plate are finals, I am itching to get back into the fray.  This trip was a good way to kick start the creative juices and reconnect with my old friend, Anna.

Where did she lead me in Deep Ellum?  She led me to a crumbling Roman brothel where she met with a drunken ex-KGB operative – her maternal grandfather and the man who murdered her father.  She longed to put a bullet in his brain, but instead, she swallowed her dark desires for retribution and asked for his help.  I’m not sure how this is going to work out.  I like the idea of this man; I like the familial connection; I like the conflict.  I wonder how Anna will reconcile her feelings toward her grandfather – will she pity the drunken shell he has become?  Will she give into her baser desires and avenge her father’s legacy? Or will she simply take what he can give and walk away?

I don’t know, but I can’t wait to find out. 

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