So you can write…you can write beautiful words that wrap the reader in some kind of memory, or make the reader imagine something new.

You can craft language that can make someone weep…or laugh aloud. Or reread the words, or cut them out and put them up.

You can write. But can you do it for a sustained amount of time?

I can’t, not really. I can write the odd wonderful paragraph. I can compose a short story that *might* be Great. But, what I really want is to be a novelist, and that is a different animal altogether. It’s the long-distance run that I am wanting to finish; the sprints are, in the end, no longer satisfying.

New Year’s Resolution #2: Finish the novel, for Crikey’s sake.

The trouble with criticism.

December 28, 2006

I love to write, and I love to share my writing with folks I think will like it.  And I usually ask them what they think of a particular piece, but here’s the rub: I don’t really, REALLY like to be criticized.

I just admitted this to myself.

A good writer has to be open to criticism, I think, particularly if they are asking for it, as I do.  But it’s just so defeating to give someone a writing sample, and to get back from them, “Huh.  I don’t get it.  Maybe you should develop this a little more.”  Or even worse: “Hmm.  Where are you going with this?  Do you even know?”  I think I dislike this question, because the truth is, I probably don’t know where it’s going.  I may not really know what it is I’m trying to say…I just want the reader to go, “Wow, I really like that character.  She is real.”

When I recieve criticism, I’m thinking “Oh, you mean you wanted a plot?  I don’t know if I can deliver.  But look at this great line, and look how I described the tension in the room.  Isn’t that good?  Doesn’t that suffice?”  Apparently not.
Recently, my writing group gave me some very good feedback regarding a short story I wrote.  I knew (and know still) that it was great feedback, and that I was lucky to have it.  But on some level, I felt utterly depressed afterward, because I realized that often my writing is for me alone and isn’t in any kind of shape to be shared.  It took me a couple of weeks to look at the piece again, to think about the comments I’d received in regard to it, to decide which of the suggestions I’d take, which I’d discard.  And it took me a while to understand that sometimes writing is good just for writing’s sake: the more you write, the better you write.  Not every single sentence must be a candidate for the Pushcart Prize or some other literary award.

New Year’s Resolution #1: Stop taking it all so seriously.

Keeping secrets.

December 28, 2006

I just finished reading While I was Gone, by Susan Miller. Quick outline of plot: a woman in her 50’s is happily married with 3 grown children, when she runs into someone from her bohemian, wildish past. She goes through a sense of unease as she’s reminded of this past and as she finds herself attracted to this man from it.

The central theme of the book seems to be the self-examination of one’s life and how your actions impact others. What I got from the story was that sometimes a secret really should be kept a secret. The main character, Jo, ends up confessing her attraction to the man from her past to her husband. She did not have a physical affair with him–but she did think about doing so…in detail.

I had a hard time liking Jo. I found her to be self-indulgent, even cruel in her attempts to be honest with her husband. Is it virtuous to share these kinds of feelings with your significant other? I don’t think it is–not when the outcome is so much pain, distrust, disappointment. It seems to me that the burden of the secret is the price the unfaithful should have to bear for their crime.  To unburden oneself by laying it on an innocent party is just, well, rotton.

Susan Miller does write beautifully. At one point, she writes a sermon for one of the characters to give…it’s a moving and thought-provoking piece of the book. For this part alone, the novel is worth reading. You may feel, as I did, some frustration with a sense of repitition in the novel–the language is lyrical in a way that makes you feel that you’ve already read certain passages (particulary where Jo is examining her feelings about the past and her role in it).

My recommendation: go ahead and read it, if you’ve got the time.


Writing: An affair.

December 26, 2006

I think that writing is like falling in love…you start, a little tentatively, and you have such high hopes and a well of enthusiasm. You only show your best self–no walking around with an oatmeal mask on your face.

For me, starting a piece means staying up, excited…thinking about what I want to convey, the characters, what they look like, how they talk, where and when the story is unfolding. I sneak into the computer room at odd hours to jot down a paragraph; I remind myself of someone illicitly phoning a lover. I catch myself daydreaming about my story. I’m like a fool in love.

And then. Reality. The rose colored glasses are ripped off, the birds stop singing…I see the underbelly of my love for writing.

Writer’s block, skewed plot lines, grammar, tenses, inconsistencies, and zzzzzzzz…boredom…it all begins. I start in like a wronged girlfriend, “but you used to be so exciting. You used to be fun and refreshing. What happened to you?! Was it all a facade?”

The honeymoon isn’t over, but sometimes I feel like my writing’s started wearing the dreaded oatmeal mask.

Merry Christmas.

December 24, 2006

I mean it: Merry Christmas! Not “Happy Holidays” or “Seasons Greetings.” Not “Happy Winter Solstice,” either.  Nope.

I wish you an honest-to-goodness Merry Little Christmas.

Gift etiquette.

December 21, 2006

I was listening to a radio talk show yesterday, when a woman called in to comment on the topic at hand: Holiday etiquette and gifts. I listened, dumbfounded, as the woman and the show host agreed that if you are given a gift you don’t particularly like, it’s okay to say to the giver, “Thanks for thinking of me. Perhaps I should exchange this gift, if you don’t mind, for something I’d use more often.”

Can you imagine?  Can you?  I mean, am I wrong in thinking this is…wrong?

We’re not talking here about gifts that are duplicates or are the wrong sizes…we’re talking about gifts that you don’t like because you didn’t hand pick them out for yourself.  So you were given a book about Germany, and you would rather read about Peru.  You know what? I think you should go ahead and read about Germany, because the point of a gift is that it’s about the giver as much as the recipient, and if they think there is something interesting about Germany, well hey, maybe there is.  Gifts open us up to new experiences and interests because we did not pick them out ourselves.

So if you are reading this and you get a gift from me this year that you’re none too thrilled with, let me assure you that under no circumstances is it acceptable to do anything at all but smile and say “thank you.”

That’s it. Simple, really. Good manners usually are.

Twenty years later.

December 20, 2006

In 1987, Sue Grafton started her “alphabetical mystery novel” series…A is for Alibi, B is for Burglar…and so on, and she has now come to the letter S. I purchased S is for Silence (the 19th book in the series; I’ve read them all) with not a little anticipation.  Nineteen books, one book a year=twenty years.

I feel I know the main character, Kinsey Millhone. I have a picture in my head of what she looks like, and I can hear her voice when I read these books.  When I spied S is for Silence in paperback at Costco, I was game.

So it was with surprise that I did not enjoy this book. What happened? Same character, basically same style.  What’s happened is that it’s twenty years later, and I’ve changed so much in those twenty years that I no longer really like this kind of writing.  The series was great when I was younger, but it is too simplistic and trite to work for me now.  What was once comfortable has become, well, too comfortable.  Yawn.

I realized this with a bit of regret.  I like being devoted to a particular author and series.  But…if the author, the author’s writing, and/or the series don’t evolve with you…if the characters don’t “grow up” as you mature, it becomes stale.

Note to my writing self: real people change, fictitious people need to change, too.

My recommendation: read it if you’re a long-time Grafton fan.  Otherwise, take a pass.

It’s happening.

December 18, 2006

Well, it is happening–I’m officially getting old. Today I actually berated someone over the phone for “poor customer service” and then complained for half an hour about it to anyone who’d listen.
Me: I can’t believe people these days. What happened to The Customer always being right? People just don’t care anymore. Nobody cares about doing a good job. (scowl)

Polite Listener: Mmmhmm. (They say “mmmhmm, but they are thinking “you sound just like my crotchety old grandmother.”)

I don’t know when it happened…this sensitivity of mine to not being treated well by operators, clerks, salespeople. I turned to my husband after my unsuccessful phone call and he smiled. I used to let it roll off me–little things like this–but I’m getting cranky.

I distinctly remember being 21 and working for an insurance company. Folks would call up and complain about their claims being denied, or their paperwork getting lost. I’d think to myself: geez, get a life! It’s Thursday…only one day ’til the weekend. Woo Hoo! Par-ty!

Now I’m that complaining adult on the other end…ugh.  I don’t like it. (scowl)

Some personal faves.

December 15, 2006

I thought it would be fascinating for you, dear reader, to see what a few of my favorite websites are.

Just kidding. You probably don’t care…and that’s just fine, but here are some anyway.  Drumroll…in no particular order:  —> obviously. I tried other blogs, e.g., vox, blogspot…this one worked best for me. It’s easy and clean, no ads on the pages…I keep finding new ways to search, and I’ve found a great blog community here. —> I dunno. I keep coming back to it. I’ve tried other email, but I like this. —> to read reviews of books prior to buying them. —> to get a job, or to sell just about anything. —> if you write for a living, you already know this site. If you want to write for a living, you’ve got to go here. —> for writers; a great index of various publications that take submissions, includes information regarding pay and response times. —> I just have to say…I LOVE THIS SITE. Really cool makeup reviews. If you are into makeup, you’ll love makeupalley. If not, don’t go here, you’ll be bored silly. But, for me…makeup is a habit I indulge in on a regular basis. I review everything I wear on makeupalley and I read reviews of various cosmetics and skin treatments prior to purchasing them. —> this is a website showcasing your most celebrated celebrities who wear outrageously ugly clothing. This site amuses me.—> same concept as gofugyourself (see above), but with an emphasis on terrible plastic surgery on the Hollywood set. —> lists hundreds of companies and how to dial your phone so that you can actually speak with a human, bypassing the automated voice system. —> you may or may not know this about me, but I know almost every single Golden Girls episode by heart. I don’t really understand why, but the show has a tremendous appeal…it cheers me up. Bea Arthur is my favorite “girl” and I like her in general. I go to this site often to see what she’s doing and in the hope that she’ll come to the Bay Area. I’d love to go see her. –> oh, how to describe? McSweeney’s Internet Tendency…a great site for the literati, or for you if you like to be amused. —> take a look if you are into contracting/writing. A great resource for freelancers. —> a list of common errors in English usage. A resource for writers, and also for every American…so much of what you thought was English isn’t. —> for the inner Catholic in me, this is a resource on how to pray the rosary, etc. Very informative. —> great fonts database. —> you can create your own merchandise here. Pretty cool. –> an easy place to look up various child behaviors and get a quick synopsis of how other parent’s deal with them. —> when we went through our home remodel, one of the trickiest things was findinga reputable dealer for granite. If you have granite in your home, this is such a wonderful resource. So many people mistreat their granite without knowing it—this is a user-friendly guide to help you keep yours perfect.

Okay, so there you have it.  There’s about 100 others I go to frequently, but I thought I’d randomly throw some out there.  What are your favorites?

A Christmas Tradition.

December 14, 2006

I’m one of those people that think I can do everything, anything, even in the face of a stressful event.  For instance:  my husband had a scheduled surgery this week.  Even knowing this, I went ahead and agreed to do things I’d have a hard time completing even on the most easy week.  Add Christmas shopping and all the Holiday stuff you do this time of year and you’ve got one crazy, stressful week.  Well, maybe not YOU, per se…but ME.

Stress…my personal Christmas tradition.