ellen mcbee

She's always up to something…

Talentless Hack

mercy

 

See, I can do the writing part. It’s the editing part.

Which is why I feel like a talentless hack today.

I knew that the narrative line fell apart in the third act. But I didn’t realize that this started toward the end of the second act. In specific, my scenes are getting very short and…well, it reads like a first draft. When I’m probably on Draft #3,427.

I wish I wasn’t still getting the “outline” right.

Ah, well. I just need to keep pushing on. That’s what people do, right? Or at least the people who are wrestling a first draft and making it something else.

I still would just like to be finished with This. Damn. Project.

edit

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Hashtag Happy!

I went to a presentation a few weeks ago by the talented and knowledgeable Susan Spann, who writes mysteries in which her lead detective is a sixteenth-century ninja. And you can read all about her here: http://www.susanspann.com/

Anyway, she was presenting about social media. And I know, I’m not very active here sometimes; some days there’s just too much to do and not enough space. But I’ve decided to start using more hashtags in my social media postings.

I’ve only done one so far, on my writer’s page on Facebook. And I have learned that people like pictures! And they like hashtags!

So I’ve been trying to choose my three “areas” for things I post about. Two were easy; writing life, interesting WWII stories with an emphasis on women’s stories especially if they involve combat, and…

Vaguebooking.

You know, when people post some passive-aggressive meme that is aimed at some particular Facebook Frenemy but don’t actually have the balls to take that person on directly?

I thought it would be fun to collect them and use them to entertain people. To be content that I provide.

So, watch this space! In blogging I suppose you just use tags. But look out for #writinglife #vaguebook and #scouts in the rest of my accounts!

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I’m Getting Surprises!

Oh, I’m enjoying Diamonds!

I’m keeping up with the word quota (although I was hoping to get ahead today, but didn’t). And for whatever reason, the “Sophie” thread is coming first.

Okay. I can do that.

The way I have it set up in Scrivener, I have three “chapters,” which I will be filling with scenes from each girl’s viewpoint. Sophie has so far had only two historical characters appear. I will be adding “historical character viewpoint” scenes during the second draft, which is also when I will be putting some meaningful order into these stories. So far, I have done a small amount of background reading about each thing before I’ve started writing it.

Tonight after everyone goes to bed, I will be working on the seduction scene.

I don’t know what else to call it. Sophie’s older sister has been cut off from the Christian parents because she was married at an SS bride school, by her husband’s commanding officer, instead of in a church. And (this was the surprise) Daria was told that she shouldn’t trust Sophie because Sophie’s sister is involved in…something shady. So, when Sophie is home for a visit, she goes to find her sister.

It turns out that not only is the sister involved in something shady, her husband knows all about it and was the one who suggested it.

I know, I’m speaking in a heavy code. I’m just hoping someone will pick this book up and read it someday.

Anyway, the brother-in-law is a complete true believer (although at this point Sophie isn’t). Among other things, he believes in the directive that an SS man should have as many women having his kids as possible. And he figures that his wife’s genealogy is clean, so her sister’s would be too.

I know, it’s gross.

I’m mildly triggered by it (something similar but MUCH LESS BAD happened to me many years ago), so it’s difficult. At the same time, kind of cathartic for those emotions to finally have some meaning. I think she would be repulsed and angry with him, but at the same time flattered. She’s young enough (17) that she doesn’t have good judgment. And of course, our concepts of date rape and consent would be completely alien to both of them.

I can’t wait to see what kind of surprises Emily’s story is going to reveal!

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Goal-Setting

I’m really terrible at setting goals for myself.

Seriously.

This is not because I’m lazy or because I don’t like to have goals. It’s because I have incredibly unrealistic ideas of how much I can really accomplish.

For example, this summer, I was supposed to finish What You Stand For, and I expected to be deep into the third draft of What You Settle For by now, with a tentative start date of September 1 for drafting the Polish Scouts project. I’m going to have to give some thought to a title for that. Instead I spent the summer cleaning the house and driving people around, so now I am at the beginning of the second draft of What You Settle for, still tightening up What You Stand For, and still plotting the Polish Scouts project.

But it’s all good, I guess. I’m going to get finished with the Brooks and Kit books and then I’ll be moving into this scouts project.

Anyway, I’ve decided recently to add a goals section to my bullet journal, mostly so I can think about what I need to get done every week. I’ll be away next weekend but in the meantime the goals are:

  1. 2,000 words a day.
  2. Blog twice this week.
  3. Prepare lunches and dinners for the days I’ll be gone.

The third goal is mainly because, though I love my husband, he’s terrible about feeding the children nutritious food. If I’m not here he goes to the grocery store for every meal, and buys pre-made food of some kind. Doughnuts. Mac and cheese. Greek pizza. When I get home they are all in a bad mood and he doesn’t get the connection.

I’m kind of excited about the trip, which I will be posting about later in the week. Meanwhile, the dirty dishes are calling my name.

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Excitement galore!

Ah, I’m finally back in my office!

Every time I think things are settling down and everything is getting back into its routine, something new happens. This time it was a broken computer; not mine, my son’s. It just stopped turning on when we were at Mom’s house. So, husband ordered him a new one. Which right out of the box was broken.

Then we had a few weeks of son using my computer and me getting no work done. Son is taking 7 AP classes this year, and did most of his summer assignments on my computer, on my desk, in my office. Know how much work I got done? If you guessed “none,” you are mostly correct!

It’s OK though. I sent the book out for Beta reads and have already decided I cut too much of the back story, so I have started restoring some. Not very much. I still think it brings the story to a grinding halt. I even thought about a new beginning, but no, I like my beginning. It’s really the first time I have taken a stand on some particular thing in the book; this time, I like the beginning.

I’m also Beta/critiquing a book for one of my readers. I’m slow, because computer issue. The big desktop I got from my husband freezes up once a day.

Finally, husband ordered son a new laptop, which has been working for a week. But during the time he had mine, he left it on the edge of my desk in my office and guess what? It fell over (or the dog knocked it over) and now the screen has little thread lines on it! Husband is coming home Sunday and I am getting a laptop of some description that doesn’t have a broken screen.

There’s always research, right?

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Tape flags, and more rewrites

I’m starting to think this book is NEVER going to be finished.

Maybe I’ll be one of those people with a really exquisitely edited book, with gorgeous prose and poetic comparisons, and I’ll never think it’s perfect.

Except I don’t think I’m really working on perfect. Also, I love to read other people’s gorgeous, poetic prose, but that’s not what I do. I think this is more of a “Oh my God, I have to fix that!” reaction. This is happening about every third chapter. I’ve realized that I start nearly every chapter with exposition, explaining, sometimes description, or skipping through time. I have to skip through time because the story is September to May. But it’s the same lesson I had to learn about the first chapter; trust the reader to figure out what’s going on.

I have to say my rewrites are improving the story vastly. I want to have this book finished in six months and I’m starting to wonder if that’s going to happen; whenever I identify a big chunk that needs to be rewritten like this it usually takes me a couple of days to stop pouting and do it.

The section I’m working on right now is a two or maybe three chapter chunk (last half of Act II B) in which the narrative line falls apart and I just realized that two of my sub-plots fell right out of it! It’s a choppy section and I didn’t even see it until this readthrough. I’ve been doing most of the rewrites by hand (I’m still working with the book in a three-ring binder) but there’s so much to tackle I’m going to type it out. It’s kind of discouraging, but at the same time I know it’s going to make the story work better.

Oh–I’m still using the bullet journal. Admittedly, sometimes I mark off things I haven’t finished but have worked on today. I think it would be too discouraging to migrate the entire list every single day. And I bought some new Washi tape (shades of blue and green). And I started a new list: “Songs I Hate By Bands I Usually Like.” The first song: “Wait for Me” by Theory of a Deadman. Really? Basically, she’s home waiting and he’s glad she’s doing it, putting her own dreams and needs on hold so he can have what he needs? There’s too much of this going around, is all I can say. I listened to the words while it was playing and at the end I actually said, “Screw you, Tyler.”

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How to Edit a Whole, Entire Book

Mom life continues to win, but there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. School is going to be out next week, and the concerts and parties and more activities and recitals and everything else is going to be done. Well, I’ll still be uniforming the band (nearly finished) and getting the pool open (next weekend), but the constant running around should end. I hope.

I’m deep in the edits on What You Stand For; I have printed it out and have taken to carrying it around with me. I’m also using tape flags to track the different subplots and to mark the scenes. This is turning out to be so helpful that I thought I would share the method here.

  1. Mark all the scenes with numbered Post-it notes on top of the pages. When I did this, I discovered that I have about 100 scenes and that some of them are only a paragraph long, so I have identified chapters that need to be rewritten.
  2. List sub-plots. This has changed so many times in this book that I really did have to think about it. What I came up with was the Kyle story, the Sara story, the wedding/family, JP and Brooks, and anything involving the case against the sorority. I also have a couple of running jokes I want to make sure I’m including often enough (but not too often).
  3. Mark first sub-plot (in this case, the Kyle story line) with blue tape flags on the sides of the page. Use a marker to underline mentions of this character or plotline. When I did this I learned that Kyle’s story completely drops out for three chapters after the middle.
  4. Mark second sub-plot. In this case, I used the Sara and addiction plotline and light green flags and marker. I’m in the middle of this one right now and have learned that this is the main subplot, but it also illustrates the main story line and the conflict between caring for people and smothering them. This one is pretty well-developed but when I get toward the end I will be looking at it as an independent story. It does come to an end at the beginning of Act III, although it continues to reverberate; what I will be looking for is this sub-plot’s three act structure.
  5. Keep going on marking the sub-plots. Continue to look for cohesion, weaving into main plot, and whether characters cross into different plots.

Having done this on paper now, I’m ready to try it with Scrivener next time. I kind of like doing it this way though. I’m finding satisfaction in seeing it on paper, and I’m just grabbing a pen and knocking out rewrites as needed. It’s also helping me to keep track of my progress instead of starting every session at the beginning, which I find myself bogged down in sometimes. I’m also learning what I would want to tell Scrivener to do for me in Book 2.

Also, I get to use markers.

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Retreat! Retreat!

No, not from Trump not being Hitler. He still isn’t. And, as my brother put it, this isn’t 1930s Germany either. Though I would like to point out that new scholarship in the field (which I’m reading, sadly) suggests that Hitler wasn’t possible without the deeply ingrained anti-Semitism of 1930s and before Germany as well as the willing collaboration of the common people. So. Let’s say Trump still doesn’t equal Hitler, but Trump might equal fascism.

No, what I’m really posting about is the retreat I went on last weekend. Specifically, the RMFW retreat at the Franciscan Retreat Center in Colorado Springs.

People always seem to come back from this kind of thing relaxed and refreshed and ready to keep plugging away, and I certainly am all of those things. It was great to take a mental break from all the obligations that sometimes seem to make up my whole life. Three times a day, I went to a dining room, and someone brought food I didn’t cook. There were plans and activities and talks and classes and, more than that, really wonderful people of all experience levels at writing. I’ve resolved that when I’m doing critiques I’m going to redouble my efforts at being encouraging. It was a little confusing because a few writers had brought brand-new, first drafts; others brought material that was all but finished, so it was hard to know how to be helpful since I didn’t know which were which. Anyway, we’ve all got different reasons for embarking on this journey in the first place, and being encouraging and complimentary is definitely part of being helpful, just like pointing out comma splices and run-on sentences.

I think the part I like best about going to these things is how easy it is to talk about the work and not sound like a pretentious jerk. It’s okay to be a kind of bookish introvert (although I’m 50/50 on the introvert/extrovert scale every time I take one of those surveys, and that’s been true since I was a little kid) and to talk about “This is what I’m stuck on” and “I need help with this” or even “I’m really good at,” which for me is and always has been characters. I can also be open that I try in my own writing to be an original, fresh voice, but still in the confines of the genre. For this New Adult project, for instance, the characters do tend to be snarky and judgmental, but it feels age appropriate. While there’s a strong romantic subplot, that’s not what the book is really about (New Adult books tend to be romances). But, rather than the usual five or so characters in a lot of New Adult, I’ve got about fifteen more-than-background characters, and the story is set firmly in the Greek world. Most New Adult work doesn’t even acknowledge sororities and fraternities, unless it’s to provide an easy villain.

The best takeaway information I got from this conference was from the inimitable Courtney Miller-Callihan, who is an agent. She told me that her clients are finding New Adult sales very difficult, and that I should plan to self-publish the What You Stand For books. I’ve kicked that idea around for a long time, so it didn’t come as a huge shock, but I had always planned to try to sell them traditionally first. Now I know not to waste time on that route, get the books finished, and start selling them.

What a steep learning curve there is in this business! Still, the other task I got done was to go through the manuscript of Book 2 and wrestle it into a plot. I wrote Book 2 during NaNoWriMo this year and thought it was awful, but when I went through it in Colorado it really isn’t that bad. Some of it’s even funny. Who knows, I could be finished with that one and drafting Book 3 in November, and putting up What You Stand For by January?

I thought I wanted the prestige of traditional publishing, and I still do for the Scouts project. But publishing is changing; writing is changing. I hope the quality of the work is going to help sell it, but honestly, I never started doing this for the money (if I did, I’d be an accountant). I started doing it so I could tell the stories. And, if this is how you get the story out, this is how you get the story out.

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Were the Nazis Socialists?

So, something a little funny happened today. And as happens so often, it tied into the Polish Boy Scouts.

Well, sort of. I’m kind of getting ahead of myself.

This extremely old friend of mine…scratch that, he’s younger than me. Anyway, this is a friend I’ve known for a long time. We don’t agree politically and we never have, but when we were young we didn’t consider that to be an impediment to being friends. In any case, he sometimes posts things that I consider either thought-provoking or complete nonsense.  Today’s offering was nonsense. It looked like this:

bernie

(Don’t worry. I promise I’ll get to it. First you have to listen to my little story.)

So, I just posted, “THE NAZIS WERE NOT SOCIALISTS.” And I left it at that because 1) Errant nonsense, particularly in the form of a shared picture, is not worth dealing with; 2) I didn’t let it go unchallenged; and 3) likening Bernie Sanders to Nazis is even more nonsensical.

And then another friend, someone I was closer to in those days, posted back. Politically I don’t know where he stood; I’m not sure he even was political then. But, well, it’s America, and everybody has to be political now. In any case I’ve always had sincere respect for this friend’s intelligence, ability to read people, and sense of humor. This friend posted about the Nazis’ 25 point program (you can read all about it here: http://www.historyplace.com/worldwar2/riseofhitler/25points.htm

Thought-provoking, no? I had not run across it in all twenty-two books I’ve read and who knows how many online sources, original documents, movies, research I’ve done for the Polish Scouts. So I took a look and discovered that at best this is propaganda; it defined the Nazi “brand” with a whole lot of promises that were never carried out. And I posted some of that–but I was supposed to be reading on Canaris today so I jumped back into that.

A little while later, friend who posted the original meme said, “It’s right there in the name,” illustrating either a profound desire to annoy me, or a profound misunderstanding of what words are. I mean, they made everybody call Kim Jung Il “Dear Leader.” It didn’t mean he was actually dear or even necessarily the leader. And then the second friend replied, explaining to me that the designations “communist” and “socialist” were perhaps meaningless in the discussion at hand and listed some specific economic examples of how Nazism was socialist.

Fair enough.

I’m not strong on economics (though words and how they change through time? I’m pretty good on that), and the focus of the research has been social history and personal narrative and ideological background. And, whether or not it was true, I wanted to really know it for myself. It’s a pretty significant hole, not just in the research, but in the meaning of the Third Reich and ultimately the meaning of the Warsaw Uprising, child soldiers, and all those themes I’m dealing with.

So, here’s the TL/DR response: No. Nazis were not socialists. Socialists are not Nazis.

And here’s the researched, well-considered, thoughtful response I wrote that was so long I thought, “That would make a great blog post!” Or possibly, a doctoral dissertation.

“I considered just searching this question on-line, but that’s not really what I want to do. I don’t believe in pre-fab research; I wanted to consider the question on its merits and on my own. So if I’m quoting someone, I don’t mean to be.

“I’m hung up on the idea that a totalitarian state could ever be a socialist one. Going back to Enlightenment principles, government depends on the consent of the governed. In a totalitarian state like the Third Reich, it depended on the consent of the 32% of the people who voted for Hitler in the second (and last) free elections held by Weimar Germany. A coalition government was formed and Hitler seized power. There were numerous attempts to unseat him; one of these was on the eve of the Sudetenland crisis, but the generals were betrayed by Chamberlin. In any case, socialism is more than just government ownership of the means of production, resources, etc.; at its core it requires a democratic or collective ownership. In a totalitarian state, by definition that can’t be the case; the ownership is driven by the person or group at the top, not by the people as a cooperating entity.

“Leaving the ideology aside (which is difficult when discussing Nazis), we could go on to who the Nazis considered their enemies to be. The SA (Brown Shirts), the paramilitary wing of the Nazi party, used to go out and disrupt meetings of Communists and Social Democrats. The SA was well known for street fights with Communists. Hitler had dismantled all the other political parties by 1934, partly by putting their leaders into Dachau, which left the SA at loose ends and causing fights with passers-by and sometimes with foreign diplomats. The SA was also the left wing of the party; its ranks had been swelled by the unemployed, who were eager for Hitler to begin breaking up the estates of German aristocrats and take other radical economic action. This didn’t happen in 1933 or 1934, but army criticism of the SA as a “rabble” did. Hitler needed the army; more, he needed the support of non-Nazis in the army, so during the Night of the Long Knives he purged the Nazi party of its left wing. By murdering it. Hitler also used the opportunity to get rid of conservatives he thought were unreliable. As a result, most of Chancellor von Papen’s immediate circle were murdered. Some old enemies, such as the former Nazi Gregor Strasser, were killed as well; so were the former leaders of the Catholic Centre Party, which had been aligned with the Social Democrats. And make no mistake: Germany’s Social Democrats were (and are) socialists.

“The concentration camp system was built in the first place to house political prisoners. The political prisoners in the camps were identified as Social Democrats, Communists, and others who opposed Nazism, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses. So rather than making common cause with the established Socialists or Communists, the Hitler regime regarded them as enemies and arrested them in large numbers.

“We could also look at who the Nazis counted as their friends. Noted American conservatives Henry Ford, Charles Lindbergh, Himmler’s pen pal J. Edgar Hoover, Gerald L.K. Smith, and Pierre DuPont. None of these people would have remotely considered themselves to be Socialists, or anything other than firm conservatives, political, social, and economic.

“Admittedly going out on a limb here, but the foundation of National Socialism is that people can’t ever improve or change who they are. Political prisoners were kept alive and served limited sentences in the camps because they were considered genetically valuable. Good German women were supposed to have baby after baby because it was good for the race. Eventually, every road to every social program, every military campaign, every educational program, led back to the idea of and the development of the Master Race. Nazi eugenics owes an embarrassing debt to American eugenics. Nazi racism had roots in colonialism and the idea of the White Man’s Burden. The Klan, the eugenicists, all of them thought that Jews had brought communism and socialism and trade unions into the world.

“Meanwhile, Nazism was in direct conflict with several other philosophies, most notably (for me) scouting. The scouting movement was all about improving the self through education. Although in many countries scouts were segregated, Baden-Powell himself thought this was an error. Scouting was really the antithesis of Nazism; it emphasized betterment of the existing people, not removing them from the gene pool.

“So, finally, economics. Which you know I’m weak in, but I will do my best. Nationalizing the banks: The banks had been taken over by the Weimar government and Hitler’s government re-privatized the four major commercial banks in Germany between 1934 and 1938. The banks did, however, have to provide government financing, so it could be argued that they were under government control. It turns out that the Nazis privatized a lot of formerly public companies. Source: http://www.jstor.org/stable/27771569?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents  Massive public works: This is true, but again, it was a continuation of Weimar policies; just like in America, it was planned that these projects would help reduce unemployment and it worked (but not as well as war was going to). In Germany the projects were funded by deficit spending, and eventually through stolen assets. Capture of major manufacturers: I’m not honestly sure what this means. IG Farben, Ford, IBM, and countless others had government contracts; they were paid for producing particular goods and services (such as IBM’s punch cards being used to track concentration camp prisoners). The German railways were privatized under the Nazis, as were various other companies. So really, it was Weimar that was socialist. Meanwhile, when Jews left Poland and Germany and other places, their businesses were taken over by individuals–not by the state. And for the most part German-owned businesses were left unmolested.

“Later, it’s true, some companies were taken over by the government. As far as I can tell, this was done so that Goering and others could enrich themselves through public money to be filtered through their companies; they did not actually run the factories. I can’t find the reference, but I know I read about one such business that was taken over because the owner was not sufficiently Nazi friendly. And again, I think these business takeovers were an outgrowth of totalitarianism rather than a socialist ideology. Hitler himself was uninterested in economics in general and socialism in particular: “What need have we to socialize banks and factories? We socialize human beings.” By which he meant that the state didn’t have to own the banks and businesses if it already owned the people.

“And, eventually, that’s the POINT. Hitler didn’t care about any doctrine other than the one he made himself. He took some ideas and rejected others, and whatever lip service he paid, in his actions he always rejected socialism. And, wherever his grave is, he’s probably spinning in it at being compared to Bernie Sanders! His was a government in which he told his people his goals, and then sat back to see how they could make them happen.

“I didn’t realize that I was fuzzy on this question. Thanks for giving me a good argument to research and think about.”

Anyway, the moral of the little story: yes, I have days when I’m tired of fighting the good fight. I get exhausted by people. There are reasons to oppose Bernie Sanders; you don’t have to make up your own facts. I get tired of making the same arguments over and over; I get demoralized by people who’d rather believe lies than the truth. I get tired of people who won’t open their minds to any idea that Rush Limbaugh didn’t tell them first.

And then some days, good sparks come from hitting opposing ideas off each other. I might never have looked into the economics of Nazi Germany as a policy without those posts. Because what America is really about is the free exchange of ideas, even (and especially) with people you disagree with.

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Something Weird Happened Today

I did it! They did it! And more importantly, it works!

After a very long weekend (gymnastics meet, two hockey games, encountering an awful lot of unpleasant people both on-line and in person), I decided that today is the day. On Saturday I got through the rewrites I’ve been working on (I’ve been making Act II B tighter and more compelling), leading up to, you know, It.

Specifically the big Kit/Brooks sex scene that is the center of this section of the book.

I know, I know; old as I am this should be easy. But it isn’t easy, at all. I have of course written it before, but I faded to black before actually getting down to business. But this is New Adult. The book is still not really a romance, but that’s not uncommon in New Adult. New Adults are busy people, with more on their minds than having sex, serious people, blah blah blah. But I didn’t realize how unsatisfying the fadeout was until I read through Act II B a few weeks ago. I made a three-page outline of just this section; one list of scenes as they are now, and the other of how it should read. So I’m cutting and pasting but there’s also new material.

Today was the day for sex. Explicit, real sex between two real characters, young people who aren’t virgins but aren’t well-traveled, either. Because again, the center, the heart of the story, is that people make mistakes and you learn and move on. Kit’s going into this with her eyes open.

It snowed last night here but there was barely any on the ground when I got up at 5:30. I went through the whole morning, feed the animals, feed the children, pack the lunches, nag people about homework and toothbrushing. At 7:50 I walked the smallest one to the bus stop. Snow was sticking to the street more now, and there was no traffic coming past. At this time of the morning it was a bit eerie, but her bus arrived by ten past 8 and they were all gone.

(Yes, my husband was here. He slept until 6:45 and then took a shower. This is more helpful than you would think.)

I sat down at my desk, and opened the file, and read my outline. And started sweating.

Is this really so hard? What am I afraid of, that people will know I’ve had sex? I do have three kids and I’ve been married for 17 years.

So, I pulled out notes I had from a workshop I attended with Andrea Catalano at Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers in the fall of 2014. I can do this.

From Andrea: “Just describe what goes where, and take it from there.” Use frank terms; they might even seem clinical at first. Don’t be afraid; people love this stuff.

Okay. I can do this. I check my e-mail and discover that the kids are going to be back soon, since school has now been closed.

Hell. I can do it. Only now, I have to do it fast.

And then, a miracle occurred. I had been planning to start from the scene I already had, and then add to it, but I realized that the scene I already had was all lead-up and no action. I cut the first two pages; I skipped through some description and the next thing I knew those two animals were taking off their clothes.

I did it–they did it. Somehow two characters took over the scene and I just wrote down what they did. I sat right here at my desk and wrote 2200 words and when I was done, these two characters had pretty good sex. More importantly, the scene did what it’s supposed to do; it expresses where these two are in their lives and their relationship. It shows that all those thoughts and feelings are normal, and so is making some jokes along the way. I typed the heading for the next chapter…

And then I slept for two hours.

 

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