Monthly Archives: August 2007

Declaring Defeat

MURDER IN F MINOR has beaten me. I can’t write it. I am not a mystery writer… at least not right now.

When I first started writing MFM, as it became called, I was having a great time. My main character, Isabelle, had this Carole Lombard-esque quality about her and was a blast to write. The detective was bumbling and the best friend was a mere blip on the screen.

Then I went to a writer’s conference in New Jersey, realized mystery was hot but I had to do more with mine, and started trying to make it the dreaded M word – marketable.

MFM was no longer fun. Isabelle had to be in danger from t he start. She didn’t have time for rapid-dialogue quips and funny habits. The detective had to seem more competent, which in the end made him – well – bland. And the best buddy had to have more of a presence, which was the only fun thing about writing the new MFM. I’ll always love that best buddy character.

The I started tripping over plot. Suddenly I had a threatening note written in squirrel blood, but where did the squirrel come from? Baseballs were flying at people’s heads, but the scenes clunked. Things were awkward. And how does one write a poker game/gossip session without getting all the characters mixed up?

Pantsers cannot write mysteries. At least this pantser can’t.

If you’re looking at the screen wondering if my typos have suddenly gotten much, much worse than usual, let me step aside a moment and explain something. A Plotter is someone who makes collages and time-lines and actually figure out where a book is going before they sit down to write it. A Pantser (me) gets a couple characters in her head, has their basic motivation down, and knows approximately what the goal is. They you sit down and start typing and see where you end up.

That is no way to write a mystery.

The thing is, I think I could be a plotter. I could sit down, examine the murderer and figure out his or her every move. I could then weave it into what Isabelle does and where she needs to be. I understand Goal, Conflict and Motivation. I can sit down and figure it all out.

Or at least I could if I didn’t have 3 kids and a full time job.

So that is why MFM is going on the back burner for now. For a long time, actually, I think. It’s a year wasted, in a way, but somehow I think I’ll come back to it eventually. When I have time to plot and examine character motivation. Right now, though, I need some inspiration.

I wrote my first novel at age 13. It sucked, but it was fun to write. I started writing after a 10-year hiatus back in 2001, and wrote a 170,000 word book in 6 months. And it was fun. I wrote my first “real” novel in a month during NaNoWriMo 2002, and it was fun. ANOTHER TIME AROUND was another NaNo Novel, and it was fun. LET’S DISH was  blast.

I’ve had three false starts since LET’S DISH, including a futuristic, PLAIN JAYNE, which I may revisit one day, and MFM. None of them have been fun. Not even a little bit.  Okay, I lie, because MFM was fun before I started writing it seriously- I was just messing around. But now I’m worried about what I’m doing “right” and “wrong” and I’m frozen. So I’m going to take a tiny break from writing “seriously” to get over myself, feed my soul with an online writing class, and ferret out a new idea. I have a glimmer of one, but it needs serious fleshing out. And yes, even a little plotting.

In the meantime, though, it’s going to take me a bit of time to change the website and explain to my mother why I’m not a mystery writer anymore. Now that’s  not going to be fun.

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Filed under It's A Writing Life

You’ve Gotta See This!

I don’t think it’s a secret the fact that I’m a big-time Anglophile. I mean, come on. My favorite band is a toss-up between Queen and the Beatles, most of my favorite actors are English, and it was the first accent I attempted when doing community theater a hundred years ago. (Don’t ask me to do a Bronx accent, though. I suck! though we’ll let the English decide the quality of my English accent.)

So when our cable company picked up BBC America, I was over the moon. British humor is fabulous in my opinion, and I found a show on right when I’m cooking dinner every night that has me just rolling. Seriously. Normally sit-coms can make me chuckle, but My Family makes me tear up laughing on a regular basis. They also have these little asides before most shows, warning you that the show contains British accents and close captioning may be necessary. Oh, man, hilarious!

But the comedies aren’t the only thing going for me on this channel. As usual, I was late getting on the Jekyll boat, but the season finale last night still has me floored.  I’d seen James Nesbitt in Murphy’s Law and didn’t even realize it was the same actor because the characters were so different. This guy didn’t even want to be an actor before he stumbled into the profession, but he can pull off both Tom Jackman and Hyde with such convincing differences that you wonder for a while if it’s even the same actor playing the two.  Gina Bellman is also brilliant as his wife, Claire. She’s nothing like her Coupling character Jane, who’s manic and quirky enough to really make you wonder about the actress. But Claire is strong and brilliant as a partner and foil for Tom/Hyde. Wonderful actress. (By the way, I’d also recommend Coupling. Hilarious.)

The writing on these shows is fantastic, as well. Maybe I can learn something from them.

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Filed under Life? You Mean I Have To Have A Life?

First Day of School! YAY!

Yes! It’s every parent’s dream day – school started this morning. I have a second grader, a fourth grader, and a sixth grader who just started middle school this morning.

Okay. THAT made me feel old.

So I hope life will be calming down to regular schedules and kids away from home for 6 hours a day. Honestly, the two younger ones are about to rip one another apart. They need some time away from one another.

However, it leaves us at the end of summer. Not all summer activities are over for good. The pool stays open for a week or so yet, so we’ll be sure to get there this weekend, I think. The park is still a viable option, and fishing season is so not over, baby. Not that we’ve been much this summer, thanks to the basement renovation, but we’re definitely going again before the snow flies.

One of our best outings this summer was to the local theme park. Not a theme park as in Six Flags or anything. Just a small one with a merry-go-round, a balloon ride, and a train. They have ducks, geese and chickens that roam freely that the kids can feed. It was a sunny Saturday when we did just that, especially concentrating on a little baby duck who had obviously been separated from his mother. We weren’t too concerned that he’d starve, as the park staff do well with feeding the ducks. Still, he was a sad little creature. Whenever we’d come within ten feet of him, he’d skitter away in fear. We’d toss him some corn, then back off and he’d go for it.

When we ran out of corn, we waved goodbye to the ducks and geese and started heading back toward the playground. The little duck started running after us. For a moment, I thought he was running us off. Then I thought he was aiming at Son #2’s feet to peck him. No pecking came about, though. Instead, the little duck caught up with us and matched our pace. He was walking right beside us having a nice little stroll. When we stopped, he stopped. When we started walking again, he kept pace. He looked so proud to have new friends, even if those friends had a black lab at home who would have thought nothing of making this little duck her lunch. This little duckling went on like this for about ten minutes, and we were concerned he might actually try to hop in the car with us. Luckily, another family came along and saw our new friend. They started feeding him popcorn, so they became much more interesting to him. Thank God!

Before summer is truly out, though, we need to go back to Storybook Land to check on our little friend. If he’s still there. Some of our fine feathered friends are already flying south!

Wow. Homework and migrating ducks. Summer really is over, isn’t it?

Ain’t it great?

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Filed under The One Where I Waffle On About The Kids

The Co-op – A Sitcom

I’m starting my eighth year at my job at an educational cooperative, or the Co-op as we call it.  There have been a lot of rough times, and a lot of good times. The best part is we’re a little family all our own, especially under the current boss. The former boss – well, life was different then.

A few years back in the midst of another laugh-so-you-won’t-cry day, my coworker came up with an idea.  We were having a group therapy session after the boss left for the day. Now some people could say we were bitching and complaining. Not true. Three of us especially formed a bond over those afternoons and if it weren’t for those sessions, none of us would have outlasted him. But that’s another blog.

We were blowing off the pressure when my friend looked at me and said, “You know, you should write a sitcom about us.” We’ll set aside for a moment that I couldn’t write a screenplay to save my life. She had a point. We’d compared ourselves to the three main characters in 9-5 so often, they’d occasionally started calling me Dora Lee.

We had it all: a sexist perfectionist boss who wore far too much cologne (though he was a perfectly wonderful person outside the office – go figure); a smart, organized, skilled woman who was trapped under a glass ceiling; a young and pretty professional with tons of brains and a flaky streak; and a quickly-approaching middle age mom with childcare issues and a sarcastic mouth.  Add to it a revolving cast of characters as therapists and teachers came in and out of the office, and we were set.

Come on. You could totally see this on TV.

I borrowed (and elaborated on) an event from real life for one of my books, in fact. It had to do with a water fountain leaking, my boss’s reaction, and the lack of janitors.  There would be something new every week, and we’d come up with our own little plots. There’s something to be said for the idea of writing a book about this place someday. Not now. I still have to work here.

But we thought life dulled after the old boss left. Trust me, we’re a much more relaxed bunch now. But the comedic factor seemed to wain.

And then this week hit.

Maybe I’m the only one who’d see the humor in this, but we have been trying to get ready for three major trainings next week with a copier on the fritz and a rapidly dwindling paper supply with no  delivery of more in sight. The boss lady and I were in rather maniacal laughter over that yesterday afternoon. So I planned a trip this morning to go get more paper.

Keystone Cops, look out, ’cause here comes Cate.

On the way out of town, I get a call from the boss. She’s got produce for me! Yum! So we meet in the parking lot of a local grocery store and do the South Dakota version of the drug hand-off – trading cucumbers. So we both head out of town, going the same direction. I start out leading, but then she passes. Then my phone rings.  She’s calling. Not that I can hear her, because the reception on that particular highway sucks.

I finally make out she wants me to let the pickup behind me pass. Okay. Odd request, but whatever. So I slow down only to find out that the pickup is driven by none other than old boss. So we all play this weird game of leap frog until I pull into my destination.

I need to get four cases of paper from our “parent” school, so I head that way – only to be detoured about five times by construction. Can’t get anywhere near the front of the school, so I park by the gym. I go in, but can’t get to the office because they’re waxing the floors. So I go around outside. Try another door. Wax. Try another door, and so on.

When I finally get to office, the guy in charge of the paper supply is gone. But they’ll let me have it, I just have to get the car in front of the school. Illegally. Going through an alley. Which also involves squeezing my not insubstantial van between a massive crane and a dump truck. Paper gets loaded, and I head home.

Get to the campus where our office is located and try to pull up to the loading dock, only to find it blocked by a massive shipment of books for the library. Park in the nearest lot (about 1/2 block away),  and go to find the janitor to help. Sure, he’ll help, but we need to bring the load in at the far side of the building because they have a load of toilet paper blocking the nearest door.

By the time I finally got to sit down at my desk today, I was thinking again about that sitcom my friend wants me to write. Hell, I think I have a half hour’s material there. And, if you’ve made it this far, you probably skimmed. God bless you for sticking with me.

But if you throw in a few zingers here and there, I totally think it’s an episode. What do you think? Could we give The Office a run for their money? Or am I the only one cracking up right now?

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Filed under It's A Writing Life, The Day Job - A Necessary Evil

FRICK!

It’s carpal tunnel, alright. Accompanied by bursitis in the same shoulder. Couple that with the lovely rejection letter I received today, and I’m just freaking hunky dory.

On the upside, no more home improvement blogs for awhile.

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Filed under Life? You Mean I Have To Have A Life?

Win a TV, But Not From Me!

Cool bloggy contest over at 5 minutes for mom. Go there and register, if you like. You could win a big old TV, if you have better luck than I do. My dad is the contest guy. He’s always winning contests. Over the years, he’s won countless concert tickets, a TV, and a million little useless goodies. Me? Nada. I don’t win anything. Let’s hope my luck changes. That TV would sure go well in my new living room when I get it together.

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Filed under Life? You Mean I Have To Have A Life?

And So I Pay For My Sins

The basement is all but done, and I swear I’ll post pictures. But I still have to go through boxes of stuff we just threw together to save from the water back in May. Still, it’s great that the kids can hang out and play PlayStation down there. Saving my sanity! The carpet for the stairs comes next week, so then the basement (except the bathroom, which is another blog altogether) will be officially done! Yay!

But it didn’t come without cost. I’m the primary handyman in our house, which is okay. Saves a lot of arguments, actually, because if something gets screwed up, I only have myself to blame. Can’t rant at the husband. Well, I can, but I shouldn’t. He helped as much as he could, but after he had some minor surgery in early July, he hasn’t been able to lift over 20 pounds. Which means he’s been completely useless to me. I managed to get it done, but had to do all the heavy lifting. Alone. Around kids and cats and a 7-month-old puppy.

Here’s where that cost comes in. I think I might have carpal tunnel trouble. When I came back to work at the end of last week, I noticed that my hand and arm were hurting. The right, of course, since I’m dominant right. Can’t be the other one. Oh no. That would be too damned convenient.

I went the old “ignore it and it will go away” route, but you know how well that worked out. The sucker keeps going numb now at various times during the day. At night, I wake up feeling like I have no hand. The heel of my hand is always either sore or numb, but it goes into my elbow and upper arm, too, so I question whether it’s all in the wrist.

So I finally call to get an appointment with the doctor. She’s out. Of course. I see her Monday and we’ll see what’s what. My sister had surgery on her wrist in the early 80s, and it was horrid for her. However, she had two strikes against her: it was a military hospital and it was two weeks before her wedding. Between the two, she was doomed. I doubt I’ll have to have surgery, I just hope it doesn’t slow me down too much. After all, if I’m finally done with that darned basement, maybe I’ll have time to start writing again.

Somehow, I’m not holding my breath.

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Filed under Life? You Mean I Have To Have A Life?