Recipe for a Novel

My craft class this semester has been experimenting with form. We read “Recipe for a Self-Portrait” from Frida, then Carmen assigned us to write a recipe for our self-portrait as a novelist.

Like all things in writing, what you set out to do is never what you end up with in the end. Instead of a self-portrait of me as a novelist, I ended up with a recipe for a novel:


1 pound creative ideas

1 pound of determination

2 cups disappointments

3 cups stolen moments

1 T self-doubt

1 cup inspiration

1 teaspoon sheer will

 Soak stolen moments in determination. Combine with creative ideas. Cut in disappointments to form crumbs. Pour inspiration over the crumbs and knead into a smooth dough. Set aside.

Take a walk. Clear the mind.

Form dough into a ball. Squeeze out self-doubt. Pray for more inspiration. Add a teaspoon of sheer will and another tablespoon determination. Roll into 75,00 words. Sprinkle with wit and vivid images. Bake until it smells delicious, but let someone else taste before serving.

Everyone’s recipe is different. What’s in your recipe? Do you have a secret ingredient? I would love to hear what goes into your novels.

All Quiet on the Blogging Front

My poor website has been neglected. Fall semester classes are winding down. I have finals in two weeks, which means a lot of cramming in the meantime. I have learned so much this semester, but it isn’t showing here at the home site.

My craft class with Bruce Holland Rogers has been AMAZING! My two favorite books studied this semester were Character & Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card and Creating Short Fiction by Damon Knight. Both have been extremely helpful in pointing out the flaws in my own writing.

I have also been work shopping a novel this semester. My goal for the semester was to finish a complete draft of the novel, but after work shopping the beginning I ended up making so many changes that I couldn’t keep writing the end. I have now rewritten the beginning, and I have a much better handle on where the book is going. It frustrates me not to have a complete working draft, so that is my goal for the rest of the year. Finish the book.

What I need most right now is time to write. All this reading has been helpful. I see how I can improve, but mostly I need more hours in front of the screen pounding the keys. That has been frustrating for me the past few months. I NEED to write, but I am obligated to do the reading, and I confess I’m a slow reader.

I will be blogging through the month of December, then I’ll probably be absent for a while. Next semester I am taking a heavier load with lots and lots of reading. While I am excited about the books we are studying, it will mean less time online.

HOWEVER, I have an exciting announcement. Painted Blind is getting a new look. I’ll tell you all about it soon!

Residency Top 10

Top 10 things I learned at my first MFA residency:

1. Take your own printer. I did this and was VERY glad I did.

2. Take more PEPSI. A 12-pack doesn’t last me 10 days when I’m stressed. (Okay, maybe even when I’m not stressed.)

3. Take the rest of your office. I didn’t do this, and ended up going to Walmart to buy a stapler, a 3-hole punch, an extra notebook and more copy paper. And Pepsi.

4. Even when you’re doing something you love, ten 12-hour days are long and exhausting.

5. Writing your emotional truth at hour 10 on day 9 is a BAD idea. I ended up skipping the reading that night, taking a hot bath and trying not to cry because I left my children for 10 days. (That ol’ mom guilt taking its toll.)

6. Taking a break to have lunch with my sister was a much needed sanity saver. We rarely get to see each other without kids, so being able to talk all afternoon was SO nice.

7. People’s opinions about publishing differ and no one has the “right answer.” You have to find your own way. This was brought home to me by two sessions (back to back in the same room) where one presenter gave us a handout entitled “Self-Publishing– Just Don’t Do It” followed by a presentation by a self-published author who started her own imprint and built a successful business.

8. No matter what path you take, the book business is full of supportive, amazing people. This is why I chose the Whidbey MFA over another program. I wanted to meet people who were actually working in the business, not college professors whose focus was on finishing a novel rather than selling it.

9. According to Aristotle, plot is king and all other elements bow to it. Even though agents and editors say voice and character are the essential things of a novel, they won’t read page one if it doesn’t have a good hook. If my goal is to know myself as an author, I am in Aristotle’s camp. This helps me on the craft end to clearly define what belongs in a story and what doesn’t.

10. Even in the summer, Whidbey Island is cool. Take more long sleeved shirts and sweaters. Pretty much, I dressed warmly in the morning, changed clothes in the afternoon when it got warm, then changed back in the evening. Good grief. I need to learn to layer better.

I came home understanding (most importantly) that this is only the beginning. It’s going to be a lot of work, but it will pay off. It is already paying off in my WIP that I work-shopped during the residency. It is the beginning of lasting friendships and fond memories. Hopefully, it is also the beginning of successful writing careers… for all of us.

Writer’s Getaway

 I arrived yesterday. I was almost late because I didn’t realized how much time it would take to cross Puget Sound by ferry.

I thought that was Whidby Island straight ahead, but the ferry goes off to the left. I’m not sure Yahoo! maps included the ferry in the anticipated travel time. I was supposed to drive our old Maxima, which I knew I could get onto the ferry without any trouble, BUT the Maxima broke down Friday night. I ended up taking my Expedition EL (EL as in extra-long).

I managed without hitting anything. I didn’t bother going upstairs on the ferry because this is a really short trip compared to some of the others. I sat in my car amazed at how many vehicles fit on the ferry– at least seventy by my count. Every other time I have been on a ferry, I have gotten out and walked around. This time, I sat in the car. It felt really weird (and a little queasy) to sit in a car on a boat. When we pulled off the dock, I’ll admit that I grabbed the steering wheel. Ha! Like I could steer the ferry or something.

This is Mt. Baker in the distance, snow capped above the horizon. Let me just tell you how unusual it is to be in Seattle and not see a cloud in the sky.

This was all I saw of the dock as we pulled in. The water must be low. Look how high the barnicles grew.

It was 85 degrees at the crossing to Whidbey Island. That is very warm weather for this side of Washington, but at home it was 105.

The residency portion of the MFA program is located at Captain Whidbey Inn on Whidbey Island. Whidbey Island is home to many writers, has a writers guild and a writers retreat and other fun things. Captain Whidbey caters to writers, artists and such. I was fortunate enough to be booked in a lagoon room. This is my room…. Notice there is no TV, but there is a writer’s desk.

The bed faces a huge window. This is the view outside.

You’d see more of the lagoon if the tent wasn’t there, but the tent is a classroom. My morning class was in the tent today.

And this is my private porch, the perfect place to curl up with a Pepsi and a notebook and wax poetic (or in my case, try to kill someone) in your novel.It said on the website this was a writer’s paradise, but I didn’t believe it. Now, I add my testimonial. This IS a writer’s paradise. If you want to check it out yourself, you can find it here.

Today is officially the first day of school for my MFA. I loved my first two classes. The afternoon sessions are all about the Profession of Writing and will deal with everything from pitches to contracts to cover design. I am looking forward to those workshops as much as the classes.