In Which I Compare My Novel to a Squirrel

I've been struggling with the second draft of The Novel for months. I was down to the last eight chapters and something kept niggling at me. Even with the changes, the story wasn't sitting right with me and for the life of me, I could not figure out why. I grew increasingly frustrated. Every time I opened Scrivener, it felt like an exercise in futility. I spent less and less of my writing time working on The Novel until I was avoiding it completely.

Then, about a month ago, while I was packing for my Wales trip, I had an epiphany. It finally hit me what was wrong with the manuscript, which gave me a way to fix it. The problem was, I was boarding a plane in short order and didn't have time to put that epiphany into action.

I've been home two weeks, and that epiphany has not left me. I spent last weekend scribbling ideas and even hand-wrote four pages of a new chapter. I think, maybe, I'm finally on the right track with this story.

Then tonight I opened Scrivener to remove the chapters that aren't working.

And I froze.

A panic seized me. It felt as if I'm doing harm to a living thing. It felt the way it did when I accidentally ran over a squirrel with my car. I do not like this feeling.

Still, I know this is the right thing to do. So I sit here with my thumb poised on my laptop trackpad, trying to summon the courage to click the chapters away. . . .


My Wales Adventure

The Wales-England border. The stones in the background mark the beginning of the Wales Coast Path.

The Wales-England border. The stones in the background mark the beginning of the Wales Coast Path.

Home at last and almost recovered from jet lag. My ten days in Britain were amazing. I loved it and can't wait to go back. In the meantime, I've got the 200 pictures I took to help me relive the trip. I've posted many of them in the Gallery here.

I started my journey in the English city of Chester, which became my favorite stop on my trip and a place I definitely want to return to. I visited the cathedral, walked along the canal and the city walls, saw Roman ruins.

Then I embarked on the walking part of my trip: taking the Wales Coast Path along the River Dee from Chester to Oakenholt. That first day on the path I walked 11 miles. It would have been more, except I met a woman who was friends with my B&B hosts and she gave me a ride to the farm where the B&B was located. That night, I fell asleep at the B&B without eating dinner.

The next day, I ended up walking 10.5 miles. I started in Flint, at the castle, and followed the path up to the dragon beacon at Bagillt. I only got lost 3 times. There are beacons all along the Welsh-English border, created as a warning system against invasion from the east (i.e., from England). The one in Bagillt, however, is the only one that looks like a dragon. By then, my feet had cried "Uncle!" so I took the bus the rest of the way to the beach town of Prestatyn. From my window at the B&B, I had a clear view of the Irish Sea.

statue of Alice in Wonderland outside the Llandudno train station

statue of Alice in Wonderland outside the Llandudno train station

Llandudno (thlan-did-no) was the next stop on my tour. A Victorian-era resort town, Llandudno was my second-favorite city from the trip and another place I'd like to visit again. I took the tram to the top of the Great Orme, a large limestone headland, and took some fabulous pictures of the Irish Sea. I walked the Victorian-era pier and the beach-front promenade. I also learned that the family of Alice Liddell--the girl who inspired Alice in Wonderland--had a vacation house in Llandudno, which explained all the Alice in Wonderland sculptures in town. I saw Alice, the White Rabbit, and the Mad Hatter. Rumor had it, there was a Dormouse somewhere in town too.

the begging seagulls of Conwy

the begging seagulls of Conwy

The medieval town of Conwy was my next stop. It was by far the most crowded city I saw on my trip, jam-packed with residents and tourists and cars and buses. There, I visited the castle--built in the 1200s by Edward I, saw a suspension bridge built in the 1800s, "toured" the Smallest House of Great Britain (i.e., stepped inside and turned around), visited Aberconwy House (a merchant's house from the 1300s), and saw Plas Mawr (an Elizabethan townhouse). I also encountered a bunch of seagulls who begged like dogs. One even "barked" at someone who was eating, hoping for crumbs.

From there, I headed to Bangor, where it rained for two days straight. That was the only time on my trip I encountered the famous Welsh weather. The rest of the trip was unusually sunny (which explains why I came home with a sunburn). While in Bangor, I took a day trip to Mount Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales. I rode the train to the top of the mountain, where it was cloudy and freezing. Got some fabulous pictures on the way down, though, including one of a sheep on the hillside that I may just print and frame. My B&B in Bangor was near the Menai Bridge, a suspension bridge which crosses the Menai Strait between mainland Wales and the Isle of Anglesey. Anglesey is on my list to visit next time around. I just didn't have time this visit.

Gladstone's Library

Gladstone's Library

Next on the grand tour was Gladstone's Library in the town of Hawarden (har-den). Once the estate of British Prime Minister William Gladstone, the Library is just that: a library with a core collection of Gladstone's personal books. Guests who sleep at the Library can borrow books from the collection. It also has a cafe, a parlor, and rooms where guests can stay. My room was former servants' quarters: back of the house, up two narrow stairways, small room with a view of the roof. It was a little chilly. The whole building was. I understand now why old buildings hung massive tapestries on the walls: to reduce the drafts!

From the small town of Hawarden, it was on to the large city of Liverpool--specifically, Albert Dock. Located on the Mersey River, Albert Dock was Museum Central. I started with the Beatles Story, which tells the story of the Fab Four from their births as war babies through their breakup and John Lennon's death. I think I spent more money in that gift shop than anywhere else on my trip. While at the Dock, I also visited the International Slavery Museum, the Merseyside Maritime Museum, and the Museum of Liverpool. I didn't get through everything at the Museum of Liverpool. It's a place I'd be willing to visit again.

Mallards in the Chester canal. Whenever someone stopped near the canal edge and took out their phone, the ducks rushed over en masse.

Mallards in the Chester canal. Whenever someone stopped near the canal edge and took out their phone, the ducks rushed over en masse.

Then it was back to where I started: Chester. One last night in my favorite city, one last walk along the canal, and then it was time to head to Manchester and fly home.

Monday, it's back to real life, so I can start saving for my next trip back. I can't wait.

My Adventure Begins


A passport and a journal--necessities on any adventure

A passport and a journal--necessities on any adventure

I'm at the airport, typing this on my phone, waiting to board the plane for the biggest adventure I've had in years. For the next 10 days, I'll be backpacking through northern Wales.  

Believe it or not, I have everything I need in my backpack. (It only took 5 tries!) I've got the usual--clothes, toiletries, shoes--plus a journal and paperbacks of one of my favorite fantasy series: The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander. The Chronicles were inspired by medieval Welsh legends, so what better companions to take with me?

My trusty backpack. Thank you, LL Bean! 

My trusty backpack. Thank you, LL Bean! 

If wifi allows, I'll post here periodically during my trip. I already have few friends traveling with me in spirit. What's a few more?

The Story Behind the Story: Clara and the Kid

It's been months since I put pen to paper to work on anything short. It took, of course, another NYC Midnight Challenge to get me to do so. July 22-24 marked the first round of the 2016 Flash Fiction Challenge.

Last year, I was knocked out of the challenge in December, after writing a not-very-comedic comedy. So what did the NYC Midnight gods assign me for Round 1 of this year's challenge? You got it: comedy.

This time I had to write a comedy that made use of a podium and was set on an airplane. Curses! (Yes, I did utter a few.)

I slept on the prompt and woke up in the morning with a premise. It came from a Letter to the Editor I read when a local shopping center announced they were going "dog-friendly": dogs would now be allowed in some of their shops. A very disgruntled man complained about the policy, citing--among other things--the idea that some people were allergic to dogs. I remembered my own work with a local shelter, helping with cat adoptions even though I'm allergic. Allergies + animal + airplane = story!

I ran the premise by my writer's group, who helped me brainstorm around a couple of obstacles. I spent the rest of Saturday drafting.

I knew, by the end of Draft 1, that my story was cute but it wasn't yet a comedy. I posted an SOS on Twitter. Two writer friends read my story and gave me suggestions for upping the funny. (Thank you, Nancy and Callie!)

I spent Sunday revising. By Draft 4, I'd written a story I could live with. To be honest, I still don't think it's a comedy. But it is cute and it has a few funny moments. I'm happy with that.

And I'm prepared to make sacrifices to ensure I don't ever get assigned comedy again.


Click here to read "Clara and the Kid."

The Same Thing Happens Every Night

Duncan, dreaming

Duncan, dreaming

I've had Duncan a total of four months, as of this week. We're still bonding, still getting to know each other, but after four months, I've noticed a pattern: he has the same dream almost every night. Of course, I have no way of knowing exactly what's going on in his doggie brain, but it sure seems like the same dream on repeat. I almost think it's a memory he's reliving, rather than a dream.

The dream usually happens when Duncan sleeps spread out, rather than curled up. It begins with his paws twitching, as if he were running. Next his ear--the one that sticks up when he lies down--flaps. Then his mouth moves, as if he were grumbling--except he doesn't make a sound. Finally, he barks. One single, high-pitched bark. Dream over. Duncan wakes.

The only time I ever hear Duncan bark is when he dreams. I'd give anything to know what's in the dream that makes him do so--because in his wakeful life, none of the usual stuff does. He doesn't bark when my neighbors slam their doors. He doesn't bark when my neighbors stand in front of my house and talk. He doesn't bark when the plumber or the HVAC technician come into the house to work. He watches it all very intently, but makes nary a peep. What kind of dog does that?