Things not to ask an overdue, pregnant woman

No, this one isn’t personal experience, but heard through my sister-in-law. Her due date was about a week ago, and things weren’t moving along yet. She was, needless to say, antsy to get the show on the road.

Sunday rolled around, so they went to church and were asked–in all seriousness, “So have you had the baby yet?”

To which my sister-in-law replied, “Yes, but we left him home, and I decided to stick a watermelon under my shirt.”

I’d say the guy asking that got off easy.

A “Real” Writer

Past couple weeks, I’ve felt more like a “real” writer than I have in a while.

I put the real in quotes for my good friend Nate who frequently tells his writing students that they’re all real writers. The only qualification needed is to write, and I definitely am doing that again. Society often paints the picture of a writer as someone who does magical, unexplainable work, someone who goes off into a room to be fed by his muse. In reality, though, a successful writer is just one who didn’t quit.

Well, I certainly haven’t quit. The new novel is clipping along, intruded on by life circumstances, but moving nonetheless. I’m one of those writers who carries on forward without looking back much until I’m done, but what I’ve written so far feels good, feels alive. I’ve already had a couple small surprises in these chapters, and I’m looking forward to many more along the path.

The other half of that “real” is that whole publication thing. Having sent off my last batch of agent letters, the reality of the writing life is settling in… in the form of rejection letters. Some nibbles here and there, some promising signs, but now I must remind myself what a long road I’ve know this will be–and that’s not even counting the seven years it took to write the novel.

In any case, I’m off to the store and then back to write this evening, hopefully finishing out another chapter. It feels good to be a writer. Yes, it does.

Life and Death

Last Friday was a day poised with both life and death.

After a doctor’s appointment with Amber (everything’s great!) I worked from home while she visited some friends. I’m glad I was there, because a friend called whose wife had gone in to be induced the night before. The baby had arrived!

Since they were amenable to visitors, we headed up to the hospital after a great dinner at the Widmer Gasthaus. Mom was doing great, though obviously tired. I hadn’t expected it, but they asked if we wanted to hold the baby. Only eight or nine hours old, she was the youngest baby I’d ever held. After being around so many of my friends’ growing children, she seemed so small. Her tiny hands flexed and stretched, while her eyes pressed tightly shut. She was so warm cuddled up in my arm, so vulnerable and beautiful. I suddenly had a picture of where we’re going to be at in about nine weeks here, and I felt more excitement than I’ve felt in a while.

It was fairly late, and by the time we got home and it was almost midnight. I had already gotten into bed when Amber noticed flashing lights out front. We peeked out the window to see an ambulance and fire truck parked in front of our elderly neighbor’s house. We don’t know them particularly well so we stayed inside, but worry settled in.

The next morning we saw one neighbor and went to ask her what had happened. With a teary voice she said, “My husband passed last night.” I’ll never forget how she kept looking down, her face in anguish, every word quivering. We gave her what comfort we could, but it dampened the already dreary winter day.

I’ve been thinking about it since then, considering writing this post. But it’s so hard to write about these things without sounding trite or repetitive. The emotions with the birth of a child or the death of a loved one are so strong, so overwhelming, that no word, spoken or written, can truly meet them on their own terms. We’re left grasping for things to say.

And I’m left to wonder what it’ll be like when I hold my beautiful daughter… and when will I lose someone I love?

Everything’s Coming Up Clark

So after secretly laughing at me for having two separate blogs, my wife finally caved and created her own outlet on the internet: Everything’s Coming Up Clark.

This will be the go-to source for all things Clark family related–baby pictures, news and ramblings when the time comes, notes on the remodel, dog-thoughts, and whatever else Amber feels like jotting down. If you like keeping up on that type of thing, it’s the place to be!

And as an added bonus, my wife is freaking hilarious! Check it out.

Clean, new space

This post has been a long time coming–I bookmarked Jonathan Carroll’s comments back in October about what it’s like to start a new novel. He compares it to sitting in an empty apartment before moving in:

That is what it is like for me to begin a new novel. You’ve chosen a place to live for the next year or more but it has nothing inside it yet. Only the walls, the floors and the windows. Because you have created this space, only you can furnish it. But you’re really looking forward to the task, no matter how long it takes.

It’s been almost seven years since I started my last big project, Dreams of a Shaper. With that winging it’s way to agents, the time has come to move on and get working on something else. Tonight I finished the last character sketches, lists and notes before I start actually putting new words down on blank pages.

I’m thrilled, I’m scared, I’m champing at the bit to go. Hope it doesn’t take another seven years, but if it does then so be it.

Traction

As my prior note probably indicates, life has been busy at the Clark household. I know this isn’t a valid excuse for not writing, but it’s been tough period to find time to buckle down. We’ve been remodeling the house before our daughter arrives, Amber’s was laid out sick for the first four or five months of our pregnancy, and at the end of the summer I finished my final draft of Dreams of a Shaper before submitting it to agents. I had good intentions of writing short fiction, and I have churned out a few stories, but the short stuff just doesn’t hold my attention like a bigger project.

The remodel isn’t done, but things are winding down a little, so I’m getting back into action. First order of business is another batch of agent submissions. Haven’t heard back from everyone in the first go around, but that’s no reason to wait. Those should be in the mail by the end of the weekend.

Next is editing a couple of the stories I’ve drafted for critique group. It’s been nice to have something new to present there recently with a few revived stories, and I’m looking forward to trotting out new material for them soon.

Last and certainly not least, there’s the next book. I’ve got a good bit of planning slated before I truly put pen to paper–world building, plotting, character studies, probably even some “before the book starts” scenes just to get my footing. I’m shifting gears to fantasy this go around, and I’m thrilled with how the ideas are gelling.

I know, it sounds crazy to start writing a novel just months before a new baby arrives, but I figure 1) I’ll get some work done if I start now and 2) I don’t want the writing to wait until our daughter’s sleeping through the night. This period of partial hiatus has re-enforced exactly how much the writing soothes and settles me, how much I enjoy and crave it. Even if it’s less frequent, even if it’s interrupted by crying and diaper changes, I’ll be a happier man if I’ve got blank pages in front of me and ideas in my head when the baby arrives.

And the answer is….

When last I posted about the upcoming birth of our first child, we hadn’t found out yet whether it was a boy or a girl. So for the record it’s (drumroll)….

A girl!

We’re so delighted, not least given my family history. There have been only a handful of girls born in the Clark family in the past century, so neither of us thought it particularly likely that we would have one. But whether it was the fertility drugs or just meant to be, we are so looking forward to welcoming our little daughter into the world.

I’ll be honest and say that pregnancy has not been what either of us expected. The physical wear and tear, the months of constant nausea (“morning sickness”, yeah right), along with Amber recently turning up with gestational diabetes have all made it a rough road. But when I think back to the day we found out it was a little girl on the way, I feel certain it will all be worth it.

Questions to ask when the offer comes

An agent recently offered a friend of mine representation. I heard about this first thing when my friend pinged out critique group with a frantic message about what he should ask before inking the deal.

It was eye-opening for me, since I’ve got material out and if I got the call today I would be wondering the same thing. Luckily, shortly thereafter a couple of agent blogs made excellent posts on the subject.

First Jenny Rappaport gave a thorough list, and not long after Nathan Bransford invited a guest blogger, Ginger Clark, to chime in on what you should cover. There’s a lot of overlap between the two, and the bottom line seems to be about setting expectations (like any good relationship!)

I still plan to sit down and write up my personal list distilled out of these sources, but these give a great starting place for that moment of truth.

Books: Cat’s Cradle

This the third of the late, great Kurt Vonnegut’s books that I’ve read. The first I read was the one he’s best known for, Slaughterhouse-Five, and the second was Gal├ípagos, which my friend Brian got me started on reading aloud on a road-trip along the Oregon coast.

Most people know about Slaughterhouse-Five if they’re familiar with Vonnegut at all, but Cat’s Cradle comes a close second. It was the first novel of his to get much attention in 1963, and I can see why. Cat’s Cradle is trademark Vonnegut, with crisp writing, an engaging conversational voice, and a pervasively off-kilter point of view that leaves you constantly guessing what will happen next.

In contrast with Slaughterhouse-Five, which is defined by it’s non-linear story, Cat’s Cradle follows a more standard narrative arc. That does not, however, make the story straightforward. The book’s jam-packed with odd side-lines, quotes from the made-up religion of Bokononism, and stunningly original concepts. Vonnegut mixes these up in such a way that you never quite know whether something is crucial to the plot or tossed in as a bonus, but it all makes you want to keep reading.

I highly recommend Cat’s Cradle, especially to anyone who hasn’t read Vonnegut before. It’ll definitely tell you whether he’s an author you’d like to read more of, and if you do there are many other treats in store.

Anticipation

I haven’t mentioned it on the blog yet, so I guess this qualifies as the first world-wide announcement… Amber and I are expecting!

The due date is March 30, and that puts a significant milestone on Wednesday of this week–the ultrasound. We had two other ultrasounds in the early going, but those revealed only a thumping jelly-bean. I’ve glad to have seen and heard it, but it doesn’t give a lot of personal detail. Wednesday will (hopefully) change that.

Everyone asks whether we’re going to find out if it’s a boy or a girl. If you know Amber, the answer probably won’t surprise you. She has a hard time keeping birthday gifts secret ­čÖé It’ll be public knowledge as soon as we leave.

Anyway, anticipation is running high. Amber’s been quite sick for a lot of the time, but that ‘s starting to lighten up and now the big ultrasound is on the way. Exciting times.

PS — To all the folks who would remind me that not everyone finds out, that the baby might not cooperate, etc. I know. Gotta keep optimistic, though, and if not the eventual surprise will be all the bigger and better.