Archive for June, 2005

I love my readers

They are just such a great bunch of people. Their critiques run the gamut from necessary nitpicks to pointing out near-fatal flaws in my fiction. They’re making the novel a stronger work, and me a stronger writer. Recently, two of them bore this out in a way I never would have expected.

It started with one reader’s concern that two characters, a police officer and his teacher wife, were overreacting to behavior by one of the wife’s special ed students. They (I) called it stalking, but my reader rightly pointed out that I hadn’t provided enough information about the girl to warrant this.

My husband taught special ed for four years, and I worked as a substitute aide for three weeks in place of an aide who had left early for college. I knew enough about the various disorders that I could fill in the blanks about the girl with enough research, and it wasn’t long before I came up with a name for her problem: attachment disorder.

My reader liked the way I reconstructed the conversation around this disorder, and better yet, it led to a new scene between the two characters, one that highlighted their fundamental conflict. A new problem, however, surfaced, but it wasn’t with the novel. Owing to my research, I started reading way too much into my toddler’s fickle behavior with me: for instance, the way he doesn’t react when I leave the house or spend a lot of time enjoying my return home.

It wasn’t that I didn’t recognize his behavior is perfectly normal for a toddler. It was thinking about the difficulty I’ve had learning how to parent him: how angry and distanced from him I felt when he had reflux and cried all the time between the ages of 6 weeks and 4 months, and how interacting with him still doesn’t come easily. Before he could crawl I put him in his playdome while I worked. I cannot for the life of me figure out how to play with him for extended periods of time. He’s a bit too young for Pretend, and I don’t know of any construction zones nearby. I was also remembering my most recent conflicts with work and child care, which I still think hurt him.

In short, it was unadulterated guilt. And that’s where the second reader comes in. She prefers to do her critiques on hardcopy and send me a couple of chapters at a time. Yesterday’s package included (along with some much-needed dark chocolate) a new book: How She Really Does It, by Wendy Sachs.

Sure, I thought, glancing at the jacket, this is about Stay-at-Work moms. How does this relate to me? But I don’t do enough reading, so I decided to read it anyway. Before long, I found that 1) the guilt I feel is just the same as other moms who feel compelled to work, even if they enjoy the office environment. That 2) the compulsion is normal. And 3) Sachs herself had been through the anger and resentment problem when her son experienced colic. Suddenly, I felt the return of my confidence in my career choices and in my son’s resilience (something I feel should never be depended upon, but which does deserve plenty of credence).

I love my readers. Friends aren’t a phenomenon I’ve known well in my lifetime, but my experience with this novel is quickly changing that. I am so blessed.

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It could be that I’m missing the point. All in good fun, right? I’ve been accused of a lack of sense of humor before. And of being too rigid. After all, reading (much less writing) isn’t everyone’s idea of fun. Not to mention that I, unlike many other American women, refuse to watch what a friend called “Angry Housewives” (heeheehee), engage in shopping (beyond necessary) and hair salon gossip sessions, or read chick lit. (Yes, I do subscribe to blogs maintained by chick lit writers, but only to learn about publishing and marketing. The genre itself is just not interesting to me.)

Anyway, I just can’t help wondering whether women couldn’t have found a better activity. I’ve read that modern feminism only means we have more and better choices. We don’t have to be or do anything we don’t want.

So I guess this means we’re confident that men will be able to judge us on our merits alone, that our sons will respect our authority no matter what we choose for fun. Or could it be that the estrogenized version of BattleBots means women no longer care what men (or anyone else) think?

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Harley Jane Kozak wrote over on The Lipstick Chronicles about her writing life, which had me laughing and nodding and ultimately so happy to see other writer parents (plural includes at least one of her comments) blog about working around family. Although I try to wear real clothes instead of PJs and bathrobes while I work, and The Grandmas’ visits are not nearly as frequent (or as distraction-free) as an au pair’s would be, I could pretty much relate to everything else Harley talked about. Including hiding in a bathroom to write. (I was trying to escape my husband’s boisterous relatives and their obnoxious political arguments that no one ever wins, hard as they try.)

Oh, but there’s one other thing I don’t relate to: three pages a day. Nope, it sounds terrible, but I don’t even keep track. I pretty much work until I feel sated. Sometimes I go to bed hungry (read: got at most a paragraph for the day) but at least at this stage of my career, all I want is to finish a really good story. Until I figure out a process, per-day page goals would probably hurt me. But then, it took Harley eight years to finish her first novel, too. I guess I’m in good company.

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About ten minutes after the husband and son left the house on Saturday, I sat at my desk with pen in hand (I rewrite in pen, then add in changes) wondering why the words were still not coming.

The house was too quiet.

I just can’t win. I need my family around in order to tap into that energy, the little day-to-day conflicts that remind me what my characters face. Too many little conflicts (and too much PBS children’s TV – ever tried to concentrate with squeaky little voices and obnoxious music in the background? Or when you are trying to drown out said distractions with headphones and music, only to have your music turn into a distraction?) means work comes as tough as it does in absolute quiet. Much as I love the idea of a week spent in an island cabin or a writers’ commune, I know it would kill the creativity.

When I find the solution, I’ll be sure to post it. Meantime, that’s what readers are for: finding the breaks in fictional logic that indicate obnoxious music was heard here.

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He did it!

My husband took the boy out of the house.

And not just any outside playtime, either.

He took him on a trip.

Where? Who cares? I might have to stop complaining about the fact that everything in Maine is at least half an hour away and often more like one hour. That means a two-hour travel time, not counting the time they spend wherever they’re going.

Oh frabjous day!

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Some things are worse

I’m making a resolution. I am going to work much harder at not whining so much about having no time or space or quiet in which to work. I’m doing this for two reasons:

1. Tamara Jones’ #9 on her list of Don’ts. (I asked her to talk more about how she accomplishes this. Giving up features was only part of the solution.)

2. Gastroenteritis.

Without going into too much detail, I was absolutely flattened yesterday. My mother didn’t see the worst. I can’t figure out if it was a bad taco (in which case my husband should have been affected as well) or a swimming pool with a low pH (HOAs are overrated). By lunchtime I was on the phone to my husband, begging him to come home early. Not only was I totally uninterested in writing, but the idea of feeding our boy (and the body aches, and the chills, and the desire to do nothing but sleep) left me curled up on the couch with my eyes shut tight.

During the hour I waited (it’s finals week, so he couldn’t leave right away), I managed to get the boy a Pop-Tart. They don’t smell, after all, even when a toddler who recognizes that Mommy hasn’t eaten all day tries to get her to eat some. But God bless the kid. I was so afraid he’d take advantage of my situation and get himself or my manuscript hurt. He totally didn’t. He came up on the couch and snuggled with me. He showed me the pictures in his books. He didn’t climb on a single piece of furniture other than the couch. Later on, at bedtime, when his insecurity about my health got the better of him, we snuggled in front of a baseball game together.

Before I got sick, I was going to write an entry about how I had proof that the past week’s schedule was messing me up: my readers are seeing problems in Chapter 7 that I knew were there but couldn’t pinpoint enough to fix. I was going to write about the irony in how the same life event that had given my fiction a soul – having a child – was now muddying my vision of that soul. In short, more whining.

I’ve now been reminded of how temporary so many things are. Stomach bugs and writer’s block and families too. I don’t want to say I was forced not to write for a day, because I don’t feel that I was. Rather, as Tamara said, we’re all in it together. My boy showed me that when he did his very best to help his Mommy feel better, and when he asked me to return his gestures later that evening.

I’d like to think we can help each other over the writing humps, too.

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I just want to write

… is that so wrong?

Bow to Jon Lovitz and Harvey Fierstein aside, what I’m actually doing this morning is meeting the desires of 76.22% of Carter Nipper’s survey respondents, who believe it’s “Very Important” for a blogging writer to be candid and honest. (Want the rest of the very interesting results? Click here.)

Sadly, when writers also have small children at home, the type of schedule outlined in this article Just Doesn’t Work. Witness this morning. Normally I try to write between 6-ish and 8-ish before the boy gets up for the day, then again between 11-ish and 2-ish when he naps. (Not that he naps for three hours. I admit to milking his willingness to entertain himself in his crib for the hour to hour-and-a-half-ish that he isn’t sleeping.) The morning time is used for fiction. The afternoon time is used for paid work, or fiction if I have a really good groove going from the morning.

The last week blew all that out of the water. It felt like early August, with temps in the high 80’s and 99% humidity. The upstairs is stifling. No a/c except downstairs where the computer is. Needless to say, the boy wouldn’t sleep. He was waking up early and not napping at all. And his father had after-school duty all week long. I did more child care in one week than, when I was younger, I had ever been scared of.

This morning: The Thunderstorm. At 5:30. 5:30. Who gets a thunderstorm at 5:30? Well, we did. Our son, the Lightest Sleeper on the Planet, jumped right up. I tried to bring him into bed with me. Instead he played the Face Game. “Mommy’s ears… Mommy’s nose… Mommy’s chin…” So I brought him downstairs. Rather than write peacefully, I soon found myself trying to pull together a pretend amusement park game with his Little People set. It was too hot for my normal morning tea, so no caffeine. I got about as far as putting the Little People into the rides when my son decided my mumblings were just no fun at all. He was off pulling all his other toys out of his bin.

At breakfast I did get the Pickiest Eater on the Planet to eat some cantaloupe for the first time ever. He also ate some cereal, which he first accidentally spilled, then dropped on purpose right after I’d finished cleaning the spill. Then I thought I could get away with letting him use pens while I did some rewriting. He wanted to get down instead, so he could squish a tiny spider crawling on the floor. Boys.

And – get this – it was only 7:30.

I would love to see how “Peter D.” would revise his writing schedule under these conditions. Meantime, I am faced with my husband’s impending 10-week vacation. No more alarm to wake me up at 6 to write for those two precious hours. More triple-H days of no napping (even if we did get an a/c, you see, the boy would be too distracted by the so-called “white noise,” which is what happened right before the window fan broke). And I just know my husband, despite his claims to let me focus on my novel, will have plenty of his own projects to take care of over the next 10 weeks.

To be candid and honest, writing with a toddler at home? Is pure insanity. But then, so is writing for a living. I guess there’s a compatibility in there somewhere. Meantime, my son did allow me to finish up this entry uninterrupted for the most part. There is hope.

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