Wednesday, 27 February 2013

I want to be a writer

I want to be a writer. I am determined to be a writer. I sit at my computer and edit and tweak my latest novel, Piece of Mind, every single day. I revise conversations, tweak descriptions, and edit transitions. I carry a notebook in my purse so I can jot down ideas when I'm out. I have a two hour commute every work day (an hour each way) so have lots of time to think. My cellphone is handy too, I was walking on the treadmill yesterday, writing conversations into my notes.

I want to be a writer. These days I don't just read novels for pure enjoyment, I look at how sentences are formed. I notice how the author sets a scene. How the author explains who's speaking. How often they have characters speak versus describing what the character's experiencing.

I want to be a writer. I think regularly about my novel and try to sort out what to write in my current chapter. I talk to my children about my novel and use them as guinea pigs.

Writing is one of the hardest things I've ever done. I love to write. I love when I get a sentence phrased exactly right. I love when I read aloud to my kids and they laugh themselves silly at a part that's supposed to be funny. I love that point when my kids start talking about my characters like they're real people who just stepped out of the room for a minute. I hate when I'm sitting at the computer and my latest attempt at conversation sounds like bored actors reading a weak script. I hate when I have a thought in my mind and the words just won't go down the way I want them to. And, conversely, I love when I move to another paragraph then come back and tweak and, suddenly, changing a word opens up new ideas and the thought just pours onto the page.

I imagine writing is like building a house. I start with the foundation and throw it up. There's a basic shape but not much else. Then I go back and add the essentials. Soon I can see what the house will look like but it's rough, unfinished. Then I go back a third time and add all the little details. The descriptions, more conversations, little things that I was thinking that somehow missed getting written down. After that I drag someone else through so they can see if there's anything I missed. And that's as far as I've gotten.

Right now I'm about three quarters of the way through Piece of Mind and have a couple of chapters to tweak in Small Dreams and then I'm onto my next writing adventure, writing query letters.

I wrote the first chapter of my novel Small Dreams into my blog back in 2011. Now I'll share the first chapter of Piece of Mind. I hope you like it:

“And I woke myself up by screaming.” A rivulet of sweat trickled down my back as I described my latest nightmare.
Nicole looked up from chopping veggies for our morning omelette and grinned. “Maybe Santa will bring you a boyfriend for Christmas,” she remarked. She brushed her straight brown hair behind her ears and turned up the radio.
“This is my favourite carol,” she added as Eartha Kitt brazenly asked Santa for a fur coat and a car.
I stared at her blankly, unable to grasp the connection between my nightmares and needing a boyfriend. Then again, talking with Nicole always left me feeling like I was following half a conversation. “Why a boyfriend?” I asked nervously, the thought filled me with dread. When I was a bit younger and my parents were still alive, the thought of having a boyfriend was interesting but after a month of rape dreams, that interest had waned. I figured I was only a nightmare or two away from showing up at a mental hospital and asking to be admitted.
“Maybe you’re lonely,” she replied. “The dreams could be your mind’s way of telling you that you want some male attention.”
Chills ran icy fingers down my spine. “Seriously, I’d rather be single for the rest of my life than be with someone like that!”
She shrugged and went back to her vegetables. I carefully measured out the coffee then added it to the machine; coffee was the only thing Nicole would allow me to make. She took pleasure in her assumed role of big sister, cooking breakfast every morning before she went to bed and dinner every night before she left for work. She tried packing lunches but stopped when I insisted I could manage that; I'd made my own sandwiches when I was still small enough to need a footstool to reach the counter.
“It could be worse,” she said, obviously trying to cheer me up. “Your nightmares are here in private, unlike mine.” She sighed then added, “I'll never be able to see a movie again.”
I had to chuckle. She'd just broken up with her boyfriend at the premiere of the latest chick-flick. From what I heard, he thought they were going to be watching a movie with lots of guns and cars, not one where the male lead cried tenderly. Apparently the fireworks were so spectacular people were buying popcorn then heading back outside for the show.
Nicole munched a piece of pepper then said thoughtfully, “I wonder if you're having nightmares because you know you’re home alone. If you’d get a job where I work, then we’d be on the same shift and you wouldn’t have to worry about being home alone at night.”
“I’m not old enough to work where you do,” I reminded her yet again. I’d met Nicole at hair dressing school but she’d dropped out and got a job at the local casino instead. She was just barely old enough to work there, which made me five years too young; something she managed to forget at least once a week. Nicole’s thoughts centred completely around her. It wasn’t that she was mean or totally selfish, she simply forgot anything that didn’t directly have to do with her and assumed that everyone wanted to be just like her.
She swirled the eggs around the pan then poured the veggies on top. “Is the coffee almost done yet?”
“It's pretty much done,” I replied, glancing at the pot.
“Good,” she said while reaching into the cupboard. “I'll just get the sugar and... oh...” She grabbed something and pulled it out.
“Tamara?” she asked curiously. “Why are you keeping pregnancy tests in the cupboard?”
I looked at the box in shock while Ella Fitzgerald crooned about how she wanted to go on a sleigh ride.
“I didn't put that there,” I stammered.
The top of the box was open and Nicole tipped the contents into her hand.
“Eww,” she said as she dropped the tests on the counter then wiped her hands on her jeans. “One of these has been used.”
I picked up the used one and looked at it.
“Nicole,” I said, confused. “This test is positive.”
“That is seriously creepy,” she said. She didn’t sound creeped out at all though. She sounded excited, like it was some mystery to solve and Scooby and the gang were going to show up to help her explore for clues. I, however, wasn’t nearly as thrilled.
I started to shake. “How could this get in there?”
“Maybe...” she started to say then stopped. “Could you have left the door unlocked?” she asked hesitantly.
I shook my head. “I never leave it unlocked, ever. You know that!” I replied. “You’re the one who nicknamed me little Miss Paranoid. I always use the door lock, the dead bolt and a chain. And we’re on the frigging sixth floor so it's not like someone just climbed in a window.”
“Those were locked too by the way.” I added. “And I had to unlock the door so you could come in this morning.”
Last night I’d checked and triple checked the locks before heading to bed. I’d looked every conceivable place someone could hide and even some inconceivable ones. When I caught myself peeking behind the toilet I knew I’d moved from cautious into the realm of paranoia. That still didn’t stop me from checking in the bathtub and the overstuffed cabinets under the sink.
I pulled out one of the kitchen chairs and sat down with a thud. “One of the weird things about the dream last night is I heard a voice,” I said, struggling to remember. “I opened my eyes and saw these green eyes and heard a voice.”
I fell silent. I could see those cold green eyes in my mind. Felt the weight of his body above me. During the dreams I could feel the heat from his body but looking back, all I felt was ice.
“What did the voice say?” Nicole prompted, staring at me intently.
The coffee finished dripping but we ignored it.
“Nothing that made any sense at the time. He talked about farming and how he’d planted the field but still wanted to plough it.” I replied. My mind flashed to early childhood and my Mom explaining how Daddy makes a baby by planting a seed in Mommy. Seeds… fertile ground. An image of an old-fashioned plough digging into the ground the way he pushed himself into me. I picked up the unopened test. “I think I'm going to take this,” I said while heading to the bathroom.
Less than a minute later I had a second positive test. I leaned against the counter, my legs too unsteady to hold me, and stared at myself in the mirror above the sink. My reflection gazed back in shock. I always looked a bit young for my age but terror made me look about twelve. I wondered about the man who apparently thought that was enticing. My stomach twisted and I spent the next minute trying desperately not to vomit.
Nicole knocked on the bathroom door. “Tamara? Open up.”
Shaking, I opened the door. We stood there in silence staring at the plus sign on the second test. I felt as calm as the eye of a hurricane, eerily still and quiet with devastation looming in all directions. I was single. Completely, utterly, single. There was no way I could be pregnant… except if the dreams were real.
“What are you going to do?” Nicole asked looking about as shocked as I felt.
“I’m getting out of here,” I said grimly, trying my hardest not to cry. “I have no idea how he got in here and there's nothing stopping him from coming back.”

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

The most embarrassing story

Kids can say and do the most embarrassing things. Luckily for me, my most embarrassing kid story happened to my ex-husband. It all started with my daughter, her overactive imagination, and a bullying neighbour.

Back when daughter was preschool aged we had a neighbour with a daughter who was a year older. The girl didn't treat daughter well, she teased her and was often sent back home. But it was a small building and the two ended up playing together regularly. When the girl finally moved T* and I were ready to throw a party to celebrate. We celebrated too soon. Suddenly daughter had an imaginary friend named "Bad Katie".

Lots of kids have imaginary friends who are "bad" and get blamed for mischief. This friend was different. Instead she bullied and picked on daughter, pretty much the same way her previous friend teased her. This left T and I at a loss, trying to convince daughter to stand up for herself to an imaginary playmate.

Weeks went on and nothing seemed to work until one bitterly cold winter's night when T finally snapped. Nothing we said made a difference. Daughter couldn't ignore Bad Katie and telling her to stop and go away made the teasing worse. I sent Bad Katie upstairs for a timeout but she snuck back down. T stomped to the door and opened it. A blast of cold air rushed in.

"Outside now!" he snapped then looked at daughter and asked, "Is she out there?"
Daughter nodded and he slammed the door shut then locked it.
"There," he said with some satisfaction. "She's having a timeout on the patio."
"In the snow?" whispered daughter.
"In the snow," he agreed. "And she's not allowed back in ever again."

Weeks went by without a single mention of Bad Katie and we slowly relaxed. Then T headed out on the bus one afternoon with daughter and came home looking rather pale.

"I'm lucky I wasn't lynched," he said once daughter had headed upstairs. "The bus was packed to the point where we had to stand. There wasn't a single seat available. Then daughter started talking in a rather loud voice..."

"Remember that time Bad Katie was sooo bad that you made her have a timeout on our patio in the dark all alone. And it was really cold and you made her stand outside in bare feet in the snow and told her she wasn't allowed to come back inside ever again."

Complete and utter silence. T looked around and everyone was staring at him. No one looked happy.

I'll grant her good timing at least, she finished the story right before our stop so he was able to make a quick getaway.

*not my ex's real initial, just a letter I picked at random in September

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Disposable pets

We have three cats, all adopted. One was surrendered, one abandoned, and the last was disposed.

Angel was surrendered to a no-kill animal rescue agency, along with her brother, when their owner fell on hard times and couldn't afford to take care of them. It stinks but I understand that. And if anyone surrendered their black and white kitten Angelica to a shelter just east of Toronto, one that services Paws and Claws, she's a happy, healthy almost seven year old cat now (we picked Valentine's Day for her birthday) and is currently curled up snoozing on the couch.

I feel anger when I think of Blackie. Her previous owners left her behind in a shed when they moved. She was just a kitten when we adopted her at eleven months old and she'd obviously been malnourished. Her leg bones are bowed and she's got the oddest walk (which is not helped by her current pot belly). I can't understand and don't want to understand the mentality of someone who would lock a kitten up and abandon her to possibly starve to death.

It's Oreo that has me baffled. We had neighbours who lived across the hallway from us when my children were smaller. They moved in with two older cats and, shortly after we adopted Blackie, they picked Oreo out of a box of "free kittens".

A few months later they decided to move in with a family member who did not want three cats in his home. The Mom was deciding which cat to take to the shelter when I volunteered to take one. This came at the perfect time for us because my children's father (and his girlfriend) had promised the kids a kitten from the litter their cat was going to have. That litter never arrived and the kids were heartbroken they weren't going to get their kitten. Oreo, still a kitten at the time, was just what they were looking for.

A few weeks later the neighbours had a dog, given to them through the family grapevine. Someone's grandmother died, leaving behind an elderly dog. Daughter was disappointed, positive that if we'd waited a few weeks, we would have been given the dog instead of Oreo. I reminded her repeatedly that a) we'd never been offered the dog and b) we had Oreo and why would she trade him for any animal. Daughter was ticked to discover they gave the dog away to someone else shortly after moving due to bathroom issues.

A few years went by then there was a flurry of excitement on Facebook because they were getting a puppy. They'd been looking for ages and found the perfect puppy for their family. Then came the adorable puppy and child pictures. I asked how the cats were getting along with the puppy and got the response of "we got rid of the cats several months ago". Got rid of the cats who were around eight years old at the time.

A short while later she was posting saying she was going to look for a new home for her puppy soon if he didn't stop barking at the vacuum cleaner then wetting in terror. I suggested puppy training classes and provided links to local ones. She responded saying that despite months of looking for the "perfect puppy", she had not once looked into the breed. Apparently anxiety and wetting issues were common. She also refused to look into puppy training classes because hopefully the puppy would outgrow these issues.

I got blocked when I replied the shelters are already full of dogs who didn't outgrow anxiety issues and poor bathroom habits then reposted the training class links. This was at least half a year ago so I'm sure little Coco has been passed along to another family and they've moved on to yet another "perfect pet". We adopted Oreo five years ago this April. In those five years they have gotten rid of three cats and two dogs that I know of. I haven't spoken to them since last summer so who knows if they've gone through another perfect pet since then.

I woke up this morning to find Oreo snuggled against me again, his head nestled on my arm, his legs sprawled, his eyes watching mine... eager for me to wake and rub his tummy. He rolled around on the bed when he realized I was awake, licking my nose and wriggling so I could reach every part of his tummy. Son came into my room before bed last night so I could read him part of my novel. When he left to brush his teeth, he patted his leg and said "Come Oreo, it's tooth brushing time" and Oreo jumped off the bed and trotted along behind. My daughter insists he's a dog disguised as a cat.

I don't think of that family often but every once in a while Oreo will do something completely adorable and completely him and I wonder if they know what they're missing. How do you pick out a pet, promise to care for it, then give it away? How can you love and care for an animal for months or years and then pass it along and forget about it? One child used to ask my daughter and I about Oreo. "He's my Oreo" she'd insist to my daughter. Her mother never asked. Do her other children ever wonder about the pets they no longer own? Will they grow up to care for their own pets or will they grow up to see pets as nothing more than toys? Something to enjoy for a time and pass on once they're "boring".

Sure, I'm the one who gets to deal with the not fun stuff. Oreo very likely has FIV. I know it's not as easily transmitted as I was told when we first adopted him but I can't help but wonder if my other two cats have it as well. And Oreo has allergies, which means they get expensive cat food. We're eating lentils, rice, and pasta while the cats dine on smoked salmon and trout.

But then he walks up beside me, demanding attention, and closes his eyes in ecstasy as I scratch his forehead right above the eyes. His purr deepens, he grabs my hand with both paws and maneuvers it for a chest rub. He stares at me and my heart melts and I wonder once again if they ever know what they threw away.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Sleepy ramblings

I have been looking forward to today. A weekday off work with no one in the apartment except for me and my pets. A day to devote to my novel.

My alarm went off at 7am, just over two hours later than my alarm went off yesterday. You'd think it was two hours earlier by the way I felt. I crawled out of bed and finally managed to get son off to school. He left grumbling that he wished he had a day to sleep in. Meanwhile he slept til the crack of noon on Sunday. My heart bleeds for you kid.

My cat Oreo started yowling almost immediately. You see, he's starving to death; literally wasting away to a mere shadow of his former self. I didn't empty his bowl of the leftovers from last night and replenish it from the tin of goodness, so he was left with stale food. He cried and wailed, circling the bowls like a vulture and likely dreaming of growing opposable thumbs. Then he flopped on the floor beside me, all four paws in the air, dead of starvation, belly flab drooping to the floor. I still didn't feed him so he huffed away to take a nap.

I cracked open chapter two and began revising. I realized last night that I was missing some crucial information. This morning, as I began losing track of sentences and couldn't figure out where to place apostrophes, I realized I was missing some crucial sleep. Evidently a nap was in order for me too.

Every time I decide to take a nap, I forget one important fact. A futon will not comfortably hold three cats and a human. Something has to give and I'm the weak link. I set my timer for an hour, which would leave me with four hours of writing time, pulled my softest pillow off the wicker chair, and settled myself into a comfy position. Seconds later I had a cat butt in my face and a paw under my cheek. Angel decided the pillow was hers too.

Eventually I ended up with a cat back in my face, complete with fur up my nose, and my head positioned in a way rarely seen outside of "whiplash during a car accident" photos. Plus one cat draped over my feet, putting one to sleep a lot faster than I was going, and my 'dying of starvation' kitty sprawled across my hip. All twenty-two pounds of him.

I gave up barely a quarter into the nap. Now I'm hoping peppermint tea will work just as well. And, as I switch back to my novel, I'll leave you with my daughter's current favourite line from the book (one that won't give away any plot):

"I felt like I was in one of those horror movies, the ones where everything seemed perfectly normal until a monster popped up and ate someone's face."

Edited to add: This is what cat sarcasm looks like...