Grief, the End of November, NaNoWriMo and #writemotivation

Grief can hit you at the strangest times. You think you’ve got a handle on it; you’ve been through the worst parts. You survived the funeral, the graveside service, the well-wishers’ comments – all with minimal tissue involvement. After all, this loss was not totally unexpected. On some level, you’re relieved she’s no longer suffering – no longer lost. You’re not a callous person; you do feel sad, empty inside even, but you’re able to function without falling apart.

Then a few weeks pass and you’re making dinner using a recipe given to you by the person you lost or, like my husband, you’re at work passing out medication for an Alzheimer’s patient when you realize it’s the same drug your mother was taking – Bam! You’re weeping uncontrollably in a heap on the floor.

It’s always the little things that get you in the end.

Those small moments we share – making dinner together, taking care of each other when we’re sick, the silly moments every family has – they mean so much. I don’t think I’ve ever appreciated a Thanksgiving more than I have this year, when it felt like there was something off kilter; wrong. It took my slow grieving brain all week to figure out that it was because there was someone important missing.

So for those of you who’ve endured more hugs from me than normal or weepy phone calls or even silence because I couldn’t find the right words…thank you and I love you.

And I’m sure I’ll be more myself eventually. To help me with this, I’ve turned to things like poetry. Here’s a great one.

“Heavy,” by Mary Oliver

That time
I thought I could not
go any closer to grief
without dying

I went closer,
and I did not die.
Surely God
had his hand in this,

as well as friends.
Still, I was bent,
and my laughter,
as the poet said,

was nowhere to be found.
Then said my friend Daniel,
(brave even among lions),
“It’s not the weight you carry

but how you carry it –
books, bricks, grief –
it’s all in the way
you embrace it, balance it, carry it

when you cannot, and would not,
put it down.”
So I went practicing.
Have you noticed?

Have you heard
the laughter
that comes, now and again,
out of my startled mouth?

How I linger
to admire, admire, admire
the things of this world
that are kind, and maybe

also troubled –
roses in the wind,
the sea geese on the steep waves,
a love
to which there is no reply?

Somehow I did actually find time for writing amidst the emotional upheaval this week. So let’s just look over those writing goals, shall we?

let’s make it a half nano

Here are my #writemotivation goals:

1. Write at least 12,000 words on nanowrimo project each week. It looks like I may actually make it to a half NaNo – 25,000 words – by the end of November. That’s not bad, considering. Almost good, even.
2. Write blog post at least once a week. Yay! One goal met.
3. Read and comment on other blogs. I did better, but still room for improvement.
4. Exercise four times a week. Muscles are aching so we’re back in the game – well, more like we’ve had a great couple of practices and if some of the key players are injured, THEN we’ll be back in the game. (Too much of a stretch?)

On a final note, the long awaited Jerry Bennett interview will post this week! Stay tuned!

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Hooray! The new Jim Butcher book is finally out. If you haven’t read the Harry Dresden series, I’d encourage you to take a look at it. Butcher wrote the first book right here in Oklahoma while attending the University of Oklahoma. True story.

Et in arcaedia, ego.

Today is the official release date for Cold Days by Jim Butcher

In yet another engaging urban fantasy that leavens apocalyptic threats with smart-ass humor, Butcher just keeps upping the ante for wizard Harry Dresden, appearing in his 14th novel after 2011’s Ghost Story. Being killed has barely slowed down the Chicago PI, who now serves as the Winter Knight. In that role, Dresden operates as hit man for Mab, the queen of air and darkness, who is forbidden from killing mortals. Not only is his liege capricious and deadly, but Dresden soon finds himself up against new supernatural foes, not least the Redcap, who dyes his headgear with the blood of anyone unfortunate enough to cross his path. The greatest danger, however, may be from Dresden’s new assignment from Mab: to murder her daughter, Maeve. Plentiful backstory allows newcomers to have little trouble getting caught up in the…

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The briefest of updates for nanowrimo and #writemotivation

Life has been fairly disruptive and sad around our house over the past few weeks. Mourning will do that. Still, I’ve found a renewed sense of dedication to my work returning. Maybe that brush with mortality is now pushing me forward; I don’t know. Understandably, I am really far behind on my writing goals for the month. I’m going to be okay with that and just embrace this new, energetic writing phase I’m entering now. We’ll see how far I get in the next nine days.

Here my #writemotivation goals that need updating:

1. Write at least 12,000 words on nanowrimo project each week. Ouch! Well, I have written over 14,000 words, but not much more than that. I have to write over 3600 words a day going forward to reach the ultimate 50,000 word goal. It could happen. If not, I won’t cry about it. I will give it my best effort. I do have to say, that before all the sad stuff happened, I attended my first local NaNoWriMo Write-In and it was really fun. I loved finally meeting folks I’ve just known online. I WILL make some more Write-Ins before the month is over. You guys are great.
2. Write blog post at least once a week. This is the only goal I have accomplished completely so far. Good thing I kept it simple.
3. Read and comment on other blogs. I did well the first week…I will do better this week.
4. Exercise four times a week. NO COMMENT.

Coming soon – as promised – I will have an interview with The Jerry Bennett, illustrator and overall talent extraordinaire. For a preview of his work, you can check out his website here and his Facebook page here.

During this season of being thankful, I want to make sure to say that I am beyond thankful for all of my writing friends and my readers, like you.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Reflections on A Raisin in The Sun

Great works of literature can imitate life in such rich detail that they put us right in the heart of a scene; we see the movement of battle, hear the inflection of every harsh word spoken, and feel our own hearts break right along with the protagonist’s. Lorraine Hansberry was a talented playwright who did this effortlessly in her ground-breaking play A Raisin in the Sun. Her story follows the struggles of the Younger family. When given an opportunity to leave their life of poverty in their tiny apartment in Chicago’s south side for a home of their own in a white neighborhood, conflicts arise.

But before we even meet the family, Hansberry builds the mood by the briefest description of the setting: “Its furnishings are typical and undistinguished and their primary feature now is that they have clearly had to accommodate the living of too many people for too many years – and they are tired”. Just that little bit tells you so much about the lives of the people living in this space.

Even earlier than this, Hansberry opens the play with a quote from a Langston Hughes poem:

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up

Like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore –

And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat

Or crust and sugar over –

Like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags

Like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

Talk about powerful imagery. You know before reading a single line that this is going to be a story of struggle and pain.

Hansberry drew on her own experiences when writing this story. Her father purchased property in a white Chicago neighborhood and when that purchase was challenged in court, their family fought it all the way to the Supreme Court. Hansberry reflects on this period in her life in an excerpt from To be Young, Gifted and Black: Lorraine Hansberry in Her Own Words, adapted by Robert Nemiroff.

My father was typical of a generation of Negroes who believed that the “American way” could successfully be made to work to democratize the United States. Thus, twenty-five years ago, he spent a small personal fortune, his considerable talents, and many years of his life fighting, in association with NAACP attorneys, Chicago’s “restrictive covenants” in one of this nation’s ugliest ghettos. That fight also required that our family occupy the disputed property in a hellishly hostile “white neighborhood” in which, literally, howling mobs surrounded our house…My memories of this “correct” way of fighting white supremacy in America included being spat at, cursed and pummeled in the daily trek to and from school. And I also remember my desperate and courageous mother, patrolling our house all night with a loaded German Luger, doggedly guarding her four children, while my father fought the respectable part of the battle in the Washington court.

Seeing this history, one can see how easy it would have been to write a straight-forward Us versus Them storyline which would have probably been okay, but what makes the story she actually wrote so much more compelling is the authentic, nuanced cast of characters she created who show a range of real emotions and conflicting motivations. Although this book was published in 1959, the relevance still rings true – from the societal issues of racial tension to the more personal struggles of trying to overcome one’s circumstances.

I wonder sometimes about the timing of things, even something as simple as when I am drawn to read a book. My daughter was assigned to read this for school, so it’s been lying about the house for months. I picked it up this week and finished it the day we heard that my husband’s mother had died. Even though her health had been declining and even though we had been preparing ourselves for the end, her passing came unexpectedly.

Over this past week, I have often thought about my mother-in-law’s devotion to her children and how she struggled and did without so that she could lessen her children’s suffering. In some aspects, she minds me of Mama Younger who did the same. Both of these women also tried to instill pride and decency in their children and put their children’s dreams at the forefront. This story now has a special place in my heart and will always be entangled with my memories of a wonderful lady.

Isn’t it beautiful what a great work of literature can do?

Nano, nano! novel retreat and #writemotivation

Nano! Nano! Greetings from planet Ork!

What? Too obscure a pop culture reference for a Monday? Too young to remember Robin Williams’s first major role?

Shazbot!

I got off topic again.

I should be talking about NaNoWriMo and how I’m doing with my writing project for the month. I’m excited to see I’ve made some new buddies (you can be my buddy, too – just search for my user name: litbeing.) and that they’ve been hard at work. I’ve made a small dent with 2,400 unedited words on the page. I have some catch up to do. I took a break over the weekend to attend a novel revision retreat put on by our hard-working SCBWI Oklahoma crew.

What can I say? They are outstanding. Did they let a little thing like a hurricane trapping one editor at her home and wrecking the flight plans of another editor stop them? Oh, no! They kept their heads. Flight plans were changed, Skype sessions were set up, and the show was back on. Bravo to Andrew Harwell with HarperCollins Children’s Books and Alexandra Penfold with Paula Wiseman Books for sticking with us through such difficult times and still being so gracious and amazing throughout the entire weekend. You’ve won over some die hard fans for life.

I had an excellent face-to-face critique for my middle grade mystery story that I recently pulled out of a drawer. I came away with several great suggestions and an offer to submit it when I’m done making those changes. Nice! I also received wonderful ideas from my critique partners, who were the most delightful people and made the weekend so much fun.

I love writing retreats. They are more laid back than conferences, and they are just so good for my mental health. I need time away from my hectic, demanding life to wallow in the literary and talk about the world of books. It recharges my artist’s soul.

The Pictorial Tour

The view outside my room – love me some pines trees. Forget stealing towels; if these had been smaller – and I’d remembered my shovel…BAM! Souvenirs!

Here’s Mr. Harwell schooling us in Marketing.

Some of the lucky writers who attended this intimate retreat. I had such a fabulous time with you all!

My friend, Gwen, who came away from the retreat smiling.

Our fearless leader, Anna, stopping to talk with a young writer.

Hearing what others have to say about your work isn’t always easy. After two days of critiques, it was time for a pint at a local brewery.

My lovely critique partners. Cheers!

The guys in our group – the crazy looking one is The Jerry Bennett, the illustrator. He’s currently working on his first graphic novel and I’m going to be interviewing him on this blog soon, so stay tuned!

I don’t want to forget my #writemotivation family; you guys are going to get me through my rough draft this month, right? I know I’ll be there for you. I’m gonna need your help cause my family ravaged my emergency candy bowl while I was gone and it’s half empty.

Defilers!

My goals this month will mostly tie into keeping up with NaNoWriMo. I don’t think I need more than that – after all, I’m not completely insane.

Here they are:

1. Write at least 12,000 words on nanowrimo project each week.
2. Write blog post at least once a week.
3. Read and comment on other blogs.
4. Exercise four times a week.

Simple, yes? I hope so. Let’s go be creative.

Nano! Nano!

Remember, Remember the First of November…Nanowrimo is here!

Emergency Candy

I am so completely surprised that November snuck up on me. I swear it was just summer. Actually, here in Oklahoma, it’s still been in the 80’s until recently so I can be forgiven for my confusion on that point. I’ve had my head down working in my writer’s cave so long, I’ve lost all sense of time and place. I almost missed Halloween. We didn’t even decorate the house this year – didn’t stop those freeloading cuties from ringing the bell. Good thing I did manage to buy some treats. (And extras of, course. They will be needed this month.)

I have so many things going on right now that I can hardly manage without skipping a night of sleep here and there – and that’s usually a bad idea because it always catches up with me. I become a brainless zombie that makes really bad online purchases. November is busy for me in a normal year, with Thanksgiving and my birthday week always colliding and then we usually travel to my folk’s place during that same time – it’s just nuts. Traveling with an autistic child and figuring out what to do with the two attention-seeking dogs is enough of a stressor alone. This year, I’ve added to the chaos.

I have a novel revision retreat this weekend that I’ve been preparing for all month which has meant reading and critiquing two other novel manuscripts, complete with detailed notes on plot structure, character development, dialogue, and voice. I’m just about finished, but there’s a few down to the wire things left to do. Once I’m there at the retreat, I’ll be able to relax and it will be an enjoyable three days of writing bliss with my friends along two editors from New York who survived the worst Hurricane Sandy had to offer and were gracious enough to rearrange their flights so they could attend our gathering.

Another major thing I’m working on is completing the final revision of my YA manuscript that an agent is waiting to see. I am so close and I really want to send it out this week, but I know I need to wait until it’s ready and in the best shape possible. So when I see another section that needs more work, it’s frustrating. I just want to be done already! Gah! I hope I can send out very soon.

Finally, I’ve signed up for National Write a Novel Month. Most of us just call it nanowrimo, or nano for short. It’s a really fun way to work on a first draft at a frenzied pace with a group of people cheering each other on. I need to get started on my next manuscript and once I send off the manuscript to the agent, nano will the best way to get my mind off of the agony of waiting to hear back from her. If you’re also doing nano, hit me up on your buddy list under litbeing and we’ll make it through this crazy thing together. I’ll be participating in #writemotivation this month as well, but mostly I’ll be keeping my goals related to nano, so that shouldn’t be too much of an added strain.

One final note of business, the die of fate were rolled for my Darcy Pattison book giveaway and three was the magic number. Sharon Martin won the signed copy of Desert Baths. Congratulations, Sharon! I’ll see you this weekend at the retreat and bring you your prize.

So are you doing anything crazy this month? Participating in nano? Let me hear from you.