Friday, May 24, 2013

Deep Thoughts about Bread and Toothpaste

During the week, I am the designated school lunch preparer. I construct multiple peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches like a ninja, even before the coffee is done brewing. However, the weekends are a different matter. My sons tend to help themselves to the bread, making my ninja-like skills unnecessary. So it sometimes happens that on Friday I am left with a heel from the old loaf of bread. I know better than to expect two boys to voluntarily consume this universally-unappreciated portion of the loaf, and I cannot force it on them since it will be a fibrous rock by the time I make another sandwich. What we do in that case is break it up and put the crumbs in the birdfeeder.

I do have a point. Stay with me.

Today was one of those Fridays. I was sitting at the front window inhaling my first cup of coffee, and I watched the birds come and take small hunks of bread from the feeder. One little bird would land, take a piece, and then fly away home, leaving the rest for the others. And then (because it was my first cup of coffee, so I was feeling all broody), I started to reflect on Nature and honoring our blessings.

Today is also my seventeenth wedding anniversary, and this date always makes me think about the small quirks of my marriage that make my relationship with my husband so fun. One of our longest-standing battles is the toothpaste tube. He is firmly in the “squeeze that sucker from the middle like a boss” camp, whereas I, the daughter of a man who still acts like it’s the Depression, am a big believer in squeezing from the end and meticulously folding the end of the tube as you go. Someone once asked me why we were still having skirmishes over this admittedly minor philosophical point, particularly since I myself did not grow up during the Depression and have no compelling reason to care if some toothpaste was wasted through haphazard squeezage.


Here’s my point now.

Where do we draw the line on wastefulness? When we have an abundance of any particular thing, should we honor that blessing by taking care of it and using it responsibly and conscientiously, or does that sort of thinking only apply to big-ticket items? When I have clothing I cannot use anymore, I will donate what I can to charity or repurpose the fabric. When my kids have toys and books they no longer use, I pass them on to my friends’ children. When we have leftover dinner, I put it in the fridge to eat later. But all these things – clothes, toys, books, and food – cost a lot of money. It’s easy to be careful about waste when it takes some of the strain off your bank account. What happens when finances are not a consideration?

Whether it’s toothpaste or bread or love or family, I think we all tend to be irresponsible about the blessings in our lives. The birds outside take the bread they need today, but you won’t see one bird hoarding bread and keeping it from the other birds. There isn’t a nest filled with stale, sodden crusts that are no longer edible because the nest’s owner took more than it needed to sustain itself. Birds don’t waste their blessings that way. However, human beings do. We fill our homes with things we don’t need, “just in case,” while we waste necessary staples. We neglect our friendships and relatives but spend a ridiculous amount of energy on people who don’t deserve it. When we have an abundance of something, we become careless rather than generous.

The Depression might be just a page in history now, but I think that the lesson it taught about honoring every small blessing should not be forgotten. Don’t throw away things – or people – carelessly. The day may come when you need a friend but can’t find one. Someday you may need to brush your teeth, but the tube is too mangled to get any toothpaste out. Think about what you have and be grateful for it. And make sure to leave some bread for the other birds.

I have long since surrendered to my husband’s manly toothpaste squeezing. I never find the seat up in the middle of the night, so it’s a concession I’m willing to make. Besides, as blessings go, my husband is far more important to me than a neatly-rolled toothpaste tube.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Reprint: Interview with Mich's Book Reviews Blog

I'm still shamelessly recycling while I finish up a couple of projects. This is an interview that was originally posted on September 20, 2012, on Mich's Book Reviews blog in support of my release of "My Apple Tree." I'm providing the link to the original posting below; I encourage you to check out her blog for other reviews and author interviews!

Firstly, tell me a little about yourself...

I was born (obviously) in a university town in Kansas, which is where much of my extended family still lives. After moving around a bit, my parents and I ended up in Cleveland, Ohio. I got married soon after college and brought my husband back with me. We now have two sons, three cats, one mortgage, two coffee makers, and enough dust bunnies to repopulate a planet.

1) How did you start writing?

I don’t really remember a time when I wasn’t writing. I remember hiding under my bed and drawing the stories in my head since I didn’t know the alphabet yet. In college, I majored in English literature, but every adult around me insisted that there was no way I was going to be able to pursue a career as a professor or writer if I wanted to eat regularly. Eventually, I became a paralegal specializing in Intellectual Property law, but I left to stay at home shortly after my oldest child was diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome, which is on the Autism spectrum. While I was still working, I continued to write, but it wasn’t until I became a stay-at-home mom that I dared to consider pursuing writing as a career.

2) I know you also work with [Renaissance Romance Publishing] as editor in chief, how do you juggle this and being a freelance writer?

As with any job, there are times of frantic activity and periods of calm between the storms. I don’t know a single working mother who doesn’t struggle with balance to begin with, so I’ve become somewhat accustomed to being pulled in several different directions at once. I do try to avoid working on my own writing while in the middle of editing someone else’s manuscript. It’s important not to let the line between editing and rewriting get blurred. If I’m in “writing mode,” I will want to change someone else’s writing to match mine, and that’s not what I’m there to do. I do have plenty of support from RenRom itself – we have a wonderful team of people who are willing to jump in and help if things need to be juggled. I also disappear for the month of November to participate in National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, which involves a worldwide challenge to write 50,000 words in thirty days. My longer works in progress came out of past years’ projects, and it certainly is my most prolific writing period. In a nutshell, if I’m not editing, I’m writing – but I’m always doing one or the other.

3) Where did the inspiration for My Apple Tree

My Apple Tree is a story I began several years ago, and it has evolved a lot since the original draft, much like an old house that has had wings and extensions added to it as the years pass. The story of young lovers torn apart is the earliest portion and was inspired by Sinead O’Connor’s version of the Celtic ballad “I am Stretched on Your Grave,” which appeared on her album I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got. It is a beautiful and haunting song, and it’s hard not to listen to it and not see the young lovers in your mind’s eye. At first, I had no plans to develop my story beyond that, but some other influences gradually mixed themselves in. Hope began to emerge, and what was once a story of heartbreak and despair became something more as the characters took on a mind of their own and sought out love and healing. When I went to visit family last May in Joplin, Missouri, and saw the damage from the tornado that had torn apart that community one year earlier, the last piece fell into place. Hopefully, the end product is an honest and faithful portrait of grief, healing, and the importance of the life-affirming influence of love in our lives.

4) Do you have any projects in the pipeline that you can speak about?

I have two novels currently at different stages of completion, which is a nice way of saying that I will be monkeying with them until someone from RenRom comes and forcibly drags the manuscripts away from me. One is an historical romance titled The Truth Seekers, which takes place at the turn of the century and deals with the friendship that springs up between a society daughter and a misanthropic, cynical gothic novelist. Because of its historical nature, working on it is a more delicate process, so I have a hard time anticipating when I’ll feel like it is fit for public consumption. Another novel, The Irrepressibles, is a contemporary mystery-romance with elements of the paranormal and comedy mixed in. It is more typical of my normal writing style, with wise-cracking lead characters and hilarity mixed in with the more serious feelings and dilemmas. At the moment, it’s in the stage known by professional writers as “a hot mess,” but I hope to finish work on it sometime in 2013.

5) Will you ever incorporate your love of Doctor Who with your writing?

Ooh, good question! Unfortunately, my answer has to be “yes and no.” Like the hopeless fangirl I am, I already know what is involved in writing an actual Doctor Who novel, and I’m not prepared to run that particular gauntlet. However, I have gotten flashes of inspiration from watching the show that exist now as random snippets and notes somewhere in the bowels of my laptop. David Tennant and Christopher Eccleston’s portrayals of the Doctor, in particular, are almost impossible NOT to be inspired by. In these days, it’s supremely important to avoid even a whisper of copyright infringement, so while I might get an idea that is triggered by a bit of one episode or another, you won’t be seeing any time-traveling aliens from me any time soon. I would love to write a novel that is good enough to get a film version starring David Tennant, but I’m not going to hold my breath for that one!

6) What's your least and most favourite aspects of the writing process?

I think my least favorite part of writing is the inner editor. The voice in the back of my mind that constantly pushes me to find better phrasing or improve characterizations won’t ever shut up long enough for me to just sit and relax and write. If my muse is the angel sitting on my shoulder, my inner editor is the devil perched on the other side. I think that’s why I tend to do my first-draft writing late at night or early in the morning when I’m not completely awake. When I’m totally alert, I’m second-guessing myself too much to get anything done. 

My favorite part would have to be what goes on in my mind’s eye as I get a new idea. I love seeing a scene play out unexpectedly in my head. It’s by far the best part of being a creative person – that vivid imagination that lets you really see the world you’re trying to recreate for your audience. It’s like magic.

7) What's your advice to prospective writers?

One piece of advice that I got and didn’t want is “Don’t quit your day job.” It’s not the idyllic life that we might imagine, surrounded by leather, grandfather clocks, and old books as we craft exquisite prose, unmolested by bill collectors, piles of dirty laundry, and children who for some unknown reason expect us to feed them on a fairly regular basis. We must all live in the real world at least some of the time, and there are many writers out there working in jobs they hate while they throw their hearts into their craft during free hours. The good news is that you need those experiences for your stories anyway. You can’t write about the human experience if you’re living in a bubble. 

Another piece of advice – and this really should be the most important – is that just because you love to write doesn’t mean you are naturally flawless. Learn about your art. READ STYLE BOOKS. Annie Dillard and Stephen King are two authors whose writing guides are particularly useful. Get a common English usage guide to answer your grammatical questions. Don’t wait for someone like me to take your baby away and cover it in red pen. Put the care and time into each manuscript that reflects your interest in telling the best possible story to your readers. The images live inside you –you must learn how to unlock them. As with any other creative endeavor like painting or music, writing is a craft that must be nurtured and honed and constantly improved. You’ll get a lot of advice you don’t want to hear, but you need to listen anyway.