Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A bug flew up my nose

Today I sprained my ankle and not in some heroic sprint-five-miles-run-till-your-feet-bleed crap. No, I sprained my ankle all because a bug flew up my nose.

Has that ever happened to you? No joke, I played a wicked game of tennis, my feet were flying. I ran to the net and pounded the ball onto Jameses side of the court. I let out a roar and in went the bug up my nasal passages.

I dropped my racket and then danced around the green court like an idjut. My hands were waving and I kept flicking my nose.

I am sure the bug had quite a surprise up there because my nose is all jacked up from getting punched in the nose a handful of times and snorting (ahem, we won't go there.)

Sometimes when chasing a dream lil' annoyance will creep into your life. They will try to take you down or distract you. Don't let them. You are more powerful than you realize. This dream is yours-don't let anything stop you, my friend.

PS- If a bug does happen to fly up your nose, learn from my mistake. #1) Be very gentle when removing the bug because they do bite or your fingernail can scrape the the thin skin in your nostril. #2) Don't panic, the follicles in your nostril are there to protect your body. #3) Apply an ice pack to your nose, it helps with swelling and numbs the pain.

#4) Most importantly, when in doubt always go to the doctors office.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Excuse Me, Where's the Payoff?

Did any of you watch The Killing on AMC this spring? If you did, you may understand the weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth that's about to take place in this post. Or maybe not. That's okay, too. We're all friends here.

Anyway, I'd like to take this opportunity to talk about keeping promises. I'm kind of a true crime show junkie, so I when first starting seeing ads for The Killing, I was excited. And the first episode didn't disappoint. I was intrigued by the haunted, self-contained detective, Sarah Linden. I couldn't help but root for her new partner, a snarky, reformed addict. I loved the muted colors, the slow boil mood, the plethora of possible suspects.

So I kept tuning in. Sunday evenings were my Killing time. I showed up faithfully for twelve straight weeks. Even when the plot started to wander a little in the middle, I didn't. I stayed the course with detectives Linden and Holder until the very end.

Except it wasn't the end. With ten minutes to go in the final episode, the one that was supposed to reveal at last who the killer was, I got an icky feeling in my stomach. The uh-oh-I-think-they're-gonna-leave-us-hanging kind of icky feeling. And sure enough, they left us all teetering on one whopping sheer drop of a cliffhanger.

I was mad. I felt jipped. Cheated. Jilted, even. I saw the show's writers as a jeering Greek chorus in my head: "Ha ha! Look what we did! We didn't give you any closure AND we pulled the old switcheroo on Holder's motives at the very last minute! We sure fooled you! Oh, the cleverness of us!"

I actually dreamed about this. That's how upset I was. I think I was crying and/or screaming at Holder in the dream. Crazy, I know, but can you blame me?

And this is where I come to the whole keeping promises thing. Whether it's a book, movie, comic strip, or the joke on a Laffy Taffy wrapper, there needs to be some payoff. In the very first episode, the writers promised to deliver a compelling murder mystery that would be solved at the end of the season. In turn, the audience promised to show up every week. Except the writers didn't hold up their end of the deal. They didn't deliver the payoff. And that bugs me, my friends.

Will I be tuning in for season two? You bet. In spite of myself, I must know who killed Rosie Larsen. Will I be happy about it? That remains to be seen.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Throw It All Out There - Butz Style

Check out this Broadway dude. You've gotta watch the whole thing. He gets crazier and crazier as he goes along:

Norbert Leo Butz. He won the Tony for Best Actor in a Musical this year. Can you see why? He's Mr. Crazypants, vocally speaking-wise. I have no idea why his vocal chords weren't flying right out of his chest by the end of this number. Or how he did this every night for 2 years. And what about that dance style? Perfect for the character.

I have a crush on Norbert Leo Butz now. Because the man throws it all out there. Nothing held back. Slams his voice and his body and his sensibilities to the wind, and rides the jet-stream all the way to his destination.

To quote King Louis from the Jungle Book: I wanna walk like him, talk like him, be like him. He won the Tony for not being afraid to hold nothing back. Well, very little back. He held that which was appropriate back. So I'm not advocating completely losing your mind. But what a blast he seems to be having. What a blast to watch him. 

Throw yourselves out there, people. Have some joy. Who cares if it ends up dork-city? You only live once, you know?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Andre Agassi

This week I was watching a special on Andre Agassi, the tennis great. A few quotes made me think of our own journey to greatness.

"Andre was driven to find his way out of a labyrinth that he was born into. "

I dunno about you but this one plagues me. I'll get a lil personal here with you, growing up, I was a divorced kid living with a single mom, 2 brothers and an absentee father. Needless to say, it was a struggle. But after driving home with a friend a month ago, I realized these life situations make you hungry to succeed. You have nothing, so you have to fight and claw your way to the top.

"I'm not sure Andre would have reached the points and heights that he did without the disappointment and the pitfalls. Andre got every ounce of talent out of his body and brought all of it along for the ride."

I adore this quote for us- you have to have the lows and failures to reach the top.

Let's get every ounce of talent out of us, my friends.

Work hard, or as Andre puts it himself, "My sport was a vehicle for me to discover myself and to push myself."

Monday, June 20, 2011

From the Trenches

Hello Gnome Slayers! I'm afraid this post'll be short, sweet and mostly written by other people. I'm just taking a quick break from staring at the computer screen getting back into working on my book.

First of all, thanks to everyone who commented on my last post. I really appreciate all of your suggestions and encouragement.

Remember last week how I said I had to cut 2K some-odd words and it was like the worst thing ever? Well that very same day, Natalie Whipple did a great post on editing, or thinning the crop, that really put things back into perspective. Always superb writing advice, that girl has.

Our pal Maleah over at Smashing Stories talks about the benefits of hitching well-broke horses to your wagon instead of a herd of wild buffalo. How's that for a metaphor?

Finally, the dude behind How Not to Write details in 6 easy steps how to get back to writing after an absence. So far, I've mastered purging and stopping. I'm working on showing up. I should be back to actual writing sometime before Labor Day.

Have you ever noticed how the Universe sometimes puts certain things in your way just when you most need them? Because these posts all covered stuff that I happen to be struggling with right now. It's nice and all, but seriously Universe! Quit reading my mind. It's getting creepy.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Recovering from Terminal Dorkification

Today is Narcissism Day on Challenging the Gnome!
Yessiree, today is the day we get to talk only about ourselves!
Wait. Most days we talk only about ourselves.


Well, there's no help for it. I want to post a video of me singing in order to illustrate a point, and it runs the risk of appearing self-promoting. Of course, given the video's content, it will mostly be self-promoting my dorkiness  . . . . So maybe it's okay.

All right. I'm doing it. Narcissism Day has officially begun! Woot! And that day begins with a question: How do you recover from a catastrophic, publicly humiliating mistake? The kind of mistake that makes you want to move to Loogootee, Indiana and spend the rest of your life quietly studying tse tse fly biorhythms?

I mean, some mistakes are so oppressively humiliating--even if there is only a single witness--that you kind of wonder how you'll get up the next morning, you know? I hate those. And they happen to me all the time. I should figure out why.

These mistakes used to absolutely flatten me. I mean I would ruminate over them for days, sometimes weeks, beating myself over the head with them. Replaying them over and over again so I could self-flagellate some more. And then celebrating their yearly anniversary by standing in the toilet and attempting to flush myself down.

Got tired of that after a while. I was getting a water ring about the ankles. Something had to be done.

And that's when I decided to be a David to my Goliaths. I decided that instead of running away from my mistakes I would embrace them. So I did

 And then after doing that a few times, and learning a few things, and accepting that I regularly commit big ├╝ber-dorkified gaffes, I decided to go one further. I would not only embrace the mistakes, I would run right over them and drag them down the field, while I was in the course of making them. Yep. If I was going to make a mistake, I was going to make it all. the. way. And take the sucker down with me while I was at it.

And you know what? Suddenly I owned my mistakes. Suddenly I was in control. I decided what my response was going to be, then carried it out with confidence. And dip me in banana peels if the people who saw me fall didn't just smile, ask if I was all right, pat me on the back, and move on. Without thinking one bit worse of me. In fact, I believe it made them my friends--because I, just like they, made mistakes. Was human. Was the Queen of the Dorks.

I am telling you people, this works. Fear not to fail. Fear not to flail. Love it. Embrace it. Run with it. And watch what happens. No really. Watch. The following clip is me singing at a Christmas concert a year or so back, and failing quite grandly. I was somewhat out of voice and was having severe memory problems. Look what these lovely people did in response to me putting my Goliath in a full-nelson (not that I'm all great and fabulous; it was a well-practiced desperation response if ever there was one) (And by the way, there were more people in attendance than this video makes it look. Most of them were behind the camera. Even in the balcony. Plenty of people to die in front of) (Try to ignore the cracked-out look on my face):

Yeah. We're all best friends now. I invite them to over for birthday parties, they have me for Thanksgiving. We braid each other's hair and sometimes sing together. Just not "Walking in a Winter Dorky-Land."

Hey. I can make mistakes. I just don't think I gotta move in with them.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Rules that Royalty must follow

I dunno about you but it has come to my attention that I am obsessed with fairy tales lately. It all started with that blasted royal wedding.

The other day Jameses was helping sort out my closet (we were in search of my thigh high leather boots) and came across a stack of Prince William and Kate magazines hidden in hat box. I don't know whats freakier, the fact that I'm into fairy tales or the fact that I have them hidden away like dirty magazines.

Maybe its not about the fairy tales at all-maybe we're all wanting a little bit of magic in our lives. The need to go back to our childhood belief that anything is possible.

I babysat my niece this week and we watched Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella. She flitted and floated around the room singing, "Impossible things are happening everyday."

Which made me really think about our dreams and the sacrifices we are making to get there. Never forget my friends that a beautiful future is on the horizon. Can you see it?

*On a side note, did you know that the Royal's have rules? Here are a few things the Queen must live by:

1-Wear hats in public

2-wave at the elbow, not the palm

3-smile gently and walk cautiously

4-and more importantly never pee in a public toilet

Yeah, I'd never make it as royalty.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Quarterly Report the Second

I had planned to do this post at the end of the month, but as I have zero other ideas for blog posts this week, we'll have to go with what's in the barrel.

I'm not gonna lie, folks. It's been a bad couple of months for my writing. At my last report, I had about 50K. Right now, the word count stands at 50,837. But I also have 2,645 additional words floating around in a document entitled "Outtakes." Around the end of April, I discovered I'd made a goof in the bones of the story (or maybe the story thought it'd be funny to make a goof with me), thus rendering most of those words useless.

It sucked. It sucked enough to make my motivation dry up and scatter.

2,645 may not sound like a lot of words. Okay, it's not a lot of words. But for a slow, ludicrously meticulous writer like myself, 2,645 words represents lots and lots of hours, staring at a blank screen, carefully coaxing them out of my brain. Plus I actually liked those words, which is why I couldn't bring myself to delete them.

I'll get back to the book. I always do. But I'm thinking that making a public commitment to finish this thing by the end of the year, knowing full well that I am who I am and I write the way that I write, shows a bit of presumption on my part. Ego, even.

Well, live and learn. A lot of this is probably just inexperience. Someday, when I'm a grizzled old cat lady hunched over the computer with 20 published novels and a million rejections under the waistband of my pantyhoes, cutting 2000 words will be no biggie at all. Until then, I soldier on.

Nevertheless, I'm going to include the Orphan 2K in this report, because it makes me feel slightly less lame. So, since the end of March I've written around 3,482 words.

Hm. Never mind. I still feel pretty lame.

All right, enough whining. I'd like to hear from y'all: any tips on motivation and/or discipline? What do you do to rev yourself up when you just don't wanna?

Thus ends quarterly report the second.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Themes, Authors, Cookies, and Many Happy Returns.

Dear People:

So sorry I'm late. I had some business with a chocolate chip cookie. And a box of tissues. And some hormones. But now my happy-face is back on and I can write without further incident. Especially since I brought the whole bag of cookies down here to my computer. So here we go.

I just read this quote by Andrew Futral:

"Harry Potter is about confronting fears, finding inner strength, and doing what is right in the face of adversity. Twilight is about how important it is to have a boyfriend."

Bwaaaa hahahahaha!

Andrew. Dude. I don't know who you are--except that you are in two bands and have been to Cleveland. Or live there. Or something--but that is a great quote. Not because it disses on Stephenie Meyer's work--because clearly, whether you think Ms. Meyer is a brilliant writer or not, she knows how to tell a story that keeps people turning pages, which means, she knows how to sell a book. And a movie. And she can make Taylor Lautner buff himself up in ways that should not be allowed. And Robert Pattinson gaze at Kristen Stewart in the agony of vampiric love. And broken beds. And stuff.

No. This is a great quote because, aside from being stinkin' funny, it illustrates something I love: In the world of literature and entertainment, there is something out there for everyone. Now, I know that doesn't sound like anything profound--and it may not be. It may be the cookies speaking--but stay with me here. 

It's easy to look at Rowling's epic "Harry Potter" with its obvious themes of good versus evil, and the whole confronting fears, inner strength, doing-what's-right-thing, and think, well duh. Obviously this is a series with more weight and depth than a fluff piece about a girl falling in love with a vampire.

But if you look again, you will realize that Meyer, too, has imbued her books with themes of good versus evil, finding inner strength, and in some circuitous ways, doing what's right. I'm not trying to argue the merits of one series versus the other. In fact, if it comes down to it, I am a serious Rowling fan, who does admire Meyer's ability to keep readers turning pages, if not the twi-lit stories themselves. 

What I'm really trying to say is this: How awesome that we live in a world where there is so much talent that we can go out there and find books written in literally every style, with every level of depth and/or quality, from every genre, with a zillion different kinds of appeal, and find what we are looking for.

On any given day I may be in the mood to read Ayn Rand, or Douglas Adams, or JK Rowling, or William Shakespeare, or Stephen Hawking, or Shannon Hale, or Stephen King, or Stephenie Meyer. (Look!  I put Stephen King's name right next to Stephenie Meyer's, and they're not even fighting!) The great thing? I can go out there and find a book to match my mood. Any time I want.

So thank you, all of you who take the time to put your stories down on paper, and then go to the trouble to edit, rewrite, query, rewrite, shop for publishers, rewrite, and finally do the exhausting work of promoting your book. I don't care if you're Rowling or Meyer. I don't care if the story is about vampires or seriously bemused Englishmen shot into space to avoid the end of the world. You're out there. You've gone to a whole lot of trouble. And good, bad, or ugly, you have the talent and chutzpah to get published. I appreciate you. Who cares if your book is heavy on the themes or heavy on the breathing? It's published, and I can read it.

Thank you.

Bless you.

I hope to join you.

The end.

(*sticks entire face into bag of chocolate chip cookies*)

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

LeBron James- the king of mental focus

"If you don't fight for what you want, what will you fight for?" Commentary at Roland Garros tennis match.

One of the hardest lessons to learn while chasing your dream is a lil something called focus. All athletes have this quality in spades. Focus is all about centering in on your goal and what you need to do to accomplish it.

My second year of college, I had zilch in the focus department. I was dancing on tables and snorting, well, we won't go into that- but anyways, lets just say, focus wasn't even in my vocabulary. Nowadays, winning the mental battle when chasing a dream is everything.

A few years ago, Vogue magazine did a story on LeBron James. At the time, he was on top of the world-focused and driven. Vogue summed him best"He sinks ball after ball in a shooting drill. And then-a bad shot, a little off. As the next ball reaches his hand, he pauses, just for a millisecond, as if hitting the reboot button. Next shot and all the ones following-dead on."

LeBron learned to readjust himself. I have to say, the 2011 version of LeBron isn't my fave. The more I keep hearing and watching, the more frustrated I get. Maybe Mr. James is unknowingly teaching us a lesson. Find our focus.

The future is bright, my friends. And its waiting for us.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Problem Child

June Challenge: Managing the Uncooperative Story

1. Don't panic. I've learned (the hard way) that it's completely normal to get stuck. Writing a book is a process of getting stuck, unstuck, and then stuck again.

2. Walk away. Trying to squeeze blood from a rock never works. When I get frustrated, I set the story aside and then go stew for awhile. Actually I pout, but stew sounds so much more sophisticated and tortured-writerly than pout. Stewing/pouting also allows the story to sit and rise in the back of my head.

3. Don't panic (see number 1).

4. Make a list. If I'm dealing with a specific problem, I start making a list of all possible solutions. The list is all free-writing - I don't stop to edit, just write whatever comes to mind, no matter how silly or implausible it seems. Sometimes the list gets mightily long before I find the right answer, but it never fails.

5. Read. I like to read books that are in some way similar to the one I'm working on. It's not like I want to copy them, but when I get stuck inside my own head, studying how other writers handle similar subject matter helps to break me out of that. Plus, reading is fun!

6. Don't panic. Have a mentioned this before? Because, seriously.

7. Last, but not least:

Friday, June 3, 2011

Lessons Learned from a Stubborn Novel

June Challenge: What To Do When Your Book (Project, Kids, Hips, Whatever) Isn't Cooperating

I am an expert at uncooperative books (and everything else that doesn't want to comply in life.) My particular work-in-progress has been beating me over the head for quite a while now. I totally know how to have things not cooperate. What to do about it? That, I'm still working on.

Four years ago I was sitting at my computer minding my business, when a personality came spinning through the ether, hitched a ride on my muse, and smacked me clean upside the head. The right side of my head, to be exact. And this personality started yammering: "Write me! Write me now! You totally need to write me! I have a story! Write me!" (According to the vast and knowledgeable Caleb Warnock, this was a sign that there was something only I could write.)

Let me pause here and examine that last little parenthetical statement for a moment, because it is important, for writers and non-writers alike: There is something that only you can write. Or do. Or think. Or play. Or share. Or build. Or bake. Or give birth to. Only. You. That being the case, only you can figure out how to do that special thing. Advice can and will come from all quarters, but you have to figure out what works for you.End of wisdom-imparting pause.

This little personality that had started flashing into my mind--with a sort of totality that surprised me--wouldn't leave me alone. So I started writing. I didn't know what I was writing, I just wrote stuff. As it came to me. Random scenes. Random dialogue. Random descriptions. That sort of thing. After a while I began to realize who this person was, where she was from, what her personality was like, who her friends were, and what kinds of things bugged her. I liked her. 

A lot.

She cracked me up. She stressed me out. She was a blast to write. So I wrote her and wrote her and . . . came up against a brick wall. Um. Er. Let's see . . . what should happen next? Er. What's the main plot? Um . . . I . . . really don't know.

So, after a lot of rumination, I folded her up, put her away and promptly forgot about her. Sort of.

Long story short: a friend of mine told me about this new writing class our city had started and wanted to know if my daughter--who is a fabu writer--wanted to go. My daughter? Whatever. I wanted to go! (And okay. My daughter could go too.) So we went, and I was hooked. With fear and trembling I brought my little character and her short scenes to class, where she was read, praised, and boosted up. A lot. And for the first time in my life I considered that I might actually legally be able to call myself a writer.


Well, this was incredible. I had been a stay-at-home mom for a bazillion years and had put away all the things that had screamed "JANIEL" so I could focus on my kids. I wasn't good at being creative and changing diapers simultaneously. Something had to go. And since I couldn't sell the kids, it was the writing, the acting, the dancing, the singing--everything that made my heart fly. And I learned a new way for it to fly. And I was happy. But then I went to writing class, reopened this ancient door to my right brain, and shaZAAAYUM! It's baa-aack.

I thought everything was hunky-dory (there's a pun in there. no there is. but it's secret). I started writing more and felt great. Then one night I took the manuscript to class--and it was piranha-ed. Eaten. Alive. By. Everyone. Wha? I thought you people were my friends! I thought you loved every word that dribbled from my keyboard! I thought . . . I thought . . . And suddenly, I was just stuck. Again. Like that first brick wall. And it was so frustrating, because I thought I had gotten past that kind of thing. I thought I had found the answers. But I had nothing. I was lost in the blankness for a long time. 

I had no idea what to do. I mean, I was so confused I didn't know what was good bad or ugly about my manuscript anymore. So I began to learn what real work is. What real effort is. Why I was writing. What the point was. I went to plot workshops (a brilliant one done by the aforementioned Caleb Warnock. You should go if you ever get a chance), writing workshops, read every book I could get my hands on, poured over writing blogs, memorized everything Nathan Bransford (he of former literary agent fame) said, even began to genuflect before sitting down to write. But none of it helped.

Finally I realized I either had to find the answer or give up writing. Because the frustration was creeping into my personal life, and that is way not acceptable. So, I pondered. I opened myself up to the universe and just listened. I relaxed. And eventually, it came to me: I was so worried about whether or not I was good enough, about whether this or that plot point or sentence would be the JK Rowling of plot points or sentences, whether or not my book would succeed, whether or not I was making an idiot out of myself--that I could not write. At all. I was frozen into a solid little lump of Darkspume-Gnome-Of-Self-Doubt-ness.

And then, after a bit more thinking, I figured out what the main component of this state I was in was. It's in that last sentence up there above. The self-doubt-thing. It's the word "self." For me and my writing, that word is death. I cannot be worrying about myself and how I am perceived or succeeding or being accepted or anything like it, and be successful. It freezes me up. And it wasn't until I decided I would really REALLY be okay if this book never succeeded, that I un-froze. That if the only people who ever read it were my kids and husband and nieces and nephews, that was cool too. That even if THEY never read it, and all I had was the knowledge that I had managed to write an entire book by myself, That. Was. O. Kay.

And that did it. Flipped the switch. Suddenly my brain chillaxed, words and thoughts and ideas came spilling out, and I could go again.

I don't know if any of my writing is brilliant or not. I don't even know if it will succeed. But you know what? I don't care. I am enough. And if whatever I write makes just one person happy, that's the cherry on top.

I am writing with love now. Or at least trying. Have to remind myself periodically. But largely? Yeah. That's it.

That's what I do when my book isn't cooperating.

It kind of works for the rest of life too.

How 'bout you?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Whip your dream into shape

June Challenge: What to do when your story isn't cooperating

Robert Frost once said, "No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No joy in the writer, no joy in the reader."

The dude is right-when chasing a dream there is gonna be a complete mash-up of joy and tears.
Chasing a dream is like life. You can plan all you want but sometimes crap happens. Let's be honest, going for what you want is life is a big risk. One that is thrilling, scary and at times, draining.

What I am learning is the end result of your dream isn't what matters. Sure, publication, an Olympic medal, whatever you pursue is incredible. But that moment is a little bit away. Right now you have to focus on the what you can do within the next 24 hours to reach your goal. The trick is to focus on how you chase your dream. Pursue your passion with absolute purpose.

When I first started writing a typical day went as this- Listen to music, begin thinking of the emotion in the story, curse loudly, write for 2 hours, curse again, stare at the computer in absolute angst for 5 minutes. When I finished stewing, I began the process all over again.

Now, granted I still curse (to my momma's dismay) when I make a mistake. Now, I am taking a cue from the athletes I research- have a short term memory. When you chase a dream you are gonna make mistakes. And you for sure are gonna get frustrated. How can you not get frustrated when you are hungry for success. You want the dream more than anything.

I've learned the trick in pursuing your dream is all about the short term memory. Learn from your mistakes and forget the losses and rejection.

Because in truth, anything you have to do to get to your dream is worth the struggle.