Taking up the gauntlet

My young adult work in progress will be finished by December 31, 2007. Period.

From my post on December 22, 2006:
I wrote a sketchy draft of THE MAGIC QUILT when I was in graduate school and then didn’t look at it again during the 14 years that I taught middle school. I never even tried to write fiction when I was teaching. I wasn’t alone in that, Stephen King couldn’t write when he was teaching either. In his book ON WRITING, King said,

“…for the first time in my life, writing was hard. The problem was the teaching… by most Friday afternoons I felt as if I’d spent the week with jumper cables clamped to my brain.”

And so THE MAGIC QUILT waited. My mind was on lesson plans and worrying about whether I had put out all the materials that I would need for the next day’s lab activity. Did I copy the lab handout before I left school, or would I have to go in early and copy it? Then there were the calls to parents about students I was concerned about, and the calls to encourage those who were doing better. And that endless stack of papers to grade that took up all my free time in the evenings.

So it was that after resigning my position as a science teacher, I reread my original draft of THE MAGIC QUILT, rewrote a couple of chapters and brought them to my fiction writing group. With their help, I decided the novel could be good and starting researching the American Revolution, the setting for the book. After finishing the second draft of the book, I took a workshop on writing historical fiction books taught by Philip Gerard, an expert on Paul Revere, and found that I had some historical facts wrong. Fixing the history trickled down through the entire novel and I had to rewrite much of the book. Now, THE MAGIC QUILT is finally so close to being finished that my goal for my holiday vacation is to finish her.

Thank you, Harry, for your support.

Now it is nearly a year later, and my young adult novel in progress is still not finished. Harry reminded me that I’ve been working on the novel for the entire four years that we have been together and I’m still not finished with it. I got mad at him, but I am really angry with myself. I had to ask myself why I am not finished.

I have been making steady progress, but it comes in spurts. I’ll make a writing schedule and stick to it until something happens, or nothing happens. Life gets in the way. We go on vacation, family visits, we adopt a dog, it is too beautiful outside to write, or the day job gets more stressful. Then, I’ll work on shorter pieces trying to get up the energy to work on the novel. And the cycle repeats.

Harry threw down the gauntlet when he asked me how long it would actually take me to finish my WIP. I’m taking up the gauntlet he threw down. With Harry’s somewhat reluctant support, I’ve decided to work part time, cutting my day job to 92% of my current hours. This means that I’ll have two Fridays off per month. Two days that I can write for eight uninterrupted hours. And I am going to finish THE MAGIC QUILT by December 31st using those days off, as well as a early mornings and weekends. Even though the holidays will come and go, I’m still going to finish. I am too close not to.

I have just sent the last three chapters to my writing group for their critique. I am editing the other chapters in the novel for consistency. I am also reading it to make sure Katharine’s voice is right. Her character changes throughout the novel as her control over her magic and her confidence in herself grows. The narrator’s voice must change with her. And, I’m tightening and trying to give the reader credit by not telling them everything.

Wish me luck.

30 Days of Night


Barrow, Alaska. Dark. Cold. Isolated. Bleak. A chilling setting for one of the best bloodcurdling brutally portrayed vampire movies I’ve seen.

Harry asked me to go with him to see 30 DAYS OF NIGHT because he loves horror movies, and it is set in Barrow, the northernmost point in the US. Just for a reality check, he has a habit of looking up the temperature in Barrow during our relatively warm Raleigh winters.

David Slade directs this horror-on-ice from a graphic novel by Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith. Barrow is 340 miles north of the Arctic Circle. With approximately 4,500 residents, the Barrow area is probably the harshest polar location in Alaska. The sun sets and doesn’t rise again for 30 days during winter. Though most of the residents of Barrow head south for the winter, some townspeople remain behind. However, those that stay regret their decision when, vampires descend on Barrow to feed. A dwindling band of survivors must try to last until dawn breaks over Barrow’s monthlong twilight.

Matt Zoller Seitz of the NY Times Review says, “30 DAYS OF NIGHT is a series of gory set pieces that seems to have been edited with a meat ax. A major early transition is so clumsy that you may assume that the projectionist accidentally skipped a reel. No such luck: it’s a style thing.” Seitz is right. It is a style thing and he just doesn’t get it.

Atmosphere — dark and chilling. The dark primeval fear captured by the barren snow covered terrain as the movie opens stays with you. If you love the atmosphere of the early horror movies, you will find that 30 DAYS OF NIGHT surpasses the classics in its brutally realistic depiction of the vampire. No tall dark stranger with fangs and a black coat, like the one created by the literary and cinematic portrayal of Count Dracula. If the creature responsible for the vampire legend were to come to your house this Halloween, you might open the door to a less than charming black-eyed creature with a bloody mouth full of teeth and a primal appetite. A creature like Marlow.

The leader of the vampire pack is Marlow, well acted by Danny Huston. Marlow is cruel and motivated only by his hunger for blood. Using only clicks and grunts, Huston makes Marlow graphically primeval. Wearing clothing designed more for a nightclub than the bitter cold, using cunning and military precision, and with apparently no conscience or soul, these creatures suck the town dry, human by human.

Holed up in the attic of a desolate house that was once a home is a cross section of survivors led by Josh Hartnett as the town sheriff and Melissa George as his estranged wife, a fire marshal. Both roles were well acted. While we know that the couple were headed for divorce and are now forced to rely on each other for their very lives, we aren’t privy to the reason for their split. The sexual chemistry between the two is enough.

30 DAYS OF NIGHT doesn’t romanticize the harsh environs, nor is it so ugly you don’t want to spend two hours there. We get just enough information, a touch of gallows humor, and plenty of white-knuckle suspense and massively gory and unflinching horror. I will concede there are a few logic-leaps required. For example the white-out snow does not cover the bloody gore remaining on the ground throughout the movie. But what horror movie doesn’t make us suspend disbelief. My only real criticism of the movie is that I found the ending both unsatisfying and unbelievable. I expected the minor characters to be picked off one by one, but I did not expect or appreciate what I got.

I don’t remember his exact words, but toward the end of the movie Marlow said something like, “It took us three centuries to make them think we are the stuff of nightmares.” 30 DAYS OF NIGHT does a good job of bringing the nightmare to the large screen.


I received this e-mail yesterday from a copy editor at a local Raleigh newspaper:
“I am working on a story for The News & Observer and am looking to interview folks in the community. I found your name, quite serendipitously, associated with a writer’s group. … This is for a story in our Q section. … “

This was the second time in the last month that I’ve been contacted to do an interview about my writing. I will be interviewed for the Raleigh Television Network’s “The Artist’s Craft” segment in November.

Does anyone really want to hear about my writing? I feel about these interviews the same way I felt the first time a high school student asked me to mentor her writing project. I wonder if I have enough experience as a writer to be effective. I have not yet finished the final draft of my first young adult novel and am far from having a successful writing career. I have had some success with educational pieces, but so far my fiction has not taken off. If I was looking for someone to interview about their writing, I would not choose me.

And then I happened upon JA Konrath’s blog. He said:
“Throughout the course of a career, a writer reaches many milestones. These milestones have a certain order, more or less, and each time one is reached is a cause for celebration.”

I realized that I have reached several of those writing milestones, I didn’t realize how many, and am ecstatically happy for accomplishing them. They include:

Finishing the first draft of my first novel. The end. Two little words that gave me such a feeling of acomplishment. My first novel was a rather abysmal story of a woman with multiple personalities titled Within. The writing was awful. I forced friends and family to read it. I’m so sorry for that. I made the rookie mistake of writing an autobiograghical piece and then stuck in the multiple personality to make it fiction. It didn’t work. Thank goodness I’ve moved on.

Sending out my first query letter. Unfortunately it was for Within, so I also received my first rejection form letter. Both gave me a sense of pride. I had tried.

Receiving my first acceptance e-mail from the editor of an educational magazine. This was for Attention Defecit Hyperactive Disorder… A Teacher’s Perspective. The editor said it was too long. I think the original version was over 3,000 words. I trimmed it down to half and sent it back to the editor. (Thank you for the advice Harry). He liked it and printed the cut version. Cutting that article was my first lesson in becoming successful as a writer. I hating sacrificing part of my baby.

Seeing my first nonfiction piece in print. Again, this was the ADHD article. Actually seeing my work in print. How awesome! (Even after the piece came out in Education Today magazine, I still had parents of my students bringing me articles and Web sites to help me “learn” about ADHD. But that is another post).

Selling my first short story to an E-zine. The first time I was actually paid for my fiction, and saw my name in print, I literally jumped for joy. Peculiar Advice, about the difference one teacher made and why, is my first published story. This is not my best story, and frankly, I was shocked it published. But it came from my heart.

Holding the first print magazine containing a piece of my fiction in my hands. This was my most exciting moment. Seeing my fiction on the printed page for the first time will always be my greatest thrill. This was To Live Again, my favorite and my first. Although Peculiar Advice was published first, To Live Again was written first. I’ll admit it is not my best, but I wrote and rewrote this heartfelt story of a woman who learns to take charge of her life through the love of her dog.

The first Web page I published and the first blog entry I posted. Both developing my Web site and blogging have helped me practice writing and build confidence to put my work out there.

So, I can see that my sacrifices and plain old hard work have paid off with some success. Hopefully, there are other milestones ahead like these:

Finishing my first young adult novel. The end. I can’t wait to write those two little words. I’ve sent the last three chapters to my writing group to critique. I’m darn close.

Getting an agent. It’s so hard to find an agent, especially a good one. I’m ready for the challenge of finding one. I’m realistic and willing to put forth the effort to find the right one.

Landing my first book deal. This is perhaps the biggest milestone of all. I look forward to it with all my heart. Wish me luck.

In the meantime, open a bottle of your favorite wine, or crack a beer, and toast the accomplishments of writers — and their families — only they truly understand obsession with the written word.

Beyond the Equinox. Again.

I missed a significant event this year. I was asleep when the sun appeared to cross celestial equator at 5:51 am, on September 23. As happens only twice a year, the length of day and night were approximately equal over most of the planet. But, summer’s death went unnoticed as I snuggled with Harry, enjoying the luxury of sleeping in on Sunday morning.

The autumnal equinox proclaims the eminent darkness of winter in an event that has been celebrated worldwide for centuries. The autumnal equinox coincides with the last harvest of the year, a time of celebrating the harvest, hunt, and memory of the dead, demonstrating the diversity of religious belief within our common humanity.

Even if, like me, you slept through the autumnal equinox, you may have noticed a tang in the air from the scent of wood fires, goldenrod, and autumn leaves.

Hal Borland wrote, “… some of the rarest days of the year come in September, days when it is comfortably cool but pulsing with life … Days when the sky is clear and clean, when the air is crisp, when the wind is free of dust and not yet full of leaves … we should all be able to go out onto the hills on such days and know that life is fundamentally good … ” (Borland, 1983).

What is so different now, from when Hal Borland wrote so vividly about the seasons in 1940? Global climate changes aside, nature is similar to that of 75 years ago. Yet, we no longer celebrate, or even notice the beauty, strength, and hospitality of the clear, crisp, sunny September days (except to note the lower electric bills in the interim between the operation of the air-conditioner and the furnace).

While the very tilt of our planet dictates the cycles of summer and winter, we work nine to five, complete tasks geared toward success in life, plan parties and fly to places near and far. We are unaware that Earth is orbiting the sun elliptically, spinning on an axis tilted 23.5 degrees in its orbit, leaving the hemispheres at different angles to the sun at different times of the year. Because the sun is our source of light, energy, and heat, the changing intensity and concentration of its rays give rise to the seasons of winter, spring, summer, and fall.

While the Earth spins on its tilted axis and circles the sun, rotating like a gyroscope, it points in a fixed direction continuously — towards a point in space near the North Star — daylight hours become shorter. The morning chorus of finches, wrens, and song sparrows fade. The chirps of cardinals and calls of the nuthatches dwindle, until crickets carry the squeaky melody alone. Hummingbirds make their way to the Outer Banks or Mexico for the winter.

As children prepare costumes for Halloween and parents sip hard cider, the cool nights trigger trees to withdraw vital sap into their trunk and roots, cutting off circulation to leaves. With no new chlorophyll in the leaves, photosynthesis will stop. The old chlorophyll will disintegrate and yellow pigments will color the leaves of sugar maples and birches. Sugars left in the leaves of dogwoods and oaks will oxidize in the sunlight of autumn days, coloring the trees in the reds, blues, and purples of fall.

As the Earth continues its journey around the sun, its energy will be spread over greater areas, finally dispersing into the nakedness of winter. Only the pines and cedars will wear the green of summer. The maples may still flash a few red eaves, but most of their branches will be bare. A few yellow leaves may cling to the rebellious ash and popular.

As Santa Claus visits children around the world, and snow blankets the fallen leaves on the ground, “We should … stand in the open and see bold horizons of faith, stubborn hills of strength, and horizon-wide span of enduring purposes.” (Borland, 1983)


Borland, H. (1983). Rare September Days. In B. D. Borland (Ed.), Hal Borland’s Twelve Moons of the Year. New York: Alfred A. Knoph, Inc.

Fall Equinox Celebrations: The First Day of Autumn; September 20 to 23. http://www.religioustolerance.org/fall_equinox.htm

Celebrating the Autumnal Equinox.