One Step Forward, One Step Back

I’m back in Connecticut after a short break visiting friends and family in Brazil. June marked the two-year anniversary of our move to the USA, and we figured it was about time we visited São Paulo before the kids forgot everyone and everything.

Now, I’m not going to lie; it was one heck of an exhausting two and a half weeks, thanks to our determination to pack in as many social gatherings as we could. It was also, alternately: amazing, emotional, hilarious, stressful, crazy, peaceful, and sometimes downright scary.

I confess I was a little anxious about returning to Brazil, wondering what feelings it would bring out. Would I regret the move? Would my husband, or kids? But as it turns out, I needn’t have worried. It felt good to go back to São Paulo, and revisit old haunts and old friends. But, equally, it felt good to return to the new place we’ve learned to call home, and to love so dearly. Sometimes taking a step back can show us how great it is to move forward.

Yesterday, after suitcases had been emptied and dealt with, the empty fridge had been replenished, and the worst of the laundry maelstrom was over, I dusted off my current writing project and took the first peek at it since the kids’ school vacation began.

The novel I’m working on is a middle grade science fiction tale set on Earth in the near future. The thing is, though, it didn’t start life as a middle grade story. It was originally written as a crossover young adult novel, with both teen and adult characters. There were too many points of view, and things felt a little all over the place. It didn’t work. After half-heartedly subbing it to a handful of agents, I locked it away in a digital drawer.

A year later, and feeling a little stuck after writing yet another crossover YA with too many POV, I got to thinking about that other novel, the one that didn’t quite work. The story itself was a good one, and it had a lot of really cool action sequences I liked. What if…oh! What if I rewrote it? As a middle grade novel? I could pare down the POV, slash everyone’s age, reshape the characters… What if?

So in late May I started playing around with my shiny new-old idea. And it worked. It worked beautifully. Things that were a little off originally suddenly made sense. It was like a blurry image pulled sharply into focus. I was smitten. And it felt good to be writing middle grade fiction again, my first love.

But I had to turn to the past to be able to move forward. I had to reclaim that place I’d been in before, my YA novel, and only then could I find a new happy place in my writing. We are the sum of all our experiences, and our writing is the sum of all the words and worlds that came before.

Sometimes you just need to take a step back.

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Gratuitous beach photo from our vacation.

On Magic Rings and Other Things

Originally posted on my SFF Chronicles blog, August 2013.

When I was a child, my favourite authors were those who wrote about ordinary children, children like myself, who encounter magic in their lives. C.S. Lewis’ Narnia, E. Nesbit with her flying carpets, amulets and the Psammead…

I have a quote I love from E. Nesbit’s The Enchanted Castle.
“There is a curtain, thin as gossamer, clear as glass, strong as iron, that hangs forever between the world of magic and the world that seems to us to be real. And when once people have found one of the little weak spots in that curtain which are marked by magic rings, and amulets, and the like, almost anything may happen.”

Like many other children, I was sure that if I said the right word, or opened the right door, or found the right ring, I, too, would be allowed to enter this world of magic.

It wasn’t until I grew up that I realized that the magic was there all along, my constant companion. The gateway, the portal, accessible and open to any who wished to enter, simply by diving, headlong, into a deep pool of words.

Magic was a book, and an infinity of worlds awaited.

Yesterday we spent the day in New York City, celebrating my niece’s 13th birthday. It was a rainy, grey sort of day, with that veiled beauty that comes from a wet and misty sky. This was my first summer visit to the city. Central Park is a whole other beastie when all decked out in seasonal finery, and Battery Park was truly enchanting.

A few snippets of NYC greenery. Enjoy!

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Battery Park wilderness

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Bee garden

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Central Park lilies

Good Morning, Tuesday

I’ve had a hurry-scurry couple of weeks, packed with so many end-of-school-year activities that sometimes it feels like I’m only just keeping my head above water. Probably due to the overwhelming feeling of near drowning, it’s no surprise that I haven’t been doing a lot of writing lately.

What I have been doing is reading compulsively and binge-watching Heroes, a show that somehow I never got around to seeing when it came out and which has been a lesson in working with multiple point of view.

This is something I need to do every now and then; take a break and dive into other people’s worlds. For me, this ‘downtime’, besides being a sanity saver, also lets me take a highly necessary step back from my own writing. It gives me time to quietly sift through my plotlines and characters while enjoying other people’s work, and I always find I come back stronger and hungrier after one of these breaks.

I don’t consider these occasional periods of downtime to be any sort of guilty pleasure. I consider them to be crucial moments of peace, of gathering energy and momentum. Without them, I would shatter. These moments keep me ticking.

I’m absolutely unapologetically taking time to smell the roses. Because sometimes we all need a time out. And I’m taking mine, right here, right now.

Catch you on the flip side!

Workouts and Writing

So I’m working on a new thing, which I’m really excited about. I’ve written some 12,000 words over the last week, and I’m feeling pretty good about my characters and plot outline. And of course, it has that delicious ‘new baby’ appeal. Fresh beginnings are so much fun! Until I hit that inevitable slump that always kicks in for me somewhere between a third and halfway through the novel.

I’ve also started a home-style fitness bootcamp of sorts, seeing as summer is just around the corner and I’m not very happy with the situation of things around the equator, so to speak. Today was my first day, and I’ve been having fun organizing charts with exercises for each day and that sort of thing. I did my daily quota and feel great.

Only thing is… It’s all still shiny new and full of sparkles. I just know that by the time the second week rolls around I’m going to be looking for any excuse to take a day off. And you all know that pattern, right? A day off becomes two, and pretty soon that awesome exercise routine is buried under a pile of procrastination.

A bit like my writing slumps.

But I’ve trained myself to get over those slow times in writing. The bits where you suddenly hate your gorgeous new project with a passion, where the sparkle has worn off and you’re convinced your outline sucks. I’ve learned to take a couple of days off to binge-watch Arrow or to read a pile of someone else’s work, and then I’m back, stronger than before, sure of my step and ready to keyboard the heck out of that stalled story.

So now I just have to figure out how to apply that to exercise, and power through those slump days (and yes, I’m totally saying that in my head in the voice of the Geico camel). I have this rosy view of a golden future where I nail both the story and the ab flab. It’s going to be a great summer!

Or else you’ll find me hiding under my procrastination pile come September.

My lawn is full of wild violets…

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So pretty. They’re supposed to be ‘lawn undesirables’ but I love them. My neighbors can keep their perfect, labor-intensive lawns; I’ll take violets in spring any day!

Why Is A Birthday Like A Writing Desk?

(Apologies to Lewis Carroll for mangling his famous riddle, but I couldn’t make the Raven fit!)

I turned 43 a week ago, which is fine by me. I have to admit, I’m loving my forties. My thirties went by in a wonderful, manic rush of house moves and babies and toddlers and general child-rearing delicious craziness. Not that I’m done with child-rearing (who is, ever?), but now, at 10 and 12, they’re young people with their own firm opinions and busy schedules. I have time of my own again and it’s quite frankly wonderful.

I started writing novels the year I turned 40. For over 20 years I had written nothing but poetry (some of it not bad; one was even published) and cringingly awful ‘literary’ diaries (the diaries were really, really bad; I eventually came to my senses and threw them all out).

Writing was a passion, a compulsion, but one I didn’t dare give in to, too busy with jobs and dating and marriage and babies. So I scribbled little bits here, and little bits there, always telling myself that one day, someday, when I was ready, I would write.

I was never ready.

I kept putting it off. There was always a reason. I was too tired, too busy. Then suddenly I turned 40 and I realized I wasn’t really too tired any more. The nights of wakeful babies and toddlers were long gone. There was no reason to rush through my to-do list while the children were in preschool so I could give them my full attention when they got home; they were elementary school kids now, and free time was more about Minecraft than finger painting. It was a light bulb moment. There was no reason I couldn’t do the laundry in the afternoon instead.

There were no more reasons.

I worked out that I could get in a good two hours of work each day before I had to pick up the kids from school at lunchtime (we lived in Brazil, so shorter school hours). In August that year I began writing a middle grade story, and two months later I was typing those magic words ‘The End.’

Now, it was only a short 20,000-word novel, but it had a beginning, a middle, and an end. It was a ‘real’ story. And I was hooked. By December I’d written the second and third in what I had planned out as a 4 book series. It felt amazing!

Since that 40th birthday a lot has happened. I joined a very supportive online SFF forum with a busy writers community. I moved to the USA and joined the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). I went to my first writer’s conference, found a critique group and honed my skills. My word count crept up and up as I moved from those first 20k-word novels to 80k YA novels.

I’ve met other writers since then who had the same sort of light bulb moment. For many it was growing children, for others retirement, or a change in job circumstance. There’s no universal ‘right’ moment, just the moment when it all suddenly makes sense to you, personally.

But eventually, that moment arrives. And it shines.

Light bulb.

Happy Sunday

It’s Sunday. The sun is shining, and up here in the wilds of suburban Connecticut it finally looks like spring. Things are stirring in the earth – stirring, I tell you! And, after several weeks where I could think of nothing but the characters from my most recently completed novel, I have new things stirring in my brain.

I had a long blog post on perseverance planned for today, but you know what? It’s Sunday and the sun is shining. Go enjoy the day, take a long walk or maybe write some new words. Perseverance will still be here tomorrow.

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2015-03-18 12.42.36 2015-03-17 17.05.35 2015-03-18 12.42.54   Sometimes, trees happen.

(You can’t really see it from the pics, but it missed the house by a few steps. Well played, wind.)