Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Holiday 2007

The holidays have been busy. This year, Don and I spent Christmas with his family. Yesterday we visited with his cousin and her boyfriend, as well as a few other cousins. Today we ate Christmas dinner with his sister, husband and their kids and grandchildren, as well as Don’s brother. For me, it is a joyous experience to be with his family members, to share in their great sense of humor and compassion they have for other people.

This year, we did not spend Christmas with my mother’s side of the family,, as they have their own tradition. However, we did visit my grandfather a week ago and I gave him his gift, a book of short stories by Louis L’Amour. I suspect Grandpa has read every L’Amour novel out there, but I am sure he has not read this collection of short stories.

As for writing, I am now working on the first revision of my novel. In order to gain some objectivity, I had to let it set for a good three weeks. I tried to start revising about a week after my first draft was completed, but that did not work out very well. Revision requires stepping away from the story and letting the writer ego to simmer.

This is about all for now. Time to get back to that first revision. Happy holidays to all!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Laptop Mania and Vacation

These last week I have been on a “me” vacation where I chose to stay home to complete household chores and the first draft of my novel. So far, I have painted doors and trim, repaired a place where I was hanging a curtain rod and pulled a little piece of the drywall off, cleaned, and played with the boys (my cats, Buddy and Oliver). I have taken my laptop in for repair, gotten it back unfixed, bought a monitor, keyboard and mouse to use on my laptop, and then returned all three. Today I take the boys to the vet for their shots, my car in for service tomorrow morning, and tomorrow night I have a grand gala cookie party to attend! One busy week!

Despite all the activity, as well as the problems with my laptop, I completed the first draft of my novel. I wrote the last two chapters in longhand and then transcribed them to my word processor. It was a great experience writing in longhand, but it was horrendous trying to read my own writing. However, when push came to shove, I was able to decipher well enough.

About two weeks ago, my laptop started doing some strange stuff. At times, the monitor looked like someone put a dark veil over it, and then began to flicker, until it finally went blank. I took it to one popular computer establishment, and they diagnosed a faulty sensor button. Apparently fiddling with the button brought my monitor alive again. They could not repair it, though.

I took it to another popular computer store and they sent my lovely baby out for repair. When I got the call from the repair serviceman, he said, “It’s your backlight. It will cost you over $800 for repair.” After I picked myself up off the floor, I asked the important questions: “Is the repair worth it?” “Do I have other options?”

The technician’s advice was to forgo fixing my computer. “Get a new laptop,” he said. “Or, if you cannot afford one, get a monitor, keyboard and mouse. All you do is hook everything up, close your laptop, and then your desktop appears on your external screen. Simple as that.”

It was not as simple as that, as I soon found out. In the midst of trying to make the monitor pick up my laptop signal, I called the computer store for advice. After several calls of nobody answering during business hours, I finally got through to a person who gave me a phone number to contact the service repair department. “We can’t give any technical advise here at the store,” he said. I called the number, which had two too many numbers. I called the store back, finally got a hold of the same person again after numerous tries, and he gave me another number- to a pleasure talk line!!

Finally, I unhooked everything and returned it to the store. My call to another computer store that does not send their laptops out for service, and who exhibits good service by answering the phone on the second ring, quoted me $500 total for the backlight repair!

Now, my backlight flickers every now and then. A gentle pushing of the sensor button brings my screen back up. I will try to squeeze another year out of this computer and back up all my writing. Once the backlight dies, I will decide whether to get it repaired or get a new computer. Personally, I love this one and I don’t want to part with it. It has given me almost three wonderful years of continuous use.

Oh, and Thanksgiving was wonderful! Don and I went to my Aunt and Uncle’s house in Sacramento. Besides many relatives, my Grandpa was there. He is such a joy to be around, and so full of great humor! He will be 92 on his next birthday in March. I hope all who read this had a wonderful Thanksgiving as well!

Until next time…..

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Stuff

In my last entry, I wrote about my green-eyed tabbies, Buddy and Oliver, and the relationship they have been building since Oliver came to live with us on October 14, 2007. Now, two weeks later, they are the best of friends, eating and playing together, keeping each other warm during the night, taking time in the mornings to bathe each other’s ears and face after breakfast. It is so wondrous for me to witness to their cat culture. They are truly an inspiration to me.

On the home front, Don and I are doing well. We have attended many musical events over the last few months, including the Bluegrass Festival in Clearlake (of which he is one of the head honchos) and a musical presentation in San Rafael titled Music from the Crooked Road. When I was growing up, Mom listened to bluegrass, folk and country music nonstop, but I was always into Peter Frampton, Elton John and Olivia Newton-John. Now, as an adult, I have come to appreciate the bluegrass culture. I am thankful to share my love of muic with Don.

In the literary realm, I have been writing my novel at least 5-6 days a week, an hour or more each time. After 18 chapters and almost 40,000 words, I feel like I am finally moving forward with congruency of the smaller themes within my character’s larger journey. I am to the point where I want to be done with draft one so that I can tear it apart and start draft two. On the other hand, I know the value of just taking my time and turning the story over to a two-week hiatus before starting to work on the second draft.

This afternoon, I attended the monthly Redwood Writer’s Group, which is always intellectually informative and spiritually uplifting. There is nothing like being a part of a larger writing community, of feeling revitalized from the energy of those who enjoy putting words onto paper. Today, our introduction question was, “Why do you write?” My answer: “Because I like putting words onto paper to create a picture.” For me, that is what writing is all about!

I am excited because after the first of the year, Redwood Writer’s Group is having a four part workshop on editing, revising, polishing and proofreading your manuscript, in that order exactly! One of the workshop leaders, Jordan Rosenfeld, lived in Sonoma County and has a regular column in Writer’s Digest Magazine. I cannot wait to attend her workshop.

Holidays are coming up with Thanksgiving in a few weeks. We will spend it with my Uncle Clay and Aunt Marta in Sacramento. Grandpa will be there, as well as aunts and cousins and their families. I am looking forward to some good Turkey and great family interaction!!

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

My Green Eyed Tabbies

The story of my green eyes tabbies started about two weeks ago when Don’s elderly friend, Mary, decided she wanted a cat after the death of her dog. In fact, Don had accompanied her to the feed store where she picked out the little peach and white tabby. A few days later, Mary decided the overactive kitty was a little too much for her.

When Don told me about her second doubts, I said, “If she can’t keep him, I’ll be glad to give him a home.” Since Arby’s death last May, my other cat, Buddy, has been lonely and a little bored. Not that he and Arby got along because, frankly, she hated him. However, he continued trying to win her affections, and he seemed entertained by her antics to keep him at bay.

I met my little friend for the first time last Wednesday. The first time I looked into those sweet little green eyes, I knew Oliver was destined to become part of our household. Buddy is a sweet loyal cat, but he also has a bit of a temper, especially when he doesn’t get his way. I think this goes back to his days on the street where he learned to charm humans and fight other cats until he got a nibble or a good meal. Thus, when I brought Oliver home, I didn’t know what to expect.

First thing, I set up Oliver’s space in my office area- his own food, water, kitty box, bed and toys. For the first 24 hours I didn’t let my green eyed boys near each other, but allowed them to both roam the house freely at different times so that they would become accustomed to each other’s smells. The next day, I came home from work, put Buddy in my room, and let Oliver roam free. That evening, I finally decided to allow them into the main living area at the same time.

At first, Oliver became too friendly and Buddy hissed a lot. Now, after four days of roaming the house together under supervised conditions, my two green eyed boys seem like they’re getting along better. Buddy still hisses to let Oliver know he is top cat (and I make sure Buddy gets a whole lot more affection for being so tolerant of another baby), and Oliver is learning to just sit back and wait for a better moment to use his kitty-friendly skills. I thought I was home today when they walked past each other in the hallway….and their noses moved toward each other….but, just when their noses started to touch, Buddy let out a warning, “hsssss.”

Okay, maybe that’s almost home.

As for my writing: because Oliver needed rest time in his own space, and the office is where I write, I temporarily moved my laptop out to the dining room table. I didn’t want to give Buddy any ideas that I was giving our new little guy extra petting. Now I am back in the office and writing chapter 17 of my novel, and I allow Oliver to roam freely (but supervised) when I am home.

The writing is coming along well. I can see all of the changes that will need to go into the second draft. As a writer, I know it’s important to keep plugging forward until I have completed the piece, and then I am free to go back and do the second rewrite. I continually fight the urge to go back and edit right now, to start over and make it “right” this time. A little too much self-judgment I would say.

In writing this novel, I can learn from my little green-eyes tabbies; they are always in the moment, live from their deepest intuitions and make constant forward movement. If I stick to their three principles, I cannot go wrong.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

My Dream...

I have often wondered what it would be like to be a full-time writer. In my dream, I already have it all worked out. The alarm would go off around 6:15 each morning, as it has been doing for several years now. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, I would jump out of bed and take my 3.5 mile run, just as I do now. Nothing would change on Tuesday and Thursday either; I would hit that snooze button and sleep in until 6:50. Of course, before I run or hit the snooze button, my cat, Buddy, would demand his precious Science Diet, just like he does now!

After getting ready for my day- breakfast, coffee, etc.- I would go straight to my office at the end of the hall and sit down at the laptop and write for the next four hours. Sure, I would take breaks, just as I do at my job as a full-time paralegal, where I also spend a good day of my job on legal writing. Just as I do at my work now, I might even take a moment to make small talk with someone or get a Mocha from the coffee shop own the street. However, my focus would be on getting those words out of my head onto paper, where those characters can breathe new life and become more real.

I would spend anywhere from two to four hours each afernoon on research. As any writer knows, getting the facts correct, even in fiction, is essential. Recently, I had the honor of hearing Jean Hegland, author of Into the Forest and Windfalls, speak on the importance of setting and learning every detail down to the names of the bushes and the types of trees. I couldn’t agree more.

For example, if I am writing a story set in Cape Ann, I need to know every detail about the setting, culture, type of people, indigenous speech/sayings. Even though Don and I visited Cape Ann for one week last fall, I know that experience would not be enough to make the story realistic. I would need to ask questions of people who live there, as well as conduct book and online research.

As a part-time freelance writer with a few publications under her belt, every weekday I set aside at least one hour per day, and sometimes more, to write my novel. I do research after I have written an hour, or on my lunch break at work, or sometimes when I need a detail while writing. On the weekends, I can get anywhere from one hour to three or four hours writing time in. The way I see it, my discipline now is the foundation of becoming a full time writer in the future.

I can’t wait to be creating stories full-time….

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Life In General

A lot has been going on lately, some of it challenging my sanity. I live in a lovely condominium with trees all around, beautiful green lawns and where neighbors are nice but generally keep to themselves. A condo next door to me (I live upstairs in a flat that comprises all 950 square feet with two two-story condominiums connected to my back wall) was vacant for months while the owner tried to sell. With the housing market as it is, a sale didn’t happen and the owner rented it out.

They rented it out to two young men, probably in their early 20’s. I’ve had to ask that their visitors stop blocking my car, that they turn down their car stereo when in the carport, stop blasting their music and to get off my stairs. They sit there on my stairs below one of my living room windows and choke away on their cancer sticks, the smoke moving straight up into my home. The last two nights, I’ve had to burn incense and candles to get rid of the smoke smell. Worse yet, they leave their windows open while smoking pot, thus that disgusting smell wafts outside into my airspace.

A quiet little area has turned into traffic central since the first of the month! If they don’t respect my boundaries, I will need to complain to the homeowners association. Maybe there is another way, though-

I saw Freedom Writers where young people were encouraged to write their experiences and what life was like for them. In this vein, I realize I have no idea what their lives were like growing up, what their lives are like right now, why they act the way they do. Maybe I can go buy them some notebooks and encourage them to write about their goals in life and what they want to do other than irritate their quiet straight-laced neighbor.

So much for that...

As for writing. My novel is starting to come together quite nicely. I am on Chapter 8 now, page 83, 17,270 words. I am really enjoying this process of allowing my characters to tell their story. It’s fun writing without knowing what will happen next, allowing the characters to be people too. Yes, I know- if you are a non-writer reading this, I must sound like I belong in the loony bin. But, the truth is that characters are people too!

I find that I am most creative when I make myself sit down and write, when I don’t wait for inspiration, when I have a schedule and I stick to it. No matter what happens, I write at least one hour six days a week, more if I can. Writing to me is as essential as breathing, sleeping and eating….

So much for that….

Looking forward to when Don and I visit Grandpa on Saturday. I’ll have some more to write.

So much for now….this moment, this breath….

Monday, September 3, 2007

The Party and the Elk

This weekend, Don and I drove five hours from his home in Clearlake up to Northern California. We left a little after 6:30 a.m. on Saturday. The main focus of this vacation was a 50th wedding anniversary party for my Uncle George and Aunt Bertha. Even though I have not seen much of them over the years, and had not seen some of my cousins since I was a kid, I have fond memories.

When I was around six years old, my parents bought their first house in Fortuna, a small Northern California town about 2 hours from Trinidad, where my Aunt and Uncle still live. During the move, my older brother, Tommy, and I were sent off to stay with George and Bertha. Uncle George taught me how to milk cows; Aunt Bertha showed me how a chicken runs around with its head cut off. As we sat around the dinner table eating fried chicken and drinking fresh milk, there was plenty of chatter and laughter. At night, we all huddled in the bunk beds that Uncle George had built for his six children.

At the party, I realized what a gift it is that George and Bertha made it to their 50th anniversary. Uncle George battled leukemia for several years, and has been in remission for awhile now. Both he and Bertha are strong, loving human beings. It was such a joy to be there and share in the love they have for one another and their family.

After the party, we headed on up to Crescent City to stay the night with Don’s brother and sister-in-law, Ed and Tori. On our way up, we came upon a large grassy area to the side of the road where a herd of elk grazed, their presence so magnificent and statuesque. I counted 25 cows and one buck, all within about 20 feet from us. Several tourists stopped along side of the road and got out of their cars to take photographs or to just observe. The elk seemed unbothered by the human presence, even though the buck scratched his huge antlers on a tree and watched us, as if protecting his family.

That night at Ed and Tori’s house, I wanted to do some longhand writing in a spiral notebook I had bought along the way. But, by the time dinner was done and we were settled in, I was so tired that I couldn’t bring myself to write a single word. Instead, I fell asleep on the sofa while everyone else watched a program about wildlife! Sometimes I can beat myself up for not writing. However, I also know that it’s okay to take a short break as I do with anything else, just as long as I get back to it after vacation. Saturday and Sunday were my break from writing.

Sunday morning after breakfast, Don and I headed back home. On the way, we noticed a sign directing us to another place to view elk. We found ourselves at a park with hiking trails shaded with towering redwoods. We decided on a hike, and on the way back the herd of elk grazed in a meadow with a swamp/marsh area. After eating her fill, one of the cows led the rest of the herd into the swamp. Soon, the buck came along and chased the female elk across the swamp away from the herd and out of the water! Once the cow got on land, the buck lingered in the water, as if keeping guard. After about fifteen or twenty minutes, the buck headed the other way back to the herd, dipped his antlers into the swamp and then, in quick succession, tossed water and moss all over his back. Before we knew it, the entire herd started running as a unit through the meadow, shaking the very ground we stood on.

Today, as soon as I got home and completed some essential tasks, I sat down and wrote on my novel. I have come to realize that I need to make time for writing whether or not other stuff gets done. In my two days of adventure, I can pull out many story ideas. I think I want to write a short story about an elk- how about writing it from the elk’s point of view? Okay, maybe that is a little far-fetched. But, the point is that story ideas are everywhere and it is up to me to sit down and write.

© 2007 Susan Littlefield

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Writing and Freedom

When I was growing up, I spent a lot of time writing in my journal, a thick spiraled notebook I had bought at Woolworths. I wrote about whatever came to mind- fears that I was forever stuck in small town Fortuna, the hope that something better and more exciting would come along. I wrote sacred things, secrets I could not share with anyone but God and myself. I wrote verses of abstract, experimental poetry, then flowery heart-wrenching lyrics, filling notebook after notebook until I had a stack hiding in my closet.

Within those pages, I also wrote about my dream of becoming a writer. My dreams of becoming a writer grew big, so big that one day I fond the nerve to tell my mother. I showed her some of the poetry I had written. She discouraged me and said, “You need a real job, a career. And, don’t marry the first man who comes along either. You need to be able to make it on your own.”

When I was in high school, I wrote some essays and short stories for English class. I turned in the essays, but I kept the short story to myself. I thought I would be laughed at, ridiculed. After all, they were not as good as the stories I read in books. They were not even as good as my classmate’s stories!

Many times throughout high school, I would bring up being a writer to my mother. The scenario was always the same- I’d share my passion of writing, she’d tell me writing was fine but I needed to set my sights on a job that would bring me money. Finally, one day, after I’d graduated high school but had not yet decided on college, she told me I was just jealous of my aunt who also enjoyed writing. I was devastated at my mother’s words!! She wanted me to set my sights on college, on a career, so that I did not have to depend on a man to bring in my money for me. She would do whatever she could to make sure I saw value in myself as a self-sufficient woman. But, I wanted to be a writer and make my living putting words on paper!

About a week later, mother asked me to sit down. “I’m sorry I said those things to you. You’re out of high school now. Why don’t you go to college and you can also write.” With that, she handed me two books: Short Stories that Sell by Louise Boggess and Make Every Word Count by Gary Provost.

That day was life changing for me because I realized that my mother’s intentions were good. At 17, she chose to marry after taking her GED and decided her career was as a stay-at-home mom and raising three children (three wonderful children, I might add). She never had the resources to make a living outside of the home. She wanted for me what she did not have for herself.

Today I saw the film Freedom Writers and was inspired and reminded about how freeing it is to transport one’s truth onto paper. I cannot imagine what some of those kids lived through, the terror they endured every day. Sometimes it seems that verbal expression is not enough. My teenage journals contained truths that I cold not verbalize. I believe that writing is the one true avenue toward feeling freedom within, whether it’s journaling, writing a novel, or writing an essay.

Many years ago, I gave up my dream of becoming that famous writer, or of making a living off of words. Today, I still write but I write because I love it. I’ve had some poetry and a short story published, and I am currently working on a novel. However, my motivation has changed. I write because I love the feeling of freedom when I put words onto paper.

My mother had been gone since 1985. But, if she could see me now, she would be proud. I listened to her when she told me to go to school and learn how to take care of myself. I didn’t marry the first man who came along. I listened to her when she told me to write for fun. Mothers know what they are talking about.

Every time I look through those two books, I am reminded of my mother’s wisdom.

© 2007 Susan Littlefield

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Life

I have not written in my blog for awhile. This month has been a lot of fun, especially with family and friends. A few weeks back, Don and I visited my grandfather, who lives almost two hours away. We always have a good time with grandpa- he is a small German man with silver hair, mild-mannered and sweet as can be. He has an outrageous sense of humor that keeps the family in stitches!

For several years, Grandpa and I have had a tradition of lunch once a month- a different person pays each time. At first, when I was single, it was Grandma, Grandpa and I. Then, Don came into my life two years ago and the lunch routine changed to double-dates! Now that Grandma has been gone for a little over a year and a half, it is Grandpa, Don and I. The physical dynamic goes through a change, but the lunch tradition stays an integral part of our lives. Many times, we eat lunch out somewhere, or when Grandpa is not feeling well, we eat in. If no other family is present, we almost always finish the afternoon with Yahtzee. I have never beat Grandpa at Yahtzee, nor did I ever beat Grandma. Two seasoned Yahtzee pros if you ask me.

Around February, we had a scare with Grandpa’s health- at 90 years old, he ended up having his gallbladder removed. Luckily, it was removed with a laparoscope and Grandpa was able to recover quickly. The doctor warned there could be residual effects with gallstones. Sure enough, just this last week Grandpa became ill again and had to go to the hospital. He went through a procedure where the doctors found a stone in his liver duct. They had to make an incision made and remove the stone. Keep in mind, Grandfather is now 91 years old. Yesterday, after undergoing this grueling procedure, and after the comics of the anesthesia wore off, he was back to himself and doing very well. Thank goodness!

In between the business, I have been writing on my novel. I am striving with all of my might to write every single day. I like the feeling of getting words on paper. It’s important that I get my basic story down in an entire first draft before editing and doing a rewrite. I don’t know how many rewrites I will actually do. Before submitting to an agent, I want to make sure it is thoroughly edited and written to the best of my ability.

At the Writer’s Digest forum, there were some threads concerning “book doctors” and self publishing. I have already made up my mind that both flow against my grain. I really want to go through the entire process of getting an agent and of my work being accepted because I put my own sweat and tears into it. I have learned from seasoned publishers that self publishing is practically suicide for a novel. I am all for self editing and traditional publishing.

This is all I have to write for now. In the last 15 minutes I have written 570 words, and I am proud as pickles (where did that come from?) about it! I would like to write more on my blog, but sometimes working on my novel and plain old life gets in the way!

Until next time….

Take it easy out there!

© 2007 Susan Littlefield

Sunday, July 1, 2007

After Vacation

In my last entry, I wrote that I was going on vacation. I enjoyed the time I spent with my cousin, Tammy, and being present during her graduation for her Master’s Degree. I also spent time with my uncle and many cousins and their significant others, as well as second cousins! For me, it’s always great to visit with family and learn more about where I come from. Family is a reminder of how precious life really is.

I spent the rest of the week at home. I had grand plans for doing work around the house, of accomplishing great tasks that I did not otherwise have time for. As it turned out, I did not take any of those big projects on. In fact, I was quite lazy and found myself being a couch potato and snuggling with my white and gray tabby, Buddy ask Budster. Once I couldn’t take the daily lethargy anymore, I went to the gym and went on a cardio blast to get my frozen blood circulating.

My greatest accomplishment during vacation is that I found plenty of time to write. I have been writing a novel about an adult who finds out was abducted as a small child. It’s an interesting journey allowing my mind to run with the story, to bring my character alive within myself, to realize that, while I create the story, the characters create themselves.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Vacation

Starting Thursday of this week, I will officially be on vacation through June 23. This Friday, I fly up to Warrenton, Oregon for my cousin’s graduation with her Masters in Social Work. Tammy, who is my double cousin (more on that in a few), is also my soul sister and best friend. She has raised a wonderful daughter as a single parent, owned her own business as a hairdresser and worked hard for the last several years to reach her dream of becoming a social worker. She is truly an inspiration to me.

Now, back to the double cousins, for those of you who may not know: our mothers were sisters and our fathers are brothers. Tammy and I are connected through the same maternal and paternal family bloodline. Simple as far as biology goes. However, the soul connection between us runs deeper than any I’ve ever experienced. What a wonderful gift.

I am really looking forward to sharing four days with Tammy. Then, I will be spending the last four days of my vacation doing things I want to do at home. I plan to finish painting the trim on my house, as well as doing minor repairs. At my condo, I don’t have a yard but I do have a terrace where I have plants and ceramic animals. I am hoping to expand my herb garden, as well as add a potted jasmine. Finally, I will work on organizing my home office, closet included. I can’t wait!

After returning from Oregon, and in between all of this work, I plan on sitting my derriere down and working on my short stories and my novel. The only way to learn discipline is to make a habit of writing creatively every day. I would like to average at least 10 pages (or approximately 2500 words) on my creative writing each day. It does not matter whether I work simultaneously on both my stories and novel or on just one of the other on any given day.

I look forward to all of the adventures during the coming 11 days!

© 2007 Susan Littlefield

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Goodbye Dear Girl

Today, I don’t want to write about writing. I want to write about my experience with Arby, a very special cat who I was fortunate enough to spend 17 years with. My niece was eight when she brought this six week old bundle of Russian Blue to me as a gift. I already had two cats, I wasn’t sure I could handle a third, especially a funnocious (this is a word I made up- do you think it will make it into Webster?) little kitten.

“What’s her name?” I asked Jennifer.

She looked up at me with her big blue eyes and smiled. “Arby. Arby Grey Face because she looks like a Native American Cat."

Within the hour, I knew Arby and I would be life mates. True to my instinct, she was with me through marriage and divorce, moves, job changes, and every aspect of my life. When I cried, she stayed close to me and provided comfort. When I laughed, she became playful and brought me even more joy. She stuck with me through thick and thin, sickness and health. She loved my boyfriend, Don, and always tried to greet him with a purr even when she wasn’t feeling up to it.

About a week ago, Arby took an unexpected turn. She had undergone treatment earlier in the year for an infection but bounced back. She was putting on weight, becoming involved again and seemed to be doing well. Then, about 10 days ago, her behavior changed. She became more quiet and subdued. I thought perhaps she had been having a few bad days. Until, a few days ago, she stopped eating. Yesterday, she was diagnosed with end stage kidney failure.

Having my dear Arby put to sleep was one of the most difficult things I have had to do in a long time. But, it was also humane and brave of both of us. I know she would have only worsened. Her quality of life was already diminished, and there was no chance of moving up hill. I miss her already.

As I have been with all of my pets who have reached end stage illnesses, I was with her at the time of her passing. I figure if my pet is with me throughout my life, I will be present when they take their last breath.

The good thing is that Arby is now with her best friends, Nicholas and Estelle. At one time, they were all three quite a bunch. I now say goodbye to Arby as her cat friends welcome her with open paws and purrs.

© 2007 Susan Littlefield

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Being a Writer

Have you ever thought about what it means to be a writer?

I have written since I was a little girl. Writing has always been in my blood, a part of my soul. For me, writing means putting pen to paper and seeing what will come out. Other than a church newsletter and poetry invitations in Dickens’ Style for an annual Dickens Street Faire, I have been published five times in my life; recently a short story in Adventures of the Average Woman and poetry years ago in some spiritual chapbooks. My hope is to continue to publish my short stories and complete my novel and have it published. But, if none of these things come to pass, I will still call myself a writer.

I love writing and putting words together and figuring out how to create an image, or evoke a feeling. As a writer, it is my job to pull the reader in and keep him or her happy until the end of the story. Hopefully, the reader will remember and be satisfied with my ending. If I can do those two things, then I have succeeded as a writer.

One of my pet peeves is the use of adverbs, the writer’s taboo. Good thing because I despise those pesty little rodents. However, I have learned that they sometimes have a place. For example, I used “hopefully” in the paragraph above. I could have written “I hope.” I made a conscious choice to use the adverb because it did not weaken my sentence.

I worry most about adverbs in my fiction. When I first started writing, my fiction was riddled with adverbs. I thought they made my writing more colorful, strengthened images. It was when I learned to describe (show) rather then use an adverb (tell) that I began to feel better about my writing. Sometimes I might choose an adverb, especially if the scene is fast paced and already has a lot of description.

© 2007 by Susan Littlefield

Monday, April 23, 2007

The Joy of Acceptance

Last week, Friday to be exact, I received confirmation that one of my short stories was accepted for publication. When the editor asked for a biography and photograph, I was at a loss as to what I should write. Back in the early 90’s, I published four poems in small press and won first place in two short story contests. My poems were experimentation of what was real in my life at the time, three spiritual and one feminist. Publication of my short stories was not part of the prize, first place certificates were. Did these credit count as part of a writer’s Curriculum Vitae? The more I thought about it, the more I realized that all of my publications do count, unless they are in some non-respectable magazine or in a medium that will publish anything. Winning first place in two short story contests is an important part of my history as well.

While I enjoyed writing poetry from the time I was preteen into my early thirties, my true love is short stories. I love to let my imagination go wild! I want to pull the reader into whatever that story is, to play with words to paint an image that will entertain the reader. I taking what I know and applying “what if.” For example: I went a different route to the grocery store today-

What if I ran into a threatening stranger?

What if I saw someone along side of the road who needed help?

What if I saw a crime in progress?

What is Santa Claus jumped out and said “Boo!”?

The possibilities in creating my stories are endless. But, my most important task is to sit down and write every day.

© 2007 Susan Littlefield

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Weekend Lessons

This weekend I attended my first writer’s conference in years. The workshop was led by Clive Matson, a widely published author of poems, stories and essays. He has also led numerous writing workshops all over the world. I must admit right off that I am not inclined to take a lot of workshops because the true secret to writing is to sit down and write!

Before I signed up for the workshop, I had never heard of Mr. Matson or read any of his books. But, something within urged me to attend. Often when I make decisions, I look for yellow flags telling me to proceed with caution and red flags telling me to stop. While deciding whether to go, no yellow or red flags popped up.

One of the first things Clive said was, "I'm not here to teach you to write. You already know how to do that." In the workshop, we sat our butts down and wrote. A lot. Then, we shared our priceless gifts and heard feedback from all, and then ended each session with our reactions to critiques.

I learned multitudes about my own writing process. I tend to listen to the negative voices in my head, especially telling myself my writing is not good enough and/or publishable. I’ve never heard this from another human being, it’s all my own inner dialogue. What a realization that I am my own worst enemy when it comes to my writing!

I also realized I have strengths in my writing. I am able to follow a point of view through and I describe very well. I hate adverbs- they are the lazy writer’s best friend. Okay, sometimes adverbs clarify, but mostly they distract. I must say I am the queen of description with few adverbs.

Will I take another writing work shop? Maybe. But, the secret to writing?

Sit down and write.

© 2007 Susan Littlefield

Friday, March 9, 2007

Tools of the Trade

Just like lawyers need law books, and doctors need medical manuals, a writer has many tools of their trade. For me, my greatest tool is reading the type of literature I like to write. Two of my favorite authors are Stephen King and James Patterson for their ability to take an idea and turn out beautifully crafted prose that both frightens and entertains me. After reading one of their books, I don’t want to turn the lights off and I’m leery of any shadow or movement. Once I start reading a King or Patterson book, I can’t put it down!

I want to be able to write like both of these brilliant authors. My writing interest lies in writing literary pieces based on characterization rather than plot. I recently submitted two of my short stories to magazines. One tale is about a woman going to any lengths to be someone else. My second story shows the dark side of being a twin. By reading what I like to write, I was able to turn out a few interesting stories of my own. I’m still waiting to hear back but, no matter the outcome, I know I’ve submitted my best product.

Another tool of writing is involvement with a writer’s community. At the present moment, I am a member of an online writer’s community where we exchange ideas about writing and post works to be critiqued. Because the critique section is password protected, I feel assured that my writing is read and critiqued by others who are serious about this art. My next step is to either find a local writing group, or to create one. Either way, my online writing community will remain a necessary tool for the support I give to and receive from writers all over the world.

I am excited about attending an upcoming writer’s workshop later this month by a published writer. I have been told to bring either my laptop or plenty of paper. As a writer, it is important that I work hard to perfect my writing skills. Writing workshops and seminars are excellent tools. Besides learning about how to make my work product better, I will congregate with other writers of varying skill level.

Finally, I try to write something every day. Writing is what a writer does. I've dusted off the first daft of a novel I wrote 10 years ago. I want to continue writing short stories on a regular basis and submitting them for possible publication. My goal is to write at least 1000 word per day. Well, now that I’ve written these 4oo some odd words, I’d better get to work on meeting my word goal for today…

© 2007 Susan Littlefield

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Thoughts on Writing

Lately, I have been thinking about what it means to be a writer. In my online writing community, I come across numerous writers who are published and/or work in the publishing industry. I also come across some excellent writers who have never been published, or who have one or two random pieces in magazines. My question- does being published make one a writer?

I think not.

To be a writer, one needs to put some type of energy into writing something that is publishable. The truth is that some published material is substandard and some unpublished works are excellent. I believe part of getting published is a mixture of luck, persistence and knowing where to submit their work. Talent may be part of the bigger picture, but hard work is the bigger ingredient

As for myself, my goal is to work, research markets, work, work and submit my writing, and then work some more!! But, published or not, I am a writer.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Beauty in Nature

Imagine yourself driving long, winding roads flanked by towering redwoods, the pouring down rain beating your windshield. For miles, as day moved into dusk, few cars traveled this road. While Don navigated the twists and turns, and we shared random conversation, I found myself drifting into daydreams, snippets of what could be my next story.

After a few hours of driving, we found ourselves at our destination- Mendocino, California. If you’ve never been to Mendocino, this tiny quaint community sits on cliffs overlooking the ocean. The buildings are colorful, historic, and well cared for. The town reminds me of a fictional town in a movie, or story, a small village set on the East Coast, where a good mystery unfolds or a romance blossoms.

Our main purpose in Mendocino was to attend the screening of a movie. Don’s band, the Hot Frittatas, contributed some of their recorded words for numerous scenes in the movie. They were invited to the screening as guests, as well as entertainment before the screening. Needless to say, they were a hit both live and in the movie!!

As people mingled before the movie, I was taken in by the strong community atmosphere where most people seemed to know one another. At first, I felt a bit like an outsider. Then, strangers began coming up to me, introducing themselves, drawing me into conversation. By the end of the evening, I learned that at least half of the people in the room were somehow involved in the movie. The other attendees were community support for the filmmaker, either family or friends, or support for someone who had contributed to the movie.

When we visited Rockport, Massachusetts last summer, I fell in love with the English style town lining the Atlantic. The dreamer in me yearned to stay, to pretend I could just fall into life on the East Coast, but the realistic part of me knew I had a life to go back to in Santa Rosa. This last weekend, I felt that same yearning, but the realization was different- I'm free to visit Mendocino anytime I want.

One of the best parts of this trip was staying at the quaint motel on the beach in Fort Bragg, a neighboring town. Late at night before sleep, as I listened to the rain, I wondered what secret lived within the history of those walls. For many years, people had come and gone, went on with their lives. What kinds of situations had transpired in that room? Of course, he writer in me imagined a good mystery, leading me right into dreamland….

© 2007 Susan Littlefield

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Baking a Story

Today, as Don played his guitar and I wrote on my story, I shared a bit about what I’m working on.

“I’m nearly finished,” I said. “But, I don’t think I’ve got it quite right yet.”

“Well, that’s okay,” he said. “You just rearrange all the parts until you get it right. It’s not like a soufflĂ© where it has to come out of the oven perfect the first time.”

How true, I thought. But, how often I want to just sit down and write my story and have it come out perfect in the first draft. After all, isn’t that the way it happens for the famous writers? They take an hour and write a saleable short story, or they write a bestselling novel in 30 days? Why can’t I do that!

When writing stories, my greatest dilemma is following through on plot without leaving behind loose ends. For example, my current short story involves a woman who is unhappy and wants a different life. She receives a telephone call intended for someone else that has her name. She goes on a quest to find out all she can about this other person, and eventually tries to take over this other woman’s life. My first draft contained many loose ends that really had nothing to do with the plot. In writing my second draft, I concentrate on cleaning up the loose ends by either reworking them as part of the plot or getting rid of them entirely. I’m certain I’ll go through several drafts before being satisfied with the final work.

Once I have completed a draft I am satisfied with, or even a portion of a draft, I’ll take it to my writing peers for critique. A common pitfall for all writers is seeing the errors in their work. Fresh eyes can see problems that I, the writer, am unable to see. Something may seem like it fits into my story, but the reader may think it makes no sense. In the end, I decide what to keep and what goes, but other writer’s opinions are extremely important. I have never received a critique that I thought was harsh, but I’ve often wondered if someone has given me a sketchy critique because they don’t want to hurt my feelings.

Now, as I go back to work on my story, I know I don’t have to get it perfect the first time or at all. But, my final product needs to be my best work, something that I can be proud of and that editors don’t have to throw into a slush pile because it was poorly written.

If a story I write end up back in my mailbox, at least I know it’s not because I haven’t put my best product out there.

© Susan Littlefield

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Editing- The Hard Work

It has been my experience that editing is one of the most difficult tasks of writing, as well as one that is often not done well. I can use my own work as an example: what an embarrassment to edit numerous misspellings in my own articles published here in my blog!! I did initially edit using my spell-checker here in the blog editing interface. However, this particular editor does not pick up words repeated next to each other as misspellings, nor does it do a language check. From now on, I will do my final editing in my Word program.

I have read published writer's work often contain spelling and grammatical errors before the editing process, as well as extraneous stuff that needs to be cut. Nobody is a perfect writer, and most writers go through numerous versions of editing and rewrites before their work is ready for submission. As a writer, it is essential for me to make sure my work is well edited and my best work before publishing anywhere, including to my blog and the writer’s forum for critique.

Lesson learned.

© 2007 Susan Littlefield

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Motivation- Part II

My last article was on finding motivation and discipline to write. Well....Eureka!! I think I found it!

My boyfriend, Don, is a professional musician. I have been to many jams with him, which are usually parties with a lot of mingling, music and a lot of laughter. I have been fortunate to meet other writers at these parties. After all, musicians and writers understand the artistic side of each other.

In my last entry, I wrote about difficulty in finding motivation and discipline for writing. Well, on Saturday, Don asked me if I wanted to attend a jam with him at one of the local classy coffee shops. All I could think about writing.

"Sure, I'd love to," I said. "I'll bring my laptop and work on my story."

The jam was fast paced blues and lasted about 3 hours. I set up at a nearby table, got a mocha and worked on my current story that I'm writing for submission. I was so into the music and writing my story I was sorry when the jam was done. The best part is that in those 3 hours, my writer's block was lifted (if that's what you want to call it, when you don't know where the story is going so you just stare at the screen) and I added about 700 words to my story, along with some much needed editing. It feels great to have been on a word roll!!

I took a short break while writing and a gentleman next to me struck up a conversation about my computer, which led right into writing.

"I write science fiction," he said. "I'm just learning how to do it on computer rather than the old fashioned way."

"Are you published?"

"No," he said. "I write songs, which is really what I do. But, I wouldn't know where to submit by stories."

I wrote down the address of Writer's Market, as well as where to find the hardcover book. This interaction got me to thinking: wouldn't it be great to establish a writer's group and hold it at a coffee shop? http://www.writersmarket.com/

After such productivity this weekend, I have decided music jams are my new venue for writing. My next goal is to get a writer's group going and become part of the writer's community.

© 2007 Susan Littlefield

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Discipline and Motivation

As a writer, I often find myself at a loss of motivation to sit down and write. I get up at the crack of dawn three days a week and go for a long run. Three days a week, I go to the gym in the evening for my weight work out. In between, I'm at work and living life with myself and those I love. However, the motivation killer is having the TV on for background noise when I write. Really, who can have the TV on and write without distraction? Not many, I suspect.

So, I guess it is not lack of motivation that keeps me from writing. Perhaps it is more the lack of discipline. I wonder what discipline looks like to a successful writer? About 15 years ago right after my divorce I lived in a lovely little cottage in the country. An orchard was to one side of me and an orange tree lived in back yard. I had a beautiful garden and lots of countryside to admire.

And, I had a TV but no cable access.

When I lived in this wonderful little place, even with a 45 minute commute two ways for work, I found myself writing every spare moment. I joined a writer's workshop through the local community college and I wrote...and wrote....and wrote. In fact, every day after work and on weekends, I sat down at the computer and wrote my stories. I was motivated, but then again I didn't have the distraction of television either. My hunger to put words onto paper was strong, compelling, constant.

When I had lived in the cottage for about a year, I made the decision to move to the town where I worked. When I was doing the final walk through with Kathy, the owner of the cottage, I suggested she get cable access for the next tenant.

"It's tough living out here with no TV," I said.

"We have antenna," she said. "All you had to do was hook it up."

Funny, I hadn't even thought about hooking up the cord because the cable company said there was no access in my area. I really didn't miss television either because I was so busy writing!

My goal today is to keep the TV off until there is a show on I want to watch. But, writing comes first. And, believe me, with all the reality programs today, there is not much I am interested in. Just a few shows that come on later in the evening, thus no reason to have the television on for background noise. That's what music is for. And silence.

Now, it's time to get to work on my story with.....some beautiful silence in the background.

© 2007 Susan Littlefield

Monday, January 8, 2007

Healing Through Gathering

This last Saturday was filled with the joy of Don's birthday party. A wonderful mixture of family and friends ranging from age two to eighty-something, showed up for this gala event and shared in food, laughter, music and dancing. People have gathered for generations to bond, heal or to share in the wonderful gift of life, and I believe this weekend was no exception. My experience of sharing Don's birthday with him deepened our own bond, but also reminded me of the gatherings in my own family, both large and small, and how they have helped to shape me into who I am today.

I have wonderful memories of Thanksgiving at my grandparent's house in Cloverdale, where my parents, my brothers and myself would meet my aunts, uncle ad cousins. Along with the wonderful food, and many hours of play, we would look at photographs and talk about old family legends. My favorites were stories about my mother growing up at a Sawmill Camp and sneaking pickles from the over sized pickle barrels. Along with the happy, funny stories were the difficult, sad experiences of my grandparents growing up during the great depression.

This Thursday, January 11, will be one year since my grandmother passed away. Over the years, she and I have shared a love of creative writing. I used to love to spend time with her talking about writing, and I was even given the privilege of reading one of her journals from the 1940's. Her other passion was researching our ancestors, and then sharing her experience of finding relatives who lived in our family history. After my grandmother died, my aunts asked me to be in charge of her family history research and writings. I can't tell you what an honor and gift it is to have my grandmother's writing and family research.

Today, the gatherings in my family feel different without my grandmother. My grandfather and I have carried on a long standing tradition with of monthly lunches, including Don and other family members, where my grandmother's presence is still strong.


(c) 2007 by Susan Littlefield

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Culture in Story

This weekend Don took me to an isolated 40 private acres in Lake County where grandfather trees lined trails leading to faraway lands. Off one trail near the home on the property is a series of caves where Native Americans lived. The cave ceilings are darkened and embedded with soot from fires to keep families warm during the cold, winter months. A chimney has been carefully carved to one side. As I stared at the caves, I wondered if the caves had been formed from weather erosion over many hundreds of years. Don thought the opposite, that the caves were created from the hard work of whoever had lived on the land. The more I studied the sometimes smooth, other times ragged, parts of the cave, I realized Don was right. I imagined Native Americans starting at the outside of the humongous rock and chiseling and carving away until shelter had been created.

My affirmation during this trip was finding a piece of obsidian outside of the cave, as if a hand had reached through history and left it there just for us. The obsidian had been worked into an arrow head, the indentation to the shaft still visible. To me, this small piece of history was a treasure. But, to a friend who spent childhood summers in Lake County, obsidian was a common everyday item.

"We used to find those all the time," my friend said. "We used to play with them."

I imagined children playing with obsidian as if they were Tinker-Toys of Lego's. "Didn't you ever keep them?"

"No," she said. "They were everywhere."

As I thought about what my friend said, I couldn't imagine the luxury of having such precious remnants of history at my immediate disposal. I grew up in Redwood Country with mountains at one end of the street, and the Eel River at the other end, and I was never at a loss for toys created by nature. Would my ordinary rocks, pine cones and redwood branches I used for toys be treasures to someone from another culture?

Culture provides structure and meaning to groups of people. When writing about any culture, it is important to research and to provide accurate facts, especially in fiction writing. Many questions need to be asked: what type of culture are you researching? What is everyday life like within the culture? What is its hierarchical structure? What is the driving force behind the culture? Of course, more specific questions will be geared toward how culture functions in your story.

I feel blessed to have experienced a part of history, to get a glimpse into a different culture.

© 2007 Susan Littlefield

Hello, Everyone! I am throwing out a reminder to followers of this blog that I have launched a new website which I am now maintaining at w...