Just A Little Faster

Her heart raced faster than her feet pounding the concrete.  Never had she run so fast, not even across the scorching dirt just south of the border.  She wore plastic sandals then.  Now she had canvas shoes—white, with blue stars.

Elena’s stride stretched from line to line on the sidewalk, but she paid no attention to where her feet landed.  She didn’t hear the sounds of traffic passing, or the voices of the people who jumped out of her way.   She gasped for air as cold dread squeezed her chest.

Just a little faster…

She reached the parking lot of the apartment building and skidded to a stop.  There was an ominous silence hanging over the place.  Elena ducked behind the long line of huge trees, pressing her slight frame against the thick trunk of the tree closest to the building.  Her chest heaved against the rough bark.

There were no unfamiliar cars in the parking lot.  No mysterious dark sedans, no police cars with their lights flashing.  But there were also no children playing in the shady patch of grass in the large courtyard.  No one tossing a ball, barbecuing, shooting hoops, gossiping on the stairs between apartments.

Elena eased around the trunk, then sprinted to her front door.  She pushed her key in the lock and shoved the door open.  Her heart nearly leapt into her throat and she could barely raise her voice to call out.

“Mama?”

She pushed the door closed silently and inched toward the kitchen.  A shadow swept across the floor and Elena cowered against the wall.

“Mija?  What are you doing home?  It is so early?”

Elena gasped at the sound of the comfortingly familiar voice, as if she hadn’t taken a breath for hours.  She leapt into her mother’s embrace, stretching her thin arms around her mother and baby brother carried snugly upon her mother’s back.  The hot tears she fought so hard to control coursed down her cheeks.

“I heard…” she panted.  “The raids…ICE…”

“Oh, Mija,” her mother whispered into her disheveled hair.  “I am here.  It’s okay.”

Cocooned in her mother’s arms, Elena’s pulse slowed just a bit.  Baby Juan’s contented gurgles spilled into her ears, pushing away some of the panic.  She sucked in a deep breath.

And then she thought of her father.  Heat flashed through her as she remembered the embarrassment she often felt when she had to tell her father the things her teachers said.  Because he didn’t always understand.  Because he barely spoke English.  Elena pushed back from her mother.

“Where is Papa?” she whispered.

Elena stared desperately into her mother’s brown eyes.  And she saw it.  The cold fear that sent her fleeing from school that afternoon.  Elena’s gaze dropped for a moment, to the blue stars on her feet.  Her mother’s soft voice drew her eyes back up.

“He is at work, Mija.”

She didn’t watch the tear drop land, didn’t see it hit the center of a blue star on the toe of her canvas shoe.

“Why?  Why did he go today?”

“He has no choice.  He would lose his job.”

Never again, Elena thought.  Never again would she feel shame when she had to speak for her father. If only…if he would just come home.  Whistling along the walk outside the apartment.  Tugging her pony tail as he came through the door.  Stretching out his arms to grab Juan as her mother held the smiling baby out to him.

Elena squeezed her eyes shut tight.  She pictured him, so many years ago, his sparkling eyes dancing with energy.  He would wave his arms around and spring from foot to foot as he spoke.

“We will go to America,” he would declare.  “In America, we won’t fear the scary men anymore, Mija.  In America, they have this statue, and on it are the words ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.’  We will be safe there.”  She believed him then.

She still believed him as they crouched in the sage brush along the banks of the Rio Grande, soaking wet and shivering in the desert heat.  Hiding from the men with guns.  “Run, Mija,” he whispered.  “Just a little faster.”

Elena heard his voice echoing in her mind.  She felt her mother’s fingers push her sweat-soaked hair back from her cheek.   Baby Juan cooed and beat his fists on her mother’s back.  Elena’s mother whispered softly.

“He will come home, Mija.  He will be here.  We are safe here.”

But they really weren’t, Elena knew.  She could hear it in her mother’s voice.  She could see it in her eyes.   She could feel it in the oppressive silence surrounding the apartment building where everyone was hiding inside.

Before, it was the men with guns and drugs who beat her father and hurt her mother.  Now it was the men in uniforms emblazoned with big white letters on the back.  They would come, and they would take Baby Juan away and send her and her parents back to the terrifying streets they fled years ago.

She could never run fast enough.  Not even in her star-studded canvas shoes.

******

 

Image courtesy of Pixabay

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On Snail Time

An old housemate of mine told me this joke once.  He found it hysterical.  He laughed and laughed.  This was years ago, and the exact details are a bit fuzzy.  Now, it’s true, the funniest thing about the joke was my housemate telling it.  But, I still appreciated the joke.

It went something like this:  dude’s hanging out watching TV when there’s a knock on the door.  He goes and opens it, and there’s no one there.  He grumbles and returns to the TV, only to hear another knock.  This time, he whips the door open and looks all around.  There’s no one there, but, he spots a snail on the door step.  He’s angry now, so he picks the snail up and throws it.  A week later, dude’s watching TV again and there’s a knock on the door.  He goes and opens the door–there’s no one there.  But this little voice says, “what was that for?”  Dude looks down to find a snail on the door step again.

I know, I know, eyes are rolling.  Snails can’t knock on doors.  Or talk.  But, hey, river guides always need family-friendly jokes to tell.  I mean, it ain’t all whitewater and action out there.  There’s miles of flatwater, an ever-present upstream wind, and people trapped on a boat expecting a show.  So yeah, lame jokes can serve a purpose.

Anyway, back to the point.  In all seriousness.  Seriously.  It took the snail an entire week to get back to the door!  That’s probably like, three decades in snail-time.  His shell was probably cracked too.  And that is exactly how I am feeling about writing my novel right now.

I ooze along at a snail’s pace, make it to the door and knock, only to be thrown for a loop.  As in, I find I need to write about something I don’t know, and so I have to spend another snail’s week researching so I can write about it.  Or, I fix a plot problem, only to find that the fix breaks another part of the plot, and there goes another snail’s week.  This has been a disheartening cycle.

But, I’m not writing this to whine about or make excuses for my lack of a publication-ready draft.  As I’ve made this snail-paced journey I’ve come to realize that my story is worth taking the time needed to get it right.  I’ve heard writers say that nobody writes a good first novel, and if you really love your story, you should save it.  Tell it after you’ve got a few published novels under your belt.  Get the bad writing out of the way, then write the story you love so you can do it justice.

That’s ridiculous.

I say, write the story you love every time.  And give it the time it takes to get it right, to make it good.  Learn the stuff you don’t know, even if it takes months of research.  The story is worth it.

I have to remind myself not to rush, and not to get discouraged.  I have to trust The Compass Code will be a better story for all my snail’s weeks lost to research and plot problems.  Because I really do love the story.

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Featured image courtesy of Pixabay

Snow Days, Deadlines, and Editing Madness

Last week, it snowed.  A lot.  Winter finally decided to really make an appearance.  Which is awesome.  I love the snow and we certainly need the water.  But, all that snow isn’t great for getting any editing and writing done.

Schools were closed for four days, and the smallish bi-pedal beings (and the one that is now taller than me!) were stuck at home.  And I can’t seem to get much work done when I don’t have the space to myself.

We survived being home bound and school went back to normal this week.  In order to get my head back in the game, I committed to another deadline.  It’s still got some holes, but I’ll be sending The Compass Code, draft three, to a couple of beta readers this weekend.   Which is exciting, but extremely nerve-wracking too.

In order to get the draft ready to share, I’ve been editing like mad.  I’ve also given a lot of time to learning different techniques for self-editing and improving my craft.  Much to my surprise, this has been a lot of fun.  Maybe after all these years with this project, I’ve just gone mad.

If so, it’s worth it.  I think.

Anyway, in my quest to polish my writing, I stumbled across a couple really helpful podcasts I want to share.  They are The Book Editor Show and The Writership Podcast.  If you’re looking for some great tips on editing your own work, check them out.

And so, back to the editing madness I go.

Stolen Words

I’m incredibly naive, I guess, but until today I had no idea it was a thing to pay someone to ghost write fiction.  I mean, I know a lot of autobiographies are ghost written, but fiction?  Nope, I did not know of this.  I’ve considered the reasons why authors (and wannabe authors) might do this, and I’m trying not to judge.  But, I can’t deny feeling cheated by this revelation, it kind of almost ruined my morning.  It got worse, however.

Along came some for real, legit cheating.  And that is the scandal that has become known as #copypastecris on Twitter.  Short version, a romance author, whose Twitter bio describes her as a USA Today bestseller, was busted blatantly plagiarizing the work of numerous other authors.  She promptly apologized on social media.*  And laid the blame on the ghost writer she hired.  Thus admitting she didn’t actually write her books.  And perhaps doesn’t even read them?

Or worse, she didn’t care that her ghost writer was stealing the words other writers worked so hard to weave into stories.  Or even worse, she stole the words herself and handed them off to her ghost writer with the instruction to piece them together into new books she could put her own name on.  Whatever.  There is so much dishonesty on so many levels either way.

For me, this calls into question just how often this might be happening.  As indie authors struggle to put out more and more content in order to make a career for themselves, I don’t find it difficult to believe it’s happening a lot more than this one case.  And that just looks so bad for independent publishing.  And that makes me angry.  So many talented, hard-working authors out there self-publishing their work, the words they actually wrote, you know, themselves, and along comes this.

This is really disheartening.  It must feel so violating for the authors whose words were stolen.  And the thing is, this author has stolen more than just words.  She’s stolen trust and credibility from all indie authors.  She stole from her readers too.  That USA Today bestseller she takes credit for?  Yeah, stolen words.

There is some good news in all this, and that is the ways the writer and reader communities have come together to support the victims of this author’s theft.  That, at least, gives me some hope.

*I can’t link to her apology as her Twitter account is now down.

 

Image courtesy of pixabay.com

 

In With The New

As most of my readers know, I’ve been writing a novel for like, FOREVER, and had hoped to have it published by now.  That obviously hasn’t happened, but I’m 45,000 words into a third draft, and I’m feeling confident it will be ready for publishing early in the new year.  I promise to post some excerpts soon.  It’s been difficult to choose things I can post that don’t present too much of a spoiler problem, but I’ll find something.

I want to thank all of you readers for sticking with my little blogs.  My posting has been pretty sporadic this year, especially on Seeking Redress, but views have remained steady, so thanks to you all for stopping by.  I intend to be more active here in 2019 and I hope you’ll continue to join me.

Here’s to a good New Year, one that brings peace to our world.

Happy Hal-idays!

It looks like I’ll have a white Christmas tomorrow as snow fell hard today, covering the dirt piles, rebar, and concrete blankets in our construction-zone yard.  It hasn’t felt like Christmas here yet as we haven’t had a tree up until today and very few decorations out.  This December has been even busier than usual, but the snow brought with it a peace and calm, and finally, finally, I feel ready for tomorrow.  But, once again, I didn’t plan ahead to prepare any sort of holiday post full of cheer and goodwill.  Of course, I don’t usually write much cheer and goodwill, that doesn’t quite fit the genre.

War, torture, assassinations, arms trafficking, organized crime, child abuse:  these are the dark, difficult subjects I usually write about.  I write about them because it gives voice to the anger they fuel in me.  But spending so much time steeped in research and writing about such things requires that I also nurture a healthy sense of humor for the sake of my sanity.

My favorite writing buddies, my sisters, help me out with that a lot.  Awhile back, we got started laughing over a name.  I asked them to help me name a character in my novel who is an actor playing a detective in a hot new prime time cop show, and one of the first suggestions was Hal.  Which really made me laugh.  It also resulted in a series of back-and-forth messages between me and my sisters, heckling each other and cracking puns using the name Hal.  In the end, the challenge was made to name a character Hal in each of our works in progress.  (Yes, there is now a Hal in The Compass Code, but I doubt every reader will find him.)

This challenge resulted in me writing a silly scene that has no place in my novel, but does involve some of my characters.  I call it The Hal Scene.  I don’t generally find it useful to utilize writing exercises or prompts to write scenes that will never be part of my novel or it’s immense back story.  I’ve always found that to be a frustrating endeavor.  It feels like wasted time to me.  I want to write what I’m going to use.  But, once in a while, I’ll get an inspiration, and I just have to “waste” the time it takes to put the words down on the page.  The Hal scene is one such moment.

Since it’s Christmas, and because I’m well into a third draft of The Compass Code (with chapters!), and because I’ve never shared any of my fictional work outside of a small group of people and I have to get over the fear, I’ve decided to share The Hal Scene with my readers.  Just for fun.

I have to warn though, this scene does not reflect the tone of The Compass Code at all.  I didn’t write this scene with any intention of ever plugging it into the novel.  I wrote it to make myself and my sisters laugh.  So, dear readers of this post, please don’t expect so much humor from my novel, because the novel really is about war, assassinations, torture, etc.

It’s said that laughter is the best medicine, and I believe it.  So, I hope this silly scene brings some smiles and laughs to my readers this holiday season.  May the Christmas holiday and the New Year bring you much laughter, joy and peace.

So, without further ado…

(Except, please note, this post contains adult language.)

The Hal Scene

              Seth Miller burst into the barracks whooping and yelling, startling everyone awake.  It was so early it was still dark outside and several of the men threw pillows at him as he danced a jig between the bunks.

“What the fuck is wrong with you, man?  You wasted?”  Turner growled.

“It’s a boy!” Seth yelled.  “I knew it.  It’s a boy!”

With that, none of them could resist his unbridled joy and he ran around the room giving high fives and fist bumps while they all congratulated him.  Bulldog jumped from his bunk and grabbed Seth into a bear hug.

“That’s great, man,” he said as he released Seth.  “You guys are so blessed.”

Jack offered his fist, and Seth cracked his own against it.  Turner rolled out of his bunk grudgingly, and put an arm around Seth’s shoulders while clapping him on the back.

“Way to go, Daddy-o.”

Since they would have to be up shortly anyway, they got dressed and ready for their morning run.  When the men found Lt Davies and Sgt Rodriguez, Seth shared his news again.  His excitement energized the team as they took off running.

“You guys name him yet?” Bulldog asked.

“We haven’t talked about names yet.”

“What?  Man, you gotta think about this now.  This is a huge responsibility, dude.  This kid’s gotta live his entire life with whatever you pick!”

“Shit, man, this is too much responsibility for Lite-beer here,” Turner said.  “We better come up with something to help him out.”

“Name him Tyler,” Lt Davies called out.  “It’s a good, strong name.”

“No way.  If you’re gonna name him after the L-tee, name him Davy,” Rodriguez suggested.  “Now that’s a good strong name, like Davy Crockett.”

“Nah, name him Phil,” Turner said.

“Dude, are you kidding me?”  Rodriguez shot back.  “Juan.  Now that’s a name.”

“Call him Jaime,” Jack said.  “Jaime will love it.”

The suggestions kept coming as they finished their run in the growing morning light.  When they hit the range, they didn’t stop, each trying to out-do the others as they took turns pulling the trigger.

“How ’bout Clint?” Turner asked as he squeezed his trigger.

“Edward.”

“Robert.”

“Lance.”

Down the line it went until it was Bulldog’s turn to take aim.  Everyone waited with anticipation as he had yet to suggest a single name.  He savored the moment, taking a couple deep breaths before easing the trigger back.  The bullet pinged against the target and Bulldog turned to the group with a triumphant smile.

“Hal,” he said.

“What?” they all cried.

“What the Hal kind of name is that, man?”

“Oh, Hal no!”

“What?  It’s a great name,” Bulldog protested in a serious tone.  “It’s short for Harold, man.  Means power, a leader, a ruler.  Dude, come on!”

They were all silent for a moment, staring at Bulldog with surprise at his earnest expression, before bursting with peals of laughter.

“You need Hal-p, man.”

“It was my Grandpa’s name.  He was one tough dude.”

“No doubt.  With a name like that, he’d have to be.”

“Yeah, y’all are real funny,” Bulldog grumbled.

“Hal-arious,” Jack said, a sly grin on his face, before pulling the trigger.

*******

Happy Hal-idays!

Wait…What Chapters?

I’ve read many, many books.  All sorts of books.  Nonfiction, text books, novels from a huge variety of genres…and almost all of those books had one thing in common.  Chapters.  As I am finally approaching The End for The Compass Code, the idea of chapters is weighing heavily on my mind, because my novel doesn’t currently have any.

[chap-ter]

noun

  1. a main division of a book, treatise, or the like, usually bearing a number or a title.

Another November has come and gone.  I avoided NanoWrimo again this year, but I didn’t avoid writing.  My kids and I made a wager that if I didn’t finish a second draft of The Compass Code, they would get to choose the dinner menu for a week.  Think ice cream and bad pizza for seven days straight.  Gross.  So, I was motivated.

I made a list of over 30 missing scenes.  I wrote the last missing scene from the list on November 30th.  It took just over 36 minutes to print the 540 pages of a PDF of my second draft.  It took six years and the threat of a week of ice cream and bad pizza for dinner for me to finally figure out how to finish a novel.  Now, I have to figure out how to make it look like a novel—with chapters.

I like making lists.  I like making timelines for my characters.  I like writing down ideas and connecting them to each other with lines.  It’s fun to play around with my writing in visual ways.  But outlining?  Oh, heck no!  That’s work, not fun.  That’s organizing, not playing around with ideas.

Breaking this novel into chapters feels like outlining.  It feels like an impossible task.  It’s work, and it’s hard.  Bleh.  I know I’m not going to get it right the first time.  (Yay for beta readers!)  But somehow, I’ve got to find those chapters.

I have a lot of short scenes following multiple narratives in the beginning of the book and I’m struggling to decide how to organize them so they don’t get confusing.  Add to that, I’ve never even thought about the average length of chapters, or how many there should be, or how many scenes should be in a chapter… just how does one take all of the little pieces and construct a novel?

I found some helpful resources online, like this one.  I read through the entire draft and tried to visualize chapter breaks.  I set up a new draft project in Scrivener, and created the first three chapters, hoping to provoke some optimistic inspiration.   I’m still feeling intimidated.  But, this story has come too far to give up now.  So, it’s on to draft three—and the very epic struggle to create chapters.

I guess I need to figure out what sort of wager with the kids will help me get through another round of editing by the end of December!

A Bit of a Distraction

It’s October.  I’m still not done editing.  I’m currently failing as a writer.  This is a perfect time for a distraction.  Right?

Art is a great distraction.  It’s still an exercise in creativity, after all.  I have always loved drawing with pencils.  I love the countless shades that can be achieved with one stick of gray charcoal.  I love having charcoal smeared on my fingertips and the side of my hand.  And, I love that I can erase what I don’t love.

October presents an artsy distraction opportunity in the form of #Inktober, a daily challenge to create something awesome that fits a given theme, and then to share the work on social media.  As the name implies, these daily masterpieces are made in ink. I highly recommend checking the hashtag on Twitter, or Instagram, you’ll be treated to some amazing work.

I don’t do ink well, but I’m going to give Inktober a shot this year.  I’ve done a few Inktober posts in the past, but didn’t stick with it.  I don’t know if I’ll draw something every day this time around either.  I am still working on The Compass Code (agonizingly slowly) after all.  But I’m going to enjoy mixing it up by playing around with the kids’ markers for the month instead of just my highlighters and red pen.

So here is my Inktober Day One post for the theme poisonous.  Because war truly is poisonous.

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Why Do You Write Your Stupid Story?

Slogging Through the Summer Slump

“Why do you have to write your stupid story, Mom?”

My child asked me this question in the car yesterday as we left the grocery store parking lot.  I didn’t take the stupid bit personally.  After all, my children aren’t allowed to read my story so I don’t think they’re qualified to judge its quality.

I think the sentiment behind the comment has more to do with a frustration that Mom spends so much time on the computer these days.  A sentiment we all share.  And that’s something that keeps a constant hum of guilt in my mind all the time.  Summer break amplifies that hum to a roar.

As I wrangle with the excruciating task of editing, the kids want adventure.  More adventure than can be found in our own back yard.  And food, constant food.  I struggle to keep my head in my story while they argue over one of thousands of Legos.  I find my patience waning and my temper shortening till my responses to their constant needs get snappy.   The guilt grows unbearable and I finally give up and push the story aside for several days in a row (or a week).

I have no idea how parents of young children have ever finished a book in the history of mankind.

When I return to the story after however many days I have spent appeasing my guilt and giving in to all the distraction, I feel as though I lose an entire working session figuring out where I was headed when I pushed the story aside.  Knowing this, it often becomes easier to just go another day without writing, and then another, and so on…and this project remains neglected.  Cue more guilt.

I’m sure none of this is conducive to creativity.  It certainly hasn’t been for mine.  My new draft languishes at nearly 50,000 words as summer heats up and pool maintenance joins the ranks of attention demanding distractions.  (Confession:  I actually really enjoy pool maintenance.  It’s a sanity-saving endeavor for me, like gardening, or meditating.)

Just like the pool, balance is key.  I know this, of course.  But, a month into summer break and I still haven’t found that balance.  Maybe I won’t all summer and maybe the answer is finding peace with that.  Because this story will get finished.  I’m not giving up yet.

When the question spilled out of my child in the car, I considered letting it go unanswered.  I could just turn the volume up on the stereo and silently sulk in my guilt.  It seemed much easier than explaining why I write to anyone, let alone my kids.  But, in the end, I settled on a simple and honest response.

“Maybe it is stupid, but when you have a dream, you have to do it.”

 

It’s Red Pen Time

I’m nearly a month behind schedule.  But, I printed a draft of The Compass Code yesterday, and I’m ready to dive into editing it.  It needs a LOT of work.  There are several plot lines that still need tying up in order to bring all the action together at the end of the book.  That is, if I want it to make any sense, anyway.

Even though I know it’s still a mess inside, I think all 345 pages are the most beautiful things I’ve ever held in my hands (well, except for the smallish bipedal beings, but it’s been a long time since they fit in my hands).  I’m sure I’ll change my mind about that in the coming days and weeks.

Today I’m just going to bask in satisfaction while sitting here next to my novel.  I’ll be back at it tomorrow, armed with highlighters, a red pen, post-it notes, and inspiration.  And coffee.

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Me for the next few weeks, as depicted (lovingly, I’m sure) by the smallish bipedal beings.