Monday, January 30, 2012

I NEED a Ghostly Title!!!

If you haven't spoken up lately, I really need your help today.

With my first novel already entered in the ABNA contest, I'm working on revisions of Novel #3. My biggest problem, though, is my title is absolutely terrible. Title suckage is a consistent problem for me, for my titles are either far too long and convoluted (I must have learned this from my research paper writing days) or are simplistic and completely unimaginative.

Here's the story's premise: A sixteen-year-old girl, who has been in and out of foster homes most of her life (mom lost military husband and turned to drugs for solace), moves into a house on Puget Sound with her mom and new stepfather. The house is a bargain, but it's also haunted, and mom and stepdad have issues from the very beginning. Finally, stepdad leaves for good--only mom does, too, since she disappears like she has so many times before. The daughter Emme doesn't want to go back into foster care, so she tries to make it on her own in the little house, keeping her mom's absence from her stepdad and social workers. But the house she's living in is haunted, as she's reminded of almost daily.

This is an actual picture of a ghost among some tall grasses. Source: If you like ghosts, you should really check out this site. LOADS of great pictures! 

The ghost at first terrifies her, but soon she gets used to him, even learning his name ("Charley"). He finds ways of communicating with her, and even helps her get a job and keep the house, etc. Beneficial ghost. I don't want to go into all the other details (don't want to spoil it for anybody), but I have the most horrifically craptacular title on the face of the planet right now, and I need a better one. Come to think of it, any title would be a better one! Let me illustrate:

Just Me and Charley

Yup, that's the title. Pathetic, yes, but at least I already know this! I really want something to reflect the ghostliness, Puget Sound, the foster kid trying to make it on her own, etc. Have pity on me and help me out, all you creative people!

Oooh, how about Ghost on the Water? It's better, but, like I said, any title would be better. Can you help me? Please?

While you're at it, got any creepy-ish music to suggest I listen to while I revise? I love to revise accompanied by appropriate music.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Art of Waiting Patiently

A recent game I tapped into on Yahoo Games had a cute message as it loaded up:

"i am somewhat impatient, but i know that the game will be loaded soon"

It made me think so much of my own life--well, two aspects of it, anyway. You see, all my life I've been struggling with my weight. I could never fit into my older sister's hand-me-downs as a kid (and that was pointed out quite often, given our financial hardship), and even now, as a Zumba Fitness instructor and careful eater, I still have trouble losing a pound. My husband gives up desserts and loses ten pounds without really thinking much about it. He admits he would have given up years ago if he'd seen as little progress as I have in trying to lose weight.

Yet I've seen the same sort of success in my writing. (Translation: not bloody much). I've sent out tons of queries and received nearly as many rejection slips (nearly as many only because many agents and publishers don't send replies if they don't like something). Not a single request for more material. My plays have been only slightly more successful, only because I've been pretty lucky to find places where I can do a staged reading or get some great feedback.

So why do I do this? People have asked me why I don't just give up. Why continue to do Zumba if it doesn't make the pounds drop off the way it seems to for everybody else? Why keep writing if I don't sell any novels?

I see the rational basis for this. It is logical. But it errs because it's based on an assumption which simply isn't true: it assumes I do these two things only because of the outcome I'm hoping for.

I know many who do. I know all sorts of people who try Zumba--or vegetarianism, or some diet fad--only because of the outcome they hope for. I know writers who are only concerned with completing a novel so that it can be marketed.

They and I do not work towards the same ends. Or perhaps, for me, the ends simply aren't as important as the act of doing. Why do I do Zumba? Because I adore Zumba. It is more fun than I have doing any other physical activity. It fills me with joy, fosters in me a belief in my own beauty and sexuality, frees me like nothing else does. The act itself is fantastic, no matter its outcome.

The same goes for writing. I don't write to finish. The process is what matters. Writing is my therapy, my shy chance to speak, the who I am in a long list of whats. It's part of my chromosomal make-up, and the only frustrating parts of it include not making enough time for it and not being as good a writer as I would like. But writing is bliss. Sheer bliss.

I suppose the title is a lie, then. I don't have to be patiently waiting for the outcomes I would love to happen. I'm delirious in the moment, charged with energy and elated by the passion of these two activities. I'm not really waiting patiently for anything. It's already here.

Where do you find your joy? Do you hold onto this, or does the outcome matter more?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Finding One's Muse

While living in Kansas, I participated several times in a 24-Hour Play Festival, the equivalent of a short-term writing sprint. People signed up for various activities--tech, acting, directing (6), and writing (6). I did tech once, but the other times I wrote one of the plays.

The premise is simple: At 8 p.m., all of the participants come to the theatre with one costume and one prop. The participants get up one by one and present their items, and the actors also tell anything they can do--accents, sword fighting, double-jointedness, etc.

Once that is done, the actors, techies, and directors go home to bed, while the playwrights "draft" their actors for their play (usually they end up with 4-5 actors). Using their group of actors, along with the costumes and props brought in that night, the playwrights have from about midnight to 6 a.m. to write a ten-minute play. They have a few readers who stay up with them to read and offer feedback (so that the plays are at least a bit revised and polished before 6 a.m.), and then they head home to sleep all day.

Copies of the plays are made, and by 7 a.m. the directors come, read all the plays, and then fight over who gets to direct each one. At 8 the actors and techies show up, and from that point until an 8 p.m. performance, they rehearse the play, find costumes, learn lines, and prepare for a full production of each play.

Pretty fun stuff!! Exhausting, but fun. It's also a learning experience, and it helped me realize how much I depend on PEOPLE for my inspiration. I never had a clue what my play would be until after my actors were cast. Sometimes a prop gave me a little something, but it was usually the actors themselves. No, it was ALWAYS the actors.

And I have muses in real life, too. One woman in particular in Kansas ended up in several of my plays--she was the perfect protagonist--vulnerable, kind, intelligent, sensitive. She was also an actor, and a good one, so she often ended up in the very role designed for her. She was Othello's wife in my play Desdemona, and was absolutely perfect for it.

Now I have another muse here in Georgia, a 72-year-old teenager who has more energy in a single strand of hair than most people accumulate in a year. I've already written a play with her in mind, and I will likely write more. Then again, most characters in my plays and novels are melded images of a dozen different people, some from decades ago. And they all have just a touch of me, as well (even the villains).

So, who is your muse? What or who inspires you to do the work you do? Who shapes your world?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Goddess Insomnia

Hypnos (the god of sleep) has denied me some of my needed sleep for months, so much so that when he does send his brother Morpheus to me, Morpheus knows he only has so much time to give me dreams, so he rushes through them, turning them all to panic. 

I rarely cannot get to sleep. I do too much Zumba for that to happen. This used to be my main source of insomnia, for I would fret and fret about all the stuff I still had not done, and I would lie awake for hours. I've solved that problem with my little book of lists, which I create before I go to bed, jotting down any task remaining (sweep floors, call school, doctor's appointment at 10, etc.). 

Not to be outmaneuvered, my body has discovered it can still avoid sleep if it wakes me up fretting at 2 a.m. Darn it! 

I can read for an hour or two and probably go back to sleep eventually, but it won't be the same. I still need to get up early with the kiddos to get them to school. Often I can sleep until 4 or 5, and then I can survive the day with little diminishment of my energy level. It's just kind of irritating. 

In the meantime, before my body figures out the sun ain't coming up anytime soon, I'm working on my novel. It's nice and quiet right now. Good time to write.

What do you do when you can't sleep? How does the goddess Insomnia visit you? 

(Actually, this can't be her name, not unless she's a Roman god. The Roman version of Hypnos is Somnia, god of sleep. Still, I like the title, and I think that will turn into at least a line of my novel--if not the title of something besides a blog entry some day). 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Verse Thursday--"The Eve of St. Agnes"

St. Agnes' Eve - Ah, bitter chill it was!

Tomorrow is the fateful day--St. Agnes' Eve--the day when young women, observing certain rights, can gain a glimpse of their future husband. John Keats, one of my favorite poets EVER, immortalized this day for me by writing one of the most beautiful poems in the English language using this tradition. His tale of star-crossed lovers still gets to me twenty-five years after I first read it.

These let us wish away,
And turn, sole-thoughted, to one Lady there,
Whose heart had brooded, all that wintry day,
On love, and wing'd St. Agnes' saintly care,
As she had heard old dames full many times declare.

They told her how, upon St. Agnes' Eve,
Young virgins might have visions of delight,
And soft adorings from their loves receive
Upon the honey'd middle of the night,
If ceremonies due they did aright;
As, supperless to bed they must retire,
And couch supine their beauties, lily white;
Nor look behind, nor sideways, but require
Of Heaven with upward eyes for all that they desire.

Is it myth? I can't say for certain, but I do know that my first date with the hubby was on January 19, many, many years ago.

It was not a good date. He almost didn't ask me out again, actually, and I thought he was pretty quiet. But the next evening, with thoughts of Keats' poem in my head, I opened my blinds so that the full moon could pour its light into my room, I ate without speaking to anyone (not hard in a family of seven kids), went to bed early, and dreamed of my future husband. Yup, I was working at a store counter in my dream, and there he was, tall dark and handsome (as he still is after 22 years), with the golden sunlight casting him in shadow there in front of me.

A simple dream--just us talking softly over the counter--but it was definitely him. The next morning, on January 21, St. Agnes' Day, I remember pondering over the little dream, wondering why I dreamed of him, since the date had not been all that spectacular. Madeline, the girl in the poem, is shocked for a different reason when she awakes, for she was dreaming of her love Porphyro, but when she sees him at her bedside, he looks so different:

"Ah, Porphyro!" said she, "but even now
Thy voice was at sweet tremble in mine ear,
Made tuneable with every sweetest vow;
And those sad eyes were spiritual and clear:
How chang'd thou art! how pallid, chill, and drear!
Give me that voice again, my Porphyro,
Those looks immortal, those complainings dear!
Oh leave me not in this eternal woe,
For if thy diest, my Love, I know not where to go."

And Porphyro goes to her, "like a throbbing star." No, really. And I wish I knew how Keats had written the poem originally, since editors made him clean it up a bit for readers. Even in its current form it's pretty, um, appealing.

Beyond a mortal man impassion'd far
At these voluptuous accents, he arose
Ethereal, flush'd, and like a throbbing star
Seen mid the sapphire heaven's deep repose;
Into her dream he melted, as the rose
Blendeth its odour with the violet,--

The hubby and I found more poetry, too. We had another date a week later--January 26. This time,  wrapped in a blanket outside to watch clouds drift over the waning moon, we both found our world tilted in beautiful new ways. As I reread Keats' poem, I cannot help but see the young versions of us here. My parents didn't approve of us, but we've still made it through all these years, and my feelings are even deeper than they used to be. We were the Romeo and Juliet who made it, who found courage and devotion could make more drastic measures unnecessary.

Like Porphyro and Madeline, we just moved on together, making a life for each other:

And they are gone: aye, ages long ago
These lovers fled away into the storm.

Keats wrote no poem about the world they created together somewhere else. I don't need it, though. The hubby and I have made that world all on our own.

(Excerpts courtesy of Poetry Online)

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Seeking Sunday

Many of you, my dear readers, do not find Sunday to be a day that far out of the ordinary. I know this. I can't say I really do, either, except that on this day I nearly always spend the morning at church. I've had a long struggle with the world on this, not because I would love to "Tebow" on the sidelines and don't get the chance, but because I am uncomfortable with this level of show. My personal journey with the spirit is unlike everyone else's, and it is not furthered when I posture for cameras. I am not a leader of faith, and I do not believe anyone's life would truly benefit if I orated about God from a pulpit, including me.

This is why I have truly enjoyed reading a book recently:

I Am a Follower: The Way, Truth, and Life of Following Jesus

I requested the book from Thomas Nelson directly, and I received it free, but this book is one reason why I continue to seek, to pray, and to see my spiritual development in this world as necessary to my overall personal development. So many texts dealing with Christianity emphasize appalling things: standing up to sinners so they know they are sinners, condemning groups that don't fit the Christian "ideal," attacking other religions (including other Christian sects/denominations), amassing wealth, or otherwise suggesting activities and thought processes that I find decidedly unspiritual.

This book is so different from that standard. Leonard Sweet, through gentle metaphor and perceptive use of the bible, is urging us to stop all that nonsense. Rather than attacking the world with religion, filled with our own superiority or purity, Sweet does all he can to pull us back to the spirit. We are no better than others. If we feel the need to "lead others to redemption," it is because we seek our own satisfaction, not God's. Instead of leading, instead of feeling as if we know all the answers and are obligated to show these answers to everyone, we need to set ourselves among the world, not as leaders, but as members of a whole wonderful group of followers, all trying to live life as beautifully as we can. 

I would love to criticize the book for not giving us specific things we could do to ensure we are following as we should, for the book's metaphors get the ideas across in a more theoretical way, and might not really reach the general public without more kinesthetic examples. Then again, I'm not sure this book is for just anyone. In a way, it seems to be intended for the very "leaders" who are not doing what it suggests. However, I think followers of all ages could learn from this. I know I have. Besides, as Sweet says, following a specific set of precepts he proscribes would be no different than going through the motions at church, as we do now. What he urges instead is that we back off, listen, and act as the spirit moves us, always seeking reconciliation, showing love and mercy, not judging or excluding (just as the bible says Jesus did in his own life). 

This book has reminded me that I am a seeker--that I will always be a seeker--for my entire journey through life is a process of becoming more understanding of others, more thoughtful, more receptive to the movements of the Way in my life. I just finished the book, but I will likely return to it again, often, as my journey continues. 

All this rethinking reminds me of recent events, with the news frenzy surrounding Tim Tebow. I cast no doubt about his character or his devotion to his faith. I commend him for that. But I don't think bending down and praying to God after a football victory is "following." His visits to hospitals, yes. His humanitarian activities, yes. Sweet put it this way (though he was not speaking of Tebow in particular, I am sure): 

Followers of Jesus are not [sic] supposed to be identified by ritual practice even while we continue Jesus' mission of caressing the world. We are not to showboat our religious identity or grandstand the gospel or parade our praying. In fact, Jesus exposed puffballs of piety and punctured the vanities of the upright and the uptight. "When you fast," he cautioned, "wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting." And "when you pray, do not ... pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others." 

Can I blame Tebow? Nope. How do I know that this blog entry isn't my own form of posturing for the masses? Tebow is on his journey, and I am on mine. All I know for certain is that his methods are not mine, and they cannot be if I am to follow my own path truly. 

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Importance of Praise

"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me."

Sure. Right. I can delude myself into thinking what people say doesn't matter, but it does. Thankfully, it doesn't matter much to me. I'm the Queen of Rejection, the Master of Being Passed Over. I even like the sound of that, so I think I'll keep that title.

I do like praise, though. I can push through insults, grit my teeth against a storm of criticism and just keep on going. I'm tough and thick-skinned. But when somebody says something nice, I get all mushy inside.

Consider this comment, from one of my fellow contributors to the up-coming Death by Chocolate anthology, who edited my story:

I’m not going to be much help to you, Cheryl –I adore the story as it is. I think your writing is gorgeous! I’m crazy about the character names and the village setting. (I have a thing for historical fiction.) It was actually difficult to critique because I got sucked into the story. I’m getting so excited about our anthology! Have you published any novels or plan to self-pub? I’d love to read your books and I’m not just saying that to be a nice author friend. I love your writing style!

Even better, this author's work was AWESOME--a great story!--so her praise means more to me. And asking about other stuff I've written was icing on the cake. Unfortunately, I haven't published any e-books. (Darn!)

Another writer, who has read my first novel (which I'm currently querying out to agents), has been e-mailing me about my fourth novel, set in the Caribbean, literally, since it's about a siren. Yesterday, she told me:

I am desperate to read your mermaid story.  Can I beta read or have you got that all done?

*sigh* She actually used the word "desperate"! Can you think of anything more invigorating? Of course, I haven't even revised the rough draft for this novel, and it's really terrible at this point, so she'll have to wait to read it... but isn't that an awesome comment?!? Even now I'm grinning.

More important, I'm writing. I'm taking the whole day to work on my Thomas novel (Novel #1), to get it ready for the ABNA contest (which I'll blog on soon). And now I have one more reason to get to work on my mermaid novel--and that means revising #3 first. Will I actually get three novels totally revised this year? Who knows? These little bits of praise, scattered here and there and reaching me at the best times, keep me hopeful. And they keep me writing (which is even more important).

Is there someone you can praise? Someone who needs a boost? You never know what magic your comments might work in the lives of someone else.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Fun Friday

My list of things to do is staggering today. Almost as staggering as it was yesterday.

But it's Friday, so once I've done the absolute have-tos, I'm going to have some fun. Every single Friday will be this way: Get the crap checked off the list--the laundry started, the dishes washed, the errands run--and spend the afternoon at the piano, watch a movie, snuggle up to a good book, or paint on my most recent fairy. I'll post pics of her by Tuesday. I'm taking a pic of her this morning, then another when she's finished, so that you can see the difference.

I've noticed over the past year that my blog tends to be either poetry or blogging about writing, and I've been neglecting the other arts in my world as much as I've been neglecting them in my real life. But not any more. Time is passing, and I'm missing out on the play in my life, the fun stuff, the activities that feed my passion to create beautiful things.

But no more. I make no resolution to blog every day. I don't have the time, and I'm far more interested in substance than quantity. However, I plan to blog on lots of different stuff now, including my art, music, sewing, etc. I have a tentative weekly schedule for this, but I'll let you guess what it is (today's should be obvious from the title above). Just know that on any given day you might find something new, and if you don't like it, just check back later.

So, since it's Fun Friday, what fun plans do you have? If you don't have any fun plans, shouldn't you?

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Which Way the Wind Blows

The world says now's the time
To plan
But plans
Are limiting
Or far too broad

Write a list of
And you might find
Your resolve falters with the
Coming days and

Resolve only to listen to the
Way the wind blows
The direction
It takes

And follow