Monday, November 28, 2011

Book signing at NoFo this Saturday

So now that Thanksgiving is over, it’s time for Christmas shopping! If you’re local to the Raleigh, NC/Wake County area, one great place to pick up unique gifts (that are affordable, too) is at NoFo in Raleigh. If you happen to drop by on Saturday, Dec. 3, from 11 a.m.-2 p.m., please stop by and say hello to me. I’ll be doing a book signing and simply would enjoy having company. I’d love to chat. And if you want to buy a book, my publisher will have a few for sale. I’d be more than happy to sign them. Or, if you want to buy a friend for life, purchase one of NoFo’s truffles (I like the whiskey one) and share it with me. (I’ll be your friend. Promise.)

What is NoFo? Well… it’s hard to explain. It’s a down-home yet trendy place. (Now how many places can you say that about: down-home and trendy?) The store is eclectic and yet grounded. It’s just a fun place to be. Visit and you’ll see why I’m struggling in trying to put NoFo into words. The bottom floor is a restaurant that serves the most delicious foods. I personally love their black-eyed peas. It’s a dish that normally doesn’t interest me, but the store was handing out free samples. I tried one and felt like going back for another free sample and then another… but it was the end of the day, and they were going to sell what remained. Oh well. And the upstairs of NoFo offers tons of NC merchandise for sale (including my novel). From clothing like scarves and tutus to children’s handcrafted toys to kitchen and bath stuff to antiques - I could find a gift at NoFo for everyone in my family! It’s a dangerous place; food+shopping+fun=NoFo!

So, I’d love to see you this Saturday, Dec. 3, from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. at NoFo in Raleigh… especially if you are bringing a truffle to share with me.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Fiction writing things I’m thankful for

1. Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, which tells me not to use “things” or end a phrase with a preposition (like the heading of this blog entry)!
2. My publisher, Peak City Publishing, and my editor, Kerry Holjes, who rocks and is unafraid of telling the truth about em dashes, colons, commas, and so much more.
3. WG2E, and their inclusion of me in their Winter Wonderland anthology. WG2E is a group of indie writers, with a great blog that’s updated all the time with informative posts about being an indie writer. The Winter Wonderland anthology will be my first baby step in indie publishing! Thanks for giving me a chance and offering this incredible opportunity, gals!
4. All the stores that are selling my book, including: All Booked Up, NoFo at the Pig, Quail Ridge Books and Pelican Bookstore at Sunset Beach.
5. My library and the librarians who make my library such an amazing place. Wake County Public Libraries rock! Thanks, Sue!
6. Presents: this year, I’m hoping to get my very own Kindle! Thanks, parents-in-laws! What a lucky gal I am!
7. Laptop computers. Right now, I’m writing this blog entry in the back of my vehicle!
8. Caffeine, be it in the form of coffee, hot cocoa, Coca Cola Classic Zero, Diet Dr. Pepper, chocolate candy…
9. Writing buddies, including those at the Apex Literary Guild
10. Stephen King’s On Writing: one great read. Its title is self-explanatory.
11. The internet: for research, for education… not thankful for how easy it makes procrastinating writing!
12. Free editors/readers of draft manuscripts: My mom, and Naomi, to name two. I’m thankful for my husband’s editing, but lately he’s been a bit slack. (Step it up, sweetcakes!)
13. Always, my readers.

I think I could go on and on here, but with Thanksgiving just around the corner, I need to go cook something! If you hear sirens, they could very well be coming from emergency responders racing to my kitchen to extinguish the fumes! Watch out!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Christmas card time… again?!

I opened my email the other day and received a message telling me it’s time to prepare photo greeting cards for Christmas... again! (Can you hear me groan?) As much as getting my act – I mean my family photo - together and addressing envelopes can be a pain, I always enjoy receiving Christmas cards from friends, especially when the card includes a photo. So in order to keep those cards coming, I’ve got to keep my cards going out!
I do it the easy way, through a photo center, digitally. My mom, on the other hand, takes it to the next level.

Instead of sticking in a photo into the pre-fabricated card design with the pre-penned standard greeting on it and printing a couple dozen, she cuts out real photos (at least five photos), glues them to a sheet of paper, pens in captions and greetings, and photo copies the pages. Sometimes, she even writes a page-long summation of family activities throughout the past year. And then she personalizes the cards with a message before inserting them in envelopes. The cards are fun to look at and read… but I sometimes wonder if this is merely because I’m a featured family member.

One year (more than a decade ago) I tried the lengthy summation ala Mom… and later I felt like I’d written something akin to one of the short stories that appears in Sedaris’ Holidays on Ice. Um, yikes. So I’m sticking with the photo-card, and maybe I’ll write a personalized one-liner on the back.

Would you like to get a card? Forward me your address! But you’ve got to promise to send me a card back… or else I’ll take you off the nice list!

Monday, November 14, 2011

To MFA or not to MFA

You want to be a writer. Should you go to school for it? Can someone be taught to be a good writer?

Rather than answer that question directly, let me tell you a little about my experience. I’m a graduate of an MFA program in creative writing. When I entered the program, I’d just finished a degree in English, and I knew I wanted to be a writer. I thought the MFA program would help me to do that – and three years of submerging myself (to a lesser or greater degree) in a community of writers undoubtedly was beneficial. I thought by the end of those three years, I’d have a publishable-quality manuscript. (I did not. I had a novel-length manuscript, but it stunk. And that was my own fault.)

See, I think what I needed was maturity and life experience, neither of which any school program could provide. And I also needed to learn about what makes writing worth reading.

The MFA program helped me see what worked and didn’t work in writing, and ultimately I believe through the program I became a better writer. But sometimes I wonder, if I instead had just joined and participated in a good writing group, if I wouldn’t have gotten much the same benefit.

Sometimes I wonder, what if I’d majored in something entirely different – like marine biology or physics? Surely the knowledge of a field other than writing might help me write about something; I’d be able to pull information from that field rather than conducting extensive research into something I’m not familiar with. Or what if I'd joined the Peace Corps? Then, in addition to having something to write about and some real life experiences, some good also would have been accomplished. Back to the MFA topic...

Instead of taking out loans to pay for college expenses, as professors encouraged us students to do (enabling us to fully immerse ourselves in writing), I also worked full time during my graduate experience. So perhaps I didn’t allow myself the true MFA experience of abandoning everything and devoting all to the writing craft.

Regardless of my time in the MFA program (and afterward), the desire to write has never left me. It’s always been there. So after graduate school, I continued writing, sometimes haphazardly while also enjoying marriage and different employments, gathering that much-needed maturity and life experience (both of which I still am gathering). And I also read a lot, and learned more about what makes writing worth reading to me. 

Finally, after years and years of writing and reading, and a re-dedication to the craft, my first novel was released.

If you want to be a writer and are considering an MFA program, great. Enjoy it as much as possible. But also remember, the more you write and the more life you experience, the better your writing is going to be.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

My grandma is not my grandma

It seems like, suddenly, my grandma lost her mind. I suppose I saw it coming. She’d forget words, she’d forget the name of my spouse. But she also drank a lot of wine, so lapses in finding words had always been fairly common, though recently there had been an uptick. And then, it seems like from one month to the next, she really lost her mind. Just recently, she was placed in a memory care unit at her assisted living home. And now, when I call, she’s begging me to get her out of there.

It’s a weird feeling, to have your grandmother pleading with you to take her anywhere – anywhere but there. “I want to live,” she says. “Just get me out of here. I can take care of myself. I want to live. This? This is not living. I want to live!”

But she can’t survive on her own. And she lives on the other side of the country. I try to explain she needs to be with people who can take care of her, that she needs that care, but the pleading continues. I wish I could do something, but other than sending her cards and calling and praying for her, there’s nothing I can do. So I told her I’d do everything I could for her.

“Which means nothing,” she says, meaning she won’t be getting out of there, which to me sounds like grandma isn’t too far gone to get that fact correct. Though I believe in the power of prayer, I’m not praying to get her out of that place; I’m praying for her peace and clarity of mind. “I’ll remember what you said,” she says. “That you wouldn’t help me. I’ll remember that, even if I die.”

It’s heartbreaking. I wish I could somehow soothe her. But I can’t. But I do take solace in remembering our last good conversation, before she was placed in memory care, not too long ago. She acknowledged that she wasn’t remembering things like she used to. I tried to tell her that it was normal, that I forgot things all the time, too. And she then told me that I was a good mom, and that she loved me, no matter what. "Remember I love you," she'd said.

So now, with her pleading on the phone and becoming angry at my lack of response to her begging, with her hanging up on me without telling me she loves me back, I’ve got to remember that my grandma is not my grandma. It’s so rotten: such a wonderful woman, once so full of cheer and laughter and light, living the end of her life in memory care.

Monday, November 7, 2011

A week of solitude: YES!

My husband is going to be out of town for five straight nights! I’m getting excited!

On one hand, I’m truly going to miss him, for his company and presence, and for all the work he does around the house – parenting help, cleaning dishes and cooking – and the house does seem so quiet and (sometimes) eerily empty when he isn’t sleeping next to me at night. 

On the other hand, I can’t wait for him to leave! I get all this time to myself. It’s going to be me and my computer! The plans I’ve made involving 100% devotion to my writing after my children’s 7:30 bedtime! I’m going to whip my short story for the WG2E January Winter Wonderland e-book anthology into shape! And then, if all goes as planned, I’ll move on to working on developing characters for the other project I’m beginning! As my brother would say, it’s going to be ka-blam!

When my husband is around, he does give me time to write. He’ll sit in front of the television at night, and I’ll be in the other room, writing. But something about writing alone, without a nearby presence, really gets the gears whirring. Something about being alone, in a completely quiet house, is special and more conducive to writing.

(I wrote the above before my husband went out of town. The following is what happened while he was gone.)

I burned up the pages! Yes! Sometimes it's easy for me to write, and sometimes the writing simply doesn't flow, but for that five-night absence, I accomplished what I needed to: getting together a solid short story for the WG2E anthology.

Since my hubby came home, I've not written a stitch! (But that's going to change today.) I'd missed him and wanted to spend time with him Saturday night... and then yesterday, I was just plain being lazy. I blame it on being brain-fried from all the great writing I did when he was gone. ;) Excuses, excuses: excuses that will end as soon as I put my 2YO down for a nap!

Happy writing, all!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Jogging: peace, ideas… and exercise

I love jogging! As I write, I’m enjoying endorphins from a four-miler. When I jog, I’m free: no children I’m watching, no emails asking to be read, no obligations other than placing one foot in front of the other.

I notice details I wouldn’t have picked up driving by: the soft tuft of white of cottontail darting into shrubbery, the fragrance of gardenias, the stink of the port-a-potties, the relaxing soul music issuing from a parked SUV. My jogs are peaceful times when my mind can wander. Sometimes on my jogs, writing problems are solved or decisions are made. And sometimes my jog is just a matter of survival: making it over that next hill, through the heat or cold, back to my driveway. I’m a busy person, as most people are. But when I jog, I’m jogging, and there’s something about that purity of focus I enjoy.

How about you? Are you a jogger? Or do you, like my husband, think I’m crazy for loving running?