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I was performing one of my least favorite household chores recently, known as the Seasonal Closet Changeover. (This sounds boring. It is. it is also incredibly awkward and involves a lot of dust and hauling of large boxes. Truly, my life, it is like an opera). Sorry, where was I?

Ah yes. I was in Dante’s fifth ring of hell, surrounded by the enormous bins of summer shoes-hats-purses-gear. And the task is fairly simple: take everything out of said enormous bins, then put all winter boots-shoes-scarves-hats-purses-gear in. Leaving aside the size differential of winter gear to summer, or the fact that my Sorels alone take up the better part of one bin, this job is miserable for one major reason.

We have too. Much. Stuff.

Too much. Just too damn much. As I empty Small Daughter’s winter bin I put in no fewer than six adorable knitted wool hats. There was the strawberry hat, the rainbow hat, the cheetah hat, the flowered hat…I could go on. And then there were the scarves. Many of them knit by her grandmother, and all lovely. But…she doesn’t wear scarves. Pretty much ever. And when she does, she needs ONE. Not nine. But they are all so great, and why would I throw away these wonderful things?

So I shoved all five bazillion scarves-hats-purses-boots into the bins, sitting on them to get them closed, and put the six bazillion pairs of sandals-espadrilles-sunhats-straw-bags in their place. Because I just couldn’t deal. It’s all good stuff, I rationalize. And I hope I can get the closet door shut before it falls back out.

And this brings me to writing. (You knew I was going there, didn’t you?) I have too many words.

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Too much good stuff is a problem, especially at the revision stage. The classic writer advice is to “kill your darlings,” to be able to ruthlessly delete the precious sentences that ring like bells when read but serve no purpose. But this shizz is HARD. I recently went through a round of revision which involved writing high stakes new action scenes that put the main character in serious peril, and had him push to save those he loved. Sounds kind of like the climax, doesn’t it? Well, yeah, except I then had another 20,000 words or so, then ANOTHER climax. My wonderful critique partner Kate wrote me amazing notes and suggestions, then, using the words “crazy” “suggestion” and “maybe” several times in a row, she suggested that maybe possibly kinda-sorta I could cut…ya know…that whole second climax thing.

This is pretty much my reaction.
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Actually, and I’m not proud of this, but I whined pretty hard. “But I love that scene!” I whined. “But that’s some really really good writing!” I sniveled. “But it’s so cool with the fire and the hog farm and medic tent and all that!” I moaned. (No, I’m not making this up, there was a fire, and pigs). Then, (and this is even more embarrassing), I said, “Well, here’s the thing. It’s pretty close to the end. If an agent reads that far she’ll probably keep reading. And if she tells me to cut, I will.”

Thank god Kate does not back down easily. They grow ’em tough in Edmonton. Ultimately, she has convinced me that rank laziness and wishful thinking will not endear me to the publishing industry. I cut the scenes. They were good, but they were just too much.

But I’ll be honest. Those scenes? They’re all saved in another document. Kind of like the scarves I can’t seem to bear to give away. You never know when something so pretty might come in handy.

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I am in the revision cave with THE DANGEROUS SCHOOL, CLASS OF 2030, and oh, a smelly, skanky, nasty cave it is.

This is NOT my cave

Yeah, more like this one

I’ll be honest. I’m not loving writing this right now. I’m distracted, I’m restless, and I really want a co-writer so I can say, “you know what – you take this damn game scene that’s eating me for lunch!” But there is no one to say that to (or at least no one to respond the way I want, which is by saying, “okay, I’ll get right on that while you book yourself a well-deserved vacation. I’ll call you when we have a book deal.”)
But despite the pain, I love this book so hard. I really do. I love the characters, and I love the battles they have to fight, and I just want to do it justice. So to help motivate me, because this revision cave is really lonely and echo-chamber-y, I’m kicking it old school and posting a Tuesday tease. Here we go:

From Chapter One

The Danger Awareness Buzzer at the bus station droned with a steady annoying beep. Hill glanced up at the vidscreen projected above it. There was nothing new in the scrolling list of dangers: eco-terrorists in Nueva York had halted the subway lines but no one was injured, Boston curfew was starting an hour earlier due to shorter daylight hours, contamination at the Protmeat plant had slowed production and moderate food shortages were expected. Nothing unusual. Hill’s aunt Denise frowned at is as though it personally offended her.
“The noise on that stupid DAB…I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to it. Hopefully you’ll have an older bus, Hill, and without one of those miserable things.” She smiled brightly, as though his five hour bus ride into backcountry Maine would be so much better if it didn’t have a DAB installed.
Hill just shrugged.There was a beat of panic rising in his chest. He was leaving. He was actually leaving what was left of his life, what little bit might have still been normal. He had a sudden desperate desire to change his mind; to tell Denise and his uncle Stu to take him back to their house, that he didn’t want to go, that he had no interest in this strange school, even if it was better than the last one. But he didn’t say anything. In five hours and ten minutes he would be in Bathel, home of the Outdoor Academy of Maine.
Stu was off trying to make sure Hill’s pass was loaded up with enough travpoints, and that all his identification scans had gone through. At fourteen Hill wasn’t officially a minor––the cadet corps had a pre-military program that started at fourteen––but he still needed an adult to authorize his travel. Hill hadn’t traveled since his parents––well, they had always taken care of this stuff. Hill didn’t let himself think of it. His massive old pack was digging into his shoulders, but he didn’t want to take it off. There was no point in getting comfortable. The sooner he could get on the bus the sooner this whole miserable goodbye scene would be over. He looked up to see his uncle gesturing them over, a relieved smile on his face. Clearly everything was set.
As he hugged them goodbye, Hill bit down hard on the inside of his lip so he would do anything pathetic like cry. He had cried at his mother’s funeral, plenty. And everyone had cried when they sat shivah, the Jewish week of mourning for the dead. Then, when everyone else left he and his dad had both cried for what felt like months afterwards, all last horrible summer. But when his dad told him he would be returning to Syria, to the war that killed his mom, Hill didn’t cry. He didn’t beg him to stay. And now it was his turn to leave. Hugging his cousin Eli, Hill could see tears in the younger boy’s eyes.
“Will you mail us? Soon?” he asked, his bony arms barely reaching around Hill and the backpack. “Right away? And will you tell me if there are actual animals there? And, like, if there’s farm stuff?”
Hill smiled at him. “Of course, E-man. You’ll get all the news as fast as I can dict it. And you take care of Oscar. Don’t let him barf in my bed again!”
Eli giggled, and Hill let go, stepping back to hug his aunt and uncle. Mercifully, they seemed to know this wasn’t the time for a big emotional goodbye.
“We’ll get the scan when you arrive, but mail us soon and let us know how its going,” Stu said. He looked so much like Hill’s dad that for a minute Hill wanted to stay with him. But it wasn’t his dad. If his dad were here to say goodbye, Hill wouldn’t even be leaving.
“Be careful, Hillel!” Denise said, hugging him fiercely before pushing him towards the waiting bus, which was nearly obscured behind the air-scrubbing tanks. “Have fun, and remember, you can always come home!”
Hill stepped on the bus, away from what was left of his family. It was nice of Denise to say so, but home was long gone.

Put on a dance number from the early 1990s and I tell you, am ready to put on my bodysuit and cut-off shorts (over my leggings), lace up my Doc Martins and hit the dance floor.* No matter what I’m doing, including cooking dinner for my family while wearing pumpkin flannel pajamas, the music still makes me feel like I’m getting dressed in my dorm room, ready to storm the clubs of Montreal. Or play the CD of lullabies that I listened to every. single. night. while nursing my son and trying to get him to sleep and I swear I can smell the Burts Bees apricot body oil I used to use on him after his bath.

But play the song Fallout by the local and hugely talented folk singer Susan Levine and I will start writing the angst-puppy emo-boy scenes of Dangerous School.  I think I listened to that song on endless repeat for hours, literally hours, while writing certain scenes.

The point to all this is that music can unlock whole kingdoms in writing, at least for me.  When I wake up at 5:45 and stagger downstairs (in the above-mentioned pumpkin p.j.s) it can be very hard to get my head into a longing-filled, romantic high-stakes drama between my characters.  But early in the writing process, as I am outlining the story, I build a playlist that builds the mood I need.  There is an alchemy in those songs after a while – they magically turn my mundane coffee-seeking-bill-paying-school-lunch-making mind off, so that my writing mind can take over.

I’m a little embarrassed to admit that the book I’m working on right now came to me while I was listening to a bootleg copy of Glee and the song No Air came on.  I don’t even know who sings the song originally (I just know it as sung expertly by Rachel and Finn). I just was listening to these teenage singers belting out how they can’t live without each other – that it would be like trying to live without air.  And voila – I suddenly had this love story with a girl who fell so hard for a boy, despite the fact that she is a Mer, and he is not. Some 55 thousand words later that song still  brings me some of the immediacy of feeling that way.

So how about you?  Do you need classical music to work, techno beats to exercise, Go-Gos to clean the house (or maybe that’s just me…)?  Anyway, I’m curious…let me know!

*Yes, there are photos. No, you can’t see them.

Three things:

1) Small Daughter turned seven this weekend and I am realizing anew that time only flows one way, i.e. she will not be six ever again and my days of being able to grab her and pick her up and squeeze her until she squeaks are limited;

2) Large Son had his first ever hockey game on a team with many kids who have been playing for five-plus years already, and I watched him lumber out on the ice with great trepidation, not that he would get hurt but that he would be yelled at or humiliated or scared by mean people;

3) I sent drafts of my first ever completed manuscript, The Dangerous School, Class of 2030 out into the world.  People are reading it, even as I type.  In some cases, relative strangers are reading it.  In others, dearly loved family members are reading it.  I’m not sure which is scarier.  I’m just glad there are no graphic sex scenes.  (Well done, all you romance authors who share your work and don’t dissolve into giggles when critiquing each other.  You can tell why I writer for the teenage market!)

Anyway, I would say it’s been an interesting week of learning all over again to let go and jump.  I’ve learned that lesson oh so many times before, in wildly diverse settings both literal and figurative.  But the triple-play of this past week and weekend have reminded me that no matter how well I’ve done at being brave in the past I have to relearn it all over again.  It’s a lesson I learn best from my kids, and that I hope will show up in everything I write.  Because as the photos of Small Daughter and Large Son show me, letting go and jumping off can be the most fun in the world.

I had written a rather moving post about the first Tuesday after Labor Day, about going back to school.  It was lovely and included memories of 20 years ago, when I started university, and a discussion of Large Son’s distress at giving up summer freedoms.  I also tied the first day of school in to my book, The Dangerous School, that I just finished first-round revisions for.  It was all very exciting. However, WordPress ate my blog post, which totally sucked, and I don’t have the time or inclination to post it again.

So, here’s a funny photo of the cat.  Everyone loves funny cat photos.  Maybe there will be more tomorrow.  If the gods of WordPress agree.

to f-bomb or not to f-bomb, that is the question...

Ah swearing.  The melodic sounds of the f-bomb being hurled down the staircase, the strains of the b-word muttered under the breath, the sheer poetry of a creative string of a#$h#&%-mother#$*%&-sh&*head.  Lovely.

My son swore at me for around ten minutes straight last night. I should mention that he’s eight.  I should also mention that it’s not like we don’t know where he learned it; the apple doesn’t fall that far from the effing tree. But…it was like a dam breaking. He knows he is not allowed to swear and he slips up sometimes, but last night it was a true damn-the-torpedoes, hung-for-a-sheep-as-a-lamb, no-holds-barred tirade.  I had asked him to clean up the stuff he had strewn all over the yard. Also I think he was a wee bit tired. By the end of it we were both kind of freaked out, I think.

As a writer, words feel really powerful to me.  I remember when I was around seven, late one night new year’s eve (new year’s day, really, I guess), when the phone rang in our friends’ ski house. When my dad got on the phone he said, “oh shit.” I knew something bad had happened. My heart clenched and I lay in bed, eyes open, waiting to hear what was going to happen next.  I had never heard him use that word before.  I found out minutes later that my grandfather had died.

When my son yells “bitch!” it stings more than it should, because to me it is a word imbued with misogynist overtones.  Of course, to him it means female dog and he giggles about it with his best friend when they think I can’t hear them. He knows it’s a taboo word so he throws it out when he’s really mad, but he lacks any context.  When he asks why these words are swears I am hard-pressed to answer what makes them so ugly.  Still, we all know what they are.

I am editing my first draft of The Dangerous School, Class of 2030 and it turns out I had my characters swearing all over the place. They’re teenagers, they’ve got angst, they’re mostly talking amongst themselves – swears seem obvious, right? When I was writing it the words felt authentic, real.  But now I am cringing a little as I read them, and I’ve decided to edit out 90% to start, keeping in a few that I feel are actually needed to convey the emotion in the scene.  The remaining ones might get the axe, as might some of the “grey-area” swears I left in (does douche-bag really have to come out?  I love it so!).  Ironically, one of the main characters in the book, this kid Jack who I truly love, has something of a sewer mouth and is trying hard to break the swearing habit so he makes up his own creative swears as needed.  As he was told by another character, “swearing is a sign of a sloppy intellect. It’s lazy and ineffectual.  Get over it.”  Good advice, if I do say so myself.

As a postscript for anyone who is wondering how the rest of the evening went with my own mini-George Carlin, well, he settled down after a while.  We talked about what made him so mad, and about how there has to be better release hatches than such ugly words. When he went to sleep he said, “Goodnight mama.  I love you so much…no matter what I say when I’m mad.”

Now those are words I can live with.