Author Archives: stacey kite

Chore Days and Project Days

Stacey Kite

Since my husband retired a few months ago, we’ve come up with a new way to share the household tasks. It’s working really well and given both of us blocks of time to work on our individual projects. For me, that means more quality writing time, so I thought I’d share.

Here’s how it works. When it’s my chore day, I get up early—before the rest of the house—and write. Usually, I can get in an hour or two before Fred and the dog get up. After that, I’m usually done writing for the bulk of the day because it’s my chore day. At a minimum that means I empty the dishwasher, take the dog for her potty breaks and long walk, cook dinner and clean the kitchen up afterwards. I also pick one or more extra household tasks on the list, whether that’s laundry, coming up with a menu and putting in the pickup order, sweeping and vacuuming floors or cleaning the bathrooms. If I manage to get everything done with time to spare, I can go back to writing for a while, collapse or even read.

While I’m taking care of all the household stuff, Fred is free to spend the day working on his stuff. (Right now, his big project is building the closet organizer of my dreams, so that one’s a total win for me!)

Then the next day, Fred does all the chores while I have a project day. I still do my writing first thing in the morning, but then, if the words are flowing, I can keep writing because Fred’s the one who takes the dog out, empties the dishwasher and does all the chores. The dog’s long walk is especially great for writing because it gives me an extra one to two hours of distraction free time every other day, which is awesome!

Whether the writing is going well or not, I still have the rest of the day to work on my other projects. Since we just moved into a new house, I have a lot of other projects, especially in the yard.

Last month, for example, I built a raised garden bed—all by myself.

Though my brother, Larry—the king of retention walls—showed me how to build a rock wall and gave advice, I did all the work, from digging the trench for the foundation and packing in the gravel to cutting and gluing the cap blocks. It just about killed Fred not to take over or at least jump in and help, but I wouldn’t let him. It was my project, though I did ask his opinion, and let him show me how to make and use a water-level.

And I have to say, Fred has been fabulous about the chores. He even cleans windows and toilets and sterilizes bath mats! He doesn’t do everything the way I would, but then I don’t do everything the way he would, either, so that’s OK.

I know our situation is ideal, and far from most people’s norm—especially now during this *$&%! Pandemic—but even a mini version of chore day vs. project day on the weekends might buy you some extra, quality writing time.

Here are some things to keep in mind if you decide to give it a try.

Under no circumstances should you split kitchen duty. The person who cooks must be the same person who cleans up after that meal. The clean-as-he/she/they-cooks person will resent the crap out of cleaning up after the just-boils-water-and-gets-flour-on-the-ceiling person. And there is always a just-boils-water-and-gets-flour-on-the-ceiling person.

Avoid giving unsolicited advice on your partner’s projects. If your partner asks for your opinion and/or help, great, but otherwise button it. It’s his/her/their project. Of course, this doesn’t apply if there is significant risk of loss of life, serious injury or ruinous financial structural damage to the house.

Be patient when your partner gives you unsolicited advice/criticism. It’s going to happen, so be prepared. And you’ll give them advice too, even though you know you shouldn’t. So acknowledge their point, consider it, then do what you feel is correct. This applies to everything from folding towels to building retaining walls.

Do not critique your partner’s domestic skills or go behind your partner’s back re-doing everything. There is no one right way to fold a towel. Your partner will develop his/her/their own method, thank you very much, and as long as clean towels and underwear are making it into the linen closet and the drawers instead of mounding up in heaps on the floors, keep your mouth shut.

When it’s your chore day, don’t shirk. This only works if both partners are willing. If you see something that needs cleaning, step up and do it.

Above all else, be patient and considerate. Everything has a learning curve, even ordering groceries online, so cut your partner slack, here. It’s not the end of the world if you get shredded cheese instead of block cheese, especially if having someone else do the shopping bought you some quality writing time.

Your Art Matters

Stacey Kite

A few decades ago, in the dark ages before the internet and cell phones, I did some freelance work for a role-playing game publisher and illustrated several cards for their game.

They gave me an insane schedule, but I worked my but off, going without sleep for days so I could finish the paintings in time for them dry enough to be mailed off. (Back then, I only worked in oil, and even with drying agents added, the paintings still took days to cure.) Though it nearly killed me, I got the work done on time.

But the company stiffed me. They didn’t even pay me the kill fee listed in the contract. Lots of phone calls ensued, with lots of excuses and promises on the publisher’s side, but no check ever arrived. (Though they did have the temerity to offer me more assignments later, which I declined.) Eventually, realizing the logistical and financial issues involved with trying to collect on a debt from a company a thousand miles away in a another state, I gave up any hopes of getting paid and simply did my best to forget about the whole episode.

Then a couple of years ago, someone from Europe started contacting me through my art website about the illustrations I’d done for the game. Since the company had long ago gone bust, I ignored the emails. It was a decades old bad decision that I’d made, and I didn’t want to be reminded of it.

The guy was persistent, though. Every few months, I’d get another note from him, asking if I was The Stacey Kite who’d illustrated for Iron Crown. I deleted the emails without answering them. They kept coming, and I kept ignoring them. (Like I said, it was a bad experience.) It was over and done with, and I’d moved on.

Fast forward to mid-July this year…

 I was packing for a cross-country move and binge listening to audio books, including The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. Though the novel was a best-seller a few years ago, I’d avoided it. (Who wants to read a story about kids dying of cancer?) But the wry humor shaved the hard edges off the subject matter, and I loved the characters—except for one. There always has to be an antagonist in a story or there’s no story, and though cancer is the big enemy in The Fault in Our Stars, John Green added an additional human antagonist—a reclusive novelist. The man is a horrible jerk, and as a reader (really, a listener) I loved to hate him. He was rude and dismissive to the wonderful and funny kids who were fans of his book—and happened to be dying of cancer.

Two weeks after listening to John Green’s book, I received yet another email asking if I was the one who’d done the illustrations. My automatic reaction was to delete it, but then a horrible thought struck me, Am I acting like the jerk-writer?

Eek!

So, of course, I responded to the email, writing that yes, I was that Stacey Kite.

And I’m thrilled that I did.

The young man’s response was fabulous and made me feel great. He described how as a child he’d come from a place where that kind of fantastical art didn’t exist. Then he discovered the cards and his world opened.

They made a difference in his life. The paintings I had done years ago–the ones I’d tried desperately to forget about—had affected him. He wanted to mail the cards to me and have me autograph them and then ship them back to him. Evidently, he’s kept the deck all these years and has been on a quest to get every contributing artist to sign their cards. I’m one of the last ones, and I’m thrilled that I finally overcame my aversion and answered his email.

Sharing an emotion, affecting someone else—making someone feel—is what art is all about, and I achieved that. Though I didn’t know it until I answered that email. That’s why we paint and write, after all—especially those of us who write and illustrate for children. We want to share the magic we felt as kids when an illustration took our breath away, when a book changed our lives.

Art is a hard road. Sometimes it feels like slaving away in isolation for nothing, or less than nothing, but it’s not in vain. You’re not screaming into the void. Somebody will be changed by the art you create. I’m proof of that.

Inspiration—Who Knew?

Stacey Kite

With Covid19 sweeping the planet, I’m in desperate need of humor. Fortunately, I got a good dose of it a couple of days ago.

Laura, my fellow WriteOwl, texted me a link to an old news story about the Oregon highway division blowing up a dead and rotting whale that had beached in Florence, OR in 1970. As it happens, my husband, Fred, and I are having a house built there and will be moving to Florence in just a few months, and I’m currently writing a story about whales. (There’s even one that beaches and dies in Act 1.) Continue reading

The Machine Uprising

Stacey Kite

I had planned to start this year’s Write by Midnight challenge off strong, intent on tackling WBM bingo square E-2: Write or revise an entire scene, but even meeting the write-every-day goal was a challenge for me over the weekend because our appliances revolted.

First, it was the oven. It had a berserker temper tantrum, spontaneously rocketing past the 425 ºF temperature we’d asked for into self-cleaning oven territory, cremating an entire batch of biscuits on its way. Of course, that produced a lot of smoke which woke up the smoke detector, which started screaming like a hysterical banshee—which woke up Princess Kaylee. Continue reading

An Internal War

Stacey Kite

Why do I write?

Recently I asked myself that question. Not because I’m uncertain about my quest to become a published author—I want it, I want it bad—but because I’ve had a terrible bout of writer’s block that has been driving me nuts. Every time I sit down at the computer to write, a voice in the back of my head yells, “D-O-P! D-O-P! It’s all dead-on-page!”

Replotting and outlining scenes in ever more excruciating detail hasn’t helped, neither has working on different scenes, regimented scheduling, taking time off, meditating, writing longhand, giving myself daily word count goals, speed writing or daydreaming my story while listening to music. It’s not that I don’t know what I want to happen in the scene, it’s that the words won’t flow.

Then a friend recommended Around the Writer’s Block: Using Brain Science to Solve Writer’s Resistance by Rosanne Bane. The book makes a point of how the limbic system of our brains—that part that processes emotions—steps in, temporarily wresting the driver’s wheel of our consciousness from the frontal cortex all the time. Though our conscious selves don’t realize there’s been a mental hijacking, we feel the effects—the aversion, the reluctance, the futility and the sudden, overwhelming compulsion to defrost the freezer. Those are the emotional handles the more primitive side of our consciousness uses to herd us all. Often, it is a fear response.

Since the first step in solving a problem is identifying it, I started asking myself what am I truly afraid of on a deep, emotional level, other than spiders. Success? Failure? Humiliating myself by sending out something that isn’t nearly as good as I think it is? (I call that my reality-talent-show phobia.) I have all those fears—okay, not the first one but definitely the other two—but that still didn’t feel like the complete issue.

Then I had a long talk with a writer friend of mine who was foolish enough to carpool with me on a three-and-a-half-hour trip. She had been the one to recommend Bane’s book in the first place and kindly played amateur psychoanalyst on the long drive. After a couple of hours of back and forth, she made a shrewd observation. Every time I become confident in my abilities in a given area, I switch to something different—even to the extreme of changing professions. I’ve been a lab tech, a Naval Officer, a Reactor Dynamics instructor, a Veterinarian, an Artist and more.

When I’m learning something new, I’m totally committed, whether it’s studying differential equations or plot structure. I will work my tail off for years, fully immersed, but when I finally feel comfortable with what I’m doing—once the challenge fades—my passion dries up. Proving to myself that I can do something is my real emotional reward, my emotional cheese, and as soon as I have that, the passionate part of me goes AWOL.

But I need that passion to write! The part of my mind that loves lists and facts and planning—the disciplined side that tackles problems by breaking them down into step-by-step procedures and thinks it’s in charge writes D-O-P prose. There is plot—my cerebral cortex is great at plot—but no flow or magic.

Those things come from the other side of my mind—whether I call that my creative side, my limbic system or my muse. It’s the part of me that slides into characters’ skins, sees through their eyes and breathes their air. It’s the part that can bring words to life. It’s also the side that felt writing a few good scenes was enough and toddled off to a hammock by the pool, leaving my cerebral cortex to flail on alone. My muse is like a mouse that won’t the run the maze because she’s already gotten the cheese.

My cortex isn’t giving in, though. I want to write good books—plural. Which means retraining myself on how to respond when my limbic system tries to shift me in the wrong direction. But how can I do that?

First, I’m going to follow the advice in Around the Writer’s Block step-by-step: saying “not now” to my limbic system when it tells me folding the laundry is suddenly urgent, eliminate distractions, give myself credit for effort instead of production, and schedule short writing intervals with small, achievable goals.

Second, since my limbic system’s cheese is a new challenge, I’m going to try to shift the challenge from writing well, to finishing the next chapter, and then the next, and then the ms itself. I’m going to visualize the published book in my hand, feel the weight of it and see the cover. I will entice my muse with a little cheese at the end of every writing session in the form of a new puzzle game.

And I will write on, no matter how the saboteur in the back of my brain attacks. Every time it bellows D-O-P, I will recognize it for the blatant manipulation tactic it is and keep going. It’s the only way I will ever get what I want.