The Chart

Many years ago I was at a residency with a not-yet famous author. Residencies are awesome things because small talk is often about writing (or food). Writing and food are two of my favorite subjects, so I fit right in. The novelists were hanging out talking about plot. As a plotless wonder (aka poet) I perked my ears up.

“I draw charts!” my friend said.

“Charts?” The other novelists nodded knowingly, but I was fascinated.

“Sure, you want to see one?”

“Yes please!” And my friend brought out her thick three-subject notebook with her neat round handwriting.

“It’s nothing fancy,” she said laughing.

“I don’t care.” Her x axis was each chapter, and she explained that she had three plot lines going in her young adult novel: the supernatural mystery, a budding romance, and tension with the family. Each plot line had a color.

“I try to advance one of the plot lines in each chapter,” she explained.

I just got 22 single-spaced pages of professional feedback on the memoir. It took me a good week just to process the feedback. And then I talked to the editor and it might take me another week to process that. This brings me to Thanksgiving.

Probably the week before two out of three of my sisters come to visit for Thanksgiving is not a good time to work on my manuscript. And that’s okay because I’m struggling to understand how to even begin the revision. But I think it’s going to involve a chart.

I too have a few plot lines, or lines of tension. I can plot those plots on a draft and color code them. (A convenient excuse to buy new pens or maybe color pencils and sticky notes? Perhaps break open a field note notebook??) Then I can color code the manuscript and impose order on chaos. That is the dream anyway.

First I have to establish the lines of tension. Some of them are old and worn and some of them are new, teased out by the editor. I’d best have a publishable work by the time this is all over. Whenever it’s over.


Not Working at Home

Ed. Note: The author of this post apologizes for the breathtaking privilege it displays.

There I was in my Dr. Who pajama pants and (fortunately) a thick sweatshirt when I noticed there was a truck in my driveway that was not mine. Wha? My last remaining dog (RIP my best little man) barked her fool head off and then wagged at the electrician, hoping for head scratches. Which she received. (Turns out there had been a miscommunication about which day the electrician was coming. I blame The Spouse.)

Drilling ensued. Our copyeditor skeddaddled. Nobody should have to edit a book about creating faux floral arrangements from backyard weeds (not its real subject) while listening to someone drill holes into her walls.

The coffeeshop was great, but I got restless. The library was loud. I briefly parked in a scenic location and tried to work in my car. But I felt like a creeper and moved on. (I did watch a woman sell some tires to strangers, so I wasn’t the only person who used the scenic location’s generous parking lot for things other than seeing the scenery.)

What I really wanted was a couch, my couch, in a quiet house. But the couch is in storage until people finish drilling holes in the walls. I was on the verge of apologizing to the electrician for the complete chaos that was my house when he intercepted me. He said his brother was both living in and renovating his own house but with a toddler and an infant. Good lord.

So I like my new digs, but I’m tired of only half living in the house. I miss my little dog man. And it’s raining and snowing pretty much at the same time. Fortunately my locale is pretty even in the rain/snow. My office is somewhat assembled. And no one is drilling holes in my walls. Today.

How are you folks doing?


Classical vs. Classic

Hey folks, Chicago Manual of Style 17th edition is live. Holy shit! I just got it yesterday, and so have not fully explored all that is new and excited about our favorite orange (then blue, and now orange and blue) book.

I have grand plans of skimming the book cover to cover because I have forgotten many things over the years, and I’m afraid I also rely on old knowledge. However, today’s post is brought to you by a targeted strike.

I have always thought (snobbily) that “classical” should be reserved for music or Greeks. So when today’s author said, “blah blah blah classical tea-cozy weaving,” I said, not so fast. Then I remembered my resolution to be more in touch with my inner Chicago 17 and said, OK, OK, I’ll look it up.

Is the drama killing you yet? Is it a tragedy of epic proportions (also a mixed metaphor I am sure)? Have you gone on to other blogs because you don’t give a fuck about style and usage?

I thought not. It turns out you use classic to mean a seminal or authoritative work, and classical to mean something traditional in a field of art or literature.

For example, “Patricia Briggs’ novels are a classic example of urban fantasy, or what my spouse calls Vampire Lesbians in the Mist.” But “Let’s go back to the classical methods of forging iron rather than buying cheap molded iron from China.”

Any other questions?

Invalid or Writer?

It’s a beautiful fall day in the new homeplace. And yet I am in bed. Not sleeping or doing unmentionable things. I am writing.

I’m pretty sure my neighbors think I’m an invalid. I rarely leave the house, and when I do, I’m wearing a ratty sweatshirt and pajama pants. I think I brushed my hair yesterday?

I should be pouring over produce at the farmer’s market or walking through picturesque woods. At the very least I should be unpacking or painting my Beloved’s office, canning tomatoes, reading the paper, raking leaves, or making artisanal potholders to sell at a local market.

Nope. It’s me, a stack of paper, my computer, and the duvet. I am not living; I am not exploring my new environs; I’m finishing the fucking manuscript so I can send it to a professional editor on Monday.

Tell me this is worthwhile.


October Notes

My new office looks out over my rural yard. When I hear a new noise outside I always try to identify its source. I’ve identified new birds (wood thrush), recognized familiar ones (you’re a loud thing, chickadee), and had a sighting of the neighbor’s terrier. (What new beast is—-never mind, classic fluffy dog, size medium-to-small.)

I found a walk through some fields that I can take with my dog without either of us being mistaken for deer by zealous hunters. I’ve also established a new rule of country living: Always check your towel for bugs/arachnids/other small horrors before taking a shower.

I am subject to more than one prime directive when I wake up in the morning, which is confusing. Paint, write, live in your new place. This sounds like I’m an artist living on air, but in fact the painting is of a more domestic kind. Gotta put a second coat of paint on the bedroom and then (because I live in a farmhouse) paint the damn floor.

I have to finish chapter 11, half-ass chapter 12, and revise in 13 12 days to send my MS to an actual editor. No problem, right? Right?? Maybe it’s write in the morning, paint in the afternoon. Live in between the two. It sounds idyllic, but it’s actually a pain in the ass. And my car needs an inspection. But it beats working in a cubicle farm or a chicken farm, which is what this old house used to be.

(Also happy coming out day! I came out so long ago that I was bi. Now I think pansexual is more the term of choice for me because it includes nonbinary folks. Although it’s all pretty theoretical as I’m all settled down with Mr. Spouse.)

How is your October?

Taking Notes

The Economical Penster linked to a Lithub article about keeping physical journals. She mentioned that she didn’t 100% agree with the article’s author as she had used Evernote while writing a novella in the past. I also agree that the analog/digital divide does not have to be either/or.

I spent the last week in a Big Eastern City seeing sisters and researching my book (that sounds way more grown up than saying that I was researching The Fucker). I took a train to an archive, signed a billion forms, and was allowed to sit in a quiet room and look at my Favorite Historical Figure’s papers on microfilm.

The only thing I could bring into the archive was a thumb drive, my computer, and a phone. They provided paper and pencil should I be feeling analog. It’s hardly a surprise that I swing both ways, and I took notes as well as captured images to save on my handy thumb drive.

My research subject kept a bunch of notebooks that were a jumble of professional and personal notes. There were some 288 pages of autographs given and sought. The value of a person’s handwritten note and signature was high. In the 1960s, someone took pictures of every piece of Subject’s papers and the photographs were converted to a roll of film that I pored over in 2017.

(Note: Microfilm now can be viewed on a COMPUTER SCREEN, which greatly adds to the legibility of the text and the comfort of the researcher.)

I now have a year’s worth of Subject’s diary on my hard drive, some scrawled notes about the experience at large, and a lot of writing ahead of me. Yes, if I had copied out her notebooks, I would have an amazing intimacy with her. I also would be only halfway through reel 1 and would have a very sore hand.

This post is another attempt to break up either/or assumptions. I think both sides have valid points. Unless you’re a Nazi, white supremacist, or do not believe in the serial comma.


Those People

Back in my bookselling days, there were two kinds of booksellers. Those who kept their collections alphabetical and those who would rather stick forks in their eyes than alphabetize on their off hours. It should surprise no one that I was in the latter camp.

The other night I had a restless night and did a lot of thinking. It’s important not to do serious thinking when you’re up in the middle of the night, but practical thinking sometimes is soothing. The next morning I told my spouse, “I have a confession to make.”

Spouse and I are melodramatic people. As such, he was pretty sure I wasn’t going to confess to sleeping with a mysterious stranger.


I couldn’t say it out loud. I had to whisper. “I think I’m going to have to alphabetize my poetry books.” There was a long silence, one that I babbled to fill.

“Not all my books! Just my poetry books!! I’m having a hard time finding books I know I have.”

The silence continued. Finally he said, “I won’t tell a soul.”

And that, my friends, is love.