Bum dum DA DA dum BUM– MYYYYY Neuroses!

Neurosis the first: 

Lately I’ve been wondering if perhaps I am not analytical enough of fiction.  I am more concerned with the question “Is this a good story?” than I am any other.

And I wonder if that might be hurting me.

It’s not that I think I’m a terrible writer, or anything.  I can write, and I can write well. Unless my friends are lying to me, which is possible I suppose, at times my stuff has made people shiver. But I wonder if my focus on telling a good story instead of “resonance” or other of the literary overthinking that sent me screaming from grad school is taking something away from my work, making the stories less salable.  Which is stupid, and yet…

Neurosis the second: 

Seven publishing professionals, including three writers, three editors, and an agent, all of whom range from “fairly” to “very” successful in today’s field, have said good things about my work.  One called my stuff “publishable, strong prose” which sounds like faint praise, but it meant a lot.  One said that although she was passing on the project, “your writing is good.”

My beta readers, although they had suggestions for changes and some complaints, universally praised the book.  One, who has never met me and doesn’t know me from the second guy to the right, said “If I had paid for this book, I’d consider it money well spent.”  These are all people who I know can write.

And yet…

I feel like I’m flailing in the dark.  I try to remain sanguine about the whole publishing dice-shoot.  But the truth is, every rejection sucks.  It’s like getting hit by a thousand tiny cuts–no one of them hurts, but all together, they form a droning sound that says “YOU ARE WASTING YOUR TIME.”

To shut that voice up, I started working on a new project, but now that I laid down the first few hundred words, I’m going to finish some crit-work.

Neurosis the third:

I almost constantly worry that I’ve only got one or two good ideas in me, and then I’ll be stuck as “That Guy who wrote two books and then fizzled out.”  I do not want to be that guy.

So there it is.  The neuroses that make me the neurotic writer I am.  What are yours?

State of the Teacher/Writer/Father

Teacher

One of the frustrating things about teaching–and there are many frustrating things–is that I am often working with students who have a completely different set of values than my own.  I’m really really good at connecting to students who come from a similar class background to mine–middle class or higher.  But I’m somewhat less good at connecting with kids from “the hood.”

One of the things where we just don’t connect is that I cannot conceive of physically hurting someone unless it was to directly prevent harm to someone else.  But some of my students think even getting looked at in the “wrong” way is enough to launch into a full-on fight.  I can intellectually understand their thought-chain, but I will never truly “grok” it.

So, yeah.  Quite frustrated with that stuff today.

Further teacher weirdness:  Didn’t get an interview for a position I applied for at a school that I believe would be a better fit for me (same kinds and range of students, but staffed by people more like me).  Three out of our four admin team members left the school, leaving us with one experienced member and three newbies.  I can’t say more in a public place.

Writer

The search for agent representation continues.  So far I’ve had one actual rejection and one “silent rejection,” which means the agent basically says “If you don’t hear from us in X weeks, we’re passing on your submission.”  And it’s been twice that time.  Still out to several others who have response times of two to six (six! six! six!) months.

So, the search continues.  Every few days I decide on someone else to query and send it out there.

In the meantime, work on Remembrance War 2, currently titled The Ceremony of Innocence, proceeds.

Father

My poor daughter is having a rough time in school.  It’s getting better, but it’s frustrating to see her struggle with math, as I did.  I do my best to help, but it’s hard to maintain my perspective sometimes, and I finally get my dad in ways I never did when he was alive.  Wish I could talk to him about it.

Her eighth birthday is coming up this weekend.  Looking forward to that.

 

Horses I’ve Known…

Ages ago, my friend Alex said she’d like to see me write on the horses I’ve been involved with.

To say I grew up on horseback is only a slight exaggeration.  I was born in Redwood City, California, but when I was five years old, my adopted family moved me to Napa, California, a tiny town of (at that time) some 30,000 people  (I recognize that’s not “tiny” compared to some, but Napa always felt like a much smaller town than it actually is).  We lived in the slightly more affluent east side of town, in a house that is modest by Napa standards, but it had a pasture, and we were allowed by our neighbors, who had a larger pasture, to use theirs as well.

Our first horse was a tiny Shetland pony, which was named Patches.  Patches was a very patient, and very slow, pony, which was good as I was only 7, and I did not like galloping at all.  She was a lovely bay, with a black main and tail.  I loved brushing her, but I hated getting her ready for rides–she knew when we were coming after her, and she made every single ride an exercise in first cornering her and then bridling and saddling her.

We also at that time had a black stallion named Midnight (I don’t know what breed he was, but my dad claimed he was a thoroughbred), a dark bay quarterhorse named Easy Rider, and a palomino quarterhorse (I think) named Amigo.

Midnight was hell on legs, and we didn’t keep him long.  My father couldn’t seem to get him acclimated to us, and ended up selling him to a friend who had more time to spend training the beauty.  I was sad, because that horse was amazing to me, and I longed to get up in the saddle.

Amigo was my mother’s horse, but when she lost her sight a few years later, she sold him; I never really got to know him.

Easy was the most idiotically-named horse I have ever known.  He was fairly young when my dad bought him, and he was a fiercely partisan animal.  Only my father could ride him.  He wouldn’t let anyone under ten even get on him, and I never saw anyone but my father stay on him for more than a few minutes–either he’d scare the crap out of them and they’d quit, or he’d throw them.  He caused a few injuries, but my dad loved that horse, so we kept him.  He was my dad’s primary mount while he was in the local Sheriff’s Posse, and performed in many parades and searches over the years.

When I was twelve, my parents divorced.  My dad took Easy with him, and we had only Patches.  My mom sold her pretty quickly, and it was traumatic watching the new owners pull her unwillingly into the horse trailer.  I wept as she drove off, because even though I was getting almost too big for her, I loved that pony.

My mother, my siblings, and I left Napa not long after, and thus began my first period without a horse.  It was the shorter; I lived “in exile” from my hometown for only a year before I moved back to live with my dad.  After I arrived, my father and my stepmother made an announcement one morning:  They had bought a new horse, an Arabian papered horse called Baja’s Magic Star (we called him Baja, or if we were feeling stupid, Baja-ha-ha), for my father.

Then they informed me that the horse they had already bought, which I’d met briefly, was to be mine.  This was not expected, and I was floored.  The horse was a Mustang Stallion who had been captured by the Bureau of Land Management and whom we’d adopted.  He was untrained, so I would be learning to train a horse, and my teacher would be my stepmother.  His name was Sage, and he and I became pretty close, but I never got to ride him due to my stepmom’s personal issues, which necessitated my leaving their household before he was ready for riding.  He got to where he liked me, and would let me saddle him, but he wouldn’t let me mount.

In the meantime, since I didn’t have a horse that was ready for riding, my dad informed me that Easy would also become my horse.  He was having a harder time getting up on Easy, and he felt the horse was better suited to me.

I was terrified.  Remember, Easy had never even let me on him, and he’d thrown everyone but my dad I’d ever seen ride him, except for the few who’d taken the hint and gotten off quickly.  But I wanted to impress my dad, and so I steeled myself and mounted.

And he didn’t even try to get rid of me.

We rode for a few hours, and as I’d long since learned to love speed, we galloped and loped all over the place.  He was brilliant and awesome.  When I got off, I was sore and slightly unhappy with myself–I hadn’t ridden a horse in over a year–but I was sold on this horse being mine, and I curried and rubbed him down happily, and gave him a treat for being so welcoming.

The next day, my dad asked me if I minded if he rode Easy one last time. Of course, I didn’t.  So we saddled him up–and he wouldn’t let my dad even get his foot in the stirrup.  He stood perfectly still for me, but any time my dad or my stepmom tried to mount, he’d shy away from them.  When we cornered him so my dad could mount up, Easy just sat there.  He didn’t buck, but he wouldn’t move, either.  My dad laughed, gave Easy’s nose a rub, and said “Ok, I get it.”  After that nobody else rode Easy.  He was mine, and I was his.

Sadly, it was only a few months later, just before school resumed, when my dad had a stroke and my stepmom convinced him I should be sent to live with my aunt.  It was sold as a temporary thing, and I chose my classes in my new school accordingly, taking a class in animal management that focused on ranch animals so I would be better prepared when I returned to Napa.  Alas, I had been deceived, and I never returned to Napa except to visit.

That was 1986.  I’ve ridden a few times since then, but not often, and I’m pretty certain my skills have atrophied.  I have barely seen a horse since then except when I’m driving by one, but I always stop and feel western saddles when I see them in antique stores when I’m traveling the central valley, and I still love cowboy boots and actually miss wearing them even though I have no need of them anymore.  I love the smell of leather horse tack.  When I attend the county or state fair, I always go to the animal exhibits and endure my wife’s ridicule while I breathe deeply.  She hates it, but I love that smell.

It smells like home.

Viable Paradise

The final deadline for Viable Paradise submissions is midnight EST 6/15.   So get them in if you haven’t.

I sent my application packet back in January.  I don’t actually expect to be accepted, and to be honest, I almost want to be rejected, because as I may have mentioned previously, my brother’s legal trouble, added to some other financial emergencies (thanks, home and car ownership!) effectively killed my chances of being able to pay for the trip.   I mean, we probably could, but it would place undue strain on the family, so no.

But if accepted, even though I’ll have to say “Thank you, but I can’t,” that’s a nice boost to the ego.  If not accepted, it’s smile, nod, and go back to work, then try again next year if I still feel it’s a good idea, and I’ll be saving for it.

The Hawk Wakes

Ok.  So, yeah.  School year is pretty much over.  I have two finals to administer today, then tomorrow I just give the kids their grades and have an unauthorized Nerf War with them.  Friday I come in to clean and pack up my room.

I still hate that.  I’m going to be here next year; I’ll even be in the same room–so why in the Nine Hells do I need to pack everything?  Well, actually, I get it.  My room is used for several things over the summer, for example the summer program… and I have some pretty valuable (at least, to me) books and so forth here.  So locking them up in my cabinets is a good idea, really.  it’s just a tedious and irritating task.

After that’s done on Friday, my wife and I will be heading off to Guerneville, a sleepy little river town a few hours’ drive away, to celebrate our 8th wedding anniversary.  As of July 2013 we’ve been together 10 years and married for 8 of them.  Nice work, if you can get it.  My daughter will be staying with one of her grandmother’s for the weekend on her first extended stay–previously she’s only done a night at a time.

Next week, I have two main goals:

1.  Get the watering system under control.  

Seriously, our stupid sprinkler system is all kinds of messed up.  Partly it’s just wear and tear; the system is old, and the control box is outdated.   But there are other issues as well.

2. Get the WiP fully plotted

I’ve (at least temporarily) set The Remembrance War aside; there are just too many plot points that are increasingly not making sense to me–in the “why in the Nine would any race DO that?” way.  Plot points the whole book hinges on just don’t make a lot of sense when I really think about it.

But the fantasy WiP, Warden’s Call (title very likely to change) is making more sense ever since I realized one of the relationships in the story wasn’t working because the characters are, unknown to them until the middle of the book, brothers.  Once I’d figured that out, the rest of the plot pretty much fell into place.  I’ve got nearly the entire thing plotted out, and now it’s down to chapter-by-chapter plotting and scene writing.  My preferred workflow is to plot the book chapter-by-chapter in a “treatment” style, then scene break and write each chapter, then move on to the next chapter.  I’ve got Chapter 1 done, and chapter two plotted.  So I’ll be writing at least 500 words a day on this sucker.

Writing, Fiddling, and Teaching

Still not writing much.  Mostly because I am spending huge parts of my day grading essays.  By the end of the day I am sick to death of the written word in any form.  I don’t want to read, write, or do anything more than close my eyes.

This is not an excuse.  I’m still thinking about writing: plotting some short story notes, working on the novel in my head, etc.  I just don’t write much of it down.  This is not, I admit, the best way to work.  And I’m already well past my original deadline on the novel.   I know I should be writing at least 350 words per day.  But I just can’t seem to make them come, and when I try, it’s drivel.  And I am not a person who can abide drivel, even my own.

On the violin front, things are better.  I’ve actually been practicing for about 30 minutes every day this week; an hour on Wednesday.  I’m trying to remind my fingers where the proper positions are on each string, so I’m mostly playing scales for about 20 minutes, then playing easy fiddle tunes for ten minutes or until I get tired of the sound.  I’m getting back to where I was when I last played regularly, but I have a long way to go.  I’m considering lessons over the summer; need to talk to the wife about it again.

That instrument frustrates me.  I liked it better when I was 10, and didn’t really get how many mistakes I made.  Now I hear every one, and it’s like a hot wire applied to my nerves.  I’m way too hard on myself; I need to constantly remind myself that it’s been 30 years since I played regularly, and I need to build back the calluses and the skills.

24 days left in school; however, that includes the 4 days of Final Exams, so it’s really only 20 days.  LOVING THAT.  Can’t wait for summer.  This summer, I’ve planned two camping trips already; one by myself, and one with my family and two other families that is doubling as a Kayaking Weekend.  I’m also going to do at least two more with my daughter and maybe my BFF and his son.

On May 24, I’m doing, with one of my oldest friends, a Sunset Paddle–kayaking on a local lake with a few others, watching the sun set and a full moon rise.  Can’t wait, that’s “Event One” of my birthday weekend.

And now I’m rambling, and my first class will start in ten minutes, so I’d best go.  More soon.

 

Brief Update

Still not writing much.  The end of the year is a rough time; right now we’re knee deep in CST examinations, which borks the whole week.  The one bright spot in that is that I can use today to catch up on my grading while the students are testing for three hours, then I can try to write during the testing the rest of the week–while I’m giving assignments, there is nothing this week I really need to grade; it’s just “Did they do this?  Yes? 10 points.  No? 0 points.  Next!”

My brother seems to have worked out a deal with the State of Oregon that will end this whole stupid saga.  It may delay his return to California; we’ll see.  My hope is that he moves his family closer; but he has to make the choice that is right for his family.

My mental energies are returning to normal; hopefully this means I’ll get some time and ability back on the writing front.  I still want to finish this book before the end of summer.  I can’t see a real reason not to.

On the weight loss front, it’s going well.  I’ve lost 30 lbs since I began in March.  84 more to go before I’m at “ideal.”  If my rate of loss holds up, that will make me return to normal food right about August.  The trick then will be not to pack on weight again; hopefully the stuff I’m learning about what makes a reasonable meal sticks with me for the most part.  But if not, I’ll do what my wife does.  “Hey, I’ve gained five pounds this week.  Time to cut back on stuff.”  “Hey, I’ve LOST ten pounds I can’t afford to lose.  Let’s have a cheese plate!”*

I’m hoping I get 11th and/or 12th grade next year.  I live in a slight fear that they’ll give me 10th grade and I’ll have all the same students.  I’d love to have 12th; those are the kids I had as 9th graders, and I’d love to be their last HS English teacher as well as their first.  Plus most of them get along with me fairly well.

Ok, time to get on those essays so I can write my own stuff later.

*Mostly I’m being facetious there

Status Post

So. Hi. It’s been a while.

Writing: Not happening. 

This is the time of year where I get sod-all done, writing-wise.  I’m swamped with essays to grade, I need to make sure my last quarter’s lesson plans are set, there’s State Testing to deal with… in other words, I do a lot of things that sap my energy to the point where I can’t seem to focus on writing.

I hate to use my job as an excuse–I know I ought to be working on writing at least 350 words a day–but the fact is, every time I try, I just stare blankly at the screen and try to make a coherent sentence or even thought… and I fail. I’m spending so much energy on the day job, I just don’t have anything left for my own pursuits.

Life

Uncle Sam and the State of California took a lot out of us this tax day.  We’ll recover, and we’re taking steps to not have the same issue next year, but yeesh!

My diet is going well–I’ve lost 25 pounds in the last month.  I hate it, but I do love the results.  I’m finding which of the MediFast foods I like and which I don’t.  For example, I don’t mind the taste of the shakes, but there’s something deeply unsatisfying about them.  The other foods are a little more “foodlike,” in that they aren’t much, but they don’t feel like I’m not actually eating anything.   I am hungry a fair amount of the time, and I do wish I could eat some of the things I’m forbidden on this plan, such as fruit (I love summer fruits like peaches, cherries, and strawberries more than anything) and bread (I love baking bread, but I won’t do it right now, since it would just be torture to not get to have any).  But I’ll get those things back.

However, I’m going to punch the next person who says “Nothing tastes as good as thin feels.”  Really?  Then you’ve never had pizza, or spaghetti, or a nice slice of warm bread and melting butter.

Life is messy.

So my brother got arrested.  Let’s not worry over why; suffice to say it’s an administrative issue and one we’ll say no more about.  However, when I heard what was going on, and that his wife, who is already dealing with a newborn (and an 18 month old), was all alone and had no real clue what to do, I arranged my affairs at home and, with my wife’s blessing, jumped in the car and drove to Oregon.

For those unfamiliar with US West Coast measurements, that’s about 440 miles, or a 7.5 hour drive.  I left Sacramento at 3:30, got into Oregon around 9, hit my brother’s town at 11:20.  It’s now midnight, or just after.  What a day.

First thing I did when I got in was let my sister in law know I’m here.  Then I started hitting the websites of the county offices.  OH MY FREAKING GODS.  These people don’t make anything easy.  I look up visiting at the county jail, and you have to call between 9am and 11am the day BEFORE you want to visit.  I didn’t even know this had happened until well after that.  And all visitors have to be on an “approved” list–but how am I going to be on this list if my brother doesn’t even know I’m in the state?  So tomorrow morning I’m going to call the jail and see if I can’t sweet-talk someone, but I don’t hold out much hope.

And good luck finding the Public Defender’s office.  I might have found it, but who knows?  And the information was NOT easy to find; it may even be out of date.  So I’ll call the courthouse tomorrow.

All I know right now is that I can’t afford his bail, or I’d be down there getting him out RIGHT FUCKING NOW–except that I probably couldn’t even if I had the full amount, because everything in this state seems to close at 9.  At home Bail Bonds are open 24 hours; I see no sign of that here.  And no, I’ve never had reason to use a Bail Bondsman; I used to work in the legal field and have a tiny bit of knowledge on those things.

And of course, I’m also here to help his wife, who is freaking out, probably from a combination of post-partum hormonal imbalance (she JUST gave birth, and I know that can mess with things like crisis management) and having zero help with her kids while facing the possibility her husband could end up in jail for a while.

Anyway.  So I want to talk to the PD and see if there’s anything we can do to help my brother’s case, because he has a 1.5 year old and a newborn to take care of, let alone his wife, and also he’s my brother and I want to help him.  His wife told me today that the hearing is Thursday, but what will happen is up in the air right now.

Spring Break, my ass. But it’s family.  And Family is Family, even if you’ve only known them for an incredibly short time.  And yes, there is a tiny part of my wondering if I am doing the right thing by coming up here when I had planned to spend this week with my own daughter, who was very brave, but also very sad, when I explained there was an emergency and her auntie needed my help.

Yeah. My life, right?  On the plus side, some of this brother stuff–not the arrest so much as the having a brother part–has been percolating into my writing, and has improved a fantasy story I’ve been tooling with on the back burner.