ellen mcbee

She's always up to something…

The Rainy Season

I haven’t been in the blog for a bit. Summers are hard for moms! It’s because the schedule is never the same, day to day or week to week.

In any case, it’s rainy season here. It’s kind of rainy season with a vengeance. I haven’t seen it rain like this in Los Alamos in several years now, though of course we got three days worth last September. I like the sounds it makes. I like watching the grass grow. And I like the way the ground is soft even when the sun’s shining.

I also like that I didn’t hang the laundry on the clothesline today.

I’ve finished my last pass through What You Stand For, although I have a pivotal scene I’m going to need to rewrite. Over Thanksgiving break, Kit meets up with her ex-boyfriend, who works in Kit’s family’s hardware store. They have a fairly civilized conversation in which he tells her that there’s nothing wrong with her but he was in the wrong place to be making long-term plans with her or anyone. Now that I’ve started work on the sequel (What You Settle For), though, I need for the two of them to be fighting still. So it’s time for a new scene.

I wish I hadn’t thrown out the scene I had where they did fight. Although I threw it out because it was too cliche-ridden to use. I’m not sure I should have her sit down to talk with him but she does in some way need to find “closure.” Maybe hers comes from accepting that he’s never going to tell her she was fine and she needs to come to that understanding on her own.

This seems like something that would happen in real life (an important goal for me). But I’m not sure it’s dramatic enough. Hopefully when I’m actually sitting down to work on it, inspiration will come. And if it’s funny enough, it won’t matter if it’s dramatic.

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This was my week…

I think I’ve mentioned before (and if I haven’t, well, here it is):  I do an awful lot of volunteering.

Part of that is being a mom of three school-age kids in a small town.  They do a lot of activities.  Consequently, I have a lot of time where I’m hanging around waiting for something to finish.  And this year, the three school-age kids are all going to three different schools.

My son, T, is in the high school band.  So I have volunteered to be in charge of the marching band uniforms this year.  He’s also an Eagle Scout candidate, so I’m a merit badge counselor.  He does ski race club, so I’m on the board for that.  My daughter A is in the middle school band and is a competitive gymnast, so I’m on the board at the gymnastics school.  A plays hockey and I volunteer to keep score.  My other daughter K loves swimming and has lots of friends who all like to hang out here.  She’s in elementary school, so I put together the yearbook.  And I’m on the board at our pool.  And this week I was co-director of our church’s VBS.  I used to teach Sunday School but I’m over-committed already, so I costume the Christmas Play every year too.

Also, I’m sure I missed something.  And meanwhile, I like to write, and knit, and read, and watch TV.  I sew sometimes but don’t really like it.  I scrapbook but that’s been sitting for a couple of years now.  And soon I’ll be deep into the long-awaited renovation on my house.  I’ve lived in the house for 14 years and am finally ready to modify it.

Not to be whining, though.  I’m busy but I still find the time to write.  This week I have finished my final revisions to What You Stand For.  I’m starting the draft of What You Settle For (though possibly will change the title to What You Long For.  Or even something else).  And I know I said I wasn’t going to be ready, but I am.  So I have signed up for Colorado Gold the first week in September!  I’ve booked the conference, and the hotel, and I’m going to attend a pitch session to see if I can get the thing sold.

The plans at the moment are, if I come back from Colorado with no contract or interest, that I will start sending out queries trying to get the thing sold.  I’ll be looking at partner publishing as well as traditional routes.  Because, honestly?  It’s good.  It’s a good book.  I would have wanted to read it when I was in my late teens.  It would’ve been great to read about a character who resented her family and friends sometimes, who had to battle against assumptions about her, who was for the first time examining her life and her attitudes.  Instead young adult fiction then was often written from a “problem of the week” viewpoint.

But, I digress.  Independent of what happens in the book, I’m confident that it’s well written.  Selling and writing don’t come from the same place, so selling is a whole new set of skills for me.

Okay, back to work for me.  Have a great weekend, all!

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Jackson Hole Writers’ Conference

So, as I’ve said previously, a few weeks ago I was at the Jackson Hole Writers’ Conference.  Not to try to sell the book (though I wouldn’t have said no to that!) but to get feedback, advice, opinions, and build some kind of network.

The experience was fabulous, and I’d really love to go there again.  It was two and a half days of classes, talks, critiques, and talking openly about this WRITING thing.  It was fun–and it felt valuable.  The two best talks I heard were those given by April Eberhardt, who spoke about the new ways manuscripts are published.  She was very frank about the advantages and disadvantages of traditional and alternative publishing.  The other best talk was given by Cynthia Hand, who spoke about the three things needed to be a successful writer.  I thought her seminar was very informative; she talked about the skill set and also the talents and ways to fire up the passion you need to carry you through.  Since at the moment I’m in editing hell, I really loved it.

But nowhere could I find the information I needed:  what kinds of things to take to the conference?  Also, what to wear?  So here is my own in-hindsight answers to those questions.

What to take:  Copies of the material you’ve submitted for critiques.  A water bottle and a granola bar.  An umbrella.  A cardigan or light jacket.  Pens and paper.  Pages you might like to show to people.  Pages for your reading (four minutes long, last evening of the conference).  And business cards.  Although, a note about business cards:  I thought nobody else there had any and it seemed a little forward to offer them.  But as soon as I mentioned I had a card in any conversation, other people were offering them too.  It was a pretty introverted group and many of them came with friends, so it was hard to find anyone to have lunch with.  After the first day I went back to the condo and made sandwiches for my lunch.

What to wear:  Comfortable shoes.  Otherwise, people were everywhere from polos and jeans to Western wear to business casual.  There were people wearing loafers or cowboy boots or sneakers or really cute sandals.  Since I have hard-to-fit feet, my shoes were pretty much uncomfortable.  I was on my feet more than I expected to be.  Also, in Santa Fe you pretty much see western wear on both men and women, but in Jackson that seemed to be just men in cowboy boots and hats.

A little more about reading:  I’ll post the reading I gave at some point, but it was fun!  I even got some “woos” in addition to the applause.  People were very interested in what I was writing and I talked to many new people afterward.  I did have to sign up for the slot on the first day of the conference, so if you go make sure to ask.  I will also say that I felt like a complete marshmallow.  There were readings describing industrial accidents, and some fairly serious poets, and science fiction, and nature pieces.  I read about two girls going to a fraternity party!

Anyway, with everything I learned and did there, I feel like I have a lot to process.  I don’t know how people go to more than one conference in a year, although I was looking at maybe going to Denver in September.  I just have to get my husband on board…

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Rambles and Travels

Since my last post, nothing happened!

No, of course that’s not true.  I went to my parents’ 50th anniversary party, saw a lot of people I haven’t seen in 25 years, had a birthday, took my son on his first college visit, and had a nightmare flight on the way home.

I should warn that there are some things I find really boring myself, and one of them is the minutiae of the difficulties of travel.  Let’s just say that my flight out of Nashville was delayed, so I was late getting to Dallas and missed the Santa Fe connection.  I ended up going to Albuquerque, where the agent took almost an hour to set me up with vouchers for a hotel, taxi, and shuttle to Santa Fe.  Then this morning the shuttle was booked so I had to rent a car to get my children to where my car was parked in Santa Fe.  So, I rented a car for an hour for about half the amount I paid for having a car for a week at my parents’!

I’ve been trying hard to talk about writing as a job and not as a hobby since I left Jackson.  People who’ve known me only here in Los Alamos are a bit surprised when I say that I’ve been at a writers’ conference.  I suppose I seem too practical, too grounded in the reality of routine, to be an artist.  People who’ve known me for a while or are brand-new acquaintances are interested and ask me where I blog.  Today I met the lady who is teaching my son’s drivers’ ed class and she is a writer.  We talked shop a little, and it felt natural.  Normal.  I’m starting to feel like a writer who writes.

Speaking of, make sure to check out my “The Beginning” page today.  I’ll be adding the revisions I’ve made to the original post from a few weeks ago.  I thought I’d leave the original up so that anyone who is interested can see what my process looks like.  And later I’ll be digging into Scrivener to learn how to use it.  Before I went out of town I made it halfway through the tutorial, but now I don’t remember what I learned.  Hopefully it will all come back to me as I’m working.

Taking my son back to Sewanee was enlightening.  When my husband and I were there, we weren’t exactly slumming, but it was definitely less clean, shiny, and state of the art than it is now.  Night Study in the library, which always smelled like a thousand lit cigarettes, has been replaced by a 24 hour computer lab.  Students now need their IDs to access not just the dining halls but their own rooms, where I never locked my door even one time (although it must be admitted that this was because the keys were bulky and sometimes got stuck).  The gravel paths that ate our shoes have been paved.  The dining hall is open and food is accessible all the time.  Printing is free.  95% of freshmen return for their sophomore year, which made me wonder if the University is working harder to keep them and better able to help those in financial need or if admissions are just that much more selective.

One piece that I’m glad to see still operates is that the admissions counselor talked about the network, and Sewanee as a family.  I demonstrated that myself; our tour guide was talking about being a biochemistry major and at the end of the tour I gave him my husband’s contact information.  Because it’s not just about being in school, it’s about what happens next.  Buck’s own mentors have retired and passed away and the new professors in the department don’t really know him, so they don’t put students in contact with him.

I was surprised that our tour guide didn’t talk about the honor code as a way of life, although my son said his did talk about it.  I knew a couple of people who were thrown out on honor code violations.  The honor code really was ingrained and was a large part of who we were.  And are.  Although I wonder sometimes how much of it we already held when we came to Sewanee in the first place.

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