Thursday, September 28, 2006

Sometimes You Have a Bad Day

Yesterday was a bad day. The agent I wanted to work with rejected my stuff. I was sad. But then I looked at her website again and reminded myself that she really IS a romance expert, and I don't write romance. At all. I'd probably be better with a YA expert. And, reading her blog every day I've learned a lot, and, what's more, her site linked me to some other incredibly valuable sites, including other agents that, from their entries in agent guides, I wouldn't have considered, but reading their blogs I am interested. So that was hard, but okay. I have been praying that I get accepted by the right agent because, if my experience with OBGyns is any indicator, given the choice of many myself, I usually choose the wrong person first and have to change around--and that's not so easy with agents as it is with doctors.

Meanwhile, I've been reading online Novel Workshops by experts, and have gleaned some information that is consistently the same from everyone. Everyone agrees that the first chapter of the novel needs to have some serious action, and put the characters into the position that they can't turn around and go back. Everyone writes chapters before that, and you're supposed to delete them. So I went back to Poison Spindle and discovered that, lo and behold, the first chapter and the introduction have zero movement in them. And that everything that happens in them can be summarized in three sentences--which can be put into other parts of the book. So I deleted them. The other consistent advice that's given is that if you read a scene, and nobody moves and nobody feels anything but pretty good, cut it. Makes the book stronger. So I started going through and found bunches of paragraphs that actually DON'T move the story along at all. They are stagnant. Most of them could be re-written into a single sentence, or even a single adjective.

So the short of all of that is: I'm rewriting again while I research another set of agents to contact. The book was 100,000 words too long anyway, and I managed to cut out almost 20 pages from what was the first three chapters of the book--7,000 words gone, with no loss of action or character development. I feel like I did in journalism in high school, when I had to cut 500 word articles to 250 words with no loss of content. It actually makes the writing stronger, more clear, and more powerful anyway. Still contacting agents, though. I've found somet that I don't understand why I wasn't interested in them before--they seem more ideal than any on my first list. Perhaps because I needed to first submit to people who would say no while I learned from them what to do and what to do next.

To add to my bad day yesterday, I felt sick all day.

Caleb was sick, too, and ended up throwing up in the middle of the night. Luckily, for the first time ever, he made it to the potty, used it, and flushed it all away without needing my help.

Also, I went shopping (hard when you feel sick) and got $180 worth of groceries on sale for $100. I was tired, and the kids were fussy, and it was 11:30 pm when we finished and went to check out--and the system wouldn't take my check because it was tagged as "possible fraud or identity theft"--probably because I spent so much so late at night. No matter that I gave the guy my ID and everything. So I had to use a different account, and Mom bailed me out so that would't bounce. So irritating. I got it all straightened out today. I just hate it when people point out that I'm weird. I know it. I don't need to be reminded that nobody takes three kids grocery shopping at midnight to buy 50 lbs of frozen meat and 30 cans of soup. Duh.

Anyway, today is better.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Waiting for Melody's return

I'm sitting here waiting for Melody (and Tim) to get back.

I got another rejection from an agent today--not what she was looking for, but at least the rejection was professional.

I also got a letter today that began, "Dear Rebecca Jones, It's hard to think about, even harder to talk about, but...How would yoru family get by if they didn't have your salary?" I wanted to laugh. The other piece of junk mail said that I won the jackpot (it's a car ad), but, try as I might, I couldn't find any mention anywhere on the ad of what the jackpot IS. Just the cryptic line "Must be present to claim prize." Probably a low interest rate on a car loan? Great mail.

For weeks I have had severe writer's block on both novels I'm working on--I'd write and delete about 2000 words on each every couple of days (that's about 10 pages). Couldn't get it right. So I moved backward and started doing character development on Maggie, my ex-spy housewife. Mom suggested that Maggie had to have some demon she was fighting, so I went there. And suddenly I had lots to write--flashbacks that I will insert throughout the novel of what happened in her past that made her quit her job and makes her reluctant now to get involved. The key, it turns out, was that her husband has to not know she was a "real" spy--he thinks she had a desk job at the CIA and quit because she got pregnant and wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. To find out what really prompted her to quit, you'll have to read the book...... Anyway, it's suddenly fun to write that one again, and the pieces are falling into place properly now. Writing is supposed to be a delightful journey, not a chore, so this is a relief.

So I went back to the drawing board with the second book in the Bookstore series, too, and realized I don't even know what the bad guy looks like, and Kate has to be attracted to him. So that was a problem. Then I started doing research on Western lore and the conventions of Western Lit and Film, and I have been having SO much fun. It's the same research I would do for a college course on the subject, but with a much more fun result. Instead of a research paper, I get to mine the data for cool character ideas, concepts, motifs, and legends that I get to incorporate into Kate's experiences in the Wild Wild West. So the story has taken on a few subplots, the biggest of which is the Legend of the Lost Dutchman, which I heard in Arizona. Now one of the male leads is the son of the Lost Dutchman's murdered partner, and he's come from Germany to find out what happened to his father, and maybe get to the goldmine his family technically owns half of. It's a lost goldmine on Apache sacred ground, and the other male lead has actually found it and is trying to get the Apaches to let him mine it. And I get to incorporate the tradition that people who go looking for the mine get beheaded, and a crazy prospector who actually lived there in the 1870s, and there's now gonna be a jailbreak, and a bank robbery (pulled off by Kate, of all people!), and a rattlesnake cave (have you heard that legend?). And, of course, buried treasure, crumbling saddlebags full of gold, shootouts on the main street of town, and white slavery. And Kate gets to face off the entire US Army to save the Apaches at the end. Very exciting stuff. So I'm excited to work on that one, too. You'll have to read it when it's done.

I suppose I should pick just one project to finish it. Arizona in the 1870s is pretty different from Las Vegas nowadays, and shootouts at the saloon are a far cry from superspies with their special equipment. I don't want to get it all too mixed up.

Friday, September 22, 2006

What Happens When You Eat Ice Cream for Breakfast?

Pregnancy is this weird experience. It's at once profound, unique, and completely annoying. It really baffles me that I'm going through this incomparable thing--and that I've done it three times before, and that 90% of the women in the world do it too.

Anyway, morning sickness is becoming a controlling factor in my morning. I wake up okay, but then quickly descend into feeling gross. And, having three other kids, I know I will soon have to face the usual morning onslaught of stench as Daniel has his customary stinky diaper, and Anda needs me to wash the bottle of milk she slept with and rotted, and I can't seem to avoid opening the fridge. The fridge stinks when I'm pregnant. No matter how clean it is (I actually recently washed every part of it--it's clean. It's the only thing in the house that's clean, but it is), and no matter how well I wrap and seal last night's leftovers, when I open the fridge in the morning, it stinks. All these things conspire to make me run to the bathroom.

So today, when I went out to the outside freezer to get chicken to defrost for dinner (see how with it I am? I'm thinking about dinner even when I feel gross and have six hours before I need to start on it). Anyway, I was out there digging up the chicken and I managed to unearth orange vanilla cream "tiger" ice cream. And it looked good. When something looks good in the morning, I'm elated because eating makes the morning sickness disappear, but getting to eating often exacerbates it.

The trouble? If I was going to eat ice cream, everyone would want some. And nobody had eaten breakfast yet. So what to do? I dug up the sugar cones and passed around the sweets. Elation! No more morning sickness.

Flash forward twenty minutes. Suddenly everyone is crying and I feel sick again. Guess what? Ice cream is not a breakfast for champions. I know it has the same or better nutrition as cold cereal. Guess what else isn't a good breakfast.....

So I needed to make real food, and fast. Protien. That everyone would eat. So to the fallback easy fast protien: scrambled eggs. I scrambled up a dozen eggs, thinking the circus would end, but it appears it was just beginning. As I got the grill hot, Daniel crawled up and started tugging on me and the kids started the early "conversations" that lead to fights. Just then, the spatula leapt from the counter (I really don't know how else to describe it) and gouged my toe. The grill was hot and Dan was tugging on me and screaming, and I was holding a too-full bowl of uncooked scrambled eggs. You should be proud of me. I didn't swear.

Instead, I stomped my foot and shouted until Dan let go and crawled away quietly. Then I proceeded to scramble the eggs--no mean trick on a griddle that is made to drain fat from bacon, and apparently liquidy eggs (I don't care what the picture on the box showed...). When I finally turned around, Dan was sitting in a puddle of milk that had dripped from his bottle. He was helping himself to a bagful of mint chocolate chip pop tarts. I didn't stop him. Anda was crawling around my feet trying to confirm that the toe that was bleeding really was the one that was hurting, and Caleb was eating every bit of egg that came off the griddle.

So finally we all got eggs and were happily eating when I looked at the griddle and realized--guess what? The spatula I had used to cook everything was the very one that tried to cut my toe off.

Have you ever been so grateful just to have the food that you ate it anyway?.....

So, in the midst of this chaos (during the Twenty Minutes of Post-Ice Cream Joy), I watched a video Mom sent over of a home birth. It was sweet and touching, and I cried when I looked at the baby. And then the movie ended, and I dried my tears, and, as the emotions faded, I said to myself, "What am I thinking? She's nuts." How did they get the gross water out of the pool in the bedroom? And who had to clean all that stuff up? Birthing is not exactly a clean process. And, oh my goodness, that poor woman was literally up all night in labor (in a hospital, with an epidural, she would have been fresh and happy, having slept all night, ready to push at 9:20 am and welcome her new baby.). And the other kids--even well prepared, they would want mommy to get them stuff, and she would hear them start fighting in the other room or wake up in the middle of the night--and that would, at the minimum, break her concentration. And I can get a water birth, with massage and midwife and everything, in the hospital here. Where someone else cleans up, feeds me, takes the baby while I shower, etc. Okay, I might try to check out of the hospital three or four hours after the baby comes this time because I don't sleep AT ALL in hospitals (they want me to live on a 6:00 am to 9:00 pm schedule--are you kidding?!). But that's where I want to birth.

Of course, there's that other extreme that you find occassionally in Colorado: Home Birth, locked in the bathroom with nobody else there with you. Now THAT is insane.

So I can see the sweetness and intimacy of a home birth. I want that, too. But the practicalities of it all (not to mention we've almost lost three babies at birth or just before) outweighs the ideals. I want my doctor there, and I just don't want to wash the sheets afterward, you know?

Besides, Tim's take on epidurals is significant to me: "I'd rather you have an epidural. I can't stand to see you suffer."

So...pregnancy and childbirth. What am I thinking? Ice cream for breakfast, anyone?

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Melody Gone Along Without Us

Melody has gone off on her latest adventure without us--just with Tim. I get carsick driving half a block to Safeway--9 hours to Provo and then six more to Vegas didn't sound good.

Dinner tonight: I don't know yet. Thinking about it makes me queasy. But last night we had Cuban Picadillo--very tasty and easy--at 11:30 pm because I finally realized everything was getting to be worse than the process of making dinner seemed.

There are only a few times in life when I have total concentration and can block everything out. Like when I'm kissing Tim. Or throwing up. Since Tim is gone, the other one is the one that has been occupying me. It's not that I'm throwing up all the time. It's that I'm trying hard not to. All day. And you know, some things are worse to throw up than others. Oreos? Not so bad. Sugary drinks? Doable. Lettuce? Kill me now. I still have a hard time eating it since I was pregnant with Caleb five years ago. Enough on that.

Babies have forced me to be selfish in some ways, though. If I don't take care of myself, they punish me, starting from the time they appear as a tummy bump. If I don't eat, I get to vomit. If I don't eat, too, the kids won't eat, and then life is hellish. If I don't get enough exercise, they don't either, and everyone gets antsy and picks on each other. If I don't get enough sleep, they don't either, and they fight. I hate fighting. So we sleep selfishly. They force me to make dinner every night or we get grumpy chaos. That (the dinners, not the chaos) saves us lots of money (cheaper to cook real dinners than snack on pre-prepared things), and it's keeping all of us healthier and happier. And they force me to develop my talents, as they insist on singing songs and telling stories together, or making things.

Their stubborn insistence on doing things themselves makes me selfish, too. Daniel MUST climb the stairs by himself now. He throws a fit if I help him with that. Or if I feed him. Oh, selfish me--I get to skip those two things that I hate. And, darn it, they make me sit in my rocking chair cuddling someone warm much of the day, forcing me to either read fascinating nonfiction books or write fascinating (to me) novels. Punishment? I think not.

Overnight somehow Anda taught herself how to say the "L" sound. Now "Wizard" and "Lizard" are not the same thing. I had wondered if she'd ever learn because she didn't just say them the same; she heard them the same. But she really wanted to say "Talulah" properly, so she learned. Cool. She's learning how to read, too, and can identify the letter that begins any spoken word. She's reading three-letter words, and is intensely fascinated with typing real words ("How do you spell Winnie the Pooh, Mom?"). So that's exciting. She's only 3 1/2.

Caleb, meanwhile, has become fascinated with multiplication. He is constantly asking, "What does five fives make?" Or worse, "What does 27 forty-twos make?". So kindergarten math ("Let's count to ten....") is really boring for him. Anda loves it though.

Daniel is verbalizing more and more. Today he climbed up on my lap and said, "Daniel!" and then clapped his hands joyfully and giggled. The problem with his speech is that he says all the vowels, an occassional beginning consonant, and not much else. So we get long explanatory paragraphs from him that we can't understand, and he expects us to act on them. Oh, well. He's only just barely 1. He's a little cautious, too. He won't walk, but he can stroll down the hall holding just one of my hands. Just won't do it himself because he gets scared.

All of these things are fun (except the vomiting), and not easy to notice when we are with Melody as she wanders the country. It's an interesting dilemma: do we have no home, or no Daddy?

Sunday, September 17, 2006

The Miracle of Children

I am so nervous about my agent submissions that I can't work on my novels, but I must write, so you get lots of blogging.

For dinner tonight: tomato soup with cheese and oyster crackers. Second course, two hours later: boiled beets with sauteed beet greens on the side. Hey, I'm pregnant.

I wrote half of this, and then, as if to illustrate my point, Daniel hit Delete for me and shut the whole thing off, and I lost it all.

Last night Dan smacked my nose with his head so hard that I heard it crack. Today it's all bruised and sore.

Daniel still has eczema on his ankles, so any time he can get his socks off, he sits on the floor and scratches his ankles and cries. Then he cries some more when we put lotion and socks back on. Can't win that one.

Daniel has also decided that he's a grown-up now, and he refuses to sit in his high chair. The trouble is, he's too little for a regular chair, and he doesn't have enough experience with them to not fall off if he stands up to reach his food. To complicate things, he's also decided that we can't feed him. He has to do it himself--with grown-up sized utensils, which he also lacks experience in. Consequently, he spends most of the meal flinging food all over the kitchen, and then gives up and either buries his face in what's left or digs his little hands in and takes fistfuls, which he shoves into his mouth and all over his face. We've finally taken to putting a variety of foods in a pie pan on the floor and letting him eat dog-style. His preference, not mine.

Daniel also has decided that it is extremely frustrating that he can't go down stairs and that we can't understand the long paragraphs that he babbles. And he's decided that the very best way to express frustration is to scream at the top of his lungs--often without warning, so it terrifies me as I'm driving in blissful silence or going to the bathroom.

His newest habit is falling off the bed backward, scaring me to death.

Meanwhile, Tim and I have altitude sickness, so I assume the kids do, too. Nobody is adjusting to being home very well. Routines don't stay so routine when you leave them behind for three or four months.

Caleb has been touchy, picking on the other kids, shoving his hands or toys into our faces, and crying at the weirdest things ("Anda reached the spoon drawer first--now nobody will get to eat ever again!"). We had a serious heartbreak for him today when we couldn't get to the library on time.

Anda is feeling creative. At least she's being pleasant to live with, but also messy as she goes from project to project, leaving stuffed toys lined up in the kitchen while she washes dishes in the bathroom after she's cut pictures out of magazines and lined up toy trains down the hall and colored pictures sitting in a pile of dumped out crayons, etc. I don't have the energy to keep up, so I've resorted to trying to only step on things that won't break or that I really wanted to get rid of anyway, since I can't really see the floor in several rooms. Unfortunately, in all this creativity, she was playing a game with Baby Kitty, and now Baby Kitty is missing. She got hidden or put to bed somewhere, and we've spent days searching the messes for her. No good. We're also missing two large library books. Also not good. She also waits until I find a quiet second and pick up my laptop, and then, just as soon as I figure out the right next line to type, she comes over and asks to be held. Right then. Never any other time. So I have to put everything away and hold her. Right now she's crying because she can't get the crayon off the picture she colored to put a lighter shade of yellow on, now that she's finally found the right yellow crayon, after 8 hours of looking.

It seems like nobody has going potty figured out yet, either. Everyone except Tim makes me wipe them. Anda makes me stand in the bathroom with her while she goes potty--and I hate standing up.

And the tummy baby? He alternately makes me crave weird things (beets, canned spinach, mexican food, etc.) and averse to weird things (all sugar most of the time, all food sometimes). He makes me nauseated most of the day. I haven't thrown up yet, but I got awfully close when I took out the garbage today. Riding more than one block in the car makes me sick as sick can be--every motion seems exaggerated to me. It's as bad as riding in the car when you're in labor (one of the worst repeated experiences in my life, I might add--bad enough that next time I might walk the two blocks to the hospital instead). Also the baby robs me of my energy, stamina, ability to stay awake at all, patience, tolerance for pain or surprise or noise or heat or cold or discomfort of any kind, makes me hormonal and mean (oooh, aren't you glad you all live 9 hours away?). Oh, and heartburn? Let's not even go there. Also, he's made it uncomfortable to wear my regular clothes--not because they are too smalll, but because anything touching my abdomen makes me want to puke--so I'm into maternity clothes already, and I'm not even 8 weeks along yet. Maybe I'll go for skirts and dresses for a few weeks, still. Maternity clothes are hugely too big.

So why is this called the Miracle of Children? Because they're a pain in so many ways--nobody can eat, sleep, pee, get dressed, talk, play, or breathe without my involvement--but, for all the lack of, oh, everything that I deal with (time, energy, money, space, etc.), I wouldn't trade them for anything. I would be devastated if anything serious happened to any of them. The miracle of children, as far as I can tell, is that despite all the bad stuff, we love them with all our hearts, even when they are making us throw up every morning, or when they all decide to coordinate their crying in different rooms.

For all the trouble, the kids are truly the most valuable thing I have, or have done, or will ever do.

And now I have to stop writing and go take care of all of them, and maybe stop at least some of the tears.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Recipes: Restaurant-style chicken chimis; pudding; cake frosting

I think I'm almost caught up with stuff I wrote on our last trip. That would be good. This part is just for fun (and for Mary--she and I trade great recipes a lot).

Dinner tonight--a recipe I invented:

Smothered Chicken Chimichangas

3 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 can petite cut diced tomatoes, drained
1 can diced green chilies, drained
1 pkt mild taco seasoning
1/4 c sour cream
1 c grated cheese
Oil for frying
Toppings to smother it with (refried beans, mexican rice, shredded lettuce, sour cream, guacamole, salsa, cheese, etc.)

Cook the chicken (I boil it, Mom would Foreman Grill it). Mix tomatoes, chilies, taco seasoning, sour cream, and cheese in a pot. Shred chicken into pot; stir until well mixed. Put some (not too much, but it depends on the size of your tortillas) of this mixture into the middle of each tortilla. Fold ends in and roll like for a burrito. Stick a wooden toothpick in at an angle to keep it closed. Heat oil in a large frying pan, pot, or deep fryer until hot. Put the chimis into the oil and fry until golden, turning once or twice. Drain on paper towels. Remember to remove the toothpicks before you serve them. Put in the center of a plate and smother with toppings. Serve warm.

Dessert I'd like to try but was worn out by the time dinner was done:

Cookies and Cream Mock Mousse (recipe courtesy

8 Oreos
2 c cold milk
1 pkg vanilla pudding
1/2 c cool whip

Crush cookies. Mix up pudding as instructed on box. Gently stir in crushed cookies and cool whip. Serve with additional cookies and cool whip on top if desired.

If you try it, let me know how it worked. I'm thinking it would also be good with chocolate pudding and chocolate-mint oreos. Or maybe white chocolate pudding instead of vanilla....hmmm...the possibilities are endless.

This is another recipe I've modified from several sources that has become a family favorite. You'll never use powdered sugar to make cake frosting again.

Cake Frosting:

1 pkg pudding
1 c milk
1 tub cool whip

Whisk together pudding and milk. Gently fold in cool whip. Frost completely cooled cake--it even can be used between layers. Let set up in fridge for at least 15 minutes. If you use vanilla pudding, you can layer it in a 9x13 cake pan with graham crackers between the layers and top with melted chocolate glaze. Let it set up, and you have eclair cake. Use chocolate pudding, and you have mousse.

Agents, Doctors, and Three Year Olds

We arrived. We came home. It's a rather long drive.

The very next day, I had my first pregnancy checkup--it's always nasty, long, and uncomfortable. They even drew six vials of blood (every woman in Colorado is supposed to get both an HIV test and a Cystic Fibrosis Carrier Screen when they are pregnant). But, to make up for it, they did an ultrasound. We have only one baby (what a relief) and it has a heart beat (also a relief). So now the kids are talking about "When Madeline comes." I keep asking, "What if it's a boy?" and they say, "Madeline is a girl's name." Aaaah, the logic of three year olds.

I spent all day yesterday agonizing over the cover letter that was supposed to go with my sample 30 pages that I finally got submitted to Nelson Literary Agency. It was hard because she wanted the same things that were in the query letter, but they didn't sound right as a cover letter for requested material. So I rewrote and rewrote and rewrote and finally got it right, I think, after doing some praying over it (funny how that works even on things that may be trivial, and certainly aren't "spiritual" in nature). So the pages went off today, despite the fact that I suddenly became convinced that everything I've written is garbage, especially the first fifteen pages. It didn't help that the next two responses I got from agents were "No thanks."

A note on agents: They beg and plead and beg and instruct and beg some more for new authors to act professionally. But some of them don't treat new authors professionally. For example, DMLA, a very well-established, large agency in New York, sent me a form rejection letter that was long, patronizing, condescending, and wordy. Okay, wordy isn't a bad thing, but the gist of the letter was "We don't want anything to do with you, but, sweet innocent baby, you should keep following your dreams and reaching for the stars because maybe somebody is stupid enough to want to work with you, if you improve everything you write." I preferred the response I got from Rachel Vater, also a biggie in the industry: "I am not interested in this right now, but that doesn't mean some other agent won't be."

My question, though, is why do they feel compelled to "soften" the rejection and encourage writers to not give up? Everything I've read has made it abundantly clear that the trick is finding the "Match"--someone who likes what you write and can sell it--and that a rejection is not necessarily a personal comment, but merely an expression of a mismatch (usually because they don't sell what you've written.) That said, most agents have also stated that they reject 99% of the queries sent to them--because 90% are poorly written, don't approach what they specialize in, or are just plain bad. I guess their "nice" form rejections are a way to soften the accusations they frequently get of destroying people's "art". I think maybe artists are too sensitive. It's a business, publishing.

So, my conclusion to all this: I hope I'm in the 9% that actually CAN write, and then it's just a matter of finding a match for my work with someone who knows the industry insiders who publish that stuff. Also, I'm glad I'm not an agent. I hate telling people they didn't make the team. Despite my fears that my work is in the 90% that is really crappy, I did send the pages to Kristin Nelson. Maybe she'll like them.

Meanwhile, the almost constant nausea I feel when I'm riding in Melody (or even driving) is preventing me from taking the next tour with moosebutter, and I guess I'm grateful. I didn't relish the idea of taking three-and-a-half little ones to Las Vegas. We'll see about back East.