Inspiration & Deadlines

ImageWhat was it Douglas Adams said?

“I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”

I’ve been attempting to impose deadlines on myself – attempting being the difficult word. It’s easy to imagine making the deadline but then life (in the form of Migraines) appears and everything goes to Hell.

Apparently deadlines and I are no longer friends – once (in the days before I became a flake – you know I should really stop saying that – some poor editor will read this one day when I’m trying to sell her something and think “God, she’s good but she isn’t nearly good enough to put up with.” Sigh!)

As I was saying, once I used deadlines to keep me writing – I do pretty well with deadlines imposed from the outside – it is the ones imposed by me that I seem to always let slip. Right now all I have are internal deadlines – and boy do I keep letting them whoosh by. I spent several months beating myself up them then realized I needed to stop. I was black and blue and getting even less done than I had been before I got all silly and ambitious and deadline happy again.

I don’t have any control of my personal universe anymore – I could eat, exercise, drink moderately and still be sidelined by a deadline destroying, cookie tossing, soul destroying migraine – so I had to come up with something different. 

Type A to Type Zen

The beginning of this brainstorm was over the novel – the unending, I’m not going to behave, give you peace of mind, or fall into any existing genre – novel. Coming into the final curve with it I realized it was going to take as long as it took. There were no secrets I didn’t already know, no short cuts, just lots of focused hard work and it will take as long as it takes.

Granted working at the pub helps – it isn’t the most focused environment but I admit to being an exhibitionist writer. I like to write where I can be observed writing. I’m sure a few past boyfriends wished I was a different type of exhibitionist but we all have our boundaries. Thank goodness no one can see inside my head.

So, here, writing at the pub. Taking as long as it takes.


~ Tess


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An Arthur Dent Moment

Remember the beginning of Hitchhiker’s Guide when the words yellow and bulldozer swim around Arthur’s hungover brain until they connect and he finds himself lying in the mud in front of a Yellow Bulldozer that is about to take out his house?

For me the two words were needle and thread… the next thought was fuck! the stupid cat ate it.


Called my Vet (how I love them) and they said bring her in (of course).

Called my boss left her a unintelligible message of she which got Sophie – Vet – Clinic.

More panic!

I was just drinking my first cup of coffee when I saw the black thread in dry bile in the hallway and suddenly everything thing was clear. The drooling and vomiting the night before that continued into the morning. Thursdays are long days for me – usually 8:45 am to 8:00 pm – so forgive me that I didn’t figure this out last night. Granted there was no black thread to give the story away…. but oh, I felt like the worst mom in the whole world.

I pulled on some clothes and remembered to brush my teeth before getting Sophie in the cat carrier and putting both of us in the car. She was awfully quiet the whole trip. I had Jo on the speaker and we talked the whole way. Thank the gods for good friends.

Left Sophie with the vet and made it to work in time to open the clinic (Go Me!!!). Called panicked boss told her not to panic everything would be fine.

Then I got the call….

Dr. Steve had opened Sophie’s mouth and found the needle lodged in one of the ridges near the soft pallet. But the problem wasn’t the needle, which cats can apparently pass through their system (think fish bones), the problem was the thread. I knew from looking at the thread on the floor that part of it was still in Sophie. So the conversation went from the best case – finding the string still attached – to endoscopy and hoping the string was in her stomach or the top of the small intestine because if they didn’t get it out it would likely cause a obstruction in the intestine leading to the the worst case — surgery.

He’d call me in about an hour and let me know what they were able to do.

Usually I ask to know what everything is going to cost – this time I asked not to be told – I didn’t want money to effect my decision. Sophie is only a little over a year – and we’ve been to the vet and spent more money in the last year than I spent in the months Minerva was dying of cancer. Check out our shitty day. I’d just made a deal to sell some of my airline miles and wanted to use the money for a special project… and selfishly I felt the plan drifting away.

Dr Steve called in under 20 minutes. They had the needle and the string. It was over… but not for me. The adrenal kick I got when I put the pieces together had me shaking. I’d had coffee – no food – and enough adrenalin running through my system to fight off vampires, zombies, and werewolves combined. But I had nothing to fight, I just had to stay at work, keep thing going, feeling my heart beat in my chest like some wild animal, and wait until I could leave and pick up Sophie.

She was the talk of the vet office – everyone knew about the red tabby that had swallowed the needle and thread. They even made her a bravely certificate that included a picture of the needle in situ. Apparently Sophie had been her usual charming self and I couldn’t be angry at her any more.

Dr. Steve asked if they could keep the needle. I got the cat and the certificate and took us home so we could both sleep.


And just the other day I was thinking what a boring life I had… nothing ever happened…

~ Tess (and a very happy Sophie)

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@Laughing Planet

Sometimes the only way I get through a rough patch of edits is I take them out for lunch… or a drink.


@Laughing Planet

XTC playing over the speakers

Surrounded by parents & children… editing erotica with a pint of Diablo rojo 🙂


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Losing the battle, but winning the war (I think)

Monday: Today was the beginning…

Get up early and walk, then to work, meditation & yoga for lunch, and then home for more yoga and 2-4 hours on the novel.

Like that was going to happen.

More people came into the office during my 20 minutes of yoga and meditation than were in all morning (so much for that idea) and the allergy meds are making me yearn for bed, or a couch, or heck a piece of floor would do.

Losing ground fast… so tired. I’m sure the allergy meds are not helping. I can’t take Claritin because of the odd headaches, I can’t take Zyrtec because it makes my nose bleed, so I’m taking benydril (sp?) and feel like curling up on the floor and sleeping.

At times I hate being me.


Friday: And I thought Monday was bad…

It was a week. A week that took me by the throat and shook me proving once again that I have no control over my environment – interior or exterior.

So, it is Friday and I’m sitting here, sipping the last of the scotch, and licking my wounds. Migraines, a day on Vicodin for pain beyond the migraines, our server going down and the exhaustion of a 11.5 hour day yesterday, but I am still here and still staring at the plot on my wall.

’tis time to kill one of my darlings.

I adore Emmett and his family. He is one of the few remaining characters from the first draft of the novel, but he must go. Talked it over with a friend last night. Gave her the plot and she immediately focused in on the Emmett scene and asked, “Why?” I couldn’t defend the scene, I slowed the pace of the plot and distracted the reader from the business at hand. Leave it to AL to figure that out in 30 seconds…. and I’ve been trying to figure out what was wrong all week. (that would be a statement about the value of outside opinions)

So, back to the drawing board – or the post it map.

The story will be better for this. I truly believe it.

A crazy weekend filled with odds and ends of commitment (and taxes) which I usually don’t let happen because I worry I’ll have to cancel. But one event turned into two, and then three…. and well the sky is darkening with rain as much as dusk and it is time to pack for the weekend.

Happy writing,

~ Tess


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The Villain of the Piece

iStock Photo

A good villain is hard to find.

Much harder than a good man.

I’ve struggled with this since the beginning of my novel. Most of the time I move my villain around the plot like a piece on a chess board. Need to block the hero from getting what she wants, enter the villain. Need to up the stakes, enter the villain. Need to…. well you get the idea.

It feels contrived. I don’t want to take the easy way out by saying “Hey, he’s evil – he doesn’t need a reason.” I believe that often the most evil outcomes occur when people do the wrong thing for the right reasons. The road to Hell and all that.

Part of my dilemma is all the communication training I had in one of my previous lives. I just can’t help but ask….

“Why would a reasonable rational human being do that?”*

I know there are some obvious reasons I could use – my villain isn’t human, reasonable or rational. Yet at the end of the day their behavior has to hold water and not leak. Leakage, or rather seepage is what took me from absolutely loving Connelly’s The Poet to feeling a little let down. Brilliantly Connellly sets up a new flavor of serial killer, finds a voice for his hero that is both literary and believable, then he takes us on a plot that has twists and turns which kept me guessing until the very end… but that is where things broke down for me.

Part of the thrill I have when I read a serial killer thriller (forgive the alliteration) is finding myself in the inner workings of a world view I have little connection too. We all have fantasies – we all act on them from time to time – most fantasies that are acted upon do not involve killing/mutilating/raping individuals. My fascination is with the physiology of the monster inside. That is why I love Val McDermid – the physiology of her killers is precise, organic, and breathtakingly perverse.

(I hate spoilers but there is a sort-of-spoiler ahead – The Poet was written in the ’96 so I’m hoping you’ll forgive me – and I’ll try to hide as much as possible without making you read the book to follow me.)

When Connelly’s Poet was finally revealed, we were left not knowing the why behind the Poet’s actions. Our glimpses into the Poet’s head were limited, seen from the view of a third party, and used as much for misdirection as for revealing character. Beyond that, Connelly develops several characters all of which have surprisingly rational, abet twisted, back stories that could make the motivation of the Poet killings rational-ish – just not the Poet. We have absolutely no idea why he does what he does.

Don’t get me wrong, the book has made me a Connelly fan and I have a lot of catching up to do… but I wanted to know the why – to understand the why – to feel that sense of catharsis that is the reason I love thrillers so much.

Hmmm… it is just possible I’ve spent more time thinking about The Poet because it wasn’t tied up in a bow – no one lived happily ever after – everyone in the book had their world altered forever – no one really got what they wanted (yet again something that Connelly does brilliantly).

…and yet I still want to know, “why would a reasonable rational person do that?”

So, back to my personal villain problems…

He needs a code to follow, a history from which his actions organically derive, what he is doing needs to make sense to him and by extension to us. I want a great villain, one who could have been the hero but his path was twisted somewhere along the way.

That is what I’ve been working on because I don’t like the cardboard cutout that I’ve been moving around on the page and want Darth Vader – not the rent collector who bows out, at the end of the book with “Curse’s foiled again”.

Guess I need to get back to work… 🙂

~ Tess

*Crucial Conversations – the book is amazing (especially if you want to do things wrong, right is so much harder) and they also have Crucial Confrontations.


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Dreaming in Post-its

In one of my previous lives I was a project manager.

To make myself more marketable I took a series of classes for a PM Certification from our local University – 3 of those classes changed my life (another story) and one of them was the jumping off point for revamping my life (Thank you Toni McConnell).

So, when I thought about charting my novel though Larry’s 4 Story Parts – this is what happened…

Oh, and you can’t see anything on purpose… 🙂

The green post-its are the primary story points and the yellow are my scenes, different colors of ink (which I know you can’t see) represent scenes that are related to other sub-arcs. One is my villain’s, another is the real spider at the middle of the web, and so on…

At one point last night I had to take everything down from Part II to the end and start over – but it was worth it since I got a better feel for what I was doing and what was important. I also sat down and watched Book of Eli which has some very subtle parts of the plot structure and helped me realize that I didn’t need an explosion – just a bend in the road.

When I get home from my mid day excursion to the Museum I’ll start pulling everything together into Scrivener. My hope is by the end of Wednesday I’ll have everything I’ve written that I’m keeping into the new structure and when I wake up Thursday morning I’ll know what gaps need filling.

Ah, how grateful I am to have a plan…

Tess the Mess

Oh, and thanks to Jeff Crow for his Post-it intense Project Management method.

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Worshiping at the temple of Structure

Over the weekend I spent two full days with Story Engineering author/speaker/guru Larry Brooks. Now I didn’t swoon (which apparently disappointed him) but I did learn two things…

  1. I write awesome beginnings
  2. My middles are crap

My endings are erratic so I’m going to ignore that for the moment. But I’ve been spinning around the middle of my novel for almost a year, and now I have some tools that I truly believe will get me through the muck of it.

At least I hope so…

I won’t give away Larry’s secrets – which he gives away on his website – but I will say I spent half the night, post Day One, tearing apart my half finished novel which garnered me the first two pieces of information. Then as I tried to fall asleep – ideas about how to make almost everything I’ve written and not sold better flooded my mind until I just had to tell the damn muse to shut up because there was no way I was going to be able to learn anything Day Two if I didn’t get any sleep (besides the migraine issues).

What I was hoping this weekend would provide is grist for the planning mill… I was terrified that I was hanging too much of my future productivity on this one weekend, thank the gods I was proven wrong.

There is a plan…a structure…a skeleton from which to hang the meat of your story on.

I’m still working on what I started Saturday night – taking the novel as it now exists and divide it into the four sections of story, and vetting the currently written scenes and how they fit into the overarching concept. And what a relief to know I had a concept… so much of Day Two was spent in search of one as different writers offered up their stories or germs of stores to the group to be reviewed.

The interesting thing about that (and probably why I love Rose City Romance Writers so much) is that in the romance world there is room for all of us. No “new” writer is a threat, no established writer feels possessive of their craft, time or contacts. I was talking to a children’s writer who sat next to me and was so surprised that the weekend ended so positively. She said most Children’s events ended with a quiet sense of desperation.

I spent joyous part of last night talking through it with Jo and for the first time ever felt like I had head wrapped around the plot.


Don’t get me wrong – this is a bullet but not magic – it is going to take a hell of a lot of work to get my novel to the structural polish suggested by Larry’s structure. But having a structure, knowing where to stick my tent pole in the ground so I can write to it, is wonderfully liberating.

On a different note, my Mac has slowed down to a crawl so my depression (followed by a bout of self-pity) has to be officially over – I only have 37.95 GB left on my Mac’s hard drive and that is not enough for another season of NCIS. And I need to delete many of the ones I have to get my writing tool back to optimum working condition.

’tis good to be back.



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Hello, my name is Tess and I’m a Flake

Ah, the joys of a chronic illness.

I’ve been thinking about this for a long time… and even though I tell myself I must NOT offer to do anything, say yes to anything, volunteer for anything – a part of me still thinks I’m super woman rather than migraine girl.

I loved being super woman – the go-to for making shit happen, the reliable one. Oh, how I miss her. But a chronic illness means you have good days, midlin days, and bad days – and none of them are under your control.

I have more midlin to good days these days than bad. Gone are the 7/8s, on a pain scale of 1-10, which would last for months at a time. Mostly gone are the days when a 10 would put me down for a day with no hope of any productivity.*

At the same time, gone too is the ability to rest up in the hopes of a good day, or make one happen by shear force of will and damn the consequences, since I’m now working a full time job.


The thing is, I still don’t see myself as having a chronic illness – and apparently neither does most of the population. After three and a half years I hide it really well and do a very good job of looking exactly the same every day (Nars I am so grateful) and acting the same (damn grateful to have a Boss who puts up with me).

I haven’t yet learned how to pace myself. Partly this is the J O B.

Some days are long (10+ hours) some are short (4-6) but none of them are the same. I think consistency would help me but I love my job and my Boss too much to think about changing that. So I do what I’ve always done – I get the job done and the rest of my life falls where it may.

But I have two jobs – the Clinic and the Writing – and one is taking more of the good hours, because no matter what, I have to do the time and deliver at work.

Then there are the random requests that throw the weekend into chaos.

Two weeks ago I got a mayday from my niece – she needed help on her chemistry and bashfully (or shamefully) texted her aunt for help – for days I tried but between the time difference – the fact she asked for it just as my two LONG days were happening – then a day and a half of migraine – we got right down to the wire and spent 9 hours on Sunday doing chemical equations from yield to titers to pH….

Ah, school how much I miss you.

Now, I saved her ass and made her promise to go find a chemistry tutor in the same time zone or I’d kill her. But so goes my one good, non clinic, day.**

I can’t do that every weekend, then there would be no writing, no blog, no short stories or novellas that I’m sure you are all chomping at the bit to read.

I have to choose.

Ah, there is the rub. How do you choose? How do you say no, when a part of you wants to say yes, when you know that the world only gives back what you put into it and your teaspoon full of participation isn’t nearly enough?

I don’t know, and I’m walking into the Lion’s Den (otherwise known as the RCRW’s Spring Intensive). Rose City Romance Writers is filled with women I worship and admire from afar – I want to be a part of it, give of myself to the group, and enjoy the positive synergy of it all – but I’ve let them down and if I don’t keep my mouth shut I’ll end up letting them down again, and they deserve so much better – they deserve super woman and all I can give them is migraine girl.

Friday afternoon I will get in the car and drive across town to face the Lion. Face my own failure, owe up to the person I’ve become, and hopefully find… something.

~ Tess

*Thank you my love!

** I don’t regret it at all – it’s been 12 years since Gen Chem and it was nice to feel like a smart contributing member of society.


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Permanent Pause

DJ – so are you going to write today?
Me – My head feels full
DJ – (querying look)
Me – not full of ideas but full, like stuffy full… allergies.
DJ – so are you going to write today?
Me – uummm… 

Okay I lied, but at the time I really didn’t think I’d have the energy to sit and string words together today, and I would rather surprise him than disappoint him.

I worry that I’ve put to much emphasis on the upcoming weekend and I’m setting myself up for failure.

Last month I realized that everything I’d ever sold was written before the migraines became chronic. They may have been revamped, edited, and rewritten but the bones were all from the time before.

I gave up writing sex – now I’m trying to write sex again – ideas are not a problem (they never were) but the sitting down and getting the shit on the page… well that is a big problem and it didn’t used to be.

The other problem is the fear… of disappointing myself, my love, and anyone else out there who might be rooting for me.

I’m paused.

I thought about calling my project management guru Jeff and asking if he would help me develop a new project plan. But I don’t have a clue even what we should be planning. Then I thought about writing spec pieces again and came up with a beautiful story for a submissions call that I can’t seem to really dig myself into. I thought a lot about everything – including giving up the idea of ever making my living as a writer….

(Whenever I say that out loud my heart skips a beat)

I keep deferring to the beginning of April, two whole days of writing workshop – not editing, not publishing, not branding or marketing – but writing.

More than anything I want my office reorg finished, I want my house clean, and the laundry done (Sophie’s having bowel problems again – you really don’t want to know) and I want to hit Monday April 3rd at a dead run. I have a week off from work and I truly believe new habits can be formed in that week – or at least the formation of new habits can begin.

Or am I kidding myself?

~ Tess

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In Search of… trigger foods

The Desperate Man, Gustave Courbet Source: WikiMedia Commons

Pay no attention to me, I’m just whining.

Ah, the joy’s of a migraine brain.

The one thing I’ve truly discovered from my first few months on the anti-inflammation diet is I have a strong reaction to corn starch. For the first time in my life I experienced a classic food derived migraine. I had a sauce on my chicken and less than two hours later I had a migraine. (I find sporadic cheating on the diet to be informative – corn is a no-no but tomatoes are fine.)

It was perfect – and now I know corn starch is problematic, but it is in everything.

No really, it is in everything including my allergy meds. So, three bottles of allergy pills were put on notice and I had to go to the store and figure out what I could and couldn’t take.

Many hours and dollars later I discovered that corn starch is an ingredient in almost everything that is a pill – but capsules and gel caps have different stabilizers and so had better luck picking up those – but generics almost always have corn starch so I’m back to Brand Names. Not good for the bottom line but I am grateful they are still making them, not sure what I would do if I couldn’t take the allergy drugs.

Really migraines should be enough…

And yet (several days later) I found out I was reacting to the allergy meds themselves. So, onward with drippy nose punctuated by sneezes. Sigh!

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