Monday, November 9, 2015

Seeing dead people and killing your darlings

Revising my first kidlit novel (WHICH HAS TAKEN ME 1/8TH OF MY LIFE TO WRITE) is really hurting my brain. I'm trying to slash the manuscript from 70,000 words to 40,000 (to meet the recommended wordcount for middle grade fiction) and oh, is it painful. I'm having to kill many of my "darlings" as they saying goes.

So inspiration is most welcome these days and here's where I'm finding it.

courtesy of Whitely Center
The Whitely Center. I'd heard other Seattle writers talk about this retreat on San Juan Island for years before I finally applied (and realized how easy it was to apply). Now I've been twice in two months and I get loads of work done there. The value you get for the relatively low price is amazing. Your own beautiful college in a little grove of trees overlooking the water. Your own study in a soaring, glass-walled study center even closer to the water. It's a place of solitude and beauty, and I highly recommend it.

courtesy of San Juan Islands Sculpture Park
San Juan Islands Sculpture Park. I don't get out much when I'm at the Whitely Center even though it's in the scenic San Juan Islands. (Writer Lyanda Haupt calls Whitely her "beautiful writer's prison".) Partly because I haven't been there in the summer yet but mostly because I'm working my a*ss off when I'm there. But I do try to get some fresh air and this last weekend when I was there I visited an old favorite place: the San Juan Islands Sculpture Garden. It was just as awesome as I remembered, with great poetry by David Jenkins to go along with the beautiful and varied sculpture.
Write Your Novel from the Middle by James Scott Bell. This book was recommended to me just this morning by my great kidlit writing teacher Anastasia Suen. I told her the midpoint of my novel was sucking and voila, she told about this book and I've already devoured it. (It's short). It gave me a new way to envision the midpoint, an "internal moment" where the hero looks in the figurative mirror and reflects on where they're going and what they need to do. Expect a brilliant midpoint to be forthcoming from yours truly soon.
Save the Cat and The Third Act: Writing a Great Ending to Your Screenplay are two other books about story structure Anastasia introduced me to that have been super helpful to me. Even though they're both about screenplays, they apply equally well to novels.

Lastly but not leastly I'm re-watching some of my favorite movies to analyze how come they're so great and these include The Sixth Sense and Slingblade. (Because when you're a writer you can get away with calling watching movies and calling it "work.") These are absolutely amazing stories that blow me away each time I watch them. The writing is so perfect! With the Blake Snyder "beat sheet" in hand (see above for Save the Cat), I'm trying to look at the backend and see how these stories are structured that make them resonate so strongly.
 Finally, this January at Hugo House I'll be teaching my popular class about how to write a rough draft of your novel in only six weeks, except this year - for the very first time - we'll have eight weeks. Hoorah!

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

I heart Mexico!

I just returned from a fabulous trip to Mexico. So instead of working on my novel like I should be, I will instead post a few photos of my journey with occasional side trips to the mirror to admire my tan.

I spent the first week of my trip studying Spanish at Instituto Cultural de Oaxaca in Oaxaca City. I loved it! The school is in a charming colonial-style campus, the teacher was great, and I even made friends with some of my fellow students.

Fun with new friends in Oaxaca

I also stayed with a Mexican family, which really added to the whole experience. My family was quite hospitable and served delicious food. If my room was just a tiny bit on the stuffy and noisy side, it didn't matter. The house felt welcoming and homey to me. My Spanish definitely improved there too, since they didn't speak a lick of English.

My Mexican hosts

Next I met up with Dave in Mexico City, where we stayed at a B&B called The Red Treehouse. After only a few hours there I understood why this place is so popular. The rooms are beautiful, the staff goes out of there way to make you feel at home, and there are free happy hours and delicious breakfasts every morning. Plus it's in one of Mexico City's hippest and most walkable neighborhoods, La Condesa.

Courtyard at the Red Treehouse

Among the highlights of our time in DF (Distrito Federale, as Mexico City is also known), we went out to the famous pyramids at Teotitihicaun and the Museo de Arte Moderno. Plus TACOS.
At the Teotihuacan pyramids

We spent our final few days back in the state of Oaxaca, in a coastal resort area called Huatulco.

It was HOT HOT HOT. But I splurged on an ocean view room with a plunge pool, and boy was that worth it. Also, our hotel, the Camino Real had one of the, biggest, most awesome swimming pools I've ever seen.

The warm weather also  meant warm water and the ocean was divine for swimming. I'd forgotten how warm the ocean can be in Mexico; you can slip into it almost like a bath (but a bath with colorful fish!)

Plunge pools are fun!

And I loved eating meals al fresco with the waves lapping the shore nearby. Our last day we did a private snorkeling tour with Pilo Vazquez (highly recommended) who took us out in his boat The Black Pearl. Along the way, we saw sea turtles mating, various pristine bays and beaches, and blowholes. My favorite snorkeling spot was Playa San Augustin, where we saw an eagle ray.

With Captain Pilo

Then I arrived home promptly to get laid off at the beginning of the new fiscal year!


Welcome home, muchacha!

At least now I can work on my tan. And my novel. My garden. My Spanish. My guitar practice.

And,  oh yes, finding my next job too. (Sigh).

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Cultural challenge coming up!

Sugar's radical goal is to be the cutest pug ever!
 *Before I start, I'd like to point you to a guest post I did recently for the Whidbey Writer's Refuge. I spent a great few days there in January working on my novel and highly recommend it.* 

Lately I've been very inspired by Chris Guillebeau's website and writing. I love his ideas and practical tips for "radical goal setting." (And thanks to my writer/teacher pal Waverly Fitzgerald for telling me about him! She is pretty inspiring herself.)

Chris G. is always talking about "challenges" that he sets for himself and invites his readers to do the same. He hammers on the importance of very concrete goals, and results you can measure. (All very familiar to me from working on Microsoft but I really believe in this approach, even if it doesn't work for everything).

One vague yet perennial goal of mine is is take advantage of all the cultural goodness that surrounds me in Seattle. I live in the heart of the city, yet it's amazing how easy it is to just stay home and fall asleep in front of Netflix. (Yes, I know, BreakupBabe would be appalled at what I've become).

The cultural challenge starts on the totally random date of February 22 
Earlier this year, I set myself a goal of going to one cultural event a month. But then I decided why not challenge myself a little? Thus the cultural challenge was born! Starting Feb 22, over the next month, I will go to one cultural event a week.


OK, I know it's not that much. But it's waayy more than I've done in the recent past.

The reason I'm starting this challenge on Feb 22, is because that's the date of my first event of the challenge: underwater photographer David Doubilet giving a presentation at Benaroya Hall. 

The cheap stuff comes later 
This event is a bit pricey. (I got a bit of sticker shock when I started exploring cultural events). So the next few events will have to be on the free or cheap side. I'm thinking that the next up could be a performance at The Pocket Theater. This place is near my house in Greenwood and looks cool.

Oh, and then definitely I'll have to take advantage of first Thursday on March 1, when various museums in Seattle have good deals.

Oh, but wait, I'll be teaching my upcoming class at Hugo House! Well, something always seems to come up on first Thursday. Luckily there are a million bazillion other things to do so I'll figure something out.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

A love letter to my left knee

Me and left knee right before fateful tree collision
Dear Left Knee, we've had many great adventures together.

We made it to the top of Mount Rainier and the bottom of the Grand Canyon. We hiked the Wonderland Trail. We completed a triathlon and a couple half marathons. We biked across the state of Washington. We ran away from a bull on Maui. We climbed a 250-foot tall Douglas Fir.

 The list goes on.

But all that fun has come with a price. You’ve always been touchy. Even back in 9th grade, when I first started running cross-country you would easily get sore. Later when I tried to train for a marathon, you balked. No likey run more than 8 miles!

Still, you were a good sport with most everything else. You hiked, you climbed, you skied, you biked, you walked the dog. And you didn’t really complain seriously. Until 2011. When I skied into a tree.

OK, I know, that was dumb! And totally unnecessary because I was already down the hard part of the hill and had just gotten cocky!

 But you recovered even from that, or at least you seemed to. And everything was just fine until I decided to revisit my childhood dream of horseback riding. (Because of course hiking and backpacking and swimming and skiing and biking and Yoga and working full time and writing a novel and learning Spanish and taking guitar lessons just aren’t enough activities for me).

 And one day, early in my lessons, I jumped off just a little too hard. I landed funny. And you pretty much gave up the ghost then even though it took a few more months and an MRI for me to realize it.

Left Knee, do you remember how when I was 13, we used to do horse vaulting at camp? How my “signature” trick was to run alongside the horse, mount it at a trot, dismount, then mount again, all while the horse was trotting?

We were young then. But now we’re not. And you need help after all the good times you’ve given me. That’s why soon you’ll be getting a new ACL (or anterior cruciate ligament). It won’t actually be NEW so much as it’s actually a gift from my left hamstring. (Hey Left Hammie, shout out to you!)

 This isn’t going to be much fun, Left Knee. It’s gonna hurt and we’re gonna be seriously hampered in our hedonistic pursuit of outdoor adventure for a few months. But they say it’s for the best. That we’ll be almost like new afterward, and can have many more years of activities together.

So, Left Knee, I guess this is both warning to you about what’s to come and also a love letter. I want you to know how much I appreciate all you’ve done for me over my life. I’m truly sorry that I haven’t expressed it before, but better late than never, right? Xo Rebecca

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Warning: Do not read Lorrie Moore upon returning from Hawaii!

 Bleh! Who wants to come home from Hawaii? To a Seattle winter? Technically it's still fall for a couple more weeks, but who can tell the difference when your two hours of daylight are obscured by leaden clouds?


Note to self: Upon returning from future visits to Hawaii, wait until winter gloominess has settled back in before picking up a book of Lorrie Moore short stories again.

Yes, she is brilliant and hilarious but depressing, OH. MY. GOD.

Take this paragraph from her haunting story "Referential:"

"Living did not mean one joy piled upon another. It was merely the hope for less pain, hope played like a playing card upon another hope, a wish for kindnesses and mercies to emerge like kings and queens in an unexpected change of the game. One could hold the cards oneself or not: they would land the same regardless. Tenderness did not enter except in a damaged way and by luck."

Thank you Ms. Moore for jolting me back to this mortal coil!

I would like to add that when you're on OAHU, life IS one joy piled upon another. Ahem. As the pictures in this blog post so demonstrate.

Friday, November 28, 2014

First ever fan-fiction writer for Little Lord Fauntleroy! That's me.


It's that time of year when I gear up to teach my favorite class at Richard Hugo House and dream of warm locales.
Ahh Oahu, I dream of you
 Starting February 24, I'll be teaching Roughing It: Write a Draft of Your Book in Just Six Weeks. You can read a bit about it here on the Hugo House website; meanwhile registration for their winter classes starts on Dec 9 so GET READY! This class fills fast.

Bye bye tiny condo
So much other stuff has been happening too, whoa. I MOVED for, one thing. Dave and I packed up our little 650-square-foot condo in Queen Anne (which took way more boxes and much longer than I ever imagined possible) and moved northward. To Greenwood. To a home with three whole bedrooms and 2.5 baths.

I never dreamed I'd live in a place where one could run the dishwasher AND go to sleep at the same time but it's finally happened!

Not only that, our little condo sold in a matter of hours. So thanks to my fab friend and real estate agent Terry Kildal, who helped me buy that condo ten years ago, and who helped us find our new home.

Novel-in-progress nears climax
Also, I'm finally reaching the end of the middle-grade novel that I'm writing. This has been a LONG process. Way too long! But I haven't given up even though I've felt like it many times and there are many reasons to (millions of better writers out there, small chance of every getting published, or ever making money, blah blah). 

This means I'm now writing the climax, which is both exciting and scary - just like the climax itself should be. It's the moment when everything has to come together, and be action-packed, and explosive, yet believable. 

Whether or not this thing ever gets published, I can honestly say it's been a joy to write. (Not every single minute, of course, but overall). When I sit down to write it, I escape to an alternate world where the mundane crap in life doesn't bother me. That hour in the morning when I write is usually the best time of my day.

Two tips for writers
After wandering in the wilderness for so long, the mere fact that I've got this momentum feels so good. And so I just want to reiterate to you writers out there, two things:

1)DO NOT GIVE UP. NO MATTER WHAT. It's been 8 years since I published BreakupBabe, and since then I've struggled and struggled to get traction on something. Then it finally happened. Only because I didn't give up. And if I can't sell this book, I will probably wallow  for a while. But then but I will pick myself up and start over again, because I can't not write.

2)FIND A COMMUNITY OF OTHER WRITERS. A writing group, a coach, a class. Whatever. It's too hard and lonely to do by yourself. You need feedback and encouragement. And most writers need some kind of structure too. That community, however small, can provide it for you. 

Parting note 
I've  realized I am probably the only writer (at least in this century) who has written what is essentially fan fiction about Little Lord Fauntleroy. And that's all I'll say about the plot of my current novel for now.

Happy holiday! 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Aspiring writer tells boss to eff off, lives happily ever after (sort of)

I've been working on the same novel for about four years now. The first three years were touch and go. I wrote two very crappy drafts. A writing instructor told me that I needed to change protagonists. Ugh. This same writing teacher also told me not to give up.

So I didn't.

And finally, in the last year, I gained traction. I started to make progress. And then, halleleujah, I was actually writing fiction again. Every day. Actually getting somewhere.

Wandering in the desert of half-baked ideas
It was such a relief after the last seven years spent wandering in the desert of half-baked ideas. I never stopped writing fiction during that time but I also started and lost faith in a multitude of projects. Despaired of ever finishing anything ever again. Wrote thousands (millions?) of words that will never see the light of day.

Now at least I know I'm going somewhere. I don't actually know where but I'm in a groove that I haven't had since the good old writing BreakupBabe: A Novel days.

Boredom and burnout sets in 
Only it's just a long f*cking haul writing a novel. I'm getting a little bored and burned out at the moment. I'm tired of not writing OTHER things.

I love writing essays, for example. And I really want to write some essays while still writing my novel, even though it's challenging to juggle multiple projects while holding down a full time job.

In particular I want to enter this Real Simple essay contest. A $3000 prize and no entry fee. What's not to love? The theme is "Eureka moments."

The Eureka moment when I told my boss to f*ck off
So I've been thinking about Eureka moments. And I remembered one that I'd tried to write about before, in my unpublished memoir Temporary Insanity.

This moment occurred in about 1999, when a corporate boss of mine (who'd just taken over for a previous boss) asked me - in a "getting to know you" chat --  if I was the "kind of person who gave 150%" to their job, or "the kind of person who just did what needed to be done and then went home at night."

Now we all know what answer we're supposed to give here, right? At least if we want the kind of boss who would ask this question to like us.

But that moment dovetailed with the a moment in my life when I was realizing that I needed to be writing my own stuff outside work to be fulfilled. To be writing something big - like a novel or memoir. I was ready to the Writer that I'd dreamed of and worked toward since age 10. Ready to organize my life around that, and to make it the highest priority.

I didn't give a crap about my corporate job, even if it was sort of creative and involved writing. It paid the bills, that was it. The exciting stuff for me was what I wrote OUTSIDE work. And I realized, then, in that moment that I would NEVER be the kind of person to give "150%" to a day job like that.
The question was, was I gonna lie about it or not?

Well I didn't. I told the truth. And my boss hated me after that and work was pretty hellish and I eventually left. (Everyone got laid off not long after, including many, I'm sure, who'd claimed to give 150%!)

But it meant something for me to say that. It liberated me. And ever since, I can honestly say I've been living the life of a Writer, with all its disappointments and satisfactions.

And that includes needing a corporate job to survive!