Remedial Novel Writing — Lesson 1

Or How to Write a Novel When You Have No Idea What You’re Doing

Remember last December when I crowed about having written a novel? I am officially an expert now, so pay attention, any of you who are not connected with the writing business in any way, shape or form. But everyone else follow along with the lessons, as I bring my novel into best-seller-dom (best-seller-hood?).

Raise your hand if this has ever happened: you are at a party and for lack of any better conversational topics (or maybe it’s just insecurity-induced anxiety) you start to tell stories about your crazy family. At the end of a particularly unbelievable* story about your grandmother, her cats and the Cuban gardener she has imprisoned, your listener says, “You should write a book!”

“All the time,” you say!

“Well, what’s stopping you? Write the damn book already!”

“What’s stopping me,” you say, “is I have no idea how to write a book. I mean I can tell a funny anecdote under the influence of a glass of wine or three, but write a book?”

We all have stories to tell, and word on the street is that everyone has a book in them, but not everyone actually has the skillz, and of those that do, only a handful actually become best sellers.

But don’t let that stop you! I sure didn’t, so follow along with me and I’ll get you all ready to participate in the next NaNoWriMo way ahead of the game.

Step 1: Write a novel.

This is the easiest step, so no whining here. That’ll come later.

lamottquote
source

I had a general idea of my story and named some of the characters — random name generator is awesome — before I started, but apparently even that is not necessary.

Open the document software of your choice (I like Google Docs), sit down at a typewriter (use Google images if you don’t know what that is) or grab a pencil and some paper.

If you need structure and a deadline, write your novel in November with millions of other people and win a fantastic certificate that you can print out at home if you manage to churn out at least 50,000 words in said month. Oh, and a cute little badge for your blog.>>>

Do not worry about coherency. In fact, according to author Anne Lamott, every first draft is a shitty first draft, so there you go. I used that reminder in a footer on every page of my (shitty) first draft. [She writes this somewhere in Bird by Bird.]

After typing (or handwriting) “The End”…

Step 2: Put your novel away

Yes. Backup your files, put your spiral notebooks in a safe deposit box, whatever, but DO NOT LOOK AT IT. For at least 4 weeks.

If you wrote it entirely in November, this is pretty easy because you have done nothing to prepare for any of the end of the year stuff that happens (i.e., buy Christmas presents, finish your end of the year work projects, clean your house, etc) and you will not have time to even contemplate reading it. But you can brag about being a novelist at holiday parties without lying.
That’s enough for this lesson. Come back in a few days for Lesson 2 so I can tell you what else you should be doing while your novel is marinating.

*95% true. Seriously.

Boxes

img_20170118_133419010

I enter my basement and survey the job at hand. The air cool, the light dim and the concrete floor hard, the cast offs of life not yet cast away taunt me. Now in my late 50s, I have entered downsizing season with both excitement and trepidation.

Drawing from lessons learned from various decluttering TV shows, clean your house/free your mind blog posts and pinterest entries, and my own brief experience as a professional organizer, I will start with the easy. Grab a trash bag and dispose of any obvious trash. The garbage bags full of packing peanuts to donate to UPS? Take them to a UPS store. Same goes for the box already destined for Goodwill. Well, don’t take it to UPS, they don’t want it, but you know.

Find more things to donate. Maybe sell some things on eBay. Or not. Determine which cans of paint have been hanging out on the shelf in the back for longer than 5 years and take them to the place discovered two years ago that takes old paint.

But what about those boxes on the top shelf, covered in the dust from the kitchen renovation done 5 years ago? They’re so carefully labelled: Old Letters, Scrapbooks, Laura’s Artwork–4 years old. There are only two options for these. Keep. Or throw away.

I take them down and sit on the floor, surrounded by the musty smell of old cardboard. The power radiating from the contents takes my breath away.

I loved and have been loved. I have the tangible proof. Pictures lovingly drawn by the hands of my children saved proudly in boxes now gathering dust. Inviting insects? Ssh, don’t even suggest it. If I throw them away, will they think I don’t love them anymore? That I am not proud of their work?

Love letters written to me by boys and by men. Boyfriends, my husband, my father and grandfather. I was worthy of their love. See, it’s right here in black and white. If I read the letters again will I find my lost youth? Will my worth vanish if these scraps of paper are carted away to the landfill?

I know the answer to those questions and still I want to hold on.


It’s Not 2016’s Fault

Trending on twitter today: #2016In4Words. After perusing more than a few tweets, the sentiment is that you either hated everything about 2016 or you loved it. There doesn’t seem to be much middle ground, and for many of those I follow on twitter and am friends with on Facebook, “Worst Year Ever” seems to be the consensus.

Sure, there was a lot not to like about 2016, especially if you are not a Trump fan, and I count myself in that group, but I am not about to let one man ruin my entire year. (If you feel like Trump’s win makes it the Best Year Ever, the jury is still way, way out on that one, so you can stop gloating now. It’s not a good look.)

Sure, a lot of famous people died this year, some expected and some not. Prince, George Michael, Carrie Fisher, y’all are in the latter group, and we are truly sad. Beyond sad. But people die. If you google “celebrity deaths 2016” the world lost many sports figures, entertainers, politicians and more, and each of them will be missed somewhere by someone or even lots of someones.

If you are Syrian or refugee from anywhere, then yep, probably worst year ever. The same for those who were victims of violence. Put down the weapons, people!

I understand bad years. I had one of my very own worst years ever a couple of years ago.

Shit happens.

I’m not denying that bad things happened this year, but I do take issue with those who have so much and still put on their fanciest Chicken Little costume and proclaimed that the sky is not only falling, but it has fallen, lying shattered on the ground. Get a hold of yourself. You are going to be okay.

God forbid, but y’all could all be saying the same thing about 2017 in 12 months time.

Look, I’m not Pollyanna wearing rose-colored glasses. I’m just not going to jump on the 2016 Misery Bandwagon. I want to choose happiness when I can, choose kindness and love over hate always and pray that the world will choose peace. I know that last one is a tall order, but someone has to pray for peace on earth; someone has to champion peace on earth.

You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.

~Maya Angelou

Resist the Urge

nakedtree

December can be a crazy time of year for people because coupled with different holiday traditions (pick your’s), it’s the end of the year. Students have projects and finals, business people have deals they want to finish by year-end, and well, I’m sure there is a lot more stuff, but I don’t really have time to do the research. I still have Christmas shopping to do, menus to plan, gifts to wrap and parties to attend and, well, you get the idea.

On top of all the busy-ness, I have always had a deep-seeded hatred of winter. It’s the time of year when I would be happiest curled up under soft blankets with a book or watching a movie, sipping on hot chocolate and eating multitudes of Christmas cookies and candies. Oh, yes, add a dog or three sidling up next to me so that we’re all cozy together.

Even living in the southeastern United States is not enough to overcome the desire to flee to some mythical warmer clime, sipping umbrella drinks on the beach, warm ocean water lapping at my toes. But I Must Resist. Fight that urge.

Jolted back to reality as I look at my naked Christmas tree, half-emptied boxes of decorations strewn haphazardly about and wondering what to bring to a pot-luck tomorrow, I take stock of my blessings, ground myself in the present and resolve to enjoy this time of year because I have so much to be thankful for and life is too short to run away. The grass is never greener.

 

 

 

 

Guest Snooping

During the holidays, there are plenty of opportunities to see how you measure up to everyone else what with parties, potluck dinners and gift buying. Even if you don’t celebrate a particular holiday, you may still have occasions when you visit a friend or family member’s house and you need to use the facilities.

I think it’s pretty normal to use someone’s bathroom when you’re visiting and take a peek into their medicine cabinet. Just to see what’s what. If you restrain yourself, congratulations, because that’s the right thing to do. But when you’re locked in that little room, haven’t you been given carte blanche? If they had something they didn’t want seen, shouldn’t they have taken care of it before they invited a bunch of people over? And how else will you know how you measure up?

I may or may not have ever done this in my life. Temptation probably did get the best of me when I was younger, but now, meh, who cares?

But what if you are visiting overnight? Over the Thanksgiving vacation, my husband and I were invited to stay at our son-in-law’s dad’s house. We accepted the invitation because they are great people, I wouldn’t have to cook and our new grandbaby would be there and if we wanted to see her, well, we had to get to Tennessee.

Thomas’ dad is a bachelor who lives in a rambling two-story house with four unused bedrooms, three of them with attached bathrooms, on the second floor. It’s like a bed and breakfast where you hardly see the owner and breakfast is a pop tart and coffee.

Roland and I are assigned the bedroom with no windows because we have proven that we are able to wake up in a room without any signs of daylight creeping in as the signal for a new day. It’s pitch black. Probably illegal as a bedroom since there is no second exit, but never mind that. The attached bathroom is accessed down two dangerous looking tile steps and in the middle of the night, can only be located with a flashlight.

What’s that? Leave the bathroom light on? That ruins the pitch black atmosphere that one really almost never experiences. Two nights of sensory deprivation can be therapeutic and restful.

When you are staying overnight, the no looking in the cabinet rule can be broken for two reasons. Looking for that extra roll of toilet paper. You could be in a compromising situation and are not expected to search out the host to ask where he or she keeps it (unless of course you don’t find any under the sink or linen closet). The second exception is to look for a hair dryer. Now that I’m thinking about it, there might be more reasons. You need a band-aid or Tylenol. Really, just snoop away.

Another feature of this bathroom is the wide array of toiletries, despite the minimal use of said room. Face cleansers, shampoos and other hair care products, body washes found on both the sink counter and inside the shower. These items were out in view, so no snooping necessary and I brought my own preferred stuff so I left them alone other than noting the sheer quantity.

Except.

bighairExcept on the counter stood the tall red can with the black top. You, too, can have Big, Sexy Hair this product proclaimed. You know what I’m talking about. Hair products that give you big, sexy hair. Now, I’m from Texas, so I know me some big, sexy hair, but it’s never happened to my own straight, fine hair. Alas, that’s the second reason people don’t believe me when I say I’m from Texas, the first being that I allegedly have no accent.

Nevertheless, I was alone on Thanksgiving morning getting dressed when I decided that would be my day for big, sexy hair. I grabbed the can and went into the bedroom so I could more easily bend over at the waist to apply the hair spray to the underneath layer of my hair. Everyone who has ever tried to achieve big hair knows that’s how you do it.

I shook the can, bent over, flipped my hair and began to spray liberally. There was no hiss of hair spray, rather the spitting and spurting of … something else. I stood up and opened my eyes to see that I had been spraying volumizing mousse which had mostly missed my hair and had landed like splats of snow all over a cabinet, my open suitcase and Roland’s leather briefcase. The windowless guest room took on the feel of a panic room as I grabbed a hand towel and began to wipe up the mess, hoping the dots on the briefcase would fade.

After the frantic wiping, I returned the red can to the counter, put my blouse on and went downstairs no one the wiser because … no big, sexy hair.

Dear Mr. Trump,

First off, congratulations on your victory. The battle was bitter and hard fought, but you prevailed despite all signs that you would not, so well done. I would like to be able to give you a chance and to discover why the 62,686,062 people that voted for believed you could do a better job than your other opponents because I can’t believe that many people hated Hillary Clinton that much and saw you as the better candidate. How could that many people be so blind to your panoply of narcissistic traits?

My husband, Roland, has encouraged me to read what the opposition to my choice, i.e., your supporters, have to say, and I would like to, but much of what I see in their rhetoric is so abhorrent and divisive to me that I find I cannot. I have been able to listen to some of whom I will call the “wiser minds” on the right side of the aisle. But during the campaign, many of those wiser minds told us that they saw too many red flags they could not support you themselves. Guess you showed them!

Of course, the left has its own share of shrill, the sky is falling, all is lost and evil is running the world spokespeople. I’m pretty sure Keith Olbermann will not get a Christmas card from you this year, and it’s almost a certainty that there are others on the left that can match your group hate for hate. The right does not have the monopoly on intolerance. [Hey, Keith, I get it. I’m on your side, but sometimes you’re just a bit too much. Carry on. I’ll check in now and then.]

You and I do have one thing in common. Neither of us is that political. I mean, I have my opinions and all, but I don’t spend hours and hours studying the politics of the United States and the world. Of course, I’m not the president-elect of the free world, so there’s that.

I really do try my hardest to find the good in people, even you. But how does the Golden Rule fit into your world? Have you even heard the story of the Good Samaritan? What about second chances and the story of the prodigal son? Anything? The meek inheriting the earth? Not in your world.

No, you appeal to the worst in people and encourage your base to be, well, base. That it’s okay to be a hateful bully. Wear that identity as a badge of honor. Well, unless you happen to be a Muslim hateful bully. Nope, take that shit out of America, because we won’t stand for that.

Oh, I meant for this to be a congratulatory note and my tone has digressed and devolved into something else. I was taught that if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. I’ll take a page from your book (your twitter feed?) and risk being impolite. It works for you, amirite?

Peace.

signature

P.S. For the love of God, appoint Mitt Romney as Secretary of State!

God’s Destruction … or Man’s?

gatlinburg-fire-2
source

Oh, God, You give us unconditional love and grace, and still you rain down fire, wind and rain from above, you shake the very earth beneath our feet. Why? Why? We construct our cities and towns on your beautiful land, in the mountains, by the oceans, on the plains. We construct our lives to do your work, to do the best we can for you, for those we love, and for those we have never met. Is this a test? Have we done this to ourselves, not being good stewards of the earth that you made for us?

Whether destruction by natural disasters or those wrought by the hand of man, the innocent will suffer, the innocent do suffer. When we have escaped the suffering, let us reach out to those who have not, who have lost everything. May those who have made the ultimate sacrifice rest now in peace.

Today’s post is inspired by the WordPress Daily Post Prompt Construct