Archive for » December, 2009 «

Dec
31

Regardless of what the rest of the world is thinking about as 2009 slips into 2010, writer goals never seem to change. Your neighbor wants to lose weight, your cousin is determined to get out of debt, your friend will get married if it kills her. But writers? While there are many variations, most of our resolutions come down to one thing: selling. Selling a short story, selling a novel, selling an essay, an article, a memoir, a poem. I have had selling a novel on my New Year’s list for decades, even before I had written anything (hey, someone could just hear about my wonderfulness and back a truck of cash up to my house, right? Any day now.) But I’ve learned a lot in the last 14 months, some of which I’ve managed to put into use. Some I’m still working on.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned (Thanks, Kris and Dean!) is the difference between what I want and what I can control. I still want to sell a novel. But that’s not my goal, because I can’t entirely control that. What I can control is 1) how much I write, 2) the quality of that writing, and 3) how much and how often I submit for publication. The actual selling? That’s up to the folks with the checks. In the final analysis, only editors control whether or not I sell a piece.

1)      How much I write: 16 months ago, I swore I couldn’t write more than 500 words a day because I hadn’t. I even had doubts I could do that, considering how long it had been since I had. But a two-week workshop blew that belief out of the water. At the beginning of 2009 I wrote a novel – Beach Bitches. I wrote at least 1,000 words a day every day until it was done (around three months). So now I know I can do that. And it wasn’t even hard. It usually took only around an hour each day (night, in my case). I never missed a day, no matter how complicated or dramatic life got. No matter if I was sick or my son was home or my husband was out of town or I had a tight deadline with the paying work. Sometimes I didn’t start my 1,000 words until midnight or 1 a.m. Most days I had no idea what I was going to write, where my story was going to go. As soon as I decided there would be no acceptable excuses for not doing my 1,000 words, the writing came easily.

2)      The quality of my writing: I’ve learned that I can’t judge the quality of my own work. Sometimes, what I think sucks sells. Sometimes, what I think is wonderful doesn’t. But I still work on the quality – not on the level of rewriting and rewriting and rewriting one story, but on the level of constantly trying to learn more as a writer. I read more carefully, I research and take workshops about things I know give me trouble, and I practice those elements. For example, I knew plot was a weak point for me, so I wrote a mystery novel. Now I will try to sell that practice.

3)      How much and how often I submit: This is my weakness. I know no one can buy my work if they don’t see it. I know I can’t judge my own work, but I still find myself hesitant to send out certain stories. I have a great, well-organized submission routine. But I don’t do it. I’m not sure why yet, but I suspect it’s a fear of success sort of thing combined with the fear that once I commit something to the mail I’ve lost any hope of bridging that awful space between the story in my mind and the story on the page.

So, in light of these three realities, these are my goals for 2010. They are modest, I know.

  1. Fix all the holes in Beach Bitches. Things like making that one secondary character a girl all the way through (right now, she’s a boy in the first half of the book), giving characters names that don’t all rhyme or start with the same letter, taking out one of the two nearly identical characters, and having the clues come from the characters rather than out of the blue or through newspapers or police.
  2. Practice information flow by writing a book with a complicated flow. I started this book, but it fell apart down under the weight of my inability. So now I will start over in a new way with what I’ve learned from that version. This “practice” means writing at least 1,000 words per day. Then I have an oldish draft of a book whose scenes I like very much like but which never gelled into a book. With what I’ve learned in the last year, I’m ready to take a new run at it –primarily just cutting about 2/3 or it. Both these books will be finished and submitted by this time next year. I will also continue to learn about the industry and stay abreast of its changes, challenges and opportunities.
  3. How much and how often I submit: I will focus on the why of my not submitting and then submit anyway. I’m thinking three stories (or proposals) a week is good for now, as I run the learning curve of compiling a list of where to submit. Once the finding of markets becomes less complicated and the submission of three stories becomes a habit, my psyche is out of the game. At that point, I can increase the amount I submit each week. I’d like to be up to 10 a week by the end of 2010.

And since I absolutely need someone to report to in order to keep myself from cheating, I will continue to use the gracious support of the infamous Des. We make goals every week and she checks in to see if we met our goals or not. If we do, we cheer. If we don’t we discuss what happened and then reboot for the next week.

Category: writing  Tags:  9 Comments
Dec
24

(Update: So maybe I should’ve named my blog Sometimes I Don’t Remember Right, but somehow Sometimes I Lie sounded cooler, as if there were intent. Anyway, in honor of full exposure, let me say the following story is not entirely correct, beginning with the fact that it wasn’t Charlie or even Jason there that day, though they visited later. It was actually Tony and Jim, and it was Tony who brought Victor. If I find out more that I got wrong, I’ll put it here. Or maybe I’ll lie and say I did it on purpose.)

It was boys against girls. Me and Dolly and Tammy took on Charlie, Jason and Jason’s friend Victor Sears. Victor was huge. I smelled a ringer and questioned whether or not Victor was really only 12 like the rest of us, but we needed even teams so it didn’t matter.

We were tied six to six. Of course. What kind of story would it be if we girls had been down by 18? Where’s the drama, the grand sacrifice? Or what if I hadn’t been just about to cross the shadow from the chain-link fence that Jason had declared the goal line? What if I’d actually just been in the middle of the field? No, I was inches from the goal, making the winning play, when Victor Sears grabbed me by the waist and knocked me to the ground in a perfect tackle. Only his knee landed dead-center on my right leg just above the ankle. It sounded like someone snapping a handful of pencils in half.

There was this split-second where it didn’t hurt, when everyone was turning to look and no one said a thing. Just a heartbeat. Maybe two. I thought about how my little sister and I had tried, unsuccessfully, to break my big brother’s leg with a cinder block the previous year. Just a heartbeat, maybe two, when I wished I’d drank more milk like my mom was always telling me. But then the pain hit, and I didn’t think much of anything except a fervent, wasted, wish not to cry in front of the boys.

They say that breaking a bone doesn’t hurt. I’m not sure who “they” are, but I know they’re liars. All of them. I don’t know; maybe breaking an arm doesn’t hurt. But breaking a leg hurts like a son of a bitch.

The bone didn’t break the skin, but it was poking it tight as shrink-wrap.

Dolly jumped on her bike and rode the seven blocks to my house as fast as she could for help. Or maybe it was Charlie. I’m not sure, but someone must have, because Nick was there before I’d stopped crying. He carried me to the car and put me in, stretched across the back seat. He talked to me the whole way.

“You OK? Do the bumps hurt? Do you want me to go slower? We’ll call your mom from the hospital. Don’t worry, she’ll be here soon. Do you want the radio on?”

“I don’t care,” my jaw tight on the words.

“Don’t worry. These doctors are great. It’s the ER. They save the best doctors for the ER. They’ll know what to do. Pain pills. Don’t worry. They’ll fix you right up.” He babbled, and that was almost as disconcerting as the broken bone pressing out from inside my skin .I’d heard Nick yell, joke, rage, and take to a soapbox, but I’d never heard him babble. It made me wary.

I could see the tops of the trees swim by, the power lines like cable connecting us to the hospital, pulling us slowly. “You can have all your friends sign your cast. Won’t that be fun? You can get that Dolly to draw a picture. You know, like one of those … what do you call it? A mural? That’s it. You can get Dolly to draw a mural.”

I don’t remember Nick stopping for stoplights. I remember hearing breaks squeal, but that might have been us when we pulled up to the hospital. He left the car in the no-parking zone and carried me in, demanding help from anyone who looked like they might work there.

The nurse put me in a room right away, and my mom showed up soon after. She kept going back and forth between me and the hall, looking for someone to ask about my condition. She hovered out there and looked worried, but she didn’t actually ask. She always came back into the room looking a little defeated. But then she’d go into mom-mode, brushing my hair back off my forehead, caressing my cheek, whispering nonsense.

Nick adjusted my blankets and peeked in all the cabinets, giving me an inventory of each. “Those tongue things, cotton balls, needles – no, just the plastic part.” He closed the cabinet, opened the next. “Bags, gauze, tape, gloves. You want gloves?” He took a couple pair and put them in his back pocket before I could answer. “You can make balloons.”

Time passed in the start-and-stop way ER time does. The nursing shift changed and a new nurse brought in a new ice pack to replace the bag of tepid water draped across my ankle. “It hurts,” I whined after she left.

“I know, sweetie,” Mom said. “But it’ll work in a minute.” She went back to the hall, one foot in my room, one foot out.

“It didn’t last time.” I started to cry out of frustration. I had barely tolerated the first round, the numbness not making up for the freezer-burn feeling above and below the ice pack, but I’d left it there because Mom seemed so worried.

“Honey?” Mom said, rushing over.

“The ice is worse than the ankle,” I cried, gripping the blanket with dramatic flair.

“Keep it on, baby.”

“Fuck it,” Nick said, grabbed the ice pack, and tossed it in the garbage, making the metal lid spin and making me cringe. Then he was in the hall. “Hey!” I heard him yell. “What the fuck? My kid’s been here for,” he paused, and I imagined the poor sucker he’d cornered looking for an escape, “six hours. Six hours? Where’s the damn doctor? She’s in pain.”

I didn’t hear the response, but context made it clear.

“The ice is hurting her. You’d know that if you ever came in and checked. She’s just a kid, you know. And you can see the fucking bone!”

Mom positioned herself between me and the closed door, back to smoothing my hair.

“I’m thirsty.”

“I know, but you can’t have anything. In case they have to do surgery.”

And Nick was back in the room, just like that. Like he’d popped up through a trapdoor. “They called him,” he said, and Mom tried to angle him over to a corner, out of earshot. “It’s her leg,” he said and came to my side. “They called this asshole hours ago,” he told me, his face red with anger, but the hand that rested on my arm was gentle. “Probably out playing golf,” he said to my mom. “But don’t worry. Someone else is coming. We’re getting you some drugs.” And he did. Within minutes, some teenager in a lab coat came in, took one look at my leg, said, “That is one broken leg,” and left.

The next person to come in was a nurse with an IV and something that made me feel much better. So much better I fell asleep for the three more hours it took for the surgeon to get there.

I woke up out of my pleasant, drug-induced sleep to the smell of a bender. An old man with a half-circle of gray hair leaned over me. His eyes were white and his breath was minty, but the smell of old alcohol came off him like steam. He pulled and pushed until I cried. Mom had a restraining hold on Nick’s arm.

“We’ll get an x-ray,” he said. “But you better plan on staying the night.” And he left.

“An x-ray,” Nick spat. “Oh, good. Because we needed a fucking surgeon to think of getting an x-ray.” He walked to the door and leaned out, his fist propping it open. “Yeah, we couldn’t have bothered getting a fucking x-ray BEFORE, could we?”

“I think he’s drunk,” I told my mom, while Nick ranted in the doorway.

“Oh, no, honey; he’s just upset.”

“No, the doctor.”

“No, doctors don’t drink,” she half-laughed. “They have to be on-call.”

“I smelled it.”

“Rubbing alcohol,” she said like I was 5. “They use rubbing alcohol to keep everything clean and sterile.”

“I know the difference,” I said, but I wasn’t sure I did, so I didn’t push it.

I don’t remember the surgery, which is certainly the way it’s supposed to work. What I do remember is how much the cast itched, the flowers Dolly drew all over it and Paul Walker knocking my crutches out from under me because who needed crutches if broken bones don’t hurt. I remember the half-sock I wore over the end of the cast to keep my toes warm. I remember all the attention I got the next day when all my friends came to visit. I remember the porcelain egg Tony gave me and the Teddy bear Jason left by my bed (Victor had gone back to Gabbs but gave Jason a card for me). My sister did all my laundry and fluffed my pillows. Mom made me grilled cheese and soup whenever I wanted. Nick brought my Teen Beat and Tiger Beat without a condescending word. I sat on my bed like a doped-up princess, receiving my subjects, absolutely in my element.

I also remember how I found a note from one of my friends, written to another, about how the first thought I was faking the pain. And I didn’t confront her. Instead, I worked doctor-sounding information into conversation whenever I could (“You know, 4 out of 5 doctors agree that broken legs really do hurt. In fact 67 percent of patients report the pain lasting well past their release from the hospital.”) and left my prescription pain pills out in the open for her to see. I even left a particularly eloquent and dramatic diary entry open on my dresser. And I stopped whining around my friends. I took more pain pills until the dosage made me throw up and then dialed it back. Back at school, I checked in the library and found out broken legs really weren’t supposed to hurt that bad.

Flash forward to this past Monday, when I got surgery to fix the botched-up job of that long-ago doctor. It was a simple outpatient surgery. No cast this time. I’ve got a brace and crutches and antibiotics and Percocet, and Jason hovers to make sure I have whatever I need. My rebuilt ligaments feel tight and kind of fiery, my stitches itch already, but I can put weight on the ankle just fine. I bet I’ll be done with the crutches later today.

And you know what? It really doesn’t hurt that bad.

Category: Stories  Tags:  3 Comments
Dec
16

1. Stop signs, stop lights, one-way streets? Not on a snow day.
2. When people shovel their driveways and front walkways and pile all the snow onto the sidewalk or into the street.
3. Double parking. We just don’t do that in Reno.
4. All those people usually arguing for smaller government and lower taxes are suddenly yelling for more snow plows and city employees to come shovel their sidewalks.
5. All those people usually preaching peace, love and understanding are suddenly yelling that people who don’t shovel their sidewalks should be killed. Or at least hobbled.
6. School gets canceled on the first day of snow, when it’s all pretty and not so bad to drive in. But the next day, when it’s icy and hazardous, school’s back on.
7. People start claiming that there can’t be global climate change if there’s snow in their neighborhood.
8. People start clearing the grocery store shelves in anticipation of some sort of new ice age.
9. People yelling at others for disobeying all kinds of rules, even though they are doing the same things.

Disclaimer: I know there are reasons for much of this behavior. People are stressed, not used to snow driving, don’t realize that it snows in Reno (and sometimes even sticks for a few days), cannot physically shovel snow, don’t realize that sidewalks are the homeowner’s responsibility, and no one quite knows what to do with school closures during a storm expected to inconvenience for one day but lasts for four – I get all this. What I don’t get is the absolute sense that one person’s concerns, fears, physical abilities, or what have you, supersede those of every other person in town.

Joe readies to take on some social disorder of his own.

Joe readies to take on some social disorder of his own.

Category: 9  Tags:  4 Comments
Dec
09

I don’t know where my dad is anymore. I did for awhile, but now he’s off-grid again. And this bothers me. Despite the fact that he left my family with no warning when I was 7, despite the fact that I didn’t find him again until I was 30, despite the fact that when I did find him, when I did go spend a week with him, I had to remind him every morning that I was his daughter – despite all that, it bothers me, now, as my birthday is a matter of hours away and Christmas is around the corner, it bothers me that I don’t know where he is. Again.

So, here’s the story: After what seemed like a fairytale childhood, my dad just disappeared. My mom didn’t know why. The neighbor whose wife my father left with didn’t know why. My brother didn’t know why. I didn’t know why. (And none of us could explain it to my baby sister.) One day he was there, laughing and smiling in the clean desert sunshine, the next he was gone and it was winter.

Two letters came over the course of the next 23 years. Both were rambling, written edge to edge on the kind of paper we used in school. Neither explained a damn thing. The letters talked about how he wasn’t with that neighbor’s wife anymore. They mentioned he was living on the streets, had been in jail, had tried to die. The letters didn’t ask about us, about me. They didn’t say where he was. And though they were signed with my dad’s name, the words didn’t sound like him.

My mom made some efforts to find him for the divorce. My sister tried to find him for stability. My brother never spoke his name. I pretended not to care.

But watching Oprah one day I learned that the Salvation Army will look for people for $25. I filled out a form and turned it in. Less than a week later I got a call. They’d found him. Just like that. Found him at the first place they looked – his brother’s house in Florida.

My dad and his brother and the brother’s wife tried to explain what they could about my dad’s condition. My dad said it was like a record skipping, only he didn’t know from day to day what part of the record would be skipped. My uncle said it was from the drugs and alcohol, that my dad had trouble forming short term memories. My new-found aunt told me that my dad was a kind man but that he was a challenge.

Since then I’ve met with a neuropsychologist to try to learn about my dad’s condition. Werenke Korsokov’s syndrome. Also known as Korsakoff’s psychosis, amnesic-confabulatory syndrome. It’s complicated. It’s due to drinking. It causes tiny hemorrhages in the Thalamus of the brain, like stroke, but not. It hits the part of the brain new memories are formed. Some people get better. If they stop drinking.

Since this is supposed to be a quick blog post, let’s fast-forward through the phone calls, the reunion, the confusion. Fast-forward through my spending time with him and learning that his memory of his life before he left my family was clear as a bell. Fast-forward through Florida and seeing post-it notes reminding him to eat, to sleep in his bed rather than under the trees, to bathe in the bathtub rather than the river. Fast-forward through fireflies and a broken moon and a world as far from the desert as I was from the girl-child he remembered. Fast-forward through him meeting my son and husband and forgetting us all the next day.

Fast-forward through my getting to know family on the other side of the country, building a relationship with the aunt and uncle who’d taken care of him for so many years and tried to make up for what he couldn’t give me. Fast-forward through deep breaths, deep-sleep nights, and his name and address in my address book.

Fast-forward through eleven years of sending father’s day cards, birthday cards, Christmas presents. Eleven years of occasional letters and photos from Florida. Eleven years of letting my brother and sister and mother know anything I learned. Eleven years of e-mail between my aunt and I about my dad’s past, present, future.

But things fell apart. There was only so much my aunt and uncle could do. They took away my dad’s booze. They took away his car. They talked to liquor store clerks everywhere my dad could possibly bike to. And when it all worked and my dad couldn’t get alcohol anymore, he moved on — first to a VA place he hated, then to a friend’s place that he seemed to like. And from there? I don’t know.

I didn’t send a card on father’s day. I knew where he was, so I was just going to call. I wanted to hear his voice and the accent he hadn’t had when I was a child. I wanted to laugh at him saying y’all and honey. The day before father’s day, I got a call from Florida. But I’d already mentally prepared myself for the next day, so I let it go to voicemail. It was my dad, wishing my husband a happy father’s day, followed by my aunt trying to explain the new situation. Turned out my dad had been by and she got him to call in case they didn’t see him for awhile. Turned out he had been on his own for many months and they didn’t know how to contact him. Turned out I wouldn’t be able to call him or write him or send him a present for his birthday.

So I’m thinking about him lately. As I try to find the perfect gift for my aunt and uncle, a little thank you for them keeping my dad safe until I could find him, just like I have for so many years, I see things that would be a nice gift for my dad. A waterproof lighter. A holder for his papers and tobacco. A sturdy pen. A notebook. A peace sign on a leather strap. A book about the birds and animals of Florida.

I know I could buy these things and send them to the last address he had, the address of his friend’s place. I could send them off just like last year and get no reply. I could tell myself he probably got my gifts but forgot to write or call. Just like I told myself all those years growing up that he probably thought about me, about us, but couldn’t bring himself to reach out after so much time had passed.

There’s plenty I could tell myself. But I won’t. What I will do? I’ll answer the phone next time caller ID shows Florida. And I’ll hope it’s him on the line.

My dad

My dad

Category: Stories  Tags:  4 Comments
Dec
02

The more I learn about writing, the harder it is. Back when I knew nothing, I would just leap to the page in joy. I created with unabashed passion. I had no critical brain, only creative.

Now, I can still tap into that creativity but it’s hard for me to stay there. My critical brain is always looking over my shoulder, asking questions:

“Does that advance your story?”

“Could you be less expository?”

“Is that the character or are you on your soapbox?”

“Is that the right word?”

“Could this passage serve more than one purpose?”

“Who talks like that?”

These are all good questions, and they need to be asked. Critical brain has improved my final product greatly. The problem is that critical brain keeps jumping in the middle of my playtime and kicking sand in the face of my creative brain. Critical brain is a bully. Creative brain has an inferiority complex. Not a good combo.

The result is my seeming inability to get my stories out the door.

It’s taken me a very long time to start to be able to see how critical brain can improve my writing. I rejected her for so long she learned to be awfully passive aggressive. But she does have her purpose. She’s got my back in a foxhole. She makes sure I don’t leave the proverbial house with proverbial toilet paper stuck to my proverbial shoe. But when I just want to hang out and create, she’s kind of a pushy bitch.

I’ve tried distracting her, kicking her out of my office, bullying her, even giving her free reign. But she is singular in purpose, digging in her heels while creative brain goes off flitting after lightning bugs. So I’ve found bigger guns.

My writing life now is filled with a complicated set of sticks and carrots. Critical brain loves rewards, but even more, she hates to be punished. And I’ve found some great ways to keep her in line. Actually, my friend Désirée has found some great ways of keeping critical brain in line. Désirée kicks my critical brain’s ass.

I met Des at a workshop in Squaw Valley years ago. She’s from Southern California and loves Lake Tahoe. I live near it and never go there. We both wanted to get away and just be writers once in awhile. So we cooked up a plan to rent a cabin at Tahoe for a weekend and work out plots of the books we were stalled on. We did, and it was wonderful. We went again the next year but without real goals. It was still wonderful, but not as constructive. So we made a bet.

I needed to rewrite a book. I didn’t need to fiddle; I needed to cut out large chunks and rearrange what remained. But every time I opened the file I started tweaking language instead. And I was making the language worse. In this book, creative brain had done her job on a first draft with verve and style. Critical brain wanted to rein her in. Bad brain.

Des suggested that we have our works-in-progress rewritten by the time we met again in May. Plenty of time. If I didn’t? I had to write a painfully large check to a politician I deeply despised. Not only would it suck to fork over the money, but the check register would permanently remind me that I helped that person.

In typical Cindie fashion I waited until the last minute. Then I got sick. Had there not been that stick hanging over me I would’ve blown it off. But there was no way I was writing that check. And there was no way I was going to Tahoe as a welcher. The only way to bring an end to the tweaking and avoidance was to just finish the book, critical brain be damned. Come May, I showed up at the airport to pick up Des and drive to Tahoe with a complete book.

The following year we challenged each other to start and finish books before our return to Tahoe. The reward for this productivity was an extra day at the Lake. We met our goals and spent the weekend critiquing and brainstorming and writing (and eating and drinking and marveling at the beauty of the Lake right outside our window. Seriously, there is much marveling with us). That extra day was heavenly. We plan to do it again this coming year because we will have new manuscripts done by then.

Now we have smaller goals as well, goals designed to help us write more than one book a year and, more importantly for me, finally send them somewhere. We set weekly goals. We check in on our progress. And need be, Des will find another big-ass stick with which to threaten critical brain.

(One of my weekly goals is to write and post a new blog entry every Wednesday. I have a cold. I feel … not well. But I know Des is going to check in with me come Monday. So I’m sitting here writing while hopped up on cold pills. Critical brain is quiet. Maybe drugging her into oblivion is another stick. Or carrot.)

Category: writing  Tags:  2 Comments
Cindie Geddes

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