Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Back in business

Okay, my computer's back (with all files in tact!) and I am back in business.

The past week and a half has been a difficult one on a number of levels. My computer needed repairs and I hadn't backed anything up. My dog was sick all over my living room rug and every three hours after for the next day.

To top it off, my hot water heater went berserk on Sunday. I came home at midnight to find my basement flooded. I used the shop vac to get all I could, but I couldn't figure out how to turn off the water line. This meant whatever I vacuumed would just be refilled and the cycle continued. I couldn't even turn off the main water line to the house, so after almost three hours of crying, becoming irrationally angry, vacuuming, and having an overall massive pity party, I figured it couldn't get any worse. So I went to bed.

So yeah, these were some definite curveballs. But you know what got me through them?


Some writer friends sent care packages after hearing about my computer. Their cards made me laugh. The chocolate made me feel better. And the gesture absolutely brought me to tears. I don't know if you can see it in the picture, but just LOOK at all the chocolate! And a steampunk MG novel! And the glittery nail polish--I can't wait to do my toes! Eep! Girlie glitterness abounds!

And what about that water heater, you ask? I asked my neighbor for help. He helped me turn off the water line, mop up the mini-flood, pull out the old heater, then buy and install a new one. All on his holiday. It took about 7 hours and saved me a serious amount of money. And he did it because he's a kind neighbor.

I've seen some amazing gestures of kindness this weekend and it warms my heart. I can't repay these people for their acts. All I can hope to do is pay it forward one day. Thank you friends, for your kindness.

And c'mon, June. I've had just about enough of May!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Unscheduled time out

I had great plans to write about my half marathon experience from last weekend. Alas, the logic board died on my computer and it has been sent out for repairs.

This presents an array of problems, most concerning to me is the fact that I'm an idiot and I don't have anything backed up. Saved? Yup--I save my stuff all the time. But that's not the same as backing up. In a separate, safe, accessible location. Lesson learned, but hopefully not the hard way.

So while my computer is at the Apple Doctor's office, I'm using a very old machine for work that doesn't like gmail, blogger, or just about any other site I frequent. I'm trying to stop by some blogs, but bear with me.

I hope to be up and running soon. And I'll have ALL of my files. (*Power of positive thinking.*)

[Seriously, folks: find a way to save your work someplace other than your hard drive. Dropbox, jump drives, gmail accounts, clouds, whatever. Do it. Do not put yourself in the position I am in right now where I am facing a worst case scenario that all of my books are gone. Yes, all of them. If you need me, I'll be over here in the corner with my dummy hat on.]

You tell me: How do you back up your work? Email? Jump drives? Any sites you like? Please share in the comments as this will be my #1 priority when I get my computer back!

Thank you for all the positive vibes and back up/storage suggestions. I'm so happy to report that I picked up my computer the other day and EVERYTHING IS HERE. Commence happy dance, right there in the middle of the Apple Store. Yup, I'm that girl.

Everything is now safe and secure in both a DropBox account and a jump drive.

Monday, May 21, 2012

MMGM: A Monster Calls

My Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post is going to skirt around the meat of the book for one simple reason: I'm not sure if I'm ready to talk about it yet.

As some of you read in my post last week, my cancer took my father when I was 10. And I had this great idea to read Patrick Ness's A Monster Calls last week, during the time when my father was most on my mind.

News flash, people. That was a bad idea.

Title: A Monster Calls
Author: Patrick Ness (from an original idea by Siobhan Dowd) with illustrations by Jim Kay
Date published: September, 2011 from Candlewick Press

From Goodreads:

"At seven minutes past midnight, thirteen-year-old Conor wakes to find a monster outside his bedroom window. But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting — he’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the nightmare he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments. 

The monster in his backyard is different. It’s ancient. And wild. And it wants something from Conor. Something terrible and dangerous. It wants the truth.

From the final idea of award-winning author Siobhan Dowd — whose premature death from cancer prevented her from writing it herself — Patrick Ness has spun a haunting and darkly funny novel of mischief, loss, and monsters both real and imagined."

If you've read this book, you can understand why I'm at a loss for where to start.If you haven't read this book, you're probably wondering what the big deal is about it.

To be honest, this book has been on my radar for a while. First, Phoebe North reviewed it here. And soon I saw Sommer Leigh talk about it here. Then, Kiersten White talked about it here and Suzie F wrote about it here. And finally, Matt MacNish talked about it here at Project Mayhem.

By this time, I knew A Monster Calls was on my TBR pile but I was scared. I had just read a number of blogs written by respectable people who all acknowledged that this book was devastating, but also on many people's Best of the Best lists. I knew I wanted to read it, but I checked it out twice from my library before actually sitting down to open it up. I was afraid to read it.

I remember buying the last Harry Potter book the day it came out. I read each page slowly and forced myself to put it down after 50-60 pages so I wouldn't read it all in one sitting. I wasn't ready to get to the end.

I had the same experience with A Monster Calls, but for a different reason. I wasn't ready to get to the monster's end game where he forces Conor to tell the truth. I knew what the truth was because I felt it myself. But when the time comes, it is written with such power and emotional force that when I finished the story, I had to just sit and breathe.

This book is a tough read, not because the language is challenge, but because the topic is. In sticking with my regular MMGM question, "Do I think my nephews would read it?", I will say yes. It's scary, but if you have a MG reader who is dealing with a parent stricken by cancer and all the fear and anger that comes along with that diagnosis, chances are this book isn't any more difficult that that reader's life. Kids can handle this book. It reminds kids that they are not alone and validates their emotions.

It's tough to always be "fine" when you're really scared and confused. A Monster Calls isn't fine. It's real.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Killing my darlings

Confession: There's a 'darling' in my story and it needs to go. 

I had this idea on my way into work this morning but I'm torn. I mean, yes, I'm happy that I have a new idea to explore. But on the other hand, I thought this section was solid. I was happy with it and now here I am, tinkering.

Part of me says, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

But the louder part of me says, "It wasn't a waste of time. You needed that first idea to get to this even shinier one." Or something like that. 

I have loved the first line of my story ever since it popped into my head. I remember that proud smile and the inner voice assuring me even though OTHER authors are encouraged to avoid this tactic, that it would be okay for me to try it because I'm "special". 

I would like to introduce you all to the first line of my darling. I shall name it Original Opening Line.
"At precisely 6:38 in the morning, before the lingering night officially gave way to the eager day, David Fitzwilliam Fitzgerald awoke with a start and knew he and his mom were in danger."
I know, I know. Try not to steal my awesome run-on sentence prose. Or my catchy opening line that starts with my MC waking up. It's all so original, I know you want it. Who wouldn't? That there is literary gold!

Okay, all jokes aside, I'm killing it. Now. Today. I'm making this public announcement so I will have no option but to actually follow through.

And by killing it, I'm dropping the needle on this record in a different place. I have to start somewhere else, someplace where I can quickly show the relationship between my MC and his quirky mom.

I just can't help but feel bad. Like I've wasted time: my time redoing the section, my friends' time reading the section, time time time... Alas, I have a new scene to write and that is much more exciting than sitting around quasi-idle.

Off to the writing cave I go!

How about you: Have you killed your darlings? Did you make something better as a result?

Monday, May 14, 2012

MMGM: Bridge to Terabithia

A-Z is behind me and I can finally start posting again on MMGM books. Hooray!

A few weeks ago, I read two books in one weekend. I love it when that happens. It feels so decadent. However, I read two "coming of age" stories, which we all know is code for: Don't Get Attached, Someone's Going to Die. *Charlotte'sWebcough* So, I guess this is the part where I say **SPOILER ALERT** I will spoil the ending for you. Consider yourself warned.

Photo and description from Goodreads
Title: Bridget to Terabithia
Autor: Katherine Paterson
Date published: 1977, Harper Collins Publishers
Won the Newberry Medal in 1978

From Goodreads: 

Jess Aarons' greatest ambition is to be the fastest runner in his grade. He's been practicing all summer and can't wait to see his classmates' faces when he beats them all. But on the first day of school, a new girl boldly crosses over to the boys' side and outruns everyone.
That's not a very promising beginning for a friendship, but Jess and Leslie Burke become inseparable. Together they create Terabithia, a magical kingdom in the woods where the two of them reign as king and queen, and their imaginations set the only limits.

Okay, I confess--I don't remember having to read this book when I was in elementary school and I had never seen the movie. I got the general gist of the story from the back cover and had heard more than one person tell me it was one of those "You HAVE to read it" books, so I picked it up. I'm glad I did!

There were many elements of this story that really pulled me in. First, the main character, Jess, is a very relatable main character. He is filled with insecurities and in a family of sisters, is almost invisible to his dad. The relationship between Jess and his father touched me as much as the friendship between Jess and Leslie. 

After Leslie's death, as Jess is trying to understand what this means, grapple with his guilt, and deal with the sadness, he acts out, angry with this turn of events. The anger is real. It's palpable. He's upset and confused.

Leslie's death didn't necessarily make me cry, but the way in which Jess dealt with his emotions truly hit me. Earlier in the book, Leslie gave Jess a gift. Knowing he liked to draw, she gave him nice paints and paper, clearly a very nice present for Jess, whose family couldn't necessarily afford such luxuries. Angry at Leslie for dying, Jess acted out in a scene that I thought was incredibly powerful: (excerpt from page 173)
He screamed something without words and flung the papers and paints into the dirty brown water. The paints floated on top, riding the current like a boat, but the papers swirled about, soaking in the muddy water, being sucked down, around, and down...
"That was a damn fool thing to do." His father sat down on the dirt beside him.
"I don't care. I don't care." He was crying now, crying so hard he could barely breathe.
His father pulled Jess over on his lap as though he were Joyce Ann. "There. There," he said, patting his head. "Shhh. Shhh." 
The reason this scene hit me so much was because Jess's dad finally treated his son like a boy. Until this point, Jess had an enormous amount of responsibility and a number of chores. Throughout the story, his father didn't see Jess as the young boy he was. That final acknowledgement and the bond between the heart broken boy and his emotionally unavailable father pulled the entire story home for me. 

There is much more to stay about the story. The land of Terabithia, the classmates, the family dynamics, or Jess and Leslie's friendship. But this is long enough. 

Bottom line: I ask myself if the Middle Grade books I read would be appropriate for my nephews. I absolutely believe Bridge to Terabithia would be appropriate for my nephews in terms of content and reading level. I'm just not sure I'm willing to show them how much books can make us ache. Not yet.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

In Remembrance

24 years ago yesterday, a terrible spring storm rolled through Wisconsin, complete with ominous claps of thunder, bolts of lightning, and strong winds.

That morning, my mom, my grandma who was visiting from Virginia, brother, and I went to church. It was Mother's Day, 1988. We had bought mom flowers and drew homemade cards with smiling suns and big hearts in pink crayon. Anything to make her smile.

Later that afternoon, the clouds darkened and the winds grew intense. I was sitting downstairs in the ever-darkening play room when my grandma yelled, "Trish, your mom wants you to go outside and grab the hanging basket off the mailbox!"

I begrudgingly put on my shoes and did as I was told. I dawdled down the driveway as only a 10 year old could do, dodging worms and hopping over cracks, not really paying attention to the world around me. I was wrapped up in one singular, powerful emotion. Fear.

I knew it then. I just didn't know how I knew it.

The day went on. I brought the basket in. My mom got home late--I imagine my brother and I were already in bed. One more day over, just like all the others.

12:30am: Monday May 9, 1988.
The phone rang, pulling me out of my sleep. I figured it was a wrong number, but then my mom screamed. Not a scream of fear, but more like a loud, guttural moaning that drove the fear right back into my heart.

Over and over. I knew. Again, I knew.

I somehow went to bed and woke up on time for school the next day. Mom and grandma said I didn't have to go, but I didn't know what else to do. On my way to the bus stop, I re-hung basket on the mailbox. I looked up and saw a beautiful rainbow fighting against the clouds, gathering strength from the sun's rays. The rainbow gave me hope. I figured God put it there for my dad.

I tried to keep it together on the bus ride. My brother didn't go to school--in hindsight, I can't figure out why I felt like I would be the tough one. I walked into 5th grade terrified someone would know my secret. That my classmates would see me as "different."

The school counselor soon came for me and asked where I wanted to go.

"The library," I said. It was the safest place I could think of, surrounded by characters who would never know my truth but who could understand my fear. How does a 10-year old girl wrap her head around cancer? Around death? Around the truth that she would never see her father again?

The doctors told my mom they believed my dad fought throughout the evening so he wouldn't pass on Mother's Day. I agree. Unfortunately, every Mother's Day since then has been different. It's like Mother's Day* in my house, where the * is the awful reminder of what happened in 1988. It's getting better though. My mom rebounds faster from her blues and I can do things like type this story out without crumbling into a sobbing mess.

So Dad, this one's for you. I have faith that I'm not walking alone.

I remember you.
I could never forget you.
I just wish you were still here.

Monday, May 7, 2012

A-Z Challenge recap

26 letters in the alphabet.
26 blog posts in the 2012 A-Z Challenge.
60+ videos.
And countless comments and opinions!

Okay, so trying to keep this quick.

What worked for me:

  • As usual, I enjoyed the HUGE range of topics.
  • I was amazed--on a daily basis--by the number of commenters who I *knew* were making the rounds on as many blogs as possible. Tip of the cap to them.
  • The super Challenge leaders. Thanks, leader gang, for putting on another wonderful challenge.
  • In terms of my own challenge, it was a huge help to have my theme (music) ready in advance. I made the first 9 posts in advance, and then spent the rest of the month catching up. It helped that I had the template of what music I'd highlight ready to go, all I had to do was dump in the videos and add some commentary.
  • Commenters gave their own music recommendations, which has given me new music to check out. Perfect!
Lessons learned:
  • This was my 2nd A-Z Challenge. Last year, it was my debut into the blogging world so I paid close attention to my follower count. This year, I was happy to just focus on something other than writing blogs. I wasn't as concerned about improving my follower count.
  • I signed up late for the challenge, placing me somewhere down in the 1600s. It was my fault for waiting so long to sign up. If I do it next year, I will sign up earlier. I think the fact that I was so far down on the list effected traffic to the site.
  • It was nice to see some non-writing blogs. But I came across a number of blogs that seemed to be thinly-veiled sales sites. (Real estate sites, really?!)  I didn't check back at the end of the month, but I understood the Challenge leaders were working to clean up the list throughout the month.
  • I think the size of the Challenge is both a challenge and an advantage. It will be interesting to see next year how many people register.
I enjoyed the challenge. I founds some great theme ideas for next year. Let's just hope I remember them! 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

IWSG: I'm a follower, not a leader

Dear Insecure Writer's Support Group,

I'm not really a risk taker, early adopter, or leader of movements. Instead, I'm more of a follower. For example, I waited at least a year before buying my very first iPod because I wanted to wait and see if this "mp3" craze was actually going to stick.

Then I figured, if everyone else is doing it, why don't I join in, too? So I bought an iPod (years ago), and now I'm joining the ranks of the IWSG (today).

Well, it wasn't that simple for me. You see, I've been following the IWSG for a few months now, but never felt ready enough to actually join in.

But then isn't that the point of the IWSG? If I don't think I'm good enough or ready enough to join an online support group of likeminded people who battle their own insecurities, well, then where do I turn?

So yes, after months of watching, it's official. I'm joining the movement. I'm not sure what I have to offer, but by default, I think my insecurities makes this a logical decision.

This week's Insecurities Du Jour include: queries, synopses, plot twists, and endings. Really, all in the life of a writer, no?

More coherent IWSG posts to come. I have another month to put something together. It should get better.


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