Monday, September 29, 2008

Moving In

My childhood was filled with sudden relocations, city to city, school to school. Dad was in the military, and as an adult there isn't a single childhood friend I can contact to share memories. I can look back and pinpoint a dozen individual days where I faced a new school in a town or city far from our last post.

A recent gift subscription to The Sun Magazine, a quality publication filled with amazing pieces written by professional and amateur writers around the globe, filled many hours with pleasure and introspection. Near the back of the volume, there was a section entitled "Readers Write." In an offset box, it listed the the rules for publication of the short non-fiction pieces on the pages that followed, along with the topics for the following months. Due November 1st was "Moving In."

Could anyone understand the joy and angst of 'moving in' more thoroughly than I did? Most likely someone can, but from my point of view it seems unlikely. Our own experiences always seem more clear than those of others. I took a couple of days searching through my memories of being the new kid in school—being uprooted from one set of friends and driven cross-country to a new home, a sea of strangers. I chose fifth grade.

There were many reasons for my choice. First, it was the only time I remember deliberately complaining to my father about the situation before heading off to school. He had problems of his own, and I got no sympathy. Second, it was the first time I had decided not to even try making friends. We would only be at this location for a short tour, and the school year was more than half over. The circles would be tight, and I would already be on the outside.

I learned so much from our travels that, as my mother recently said, I wasn't damaged. "Just changed," I told her. She agreed with that, saying that we all were, but that she liked to pretend at the time that it didn't bother her. Maybe she should have let us know. Maybe not. Too late now, anyway.

I'm not sure what the rules are about posting things on my blog if I'm entering them for publication, so I won't put it up now. However... once they decide whether or not to publish it, I'll be allowed to post it. When I do, I'll put a link back to this piece. It will be several months, as they don't decide until February or March, and then publication will be in May. Don't hold your breath that mine will be there. I'm sure they'll have thousands of entries.

Some memories reside like permanent companions, warning or comforting as we trek along our daily paths, making choices and climbing from the valleys to the hilltops. Others slip away. So many school days have vanished in the mist, and that's a good thing. The ones with the most important lessons hang around. Which school days do you remember?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Bones—Last Season's Cliffhanger

We don't follow too many television series, but one of our favorites is Bones. Last season the series ended with a cliffhanger. The group of investigators was at a celebration. Some of them were taking turns singing. The final scene shows Boone getting shot and Bones holding his unconscious body, blood everywhere. It looks very serious. Fade to black. Roll credits.

This season John and I were eager to find out how it played out. We were pretty sure he hadn't died. After all, the show was continuing for another year, so he must live, right? We tuned in to a two-hour special where Bones and Boone are in Europe. Well, we figured, this must be a special, and they'll get to the conclusion of last year's story line next week. Nope. Here we are, two weeks later, and we're still wondering what happened.

Does anybody know? Did we miss something? We have a DVR that automatically tapes these shows, so we didn't just forget to tune into the program. Did Fox forget to air something? Was it preempted by political programming? Does anyone know? Did anybody else even notice? John is really going crazy about this, so any help would be appreciated. I suppose I could write a conclusion for him, but it wouldn't be the same.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Political Test

Email is a marvelous thing. My spam filter makes sure I generally only see those items that I've indicated come from personally approved sources. Tonight one slipped through, and I actually opened it. The title intrigued me.

It was a political poll, and after I completed the 51 test questions, I found out that the answers were scored by one of the major polling agencies. You'll recognize the group, probably the most famous, although I won't give them free advertising. 

It didn't take as long as I thought it might to answer the questions. They were pretty clear cut, covering everything from the economy to abortion, and my opinions on drilling. The final screen that flashes up simply states that I had disagreed with Obama's positions on X out of 51 answers, and that they hoped the test would help me to make an intelligent decision on election day. It also goes into detail on the national polling statistics for the questions, which I found fascinating.

I was pleased to note that there was no hard sell. Nobody tried to tell me why my answers were dumb. It was obvious the site wasn't in favor of Obama, since there was an ad for "The Audacity of Deceit" on the 'click here' page. They didn't take it any further than that, though, so I'll pass along the test for those of you who know your own mind and want to confirm your choices, as well as those of you who know how you feel but not how it lines up with his platform. If I find one for McCain, I'll put that one on as well. I'd be interested to see my percentage of agreement there. (It cant be worse than zero, can it?)

To take the test, click here.


Monday, September 22, 2008

Autumn Gold Festival

What a wonderful week we had. First Ellen and Johnny, my sister and brother-in-law, came for a fly-through visit on their way to the wine festival with our brother Pat on the other side of the Rockies. The trip was all too short, but wonderful nonetheless. We celebrated Ellen's birthday at the local steakhouse, then spent a day roaming around, driving through Rocky Mountain National Park, having a picnic at Benson statue park in Loveland, and seeing the local sites. I made my not yet famous Bison Chili for dinner. Crock pots are such a wonderful invention. I considered hiding their suitcases, but knew it wouldn't be fair. I didn't really want to be fair.

They no sooner left than we got the sheets changed and welcomed our friends Dick and Carol from Denver. Together we spent two days at the Autumn Gold festival at Estes Park, gateway to the Rocky Mountain National Park. The festival is better known as "Beer, Brats and Bands," and we partook of the latter two. Free admission gives you two days of music. It's a beautiful spot for concerts in the park, and the festival welcomes in the autumn colors, although the leaves are just now beginning to turn. We'll go back in a couple of weeks and take photos when the aspens are in their glory.

At the end of two days, my fingers were itching for my own instrument, but I was so too tired to play by the time we returned Sunday night. Bed was too tempting to ignore, and I'm not sure I'm recovered yet. The old saying is that variety is the spice of life, but it's not true. It's friends who add the spice. This week was spiced perfectly.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

In Memoriam

I found out last week that an old friend and co-worker of mine, Susan Hanlon, passed away after a terrifying illness. I sent her a card recently after hearing how sick she had been, and have no idea if it even arrived in time. She's beyond those cares now, of course, but it's another grief, not having known sooner. Not having seen her in years.

Times like this make me think a lot. This time, my memories go to shared laughter, hard work, joint goals and long days in a company we both admired. I honestly don't know anyone who didn't appreciate Susan. She was one of those special people. Secretary to the CEO, she could have been full of herself, but wasn't. Words come to mind like quiet and hard working, but also fun and interesting. She took time to be nice—not just to department heads and their assistants, either. She probably knew just about everyone in the company.

I tend to think in terms of music and verse, especially when ordinary words fail me. Since I was thinking of the Rubaiyat last night, it's still in my mind, so I'll share another verse for Susan and her family. It's perfect for her, and I'll think of her as she was next time I pass a garden, or when my beds of Iris bloom next spring.

I sometimes think that never blows so red
The Rose as where some buried Caesar bled;
That every Hyacinth the Garden wears
Dropt in its Lap from some once lovely Head. - Omar Khayyam

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Send Key

Whatever your computer labels it, you know the power and trepidation inherent in pushing the send key. Regardless of the importance of the document, once you hit 'send,' you're done. The email is gone, and any changes you might consider at that point are moot. I won't be reading my first thirty pages again this week. The button has been pushed. (That almost sounds like someone else did it.) I forwarded my thirty pages to the editor today. 

That sounds so easy, doesn't it? After going to a conference and learning more than I thought my brain could comfortably absorb, I couldn't simply go home and email off unedited material. I had to give it one more redline, using my new tools. On top of that, I decided my readers needed to meet the villain quicker, so I wrote and inserted an entire new chapter. That was fun. Perhaps you wouldn't think so, but I was the kid who liked essay questions.

It's been sent now. My understanding is that the turn-around time for editors on requested manuscript pages is typically six weeks. I'm thinking Halloween. By then I should have the entire manuscript edited—again. This is only revision four, after all. I would imagine any good editor is going to offer another set of insightful suggestions after that. I'm not expecting an offer, but I do believe my good story will eventually turn into a great book.

I'll close with one of my favorite verses of poetry, another of those things I learned 'way back when,' and never forgot. Omar Khayyam, a Persian poet about a thousand years ago, wrote some wonderful short verses that have been translated into English. I've had several copies of his Rubaiyat over the years, and given several as gifts. This is just one of the verses that stick in my mind:

The moving finger writes, and having writ 
Moves on; nor all thy piety nor wit 
Shall lure it back to cancel half a line,
Nor all thy tears wash out a Word of it.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

End of the Conference, and the Gift of Memory

Please don't tell the organizers of the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Colorado Gold Conference, but they could have charged double the fees, and the attendees would have still received full value for their money. It will be many months before I'm able to incorporate even half of what I learned in the workshops into my writing.

Networking is another aspect of the experience. I've often figured this type of gathering would be one group you could call the heavy hitters, surrounded by a perimeter guard wanting to earn their way into the inner sanctum. That misconception was crushed the first time I asked a question. I wasn't treated like an interruption or a nuisance. My question was welcomed and answered, and then I was probed for information about my own writing, where I lived, who I was... The entire weekend was like that.

Why does it always surprise me when 'people of power' turn out to be so human? Interesting, often funny, many of them as quirky as I am, I found that even suffering severe brain overload, I was having a ball. 

Strangely enough, one of my sweetest conference memories came from someone who wasn't there; not even a writer. During three days so filled with wonderful conversations and classes, I got a bonus. Late last night I received an email from a mother in New Delhi, India. Her son was being asked to learn a poem for school, and she wanted him to memorize something special. She remembered snippets of a poem she had learned as a child, but could only remember the beginning. She did a google search, and found it on my web site.  

As a writer, you have no way of knowing how far your words will travel, or who will be happy to read them. Click here to see that blog and poem. I didn't even know you could find me on Google...

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Writer's Conference, Saturday

It's hard to imagine getting more for your money than has been available to those attending this conference. I've learned so much, and had so many opportunities to meet other writers, as well as editors and agents, it's been overwhelming. They're not just here, though. They're fun and helpful. Every question I've asked has been met with answers or an offer to find them. 

Tonight at dinner I was scanning the program and saw the name Jasmine Cresswell. Wow, I thought. I've been reading her books for years. There she was. She's been a member of this group since at least 1985. She won an award that year, Fiction Writer of the Year, so I guess she was probably a member before that. It was a treat to see her.

That wasn't my only treat today. I got to meet Denise Little, editor at Techno Books. We met so I could pitch my novel, and she requested I send her my first thirty pages after the conference. (With bells on...) Don't get too excited. That's not a sale, but it's still thrilling to a novice writer to have someone who's been in the book publishing business for over thirty years to be interested enough to want to read thirty pages. 

Now I lay me down to sleep. Hopefully my cast of characters will stop telling me what they meant to say, compared to what I wrote in the novel, for the duration of the night. Then I might actually find the sun up when my eyes pop open in the morning. For all of you who have so nicely kept me in your thoughts while I progress through this giant learning curve—blessings back to you.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Writer's Conference, Friday

I need my young brain back. It's hard to believe how much information came my way today. Some people sat with miniature tape recorders. They were obviously smarter than I am—or maybe they've just been to these conferences before. I have brain overload. I took notes. Lots of notes. Not nearly enough, though, I'm sure.

It's been many years since I wanted so badly to have an out of body experience. The last time was when all three boys had baseball games on different fields at the same time. Today there were three workshops in different rooms simultaneously all day long, and I had to choose. The next two days will be the same, except that Sunday will only be half a day followed by a luncheon and keynote speaker. 

I could write a fantasy about someone who could be in three places at once. I just can't pull it off in real life, and that's what I need right now. If I could actually do that, I suppose they'd charge me triple.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Eagle Has Landed

We arrived at the posh hotel in Denver where the 25th Annual Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers "Colorado Gold Conference" will take place. John got me all set up, including the computer, printer and portable plug-in cooler. I asked if he was sorry not to be staying, since it was such a fancy hotel. He said, "No!" Then he drove off. I'm styling solo. 

I sat in the room for a couple of hours. The first hour I watched a History Channel special on 9.11. There's another one coming on in a few minutes. After that I spent an hour trying to figure out how to turn the cell phone ringer back on. I finally looked up the manual online and worked it out. It was on, as John kept saying, but the volume was set to zero. No wonder I couldn't hear it. He called three times while I was searching the 85 pages for the hidden information. My next phone will be one of those senior citizen specials. Point and shoot.

Not long ago I ventured down to the Club Lounge, only available for "Elite Members." I didn't realize I fell into that category until I checked in today. Free hors d'oeuvres and soda, plus a bar (not free but reasonable). They had really great food. Sautéed vegetables, meatballs, big blocks of fancy cheeses and french breads, juicy grapes... heaven. Free breakfast begins at 6 a.m. Whoopee. I hope it lives up to tonight's fare. I didn't even stay for the desserts tonight. They were coming out in another half hour or so, she said. I was afraid to find out what it might be. Lucky me. This is only available to the top three floors.

Maybe I'll go stand on the balcony and yell at the traffic twelve floors below. Perhaps it'll be necessary to sleep with headphones on tonight. I'm used to crickets, not vehicles.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Flying the Flag

I've received about five emails now, reminding us to fly our flag on September 11th. Most people probably think we're strange—John raises our flag daily, weather permitting, and lowers it at the end of the day. As a veteran, he's proud of that flag.

We arrived home on 9.10.2001, from an anniversary cruise to Alaska with my sister and her husband. Jeremy, our middle son, called me from Portland shortly after the plane hit the first tower. He was up early, typical for him as part of his work as a member of the Culinary Arts school he was attending.

Our youngest son, Benjamin, was in NYC at the time, on a mission. I'll admit to having a personal struggle with him going. Our beliefs had diverged incomprehensively to me. I wasn't even supposed to have his home phone number, but we had caller ID, and it registered when he called home for his permitted Father's Day call. I had written it down, but had never used it. I just wanted to feel that I had it if there were ever an emergency. When the second plane hit, I dialed the number. When he answered, I burst into tears.

"Mom? You're not allowed to call me. Hang up! Mom? What's wrong?"

I was finally able to calm down enough to make him understand what was going on. They didn't even know. They were listening to inspirational music while doing their morning scripture readings. After we hung up from a much too brief conversation (he promised to call later, and it was much later when he finally did) he and his roommate(s) went to their roof and stayed to watch the towers collapse. Then their neighbors insisted they return back into the apartment building.

One strange thing happened that afternoon, and I want to make it clear that I don't believe in coincidences. I'll backtrack and give a bit of history. Ben and I had seen Forrest Gump together when it was in the theatre seven years before. That day he gave me one of the best compliments a parent can receive. Walking out of the movie, he asked me if I remembered when Forrest tells Jenny that she was always there for him. Of course I remembered that scene. It was beautiful and amazing.

"That's the way it is with you and me," he said. "Even when you're not right there with me, I know you're there to help if I need it."

I was speechless. Sometimes people say things that you never forget—never want to forget. He was only thirteen at the time, but had managed to touch me so deeply that the echoes of his words would always remain in my heart.

On September 11, 2001, as a country sat staring at the devastation transmitted nationwide through our small screens, the mail was delivered. Among the stack of catalogues and bills was a postcard from Ben. It contained a short note, dated four or so days earlier, telling of his visit to the twin towers. The picture on the front was a proud image of the Twin Towers, standing tall over Manhattan. From the antenna on the roof of Tower One, Ben had pasted a cartoon-like bubble with the simple message: HELP!

No. I don't believe in coincidences. I was meant to receive that postcard the day it arrived. There was tragedy, but my son was alive. I had heard his voice. He had been in The Towers days earlier, but not when they went down.

We don't get a road map through life, and few answers we don't discover on our own—and even those aren't definitive. We do, however, get our share of miracles.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Angels and Demons

Did you read it? Remember the scene in the Geneva lab with the scary Hadron Collider that could end the world if it were to be activated? Did you think it was fiction? They're testing it tomorrow. 

There was a piece in this morning's newspaper about some of the scientists receiving death threats. Tonight one of the news commentators said a tongue in cheek farewell—just in case the thing produces a black hole that eats the earth. That is one of its supposed possible side-effects.

Knowing how YouTube loves to get in on the act, I went for a look. Sure enough, there was an assortment of insane selections as well as three normal documentary features. I selected The Hadron Rap. (Not as good as Sheep Dog Rap, but "good enough for now," to quote Weird Al.) 

Enjoy. And if the Collider test prevents me from ever blogging again, you've been a very tolerant audience.

Sunday, September 7, 2008


In life, there must be a difference between riding a roller coaster and changing a tire in the desert.

That sounds simplistic, but think beyond the first waves of deliberation. If the amusement park ride were straight, and on level ground, it wouldn't be exciting. No one would wonder if they had the courage to try. The sudden curves, dips and climbs are the genesis of the thrill. 

At the side of the road, tilted on the blistering pavement of a deserted two-lane highway, a lone driver stares at a flat tire. His destination may be remote, even seeming unreachable. Does he have the skill needed to repair the tire? Are the proper tools available? Is assistance accessible? Will time and budget stretch to compensate for the delay?

The one thing both riders need to remember is to truly contemplate their conveyance. The thrill of the ride doesn't make the roller coaster car itself a thing of beauty. Once the spin ends, you can always start again, but it's the ride, not the vehicle that gives lasting joy.  In contrary fashion, the flat tire cannot denigrate the actual vehicle in the desert. Even a luxury auto with every known convenience will need care.

Light bulb moment. Epiphany. I've had my roller coaster ride. It was thrilling, and the memory is lasting beyond the fireworks at the end of the night, as often happens after a grand visit to the Magic Kingdom. Now that I'm driving cross-country, did I not realize there would be a few flat tires? Was that short sighted or arrogant? Now, where is that tool box? (Triple A, anyone?)

Saturday, September 6, 2008

My Advice to Writers

Write. That's my advice to everyone who wants to be a writer. That's where the joy is. 

Once the manuscript is finished, don't worry about trying to sell it. Leave that for your heirs. If they want to sell it, let them. Just start another book. You'll be happier. Sitting at the keyboard letting the story pour out of you is the only place where the true spirit of creativity takes flight. The constant second-guessing and trying to please the unknown masses of editors and agents, critiquers and readers will simply fill you with a deep internal suspicion that you may be inadequate. 

What have I been told by those who have read parts of this book that took so much from me? 

Some have said it moves too slowly, and needs to be sped up. Others have said I need to slow it down and put in more description.

Some have said my writing is lyrical and flowing. Others have said my writing is too stylish, as if I think perhaps I should be paid "by the word."

Some think my characters are charming and intriguing. Others feel there are too many of them, and that I should remove most of them and make it a romance between two of them, making the remainder either go away or become simply peripheral.

The most disconcerting, however, is the one thing that most people agree upon. I need to start with a bang, which I do not. I need to drag my villain to the front page. I'm told my readers won't wait twenty pages for the danger to begin. 

I wonder if any of them read Nora Roberts new book "Tribute," where there is really no danger apparent for about a hundred pages, then it hits the fan. I wasn't bored. Yet I'm being told readers can't wait twenty pages? Wow. There sure are a lot of rules in writing now. I think I've mentioned that before. I'm still stunned by it, but the fact remains that no one in a position to get the piece published will even read the manuscript if the first ten pages don't grab them unless I have "a name," like Roberts does. 

So I've ignored the butterflies in my stomach as best I could. I've edited the manuscript several times, and still not printed it to take along with me. I have ignored writing in my blog, calling my friends, working on my yarn projects... all the things I normally enjoy. Looking back over the time since finishing this first novel, I know I've been a little lost. It hasn't been much fun. 

We'll see how this workshop goes. Perhaps what I'll learn is something I already knew. I can write. I can't sell.