End-of-the-Year Revision Madness!

Revision sucks. It sucks on a lot of levels. You know you have to do it to make your story better, but it takes so much doing, such incredibly close attention to detail and thick callouses on your heart. You’ll have to cut things that you loved writing, things you wanted your readers to know so bad, even things that you thought added layers to the story because it isn’t relevant and the trouble it’s causing is outweighing the good it’s doing. You’ll have to read through from beginning to end, searching for any tiny puzzle piece—a word or even an apostrophe—affected by the changes. You might end up deleting a whole hundred pages because things turned out differently than they did in your first, second, or eighth draft. Revision requires a fine-toothed comb and a machete. When you do it right, it’s exhausting, frustrating, and emotional—rewarding, too, but not until you get to the end.

Anyway, inspired by my lack of enthusiasm for the one goal I’ve decided to hold myself to this year (a finalfinalfinal revision of the book I’ve working-titled Halo), I’ve compiled this list of

5 Things I’d Rather Do than Revise Halo Again: 
  1. Write this blog post.
  2. Random exercises I saw my sister doing the other day. (She’s on Insanity, the workout DVD for people who are serious about maximizing their workout. Dig deep!)
  3. Wash the dishes. (This is how I know I’m procrastinating.)
  4. Pay attention to my poor, neglected kids.
  5. This thing where I hold onto the edge of the island in our kitchen and jump as high as I can using the counter for leverage. (The object of this game is to get my feet above the countertop without falling down.)
  6. Read anything I didn’t write. (Yesterday I read all of the comics my friend lent me and I just started The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. I’m crazy into it.)

My original 2012 goal for Halo was to get an agent by the end of the year. So far, I’ve managed to procrastinate long enough that achieving that goal is basically impossible (replies from agents can take up to two months), so I need to get this incarnation of Halo done.

I guess I should be an adult about this, buckle down, and get to work. After a couple more of these jumpy-things.


Afflictions Eclipsed by Glory

Most of you (assuming there are enough people who read this blog to split them into a majority and minority) know that I have two little boys who will be starting preschool over the next couple years. I don’t want to talk about what happened Friday. I don’t want to think about it.  I don’t even want to know that it happened, so I sure as heck don’t want to write a blog post about it.

Right now there's nothing I want more than to curl up with one of the comic books my friend lent me and get lost in a nice, brightly-colored alien war where little kids don’t get shot to death for no reason.

In the last post on this blog I told you writers can’t ignore or hide from the disturbing, painful, sickening things that happen in our world. The coward in me wishes I hadn't told you that because here are the facts: Babies are dead. Parents are dead. People across the country are sick, hurt, angry, and sad. We don't know what to do with this.

Friday night, my sister-in-law said, “I told [my son] that the world isn’t going to end this month, but now I don’t know. I don’t see why God wouldn’t just swoop down and take us all out.” A lot of my friends and family have been saying how much they wish the Mayans had been right about the date of the apocalypse. I’ve been saying it, too. Can you imagine what a relief it would be to be done with this whole mess? Unfortunately, the end of the world isn’t coming on Mayan Apocalypse Day.

"[God] should kill us all with an [assault rifle]," my sister-in-law said. "That would be appropriate, don't you think?" 

What my sister-in-law understands that some people don't is that we're all humans. If one of us massacres a hundred others, we all share the blame. I know it goes against the grain to admit that. Whenever some great injustice or tragedy happens, our first instinct is to separate ourselves from the perpetrator. To say, “This gunman was mentally ill. That dictator was power-hungry and sadistic. That group was part of a sect that practices a radical form of our religion mutated to fit their own beliefs. He/she/they are not like me.”

The truth is that gunman, that dictator, and that group are humans just like we are. We have the capacity in our hearts to as much harm as they did. You can swear you don’t or split this into a hundred different semantic arguments, but evil is in you the same as it is in me. It may come out in different forms, but none of it is helping make this world a better place.

The good news is there's something we can do. In the previous post on this blog, I told you that I didn’t know how to respond to tragedy or even the pain of living every day. You have to feel it, you have to face it, and you can’t hide from it if you want to be a writer. But now I understand that you can have peace in spite of it.

One of my favorite songs says, “If His grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking.” To me, that’s the real relief.


That Darn Moth Again

My friend's husband was shot to death by police last week in a "misunderstanding" that seems more and more senseless as more of the truth comes to light. The next day a friend from high school hung himself.

Before I found out, I was working on a post about how a Christian should respond to the engagements and marriages of their LGBTQ friends. Maybe I'll finish writing that sometime, but it seems so small now. Even things like who won the election seem small. Does it really matter who runs the free world when stuff like this can still happen?

It's true that tragedy has always existed, but we've never lived in a world where it's so easy to ignore. "No one wants to take the time to feel anymore. #fact" someone said on Twitter. They were right. Millions of people on the other side of the globe could be wiped out today, and if we don't want to hear about it, we can change the channel, webpage, or podcast. If it's our neighbor, relative, or friend who's been hurt or killed, we can drown the pain out with music, books, screens, drugs, sex, or any combination. As long as there's a distraction, we don't have to feel the pain.

The thing most people don't want to understand is that pain doesn't just come with death or tragedy. Every day hurts if you face it head-on. That's why when I run out of excuses and dead friends and personal tragedies, I'm still drinking. I don't want to think about how hard it is to live every single day.

This morning I caught myself wishing I could go back to Oak's last birthday party. It was fun, my whole family was there, and the only responsibility I had was to make sure everybody got a piece of cake. Nothing bad ever happens on those kind of nights.

Get ready. This is where I do that thing I hate of making distinctions between the different kinds of people who write, specifically between someone who writes books and a writer.

Someone who writes books lives in those memories where everything was fine and nothing hurt. Their stories are distractions from real life and they keep you from having to think about why it hurt so much in the first place. I usually think about this in relation to romances, but it holds true for legal thrillers, horror, pretty much any genre. A romance novelist can have six or eight series of books going at the same time. By the end of their career, they can have written a hundred or two hundred or a thousand books.

Writers...I don't think we can do that. This is where the requisite Holy the Firm reference comes in. A writer's responsibility is to be the moth, to fly into the candle, and to become the wick. Illuminate all of the pain and unfairness and tragedy, and by contrast, the beautiful things hidden in the darkness. "Which of you want to give your lives and be writers?" Dillard asked her class, trying to make them understand everything it would cost. Hobbies. Distraction. Naivety. Ignorance. Neutrality. Complacency. That feeling of content well-being. Peace. Rest.

This is a long and meandering post and I apologize for that. It's not going to circle around at the last second and answer the questions raised at the beginning. I'm sorry. I have no idea of the right way to face tragedy or to handle the pain of everyday life. I do know that you can't ignore it for your own peace of mind. The candle can only hold back the darkness for as long as the wick burns and the wick can only burn for as long as it's on fire.


Call It a Productive Day

I'm going to go play volleyball now.


Will Greene's Media Launch

What is a "media launch?" Basically, this: William Greene's Media Launch. Greene, a musician and writer friend of mine, is ready to release his first novel and musical album on the world, he just needs the backers to get the job done. He's got incentive packages if you'd like more bang for your buck than just an incredible book and killer CD. Or if you're a minimalist who doesn't want a physical book and CD there are digital downloads. If you're a patron of the arts who just wants to see good work on the market, you can donate. There's a something for everybody, even if you just want to put $1 toward the project. Like they say, every little bit helps.

This media launch is also an example of where the publishing world can go from here. We've all heard that the economy is crippling brick-and-mortar publishers, we've all said at one time or another that the overhead those major publishers have just to keep their doors open is the reason no agent or editor is willing to take a risk on a book that really deserves it. Bookstores these days are flooded with crap imitating other crap that sold well the first time around. We, the readers and the authors, have a chance to change that, to take control and decide for ourselves whether the books we want to read get published.

All technical and revolutionary stuff aside, though, I went to Pratt with Will Greene, read hundreds of pages of his writing, and listened to his songs (often on repeat). Will's talent for description alone will knock you on your butt, never mind his mimetic ear or his storytelling. As a musician he can cut you open, pour salt on your aching wounds, then leave you laughing. The book, Flip a Three-Sided Coin, and the album, These Days are the Old Days, are worth your time, your money, and your heart.



Lately, I’ve been restless. Swamped with this need to be doing something.

A fellow Midwesterner and writer friend would say that this is our region’s neurosis showing itself—that Old Church need to account for every second of your day and turn aside the implied guilt of idleness. I don’t think she’s wrong. Every time my dad calls, he asks me what I’m doing. When I say, “Nothing,” he says, “Why the heck not?”

In eight months I wrote a book, revised, revised, revised, wrote queries, got rejections, wrote better queries and mediocre synopses, got rejections, wrote stellar queries and improved synopses. Now I’m waiting. None of the stories, books, or ideas that I’ve played with in the meantime have really felt like something I could work on in that frantic, obsessive way that comes with a project you know you are going to finish. I haven’t really worked on anything in a month and that thing inside of me that swears not moving forward is the same as sliding backward keeps asking me, “Why the heck not?”

I understand the importance of time. When I lay my boys down for a nap, I know I have one hour or less to focus entirely on writing. That’s why I spend most of the rest of my day only half-here. My mind writes while I wash the dishes, works over sentences while I sing with the boys, figures out wording while I change diapers, all so I’ll be ready. Put the boys down, get to a computer, type until your keys smoke and your brain hurts. There’s never going to be enough time to get everything done that you wanted to, but go, go, go until the clock runs out. Maybe that’s why when I hit a dead period, all that forward inertia rolls right over me.

“Go, go, go,” my brain screams.
“Where?” I wonder.

This feeling isn’t unfamiliar.* When I finish working on a story, I usually have a night of uninterrupted sleep and a day of victory. The boys and Josh and I play, go for walks, talk, listen to music, watch shows, read books, live life completely in the present tense. My mind stays with me instead of wandering off to write so that moment when everyone is asleep and I can get to a computer is not wasted. For a little while after I finish working on something, I enjoy the relaxation that comes with being directionless.

But that sort of floating can only last for so long. I have another writing friend who insists that there are “inherent problems” with the present tense. In my case, I think he’s right.** Living in the present tense means facing summer when it’s summer and winter when it’s winter. Staying in for supper when there’s no money to go out. Not having shoot-outs or crazy sex or turning into a crow and flying away. To live in the present tense means to live in the real world and the real world, to me, is not that appealing.

Or, this need to accomplish something can be looked at from a spiritual standpoint. We were listening to a Mountain Goat’s song once when Josh asked me, “Why does everyone think it’s so hard to live?” My answer was that if you really think about your purpose in life, what you are supposed to be doing compared to what you’ve actually been doing, it’s hard to go on living with yourself. “I know it is for me,” I said, not meaning to needlessly worry Josh about suicide. If you do think about it, though, God gives us each a purpose and a certain amount of time. From there it’s up to us. Any failure is on our shoulders and any wasted time is our fault.

Feeling bummed out yet? Josh would say that’s a really depressing way to look at things and I guess I can see his point, but for me it’s the opposite. If I have a purpose, I know I’ll find my way back to it. Another story will come along and I’ll work on it in a dead sprint and lay awake for hours in bed trying to get a paragraph just right so that I can type it tomorrow. Time keeps moving forward, whether you use it or waste it, and that’s comforting to me. Besides, if I get really desperate, I can always write a blog post.


*I’ll take a moment here to preemptive strike back at the accusations that I’m committing a capital offense by writing that something is “not unfamiliar.” This is not the same thing as saying “irregardless.” I recognize this sensation and that I’ve had it before, but I honestly don’t have it often enough to call it a familiar feeling. It’s not unfamiliar, though, either.

**But to be clear: In writing’s case, I think anything is possible if it’s done right and I will never, ever change my mind about that.


Time for Him to Fly

It’s been about six months since I went to a visitation for one of my high school classmates. I’ve had lots of time to think over the experience, to try to understand it, and I think I’m starting to get a tenuous grasp on what happened and why it was so important to me.

I never felt like I belonged in high school. I wasn’t funny, pretty, or good at any sport. I was painfully awkward, the wrong kind of smart, and I looked and sounded kind of like a guy. High school for me was this ongoing fight to keep everyone else from realizing that I knew I had come to the wrong party.

So when I graduated, I didn’t look back. I did the college-on-the-coast thing and barely ever talked to anyone I used to know, even my best friends. I built my life—got married, bought a house, had two-point-five kids. I was far enough removed from everything high school that when Nick died, I heard about it from my sister, who spent more time around people from my class than I did. I didn’t cry. I couldn’t really even comprehend losing someone from the part of my life I cut off.

Driving to Shelbina for the visitation, I was nervous. I called my sister to see what she was wearing. I went back home and changed, then wondered whether I should go back and change again. When I finally got to the funeral home, I parked as far away as possible. I felt like I shouldn’t be there, that I didn’t deserve to be sad about Nick’s death. I had this irrational fear that my classmates would take one look at me and think, “What a poser. She hasn’t even talked to Nick since we graduated. Like she even cares.”

I tried to hide in plain sight the way I always had in high school. Be quiet, act natural. Pretend like you don’t know that you shouldn’t be here.

Then a strange thing happened while I was in the viewing line. Nick’s mom hugged me. She remembered my name. She knew I had two little boys. She said I had grown up into a beautiful woman. That shattered me. In the middle of all her loss and pain, she let me know I wasn’t unwanted.

An even stranger thing happened when I got to the crowd of my classmates beside the casket. They talked to me. It was as if we’d just seen each other a few days ago. We cried together, but then we laughed. Because this was Nick. He was the great equalizer of our class. There were weird kids and cool kids, jocks and band nerds—all of the usual high school designations—but Nick got along with pretty much everyone. While he was alive, he made us all laugh, sometimes until we cried or shot milk out of our nose. After he died, he made us laugh while we cried. As Cody put it, “I cried when I first found out, but all the way here, I kept remembering the good times we had and I couldn’t stop laughing.”

We stood up by the casket and remembered Nick-escapades. I thought about the freezing cold night at a football game when he pointed to where his marching band hat should’ve been and said, “Hat. Ha, ha. Get it? Because there’s not one.” Of Nick putting his plume in Vinnie’s sousaphone. The day he kept making up new sayings like, “We’re so good, if we were ice cream, no one would be able to stop eating us” and “We’re so tight, if we were clothes, no one could wear us.” The time in Fiber Optic Spanish when our teacher swore there weren’t any redheads with brown eyes and Nick got up in front of the camera and had us zoom in until she could see his eyes. The continuous stream of “dam” jokes he made as we crossed the dam on the way to Branson for our senior trip.

As we reminisced, I realized why this experience was so Nick. High school was unbearable, and probably everyone in my class felt at one time or another as if they shouldn’t be there, but Nick could make us laugh so hard that we forgot about our crushing inadequacies for long enough to feel like they didn’t matter.

On the way home, I turned the radio on and a song by REO Speedwagon was playing. Nick was the one who told me who the band was and what an REO speedwagon was. I turned it up and rolled down my windows and sang along and thanked Nick for everything he’d been to me and to my classmates. It hurts to say goodbye, but, well, you know.



New Years Resolution 2012

Or, "The View from February"

It recently occurred to me that I’ve been making respectable progress with my New Year’s Resolution and I haven’t even mentioned it on this blog yet. Most of my loyal readers (assuming there are any) know that earth-shaking resolutions aren’t my style. I don’t want to look back on January from the vantage point of my birthday and think “Man, I was going to lose five pounds, but then I learned how easy it was to make chocolate chip cookie dough with Bisquick.” (So easy, by the way).

I tend to make resolutions that are easily achievable—“Go outside at midnight” to combat my fear of the dark or “Have another baby” the year I was pregnant with Bear—or that reflect who I am on the most fundamental level. This year is a prime example of the latter. My New Year’s Resolution for 2012 was to use the phrase “classy as balls” more often.

What does that mean?
Literally, it means as stylish or sophisticated as a pair of human testicles.

No, what does it mean?
It means that part of me is a twenty-two-year-old male who is exactly as cocky as he sounds.

That actually explains a lot, if you’re my husband. Why I love the song Keasbey Nights by Streetlight Manifesto so much. Why every time a jacked-up truck with mud tires and no muffler rumbles by my heart goes crazy. Why I like Arrogant Bastard Ale and why on rare, wonderful mornings I eat barbecued hot dogs for breakfast.

The more I think about it, the more I realize that the twenty-something guy inside of me is also a serious white trash hick. Again, lucky for me. I’m faithful to the death to Ford. I just got a tat on the back of my right hand that will tell you everything you need to know about my beliefs. I say “worsh” and mean it. And the next time my husband starts to make fun of me for owning my cricker heritage, I’m going to point out that he chose to get a tattoo of a cross on his side. There is nothing more white trash, balls-classy* than that—except maybe growing up in Arkansas.

That got off-track fast. The point I was making at the beginning of this post is how well I’m doing on my New Year’s Resolution. The rules clearly state that I must use the phrase “classy as balls” in regular, everyday conversation in a way that is both relevant and natural. That means it can’t be forced and that my writing doesn’t count toward usage. So far I’ve said “classy as balls” seven times in as many weeks. I feel like I’m making progress. The going is slow, but by the end of the year, I hope to have used it at least 100 times.

To keep myself accountable, I’ll regularly update my readers on the running tally with a “CAB Count.” (By “regularly” I mean “whenever I write another post” which could be any time, really, and probably won’t be on any regular schedule.) And, of course, at the end of the year, I’ll be throwing a Classy As Balls Party, which will be everything it implies. I hope to see you there to celebrate my victory over sophistication.

*Permutations of the phrase “classy as balls” are acceptable if used in conversation and count toward the running score which is being kept officially on my whiteboard at home.


A Brief Treatise on Rules in a Developing Country

When you're living in a house that is currently under construction by your husband and you have two small children, you end up having to make rules you would never have considered otherwise like "No eating drywall pieces, carpet fibers or nails" or "The crowbar stays in the living room."

Making the rules isn't that big of a deal. We're parents and parents make ridiculously conditional rules all the time. (Just yesterday I told Oak there was no feeding Bear cell phones while I'm trying to make supper.) It's the fact that you can't make these rules up ahead of time that makes them such a problem. You have to wait until someone eats (or poops) a piece of drywall/carpet fibers/nails or chops through a newly painted wall with a crowbar before you even think to say it's against the rules.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that They (the kids) have the advantage in this game. All you can do is yell loud, run fast, and hope the renovations get done soon.