Tag Archives: inspiration

Tiny touch of normalcy in the middle of a pandemic

Schwinn Meridian Adult Tricycle, 26-inch wheels, rear storage basket,  Cherry - Walmart.com - Walmart.com

NORMAL FEELS GOOD, EVEN MASKED

Episode #1 – The Affair of the Tricycle Seat Repair

This isn’t my tricycle – mine is a mystery brand – but it is extremely similar. One of the things that was normal this past week was a trip to the Tinker’s Den, my first.

Here at URC, an early resident refused to move in unless he was allowed to bring his basement workshop and woodworking tools. So they accommodated him by building a room off the corner of the south underground garage, and named it the Tinker’s Den. That was 20 years ago, and the workshop is used by a variety of people doing projects.

Well, earlier in the week I finally took the trike seat off because something was wrong and it had way too much side movement, but I hadn’t been able to see what was wrong while it was attached.

When I got it upstairs, I figured out the where the seat was attached to the post, a nut had come off of a bolt, and the bolt was sitting diagonally at an odd angle, attaching nothing.

To make the story short, I called Tenney, the resident whose name is listed for the Den, and we spent an enjoyable if somewhat frustrating hour or so taking the seat apart to get at the bolt, finding a replacement one (the one on the trike must be metric, so our nut jar didn’t have a suitable replacement), and putting the whole back together – and having a nice chat as I helped.

I miss doing that in the basement of our New Jersey house, where I had a full workshop – and plenty of nuts and bolts in jars before we moved. Of course, there had been no need to use a workshop for two years here.


Episode #2: The Affair of the Head Shot

The other bit of normal life was another request of another resident: I have arranged to have an interview of me as a writer published on a blog, and the blogger kindly sent me a list of questions – and a request for a photo.

On her site, I saw that the photos of other authors were much better quality and definition than the snapshot cutouts I have normally used before (yes, I knew I’d have to do something about it some day, but when you’re indie, there are a lot of things on the list).

In any case, when we came to URC, Marion had done a very nice job with her very good camera of taking pictures for the Resident Directory, so I asked if she would take a few for me for the purpose of a head shot – and she kindly agreed.

We settled on Friday morning at 11 (I cannot guarantee being up and functional earlier, though I often am, and I didn’t want to have to call, bleary-eyed, and reschedule).

She had walked around a couple of days before at that time so as to find some good backdrops among the greenery, so we set off to take pictures, her walking (she’s 91), and me on Maggie2.

And spent about an hour using various pieces of greenery as backdrops – and then she put the twenty or so photos on a flash stick which I downloaded to my computer last night.

We were masked, and stayed the required 6 feet apart for most of the time, but talked as we went, and I am so grateful because we have no idea when real normal will return, and I was dreading the whole process (I don’t usually like my pictures), but quite a few of the ones she took are very good. She is amazing.

She was surprised that I want to do the photo editing myself, something I’m reasonably competent at – but I’m really not good at selfies, and an outside photo place is not in the cards right now.


Episode #3: The book blogger reads

And finally, I found out via Mention, where I set up a request that sends me an email when Pride’s Children PURGATORY is mentioned anywhere on the web, that a book blogger whose site Written Among the Stars I visit regularly (she does very good reviews) has started to read it, and her thoughts thus far are:

“This was another one that the writing style took me a little while to jump into to and I was a bit concerned that maybe the story just wasn’t for me. It didn’t take long though for me to catch up and really start to enjoy myself. I adore Andrew. He is quirky, funny, smarmy and just so much fun.”

You know how hard it can be to persuade someone to read something different – and all authors try to find sources for more reviews – so I am very happy that she persisted, and am looking forward to hear what she thinks of the whole.


Little things matter when you’ve been in quarantine a long time.

Please use the comments to tell your stories of what makes you feel normal right now!


 

Target reader emotions when you plot

WHAT DOES THE READER REALLY WANT?

I just had a tough decision to make in a scene.

I waffled – there were two ways to write the thing, and there were pros and cons for each of the ways.

Until I hit the right question.

The two ways were:

for a character to stew all day hoping she could achieve her goal that night

-or-

to be confident all day that she would achieve the goal, and spend the time planning how she would enjoy it.

The first way is more dramatic – for the character.

The question?

What is worse – for the READER?

The actual plot will go to the same place: either she will or she will not get what she wants; that was predetermined in 2000 when I started this.

But now that I’m writing the scenes, I need to shift a bit from ‘what happens’ to ‘how do I PRESENT what happens’?

I know where it’s going – the reader does not.

I created the rollercoaster – the reader wants a good ride and a thrill.

My virtual teachers (writing books) teach me that the reader can handle the centrifugal force from being thrown around curves in the plot.

More than they can handle being on a nice calm piece of exposition which is BORING.

Once I asked the right question

the answer was obvious.

The ride for the reader is MEH if they see her seethe all day – they can hope she won’t achieve her goal, assume something will come along, again, to defeat her.

Instead, if I write it right, the reader will see her confident – and reviewing all the reasons she is sure to get – what they don’t want her to get!

And that will torture the reader more than the feeling of ‘she has failed before, she will fail again’ READER certainty.

Can’t have the reader comfortable, now, can we?

Process

This is why I spend the time arguing with myself, in writing, and asking myself why my brain isn’t letting me go ahead with the writing – because it needs to know which plan we’re following here before it will set out the tea lights in their little tin holders and illuminate the path we’ll walk.

I never get much lighting beyond what I need strictly not to tumble over roots and rocks. Then I pick my way along.

It works better for me to know – and the reader to have to guess – where we’re going. I already discard great gobs of ideas and executions which are not what I need. I can’t afford to make decisions on the fly.

I like my shiny new toy. I’ve been using an intuitive version of it for a long time, but I love having the tool be something I am conscious about, in the top tray of the toolbox. Makes it more likely that I’ll pick it up.


If you’re a writer, do you do this?

If you’re a reader, admit it – you want drama, not a smooth ride. You want that ending EARNED.


 

There is only one way to the ending

DO YOU TRUST YOUR AUTHOR?

And it goes THROUGH the plot, through the characters, through the planning that an extreme plotter like me goes into great detail to connect.

Novels start with ‘WHAT IF?”

And must continue to the bitter end, or their promise is compromised by the very one who created them, because of FEAR.

I admit it. It’s going to get rough, very rough, for my characters – as I’ve known since this story came to me.

There is no way this ‘WHAT IF?’ works – except my way. The way I designed to answer that question TWENTY YEARS AGO.

A great portion of that time has been spent making sure it is the ONLY way I can write THIS story.

The Resistance Journal tells the story

Saturday July 25, 2020 at 6:02 PM

All I need to do is in front of me: finish this scene, finish the next, … – get on with it.
Nothing is going to change in the plot.
I can’t make it sweeter or more palatable – and it is NECESSARY.


And then … steps up and decides to fight for what … wants.
This is what I’m writing.
This is what I designed.
This is what’s foretold in the …
Nothing has changed.

I have removed (…) the pieces that would give away too much of the plot.

The angst is real. Writers bleed with their characters.

We don’t LIKE causing pain: it is NECESSARY.

Our characters have to grow, change, evolve, show us the consequences of their decisions in their lives – because this is the entire purpose of fiction: showing readers what happens when different life choices are made.

Have readers ever thought about this?

I know I never did, as a reader. When Agatha Christie killed someone off, I never wondered if it caused her personal pain.

When Dorothy L. Sayers denied her detective the woman he loved, I cried (metaphorically) into my (metaphorical) hanky – but I never wondered much what it cost Sayers.

Now I understand – because I WRITE

No mother ever reared a child without that child crying. Not successfully, anyway.

Not with a child who grew up with the tools to become an adult (they still have to do so much work after we leave them be).

Writers get to be judge, jury, and executioner.

We also get to commit the crime, and be the detective, and work in the hospital where the crushed bodies come in to be healed.

This is what we do:

We torture characters after we make readers care for them.

To show their humanity.

It’s getting harder.

My beta reader tells me she gets what I’m doing.

She calls me a horrible person, too. Which is fine.

You don’t get to have an influence without challenging the status quo.

And it’s going to get a lot worse before it’s better.

I promise: eventually it will be better.

But it has to be EARNED.

Thanks for listening

It’s particularly hard right now.

And I worry about whether readers will decide this is the place where they stop reading.

But then I remember they sat through The Silence of the Lambs.

I’m not THAT bad.

And I mean well. Really.


 

How to profit from a plot hole

A PLOT HOLE CAN BE AN UNMITIGATED DISASTER

And I’m not going to tell you the size or the significance of the one I just wrestled into submission. Just how.

It’s in Chapter 29 of the WIP, Pride’s Children NETHERWORLD, the second volume in the trilogy, and you will have to remember this AND suss it out yourself when NETHERWORLD is available.

That’s not the point.

The point is that I’m pleased as punch with myself for finding out how to deal with one, and my struggle may save another writer some angst – and amuse readers who wonder if this ever happens and how writers deal with them.

Plot holes

It is almost impossible to invent a world – and not run into a few.

In fact, in the world I’ve built, I’ve been surprised time and time again when the plotting does work out, or a small change in a relatively unimportant date or fact renders everything copacetic again.

Because you do know writers make an awful lot of fiction up out of whole cloth, right?

No matter if ‘inspired by a book’ or idea (even fuzzier) decorates the credits of a new movie, or if ‘inspired by characters created by’ [name] is attached.

And if it did actually happen, there may even be apparent plot holes.

But if it didn’t, well, a writer does the best she can, and leaps into the void with a ribbon between her teeth attached to – a plot.

It depends on when you find the plot hole

If before you write a word, and you can’t find a way to get around it, you can dump the whole project.

But that usually entails dumping a lot of good stuff. Just with a plot hole or two in it somewhere.

However, your options are more limited if you find a reasonably-sized one (for your character’s definition of reasonable) in the middle (almost literally) of the second volume of a trilogy, and it is supporting a plot point you are not willing to change.

What to do, what to do?

First of all, OWN IT

Do not leave it there for an astute reader to find it, not if you’re planning to leave a legacy to the ages.

Readers blab. They leave reviews (if you’re very, very lucky). They tell each other. And for some reason feel they have to mention it when they recommend it: “It’s a lovely book, you know, but it could never happen because it has a few little flaws…”

And, if you’re an extreme plotter like me, it’s plausible – it’s just that it isn’t quite possible or true.

Or the author would have noticed it sooner, and taken care of it in development or plotting or outlining or the calendar or… You get the idea.

So I did what I do with a lot of problems:

I gifted it to a character

And that’s where I’m rubbing my hands with glee.

Because now the CHARACTER has to come up with a solution. And once the CHARACTER has a solution, they have to deal with the problem of whether to cough it up right away and admit they screwed up, or to keep a good and almost logical solution tucked away in their head to be used if someone else notices.

And you then get extras: You can have them get away with it – for a while.

And have it bothering them.

And then, if you’re evil enough, you can have it come up at a most inconvenient time, force them to do their little song and dance, and let another character realize they’re not being entirely truthful.

Which has been kind of delicious.

And is exactly what I mean by profiting.

My readers will tell me

If it worked.

I’m assuming most of them will not be through my gleeful blog posts about writing – I can think of nothing worse to destroy the ‘willing suspension of disbelief’ than lifting the skirts and showing readers the machine under the table.

But what I’m hoping will happen is that any reader who happens to notice that little glitch will also notice that somewhere very soon, before they got too worried by it, a solution popped up to take care of the problem – and the itch is scratched.

And they hurry along, reading, to see what other little problems might crop up – as that is the way of fiction, problem/solution/problem/solution… until the final happily-ever-after, mostly, solution at the end.

So that’s what I spent the last three days on

And a couple of thousands of words in my notes.

And images and calculations and links to places where I got my data from Mr. Google.

And then this tiny little hand-polished paragraph which will get read, absorbed, and left in the reader’s wake.

After all, one must tell one’s readers the truth most of the time, so they will not notice the occasional little lie we have to sneak in – or this wouldn’t be fiction.

On to the next author problem!


If you’re a writer, have you ever had this particular little problem?

If you’re a reader, have you ever noticed this problem? What did you do?


 

 

Staying comfortable in the saddle again

Section of a side view of the Rose Garden at URC showing the side exit door and some of the path

Out door – but not in right now

UNEVEN SIDEWALKS AS A CHALLENGE TO CONFIDENCE

We are on lockdown, which currently means you can go out, but not in, through all the usual exit doors in our building.

Why? So they can control who comes into our facility, and make sure they’re wearing a mask, and pass a quick health check, and I think take their temperature. Good precautions, and control of entrances is a part of that.

They’ve added a check station by the campus’ front entrance from the street, so cars and people coming in can be queried as to whether they are essential personnel, essential visitors, or not. A patrol car with a private security guy sits there, and some of our staff are in the little covered space to deal with contractors, delivery people, etc.

No enforcement possibility is necessary – it’s all voluntary, but family members are being turned away, even if they’re bringing something, most of the time.s-l500

Maggie2 is identical to Maggie

Both are black. Unobtrusive.

Maggie waits for me to find a part and a repair person.

But I found that after two months of not riding, I’ve lost confidence in my riding ability and Maggie2’s balancing ability, so I need to go out with some excuse to ride around a bit every couple of days.

Part of it is sidewalks and paths and curb cuts and cutouts: they make look smooth to an able-bodied walker with no balance problems, but they are neither truly flat nor even remotely smooth.

Sidewalks and paths are made a square or rectangle at a time, with gaps between them. When a repair is done, or a utility opening is created, the finished product is roughly smooth (an oxymoron).

I’m not a light-weight kid with the great balance of youth

There is a lot of me, and the Maggies cope, but I sometimes wonder how much of a strain it is, and how near the actual limits I might be, especially when riding outside, with up and down slopes. I don’t go near steep gradients any more, and plan my travels with slopes in mind.

But if I haven’t been in the saddle for even a couple of days, I’m ever so slightly nervous when I hop on board, such as to go down to get the mail. When trundling down the corridors, I’m conscious when I start that I’m a little unstable.

It’s like when I haven’t spoken Spanish for a while, and my sisters rattle off on the phone, and I’m expected to just jump in and participate – and I feel so awkward reaching for a noun or wondering if they still say things in a particular way.

So tonight I went for a little planned ride

Checked the battery – 3 out of 4 dots. Good.

Took the elevator down to the first floor (elevators are wobbly because they’re on cables), and headed toward the side door (in picture). Right now the entire first floor is being painted, the furniture changed, and the carpet replaced – and is covered with a layer of plastic that crinkles as we ride along.

Use the paper towel so I don’t touch any surfaces directly, from the elevator buttons to the door opening buttons first into the stairwell, and then out into the side Rose Garden.

Grit teeth – tell myself it isn’t that big of a slope out. It isn’t.

Say hello to other Resident who chooses this moment to come out with a large dog and a frisbee – and ask that they both be mindful of where I am, as I don’t want to be knocked down or startled off my perch by a vigorous dog which is aching to get some running and jumping and catching in.

Go down the path – and run into a moving van which has barely left enough room for Maggie and me to go down the sidewalk.

In through the front lobby – and check that I can get out of the building near the Skilled Nursing section. They say yes. But when I get down there, I find that the door opener doesn’t work after 5pm, but I can get out if I push the door. Push, hoping no alarms will go off.

Then around the north end of the building, in and out of the patio area, and back to the front entrance – all the while up and down slopes, on and off of sidewalks, around sharp corners (keeping the two of us in the center of the walk), around patio furniture piled willy-nilly, smelling some lovely roses, and up and down several curb cuts.

On our way back now

Check in, chat a moment, tell them the door doesn’t open automatically after 5pm., but you can still get out (front desk seems knowledgeable all the time, but the details sometimes escape them).

Chat with a few of the servers, both of us masked – we miss our dining room staff like crazy. One is excited they are moving toward reopening some of the dining venues. I tell him we are not: no cure, no treatment, no increased hospital capacity, no vaccine – and exhausted medical personnel. We’ll probably stay in much longer than strictly necessary.

Pick up the mail. Chat with another Resident (I have to keep backing up). She’s hoping the path from hospital (starting in December, not covid-19 related) to Skilled Nursing and now to Assisted Living is only temporary, and that she’ll be able to go back to her Independent Living unit. I tell her I hope so, and want to know – I will be resisting the Assisted Living part in a similar situation unless I’m sure it’s reversible if I can handle it.

Zoom up the corridors, reverse the elevator ride – and husband say: “That was a short ride!”

Decontaminate

Put mail away, put everything back in its place, being very conscious of what might have touched a surface outside the apartment, stabling Maggie2, and washing hands twice, thoroughly, during the process.

And we’re home!

I regained my comfort, mostly, with riding. I’m glad I included time outside and with challenges – they were a bit scary and got better on the circuit. Other people commented on how smoothly we move – and I didn’t disavow the prowess.

But I know.

And that’s all the excitement of the quarantine/isolation at the CCRC today. Absorbing, eh? And reset the brain by seeing other humans (I haven’t been out much otherwise), and talking to them.

Until next time.

Tomorrow is trike ride day.

These things seem and are trivial, but they’re also important to do for psychological welfare, especially since we’re going to be at this a long time.


Stay well.

Writing persists, though right now it seems to be taking me 5-6 hours to get that brain to come on every day. I am well into becoming Andrew to write the next scene, after days of gathering.

That’s all I ask for.

Hope everyone out there is staying safe. Or recovering. I know some are not, and still have trouble some days believing the whole disaster.

“Another nice mess you’ve gotten me into.” Yup. Part of the week’s research included watching that used in a whole bunch of their movies. And yes, that quote is accurate. Memory is funny.


 

Too tired to post about ME/CFS yesterday

Image may contain: possible text that says 'MYALGIC ENCEPHALOMYELITIS (ME) MILD ME 25% CAN WORK WITH GREAT DIFFICULTY AND AT LEAST 50% OF THEIR FUNCTIONALITY. MODERATE ME ARE HOUSEBOUND OFTEN REQUIRE A WHEELCHAIR OUTSIDE OF HOME. DAILY TASKS LIKE BATHING AND COOKING LARE A STRUGGLE. VERY SEVERE ME ARE TUBE FED, IN SEVERE PAIN, OXYGEN AND OFTEN CAN NOT SPEAK. SOME AWAY. THEY ARE SOME THE SICKEST PEOPLE ON EARTH. SEVERE ME BEDBOUND IN DARKEND ROOM ALMOST COMPLETELY DEPENDENT FOR ALL PERSONAL CARE. MEICFS AWARENESS @CHRONICALLYRISING'

MISSED EVEN WRITING A BASIC POST:

MAY 12th WAS INTERNATIONAL

ME/CFS AWARENESS DAY

So today, a day late and many dollars short, I’m boosting a post from @ChronicallyRising on Facebook, which will give you an idea of what I live with.

For over THIRTY YEARS now, I have been in the very badly mislabeled ‘moderate’ category – with occasional good days where I’m lucky if I have lost ONLY 50% of my functionality.

Because this is my daily reality, I don’t make a big deal about it.

I have used my experience with the disease

to write the on-going Pride’s Children trilogy, where I have gifted one of the main characters, Dr. Karenna (Kary) Elizabeth Ashe, with the ‘mild’ form – and explore how being chronically ill affects your whole life and all your choices.

When you lose your entire medical career, ‘mild’ is a misnomer.

Society writes you off; it did her.

She learned to write – something I’ve done. But I’ve given her a better experience and a traditional publisher in 2005. She’s turned into a reclusive but well-loved author of several historical novels, by spending ALL her energy on her work (since there is no way she can be a physician any more).

And living alone.

She is much younger than I am – in the ‘adult woman’ vague category.

And there’s nothing wrong with her – except disease and society’s expectations. And how much she gives in to them.

The world may find out

after covid-19 slams through its entire population, that the incidence of this kind of a post-viral, post-survival of the acute phase, syndrome, is far more common in the pandemic’s aftermath.

It is speculated that a large proportion of the survivors will have life-long problems. Numbers are not available this close to the outbreak.

Maybe my stories will help those who are ignored by the healthy, the researchers, and those who fund public health initiatives – until it happens to them.

We are all still people, still worthy, still capable of pain and loyalty and love.


 

My writing is a walk through a minefield

I AM ALWAYS MY OWN FIRST READER

One piece of advice to writers I’ve always followed is to “Write the book you want to read and that you can’t find.”

I guess as a writer I’m looking for the readers who FEEL the way I feel.

I’m having trouble finding more of them because WE tend to hide our feelings as too intense, too troubling, too deep – and are much less likely to discuss those feelings with other people as we recommend a book.

It is too close.

I am not my characters, and my characters are NOT me.

Because, if anything, there are significant parts of me I’ve consulted when writing all three of the main characters in Pride’s Children PURGATORY, and now Pride’s Children NETHERWORLD.

Readers know what it’s like to be inhabited by warring camps, typically portrayed in cartoons by a little angel over one shoulder, and a little devil over the other.

I contain multitudes.

But I AM an actor

The training, and the thinking, and the practice come in very handy when you have to split parts of yourself off for a character – and maintain some distance from your self.

I’m sure you can’t play Macbeth without finding justifications for killing your king.

So, before you go traipsing through one of my scenes, I have to do the hard work of feeling my way from the First Line to the Last Line, so that it is smooth and satisfying for a reader who goes that way but once.

It’s part of what makes me slow.

Adrenaline is hard for my body to process – and all hormones are big parts of the emotional states that accompany their surges through the bloodstreams of humans.

I have to feel more than usual, and have a smaller capacity for recovering from the emotional hormones, than most people.

You have to get very close to emotions to write them.

Yesterday, as research for the next chapter in NETHERWORLD, I had to go through, over and over, a part of life that, as a married woman who just celebrated 45 years with her first and only husband, was very far behind me.

No one knows the future – it could be useful in some cases, but I’m hoping I won’t need what I went through yesterday, because, as all important decisions, it was exhausting!

And I can’t stop writing these sections until I can recreate that on the page, in words, first in myself, and then, with some degree of certainty, in both men and women.

Models in literature

I had myself wondering today how close Margaret Mitchell got to Scarlett O’Hara, or Charlotte Brontë to her Jane.

I’m not sure Mitchell was fond of Scarlett – Scarlett and my Bianca have a lot in common – and Mitchell gave Scarlett no HEA: she prevailed, but her victory was Pyrrhic at best: never being hungry again is pretty low on the hierarchy of needs.

I take some of my examples from Dorothy L. Sayers, who at least left Harriet and Peter happy and married, but made them work very hard for that win: the hard work is, to me, essential to the outcome.

I don’t take shortcuts.

All of this may make more sense when the next book comes out, if you’re one of the clan.

I hope you are.

When this is all over, I’d love to talk about it. Right now I’m too raw.


If you haven’t read PURGATORY, and do so now, you’ll have a much better idea of what I’m talking about – as well as an appreciation for why it took so long. I had to learn to do the writing/feeling connection – and do it in EVERY scene.


Drop a line if you have any idea what I’m saying. It gets lonely out here.


 

The mainstream literary pleasure of highly literate readers.

STUCK WITH THEIR HEAD IN A BOOK

That’s where the young readers are, when they can get away with it. I was.

I kept books in three locations in our house in Mexico City, and snuck around so my mother wouldn’t find me and want me to do something – but I always had a book. In English. Of what was around the house, including my parents’ collection of the Great Books (only the half I liked) plus the James Bond novels and such my father brought home from business trips..

It is like an addiction, pouring words into your head.

Many people learn the pleasure of reading later – and do perfectly fine with it. But there is a subset of humans who are bookworms from a young age, and once they discover the printed word, can’t get enough of it.

My readers tend to be in that group.

Figuring out words in context is a big part of that

If you read material that is probably too hard for you, you’re going to run into words you’ve never seen before. That’s when the vocabulary starts to build: you don’t understand the sentence a word is in until you have some tentative meaning for the word, so you guess, store it away as a ‘possible,’ and move on with the story.

Do this enough times, and that word will get its meaning altered a tiny bit each time you run into it, because each place you see it will give it context, and eventually most words will have a complex meaning that settles pretty close to what you’d find in a dictionary.

Or you could ask someone (mom, teacher…) or look it up, and nowadays touch it on your Kindle and have the meaning pop up, but all those things take more time and interrupt the flow of the story, so many of us reserved that for rare occasions, and just kept reading.

The literary mainstream novel

English is an incredibly rich language (we steal anything we don’t have, and, voilà, it’s English now), and I can find the perfect word for most applications – with the nuances I’m looking for.

My readers don’t need anything explained: they either know it already, or they will be fine figuring it out in context.

Mind you, I’m not looking for the truly ‘literary’ one-of-a-kind only an English professor would know them words.

Just the words that I’ve acquired from all those books I’ve read – without paying specific attention.

The only ‘class’ I’ve ever taken in ‘English’ was the Freshman English course I took when I transferred as a junior from UNAM in Mexico City to Seattle U., which it turned out later I didn’t need to take.

That class also got me to write the only term paper I ever wrote, something wild about the psychological significance of Wuthering Heights, and for which I immersed myself in the literary criticism journals at the SU library, which had articles such as ‘The Window Motif in …’

I had fun, I got an A+, and never before or since was exposed to language that way.

I am not a literary writer; I’d have to have an entirely different background for that, and it wasn’t my path as a physicist. At this stuff, I’m an autodidact. They’re at an entirely different level.

Pride’s Children is just where it all came to roost.

They said, “Write the novel you want to read, and can’t find.”

‘They’ were right. It has been great fun just letting a novel be what I wanted it to be, and using everything stored in my very odd and now damaged brain exactly the way I want to.

And my readers like it!

That’s such a charge.

Here are some of those words from Chapter 27 of Pride’s Children NETHERWORLD, which I just finished writing, and am now polishing up to send to Rachel, my wonderful – and omnivorously trained like me – beta reader. AutoCrit, my editing assistant software, flagged them as ‘uncommon in general fiction.’

  • interlocutress
  • verandah
  • malevolence
  • illusory
  • epigraphs
  • attribution
  • obeisance
  • dopamine
  • quintessence
  • scrupulous
  • galvanized
  • volition
  • tableau
  • pragmatist
  • modus operandi
  • bafflegab
  • choreographed
  • Janus
  • excoriated
  • impeccable
  • preternatural
  • demotion
  • demonstrably
  • asunder
  • pique
  • bawdy
  • Uttar Pradesh
  • pachyderm
  • impunity
  • wafting

Not really that tricky, are they?

But you don’t hear them much, and they like to get some attention, too.


Thanks again to Stencil, which allows me to create graphics with very little effort – and wonderful photos. When I need more than a few a month, I will definitely get their paying version. Meanwhile, I mention them here every once in a while, in case others need the same capacity.


 

The tiny start of each new day

WE HAVE IT EVERY DAY

I realize it’s become a little routine, getting going in the mornings as efficiently as possible, so I’m recording it to laugh at in the future.

Mind, this is me ALWAYS – and has little or nothing to do with the coronavirus.

It might amuse you.

There are many steps (beyond the obvious first one):

  1. Find brain – it’s in there somewhere
  2. Do anything that absolutely must be done before you even turn the computer on.
  3. Turn on the lamp in the corner from the switch by the door.
  4. Say my morning prayers – even though I rarely remember the promises I made.
  5. Turn the overhead light on from the control on desk I can reach from the bed.
  6. Move to the desk chair.
  7. Turn the big monitor on – and make sure the switch goes to blue (behind PostIt so it doesn’t affect my sleep by being too bright).
  8. Lift the lid to the Macbook. While waiting for the screens to come back,
  9. Reach for phone, and plug it into the charger (I don’t charge overnight because I need it for a clock in the middle of the night, and a flashlight)
  10. Critical: reach down and turn the power strip with the two bright green lights ON
  11. Now it’s okay to turn the desk lamp on (with a touch).
  12. Open the venetian blinds and the shade to let the light in.
  13. Pills: take morning ones, set the later ones out.
  14. Check the email.

The reason for waiting to do 11. until 10. is done is that I keep forgetting to do it – until my Macbook suddenly shuts itself off and goes blank.

And when I look, and the two green lights are NOT on, I realize I forgot – and the battery went to as close to zero as the Mac allows, and I DID IT AGAIN!

So I’ve linked them deliberately.

After that come the optionals:

  • Diet Coke #1.
  • Breakfast (but that can wait for hours if the brain is on and I want to try using it first).
  • Water and ice for the HydroFlask tumbler I sip from all day long. Cold!
  • Facebook, quick answers to anyone who seems to want one.
  • The Washington Post, and The New York Times – quick scan.
  • Load up a page of sudokus – hard – for when I block the internet.
  • Check the calendar.
  • Check the To Do list – maybe – not good with that; stuff gets done, but not in an organized manner. Occasionally, clean the list, remove stuff already done.
  • Extra Vitamin C? Extra painkillers? Extra liquid B12?
  • Checking if any books have sold on Amazon overnight, or the nice person who took it out of KU has read any more pages.
  • Check The Passive Voice and Writer Unboxed; comment if I feel like it.
  • Think whether it’s been long enough that I should consider watering the twin coffee plants and the flowery thing.
  • Open the living room blinds that let me see out from my office past the living room, somewhere into the distance.

And finally, if I have any energy left at this point,

think about what I might need to accomplish today.

Think about adding an energy-draining shower to the list for today.

Including whether I both need and can afford to take a short trike ride for mental health and a tiny bit of exercise, like today – if so, try to remember the ritual associated with that now – from taking the cellphone and the locator bracelet for emergencies, and the keys, and the backpack, and water…

There you have it – boring as all get out, so I try to do it quickly, so I can go on to procrastinating from writing by thinking about writing.

Oh, and worry about the coronavirus, COVID-19,

and whether we’re still going to be safe, here in our total lockdown at the CCRC.

But that one goes without saying.

All this is so I can get to the real reason for getting out of bed:

  • Working on the current/next scene in Pride’s Children NETHERWORLD.

Which is coming along very nicely.


Do you find yourself doing the same list of heuristics every morning in the same order and playing a game with yourself to see how fast you can get past it?


 

Creating a roadmap for scene arcs

I’ve done this before – and didn’t realize it actually needs to be a ‘thing,’ a part of my regular writing ‘process.’

Most of the time, my plotting assigns all kinds of details to scenes, leaving the actual writing to when I get that far in the list of scenes, as I work one at a time until it’s finished.

So I can concentrate on writing one scene, one little visual polished bit, at a time, knowing that the scene will fit into the story like a jewel into a necklace.

But a scene can be too small an entity to work with when the story arc needs several scenes to tell a part of the story, during which point of view will shift in each scene (I stick religiously to a single pov per scene), but the story will continue, and, if I’m skillful enough, the reader won’t notice the patchwork quilt squares, but only the whole.

IF my plotting is good enough initially, and thought out in enough detail, I can trundle along, scene by scene, and the bits will connect.

But when the plotting was changed in the great 2007 reorganization?

Then I was forced to make some large decisions and some fine grained decisions about what would go where of all the bits in the story, and some of those details were tentatively assigned to a scene, or a point of view character, and I knew I would have to rearrange some of the bits when I got there.

I’ve done the several-scene roadmap idea more than once before. The first three chapters of Purgatory, for example, are all about the Night Talk show where two of the main characters meet in New York, while the third main character watches the show from Los Angeles.

So I’ve worked with the concept before, that plotting can have arcs even within the larger story, but I never stopped to formalize that for myself.

It’s a lot of work

I think of it as fractal in nature: pick a scope – sentence, paragraph, beat, scene,… and plot first, then write – and the dialogue will happen, the interior monologues will support it, because we all know where we’re going, together.

Sometimes a film director will allow actors to improvise – but it is always within the director’s (and the script’s) larger vision of the whole. Within that whole, individual pieces can be executed in many ways, but all have to serve the story. Or they will have to be expunged (kill your darlings) from the final product, which will otherwise be a mess.

But for extreme plotters like I am, breaking up the process, and doing the structure solidly FIRST, allows me to just write when I get there, to listen to the characters in my mind, and write down what they say, because I’ve given them the setup – and the writing part of my brain seems to have a mind of its own.

Back to my skyscraper analogy

Get the plumbing and the elevators and the water lines and the steel structure right first – or the sewage from the 29th floor won’t proceed to the treatment plant, and the first time someone flushes up there won’t be pretty for those on the 28th floor.

But after that, interior walls may have some variation (as long as they aren’t load-bearing), so that one floor can have a large open conference room where the floor directly above has offices or apartments. That is my roadmap idea. Within the plan for a whole building, there can be individual floor designs – followed by the decorating (writing) of the individual rooms which is the ultimate purpose of the skyscraper – interior spaces of all kinds and sizes within the plan.

Sometimes I can plan a whole building at a time, others a floor at a go, sometimes just one room, and sometimes a perfect grouping of furniture before the fireplace where we will sit and talk.

And the roadmap part?

Think of the roadmap as linear, while the floorplan of a skyscraper’s floor is 2D, and the building itself is 3D.

The ROADMAP allows you to visit every room on each floor – in a particular order, the one chosen by the storyteller.

Think of it: the last time you let a Real Estate Agent show you a dwelling, did they arrange your tour so you ended up in the perfect room? The one the agent knew would close the deal?

The ROADMAP is how I get you where I want you, the Reader, to go.

I work and plan and think and manipulate – so you will say wow.

The whole idea is to tell the story for YOUR pleasure – and for that you have to let me be dramatic, and show you everything in an order I hope you will like.


Just when you think your writing process is a lock – there’s something more to write ABOUT it. For me, it’s one more thing nailed down that I won’t forget to do because my brain isn’t working.

It’s an interesting way to work, with a limited brain as my tool.


 

Easter with bunnies but no peeps

A takeout container with a sugar cookie pink bunnie and a petit four with bunnie decorations

Bunnies!

OUR STAFF CONSIDER OTHER NEEDS THAN FOOD

This is a good place.

In ordinary times, every holiday gets celebrated – and there are special meals, special desserts, alcoholic beverages (Mimosas, anyone?) for holidays.

The rest of the time you may bring your own wine and beer, or purchase it by the bottle or glass. Very California wine country, our neighbors.

The decorations are wild. Staff wear special extras. It is so Christmassy at Christmas, that we don’t feel the need to decorate our own digs.

So tonight’s dinner – which I haven’t eaten yet because I had lunch and then went out for a trike ride before dark – came with extras.

Bunnies – 2 cookies, 2 petit fours

My very favoritist thing in the whole world is the tiny petit four.

The yellow bunny and the other petit four didn’t survive to be photographed. Then I thought maybe I’d take a picture and share.

Dinner was acceptable – ham and shrimp – unless you don’t eat those, and then there were other options.

But dessert came protected by its own recyclable (5 – so not very) container to protect the delicacies, at least until they got near the person who eats bunny ears.

The day was gorgeous

It got up to 73°F, and I went out for a nice slow trike ride – I’m managing a couple of rides a week since I don’t have to save energy for the pool days. It’ll do.

I’m never going to get that much exercise, as it is contraindicated (at least getting very much is – heart not supposed to go aerobic because it can’t sustain that).

But it’s beautiful out there in Davis right now.

img 1073

which I didn’t get off the trike to get close enough to identify, but might be bougainvillea or could possibly be crepe myrtle (ours in New Jersey was that color).

StreetsIMG_1046 are mostly deserted.

But riotous growth requiring significant pruning hasn’t occurred yet.

Not very exciting, but I recognize the need to get out of the building, and onto the greenway periodically, for mental health.

Family visits with the kids, and with my sisters in Mexico, made the holiday special – we’ve promised to do it often, now that w’ve all figured out Zoom (thanks for making it free for 40 min. ‘meetings’).

Keep celebrating, keep sane, keep doing something you love

This won’t last forever, and we’ll want to account to ourselves for what we did, read, ate, and wrote.

I’m writing – the second book in the Pride’s Children trilogy, NETHERWORLD (for the hell the characters must go through at times) – is coming along nicely.

It’s about time! I thought we’d never run out of things that absolutely had to be done before we could settle down into quarantine, and that required my attention personally, but it has happened.

None of it included organizing or cleaning – so I have little to show for it.

But today marked the completion of a scene started just a week ago, which I thought was going to be almost impossible to write, but when I settled down, followed my checklists and my process, and focused only on the piece at hand – it went as it always does, right down some path deep in my brain that I can’t anticipate exactly, but includes all the stuff loaded into the ‘must go in this scene’ list – and somehow makes sense.

Don’t ask questions of your muse, lest he or she decide you aren’t trusting enough!


Hope that, amid the chaos, there are things going well in your life, even if they aren’t any bigger than a pink sugar cookie bunny – or the picture of chocolate bunnies with face masks my husband forwarded this morning from wherever he found it.


 

Maggie2 is here with nowhere to go

s-l500

MY NEW AIRWHEEL S8 IS HOME

I thought she wouldn’t get here until April 2, and she was several days early.

Shipping is erratic in these times.

It was so easy – plugged the one connection between the saddle and the supporting column, put it on the charger, and a couple of hours later everything was charged up and ready.

The next day I hopped on, went down in the elevator, and brought home the mail – just like before.

As if the entire time between Jan. 29 and March 31 had been erased at a single stroke.

But things have changed so much in the interim!

The entire world is now upended – and I have very few places I need to go, as today, Yolo County, CA, told us to close the pool – not even supervised socially distanced hours are to be allowed.

It’s a big loss – and not necessary. I hope they take it back in a while – I don’t see what could possibly contaminate people who don’t even get to use the dressing room, are in chlorinated salt water, and go home to take a shower. Abundance of caution.

But I can run around the corridors at night with the wind in my hair if I want – even in normal times there’s never anyone around after about 9pm.

I could even do it in my pajamas!

When the world returns slowly to some kind of normal

I will already be in position to move around.

Because I am in the vulnerable cohort, older, with chronic illness, and physical disabilities that keep me from walking or standing long or comfortably (which is why I got Maggie in the first place), I assume it will be a long time – on the scale of a year – before we’re even allowed out of quarantine.

Just having beds available again in hospitals will still not make covid-19 easier for us to survive – although it might make it possible in the few cases where a ventilator makes a difference. The illness itself is hard on my group – and most people here are older than we are.

We have to wait for the vaccine – and hope it is effective (the flu shot is around 60% effective, I understand). We have to hope the immunity it – or surviving the disease – confer on people of my condition is long lasting.

The future is not known

We have to hope they learn enough from dealing with this that there isn’t another pandemic for a long time.), and

But maybe they’ll reopen the pools, and limited visitation (maybe for those who are certified survivors (if that makes them unable to infect us), and I’ll resume riding my little steed to the pool. One can hope.

It is a mistake to expect the worst. But it is life-threatening to risk what you know may kill you even with a lot of medical help.

I’m just happy my long hunt for a mobility device is again satisfied – for now.

The original Maggie will be repaired as soon as I can get a control board (assuming that’s the problem) and someone willing to watch the Youtube videos and install the board for me, and a backup now sounds like a very solid idea.

There is still nothing on the market that I find as perfect a solution for me.

Now back to writing NETHERWORLD.

Today was a good day – I made progress into the next scene – all my process still works, plus I added some new strategies from Donald Maass’ Writing 21st Century Fiction – heartily recommended.

I can’t do anything about the world out there – younger healthier people will have to gather the data and do the research and create a safe and effective vaccine – but I’m still excited about where the current scene is going (Rachel will be pleased), and how the end of the Chapter is designed, and how the plot keeps kicking.

That is my job. I’m not bored. I’m not looking for other things to do. This I can.

Wish me luck.


 

Social connections in isolation time

Fully open purple tulip in glass vase on windowsill

Many days later – still hanging in there

PATIENCE AND BEAUTY FROM A FRIEND

This isn’t new for those of us who, because of chronic illness and/or disability, don’t get out much, but social connections (even more precious to us) are necessary.

This community has gone from a vibrant group with many things going on every day, so many that it is often hard to pick which to go to, to a group of individuals and couples spending all day long in their apartment, mostly without communicating in person with others.

Including the staff who now bring our food, and leave it on the ledge outside our door sometime in the dinner hour. We open the door after waiting a bit (so they have moved on), and yell, “Thanks!” down the hall.

They’re still sorting the details out

The little things matter a lot. Last night was the first time they have picked dinner and left it outside our door – and it was the St. Patrick’s Day party dinner – and the corned beef was so salty I could not eat it. That’s exactly the kind of thing you might not think of, but if you look forward to it all day, and it’s inedible, your one tiny social contact for the day is tainted (I had a cookie from the freezer and some leftovers to compensate).

Tonight the selections were a wee bit odd, and they didn’t bring the milk – I wonder if they’re having trouble figuring out a system, since they asked about 200 apartments for a card with preferences.

Once we have a better understanding of their part, we can get a few outside supplies. We feel strongly about not throwing away food, always have, so before I eat a meal, I ask the husband what is oldest or needs eating first – and feed myself from those choices.

We have set up zoom for family meetings

We missed the family vacation last year, and will miss it again this year, but it is important for us to do the kind of gabbing we do when we get together.

We have downloaded and tested Zoom, which is used for meetings in businesses, and will let you do short home versions for free. Three of us tested it out today because the husband is on the newsletter staff, and they’re going to use it here instead of meeting in person.

Find a way to talk to family and friends, and, if you can do technology (Facetime, Whatsup, Skype, Messages…), do the video versions. It is a huge leap from text to audio, and a bigger one to video, for nuance, expression, body language, and everything except smell and touch. I have always preferred video – so I could really tell how the kids were.

Connect and reconnect

Those friends you’ve been meaning to send a Christmas letter to for years? Call.

The ones you never get around to in your family? Email.

The birthday person turning 21 who can’t go celebrate at a bar? Commiserate with a card and a promise for later.

It doesn’t take much to make someone happy – and now you have the time if you’re sheltering in place.

Especially important to have done this if for some reason, you are the one who doesn’t make it.

And thanks to all my old friends who are reaching out to comment – love you all.

Thanks for the tulip, Diane.


 

Friendship in the time of coronavirus

A single pink tulip in a clear vase on the windowsill

Hope springs eternal in the Spring

THE LITTLE THINGS COUNT

A present

Here at URC, Fourth Floor East is a little subcommunity.

One of our long term residents has been organizing Wing Dings – a chance for us all to get together for dinner as a wing – for years before we came.

One of our newer residents has joined her in building a sense of neighborhood on the floor. This morning this lovely pink tulip was delivered to our door. It will grace my windowsill for as long as it lasts, with the comfortable thought that we’ve moved to the right place.

Outside groups have been canceled for the duration

But I had already sent a notice around,

…there is a Celtic Band Concert scheduled on Monday March 16 in the auditorium.
 
Since we are having somewhat erratic public functions at URC, Larkin and Bill and I decided:
 
1. IF there is a Celtic Band Concert that night – folk-singing will be canceled, as most people will want to go to the concert.
 
2. IF, for some reason, the Celtic Band does NOT come to URC that night, we’ll be at the piano lounge at 7:30 as usual.
 
So we’ll have music that night either way.
 
Hope everyone is staying well.

‘Some reason’ has come to pass – but we will have music Monday night, and we’re having desperately needed rain over the weekend, and the flowers (including sneeze-inducing pollinators) are in season, and today is good.


 

Maggie I have loved too briefly

s-l500

Robot – Emotional support – Miniature riding horse

From Sep. 12, 2019 to Jan. 29, 2020, I had Maggie to ride.

Maggie is an Airwheel S8.

Like a bicycle seat on a post on a hoverboard. ‘Maggie’ for the magnesium alloy she is made of. Maggie is black.

When I rode her, all it took was a tiny shift in my center of gravity to zoom off in all directions.

She is broken – I hit a curb.

My entire life changed when she became part of it, and I don’t know if I’ll be able to get her fixed (she’s Chinese, from somewhere near Wuhan). I’m back to dragging myself around with a walker; because I have ME/CFS, and little energy, it is literally dragging myself.

Some day I will need a scooter or a wheelchair, but not yet.

Meanwhile, I mourn. I don’t know when I’ll get another, or Maggie fixed.

I am SO glad I have had her. She was my 70th birthday present to myself, and the bigger gift was that I could ride her, and will never have the regret that I didn’t try.