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    Tuesday, September 20, 2011

    Creative Frustrations

    Tomorrow I leave for the American Christian Fiction Writers conference in St. Louis. I’ll be talking with editors and agents, presenting my work, and hoping, always hoping, to get one step closer to publishing a novel.

    It seems my son is in the same boat.

    Yesterday, Chunky ran out of school waving a stack of papers. He couldn’t wait to tell me about it, so he started yelling the minute he saw me across the school lawn.


    He jabbered on about it as we walked to the car, ran a couple errands, and then drove home. Once in the house, he set to work adding pages to his book. What once was The 4 Page Monster Book became The 7 Page Monster Fun Book.

    Finally I had a minute to sit down and go through each wonderfully illustrated page with him. He was so proud. With good reason. The 7 Page Monster Fun Book is a masterpiece!

    But then we hit a snag. Chunky wanted to print a copy of his book for each of his classmates because, and I quote, “I want to be nice to them, and I want them to think I’m a nice kid.”

    But our printer isn’t working right, and, let’s face it, 25 color copies won’t be cheap.

    He fussed and fumed about his frustration until Kory came home from work. The minute his dad walked through the door, Chunky assailed him with his dilemma.

    “I wrote a book and our printer doesn’t work! And I want to make one for every kid in my class. I want them to like me. But our printer puts a black line through everything, and if it puts a line through the Domo monster, he’ll just be Do!”

    Kory looked to me for an explanation.

    I shrugged and said, “He wrote a book. He needs a publisher.”

    Kory laughed but kindly and wisely didn’t draw any comparisons between his whiney 7-year-old and his career-frustrated wife.

    I’m thinking maybe I should take Chunky’s approach at the conference. I’ll just start yelling across the hotel lobby or conference room about my creative masterpiece the minute I see anyone who can help me reach my goal. And I won’t take “no” for an answer. After all, I want to be nice to people, and I think giving them something fun to read is a nice thing to do. And I want them to think I’m nice too (translation: a good author.)

    Too bad I’m not an adorable 7-year-old with a fresh literary voice and kid-approved illustrations.

    Thursday, September 15, 2011


    Yesterday my almost 10-year-old tried to convince me that he couldn’t possibly make his school reading goal if I continued my unreasonable requirement that he bathe regularly.

    We finally had to tell him that bathing was one of his chores, and if he didn’t do it, he would not get his allowance.

    As is often the case, once I got him in the tub, I couldn’t get him out.

    Exhausted and ready for some grown-up time, I trudged back and forth between the boys’ bedroom and the bathroom, hollering at my kids to finish their bedtime tasks.

    Eventually I gave up and flopped down on the bedroom floor where my youngest cuddled our dog with the dedication of an alligator wrestler. Chunky squeezed Willie, making comments like, “Her heart is beating really fast. I think she might be sick. I can hear something in her chest.”

    I ignored my little wannabe vet until I heard it. The unmistakable rolling heave of a dog about to hurl. I jumped up, yelling for Kory to call the dog and get her outside. When he didn’t respond, Chunky and I ran down the stairs, urging Willie to follow. We raced for the back door.

    She stopped in the kitchen and hunched.

    “No!” I screamed and flung the door open. She made it to the rug in front of the door and let loose.

    At this point, Chunky was beside himself with excitement, squealing, “Willie barfed! Willie barfed! Willie barfed!”

    Monkey, wrapped in a towel and dripping, showed up to inspect the vomit.

    Grumbling, I retrieved paper towels and carpet cleaner—really she had to get the carpet, not the deck or even the wood floor. I returned to my defiled doormat to find my boys standing over the dog puke, my youngest giving a blow-by-blow account of the incident.

    “And then she put her ears down. And then it sounded like she was coughing. And then her tail did this.” (He demonstrated tail tucking with his hand.) “And then she puked! And I see her dog food and the carrots from dinner in it.”

    I got that mess cleaned up and almost had the boys in bed when Willie lost it again on the stairs. This time Kory got the honor of cleaning it up but not before the boys tumbled out of their room to gawk at the spectacle.

    After devotions I noticed Chunky was pale. He huddled on his bed, whimpering. “Mommy, I don’t feel so good. I think it’s because of Willie’s barf.”

    “Stop thinking about it,” I told him.

    “I’m trying to, but I can’t.”

    “Maybe next time you shouldn’t describe it to your brother in such detail.”

    I got him calmed down and put a Phinneas and Ferb CD on to distract him, but all the while I was thinking, “This kid’s gonna make a great writer someday!”

    Wednesday, September 14, 2011

    Wrapping a Novel

    So I’ve been out-of-sorts lately. In fact, I texted my husband yesterday and told him I was out-of-sorts. For the rest of the day, he texted me back, asking if I was “sort-of-in” yet.

    “Sort-of-in” is a great way to put it actually. When I was on the migraine meds I was sort-of-in a fog. I lost a week and a half chasing words around my brain, only to have them fly away whenever I got close.

    Finally I decided to take a break from the medication since it turns out I’m pretty miserable without my ability to catch words. Things have been better, and though I’ve had headaches ever since, none of them flared into migraines.

    I'm preparing for a conference next week, trying to assemble all the proper tools writers use to try to sell their work. One sheets, synopses, proposals, hooks and one lines. These tools can be tricky. On the one hand it’s vital that an author be able to convey in succinct fashion what her story is about. On the other, it’s hard to boil down a ninety thousand word novel into a paragraph.

    I’ve also done my homework, checking out agents and editors and what projects they're looking for. That prompted a brainstorming session with my personal novel doctor, my brother. Then yesterday, as I struggled to pull together the beginning threads of two story concepts, I realized why I’ve been so frustrated.

    I’m not creating. It’s like I’m wrapping a ceramic vase carefully in packing peanuts, the right-sized box, and the perfect wrapping paper that will say to the intended recipient, “I know how to make a package look pretty.” But I'd rather be sitting at the pottery wheel, my hands covered in clay, forming that vase.

    But I’ll get back to the creative process soon enough, and knowing that will get me through the polishing and presenting—the whole “I know how to use scissors, make a nice crease, and exercise restraint when it comes to tape” thing.

    But since I’m thinking about trying my hand at a YA novel, I wanted to ask a question of the women out there. If you’re twenty or older, what draws you to a young adult novel like The Hunger Games or Twilight? Since many YA titles cross generations, I think it’s reasonable to find out what readers my age expect from those titles. Is it the nostalgia of teen topics like first love? The freedom from the boring responsibilities of adult life? The possibility of a more unique adventure than you might find in adult fiction?

    I’d love to hear your thoughts.

    Wednesday, September 7, 2011

    New Wuthering Heights Movie

    My friend, autor Kristin Billerbeck, mentioned the new Wuthering Heights movie on her blog today. Since I’ve been immersed in all things WH for the last two years, I was aware that the movie was being made, but until recently could find very little information about it.

    There still not a whole lot out there, but I did find this great >review from The Guardian. (Profanity warning!)

    This particular sentence from the review caught my eye: As youngsters, Heathcliff and Cathy (played first by Shannon Beer and then by Kaya Scoledario) exist in a kind of primitive Eden where they are neither quite siblings or lovers but some innocent hybrid of the two.

    I’ve heard this take on the novel before, and it actually fits better than trying to view the story through the traditional framework of a romance. In fact, I think we’ve done ourselves a disservice in continuing to remake Wuthering Heights as a love story. It’s more of a need story. And “need” can be an ugly word.

    Maybe it’s because of where I’m at in life, raising kids, watching as their emotional needs grow deeper day by day—but I find I read Wuthering Heights differently now. Basically, I see a story of two people who had the one thing, or person, they needed taken away.

    Heathcliff and Catherine were everything to each other. It's hard to overstate this fact. They believed they had one soul between the two of them. Juvenile? Yes, sure, of course. But when I look into my son’s eyes and see an utter need for an anchor in an unknown world, it doesn’t matter to me if his emotional framework is immature. The need is all the greater for it. It breaks my heart to think of my little boy without a tether—without any link at all to the love a human being cannot survive without.

    Emily Brontë, genius freak that she was, dared to write a book about a boy just like that.

    I could not write that book. It would break my heart.

    The novel I just completed, The Immortal Heathcliff, takes that ruined man and sends him on a journey for redemption, and ultimately, a love that will anchor his soul. My job was far easier than Emily’s, partly because I could never claim to have her insight into suffering and human nature, nor her tortured genius. But also because writing hope is easier on the writer’s heart than crafting ultimate despair.

    This may sound absurd, but Brontë's greatest feat as an author may have been to leave her characters in the ashes of their choices. There is no happy ending. The woman was as unrelenting as a Pilates instructor!

    So, anyway, what do you think about the upcoming movie? Please someone out there tell me you’ve read the book! Much is being made of the choice to have a black actor portray Heathcliff. Scholars agree it is unlikely that the character of Heathcliff was meant to be black. For a break down of the textual support of this claim click this link and scroll down to the heading “Was Heathcliff Black?” But putting that detail aside, I think it’s a great move from an emotional and artistic standpoint. I’m more excited about the apparent choice to take a young adult approach since the main action of the story happens when the characters are teens.

    You might as well go ahead and comment with whatever comes to mind about the movie, WH, or crazy/lovely Emily Brontë. You should know I will keep talking at you about the subject regardless. By the way, the UK release date is September 30. I didn't find a date for the US.

    Friday, September 2, 2011

    Would you like some blood with your coffee?

    This morning I was lying in bed, dreaming about my husband’s grandparents. An instant later I was awake, my lip bleeding, with a wrestling match involving a 7-year-old, a 9-year-old, and a Blue Heeler happening on top of me.

    My husband opened the sliding door between the bathroom and bedroom and said sarcastically over the noise, “Are the boys awake?”

    From underneath the chaos I told him, “You know, at least you can count on boys to be obvious.”

    He went to shut the bedroom window so the rest of the neighborhood didn’t have to wake up to WWF. Then he handed me a tissue for my lip and escaped downstairs. Luckily, the circus soon followed him.

    Chunky did apologize for the stray head butt that split my lip. And in the boys’ defense, staging the wrestling match on top of me was just their way of including me in their enthusiasm for the day.

    When it’s Friday morning, and you’re already bruised and bleeding and you haven’t even gotten out of bed yet, the only real option you have is to jump up and yell, “Bring it on! Where’s the coffee?”

    So that’s what I did.