Pardon me, I seem to have a frog in my throat

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My blogging has ground to a halt, a dangerous thing to happen to a blog. The thing is, there have been a series of events that seem to have…stolen my voice.

(WRITER WHINING ALERT!)

First there was Camp NaNoWriMo. I was busy being a novella writer and, I know I’ve mentioned this before: I’m a horrible multi-tasker. So July, no blogging.

After the full month’s break from my romance novel, I decided to try a contest. One of those ones where you submit your query and first chapter and hope for…something. I had no illusions, no realistic thoughts that I would get picked. My bar was set low. Submit. Practice sending my work into the wider world.

But then, all around me, writers started hearing back. Acceptances, or reasons why their particular story wasn’t accepted. People who got accepted by one judge got feedback from others as to why that particular judge had declined the submission. People who didn’t get accepted received emails from their chosen judges anyway. Sentences, some even paragraphs, of feedback.

Now this is not “part” of the contest and I had no reason whatsoever to expect anything. Feedback is something extra the judges may or may not choose to do. But I let hope take over and my goal shift. I wanted feedback. Was it the query? The premise? The writing that didn’t click? I heard from one of four of the judges I submitted to, a one-sentence reply I clung to like a rescued baby mermaid, and I hoped I’d get a little something more from the others. Something. Anything.

But no. Crickets.

Hope turned to brussels sprouts in my mouth. I reminded myself I had expected nothing. Told myself I was being unreasonable, unprofessional. Admonitions morphed into the conviction that I couldn’t handle the rigors of the publishing game, where success equals an even lower batting average than in baseball. I wasn’t cut out for this, and obviously, my story was dog poo because no one could find the wherewithal to even send me a little note.

(I gather this bleak state is one writers sink into quite readily.)

I convinced myself nothing would come of my book, and stopped writing altogether. No novel, no novella, no blog. Intellectually I knew nothing could come of a book one didn’t SUBMIT. But like Ramona the Pest, I crossed my arms and stomped my foot. Figuratively, but still…Yes, I am childish.

And then, In the midst of this self-immersed, apocalyptic doomscape, I received a horrible text message. One of my sorority sisters, Maria, who had been battling a rare—and incurable—form of cancer, was in the hospital, her family by her side. My world stopped. Everything went into suspension.

I saw her in January, lively, vibrant, laughing, drinking wine with her sorority sisters and sharing a wonderful, loud, chatter-filled meal. It was as if we were back in the big dining room at the ADPi House eating, talking, laughing. That wonderful night I forgot Maria had cancer, that her prognosis was dire. There was no way the woman I saw was going anywhere but back home to raise her boys to adulthood. She’d outlived her diagnosis by more than a year, after all.

A day after the text message, confirmation came. Maria had taken her eternal flight.

What were my petty complaints compared to the death of my friend, for God’s sake? What of Maria’s sons being left without their mother, her husband left without his wife, her family left without their daughter, their sister. Grief grabbed hold of me and squeezed. Maria had bugged me and bugged me about reading my book; I’d wanted to have her read it before cancer took her away. Chalk up another unmet goal.

Where before I was childish, now I was breathlessly mute.

I’ve lived a pretty charmed life, haven’t often been touched closely by death or grief. I didn’t know how to handle it. I felt like the pebble that starts the snow ball that becomes the body of the Guiness Book of World Records-sized snowman. One thing after another just seemed to layer onto my woes. My words felt small and stupid and unimportant. I lost a dear friend. And my will to say anything.

It’s been a rough month and a half, but slowly the metaphorical sun has started to shine and I’ve started to poke my finger through the slush that was the snowball. The words are building up inside me again. I still have a frog in my throat, but I have a lozenge on my tongue.

I think the sunshine is Maria. Maybe she got in my subconscious ear to remind me of something important: I have to keep going. I can still hit a goal, albeit a revised one. She may not hold my book in her hands, but if I send it out into the world again, somewhere in the great universal ether, Maria will know she helped bring it to fruition. I’m holding on to that.

May the universe embrace you and wrap you in the joy you gave to everyone you touched on this earth, Maria.

Maria Sofia Rimkus 1964-2014.

Maria

An NFL Mea Culpa—NOT

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Well, well, well…It took too long, but I’ll give the NFL, and Commissioner Roger Goodell credit for coming around. Maybe the number of female fans of the NFL was close to accurate after all, although, I saw plenty of evidence that the outrage against Ray Rice’s paltry penalty spread across genders.

Unfortunately, those voices saying things like “Women need to watch how they behave so they don’t incite a man to hit them.” and “We don’t know who started the fight. Maybe it was her fault.” and even “Two games is a huge penalty. He has to stand and watch his teammates play without him!” were overwhelmingly male voices, some of them with humongous public platforms, others who cried out from behind computers and phones anonymously, all of whose mothers, sisters, aunts and grandmothers would be appalled. Shame on you.

I’ll give the NFL credit, and count it as a blow against barbarity in whatever form.

Fuck that. I’ll save further comment for another day when my brain isn’t so crowded with unsavory thoughts.

You Blew It, Roger Goodell

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Apologies right off the bat to readers of my blog who 1) aren’t sports fans, and/or 2) don’t like reading rants. This post has both so feel free to click the X and tune me out, but I have to get this off my chest.

I am a huge sports fan, and one of my favorite spectator sports is NFL football. We are diehard Seattle Seahawks fans in my house, but we watch football all day Sunday, and on Monday and Thursday nights, too, Seahawks or no. We are not unusual, nor is the fact that I am a female football fan. The NFL attracts millions of female fans.

The NFL is a behemoth organization, a group of super-rich sports team owners who willingly give a CEO overarching responsibility for the organization. They call him The Commissioner. The NFL commissioner has an unbelievable amount of both power and responsibility. There is one particular aspect of the commissioner’s job that is unique in the world of business: he is employed by the team owners, but he has the ability to punish them, either by punishing their players (thus harming the team’s ability to win) or by directly punishing an owner himself.

Why would the commissioner do so? Well, because there are behavioral “standards” and “rules” when you’re in one of the most prestigious clubs in the world. The NFL is a club. You have to earn entry. And once in, you are expected to adhere to its rules or face consequences. It all sounds reasonable on its face.

But today, the NFL failed miserably. Whether the failure is the commissioner’s, the owners’, the player’s union, I can’t say, so I’m going to lump them all together for my heaping of scorn. You see, today, NFL football player Ray Rice received a two game suspension for allegedly* knocking his girlfriend unconscious and dragging her by the arms out of an elevator in an Atlantic City hotel.

TWO GAMES.

Last year, a Seahawk player received a lifetime ban from the NFL because he failed to show up for drug tests after failing at test for Marijuana use. But he failed to show up because he was busy playing football in CANADA. He wasn’t part of the NFL. He claimed not to know he still needed to take the tests, and why should he? He’s not in the CLUB. Well, rules are rules.

For getting caught smoking marijuana, a player gets “in the program.” The first offense is a warning, the second is a 4 game suspension. The fourth offense is a one year ban. This week Justin Blackmon, a talented receiver who apparently values marijuana over his NFL career, got strike 4. He’s out. Out of the league, out of his $2 million-plus dollar salary. Kicked to the curb. 

The NFL also once suspended a player for the first 5 games of his career for trading jerseys and gear for tattoos WHILE IN COLLEGE.

But Ray Rice, who punched a woman and dragged her out of an elevator (not to sound repetitive, but it bears repeating), gets a 2 week suspension.

TWO WEEKS.

Second weed offense = 4 weeks, but physical assault leading to unconsciousness = 2 weeks?

I admit it. When I saw the news this morning, I rubbed my eyes with both fists, shook my head, blinked, and blinked again. I had to look like a flummoxed cartoon character. I couldn’t believe what I was reading was true.

Here’s all I can say…

Roger Goodell, as commissioner of the NFL you had an opportunity here and YOU SQUANDERED IT. No less than Justin Blackmon squandered a year of his career. Only in one case, it was a player foolishly gambling with his own livelihood. In your case, it was a calculated, thought-out decision. You DECIDED that a player in the National Football League can punch a woman, drag her out of an elevator and risk only a mild penalty. You DECIDED NOT to punish Ray Rice at least to the equivalent of a marijuana violation. You DECIDED NOT to draw a line in the sand, to make UNEQUIVOCALLY CLEAR that physical assault of ANYONE, but especially a woman, by an NFL player is at least as detrimental to the reputation of the league** as smoking weed. You, Roger Goodell, blew it.

I am a fan of the Seattle Seahawks. I am not a fan of any player who assaults anyone. NFL players are big and strong and fast, and unless it’s two NFL players fighting each other, it’s almost never a fair fight.

I saw a good tweet today: If Goodell’s failure bothered you, please donate to a woman’s shelter. I will. Willingly. But why should the fans of the game have to make up for Goodell’s callous disregard for the safety of women in the company of the men employed by his organization? Where is the NFL’s donation?

Answer me that Roger Goodell.

 

*Allegedly, because he wasn’t tried in a court. He admitted there was an incident and apologized. He was captured on security video dragging his unconscious girlfriend out of the elevator, but the punch was not witnessed.

**From Goodell’s letter to Rice: “The league is an entity that depends on integrity and in the confidence of the public and we simply cannot tolerate conduct that endangers others or reflects negatively on our game.” Please tell me I am not the only one stunned by the irony of that statement. If Goodell’s actions don’t reflect negatively on the NFL, I don’t know what does.

Camp NaNoWriMo Hiatus

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2014-Participant-Facebook-ProfileI’ve been remiss in keeping up my blog lately. My excuse is that I’ve spent the last 30 days prepping for (and now starting) Camp NaNoWriMo. Doing a little plotting, forming a cabin, making Grand Plans, wrapping up other projects I had on my plate so I could focus on The One for July. And of course, now we’re ten days in. But really, there’s not much to be blogged about during NaNo that others aren’t already saying.

So I’m not going to blog about our AWESOME cabin and how we’d for sure win the canoe races and the three-legged race AND the pie eating contest and leave all those other cabins in our dust. I’m not going to bore people with how incredibly talented the nine other writers in our cabin are, or how fun it’s been to see everyone post their “Lines of the Day.” I’m REALLY not going to post about the wide variety of genres represented in our cabin—from MG to erotic romance—or how hilarious it is to read one line about a kid skinning his knees falling off his bike, and the next about the erotic consumption of a crab cake. Nope, not going to blog about that.

So yeah, taking a little hiatus while I write and cheer on my cabin mates. I’ll be back soon with war stories of surviving the s’mores overload, the sneaked-in jugs of cheap wine and the midnight cries for mommy. And hopefully by this time next year I’ll be able report back about the projects that started as Camp NaNo fodder, only to get one of us an agent, or become someone’s first, or next, published work. Woot!

GO BACCHANALIAN BITCHES! 

 

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

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.