Monday, February 10, 2014

Abstract Thoughts: I Think the End Zone is in the Bathroom Now

Brilliance from Idea Salesman
Renee is a compulsive planner. She plans everything. There are half a dozen spreadsheets that she uses every single day, which is a little weird for someone who doesn't work in administration or data analysis or something. And Renee is the only person I know who has eleven separate calendars set up for herself in Google Calendar.

(Okay, so she's the only person I know, period, since I'm a made up voice living inside her head. Not the point.)

Unfortunately, she completely sucks at actually sticking with those plans.

I don't know if it's second guessing or an attention deficit thing or something that should probably be discussed with a shrink, but you can pretty much bank on the fact that if Renee sets out a plan for how something is going to work, that's exactly how it's not going to work. Oh, it'll work that way for a little while, sure. Until she comes up with a "better" idea and has to sit down and plan the whole damn thing out all over again.

Maybe she just likes making plans so much that she deliberately makes bad ones so she gets to make a new revised plan tomorrow? She does have just the right amount crazy-like-a-fox in her for something like that.

Whatever. The point is we have a new plan. Again.

Here's how this works: First there was getting up early every day to write. Because you *must*.

That plan quickly changed to getting up early to write only five days a week, because writing every day just didn't happen anyway and getting behind on the goals every single week was demoralizing. Yay for realistic goal setting!

NaNoWriMo came back around and she decided to start getting up earlier to write even more. Because that progress bar demanded blood.

That lasted approximately three weeks until we went back to getting up early but not too early. Because sleep is good.

Memory loss is a common side effect of fatigue. It didn't take long before she was back to getting up too early, but this time to exercise before we wrote. Sleep is nice, after all, going without it isn't too hard (riiiiiiiight) and physical fitness is important too.

Somewhere in there we also started splitting off writing days for the sake of blogging days. That one might have been my fault. I was the one pushing to expand the blog after all. And all these posts don't just write themselves unfortunately.

And then we moved blogging and exercising to a later time slot and went back to just writing five days a week. Because sleep is good. And apparently so are priorities.

Oh, and did I mention she wants to move her desk to a completely different part of the freaking house now too???

Sheesh, how is a guy supposed to keep track of field position when the damn goal posts keep moving around? Last week we only wrote 1500 words, which I'm pretty sure is bad, goal-wise, but it was plenty good a month ago. So now I don't know whether I should be stomping and cheering for Renee or waving my keys at her.

It's frustrating. It's so frustrating I feel like I need a stronger word than frustrating, but finding stronger words is the Inner Editor's job and I'm so frustrated I can't even bring myself to track her down right now. I'm just... Grrrrrrrrrrr!

I give up. The plan is dead. Long live the plan.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Flash Fiction: Unprofessional

PROMPT/CHALLENGE SUMMARY: This week's flash fiction is a quickie from a random prompt generator. There are about a billion of them out there on the web, but I like this one best. It gives me a little of guidance without being too specific, which makes for nice stretching exercises. This time the prompt generated was to write 350-500 words of description related to the word "unprofessional". That sounds simple enough, but it was a bit of a challenge to write just description. I kept wanting to break it up with dialogue or at least internal monologue or something.
(Source: The Almost Totally Random Writing Exercise Generator, Tell Me a Story version)

She breezed in at 9:15 for her 9:00 shift, scarf unwound and dragging in the salted snow like a fuzzy knitted tail. Slurping a caramel mocha and yapping on her cell, her heel caught the doormat and she stumbled into the front desk.

She wiped her chin and mumbled an offhand apology through her sleeve. As she passed the copier, she tossed her Styrofoam cup into the bin, not noticing--not caring--that coffee splashed up onto the wall. She also didn't give any thought to the triangle of arrows indicating the bin was for paper, not trash.

Her scarf left a muddy streak on the tile, a slime trail marking her path from the door to her cubicle. She shrugged out of her coat and tossed both onto the soft partition between her desk and her neighbor's. The other side of that wall was blank, photographs and children's art projects long since relocated for their own protection.

She wrapped up her call at that point and plugged the cell into a charger she'd set up next to her keyboard, positioned so wouldn't miss a text message or Facebook notification while she worked.

Her office phone rang the instant she flopped into her chair, the wonky beep signaling an internal call. A moment later, with an eye roll so huge it gave everyone a headache, she wound back through the cubicle maze toward human resources.

Fifteen minutes later she returned. The breezy saunter lost, her heels snapped out angry clacks instead. She went to the copier again, this time to dump the open case of paper out onto the supply table. One pack of paper fell and she kicked it. The errant ream spun across the tile until it bumped into the dusty fichus in the corner.

The branch manager waited by her desk. He didn't offer to help or offer consolation. He simply supervised as she slammed her various personal items--a cell charger, a mug warmer, two framed pictures--into the paper box.

He reached in once, removing the heavy black stapler she'd attempted to hide between the three half-empty bags of candy from the bottom drawer.

After another ten minutes she began her walk of shame, clutching the now full box to her chest like a shield. She glared straight ahead, but a wavery smudginess had seeped into her eyeliner, hinting at tears.

The manager skirted around to open the door for her, mumbling something vaguely patronizing as he did. She stomped on his foot in response, grinding her heel down hard enough to dent the leather. His next goodbye was louder, and less patronizing.

A few minutes later a lackey from IT arrived to take her computer. The limping branch manager pulled the white rectangle bearing her name from its slot by her former desk and dumped it into the recycling bin, where it soaked up the cold coffee.

By 10:00, the show was over and everyone had been ordered back to work.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

My Influences: Danielle Steel

When I was a kid, it seemed like my mother always had at least one partially-read Danielle Steel novel lying around the house somewhere. My parents both worked a lot and didn't get much down time, so I don't actually remember her sitting down to read very often, but the books were always there.

I grew to be quite an avid reader myself, so it was only a matter of time before I picked one of them up. I don't remember what my first Danielle Steel novel was, but I know I got completely hooked pretty quickly. I remember spending one summer plowing through my mother's entire bookshelf, devouring one after another after another, until I'd read them all.

Hmmm... I haven't actually read a Danielle Steel novel in a while. I think I'm behind.

*adds "Correct TBR" and "Raid library" to today's to-do list*

The beautifully rich love stories and fascinating glimpses at history kept bringing me back over and over again. I've read so many novels in my life that it's hard sometimes for me to pluck out individuals, especially from the ones I read as a kid. But several of Danielle Steel's made such an impression that I still catch little bits and pieces floating through my thoughts decades later.

And when I sit down to write these posts and think about the stories I want to tell and the reactions I want to inspire in my readers, one of the first examples that jumps to mind is my own experience reading Danielle Steel's Fine Things.

I could tell you that remember reading Fine Things specifically because it made me cry, but cry is really too small a word for what happened. I wept while reading that book, in the most dramatic sense of the word. Even decades later, I'd still feel a little tightness in my chest just thinking about that story. And when Long-Suffering Husband was diagnosed with cancer, Fine Things was one of the first things that came rushing into my head.

(And then I had a major anxiety attack and cried myself to sleep for days. Because, you know, things didn't go so well with regard to the whole cancer thing in that book. But happily they went well for us here in reality--yay for over three years in full remission!--so it's all good.)

You can argue the merits of fiction up and down and back and forth and never really come to the end of the debate. Genre fiction, and romance in particular, gets slammed as frivolous and pointless quite frequently. But I hear all of that literary criticism and all I can really say is that I'm sitting here writing a blog post about a romance novel I read a lifetime ago and I'm still moved by the memory of it.

Because that's what great books do. It doesn't matter if it's a love story or a ghost story or a dramedy about sisterhood. Great books jump right off whatever shelf they happen to get stuck on. They get inside and grab us by our emotions and burn themselves into our memories.

And I want to do that. Maybe this is going to be one of those things that says bad things about me as a person, but I really want to make people cry someday. No, I want to make them weep, in the most dramatic sense of the word.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Abstract Thoughts: Driven to Distraction

Wisdom of an Inner Editor
It's a dangerous thing, leaving an abstract without a task. Particularly an Inner Editor. We're very organized beings. We have contractual obligations regarding checklists. We need tasks.

And yet here I sit, without task.

Which is why what happened last week was not my fault.

Renee is hard at work on the zero draft of Guardian, which is going along swimmingly. That's wonderful for her. I'm truly pleased. I got to work quite a bit on the plotting of this novel, and I'd like to think that my influence there means the Muse won't be turning in a confused slurry of underdeveloped characters and tangled subplots.

Alas, this leaves me, as I mentioned above, without a task at the moment. So when Renee picked up a flash fiction challenge on Saturday morning and ended up churning out 3000 words too many, I couldn't resist.

Tightening chunky prose is one of my favorite things to do. Renee is naturally quite verbose, so I have a lot of practice at it. Handing me 4000 words of text and asking me to cut it down by 75%.... This is how I know Renee loves me.

It was a grand challenge. At times I'm tempted to sneak into Renee's language center and remove all the prepositional phrases from her vocabulary. But I resist that urge, because then what would I do with my time? And there were whole scenes and secondary characters that needed to be cut. She also had a very elaborate backstory built up for her main character and, while it was lovely, we just don't have time for that kind of thing in flash fiction.

Unfortunately, all of this hard work spilled well over Renee's allotted timeframe. There was talk of setting the challenge aside, of holding onto the idea and using it for that short story the Idea Salesman is so keen on writing this summer.


I mean, while I agree that this idea could be further explored and developed into a short story later, I would prefer to spend some additional time working on it now, if that's acceptable. Renee is under considerable stress--Long-Suffering Husband was out of town last week, which made her parenting role a bit more complicated--and taking a day off for a project like this could be beneficial.</i>

It seems I was mistaken, with regard to both how much time I would need with the mermaids and the stress-relieving aspect of the project itself. Renee ended up quite frustrated by the end of the week and several thousand words behind on Guardian.

Let's not focus on the negatives though, and instead look at this as a learning experience.

One could argue, as I'm sure Idea Salesman will, that this week illustrates the importance of not letting an Inner Editor set the agenda.

I disagree. Not only is the premise absurd (who better to set an agenda, after all, than the abstract with the most experience and a certain fondness for to-do lists?), it also undermines my position. As Renee's senior abstract, I simply cannot allow that to happen.

That way lies notions of tying me up and locking me in closets.

I'd prefer to focus on the real lesson here, which is not to let ones Inner Editor get bored.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Flash Fiction: Do You Want To Build a Snowman?

This guy stared at us through the back window for a week
last March, melting and looking a little scarier every day.
PROMPT/CHALLENGE SUMMARY: The kids and I have been listening to the soundtrack from Frozen a lot lately. "Let It Go" is our favorite, but "Do You Want To Build a Snowman?" is also very popular. My one-year-old particularly likes clicking like the clock in the middle there. It's a whole new skill for her. Yay new and different ways to make noise! (My yay! is somewhat less enthusiastic than hers.) Anyway, before I get too far off topic, I've had the song running through my head a lot recently. And I most definitely do NOT want to build a snowman. I grew up in the South, but we lived in Philadelphia for a few years right after Long-Suffering Husband and I got married, so I thought I knew all about snow. Yeah, well, those years must have been mild winter years. Either that, or Philly has nothing on Chicagoland when it comes to snowfall. The point is, I don't have years of snowman building experience to fall back on here. I'm just sort of going with what I've gleaned from television shows and Christmas movies. Last winter I learned a very important lesson about snowmen: never build a snowman in front of your window facing into the house. Because it will freak you out. Especially once it starts to melt from snowman to snow-monster. *shudder* It's enough to drive a stay-at-home mommy already losing her grip on sanity right over the edge.

The snowman was watching her. Staring through the back window like a demented Peeping Tom.

"I never realized they were so creepy," she said, her voice loud in the quiet house. She set down her coffee and pinched the front of her bathrobe closed.

"Oh, don't be ridiculous," she muttered, making herself release the robe and pick the mug back up. As if a snowman would have any interest in her saggy breasts.

"It doesn't have any interest in anything. It's a snowman." She drained her coffee and went to the kitchen for a refill. She clearly needed it.

This was one of her favorite times of day, the hour or so before sunrise, before the kids woke up. No one needing her to make breakfast or pack lunch. No one needing her to find clothes or strip an accident-soaked bed. No one needing.

The snowman caught her eye as she brought her coffee back to the table and she glared at it for disturbing her peace.

"Mama, can we build a snowman?" Evan had begged, his nose smearing the window as he stared at the glittering wonderland the overnight snowstorm had made of their backyard. So she'd bundled him up in his new snow suit and they'd trundled out into the yard.

Of course, once they piled enough snow and sort of pushed into a snowman-ish shape, they'd run into logistical problems.

Who kept lumps of coal and top hats lying around the house these days anyway?

The Oreos had made decent eyes, but the baby carrot nose looked... odd. At least they'd made up for it with big muscular arms. The only branches could tug off the tree were long and too thick to break.

But night had stolen one of his Oreo eyes and melted away half the misshapen lumpy body. Its too-thick arms didn't look ready for a hug anymore; they looked to be reaching forward. Reaching toward the window. Toward her.

She tried to drink her coffee and concentrate on her calendar. She tried to ignore the reaching. The staring.

"Stop it," she told herself. "It doesn't have eyes. It has Oreos. Oreo. It can't stare."

Wind rattled the back window and she looked up again before she could stop herself.

"Creepy," she whispered.

Another gust of wind, another rattle.

She flipped to her grocery list in the front of the planner.


"Can't leave a window unsealed like that. It'll cost us a fortune," she muttered, sounding suitably practical.

Until she glanced at the window again.

"That's it." She stalked over to the window and glared at the snowman. "It's rude to stare!" she admonished.

It didn't answer. Of course not. Snowmen didn't talk.

Insolent bastards.

She whirled away from the window and marched to the coat closet. She pulled her coat over her bathrobe, stuffed her bare feet into boots, and got the snow shovel from the garage. Then she hoisted it over her shoulder like a bat and headed into the backyard.