Monday, July 27, 2009

Letting It Be

I met a friend in Vancouver for lunch today and figured it would be a productive writing day. I’d have forty minutes each way on the ferry. There are “Business Work Stations” (a row of study carrels) on board to allow me to plug in the laptop and write. The bus trip to downtown would be slightly longer. For that leg, I packed two writing magazines and a book I’m using to research a historical setting for a new novel.

As I readied to leave the house, I had a feeling my plans might not happen. The sun was blazing and I knew I wouldn’t hit a patch of shade on the walk down to the terminal. I also knew the bus wouldn’t be air conditioned. Lugging around my bulky, outdated laptop was the first idea I nixed.

On the ship, I was a sticky mess. I’ve never been a person who does well in heat. (How I lasted eleven years in Texas is beyond me. Of course, the constant gusts from fully cranked A/Cs helped.) I stepped onto a shaded outside deck, begging the sea breeze to cool me. In no time, I was captivated by the views: sparsely-cottaged islands, the odd log drifting in the water, the mountains in the distance with the last tufts of snow now gone. Postcards at every angle. (My neglected camera remained at home on the kitchen counter.) I stood there and took it all in. No writing. The evolving scene reminded my why I moved to the Sunshine Coast and gave up the daily perks of urban life.

When temperatures pass 30˚ Celsius, you’re never cool for long. The queue to board the bus—seven minutes in that relentless sunshine—got me sweaty again. (So glad I tossed an extra shirt in the backpack to change into for lunch!) The crammed bus didn’t help matters. I gave up my seat, in part to be chivalrous—something most of the comfortably seated men knew nothing about or consciously chose to ignore. Admittedly, I also thought standing might feel better than sticking to vinyl seating.

The opportunity to research was lost. I people watched (and people listened) instead. That fellow with the shorts pulled up too high? He gave me a detail for Nester, a character in an upcoming novel.

Even in Horseshoe Bay for 30-40 minutes while waiting for the return ferry, I passed on going to my favorite café to sit down and write. The trend of being in the moment continued. I got my coffee to go and sat in the park by the water, taking in small details of everyday life: the Basenji who beat out the lab to scarf down a dropped fried fish stick from a distracted child, the father who kept tabs on his developmentally delayed teen son with a leash, the woman idly breastfeeding her infant in the most central (and public) spot in the park, the sea gull digging for any remaining flesh in a mussel shell abandoned by a previous diner.

Sometimes plans push me and make me accountable. Other times they represent noble intentions that need to be strayed from, delayed or, as in this case, abandoned altogether. Still, today was a productive day for writing. I just don’t have anything in my notebook or on my laptop to show for it.

And I’m okay with that.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

It's Alive!

I love writing in libraries. For my first novel, I must have written in a half dozen Vancouver libraries, two in Richmond, one in Whistler and one in Arnprior, Ontario. The stacks of published titles inspire me. The diverse patrons fascinate me. There's a story behind why each one is there.

While in Vancouver for the weekend, I camped out in the Oakridge branch, which is part of the popular retail mall. The library itself is only accessible from a separate outside entrance. A shame, really. Two friends I met with for meals reacted with, "There's a library at the mall?!" Of course, the library faithful have no problem finding it.

The branch closes at 9 p.m. on Friday nights and when I left fifteen minutes early--yes, turning off the lights and having a pregnant pause before restoring power gets the point across, albeit with no trace of subtlety--the place was still a flurry of activity with people of all ages.

I returned the next morning three minutes after its 10 a.m. opening and two dozen patrons had already staked out their places.

In the afternoon, I moved to a study carrel in the Quiet Zone, having had my fill before lunch of overhearing animate conversationalists. (Two older gentlemen had perched on stools ostensibly for computer users. They exchanged opinions about Castro, the Middle East and Stephen Harper's chances for reelection. They hadn't moved in the time I quieted my growling stomach. This was their community stoop.)

The young Chinese guy in the carrel beside me spent the next three hours busily studying his laptop screen. Talk about focus! I'm the type of person who needs a stretch break every twenty minutes. (That's when I randomly wander amongst the stacks and dream about that heretofore never contemplated trip to Corsica. The book on sprucing up one's flower boxes seemed a little too relatable--and too much like work.)

My carrel-mate's self-discipline rubbed off a bit. My breaks were at least shorter than usual. I wrote several pages for a new project, revised four short stories and read a couple of chapters from a how-to guide on screenwriting.

Twenty minutes before closing time as I packed up my belongings, I couldn't help but peek over the carrel to see what it was that so thoroughly consumed my neighbor. Turned out it was a videogame. My initial reaction was, He couldn't do that at home? He needed the Quiet Zone for that?!

Why not? Two gentlemen parked in the library to chat about current events, I was there to write, and here was a guy who needed a haven to play a game. Like I said, there's a story behind each library user. Each of us got what we needed.

As I made my way through the library and toward the exit, the place was still hopping with patrons. Thankfully, I am not the only one who appreciates a local library.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Letting Go (or What's Love Boat Got to Do with It?)

Today is the day I've set for sending out Boys' Shorts, my collection of short stories targeted to teen boy readers. However, I sense myself delaying the final steps. What makes me hold on when I know the time is right to submit the manuscript?

One might think I have a fear of rejection. Knowing that the work is still in my hands keeps publishers from mailing me polite form letters that summarily dismiss the writing. I don't think this is a concern. Sure, rejection hurts, but I can always stock up on Häagen-Dazs to console myself.

Perhaps I am avoiding the grant applications that I need to complete. As long as I am tinkering with Boys' Shorts, the paperwork can wait. I am not a form fan. But then, is anyone?

Maybe I have a problem with letting go. I began this project a year ago. That's a relatively short time for me. (I held onto Fouling Out for eight years.) The short story collection has been exciting to write with so many characters and predicaments that ranged from funny to serious to mundane (yet quirky). I have enjoyed shifting gears so quickly from one story to the next and going back months later, only to be surprised by a particular story's ending.

Perhaps I should see a therapist about this letting go issue. It could be big! Of course, I could not afford the sessions which could continue to months, if not years. What if it all comes down to a repressed childhood incident when I was forced to attend a church games night in lieu of watching a rerun of "The Love Boat"? It's possible. "But Charo's guest starring. She's gonna break Captain Stubing's heart. And Florence Henderson's on, too. Mrs. Brady!" (To underscore how much I am delaying sending off my manuscript, I found a Charo-Florence Henderson clip on YouTube--after I'd paired them in my blog. You can YouTube anything! Take a peek. Perfect your cuchi-cuchi!)

Without the therapist, I will have to work through my letting go problem. I understand the issue on a surface level. Why would I want the fun to stop? I have to trust that I will have at least as much fun on my next writing project.

After the grant applications.

It's been a year since I began the project

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Name Game

Remember that ultra-catchy ditty, "The Name Game" by Shirley Ellis? Okay, I'll admit I hadn't heard the song until I was an adult and a friend mixed a tape with quirky hits, including that one. Still, it's worth a first listen (or a nostalgic revisit). Check out "The Name Game" on YouTube.

I've got my own name game to play today--and it isn't nearly as fun as the song! My goal is to submit my short story manuscript (technically, some sample chapters) in two days. I am tinkering with a couple of things before my self-imposed deadline. One thing I did this morning was conduct a name search through the forty-two story collection to see if I'd repeated any names. Oh, the results shocked me! I've used thirty-one first names two or even three times for different characters and ten last names.

Some names will remain. Tim and Mary are common enough that I can justify having the name crop up a second time. But how did I use Willis for two different characters?! (I don't even know a Willis. It was a random name that came in the writing moment. Twice apparently.) And Ginny? Nadine! Meredith!

I used the last name Reineke in two stories. Yes, there was a girl in college with that last name. She was an acquaintance at best. I don't think I have some long-repressed crush on her. What gives?! (There will be no Facebook reunion.)

I'm pulling out my phone book and some magazines to go back to my tried and true character naming technique. One random flip and I point my finger: first name. Next flip and point: last name. It shouldn't take too long to rename a slew of characters--unless there is a disproportionate number of Luke Wainwrights living on the Sunshine Coast!

I may even play the Shirley Ellis Name Game to alter one character's moniker. Let's see,...Jimmy Jimmy bo Bimmy Bonana fanna fo Fimmy...

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Working on Sunday

I had a lovely visit with a group of Richmond teachers on Friday and Saturday. When I met the seven women (and one little lady) at the ferry terminal, the first to hug me announced, "Your harem is here!" The conversation, food and drink flowed easily. For some reason, when the last person left yesterday, the writing didn't flow as well. (No, it had nothing to do with "clucking of the hens" as my friend Patti referred to the visit in a follow-up email.)

Whatever the reason, today is a new day and I am eager to write again. Yes, it's Sunday, but that's the thing about an unpaid sabbatical. My food cupboard will not remain miraculously stocked with no-name oatmeal. And watering down the portions will only work for so long. (Oatmeal soup,...mmm, mmm good!)

Back to the writing. I wouldn't want it any other way!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Now What?!

Fifteen minutes ago I finished my latest manuscript, a collection of forty-two short stories targeted at teen boys. I completed the drafts in March and have spent the time since then revising before I submit the project to publishers. Most of the work has been done over the past two weeks when I didn’t have any distractions from a day job.

I should feel elated. At least relieved. It hasn’t set in yet. There will be a little more tinkering with the order of presenting the short stories and some contemplation as to which ones to submit as samples. Also, I’ve got to refine my cover/query letter. I expect to mail the project by the middle of next week. Once I actually hand it over to the postal worker, I think I will feel that sense of accomplishment.

It’s important to celebrate in some way. Before the rejections come in. (If they do. My first book was accepted by the first publisher. A fluke, I’m told.) No matter how dismissive and formulaic the rejection letter, nothing can take away from the fact I completed a writing project that began a year ago. I enjoyed every part of the writing. The short stories—and let me emphasize short—allowed me to bounce about from idea to idea. The collection began as a constructive diversion from another novel I was working on. That manuscript remains incomplete, something that has sat cold for many months. It’s harder to dive back into a novel than a set of short stories.

When I started out, I planned to write forty. I feared I might run out of ideas after a dozen stories. Fortunately, the synopses were plentiful. Just yesterday, I jotted down ideas for more. Sure, I need someone to accept the original set, but I am getting excited about a sequel. Writing doesn’t stop; it just changes course, if only slightly.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Funemployment, Indeed!

July 10, 2009

I’m in Vancouver for a couple of days, but the writing continues. In fact, I should be more productive since someone else is caring for the dogs and I have fewer excuses for leaving a library and returning home where I’m typically less productive.

Anyway, I was putting off the beginning of today’s writing by planning to swim laps at a local pool. Unfortunately, due to the ferry timing and traffic, I had to forego that idea since there wasn’t enough time to fit in a decent workout before the pool would be overtaken by floating mats, plastic basketball nets and bendy Sytrofoam sticks—they must have a name, but I’m not in thick with the bendy stick crowd.

I went for a cinnamon bun instead. Yeah, I know, aquatic exercise or decadent pastry, there seems to be something illogical in my choice pairings. One might accuse me of driving awfully slowly to the pool, but I’m sticking to my stance that I really wanted to swim.

While I tore away at my lunch (yes, lunch—cinnamon is one of those good-for-you spices, isn’t it?), I picked up a free local rag, WE, billed as “Vancouver’s urban weekly”. The cover story caught my attention: “Congratulations, you’re fired. It’s time for Funemployment.” Okay, I’ve never been axed, but I still felt I’d be able to connect with the article. In reading, I learned that funemployment was first used about a month ago in San Francisco’s SF Weekly. Everybody wants to coin a new word. (I read in this week that frenemy and vlog just made the cut. I’ll play along and nominate webstereyes, a verb, for the act of trying to create a new word to earn a place in standard dictionaries, as in This lame word is my attempt to webstereyes, my alternative track for getting published. You saw it here first!)

Back to this new SF term. I don’t think it’s catchy enough to catch on just yet. Shorten it to funployment and I think you’ve got a hit. So what does the word mean? For those of you who can’t imagine what an expression derived from fun + employment could pertain to, I’ll quote WE’s reference to the original source. The term refers to “laid-off people…collecting unemployment benefits and using their newfound time to reassess their career goals, and then launch their own creative businesses.” Basically, getting creative in an effort to make ends meet in tough times.

People are daring to explore paths they’d never dared dream to pursue as a career. That’s the part I can relate to. I’m just the crazy one who isn’t collecting EI in the process. No net to catch my fall. Still, I can underscore the fun in my own version of funployment. An acquaintance gently mocked me yesterday for taking three whole days off in transitioning from principal to writer. Well, I couldn’t wait any longer. It seems I waited ten months to get started on this adventure and another week to read a trashy novel or watch Oprah reruns seemed a total waste. (That Serengeti safari got nixed on account of my new frugality.) I’m early into my year of writing, but I’m loving it. When I power down the laptop each evening, I’m excited about resuming the next day.

After a swim workout or cinnamon bun excursion, of course.

Monday, July 6, 2009

DAY 1--Bring on the Rain!

July 6, 2009

It’s a cloudy morning and the showers have begun. What a perfect day to start my year of writing! (Okay, I’m not the sun worshipper of my youth, but still I have fewer possible distractions. The lawn will not be mowed. The dandelions can thrive another day. The deck shall go unswept. Why is it that these tasks only seem pressing when I’m writing?)

I’m easing into this process. Some would be inclined to dive right in, but I like to dip my toes in to send a message to the rest of the body. Cold, yes. But, ooh, you’ll get used to it! Let’s hope. Last year, my Summer of Writing was a great experiment. I blogged and logged my experiences to hold myself accountable and I managed to write for period of time each day. Thirty minutes was the minimum while three hours represented a flurry of activity.

As I am embarking on a one-year sabbatical from my day job as a school principal and bringing in no money as of the end of this month, this little hobby must transform into a serious trade. Thirty minutes of writing? Bah! That’s a day off. Three hours—gulp, here goes—must be the new minimum. I will have to build up to that in the next week. Five to eight hours will be the goal.

Whereas I’d casually begun my days last summer, I will need to maintain more of a schedule for my writing. No lingering about in the mornings, letting Mr. Sandman influence my foggy brain. I shall shower, dress and walk the dogs to begin the day, then grab a cup—er, pot—of coffee and settle down to create, tinker, edit or connect with a character. I may even outline! That’s a radical thought for someone who likes to see how things flow, but discipline and direction will strengthen my writing. I can remain flexible enough to change paths when the plot or the characters compel an adjustment in the journey, but my endings will be stronger, more fully realized if they are considered from the outset.

For now, I am already behind. I failed to clear my desk this weekend to begin with a clean working area. I could spend the next two hours pondering what to do with each slip of paper, but I am giving myself two minutes to apply that deck sweeping desire to my desk. True, I will have (yet another) pile on the floor, but I can deceive myself into thinking it is an essential piece of “furniture” as my dog Lincoln discovers it and uses it as a new pillow. He’ll be better rested and I’ll be ready to write!

The Beginning

What have I done?! Sure, it was thrilling when I finally blurted to my boss that I wanted to take a year off work in order to write. Ah, what a dream!

Did I really say it out loud? Did my boss actually accept my leave request? Do I have the money to survive? Yes, yes and, well, let's hope. Perhaps a side query over the next 365 days will be whether a middle-aged man can survive off instant noodles. (True, it works in college, but so do all-nighters and toga getups. Aging can be cruel.)

I have gone from being a highly responsible elementary school principal to an unemployed, fledgling writer. I have been fortunate to have one children's novel in print, Fouling Out (Orca Book Publishers, 2008), but, contrary to what some of my readers believe, not every published author lives a Rowling kind of existence. I've had to let the butler go and--gasp!--refrain from hiring a housekeeper.

I shall blame last summer for my decision to take a sabbatical. I wrote every day and loved the creative process of bouncing from one unfinished writing project to another. When late August came around, I pined for the opportunity to pursue my writing more seriously. And now I've gone and done it. Instead of being a closet writer with big dreams, I am declaring myself a full-time writer to the thousands--er, one or two--who read this blog.

Over the next year, I shall share my journey. For anyone else who dreams of quitting a day job and following a whim to write, learn from my foolishness. Perhaps one of us will succeed!