Be a Chicken

There is one person I have seen almost daily for about the past year who inspires me to do things.  His energy, excitement, and great attitude are something I think everyone could use a piece of.  Who is this person?  Why, it’s a guy in a chicken costume of course!  Yes, you read that correctly. A guy in a chicken costume.  Well, sometimes he’s dressed like the Statue of Liberty.  No, I haven’t lost my mind.

I’m a creature of habit.  Okay, let’s be honest, I have OCD, so I like routine.  Pattern.  When I go out to lunch during the week, I go to the same three restaurants and have my usual meal at each.  Two of these restaurants are on the same road and my route takes me past a small strip of stores.  Almost every day a guy stands near the road promoting the chicken place, or, during tax season, Liberty Tax Accounting (hence the Statue of Liberty).

I say he stands, but jumps, dances, runs, and does jumping jacks and push-ups would be more apt.  This guy has crazy energy.  I’ve never seen someone so happy to be doing his job.  Usually, I feel sorry for the bored teenagers or early twenty somethings standing in the muggy heat on the side of the road holding signs proclaiming “Pizza! $5.99!” or “Liquidation Sale!”.  Chicken Guy, though? Not only do I not have pity for him, I find myself envious of him.  I wish I loved my job as much as that guy loves his.  Heck, I wish I loved everything as much as he loves his job!

Every time I pass him I can’t help but smile.  I sit in the turn lane waiting for the light to flick to green and watch Chicken Guy dance around waving at cars and, honestly, it brightens my day.  I’d love to sit and talk to this dude, what makes him so happy?  What is his outlook on life?  How does he have the courage to make an idiot of himself on a daily basis?  I want to tell him that his energy and general jolly-ness make me want to have a better outlook.  I’m pretty certain that would be weird though.

Of course he could be a total Debbie Downer in real life, or just a weirdo, so maybe it’s better these thoughts stay in my head (and across the interwebs).  That doesn’t change the fact that his attitude inspires me.  I’ve also been inspired by another creature, a real animal this time. 

I just started reading a book called “Homer’s Odyssey: A Fearless Feline Tale, or How I Learned about Love and Life with a Blind Wonder Cat” by Gwen Cooper.  It’s about a cat who, due to a serious infection, had his eyes removed at just four weeks of age.  Instead of sitting on his laurels afraid to interact with a world he can’t see, Homer fearlessly plunges into the world around him.  Here is an excerpt that I found escpecially inspiring:

“Every leap from a chair back or table-top is taken on faith, a potential leap into the abyss.  Every ball chased down a hallway is an act of implicit bravery.  Every curtain or countertop climbed, every overature of friendship to a new person, every step forward taken without guidance into the dark void of the world around him is a miracle of courage.  He has no guide dog, no cane, no language in which he can be reassured or made to understand the shape and nature of the hurdles he encounters.  My other cats see out of the windows of our home, and so they know the boundaries of the world they inhabit.  But Homer’s world is boundless and ultimately unknowable; whatever room he’s in contains all there is to contain, and is therefore infinite.  Having only the most glancing of relationships with time and space, he transcends them both.”

I’ve read that particular passage three times now (once when reading chapters, a second time aloud to my husband, and a third here) and every time I am moved by it.  Call me a sap, or a weirdo, or whatever you will, but the faith and courage of this blind creature astound and inspire me. 

So what’s the point of all this?  The point is, we should all be chickens.  Rather, be like Chicken Guy and Homer the Wonder Cat.  We should approach life with the attitude they have.  Fearless, happy, courageous, boundless.  You may think I’m crazy, but every time I see that happy bouncing chicken on the roadside, it makes me happy.  Every time I read that piece about Homer, I want his courage.  So, my friends, go!  Go and be chickens!

Hang in There?

I’m currently in the middle of a book I’ve wanted to read for a long time, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” by Ken Kesey, and I’ve encountered a problem.  The mid-book slump.  I’m just tired of reading it.  My favorite books are those I can lose myself in.  I like for a character’s life to become entangled in my own.  A plot that makes me unable to put the book down.  These are the best books, to me anyway.

I so looked forward to Cuckoo’s Nest.  It seemed right up my alley.  Bunch of psychos in a mental hospital?  Great!  Con man who weaseled his way onto the psych ward to escape a work farm?  Bring it on!  Oppressive and possibly crazy head nurse?  I’m so in!  But I just can’t get into the story.

It’s not that the writing is poor or the characters are lacking.  To the contrary, I think Kesey is fabulous.  He expertly describes the delusions, the feel and smell of the ward, the entire atmosphere.  Maybe it’s the fact the book is written in first person, from inside one of the Cuckoo’s heads.  I have to think about what I’m reading.  The narrator skips words and describes things like…well, like a crazy person.  Try as I may, I can’t get lost in a book I have to think too much about, and to me, that’s the joy of reading.

There was a good blog post over on Dystel Goderich about Virtuous Reading that connected with me on this subject.  Except, I’m not reading Cuckoo’s Nest because I think I should, or because a book club, or professor told me to read it.  I’m reading because I want to.  I’m just not sure if I want to any longer.

I hate the idea of stopping before I finish.  Perhaps I’ll come back to it at some other point.  There have been very few books I can’t get through.  Go ahead literary junkies, berate me all you want, but the “Hobbit”? Ugh, couldn’t do it.  “The Portrait of Dorian Gray”?  Dry as burnt toast.  Anything by Nathaniel Hawthorne?  Sorry, I’d rather watch grass grow.  I read two pages of “The House of Seven Gables” and put it down.  Somehow, I managed to get halfway through the “Scarlet Letter”, don’t ask me how.

On the other hand, there are books I love that would cause a lot of people to have the same nose wrinkling, I-just-smelled-a-skunk, expression I get when someone hands me Tolkien.  “Crime and Punishment”? Brilliant!  “Anna Karenina”?  Amazing!  “A Clockwork Orange?” Genius!

In the end, I guess I know what I’m going to do.  Move on to greener (more interesting, less blah) reading.  I hear Stephen King will be releasing his much anticipated sequel to “The Shining”, “Dr. Sleep” soon (jumps up and down with the joy of a new King tome for my hungry eyes to feast upon!  Click the link to hear Mr. King read an excerpt from the book).  In the meantime, my shelf is jam packed with books just waiting to be read (or re-read), so I guess I won’t be hanging in there with Cuckoo’s Nest.

Ahhh Fall

I love this time of year.  Saturday I made my husband dig my big box of fall/Halloween decorations out of the attic.  Well, he looked in the attic until I realized I’d put them on a shelf in the garage.  Oops!  Then I went down to Hobby Lobby to pick up a few extras because I realized I didn’t have as many general fall decorations as I do for Halloween. (I bought a fantastic metal yard turkey, 40% off!  I’ll post a picture closer to Thanksgiving when I put him in the yard).

This, of course, got me excited about Halloween and putting up my spiderwebs, skeletons, bats, and witches next week, in addition to the pumpkins and scarecrows I placed around the house Saturday.  I absolutely love Halloween.  I think it partially stems from my grandfather’s passion for anything that involved decorating.  For Halloween, and Christmas, he went all out.  He always had great fun dressing up as something really frightening and scaring the bejeezus out of my mother, which of course always delighted me and my dad.

Halloween is just all around fantastic.  Nostalgia rolls in like fog in a moonlit field as I reminisce about October nights spent rolling yards, stumbling through haunted houses, watching Rocky Horror Picture Show and scary movies from behind throw pillows, or dressed in some costume my mother made, pandering for candy.  The worst costume was a lady bug.  Basically, I put on a red unitard and she safety-pinned black triangles to my back, painted my face black, and put red and black stickers on my body and face.  Of course it’s only looking back that I realize how funny the costumes were.

One of my favorite things about this time of year, though, was the reading.  It started early in elementary school with books like “Stellaluna” and “Bunnicula” and poems like In a Dark, Dark, Wood.  Then it extended into middle school with “Goosebumps”, “Fear Street”, “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark”, and “13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey.”  My friends and I started a club called the Ghost Gang.  We’d nestle into the very back corner of the school library where it was dark and “scary” and read out of those books. 

In high school, my choice of reading extended to Stephen King and older horror, but those first books will always have a place in my heart.  Every time I see one in the bookstore, I can’t help but stop and read it.  I read “Stellaluna” aloud to my husband the other day and garnered some strange stares, but that’s how it’s supposed to be read.  Preferrably sitting in a rocker with your listener on a rug in front of you, but I’ll take what I can get.  What can I say?  I’m a child at heart.

So, yay for fall!  Yay for cheesy paper decorations, bad homemade costumes, chili, and wassail, pumpkins, and cool, foggy, nights.  I leave you with the poem/folk tale I mentioned.  The school had a bound version with great illustrations that I can’t find anywhere, but fortunately, I found the actual tale on Google.  Enjoy!

“In a dark, dark, wood, there was a dark, dark, path.  And up that dark, dark, path, there was a dark, dark, house.  And in that dark, dark, house, there was a dark, dark, stair.  And down that dark, dark, stair, there was a dark, dark, room.  And in that dark, dark, room, there was a dark, dark, cupboard.  And in that dark, dark, cupboard, there was a dark, dark, box.  And in that dark, dark, box, there was a dark, dark, GHOST!” – Original author unknown.

The Terminal Circle

That’s the tenative title for my WIP (work in progress).  My dad came up with the idea when he was battling cancer.  I’ve been toying with it for a while, but just haven’t been able to write it yet.  Partially, because I was afraid I wouldn’t do it justice.  The other reason I couldn’t write is because I didn’t know my main character (MC).  More accurately, I was trying to make him something he wasn’t.  I kept trying to write an adult MC, and it hit me a few days ago that he’s not an adult.  He’s a teenager.  There really isn’t any other explanation other than he just is.  So I finally committed words to paper and pounded out a first chapter.  I decided to post it for you.  There is some mild language; that’s just how the characters talk.  Hope you enjoy.

1.

                The cold room smelled like antiseptic, bleach, and stale urine.  Flynn tried hard not to wrinkle his nose in disgust.  No one looked up as he entered.  They were too absorbed in their magazines or muted talk shows on the two small television screens bolted to the walls at opposite ends of the room.  Or too dejected to notice the newcomer.

                “Just have a seat Mr. Price,” the nurse said.  “Dr. Johnson will be with you shortly.”

                Flynn gave her a tight-lipped smile and crossed to an empty chair.  The stiff fake leather creaked as he sat down.  Fortunately, the waiting room population was sparse enough that he didn’t have to sit next to anyone.

                He thumbed through a sports magazine but the glare of the florescent lights hurt his eyes.   Flynn tossed the magazine aside and flopped his head back against the wall.  His knit toboggan made for a thin cushion, but better than nothing.  Not like he had any hair left.         

                Just last year his hair had been thick and curly.  The delight of teenage girls everywhere.  They would “ooh” and ”ahhh” and ask to touch it, or braid it, or even just run their fingers through it.  Flynn, of course, put up little resistance.  He’d let them do as they wished, all the while thinking about which of them he’d ask out for that weekend.

                Picking up girls had been easy then.  Now, he had trouble getting one to give him the time of day.  Without his golden curls and buff physique, the girls didn’t seem to notice him anymore.  Flynn supposed he wouldn’t date him now either.  Who wants to saddle up with a scrawny, bald kid who’s dying?

     Continue reading

To Post, or Not to Post?

I debated what content this blog would cover.  Some people say not to write about writing, or the process, and some say not to get personal.  So what do I write about?  What is this blog for?  The easy answer, I guess, is anything I want.  I mulled it over and decided to make it a mix of different things, but mostly focused on writing.  Why?  Because there are writers who are just starting out, or just deciding to take that next step and look for an agent or publisher, who may not know the process.  I didnt.  I’ve relied on different website and blogs for guidance.  Now, I’m not claiming to know all of the answers.  Far from it.  I’m pretty new to this as well, but you learn from others mistakes as well as their successes., and sometimes it feels good to know you’re not the only one who flubbed up.  So I’m going to write what comes to me; what I feel needs to be said.  Whether that’s on something like the topic below (first publishing rights), or on how the cat kept me up all night wanting to play, or on the latest big political news, rest assured you’ll get a variety of (hopefully) fun and informative posts.

A big consideration for this blog was whether or not to put up snippets of my writing.  There’s the whole issue of first publication rights, and then the question of “is it really good enough to be seen in case an agent, etc stumbles upon it and reads it?”  Amongst other questions of course.  Well, I’ve done a good deal of research into first publication rights, and thought I would share in case someone else is debating whether or not to post their work.

From my research, it seems that as long as you don’t post the whole story, or most of the story, it doesn’t use the first pub rights.  According to the copyright laws (the attorney in me came out and went to the law), posting on a personal website or blog equals “displaying”, not “publishing.”  It’s only publishing when you sell your work, or copy and distribute it to others.  So as long as it is a piece and you ask your readers not to print or distribute the work, you should be fine.  As for what publishers will think, I can’t really say because I think it varies according to the publisher.  From what I can gather, however, an excerpt on a blog or website shouldn’t matter.  Readers with more experience feel free to weigh in on the issue and tell me your thoughts.

As for whether my writing is good enough to post?  Well, I think I’ll leave that issue to my readers.  My snippets may turn off some or may spark some interest, but I don’t know how to get people behind my writing unless they can read it, and this seems the most efficient way for that to happen.

Why Blog?

The question that may be rolling around in your heads is: why start a blog?  I’m not exactly the blogging type.  I tried once before, I started a blog about Oswald Chambers “My Utmost for His Highest,” my thoughts as I worked through the daily devotional.  Let’s just say, that didn’t last as long as I’d hoped.  I think I put too much pressure on myself to post daily when really, I didn’t have something to say every day about every devotional.

I don’t feel as much pressure with this blog.  I’m not going to attempt to post daily, and might, in fact, post a couple of times a day and then not put up anything new for a few.  I debated starting one for a while, but here is what convinced me to jump in the pool: Jenny Bent- Social Media. This is a great blog post by literary agent Jenny Bent on the values of social media such as facebook, twitter, and, you guessed it, blogs. Now, I can’t quite bring myself to start a twitter. Maybe one day if I get published and people actually care what I’m doing at any given point in the day. Right now though, this will suffice.

I blog with several hopes in mind: 1. that people will follow me; 2. that other aspiring authors might be able to share in my journey and post comments, etc about their own; 3. that other writers might find the sites and blogs I’ve linked useful and inform me of other useful places; 4. that I can get and grow a fanbase. This last reason is, admittedly, selfish, but, according to Jenny Bent, it’s something agents and publishers look for. They want to know if you have people who already like your work.

So that’s why I started this thing. If you blog, why did you start?

And Away We Go…

I am currently querying my most recent book, “Playing with Fire.”  I submitted my first round of queries on Saturday, September 17.  This in an of itself was a chore.  Figuring out which agencies to submit to, then which agents, then their submission guidelines…whew!  Here is a run down of my process:

1.  Search AgentQuery for AAR member agents who represent Young Adult fiction.

2.  Plug the results (80 agents!  Sounds like a lot, but the starting number was around 248.) into a spreadsheet.  Arrange alphabetically.

3.  Search Preditors and Editors for the agent/agency.

4.  Group agents in spreadsheet according to P&E results

5.  Search submission guidelines, email addresses, etc for each agent.  Plug these into my spreadsheet.

6.  Email first twelve agents my query, adding the date queried in my spreadsheet.

I could add a step 7. “Realize I sent only a query to three agents who requested the first few pages and fret about whether they would accept my submission”, but I’m not planning on making this a typical blunder.  Of course prior to step one came the repeated tweaking of my query until I got it in somewhat decent shape.

Now I wait.  I’m extremely grateful to the agents who have already responded, and grateful to every agent out there plugging away reading the queries of the countless writers begging for their work to be accepted.  For each response I receive, I dutifully enter it into my spreadsheet with the date, and email them a polite message back.  After a few weeks I’ll move down the list and query the next batch. 

In the meantime, I shall focus on the dreaded synopsis and on my new work in progress.  After I finished “Playing with Fire” (2 full drafts with beta readers on each and a final polish), I felt empty.  There was a void inside me.  An empty feeling that must be close to a parent sending their child off to college.  My baby is all grown up and out on its own now. 

So what am I to do?  Start a new one of course.  I’m pretty excited about it, but nervous as well.  It’s an idea my dad came up with while he was battling cancer.  One I’ve been putting off because I’m afraid I won’t do it justice.  I wrote the first chapter yesterday, though, and posted it on the Absolute Writer’s forum for thoughts.  I must say, I’m pretty happy with the feedback I received.  Happy enough to keep pushing forward.  Hopefully, it will keep my mind occupied while I wait for agents to respond.

Currently reading: “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” by Ken Kesey.