Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Goal of Writing

It's September and I'm editing.

Although I recently realized what I'm doing is actually called revising. It's that point in the manuscript where I take the comments of beta readers and Agent Emily and try to incorporate them into a cohesive vision for this book.

It's a lot of redrafting. Moving things around. Changing the direction of certain scenes and characters. At the end of twenty pages my brain feels broken.

This weekend I was talking about writing with my kids. "Do you think it's possible you could write a book that EVERYONE would love?" my daughter asked.

"If EVERYONE loved it, it would probably be kind of a boring book," I told her.

"So what's your goal when you write?"

It's the kind of question I would ordinarily have had to think about, but for some reason, maybe because it was a sunny September morning, we were well-fueled by coffee (me) and doughnuts (them), my answer was immediate.

"I have three goals," I told her.

"The first goal is to keep the reader interested. The second is to create a sense of beauty for the reader. Either in the way the words come together or in the images it builds in their mind. The last one is to give voice to either an emotion or experience that is felt, but unarticulated."

In retrospect, it occurs to me these aren't necessarily the goals I had when I started writing. I'm not sure I had goals at all, other than finishing that first novel. And of course, I now understand that novels one through six all helped build my goals for novel seven.

What are your goals when you write? Are they in constant evolution or have they been a consistent touchstone for whatever you write?

And given the lofty nature of my own goals...please wish me luck in finishing this revision! I think I might need it!!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Home Sweet Home

After two months spent living out of suitcases, we're so very, very happy to be home!

I can't help but contrast this homecoming to our initial arrival in Virginia, almost a year ago to date. Tropical, sticky summer heat, no friends, long days alone where we struggled to find our way around and anxiety attacks about the new school.

This year our homecoming includes sleepovers, kids who've missed mine, running through the neighborhood in the dark, texts and plans to meet girlfriends, book group and writers' group and the ability to find the grocery store without taking ANY wrong turns.

And yet, when I stop to think about it, we were equally at home in France.

I still have friends who date back to the days when I lived there. The language returned easily and soon my children were running to the corner boulangerie and ordering our morning baguette without me. We walked the neighborhoods of Paris and decided that, yes, this could feel like home too.

After France we were in Portland, greeted by a Mid-Summer's Eve party thrown in our honor and a wealth of friends.

Without a doubt, Portland feels like home, even though we're not living there.

Friendships picked up as though the gap in time was a week instead of a year. Traditions carried on seamlessly and for almost a month we slipped back into our former Oregon lives. 

We talked about it on the east bound plane, carrying us from one home to another.

"Portland will always be home, right?" asked my daughter.

"Yes, of course," I told her.

"But it also feels like home is in McLean."

Home, we decided, isn't necessarily a fixed place. Instead it's a state of mind, a place where there are people you love, community and familiarity.

For the moment, home is wherever our family is together, but soon (sooner than I want to think about) home might mean a college dorm room or a foreign city where my children know no one at all.

When that time comes, I'm hoping our nontraditional definition will give my kids the tools to magically transform unfamiliar settings into places that take on all the trappings of home.

Since clearly I'm on the subject, I hope each one of you had a magical summer and are equally happy to be home, wherever and however you define it.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Summertime Madness

To quote The Chainsmokers, #SELFIE song, "It's not even summer. Why does the DJ keep playing, "Summertime Sadness?"

Oh wait, pause, it is summer! Just not here. Not yet. Not until Wednesday. Tomorrow!

Tomorrow afternoon we're headed out on a world adventure. Just the three of us...which is a first for me. Usually my husband comes along on our international explorations, but this summer he's going to pop in and out like our family is a sit-com and he has a repeat guest spot.

We're the Love Boat and he's Carol Channing.

In my usual way, methodical and levelheaded, on Saturday it occurred to me I hadn't done any research on our trip aside from making sure we have roofs over our head and seats on an airplane. It also occurred to me there might be *gasp* lines and Parisians might not take kindly to my joie de vivre when presented in the form of no reservations and impatient children. This realization set off a marathon round of internet research and booking, the kind I suspect others might do more than four days in advance of their departure.

That evening I overheard my son discussing our upcoming trip with a friend. "Dude," he said. "I'm going to France next week and there's going to be..."

He paused and in that pause my mind inserted Picasso, Eiffel Tour, Monet, pain au chocolat.

"Bunkbeds!" he finished. "I've got dibs on the top."

So yeah, everyone's priorities are a bit different.

We will definitely go to the Louvre and afterwards there will be a visit to the in-ground trampolines in the park outside. Castles will be visited, as will swimming pools. I made Viking ponies plans in Iceland and located an archery pitch in case we're all in the mood to channel our inner Katniss. My plan is to balance culture with healthy servings of pastries.

As for blogging, that's going to have to wait until we return.  Meanwhile, you can always follow me on Twitter @JohannaGarth, Google+ or Facebook, where I'm sure I won't be able to resist uploading the occasional photo accessorized with commentary.

Have a wonderful summer and I'll be back here with fresh perspective sometime in mid-August.


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

A Mouse Tale

Yesterday morning started like lots of other mornings. Breakfast prepared, school lunches underway. Me, trying to respond to my son's nonstop stream of morning chatter.

Everything took a sudden right turn when...no wait, scratch that, we drove off the bridge and crashed fifty feet into the water when I happened to leave the kitchen and glance behind me.

THERE IT WAS!!!

Under the baseboard of my kitchen was an extremely large mouse. Dead!! Tail, limp. Fur, brown.

I responded like any other reasonable woman of my age, which is to say I started gasping for air and making odd little moaning noises.

"You okay, Mom?" asked my son, who still hadn't spotted it?

"I'm okay, I'm okay." This was said more to convince myself than him.

My daughter appeared on the scene. The mouse situation was revealed.

"I'll pay you guys two dollars each to sweep it into a dust pan and take it outside," I told them.

My daughter, sensing opportunity for negotiation, raised an eyebrow. "Two dollars, mom? Really?"

"Ten," I said, because by this time it was clear I was unable to walk back into the kitchen.

"Each?"

"Yes, each. Just get rid of it."

They went at it with the broom and dustpan. This is where things took a turn for the worse. The mouse, it turns out, was only pretending to be dead. I know this because I heard cries of "It's moving," from the kitchen, while I was curled up in a fetal position on my bed.

My friend, who was staying as a houseguest, came downstairs. "I'll take care of it," she said. She walked into the kitchen with a swagger. Then turned around a moment later, retreated to the dining room and put her head between her knees.

"I thought I could do it," she said.

"Don't feel bad," I said from my new spot on top of the dining room table.

"It was just so brown and big," she said. "I was picturing it as one of those little white lab mice."

"You're mousist?" I asked.

I think she might have glared at me, but it was hard to tell because her head was back between her knees.

My husband, shockingly, informed me he would not leave his meetings to come home and deal with the mouse. By that point it had returned to its semi-dead state so we convinced my son to cover it with newspaper and vacated the kitchen.

By seven o'clock in the evening the mouse had pulled itself together enough to disappear underneath the refrigerator and possibly into the walls.

We're not quite sure where it went. Out of sight, out of mind. Here's hoping it made it back to the great outdoors so that this summer won't unfold to the olfactory strains of Eau de Mouse emanating from the kitchen.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Done

As in I just sent this year's book off to my agent.

The Family Warr

I'm alternating between being insanely proud of it and terrified she'll hate it. Or it's internally flawed in ways I missed. Maybe it's a good piece of writing that somehow misses the mark. Or maybe editors will like it, but not want to take a chance on it. Or maybe it's a bad piece of writing that hits the mark, but is nowhere close to being where it needs to be. Or maybe the market isn't ready for the subject matter. Lots of varieties on the theme of generalized angst.

When I tell people I've finished a book they congratulate me. And I try to be graceful about accepting their congratulations because it IS a big deal, however easy it is to lose sight of that given all the angsty thoughts above.

Maybe this book makes me feel particularly insecure because it's so different than anything else I've written. It's bigger and broader, which leaves me feeling exposed almost like wearing a particularly skimpy bikini to the mall.

In case you're wondering, here's my working version of the book's blurb. I'm sure it'll go through many, many revisions, but it's enough to give you an initial glimpse of my newest book baby.


The Family Warr

In a decaying Portland mansion, Henry Warr, marginalized heir to the Warr Pharmaceutical fortune, writes his groundbreaking series on Environmental Philosophy while his wife Willow, raises their four children on a diet of survivalist instinct and her own underappreciated art.
 
When Henry announces he’s dying and the funds in the Warr Family Trust have dwindled to almost nothing, his third daughter, the neglected and unlovely Desdemona Warr, attempts to unravel certain inconsistencies against the clock of her father’s disease.
 
Why would the great Henry Warr, known for unapologetically living life on his terms and a long time champion of Oregon’s assisted suicide provisions choose to die in accordance with the strictly drafted provisions of  the, now empty, Warr Family Trust?
Her questions lead her on a whirlwind tour of the seamy underbelly of Portland’s hipster culture, finally delivering her at The Farm, the first off the grid, completely sustainable marijuana farm built as a testament to the power of her father’s writings. The answers she finds challenge her nascent ideas about family, love and the sacrifices inherent in both.