Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Christmas to All...

December 23. According to my children, Christmas can’t come fast enough; however, I have mixed feelings right now. On one hand, being the Ebenezer Accountant that I am, the growing list of receipts makes me agree with my children, though for entirely different reasons. In fact it’s a time like this when I can relate to John Grisham’s character, Luther Krank (an accountant, BTW), in Skipping Christmas:

He unfolded the spreadsheet, and began pointing. “Here, my dear, is what we did last Christmas. Six thousand, one hundred dollars we spent on Christmas. Six thousand, one hundred dollars.”

“I heard you the first time.”

“And precious little to show for it. The vast majority of it down the drain. Wasted. And that, of course, does not include my time, your time, the traffic, stress, worry, bickering, ill-will, sleep loss—all the wonderful things that we pour into the holiday season.”

On the other hand, I enjoy the giving. I also love seeing a smile from my wife and hearing the giddy sound of laughter from my children. I cherish the hugs and the family time as we watch a warm Christmas movie on the television (my wife already has three lined up for this year). Those are the things make me say, "Christmas can’t get here soon enough."

For me, Christmas is not about getting gifts anymore. Growing up and the cost of being Santa to everyone, including all the charities that crawl out of the ant hill this time of year, can certainly take the joy out of that part. However, like Luther Krank finally realizes, Christmas is about so much more. It’s about being together as a family. Both sets of parents (my parents and my in-laws) live in town now, and I am thankful that we can all share the season with each other. I am thankful that we can go see A Christmas Carol with my parents. I am thankful that we’ll get to spend Christmas day with everyone. These are the memories that I want for my children—memories that will last far longer than the gifts we give this year.

For all my friends and family out there, I wish you a Merry Christmas. I hope that you have a warm celebration with loved ones. Build those memories.

On the writing:

Lost Hearts is still a work in progress—up to 77K words now. Even though the pace has slowed, I find myself still enjoying the process. I love the character discoveries along the way.

Last week, I received notice that one of my short stories “Don’t Mess With The Moon Goddess” has been accepted by Long Story Short. It is scheduled to be published in March, 2010, and it’s a reminder that some stories take a year or more before they are actually published. I’ll be sure to post a link here once it’s released.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Unusual Weather Indeed

You may be wondering why I have a shot of the Cowardly Lion on my blog. After recent events, I felt it was appropriate since the Cowardly Lion is also famous for the line: "Unusual weather we're having, isn't it?"

Allow me to explain.

Yesterday morning, the phone rang somewhere around six o'clock. Being the only one up in the house, I raced to grab it, but only found the darn thing after the third ring. It’s at a moment like this when I wish we still had the old-fashioned, wall mounted model. Sure, it had a long cord that coiled up tighter than a diamond back about to strike, but at least you knew where to find it. Such is the age we live in though.

As it turned out, the call came from the school district—a recorded message that classes were delayed two hours. The reason? Icy road conditions made for unsafe travel. However, as the day progressed, the sun broke through, the temperatures climbed, and the ice melted. But then, an afternoon shower came into the area. And if that wasn’t enough, high winds swirled up a cloud of dust throughout the South Plains as well. By the end of the day, we found the highs somewhere in the low 50s and wide range of weather to go with it.

Waking up this morning, I looked at the outside temperate gauge and…

Sixteen degrees!? Tap-tap-tap. Hello? Is this thing working? As I stepped out to crank over the truck’s engine, though, a few seconds without out a coat told me everything I needed to know.

I shared it all with my wife, who shook her head and then went around the house making sure the kids were bundled up.

Thinking back, growing up in the Great Lake area, I don’t remembered days like this. When it turned cold, it usually stayed cold. And when it warmed up, you could usually count on it staying that way too. I don’t remember occasions when it would freeze, then rain, and then sand blast your home, only to freeze again the next day. Out here in west Texas, though, during the winter season it seems to be a way of life. Hot and cold. Ice and rain. Dust clouds and blue skies. As the saying goes: You don’t like the weather? Just wait a little while.

No serious complaints though. I still love west Texas, even with its unusual weather shifts.

Here is the latest on other fronts:

My novel is still in progress, with almost 70K words and thirty chapters written. The pace of writing has slowed down some since NaNoWriMo, but I’m okay with that. Along the way, I’m also doing a little research to add more realism to my scenes.

I received a rejection on one of my short stories last week. The editors didn’t give me any feedback this time—just a note that they wouldn’t be using it, and I was free to send it back out. How nice of them to let me know I was “free to send it back out.” As if the rejection wasn’t a big clue. Anyway, following the advice of Heather Sellers, I did send it out. “If a piece is rejected ten times,” she wrote, “I consider revising.” (from Page after Page, chapter 26). Now I don’t know if I’ll let a story get rejected ten times before I consider revising it, but the principal is the same. With so many editors out there, each with their own separate taste, why should I consider revising until I’ve heard the same criticism from more than one editor? So, out my darling went, off to face another panel of editors. Fingers crossed.

I hope all is going well with you my friends. Enjoy the holidays. Enjoy your families. Take a moment to count the blessings you have.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Progress Report #2 - NaNoWriMo 2009

Well, it’s over. NaNoWriMo, that is. The novel I started at the first of the month is still a work in progress—as of today, I have written at least sixty thousand words and can see the project possibly reaching seventy thousand before I put down the final period. Along the way, I’ve learned a few things.

First, I learned to personalize what each of us has heard before. With work, family and other responsibilities, I worried that I wouldn’t keep up with the necessary pace in order to become a “winner”. However, as John Dufresne so eloquently writes it:

"The First Commandment of writing fiction is, Sit Your Ass in the Chair."

- from The Lie That Tells A Truth

Each day, my goal was to write the minimum. A couple of days I failed to meet the goal; however, most days I did. Either way, I hit the 50K mark prior to the Thanksgiving Holiday by sitting down at the computer each day. To that, I owe my gratitude and appreciation to my wife, Karen, who understood and gave me the support I needed to get the job done. I also give my thanks to WBs Greta, Jane and Michael who encouraged me along the way.

The second thing I learned is that for me preparation has been the key. While I met one author (during a NaNo Write-in) who came with only an idea, I knew from past failures I couldn’t operate that way. As I’ve already posted, I spent weeks in advance thinking about this novel before the first word was written. Everything since can be traced back to those early morning walks.

I also learned to be flexible. Along the way, I’ve discovered one character I thought would make it through to the end apparently won’t. I’ve also discovered that some characters took on a greater role within the story only when they finally had the chance to speak. Starting out, I didn’t think they would utter one word. By the end, I think the story will generally finish the same as I envisioned it; however, I know now that I, and my characters, have no guarantees. One thing is for sure though: the path taken is not the one I originally thought I would take.

On the technical side, I learned that taking notes doesn’t stop when the first word is written. Along the way, I have continued to write things down—who’s who and what was said. This saves plenty of time when seeds previously planted suddenly take root.

Finally, and only to keep this posting short, I’ve learned that writing a novel worth reading takes years. Personally I’ve spent six years just to get to this point. Reading. Studying. Writing short stories to get my feet wet. Can I say that I’ve actually written something worth reading though? Only time will tell. However, if it takes a few more years, with the completion of NaNoWriMo I now know that I am, at the very least, on the right track.