Work in Progress

Ebb and Flow

Posted May 2 2018

Writers know all about the ebb and flow of words. But unlike the ocean, word ebb and flow is not quite as predictable. Sometimes the tide is out for longer than it should be. The little crabs peek up to see what’s happened. The baby sea turtles search for water that isn’t there. And the writers stare at their screens wondering when the next wave will hit. They study the blinking cursor and think, surely the tide will roll in soon. Right?

Of course it will. But bear with me while I’m waiting for my ebb to…ebb, for publisher feedback on my first novel, for my first born’s high school graduation. My blog, like the tide, will eventually come back! 

 

 

 

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Sharing A Thursday Poem

Posted Apr 26 2018

I’m behind on my blog this week so I’ve decided to re-post a poem by Christine Stewart-Nunez I read this morning on my favorite blog site – Janet Reid.

This poem is visceral to the point my taste buds hurt while reading it. It evokes every sense. And it may just bring a smile to your face.

Enjoy and pass it on.

 

Wonder Woman Shops at the A&P

To satisfy her radiant-orange
appetite, Diana collects jars
of marmalade with crystallized
peels suspended in sugar, frozen
cylinders of citrus, two pounds
of organic carrots, a pumpkin.
Click-click, click-click, her scarlet
boots tap tiles as she grabs
packages with scents that hint:
ginger, juices, salmon, steak.
Her cart flashes with boxes
of orange pekoe, tangerines,
a sack of yams, apricots rolling
about, chunks of cheddar
and colby, peaches, peppers
the color of koi. At an aisle’s end,
her bracelets clink against cool
glass as she selects sunflowers
for her table, their goldenrod
bonnets the texture of night.

–Christine Stewart-Nunez (untrussed and other poems: UNM Press)

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You Have An Agent…Now What?

Posted Apr 18 2018 in , ,

What a week! I’m still reeling a little. In a good way. For those of you who’ve not been blitzed by my social media announcements, I’ve signed with a literary agent. What does that mean? It means I finally know what a runner’s high feels like. But as the helium leaves my body and my feet touch the ground again, I realize it also means it’s time to get back to work, settle into my new reality. 

Y’all have been with me throughout this journey, but the journey’s not over. It’s just beginning. So settle in and grab some popcorn.

I’ve had several friends say, “That’s great you got an agent. When’s your book coming out?”

Oh boy.

As much as I’d like to say my book releases tomorrow, unfortunately, that’s not the case. Signing with an agent does NOT guarantee a book will get published. It only guarantees the book will be sent (submitted) to publishers. And the harsh reality is selling a book to a publisher is the hardest part. Writing the book is the easy part. Rewriting the book, a little more difficult. Querying the book, hell on earth. Signing an agent, hard. Landing a publisher, next level sh*t.

Traditional publishing is a tricky business. Like gambling, the house likes to win. So they’re very picky about who they choose to bet on. 

But I knew going in what I was getting myself into, and in I went. For now I’m harnessing all the endorphins from accomplishing my first goal, signing with an agent (okay, maybe an agent wasn’t my first goal – maybe my first goal was to write a book then tell people I was writing a book then write about writing the book then rewrite the book then…you get it.) Anyway, I’ll store up those endorphins like lightning in a bottle and use them for fuel to keep me from doing this on the next step toward publication…

So what’s next?

I did a very light edit, and my agent is sending my manuscript out to a couple of editors at publishing houses. 

And then what?

Wait for responses. If it’s a no, editors who pass give specific notes on why. 

And then what?

Edit.

And then what?

More edits.

And then what?

Send it out to more editors.

And then what?

Wait.

You see where this is going. That cycle continues until (hopefully) an editor makes an offer. Which, by the way, still leads to more edits. If all editors pass, then it’s time for a new plan, possibly involving book two – which I’m…editing. 

All this craziness is why so many writers self-publish. But self-publishing (the right way) is no easy task either. After a year in the query trenches, I considered it. As a matter of fact, the day before I got my agent offer, I told a writing friend on our walk maybe it was time to self-publish. But, all along, I’ve wanted a partner in this process. Someone on the inside to help guide me. And when I read The Knight Agency’s website, that’s the exact language they use. A partnership.

Some people like to attempt Everest, I like to attempt traditional publishing. I’m going to keep an open mind and trust this crazy process, and see what happens. I’m at base camp 2. Time to strap on the oxygen and crampons and get to climbing.

Let’s do this!

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Spring Crazy

Posted Apr 11 2018

When you have children in school, the lovely blooms of spring mean one thing, chaos. The end of the school year is coming!

Spring crazy is starting to hit at my house. I say every year I’m going to be ready. I’m going to be calm. Then, right after spring break, I start to hear a distant rumble behind me. The ground shakes. And I turn to see a giant ball of last minute responsibilities careening toward me. 

It’s like I live in a movie and the people watching keep hitting fast forward and making me…well, crazy. There are tests, proms, summer planning. There are programs, award ceremonies, and more tests. And if you have one graduating, you’d better really hold onto your hat. You can add paying fees, filling out forms, buying XL twin sheets, getting immunizations, filling out more forms, finding the right room organizers, and frantically worrying about how small those dorm “closets” are and how your daughter will ever pack accordingly. You have to write letters to your senior and watch her while on vacation as she sits alone on the beach looking for shells and physically restrain yourself from running to her and grabbing her as reality hits. It’s tough.

April and May are blurry, hot messes. I work hard to “be here now” but during this time of year the days are gone before I even realize they started. It hard to be in the moment and enjoy those beautiful azalea blooms when all I can focus on is the date the application for dorm housing opens. 

Speaking from a mother’s point of view, we’ve trained our whole lives for spring crazy. We’re expert jugglers. Yet when one of our children is about to fly from the nest, it’s like someone tossed a flaming chainsaw into the juggling mix. Everything is amped up, including nerves…hers and mine. Some days I think the pressure in my home is so great that if I open a door a whoosh of air will escape, and take me with it. Time to focus on all those breathing techniques I’ve learned in yoga. Egads – time to start making lists again.

A few years ago I stopped making lists. Sticky notes were taking over my world. I realized this when I found one that said “pack” before I was going on a trip. Was I really going to forget to pack? Anyway, it might be time to yank those sticky notes out of my junk drawer. 

I feel like an untethered balloon, and it’s tornado season! But instead of flinging around telephone poles and cars and livestock, the End-of-Year Spring Crazy tornado flings around forms and deadlines and stressed out teens. I’ve got to figure out a way to step outside of the whirlwind. Let it scoot on by without me. 

What do you do this time of year to keep yourself from heading to the nearest bar?

 

 

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Lessons From An Empty Nest

Posted Apr 4 2018

I saw, or actually heard, something in nature that imitates real life. Specifically, what my life will be in a couple of years. An empty nest. My family and I were on a boat in the most beautiful water I’ve ever seen on the most beautiful day imaginable. Wispy clouds skittered by. Salty air filled our nostrils. And, as we eased by a huge cliff, incessant squawking floated down from above.

One of our guides said to me, “The Ospreys are bickering again.” The Ospreys are not an elderly couple who live across the street. They are a pair of seahawks who reside above the Atlantic Ocean in Providenciales. Our guide went on to say, “They’ve been doing this ever since their babies left.”

Hmmm. Sound familiar?

Unlike our babies, their babies get one chance to fly away. One. And if they don’t succeed, they fall into the ocean and die. In comparison, this makes launching my oldest off to college in the Fall seem quite easy and harmless. 

But like so many couples, the Ospreys find themselves with (literally) a huge empty nest and only each other to pass the time. And from the sounds coming from the top of that cliff, they weren’t taking it well.

Got me thinking. How’s this going to play out when my babies fly away. Will my husband and I peck at each other from morning to night? Will people stop and point and ask what all the clatter is about and others will answer, “That’s just the Moorhead’s bickering again.” I may, unfortunately, have a head start on this scenario (and our nest isn’t empty yet!) I’m on my way to becoming fluent. No Rosetta Stone tapes needed. Just the absence of children. Bickering happens to the best of us. Especially those of us who’ve been in marriages decades, not years. One day we wake up, look around, realize we have no children to distract us, and off we go.

“Are you really going to leave your shoes on top of the breakfast counter?” 

“Are you really going to leave food in sink instead of putting it down the disposal?” 

“You know you can’t feed the dog steak, it gives him gas.”

“You know you can turn off lights before you get in bed.” 

“Here, let me do that.” 

“Stop it, I got it.”

And on and on and on. 

An empty nest can morph into a marriage danger zone sprinkled with hidden mines like who’s in charge of the remote and driving ability and my personal favorite, temperature control.

I’m convinced the Cold War had nothing at all to do with geopolitical tensions and communism but the temperature at which a bedroom was kept. When my in-laws come to visit, no matter what time of year it is, they pack sweaters and down jackets. They know they’re going into the lair of the cold miser. During the day, you’ll be comfortable in my home. But come sundown, you’d better grab your wool blankie and bundle up. Winter is coming.

My husband, bless his heart, has succumbed to this necessity in my world. We bickered about it. He tried to sneak to the control panel and tap the air temp up in the middle of the night but my supersonic bat hearing busted him. He tried to rationalize with me. Nothing worked. Finally, he threw up his hands, donned his flannels, and avoided that mine field all together. But that doesn’t mean others aren’t waiting.

Avoiding bickering completely may be a bit overly ambitious but I can acknowledge its presence, take a lesson from those Ospreys. Realize I don’t want to ruin a beautiful view with loud bickering. 

What are you bickering about?

 

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Spring Break!

Posted Mar 28 2018

No blog this week. Chillin’ on the beach.

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A Quick Observation on Insults

Posted Mar 21 2018

When a topic keeps coming up over and over again in the same week, and when different friends comment on it in similar ways, I take notice. This past week the topic was backhanded compliments or insults passed off as humor. Then, in the same week, I see this Instagram post from @overheardnewyork which is hysterical in its honesty.

Gotta love New York. Sometimes I want more of this.

Of course, that means we need the skin for it. Down here in the South that may be tall order. Although my teenagers are certainly helping to thicken my skin when they mumble phrases like “Are you really going to wear that?” and “This tastes disgusting” and, my favorite, “You’re not funny.” They haven’t learned the fine art of hiding insults in humor or disguising an insult as a compliment. That takes years of practice, preferably below the Mason Dixon line where we can wrap an insult up so pretty and perfect you say thank you after we deliver it to you. 

Let me give you a few examples of what I’m talking about:

  • Burying the insult beneath a mask of concern: “Must be so hard not being able to parent your child.” Said to a full-time working mother I know.
  • The backhanded compliment insult: “Oh my God. You’re pretty now.” Said to me by a woman 3 seconds after I walked into my 20-year high school reunion.
  • The surprised compliment insult: “Wow! Look at you!” Followed by “I didn’t recognize you.” Said at any formal function where one is required to wear a dress and mascara.
  • The passive-aggressive “I’m just kidding” insult: Said on an hourly basis following phrases like, “You really annoy me” or “I wish you were dead.”

My tolerance for this last one is wavering on non-existant. “Just kidding” needs to pack its bags and move to Antartica, taking along with it “I’ll try” and “To be honest with you.” 

In King Lear, Shakespeare wrote, “In jest, there is truth.” Rock on Bard. Even he understood, unlike the word but, just kidding does not negate everything said before it.

The flip side of this coin, though, is sarcasm. I’ll take that and dish it out in bucket loads. Sarcasm is my favorite second language. It erases the need for just kidding. I love my groups of friends who wield sarcasm like Hanzo steel. We laugh…a lot. Mostly at ourselves. And we don’t have to say just kidding. 

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we all need to go around hitting people between the eyes with insults. No, no, no. I’m saying there has to be room in the middle for another option, like maybe the old adage…if you don’t have anything nice to say…

Are sneaky, little insults creeping into your world? Do you find yourself saying thank you to someone only to realize later they insulted you? 

I’d love to hear about your favorite insults. 

Just kidding.

 

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Winning Without Perfection

Posted Mar 14 2018 in , ,

I’m on that topic again. A word I like to dance around every so often on this blog: Perfection.

Last Sunday I watched the women’s world number one tennis player, Simona Halep, play at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells. Martina Navratilova and Mary Carillo called the match. Halep had her hands full with her opponent, a young hard-hitting American wild card named Caroline Dolehide – who beat Halep handily in the first set 6-1. The commentators mentioned the “old” Halep would have fallen apart, crumbled under a bad attitude and lost the match. But the “new” Halep hung tough and won the next two sets thus winning the match. 

BNP Paribas Open 2018 (Halep in the near corner)

Carillo said playing these young players when you’re a “mature” player can make you feel like you’ve been hit by a bus. The young ones don’t over think. They play with fearless gusto. But the older ones (and by older in tennis terms I mean 26!) like Halep have to fight off the mental demons. Halep is a perfectionist.

The commentators discussed how even though Halep reached the top of her game physically, she still needed help emotionally and mentally. So she hired a sports psychologist. Someone to help her control that constant strive for perfection. Carillo said Sunday that Halep now strives for excellence, not perfection. Halep said in a recent interview she’s learned she can’t be 100% every time she steps on a court.

I’m always looking for perfection, but at the same time I know it doesn’t exist. So it’s a little bit weird there, why [am I] thinking about it even though I know it doesn’t exist?

I have had to learn and to understand that sometimes I can’t always be at my best.

Doesn’t that hold true for us too? For our kids? Our significant others? What do we expect every day? I don’t even think we have to strive for excellence every day. Some days I just strive for average (my tennis team can confirm this.) If the women’s world number one tennis player can let go of perfection, can’t we?

As you all know, I have a daughter about to go to college. We attended a school tour recently where one girl explained why she picked Tulane in New Orleans. She’s from New Jersey. She was admitted to ivy league schools in the Northeast, and she passed on them all. She said at one of these prestigious schools, a student told her she would have to keep her books locked up because students will steal books and rip pages out so a student can’t study for an exam. She said the competition in the schools she looked at is so out of control, peers sabotage each other instead of encourage each other. That push for perfection can cause good kids to resort to underhanded tactics.

What are we willing to sacrifice for perfection? The correct answer is nothing.

Like Academy Award winner Guillermo del Toro said:

There is beauty and humility in imperfection

Hear! Hear!

On my first novel, I spent years pulling my hair out trying to make it perfect.

And it’s not perfect. Finally accepting that was such a relief. My second novel isn’t perfect either. And I love it. Writing it has been even more fun than writing the first one because I never expected it to be perfect. When I released that expectation, I was rewarded.

I think I keep circling the topic of perfection because once upon a time I believed that’s what I had to achieve. Now, not so much. Age has taught me not to aim for impossible goals like perfection. Whoever said youth is wasted on the young was no dummy.  

Last Sunday, even though I was cheering for that spunky American player, I’m excited Halep won. I applaud anyone who can fight through the demon of perfection and still come through with a win.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to be average.

What do you strive for?

 

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A Writer’s “Original” Ideas

Posted Mar 7 2018 in , , ,

I saw a tweet last week that fascinated me. This is rare. Twitter is not my happy place. But…this tweet came from a literary agent who posted about “original” ideas.

Crazy. Fantastic! I hope she does this every month.

Here are few examples of “original” ideas writers asked her to search and the number of times that word appeared in her agency’s query inbox…from only ONE month of queries at ONE agency:

  • “Synesthesia” – TONS – (I had to look this up!)
  • “Face Blind” – 2
  • “Assassin” – 16
  • “Portal Fantasy” – 12
  • “Reverse Portal Fantasy” – 1
  • “Wishes” – 4 in one day
  • “Pen pal” – 3

What sounds random, isn’t random at all. If we think we’re the one who came up with “face blind”, wrong. Not one, but two people already beat us to the punch. 

In Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert refers to an idea as a “disembodied energetic life form” in constant search of a human host and says ideas present themselves to as many humans as they can so they can be heard. She believes this. And in a way I agree with her. If an idea comes to you, take it and nurture it but know that same idea will make its way to others as well. Gilbert talks in Big Magic about how many years ago she met Ozzy Osbourne and had the idea to make a reality television show about his crazy, fantastic family. But she did nothing with this idea. She put it away for later. Needless to say, someone else had this same idea, but they capitalized on it. Ce la vie.

I’ve seen writers take possession of their ideas like a toddler with a paci – Mine! They hoard it and hover over it not knowing it’s a dime a dozen. There are plenty others out there with the same idea. It can be a painful reality. I know. I get it. But all that hovering only creates anxiety. And as writers, we don’t need any more anxiety!

I’ve had writers at conferences say to me, “I want to tell you about my book but…” and then look around the room like writer spies hide in every corner waiting to steal their idea, ponce on it like my cat with a rubber band. Or even better finish that statement with “…but I haven’t copyrighted it yet.” Huh? Copyright a book idea? Good luck.

From Janet Reid, Agent Extraordinaire and Query Shark Queen:

From time to time I receive queries from writers who list a copyright number for the book they want  me to represent.  I don’t pay much attention other than to note that author doesn’t know much about how publishing works.

Remember that bespectacled British boy who leaves his mundane life (with a pet owl) for a life of magic. No, not Harry Potter. DC Entertainment’s Tim Hunter from a comic book series, The Books of Magic…created ten years before J.K. Rowlings wrote Harry Potter. 

*from KillerMovies.com

And The Books of Magic was a spinoff from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. Fans rumbled about the similarities of Tim Hunter and Harry Potter but Gaiman called the rumblings “silly.” He said he and Rowlings  both “stole” from T.H. White’s 1958 book The Once and Future King about a young Authur coming to terms with his destiny to be king.

No original ideas.

Let me give you another example, this one closer to home. My dad. He hatches an idea about every 1/2 second. Many years ago he had an idea for a movie. He talked about this idea constantly. It would be a sci-fi movie where aliens came to earth in raindrops. He knew every single detail. Then lo and behold Steve Martin wrote a hysterical movie called Bowfinger about a desperate movie producer who makes a movie called “Chubby Rain” about…aliens who come to earth in raindrops. So not only did they “steal” my father’s idea but they made fun it. A bit of a double whammy for Dad. We still laugh about it though. Most times that’s all you can do.

According to Christopher Booker in his 2004 book The Seven Basic Plots, there exists in this world…wait for it…seven basic plots. Only seven. 

  1. Overcoming the monster
  2. Rags to riches
  3. The quest
  4. Voyage and return
  5. Comedy
  6. Tragedy
  7. Rebirth

So what, then, makes our stories original?

Our voices. Our characters. Our settings. And good writing. No point wasting time worrying about being original. Use that time instead to hone your idea (whatever it may be) into the sharpest point possible. Kind of like life. Take what you’ve got and make the best of it. The idea doesn’t have to be original, it’s what you do with it that counts. And be ready, because sometimes others will beat you to the punch and do a better job of it. Hike up the big girl pants and move on to the next idea. There will always be one looking for you.

Tell me, have you ever had an idea someone else created it before you had the chance?

 

 

 

 

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Writing Goals and Contentment

Posted Feb 28 2018 in , , ,

Circling back around a little this week to that other thing I love writing about…writing. Specifically, writing goals and contentment and contemplating if hitting the bullseye is mandatory or if the outer rings will suffice.

Goals for me are a constantly moving target. They shift and change. Sometimes on purpose. Sometimes on accident. All part of being flexible, I tell myself. And, as my Downward-Facing dog can attest, flexibility isn’t my strong point.

One goal I work to keep constant though is contentment. Underneath all the other goals, I believe this one is the most powerful. And it’s the hardest to attain. A slippery fish we can hold in our hands one moment and drop the next, watching as it flops across the dock into the water until we catch it again.

Here’s a quote from the Dalai Lama I’m considering as wallpaper for my office:

When you are discontent, you always want more, more, more. Your desire can never be satisfied. But when you practice contentment, you can say to yourself, ‘Oh yes – I already have everything that I really need.’

In a world where our computers, phones, televisions, and even watches bombard us with things we need, it’s hard to imagine this.

Let’s look at some synonyms and antonyms for the word contentment, shall we?

  • Synonyms: Fulfillment, gratification, serenity, ease
  • Antonyms: Dissatisfaction, upset, worry, sadness

One look at my bathroom countertop tells me I have some more work to do in the synonym category. Whitening toothpaste, Retinol, Goop, and neck firming cream greet me every morning and say goodnight to me every evening. My maintenance crew. But do they speak to something else? Maybe. There’s a fine line (or maybe it’s a deep chasm) between products helping you feel content and feeling content without the products. 

But more than superficial contentment, what about the contentment that grows from within. A seed we plant and water and nurture, every day. A garden of peace. Our true North. That’s what my writing goals are testing at the moment.

I see a crossroads coming. Crossroads make me fidgety. 

My writing goal started as – acquire an agent, traditionally publish my first novel. I’ve queried that novel a year now. It’s still being considered by three agents. So I’m waiting. If those three say no, I have new decisions to make. New goals to ponder. Self-publish? Tuck that novel away in a drawer? Drink lots of margaritas? 

What will I be content with? How will I balance contentment and ambition?

Maybe it’s all about working toward a goal and if that goal proves (momentarily) unattainable, adjusting to a new goal…and being content with that. Letting it be. Doesn’t that sound awful difficult?

Then I hear stories like Jamie Siminoff’s, who went on Shark Tank in 2013 with the goal of making a deal for his WiFi-enabled doorbell. He was rejected. He said he left the show “literally being in tears.” But the publicity from the show helped his failing business, and he decided on a new goal, re-brand and make more products. Amazon reported yesterday it is buying his company, Ring. Reuters estimates it will cost Amazon $1 billion. Quite a goal shift. I wonder if he’s content. 

One thing I know for certain, shaping words into stories makes me content. A crazy, light feeling washes over me as I tap out sentences. Writing this blog makes me feel content. Connecting with y’all and sharing life’s ups and downs and forming friendships makes me feel content. (Thank you.) And yet…I still want more.

I want strangers to read my stories (even if that means bad reviews). I want to write and sell books. I want a book signing. Sorry Dalai Lama, I’m not there yet. But I promise to grasp onto those things above that do offer contentment. Make them my entire target. Keep writing and aiming and see where the road leads.

Until then, stay tuned and stay content.

Tell me your thoughts. How do you manage your goals and contentment? 

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