Wednesday, December 31, 2008

I Promise


This is my mom, Deb.*
`
Notice the gobs of books behind us? This is one shelf of many at my parents' house. She could open a used book store; we tease her about it all the time.
`
My mom is the one from whom I got my love of books. A paperback was never far from her reach, and that kind of thing gets impressed upon a kid. It didn't hurt that she took my sister and me to the library frequently, as soon as we were old enough to appreciate it. I remember lugging home as many books as the library would allow, and relishing every one. The feel of the cool, smooth pages in my small hands. The musty, used smell. I love all of it. I love books.
`
It's also my mom who has encouraged me to write for as long as I can remember. Even as a young student, when I probably didn't attribute much to the idea of "being a writer," she'd pore over things I wrote for classes... There was one essay, Plaid Pants, I wrote about the polyester outfit she "forced" me to wear in the early 80's, when I was 5 years old. Ugh, it was horrible. You could feel my pain in that short blurb. Then, and other times, she said, "Janna, you should be a writer."
`
Somewhere along the way I started to feel the same. I never had an English teacher who took me under her wing, or helped cultivate my talent: It's something I found on my own. But my mom was always there with encouragement, kind of helping me unearth my potential.
`
Then, last year, a childhood friend of hers published a novel based on his boyhood. She was touched by his recounting of the growing up years, set in the area she was raised, during the telling of which my uncle (and Mom's brother), it seemed, filled the fictional role of the main character's buddy. She appreciated her old friend's talent, saw his achievement, the fact that he'd done it; written a book and seen it to publication. And she felt it. I think she understood everything my desire represents.
`
"Promise me, Janna. Promise you'll see your dream happen." And I did.
`
So see? Now I have to do it. I have to keep writing. I have to follow it through. Because I promised her. And because I promised me.
`
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Have you made a promise? To yourself or someone else? If not, I suggest you do. It goes a long way in lighting one's fire, in holding oneself accountable.
`
And I wish you the best.
`
*This is one of my favorite pictures, taken just a couple months after her "surprise" double-bypass... She'd gone to the hospital one Friday afternoon, feeling "off" but suspecting what was happening - though she'd always, always been healthy, and by Monday morning she was having open-heart surgery. She was very blessed, and is now heart-healthy.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

All Hail the Stephen King!

I can't claim to be a fan of Stephen King. To speak of his fiction, well, I can't say much. I've tried to read things like Pet Semetary and It but, though I've seen several of the movies in the past, I couldn't get into the written versions. Not because of his voice or style, but because I'm not a reader of horror, plain and simple.

So when other writers would reference his book On Writing, "a memoir of the craft," I'd think to myself Really? The master of horror? A non-fiction book? But so many raved of its perfection, I thought I'd give it a try. He's successful. Many, many times over. 50+ WORLDWIDE bestsellers. Kinda tells me he might have something worth sayin'.

Boy, does he. He's straightforward, courteous, funny, very personable. I enjoy his approach, and I find inspiration at every page turn. Motivation is oozing from his words into my core. Corny? Yeah. But true.

Here's the first nugget worth sharing. Relish. Digest. Apply.

Let's get one thing clear right now, shall we? There is no Idea Dump, no Story Central, no Island of the Buried Bestsellers; good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky: two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun. Your job isn't to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Behold: Books!


My mom got me Stephen King's On Writing for Christmas, and I can't tell you how much I'm loving this book. I'm halfway through, and the paperback already has pen marks and a dog ear or two. (I do plan to share some amazing nuggets from King, most likely in tomorrow's post.) My mom also gave me (Mom, you rawk!) a gift card to Amazon... with which I pre-ordered my very own copy of Kimmi's The Unbreakable Child. Though I know its content may be difficult to read (check the link for details), I can't wait to hold her story in my hands - all while supporting a writing buddy. The bad news is, I have to wait until April for shipment...

My sister gave me Donald Maass' Writing the Breakout Novel. I haven't cracked the cover on that one yet but, given his success as a literary agent, I expect it to be great. High hopes, my friends! My sister also gave me (Jill, you rawk!) a gift card to Starbucks, where I can go sit with any one of these books, and lose myself amongst fine coffee smells and that coffeehouse vibe. You know the one I mean. It's like creativity oozes out of those places.
**
Then of course there's the one *ahem* I got myself for Christmas, Writer's Workshop in a Book. And see, I'm pretty good at this, I also bought myself two new journals (remember my fetish?) during after-Christmas sales. The larger drew me in with its colors, even though the binding was torn. But I gladly paid the super-clearance price, slapped some scrapbooking paper over the spine, and embellished the front cover with five simple letters: w.r.i.t.e. The other is gorgeous brown leather, with roses embossed on a portion of it. This is one of those I may never actually write in, because its beauty would be marred by my sloppy handwriting...


What about you? Did you get amazing goodies for Christmas? Something that encourages your pasttime or passion?


[My apologies... there was an issue with the formatting of this post, and when I tried to fix it I encountered a publishing snafu. I think it's fixed now; sorry for the errors.]

Saturday, December 27, 2008

New Sidebar!

Hi, gang! Just a quick and simple post to let you know I've created a new sidebar over yonder. Thought I'd place links to some of what I've had published online, but also for samples of my fiction. The motherhood-related articles are indicative of the non-fiction writing I do, whereas the other pieces show my range in fictional voice. (You may remember the fiction posts... they were done using the prompts some of you offered.)

I've been taking it easy in regards to blogging this week, as many have, given the Christmas holiday, during which I hope you all found yourselves among loved ones, overloaded with blessings. But I'm gearing up for a full schedule. Coming this week: Posts about the writing-related stuff I got for Christmas (how fun? SO fun!), a promise I made my mom not too long ago, and my writerly goals for 2009.

Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Flash Fiction and Christmas Wishes

I was grumpy. Had been all day, because work hadn't gone well, I found out my boyfriend would be out of town for Christmas, and I spilled root beer on my winter white sweater during dinner. I was still feeling soggy. And I despise looking unkempt.

So I sat in the auditorium of my niece's high school, waiting impatiently for her concert to begin. Merry people talked in excited circles around me, trapping me in my stiff third-row seat. Who makes this kind of seating anyway? It's so uncomf--

I felt a dull jab in my side.

"Meggie, what's the deal?" my sister asked.

I shrugged but kept my mouth closed, knowing not to unleash a torrent of complaints.

"Well, perk up! It's a Christmas concert."

Right, I grumbled to myself. Don't get me wrong - I love the vocal concerts; hearing the holiday music, soaking up the youthful talent. It was just a really bad night for me. And I wasn't feeling much Christmas spirit.

I really was heartbroken that Jacob would be traveling to see his family. We'd had plans to be together Christmas Eve - and I'd been hoping, after eight years together, he'd finally propose - but he'd sprung the news he and his siblings were all going home. And no invitation had been extended to me. I had--

The house lights went black, a sure sign things were underway, and a chorus of oohs joined a smattering of gasps.

As all eyes focused on the dark stage, a small boy's voice called out. "Mama! There's somebody back there!"

Heads began to turn to the rear of the auditorium. Choir members, in black robes, were slipping through the doors, and goosebumps rose on my arms as I realized each one held a candlestick. The small dancing flames lit the carriers' faces, the sound of their a capella voices rising with the room's acoustics. As they progressed toward the stage, the pace of their single-file lines matched the unrushed tempo of the first song.

O come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant...

I saw my niece, Jem, whose strong alto voice I heard melt into the hymn's harmony. The slightest of smiles appeared in the flicker from her candle, and my heart warmed.

O come ye, o come ye to Bethlehem...

The rich voices - amazing, they were coming from teenagers - enveloped me, and I felt comforted by the lyrics.

Come and behold Him...

And suddenly my brain, that little part that affects my mood, flipped as a switch, and I felt full of love and contentment. In that small instance, gone were my grumpies. They were replaced by... by... the Spirit.

Who cared about a root beer stain, really? And work was work; I'd no reason to dwell on one day. Jacob? Well, I'd tell him I wanted to go on the trip with him. If he had some problem with that, well, then I'd stay with my own family, and reassess my relationship with him later.

Born the King of angels...

It was Christmas, after all. I should be happy, focused on my many God-given blessings.

I reached for my sister's hand and gave it a squeeze. She smiled and brushed a tear from her eye.

"I feel it, too," I whispered. "I feel it, too."

***

A post of Ang's got me thinking of my own high school choir experiences at Christmastime (which spawned this piece). Our A Capella Choir (juniors and seniors) did this very thing at winter concerts, encroaching upon the audience with candlelight, our unaccompanied voices filling the auditorium with the words from O Come All Ye Faithful. That was one of my favorite experiences, and I wish I could relive it.

***

I wish everyone the best of merry and blessed Christmases. May you be spoiled and cared for, with regard to presents and company and family, but yet with so much more. Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Type-A Mom

I don't know how many of you have heard of or seen it, but there's a great parenting site called Type-A Mom. Moms can go there for info on any number of things, and writers can (if qualified and all) submit articles and essays for consideration.

I've been a contributer for a long time. It's just that it's been a long time since I've contributed. Until now.

Dealing With Dawdling Kids has been published, and I'd like you to check it out. And take a looksee around the site, too, if you're a mom with interest.

***

Thanks for all the support after yesterday's post. I know I didn't go into a lot of detail, but I really appreciate everyone's encouragement. You really are an amazing group of people.

Hope you all have a fabulous weekend. Our Christmas festivities begin, so it's gonna be busy! I'll catch up with you all next week, and will be posting a Christmas-related piece of flash fiction on Monday or Tuesday. Be blessed!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Couldn't See It Coming

After an absurdly overwhelming November, you may remember I said of December (in this post):

While I know I can't see what this month may hold, I'm determined to make it as amazing as I can...

That sentence sure makes it seem I have a knack for foreshadowing my own life...

When I got the publisher rejection at the beginning of this month, I considered it a minor snafu. I wasn't going to let it shape my month and, really, I was all for putting it behind me and moving on with the next phase. I got a good start on my new WIP, brainstormed on short pieces, and had an all-around satisfied feeling about where I was headed.

But then came more emotional upset.

While I choose not to go into a lot of detail, something happened that made me question my life's happiness. It became clear I had some soul-searching to do, and I wasn't sure what kind of outcome - or huge change, even - might be warranted. My insides were raw with worry, my head was spinning with possibilities, and I feared the unknown.

The crossroads at which I found myself eventually opened onto a foggy path, and I set out with trepidation. But one who appears to have my interests at heart has joined me, making effort to illuminate the way and make the path light.

There are still questions in my mind, but... I'm in a better place now.

What seems too contrived and overdramatic for even me to believe, is that my new WIP focuses on a woman whose 3oth birthday is surrounded by heartbreak and discouragement. I'd gotten the idea after my own 30th (at the beginning of November), when I'd been dealing with all those things myself. What a great idea, I thought. A story of soul searching, finding the good in the bad.

I don't know if it's a case of life creating art (how many times have I posted about experiences and their effect on writing?), or art prefacing life. Either way, it's drawn too parallel for me not to take notice.

It's a lesson for me, I'm certain. What's happened to me was not of my own fault, but yet I've gained from it. And stand to gain more. My hope is that as I trod along this path, picking my way, that I buffer the bad with the good... and use it to my advantage with concern to my writing.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

You Could Be Stylin'

One of my bloggy friends, Barbara, has fallen into the (wonderful) habit of giving away pashmina scarves. If you'd like a chance to win one, all you need do is visit her site and leave a comment, on any post - which will enter your name into the drawing. And if pashmina doesn't coordinate with your wallet chain, well, then enter for the sake of a special lady.

Aside from chancing a win for one of Barbara's giveaways, I love visiting her place (The Serenity Gate), just for the sake of a visit. It's warm and cozy, and she reminds me of a favorite aunt. (Shout out to Aunt Bernia!)

Thanks for creating such a nice place, Barbara.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

This and That

So it occurred to me too late that I missed Tuesday's Stuff and Things yesterday. It seems to be the norm for me of late. I've also gotten off schedule, with sporadic timing, whereas I was publishing my posts at 6 a.m. Fortunately, it seems to have had no bearing on my readers. And I thank you for that!

If you don't mind, I have some rambling thoughts to share today. And here we go...


Yesterday's snow was so gorgeous! And the temperature has dipped so low for the last three days, the entire lake (600 acres!) froze over. It's so early for that to have happened! But talk about beauty. I'll try to get a picture sometime soon...

***

Misterwrites brought a surprise home for me yesterday. "The best kind of 'flowers' to get in a December snow storm," he said.


Aren't they beautiful? He never surprises me with that sort of thing, so it was an extra-special treat. And I've never had a poinsettia! Speaking of, my friend Kelly recently posted the story behind poinsettias. If you'd like to read a good Christmas story, see here.

***

My throat has been sore for the last few days. It's more than sinus drainage, but not as bad as strep. I've been taking tylenol and gargling salt water. Anything else I should be doing? I'd really like to avoid the doctor...

***

And for what I think is last on my mind... I'm curious to know what you think makes a compelling blog post. Is it a relatable voice? A drawing topic? We all know some posts are more inspiring, thought-provoking, or touching than others, but what makes you return to any given blog?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Beauty

Beauty can be found in so many places. It seems, this month, many of us are finding it in the holiday things and, recently, snow.


A snow storm, expected to be day-long, began in the morning hours today, and it's coming down steadily. I suspect school will let out early, and we'll hole up in our warm home while watching the flakes descend and accumulate. (Actually, I could guarantee my girls will want to be out in the snow...)


This day and these views bring out so many feelings in me - warmth, nostalgia, thanksgiving, potential, determination.










What about you?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Change

When you desire change, whether it's in life, with a project, or in your writing, do you proceed with caution and trepidation? Unsure of your speed and precision until you know where it may take you? Or do you make the early decision to move ahead with assertion, ready for whatever it takes?

Do tell.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Presents!

I have Christmas presents on my mind...

I got a little shopping done a few months ago, put a decent dent into what I need yesterday, and have a trip planned with my mom today. How exciting is it to seek out the perfect gift for a loved one? It puts such a spring in my step. (Though, to be fair, any kind of shopping does that.)

And a present came for me! Kind of, anyway. I'd ordered a book for myself, and it was delivered yesterday. But I'll wrap it, mark it from Santa, and no one will ever be the wiser. Mum's the word, alright?

I'm excited to open this one; it looks to have some good stuff, by good writers. Yippee!

***

While we likely agree there's much more to Christmas than gifts, it can be fun to think about what our family and friends may get us. What did you ask for this year?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Trained or Self-Taught?

So one who wants to be a writer can seek a formal education. There are, after all, degrees in creative writing, journalism, the whole gamut.

Or, one could be self-taught.

Though I have a couple years of community college under my belt, I never earned a degree. And even if I had, it would have been in Occupational Therapy or psychology - nothing writing-related. So I've gotten where I am (wherever that may be) by teaching myself.

I've always been incredibly detail-oriented. I've had a knack for grammar and spelling. I've paid close attention to how others write, their voices, formats, markets, what works, what trends call for or reject, etc., and, as a result, I've honed my writing over the course of several years. I have to say the self-taught route has worked just fine for me so far.

Was your knowledge gained through higher-education or osmosis? A little of both?

While there are certain benefits to specialized courses (and I'm not against them), are they necessary to be a success?

Tell me what you think.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Witty Wednesday

On a whim, I decided I'd present a limerick today, freshly penned. (By me, not the pig in my pocket who usually writes my stuff.) And since limericks are explained on wikipedia as "witty or humorous," well... there's where the post title came from.

*ahem*

There once was girl who wrote,
Sometimes this or that or a note.
She found poetry hard,
Certain she was no Bard,
Such skills were, for her, remote.


How 'bout you? Can you offer something fun for Witty Wednesday? Try a limerick!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Tuesday's Stuff and Things

I mentioned last week that a flash fiction piece of mine was accepted by Chick Lit Review. It's up, and I invite you to take a peek! (Just pay no mind to the no-longer-relevant part of my bio...) Some of you may recognize Surprise at the Salon; it was one result of the prompted exercises I did back in October. But Chick Lit Review is the only place you can see it, so hop to!

***

My kindergardner, who is learning how to read and write, finds no excitement in my role as a writer. While she impresses the teacher with her desire to fill out journal entries (with sounded-out words and pictures) and the like, she doesn't yet get that writing can be a whole lot more.

Just last night she said to me, in her Little-Girl Big-Drama Voice, "Mommy, writing is not anything special."

Well! She told me.

Thankfully, all you faithful readers and bloggers and buddies feel differently, and prove it with your support. After yesterday's post about my publisher rejection (I'll be okay. I only cried myself to sleep thrice last night...), many of you left amazing thoughts and encouragements. What an incredible group of people I hang with, truly. You know what summed it up? celestialwolf's words: Janna, we believe in you. Thank you, cel. And everyone!

***

Okay, I totally feel like I'm giving in to peer pressure. Because all my friends are doing it. And because I want to be popular... So I've added the Follow Me widget or doohickey or thingamabob. Whatever it's called. It would make me ever so happy to see your little face smiling at me over yonder. Won't you follow me?

***

Have a fantabulous Tuesday!

Monday, December 8, 2008

A Personal Case of Foreshadowing

On the way home from church and errands yesterday, amid family talk about trucks from China, plants vs. animals, and Santa's elves (we covered a lot), I made a random comment to my husband.

“I hope if Avalon doesn’t accept my book, they at least offer some constructive criticism.”

I hadn’t spoken with him about my manuscript in awhile...

Fast-forward to our road, when I said, “Let’s stop at the mailbox. I didn’t get yesterday’s mail.”

The second the flap came down, I gasped. One lonely letter lay inside, post-marked from New York. And I knew.

“It’s too thin to be good news.” I clutched it in my hands, not ready for its message.

“So open it,” my husband pressed.

The second of grasping hope, when I thought Maybe it's a letter asking me to call them, didn't last long.

It was short and to-the-point: Bliss Lake isn't right for them. They felt pacing was slow at times, and that the "religious undertones" weren't in line with their more secular preferences. (Terri, this answers a question you and I had once...) For anyone curious about what they consider religious, characters in Bliss Lake attend church a few times (with brushed-over details of a particular sermon's message), God is mentioned, and the main character prays in thought, though no overt Christianity is presented. I myself thought it was all indirect and minor to plot. So now we know.

The editors also had concerns over the presence of a stalker. While he created an ambience that didn't fit with their "family-friendly guidelines," his existence didn't present the right kind of tension between the hero and heroine, either.

So what does all this mean to me? I don't know yet.

I know I'm really disappointed. Really. I feel like my sails have lost their wind. Now - instead of a writer being considered - I'm just a writer. I feel less validated. I have to start all over again. And I have some decisions to make. Do I try to tweak pacing (if I end up agreeing) and find Christian markets, to see what they think of Bliss Lake? Or do I chalk the whole thing up to practice and experience? Many do that. It is my first novel, after all. And I tried the agent route, too. No takers.

I don't want to say I give up. Because I won't. Not on this dream of writing and being published at the novel level, anyway. The first thing I said to my husband was, "I'll keep trudgin'." So I'll strap on my boots and push myself onward.

Here I go.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Thank You! Thank You, Everyone!

Or, more specifically, Barbara, who nominated me for the Real Blogs, Real People award.


The award is given to bloggers who write about real life. Barbara, I so appreciate your recognition of my efforts!

The idea is to pass the award on to seven others, and I'd like to tell you why I've chosen who I have.

First, Kimmi, who shares exciting news about her upcoming debut (The Unbreakable Child) and living that dream, and also enlightens readers with tales of her work with Habitat for Humanity. Great job, Kimmi!

Kelly, who so well expresses what it's like to be a farmer's wife. Even if I didn't know her personally, I'd find her musings interesting.

Melanie - Living in Mexico isn't easy for her, but she shares awesome stories and a great attitude, both which make it seem like such an adventure!

Terri, who writes about real life as a writer, which many of us can relate to and/or draw inspiration from. Thanks for all the encouragement, Terri!

Fringegirl, whose posts prove a pastor's wife can be fun and sassy!

Jewel, at Pink Ink, who tells us of everyday things in such touching and relatable ways.

And Joanne, whose pursuit of a choice life makes us all sit up and take note. Thanks for your beautiful posts!

And now, if each of you accept the honor and wouldn't mind following the guidelines, you're supposed to link to me (show me some love!), and link to the 7 seven to whom you choose to pass the award. Make sure to post the award picture somewhere on your own blog, too!

I also want to take the opportunity to thank every one of my readers, as well as all those whose blogs I read. Each of your posts give me something to ponder, and touch me in some way. You all make Bloggerland such a great place to be, and I thank you for the connection, the support, and the endless benefits of networking. Your friendship is awesome.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Last Night

My girls had been tucked in, misterwrites wasn't home yet, and my time was my own. I had a tough choice to make. I wanted to write, because I hadn't had the chance all day. But I also wanted to watch some of my favorite shows (read: the only ones I ever catch on a regular basis).

So I considered my options carefully. Writing needed to take precedence, because I'm determined to make a huge effort with it this month. But man, I really wanted to watch The Office (so ridiculously hilarious!) and ER (sucked me in this season). It's such a massive decision. Will my world slow to a crawl if I miss an episode? Will my mind implode if I don't write the next section of chapter two?

During my gut-turning deliberation, I remembered how my husband always asks why I watch "crap shows." (Just for the record, it's the hour-long dramas he refers to.) This question is usually preceded by my distress over a fictional storyline (or that Law & Order sound: dng dng). He doesn't understand the draw. And, for awhile, I didn't either. But then an episode of ER hit home. The plot was so wrenching, the characters so riveting, that as I blubbered for breath and blew my nose, it dawned on me. It's the emotional ride.

And what's a writer if not one who enjoys an emotional ride?

I like it when shows (movies, what have you) make me feel: Elation over a victorious moment, indignation over circumstance, a tickle down to my funny bone. Just like a good book. And allowing myself that ride opens up possibility, shows me potential. It all comes down to, as I've mentioned before, what goes into our reserve of thoughts and feelings, for our writing. So, in essence, I could treat watching ER as research. Or, I could forego the new episodes, draw on my previously-acquired reserve, and write.

What did I do? What anyone this day and age would do, of course.

I plopped in front of the tv with my laptop on, WIP open. It was the best of both worlds.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

I Have a Fetish

With books, in general. But especially notebooks and journals. Does it have a fabulous cover? And blank, inviting pages? Then my fingers itch to touch it. And it shall be mine.


I carry them in my purse for shopping lists. I tuck them around the house, for easy access when a great thought bursts onto the scene. And, of course, I keep 'em at the ready near my computer. (I should also say they always - ALWAYS - end up with at least a few pages of preschooler doodles.)



Here's my current collection:


Some you see are filled with miscellaneous scribbles and jots. The two upper-right ones are the journals I fill with tidbits about my daughters' childhoods. The floral in the middle, top row, is the one someone personalized as a gift for me. And then the celery green and mauve-y books, together in the middle, along with the light blue (sandwiched in the corner between the two beefier blues), came as a packaged set from a hobby store. They're thin and smooth, with beautifully blank pages.

I am going somewhere with this.

The sandwiched blue one is the new home to some very crucial notes for my WIP. After yesterday's post about whether or not I should outline, I decided I'd make an effort. Especially after Jenna suggested maybe I was turned off by the word "outline," and the connotation it came to have through years of school papers and reports, not the actual output of one. Call it a blueprint! she said.

And so I am. The little notebook is perfect. Thus far I'm designating one page for each chapter, for key points. (Those will be written along with the book, as I see where each chapter will take me. So it's kind of outlining, kind of not.) The margins are already being stuffed with things I'll need to keep in mind down the line. And I started writing a character sketch for the main character, as well.

It pleases me. And not just because I'm using an adorable notebook.

Do you have a (healthy) fetish?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Don't Say Maybe

So I've come to that stage with my new project: Do I or don't I?

Outline, that is.

I never want to outline. I'm the kind who likes to sit in front of the computer, a few notes here or there beside me, and just let it flow. I like the culmination of words and story to build with few set confines. Plus, starting with an outline is like starting with a piddly appetizer, when you're hungry for the whole meal!

Chapter 1 of my new WIP came out great. (That's not to say there won't be lots of tweakage, because, for now, I'm writing without editing as I go. But that's another post for another day...) And I know the general meanderings, the guts, of the whole book. But what about the minor details? What about the sub-plots? How will the rest come out?

My first novel (Bliss Lake, for any new readers, is currently under publisher consideration) unfolded page by page in front of me without an outline. I couldn't believe how well everything tied in, how much it all flowed, without having strategically planned it in advance. (It was a huge blessing for me; a reassurance I was on the right path with my writing. Also another day's post...) But could it happen again? Do I test it, supposing I could fail? Part of me feels I should at least jot down some kind of informal outline. I mean really, there's no one way to outline a project.

I think it's just such a question in my mind right now because the task of jumping into a new full-length novel - from scratch! - is daunting. Am I right? And anything serving to point me in the right direction can't be bad. Right?

So do I or don't I?*

Do you or don't you?

*I guarantee many of you are thinking Janna, it's up to you, girlie, because every writer is different and has to choose their own way. I know this. But I figure myself out better when I share my thoughts and absorb everyone's feedback. Thank you, thank you.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Tuesday's Stuff and Things

Who's ready for some stuff?

I got a great start on my new WIP yesterday! I'm very excited about this idea, but am hesitant to share anything just yet... we're still in the early stage of our relationship, you see, and I don't want to jinx it. But if things continue to progress and it looks like we may last long-term, I'll give you the goods then. ;)

I have another author to add to my favorites list! Her name is Anna Maxted. I mentioned her sometime recently, when I told you about reading her book A Tale of Two Sisters. The book was phenomenal, and I absolutely recommend it. Here's a small excerpt from the back... Forced apart by mistakes not their own, enticed by new loves, and confronted by challenges they never asked for, Cassie and Lizbet [who live in England] struggle to rediscover the simple goodness of their sisterhood, even as their lives take them on a collision course of heartache and new beginnings. The book, alternating between Cassie's and Lizbet's first-person points of view, is written with plucky humor and deep-hitting truths. Loved the author and her voice!

And... well... I guess I don't really have any things to share.

What's up for you today?

Monday, December 1, 2008

To the Eleventh Month I Say 'Goodbye'

November was a tough month. I don't know that I've ever had so many separate occurances and emotions join together to create such turmoil. But it's over.


Today I welcome December with flourish. And maybe fanfare. Seriously, I may break out the sparkling grape juice; I've never been so glad to see the calendar page turn.

While I know I can't see what this month may hold, I'm determined to make it as amazing as I can. I'm going to love my family and friends with my whole heart, make my home a warm and welcoming place, offer smiles to strangers, help whomever I can, and fling myself head first into writing.

A good springboard from which I'll jump into my writing was news of acceptance for one of my flash fiction pieces. Surprise at the Salon will be published at The Chicklit Review this week or next. It feels really great. I'll post more details and the link when the time is write. Erm, right.

And I've made a big decision. Life After Death, my WIP, is going to be scrapped. Put in a file, is more like it, for another time maybe. And after giving myself permission to make such an executive decision, to change my mind, I feel good. Instead, I'm going to start something totally new. A new month, a new space, a new WIP. It's an novel idea (har, har) that came to me a couple weeks ago, and I'm just gonna let it fly, see where it takes me.

I'm looking so forward to it.


What will you do this December?

Saturday, November 29, 2008

General Thoughts

Though Thanksgiving has come and gone, I'm suffering from Holiday Brain. I guess this is where I'm tricked into thinking there's more relevance to the subsequent days than there really is, and it makes me unfocused. And so it's a struggle to get back into blogging.

But! I have an easy one for today.

We spent yesterday decorating our tree and all, but also moving furniture in from the garage and finally starting the process of making our house feel like a home. [Though there's still some finish work yet to be done. *sigh*] You'll not be surprised to hear I spent a lot of time getting my "reading and writing nook" just.right. Though there's more to this space that I'll show you another time, for today I have two pictures.

Here's my desk! At first glance, it just looks like an old table. But the story behind it is that this was my mother-in-law's college desk. She passed away in 2003, and that I can use it as my own is a special thing... Just picture me sitting here, putting that BIC (butt-in-chair) writing technique to use. So exciting! (You may notice the cap on the balcony wall and the beam to the left are still light - they'll be stained to match the redwood.)



And... drum roll please... my reading chair! Remember I told you misterwrites wasn't too fond of the chair? Last night I found him sitting in it. He said, "I like this nice, cozy place you've made here." He'd better not get too comfortable...



Oh! And I did tell a couple of buddies I'd show the living room with its new carpet. So here's a bonus picture of our tree.


Hope you have a great weekend! Our family's going to attempt ice skating tonight. Wish me no broken bones or injured parts. :)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Panic

It was horrible.

My fingers began to shake. My heart began to thunder. I couldn't breathe. I panicked.

My internet wasn't working.

I was gone the majority of yesterday* and, upon returning home in the evening, discovered our internet service was down. I tried the whole rigamarole: Resetting the modem. Shutting down and restarting the computer. Launching a sharp pen at the monitor. Nothing worked. NOTHING WORKED.

I was frustrated, as I always am when I can't get online the instant I want to. But I took it as a sign that I didn't need to be occupying myself in such a way, and moved on to other things. And I figured my computer-genius husband could make it all better when he got home.

Not quite. So much for his genius.

The same happened this morning, and it took a call to our internet service provider (which I really, really dislike) to sort it out. After confirming my phone number eight times (Yes! That's my number!) and being told our access password was "Q... U... A...--" (Yes. That's my name, and I do know how to spell it. Thankyouverymuch.), the problem was targeted.

I followed their directions, and now we're back up! Whew. I couldn't have gone all day without internet.

Well, maybe if I chose to do so. Really. I could have.

But it wasn't my choice today.

***

I hope everyone has a warm and blessed Thanksgiving. May you feel the love of your family and friends, even if you're far from home, and be aware of all for which you can give thanks.



*Some friends lost their son last week, and yesterday was the funeral. I will remain steadfast in my prayers for his family as they continue on after this tragedy. In his honor...

precious FLETCHER
born 8-9-2008 ... entered into rest 11-20-2008
Chris and Laura, we love you.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Loot!

If you remember from my post last week, I won MommaSaid's Housewife Award. I'd not bring it up again, except that my goodies came in the mail yesterday!

Seriously, it's probably one of the only certificates I've gotten as an adult, and who can go wrong with a FREE paperback? The book is Murder Takes the Cake, a cozy mystery by Gayle Trent. And as coincidence would have it, my bloggy buddy Joanne interviewed Gayle about the book a few weeks ago for Women on Writing. Check it out!

Thanks to Jen Singer and MommaSaid. And kudos to Joanne, as well, for such a stellar author interview. Can't wait to read the book!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Snapshots

So often my days are filled with ideal moments, flashes of perfection. Whether it's that I'm privy to the tenderness between a mother and her child, as she leans forward to comfort with a kiss, or when I hear a secondhand story about a woman running across six lanes of morning traffic - while wearing her bathrobe and slippers, they all strike a chord.

They're instances that touch my writer's sensibility; snapshots taken by my mind's eye to pull out and review, possibly write about, at a later date.

One such moment happened yesterday, while sitting in church for the special Thanksgiving service. One man, a dear family friend and brother in Christ, put his heart and voice into a choir song. As I watched tears stream from his eyes, I filed away the vision he created: Love, humility, reverence. Perhaps I'll use it someday.


Tell me about one of your recent snapshots.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Sally Says...

So I have another blog. Did you know? Sally and Me started as a chronicle of my adventures with Sally, my AlphaSmart 3000 (word processor). Really, we did well together, blogging and making notes of our journeys through the written land, but then things got busy, Sally got sidetracked, and I had to opt out of further posts. [I can't bear to delete it completely; for now, I leave it dangling in cyberspace.]

In the meantime...

Sally found an affinity for baking and cooking and the like, and last month she left home for enrollment at The Culinary Institute of America. By all reports (including her mentor, Sony Vaio) she's flourishing in her new surroundings and, since I promised our readers I'd update occasionally, I thought I'd share her most recent letter. Here's what Sally had to say:

dear janna,

i'm having such a good time here at cia. every day we learn some new cooking technique, practice using a kitchen gadget, or create an amazing dessert (i've mastered a chocolate ganosh torte with your name on it). it's fabulous! seriously, i think i've found my calling. (now, janna, don't let that news upset you. i know you think i was meant to be a writer, like you, but i've found my niche. it's my destiny. this is who i'm supposed to be.)

just yesterday we studied shrimp. did you know there are countless ways to prepare shrimp? you can boil it, broil it, saute it, fry it, filet it, grill it, bake it, toss it... bubba was right! it's one of my new favorite things, especially when served with a sweet jalapeno-pepper and pineapple tartar sauce. simply to die for, janna. to.die.for.

anyway, that's all the time i have right now. my kitchen buddy (kind of like a lab partner) and i have to perfect our mesquite barbecue sauce by tomorrow, or we lose certain kitchen privileges.

give my love to the fam. and can you tell paco [misterwrites' laptop] i said what's up?

love,
sally

So, as you can see, Sally's enjoying herself. Makes me proud. *sniff*

I plan to pen a response letter over the weekend. But I'm unsure about one thing... Do I tell her misterwrites sold Paco?

Friday, November 21, 2008

I've Been Tagged (it's deer season, you know)

Well, I've kind of been tagged. Angie, Blogger's resident Gumbo Writer, answered some interesting questions over on her blog today, and offered the format up for anyone who's game. This is perfect timing for me, because I've always found such exercises great for mental flow.

*brain lurches ... grinds to halt as false start becomes apparent*

So maybe without further ado, here are some (mostly) unknown facts about me. Of course, that's not to say they aren't trivial facts you'll have nothing with which to do. But maybe it'll be fun anyway...

*squirts a little WD-40 on gears*

Five Things I Was Doing 5 Years Ago:
*living in a duplex we loved, but were quickly outgrowing
*raising an almost-one-year-old
*giving thought to when a second baby would be nice
*kicking off my writing career, by completing a children's picture book manuscript (6 rejections, haven't sent out in a long while, have since "moved on") and getting first check ever for publication (in Western New York Family Magazine - Social Motherfly, one of my best pieces, which I can find nowhere, on disk or paper copy...)
*cultivating a new friendship with two women from church, who have become like sisters in the years since

Five Things on My To Do List:
*finish touch-ups around newly painted areas in our home
*urethane trim
*write
*rid self of headache
*Christmas shop

Five Things I Like to Snack on:
*pretzels with mozzarella cheese
*fudgy brownies
*granola bars
*crackers (think Chicken-in-a-Biscuit)
*warm tortillas

Five Things I Would Do If I was a Millionaire:
*give to our church (to then help others)
*put into accounts that will accumulate over the years
*buy my husband a pinball machine
*shop without making a beeline to clearance, perhaps without even looking at the price tags *gasp!*
*fly a group of girlfriends to a house in Maine for a long weekend getaway, sans hubbies and kids

Five Places I Have Lived:
Missouri x 5

Five Jobs I Have Had:
*Geoffrey Giraffe, mascot for Toys R Us, for charity events and store promotions
*server at Paradise Grill
*front desk at the Hilton (I was not meant for hospitality)
*Mental Health Technician (junior counselor) on adolescent psych unit
*Account Executive for a publishing company (I know what you're thinking... but it was a commercial print and yearbook publisher)

Five People I Am Tagging:
My bloggy buddies exceed the number 5 so, like Angie, I'll leave it open to whomever's interested. Have fun!

And have a great weekend!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Where in the World is Janna's Motivation?

To be honest, I think I must've thrown it out. See, there were all the soggy Kleenex, back when I was dealing with that monster sinus infection. Maybe I scooped it up with the limp masses of tissue and unknowingly tossed it out. Or, maybe it got carried away with all the old bathroom guts the day we tore everything out and installed the new stuff. Perhaps it's clinging to the bowl of the old toilet right this minute, waiting for transfer to the Plumber's Graveyard.

Wait!

Maybe, just maybe, it's in the trunk of my car. It's possible I moved it back there when I shifted some of the girls' toys and books and things from the floorboard. It's certainly worth a look.

But wherever it is, I hope it's not lost forever. Because I really need it. Not only have I been unable to work on Novel #2 for WEEKS, but I'm having trouble coming up with good and thoughtful blog post ideas. This does not bode well for a writer. Or rather, Girl Who Calls Herself a Writer. Can't rightly claim the title if I can't do it.

I blame it (just a bit) on the fact that not only am I still recuperating from all those things I've been dealing with (I whine not - I know we all have such things shaping our existence day to day), but the fact that my house is in such disarray. Sure, we're making progress (HUGE!) with our remodel, but all the "normal" stuff - laundry, dishes, plain ol' organization - falls to the wayside in the meantime. And when all that stuff backs up, my brain gets frazzled. Discombobulated, even. ('Tis a great word I just had to throw in the mix.) I'm not in control, I feel no balance. Who can sit down and pound out a great novel when that's the case? Not me.

So my hope is that, while we work to get the last of our Before The Holidays Projects done, I can get all the other things reined in, too. And then maybe when I get my new office area put together, where I can spread my things over my desk and get a feel for my new space - without the threat of so many other things looming over me - I'll find my motivation sitting right in front of me. Like a beautifully wrapped present, waiting to be opened with flourish by yours truly.

Here's hoping.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Tuesday's Stuff and Things

Usually on this day each week, I tell you about whatever's on my mind. It's often a jumble of things, from stressors at home and activities for my day to my writer's life and goals or statuses.

But today I want to know about your stuff and things.

Do you have a random thought you want share? Or a thought weighing heavy on your mind?

What's up with you this Tuesday?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Whatcha Readin'?

As most writers tend to be, I'm also an avid reader. Right now two novels divide my readerly attention: A Tale of Two Sisters, the story of close sisters who abandon their relationship when circumstances make it easy, written by Anna Maxted, and Emma, the classic tale by Jane Austen.

What are you reading now? What do you recommend? Help create a list to keep nearby for the cold winter months ahead.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Momma Said I Get The Housewife Award!

Jen Singer is a writer whose book You're A Good Mom (and your kids aren't so bad either) is getting stellar reviews. But in addition to watching the rise of her narrative non-fiction delight, she manages the online playground MommaSaid.net, where mommies can gather, get a giggle and catch a break. Check it out via the link. It's a neat site!

MommaSaid also holds regular Housewife Awards ceremonies, consideration for which follows submission of a story about life as a mom and housewife. Jen and her crew look for "a funny story or situation that sums up the occasional craziness of at-home motherhood." (You can also nominate friends or family members.) At the end of each entry period one candidate is chosen, and a deserving (albeit harried) mom wins a fabulous certificate for display among her most prized possessions, as well as a shiny new book, title chosen courtesy MommaSaid.

Guess who just won? Betcha don't need a hint. Er. Especially because I told you in the post title...

Me! And I feel honored.

My submission was an anecdote about one particularly stressful Sunday. To read Jen's write-up of my Slapdash Sunday, visit MommaSaid. (You'll need to scroll down just a bit. When you see my face, you'll know you've found the right spot!)

While you're there, enter with your own story - remember you can nominate others - and see if you can snag the special honor.

And remember: If the housewife is happy, the whole family is happy!

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Numbness is Wearing Off

Back in September, when I sent a partial submission to Avalon Books [they ask writers to submit the first three chapters with the query letter], I was numb. I'd prepared my packet in an excited haze, after having found Bliss Lake met their detailed manuscript (ms) guidelines that morning. My drive to the post office was fuzzy, as was the handing over of the manila envelope marked for NYC, and as I drove home I had to reassure myself I'd done everything properly.

I didn't give it much further thought, though; there was plenty to keep me busy at home. So something like 3 business days (and a weekend) later, a letter in the mail took me by complete surprise. Avalon liked what they saw, and wanted to read the whole thing! So in a similar haze, I packaged my full ms, and made another unremarkable drive to the USPS. I think I remember my heart hammering as I placed the thicker, more significant envelope atop the counter and told the clerk, "Send it priority, please." Did I want delivery confirmation? Absoflippin'lutely.

I still felt so fuzzy and detached. It was surreal, taking that step. Because I knew that, even if the outcome wasn't my ultimate dream of landing a publisher, it was, at the very least, a step in the right direction. To even be considered by a major house? My 5 year-old was helping me think of people to call and tell, that's how big it was. Is. To me.

My ms arrived at Avalon's offices on October 1st. I haven't heard anything, though I expect it will take several months more. And it's been okay, because that haze had settled, kind of keeping my brain from expecting too much. What with kids to raise, a house to remodel, new writing projects to work on, I didn't have to think about Bliss Lake and its ultimate place.

And then yesterday something changed. I had the thought, Could it really be that a publisher is looking at my book? How did that happen? It may have been sparked by my friend Jen, who said, "...you've got a novel completed and being considered by a publisher..." Holy heck, I do? I do!

And now, for the first time, I'm letting myself think of all the implications. About how badly I want to be published, so others can read my words, hear my stories. How much I want to hold a paperback in my hands, one with my name emblazoned across the front. About the fact that a huge decision regarding my life, my passion, lies in "The Editors" hands at Avalon.

I think I need to lie down.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Only In a Book?

There's a boy, five years old. His head is shaven, his clothes unkempt. A scar or two creases his skin here or there. His words are mean, and he's often in trouble. He doesn't know how to treat a friend, or maybe even define one. He lives in a home with a mother who offers no rules. No structure, no direction, perhaps no love.

Your heart breaks for this little boy we'll call Dallas. You're sensitive to his story, whatever it may be.

And then you hear the story, at least part of it, from the lips of your innocent, unassuming daughter. She's in his kindergarten class.

"His daddy died. Do you know what happened?"

You feel your warm core begin to wither.

"His daddy was sleeping. Dallas wanted to wake him up, but he wasn't breathing. He wouldn't wake up. And the cops and firemen came to help, but he died."

Suddenly it all makes sense. And your heart is broken.



To read such a story in a book would make us feel a gamut of things. Sadness, distress, worry, because we know things like that really happen, but also relief, because we know what we're reading is fictional, conjured by the author's imagination.

As writers we hope to touch readers so; to affect them with our words, so they feel all those raw emotions. And it's stories like the one above, the things we feel about it, whether it's something in our own lives or something we've heard about second-hand, that we draw from. It's things like this that build our human experience, our store of reactions and thoughts and feelings that make our writing so full and real.

It's part of what makes a good writer.

What else makes a good writer?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

One Question

I want to ask you one question. Nevermind its intent, which is merely to get you thinking, or how I may answer it. Just take it where you will and answer in the comments, however you feel led to do so...




Why?

Monday, November 10, 2008

Easing Back In

Hi, all. Though I'm not ready for a full presence online yet, I thought I'd post an update...

My grandma has returned home from the hospital, as has my dad, who was the "person of great importance" I mentioned in my last post. [I kept his identity quiet because we didn't want to alarm family, given it wasn't a life or death circumstance, and what with everyone already mourning my uncle's death]. A minor procedure was done on my grandma, so she recuperates, as my dad still struggles with pain and neuropathy related to his multiple sclerosis. My prayers are still heavy for him. And though we weren't able to attend my uncle's funeral, which was several hours' drive away, I'm told it was a beautiful military service in his honor.

It was a rough week, both physically and emotionally, and parts of me are still numb. I've had a nice break from certain aspects of life, whereas others have been highlighted. I've a greater appreciation for my family, all of whom I love so much. I've also been able to assess my role as a writer, and I can't wait until things have found a semblance of normalcy, so I can get back with it. Life After Death calls to me.

Thanks so much for all your kind comments and prayers. I was incredibly touched by the warm thoughts and support, and I couldn't ask for a better network of friends and bloggie buddies.

Best to you all. Perhaps by end of week I can get back to a regular post schedule.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Pseudo-Sabbatical

I've made the decision to temporarily suspend posts here at Something She Wrote.

Today I got word that my grandmother is in the hospital with a potentially serious condition, and one of my uncles passed away this morning. All this follows closely on the heels of a hospital stay for someone of great importance in my life. Combined with everything mentioned in today's earlier post, I'm a bit overwhelmed.

I'm going to take a break from all things intrawebs. I've got to regroup and wrap my head around the things that have been happening. I'll miss our online connection and your feedback, and I'll miss reading your blog posts, too.

But I won't be gone indefinitely; just for a few days or so. I wish you all the best with your writing, and everything else, in the meantime. I'll be back soon.

And thanks for your support and prayers.
Janna

Tuesday's Stuff and Things

First, the stuff:

The house comes along! I'm wearing myself out but the walls are getting painted, and everything looks great. Though much still looms before me (power sanding, anyone?), the master bathroom is underway - we have a new shower stall! - and I had TWO rockin' hot showers yesterday! Our wood-burning fireplace is being framed in, and everything should come together for the main floor's carpet installation this Sunday. Please send good thoughts, so all of this gets done without too much distress or strain.

I've been fighting the uckies for days. They have no place, and I have no time, so they best be on their way. Since you're already sending good thoughts for the above, would you mind sending more for this? Thanks.

The weather has been incredible the last few days! Here it is November, and we've had sunny days in the low seventies. Can you believe it? If it weren't for the downed leaves, one would question if we're really smack-dab in fall.

And the things:

Avalon has had my manuscript for one month and three days. Really, that's barely even a dent in the amount of time they could take. How much longer will it be? I wish I could guess. It's not been too bad though, putting it out of my mind, with plenty of other things to concentrate on. Will they like Bliss Lake? I remain faithfully confident but, again, wish I could guess. To use a tired phrase: Only time will tell.

I haven't done any work on my WIP, Life After Death, in close to two weeks. I don't like that, and must make an effort to write something, anything. I'm in that phase where it's easier to think about it than it is to sit down and do it. Know what I mean?

I'm currently beta reading two manuscripts. I'm honored to have been asked, and love getting a first peek at fellow writers' works. And I appreciate that they take my writing seriously enough to think I can help with theirs. Thanks for this opportunity, friends. I promise to do my best.

And thanks again for all the birthday wishes yesterday! It was a great day, and I feel like I welcomed 30 with grace and happiness. Oh, and prunes. Yes. PRUNES. Here's my bouquet from the three friends who took me to lunch. Look closely.



PS. Don't forget to VOTE!

Monday, November 3, 2008

30 Things For Which I'm Thankful

I wasn't sure if I should post this tidbit, but I guess there's no reason not to. So... Today is my 30th birthday! Who wants a cupcake?

*throws confetti*

There are so many things to be thankful for, and I'll list 30 of them here. In no particular order. Except numbered.

*curses mess just made with confetti*

1) life
2) sound mind, sound body (which could technically count as two, but they sound good together)
3) family
4) God's blessings
5) a nice and safe-from-the-elements house
6) food
7) iced mocha
8) sandalwood candles
9) lavender body wash
10) hot showers
11) good books
12) time to myself
13) dear friends
14) PEOPLE magazine
15) music
16) the ability to write and share my words
17) conversations with one who understands me
18) possibilities
19) clearance sales
20) flip flops
21) finished projects
22) Mexican food from El Maguey (Melanie - what does that translate to?)
23) iced mocha (so good, I'm counting it again!)
24) online networking
25) thoughtful friends
26) family reunions
27) my babies
28) eating out and not having to clean up
29) migraine-free days
30) my sister's "old fart" jokes, now that I've reached the big 3-0. But I'll have you know, she's almost thirty-four. And she's older and fartier than I am. (Just don't tell her I said that.)

Happy Day!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween

My mom stumbled upon some of my old school work a few weeks ago. Included in a small writing packet I'd done for English class was, as timing would have it, a Halloween limerick. It's not dated, though some accompanying papers were from 1991, when I was in the sixth grade.

*ahem*

I love to go trick-or-treating,
My family calls it a meeting.
We all gather 'round,
Sit down on the ground,
And suddenly we all are eating.

Oy. I wonder if way back then I had any suspicion of the journey I'd one day take as a writer. I've come a long way, baby.

So Happy Halloween! Wherever this evening takes you, be safe and have fun.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

A Picture's Worth

*This is post 200 for Something She Wrote*
Thank you for your readership!



What do you see in this picture?


Sure, its outward appearance is overwhelming. It stirs, if I'm to be honest, a little bit of pity and a whole lot of sorrow in me.

But you know what else I see?

I see, perhaps, a young boy who lives inside. And his circumstance does not define his potential. He is one who, despite the start he's been given, will persevere. He'll understand what hard work and determination mean. He'll learn to respect others and their situations, he'll seek humility, and he'll strive to make his dreams happen. He'll succeed.

He'll break the cycle.

Can you take a harrowing picture and make it, with mere words, into something uplifting? Consider it a challenge. If you accept, post a picture and your vision on your own blog, and let me know you've done so.

PS. I still have half-dozen or so prompts I've not used. If no one cares either way, I'll only do them if/when a stirring comes. But if you were particularly fond of yours and would really like to see me write a piece of flash fiction with it, let me know in today's comments. Thanks!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Dear Mr. President

A bit of a break from the norm... (double bonus points if you can name what that line is from)

This video is meant to neither reflect my beliefs one way or another, nor point a finger at any one president, but Pink's song is both relevant and poignant. I have to share it. I think she asks some questions we could ask of any in such a powerful position. Not to mention, she's just an incredibly talented singer/songwriter.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Which Is It?

ETA: I blew it. It's Tuesday, and I missed Stuff and Things. First time in months! Too late now, though, so on to today's post...

Does writing beget laziness, or does laziness beget writing?

It was yesterday (see previous post) that, when I was over-extending some under-used muscles and excreting a fair amount of elbow grease, this question came to mind. It was because I couldn't stop the internal whining...

Oh, why is this my job?

Does anyone understand how difficult this is?

I just want to be downstairs with my computer!

And then I thought...

What the heck is wrong with me?

I should be grateful for the chance to do such work. I should be thankful I'm physically capable of putting such effort into a project, and that I'll be able to reap the rewards later. I should welcome the chance to do something different, to make a change. Instead of complain about the energy I have to expend.

Really, I do projects like this so very infrequently. I can't remember the last time I worked so hard (motherhood aside). Am I lazy? Perhaps in some ways.

But writing calls for stillness. For sitting and being sedentary. It's what I'm used to; it's the level of energy I'm comfortable putting out. It's not draining or difficult - in a physical way - to write, other than your average sore tushie or crick in the neck.

So that made me wonder... Have I become lazy and sedentary because I'm drawn to the writer's life... or does the writer's life appeal to me because I'm lazy and sedentary? How do you think it works? Is it different for everyone?



*BIG thanks to my sister-in-law, who spent a good part of the day looking after the kidlets. I so appreciate it, Sara. Singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star to entertain the girls is possible from a 16-foot scaffolding... but it gets old... Thanks for playing with the girls while I worked. You rock!

Monday, October 27, 2008

From Writer to Acrobat

My writerly tasks have been put on hold for the next week or so (though I'll still try to post here each day), as I take to the duties of a manual laborer: We've a new deadline by which to complete painting in our living room.

Why? Because our carpet guy will be unavailable for the three weeks leading up to Thanksgiving. And since we don't want to wait until after the holiday for carpet installation, we're busting hump to get everything ready by the 8th. Eep! That's not far away!

It seems like so little time because we have a lot of wallspace in the living room - some of which the contractor is still taping, mudding and sanding, and most of which still has to be primed first. We also have to sand, clean, and poly-urethane all the exposed beams. I suppose it's most overwhelming because there really is no we... misterwrites is still working six days a week (12+ hours each), which means he's unable to help... and it'll just be me. (We're not willing to pay the contractor for the work we could just as easily do.)

Oh, I'll make it happen. What's that saying about eating an elephant one bite at a time? That's how I'm approaching this; one task at a time.

I worked on the beams yesterday. Here's me at the peak of our living room - thus my new title of "acrobat" - on the scaffolding, almost sixteen feet in the air (talk about a deer in headlights... and what's with the hair?) :


Here's the view down, from where I was perched:


Sure, I'd MUCH rather be at my computer, writing. But I'm bankin' on the fact that, in the long run, it will all be worth it...

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Fall is All Around

I'm one who has a hard time picking a favorite season, but fall may well be in the front-running.




This last week has been amazing, full of beauty and nostalgia. The cool, crisp days combined with changing leaves and rich aromas make for a warm existence. I want to bustle around and make my home clean and cozy, where the air is filled with potential.


How does fall make you feel?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Christians Who Write

My post two days ago, about my WIP, stirred a good conversation (in its comments) about content for Christian writers. How far do we take our faith in our works? Are we, as believers, meant or even obligated to share Christian messages and themes with our readers? Always?

Rachel pointed me to the paraphrase of a great C.S. Lewis quote: "We don’t need more Christian writers. We need more great writers who are Christian." (An online article related to this can be found here. And find Lewis' full explanation of this thought here - scroll down to the second content box.)

I have to say that as a writer who has struggled with how much faith-related content to include in fiction, this quote really resounds with me.

I've sometimes second-guessed myself - with my writing, that is. My faith is a large part of who I am, and it's not something I want to leave by the wayside in my writing. But if I were to include it, how would I do so? My way is not to push myself or my beliefs on anyone else, and I certainly don't want to be caught sermonizing. I struggle with knowing how much such content is smooth and warm and digestible, as opposed to forced and off-putting.

So the comments my readers posted the other day, put together with Lewis' quote, have helped me put my thoughts into better perspective. I think that, while it's important what we write (for instance, I write wholesome stuff, not horror or erotic, etc.), it's more important who we are as authors behind the writing. It's important how we represent ourselves to the platform and readership we build, don't you think?

Just as God has given everyone a talent - some sing, some sew, some work with wood, some heal with medicine - shouldn't it apply that He's made a place for all those talents? And to dissect it further, wouldn't it stand to reason there are varying places for all writing Christians? That He wants us to fill as many niches as we can?

So tell me what you think? I'm eager to get some feedback!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

What's In a Name?

Last night it occured to me, I don't know why, that not everyone may know how my name is pronounced. And I'd like to think it's pertinent, should I one day be published.

Both my first and last names are pretty easy, I've always thought, though I've had awhile to get used to them. Especially my first...

I've been called John-uh. Jane-uh. And even Yawna. But it's just plain ol' Jan-uh. Like Jana, just not as naked. It's Scandinavian, which I bet my parents didn't know when they picked it. Story has it (at least at one point, I'll have to ask if it was a fib), I was to be named Valerie until some friends of my parents "took" it for their newborn. So in looking for a new moniker they stumbled upon Jan, whom my big sister liked from the Brady Bunch, but gave it a twist. I'm glad they did, because I sure don't look like a Jan. Janna (even with my spelling variation) is the female form of John, which means "God is gracious." Indeed He is. And I think that's pretty cool.

My last name, Qualman, is a bit trickier. It's German and, though misterwrites may be pulling my finger, I'm told it means Dungeonmaster. Neat, eh? Even if not, there aren't too many around whose name starts with that funny lookin' Q... Many struggle over pronunciation, but it's easy - there's no bird, no quail. It's pronounced Kwallman, simply put.

Nicetameetcha.

What about you? Do people mess up your name? And is there any special meaning behind your moniker?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Working on the WIP

I'm pleased I've been able to put some effort into my Work In Progress of late. Though it's still sporadic, and not nearly as much time as I'd like, I'm making headway.

For awhile there I was discouraged; I wasn't sure I liked the direction the story was heading. It just didn't feel right. You see, I thought the main character's wife was going to abandon him, leading to issues and events that would severely test his Christian faith. But I was struggling with writing her character. I couldn't see her playing out in my head, or figure out how to make her scenario believable.

And then it hit me I was handling the plot wrong. Abandonment isn't the way to go, because it delves into issues I don't want to handle. I just can't wrap my head around them, explore them deeply enough to write about them well.

But what I can do is create a "perfect" marriage and family life between the main character and his wife (and their young daughter) . . . and then alter it drastically by an accidental death. Now we're talking. I can write this with emotion and articulation. I'm excited about the challenge of endearing the reader to the wife... and causing them to feel the same heartbreak my main character will after her death, helping them understand the test of faith when his life is in shambles...

I've decided on the working title Life After Death.

Such a shift in plot meant I had to scrap the work I'd done previously, though it only accumulated to three chapters. I did save the good stuff in another file, should the characterizations come in handy another time... but I started rewriting from the beginning last week, and I'm pleased with my progress. The picture is clearer, the way seems to be paved. Here I go!

How about your WIP? What are you working on right now, this week?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Tuesday's Stuff and Things

For today it's really just one stuff and thing... I have pictures! Keep in mind, we still have to trim everything out (it will all be solid redwood, to match the exposed beams) and touch up some spots on the walls.

My desk will go in the corner, straight ahead. It'll face the pitched ceiling (it's an A-frame house), but I'll have a view over the balcony into the living room below. You can see it's still unpainted drywall out past the balcony; it will be painted the same colors (the ceiling is a few shades lighter), so the brown flows consistently throughout the house.



And here's my reading space! (Incidentally, my chair has already been placed because the truth came out... misterwrites is not a fan and wanted it out of his sight...) I have an antique floor lamp I'll work in somewhere, and need to find an ottoman. I plan to run a short-in-height but long-in-length bookshelf along the balcony wall, which will keep all my beloved books and some decor.



I have to explain, it's not that I'm merely excited to have my own space, it's that we've waited for more than two years for our serious overhauls to come to fruition...


We bought this house in April '06. At that point, though the house was forty years old, it was in dire need of not only updates, but fundamental renovations. See, it was a kit house, built in the '60s as a vacation home here at the lake. The basic structure was put up, but without any insulation. And though many interior walls were constructed with solid redwood paneling (it was overkill, really), other walls were never finished - meaning that when we moved in there were exposed studs here and there. Permanent carpeting was never installed, rather, the previous owners had tossed several swatches of remnants throughout the house. All those were removed when we bought the house, and we've since lived with subfloor in much of the house.


Our renovations began with our daughters' shared room, because we knew we needed to get them into a place and routine of their own. We had to tear down the paneling, put in insulation and drywall (ceiling included), then paint and carpet. Here it is before...



Here it is after (though this pic is right at two years old)...



Next we tackled the basement, which was an unfinished space before. We decided we could finish that entire level, thus making it family space, an office, and a guest room - which hubby and I would sleep in as work was done on the main level and loft/master bedroom. Basement before...




Basement after, from different angle (it's been finished out even more since this pic was taken, like there's now a built-in bookshelf where you see the vacuum to the left, etc.)...




The loft with master bedroom and balcony was a space we've yet to occupy, save for storage. It was the same as the girls' room: paneled walls, no insulation, subfloor, and completely exposed to the very peak of the roof (above the cross beams). We've made massive improvements and are so close to moving in! Here it is before...




And now...




And you saw balcony pictures at the beginning of this post. It was a small, rickety, virtually unusable space before. We extended it by 4-feet (from one beam to the next), doubling the size, and reinforcing it in the meantime. Now it's usable space (yay!) that looks down into our new living room. It's going to be fabulous!

Our living room has undergone quite a transformation, too. Just as we extended the balcony by four feet, so we did with the entire front wall. The original was - this should come as no surprise - not insulated, very flexible, and had a bad door and windows. By shifting the wall further outside to the next beam, we created more living space, and were able to start over with a sound, efficient wall, and pick new windows and doors. Before, from the balcony...






And now... though we're not done entirely, our progress is a lot further along than this picture shows...



The bathrooms (3 total) are being completely gutted and reconfigured, as will the kitchen, which will be our very last project.

Wow, I'm exhausted just telling you about it all. (Changes to the OUTSIDE of the house will have to be another post, another time.) But it's been on my mind for awhile now, and I wanted to share our story.

We were blessed with this house. Around the time we decided to buy, we drove around this lake, looking for land to build on. This "For Sale Buy Owner," an obvious fixer-upper, appealed to us; we saw its amazing potential, loved its lay and land. We called the listed number... and of all things heard our pastor's wife's voice on the machine! We found out she was helping family friends with the sale of the house. Many blessings and months later, the house - an amazing bargain - became ours, and we've not looked back since. What a journey it's been.

Thanks for following along. It's been fun sharing the pictures and details. And here's to an almost done house!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Brownie, Anyone?

Picking up where I left off with prompts, I've come to Angie's. Her suggestion was this:

It was, simply put, the worst day of my life. But then the mailman came in the late afternoon and...


…lo and behold, he had chocolate. Chocolate! Who doesn’t love chocolate? Maybe my cursed day would turn around yet.

“Heh’s some fudgy brahnies mah mam made. He’p yo’self,” he said.

Really, it was exciting. How many mail carriers barrel around with sweets in tow? And how had he known I’d need a pick-me-up at three p.m.? It was too good to be true, I thought. But when I eyed his weathered and wrinkled face, I saw goodness and honesty. He really was sharing his treat with me.

I hesitated in the doorway for what seemed minutes, suspended between a sudden ravenous hunger and ladylike decorum. Before I could stop it, my hand involuntarily reached for the daisy-patterned, chipped plate, my fingers closing around a square of yummy goodness. Heaven in my mouth!

It was as I eyed a second brownie that my throat began to feel funny, tight. And then the dizziness came, at which point I braced myself against the door jamb.

Looking to the man for help, I saw his kind face distort into an evil grimace.

“It’s really too bad, lady,” he said, all traces of his endearing accent gone, “ ‘cuz you shouldn’t’a ate a brownie.”

He pushed passed me, lurching for the table in my foyer. I tried to scream, to claw at his back, but he snatched my purse from its home before bounding back across the threshold.

He took off down my front path, throwing one last comment over his shoulder.

“It really was too bad.”

And the world went black.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

An Evening Out... That Made Me Appeciate My In

It was a night of food and laughter, fun and atmosphere and, of all things, writerly thoughts and inspirations...

It began as the descent of eight sassy, giggly women upon Texas Roadhouse. Salads, steaks, onion blossoms and baked sweet potatoes soon covered the table. Easy conversation was traded much like the food; satisfaction came with divulgence and indulgence.

After eating, we decided against a movie: You can't very easily gab and trade secrets at the theater. So, up for social ambience and adventure, we took our party to a country line-dancing bar. After all, what says fun like the Boot Scootin' Boogie? (Shh... don't tell anybody... but I can think of a few things...)

We danced very little, instead telling stories and people-watching. We staved off the friendly advances of a middle-aged cowboy and the barmaids offering shots, and watched a man whip himself silly with elaborate turns. We found ourselves endeared by two "grannies," one of whom may someday make it into my fiction, who scooted as well as the rest of 'em. (I couldn't help conjuring the one woman's "story": to my mind she was a one-time heart patient who discovered line-dancing to be great and fun exercise; something to keep her heart healthy and joyful.)

As I watched a few women dance with no inhibitions - totally caught up in the music and movement of their bodies, not caring about anything but the happiness dancing gave them - I realized we all have our element. I'm completely out of mine in places like that; I'm too shy and self-conscious to enjoy myself in an open and social way. But I could liken what those women were feeling, how at ease they were, with my experiences in the writing world. That's my element, the one that beckons to me. Writing is a solitary world, an immediate world I so crave, but one that allows networking through the filter of the internet. I can be my true self with words and creation, socializing through an online shield that bolsters my confidence. While I occasionally enjoy a bar setting for a change of pace and scene (and that people-watching thing), it's nice to, at the end of the night, know where I best fit.

What's your element? Where do you best fit?

Friday, October 17, 2008

Is It Friday Yet? Oh, Wait...

Well, I did intend to post another prompt today, but didn't have a chance to finish the one I was working on yesterday. Chores, painting, and last minute tasks before carpet (it does come Saturday morning!) kept me hopping, and today will be more of the same. That is, until I drop the kids with the babysitter and meet with some girlfriends for dinner and a movie. So excited! This type of thing happens rarely, so I'm really looking forward to it.

Do you have anything exciting going on today or tonight?

Happy Friday!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Time and Balance

Some days it seems I can't get anything accomplished. On those days I just can't coordinate the hours to meet my family's demands or do the tasks that endlessly mock me (laundry, anyone?), and forget about time to myself, or sitting down to write anything worthwhile. My whole day will seem stunted and sporadic and out of control. Out of balance. I hate that.

Other days I think, Wow! I've got twenty-four hours! Look at all this time! And I spend it wisely. It unfolds smoothly, with one task leading into the next, and I get so much done. I'm balanced. And at peace, when nothing ruffles my feathers.

Productive days like that lead me to wonder if I'm just lazy on the unproductive days. Is it a mindset? Is it related to mood and hormones? Is it lack of motivation?

Sure, my routine is set, and I try to follow it. But so many factors go into a day and its progress, from things I control (like pushing the snooze button one too many times) to things I don't (a last minute request from a friend or family member, or a problem with a service or product). Some days I can fly by the seat of my pants to take it as it comes [too many clich├ęs there?], other days I feel so dogged and discouraged, like I'm inadequate and incapable.

Do you have days at both ends of the specturm? To what do you attribute them?
How do you work through it? How do you come to terms with the fact that not everyday is perfect, and make the ones that are seemingly perfect count for more?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Something To Think On

I still have more prompts, if you guys are willing to read 'em, but I'm going to space them out. I'll do the rest here and there, so as not to burn you (or me) out. Deal? Another will appear in a day or so...

For today, I'm keeping it simple.

I read Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird a few months ago. Most of it, anyway. I actually read the last couple chapters the other night - non-fiction is like that for me; I read it in spurts. Though silly me didn't pull out a highlighter until the last chapter, she said a lot that resounded with me. One of the best things was this, and I'll let it speak for itself...

Don't underestimate this gift of finding a place in the writing world: if you really work at describing creatively on paper the truth as you understand it, as you have experienced it, with the people or material who are in you, who are asking that you help them get written, you will come to a secret feeling of honor...

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Tuesday's Stuff and Things


LOVE this picture!
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I spent a large part of yesterday priming and painting our loft. It looks so great, and I'm pretty sure our carpet will be laid come Saturday... which means I could move in to and decorate both my bedroom AND my writing/reading nook by this time next week. I've been waiting for this for a long time and I can't wait!
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Last week I decided I wasn't happy with my start on Novel 2. A (big) aspect of the plot was leaving me unenthused, and I couldn't stop drawing parallels between the main character and someone I know in real life - which wasn't a good thing. I spent the weekend debating whether I needed to toss it out completely or set it aside for awhile, but ultimately decided the root story is one that needs telling (in short, a man's faith is tested when his world is turned upside-down). So I made a fat tweak, got some great input from misterwrites, and am prepared to get some work done this week. Wahoo.
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Last Tuesday the newspaper in which my humor column appears came in the mail. But yet my column was nowhere to be found. I'm near certain it was an oversight, but I can't be sure because my editor has yet to respond to my inquiry. Normally I'd be quick to let assumptions carry me away, but she frequently travels for her job and can't check in, so I'm trying to be patient. I'd sure like to know where my column is, though...
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I've started my Christmas list, which includes a flash drive and several books, including Kimmi's debut, The Unbreakable Child. You can preorder it if you like... just follow one of the links on her blog. Best of luck with everything Kimmi!
What's goin' on your Christmas list this year?
Anything happening for you this fine Tuesday?