Back to Real Life

The rest of the MFA residency was really good. It was a bit of a shock to the system to return to Seattle. I got home after 10pm and to work the next day at 7:30am. Apparently I needed some kind of break because I was dragging until I took a day off Thursday.

While I was at the residency, I finalized my semester plan and the list of 20 books I’m supposed to read this semester. As far as craft goes, I’m focusing on plot and structure, which is good because I struggle with that. I also decided to do a pedagogy elective so I’ll be learning to teach composition (a retirement plan). I’ll share the book list with you in case you’re curious:

  • Chekhov, Anton, Pevear, Richard, translator, and Volokhonsky, Larissa, translator. Selected Stories of Anton Chekhov (2000).
  • Gaitskill, Mary. Bad Behavior: Stories (1988).
  • Munro, Alice. The Beggar Maid: Stories of Flo and Rose (1978).
  • Paley, Grace. The Collected Stories (1994).
  • Fitch, Janet. White Oleander (1999).
  • Ishiguro, Kazuo. The Remains of the Day (1989).
  • Angel, Ann, editor. Things I’ll Never Say (2015).
  • Bauman, Beth Ann. Jersey Angel (2012).
  • Blume, Judy. Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret (1970).
  • Blume, Judy. Forever… (1975).
  • Blume, Judy. Tiger Eyes (1981).
  • Dessen, Sarah. Just Listen (2008).
  • Downham, Jenny. You Against Me (2011).
  • Green, John. Looking for Alaska (2006).
  • Hoffmann, Kerry Cohen. Easy (2007).
  • Lockhart, E. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks (2009).
  • Lockhart, E. Dramarama (2007).
  • Niven, Jennifer. All the Bright Places (2015).
  • O’Neill, Louise. The Surface Breaks: a reimagining of The Little Mermaid (2018).
  • Rowell, Rainbow. Eleanor & Park (2013).

About half of them I’ve already read, though I’ll still have to reread those to get some thoughts on craft out of them. I’ve already reread Eleanor & Park because it’s awesome and it had to be the one I went to first. I wrote my first short paper on the first scene of that book, discussing how it works as a strong opening. Now I just need to come up with a topic for the second one…

Fall 2018 books
Precariously balanced…

This is going to be a long 2.5 years for me. But it will be good, I’m sure of it. The only thing is I’m worried I may not be able to keep up the weekly blog posts. So if it gets a little quieter here, you’ll know why.

The MFA Begins

We’ve now finished Day 3 of the MFA residency and the first thing I have to mention is that it is hot here. I wasn’t wrong to expect that. However, I appear to be lucky in that it’s relatively mild right now—only in the low 90s.

The first event on Day 1 was a short one—the director made several announcements and introduced the faculty. Then each of the faculty gave a short talk on the topic of “How to write when you can’t.” They all gave good advice and I was especially happy to hear (from my mentor, though they all agreed) that the whole idea that you have to write every single day to be a writer is bunk. They acknowledged that there are many ways to be a writer and it’s an art so you can’t necessarily force it. I do think that sometimes it is worth making yourself do something because sometimes you’re stuck and if you just force your way past this one thing, you’ll find yourself smoothly moving along again. I’ve had to force my way through scenes to get to the next, easier one (even though what I’ve written is crap—but that’s what editing is for).

Yesterday was all informational sessions. We learned about the various type of “annotations” we have to do. These are basically analysis papers that look at a specific aspect of the writing craft as it relates to a book or two. We have to write 45 short ones (2 pages) in the first three semesters, 1 medium-length (3-5 pages) in each of the first two semesters, and one long one (15-20 pages) that goes into the thesis so it has to be done in the third semester. Plus every month we have to write 10-30 pages, which doesn’t sound bad to me. But I’m going to be working on my short story collection for the degree, so it may be more difficult than to come up with pages from a novel. More brand new material. I finished a draft of the first short story in the collection, which precedes the story that’s posted on this site. The draft is almost 40 pages, so I’m good for a couple months. I’ll probably have to work on the next story for the November submission.

The craft sessions started today. We had one that explored tone and voice. This involves things like diction and word choice (for instance, think of the difference between the words “childish” and ”childlike,” which mean the same thing but have different connotations). We did some interesting and entertaining exercises where we had to change a sentence so that the tone was totally different.

“How stupid do you have to be to not understand that?”

vs.

“Just how far do you think your looks will get you?”

The next workshop was on flash fiction, where we talked about the various types (and concluded that all other subtypes really are just flash fiction, which can be up to around 1000 words) and looked at some good examples. He also had us do an exercise where we wrote our own. I of course failed miserably at that because I 1. suck at writing on command, and 2. can’t write anything short to save my life.

Then we had a workshop on time control, which is a more complicated topic than I thought. I mean, most of what I write is in what’s called “classic time,” which is time that is relatively brief and is expressed in one continuous flow (a day, a month, a year). I haven’t written anything that spans decades or longer, which is called long time. And then there are more weird ones that I won’t go into because at least at this point, they don’t really interest me.

Finally, we had the faculty reading tonight, where the various faculty read from their books/poems. It was really good, even if it did make me feel a bit like a fraud. Oh well, maybe I’ll get better.

Anyway, that’s the update from here.

Quiet

I feel like it’s the calm before the storm. Things are ramping up to my MFA residency, in less than three weeks. There’s reading to do for the workshops, critiquing for the small critique group, and picking which excerpt I’m going to do at the reading (we have to read for 5 or 6 minutes in front of the other students). I’ve gotten most of the workshop readings done, finished critiquing today, and already picked out what to read. I also booked my hotel for the first night.

I’m pretty much ready. This is probably a good thing because it’s going to be intense, I imagine.

I did get my partial request on Finding Frances back this week. It was a no, but they did say my writing was “smooth and polished,” which was nice. That was my last outstanding query. And I guess I lied about not sending it out to more agents, because I already sent it to one. This one only takes exclusive queries, but they respond quickly (if interested, that is). I might look for some other ones that prefer exclusive queries after this one comes back before sending out a slew again.

I did repost the short story I wrote, “Now Would Be Good,” in case you’re interested in checking that out.

The only other notable thing is that I developed this weird inner ear problem that caused me to fall over from extreme dizziness, resulting in a day and a half of unplanned vacation, during which I read like crazy. Which was awesome.

Finally Done with Stuff

The past couple weeks have been about finishing things. My floor is finally done and I have the furniture back in place. It looks great. I’ve been able to start sitting downstairs at my table working again. It’s not hot enough yet for me to need to migrate to my Summer Room (the one with the portable AC). So I’ve been able to work on judging all my PNWA contest entries at the table, where I can spread out.

New floor with furniture

And I finished them, thank god. I finished writing up the critiques for all 12 of the 28-page entries, scored each section, and then went back and read over all the comments to make sure they weren’t mean. The batch I got this year was much harder to judge than last year’s batch. Some of them just weren’t very good. I did have some that were pretty good, though, which helped. But man, I haven’t gotten anything done this month except judging.

I’m so excited to get back to everything else. I got a beta read back on Ugly, so I want to work on implementing the needed changes. I’m going to apply for a mentorship program offered by the Western Washington SCBWI chapter. If I get selected, I’ll work one-on-one with a published author for six months. It’s $650, though they’re offering a scholarship for diverse applicants and I’m going to apply for that. I think gender nonconforming should count. They can decide if it doesn’t.

One other good thing that happened this past week is that I had a partial request (fifty pages) on Finding Frances. I have queries out with only three agents right now and I’m literally done submitting it. I’m not holding my breath, but it was still nice to get a request.

Distraction

So, right now, I’m in the middle of having my entire ground floor tiled at my house. Every day, I come home to find my refrigerator in a new place. Friday I got home from work to discover it in the official refrigerator spot, even though the kitchen is only half-tiled (and not the half under the fridge). My cats are living in my bedroom now. This is all a huge distraction. Yeah, I’m going to go with that. That’s why I’m having trouble writing.

tiling in process

Uh-huh.

I’ve been working on the short story collection, specifically on the first story. This is the only one that comes before the one I previously posted on the site, “Now Would Be Good.” And it’s pretty much dragging. I’m about halfway through it. I had it all planned out, but now I’ve decided to remove one of the sources of conflict (because it told the wrong story), so I’ve got to make sure that there’s enough conflict in the new version.

I mentioned earlier that I revisited Ugly a few weeks ago to generate a new solid draft. But one that naturally still needs a lot of work. However, I gave it to a friend for a beta read and I’m hoping to get that back next Sunday since she’d already read about half of it by last Sunday. The feedback she casually gave me is already going to be helpful, so I have high hopes for the final feedback.

In strange news: in a couple weeks, I’m going to have portraits done for my websites. I need a better photo than the silly selfie I put up on my about me page. But this is going to be pure torture because I hate having my picture taken. I know “everybody” says that, but they don’t mean it. I actually, truly, genuinely, positively hate it. I almost always manage to look pissed off in pictures because I am pissed off. Since I’m doing something I hate. For your amusement, I’m including the picture off my work badge where I look… you guessed it.

work badge picture

Not enthused for a new job at all. I do wish I’d at least tried to smile or something. Anyway, my photographer has no idea of the challenge ahead.

Other than that, I’m in the middle of judging mainstream entries for the PNWA contest (a lot of work) and looking forward to the MFA residency, which is only two months away. I’m trying not to think about the fact that it will be July in Oklahoma and I’m going to immediately melt.

Stuck

I’ve been trying to write lately with very little success. I went to a writing workshop with Mary Buckham last Saturday, which was great, but I haven’t done any real writing. I’m not sure what the problem is, but I have distracted myself with other work, namely painting my kitchen cabinets. They do look good, though I did have a tiny bit of trouble rehanging them with the new hinges I got. I have to make a few adjustments with my recently-purchased Dremel and a sanding block. I forgot to take before pictures, but I found an old one from when I moved in.

Kitchen Cabinets Before
Before
Kitchen Cabinets After
After

Much better, eh?

Anyway, it’s not helping me get any writing done. I’m (theoretically) working on two books right now: my third YA, entitled Ugly, and one other I’m writing under a pen name. I’m stuck on both. My writing group met yesterday morning and gave me feedback on Chapter 4 of Ugly, so that’s progress, but I should actually be going through my complete draft for my second pass because I’ve replotted some things and need to add a lot of details. The other book has also been significantly replotted and there is quite a bit to do on it (even more replotting, too).

I have sent Finding Frances out to a few more agents, but I haven’t heard anything back except a No or two. Sometimes it’s hard to know if I should take the hint or keep trying. But I guess I’ll keep submitting because otherwise I would probably get depressed. It’s strange that the constant refrain of “No” doesn’t depress me, but I suppose I have the illusion of eventual success.

I haven’t even looked at Sadie Speaks in months. I’m still not sure what to do with that one. It’s like my group said yesterday as we wallowed in self-pity—writing is hard.

Writing Update

It’s been a little while since I bored you with an update about what’s going on with my writing.

I’m working away on the third book, whose working title is Ugly. This is the 80,000-word novel I wrote in 28 days in November for NaNoWriMo. I’m taking it through my writing group chapter by chapter and met with them yesterday to go over Chapter 3. I like it and feel like it’s going to end up being a pretty solid book, though it’s going to take a lot of work. The first draft is pretty rough, though there is definitely some good stuff in there.

Sadie Speaks is still currently being neglected as I don’t know what to do with it. It needs major work, but it feels like I need somebody else to tell me what to do with it. A couple of freelance editors have seen it, but they didn’t quite share my editorial vision so I didn’t really agree with their suggestions. So I’m going to have to figure it out on my own.

Finding Frances is still getting nowhere with agents and editors. It’s currently with one of each, but I pinged them both Monday because they’ve had it for 3 months. The editor got back to me to say she had received it and would only contact me if she was interested in more. The agent never responded. So I’m not exactly holding my breath on either of those. I’m pretty worn out with querying it and am not sure I’m going to summon the energy to try again.

In related news, I decided to do an MFA (Master of Fine Arts). I got accepted to both of the ones I applied to, but I decided to go with Oklahoma City University’s Red Earth MFA and its concentration in Young Adult Fiction. I’m pretty excited about this. It starts in July. It’s a low-residency model, which means twice a year I have to go there for an intensive 10-day residency, where there are craft talks, I’ll meet with my faculty mentor for the semester, and I can mingle with other students. Then for the rest of the semester, I’ll send packets of writing in to my mentor, who will send back feedback. I also have to read a lot of books, as some of the writing is critical annotations of genre books or responses to craft books. I have to attend a residency before each of my four semesters and then go to the one immediately after my last semester to wrap things up.

Finally, in unrelated news, I started a new job at work. I’m no longer a software developer and am now a data scientist (my actual job title is Analytics Analyst, which is hilarious, and not deeply meaningful). I will leave you with a picture of my favorite parking space at work:

Parking space blocked by post

Just a Saturday

Yesterday was bit of an adventurous day for me. First of all, a couple friends came over to help me put together my dining room table, which has been sitting in two boxes for weeks. We did manage to get it together and I even set the chairs up so my house is starting to look like a real house now. Check it out:

dining room table

I even have the new chandelier up. It goes well with the sofa I put together a few weeks ago and the rug I’ve had rolled up in a closet since moving in:

sofa and rug

(Yes, that’s a giant cat wheel in the background. And no, they do not use it. Of course they don’t. They’re cats. Though if you want to see cats that do use one, check out the videos at http://onefastcat.com/. It’s sort of awesome.)

My friends also helped me move a large metal file cabinet in the garage and to get the old dining room table out of the kitchen and into the garage. Then we were standing there in the garage with the front door open when this woman shouts at someone out of sight about keeping their dog on leash. And then a minute later a dog races into the garage and nearly into the house, but my friend managed to block it (we figured out it was a she later). The dog races all around the garage, the driveway, the street, but she’s mostly centered on ramming into any of us humans silly enough to stand still for a moment.

Every time a car would go by, one of us would grab her collar. She had a pink one but no tag on it. She was obviously somebody’s very friendly but poorly-trained pet, but with no tag, we weren’t sure what to do. I live in a small townhouse complex, across from a large apartment complex, and there’s another large apartment complex at the end of the road. There’s an unfenced grassy area that serves as a dog park on my street a few houses down and houses that back up to it, but she could have easily run from literally anywhere, especially if she remembered the park. I happened to have a leash for a harness I’d gotten in case I wanted to take a cat for a walk (which I’ve never done…) so I ran inside to get that. Then we walked her down the street a little, but it was clear that wasn’t going to get us anywhere.

I ended up calling an animal control officer. We sat on my driveway with the dog and lots of cars came by but no one claimed her. When animal control got there, he scanned her and there was no microchip, which was really disappointing. I still feel really bad about sending her off, but I really didn’t know how to reunite her with her owner and I couldn’t keep her. No way would I let her in the house with my cats, and I couldn’t put her in the garage either and risk her chewing up the things out there. I think since she was so friendly she has a very good chance of getting adopted. Anyway, in my head her name was Peaches:

peaches the lost dog

Then after that, I went with my friends to a Polynesian festival where I ate Hawaiian shave ice for the first time. It was a million times better than a sno-cone, even though that’s what it looks like. The ice is shaved so fine it’s almost creamy. I got vanilla, grape, and passion fruit. Yum:

shave ice

And Hello Kitty was there (in a hula skirt with a lei, of course):

hello kitty

On another topic, Marvin and Marlowe are getting along well:

marvin and marlowe

And that was my adventure day. Any day that involves something other than being at home, work, or Starbucks is notable in my world.

Meet Marlowe

After my conference on Sunday, I drove straight to a cat rescue where I picked up a new cat. Meet Marlowe:

Marlowe the cat

Coming off a conference is always difficult—it’s so intense that it’s kind of a high, so it was nice to have something nice to distract me and make me happy.

Marlowe’s 4 years old and he’s FIV+ (that’s the cat version of HIV), which means he might have a slightly weak immune system, but they’ve found that when kept indoors, FIV+ cats tend to live mostly as long as other cats. One possible issue is that it is communicable, but only by deep bites. The rescue community used to always keep FIV+ separate from other cats, but the thinking has changed and now they mix them in, as long as they don’t fight. So now begins the process of slowly introducing Marlowe to Marvin. I hope they’ll be friends. But now I have three brown tabby cats. Not a very diverse household…

Progress

I’ve made a little more progress in making my house look like a real house. I finished painting last weekend and then manually extracted each stupid carpet-pad staple from the subfloor. I got about 75% of the drywall compound off the floor by mopping it earlier in the week, making a bucket full of drywall mud in the process. I primed the floor in two coats so now it’s solid white (well, it’s two different whites because I had to use the two different primers, but still). At least it’s not subfloor-colored with various colors of paint and plaster all over it. I mean, it looks ridiculous, but if you use your imagination, you can sort of see a great room in there. (I don’t mean a “great” “room”, but a “great room”.)

Painted floor

Friday I got my Ikea furniture delivered—in 12 boxes. Sigh. I spent most of yesterday alternating between painting the floor and putting the furniture together.

Dining Room Chairs

Before
Before
After - completed chairs
After

Yay! Marvin only left his paw prints on some of them.

Dining Room Table

Before
Before
After - table in boxes
After

Spiffy Red Sofa

Before
Before
After - sofa boxes
After

Okay, so I wasn’t 100% successful. You try it. It will be so nice when it’s really all together. I have a couple of rugs to put down once the floor is more properly dry, and then I’m hoping the electrician will finally come and finish all that work up (I still have no heaters and have an ancient chandelier), and then I really will get the rest of the furniture put together. I can’t wait.

Old chandelier
Old Chandelier
Lights in box
New Chandelier and Hall Lights

Really, it can happen. I’m convinced.

Oh, and on top of that, my last class finished a couple weeks ago so I’ve finally been able to get back to my writing, like I should. I’m working on getting Sadie Speaks ready to query at the PNWA conference in mid-July, so that’s a lot of work, but it will be good to start getting that one out there.

Life Gets in the Way

I am really bummed because I haven’t been able to do any writing (unless you count blog posts) for a couple weeks and won’t be able to for another couple. I’m taking a certificate course in data science that’s wrapping up with a huge, time-consuming project. On top of that, I’m trying to finish painting my entire downstairs so I can get an electrician out here to install new heaters (not that I need them right now…) and a few other electrical things. On top of all that, I have critiquing I have to do and places I need to be.

Not to mention that it’s supposed to be a holiday weekend and I technically have tomorrow off, but I still have to do some work from home.

Life is so hard sometimes. Wah.

Anyway, it’s weird to not be writing and I feel sort of like I’m forgetting to do something fundamental, like eat.

As soon as my scheduled clears up again, I’m getting right back to Sadie Speaks. I’m in the process of incorporating some more  feedback on it from one of my critique partners. I did a first pass through but there are some larger issues to address. Still, I’m planning to have it ready before the PNWA conference, which is in the second half of July, because I plan to pitch it there. This will be the first time I pitch it. I’ve kind of gotten sick of pitching the first one, Finding Frances, although I do have three full requests out on it right now—one with an editor at Sourcebooks and two with agents. I feel like it’s run its course. With Sadie Speaks, I’ll be querying people I already queried with Finding Frances. But hopefully someone will be interested in it and then will also read Finding Frances and feel tremendous regret at not recognizing its brilliance the first time around.

Sure. Here’s a picture of my downstairs, which is a vast improvement over the last picture I shared. There are many hours of work poured into it. The contractors took down that tacky little half wall, resurfaced the ceiling, and installed new drywall as well as replaced the subfloor around the walls (so it doesn’t smell anymore (!)). I’ve also primed everything, including the ceiling. So much work, and now I still have to take all that paint out of those four cans and apply it to the walls and ceiling. Have you ever painted a ceiling? It sucks. Note that the chandelier in the foreground of the photo is so going away. The box on the floor has its replacement. I can’t wait.

remodeling the downstairs

And here’s a picture of Marvin, for no reason.

marvin on a stepstool

Atlanta, Here I Come

I’m on my way to a writing conference in Atlanta now, probably quite uncomfortably stuffed into an airplane seat and weighing the pros and cons of drinking something—pro, I want to; con, then I might have to use the plane lavatory, which freaks me out a little.

The conference targets romance writing (it’s actually a larger conference for all sorts of book fans as well as writers), but I’m looking forward to picking up lots of general writing tidbits. I’m doing a boot camp that lasts two days and will probably wear me down. But fortunately the sessions don’t start for the rest of the conference until 10. So, wish me luck and fortitude.

This isn’t related. I’m sort of embarrassed that I bought one of these, but I couldn’t resist (it has blue in it—I love blue food*).

unicorn frappuccino
Sparkly

* A biochemist I once knew told me that humans are averse to eating blue food, since it is probably spoiled if it’s that color. More support for my theory that I’m not actually human.

Shoes

So everyone knows a lot of women get really into shoes, sometimes spending hundreds of dollars on these tiny, delicate things that look like they’ll fall apart if one wrong step is taken (if the wearer doesn’t hit the pavement first, anyway). Stilettos, strappy sandals, over-the-knee boots—all that. Now, I would definitely trip and break a leg or arm if I tried to walk around in heels. But that doesn’t keep me from loving shoes. I have a whole collection covering the rainbow and then some. And I got two new pairs this week that make me exceptionally happy.

rainbow vans
Rainbow Vans!

 

silver shoes
Silver!

The Vans are particularly interesting to wear because people—even strangers sometimes—comment on them. Every time I’ve worn them out, this has happened. I’m also proud to mention that the silver pair is actually a ladies’ shoe, which is rare for me. You should be proud.

Anyway, now you know. I dig shoes.

My House is in Disarray

Missing walls
Where are the walls?

I’m in the process of completely renovating my living room and dining room. Because of damage done by the very costly Bad Cat (aka Zmije), I had to replace all the drywall. Of course, I ended up having asbestos, so that turned the removal into a very expensive and complex process.

After the asbestos people cleared the house, the first thing Marvin did was run through the old half wall and then jump on top.

Marvin on the half wall

I’ve since had the wall taken out. Right now Marvin is temporarily locked up, although he is good at convincing me to let him out when I’m in the room with him.

Marvin in his cage
Marvin. “So I can sit here, or I can lie down here.” “Or you can sit in the litter box.”

And Zmije lives in a cage permanently now, which she bizarrely seems to like. Whenever I open the door to feed her, she head butts me and sometimes puts her paws on my chest, but makes no move to escape. She just needs attention. If I’d known she’d be happier this way, I’d have done it ages ago.

Zmije. “I thought you wanted me to pee on the wall.” “No.”

I so can’t wait for everything to be normal again.

Sometimes 75% is Good Enough

marvin standing on the heater

Marvin loves the heater so much that he’s found a way to stand on it even though he can’t balance with all four paws on it. He does this all the time. It has me thinking that maybe perfection isn’t necessary–something between nothing and everything can still be okay…