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You Don’t Got Mail?

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Convoluted story, but here goes:

On Monday the 11th, I mailed two envelopes. Now, I know I probably should have gone to the post office and gotten delivery confirmation and all that good stuff, but I already had to drop something at the local UPS store, so I asked them to mail the two envelopes. They gave me a flat rate for each (didn’t give me any other options) and I thought nothing more of it. Mail is mail, and Mercury wasn’t retrograde yet.

But here it is the 21st, and my friend who was supposed to receive one of the envelopes still hasn’t. Which makes me worry the second envelope—an application for a writing fellowship—might also not have arrived at its destination.

So what are my options? I could (a) hope/assume the application got there (they don’t acknowledge receipt, and you only hear back if you advance), or (b) resubmit (except I don’t know if I risk disqualification if they did get the first submission). I suppose I could send it again with a note that I wasn’t sure the first had arrived, but . . . Sigh.

ETA: My friend received her envelope! And considering she lives sort of out in the middle of nowhere, I can see why it might have taken an extra day or two. But now I have a lot less anxiety about Envelope #2. I’m letting it go.

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Hamlette Continues

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Arriving late to the story? Full index of “chapters” here.

While Rosalind shrieked and Gwendolyn blushed through an impromptu swimming lesson, Bea and I sat at a corner of the deep end, dipping our feet. Marta brought down a tray of biscuits and lemonade and set them on a table near the stairs, as far from the actual pool as possible. I gave her a little wave of thanks, but I couldn’t tell whether she saw it.

The down side of an indoor pool is the echo. Even whispers carry. So it was probably just as well Rosalind was carrying on like a drowning cat. To my immense gratification, whenever I peeked over at Liam, I could see his growing irritation with her. Meanwhile, he was really gentle and patient with Gwendolyn. Which, of course, only cause Rosalind to get louder and more obnoxious.

“So . . .” Bea began, forcing me back to the more pressing issues at hand.

“The Globe,” I said.

“Geography?” Bea asked.

“The Globe Theatre,” I clarified. “You know, the memorial thing for Dad.”

Bea gave an exaggerated nod of understanding. Then she said, “But I thought you didn’t want to go do the whole family-in-mourning-for-the-cameras thing.”

“I don’t,” I said. And I really didn’t. “But it might be a good chance to—” I was interrupted by the spattering end of a wave as someone (probably Liam) splashed someone else. “A good chance to, I don’t know, catch Eoin out?”

“How?”

And there I had to admit I had no idea. “If I say I’d like to do something special . . .” I mused.

“Oh, like in Hamlet,” said Bea.

I’ve got to say this much for Bea: Even though my dad was the actor and the Shakespearean and all that, she’s got the better head for it. All those plays get jumbled in mine, but Bea can practically quote them all, just like Dad could. Whenever I try, I get the words all wrong.

Still, I knew enough Hamlet to know I was practically living it at the moment. I mean, I remembered the dead dad and the ghost, and that was exactly what I was dealing with, right? Bryce Dey was still treading the boards from beyond the grave, and I was the involuntary audience participation.

“Remind me,” I told Bea.

“When Hamlet tries to figure out if his uncle really killed his dad, he puts on a play. You know, that shows how the king, Hamlet’s dad, died. So he—Hamlet, I mean—can judge his uncle’s reaction.”

“A play about someone brushing their teeth doesn’t sound like a great memorial for my dad,” I said.

Bea laughed. “Sorry,” she said when she saw my face, “but it’d make for great tabloid copy.”

“Dey’s Daughter Goes Daft Over Daddy’s Demise,” I speculated. “Can you stay over tonight?”

Bea looked askance at her brother and my houseguests. “With them?”

“Please don’t leave me alone with them,” I said.

“We won’t get a chance to talk . . .”

“Sure we will. They have their own rooms, but you can sneak into mine after everyone’s asleep.”

Bea shrugged. “I’m sure my parents won’t mind. But I’ll need to go home for my stuff.”

“Have Liam bring it.” I stood up and went for a snack. After grabbing a biscuit and pouring a cup of lemonade, I threw a towel over my shoulders and headed out the glass door to the patio. It was cool out (April, after all), but the fresh air felt good after the stuffiness of the pool. Or “aquatorium” as my mother called it. She thinks she’s clever.

Bea followed me out and we sat in the cold chairs and nibbled our biscuits and sipped our drinks and didn’t talk for a long time.

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Gratitude

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My car won’t start.

I was all set to go the the store on a much overdue shopping trip, but . . .

And I was prepared to be irritated, angry even, but it occurred to me that at least I was home when it happened. At least I hadn’t gone to the store only to have the car quit on me while my groceries moldered in the back.

I mean, if it’s going to happen, being home is the best possible place.

And at least I can walk to the school to get the kids.

And then I’ll call AAA. At least we renewed our membership, even though we considered letting it lapse.

It’s so easy in life to get caught up in all the bad, to throw our hands up and yell, “Why me? Why now?” But we’d all be a lot happier if we could only find the little blessings, even in the bad things. (Sure, I know, some things are so awful one cannot find anything good in them, but that’s another topic for another time.)

The point is, psychologists have proven people who look for the good in things live happier, healthier, longer lives. So while my initial reaction was negative, now that I’ve really stopped to think about it, it could have been worse. My life is good, all told. And I’m grateful for that.

Query Confusion

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Okay, here’s a story about a query. I’d submitted to an agent (we’ll call her Agent A) and eventually been rejected. After looking at the agency’s Web site and seeing nothing about not querying other agents if one passes, I submitted my query to another agent (Agent B). Only to get a response from Agent A saying, “Sure, we’d love to take a look.”

Um, okay, but . . . You’ve already taken a look. Did the query not ring any bells for you at all? Where is Agent B?

Of course, I didn’t answer exactly that way, but I also didn’t resubmit my manuscript. Instead I gently reminded Agent A that she had read it, and told her I’d hate to waste her time if she didn’t want to give it another look. (Though I also pointed out the manuscript has been through a major rewrite since she saw it. It was a rewrite I had offered her before and never heard back on, so . . .)

So far there has been no response. I mean, my rule of thumb is: If the agency’s site doesn’t specifically say that a pass from one agent is a pass from all/the agency, then it’s fair to submit to another agent at that agency. But maybe I’m wrong? Or at least in this case I might be? It is a pretty small agency, so maybe it’s a matter of size. But I do wish agencies would make their processes more transparent. Not because I think they’re hiding something—some alchemical secret they use to determine whether to sign someone—but because it would make it easier for the writers to do things in a way that complements rather than complicates those processes.

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Happy Mother’s Day

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. . . to my mother, my mother-in-law, my best friend’s mom who has been like a mother to me, too . . . to all the moms out there, young and old. I hope you have a glorious day.

Progress

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For Changers I decided to try something new, something to keep me working. I find I procrastinate and dither if I don’t have concrete deadlines or goals. I “faff about” as my British friends say. But I read on a blog somewhere about writing at least 250 words per day, and I decided I should try to do that. At least that. I mean, that’s not a lot. It’s, like, one page. And it’s impossible to find an excuse for not doing such a menial amount of work.

So I drew up a spreadsheet that started with where I was in terms of word count at the time. That was on April 10, and I had 27,886 words. My goal—my estimated “finished word count”—is 60,000 words. When I did the math (or, rather, when Excel did the math for me), my estimated end date was 17 August.

Then I signed up to go to the DFW Writers Conference in July. And I really wanted to be finished with my draft in time for that conference. So I pushed my daily word count up to 300 words per day. This is a minimum, mind. I must write at least 300 words per day, but I’ve found having this spreadsheet has made me more productive. I’m typically writing between 500 and 1,000 words per day.

So now, via my spreadsheet, I see that my estimated finish date has gone from 17 August to . . . wait for it . . . 8 July! Woo-hoo! As of today I have 41,600 words written. Look at that for a moment. I started work on this manuscript last September, and at April 10 (some 7 months time span) only had 27,886 words done thanks to my faffing. But in less than a month—ever since I started tracking my progress—I’ve written almost 14,000 more words.

I realize I’m working under the assumption the book will end at 60,000 words. It might run longer, meaning my end date will extend beyond the estimate. I’ve chosen 60,000 because that seems the average length for a YA novel, and based on the trajectory of Changers, 60k is my best guess for about where it will fall.

What’s really exciting, though (besides the prospect of a finished manuscript, particularly in time for DFW Con), is discovering this system really works for me. I always was the student who wanted to get that gold star, and this spreadsheet is a way of getting an emotional/psychological gold star every day. “I made my count! Yay me!” It’s a way to feel like I’ve accomplished something, and I respond to that. Yes, even when I’m setting my own standards. The spreadsheet is a visual cue. Each day, as I make and pass my minimum threshold, I highlight the day in green. So far I only have two red bars on my sheet for days when I did not make my quota. And if I fall short, I do make myself make it up the next day. Meaning, if I only write 200 words one day, the next day I’m required to write at least 400 to make up for my shortfall. Instead of rollover minutes, I have rollover word count. It’s like Indiana Jones staying ahead of that boulder. If I slip, I’ve got to get up quick and run a little faster.

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A Story in Songs

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Today’s walking playlist started and ended with anthems of faith while spanning regret, resentment, and remembering one’s roots through the middle.

1. “Something to Believe In” by Parachute
2. “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” by Tears for Fears
3. “No Son of Mine” by Genesis
4. “Dear Home Town” by Great Big Sea
5. “Should’ve Known Better” by Richard Marx
6. “Rain on the Scarecrow” by John Mellencamp
7. “Rock Me on the Water” by Jackson Browne

There’s a story in all this for sure, one of someone escaping his (or her) past and trying to forge a path to greatness only to hit pitfalls. He regrets some of his choices, has moments of homesickness. Maybe he even returns home briefly to try to make amends. In the end he realizes he can only do for himself; one can’t sit around and wait for things to happen. If he’s going to “make it,” he’ll have to do it on his own. “Should’ve Known Better” points to a romantic subplot of some kind as well.

It’s a compelling story, as I see it, and some day when I have more time and have finished some of these other projects, I may even write it!

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Finally! More Hamlette!

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Arriving late to the story? Full index of “chapters” here.

It occurred to me Gwendolyn was the kind of person who could keep a secret. Maybe even from Rosalind. I got the feeling Rosalind didn’t pay much attention to anything Gwendolyn said anyway. But when I glanced a question at Bea, she gave her head a little shake. She wasn’t convinced we should bring Gwendolyn in on the whole ghost and murder thing.

Bea had a point. If we were to tell Gwendolyn we though my Uncle Eoin was a murderer and then she had to sit down at dinner with him tonight . . . Yeah. I couldn’t picture Gwendolyn getting through that very well.

“Are you going to swim?” I asked.

“I can only dog paddle,” she said.

That gave me an idea. “Hey, Liam!” I called. He stopped trying to pull Rosalind into the pool, a hand still around her left ankle, and looked over at us. “Mind giving Gwendolyn here some swimming lessons?”

He grinned and released Rosalind. He was at the steps in three strong strokes. I pretended not to notice Rosalind’s lethal glare.

Gwendolyn, meanwhile, had gone even paler than before, though two bright spots burned on her cheeks near her ears. “You really can’t swim?” Liam asked.

“I can dog paddle,” she said again, sounding for all the world like she hoped that was enough and this nice, handsome boy would leave her alone.

But Liam was not dissuaded. He put his hands at Gwendolyn’s waist, and for a second I hated myself for this stupid idea. “May I?” he asked her.

Her eyes were round as saucers, and she jerked her head in what might have been a nod. Liam took it that way, anyway. He pulled her gently into the water. “Look, you can stand here,” he said as he set her down. “Move your arms like this . . .”

Great. Now Gwendolyn was occupied but what were we going to do with Rosalind?

It turned out to be a non-issue because Rosalind walked around to the steps and gingerly waded in after Liam and Gwendolyn. “Actually . . .” she said.

Liam and Gwendolyn turned.

“I can only dog paddle, too.” Rosalind pulled a shamed face. “That’s why I was so scared when you were threatening to pull me in.”

“Okay,” said Liam, oblivious as any man. “Come join us.”

Bea and I exchanged are-you-kidding-me looks. But at least we were now free to go to a far corner of the pool and plan.

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Bloghop: Writer Mama

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I was sort of late in finding out about this one, but thanks Sharon Bayliss for the inspiration.

This bloghop is about writers who are parents. It’s funny because I get two reactions when people realize I’m both a writer and a mother of three. Reaction #1: “Oh, well it must be easy then since you get to stay home.” Reaction #2: “How do you find time to write on top of having three kids?!?”

Reaction #1 is usually from people without children. Reaction #2 is usually from people who do have kids.

I’ve always been a writer, since long before I was a parent. But what’s interesting to me is that it took having kids for me to devote myself fully to writing. Prior to children, I was working in publishing as an editor. When I had my first baby and was hit with the sticker shock of daycare prices, I realized it would make more sense for me to quit working and stay home with the baby. Once the exhaustion and postpartum depression began to dissipate, I began writing again during nap times. First it was fan fiction, and I was high off all the great comments and reviews I was getting. That feedback encouraged me to move on to original work.

It’s been bumpy. Three kids don’t make it easy to find quiet, uninterrupted time. Well, now they are all in school for a few hours each day, so that helps! Except when I have errands to run and appointments to keep . . . In truth, writing is something you have to schedule time for. You have to make it sacrosanct. It requires discipline.

I’m lucky in that I have a home office with doors I keep shut while I’m working. The kids have been trained to knock first and to try and keep interruptions to a minimum. There’s nothing scarier than Mom when she’s trying to write and can’t! So they’ve developed a healthy respect for my work.

In fact, my youngest writes books of his own now. And we’ve developed a dinnertime storytelling game, too, that’s been a big hit. One person is the Storyteller. Everyone else gets to give the Storyteller one thing he or she wants the story to have. Then the Storyteller must tell a story using all those things. The kids ask for this game every night; they love it!

I don’t know if any of my kids will become writers themselves. But they are all avid readers and they all love stories. I’m glad to have given them that much at least.

About Reviews

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I was interviewed by DigiWriting about, well, marketing books. You can read that interview here. But when I re-read it, I was surprised at how blunt I sounded about not reading my reviews.

The thing is, I love and respect my readers. I do want to hear what they have to say. I used to read all my reviews, but I found that, for me, I would get hung up on the bad and dismiss the good. It was very bad for my writing and my motivation.

I realize this makes me sound like I only want to hear good things about my work. Well . . . Yes, it would be nice if it was all good. I won’t lie; I’d love that. But I think there’s a big difference between constructive criticism and someone taking a dump on your hard work. And while I like to believe most reviewers mean well, as the saying goes, it only takes a few bad apples. On top of all this, the reviews system is terribly suspect and, I feel, broken. But that’s an entirely different discussion.

And really, reviews are only in part for the author, aren’t they? If someone really wants to tell me how they felt about my book, they can contact me directly via email; that info is right at the top of this page. Reviews are written for other readers. At least, that’s how it should be.

In short, for my mental health, I’ve begun staying away from my reviews. As I say in the interview, the good ones live in me for only a little while yet the bad ones stay with me forever. And I don’t need to carry around that kind of negativity. I prefer to focus on the next project and hope that I’m only improving as I go.

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