Thursday, December 23, 2010

Tales from the NaNoWriMo Trenches, Part II (The Emotional Melée)

My first friend made it easy—a sort of halfbreed cross between Inspiration and Determination.  With my lower lip clenched tightly in my teeth, my fingers warm and nimble, I launched into my WIP with a vigor I hadn't seen it quite a while.  This was it.  Time to bang out that novel in 30 days and then spend a few months making it over for the real world.  She carried me high through the first week, nudging me closer to sun with little bursts of enthusiasm.  Of course another mosher was constantly tugging at me from behind.

Hello, Guilt.  Oh yes, this little friend was high-spirited and relentless.  "Ghost Girl, you're neglecting your family!" he shouted.  "The kids can't survive on frozen salisbury steak and applesauce forever!"  I swear he even brainwashed the tater tots who glared up at me from their grease-stained paper plates and chanted "saturated fats...saturated're killing your children!" I covered my ears and pressed on, but that nasty little mosher rallied the rabid dust bunnies to revolt.  But I just closed my eyes and flung myself deeper into the pit.

Aha...halfway through the month, I felt myself slipping, tumbling in a rock slide of dwindling word-counts.  200 one day, 150 the next.  Suddenly, a toady little critter tugged at my pants leg.  Fifty more stood arm-in-arm behind him, salivating through their smug grins. Yes, it was Defeat and his minions.  Their triumphant taunts rang throughout cyberspace:  "I hit 28k today!"  "I'm almost done and I have 15 days left!" "I'm finished...time to revise!"  Yes, there I was caught in the tightly clenched jaws of defeat, clutching my meager 12,000 words in my tiny fist.  A new pile of ENG 1102 essays mocked me from the corner.  Even the Thanksgiving turkey betrayed me!  "Time to write...," they taunted.  It wasn't their fault that others were more on the ball than I was.  

But somewhere in the midst of my grading haze and my post Thanksgiving stupor, another voice sifted through the darkness.  "Look what you did!  You broke through!  You taught your students, fed your kids, and broke through!"  She grabbed me by the ear and pulled my face in close.  "There..." She pointed her bony finger at the bottom of my laptop screen.  Blinking back at me from a tiny grey box was a small but admirable figure.  Perhaps a little lean, but very well-formed and even beautiful in places.   13,340, you're not so bad.  I gave my tiny sense of Accomplishment a little pat and said, "Welcome to the moshpit, now let's go dance..."

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Tales from the NaNoWriMo Trenches, Part I

As promised, it's time to spill my guts about the whole NaNoWriMo whirlwind.  First, there is a very specific kind of mental gymnastics you have to do to commit yourself to this process.  I decided to do NaNoWriMo primarily to kick-start my new YA WIP and motivate myself passed whatever obstacle was keeping me from breaking through.  I won't call it "writer's block" because I had a fair idea of what I was writing and where I wanted to go.  It's more like a supra-sensory overload that left me spinning in neutral.  Perhaps it was even one part fear of failure.  After all, I had just written my best work yet and somehow it still didn't break out (not that it won't, soon).  So I told myself that it didn't matter if I didn't finish the book in 30 days, just as long as I made some real forward progress.

Okay.  All set, right?  Not exactly.  I had to stretch something else, a muscle that is strung so tightly it just might rip in two if I'm not careful.  I'm talking about the meta-writer, the constant editor that lives in my head and refuses to let me just vomit on the page.  But if you are going to write 50,000 words in 30 days, you have to let that baby fly!  Ouch!  Not so easy for this perfectionist.

Flexing.  Stretching.  Laying out the outline before Nov. 1st.  Check.  Hey, I even spewed some real stupidity on my awesome Scrivener note cards.  All right!  And then the righting began.  Frozen dinners, too much TV, not necessarily bathed on time—that was my kids' side of the bargain.  Ghost Hunk is rarely affected by these bouts of creative diarrhea, but he does eventually step in and man the standby parent booth when necessary.

And there I was, stoked and stretched and all warmed up.  I spat out 1200 words the first day.  Logged another 800 the second day.  Stumbled through about 250 on day 3.  Then I hit a 2K day and danced a rather conspicuous little jig at the café, though I saw very little of my family and spent the wee hours of the night preparing for class the next day.  But my main concern this crap?  No matter how much I screwed up my courage and my resolve, I still could not fight the urge to spend 20 minutes searching for the right word or go back and add that certain something to the previous scene to connect the dots.  But I did manage to throw down a few painfully nasty tidbits and move on just to keep the momentum going.  I'll come back later!  My mind couldn't help kept wandering off to the revision process already. Scratching that itch just enough to distract me from my forward motion. Back! Back, I say! (kkkaccchhhh!)  And on I marched.

By the time I got to November 20th, I had more than 13,000 words down and the satisfaction that I had indeed broken through.  By that time, however, I had also lost that sense of reckless momentum and had a new stack of papers to grade and a Thanksgiving dinner to prepare as well as a significant ghost kid crisis to diffuse.  And 37,000 words to go?!!  Oh the pressure!  It was either vomit or take a long nap and sleep it off.  I chose to sleep it off.

I'm all for NaNoWriMo and applaud those who whiz through it, some hitting 50k by Nov. 15th!  I might do it again, but I don't think I can ever kill my meta-writer or even bind and gag her long enough to spit out 50k in 30 days.  But the whole experience gave me two awesome gifts...a breakthrough and a new bit of writing software that kicks some butt.

Next:  The emotional melée of NaNoWriMo...


Monday, November 01, 2010

Halloween and NaNoWriMo...Oh My!

Well it's here. NaNoWriMo, and I greeted it at 3:00am with a firm resolve and a bad case of insomnia. So what the heck! I wrote 500 words. Not my daily goal, but it's a start. More to come later.

Now what about the Ghost kids and Halloween? Ghost Son is officially a teenager, so no pictures could be had of him and his banana-toting buddies, but Ghost Daughter can safely say she was the only Falcon on the streets that night:

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Countdown to Chaos!

Less than 48 hours until NaNoWriMo begins and I'm not ready yet. Egads! I'm taking today and most likely tomorrow to get my plot straightened out and get myself poised for the attack. My students are doing poetry, which will make it a little easier on me as far as my reading and prep load.

I'm hosting a Write-In and believe or not, I think at least 3 people will actually be there! As far as I know, however, I'm the only kidlit writer in these parts. Anyway, ELEMENTS Coffe Co., crank up the expresso machine and the teapot and get ready for us!

Full disclosure, I am picking up my WIP for this one, but since I'm scarcely 4,000 words in, I'm taking it as a reboot and not vying for a win (if you know what I mean). Lots of buddies are participating this year, so I hope they have their extra powerful motivational boots on so they can kick me in the pants with wild abandon! Now, if you haven't yet checked out Nathan Bransford's awesome advice for NaNoWriMo prep work, get your buns over to his blog and drink it in.

Write on, folks!

Monday, October 18, 2010

NaNoWriMo...Why Not?

I admit it. I'm a NaNoWriMo virgin. But I'm putting it out there this time around, hoping that the community and the deadline will give me a little extra momentum as I try to get this next YA banged out. I've resisted in the past primarily because I was already well into a project and making steady progress. This time, however, I could use a little pick-me-up. So here I go.

I'm looking to my writing buddies and acquaintances for further encouragement, and they never let me down. Many of the gals from The Mixed-Up Files of Middle Grade Authors have participated and they're good at spreading the fever.  Stephanie Ruble has also offered some helpful tips for newbies like me.

So stay tuned...the counter should be cranking at top speed in about 2 weeks!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Thank You.

This summer, Ghost Daughter attended a fabulous American Girl Summer Camp at Darton College.  As they learned about Kit and what life was like during wartime, they thought a lot about the service men and women who are protecting not only our freedom, but that of others around the globe.  To learn more about money, the girls put up a lemonade stand and used the money to put together CARE packages for some troops stationed in Afghanistan.

Not too long ago, we received a lovely surprise in the mail.  Warrant Officer Phillip Kelliher and his troops were so touched by the girls' notes and cards and thoughtful gifts that they dedicated a mission to the girls and sent along the flag they had flown over that mission as well as a certificate the named the date of the mission and its dedication to the girls.  The flag and the original certificate will be displayed in the Office of Continuing Education at Darton.

Reading the personal note from CW4 Kelliher touched both me and Ghost Daughter so much and inspired us to do a little something more.  It's not much, but Ghost Daughter wanted it to be personal and hand-made, so I knitted a couple of little soldiers to send CW4 Kelliher.  Perhaps I'll make some more.  I just know that whenever I think of him and his troops, I wish I could hug each and everyone of them and send them a little piece of home.

I have met a girl who truly knows the value of what these troops are doing.  A young woman who had to be smuggled out of Afghanistan before her mother's traitorous act of educating her daughters got them all killed.  She started her senior year (at a high school where I once taught) labeled simply as "home-schooled" and soared to the top of the class.  Other students were upset that based on only one semester, this stranger uprooted a classmate from the top 10.  It wasn't until the Senior Honors dinner that these fortunate young people learned what they really had.

Each student took a turn to stand up and introduce their special guest at the dinner.  Some of them brought teachers, some brought family friends.  This young woman brought her savior.  When her turn came, she stood and told a cynical public how her mother had hidden her and her sister away and educated them in secret because to do so openly could mean death.  That everyday, her mother had risked her own life to give her children a better one.  That this man, her dear honored guest, had risked his life to smuggle them out of the country just so they could be free to learn and live.  This is what an education meant to her.  Something worth dying for.

So for all those men and women who serve, thank you.  Forget all the political diatribes and posturing.  Think of those who lay their lives on the line everyday to protect our lives and our freedom.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Burn, Baby, Burn...

I've been absent from the blogosphere a bit too long, dealing with the sometimes overwhelming tasks of being a writer/teacher/mom/wife with a newly-minted teenager exploring his angst and a feisty 3rd-grader running all over.  But I have been checking in from time to time and read something truly heart-breaking.

Last week was Banned Book Week.  Censorship is nothing new and some of you may already be familiar with Risha Mullins' plight, but I am still sickened that such a witch hunt can take place in modern America.  I fear for our teachers who care about actually teaching our children and even more, about inspiring our children.  I fear for the countless kids who could learn so much and discover a love for reading by participating in innovative programs like hers.  I fear for the future of this country when small minds can level such ignorant accusations and cripple our schools and allow a fascist minority to dictate that No Child Left Behind actually means no child goes forward to discover the true meaning of critical thinking and growth because those are dangerous concepts.

Look at what a sharp, insightful, creative teacher can do and think about why our kids are in school.  Despite the moral majority's opinion, they are not there to pass a test.  They are there to learn and to grow.  Education is not about dumping information into kids' heads and hoping they can regurgitate it on an endless bubble sheet.  The word itself actually translates "to lead or draw out." It's about meeting them in their own space and helping them to explore their world and actually think about the connection between their own experience and all the world has to offer.  YA literature is an excellent place to share common experience and expand it to the uncommon.  It challenges kids to think about what they know and what could or could not be.

Do we really serve our kids by hiding the truth of human experience from them unless it fits neatly into our own little bubble of the unreal or chronologically irrelevant?  Yes, they read MacBeth and A Tale of Two Cities and Night and see some harsh truths about the human condition, but what about Speak and Soul Enchilada and Twenty Boy Summer and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian?  While the classics may be great and important literature that will surely live on in English class, AP reading lists, and college courses, can't we make room for the YA experience as well?  If we have nothing to turn our kids on to reading, will they ever even open those so-called classics?

I won't go on and on about this because Risha's case sums it up so well, but I challenge those who would keep books from our students to spend a day or even an hour in the poorest neighborhood in town or walk with a girl on her way to planned parenthood or stand for even a minute in the shoes of a teenager wrestling with the truth of his/her sexual orientation.  Tell me what your experience is in that case.  I know it's not only the white middle class conservatives lodging complaints. Any closed-minded group  can curry oppression.  I once had an African American parent complain about the film The Power of One because it showed the abominable treatment of a black South African.  Never mind that the film actually abhors the injustice Apartheid perpetuated and celebrates the power of even one small voice to make a difference.  This parent couldn't be bothered to actually watch the movie or consider the power of its message for her child.  We certainly could not have read the book, because most of the kids in this class could hardly put a subject with a verb because they had skipped through school all these years without reading anything but the inside cover Cliffnotes.

I wonder if all the kids who read The Crucible in their high school English class have any idea that they are bubbling and burning in a crucible of their own...

Check out these links:

The Kids' Right to Read Project
The Book Smugglers
Controversial & Banned Books

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Word by Word

That's how it will begin...and that's how it will end.  Yes, my newest is WIP is officially underway and promises to be even more exciting than the last, though this one has had a tougher launch.  Lots of distraction and a little obsession have de-railed my initial plan to blaze on through this one and have a smoking hot YA thriller to send out the door before Christmas.  Ha!  I can hope...  

Summer, car trouble, family entailments, new job—yeah, I can blame a lot of things.  I think the most devastating obstacle, however, has been my own ego.  Yep.  I've been obsessing over my many writing buds who are making their sales and celebrating big deals, while I feel like a failure and put one on the shelf to rest a while and start anew.  

Oh, I will still poke my head into this pity party every now and then, but enough is enough.  My WIP will never get written if I don't start laying down some words, even crappy words.  Besides, my last book is not a's just delayed.  So, off I go to write a slamming new YA and frankly, it will be awesome.  So to give myself a little kick in the butt, I thought perhaps I might post my word count on my blog.  I know, I know.  I could be setting myself up for utter humiliation, but I need to start somewhere.  So, I start at this moment with a total of 2,775 words.  I have a few more to add today, but that's where I ended up at 3:00pm.  

And that's how I will take this next part of the journey—word by word...

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Before I started writing semi-full-time, I taught full time.  Believe me, there are very few teaching jobs that are "fluff" jobs, but lately there has been a lot of debate about the fate of tenure in American universities.  A recent essay by Christopher Shea in the New York Times Sunday Book Review addresses two books that tackle the question — Higher Education? How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids — And What We Can Do About It, by Andrew Hacker and Claudia C. Dreifus, and Crisis on Campus: A Bold Plan for Reforming Our Colleges and Universities, by Mark C. Taylor.  Earlier in July, the NYT also posted a debate that considers the ramifications of eliminating tenure and restructure higher education altogether, a thought that makes me cringe, though I am no blind disciple of the system as it is.  

I'm not going to rant and rave about why tenure should be protected or why colleges should cutout the bulk of administrative fat that clogs the financial and social arteries of most institutions of higher learning.  However, I find it funny that so many people seem to think the majority of tenured college professors are self-indulgent fusspots who rest on their laurels and do little teaching and spend their time spouting communist propaganda and cranking out fluff scholarship and books that no one reads while the adjuncts do all the heavy lifting with no benefits or job security.  Come on folks!  For every job in America, from sanitation to corporations, you will find that guy.  

As an English teacher, I constantly warn my students against laying out sweeping generalizations to prove a point.  It undermines your credibility and obscures the real issue.  Yes, such examples of vocational gluttony do exist, and I'm sure those professors feel they are entitled because of their own years of slave-labor and hard-won scholarly credentials.  But most of the tenured professors I know do teach full loads AND work on research or scholarship or service projects.  Their extra-curricular work makes considerable contributions to their students as well as their field of study and their campus community.  

As for who gets the money...few college professors I know make more than $50,000-80,000 a year, while college administrators and athletic personnel go well into 6-digit salaries.  And that's where Shea gets it right:  
And if colleges are ever going to bend the cost curve, to borrow jargon from the health care debate, it might well be time to think about vetoing Olympic-quality athletic facilities and trimming the ranks of administrators.

I know that from city school districts to small colleges to major universities, administrations are far too often top-heavy and the distributions of funds less than equitable or reasonable.

When it comes to tenure, let me say this.  In a profession where speaking your mind is one of the most essential tools in your belt, as well as the most dangerous, and where your "superiors" can wield an Orwellian power that could extinguish a brilliant mind just for having an opinion if there were no protections against such dictatorial rule, tenure is merely a safety net that allows a professor an iota of freedom to do his job well.  Without it, education would cease to exist and indoctrination would takes its place.  Yes, that may be a little over-dramatic, but think about what a professor's job is all about.

Now consider the ever-growing complexities of the university system as a whole and the competitive playing field that now encompasses web presence, commercial appeal, financial growth, and social credibility in addition to its altruistic roots of education.

Every college or university has its own's own "mission."  For some, research is their claim to fame, while others subsist quietly on the satisfaction of educating eager minds no matter what their next step may be.  So while I sit up and wait for my tenure-track professor husband as he sweats out the next book or the next service project or the next committee meeting along with preparing inspiring class lectures and activities and grading essays and advising students, I'll think about how "overpaid" he is.  Next time I take my calculator to the grocery store and put back six items because they just aren't in the budget, I think about how "overpaid" he is.   And next time I try to plan that family vacation that we have never taken in 15 years...I'll think about how overpaid he is.

At least he has job security...

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

I'll have a plate of Hypocrisy and a side of Stupidity, please...

I don't like to talk politics, especially on a blog, but when some ignorant group of fascists declares a "national burn the Koran day," I simply cannot hold my tongue. Yes, that idiot pastor Terry Jones appeared on a recent episode of HARDBALL with Chris Matthews as well as CNN to proclaim 9/11 as a demonstration against Islam. Sure, he says "Muslims are free to worship here, but they must respect the constitution...that's why we have declared 9/11 national burn the Koran day." Really? Are you kidding me? How can he not see the hypocrisy in that statement?

What gets me about these fundamentalists is their complete tunnel vision and lack of self-reflection. Shall we say that Jim Jones represented all Christians? How about the Ku Klux Klan? Or even Timothy McVeigh?

Mr. Jones calls for "radical times" and all but incites violence against Muslims. Interviewer Rick Sanchez called him to task, saying he does a disservice to Christians. Amen. What astonishes me even more is the fact that this guy actually has followers who take him seriously. This is how Hitler got his start, isn't it?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Running Towards Nirvana

You hear it all the time: "Writing and publishing a book is a marathon not a sprint." What I would like to know is...Is this a 5k, a 10k, or a 20k run? I don't want to be a nattering nabob, but I feel as though I've hit that wall more than once, and I'm wondering if I have that second wind that everyone talks about. Don't get me wrong. I have plenty of stories in me, plenty of spooky atmosphere waiting to splash all over my laptop. And I know I can write a kick-ass book.  But right now I have some serious writer's cramp.

When do you break through the wall of pain and find that writer's nirvana?

I promised myself, and the Madwoman, that I would write everyday in August. Sorry folks...I stumbled. It must be faulty running shoes! To be fair, I did take my son on a 4-day junket to meet his best friend in North Carolina. Totally worth it and can't wait to do it again next year. And when I returned, I had the whole college course to design in a week and a half. So in some ways I was writing, just not writing.  

I'm hoping that tightening my schedule with these 2 classes will actually help me sharpen my focus and slam this new WIP. Is it possible?  Will splitting my concentration guide me to that Zen awareness of my inner voices? (believe me, there are more than one!) Is distraction the key to razor sharp focus? Obiwan, where are you when I need you?

I suppose I can blame summer and the scorching Georgia heat as I gasp for breath and reach for the inhaler.

But I do remember it...that rush when I get totally lost in a scene I've just written. That adrenaline overload when I've just written the last page and I can't sit still and have to walk it off until my breathing settles back into its normal rhythm.  How many miles until I know that again?

Maybe I forgot to stretch before this leg of the race. Perhaps my running shoes need a re-tread.  Or maybe I just need to crank up the iPod. Somewhere down this road, the endorphins will kick in. Right?  I guess I can't know unless I keep running...and writing.  And frankly, at this point I don't know how to stop.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Cries from a Cultural Wasteland

Huddled at my tiny round table in a dim corner of the coffee house, sipping my caramel milk tea (non-dairy of course), I grasp at the few shadows of civilized life and dream of flesh-and-blood writer contact. Yes, after a quick search on the SCBWI roster, I found exactly one (1) writer who lives within a 20-mile radius of this little cesspool. Surely there are a few more out there, hiding among the palmetto bugs (aka giant cockroaches), lizards, and title pawn shops.

Two years ago, when we first knew a move was in the offing, I dared to think of it as a new adventure, a chance to stretch a little more and maybe even afford a little more house or settle near the ocean. If truth be told, I got my wish, though not exactly the way I had envisioned it. It certainly has been an adventure...something like those pioneer stories we read in grade school.  No, there are no savage indians or blood-thirsty bandits threatening our wagon train, but to put it bluntly, we have rolled into a fearsome wilderness.  A vast cultural wasteland where the nearest thing to civilization (besides the college) is a Books-a-Million in the mall and this little slice of heaven called Elements.  What's a writer to do?

Observe.  Listen.  Sketch.  That's it.  I'm soaking in the atmosphere and the characters and the cadence of life down here in the South.  Spanish moss dripping from the trees, pine straw swaddling the shrubs and flowers that decorate even the mienest of bungalows, ladies in brimmed hats sipping sweet tee while they swat away a hoard of psychotic gnats.  And the festivals...yes, festivals of all kinds—The Peanut Festival, The Gnat Festival, the Fleagrass Festival, The Mayhaw Festival, The Dogwood Festival, The Rattlesnake Roundup.  You get the idea.  I love festivals!  But you have to admit, they do things a little differently in the deep South.  That can be a real boon for a writer.  Right?

Three hours away, Atlanta offers a more cultured escape.  But in this economy, even a quick jaunt up to civilization is a rare treat.  So, I'm putting it out there:  a call to writers—kidlit/YA people in particular, who live anywhere near Albany, Georgia—support group for lonely, deprived writers who need a little encouragement and a dose of literary conversation.  I have posted a note on SCBWI and on the Blue Boards, but so far I've discovered that the SW Georgia is not exactly a mecca for artistic personalities. I'm not a big one for critique groups, so I'm not focusing on that aspect of things.  This is truly meant to be a hopeful gathering of writers to share experiences, vent frustrations, and perhaps share a little low-pressure critique from time to time.  Maybe I'll make a silk purse from a sow's ear after all...or maybe I'll just press on into the wilderness.

For now, I'll go back to my luscious caramel milk tea in my dark little corner of the coffee house and wait for that familiar whinny that announces new mail.  

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

To Answer the MFA Question

I just had to add this little nugget from Kurt Vonnegut:

Beware of the man who works hard to learn something, learns it, and finds himself no wiser than before... He is full of murderous resentment of people who are ignorant without having come by their ignorance the hard way.

Thanks to everyone who offered some advice on this topic.  Several people said the MFA pursuit transformed their writing lives, while others offered more practical comments, especially when it comes to the financial burden that comes with such a choice.  I think the very best advice I got came down to a very simple but essential issue:  Be very clear about what you are hoping to get out of the experience.  (Thanks, Laura).

My uber-awesome agent, Elana Roth, has me dialed in to a tee; it's not about giving myself a leg up towards publishing.  I know I have what it takes, and I have exactly the right representation on my side.  But I am totally an information junkie.  I'm addicted to knowledge and love the whole school experience, as grueling as it can be.  Usually.

However, I am in a very different place in my life, now, and I have a lot of other things to consider.  Kids.  Husband.  All the complexities of mid-life angst.  So is the MFA really the best thing for me at this particular moment?  Probably not.  Are there compelling reasons that could supersede the more practical considerations against going for the MFA?  Definitely.  But they are not compelling enough right now.  And to come back to that most salient point, what I am hoping to get out of it, I may already have.  Sorry I can't be more specific than that, but suffice it to say the point is as much emotional as intellectual.

Add to the mix a newly-procured adjunct position at the local college and you have the final answer:  No.  It's not time to take that particular leap.  Maybe some day.  So while I let that simmer in the back of my brain for a while, I will bust through this current WIP and kick some YA butt.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

A Fun Contest

To celebrate the fabulous news that her book, MY UN-FAIRY TALE LIFE sold to Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, Anna Staniszewski is having a fun contest on her blog. Head on over there to win a copy of either THE TRUE MEANING OF SMEK DAY by Adam Rex or WHALES ON STILTS by M.T. Anderson.

And stay tuned for my follow-up to the big MFA question...

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

To MFA or Not to MFA?

As if I don't have enough on my plate, I am tossing around the idea of going for a low residency MFA. Why? Perhaps because it's there. Or maybe because it would give me a more solid credential for teaching at the college. Or maybe because I'm itching for another way to hone the craft.  Of course if you read The New Yorker's article Show or Tell, you might come to the conclusion that it's all just another way for universities to make money while pampering egos and proffering false hopes.  Sure, Louis Menand tips his hat to some of the benefits of such programs, but overall, you come away feeling a tiny bit idiotic for even thinking of doing a degree in creative writing.  Nonetheless, learning is learning and what you do with it is up to you.

So that doesn't help so much.  Perhaps a list of pros and cons would shed a little more light.


  • I love going to school.  (cue the nerd music)
  • I would have another reason to throw myself into my writing.
  • I would have a chance to work with some of the people who inspire me. (of course I can get some of that at conferences and Highlights Foundation Workshops, too)
  • I would have a piece of paper that says I can write.  (just a little chuckle on this one)
  • I could add MFA to my vitae and pump up my credentials 


  • Money.  The biggest drawback is spending more money that we don't have.  I can apply for scholarships, but that's no guarantee that I will get one.  And do I really need more student loans?
  • Time.  I am in command of my time, more or less, right now, but will a Low Res program be flexible enough for me and my family?
  • Are there enough benefits or potential benefits to even consider sinking the time and money into an MFA?

While I mull all that over, I'll look at what's out there.  I  found a fabulous website posted by Anna from Bryn Mawr that gives a good overview of what to look for and then provides listings for programs according to regions.  Another Blog that offers information and general commentary on Creative Writing programs is the MFA Weblog. also offers a list of universities and colleges who offer MFA programs—some low residency and some full residency.  Byzantine Roads is yet another cite that lists a number of MFA in Creative Writing options.

So with all of this information, do I really want to pursue another degree?  I have one half-finished Ph.d. that will go nowhere.  Would and MFA really offer me anything I truly need?  Of course the other option would be to look into a Library Science degree.  I'm just saying...

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


I was at my RA doctor for a routine appointment today, and she mentioned that my recent x-rays show signs of osteoporosis. Gulp. She said it's not a surprise since I'm "caucasian, pettite, and frail..."  Hang on! Did she just use that word to describe ME?  FRAIL?  I was that skinny little girl who played football with the boys and got called for rough play.  I was the only chick on the baseball team and I kicked ass.  I've wrangled spastic horses through the hunt field and slightly crazy kids in the classroom and at home.  I've travelled the world.  I've never backed away from a challenge.  What's she talking about frail?!

My mind sort of went white and silent all of a sudden as I considered this description.  Okay, so I was ever so lucky to develop Rheumatoid Arthritis when I was 34.  Does that mean I'm frail?  Somehow less than that balls-out chick who jumped from balconies and dirt-skiied down the dusty ravine beside my house when I was a kid?  There is a huge dissonance between the person I feel in my bones and the one this doctor was looking at.  But I guess what really bothered me was the dubious assumption that physical and mental weakness were not necessarily mutually exclusive.  (Don't ask me why I jumped there.)

Then I started thinking about my characters and how they develop.  Have I let some frailty slip by me when I wasn't looking?  Do they ever feel the way I did at that moment?  Probably.  Should I allow them to feel that way?  Maybe.

One of the big issues I tackle with my new characters is their flaws.  What does that really mean?  I look at it as more of a blind spot in most cases—that part of their personality that gets them into trouble.  But what if it's something that keeps them from achieving their goal?  They could be one in the same, but not always.  Good character development is complex and lets the reader squirm a little.  We cringe when they say the wrong thing, but that only makes them more real to us.  We slap ourselves in the head when they make some bonehead move that puts them in danger or alienates them from the other characters, but that only elevates the sense of triumph when they succeed or deepens the mourning when they fail.

I've spent most of my life hearing about and facing my flaws.  Let's just say I've had a lot of practice.  But what does that really mean?  Is there some continuum where the degree and number of flaws a person has add up to frailty? Somewhere in that doctor's office I started to think so.  I thought about it as I drove home.  I thought about it as I slammed the car door shut.  I thought about it as I prepared to take my child to the orthodontist to have her skull expanded so all of her teeth would fit.  I'm not sure I really have an answer, but in the end it seems to come down to that dirty little literary notion of the human condition.  In the grand scheme of things, I suppose we are all frail...small and frail and oh so significant.

W.B. Yeats wrote a lot about human frailty... (please pardon my maudlin indulgence).

The Four Ages of Man

He with body waged a fight,
But body won; it walks upright.

Then he struggled with the heart;
Innocence and peace depart.

Then he struggled with the mind;
His proud heart he left behind.

Now his wars on God begin;
At stroke of midnight, God shall win.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Toy Story 3 and why I bawled my eyes out...

For Father's Day, we decided to take a family excursion to the event that is TOY STORY 3.   My expectations were only slightly guarded as Pixar has more than delivered on this franchise twice already. What I hadn't braced myself for, however, was my own parental journey as I sat there with my 13-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter and watched Andy say goodbye to his beloved pals as we, too, said goodbye not only to these wonderful characters, but to our own sense of childhood while our role as parents becomes ever more tenuous. This parting is particularly poignant when it comes to our son who has grown up far too quickly along with Andy.

The first TOY STORY came out in 1995, just 2 years before my son was born. Of course Ghost Hunk and I saw it in the theatre, young newlyweds who enjoyed good film making. Heck, one of our early dates was to see BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.  When our son was 2 years old, we introduced him to the magical world of movies, beginning with TARZAN and THE IRON GIANT and TOY STORY 2. That boy was made for the cinema. He loved sitting in a theatre with Mama and/or Daddy, drinking in whatever amazing story spilled across the darkness. We all cried when the Iron Giant sacrificed himself and when Jessie's torch song pulled us into her heartache and loss. Sure, Ghost Son saw the first one on video before we hit the theatre for the sequel, but it was no less enthralling and he immediately loved all the characters, old and new.

As I watched Andy pack for college yesterday, it suddenly struck me that our own little dude is only 5 years away from that. There is really nothing left of that baby, anymore, that fantastic toddler whose belly laughs filled up the house and shook us all with such joy. I know...this may get a little maudlin, but I'm a mom. I can't help myself.  (By the way, the same actor has given Andy his voice in all three movies.)

I felt him sitting there next to me in the dark, growing, maturing every minute. And it didn't help that Andy is a lot like our boy. I'm sure he's a lot like many boys, but I'll continue to believe our son is exceptional, unique, amazing.When Andy makes his decision to give his toys to a little girl who will love them well, I had mixed feelings. Happy that the gang will continue to be loved and treasured, but sad that Andy will forever be separated from them. That he has grown up. His own hesitation is so telling. As he played with his friends one last time, introducing them to their new owner and making sure their stories continue, my heart ached. The realization that our son would be leaving, growing up, abandoning his childhood things, well that started a flood. Yes, I cried. I sobbed. I bawled my freaking eyes out!

Ghost Son thought I was being a little too sensitive about Andy's toys, but then he, too, realized that he was growing up and what that meant to his loony old mom. That's the thing about all three of these movies. They touch real emotions. No matter how old you are, you can relate to the trials of Woody, Buzz, Jessie, and the gang. We know what it is to be betrayed that first time, to be abandoned by someone moving on to another stage of their life, to learn the price of friendship and how to have a little more faith in ourselves. These are such raw, real experiences no matter how old you get.

And now, I've watched my children trip through these quintessential life moments and TOY STORY 3 just brought all of it home with a 1-2 punch to the gut. They are growing up. They will be on their own sooner than we want, but they are ready to take on the world. I just wish I were ready to let them...

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

In the Flesh

At least once in a writer's career, she will hear someone say, "Flesh out that character more." I chant that in my head sometimes as I work on more personal sections of my book. But what does that mean? How do you put flesh on the bones of an imaginary friend (or enemy)?

There are some great tools out there to give you a nudge: Nancy Lamb has some great checklists in her book, THE WRITER'S GUIDE TO CRAFTING STORIES FOR CHILDREN.  You generate a lot of details (that you may or may not use in the actual narrative) that get you to see the character as a whole.

I'm also glancing through Orson Scott Card's ELEMENTS OF FICTION:  CHARACTERS & VIEWPOINTS for a few hints.  He takes you through some great discussions of motivation, emotional appeal, archetypes, and more.

But sometimes all this studying can get a bit overwhelming (not that I've done a lot of it).  In the end, I have to do the work.  Get down in the clay and start molding and sculpting with my own two hands.  The dirtier I get the better.

So for my latest WIP, I took my 4 main characters (including the narrator) and gave them each their own page.  I started with a GENERAL DESCRIPTION.  This can include physical and emotional, but I keep it simple and straight-forward.  The hard-core stuff comes in the writing.  In this section I also include and habits or ticks or preferences she/he might have—ie.  trips over her own feet, hates to clean the chicken coop but loves to muck the stalls, wears a red string on her left pinky toe every day, etc.  What pushes your character's buttons?

Next I look at RELATIONSHIPS.  What characterizes her relationship with each major character in the book? If it's relevant, what characterizes her relationship with people not present in the narrative?  Dead or absent parents, friends, or relatives, for example.  Characters don't live in a vacuum any more than a living, breathing person does...unless you have an agoraphobic personality!  Thinking ahead, I consider how those relationships will change through the course of the novel.  Think dynamic not static.

It's time to look at some FLAWS.  Every character has to have them.  Big or small, a flaw is what makes your character human.  Whether you write humorous MG or tragic YA, your characters cannot be perfect.  They may even piss the reader off once in a while, just as long as there is enough redeeming virtue to keep the reader connected and rooting for your hero.  These may come in handy when you build the climax and develop subplots.

Don't forget your villains.  Villains should evoke anger, disdain, even condescension but they should not be flat.  Take them through all the steps as well.  We need to have a sense that there is more to them than their slithery betrayal.

I'm keeping it short, so I end with a list of WORDS THAT DESCRIBE my character.  Gut reaction words.  You may find that some of them contradict each other, and that is not necessarily a problem.  After all, most of us get confused at some time or another, especially kids.  Come to think of it, adolescence is a cloud of contradictions!

That's the basic list I make for myself, and I post them on the wall by my desk or keep them in my WIP folder, along with a list of themes, snippets of research, and any other scrap of inspiration that will put a little flesh on the bones and breathe life into this shiny new world.  

What do you do?

Friday, June 04, 2010

Just for the Ghosts...

I've started a new blog dedicated to all my ghostly wonderings...and wanderings... I'll still post my usual (albeit sporadic) musings on writing and life here, but I'm dedicating The Darkling Veil to my spookier explorations. Stop by if you have a chance.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Workshopping Your Villain

Ah!  Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal...

A couple of weeks ago, I relieved a very grateful substitute teacher in my son's 7th-grade Language Arts class by giving a brief workshop on creating a compelling description of a villain in their writing.  I started by reading the first 2 pages of Neil Gaiman's brilliant Newbery-winning THE GRAVEYARD BOOK.  They were hooked!

Of course they would have been happy to listen to the book for the next hour, but being the evil English teacher I am, I made them write.  As usual, a few kids attacked it with gusto, while some looked around the room and hoped someone would give them the "right" answer, and a couple just put up their while and tried to shut off their brains.  But something about that knife pulling us into Bod's world kept calling to all of them and they couldn't follow until they offered a little blood sacrifice of their own.

Their altar:  a sheet of paper scrawled with some boxes, grid lines, and a few words.  Yes, they actually had to do something other than watch the abandoned lessons on the wipe board fade into oblivion.

My goal for this little exercise was to get the kids thinking about a character in some way other then what's his name, does he have black hair and nasty teeth, what is he doing?  We need to feel his presence.  And how do we do that?  With all of our senses.

First, I pointed out that our first glimpse of the man Jack is not the man at all, but his knife as it skulks through the house snatching lives.  That knife tells us much about the villain.  It distances him at the same time it draws us closer to him, to the action.  How cool is that?!

So when it came to thinking about a dark character, I asked the kids to NOT think about a character, but first to think of 3 things that scare them, really scare them.  I called those The Seed.  Of course you had the obligatory "Zombies!"  "Girls!" "My mom's cooking!" responses, but many of them chimed in with honest answers that you could see on their faces as they wrote "spiders," "darkness,"  "being alone,"  or "lightening" down on their papers.

Next we kicked up a little Dust and wrote down 3 words that are creepy.  "Looming" popped up on one list.  Throw in a little "bloody," "creaking," "stalking"... you get the idea.  Most of the kids did too.

Next we filled up our senses and actually started to think in terms of a person.  But not quite so straight-forward as that:  If your villain were a smell, what would he be?  What kind of weather would he be?  What would he taste like?  What texture would he be?  What sound would he be?  Don't use the word "like" —  just let him BE those things.  One fabulous kid says, "I know what this is...we're making metaphors, right?"  Pat that boy on the head!

Okay boys and girls, now we are almost ready to meet the dastardly dude.  Let's get more literal.  Think about those little details:  Describe your villain's walk;  his handshake; his voice; his mouth; his nose; one other attribute of your choice.

And we have arrived.  Let's meet your villain.  (Cue the "you're going to write a theme" moan—although I am thrilled to say not many kids moaned.)  In fact a few were bummed out that the period was almost over.  So while they stewed on the prewriting they did, I read a few more pages of the book.  Holy Creepy Zombies, bat folks!  All that crazy stuff we just did actually makes sense!  Yep, they could trace their prewriting steps right through the murder of three people before the bell rang.  What fun!!
I don't think I embarrassed Ghost Son too badly, and believe it or not, the substitute teacher joined in the fun and did the whole thing with us.  My main goal was to push them beyond the flat cliché and into something more complex, something more tangible.  

Now I'm sure they all ran home and wrote that opening paragraph that introduces their villain...right?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

My apologies for the stagnate blog of late.  (Especially for freezing things on a rant.)  After almost 6 weeks, I think I may actually have things back on track.  

Chaos—yes, you have to love it.  Afterall, it inspired some of the greatest innovations, like PB & J and the travel mug!  The car is fixed (the damage didn't read as well on film as it did in person) after almost $2,000,

the move complete,

and the retreat a fond memory (a brilliant one actually, thanks to an amazing faculty!).  

So just in time for summer vacation (cue the pitter-patter-slap of large, bare feet on the tile), I dive again into my WIP. My goal with this one is to pay close attention to character development as well as the plot.  Sandy Asher's session on "Who's story is this?" was awesome, even though I missed most of it because I was running down chairs and power chords, etc.  Management duties aside, the handouts and the info she shared will give any writer a great place to start dissecting character and really understand who is telling (and populating) your story.

So look for a post on character coming up.  I've had plenty of inspiration lately...

Sunday, March 28, 2010

My Chaos Theory

Caution:  the following post may lead to ridiculous conclusions or utter confusion.  Read at your own peril.

There are a number of reasons why I have neglected this blog lately, but suffice it to say I am embracing the chaos once again.  I nailed down another revision in January and continue to wait (not quite so patiently) for the next step.  In the meantime, everything around me has exploded into a flurry of systematic change and if this doesn't kill me, nothing will...

Seriously, when you think about the idea of chaos, do you draw a positive or negative connotation?  Apparently I tend to balance both.  For the second year in a row, the major aspects of my life are colliding on one sad little weekend, and the run-up to that weekend could net one of an infinite number of possibilities.  Okay, let's talk specifics.  We are moving.  Not across 5 states this time, just 8 miles away.  But it's still a move.  And wouldn't the fates decide to cut this thread right on the same weekend I am directing the SCBWI Pocono Mountain Retreat?  To top it off, I was really hoping to have an exciting announcement this year, but again, the fates are toying with me.  No book deal.  Yet.

So here I am packing dishes and books and clothes and all those little bits of life I dared to unpack for the  12 months we rented this house.  In the middle of the paper and boxes, I am tapping away online, juggling all those little details like menu, last minute registrations, emails, nametags, etc...  Whew!  Have I reached utter chaos yet?  Well, if there is any doubt:  We close on the new house April 5th, I leave for PA on April 7th and stay until the 11th, and we have to be out of the rental by the 12th.  No pressure...

What about my writing?  Well, I did manage to knock out a synopsis for the new book and send off my application for the SCBWI WIP grant, which will be announced in September (yes, more waiting).    

Forgive me for rambling.  I can't help but wonder what Chaos Theory would posit about the next change.  Can I get my head screwed back on and write a kick-ass YA book?  Where would this book be if we had never left PA?  Or if we moved in December instead of now?  Or if all I did was write?

If this writer's life isn't a dynamic system, then I don't know what is.  What would a recurrence plot have to say about this particular moment in time?  Or my ever-changing trajectory?  I just hope I don't write any recurrent plots and spin my trajectory straight down the drain!

I guess it's just time to add this amazing experience to the million little fluffs and flutters that have led me here in the first place.  My writing is the best it's ever been, and I hope it keeps evolving.  Perhaps all this multi-tasking and change will spawn something brilliant, maybe even award-winning.  But I have to say, I've hit one of those moments when I feel incredibly insecure.  Change doesn't frighten me.  In fact I generally welcome it as an exciting adventure.  But the past two years certainly pass for more than just change...more like the BIG BANG!

So how do other writers handle the chaos behind them?  Does it fuel their writing?  Does it choke them with writer's block?  Does it bounce off them like rubber bullets?  For now, I think I'll just pray for a pair of wings...

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Now what about libraries?

Here we go kids.  The great debate over the future of the traditional library vs. the digital library has taken off in the "pages" of the New York Times. Several interesting people weighing in on the topic. What do you think?

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Clouds in my Coffee...

Sing it, Carly —"You're so vain..."

The last few weeks have brought a hailstorm of controversy regarding ebooks and the future of traditional publishing, and more than a few writers, publishers, and agents weighed in with their take on the situation. And of course Steve Jobs had to add his inadvertent 2 cents by releasing a shiny new iPad stacked with a whole now ebook eden called the iBook Store. Worries about the whole digital takeover are nothing new, but they do seem to be gaining affirmation daily. We can talk about this as a revolution, an evolution, an opportunity, an awakening—whatever it takes to put a positive spin on things (not that a positive spin is wrong). But there are a host of old-timers who will cling to their paper-, cloth-, or leather-bound books until the cyber-police pry them from their cold, dead hands. But I'm not going to ask if the death knell for traditional books has been sounded. I'm not going to speculate on how long our dear pile of tangible pages has left in this world. It's all just a matter of time and technology anyway. No, what is pressing hard on my guts right now is more than books;  it's the atmosphere, the community, the metaphysical vibe that sustains my cultural angst. That's right, I'm talking about the fate of the physical bookstore/café.

What's all the kerfuffle? I think Scott Westerfield offered a brilliant summary of the the whole Amazon/MacMillan clash in his blog. Frankly, I'm behind MacMillan on this one, and not just because I'm a writer. It's not about panic or unfair wages at the moment, it's about the future. And who isn't looking towards the future, especially now?

Which brings me to my main point: the future of my beloved local literary community, aka the bookstore.  Anyone who knows me knows what a rough year 2009 was.  You also know that I have moved to the "armpit of the South" where the word culture refers to that crust of black mold in your bathroom drain and nothing more.  When I was in Pennsylvania, I relished my hours at my  local Barnes & Nobles or  Borders Book Store.  These were meccas, holy places of meditation and inspiration, not to mention 15 million-calorie coffee drinks.  Some days I would just go and peruse the shelves, whether I bought anything or not.  Just being among books, surrounding by them, steeped in their hot-of-the-press scent somehow brought both a sense of peace and a powerful invigoration. I'd park myself on the floor next to the YA book stacks and pluck a few things off the shelf and pore over them for a couple of hours. least once in a while I can drive the hour and a half to Tallahassee to partake.

Often I would meet friends there where we would scour the "new in paperback" shelves or check out the latest toys for bibliophiles.  We'd grab a cup of hot frothy liquid sin and gab about whatever topic floated up out of the stacks around us.  Sometimes it was personal trials, sometimes it was questions about writing.  The best part was the eavesdropping.  Oh, admit it.  Everybody does it.  We'd catch a snippet of a conversation and couldn't help but get caught up in the topic ourselves.  Or maybe it was research for my latest book.  A character study, perhaps.  There was plenty to grab hold of and love in that atmosphere.  

The bookstore has always been a favorite date spot for me and Ghost Hunk as well.  Sometimes we would get a babysitter and head out for dinner and a movie, but inevitably dinner would run too long and we would miss the early showing.  If we had enough energy (and cash for the babysitter), we would just catch the later flick and spend the time in between at the bookstore.  Sometimes, the bookstore WAS the date.  We would wonder around together at first, sharing jacketflap blurbs and wishlists.  Then we would wander off into our own favorite nooks and get lost for a while.  Me in the YA section or the Paranormal stacks, Ghost hunk in the Graphic Novels or the Cultural Studies section.  When one of us found something exciting or had a sudden breakthrough, we would weave in and out of the shelves and bewildered or bemused patrons until we found the other and share our epiphany.  Ah...bonding over books.  Now that's a date!  I, more often than Ghost Hunk, would wonder around with an armful of books, vainly wishing I could buy them all, but one by one they found their place back on the shelf and the two of us would leave feeling wistful and refreshed.

My kids have been raised on four main literary food groups:  Picture books, Middle Grade, YA, and of course...creative bookstore merchandise.  I took them to story times where they cut their teeth on the likes of Eric Carle or Laura Numeroff or  Sandra Boynton (those are the ragged, spit-covered copies stuffed in the back—just warning you).  I've watched them graduate from mouthing chunky board books with their toothless little gums to recommending their favorite reads to hapless strangers in the book store as well as to their friends.  They learned patience and reverence for literature.  And we bonded, mother and child, teacher and student, philosopher and apprentice.

Yes, books are the key, but the house is where they live and where we thrive.  While I, like so many others, am captivated by the iPad and it's shiny new iBook store, I am also aware that a new model for the literary world is on the horizon.  And it is not necessarily a bad thing.  It's just inevitable change.  But is the romance of the book world, the sense of community, the awe-inspiring temple to ideas that is the physical book store on its way to extinction?  I don't know.  Perhaps the cyber café will take its place—vast palaces of caffeine and WiFi connections where people will gather and download ebooks.  It just seems so antiseptic, so isolated.  Will my tea and coffee taste the same in cyberspace?

A brave new world, indeed...

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Revision Aftershock

I've done it again.  Another revision.  This one I attacked, obsessed over, and made a burnt offering of my most precious 8 hours of sleep a night to.  Okay, I can't put all of my insomnia off on the revision process, but it played its part.  And now I'm left with the after effects of it all.  I wonder how other writers feel after a revision—disappointed?  invigorated?  defeated?  convinced they've just mastered a best-seller?  Right now I just feel a little lost.

At first, I was completely psyched about what I had done, even if I managed to cut only 5,000 little darlings out my manuscript. YA became a longish MG...that's okay, right? all those questions I thought I had slain have become little ghosts haunting me night and day.  I can't help it.  I have that perfectionist gene.  You know, the one that forces you to retake the test in your mind 20 minutes after you finished it in real life.  And you remember how you answered certain questions and are absolutely convinced that you did it wrong and completely screwed up the entire test, never mind the things you did right.  I hate that feeling.

I do think the changes have made my book stronger.  Yes, I do still love my book as always.  But as I get ready to throw myself into the next exciting WIP (which will be completely awesome!), I'm finding it hard to let go of the last one.  As I try to get inside the head of my new narrator, the last one is still tapping me on the shoulder and asking ME questions.  Are you sure that's enough?  Did you kill some of the good stuff?  Am I still your favorite?  

As far as that last question goes, one thing I have learned through all of my writing and revision is that I am still growing as a writer.  And if that ever ceases, then I may as well pull the plug.  So I've got to find a way to put that nagging little nabob in cold storage and clear my head for the next visitor.  Perhaps an exorcism?  Too extreme.  Straight-jacket?  Too literal.  Hmmm...okay, there can be only one answer to this problem...HERSHEY SPECIAL DARK PIECES.

So off I go to grab a bag and then sit down with my new narrator and have a chat, while my agent entertains Mr. Nattering Nabob.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Do You Breathe Through Your Eyelids?

Saturday—another day of un-writing my WIP, and I'm wondering, do I really want to hide in my office or do I need a change of scenery where people are chatting, coffee grinders grinding, steamers steaming, and whiny coffee house music trickling through the PA? For some reason that started a little dialogue in my head that ended with a very different question:  Am I a Lava Lizard or a Hermit Crab?

If you're confused, maybe I should let you in on a little more of that conversation.  It all comes down to the pros and cons of distraction, and yes, there are two sides to everything. If you're a fan of BULL DURHAM, you might remember the breathe-through-your-eyelids garter method.  That wonderful exchange between Susan Sarrandon and Tim Robbins when she wants him to act like a Lava Lizard (from the Galapagos Islands).  You know, the critter with the parietal eye that allows him to "sense" the things he can't see with his regular eyes.  His pitching sucks because he can't get out of his head enough.  He can only throw the ball, throw the ball, throw the ball...which hits everything (including the Bull mascot) but the strike zone.  So Annie talks Nuke into wearing her garter belt to get him off center enough to let loose.  He needs to be distracted a little to do his best work.  

I know that some writers prefer to hide themselves away in their cave, with absolutely no noise, nothing to distract them, like a Hermit Crab tucked into his shell.  Others thrive on a little distraction—music, television on in the background, people all around, like Lava Lizard working his parietal eye.  I'm somewhere in the middle.

Back in the day when I first started to dedicate myself to writing, my space was a corner in the kids' playroom.  Nap times were fringe times when I got the most work done.   Eventually, however, nap time was out the window and I had to leave the house just to get out of reach of all the "Mama, Mama, Mama" distractions and focus on my writing.  Armed with earphones and my laptop, I quickly learned how to tune out the café noise and write.  Now that I have my own space, I find that it really depends on my mood.  Bad television in the background can work, but so can fabulous play lists that echo the tone of my WIP.  I have to say, though, quiet time is still the best at home.  But, there is something about the white noise of a public place that forces me to draw from a deeper place. So being a Lava Lizard once in while really rocks.  The rose goes in the front, big guy.

So what about other writers out there?  How do you work best—Lava Lizard or a Hermit Crab?  Take the poll at the right or leave a comment...or do both!