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Posts from the ‘Brittany’ Category

Brittany: This Writer’s Life, Straight Out of a Horror Flick

You already know about my thing for vampires. But lately, I’ve been feeling more like Dr. Frankenstein.

You know that scene where the doctor’s monster comes to life and he says, “It’s alive!!!”? Well, that’s me.

I’ve created a monster, too.

I want to go on record again as saying that I had no intention whatsoever of starting another novel. I packed up my previously finished novel into a bin in the attic and decided I just wasn’t going to fool with writing and publishing right now. I was going to be a mommy, and mommy my heart out. It was much too hard to balance writing and motherhood, and darn it, I wasn’t playing anymore. I was packing up my toys and going home.

And then one day in the mini-van, while I was trying to block out the ever-present Wiggles, this character appeared in my head, and then this other character appeared, and suddenly this plot was unraveling, and I thought to myself, “Yeah, yeah…that’s nice. Now shut up.” But they wouldn’t shut up. So I thought, “Well, there’s no harm in writing the idea down…” So I wrote the idea down. And then I started thinking of scenes to write. And I said to myself, “The boys are napping. I have a few minutes. There’s no harm in writing them down…” And I wrote them down. Soon I had so many scenes written that I thought, “I really ought to put these in order.” I put them in order. Then I thought of stuff to write between the scenes. And things to research. And people to interview… And then yesterday, I finished my novel.

Imagine my surprise.

Now, when I say finished, I don’t mean finished. It’s a mess. It’s a monster made up of a skeleton (with lots of vertebra missing), loosely held together by some scraps of muscle and tissue, and, if they ever saw it, mobs of editors and publishers would run it right out of town with flames and pitchforks.

However, it does have a clear beginning, middle, and end. The characters (and their relationship) make sense. Their story is interesting. And, even better still, I’ve written the story I wanted to write.

This was not the case with my previous novel, or any other story I’ve written before.

I used to subscribe to the choose-you-own-adventure method of novel plotting, as well as the write-the-entire-story-chronologically-and-if-you-get-stuck-stare-at-a-blank-screen-and-blinking-cursor-indefinitely method of composition. And that got me nowhere.

I was like that idiot girl in the horror movie who stumbles blindly into the dark basement where the monster is lurking. Or, to continue my monster metaphor ad nauseum, it was like slowly unwrapping a mummy (a stinky undead dude with a bad attitude), but hoping that it was really Brad Pitt under a lot of gift-wrapping. It’s obvious now why writing was so frustrating for me.

I needed to get to know my monsters. (Or, as people who aren’t beating a metaphor to death would say, I needed to abandon any preconceived notions I had about writing and try something scary and unpredictable.)

What’s funny about this is that people who know me would say “scary and predictable” aren’t words in my vocabulary. I am probably the most risk-averse person I know. I am so type-A, that in new situations, I actually plot out several different scenarios so that I’m prepared to deal with every impending uncertainty at any given moment.

Just based on my personality, I should be the extensive-outlining type. I am the *last* person that non-linear anything should work for.

But in a few short months, I have written the framework of a novel that has real potential. And that framework supports my desire to be present for the boys and mother them but still write when I can.

It’s such a great feeling, it’s scary.

Brittany: Unkeeping a Journal

Crossposted from my personal blog.

I’m the sort of writer whose ideas are in a constant state of percolation. I’ll be driving my mini-van, listening to the Wiggles, answering a constant stream of “whys” from the backseat, and all of a sudden a snippet of conversation will pop into my head, where it will sit until I’m in the grocery store, and I imagine a dialogue around that snippet of conversation, where it will sit until I’m in the middle of a debate with Tom about what to have for dinner, when the setting for the dialogue with the snippet of conversation will pop into my head. Then I’ll let it percolate some more while I work out all the sensory details and plot points. And then, when everything finally starts to come together in my own mind, I *try* to write it all down.

It’s not the most effective means of novel writing. Invariably, I lose my momentum halfway through and end up wracking my brain trying to remember what I’d been stewing over.

In this month’s Writer’s Digest, there’s an article that caught my attention about “unkeeping” a journal, and using it as a repository for all those snippets that fall into your head and end up lost to time. Since there are no rules, because technically, you aren’t *keeping* a journal, you can use it to play around with your writing, brainstorm out loud, and amuse yourself by transcribing the conversations around you, funny things children say, and any interesting stories that interest you. All excellent ideas.

Some of the suggestions didn’t really appeal to me. I’m not going to interview myself, pretending I’m a bestselling author, for example. And I don’t see the point in brainstorming titles for a children’s book about two dogs. But a couple of pages into the article, one of the suggestions really caught my eye.

It’s an exercise called Outrunning the Critic. What you’re supposed to do is write 100 short sentences about a character, central concept, or scene in a story, and write those sentences without lifting your pen from the paper. I read that and went, “Huh. I should try that.”

I had a scene percolating in my head — a very pivotal, very long scene that I didn’t want to start yet. It was just too daunting. It takes place at a square dance and it had already taken three hours of watching square dance and clogging videos on You Tube to get the first page of the scene started. But the boys were playing trains in the playroom, and they wanted me in there with them, so I grabbed my new journal, numbered the lines from 1 to 100 and jotted down thoughts as they came to me.

Even though there were times that John was leaping on me and literally swinging off my pen-wielding arm (in danger of getting his little eyes stabbed out, by the way, which I suppose is an occupational hazard when your mother is a novelist) I got my 100 short sentences written in pretty short order. It was surprising to see how truly fleshed out that portion of the chapter already was in my head, and how little I really needed to fill in.

Since I don’t like to “write” until the scene is complete in my head, but 100 sentences feels like a substantial amount of ideas for getting started, I was able to subvert that part of myself that says “Sorry. Not enough here to write it down.” The best part is, in transcribing those 100 sentences into the body of my text, I see it is a hugely substantial piece of writing after all. It didn’t feel like I was making progress because it was too easy, but even so, I was.

This is definitely a technique I’ll try again (there’s a lot of scene left to write, and I still dread writing it).

[Photo courtesy the8rgrl]

Brittany: What Did You Do Today?

Crossposted from my personal blog.

“What did you do today?” It’s never a good idea to ask this of a stay-at-home mom and expect to be told anything exciting as a result.

One of my single (and childless) friends asked me this very question today, and I was embarrassed to admit that so far, my morning had consisted of getting Sam to preschool, then taking John with me to Target to buy him some training pants.

I left out the part about waking up to Ice Age: The Meltdown, making toaster waffles for breakfast, negotiating with Sam about which shoes to wear to school, and refereeing a squabble over how many Froot Loops Sam should share with John and who would get to hold the cup of Froot Loops after Sam exited the car.

That was my morning in a nutshell. Heady stuff there…

And yet, when I got home, and after I put John to bed and dumped his new training pants in the wash (to hopefully shrink them — Baby Boy is only in the 6th percentile for weight), my life got interesting because once again, I felt a compulsion to write and my brain was almost instantly transported up to Bear Wallow.

Now I’m a novelist, with interesting things to talk about.

Like, for example, this new method of writing. I haven’t even once sat down at the computer and tried to bang out a chronological story. In fact, I rarely sit down at the computer at all. Mostly, scenes have been popping into my head and I’ll write down whatever comes to mind in my notebook while I sit with the boys in the playroom.

Then, during their naps, I’ll slip downstairs to the computer and type out what I’ve already written freehand. I had so many snippets that I began to put them in chronological order. Then, out of nowhere, I had a fully fleshed out beginning, middle, and end. So whenever I get a new scene, I stick it in the appropriate chronology, and move on.

Yesterday during the boys’ afternoon nap, I typed out my ending. Then after they woke up, while they were playing, I wrote a scene that became the catalyst for the ending.

And when I want to write, and I’m stuck, I just number my page from 1-100 and jot ideas down. Sometimes they go together (they usually do), but sometimes it’s a thought pertaining to something I’ve already written. And then I go add all of that to the body of the novel. And the book is slowly coming together.

This is quite possibly the craziest writing experience I’ve ever had. This is not what writing is supposed to feel like. This is not how writing is supposed to me done. I don’t feel like I’m in the driver’s seat with this one at all. And now I’ve got this niggling voice in the back of my head (my Muse, most likely) saying absolutely insane things like “When you’re done writing this one, you’ll have to go back and re-write Home Improvement the same way.”

Brittany: Bitten By the Muse

(parts cross-posted from my personal blog)

Okay, I admit it. Sometimes I can be a real literary snob. But after obtaining a BA and an MA in English, which required me to read approximately 500 works of English literature in 5 1/2 short years (all of which were considered classics), I started to scoff at certain types of books.

And since an MA in English is about as useless as an advanced degree in Bird Calling, I’ve tried (tried being the key word) to put a little distance between myself and overly-commercialized drivel, because I couldn’t possibly be seen reading that stuff. I have an image to maintain, right? Snobbish-literary-type, playing-bongos-in-some-smokey-dive, composing-odes-to-Kafka-on-a-cocktail-napkin. You get the picture.

Enter Twilight. I read all the articles, all the reviews, watched the hysterical swooning, saw how one little book about teenaged vampires turned the world on its head, and Masters-in-English Brittany sniffed disdainfully at all that nonsense and went on reading “big girl” books. You want me to read a young adult, sci-fi vampire book? Please.

But there is a part of me that pays attention to pop culture, and when talk about Stephanie Meyer and her stupid vampire books wouldn’t go away, I became curious. The writer in me was curious about the writing. The sleep-deprived mom in me wondered what in the hell would possess my son’s preschool teacher (another mom) to stay up well past midnight to watch New Moon the night it hit theaters. Was I missing something?

So for Christmas, I asked Tom to get me the series, and being Tom, he looked at me like I’d just casually asked him to buy me a crack pipe. But he got me the first three books anyway (and didn’t buy me the fourth because it was still in hardback and he didn’t want to pay hardback prices if I hated the books) and New Year’s Eve, I parked my butt on the couch and read ALL THREE BOOKS straight through.

I haven’t read books with that much enthusiasm in I don’t even know how long. Maybe never. I was able to put Harry Potter down at least. With the Twilight series, the house could have been on fire and I would gladly have gone up in smoke  just to read one more page.

And I don’t particularly enjoy young adult, sci-fi, or vampire books. So that was uncharacteristic for me.

But even stranger still, reading about Edward and Bella appears to have tripped my circuit breaker back into the “on” position, and as long as I am under the Twilight spell, I can write and write and write. I actually had to leave Tom twice in the middle of a conversation yesterday because words and phrases kept popping into my head and I felt this odd (and lately, all but forgotten) compulsion to go write those things down RIGHT THEN.

And I want to point out, here for all the world to see, that I had absolutely no intention whatsoever to start writing again. I hadn’t given it the first thought. In fact my unspoken New Year’s resolution regarding writing was that I’d only write when I had a real compulsion to do so, but was *not* going to sit anywhere near a computer and try to compose anything.

And yet here I am, burning up the keyboard like a woman possessed. I had less than two thousand words written a week ago, and that was after a couple of months of plodding along whenever I felt a scene coming. Now I have 6, 942.

It’s been a very odd couple of days.

Since I finished the first three books, I haven’t been able to sleep. Or at least sleep deeply. All night my brain is working away, re-imagining scenes, analyzing the words, the moods, the tone, the characters, the use of adverbs (usually a no-no), the use of modifiers (also a no-no), the way Stephanie Meyer describes every little nuance of every single facial expression, tone of voice, shade of skin. My brain wants to learn everything it can. I’ve been so manic about the Twilight saga that I sat down and read Midnight Sun (Twilight told from Edward’s perspective) — and then was promptly inspired to write a chapter from my own male protagonist’s point-of-view. Then, when I thought I was well and truly going to lose my mind if I didn’t read Breaking Dawn, bought it yesterday and read it straight through, and rented the movie Twilight today. I’ll probably sneak off to watch New Moon this weekend.

I may need a twelve-step program after this.

But I’m not one to turn down a gift Muse, in whatever guise she appears, and if vampire love is what it takes to get me writing feverishly again (and I can’t tell you how good it is to feel obsessive compulsive again), then I’ll take it.

The funny thing is, and it only occurred to me after the fact, Stephanie Meyer is a writing mother, too. In this interview she describes the way Twilight first came to her in a dream, and the strange compulsion she felt to write the story.

Perhaps we’ve  been bitten by the same muse. 🙂


Our long-time blogmate Brittany Vandeputte was recently published in the Petigru Review! I stole the following from Brittany’s blog:

Yesterday I received my two free author copies of The Petigru Review. It felt good to hold a big chunk of a book in my hands, flip to the table on contents, and see my name listed three times. The $15 I made in “royalties” felt good, too. It brought the total profits from my writing to date up to $115. What a lucrative career choice I’ve made for myself…

Obviously I’m not in it for the money. It’s more the satisfaction of knowing someone else read my writing and thought other people would like it, too. That feels good. And it also feels good to be published in a literary journal named for James L. Petigru, SC stateman, who famously said “South Carolina is too small to be a republic, and too large to be an insane asylum.” I love my adopted state, but as a born and bred Tarheel, I do snicker (quietly) to myself whenever I hear that quote.

I had hoped that I could brag that it was now available on, but it isn’t yet. It is, however, available at a local bookstore, Fiction Addiction.

I’m only doing my due dilligence by pointing out that it would fill a stocking nicely and would most certainly impress all your book-loving friends with its sophisticated, artsy, literary-journalness. Plus, I have it on good authority that you might even persuade one of the contibutors to autograph your copy. 🙂

Brava, Brittany! We’re so proud!

Brittany: Creative Journey

*cross-posted from my personal blog*

Today was a good day.

We all have runny noses around here, and since the weather is pouring-down-crappy and there’ve been confirmed cases of swine flu at the preschool, I decided that was reason enough to let Sam play hooky today.

After John took his morning nap, the three of us went to paint pottery at a nearby studio, which has quickly become my go-to activity with Sam. The boy has some untapped artistic abilities, and he really seems to enjoy it. Sam and John worked in tandem on a Christmas gift (I can’t say for who because they might read my blog on occasion) and I bounced back and forth between them, pouring more paint and encouraging them to go nuts.

When I pictured motherhood, this is not what I saw of myself, strangely enough. I know I probably come across as artsy fartsy and free-wheeling, but I really have a hard time with the whole “going nuts” aspect of life.

If you think about it, all my hobbies have pretty stringent rules. There’s writing, with enough rules regarding structure, grammar, and spelling to give anyone a migraine. Embroidery, with its color-only-in-the-lines patterns, as well as the edict from above that the back should look as seamless as the front. And although I’ve tried it a couple of times, I’ve never been able to pull off anything but a realistic-looking doll.

In my personal life, too, I can’t look back on any period of my life and say “I was totally out of control then.” I attempted, on a few rare occasions, to get drunk and throw caution to the wind, but my conscious, an internal-harping-elderly-kill-joy quickly badgered me into returning to the straight and narrow. I’m just not comfortable saying “Do whatever you like.”

But I did it today.

The pottery the boys made today is going to look gorgeous after it’s fired, and it is 100% their work. I have a strict “Mommy-Hands-Off” policy when it comes to their artwork. And that is why there are drool marks in the paint, handprints, finger-painted swirls, drips, streaks, brush strokes, sponged dabs, and streams of colors not found in nature.

There is a saying for teachers — “The one who’s doing the work is doing the learning,” which basically means that if you want someone to learn something, you as the teacher must facilitate the experience, but then take a step back, and let your students do it, explore it, internalize it and learn it for themselves.

In stepping back, I’m learning a lot from my boys. Little boys can make stunningly beautiful objects with minimal supervision. There are no bounds to their creativity. They know how to go nuts. And they do it spontaneously and joyfully, just like they do everything else in life when they are allowed to act freely. It makes me happy watching all that joy pour out of them. They are overflowing with pleasure and satisfaction and a sense of “I did that” without feeling constrained by any pre-conceived notions.

It’s a lesson I should put to use in my own work. Lately, even though I have a new-and-improved plot for my novel, I have a pre-conceived idea in my head of what it should look and sound like, and I can’t even get an outline written that will translate to the page. I wish I wasn’t so overburdened with plans and could just let go and write.

But even though my own creative output has currently slowed to a trickle, I can feed my need to create, at least vicariously, by facilitating the boys’ creativity. It gives me the same rush as if I’d done the art myself, because art is all about exploring possibilities, and wherever my boys go, my heart travels with them.

Brittany: It All Starts With the First Line

*parts cross-posted from my personal blog*

Last week I took my How Home Improvement Saved My Marriage manuscript up to the attic and stuck it in a box with other things I don’t want cluttering up my life right now. Lately, I’ve been in a very foul mood toward my novel and my inability to get anywhere with it, and I decided it just wasn’t worthy of my continued devotion anymore.

My novel is flawed. Profoundly and maddeningly flawed. The beginning lacks momentum. It lacks bite. Alex, the narrator, doesn’t sound like anybody I’d want to hang out with for 200 plus pages. Partly that is due to point of entry problems. The beginning of my book was once funny as hell, with snappy dialogue galore, but that was before I realized that while it was highly entertaining writing, the plot was languishing under all that talking. So I cut, and I cut, and I cut some more. And I reached what I thought was the perfect point of entry. But no matter what I did, the book could just not pick up any steam at that point. It went mwah mwah mwaaaaah from the get go. And then there was the counter plot. I’ve never been particularly happy with how much of the novel is taken up by Alex’s job woes. It was one of those cases where I let the book meander into psychotic acid-trip craziness and hoped the reader was game to read absurdist fiction. But still, with all the lunacy going on in the plot, the story just sat there, staring at me, willing me to do something new with it.

When I hauled my gigantic white binder full of rough-draft novel up the attic stairs, dumped it unceremoniously in a Rubbermaid container full of books, and jammed the lid on it, I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the action it had in mind. But as I resolutely turned off the attic light, I thought to myself, “This is an appropriate metaphor for how I feel about you. You suck. It was nice while it lasted, but good-bye forever.”

And I had not made it down even two rungs of the attic ladder before I was hearing Alex’s voice (muffled by the Rubbermaid container lid, but clearly Alex, nonetheless) and she said, “You want to put an offer on this house?” I asked my husband Will, who up til now had always seemed like a perfectly rational individual. And suddenly, my whole novel was re-organizing itself in my head. Here was the perfect point of entry. Here was the set up for funny dialogue. Here was a girl I could spend an afternoon with.

“You bitch,” I cursed, as I climbed down into the laundry room. “Where the hell have you been? It might have occurred to you to tell me this nine months ago when I was begging for your help.”

“I just thought of it,” said Alex.

Now she’s absolutely full of suggestions.

“You know what your problem is?” she asked me this weekend while I was cleaning the bathrooms. “You’ve got two different novels spliced together into some kind of weird Franken-fiction. Take out all the stuff about my teaching woes and stick to stories about the house.”

“That’s all fine and good,” I grumbled, “but I don’t have any more stories about the house.”

“Yes, you do,” she said.

“I do?” I asked.

And she proceeded to point out that I watch a bazillion home improvement reality shows on tv, and said, “What if Alex applied to be on one of them so they could afford to make the repairs on their new house?”

At this point, I was sprinting to my office for a notebook.

“The  reality show will pay for all the repairs,” she continued, “but the catch is that they have to do all the work themselves, with no outside help whatsoever, they have no clue what they’re doing, Alex is still messy and laissez faire, Will’s still an obsessive-compulsive neatfreak. and now there’s a film crew following their every move…”

And then the heavens parted, and a choir of angels appeared, singing in triumphant chorus…

I really feel like I’m on to something here — that this is a huge breakthrough for me — and it is going to take my book off in a new, and better, direction. And I’m sure there are lessons to be learned here about patience, and always remaining open to trying new things, and letting energy flow and ebb naturally, but it all gets so spiritual and metaphysical that it’s not easily described.

But the universe has worked her magic, and I’m here and I’m writing again.

Brittany: Standing in Place

For three nights in a row, I have woken up between 1 and 2 am, and haven’t been able to go back to sleep. This usually starts happening in the fall when I go into “planning the next project” mode and I usually use these nocturnal awakenings to write whatever it is that is threatening to burst forth. But this time, my project in the works doesn’t seem that close by. Or pressing. This time, when I wake up, my mind is a complete and total blank.

My one consuming thought (though, ironically, it isn’t consuming enough) is “I have to get this weight off.”

My weight has not changed in over a year. And you can’t call it baby weight when your baby is no longer a baby. I am despondent. I went on Atkins and lost 16 lbs before my brother-in-law’s wedding, started cheating here and there and slowly gained a few lbs back, and then my mother came to visit and I packed on 10 lbs in just over a week (Hello Cortisol!). Now the fat sits like a flabby innertube right around my middle, preventing me from looking good in anything I wear.

And I want to lose weight. Very much. But I also want to eat. I’ve talked about my issues with food on here and on my personal blog before. I am definitely an emotional eater and this summer, while blissful in many ways, has also been highly stressful and frustrating. I just don’t seem to be getting anywhere. My creative life is at a standstill. All my big goals and aspirations are at a standstill. But my flab, is, unfortunately not at a standstill. I can feel it jiggling slightly as I type this.

Tom is trying to be helpful when he repeats the well-worn dieting mantra: work out more, eat less. But it makes me want to bash his head in a little. I don’t want to eat less. I already eat far less than I want to. I almost never get to indulge in truly naughty foods. I don’t bake. We never have dessert. Plus, I’m limited to budget cuisine that appeals to Mr. Picky and the Rug Rats. And I’m a steak with a blue cheese cream sauce/salad/artichoke hearts in mayonnaise/rich chocolate mousse kind of girl.

And I don’t want to work out more. I already wake up at the crack of dawn, carry two children hither and yon all day, and am frequently used as a jungle gym for their entertainment. That’s besides the fact that I’m not a hamster and I don’t find it particularly fun or gratifying to run in place for an hour at a time, at the gym, surrounded by skinny mothers, who have rock hard abs despite giving birth to five children.

I know some of you on here (Miranda, for example) are runners. There’s a part of me that longs to be out there with you, feeling the wind in my hair, and the road beneath my feet. But I was not built for high impact/endurance sports, and with every stride, I feel my arches and my pelvis screaming “STOP! STOP! FOR CRYING OUT LOUD! STOP!” And I do.

But I went to the gym twice this week anyway, and on Wednesday I discovered the elliptical machine. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, but it didn’t make me feel happy either.

When I start down a path in the process of a creative undertaking, I can quickly assess, right off the bat, if I’m on the right track or not. With exercise, I just don’t know. I know I’m burning calories and improving my cardiovascular fitness. But I just don’t feel like I’m going anywhere. Literally and figuratively. And considering the fact that I’m feeling so stuck creatively, I feel like I spend my days slogging through a never-ending quagmire of minutiae.

I am sick of the tedium of grocery shopping and buying the same groceries week after week after week. I’m sick of preparing meals every day. Of changing diapers every day. Of dressing and undressing children every day. Picking up the same toys. Of filling and re-filling sippies. Repeating the same requests. Getting the same responses.

I had a vague feeling that my life had become Prufrockian, and went back and read T.S. Eliot’s poem again, and sure enough, my subconscious was on to something. Especially this part:

For I have known them all already, known them all —
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
So how should I presume?

And I have known the eyes already, known them all —
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
And how should I presume?

I know I sound very melancholy, but it’s hard to convey tone online. I’ve come to accept that I’m just not going to get to do what I want to be doing right now. To paraphrase Kelly and her latest blog, now is the time for standing in place, and the future is for moving forward.

Brittany: Fly Anyway

There’s something about that line that speaks to me.

Lately, I’ve found myself having a near-obsession with birds. Not real birds, but folk art birds. The kind in profile, that are painted and embellished, and look as unlike real birds as it is possible to get. During my latest trip to Asheville, my grandmother insisted that I go through all my great-grandmothers old craft books. And in them I found pattern after pattern for these birds. Bird statues, bird mobiles, bird appliques, bird sculptures, paper birds, cloth birds, clay birds, wood birds… It was like some kind of sign, because I had previously spent hours scouring the internet for folksy bird patterns and came up empty handed.

I don’t know why I’m so drawn to the birds, except that they’re colorful and friendly, a little quirky, and make me feel happy. People who know me well know that I’m a deeply grounded sort of individual. I dislike flying — literally and figuratively. If you had to describe me in zoomorphic terms, I wouldn’t be a bird. And maybe that’s where the attraction lies.

I read an interesting interview today about Lady Gaga’s new tattoo. What, I’m sure you’re thinking, does that have anything to do with the conversation topic? Bear with me.

First of all, I like Lady Gaga’s music. It’s catchy, fun, better than some other options on the radio. But Lady Gaga herself? I hadn’t given her much thought, to be perfectly honest. But according to the article I read, this is what she recently had tattooed down her arm: “In the deepest hour of the night, confess to yourself that you would die if you were forbidden to write. And look deep into your heart where it spreads its roots, the answer, and ask yourself, must I write?” It’s a quote by Rainer Marie Rilke. I’ll admit I was a little impressed. I don’t really have a thing for tattoos (although I could probably be persuaded to ink a 1940s pinup to my bicep as a conversation piece), but as a writer, I can’t think of anything more appropriate to permanently etch on myself. And then she added something else in this interview that I can’t quite get out of my head. The article said “Rilke’s ‘philosophy of solitude’ spoke to her. The New York native called solitude ‘something you marry, as an artist. When you are an artist, your solitude is a lonely place that you embrace.'”

We talk here a lot about the demands on us as mothers, about how we’re pressed for time and space and energy to write. But one thing we don’t talk about is the inherent loneliness that comes with our chosen occupation. Recently, on my personal blog, I wrote about how being creative and near-mental illness go hand in hand. Part of that is likely due to the fact that creative people have deep, complex inner lives. As such,we’re driven by the compulsion to write (or create) that Rilke speaks of, and soon live mostly in our creative mind. Add to this the loneliness that is inherent to motherhood and you really do have to learn to embrace the solitude or you lose yourself in it.

Which brings me back to the birds…

I said it once before, but it bears repeating. Creative mothers are like caged birds. Our children have clipped our wings, our families, and the sheer domesticity of our mothering lives have become our cages, as have our responsibilities, and financial obligations. We can’t escape from any of it, but then again, maybe we don’t want to. Motherhood was a conscious choice we made. As was following the creative path. And yet we all yearn to fly around. See the world. Live in it a bit.

But ironically enough, life isn’t so free and easy for birds either.

They spend an inordinate amount of time caring for their young. According to a birding website at Cornell University, “Sitting on a nest may look easy, but it involves more trade-offs than meet the eye. When birds sit on eggs, they are not simply relaxing. They are regulating the temperature of the clutch… Although most people think of incubation as a warming process, birds may need to cool their eggs by shading or moistening them in hot environments. For example, one pair of Black-necked Stilts at southern California’s Salton Sea made 155 trips in one day to soak their belly feathers in water to cool their eggs.” It went on to say that, “Incubation requires a balance between sitting on the eggs to maintain their temperature and leaving the nest to refuel by foraging. Incubation thus involves a series of trade-offs: a female gains energy by leaving the nest to forage, but she must expend energy to rewarm or cool the clutch after returning.”

Isn’t that an apt metaphor for the life of a creative mother? And what bird, or mother, has the time to carve out time for relationships with all that traveling back and forth? Sitting on her nest, creating life, is not different than one of us being holed up alone in her studio/office/corner of the sofa working on her latest project. I look at birds differently now. Sure they like to hang out in flocks and travel the world, but when parenthood enters the equation, they are as tied down, lonely, and exhausted as any of us.

I think back to Cathy’s most recent post, where she described the temporary nature of parenthood. And I think of the yearly cycle of nest building, baby hatching, and nest leaving I witness each year in my own backyard. My boys are bigger now than they were yesterday. Soon they will fly away from me. Soon I will have plenty of time for free-flying and writing. But I will not want it. I will want my boys back.

Maybe I am more like a bird than I thought I was. And maybe I should look to the bird as a symbol for the course my life will take. Right now is my time to hatch my clutch, but soon I’ll have to fly anyway.

Brittany: In Defense of the Novelist

Recently, on my personal blog, I wrote about my latest rejection from the world of publishing. After asking to see my full manuscript, it was rejected one hour and seven minutes after I submitted it. That stings and I’m grumpy about it. But probably not for the reasons you’d expect.

I’m not one of those writers who thinks everything I write is genius. I don’t shun editing, or even re-writing, when it’s warranted. I like to hear criticisms of my writing (though obviously accolades are more welcome) because I do see writing as a process, and something you are always learning and growing from. So when I submitted my manuscript to this publishing company, I didn’t expect them to trip over themselves in their zeal to offer me a contract. I’m a realist.

But at the same time, I didn’t expect to be rejected so summarily, or so soon. The email I received said that while the “best editor” at the house loved my concept, she just couldn’t deal with the long laundry list of rooms in the house and their flaws and that I should re-work my book with an eye toward keeping my readers’ interest. Ouch. It’s obvious to me that the editor stopped reading at somewhere in chapter 1, at which point she suggested to the publisher, who then suggested to me, that after I reworked my book, I should re-submit it to them.

I got online and whined about my bad luck on Facebook. My friends were split into two camps. There were the ones who said, “Excellent! They’re still interested in your work! Re-write it and re-submit it to them!” And there were the ones who said, “Send it to someone else. If this publisher can’t be bothered to actually read the entire manuscript, they’re big fat, giant poopie heads and don’t deserve to publish your book anyway.”

I can appreciate their reactions, and I agree with them both. But at the same time, I feel very sad. I feel sad for me, the writer, whose three-year work-in-progress isn’t getting published. I feel sad for readers, whose literary choices are controlled by publishers who expect every story to play like an episode of 24. I feel sad for publishers, who are so time and cash-strapped, they don’t have the time to read a novel and examine it through a wider lens. It seems like more and more, novels are going the way of news, where everything must be reduced to a sound bite. What happened to the novels of Jane Austen and Charles Dickens, where a reader could get lost in the lengthy descriptions of another world? What happened to our collective attention spans that we can no longer absorb large amounts of information without singing, dancing, and catchy slogans? I remember from my experiences as a teacher that there was an enormous push to make learning fun and entertaining. That’s all fine and good when it’s appropriate, but sometimes, you have to know the basics before you can make the learning fun. People seem to forget that.

I devoted six double-spaced pages of my novel to a description of Alex and Will’s tri-level. It is the central conflict of the book, the “home” in Home Improvement, the place where the vast majority of the action in the book happens, the physical manifestation of all that is going wrong between my main characters. My reader has to see it, has to be overwhelmed with the “laundry list of problems,” has to experience the house the way Alex experiences it. They have to understand why buying this house seemed like a good idea at the time. They have to understand that this is the moment of no return.

Evelyn pulled into the driveway of a large brick tri-level with gray siding and cheerful yellow shutters. It sat on an oversized corner lot where several mature oaks and maples dotted the yard. We got out of the car and wandered up the daisy-lined sidewalk to the front door. Evelyn unlocked it and we stepped inside.

From the outside, I expected warm country décor, much like what we’d seen in other houses. But the entryway walls were chalk white, and instead of bandanna-clad cows, the only decoration was a large square of geometric-patterned carpet and a light fixture made of neon squiggles.

“The owners go for those modern touches,” Evelyn observed.

If a twenty-year-old light fixture was her idea of a modern touch, I couldn’t wait to see what else she considered current décor.

“Let’s start on the first level,” Evelyn said, and led us from the entryway, down a short flight of stairs to the family room.

The first level was mostly below ground, except for two small windows that were level with the Indian Hawthorne growing in front of the house. A cookie-scented candle sat burning on the family room fireplace mantle and filled the room with the irresistible scent of baking cookies. The-butter-and-vanilla-scented room was enormous, and looked extra inviting with its large brick fireplace on the far wall. Those were the room’s good points. Unfortunately, the room was crowded with mismatched furniture, and the wood-paneled walls were covered all over in little strokes of aqua and pink paint. After a few seconds, my vision began to blur.

I wandered through a doorway to my left and into the den. A homemade desk took up most of the room and black splotches circled the ceiling. “Is that mold up there?” I asked.

Evelyn squinted at the walls while Will examined the nearest patch. “It’s just paint,” he said after poking it.

Who in their right mind thought faux-mold was a good idea?

I asked the same question when we opened the door to the laundry room. Every surface was covered in pink sponge marks, including the pipes. As I stared at the paint job, Evelyn came up behind me and said, “This sponge-painting is all the rage right now. We just did it in our dining room. It turned out really nice.”

I had my doubts.

I won’t be re-submitting my work to this particular house. And I won’t be re-working anything with so little critique to go on. Again, I’m not averse to re-working my novel, but I have to feel like the changes I make are purposeful. I had purposeful reasons for writing the scene as I did, and I need to find an editor who, at the very least, understands my intent and can support my vision. That’s all I’m really asking for. I think that’s all any novelist can ask for.

The whole publishing experience feels a lot like that poem The Blind Men and the Elephant. Everyone “sees” something differently, and everyone is wrong. I know I still have a lot to learn. The first order of business is hiring a professional editor… someone who is looking at my book for its strengths, rather than its weaknesses. Then we’ll see where I go from there.

Brittany: Early Work

The other day I was going through some old boxes, when I found these:


I have no idea how old I was when I made these, but it was probably during elementary school. I would guess second or third grade. During that time, my great-grandmother babysat me in the afternoons after school. She spent her afternoons sewing, and often I joined her. I always loved dollmaking, and Mama (pronounced mamaw) gave me full reign over her fabric scraps, yarns, buttons, etc.

Sometimes, I would make the doll pattern, cut out the fabric, and sew the doll together myself. Other times, she helped. I’m sure she embroidered the face on the pink doll, and probably helped me make her long-lost clothes as well. I’m pretty certain I made the sock Pickaninny on my own, probably inspired by the episodes of Our Gang I watched with my grandmother. I made dozens and dozens of dolls with my great-grandmother.  I can still hear her voice in my head right now. “Honey, you just use whatever… You do whatever you want.”

It was around this time that I started writing, too. I’ve enjoyed books my entire life, and in second grade it dawned on me that I could write books for myself. I remember cutting out pictures from a magazine, pasting them to construction paper, and then writing a simple story (having to do with Mary’s little lamb) to fit the pictures. In third grade, a reporter from the Asheville Citizen Times came to speak to my class about being a journalist and writing for a living. I thought to myself, “You can get paid for this stuff???” and remember knowing, with complete certainty, that writing was what I’d been born to do.

When I was eight or nine, it seemed like the grown-up thing to do to know my own mind. But now that I’m an adult, I marvel at my elementary-aged self, and my ability to zero in so early on two of the three creative pursuits that would bring me most joy.  (At eighteen, I discovered embroidery.)

I look at my boys in wonder as their interests begin to unravel. John is extremely tactile and loves to manipulate small objects. Sam loves nature–waterfalls, rain, trees, animals, insects. He loves trains. He loves music and dancing. He has plenty of time to discover his passion in life, but I try to encourage him whenever he finds a new love. I know how important a little encouragement was to me and how it has sustained me all my life. I hope I can do the same for my children.

Brittany: Bringing Plans to Fruition

I’ve made a couple attempts to write a blog on here recently, and they just didn’t pan out. The last few months have been an odd combination of being at a complete creative standstill while still running 90-miles an hour with my hair on fire. I haven’t had time to breathe, much less blog. Luckily, the creative standstill has passed, and like Bethany, I too have been gifted with the idea for my next novel.

I say “gifted,” because I’m not exactly sure where the idea came from. One minute I was sitting in the car, and the next, it was uncoiling itself in my head, much like a spider spinning a web. This circles around to this, this connects to that. It was amazing and exhilarating, and felt a little bit like being touched by the divine.

I’ve been frustrated with my current novel, How Home Improvement Saved My Marriage, because it’s a little absurdist, and doesn’t really fit into any of the various categories of women’s lit.  The agents and publishers who’ve seen it couldn’t relate to it. But then again, I didn’t write it for them. I wrote it for women like me, who live in the suburbs, shop at Walmart, have never seen a pair of Jimmy Choos in person, and would rather wear a scuffed pair of Keds anyway. The book is like my zaniest mom friend. The one you hope and pray gets a sitter on Bunco night because she’ll fill you in on all the neighborhood gossip and then say something incredibly funny that will make you laugh harder than you have for days. It needs to be out there, dancing on a table with a lampshade on its head, and not collecting dust in my file cabinet. So I decided I’d send it out to one last publisher, and if they didn’t accept it, I was just going to publish the book myself.

Since I’d come to a final decision about my book, my creative brain was a blank slate, so to speak. I was thinking about writing a romance novel (again, just to see if I could do it), and was asking myself what situation might make a good story. I was thinking about the kinds of characters that would interest me, and the image of a girl with hair “the color of a wheat penny” popped into my head. She was a healer/midwife in turn-of-the-20th-century Appalachia, who has her whole way of life turned on its head when a brand new graduate of Harvard Medical School decides to open up his practice on her side of Bear Wallow Mountain. I was trying to think about what big event might bring two antagonists together (because I didn’t have a BIG event in my previous novel), and I suddenly remembered family stories about a terrible flood in the region. And so popped up my new idea.

In 1916, Ivy Lyda (name subject to change) lives on Bear Wallow Mountain and tends to the sick there. Her grandmother was Cherokee and taught her all manner of folk remedies. She’s well respected in her neck of the woods until the arrogant (but intoxicatingly handsome) doctor John Emerson arrives  During the summer, a horrible (hundred-year) flood wrecks havoc in the mountains and forces them to work together even as their lives are put in danger.

By a very odd coincidence, shortly before I was struck with inspiration, I took a time-killing Facebook quiz to learn the name of my Guardian Angel. My result: Uriel.

Uriel is considered one of the wisest Archangels because of his intellectual information, practical solutions and creative insight, but he is very subtle. You may not even realize he has answered your prayer until you’ve suddenly come up with a brilliant new idea. Uriel is the tallest and his eyes can see trough the eternity. All this considered, Uriel’s area of expertise is divine magic, problem solving, spiritual understanding, studies, alchemy, weather, earth changes and writing. Considered to be the Archangel who helps with earthquakes, floods, fires, hurricanes, tornadoes, natural disaster and earth changes, call on Uriel to avert such events or to heal and recover in their aftermath.

I hope to get started on the writing soon. I’ve arranged for childcare for the boys Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays from 9-1 until the second week of July. I’m going to take my time outlining and really make the plot as tight as I can first. It will make it that much easier in the fall when I must concentrate my writing into two mornings per week (with invariable interruptions).

It’s exciting to have a plan again.

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