On this, the Last Day of My Billing Cycle

The week before Memorial Day I housesat for my friends Kudra & Porter on the Atlantic Coast. I looked forward to it as a chance for a “writing retreat”. For the short task of feeding their cats and occasionally scooping out the cat box, I had a house all to myself where I could write whenever I wanted and work on my own schedule.

Although some progress in my latest book was made, I had to learn to go with the flow little bit more than I anticipated.

First of the weather going out there was horrible, like I can’t see two car lengths in front of me for 3 of the 4 hours trip. But I made it, only to find a three car accident two stop lights away from their house. Add on another 30 minute delay and I got to my friends’ house about an hour later than I planned, ok dinner was late for the kitties but I was there.. I went to get in and my method of entry to the house was locked. Panic set in.I texted my friends who were in a very different time zone than me for alternatives and thankfully they responded quickly and with an easy solution. I was in!

I fed the cats, played with them, and settled in while the storm that had been on my heels for most of the trip raged on outside.*

*Please note that I neglected to connect my phone to their WiFi.

And now back to the first night. After a few hours there the power went off for a minute, everything came back on immediately except for the master bedroom suite. A few moments later the fire alarm in there began to chirp the song of a low battery. I think it’s important that I explain that in my house the fire alarms are all connected, so if one goes off-they all go off. I wondered if this alarm’s song had something to do with the power outage because the alarm was going off in their bedroom every twenty minutes or so. I was scared to mess with the alarm over an incident that happened at my house where I tried to replace the batteries of my alarm only to discover the connecting wires had corroded, leaving live exposed wires on my office ceiling for my husband to fix after he got home from work. With the power being temperamental and fearing the fuse box was outside in the storm I let it chirp.

A few moments later I began my bi-monthly Kawfee Talk with Octana and Red via Skype, my beeping soundtrack and voice was all the could get from my end. After the call the storm had stopped and I located the fuse box, that thankfully was inside. The master bedroom switch was clearly labeled and clearly switched off so I tried to reset only to have it flip back to off immediately.  I called my husband and together we attempted to fix the power, via FaceTime. After the reset did not work again Honey told me to leave it alone something was wrong with the ground.

We chatted a little and said good night. With the alarm still chirping I decided to write into the early hours of the morning to make myself pass out so I would not hear the chirping. My plan worked, until 6 am when my body was used to responding to an alarm clock. The chirping had increased to every two minutes so I found a step stool and thought electricity be damned I am unplugging that thing. In my 3 and half hours of sleep brain I couldn’t figure out why it was not coming off the wall, but I did find a hidden reset button and the chirping stopped. I crawled back into bed and tried to go back to sleep, I failed.

Eventually I noticed a break in the weather and I was able to sneak down to the beach and put my toes into the water, something that being four hours inland I miss. the weather predicated said it was going to be yucky the whole time I was there, so I jumped at the chance to be near the ocean, even if it was only for a few minutes.

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I felt rejuvenated, the last day’s complications faded away. I even Instagramed a live shot of the ocean. I stayed there for while, enjoying my self-dictated timeframe and went home when the clouds got darker.

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Later that day I wrote, watched Netflix on my laptop, listened to Podcasts, and drank copious amounts of tea. Later that night I Face-Timed my husband and crawled into bed, only to be woken up by the song of the fire alarm. I pressed the button I had found the day before and went back to my bedroom where the alarm in there had sympathetically joined in the chorus. I found the button on that one and then made more tea and tried to write.

On a trip back from the kettle I walked back to a scene that caught me as something special.

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I was walking back to a table that Porter had been making on the first night I met him, over five years ago. He was a close friend of our neighbor who I wasn’t expecting to meet that night. Porter was taking a break from the construction of the table he was trying to complete before Christmas Dinner so he could accommodate his in-laws who were in town. He left after a beer but a few months later I met his wife Kudra and we became friends. It had been a hard year for all of us, the life paths we had set out to have did not come to fruition as planned. A little while later they would move across the country and a few months later we would end up in the same state only a few hours away from them.

I could have never anticipated five years ago would be working on my third book, on the table he was building, thousands of miles from where our meeting began, while they were in another country with their family over their daughter’s first birthday.

That is not how you think your five year plan will go, and yay for that.

So speaking of plans when I returned home I got an alert from my wireless plan explaining that I had used 70% of my data and they would change my plan (probably forever) if I went over and charge extra. The billing cycle ended three weeks later, today. So the last few weeks I have been present, not messing on my phone in dull moments out, walking without headphones, listening to birds and cicadas, and engaging with a new group of friends we just met. And yesterday while writing in a coffee shop I wrote 3300 words, about my daily output from my “writing retreat”.

I hope that I will keep some of the habits I have had to adopt the last few weeks at least in a social setting and who knows it might help me make my book deadline!

Just Finish It

Lately I have found myself not making the progress I want on a few projects.

I’ve been writing, querying the last book, trying to stay on top of the yard to avoid the dreaded HOA letter, and (I think this is what solidified my feeling of non-progression) reading The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss.

First of all I loved the book, but it is longer than my usual nighttime reading choices and the description I got for what it was about was a little misleading (what I thought it was about didn’t happen until almost sixty percent into the book-I was confused). I read this book off of a Kindle so I couldn’t refer to the back cover and I really only had percentage points and how many minutes left of the chapter to go on. I also blame myself and my household’s new interest in a tv show called Midsomer Murders and its near two hour episodes for keeping me up and away from my reading.

Anyway, so here I was writing the first third of my Work in Progress and not progressing as much as I anticipated. I was reading a thick ole book that I wondered if (with the confusion in story line) I had picked up mistakenly. And then battling the ever growing lawn and fixing the patio which had been torn up since January that we loving referred to as the “pit of despair” while we decided what we wanted to do with the space.

So I prioritized. First, it was not going to get any cooler so once we (Honey rocks) removed the roots from the misplaced tree on the patio I started putting the patio back together. One paver at a time because it was a hard jigsaw puzzle that I needed a rubber mallet and an evening board to complete. Sometimes I could only put in a few a day with the heat and burning stones under my ass.

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Until one day when I was too close to the end to let things like heat indexes, unexpected new roots, and an emergency trip to the store for more pavers get in my way.51802819526__263E4D49-AEE0-4288-AB5B-43B7C0ACAD9B.JPG

 

And I finished. I won’t lie, I did a happy dance. It’s been a long time since I had completed a physical task that wasn’t going to change in a week. A clean house gets dirty, food gets eaten, and the yard-whew- changes daily =) But the patio is going to relatively stay there and it’s done. Task checked off the list. Now we can have friends over again.

The book I’m writing, well…I’ve met my word count some days, not every day. Being only a third of the way through and scenes taking longer than I planned has been distressing, not to mention the story can be hard to write. It’s women’s fiction about a band and heartbreak. The subject matter is tough, it has made me had to dive into some old scars on getting my heart broken and use what I know about marriage to make up this fictional situation. It is uncomfortable diving into that combination of feelings.

Originally I had a plan to NaNoWriMo this thing, just get out and over with and pick up the pieces later. So far I have been unable to write the story everyday. The closest I came was when I headed out to the Atlantic Coast  and spent three days alone while I housesat for some friends. At the end of my visit I only had 8,000 more words, an outline, and sleep deprivation from low battery fire alarms I was scared to mess with (story for another time).

You may be asking, why do I keep on writing it if it’s hard? Because it is hard. It won’t get easier by letting it knock around in my brain for a year, it will become that “pit of despair” we had on our back patio for a few months… always nagging, always reminding me there was something I needed to do. Now I look at that patio with the table and umbrella on top and see there is a place I want to have breakfast with my husband or maybe a glass of wine in the evening with friends.

That’s the feeling I get when I finish a first draft. The possibilities seem endless for what you can do with it, what to add to it, and now truly ponder if you want your friends around it 😉

I won’t meet my self-imposed deadline, but that’s ok I am going to keep on chipping away at it until it’s done. And who know it might be like when I read The Name of the Wind, when I got to the 83% mark I just kept on going until I finished. But from now on while I am writing the first draft I will just stick to the shorter 200-350 page novel. When your on long term project sometimes you need something/anything to just finish.

 

 

Cough Syrup Drenched Feelings

Last week a nasty head cold invaded my throat and threatened my lungs, the medicine I was taking to stop the “Cold of Doom” made time roll itself into one continuous cough ball. If any of you are getting knocked down by a cold, seriously just listen to your body and rest, it will be over so much faster. Thankfully I am doing much better now, but still suspicious of the tickling feeling on the top of my throat from allergies. Yay Spring!

Though honestly since moving to the East Coast Spring has become my favorite season to see. I enjoy the cooling and the warm colors of Fall and the stillness of Winter (still not a fan of Summer), but Spring has such a wonderful fresh feeling, like a new beginning. Also I adore Spring veggies.

While I was lying in the ditch of my couch with a stream of old “Bones” episodes playing I pondered the whole writing thing. It is completely possible this story will never see the light of day or the fluorescent bulbs of a book store, so I wondered if it’s worth it.

I decided it is.

I’ve found the stories I have been kicking around in the back of my head only get louder and more annoying if I try to ignore them. It’s like a Top 40 song from the 90s, you pushed it aside and think you’ve moved on from it but then.. Bam! you are minding your own business in the grocery store and the tune starts blaring at you for attention and now it’s stuck and you find you still know all of the words. I also enjoy the challenge of getting something that seems perfect in my head on to paper and seeing it for the moth-eaten curtain that it is, then filling in the holes.

In the downtime my cold caused I realized I need to move on from the book I have been working on for the last year, it’s time. I fixed the beginning of the book shortly before I got sick and sent it out to three of my friends to get their take on the changes. In the midst of a particularly bad afternoon of “sick” I got an email back from one of my friends telling me the new beginning worked. She also said a few more things that got my cough-syrup-drenched emotions all verklempt, and it was what I needed. I am still trying to an agent, but now I need to poking at it.

So today I am starting a new book, not the sequel to the Witchy Women story but something completely different. It will be a Women’s Fiction novel, no paranormal characters in sight. This one will be about rock-n-roll, heartbreak, devotion, art, identity, and hopefully love. It will require some interesting film and article research.

I hope everyone is enjoying a happy and healthy Spring, and like Bailey stopping to smell the flowers every once in a while.

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Where Do I Start?

Last summer I finished my second book (1st trying to get published) and since then I have had some Saintly friends read it and give me some feedback. Since then I have poked and prodded at it; adding four chapters and then eliminating many useless words. That, had, very, just, etc. (By the way if I see the word suddenly in a book within the first ten pages, I get “judgy”).

After poking at it I started to query agents, so far no takers which has me wondering about the beginning of my book. When you query you only send in the first five to ten pages, so you have to make an impact quick. I have chopped the first two chapters down from pointless babbling to a little get to know our main character as she walks into a house she pretty much bought off the internet without visiting.

I am starting to wonder if this is a mistake.

A few of my beta readers have had problems getting into the book. They of course have lives and in many cases small children that don’t allow for much SSR. And believe me I really appreciate that they would even offer to spend any of their personal time reading, but I do think perhaps it’s not just the bambinos that are making them put down the book.

I think I need to start at a different point in the story.

There are all kinds of “rules” of where you should start your story.

Don’t start it when your character wakes up

Don’t open with dialogue

Don’t start with a dream

Don’t start with too much information

Don’t start with too little information

and no “it was a dark and stormy night”

So where in the hell are you supposed to start? I’m still trying to figure that out.

Ironically I think I stuck the landing. At the end of the book the story is complete but it still gives a feeling of the world in the book continuing (and hopefully it will). I think it helped that my husband is such a stickler for the endings of books and movies. I’ve listen to his reviews over the years and I know what frustrates him as a reader/viewer and I try not to walk into the same traps. Maybe I should get him to start reviewing the beginnings of books and movies too.

One of the beta readers (Mortdecai) suggested a prologue that features a character that is not alive in book, but makes the story possible. She was intrigued by the character and wanted to know more about her. I have messed around with this idea in my head, but then again another rule is “don’t start with a prologue”. Bloody Hell! Heck, screw the rules.

So fast forward to this last weekend where I went to a local Writer’s Group. You were allowed to bring 3 pages of something you had written and read it allowed and get feedback.

I chose to bring pages from the second chapter, about 1700 words in. I wanted to see if my dialogue was engaging.

It was, they wanted to know what happened next and they loved Nina who only had 200 words of page time. Whistle (Mortdecai’s husband) protested the week before not to cut Nina’s intro when I mentioned eliminating the first few chapters of the book… Everyone loves Nina, I love Nina. So now after hearing nine people’s feedback on the subject I think I need to start as close to Nina as possible.

It was a dark and stormy night, Nina was out walking alone in her purple cowboy boots.

Haha.

Where you do you like to start your stories? How did you decide that was the best place to begin?

Ridiculous Cuteness & Subtle Inspiration

Right now my cats are sun bathing in the corners of the house that they hid away from this weekend. Kudra, Porter, and their ridiculously cute daughter visited over the weekend. With the exception of a late night visit by Bailey when the grown ups talked downstairs, the cats kept themselves tucked away in our bedroom for the two night stay. I should mention that the ridiculously cute daughter is just 8 months old and crawling. When our guests arrived Bailey ran to his favorite hiding place, which unfortunately was under the guest bed. He came out eventually though, one little cry out of the baby and Bailey’s loud paw steps ran from one side of the house to the other over our heads. The cats have been shy to begin with, but I think we finally found Bailey’s kryptonite. Poor Hitch hid in our closet all weekend only coming out at night. If we had ever had kids it seems possible that we would have creatures in the closets that only came out while you slept. That wouldn’t be psychologically damaging for anyone, no..no.

Other than the cats long game of hide-and-go-seek (which I’m sure they took a break from when we went out all of Saturday) it was a nice weekend with friends. We exchanged our little crafty things with one another. The guys exchanged their homebrews and Porter gave us a bottle of his homemade hot sauce made with Carolina Reaper peppers. Kudra gifted me with a Happy Heart scented oil roller and an Olbas oil inhaler, not to mention a bottle of Elderberry syrup (which I just started making myself). I gave her an infused oil and two bags of kale, because that’s the only thing in our garden thriving in this wonky weather. We ate BBQ, drank a little bourbon, and then the guys and I talked about politics late into the night. On Saturday we visited a few local breweries, heard a great band, and then went home and had a homemade lasagna before all being in bed at a more decent hour.

On Sunday Porter made one of his famous fritatas and I danced with their daughter to post-punk revival music while they packed up. Trust me, the kid loved it.

I enjoyed their visit and hope next time I can convince them to come out when it is green and warm. They only seem to come out in the winter when the trees are bare and the outdoor seating chills you through your jeans. Not that I blame them-why you would drive away from the coast in summer? But I’ll keep trying. It’s wonderful to have them over, lots of laughter and kind words to one another. They also get my brain working in ways that usually doesn’t happen around most people. I even had a dream while they were here that would make a good Sci-Fi story, a genre I have never considered writing before.

How about you guys? Are there people in your life that inspire you in fun ways just by being themselves?

I’d Like to Thank My Fan

Hi All!

It’s been a long hot summer, no really- like watering the garden at 6:30 in the morning and still coming inside covered in sweat kind of hot. Also the absence of rain has been reminding me of my former SoCal environment. So with those factors my early morning watering was pretty much daily.

But a storm rolled through last week and even though the highs are still in the 90s, there has been a shift. I have been able to sneak out a few mornings and take walks, I mowed the yard with ease, and patio time has become enjoyable again.

So with this breath of new weather, my mind has started to refocus and I realize how much I miss blogging and connecting with people. So…hi, again.

I found that one of the side effects of extremely hot summer weather is the desire to do nothing outside (at least for me). This leads to more indoor activities, which leads to making the indoors more comfortable. To achieve this I had three ceiling fans installed…

I think this was a wise choice because it became so comfortable to sit at my desk that I accidentally finished a novel.

Seriously if the book ever gets published I am thanking my ceiling fan on the appreciation page, next to all the humans that I love and kept me going psychologically and even physically.  But the fan deserves some credit.

I finished in mid-July,  at 95,378 word count. My husband volunteered to take a look at it, overall he like it. He thought it should be longer, but this a guy who reads three-inch thick books as his light reading. It’s so bad that I had to get him this button:

I Like Big Books

I also got him a “Read Local” Button, because he always offers to read my books & it doesn’t get more local than the person snoring next to you while you try to sleep.

I did some clean up, rephrased lines, cut scenes, and then added a few things.

I think I surprised him when I easily added 11,000 additional words in my “editing”.

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Being the amusing fellow that he is, he said that was nice start but I should go for 125k. I assured him that it will be a series, so there will be more to read.

Now my 2nd Draft is the hands of my Beta-Readers. *furiously chomping on fingernails*

This is the first time someone besides my husband has read a book I have written. It’s a huge step for me as a writer. I’m a little bit more confident in sharing this one because it is purely fiction, while my first had echoes of things that happened. It also helped I had wonderful people around me telling me how they couldn’t wait to read it.

Of course Honey, my husband was always the loudest with his “cheerleading” and I couldn’t have done it without him. Thank you Sweetie.

You are my favorite Fan. xoxo

 

Garlic & Rosemary Chicken

After I finished the first draft of my novel I waited the few weeks I gave myself to let it rest in my mind. I then picked up my trusty red pencil and began making the edits. I now have a very red hard copy of my novel.

I took a break from blogging because honestly I didn’t know where I was going to go from here.  Was I going to share the ins and outs of my writing process here, would I form another blog to make connections with other writers, or was I just going to go “June Cleaver” of this thing and let the novel part just be a cute pun?  The truth is that I still haven’t decided but I’ve really missed writing here… so here I am.

I have been enjoying the summer.  We have explored new places in town and a few out of town, I have won courageously against the Battle of the Beige in our house (even with the summer weather), my sister Firefly came back for a visit and got to see some sunny days this time, our garden has shocked us with how much it has produced in such a short time, and we have really enjoyed getting to know our new friends out here.  Oh and we discovered one of the most addicting board games ever…Star Trek Catan.  Seriously don’t start playing the game unless you have time for a couple rounds.  Thankfully (for our sake) it requires three people to play, so we have to wait until we have a willing guest to dive back into it.  Anyone free Sunday afternoon? 😉

Today I am keeping close to the kitchen because I have an enormous pot simmering on the stove.  I am making my first homemade chicken stock from a chicken I roasted over the weekend.  It’s one of those days where they have been predicting rain, but the sun is shining and our plants are threatening to wilt if they don’t get a sip of water soon.  While I debate the merits of a pre-storm watering I have been organizing and categorizing files on my computer.  I’ll let you know how the stock turns out, but I happen to know that the chicken that I am making with it was delicious, so I will share that reipe with you now.

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This is my own hybrid of a recipe, I have seen parts of it in books and around the web, so if you have any feedback I am all ears.  Now I treat raw chicken like it is acid so I wash my hands a million times when I make it and I try my best to make it so I don’t touch anything I don’t need to while I handle the chicken.

So with that in mind I highly recommend taking everything out of the pantry/fridge before you unwrap the chicken.  I found that grinding the pepper into its own little prep bowl helps, same with the salt. Make sure your garlic cloves our peeled and the rosemary is clean.

Garlic & Rosemary Roasted Chicken:

(1)one whole chicken 3-5lbs

(4-6) sprigs of rosemary

(2-6) whole cloves of garlic

(3) Tbsp Olive Oil

(2-3) tsp Ground Black Pepper

(2) tsp Kosher Salt

(2) tsp dried rosemary (or fresh if you want

large Dutch/French oven capable of being in a 450 degree oven (I use use the 6.5 qt Costco Le Creuset knock-off)

meat thermometer

enough aluminum foil to cover the chicken

 

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

2. rub around a tsp of olive oil all over the inside the oven pot with a paper towel

3. empty chicken cavity of its insides, wash inside and out and then dry with paper towels.  Once it’s dry put chicken into oven pot

4. put 1-2 tsp of pepper and 1 tsp of salt into cavity of chicken.

5. put 4 springs of fresh rosemary and the garlic into chicken cavity

5. OPTIONAL: stuff a few springs of fresh rosemary between the chicken breast and its skin.

6. rub bird with remaining olive oil.

7. Sprinkle the rest of salt and pepper onto the bird.

8. sprinkle dried (or fresh rosemary) onto the bird

9. Put on the middle rack of the oven with a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh. Do not cover.

10. Cook until internal temperature has reached 180 degrees, it should take around an hour to get to that temperature.   (Just to be on the safe side I usually cook my chicken until 183 degrees).

11. Once it is cooked, remove it from the oven and put a piece of aluminum foil over the bird.  Let it cool for ten minutes and then transfer to another plate or board to serve.

Enjoy with potatoes and steamed vegetables, or if someone at the table has been very good: biscuits.