The Road too often Traveled

Being a writer takes you down many avenues. Groomed boulevards blooming with excellent ideas, to dark alleys with a nasty antagonist waiting at the end. A winding country road to reflect on before plot twists, or the endless Kansas highway when my characters refuse to talk to me. (Grrr.) Through the journey, if I’m doing my job well, I entertain, thrill, and say something about the human condition. But no matter where I go, my human condition gets written into the manuscript. This is great when I’ve seen something new or been surprised with a happy pit stop. Not so fun when a detour exerts itself on my creativity and won’t end.

A detour like my son’s college application process.

Okay. He did the driving and I navigated during the visits, discussions, and lengthy application legs of the trip. But just when I thought our destination was on the horizon (admission decisions) we’ve encountered one traffic jam after another of waiting. A “rest area” type place where applying “early action” means you only wait longer. The sort of travel plaza where the restaurants are closed, the vending machines are empty, and the picnic area uninviting.

Wait. Excuse me, I’m on my own Sunday drive – book four in my series. Yet no matter diligent work ethic, it struck me this week how much the indecision surrounding my son’s future had played a role in my WIP. Ideas have been kicked around for too long. Decisions I would have made months ago I stare at, bewildered. What’s worse, I caught my fictional peeps doing it too. Enough already!

I’ve learned to take care of myself as an author (i.e. if I’m exhausted, my writing will be too), but this recent venture reminiscent of driving over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge in a thunderstorm (never again!) reminded me that I must also take care of my life. No matter the dreams I have for my son, I have my own. Which require finishing this project and starting the next.

The solution? I stared down the ROAD CLOSED sign. Now each day, I pick one of his top choices and tell myself he’s going there. Decision made, no admissions team required. I bulldoze the distraction and press onward. So I can get back to pulling out my hair over what I forgot to pack.

In the manuscript, that is.

Fuzzy shoes, anyone?

Like me, you may have noticed the fuzzy shoe crazy this past spring/summer. My inner Celia Hephner (protagonist – Inflatable Men) wouldn’t let me resist the fun. My birthday splurge had a pair of hot pink fu-fu happiness arrive at my door. While cushy and fabulous, I thought they looked like slippers. Even as I wiggled my toes in the luxury, another protagonist Claire Garrison (Trapped in Epitome) insisted, “Wear them around the house, not in public.”

Then my left foot introduced me to the concept of plantar fasciitis.

One evening after I walked my huskies for their four-mile jaunt, my husband wanted to stop at Home Depot. I just couldn’t shed the haute couture comfort. “It’s a quick trip, no one will notice,” I told myself. (And Claire.)

The cashier’s expression as we entered the garden center made me feel like I’d hit my head. At that point I had a choice: run for the car, or shop for plants.

I bought six perennials.

The experience reminded me that as a writer I have to push my characters to where they don’t want to go. Sometimes that results in a face-off on the cliffs of Big Sur, but it can also mean a character changing her behavior in a subtle (or fu-fu) way. Both indicate she’s growing as a person. Both are important when you’re writing about fully realized people. Claire would rather die than be caught dead at Home Depot in fuzzy shoes, while Celia would embrace the chance. What about the people in between? They’re all different if I do the work and write them as such. Or what about visualizing one of my antagonists strutting around in pair?

Try as I might though, I couldn’t get my husband to even try them on. 😉

Skunk Spray

My younger husky has had the distinct pleasure of being sprayed by a skunk, not once, but twice this year. In fact, she has gleefully pursued him as part of her “evening patrol”. As I was cleaning her up the second time, it struck me how being sprayed by a skunk has similarities to writing fiction. Thus I offer you the list, instead of the less than savory dialogue going through my head as I doused her with hydrogen peroxide, Dawn, and baking soda.

7 ways writing fiction is like being sprayed by a skunk:

1. You don’t choose it, it chooses you. You may have been wandering around the yard of life looking for something new, or relaxing on a lawn chair, sipping a tasty beverage when wham! you’re hit. Either way you’re marked, and you’ll never forget it.

2. It permeates everything you are. Ears, mouth, eyes, skin. Writing fiction changes the way you view the world, the way you touch it, and vice versa. It’s how you will leave a lasting mark.

3. It can bring out the worst in you. And that’s good. Even the most beloved protagonist isn’t all hearts and flowers. As the author you have to take your characters where they don’t want to go. Face their less than glowing side. Having something evil like skunk spray drifting incessantly through your home courtesy of your furry cherub can evoke some mean emotions. Harness them, and unleash your maniacal self on your fictional peeps. Sorry, friends.

4. You can’t get rid of it. Ever. While your pet (or worse, you) will hopefully never be sprayed again, the memory of your eyes watering from the corrosive nastiness and the metallic taste in your mouth is enough to bring it all back. It’s now a part of you – lessons learned, life experiences – it all matters. You can run, or you can write about it.

5. Sometimes you wish you could undo time. Just go back to right before you were sprayed and walk a different way. Contrary to popular belief, being a writer isn’t easy. Achieving traditional publication ever more challenging. Yet if you’re a real writer, you can’t give up. Fictional peeps won’t let you. They’ll even send the skunk your way if you ignore them. Jerks.

6. People may turn up their noses at you. Usually this is for one of two reasons: 1. They would never waste their time writing something so trivial as fiction. They’re far too important. (Never mind they read it! On vacation, on the subway, in the dentist office . . .) Or 2. They feel they could write a book if they ever tried. Yeah. As a legit writer you don’t have the luxury of such arrogance. You’re too busy wallowing in self-doubt, with nothing but the company of a stack of rejection letters and your smelly self as you finish a rough draft at two a.m. (See, you become nocturnal too.)

7. When you’re around other writers you’re so freakin’ happy to have mutual understanding you don’t notice the smell! Writing fiction brings you into company of some of the neatest, kindest people you’ll ever meet. If you let it. I’d rather be smelly and know them, than not at all.

Honeymoon Period – Rough Draft Done!

I think the term “rough” was more applicable to my journey through this draft than others in recent memory. I didn’t want just a mediocre fourth book in the series, I wanted dynamite. Of course, it will take me the rest of the year to shape it into a smokin’ awesome read. But I’m so grateful this draft is done!

Hit Page 250

Thrilled to have hit page 250 in manuscript. It never fails to surprise me how each story comes together differently. Still lots of research to go and decisions to be made.