Monday, August 27, 2012

Topsy-Turvy

The last ten days have been anything but normal. And, the news TMOTH and I got last week has definitely turned our world on its ear.

Our son is headed for bone marrow transplant.

When I got the news a week ago, I fell apart. My world has been rocked. How could this bubbly, hyperactive, absolutely most adorable little boy in the world need such a risky procedure?

But, at this point, he does. We've got a lot of steps to go through before the ultimate decision will be made. And, we have to find a donor--it's not certain any of his immediate family will be a match. The likelihood is 25% for his sister, and 2% for both TMOTH and me--29% chance that one of the three of us will match.

The dust is just starting to settle and I can think straight again after getting the call last Tuesday. But most of my energy is being spent trying to figure out what's next, and looking down the road to the next few stages of treatment. Still hoping that when we go in to do another biopsy prior to transplant that the numbers have changed and we can hold off. I'd rather deal with biopsies every 3, 6, or 12 months than transplant.

I don't know what this means for my blog, or even my writing in general. I know I'll need to write to deal with the stress. And it seems like I've had three major things happen in just the last few weeks: first, deciding it was time to say goodbye to "Homebody" and move on; second, a personal decision to work on something I'd been struggling with for a long time; now, this. All in a matter of just a few weeks.

I'll check in when I can, try to post as I'm inspired or led... and this blog may turn into more of a journal of our journey, at least for a while.

Thank you, loyal readers, for any prayer you happen to send my family's direction.



PS: If you should feel so led, please consider becoming a marrow donor. It's an easy, painless process to get on the registry (although there is a small fee unless it's associated with a donor drive). Please check out Marrow.org for more information. -- LS

Monday, August 13, 2012

Growing On Up: 5 Lessons on Writing Learned in the Garden

I started a garden this year.

It was sort of a last minute thing, and I really didn't prepare like I should have, but despite it all, it's been fun to see my plants grow... a few taller than TMOTH and myself (and TMOTH is 6'4"/1.93 meters tall!!)

My garden at the beginning of  the year

My previous gardening experiences have left much to be desired. I grew up with a large garden in our backyard, where my mom would (sometimes) plant a ton of tomatoes, and occasionally other things like corn, peppers, and melons. But, since I married TMOTH, I've mostly had a black thumb. I can't start seeds to save me, and many plants I've bought at the store die.

This year, I was actually successful (at least up to now!) Eight tomato plants, five sweet pepper plants, and one lonely chili pepper plant. Oh, and an ever-expanding patch of oregano.

Of course, my water bill has been going up thanks to the huge drought Kansas is in... *sigh*

TMOTH was adamant--he wasn't going to tend to my garden for me. I have a tendency to not go outside at ALL when it gets hot. So, having a small garden seemed reasonable.

And, I'm kind of glad I started small.

So far as I write this, my city has had 20 days in excess of 100° Fahrenheit. We've had less than 4" of rain since June 1, 2012. Normally, we'd have had about three times that by now. I've had to be out pretty much every day to water, occasionally twice, or my plants start wilting.
Homegrown, home-canned tomato sauce

Because of the extreme heat, I've forgone any trips of any lengths of time. My plants would be dead or close to it, I fear, if left for four days (and yes, I know I should get a water timer, but that hasn't happened yet.)

Of course, all this has led to some fruitful results. I've picked a few peppers so far, but even more tomatoes. And, I'm flexing my canning muscles. So far, I've canned my own tomato sauce, and am hoping to soon have enough tomatoes again I can do my own salsa, too.

In the midst of it all, I've learned quite a few lessons, some that I can translate into writing lessons.
  1. Plan Ahead -- My decision to do a garden was made hastily. If I'd started working on it earlier, I could have had much more space cleared, and hence, more plants/more produce. As a writing lesson, this is translated to outlining. I'm not a firm believer in outlining, but it's growing on me. Especially given this experience.

  2. Give Me Space -- You can probably see that my first picture, I had things planted kind of close. I was ill prepared for how well my plants would grow, since my previous attempts at growing tomatoes and the like had produced straggly-looking plants. Writing lesson: don't jump right into editing. Let your writing sit for a while.

  3. A Mariana's Peace Tomato from my garden -- not a Roma!
  4. Do Your Research... or Not -- I bought 8 tomato plants from a local grower. I'd been adamant--I wanted Roma Tomatoes, the kind best suited for canning sauce. The grower told me she'd give me some Roma's, but she also had a different kind of Roma called a Mariana's Peace. So, I bought four of each. Well, the Roma's grew like I knew they should, but when the Mariana's Peace started to get big, I knew I'd been sold a bill of goods. These weren't Roma's, but beefsteaks! After I'd harvested quite a few of the tomatoes, I researched them--something I should have done right off the bat. However, I was pleased to learn they're an heirloom variety, have a lot of meat to them, great flavor, and seem to have mixed well with the Roma's. Writing lesson: I'm not huge on research, never really have been. Being a pantser, I rely on intuitive or stored knowledge, occasionally a blog by Lee Lofland, Wikipedia searches, or my small writer's reference library in my bedroom/office. Really have to stop doing that. I've had to rewrite more scenes because I later learn of major inaccuracies. Which is why I'm contemplating asking a couple of my legislator friends to allowing me to shadow them come January--despite the fact I've been a legislative intern twice--since I've got two new ideas for novels that would involve a legislative setting. I need to be a bit more disciplined about research.

  5. Deal With Your Circumstances -- I had no idea I was going to deal with a drought like we'd had. Even though I follow Gary Lezak who came up with the LRC (Lezak's Recurring Cycle) which is a weather theory I believe has a great deal of scientific merit, I didn't see us having a drought as extreme as we've had. I figured it'd be hot--we had a mild winter, more rain than snow, and I think I was wearing shorts as early as February. So I was prepared for the heat. But, I've had to be out every day, usually in temps nearing 100°, and that's not something I'm used to. I actually hate the heat. But because I saw my little tomatoes growing, and had visions of maybe supplementing our food sources in a significant manner, I was out there, watering, tending, trimming, and harvesting, even if I was tired, hot, sweaty, or sick. Writing Lesson: Your circumstances are your circumstances. Deal with them as best as you can. If your schedule is unpredictable, fit in 10 minutes of writing between appointments.

  6. My tomatoes quickly became overgrown.
  7. Learn From Your Mistakes --  I desperately needed to have about twice as much space for my tomatoes as I ended up having. I can access them only from the perimeter, otherwise, I have to crane my neck and sometimes reach in blind to find my ripe red fruit. Next year will be different. Come fall, probably in October, I plan to Round-Up a significant part of the yard (probably much to our landlord's chagrin!) and add compost to all our areas that I'm clearing after a couple of weeks of killing off the weeds and crabgrass. I hope to have twice as many tomato plants next year, maybe even three times as many, spread over at least four times the amount of space. Writing Lesson: As I detailed in last week's post, I made the hard choice to give up on my project "Homebody". It was a tough decision, but one that needed to happen. While I'd hesitate to call "Homebody" a mistake, I definitely learned from it. Maybe I'll detail some of the lessons learned in a future blog post.



Question for you: What lessons have you learned about writing from your outside activities?

Until next time,

Monday, August 06, 2012

Tough Decisions, or, I'm Not a Quitter--Honest!

Being a writer means making lots of choices. Why did Uncle Melvin kill off Cousin Carl? How will Detective Haskins discover the killer? Why did Sarah run off with Luigi? And on and on...

One of the toughest things about being a writer is knowing when to quit. Not necessarily for the day, but when is the story done. Or when it's not done, and there's nothing you can do at this point in your life to make it done.

by Astroboy_71
I'm facing one of those times right now.

For the last 6 1/2 years, I've been working on a novel project. It's had a lot of names, but right now, it's "Homebody". This novel predates my children being born, and the two main characters actually predate my marriage.

Over the last year or so, I've struggled with the book. I'm on like the 7th draft or some crazy thing, and I keep feeling like I'm circling around when it could be considered done, but just not quite there. Those who have read it say the same thing. But I can't figure out what's wrong with it, not now at least. For a while, I thought it was done: I submitted it to agents, and have received a few nice, even encouraging replies, but nothing that would have me thinking I'm almost there.

In a last-ditch effort, I asked Texas Momma (aka Linda Yezak) to take a look at it this spring. Between all her battles, she read a few chapters, but life happened and she had to return it, mostly unread, but with a few very helpful suggestions.

Then, last week, I got that niggling feeling again, like it was time to let it go.

I've had that feeling off and on for a while. I'm not sure why, but after it came back stronger than ever, I decided I'd e-mail Texas Momma about it. Even though I asked, I wasn't quite prepared for the blunt reply:
"Give up on Homebody. Save the personalities for another book, if you'd like, but I'd quit on it."
My stomach clenched reading those words. This book has become so much a part of my identity the last several years. How can I just give it up? It's almost like abandoning one of my children at the grocery store.

One thing you should learn early on as a writer is to kill your darlings. In other words, that turn of phrase you think is so clever, or that scene that you love but doesn't necessarily fit with the rest of the book. Perhaps it's the same way with this book--it's become my darling in many ways.

When I first started it, I was a completely different person than I am today. I had different goals, different aspirations, different worries. And, writing... and rewriting Homebody was cathartic in many ways. In the past six years, I've started work on several other projects, most of which I've finished, one or two I haven't for whatever reason--my creative juices ran out, I lost interest, etc.

Homebody wasn't the first novel I wrote. No, that disgraceful thing happened back in my teens. I pray it never again sees the light of day. A couple more came in between, both before and after a hiatus in my last semester of college into the first year of married life. Perhaps Homebody is that transition for me--the one I needed to get out, but isn't yet worthy of being published. Perhaps the next one or two books I've got on my plate will be it. I hope so.

For now, I must say goodbye to this story. Thank you for helping me grow as a writer. I'm sorry I had to use you to do it, that you never reached your full potential, that I wasn't the writer you needed me to be. Just know that even though you will remain on my flash drive, and I may never open you again, you've been valuable. I will always have fond memories of writing you.

As for my characters, Amanda O'Flannigan and Richard "Rick" Pierce, I think they'll be around again. Almost as soon as I made the decision that it was time to cut it loose, I got a new idea which would be perfectly suited (I think) for them. And, Homebody definitely allowed me to come up with a great deal of back-story for these two. I hope it comes to fruition, mostly because I love both of these characters dearly. I'm not quite ready to quit on them, even if I have to quit on one of their stories.

For the time being, I'm going to get back to work on "Reprisal". I'm mid-way through the 3rd draft, and it's lingered far too long as I've had two children, done NaNo, and tried to get that OTHER book done. I'll try to post monthly reports, even if they're brief, on how that's going. Once I've completed the 3rd draft, I'm going to go back to my 2009 NaNo project, "Beyond Dead". It's very short--just barely over the 50K minimum to win NaNo, and ideally I'd prefer it around 80K. That's a lot of words to add! But, one thing at a time.

If you're a writer, how do you gauge when it's time to cut a story loose permanently and stop working on it? Have you ever had to do it? Did you mourn for the story and/or characters as I feel I'm doing a bit of now?

Happy trails,


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