Out of the Loop

By Allison Brennan


I’ve been out of the loop these last couple weeks, and I want to apologize to my Murderati partners in crime that I haven’t been visiting daily. Usually, reading the blog posts here and at my other group blog, Murder She Writes, are my first two Internet stops while drinking my morning coffee.

But sometimes, life gets out of hand and we all need to step back, tackle each project in turn, and reflect.

I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting lately. I don’t have any answers yet, so I can’t really share my thoughts. They’d read like a typical Libra on speed–on the one hand, A; on the other hand, B; but on the other hand, C; though maybe D. All the way through Z and back again. (And yes, I’m a Libra. I don’t hold much faith in astrology, but considering that Libra’s are said to weigh the pros and cons ad nauseum . . . then make a firm and definite decision they stick with . . . maybe there is a sliver of truth there.) I’m still in the weighing the pros and cons, and no where near that firm, defend-to-the-death decision.

But life getting out of hand . . . that I can relate to.

First, there were copyedits. Some writers breeze through copyedits. I’m not one of them. I hate copyedits. See, I LOVE writing. I LOVE revising. Getting that story done just right, having editorial input to ask the hard questions, making that story better, tweaking and fixing–I love it all. And the last stage, the galleys (or page proofs, whatever they’re called) is fun. That’s my book set for the press. It’s minor tweaking time, making sure the timeline is solid, changing words or phrases here and there, making sure the changes were incorporated from the copyedits, and that the rhythm is right. I try to read my page proofs out loud, every word–but at the minimum, I read all dialogue out loud to make sure it sounds right. I like this part–I feel like I have completely a huge accomplishment, it gives me the warm fuzzies 🙂 . . . juxtaposed to when I get my author copies, about two weeks before the book hits the shelves, and I alternate between “this is the best book I’ve written” to “this is so awful my career is over.” (And no, I never read my books after they are in print. I sometimes go back to read specific scenes because I forgot something, but I hired an indexer so I don’t have to do that anymore. Most recently, I had to re-read two chapters in FEAR NO EVIL because I couldn’t remember how many guards were left on the island and which ones were killed when Dillon and Kate rescued Lucy. It was important to know as I’m now writing Lucy’s book!)

Copyedits, on the other hand, is work. Hard work. Copyedits make me feel stupid. I see all those red and brown marks (my copyedits and line edits are on the same document) and think, “I can’t write worth shit.” Then I’ll see a page with no marks and think, “I’m brilliant!” Then I catch a typo or missing word and think, damn, maybe they just skipped this page because it was so boring. In copyedits, you have to go over each line with a fine-toothed comb, reading not only the changes but what you had originally. And though I love my line editor dearly, and most of my copyeditors have been very good, sometimes they get something wrong and make changes that are . . . well, wrong. And then there are the “Queries” which are copyeditor questions for the author. Some of them are easy (usually a slip up in timeline or using the wrong name or staging the scene–like once, I had a character entering the room twice . . . without leaving. Those mistakes are usually from revisions, when I make minor changes to a scene but don’t read it carefully enough beginning to end.) And some of them are HARD–and necessitate going through to fix something, or research a point, or rewrite a paragraph–or scene–because I missed something or my editor missed something or because I changed something in revisions, I forgot to fix a parallel point later on. For example in CARNAL SIN, I had a scene in my original draft that I cut from the final draft–but meant to rewrite and put back in. But forgot. It was a minor scene, but a pivotal turning point, and my line editor noted that there seemed to be this scene missing . . . it was. Integrating that, after rewriting it, was not fun.)

So for ten days I worked on my copyedits for CARNAL SIN. At the same time, they needed the excerpt for my next book to be printing at the end of this book. It’s a completely different story (CARNAL SIN is a paranormal romantic suspense; NO WAY OUT is a traditional romantic suspense that is also launching a series–same characters.) So switching gears was hard. I had a rough beginning, but I needed to clean it up and make sure that it WAS the beginning of the story. (Only once has the first chapter excerpt not been the actual first chapter. In TEMPTING EVIL, the excerpt in KILLING FEAR became chapter two in the actual book.)

And, as soon as I sent off my copyedits a week ago Thursday, I had to dive back into writing NO WAY OUT which is due mid-April.

But there’s also family. My oldest daughter, a 16 year old sophomore, is an athlete (volleyball and basketball) and her Div-V team was in the playoffs. On March 5th, they won the regional championship, played at Arco Arena. (yeah!) (Oh, another digression–on March 5th Katie also had her ACSI Choir performance. So for two days–the 4th and 5th–her choir joins with choirs all over Northern California. They learn several songs that they sing together for a night-time performance, but also they have what’s called “adjudication”–I think–where the individual schools are critiqued by this Big Music Expert Guy–who I don’t know, but he’s supposed to be a college music professor and very knowledgeable–after they sing three songs. So I went with Katie on Friday because right after adjudication, she had to quickly change from a black velvet gown into her basketball uniform and sweats and I then drove her halfway across Sacramento County so she could have lunch with her basketball team before the championship game–which she missed eating because they were done by the time we got there. BUT it was worth it because the Big Music Expert Guy singled out the sopranos in Katie’s choir as being pitch perfect and among the very best he’d heard in a high school choir. Katie is a soprano. I was very proud . . . especially since I can NOT carry a tune.)

So . . . we won at Arco, which means Nor-Cal playoffs. This is the third year we’ve won regionals, but we’ve never made it to the Nor-Cal playoffs. This year . . . we’re there. Next Saturday, we play for the Northern California Div-5 championship.

I love basketball, but more than that, I love this team. So I enjoy going to the games, supporting Katie (she’s a sophomore and non-starter, but when she goes I love watching her!), and supporting all the girls who I absolutely adore and admire. They are truly a TEAM and I’m so proud of them! 

Anyway, I’m not complaining at all . . . but the basketball schedule has impacted on my writing time, which means that I write later at night. Okay, full disclosure . . . I LIKE writing at night, but my BEST writing comes from 1-5 pm. I don’t know why. I try to start writing at 10 am. And three days a week I have to quit at 3 to get the kids. But if I could pick the four hours a day that I wrote quality scenes, it would be 1-5. Which means I have to work harder when I lose this time. And because I get stressed, I stay off-line more (or hop on and off all day, two minutes here, two minutes there.) But I don’t THINK of going to blogs because I have this mental slave driver that says, “You must write NOW! You have to leave in two hours!” . . . “You must write NOW! You have to leave in one hour, fifty-nine minutes . . . “

Needless to say, when that bitch, er, internal clock clicks in, I get NOTHING done even though I try. Those are the pages I end up deleting the next day.

And this week I also got report cards for all the kids. There is good and there is bad. One of the bad points was that my three youngest children have apparently not turned in much of their homework, and that was noted. They are in kindergarden, first and third grade. Okay, I was not much of a homework person. Like my third grade son, I could still ace every subject. (Though, he got a C in reading because he FORGOT to turn in his two book reports, even though the teacher gave him grace. Sheesh. Those reports were HALF his grade, if he’d just turned them in he would have gotten an A.) So . . . my bad. I never nag about homework. But this week? I set aside a 30 minute window before dinner to work on homework until done. One day, great . . . if it takes two or more? Fine. But I can’t help thinking that the teachers think that I am the failure because really, when you’re dealing with a 5 year old, who REALLY is responsible for the homework???? (They are homework packets that go home on Monday and are due Friday–spelling words, math sheets, reading ten minutes a night, vocab, etc.)

So I had that on my head–just like last year I had a period of Severe Tardiness where we were late three days a week (or more) for a couple weeks and I was called into the principal’s office. I was determined not to be summoned again! (This school year, they’ve been late 10 times. Last school year, they were late 10 times–in one month.)

Oh, and I had to read my RITA books. These are the books for the Romance Writers of America contest. I only had five books to read–a piece of cake compared to the 30+ books in the Thriller Awards!!! But I had less time and . . . well, one was FABULOUS, but the others were . . . not as fabulous. FAB book I read in one night (then went out and bought the second in the series and read that, too!) . . . the others took a bit longer to finish. I also judge the romantic suspense category of the Golden Heart. The last two years, I had the winning entry in my packet and KNEW it would final. This year . . . nothing stood out as exceptional. Two had potential, the type of potential where I wish I could contact the entrant and give them just a little advice because they are *almost* there but  . . . and there’s always that but. In the GH everything is anonymous and you don’t critique or fill out a score sheet, just a number score. Which is great . . . except when an entry could have been stellar if only . . . 

So that’s why I’ve been out of the loop. I’m sure I’m missing a few things . . . oh! The dog!

On Wednesday, March 3, a beautiful, friendly female black lab showed up at our house. It was pouring rain–a major storm. The dog walked by the French doors in my office and I ran out into the rain and escorted her to the back porch, which was covered. My daughter (Brennan #2, the 8th grader) dried her off and gave her a blanket to sleep on. That afternoon, we went to all the neighbors–and at night, those we missed–and no one was missing a dog. Because it was cold, Dan put a space heater on the back porch (I really don’t want to get the next electricity bill!) so the dog wouldn’t get cold, and we gave her a blanket and towel and she slept on our cushioned chair. We fed her hamburgers and toast.

The next morning, my boys discovered her. They dressed and ran out to play with her. Our dog was put to sleep last year at the age of 16. We had planned on getting another dog, but time and busy schedules . . . well, seeing the kids with her we realized we need a dog. All the kids loved her (except my 6 year old daughter who doesn’t like animals AT ALL and closes her bedroom door so the cat doesn’t go in there.) Dan and I loved her. We secretly prayed we never found the owner. On Thursday night we considered letting her inside, but decided against it for fear we’d be too attached. She slept outside (with the heater) again. We did buy food and a bowl for her, though. The kids started calling her “Liquor.” I put my foot down, even when they explained WHY–they meant “Lick-her” because the dog licked them when they came out to play :/ . . . I said no, and they changed the name ti “Licorice.” The teenagers put the foot down. I said, “Don’t name her, she’s not ours. Someone is missing her.” But on Friday morning, they called her “Brownie.” Again, the teenagers said, “Ugh.” I said, “Don’t name her, she’s not ours.” But . . . she was such a good dog! Healthy, friendly, happy, and great with the kids. And she didn’t bark except once when excited. 

Friday was the Arco basketball game . . . we left, and when we returned, she was gone.

We all assumed that her owners walked through the neighborhood calling for her and she went to them. 

On Monday morning, she returned. You know that adage–if you love something, set it free? If it returns, it’s meant to be yours? We were thinking . . . you know, maybe . . . 

She slept inside Monday night.

Then Dan took her to the vet Tuesday morning to see if she had a chip in her. She did. He called the owner. This kid–Jay, a 20 year old–was stunned. His dog, Kaylie, had been stolen six months ago. He lives way out in dairy country, at least fifteen miles from us. He’d gotten Kaylie from the pound when she was six months old. Had her spayed and chipped. One morning he let her out to do her business (she slept in his bedroom.) He chained her to the front porch while he showered. Fifteen minutes later he goes out to get her, and she’s gone. Her chain was cut. Her dog bed, bowl, and toys–stolen. Jay searched for her, talked to all the construction companies working in the area, did everything–and she was nowhere.

Jay had given up hope and was talking about getting another dog. He lived at one end of a new major county sewage pipeline project. Guess who lives near the other end? Yep, the Brennan’s.

When Dan called Jay, the kid was stunned and so excited that he left a friend he was visiting two hours away to drive back to get her. He came Tuesday night to our house and one look and I knew it was true love–him and his dog. We all miss Kaylie–she would have fit in so well here. But she wasn’t ours, and we knew Jay would treat her like a princess.

So all that, and my own reflections that I’m still reflecting on, has had me a bit off-center. I’m certain no more so than anyone else. But maybe my bit-of-off-center was partly due to forgetting my morning Internet excursions. I’ll try to do better in upcoming weeks.

I was trying to think up a question to ask ya’ll that relates to all this . . . and honestly? I can’t think of anything. So I’ll just ask: What do you do to re-group and get back on track with your life? 

18 thoughts on “Out of the Loop

  1. Chris Hamilton

    I feel your pain. The last month of so, the schedule has gotten completely out of pain. It does every spring. Baseball, driving children across town to their magnet schools, etc. etc. And work’s spilling over its boundaries. And there’s been unexpected stuff, like someone hacking my e-mail and credit card and spending a bunch of money on iTunes. And then there’s the flaming Corolla of Death.

    And miraculously, yesterday opened up and I got a ton done. I had to do some honeydo stuff, but I got done with the out-loud readthrough of my manuscript. God help me, I think it’s as good as I can make it.

    Usually, eventually, the crap passes and there’s time to write. Sometimes it seems like that will never happen, though.

  2. Louise Ure

    Good Lord, woman, you’ve got enough going on here for fifteen blog posts and ten lives! When my life goes out of control I sleep, but that doesn’t seem to be an option for you.

  3. Cornelia Read

    I’m with Louise on the sleeping after reading this–that’s a LOT on your plate! I seem to have been doing a lot of that sleeping thing this year, catching up for the last ten years or so.

  4. JD Rhoades

    I forget who it was that said it, but it’s true: "no one ever wished on her deathbed that she’d spent more time at work."

    My son is 18 now and accepted into his top two college choices. My daughter’s 15, psyched about getting her driver’s license this fall, and thinking about where she wants to go to college. It’s really coming home to me that they won’t be here forever, that soon they’ll be off living their own lives, experiencing daily triumphs I may know nothing about, making their own mistakes that they”ll have to learn how to fix themselves. They’re great kids: smart, quick, kind, and funny as hell. I’m going to miss the hell out of them, and I don’t regret a single moment I spent with them. Not a single soccer game in the pouring monsoon, not one tedious elementary school awards ceremony, not even those moments where one or the other, or sometimes both, hated our guts because we were leaning on them to get their schoolwork done and then, for Chrissakes, TURN IT IN.

    You won’t regret those moments either.

    There are always trade offs to be made. There are a million things that distract us from writing, and we have to pick and choose which ones to drop. Family, however, isn’t an option.

  5. Allison Brennan

    Dusty, you hit it squarely. For me, my life is writing and family. That’s it. And I’m fine with that, because I love both. Writing completes me as a human being, as well as being my job so I can support five kids. And my kids are fun and incredible and I love spending time with them. CONGRATS TO YOUR SON! That is a huge accomplishment.

    Sleep . . . I sleep. 5-6 hours a night. As long as it’s uninterrupted sleep, I’m fine. Wake me in the middle? I’m dead for the rest of the day. My youngest didn’t sleep through the night until he was 4-1/2 (he’s nearly 6.) I think that getting up 1-2 times a night for nearly five years affected my ability to sleep. If I go to bed early, I wake up WAY early. If I go to bed at 1 am (he used to get up at 1230 am like clockwork), and get 5-6 hours, I’m just fine.

    Vacation . . . I promised the kids we’d go to Disneyland. I love Disneyland, but it’s really not much of a vacation when you have five kids, three of whom are 9 and under. We went to Lake Tahoe last year for a week, which was terrific. We’ll probably do that again this summer. And I’m taking my two oldest daughters and mom with me to the RWA conference in Tennessee. It’s at a resort, so they’ll have fun. They came with me to NY last year. A vacation without kids? I kind of did that with my FBI trip last fall. A working vacation. I don’t think I could go away for a week or even a long weekend and not write or be with the kids. I don’t know what I would do with myself. I did take a day off two weeks ago and went wine tasting with some author friends 🙂

    CHRIS: I so understand your pain! And you’re right, there is usually a day or week when you can catch up. When basketball season is over, there’s no sports (except club Volleyball for Katie, but that’s only one tournament every other weekend, much easier.) Sorry about your credit card! That really sucks. It happened to me a year ago, fortunately the bank gave me all my money back (over $3,000.)

  6. Shizuka

    No wonder the lost dog turned up at your place.
    She knew instinctively that she’d be fed and loved.
    Your life sounds full in the best possibly way.

  7. pari noskin taichert

    JD, Congrats on your son’s and daughter’s successes. Wonderful to read about this morning.

    Where do I begin?
    My schedule isn’t nearly as insane — my having only two kids probably has something to do with it — but you summed it up with Writing and Family as our life. That’s it. I don’t have time for much else. And family takes priority right now because writing isn’t as demanding since I’m on my own time line (of course that bitch who tells me I SHOULD be writing comes just as often as she visits you, I’m sure).

    Do you take time to breathe? Meditate, walk, exercise? I know you’re younger than I am, but please find a way to nurture your quiet self somewhere in that incredible, marvelous mix.

    AND CONGRATS to your older kids for their successes. As far as the younger ones not turning in homework . . . my "gifted" kid wasn’t either — earlier this year — until I offered to contact the teacher daily to make sure that homework got in. My kid was mortified with that possibility. There hasn’t a problem since. <g>

  8. Allison Brennan

    Pari, re: my genius son . . . if he doesn’t turn in his homework, even if he did it, his teacher makes him use his recess time to do it and the "free time" Friday afternoon. At first he hated that, but then he decided that he didn’t mind. :/ He’s in the advanced math class and loves the math sheets they do, you know, the division and multiplication facts, one right after the other . . .

    As far as breathing, I play video games to relax. Sometimes I play when I should be writing. Bad me. I hate meditating and walking because I always feel I need to be doing something else. Exercise, I have a trainer two days a week. I need to go up to three . . . it’s 30 minutes vigorous workout. I was thinking of getting a treadmill here because I really hate walking around the neighborhood. I get very antsy.

  9. Allison Brennan

    Shisuka, I agree. I really thought we’d be able to keep her, too, though I’m so happy we found her owner and HE was so happy to get her back. Now we need to find a dog for us and I hope she’s as wonderful as Kaylie 🙂

  10. TerriMolina

    Wow Allison…you almost make me glad my novels haven’t sold–the copyedit process sounds scary!

    I have the same school problems with my son, and feel horrible for not staying on him. He doesn’t turn in his work–seriously why do the homework if you’re not going to turn it in??? He’s the youngest of four and the only one who doesn’t like school or doing the work. He’s also very smart and usually doesn’t have to try…especially with math. He’s in Algebra 2 (I think) and making a B+ even though he has ELEVEN FRICKIN ZEROS for missing assignments!! But, for English, he really really hates the class. Hates reading, hates writing, hates vocabulary. *sigh*

    In December he started a seven week baseball camp after school to get ready for spring tryouts. The camp ran from 3-5:30 three days a week. The week after it ended he had tryouts. The full week from 3-5:30. He worked his tail off to make the team. There were nearly forty boys who tried out (only 15 spots) so it was very competitive. On the day of cuts…he didn’t make it. I could tell by the look on his face when I picked him up, so I told him don’t worry about it, he’ll make it next year. Then he says, "It’s probably because of the F in English".
    I wanted to throttle him! I’d been telling him since 8th grade he was going to have to keep at least a C in all his classes….Anyway…I told him if he didn’t start doing the work and turning it in, I was going to go to his class every day and sit right next to him to make sure he did! (he knows I will too..hah).

    They’re on spring break this week and I’m making him start on his book project early. He has to read two chapters a day or no computer/video games or hanging out with friends.

    As for writing, I get about four hours broken up throughout the day to write because my daughter is a senior and goes to school half day (she gets out at 11:30) and the others get out at 2:15 then I have to play chauffeur and drive both girls to and from work but not before I make sure they have dinner first. And of course the occasional doctor visit for daughter 1–always something with her. :-/ Also, now my son is playing Little League (because he needs to keep his skills up) so it’s practice three times a week for him. Okay..I’m officially tired! lol

    Anyway….I love that dog story. I’m sorry it didn’t workout for you guys to keep her, but I’m glad her owner got her back.

    Enjoy whats left of your weekend!

  11. BCB

    I remember those days of running like crazy and trying to be in two places at once after a full day at work. It was tough with two kids, can’t imagine doing it with five. My youngest is graduating from college this spring. How did that happen? Seems like just yesterday… You’re a very strong woman, Allison, but no one is invincible. Take care of yourself.

    Life has felt like it’s gotten out of hand for me too, lately. Not demands for my physical presence, but it seems everyone wants a piece of me emotionally. Makes me wish I could offer them a ride to Little League instead. I’ve cut way back on blog reading — just Murderati and one other (I’m happily addicted here). Most days recently, I’m too wrung out to comment. I’m still here reading, listening, learning. Just feels like there aren’t any pieces left to give. Eh, it’s never nothing.

    Spring is almost here. Maybe it’s time for me to plant and nurture something, reconnect with the earth and my farming heritage.

  12. Paula R.

    Wow Allison! When do you get a chance to just breathe woman? When I want to re-group and get back on track with my life, I give myself a time out. I retreat from everyone for a bit, but I have that luxury being a single person with no kids. I usually sleep a lot, read or just listen to music. I might take a trip somewhere, and just take life in at a slower pace. I use this time to reflect on a lot of things, cry if I have to, and then come back feeling more refreshed with a little more direction. It workds for a bit, until I need to hit the pause button again. Thank God those times are fewer and farther apart than normal.

    Congrats to you daughter on both the bball and the chorus. Tell her good luck in the Championship games. Take your time, find your center, and those decisions will come to the forefront, sooner than you think. Have a great rest of the evening, Allison!

    Peace and love,
    Paula R.

  13. Allison Brennan

    Terri, same rules at our school re: sports. I’m not worried about Luke because he really loves school (though it’s uncool, so he pretends he doesn’t, except math because he LOVES math. And he loves science.) My oldest gets Bs and Cs but she’s also involved in everything on the planet, and sports. She has oodles of common sense and is well grounded. My second gets A’s in honors English, history, and is a naturally gifted artist. She also reviews YA books for RT Book Reviews. She gets Cs in math and science (though this quarter she had a D in math–it has always been a struggle for her.) My youngest in kindergarden is like his brother in math, but is struggling with reading. I won’t let them hold him back, though, because he’s a good kid and well-behaved. I noticed that the kids who were the biggest problem on the field trips were the boys who started K a year late–which is what they wanted to do with Mark. I fought to get him in. He’ll catch onto reading–he can sound out all the words, he just isn’t fluent reading sentences. Then Mary, 15 months older, can read anything. Sigh. They are all so different!!!!

    BCB, I think spring is my favorite season. Spring and Fall. I’m not so much a summer and winter girl. I like the changes, the green growth and the colorful autumn. It’s just been these last couple weeks that have been particularly hectic. It doesn’t help that my hubby is working from home with throws my routine way off. :/

    Paula, I retreat to my office at night and watch television, catching up on my favorite programs 🙂

  14. Paula R.

    That’s as good a timeout as any Allison. Have a great rest of the day today. Hopefully, it won’t be too hectic.

    Peace and love,
    Paula R.

  15. Melanie Avila

    This is such a touching post. Your saga just completely wrapped me up and dragged me out of my own life for a few minutes.

    I recently flipped my life upside-down and I’m still working at getting things back on track. Unfortunately writing (well, editing) is the thing being dropped, but I’m anxious to get back to it.


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