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Posts Tagged ‘Merry-go-round’

I don’t really have a “to be read.” The whole world is things I haven’t read yet, and I mostly take whatever’s next.

I read far more nonfiction than fiction, and always have. I read far more short stuff than long stuff. I keep the latest issue of Scientific American on my kitchen counter and read articles while I’m waiting for the Foreman Grill to heat, while the microwave is reheating the soup, when I should be slicing tomatoes.After I’m done with that, it will be Sports Illustrated or the local paper.

I usually keep a huge heavy book for bathroom reading. I just finished Diarmaid MacCulloch’s The Reformation and started a biography of Andrew Carnegie that I bought four years ago when youngest started at Carnegie Mellon University; I intend to finish it before he finishes his master’s in December. Seriously. Really, I will.

In more targeted reading, the ghost story has sent me into New England history, particularly history of Rhode Island and Cape Cod, and general news from those areas. I think I’m going to have to make a research trip to Cape Cod later this summer. Such hardships we writers endure…

In fiction, I tend to read whatever’s to hand: short stories whenever I come across a pointer that looks interesting, whatever book or magazine is next to the chair I happen to be sitting in. Last week at my mother’s, I read several romances when I couldn’t sleep. I adore long meaty complex books that never seem to end: Dickens, Tolstoy, George RR Martin. I’m fond of forensic mysteries, cozy mysteries, decipher-the-code mysteries, and ghost mysteries. I’m currently reading a lot of Heather Graham, Donna Andrews, and Preston and Child.

Today’s post was inspired by the “what’s on your to-read list” writing prompt in the Merry-Go-Round Blog Tour, an ongoing tour where you, the reader, travel around the world from author’s blog to author’s blog. We have all sorts of writers at all stages in their writing career, so there’s something for everyone to enjoy.

If you want to get to know nearly twenty other writers and find out what’s on their nightstand, check out the rest of the tour! Up next: Raven O’Fiernan at Raven’s Scribblings.

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This month’s prompt is “My earliest writing dreams (ie, why I am a writer).” It’s not a topic on which I have much to say.

I never dreamed of being “a writer,” whatever that is. It’s just something I happen to be good at. I turned it to writing for a living as software technical writer the same way I might have turned an aptitude for math into a programming degree or an interest in scuba driving into a career as a marine biologist. It gave me a good and rewarding career and advanced me to other jobs, such as database administrator, that helped pay for my kids’ college education and our retirement fund.

I’ve always had stories in my head. I write them down. I need to write them down. But as a career, or a lifestyle? Not so much. I like having people read what I write, so I try to get some of the stories published so more people can read them. It’s discouraging when I have trouble writing the stories, or when the stories don’t keep springing out of the dark corners of my brain and it’s rewarding when they do, but I can’t call it any kind of dream.

I know most other writers have a lot more emotional investment in their choice, and I hope nobody takes this as a dig at them. I’m only talking about my own motivation.

Today’s post was inspired by the “writing dreams” writing prompt in the Merry-Go-Round Blog Tour, an ongoing tour where you, the reader, travel around the world from author’s blog to author’s blog. We have all sorts of writers at all stages in their writing career, so there’s something for everyone to enjoy.

If you want to get to know nearly twenty other writers and find out what’s on their nightstand, check out the rest of the tour! Up next: Raven O’Fiernan at Raven’s Scribblings.

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Life balance is one of those things that’s supposed to be a goal for any healthy adult: work, family, creativity, spirituality, social life, community activity, et cetera, et cetera. All you need in order to do it all is a good schedule and the will power to stick to it. The assumption is not only that we can have it all, but that we should try to have it all.

Only now, when I’ve reached the empty nest age, have I started to wonder whether that kind of “balance” is even a reasonable goal. Looking back, there are really only two things I remember as important: my family and my writing. I loved my career and put a lot of effort into it. I got a lot of reward out of it, not just monetarily but emotionally and psychologically. It energized me and inspired me — and now I’d be hard pressed to recall in detail more than a handful of those energizing triumphant moments. I don’t regret the time I put into it, but it seems less and less important.

All the housework and family planning, all the juggling to make sure one of us was home with the kids or to free up time in the schedule for a gymnastics meet or a doctor’s appointment — all hard to remember. It was just noise.

I don’t know where that leaves me now. Time is much less pressing now. I could do more things if I wanted — but I seem to want to do less. I want to put all that effort into the few things that matter. The same things that always mattered. My writing (well, maybe I’ll add my painting in here too 🙂 ) and my family.

Today’s post was inspired by the “balance” writing prompt in the Merry-Go-Round Blog Tour, an ongoing tour where you, the reader, travel around the world from author’s blog to author’s blog. We have all sorts of writers at all stages in their writing career, so there’s something for everyone to enjoy.

If you want to get to know nearly twenty other writers and find out what’s on their nightstand, check out the rest of the tour! Up next: Raven O’Fiernan at Raven’s Scribblings.

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I have a love-hate relationship with deadlines, and in the broader sense with schedules of any kind. In any project that affects other people (such as the software documentation I used to work on in an earlier life), you have to have a schedule that everybody either sticks to or agrees to changes; otherwise, half the work is undone when the other half is ready to ship. Sometimes that happens even with a good schedule.

I work well with deadlines. If it’s humanly possible, I will get done on time, and I have been known to produce prodigious amounts of work to meet a deadline.

But since I started writing fiction, I hate deadlines and schedules. I hate them because I haven’t figured out a way to make them work for a solo fiction writing career.

I can sit down and come up with a schedule with dates and everything, and it looks good, but it doesn’t mean anything because I don’t have enough information about how to write (things like how long research takes and how many days do I allow for writing a draft?) and because there’s no weight to it. In software documentation, if I didn’t get my part done, I was failing the other members of my writing team, the full development team, and even the entire company if the product was important.

But when I’m writing, I’m writing alone. Nobody knows or cares whether I finish. There are no team members counting on me. The only person I’m failing is myself, and even that’s rather abstract. So a story takes longer than planned — it doesn’t really matter.

Except that it’s finally starting to matter. If I could finish more stories, I’d have more things to try to market, which would give me more chances to break through. A deadline wouldn’t be a panacea, but it might help.

Or maybe I’m just groping for something outside myself to blame because I don’t sit down and make myself work.

Today’s post was inspired by the “deadlines” writing prompt in the Merry-Go-Round Blog Tour, an ongoing tour where you, the reader, travel around the world from author’s blog to author’s blog. We have all sorts of writers at all stages in their writing career, so there’s something for everyone to enjoy.

If you want to get to know nearly twenty other writers and find out what’s on their nightstand, check out the rest of the tour! Up next: Raven O’Fiernan at Raven’s Scribblings.

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Not doing a merry-go-round post this month. Not doing much of any posting, for that matter.

Neil’s job went away at the end of January, an event that was not totally unexpected and not totally unwelcome. Bad timing having it come right while we’re trying to get the house ready to sell — I did not need more chaos. But on the other hand it means Neil and I can both work full time on painting cleaning throwing out and all that stuff.

I should be back around the beginning of March.

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Christmas eve
by Bonnie Randall Schutzman

Dr. Macallister’s supper break gave him just enough time to walk to St. Mark’s for part of the midnight service. He’d been on duty in the emergency room for thirteen straight hours with no end in sight, covering for young Dr. Melendez who so wanted to spend Christmas Eve with her sons. Dr. Macallister had long since married his profession. He would stand this night’s vigil.

He hurried across the slushy street and slipped into the musty old chapel as the congregation sang the Agnus Dei. He sang with them, from memory, as he found an empty seat at the end of a pew near the back, where an open beam partly obscured the altar and its lurid twisted Christ rising into the shadows.

The elderly couple at the pew’s other end glanced at him incuriously. He vaguely remembered them from the old days, but he had not been here for many years now. He suspected they would have been young parents then.

He brushed the snow from his coat sleeve and touched his shirt pocket. The small envelop was still there, waiting. He bowed his head while the pastor offered the prayers of the congregation.

The church hadn’t changed much since his last visit — a little drabber, in need of more repairs. A different pastor, who rubbed his balding head as he stepped to the pulpit. “Tonight, in honor of this sacred night, we re-enact the miracle that blessed us with our savior.”

Good. A simple style. He liked that in a man of the cloth.

The children filed in. Mary knelt to place the rag-doll baby in the manger. Joseph, in a too-large bathrobe, toppled the cardboard donkey. The pastor quickly set it to rights while the angels and shepherds crowded at one end of the little tableau.

Outside, a siren, heading toward the hospital. Modern angels, modern miracles. Lord have mercy upon us.

The congregation joined in the hymn — It Came Upon The Midnight Clear. The hymnal came apart in his hands. Joseph turned to Mary; the donkey went down again. This time the pastor left it.

How serious they looked, these two children, serious and awkward and grave, as if they understand the love this ancient couple shared. He remembered many years ago when he played Joseph in a pageant much like this, how he stood silent behind his Mary, holding a staff made from the handle of his mother’s mop. How Mary never looked up, wrapped up as she was in the baby and the drama.

His mother had made his headcovering from a brown bath towel bound in place by one of his father’s ties. His mother had wanted to use something else, something cheaper, but his father said no, no, what could happen to it there on his head?

Holiday punch happened to it, spilled from the organist’s careless hand at the reception downstairs afterwards. His father never said a word about the loss, not to him, not to his mother, probably not even to God.

It seemed so trivial now, looking back through the reversed telescope of memory, but the expense alone made it — not a disaster, exactly, but certainly a hardship, and one which there was no righting.

In those days, a great many things seemed more significant. The pageant played in the space in front of the altar, not on the first level of the sanctuary, because it was felt to be disrespectful. He and the angels were allowed to stand on the first step, that was all.

Doreen. That was his Mary’s name. Doreen Dunfrey, freckled and bold, Scottish and Irish as were they all in this part of town in the old days. But the mills were shutting down and the Dunfreys, like so many others, had moved on, and he lost track of her.

A roaring chord from the organ announced the three kings, entering from the vestry, accompanied by a camel — somebody’s yellow-brown mutt wearing a blanket like a saddle. The girl in the pew in front of him tittered. He shushed her sharply. She frowned and flounced in her seat as she reached for the hymnal.

Of course. We Three Kings.

Did the organ squeak like this on the high notes when he was a child? He couldn’t remember. Perhaps he never noticed.

The Wise Men stepped forward one at a time to prophesy in halting Biblican verses the greatness that lay ahead for this baby. Mary lifted the doll and rocked it, as if it were a real baby. Dr. Macallister guessed her to be about ten, thin and angular and dark, with full lips and a fringe of kinky hair braided tightly. The Madonna of the new age.

Another siren blasted by outside. He turned, as if he could see it through the wall. Two ambulances in such a short time — has there been a traffic accident? A knife fight in the weedy darkness beneath the walkway between the railroad station and the parking garage? A spill at the shampoo factory? Two separate victims of too much holiday cheer?

Was one of them a father who locked up his anger and his disappointment and the memory of a best tie ruined until one day they exploded into his mouth from the barrel of a shotgun?

His pager remained silent. He turned back to the pageant.

Joseph helped Mary to her feet. He stood with his arm around her waist while she said loudly, “I thank you for your gifts. I will keep your words and ponder them in my heart.”

Then the last hymn — Silent Night, of course. The children left the altar. Joseph came last, ever mindful of his duty to guard and protect the child and its mother. Mary held the doll against her shoulder. As soon as she reached the aisle, she ran to her parents in the first pew. The doll dangled by one arm.

He stared at the crucifix above the altar. He was told once that one of the congregation brought it back from Italy after the war; certainly it was in the Renaissance style — Christ emaciated and tortured, blood running from the gaping wound in his side and dripping from his feet. The shadows hid his hands. Dr. Macallister can’t remember if he ever saw them.

An odd choice for a good Protestant congregation.

His mother looked much like that in her final illness, mouth agape, limbs twisted, gasping for breath. Her rings fell from her withered fingers. She pressed them into his hands. The old-fashioned diamond, the slender golden band. “These are yours now.” She barely had breath to shape the words. “Save them for the woman you love.”

“But I haven’t got anyone, and I’m not likely to at my age.”

“You will find someone.” She smiled with the confidence of her prediction.

“But these are yours. You haven’t taken them off since Dad put them there.”

She had to stop to cough. Her voice came roughly, between gasps. “My mother’s — she gave me — you give her — ”

He had to ring then for the nurse and the medication that brought sleep.

For many years he believed her. For many years he tried to do as she said. For many years he hoped.

The hymn ended. Sleep in heavenly peace. The pastor handed the collection plates to the ushers. The organ played softly. Cash and pledge envelopes rustled. Sometimes coins chinked against the metal plate. Mary, seated between her parents, still clutched the doll. The light from the candles gilded her dark skin.

Slowly he took the envelope from his pocket. The diamond made a hard lump between his fingers. He takes one of the offering envelopes from the rack on the back of the pew in front of him. It had a space for name and address, but he left those blank. Still, in the offering envelope, they would know it was no mistake.

In another church, he might have written, “For Mary, whoever you are,” but that would not be a good Protestant sentiment, either.

The usher handed him the plate. He placed the envelope gently on top of the offerings and passed it to the elderly couple. The gentleman smiled at him. He nodded in return.

Mary whispered to her mother. The mother handed her a coin, which Mary placed in the plate. She hugged the doll who had been Jesus tightly. Behind her, the crucifix loomed.

His pager vibrated silently against his thigh, the only lover he would know this night.

Quietly he stood up and buttoned his coat. The doors closed on the congregation singing the offering song.

-#-

Today’s post was inspired by the “Holidays” writing prompt in the Merry-Go-Round Blog Tour, an ongoing tour where you, the reader, travel around the world from author’s blog to author’s blog. We have all sorts of writers at all stages in their writing career, so there’s something for everyone to enjoy.

If you want to get to know nearly twenty other writers and find out what’s on their nightstand, check out the rest of the tour! Up next: Raven O’Fiernan at Raven’s Scribblings.

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Today, an interview with myself:

Q: Wasn’t this a rather stupid thing to plan on a week when you’re already as busy as hell?
A: Why do you care? You aren’t the one trying to finish polishing one novel while starting to write another. And besides, digging out from under a blizzard wasn’t in anybody’s plans.

Q: Blizzard? Isn’t it only October?
A: Can’t put anything over on you, can we?

Q: You don’t have to be snide.
A: My kids will tell you differently. In fact, one of my favorite kid gifts is a desk ornament in the shape of a traffic cone that says, “Sarcasm: just one of our many services” that David brought back from a middle school field trip. And that wasn’t a question.

Q: I suppose you think I’m going to ask you about these wonderful novels you’re working on, so you can come out with a lovely little self-promotion blurb.
A: Dude, I gotta write the synopsis and the query letter, and find an agent and a publisher, before that happens.

Q: Dude?
A: That’s the kind of thing you start saying after you write a novel about a pro snowboarder and his friends. Fortunately I managed to leave the f-bombs in the manuscript this time.

Q: I knew you’d work that blurb in somewhere.
A: I could bring out one of those f-bombs and throw it at you. But I don’t want to waste it — for NaNoWriMo, I need all the words I can get.

Q: What’s NaNo — whatever it was? Some kind of new ultraminiature technology?
A: It’s National Novel Writing Month. Thirty days, 50,000 words. I’m shooting for a complete novel, however. Probably around 90,000 words. I’m rewriting from scratch a failed novel from fifteen years ago. This time I hope I can do it justice and get at the real story.

Q: Please tell me it’s not another snowboarder.
A: No, he’s a musician. And he doesn’t swear. Stay tuned for snippets!

Today’s post was inspired by the topic “Self Interview”– November’s topic in the Merry-Go-Round Blog Tour — an ongoing tour where you, the reader, travel around the world from author’s blog to author’s blog. We have all sorts of writers at all stages in their writing career, so there’s something for everyone to enjoy. If you want to get to know nearly twenty other writers and find out their thoughts on crossing genre lines, check out the group site at the Merry-Go-Round Blog Tour. You can find links to all of the posts on the tour there. Read and enjoy!

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I spent years trying to learn how to outline so my first drafts would be cleaner and I wouldn’t have to spend so much time on revision. It took several complete disasters to make me realize that for me, revision is the writing process.

First drafts can be fun when the new idea takes over and just flows onto the page, the way Overamped did, but the first draft is no more than the starting point. I’ve even started calling them exploratory drafts rather than first drafts. I look at what I wrote, poke at it, probe it, explore option and character interactions. What happens if the girl who dumps Joey before the book opens is also his friend and rival on the snowboard circuit? Rhonda jumps out, ready to take her pleasure wherever she damn well pleases. (If I write a sequel, it’s gonna be Rhonda.) Can I restructure the timeline so the pace is quicker, so the tension builds more?

Gradually the real story emerges from the morass, like a fine pot emerging from a blob of clay. And like clay,the story can be punched back down to the blob and reworked again and again. That’s what I’m doing with Not Forgetting for NaNo — going back to the blob and reworking it from a different perspective, with a different time line.

With the ghost novel, I’m taking a slightly different approach. In a way, it’s been in a revision phase from the beginning. I look at what’s there and add what I know. Bits here, scenes there. I put it aside for a while, take it out again, poke at it some more.

Writing this way is time consuming. I’m never going to be a novel-a-year wonder. But I like the work I produce this way, and I am once again enjoying writing in a way I haven’t for a long long time.

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Lately I have, for no particular reason that I can think of, written several ghost stories. There’s one where finding the ghost-girl’s missing doll leads to uncovering a murder, and a creepy little piece about something munching the people who fail to pass a test, and one where a crime in a cemetery leads to spectacular results, and the novel where a ne’er-do-well is being haunted by the ghost of an investigative reporter, who turns out to be his uncle.

I thought for a while they were unsellable, because I couldn’t find anybody listing “ghost stories” as something they published. But a little more research revealed that I was just thinking too broadly for today’s market.

The creepy little story is horror. The ghost-girl with the missing doll is apparently YA paranormal. The novel’s gay paranormal romance. The rather straightforward ghost in the cemetery is actually going to be the hardest to place. It’s not horrid enough for horror. Its romance subplot, which plays no role in the central conflict, is too strong for conventional paranormal but not enough for paranormal romance. It looks like I’ll have to beef up one aspect or another to make it one thing or another.

What it seems to boil down to is that in fiction right now, everything is a niche market. Online presses especially are able to narrow their focus and cater to very specific audiences. On the one hand, this is annoying — it feels like being forced into smaller and smaller boxes. On the other hand, it’s exciting, because in practice it means that no matter what odd combination of genres a particular story falls into, it’s likely that somebody’s going to be looking for a well-written story with those characteristics.

And in the end, “well-written” is what will carry the day.

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I seldom get “an” idea. I have ideas. Multitudes of them, all shoved into the same pile to ferment, ripen, simmer, rot, compost — any metaphor will do. They bump into each other and eventually start to cling to each other in interesting and improbable ways.

Several things can happen then. Sometimes two unrelated clusters brush up against each other and decide to stick together. Sometimes a sudden new idea will spark a connection, rather like lightning striking a pool of primordial ooze. Often that idea is an image of some sort; I tend to be a visual person. Sometimes there’s a central question that’s worrying me — questions like “how does a good boy go bad?” or “what makes a person hate another one enough to commit murder?”

But mostly I just sit down to work and start pulling up pieces that might work together. Even with a nagging question that I want to explore or a central image to guide me, I’ll have to pull out more images, more facts and details, more concepts, more bits of history and bites of data. I’ll move things around, experiment with different combinations, think about patterns and images. Even then it sometimes doesn’t go anywhere and I have to put it aside for more fermenting, ripening, simmering, rotting.

I work on something else while that’s happening. I don’t really have a “last” idea, or even a “current” idea, in the sense of a story I’m planning to work on from beginning to end.

Whatever’s in the River (the ghost mystery) has risen to the top at the moment. It started from a quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald, roughly, “The very rich are not like you and me,” and an image of a dead man in the road who was very rich but just as dead as you or me. It grew slowly from there. Right now I’m trying to add 50K words for Camp NaNoWriMo, but it’s entirely possible I’ll reach the end of the current ideas before that. If so, I’ll put it aside and pick up another new idea.

Today’s post was inspired by the topic Where I Got My Latest Idea, in the Merry-Go-Round Blog Tour, an ongoing tour where you, the reader, travel around the world from author’s blog to author’s blog. We have all sorts of writers at all stages in their writing career, so there’s something for everyone to enjoy.

If you want to get to know nearly twenty other writers and find out what’s on their nightstand, check out the rest of the tour! Up next: Raven O’Fiernan at Raven’s Scribblings.

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