Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Yar! The writer as pirate

This might sound a little weird, or totally cliche, but I always think of my writer self as a kind of pirate. Family and friends may not appreciate this so much, but as I'm going about my day, there's always a part of me that pricks up when I hear or experience something that might work its way into what I write. I'm like an undercover pirate, jumping from ship to ship (of my friends' and family's--and strangers'--lives) and snatching up little bits to store away for later. I actually have a little box where I keep these things, sometimes just an impression, situation, or even a whole sentence that descends on me from out of the blue, on index cards.

This simplest explanation for this is that all stories need one thing to survive: conflict. And what better way to create conflict than to distort, or simply borrow (there's the pirate again), what happens in real life?

Of the four people who are reading the manuscript of my first novel, only one so far has given me comments. I don't say that to complain, but rather to say that I've had some time now to think about the wise observations she made, and the problems that need to be fixed. One problem had to do with a conflict my protagonist is facing. I want to explore a particular emotional process with her, but so far the plot didn't have the depth to support it. And then recently I learned of a very trying situation some friends of ours are facing, and I thought, That's it! Within their situation is the one little tidbit I need to make this fictional conflict more viable, to give it more human footing. Because that's really one of my main goals as a writer: to tell a story that resonates with people and, ultimately, serves to encourage, entertain and inspire.

Drawing the line between fact and fiction--modeling fictional characters off the real ones in my life--well, that's a line I'm continually walking and learning how to define.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Where did summer go?

We've had some rainy days this week that have been good for writing (book number 2 is on the way!), but which make me look up and think, is fall already here? It's been such a busy summer, and more craziness is coming up: I'm headed to the east coast tonight for a family memorial gathering for Papa, who died two weeks ago and would have been 89 this October. Though only God knows, we believe he met Jesus before he passed away, and are grateful for that hope.

Then, my mom is coming out to Seattle for Memorial Day weekend. Two weeks later, we're headed back to Ithaca to see Mandy and Dave, on leave from Iraq (yay!), plus Tim's grandparents, who just moved up there from Wisconsin, and I'm staying extra long for the birth of my dear friends Jenny and Matt Sears' baby girl. I hope she comes on time so I don't miss it! Worked in there is a quick trip to see the fabulous chicas in Washington DC (and the rest of Cornell--why does everyone move there after graduation? Check out the west coast, people!) and then a stop off in Indianapolis to see my parents' new house (and possibly some high school friends) on my way home. Phew.

This is just one of those seasons. I'm also still trying to make peace with my elevator existence, as I've come to think of it--I can't really walk around that much with my knee, so I always take the elevator in our apartment building, though I never used to. It is so frustrating and it makes me feel completely lazy. But I can tell when I've overdone it. Working out in the weight room every day has helped banish some of the stress I have over not really being able to exercise (I don't sweat anymore!), but my knee is still sore, so that means I have to wait until it's all fine and dandy to hop on the bike for even 20 minutes, every other day. But I am trying to stay positive, and remember that my identity is not "she who gets up every day at 6am and runs several miles," but that of a daughter of Christ. And, we're looking forward to buying bikes in the near future and discovering all that the Eastside has to offer in the way of trails and beautiful scenery. Almost as good as running, and guaranteed to air out my mind.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Update on the book

I've gotten a lot of questions recently that go something like, "how's the book coming?" So here's my answer!

Right now the manuscript is with a few trusted folks who are reading it and offering their opinions so I can do a third and final revision before sending it out to agents. I met a few agents at the PNWA conference I attended at the end of last month, and plan on querying them (ie, asking if they want to represent me and sell my book to a publisher) as well a list of others I'm currently compiling. Once I have my final version I will begin sending out my query letters, which are like cover letters on a job application, except they also have a book summary in them. There's no way to know how long this will take, but hopefully I'll have my final book revisions in early fall (I'm still waiting on a few readers, so I'm not doing anything with it now) and then send out 50 or so letters, and maybe have a few positive responses from agents before the New Year.

In other news, I do have an idea for a second novel, but that's taken a back seat recently as I've had a lot of freelance work to do for Seattle magazine. But it continues to hibernate in my brain and I plan to spend more time on it in the near future!

Friday, August 8, 2008

MRI Results

Well, I put off writing about this to give myself a little time to cool down and also enjoy my birthday. The MRI showed some deterioration in the meniscus of my right knee, that little cushion of cartilage that keeps the kneecap moving smoothly over the femur. So that's the reason my knee has continued to hurt over the last six months--anything I do that's an impact activity is going to upset it and possibly make it worse. On the one hand it was good to finally find out what the problem was, but on the other hand it's a discouraging diagnosis because it means that I'll never be able to run again the way I used to. The way my PT put it was, "running will not be your primary exercise activity." That's hard to take, because over the last several years I've run five days a week, and I was just gearing up to start training for a half marathon this fall when all this got started last January. I thought that, at the worst, it would be another 6 months of rest from running (possibly even no exercise) before I could get back into running hard again. What it means instead is that, after about 8 weeks more of very light activity, so that the current inflamation in my knee can go down (as sort of a last blessing, I was able to run outside 5 times in July and loved every minute of it, but it made my knee sore), I'm going to need to switch sports.

I'm trying to see this as an opportunity for growth and for new things. I've never liked swimming, but Tim and I are planning to buy bikes, and I want to learn how to row and maybe buy a shell to do it out on the water (the erg is possibly even more boring than the treadmill!). I was so much looking forward to getting back to my routine of early morning runs, when the light was still faint and the streets were empty, but I'm hoping I can get some of the same experience on a bike. Most of all, I want to be active and outside, but I know I'm really going to miss running. It took me a long time to like it, and then I fell in love with the simplicity of it, and the challenge. (Also, it helped me make peace with my rear end!) It's hard to hear that a part of my body is no longer behaving the way it should at 24, but I praise God that it's no worse. In about six months it might be safe for me to try a run once in a while, on a soft surface like a trail or rubber track. Hopefully one day I can incorporate one run a week into my workouts. Meanwhile, I'm doing all the strength training I can so I don't become a total slob!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

My 24th Birthday!

You know what I always think about when it's my birthday? Now I can put in the next number on the elliptical machine. How dumb is that?!

Timmy went all out for my birthday yesterday, making coffee cake and cleaning the kitchen before I woke up, taking time for a real lunch (not at his desk!) so we could eat together, and making a delicious dinner and cake, plus decorating our apartment like it was a real party (it was just the two of us)! He's the best birthday-party-thrower ever! When we have kids they will be happy.

Friday, August 1, 2008

My First MRI

Now, just to alleviate any fear that title may create, this MRI was for my knee--the persistent soreness I've had since January--and nothing scarier than that. But yes, it was my first MRI, and it was pretty scary in and of itself!

I made the appointment yesterday after meeting with a sports medicine doc who (like everyone else) isn't sure what's wrong. On the phone, the receptionist at the imaging place wanted to know if I had ever had surgery on it before, or if I was claustrophobic, or had any metal in my body. "Uh, no," I said, almost laughing. Metal in my body? But of course, many people do. I asked if I had to wear or eat/not eat anything special, but she said no. See you tomorrow at 8:30.

Then last night, while brushing my teeth, I remembered: I have a metal retainer! Was that going to send lasers ricocheting across the MRI room? Was it going to fry my insides? Send off sparks and blind me?

I called them up at 7 this morning and revealed my concern. "You're going in feet first," they said. "Shouldn't be a problem." I LOVE this with doctors: "shouldn't" be a problem. How about "won't"? Isn't that what we pay you for, the certainty that what you're doing to me isn't going to backfire? I like things to be black and white whenever needles, pills, or big scary white cylinders making horrendous noises are involved. But I'll get to that in a minute.

I arrived at the doctor's office feeling nauseated--not because I was nervous, but because I woke up with a headache and for some reason my stomach considered oatmeal to be a sinister invader this morning. I wasn't sure I was going to make it, but didn't want to reschedule. So after filling out the forms I sat in the chair with my head in my hand, praying for it to go away. Would it be a first if I vomited during the MRI?

The receptionist came over and asked me how I was doing, extending a card in her hand. "Just woke up feeling sick," I told her. "It's not much, but that should be enough for a drink or something," she said, handing me what I later discovered was a Starbucks card. Huh? Did she have extraordinary powers of perception, deeming a grande non-fat no whip mocha would solve all my ills? Then I realized it was 20 minutes past my appointment time and it was probably office policy to placate waiting customers with caffeine. Okay, fine.

The technician came to get me and handed me a pair of drawstring pants large enough to fit a sumo wrestler. "I guess it's just one size," I said rather sheepishly to another technician guarding the dressing room door, who happened to be rather overweight. But she just laughed and agreed.

I settled down on the MRI table and the technician packed my knee all in, emphasizing I should keep still so they didn't have to redo any of the tests. He gave me headphones so he could talk to me, and also to block out the "funny noises" the machine made. I also got a squeeze ball reminiscent of those baby booger-suckers (sorry, but that's what it looked like) attached to a clear plastic tube, some kind of panic button I could squeeze if ... what? I felt like screaming and running away? Then he slid me into the capsule up to my chest. I looked up and noticed a yellow caution sign: Laser aperture. Do not look into this at all costs. Or something like that.

The tech got on the wavelength and, after confirming my selection of a smooth jazz radio station, informed me that the first set of pictures would take about 10 seconds, then 3.5 minutes after that, or 3, or 2.5, with little rests in between so I could scratch my nose. Then, almost without warning, the sound of a million machine guns filled the room as the lasers powered on and targeted my knee. I couldn't feel anything but the noise was so jarring I had to concentrate on my breathing. You know when you're trying to be really still and it takes all your concentration to draw a full breath? Try doing that when it sounds like the galactic battles from Star Wars are taking place about an inch from your head.

Dear Jesus, dear Jesus: 1. help me not to move; 2. make it stop! In every sequence the sound of the lasers had a different pitch, and I had to strain to hear the lovely jazz music that barely registered above the battle noise. After every bout of bullet fire, the tech came back on the headphones to say I was doing great, and I relaxed my shoulders, which inevitably tensed. But the last one wasn't the same.

It started out with a high pitched cadence that I'd heard before, and then paused, and I was about to relax and MOVE, when another volley started up, low and loud and the kind of thing you'd expect to hear in some nuclear missile vault: 10 seconds to detonation! 9! 8!

My eyes flew open but I couldn't see the tech window in my peripheral vision. What was going on? Two sounds had never been part of one picture sequence before. Had the machine, a sweet little Siemens death-pod called Symphony, the Maestro model, malfunctioned? Had Ken, my dear technician, keeled over and hit the wrong button on his way down? My fingers tightened involuntarily around the baby snot ball and I tried to calm down, but my heart was beating harder than a sprinter's at the Olympic trials and my body got all hot with the adrenaline. Should I squeeze the ball? If I did, and nothing was wrong, we'd have to repeat the sequence. But what if something was wrong, and the entire building had no idea? Dear Jesus, what the heck is going on? And then I realized I was staring right into the laser aperture.

Finally the barrage stopped. Ken came over and smiled down at me. "All done." I tried to ask what in the world had happened there, and wanted to demand why he hadn't warned me of that last hair-raising sequence, but he acted like it was all in a day's work. "Your results should be out in a day or two."

I thanked him, called Tim still shaking, and drove nearly all the way home in second gear. I stopped at Starbucks for my grande non-fat no whip mocha, a small consolation for the grey hair I'll probably discover later this afternoon.