Friday, February 25, 2011

Adios, amigos!

My plane leaves tomorrow morning at 6 for Atlanta and them on to Cancun, Mexico (weather permitting, of course). From there, fourteen of us will pile into two large trucks and/or vans and be driven several miles into the Yucatan to a small village called Leona Vicario.

We'll live there for the next week, in fairly primitive conditions. We travel an additional 100 miles or so inland to a tiny (and I mean tiny) Mayan village deep in the jungle called Tres Reyes (Three Kings in Spanish), where we will work with the Mayans finishing the little Sunday school we started four years ago. My middle son, Zach, went last year. But he's staying home this year because of his job. I know he wanted to go back, even though I suspect it was a hell of lot harder than he had anticipated. :)

The picture is of me (kneeling on the left) in Tres Reyes last year with my friend Jim Witmer and a young Mayan boy we called Pistol Pete (since we couldn't even begin to pronounce his real name). I can't wait to see little Pete this year.

This is my fourth consecutive trip and, as always, I'm both looking forward to it and dreading it.

I look forward to it because it is extremely rewarding work. The Mayans are very poor and live in appalling conditions. Despite a huge guilt complex (because I have it so good here), I fall in love with the villagers every year. Especially the children. They are the sweetest kids in the world.

I dread it because, well, let's face it: It's damned hot and hard work. We work hard in the hot Caribbean sun all day long. After a day or two, I always wonder just why in the hell I am there. Sometimes, we bicker. Sometimes, things get scary because of the drug cartels and the ever-present threat of violence and kidnapping (especially if you are American).

But in the end, I always end up having an awesome time, meet some incredibly special people and learn something about another culture that I didn't know before.

It's also, dare I say it, a very spiritual week. I always feel tired but mentally refreshed when I return, ready to get back to my writing and my exceptionally lucky existence.

I know I have been awful at blogging lately, and for that I apologize. I've been really sick with a nasty case of bronchitis (which is about 80 percent over finally), and I have been working hard on my novel. Now, I'm packing and spending some precious time with my family before I leave the house at 4 a.m. tomorrow for the drive to the airport.

So until me meet again sometime next weekend, please be well and write a lot. I hope you all find agents and multiple book deals when I'm gone. (Ack. I just thought of something. I won't have much Internet access, so I hope if I get any agent news, they don't give up on me. Oh well. I suppose that's a good problem to have, huh?)

Adios my writer friends.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

While I wait

Hi there. It's been a while, I know. What have I been doing, you ask?

Well, I've been writing my next novel. I've also been sick, as has most of the family during the past week. I'm also gearing up for my yearly mission trip to the Yucatan. I leave a week from Saturday, and already I'm feeling harried and ill-prepared. In other words, the same old, same old.

But mostly, I've been waiting. You know the feeling, right? At the Writers Digest Conference a few weeks ago, I had four requests by agents to read The Devil You Don't Know -- three partials and a full.

I got a rejection on one of the partials fairly quickly. It was a very helpful one and she said she really liked my writing, so I didn't feel too badly about it. But I've heard nothing yet from the others, nor have I heard anything from the handful of queries I sent out in a rush of anxiety upon returning home.

So, I am writing like a fiend (when I'm not too sick to sit here at my keyboard, that is).

I'm still loving the new book, Empty Spaces. It keeps taking one dark turn after another, sometimes without my permission. I'm mostly a "pantser," meaning I write organically without benefit of a full-blown outline. I do sketch out where I'm going with the book, along with some key scenes and bits of dialogue that come to me.

But mostly, I wait. If nothing else, this whole "trying to get published" scene is teaching me patience, which I sorely lack.

So, how do you guys handle the waiting? Are you able to wade into a new manuscript, or do you agonize and keep hitting refresh on gmail? (Not that I would do that, or course.)

Thursday, February 10, 2011

A yowling cat

We have two cats, and they are both pretty old. Annie, the eldest, will be 16 on Valentine's Day, while Martinique (Marty) will be 15 in August. We named Annie Annimaniac after the cartoon and Marty after one of the islands Jennifer and I visited on our Caribbean honeymoon a couple of months after we got her.

A few months ago, Annie starting walking around the house yowling, a sound so piercing and unnerving that it sent chills down my spine. I'd be sitting here at my desk writing and out of the murky darkness just a few feet away would come this ethereal and terrifying sound, as loud as a jumbo jet.

Yowwwwwllllllll. Yowwwwlllllll.

And naturally, I'd freak out and yell at her to knock it off. She would ignore me and go on yowling until I would stomp my feet and then she'd jump and look at me with something like terror in her big green eyes.

I was not sympathetic.

Now don't get me wrong. I love our cats. They are the best house cats in the world. Yes, I mean that. The best. Loving and loyal and all that jazz. Marty, the small, black-and-white jumpy one, took years before she became trusting enough to sit on my lap. She's a bit neurotic, meaning if she were human she'd probably be a writer. For the past six or seven years, I cannot seem to get Marty off of me. She has become my little partner, my little buddy. She lies on my chest while I lay in bed reading or watching television like she's a part of my body. A spare limb or something.

Annie is larger (fat, actually, but don't tell her that) and all black. She's more regal, although as affectionate as Marty in her own way. Annie belongs to Jennifer, while Marty is all mine. It's like we have his and her cats. We like that.

But then Annie starting her incessant yowling and I started having not-so-nice thoughts about her. For instance, I would wonder what would happen if I pegged a book at her. Now I didn't, of course. But I admit I wondered at times, especially after she would yowl loudly at my feet, when I didn't know she was there, and I would jump two feet into the air and clutch my chest. And then it would take me an hour of surfing the Internet before I was ready to write again. Damn cat.

But about six months or so ago, I walked up to Annie while she was curled up on the couch, fast asleep, and reached down to pet her. When I touched her, she shot straight into the air and the fur on her tail puffed up comically like one of those cattails that grow along the river. And that's when I realized something.

Annie had gone deaf.

I started to research deaf cats on the Internet and I realized that it's not an uncommon condition in older cats. And I read something else interesting. It seems that older, deaf cats yowl loudly for two reasons: They fear they've been abandoned because they no longer hear us in the house, and they cannot tell how loudly they are meowing because (duh) they are deaf.

And it broke my heart.

It broke my heart because I realize that I am not unlike Annie. I sit here at my computer and pour my heart out on this book or that book, and I send my queries out to agents and I wait, brokenhearted and fearful, hoping that an agent out there will hear me and respond. I fear that I've been abandoned. And it hurts, doesn't it?

If I could yowl, I would. Seriously.

So now, when Annie yowls and scares the bejesus out of me, I don't yell at her or stomp my feet. I go to her instead and pet her and lean down and nuzzle her and tell her that I'm right here, that she doesn't have to be afraid anymore.

And then I sit down and open my email and wait for someone to do the same for me.