Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Wake-Up Call

To get credit for the course I’ve been taking all semester, I have to make a speech about something I’m passionate about. We were specifically asked not to talk about our families, so all my maternal pride has to be squelched. Sorry, kids.

But the choice of subject matter was easy. I’ve been consumed---no, obsessed---with writing. The path hasn’t always been strewn with rose petals, and sometimes I’ve stepped in unpleasant fecal matter. But I thought I’d share with you what I’m going to read in class this week. I hope I’m sufficiently passionate and pass.

Several years ago I got up in the middle of the night. I’d had an argument with my husband and had gone upstairs to sleep and found sleep not forthcoming. I’ve been married forever so fighting is nothing new. I’ve always said I’d kill him before I’d divorce him. However, I’m pretty much a pacifist, so he’s probably safe. So far.

I sat down in the dark and decided to write a romance novel. Now there was a way to get a man to do and be exactly what I wanted. I hadn’t read any romance novels in years, but why would a little thing like that stop me? The fact that I can’t type---I dropped out of an adult typing class one summer so I could go make out with my college boyfriend---see, even back then I was an impractical romantic---was no deterrent either. I didn’t even know there was a word count in the writing program, so it was an enormous surprise to discover after a few weeks that the “book” I had written was only around 25,000 words, only a fourth of what a normal-length book is supposed to be. I regret to inform you that my first effort featured an amnesiac bluestocking who winds up in a brothel. Enough said.

By this time I’d made up with my husband and I told him about the crazy couple I created. He has supported me 1000 percent from the beginning, hoping that somehow I’ll be able to support us in our old age if I ever get published. I had to break it to him authors only get about 25 cents per book, so genteel poverty is still on the horizon.

I did online research about publishing, and wrote a bunch more novellas. Which don’t sell, unless you’re an established author. So I embarked on two real, full-length books, written simultaneously so that sometimes I couldn’t remember which names went where. I also started buying romances, too. I figure I’ll never get a return on my “research” reading investment unless I become the geriatric Nora Roberts.

But I found a world where everyone has a happily ever after. Certainly not like real life. And I read a ton of crap which convinced me if these people can get published, surely I can.

And then my computer crashed. I was wild. So I started writing something in longhand which has recently been finished, 92,000+ words of a romance satire. It’s typed up now. And the two works in progress that were so rudely interrupted by a virus are done. In more ways than one, I’m afraid.

I’m not a plotter. When I write I am a pantser---writing by the seat of my pants--- which means there is no outline or even much of an idea as to what’s going to happen, which can be pretty scary. I’ve tried to take notes, but then I can’t read them or remember what the hell I meant by them. When I go back to read my work, I have no recollection of writing some of it. It’s like some body snatcher invaded and took over. I’ll blame this creature if my books never get published. When the snatcher is working, my fingers fly and I have an actual sense of euphoria. I make myself laugh. I’ve never taken drugs but I imagine there’s nothing better than feeling like an accomplished writer---except, of course, for living a real-life love scene.

Right now, I’m querying, which is the worst. It’s so much easier to write a 400 page book than to sum it all up in a one page letter and not look like a crazed nitwit. I need to get an agent; so far I’ve been gently rejected. My critique group seems to like what I’ve written though, my weekly blog is fun (I just got a Thinking Blogger Award---thanks, Jacqueline Barbour!) I did well in the Avon contest in the fall, so somebody thinks I can write. There are positive comments from established authors that I read when I wonder if I’m wasting my time.

I’m giving myself a few more years. Sometimes I’m sorry my husband and I ever had that fight (of course I can’t even remember what it was about) which put me in front of a blank computer screen with a bunch of squirrels tap-dancing in my head. But on the whole it’s been a harmless diversion, garnered me some lovely Internet friends, and saved me from ever watching reality TV. Give me unreality. Give me romance.

What made you “wake up and write?”

Now that I’m a “Thinking Blogger,” I’m supposed to link to blogs I’ve loved. Being technologically challenged, I’m going to recommend all six Romance Vagabonds and call it good. You can check Jacqueline Barbour’s April 23rd blog (at left) for the “rules.”

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Name That Plume

A couple of weeks ago, I was home sick from work. I won’t say I was avoiding my WIP, but in fact I did a lot of extraneous computer activities, one of which was to google my name. Is google a verb? I think so. Anyway, I did find my actual self quite a few times, and also some surprises.

I am not the Maggie Robinson who has completed an alarming number of Scientology courses. Sorry, Tom.

I’m not the character in a British TV comedy show about a dysfunctional family called “The Robinsons.” I did used to have the Mary Engelbreit poster that advises “Let’s put the fun back in dysfunctional,” but I digress.

I’m not the Maggie Robinson who also lives in Maine and plays fiddle with the Westcutogo Ramblers.

I’m definitely not the Maggie Robinson who holds a Ph.D. and has written a zillion health and diet books, two of which are 1000 Powerful Stategies to Sharpen Your Mind and Good Fat vs. Bad Fat. I need to buy both of them.

My husband John also has a common name. The football coach. The bishop. The drummer. The Pulitzer Prize winner. The serial killer. And the terrorist, which always results in the suspicious looks, full pat-down and luggage search anytime we fly anywhere.

If I’m published, I’d like to keep my name. I don’t think anybody’s going to mix me up with the carb-counting Maggie. I’d be shelved near Nora Roberts too.

How about you? Ever googled yourself? This post is a friendly reminder that EVERYTHING you write on the Internet can come back and nip you in the posterior. Renamed yourself? What did you pick and why? What would you name ME in case I need a nom de plume? All suggestions welcome.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Conked Out in the Conch Republic

We had planned to go to Key West this week, but Mother Nature and the Portland Jetport did not cooperate. So I'm not conked out in the warm sunshine, but zonked out in the slush, wind and freezing rain of Maine. We tried to rebook. Who would think you'd get charged an extra $680 for trying to fly to Miami instead of FARTHER to Key West? Airline logic. But at some point we'll be using those tickets. In the meantime, I'll reminisce.

I love the Keys, did even before I had family living in the area. I’m not sure why. My husband and I are fairly low-key (hah!) people, so we’re not apt to march masked and feathered for Fantasy Fest, don leather and ride motorcycles, or do the Duval Crawl (so many bars, so little time)… and I’m certainly not going to flash my ta-tas in a T-shirt shop to get a discount. But there’s something about going over the Seven Mile Bridge, surrounded by endless turquoise water, which is magical. I’ve even chosen the Keys as the setting of a future book, so I’ll be doing “research” on the ground, not online.

Some years ago we made arrangements on the Internet for a short trip to Florida to surprise our son. We called him on our cellphone, then knocked on the door. It was funny to hear him say, “Hang on a minute, someone’s outside.” The look on his face when he saw us standing in his front yard was priceless.

But the surprise turned out to be on us. My husband had inadvertently booked us into a gay hotel with a clothing optional---very optional---pool. I can safely say I have never seen so many dangly bits in one place in all my life. John spent the vacation in the hotel room watching TV and I kept my eyes closed and my bathing suit on trying to get a tan.

What’s your favorite destination? Where would you like to go that you haven’t been to yet? How did you decide on the location for your books? Anybody have any funny travel stories? Talk amongst yourselves.
Newsflash! We're flying from Manchester, New Hampshire to Fort Lauderdale Wednesday morning, and actually getting a refund of $55. I still can't comprehend airline logic but I'm not arguing. I'll be driving over the Seven Mile Bridge soon. Yay!

Sunday, April 8, 2007


It’s beginning to feel a lot like…prom season. I bought three prom magazines for the library, and just about every girl has thumbed through them at least once trying to plan the perfect night. I remember when my three girls were so afflicted, only they were very thoughtful. As daughters of a true bargain hunter, they took pride in finding the cheapest prom dresses and accessories on the east coast. They knew that the outfit, just like a wedding dress, would probably only be worn once. The youngest found a gorgeous brand new Hawaiian-print cheongsam for ten bucks in a resale shop! Anticipation was usually more fun than the actual prom itself anyway. I’ve found sometimes the more excited you get about something, the less fun you have.

New Year’s Eve used to be the worst night ever before I met my husband. Inevitably I’d get all gorgeous only to have a fight with my date. But the prep time with the teasing, hairspray, high heels and false eyelashes was always fun.

Several years ago, we took a trip to England. I’d done my research beforehand, and I was determined to see an estate called Athelhampton in Dorset. I mean, I was salivating. The day we arrived at the gates, the property was closed to the public because they were hosting a charity event. I was crushed. I mumbled to myself my expectations were probably too high anyway---just like prom and New Year’s Eve, I was bound to be disappointed.

But the next day, my husband and oldest daughter insisted we try again. Oh my. For once my ideals and reality collided into perfect harmony. The house itself was a wonderful treasure trove, but the elaborate gardens were what really caught my fancy. I pictured my heroes and heroines strolling the avenues, inhaling the scent of roses, listening to the rushing river. The Great Court with its awesome yew pyramids truly was great. I’m sure there are more historic or important houses and gardens in England, but Athelhampton will always be special to me because it was even better than I imagined.

What have you looked forward to that didn’t turn out quite the way you expected? What surpassed your wildest dreams?

Any prom night horror stories? I know Santa has one in her book! My spaghetti strap broke. Oh, the horror.

How do you feel about the AAR’s “most disappointing book” category? What new releases are you craving? I’d risk my ladylike reputation to get my hands on Loretta Chase’s latest Not Quite A Lady.

April 8-14 is National Garden Week. We still have snow here, but that’s another story. Here’s a shout-out to my middle daughter, who is a professional gardener extraordinaire. The estate gardens she’s designed have been on the Islesboro Garden Tour, and she planted a wonderful perennial garden for me one Mother’s Day, a gift that kept on giving until we moved. Sigh.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Attitude Adjustment

For the past several months I have been taking a class called “What One Person Can Do” so I can be re-certified. It’s free, worth three credits and taught by two guidance counselors. As far as I can tell, it’s a mish-mash of Deepak Chopra, new-age claptrap and plain, old-fashioned Power of Positive Thinking.

I do believe each of us has the power to change lives for the better. I love the saying, “Touch the future, teach a child.” I practice random acts of kindness randomly and I pay it forward when I have the cash. What goes around comes around, etc. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

But we’ve had some crazy assignments so far. Here are some examples:

Look at yourself (with no makeup) in the mirror for one minute a day and write down what you see and think. Very visible pores. Pimples at my age! My face is friendly when I smile, a little sad in repose, my brown eyes not as big as they used to be. I see my father, too. The fat seems to be keeping the wrinkles at bay, but possibly that’s because I’m not wearing my glasses. I can live with this face, but I’m coloring my hair again.

Pick a chore you don’t like and do it with e.e.l.i.m. That’s energy, enthusiasm, like it matters. My chore choice? Getting the dishes back on the shelves. I don’t mind washing them, but I never seem to get them out of the dishdrainer. I told my husband that was what I was going to do for class, and he said, “I never knew you hated to do that. I’ll put them away from now on.” Bonus!

Love your toad. Select a habit that your significant other has that drives you crazy. Then make it okay for a week. There are several, but we must discuss them in class, so I did something G-rated. We’re talking crumbs in the kitchen. Crumbs everywhere on the counter and under my bare feet. My husband doesn’t seem to notice them. He’s not wearing his glasses either when he fixes that midnight snack. I’m just going to clean up and shut up. He has put the dishes away, after all.

Monitor your energy level during the day. I found I’m not much good until I have my tea, toast and drugs. Then I fool around on the computer in my jammies, reluctant to leave home. I’m up all through work, though--- busy, multi-tasking, kidding around with kids. Then it’s supper and pajama time again. Fortunately my husband is just as tired as I am and doesn’t expect me to be a blonde-again bombshell. We’re giving our best to the public but not to each other. That’s something to think about.

How does this all relate to writing? I think it all comes down to accepting yourself for who you are, big pores and all, recognizing your strengths and weaknesses, letting go and doing the best you can. You really only have control over yourself. Success is a journey, not a destination. So I’m going to enjoy life in the slow lane and keep on truckin’.

What time of the day are you most productive? What do you do to motivate yourself?

What does your toad do that drives you crazy?

Have you ever taken a class you thought you were going to hate but it surprised you?