Thursday, December 31, 2009

goals an' stuff...

I made some writing goals, and I've shared them on my lj but not here. But I should share them here, on the public me. So the public (all four of you!) can gaze upon them and shake your heads disparagingly at me when I fail. Um, I mean encourage me when I'm faltering? No! Cheer me on when I'm kicking ass!

So hardest and most important goal for me is about receiving feedback on the ms. that's out there, spinning around in the world right now. I'd like to remain thoughtful, objective, gracious, and rational about anything that happens with this book. (dudes. get ready to shake your head disparagingly cheer!) I mean, I've done what I can to give it its best shot now, and there are a lot of factors at play here. I can keep my head and think of the journey. Yes.

Next goal is about the next book, and that is to finish editing it and send it out there spinning into the world as well. It has come a long way in the last few days (nothing like a deadline to get elissa to spring into action, let me tell ya), but my vision for it goes beyond this round of prettifying. This feels okay.

Third writing goal is to decide on the next project. Got a lot of ideas bouncing around, a lot of different directions, and some of the decision depends on what happens with TDBB and ATW. In any case, I'd like to get one more novel rough drafted by the end of this year. Totally do-able.

And last is for me to keep working on the one story, you know the one. No? Well, I know the one. And it excites me, but I get the feeling it's a simmerer.

So now you know. My writing goals for the year. The rest of my life could probably use a little examination, too, you know, but I can do that later. (oh, wait, was "stop procrastinating" on my goals for this year, by any chance? impossible.)

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Guest Blogger: Jabber

To Papa Rick

This is a race car going over a ramp. And he’s going really fast, so that’s why I drew little yellow stripes saying that it’s fast. And there’s puddles, ‘cause it’s raining. The mountains far, far away. The clouds, wind, rain. And here’s the sun, it’s just starting to come out.

Papa will like it because I drew him what he wanted, which was a race car with flames on it, all painted yellow. Also a back tail fin, the motor sticking out of the hood, and that’s it.

From Jabberwock

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

reflections on the gaudy Christmas lights...

So I'm obsessed with memories. Or with memory. Or both, really. In almost all of my writing--whether it be fiction or goofy blog entries--what I'm trying to do is capture moments so that they feel so real and true and whole and...well, like you're living them. And for most of that writing, I rely heavily on my memory. The way things looked, the way people speak, and most pressing to me, the way I felt in that moment.

I've noticed that a common feature in my novels (and hey, even in that old short story I was reading the other night from years ago...) is that something will happen--maybe a look, a smell, a kiss!--and it will trigger a memory in my character's mind. Sometimes (a lot of times), I write these memories without any real idea of where they will ultimately go in the final narrative, and maybe even less of an idea of how they fit into the theme and the pace of the story. They surprise me, almost every time. And they also, very often, become these tiny pieces of the story that make me fall in love with it.

In real life, the triggers of memory can be subtle or vivid, and I love exploring the path my brain takes when I can trace it. Driving home a couple nights ago, I went past this house all lit up for Christmas, a house I go past every single day on my way from work to home. The lights are a little gaudy for my taste, but the other night as I drove past, I was instantly reminded of another night that I passed that house lit up like that, a night the lights made me burst into tears of happiness and hopefulness and...well...hormones.

It was six years ago, when I was pregnant with Jabber, and I know it was close to his birth day because a) the house was decorated, and b) my belly was wedged in behind the steering wheel so tightly I couldn't breathe properly. It had been a long day, and I remember looking up at that house all lit with its gaudy green and red poinsettias hanging off all the trees and thinking, "Wow. I'm getting a baby for Christmas." And I cried. And I can remember the little flurry of squirming that went on at just that moment from within my giant abdomen, as though Jabber were jumping for joy within his cramped quarters.

So all it took to revisit that memory was a glimpse of some lights strung up on a couple of trees in a yard I drive past every single weekday. Instantly, my whole body was awash in the sensations of that moment from over six years ago.


Sunday, December 20, 2009

kids are disgusting

I mean, really.

the anti-santa

'Twas a week before Christmas
and two little boys
are weeping 'cause Mama says,


"What are you doing?" says Jabber, his voice nearing hysteria. I'm caught, in the dining room, with my sack flung over my shoulder and a guilty look.

"Are you Santa?" asks Monkey, jumping up and down.

"I'm the anti-Santa," I say. "Don't look in the bag."

"What's in it?"

"Just don't look in the bag, and you'll never miss it."

Two suspicious boys give me uncertain looks.


This is the second year we've honored the tradition of Anti-Santa Day, which I've decided occurs on the first free Saturday between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Celebrations include filling a large black garbage bag full of broken toys and junk found at the bottom of the toybox, cleaning and assembling the parts for toys we've outgrown and want to donate, and best of all, a lively reading of David Shannon's TOO MANY TOYS.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

progress and looking back...

I got my first computer just about nine years ago, in January of 2001. (Actually, that's a total lie, and I just realized it. My dad actually bought me a computer when I was like eight years old--a Texas Instruments thing that I plugged into an old black and white television and copied pages and pages of Basic Programming from a battered manual over and over again in a vain attempt to "see Mr. Bojangles dance"--but this doesn't fit into the story, so let's pretend that computer doesn't exist, okay?)

Up until then, I had done all of my writing on a Smith Corona typewriter in high school, and when I left for college, my family bought me the step up from that--a word processor that had a monitor and could save to a floppy disc, though it still typed my papers out onto the page like a typewriter with a loud, rapid-fire style that really annoyed my roommates when I printed out my essays in the middle of the night.

I still remember how exciting it was when David and I took out a personal loan and bought that shiny Mac G4. It's funny to think about that, how we took out an actual loan to buy a computer. I had been a teacher for two years and had left to go on an adventure out West with my boyfriend and was working in the prepress department of a printing company, a job that had no homework. I was going to be a writer!

It wasn't the first time I had considered being a writer, you know. I wrote stories in endless spiral notebooks from elementary school on, and I remember a point during my senior year when my amazing English teacher (*waves at M.S.*) pointed her fork at me in a somewhat threatening manner and demanded that I become a writer. But it wasn't until I bought that first computer that I felt like I could actually accomplish this goal.

It was that year I started my first novel, The Star Crossing, as well as countless poems and fiction pieces and journal entries. I collected rejection notices from every short story magazine I could find in my thick, dog-eared copy of Writer's Market. I made flyers on my new computer for a writer's group and met every week with the two amazing women who responded. I wrote, wrote, wrote--even penning stories in my journal in twenty-second spurts while I burned plates for the printing press in the tiny plating room.

I had occasion last week to fire up my old computer (which I used as my primary computer up until two years ago, actually) to pull up some business-related graphics for David, and I grabbed a couple of photos and an old short story on my flash drive to transfer to my lappy for the nostalgia. I have most of my documents from that time transferred, but because I was using different software on the Mac, and because I'm fairly lazy, I haven't had a chance to get it all copied. So I spent some time looking over the short story I was most proud of in those days, a story called "Shadows."

And it was weird, so very weird, to look at this piece of writing I hadn't seen for six or eight years, to try to connect it with me--to believe that I wrote it. There's a scene in The Dharma Bum Business where Kat says she doesn't want to design her own tattoo because she knows her art will improve. There may be a point where she's embarrassed of where she was before, and she doesn't want to face that embarrassment every time she looks in the mirror. Looking at my old story, though, I wasn't so much embarrassed as completely perplexed: who was this person who wrote like that?

The writing is rough and naive and yes, I can totally understand why it was rejected, but...the spark in it, the fierce belief in itself, in its own daring...well, I think my current self could learn a thing or two from that writer--the writer who hadn't yet learned about the ups and downs, who hadn't yet doubted herself or censored herself, who hadn't yet worried about the market and whether her work would sell, who believed utterly that the world would instantly adore her brilliance. Reading my crazy old story made me smile; it made me excited about writing, about possibility. And it made excited about the thought of looking at my writing in another eight or nine years, to see what lessons my current self will have for future Elissa.

So along with the story, I dug up this photo of me, with my computer (we named her CalliopeCheetah, the Silver Ponder) and my stacks of notebooks (see them up there on the shelf?) and my keyboard sitting on a board balanced across an open drawer. This is where I became a writer.

Thursday, December 17, 2009


I horrified my Lovely Daycare Provider this morning by revealing that I haven't really started my Christmas shopping...a statement that is not *quite* true, in fact, but it's close. I haven't started my shopping for David and the kids. Now that's the truth. And it's not an unusual truth, either. I admit that I am awful--really terrible--about buying gifts for people for specific occasions. I actually like giving people things, but I don't like waiting to give them on a particular date. I cannot even tell you how many times I've bought D. a gift for some reason and then given it to him right away instead of hanging onto it until a special occasion. I basically have no patience.

So then I started thinking about queries, because I'm in the query stage with novel number three, and querying involves a lot of waiting. First you send out your queries. And you wait. And then you may get requests (well, I finally got a few, anyway!), and you wait.

And then an email comes.

Different writers have different ways of dealing with the appearance of an agent email in their inboxes. Many of them cannot look at the email right away; they need some time to prepare themselves mentally. Me? I have opened them heedlessly when checking my email during my prep period at work. It's like ripping a bandaid off; I can't let that message sit there, unread, knowing it's in there. It will drive me crazy. And yes, this is probably a bad practice because there's a lot of emotion tied up in those emails. So sometimes I'm a little giddy while teaching class. And sometimes, of course, the opposite is true. But that's good for them, too, to see what it's like for a writer--and really, to see that with any goal, a person will encounter some exciting strides forward and some disappointing setbacks. I think it's good for them to see me keep on keeping on.

Which brings me back to Christmas, sort of. So I have my manuscript out in the world in various places (one of which shows up when I google myself--a fact which still gives me chills)(what? you don't google yourself? I'm just impressed that most of the items on the first page are now me instead of a Mormon polygamy trial!), and I know it's pretty unlikely to hear from people before the holidays are over. So here I am, being patient. Finding ways to keep myself busy, like revising novel number four!

I suppose I could try shopping...

Monday, December 14, 2009

Happy Birthday, Big Brother!

Sometimes Jabber doesn't think it's fair that his little brother sneaked in the day before his third birthday, earning himself a lifelong position of "first," even when he was not, chronologically speaking, first. (It doesn't help that Monkey keeps proclaiming himself to be "SIX!" every time anyone asks him how old he is...)

But when you are in kindergarten celebrating your Monday birthday with treats and paper crowns while your little brother is yesterday's news at daycare, it feels all right to be the grand finale.

I looked at Jabber this evening, telling him bits and pieces of his birth story just as I told Monkey his the night before, and I am so amazed by how far he has come, especially in the last few months.

He can read. He can do math. I mean, tonight the two of us snuggled in his bed and took turns with an easy reader, and he even read the silent e words! Like...when did he learn that? And then he said, "I'm six, and that means I'm four plus two. I'm three plus three. I'm five plus one. I'm..." He paused a minute. "I'm four less than ten."

He has permanent teeth, two of them.

He teaches his little brother songs.

He comes up with big words, big concepts. "Monkey and I are playing animals under the table, and we're nocturnal," he says. "That means we're active at night." Another day, waiting for bus call, he lists the buses that come first to his school and to my school and states, "Well, I think we have a pattern here."

If I'm amazed at the unique personality that Monkey is developing, I'm totally floored by the way Jabberwock thinks. "You and I are just alike, Mama," he said to me on the drive home a couple nights ago. "We spend all our time thinking and dreaming and thinking and dreaming."

Happy Birthday, my eldest! I love you so!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Happy Birthday, Monkey!

It's late...this day has been full of running and grading papers and writing and singing songs to little birthday boys, but I wanted to take just a moment to say happy birthday to my little Monkey, who turned three today.

Three is a good thing. We've spent some time talking and telling stories from the day he was born, and we've eaten a good deal of lovely mom made a train for Monkey and a whole fleet of tanks for Jabber...and there hasn't been a moment all day where I haven't found myself looking at this child with wonder--thinking about how on earth did he get to be such an individual?

He has grown wiry and athletic, his baby roundness slipping away...this afternoon he almost learned to skip in the living room, and last night the way he stood in his new ice skates made David afraid for our future as hockey parents.

He has grown witty and wise...I watched him tease my cousin Jim with surprising sophistication and laughed out loud when he and his papa were exchanging puns about the cake "Tank you...tanks a lot!"

He has grown fiery and independent...he knows his own mind and woe to any who stand in his way.

Monkey knows the way to push me to the edge, and he knows the way to melt me with the smallest of smiles. His arms still wrap tightly around my neck, even as he shouts at me to go away. Most of all, I am amazed at what a unique little person he is, and I wish him a happy birthday.

I love you, Monkey.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

blue monkey group...

prodigal blogger returns...with a little cute?

Monkey decided on a favorite color, I guess. He crouched behind the buffet this afternoon and started coloring himself with marker. Luckily we noticed the strange quiet before he had progressed beyond the palm of his hand.