Tuesday, April 08, 2014

NaPoWriMo #1...

...and possibly the only one, because I'm sort of seguing from one NaNo to another NaNo and skipping NaPo. I've been working on The Door to Yesterday in bursts throughout the winter and am almost done with the first draft. So, at the end of March I reluctantly decided I'd take a break from NaPoWriMo this year and try to wrap up the book by the end of April.

The thought of finishing has been so thrilling that the momentum has carried me through four chapters in just the last week; earlier this afternoon I finished Chapter 24. I'm feeling confident I can wrap it up in one more chapter, plus an epilogue. At this rate, I will probably be done well before the end of April.

It feels fabulous, after just over a year, to finally be moving on towards editing, querying, and (hopefully) representation and publication. I think after this intense period of writing, I may not be up for a poem a day for the rest of April; however, rocking Joe to sleep tonight provided a brief burst of poetic inspiration, so I'll take it while it lasts.

A Tanka Lullaby

His fingers flutter
On mine, anemones in
Warm, starry seas, curl
Then uncurl as sleep’s
Celestial tides beat their retreat.
P.S. I forgot to mention that, in typical horse-before-cart fashion, I have already begun to draft my query letter to my dream agent (yes, I have one--I mean, I have a list, but this one is at the top). AND I entered the "Dear Lucky Agent" contest on the Writer's Digest website; this year they're offering a critique of the first ten pages of a YA manuscript for three lucky writers. It's a long shot, but in the grand spirit of risk-taking, I decided to give it a go--fully expecting rejection, of course, in the inversely pitiful spirit of pessimism.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

NaNoWriMo wrap up

Toward the end of November, I got a new assignment at church: I'm the Primary president; which, for my non-Mormon readers, means I'm in charge of the children's Sunday school. It's a fun but overwhelming job. Fortunately, I have lots of help in the form of two counselors and a secretary--three smart and capable ladies--as well as the teachers. The children themselves are delightful. Our Primary has lots of big personalities in small bodies (including my two oldest), and it is a worthy challenge keeping them engaged, learning and feeling loved.

As soon as I received my new calling, it began to demand a lot of my attention and time. I did still write most days during the last couple weeks of NaNoWriMo, but not as much as before. That said, my first attempt at writing a novel during the month of November is a success in that I'm so much closer to my goal than before: I wrote 19,138 words last month, which brings The Door to Yesterday up to 55,170 words. Judging from where I am in my story arc, I'd say I'm about 2/3 of the way through with the book, which is huge. HUGE.

Just this week, I've started putting together a list of agents. I know I'm still a long way off from being ready to send out queries, but it's motivating to think about that stage of developing my book, and what I need to do now to get there.

And let's face it: I've always been something of a cart-before-the-horse kind of girl. That's how I roll...backwards and slowly...but in the right direction.

Friday, November 15, 2013

NaNoWriMo day 15: half-way mark

Alas, my blogging aspirations for this month have fallen by the wayside. I'm happy to report I've been much more consistent with the actual writing of my book. I'm still nowhere close to the 1,500 words per day goal, but I've written a respectable 9,180 this month alone--and this afternoon, I just finished writing the thirteenth chapter. That brings me up to a grand total of 44,670 words. Judging from where I am in the story arc, I'm roughly half-way through. Pretty exciting!

Oh, and I've fiddled around with Paintshop and cannibalized a couple images to come up with a (very rough) cover for my book. I'll never be able to use it, since the photos aren't mine, but it gets my creativity pumping just to have a visual representation of my book. My Book. I like how that sounds.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

NaNoWriMo day 5: slow and steady

I met (and exceeded) my goal for yesterday: 1,278 words! Today's total was a more modest 505. Even though the NaNoWriMo website is encouraging authors to shoot for 50,000 words for the whole month (which breaks out to 1,500 per day), I'm feeling good about whatever I get done--I've already written 3,500 words just in the last five days, which is more than I've written in months. As of Sunday, I finished chapter six (which I'd been working on since July--that's four months it took me to write ten pages) and am already on the fifth page of chapter seven. So long, writer's block...

Monday, November 04, 2013

NaNoWriMo day 4: prologue

Mom knocked once on the bathroom door. “Are you ready to go, Amelia?”

“I’m dressed, but I still need to brush my teeth.”

She opened the door and peeked inside. “Um, you need to run a comb through your hair, too. Hey, why don’t I beat it back for you while you’re doing your teeth?”

“Yeah, fine.”

It had been years since I let her brush my hair, but something about her offer was oddly soothing on this day when I desperately needed comfort. She stood behind me, and I could see from our reflections that I was only a half-inch shorter than her now. My face mirrored hers: pale against the green wall behind us and the black blouses we both wore; our lips pressed together, thin and tight; patches of color high on our cheeks; and our dark eyes blank, too bright from the tears we were willing back.

She took a thick brown curl from each side, twisted them to frame my face, then around my head to meet in back, where she caught them deftly with a silver barrette. I closed my eyes and relaxed my shoulders as Mom eased her fingers through the tangles to smooth my hair into loose waves that fell down my back. When I opened my eyes, her mouth had curved up at the very corners. She rested her chin on my shoulder as she hugged me from behind.

“You’ve always had the prettiest hair, Ya-ya.”

I smiled at her in the mirror.


She started on Dad about the time we drove through North Bend.

“Look, Don, I know you’re embarrassed, but I’m going to tell him. It’s been two months now, and I don’t see the point in keeping it from him just because he’s already overwhelmed.”

From the middle row of our minivan I could see his knuckles tighten ever so slightly on the steering wheel. They had been having different versions of this conversation since September and it always turned out the same: she talked; he didn’t listen. Behind me, Gavin and Dale were plugged into their games, completely oblivious.

Snoqualmie Pass.

“Of course I’ll wait until after the service is over. Don’t think it’s not hard for me to tell him, but frankly, I could use a little support from someone.”

I couldn’t see Dad’s face, but the skin across his knuckles was stretched tight. He always did this to her—to all of us—when we tried to say anything about the house. The boys played on.


“He would want to know; I mean, he’ll be hurt that we waited this long to say something.” Her voice was higher now.

The edges of Dad’s ears began to glow faintly pink. Dale looked up from his game long enough to ask, “How much longer till we get there?”

“An hour,” Mom and Dad said together.

Cle Elum.

“I need you to hear me. This is hard for me, too. I know you hate the idea of asking for help, but I really don’t see what other options we have. It’s not like we have anything keeping us there, now.” She paused and her voice thickened. “And no, I’m not going to cry. Heaven forbid I should cry. But I just wish you would listen to me, Donald. I mean, it’s almost Thanksgiving. We have six weeks until we have to be out, and you’re giving me nothing. No back-up plan, no nothing. I can’t live like this.”
His ears blazed. I knew exactly where this was going.

As we passed the rest stop at Elk Heights, Gavin called out, “Are we there yet?”

“No!” Dad yelled.

“We’ll be there in twenty minutes,” Mom said softly.

I cringed into my seat.


Grandpa Gus and I were the only ones still standing at the grave.

Everyone else—my family, Aunt Maggie and Uncle John, my cousins Brian and Craig, Grandma’s brother Great-uncle Bob, and several dozen strangers—had all gone around the fence to the church. The ladies from Grandma’s bible study had laid out a luncheon of ham, funeral potatoes, green Jell-O salad with grated carrots, and white sheet cake.  Before the funeral, I had helped them set up tables on a basketball court behind the folding doors at the back of the chapel, just to have something to do besides sitting on the hard wooden pews and enduring the palpable silence between my parents. The church still smelled like day-old bread, Aquanet, and potpourri, the way I remembered.

The Oddfellows Cemetery was on the crest of a gentle, grassy hill at the north end of town, fully exposed to the freezing north-western wind that was a constant during winter in Ellensburg. I had foolishly left my flowered parka in the car, thinking it seemed too cheerful to wear on such a sober occasion. Each gust cut through the black cardigan I wore over my blouse and blew tears sideways across my cheeks.

Even without the wind, I felt like I might never be warm again.

I shivered and glanced over at my grandfather’s face. It was unreadable.

I put my arm around his waist, and without looking at me, he reached out to touch my hair.

“C’mon, Grandpa,” I said. “We’ve got to have some lunch before the cornflake topping on the funeral potatoes gets all soggy and Gavin eats the last piece of cake.” He didn’t answer, so after a minute I let my arm drop and started toward the church. I looked back, saw him trace the letters carved on her headstone: AMELIA WATTERSON PEAT.

“Forgive me, Mellie,” I heard him whisper before he turned to follow me.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

NaNoWriMo day 3: stats

Today's word count: 470
Total word count: 1742
Goal for tomorrow: 1000

I had hoped to write more today, but I woke up sore (and late) after spending all morning yesterday raking leaves in my yard. I'm going to see if I can give myself an extra hour of writing time by getting up at five tomorrow, since my body is used to getting up at what used to be six--before daylight savings time ended.

Of course, that means I'll have to go to bed at what is now ten o'clock... but giving up my night-owlish ways is a small price to pay for making progress!

Saturday, November 02, 2013

NaNoWriMo day 2: cast of characters

Amelia Gustopan
• Bright and creative, sophomore in high school, conscientious student, oldest of three
Magnus “Grandpa Gus” Louis Peat
• Amelia’s grandfather, strong silent type, was a cattle rancher (now retired and has rented out his land to another rancher)

Amelia “Grandma Mel” Watterson Peat
• Amelia’s grandmother, recently deceased in car accident

Gwen Peat Gustopan
• Amelia's mother, creative and smart, fiercely loyal to her family

Donald “Don” Jacob Gustopan
• Amelia’s father, quiet and stern, lost his job six months before story begins, loves his family but struggles with communicating that love

Gavin Louis Gustopan
• Amelia’s younger brother, 12 years old, likes science and math--especially geology and astronomy

Dale Jacob Gustopan
• Amelia’s youngest brother, 10 years old, likes history, in particular anything to do with the Civil War or WWII

Bob “Great-uncle Bob” Watterson
• Grandma Mel’s younger brother, an agent for Bureau of Land Management (BLM), has had a grudge against Gus for many years

Maggie Peat Sloan
• Gwen’s older sister, mother of the “Wonder Twins”, veteran homeschooler

John Sloan
• Maggie’s husband, attorney

Seth Williams
• Meets Amelia at homeschool group, has six sisters, interested in geology and birding

Suzanna “Suzy” Smith Williams
• Seth's mother, homeschooler, owns internet business making and selling goat-milk soap

Darcy Malinger
• Bullies Amelia, smart and popular but chooses to do well in school by cheating

Marcy Fallon Malinger
• Darcy’s mother, went to high school with Gwen


Today's word count: 874
Goal for tomorrow: 1500

Friday, November 01, 2013

NaNoWriMo day 1: all in

Here's the back story: I first read about NaNoWriMo on my friend Kim's blog in 2007. Back then, I was in poetry mode and the idea of writing An Entire Novel In One Month sounded like lunacy. Then I spent the next several Aprils writing a poem every day and got used to the idea of cranking out crazy amounts of creative writing in a condensed period of time. But still, a novel?

Flash forward to February 2013. I've always liked YA fiction; I still keep copies of my old faves, like Robin McKinley, Ursula K. Le Guin and Susan Cooper, and reread them periodically. I had just finished the Beautiful Creatures series by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, which I really enjoyed, and then I reread the last book of the Twilight series because the movie was about to come out. I enjoyed that less, because (amongst other reasons) it irks me when an author chooses a backdrop with which she isn't familiar and the little details don't ring true.

I started thinking, if I were writing a book... what kind of story might happen here in my hometown that I would actually want to read about? Who would the protagonist be? Quite surprisingly, the beginnings of a story unfolded in my head. Over a couple weeks I started to flesh out a timeline, a story arc, a cast of characters--and one night when I had terrible insomnia, I stayed up until 3 a.m. writing the prologue. Two chapters quickly followed, and then a third and a fourth. I hit a wall in the spring, but then in July, I pulled together a fifth chapter and started the sixth before the wall went up again.

As October drew to a close, I started talking with my friend Andrea, also a writer, about what happens to us when we don't write, and she shared a stark insight with me, via Brené Brown: "Unused creativity isn't benign."


It's been coming on for a few years now, but I'm finally, on a deep level, starting to understand that writing is integral to my self-care, and I've been neglecting it for a long, long time. I'm just not quite right when I don't write. I've looked wistfully at my friends' blogs and wished I felt like I had time to blog or write in some other creative way, and my absence from creativity eats at me in small but significant ways.

Last week, I began the process of resetting my internal clock by trying to get up at 6:00 every morning. It was pretty miserable, and some mornings I just wrote in my journal, because I was still coming up short on how to move forward with where I left off in my book. This week, I've dragged myself out of bed every morning when my alarm goes off (no matter what time I crawled into it the night before), and most mornings, my body has actually woken me up about five minutes before my phone beeps at me. It's paying off; the other day, I suddenly found the spark I needed to pick up my story.

Then, this morning, I had another flash of inspiration: blog during NaNoWriMo. Write, and write about the process. Most days I probably won't be sharing what I wrote for my book, but aspects of the story, and parts of the early chapters that are slightly more polished. While it's unlikely I'll finish the whole book this month, even a page a day is better than what I've been doing.

And even a page feels really, really good.


Today's word count: 393

Thursday, June 06, 2013

School's out!

This school year has been one of the most challenging I can remember. Two years ago, when Jimmy was in second grade, it was particularly tough because I had two miscarriages between November and June, which laid me flat both physically and emotionally for a lot of months. But with Audrey starting Kindergarten, this was the first year with two kids at the school table, and wow, it was a big adjustment for all of us.

Thankfully, I've reached a place where I feel completely confident in both my teaching and organizational abilities, and so it gave me the chance to focus on stepping up my game and really engaging with my children on a new level.

When I gave Jimmy his last journal assignment for the school year, I asked him to write about his four favorite things he learned this year. I'm giving myself the same assignment, so in no particular order, here's what I learned during 2012-2013:

1) Old dogs can (and should) learn new tricks. All year long, I've been coming up against the realization that for so many reasons, I need to stop yelling at my kids. So, with a little help from an amazing gal known as Orange Rhino, I'm doing just that. I still struggle, I still yell, but I'm only a couple months into this new trick and already I'm yelling less. It's making a huge difference for me and my kids. Even better, I dialogue with them about why I'm doing what I'm doing and they're helping me while they see me modeling this willingness to change.

2) I'm the expert on my kids. I'm sure you're thinking, well, duh. But starting out with a virtual academy--while it's been lovely having someone to give us guidance and hold us accountable--has allowed me to defer to others as knowing better what my kids might need or what curriculum might be best or what learning plan we should follow. Over the past couple of years, I've been putting the pieces together and finally feeling like if we had to fly solo (which we may have to do because of legislation in Olympia that will reform alternative learning experiences like CVA), I could do it. I could do it because I know what areas my kids are strong in, what they struggle with, how they learn, and how to teach them.

3) Kids are spiritual creatures. This year I've shifted some of my focus to providing a spiritual touchstone as an integral part of our learning day. For us this means we have a devotional each morning before we start school work. Doing this helps me and the kids to be more calm and centered before we dive into doing stuff that challenges us and trying to get along with each other while everyone is working at the table together. We also created an art area and did a fine arts course as part of our curriculum this year. It was amazing: seeing art, learning about it, creating it. Art feeds the soul.

4) I love my children. I already knew this, but I found I need to keep learning it all over again, every day. Sometimes I get so focused in on what needs to be done--the lessons we need to get through--that I lose sight of the why. And then things get adversarial: when I'm focused on checking off the subjects on our list, instead of tuning in my children's needs and how I can meet them, it's me against them instead of us learning together. If I go on autopilot and forget to be mindful of that overarching feeling of love, it all falls apart. I fall apart.

And now, I'm off to make another list... of things to do over the summer!

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

NaPoWriMo #11: april

Spring Stream

Susurrating voice
water singing through stones will
coax the tender leaves.