Monday, November 28, 2016

A Tale of One Book

Today I'm going to be a reader instead of a writer, and tell you a tale of one book. It's a trade paperback I bought over the weekend, and it's new, expensive (the $15.00 I spent on it would have bought me five books at my local UBS) and almost everything about it pushes no-way buttons with me. So why did I buy it?

Let's start with why I didn't want to. The cover art, while pretty, features blueberries. So does the title, which is also too long and employs the word Irresistible, for God's sake. Like I can't stop myself from buying it. Please. Back to the fruit: for blueberry lovers this is great, but I don't like them. They taste like perfume to me. I'll eat them if I have to in a muffin or a pancake, but I'm just not a fan. All the blueberries in my face was strike #1.

According to the bio, the author is a corporate attorney who writes fiction on the side. I'm all for the day job, but lawyers are not my favorite people. They generally make lousy writers, too, and I personally know only one attorney-author who is a marvelous writer. So the lawyer bit was strike #2.

There is a blurb on the front of the cover comparing this book to a novel I really love. Plus, right? Not really. I hate blurbs that compare a book to more successful novels. Also, the author who blurbed the book went on TV with a commercial in which he threatened to kill off his protagonist if readers didn't buy his book. I loathe that kind of advertising. The blurb was strike #3.

I should have put the book back on the shelf at the store, but even with the three strikes I wanted to see what the writing was like. Actually I was positive that the writing would confirm all my little judgments. There would be some stupid weather report, or a fake emotional introspective yawner, or some plodding fumbling attorney crap, or even one of those 12-step podium speech intros: My name is Yada Yada, and I am helpless against blueberries, which changed my life . . . Seriously, though, I was expecting it to majorly stink, just as everything about the book did at that moment -- and I was prepared to gloat over how right I was about the book being a total suckfest.

Five minutes later I checked out and bought the book. Why, why, why? you ask.

The writing. The writing was a homerun. In fact, the first five words knocked it out of the park. The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop & Cafe by Mary Simses has the best opening line I've read in years. The first page grabbed me by the imagination and wouldn't let go, but honestly, the reason I bought it was the first line. That's how much it wowed me. It steamrolled right over the blueberries and the attorney thing and that awful blurb.

I don't care who you are, or what a publisher does to your book. If you write well, I will buy your work. I will follow you, and keep an eye out for more, and tell my friends about you. I will write about you here on PBW, even when your book had three strikes against you from the get-go. Because when it comes down to it all that really matters to me is the work. I won't care if you own a thousand blueberry farms or a hundred personal injury lawsuit franchises. Write a homerun, and I'm yours.

If you NaNo'ers out there are serious about becoming a professional writer, don't be distracted by the hoopla or the mystic or the prestige of the job title. Don't be sucked into all the self-publishing crap. Focus on the work. Get it done, edit brilliantly, and make it the best damn story anyone has read in ages. And we will be yours.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Off to Write

I'm unplugging today to catch up on work. See you on Monday.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Wishing You

Monday, November 21, 2016

Down Time

There are nine days left in National Novel Writing Month, and I'm sure plenty of NaNo'ers are nearly at or already over the 50K finish line. I usually finished with a few days to spare whenever I participated. I remember one writer reporting on the forums that he'd written 50,000 words by the fifth day (which I imagine is possible if you're fast, focused and have servants.)

I'm not here today to nag you about making the most of the next nine days for writing. That would be great, but there's something else that's just as important: down time. Aka taking breaks from writing. On Thursday here in the US we have Thanksgiving, which is a very good day not to write. If you're not into turkey, big family dinners or football, November 24th is also National Sardines Day. Sardine lovers, get out there and crack open some cans and . . . eat them, I guess. Who thinks up these holidays?

Anyway, the benefits of taking a little break from writing are sometimes just as important as reaching your wordcount goals during NaNoWriMo. It holds off mental exhaustion, allows the creative batteries to recharge a bit, and gives the writer time to think about something other than how to get the surly dragon to rescue the clueless hero from the Pit of Eternal Stench. It can also lead to light bulbs appearing out of nowhere.

Here's one of mine: I rewrote a character twice trying to find the right voice on the page. This involved three chapters and god knows how many other revisions throughout the second half of my current project -- and it didn't work either time. The character still sounded and behaved like a clone of another character. I tried everything to get it right: I considered the character's unique background. I made trait lists. I even went through the affected scenes in my head and replaced the character with one of the Three Stooges (weird, I know, but sometimes it works.)

It didn't work this time, though, and I was very unhappy, so I gave myself a day off not to think about it. I sewed, and did housework, and cooked. At one point in my day I thought about what the character might be doing while I wasn't writing or thinking about the project. On a whim I imagined the character doing what I was doing at that moment -- and suddenly the character started talking to me in the right voice. At last, I had it.

I didn't rush back to my manuscript. I didn't take notes. I just let the character talk to me, and I listened for the rest of the night. I went through the scenes and let the character take charge. Together we worked out all the dialogue and action. And then I went to bed, and slept better than I had in a week, and woke up the next day to start writing the third revision. Which was the charm.

Down time from NaNoWriMo is tough, because writers have such little time already to reach their goals, so this won't work for everyone. But even if you can't spare a day, take an hour or two away from your novel whenever possible, do something else, and let things percolate. You might be surprised by how much work you can get done not writing.

Friday, November 18, 2016

My Finish Line

Back in January I got on our bathroom scale and nearly fell off it. Not because I'm a klutz, but because it read 184.9 lbs. This was the heaviest I've been since my last pregnancy (22 years ago), and it explained why none of my clothes were fitting anymore, why my knees felt awful all day, the lack of energy, etc.

I'm not obsessive about my weight, but I knew I had to do something about it. At my age it's just not a good idea to carry so many extra pounds. So I resolved to use this year to lose the weight.

Ideally I needed to lose 50 lbs., but that didn't seem like a realistic goal. I'm 55 years old, and everything about me is slowing down. My arthritis makes it difficult to exercise, and I've been on a sugar-free and low-fat diet for the last ten years. There are only so many calories I can cut. Also, I'm not a fan of diet products and plans. I needed to make changes, but my options were limited. I thought if I got creative, and worked really hard, I might be able to lose 30 lbs. in a year.

I started the work by walking more, and changed my lunch to salads only. I was tired and hungry all the time, but now and then I'd get on the scale and be a pound or two lighter. I love bread a little too much, so I cut that way back, and gave up salty chips and snacks. But the weight didn't magically melt off me, and it was depressing. After six months I'd lost twenty-six pounds, but that was where I plateaued.

Four pounds aren't a big deal. I'd done very well. I was fitting back into my clothes, my knees stopped hurting and I had lots of energy. I could have put off losing more weight until next year.

Those are the bargains you make with yourself when the finish line seems impossible to reach. You tell yourself it's okay to quit, that you did most of it, and the rest is too hard. And then one morning you climb on the scale and you've gained a pound or two. I did, in August, after I'd been flirting with giving up.

I didn't much care for that, especially after all the work and sacrifice it took for me to lose a pound or two. I went back to work. I watched my portions. I walked twice as much. I walked the dogs, and went out and walked around town and the malls and the markets. I worked outside to help my guy with some yard stuff. He took me to a big flea market on weekends so I could walk there. I stopped sitting around so much, and I also stopped weighing myself so much.

The extra pounds went away, but the four remaining to make my goal stuck with me. I figured by the time Halloween rolled around and the winter holidays loomed that I probably wasn't going to lose them, but I kept at it anyway. You see, after I lost these thirty pounds, I planned to try for twenty more next year. To do that, the changes I'd made to my exercising and diet had to become permanent.

Yesterday I got on the scale, and this is what I weighed:

So I've lost thirty and a half pounds* in eleven and a half months. I fought hard for every pound that came off. And next year, I'm going to try to lose twenty more. I think I'll be successful, too, but even if I'm not, I'm going to work at it every day and get healthier.

*Added: I put the wrong weight at the beginning of the post, which I've now corrected -- I started at 184.9 lbs. in January.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Blast from the Past

I am unplugging today to finish a work project, but while I'm away here's a ten list I wrote for NaNoWriMo 2012 to give you some ideas on how to shake off pretty much anything that is messing with your writing mojo:

Ten Things to Help Restore Your NaNoWriMojo

Change Locations: Moving your writing to another space may eliminate whatever is distracting you. Think of an alternative place that is different from where you're writing now (i.e., if you're hanging out in a busy coffeeshop and getting nothing written, try the quiet room at your local library. Or if your quiet spot at home isn't working, try a busy coffeeshop.) If weather permits, find an outdoor space (the backyard, a park, a lake, the beach, etc.) where you can commune a little with nature while you write.

Clean Something: Vacuuming a room, doing a load of laundry or even tidying up your writing space restores order to some part of your immediate environment and, unless you like being a slob, makes you feel better about it. That good feeling can carry over into the work once you start writing again.

Emergency Reward: Often that carrot you've hung over the finish line seems too far away, so set up one that's a bit closer. Promise yourself a small reward for just making your writing goal today. Make it something good, too; the more you want it, the more you're likely to work for it.

Exercise: Another good way to vent some frustration is to get moving: take a walk, go to the gym, jog around the block, put on that workout DVD and follow along for twenty minutes, etc. Your goal is to work up a sweat, then take a warm shower and get back to the writing (hopefully in a more relaxed, refreshed state.)

Make Something Minty: Mint is naturally soothing, so drinking a cup of mint-flavored tea, chewing a stick of mint gum or otherwise indulging in a mint treat may bump you from crabby to calm.

Muse with Music: Play your favorite CD while you sit and relax for ten minutes. Don't think about anything; just listen. If you have a soundtrack made up for your story, that's a good choice -- or just listen to the sort of music that puts you in a positive mood. If you can write with the music playing, take it back with you and listen while you work.

Project Switch: This is one of my personal mojo restorers; I stop work on one project and write on another for a short period of time. I always switch to something I enjoy writing but I'm not especially invested in so it doesn't steal me away from my NaNo novel.

Scene Skip: At least once a week without fail I hit a scene that for whatever reason I can't write. If this happens to you, instead of letting it become a brick wall between you and the rest of your story, skip it and go work on the next scene. Mark the place in your manuscript with a notation [I use square brackets and a one-line description of the scene like this] so you can easily go back and write it later.

Switch Creative Gears: This past weekend I had a particularly dreary writing day during which I fought to get every word on the page. I took regular ten minutes breaks and used them to work on a small quilting project. Switching gears like that gave me little creative/spiritual boosts, which kept me from giving up.

Write Past It: This last idea is tough, but if writing stories was easy everyone could do it. You just keep writing. Doesn't matter how well you write, or if anything you do write will be salvageable. You're not going to think about how you're writing because you're going to be too busy writing. Keep working and moving forward with the story until your mojo returns (and yes, if you push on it generally does. If it doesn't, you can always edit brilliantly.)

Friday, November 11, 2016


Library Thing just gave me the heads-up that the next ARC I'll be receiving from their Early Reviewers program is Your Inner Critic is a Big Jerk by Danielle Krysa, published by Chronicle Books. Since this is the one I wanted most from the October list I'm quite happy.

There are nineteen days left for National Novel Writing Month, and I regret to report that I did not kick writing ass this week. Mostly because a stomach virus and a wrenched shoulder kicked my butt, but also other things that thoroughly stomped on my spirit. It happens to us all, and when it does, all you want to do is lock yourself in a dark room and sleep or weep.

Creative people rely on inspiration to help bring beauty and joy to our work. When that goes away, and it seems like everyone around us is determined to fight or harp or feed themselves to the evil, it can get between us and the writing. It tries to poison the well. It whispers that there's no reason for what we do. That no one cares. That all there is and ever will be is that dark room, and there's not a damn thing we can do about it. Even Byron said that darkness is the universe, and has no need of us.

I guess Byron would be right if the universe was a complete void, but it's not. It's full of galaxies and stars and nebulas and planets and comets and pulsars and amazing, wonderful things we've yet to discover. Maybe if Byron had ever looked up, he might have seen some of that.

Creation is looking up instead of down. It's inviting hope instead of despair. It's going into a dark room and lighting a candle. Darkness will always be there; we know that. It's not a fair fight because we can't ever defeat it. But here's the thing about reaching for better instead of surrendering to the bleak: the light of you can be seen by someone else in the dark. You can inspire them to hope. With your light, you let them know that they're not alone -- and that may be the most important, valiant thing you can ever do. When you do, and you reach someone, the darkness loses another victim.

This is my candle for you: Look up, not down. Write this week with me. Find beauty and joy and hope however you can. Be the light, not the dark.

Monday, November 07, 2016


It's Sunday night here, and tomorrow is my mom's 80th birthday, and the much-dreaded election is the day after that (and I'm too sick over that to even think about it.) I moved a lot of furniture last week to get my carpets cleaned for the holidays, and then put it all back on Saturday. My guy, our daughter and one of my daughter's friends helped, for which I am beyond grateful (Ryder, you are the best!) I have two big quilting projects to finish this month, and two more projects for the clients to write by the twenty-third. Thanksgiving looms on the horizon in the shape of the Godzilla turkey I might have to make this year.

I used to handle my life without even thinking about it, but I'm not a youngster anymore. I'm old. I'm tired. Everything seems a little impossible tonight.

I'm still a rabid planner, but sometimes don't go according to plan. And there is so much to do; so much that seems impossible to accomplish in three short weeks. I seriously need to mop the floors. The laundry, like the election, we will not discuss. The dogs need a bath. I also need to go shopping because the fridge is basically empty. Did I mention I need to clean the fridge out, too? Which reminds me, I need to know who is coming here for Thanksgiving so I can buy the right-size turkey, but no one wants to commit. Probably because they don't have to do the cooking, the ingrates.

Then there's Mom. I made a quilt for my mom and sent her that and flowers for her birthday, but this is the first year she didn't call me to let me know they arrived. I don't think she realizes I sent them; her dementia is advancing pretty fast. So I'll call her tomorrow and remind her of who I am, and make sure she knows she's loved and missed because that's what you do.

As for the other thing? To my surprise I wrote about 27K since last Monday. I'm going to write another 3K tonight if I can. This while I'm feeling a bit blue about Mom, my bad shoulder hurts from moving furniture, and I have absolutely no idea how many people I'm feeding for Thanksgiving. Doesn't matter. Baby, I kicked writing ass this week.

There are three weeks left in National Novel Writing Month. Three weeks to sit your butt in that chair and attack that keyboard and put your story on the page. This is your novel and your time. It's impossible, I know. Your lives are as busy or even busier than mine. You can't do it, right?

Only you can. Don't plan, don't worry, don't feel blue. Find some time. Set the rest aside, and do what you love. Kick writing ass with me this week, people!

Friday, November 04, 2016

PBW's Book of the Month

October was so busy for me I had time to read only a few books for pleasure, but the most enjoyable was 50 Ways to Wear Denim by Lauren Friedman, my latest ARC from Library Thing's Early Reviewer program.

As a teenager I loved jeans, especially the hip hugger style that was so popular when I was in high school. Wearing a pair of jeans with a pretty blouse or T-shirt was practically a school uniform for my generation -- but unfortunately my mother absolutely hated denim. She considered it something that farmers wore, and refused to buy anything made from it for me (she also made me wear dresses to school, for which I was suitably tortured by my peers.) That's why I got my first pair of jeans with some money I made babysitting, and since then have never stopped buying them.

Lauren Friedman's book is a crash course in how to wear denim jeans, shirts, jackets, vests and accessories to their best advantage. I had no idea there were so many different types of denim, or that you could pair them and wear them in such a wide variety of styles. With artfully drawn illustrations the author takes the reader through dozens of denim looks for every occasion, from dressy styles for work or formal events to the most casual of cutoffs and beach wear. She clearly identifies the types of washes and treatments designers give denim, something a fashion-challenged gal like me found very interesting, and offers several options on how to wear the particular cut or style.

In the back pages there is a short history/timeline of denim that I thought was delightful. I also appreciated the section on how to recycle denim, which provides some ideas on upcycling. Just as an aside, quilters often make heavy-duty quilts out of patchwork made from old denim, which I've always wanted to try -- only I'm too attached to my old jeans to cut them up just yet. My only criticism is the author's recommendation never (or rarely) to wash your denim. It may help preserve the fabric but I'm too much of a clean freak to do that. I also think that the more denim fades, the more attractive it becomes, so that may color my opinion here.

Since my daughter is young, hip and much more fashionable than I'll ever be, I asked her to take a look at the book and give me her take on it. Here's what she said:

She's not a huge fan of denim (she must get that from her grandmother) but it will always be timeless and popular.

The styles are well put together and very trendy.

It would have been nice to represent more diverse body types in the illustrations (her only criticism.)

50 Ways to Wear Denim is a fun read, and a great way to learn more about the fabric and how fashionably flexible it can be. I recommend this book for the jeans lovers or anyone who wants to get more mileage out of their denim garments.

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

NaNoWriMo Begins

Today we kickoff National Novel Writing Month, during which hundreds of thousands of writers all over the planet will be racing to write 50,000 words in thirty days. If you want to join in but have never done so, the official web site has a How It Works page that will explain the official participant details.

For the first day of NaNoWriMo I could crush you with tons of writing advice (and if you search under the tag NaNoWriMo on my blog, you will find plenty of pep talks, link lists, writing tricks and other advice I've offered in years past) but I'd like to start off with something else this year: writing as the other thing.

There are lots of things in life we have to deal with, like the fact that in about a week my country will elect a new President. This campaign has been the dirtiest, meanest, most disgusting and offensive political mess I've ever seen (and my grandmother forced me to watch the whole Watergate debacle when I was a kid.) I am appalled by the way most people are behaving over it. I get hate mail every day from one of the candidates; so much so that I make my guy pick it up from our mail box now so I don't have to touch it. I dread the outcome and the impacts it will have on me, my guy, our kids and everyone we know. As situations go, it's beyond toxic.

I could easily give myself another ulcer while I wait for the outcome of the election, or I could do something else. Something productive. Something I love. Something that helps me deal with an ugly world. The other thing.

Another thing that weighs on me daily -- three of my family members are also having a rough time in their lives right now. Really rough. I love all three, and am doing everything I can to help them, but I can't fix their problems. That frustrates me so much that I've been having trouble sleeping. I want the people I love to be happy, safe, and in good situations, and it kills me to feel so helpless while they're not.

I could wallow in dread and despair over any or all three of these situations until they come to their inevitable conclusions, and even work myself into a depression so deep I have to take another two-month hiatus. Or I could do that other thing.

Writing is never ugly. It doesn't send me hate mail. It doesn't get itself into impossible-to-solve situations. It simply is. It always waits very patiently on me to get on with it. It doesn't take offense when I use an excuse to avoid it. No matter what I do, it's always there to rescue me from reality, give me secret worlds to escape to and provide me with income and an outlet for my creativity. Writing is the silent best friend who saves me every day from everything else.

Writing is not just the other thing. It's my thing.

I wish every one of you who are participating in NaNoWriMo this year the very best of luck. Now I'm off to do my thing -- how about you?