Sometimes It Feels Like Cheating

I haven’t given up on The Next Jane. But I did put it aside, again. When I pull out this manuscript to edit it, I feel like I need a serotonin by direct IV infusion. It’s a struggle, every single time. I know it’s a good story, but I can’t help how I feel.

So imagine my surprise when I pulled out a different project, and I edited an entire section, wrote notes about it, and was eager to dive into the next one in the morning… It’s only three days in (a friend dragged me into Camp NaNo) and I’m tackling that third section before it’s dark enough for fireworks.

I still don’t have a title for this thing, but it’ll come.

Remember all of that advice that writers share with each other? Show, don’t tell. Can’t edit a blank page. Write what you know. Write what you’re ready for.

I’m writing what I’m ready to write, maybe. I wonder if I’m ever going to be ready to finish Jane. I’ll worry about that in a month or two, perhaps. Right now I’m going to write what’s coming, and it’s easy enough that it feels like cheating. Except for the jokes. There’s one character who keeps trying to tell jokes, and that’s a struggle.

Wish me luck.

Interviewed by My Daughter

My daughter came home with the homework to interview a service worker. And she mentioned the author gig, and I didn’t think about that first. I think someone like a nurse or a waitress, and that’s probably because I often don’t deal directly with the people that I serve.

My customers, usually known as readers, are often removed from the process when I’m doing this. Publishers think of that, right? Self-publishers more than me, because I’m thinking about the stories.

Then she asked me something else- if I wrote stories to help people (especially Kindergarteners) learn to read. But I don’t write for Kindergarteners. I don’t even write for kids her age (2nd grade). I’m not sure anyone in my writer’s groups would say they started writing stories to help anyone learn to read. Reading isn’t the purpose, and I’m not sure I conveyed that.

However, for my author job, she asked the general questions listed on her sheet:
How does your job help others? I give people a different view of the world.

What do you like about your job? I love writing stories.

Then she needed to think up two specific questions about my job, and I’m sure that’s not easy for her. She doesn’t really see what I do. What she sees is her mother, sitting in front of a computer to do a bunch of daily words – and most of the time I do it when she’s at school. She usually doesn’t see me doing editing work, because I do that when she’s asleep or at school. Here are hers:

How did you get your job? I kept doing it until I was good enough to be published.

Why do you like stories so much? Because anything can happen in a book.

It’s the last part that always gets me. Anything can happen. I have a different point of view in a book. It’s not about gender or race or even species. Stories can be an escape to take you away from today and they can also be a refuge full of friends where different things happen.

This weekend, my daughter and I finished reading Charlotte’s Web. Reading about Wilbur and Charlotte wasn’t about learning to read, because I read most of the book. It was all about the story. I’m neither a pig nor a spider, but the story resonates with me.

I also think of my mother, the poet. She sees the world differently, and she uses so few words to create an image. We use words differently, but our service is similar. We want to share with people, whether it is out loud or in digital form or on a physical object.

Except I keep thinking about how I got this job. I don’t know that I chose it, because I’m pretty certain it chose me. I’ve always been telling stories. It’s just part of who I am, and when I don’t do it I don’t feel like myself. Some hobbies I pursue to give me background and research into other stories, other perspectives. I read about how to be a better writer, have discussions with other writers, and constantly work on all of these items. I’m not someone who talks about all of my stories so much before they’re written, because I need to have that pressure to keep the momentum going on my work-in-progress.

What has your child taught you about your job?

Must Be About the Weather

I live in the Midwest. The weather is often a topic of conversation, and it’s also an excuse.

Today was an unexpected day in February if we were talking about previous years. Another day above 50 degF with a little bit of rain. No winter coats in sight and I’m not even sure where the mittens and warm hats have gone.

So when fewer people were at the gym for a class today, we blamed the weather. We’d have blamed it if more showed up, too. We look around quizzically and everything is always about the weather.

Everyone has to get out and enjoy the good weather while it lasts, and the coming snow is always hanging over our heads.

So I haven’t been blogging because of the weather. I’ve been writing (and editing) and that’s been taking up my time. It’s hard to hope for snow when the kids will want to go play in it and it’s hard to hope for warm days when we want to play at the park. Does anyone ever hope for a good old-fashioned rainstorm that doesn’t include a tornado warning?

Also, randomly, I think I need a pet. Suggestions in comments, please. I’d have a cat already if the husband weren’t allergic.

Being Bipolar #inHonorofCarrie

I wonder what normal feels like.

That may seem odd, but I was diagnosed as bipolar just over ten (maybe eleven) years ago. In that first year I went through three psychiatrists and held on to the one therapist who seemed to have my best interests at heart. I didn’t understand the weight of the change that it would bring to me, to go from a label of major depression and something else to bipolar disorder.

I understand depression. Depression is the one who wraps its arms around you like an old friend and reminds you of all the things that you absolutely deserve. These are the things you don’t whisper to others, the ideas that wiggle deeper each time depression comes to visit you. You both know there’s only one way out, and that’s feet first. Which is exactly the point of depression. At some point I welcome it, because I do know that it’s there to keep me company when everyone else has deserted me.

The flip side is scarier. I don’t know what to do when I don’t sleep and I don’t need sleep and I keep moving and I’m not tired and I don’t need to rest and there’s still more things to do and yet the clock has flipped around again to morning and it is time to go to work and do things. And the things keep moving, but not as fast as my brain. I would keep doing things and it isn’t at all how I would normally think about the world. Connections make themselves in ways I can’t explain and only make sense at the time.

Lucky, then, that the depression visits me more often.

Those commercials on TV never seem to fit. It’s something you learn on your own what your symptoms are, what your triggers are, and what you can do to manage.

Survival is about learning to deal with the changes.

Then you dump in the medications. I went through three psychiatrists the first year because they kept telling me things I couldn’t accept – and like that meme running around due to the political climate, I try to change the things I cannot accept.

The first doctor had been treating me for a few years, and he told me that because I was bipolar I should never have children. I don’t know how a ‘normal’ person decodes this, but I take that to mean my life isn’t worth living because of this life-threatening illness – my label is unacceptable to him, and the probability that i might pass it to my children is too high.

I cried. I was so wiped out on medicine I didn’t know what I was feeling. I sobbed onto my steering wheel and I couldn’t explain at all the turmoil that kept running down my face. I stopped the medicine. Three days later I realized I was angry. Because he didn’t think my label was something that should ever be passed on to another generation – and that meant I shouldn’t have children. Having children was that dream I always cherished. And that wasn’t acceptable.

The second doctor tried several different medications. She gave me sleeping medicine and she kept me off the other one that had been plaguing me so much I felt like a zombie- no emotional reactions to anything. Not anything I could understand. But in the course of the different medications I learned one thing: She treated me like many bipolar people are accused of- that I simply didn’t want to take my medication. She wrote in my file that I had psychosomatic symptoms to one medicine. A few years ago, I saw that medicine advertised on TV and it had the warning that the symptom I had was a side effect and could become permanent if not discontinued immediately. So I’m glad I quit her and the medicine.

Then the third doctor sat down with me and looked for my pedigree. Because bipolar disorder runs in families, so I ought to figure out the connections in my family who also have bipolar disorder. I don’t know of anyone else in my family with bipolar disorder. Depression, yes. I’m not very close with the extended family, and so many of them only speak of depression in whispers when the subject isn’t around, and not about bipolar at all.

Now I try to talk about it. I try not to be the silent one about mental illness, and it feels like every time I say, hey, I’m bipolar – someone who thinks they know me will respond, but you don’t seem bipolar.

So tell me, people. what does it take to seem bipolar?

I also managed a paranoid diagnosis while I was working full time. Then one of the managers explained how he did see that the guys worked against me. So now I don’t trust that I’m not paranoid, I don’t trust my own opinions about these things, because for years I worked against this paranoia diagnosis. That I’m not supposed to treat all these events as if they’re centered around me. And yet they’re all there to be my own standing of what is and what is not, of what I think and what I believe.

Truth and reality never do seem so set in stone. They’re liquid like the water or the glass that can shift, sometimes a little and other times all at once. It’s no wonder I ask an outsider for an opinion, as if a third party has the ability to sort through the pieces that can’t be reconciled in my head. As if a friend will be able to bring an absolute to the mess.

Yoga brings me calm. Writing draws off the excess emotions when I can wrap them in a story. Is it any wonder that these two things I try to do daily? Some days I fail, but the effort is there.

I am thankful for the close friends and family who support me when I need it and push me to do more when I can. I’ll never be consistent from day to day or year to year. I share this label with many amazing people, and occasionally someone will label me like that, too. My old boss called me brilliant. I can only tell you my brain works differently, and that this label of bipolar isn’t wrong.

No-Forget November?

On one hand, it is NaNoWriMo, and as any good writer I am writing. On the other hand, I had decided early this month that I wouldn’t just write something new, I would commit to editing a project that I’ve been working on a long time but I just haven’t really finished yet.

In creating time to edit, I made myself limit my writing time. Not figuring, of course, about the distractions that abound between my birthday and Thanksgiving and other commitments.

I have learned quite a bit, and while I know there is another five days to write and edit, I am thankful that I set myself on this course. I’m not exactly where I’d like to be, but I have made progress toward both projects.

Also in both cases, the events of this month have intruded. It’s a curse of a writer, that all the things that I come in contact with will be reflected somewhere in my art. I’ll be in a different place when I finish, and so will these books. I hope for the better.

So many of the creative people around me have been derailed one way or another from the election. I know my struggle is echoed by many. But something I didn’t expect was how much the world looked differently between one day and the next. Perhaps you didn’t expect that, either.

I remember in my senior year of high school there was a boy who wondered if our kids would ask us where we were when they read the OJ verdict. That seems so long ago, and his worry so misplaced, that our kids would have nothing else to ask us about our witnessed history. My kids haven’t asked me these big historical questions yet, though occasionally I’ll tell her in relation to a book or some talk about an event that I was alive for it- or not. I’ll drag in her teachers and her grandparents and whomever else I can remember close to her in relation to those things, too. (My son is 4 and doesn’t ask these questions yet. I still involved him in the conversation.)

One day my kids might ask me about what happened during my lifetime. One day I hope to have answers. If you need me, I’ll be writing, editing, and otherwise staying busy. What will you do?

Suffering and Playing Favorites

I heard a sermon in church talking about liberation. One of the examples brought a reference to people who viewed god as a racist who preferred white people because of the suffering of jews and blacks and others.

But I think they might be thinking of this in the wrong way. Whether the world has a plotted history or if it unrolls by the seat of the pants, the idea of god as a racist is misleading.

God or nature or whatever force you want to put behind it brings the world into a different focus if you look at it as a writer. Sure, you can give this supreme deity any sort of career you want to, and it can be supported – but follow me for a moment.

God as a writer gives a different mentality behind suffering. Writers do it all the time. We create characters and people and we make them suffer. The more we love them, the more trouble we put them through. At time we have vinettes where no one has to worry too much. There are long periods of time where not much goes on, and the book of days overlooks those without drama and suspense.

People can dedicate themselves to an ideal and they still suffer. People can work to live without suffering and it comes to them anyway. Does this mean some force loves others more because they do not suffer? Or is it that the force has come to know some people better and is pushing them to a higher potential?

Perhaps it is more that some people have not gotten the same kind of attention, and their characters will be brought to more suffering later. It could be that the writer doesn’t identify with those people enough to figure out how to bring them low yet – or the culmination of their demise just hasn’t caught up to them yet.

I find as a writer if I love a character I hate to kill them, even if I know it must be done. I’ll cry sometimes, but I do it anyway. I’m sad when I have to torture them, but I have to do it for them to be the character that I know in my heart they can become. [Or that their companions need to become in the case of it being a final death.]

Do you ever wonder about minor characters that don’t do much? The ones you almost ignore as a cardboard caricature within the stories you read? Those are the unloved ones, the forgotten ones, the ones who barely meet a purpose and get cut by good editors. We have no place for them in fiction, and we don’t have places for them in the history books, either.

This deity or whatever you want to call it — the story isn’t all written and the plot hasn’t unfolded completely. We’re not done suffering and we’re not done with the changes our world needs. This book extends for millenia and we have no idea when it will culminate, if ever. The future may bring the supposed privileged people down, and it might create stronger fellows among the downtrodden. All we know for certain is that we’re not done yet.


From Janet Fitch: The writer is both a sadist and a masochist. We create people we love, and then we torture them. The more we love them, the more cleverly we torture them along the lines of their greatest vulnerability and fear, the better the story. Sometimes we try to protect them from getting booboos that are too big. Don’t. This is your protagonist, not your kid.

From Danielle Orner: Writing is a dangerous profession. There is no telling what hole you may rip in society’s carefully woven narrative.

From Nikki Giovanni: Writers don’t write from experience, although many are hesitant to admit that they don’t… If you wrote from experience, you’d get maybe one book, maybe three poems. Writers write from empathy.

From Harry Widdifield: If you’ve ever spent any measurable amount of time considering ‘cool’ ways to kill people… You’re probably an author.

I still read the books and wait for the characters I loathe to get what’s coming to them. Sometimes they get it. Other times they don’t. It doesn’t mean they weren’t loved by their creator.

From Natalie Goldberg: Write what disturbs you, what you fear, what you have not been willing to speak about. Be willing to be split open.

I don’t know why suffering is necessary, but it is everpresent in fiction and in life. I can’t say I know the nature of any deity or supernatural force. I only know how I wander through my books and the characters I create.

Caucus, Politics, and Politicking

I had an unusual night at the caucus. It’s not my first time at a caucus. My parents instilled in me a duty to the civic process, and they took me with them to caucus when we moved to Iowa. I was 14, and I didn’t do more than observe and hand out door prizes. (I think it was a county caucus, but I may be mistaken. It was a long time ago.

Many people went for the first time, including a group of college students who sat near me and a quiet guy in the corner. Two women (who hid their faces for the picture and cracked me up) may have supported different candidates but they were friendly and simply worried about what all the republicans they knew would say.

I’ll admit I’m a registered democrat. I don’t hold it against people if they are in another party. This is one of the things about democracy and allowing each person to have a vote and a say. (My husband is a registered republican. That might be what keeps both of us involved in the political process. We have to cancel each other out.)

The republican process has been simplified to not allow for discussion and realignment. Whether you call this progress or say they’re no longer allowed to talk it out is up for debate. I only know their process is different.

The democratic side goes as it always has: you arrive and find your group – there were four choices (Clinton, O’Malley, Sanders, Undecided). In the past – and I caucused every year except four years ago because I had a newborn (born Jan 13) and I wasn’t up to it – these proceedings have been quite civil. People come together, they share the letters from candidates and some of their own experiences with those candidates, and everyone woos groups that are not viable (less than the minimum required to get a delegate, and generally this is the undecided group). Then we elect delegates and occasionally there are other petitions that need to be dealt with, and everyone goes home.

Last night, there were over 180 people in the library of my daughter’s school. At first there were 179 in our count, but then one of the people running the caucus as the temporary chair and secretary realized he hadn’t signed himself in when he signed in everyone else. *facepalm* Once that was settled, we still had 6 ‘ghosts’ who had been counted toward one or another group but did not actually exist in the log.

I say there were more than that, because there were representatives for some of the candidates who were not registered to vote in my district, and we also had some observers from an Illinois high school who had to be sent into the hall to be sure they were not counted among the voters. I am not certain how many of them were there, but they were civil, quiet, and did everything they were asked.

To be a viable group, you had to have 27 people (15% of the count). Once the count for each group had been done about three times and we had only one ‘ghost’ – the count was Clinton 99, Sanders 67, O’Malley 8, Undecided 7. (If you’re curious, Sanders and Undecided were the only ones who could count correctly the first time. Yes, I know that equals 181 but it really wouldn’t change the math with one ghost.) With two groups that were not viable, there was a realignment. It was already 8:00 and we had been there an hour and I think everyone was frustrated that no one trying to do an official count could reach the proper number.

Somewhere during this time, someone said something without the mike (which meant most of the room could not hear it, and several people in the area ducked away like someone was going to throw a punch. I was sitting ten feet away and didn’t hear it, but we talked about that – because why would a fight break out over little numbers?

I sat with my four year old son, and he was playing quietly and climbing on bookshelves. (we were in a library!) I encouraged three college boys to go talk to people who might realign with our group. I encouraged the man next to me (his wife was undecided) to go try to get her to realign as well. At that point my son had misstepped off a chair while I stood to be counted a third time, and I needed to soothe him.

The man came back without being able to convince his wife, but she did realign with a party, it seemed. The college students came back after trying to talk to people civilly about why they supported their candidate and mentioned they had been branded slanderously as Trump supporters. (WHAT? That’s not okay!)

During this time, the caucus math was announced that if nothing changed, it would be 4 delegates to the next stage and it sat 2 Sanders and 2 Clinton. And even if all the unviable groups went to either group that would not change. So a knot of Clinton people went to O’Malley to make it viable, changing the delegates to Clinton 2, Sanders 1, and O’Malley 1. This was seen as deliberate politicking to take that candidate from Sanders without actually changing the alignment people who had moved.

More grumbling as delegates were chosen. They (chair and secretary who supported O’Malley) also announced only as the group became viable that once a group was viable it could not be absorbed by another. This increased feelings that the Clinton supporters who switched had only done it to change the candidates.

Each group requires a delegate and an alternate. The county/district caucus will be March 12. It isn’t me – though for a moment I might have been nominated. I do hope it was one of O’Malley’s actual supporters who went as delegate, rather than one of the fake Clinton switchers.

The Sanders leader in the room tried to reabsorb some other people until he figured out he couldn’t make the group unviable. He tried everything he could think of to get the delegates back to 2-2, except, of course, sending enough Sanders supporters to the undecided group to make it viable the way the Clinton people had done with O’Malley.

All in all, my favorite moment is when I drove home and my son said, “more music, more music,” when he heard Hello by Adele come on the radio. And when I upped it, he spread his arms wide and said, “Crescendo!” Maybe I’ll start a political story next. Sure, it’s been done before and it’ll be done again, but it’s worth pursuing to change our minds and our own politics. And there’s no doubt it’ll be some sort of speculative fiction.

Happy Groundhog’s Day to all!


Do you ever think, now if only I had a five foot metal chicken?

You know you already read it, but the link is here.

The Bloggess does it best, but how do you know when you’re missing an object from your life that might inspire you to write that next crazy thing?

Maybe I just need a five foot metal chicken for that creative boost!

Other items are simply don’t have the same ring to them. I have a pair of onyx dice on my mantle with hand-drilled painted pips. I’ve wondered what the gamemaster would think if I brought them to our next run, but they’re heavy and might be employed as weapons.

My kids both wanted mermaid tails for Christmas, and Santa came through for them. (Swimmable mermaid tails- almost ready for the pool!) I don’t know if everyone owns at least one questionable item that raises eyebrows of people around them, but shouldn’t we? Shouldn’t our characters?

A friend once said she wouldn’t be surprised by any book found on my bookshelves, because I have many books spanning many different topics. Another found such amusement that the Bible and the Book of Mormon were separated by a book about being bipolar. (Unplanned but interesting occurrence when new shelves require sorting by size rather than subject.)

While the houses here are not cookie-cutter in their similarities, I must admit that an absence of a five foot metal chicken in my neighborhood drives me to wonder just what should be on the front stoop to confound passersby and that odd political pollster who stopped by earlier today (in 2 deg weather!).

Alas, until the chicken arrives on my doorstep, I’ll just be glad we can contain the merchildren inside where they won’t freeze.

Another Bit of Steampunk

Continued from The New Machine

The hat felt heavy on my head, like it weighed me down with memories of Wiillem. A new ribbon woven through a pearl button from the machine replaced the broken glass that had decorated the hat when Willem wore it. He dominated my thoughts while I surveyed the clacking and whirring machines in his lab.

I still waited for him to return. I knew he must have been waylaid somewhen. How long had I perched on the steps, motionless, until that first machine faltered? The levers stuck when I examined the workings, and a little oil had it humming smoothly.

Willem’s journal sat on the middle of the counter, open to the page on his time machine. I flipped back through the pages to study his notes on the other inventions.

The journal only contained his inventions and iterations; none of his plans for travel were in any way were included. His log detailed the raw materials and the finished ones, as well as basic maintenance. The drawings sparked ideas in my head, and soon I drew my own notations around his. By the end of the week, I had begun modifying levers and changing gears and generally finding the proper rhythm for efficiency.

I wore the hat always; it gave me purpose and motivation. Everything else remained mine, the fitted corset and jacket with lace collar and sleeves and striped skirts and heavy, gathered bustle. I would continue where Willem left off, so I packed my basket and headed to the faire.

The contents of the basket unpacked covered the vendor space.

A tiny girl, probably small for her age with a streak of mud across her dress, waved a rag. “Shoe shine? Two coppers.”

I considered, then nodded. I might not have money to spare, but she needed it more than I did.

The girl set to work. Customers passed; some looked and some inquired and some purchased an item or two, but no one struck up a conversation.

A knot of people clustered just within earshot, or perhaps they didn’t realize I could still hear them. “What is it about that hat? It’s unnatural.” I needed the connection with him. It was all I had. “She rises above her station. She only sets herself up to fall.” I could see truth to that, but I had no other options. “The prices are expected, but buying from a woman?” I held my face still as stone. I couldn’t change being a woman. “Of course the beggar girl aligns with the female vendor. Like calls to like.” They wanted a reaction. I must not give them one. How could they think I would not hear them?

Passersby had taken the child as a beggar rather than a shoe shine girl. Five copper coins on the ground attested to this idea, yet the girl hadn’t picked them up.

Of course a woman at a stall must only sell her lace or her garden’s fruits. My lace was better suited to cat toys and my garden produced little more than I needed to eat.

The girl finished shining my shoes and collected her coppers. She stared at the coins with the no-nonsense disdain only children can manage.

“And what is it you want, child?” We both knew it wasn’t so easy to ask and have it handed to you.

The girl’s chin set, and like the tiny thing might cry, but then she said, “No family. No ties. Hard work, aye, and earn my way.”

Her words circled in my head. Did she mean to apprentice to me? Willem was master of the lab, and I a pretender. That did not explain all my manipulations of the wonders he created. He must forgive me, but he disappeared. “I may have need of an apprentice.” The pearl button machine, so noisy and hiccuping, would be the first complete redesign. “How old are you?”    

“I’ll be nine,” the girl lied, I knew it without understanding how. But the apprentice age was ten, so she wasn’t lying as much as she might.

“Well, if you’ve nowhere to go, you should come see my shop and my flat when the faire ends. What’s your name, child?” I offered my hand to her. In my head, I amended that to Willem’s shop, but it felt like mine.  

The girl picked up the coppers on the ground and deposited all of them into my hand instead of shaking it. “Maggie.”

We ignored the continuing whispers of onlookers. I packed up the leftover goods in the basket, and Maggie trailed along behind me. How would I care for the girl as well as myself? I knew where the rest of my garden’s fruits would go.


Below is information about epilogues with references. I took this to my writer’s group as part of the “program” we have within our meetings. It’s really fun to research these things, bring a topic to the group (or listen to someone else’s perspective) and discuss. It’s one of the things I really like about our group.

One thing you’ll note from the examples is the (maybe) after the Harry Potter epilogue. We can take so many examples from Harry Potter, if only because we’ve all read it. The only one of the below books I had not read was Bel Canto, though someone else had. That helped. The reason I changed it from a Not Working epilogue as the site stated to a Maybe was because it did work for me. And the epilogue worked for others in different ways which we could tie to either love conquering all or a good versus evil theme or to forgiveness between Harry and Snape.

If only every discussion could be so lively!

Function of Epilogue

  • To satisfy the readers’ curiosity by telling them about the fate of the characters after the climax
  • To cover loose ends of the story
  • To hint at a sequel or next installment of the story

How-to for an epilogue:

  1. Decide point of view and keep consistent with novel
  2. Decide where to pick up the story – next day, a few months on, decades later. Can focus on one character or a number of them.
  3. Plot out scenario- not every story needs more closure.
  4. Avoid “happily ever after” trap if it detracts from main conflict of the story.
  5. Consider different structure for epilogue like a speech or poem.
  6. Epilogue may hint at unresolved conflict or new twist for characters in future story.
  7. Keep it brief.
  8. Format as separate section.

Examples: (Does it work or not?)

Handmaid’s Tale (Atwood) – Epilogue shows a historical conference dissecting the novel’s account of events rather than showing the character’s fate. (yes)

Animal Farm (Orwell) – Epilogue shows pigs and man have evolved to not be distinguished from one another. (yes)

Bel Canto (Patchett) – After a hostage situation that goes on for months, the epilogue addresses two characters who got married after the incident and several years in the future. (no)

Harry Potter (Rowling) – 4100 pages of good versus evil or is it a story of love? Epilogue shows main character 19 years later with his own children (and those of his friends) going off to Hogwarts. (maybe)


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