Notebook Neurosis

Writers have their quirks, and Anne Fleck is here to confess hers...and reveal a few of her mother's, too.Today’s post comes from a fellow resident of our dusty gravel road. It’s a pleasure to turn the keyboard over to Anne Fleck who happens to be my daughter. Once you read what she has to say, you may see a family resemblance. And you’ll understand the significance of the yellow legal pad graphic, too.

Notebook Neurosis

I don’t usually think of myself as a neurotic writer. Disorganized, eccentric, prone to edit my work until the second coming of Christ, yes, but neurotic? Definitely not. I read Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird and it was like reading a field guide to a foreign country: informative, but hardly familiar. When I sit down to write, there are not voices to ignore, no thoughts about success or failure or other people’s opinions. Just me, my pen, the page and the call of adventure.

The page is the fly in the ointment. When it comes to the physical paper I write on I am cagier than a zoo. I’m not alone. I seem to remember there being something about it in Bird by Bird. I’m not really that sure, I read it a while ago. In my own life my mother also displays a paper-related psychosis. She will only write her books on a yellow legal pad.

Clearly she’s a sick, sick woman. The very thought of it makes me shudder. That terrible yellow burning its way into my eyeballs, the red line a knife in the consciousness. The subtle horror of the lines–are they grey or blue? Blue–printed on yellow–looking grey? Or green? Let’s not even start on flipping the page up instead of over.

If there were nothing but yellow legal pads in the world I would write my novels on napkins and bed sheets before succumbing to their canary-colored tyranny. The correct thing to write on is a spiral bound, five subject notebook with a blue cardboard cover.

To read the rest of this article visit Anne’s blog, Not-SoStarvingArtists.com.

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See Jane Wait

Poor Jane. Poor, patient Jane is undergoing another revision. Or will be if life ever settles down.Poor Jane. Poor patient Jane. The protagonist of my South Dakota mystery novel has suffered a setback. She was turned down by editors in the nice, cozy publishing houses I had hoped would give her a good home.

Now, there’s no need to worry.

Jane is not dead or abandoned. She’s just waiting quietly for her creator to complete another edit of the book. Yes, you read that right. Another edit. This time to ratchet the suspense level up a notch. Something one of the publishers suggested that was confirmed when a writer friend read the book and offered similar feedback. When two writing experts give similar feedback independent from one another, an author is well-advised to sit up and pay attention.

So I did.

During the week at Idaho family camp, I spent several afternoons revising and was almost certain that at this rate, the rewrite would be done by the end of July. Then I arrived home to the aftermath of almost two months of travel.

Laundry.
Groceries to purchase.
Piles of mail.
Mom’s finances.
Our finances.
Emails to return.
Preparations for speaking engagements.
Flowerbeds to weed.
Yada, yada, yada.

By last weekend, I was finally caught up. Confidently, I wrote “work on mystery revision” in the afternoon slot in my planner for Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I spent several hours revising on Monday. I was pumped and sashayed around the house that night, absolutely sure that by the end of the week, the revision would pass the halfway mark.

But then.

News came that the funeral of the mother of a dear friend would be Wednesday morning, 2 1/2 hours away. The Man of Steel had to work, but we both agreed that I should attend. Which meant in addition to visiting Mom on Tuesday and a speaking engagement on Thursday afternoon, two breaks already factored in, I would also be gone Wednesday.

But, I told myself, Friday was still intact.

Until something possessed me to pick up 10 dozen ears of sweet corn and spent Friday afternoon processing and freezing 30+ quarts of sweet, golden goodness. Poor, patient Jane uttered no objections. She may live in South Dakota, but she grew up in Iowa and understands the importance of having sweet corn stashed in the freezer to be eaten on dark, frigid January nights.

But I feel guilty. Oh, so guilty.

I’m not sure I can open the latest revision and look Jane in the eye. She’s been such a good friend. Never complaining. Never manipulating. Never snitching sweet corn. Even nodding approvingly when she heard about the plan to attend the funeral. Then she settled back to wait.

And wait. And wait.

This week, my planner has four afternoon appointments scheduled with Jane. I’ll be accepting no phone calls, gathering no vegetables, avoiding social media, and taking no prisoners. All for the love of Jane.

Poor, patient Jane.

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Fantastic Friday at a Writer’s Conference

This Fantastic Friday, I’m at the Cedar Falls Christian Writing Conference once again. This time my fellow author and editor, who also happens to be my daughter, will be co-presenting a workshop about What a Manuscript Editor Can Do for You. With that in mind, what could be more fitting than this June 16, 2015 post for another Fantastic Friday?

Top Ten Things About Going to a Writers’ Conference

The bags are packed and I’m ready to head out for the Cedar Falls Christian Writers’ Conference tomorrow. Here are 10 top ten reasons to attend a writing conference, in Cedar Falls, Iowa or anywhere else one is held.

10. They’re a great opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments of other writers and to see if your inner insecure writer’s envy-o-meter readings are going down or up.

9.  Writers’ conferences are a wonderful place to make new friends.

8.  And they’re a place to reconnect with old friends, too.

7.  A good writers’ conference will provide information and concepts to challenge your comfort zone, stretch your thinking, and conceive new ideas.

6.  Each conference should offer confirmation that God created you to be a writer…or not.

5.  They offer time to reflect upon where you are now as a writer and where you want to be in the future.

4.  They also offer time to step back and see God’s hand at work in and through your writing.

3.  Somehow, unexpected doors for your writing will open in unexpected ways and under the most unexpected circumstances.

2.  Someone else does all the cooking and cleans the bathrooms.

1.  At a writers’ conference you are with like-minded people who think your obessions with reading, composition notebooks, ballpoint pens, and mechanical pencils are absolutely normal.

Have you ever been to a writers’ conference? What’s on your top ten list?

Is There a Writer in the House?

Our house was filled with 3 writers, 1 Man of Steel, and a baby for 2 1/2 weeks. Only 1 writer remains and she feels at home in a big, lonely house.This house almost always has 1 writer in the house. But for about 2 1/2 weeks, while our daughter and her family were here while the Man of Steel and Woman of Aluminum recovered, the writer population around here swelled to 3.

A Philo Phamily writers’ colony right here on the pharm.

As the days went by, the kitchen island sprouted notebooks and pens, the living room resounded with keyboard tapping, the voice of a young author reading her manuscript to the Man of Steel as he recuperated and the Man of Steel laughing at all the right places emanated from sick bay, the excited voices of mother and daughter discussing plot points for new novels tumbled over one another, and young parents sat together talking about how to better develop characters for an audio play.

Think of it as Little Women for the new millennium.

With fewer girls, more mature women, and a couple handsome men. Also a baby whose presence pulled the house’s inhabitants down from the rarefied air of art for art’s sake to fold diapers, change diapers, and play peek-a-boo. And the handsome man who’s a non-writer begging the authors to finish their next manuscripts because he can hardly wait to hear what happens next.

Heady stuff, as you can imagine.

Yesterday, the 2 young writers took their baby home to a neighboring state. Today, the Man of Steel is recovered and back to work. The 1 remaining writer was sad to see them go and good-bye. But as is the way of writers, she was not sad to say hello to an empty house. Because she knows the words inside her head require external silence and time to labor alone if they are ever to come alive on paper. If they are ever to be read by another author and revised. So their timing is perfect enough to make the Man of Steel’s laughter ring out–music to a writer’s ears–when he reads the next manuscript and begs for a new one.

Yes, there’s a writer in this lonely house. And she feels right at home.

Three Thoughts for Thursday

Yogi Berra, author mathematics, and Little House in the Big Woods cozy in this week's 3 thoughts.

  1. I’m taking the death of Yogi Berra pretty hard. Not because I’m a Yankee fan. But because the media tributes have revealed that at least half of my dad best one liners were plagiarized from the great ball player.
  2. After double-checking the math, I can confidently say that having 3 books published in 1 year + completing a mystery novel = almost 2 much.
  3. With a winter’s worth of jugs full of rain water for the house plants in the basement, as well as several apple pies and bags of basil pesto in the freezer, our home has that Little House in the Big Woods cozy feeling.

What makes your house feel Little House in the Big Woods cozy?

Write, Jane, Write!

Harding County milesProgress has continued on my mystery novel set in the wilds of northwest South Dakota since the last Gravel Road update about Jane and her excellent adventures. Of course, every good mystery novel is replete with twists and turns, and this one is no exception. What are the latest twists and turns?

The first is this.

My agent, a wonderful woman and mom to 3 lovely little girls, had planned to read it on vacation. But because that vacation included entertaining 3 lovely little girls, so she didn’t have time to read anything. Which turned out to be a good thing.

Because of the second twist.

My daughter did read the book and returned it with the most marvelous feedback. Feedback that, if implemented, will improve the novel immensely. Feedback that shows she could be a professional editor…and as a literature major she has the credentials. So if you’re looking to hire someone to shape up your manuscript, just let me know. But I digress.

Back to the second twist.

The feedback was so good, I emailed my agent and said, “If you haven’t read the book yet, don’t. Wait for the next draft which will incorporate the feedback from my daughter.”

On to the third twist.

My daughter’s feedback is as unique as she is, consisting as it does of items like the following:

  • Beef up the scene at the dump
  • Start the butterfly thing earlier
  • Get out of Jane’s head and into dialogue more often
  • Make the bad guy seem gooder (yes, I know that’s not a word) early on

And so on. My goal is to have this revision done by the last week of August when my daughter and her family come for a visit. So I can entertain the baby while she reads through it. Obviously a doubly self-serving goal, but worthwhile none the less.

Which leads to the fourth and final twist.

When I am deep into revision zone, my little inner voice pipes up every now and then with its favorite public service announcement:

Stop playing around and get back to work.

I stop and feel guilty for a moment until the realization dawns on me.

This is my work.

And I keep writing.

Top Ten Things About Going to a Writers’ Conference

Why should a writer attend a good writers' conference now and then? Here are ten good reasons.The bags are packed and I’m ready to head out for the Cedar Falls Christian Writers’ Conference tomorrow. Here are 10 top ten reasons to attend a writing conference, in Cedar Falls, Iowa or anywhere else one is held.

10. They’re a great opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments of other writers and to see if your inner insecure writer’s envy-o-meter readings are going down or up.

9.  Writers’ conferences are a wonderful place to make new friends.

8.  And they’re a place to reconnect with old friends, too.

7.  A good writers’ conference will provide information and concepts to challenge your comfort zone, stretch your thinking, and conceive new ideas.

6.  Each conference should offer confirmation that God created you to be a writer…or not.

5.  They offer time to reflect upon where you are now as a writer and where you want to be in the future.

4.  They also offer time to step back and see God’s hand at work in and through your writing.

3.  Somehow, unexpected doors for your writing will open in unexpected ways and under the most unexpected circumstances.

2.  Someone else does all the cooking and cleans the bathrooms.

1.  At a writers’ conference you are with like-minded people who think your obessions with reading, composition notebooks, ballpoint pens, and mechanical pencils are absolutely normal.

Have you ever been to a writers’ conference? What’s on your top ten list?

Fantastic Friday: What Have I Gotten Myself Into?

John Jolene GainThis post from 5 years ago caught my eye while searching the Gravel Road’s archives. Why? Because this April our family is celebrating the birth of a grandchild, I’m attending a conference in Virginia right now, and I’m looking forward to a book release on April 27. Events as momentous as the events of April 2010 which included…well, you’ll find out as you read this week’s Fantastic Friday post.

Yeah, that’s me in the back row with the oh-no-what-have-I-gotten-myself-into expression. The other two are my brother and a cousin. There’s another cousin kneeling in front, but I can’t get her to show up. (Sorry Nell!)

When the good people at Discovery House Publishers emailed on April 13 to say they accepted my proposal for Different Dream Parenting: Raising a Child with Special Needs, my response was similar to the one in the picture. It was the day after we returned from our son’s wedding so my energy level and brain functions were nil at the time.

Needless to say, it took awhile for the news to sink in. Once the old brain cells revived, my first response should have been of the whoop-and-holler-of-joy variety. But no. It was more of the what-have-I-gotten-myself-into and why-did-I-think-I-could-write-a-book-on-this-subject variety.

After a few calming breaths and some positive self-talk, the panic subsided, at least until I printed off the chapter summary that was part of the original proposal. After reading the plan written last December, panic returned, along with self-doubt. I felt as poorly trained and utterly inadequate for the task at hand as I had each August of my twenty-five year teaching career.

But over the next several days, God calmed me down, patted my head, and held my hand. Every Bible passage I read was about how God prepares his people for his work. Every book I opened contained valuable resources. Visions of experts and parents I’ve met in the past few years – many since Different Dream was released – came to mind.

“Write them down,” a voice whispered inside my head. “Make a plan.”

I started a list of people, books, websites, and organizations. In minutes, the list was two pages long. Their expertise matched many of the subjects to be addressed in my book, though a few holes remained. In the next few days, previously unknown experts appeared on my radar screen. The timing was uncanny.

The voice in my head was clear and insistent. “You’re not in this alone. I’ve spent my life preparing you to do this. You take the logical next step and leave the rest to me.”

Living by faith. Writing by faith. That’s what I’ve gotten myself into.

Let the adventure begin.

Back in the Saddle Again

back in saddle

Contrary to what a literal interpretation of the above title implies, the no-longer-afraid-of-heights-and-horses genie did not work any magic at our house over the holidays. Neither the man of steel or the woman of aluminum will be riding horses in the near future. Or until hell freezes over. Which could be today with a predicted high of -7.

But I digress.

The back in the saddle reference is purely metaphorical–as is the hell freezing over phrase–so maybe the previous paragraph wasn’t a digression, though this one is in danger of becoming one.

Back to the topic at hand.

After an autumn filled with writing-related travel and pitching in to help rellies move, along with two December weekends devoted to Christmas travel and house guests at our house this past weekend, the hubbub is officially over.

I am back in the saddle again.

Back in the saddle that is preparing DifferentDream.com blog posts on Mondays, visiting Mom on Tuesdays, delving into writing and speaking projects Wednesdays through Fridays, and working around the house on the weekends. Back in the saddle without interruption for all of January and February.

A very boring saddle.

And a totally welcome one. Because it offers the long stretches of time needed to disappear into the story land of the mystery novel waiting to be completed. A story land replete with real horses and real saddles, which are fun to image riding because there’s no danger of falling off and getting hurt.

Now that’s my kind of adventure.

Which is why I’m glad to be back in the saddle again. A metaphorical place were I plan to stay for most of January and February. Yippie yi yo kayah!

Three Thoughts for Thursday

vintage-fountain-pen-4-1148656-m

  1. While writing a work-in-progress, all I think about is getting done. When not writing, I can’t wait to get back to work. Ah, the life of an author.
  2. Happiness = being there when your grandchild says a new word.
  3. Quote of the week: Funny how imperfections on the outside mean something splendid beneath. From Louis Penny’s novel The Brutal Telling.

What made you happy this week? Leave a comment.