Blue Sky Writing

1/15/07. Out of the woods and into the word processor


I am relieved to report that, with my writing buddies’ help, I have pushed passed the self-doubt, the anxiety and fear that had me wondering whether I would ever be able to finish, let alone finish by a self-imposed deadline.  Gladiola and her small band of Borderland heroes have come through the rabbit hole. A little worse for wear. A little dazed. Some stumbled through run-on sentences and continuity issues, but they’ve had a good run, a big-bang finish, and even a final card game at The End.

Tomorrow, I’ll worry about the next step: Revision. But for now

Good night,

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July 12, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

1/14/07. Knives, crazy relatives and climactic homestretches


And I thought I had crazy relatives. One of my friends says he has to hide the knives before the relatives come to visit. I think I understand where that ripping sense of humor of his comes from. It’s an essential survival skill in the family circus.

Logged 1,565 words Saturday; another 2,394 today. It’s weird. The story has rounded the corner and entered the climactic homestretch where a lot is happening, but now each scene takes three times as long to write through.

Meanwhile, the weather could get interesting. We’ve had snow a couple times, but of the kind that turns into a soggy, muddy mess. The forecast is looking colder and snowier. Tomorrow will be a good day to stay chained to the chair pounding on the laptop.

July 12, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

1/13/07. Preparing for the final stand


Just back from my roundtable at Barnes & Noble. And now, free at last, am looking forward to two and a half days at home to write.

Got a fire going and the kettle on for a strong cup of tea. That and a dollop of honey should keep the furnace stoked till dinner time!

So now I must repair to the trusty laptop to await the muse and trust that the war will not start without me and that those doughty allies will hold to their positions until reinforcements arrive.

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1/11/07. An unseemly spill…


Back down the labyrinthine rabbit hole we go…

Kinda says it all, doesn’t it? And, interestingly, it captures the trials of my protag nicely, too… She drinks. She smokes. She turns pumpkins into Volkswagens. Will her character deficits derail her or save the day?

I stand on the brink. The war is about to begin… and I sprained my leg! The garage floor rose with unseemly haste, and I got a good look at a cobweb under my work bench  before the dogs came to see why I had decided to dust the floor with my sweatpants. Sometimes this writing business has my pantaloons in knots!

Now I’m sitting here at my desk sideways, foot propped up with ice packs, trying to type. Not as limber as I used to be but have managed to squeak past the 1k word count, 1,096 to be exact.

July 12, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

1/10/07. The “F” word


Making up for lost time — 4,158 words as I fold up my laptop after a day of writing.

Now, let’s talk a little about the “F” word…

Fear, it’s one of my biggest obstacles. Last spring when I answered the retreat workshop survey, I put it at the top of my list of writing weaknesses. There are times, those low-pressure fronts that pass over the soul, when I am afraid I won’t finish, won’t be up to the challenge, that what I’ve got so far is in fact a fluke. I’ve tried to nix the fear by chunking down this project into smaller steps. The step I’m working on now is simply to tell the story, from start to finish, no matter how skeletal, no matter how awful the prose.

I started with a soft Dec. 31st deadline, all the while my inner editor was telling me I’d have to extend it to mid-January, and my screaming monkey mind telling me that Jan. 31st was the absolute, drop-dead deadliine. And now an anxiety bordering on superstition is telling me to finish by that deadline or else!

There are 21 days left, three more weekends, three more writing Wednesdays. Deep breath, out slow. Yes, I can do this.

July 12, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

1/4/07. Party with ‘tude


Well, the good news is Nog solved the riddle to his rhyme and has been humming a little ‘Pirates of Penzance’ tune all afternoon. The not-so-good news is I managed to squeak out 808 words after dinner (and a day at the office) but have to quit now and prepare for my day job.

Better than zip, but I hated to leave so close to Cindy’s big birthday bash. She’s got a gun and a raging case of PMS. Will the Fairy God Squad get there in time? And what will they be driving?

July 12, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

1/3/07. What rhymes with urinal?


Slammed down 1,900 words today. A bit above daily goal, and the story has pushed past the flabby middle to the midpoint reversal. Nog, the Green Fairy, though, is stuck on his insult poem to our hero, Gladiola Bindweed, a class II fairy godmother. He’s having trouble finding a word to rhyme with “urinal.” I’ve suggested several possibilities, but there’s no pleasing him.

Meanwhile, Gladiola has learned that the Fantasy Football Elves plan to gate-crash Cinderella’s birthday party.

But we’ll worry about that tomorrow…

An enchanting evening to all,

July 12, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

1/2/07. Trying to stake fog — the writing process


I’ve been thinking about a comment a fellow writer made about not being able to relate to the writings and teachings of Natalie Goldberg because “that’s not her process.”

That got me thinking about MY process. I found Nat tremendously inspiring as I was trying to kick my way back to the surface as a writer. I had gone so deep into denial, I didn’t write for 30 years, except a dabble here and there.

Restarting the creative engine was painful and slow. The wheels and cogs in my right brain were sludgy and rusted. The oil that greased the wheel was first, Natalie, then my writing practice group. As a result, my creaky engine cranked into gear while I was still poring through the owners manual and work books, reading all that I could on craft, trends, new writing.

I found myself in middle age to be a nascent writer again. First, because lack of practice had made me as wobbly as a newborn. Second, years of negative internal dialog had to be deprogrammed and excised from my thought process, so that what had been frozen could melt and germinate again. And third, writing over the last 30 years has evolved, and I had a lot of catching up to do. And, of course, trying to take those first baby steps after years of inactivity. So what is my process?

I find my process changing with each new project, sometimes dramatically, sometimes subtly. But it changes nonetheless.

When I wrote my first short story after years of silence, my heart sang with the poetry of place. My inspiration was the red desert of Northern Arizona and a terrifying but liberating experience I had while there. Trying to capture all of this on paper was a bit like trying to stake down fog. I was suffering sensory overload and drafts of writer’s block by turns. It nearly overwhelmed me. On the plane back from AZ, I quickly sketched out the basic outline of what had happened. When I got home, I generated a list of symbols and meanings. What did it all mean, for gods sake! How could I massage actual details of the experience into scenes, dialog, and story in such a way that my words would carry plot lines, through lines, character development, theme and message to a plausible conclusion — was there a conclusion — and leave the reader feeling satisfied?

Next I got started on novel, a fantasy. Here, I thought, the struggle I’d had with theme and message could be glossed over. Fairytales themselves would provide all that. I could just adapt and corrupt the storehoue of stories to suit my own mood and metabolism at any given moment. Wrong again!

The story I thought I would write turned into a parody, a farce, a satirical fantasy piece that constantly feels as though it is running away with me, on the verge of leaping out of control. It is a big, sprawling paramecium, and I feel myself constantly plumping it like a big, shapeless pillow as I try to force form and structure onto this mindless chaos, this free-for-all of indulgent but fun writing.

So that’s my writing process. I chase story ideas and suffer through restless nights while characters whisper plot points in my ear — one actually insisted the other night that I would have to “get rid of” another character. Herding the story through its various iterations is a big part of the process, even while the story contorts, twists and shifts to escape. Again, I am attempting to stake fog!

July 12, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

1/1/07. The worst day of the year*


Were you one of the many who held their heads in their hands New Year’s Day moaning never again, never ever again? Did you hobble out to the kitchen to grope for the aspirin bottle and a glass of something wet, wondering all the while whether you would ever be able to silence that bowling ball you were sure was rolling around in the area once reserved for gray matter?

Ah, such is the stuff that resolutions are made of.

Perhaps you decided to crack open a beer or mix a Bloody Mary in a desperate ploy to postpone the inevitable for another few hours.

Procrastination. That’s what New Year’s resolutions are really all about. The worst day of the year is the first and for good reason. That’s the day you’re supposed to deny yourself all the bad habits that have followed you faithfully through the years and embrace detestable good habits that will make you a model citizen.

Previously, no doubt, you have made list of all the things you enjoy doing and have promised yourself you’ll quit doing them at the beginning of a fresh, unsullied year. It’s only a matter of days, you say, until I quit smoking or drinking. I’ll start exercising every morning. I’ll staple my stomach shut. I’ll floss my teeth, drink green tea and carrot juice, forego sour mash and take up stamp collecting.

I will count to ten before losing my temper. I’ll quit nagging my spouse. I’ll be nice to my in-laws. I’ll take a self-improvement course. And I’ll be wholesome, healthful and about as much fun to be around as Aunt Madge’s asthmatic fox terrier.

You tuck the list away in a remove corner of your mind where it waits to be disinterred at the fateful hour when the clock strikes midnight.

Then you wake up feeling like a bear slept in your mouth, your eyes are the color of boiled beets, your stomach acts like someone was in there with a Roto-Rooter, and you’re ready to read the rites over that moldering list. It’s a brand new day in a brave new world, and you’re spending it on the bathroom tile. Your life is on the skids.

It may not be terribly encouraging news now, but you can take another shot at keeping resolutions in February when Chinese New Year’s rolls around on the 18th. Probably by then you will have recovered your dignity. You may even be full of good cheer again.

Personally, I think New Year’s resolutions are a waste of time and about as inspiring as the surface of my thumbnail. All they do is make you feel lousy at being unable to keep them. And the ghosts of New Year’s Resolutions Past have a nasty way of coming back to haunt you in the guise of friends and family who have excellent memories but poor timing and no tact.

So why give up now something you can enjoy for whole more year? If you must make a list of New Years’s resolutions, keep them hidden. The top shelf of the closet in the spare bedroom is my favorite hiding place. That’s where I stash unsightly stuff when unexpected company appears. I’m afraid to open the door now. I would start an avalanche of coat hangers, empty shoe boxes, dated magazines and magazines I haven’t had time to read.

Of course, there are some individuals who manage to keep their resolutions. But they get invited to few holiday parties because they’re insufferable bores who have no friends. The rest of us muck through life holding our bad habits in a “vice” grip. It is only when New Year’s arrives that we treat them like unpleasant relatives.

Here’s a sampling of some of the resolutions that were floating around my office water cooler: F.A. said he wanted to stop biting his fingernails. This is the fifteenth year in a row that F.A. has attempted to do this, and we anticipate his success with guarded optimism. J.K. said she would like to find a rich, single movie star. Now I don’t know much about celebrities of any kind, but I understand a number of them hang out in rehab these days. S.N. would like to lose weight, five pounds to be exact. S.N. is disgustingly thin and willowy, so it taxes the imagination wondering where those five pounds are going to come from. C.B. said he would like to quit smoking, which is interesting when you consider he doesn’t smoke in the first place.

As for me, I’m holding out till Chinese New Year’s which, by the way, is the beginning of the Year of the Pig. By then, perhaps, I will disinter an old list of good intentions. I might also by then have dug my way out from under the avalanche of coat hangers, empty shoe boxes and unread magazines.

First conceived in early 1980s.

July 12, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

12/24/06. The ghosts of Xmases past…


I hardly know what to say anymore in today’s tetchy social climate when season’s greetings might meet with reciprocity — “Why thank you. And a cool yule to you, too!” — or militant hostility — “It’s CHRISTMAS, you godless heathen!” And so I find it comforting to recall a simpler era.

My childhood was populated by eccentric relatives who practiced bad taste as a matter of personal expression, not as a mass merchandised tribute to cheese-whiz consumerism. (A wall-mounted bass, batteries included, singing Jingle Bells, comes to mind.)

Once upon a time, I had an aunt, Aunt Nan, and a granduncle, Uncle Wacky, who believed in recycling gifts bearing the stamp of their own brand of odd, damned peculiar, or just plain tacky.

Now understand, Uncle Wacky had always given me, his favorite grandniece, terrific presents for Christmas — one year a telescope, the next, a microscope, and once, in what surely gave my parents some sleepless nights, a chemistry set… Nan, too, usually gave cool gifts, collected on her trips to Katmandu, Bangkok and other points of interest around the world. An avid mountaineer — she and my Uncle Fred had scaled everything higher than a foot hill between New Hampshire and Nepal — she had many colorful and culturally rich treasures to bestow.

The gift giving between Nan, my father’s sister, and Uncle Wacky, however, remained a mystery, a private joke from which my cousins and I were excluded, until, that is, I reached my twelfth Christmas.

I felt I had truly arrived because Nan and Wacky decided to welcome me as the third member to their conclave of taste-defying gift-giving that year — ahead of my two cousins (both older; both boys), Dandy Sandy and Peter, Peter, the Scrabble Cheater.

On Christmas morning, I untied the ribbons, folded back exquisite silver paper with breathless anticipation, and lifted the lid of the shoe box. Nestled between layers of red tissue paper was a dog turd.

The years of re-gifting and parcel post had not been kind, and it was crumbling in on itself, a fragile thing, white and powdery with age. But the following year, as a matter of honor, I wrapped that shoe box carefully in fresh Christmas paper and sent it on to the next hallowed recipient.

Aunt Nan is gone, Uncle Wacky, too. Nan succumbed to pancreatic cancer just before a planned trip to England. The last time I saw Uncle Wacky was at my grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary party. He was slipping a woopie cushion into a chair soon to be occupied by the round rump of an Episcopalian bishop. A trickster to the last.

It’s the final days of 2006, and I sit here at the ‘puter, a steaming mug an elbow away, waxing nostalgic about a gay old uncle, a mountain-climbing aunt and a pile of ancient dog poop. Just a little year-end lurch down memory lane where visions of recycled gifts, eccentric relatives and other eggnog-induced visions dance in my head.

Dad passed away last New Year’s Eve, but Mom and I will celebrate his memory and that of other loved ones long gone. We’ve put up a tabletop tree and wrapped a few gifts, boxed and shipped others to faraway places. The neighbor’s house across the way is ablaze with colored lights. Animatronic elves and reindeer gambol on her front lawn. Not sure why she keeps up the tradition, as her children are all grown now.

So I guess we’re set for a quiet holiday. We look forward to eating more than we should, snuggling up by the hearth with a good book and a roaring fire, and enjoying winter’s twilight while the lights outside twinkle both above and below.

It’s a good time to think of times past, to consider those who once gathered around the ancestral fires, sharing in the struggle to survive the rigors of winter’s stark and perilous beauty, a good time to take stock and celebrate renewals. And a good time to wish all a good night.

May the magic of the season fill your heart with joy, and may the new year bring you peace, prosperity and — if your luck holds — a dog turd or two.

July 12, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment