Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Every Story Has A Beginning....

Currently, my novel is missing a middle. I have a strong beginning, I have a killer crisis fading to denouement, but rising action? Nada. I have ideas, but so far not a single scene is screaming in my head, "Write me! Write me!" Until that happens, it can continue to churn.

So about me, ba-da-da-dum (fellow Beekeepers know that sound). Ah, yes. I have one of those pieces of paper that left me with $20,000 in debt. It says I am proficient in my knowledge and understanding of the Political Arts. I often say I minored in English Literature, because it's an easier explanation than the truth. The truth is I was so burned out on traditional education, I blew off my minor with only one more class to go but would have meant staying another semester, and calculated my grade for my last literature class to a perfect 70 without ever writing the capstone 20-page critique of Don Quixote.

I was newly married, working full time for Alcoa, and a brand new stepmom. All of those were far more important than college work, and still are. Paying my way through college as a professional office temp, it's funny how I landed with a full-time job in a Quality department for Alcoa without a shred of engineering coursework to my name. Political scientist makes airplane engine parts, that was me! I was hired to catch up the filing. Instead, I taught myself to write macros for Excel with a book in two days and shimmied an 8-hour retyping job into a 30-minute review of data after the computer worked its magic.

Here's how despite my interest in computers, I will never, ever be a programmer:
My husband: This is your code for the macro?
Me: Yes. See, it runs through, parses the text, copies in to the sheet with the customer's layout and deletes the line.
My husband: But why do you have the same code written ten times in a row? Why don't you just loop it.
Me: Because I don't know how to loop. I tried and it broke it, so I just copied and pasted until I figured it would be enough cycles to compensate for the lines it deleted to find all of the out of spec dimensions.
My husband: But it's ugly coding.
Me: But it works.

I was promptly offered a full-time position. After nearly a year on the job I tendered my resignation because my vacation time that would allow me to fly down to Texas and pick up my stepson and return him before my husband's military deployment was denied on the whim of a poor manager. He thought I was kidding when I said we never live off the money I make and I don't need this job. I wasn't.

Fast forward a crazy year of moving across country, by myself, and volunteering to help 80 other spouses and girlfriends coordinate their cross-country moves while the guys were underwater. There were tears--we lost a wife to cancer on that deployment. There were miracles--the baby born 1 pound, 10 ounces that thrived. There were useless bureaucrats that will forever run the risk of inclusion in my printed words:

We cannot pay your travel claim because you did not travel with the active duty member.
No, it was a PCS move and I am a dependent. I have the PSD specific power of attorney, you CAN pay the travel claim for my per diem and mileage.
I'm sorry, the rules state you must travel with the active duty service member to be eligible for PCS per diem.
He's taking the submarine over, and while I'm the Ombudsman, I don't think I can hitch a ride with him. Do I need to call my squadron representative to call your boss? Or will you stop trying to blow me off and process a change of home port?**

**Interestingly enough, the Navy abbreviates change of home port, CHOP. I think it was an adequate verb for what you most want to do to the heads of the Navy personnel you must interact with to execute one.

As my volunteer position was dying down (thankfully) I was antsy to make money again for my efforts. What started as an idea to provide office work on a freelance basis turned into a career in writing when I followed a promising link down the rabbit hole. Pouring my frustrations over the phrase "OMG, how do you do it?" into an article about making a long-distance relationship work was an experiment. No way was I going to get paid for this. Happily I was wrong and pocketed $7.50 up front for about 2,500 words. At the time, I didn't know about the better markets for non-fiction articles. I was giddy to be a paid author. In the four years that article has lived online, more than 42,000 people have read it. Every few months I get a reader who says "Thank you for this, you saved me from calling off my relationship with my boyfriend. I think we can make it work now." Not word for word, but that's the gist of it. I can't put a price on that.

My first year writing was primarily educational. I have run 2 multi-level marketing scams, I mean businesses, into the ground. In one, I bought $2,000 worth of inventory! I was determined to get this writing thing right, even if it meant going slow. I attended the Small Business Administration's classes on taxes for small businesses and running a small business. First five minutes of the lecture, the speaker asks "Who has a small business that is already making a profit?" My hand was the only one to shoot up. He said that was a first and asked me what I sold. I replied "My writing." Everyone laughed at me.

I was the only business owner to not have employees, not have inventory, or even a home office. I did learn some loopholes in my state tax code, though. Apparently, in SC there is a 10% tax on the value of every furnishing and piece of equipment a business owns. It was easy to see it was better to be a nomad than set up a home office for a paltry federal tax deduction and get hammered by the state. My computer is my only "furnishing" as as my laptops are always Christmas gifts, I get to take the largest depreciation on them.

I still like the looks I get when people ask me what kind of business I'm in and I reply, "Writing." Like books? "No, non-fiction articles primarily geared towards a web-based audience." In my first year my profit was $4,000. This was the most money I had ever made with my own business and I had high hopes for the next year. After all, I only worked maybe 10 hours a week because I didn't know how it would pan out. Failure for the third time as a business woman was unacceptable. What happened?

I had a baby. For those with children, you understand. Those first few years you only care about first smiles, first steps, first teeth, and first tantrums. Then you can put Dora, The Explorer on and get 22 minutes of peace, as long as the sippie cup doesn't run dry.

My 21-month-old daughter is fantastic. I love her more than any job or business opportunity, and thankfully my husband's military career more than adequately supports all of us, including my partner-in-crime stepson who is 10. However, there is only so much toddler time I can handle before I must remind myself I'm an adult. I like to read and catch up on social correspondence in the mornings when she plays; activities I can stop in a second to tend to her. Once it's nap time, provided I don't need one from multiple wakings the night before (we're cutting molars), the words fly on my netbook.

My newest challenge for myself is to produce a novel. One that I'm proud to put on my own shelf. I'm learning what feels like billions of kb per day if data ran that way in our brains. It's a little helter-skelter, and I'm working on a book premise that began 4 years ago when I struggled with infertility and imagined what my relationship with my grown stepson could be like. My main character is a child from a broken home, and he has a stronger relationship with his stepmother than biological mother, but he has since morphed into a man embodying the fears and flaws I've recognized in a half-dozen of teenaged boys and grown men who had tough family situations growing up.

So this is where I start... all of that behind me and a bright future ahead to produce a novel by August. And, another PCS move on the horizon (I pray it's to Virginia, my home state). Thanks for reading and my seat belt is securely fastened. I suggest you do the same with yours...

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