Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The Empty Nest

I've enjoyed the past two days' posts and believe it or not, I wrote this to use last week and then replaced it at the eleventh hour. It's karma because it fits right in with what Problem Child and Angel wrote yesterday and the day before.

For years I’d heard about the “empty nest” and approached it with mixed feelings. It meant the end to non-stop loads of laundry and herds of boys traipsing through my house, grazing at the open fridge and raiding the pantry of anything remotely resembling food. No more athletic events to attend. No more PTA Open Houses. No more haggling over who got to use the computer.

It also meant saying good-bye to my boys.

I anticipated scads of free time to finally do what I wanted. Now, there is no “i” in team, and I considered my family to be a team. But the team had moved on and it was time for me to be able to pursue some of the dreams I’d let slide in the wake of motherhood. Make no mistake, I believe that raising children is the toughest job on earth, and the most under-appreciated one as well. I have no regrets that I didn’t pursue a big career and climb the corporate ladder. I had interests outside the home but my main focus was my famiy. Yet there I was, with #1 son out of college, engaged to his college sweetheart and making his way in his chosen field, and #2 son well established at an out-of-state university. I made lists and lists of the things I wanted to accomplish. It included projects around the house, books to read, places to go and people to visit.

My mother always said that junk expands to fill your available space, as verified by my overflowing closets (and we just moved into a new house last March). I soon discovered that junk expands to fill your available time as well.

Several years ago I added “writing a novel” to my list of things to do. I’d played around with writing for a long time but never pursued fiction. In 2000, I began writing fanfiction (I can hear the hissing now) but it gave me a place to practice and learn some craft. Then through a bizarre act of serendipity, I discovered romance novels – specifically category romance – and I felt as if I’d found the Holy Grail. Reading romance led to a job as review coordinator for a website and that led to a desire to write my own stories. I found my local RWA chapter, got involved and made new friends.

And then my nest filled back up again. You may have noticed that I’m the Playground Monitor and that’s because they needed someone to keep the “children” in line. Age-wise, I’m right there with the Mavens, but that’s where the similarities end. Age-wise, I could be mother to any of my cohorts in crime at the Playground. But they’ve brushed aside the age difference and included me in their adventures, let me room with them at the national conference in Reno this past summer (and guess who was last in bed every night?), and invited me to join their playground.

We all have something to offer. We balance each other’s strengths and weaknesses. We offer each other encouragement and support.

I’m part of a team again. And there is no “i” in team. But I sure as hell hope that I can get my current WIP completed and get my PRO pin so that I won’t be the only one on the Playground without one. I feel a little naked.

Happy Wednesday from The Playground Monitor

P.S. Speaking of naked...

Happy Birthday Rocki. ;-)

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Since Problem Child brough up the issue of parenting, I think I'll wade into the fray.

Recently, on a difficult morning when I was trying to leave for my monthly RWA meeting, I found myself in the firm clutches of my beautiful 5-year-old daughter. Her beseeching eyes begged me not to leave. "I don't want you to go," she said.

Mother guilt reared its ugly head. But luckily my husband was watching out for me. Taking my daughter into his lap, he looked her in the eyes and said, "She's going. Mommy is allowed to have a life outside of us."

Inside, I jumped up and down at my husband's words of support. I've worked hard to find a balance between nurturing my children and teaching them independence. After all, one day they'll grow up and leave. What' the point of making them completely dependent on me for everything?

Don't get me wrong. I grew up in a very traditional family. My mother was a stay at home mom, as I am though I recently started my own resume writing business. Our church encouraged conservative ideas, including non-working mothers, cloth diapers, and home schooling. As a teenager, I baby-sat for numerous women who didn't do anything except be mothers. No jobs, not even hobbies. I dont' condemn that mentality. I just learned early on that it wasn't for me.

Writing is a part of who I am, just as daydreaming was as a child and teenager. I couldn't stop even if I wanted to. My writing friends have become my support, a source of understanding and a dose of reality in this crazy business. Does having this dream make me less of a mother? I don't think so. In fact, I hope it is teaching my children something of value.

I hope my daughter learns that she has more value than just having babies, especially if she has infertility problems like I did. I hope she suffers less guilt when her interests fall outside the home. I hope she realizes she is capable of doing anything she sets her mind to. I hope my son learns to support his future wife's endeavors just as his father does mine. And that he, too, learns to reach for the stars. Anything is possible with hard work and love.

And I hope that one day, when I sell my first book and my second and third, that my family will join me in a group hug, then jump up and down in shared excitement. Because that's the kind of family I have.


Monday, November 28, 2005

Some days are better than others

I promised myself I wouldn’t write about my amazing, adorable child in the blog, as not everyone wants to hear about her, but I couldn’t let this slide by. My Amazing Child spent the night at her grandmother’s, and Grammy called me with one of those “you won’t believe what she said” tales.

Apparently, AC told my mother and my mom’s roommate—apropos of something—“My mommy can save the day, and she doesn’t even need a cape.”

Dun dun ta da! SUPERMOM. Able to leap tall piles of dirty laundry in a single bound. Faster than grape juice headed toward a white carpet. Able to wear Spandex in public and look fabulous doing it. (I don’t need a cape, but I do want really cool boots.) SUPERMOM to the rescue!

I did the Snoopy dance around my kitchen—not because I’m Supermom, but because, at least for today, I’m not The World’s Worst Mother. Nope, not me. Not today. The Golden Coathanger Award will have to go to someone else. Tomorrow, when I send her to her room for back-talking, and she tells me she’s never speaking to me again, I’ll be back in the running, but right now, I’m Supermom.

I think all Moms have days when they feel they just don’t measure up—those days when you aim for Good-Enough Mom or Doing-The-Best-I-Can Mom. Most days, I’m just trying not to do permanent damage to my kid or turn her into a serial killer. But comments like today’s make me realize I’m not doing such a bad job after all.

To top it all off, I got a note from an editor that said my writing was “quite good.” Granted, she still didn’t want it, but the comment made me realize I’m not doing a terrible job there, either.

So let’s see… I don’t suck as either a parent or a writer.

Today is a good day.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Happy Birthday!

Please join the rest of the children in wishing our very own Problem Child a

Join the party! Grab a hat, a balloon and a piece of cake.

We love ya PC!

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Good ol' Rocky Top

Hope there aren't any Kentucky fans out there...

A little weekend entertainment

I enjoyed this post from Jenny Crusie. Maybe it'll make you laugh too.

The DH has reached the turkey saturation point -- we went out for Chinese tonight. It was a nice break from decorating. I can definitely say that it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas at my house.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Mommy, I want an XBOX!

I'm writing my blog early this week because for the holiday I am venturing into the world of my in-laws - an internet free zone. I've just finished reading PM's very touching friendship post, so I'm feeling a little sentimental, which is not normally my style. The holidays make me think warm, fuzzy thoughts about friends, family, togetherness. The reality is usually not as Norman Rockwell-like as the images in my memory, but I still approach this season with the hope and anticipation that this year will I will truly get to celebrate the spirit of the holidays.

In speaking of the spirit of the holidays, by the time you read this, it will be the infamous day after Thanksgiving. The stores will open at 5AM for caffeinated shoppers with a mission. Old women will push each other down to get a shot at a free gift for the first 100 people in the door. Parents will wait in line for hours for the opportunity to get their hands on an XBOX 360. There will be honking and cussing in mall parking lots across the nation as people fight for "good" parking spots and inch their way around to the stores they need to get into.

If you are one of these people, I bid you good luck. I, however, will be fast asleep under lots of blankets with a belly full of turkey and pie. Why is that? Because there is not an experience on this earth that can douse holiday spirit faster. The time of year that is supposed to be about brotherhood and love becomes a competitive battle where the civilized masses lose all common sense and manners in their quest for some doll. We all dread the disappointed face of the little girl who wants it and believes Santa will bring it to her, but I still cannot stand to face that mess. At least to face it and hold on to my holiday cheer.

To be honest, I've gotten 90% of my Christmas shopping done, thanks to a trip to Germany and That leaves me to enjoy this upcoming weekend and the weeks to come. Maybe I'll bake cookies. Maybe I'll decorate outside and freeze my fingers off. Maybe I'll sit around and watch the episodes of House and Nip/Tuck I have on my Tivo. Maybe I'll feel inspired to write and will actually have the time to crank out the pages I've been procrastinating about.

This holiday season, whether you venture out into the shopping jungle or not, I wish you all short lines, the perfect parking spot, some chocolately indulgence (and some non-chocolate indulgence for Linda H), and a dash of writing inspiration. May your muse stay in town (and perhaps help you giftwrap if nothing else) and the voices in your head whisper enlightening information to help you through the season.

Smarty Pants

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Food, Family and Football

It didn't take me long to figure out my topic for this blog. It might not be very original but given that today is Thanksgiving I think it's necessary. I'll save the wit for next week :-)

This day marks the beginning of the holiday season (I don't care what Wal-mart says! The day after Halloween does not!). And I think it's rather appropriate that before we start the holiday parties, christmas school programs, baking frenzy and shopping spree (and no, Kimberly and Danniele I do not want to hear that you're already finished!) we take time out to appreciate the things we have in our lives - the things we usually end up taking for granted during the head-long rush to the end of the year.

Certainly we all have problems in our lives but they're nothing compared to the blessings we share. We have families and friends who love and support us, healthy children, granchildren on the way, and a dream no one can take from us.

I'm sure the other children will join me in saying

What are you thankful for?

Wednesday, November 23, 2005


Nope. This isn't about the television show of the same name. In fact, I think I'm the only person in America who never watched that show.

This is about writing friends. They are friends who understand that you have voices in your head and don't think you should consult a psychiatrist. They are friends who understand that just because you work at home in your pajamas that doesn't mean you don't really work. And it doesn't mean that you're available at the drop of a hat to pick up their kid from school, take off on a shopping excursion to a nearby outlet mall or write their Christmas letter because "you're just so much better at it than I am."

They are friends you can call upon to rant and rave about the injustices of the writing world, the hero who won't cooperate and the plot holes you could drive a Peterbilt truck through.

Writing is lonely. It's you and the computer and, if you're lucky, those voices in your head.

My writing friends come in a variety of shapes and sizes and colors and socio-economic backgrounds and ethnicities. They live in all parts of the world. They also come in a variety of success levels -- from just-started-putting-words-on-paper to USA Today, Waldenbooks and New York Times bestsellers.

Yet regardless of their level of success, the sincerity of the friendship is the same. Maven Beverly Barton commented that someone said writers were crazy for training their replacements. BB scoffs at that idea. So does Po Bronson, co-founder of The Grotto, a writers' community in San Francisco. He says that writing is not a zero-sum game. Your sale doesn't automatically put a minus in someone else's scorebox. Your success doesn't mean that someone else won't succeed. There is room for everyone and the absolute best way to work toward success is to support each other.

I have my friends here at the Writing Playground. I suppose you could call them my playmates.

Uh... not that kind of playmates. More like this.

They're cheerleaders and butt-kickers. They're confidantes and advisors. They're problem-solvers and trouble-makers. I can tell them absolutely anything and know that "Vegas Rules" apply: what happens on the Playground, stays on the Playground.

We share our toys.

Girls, girls, girls. Not that kind of toys.

We share our joys.

We share our woes.

We share our toes.

We don't really share our toes, but it made the rhyme work and I had an appropriate photograph.

They're wonderful friends who hopefully understand that I love to put words on paper but am still trying to find my niche. How was that pronounced, teacher? ;-)

Noted architect Frank Lloyd Wright wrote, "The thing always happens that you really believe in; and the belief in a thing makes it happen."

A friend will believe in you, and that's a priceless gift.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. I'm thankful today, tomorrow and always for my wonderful writing friends. They make my world a better place.

Happy Thanksgiving from the Playground Monitor.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Those People In Your Head

Recently I finished my current full-length manuscript. I didn't expected to start work on my next one until January. My brain was supposed to turn to mush as soon as I typed The End and remain that way for at least a month.
To my surprise, new characters started whispering right away. Flashes of scenes appeared in my mind's eye. Ideas for conflict pushed their way to the surface. What is the deal here? This is supposed to be my vacation.
Well, tell that to the cast and crew. They were tired of waiting and ready to get started. And to be honest, I'm glad. It means I've learned to listen to my characters, to actually hear them.
Two years ago, hearing others talk about this phenomenon baffled me. I'd always thought myself in charge of the story. Though I'd daydreamed for as long as I could recall, my characters didn't do anything on their own. Or so I thought. I'm a plotter. I'm in control. That wouldn't change.
And it hasn't. I'm still a plotter, devising evil ways to torture my hero and heroine. I map out scenes on a chart and see where the holes are. But when I put pen to paper, I close my eyes and wait. Then I can watch what my characters are doing, hear what they're saying, try to feel what they are feeling.
I'm finally connecting with all those people in my head. That's a cool thing!

Monday, November 21, 2005

Things that make you go hmmm

In addition to being the Problem Child and a Diva-in-Training, I’m also a Snarkling. Snarklings are the devoted followers of Miss Snark, a “dog-totin’, gin-swillin’ literary agent” (her words, not mine) who blogs about the business side of publishing.

But Miss Snark has been under fire recently about her identity. Is she really an agent? Does she know what she’s talking about? Why on earth would she spend her time answering questions, giving advice, explaining how things work? What’s in it for her?

I adore Miss Snark, even if I don’t know her real identity. Is she an agent? I tend to think so, since her comments seem to jive with everything the Mavens and industry people have told me. Do I care? Not really. Not to get too existential on a Monday morning, but does anyone really know who anyone else really is? Do I take her words as Gospel? No, but anybody who takes any information on the Internet as Gospel needs to have her head examined.

So what’s in it for Miss Snark (other than her own personal cult following)? Good karma? A sincere desire to help the unpubbed masses? I don’t know. But then I don’t know why the Mavens give us the time of day either.

Instigator touched on this last week, but I’ll expand the idea a little here. This is the only business I know of where the established openly and willingly guide the newbies, giving their time, experience, and expertise without expecting something in return.

Think about it. Business-wise, what’s in it for the Mavens (or any of the other published authors who go out of their way to mentor and guide)? The truly pessimistic will say “Oh, they only want you to buy their books.” That could be true, but my book-buying habits aren’t going to keep them off the best-seller lists. I don’t think the royalty off my purchase will make the house payment for them either.

I teach (sometimes) in my real life—and although I’m paid for my work, that paycheck isn’t going to make my mortgage. But I do it because I love what I teach, I love sharing what I know, and I love seeing someone else connect with what I love. There’s a powerful attraction and need to share your personal passions with others.

I may be a nobody in this business, but I’d be an ignorant nobody if not for the generosity of spirit of the Somebodies. That same generosity is what keeps many of us going through the rejections, contest losses, and harsh critiques. In a business that seems to be as much about timing, luck, perseverance, and trends as much as it is about talent, having someone in your corner explaining the facts to you can be just as important as the dictionary on your desk.

Maybe someday, when I’m Somebody, I can do the same.

Problem Child

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Friday, November 18, 2005

The Contest Roller Coaster

So here I am, the last to blog this week. Like Kira, I've watched the witty and philosophical posts of my playmates and thought to myself...I'm last. How am I possibly going to be able to post something THAT good? I guess, as Ms. Sabrah always says, "I can only write about what I know."

So what I know this week is that I've been riding the roller coaster of contest drama. Several months back, I received a call that I had finaled in the Smoky Mountain Romance Writers' "Sweet, Spicy, Spooky & Suspense" contest in the Spooky category. The winners were to be announced November 15th. At least, that's what they planned.

I've been on pins and needles ALL week! At first, I thought, no one called = I lost. All day Tuesday, nothing but a telemarketer. Sigh. I lost. Soul crushing depression that only another writer can understand. They didn't even call to tell me how badly I did. Never mind the fact that I FINALED. Never mind the fact that I already have a full request from Silhouette for this manuscript. They didn't call. My manuscript is crap.

By Wednesday afternoon, I emailed the contest coordinator in desperation. They hadn't announced who HAD won yet. Sensible playmates insisted that was a good sign - that perhaps they didn't have the scores in yet from all the judges. Of course, my negative brain argued with them. They didn't call because my manuscript is crap. Then the email from the coordinator - they didn't have all the scores in from the judges. "I told you so," they taunted.

So here I am, early Friday morning. No one has called, no winners posted to the website, no emails coming out from the contest divas. I tell myself to be patient - but the kid in me is dancing around screaming "I mailed this in JUNE! Please don't make me wait another day to find out!" To find out what? If my manuscript is crap.

Never let it be said that Smarty Pants is the optimist of the group. And honestly, I know better. I'm Smarty Pants - well educated and practical. I try not to get wrapped up in the emotion of rejection. I know that I shouldn't rely on external validation for my work. I know that some contest and the judges that determine who wins are not the final say on whether or not this MS will ever sell. That's what I say on the outside. That's what an experienced Maven will tell me. I say it is a hard lesson learned and one I still need to work on.

And yes, I know...regardless of how this contest turns out, I did final. I still have an editor to mail it to if I ever finish the silly thing to my satisfaction. But still, on the inside, the kid is jumping up and down waiting to hear if she's "done good."

Smarty Pants

Thursday, November 17, 2005

It Takes More Than Inches

When the other children started posting their blogs I went through a huge case of intelligence envy. They've all done such a fantastic job. How was I supposed to measure up? I've never blogged before. Heck, I can barely get through my hectic day with my temper and brain power firmly intact let alone sound intelligent before ten AM. Morning person I am not!

But that's when I started to think. Measuring up isn't just a problem for bloggers. I don't think there's another business - especially a woman dominated business - where so many participants are willing to share their time, experience, and education with the next person - all while secretly wishing they could emulate some specific aspect of that person's craft. I wonder if it's just our profession or if more suffer from this phenomenon and I'm just not aware of it.

I don't know how many times I've read a published book and thought, "There's no way I'm going to succeed. I can never write as well as (fill in the blank)."

But down that path lies madness.

I never can measure up. Not to those published, unpublished, or on the brink. Those writers are not me. They don't have my own unique experiences, sense of humor, outlook on life (or my damn Yankee upbringing).

In the end, I have to be me. And I have to be true to my writing and the story I want to tell. And if that means I'll never have Kimberly's comedic timing, Danniele's flare for the dramatic, Alexandra's dry wit, or Marilyn's excellent characterization, that's ok. I can appreciate it in their work. Just like I hope they appreciate the strengths in mine. Because I have them. Sometimes it's just hard to remember what they are ;-)


Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Serendipity and other "S" words

I thought I was being smart and had my first blog entry prepared days in advance. I don’t like waiting til the last minute even though sometimes I work best under pressure. But I figured I’d better go ahead and get it ready ahead of time. Then I could breathe easy and just sit back to enjoy the website launch.

But nooooooooooo. Twenty-three minutes after I sent out the announcement email to all my friends, family and assorted email loops, I received a reply that knocked me on my butt.

Oh Marilyn, I don't know if I should hug and kiss you, spank you, or worship you. I've been out of touch with writing for since the first of the year. Not really sure the exact reason, part depression, part chaos with life taking over, and part just plain feeling like it's time to give up. I'm not sure what made me look at this website you mentioned, but I'm sure glad I did. You made me WANT to write again. And that's something I didn't think was ever going to come back to me. Now I just have to figure out where to start again. Do I want to go back to what I've already written or go with something new. I don't know where I'll go from here, but I thank you with all my heart for sending this email, at this time. I REALLY NEEDED IT!

I really was ready to quit and now I don't want believe me, I owe you a great deal. Leave it to you to help me out. So if you have any suggestions, please open up....I'm in the fragile state right now; where I could potentially still give up but really don't want to.

Thanks for sticking by me through this mess, even if you didn't know it was going's not like I advertised it, but it's been here all along, like a demon I'm really wanting to chase away.


This, my friends, is a serendipity. The dictionary defines it as “the phenomenon of finding valuable things not sought for.” I’ll admit that with the website I was looking for a few pats on the back, a couple of “woo-hoo’s” and some validation for my decision to write. I never expected, however, to be thanked for chasing demons and resurrecting a dying dream. It’s very humbling to say the least and I certainly hope I can live up to the expectation.

The website itself was an exercise in synergy, which is defined as “the effect of two or more agents working together to produce an effect that is greater than the sum of the parts.” In other words, the five of us joining forces are far more powerful than each of us alone. There’s something very comforting in that thought. It’s reassuring to know that I have such talented, dependable and caring friends.

Don’t think, though, that we ever sank into groupthink mode. We had lively discussions about website content, colors, what photos to use, how to handle different elements. But we understood the word “compromise” and worked things out to the satisfaction of all.

I like odd words and the last one today is syzygy. It’s defined as the alignment of three celestial bodies. The Writing Playground is made up of celestial bodies in a funky sort of way. We’re all heavenly. We have bodies.

Okay… so that’s a stretch. But my point is that we are aligned in a common effort. And that makes it so much more fun. It’s what makes the synergy work. And that’s just one more bit of serendipity in my life. Don't you just love those little unexpected things?

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

What makes a real writer?

Our resident Problem Child is right. Our website is one of the most exciting firsts in my writing career so far. Most people focus on the first call-the one from an editor wanting to buy your book. But there are many, much smaller, firsts along the way.

The first time I typed THE END. Isn't that an awesome feeling? The first time I gathered enough courage to show someone else my work and submitted it for publication. The first time I saw my words in print, even though I wasn't being paid. The first paycheck, no matter that it was really small. Now, the first website.

All of these have combined to make me feel like a "real writer", whether or not I ever get the editor's call. So many of us who are a part of RWA become focused on publishing with an RWA-recognized publisher. Those standards are there for good reasons. Just remember that you don't become an author when you get that call. You already are one.

Practice saying it out loud. :) Then say it to those closest to you. I've finally gotten to the point where I can say it when someone asks what I "do". That's real progress, let me tell ya.

Count all the firsts along the way, not just the big ones, because they all combine to make you the writer you are.

Angel (Yes, I'm the emotional, serious one. Can you tell?)

Monday, November 14, 2005

A First Time for Everything

Wow. The first ever blog post on our first official day of existence. No pressure right?

Of course, only about ten people in the universe know we’re even out here in cyberspace, so the pressure isn’t too intense. (Hi Mavens! Hi Mom! Hi other Playfriends! Did I miss anyone?)

I can’t believe we made it this far, this fast. Almost exactly one month from conception to publication (Oh, if only I could apply that formula to one of my books…). That timeline alone speaks volumes about the quality of the company I keep. I knew we could do it, but to actually have our website out there for the world to see is quite a rush. I think I’m actually giddy. Lord, here comes that urge to squeal again…

Do you think that one day, when we’re all big-name authors (yes, I have high hopes for us), newbie writers will flock to our site to learn how it’s done and glean pearls of wisdom from our blog posts? A girl can dream, right?

Hey, if Nicole Ritchie can get a novel published –in HARDCOVER, no less—surely we can too.