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?

 

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.

New Year, Same Book

My novel is still where I left it on December 18, when the fall semester ended and I had not yet finished my Christmas shopping. I hit 102,000 words, then stepped away from the computer for a mental break. As it stands, the book is about 400 pages. That’s a lot to ask of a reader when the author is not yet established. Stephen King can write a 1,000-page book and millions will read it. If No Name Author writes a 600-page book, bookstore browsers will think she’s too ambitious and long-winded. It’s a risk.

Needless to say, the book isn’t finished. I’m well past the halfway mark but not nearly to the resolution. My attempt to finish by New Years Eve was not only unrealistic but also unnecessary. If I rush, the reader will know. And worse, I would know.

Life after death

So I press onward and go back to writing today. Everything forward.

 

Hot Air Balloon ornament

 

Waving the white flag with long division

Single-digit division was a snap. Double-digit division was a breeze. Triple-digit division with remainders has left Jeremy in the pit of all that is wrong with math. He gets caught up in the process, forgetting where he is in the multiplication and subtraction, forgetting to add back the remainder when he checks his work, forgetting his multiples of seven and eight, and so on.

We nearly didn’t survive yesterday, so today I’m declaring that triple-digit division is on hold until January. Did you hear that squealing? That was Jeremy. He’s thrilled. He loves me again.

Jackson, on the other hand, cannot be held back. He zoomed through an entire math unit in one day and got a hundred on his test. Wait until you have to do long division, says Jeremy.

I’m floating along in a stupor this month unable to fully devote myself to any one thing. I can’t believe we are a week away from Christmas. I must have blinked. (If you haven’t received a Christmas card from us it’s because I didn’t write one.)

We’ll be boarding Major next week while my family is here, which has me both relieved and sad. I’ve never excluded our pets from Christmas morning rituals, but our blue tick hound would lose his ever-loving mind in all the commotion of unwrapping presents. He would try to steal the turkey off the dinner table and he’d probably knock down my grandmother in an attempt to lick her face. In the last 24 hours, Major has stolen Jackson’s peanut butter and jelly sandwich off his lunch plate, chewed the computer mouse from the boys’ school desk, destroyed a piece of mail, and nearly swallowed a Lego. That is in addition to three new holes dug in the backyard and waking me up at 6:30 three mornings in a row.

I swear. If I didn’t love running with this dog…

Do I sound like a Scrooge? I promise you I’m not there yet. However, Chuck finished reading my novel yesterday (what I’ve written thus far) and gently told me last night that he doesn’t think it’s realistic to finish by New Years. He knows the general direction the story is going, and based on what he knows, he thinks I’d be rushing myself unnecessarily to meet some sort of faux deadline. I conceded that he was right. I’m not sure why I’m rushing, aside from blaming one of my distorted perfectionist flaws. Technically, since this book is my capstone project to complete the master’s program, I don’t have to finish it until next December. I have a solid year to write and edit it.

Speaking of Chuck, I’ll end this post with his contribution to this year’s Elf on the Shelf:

Everybody poops

The hot air balloon is deflating.

When my novel writing journey started in November, I was full of hot air. I was ALL IN for writing 50,000 words in a month and had an entire saga of plots in my head ready to pour out on the keyboard. Everything forward, remember? 

Now I’m tired. I’m at 90,000+ words and still have much farther to go. Clearly, I did not store enough fuel to get me to the finish line by tomorrow, which is when the novel is due for class. I’ve already received permission from my professor to turn in what I have, along with an outline for the conclusion. That’s fine. I can do that. Even though it’s not what I prefer.

Part of the problem is that I’m distracted by the holidays. Another part is that the boys and I have been playing catch-up with school. I’m also just plain tired. The story is much longer than I could’ve foreseen, which is good in the long run, but putting such pressure on myself to finish by December 13 has been unrealistic. It’s a personal failure, which haunts me every night while I’m waiting for the Ambien to kick in.

To think that I wouldn’t finish the rough draft by 2014 feels like an even bigger failure, so I’m wondering if a New Year’s Eve goal is more plausible. Minus the week when my family is in for Christmas, I should have plenty of time to write. I’d rather not have an unfinished novel sitting on my shoulders while enrolled in Short Story and Performance Writing next semester.

Plus, there are two books staring at me everyday day – my holiday reading reserve – begging for attention.

Holiday readingIn other news, the boys are itching for Christmas. I’m trying to slow things down, but the calendar keeps turning. At least we’re having wintery weather again. That weird week of Spring threw me off entirely.

Frost

Novel Writing and Schizophrenia

In my limited experience, these two things are well-paired.

I hit 60,000 words last night and completed Part Two of what could be a four-part book. I initially thought it would be three parts, but the characters are telling me otherwise. I’ve strayed so far from the outline I wrote four weeks ago that there’s no point in looking at it anymore. The characters are in charge and I’m doing my best to accommodate them. Like everything else I try to control, it has slipped out of my hands.

Last night’s bout of writing is a great example. I was skating along in a chapter, going where I was being led, when the scene suddenly ended. It didn’t end where I originally planned, but the character made it clear that it was time to stop and shift. So I did. (She’s a bit bossy.)

Likewise, my main character surprised me last night with a bold move and I let her roll with it. I couldn’t say no.

In other news, I’m on the verge of completing my last assignment for Literary Theory and I’m thoroughly relieved about it. It was a required class, but it couldn’t have been more out of my realm of interest and ability. You know what’s not well-paired? Novel writing and Literary Theory.

Have you missed the boys? I’ve not forsaken them completely. Here they are, all three of them:

Autumn day at the park

Word Count with a Ladybug

As of last night, I’ve hit 45,700+ words of the required 50,000. The catch is that I’m only halfway through the plot, so I’m looking at an 80,000-word novel at least. My goal is still to finish by the end of the month, but our creative writing professor has allowed us until December 13 to complete the project. That’s really good news and it means I’m set to accomplish the terms of NaNoWriMo.

In other news, our house is still a haven for ladybugs, particularly in the master bedroom. A few have even wandered out into other areas of the house. Seriously, aren’t they supposed to be gone by now? Or are we just special?

LadybugMajor has been in fits lately. He’s so bored, and I don’t blame him. I’m not running with him as much as I had been this summer and early fall, but frankly, I’m busy. I’m not even running as much as I’d like to, but that’s the deal with November. Major obviously didn’t get the memo.

Hence, he’s chasing his tail wondering when the heck I’ll show him attention again.

Chasing tails

Novel progress and a baby, unrelated

The novel is sailing along at more than 32,000 words. No doubt I’ll hit the 50,000-word limit by the end of November to meet the terms of NaNoWriMo and my creative writing class, but this book will be well over 50K when it’s finished. I’ve employed my dearest friend, Corey, to read it and advise me, and by “employ” I mean that I’ve cashed in 20-plus years of friendship in exchange for her expertise as a creative person. She has no idea what she’s agreed to. HA! Sucker!

Yesterday was a labor of love, but not with writing. I agreed to babysit our littlest cousin for the day, so in addition to the boys (and their school work), the dog (and his nonsense), graduate school (Lit Theory sucks), and really, really cold weather (hello, winter!), we had a tiny blue-eyed visitor. Seriously, why would you say no to babysitting this guy?

Connor at 11 months old

The boys thought babysitting Connor meant a day off from school, but nope! HA! Suckers!

School with Connor

Connor was a complete angel, and I’m not just saying that because his parents and grandparents will probably read this blog entry. He really is a calm, cheerful baby. He did not cry or whimper or thrash around or vomit or explode in his diaper, all of which I was geared up to handle. The boys can vouch for my babysitting report. They were even trying to convince me to adopt another baby, and I was all, “NO WAY.” We are just fine here, thank you. Have you met Major? The dog who ate your Mandarin action figure last week? Who steals your peanut butter and jelly sandwich of the plate? Yeah, we’re good here.

Speaking of the dog, he was oddly very sweet with the baby. After sniffing every inch of Connor’s tiny little body (he’d never seen a human that size before), Major followed him around everywhere he crawled. When Connor sat still, Major laid down next to him and waited. It was a nice display of canine loyalty and protectiveness that made me think, “Okay, we’ll keep you another week.”

Major and Connor

Plotting on a walk

This is our neighborhood. Well, sort of. It’s the space behind our actual neighborhood where I like to walk Major. Recently, it’s been in this space that I’ve created much of novel’s plot. It’s nearly four miles to the end and back, and the time it takes  to circle around depends on whether I’m walking or running, or if Major gets sidetracked by squirrels and curious cows.

East Tennessee is most beautiful right now, so I thought you should see it.    camera_20131107163836374_20131107171647368NaNoWriMo Word Count to date: 20,350 (out of 50,000)

Oh right! I have a blog.

We are in the muck, people. It’s only been a week and I’m super-duper thankful I didn’t try to squeeze in one more activity for the semester. I already reviewed the boys’ curriculum for you, but I don’t think you have a full appreciation for the work I’ve put upon myself.

On top of Literary Theory (which involves reading and analyzing Plato, Horace, Wordsworth, Dante, Dryden and a dozen more), I’m also taking a novel writing class this semester. In agreement with the class parameters, I have committed to participate in NaNoWriMo this November.

What’s that crazy word you just used?

I’m glad you asked. It stands for National Novel Writing Month, and it’s a challenge to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days.

Let me translate this concept to you more clearly.

In November, I will not brush my hair or take any special effort towards self-grooming. I will not socialize, have any fun away from my computer, or speak in coherent sentences. I will not remember anything you say to me beyond the first few words. I will not take on extra projects, like laundry, dish washing, or grocery shopping. I will not participate in late-night phone calls, unless I need to call someone in tears because my plot has reached a roadblock. (You better answer your phone, Corey.) I probably won’t update this blog or do anything beyond the bare minimum for the boys’ school. (I will feed them, though.)

That being said, if you don’t mind, send me a word of encouragement every now and then throughout November. Tell me to KEEP GOING or PUT AWAY THE CHOCOLATE. Be funny, stern, and helpful. Tell me I’ll never forgive myself if I don’t finish. Give me permission to be imperfect for 30 days so I can crank out 50,000 words and honor my commitment. This novel will most definitely be a rough draft, which is the point. Editing comes later. November is for quantity. December is for quality.

Normally, I wouldn’t make something like this public, but Chris Baty (NaNoWriMo’s creator) suggests it. Pulling friends and family into the loop of insanity brings about fear and terror. Through fear and terror, I am more likely to finish.

For now, I must construct an outline for Literary Theory (Zzzz…) and get the boys started on math. Before I go, look what the hubs brought home on Saturday: Orange RosesHe’s so dang sweet.