Sharpen Your Knives

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We had some snow here in NJ. My area got hit with about a foot. Maybe eight inches. I didn’t check and I didn’t bring out my ruler. I will tell you however much it was the shoveling wore me out. I tried to focus on the blessings like I’m healthy enough to shovel and I live in a house as opposed to a cardboard box. It’s the first snow storm in March since 1993. 

All that snow means the school closes. Two teens home. And the Coffee King certainly can’t drive to work and we share an office at home. Let’s not forget the noodgy dog. So, trying to get writing done with many distractions isn’t easy.

I’ve blogged about this before, but after about fifteen interruptions and it wasn’t even lunch time I had to take matters into my hands. I had to carve out some time to write.

First, I texted my good friend and writer buddy K.M Fawcett. (Her books are awesome. Check her out.) K.M. and I go to a local Starbucks at least twice a week for uninterrupted writing time. My text said something like, “I CAN’T GET ANY WRITING DONE.” It’s hard to get your mojo going every time someone sidetracks you. She gave me some good advice. Set a timer. Tell the characters in your house no interruptions while the timer is on.

Then I remembered! My red hat!!!  It had been years since I needed that hat. When the Noodges were little and I would try to write they’d interrupt me constantly. My desk was out in the open so I couldn’t shut a door. I instituted the red hat. When I wore the hat they weren’t allowed to talk to me. Unless blood or vomit was involved. I promised to always give them warning before I wore the hat and they could ask me as many questions as they wanted before the hat went on which was very important to Noodge 1. He can’t wait to have his questions answered. He’s still like that at almost seventeen. (I can’t believe that same little boy is almost 17!)

Yesterday, the hat made a revival. I took a picture of myself wearing the hat, and sent it to my family scattered around the house with instructions. I’d wear the hat with a timer going for 20 minutes. Please don’t interrupt me unless blood is involved. (They’re big enough to throw up in a toilet now.) It works.

Finding time to write isn’t easy. We all have lives that work around our writing. Unless you’re Stephen King whose writing can work around his life. Our families don’t always understand that we’re actually working even if all we’re doing is staring at the computer, but our hands aren’t moving. Every time our train of thought gets broken we have to start over and hope to capture the fizzle we’re trying so hard to get on the page. Writing isn’t like doing accounting or sewing.

I don’t blame them for not understanding. In fact, I’m a culprit in the interruptions. I often stop what I’m doing, no matter what it is, to help my kids or walk the dog or talk to CK. The hat creates a nice visual. (I just got interrupted while writing this. I’m not wearing the hat and Noodge 1 can’t find his sweatpants. See?)

The timer is good because they know how long you won’t be available. And anything can wait twenty minutes, can’t it?

Knives are sharpened. The hat is on now. The timer is next. It’s another snow day and plenty of writing to do.

Any questions?

 

Pooping in PetSmart

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“Who me?”

I have a love-hate relationship with my dog. Most of the time he’s adorable and his goofy personality makes me laugh. I mean, when you watch an eighty pound German shepherd act like a goof ball how can you not laugh, right?

There are other times when I question why we have a dog at all. Case in Point: Last week Noodge 3 (as I lovingly refer to him.  a.k.a. Munson) was in much need of a bath. He’d had an ear infection and after several weeks of shoving antibiotic fluid into his ear the fur on the side of his face had clumped together. (We often tried to clean the fur with baby wipes, but Munson is a long haired shepherd making the process much harder. That and he wanted to eat the wipes right out of our hands.)

Off to PetSmart for a bath! He loves getting a bath, though he doesn’t like the dryer and has to air dry and the wonderful people who work at our local PetSmart love Munson. Come on, how can’t you love a goofy, eighty pound, fluffy dog? It’s impossible.

After the bath, the Coffee King thought it would be fun to walk Munson around the store, check out some of the toys. I guess CK was thinking Munson would bark at the ones he liked best and we’d buy it. Kind of like when we took the kids to the toy store before they could speak.

Munson is easily excited. A little fun fact about German shepherds. They have a sensitive stomach. It was too much excitement for Munson. (Or someone gave him a treat we didn’t approve.) Because right in the middle of the toy aisle with absolutely no warning Munson took a squat!

It might not have been the end of the world except I’ve never seen anything so liquid puddling all over the floor in a store and coming out of the back end of my freshly cleaned dog.

I ran for help.

I found a woman on a ladder stocking shelves. I said, “My dog just had an accident.”

She pointed over my head and said, “the cleaner is over there. Do you see it?”

Uh…NO! You’re standing three feet above my head. Pointing in a general area doesn’t equal good directions. Anyway, because I’m smarter than I look, I found it. And here comes CK with the dog. “I’m taking him outside.”

And leaving me with the eruption is aisle four? You betcha.

What choice did I have? Did I really want to leave Lake Erie for someone to step into? Yes. But I didn’t. I grabbed several tiny, one-ply paper towels (more like cocktail napkins), an equally small garbage bag (think Ziploc sandwich bag) and the cleaner and went to battle.

The paper towels were useless and required fifty trips back and forth to gather enough to do any good. As soon as I put one down it was soaked through and there was no way on this planet I was touching anything that looked or smelled like that paper towel had become. The trick was how to shove the gigantic wad of wet, smelly paper towels into the sandwich bag without touching anything and hold my wallet under my arm without dropping it in the sewer. (Wallet is too large to shove in a pocket and I couldn’t put it down for fear while I was drowning in the polluted lake (not implying Lake Erie is polluted by the way) someone would come along and swipe it up.

No one came to help me. No one asked if I was all right. No one brought me a mop which I desperately needed. On one of my trips back for more paper towels another employee (and no one from the grooming center) said to me, “Make sure you throw that outside.” In the kind of voice that suggested I coerced my dog into defecating in her store. In fact, I make a career of doing just that thing. Haven’t you heard of it? Pooper Plopper. I’m very successful.

I managed to clean it up and break a sweat. You really can burn calories in all amazing ways. I scrubbed my hands and threw out the eruption in the inside garbage can, hee hee. Went outside to find CK and Munson doing laps in the parking lot. Munson no worse for wear. Me, trembling, disgusted, and questioning my sanity when I said hands clapping, “Yes, let’s get a dog! What fun!”

 

 

 

 

Serial Killers Are Everywhere

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I’m sitting in my office, at my desk fretting over what to blog about this week. Coming from behind me, outside my window is either the sounds of a squirrel on crack, the roof coming off, or a drummer on scaffolding because I’m on the second floor. I’m trying to keep my mind away from the possibility of an intruder. Albeit, not a very bright one if he’s making that much noise on a bright, sunny day, at lunch time. However, I trust no one and my first thoughts are always to be careful. Serial killers are everywhere.

You know when you’re watching a scary movie and the character on screen decides to go look outside because they heard a crash or a gun shot and you yell at the screen, “DON’T DO IT. DON’T GO OUT THERE!”? I was compelled to look out my office window just now and thought this might be the stupidest thing I’ve done all day. But, there must be an explanation to the noises outside. We want to reassure ourselves the world as we know it hasn’t changed. We like the status quo, don’t we? And what was I going to do when I saw the rabid squirrel or the crazed drummer suspended in mid-air? Panic, that’s what. Not pretty.

Several years ago, I think before I even had kids, I was home and had somehow forgotten the roofers we hired were going to begin work. There I was home alone, footsteps pounded on my roof. It wasn’t Christmas Eve so that ruled out Santa immediately. I didn’t know what the sound was and then I heard voices! Robbers. Vandals. Serial Killers!!!!!!!! I panicked. Grabbed the phone and debated on calling 911. What was I going to say? I didn’t want to sound ridiculous and I didn’t want to go outside. I did bring myself to look out the window. Saw the roofer’s truck and passed out. No, kidding. I called myself a lot of stupid names for being silly.

I’m going to get a baseball bat. I’ll be right back.

There are disadvantages to having a vivid imagination. One of them is the stories in your head never stop. With baseball bat in hand, I investigated the noise. I opened the window, climbed out onto the ledge below and shimmied up the drain pipe to the roof above. A turkey vulture’s wing had tangled in the weather vane.

Looks like turkey for dinner.

No?

 

We’re Live!

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That’s Dave packing the dance floor!

About a month ago I mentioned my good friend Dave Nase asked me to blog for his company NJs Best DJs. (I also edited most of the content on his new and fantastic website.)

I’m happy to report the blog is now live! I have three posts already up and would love for my faithful readers to stop by and say hi. I love to see familiar faces out in public. I’m not just writing about DJing. There’s plenty of advice on event planning too so if you or someone you know is in the midst of planning a party you might find a nugget of good information. Dave will also be doing great giveaways. And you know I’ll be poking fun a long the way. It should be a good time. Hope to see you there!

Thanks!

Stacey

 

 

The College Essay

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Photo Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

As you may know, Noodge 1 has begun the college search. We are months away from the dreaded application process, but I can see it on the horizon every time I peek out from under my, “don’t send my boy to college” barricade.

I hear the college essay is quite an important part of the application. I’m glad I’m a writer and I can help him. Not that he’ll want my help or even need my help, but since I can’t help myself I will be offering my services.

I’m under the impression it’s beneficial for the applicant to have a moving story. Some adversity they experienced and climbed from the rubble to succeed again. That’s a lot of pressure for a teenager. Haven’t we as parents been trying to keep them from calamity at all costs? It makes me think of that Modern Family episode where Haley is trying to write her college essays and realizes she hasn’t experienced any obstacles in her life. That’s when Claire, her mother, helps her out. Funny episode.

Haley from Modern Family and Noodge 1 have a lot in common. Thank God. So, what’s he going to write about? How he couldn’t get internet while on vacation with his intact and semi-normal family? Or should he try sometimes my mother doesn’t go food shopping and I’m forced to eat the expired pickles in the fridge? How about, several times my mother has forced me to wear clothes from the hamper because she didn’t do my laundry and I never bothered to mention everything I own is dirty? And if they really want to feel sorry for him he could tell them about the times he’s been booted out of the Netflix account.

Maybe I should take him for a ride in the middle of the night, blindfolded (him not me) drop him off at a cemetery without his phone and tell him to find his way home? He could write about his crazy mother and the lessons he learned about survival, trust, and navigating by the stars. Hmmm……It would make for a great essay.

 

 

Where Does Inspiration Come From?

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I am often asked where I get the ideas for my books. All stories start with an idea, right? The idea is the thing that gets you excited about writing. It’s the thing you need to remember when you’re 30,000 words in and you can’t remember why you started that stupid book in the first place. I know, I’ve been there. In fact, I’m there right now.

When my son was about ten he said to me, “Mom, I had a nightmare. I was trapped in Hell and I had to answer math questions to get out.” And the idea for Welcome To Kata-Tartaroo was born. When I wrote the second book in the series, Welcome To Bibliotheca, I wanted to revolve the adventure around a quirky character trait of my main character. He’s a kid that loves the library. And that story was born.

Inspiration can come from something someone said. In 1967, Smokey Robinson was shopping for a Christmas gift for his wife with Motown producer Al Cleveland. Mr. Cleveland meant to say, “I second that motion.” A very common phrase. Instead he said, “I second that emotion.” The men went home and wrote a song around that misspoken phrase. It was a #1 R& B hit.

Inspiration comes from stories on the news or life experience. But be careful about the life experience thing. I hear a lot, “you should write my life story.” Yeah – No. Not everyone’s story is interesting enough. Sorry. Hard truth. That adage, write what you know, doesn’t mean tell your life story in a book. It means write what you know and if you don’t know something research it. But we all take pieces of things from our lives or from people we know and incorporate that into our books. That’s perfectly fine.

Inspiration can come from anywhere. What’s really important is what you do with that spark. Do you breathe life into it or do you let it burn out?

Any questions?

 

 

How To Handle Rejection: “It’s not you, It’s me.”

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If you’re writing books, you’re probably going to decide at some point to take a gigantic risk and query an editor or agent to find out if your writing has any chops. What will you do if it gets rejected? Because, it will. Sorry. Hard truth.

I attended the NJRW Put Your Heart in a Book Conference this past October. Great conference. I pitched my women’s fiction novel, A Second Chance House, to four editors and agents. Three of them loved the premise. I had read my pitch, perfectly acceptable way to pitch, and one agent said she loved my writing! Hot dog, things are looking up. Nah. I’ve been down this road a few times. I know the drill. She liked my book, but not enough to rep me. At least that’s what she said after she and others in her agency read it.

I received another rejection yesterday. From an editor. And though she said some nice things about my writing she felt the book wasn’t for her and passed.

Getting rejected in the publishing industry is the equivalent to breaking up a relationship. “It’s not you. It’s me.” That’s what I heard (and have heard with other books) from these two rejections. Not right for me. Not a fit for me. It’s not you. It’s me.

Where does that leave me? Besides standing in the snow without a coat and holding only my wet and soggy manuscript?

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There are many choices when the rejections hit. Eat tons of peanut M&Ms. A serious possibility. Hide under the bed until your computer battery runs out and you can safely walk past it without torturing yourself by rereading the rejection. Or dust yourself off and keep going. The last option boarders on insanity, but hey, who said authors had any sanity? (As if hiding under the bed states normal psychological behavior? Of course it does! What? You haven’t done that?)

What do you usually think when someone you’re dating says, “It’s not you. It’s me.”? (I can’t answer that because I haven’t been on a date since 1990 and he didn’t say that. We ended up married with two kids and a dog. He said something funny and I laughed. The rest is history as they say.) Anyway, if I were dating and someone said it’s not you, it’s me, I’d probably say, “Hmph. What do you know. It’s not me, It’s you!” Yes, very mature, I realize.

But that’s exactly what I’m saying to these rejections, because it isn’t me. Now, having said that, there are times when it is your book. Never you, but your book and it takes time and lots of writing practice when to know it’s time to let that book sit in a drawer and rest and when to keep going. If you’re not sure which one you are, email me, we’ll talk.

But I’ve been around the block a few times and have a decent idea that my novel is worth publishing. My critique partners won’t let me embarrass myself. They’re good like that and I love them for it. Another reason why critique partners are invaluable, they won’t let you walk around with your dress stuck in your underwear.

So, where are you in the publishing process? Are you ready for an editor, ready to pitch or ready to shove that book in a drawer and start a new project? Or is time for M&Ms?

Any questions?