Saturday, March 28, 2009

Editing 99% complete

I just finished reading my novel aloud to myself. There is one chapter that needs a bit of tweaking, and one place I need to do a bit of quick research to clear up some facts, but I will have that done tonight. Now I'm ready to write the synopsis and query letter, and start trying to find an agent. WooHoo!


Respect. Why is this so hard for some people? I went to see J.D. Blackfoot at the Sheldon Concert Hall last night. He is a classic rock legend (well, should be a legend anyway) who got his start in St. Louis thanks to KSHE radio. He is an incredibly talented singer and songwriter, and loves his fans. The show last night was incredible, but there were some incredibly rude, disrespectful "fans" in the audience trying to ruin it for everyone else. His early albums, The Ultimate Prophecy, The Song of Crazy Horse, Tokala, are rock epics. His later albums tend to be softer, acoustic, introspective, poignant and sometimes humorous looks at life. Two very different types of music, but neither is better than the other.

Last night he played some songs from his forthcoming album "The Story of Texas Red." The format of this album will be him telling a short story, then singing a song inspired by that story. Story, song, story, song. So that is how he sang the songs on stage last night. J.D. has a deep, booming voice that would make any storyteller jealous. He brought the stories to life, touched my heart with them. Well, some "fans" did not agree. They only wanted to hear the rock songs from his early years. They didn't care about story telling. So when J.D. was on stage relating these stories, they thought it would be alright to talk loudly through the whole thing. A couple times J.D. simply sat in silence until the quieted down, then continued on with the story. More restraint than I might have shown. This went on for 2 or 3 story/song sets. Finally someone in the audience had enough and shouted "Shut the **** up." Maybe not the most eloquent phrasing, but it got the point across.

J.D. is an artist. He puts his heart and soul into his music and stories. Just because he may not be playing the exact song YOU want to hear, please listen and show some respect. Or if you really don't want to hear it, leave the auditorium and have your conversation in the lobby.

One of J.D.'s best songs from his later years is "Missing You in St. Louis." It is about the Vietnam War and friends lost. The war was before I was born, and no one in my family was involved, but I can't listen to that song without tears coming to my eyes. Last night J.D. invited the Marine Color Guard to the show. Four brave men in uniform carried the Marine and US flags, and 2 rifles, and stood on stage during the song. A man in the row behind me talked the entire time. I almost turned around and told him to show a little respect for those who have risked and given their lives for our freedom. Again, why is respect so hard?

Finally, toward the end of the show, J.D. did something truly amazing. He took perhaps 15 minutes to talk about friends, family, and fans who have died in the past year. He had several empty seats in the audience in honor of them. He acknowledged each and every one, and their families who are still here and were in the audience last night. Again, this brought tears to my eyes, even though I didn't know any of the departed. After about 15 min of this, however, one restless "fan" shouted out, "Play some music!" I wonder if he would have been so rude if any of the departed had been his family?

The show was excellent, even if the "fans" were rude, disrespectful, and downright got on my nerves. I hope J.D. continues making music and sharing it with us for many years to come. I will go see him every opportunity I can. I only hope his so-called "fans" show a little more respect at the next show. Artists work hard pouring their hearts and souls onto the page, the canvas, their instruments, to entertain us. If they wander from the norm a little bit, please indulge them. Please show some respect for what they do. So much of what they do is for us. We should give a little back to them to show our appreciation.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Almost Finished Editing

I have about 10 chapters left to edit. That sounds like a lot, but I write short chapters (usually 1500 words or less, which is only a few pages.) I will be able to complete that this weekend. Then it will be time to begin researching agents, write the query letter and synopsis, and send out queries. For me, the query letter and synopsis are the hardest parts of writing a novel. You have to condense the whole thing into 1-2 paragraphs (for the query) or 1 page (for the synopsis.)

I'm still trying to figure out a title for the novel, which I will have to do before I can send out any query letters. Tina wants to see a synopsis, since she's only heard a small part of the novel so far, and she's going to help me come up with something. Titles are my weak point in writing.

I've also decided the genre is urban fantasy. It isn't as heavy on the mystery aspect as I initially thought it would be, and the more urban fantasy I read lately, the more I realize that's what this one is. I think it's a pretty hot genre right now, so hopefully that will be in my favor.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Memories of Marie

Today is the anniversary of my Grandma's death. I wrote this almost a year ago, and am posting now in honor of her.

Two weeks ago, on Easter Sunday, my Grandma passed away. It was two days before her 92nd birthday. She lived in a nursing home for nearly ten years, and the past year she was in and out of the hospital four times. Her death wasn’t entirely unexpected, but of course that doesn’t make it any easier. This was my mom’s mother. My dad’s father passed away when I was a baby, and I don’t remember him. My other grandparents died before I was born, including my mom’s father who died on December 23, and was laid out on Christmas day, when my mom was only twenty.

Grandma is the first person close to me in my family who has died. I’ve been to funerals before, but with one exception, they were all for distant family members I did not know. She and my mom shared the same birthday – March 25 – so the wake was particularly difficult because it was held on their birthday. This was the first wake at which I was part of the grieving family. It was an exhausting five hours, filled with the sadness of seeing my Grandma in the casket, the mental exercise of trying to remember the names of all my mom’s cousins who I have met in the past, but don’t remember, and the emotional exercise of trying not to cry too much, because if my mom can be so strong as to not cry, surely I can be, too.

I met Grandma’s good friend and long time neighbor for the first – and likely only – time. Grandma used to talk about Doris a lot. She didn’t drive, so Doris drove her on errands, to church on Sundays, shopping and Bingo. They even went to Hawaii together. It struck me as incredibly sad that I never met someone so important in Grandma’s life until her wake.

That thought brought forth full force the regrets that had only been poking through my heart until that moment. I wish I had spent more time with Grandma. There is so much I don’t know about her – such as why did she only have one of her two sisters in her wedding? – that now I never will. Sure, I spent time with her. We spent every holiday with her, birthdays, and I almost always went with my mom when she took Grandma to run errands. But I wish I had asked more questions, cared more about Marie and not just Grandma. Everyone keeps telling me I was a wonderful granddaughter, and Grandma wouldn’t change anything. Logically, I’m sure they’re right, but it will take time to believe that emotionally.

Grandma loved playing cards. She played Pinochle with her friends, and probably Bridge, but with me she played Kings in the Corner and Dummy Rummy, Crazy 8s and Old Maid. I remember giving Grandma manicures, filing and painting her nails. I remember one Christmas when I was in high school. Uncle Ron and Aunt Debbie (my mom’s brother and sister-in-law) gave me a basket from Bath and Body works. It contained a bottle of nail polish that perfectly matched the burgundy sweater I wore. I opened it and painted my nails then and there.

Every Easter Grandma got a large, rectangular communion wafer from her church, which we would break and share before Easter dinner – sometimes at Grandma’s house, sometimes at our house. I remember Easter egg hunts in Grandma’s yard, and sitting on her couch next to my cousin Matthew afterwards counting our nickels and quarters and candy, and maybe a dollar bill or two if we were lucky.

Every time Mom and I took Grandma on errands, she pulled out her coin purse to give us a few dollars before we left, and always told us to “tell Bill hello” if my dad wasn’t with us.

Grandma had a round ottoman in her living room. I liked to turn it on end, sit on it and roll across the floor on it. I remember a bowl of M&Ms on her coffee table, conspicuously void of any red ones, because of the scare that the red dye caused cancer. I remember playing with Grandma’s makeup. I never put it on, but loved to open the compacts and tubes of lipstick to look at the colors.

Grandma’s bed sat at an angle to the corner of the wall, and I would climb behind it during games of hide and seek.

The first time I did laundry was at the Laundromat near Grandma’s house – which is now a bakery near my house. I did not realize when I bought my first house it was only a few blocks away from where Grandma lived.

I remember when Grandma moved to the nursing home. I went with my mom to clean out Grandma’s house. We spent time looking through Grandma’s wedding albums, then the parents’ version of my mom’s wedding album, which Grandma had in a drawer. It was smaller, not the full album my parents have.

Grandma’s house was small – two bedrooms, one bathroom, living room, eat-in kitchen, sunroom, and unfinished basement. I never thought about there only being two bedrooms, yet one boy and one girl in the family. My mom later told me the sunroom was her brother’s bedroom, equipped with heaters for the winter, and fans for the summer months.

It is these small memories to which I wish I had paid more attention, for most of those I just wrote, I only now remembered. How many other small yet wondrous memories will I never recall?

The funeral was harder than the wake for me. It was not so easy to hold back my tears. The day started at the funeral home, where we said our final goodbyes. We each took a flower from the casket arrangement and lay it in the casket with Grandma. The night before, at the wake, I tucked the birthday card I made for Grandma into the side of the casket. At the cemetery, I took a yellow rose from the arrangement to press and put into my memory box. After that we went to Our Lady of Snows Shrine for a family luncheon. Even through our grief, the food was excellent. Grandma would have loved it. She always loved food, and ate well until her final days.

I went to Grandma’s grave today. It was a brief visit, only a few minutes, but I wanted to stop by, leave a fresh flower (the arrangements from the funeral are still on her grave, wilted) and tell her I miss her and hope she’s proud of me. I do miss her, but I’m happy she is at peace now, with her husband Leo again after thirty-seven years, and know that someday I will see her again.

I want to end with a quote. For my 8th grade graduation, Grandma gave me a greeting card. Within the card was another card, the size of a credit card, which had a painting of clouds and a quote on it. I have carried this card in my wallet ever since, and will keep it always.

"Whatever you dream, dream with all your heart - Whatever you try, try with all your heart - and happiness will be yours."

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Writing Day

Yesterday was our monthly writing day at Tina's. As always, it was an awesome day, though we missed Mary, who injured her leg and isn't getting around very well at the moment. We talked, wrote, shared, ate. I got some more editing done. My self-imposed deadline of the end of March is nearing quickly. I think I will make it, but it will be close. No more TV for me the rest of the month. Well, aside from Ghost Hunters and Ace of Cakes.

As always my group gave me great suggestions for improving the chapters I read. They are wonderful at picking out the little things that just don't add up. Things that as the writer you are a little to close to to be able to find yourself. I am so thankful for my writing group.

We're still trying to plan our next weekend retreat. It's been a year and a half since we had one. We had it planned for the weekend of May 8 this year, but I wasn't going to be able to be there the whole time, if at all (it's my bday weekend) and Tina realized she will be out of town anyway. So it's back to the drawing board to find a date. It's hard to find a whole weekend when all 5 of us busy women are free. But we'll make it work.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

My New Blog for Cakes

I mentioned a week or so ago that I started decorating cakes. I started a new blog to show pictures of my cakes, and information about ordering cakes from me (if you live in the St. Louis area.) If interested, please take a look and feel free to leave comments. Thanks!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Natalie Goldberg

Monday night I had the opportunity to see one of my favorite authors, and my favorite author of writing books. Natalie Goldberg wrote Writing Down the Bones, the book that my writing group uses often to spark our timed writings. She has also written many other wonderful books. She was speaking at Left Bank Books to promote the paperback release of her latest book, Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir.

Left Bank Books is a smallish independent bookstore in St. Louis. The place was PACKED. It was mostly women in the crowd, but there were a few men as well. Hearing Natalie speak and read from her book was amazing. She's such a neat person, and her real life personality is pretty close to what I expected from her on page personality.

After about an hour of speaking, reading, and Q&A she signed books. I had "Writing Down the Bones" and "Thunder and Lightening" signed. It was a very cool experience. If you ever get a chance to see her, GO! I hope to someday have the opportunity to participate in one of her workshops in New Mexico (where she lives.)

My favorite answer from the night was when someone asked Natalie how she gets inspiration for her memoirs.

"I fell in love with my life."

Thursday, March 5, 2009


I did it. I dropped my deposit check in the mail today. I'm going to China. Sept. 19-29. I applied for my passport last week, but had to wait for the next paycheck to make the deposit. Things are in motion.

Why China? Grandmaster Eric Lee is hosting a tour. My Kung Fu teacher went last year and said it was an amazing experience not to be missed. The price is right, my boss is letting me have all the time off work for it (though it will use all my vacation for the year), and I've never been out of the country. What better way to start than China, and getting to train at the Wudang Temple for a few days? Yes, the place where they filmed the final scene in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. We'll visit Canton, Hong Kong, Wudang Mountain. The itinerary isn't set in stone yet, but that's the gist of it.

I'm really excited about this, and also a little nervous. I don't know of anyone else from my school who is going, so it's likely I'll be in a foreign country with a language I don't know and a tour group full of people I don't know by myself, mostly likely sharing a hotel room (it's about $400 more to get a private room). That's a little scary to me, but I'm looking forward to it. We'll have a tour guide the whole time, so language won't be an issue.

This is even more incentive for me to step up my own training, starting now. 3 or 4 full days, and I mean full, first thing in the morning to just before bed, training at the temple will be intense. I need to prepare myself for it as much as possible so I can last. An hour and a half class twice a week can be intense, so I really need to get myself in shape. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Editing and Cakes

I started reading my novel aloud to myself this weekend and made good progress on it - 15 chapters. I'm still happy with most of it, but haven't gotten to the parts that I know need some work yet. That might slow me down a bit when I get to those chapters, but that's what editing is all about.

I also got through 2 more chapters last night. I didn't get to do much, because I had a splitting headache when I got home from work so slept for a while. I also had Kung Fu last night. I hope to do some more editing tonight before Ghost Hunters comes on, but am not sure if I'll have time. I have a chiropractor appointment after work. Throw in walking my dog and doing a bit of my own exercise, and I might not. But I'll try to squeeze some in.

I also made a cake for a birthday this weekend. Back in the day, Target used to sell cakes. You could watch them decorate the cakes through glass. When I was 5, I wanted to be a cake decorator when I grew up. About 8 years ago, I bought a few books, some icing tips, and decorated a cakes for my mom's bday. It turned out nicely, but I didn't do any more decorating. Fast forward to now, and my addiction to Ace of Cakes. It's a show on Food Network about Charm City Cakes and Chef Duff Goldman. They make the most gorgeous, amazing cakes I've ever seen. I decided to try my hand at working in fondant. If you don't know, fondant is kind of like stiff play-doh in consistency, but you can eat it. So I made a fancy cake, and it turned out really well for my first try. I had a blast making it. Now I'm trying to think up every occasion I can to make more cakes! That's the bad thing about having cake decorating as a can't just do it whenever you want to, because then you're stuck with a cake to eat!

So I had an idea that maybe I could do a mini part time thing from home making cakes for people. Nothing big, but a few people have already shown interest. One coworker wants me to make a cake for his son's bday. Maybe someday this will grow into something more, maybe not, but in the meantime, it's a creative outlet that won't cause me to gain hundreds of pounds, and I might make a little extra cash on the side. But don't worry, it won't keep me away from writing. Writing is still my number 1 love.