Wednesday, February 24, 2016

February 24, 2016

I love everything about writing.

That’s not to say that what I do is easy-peasy or doesn’t take any effort. It’s often very hard, and takes a lot of work. There are days when the words flow, I’m in the zone, and I get a peek of what Heaven is going to be like for me. There are also days when I barely get a hundred words written, or when coming up with each single word is like pulling teeth. One of the things that makes what I do most interesting is that I never know which of those two extremes I’m going to visit on any given day.

But whether it’s feast or famine, I love it.

I love the planning stage of a new manuscript, when I open a fresh shiny new document and just begin to ramble on about who these people are that have taken up residence in my head. Oh, the things I sometimes put down! Why did he hide that single piece of broccoli in his mom’s underwear drawer? Why didn’t she haul off and punch that bitchy girl in 9th grade who started that horrible rumor? What did he really think when he opened that present from Santa on Christmas morning when he was 8 and saw the wood working kit he’d wanted so badly but had been afraid to ask for? Why did she choose to do that?

Creating characters is fun, but it’s also a responsibility. You want characters that your readers can fall in love with; characters they can identify with. They need to be complete people. A lot of the things I write about these characters in this first document, never make it, per se, into the finished novel. But they’re all pieces of the whole people I am trying to get to know, whose stories I need to tell.

I have a friend who’s a writer, of novels and screenplays, a gentleman who is multi-faceted and multi-talented, who disagrees with me on one major point. Well two, actually.

I’ve gone back to being a “pantster” you see—an author who writes a story by the seat of her pants; as opposed to being a “plotster”—an author who has a detailed, step by step outline. Notice I said, I’ve gone back. I was one, then the other but now, as I am working on my 50th title, I have reverted to being a pantster, which isn’t as haphazard as it sounds. It means, I’ve come to trust the combination of skill and talent within me to let those two entities work, no holds barred.

The second thing we disagree about is this next statement that anyone close to me has heard me utter: if my characters don’t step up and take over the telling of their story by mid-point in the first draft, then I have a very serious problem. “That doesn’t make any sense,” my friend will say. “YOU are the author! They’re not the authors! YOU are in charge!”

Indeed, I am. And if I don’t know my characters so well that it seems as if they just take over, then I don’t know them well enough to tell their story.

I love the editing process, both my own, and the edits I get from my publisher. I love a good, hard, clean edit. I want to become the best writer I can be, and that will not happen if all anyone ever tells me is that I’m good. False modesty and all else aside, I am good. I know that, even if I don’t always feel that. What I need from my editor is to know how I can become better.

Being a writer isn’t just what I do, it’s who I am. It’s who I always have been, even when I was sidetracked doing other things; even if the world has only known it for the last nine years.

And there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t take a moment to be thankful for this amazing life I have—amazing because I get to do my dream job, and it’s even more fun and fulfilling than I ever dared to dream it would be.



Wednesday, February 17, 2016

February 17, 2016

Sometime over the last few months, a change has come to the atmosphere here in the Ashbury home. For the first time ever—and likely to stay that way until it happens—my beloved is beginning to long for retirement.

I’m really, really sorry for that, but not for the reasons you might think.

My husband has worked where he is currently employed, at a limestone quarry, for 38 years. The first couple of years the work was seasonal, involving a lay off over the winter months. But then the business boomed as the demand for stone increased, and he had steady work with no lay-offs. He began there when the company was a family owned-outfit, and his boss the third generation of that family to be in charge.

He knew almost immediately that he’d finally found his place. Over the years that the Gray family owned that quarry, my husband, David, went from doing whatever needed to be done (including breaking up, manually with a sledge hammer, dinner-table sized boulders that got stuck in the crusher) to being the Maintenance Chief. If a part was needed and could not be found, he made it. No, he had no engineering degree, but he could build screens and conveyors and whatever else was needed, weld like nobody’s business, and those fabrications held up well—I think they only replaced the last one he made in those early years, a few years ago.

He loved everything about his work, and he cared about the family he worked for.

Then, in 2003, in the face of increasing government regulations on the industry, Mr. Gray sold his company to a very large conglomerate. He gifted each of his employees an impressive sum of money based on the number of years they’d worked for him. He also saw to it that those employees who were most senior (my husband was one of two) and were receiving a vacation pay percentage that was in excess of what the new company would pay, continued to receive that higher rate. Yes, he had that written into the terms of sale—as well as guaranteeing every one of his people continued to have a job for a minimum of two years (barring any negligent act that compromised safety).

It was truly the hand of God when the very first new plant manager they got turned out to be a gem. He’d come to their smaller operation having been a plant manager at another, larger site, where the social structure was a very terse “us versus them”. This man immediately took to his new crew, and made working for a large company a good experience for my husband.

But, of course, that couldn’t last. One of the things bigger companies tend to do is move staff around. After a couple of years, they got a new boss. This one, much like the first, turned out to be a pretty good guy. It took him time, but he developed a great respect for the crew, and they for him. When he left, his next in command became the boss.

Unfortunately, that man wasn’t meant to be a boss, and the one after him only cared about earning the biggest bonus he could by cutting as many expenses as possible. He cut corners, trimmed hours, and yes, came in under budget which was good for his personal bottom line. But after a couple of years, the equipment began to break down, as did the morale.

That is the man who killed my husbands love of his job.

The plant manager he has now is pretty good, but sadly, David hasn’t gotten that love back. Now every day it’s work for him to get up and go out the door. He hates Mondays, lives for weekends and days off and vacation time, and is miserable five days a week.

Watching this change come over my beloved these last few years has broken my heart.

When the first big-company boss took over, he would shake his head and say to David, “we’re going to have to drag you out of here kicking and screaming, aren’t we?” And when he said those words, it was true.

Now David can’t wait until that day arrives—which is going to make the next year and a half seem like forever for him.


Wednesday, February 10, 2016

February 10, 2016

Life really is beginning to return to normal for me since I had my gallbladder surgery. Before I was diagnosed correctly, I got to enjoy four to five years of absolutely horrible health.

I’m not really a complainer. I’ve had very bad arthritis for nearly 20 years now, and for the most part, I just ignore the pain. That’s not to say I don’t feel it. That’s to say I feel it and think, well, that’s just how it is for me. It is, after all, only pain. I have been to an orthopedic specialist who says I’m not a candidate for knee replacement because of where the arthritis is. And while I could have my ankles fused, I don’t want to. I still have some range of motion in them, and fusing them would make life challenging in whole new ways. So I take pain medication when I need it, but I don’t let the pain or the prospect of more pain stop me from doing what I really want to do. And since all the rest of my arthritis would still ache (knees, hips and lower back), I don’t see the point in fusing my ankles.

But this gallbladder situation, that was a whole other matter. I was suffering from what I’ll politely call unpredictable incontinence. That was one of two symptoms of gallbladder disease that I endured for years before I actually had a gallbladder attack. The other was that eating never felt good. Even though I cut down my portions and ate only about half of what I had been eating before this all set in, my stomach didn’t feel good afterward. Rare were the times when I ate a meal and enjoyed it. The latter symptom made me never want to go out to eat, and the former made me never want to go out, period. I was in fact very close to declaring myself house bound.

Traveling was a nightmare for me these last few years, as I never knew if I was going to need a bathroom. My warning time was often as little as ten seconds—not a problem if you can run, but definitely a problem if you walk with a cane. And there were a few memorable occasions when I was given no warning at all.

But things are better now, and it’s like I’ve been set free from a prison. I can enjoy a meal and not suffer for hours after it. I’m regular, though I do understand that being the age I am there will be times I won’t be. But it’s not an looming, unpredictable horror any longer. I hope soon, I won’t even worry about it at all. Habits do, after all, take time to break.

I feel so good, that this weekend coming up I am going to renew my swim membership for the first time in several years. I’m going for the “fitness” package, which will allow me the use of exercise rooms at our local facility, as well as the pools. I can walk on a treadmill (if it’s not going too fast) and I can use an exercise bicycle. There are also a few weight machines I can use, as well, to increase my upper body strength. I won’t go every day, but I think even if I manage three times a week, I’ll be better off for it.

Life hands us all crap from time to time (sorry for the bad pun). That is the bald truth, and as far as I can see, when it does, you have two choices. You can weep and wail and carry on, because this has happened to you; or you can sit back and figure out your best options, and handle it accordingly. I try not to do too much weeping or wailing. But I’m human and there are days when the arthritis pain is really bad. Sometimes a good cry is exactly what’s needed.

 I do that when no one else is home. Tears are a tool for relieving stress, not a ploy for sympathy.

I also try to look on everything I’ve experienced in life—especially those things we tend to think of as bad—as a gift. The best gifts are the ones you share, aren’t they? Some folks may not care to know what I go through on such a personal level, but there might be someone out there who will read this essay today who will sigh with relief, just knowing they’re not the only one—they’re not alone.

What are we on this earth for, I ask you, if not to do what we can, share what we can, to help one another? That’s been my tenet for the last many years. It allows me to live the best life I can live, with an attitude of gratitude.

So I am grateful for all I’ve experienced, and especially for the opportunity to share these words with you.


Wednesday, February 3, 2016

February 3, 2016

Generally speaking, I try very, very hard not to think too highly of myself, or my abilities. As soon as I do, something happens that lets me know I’m not such a hot shot, after all.

Just over a week ago, I was nearing the end of a manuscript, and needed to submit it by a certain date that very week. I was all, “yeah, I’ve got this”, positive I’d have no problem whatsoever meeting the deadline. It is in fact a point of professional pride for me that I have never been late with a single submission or editing deadline.

I was so positive that I’d have no problem, in fact, that I agreed to have “family dinner” at our house Monday evening. We don’t usually do dinners on a week day, but our second daughter had the day off, and she really wanted us all to get together.

 It’s not much work to prepare a simple meal, and I did keep it simple because I was working on that manuscript. Bone-in ham, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, veggies and a salad. We bought a cake for dessert, one of the frozen brands available here that everyone really likes.

We didn’t know if the great-grandbabies and their parents would make it to the dinner or not. The day before our little Abby had been sick, and the consensus was she’d eaten something that didn’t agree with her. But she’d bounced back as little ones usually do. There were ten of us in all for dinner including the babies, and it was a very nice time.

I worked diligently on Tuesday, and then got up and at it early Wednesday, right after I posted my essay. I was within a thousand or so words of finishing my first draft when, about noon hour, I realized I just didn’t feel well. That does happen from time to time, and usually, all I need to do is to lie down for an hour or so, and I’m right as rain.

Fifteen minutes into my lie-down, I realized that I was not going to feel better. I was going to need a bucket. I was actually sick! I haven’t been sick like that, not counting my gall bladder attacks, in years. But it was worse than just me being sick. So, too, were our second daughter, her two kids...and Abby’s parents.

It wasn’t something the little one ate that disagreed with her—she’d had a 24 hour gastro bug.

 I could do nothing but stay close to my bed—and the bucket—and believe that I would finish my work on time the next day.

The next morning, I awoke feeling better. Really better. I had to take the dog to the groomer first thing (just a few blocks away, where I leave him and pick him up when he’s finished, around two hours later). I had gotten a start on my work, took the dog, came home and computer had crashed.

I must confess at that point, I had a mini melt down.

Fortunately, my beloved has a computer, and I do all my work in Drop Box. It took some time to download the writing program and the drop box that I needed, but by the time it was time to go get the dog again, I was able to come home and resume my writing. I had to leave the house once more for an hour and a half in the late afternoon in order to go and get David from work—of course that was the one and only time I’ve ever had to do that on a Thursday, it’s usually Friday—but then I came home and worked, and met my deadline. Just.

We were able to resurrect my computer, but it was mostly so I could say goodbye. By the time you read this, I should be on my new one, and learning Windows 10. It’s being set up by the Geek Squad, including the installation of an icon I can click on and get them to help me when I’m stuck.

And maybe I’ll tape a little note on the tower to remind me to watch my attitude. Something, perhaps, like “pride goeth before a fall”.