16 November 2014

Making Word(s) Count

Sunday mornings are my favorite writing time. The house is quiet. The coffee pressed. A fire dances behind its glass cage. The sun filters in through windows, brightening walls. My headphones are bringing me songs to make me think, to make me feel, to make me sway my head or tap my feet. Sunday mornings feel like they are made from time so full of potential.


That's how many words I've written in the first half of November. I'll be honest, not all of them have been easy. In fact, some of them have been pretty damn painful. But I've written every single day. Some days it's in the 500 range, others it's as high as 3,000. I usually build myself in 2-3 days of extra words so that if something comes up, I can take a day off without falling behind. I haven't had to do that yet. Taking a week off to write and run away to the Pacific was certainly a good choice. The last couple years my schedule didn't allow me that luxury.

It's amazing what you can do if you give yourself the time. November teaches me that lesson over and over again.

I know there are entire chapters written simply for word count. It's highly unlikely they will make the first round of edits as I start looking at words with a critical eye and I'm completely okay with that. I look at this month as more of a brainstorming/practice time. When it comes time to edit, that's when I'll dig through to see if there are any hidden gems. And the truth is, if the only new scene I keep is the one in which Holden figures out what Jezebel's name is, I'll be satisfied. This latest version is hands down a million times better than any other version I'd written before.

I have no idea what the rest of November holds for me. There will be more words. More surprises. More challenges. And I will welcome them all.

Sometimes the most important part of writing is walking.

02 November 2014

Starting Over

There are so many reasons to love November. The extra hour, birthdays, Thanksgiving, the first chills of winter with their excuse to build a fire, NaNoWriMo.

I set out on my first NaNoWriMo journey five years ago yesterday. I had no idea what I was getting myself into at the time. I only knew that my writing life had stalled and I needed to do something to kick it in the ass.

It worked.

I wrote some 53,000 words. Some of them brilliant, some of them terrible, all of them worth it. That first manuscript is tucked in a filing cabinet and will likely never be revisited. It was an exercise. It served its purpose. It taught me I could do it. Maybe someday I'll dig it out and see if there's something in there worth mining for, but I doubt it.

The next year I started a very different kind of story, featuring two characters who came to me quite clearly, Holden and Jezebel.  They demanded their story be told.

I love them both so dearly, but I have struggled and struggled to get their story right. I know who they are. I know what they mean to each other. But how do I wrap that up in a strong plot? How do I tell their story?

I write and I write and I write about them and I study the craft of telling stories and every time I think I want to give up and lock their manuscript up in the filing cabinet with that first novel, I come to the same inevitable conclusion.

I can't.

In July I participated in Camp NaNoWriMo and other than a few chapters from Holden's point of view, I wrote the entire month about Jezebel's history, where she came from, how she got to be the way she is at the start of their story, about where her journey needs to take her.

I spent October taking a novel writing class and working through some of the issues of my manuscript. As each day passed and the start of November grew ever closer, I struggled to know what to do about NaNoWriMo.

Write something brand new? Take the month away from Holden and Jezebel?

Or keep telling their story. 

There are so many problems with the existing manuscript, the one that has evolved countless times over the last four years. I've often thought it would be easier to start over from scratch.

Yesterday, I did just that. I started over. I wrote three scenes containing 100% new words, 2,901 of them. There are some pretty big changes and there are some subtle nods to the original. The only thing that hasn't changed is the friendship between Holden and Jezebel.That will always be the core of both their stories. One can't exist without the other.

Today begins another writing day, one that I hope will be as productive as yesterday. I'm nestled into my favorite writing chair with a mug of coffee, a fire burning, an emotionally evocative soundtrack, and an extra hour of morning.

12 October 2014

Pitching is For Baseball

They say (some poets) that April is the cruelest month. For me it has long been October. Some would guess, knowing I work retail, that I would feel that way about December. The truth is, I love the chaos of those holiday days, where everything is fast paced, where there's nothing left to do but ride the wave all the way back to the sandy shore.

October is a different beast all together. It's all the work with very few of the rewards.

It's a necessary evil with pretty colors on the trees and crunchy leaves under feet.

Historically, October is not a good month for writing. I let it go for extra hours at work and for some extra hours at home, knowing that NaNoWriMo claims so much of my free time come November.

But this year I decided to do something different. Probably because I'm insane.

I'm taking two classes.

The first is through the University of Iowa, which has one of the best reputed MFA Writing Programs in the country. The class is called How Writers Write Fiction. There are weekly video classes and weekly assignments and lots of message boards to engage in. I'm liking it, but I'm not loving it.

The second is called Crafting the Kidlit Novel and it's definitely geared more to the market I'm writing for. This class has truly challenged me, which probably means it's good for me.

The bulk of what I've worked on during the first week has been pitches. And I absolutely suck at it. I even suck at doing pitches for books I've read. I am absolutely terrible about describing books in a sentence or two. I'm awful. It's a skill I currently don't have and one I clearly need to work on.

Working on a dozen different pitches for my work in progress (WIP) really got me thinking about conversations I have with customers about books. I recommend books a lot. Not quite every day, but definitely most days. Usually I get them to tell me about a book or author they loved, and then I can find a book they might like and simply put it in their hand. If they ask me what it's about, I'll ramble on for a minute or two, trying to stumble on the words that connected what they were looking for with what I gave them. But even that isn't easy for me.

After several lousy attempts at my own, I don't feel any closer to getting a good pitch for my WIP than I was three days ago.

But I'm also not ready to give up. I feel like this is a necessary struggle.

10 August 2014


"It's no wonder that truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense." Mark Twain

It's been so quiet around this blog that at night you can hear the crickets chirp. And I think that's okay. Crickets really are quite lovely and remind me of lovely things, like sleeping with the windows open, warm nights, swimming pools, the way the grass feels under bare feet. I'm a big fan of summer and this has been a great one.

June-->July-->August has been a lot about traveling and a lot about writing. I started in the Midwest, touring North Dakota, Minnesota, and a bit of Canada. More recently, I've been at the Oregon Coast and exploring more local haunts. I logged a lot of miles in the car, spent time visiting family and friends, and kicked off Camp NaNoWriMo.

I've been doing Na(tional)No(vel)Wri(ting)Mo(nth) every November since 2009 and have "won" every year. They started doing "Camp" a few times each spring/summer as a way to participate on a smaller scale and at a time that might be more convenient. I had a friend who was really interested in doing it and wanted someone to do it with so I agreed to sign up.

I have to say, it is A LOT harder to commit to that much writing time when the outside world is so very inviting and when you are doing so much traveling.

I gave a lot of thought to the project I wanted to work on. I've had a few story ideas percolating in the back of my mind, but the more and more I thought about it, the more I knew I needed to continue working on one I'd already begun.

So this summer was a return to the story of Jezebel & Holden, two characters who've been with me for the last four years, two characters whose story I've been struggling to get right.

A couple months ago I passed around some work-in-progress pages to a few critique partners for feedback. While it got me excited to rewrite in earnest, it also showed me that I was still struggling with some of the same background issues with Jezebel's character I'd always been fighting against. There were too many problems I still hadn't solved.

As July 1st approached, I realized what I needed to do, what I needed to work on more than anything else, was figuring out Jezebel's real story, what exactly happened to bring her to the where the story begins. I had to go back to move forward.

So I wrote 50,000+ new words in which I explored Jezebel's life Before. They were more a series of short stories where I asked myself a question about a particular event in her past and then wrote about it. Some of these were tough questions. Jezebel didn't have a particularly pleasant childhood.

I had some serious, major story breakthroughs that gave me some answers and some directions and a great deal of understanding I just didn't have before. I did also cheat and write a few of Holden's scenes and another scene from a character who is central to the story, but whose voice I'd never heard.

Camp NaNoWriMo, though it was painful (and at times exhausting) to sit myself down in a chair and write, proved to be exactly what I needed. I'm really grateful and glad I did it.

August has brought me back to editing and rewriting. I've been spending time rereading Wired for Story by Lisa Cron, asking myself some important questions as I try to finish this novel once and for all. It has been a slow, careful process. I'm getting a few new pages ready to send out for critique and am hopefully on a better track these days.

2014 Camp NaNoWriMo

06 June 2014


It's been several weeks since I had the time, the space, the motivation to write a blog. There has been so much going on in my life. We bought a cute house that suits us very well and left a home we'd spent the last nine years in. It's been an interesting time, to say the very least.

I've learned a lot about myself through this process. I am the kind of person who needs a place to call home. I moved around quite a bit as a kid. By the time I was in 4th grade I was on my 4th elementary school in three different states. This last house was the longest I'd lived anywhere in my entire thirty something years.

To be honest, I didn't think I was ever going to be able to leave it. I didn't think I wanted to leave it.

But it was time and it was right so we packed up our life of nine years and moved the eight blocks over to our new house. And within 24 hours we were unpacked and I was home.

And it surprised me how quickly this new house felt exactly like home.

So I've been thinking and remembering.

I am adaptable. While I may not always welcome change, it's usually not that hard for me. I make a home wherever I am. As long as I have the people who love me, the walls don't matter. The cliche is true. Home is where the heart is.

And now that I'm sleeping through the night, now that I have a porch with a comfortable space to write and a cup of coffee, I'm ready to look forward. I've got writing to do, and lots of it.

I've run out of excuses and the odds are in my favor.

I have time. I have vacation coming up over the next two months that will give me the extra time and space to do what gives me the greatest joy.

You see, there is a part of my home that is simply me. And sometimes it's me with my fingers tapping against the keys, eyes on the screen, imagination running wild. 

Home Sweet Home

09 May 2014


There has been a tremendous amount of life happening in my world right now that has kept me from sitting still for too long...or at least still enough to write. That's been rough and I've missed it so very much. But I've stolen few moments this morning before racing off to an appointment to get a few words and thoughts recorded.

I've read two books in the past month that have to do with letters. The first, was Jenny Han's new YA To All The Boys I've Love Before. It's about a high school girl who, when she's decided it's time to be done with a crush, writes an honest, heartfelt letter to the boy and then seals it away in a hatbox, giving her closure for her feelings. Someone discovers the letters and sends them to the boys. What happens next is funny and sweet. It is a book with honesty, humor, and wisdom.

Earlier this morning I finished Jojo Moyes' The Last Letter From Your Lover. This one is centered on the story of Jenny Sterling and Anthony O'Hare and their star-crossed love affair. The story starts in the 60's and then is picked up again in 2003. Moyes has such a gift for telling stories that inhabit not only your imagination, but also your heart. I don't know how you could read one of her novels and not feel it as if it were your own. I'm left with a bit of an emotional hangover that I think is going to follow me around all day.

About half way through Jenny Han's book, as I was sifting through the artifacts of my earlier life that had been long buried in the office closet, I stumbled upon a letter in my own handwriting addressed to a boy who had once, rather long ago, ruled over my heart. I had no recollection of writing the letter. I pulled back each fold until the letter was open in front of me and was brought back to those days of my 14th year when I rarely thought of anything aside from this boy.

I couldn't help but wonder why I decided not to send this letter.

There were plenty of other letters I did send and as I sifted through boxes and boxes of letters and cards saved from high school, college, and even after, I found many replies from all the boys I'd written to over the years. There were some from lovers, some from friends, some from friends who wanted to be more, and some from unrequited loves, those boys who stole my heart and never even knew how much I cared.

The truth is, I miss letters. In these days of social media and email, they have become a rare treat. Some of those correspondences from my teens and twenties are counted among my most cherished possessions. I think about what they mean to me now and I wonder what they will mean to me in another twenty or forty years.

I've written before of the letters my grandpa wrote home during WWII and how he gave them to me a few years ago. I value those as if they were great riches. And now that he's gone, they mean even more. They're probably the reason why letters are such an important part of the novel I began last November.
A letter unearthed from my late grandfather, who was an inspiration for my most recent manuscript.

23 March 2014


Lately, it has felt like there hasn't been a whole lot to say and so I've kept quiet around these parts. Life has been full of distractions, some interesting, others not. The weather has thrown some lovely days our way and it's been nice to take some time to enjoy it, even if it's only a few minutes here, a walk to the store there.

If nothing else, I have, in fact, been doing a lot of walking.

I've found it's a good way to clear my head from many of the stresses it has been obsessing over.

I find the fresh air feels good in my lungs.

I like the time to think about things like story and character. Last night I was out walking alone, without company and without music, and I was thinking about this novel I've been working on for so long and then a mother yelled out my character's name at her son, and I had to do a double take because it's not a name you hear everyday and I needed to check and make sure it was real, that it wasn't all in my head. What magic it would be to manifest your characters into physical form!

Walking is also a good way to catch up with my husband after a day spent independently. It's a way to talk and to listen.

It's a time to feel sunshine on your face, or the bite that often accompanies a cloudless night.

It's an excuse to see a college jazz band and have a hand-crafted cocktail on a Thursday night.

It's a lovely way to take in the rapid rate of spring's constant changes.

It's a way to take in the world at a pace you can reckon with and lately that's been exactly what I've needed.

I have yet to determine what this particular day will bring me, but I have a few hopes. The sun is already bright in the sky. I have some ideas for how to make my novel stronger. I have a cup of coffee and a few pages left of an amazing book.* I have the whole day to spend as I choose, balancing the  obligations and the dreams.

I find myself feeling, if nothing else, hopeful.

*The book I'm talking about is by Leslye Walton and is titled The Strange & Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender and it is so very lovely...magical realism set in Seattle about three generations of women, their lives, their loves, their sorrows...it has hints of Isabel Allende and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I HIGHLY recommend.

Cathedral Park, beneath the St. John's Bridge. One of my favorite walking destinations.

03 March 2014

Another Place, Another Time

I recently finished reading Rainbow Rowell's forthcoming (July 8th) book, Landline. It is about a TV comedy writer, Georgie, and the strained relationship with her husband, Neal. They had plans to go to visit his mom for Christmas in Omaha when Georgie chooses to stay behind to prepare for an important meeting to pitch the TV show she and her partner have been working on since they were in college. In the book, Georgie goes to her mom's house and uses an old rotary landline to call Neal. The catch? This phone doesn't reach present day Neal, but rather the Neal from Christmas 1998, during the week they nearly broke up forever.

The book got me thinking about time and relationships. What would it be like for present day me to pick up a phone and find the person on the other end not just in another place, but in another time?

Who would I want to talk to? If I could be present day me and they would be historical them? I think of those people in my life I've loved and lost and can't help but imagine what it would be like to go back and say some of the things I always wished I could have said, to ask some of the questions whose answers have long eluded me. Would I do it? Would it help?

Maybe that's why I like writing fiction. Nothing I write is really autobiographical, though I can see glimpses of myself in my work. The words come from my brain, my perspective, my experiences, my thoughts. In writing I can explore those kinds of questions about relationships, about ideas. I may not have a magical phone that will let me call up someone fifteen years ago, but I have an imagination that will let me pose questions and speculate answers.

But if I had a magic phone that could call the past? Would I use it?

Yes. If the person on the other end didn't know I was calling from the future, I really think I would.

Would it be wise?

I guess that depends on who I called.

23 February 2014

Teenage Daydream

I went for a long walk last night, hours after the sun had set. I put on some headphones, selected a playlist I'd made over a year ago and put one foot in front of the other. I walked past a high school and saw some boys hanging out on a picnic table, listening to music of their own. Out of the blue I was overwhelmed with a memory from my own time in high school. It was a night that felt quite similar, the air was cold, the sky open. I was walking alone. I had gone to see the school play. I can't even tell you which one it was. It's funny the kinds of things our brains hold onto and the kinds of things it lets go. The memory that hit me so hard, so fast, was one in which I ran into the boy I had an epic crush on at a time when I was least expecting to. I came around a corner and there he was, right after I'd been thinking about him. It felt like magic, like it was meant to. We talked. And like always, he left me wanting for more than our few words. I went home, wrote about it in my journal, and fell asleep dreaming of him.

For the rest of my walk it was hard to escape my teenage self. Further along I could hear laughter over the sounds of my music and I looked to see where it was coming from and saw a bunch of kids out in the front yard of a house, running around and goofing off. It made me smile and drew me to other memories and other emotions.

I've been thinking a lot about books, about why I'm drawn to the kinds of books I'm drawn to, why I read (and write) so much YA. I recently read Jojo Moyes new book One Plus One (which sadly for you, doesn't come out until July) and while it didn't affect me in the same way as Me Before You) it was still emotionally resonant even though I have very little in common, at least on the surface) with any of the characters. I'm currently reading a MG (Middle Grade) novel (which is a genre I read maybe 1-3 books a year). This book is hitting a very different emotional nerve that links back to a much earlier part of my childhood than I usually think about.

The truth is, I like all kinds of books about all kinds of different things. But the books that pull me in again and again and again are the ones with compelling characters who have interesting stories to tell.

I tried writing several other novels, writing pages, a few chapters. I even finished one manuscript. But it wasn't until I started writing about high school that I started to truly feel like I had something I wanted to say, something that I needed to say. I still feel that way.

I read two books in the last week in exchange for sleeping.

11 February 2014

Sometimes Life Doesn't Give You Mashed Potatoes.

Holy {bleep}! Wow, I knew that it had been a long time since I had written a blog, I just didn't realize it had been quite that long. The path from January 7th until today, February 10th has been a long and not exactly pleasant one. I survived the holidays and made it to my "Christmas" holiday and had an absolutely amazing time visiting with friends, eating amazing food, and walking miles and miles and miles along the Oregon Coast. And then pretty much upon returning home and feasting upon Thanksgiving in January (though it was with a definite LACK of my ABSOLUTE FAVORITE: MASHED POTATOES), I fell ill.

Really ill. So ill that I went to the doctor (gasp!). It took two weeks for me to begin to feel like a human being. And now, another week later, I'm not quite myself, but I'm much better. That little Winter Blast the last few days, transforming Portlandia into Icelandia, didn't do me any favors.

But I'm here now. And I've found myself with an hour to spare and a cup of coffee. It feels right.

I've had so many thoughts, so many ideas about what I want to do in my writing and in my life.

And now, on this gray, desperate, February day, I am committed to making time to transform those thoughts and ideas into action.

Wish me luck.

I am tired of using this amazing laptop for work work. I want to use it as a tool in full support of my imagination.

And I'd still really like some amazing mashed potatoes. With homemade gravy. I guess I'll have to work on that too. 

I've been obsessed with my new favorite app that transforms photos into watercolors.

05 January 2014

Writing home

For more than a year I have been searching for a new place to write near home. One within walking distance. A place with good light and nice people. It had to have comfortable chairs and enough tables that I didn't have to worry about fighting for a place. The coffee/espresso had to be of a certain quality. And there had to be options for real food, not simply a pastry. It had to be clean. This proved to be a bigger challenge than I ever anticipated in a town like Portland and a neighborhood like mine.

Around a month ago a new place opened up across the street from Starbucks. This would the 4th coffee place to open up within the distance of a single city block. (I had been able to find faults in the other three). It is, rather fittingly called the fourth estate coffeehouse. From the first time I walked through their door, I felt like this could be the place for me, the place where I could sit and write and think while drinking (and occasionally eating) delicious things. There is bright light from windows. There aren't any fluorescent lights. In fact, there is a skylight above my table that balances the light just right.
In short, I think I'm falling in love.

I am able to write at home and I have a great space in which to do that. But writing is so often a solitary pursuit and so it's nice to get out into the world where unpredictable things happen, where you can watch two people navigate the waters of a first date, where you can watch the newspaper reading habits of someone else. You can observe the gentleman who always holds the door open for others. You can wonder what that other laptop people are working on. Is it Facebook or a brilliant novel?

Over the past week, I have been slowly reclaiming my life from the grips of the retail holiday season. I have slept, I have read, I have cooked and eaten good food. I have watched movies and gone for long walks. And now, I dive back into writing to see what is worth pursuing from November.

I didn't talk a lot about what I did for NaNoWriMo, but I will tell you that if I can do it right, it's going to be a tough and beautiful story. A story of friendship and a story of family...in all the forms it takes. For the first time in my life, I wrote a scene that made me cry as I wrote it. I've heard other writers talk about this, but I'd never before experienced it. It was, at once, both awesome and terrifying.

I'll confess I am a little nervous to see what I wrote, but I finally feel ready. I feel the time is now.

My fourth estate Stumptown latte.

01 January 2014

Starting the New Year Right

I've heard it said that you should start the new year doing the things you'd like to do all year. So far, I feel like I'm off to a great start.

I've slept in, read, made coffee, tried a new recipe for breakfast, and am sitting down at my computer to write the first words of 2014. I also have some lovely things lined up for the rest of the day. And I get to spend the entire day with my favorite person.

So far 2014, I'm a big fan.

2013? You brought some good times and some heartache. Overall, I'm grateful for the time we had together. You taught me some important life lessons, reminded me how important it is to have fun and to take the time to do the things that make your heart sing. I'm lucky to have had the time we had together.