Finding a Common Passion

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640px-Messi_olympics-soccer-11Except for the ski incident, I haven’t posted at all about sports, even though I think may have mentioned my OBSESSION with sports on my About page. I started young. I saw Willie Mays in his last days at Candlestick Park. I was an avid follower of both the Big Red Machine—I wanted to be Johnny Bench—and the Portland Trailblazers. When I moved north, I followed all things Seattle.

Then I had kids and we followed them as they moved through the sporting seasons: soccer, basketball and wrestling, baseball, soccer. Over and over through the years. Nothing hard core…just watching them play for the enjoyment of it.

For a sports nut, it’s a special time in Seattle. The Seahawks are Superbowl champs, the Mariners are actually fielding an oddly compelling, competitive group, and the US Men’s Soccer team has 2 players from our MLS Sounders. One is even homegrown. Deandre Yedlin is my oldest son’s age, played on soccer teams my son’s team faced, so it’s with great pride that we watch him and the US Men’s National Team compete in Brazil.

Seattle’s soccer mad, but I’ve noticed many people from incredibly varied backgrounds tweeting about the tournament. Agents and editors tweeting about noise exploding from bars at midday in Manhattan, sports reporters sending Instagrams of delirious crowds reacting to a score from inside an office, Seahawks players posting selfies wearing USMT jerseys. It’s a fun reminder of how sport can unite a community, a country, a world.

If you haven’t given it a try this World Cup, be somewhere near a bar or viewing location tomorrow for the US v Belgium match. Even if you don’t care much for the game, I’ll wager you won’t come away unaffected by the energy. And you never know…the Beautiful Game may infect you, too, even if only for a day.

 

Photo Attribution: By Andre Kiwitz (originally posted to Flickr as olympics-soccer-11) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
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Dissociate Me

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547px-Janus-VaticanSometimes I wish I had a modified version of Dissociative Disorder, a kind I could turn on and off at will. Prolific writers seem to have mastered the ability to dissociate, to turn their minds to disparate worlds, characters, stories as easy as changing the settings on the washing machine. There’s a skill there that is proving gawdawful hard for me to learn.

I’m not interested in proliferation. (Not yet anyway, wheee!) I only want to be able to dig into one story while wrapping up another, to work on them both at the same time. The prevailing wisdom is while the betas have a draft, or while waiting on queries, get to work on your next story. Alrighty, then. Only, now my mind is split between two stories set in very different eras, with characters who would not be friends in real life. I need to be concentrating on one, but my mind drifts to the other. This seems a sure recipe for not finishing either project, and it may be that most insidious form of procrastination I’ve talked about before: procrastination that looks suspiciously like progress. But even this terrible possibility hasn’t forced me to develop a more effective strategy yet. A writer friend suggested that this ability is a habit, one that takes time to develop. In the meantime, it feels like driving in circles.

Learning the ins and outs of creating marketable fiction is a struggle. Just when a writer thinks he’s conquered one aspect—say, dialogue, point-of-view or storytelling—he’s faced with a new, higher-level skill. It’s daunting, and frustrating. No wonder so many people stick manuscripts in the trunk and never pull them out again. There are plenty of resources for learning mechanical skills, but for the more esoteric skills, it’s really a matter of slogging through and figuring it out on one’s own. Because each writer’s process is unique.

No one can actually teach me how to split my brain to manage two (or more) books at once. I have to learn it, develop a working solution. I’m not a naturally effective multi-tasker at the best of times, and when I’m immersed in writing, forget it. I live in my story. Even food and sleep get shunted to the farthest back burner. But to be a professional about this, which is my goal, this skill must be learned.

Like Janus, a writer must be able to look in opposite directions and see two, sometimes opposing, views at once.

Jupiter help me.

 

Photo Attribution: By Fubar Obfusco [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

Ziggy, JRT NBK

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??????????I love nature, I do. I live in a place that’s pure suburbia, but surrounded by woods. We have all sorts of regular wildlife making our yard, and the surrounding environs, home. Squirrels, racoons, rabbits, deer are all regulars. I had a coyote stop by my yard a few weeks ago. (That was a bit of a shocker since it was 10 in the morning, but s/he was a gorgeous thing, and the dogs were in the house so I simply admired it from 20 feet away.) We also have more varieties of birds than I can count. They love to nest in our trees, use our bird bath and, in the case of the hummingbirds, wage constant war over my flowers.

The trouble is, I have two terriers. NBKs. Natural Born Killers. Complicating matters is that bird-brain is a saying borne out of reality. Chickadees, in particular, seem…well, let’s just say they won’t be wining the Nobel Prize for science any time in the next million years. For whatever reason, these birds love to build nests where they shouldn’t. In my flower pots (where their eggs are soaked with cold water every other day even though I try to avoid watering the nest), in low azalea bushes and, this year…

I ask you, is this the face of a murderer?Zig computer

I saw the birds coming and going, foolishly hoped they weren’t really building a nest on the ground. Newp. The baby birds must have hatched today, because for more than a week, Ziggy has trotted right by the activity without twitching a nostril. But today, like a cartoon terrier stopping in its tracks, body all a-quiver, he stuck his nose right in the groundcover and hauled out the nest, spilling baby birds as he ran. Before I could stop him, one was…shall we say, unrecognizable when he spit it out. The other two were face down on the grass. Ziggy wasn’t eager to surrender his prize but I managed to cover the (possibly alive) hatchlings with the lid of my hose container and get him into the house. By the time I got back to check on the stranded ones…OH, NATURE! YOU CRUEL MISTRESS!

Of course, Ziggy was acting in his nature, too. I don’t fault him, I just wish he wasn’t presented with the opportunity. Every. Single. Summer. It leaves me nauseous every time.

Okay…so maybe he’s…sort of…SQUIRREL!

Ziggy Tree Climber cropped

Sorry Chickadees.

 

 

Learning From My Mistakes

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Installation_des_Chevaux_de_Marly_aux_Champs-Élysées_1794As I’ve mentioned, the novel I’ve been working on for a year and a half now is out with betas yet again. (Someday maybe I’ll get it right.) While waiting for the jury to come back, I’m working on a second book in the same world. I am determined not to repeat the mistakes of the first. The ones that have me still needing to revise after 5 drafts. I can’t do that again. Not only is it demoralizing, it’s a waste of time.

When I started that one, I didn’t have writing buddies, or Critique Partners, to be more respectful of them. Now I do. Mostly we sit around in a chat room talking nonsense, but we’re all eager to brainstorm when one of us needs a sounding board. A few in the group are sticklers about logic and this is my big weakness. I’m all about story, as in, the tale parts, but solidifying a novel’s logical underpinnings…not my strong suit. At all. But the stories I’m writing fuse disparate mythologies and beliefs, so it’s imperative I have logical reasons behind the character’s actions.

The basic storyline has already been established by the previous book, so this time, once I’d written a few chapters to get to know my characters, I decided to pre-write a query letter, to see if I could “sell” the story. Everything went swimmingly until I got to the stakes. What was at stake for my main character? Um…well…she could…she might…CRUD. It seemed like her choices were all easy and wins for her. BLARG!! That does not a novel make.

So I went begging to my peeps, and after one brainstorming session, I thought I had it nailed. I moved on from the query and wrote a synopsis. I was thrilled with the outcome. I posted it in the chat room for the others to look at and one of the most logic-minded of our group started pecking holes in it until it was a ragged mess.

In my previous life, the one where I’d never completed a novel, I would have quit in frustration. But now that I’ve done it once, not well, but done it nonetheless, I wanted to buckle down. I know how much easier it will be to write this thing if I don’t have to go back and rebuild the logical scaffolding. I need a sturdy skeleton.

I went back to work, bouncing ideas and what-ifs, hammering, re-jiggering, and when I came up with something that felt right, I let the others have at it. And…lo! They couldn’t find holes. Yes, there are choices to be made—I can go wood or iron, bolts or welds—but those are just options. The story makes sense, stands up. There are reasons. Sound ones, ones that will survive the length of the novel and not shift under the weight of the story as happened in my first book.

I have scaffolding. Solid scaffolding.

For a storyteller this has been hard for me to grasp. Doesn’t the skeleton just come along for the ride? You can’t see it, after all. Isn’t it just…there in any entertaining story? The answer is a resounding NO. It must be built, and carefully, ahead of time if a writer wants to avoid endless draft hell.

So now I’m off and running. Moving forward having learned something about myself and my process, having recognized my Achilles heel. Having been challenged and come out, grinning, on the other side.

For my money, there’s not a better feeling to ride into a new project.