This Parenting Moment of Chaos and Bliss


This morning my clock radio went off at 7am with the morning news.

It was not good news, given the current state of planet Earth: the political climate of North America, the atrocities children face overseas, and the overbookings of certain (idiotic) American Airlines. But, I had things to accomplish. So, I tuned everything outside our home out—got up, brushed my teeth, and ran down a mental list of everything I had to do to get the hellions out the door for school.

Blare some music: for some reason they’re obsessed with waking up to Centuries, by Fall Out Boy.

Get breakfast ready, make them actually eat it, watch the middle one brush his teeth (otherwise he won’t), make lunches, ensure the little one is wearing underwear, and pack a lunch the older one will eat, because he is, *insert eyeroll* just so tired of eating sandwiches.

But a funny thing happened while making said lunches. The little one looked at me and asked, “Mommy, did you hear the birds tweeting this morning?”

And in that moment I realized I had. I just hadn’t taken the time to notice them.

Living in the Maritimes, we face long cool winters, often with obscene amounts of snow. The songbirds migrate to hang out with this as$#@le I know my friend who (constantly) brags about year-round AWESOME weather in Florida, and we’re left with crows big enough to steal your baby. 1n22x6The skies are ALWAYS grey. Now, I’m not a fan of winter in any way, shape, or form. It’s something I try to live through to get to the glorious seven weeks of summer we here on Prince Edward Island are blessed with, amid forty-four weeks I could do without.

At the littlest hellion’s behest, I opened the window.

Sure enough, it was warm outside. The sun was shining. There were fu%$@ng BIRDS in the tree overlooking my deck.

The moment the hellions were out the door and on their way to school, I dug my sports bra out of the very back of my dresser. I shook the dust out. I didn’t have to shake the dust out of my sweatpants, because let’s face it, I’m a mom. I wear those every day. yufgvI found my runners, and I went for a run.

It’s been TWO YEARS since I went for a run. My body did not like it. But, my soul did. I went without music. I listened to the birds in the trees and felt the sun on my face. I had to slow to a walk at the halfway point because of a sore ankle and aching hip, but even then I enjoyed every minute.

Would I have finally noticed the “tweeting” birds if the littlest hellion hadn’t pointed them out this morning? I don’t know. Probably. But there’s something about the way he said it–the pure joy in his face at the discovery that the birds had returned–that infused itself into my very soul. I was able to enjoy their presence the way I should, to just relax and be grateful they’d come back.

And maybe that’s why tired-eyed, spit-up wearing, sport-chauffeuring parents often nag unrestricted, sparkly-souled, bushy-tailed, non-parents to have kids.

20170410_162819.jpgHaving children is the hardest thing anyone will ever have to do. There are sleepless nights YEARS that can suck the soul right out of your body. There’s vomit. There’s crying, dirty diapers, sibling rivalry, pen on the furniture, paint on the walls, fights about parenting methods with your partner, phone calls from teachers, and elderly women in parks berating you for not dressing your child properly for the weather.

But there are also moments like these, where your child encourages you to stop, to take a moment to experience the world as they do—through their little eyes and ears—and see beyond the chaos . . . into these little slices of bliss.

 

Deleted Scene / Old Souls

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Authors are often forced to cut entire scenes. These cuts are usually made in the name of improving the pace of the story as a whole, or to simplify an overly complicated plot. I’ve written many, many, (many) scenes for Old Souls that no one else will *ahem* EVER see, and that’s okay. Writing them helped me figure out what didn’t work so I could focus on what would.

That said, I’m hoping that practice helps.

Because Old Souls is a fantasy novel populated by immortal characters, figuring out where to begin the story was exceptionally difficult. And I can prove it. I have a thumb drive filled with twenty-seven first chapters . . . and thirteen prologues. When I finally decided on where to begin the book, I cut eight chapters, 30,000 painstakingly edited words, and hundreds of hours of work from the manuscript. Gone was the scene where attackers descended upon an ancient city, separating Lucien from the black-haired woman. The scene where Lucien lost his only childhood friend. The scene where Lucien’s dying mother revealed the truth about his father. And, the scene where Lucien flushes his anti-psychotics to discover who–or what–he really is.

The book now opens in the middle of a breakdown. A fire in a crowded bar, started by none other that Lucien Navarro himself.

Which I love, but still. Sigh. I loved some of those scenes.

On the other hand . . .

*Steeples fingers*

Maybe some of those scenes don’t need to hide forever.


traffic-286462.jpgI passed the cabs on my way out of the hospital, opting to walk home along the quiet streets. The cloudless sky revealed a glimmer of stars overhead. Too bright for the occasion. The farther I walked, the guiltier I felt. I didn’t want to leave my mother’s body in the hospital. I wanted stand by her bed, speaking for her while she couldn’t. I owed her that, at least.

The night was cold. My toes and fingers ached. Finally inside my apartment building, I lumbered up the narrow stairs to my door. Before the place had been sectioned off it was a house, constructed for one of the oversized families living in Charlottetown a hundred years before. The ceilings were low. As large as I was, I sometimes felt like a giant entering a dollhouse.

Earwigs scattered in the kitchen as opened the door. Empty bottles, pill containers and fast food wrappers lay discarded on the counter. Dirty dishes overflowed from the sink. I kicked my shoes off and made my way to the bathroom. Pulling the string for the light, I came face to face with my reflection in the mirror, seeing myself as Vi would have in the last moments of her life. I winced. The hollow circles under my eyes appeared darker than usual, potholing into the sickly puffiness of my heavily stubbled cheeks and neck.

The last conversation I’d ever have with my mother imprinted itself in my mind, cycling over and over until it was all I could hear, taste, and smell.

“Your father was paranoid. He thought someone was after him. The fear of being found consumed him.”
“Found by who?”
She drew a long, steadying breath. “The Rocks, I think.”
“The Rocks?” I asked, attention rapt. “Are you sure?”
She didn’t answer, beginning to nod off.
I didn’t breathe. I couldn’t. I touched her arm. “Could it have been the Stones?” I swallowed. “The Stones of David?”
“Yes. Yes. That was it,” she answered finally, eyes closed. “The Stones of David.”

How had Iris known about the Stones of David if my father had been crazy? While I’d ignored her warning before, I couldn’t do it any longer. It was clear the woman knew something I didn’t.

“That medication is hindering your ability to discern fiction from reality.”

Retrieving the clozapine from behind my mirror, I sat in the living room. I lingered a long time, staring at the refuse on the coffee table and scattered along the floor–empty chip bags, glass bottles, and pizza boxes, the uneaten pieces stale. I spun the pill bottle over and over in my hand, watching as the sun began to rise outside my second story window. city-573775.jpgThe world beyond my vantage point stood startlingly still. The streets were empty, except for the cars and trucks tucked neatly along the sides of the road. Even the herculean elms that loomed high above the cracked sidewalks and the manicured gardens the residents of Upper Prince Street prided themselves on were completely unruffled by wind. It felt as if the world beyond my little window was holding its breath. Waiting on me.

When people began venturing out of their homes and into the street, and the sun broke free from the horizon, I realized I’d been up all night, deliberating. I looked at the pill bottle in my hand.

Since I began taking the medication eighteen years before I’d learned to live with my illness. I’d maintained the control my father couldn’t, for my mother’s sake. But, what if I wasn’t sick? It was a dangerous question, one I buried years before. But suddenly, I wanted nothing more than to believe Iris; to believe I wasn’t alone, now that Vi was gone.

I walked to the kitchen. Rummaging through a drawer beside the overflowing sink, I fished out the rest of my pills to examine the bottles. Some of them were still quite full. I carried them to the bathroom, bowing bowed my head as I passed under the low doorframe.

Having dropped the bottles into the sink in a plasticky clatter, I retrieved one. I unscrewed the childproof lid while pinching the sides, an endeavor that was as habitually familiar to me as bushing my teeth. Twice daily, every day. Eighteen years. I closed my eyes, pouring the contents of the bottle into the toilet bowl. I took a deep breath and forced myself to look at the capsules floating on the water.

Emptying the rest of the bottles was easy after that.

My senses heightened. Blood rushed through my veins, charged with adrenaline. I felt as though I was alive, truly alive, perhaps for the first time in my life. When I pushed the yellowed knob, the sound of the flush sounded like a chorus to my ears, a prayer, a victory cry. The pills swirled round and around again before they were suctioned into the connecting pipes and down, down, down into the sewer. Then the water ran, the toilet stilled, and it was finished.

Looking into the mirror again, I noticed a touch of grey in my beard.

I’d wasted so much time.


Chapter 35, A Time Capsule


q1Right now I’m editing Chapter 35 of Old Souls. That means I’m about 90,000 words deep in what currently stands as a 138,146 word novel. This isn’t the first editing run for Old Souls, and it certainly won’t be the last. Likely, the book will require two more passes before the manuscript is forwarded (again) to my critique partners, and yet another draft before it goes to betas. The good news is that each editing endeavor becomes substantially easier than the last. As every gaping plot-hole gets filled, the characters become sharper, and the stakes more clearly defined.

And that acceleration of pace is more than welcome, because the last time I edited Chapter 35 was in 2015.

The first time I saw that “previously opened” date on my file, I was a little floored. How is it possible that so much time has passed?

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We all know that writing a book is hard. Writing a fantasy book can be even harder—much harder than I ever suspected. Typically, fantasy novels are longer than books in other genres (which is great; because 138,146 words). Not to mention (except I’m mentioning it) fantasy novels play by different rules. Case in point: Old Souls is about a man who forgot his past lives, and the “great family” who claim he abandoned after a massacre ten thousand years before. So, reincarnation rules must be made. Worlds must be built, and details must be maintained throughout the manuscript to create a cohesive, believable story.

While digging into this particularly dust-riddled section of my story this week, I realized that allowing work to rest for two years had created a sort of time capsule of my previous strengths and weaknesses. The last time I edited Chapter 35 was at a time in my writerly journey when I’d obsessed over the writing tips and tricks I’d picked up in critique groups. And, it showed. The draft had become clunky. Seeing how this obsession had affected the story led me to reflect on how I had grown as a writer since then.

6a9252e5fdc632e1f48cbc9fe22647e8When I first started to write Old Souls, I obsessed over the sentences. I wanted to write beautiful words, and subsequently thesaurus-ed the shi@% out of my work. As a direct result, shooting out the first chapter of my “beautiful book” took forever roughly a year, and the chapter was absolute garbage.

To stand a hope of writing “The End” I needed help. So, I to turned to writerly books and blogs in search of answers. Everyone seemed to say the same thing: just write. Write for yourself. Write to get something, anything, on the computer screen. So that’s what I did. And when I finished, I had a rambling string of words which no one–including me at times–stood a chance of understanding.

But, I had created something from nothing. Which was outstanding, even if that something needed a LOT of work.

I found that to improve on what I had, I needed to follow an outline. Many writers “pants,” their scenes, writing at whim. My whims had whimmed up a mess. I bought several plotting books and selected my favorite outline for Old Souls: writersjourney3rddropThe Writer’s Journey, by Christopher Vogler, an outline based on the ideas brought forward by Joseph Campbell in, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. And while some writers might argue using an outline inhibits their creative freedom, I found structuring my story within the steps of the Hero’s Journey to be infinitely liberating.

By the time I completed the draft of my story utilizing Vogler’s words of wisdom, I had been working on the manuscript for years. To be fair, I had also brought a couple hellions into the world and moved across the country. There had been large gaps of time where I never worked on the book at all.

Throughout all the time I worked on Old Souls, I hadn’t shown a word to anyone. Except for four people, no one knew I was writing a book. I was fiercely self-conscious. But, the time had come to ask for help. I found a small critique group based out of Western Canada; and when I outgrew that one, a larger critique group, where I met my writerly besties. At first, I soaked up every bit of advice offered, ecstatic that other writers were taking time from their own work to improve mine.

And that’s where I left Chapter 35, two years ago.

Since then, my writerly abilities have grown. And, a lot of that growth can be summed up in one word: Confidence.

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Anyone who’s written anything decent can tell you writing is hard. But, the hardest part isn’t learning to choose the active voice over the passive. It doesn’t have anything to do with dialogue tags, showing vs. telling, or the multi-faceted characterization of villains. The hardest thing about writing is trusting your voice and your story.

It’s a truth that packed a punch when I saw Chapter 35 was probably better before I started taking advice. There are no dialogue tags, there is no passive voice, and no adverbs. But, the story has a stuttered flow, and the action tags read like the characters are participating in a play instead of a book.

So, what has my time capsule taught me? A good story uses writing rules as an aid, not a crutch. Yes, excessive passivity is cumbersome to read. He said, she said can become annoying. The overuse of adverbs is slovenly. These are terrific guidelines. But sometimes, to paint the best pictures, we have to go outside the lines. What has to matter the most–before anything else–is the story. Because, your reader will forgive almost any “mistake” if the story is good enough.

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