Waiting Game and Writing

Hello, friends,

Since my last check-in, I had the blood work I mentioned.  I expected my iron to be low and possibly my B-12.  But I never expected what happened instead…  My “sed rate” (short for erythrocyte sedimentation rate, also known as ESR) came back high.  It’s supposed to be between 0 and 20, and mine was 125.  (Zoinks!)

bariumSoooo… needless to say, my doctor ordered a bunch of extra tests, more blood work, a CAT scan (hence the nasty barium you see here!), an x-ray, and other stuff.  The x-ray already came back fine.  The second sed rate test came back elevated again.  And I don’t yet know the ANA and Rheumatoid Factor test results, nor the CAT scan results.  As far as I know, I have to go back again next week for yet another sed rate test.  I don’t know what he’ll order next depending on the other results.  But until I know something, I’m still plugging away trying to make it through the day without puking or needing a nap!  I’ll keep you posted as I learn anything.

In other news… Since I’ve been too exhausted to spend much time at the computer writing anything new, I’ve been taking some of my printed manuscripts to bed and trying to commit to editing at least a few pages each night.  I believe I’ve made it through all the obvious typos, misspellings, bad or missing punctuation, etc.  (Printing it out really makes quite a difference in catching these little blunders as far as not seeing the same thing as my eyes have passed over on the computer screen so many times before.)

I’ve let a few people (including a few of you) read some of these manuscripts before, and many of you had some remarkable suggestions.  But there was one manuscript – The Prison – which I’ve only let a couple of people even see.  It was the first one I wrote, and I wrote it before I learned and became obsessed with “The Rules.”  You may remember my frustrations when my exact-word orientation from my Autism got in the way of “just writing” once I learned there were so many dos and don’ts.  I got so hung up on The Rules, that I wasn’t able to “just write” anymore, and as I’ve been re-reading, I wince as I see how much I held back.

Don’t get me wrong, I (now) think The Rules are a good thing (for the most part), though my Autistic brain still wishes they were called “The Suggestions” instead.  What I realized was that my first manuscript had so much more “feeling” behind it and felt less “mechanical” than the others.  When I asked myself why, I came to a conclusion:  I used a lot more similes and strong descriptions in The Prison than I used in my other works.   The sad thing is, I know exactly why I did this as well…  I got so stuck on “Show Don’t Tell” (of The Rules), that I was afraid I was “telling” too much, so I deleted almost all instances of these types of phrases and sentences in my subsequent work.

Unfortunately, I think a lot of my problem was due to an article I read that instructed me:  “In order to show and not tell, you have to write as if you’re describing what’s happening to a blind person.”  So, I did just that.  And in doing so, I added a lot of stage direction (a LOT of stage direction!) as well as clumsy description that sounded as if I were telling the story of cyborgs rather than people!

For example:  After learning The Rules and allowing myself to become obsessed with adhering to them — or else!–, I wrote:

Neil’s face turned scarlet as he jumped to his feet.  His chair fell to the floor, and he narrowed his eyes.  “What did you do?” 

Rivers grabbed her arm as hot soup splattered on her.  Tears formed in her eyes.  “I’m sorry.”

He grabbed her shoulders tightly and put his face close to hers, then without saying a word, he released her and spun on his heel.

*~*~*~*~*

Ugh!  Isn’t that just awful?  It feels so cold and mechanical.  I’m embarrassed to think I actually allowed people to read my work like that!

Now, I’ve changed a lot of sterile scenes like that to be something more like this:

Neil jumped to his feet.  His face was flaming, and he appeared to be six inches taller than he already was. His eyes penetrated Rivers’ as he glared at her with repugnance.  “What did you do?” 

Rivers’ voice caught in her throat, and she began to tremble. “I’m sorry,” she said under her breath.  Tears streamed like twin rivulets down her cheeks as she tried to ignore the hot soup that splattered on her arm.

He huffed and grabbed her shoulders, digging his fingers into her flesh.  He pulled her so close, she could feel his hot breath on her face. 

She attempted to explain, but her voice caught in her throat like a lump of clay suffocating her.  Before she could speak, he grimaced and released her as if she had the plague.

*~*~*~*~*

Isn’t that much better?  The sad thing is, that’s roughly how I wrote in the first place, (though I admit I had a bad habit of changing points of view as well as making the scenes too short and choppy…  Those are some of The Rules that are actually a good idea to follow.)  So, as I’ve been able, I’ve been slowly making the changes to a lot of these old works and trying to get them in their best possible shape once and for all.

 Anyway, that’s what I’ve up to lately, friends.  What about YOU?

Flies

They say, “Time flies when you’re having fun,” but it also seems to slip right away from me when I’m busy with things I’d rather not be doing.  I can’t believe 2014 is almost over!  It feels like I blinked toward the beginning of February, and now, here we are at the end of December.  I’ve been feeling a little disappointed that I didn’t get as much done this year as I did in 2013.

Last year was much more productive for me.  In the summer of 2013, I started a running program.  I hadn’t run for years prior to that because my shin splints were so painful, and every form of relief I had tried for them failed miserably.  But in 2013, I found a new exercise for shin splints that literally cured them almost immediately.

By autumn 2013, I ran in a 5K — my first time running that far since I was in middle school!  I also lost 35 pounds during those few months.

Also in the summer of 2013, I dreamed my story, The Prison, and decided to pursue book writing.  I wrote the first draft of that as well as five other manuscripts before the end of the year.

Later in 2013, my neighborhood association was giving me problems regarding my photography studio being located in my home, and it looked as if I was going to have to move.  So I took a break from running and writing, and I packed to move.  The only problem was that I couldn’t find a suitable place to move.  So I repainted my house and decided to stay and just deal with the neighborhood association.  Then I had to unpack everything and settle back in.

In 2014, I started babysitting for a friend of mine, and that took up a lot of my time.  I also started working with an attorney friend on several projects, including editing and even writing portions of a book he is authoring.  Additionally, I’ve had a lot more photography jobs than I did the previous year, and those have taken my time as well.  (Apparently weddings were on the decline in 2013 due to the number 13 being unlucky.  Numerous wedding vendors complained about the decrease in sales until someone actually took a poll and discovered this was why.  I never realized that many people suffered from triskaidekaphobia.  Weird, huh?)  Plus blogging every weekday ended up taking more time than I ever thought it would, too, though now I would miss it if I didn’t do it.

Needless, to say, my writing and my running have taken a backseat this year to other projects.  I’m sad to say I haven’t run at all this year.  I only wrote one and three-fourths new manuscript first drafts.  That was really disappointing.

But I did learn a lot more about the current rules of writing, so when I worked on editing my previous manuscripts, I feel that they were polished quite a bit.  I also realized this year that I really missed not writing.  I feel that this just cements that book writing was a good fit for me, and I’m glad that I tried it when I did.  I sold some short stories this year which made me happy.  And I obviously wrote even more short stories than I sold.  Those were fun as well.

Additionally, I started my author blog here, my author Facebook page, and my author Twitter this year.  And in doing so, I “met” many of you who I look forward to interacting with regularly.

So I guess John Lennon was right when he said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”  But next year, I hope to have a better handle on my time, and I definitely intend to make writing and running more of a priority.

Talk to me:  How did your 2014 compare to 2013 or other previous years?  Did you accomplish everything you hoped to this year?  Did your year fly by or drag on?

About a Billion Years Ago…

This past month I was busy editing and polishing my first book, The Prison.  Actually, I was learning all about the NEW way to write.  (This is worse than the “new math” educators have been threatening us with since the beginning of time.)  Apparently, back when Fred Flintstone and I went to school together and I chiseled my homework in a stone tablet, I learned wrong.

When I was in junior high (7th, 8th and 9th grade back then; nowadays called middle school and 6th, 7th and 8th grades), I went to a private Christian school.  Actually I went to private school from kindergarten through 9th grade.  My school was known for doing junior, senior, and freshman college work in the 7th grade.  We had eight classes per day as opposed to public school’s six.  And the grading scale was much tougher than other schools.  (95-100 was an A; 88-94 was a B; 78-87 was a C.  Anything lower than that, and we got in BIG trouble.)  Teachers paddled us with LARGE wooden paddles with holes drilled in for more velocity and less wind resistance, and they didn’t hesitate to bend our hands backward and smack us with rulers if they didn’t want to wait until after class to let us know who was in charge!

In addition to the strict curriculum, we had a severe dress code.  Each morning after the first bell, the boys and girls were divided and taken to separate rooms for inspection.  Boys had to wear slacks (never jeans!) with belts, and shirts with collars, and they had to be tucked in.  Their hair couldn’t touch their collar in the back.  They had to stick their fingers in their ears every day, and if their hair touched their fingers, it was too long.  Earrings were an absolute no-no as was any other man jewelry.

The girls had to kneel on the floor.  Our dresses couldn’t be more than 4 inches from the floor, and they couldn’t be sleeveless.  We couldn’t wear more than one pair of earrings, and they had to be a matched pair.  We couldn’t wear more than one necklace.  We were allowed only light pink or clear nail polish, and the same went for lipstick.  We were never allowed to wear pants unless they were a matched pant suit that was not made of denim or corduroy, the pants couldn’t have pockets, and the jacket had to cover our rear ends entirely.  (Can you say “old lady clothes?”  Seriously, I think my grandma had an acceptable pants suit… I did not.)  If we were out of dress code, we were sent home immediately and suspended for 3 days.  If it happened three times in a school year, we were expelled for the remainder of the year.

But I digress.  The point is, I KNOW what I learned about writing (though admittedly, I do, at times, still abuse commas).  I’m the only person my age that I know who ever had to diagram sentences (except of course my former classmates).  My kids don’t even know what diagraming sentences means!  My friends that went to public school only know what it is because their parents had to do it and told them about it.  In every class we had, including Geography, History, Bible, and even Math, we were required to write in complete sentences.  We were marked off for spelling as well as grammar, and we were docked for punctuation errors in any of those other classes, too.  I always made A’s in English.

By the 10th grade, I decided I needed out, and I finally convinced my granddaddy to allow me to go to public school where I could wear pants!  The curriculum and the grading scale were nowhere near as strict, and I still aced English.  Because I had eight classes a day in private school as opposed to six in public, I had enough credits to skip my junior year as long as I attended summer school for 11th grade English.  I aced that as well, and also my senior year’s English class.  (Over the years, people have commented that I must have been so smart, but the truth was I absolutely loathed school, so I was only smart enough to find a way out early.)

I was barely 16 when I graduated.  After that, I got pregnant with my daughter, took some time off, worked, then finally made it to college.  I aced my English classes there, and in fact did so well on my Essays class that my teacher asked for copies of all but one of my essays to use as examples to show other students.

Now, though you may not believe me, I am actually NOT trying to break my arm patting myself on the back.  What I’m actually doing is leading up to this:

I FEEL REALLY STUPID NOW!  Or old.  Or both.  Seriously.

In my lifetime, there’ve been a lot of changes.  I’ve gone from a rotary dial phone that the telephone company had to install to a touch screen cellphone.  I used to include 9 planets when I made a Solar System model, but now there are only 8.  When I was little, televisions were changed with a dial and only included 12 regular (VHF) channels (channels 2 to 13) and up to 37 bonus (UHF) channels (channels 14 to 51).  One of the two televisions in my house was a black and white set.  Car windows were actually rolled down manually, and many cars didn’t have seatbelts.  There were 7 continents and 5 oceans.  Later they changed it to 4 oceans.  Now, I think they’re back up to 5.  My first computer had a 4 megabyte (that’s MB not GB!) hard drive and was considered the top of the line at the time.  Oh, and we had to write in cursive.  They don’t even teach cursive in a lot of states anymore!

And most importantly, paragraphs had to contain a proper noun and be able to stand independently and still be understood.  Quotes were required to have dialog tags in each paragraph.  Sentences absolutely had to have both a subject and a verb.  Even a list of three items required a comma after the second item before the word “and.”  Of course there were a billion other rules regarding punctuation, grammar and sentence structure.

After college, I was a paralegal for 14 years.  Working in a law office, I had to learn a new way to write.  For example, pronouns were never allowed, and the parties’ full names were always listed. (Also parties’ entire names were capitalized at all times.)  Additionally, there are a lot of run-on sentences in law, not to mention a lot of otherwise useless Latin phrases.

That being said, none of that matters anymore!  

For today’s writer, “minimalist writing” is the in-thing.  The only acceptable dialog tags are said and asked.  We’re supposed to avoid verbs like screamed, whispered, grunted, questioned, threatened, explained, exclaimed, begged, added, concluded, demanded, commanded, blurted,repeated, sang, and replied.  While those used to get bonus points for creativity, now they’re actually considered amateurish.

We’re also never ever supposed to use “said-bookisms” (now there’s a stupid word!) such as growled, hissed, or roared because supposedly those are animal noises, and a human doesn’t really growl, hiss, or roar.  (Whoever thought of this rule obviously never met my ex-husband!  Or the woman who gave birth to me!)

We are also never supposed to use adverbs to describe how something was said (“Don’t go!” he yelled angrily.), but we are supposed to add actions to show that he is angry and that he yelled without actually saying it.  (His face turned crimson, and the veins in his temples throbbed methodically.  Flecks of foam flicked out of his mouth, and he flailed his arms, then in a loud voice said, “Don’t go!”) (I don’t know about you, but the word yelled means a lot more to me in this instance than all the superfluous description followed by the word said.)

Also, we should avoid dialog tags altogether as much as possible, plus we should use pronouns almost exclusively.

The reason for all these new rules is so that the reader feels as if they are a part of the scene and not simply reading a book.  (I wish you could see me roll my eyes waaay back into my head right about now.)  Call me crazy, but I’ve always been able to get engrossed in the scene even though I was always cognizant that there was indeed a book in my hand and I was actually not on a prairie in 1854, not really on a spaceship in 2243, or not literally listening to a thumping heartbeat coming from my floorboards to remind me that I was a murderer!

Considering this is called “minimalist writing,” it added about 3,000 more words to my manuscript.

At any rate, I was off to a slow start when I started editing, but I think I’ve finally got it now. Good grief!  If I would’ve learned all this a year ago, I’d have saved myself a lot of time at the editing table.  But, I guess we all live and learn.  At least we should.  (And the truth is, I actually don’t mind the changes.  I’m actually confident that my work seems more polished now.)

Now, I can’t wait to be done editing everything else and start writing my new stories the “right” way.  Hopefully by the time I’m finished, the powers-that-be won’t have changed the rules on me again.

Well, thank you for listening to my rant.  I’m off to feed Dino…

Talk to me:  Did you ever have to diagram sentences?  Did your school have a dress code?  Are you familiar with The Flintstones?  Who do you like better, The Flintstones or The Jetsons?

Are You A Character?

When I wrote the first draft of my first novel, The Prison, I actually dreamed it three nights in a row.  The morning after the first dream, I woke up and thought, “Wow!  That was a cool movie!”  Then I realized it wasn’t a movie that I’d ever seen.  When I dreamed it the second night, I woke up recalling all the more vivid details that had come to me than had been there before.  And by the time I dreamed it the third night with even more detail, I took it as a sign that I needed to write it down.

The Prison wasn’t the first time I had repeating movie-like dreams, but it was the first time I actually ever took the initiative and did anything about it.  In my dream, I was the main protagonist, Rachel, and my sister, Michelle, was the second female character.  I was married to a man that looked like Brad Pitt (Oh, how I love when THAT happens!), and my sister was married to a man that reminded me of Johnny Depp.  Brad’s mother reminded me of actress Kathy Bates, and his father reminded me of actor Dan Lauria.  Jack in the book reminded me of Jack Black.  And police officer Joe DeLuca looked like actor Jake Weber (who played Joe Dubois in Medium). 

So, since God was kind enough to give me an all-star cast in my dream and allow me and my sister to perform along with them, I decided when I wrote to keep the names they’d already “been assigned” in my subconscious. The first half of the book is a wife’s recollection of her time with her abusive husband, and the second half of the book is the husband’s memories of the times he spent with his wife who he loved more than anything.  So, in the first half of the book, Brad looks like Brad Pitt when he has the long, stringy hair and hasn’t shaved in a while, and Johnny looks like when Johnny Depp has the longer hair and the goatee.  And in the second half of the book, Brad has short hair and is clean-shaven, and Johnny also has short hair and a smooth face.

So when I wrote, it was like I was taking dictation from another part of my brain.  I didn’t have to think about anything at all.  The characters were already developed, and the plot and dialogue was already in place.  As such, everyone got to keep their first names as I dreamed them, and my only real work was typing like a madwoman before I forgot any of the important details.  A lot of the first half of the book (and of course my dream on which the book was built) was based on some actual experiences I had many years ago.  So, quite frankly, I didn’t really have to go far to wrap my brain around the brutality the protagonist endures and how nasty her husband is.

Now, this might be a good time to tell you that I am Autistic.  I have Asperger’s Syndrome, and as such, I have an amazing audio recall for anything I’ve ever heard… but because I can rarely look at people in their eyes, I don’t do well with faces at all, and names also give me trouble.  Even when I watch TV, I seldom really watch, but rather, I listen.  I can generally hear the first few seconds of a TV show that I haven’t seen in years (sometimes not even since I was very small), and more likely than not, I can tell you exactly what happens in the episode as if I saw it only yesterday.  But if I watch and two people look similar, I’ll more than likely think they are one in the same.  To give you an example of what I mean, when the original show Law and Order was on, I didn’t like it, even though I loved Law and Order SVU.  Finally, one day, my sister asked me why I didn’t like it, and I told her.  I thought it was stupid that the attorney was always doing the detective’s job.  She didn’t know what I was talking about until I showed her.  And that was when we both learned that I thought that Jerry Orbach and Sam Waterson were the same person!

Frankly, this happens a lot in my real life, too.  Quite frequently in my life, I’ve been unable to remember a person’s name (even though I can easily remember every other word that person ever said to me, as well as where they were when they said it, whether they were facing North, South, East, or West when they said it, and the precise time of day along what we both were wearing at the time.)  So, when that happens, I’ve just assigned them a nickname that corresponds to either a distinctive physical feature or even more often, a habit or trait they possess.  Of course, these people don’t often know that I don’t know their names.  So, a lot of times, my sister or my kids will get a phone message from “Mister Big Nose” or “Lady Snow Ski Feet.”  But they know who I mean, so it’s all good.

As such, after I finished with my first draft of The Prison and decided that I definitely had more stories in me worth telling, I found that what worked for me was to make my female protagonist be me (named Rachel), and the characters around her are my closest friends or family (or sometimes my worst enemies).  Then, when I’m done writing, I go back in and change all the names to what I really want them to be.  This method, however odd it might be, usually works well for me, especially since most of my books are based on portions of my own life.  So if you know a writer, you, too, may actually be a character and not even know it.

But the neatest thing that happens for me is when my characters start developing themselves.  When I was writing my first draft of Thou Shalt Not, I complained to my sister that I hated how the father always called his daughter “Kitten.”  She laughed and said if I didn’t like it, then why did I write it that way?  (And if you write, of course you know the answer.)  I told her that I didn’t mean for that to transpire that way, but as his character developed it “just kind of happened.”  I can totally see now why all those Twilight Zone episodes and other such shows about writers who have characters come to life and attack them make good sense.