Monday, January 25, 2016

Who's Counting?

I suppose I shouldn't be so excited but I wrote almost 500 words yesterday. When I realized this, it was exciting for some reason. They were 500 hard words. It took a while to get them on the page.

For the first time in weeks, weeks with no computers, weeks of guest, weeks of sickness, weeks of exhaustion, I was able to sit down and write 500 words.

I stared at the story for a while, reading and wondering how I was going to get out of the doldrums that I felt like I was in. Then, I simply started moving things around, adding things, clarifying things. I have the most complete NaNo novel ever and it is more like an edit but I've got to connect quite a few dots before that happens. I'm working on two story lines that have to converge soon and it is tedious but thanks to Scrivener's Collection features it is a bit easier to work with than it would be otherwise. So 500 words feels like a thousand.

Were they good words? Yes. The fact that they were words appearing on the screen, in a logical sequence that drew pictures in the brain makes them good words. The fact that it took me forever to get them on the page means they were hard words. 500 good hard words. Awesome.

Usually, I don't do a word count when I'm working like this. NaNo is really the only place I keep track. But I've decided to change things up a bit. I've been reading some really great writing books that have given me some new ideas to keep me moving forward and thinking differently about the story.  I read 2,000 to 10,000  before Christmas. Eye opening ideas on getting the most words in a shorter period of time. I've taken a few of her ideas to heart and they work. I want to read it again soon.

Currently, I'm reading Martha Alderson's Plot Whisperer. I bought this over Christmas as a gift to myself. This book is heavy. I wasn't sure I was going to like it but now I realize that there is so much good stuff in here that I have to read it twice. I'm making notes in the book as I go and once I'm done I want to go back and read it again, using the method to work on my story. I'm already thinking about it in the terms she uses but it is simply too detailed to jump into all at once. As a pantser, plotting isn't my strong point so I'm hoping Alderson's book will be a revelation to me. So far, I'm not disappointed.

I also have a third book on character development I got for Christmas I would like to start next. I don't have a problem with my characters. They're usually very well defined but one never knows too much.

I wish I could have written more than 500 words but they're great words.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

A Writer's Chicken Salad

When I'm writing, I like foods I can munch easily. Once I get the muse talking I hate to shut her up just because I'm faint with hunger. I've had times when I was in the flow and gone without eating so long I became ill.

So, to appease this fickle daughter of Zeus, I try to find edibles I can access quickly, with minimum prep time so I can get back to work. It is easy to fall into a habit of reaching for unhealthy stuff.

Since I retired, I've tried to make changes in what I eat that won't mess up my lab numbers. I still grab junk food but I've started buying things that are better for me and fast. I like sandwiches for that reason but processed meat is not good for you.

I'm also limited on what meats I like. I like ham and salami but not turkey or baloney. My grocery store stocks a wonderful chicken salad but that thing cost the earth. Just a pound cost more than $8. That will buy lunch at my favorite Mexican restaurant, including the drink and tip!

A few weeks ago, I needed something and after scrounging in the cabinets and refrigerator and finding nothing fit for mortals, I found Sarah's canned chicken. I never cared for canned chicken but I bought it because her other grandmother told me when Sarah is at her house, she loves to eat it.

So, I went back to the cabinets and fridge and scrounged some more, racking my brain trying to remember what they put in that wonderful salad at the supermarket and wondering if I had that in my larder. Turns out, I have better stuff than they used and it taste better than the store version. The important thing is that it's healthier than Reese Cups, and it's fast. I can be back to the desk in under 30 minutes.

And now, I'm sharing my receipt with you. Enjoy and get back to writing.

A Writer's Chicken Salad

Prep time: 15-20 minutes


1 12.5 oz (354 g) can *Great Value Chunk Chicken Breast-Or brand of your choice. (chop fine)
1/2 cup diced celery*
1/2 cup Ocean Spray Craisins*
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/2-1/3 cup *Mayo or dressing of your choice (amt needed for desired consistency) 
Lettuce, I prefer a blend to enhance the flavor.
Favorite bread

Mix well. Store in an airtight container. 
This will make about 4-5 sandwiches. 

* Notes:
*Chicken: I used Great Value Chunk Chicken Breast from Wal-mart but you can use the brand of your choice. Yes, it is still processed meat but without nitrates. You may find a healither version. You may use fresh grilled, roasted, or fried checken and shred it. I take a chopper and chop my canned chicken rather fine because I don't like chunks. It makes a smoother spread that way. I'm going to eventually try a Sam's Rotisserie chicken. Remember, if you're cooking, it adds to the time and expense.

*Celery: Don't worry about waste here. It stores amazingly! When you get your celery, take it apart, wash it thoroughly and dry it, and wrap it tightly in Reynolds Wrap (or a cheaper foil if you prefer). I mean really wrap it well. I use two sheets and press it all around the bundle. Now, store it in your crisper. It will keep for weeks. YES! It will. I've had the stalks in my fridge now for over three weeks and it still is fresh.

*Craisins: You can substitute red grapes for the Craisins. I like both but Craisins have their own health benefits.

*Mayo: You could substitute Ranch Dressing, Miracle Whip or something else. Don't use Lowfat anything.  They have a high sugar content.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Who Remembers?

I hear it all the time. Different voices but the same question. When are you going to publish a book? "I don't know."  I can't stop writing new things. Before I'm done with one, a new one presents itself.  I have notebooks of ideas that came and went as well as those novels.

Over the years, many things would interfere with writing but I never stopped, not really. Marriage, military, children, school, work, and now illness have all sown tares in my writing life. I do not regret these things at all. I have had a relatively wonderful life.

Now I'm retired, what every writer dreams of, and should be able to write as much as I want. Reality is seldom what you dream.  In my case, health has become a bigger hinderance than any of the others. I'm doing better these days but it has been difficult for a long time. This National Novel Writing Month I wrote what is probably the best story I've ever written. I've stunned by it and that just doesn't happen. However, the overwhelming task of finishing a book after you've been away from it for a while is hard to cope with, but I'm working on it. And the romance returns slowly.

Today, I picked up one of my favorite books. The Poems of Longfellow. It is a book long out of print that I bought at a used book shop that has since burned. I bought it to replace another copy given to me by my step-father when I was no more than 10 or 11 but lost in a move many years ago. That copy was old and had not been cared for as the covers and title page were gone when I got it. I read my favorite Longfellow poems over and over for many years until I lost it. When I found this copy in that bookstore it was like finding a long lost relative.

Today, I opened it up and the yellowed pages fell open to a poem I've never read. There are many in the book. Longfellow was prolific. Of course, I read the first poem I saw. It is about a French poet by the same name. I've never heard of Oliver Basselin. I've never read his poetry. Longfellow apparently knew of him. The poem spoke to me in an unexpected way.

Oliver Basselin
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

In the Valley of the Vire
  Still is seen an ancient mill,
With its gables quaint and queer,
  And beneath the window-sill,
      On the stone,
      These words alone:
"Oliver Basselin lived here." 

Far above it, on the steep,
  Ruined stands the old Chateau;
Nothing but the donjon-keep
  Left for shelter or for show.
      Its vacant eyes
      Stare at the skies,
Stare at the valley green and deep. 

Once a convent, old and brown,
  Looked, but ah! it looks no more,
From the neighboring hillside down
  On the rushing and the roar
      Of the stream
      Whose sunny gleam
Cheers the little Norman town. 

In that darksome mill of stone,
  To the water's dash and din,
Careless, humble, and unknown,
  Sang the poet Basselin
      Songs that fill
      That ancient mill
With a splendor of its own. 

Never feeling of unrest
  Broke the pleasant dream he dreamed;
Only made to be his nest,
  All the lovely valley seemed;
      No desire
      Of soaring higher
Stirred or fluttered in his breast. 

True, his songs were not divine;
  Were not songs of that high art,
Which, as winds do in the pine,
  Find an answer in each heart;
      But the mirth
      Of this green earth
Laughed and revelled in his line. 

From the alehouse and the inn,
  Opening on the narrow street,
Came the loud, convivial din,
  Singing and applause of feet,
      The laughing lays
      That in those days
Sang the poet Basselin. 

In the castle, cased in steel,
  Knights, who fought at Agincourt,
Watched and waited, spur on heel;
  But the poet sang for sport
      Songs that rang
      Another clang,
Songs that lowlier hearts could feel. 

In the convent, clad in gray,
  Sat the monks in lonely cells,
Paced the cloisters, knelt to pray,
  And the poet heard their bells;
      But his rhymes
      Found other chimes,
Nearer to the earth than they. 

Gone are all the barons bold,
  Gone are all the knights and squires,
Gone the abbot stern and cold,
  And the brotherhood of friars;
      Not a name
      Remains to fame,
From those mouldering days of old! 

But the poet's memory here
  Of the landscape makes a part;
Like the river, swift and clear,
  Flows his song through many a heart;
      Haunting still
      That ancient mill,
In the Valley of the Vire.

I don't know that a stone will ever mark my residence for posterity. A book may never be on the shelves but I've shared my words with many people. So maybe someday, when the bookstores are burned, today's books are out of print, when the movie stars and politicians are all dead, maybe someone somewhere will remember my words.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Gone Too Long

I hate this time of year. This is when I have to spend weeks convincing myself that I am a writer. I do it every January.
In general, after the insanity of National Novel Writing Month, Thanksgiving, followed by Christmas, and New Year I'm pretty wiped out. It takes me weeks to get back into a writing mode, much of it spent berating myself for my inadequacy, cursing my RA, and generally feeling rotten about the whole mess.

The last several months have been exceptionally frustrating. First, I had my NaNoWriMo, a month of writing madness, fun but stressful because in the middle of that is Thanksgiving, which I spent in Atlanta with family this year. So add travel and four days away at the home stretch of NaNo. About two weeks later my son, his wife and two children blew in and we were six in the house, plus dog and visitors. They left the day after Christmas and two days later, Sarah's mother came to visit so Sarah could meet her baby sister. She stayed until the 4th of January. Sprinkle in shopping and just visiting and you have a whirlwind holiday season, during which time my RA was raging.

But I'm not done yet. In the midst of all that, actually the first two weeks of December, both computers died. So, the best NaNo novel I've ever written languished on a disc. Thank goodness for that foresight. You can find details in other posts during that time. I think I whined a lot.

My new laptop showed up on December 24, when no one is going to be writing, even if the computer was ready for it. It took me another three weeks and two tech support calls to get it writing ready. Then I got the call to start a new job.

Well, shoot.

At last, yesterday I sat down with All That's Holy on Blue's screen. Yes, that is the name of my new laptop. The last one was Red. The new one is a pretty shade of blue. I was so excited I even bought a new mouse with a blue geometric design on it and a blue mouse pad.

I got Sarah off to school, got dressed for work, and sat down at the desk. I opened the file and put the story on the screen. I froze and stared at it and couldn't figure out what to do next or where to start. I was suddenly overwhelmed with the scope of the thing. It was a terrible sensation.

When I recovered a bit I decided to print it out to review it and see if that helped. So, I printed it and took one look at 183 pages of chaos and lay it carefully on the corner of the desk. It was 9 a.m. I went to work.

When I came home the pile was waiting. I ignored it and decided later that evening would be better for me. I don't know what I did the rest of the day. However, after getting Sarah to bed last night, I cranked Blue up and pulled up the story and was again overwhelmed by it.

I realized I'd been gone too long. I'd let the story sleep for over a month and despite everyone saying this is what you should do, it was the worst thing I could have done! My brain simply felt dazed at the thought of working on it. I'd kept writing after NaNo until the laptop blew up. Then I'd moved to the desktop and two days later the hard drive failed. Then, holidays and a full house hit me. So, from mid-December until mid-January, I had been unable to sit down and write. And now that I was raring to go... the car wouldn't start.

I don't know how long I stared at the screen; it could only have been minutes, but at some point, I began to read. The words rolled around in my head and images formed. Sights, sounds, and smells filled my head. Faces took shape. Gradually, I fell in love again with the characters, the place, and the story. I started adding things here and there. A scene was in the wrong place and I moved it. I saw one POV that has to go. Some scenes need to be cut, expanded, or added.

Something called me back to the present. I didn't want to return but I had to go to bed.

But... this morning, I'm packed and ready. It is a long trip. I've missed Whitehaven, Nick, and the king who goes barefoot in the palace. I want to see the hidden caverns of the Host. And I want to know how it all comes together.

You know, I have been gone too long.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Tell Me the Tale

Your Grandmother died and your Aunt Mary asked you to come and help clear out the house. When you get there, she is working in the attic. She's sitting on a stool and rummaging through a huge trunk and invites you to take the other stool and help her. 

The first thing you pull out is an old manila envelope that appears to be filled with papers. You dump them out and a legal-looking document and several photos fall into your lap. The photo at left is the first photo you pick up. 

You turn to Mary and ask her about it. She glances at it and pales.

So, tell me the tale.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

The Beginning

At last, the first blog post of 2016. I'm actually relieved to be writing it. I kept wracking my brain for something to write but couldn't come up with a thing. I finally decided to just jump in and sink or swim. You'll have to be the judge.

The new computer arrived the day before Christmas and as of today, has everything I need loaded and ready to write. It feels very odd on several counts. I feel as if I don't know where to start. I've looked at my novel a few times in the last week but it felt foreign to me. Proof that you shouldn't leave a work in progress to lie fallow. I'll get back into it but I suspect it will take some hard work to get the creative flow back.

I also am missing my faithful Red. That was the laptop that died. The new one, named Blue, is nice and functional but everything is unfamiliar. The keyboard feels better but I've missed my lighted keys several times. I hate the number keypad. And all the insert, delete, home, PgDn, PgUp, and end keys are in a ridiculous place and I can't find them. The mouse pad is larger! I hate mouse pads of any size. This one doesn't disengage when I plug in my wireless mouse and so I'm getting errors in my typing every time I type. Yes, I tried to disengage it. I know how and it says it is but each time I start up the system, it resets. Then, there is the screen. I hate shiny screens. My old one had a great screen and everything was very clear and sharp and there were no reflections. This one... not so much. I'm telling myself that I only need it to write. That's it. And it really is a beautiful shade of blue. I do like the blue.

This is the first Christmas I actually got gifts related to writing. I loved it! I got a new writer's book for Christmas, Character, Emotions & Viewpoint, along with those lovely inspirational paintings my daughter-in-law made for me. The paintings are hanging in my den and I'm constantly imagining my certificates, degrees, and NaNoWriMo winner certificates surrounding them. I need to paint the room and get things back in order now that the holidays are over. The writing bug is gnawing at my brain.

As a treat to myself, besides the gift of Blue, I bought two other writing books I've been wanting: The Plot Whisperer and The Writer's Thesaurus. I'm about halfway finished with the Plot Whisperer. That is a good book. I will probably have to read it twice to really get the full benefit but already I understand some things I didn't before about plot.

The last of my Christmas guest will be leaving on Tuesday and after that things will settle down to more normal routine. I hope. I've had a wonderful holiday with all the family here and I am so glad they could come. But I'm ready for the holiday to be over and life to calm down.

I leave you with the hope that your new year has begun with great joy and excitement and promise. Keep writing, no matter how difficult it gets. When pain gnaws at you, let your mind build worlds filled with interesting characters who each have their own story to tell.

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