31 December 2012


I have escaped to a coffee shop (Anna Bannanas) this morning because I can’t seem to shake the restlessness that seems to have settled into the marrow of my very bones. I can’t tell if the root cause of this constant need for motion is a residual side effect from the shooting and what happened after or if it’s simply that I haven’t had a moment’s pause to catch my breath (scream coughing on the couch doesn’t exactly count) since the retail holiday chaos.

Whatever it is, wherever it comes from, here I am, New Year’s Eve, alone in a coffee shop, ready to break up with 2012.

It’s not that it’s been a horrible year. There are certainly many remarkable and amazing moments to reflect upon and feel great joy. January began with going to meet John and Hank Green with College Brother (and catching a Honey Badger!) and turned to sadness with the death and burial of my dearest grandfather. The rest of the year was scattered with similar juxtapositions. It was a year that seemed to require balance. For every incredible experience I had, there seemed to be a counter challenge.

I’ll confess there have been times when it has felt impossible to keep the negative from overshadowing the positive.

And the truth is, there has been a great deal of positive.

I have met some incredible new people who have influenced my life in all the best ways. I have met some of my absolute favorite authors and agents who have inspired me to be a stronger writer.

I have spent more time writing than ever (outside of my academic life). I have spent immeasurable hours getting my manuscript ready to send out into the querying world. I have read so many brilliant books (and am working up a separate project to highlight them).

I have walked countless miles through my familiar neighborhood streets and have traveled alone over the sidewalks of new towns.

I went on an amazing road trip by myself, relearning how beautiful this country, this world, can be, remembering what it’s like to be alone.

I have spent time with old friends and made new ones.

I have laughed until I cried and cried until I laughed.

I have seen musicians perform live and I have listened to new albums, their notes entering through headphones, into my ears and vibrating their way through my body until they settle in my heart. I have played my ukulele (badly) and I have sung my heart out alone in the car through mountain passes with a pocket full of sunshine.

I have walked along the Pacific, the sand rising between my toes, the salted, cold water reminding me what it feels like to be alive.

I have sat on rocks and let the ocean’s roar drown out my own thoughts.

I have spent many lazy, sun-drenched afternoons reading/sleeping in my backyard hammock.

I have spent countless hours curled up next to the sweetest black dog in the entire world.

I have celebrated graduations, anniversaries, birthdays, and weddings.

I feel like I could go on like this until the daylight has passed to night. There’s something so very therapeutic and beautiful about taking the time to reflect on the many wonderful moments of the past year and all the day to day details which make me grateful for the life I live.

It’s too early to tell what kinds of joys and heartbreaks 2013 is going to hand out. All I can know is that I will take each one as it comes and hope that I am strong enough to appreciate every bit of it. I can do my best to live in the present, be mindful of the future and always grateful for the past.

Now I think it’s time to leave you with a piece of a song that has been in my heart all year:
            I was walking far from home, but I carried your letters all the while.
            I saw lovers in a window whisper, “Want me like time, want me like time."
                            from Iron & Wine's Walking Far From Home


25 December 2012

So this is Christmas...

It's funny how Christmas has changed over the years. First it was the anticipation of Santa and presents and the child-like wonder of it all. Then it transformed to the more subdued teen years. During college it was the thrill of going home for Christmas after finals to finally sleep and spend time with faraway friends and family. Now it is the single day off of a retail slave.

Today, waking up with a sore throat, a stuffed up head, and overall exhaustion, I'm still glad it's Christmas. I'm still glad that I get to spend the day with family. I'm exceptionally glad that I get the day away from work.  And I am going to try my very hardest not to be grumpy.

I can't promise I won't fall asleep.

Zelda "appreciating" her new Zombie foot.

15 December 2012


This is my first day, since Tuesday, that I've truly taken some time for myself.  Right now I feel so incredibly guilty that I'm not sure whether or not I'm actually going to be able to do it. But after yesterday, I think it's probably more important than even I realize. But that still doesn't help with the guilt.

Since Tuesday afternoon, I haven't stopped. I've logged more calls and more texts in the last four days than the last four months. I've slept less in the last four days than I do on a typical night. My brain and my heart feel overwhelmed. And when I heard the news from Connecticut yesterday, I didn't know my heart could break into tinier pieces. I've had to keep myself away from the media simply for my own self-preservation.

Writing is something I've done my whole life, from journals and stories, to poetry, and to more recently, novels. Writing is something that has gotten me through some really difficult periods in my life. On Wednesday I pulled out my journal and tried to write, but the emotion was too strong and I couldn't get words of any consequence to break through. Since that morning, I have pretty much been running non-stop. The store may have been closed for two days, but these days were in no way, shape, or form, like snow days.

Especially Thursday. On Thursday Clackamas Town Center held a meeting for its merchants. One person per store was allowed to attend. They signed us in and then escorted us into the theater. To say that the mood was somber, would be an understatement. Few people talked, few people smiled. After giving us a rundown on the plans for reopening and what we could expect from the mall and from the state of our stores, we were divided into zones and escorted by security. I was very grateful to be in the first zone called so I could move. Sitting still has been the impossible thing.

Even though it had been announced in the theater, it still surprised me to see the busted gate on our second floor entrance. The police had needed to do an additional sweep through our building and so they broke the gate. There were two men working on fixing it when I arrived. They were kind.

After putting my coat and bag in the office and checking on the computers and making sure the system got shut down properly, I took a deep breath and prepared myself to walk the entire store, aisle by aisle, to see what state it was in and look for any additional personal belongings that had been left behind in the chaotic exodus. It is a strange thing to be the only person in a store that size in the middle of a bright day.

In the music department, the area closest to the shooting, there was a small doll left on the floor. My knees went weak when I saw it. I have no idea whether or not the doll was dropped because the child and parents had to run or if it was lost there earlier in the day. Either way, I felt my strength begin to waver.

Most of the items left behind were in the cafe. There were coats, laptop chargers, backpacks, study cards, notebooks. There were drinks left everywhere and food. I checked on the equipment to make sure everything was off and called the cafe manager to help me shut down the espresso machines properly. There was a cup with a name and a shot of espresso left behind, the drink never finished because the cafe server and the customer had to run. I neglected to notice the soup was still on, though it was good to hear the laughter coming from the cafe on Friday morning as they discovered the state of the soup.

After I walked the store, I called my boss to update him on the reopening plans. There wasn't much else to do so I went to check on the gate to see if they were done. The guys were gone and so I grabbed my stuff, called security for my escort back out, and waited. When my escort arrived I attempted to shut the gate. It got 65% of the way down before it quit. It simply stopped working and I could neither raise nor lower the gate. My guard called in and he told me that they would send the guys back, that they were currently working on another damaged gate.

I then proceeded to wait. I busied myself with tasks. I called FedEx and made arrangements to pick up the weekly store mail (with paychecks) at their facility near the airport. I began working on the schedule for reopening, trying to figure out who needed to come in and when so we could at least look and function like the store we'd been prior to Tuesday. An hour went by and there was still no techs and I found myself beginning to lose it.

I don't know if it was just the same feelings of being trapped and unable to leave with no control over what was going on or what, but I began to feel a desperate need to leave the store. I went out into the mall to find someone. The same security guard who'd escorted me to the store in the first place, came to meet me and she must have heard the desperation in my voice and seen the tears welling in my eyes because within 5 minutes, my repair guy was back. He took a look at what was wrong and the security guard stayed with me. She had been ten feet away when the shooting began. She was tough, but I could see that she was struggling too. She began to tease the repairman, he is someone that does a lot of work in the mall so they have a history. She got me involved too and it helped. The joking, the laughter, it helped. It was going to take some time to get the gate working properly, but he told me if I could leave him with a key that he would leave it with security and I could pick it up the next day. I took him up on it.

The security guard escorted me back to the exit. She was funny and kind and I will never, ever forget that.

I got in my car and made my way to our Vancouver store. I needed a place where I could take a conference call and not worry about a bad connection or dropping calls. I also wanted to see some friendly and supportive faces. On my way there, I had my first breakdown while driving on 205.

I had my second when I got home and collapsed into my husband's arms.

Thursday night one of our booksellers had organized an Evening of Cheer and Laughter at the Old Chicago near our store. Though I was exhausted and depleted, I wanted to go and so my husband drove me. I didn't know just how much I needed to be surrounded by my coworkers, many of whom had been trapped those two hours in the breakroom with me and 14 of our customers. Over 40 people came and it was so good to see everyone smile and laugh and talk. As someone who is so often self-reliant, it was important to be reminded that we are sometimes strong simply because of the humans who support us.

Friday morning I got a few hours of sleep before I started watching the minutes tick by on the clock until my alarm went off at 3:30 a.m. At 4:50 a.m., I parked my car in front of my store and began the walk in. With each step I felt a surge of emotion and by the time I opened the doors I began to wonder how I was ever going to do it.

On the escalator upstairs, I managed to pull myself together and kept it together by keeping busy until it was time to have a meeting with the entire opening staff. I stood there in front of my team, having spent a large portion of the morning (including the time when I should have been sleeping) trying to figure out exactly what the right thing to say was. So many of them were with me on Tuesday and were brave and strong enough to return to work. Though there was much emotion, I managed to get through it.

At 9:00 a.m. we reopened our store for the first time since Tuesday afternoon and I was overwhelmed by the amount of customers who came pouring in. It was really hard to know what to expect, but I certainly didn't expect it to be so busy. I ended up in music helping the music manager and rang up customer after customer, the majority of which were Barnes & Noble Members. It was amazing to see how much support came from our community, how many customers took the time on a Friday morning to come back and support the store and the mall. Before I left, pretty much all of our lost and found items had been collected.

With very few exceptions, all our customers were nice, patient, and supportive. There was one woman who was starting to get bitchy about finding help in the children's department claiming there was "no one in there." I had literally just walked out of the department and knew that there had been two of us in there. I found myself on the breaking point so I made my way to the office to take a moment. When I got there, I found some chocolates and chocolate covered pretzels, that had been left in front of our breakroom door by one of the customers who'd been in the breakroom with us. She had brought back the drawing (we'd given the kids crayons and paper) her daughter had drawn along with a note of gratitude for what we had done for them.

After yet another request was asked of me (all day I had been peppered with the usual type of demands/requests/needs), I finally did lose it and went to the bathroom and cried in one of the stalls until my eyes were red. I then escaped into the mall and found a bench where I could sit and gather myself together again.

My memories of Tuesday afternoon are scattered. I still don't know the entire story of how our staff and customers worked together to clear and secure the store so quickly and effectively. Every day I learn another piece of the story. What I do know is that every single person did exactly the right thing. Every bookseller, every manager, even the volunteers doing our gift wrapping, did exactly what needed to happen. One manager was brave and selfless enough to guarantee that all gates were lowered and all doors secure.

I remember one point on the escalator calling out names on the Daily Assignment Sheet, trying to determine if all of our staff was safe and accounted for. I remember grabbing candy from the stash in the cash office to put on the breakroom table for the staff and customers. I remember offering water and tea. I remember thinking, "We should probably call the other stores so they know we're okay." I remember thinking, "I should probably post something on Facebook so everyone knows I'm okay." I remember thinking, "I should call my husband and my parents so they know I'm okay."

As the time since Tuesday has unwound, I have never been more grateful for the people I work with and the company I work for. Barnes & Noble didn't have to pay every single employee for the time lost because of the shooting. It would have been understandable if employees hadn't been comfortable returning to work.

There is a lot of sadness this week, in our community and in our country. There are a lot of broken people. There are also a great many kind, brave, supportive people who care about the important things. I would not have survived this week without them. I would not have survived this week without all the hugs. Hugs from my employees, friends, the VP of Employee Relations, my peers, family who came to shop yesterday, my husband. Even my favorite Brinks Guy asked if he could hug me yesterday.

I still have faith in humanity. I saw some amazing actions come out of an awful act. But we do need to see some changes. We need to reinvest in our communities, politics aside. We need to have a healthy, open, honest debate about guns and how we regulate them. We need to support those in our community who struggle with mental health issues. There's been so much discussion about taxes this past year and this most recent election cycle. Because people, because corporations are selfish, there just isn't enough money to support the programs that need supporting to keep our communities healthy and safe.

That's as political as I want to get for right now. This isn't meant to be a blog about the whys, the hows, and the what nexts. This is about me, taking care of myself, feeling grateful to the community that has supported me as I've been struggling. I know there is so much more for me to process and I am grateful to each of you who've read these words and for all of you who've offered up support.

I am lucky in so many ways and grateful in so many others.

Some of the drawings left behind from the kids in the break room with us.

09 December 2012

Getting in the Spirit of Things

It's been one week since I powered on my laptop.

Certainly there have been other computers that I've used, at work, at home. And certainly I've had plenty of time with my iPhone. But my laptop is where I do most of my new writing. It's where I've written the bulk of my novels (though I prefer editing on my giant of a desktop). It's where I compose most of these blogs.

Today has been a day off and I have enjoyed sleeping in and being lazy and going for a long walk and seeing a rather absurd movie. I'll save myself the embarrassment of confessing which, simply because it doesn't matter. What matters, is that it got me thinking about love.

The book I'm editing is about love, certainly, but more than that, it's about friendship and those people in our lives who are there no matter what, despite whatever is said, whatever is done.  I've struggled a great deal with how to make the female lead more sympathetic to readers and as I was walking this evening, peeking in at the neighborhood's Christmas trees, I realized something rather important. It's hard to explain to those who know nothing about this book, but what I realized may just be the missing piece to Jezebel's humanity. It may be exactly what I needed to show her as the character I know her to be. And it kills me because it's just so simple I feel like I should have understand that about her all along.

This past weekend has been about Christmas. For many years I kind of gave up on Christmas, the decorating and such because my schedule just gets so out of control I get tired just thinking about it. This year, I'm trying the opposite approach.

Last Thursday night we got a tree and then decorated it. We also bought our first ever exterior Christmas lights. I just couldn't resist when I saw them at the store. They are giant lawn versions of the classic glass Christmas lights! They are beautiful!

Friday I watched Love Actually and wrapped Christmas presents. One of these days soon my husband and I will find time to go to the Zoo Lights. I will continue to find time to do these little things that make me so happy.

There are a lot of valid reasons for me to dislike the holidays. But this year, I've decided to spend more time exploring the positive.

Which reminds me that it's time for eggnog...

02 December 2012

Finishing NaNoWriMo with Laini Taylor and Joss Whedon

It is now officially December which means that NaNoWriMo 2012 is over. It's always a bit of a strange transition, rushing from the "I Must Write Every Day" mentality to the "It's Absolute Holiday Chaos!" mentality. This was, without any doubts, the hardest NaNoWriMo of the four that I have participated in, but I knew that would be the case going in. I barely managed to creep across the 50,000 word finish line. But I did. I did it anyway!

It's way too early to tell if Henry's story will become anything worth pursuing. And ultimately, I don't care right now. I'm so proud that I managed write it in the first place. Despite long work hours. Despite illness. Despite time spent with family and friends and a husband and a dog. Despite more days "off" from NaNoWriMo than I've ever taken, I did it. For that, I am proud enough.

There have been a few things that have been percolating in my head for past week or two. Around Twitter and quite possibly Facebook as well, Joss Whedon's Writing Tips have been circulating. I've probably seen them shared around a dozen times. Joss Whedon's first rule of writing is "Finish It."

He says, "Actually finishing it is what I’m gonna put in as step one. You may laugh at this, but it’s true. I have so many friends who have written two-thirds of a screenplay, and then re-written it for about three years. Finishing a screenplay is first of all truly difficult, and secondly really liberating. Even if it’s not perfect, even if you know you’re gonna have to go back into it, type to the end. You have to have a little closure."

The first thing I thought about after reading this was, "That is exactly what NaNoWriMo taught me. For years I would start a story, write a page or two or a dozen or two dozen, and then I would quit. It would get hard, I would get bored, I would quit. NaNoWriMo taught me how to plow forward to the end and get the story down.  You can read the rest of Joss Whedon's writing tips here.

This past week I got to spend time with Laini Taylor. Her publisher scheduled an event with my store on Tuesday and several weeks ago we found out that they were also hoping we could arrange a school visit for her. I thought immediately of a friend from high school who is now a high school librarian and called her to see if she wanted to do it...I had recently gotten her to read Daughter of Smoke and Bone and knew she had loved it. She did an amazing job of getting the event organized for her school and I was thrilled to get to tag along (even though I was quite sick). Laini Taylor is a smart, clever, thoughtful writer with an inspired imagination. Daughter of Smoke and Bone and Days of Blood and Starlight are two of my favorites from what I've read in the last year.

One of the things that Laini Taylor said about writing, both at the school and at the store event, was how important it is to finish. She talked about her struggles with perfectionism and how she'd wanted to be a writer since she was a kid. She talked about how this perfectionism and the desire to tinker with the first paragraph to the first chapter kept her from ever finishing anything. It wasn't until she was 35 that she finished writing her first novel. I could 100% relate.

When I was in 4th grade I filled notebook after college ruled notebook with a story about a human girl (very likely myself) who wandered into a magical land and met these remarkable creatures and had adventure after adventure with them. I wish so desperately that I still had these notebooks or could at least remember the name for these creatures. Since that time I have always wanted to be a writer. It just took me twenty more years to figure out what kind of writer I truly wanted to be.

I had recently turned 34 when I finally finished my first novel and the only reason I was able to do it was because of NaNoWriMo. It taught me how to finish. It got me back into a (mostly) daily writing habit. It inspired me to go back and edit, to put in the time and the work to make my story even better.

Because of NaNoWriMo I now have a manuscript that began in 2010 that I want to see published. I have the passion and the persistence to edit and revise and to make Holden and Jezebel's story into something the world can read. And it's almost there, thanks to some excellent critique advice I've been given over the past two years.

This is why I now participate in NaNoWriMo. This is why I donate money to NaNoWriMo every year. 

Laini Taylor at Reynolds High School, Oregon

Favorite words from Laini's journal as she began Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Signing books for students

Signing books at Barnes & Noble with Clementine who was drawing "books" for fans and giving them away. It was quite possibly the Cutest Thing Ever.

25 November 2012

The Final Week

Yesterday I ditched writing because of:
a) Work
b) Finally getting to see The Perks of Being a Wallflower
c) The chance to play Cards Against Humanity
d) All of the Above

The answer is ''d."

Because of those three reasons, and the Black Friday that was the day before, I fell a tiny bit behind when I had previously been about a day ahead. So today I cleared my calendar for today and planned for some major words to be written and despite having gone to bed much later than the current typical, I was still up at 5:30 a.m. By 9:00 a.m. I'd written nearly 3,000 new words.

I took a break and finally finished reading Days of Blood and Starlight (brilliant!). I did some laundry and rewarded myself by watching an episode of Alias on Netflix (hello Sark!). Then I settled in for another writing session and 2,000 more words arrived.

By this point in the afternoon the sun was shining and I took that as my cue to get outside for a long walk. And walk I did, listening to some Neko Case and watching the birds fly through the blue sky. It was perfect and exactly what my day had been needing.

I'm nearing the finale of this fiction and am pretty sure I can see how Henry's story is going to wrap up. After my walk I came home to have a drink and write at least 1,000 more words for the day. Which I did. This has been my most prolific writing day of NaNoWriMo 2012!

This book is very different from anything else I've attempted before and yet I think at it's heart it is also very much like everything else I've written. It's not so different in that it wouldn't be recognized as mine. I have a much better sense now about what this story is about than I did at the beginning and there are some definite things I need to change for some continuity purposes and also because I made some wiser choices regarding the plot and the characters.

I definitely don't have the same passion for this project as I have for my other work-in-progress. I've been thinking a lot about why and I wonder if it's simply because I have yet to put the other project to bed.

So it haunts me and calls me back. I have truly missed Holden and Jezebel and their world.

The time away has been essential for us. And maybe once I've had some time away from this work (I have no idea at all what I'd title this novel if held at gunpoint...thank goodness people don't hold writers at gunpoint demanding novel titles!) I'll have a greater passion for seeing it through the entire editing process from roughest draft to polished manuscript.

Right now, there are only five more days in November and I have a clear end in sight for this story. It may change in a month, in a year, in ten years, but I have a goal I'm working towards and right now that's all that matters.

I'm also still in denial that December will join us by the end of the week...even though my Doctor Who Christmas ornaments have arrived.

For several blocks pieces of this paperback could be found on my afternoon walk.

22 November 2012


Despite the difficulties that life has thrown my way, the hardships, the tears, the pain, the unhappiness, I am grateful and I am thankful.

I try to live every day of my life this way, not simply one week or one day of every year. But this is a national day of being Thankful and it's a good time to think back on this past year as well as the years that have passed, to remember and to share the great many reasons that I am lucky, that I am hopeful, that I am blessed.

I am thankful for beautiful sunrises and friends to share them with. I am thankful for crunchy leaves and comfortable, cute shoes. I am thankful for a hot cup of coffee and cream and the friends who make such beautiful vessels for the drink. I am thankful for the lamp that sits beside my reading/writing chair in the library and the friend who hauled it nearly 2,000 miles from Minnesota, through Canada, so that I could have it back in Oregon with me. I am thankful for the grandparents, who have both now passed, who bought that lamp at an auction for me in the first place so I could have a light to read by in my freshman dorm. I am thankful to live in a world where I am surrounded by books and creativity, where I get to meet other writers who inspire me and challenge me. I am thankful for the ocean, the way it roars, the way it mesmerizes, the secrets it tells me. I am thankful for the feeling of sand between my toes and pedicures. I am thankful for little brothers who have grown up into such interesting and thoughtful men who never forget to be awesome. I am thankful for Doctor Who and David Tennant. I am thankful for Zelda, with her brown eyes and sweet heart. I am thankful for long walks and swing sets. I am thankful for cozy blankets and lazy afternoons. I am thankful for a car that never gives me trouble and takes me on road trips to visit old friends. I am thankful for the Nerdist Podcast and the many ways it inspires and makes me laugh and think. I am thankful for a husband who lets me be who I am and loves me unconditionally. I am thankful that he is also quite handsome and rather smart. I am thankful for all the assorted technology in my life that lets me write, take photos, be entertained, and allows me to communicate with loved ones near and far. I am thankful for Legos and the interesting and beautiful things I can create with them. I am thankful for music and all those songs that hit me right in the gut. I am thankful for NaNoWriMo and the way it got my writing life reinvigorated, how it showed me that I could write a hundred pages (or 400 pages...). I am thankful for having enough food to eat and that I have the luxury of eating out when I want to.

I am truly thankful I have all these things to be thankful for and that I could spend the entire day writing down even more things to be thankful for.

And if you're out shopping tomorrow, be thankful for the person who's helping you because they probably didn't get to relax as much as they wanted to or spend as much time as they wanted to with their family. Remember it's not their fault if something is sold out or not available or that you had to wait in a line longer than you wanted to.

18 November 2012

Life on Day 18

This weekend has been the last deep breath before the holidays officially begin. It's been a time to catch up on sleep, catch up with friends, catch up on my word count. I wasn't kidding earlier when I said that if this NaNoWriMo didn't kill me it was going to make me feel like I could do anything. If I can finish a novel in November of 2012, I will never have another excuse for not writing.

And here I am, ready to round the corner into 30,000 words. I have new characters that I'm really starting to care about. (Confession: there was a point last week where I missed my old characters so much I actually thought about cheating and writing another scene just for them...it's been harder to let them go than I ever would have thought.)

There have been more days when I've wanted to do anything else, days that I have been so tired the last thing I've wanted to do is sit down with my laptop and make my brain work some more. But I've done it and words have come out and a story is being shaped and the truth is, the writing does make me happier.

Today I will meet lovely friends for breakfast. Later I will write while the laundry is laundered. I will take a nap if I feel it. I will read a book because I want to. I am currently reading Laini Taylor's Days of Blood and Starlight because she is a brilliant writer and because she'll be doing an author visit at my friend's school and an event at my store next week...and if there's one book I get to read this November, this one's going to be it.

11 November 2012

A Full Heart and a Full Bar

This past week was my birthday.

It was also one of the craziest weeks ever.

No really, ever.

I will save you the sordid details of all the things that went right, and also what went terribly wrong. I will tell you that I got paid a lovely compliment (or two) by someone rather important in my working world and that I finished my birthday evening (after I'd already gone to bed), by responding to a burglar alarm at work.

With all the things that happened this week, the good and the bad, I am astonished to wake up this morning and find my word count is exactly where it needs to be. Because of the chaos, I have taken two of the first ten days off of NaNoWriMo. I usually allow myself three per month, though I've never actually used all three.

When I've had the time to write, the words have been coming and for that I have been grateful. Last night I had a great two hour writing window in which I highly amused myself by coming up with what (I think) is a rather witty, clever scene with some hilarious dialogue. I was so grateful my husband was home so I could talk to someone about it! Those moments in writing are always my favorite, those ones where you slowly build up to something that absolutely works for the scene/character.

Last night a few friends came over to celebrate birthdayness and play Cards Against Humanity (which has to be the best, most awful game...seriously, there were so many tears of laughter my abs hurt today!). They brought with them generous birthday gifts, including an army of bottles to restock my bar.  The evening of laughter, food, drink, and the best company, was the perfect way to relax after the last several weeks. I'm grateful to have such wonderful people in my life.

And I'm really looking forward to playing Cards Against Humanity again.

04 November 2012

The 4th Day of NaNoWriMo 2012

I just wanted to check in and let you know how things are going.

In all honesty, the hardest part has been finding the time to write. After a super long day at work yesterday I decided to take the night off, go out to dinner with my husband, take care of the grocery shopping and a few other work-related projects so that Sunday I could have a more restful and productive day off.

It has been all kinds of wonderful. I needed to write 3,000 words just to catch up. I managed 4,000 which means I'm now a tiny bit ahead of the game.

This should be my last under-staffed week at work and thanks to a very kind, generous, and supportive soul, it's not going to be nearly as bad as it could have been.

I am enjoying every minute I've spent writing and have found that it has decreased the stress from my life instead of adding to it.

So glad I decided to "Do It Anyway." Henry is proving to be an excellent protagonist and I think the trouble he gets himself into is going to be fun for me to write about.
That kind of Sunday. Tater Tot Hotdish and red wine.

01 November 2012

Day 1, NaNoWriMo 2012

I really do think I must be crazy to be doing what I'm doing. It's the only explanation for why I've been up since 3:50 am and why I'm hunkered down in my NaNoWriMo writing space in my library fortress armed with a cup of fresh brewed french press, a sliced Honey Crisp apple, a candle, an iPod, a MacBook, and my imagination. Even Zelda, best black dog in the world, thinks it's too early to get up (even for breakfast).

Sometimes the writer's life is a lonely life.

I had the foresight to know this was going to be my most challenging NaNoWriMo to date, but even I didn't predict how challenging it was going to be due to my most insane work situation. There is relief in sight if I can make it through another week.

In the past I've done NaNoWriMo posts on a nearly daily basis. It helps me get the words rolling. I'm not committing myself to anything beyond getting 50,000 new words down. I'll definitely do updates, I'm just uncertain yet how consistent they'll be.

I suppose I'll need to sleep at some point...

Happy 2012 NaNoWriMo!

21 October 2012

Wordstock, David Levithan, and High school with Libba Bray

This past week has been ass kicking. I have kicked ass and I have had my ass kicked. It's been filled with new challenges and big wins. I am exhausted and happy.

Last Sunday I attended my first Wordstock. For years it was in November, always coinciding with my birthday weekend (when I prefer to flee the city for the fresh smells of ocean air and the crashing sounds of the Pacific). It has since moved to October, but there's always been something else going on at the same time.

This year I finally made it a point to go. With David Levithan there, how could I resist? He was, as always, witty, wise, and inspiring. He talked about his latest book (Every Day) and he shared the three books he's loving on right now. They are Nina LaCour's The Disenchantments (which I adored), Eliot Schrefer's Endangered, and A.S. King's Ask the Passengers (the last two are already on my nightstand in the TBR pile.

Thursday I had a completely awesome day hanging out with Libba Bray (who has written such lovely, smart books). I went on a school visit to Hillsboro High School (which was a really cool experience). She did this awesome improv exercise with the kids about creating a story. It was broken down into six questions:

Where are they from?
What do they desire/want?
What do they fear?
What is the next thing that happens?
What is the last sentence of your story?

The kids had a lot of fun with this. She pulled several up to the front with her and had them answer the questions, drawing from the audience for participation as well. After she was done, she answered questions and took time listening to each and every student. She was funny, she was kind, she was honest, and she gives great hugs. We talked about books (including the new novel by Gayle Forman due out in January (Just One Day) which we both adored). In short, she was everything I hoped she'd be and more. I had so much fun I went to her event later that night at Powell's and took my husband along as well (who is now a big fan too). At the event, she shared a brilliant writing prompt. "In the letter I never wrote to you I said..."

Now that NaNoWriMo 2012 is less than two weeks away, I've been trying to narrow down the story that I want to tell. I've got a couple characters starting to materialize, their images getting more and more solid each day. As I learn more about them, I keep coming back to Libba's six questions. They really do seem like a brilliant place to start...

Libba Bray with my copy of my favorite of her books.
David modelling his last two for me. For my photo/book project I've been forcing authors to pose with my books.

14 October 2012

Do It Anyway

It's been one week since I arrived home from a long weekend on the Oregon Coast. I had a lovely 24 hours to myself followed by a lovely 48 hours with friends and conversation. I walked beside ocean waves in sunshine, I played tag (and lost) to the Pacific, I drank wine, dined on delicious seafood, I took deep breaths and remembered how to dream. I took naps. I read books. I listened.

There has been a song that has become my mantra during this time in my life of so many big changes. It's off the new Ben Folds Five album and is called "Do It Anyway." I was first introduced to the song via the brilliant video featuring Chris Hardwick (I am an enormous Nerdist Podcast fan) and the Fraggles (I'm old enough to have watched them the first time around...barely). I have since purchased the album (which is, of course, awesome!) and this past week the song has come up on shuffle during some thoughtful and resonant moments.

You might put your love and trust on the line. It's risky, people love to tear that down. Let 'em try. Do it anyway. Risk it anyway.

Walking by myself, sitting on giant rocks while the sun set and listening to the salty water crash against the sand, I thought about NaNoWriMo and my ambitions beyond my current career.

And if you're paralyzed by a voice in your head. It's the standing still that should be scaring you instead. Go on and do it anyway. Do it anyway.

Over the last two weeks, I feel like I've taken a step back and am watching my life move forward at speeds that are unsettling. There is change beyond my control and it is both exhilarating and frightening. It's like sitting at the top of the roller coaster knowing the only way out is to take the plummet.

There will be times you might leap before you look. There'll be times you'll like the cover and that's preciscely why you'll love the book. Do it anyway. Do it anyway.

I've been thinking about my life five years ago, ten, twenty. I've thought about my sixteen year old dreams and ambitions.

Tell me what I said I'd never do. Tell me what I said I'd never say. Read me off a list of the things that I used to not like but now I think are okay.

As I've been pondering the cons, the pros, the should I and shouldn't I of this year's NaNoWriMo question, I've been thinking about the stories that have been rising up from the depths, the story that I want to tell and why it's important for me to tell it.

Despite your grand attempts the chips are set to fall. And all the stories you might weave cannot negotiate them all. Do it anyway. Be honest, anyway.

As the days on the calendar keep flipping from one right into the next, I've found myself at the center of October and people keep asking me if I'm going to do NaNoWriMo this year and I think I've finally got a definitive answer for them.

Call it surrender, but you know that that's a joke. And the punchline is you were actually never in control. But still, surrender anyway.

So what have I decided? What's the answer to the question that's been tugging me back and forth?

Everybody knows that you just gotta do it anyway.  

30 September 2012

The Back and Forth of Decision Making

Why is it that some days seem to linger on endlessly while others vanish in but a blink? The past week has been a strange blend of these kinds of days. I am left feeling quite accomplished and like I haven't done anything at all. I have a feeling that's just how it's going to be for awhile.

Right now, I am faced with a difficult decision. To NaNoWriMo or not to NaNoWriMo, that is the question. The truth is, I don't know that I'm going to have the time (or the sanity) to do it, the 50,000 new words in one month. My schedule from 10/15-11/15 is intense (and I'm not sure it will ease off until the new year) and I'm so worried I won't have the literal time to do it and sleep.

Every day I go back and forth, weighing pros against cons and every day I come up with a different answer. I want to desperately. But I'm afraid of failing.

You see, that's one of my flaws.

That fear of failing.

For the worse (or for the better?), I don't like to do things I can't be successful at. It's not that I don't take chances, because I do. I just don't like to knowingly set myself up for failure.

That is different. Right?

And what's the real harm if I don't finish? I've still started a new project. And if I only get 75 pages instead of 160? Isn't that still awesome?

But will it cause additional stress at a time when I'll already be pushed to my limits? Is that worth it?

In a few days I head off to my favorite coastal escape and am looking forward to breathing the salty air and walking along the Pacific. I'm hoping I'll find my answer there.

17 September 2012

Digging Up Memories

The last few weeks I've been digging through closets and boxes and unearthing all sorts of magical, time traveling things...like the adoption papers for one of my Cabbage Patch Kids...a musical I started (and never finished) in middle school...my Mock Trial notebook (and notecards!) from high school. So many memories from my thirty some years wrapped up in one box!

I'm not the kind of person who has to keep every sentimental thing. Moving around taught me how to let go. But for the last seven and a half years I've been anchored to the same spot and that has allowed for a bit more accumulation, which is why I've been reorganizing and purging. For me, it's really not so much about the thing, it's about the memories associated with that thing. When I pulled those adoption papers out of that box, I was flooded with memories of the day I took Cy Buddy home.

I had gone shopping with my grandma and grandpa in Fergus Falls, MN and we ended up in a store with Cabbage Patch Kids. I picked Cy because he had these wonderful blue glasses and he seemed like a nice kid. We went back to Wahpeton, ND and took pictures of me and my new "baby." I know those pictures are around somewhere...

All week long I've been thinking about those grandparents and all the wonderful things we did together over the years. My grandma died of cancer when I was a senior in college and this past January my grandfather passed away. For most of my life I have lived over a thousand miles away from all of my grandparents. But they were all a big part of my life. It could have been otherwise.

Growing up, I spent every summer (except the one I went to Germany) traveling between sets of grandparents. I got to know them, be spoiled by them, and full-heart love them. Same with my aunts and uncles. Distance is only a problem of you let it be and we never let it.

And today, I'm missing them very, very much.

09 September 2012

Enjoy the Silence

I've been feeling rather quiet lately. It's not that I haven't had much to say, it's more that I haven't felt like saying it. I don't think I can explain why. Nor do I think I want to.

Here are two of the things I haven't been talking about:

1) The other day, I think I finished my book rewrite. I'm not exactly sure, as I need to get some outside perspective before I'm ready to say definitively. This version is so very different from the last version and yet fundamentally the same. It is even closer to my original intention...funny how that can happen after so much revision and the cutting of over 150 pages from the manuscript. I changed a few character names (Holden and Jezebel will always be Holden and Jezebel), including one pretty major character. I don't recommend doing so on your third major rewrite. I found the old name slipping in repeatedly. So grateful for Find & Replace!

2) I've been on vacation. Unless you work with me, or are married to me, you probably didn't know this. This was my Calm Before the Storm vacation. It has been amazing and the time has been exactly what I needed it to be, bending to my will. I have done a great deal of writing. I went to the dentist (due to the notes in my chart about passing out (from the only other time I had a cavity filled) they gave me a totally awesome drug to take beforehand...and let's just say I will lock my phone away before I ever take that medication again). I reorganized virtually every closet in our entire house and some frustrating kitchen cabinets, donated two car loads of stuff to Goodwill, and made great strides towards uncluttering. I watched Dawson's Creek, new Doctor Who, The Daily Show, and the Colbert Report. I played Rock Band, sat in the sun, went for walks. It has been amazing.

Tonight I am relaxing in the library. My iPod is on shuffle. A bottle of wine has been opened. Socks (Socks!) have been placed on feet. Zelda's passed out behind me. It's a perfect night to cozy up with a good book...or two. And for those who are curious, I am jostling between Libba Bray's Going Bovine and Jess Walter's Beautiful Ruins. Two very different and equally wonderful books.

26 August 2012

The Balancing Act

I strive to have balance between my work life and my personal life. It's part of why I've chosen the career I have. There are many skills I possess that could be translated into a career where I would make more money. But those jobs usually require 20-30 more hours/week.

I'd rather spend that time writing.

Lately, due to all the hullabaloo going on with work, I've felt work responsibilities creeping into my private time, starting with my last vacation. Sometimes it's a phone call (or two or three), sometimes it's a text (or ten), sometimes it's going in early, sometimes it's going home late.

Wednesday morning I got up and started working on my novel. Just when I was hitting a good groove I got a text and then another and soon I was leaving early to begin my work day and my writing time was lost. I guess I should have left my phone silenced in the other room.

The rest of the week I was just flat out too tired from physical therapy and work to even think about sitting down at the computer.

I don't think things are going to calm down much until the new year, with the exception of some vacation next week and a long weekend in October. I fear this year's NaNoWriMo will be the biggest challenge yet.

I think what I need to do is figure out some boundaries. Work out some time in my calendar that is strictly mine. No internet. No iPhone. Nothing but me and the words on the screen.

19 August 2012

An Argument in the Printed vs. Electronic Debate

There is a reason I will always treasure paper made books over their e counterparts. Like last April when I was working on my poetry project. I kept stumbling upon little treasures tucked away in the pages.

A ticket stub.
A handmade bookmark made by a friend 12 years ago.
A note written by my brother when he was just learning to write asking me if I want to play car store with him.
Old bus tickets.
An image cut out of a magazine.
The introduction I wrote for an author event I hosted.
There were so many clues left behind from yesterdays. I wonder what it would be like to tell a story not only about the books in a person's library, but also the treasures dwelling within those books.

And then there are stories like the one from last week, the ones that wouldn't be the same without the physical.

But first, a little history.

I had started back to college a bit earlier than most of my friends for RA training and was left with some free time on my hands. I went to the bookstore to pick up books for my classes, thinking I would read a few of my required novels early and give myself a break later in the semester. While I was there I stumbled upon a thin paperback. Non-fiction. A memoir. I remembered that a friend had recently been talking about it and how much she had enjoyed the book, so I bought it. I read it in one sitting and I loved it. I have carried it around with me (from state to state, home to home) for the past 15 years.

That book was Chelsea Cain's Dharma Girl. It has been out of print for quite a few years now.

In 2005 I picked up a new book that had just come into the bookstore. It was called Confessions of a Teen Sleuth and was a lovely story about how Nancy Drew was real and how that bitch, Carolyn Keene, had stolen her story. It was delightful, funny, and filled with references to childhood mysteries. It wasn't right away that I made the connection that this was the same author of the book I loved.

Two years later I was in the office at work when I spotted a white book with a red bloody hand print tucked inside an "evidence" bag. "Case # Heartsick, Item # Cain, Chelsea." I snagged it, read it, loved it.

Now it's five years later and it's the launch of the fifth Archie Sheridan/Gretchen Lowell (the Beauty Killer) book at Powell's. I'd been meaning to have her sign Dharma Girl for a long time, but I either forgot to bring it or decided not to. I have this thing (a courtesy?) where I really only like to have the author sign one book or maybe two. Since I had decided to buy the e-book for her latest, Kill You Twice, I didn't have it for her to sign.

So I finally brought Dharma Girl and smiled when someone asked her if she had a favorite book she'd written and she told the story of Dharma Girl. We didn't have to wait in the signing line long (thanks to my professional training) and when it was my turn, I handed her the book and told her a bit of the story about finding it in my college bookstore all those years ago and following along ever since.

She seemed hesitant to sign it and seemed surprised when I told her I wanted it personalized. This is as rare book (she has declined the opportunities to have it reprinted) and I knew it would be worth more if it only had a signature and not my name.

But I don't buy books in the hopes that they'll be worth more some day. I don't have them signed because I hope to resell them. They aren't a monetary investment for me and I hope they never will be. I go to readings to support the authors I love, to listen to their stories, to renew whatever it is that drives me to write.

So I asked her to put my name in it. She hesitated, her daughter beside her, distracting, as she contemplated what to say. I watched the pen in her hand as she stalled on the start of what words to alter the title page of my pristine paperback. I imagined what was going through her head. I noticed her eyes get a little teary.

I think, in the end, what she wrote was perfect.

Ultimately, it is stories like these that break my heart when I think about e-books. It's why I still buy so many printed ones myself (or sometimes both). It's nice to have the physical reminders of the stories we read and the books that meant so much. It's nice to flip through the pages and find hidden reminders of the past. It's nice to hand the book to a friend and say, "Read this, I think you'll really like it."

A sampling of my Chelsea Cain Collection

Found in my copy of Naomi Shihab Nye's Words Under the Words

13 August 2012

The End of a Vacation

I wish all the mornings could begin in the shade of a sunny patio with a dog sitting at your feet, the neighbor's chickens clucking, and a gentle breeze freshening up the world. For now, I'll just be grateful this one does.

There is a certain sadness that comes from the last day of vacation. And this day, for me, is no exception. The last eight days have been exactly what I needed and I have no doubt today will be as well. The hammock is set up in the backyard and I've finally started reading Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl. So far it is as brilliant as everyone says it is. I think I've a pretty good idea where this day is headed.

I don't think I left the city limits once on this vacation and I drove my car as little as possible, opting for my own two feet and my scooter. I slept in. I stayed up late. I watched Doctor Who and Dawson's Creek. I went out to eat. I went to physical therapy.

And I wrote.

Every single day.

I put many, many hours into my manuscript and enjoyed (almost) every one. I cut out words, sentences, paragraphs, pages. If it didn't work, it was gone. I wrote new words, new paragraphs, new pages. This new draft will probably be around a hundred pages shorter than the last and will be different in many ways, but at its heart it will be much truer to what I'd always intended.

It's a very good place to be.

This fall's calendar is already full of exciting and fun adventures. Amanda Palmer, David Levithan, trips to the beach, a new/old store and the chance to work with some wonderful new-to-me people as well as some brilliant old ones. I get to hang out with Libba Bray (for work! I'm beyond excited!). And so much more.

In but a blink, I have no doubt it will be November. By then I hope to put this current project to bed, where it can rest until the new year. Then, I hope SWHOT (or whatever it's called by then) will be ready to transition from the business of writing to the business of querying.

05 August 2012

Goals, Conferences, and Vacations...

The house is shuttered up. All the windows shielded from the sun as I watch the mercury ascend. Chores are nearly done and I have settled in the library with an iced coffee +*.  This is the first day of my staycation vacation. I love the lightness that comes from knowing I have an entire week to myself, this long string of days lined up before me, perched on such possibility.

This past week has been busy and filled with a great deal of running around. The last two days have been spent helping sell books at the Willamette Writers Conference. It was a fascinating time of people watching and eavesdropping. When an agent would stop by I'd google them to see more about who they were and what types of work they represent. I was annoyed by authors who didn't understand why we didn't have their book (because of course we should have had their book!) and I was delighted by the enthusiasm of people coming out of workshops and pitches, excited by the work ahead.

One of the highlights was when a woman in her 80's pitched her novel to us while we were eating lunch. Her assignment had been to find a dozen people to practice her pitch on and when she found us she thought she could get three out of the way at once (I didn't have the heart to tell her that she was kind of missing the point). I don't know if her novel is very good, her pitch was a bit rambling and convoluted and didn't exactly pique my interest, but I admired her spirit and her determination.

I have a lot of goals for this week for me and my manuscript. Last week I got to rewrite a really difficult scene (which I know still needs quite a bit of fine tuning...) and I got to write a brand new scene (which was very exciting to do and does so much for the story!). So if you're looking for me, odds are I'll be tucked away somewhere cool, staring at a back-lit screen as my fingers tap away at the keys.

Or at physical therapy.

*I mean alcohol.

29 July 2012

Pain makes you...beautiful?

I'll be honest. The past few weeks have been a little rough. It's not like it's been all bad. In fact, some really good things have come out of the last few weeks. I recently found out that this fall I'll be taking the reins of our highest volume store! What has been rough is the pain that has been undermining everything else.

Four years ago I had back surgery. Prior to the surgery I was unable to walk and I was in extraordinary pain. It's the kind of pain you can't escape and mentally, as well as physically, it takes its toll. For the better part of the year, my life was restricted. I couldn't sit comfortably and eventually I couldn't walk. I suffered permanent nerve damage in my left leg that still affects me on a daily basis. But I have worked hard to take better care of my back. I remembered all the wise and kind words my physical therapist shared with me.

The day I realized I could move and that I was no longer in pain was a very, very good day.

On occasion I would still overdue it from time to time and would pay for it with a little pain and a few aches. Nothing too serious and nothing that would take too long to recover from. A few weeks ago something changed.

The pain didn't go away and the nerve pain got worse.

And I got scared.

I never, ever, ever want to go through what I went through four years ago ever again.

So I went to the doctor and he gave me two choices. Aggressive or conservative. And since the conservative approach only meant another week or so, I opted for conservative which meant a week of steroids.

While I am not a fan of MRIs, I am also not a fan of steroids. And thankfully I have the self-awareness to realize when it's the drugs affecting my mood rather than reality. I am certain my employees and the neighbor children would be grateful if they'd known how many words I'd held back over the last several days.

I'm still uncertain as to what is going to happen next. The pain, while reduced, is still a constant. A few more days and the next decision will need to be made.

I think, perhaps, one of the most heart-breaking pieces of this entire scenario is that it's kept me from writing. Sitting in a chair is really hard to do. I managed to get a few hours in the other day and accomplished some good work, but it's really slowed me down and unfortunately, I don't currently have the resources (or the space) to acquire one of John Green's Treadmill desks...though I am working on a little something I can use so I can at least stand while editing.

There are a million obstacles that can keep us from doing the things we love and the things we want to do. Some are the result of external influences while others are self-imposed. What this set-back has shown me is that I am still as committed to my writing life as I was before and that I will do everything I can to keep pushing forward.

22 July 2012

Getting Closer

Sometimes you don't even know how much you're worrying about a thing, how much it's nagging at your heels, nesting amongst your bones, until that worry is gone and with it the heaviness that held you down.

The last two weeks I've had such a worry extricate itself from my body. I didn't even realize the shallowness of my breath until I was able to fully expand my lungs again. I didn't realize how heavily my feet were weighted to the ground until the act of lifting them became so easy I could nearly fly.

All and all, it has been a strange and good period in my life.

I continue to enjoy the work that pays the bills and I am enamored with the work I do that doesn't.

The time away from my manuscript was well spent and in my first week back I was able to solve a nagging problem with a minor character who was always destined to be a larger player. The answer seemed so easy once I'd worked it out and so perfect I couldn't believe it didn't come to me sooner.

There is still much work to be done, but each day I try to work through a few more pages, think of a few more solutions to problems, ask myself a million new questions.

I'm getting close.

Each day, a little bit closer.

14 July 2012

The Best of Friends

I had a wonderful time last night. A high school friend is getting married this afternoon (along with the sister of another high school friend) and that has brought a great many people to town. Last night, we all went out for dinner at a lovely restaurant with delicious food and refreshing cocktails. We sat on the patio for hours talking and laughing. We remembered old crushes (and poor boyfriend decisions). We talked about siblings and parents, children and marriage.

Sometimes I am amazed at how easy it is for us to pick up right where we left off. Some of these people I see often. Some I see once a year for maybe a couple of hours. But the conversations are always easy. It's been 18 years since we graduated and we still have so much to talk about.

Last night there was some reflection on that, about the people we were and the people we are and why we all still get along. Someone said that even back in high school we all had a pretty good sense of who we were and we were all very comfortable being ourselves. I very much think that's true. I know that personally, the core of me hasn't really changed that much. I'm still very much the same person I always was. There are definitely aspects to my personality that have grown and developed and I'm much more comfortable saying what I mean to say and being open...though I still won't always volunteer information unless asked. I still work better in smaller groups than larger ones.

My WIP (work-in-progress) is about (in part) that transition between high school and college and how that major transition affects these characters. I remember, from my own experience, sitting outside Coffee People on NW 23rd with two boys. One I knew well, and one I knew not quite so well. I remember it was near the end of the summer and I was beginning to wonder if this was it, if this was the end of these friendships. I wondered if time and distance would close the book on these relationships. And it made me sad even though I knew I was going off to college where more friends were sure to be made.

All these years later, I'm still in touch with both these boys. One, because we have always been friends, and one because of the wonders of Facebook.

04 July 2012

Positive Distraction

There have been a few reasons why I've been a bit more quiet than usual. The biggest reason is that I've been feeling a lot more like thinking than writing. And I've had a lot to think about. There are some pretty big decisions I need to make with my current manuscript and I want to give them time to settle so I really know and feel that they are the right decisions. I'm ready to finish this novel once and for all...but I want to do it right and I want to do it best.

Another problem I've had is the TV show Damages. That thing has been like crack and in the last two weeks I've worked through the first two seasons. It's the perfect blend of distraction I've been needing...legal thriller combined with mystery combined with brilliant characters that you love and despise. It's been so good. And since it's been raining/gray literally every day since I got back from my wonderful vacation, I haven't felt guilty at all for the hours spent on the couch.

It's also been a time of research. Every TV show I watch, every novel I read, every movie I see, I think about Story. I think about why the Story works, why I'm drawn in, kept in, and what motivates me to continue watching/reading/paying attention.

I've been reading books about writing and I've been researching the 2012 Willamette Writers Conference in August. Since I'll be working there for part of it, I'm not sure how much time I'll have to participate, but I've been looking into the agents attending and seeing if anyone looks like a good fit for me. I'm not planning on doing any pitches this time, but you never know what might happen in the next month.

The 4th of July has become a day centered on taking care of our four-legged companion. Zelda gets very upset to the point where she makes herself physically sick if she's not medicated and I just don't have the heart to leave her alone so this has become a kind of stay at home type of holiday. Today I really don't mind. The sun is shining, the sky is blue, the breeze is gentle and my stack of books looks inviting.

It might just be time to set up the hammock and take a few deep breaths.

25 June 2012

There and Back Again

I didn't get lost in Montana, but I had a wonderful time...even if I was only a few feet from hitting a family of deer on my way out of the state. I spent the next two days tucked away in a small(ish) town in Idaho located in the Palouse Valley. The scenery was extraordinary and a bit unlike anything I've ever seen before.

Moscow, Idaho ended up being the perfect size for me to explore on my own. There are many things to love about a college town and this one was filled with many of the best things. Amazing coffee (seriously, there was a noteworthy coffee shop on every downtown corner), a variety of tempting restaurants, an art gallery, a fountain, a park, an amazing bookstore (where I, of course, bought a book I didn't need), and so much more. And all of it could be reached with my own two feet so I parked the car and didn't move it until it was time to go home. I probably walked 6-8 miles each day I was there, wandering back and forth from my single bedroom house to downtown and beyond.

While I missed my husband and Zelda, it was also really nice to have this time on my own. I read, I listened to music, I wrote. In the end, I didn't edit any of my manuscript. Instead, as I was out walking that first night I stumbled upon two characters (who still haven't revealed their names to me). They began to tell me their story and I began to write it down. In the closest thing I've ever done to an outline, I began to write about them. I wrote that night and then all through breakfast the next morning. I took a break in the afternoon and then sitting in the park listening to the local orchestra play songs by Famous Composers, I wrote some more. I couldn't stop. These two just seemed so eager for someone to listen that I found it a challenge to keep up. I still don't know how their story ends, but I'm looking forward to finding out.

So it wasn't exactly the productive end of the vacation that I had planned for myself, but it was something equally wonderful.

On my last morning in Moscow I ran into the owner of the house I was staying in (she lives next door). We were talking and I was telling her about what I'd been up to. She said to me, "Wow, you are really independent. I'm terrified to eat alone in a restaurant!" I told her the trick is in a good book. Her comment lingered with me for the rest of the day. I guess spending a significant portion of my childhood with a single parent, I got more comfortable doing things on my own. I never really stopped to think about how hard it could be for someone else to do something like eat at a nice restaurant on their own or to travel to a new place and explore.

I had a wonderful time away, but it's good to be home again.

Palouse Valley. Photo by Mike Brand

20 June 2012

The Longest Day of the Year

I don't know if it's just been a super long day or if it was a kick-ass margarita followed by an intense walk back to my vacation house. Either way, I'm a bit tired.

The sun has startled to disappear beneath the roof-lined horizon on this, the longest day of the year. I've driven through some more beautiful country today, some of which I've never seen before. Rolling green hills, mountains, rivers, so much beautiful landscape.

This trip has really reminded me how much I love to drive, how much I truly love the open road. So much of my recent road travels have involved the I-5 corridor and as so many of you know, there is precious little inspiring in that drive. (Though maybe it's partly that I am simply cursed by familiarity.) This trip has been so different. Even though I've stuck to the interstate or at least a major highway, these drives have been anything but ordinary and certainly far from familiar.

After settling into my most amazing 1 bedroom vacation house, I walked into the new downtown area and found a Mexican restaurant that had been recommended to me. Fortunately I got there early because I soon discovered that it was 2 for 1 margarita night and by the time I left there was a huge crowd waiting to get in.

Since I'd spent the day in the car, I decided that a walk would be a wonderful thing to do so I wandered up giant hills and back down again, weaving through neighborhoods. It was perfect.

I thought about life and I thought about my book and I thought about a really interesting idea for another book. Seriously interesting.

Earlier I thought I might dive right into editing my manuscript, now that I'm on my own. Instead I think I'm going to spend the evening writing out my new idea. I don't want it to slip away when I go to sleep. A friend has decided to participate in Camp NaNoWriMo in August and I think I'm going to join her and this might just be a fun little distraction for me to work on. And editing takes a different kind of brain and I just don't think I'm there tonight.

My little home away from home.

17 June 2012

Safe and Sound

I've arrived at my destination after a day of solo driving (some 670 miles). I've visited, been licked by enthusiastic dogs, slept, showered, interneted. Life is good.

Yesterday was an amazing day of seeing how beautiful this world is. From the exit through the Columbia River Gorge Scenic area to my descent into Helena, damn, there's some beautiful country. I don't know that I want to "Get Lost" in Montana as so many billboards advised me to do, but I'll definitely enjoy myself while I'm here. And Idaho? You should really talk to your agent or your PR person because from what I saw you are fucking beautiful.

I arrived in Missoula around 5pm and decided to hang out for an hour or two, eating and wandering around  before the last 100 miles. When I stopped for lunch I asked a couple friends for recommendations for a place for dinner and where the two lists overlapped, I dined. I ate at Old Post which was a great bar with wonderful beer and the most amazing fish tacos I've ever had. (In full disclosure, I've never had fish tacos before...but they were amazing!)

As I walked around Missoula, enjoying a lovely evening of sunshine and big, blue sky, I thought, "I probably wouldn't complain if I was forced to live here." I took many lovely pictures and walked along the river before forcing myself back in the car for the last stretch.

Today is another beautiful day and I'm looking forward to breakfast and further adventures.

10 June 2012

Easy Like Sunday Morning

This morning's clouds are scattered with blue and lit with a brightness that just might contain some sunshine. There is a busy day ahead of me (as it's the last non-working day before my road trip) so I'm really enjoying this quiet time in the library with a cup of coffee and the steady tick of a clock. Time does not feel rushed...yet.

This past week has been full. The majority of my time not spent at work has been about pre-trip errands and graduation stuff. And when it hasn't been that it's been about reading books (I have two assignments to finish by the end of the month) and rewrites.

Tuesday I spent an hour on the phone discussing and brainstorming with my critique partner. There is one last problem (and it's a significant one) I have to work out. It won't change the heart of the story, but it provides a very important context for the reader. We brainstormed several ideas/solutions and in the end I thought of something that just might work. We hung up and I went outside to see what Zelda was up to and the idea began to put down some roots started to grow. Partly because of time and partly because of choice, I haven't worked on my revisions since then. But what I have been working on has been really promising. I'm making some smart choices and I've really been able to get the characters back to where they should be.

This whole process has taught me so much about writing and about reading. One very important lesson that I've learned is that you will never fool a smart reader.

The past few weeks (and I'm pretty sure I wrote about it once before) there has been great discussion about Story. It's a theme that's been recurring in my life over the past month. Story is king. Story rules all. You can have the best characters, the best dialogue, the most clever sentences and brilliant prose, but if you don't have story, you don't have anything. Readers (and writers) need story.

There's been something passed around the internet this week that was absolutely perfect for all this Story talk. Before I had a chance to pass it to my critique partner, she sent it to me. It's the 22 Rules of Storytelling According to Pixar and it's got 22 useful things for any writer/storyteller to consider.

Soon I will be traveling and I imagine my characters will tag along on this journey. It's been too long since I took to the road and I'm really looking forward to the time in the car listening to good music, watching the world pass by, and letting my thoughts wander. Until then, I've got a few things to check of my To Do list...

02 June 2012

Down to Business

It's the first day of my four day weekend and even though I was awake at 6am, I didn't care.

My morning has been spent taking care of life's little details (bills, errands, birthday breakfast with my littlest bro) and now I've got two hours until a lovely afternoon with the loveliest ladies. We will enjoy pedicures, take-out, booze, and a movie that will certainly make us laugh.

Life is good.

With these two hours, I am going to get started on the revisions, for reals. I am going to take the big leap and see where I resurface.

I've been giddy with anticipation all day.

Due to OS issues, I lost having Word on the Desktop...which is much easier to edit on, what with its GIANT screen. But this week I got my new copy of Microsoft Office and so I'm super excited to be able to do everything on one computer rather than double Mac-ing it like I've been doing.

Here goes...

Double Mac

29 May 2012

Getting Back

Time has been that illusive mistress.

My week has been so busy and it's been seven days since I had any real time to work on my manuscript. Last week I did manage to take 8 pages of notes for all the things that make the story great and that need work to make the story even greater.

I rewrote the first two pages because I just couldn't stop myself and ended up writing one line that just makes my heart sing I am so proud of it.

I've made myself a new Holden/Jezebel playlist that is comprised of songs that make me think of them and I listen to them when I'm out walking or at work or driving around. It helps me stay connected to them and gives my brain a chance to work through their concerns even when I don't have time to sit down and get the actual words out.

Just a few more days of this and then my holiday weekend arrives and I have four work free days to spend writing, hanging out with friends, and running a few pre-road trip errands because mid-June is going to be here in but a blink of an eye. (Don't blink!)

I'm really looking forward to getting back to it.

22 May 2012

Diving in

The rains have returned and I hate to confess it, but there's a gleeful little part of me that is absolutely delighted. Beautiful days can be a writer's curse, especially in a part of the country that is wet and gloomish for a greater part of the year.

5 days ago my manuscript returned to my doorstep and as it was collected from the mailbox, I (literally) dropped everything and sat down to read the evaluation and then I went through the manuscript itself, page by page, to look at the specific comments. 2 hours later I woke up adrift in a sea of emotions and starving.

It was an experience like nothing else. I took A LOT of writing classes in college and a few post-college. I've been in writing groups before. I've been given positive and constructive feedback many, many times before.

But there's been no other project that I've poured so much time into nor invested so much heart.

I was in a place with this manuscript where I just didn't know what to do next. I knew that there was still work to be done, but I felt a little lost, unequipped to make the kinds of tough editing decisions that I knew were going to need to be made. It's the curse of character. My characters were real (and though it became clear that while Holden does shine on the page, Jezebel doesn't quite come across the way I see her). I love spending time with them...too much time and too many pages.

What's absolutely amazing, is that I now have a clear vision of what kinds of things I need to cut, what kinds of things don't really move the story along. Yesterday I was listening to the Nerdist Podcast and Chris Hardwick was talking to Tina Fey and he asked her if she'd like to do another screenplay and she said yes and then proceeded to talk about how much she's learned, especially from 30 Rock, how important story is. Tina talked about notes she got regarding the screenplay for Mean Girls from the studio and how they kept saying, "More story!" and she didn't really understand what they meant at the time.

I think I've fallen into that same problem a bit myself. SWHOT is definitely a character driven piece. You need to understand and care about what happens to these characters...but that doesn't mean I don't have to make tough decisions about scenes to cut in order to support the greater good. Story is very important. Some might argue it's the only thing worth paying attention to.

There was one aspect of the manuscript that's bothered me from the beginning of the entire writing process for SWHOT and that's Jezebel's history. I changed it completely between the first and second draft and now as I begin the third draft, I have an incredibly tough decision to make. I have a plan for how to fix the problems with her history should I decide to keep it the way it is. I have a clear vision for how it can still work and how I can integrate that into the entire manuscript.

Or I can change it.

And there's a pretty good option on the table that would work well with the characters I have and their needs and motivations and it would serve the story.

I just need to decide.

As you'll see from the photo, I've got a notepad where my plan is to break down the "pros," the what needs to stay, and the "cons," what definitely needs to go. I'm also considering rewriting the first chapter from scratch with Version A and then again with Version B. But I told myself I'd wait a full week to begin any actual writing.

During most of my downtime my brain has been storming up ideas and solutions.

This critique was exactly what I needed to see the finish line. One of the greatest reassurances from the praise and the criticism, was that the "writing is really strong." I figure as long as I have that, everything else is an easy fix.

Armed and ready