And yes, I am a little mad, thank you for asking.

In the early stages of a pregnancy, abortion is a form of contraception—the prevention of an unwanted pregnancy. In some cases, it is an assisted miscarriage for an unviable or life-threatening pregnancy. In later stages of pregnancy, it is a form of healthcare used only to address an unviable or life-threatening pregnancy.

Limiting access to healthcare endangers lives. Pregnancy and childbirth are risky, life-threatening conditions that can last up to ten months. It is unconscionable to force this condition on anyone. Similarly, the decision to abort should not be forced upon anyone. Healthcare decisions are complex, best assessed by the patient and healthcare providers who understand these nuances.

Today’s Supreme Court ruling denies our citizens reasonable access to critical healthcare, based on arguments that are spurious and disingenuous. This ruling will inflict sweeping damage on our country, and it raises grave doubts about the ability of this current court majority to properly fulfill their roles. This ruling reads, frankly, like hollow statements crafted by radicalized zealots incapable of mustering anything that might resemble logic, insight, or the rule of law.

Speaking Up

I have so much I want to write for this blog, but I have been holding back. Sometimes, it is because there is a topic about which I feel so much anger and outrage (so many reasons for this lately, especially today), yet I don’t want anger to cause my words to miss my goal, to somehow do more harm than good. As both history and current events make clear, words (especially strategic lies) can lead to violence. If I write about what makes me angry or outraged, I want to write in a way that leads to positive actions. And I want to aim for accuracy and insight, not distortions or exaggerations. A daunting goal, especially when I am mad.

I also worry about how to address everything that is at risk and everyone who is endangered right now. Some of the outrages are direct and personal to me. Some are outrages against others who I would hope to support. I admit, I worry if I speak out loudly on one topic, I am somehow failing because I haven’t spoken out on every single type of outrage nor have I identified the specific ways that one group of people is harmed more than another group by one of these issues. I want to speak up, but I don’t want to say too little or divert from the work of those who keenly feel and know harms that I do not.

There is a related (yet opposite) reason I hesitate to post on my blog. Some of the topics that interest me seem so frivolous in the face of more serious concerns. Some are silly, some are random, most are frankly diversions from more serious concerns. I worry about writing about something that is light in the face of so much that is heavy.

And yet, I want to write on these topics, both heavy and light. For the light ones, I want to give myself permission to write on them because it seems wrong to let the bullies stop me from enjoying a few diversions. For the heavy ones, well, it seems wrong not to speak up, even if I can’t be sure I’m doing it right, or if I’m missing something else that is important. I also can’t choose one cause as most important. I understand that there are people who take on the needed role of activist, shining a light on a specific concern that they understand deeply. So if I try to support every cause that is pro-humanity, pro-democracy, pro-justice, pro-peace, pro-community, pro-environment, pro-empowerment, anti-bullying, anti-bigotry, anti-violence, anti-apathy, anti-despair… I know that I may not articulate my support as well as such activists would. But rather than hesitate to write on difficult topics, I should embrace the possibility that I will sometimes have to try again as I gain fresh insights or learn from wise activists or scholars, expanding or changing what I’ve written.

I will listen, I will learn, and I will speak up because we all have to speak up these days, whether it’s light or heavy. Not yelling, no. But engaging in ways that are authentic, meaningful, and peaceful, in order to live up to our responsibilities to take care of one another and to take care of this planet.

Reading Notes: Pop by Robert Gipe

I finally finished Pop, the third book of the series by Robert Gipe, and am still sorting my thoughts on this book and the series as a whole. This story stands on its own, but is more powerful, I think, if you have read the first two books (Trampoline and Weedeater).

I should probably not talk about specific moments in this book because it might detract from your ability to appreciate the unpredictable twists and turns ahead. My favorite scene is when Uncle Hubert is talking in a cave…and really, to say any more is to spoil quite a bit, so I’ll stop there. I also liked how the the final scenes create a rising crescendo, placing this family’s stories into a deeper history of the region.

I was amused that it took me until I was 2/3 into the book when I figured out the title Pop was referring to the soda that Dawn’s daughter Nicolette produced, rather than directly speaking of a father figure (though given Uncle Hubert’s rise to something of a hero in this book, an indirect reference could well have been intended). It made me wonder why I never use the word pop to refer to soda, even though I grew up in the mountains of NC not too far as a crow flies from the setting of these books. I found a map that explained this to me—there seems to be a true border between my part of the mountains and theirs, one side says soda and the other says pop. https://ideas.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/09/11/the-soda-vs-pop-map/. I It seems somehow typical that this drills down to tiny spots on the map, not even the entire region, and that distinctiveness seems fitting, resonant of what this series of books tries to convey about people and cultures not well understood by those outside.

Although soda was my main word for soda, I also grew up referring to soda as soft drinks, which even at the time I got some flack for, like I was using some Latin term for it or something. And I was now years old when I realized that the phrase soft drinks is probably in contrast to “hard drinks,” which is why I think it was a term I grew up with because I come from intellectuals who liked to party.

Anyway, my head is still spinning a bit from this book. Just like the first two, a lot happens. In terms of genre, I would consider this book literary fiction or possibly Appalachian literature if that’s a category, and it always strikes me that I tend to think of such fiction as different from genre fiction, which I consider plot-driven, which makes you think of “action.” Yet these categories elude such descriptions because there is so much action in this book. Even with so much going on, it is the characters that stand out, and the writing itself sings. You know, when I read genre fiction, I often keep reading to “find out what happens,” though it is true that I need to care about the characters. I’ve sampled a few books lately where I just couldn’t care about the characters, so even though I liked the plot concept, I had to put the book down. In Pop, I care so much about these characters that I agonize as I see some of the action ensue, worrying about what will happen to them.

After much heartbreak, this book ends on a high note, finally giving me a moment I had hoped for as I read the first book (a hope I had actually abandoned by the end of the second book).

One line I’d like to ponder: “Wildness ain’t the disease; wildness is the cure.” This narrative is wild, unruly, and unpredictable, dotted with glimpses of the natural beauty and challenges of life in Appalachia. The cure this book offers is what could happen when people come to know who they are and have the chance to be who they want to be.

Words, sure, but no words

I haven’t been able to blog for awhile, working through grief, frankly, which makes me just like everyone else these days.

As I strive for some semblance of normalcy, trying yet failing to accept that I will never again spend time with two of the best people I ever had the privilege to know and love, world events continue to knock me off balance. Again, I know, this makes me just like everyone else.

I need to react to the invasion of Ukraine, to process it somehow, and I hope to do so humbly, because no words work in the face of a senseless human rights tragedy, war pursued by choice (can I really label an act of madness as a choice?)

Perhaps I will start by offering snapshots that rise to mind right now. Several years ago, my family took part in a well-organized school program in which we all read the book Prisoner B-3087 written by Alan Gratz, based on the true Holocaust story by Ruth and Jack Gruener. If you know anything about the book, you know it depicts countless levels of hell during the Holocaust. Yet what stuck with me the most was an early scene in which the narrator, a young Jewish boy, is surrounded by his family at home. In that moment, when everything was normal, they were happy, though there were reasons to worry. And he recalls that if they had known what was to come, they would have run away at that moment.

I admit, I have thought about that often when I am surrounded by family in what seems like safety, most frequently in 2016 when the 45th President rose to power by stirring up prejudice and spreading lies.

And I think about it now when I read tweets by Ukrainians (and Russians, for that matter), for whom life shifted from stable to chaos in a matter of hours. They, like too many people in too many places around the world, have to wonder if giving up everything they know and love would somehow be better than staying put.

Another image that has to come to mind is that heartbreaking visual of a student standing defiantly against a tank in Tiananmen Square.

It is almost impossible to decipher the reasons behind this invasion. The expansion of the capacity of nations to defend themselves seems like a flimsy excuse (the existence of Alaska certainly casts doubt on that line of thinking), not to mention the fact that modern technology means that proximity is less meaningful in terms of self-defense.

What I notice is this: the Ukrainian democracy worked—people protested, people voted, and they elected a president of their choice. It was a real election, unlike what happens in neighboring Russia and Belarus. If you need evidence that democracy was alive in Ukraine, look no further than the fact that they weren’t universally happy with President Zelenskyy (before the invasion started, that is). Complaining about the politicians we elect is not actually a sign of weakness in a political system—it means we understand that there will never be one person who can be trusted absolutely with the power to control our destinies. It is our job in a democracy to pay attention, second guess, complain, and consider different options. Democracy is about We the people, not “I alone.”

From the perspective of tyrants, exercising the right to vote, claiming the right to self-determination, is provocation. The Ukrainians voted, and the tyrant responded. The same impulse arose here on January 6 when would-be tyrants attacked our capital in reaction to a fair and free election.

Peaceful protests and free speech threaten tyrants. (For the record, violence, destruction, willfully spreading illness, and laying siege to a city are not the exercise of freedom but the behavior of bullies.)

I see a line, a tenuous one perhaps, connecting the students standing before tanks in Tiananmen Square, the Ukrainians seeking to halt an endless line of Russian tanks, and the Russian protesters arrested in their public squares. I would remind some Americans that there are those in this country who drive cars and trucks into peaceful protesters. In every case, democracy scares bullies and tyrants.

The history of the pursuit of democracy is full of loss and heartbreak. And democratic governance is messy; it requires us to try to get along with people with whom we will never fully agree and to craft imperfect solutions to intractable problems. Democracy will always be vulnerable to those who would lie and manipulate us for their own enrichment. Those who support democracy are, alas, not always on the winning side of history.

But everyone loses whenever and wherever democracy is betrayed, suppressed, or brutally assaulted.

Done :)

I met my Nanowrimo goal today! I did not quite finish drafting the novel, but I passed 50,000 words, and I feel as if I have a better sense of what could happen in this novel. I wrote it scene by scene, but it still felt more like an outline in the end, a shadow or hint more than the fleshed out novel it could someday become.

To my surprise, in addition to the usual badges, bells, and whistles that occur on the Nanowrimo site, I also got new laurels to appear on my avatar.

Laurels
Something new this year!

Ha! I guess nine years of Nanowrimo “wins” is a lot. I’m still pleased to have reached this goal, but it is not quite the surprise it once was. And yet, I will never take it for granted. I have made more progress this month than I have in awhile, and I have gained insights into what can happen and still needs to happen in the process of writing a novel.

I have different goals ahead. I want to spend some time refining my system to keep track of my world-building. The more I write in this future world, the more unwieldy it all becomes—and yet the more I come to understand it. So I want to see if I can get that better organized somehow (though I’ve made this vow before, but maybe third time’s the charm (or who knows how many times I’ve tried!)). I’ve also been reading more lately, and I hope to double down on that in December. If November is my Write-A-Lot month, I like to see December as my Read-A-Lot month, though the holidays sometimes make that harder than I expect.

I guess that’s enough goal-setting for now. It is nice to reach the end of November —and maybe I will rest on my laurels for a little bit.

30K Done!

I have been a bit too busy lately to post my progress here, but I am still on track with Nanowrimo. I continue to be surprised by the way this new novel is unfolding. It’s so very first draftish. I can already anticipate some of what will need fixing or cutting, but it is so helpful to have written what I’ve written because it has been a process of discovery. As my protagonist moves through various situations in this new setting, I keep learning more about the setting and some of the problems she must deal with.

I have been surprised because there was a character who (in my very loose Nano prep plans) was supposed to be an antagonist in a fairly superficial way. He was supposed to misjudge and dislike my protagonist, and be generally annoying—yet he insisted on becoming relatable and even potentially an ally to her. In general, I know my story could use a bit more drama rather than what has been a quieter percolating tension, so his insistence on being an ally is toning down the conflict even more. But it has increased the way this novel keeps surprising me. I really don’t know what’s going to happen until it starts to happen, and then it leads me to new possibilities. And though the drama has been muted, the mystery and the surprises are still mostly working. I have had few chances to use the writing exercises that I had hoped to integrate in the drafting process somehow, but there will be time for that later.

At any rate, it is so much fun. And I have to say that again this year, Nanowrimo works best if I pretty much aim to stay at “par” each day—reaching at least the average word count needed to be on track to reach 50,000 by the end of the month. Some days I have written more than 1667 words, though usually not more than 3000 words in a day. Those extra days give me wiggle room for the days when I just can’t write as much.

I’ll share some of the Nanowrimo website’s charts so you can see what I mean. This first one is my progress on reaching the target daily word count.

My progress charts from Nanowrimo.org

The second shows my actual daily word counts, which vary more.

It seems to help that I try to never be under the target count—never to think, “Oh, I will do extra tomorrow.” Instead, I allow myself to write less when I have some extra words banked rather than writing less on credit, so to speak. The reason it isn’t so helpful for me to count on catching up later is that it seems to get harder and harder if there is more pressure for me to write more than 1,667 words.

Somehow, 1,667 words, more or less, is just about perfect. I get somewhere. I learn something. And then I get to stop and feel a sense of accomplishment even though I didn’t put in hours and hours.

I call that a win :).

10k Day

10k as in 10,000 words, of course, nothing to do with kilometers or running, lol. I’ve been on track all week with my Nanowrimo work, though busy enough that it is all I can do to write an average, more or less, of 1,667 words per day. Which, to be honest, is the only way I can succeed with Nanowrimo: I just aim to stay on par every day for wherever the website (nanowrimo.org) says I should be by that day. Today, they say the “path to success” would be 10,002. Not to brag, but I’m at 10,181.

Much of what I’ve written feels like it may need to be cut or completely revised if I were ever to want to share this story with someone else. But I learn so much as I move forward. I come to understand more about the setting, characters, and situation, things I just don’t know until I try to write this story.

In other news, we had our first snow this week, just a strange steady snowfall that melted when it hit the ground, though it dusted some of the treetops, briefly. Still, I felt a burst of joy that I associate with snow days, when the world that was chugging along in one direction suddenly hits the brakes, and there is time to breathe and snuggle up with a story.

And I took this photo at a local grocery because it made me grin.

Wine under self-care sign

Two days in a row

I know what you’re thinking. Two days in a row doesn’t really sound like a lot. But it must be a lot because I got a badge on the nanowrimo website. And really, one of the deepest yet somehow also most obvious insights I’ve ever had is that daily effort, even the most minor teeniest tiniest effort, is probably the most powerful. This kind of work is certainly more meaningful to me than anything that I power through in one sitting. For me, at least, whatever I complete in one long session (writing any kind of report, for example), tends to lose meaning after awhile. I start to just go through the motions. There are exceptions, of course. But overall, small and steady daily effort FTW.

A few notes on today’s session:

I was in a much better mood, partly because I had more sleep, I felt better than yesterday, and I have more time to write on Tuesdays.

I actually did have to stop writing before I reached my word-count goal for the day because I needed to make some decisions about the setting for this scene. It led me to sketch out the location (and I use the word sketch very loosely here), which in turn led me to get more ideas for world-building, etcetera. So even though that added maybe 45 minutes to my writing time but no fresh words to my word count, it was super rewarding. I also engaged in some light research on the web that was fun and generative.

As I write, my previous efforts to edit/revise my completed novels have made me conscious of elements in this first chapter that will need to change. I mean, some of what is happening here, at the start of the book, is just slow. It’s important to me, to my protagonist, and to my story, but when I revise, I will have to find a way to crank up the pressure, maybe move some conflicts upfront so the protagonist has to deal with that while absorbing this slower unfolding of tension that is occurring now.

I’m hoping this realization is a helpful one for me. I want to believe that I can make that fix later on. I also just don’t know how else to make sense of this novel but to write it out, find out what might happen, then revise it later to make a reader want to read it, too.

To my fellow writers, whatever you are working on this week, write on!

Day One Done

Just thought I’d post a little shout here to say that despite having a super tired Monday today, I managed to write 1690 words for my first day of Nanowrimo (the goal is to average around 1667 per day, so check!). I’ve had better results on other Nanowrimo months. Usually day one is one of the easiest. But I was dragging today, so it was harder, and there were definitely some passages that made me think, yep, gonna have to cut or deeply revise that part someday. But even a not-so-great writing session has its great moments where I start to learn more about what might happen. Oh, and I just realized, I didn’t wind up using the writing prompt that I chose for today (which was this: Write about an unusual pet). I already figured out what I would do, and I realized that the pet might play an important role later in the story in some way. That’s always so cool, when I realize that something that I added as a kind of embellishment or description or to provide color can later become important to the story.

So not only did I get started, but also I have an idea ready to develop when I return tomorrow. And maybe I’ll catch up on some sleep, too, and be raring to go for Day Two.

Best wishes to anyone else nanowrimo-ing this month.

Nanowrimo’s Eve

So Nanowrimo (aka National Novel Writing Month) launches tomorrow, and I am ready.

Reading those words, you might not hear the doubtful tone in my voice. But I am more ready than I was at the start of October, and progress is always something to celebrate.

So far, I’ve fleshed out notes on the gist of this novel, by which I mean one core problem that will drive the plot.

I spent some time jotting notes and ideas about the setting, which went from non-existent (even though I knew it would be critical to the problem of this novel) to details that will serve as a resource to me in writing the story.

I didn’t have to take notes on my protagonist because this novel is part of a series, so I just reflected on her possible internal and external motivators at this point. I then reviewed past world-building notes and identified existing characters who could be part of this novel. Some of them have been a bit flat, so this novel gives me a chance to develop them further. I also identified at least one new central character. Because these novels draw on mystery tropes, I have identified a few possible antagonists to serve as red herrings along the way.

Just fleshing out those notes helped me identify a much-needed subplot that will run parallel to the main plot. I love the way such ideas emerge in the process of asking myself who is in the story and pondering what they want.

I chose Katytastic’s grid available on this part of Nanowrimo’s NanoPrep site https://nanowrimo.org/nano-prep-101#week3 to give myself general goals for about 27 scenes (conveniently close to the number of days in November). I don’t enjoy plotting within a spreadsheet, so I transferred the categories to MindNode, one of several graphic organizer apps that help me feel more playful about brainstorming but that I somehow never use enough to know how to make the most of them. I did figure out this time how to add stickers so I placed little doodle images with several scenes to try to capture the feeling of the scene. I did not write a lot for each scene, especially for the later scenes because I suspect I will be learning more about what is going on as I write out these scenes. I mostly identified key players for the scenes, possible goals, and settings.

I think I read some wise person’s advice about it being helpful for writers to get a clear sense of direction when they write. I think that makes sense, and I suspect that what I have done so far doesn’t fall into that category. It is true that sometimes during the course of a Nanowrimo I fast draft a scene early in the month with specific actions that later in the month I pretend didn’t happen because I can see how they didn’t work.

So there are aspects of the pursuit of 50,000 words in one month that don’t quite fit with Serious Writing. As I thought about it, I realized that Nanowrimo feels a bit like a game for me. Can I dream up the novel with just a few ideas? It’s a bit like a game I recall from long ago called, Name that tune, when you had to bet you could name a song with as few notes played as possible, i.e. I can name that tune in five notes. So I’m challenging myself to “create that novel” with as few notes as possible. I may discover mid-month (or sooner) that I need more plans, so I will have to stop and take more notes and make more decisions, including, as I mentioned, possibly revisiting/changing something I’d already drafted. It may take more time, but I just love being surprised by what I am writing.

So this year I realize that I do this for fun as much as anything else. Which, if I’m honest, has become the best reason to write, especially as I learn more and more about the publishing industry. It’s not that it’s impossible to write for your career, one way or another. But if you want the act of writing to be rewarding in the deeper sense of the word, just write for fun (or for joy or for personal transformation or to tell a story you need to tell).

As I dug into this commitment to pursue the joy of writing, I remembered how much I loved writing exercises with writing prompts. Again, it’s a kind of play or puzzle to see what arises in the moment. So the last stage of my NanoPrep was to identify three of my favorite sources of writing prompts (and I’ve barely scratched the surface with all three books): Everyday Creative Writing: Panning for Gold in the Kitchen Sink by Michael C. Smith and Suzanne Greenberg, The 3 A.M. Epiphany: Uncommon Writing Exercises that Transform your Fiction by Brian Kiteley, and Naming the World and Other Exercises for the Creative Writer, edited by Bret Anthony Johnston. Each day, I will pick one at random… or eventually pick one, in case I keep rejecting whatever I pick at random, and let that be what kicks off my drafting session for the day.

I saw a tweet by Erin Morgenstern that sums up my take on Nanowrimo:

https://twitter.com/erinmorgenstern/status/1454082114081673226?s=21

The only thing I would add is to clarify that “messy” drafts are accomplishments. As far as I’m concerned, that’s what we mean when we talk about drafting a novel. Revising a novel, that’s for later. (And of course, some people clean up the draft as they put it on paper, so you do you—I’m just saying that calling Nanowrimo a time for messy drafts is not a criticism.)

So to anyone else joining in the games and messes tomorrow, best wishes!