Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Puppies and Sly Dogs

I seriously thought about writing a blog post about my new dog. Because, hey, that’s a huge deal. A puppy is like a toddler. And a toddler, to any family, can be stressful.

But I hadn’t figured out yet if there was a literary angle to this potential puppy post; like if having a dog made me write better, faster or worse, or not at all since I spend more time training, feeding and playing with her than anything else. But I didn’t get to think that far ahead. The blog post wasn’t to be about my dog. Sorry puppy.

It was to be about the break-in at my house. Yes, it was the real deal. The thief entered our (locked) home, rifled through our things just hoping for something good. Fortunately for us, and unfortunately for him, we didn’t have anything valuable in the house, other than the kids, and they were both at school.

I’m sure he thought he would get in and out scot-free. After all, he had thievery down to a science since he’d just tried the same trick down our street minutes before. He parked his car in our driveway and that was key to breaking in (excuse the pun). If people see a car in the driveway, they think we know the person. Very sly.

He had to be on his way out when we arrived because when my husband confronted him -- after noticing not only the car but also two of our house doors wide open -- the burglar politely told my husband, “Sorry Sir, I didn’t take anything. I’m just going to leave.”

Yeah, um, when someone breaks into your house, and he calls you sir, it doesn’t change the fact that you want the idiot to be responsible for his actions! This is when my husband grabbed him and they wrestled all the way outside. The punk jumped our fences, grabbed his own wallet from his car (don’t know how he had time to think of that) and ran.

I got to make the wonderful 911 call. I’ve never called them before in my life. That was all for 48 Hours Mystery, or someone else. But I did it, and it was rather frantic. Afterall, I was watching my husband try to keep the dude from bolting, give a physical description, remain calm and talk rationally. Not easy.

The bad guy got away. But not for long. We positively identified him. Would you be shocked to know he was on parole for burglary? Yeah, mind numbing. The police are picking up the dummy as I write. On a good note: it was cool to see CSI at our house. Of course, it was nothing like the fake show. But still, very cool. All the police and sheriff were awesome too.

Lesson: Keep the puppy out of her kennel when we’re gone, even if it means she’ll tear apart her bed, rip up the doormat and euphorically pick apart my houseplant, leaf by leaf. My dog barks. That’s a good thing. Had she been out of her kennel, the perpetrator would’ve never come in.

Was it terrifying? Yes. Are we better prepared in keeping safe in the future? Yes. And for me, I already know everything works together for good. Even the bad stuff. Angels were watching over us. And most importantly, the thief didn’t carry a weapon. Had he? Well, this blog post wouldn’t even be happening. Oh, and if anything else good came from it, it’s fodder -- heck, nothing beats real life experiences-- for a great story.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Recycling Your Ideas

Have you ever had a wonderful idea for a book but when you got it on paper, things (i.e. the ENTIRE story) just sort of fell flat? The characters weren’t as deep as you’d like, the storyline not as punchy as you intended and as for actual material, well, just imagining writing another seventy thousand words made you break out into a sweat.

If this sounds like you, then stop what you’re doing. This is the part when you don’t force yourself to write all because you though it should be a story. If you do, in a matter of days --if not hours -- you’re going to dread it. Your work will not only become laborious, but the very zeal and gusto you once had for the idea will fall so flat you’ll ponder your sanity for coming up with the idea in the first place.

I’ve done this before, and not five thousand words into it, I wondered if there was hope enough that the story would be something even I would want to read in the end.

So, what’s the solution? Well, don’t instantly think you have to scrap the story all because it’s dead in the water. I’m a firm believer in not wasting anything. Scrap food goes to compost (or the new dog IF she’s lucky and well behaved), clothes are worn until there are real holes in the knees and pill balls on the sweater. Even the shampoo, that lasts longer than the conditioner, is saved for future use.

Instead of tossing the story, rework and recycle your material. What you intended for a novel, might be better used as a short story. A story you think would work great as a personal essay may instead work great as flash fiction. And what about that story you thought might make the best women’s fiction novel, which really needs to be a poem?

If something isn’t working right, don’t think of it as the short, happy life of a story never written. Set the work aside, think about it, and come back to it with fresh eyes later. If you still think you can’t make it the great American novel you wanted, then maybe you need to recycle it.

This has happened to me. What I thought would make a great book, ended up being a two-thousand-word short story. And this was after an outline, character names, and thought-out plot and progression. Finding the right “recycling bin” is sometimes all it takes to make your story the masterpiece it really is, even if that masterpiece is no longer a novel but an eight-line poem.

Try reusing your material for something else and watch your words reignite the spark you saw in your story from the very beginning. Not every story needs to be a book. Not every book needs to be a thriller or romantic comedy. Change things up. Try different genres. Maybe the nonfiction family memoir idea really needs to be a science-fiction short story.

Recycle your ideas -- be willing to change -- and your writing world will reinvent itself into something remarkable.

Happy writing!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

All Aboard!

Two days before I left for vacation, I was on the phone making reservations for the
Polar Express Train Ride.  What is that? Well, it's exactly what the name implies: a train ride based on the book The Polar Express, by Chris Van Allsburg.

I'd say that I was only doing this for my children, but that wouldn't totally be accurate. Something with this much hype had to be good for me too. At least I hoped so.

The Polar Express
Select cities all over America, and one in Canada, utilize trains (available from their railroad museums or railways) and transform them into replicas from the book -- complete with dancing waiters and hot chocolate. Passengers even get to wear their pajamas.

While I’d heard that this was an extraordinary event, one my kids couldn’t miss, what I wasn’t prepared for was the mad dash --the absolute insane intensity-- that every parent in my city dove into on October first at 9 in the morning. It was like getting tickets for the concert of a lifetime.

Thirty minutes, three phones and one computer later, we got through. Yes, that was three phones. I had one cell phone, the other hand was on the keyboard trying to navigate the slammed website, and my husband had the landline and his cell phone.

I’m happy to say we got tickets.

But I’m equally as happy to see how one simple book created so much excitement over trains and Christmas. While it helped that the movie was a success, furthering to promote the book, what’s even more fabulous is that a children's book is at the crux of the whole Polarpalooza.

When promotion includes children's reading, trains and family time, instead of television and video games, I’d say it’s an event worth talking about. And that it includes chocolate of some sort is a major bonus.

Now, for the real question: Do I really dare to wear pajamas on the train along with my kids?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Poetic Manna

Being away in Maui for a week is a little like getting a lobotomy. I can't think rightly or clearly, and no way can I give a passing thought to writing a blog post.

This is why it's absolutely perfect timing that I wrote a guest post before I left for vacation which is now at Write for Charity and up today!

Below is a little snippet of the blog post.

Just like “Autodidact,” the poem that Write for Charity picked for their wonderful book, From the Heart, I wrote “Motherhood is a like a Pacemaker” when one particular day seemed just a bit too overwhelming ; when I wondered if the work I was doing as a mother really counted for much.

Like this poem, motherhood sort of transcends the normal, yet is required to keep the normal. There are difficulties that motherhood presents to us at times — and yes, there are happiness and joys, rewards and fulfillment involved too — but the role of a mother is never easy. It always receives, yet it also requires. It always is, but has to be ready for was or will be … or just plain won’t.

Click here for the rest of the post and the poem.