Saturday, December 19, 2009

Mailing it in

I'm shocked my husband and I have any friends left. The problem is, we are tired all the time. And we're forgetful and perpetually overwhelmed. Translation:  We're terrible about returning calls, we're too tired to entertain, and our long distance correspondence is nonexistent. The whole gift-giving thing around the holidays pushes us well beyond our capabilities. We once showed up to a holiday dinner at a friend's house, after mentioning we would not be exchanging gifts that year due to a job layoff, to find beautiful gifts waiting for us. It was too late to make a mad dash to a store, so we sucked it up, ate their food, accepted their generosity and left. Awkward.

Our dysfunction originates from the core of our existence. Our home. It's an unfixed fixer-upper with never-ending projects. Environmental chaos. Our happy home is enhanced by a large, big-toothed "crazy-eyed" dog that barks psychotically at every person who has the unfortunate experience of driving down our street. In reality, our dog is afraid of kittens and truly can't jump the picket fence because of an artificial hip and leg injury from an accident that happened before we adopted her. You'll have no trouble at all outrunning her. Plus, once you are safely inside my front door, you will be fed well and offered an assortment of live animals to warm your feet. Not all of them bite.

As I empty our mailbox of holiday cards and letters, I find myself more than a little surprised by the loyalty of my friends.  I appreciate their ability to look past the fact that my husband and I seldom remember to send thank you notes or birthday cards. We've never sent out a holiday card with a family update. I don't have a mailing list. Alas, when my cell phone dies, so will the numbers of just about everyone I know. I keep no records, and I'm not much of a numerical memorizer.

I do feel guilty. Perhaps instead of sending out a New Year's card (something I fantasize about doing but I have never actually done), my husband and I should send out a blanket apology letter addressing our negligent behavior over the past two decades. Something like this:

Dear Family and Friend(s):
If you are receiving this, it is because we consider you a friend and we recognize that compared to you, our family sucks in the manners department. Perhaps one day we will be able to make it up to you, but please don't hold your breath. In addition to lacking basic organizational skills, we tend to buckle under pressure. 

We know that if you have stuck around through our flaky behavior, you must really care about us. Even though we don't always show it, we care about you, too. If you haven't stuck around but are still receiving this letter, it is because we deserve your wrath and disdain, we acknowledge your hurt feelings, and we want to offer you a sincere apology and let you know that we didn't pick on you personally. We treat all our friends like this. And we're sorry.

So here you go, this is an official letter off apology to all we have offended. I'd suggesting keeping it, perhaps even framing it, because it may be another two decades before we get around to doing another one. And, trust me, in two decades we'll owe all of you another one.

Remember the thank you note you got from us for that wonderful gift you sent? No? We want you to know that your gift and gesture was fully appreciated. We loved it, and probably still do love it. Unless it was wine or candy or homemade cookies, then I'm sure we loved it at some point in time, but now it is long gone and if I remember correctly, it was super delicious.

The clothes, scarves, bath robe, hair accessories and jewelry have all been worn and admired. The lotions and scrubs used and appreciated. The gift cards spent and enjoyed. The toys played with by the kids and probably the adults, too. 

Mostly, though, we want to offer our support if life is treating you like crap. Those are the calls and cards we most regret not doing. To those of you whom this applies, know we keep you in our thoughts and are always hoping for the best.

For those of you who are wondering about us, here's an update:

Grandma Lonna is still kickin and not taking crap from anyone. The doctors keep telling us she is going to die. It could be any day. Obviously, someone forget to tell Grandma because she is back to chugging around town in her Volvo, moving boulders single-handedly from one end of her garden to the other, and attending her twice a week Yoga class. If you're in her neighborhood, remember to look both ways before you cross the street and run like hell if you see her coming.

Our kids are thriving, and sucking every last penny and bit of energy out of us. Alex is a passionate musician and math whiz. He is taking clarinet lessons. We often start our mornings at 6:00AM to the tune of "I've Been Working on the Railroad" in the highest octave possible. We wish you were here to enjoy it with us. 

Erika is still doing gymnastics, training over twenty hours per week. That doesn't include the physical therapy for her knee or the massage and ice treatments before bed. Somehow, she fits in homework and continues to excel at everything she does. Except for ball sports. If throwing her a ball, please don't aim for the face, because that's usually where the ball hits first before she considers catching it with her hands.

Our family's contribution to society - we are doing our best to help with the water shortage. Our landscaping requires zero water and provides tons of free fertilizer. You guessed it, we still have seven rabbits. They won't die. They have eaten everything, and I mean EVERYTHING in my backyard, to include a peach tree and a lemon tree. My idea for making Tur-rabbit on Thanksgiving was vetoed by the rest of the family. Bummer, because I'm pretty sure I could have fit three rabbit carcasses inside the twenty-five pound turkey I cooked. I would have found a way.

We hope this nonexistent letter, that will never be mailed, and perhaps would be seen as the biggest offense from our well-meaning little family, finds you well and happy. Dear friends, know you are loved and appreciated, and we'd like to wish all of you a wonderful 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015...


Saturday, July 25, 2009

Magic Potions and Keyboard Trolls

I have one hundred wandering hogs that want to go to school, two devious young kids staging a worldwide bedtime revolt, and an autistic kid named Joshua - all with the same problem. They can't make the leap from my manuscript pages to a book. I love to write. I love creating new stories. I love being an author. But so many of my little darlings, my daring story attempts, are unfinished, in need of repair, less than perfect. Rejected.

It's like Harry Potter in potions class. If you don't have the right mix of ingredients, in the exact amounts, you won't get the desired result, the magical POOF! Instead you are stuck with a messy potion gone wrong, resulting in purple hair, or a twelve-legged toad, or worse, some nasty snot-filled troll-like thing stomping on your keyboard. I hate keyboard trolls.

The problem is,  there is no formula for a perfect manuscript. Even the half-blood prince had to write notes in the margins of the flawed potion book. How many of you were taken aback by the fact that the textbook instructions were not 100% accurate? That the wizard still needed to improvise, add a little of this, a little of that, to get the formula to work?  You can follow every piece of instruction, every bit of advice and still no POOF! It seems a bit unfair. It's almost like an actual writer came up with that story element. Oh, wait.

Of course, some stories will magically POOF! and reveal themselves as something special, but just not to all people. When it comes to the craft of writing, POOFS! are subjective. Some written works have a wide range of appeal - like the heavily desired universal mass market bestseller POOF! The magic formula for that is hidden away in the same underground vault that holds the ingredients list for Coke and the original recipe for KFC. 

I'm often asked, "How do I get published?" Published writers still struggle to get published. While many new writers suck, and I can say this because I hugely sucked when I first started, there are plenty of good, unpublished writers out there, too. The phrase I hear over and over at conferences is, "If you have a great, well-written story, you'll get published." I'm not convinced. A more accurate statement may be, "Don't expect to get published unless you start with a great story, write incredibly well, understand voice, pace your story properly, and appeal to your reader. Be unique. Know your market well enough so that you are not writing long when short is in, or quiet when, um, I guess loud is selling. Poetry potions are known to have explosive and sometimes fatal consequences to the inexperienced. Or so I am told."

Oh, but there's more, "Next, make sure the editor reading your work 'gets' your humor and sense of rhythm and thought process. Oh, and your book must have a point. And those reading your story must find your point a worthy point, and not a point that was recently made by someone else, or a point that has been made too many times. Or worse, a point already made by someone who won An Important Award or has the secret recipe for the universal you-know-what kind of POOF! Don't make your point too obvious. Avoid waving a four-foot neon foam pointy finger resembling those used by over-zealous baseball fans to make your point. And, of course, none if this matters if your work doesn't scream I WILL SELL!!! SELL!!! SELL!!! to those considering it for publication." You get my point.

Day-to-day writing is about growth and hard work and dealing with pesky keyboard trolls that result from poorly concocted potions. As annoying as they may be, do not kill them all off. There are trolls that shred manuscripts to bits with their nasty sharp teeth, forcing you to start over. Then there are the trolls that throw wild midnight parties on your unattended pages, leaving them scattered, unorganized, in need of massive repair. Some trolls just nibble the edges of your work, forcing you to constantly search for what may be missing . Trickster trolls are the most challenging. They dance on your keyboard, adding unnecessary words and phrases, forcing you to read your work over and over until your eyes are permanently crossed. Sometimes, overly-enthusiastic trolls with no common sense at all send your work to industry professionals before it is ready, when it is filled with horrible errors and flaws. You have my permission to stomp those trolls to death.

I mustn't forget to mention the nasty, dreaded, keyboard trolls that actually pee in your keyboard and make it look like a cup of spilled coffee. Those trolls, you can also do away with. In fact, I've got one jammed in my garbage disposal at this very moment.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Little Writers

I'm doing a mini-writing clinic at my kids' school. I take a group of four kids and meet with them once a week for three weeks, then I rotate to a new group. Heads up, folks, there are some great writers coming down the pipeline! I'm having fun, and I think most of the kids are getting something out of the experience. My one problem is that I am incapable of controlling unruly kids. That's why my limit is four. If they all decided to stage a major revolt I would be in serious trouble. Hopefully, none of them read blogs. They are, after all, only 3rd graders. 

So, my last group had two quiet, compliant kids and two hooligans. Hooligans are AWESOME kids, by the way. The term hooligan, for me, is used to describe a high-energy (and many times highly creative) child that I am incapable of keeping focused on the task at hand for more than a few minutes. About 25% of all kids fall in this category.  So I am just pointing out that my last group hooligan ratio was at 50%. Our discussions ran off topic at times towards subjects such as, "What is that sticky stuff stuck under the table?" My answer: Gum? Boogers? Please just don't touch it. Soon everyone was looking under the table. You get the picture. 

I read from Because of Winn Dixie every week gushing over examples of great writing. I pass around old, edited manuscripts of my two books and let the kids compare them to the finished, published book. On the last day the kids edit an intentionally poorly written very short story of my creation. Before they start in on the last project, they read the story and tell the group what they do not like about it. Now, that's a real Writer's experience, hmmmm? You can never start early enough teaching kids the art of dissatisfaction, criticism, and rejection, right?

The hooligans surprised me at one point in a writing exercise where we were discussing multi-sensory description. We were coming up with different ways to describe flowers that included not just sight - but smell, taste, sound, touch. The two hooligans took a break from flinging their pencils at each other and tipping their chairs back at terrifying angles to start a high-speed brainstorm back and forth on flower description. The ideas were flying. Finally, the discussion came to rest with the angelic voice of The Master of All Hooligans offering to the group that, "the sound of flowers in a meadow is that of heaven touching the earth."