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Epiphany alert!

Faithful readers, I have joyfully announced to you at least twice that I have finished my first novel, The Achievers, but alas, those reports were premature. I celebrated each time despite irritating doubts I chose to dismiss as fiction newbie jitters. I understood, purely I think as a reader, that my characters lacked some emotional depth. The other elements of story seemed to be in place—setting, plot, world building, etc.—but I wasn’t revealing their truths. It wasn’t on purpose. It was because I’ve been circling a truth of my own and really didn’t know what I was doing.

I first “finished” last June. I had sat myself down and written the book in a month, words flowing with ease, editing as I went along. Then boom, I was done. The only character I worried was not as fleshed out as he could be wasn’t, as an adult I reasoned, central to a YA book. Friends and professionals gently nudged me on this emotion issue, and I finally had to concede the point. The problem was that I had no idea how to fix it. I struggled and I avoided and I searched for inspiration, and I eventually landed on a solution that I see now as cheating. I patched in chapters from another character’s point of view, a bold move considering the entire novel was written in the protagonist’s voice. I told myself I had formulated a completely revolutionary way of approaching these appendages to the novel and that it had solved the problem. I asked my loyal band of test readers to approve my draft and declared it finished (again) in January.

But the nagging was worse this time. I told myself and my readers that I couldn’t see it anymore because I was too far inside it. I was certain that it was either (A) genius or (B) an abomination. In retrospect, the sheer disparateness of those extremes was a clue I should have investigated, but I sooo wanted to be done with it. I had reached the point where I hated it, and I wanted to kick it out into the world and start the second book where I could employ what I had learned during the first and write off any deficiencies as rookie mistakes. I did not, however, receive the response I was looking for. Everybody who read the beginning of the new version (who hadn’t read the first), disliked it strongly. Very strongly. That was the opposite reaction to the original version so I couldn’t deny that I had moved resolutely backwards. Ugh.

With some guidance from an editor, a pinpoint of light appeared in the dark void of my utter unknowing of how to fix this. I’ve been reading and thinking and studying, and it has finally gelled for me. The major flaw in my writing equates to the major flaw in my life, and they are both all about character arc.

I have never been altogether clear about what drives me, and it has led me to drift haphazardly toward my fuzzy goals. As a child I wrote short stories, but the Lake Charles school system went to some trouble to seek and destroy my creative impulses. I have Anne Mendelsohn to thank for coaxing them back to the surface, and I’ve been trying to find their rightful place in my work life ever since. Making the decision last year to concentrate on writing was a major step toward clarity, and realizing recently that the problem with my characters reflects my very own problem has crystallized the issue. They and I must be clear on what drives us. Does anybody else hear those angels singing?

I have understood since I was 21 that, in a general way, I am looking for fulfillment in my life through my work. I am not particularly motivated by money or finding love or power or anything else. I have chosen my jobs for the sense of fulfillment they might bring, and my personal path toward that abstract goal has been through public service. I feel fulfilled when I have a sense that I am making the world a better place, even in a very minor or indirect way. That is what has motivated me to get out of bed in the morning and to care deeply about what I am doing. If a job didn’t scratch that itch, I wouldn’t do it for very long.

Each time I’ve left a job it was to add something to my toolbox through education or to hone in on this vague notion of fulfillment a little more specifically though not actually, you know, precisely. I have tried a lot of different means to achieving my nebulous goal, but it’s kind of like saying “I want to buy a house in North America” and making incremental decisions over the years about what color or style it should be rather than choosing a state, a city, a neighborhood, an actual house. I’ve seen the frustration in my family and friends and heard their exasperation as they ask Houston? Austin? Sacramento? New Brunswick? or to set aside the metaphor, legislative? non-profit? legal? regulatory? There was joy (and some fear) when I finally landed on fiction, but now I realize I didn’t take the final step which is: what do I want to accomplish with the fiction that will lead me toward my elusive fulfillment?

You’ll be relieved, I’m sure, to hear that I’ve answered that last question for myself and in so doing have solved, in theory, my character problem. I need to clearly define what drives them (in my mind and apart from the confines of the plot) so that the reader can root for them to either achieve or not achieve it. Their emotional throughways were missing because I only provided an arc as it related to the story I was telling. I hadn’t conclusively identified the thing they had, that we all have, that is the core of our decision making (or lack thereof), the thing that motivates us to get out of bed in the morning, to strive and learn, to fight and win. Duh.

So I venture into this next revision, armed with a new sense of purpose for both me and my characters. Instead of endlessly circling in disarray, we will journey to our destination together, led by the GPS of truth. Was that last bit too much?

Please wish me luck, my friends!

PS: If you are wondering what I finally learned about my own path to fulfillment through writing, the answer may be found in The Achievers, hopefully soon to be available from some reputable publishing house. Now I can truthfully say that it will be there, laid bare for all to see. And no, I don’t expect my novel to change the world, but if one reader asks herself a question that leads to her paying attention to her world, I will consider my job done.

Feel like sharing? What drives you? Do you know?

The answer is 42

Many thanks to all of you who commented and emailed in reply to my last blog! Your suggestions really helped me frame my thoughts. I have completed my response to the Writers’ League of Texas interview and pasted it below, just so you’ll have closure on the subject for a worry-free weekend.

Those of you who are familiar with my selection for the deserted island question will find the title of this post witty and appropriate. The others will be confused. To you, I say: the title of this post is witty and appropriate. I encourage you to read the books (no, the movie doesn’t count at all) one day when your mindset is to explore and to giggle, perhaps on a beach but hopefully not a deserted one.

WLT:  In what genre(s) do you write?

JH:  Most people would probably identify the genre of The Achievers as young adult thriller.

WLT:  What authors would you like to have coffee or a beer with and which beverage?

JH:  If you’re offering, may I please have a beer with Gillian Flynn? Before I started my novel last spring, I hadn’t thought much about the craft of writing fiction except in the case of Gone Girl. The way she pieced that plot together with varying techniques was genius! I was eager to see how she would handle the screenplay, and bam, she nailed that too. I’d love to hear about her process in developing both and the differences between them.

Forgive my changing the rules on you here, but the appropriate beverage with my next author would undoubtedly be tea. Jane Austen wrote with tremendous intelligence and insight during a time when women were expected to have little of each. It’s always exciting to chat with ground breakers to hear what makes them tick.

Other authors I’d like to hang out with include Stephen King, Tana French, Larry McMurtry, Winston Churchill, Ian Fleming, Stephen Ambrose, JK Rowling, Tom Wolfe, James Clavell. The list could go on and on. Beers for everyone!

WLT:  If you were stranded on a deserted island, what book would you want to have with you to keep you sane?

JH:  This question stumped me for days, and I’m still vacillating. There are so many factors to consider—it’s not just a favorite book. I’m stranded, presumably forever, with no other books on the horizon. I’m by myself with no other entertainment forthcoming. Which book will keep me most closely in touch with my humanity? Which book will provide a wide enough range of emotional touchstones to serve as my only human contact? Which book will be sufficiently long to keep my interest upon infinite rereading? Which book has enough depth to feed me something different each time I read it? Which book could possibly contain the only words I will read for the rest of my life?

I put this question to my blog readers and heard some intriguing suggestions and persuasive arguments. In the end, however, I went with the book that makes me laugh far more than any other (levity is needed on a deserted island, right?) and is about as interesting as a book can be—The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. HitchhikerI find Douglas Adams’ brand of relentless, profoundly exuberant imagination to be inspiring. And I’m going to cheat a little because I’m claiming the entire collection of the series which I possess in a single volume and will henceforth pack every time I board a boat.

WLT:  What have you learned from your association with the Writers’ League?

JH:  When I embarked on this journey, I knew pretty much nothing about the business. I kind of thought I’d write my book, send it off to some agents, make some edits and joyfully receive a box of beautifully bound compilations of my meticulously chosen words while the checks regularly appeared in my bank account. I didn’t want to hear anything to the contrary until I had completed the first draft. Thankfully, I finished in time to attend the 2014 WLT conference because it adjusted my expectations a lot, thereby reducing the shock of reality.

Writing is a solitary pursuit, but the business is most definitely not. The conference taught me what it requires, but the WLT workshops and resources teach me how to go about it so that it’s not quite as daunting. Knowing that there are others out there who have been and are going through the same processes and have paved the way for me is comforting. Learning from their experiences is invaluable. I have taken these steps in a very specific order and at my own pace, and it seems that every time I look up to move forward, there is an email from WLT announcing a class on how to go about it. It’s kind of eerie, actually, how y’all seem to know what I need, when I need it!

WLT:  Where do you see your writing taking you (or you taking it) in the future?

JH:  See second sentence of answer to preceding question. Complete and repeat, over and over. I haven’t given up the fantasy entirely.

WLT:  Is there anything else about you that you would like to share with the world? An opportunity for blatant self-promotion!

JH:  Having completed the edits of my first novel The Achievers, I hope to find just the right agent who will usher it through to publication so that I can concentrate on the remaining books of my American Dream trilogy. Meanwhile, I’m blogging about my experiences as a newbie novelist at www.jenniferhubbswrites.com. I invite you to subscribe to my blog and to follow me on Twitter @jhubbs1 where I will report on the steps along the way!

A question for you

I was asked to be interviewed for the 2015 Writers’ League of Texas Agents and Editors Conference, and one of the questions has really stumped me because there are so many factors to consider. I’ve thought a lot about it but still haven’t landed on my answer. I’m curious to know what your answer would be.

The question is: “If you were stranded on a deserted island, what book would you want to have with you to keep you sane?”

Favorite books from various genres started popping up in my mind, but then I thought more about what is really being asked. It’s not just a favorite book. You’re stranded, presumably forever, with no other books on the horizon. You’re by yourself with no other entertainment forthcoming. You have to consider things like which book will keep me most closely in touch with my humanity? Which book will provide a wide enough range of emotional touchstones to serve as my only human contact? Which book will be sufficiently long to keep my interest upon infinite rereading? Which book has enough depth to give me something different each time I read it? Which book could possibly contain the only words I will read for the rest of my life?

It’s a tougher question than it seems at first, isn’t it?

Contenders have been percolating for a few days, but I haven’t chosen my response yet. I’d love to hear what your answer would be and why.

The End of the Beginning

If you’ve been keeping up with my blog, you know that I finished the first draft of my first novel The Achievers back in June. You also know that my summer took a sad turn, and, well, life brought some complications as it tends to do. What you may not know is that I got back on track and have now finished my edits! Hallelujah.

After stepping back from the first draft, I recognized that restricting the point of view to one character severely limited access to the potential contributions of other characters’ voices and emotions. Being the stubborn novice that I am, however, I sent the first draft to an agent I’d met at the conference in June. I wasn’t surprised when she suggested that I establish and explore the other characters more thoroughly. The last couple of months have been spent trying to figure out how to go about that. I took a few different paths to my goal, and I confess that they wound around a bit.

First, I wrote the life stories of each of the other main characters in their own voices. That was a fascinating exercise. I knew these characters already. I saw them clearly, and I could hear what was going on in their minds. But as I wrote their stories, I realized that there were lots of things that I didn’t know about them. My friend Shannon, therapist extraordinaire, reminded me that human beings are driven by the people and events that molded them. To discount those influences is to lose sight of what motivates people. Even if those influences don’t come up in the story by name, they are always there, lurking in the psyche of the character. I’ve articulated them now, and my characters are (hopefully!) the richer for it.

Next, I decided that we needed to hear from these characters. The entire first draft was filtered through my heroine’s sheltered life experiences because she was the only one reporting on the story’s events. I wrote chapters from her best friend’s point of view and her father’s and another important character’s, and I sent them off to my loyal cadre of awesome readers (Shannon, Elsa, Correy, Christine, Mom—many thanks!) who never fail to provide useful feedback. We talked and argued and emailed and edited and scaled it back. Once I decided on the characters from whom we’d get to hear, it was down to me to finish the job of writing it all.

Actual photo of a moment in Chapter One

From Chapter One!

Finally, I scheduled a rush trip to Seattle, the setting of the story. I needed the inspiration to complete the journey, and the city didn’t disappoint. We walked the streets and felt the misty rain and admired the mountains and the Sound that play their own parts in the book. I took what I needed to fuel the final push, and now I’m done.

I can’t tell you that I enjoyed this part of the process all that much. As I wrote the first draft, the words flowed through me. I didn’t always feel the same sensation during the second draft. At times, the new chapters seemed alien to me. I was so accustomed to reading it in its first form that additions felt like unwelcome intruders. I kept checking in with my cadre because I couldn’t see it clearly anymore. I couldn’t step back and be objective or look at it through a new reader’s eyes, but now that it’s over, I like the new chapters. I like what they add to the world I created. I like that we get to hear from someone whose perspective is really key to the experience. I must say that I love his voice and what he brings to the table.

What I’ve learned from writing my first novel can’t really be expressed. I’ve learned about myself and other people. I’ve learned what to think about while I plan the next book of the trilogy. I’ve learned what works and what doesn’t, for me. But the components of what I’ve learned are woven into the fabric of my becoming a better writer just as they are woven into crafting a better character. Characters aren’t just made up figures in two dimensions designed to propel a story. They have to be multi-layered–more than the sum total of the things they’ve gone through and learned–just like real people.

What a valuable lesson!

Thank you, Edgar

My stepfather Ed Barnett passed peacefully away at home a few hours ago. He was a good and honorable man and the only father I ever had. This is what I hope he took with him from me.

***

Dear Edgar,

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to tell you what you mean to me, how to express my gratitude for everything you’ve done for me, how to convey the impact you’ve had on my life, but words just don’t seem sufficient. So I’ve reflected about our actions over the years—yours and mine.

You are the only person I’ve ever had that I could honor on Father’s Day, and I hope you’ve felt my love for you each year.

You are the only man who has been there for me every single time I needed you, and if I haven’t said it plainly enough, thank you for each of countless instances.

You have made my mother very happy, and I am grateful for that.

You are the only man who has consistently believed in me despite all the reasons I’ve given you not to.

You have generously and freely given me opportunities I never would have had without you that have changed the course of my life and enriched it beyond measure.

More than anyone else, I sought to make you proud of me. I believe there have been occasions when I have, and they gave me tremendous joy and satisfaction.

I have known since I started writing my book that I would dedicate it to you. This is what it will say.

To Edgar,

for never once failing to offer me the tools I needed to make my dreams come true,
even when you didn’t agree with them.

Thank you for being my father.

You love me, and I love you, and these states of being speak for themselves.

Goodbye, Edgar. Thank you for coming into my life.

Scribe and Scrivener

I hope y’all had a fun and safe holiday weekend. I’m excited to get back to writing after the break, and I’ve still got some posting to do before I catch you up to my current point in the process of writing and publishing my first novel. I’ve fielded lots of questions about the software I used to write The Achievers, so I thought we could pick it up there.

I admit it; I have wholly bought into the iParadigm. My computers, tablets, phones and TV and music delivery systems were conceived of, designed by and built for Apple. Like many people, I’ve spent my career working on PCs in a Microsoft environment, but I’m a complete convert in my personal life. I am totally connected at all times, in all places. I even accessed drafts of my book with my iPad in Amsterdam! I am a true believer.

Over the weekend in May that I spent thinking about how and where I wanted to write, I decided I didn’t want to be chained to my desk with my iMac. I thought that I may want to work by the pool or in bed or at my parents’ house. My iPad wouldn’t cut it; it’s an extraordinary tool, but word processing isn’t really its forte. I would need a laptop, and to close my technological circle, it would have to be a Mac. I decided on a MacBookAir, but that left the question of software unresolved.

My iMac is fully loaded with Microsoft Office’s usual suspects, but I imagined that there would be a better way. I considered using the Mac interpretation of Word called Pages. Documents could be stored on the cloud, keeping them safe from a spontaneously combusting computer or other localized mishap and allowing me to access them from my computers, my iPad or even my iPhone. I’d never really used Pages before, but Apple software has always been intuitive so I knew there wouldn’t be too much of a learning curve. Just to satisfy my curiosity, though, I ran a quick search for software created for writers. I am very glad I did.

Scrivener caught my attention. It performs the obligatory word processing tasks, but it also does so much more. The software was designed by an author for use on a Mac although it is available for PCs, too. I studied its features and downloaded the free trial. After a short tutorial and an assurance that one license would provide copies for both my iMac and my MacBookAir (the good people at Scrivener are true believers, too, so they understand the “need” for multiple devices), I bought in.

I love, love, love Scrivener!

As a novice, I was thrilled that the app provided templates for character and setting sketches. Completing those forced me to articulate my vision so that I could easily draw on character backgrounds and reference their profiles when the story became more complex. Next, I set up the chapters and scenes I had already mapped. As I wrote, I provided a one-liner synopsis of each scene so that I could quickly navigate between passages. I never had any trouble finding what I was looking for in my 183 page manuscript. One of Scrivener’s most versatile attributes is that with a push of a single button, it would turn my manuscript into either a set of color-coded index cards or an outline!  Authors who work from full outlines can set them up in Scrivener and switch back to their manuscripts just as painlessly.  The software keeps track of everything and does all the work.

Once I’d completed my first chapter, I started sending drafts to a select group of people for feedback. Scrivener compiles a scene, chapter or the entire manuscript into any format–pdf, Word, Pages, ebook, etc. It’s a simple matter to change the font or other formatting, and it embeds the author’s name, the title, word count and page numbers as well as other personal information an author may want to include. One of my favorite features is that Scrivener automatically saves (I never lost so much as a comma!) to my Dropbox account and automatically opens on either of my computers where I left off. I was concerned that I would run out of space on Dropbox, but the completed manuscript with all of my notes, research and edits only takes up 2.5 MB. To put that into perspective, the dozen or so photos from my Amsterdam trip occupied 48 MB.

Now that I’ve entered the editing phase, I take a “snapshot” of a scene before I make any changes. If I decide that I don’t like my edits, I can revert to the original, or I can compare the original to my edited version(s) side by side. It’s a relief not to manage multiple drafts. I wish I’d had this software when I was working on the Texas Energy Assurance Plan over a three-year period!  For that major undertaking, we had to save yet another copy of the entire document for even the most minimal edits.  We must have ended up with hundreds of versions to wade through by the end of the project.

I realize that I haven’t used all of Scrivener’s components, but I look forward to further exploring them as I finish my edits and dive into the next two books of the trilogy.  The best way I know to learn a software’s capabilities is to use it, after all.

I hope I’ve answered everyone’s questions about Scrivener. If you have others, don’t hesitate to contact me.  Thanks for reading!

Happy birthday, America!

I’m veering slightly off topic in this post because of what today is–the 238th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence–although the subject is really all about words and their power. It’s easy to gloss over why we celebrate a holiday, especially when it has been hundreds of years since the last person involved in the originating event has died. For us, Independence Day is an almost guaranteed day off with barbecues, family and friends, fireworks and lots of red, white and blue. I’d like to ask you to take a momentary break from all of that to think about why you are doing it.

We grumble about how messed up our government is, but we have the opportunity to change it every single year through free local, state and federal elections. You can thank for that a group of visionaries who, 238 years ago today, stated the reasons why they would no longer be governed by men they had no voice in choosing. Really consider their words:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States…

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

That is truly heady stuff. Those guys went on to fight the most powerful military force the world had ever known to secure for you and me the right not only to complain about our government but also to change it regularly and without bloodshed. Every fourth of July, I reread these words because I take them for granted on the other 364 days. The sentiments seem so obvious–almost trite–to us, but that is because they forever altered the world 238 years ago.

On this and every Independence Day, I wish for you and yours well-grilled meat, cherished company and a pause to remember why you are so fortunate to be an American. Thanks for reading!

 

All-encompassing trip

My Pearl Jam tour buddies will recognize the title of this post as lyrics from Present Tense. The song is about putting away regrets about the past, forgiving yourself and living for now. That’s something I try to do, but it can be difficult to maintain on a regular basis when routine life events can lead me back to familiar patterns. On my trip to Amsterdam, I experienced a karmic incident that taught me the lesson all over again, and it relates to my book.

Mike in Dallas, November 15, 2013

Mike in Vancouver, December 4, 2013

I’ve written before about how Pearl Jam’s example inspired me to follow my dream. What you don’t know is that the guys inspired characters in my book as well. The Achievers is set in 2029 Seattle. My heroine is the 16-year-old daughter of a famous musician who plays a role in the book along with his bandmates. The fictional band’s name is Analog Stain, and one of its guitarists is Mark Murray, an important figure in the trilogy. “Uncle Mark” looks like Mike McCready, guitarist for Pearl Jam, in my mind’s eye. I don’t know Mike personally, of course, and I don’t know any more about him than the average fan. I wasn’t trying to recreate him, I was merely paying homage (and it worked really well for my premise). Many readers will have no idea that Mike was a sort of template for Uncle Mark and probably won’t even think of him, but I know.

At 12:30 on our last night (we never adjusted to local time), I had just showered in the hope that I could relax and sleep soon as we had an early flight the next morning. Shannon was about to shower so I went down to the deserted courtyard of our lovely hotel to breathe in the cold Dutch night air before returning to the oppressive heat of the Texas summer. As I stood there, two vans pulled up to the hotel’s front door, and a bunch of kids poured out. I thought it was odd to see so many young children at that time of night so they caught my attention. I was ready to go back to the room anyway so I walked toward the door. The group of people was organizing itself on the front steps, and I was surprised to see that Mike McCready was the adult in the crowd. He was looking at me so I smiled and waved. I wasn’t going to bother him, and I was shocked when he came over to chat with me.

One of my favorite photos: Eddie Vedder and Mike McCready (right) in Seattle December 6, 2013

One of my favorite photos: Eddie Vedder and Mike McCready (right) in Seattle December 6, 2013

I will admit that before the trip, I had thought about what I would say to these guys if I were actually confronted with one or more of them. I was so surprised in that moment, however, that none of it came to mind. I thanked him (twice, I think) for what his music has meant to me. He noted that I was obviously from the States, and we talked about Austin for a few moments. He was very nice and cool. We shook hands (again, twice, I think), and if I remember correctly, I walked away from him. I bolted back to the room and told Shannon everything, but it was starting to slip away. I was already regretting that I had missed my opportunity to tell him about the very real impact he and his colleagues so recently had on my life, that their example had inspired me to chase my dream and that the inspiration had manifested in the pages of my book. I couldn’t sleep, and the regret wouldn’t stop nagging at me, even after returning home.

As I recovered from my jet lag, I sat down to compose a letter to Mike to tell him all the things I’d wished I had told him that night. I had family coming in and out, so I worked on it over a few days and finally mailed it (yes, snail mail–how quaint!). I don’t know if he will ever see the letter, but it helped me get past the regret. And who knows? Maybe this will open a dialog that a late night conversation on another continent wouldn’t have. Maybe it will end up being better this way. In my mind, Pearl Jam plays the soundtrack to my novel, and the lyrics to songs I’ve only mentioned so far will become very important in the next book of the trilogy. A girl can dream about the possibilities, and I’ve recently committed to pursuing those dreams.

Writing the letter was what I had to do stop the regrets, and it let me move on. The lesson here was to do what I had to do to let go of it, stop berating myself for not perfectly and completely articulating myself when faced with one of my heroes and realign my mindset to genuinely be OK with it now. And the happy result is that I can look back on the encounter and smile at the unknowable way the universe works.

Here we go…

If you read “About Me,” you know that one of my favorite bands recently inspired me to change my life in a very tangible way. A reminder of the perpetual dedication of the guys in Pearl Jam to working their craft lit a fire under me to get up and pursue my dream. I took a risk similar to theirs (of many years ago). I decided to write a novel and quit my job to devote my full attention to it.

I had no idea what to expect. You hear stories about it taking authors years to write a book, so I set a reasonable goal. I thought, if I’ve got a couple of chapters by the time I leave for my long-planned trip to Amsterdam to see Pearl Jam with my best friend Shannon, I will reevaluate but keep moving forward. If I don’t get that far (my fear was that I would procrastinate and accomplish nothing), then I will probably start thinking about another job.

I resigned my position working on law and policy for a Texas government agency on May 2. Over that weekend, I researched writing software, thought about where and how I’d like to write, performed some genre research and made a plan. I already had the general framework for my trilogy in mind, but I mind-mapped the plot of the first book as well as the first four chapters. I had intended to outline the entire book, but I later decided to let it develop after the first chapters organically. About a week after I quit my job, I sat down to write.

The words poured from me. I had to force myself to stop writing to sleep or do something else. I didn’t want to burn out so I set up breaks every day. Often, I’d write a scene or two then go sit by the pool for an hour or run some errands. On my breaks, I would think about the next few scenes, running them in my mind like a movie. Then I’d return and write a few more scenes until the chapter was complete. I generally wrote a chapter a day although I didn’t write when I visited my parents in Houston (my father is ill). After particularly draining chapters, I would sometimes question what I was doing. My friend Christine would talk me down and convince me to take a day off. After I did, I was always ready to dive in again with a fresh perspective.

I knew where I was headed, I just wasn’t certain how I would get there. That worked well for me. The characters’ words and actions would sometimes surprise me in the thick of things, and I was glad that I hadn’t tried to limit their options by shoving them into a preconceived box.

I’ve read about varying approaches to soliciting feedback throughout the writing process. I needed the support and encouragement of friends and family, so I had a select group to whom I’d send my chapters as soon as I finished them. Mom, Christine and Correy–thanks so much for never making me wait to hear what you thought! You’ll never know just how important that was to me. Others saw drafts at different stages, but it wasn’t until the draft was complete that I received substantive feedback. That was probably a good thing. I was so scared of getting derailed somehow that positive reinforcement was what I really needed. I was confident in my ability and in my story, but the doubts that surfaced when I was burning out were stressful. I learned that when I started feeling stressed, it was time to take the rest of the day off.

When I realized just how quickly the process was moving, I resolved to finish the first draft by the time I left for my Amsterdam trip on June 13. I finished on June 9! I couldn’t (and still can’t) believe it took only a month to write my novel. And it’s good. I’m very proud of it.

So that’s the beginning of my story. In future posts, I’ll talk about the really karmic thing that happened in Amsterdam and about the writers’ conference I attended soon thereafter.  Thanks for reading!