I Get Scared

Current status: Story spinning okay
Current status: Story spinning okay

I’ve been working on a new novel idea, and I’m doing it differently this time. (Hopefully I’ll elaborate on that soon.) At the moment, I’m a little scared. Do you get scared right before you begin your first scene?

I’m so anxious, my chest wall presses up against my sternum. It’s a little tight in there, like maybe my ribs have morphed into squeezing tentacles. A friend reminded me to have fun with this new story. But I’m still taking it all too seriously, probably because I want this fiction-thing to work out. I’ve been disappointed over the last year. Losing agent, languishing finished manuscripts, writing grant fini and day-job sucking at my creative marrow…

I can’t avoid the writing forever — and by avoidance I mean engaging in endless story-development exercises — because at some point the head of steam compels me to set words on paper. I feel uncomfortable and itchy, just gotta start. I’m at the teetering point now. I’ve been here before. The discomfort is familiar, and I’m thankful for that. I’ve worked through it before and will work through it now. 

This discomfort in a good sign. The story has almost completed its initial gestation period.

This discomfort differs from that I felt at the beginning of the summer, when I thought I’d never have another story idea. Now that’s the truly scary place! Glad I’m past that.

Cheering Myself Up

easterI’m sitting here on Easter Sunday, staring at a section of manual entitled “Target Settings.” I’m editing this section (fiction feels far away, needless to say), and I’m missing an annual Easter brunch with some of my best friends in the world, a couple of whom I went to college with and who know me well enough to know that I’m not there because things ain’t exactly right with me at the moment…

This is not to say that I’m forgoing all social activities this weekend. Yesterday, after five hours of work that didn’t lead to any forward progress with my many overly project-managed deadlines, I went to a friend’s house to dye eggs, drink, and eat. We consumed lilac-colored martinis made with Parfait Amour liquor. Yummy. I drank one too many.

That was good. I needed it. Not feeling tip-top right now, but I just now decided that I AM going to this same friend’s Easter dinner. I’m not going to miss both of my Easter Sunday engagements because of the work — no, no, no.

Dogwalking with camera in handThe thought of a traditional ham dinner cheers me up (as food usually does), and just now, staring at words like “configure” and “properties” and “redirection,” I got to thinking about cheering myself up in general.

Yesterday I bought an “anti-gravity” (i.e. reclines) chair for the deck so that I can sit comfortably out there with my laptop (or not) when the weather warms. I’m looking forward to this. I’m going to pot flowers too.

But right now, what? Blogging seems to be helping, actually. I’m glad to be here, writing this, blowing off the work for 30 minutes.

And what else? My camera. I remembered it a few days ago. Snapping pictures soothes me. Any mundane image will do. Here are a few other things that cheered me up this week:


Easter treats to share with friends
Easter treats to share with friends
Wildflower fields
Wildflower fields
New ring for spring
New ring for spring

One Manuscript, One Dog, One King-Sized Bed

Big enough bed for all of us
Big enough bed for all of us

Frankly, I’m delirious with exhaustion. I’ve set myself another one of those quick-reading goals during another one of my self-imposed writer’s retreats.

It’s not so much reading a 400-page manuscript in 48 hours that’s got me tired. It’s this task after multiple deadlines I had to complete before I took off. I get that way sometimes, where I gotta clear the decks. So, over the past week, I completed the current revision (goes without saying since I’m here reading it), dealt with my taxes (yikes), met a day-job deadline (hefty), and wrote the short story I mentioned in my last post (compulsive purge).

Trellis wishing for its greenery
Trellis wishing for its greenery



I’m not going to pat myself on the back until I finish this quick-read. One-hundred-fifty more pages to go before I leave this sweet little hotel room tomorrow. And then? Pleasure reading and sleeping and nothing else for a solid 24 hours! I have a light novel waiting for me. The latest Candace Bushnell, whom I’ve never read before. I already can’t wait.

This time around, I’m not splurging on a plush ocean-front view. However, I am lodged on the grounds of a pet-friendly botanical garden called The Oregon Garden. The Oregon Garden Resort opened in October, and it’s so fresh the breeze smells fragrant as a horse stable — all that manure and spring planting. Mmm, I love that smell. It comforts me, reminding me of the horsey girl I once was.

Luna's probably nibbling a little manure back there
Luna's probably nibbling a little manure back there

It’s quiet up here in the foothills, in the middle of nowhere. The Oregon Garden is a tourist attraction that never took off, so I suspect. That’s why this resort now exists with its great package deals. Last night I snuck into the gardens after dark. Frogs and gurgles and weird rustlings accompanied Luna and me. A misty half-moon gave scant light, and I bumbled around with a scaredy-cat thrilled rush, imagining bogeymen, while my dog stopped every ten feet to sniff at doggy delicacies.

But tonight, it’s all work, no play.

And how is the manuscript this time around? Better, much better! Last November, in the ocean-front room, I was mired down with uncooperative story threads. Also, possible new scenes, flow issues, and so on.

First arrivals
First arrivals

This time, I’m hiccuping on smaller stuff like awkward sentences and overused words/phrases. I’m amazed, actually. My story is growing up!

I’m an efficient quick-reader by now, and I’ve created a convenient shorthand. Underlining means come back to this sentence or paragraph because something ain’t right. “WW” means “wrong word,” as in: Is this the best I could do? Or, as in: You’ve already overused this word; get a new one. “Segue” means crappy transition or jumpy thought.

I’ll be up late tonight pushing this exhaustion to the max. But so worth it!

Writing Bliss

Just a pretty view, but what's that?
Just a pretty view, but what’s that?

Today felt fan-tabulous. I fiiinally started the story that I’ve been thinking about for eons. This story began its budding life with a title I liked…and then last fall a memorial bench in my neighborhood park sparked my interest.

A few weeks after noticing the memorial plaque beside the bench, I took these photos, which solidified my story idea. It’s been bugging me ever since. The piece felt difficult, however, because I wanted to challenge myself to create a story in which nothing much happens. (Sounds weird, but read on.)

A few days ago, I decided I’d best set myself a goal and get the darned thing written. The steam of it was about blow out my ears. Onto the page already!

What's that woman doing at the memorial bench?
What's that woman doing at the memorial bench?

I played my usual mind tricks: index cards, daydreams with notebook open at my side (and a few zzz’s thrown in for good measure), jotted notes in a blank Word file.

Then today: Ten pages, baby! There’s something too delicious about fresh words on fresh pages.

Closing in...Oh my, she's cleaning the memorial...
Closing in...Oh my, she's cleaning the memorial...

Don’t get me wrong, I love revising, but revision is quite the analytical process for me. Pure creativity like today’s is bliss.


The story consists of three scenes: at home, to the florist, to the memorial bench. I wrote two of them today. It never ceases to amaze me that a whole world can exist within a basic, maybe even boring, framework.

...for a boy, I imagine her son...
...for a boy, I imagine her son...

I’ve probably mentioned this before, but I love backstory. And my quiet, grieving protagonist isn’t all that she seems. So even though nothing happens, in reality everything’s happening. I love that!

Tomorrow I’ll finish the first draft. I’ll send it to my writing group. On Tuesday, they’ll probably ream me a new one.

But hey, it’s getting this long-awaited first draft into Times New Roman, 12 point, that counts! 

Flowers beside the plaque
Flowers beside the plaque

It Is What It Is

Sunshine picture for a sunnier perspective:


I’ll admit, I’m still unsettled by last week’s setback. My energy’s low. I want to take lots of walks, which is a sure sign that I’m melancholic. It’s not about the agent mishap. Not really. That was a trigger for other thoughts. The bigger thoughts about my life, the writing, what’s going to become of me, and so on. You probably know how that goes — pretty common, I’d guess.

However, one thing about me: I have a knack for stepping outside myself at the same time I’m falling into mini-funks. The detachment doesn’t diminish the funks, only allows me to see them for what they are: transitory.

Can anyone else relate to this?

So, yes, I’m in a mini-funk. I see the funk. I accept the funk. And the funk is what it is. Over the next week or two I’ll probably be doing a lot of thinking (not always beneficial!).


Meanwhile, though distracted and unmotivated, I’m working anyhow. I’m reading through the manuscript that I’d worked on with Erstwhile Agent, trying not to dwell on all the ways the first 25 pages I’d changed per her suggestions (to speed up the beginning) don’t feel right.

Meanwhile, two quotes I’m liking at the moment. I wrote this one out large on several sheets of paper and taped it to the wall beside my bed:

I’m a great believer in luck, and I find that the harder I work, the more I have of it. (Thomas Jefferson)

This quote reminds me to quit with all the thinking already!

Our “original mind” includes everything within itself. It is alwasy rich and sufficient within itself. This does not mean a closed mind, but actually an empty mind and a ready mind. If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything. It is open to everything. (Shunryu Suzuki-roshi)

Free-For-All Friday

(What is this? My very own meme, which could take the form of other Friday memes out there — random five or ‘fessing up — or non-Friday memes, or anything! Point being to have a little fun and get a little interactive. Feel free to snitch my logo at left and do your Friday thing!)


cannonbeach8Today’s a question-for-you day because I’m feeling thoughtful:

What arouses your serene melancholia?

I describe this as a longing, or yearning, that’s unspecific, that feels like it’s one of the mysteries at humanity’s core. It’s a sweet sadness for no reason. It’s serene because it doesn’t require an answer.

Does this make sense? (It might be that I’m a melancholic personality, I don’t know.)

cannonbeach9In any case, the reason I pose the question is because walking into winds on misty beaches arouses my serene melancholia. (Took these photos the first day — before the mist and wind arrived.)

It’s something about the way my eardrums throb with the cold.

It’s something about the way my ears turn into echoing seashells.

It’s something about the way the wind almost drowns out the sound of waves.




cannonbeach10Now, one more dose of serene melancholia before I return to Portland, where the last 30 pages of manuscript quick-reading await me. Didn’t quite reach my goal for this retreat, but that’s okay.



And one last thought. Saw the following written in sand. “Isaiah 53:5.” It got the storyteller in me wondering why. Nearby, the same person (Robert?) had written “Robert + Kate.”


What do you suppose these lovers on their romantic stroll (because it was a glorious twilight) were talking about? Isaiah 53:5 says,

     But he was pierced for our trangressions,
        he was crushed for our iniquities;
        the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
        and by his wounds we are healed.

I don’t know the Bible, and I’m not religious. This quotation doesn’t inspire serene melancholia, only uneasiness. However, that said, in pondering Isaiah 53:5, perhaps Robert and Kate felt their own kind of serenity.

EPIPHANY | The Bench and Dead Squirrels

It’s 3:00 p.m. on Monday. I’m sitting here with sun shining in on my desk, cold coffee next to my mouse, revising a chapter. No biggie. Pretty typical.

Various bits and pieces have been flitting through my head lately. Like that short-story idea that’s not an idea yet, the one with a title and that’s it (this post). Also, the notion that my creative-brain feels tight. Clenched. Constipated. I need to loosen up.

I’ve been thinking about posting one of my photos as a writing prompt for you and for me. Once a week, loosen myself up with an hour’s worth of writing play.

All this, somewhere in my head. Meanwhile, just now I took a wee revision break to, what else, flit through the Internet. Low and behold, came upon a blog with photographic writing prompts, and I thought, Huh, fancy this, already out there; still, which photo would I post for my first writing prompt?

I remembered the photo posted here. It’s a memorial bench for Phillip, aged four. Someone had set flowers on the memorial plaque (too bad they’re not in focus). That bench has been bugging me lately, but in a good way: creatively.

I thought, What about that photo? and returned to my revision, la-di-da, and I was in the middle of deciding what to do about this pesky sentence–

I fingered the pill in my pocket, picturing our intermittent and rushed sojourns in the library, the way Jasper’s hands tapped a tune out on my stomach with fingers delicate and precise as spider’s limbs.

–when it hit me that the bench and all the sorrow it symbolizes is the crux of the unknown story entitled “The Season of Dead Squirrels.”

I could be excited.  !!!!! <–yes, exclamation points–> !!!!! Maybe I am!

The randomness and wonderfulness of creativity. Don’t we writers love that?

Okay, back to revisions!

(Not promising I’ll do the photographic writing prompts, just saying. Check out A Thousand Words if you’re curious.)

Restlessness and Tuscany

Do you ever get restless? Just restless, precipitated by nothing in particular? And, if so, what do you do about it?

It could be that I’m restless…Could be that I look forward to shaking myself up at some point. You know I’ve been living on a writing grant, which is wonderful, but the thing about writing grants is that to draw the money out as long as possible, you gotta live, well, like a starving artist or something.

I don’t like that term, “starving artist.” Sounds like I’m being pretentious and martyred at the same time. I’m not; it’s just a phrase and by using it most will understand what I’m getting at: I’m living on a strict budget to further a creative goal.

This is fine, but I’m restless. Since my trip to Italy one year ago — who loves Italy? raise your hands! — I’ve led a quiet life. A year of writing mixed with procrastination, a few highs, a few lows, but mostly even keel despite how it may seem to my readers. (I deposit my more dramatic moments on this blog because, let’s face it, they’re more fun to write!)

Here are photos from Italy since I’m thinking about that trip and future trips. Restlessness, be gone!

In Florence, gotta get your touristy cathedral and statuary shots in…

  Santa Maria Novella 









Il Duomo in the background








These are the kind of photos I snap for potential writing fodder…people, details, unusual stuff, typical stuff…

Hanging in a bistro window









At Italy’s oldest wine festival 








A shrine to the Virgin in an olive grove











Italian grandmother











Daily life within ancient buildings









Last but definitely not least, the highlight of the three-week trip: One week in a rental castle(!) at the invitation of a fellow writer for her big 5-0. Fun! (And thanks once again to Stacy and Ron!)

Castello di Magona.
Check it out here.











Hostess with the mostest,
talented musician as well as writer. 

Chocolate, Booze, and Word Games

Chocolate, booze, and word games = ingredients for a perfect evening.

A room full of fellow word-geeks? More perfect still!

Saturday night I attended a fundraiser for a local nonprofit called Write Around Portland, which brings writing to marginalized communities such as those within jails, shelters, and rehabs; and to marginalized people such as at-risk kids, battered women, and the mentally ill. As the moderator said, writing can be worthwhile, transformative, and healing.

I feel like I’m supposed to write a deeply felt and meaningful post because it’s a wonderful cause. If I ever get my act together in true humanitarian style, Write Around Portland is the organization I’ll join…truly…

But, shoot…Can I just write about the interactive writing and word games instead?

I love word games, love love love word games. From prompts, we typed wacky stories one sentence at a time with old typewriters. We taped nonsense sentences to the wall (reminiscent of those refrigerator word magnets) in a game called “word salad.” We played Mad Libs, Boggle, boardless speed-Scrabble, and, the best fun yet, Wordigo poker.

I didn’t bid in the silent auction for moleskin journals customized by artists and local luminaries. However, I participated in my own way by drinking one too many herbal-infused vodka tonics. 

Everywhere, glasses filled with mini red scrolls revealed writing from Write Around Portland participants. Now, I bring you the deeply felt and meaningful portion of this post.

Excerpt from a teen boy in residential drug and alcohol treatment:

Some people say I’m a lost boy.
Some people say I’ve lost my joy.
Some people say I should go on home.

Some people say I’ve been shot at.
Some people say I’ve shot back.

Some people say they know my life.
Some people say they know my struggles and my fights.
Some people say you weren’t good for me.

Some people say I’m a boy who’s dumb.
Some people say I’m a boy who’s in love.


Excerpt from a veteran living with PTSD:

I come from a long line of people stretchng back to a dim beginning. We were tribes with names and languages of melodious strains, and a certain knowledge of all things in the world. There were particular ways to tend to the rounds of the day, the seasons, the years…

But those voices are quiet now, long dead and mostly forgotten. I am the last of the lone scouts, working my way to the far distant shore. I carry memories of things I cannot know, and am called to speak stories I never heard. The old ones wait to see if I can find my voice before my sweet short passage ends…