Finding a Lost Muse

After a fairly dull spring, writing wise, I finally have hit my stride.

I started a new ms the other day, and it’s really coming along. I’d hit a dry spot in March. I don’t know what happened, but every time I sat down to write, it felt like I was breaking my own teeth. I’d change a sentence, maybe a word, but I was having a really hard time getting anything out. I can always revise later and make things pretty. I can’t work with an empty page.

I felt like my muse had abandoned me. I couldn’t find a song that fit my manuscript, and it showed. One of my tricks for writing is that I find a song that reminds me of those characters–or, sometimes, a couple of songs–and I listen to it over and over. I listen in the car. I listen to it on my phone when the kids are in lessons. I listen to it in my office when I’m doing paperwork.

And when I do, my characters are always lurking somewhere in the back of my head.

But I couldn’t find a song. Music didn’t inspire me. Trips to some of my favorite haunts didn’t inspire me.

My muse was silent.

So, for now, I’ve moved on.

The latest manuscript is actually a melding of the two genres I prefer: historicals and paranormals.As a matter of fact, I’m writing a steampunk.

It had a song before I’d even written a single sentence.

But I think what’s different is that I’m not stressing this manuscript. I have no intention of pitching it right now, and I’m in a holding pattern with the others, so I’m just writing. I’m enjoying doing the research and then tweaking with the history. I’m having a grand old time discussing with hubby the type of airship that will be employed. I’m loving these characters, and I particularly enjoy their interactions with one another.

Maybe my muse wasn’t lost, so much as… resting. The story I was writing is a good story, and I’ll go back to it eventually. The problem wasn’t the story, and I don’t think it was the writer. I think the problem was that it was the right story, but at the wrong time.

This one, though, feels like the story I’m meant to be writing now.



Disaster Averted

I nearly had a heart attack about an hour ago.

I recently sent off my paranormal romance, The Queen Killer, to an editor. Received a very nice email saying she’d received it and looked forward to reading my project.

Now, for reasons too convoluted to go into here, I had to use my husband’s email address to send the manuscript. According to the submissions guidelines I’d been given, I needed to save the document as an .rtf or .doc. I was cool with that, and saved it as .rtf. Tried really hard not panic as I hit send.

I am the first to admit, I get a little amped up about sending off my mss to publishers/agents, and really, even critique partners. For the last week, in the back of my head, it’s been needling me that I might have sent off the wrong document, mostly because, since I sent it using my husband’s email address, I haven’t been able to check the sent documents and verify that I did, indeed, send the right one.

Today, I started to get really, really nervous (a touch of OCD, anyone? Yeah, and what is probably an undiagnosed anxiety disorder. But whatever.), so I went into my own documents and pulled up the only .rtf file in that directory.

It was the wrong document. A really, really old draft. Like, five drafts ago old.

My heart skipped a couple of beats. I thought I was going to vomit (doesn’t help that I’m fighting a stomach bug right now, either). I started to shake.

So I called M and asked him to look it up. He told me to look it up on his email, but I couldn’t remember his stinking password. So I called him back. He wouldn’t give his password to me, but he said he’d call me back.

I began scouring my files for the right .rtf file, but it was nowhere to be found. I saved another version of the latest draft and tried compose my desperate, “I’m the biggest ding-dong on the face of the planet, and try not to hold it against me, but here’s the actual document you wanted” email. Yeah, I’m sure that would have gone over extraordinarily well.

I wanted to cry. Instead, I sat there and shook like a scared chihuahua.

And then, M forwarded me the email I actually sent. There was my query letter (which is actually pretty good), and the document in question as an attachment.

I dreaded opening up the attachment. Felt sick doing it.

And almost passed out with relief when I saw that it was the right version of my story. The .rtf version I still can’t find in any directory on my computer, despite a search. Doesn’t matter. She got the right version, so at  least she’s reading what I actually intended for her to read. If she doesn’t like it, at least she’s not liking the latest version, and not some older, less-refined draft.


I think I need a nap.

What Makes A Book Compelling?

I’m putting this out there to the blogosphere:

What, to you, makes a book compelling?

Is it voice? Beautiful prose? Characters? Is it a novel premise?

To me, a compelling story has a great voice, and I want to like the characters. I don’t have to like them right away, but I need to see some spark that tells me this person isn’t all bad. There was one book, years ago, where the prose were absolutely gorgeous, and that kept me reading far longer than I normally would have. I still eventually gave up, because I absolutely hated the main character, and after two hundred pages, I found nothing redeemable in him.

I don’t necessarily have to have a novel premise, because there are no new stories under the sun, and limited new ways to tell them.

I’ve even read books that are essentially about nothing that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed.

What makes you enjoy a book?

Leave a comment and let me know what you think.

An Atypical Typical Peer

On Friday, I took Chewey in to be the “typical peer” in the classroom for preschoolers with autism.

I say “typical peer” in quotes because he’s been being pretty wretched in his own preschool classroom. He’s been doing things that mortify me as his mother. Basically being difficult, but many of the things they say he’s doing I’ve never heard him do. Not once.

On Thursday, he had a really bad day, and I decided both Chewey and his teacher needed a break, so I took him to my school, on the pretense that he was trying out being a typical peer in our room. This wasn’t exactly true: I needed  to go to work, and I thought, with me in the room, he might be able to hold it together.

I worried, because we have some very difficult behaviors in that room, and Chewey’s behaviors can be… difficult. I worried he’d try to take on the most aggressive kid in the class and get his tiny rear-end handed to him. I worried he’d pick up on behaviors. I worried he’d actually demonstrate bad behavior to kids whose behaviors are, often times, really, really difficult.

He surpassed all of my expectations. The other “typical” kids who’ve come into that room have spent the morning crying and not returned. Chewey, having attended daycare since he was 12 weeks old, ignored all the bad behavior–and there was plenty of it, seeing as how it was the last day of school. The behaviors–everything from biting to screaming–didn’t even phase him.

What was more impressive was how the other kids followed what he did, and how Chewey recognized that he was the leader of the group. He had them all lined up on the wall when I told him that’s what we did. He convinced five of the eight to be quiet. One boy, who puts up a fight every time he has to clean up after snack, cleaned up on his own after watching Chewey do it.

He greeted everyone in the class. He introduced himself, and started conversations with everyone, even those who are nonverbal, and he waited with a patience uncommon for an adult for their answers. He offered up fields of two when his conversational partner didn’t answer.

Example conversation:

Chewey: “How are you?”

Partner: No answer.

Chewey: “Are you good?” (Demonstrates thumbs up) “Or bad?” (Shows the thumbs down).

Partner: “Good.”

One boy, who never answers these kinds of questions, actually looked at his shoes and said, “I happy.”

We were all amazed.

But what was the most amazing was when Chewey had the most aggressive boy in the class engaged in pretend play.

He and this other boy, after having a brief conversation, played pirates. I know it was all Chewey’s idea, because all of a sudden, the other little guy started using words like “swashbuckle” and “scalawag,” which are Chewey words. They played for a good ten minutes, pretending to slay sea monsters and steal treasure, something this child has never done without adult support.

I have never been so proud of my son.

I have never been so convinced of the power of a typical peer model.

We’ve been working on greetings with some of these boys for months. We’ve been working on desensitization to touch since October with others. But the one they talked to first was my son. The one they all wanted to hold hands with as we walked to the park? The same.

The one who got them to pretend, the one who got them to make eye contact, the one they took turns with was not a teacher or an aide, but a typical peer who didn’t judge them for being different. Who offered them choices without being told to do it.

Chewey recognized they were different, and was totally OK with that. He wasn’t scared of them, as the other children were. He was ready, willing and able to be their friend, and they responded to that.

He showed me he can be a leader. I knew he had a kind heart, but I never knew how kind.

I have always loved my son, but I don’t know if I ever really knew him. I think you can judge another person’s character by how they treat those who are different, who are less fortunate. Chewey is a lot of things, but he showed me a compassionate nature I don’t think I ever recognized in him. He’s not afraid of people who aren’t like him. He demonstrated an empathy toward these kids that I don’t think most adults have.

After all, I’ve seen the stares in the WalMart. Everyone with a child with autism knows how adults will stare, and make rude comments, and walk the other direction when that child throws one of their colossal fits. Shoot, I’ve gotten those stares and comments whenever I’ve had to do the “walk of shame” with one of my typical, albeit volatile, children.

Chewey didn’t do any of those things. Because he’s better than that. And bless him for it.

He showed me that he’s the perfect typical peer. He’s been in daycare, so he knows the drill. He knows to ignore behaviors. But the one thing he did, that you can’t teach, was forgive and move on after a child calms down. There was no judgment in my Chewey. They’d calm down and he’d play with them. No comments. No stares. No crying in the corner like the other kids did.

Just acceptance.

We could all learn a lot from a four-year old.

This is Why We Fight

Yesterday, when I was in my favorite hippie supermarket (Whole Paycheck), Chewey was behaving like the product of an unholy union between Po (Kung Fu Panda) and Darth Vader, complete with sound effects. He wasn’t being bad, just loud, doing “kung fu” moves throughout the store, and occasionally bursting out with phrases like, “I will destroy you with my kung fu and my light saber!” He was particularly fond of doing this in front of the reflective glass by the fish, so he could watch his own “rad moves.” (He also liked doing them in front of my parent’s stainless steel refrigerator, which prompted weird looks from my father and my mother to declare, “Well, isn’t he… imaginative.”)

Trust me, I was aware of the stares. So. Very. Aware.

Then, randomly, while we were in the egg section, he and his sister broke out singing “This is Why We Fight” by The Decemberists, whom I started listening to because of this person. I was oddly proud, in a total geek kind of way. Their choice of songs seemed appropriate, coming from the two of them.

It only lasted for the small amount of time we were in the egg section, but it made me smile for the rest of the day.

5 Crazy Things About Me (that you wish you didn’t know)

1. I hate mice. I think they’re vile little creatures. I’m so phobic that, in fifth grade, for Fun Friday, I refused to watch the movie The Secret of Nimh because just watching the movie made me so upset I felt nauseous. I’m not a huge fan of snakes, either, but I could hold myself together just long enough to appease my fifth grade teacher. That being said, when he went to feed the thing, I passed out cold. I guess I “got the vapors.” Yes, you may call me Scarlett.

Damn things. They carry plague, for the love of God.

2. I’m not a big fan of cows (or bulls), either. While a rodent phobia is actually fairly understandable, a fear of cows just seems to leave people scratching their heads. Yes, I know it doesn’t make sense. But they’re big, and they stampede. Besides, I’ve seen pictures from Pamplona. No way I’m doing that crap. Seriously. That’s insane.

I wouldn't want to meet this guy on the road. Just saying.

3. I’m allergic to lots of things, but my allergies periodically change. At 19, I was diagnosed with an allergy to dogs and cats. I refused to believe it, and kept my dog. Now, I am no longer allergic to either, but I’m allergic to eggs and beef (and the wings of winged insects). Go figure.

My dog.

4. I believe pets should only have old people names. I don’t know why, but I have a thing for old sounding names. My first dog was Hank. My cat is Josephine. This dog is Francis (Ignacio della Vega), mostly because I thought it would be funny to yell “Francis! Come!” to a dog who looks like he would eat your liver for breakfast.

5. I have a fondness for some really horrible names. Chewey just barely dodged a bullet with his middle name.  No, no, I mean it. I even knew it was heinous, but I freaking love the name Angus (and Fergus and Seamus). I know it sounds like I’m naming him after a side of beef (which, despite my allergy and my general loathing for all things bovine, I really did used to like). I get it. Still, it’s a great name. Luckily for Chewey, I got distracted by this man.

Wyatt Earp

I Fought the Law… And the Law Won

I have “I fought the law, and the law won,” running through my head, and it seems appropriate, given the absolutely insane thing I did today (and was denied), even though I didn’t try to fight the law… I fought the system, and the system won. But the song loses something when I’m being literal, so we’ll stick with “I Fought the Law.”

I can’t talk about what happened, or the thing I did.

I can’t talk about the system that’s failing. I can’t talk about the children who have suffered, and will continue to suffer, for it (in case you’re worried, the children in question are not mine. Mine are fine. I’m talking about someone else’s). I can’t talk about my feelings about the whole thing, because honestly, the situation is just too fucked up.

I don’t use that word lightly, by the way, but it’s true.

I don’t labor under the delusion I can save every kid. I just thought I could save this one.

A part of me wants to cry. A part of me is secretly a little relieved (I guess my relief isn’t so much of a secret anymore, though, is it?), because I tried. It was an insane idea, and I failed, but I tried. I could argue that that’s enough. It’s not, but I could argue it, and maybe even believe it a little.

I’m sad.

But what do I expect? I tried to fight the system. And the system won.

I’ll probably try again tomorrow.

I’ll lose again tomorrow.

What can I say? I’m a slow learner.

The “Good Enough” Parent

I am the first to admit, I am not perfect.

I have a temper. I get tired and frustrated. There are times when I am feeling vulnerable and stressed, and yeah, those are the days when the kids watch too much TV.

So. Not perfect.

But I’ve also taught in Special Ed for almost ten years. I’ve seen just about every kind of parent. I’ve met the rock stars, where you say, “Oh, my God, that is an awesome mom! How does she do it? I wish I could be like that.” And I’ve met the not so awesome, and those… well, I don’t want to talk about them.

The rest of us fall somewhere in the middle.

Here’s the thing that ten years in Special Ed has taught me: you don’t have to be perfect. You just have to be interested.

As moms, I think we’re hardwired to worry about everything. We worry that we don’t see the problems with our own children–that we’re in denial. We worry that we’re hypercritical, and that, because of it, our children will wind up needing Prozac in kindergarten. We worry because we worry so much.

I will admit, I do all of these. All that time in college, and then ten years working in Special Ed, and I still don’t know if I have it right. I probably don’t, so take everything I say with a grain of salt.

What I know (or think I do) is this: anything can be fun for little kids. Children learn at every experience. On walks through the city, they are learning vocabulary, and safety skills, and adaptive skills. A trip to the zoo and they learn about categories of animals, science, and the descriptive words for the sights they see and the sounds they hear. At the grocery store, they can learn colors, numbers, money, more categories. Staying home? You can talk to them about what you’re doing.  You can have them help cook (because once they hit about ten, they don’t care to help anymore). They’ll learn about weights and measures (nice for math skills) by learning words like half, whole, a quarter, all of it, more, less. And if you totally flub a recipe? Well, I have to tell you, I have gotten more language out of my failures than I have out of my successes. In fact, imagine what we talked about when I presented this awesome disaster for my son’s third birthday:

Yes, this is an ACTUAL picture of my son's birthday cake. I know, it's really sad.

I’m the first to admit, I’m not much of a baker. This was my first attempt at baking since discovering I’m allergic to eggs, and, well… it didn’t turn out so great.

But you know what? It totally didn’t matter. The kids liked eating it. We got to talk about what went wrong. We talked about textures (it was WAY too dry), and the kids learned words like binding, dry, moist… and the list goes on.

What was a complete baking fail actually turned out to be great fun. I could have gotten upset–actually, I was upset it turned out to be such a mess. But I got over my bad self, and we all had a laugh. We ate with our hands (it didn’t stay together well enough to use utensils), and made a huge mess. But Chewey got his cake, and the kids learned some good language. On top of that, they also learned that it’s okay to make mistakes. 

And even enjoy them.

I’ve made loads of mistakes. I’ve made mistakes in raising them, I’ve flubbed with the blog more than a couple of times. I’ve had days when I’ve just said yes to their requests because I’m too tired to say no, and if I’m going to eventually give in once the fight starts, I’m better off starting with a yes and avoiding a fight. After all, better to say no when you really mean it and won’t be tempted to give in if they’re sticking to their guns.

I’m sticking with my story that no should mean no. So, if I’m not prepared to battle it out, I’m better off saying yes every once in awhile, because if I give in after the tantrum starts, then what have they learned? That if they tantrum, if they scream louder and longer, they can wear me down to where they eventually get a yes, and that’s a bad lesson for everyone. Or, at least, that’s what I think.

But you don’t have to agree with me. After all, I’m not perfect. 🙂

As the weather gets warmer…

My neighbor has come out of hiding.

I know summer has arrived, because my neighbor down the road has been spotted after the long winter and the cold, dreary spring. It’s almost like seeing Santa or the Easter Bunny. We see him and go, “Oh, look look look! There he is!”

Because we know it’s summer when my elderly, overweight neighbor is spotted in his (oh-so-tight) leopard print speedo and hiking boots, stomping around on the Astroturf in his front yard.

Yes, you read that right. Leopard print. Speedo. Hiking boots. Beer belly. So, so awesome.

I wish I had the guts to wear something like that. One day, when I’m old and saggier, I’m going to get myself a leopard print bikini and wear it in my front yard for no reason. I swear I will.

Until then, I will continue to place as many layers between my butt and the world as humanly possible. Because no one needs to see that.

But a leopard print speedo? Rock on, my good man. Rock. On.

Maudlin Mom Moment

Sea Monkey graduated from Kindergarten today.

Before I had kids, I thought a Kindergarten graduation was the silliest thing I had ever heard of. After all, it’s not like this “graduation” was actually an accomplishment–everyone graduates from Kindergarten. It seemed so silly to mark the end of what is actually the beginning of a school career. We don’t hold ceremonies for moving from first grade to second, why would it be so different for Kindergarten?

But today, I totally got it.

It’s not an accomplishment to finish Kindergarten. Everyone will finish. Today wasn’t necessarily an accomplishment. Today was a milestone.

My sweet six-year-old is no longer a baby, and even though it may feel to me like I just had her, I realized just today that this was not the case. She may have been a baby just a minute ago, but she’s not anymore. And I know that I’ll blink again and she’ll be even older. Next thing I know, she’ll be going to middle school, and another minute after that, she’ll be off to college.

The thought made me sad, and I cried.

Her moving to public school is good for my pocketbook, but really, really bad for my heart.

I love watching her grow up. I love the way she approaches the world, all enthusiasm and zest for life. I love how feisty she is, how take charge she is, how willing she is to try anything. Her mom was always the wall flower, and easily forgotten. Sea Monkey embraces every challenge, and there’s nothing she thinks she can’t do.

I’m not sure where she came from sometimes. So unlike me, but in a good way. There are days when Sea Monkey will be talking to someone and say, “I can do that!” and I’m standing behind her cringing, thinking, “Oh, no you can’t!”

I nearly had to stuff a chloroform rag in my mouth to keep myself from contradicting her. Because I won’t be that mom. If Sea Monkey thinks she can do it, and it won’t kill her to try, I’m going to let her try. I have to be willing to let her fail occasionally, because failure is sometimes the consequence of trying, and I’ve learned more from my failures than I have from my successes. I have to say, I’m so proud of her for having the confidence to try. God knows, I’d like to borrow some of it.

So, my little Sea Monkey, you’ve made it. You’re now officially in first grade. You’re no longer a baby, and I can’t pretend you are one.

Love you, little girl.