When I meet the sunrise

Coffee date with ME alone. No sweet stuff, just coffee, and no Fido's. Some day, some day. Soon!

Coffee date with ME alone. No sweet stuff, just coffee, and no Fido’s. Some day, some day. Soon!

I was up before dawn this morning because I had so much to do to prepare for my job today. I needed three bags of ice, so I hit the road to Walmart and treated myself to a mocha this morning. It was Homecoming Day at school. I knew I wouldn’t eat lunch today, so I rationalized the Weight Watcher points. (Oh, how I wish life were like Whose Line Is It, Anyway—“the points don’t matter.”)

Weight Watchers, thank you. Because of you, I did not give into the pizza, wings, burgers, shakes, nachos, ah nachos. Chips. Salsa. Chips and salsa–the BEST food in the world.

And so with my goal in mind, I arrived at work super early, ready to work. And even though I didn’t have a moment to rest, the short drive to my destinations, along with a hot beverage, made up for the rest of the day.

There is something special about a sunrise and a cup of coffee.

Being the Romantic I am, I have plenty to say about the other hours of a day.

Twilight is a favorite too. And midnight of course. On a clear night the stars enchant me, and I can spend an eternity thinking about eternity as I star gaze. When I see a shooting star, I make a wish. I always make a wish. I always believe they come true.

And the wee hours around three or four, the spooky hours, I like to write. When I’m on summer break, I don’t sleep at night. I stay up all hours so I can be alone and think my best thoughts. I finally fall asleep. Just before sunrise. And I sleep as long as I like.

When it’s a normal work day, however, when I have to cut through the path of resistance and battle the alarm clock to make my body move on a wee bit of sleep, I like to find myself in my car driving before the sun comes up. Like this morning.

As I headed toward Monteagle, I watched the sky turn orange as the sun peeked over the mountain. I felt as though the other drivers and I shared something special. I can’t quite verbalize it. But “it” was there—the peace, the calm, the beauty, the newness of a day.

Sunrise reminds me of a snowfall before anyone has had a chance to tread on the freshly spread blanket. It’s beautiful and pure and honest.

I guess that’s what I like about sunrise. For a moment, nothing has had the opportunity to spoil it.

Sunrise is temporal like our time on earth. Like those special moments that God gives us that only we can ponder in awe and gratitude. Ironically temporal also means secular, or the opposite of the spiritual. I disagree with this usage. Sunrise, to me, is quite spiritual.

Maybe that special feeling I get during a sunrise is because that is when I can feel God nearest, without the distractions of work, fear, anxiety, etc.

I don’t think I can write during a sunrise. I think I had better leave my writing to the wee hours or on Saturday afternoons in coffee shops where I can be a stranger.

And write I must. NaNoWriMo (National Write a Novel in a Month) is just around the corner—November. I told myself NEVER EVER would I do this again. NaNoWriMo just about killed me a couple of years ago. But the result made me a finalist in the ACFW Genesis contest.

So here I am again. And thanks to MTCW, I have been preparing for it. The plan for Saturday’s coffee shop date with myself? A mental trip to the setting of the new book. (I spent this evening watching a show on the History Channel, which serendipitously may have provided some background for my story. Who would have thought the Knights Templar and Prince Henry Sinclair would have found a place in my contemporary thriller. Oh, I know I’m not the first. But I may be the first to take the story in this direction.)

And here it is after one, in the morning. And I have to be up early. I will miss sunrise. Maybe I can find another special time in the day to find that spiritual place I’m looking for.

Oh, and the coffee date with myself. I hope I don’t get stood up.

Think about your special time of day? When is it? Why? If you don’t have one, why not choose one? When do you write? Why do you choose this particular time?

Be still, and know that I am God.
~ Psalm 46:10

I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing….
~T.S. Eliot

I feel the love / I feel the love / I feel the love that’s really real
I feel the love / I feel the love / I feel the love that’s really real
I’m on sunshine baby oh
I’m on sunshine baby oh
I’m walking on sunshine wooah
~ Katrina and the Waves




Wild hogs

When I opened the refrigerator and found the pigskin sitting next to the eggs and cream cheese, I knew it was time to get out of the house.

For the last week, I’ve been sick, too sick to write. Oh, maybe if I didn’t have to get up and go to work at the crack of dawn, I could have mustered up enough energy to put a couple thousand words on the page each day.

But having been consumed by the plague, the name I’ve given to the persistent hacking and coughing and fatigue that eventually sent me to the doc for a round of antibiotics and two shots in the old keister, I just didn’t have the energy to write and to teach. Either the writing or the teaching had to be put on hold.

I’m not sure my boss would have understood if I called in sick while sitting with my laptop at Starbucks, so every morning for the last week I dragged my weary body into work and assigned those essays, graded those papers, and did my best to keep all the kiddos from killing each other before the holiday break.

Now, having a day off from school and having regained my strength from my mystery illness, I decided to escape Manchester and to look for my muse in a coffee house somewhere out of town.

I packed up my computer, jumped in my truck and turned up the volume on the radio. I like to drive to music. But a Fox news broadcast preempted my listening pleasure, warning me that there was a wild hog outbreak across the state.

Wild hogs.

Could the outbreak have anything to do with the pigskin in my refrigerator? I doubted it.

But there was always hope that along my journey I might be swarmed by a herd of them. There’s nothing like a herd of wild hogs that says creativity.

But I encountered not one wild hog. The drive to the coffee shop was painstakingly normal. And the coffee just didn’t do it for me. And the music was just dreadful. What in the world does Danken Schoen mean anyway? And who was that woman singing to me?

As I looked around the shop, I hoped I might find one interesting character that might wander into my current WIP (work in progress), but, alas, these people were just too normal, sitting alone, texting or talking to an invisible friend—alone.

How am I supposed to eavesdrop on their conversations if they won’t speak up? They could have at least had the courtesy of inviting a friend to meet them for coffee.

Bad atmosphere, bad coffee, bad music, and a room full of bores. Well, there you have it. Forget the wild hogs—I’ve been swarmed by monotonous bores.

You would think that I would know by now that I cannot pre-plan adventures that result in ideas for my books and blogs. I must stumble upon them—hence the name of the blog, SerendipiTee.

But I was hoping the pigskin in my refrigerator and the radio report of the wild hog threat were omens that a stream of creativity was on the way.

You see, at the beginning of November, I committed to NaNoWriMo. In less than a week I am supposed to have 50.000 words logged in. I only have 40,000 to go.

But I was sick! I was sick!

Who cares? NaNoWriMo, she don’t care. If I don’t come up with 40,000 words, I fail, and there’s nothing a sounder of wild hogs can do about it. (In case you are wondering, during my boar-dom at the out-of-town coffee shop, I resorted to a mad Google search and discovered that when referring to a group of wild pigs, one says sounder, not herd.)

So I sat there for another 15 minutes, waiting for my muse to walk through the door. And by muse, I almost always mean my “a-muse” because I draw my greatest creativity for those things that are just preposterously hilarious.

There’s nothing funny about a woman singing “Danken Schoen.”

I finally gave up, dumped the coffee, and drove back to Manchester. Want to guess what I heard as soon as I turned on the radio? You guessed it—another report of wild hogs ravaging the countryside.

Where are these wild hogs when you need ‘em?

Desperate for something, anything, to spark my creativity, I returned to my home coffee shop and ordered another drink. The barista, probably noting that I was hyped up on caffeine and half crazed, said, “Let’s make this one a de-caf.”

And here I am. Sitting a table in the corner, listening to smooth jazz, and….answering my cell phone.

You’re not going to believe this. It’s a fundraiser rep calling, reminding me that I still owe for the HAM I’m supposed to pick up tomorrow.

But I’ve already paid for the ham—I shelled out two twenties and four singles. I’m sure of it, but the caller has no record of it. She says I have to pay. I’m sure it’s an oversight.

But, maybe, if I’m lucky, we’ll have a throwdown at the ham pick up tomorrow.

Guess I’m going to get my excitement after all. 

Wild hogs.

I hear voices!

Let ME out of here and put ME on the page!

Finally! I’m hearing voices!

For the last week, I have been relentless, tormenting my English students, trying to bleed them so that their unique personalities will pour out into their writing.

My torture techniques are working. Some of them are actually catching on!

Sadly, we English teachers have taken a bad rap for stifling our students’ creativity. As much as I hate to  admit it, in some cases, it’s true.

We force our darlings to conform to the state-mandated guidelines that require them to write a five-paragraph persuasive essay in 35 minutes. The results are carbon-copy essays: Introduction, body 1, body 2, body 3, conclusion.

Yada yada yada.

Of course, there’s a place for academic writing, but I want my writers to be in control of their writing—not to be controlled by it. I want them to choose to use academic writing, not use it by default because they aren’t aware of other options.

Dr. Frankensteins, that’s what we English teachers have become. We’ve created mindless little monsters. We’ve conditioned our pupils to follow such rigid rules that their writing has become stiff and unimaginative, displaying no evidence of personality or individual style.

Thank goodness there are a still few teen rebels out there who are willing to try something new—even if it means sacrificing their A for innovation. Most are too afraid of lowering their GPA to take a risk.

In the last week I’ve tried all sorts of methods to breathe life into my teens’ writing. Yesterday, I had them respond to me in class, using the “voice” of a well-known character or celebrity. I heard “The Situation,” Elvis, Paris Hilton, Eminem, Britney Spears, and even the Water Boy.

Ah ha! Once these kiddos realized they had to alter their diction and syntax to create a “voice,” they caught on.

But when I asked them to pour out themselves on paper, they didn’t know what to do. Once again their words sounded almost identical. I don’t think I could tell one paper from the other if the students didn’t put their names on them.

My evaluation sounds harsh. Don’t get me wrong. I have the BEST students in the world. They are wonderful, respectful, hard working and creative.

But writing is HARD for most of US, especially when we have to put ourselves on paper for the world to critique. It’s easier just to write “safe” without revealing our vulnerabilities.

Bottom line, my students have voice problems. They don’t know who they are yet. Some of them are nervous to test the waters, so they’re reluctant to develop their own unique styles.

Newbie novelists like MYSELF have this problem too.

We’re still in the process of getting to know our characters. Until we really get to know them, they all sound alike, or, even worse, they may not sound believable at all.

I write these words of wisdom as though I’m some kind of writing guru. I’m not.

It’s just that I myself have started to catch on to this wonderful element of writing called voice.

Earlier this fall I met with best-selling YA author Ellen Hopkins at a conference in Nashville. We are so different! Yet she offered me advice that transformed my writing technique.

“Voice. Work on your character’s voice,” she said.

My first manuscript is written in limited third-person POV. Ellen suggested I re-write part of it—as  practice—in first person POV so that I could hear my character’s voice. I wasn’t too crazy about the idea at first, but now I understand why.

My main character TJ Westbrook has his own style, his own diction, his own syntax—just like those characters and celebrities I asked my students to emulate.

In order to create a convincing character with a unique voice, I first had to get to know him, spend time with him.

Well, duh.

I took Ellen’s advice and revised my manuscript. I actually left the comfort of my sunroom, where I do most of my writing, and I found a cozy spot where my characters and I could “talk.” We went on a date.

So here I am now an official participant in NaNoWriMo. I must write fast and furiously. Yes, I can revise later, but I think I can do a better job and write more efficiently if I totally immerse myself in characters’ lives so that I can hear their voices.

No, I’m not going to the extreme as some method actors have. Daniel Day-Lewis trained 18 months with a former world champion for his role in The Boxer. Robert De Niro worked 12 hour shifts as a cabbie in preparation for his role in The Taxi Driver. We all know how Heath Ledger’s personality shifted when he took on the dark role of The Joker.

So don’t worry. It’s not like I’m going to go to school with a “mojo hand” and dare all my wayward students to meet me at the crossroads. (Think Memphis. Think the Delta blues. For my current WIP, my main character mixes it up with a little magic as he returns to Memphis to find out who killed his best friend.)

But I do need to make time to go on a few “dates.” It’s not like I’ve got time for a five-hour trip to the Blues City Café—unless one of you suggests an impromptu road trip. I’m up for that.

More than likely, I’ll just chill out in my sunroom and listen to a little Stevie Ray Vaughn. Then again, I might have to make it to the nearest BBQ place in town. But the point is, I may be on hiatus from Serendipiteeblog for a few days as I get into the groove my NaNoWriMo endeavor.

I’m not sure where TJ and I will go on our next “date.” I just hope he’s paying—or, better yet, he and his voice pay off in the form of a book contract.

My big, fat NaNoWriMo life

Give peace a chance.

It’s November, and I’m just a few steps away from official freak-out mode. You know what November means, don’t you? The holiday countdown is on.

I’m nowhere near being ready. I’m so far behind that I haven’t even bought my pumpkin for Halloween yet, and now October is gone. I guess I’d better start looking now for a turkey. (At my house I won’t have to look far. Ba da boom.)

As if I didn’t have enough stuff going on, I have also signed up for NaNoWriMo. Don’t feel bad if you don’t know what NaNoWriMo is. I’m a novelist newbie myself, and the first time I heard the term, I thought it was alien speak.

NaNoWriMo refers to National Novel Writing Month. The goal is to write 50,000 words, roughly 175 pages—a novel—between the dates of November 1-30.

Okay. I can do that. I guess. But it’s going to be hard.

When I started my first manuscript, I didn’t know anything about writing a novel. I just jumped in. I believed my desire to write came from God. I still do, but back then I didn’t worry about POV and voice and pacing and head-hopping and all the other pointers I’ve picked up in the writing conferences I’ve attended this year.

I just dove in head first and wrote, believing God would take me and the book wherever we were supposed to go.

Now I know too much. I know a dirty dozen different ways I can fail, and I’m afraid of messing up.

But see, that’s where NaNoWriMo comes in. Participants are encouraged to write with abandon, to let the words flow freely and to throw caution to the wind—kind of what I did with my first manuscript.

NaNoWriMo participants get a free ride. They can delve into writing without worrying about failure. They know what they write isn’t going to be perfect. And it’s okay.

The end process will be a novel that can be edited and revised at a slower pace.

I’m thinking I wish I could live my Christian life in NaNoWriMo mode. No, I don’t mean I want to make errors without worrying about consequences.

I mean I wish I could just jump in and do whatever it is God wants me to do without trying to control the variables that could affect my failure.

I wish I could just walk without fear and let God take my writing—and my life and all the worry that goes with it. He’s in charge of my ultimate revision. Why do I think I can do a better job?

And so here we go again, I’m launching another WIP. As of November 1, I’ve logged in 3,541 words. Not too shabby. My goal is to write an average of 2,000 words each day.

Am I crazy or what?

How about you? Are you living the NaNoWriMo life?

 If you want more information about NaNoWriMo, check out the official website.