Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Hallelujah - November is Over!

What a long arduous month this has turned out to be. I loved the Nanowrimo challenge, but it was a bit harder going this year than last year.

The first few days, I had a wonderful start. I was writing over 2000 words each day. It was going so well that I even asked a writing friend to read the manuscript (something the Nanowrimo people urge you to avoid). The writing was fun and not too stressful.

Then came a troublesome sinus infection. Still, I fought on.

On the Monday before Thanksgiving, the whole thing took a turn for the worse. I ended up wrapping up all the pieces of the puzzle too quickly and the novel seemed to limp to an end, well short of 50,000 words. (Last year, when I worked on my novel about the secret drawer, I wrote the full 50K goal without even getting to the climax of the story.)

Thankfully, I had an interview with a local police officer lined up for that Tuesday. When I left her office, I felt much better about the book. I had a few new wrinkles to weave into the story and more clarity as to when the story should take place. I needed to avoid the DNA expertise because it would solve the plot problems too quickly. I shifted the story back to the beginning of the 1980s (an easy time to set it in, since I was a teen back then).

However, all that shifting meant that I had to write in scenes that had been left out, shift other scenes to later in the book and revamp a character or two. The novel began to feel like a jumbled mess.

Thankfully, I managed to make the word count goal by 1 p.m. this afternoon and even wrote the final words of the novel. However, when I pasted the document into the word count submission box, it only attributed 49,906 words. What????

I wondered if the counter failed to count things in red (since this is what they suggest doing with comments you want to add to remind you to re-work something later). I figured this could be a real problem, since I had typed in the name "Town Drunk" in red every time his character came up - because I am still waiting for a lightning bolt from the heavens with the perfect name for this character. I went back and turned the red to black and it still refused to accept my word count.

I finally managed to tweak enough to have 50,261 words. The counter read it as 50,023 ... but I'll take it! I printed out the certificate and here is my fantastic winner's badge:

I am vowing not to let this manuscript sit neglected. My first order of business (after getting more sufficient sleep to fight off my wicked sinus infection) is to rework the manuscript to the point where I can send off a final installment to my writer friend (he's patiently waiting for more and says he is "intrigued" - a good sign). Then, I want to have the manuscript ready to send out to some possible publishers by February, just in case I get noticed in the Young Adult Novel contest I entered. It may not be the best novel ever written ... but it is not bad, and it is the first one where I've actually completed a rough draft. That's success, in my book!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Art of Dining Out Graciously

Tonight, we went out to dinner as a family. We expect difficulties to arise, because our smaller children tend to misbehave. I somewhat dread these little excursions because I never know how they will act. Still we go, because the kids will never learn proper social behavior without being introduced into society. Every time we take them out to eat, I view it as a lesson in comportment.

The climate was already a bit testy. Trevor had just gotten onto the computer to begin drawing an image he liked there. Bryce was chomping at the bit to go, since it was his favorite restaurant. Trevor begged for ten more minutes to draw. We explained he could draw when he returned home. That answer didn't satisfy him, so he began to complain. Hubby suggested I take the two other boys and he would remain home with the sullen boy. This managed to light a fire under Trevor's rear.

Once we arrived at the restaurant, we learned that it was packed. Almost every single table in the place was filled. We waited for a long time just to talk with the waiter. We planned to order water for the little boys, since last time they didn't really finish their milk. As I tried to place our orders, Trevor continually interrupted me. He was trying to tell the waiter that he would like his water to come in a grown-up cup, not the Styrofoam ones that come for children ... and he wanted a slice of lemon in it. I finally put my hand over his mouth and finished placing our order.

As soon as the waiter walked away, I whisked Trevor off to the bathroom. I emphasized that he is never to interrupt and is to allow the grown-ups to place the order without his help. He cried big crocodile tears. I assured him that I still loved him, but that what he had done was very rude and also difficult because the restaurant is full of people and the waiter cannot be bothered by his interruptions.

After he had calmed down, we returned to the table. At this point, another melt-down ensued. A Styrofoam cup sat in front of his seat, while across the table, his younger brother was sipping from a grown-up cup of water (no lemon). Trevor was incensed at the injustice of this and began to sob his question of why a 3 year old was given a grown-up water, but he wasn't. I quickly exchanged my water for his and tried to hush his loud emotional outburst. He wondered why we didn't get lemons when every other table had lemons in their water. All I could suggest was that every time I order there, I ask for a water without lemon and usually they forget and bring me one with lemon. This was the first time that I didn't make the request and ... wah-la! our water came without lemon.

From that point on, they did really well. At this particular restaurant, they know Dad will buy them a ring pop at the register if they have been well-behaved. Sadly, due to the interruptions, my order was incomplete and had to be fixed.

I overheard another jumbled order from the table behind me. The woman had ordered nachos supreme but instead of the beef, she wanted steak. She claimed that the waiter had assured her that she could get this substitution for the same $9.99 price. They had brought her nachos with beef. She sent the plate back. When the waiter came to inform her that he could not give her the nachos with steak at the same price, she snapped that she didn't want anything and that he should merely strike her order from the party's bill.

On the way home, I was remembering a friend I once had who was overly demanding (she had specific instructions and dragged me to three different places before her order was finally filled to her satisfaction - and I mentally determined that I would never eat out with her again). It struck me as arrogant that the issue of ice in her drink (it was something like that) was more important than whether or not I enjoyed the restaurant and wanted to stay there. In fact, I remember feeling that she seemed to be the only person who mattered in the equation of our dining experience.

Somehow, I hope I'm teaching my boys to be patient, flexible and accommodating ... and to never interrupt! But next time we eat at this restaurant, I think we'll leave the boys home and make it a date for two.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Climbers Ahead of Me

One of the things I have said I appreciate so much about Nanowrimo is the chance to watch others moving towards the same goal. It helps so much to see other writers breaking out in front of the pack and tackling the obstacles in pursuit of the peak. It is sort of like climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro and being able to see someone ahead of me, taking ahold of new ground. I can sing to myself, "Well, now ... they've made it, so I'm sure I can, too."

Tonight, this feeling was both tested and proved, but not in terms of my writing for Nanowrimo (which is going amazingly well even though I only know of one other writer in the pack and he is usually 1000 words behind me).

First off, I finally answered the phone when someone from Wheaton College called. They have been calling for the past week or so and usually I have to let it ring off because the distractions of my boys and bedtime don't allow for a 10 to 15 minute phone solicitation call. But, please don't misunderstand. I LOVE these calls from Wheaton.

Every year I get the chance to talk to a current student about my time at Wheaton (some of the very best years of my life). Plus, I genuinely care about the Fund Drive for Wheaton College. When I was attending school there, it would have been completely impossible for me to attend without financial assistance. My parents were Salvation Army officers with five children. They had no established college funds for us. I reaped the benefits of those Fund Drives all four years of my attendance at Wheaton.

The difficulty came when it got to the point of actual solicitation. The student suggested an amount of $250. She had already clarified our present employment situation (mine: NONE, husband's: part-time at an institution not likely to offer a matching grant or anything). I explained that, although I wish I could, there was no way I could pledge $250. She reduced this amount to $100 and tried again. When I stated an amount of $25, the same that I pledged last year (our situation being the same for the past four years), she urged me to increase it by 10 percent to $27.50. Hubby was already balking at my desire to give $25, so I had to hold firm at that level.

After I hung up, the discouragement set in. I wanted to be up ahead of the pack. I wanted to offer up the large sums and feel that surge of generosity in giving. I didn't want to be at the bottom of the mountain, still looking way up to the top and seeing loads of other climbers who have advanced far more than I have.

Indeed, my heart auto-piloted into self-pity mode. I began to despair that I really haven't made anything of worth out of this life of mine. Here I sit, biding time. Opportunities are all in the past and the future is merely a big blur. My mind kept repeating, "What do I have to show for my life?"

Thankfully, I didn't go to bed on that thought. Since I tackled most of my Nanowrimo writing this afternoon, while the boys were at afternoon preschool, I decided to skim through the news. I came across this touching story of a 38 year old man, Chad Arnold, whose 34 year old brother, Ryan, offered up a liver to extend Chad's life and ended up dying of cardiac arrest during the transplant operation. The story linked to Chad's blog.

I have spent almost an hour reading the words of their story, Chad's journey. His writing is full of nuggets of wisdom:

"If God were small enough to understand, He wouldn't be big enough to be worshipped." - Evelyn Underhill

"When we become so enshrouded with the awareness of just ourselves, we don't see the pain surrounding us and the opportunity to extend love, or at the very least kindness, to the mad world around us." - Chad

"In love's service, only the wounded soldiers can serve." - Thornton Wilder

"The result of the prayer, really, isn't the point. The lesson learned (or missed) is how we respond - humility and stewardship when we get what we want and total reliance on our Creator when we don't." - Chad

Chad's blog journal and his faith journey have brought me back to the point of inspiration. He's up there ahead of me. He's passing through some really difficult patches that I haven't even imagined plowing through yet, but he's hanging on and that inspires me to hang on as well.

Thank God for those climbers ahead of me who remind me to rely totally on my Creator, even when stumbling in the dark.

Book Review: The Sacred Romance

A while back, when I was reading Better Than my Dreams by Paula Rinehart, a friend of mine suggested Brent Curtis and John Eldredge's The Sacred Romance: Drawing Closer to the Heart of God. I was familiar with John Eldredge's name because my past counselor had talked about his book, Wild at Heart.

This book speaks to the heart yearning that all of us feel, a longing for transcendence, that desire for something more than we are experiencing. It calls us to recognize our lives as a love story where we are God's beloved and he is pursuing us relentlessly and hoping we will recognize Him despite the "arrows" that life aims at us. We have all been injured by arrows, but we must choose whether to remain in a shallow protective mode or jump into the depths by throwing ourselves entirely onto the love and provisions of God.

One of my favorite illustrations from the book, from Chapter 4, tells of the story of a Scottish discus thrower who made his own iron discus from a description in a book. What he didn't know was that the competition discus was wooden with a rim of iron. He made his entirely of iron. When time for the competition came, he out threw everyone. I hope to remember this illustration at times when I am looking over my life and comparing it to others, whose burdens seem to be lighter or more easily managed. The moral they proclaimed was: "Train under a great burden and you will be so far beyond the rest of the world that you will be untouchable."

So many of the questions and responses to God that the authors discuss resonated thoroughly with me. The grief-laden questions of "God, why did you allow this to happen to me? Why did you make me like this? What will you allow to happen next?" They go on to write, "In the secret places of our heart, we believe God is the One who did not protect us from these things..." so "like a lover who's been wronged, we guard our hearts against future disappointment." The authors clearly identified the source of this thinking. "Satan's greatest deception is to convince us that God's love isn't good ... that He is holding out on us."

Most of us, facing the heart's God-given hunger and life's disappointments, seek either anesthesia (dulling our senses, lowering our demands) or indulgence (addictive behaviors). But as Oswald Chambers observed, "There is only One Being who can satisfy the last aching abyss of the human heart, and that is the Lord Jesus Christ."

Another favorite quote from the authors: "How is God wooing us through flat tires, bounced checks, and rained-out picnics? What is he after as we face cancer, sexual struggles, and abandonment?" Their answer? "His wooing seems wild because he seeks to free our hearts from the attachments and addictions we've chosen, thanks to the Arrows we've known."

My goal, after reading this book, will be to constantly remind myself of the romance and the end of the story ... especially in moments when I am stuck in the middle and the end seems all too distant. I want to practice "redemptive remembering." As the authors conclude: "Redemptive remembering is where we develop a life script by interpreting the past, with both the Arrows and the Haunting, in a way that gives energy to the present and direction to the future."

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Writing with Mad Abandon

This will be a newsy post. No great thoughts. I will inundate you with photos and call it a night. Tonight I reached the 17,000 word mark in my novel. I have been aiming for 2000 words a day, but life has (as expected) gotten in the way.

To begin with, after a bold start out the gate (two days in a row with over 2000 words), Trevor awoke on November 3rd with a hideous rash around his left eye. He is prone to skin issues (ever since we moved here), but this was obviously something that the nurse would have sent him right back home for. Since he had only recently gotten over a bout of what our primary physician called a contact dermatitis, I decided to pull out the big guns and take him to a dermatologist.

The boy has a case of impetigo. Yee-haw! Suddenly, I was faced with two days of both little boys at home for the. entire. day. Yikes! That's hard on novel writing, let me tell you. These photos barely show the hideousness, but Trevor did want documentation. He has also been clamouring to start his own blog. I keep putting him off with, "maybe in December."

Bryce's drum instructor (a graduate student at Butler University) has been busy with end of semester concerts and such, so he has cancelled the past two Wednesday night lessons. Trevor was thrilled because it allowed him to attend Awana with a friend. The instructor made up the time with an hour long lesson this past Saturday, a day that just happened to coincide with the Monumental Marathon. The runners were expected to enter the Butler streets around 9 a.m., so we arrived 15 minutes before the 9 a.m. lesson and had no trouble parking.

The little boys and I went exploring. Exploring has been trumping reading almost every time because the campus is absolutely beautiful.

Their favorite thing to do is explore around the fountain and then climb the numerous steps up to a gigantic bell tower. This is a photo from a few weeks ago (hence the short sleeves) that shows the steps and bell tower:

This time, we actually encountered people on the high ropes course. It was fun to stand and watch them climb.

Leaving Butler wasn't quite as easy as arriving on Saturday. We were on campus and the race was proceeding on the road between campus and where we needed to go to return to the highway. For a while I drove right next to the runners. I hope I didn't slow any of them down (that would make for some unhappy runners). I know I feel discouraged when my writing gets slowed down by small boys.

Last night, I was up writing until a little past midnight. When I went to the Nanowrimo site to upload my word count (so that my widget there on the right stays current), I noticed a Nano blog. I have never investigated this before.

I skimmed through a few posts and then stumbled upon a post about a Young Adult Novel Discovery Contest. They indicated that the contest is open for entering between November 1st and 30th. To enter you must submit your title and the first 250 words of your novel. The first 100 entrants receive a copy of the judge's book on writing for young adults.

For some reason, as late as it was in the evening, I felt like if I sat on it, I might talk myself out of entering. So, I sent off my submission of novel title and first 250 words.

This morning, I was kicking myself. Instead of attempting to be among the first 100 (probably laughable, since it was already 8 days into the submission period), I should have honed my first 250 words more thoroughly. Still, I'm glad that I took a stab at it. It would be amazing to be among the top five entrants (these lucky few receive a one-on-one pitch session with an eminent agent and can have their novel reviewed by editors from major publishing houses).

I find it interesting that whenever I talk about my Nanowrimo experience, the first thing people ask is where my work is published. Then I have to explain that I'm not published yet. Humbling and motivating at the same time.

Still, just like last year, I'm feeling like my novel holds a great deal of promise. I am thoroughly enjoying the process (although some nights I begin with a desire to merely go to bed instead of forcing myself to write). The tone of this novel feels very different than last year's work. I'm guessing it is because I am plowing a lot more of myself into this manuscript. It is a very therapeutic venture!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Book Review: Made in the U.S.A.

I had such mixed feelings about this book. Many years ago, I read Billie Letts' Oprah Winfrey pick, Where the Heart Is, which told the story of a young girl who is abandoned while on a road trip and takes up temporary residence inside the local WalMart, where she delivers her baby, naming her America.

This was another book I chose because I could listen to it on longer drives. I must admit that I almost gave up on it after the first few tracks. But, I didn't have anything else to listen to and was due for another hour long stint in the car by myself, so I gave in and listened anyway.

Made in the U.S.A. tells the story of 15 year old Lutie McFee and her 11 year old brother, Fate. As the book opens, in another Walmart, Lutie is shoplifting a sweater when she is interrupted by her father's ex-girlfriend and legal guardian, Floy Satterfield. After Floy drops dead of a heart attack, right inside the Walmart, Lutie is determined that she and Fate will not go to foster care. They take off in Floy's car, heading for Las Vegas, in the hopes of finding their father (who had left a year ago and never responded to letters sent to his address).

I struggled with not wanting to spend time dwelling in the immoral activities and the seedier side of life that these kids encounter. For quite a while (especially while they were living on the streets in Las Vegas), I could barely tolerate listening to the story, despite a very engaging young narrator (Cassandra Morris) and the internal desire for something to finally work out for the two kids. Things continued to go from bad to worse. Eventually, Lutie makes arrangements to film a porn movie in order to secure the $600 the two would need for an apartment in the Paradise school district (where Fate hopes to attend a top notch new elementary school). She is robbed of this money and beaten almost beyond recognition. Finally, a savior (in the form of a homeless man named Juan Vargas) enters the scene and transports the two runaways to his home in Oklahoma, where his family runs a circus.

From the time the kids arrive in Oklahoma to the end of the book, it was as if the book was being redeemed. Juan Vargas has been running from his own demons and must confront his deep need for family. Lutie and Fate both discover their own redemption, of sorts, as well.

Recently, my blogging friend Amy discussed this dilemma as well. She wrote:

"A few weeks ago, I helped a library patron find a few books to take home. "I want something nice and cheery," she said. "Not sad or offensive. I don't understand why anyone wants to read anything about the awful things that happen in the world." I sent her on her merry, oblivious way with some gentle reads and a metaphorical eye roll. We read about awful things because by reading about them we can understand them without having to experience them. Or we read about them because we have experienced them and are searching for commonality, for someone else's experience to erase the loneliness of our own. We read about the ugly, dark things in the world so as to understand how people overcome them, so we can see courage in the face of trouble and hope set against despair. We read so our empathy may be doubled. Ignoring the awful things that happen doesn't make them go away. Ignorance make them more awful. Keeping the dark things in the dark gives them more power. Shining a light on them takes it away. Choosing to read brings that needed light."

Sometimes I totally understand that feeling of not wanting to read anything that is disturbing or unsettling. I get wanting to escape from the realities of this depraved world. However, the ending of a book often determines whether I feel the book was worth slogging through all the garbage in between.

In this case, I do feel glad to have read the book. By the final chapters, I was weeping as I listened to the raw emotions of Lutie dealing with her past losses and her difficulty in making life work. I felt invested in these motley characters, despite their bad choices and foul language. I wanted the best for them. Since this wasn't a Christian book, I didn't receive that "best" in the packaging of spiritual redemption. But, there was redemption and lessons were learned. The value of family was graphically elaborated. I felt edified and built up, despite the moments when I declared that I was "really hating the book I'm reading right now."

Monday, November 1, 2010

Frightfully Good Weekend

One of the boys' favorite activities, on Fall weekends, is to build a bonfire and roast marshmallows with their dad. Between that and rides on the go-kart in the meadow, these boys are happy campers!

Here are the boys on Sunday morning, just after we returned from church:

And here they are again, later last night:

I'm pretty sure they look almost exactly like they did last year. After buying the ninja costume for Trevor's birthday, he only wore it for his classroom party. Last night, he decided he would rather dress, again, as the grim reaper. It didn't really matter one way or the other, since, just like last year, both boys only lasted five minutes in their masks and ended up trick-or-treating without the masks. They were thrilled with their candy and I am determined to stay away from it.

As for Nanowrimo, I'm going to bite the bullet. I have no idea what I will work on, but any progress is better than no progress at all. So, goodbye October. Hello November and loads of writing!