Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Muse Intrigue: Butterflies by the Hundreds

On the way to Girl Scout Day Camp yesterday S and I were treated to a surprise. Hundreds of butterflies (red admirals, I think) flitted from one side of the forest preserve road to the other. Even more greeted us today, zipping from street to shrub to canopy and back again, seemingly for the joy of it.

Beautiful. Unexpected. Memorable.

My fervent hope: that one day readers might say the same of my own writing.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Scrambling and Scratching

I received a call late last night that I can't ignore. Friends of my dad are moving this weekend. They're leaving a two-year-old Amana washer-dryer set that's not part of the sale. The set's free for the hauling--if we can pick it up tonight.

Seeing as our Maytags are at least 18 years young (we bought them with the house), I'm motivated to make this work. The catch: P's unavailable this evening, which means it's up to me to arrange for transportation, a couple strong backs (I'm paying a couple of my daughter's friends) and a sitter.

I'm on it.

On the writing front: fellow critique group member J emailed today to say her copy of Special Gifts arrived yesterday. I'm thrilled to hear she has the book in hand, and is making her way through it, one tissue box at a time. However, her news leaves me scratching my head. I pre-ordered copies from the publisher, and have yet to see them. So far I've held off on ordering from Amazon...

Current read: Coraline by Neil Gaiman. Not a bedtime read, unless you're into really creepy dreams.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Critique Group Snafu: One Writer's Tale About Why X plus Y Doesn't Always Equal What Happens Next

Have you ever had an "uh-oh" moment? I'm betting you have.

The moment I have in mind is the kind where you're cruising through you're day, feeling confident, energized and organized, when all of a sudden you're blindsided by the realization that you've neglected to include a key element into the equation of x plus y equals what happens next.

This was the case for me yesterday. A half hour or so before leaving for critique group with my youngest daughter S, I was packing a cooler for the road when I remembered a key part of the equation for making crit group happen for me.

My uh-oh moment: E started summer school last week, stupid, which means a 10 a.m. start time for critique group is no longer good because someone needs to meet the bus at the curb at noon.

Um, duh, especially since crit group meets 45 minutes away.

During moments like these I'm reminded of:

1. how many schedules I'm juggling.
2. how disruptive summer can be (despite the obvious freedoms it brings).
3. why I prefer the structure (and hours of uninterrupted time) the school year brings.
3. how grateful I am for fellow writers and kindred spirits, J and A, who despite a frantic, last-minute phone call, graciously agreed to meet later in the day (and offered stories of their own scheduling snafus and near misses when navigating their writer mom days.)

In a whacked out way, I'm happy to know we writer moms are all losing brain cells together. :)

Monday, June 18, 2007

It's a Book!

Special Gifts: Women Writers on the Happiness, the Heartache and the Hope of Raising a Special Needs Child is now available for purchase through Amazon! This book is a must-read for anyone whose life has been touched by a special-needs child. The essays are honest, inspiring, poignant, and powerful. I'm honored to be a part of the collection.

Friday, June 15, 2007

One Writer's Approach to Taming the Novel: Storymapping

I first learned about storyboarding years ago when pursuing my B.S. in news-editorial journalism from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, Illinois.

The idea behind the technique was deceptively simple: frame out each key scene of a commercial from its opening shot to its close. Include key characters/images/product shots/emotions that drive each scene. Use the storyboard as a visual aid for your team, your boss, and, ultimately, your client, when the time comes to sell him/her on the concept.

Actually constructing a storyboard was another matter. We were limited to 9-12 boxes, which meant you better be clear about how you wanted to convey your product before you sat down. The limitations of the "commercial" meant that to be successful we had to learn how to distill the story by cutting the fluff.

Funny thing how the creative process works. The technique's brilliant on so many different levels; so applicable to children's book writing. Yet, I didn't think about how it might be applied to my own writing until recently when children's book writer Patricia Malone shared her version of storyboarding with fellow writers.

Pat's approach is called storymapping. Instead of the traditional way--stringing together neat rows of boxes (each row stacked upon the other, each box representing a new scene), Pat uses a free-form approach. She works large (marking up a 4x4 sheet of art paper or better), drawing stick figures and props to represent the main action taking place in each scene, adding in mountain ranges, rivers, forests, cities, legends.

To promote creative thought, curved lines connect each scene instead of straight. To foster right-brain activity and excite the muse, colored pencils are used for illustrations and notes.

The result is a storymap that wends its way from one corner of the paper to the next. Each character receives his/her own road upon the map. At times, the characters travel together. At times they branch off on their own. In the end, a visual journey is depicted, one suitable for reference and inspiration during the revision process, and ideal for a visual aid after the book is published.

Pat's approach so intrigued me that one of the first things I did after returning home the day she explained it was to dig out my art supplies.

In a couple of hour's time, I mapped out my entire fantasy novel.

This is huge, because ever since a slew of characters walked onto the stage of my story demanding more of the spotlight (and making a compelling case to do so), I've re-visioned KM multiple times in an attempt to work them in.

One of the most difficult aspects of these re-visions has been trusting that eventually everyone's throughlines would weave together in a meaningful way.

Thanks to Pat's storymapping approach, they finally did.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Summer Writing Experiment Progress Report

After butt in chair time this morning, I totalled up the number of pages I've produced since I began my Summer Writing Experiment. The following numbers include this morning's work:

9 writing days (writing days are defined as my early morning butt-in-chair sessions (5-6:30 a.m.) followed by whatever time I can fit in after E and Jewel leave for summer school (usually another hour or so.)

44+ pages of creative.

edited to add: actual pages of creative suitable enough for critique group consumption: 9.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Requesting Accountability from the Powers that Be--Or Why I Wasn't Writing Last Night After the Girls Hit the Hay

P and I attended our local school board meeting last night. E and Jewel stayed home after we learned that the invitation for the public to address the board isn't made until after its business is conducted.

Don't know if all boards do it this way or just this one. Interesting tactic either way.

The meeting began at 7:37. P finally made his statement on our behal two hours later. He was limited to two minutes. (Talk about the need to edit.)

As the board conducted its meeting, he sat next to me making notes, mouthing his words, timing his statement. Boy did he nail it.

P's comments led with our concern that the school seems to have the habit of asking, "what do we have to do in regards to including special needs students in school events/programs/activities?" instead of asking "what can we do?" He offered specific examples of missed opportunities for inclusion, and lifted up programs/approaches in which we've seen promise and upon which the school could build. Near the end of his statement, he challenged the school to practice the Pillars of Excellence it so readily preaches, not just applying them to the regular ed students, but to its special needs students as well.

"We're not asking you to spend more money," he said near the end. "We're asking you to change a culture. In many respects, such a task will be much more difficult...Expect more of your school, your faculty--yourselves. In the end our district and all our children will be better for it."

We left the meeting feeling exhausted and exhilirated. Not only were we heard (because everyone at the table had to be silent during the statement), we let the Powers that Be know that the letter we sent wasn't just some irrate parent blowing off steam. We're serious about what we said. We offered to be part of the solution. We're in it for the long haul.

Doing anything less would be a disservice to E, and the children coming after her.

Current read: Blood and Chocolate by Annette Curtis Klause. So far this book's a thrilling romp. It features 16-year-old werewolf girl Vivian who, grieving her father's death, longs for a normal life, and, while seeking it, finds herself drawn to a human boy Aiden. Few of the books I read cause me to burn a meal (because I forget that I'm cooking something). This is one of them.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Writing by Dawn's Early Light, Wearing the Advocacy Hat, and Other Duties of a Writer Mom

This and that:

1. Day seven of my Summer Writing Experiment. Forward progress continues. Wish I could say that writing at 5 a.m. is getting easier. Copious amounts of Earl Grey are necessary before I'm able to form sentences.

2. Wearing my advocacy hat today. Why? Tonight the school board meets at E's school, and we (P, E, Jewel and I) plan to be there. E and Jewel will listen (and put a face to the name in the letter we sent recently to all board and admistration members about the day the 8th graders celebrated the end of the school year and their middle grade years with a trip to an area amusement park.)

Our issue: The trip was organized in a way that didn't include E. The burden would have been on the aide to keep her entertained. After hearing last minute that this was how the day would be spent, E chose not to go, because what was the point of attending a class trip if she really wouldn't be a part of it? That's like saying sure, you can come to the game, but since you can't keep up, you can't play. That might be fair in the Major Leagues, but in a school setting, where we're trying to teach our children about community and respecting other people's differences?

Some key observations we plan to make in our statement tonight:

a. The school missed out on a major opportunity to practice the Pillars of Excellence it preaches (trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship) by not finding a way for all of the students to feel included in the event.

a. It is not right, nor responsible to hold up the Pillars of Excellence only when convenient.

c. A disability means differently abled, not the inability to participate to the best of one's ability, or to feel hurt when left out.

d. There's a big difference between doing what is required and doing what is right.

e. There's more, but I'm saving it for tonight.

3. E started summer school at the high school this week.

Good thing about this: it's a great way for E to get to know the high school before the school year begins, and she's so social she needs this time with her peers.

Not so good thing: school starts earlier than she's used to, which means getting her up an hour earlier, which means the two uninterrupted hours of writing time I leveraged by getting up at 5, are down to one.

Good thing: the high school is so much more enlightened about special ed and inclusion issues, it's hard to believe the school is located in the same community. Begs the question: why don't school districts compare notes? The cynical part of me can guess why: money, and the misplaced belief that doing what is required rather than what is right is all that's really necessary.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Writing at O-Dark Thirty Report (or How I'm Managing the Muse, For Now)

What P said to me in the kitchen this morning about my pledge to work on KM at o-dark thirty each morning (with only a mug of tea and my laptop to keep me company):

"I'm impressed."

"About what?"

"I know you said you were going to do it. But I didn't think--"

"I wasn't sure I could do it either."

"Getting up two hours earlier than normal to do anything is a real commitment. Like I said, I'm impressed."

"It hasn't been easy, but you know what? I'm finding I'm actually awake enough to write, and the forward progress I'm making...well, it's energizing."

Take this a.m., for example. I wrote eight pages toward a new chapter of KM. Eight. With few exceptions, I haven't written this many pages in a day since feeling the heat of a Vermont College deadline.

Granted, some of the copy's rough, and some of it's drivel. But six pages or so of it is pretty decent. Fingers and toes crossed that this isn't an exception.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

One Writer Mom's Solution to Summer Break: Writing at O'Dark Thirty

This week in an effort to protect the momentum I've developed on KM, and to complete a FINAL draft within six months, I launched summer writing hours. My alarm sounds at *gasp* 5 a.m.

Getting up has been difficult, but not impossible (because nature usually calls around that time anyway). Staying up is another thing all together, but it's getting easier.

My morning routine so far this week:

1. drag myself out of bed after hitting the snooze button once (okay twice)
2. shlep down the hall to the bathroom
3. wander downstars (painfully aware of every ache in my no-longer-twenty-year-old-body)
4. put on the kettle for tea
5. thump over to the computer
7. call up KM
8. stare at the screen
9. decipher what I wrote the day before
10. start typing

The first few minutes are drivel, but by the time P's alarm sounds at 6:30 or so, I'm usually in the groove and have been for quite some time.

This is good. As long as I can keep up this routine, I'll have more than pieces parts to sub to my crit group next time.