The Magic

All of last year, I planned for November: NaNoWriMo.  I was ready to go on Halloween, itching to start the writing process.  Then, I got sick.  Then, I broke my finger.  Then, nothing got accomplished.

This was followed by Christmastime, which was busy even with a pandemic, and also, I had a brace on my pinky until New Year’s.  So, it is only now that I am sitting down to rekindle my love affair with words.

The great thing about NaNoWriMo is that you can go on the website each time you write and update your word count.  It keeps me on track very nicely…accountably is key during a first draft, in my opinion.  I could still use the site for this, but I choose not to, because I write in MS Word and there’s a little tally right in the bottom left corner of how I’m doing.  And the truth of the matter is that this book is NOT the little guy I wrote in 2019.  I am over 11k right now, and I have only just started chapter 4 of what appears to be 20, so we’re looking at an easy 60k on the rough draft.  I only easily wrote about 48k on the last book, and then pulled a couple thousand more out of the air in the second go-over.  Your average literary fiction book is around 70k.  I think that’s where this will fall.

Since it has no title, I refer to it either as my WIP (work in progress,) or The Ten.  See, it started out in my brain in 2002 with ten characters who would band together and topple a dictatorship by staging a coup.  In 2016, I started to see striking comparisons to my book and reality of the United States, so I abandoned it because I wanted to be neither plagiarizer nor prophet.  Of course, last week, I was watching the news and a dark laughter bubbled out of me as I thought “Didn’t I write this before?”

Anyway, I trashed the plot, but I kept the characters.  I knew them so well, as well as I know myself, and when you’re a writer and you’ve got something so well-developed, you’ve got to save it for something good.

About a year ago, I decided The Ten would be my next big project.  There’s a lot of thinking involved in writing, so I spent several months contemplating new plots and situations I could put the characters I had into.  Eventually, I came up with a scaled down version of the original plot, something made-up and workable and not happening in real time on CNN.  Then, I started the prep work: outlines, character bios, act breakdowns, chapter breakdowns, scene breakdowns, etc.  And research research research: many thanks and good wishes to the Twitter folks who have helped me out with descriptions of the Bahamas or explaining to me how long it would take to row to an island 30 miles away, and why you wouldn’t be able to see that island because of the curvature of the Earth (things I learned yesterday.)  Also, I know more about guns now than I ever intended.  It was a year of research and thinking and planning.

Now is the year of writing.

I was afraid that there would be big gaps in my writing, that I wouldn’t be able to sit down every day and do it the way I did during NaNo ‘19.  Turns out, once I started, I couldn’t stop.  I want to know what happens as much as a reader, and I’m only going to find out if I write it…if that makes sense.  Because all the planning in the world doesn’t prepare you for the magic.

The magic is when you are writing and you are no longer in the room with yourself, as Stephen would say.  It’s when you can’t believe that you wrote the words you’re reading back.  It’s the little character details that you didn’t know you knew, or the tiny ways you describe the sunlight.  It’s the part of the writing that surprises the writer, and it’s the best part…seriously.  It’s like a drug-powerful and addictive and makes you feel like you can do anything. 

So, I will finish this blog and I will go read some submissions, and rest my finger, so I can drop another thousand words into the WIP later.  I don’t have the accountability mechanism that I had before, but I will of course use my blog as a vehicle to hold myself up to my standards, as I have done in the past.

And perhaps, even to catch the magic.

The Sleeping Muse

Sometimes, as a writer, you start to think the muse is dead.

At the end of every three months or so, I prep my poetry submissions for the upcoming season.  There is a site called Entropy that publishes a huge list of journals accepting submissions every three months, and I work my way through it with my seasonal submission and hope for the best.  I haven’t encountered any hiccups (this is since starting submissions in 2018.)  Until now, that is.

I won’t call it writer’s block, because I am writing.  I’m pecking out my bi-weekly blog, and the occasional note or dialogue for the novels, both that in editing and that in planning.  But my poetry has been stifled, somehow.  It’s just not flowing.  And this makes me nervous, because poetry is my lifeline to writing on the whole. 

Usually, it happens spontaneously.  Something will happen, or occur to me, and I will have to write it down in a rush, then edit it, then voila!  A poem.  Bam, just like that.  A few a week, usually.  But lately…nothing.

Yesterday, I made myself write one.  It was about the Out of the Darkness Walk that I do every September.  I decided I would write it as a warm-up…give myself a topic (the walk, as yesterday marked one more month until the event,) and sit down at the computer and write something about it.  I surprised myself, in the end.  Which is a good sign.

Any time I surprise myself while writing, it means it’s pretty good.  If I’m reading back what I’ve written and I’ve forgotten I was the author, then it’s really good.  These are the standards by which I judge my work.  It felt like, for some time, this wasn’t happening for me.  Nothing was surprising me.  I feel very hopeless in these moments, as though the muse has left and will never return. 

But then I wrote a little poem, and it’s kind of good.  Then, I wrote another…not as good, but the fire was there.  I wrote a third.  And a fourth…

By the end of the day I had my fall submissions ready to go.  Yesterday morning, I had nothing.  I had the feeling of self-doubt that consumes the writer who doesn’t know what to write about.  I had the voice in my head whispering that it was all crap.  But, last night, I had a full submission packet and several new poems. 

The muse is not dead.  Sleeping, perhaps.  But not dead.

Shock

I am maybe 12 and sitting at my desk and writing a story about god knows what when I decide that I will be an author someday.  It just…fits.  Cut to…

Thursday, May 28, 2020.

I awoke early, as usual, and felt that terrible nausea that I pray will pass each day. I get sick on the way to take Mark to work.  I think I can probably get to his work and then the hospital if it gets too bad.  Fortunately, it doesn’t happen again, so I go home and take a Zofran and try to get some more sleep.

I wake up around 11:30, feeling a little better.  I check my phone.  A text, a Timehop, an email.  I click on the little envelope icon and find a message from my publisher with a link to an Amazon page.

My Amazon page.

For my book.

Any and all feelings of sickness evaporate, or perhaps are pushed out of the way by simple shock and surprise.  I immediately text my parents and my besties the link, and when I hear nothing from Mom, Dad or Bern I call in a panic and ask them why they can’t check their GD text messages?!  A phone celebration, as I tell my dad that I am finally, blessedly, truly a published author.

Around noon, Mom comes by to take me for a cup of coffee.   She tells me she’s going home to post my link on her Facebook, and when she does, she accidentally posts to my page as me.  “Oh no!  Can you delete it?”  I go to do so, but there are already likes and comments.  Eh…so what if people think I’m talking about myself in the third person?

After we get home Mark gives me a big hug and congratulates me.  I still don’t feel like it’s real.  Friends and family start telling me that they placed orders.  I still don’t feel like it’s real.  Mom tells me she got 6 copies for her friends and she wants me to sign them.  I still don’t feel like it’s real.

When Moms’ books come, and I hold them in my hand…then what?  Will it be real then?  My final proof sits on my desk, staring at me.  It is no different than the copy I will see when Mom gets hers, aside from the fact it has “Not for Resale” written across it.  But holding it didn’t make it real, even…maybe a little more, maybe a little less shock, but thinking that there are people out there that are paying for my words?  Words on paper, scribed in ink?  It is mind-blowing.

Anyway, this is my official blog plea for you to buy my book and make me feel like a real author.  A Lovely Wreckage is a collection of poetry centering around living with chronic illness and depression.  You can find it on Amazon.  If you are kind enough to purchase a copy and you enjoy it, I urge you to leave a review there, and I thank you from the bottom of my still-in-shock heart.

That little 12-year-old girl sitting at her desk and scribbling has been waiting for this for a very long time.

Money for Art

When I was three years old, there was a grocery store near my house called Super Duper.  One day, I went with my grandmother to pick up food, and I saw a cardboard stand stuffed with teddy bears.  She told me I could pick one out, and I chose a brown fluffy bear with a red bowtie.  His name was Honey-Jo.

From that moment on, we were inseparable.  As a child with no pets, he became my best friend and closest confidant.  I slept with him every night, and played with him every day.  On my birthday, he would make me cards and leave them on my bed (yes, I’m aware that was actually my dad making them on his work computer, I’m not crazy.)

When I got older and having a teddy bear became “childish,” I refused to give in.  In fact, he still resides in my bed some 33 years later, and Hubs is always sure to pick him up if he falls on the floor, or give him to me to snuggle when I’m sick.  His bowtie is gone and his fur is matted after a thousand washes.  He is likely my prized possession, and when I die, he will be cremated with me.  Seriously. 

Anyway…

I wrote a story about him.  A poem, actually, that I decided to turn into a children’s book.  I have never written such a thing, and when the idea struck, I penned the whole story in one evening.  Then I put it away for about 8 years.  One day last year, I pulled it from the recesses of my word files and polished it up, just for fun.  Then I thought, hey, why not give it a real go?

I went to Twitter in search of artist suggestions.  Knowing nothing about illustrations, I inquired as to how someone could find an illustrator on a budget, or even for free.  The free bit caught me some flack because one chick got up in arms about paying for work flat out.  I don’t think she understood the point of my post-I was looking for collaboration, not free art.  I would never just write someone a story for free unless they were friend or family, but I would definitely collaborate with someone on something that could make money down the road.  Anyway, Twitter is where I found the very talented Mr. Darell Teague.

A big believer in art for everyone, he offered to work on the book for free, understanding my need for a collaborator.  I sent him a page by page idea of what I was looking for, and he got back to me with some wonderful sketches.  Now, it’s been a couple months as he has other projects he is working on, but I am fine with waiting because I appreciate his view on art for art’s sake.  I mean, I write in this blog twice a week, and I’m not making a dime off it.  I understand the perspective.

I’m of the mind, you see, that a true artist cannot NOT make art, and share it with the world, regardless of payment.  I have been paid for very little that I have worked on artistically.  I am still hoping for my first real paycheck for writing, but I am not deterred by rejections and road blocks.  I have been published many times, and that is exhilarating in itself, because I do it for the readers, not the money.  You want money?  Get a day job.  Hone your art at night, so that one day it will be profitable.

My big dream is to finish my little kids’ book and have Darell illustrate it, and then find a publisher.  It’s a long and arduous process, but I am looking forward to it nonetheless.  I want kiddos to read it and look at the pictures and be taken to a dream world like I was with picture books as a child.  And if we make some money off it, all the better.

A Year in Writing

Usually, I’m not big on hyping my accomplishments.  My mother wants me to post every single thing I write to Facebook.  I don’t.  I use Twitter for this.  On Facebook, there’s 400 people who know me personally.  On Twitter, there’s nearly 4k who don’t know me from a doorknob.  I am far more comfortable sharing my stuff with strangers. 

Now, should my real-life people happen upon my works, or should I be proud enough of something to share it to FB, that’s great.  I always receive positive feedback from them, so that’s very appreciated.  I just don’t feel comfortable selling myself to my friends and family, and that’s what it feels like I would be doing if I posted all my blogs and poems and everything on FB.  I never felt comfortable selling myself.  I remember back when I made a profile on some dating website, and found that bragging about myself was not one of my strong qualities.  It took three people and two hours to make a decent-sounding dating profile. 

I just don’t like selling myself.  But I need to learn how, and to break through that fear, if I ever want to consider making it in the writing industry. 

So, here’s me hyping myself.  This year, I have accomplished some serious work in my writing life.  First of all, I composed my chapbook of poetry about mental and chronic illness.  This took a lot of time and introspective thought, and I am proud of the result…though I must admit, I have considered turning it into a full length, too.  Time will tell.

Also in 2019, I had four poems published.  I wrote a children’s book about a teddy bear called Super Joe, and even found someone to illustrate it for me.  And of course, I did NaNoWriMo, which gave me a little novel about a girl who wakes up in a depopulated world and must go on a quest to find people.  Then came December and the gift of FIVE poems being published this month.  The first three come out at Queen Mob’s Tea House today.

I’d like to write about them, as I rarely share about my poems themselves.  Let’s start with…

4th of July.  Probably the one with the most “story,” it tells the tale of me and my brother-from-another-mother, Kevin.  For me, the 4th of July was always “our” holiday, and it is a retrospective look at our lives.  Read if you like tales about friendship.

Inbetween.  This is what I like to call a “filler” poem.  It’s one that I wasn’t particularly thrilled with but someone else read and liked, and I added to the file because why not?  This bad boy is about depression and it’s grasp on people who have it.   A lot of my poems are about that, but I like how this one starts: “I tried to clean my office, but it’s as messy as my head.”  Read if you enjoy reading about serotonin imbalances.

Finally, Broken Watches.  This one is pretty old, actually, but I have always liked it.  It’s about a broken heart, more or less, and the pain of loving someone when you know it won’t work out.  It also features some of my views on the church.  Read if you are a lapsed Catholic with relationship problems.

The other two coming out this month are Dead Nerves and Unfathomable.  Dead Nerves is about neuropathy and ageing.  Unfathomable is about reproductive rights.  That one should be fun to share.  I’m sure it will summon forth at least one old white man with an opinion on my uterus whom I will have to promptly shut down. 

So, in closing, my year in writing has been pretty darn good, in my opinion.  And it’s looking like next year might be good as well, now that I have three projects I am working on that could provide dividends in the future.  We shall see what it brings.  I hope all my writing buddies are having a productive year as well, and good luck to you in the next.

Rejected

Something’s terribly wrong.  I came up with five different blog ideas last night.  This is WAY outside my usual idea parameters.

I’ve been getting a healthy dose of rejection, lately.  I am fortunate in that rejection never really bothers me.  I recall being thirteen and telling my mother that I wanted to act.  She told me I would face numerous rejections, and feared I wouldn’t be able to handle it, which I guess is a legitimate worry for some people.  I, however, have never been really hurt by a rejection.  I would audition, and I wouldn’t get it, and I would move on with my life.  Perhaps because I know I’m not an ingénue, and so I can totally understand the concept of not being right for a part.  Also, I have been on the other side of the casting process, and am well aware that rejection has more to do with what part they are trying to cast versus what you are bringing to the table.  I have seen seasoned and talented people get passed over for a newcomer just because they had that intangible thing that the role needed.  So, I guess, I just always understood rejection as a natural part of life.

Another rejection that I dealt with a lot when I was younger was romantic rejections.  Again, I am not your average chick, so there have been a healthy number of dudes who were just not interested, and that’s fine.  Most of the guys I had crushes on ended up being dear and loyal friends, and now when I look back on them I can’t imagine what I was thinking in the moment.  Not that they aren’t great men, they just aren’t for me like I wasn’t for them.  Yes, in my youth I would be sad for a moment, but I still understood this basic principle.

Now I face literary rejection.  I had some lovely beginners’ luck when I started sending out my poetry and such, but that time has passed and we are now in the season of rejections.  Nearly every day this week, in fact.  This morning I received a lovely rejection.  They specifically mentioned one of my poems, saying that they liked it very much but could not publish it at this time.  They added that they would like me to submit again in the future, and that they don’t always say that in their responses.  These kinds of rejections are the best, and I have gotten a couple.  They encourage me to keep working, and remind me that just because something isn’t a good fit doesn’t mean it’s not good.  In fact, I treasure my rejections now, because they make the acceptances sparkle.

I don’t know why I deal with rejection so well.  I assume it has to do with my ridiculously high self-esteem.  I’m not even sure what kind of advice I can give to help deal with rejection, aside from telling yourself that it isn’t always you; in fact, it’s probably not you at all.  A lot of our rejections are simply because our poems don’t fulfill the issues theme, or your heart doesn’t match his, or we don’t fill the role that needs to be cast.   It has less to do with you and more to do with the situation.  At least, that’s what I’ve found, and I’ve been dancing with rejection for a long time.  Sometimes it just steps on your toes.

reject

Short and Sweet

I’m not verbose.

It’s probably my one great tragedy, aside from having a flat singing voice.  I just cannot expound about something, no matter how hard I try.  Eventually it becomes dull and I get bored, as I often got bored as a child reading the classics.  I simply do not need a page and a half description for a ray of sunlight, no matter how beautiful it is.  Also, I simply cannot write a page and a half about a ray of sunlight.

As a person, I am almost never jealous, but two writers I know are really flaring this emotion in me at the moment.  One is doing a thirty-day writing challenge and nailing it.  Another drops 9,000 words a day into her memoir.  Both are, through no fault of their own, killing my soul.

I think this may be why I have always gravitated to poetry.  Most of my poems are less than 50 lines, and I do believe that’s enough space to describe that ray of sunlight perfectly.  Then I think about my past, writing plays.  I did maybe six or seven, and three got produced in some form.  These were decidedly longer pieces, ranging from a short children’s play to a three-act opus for my high school love.  I love writing plays, but I have been out of theater for a while and honestly haven’t had the inspiration to write one.  What I really want, the gold ring of writing, for me, is a novel.

I started four and finished none, because I am not verbose enough.  I get halfway through my tale and realize I don’t have nearly enough for half a book and way too much for half a short story.  My max output is 4000 words in a sitting.  My max sitting for my novel is twice a week.  It’s just not enough.  I need three or four days after just to gather enough details to sit down and pen what I’m trying to say again.  Sometimes I get frustrated because I can see it so clearly in my mind, but on the paper it sounds terrible.  Dialogue is tricky, because I am very good at that bit, but sometimes my writing relies on it too heavily and I have to go back and describe that ray of sunlight and then everything falls apart.

I wish I could sit at the keyboard and pound out pages and pages of words.  Good or bad, it doesn’t really matter because the editing process is a whole other thing.  My blog remains the one place where I do get wordy on occasion.  Here I am updating two days in a row.  Why?  Because I need to increase my output.  I need to keep myself writing even if I can’t sit down and work on my book at the moment.  I’ve got a novel that needs thousands more words, a poem that only needs maybe fifty, and a blog that has no expectations of me save a Monday deadline that I impose on myself.  I’m stuck elsewhere, so I come here.

I am not verbose.  I cannot pen pages about a ray of sunlight.  But I can drop a couple hundred in my blog and feel good about myself.  So here we are.