Archive for category Humor

Nixing Covers, Shedding Words, Font Confusion . . . as Ripple spreads . . .

Hey there (peeking up from my [can’t say the brand because it annoys some readers] keyboard, coffee mug in hand, looking a little wild-eyed. It’s been a crazy-busy month, and I’ve loved almost every minute of it, with that confusing sort of loathing, glowing love-fear-hate that all new business owners feel at the outset of their respective professional ventures.

Hmmm, that sounds both pompous and intimidating, but it’s also accurate. To do it right, to turn out a well-heeled, smooth final product, a self-published writer must take the reigns, learn the ins and outs of all aspects of publishing, or as I keep muttering under my breath in times of stress, “We’re going ALL-IN, baby!!!”

I keep trying to write an organized summary of what I’ve been doing, but that’s crazy, because it’s been a whirlwind, a cyclonic-blending of associated pieces of the crashing-wave-puzzle that is self-publishing. So here are a few pieces of it . . .

I have a friend who is a graphic designer and many other things extraordinary, and we agreed that the cover should look Salvador Dali-esque. Many private messages and phone calls later, and after many purchases of stock photo licenses, we ended up with the following, and we declared it beautiful. So did many-fold Facebook friends and followers. But then I got a message from a dear friend, and with some trepidation, this writer-blogger friend let me know that the traditional publishing house that put out Wicked used the same model with a different background.412645_439962252736043_1898737517_o

“What?” chuckled my graphic designer, and so did I. “You mean a super-rich publishing house bought the exact same photo I did? No wonder traditional publishing houses are dying!”

Even though we weren’t violating any intellectual property laws, we agreed, without a split second of doubt, to nix the cover. The new one will be based on an actual friend rather than a stock photo. We’re not taking any chances this time. And it should be ready in the next day or so.

I’ve spent hours and hours talking, mostly on my main social media platform, Facebook, to friends and acquaintances. I devised as part of my marketing plan a legion of advance reviewers who will read mailed or e-mailed copies of a not-yet final version of Ripple. After helping me print pre-paid postage mailing labels from Stamps.com on pieces of white paper and taping them to bubble envelopes, my husband, chuckling, and a little tired of packing books, wondered how big “El’s Army” was going to get.

I like the term he coined. I love the grassroots feel of how I’m marketing this first novel of mine. So far, the feedback has been wonderful, and I’m hoping and praying this translates to buzz and increased sales. Even if it doesn’t . . . I’m giving it my all and enjoying every minute of it.

What I haven’t enjoyed so much, wait, okay, what I deplored and resorted to hair pulling, teeth-gnashing and much cussing over because of has been CreateSpace. Great company—don’t get me wrong. But for awhile there, I spoke of it between gritted teeth. I would upload a file (versions 7.1 through 8.3 and on and on) and then would wait for their file review process. Again and again, it came back with margin and font issues. I went through at least twenty uploads before I finally just ordered a hard copy. Once it arrived, I got out a ruler, measured the margins, and then applied the measurements to my latest working copy of my manuscript. And I chose a number of different fonts, from Cambria to Garamond to Calibri . . . and each font change messed up my italicized passages until I figured out how to use a template for italics.

Right. It’s boring to write about and your eyes are probably blurring up . . . unless you’re also thinking about self-publishing, and if so, please feel free to ask me what the hell I’m talking about. The way I see it is that if my meanderings into the sticky-icky world of CreateSpace can save you some trouble, then please let me help you!

So that’s about the size of it. I could write another 700 words about El’s Army and CreatePurgatoria, but my graphic designer is on the other line and there’s a note from Amazon’s Online Store that I must attend to . . . something about how pre-orders can begin in a couple of days, in advance of the actual 1/21 release of Ripple. And that’s worth a Snoopy Happy Dance or two or three.

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Adventures in Shepherdstown: A Writer’s Life

I grab my jacket and my wallet and my cell phone and my room keycard and my Sportsband and I head out of the Clarion Hotel, down a hill or two, and walk for about a mile until I spot an old white building which is almost blocking traffic. It’s the old library here in Shepherdstown, West Virginia and as crazy as it sounds, the damn building was not so much built around the street as the street was built around it.

I peer into a window of an old red brick building and try to make sure that Hypnocoffee is open and it is, so I open one door, step into a vestibule, and open another door, which takes me into the best coffee shop I’ve ever visited. Maybe that doesn’t sound right; after all, this is a small town and a small shop that lacks name brand recognition, but it’s the truth and I swear it.

I’m on a working vacation with my husband. He’s working, that is. I’m supposed to be working too, but I’m a writer and I spend most of my time walking around and taking the sights in and trying to find stuff to write about. Travis is busy from eight to five. Anyway, this leaves me lots of time to search for stuff to write about and to me, that’s another way of saying that I’m going on an adventure.

Before we left, that fine man of mine spent hours researching coffeehouses in Shepherdstown. “Cutie, I just want to make sure you’re really comfortable,” he explained. He’s either really solicitous or I’m a pain in the ass when I travel, or it’s a combination of both. The truth is, he researches coffee as if he were the coffee version of an oenophile and I’m downright picky about what beans I drink.

There is a really popular coffee house here, called Lost Dog Café. Fortunately Travis warned me that there baristas were rude; their coffee, bland, so I didn’t take it personally when the young woman at the cash register tossed an empty cup at me when I ordered a large brew. She barely made eye contact, and I felt out of sorts and shy as I paused and looked around. Lost Dog is a cool place. It’s all funky, with lots of color, a kaleidoscopic array of chalk scrawled all over chalkboards, t-shirts and mugs for sale, and a directive to be artsy-cool or drink coffee somewhere else. That made me laugh because I’m making my living as a writer. I write real stuff. But looking at me, in my 41-year old mother of three very imperfect body, baggy jeans, running t-shirt and Brooks running shoes, well, no one would ever know that I’m a creative type. And that’s all right with me.

After all, it’s what you do, what you create, not how you look when you create it, that really matters.

And that brings me back to Hypnocoffee. They are first, and above all else, a coffee roastery. You won’t find any t-shirts in here, or fancy mugs, or poseur political slogans. And that’s okay with me. Because what you will find, or what I’ve found, is the best cuppa Joe I’ve ever quaffed.

“Woooo, Cutie. Check this out. They employ the pour-over approach.”

I glanced at my husband, barely paying attention. “Uh-huh.”

He shifted his iPad in his hand so that I can see it. “Look. Check it out.”

I nodded, and he showed me what looked like a giant hourglass, with a white paper filter filled with fresh-ground coffee and almost boiling water on top.

“They say this makes the best coffee, ever. It’s the latest thing, and it’s taking the coffee house by storm.”

“Mmm, nice,” I murmured, my eyes searching for the pages of my book.

“So you’re going to like, no, love this place.”

And you know what? From the moment the coffee hit the roof of my mouth yesterday, I loved the dark brew and the place that brewed it.

The barista is a young guy, and yeah, I’ve reached the age where all creatures under thirty are young guys. Getting old can be a bitch, you know? This young guy wears a bow tie and his eyes twinkle when he talks, especially about coffee. “Yeah, you’re going to love the pour-over,” he predicts, with a smile that starts near his eyes. “It blows the doors off French Press coffee. And I know French Press coffee,” he adds, in response to my own benchmark for comparing coffee brewing methods. “I used to work at a place where we made coffee out of these industrial size French Presses.”

I take a sip and smile, again feeling shy. It’s hard for me to know what to say to people, so I usually stop trying to figure it all out and just tell the truth. “It’s awesome. Great coffee.” I tip my 12-ounce white cup at him and smile, crossing the small shop in about seven steps before I reach the inner door.

That was yesterday. It’s Tuesday, and I’m back again. It’s my kind of place. As Hemingway would say, it’s a clean, well-lit place, and I’m comfortable here. I’ve met Tony, the owner, and he’s a runner and a father and a busy man who, like me, is doing what he loves, loving what he’s doing, and doing it pretty damn well.
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Gah! I’m an Adult Now: Self-Publishing Fears and Related Woes

I’m thinking too much, too fast, too much, too fast.  Damnit.  What if it’s a really really bad idea to self-publish Ripple?  Should I have kissed many more asses?  Why didn’t I kiss more asses?  Who do I ask to do my advance reviews?  Is it any good?  I know it’s good.  But there are millions of would-be writers out there.  Am I just like the rest of them?  Am I really a loser?  A wanna-be, would be, could be but can never will never be?

Should I go back and try to be nice to the people I’ve been ignoring?  What about all of the pages that I’ve not been talking to because I’m talking to other pages and writers?  Should I be trying harder?  Should I be on my knees groveling, or at least gladhanding?  I have stopped interacting with so many pages and blogs and it’s all a kaleidoscopic mishmash of should-dos and can’t and won’ts and I have no fucking clue how to sort it all out.  Why do I have to be the one to handle this?

The real question is why do I need to be the adult here?  I don’t feel like an adult.  I don’t feel like I’m in control.  Not I.  Or not me, depending on how the rest of the sentence goes . . . no.  Not I.  Funny.  I never really studied grammar that much or even wanted to learn it.  I was above the rules but the real truth is that I always sensed, nay feared, that the rules were above me.

There.  That’s the truth.  Icky ugly truth.  I play this whole act, this “Your rules not mine” rebel act long and hard but you know what I’m hiding?  This deep fear that if I play by the same rules, throw the football on the same exact field with the precise dimensions and markings that all other writers obey, everyone will find out (who is everyone) that my writing just isn’t good enough.

Yep.nomagicpotions

That’s my icky ugly inner fear.  It’s fucking debilitating.  Should I stop cussing?  Just an aside, but is it?  Last night I made this poster, and I consciously went with the word “ass” as in “work your ass off,” because it was authentic.  But I also know that a lot of my inspirational friends won’t share anything that has a cuss word in it, and while 10,820 fans is plenty, every new fan equals a potential reader.  Then again, my freakin’ name has a curse word in it, so does that make me ineligible for being shared by the goody two-shoes of pages?

Not that there’s anything wrong with goody-goodies.  Oh my gosh.  Part of me wants to be a good girl and part of me wants to be a badass and those two sides of me will forever lay siege to one another!  Right?

And should I put one space or two after a period?  Am I the only old-school holdover who still goes with two spaces?  I like two spaces, not one, but I don’t wanna stand out, stick out, or run alone.

Or do I?

As far as the cussing thing, my characters cuss, and so do I but I’m also a born-again Christian and I need those fans—the moral majority (giggle) too.  I need as many fans and readers as I can get because hell, I’m trying to sell books, right?  But what’s the point of selling anything if I have to change who I am to make a sale?  How boring, stupid, phony, cruddy, pointless . . . is it to change who you are just to make a few extra bucks?

Speaking of a few bucks, what the hell am I doing self-publishing Ripple?  Seriously, what the hell am I doing?  Did I decide to ignore the traditional publishing houses for a reason other than I’ve been telling everyone?  Was it simply because I was scared Ripple wasn’t good enough?  Did I think that the rejection of everything that I am and want to be would be so awfully soul-crushing that I couldn’t chance it?  God help me if I have to face the exact same pain that every other writer faces.

Yep.  Maybe it always comes back to God.  And needing His help.  I’m scared, and I’m about to jump off a big limb that’s hanging over a muddy bank and into these swirling waters, and as much as I love crazy adventures and especially swirling waters, I’m so afraid that I’ll smash into unseen rocks and end up all bloodied and concussed and broken-hearted.

This is one of those times I wish I could call my mom.  But I can’t and I won’t but I will . . .

jump anyway.

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What Makes a Good Mom?

My daughter with light sabre.

When I opened my daughter’s door to tuck her in for bed, I caught a glimpse of a 9-year old flashing a toy light sabre at incoming storm troopers. Naturally I grabbed the other light sabre and joined her in her valiant fight. We were victorious.

I’ve written as of late about some serious topics, including my daughter’s bullying at school. We received news from the school that leaves me feeling cautiously optimistic, and I wanted to pass that optimism along to you, dear readers.

But this isn’t a post about that. It’s about my kids and me, or my daughter and me. And it’s about the kind of parent I try to be. I don’t try for “best in class” because it’s not about that. Good parenting is not about competing with other mothers or about trying to fulfill anyone else’s notion of what constitutes a good mother.

Speaking of “notions of what constitutes a good mother,” I don’t bake lemon bars, knit fancy scarves, volunteer at school, or in any way fulfill the traditional 1950’s-era definition of what makes a mother. Nothing against moms who do, but I don’t wear dainty skirts, keep a particularly neat house or even get the bills paid on time.  Christmas decorations may or may not come down after the first of January, beds may or may not be made up each day (and never with those super-neat “hospital corners”) and we may or may not arrive at soccer practice on time.

But.

Children receive hugs, often and pretty much on demand. Homework is always checked, and reading lists are assigned. Questions, even hard, icky ones, like “what does incest mean, Mom?” get answered. Balls are thrown, sometimes over the roof and into the backyard and back again.  God is spoken of every day, with or without the exact scripture referenced, but always with reverence and love.  And miles are walked, run and swam together, side by side, hand in hand, with a finish line that stretches ever onward.

At approximately 9:30 a.m. tomorrow, Thanksgiving morning, my daughter and I will reach an actual finish line.  We’re running a 10K Turkey Trot race together. It will be her first of no doubt many 10K races, and the fourth or fifth race we will have run together. She and I will feel the glow of achievement and a small glimpse of glory. We’ll eat our bananas and don our medals and grin at one another, speaking of the next race, the next finish line, beckoning from some distant horizon.  And together we will head, over one finish line, ever onward, always moving forward, with gratitude for this and every second, minute and finish line we pass.

Dear Readers . . . I don’t usually ask questions at the end of my posts, but I’m wondering–what do you do well as a mother or father?

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4 Soccer Games, 17 Library Books, 6 Donuts, 4 Slurpees . . .

Three kids, four soccer games, seventeen library books, six donuts, four Slurpees . . . such is the first equation that best describes the math of our Autumn Saturday.

Between soccer games, we all ended up in the kitchen.  With a bottle of water in one hand, I leaned against the countertop, watching as my husband ate a “Muffeletta” sandwich we’d bought yesterday from The Italian Store in Arlington, Virginia.

Our middle child, Travis James Farris, Jr., or “Jim,” sat facing my husband.  “Dad, when I write ‘Junior’ after my name, it makes me proud to have your name.”  Jim’s voice, still high pitched, echoed against the red walls in our kitchen, and I smiled.

Before I could say anything, my husband set his Muffeletta down and wiped his hands on his paper towel.  “Well, son, I’m very proud to share my name with such a great kid. I don’t think I’ve told you today just how awesome you are.”

I glanced at Travis, who was once again grasping his “manwich,” and nodded at the clock.  He sighed; I sighed; and we started to check shin pads, cleats, water bottles and soccer balls.  Fifteen arguments, three Facebook status updates, four missed calls and an entire box of obliterated Munchkin donuts later, I sat in my husband’s big, striped fabric chair in the kitchen, typing up some research notes about angels on my silver Macbook Pro.  My youngest child whizzed around me, and we played our “I love you game.”

I started.  “I love you more than all the leaves in the backyard.”

Ben’e eyes lit up as I spoke.  Before I finished, he danced in front of me.  “I love you more than all the trees in America.”

“Sun, moon, stars.”

He grinned, all dimples showing, and yelled, “Mom I love you more than anything, even God.”

I smiled back at him, and put a hand on his shoulder.  “Not more than God.  You must love Him most.”  I paused mid-negotiation long enough to mix a smile into my sober response.  “How about except God?”

“Oh, okay, except God.”  He hopped around again.  “And I won’t let anyone hurt you.”  My six-year old, 48-pound boy grinned at me while he sipped his Slurpee. “And if anyone tries to hurt you, I will protect you.  If someone comes at you with a knife, I will hit them, or cut their head off!”

“Um . . .”

Ben jumped up and added, “Look at the picture I drew for you, Mom!  It has pink hearts on it, and me, and you.”

I glanced over at the drawing of two blue-colored people holding hands on a scrap of wrinkled white paper.  Admittedly, I was a little relieved to see that there were no weapons mixed in with the pink hearts that circled the blue-colored sketch of mother and son.  I knew, just as my husband knew–just as my entire family knows–what it means to feel loved, and my soul rang out with laughter and with light.

 

 

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Sleepless in Virginia

I can’t sleep tonight.  My husband, a Den Leader for my son’s Cub Scout Troop, is out at Burke Lake on a campout with our two sons.  My daughter is asleep and I am approximately 393,234 sheep from sleep.  Here are a list of things keeping me from sleeping tonight:

1. Is the new air mattress comfortable?

2. Are the boys too cold?

3. Did Travis take his meds?  Did I?

4. Will Ben’s scar go away soon?  Damn.  We forgot to put on the scar-reducing lotion.  I need to buy some Vitamin E from Freshfields.

5. Did I really shut the garage door? Would it be neurotic to check it for the third time?  If I went and checked it, I could get the clothes out of the dryer but I can’t find the brown laundry basket and the white one is full of clean laundry.

Ben’s scar

6. Will my headache ever go away?  I think I gave myself a mild concussion when I knocked the contents of the top shelf of Ben’s bookcase on my head.  I cradled my head in my hands, sunk to the floor, and called for a medic, or the chief medical officer of our household.  That’s the Cup Scout leader of course.  I’m so grateful it was only a passing head wound.  I lay there on the floor thinking about all the doctors and nurses who have taken care of me in the past.  They comforted me each time and promised me I’d be okay, and I was.  I could tell from their faces that they’d seen far worse injuries than mine.

7. Is lip balm addictive? What if it is found to cause cancer, like saccharine?  Oh crap.  How many bottles of diet coke have I had over the years? How about regular soda?  Coke is usually too sweet, but I love Slurpees, especially with Coke mixed with Cherry and that blue stuff. How many calories does a regular sized Slurpee have?  And why do they have to make them with Aspartame in the lemon-lime flavor?

8. What if the anti-diarrheal tablets are expired and I get diarrhea? That makes me giggle.

9. It’s so quiet I can hear my heartbeat.  My resting heart rate should be 60 BPM or lower but I’m not resting.  I should check it right now but if it’s above 60 BPM, I’ll stay up all night wondering if I’m going to get a panic attack.  If I get a panic attack, I’ll have to call Travis on his cell phone and what if his cell phone is out of batteries?  Will that mean he doesn’t love me enough to keep batteries operational?  Crap.  Did he replace the batteries in the black flashlight?

10. Did the boys brush their teeth?

11. It’s too quiet.  Why are the frogs gone?  I miss the frogs and they won’t be back until spring.  In spring, the pollen returns and Maddie is allergic to pollen.  Remember when she had to take Xopenex 3-4 times a day for months at a time?  Or the time she had to stay on the Nebulizer for the entire winter after I took the kids out in the rain in December and all three of them got pneumonia . . . man was I scared.  And I was secretly convinced thay it was my fault they all caught pneumonia.  That had to have been my fault, right?

12. How far away is Florida from Seattle?  Baltimore is what, 2,700 miles from Seattle?  Remember when they showed the flight plan in Harry Met Sally?  And can men and women really not be” just” friends?  What’s my friend Sam doing right now?  I should text her.  It’s only 9:30 in Seattle.

13. The Marine Corps Marathon is in seven days and seven hours. This time next week I’ll really be freaking out.  Damn.  My heart just sped up.

I should stop at 13.  Wait.  I’m supposed to write out “thirteen.”  Speaking of number thirteen, I refuse to believe in silly superstitions.  So does my Maddie.  Obdurate and strong, she wears the number thirteen.  That is one of the many things I like about her.

She and I watched A League of Their Own Tonight.  It’s the first time she’s seen it, and the fourth time I’ve seen it.  I still cried at the end, and after it was over, we talked about it.  She wanted to know my story.

I grew up as a serious ballplayer . . . but tonight was the first time I could really explain it to my daughter.  We talked some, and then she hugged me and gasped, “Wow–so that’s the sport you grew up playing?

“Yep.  I won championships.  I was a pitcher, like Kit.”

Madeline stared at me, a little breathless.  “You were?”

I grinned.  “Come on Maddie.  How many moms throw like I do?”

With her arms wrapped around my neck, she replied, “None. You throw like Dottie.”

I nodded.  “And I can teach you how to throw like that too.”

Goodnight friends.  It’s one a.m. here in Northern Virginia.  I’m not going to bed yet.  But I hope you are sleeping in the arms of the person you love most.

And if you’re in the mood to chat, please tell me some of the things that keep you up at night.

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A Laundry Mountain, Falling Leaves and the Synopsis

I learned a little about the way I write this last week.  I like juggling several projects at once right up until the irreversible moment when I hit terminal mental velocity.  Then I drop all the balls and hide under the mountain of laundry piled on my bed, whimpering. 

It turns out that I write query letters and synopses in a state of complete and utter distraction.  To get in the mood to write something technical, which a synopsis is, I went through the writer’s version of a baseball player stepping into the batter’s box.  Minus the loogies and the crotch grabs.

I skimmed books and websites to learn, sort of, what I needed to write.  Then I got scared and thought about outlining Alien Enlightenment, but I don’t outline anything.  So I researched angels and demons and time space continuums some more.  And I drank way, way too much coffee and ate a pumpkin scone or two.

Then I started reading Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly and told my closest friends and about a thousand other people that they really, really needed to read it too.  I even made a poster of the Teddy Roosevelt quote that inspired Daring Greatly.  The first poster I made sucked, so I created a second one.  Here it is:

I started the query letter.

• • •

A few more days passed.  Every once in a while, I walked past the computer, glared at the query letter, and typed out a sentence or two.  I ran many miles, celebrated a fifteenth Anniversary and whined, a lot.  My husband told me I was doing a marvelous job and no, Cutie you’re not fat several times.

I skimmed, in no particular order, pages from a few more books on writing and several websites.  I asked a few patient friends like Astrea Baldwin, Deb Bryan, Doug MacIlroy and August McLaughlin for tips, help and advice.  Yellow leaves fell outside my window and the weather turned cold after a front blew through.  I opened a document and titled it: Synopsis/Ripple/Farris.

Two more days passed.

I reorganized all of the books on my desk.  More yellow leaves tumbled and danced and skated as they spiraled to the Virginia clay.  I contemplated the seasons and tried to stop counting the acorns on the deck.

I folded the laundry, went for a run, and took a hot shower.  Then I wrote fifteen words.  Man I hope my husband isn’t still reading this because when he got home from work yesterday, I told him I had worked nonstop all day.  I spent a half-hour whining on Facebook:

Help! I must finish this synopsis but it is as boring as writing a freakin’ legal memorandum. Ack! Groan. Wail. Teeth gnash. Fingernail nibble. Nervous pacing.

I wrote another fifteen words, ate a bowl of Kashi Go Lean Crunch cereal, counted twenty-seven yellow pen-oak leaves float past, and whined for thirteen minutes.  Just re-reading this makes me exhausted.  A gust of wind brought a bombardment of acorns against the rooftop of our Dutch Colonial. 

The laundry pile beckoned, but I resisted.  It was time.  My short, chubby fingers ran over the wireless iMac keyboard, lickety-split, staccato tapping echoing against a mosaic of alternative music.  Sentences split, fragmented, then wove together.

Eight hundred and thirty two words and a week after I started, and the first draft is done.  And now?  Now I fold laundry.

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Unfiltered, Raw and Real

It’s been raining this morning since I woke up.  The house takes on a grayish tint without sunlight and I’m thinking about grabbing my red running jacket and heading out to run over tree roots and through mud and into puddles.  That will come later.  For now, I grab a sweatshirt, my husband’s thick black fleece one, and edit and write and think and create, hoping to sculpt some beauty out of the uncertain edges that make up my rainy morning.

I don’t write to anyone else’s requirements anymore, and I love that.  I love the freedom of crafting words according to my own artistic needs.  For far too many years, I wrote what and how and when I was told . . . by partner, court or client.

Please forgive me, kind friends who have bestowed lovely blogging awards on me, but I simply cannot spend time writing to spec, so to speak.  What I love most about this writing gig of mine is I can blaze my own trail.  I have total and complete artistic freedom, and this is more precious to me than almost anything else, save my family.

Artistic freedom is a beautiful and mighty thing.  I was thinking about this last night while talking to a dear, dear friend of mine.  You see, I will never work for anyone else again.  I’m going for it.  I’m all in, as far as my choice of vocation.  I am blessed to be doing for a living the one thing I love most: writing.

While I don’t write to spec, I love to riff off other writers, and my favorite source for improvisation material is my dear friend, Deborah Bryan.  A few weeks ago, I received her post, Let’s Get Real, in my in-box and I sat there, all hunched over my brand-new Macbook Pro, reading the results of five minutes of unfiltered, fearless, straight up “this is what I’m thinking and fuck it all I’m going to tell you what’s on my mind” writing.   And I grinned and howled and felt at home, as if she and I were sitting on her balcony drinking tea and watching the cars race past on the freeway overhead.

So here goes.

I know I write well.  Am I arrogant or just honest?  I suck at a lot of things and am average at best at many more.

For example, I strive to be a good mom.  In truth, I think I’m a mediocre mom, but that’s better than telling everyone who will listen that I’m a great mom and consistently proving otherwise.

I’m mad at Facebook.  My friends call Mark Zuckerberg something different.  They switch the “Z” with an “F” and I think it’s funny but then I feel guilty for calling him bad names even after I use his product all day, every day.  That said, he is trying to make page owners like me pay for what was once free.  My friend, D.Z., explained that he should be paying us, the content creators, for what we do.  We get Facebook users to linger more online, and the more our followers linger, the more likely they are to click on the paid advertising links.

I’m bored with this rant.

I’m bipolar and hyper and unable to sit still.  I interrupt people too much; smile when I’m sad; giggle when I’m mad; and hate to wear dresses or uncomfortable shoes.  In fact, the real reason I’m a writer is so that I can wear athletic shorts and a t-shirt every day.

My husband says I look sexy in shorts and t-shirts.  He says I look even better naked.  This pleases me.  I feel secure and unconditionally loved.

I love my hair.  It’s long and sort of dirty blond, not quite auburn, and not yet silver.  It makes me feel feminine and pretty, which is hard for me.  Usually, I don’t feel pretty or even feminine.  It isn’t safe to be soft and pretty.  It scares me.  And typing that makes me wanna cry . . . but I don’t cry much and I don’t feel like being sad today.

Loud noises give me a headache.  Violent TV shows give me nightmares.  Every time I see a gratuitously naked woman in a movie, the little child in me screams in pain and fury.  Shades of Grey’s success infuriates me.  What the hell is wrong with people anyway?  Why is this book popular?  The book celebrates abusive sex and the writing sucks.

This world we live in is so awful.  Damn it all.

But this world is beautiful too.  I hear the raindrops hitting the leaves in my backyard.  It’s raining harder and harder and not every drop makes the same noise as it hits the green and yellow leaves.  It doesn’t sound discordant, and I wonder how many raindrops it takes to create harmony.

I laugh too loud.  And so do my kids.  Sometimes I worry that they laugh too loud.  I worry that I laugh too loud and too much so that people will like me more.

I’m terrified to publish I Run because I’m going balls to the walls and telling my story, my real story.  What will people think?  What will my birth family do to me if they find out about what I’m writing?

Did you know where the phrase “balls to the walls” originated?  It comes from the aviation world.  On an airplane, the handles controlling the throttle are often topped with ball-shaped grips, referred to by pilots as balls. Pushing the balls forward, close to the front wall of the cockpit increases the amount of fuel going to the engines and results in the highest possible speed.

In other words, balls to the walls means giving your maximum effort.  That’s the way I live and love and write.  Consequences be damned.

And that, my friends, is a wrap.  I’m going to write like this more often because it feels good.

I’m heading out for a run in a few minutes.  While I’m gone, please feel free to tell me something unfiltered about yourself in the comments below.

 

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Mysterious Marathon Memory of Paul Ryan

Thanks again to WordPress for “freshly pressing” my post on media distortion last week.  I’d like to welcome both new and longtime followers alike, and to reassure you that I’m not a political blogger.  Not really.  In fact, I swore off the mere mention of “abortion,” “politicians” and “President Obama,” along with many other words in any way related to politics after last week’s exhausting barrage of mostly civil responses to my non-partisan examination of media bias.  As one friend of mine said, I must have done something right because folks were swinging at me from both sides of the political spectrum.  And yet I’m grateful, I really am, because from this heady experience, I learned to avoid writing about politics.

That’s right: I swore off politics like I swore off baseball after the strike in the summer of ’94.  I stayed so mad at baseball, I ignored my beloved Baltimore Orioles for almost the entire 1995 season.  I took baseball back just in time to watch Cal Ripken break Lou Gehrig’s Ironman streak on September 6, 1995.

I stayed mad at baseball for the better part of 1995.  In the case of politics, I lasted exactly a week.

It’s Paul Ryan’s fault, really.  You see, I think he lied, and I’m irked.  I was liking not loving the guy, despite his social conservative leanings.  You know what I liked most about him?  His athleticism and his bounding energy.

This blog, and my upcoming book, I Run: Running from Hell with El is about how running has helped me heal from and cope with abuse.  In it, I write about the eight marathons I’ve run.  I also write at length about a lifetime of competitive athletics.  Playing sports may well have saved my life, literally.  It kept me alive when there was little else to give me hope.

Which is to say that for me, sports, and running, is pretty serious business.  In a recent interview, Paul Ryan was asked about the marathon he ran.  Here is the relevant quote, taken directly from the transcript of his interview with Hugh Hewitt:

HH: Are you still running?

PR: Yeah, I hurt a disc in my back, so I don’t run marathons anymore. I just run ten miles or yes.

HH: But you did run marathons at some point?

PR: Yeah, but I can’t do it anymore, because my back is just not that great.

HH: I’ve just gotta ask, what’s your personal best?

PR: Under three, high twos. I had a two hour and fifty-something.

After this interview on Thursday, August 23, 2012, a reporter from Runner’s World got curious and looked up Ryan’s actual finishing time.  Ryan ran one marathon, the 1990 Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minnesota.  According to official results, Ryan finished in 4 hours, 1 minute, and 25 seconds.

When asked to explain this discrepancy, a spokesman for Ryan told Runner’s World the next day:

The race was more than 20 years ago, but my brother Tobin—who ran Boston last year—reminds me that he is the owner of the fastest marathon in the family and has never himself ran a sub-three. If I were to do any rounding, it would certainly be to four hours, not three. He gave me a good ribbing over this at dinner tonight.

I’ve thought about this for a few days.  As I ran 14.7 miles on Sunday, struggling to breathe due to seasonal asthma, I looked back at the marathons I’ve run since I sustained serious injuries in a accident in 2009.  In my first marathon, I crossed the line in 5:01:50, just missing breaking the five-hour mark.  This race was a warmup for the Suntrust National Marathon a month later.  I was aiming to break 4:30 but I turned my ankle at the 5-mile mark and limped across the finishing line, yet again, in 5:01 and change.  I’m not going to bore you with my other finishing times.

But I will volunteer a few other times: in 1995, I ran the Charlottesville 10-miler in 75 minutes.  In 1989, I ran a 10K in Baltimore in 50:53 (approximately).  My fastest mile time, ran in 1988, was 6:20.

I apologize to the non-runners reading this, and trust me, I’m not bragging about my PRs or even my extremely pedestrian finishing times.  I could go on and on here, listing my highest scoring total in a basketball game (17 points); how many no-hitters I tossed in fast-pitch softball (one); my maximum bench press (150) and you know what?  This is normal for a competitive athlete.  We’re almost universally aware, especially we runners, of our splits, PRs for every distance, average minutes per mile, max heart rate, farthest distance run . . . athletes simply are (must be) aware of how much, how far, and how long in their ever-ending quest to be faster, higher and stronger.

I don’t know if Ryan lied on purpose.  It’s unlikely that a workout junkie forgot his PR.  It’s highly unlikely but it is possible he forgot his finishing time.  Even more likely, it’s possible that he exaggerated it once, and the response he received from other athletes made him feel good.  Maybe he exaggerated a little more the next time.  Maybe he exaggerated so much, and for so long, that he believed it when he said he ran a 2:50-something.

And maybe President Clinton believed it when he said he did not have sexual relations with that woman, Monica Lewinsky.

I’d love to hear you views on the issues raised above.  Please keep your responses polite and avoid ad-hominem attacks and personal insults, and if you do, I’d love to discuss and debate the mysterious marathon memory of Paul Ryan.

 

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Dream Big: Ripple, Marathons and Swimming the English Channel

Hello my friends!  I apologize I have been so quiet, but I have been on a furious editing pace, trying to get Draft 2 of Ripple done by the end of June.  Ripple is more than 450 pages long, or 122,000 words, and I started draft two June 1st . . . so you get the idea.

I had a hard week, to be honest.  Some difficult things went down, and I felt like hell on Friday.  Pure hell.  Instead of surrendering to the fit of melancholy, I took my three kids to the pool and swam a quick 800 meters during break, and this got me thinking.  Before my accident in 2009, I was swimming two to three miles a day, and daydreaming about swimming the five miles across the Chesapeake Bay.  The bay, however, is not enough.  I want to swim across the English Channel.

Now, I get these bright ideas often, and my husband replies the same way each time.  He gets a gleam in his eye and his mouth turns up in one of his trademark half-smiles.  And then he replies, “Sounds great, Cutie,” or something sweet like that, and I grin at him.  That is how we ran two marathons together in 2011.  This is how my man and I roll.  And it might be what I love about him the most: I come up with some crazy adventure, some faraway dream, and he figures out how we can make it come true.

This is how I keep my “black dog,” as Winston Churchill called his depression, at bay.  I dream.  I dream big.  And with that dream, that goal in mind, I begin to work toward it, and with my energy focused on the future, my present troubles weigh on me less.

I don’t know when I will swim the English Channel, but it reminds me of the challenges I have both created and am overcoming in the process of writing Ripple.  This is not an easy first novel by any stretch of the imagination.  For one thing, a lot of characters live in its pages.  In addition, these characters move and interact at an increasing gallop throughout its pages and the topics addressed are weighty and emotion-packed. 

I wanted to share with you what the editing process looks like.  For your amusement, what follows is Draft 2, Page 1 of Ripple.  As you will see from the excerpt of Draft 1, page 1 of Ripple, almost nothing carried over from the first draft.

Draft 2:

“The trial is in a week, Ashtray,” thundered Helen Thompson, slamming the glass door shut so hard the frame shimmered and vibrated.  The young associate nicknamed “Ashtray,” from Baker, Pitts, Kenzey & Moore scurried out of the hotel’s conference room as Helen’s words echoed into the corridor behind him.  “I needed the witness list two hours ago!  If you can’t get it to me in the next fifteen minutes, you might as well grab a cab to the airport and catch the redeye back to D.C.”

Helen glowered, imperious, her auburn hair and bellowing tone resembling Queen Elizabeth I.  If Queen Elizabeth could make a man move before finishing a sentence, Helen could make him run.

Her eyes cut a slow arc around the conference room, searching for anyone who was not meeting her expectations.  One hand still on the gold-plated door handle, Helen made eye contact with a bemused, dark-haired senior associate named Carl Hansen, who had worked with Helen for enough years to shrug off her frequent explosions.

Helen waved her hand.  “Seriously, I don’t give a shit what’s going on in his personal life.  These pimple-faced recent graduates don’t pull their weight.”  Helen stomped from one end of the room to another, her 5’6” frame appearing much taller because of her ramrod posture, black custom suit and Manolo Blahniks heels.  A senior partner at one of the top law firms in the country, Helen stood astride the legal profession.  She did not suffer fools and within that category remained all recent law school graduates until they proved their mettle with years of hard-nosed toil.

        As you will see, not much of Draft 1 remained after my writing partner, Renée Schuls-Jacobson and I redlined it.  And for your amusement, I attach a picture I found on Facebook that channels Helen Thompson’s personality.  The only difference is the hair color of the speaker.

Draft 1:

“Ms. Thompson?”  Helen held up one hand impatiently and continued upbraiding her youngest associate, Alex Peterson.  “Seriously, Alex, I need that witness list and I needed it a half-hour ago.  I don’t give a shit what’s going on in your personal life.  Get me that fucking list NOW!”  The second-year associate jumped up from the conference room table, his shirt untucked from his suit pants, tie askew, and almost careened into the hotel employee who stood at attention with a phone in his hand.  “Excuse me Ms. Thompson for the interruption, but the Judge’s clerk phoned and asked to speak directly to you.”

“Hmm, the judge’s clerk huh,” Helen muttered.  “We don’t usually get calls from chambers.  Are you sure you got that right?”  The employee nodded politely and Helen thought about the studied good manners of all the employees at this swanky Chicago hotel and wondered if they went home at night and told their families what assholes the attorneys from her crack legal team were.

Inwardly she chuckled and realized she didn’t care.  At $500 a night, they can get it together to call us “Ma’am” and “Sir” and even open the doors for us.  It’s all covered in the rate.  “Yes Ma’am.  The clerk gave me the direct line for what he called, um,” he glanced at his notepad and continued, “Judge’s Chambers, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California.”  Helen’s eyes opened a little wider and she nodded and Carl Min, her crack senior associate, “Right, thank you so much.  I suppose that phone is for me?”  Helen strode across the room and pivoted, one hand gesturing as the other reached out for the phone.  “Yes Ma’am,” the employee replied, and with one hand one the door handle, waited for Helen to take hold of the phone before he let go and unobtrusively left the room as quietly as he had entered it.

Dreams, big dreams, take time and work and pain to bring to fruition.  Like running a marathon or swimming across the English Channel, there is nothing easy about editing Ripple.  And yet I am having the time of my life.

© 2012 E. L. Farris

 

 

 

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