Friday, November 30, 2007

Current Conditions

Hazardous and Dangerous

This sign should be hanging up over my house. You may ask, is that due to a construction disaster or am I the dangerous element? I have to admit that I have been kind of crabby this week. The burst of mental energy that got me to the end of NaNo has dissipated. Even at work there have been these episodes of crankiness (not of my initiating) that I can't tell you about due to reasons of confidentiality. The sad thing is at work I have to be professional. I can't yell back at my patients even if they are being abusive.
I guess I'll have to confine myself to taking my bad mood out on my husband and kids. Or better yet, I could kick the cats. Just kidding. I don't want any cat lovers to fire bomb my house.
Speaking of fire bombs, my house still doesn't have a back end. A lot of it is covered in plastic sheeting which flaps comfortingly in the wind. One bit of sheeting has a zipper (really, you can buy plastic sheeting with a zipper in it) so we can access our back door and so the construction folks can traipse through to use our potty. No, I don't want to think too much about that. When I enter the house from the back I always feel like I am entering a tent. Well, at least that brings back fond memories.
Today the temperature plummeted down to 24 degrees (that's Farenheit). Most of the civilized world now uses Celsius which would make it a nice toasty day. Not so in actuality. Having a drafty house is uncool when it is 24 degrees out. Just now I resorted to nailing a sheet over the back zipper door to reduce the heat loss a bit. Where is global warming when you need it?
The weather report is frightful. Like in the song that means, "Let it snow." Words such as: snow, sleet, blustery, ice and freezing rain abound in tomorrow's forecast. They rate the chance of precipitation at 100%! I guess that means tomorrow is sure to stink! If I am going to be in optimist mode (which I find hard on a November day when I can't feel warm in my own house without wearing a jacket and drinking hot tea) I can say that the good news is:
1. I blog more in bad weather.
2. The weather report always gives me something to write about.
3. It is safer to take pictures in bad neighborhoods in bad weather.
4. I can try yet again to get interesting pictures of snow falling (failed last year at getting the correct exposures) and of snowflakes (didn't have a macro lens this time last year).
Or I can just comfort myself that half my readers live in worse places. All you Canadians, Michiganders(?), Vermonters and so on know who you are. Unlike some of you hardy souls, I haven't had to use my snow shovel yet.
Well, time to get out my bunny slippers and watch the latest episode of House. He's my kind of doctor. Maybe watching him abuse his patients will be cathartic.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

You know it is going to be a bad day when. . . .

You Know It Is Going To Be A Bad Day When

No, 60 Minutes has not shown up at my front door. But this truck driver sure was having a bad day. It is not the greatest of pictures as it was taken through my car window but illustrates a common woe of truckers in my neighborhood. Abandon hope all ye large vehicles that enter here. Unfortunately for Mr. Sealy Mattresses, someone didn't read the little sign that said 11 FT-10 IN. Probably his truck is 11 FT-11 IN. OOPS. This happens all too often. I've actually seen a truck with its top peeled off kind of like the way you open a sardine can. I've also seen a truck sort of folded in a Vee shape down the middle. As the song says, "When will they ever learn?"

Monday, November 26, 2007

Written Out

The words are failing me so here's a picture.


Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Fat Lady Sings

The arms of victory

I finished. The official count is 50218. It feels good if a bit anticlimactic. Where are the big party, the champagne, the zillions of adoring fans? Nonetheless I did something I didn't think I could do.
So what next, I ask myself? Well tomorrow is a work day as always. I go back to blogging, reading bedtime stories to my son, making dinner, taking photographs and playing with art supplies. I go back to reading other people's blogs and envying their talent or wishing I lived where they lived (as winter sets in for real here and the sleet is falling). I go back to planning my next vacation and dreaming about summer break.
Some things are still different. I have written a novel. That is amazing! And I have plans for it. I'll finish the month of November by rereading and filling in a few gaps. I'm still working on adding detail and dialog (I'm really bad at dialog). I'll keep on with my reading of YA books. I'll take a break at the beginning of December. Focus on the myriad other parts of my life and let my novel percolate in my unconscious brain.
I'll start my revision process over my winter break. I'll have time and leisure to focus on plotting, grammar, character and style. I'll be able to revisit the locations I used in my story and add detail to my account. I'll use my camera to document details that my non-visual brain will forget after I return to Chicago. Of course, I'll also eat good food, sleep late, play board games with the family, go for long walks in the drizzle and surf the internet.
If I ever get to where I'm comfortable with what I have written I'll work on getting some feedback and taking it to the next level. But I'll save that part of the process for another day.

Playing with funny widgets when I should be writing

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Thanksgiving is so, like, over!

Geniuses of the Ghetto

Sorry for the title. I've been reading and writing too much young adult literature of late. I missed a day of writing and more than a day of blogging due to the demands of cooking and feeding 10 people on Thanksgiving. I lost a little momentum on my NaNo novel over the holiday but I seem to be back on track.
Today, I had the inspiration to have my character read a banned book and I happened to have just the right banned book in my library. (I bought it during Banned Book Week from my local independent bookseller). Last week I attended a local NaNo event and got a little feedback on my work-in-progress from a professional. Her take was that I needed to add more dialog and descriptive detail. She also recommended a couple of books that might help me with catching the adolescent "voice." (Don't forget I live with an adolescent voice.). So I dutifully went out and bought one of the books she recommended, dredged up a copy of Catcher in the Rye from my bookshelves--I never read it since I tried to read it and didn't like it as a teen myself--and bought a couple of modern YA books with catchy titles or themes.
Among my recent thematic readings are:
The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart
Hard Love by Ellen Wittlinger
Ice Drift by Theodore Taylor (not YA but an adventure book for middle schoolers about kids surviving alone in the arctic).
Here is my favorite line from Hard Love: "I flopped on the couch, attempting to render myself invisible by passing for a normal teenage boy."
I don't really have time to review these books and others I've read this month. I really need to focus on surviving NaNo now that it is down to the finish line. To get back to the banned books theme, the book I am working into my story is the perks of being a wallflower--omitting capitals seems to be de rigeur in titles of teen books. So far it is interesting. It is pretty obvious why someone might want to ban it. In the first 42 pages there are references to drugs, alcohol, homosexuality and other naughty stuff. In other words, exactly what all the teens in my family and office are talking about. No magic yet which triggered Harry Potter haters to try to ban it.
I also found an interesting blog about banned books. It is recommended reading as is the American Library Association information about Banned Books Week. Happy reading!
The count for the day, so far, is:
46920 words
77 single spaced pages.


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The back.

Just a play on the wording of my previous post.

House back

This is the back of my house. Note that it has a big hole in it. The prior photo was supposed to show you the back yard and the sorry state of the coach house I have my office in as it was losing its roof.
I'm just setting the record straight.

NaNo update:
44438 words, 73 pages.

Work calls. Cheers.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The end?

42,824 words today. That is 70 pages. I'm not at 50K but I think I just wrote the ending of my story. It has a final feeling to it. I have a few chapters I am going to add in the middle which will make up the next 7,176 words but the end is in sight. I think I am even going to reach the finish line early. But that might somehow jinx me so I didn't say it.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Just a word count.

41558 done. If I weren't too tired I'd tell you how many words there are left but I'll leave the math to you. That's 68 single-spaced pages.

My house is. . .

My backyard

a wreck. My office only has part of a roof.

Taking a bite

I guess it could be worse!

Since I had to cancel my work day due to construction (roofers are not conducive to quiet reflection) I'm going to a bookstore to write.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Things We Carry

Pioneer Square

The prompt for today is “I carry.” I haven’t been keeping up with my usual photo memes and writing sites because a commitment to writing 2000 words a day on a novel seemed to be enough for me but I find I am missing the community, readers and commenters (hint, hint). In other words, I am feeling lonely and neglected. I guess this is a normal woe for aspiring writers.

Whining and humor aside, lately I feel like I am carrying a lot of stories inside of me. Writing intensively has made me more aware of myself as a repository of stories. Yesterday I dredged up a childhood story while looking for something I could use in my novel. (The words “my novel” made me do a double take just now. I feel like an impostor!) The story itself seems to have no application to what I am writing but it is worth the telling, I think. So here is the story I carry today:

Back when I was around 10 years old I lived in the Seattle suburb of Mercer Island. Mercer Island is an island in Lake Washington. I’m not sure how big it is but I could bike around it in a day. It was a lovely place to live as a child and I had many adventures there. I had a lot more freedom than my children do. I’m not sure how much of that is a related to changes in our society, to a kinder, gentler location or to different parenting styles. Back then we seemed to feel safer letting our kids roam the streets all day but this story proves that not all perceptions equal reality.

One of my favorite things to do was to explore the woods near my house. They were located in a deep ravine with a small stream at the bottom. I would play in a half finished tree house I found, climb in the ruins of an abandoned power plant and lose myself in the miniature wilderness I had there. Even then I knew that safety was relative. The old power plant had some deep pits in it and I knew that if I fell it might be a long time before anyone would find me.

One day I was in the woods with a slightly younger friend, Jessica. I was the leader and she the willing or unwilling follower. We were running around the woods and encountered a man. He seemed young to me even then so I’m guessing he was a young adult. It was odd to see anyone else in the woods and we were scared out of our wits when we saw he had a knife. In my memory, I believed that he was showing us the knife to tease us but it wasn’t an assumption I was willing to test.

I have plenty of pointless anxiety but I don’t get incapacitated by fear. This has served me well as a parent and as a doctor. So I knew what to do when confronted by a man with a knife. I grabbed my friend and we ran. I found us a hole under a fallen log and we crawled in and hid. My friend was more scared than I was and I had to work to keep her still and quiet. I seem to remember thinking that we could hear the man looking for us so we stayed under our log for a long time until all was clear. Then we ran home.

With the wisdom of a child, I swore my friend to secrecy and never told my mother either. I knew the woods would be forbidden to me if anyone knew what had happened. Fortunately the luck of children held and we never encountered anyone in the woods again.

Now I wonder about the truth of my childhood perception. I know there was a man but did he have a knife? I had no doubts then but now I wonder.

We all carry such stories in us, true or untrue. They stitch us together in a narrative fabric that makes us who were are. Just writing this prompts my memory of a wonderful literary example of this: Tim O’Brien’s book, The Things They Carried.

Friday, November 16, 2007

About my character

Banana slug
This character makes a brief appearance in my novel.

I saw a checklist of how to evaluate a character in a children's book in The Writer magazine and I decided to answer it in order to see how well I was doing in making a believable person out of mere words and imagination. The checklist reminds me of one of those personal interviews they do in magazines: "What is your favorite comfort food?", "What are you reading right now?" and so forth. A year ago I posted my own version of my answers to a celebrity interview which you can read here.
I decided to print some of the question and answer about my character, Joseph. I will post this in two parts because there are 19 questions and it will run too long. Here goes:
1. What best describes the character's most outstanding physical feature?
He is small for his age and looks mixed race. I wonder if he should describe what he sees in the mirror while cutting his hair. He has dark eyes, medium dark skin, straight thick hair which is slightly wavy and which he thinks makes him look girlish when too long.
2. Does the character like himself? He's never bothered to give this any thought (although his therapists have asked him questions about his self esteem).
3. What is his immediate goal? What is his long-term goal?
To live in the woods and "get out of the system."
He won't figure out more about what he wants to do when he grows up until the end of the story.
4. What is the best thing that has happened to him so far? Getting a cat and making a couple of friends.
What is the worst? Near drowning and getting sick.
5. How is the character seen by himself? By others? I've described this in an entry in the novel so I won't go into it here. In short, he sees himself as tough, wary, slow to trust. He doesn't let people get too close to him.
6. Who has influenced the character the most? How? The character is notable for not having strong adult influences on his life. This is part of what has shaped him. There was a couple he nicknamed the "Gnomes" that were candidates but faded out of his life too soon.
7. What are the character's strengths and weaknesses?
Strengths: brave, smart, resourceful
Weaknesses: emotionally disconnected from others

I'll stop here for now. The good news is I had answers for all the questions already in my mind which gives me hope my character will be believable. The other good news is I got a few ideas from filling out this checklist. I had already decided I needed to flesh out the character's personality a little bit. Thanks to the author of the article, Jane Choate, for some good pointers.

By the way, I'm at 33114 words and 55 pages.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

NaNo Update

Woods from the shore

Here's another picture of the Washington beaches where my novel is set.
Wow, between working full time and writing a novel in a month, I can't imagine where all the time has gone to. I haven't been keeping up with blogging, my photo blog or much of anything else. I miss the regular blog routine but I'll be back soon. Only 15 more days.
My house currently does not have a back end unless you count some plastic sheeting as a back end! My office doesn't have a roof either. So it feels like total chaos here. We are also going to "do" Thanksgiving at my house. So I'm nuts. Whatever.
I'm more or less on target for NaNo. I've not quite met my most ambitious goal of 2000 words per day although at 29325 words (48 pages) I'm not too far off. Even so I'm ahead of the average required to make the finish line on the 30th and have no intention of quitting. I may not be able to run marathons but I can write them I guess.
My latest research was about the medicinal uses of wild plants. Did you know that nettle tea can be used for diarrhea? You had better wear gloves while harvesting the leaves though.
Well, I have to go. Work calls.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Touching Base

25,176 words and now it's bedtime.
Research for the day--when and how to dig for razor clams. Thank heaven for the internet!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Nano day 11

I'm too tired to do much of anything right now. I spent the whole day moving junk. I just squeezed in a little writing time. It is now 22,889 words and 38 pages. I think that translates into around 75 pages in paper back novel terms. I'd really like to hit 25 K soon.
The research question for the day is:
What do plantain taste like? They're another edible weed. Very common here in Chicago and probably just about everywhere else. And how do you prepare them?

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Off to bed early

I don't even feel like posting a photo. I'm not feeling the best. A combination of allergies and stuff there's no need to go into. We're having part of the house ripped off on Monday for some major reconstructive surgery and I have to clear everything out of that area by tomorrow night. I can't wait.
Here are my NaNo stats--21960--36 pages. I found some information about word counts on a NaNo forum and 50k words might just do for a YA and younger novel, which is what I'm doing. That is encouraging.
I want to make the halfway point soon. I'd like to have just a little more protective padding on my word count in case I get stuck or too busy to write.
Today's research for my novel included how to make salmon jerky. It is amazing what one may learn in the interest of literature.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Show and Tell

The Wild West

A couple of days ago I told my kids about my month long career as a novelist. My younger son who is 10 years old was especially enthusiastic. I read the first few pages aloud to him before bed one night. It was a good exercise for me to hear my work read aloud and get a sense of the cadence of the language and it was fun to share with him.
Next thing I know Mr. Enthusiasm has decided that he wants to share the story with his entire English class. He has always been especially fond of show and tell and seems to ask to bring something in to school fairly often even though formal show and tell probably ended in First Grade. I sort of choked at the idea of having him bring in what is still very much a work in progress.
On the other hand I felt I would be very much a wimp if I asked him to keep this a secret so I grudgingly told him that he could bring in a bit "later." Suffice to say, he wore me down. Last night I printed the first 10 pages for him, probably secretly hoping that he would forget he had it or that his teacher wouldn't want to do anything with it. Well, today was my first public reading as a fledgling author. Apparently the first page was read aloud in class and they are planning to read one page a day henceforward.
I wonder what kind of critics a class of 5th graders and an English teacher will make. Will they share my son's enthusiasm? I'm kind of squirming with discomfort at the thought, but if I ever plan to submit anything for publication, I know I need to get over this.
His eagerness to show my work gave me pause for a moment. Independent of my discomfort at coming out of the closet, as it were, I realized what a wonderful thing it is to have my son that proud of me. It makes me sad to admit that this interaction could never have occurred between my mother and myself. The closest I remember our ever getting to this show and tell experience is when she took an essay I had written in high school and that I was especially proud of and gave it to a friend of hers to plagiarize for her college history essay. This was done without my knowledge or consent. I was not in the least bit pleased or flattered.
For now it is ever onward. I'm at 19170 words (32 pages)! I'm still on track and have an entire weekend before me.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

A picture and an update

A stroll on the beach

There is more to talk about but not much time tonight. My total NaNo word count is 16746 (28 type-written pages). I tried to calculate what that would be in pages in a standard paperback sized book but my mind drew a blank when I tried to do the math. I'm still on target at over 2000 words per day. So far so good.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Just a story

Tree and Ferns

I'm researching edible plants for my NaNo story and one that I found was a common weed called sorrel. There are a number of different kinds of sorrel that have been used in salads, and as a green vegetable. They are high in vitamin A and C according to my sources.
I first discovered sorrel when I was a kid growing up in Seattle. Another kid introduced me to this weed she called "sour leaves." The leaves were easy to identify. All you did was pick them and eat them raw. The leaves taste sort of lemony and I really like them. I haven't seen them around Chicago but a couple of years ago I was hiking and there they were. I couldn't resist eating one and introducing them to my kids (with dire warnings about asking me before they ate any wild plants). Of course, as a kid, I didn't worry about minor details like whether they leaves were clean or if there were poisonous look alikes.
I'm keeping on track with my NaNo goals. I have 15,302 words so far. Yesterday I left for work around 10:30 AM and didn't get home until 11 PM but I made my 2000 word goal anyway. I consider that a minor miracle.

Monday, November 05, 2007


We Dilevar

Taken while driving but the focus is surprisingly good. And no one died in the accident I caused. (Kidding).

Sunday, November 04, 2007

See It Sunday--Social

Seagull social

It isn't just people that are social animals. From Washington State.

Just a teaser

Seagull on a windy day

Nano Day 4 is going well. 10,271 words. I beat the 10K mark! I'm going to need it since it's back to work and real life tomorrow. Doubt I can keep up the pace on work days.
The teaser is: my character is trying to figure out if these are good to eat and how to catch one. What do you think?

Here is a link to my NaNo profile.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

NaNo Day 3

First Beach

Here is where I am setting my NaNo novel. If I have to spend a lot of time in my imagination I might as well pick a place I love. I'm fudging a little bit of the geography--a bit of novelistic license--to make the plot function more smoothly.
I'm currently at word 8127 and counting. Not too bad for a lazy bum like me. I think I owe some of my productivity to all the blogging.

Friday, November 02, 2007

And I am. . .

Do Not Follow

Obsessing about word count. Have you noticed how if you give something a number, how it seems so much more real? Like trying to lose 5 pounds makes you run to the scale that much more often. Or having a deadline on a certain date makes you count the days. It goes back to school days when I counted down the days 'til summer vacation. Now kids even have parties on their hundredth day of school.
So here are my stats courtesy of Microsoft Word:
Pages: 11
Words: 6339
Characters (no spaces): 25,224
Characters (with spaces): 32,024
Paragraphs: 103
Lines: 476

Whatever did people do before word processors? I really couldn't care less about the number of characters (with or without spaces) or lines but reproduce them here just because I can.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

I am. . . .


I am adrift in a turbulent sea of bemusement. Actually, I'm. . . not going to insert some more torrid prose here and I have no idea what this sign is trying to imply. What I really am doing is writing to confess that I have made an impulse decision on invitation from a blog-friend. At the last minute, I signed up to do NaNoWriMo, the masochist's writing exercise promulgated on the blogosphere. So I and several zillion other crazed wannabee writers have signed up to do the triathalon of typing, 50,000 words of prose, with or without metaphors, to be completed by the end of November 30. The result, if I'm still sane, would be my longest piece of writing since the completion of my not-so-literary thesis dissertation which had something to do with genes and chromosomes if I remember correctly.
The next great American novel? Not too likely. But this will possibly tell me if I have 50,000 words still left in me. The good news is I had a fragment of something I wanted to write waiting for me. So I started with around 1100 words and an idea I like. The bad news? There are 29 days left to go. More good news? I made today's goal of 2000 words. So here I stand (or sit) at 3555 words and counting. Stay tuned.
If I lose ground on the blogging and picture taking front, you'll know why. You can also hold me accountable. No quitting or I will be shamed in front of my entire blog reading world! I still haven't decided if I am going to post more about my planned novelistic enterprise. Stay tuned.