Thanksgiving Family Photo 2014

Years ago my sister and I settled into a holiday rotation for hosting and being together so both sides of our families get equal shares of each other. We’re together for Thanksgiving one year and Christmas the next and vice versa.

This year we met at my sister’s house for Thanksgiving, including my parents and Mamaw. Per usual, the week went by too quickly but I’m left feeling ever thankful that we had the time at all.
Family photo high resThis is my last week of graduate school. It’s not even going to be a full week since the novel (my capstone project) is due Thursday. I have one remaining assignment for Genre Writing and then I’m officially done. I’ll take a short break to enjoy Christmas and then I’ll start writing query letters (and crossing my fingers, and rubbing a rabbit’s foot, and looking for four-leaf clovers, and picking up pennies when I find them on the street…)

Being December 1 and all, Timmy showed up. I admit that I wasn’t prepared for Timmy to show up so soon, but we made it work. Thanks, Mom, for providing Timmy’s first treat to the boys.

Timmy on December 1

The Wire and Favorite Photos

I’m down to it. The wire. The end of the semester. Everything’s about to be due and I’m feeling the pressure.

In the next three weeks I must complete a synopsis of both my novel and one I’ve read this semester (they are not easy to write), a mock query letter, an essay about the pros and cons of traditional versus self-publishing, a fifteen-page introductory paper for the novel, a mock dust jacket for the novel, and – oh yeah – the novel. Even though the rough draft is finished, it’s not tidy. It’s fraught with misspellings and needs a good going-over.  The errors have mostly to do with fast typing. It’s maddening.

I’ve been a lucky little photographer lately and have enjoyed a smattering of photo sessions with wonderful people. That blessing will continue over the next few weeks and, honestly, I’m grateful because it allows me to be creative in a way that has nothing to do with graduate school. Here are a few of my recent favorites:  Continue reading “The Wire and Favorite Photos”

Insert panic here

Suddenly we’re at the end of October. As I type, my bacon and goat cheese grits aren’t sitting well as my stomach is turning inside itself with worry. I have six weeks left in the semester, which means I have six weeks to finish the novel, edit it, design the front and back matter, write a synopsis, and complete a fifteen-page companion paper to introduce the project, explain my process, and cite sources of influence.

I also have to complete four big assignments for Genre Writing, homeschool the kids, do a few photos shoots, and say hi to Chuck every once in a while.

There’s a temptation to pull back and say no to certain things, but that’s really hard to do when you love everything you’re doing. I mean, when I’m taking photos like this, I don’t want to say no:

DSC_0275 low res w

(By the way, if any of you know to whom this sweet baby belongs, DO NOT talk about this photo to the baby’s grandmother, unless you want to spoil her Christmas present surprise.) Continue reading “Insert panic here”

Writing Designing Reading Photographing

When I haven’t been talking to Jeremy about abortion, Monica Lewinsky, or what it means to give the middle finger, I’ve super busy with lots of creative and exciting projects. First and foremost is the novel. I just hit 121,000 words, which is still painfully long, but I refuse to cut anything until I’m done getting all of my words out. My goal is to finish by mid-November so I can print everything out and edit over Thanksgiving. It’s a reasonable goal as long as I keep this momentum. The end is close, so I have no more excuses to give. Also, I’ve convinced a few folks to be pseudo-editors on my behalf, though I’m happy to have a few more, if any of you are interested. I cannot open that circle too wide, though. Too much input is… too much.

I’m also working on a few design projects, so InDesign and Photoshop are opened daily. They love the attention.

Reading-wise, I’m about to finish a fantasy novel that is both boring and ridiculous. I appreciate a sensible effort to create a world of possibility in another realm, but if none of the proper names of people and places are easily enunciated, I’m entirely turned off. My eyes glaze over and I want to surrender. Unfortunately, I can’t stop reading it since it’s part of my Genre Writing class. When I’m not reading about goblins and elves, I’m reading a unique story called Mr. Sebastian and the Negro Magician by Daniel Wallace, who also wrote Big Fish. (Remember the 2003 movie with Ewan McGregor? Yeah, same writer.) I’m nearly finished, so I’ll post a review soon. It’s one of the books I picked up at The Lantern in Georgetown.

Finally, there’s some photography going on around here, which TOTALLY ROCKS MY SOCKS OFF. What a fun hobby, you guys! I just love taking pictures of happy people and giving them something to keep forever. My last session was with a family we know from church. There were laughs all around. Continue reading “Writing Designing Reading Photographing”

First Day of School

The day started with pancakes and avoidance.

Jackson starts 3rd grade

After a modest amount of pouting, I showed the boys their curriculum and we got to work. Major and Salem joined us, per usual.

Major on the first day of school

Salem on the first day of schoolAttitudes were mostly good, and as I’ve learned from previous years, attitude is everything, mine included.

This will be my last semester of graduate school, but also the most exciting. In addition to a genre writing course, I’m working on my capstone project – the novel. The semester will be difficult but I’m not worried. For some strange reason, my anxiety is at bay and I’m not fretting. It’s not even a medically-induced calm. I just feel good about it all.

However, I totally reserve the right to freak out and get anxious if I want to.

Cheers to a great year! ♥

Headaches, bathroom breaks, and reading for pleasure

I would love to tell you this weekend was positively perfect since I finished my genre paper a day early and therefore started my week-long school break Friday afternoon, but I am going on Day 3 of a headache and I quite literally want to punch myself in the face, just to see if that will help it go away.

Also, Chuck fought a stomach bug nearly all of Saturday and most of Sunday, so that wasn’t particularly pleasant either. We took his father to Tupelo Honey Cafe last night for a birthday dinner (Happy Birthday, Bill!) and Chuck wasn’t able to enjoy the food like usual for fear that the bug would resurface.

To top it off, my insomnia came back to visit me Saturday night. It was like the insomnia of 2011 when I’d lay away for four hours, doze for 20 minutes, then lay awake until giving up on sleep altogether.

The weird part is that I wasn’t even fretting Saturday night. I genuinely have no imminent worries that keep me in limbo or in a state of potential catastrophe. Life, in general, is good. But my brain refuses to shut off because it prefers to think about what might happen on Season 5 of Downton Abbey, what clothes I should donate to Goodwill, and whether or not I’ll ever lose ten pounds. Stupid nonsense nothingness that should not keep a person awake at night.

See, I stopped taking Ambien in May. My prescription ran out and I thought it would be good to wean myself off the drug and save whatever memory I have left. (Have you taken ? Has it wrecked your memory or made you do weird stuff?) I’ve been sleeping mostly well all summer, taking the occasional Melatonin or Advil PM if I wanted to ensure myself a few good hours of shut-eye.

But Saturday night scares me. Insomnia is no good. It wrecks my mood and mental capacity, and with another semester starting next Monday, I’m not willing to risk it.

BeautifulRuins_small-330The only good that came out of not sleeping is that I finished Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter. That’s right. I read for pleasure. It didn’t matter that I was reading for pleasure at three in the morning. It wasn’t theory or philosophical drivel or some book I had to read for class. It was a thoughtful, well-crafted story of a wishful love affair between a young Italian man and an almost-movie star. Jess Walter takes you from the coast of Italy in 1962 to present day Hollywood through a series of mistakes, lies, and starry-eyed daydreams. His writing is impeccable.

It’s a book I wish I’d purchased instead of borrowed from the library.

Yesterday I started The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes, and after that, it’s likely I’ll finally get to The Signature of All Things by Liz Gilbert. However, if I don’t get to that it’s because I’ll be full swing into my novel again.

Y’all, my stomach is all jittery just thinking about it.


 

It’s still summer.

My favorite thing about homeschooling is having the freedom to do what we want to, and that includes deciding when we begin and end the school year. By law, we are required to “do school” a certain number of days for a certain number of hours per day, but when and how we accomplish that is at our discretion. That being said, our first day of school will be August 25, which corresponds with the first day of my last semester of graduate school. It will be a momentous occasion, one that will likely require a pancake breakfast.

We decided to go back to the homeschool co-op this year after taking a year and a half off from participating. The boys were thrilled when I told them, so that confirmed the decision. Also, Jackson will continue with private swim instruction and Jeremy should start soccer later this month. It won’t be long until we’re back to busy-ness and the lazy days of lounging in pajamas and taking afternoon naps will be over.

Today starts my last week of the summer semester and the mushiness of my brain is a good indicator that completing my final genre paper won’t be easy. It’s due Saturday, and even though I have tons of research and outlines and sticky notes that I’ve collected over the last 14 weeks, I haven’t written anything yet. I’m not overly worried since I write best under deadline. It’s quite likely that I won’t start typing the 10-page paper until Friday morning. I need to feel the rush and fear of potential failure to really crank out something good.

Did I mention we just had Girls Weekend? Love these ladies ♥

Girls Weekend August 2014

Finally, I don’t remember if I shared the fan letters Jeremy and Jackson wrote to George Lucas and Joss Whedon (respectively) this spring as part of a letter writing lesson. Anyway, we mailed them in March and last week Jeremy got a return letter from Skywalker Ranch. He nearly exploded from anticipation holding the envelope in his hand, but I regret to say that we were all a little disappointed with what was inside. I’ll share more of that later this week once I take the photos.

Must Paint

I think this is pretty typical of creatives, so I know I’m not alone in my absurdities. There are times, which feel mostly random, when I cannot function with any sort of productivity because I’m distracted by the urge to make something. My left brain halts and retreats while my right brain strips down and streaks across the ball field. My hands fidget while they wait to be utilized and I become overtly irritated if I can’t find something for them to do. I’ll pace and snack until I give over entirely to my creative energy. I write, I cook, I rearrange furniture. I’ve been known to storm about the house looking for things to organize. This is generally when the boys’ toy bins get an overhaul.

But sometimes that’s just not enough.

When I got back from Santa Fe, I told Chuck that I was feeling overwhelmed with the burden to MAKE and DO STUFF. I wanted to run 20 miles, I wanted work on my novel, I wanted to paint the library…

Oh yes! Let’s paint the library. In a day. By myself.

The boring dark brown walls of the library weren’t a regret, but they weren’t inspiring either. I love color, lots of it, particularly in an enclosed creative space that’s entirely mine. I’ve always had pops of color in this room, but against the brown walls, it still felt dull.

Before1

Brown, brown, boring brown.

Before3

I woke up yesterday morning and started pacing the house almost immediately. This was inconvenient since I have two papers to write (one five-pager, one ten-pager), plus plenty to read, but I couldn’t focus on any of it. MUST MAKE STUFF, growled my right brain. FINE, I said.

The boys and I were back and forth from Home Depot in less than an hour. I got all the furniture moved out of the room in another hour. By noon, I was painting the walls plum (called “Baritone” by Behr).

Plum

YES! Color! My right brain danced a jig.

I painted all day, sorted through homeschool curriculum while it dried, and moved everything back in the room after dinner. By 10 p.m., I was back at my desk checking message boards for graduate school. My shoulders, while sore, had finally relaxed. The creative energy was expelled and I could focus on everything else without my right brain stomping and screaming like a toddler.

purple and orange wall

The empty wall space behind the desk is for my graduate degree. Fingers crossed.

my corner

The plum walls look bright in the evening and dark in the daytime, which just shows you how important lighting is.

Corner with portrait

I think Salem needs a throw rug, don’t you?
Aw Salem

 

On the subject of killing someone

I’ve spent the last week trying to formulate someone’s death and so far nothing feels right.

Need some context? There’s a character in my novel who must die and I’ve been trying to construct the way in which it should happen. During my run yesterday morning I imagined several different ways the death could occur, and at one point I was so distracted that I nearly slipped off the road into a ditch.

This dilemma is a new plot point, one I had to talk myself into exploring. Now that I’m confident in my decision, I have the burdensome task of inflicting a great deal of pain on many characters. It’s the right thing to do, but I admit it feels odd to sit around imagining ways one could die.

These are Karen Eiffel moments and I’m totally loving it.

2006 Stranger Than Fiction  004

Have you seen Stranger Than Fiction? It’s my most favorite film, one that continues to mean more to me as I trudge along in this journey to write a book.

[youtube=http://youtu.be/mtkRGIegvug] [youtube=http://youtu.be/JjsQ04Ad5BA]

I don’t have writer’s block, but until I figure out how this person will die, I’ll continue to play out different accidents and illnesses in my mind. Come late August, I’ll be back to writing the novel full time and I’ll have to have this death thing all sorted out.


 

I should be reading Dune, but…

I’m making videos with my dog instead.

Sleepyhead

I filmed him the other day when I was off for a run.

We’re about to wrap up science fiction in my genre class and all I can say is IT’S ABOUT TIME. Once I finish reading Dune and find something intelligent to say about power, religion, and the state in sci-fi, I can piece my brain back together and move on to more enjoyable books and films.

Speaking of graduate school, it looks like I’ll graduate in December. Hurray! Fall registration is in two weeks and, according to my curriculum sheet, I have one more class to take plus the capstone. It’s not widely recommended to take a class while working on your capstone project, but I have secret super human powers that make me feel like I can tackle it.

Remind me of this in October.

 

The History of Science Fiction

We’re studying science fiction in genre class this week, which involved reading Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. It wasn’t bad. A little high-brow writing, but overall fun to read.

However, let me share this bit of trivia with you: The name Frankenstein does not refer to the creature. Victor Frankenstein is the name of the scientist who created the creature. The creature, in fact, has no name. He’s called “the monster” or “the fiend” or something similar throughout the novel, which means the Herman Munster image we call Frankenstein is entirely wrong.

Y’all may be saying, “Duh, Jennie. Everyone knows that,” but my mind was blown over that information. Just goes to show that you should ALWAYS READ THE BOOK FIRST.

Anyway, we were shown a wonderful illustration about the inception of science fiction and I wanted to share it with all of you. If sci-fi is your kind of genre and you have an appreciation for artist illustrations, then you’ll love it. If anything, take a peek and see if you can find any of your favorite films and novels.

[You’ll need to click on the image to blow it up so it takes up the entire screen. Otherwise, it’s too small to read.]

Timeline of Science Fiction

So I had a long talk with myself.

The degree to which my brain is preoccupied with the novel is immeasurable. To say “all the time” is obviously an exaggeration, but for most of my waking hours, a large portion of my thoughts are centered around moving the plot forward and sharpening characters. The story has been with me for one year and nine months, and though some arcs and twists have changed on their own account, the primary bones of the plot are the same as they were when they first materialized. A few people have read what I’ve written so far and their feedback has helped me to consider a myriad of edits.

untold story

That being said, one particular plot hole has been nagging me for a while and an idea on how to fill it finally arrived on Friday afternoon. POOF! It was a spontaneous manifestation, just like everything else, but it struck me so bluntly that I’m consumed with how to handle it.

Yesterday, I took Major to some trails we frequent so he could run and I could think. What proceeded was a full-on argument in my head.

Me: I don’t know if I should do this.

      Other Me: Yes you do.

But this is all so sudden. How do I know it’s the right thing?

      You don’t know anything for sure.

But it seems like such a task to go backwards.

      But this moves the plot forward.

But it will involve going back to the beginning and rewriting —

      So?

Then I’ll have to go through the whole book and make sure this will make sense.

      You’ll have to do that anyway.

What if I’m being impulsive?

      What if you’re being inspired?

Maybe this idea should be saved for the next story?

      It’s for this one.

But maybe it’s not?

      You know it’s for this one.

What if the people who’ve already read it don’t like what I’ve done?

      It’s not their book.

Yeah, but I want everyone to like —

      Don’t start that crap. Write your book.

If people don’t like it, they won’t buy it. It won’t even get published. No one will take a chance on me and I will have done this for nothing and I’ll have so much regret and this will all be a waste.

      Seriously, don’t start that.

I’m really worried.

      Because you’re exposed.

I love it so much.

      Me too. 

I’m tired.

     So stop fighting and write your book.

Okay.

Contented, I went on with the last leg of the hike observing all the new growth and watching Major frolic through the brush. Then I saw a snake, so I screamed and ran my ass back to the car.


 

 

Sherlock Holmes, minus Benedict Cumberbatch

In preparation for my Genre Studies class that starts Monday, I’m working ahead on assigned reading. We have to read several books from a variety of genres. Some I’m excited about (crime fiction) and some I’m not (science fiction). For the first time ever, I’m reading Arthur Conan Doyle – i.e., Sherlock Holmes. It’s been a fun ride since I’m able to picture these guys:

Sherlock and Watson

Could these two be any more perfect?

Writing-wise, Sherlock isn’t exactly how I imagined it would be. It’s a bit – should I say – elementary? I’m not sure why I expected the style to be more complex, but nevertheless, it isn’t. Both The Sign of Four and A Study in Scarlet have been quick, delightful reads.

Speaking of, Major loves it when I read on the patio.

Living the dream

Happy Friday, Internet. May the sun shine warmly on your face. And other parts.

 

Pining for Summer

This family is ready for summer, as in no school, lots of sun, extra sleep, and some sort of liquid. Ocean? Pool? Sprinkler? Patio cocktails? Yes to all.

Jackson has finished all of the curriculum I had planned for him, so he’s doing a Summer Bridge book to complete the semester. Jeremy has a final test in math this week, which leaves only Zoology on the To Do List for him. They ask me every day how much longer they have until summer break, which is a funny question since they are pretty much able to dictate that time frame themselves. Work harder and faster, I tell them. You’ll be done sooner. It’s that easy. Realistically, it’s not easy, because working harder and faster is hard.

Speaking of harder and faster, I start another summer semester of graduate school on Monday. This marks one full year that I’ve been chipping away at a Masters degree. If I continue this pace, I should graduate in December. More importantly, the novel will be finished since I’m using it as my capstone. Even though I’m not working on it as fervently as I was last semester, I think about my characters every day. I imagine what they’re doing, wondering if they are waiting for me to return. It’s that schizophrenic parallel I told you about a few months ago. Not sure how to explain it any other way. Put simply, I miss them when we’re apart for too long.

In conclusion, that blob of black fur on the boys’ desk is Salem enjoying a sun ray. I suppose he’s ready for summer too.

Sunbathing

Journey On

I stood in the kitchen late last night eating my stress with a spoon and container of Nutella. It was really good. As I took the last spoonful into my mouth, I realized that I’m in over my head. The trio of graduate school, writing a novel, and homeschooling has been an outrageous challenge, and it’s affected my attention span for Lent Reading. I’m still reading, but the progress is slower than I’d prefer. And here we are in the middle of Holy Week and I feel entirely disconnected.

Alive

The challenge, then, is to find God in everything – in the errands, in the assignments, in the tasks. He’s there, like always, in some way or another.  I get so distracted by everyday things, to the point that I think I’ve left God on the nightstand in the book I’m reading, or that I’ll see Him next time I’m at church. It’s awfully naïve to think that God stays where I put Him.

My daily mantra is still Everything Forward. It has to be, because as Pope Francis says something is wrong if I stop. (And I believe him.)

Pope Francis

I have two projects due – one this week, one next – and then the summer semester starts May 5. The boys are nearly finished with their work (hallelujah) and we’ve got a trip planned to visit the setting of my novel (double hallelujah). We are moving forward. We are on a journey.

Two thousand years ago, Jesus was on a journey – to the cross, to redemption, to eternal life. If all I do this week is remember His journey while I’m making dinner,  folding laundry, writing a short film, editing my final short story, explaining fractions, then I’m still on the journey, too.

For what it’s worth, I’m ready for a summer slow-down. Can I get an amen?

 

Short Story 2: Tuesday

Yay Fiction

I felt it fitting to post my second short story, Tuesday, on a Tuesday. Corny, I know.

Like my first story, The Prep Room, I pulled from Chuck’s life experiences to write Tuesday.  My quiet, unsuspecting husband is more interesting than he lets on.

Feel free to offer feedback.  Also, there’s profanity, just in case you’re sensitive to that sort of thing.

Tuesday

Short Story 1: The Prep Room


Yay Fiction

Below is the first short story I submitted for class. It’s just shy of 5,000 words. The content will be familiar to some of you. Though it’s based on actual events, the primary work is fiction.

You should be able to click on the link below and read the story as a PDF.  Let me know if it doesn’t work.

A warning: There’s colorful language in it. Hope it doesn’t offend. If it does, then you might not want to read my future work. I say things.

Enjoy.

The Prep Room by Jennie Miller

The Monday Morning Report

So you’re in the loop:

Major ate a plastic spatula Thursday night. It’s finally coming out. Of both ends.

Jeremy has cornered the market on world news  now that he listens to the Christian radio station each morning. As I pour my first cup of coffee, he gives me all the updates. Today I was told we shouldn’t buy beef from California, Texas, Illinois, or Arkansas because the meat has a disease in it. Now you all know.

My first short story is due today. I’m all kinds of nervous about submitting it.

It’s supposed to snow this week. Old Man Winter can suck it.

Chuck gets home this week after a long time of being away. Words cannot express.

I’ve tried watching some of the Olympics in the evenings, but I’m distracted by Sochi’s overpopulation of stray dogs and Bob Costas’ pink eye. The is the first time in my life that the Olympics are on and I’m like, “Eh.”

And finally, I discovered that two of my photos from Charleston and the Isle of Palms have been shared more than 700 times on Pinterest. Neato!

Marina

Always Worth It

My Favorite Scene – and a poll!

Our first assignment for Performance Writing was to transcribe in proper format our favorite scene from a movie. As soon as I read the instructions, I knew what scene I’d choose. It was a no-brainer.

It took about forty-five minutes for me to type out a two-minute scene from Stranger Than Fiction and I’m confident that it’s fraught with errors. I’ve already posted it to the online classroom and it’s currently being ripped to shreds. I’m not offended in the least. I don’t know squat about screenwriting, so it’s only through trial and error that I’ll learn.

Favorite sceneI’m also in the middle of writing my first short story of the semester. Depending on how it turns out, I might post it here. Of course, I need to know if anyone would be interested in reading it.

[polldaddy poll=7777267]

Salem appreciates your feedback.

My nighttime lap buddy

Me, 18 years ago

I’m having a moment here.

Eighteen years ago I was in the second semester of my senior year of high school. I attended an all-girls school but was enrolled in a coordinate program with the all-boys school across town. It wasn’t about the boys, lest you think so. McCallie had better writing classes, like Journalism and Short Story, and I’d heard good things about Senior English with Mr. McNiff. (Damn his pop quizzes!) I know a lot of girls enjoyed being around the boys, but I was painfully shy and didn’t socialize much. My sole interest was in writing.

This time, eighteen years ago, I sat in a classroom surrounded by boys reading and writing short stories. Today, I’m sitting in a “classroom” surrounded by boys (two humans and two pets) reading and writing short stories. To make this time warp even better, I still have my notebook from high school. In it are all of my old stories and the stories of my classmates. Time warp, indeed.

Stuffed between the short stories are reports and exams from English class, and on each piece of paper is the pledge. At the time, it was an annoying little task — to scrawl the same line of promises over and over again — but now I think it’s brilliant. I wonder what would happen in our public schools if we enforced the honor code.

Pledged

I also have pages of unrelated scribble of other things that consumed my brain at the time, like calculating college tuition and – sadly – how many calories I needed to cut to lose more weight. Maybe this is why I hate numbers so much. I weigh a good twenty pounds more now than I weighed when I was a senior, but you can’t tell an 18-year-old girl that her weight is fine. Heck, you probably can’t tell a 35-year-old woman that her weight is fine.

UGA tuition

MTSU tuition

Counting calories

It’s a bit of hoarding, I know, but I’m glad I kept things like this. Sometimes your memories lie to you. They get rewritten or forgotten. In notebooks like these, the handwriting is a transportation device. I’m launched into the past by its familiarity, by its honesty. Even then, I wanted to know how to write a good story, whether in fact or fiction. Writing has always been that one thing.

I’ll start my first short story this week. The plan is to use cursory characters from the novel as main characters. It sounds a little lazy (or is it genius?), but ultimately I think it will help refine plot lines when the editing process starts. Since I intend on making the novel my capstone project for graduation, I think short stories are a great way to weed out what’s unnecessary in the novel or add something that might be imperative.

Speaking of, I’m hovering around 110,000 words, which is roughly a 450-page book. The end is at hand.