Stranger To My Happiness

unnamed-1Sharon Jones’s song lyrics deal with how another person can steal your happiness, leave you in misery. I know that’s true, but other things bring me down. Well, mostly one thing: no time to write my novel. And it’s almost finished. First draft, but still. So close … a million miles away. “I feel like a stranger to my happiness.” That’s it, exactly.

I always have time for a blog post, which is good as a stop-gap measure, at least it’s SOME kind of writing, but not even that happened yesterday. Opened up Mac to write this post and up popped an email saying “before you start your online certification training, you need to complete these tasks…” and five hours later, I finally did. This is BEFORE class begins. I complain but I want to do it, I signed up for it. Teaching online is handy in Michigan winters. 

Also, then there’s, you know, life. I get so involved in writing real life feels strange to me. I wake up from the “vivid continuous dream” that is my book, which runs like a movie in my head, and look around my house thinking where am I? Who do these things belong to? What am I supposed to make for dinner?  

For a while now, I have been immersed in reality, some of it really icky, like a car accident and other stuff, some of it necessary, like my day job and the extra training. And I’m still taking Mac classes! My whole way of being in the world has flipped. Which might be healthy, but the fact remains: I gotta write or I’m just not happy.

Blog posts and diary entries are well and good, but what’s really stealing my happiness is not being able to come up with a good, sustainable plan to work on my current novel-in-progress. It’s all fits and starts, an hour here, a few pages there, and that doesn’t work for novels. You need consistent hours and days, or I do. So, looks like that’s just not gonna happen for awhile and I have to accept it.

I knew this was coming and I thought I was prepared but I’m just not. So how do I steal back my happiness? Well, I’ve been doing a lot of dancing. And then I meditate and that clears my mind, which allows me to come up with creative solutions to problems that seem unsolvable. 

For one thing, my WIP has some issues I need to work out in my head. Right now it feels like I have two stories and they are not embracing each other, which is fine at the beginning and even in the middle but somewhere around the last third of the book the strands need to come together and I’ve been wondering if what I have is really two books because I’m not sure I see how this coming together business will happen.

I’m okay with breaking the book in two. I’m even okay with writing a murder mystery. But it will take time, I’ll need to learn some new things, because mysteries involve more time than my usual books: contemporary fiction with current social themes, a juicy love story and a HEA (happily ever after) ending.

I can’t figure out how I’m going to make this current work end on my usual HEA note. Sister Issues, my first published novel, was a “happy for now” ending, and I liked that okay, because my protagonist solved her biggest problems. But the end for my murder girl, I just can’t see it. When that happens I usually just write and the words come and if they are not good I fix them.

Maybe I can use this “not working on book” time to think about some of these things. My critique group meets tomorrow and they have the murder/mystery first pages. Right now it’s the subplot of the book, so they’ve read the first plot, a love story with a twist. They’ll tell me if they think the two work together.

Happy about that, but circling back around to, okay, when I figure out the answers, or want to try a few things, where’s my writing time?

First papers are coming in on Monday (before I’m finished with the term I’ll be reading and grading more than 500 essays) I’m also taking a class with tons of work, so I see that wave and there’s just nothing I can do but stay on top of it. While my novel floats to the bottom of the ocean and dissolves.

Or, I can find a way. Got any ideas?


Tricks of the Sentence Trade

There are teachers who write and writers who teach; we are separate species. I’m a writer who teaches, but that doesn’t mean I don’t care about my day job. It means it’s a job, not my life’s passion. It’s an interesting job for a writer, too, since I’m helping college freshmen learn tricks of the sentence trade.

I would not advise any writer who must make her own living to become a teacher. I’ve had many jobs (retail, restaurant, secretary) and every single one of them offered more free time to write than teaching does. Despite June, July & August. When I taught full time (and to support yourself, you must teach full time, probably summer, too) I wrote a book every summer. When I took time off teaching just to write, I read my summer books with horrified eyes before throwing them away. They weren’t even worth revising.

I know of a few full time teachers who manage to write decent books in their spare time. Top notch mystery writer Amanda Cross is the pseudonym of a (now deceased) professor. Then there’s Eloise James, who’s still raising children while writing Regency romances and teaching Shakespeare. So it can be done, just not by me.

So why do it? Except for writing, teaching is the most rewarding job I’ve ever had. I enjoy the challenge of it. But to do it well, I spend precious hours preparing lessons when I could be writing a novel. In fact, I didn’t write at all last week, the first week of classes. I am hoping things settle down and I’ll be able to work on an almost completed draft, but I’m not counting on it.

And that’s okay, because this winter I’ll  be writing instead of teaching. I am able to do this because my dean is very good to her adjunct faculty and because my husband has an excellent job. Also, both my kids are out of college and have really great jobs of their own.

If you’re a writer and you need a day job, I’d say choose anything but teaching. But if you’re a writer and you don’t have to foot all the bills yourself, becoming an adjunct at a college in your area is a nice option. And they are always hiring.


I’m from Detroit, so not sure how local the MC5 were back in the day. (MC stands for Motor City). They had a couple of hits “Devil in a Blue Dress” and “Kick out the Jams” come to mind. The chorus to “Devil in a Blue Dress” sung fast, was ‘JennyJennyJenny, won’t you come along with me?’ and I’m thinking of it because Jenny Crusie is the writer who taught me everything I know about the craft of writing. And I’m looking back at those old lessons to try to get my WIP in order.

If you want the details on Jenny’s intensive workshop, I talk about our week together here. But back to today at my writing desk. Not a writing day goes by without me taking one of my Jenny hammers, wrenches, or screwdrivers out of the toolbox. Today, I’m going with a suggestion she gave me. This is a paraphrase, but the gist is:

Me: My books are too short. They’re more like novellas. How can I make them longer?

Jenny: One way is to add a subplot. The subplot should support the main plot. They should mirror each other and be entwined in ways important to theme and plot.

Great advice. Working on my second book in the Blue Lake series, I came to the end at about 40K. So of course, I needed a subplot. This was convenient, because I really wanted to write one, but with romance, editors can be picky about subplots. Now that I’m writing “women’s fiction” a subplot and even another point of view or two is not a problem.

So at first I thought, well, I can write the whole subplot as a separate book and then add it in where necessary. I have some experience with this in reverse when I had to pluck a subplot out of another book. That was pretty easy, but the opposite is not. Because really, a book needs to feel whole. Everything needs to seem like it naturally follows from what happened before. And I can’t get the theme/plot/intertwined thing doing the subplot as a stand alone.

So I’ve got three full scenes written and three or four ideas for scenes. My plan was to write out those scenes, but today I’ve decided I’m going to read through my WIP and decide where my supporting characters need to come in and why they are in this story in the first place.

And thanks Jenny for all you do and have done for me and many many other writers.

Age of Aquarius

Today I wrote a test. It was fun! Maybe because it’s a poetry exam and the end of poetry means we’re 3/4 through the curriculum, but I don’t think so. I think it’s because I love poetry, steeped myself in it for a month and got paid for doing it.

 And on the unpaid writing front, also progressed a bit more on the WIP, three or four pages. Came to the conclusion that I can’t go any further without a research day. Which is going to be so fun. My story is set in the second half of the twentieth century (or so I fondly believe at this early point in the novel) and I am having a blast remembering the 60s.

Or re-remembering them. Hard to believe it was so long ago. In some ways, that era feels so fresh. I see echoes of Eckhart Tolle in everything I read. In other ways, it’s hilariously, alarmingly retro. I’d forgotten all about our then supposed enemies until an author who shall not be named used the term commie seriously.


Postcard from Florida

There’s something going on down south…my mood immediately picked up the moment the plane touched down. Is it the sun? The weather? The green everywhere? I’m at the library in my dad’s little town, Seminole, and a large expanse of windows shows an nature view of grasses and trees. It’s gorgeous.

I want to move here immediately. As we drove into town, I spotted a large building that said St. Petersburg College. “I could work there,” I said to Al. Later I said the same thing to my dad. Al said “What makes you think you could get the job?” I didn’t know how I knew. I just knew. Then my friend told me later that they’re hiring 800 teachers here. “You’d get the job,” she said.

Well, I’m not leaving my husband even if it’s tempting and he’s  not leaving Michigan. But the name of the library is Seminole St. Petersburg College Library. I’m not kidding. And I’m sitting right next to a spacious but empty office with a College Faculty nameplate on the door. You know, maybe it’s not teaching that’s been getting me down. Maybe it’s teaching in Michigan.

Anyway off to check email with the fervent hope that everything was okay with the review.